Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Just Another Walk in the Park: Chalk by Bill Thomson

Lover of literary language as I am, this is one stunningly illustrated story which needs no words.

Three youngsters, sharing an umbrella, head into the park, desperate for some outdoor diversion on what has obviously been a drippy day. The wet sidewalks reflect their rain-geared figures as they approach the first piece of climbing equipment, a bright green dinosaur. But unaccountably, there is a pristine gift bag hanging from his fanged mouth, embellished with stars and crescent moons, and inside, a collection of fresh colored sidewalk chalks.

The little pig-tailed girl can't resist and grabbing a bright yellow chalk, draws on the sidewalk just what the three restless kids want to see--the sun. Suddenly the sky is a preternatural blue and the park is flooded with sunshine. Out of the bag comes a peach-colored chalk and the next child draws butterflies all around the sun. And amazingly, one wing at a time, the Monarchs pull themselves away from the concrete and take wing all around the bedazzled kids.

Then the crew-cut boy impetuously pushes forward, and grabbing a piece of green chalk, boldly sketches a dinosaur, fangs and all.


Suddenly an all-too-real T. Rex is towering over the three, looking nothing but hungry. The kids flee to the questionable shelter of a curvy slide tower. The little artist cringes inside the opening of the slide as the dinosaur bends over and leers up at him greedily. This is more reality than the three little artists ever dreamed of!

Not to worry. There is a potential solution to their situation already foreshadowed in Bill Thomson's amazing Chalk (Marshall Cavendish, 2010). In an entry into the magical realism genre, Thomson's wonderfully realistic acrylic and colored pencil drawings, detailing even the individual hairs on his subjects' heads, rival those of David Weisner in his Caldecott Award-winning Flotsam. Moreover, unlike Weisner, Thomson's illustrations remain purely realistic, heightening the drama of this wordless tour de force. The children's body language and facial expressions, alternatively delighted and horrified, are likewise just what the situation would evoke, and the resourceful boy's solution to their confrontation with his carnivorous creation is both a witty and a peculiarly logical one, a satisfying surprise ending that will leave reader-viewers not frightened, but amused and empowered, reassured that they, too, can take charge of their own imaginations whenever they choose.

In Chalk Thomson takes the premise of Harold and the Purple Crayon (Purple Crayon Books) to a new level, making superb use of light, color, and perspective in a masterful bit of non-verbal storytelling that needs to be seen to be appreciated and that surely merits all the attention it gets.

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