CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 6 . . . . October 7, 2011
An uninterrupted shiny golden road runs from start to finish of this intriguing picture book, simultaneously cutting through towns, villages, woods and past oceans. A purposeful cyclist, in his cheerful red top with natty symbolic head gear, rides determinedly along this road through tunnels, over bridges, up hill and down, gathering speed on the straights and swooping around bends just to get to the end.... in order to start all over again!
At first glance, this seems to be an understated picture book, so simple that it belies the layers of complexity and detail, because the more one peruses it, the more one is delighted by its inventiveness and skill. The long road, the rhythmic text, the single-minded cyclist and the ever-changing background soon take on a mesmeric quality for the reader.
The spare deceptively simple language parallels, in complete harmony, the compulsive quality of the cyclist's perpetual journey. The illustrations also seem minimalist initially, using, as they do, a limited selection of muted tones and stylized silhouetted figures and backgrounds. The book has a very uncluttered, almost stark appearance but, in fact, harbors a myriad fascinating and whimsical surprises to be found throughout, such as whales diving in the ocean as the cyclist passes by, washing lines and shop fronts complete with advertising slogans. A child outside a library waves to the cyclist, and he waves casually back, still frenetically focused on his mission to get the end of the road.
This title was originally created as one continuous, thirty-five-foot-long piece of art that must be amazing to see. Frank Viva is an award-winning illustrator and graphic designer whose work has appeared in Esquire, Time and the New Yorker. Although this is his first venture into children's books, he is not new to the world of cycling, having pedaled his way through a variety of countries!!
Along a Long Road is aimed at children aged 4-8, but I can think of many older folk who will love to share this book, including quirky cycling and non-cycling parents, teachers who will appreciate its repetition and patterning as a classroom tool, and librarians who can share it at story-time. In fact, I can't think of anybody who wouldn't be delighted with this book.
Aileen Wortley, a retired librarian, lives in Toronto, ON.
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