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Review of The Plan

paul_the planThe Plan
by Alison Paul; illus. by Barbara Lehman
Primary   Houghton   32 pp.
11/15   978-0-544-28333-6   $17.99

In just twenty words and a set of artfully plain pictures, Paul and Lehman reveal a sweet, multilayered story of family loss and closeness. May Swift lives with her father and (anthropomorphized) dog on a prairie farm sometime in the 1920s. May dreams of flying to Saturn, but the biplane in their farmyard sits abandoned, inhabited by chickens. When May finds an old photo album, she discovers that her mother was a barnstormer pilot and persuades her father that the plane, the Mighty Comet, should fly again. In the final illustration we see the family flying off into the night — perhaps not to Saturn, but they do have a lot of luggage. This narrative is given the added dimension of a word morph game, where each word leads to the next with the addition or deletion of one letter, plan to plane to planet, eventually coming full circle back to plan. The deeper story lies in the spaces between the words, especially in the five wordless pictures that lead from pain to plain. Did May’s mother die in an airplane accident? Childbirth? Is the family leaving home for good? The emotions are clear; the story itself leaves us room to speculate.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.



  1. Yes, the question of whether the mother died in a plane accident -I told my first graders I thought that was likely in view of the family’s mutual passion for flying- but as you mentioned here I also let them know she may have been sick. That was the matter that had the kids quite concerned about. This is a deeply moving and beautifully conceived book, one of my personal favorites of the year. I loved Lehman’s The Red Book too. Such economy here, a great idea using P words, and a story that creeps up on you. Wonderful review.

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