Review: My Father’s Arms Are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde

my fathers arms are a boat

My Father’s Arms Are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde, illustrated by Oyvind Torseter, translated by Kari Dickson

Published on February 5, 2013.

There are some picture books that you read the first few lines and you realize you are somewhere new and unknown.  This is that sort of book.  It is the story of a young boy who is unable to fall asleep.  His father is there, sitting in the living room by the fire.  The boy returns to his father and climbs onto his lap.  His father talks about cutting down a big spruce together the next day.  The boy asks about the red birds that they left bread for.  He worries about the fox stealing their bread too. His grandmother told him that the red birds are dead people and then the book turns and is about the loss of his mother and grief.  It is handled with such care and delicacy and the young boy is surrounded with such obvious love that it is achingly exquisite.

This book is not really about what I captured in the paragraph above.  It is about sorrow and grief, the sort of sorrow that can only be fleetingly captured in a silent flight of birds or a lone fox in the snow.  It is about the loss of a mother, but also about the days following when grief is all you can bear and think of.  This book reads like a beautiful ache, a heartbeat of grief where life must go on.  The writing is expressive and poetic, just like the title.

Torseter’s illustrations are also unusual and amazing.  Done in folded paper and collage, they have a 3-dimensional quality to them that invites in shadows.  Most of the images are black, white and grey, though the red birds and the orange fox are pops of color.  Beautiful and delicate, the slumps of the shoulders of the characters tell of the sad truth before the words do.  The winter setting too is cold and a bit wild, reflecting the mood of the story.

Stunning in its writing and illustration, this is a picture book that is noteworthy and memorable.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Review: The Other Side of Town by Jon Agee

other side of town

The Other Side of Town by Jon Agee

A New York taxi driver picks up a rather odd passenger who asks to be taken to Schmeeker Street on the other side of town.  They reach a dead end, but that is not the other side of town yet.  The man pulls out a remote control and the dead end opens into a tunnel, the Finkon Tunnel.  The tunnel leads to a maze of ramps that twist and turn, ending in spotholes.  The driver tries to avoid them, but accidentally drives into one of the large black holes from which they are dumped onto Schmeeker Street.  Suddenly everything is pink and green, just like the man.  Finally, they reach his destination but the cabbie is caught on the other side of town until he notices the remote control left in the back seat.  But yet another surprise is waiting for him when he gets home!

Agee plays with our expectations with a great sense of fun in this book.  Renaming landmarks into something very similar but yet strange and different was a great choice.  The tone is entirely one of silliness and laughter with just enough being different and zany to make it clear that the other side of town is unlike anywhere readers have ever been.  It is through this that Agee subtly demonstrates that there are paths to cultural acceptance for those who are different from us.

The color palette of the other side of town also plays a large role in the story.  Immediately readers will see the little man as unusual thanks to his pink plume and green bodysuit.  When the story moves to the other side of town, the cabbie suddenly pops in his pale blue against all of the pink and green.

Funny, silly and a treat, take a visit to the other side of the town!  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.