- The Unicorn Came to Dinner by Lauren DeStefano
Destefano, Lauren The Unicorn Came to Dinner; illus. by Gaia Cornwall. Roaring Brook, 2020 [40p] Trade ed. ISBN 9781250310408 $18.99 Reviewed from galleys R 4-7 yrs
When a unicorn comes to dinner at Elizabeth's house, she spreads rudeness and hoofprints around the house ("The hoofprints were shaped like hearts, but that was beside the point"). Elizabeth's parents are annoyed but matter-of-fact upon discovering that the unicorn has eaten their daughter, and the unicorn struggles through dinner and then Elizabeth's homework, bathtime, and bedtime. Some acknowledgment of first-week-of-school jitters and discussion of the things that unicorns can't do that Elizabeth can finally convinces the unicorn to be Elizabeth again, tucked up in her own bed and ready for sleep as she clutches her toy unicorn. The kid-as-animal is a familiar trope but this is a fresh and funny iteration of it; the dry humor of the text will tickle listeners, and the sense of calm parental control will reassure any nervous youngsters about the unicorn's wildness. Mixed media art by Cornwall (Jabari Jumps, BCCB 5/17) is delicate and original without calling attention to itself; the unicorn is self-consciously fantastical, with a bountifully flowing mane and tail of many colors, but it also hearkens back to older traditions of unicorns with its heft and presence and solid feathery fetlocks. There's a lightness to the palette and the use of pale rather than dark lines to delineate details and outlines, while the layered collage figures of the dark-skinned humans have a [End Page 469] sturdy realism. Kids may need a nudge or two to understand the reality underlying the manifest events, but they'll easily understand the desire to be something strong and magical in the face of a stressful day.