Friday, December 10, 2010

35. Where Do You Go?

Little Black Crow, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka, Atheneum, $16.99, ages 4-7, 40 pages. A boy in a trapper hat looks up into the winter sky and wonders where the wind will take a little crow, as soft strokes of watercolor paint sweep the story from one page to the next. Caldecott Medalist Raschka's spare, yet exuberant, style is beguiling: it fills us with the same feelings of awe that we hear in the boy's words, as he watches the crow from off of the page. "Little black crow, where will you go?" he asks from the seat we see only at the end, atop a wood rail fence. The black bird sits in a leaf-bare tree, his beak bigger than his head and his ink-drawn body as expressive as a character in calligraphy.
On the next two pages, the bird hops down to the snowy ground, where now only a few brown weeds poke through. "Where do you go in the cold white snow?" the boy continues on, adding with growing curiosity. "Where do you go?" As the crow takes off in a glide, up into brown puffs of clouds, the boy further inquires, "…Where do you fly in a stormy sky?" Like a crescendo, our voices rise as the boy's anticipation for the answers grow. Next, the crow touches down in the rain by a rabbit and the boy asks the crow whom he will meet in a long wet street. The boy now wonders if the crow feels as he would in the cold. "Do you ever complain / in the wind / and the rain?" he wistfully asks. "…Is it enough / to have feathers / in all kinds of weathers? …Are you a boy like me?" The boy seems almost breathless, as he continues on and asks the crow if he ever worries and if he's ever afraid of the mistakes he's made? Whom does he love?, the boys adds. Does the crow wonder about the same things he does? About lighting or thunder? Other creatures he meets? About stars? Maybe even, the boy's words conclude, "someone…like me?" Only at the end do we see the boy, perhaps because only then are we looking toward him rather than through his eyes. It's extraordinary how breathtaking something so simple can be: with spare words and brush strokes, Raschka captures the intangible: the swelling sense of wonder that occurs in a child's mind when he gets fascinated by something -- when his head fills with so many questions at once that they spill out before any can be answered.

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