Written and Illustrated by David Macauley
Houghton Mifflin, 1990
Awards: Caldecott Medal
It is the boy’s first trip alone. He can hardly wait to see his parents again.
The plot in a nutshell: Four stories unfold in four quadrants of the book, involving a boy, some cows, a train station and some giddy parents.
This book is definitely unique in its presentation and style, with four stories that, although they seem separate at first, share bits and pieces that can connect them together. The upper left story is called Seeing Things and follows the boy on the train. The bottom left story is called Problem Parents and tells the story of a set of parents who are behaving oddly. The upper right story, A Waiting Game, shows us a group of commuters waiting on a train that’s been delayed and the lower right hand side story is Udder Chaos, which is (as you may expect) about a group of cows.
Author/illustrator David Macauley recommends, on the acknowledgements page, that readers take time to carefully examine all the stories, both words and pictures, to ‘both minimize and enhance confusion.’ (How intriguing is that?) I chose to read each story individually first and then go back and look at each page as a whole. The connections between the stories are easy to find and, on further reads, can even be played around with, as Mr. Macauley has left a lot of the narrative up to interpretation. Each of the stories has a different artistic style and color scheme, which makes it even more interesting in the moments when the stories blend together on the same page.
In addition to this and several other picture books, Mr. Macauley is well known for his book about architecture and The Way Things Work, in which his detailed illustrations explain the functionality and mechanics of things as simple as a lever and as complex as telecommunications. That book was followed up by The Way We Work, in which his artwork explores the inner workings of the human body. Looking at the precision and detail of those books gives me even more appreciation for the humor and cleverness of this one.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that even though we’re all going about our regular lives, we’re all connected to each other.