Over the Shop

h1 January 7th, 2021 by jules


Want to take a peek at a beautiful, touching early-2021 picture book? After yesterday’s news, I do.

JonArno Lawson’s Over the Shop (Candlewick, January 2021), illustrated by Qin Leng, is on shelves now. Reading it is a superb way to start 2021.

A child lives with her grandparent in the same building as the general store the grandparent runs. Often scowling, the grandparent yells at a stray cat that forages through boxes of fruit on the sidewalk in front of the store, scaring the animal away. The girl ventures out to feed the cat.

Soon, the two are hanging an “Apartment for Rent” sign on the front door of the store: There is an empty apartment upstairs. Various potential tenants stop by to see the place — but leave quickly. It needs a lot of work.

One day a couple appears. The grandparent — and the immediate neighbor — give them a bit of the cold shoulder. One gets the sense that the new couple is a queer one; there are subtle hints throughout the story saying as much, including the final spread depicted below in this post in which you see a rainbow flag hanging from the store. Readers sense reluctance on the part of everyone (but the girl) about having them there. But the cheery couple works hard to clean up the place, the girl often helping out.

Gradually, the grandparent (and the neighbor) warms to the couple, who even paint the outside of the general store. The store and apartment are transformed — and so are the people who live in it. They become a found family, if you will. This transformation is lovingly, gently paced throughout the book — and really earned at the book’s close, as you see them all enjoying one another’s company on the small balcony over the shop.

The book, whom the author dedicates to “trans activists of all ages,” is wordless. (The Canandian poet and writer JonArno Lawson, you may remember, is also responsible for bringing us the also wordless — and utterly exquisite — Sidewalk Flowers, published in 2015.) Qin Leng’s delicate illustrations and nimble lines bring much energy to the story; Leng mixes up these compositions with pages that include borderless panels and others, full-page illustrations. (And don’t forget the beautiful double-page final spread, pictured below.)

And perhaps that cat finds a home too. Here, in the end, all creatures are met with acceptance.

Here are some illustrations. Enjoy!



(Two images above: Click second image to see spread in its entirety)



(Two images above: Click second image to see spread in its entirety)


(Click spread to enlarge)


(Click spread to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

OVER THE SHOP. Story concept copyright © 2021 by JonArno Lawson. Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Qin Leng and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

5 comments to “Over the Shop

  1. So beautiful and moving, thank you! I’ll be ordering this for my library right away!

  2. Well, this is lovely – I adore that it’s wordless, and whispers A Truth without breathing a word.

  3. This just pulls you in. Looking forward to putting this one on my own shelf! Thanks for sharing it and Congratulations to Jon Arno Lawson and Qin Leng.

  4. Jules, can you help us to understand the role of the author in a wordless book?

  5. Well, I think the copyright line is the best possible answer here: “Story concept copyright © 2021 by JonArno Lawson. …” Much like with Sidewalk Flowers, the entire storyline/plot is the JonArno’s, and the illustrator then does their thing. Does that help?

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