Anthony Browne, renowned for his picture book Gorilla, has done it again. The Tunnel has the same creepy resonance and Freudian symbolism; it’s as disturbing as it is mesmerizing.
Rose and Jack, brother and sister, are quarrelsome opposites. She’s a dreamy, timid book lover; he’s all noise, exuberance, and roughhousing energy. She’s pictured, portrait-style, against Persian-patterned wallpaper; he’s confident and grinning against a brick wall.
Sent out to play, Rose and Jack scuffle. Jack discovers a ”damp and slimy” tunnel, crawls into it, and disappears. When Rose gets up the courage to follow him, she finds that the tunnel leads to a strange forest. But Jack is nowhere in sight.
In mounting fear, Rose runs past surrealistic trees and twisted roots filled with terrifying images of faces, bears, and giant hands. When Rose finds Jack, he’s frozen into a stone statue. Her warm embrace and tears bring him back to life; together, reconciled, they go home.
Parents may be bothered by the gripping surrealism of Browne’s pictures — if not by the stereotyping of girl and boy — but the book’s power is undeniable. In its frank acknowledgment of sibling anger and children’s fears (even the shadows in Rose’s bedroom seem menacing), The Tunnel is bound to seize children’s imaginations (especially those who love Grimms’ fairy tales). And, like a fairy tale, The Tunnel is at heart a reassuring story of youthful courage and reconciliation.A+