In her acknowledgments, Lauren Oliver explains why Liesl & Po is especially important to her, and it shows in her writing and story, as well as Kei Acedera’s illustrations, which are somewhat akin to Brian Selznick’s illustrations in Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, but on a smaller scale.
Poor Liesl is stuck in her attic by an evil stepmother, ever since her father died. One night, she is visited by Po, a ghost (a boy…or maybe not) and his companion, Bundle (a dog…or maybe a cat). It is hard to tell what these apparitions are, since they are somewhat fuzzy. Liesl and Po are both lonely and befriend each other.
Will, an orphan and alchemist’s apprentice, has a crush on Liesl, although they’ve never met. He just sees her each night sadly sitting in her attic window. When Will, making deliveries for the alchemist, mixes up a box with human ashes from the undertaker with the box of the most powerful magic the alchemist has ever made, destined for Madame Premier, he triggers an escapade loaded with good and evil, action and adventure.
Liesl and Po’s story is, indeed, enchanting. While Oliver describes the bleak, sun-starved landscape the characters inhabit, there is always hope. The characters are marvelous. There are kind hearted people, such as Madame Premier’s guard, Mo, who only wants to give Will a hat because he looks cold and who carries his cat, Lefty, in a sling. There is the evil alchemist and, more evil, Madame Premier who generates coldness wherever she goes. Of course, no fairy tale/fantasy could be complete without an evil stepmother and Augusta surely fits the bill. The care that Will, Po and Liesl show for each other, confirms that there truly is love in the world.
We should not forget Kei Acedera’s black and white pencil (I’m assuming it’s pencil) drawings which are rich in detail and add an amazing touch to the story. In my mind, they are an integral part of the book.
While the book jacket says Liesl & Po is geared for 8-12 year olds, I think teens as well as adults will enjoy it, because if you have a good story and good artwork, the appeal is ageless. I took Liesl & Po out of the library, but have plans to add it to my personal book collection. It is a treat.