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Review: Melvin and the Boy by Lauren Castillo

Melvin and the Boy
By Lauren Castillo
Henry Holt (Macmillan)
ISBN: 9780805089295
Grades PreK-2
In Stores July 5, 2011

*Best New Book*

For many children, a first pet brings with it some of the earliest exposure to responsibility. While kids have minor obligations from an early age, the idea of caring for something that could, you know, die if left unattended makes the first pet a childhood landmark. Perhaps this is why so many children’s books have been written on the topic. In the 21st century, the concept has been frequently turned on its head, with books like Children Make Terrible Pets and A Pet for Petunia as recent examples. But Melvin and the Boy plays it straight. In her first work as both illustrator and author, Lauren Castillo delivers a simple story set to outstanding illustrations.

The “Boy” in the title is our unnamed protagonist, and there’s something missing in his life. Namely, a pet. Other kids have one, but the boy’s parents pooh-pooh a dog, a bird, and a monkey as too big, too noisy, and too much work. When the boy finds a turtle at the park, his parents agree to let their son keep him. He is christened Melvin and brought home. But it soon becomes clear that Melvin isn’t eager to play the role of the dutiful pet. In fact, he won’t even come out of his shell. After failed attempts at feeding, walking, and socializing, the boy realizes that his first pet might be better off back home. The next day he releases the turtle back into the pond, promising to visit soon.

The text is a strong point, as Castillo does wonders with an extremely small word count. Succinct, yet crystal clear, this is a book that will work with very young children.

The illustrations put Melvin and the Boy squarely into Caldecott territory. Castillo uses a unique acetone transfer with markers and watercolor, and the results are gorgeous. The composition of each illustration is masterful, and the spreads are especially memorable, bursting with subtle skill.

One of my favorites of the year so far. Here’s hoping Melvin and the Boy gets the notice it deserves. A first pet book to remember.

Review copy from publisher

Visit Lauren Castillo’s blog to see early cover sketches for Melvin and the Boy

Read a 2008 interview with Lauren Castillo at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Also reviewed by Waking Brain Cells.

Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Linda Stanek says:

    I have always felt that Lauren’s work shines with a Caldecott quality. Her illustrations are beautiful to adults and so appealing to children. And now she writes as well! Brilliant work, Lauren!

  2. Jessica A. says:

    Lauren is an amazing artist! I love how her style shines through every one of her illustrations. Her drawings tell a beautiful story.

  3. Just picked this book up from the library. It is my favorite picture book that I have read so far this year. It is beautiful!