Aaron Becker is one of the best-known proponents of the silent or wordless picturebook genre, following his Journey trilogy. This book is another visual treat and the journey motif is dominant once more. Maps dominate the endpapers showing us a voyage from Ethiopia 5000BC via Babylon and Patna, Canton and Hawaii, to present-day San Juan Islands. We wonder what this voyage is about.
Next, we see a framed photo of a little girl and her dog. The love between them is palpable and someone has captured that moment and framed it. On the dedications page we see a dreamlike image of the little girl. She is wearing a golden necklace and picking yellow flowers. In the background her parents are silhouetted. We see her father holding a small brother’s hand; her mother a spade. Before we turn to the first opening, we have already a huge amount to ponder over and discuss.
On the first opening, the girl runs home with the flowers. On the verso, she is small and urgent in a large white space. And on the recto, her father is kneeling beside a freshly dug grave. He tenderly holds a dog-sized bundle, wrapped in a paw-print blanket. While the mother consoles the girl, her little brother chases a golden butterfly. The family appear to have Asian and African ancestry.
On the next opening, the little girl tenderly places her yellow flowers on Sascha’s grave. We notice the Dad’s necklace and Mum’s hairpins. On the recto, an enormous white space surrounds the child’s grief. We empathise with the little girl as the family sets off on holidays, leaving Sascha behind.
The book then transports readers through the world of history, geography, sociology, cosmology, geology, ancestry and even cultural studies. We begin to realise that death and grief are part of a bigger tapestry. Like the little girl in the story, we accept that nothing is ever really lost. We are all connected, all part of a continuum. And in that realisation comes healing.
Adults will be as absorbed by this story as the children with whom they are sharing the book. Each image will demand close looking, time for deep discussion and multiple readings. Teachers will be excited by the philosophical and cross-curricular opportunities provided. Moreover, the many journeys, expertly and sensitively depicted in this book, will leave a lasting impression on readers.
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