To & Fro

Dual young protagonists search for life's meaning in a delightful and unconventionally designed novel that can be read by beginning on either the last or the first page, depending on how readers approach its flip-book format. To & Fro, Leah Hager Cohen's 12th book, follows Ani, who is traveling with a kitten in an unspecified time and place, and Annamae, who is growing up in 21st-century Manhattan.

Cohen (No Book but the World) mirrors Ani's and Annamae's narratives in sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle ways, prompting countless "aha!" moments as parallels surface. Annamae longs to find a perfect friend. "It was as if she'd peeked ahead in a book about herself" and found "a definite clue that such friendship was real, and awaited her." Ani's story is a parable, but her quest is literal; a plucky orphan, she acknowledges that she is "lonesome" and wanders the land in search of a place called Tewanfrough.

Annamae, "serious to a fault," has a more secure childhood; she delights in a list of nautical terminology, "a feast of unknown words and terms," and her conversations with her linguist mother and Harriett, a patient rabbi, burst with wordplay and debates. Meanwhile, Ani also becomes captivated by language; taken in by a community of scholars, she thinks that "if speech were visible" it would be "a great pinwheel of colored streamers... spinning round and round."

To & Fro is a magical celebration of language, stories, and youthful curiosity. Embracing its carefully crafted format of separate, parallel tales will enhance readers' delight as they join Ani and Annamae on their journeys. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

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