This inspirational reverie, unusual for a picture book, is a nice introduction for kids to the calming balm of the spiritual world. Author Cynthia Rylant has never been afraid to tackle the deeper questions, and in Life, she talks about life's joys and challenges. The text is at its best when it deals concretely with animals and their experience; for instance, talking about what they love about life: "The hawk will say sky. The camel will say sand." She also addresses readers directly, offering advice: "There will probably be a stretch of wilderness now and then. But wilderness eventually ends. And there is always a new road to take." These passages feel like helpful mantras kids can repeat to themselves when they need comfort or direction. But where the text gets more abstract, kids may find it slippery. "And if, one day, it seems nothing beautiful will ever come your way again, trust the rabbit in the field and the deer who crosses your path."
Brendan Wenzel’s art brings the abstract text solidly down to earth. The illustrations are populated with animals, with nary a human in sight. The animals all have deeply expressive eyes, and, just as Rylant speaks directly to the reader, some gaze directly at us, as if speaking to us, too. The rhythms and wonder of the natural world are the inspiration here, and in one captivating spread, birds take flight before a moon while a deer stares up from a silvery field. In another, a baby whale gazes upward, knowing "it is worth waking up in the morning to see what might happen" -- hopeful advice to offer young humans, too.