Friday, March 16

Leaving the Nest

by Mordecai Gerstein
FSG 2007

A girl, a kitten and a blue jay, each at their own level of comfort, explores their readiness to leave their respective nests.

The blue jay refuses to leave his nest, has no intention of leaving the nest, and promises his mother he wouldn't leave the nest for anything while she's away.

The kitten is pressed against the screen door, eager to leave the house and explore the interesting things the outside world has to offer her.

The girl is a seasoned pro at leaving her comfortable house and is ready to test her newly acquired bicycling skills in the yard.

And in the tree, observing it all, a family of squirrels, the youngest getting a running narration and explanation of the scenes as they unfold.

When the blue jay falls from the tree he thinks his biggest danger is the kitten but then is scooped up by the "giant" who gets off her bike to return him to his nest. The curious kitten, meanwhile, falls for the practical jokery of the adult squirrels and is fooled into getting itself caught in the tree. The girl moves to save the kitten but requires some saving of her own by her mother. The jay falls but this time swoops and flies. After the chaos has subsided and quiet order returned to the yard the baby squirrel, having witnessed it all, boldly announces "Tomorrow I'm leaving the nest".

The unique format that Gerstein gives to this group of young ones is that all their stories are running simultaneously. It's an unusual construction, to be sure, as the actual scene never changes and all the action remains within one frame. A movie analogy would seem apt if it weren't for the word balloons for each character's story. There's almost a static-dynamic tension going on as the action is happening all at once, independent and interconnected. It's like the same single panel cartoon page after page with four panels worth of information happening in each spread.

In some ways the book may be too clever for itself. The appeal of telling stories about different levels of independence -- the various stages of leaving the nest as it were -- could be lost on younger readers who may feel there's too much happening on the page. It almost feels like a picture book designed to condition younger minds to the idea of multi-tasking!

But I enjoyed it. I appreciate the idea of complex childhood interrelationships and the opportunity for discussion that would come from a book that mirrored that convolution. The one misstep is late in the book when the ladder is brought out and the orientation of the book shifts briefly from vertical to horizontal spine and back. On the one hand it does help to maintain the proportions of the scene and characters but I also felt it disturbed the narrative flow. It's a quibble, and nothing that would downgrade the experience, but noteworthy nonetheless.
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