Oliver by Birgitta Sif

Oliver by Birgitta Sif is most definitely a picture book worth buying. Oliver has the essential qualities of being richly illustrated with new details to be uncovered with every successive reading while also being superbly written with a story that is so well crafted and streamlined that it turns back on itself beautifully, even though not unexpectedly. Picture books that have a twist as the end (think I Want My Hat Back by the brilliant Jon Klassen who said, "Picture books at their best are suggestive") are fantastically fun to read and hard to write, but so are picture books that take a common theme and make it feel new and different, which is exactly what Oliver does.

 Oliver begins, "Oliver felt a bit different. But it didn't matter. He lived in his own world, happily, with his friends." That is Oliver on the bus with one of his friends, a gaggle of hand puppets and, if you look closely, a little mouse who follows him around, entertained by all that Oliver does. The story follows Oliver through the adventures he has with his friends, in the library reading, the living room climbing the sofa or riding a camel made out of a cardboard box, or the sandbox digging to the other side of the world. Sometimes, though, "there were things Oliver had to do on his own," but, as we watch Oliver glide through a swimming pool, his friends sitting at the edge of the pool looking on, we know that this is just as acceptable and okay as Oliver's other solo pursuits.

Then, one day, Oliver's friends don't listen when he is playing the piano for them. And the next day, when he is playing tennis outside by himself his ball bounces and rolls away and Oliver chases after it, his friends in tow. He goes through a "narrow gate to somewhere new. It was the beginning of the best adventure he's ever had." What he finds is a kindred spirit, another loner with a wagon full of friends who turns out to be a great tennis partner, among other things. The penultimate illustration of the book shows Oliver and his new friend Olivia behind a puppet stage putting on a show. The last page of the book shows the puppet stage from the front, an audience filled with stuffed animals and the final words, "The End," crossed out and "The Beginning" written in. Brilliant!

In a final note, I read this book out loud to my son and we both completely enjoyed it. However, half way through I noticed something in the illustrations and we went back and started reading from page one all over again. If you look closely, you'll notice yet another aspect of Oliver that makes it such an excellent book - Olivia is in the book right from the start! But, like Oliver, you just need to know where to look for her.

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