Another

My sister, a high school English teacher, is one of the most well-read and story-loving persons on the planet. She reads voraciously, indiscriminately, and deeply. When she presses a book into my hands, I know it will demand focused and thoughtful reading. This was the case with Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. A dense, scholarly work filled with Jungian philosophy, it required me to work through it with pencil in hand. But Campbell’s basic premise is simple: every fantasy story shares a common structure. It’s a circular structure that takes the hero from the familiar to the unknown and then back to the familiar. Why is this structure universal? Because fantasy stories reflect human longings, questions, and desires. The hero’s physical journey ends where it began, but her internal journey ends with greater understanding and new curiosities. Consider favorite fantasy heroes — Harry (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), the Pevensies (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), Max (Where the Wild Things Are), Dorothy (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), Ged (A Wizard of Earthsea) -- their stories all follow the circular “hero’s journey” structure. Christian Robinson’s Another shakes the traditional picture book structure, (literally) turning it upside down. But at its heart, it too is a "hero's journey" story. In thirty-two pages, Robinson creates a world, a hero, and a heroic journey.

In the words of Campbell, “The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is…separation, initiation, and return.” Consider how Robinson’s illustrations take our hero down this path in a way that is anything but standard.

Separation:

The hero’s journey begins when a call to adventure, usually in the form of a character whom Campbell calls “the herald,” beckons her away from ordinary life. On the title page of Another, our young hero is asleep in her bedroom, with her red-collared black cat perched on top of the covers. On the page-turn, the “o” of the word "another" widens into a portal, attracting the cat’s attention. Next, the herald, an identical blue-collared cat, peers out of the portal. It slides into the bedroom and steals the first cat's red toy mouse. Aroused from sleep, the little girl follows the cats and climbs through the portal. Robinson’s use of color is powerful, as black spreads suddenly switch to pure white, signaling the dramatic departure from the ordinary to the extraordinary or, in Campbell’s words, “Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves into a dream landscape.” Effective use of white space shows the girl continuing her dream landscape journey. She shimmies through more portals, climbs up (or is it down?) a colorful staircase, slides down a ball-pit, and rides across a moving walkway. Colors, shapes, and textures are kept to a minimum, allowing the topsy-turvy journey and bizarre new world to shine. PSA: physical book interaction is required.

Initiation:

This part of the hero’s journey is when, through new experiences and interactions, she gains insight into others, a newfound identity awareness, and a better understanding of her place in the world. Upon stumbling out of the final portal, our protagonist encounters children happily playing with each other. Each child is engaged with an alternate self. It’s a detail I missed on my first reading but one that my students noticed immediately. Knowing their responses would be of utmost value, I used my phone to record their comments:  “They’re alike, but different!”; “The different color clothes show us that they are NOT the same person even though they look the same on the outside”; and “Everyone on earth is unique, but we all like to play the same things.” Second-grade philosophy at its finest. Big ideas and universal concepts communicated through illustration. And then our hero meets her double – only, as children are quick to point out, the planet on her nightshirt and her hair bobbles are different colors. The flipped symmetrical page placement of the two girls emphasizes their “alike, but different” existence.

Return:

A hero’s journey is incomplete without the return. Here our hero returns from her mysterious journey and climbs back into bed. Her external appearance hasn’t changed, but has she changed? Of course. All fantastical journeys cause internal change and growth. How is she changed? You decide. As the endpapers and back jacket cover suggest, is there life beyond our known universe? You decide. Do we have an alternate self in another universe? You decide. Is our hero’s journey just a dream? You decide. These questions divided my second-graders, especially when a blue toy mouse was spotted on the last page (a brilliant illustration detail that prompts flipping back a few pages). In the words of fourth-century philosopher Sallustius, “Myths are things which never happened, but always are.” Or in the words of a precocious seven-year-old, “I learn better in my imagination and [through] stories that aren’t real life.”

Another, like all memorable fantasy stories, is the story of a hero and her journey. Reflecting children’s sensibilities and imaginings, it addresses universal questions in a way that is unexplained yet universally understood. WORDLESSLY. Give Christian Robinson Another Caldecott nod.

Emmie Stuart
Emmie Stuart
Emmie Stuart is a school librarian at the Percy Priest Elementary School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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