The Long Island by Drew Breckmeyer
The Long Island by Drew Breckmeyer is possibly the best picture book I have read in years. It is mysterious, suspenseful, whimsical (in the best, non-ironic sense of the word) and the illustrations are primitively evocative. Best of all, The Long Island is one of those picture books that works on more than one level. I have read this book out loud to all my students, grades 1 - 5, often with the request to read it again immediately after I finish, and their delight and excitement is unanimous.
Breckmeyer's writing style, and illustration style for that matter, is intentionally vague and it casts a spell immediately. The Long Island beings (over the course of three pages) "They would sit and wonder about the other side of the island, and they would ride out to see the far side." The endpapers give readers an overhead of the island, which adds a layer of understanding. But, it's human nature to be curious and to explore and that is what these five islanders of various colors and indeterminable genders do.
The islanders explore, trying to make their way to the side of the island that is too rocky to dock a boat at and too treacherous to trek to, deciding that their best option is to go over the dense flora. Each new attempt to reach the other side of the island results in the loss of an explorer and, by the end of the book, five has become one. Their solution, which I don't want to give away here because the surprise of the page turn is marvelous, is truly delightful and the kids especially love it. Of course, reaching the other side of the island brings about change (the text for this moment reads, ominously, "It was only a matter of time,") leaving one lone explorer once again riding out to find the place, the one, "nobody had ever seen."
Breckmeyer's pacing in The Long Island is excellent and, while his (crayon?) illustrations seem childlike, they are impactful. After reading The Long Island to my students, we had many discussions, including wondering about where they next explorer traveled to. A few students even chose to draw the next island he encountered. The biggest surprise, though, was my discovery that this seemingly simple picture book is 64 pages long, twice as long as a traditional picture book! I've read it at least 25 times as I write this review and it never registered that The Long Island is also a long book! That's how completely engrossing it is.
Source: Review Copy