Ideas Are All Around

Philip C. Stead. Roaring Brook/Porter, $18.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-62672-181-4
Children’s book creators are often asked where they get their ideas. What if they run out? “I have to write a story today,” Stead (Sebastian and the Balloon) starts. “But today I don’t have any ideas.” Instead, he takes his dog, Wednesday, for a walk, recording his journey in an unassuming collection of drawings, prints, and snapshots in Polaroid-style frames. There’s no drama, yet the pages are filled with incident. He and Wednesday see a turtle and some ducks. Stead exchanges greetings with his friend Barbara, whose wise voice warms the pages. (“It’s such a waste,” she says when the subject of war comes up. “We could all go fishing instead.”) He notices the line at the church’s food program. Animals are drawn in close-up, vivid detail (excepting, perhaps, a horse made of blue paint), while the people are small and roughly drawn; they might be anybody, anywhere. Stead’s thoughts come to life in lines structured like verse, the animals he sees and words he hears merging into dreamy half-stories. A long, rich visit with Barbara follows: “Did you know that ten thousand years ago this spot was the bottom of a lake?” she asks. As Stead and Wednesday return home, the things they have talked about and the animals they have seen—all the ideas he’s collected—follow them in a somber parade. Stead’s bits and pieces of drawing and observation, his willingness to lay bare his uncertainty, and his rough sketches of the natural world don’t form a polished or seamless whole. Yet their very fragmentariness tells an important truth about the way artists begin to create. Ages 4–8. Agent: Emily van Beek, Folio Literary Management. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/2016
Release date: 03/01/2016
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