The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
In a wordless picture book, Frazee captures what happens when a young clown falls off of a circus train and is rescued by a lonely farmer. The desolate and flat landscape is unbroken until the bright circus train passes. The farmer is clearly reluctant to take in the bright little smiling clown, but he does anyway, taking him by the hand back to his tiny house. There, the two of them sit together, share a meal and eventually wash up and the clown washes off his face paint. Now it is the little clown who is worried and sad, his smile removed with the water. The farmer sits with him as he tries to fall asleep. Along with the light of dawn, the farmer starts to cheer up the little clown with silly faces and antics. Soon the two are living a mix of their two lives: eggs are gathered and juggled, hard work is shared, and the two head out on a picnic together. While on the picnic, they hear a train coming and it is the circus train filled with clowns. But somehow, the ending is not sad as the little clown returns to his family and the farmer returns to his farm, both changed forever.
I’m not sure how Frazee manages to convey so much in a wordless format. She uses symbolism, like the face paint for removing barriers, the connection of the characters through held hands, and their very different hats being removed and shared and eventually exchanged. It’s lovely and heartfelt and very special.
I’ve seen this book on a lot of people’s top book lists for the year, and I completely agree. It’s a gem of a book that has such depths to explore. The wordless format might imply a simple story, but here readers will find subtlety about friendship, caring for others, and building connections.
A masterpiece of wordless storytelling, this is a radiant picture book made to be shared. Appropriate for ages 2-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
The incredible and award-winning team of Bryant and Sweet return with a picture book biography of Peter Roget. The book looks deeply into his childhood as a boy who grew up moving around a lot in Switzerland. He found that books stayed good friends through the many moves he made. Roget was also a boy who enjoyed making lists, lists about all sorts of things: Latin words, elements, weather and words for things in the garden. As a teenager, he spent time silent and alone outside, making lists of birds and insects. Then one day, he realized that it would be great to have a book that listed all the different words to choose from, and his idea of a thesaurus was born. But it would take many years of hard work to come to fruition.
Bryant’s text has just the right amount of information about Roget and his life. She wisely chooses to focus on his interest in lists as a child and how that grew into the thesaurus as Roget himself grew up. This natural progression of interest from youth to adult is something that children will enjoy seeing in both Roget and in their own lives. Bryant’s Author’s Note at the end of the book speaks to all of the research that goes into writing a biography for young children and the inspiration she herself found in Roget.
As always, the illustrations by Sweet are a highlight of the book. Here, as she explains in her Illustrator’s Note at the end of the book, she has incorporated the Latin words that Roget used in his notebooks. The other words that she weaves into her art are found in the first edition of his thesaurus. Her art incorporates different papers, watercolors, and objects. There is one page where it feels like it pops off the page, a book that contains words, creatures, plants and ideas. Simply amazing art.
A noteworthy addition to the already impressive shelves of Bryant and Sweet, this is one that belongs in every library and in the hands of all young wordsmiths. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.