Chalk by Bill Thomson

45816048Lynn: Cindy is always chiding me for hyperbolic praise for books so brace yourselves for her section because I’m probably going to be in for a scold. I love this book! The focus group loves this book! Picture us jumping up and down waving our arms and shouting at you to get Chalk (Marshall Cavendish 2010) and read it immediately because it is terrific. The book is wordless and the story is wonderfully imaginative: delightful, scary and satisfying in turn. The illustrations fill the entire page, are from unique perspectives, filled with wonderful details and saturated with color. They are so masterfully drawn that it is hard to believe they aren’t photographs or computer generated. You know you have something special when the bibliographic information includes an assurance that Thomson drew each illustration by hand!

The cover sets the stage. Open the book. The endpage – a close picture of rain hitting a puddle – shows us that it is a rainy day. Next we look up at a big green dinosaur spring ride with a bag covered with stars and moons hanging from the mouth. Along come three children with an umbrella. Of course they open the bag and inside is chalk. One of the children draws a sun on the sidewalk and magically the rain stops and the sun begins to shine! What should they draw next? Finally the boy who has a mischievous glint in his eye draws a dinosaur and the story gets scary as a T-Rex pulls itself up out of the drawing. Don’t worry – one of the children knows just what to do and all is well.

My grandsons were mesmerized by this book. They loved telling me the story and pointing out details on the pages. When we got to the end, they wanted to read it again immediately…and then again…and again. They decided it is too scary for Henry but perfect for them. Since Henry is only a month old I agree but I also think the scariness factor stretches the age level higher as older kids will find it intriguing too.

I could rave on but I need to leave things for Cindy to say. The focus group and I agree that Chalk is definitely in our top ten for the year!

Cindy: I can see Lynn perched at her kitchen bar counter not being able to pound the keys of her ancient MacBook fast enough to rave about this book (when will she upgrade THAT dinosaur so we can play online scrabble?) I would roll my eyes at her effusive praise, but this book is just as awesome as she claims. Chalk is definitely a send up to Chris VanAllsburg’s Jumanji with the magical game that brings beasts alive, but with art that is worthy of comparison to that 1982 Caldecott Medal winner. I love wordless books and the opportunity they provide to children to invent their own storytelling. I could see elementary teachers asking their students to draw a picture of what they would bring to life and to write a short story about what happens. It would make a great jump start for a writing lesson for young students.

My favorite scene is the one with the boy pulling out his piece of chalk and readers will KNOW from the look on his face that he is up to no good. It’s such a universal boy moment, perfectly captured in acrylic paint and colored pencil. Mothers everywhere will cringe while children will know the fun is just beginning. The little boy looks an awful lot like our two focus group members. I think I’d be wise to keep one eye peeled for colored chalk the next time I spend the day with them!



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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