During a story time when you share a wordless picture book with children, they lean even closer to you to look at the illustrations. They know each line, each color, each facial expression, and each element in each scene is essential and valuable. When you've read it once, your listeners will ask for it to be read again. Then, after the second reading, the questions, discussion, and answers begin in earnest.
Sometimes after the questions, discussion, and answers, your listeners will ask for it to be read a third time. (If you, the reader, happen to be sitting in a chair, this is when you move to sit among the children.) This third reading signals the very real impact, the mark on their hearts, this book made. Over The Shop (Candlewick Press, January 5, 2021) written (conceived) by JonArno Lawson with illustrations by Qin Leng is a wordless examination of human souls. It is a poignant presentation showing us single acts of kindness can change not only our world but the lives of those around us.
Inside Lowell's General Store, in the living quarters on the ground floor, a new day begins. A little girl wakes up, joins her grandparent for breakfast, and later her grandparent sets out produce in front of the shop. As the child does the breakfast dishes, she notices a stray cat, a cat who tries to steal produce from the grandparent, run into the alley. Quietly and alone, the little girl takes a bowl of food into the alley for the cat.
As the little girl colors and draws, her grandparent makes an Apartment For Rent sign. It is hung in the front store window. Over and over again, people, male and female, single or together, one with a dog, come to look at the apartment. All leave quickly in disgust. The apartment is in major disrepair. Discouraged the grandparent removes the sign from the window, but not before a young interracial couple see it.
At first, the grandparent is hesitant to rent to this couple, but the granddaughter offers a positive opinion. The grateful couple move in and get right to work, cleaning, removing boards from across windows, and repairing damage. The granddaughter willingly helps. The neighborhood pigeons and the stray cat observe these welcome alterations.
Seasons pass and more differences inside and outside the shop and apartment are seen. The definition of family is beautifully portrayed in the final images on the final pages. The last double-page picture, the last pictorial words of the story, depict the best side of humans, friendship, and family.
From the imaginative mind of JonArno Lawson, readers see threads of several stories unfold only to be woven into a tapestry of a more profound tale. The characters in this story, the neighbor, the grandparent, the granddaughter, the stray cat, the various possible renters, and the final couple who reside in the second-floor apartment all have stories, individual personalities revealed to readers. In this book JonArno Lawson tells us how generations can be bridged, how the youngest among us is sometimes the wisest, how being willing to shift a perspective can lead to joy, and how kindness heals and builds the most wonderful life possible.
When you open the matching dust jacket and book case and look at the front and back, right and left, of them, you are not initially aware of the ultimate significance of this title. You see a little girl and an older woman beginning their day in a local grocery shop. You do notice the cat and the resident pigeons.
On the back are three separate images under the words:
APARTMENT FOR RENT.
In these three illustrations we meet the final couple wanting to rent the apartment. The granddaughter speaks on their behalf. And the grandparent has to decide what to do.
On the opening and closing endpapers the majority of the two pages are devoted to a morning sky first and an evening sky second. On the first pigeons are coming to roost on the roof of the shop. The cat is crawling up to the peak of the roof on the opposite side. On the closing endpapers, the cat is gone, and the pigeons are curled in sleep. To continue the opening endpapers, the verso and title pages show the cat leaping at the pigeons as they scatter in flight off the roof.
in ink and watercolor
by Qin Leng, these visuals are awash in emotion. They depict realistic settings with everyday people. They bring readers into the story. Their alternating sizes and groupings on the pages elevate the pacing. Each line detail, brush stroke, and color choice contribute to our participation in this story as readers.
One of my many, many favorite pictures is on a full page. We are looking slightly down at the scene. It shows the grocery shop, the neighbor's home to the left, and the other building on the right side of the alley. The neighbor is watching the new tenants, carrying luggage, walk toward the shop. The grandparent is walking into the store. The granddaughter is waving at the new couple. The couple are smiling as one of them waves back. There is much potential and hope in this illustration.
This book, Over The Shop written by JonArno Lawson with illustrations by Qin Leng, is one of those titles you will long remember. This story is to be shared often and widely. It asks us to be our best in every choice we make. It asks you to leave beauty wherever you walk. You will want to have a copy in your personal collections and one on your professional bookshelves.
If you wish to learn more about JonArno Lawson, I recommend you read about him at the Poetry Foundation. To learn more about Qin Leng and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website. Qin Leng has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. At Penguin Random House you can view interior images. At author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, this title is highlighted.