Since I wrote that review, I've read Larson's fable about "Hailey and her masked friend, sharing fantasies together in the quiet of the forest" about 100 times; it's my son's favorite book.
Jonah, who just turned 17 months, LOVES Salamander Dream in a way that is so pure and so joyful, it's indescribable. And his affection for the story is unusual for a kid his age. It's much longer than any of his other picture books, and definitely a more involved story than, say, Clifford the Big Red Dog or Goodnight Moon, and yet, night after night, he sits still (except when he leans in to give Salamander a kiss) and eagerly stares at each page while I improvise the narrative. At some points, he gets so excited, he literally shakes and squeals with delight, especially when Salamander emerges from his tree, or climbs onto the eagle's back, or shrinks down to an atomic element.
Despite all my efforts to describe what makes certain comics great, Jonah's love for this story is the best evidence I can think of that there's a certain magic to comics that is, and always will be, beyond the critics' reach.