Thursday, June 7

Little Louie Takes Off


written and illustrated by Toby Morrison
Walker Books 2007

Little Louie is a bird who hasn't yet learned to fly, though not for lack of trying. It isn't that flight scares him, he just hasn't got the knack of it. And he loves to sit and watch all the planes fly around in the sky. When it comes time for his family to migrate poor Louie still hasn't learned how to fly and he is forced to take a plane and meet up with his family later.

But taking the plane means Louie arrives before the rest of his flock and for those few days he's on his own and lonely. One day while waiting his ticket for his return flight blows off the roof of the building where he is staying. Panicked, he jumps after it, suddenly realizing that he can fly. The ticket lands in the enclosure of a penguin who Louie quickly befriends.

Louie meets up with his family who are happy to see him, and that he's learned to fly. When it comes time to return home Louie passes his return ticket on to his new friend so that she may finally know what it means to fly.

Everything old is new again, and this time it's a very 1950's feeling book. It isn't only the Continental blues and pastel reds and sleek streamline moderne lines of Morrison's illustrations but in the story, the easy-leisure pace of the story that doesn't feel forced or obvious. Where other books I've seen have tried to capture the feel of the mid-century picture book I had to keep checking to make sure I wasn't looking at a reprint with this one. If I were giving awards for Most Retro-Looking Picture Book (seeing as everyone has an award these days, why not create yet another?) I'd have to say it would be a tie between this and Cherry the Pig.

I'm really crossing my fingers and hoping this is a trend -- and a trend picked up by talented artists and writers and not a trend picked up and hammered into submission by publishers or arrogant graphic designers who don't understand story -- because I think there is a lot to be said for the old storytelling ways, the old picture books, which makes them classic and evergreen. I am seeing dozens of new picture books and so few that seem able to rise about their self-conscious gooey-ness, their animal cuteness or smarmy graphic superiority. Modern stories can be told, and new graphic approaches are welcome, but so much out there feels tired right out of the box, so many dead trees in hardbound limbo waiting for the grim pulper. Really, is it any wonder picture book sales are soft when there are so many flaccid offerings?

But not this one, no sir, no ma'am.
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