September’s Big Picture
by Julia Denos; illustrated by E. B. Goodale
Haven’t we all done it? Looked into the gleaming lit-up windows as we walk down darkened streets, marveling at what seem to be dramatic set designs and glamorous drama within? That’s the practice of our nameless protagonist, a boy who, as the sun sets, takes his dog out for a walk along the street where windows are “lit up like eyes in the dusk.”
The serene second-person narration effectively sets the mood, with swift description (he encounters “an early raccoon taking a bath in squares of yellow light”) balancing effectively with simple declarative statement as the boy encounters roaming cats, passes other promenaders, and, most importantly, gets a different look at his neighborhood. Sometimes illuminated windows allow our hero a peek into the life going on within (“Some windows will have dinner, or TV”), and sometimes it’s up to him to imagine (“Others are empty and leave you to fill them up with stories”). The best part, of course, is coming back home and seeing that in your own window “someone you love is waving at you.”
Appropriately enough for such a visually focused story, it’s the art, line and watercolor combined with digital elements, that really brings the charm here. The imagined neighborhood is safe enough for kids to wander unsupervised in the gloaming but still realistic and modest, with the odd abandoned shopping cart in the street and chain-link fences marking the apartment front yards. It’s a diverse and active quarter, with old people sweeping off their front steps, kids skateboarding home, cats prowling the street, and a park well populated with dogs and their own- ers. The clever palette contrasts the rosy gold of the setting sun that dips ever lower with the charcoal silhouettes of houses, leavened only by the spill of light from their windows; the brown-skinned boy’s red hoodie stands out amid the ebbing colors. Pictures give full yet subtle value to the proscenium-arch effect of windows, with lots of small theater going on ranging from birthday parties to yoga classes (one full spread documenting the side of an apartment building features a tidy array of eighteen apertures, each with its own action) for viewers to investigate. The result is an enticing seek-and-find effect of acceptable voyeurism, similar to the joy of cutaway views that reveal dollhouse-like interiors. It’s also an experience that will encourage audiences, especially with some adult prompting, to create stories about all those lives getting gently showcased.
Some of the most absorbing picture books throughout the ages are those that make the familiar strange and the strange familiar, as the saying goes; think of Mitsumasa Anno’s precise and intricate travelogues (such as Anno’s Journey, BCCB 6/78) or Lynne Rae Perkins’ sound-focused Snow Music (BCCB 12/03). Windows offers a similar achievement in its reframing of the everyday as something special, and beautiful, and worthy of attention; it makes everyday lives into a cozy art that we can all view and all make.
Between this and Cole’s City Moon, reviewed in this issue, there seems to be a bit of a vogue for literary kids getting an evening ramble. It would be pleasant if that spurred some similar real-life traditions, and even listeners who envy our hero’s independence and want to head out on a crepuscular jaunt of their own will likely be satisfied with a comradely walk with an adult. Meanwhile, for those who are stuck inside, there are always windows—and Windows. (See p. 13 for publication information.)
Deborah Stevenson, Editor