A recent trip to the International Literacy Conference in New Orleans introduced me to these two outstanding new picture books.
“Stormy: a story about finding a forever home” (2019, Schwartz and Wade Books, by Guojing, ages 4-9) is a wordless book, told in graphic novel-like segments. First, we meet Stormy, a scruffy dog sitting alone in the dead grass by a park bench. When a woman comes along, he runs away, hiding as she tries to befriend him.
Night passes and Stormy sleeps alone under the bench. The woman returns the next day, and slowly, over the course of several pages, coaxes him to play. It takes several days for her to win his trust. A glowing full-page spread breaks the pattern of segments, showing the dog and woman on the ground, now friends, lit by the sunset.
When the woman leaves that evening, Stormy is too shy to go with her. But he follows, keeping his distance, as she walks across the city to her apartment. He looks up at her in her window as it starts to rain. The storm grows stronger and the scared, wet dog takes shelter in an old box on the curb. Behind him, the illustrations show the woman running out into the rain to find him, umbrella in hand. Braving strong winds, she arrives at the park, but Stormy isn’t there.
She returns home, dejected, and finally discovers him in the box. Another full-page spread shows the connection as they reunite. Bringing the dog inside, the story comes to a close, as Stormy finds a home. Guojing’s detailed drawings with spare, careful use of color, convey this touching story of trust and friendship with emotional depth and warm, quiet power.
This book is getting much critical acclaim, as did the author’s debut picture book, “The Only Child” (2015, Schwartz and Wade Books), about a child raised during China’s one-child policy.
In “The Traveler’s Gift” (2019, Page Street Kids, written by Danielle Davison, illustrated by Ann Lambelet, ages 5-8), we meet Liam, whose dream is to join his father, a sailor who weaves tales of the faraway places he’s seen. Stunning wood-carved illustrations bring in mermaids and treasure chests riding the swirling waves of his father’s tales.
Liam loves to retell his father’s stories. However, when Liam’s father does not return, the magic Liam felt disappears. Nobody could “weave stories with their words the way his father had.”
Then one day an old man named Enzo arrives in town. People call him “The Traveler.” With a long, colorful beard, the Traveler tells of his voyages. As he speaks, “His beard grew. And grew. And grew, until each story he told wove from his face like a tapestry.”
When the Traveler announces that he’s ready to make his final voyage to sea to pass along his gift, he chooses Liam to be his companion, taking on the job of sharing his adventures with those he meets.
“As they traveled, Enzo taught Liam to listen, really listen, to the world around him and how to see things, truly see things, with more than just his eyes.”
Finally, as Enzo becomes weary, he asks Liam to tell him a story. Liam tells of the father he’s lost and his own adventures with Enzo. “And as Liam’s words wove the tale of his and the Traveler’s final adventure, the Traveler gave Liam his gift.”
The illustrations explode with color and detail as we turn the page and see the rainbow of hair, filled with animals, people and places from his tales growing from Liam’s head. “And it was wondrous,” the book concludes.