Wednesday, January 26, 2011

4. So Close

Written and illustrated by Natalia Colombo
$17.95, ages 4-7, 24 pages

Working up the courage to say hello isn't easy when the person you want to say hello to is as shy as you are.

In this sweet book about reaching out to others, Spain's Colombo shows how one little word can transform strangers into friends.

Mr. Duck and Mr. Rabbit pass each other everyday, yet they're always focused straight ahead or down at the ground as they go to and from home.

Neither one lets on that he knows the other exists; perhaps they're too busy or they feel awkward about speaking to someone they haven't been introduced to.

At times they pass so closely, they look as if they'll brush shoulders. Colombo zeros in on their faces and you find yourself wishing they would accidentally touch, just to break the tension.

Yet they never do.

The two are so stuck in their pattern of avoiding each other that it doesn't seem to matter how close they get, or whether they're on foot, or in their cars or bikes, or whether they have something sad or happy to share.

Yet you can tell something's missing from their lives.

Their faces are often blank (as if they're just trying to get through the day), they're always alone, and they look furtively back at each other with curiosity and, it would seem, regret.

Then one day, just like that, everything changes. Mr. Duck and Mr. Rabbit walk up to each other and one of them (or perhaps both at the same time) say hello and they become friends.

As the next page fills with the two walking arm-in-arm under an umbrella in the rain, seesawing in the park (which neither could have done alone before) and sharing cups of cocoa, you get the sense they're now inseparable.

So often shyness is misconstrued as indifference or rudeness. Yet Colombo shows it for what it is, a painful feeling that's hard to break out of, yet is worth chipping away at.

This book reassures readers that even when if they've avoided someone for so long that it seems too late to make their acquaintance, one brave step can turn things around.

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