Way back in September, we started the blog with a few possible titles and asked for suggestions. The exclamation points started flyin’ when Aaron Becker’s Journey was not on the list. Outrage! Horror! Well, sometimes books don’t make it to the hinterlands of not-New York and not-Boston, and I had some scrambling to do. I’m so glad I did. Keeping with the theme of Wordless Week, I will now use a zillion words to talk about one wordless 40-page book.
When I first looked, I was astounded to read on the copyright page (thank you, publishers that put information about art on the copyright page!) that the art was created in pen and ink and watercolor. Watercolor. Becker created a world that is both large and lush and filled with teeny details, details that are difficult to achieve in such a loose medium. And pen and ink. That’s a tricky medium, too, and there are a LOT of TEENY lines in these illustrations. I visited Becker’s website and watched the video about how this project was created and was mesmerized by the lines and color he employed.
The story is a familiar one–a little girl creating her world with one red pen. But, what a world it is! In the beginning, her world is a flat, dull, brownish gray place. Her family is busy (reminiscent of John Rocco’s Blackout) with phones, computers, and other devices. The opening spread has only the slightest touch of color: her red scooter, a boy’s purple chalk, and a purple bird flying over skyscrapers. There are no borders, but the boxes that show the rooms of the house create a boundary of their own. And the cutaway of the house extends to show the sewers of the city and the basement of the house, complete with water heaters and other machinery. Turn the page (and you DO want to turn these pages!) and all boundaries are stripped away as the girl tries to pull her busy family away from their devices with a red scooter, red kite, and red ball. Dejected, she returns to her room, which is all straight lines: walls, door, window, even the beam of light. The only things that are not angular are an air balloon suspended from the ceiling, the continents drawn on the map on the wall, a sleeping cat, and the girl herself. Hints of things to come.
When the napping cat leaves, a piece of red chalk is revealed, and then the story really gets going. The girl, like Harold, draws on her white wall and creates a portal into another world, a world carefully constructed by the illustrator. When she runs through the red door, the page turn creates a Wizard of Oz moment, where all the world is lush and green and light and hung with blue lanterns. The red door reveals the dull brown world left behind.
Rather than drag you, one eyeball at a time, through each page turn, I bring to your attention the pages where the girl draws new things, which employ a tremendous amount of white space (for her to draw on) and the girl is shown three times on that white page, making her new drawings. She draws a boat, a hot-air balloon, a magic carpet, and, finally, a bicycle built for two (remember that boy from the very first spread?).
As she visits these magical lands, Becker creates a world full of detail worthy of David Macaulay’s best work. The reader moves closer and closer as the story progresses, starting with the amazingly detailed view of a castle with its moats and waterways, then to the air where she discovers a steampunk (I think I am using this term correctly) vehicle filled with hunters who catch the purple bird (remember the bird from the first spread?). While in this vehicle, the perspective is close indeed, showing the gargantuan size of the flying machine when the tiny soldiers are marching across a bridge. When the red chalk is lost, the girl’s world goes dull again until the freed purple bird, drenched in a red sky, returns it.
It’s just all so glorious, and I know the committee is going to enjoy poring over every single detail. There is such a pleasure in seeing new things, making unusual connections, and swimming in art that tells a story. And we all love the feeling of discovering a new artist with a style we have never seen before.
Here is the part of the criteria I think the committee will address with this one:
“Distinguished” is defined as:
- Marked by eminence and distinction; noted for significant achievement.
- Marked by excellence in quality.
- Marked by conspicuous excellence or eminence.
- Individually distinct.
Check, check, check, and, especially on d, check. Since we are talking about many wordless books this week/last week, it goes without saying that these illustrations tell the whole story AND reward close reading. I have read it at least four times and I notice new visual connections each time I reread.
I know there are a lot of Journey fans out there–what do you love about this magical tale?