The Hideout by Susanna Mattiangeli, illustrated by Felicita Sala

The Hideout by Susanna Mattiangeli
illustrated by Felicita Sala
Review Copy from Abrams Kids
The Hideout takes readers on a surprising journey. What initially seems to be a journey of the imagination is revealed to be a journey of creation in one of the best picture books I have ever read to put the intangible creative process on the page in a tangible way. Mattiangeli's story telling is masterful, setting the stage with what appears to be an empty child's room and a voice calling for Hannah, who is nowhere to be found. Sala's illustrations are rich with detail, her cool palette evoking a contemplative mood.

A page turn tells - and shows - readers that Hannah (she heard the voice calling, but "it was too late to go back") is in the park and, coonskin cap on her head, slingshot in hand, fountain to drink from, she has no intention of leaving. There is, "just too much to do; she really had to stay." In her hideout, which is a clearing in the middle of a thicket of shrubs, she makes a home - a bed of leaves, a bow and arrow, a fire. She makes herself a cape out of feathers, and one for her companion, the silent Odd Furry Creature. Readers will notice, on the first page, the stuffed toy in a basket in Hannah's room with two horns and a toothy smile. While this toy - and the Odd Furry Creature who resembles it - may be an homage to the creatures (Bernard?) of Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, keen eyes will notice a book on the floor with the title, Minotaur. In the end, Hannah brings her imagination to the Odd Furry Creature, making it her own.

Together, the pair collect interesting objects, roast pigeons for dinner and enjoy the solitude and quiet of their hideout, a hideout in a thicket that becomes denser and harder to crawl in and out of as time passes. One day, loud and clear, Hannah hears a voice calling to her an she listens. Folding her cape made of feathers, she places it on her bed made of leaves, doing the same with her friend's cape. They put out the fire and, careful not to get hurt, make themselves small and crawl out of their secret hideout.

At this point in the book, I thought the story was headed in one direction - the magical landscape of imagination. With a page turn I discovered, with great delight that, while The Hideout was definitely going down that path, the destination was a tangible one. Instead of a return to her room, the warm glow of her imagination adventure about her, readers find Hannah at her desk, drawing materials (and other objects from her imaginary adventure) strewn about. Behind her, on a shelf, the feet and tail of a stuffed toy that looks just like the Odd Furry Creature can be seen, as well as a coonskin cap. 

Mattiangeli ends this stunning book with these beautiful words,

From the outside, no one would have imagined that deep within the drawing, at the end of a long road made of brown and green pencil marks. a little girl had lived for a very long time.

The hideout that Hannah creates in The Hideout is both the creature inhabited thicket in the park and the creative space she carves out and inhabits herself as she draws. A subtitle for The Hideout could be Hannah Makes the Creative Space...

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