Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton

It looks like we're starting the new year with thinking about hope and compassion - not a bad combination.

Trudy Ludwig writes the only "issue" picture books that I really want in my library. She has written books about gossiping, bullies, show-offs, and perfectionism. Her books are written simply enough to appeal to young children but tackle the issues in a realistic way. She never stereotypes or offers simplistic solutions to complex problems. Her latest book deals with an introverted child who is, well, invisible.

We're introduced to Brian, the invisible boy, as a small gray character. His teacher is taken up with the boisterous Nathan and the whiny Sophie and all the other kids in her class. Nathan isn't any trouble, he's quiet, he does his work...and he's invisible. He's left out of games, parties, and events. He's just too quiet and the kids are used to ignoring him. But Brian is amazing at drawing and would like to be included - he just doesn't know how to get started.

When a new boy comes to school, Brian makes a few quiet overtures and Justin responds. Slowly, Brian gains color and life and becomes part of the school community with the help of Justin. Brian is still quiet, enjoys drawing, and doesn't suddenly become the class clown by the end of the story, but he is included and has finally made a friend or two.

The book ends with discussion questions and a list of resources both for adults and for kids. Patrice Barton's soft, glowing colors are the perfect background for this simple story and her powerful images of Brian slowly brightening from the invisible, gray child to a happy, colorful kid will hopefully influence children just as strongly as the story itself. I liked that Ludwig didn't blame anyone - the teacher is busy with the more demanding children, the other kids have all formed their own friends and cliques and don't stop to think to include Brian, and Brian himself doesn't know how to explain that he wants to be included. Change happens when Brian gets the courage to make a friendly gesture and Justin takes the time to include Brian in his new friendships.

Verdict: I'll be putting this in my parenting section (books for parents to read with their children about various issues) and recommending it to teachers to use in their classrooms. It's a great way to get kids to pause and think a little about including other kids rather than demanding that teachers try to force friendships. It's also a gentle way to remind introverted kids that taking that first step to offer friendship can be the key to becoming a friend.

ISBN: 9781582464503; Published 2013 by Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher; Added to the library

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