Monday, November 2, 2009

Picture books

The very best books are touted for all sorts of things. People like the writing, the characters, the stories, the emotions, the atmosphere... etc. But ultimately, good books rule with their ability to draw the reader into their new, fascinating worlds. It isn't a gift the author is giving the reader. You've got to give something too, like your attention and imagination. The reader has to build the images based on the words the author gives.

"The Arrival" gives the exact opposite. Now the book gives the images and the reader has to build the words around it. It's a curious case (not unique, I'm sure, but special), best described as similar to a silent movie. Indeed, reading "The Arrival" often feels like watching a movie except that there's still something particularly "bookish" about it. Perhaps the still shots help. Reading it, I needed to fill in the blanks in a way that a movie would ask less of me. It's a difficult book to classify.

What amazes me most about "The Arrival" is how it can work anywhere for anyone. It's a book that can be enjoyed by the illiterate and educated alike. It can be read by anybody who can see, no matter what language they speak. It is something so purely human, requiring little background knowledge (it helps to recognize certain shots as based on Ellis Island but is not necessary) and has no language barrier. There's hardly even a culture gap, given that this is precisely what the book displays - a man comes to a new world and is surprised by all that he sees there. I should like to see more books with this type of story-telling. If they're as good as "The Arrival", we'll have a lot of excellent new picture books on our hands.


  1. I too was amazed when I first read this book. As a graduate student in the library program, we are required to read a wide variety of children's and young adult literature, and this book was one of the assigned.

  2. That is pretty cool, and the pictures look enchanting.

  3. I've had this book for a couple of years now and still haven't read it. Mea culpa. I need to get on that.


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