I almost didn’t blog about these books because I am intimidated to try to capture their magic and message in a few hundred words. These books are a visual marvel. Although there are no words-not a one-this trilogy tells a story that is exciting and emotionally charged.
A bored child of a busy family uses a coloured crayon to draw a door and enter into a new world. At the end of her heroic adventures to save the purple bird from the evil soldiers in Journey, she meets a boy with an equally powerful purple crayon. In Quest, they achieve their mission to find the other four magical crayons and return them to the king. Return completes the trilogy’s emotional story as the distracted father realises his folly and follows his daughter into her secret world. Initially she is angry with him but he eventually saves the purple bird and the kingdom from the villains. All is forgiven.
There are many fine details sketched into each and every page. In an interview, Becker shared that he moved to Europe for a number of months so that he could become a better drawer; the intricate land of castles and kingdoms that the reader is transported to demonstrates the success of his experiment. The palette’s change from sepia tones to brilliant colours as the crayons are found and their powers unleashed adds a layer of visual interest. These books could be poured over for hours by children and adults. It’s no wonder that Journey received a Caldecott honour in 2014.
Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate DiCamillo, Candlewick Press, 2000)
“You haven’t read Because of Winn-Dixie?” my school teacher friend asked me [she reads it to her class]. “Sydona [my 8 year-old daughter] would love it,” she continued.
“I’ve heard of it. I should try reading it to the girls, but Madilyn [just turned 4] might be a little young,” I replied.
Well, Because of Winn-Dixie was a hit with all three of us. A book featuring a neglected yet grinning dog named after a grocery store quickly hooks most readers. To this, add a colourful cast of characters, humour and raw emotion. I got teary a few times reading it, although the ‘Beth Cry Test’ is fairly predictable. There were some meaty topics in this book for my girls to digest: a runaway mother, a distracted father, loneliness and alcoholism were the biggies. But, as I’ve heard many times–kids can handle big topics. And they did. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of depth was lost on them, but that’s okay, because many age appropriate questions were shooting from their mouths and my eldest was showing concern and compassion for Opal, the main character (qualities I would often like to see more often!). The theme of friendship permeates throughout novel. Opal develops a number of unlikely friendships thanks to the four-legged companion that she brought home from the Winn-Dixie instead of a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice and two tomatoes. And I’ve been upset when a surprise bag of candy makes it way home from a shopping trip . . .
Because of Winn-Dixie is a heartwarming book with short chapters, which made it a perfect first novel to read aloud to my young children. It’s received some impressive accolades; a Parent’s Choice gold award in 2000 and a Newberry honour in 2001.
The Heart and the Bottle (Oliver Jeffers. HarperCollins, 2010)
The topics of loss, grief and love are quietly confronted in this Oliver Jeffers gem. Although the subject matter is weighty, a journey through this picture book, featuring a young girl who loses her attentive father figure, feels remarkably light. Jeffers achieves this through his sweet and often humour-infused illustrations. As well, to protect her heart after experiencing loss, the main character literally wears it in a bottle around her neck for many years, which is a bit awkward during many daily activities. The minimalist approach to drawing the facial features of the protagonist also alleviates any heavy doses of ‘glum’. The events leading to the main character’s return to a peaceful, wonder-filled life add to this picture book’s kid-friendliness and take it from good to great. The vitality of the final spread make this book phenomenal.
The Bureau of Misplaced Dads (Éric Viellé, author. Pauline Martin, illustrator. Kids Can Press, 2015).
After misplacing his Dad, the protagonist in this picture book is taken to the Bureau of Misplaced Dads to hopefully reclaim his father. Apparently 20 to 30 dads wander into this Bureau every day; some have been there for a long time, but most are in good condition. The main character searches for his dad and finds that these interesting specimens come in all shapes, sizes, smells, and outfits. There is a superhero dad, a dad with crumbs in his moustache, a dad named Mike that wears a suit, etc. But none are his dad, who know him and drive him to school. And NO, he does not want to adopt a different one. The boy eventually remembers where he put his dad that morning and rushes home to find him–happy ending achieved. This picture book will spur you to ask your child(ren) what kind of dad theirs is; the answer is sure to be either heartwarming or hilarious. The response in my house was on the heartwarming side–“he’s just a good dad.” Agreed. We’re going to be careful not to misplace him.