Picture-Book Studies in Loneliness and Imagination

BookendsLynn: We were fortunate to be sent an F&G of The Only Child (2015) by Guojing last summer and, even in that unhandy form, the book took my breath away. The story may be wordless, told through luminous, sepia-toned sketches, but the tale is richly layered and deeply emotional. Guojing is a master, skillfully utilizing the panel design on each wondrous page to enhance the reader’s connection to the protagonist’s experience.

The Only Child by GuojingThe story is a simple one. A toddler plays alone after her parents leave for work. Bored and lonely, she decides to visit her grandmother. Crossing the city on a bus, the child falls asleep, misses her stop, and leaves the bus on the snowy edge of a forest. Then a reindeer arrives to comfort the girl and lead her up into the clouds for an extraordinary adventure before bringing her safely home again to her parents.

In the author’s note that begins the book, Guojing shares the feeling of isolation she felt growing up in China with its one-child policy. It is this deeply felt core of loneliness that underlies the entire story, even in the fantasy elements where Guojing delightfully celebrates imagination in scenes of play and innocent silliness with new friends. There is a gentle softness to all these beautiful illustrations but, as a reader, I was always aware of this child’s sadness.

Perfect for first- and second-grade classroom sharing,
and might cause a few teachers to remember to attend
to the invisible children in their classrooms.

The Invisible Boy by Trudy LudwigCindy: Loneliness can also come when you are in a group but feel like you are invisible. Trudy Ludwig’s picture book, The Invisible Boy (2013), demonstrates this idea perfectly with a story about Brian, who is quiet and goes unnoticed by his classmates and his teacher. Patrice Barton’s pastel illustrations show a colorful cast of characters and scenery, except for Brian, who for the first half of the story is portrayed in gray and white pencil sketches that highlight his invisible status. A new kid comes to school and Brian’s kindness provides a warm welcome and a model for others. This story is perfect for first- and second-grade classroom sharing, and might cause a few teachers to remember to attend to the invisible children in their classrooms, despite the noisy demands from other students.

QuietThe Invisible Boy also reminded me of the adult nonfiction book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012) by Susan Cain. Our society glorifies the extrovert, but introverts have a lot to offer if the rest of us would stop blathering long enough to listen.



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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