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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
The Boy from the Sun
The Boy from the Sun
by Duncan Weller
Simply Read Books,(January 2007)
On a cold grey
nothing sort of day
between home and school
sat three sad children.
They said nothing,
and could only stare.
Out of the sky
came a little body...
...with a big yellow shining head.
--The Boy From the Sun by Duncan Weller, p. 1-2.
Imagination can take us into wonderful places, and bring greater beauty and happiness to even painful situations. In The Boy from the Sun, three children sit, lonely and sad in a cold city, until a boy with a sun for a head comes down from the sky and shows them delights--a beautiful bird, flying children, whole cities of people and animals within trees, and lush greenry. As they follow the sun-boy along the sidewalk, the sidewalk begins to curve and change, and then disappears altogether. The sun boy tell the children that they can use their minds and creativity to change their lives, find new paths to take. And the children do. The Boy from the Sun suggests that we can all open our minds to creativity and inner imaginings to discover more choices and bring ourselves greater happiness. This is an inspiring, feel-good book, on many levels.
Weller's text is, for the most part, sparse, without unnecessary detail, and thus moves quickly. Some pages have no text at all, and rely on the illustrations to carry the story forward, which they successfully do. Weller immediately engages reader empathy and identification by telling us that the children are sad, and that the day is a cold grey one, as well as by showing us the sad, lonely children in the illustration, each looking away from the others, together yet isolated and still. The children are never named, which I like; it leaves more room open for the reader to identify with them (and also leaves their gender up to the reader).
At times the text feels a little too simple; I would have liked a bit more lyrical word choices--but it works. A rather long poem near the end of the book stopped me; it didn't fit the flow of the rest of the book, which had little to no text on the pages. The placement of the poem felt slightly forced. Yet I found the poem beautiful, and it spoke to me; I just wish it was a stanza shorter.
The poem suggests that using your mind and creativity, you can open up the world for yourself, find new paths to travel, and that by filling your inner world, you'll find a greater place in the outer world. It directly tells the reader that 'you are worth celebrating," which is a wonderful message. These are all such important things to hear--I just wish it was sprinkled more throughout the book, instead of given all at once. There's also a slight feeling of telling that puts me off, but there was only one phrase that felt a bit preachy to me: "You are worth elevating." I could have done without that.
Weller creates an almost perfect partnership between the text and the illustrations, with each adding meaning to the other. The opening text, with the children sad on "a cold grey nothing sort of day" works beautifully with the black-and-white simple line drawings, heavy dark lines outlining the children, lots of white space that seems cold, especially with the cement sidewalk the children sit on, and the heavy blackness of the factories and smoke in the background. And the illustrations bring a great magic to the book.
Weller's drawings are evocative and beautiful. There's something about the simple black-and-white drawings, like a child's drawings, that show the sadness and creativity so well, and that make the movement into color and dreams all the more powerful.
Weller moves the reader from a sad, cold, empty city landscape, into a small splash of color with the first bird, then a bit more color with green grass on either side of the sidewalk, and bits of blue into the sky, into a full riot of color and life and beauty in a breathtaking landscape--multicolored trees, animals, people from various cultures, all together into one magical land. There is so much to feast the eyes on, so many wonderful details to pore over. The colorful, detailed illustrations make the once-empty world seem full of vibrancy, life, and hope, showing what a little imagination can do.
The movement from bleakness to beauty and happiness is like a nourishing meal for the soul. I could spend a long time just looking at the beautiful colors in the tree trunks--purples, pinks, blues, greens, and oranges--never mind everything there is to look at, from monarch butterflies to a turtle to a lion to people from many different cultures, and great trees and sky.
I love how the children, the sidewalk, and the sun-boy remain black-and-white line drawings throughout the book, even amidst the other, more sophisticated color illustrations. As Weller moves the reader into more and more color and beauty, the sidewalk also changes shape, from a straight sidewalk into one that curves and ripples, then moves to connect tree-worlds, and finally breaks apart in the grass.
There is a lot in this book to set the imagination astir, starting with the boy from the sun, whose yellow shining head looks like a small sun, and then moving into the beauty and wonders that the sun-boy brings into the bleakness of the city. The book is a metaphor for imagination--it doesn't matter where you are, or how bleak your surroundings are, you can make them better if you open your imagination and bring beauty to you. This is a wonderful unspoken message in the book. There is also a strong metaphor about the environment, that there is more freedom and happiness and room to play where the land is natural.
The closing illustration is beautiful, with the three children each now having glowing yellow faces like the sun, dancing through the grass with autumn trees swirling leaves around them. The factory is visible in the distance, which suggests that this time, it is the children who brought beauty to their own world, the city world, through their imaginations and hearts. This perfectly sums up the book, and leaves the reader with a sense of satisfaction and good feeling; there is such positive change here, fantasy made reality. I love it.
Though there are a few small things that didn't work for me, most of The Boy From the Sun is incredibly beautiful and imaginative; to me it is a masterpiece. If you haven't seen this book yet, I suggest you get your hands on a copy. Highly recommended.
-Added March 06, 2008
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