Monday, November 18, 2013

30 Days of Picture Books - Journey by Aaron Becker

It's Day 11 of our 30 Days of Picture Books. A reader asked the other day if we read a new book every night - the short answer is no, especially lately, because we have been reading chapter books at bedtime more frequently (Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary is the current pick). But we do read quite a few new books every week, and revisit old favorites too. There are some picture books we just can't get enough of!

Today's title, Journey by Aaron Becker, is a bit different in that it's a wordless book. This type of picture book is tough for me, because my initial reaction on hearing that a particular title is to think "Oh, but I don't like wordless books." I don't know why I feel that way, since honestly I've enjoyed a number of wordless and near-wordless titles (Jerry Pinkney's The Lion and the Mouse is probably the most notable of these). But that's always what goes through my mind. Luckily there are plenty of terrific titles out there to prove me wrong, and Journey is a notable recent addition to this sub-section of picture books.

The story Becker has laid out is a familiar theme in many kidlit titles (traces of Harold and the Purple Crayon linger in the mind), but it receives an entirely new and fresh treatment in this peerless pictorial. A young girl, bored and lonely, tries to engage her family members in some activity with no success. Slumped on her bed, she suddenly spies a red crayon in the corner of her room, and, thinking quickly, she draws an archway on her wall and escapes through the door that appears. Immediately she's transported from her colorless existence to a world of shimmering beauty - a forest with golden lanterns strung from tree to tree. There's a stream there, and a dock, so, doing what nearly anyone with a magic crayon would, our heroine draws herself a boat, and she's off.

This is the kind of book kids crave, in my experience. The fantasy world that Becker's created here is the stuff of a young child's dreams, and the pictures are such works of craftsmanship that one could easily lose oneself in them for a long time. Each new spread reveals a new turn in the story, and the fun is in seeing how the girl will use her crayon (and her wits) to keep the adventure going. The girl's everyday world is echoed in the realms of imagination she explores, and the final turn in the story provides an ending that's satisfying and yet completely unexpected. This may be Becker's debut, but I sincerely hope it's not the last we'll see of him - this is a fierce and uniquely talented artist.

For all those who think that picture books are just for very young children, Journey will prove them wrong. There is a depth and complexity to this narrative that is sure to mesmerize any adult. That is, if you can pry it away from your kids.

Journey by Aaron Becker, published by Candlewick Press

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