1. The art. Collage! It's so very cool, incorporating stamps that author-illustrator Philip Christian Stead has collected since he was a kid, and lots of cut paper, as well as lettering from antique toy letterpress sets. It's equally cool to learn exactly how he does it: at the blog Seven Impossible Things, Stead gives a step-by-step guide that will have aspiring artists headed out the door for supplies. Really, if your favorite kid likes art, share the Seven Imp post with him or her.
2. The theme. “After all, a big boat needs a big crew," i.e., friends can make all
the difference. When Jonathan’s parents trade his teddy bear for a toaster, Jonathan takes sail in a Big Blue Boat to find his bear, Frederick, who “could be anywhere in the whole wide world.” On his travels, Captain Jonathan assembles an unlikely crew—a mountain goat, an old circus elephant, and a whale—who each have a unique skill to contribute.
3. The story. Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat makes a good read-aloud, ideally suited to preschool 4's and kindergarten classes.
4. The setting. At sea. On a huge steamship. Oh, those oceanic hues. Lovely.
5. The homage. The illustrations call to mind the work of Ezra Jack Keats. Published almost fifty years ago, Keats' The Snowy Day was the "first modern full-color picture book to feature an African-American protagonist," as the Jewish Museum points out in its current exhibition "The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats." Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat also features a child of color.
In a new-book display at a nearby library, all the other books with nonwhite main characters concerned grim historical experiences. In an essay about the 2010 year in publishing, some experts at the Cooperative Children's Book Center* asked, "Where are picture books featuring contemporary African American children (Hooray for A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams!) Why are we asking the same questions today that were being asked thirty years ago in terms of stagnating numbers?"
Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat was my nomination for a Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award in the fiction picture book cateogry.
Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat
by Philip Christian Stead
Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 2011
*Link to article referenced: "Thoughts on Publishing in 2010," by Kathleen T. Horning, Carling Febry, Merri V. Lindgren, and Megan Schliesman. CCBC Choices 2011.