Written by Philip C. Stead, Illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Roaring Brook Press, 2015
Winding along a bumpy road, through the dark unfriendly woods, Peter said, “I think this is a terrible idea.”
The plot in a nutshell: A boy in a new home finds a way to feel safe.
Peter’s new house is separated from the dark woods by a bridge and during his first night in the house, he can’t sleep for fear of what might be hiding in the trees. The next day, Peter and his dog Harold take pillows and blankets and make a big man to be the Bridge Guardian. They name him Lenny. Peter feels safe, but worries that Lenny is lonely. So the next day, they make him a companion from fallen leaves and they name her Lucy. Peter and Harold play with Lenny and Lucy and they meet Millie, a girl from the house next door. They play together and stay safely and happily on their side of the bridge.
The Steads have a special place in my heart because A Sick Day for Amos McGee was one of the first contemporary books I read after I started this blog. Author Philip C. Stead always seems to be telling us there is more to this story than what he’s telling us in the story’s text and that is definitely the case here. We can see that Peter is moving to his new home with his father and dog and it’s obvious that he’s unhappy. There’s no mother here and she is never mentioned, leading you to wonder if they’ve divorced or if she’s recently passed away. If so, that lends a different layer of meaning to his fear of the dark woods on the other side of the bridge and his desire to create guardians to protect what’s left of his family. I felt that lots of big emotions are just under the surface here.
As always, Erin E. Stead plays with patterns and color in her illustrations, which are done with carbon transfer printing, egg tempera and charcoal. There are lots of illustrations done in almost entirely black and white, where there are only one or two items in full color. Lenny and Lucy are both made from colorful patterned fabric, but the patterns on the wallpaper in the house are shown in shades of gray. When Millie first approaches Peter, she asks him if he’s ever seen an owl and astute readers will notice that there’s an owl who shows up in different places around the house in several of the pictures. And what an interesting choice to have the book’s final (and perhaps most lovely) line printed on the back cover: “And Millie was a good friend to Peter.” Because we’ve seen how badly he needed a good friend, it’s very warm and satisfying to see this after we’ve closed the book.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that sometimes improving one thing in your situation leads to the whole thing getting better.