Wednesday, December 28, 2011

14. Neville

Written by Norman Juster
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
$17.99, ages 4 and up, 32 pages

A boy is uprooted from all that he knows and sets off in search of himself, in this brilliant picture book by the author of The Hello, Goodbye Window.

No one ever asked the boy about moving to a new house. His folks just told him it would happen and he'd love his new home.

"That's what they always said when they knew he wouldn't love something," the boy tells himself.

The boy is certain he'll never feel at home in the new neighborhood and what's worse, he doesn't have any friends waiting for him.

Feeling very glum, he shuffles off for a walk from his new house and a block later, stops in his tracks, cups his hands around his mouth and yells, "NEVILLE!"

Kids from around the area hear his cry, and trickle over to help him call for Neville, some suggesting ways to make his voice carry farther.

One tells him to shout louder and another suggests they all call out at exactly the same time.

Soon dozens of kids are pitching in and even dogs have wandered up to howl.

But calling out is an exhausting business.

As everyone takes a break to catch their breath, one of the kids asks the boy who Neville is.

He's never heard the name around there. Is Neville new?

"I guess so," the boy replies. "Everyone has to be new sometimes don't they?"

That makes sense, the kids agree, and inquire if the new boy is a friend of Neville's.

"His best friend, I guess," the boy replies -- to which a girl softly suggests that that makes the boy someone special.

Maybe Neville, wherever he might be, could help this new boy fit in, maybe even introduce him to some new friends.

Norman Juster has a keen sense of how children feel deep down. Here a boy feels thrown into a situation that he has no control over and that he now must manage on his own.

Many children at one point or another encounter feelings of powerlessness, but how often do they have an adult championing their point of view?

In Neville, Juster takes them all by the hand and makes it OK to express how they feel.

Then award-winning illustrator G. Brian Karas matches those feelings with expressions children will instantly recognize.

The boy's demeanor, at first timid and gloomy, lightens as courage wells up within him and feeds on the encouragement of other children.

This is a book that shouts, Here I am!, and leaves you feeling like the world will welcome anyone who reaches out to it.

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