I first saw this book weeks ago, but with the other books I had lined up (and waiting for this one to come through the library channels and Thanksgiving and real life), I’m just now getting to focus on it. It’s amazing. I like it more each time I read it. Since I first saw this, I’ve read several reviews of the book. It also made the New York Times Best Illustrated Books of 2013 List. The most interesting work was Julie Danielson’s interview with Becker over at Seven Imp–check it out! But let’s dive into the book itself, starting with… the cover, of course!
[I did this walk through with my children and they were fascinated–even to the frame/bleed discussion; they also started noticing way more details. Do this with your kids! Teach them visual literacy and just plain ol’ observation and art appreciation. Soap box over.]
Cover: Wow–I totally want to visit that castle, don’t you? I mean, it’s super cool. On a more professional note, let’s talk about the palette: cool blues and greens and that eye-popping red. While our eyes are drawn to the castle since it’s placed to the right, is large, and the lines lead to it, we can’t help but notice the red immediately out of the corner of our eye. Did you notice that the title is also in red? Hmm… might be an important color. One more note: the image I pulled from Candlewick is a bit blurry; if you don’t have the book in front of you, let me point out the purple bird up in the sky–it almost looks like one of the pennants flying from the castle. We’ll meet this bird again.
Endpapers: Red! Look closely: there are all kinds of modes of transportation drawn. Hmm… The book is about a journey; perhaps the journey will involve several types of transportation?
Title Page: If you’ve not read this gem, you won’t know that this is the last page with words…but it is. The title is prominent, but our eye notes that bright red scooter and the strange turquoise lantern. The girl on the scooter is traveling to the right and is almost at the end of the page. We want to turn that page. But before you do, note the drab colors, the sepia tones of everything else on this page. Quite a change from that brilliant cover image.
Opening Pages: What a contrast to the castle scene!! A muted, sepia world is pictured; the girl’s red scooter is parked this time and she’s sitting glumly on the stoop of her house (we assume). It’s easy to pass over this picture. But note that the cutaway of her house shows her family members all busily engaged in solo activities. There are also other kids opposite the girl who are engaged in some sort of game. And there’s a boy holding a purple crayon (this is a subtle detail I didn’t pick up on until I’d read this book several times!). He’s kind of alone, too….
Frame v. Full Bleed: Let’s get a touch more technical here. Before we leave the big, sepia double-spread, note that it’s a full bleed picture: the image covers the entire two pages. When you turn the page, you will see the girl on her bed in a frame: a stark contrast. There is lots of white space on this page, and it reinforces the alone-ness of the girl. In fact, in that framed picture, we don’t see any red. On the lefthand page, you see the girl presumably asking her family members to do something. The red objects are the activity of choice. The little vignettes echo that lonely little feeling. There is nothing to do….
Layout: This book has all kinds of teaching moments, doesn’t it?! The next two pages are a mirror layout of the two previous. This time, the lefthand page holds the framed picture of the girl and the righthand side shows some sequential action happening. Note that she spies a red crayon on her floor. In a move reminiscent of Harold, she begins to draw an escape route. And what do we see through that red door (red = action!)? Some green space…this is a different world than her sepia one.
Palette: I won’t continue examining every page. (sigh) Wouldn’t that be fun? But do note the palette throughout the book: that red is always eye-catching, even when it’s not prominently positioned. It points to what’s happening–or about to happen. [There’s a particularly striking image where the red crayon is in midair–if your children are paying attention, this will give them pause…] And when you spy the purple bird, take note! There will also be a purple door. Note that it’s different than her red door.
Details: This is a book to look at again and again and again. There are so many intricate scenes and details. When you share this with children, give them time to look closely at each page. Ask questions: what’s going to happen next? What’s red in this picture? What is she making? Where is she going (particularly effective when she’s on the flying carpet on the far, high left, and there’s a small, open door in the bottom right)? Ask them how they know the answers to these questions.
Last Pages: When you reach the spread where the girl and boy meet for the first time, take some time to go back and look at that first double spread in the beginning. And don’t miss the final page. What adventure awaits!
I’ve heard some compare this book to Harold and the Purple Crayon and there’s a similarity in theme, no doubt. But this book feels very different to me. It’s much more elaborate in illustration and scope. Perhaps it could be construed as an homage to Harold, but I think it’s a well done book fully in its own right.
Next PBOW: Battle Bunny by John Scieszka and Mac Barnett (should be in libraries now)
Book from local library; cover image from Candlewick