Regular readers may think that I’m deviating from my focus on books about refugees, regions experiencing conflict or natural disasters, and regions affected by immigration bans. But as I read today’s Perfect Picture Book by a noted author-illustrator who, himself, was born in the former Czechoslovakia and was granted asylum as an adult in the US, I couldn’t help but think the themes of this book are so important for today’s refugees or any other kids feeling alone or hopeless. I hope you agree!
Written & Illustrated By: Peter Sís
Publisher/date: Scholastic Press/September 2017
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: Courage, loneliness, independence, friendship, adventure, bullying
My friends and I love adventure. We play pirates all the time. Together, we rule the high seas!
Brief Synopsis: Peter, a young boy who loves Robinson Crusoe, falls ill after dressing as his hero for a school costume party and being mocked for his costume. He then dreams of a journey that mimics that of his hero.
Links to Resources:
- A costume party is a key feature of this story. Have you ever dressed as a literary hero? Find some ideas here.
- Have you ever worn a costume that you really liked, but others found it funny or too different? How did you feel?
- Read a child’s version of Robinson Crusoe here.
Why I Like this Book: Robinson is a gorgeous picture book with an important message for kids who feel alone and/or different.
“How will I survive on my own?” Peter asks in one dark spread, as he looks fearfully around an imposing forest. I think Peter speaks for all kids who are alone, or who feel alone due to lack of friends or bullying, or who are in an unfamiliar place due to a natural or manmade disaster or even are lost near home. As kids see Peter adapt to island life and emulate the lifestyle of his hero, I think they will feel hope, too, that their situations will improve. As in all good adventure stories, Sís circles back to the beginning, and in the end, we leave Peter and his friends ready for another adventure.
In true Sís style, the text is minimal and the illustrations are incredible. This is a dream adventure, and Sís’ depiction of the transition from reality to dream is stunning as Peter’s bed transforms into a ship, and he approaches the island after floating in and out of hours, or maybe days.
A mix of smaller panels and larger one- and two-page spreads, Sís’ pen, ink and watercolor illustrations were designed to capture the “colorful, dreamlike first impression” he had when he first read Robinson Crusoe, per an About the Art note. I believe he succeeded, and I think you’ll agree!
A Note about Craft:
As authors or author-illustrators, we learn the importance of ideas and idea generation. We also learn they can come from anywhere – even our own past. Sís mined his past for Robinson. He states, in an Author’s Note, that Robinson is inspired by a true story from his childhood. Sís wore a Crusoe costume fashioned by his mother and recalled being ridiculed by friends. He even includes a photograph of himself in that costume in the book (you’ll have to read Robinson to see it!). What memories of yours can become picture books?
From the opening above, the point of view is clear: the main character of Robinson narrates his own story. I think this works well to bring immediacy to the story.
Robinson is a 48-page picture book published by a major commercial publisher. While the word-count is low, the page count is high, showing that the “rules” can be broken.
Finally, I confess to having had trouble pulling the main themes from Robinson. It is so multi-layered! I listed those from the jacket cover first, but then realized how bullying, not listed on the cover, plays such a pivotal role in the story, and how imagination, which isn’t even listed above, pops from each page.
Robinson has justifiably received many starred reviews. Learn more about its acclaimed author/illustrator, Peter Sís at his website and Scholastic Author Page.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!