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The Silver Button by Bob Graham

The Silver Button is the newest picture book from Bob Graham, author of the wistful April and Esme Tooth Fairies, the sweetly powerful A Bus Called Heaven. Graham is also the author of the wonderfully uplifting How to Heal a Broken Wing of which Graham said, "In troubled times, when many of us are losing contact with the natural world, I wanted to show that there is still hope in a coming generation of children who have curiosity and empathy with the world around them, and that care and attention can sometimes fix broken wings." Graham's stories eloquently express the quiet, sometimes overlooked, deeply meaningful moments in childhood that send ripples into adulthood while his illustrations are equal parts cartoonishly simple and intricately detailed at the same time, a mix of rich, vibrant colors anchoring airily washed watercolor earth tones.

The Silver Button is a telescopic book that, as the jacket flap notes, "celebrates the extraordinary in the everyday," and is "at once intimate and universal," with Graham inviting readers to join as a "whole-world vision unfolds in a single minute." It's hard to imagine an author and illustrator being able to encompass this range in a picture book, but this is exactly what Graham does with seeming effortlessness. The Silver Button begins (and begins before the title page), "At 9:59 on Thursday morning, Jodie drew a duck. She gave the duck a top hat, cane, and boots of the softest leather. On the boots, she put silver buttons: one . . . two . . . Her pen hovered in the air before the final button."

As Jodie's pen hovers, her baby brother Jonathan tentatively, tipsily, took his first step and he "looked like he was going somewhere." The following page begins, "At that moment,"and, page by page, the text and illustrations pull back from this moment, showing the reader everything else that is happening in the house, on the house, in the neighborhood, on the street, in the city, at the shore and on the seeming edge of the world.

Mom plays a tune on her pennywhistle, a pigeon builds a nest in the rain gutter, an early morning jogger puffs by - if you look closely, on the preceding page you can see the jogger zipping past outside the window of the room where Jodie and Jonathan are going about their day. There are other repeitions and moments seen from different perspectives throughout the book which makes it a joy to read over and over again.

Graham brings this delightful attention to detail to his words as well. Out in the street, "Joseph Pascano avoided the cracks in the sidewalk so the sharks wouldn't get him," and, one block away, a "soldier said good-bye to his mom." Under an oak, Sophie and her granddad make a house of leaves. She sits in the living room while Granddad sweeps the bedroom while, nearby, an "old lady shuffled by, pushing everything she owned in a cart." A baby is born in a hospital, kids and dogs play and explore on the beach and, far out in the bay, a tanker head to China. Graham returns to where his story began. Jodie puts the last silver button on her duck's boots as sunlight "from all over the city streamed through the window, and the kitchen clock struck ten."

On a final note, one thing I adore about Graham, besides his masterful storytelling gifts, is way that he  integrates people of all colors and beliefs into his books. As he finished reading The Silver Button, my nine year old son exclaimed, "Everyone in this book is brown!" In reality, slightly less than half the people in The Silver Button are black or brown, but anything more than the one or two non-whites in a picture book is so uncommon that it is noticeable, even to a child. 

Source: Review Copy


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