Skip to main content

The Only Child by Guojing, 112 pp, RL: ALL AGES

The gorgeously rich illustrations, magic filled setting and wordless story of The Only Child by Guojing reminded me immediately of The Arrival by Shaun Tan. While Tan's book always feels deeply rooted in our world and the immigrant experience, despite the magical creatures and moments, Guojing's book beings in a foreign but familiar feeling city then flies off to a magic filled world of wonderful creatures and billowy clouds.

The Only Child begins with an author's note that frames the story perfectly. Guojing writes of growing up in China in the 1980s under the one-child policy. Her graphic novel grew out of a childhood experience that was common for children her age, which she refers to as a "very lonely generation." Put on a bus to her grandmother's as a six year old, Guojing fell asleep and woke up lost, crying and walking as she tried to find her way home. The Only Child begins with a cheerfully rumpled little girl waking in the morning just as her mother is leaving for work. A series of panels show her entertaining herself for a while, then looking at pictures in her scrapbook. A picture of her grandmother inspires her and she gets dressed, combs her hair, leaves a note and packs a tiny purse before heading out into the snowy, industrial, crowded city.

Guojing's illustrations of the city, the factories in the distance, the small houses, the tall apartment buildings, lumberyards, shops and the many electric bus lines are compelling, especially when viewed in the slightly grim sepia and grey tones of of the graphic novel.

The little girl falls asleep on the bus and wakes to a quiet, snowy forest. She begins to make her way through the forest, crying as she moves forward, until she sees a stag. Something about the beast encourages her to follow and soon she finds herself grabbing the horn of the stag and pulling herself onto its back. The two ascend a stairway of clouds to a pillowy land filled with play and exploration.

The pair find a new friend that looks a bit like a white otter crossed with a baby polar bear as well as an enormous, cloud surfing whale. These scenes create a quiet, ethereal world that is easy to sink into as you explore page after page, sunk in the atmosphere. It's even more amazing when you consider the limited palette that Guojing uses to evoke this blissful time. While fear, sadness and loneliness are part of the story, they feel far away for most of it. And the girl's return to her parents is, or course, a joyous one.

Describing it here, The Only Child sounds like a simple story, and in many ways it is. The unforgettable beauty of Guojing's book is everything she creates within the bounds of this simple story - the feelings she evokes, the memories, the warmth and the connection are anything but simple.


Popular posts from this blog

Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! by Scott Bedford

On his personal website, Scott Bedforddescribes himself as an "Award Winning Online Creative Professional" working within the advertising and design industry. What is more interesting (and applicable here) is how hisWhat I Made website came to be. While sitting in a Starbucks with his restless young sons, trying to enjoy his latte, Bedford created something out of coffee stir sticks that ended up keeping his boys entertained, finishing his coffee in peace and sparking (re-sparking, really) his creative drive and reminding him of the "enormous joy gained from making things, even simple things, and that this joy is not the complexity or quality of the finished project but in the process of making itself. On Bedford'sWhat I Made website, he even shares Six Cool Coffee Shop Crafts for Kidsthat you can try out next time you want to enjoy your coffee and your kids are making that difficult. I've shared two below - be sure to check out the website and see the rest!


How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers

How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers remains the most read post on my blog since I wrote it in 2012. Because of this, I have cleaned up this post, tightened the writing and added in any pertinent information that has come about since it originally ran. When I first started in August of 2008, I was scrambling for content, finding my purpose and my voice and not always doing my best writing. How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers was one of the first articles I wrote and, as a bookseller and a book reviewer, and now as an elementary school librarian where I have gone from working with kids reading well beyond their grade level to kids reading well below, this philosophy remains my organizing principle and central focus when reading and recommending books to parents and children. 

In the interest of my mission and the attention this article continues to receive, I have updated and expanded this article and included a guide to using …

POP-UP: Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by Ruth Wickings, illustrations by Frances Castle RL: All ages

POP-UP:  Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book with paper engineering by Ruth Wickings and illustrations by Frances Castle is THE COOLEST BOOK EVER!!!  I know that I haven't dedicated much time to pop-up books here, but they have always held a special place in my heart, and the phrase "paper engineering" is a favorite of mine. Although I didn't know what it was at the time, I did go through a paper engineering phase when I was ten or so. I would sneak off to the back of the classroom during independent work periods and go to town on the construction paper and glue and make these little free-standing dioramas. A huge fan of The Muppet Show (the original), I reconstructed the all-baby orchestra from an episode, drawing and coloring each baby and his/her instrument then gluing them onto a 3D orchestra section I had crafted out of brown construction paper.  I also made a 3D version of Snidely Whiplash throwing Nell off a cliff with Dudley Do-Right wa…