There are advantages and disadvantage to being alone. Of course, it usually depends how much time you find yourself without company. Is it hours, days or almost always? A few hours without the hustle and bustle of daily life can be a sought-after miracle. If this extends to day after day, month after month and year after year, it is an adjustment but certainly allows for thoughtful reflection on any and all things inside and outside your world.
A disadvantage is seeing something wondrous and having no one to chat with about it but remember there are those discoveries better kept to yourself. They are simply too hard to explain. Lizard from the Park (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 8, 2015) written and illustrated by Mark Pett (The Boy And The Airplane and The Girl And The Bicycle) represents the many phases of friendship, both joyous and challenging.
Like most days, Leonard walked home by himself. On this particular spring afternoon, he took a shortcut through the park.
Before we turn to the next page, let's pause a minute here. First, Leonard is alone. Second, he is taking a shortcut. I can already feel the tension and anticipation increasing, can't you? Now he's in
the deepest, darkest part.
We readers and listeners of stories know Leonard's life is about to change.
Leonard finds an egg and it's extraordinary...at least to Leonard. He does exactly what a curious boy who is alone most days would do. He plops it into his backpack. Leonard lives in a large city in an apartment at the top of his building.
The egg never leaves his side for the rest of the day. That night the two are snuggled together in bed. When morning comes what is inside the egg decides to come out. It is a lizard which Leonard promptly names Buster.
Over the next several weeks Leonard is thrilled with Buster's company sharing the things he enjoys doing most in his favorite places. When the season shifts into summer Leonard notices two things about Buster which cause him some concern. As the end of autumn nears and a holiday approaches Leonard hatches a plan which has to work. It will lift them both up, up and away into fresh friendships.
When Mark Pett introduces us to Leonard regardless of our individual personality, we are drawn to him for his solitude and energy. Pett has an easy, matter-of-fact but intimate way of narrating Leonard's and Buster's story. With one or two but sometimes three sentences per page or per illustration, we are privy to every thought and action of the two. Repetition of certain phrases connects one part of the story to another like pieces on an elegantly stitched quilt. Here is a sample passage.
In the weeks following, Leonard took Buster everywhere. They spent their mornings together, their afternoons together, and they spent their in-between together.
Unfolding the dust jacket and opening the matching book case moves readers to a park surrounded by a large city and introduces us to the two characters. By viewing the back, to the left, we know exactly which city this is by the reading place selected by Leonard for him and Buster. The finely wrought details and soft shading employed by Pett using charcoal and digital painting welcome us into this charming, thoughtful tale. His use of pale purple is especially appealing. A light, bright spring green colors the opening and closing endpapers.
The verso and first page is a single image of the buildings on the left with Leonard walking into the park on his way home from school. The next two pages have him in the thickest part of the park. When he spies the egg Pett sets a smaller framed rectangle within the larger picture. With flawless placement the illustrations shift size from double pages, to single pages, to almost two pages with a narrow vertical visual.
Sometimes a group of small vignettes will be surrounded by the cream background softly framing them. The wordless two page image showcasing Leonard's plan for Buster will have readers cheering. Careful observers will notice the repeated presence of another even before Leonard does.
One of my favorite sequences of illustrations is Leonard trying to help Buster blend in with the other people. His disguises are hilarious. In the final image readers will burst out laughing at the inability of even Leonard to help Buster look like a regular guy any longer. Personally I think the picture of Leonard reading with Buster between the lion's paws should be a poster to promote literacy with a friend.
Tender and triumphant Lizard from the Park written and illustrated by Mark Pett is a quiet treasure. How fortunate for Buster to have a friend like Leonard, clever and creative who puts others before himself. This book is a joy to read repeatedly.
To learn more about Mark Pett and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name. Head on over to the publisher's website to view six interior images including one of my favorites.