When someone you love has died it leaves a huge hole in your heart. You wish to see their face, hear their voice or laughter or feel their hand holding your hand. You miss them so much a smell can make you believe they are near to you. Perhaps they passed by the same spot seconds before you arrived.
You may transfer plants from their gardens to your gardens wherever you live no matter how many times you move. Without realizing it, you will acquire certain habits similar to their habits. You will do what you know they would have enjoyed; little things or larger things. Although they are gone, the connection is still strong. Boats For Papa (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, June 30, 2015) written and illustrated by Jessixa Bagley is a story of longing and the purest form of love, unconditional.
Buckley and his mama lived in a small wooden house by the sea. They didn't have much, but they always had each other.
On any given day, if you looked down at the beach, you would see Buckley walking along the sandy shore, gathering treasures delivered from the ocean. He was a gatherer of objects, crafting boats from the found driftwood. When he showed one of his boats to his mother, he told her with joy it was for his Papa. Buckley's father had died.
Several days passed. It was Buckley's birthday; celebrated with a picnic on the beach. A special gift of paints and brushes from Mama made his day nearly complete. As dusk descended the two of them walked along the beach. Buckley had decided to send his boat out into the sea with a note attached.
Buckley believed if the boat did not return, his Papa would have received it. A tradition was born on this day. Buckley would send more boats to the parent he missed. As Buckley slept, Mama strolled along the shore thinking about her husband.
Whenever an eventful day would come, Buckley would send out a boat to his Papa with the same message attached. Every single time, his Mama would walk along the shore with him. As weeks and months passed, Buckley's skill with building boats grew; as did the designs and details.
On his next birthday, the fun was better than ever due to Mama's extra special preparations. At day's end, about to put his latest boat in the water, Buckley realized he had no note. As his Mama waited at the water's edge, he raced back to their little home. The next five pages are a testament to the strength of love between this parent and this child.
Very early in the narrative, Jessixa Bagley joins us to the characters. Her choice of words creates a mood melody, a song about love. With the second phrase we are keenly aware of the closeness of Buckley and his Mama. Continuing with simple but illuminating sentences, we become further acquainted with the child and parent. Bagley helps readers understand how a little can become all you need but much more than you expected. Here is another sample passage.
"I'm going to send my boat to Papa. If it doesn't come back to shore, I'll know he got it!" said Buckley as he placed his little boat in the water. They watched it bob up and down as the tide carried it gently out to sea.
Rendered with pen and watercolor all the illustrations, beginning with the dust jacket, generate an atmosphere of solitude and peace. A lightness of line and fine details along with the color palette radiate warmth in each image. (Careful readers will notice another story on the roof of their home.) This first picture continues to the left, on the back, with a blanket, picnic basket and the remains of a meal, as evidence of time shared together.
The opening endpapers are a sandy beach strewn with pieces of wood, a pail, shovel, kelp, sea grass, pebbles, sea glass and a couple of sea creatures. The closing endpapers supply the heartwarming conclusion to the story within the small wooden home. The two double-page illustrations for the title page, verso and dedication pages begin the story by showing Buckley and his Mama at the beach and walking home later hand in hand.
Jessixa Bagley varies her image sizes from smaller ones loosely framed in white on a single page, to those spanning two pages, and sometimes several on a single page. These heighten the tender tempo of the story. At times she has chosen to give us a wider view of the scene as when Buckley and his Mama are walking along the shore. In other moments we are closer to the characters like when Buckley is painting one of his boats. We are there with them.
One of my favorite illustrations is when Mama is walking the beach at night after Buckley is sleeping. We see the vast expanse of the sea, the wide beach and huge rocky hill in the distance with everything bathed in moonlight. Mama stands alone in contemplation near the small house on stilts, curtains closed at the windows. The use of light and shadow is exquisite.
Boats For Papa written and illustrated by Jessixa Bagley is a beautiful picture book debut. A double twist at the end will leave you emotionally moved. This is a book for every reader, for those who have loved and lost and for those who need to understand this loss. Everyone will want to have it on their personal and professional book shelves.
To discover more about Jessixa Bagley, her work and thoughts, please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog. You will enjoy this image on the mackidsbooks Instagram page. To see interior images follow this link to the publisher's website. Author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson talks about and shares artwork from this title at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. (Spoilers within the post) Author Pat Zietlow Miller speaks about the use of text in this title in a post at Picture Book Builders. Jessixa Bagley talks about the pronunciation of her name at TeachingBooks.net UPDATE: Jessixa Bagley writes about the audience for her book in a recent blog post on October 7, 2015.