Neville, written by THE Norton Juster and illustrated by G Brian Karas received a really great review in the mega-mondo kid's book issue of the New York Times Book Review a couple of weeks ago. It is such a rare and wonderful book that I wanted to call it to your attention one more time or, maybe for the first time. Besides the fact that the book is just plain great, it bears mentioning because, like picture books about birthdays, there are actually very few quality picture books out there about moving to a new house, school, city, neighborhood.
A boy moves to a new neighborhood and, understandably, is having a tough time with it.
His mom suggests he take a walk around the neighborhood where he might even meet some kids, although he doesn't seemed too convinced that this is such a good idea. He heads off down the block and, on a whim it seems, starts calling out the name "Neville." As he walks through the streets calling this name kids emerge, curious. They ask the boy what's going on and he tells them he's looking for Neville. Intrigued, and, in the wonderful way that kids have, they want in on the action. They want to help find this Neville kid. Calling out along with the boy, the other kids begin to ask questions about this Neville. Is he nice? Does he like to play baseball? Is he your best friend?
Soon a whole gang of kids is helping out. No one asks the boy's name, and this feels just right to me. Kids just don't think about asking for a name. I can't tell you how many times my kids have been at a playground, party, whatever, and they make a new, nameless friend. As the sun goes down the kids begin to think about going home, but first they arrange to meet again the next day and continue to look for this Neville kid. I don't think I'll be ruining the story for you if I reveal that the new boy is in fact Neville himself. Juster is a genius! Not only has he written a perfect (and much needed picture book on an under represented topic) book, but I think he's come up with a great gimmick for making friends. I might even send my seven year old out into a new crowd to test this idea...
As always, Karas' illustrations are magnificent. They managed to be both muted and colorful and different times, following the emotional ups and downs of the main character. His cartoonish style can evoke the empty feeling of being somewhere new, alone, and also the colorful, joyful experience of being part of a gang of kids.
Norton Juster is the author of a handful of other picture books, including The Hello, Goodbye Window, illustrated by Chris Raschka, which won the Caldecott Medal in 2006. The Hello, Goodbye Window is a very sweet story about yet another under represented topic in picture books, grandparent care givers. Of course, it's not as dry as I just made it sound. Juster tells the story through the voice of a little girl for whom the kitchen window at Nanna and Poppy's house is a magic gateway.