Wanderlust is surging these days. It’s summer, after all. Time to unearth the suitcases, shake out the sleeping bags and head to the nearest mountain or beach. But even the most jam-packed summer offers quiet moments in between the swimming and picnicking and exploring. How better to fill those delicious pauses than with a picture book that whets the appetite for more adventure?
Let us begin our travels with Another by Christian Robinson. A quick scramble through a bedroom portal with a girl and her cat and we discover a joyful dimension where gravity is flipped. Or maybe our world is the one that’s upside down. That’s just one of the many surprises in store in this wordless picture book.
Robinson, a Caldecott honoree, mixes circles, triangles, rectangles and other brightly colored shapes into his vibrant collages. His compositions playfully tease the rules of perspective at times, while imbuing certain story objects with three-dimensional physicality, such as the wrinkled red paper of a rumpled bedspread.
The story arc unfolds gently. Robinson drops clues in his artwork as the girl and her pet traverse this whimsical place. Together, with the characters, we try to figure out what is going on. The satisfying yet mysterious ending hints that the adorable cat may be a wee bit more familiar with this other dimension that we thought at first.
Pete Oswald’s Hike immerses us in the great outdoors from the get go. The front cover zooms in on a father and child rappelling up the vertically stacked letters of the book’s title. A closer look reveals the chunky letters are actually landscape cut outs. Such fresh and creative cover art bodes well for the journey ahead.
Oswald’s comprehensive world-building feels anchored in personal experience. On the title page, we glimpse a neighborhood at a city’s edge. Morning shadows soften the empty sidewalks. This is how so many hikes begin – in the early hours before most of the world awakes. The richly textured spreads glide effortlessly between intimate vignettes and expansive vistas. We move close in to fill a backpack or sketch bear tracks. Then our view widens to admire a tumbling waterfall or eagles circling the crest of a mountain. Children preparing for their first hike will find the rhythm reassuring, and young nature lovers will make plenty of connections to past adventures.
As the book progresses, Oswald takes time to ground us in the book’s physical setting. We sense the ascents and descents. We know when we are walking deeper into the wilderness, and when we are doubling back down the path as evening approaches. The geography displays the logic of a true place. Along the way, the child character travels a realistic emotional terrain as he confronts his fears of crossing a tenuous log and is rewarded for his courage.
The characters end the day tired but fulfilled, back where they started, with a new appreciation for the comforts of home – beloved pets, cold milk and comfy pajamas.
Rounding out our trio of books is The Airport Book by Lisa Brown. This engaging picture book shows a child’s eye view of how airplane travel works.
With narration that evokes the gentle, matter-of-fact tone of a Mr. Rogers, the book lays it all out. Here’s how you get to the airport. (A car, a van, a bus, or even a train.) You’ll see lots of people saying goodbyes. (Sometimes they cry.) You’ll stand in lines. (Lots and lots of them.) But along the way there are so many things to look at. Overhead bins and clouds and your stuffed monkey going up a conveyer belt.
If you’re lucky, there’ll be a Nana and Grandpa to hug you once you land.
The story conveys the immense scale and complexity of modern airports in spreads that burst with people and purposeful activity. It has the potential to dissolve into chaos, but Brown has everything under control. Her directional cues guide us and the main characters through the many varied spaces travelers must navigate. Brown also instills an orderly calm through her palette. She reserves color for the passengers and workers and assorted luggage. The other elements, from the airport floors and walls to the vehicles and scanners and seats, are soothing white and gray.
The approach simplifies the compositions and rewards our eyes. When we follow the bright colors we discover an incredible variety of often funny scenes unfolding. It’s a book young readers will savor over and over, as they notice new details with each viewing.