Helldorfer (Silver Rain Brown, 1999, etc.) and Schindler (Sunwing, 1999, etc.) expose a colorful slice of early Americana,
sending a birthday gift on an adventurous journey along the early 19th-century thoroughfare known as the National Public Road. Aunt Liza pops a plain straw hat into a round box and sends it to young Lucy in distant Illinois via a westward-bound traveler. Thanks to a series of bumps, breakdowns, chance encounters—and one mischievous monkey in a traveling show—the box passes from hand to hand, gaining or losing something at each stop. It arrives at last, worn, but filled with mementos, from coffee beans and a clay marble to a folk painter’s portrait of a pet hog. Suffused with warm humor, Schindler’s clean-lined, finely detailed paintings capture not only a sense of period but what it must have been like to travel down a road only slightly less rough (and usually muddier) than the surrounding countryside. Young readers will pore over the contents of a peddler’s wagon and a general store, laugh at the expressive livestock and the gift’s misadventures, and share Lucy’s final pleasure at the box’s contents and the subsequent arrival of Aunt Liza herself. Like Karen Ackerman’s Araminta’s Paintbox, this combines
enticing glimpses of life along an early American highway with an anything but sedate journey tale. A delight. (Picture book.