Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: Bluebird, by Bob Staake

Bluebird, the new wordless picturebook by Bob Staake, is, quite simply, gorgeous. It tells the relatively simple story of a lonely New York City boy who meets and has his life changed by a bluebird. It's a tale of sadness, friendship, loss, and renewal, presented in comics-style, multi-panel pages colored primarily in blues, greys, and white.

Staake's geometric style ("rendered," as the indicia informs us, "in Adobe Photoshop") seems at first glance as if it might be cold; but, as anyone familiar with his other books or his illustration work for The New Yorker and elsewhere already knows, his spheres and boxes and cones are capable of conveying and creating deeply emotional scenes, from the little boy's downcast eyes and defeated posture in the book's beginning; to the wonder of the city's architecture, both grand and mundane; to the threatening moments in the woods of the park; to the freedom and exhilaration of the skies. Rarely have such simple shapes seemed so full of life.

Wordless (or "silent") books of course rarely have no words at all; while these pages don't offer narration or dialogue, we can still see words on signs or on classroom blackboards. And Staake's backgrounds are always worth exploring. Young eyes will have a lot to take in once they've devoured the main plot. I particularly liked the poster on the classroom wall which hearkens back to Staake's dedication in the front of the book.

The publication design here is elegant. Picturebooks often provide immersive book experiences like this for their young readers, and Bluebird is no different: The story actually begins on the front cover, where we meet the bluebird and then follow its flight across the city over the course of the front endpapers and then the indicia and title pages.

At turns melancholic and joyous, but always lyrical, Bob Staake's Bluebird belongs on the bookshelf of every child who's ever felt alone in or confused by the world around them--which is to say, of course, all children, current and former.

by Bob Staake
Schwartz & Wade, 2013
ISBN-10: 0375870377
ISBN-13: 978-0375870378
40 pages, $17.99