Written and Illustrated by Lane Smith
Roaring Brook Press, 2016
There was a tribe of kids.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy meets many groups of animals.
A young boy, wearing only leaves, lives with a tribe of mountain goats. When they climb up the steep mountain, leaving him behind, he begins to wander. As he walks, he encounters other groups of animals, such as a colony of penguins, a pod of whales, an unkindness of ravens, a troop of monkeys and a crash of rhinos. He also makes his way around a formation of rocks and a growth of plants. After a night of dreams, he follows a trail of shells and finds a tribe of kids living happily in the trees and they welcome him.
I think I must have been really distracted when I read this book for the first time, because I missed the point of it entirely, taking it for a plotless book of gorgeous illustrations of collective nouns from the animal kingdom. Bookshelf favorite Lane Smith has given us so much more than that here. The play on words from ‘kids’ meaning young goats at the beginning to ‘kids’ meaning children at the end is clever and can be easily taken to symbolize the transition from those you thought you belonged with to those you truly belong with. It’s representative of your whole childhood journey, when you look at it through that lens and that’s really cool.
Of course, the illustrations are beautiful. Mr. Smith’s oil paintings were finished with acrylic varnish to give them texture and finished with colored pencil, graphite and both tradition and digital cutting and pasting. His use of color is marvelous, reflecting all the vibrancy of the animal kingdom and the earthy tones of nature. This book has been the target of some controversy; with people taking exception to his use of the word ‘tribe’ to describe the leaf-wearing children living in the trees at the end of the book, saying that it’s insulting to Native Americans. I took the word in a more general sense and never thought it was referring to any specific group of people. This was one I really loved.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that one of the most important steps for a happy life is to find your tribe.