Tuesday, September 23, 2014
I'm sure we all feel a little different sometimes. I know I was certainly a different child, in many of the same ways as Oliver, the hero of Birgitta Sif's picture book. I was a quiet kid who was happier playing in my imagination than with the kids down the block. I spent days making up elaborate stories and acting them out with my stuffed animals. There aren't a lot of books out there for children who are happy on their own. So it's refreshing for me to see Sif's titular character, as he is comfortably different.
The first two lines sum up this story beautifully. "Oliver felt a bit different. But it didn't matter. He lived in his own world, happy with his friends." Sif tells us about Oliver, about the games he plays and the way he makes his own little world. And he's happy there, mostly. Sometimes he feels a bit lonely but most of the time he's happy. One day he meets a little girl who is also happy on her own, and they end up playing together. It's a simple story but I was in love with this book from first read. And not just because I recognized myself in the character. I love the message. I love to see an introverted character in a picture book where the focus isn't on "fixing" the child.
Throughout the book we see Oliver go from perfectly happy to a bit discontented but he's not standing on the outside looking in like so many other books that feature quiet children. In most of the images, if you look carefully, there is a little girl who is also doing her own thing. That is Olivia. Yes Oliver and Olivia. They will meet by the end and start playing together. But even though the book ends with them as friends, I get the impression that they would also be okay playing on their own as well. But perhaps that's just me. Sif's prose is sparse but the mix between the words and the illustrations tells a very full story.
Sif's artwork is lovely. The mostly muted palette gives the book a nice warmth. In particular, Oliver is presented very warmly through color against some muted backgrounds, making him pop out to the reader in each photo. It's as if Sif used the color to show the boy's difference from the rest of the world. Similarly Olivia is always shown in red. Our eyes are drawn to the heros. Sif's presentation of people has a touch of eccentricity to it which is perfect for this book. Some of the illustrations are busy, leaving plenty for readers to discover on further readings. In fact in the images where Oliver is on his own most of the illustrations are sparse. In ones where he's surrounded by other people the images are busy, hectic even. In many cases Oliver (and Olivia) seem like little islands of calm in the very active, hectic world. I would assume that was intentional. Sif seems to have thought of everything in this beautiful book. This is a lovely story, both in art and in theme. It was a refreshing picture book for an introvert like me.