Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Review: The Old Man by Sarah V. and Claude K. Dubois


Day breaks over the town. Get up, everybody! It's time to go to school. For the old man too, it's time to wake up. The night was icy and he's hungry. His name? He doesn't know . . .

This is the story of a person with no job, no family, no home—a nobody, who can't even remember what he was once named. But his day changes when he is noticed by a child.

A beautiful example of how much it can mean to simply be noticed by someone else. And as is often the case, it is the child who is the example to the rest of us. The text is sparse, but packed with emotion. The passage where he can't even remember his name, and finds it easier to just give up and walk away, broke my heart. The second time I read it, I had tears prickling all the way through. Too many feels! 

Now let's talk about these pictures! As adults we often want to see bright colors and clear shapes in a children's book, but those would have been completely out of place here. I remember as a child being mesmerized by the illustrations in the Johnny Lion books. As an adult, when I went back to look at them, I was shocked to realize they were just a few drab colors, and rather roughly drawn. It made me sit back and rethink my notions of what kids were certain to like. 

I think now that the fuzziness had the effect of drawing me in further, and that is what the illustrator has accomplished here. I realized I was hunching my shoulders in as the old man reacted to the stares of the people on the bus, and they straightened when he returned to the shelter at the end. The facial features are vague enough to transpose many different face onto them. The next time you are out and about, you might realize that the old man half asleep on the bench is the old man in the story. And the little girl might just be you.

***This book has been nominated for the Cybils Award. I am just one of many first round panelists, and my opinion should not be construed to mean inclusion on or exclusion from the final shortlist.

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