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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
When Giants Come to Play
When Giants Come to Play
by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Abrams Books for Young Readers,(April 2006)
Sometimes, on a summer morning,
When the sun shines just so
and the wind blows like this and like that
on its way to somewhere else,
giants come to play.
They come to play with Anna
who waits for them just beyond the end of Lillian Lane.
When giants come to play, they play hide and seek.
Anna knows lots of good places to hide.
--When Giants Come to Play, by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, p. 1-3
Anna has two very special friends—giants, who come to play with her "when the sun shines just so...." Together, they play hide-and-seek and marbles, gather flowers, jump rope, and play with dolls—only the giants' ways of doing these things are different than ours. When the giants play hide-and-seek, Anna can hide in one of the giant's pockets. When they jump rope, houses around them rise into the air with the impact. And when they play dolls, well, Anna's older sister is like a doll to the giants. When Giants Come to Play is an endearing, imaginative story about a girl whose giant friends keep her company, as well as a book about friendship, imagination, and playfulness.
Beaty's text is gentle and poetic at times, perfectly capturing the delight of having imaginary friends. It also captures the freedom and playfulness that can exist in childhood.
The opening text is fanciful (unlike the rest, with the exception of the closing), setting the mood for the illustrations and the events that follow. It's also longer than the rest of the text, except for the closing text, which helps bring a sense of balance. The text uses a pleasing repetition of "when giants come to play," and is not overused; it often repeats twice, then allows that repetition to carry the next event (or two) before repeating again. This keeps the repetition from being boring or overly repetitive, and adds to the great sense of rhythm.
The opening and closing texts also use a repetition (slightly altered) that make it feel that the story has come full circle, and also bring a sense of familiarity and closure ("When the sun shines just so"/"when the moon shines just so"). The brief scenes are episodic, each showing a different event that Anna particpates in with her giant friends. They are light-hearted and feel full of child-delight and play.
The text and the illustrations work well together, playing off each other. Much of the text uses a dry humor through stating one thing while the illustrations show something else entirely.
Hawkes' (Library Lion) charcoal-and-acrylic illustrations are light-hearted and humorous, with a summery feeling to them. All of the illustrations except the last span an entire spread each, the illustrations bleeding right to the edges of the pages. The illustrations have a calm, happy feel to them. This is added to by the great expanses of sky, the rolling green fields and trees, and the wide-open, outdoors feel (very few buildings are ever in view). It's also added to by Anna's sunshine-yellow overalls, her delighted look, and the giants' beaming faces.
There is great humor in the illustrations, most especially through their interplay with the text--by the way they show a very different story than the text does. For instance, when Anna and the giants play marbles, we see from the illustration that the giants are actually using a soccer ball as a marble. And when Anna plays dolls with the giants and her sister, we see the giants putting Anna's bigger sister into a baby carriage—their version of a doll—while Anna holds a real doll.
The giants are kind-hearted, with big, gentle smiles and eyes, and they clearly are careful around the much smaller Anna (one giant holds her and a table up in his hand while they all eat chocolate cake). It's easy to see that the giants adore Anna; they smile at her widely, gaze at her with affection, and she is the center of their attention. I personally find the giants slightly offputting because they look so goofy (they remind me of Laurel and Hardy). Still, I can see that they are gentle, kind, and loving, and their goofiness may appeal to other readers, bringing additional humor.
Anna often appears soft featured and slightly out of focus; I would have liked her to stand out more in the illustrations. Still, her happiness is clear throughout.
The closing illustrations are pleasing in what they suggest (that the giants will stay, as Anna wanted), and they also give a nice surprise by first showing a close-up view of Anna sleeping in a hammock, and then, once the page is turned, the reader sees that Anna's hammock is held up by the giants sleeping next to her, the hammock attached to their buttons. This closing illustration also offers a sense of closure, as Anna and the giants are peacefully asleep.
When Giants Come to Play will appeal to young readers, to readers with vivid imaginations, and those who may feel alone or left out. This is a pleasing jaunt of the imagination and friendship. Recommended.
-Added March 2007
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