Tomorrow evening one of the highlights of each month will begin promptly at 8:00 PM EST on Twitter. Members of the Nerdy Book Club will gather. It's an hour of book bliss known as the #SharpSchu Book Club, hosted by Colby Sharp, educator, co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club, co-host of the monthly #titletalk with Donalyn Miller and blogger at sharpread and John Schumacher, teacher librarian, member of the 2014 Newbery Committee, 2011 Library Journal Movers & Shakers and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. This month the spotlight will shine on three wordless picture books.
I've previously reviewed Molly Idle's Flora and the Flamingo (Chronicle Books) and Bluebird by Bob Staake (Schwartz & Wade Books). The third book chosen, The Boy and the Airplane (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers) by Mark Pett is about losing and finding. Sometimes we find more than we have lost.
As the first page is turned on the left we see the merest hint of an adult leg walking off the edge. On the right a young boy, clad in overalls and short sleeve shirt, is holding a box tied with ribbon in a bow, on his face is a look of wondering. When the present is opened, to his delight, he discovers a red toy airplane.
In a heartbeat, now wearing a jacket, he's out the door. For the next several pages his joy is almost palpable. He runs holding the plane, he is a plane circling it on the ground, then giving it a glance, he picks it up. Arm back, plane in hand, he gives it a mighty throw.
He runs following as it climbs toward the sky until...it lands on the roof. In an instant his joy vanishes. This boy is a very determined fellow though. Grabbing a ladder he tries to reach it. No, it's too short. The next two pages show him attempting all possible means of retrieving his gift; he's a cowboy with a lasso, a baseball player throwing a ball, bouncing on his pogo stick and a fireman with his hose spraying out water.
Clearly having exhausted all his ideas, he sits under a tree. When a maple seed flutters to the ground next to him, a new thought begins to grow. Carrying a shovel twice as big as he is, he digs a hole and plants the seed. Years pass, seasons change. So does the boy.
Now he is a balding, elderly man with a full beard clad in overalls and a short sleeve shirt, standing next to a very large tree. He climbs, he reaches and rescues. Time, miracle worker that it is, has fashioned another shift. A gift.
One of the most striking things about this book, immediately noticeable, is the color scheme, the grays, greens, browns and rusty red used throughout. Rendered in pencil and watercolor this palette gives readers a sense of the timelessness of this story. Mark Pett elects to alter the jacket and cover, each showing the boy with his airplane in similar scenes taken from the pages inside the title. Opening and closing endpapers are a pattern of the airplane outline in rows.
Increasing the readers' feeling of participation are the plain backgrounds in varying shades. All our attention is focused on the boy, the airplane, and the tree. Pett chooses to include the faint outlines of a door, the interior of a tool shed, a few blades of grass and a small flower. A tiny bird (or two or a nest with babies) are the boy's only companion as time passes. Illustration size, two pages, a single page, split pages (horizontal and vertical) create new moments with ease.
The texture of the paper, the fine lines of Pett's work, and the deft strokes of his paintbrush blend to invite. I found myself touching the pages more than once. When we readers are viewing the final pages, we have formed a connection to the boy/man and the airplane. That's why, for me, my favorite illustration is the double page spread, zooming in on the old man, as his face and arms appear over a treetop branch. He's looking at the airplane resting on an aged roof as a bird is looking at him from within the leaves. I'm pretty sure I sighed out loud the first time I saw this.
Mark Pett's The Boy and the Airplane is a gentle tale of gifts received and given, of persistence and patience and of how wanting and wondering change over the course of our lives. This book is a priceless gift from Mark Pett to his readers. It is meant to be treasured. It is meant to be shared.
Please follow the link embedded in Mark Pett's name above to his official website. There is an interesting post there about his creation of this book. For further images of pages from the book, here is a link to the publisher website. If you want more information about the #SharpSchu Book Club tomorrow night there are links embedded in John's and Colby's blog titles.