Thursday, July 21, 2011

Along A Long Road

Written and illustrated by Frank Viva
$16.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages

One read through Frank Viva's debut and you'll feel as if you've sailed the coast in a bicycle.

The New Yorker illustrator celebrates the exhilaration of riding a bicycle and going as fast as your feet will pedal in his first picture book.

A rider flies down a seaside road through woods, between electrical towers, up a hill, around a town, into a tunnel, over a bridge and through a city, only to want to do it all over again.

The images are fluid and freeing and give you the sense of being let loose on a journey that could be endless, like a boat gliding out to sea, even as you keep to the road.

Simple shapes in gray-blue, black and cream elegantly define the landscape, as touches of muted red anchor the eye on the cyclist's shirt and liven the page by drawing your eye to small details.

The book was created from one 35-foot-long piece of art. Lines in the backdrop flow across the pages as if following the lead of the road, a solid mango-yellow line, the brightest thing on the page. Or is it the other way around?

In the country, the road loops up like the electrical lines above the rider. In the city, the road is ruler-straight like the roof lines and bricks he passes by. And at ride's end, it serpentines like the roller coaster that he curves around.

Viva elongates the boy's bicycle to create a sense of flow and speed, and curves his body in different ways to suggest changes in his momentum and mindset:

When the boy is gliding and taking it all in, his body relaxes and his arms stretch like noodles to the handle bars.

Drifting down a hill, he sits up straight on his seat with his legs curved to the pedals, head tipped back and lips shaped to whistle. 

Then as he enters a tunnel, you feel his adrenalin as he shoots for the opening. He stands up, with his legs straight and back arced over his handle bars.

The words are spare and draw out the physical experience of riding the bike. They point the rider's way -- up, into, out, over -- and announce when he's hit a bump.

But just one, an apple that's fallen off a tree. Pitched onto his front tire, the rider comes to his only stop -- but quickly he's "up again," back on track, flying ahead.

Here's a book that enlivens the spirit, and gives you a friendly nudge to go out there and live. Charge ahead in life, the pictures seem to say: take it all in and let nothing stop you.

Viva's next book, tentatively titled, Artie in Antarctica, will be a collaboration with Francoise Mouley for Toon Books.

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