323S: Reviled Colorful New Neighbor Saves Family From Fire

I’ve tried to track down this book periodically over the past few years with no success. I can’t remember the title or author at all. I don’t know when it was published, but I would have read this in the early 90s—and I don’t remember it seeming physically like an old book. I’m not sure if I can’t find it because it’s rare (hopefully not!), or if I’m just not using the right search terms. Maybe you can help! Here’s what I remember:

It’s a richly illustrated picture book about a quirky, flamboyant man (I’m pretty sure he wears a top hat?) who moves into a drab, stuffy neighborhood where he is ostracized by the uptight parents in the community. The illustrations are somewhat stylized (maybe — but not definitely — collage). One day, neighborhood children, who have been warned by their parents to stay away from this oddball, accidentally break his window with a baseball. (Or maybe they just hit it into is yard… I can’t quite remember.) In any case, when they go to retrieve their ball they discover this guy to be incredibly kind and welcoming. I think he gives them some pink lemonade.

The children, their parents, their houses, and the neighborhood in general are rendered in black and white, but the inside of the stranger’s house is bright and colorful. I can’t remember exactly what happens next, but I think the kids and the man become friends. When the parents find out, they are furious and forbid the children from hanging out with the man, which breaks his heart. I think the inside of his house turns black and white at that point.

But one night, the “ringleader” parent’s house catches on fire, and the strange man saves the family. I think I remember a page where the text is stylized to look like smoke. And I remember an illustration of the family members jumping from the window into a tarp held by firefighters (or maybe townspeople.) This leads the community to accept the strange newcomer, and the entire town bursts into color.

For whatever reason, I cannot figure out what this book is. And it is driving me crazy! If any of this rings a bell, I’d be thrilled. Sincerest apologies for all the vague rambling. And thank you!

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