Infrequently seen, where I've lived and visited, a brief glimpse as they soar by, is what I've come to label, a cause for a pause. Their color is so brilliant it's hard not to gasp. For me the sight of a bluebird has always meant there is magic in the air.
When my copy of Bluebird (Schwartz & Wade Books) written and illustrated by Bob Staake arrived, I could hardly open the box fast enough. I'd been reading about its reception in the children's literature community but had not read any of the reviews or interviews except for one. I wanted any impressions of this book to be all my own.
As is my practice I looked over the front and back jacket. Upon removing the jacket I was delighted to see the cover has another illustration, a double page spread of the bluebird looking over the city from above. An initial glance at the opening and closing endpapers told me they are an essential part of the story.
The unique framing used throughout begins on the verso, dedication and title pages. They are all a part of the pictorial narrative. As the bluebird flies from left to right, through four frames, alighting in a tree outside a school, we meet the boy.
Watching, the bluebird sees the sadness of the child, head lowered, silent, as others make fun of him; a new school year is beginning. Leaving the school at day's end, the boy slowly makes his way home but the bluebird follows, weaving in and out of his path. Before too long the bluebird's persistence makes the boy smile.
As the two make their way through the city streets to the park, each new scenario further defines each of their personalities and the growing relationship. Due to the bluebird's guidance the sailing pond yields newfound friends. Leaving their resting place in the sun, they enter another darker, more wooded part of the park.
Within moments the boy is approached by three other boys wanting his sailboat. When an act done in anger threatens the boy, his bluebird friend intercedes. The result has the three running and the boy left, tearful, holding the bluebird. To the boy's bewilderment a colorful array of birds first one at a time, then in groups, approach with their own plan for him as he still holds his bluebird friend. A strikingly beautiful ending, for the shift in color and the ensuing final pages, will have each reader drawing their own conclusions.
This wordless wonder has readers immediately developing an emotional attachment with the boy and the bluebird. We experience the loneliness, the light, freely given friendship of one then the other, the happiness of discovering other playmates, the fear, the sadness and ultimately the hope. With each turn of page we are more deeply involved in the events of the day.
For most of the book Bob Staake uses shades of gray and blue with black and white making the burst of rainbow hues at the end more profoundly felt. To tell you the truth, after the first few pages the palette choice, unique and definitely appealing, shifts slightly back as the reader intently studies the movements and facial expressions of the bluebird and the boy. Every nuance of their developing bond is clearly draw; visible with the line of an eye or mouth, the turn of head, the lift of wings or stature.
Each two page spread with different size square and rectangular frames, carefully placed, defines the speed in which the story is revealed. Inside those frames we might see a larger overview or zoom in for a shift in the story's actions or emotions. The layout and design is brilliant. One of my favorite double page illustrations is after their adventure at the pond. You have to wonder how long it's been since the boy has been this happy.
At my first reading of this title I was stunned (and tearful). With each subsequent reading of Bluebird written and illustrated by Bob Staake I continue to be amazed at the power of storytelling in visuals alone. The layers in this story, the opportunity for discussion, makes it a book to be read and shared...repeatedly.
The first interview of Bob Staake regarding Bluebird I read can be found at Watch. Connect. Read. Here is an interview titled Hostile Questions at Booklist. 19 Questions with Author and Illustrator Bob Staake can be found at Random Acts of Reading. Publishers Weekly conducted a Q & A with Bob Staake. Be sure to follow the link embedded in Bob Staake's name above to read about the process of creating Bluebird.