Written by Deborah Underwood, Illustrated by Jonathan Bean
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
The plot in a nutshell: A boy deals with moving to a new home.
At first, everything is labeled as bad. The moving boxes, the truck and the men who are loading it, even the mop his mother is using to clean up the old house. His friend waves good bye to him, but he calls it a bad bye. The car is hot and overcrowded, but as they drive, he watches the scenery outside and starts to see things that are interesting. They stay at a motel with a pool and play road games while driving. When they get to the new house, everything is now labeled as new. But one of those new things is a new kid, who becomes his good friend and when they separate after a full day of playing together, he gets to have a good bye.
Author Deborah Underwood is a genius at saying a lot with only a few words and that particular superpower is on display in this story about the trauma of moving. I have never really experienced this trauma, as my family moved here before I was old enough to care much about it and I’ve lived in this same city ever since. Ms. Underwood tells this boy’s story through rhyming pairs of words. At the beginning, everything starts with ‘bad.’ As they travel to their new home, the words change to other adjectives, such as ‘loud’ ice at the motel and ‘gold’ wheat in the fields outside their car window. Then the descriptive words change to ‘new’ and finally to ‘good’ to tell us that he is happy in his new home.
These rhyming pairs tell us what is happening and give us some insight to what our narrator is experiencing and seeing, but Jonathan Bean’s artwork, in ink and Prismacolor gives us the full picture of what he’s feeling. The opening pages are dark and foreboding, with lots of gray and black and shadow, with a sense of motion that feels ominous. That moving man is taking those boxes and there’s nothing our boy can do about it. Light and brighter colors creep into our pictures during the trip and when night falls in the new home, once ‘bad’ has changed to ‘good,’ it seems like a whole new color palette. It seems to me like a very hopeful book that reminds us how positive change can be, even when it seems scary.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that all major life changes come with their share of good and bad and it’s up to you what you choose to focus on.