Now that I’m living closer to my family, I have the advantage of a built-in picturebook audience in my nieces and nephew. Luckily enough, I was hanging out with my youngest niece when I received Hike by Pete Oswald. Since she loves books, she was eager for me to read it to her and was delighted to see that it was a wordless picturebook. So, at the age of three, she was able to read to me this gorgeous book that tells the story of cross-generational traditions. And I, the happiest of aunts, enjoyed being the audience as she further developed the narrative with every read-through.

Hike, which received a starred review from the Horn Book, opens with a father holding a coffee cup and waking up his child. The child’s room is filled with nature-themed decorations. A bag of trail mix, hiking books, a map, a compass, and a tree seedling are among the items that fill the page, giving us clues about the adventure that the pair will take. As the father walks away from the bed, with closed eyes and his coffee cup still held firmly in his hand, the child begins to wake for the day. The following pages reveal the child’s excitement for the dawning day and show in a series of vignettes how to prepare for a hike, all while the family’s orange tabby cat joins in on the excitement. Oswald, who has illustrated books such as Jory John’s Bad Seed series, has also worked as a character and concept designer on movies like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Hotel Transylvania, so his ability to convey scenes reminiscent of a main character’s movie montage (say, a character getting ready for a battle, dance, or makeover) is displayed masterfully.

Once the car is packed, the cat stares from the window as the pair of adventurers leaves the city behind and travels up a mountain to the hiking trail’s entrance. Wildlife begins to appear in the spreads. Foxes, birds, and bunnies amble through the woods as the pair begins their climb. A ladybug is put on the spotlight under a loupe; a butterfly is captured by the child taking a photo; a herd of deer is spotted through a pair of binoculars; and bear tracks are catalogued and sketched in a journal. They even spot a bald eagle returning to its nest, and the child picks up a fallen feather. (A word of warning: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 made it illegal to collect bald eagle feathers, unless enrolled in a recognized Native American nation.)

When they reach a clearing, a mini-snowball fight ensues. And when a waterfall and river cross their path, the father reaches back to provide a reassuring and tender hand to his child, who wavers before making the trek over the river. After such excitement, a trail mix power-up is needed, especially since the pair will have to do some rock climbing before marveling at the view from the top. It is worthy to note Oswald’s powerful use of verticality in the panels to aid the imagery of a hike up the mountain. But, although stunning, the hike hasn’t been made merely for the views of soaring bald eagles; the father and child search for a grove of conifers in which to plant the seedling they carried up. Once they’re done, a timed picture commemorates their achievement.

Oswald provides a well-paced balance for the book by combining action-packed panels and full spreads of the journey, culminating in the pair admiring the tiny tree seedling they have planted among the towering pine trees, before beginning their journey down the mountain with a setting sun in the background. The following panels show an exhausted child asleep on the passenger’s seat as they drive back down the mountain and through the city—until they reach home, where the cat greets them at the door. Bedtime prep fills the rest of the evening before the pair falls asleep on the couch, holding the family photo album filled with pictures of previous generations planting their own seedlings.

Hike feels like an ode to nature. The quietness that comes without any text is disturbed only in the slightest, with hand-lettered onomatopoeias, like the zipping of a jacket or a clicking of a camera shutter. However, this is not a silent book, either. As the duo makes their quiet hike, it's as if  you can hear the natural sounds of the woods. And when they reach the visually outstanding, digitally created waterfall, it is impossible not to imagine its roaring sound.

I believe we’re currently in a golden age of picture books, and Hike’s excellence in illustration and storytelling through those images reinforces this idea. And even though the visual imagery in the book makes it Caldecott-worthy in its own right, the relationship and family history within the story strengthen its position as a contender for the medal. In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly’s Antonia Saxon, Oswald noted that within the creation process, the decision to not be specific about the child’s gender came because they wanted to make sure that any and all children could identify with the story. The focus thus is kept on the relationship between father and child and on the family tradition to make this hike. In the same manner, although the race of the characters is ambiguous, the photos of previous generations in the family album point to a mixed-race family that focuses on the importance of communing with nature and giving back to it.

A prize-worthy book in my—and my niece’s—view.


Luisana Duarte Armendáriz

Luisana Duarte Armendáriz is a children’s book author and holds an MA in Children’s Literature and an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. You can follow her on Twitter @nanerias.  

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Jules Danielson

Thank you again for this, Luisana! This is a book to get lost in—all those visual details.

Posted : Oct 15, 2020 10:14


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