It’s hard to write a classic.
Most picture books are released, get a bit of fanfare — or not — and then are forgotten in the next year or two as more new books come out.
It’s sad, but true.
So when a book has staying power, it’s an impressive thing. Such is the case with THE INVISIBLE BOY (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013) written by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton. And when you read it, if you haven’t already, it’s not hard to see why it’s still around and selling well five years later.
The book is about Brian, a boy who gets overlooked by teachers and students in his school. This is a real-life scenario. When I briefly thought about being a teacher in college, one of my assignments was to visit a grade-school class, watch for a day, and identify which kid was invisible — not called on, noticed or interacted with. In the book, it’s described this way:
“Can you see Brian, the invisible boy? Even Mrs. Carlotti has trouble noticing him in her classroom. She’s too busy dealing with Nathan and Sophie. Nathan has problems with what Mrs. Carlotti calls ‘volume control.’ He uses his outside voice inside too much. Sophie whines and complains when she doesn’t get her way. Nathan and Sophie take up a lot of space. Brian doesn’t.”
This opening caught me right away. When my youngest was in second grade, she didn’t take up much space, I remember her teacher telling me that my daughter was a good “buffer child.” You could put her between two louder, high-strung or more challenging children and she provided a bit of neutral space — like Switzerland. I remember thinking, “Well that’s fine for the kids on either side of her, but it doesn’t sound so hot for my unassuming introvert.”
To illustrate this, Patrice Barton starts the book drawing Brian in black and white and everyone else in full color. As the story progresses, it turns out that it only takes one other student to see Brian and include him for him to become full color too. It’s a great story to get kids and teachers thinking about who gets their attention — intentionally or not — and about how they can make sure everyone feels welcome and seen. There are great conversation starters included at the end of the book, too.
It’s a book that’s going to hang around for many more years.
So I was thrilled to see that Trudy and Patrice have a new book that came out earlier this week — QUIET PLEASE, OWEN MCPHEE. The flap copy describe is like this:
“Owen McPhee doesn’t just like to talk, he loves to talk. He spends every waking minute chattering away at his teachers, his classmates, his parents, his dog, and even himself. But all that talking can get in the way of listening. And when Owen wakes up with a bad case of laryngitis, it gives him a much-needed opportunity to hear what others have to say.
From the author-illustrator team behind THE INVISIBLE BOY comes a bright and lively picture book that captures the social dynamics of a busy classroom while delivering a gentle message about the importance of listening.”
This book is so new, I haven’t even seen it yet. But I have a copy on order. It should arrive today. And, with its focus on yet another real-life problem for many people — kids and adults — this book sounds like another classic in the making.
OH, AND BIG NEWS! Congratulations to Mary Mayhew who won a copy of Barb Rosenstock’s and Katherine Roy’s latest book OTIS & WILL DISCOVER THE DEEP.