June 6, 2011
For our family, Lynne Rae Perkins's Pictures from Our Vacation is one of those. It's a picture book (naturally), narrated by a girl whose nuclear family is heading off to an old family farm in the Midwest via multiday car trip for its vacation. The conceit is that the book we're reading is her diary of sorts from the trip, containing her own drawings and Polaroids (though they're really illustrated too) of her experiences. It works marvelously, lending the story a realism that escapes most picture books.
And Perkins captures the voice and point of view of a child on such a journey perfectly—the boredom interrupted by sudden flights of imagination, the mostly here-and-now perspective. (We don't find out until quite late in the book that part of the reason for the the trip is a memorial service for a remarkable great-aunt. since our narrator only mentions it herself right before it's about to happen.)
The whole structure of the book—the framing mechanism, the narrative voice, the art—works together to create a vivid, fully developed portrayal of the whole family. It's a warm, gentle sort of read, in a matter-of-fact sort of way, without actively trying to be. (Very Midwestern, I suppose.)
And that's a big reason our six-year-old son keeps bringing it back into the bedtime rotation, I'm sure, but there's another: Perkins's flashes of unforgettable imagery. At one point near the book's end, for example, the girl looks out the car window and sees a line of huge metal power-line towers. She whimsically imagines them to be giant robots walking through the countryside, and in an illustration, we see them transformed into just that. It's a great channeling of a child's creativity, and the image has stuck with Dash since the moment he first read that page. (To this day, we casually refer to those towers, when we see them on drives of our own, as giant robots.)
In short, Pictures from Our Vacation is a magical book, in its understated way. I think we'll have it on the shelf for years.
[Photos: Whitney Webster]