Those Unlucky Tots

Leanne Shapton’s Trojan Horse of a book, and the wistfulness of the best children’s literature

Confronted with writer and illustrator Leanne Shapton’s latest book, Toys Talking, bookstore clerks must face a quandary: Where to place it? An intriguing and beautiful little picture book, it looks and claims to be aimed at children—so much so that it will undoubtedly trick many aunts and honorary uncles, and quite possibly some parents, into picking it up for the children in their lives. Say a prayer for those unlucky tots.

“You are wrong to be angry with me,” says one teddy bear with a bow tie. “Never mind that, come as you are,” insists another. “I have often had sleepless nights,” confesses bunny. “You are joking,” says monkey.

The text-to-illustration ratio reads as board-book-for-toddlers, as do the exquisite, delightfully expressive ink illustrations, the curved corners of the crayon-coloured pages, and the volume’s square shape. (Like most books published by Drawn & Quarterly...