Here is a book that knows how to visually establish conflict and character right off the bat. On the very first double-page spread (after the title spread), we meet a sad little green duck wearing big chunky lace-up shoes. The only other thing on this sea of white space is the text, in oversized type: “I have lost my new blue socks.” A page turn leaves the white space and simple, effective introduction behind; from here on in, we plunge into the story and into recognizable, full-bleed pen-and-ink and watercolor Sergio Ruzzier territory. The landscape is, as always, unusual: geometrically jagged rocks, blue, yellow, and green hills, a field full of…cabbages? Yes, unusual vegetation is a Sergio Ruzzier specialty, and here he ups the ante with unusual stuff as well. Inside Duck’s house, as he searches through his box to find his socks, are such disparate items as a soccer ball, a champagne cork, a funnel, a framed picture of an egg, a starfish. And more. There is method to his madness, however, because all this debris keeps our attention on the many odd objects and away from Duck himself. But as the book progresses, and as our attention becomes more and more centered on finding those lost blue socks, the landscape gets cleaner and cleaner, less and less littered. We don’t have much to look at except Duck and his shoes…which are slowly coming untied, revealing – yes, you guessed it.
I admire so much about this book. I love the respect for the child shown here, both outside of and inside the book. It’s possible for an alert child reader to spot the little bit of blue peeking out from above Duck’s loosening shoe — Ruzzio gives his audience several chances to find the blue on its own before we come to the spread in which the whole focus is on Duck’s feet. A family of blue peacocks stare pointedly at Duck, but it’s the littlest one – the child peacock – who actually spots the socks: “Are those you’re wearing now the same?”
The arc of the book is a perfect progression from sad duck to ecstatic duck, from lost socks to found socks, from the beginning of one quest to the beginning of another – because Duck may have found his new blue socks, but pretty soon he’ll be lookin’ for his old brown shoes.
The fact that Eve Bunting’s text works so perfectly as a Green Eggs and Ham homage but with a flavor and purpose all its own (“I have not seen your new blue socks. Did you look inside your box? Did you ask your friend the ox?”) is a bonus for the Caldecott committee. The rhyme, the story, the character of Duck, the fun of the hunt, the silliness of the outcome – all will keep readers coming back to this one again and again. I hope the committee does, too.