Monday, April 30, 2012


by David McPhail

This book evinced a mixed reaction in me: I was at once awed by the profound message and confused by the presentation.

Worldess picture books are amazing when well done, especially when it is an allegory. The illustrations in this book are evocative: the full-page panel focuses our eyes on exactly what the author intends for us to see and infer. The muted warm colors and clothes evoke emotions we associate with the bygone era.

It is interesting to read that most illustrator-authors illustrate to satisfy their creative urges and not with a target audience in mind. David McPhail shares in this interview, that not only is pen and ink his medium of choice,  he also prefers to illustrate for himself first and it is incidental if others like it as well and want to buy his book.

A little boy writes a letter, meticulously puts it in an envelope, affixes the postage stamp and puts on his coat to walk through a seeming war zone to drop it in a mailbox.

On the way, he sees bombers in the sky targeting a patch of land, a huge tank blowing something up in an alley he has just passed, soldiers marching by breaking down a door while kids stare out a window curiously... the story progresses on in this vein where the boy sees atrocities on his walk to the mail box, some of which can seem incomprehensible and confusing to kids (especially the one where a man is vandalizing a public poster of the president).

And at the mail box, the boy is confronted by a bully, but he takes a stand and yells "No!", the only word used thrice in this book. "No?" wonders the bully. "No!" states the boy firmly. Then, mails his letter and trudges back unharmed.

All dismal so far and I was debating letting the 7 yo read this book when I skimmed it first. But then, the story takes a turn.

As the boy walks back, he notices the soldiers handing out presents to the kids (why they had to break down the door in the first place is a natural question kids asked), the tank helps flatten and plow the field that the bomber targeted earlier, and a bomber airplane now drops a bike on a parachute for the kids - which the bully and the boy receive, with the bully giving the boy a ride back home on this new bike.

And, what was in that letter that the boy wrote?

Dear President,
At my school we have RULES.
Do you have any RULES?

The idea of taking a stand to effect a change, refusing to be bullied or treated unfairly comes across loud and clear in this book, even though the second half of the book might cause some confusion in the young minds in the context of how the events unfolded in the first half.

I remember feeling apprehensive about reading  How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz to Ana a couple of years ago. The illustrations and the gentle message won over and the book graces our home bookshelf garnering repeat reads when we are in the mood. Even though No! did not win us over that way despite its powerful message, the book did make an impression, enough for me to share it here.

[sample pages here:]
[image source:]


Choxbox said...

Wow, very interesting and offbeat!

Choxbox said...

Totally on a tangent, came across this book recently -

Mentioning it here because of it is offbeat, have you seen it and if yes what do you think of it?

Sheela said...

Choxie, I am always awed by Eve Bunting's astute observations and her uncanny narration, the way she is able to distill the essence of the issues she addresses and present it in such an effortlessly poignant manner that touches the adult mind way more than the kids'.

I chose not to read Fly Away Home to Ana yet after my initial screening. I think the hopelessness could be a bit disturbing and the dramatic situations a little confusing...

Choxbox said...

Agree Sheels. I did not read it to my Ana-sized one either, for the same reasons as you. The middle-schooler did and as expected led to an interesting discussion.

sathish said...

Sheela, I am intrigued by the 2nd half of the book. would love to lay my hands on it.

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