cover image A Country Far Away

A Country Far Away

Nigel Gray. Orchard Books (NY), $15.95 (31pp) ISBN 978-0-531-05792-6

Minimal text--a sentence or two per page--relates the everyday activities in the life of an ordinary boy. But the pictures in this extra ordinary book apply those words to two boys: one living in a rural African village and one in a Western European city. The text divides the pages horizontally: illustrations above and below it reveal two versions of the story through a series of boxed vignettes--Dupasquier's wonderfully appealing specialty. The reader sees both similarities and differences in the two boys' lifestyles; the many humorous elements suggest the universality of human experience. ``My cousin came to visit. We stayed up late'' is illustrated by pictures above and below in which we see two family reunions. In the African village, family members embrace relatives who arrive by river boat. Everyone sits outside in the balmy tropical night, listening to stories in the light of the campfire, while the cousins slip off to sit by the edge of the moonlit river. Meanwhile, illustrations below this same text show relatives arriving by car and family members embracing. Everyone sits around the television while the cousins use a flashlight to make hand-shadow figures on the bedroom wall. Each boy's life, with its small events (going into town for shopping) and momentous occasions (the birth of a sister) is seen within a loving family, which is in turn a unit of the community. Dupasquier's lively style uses the conventions of the comic strip (segmented drawings that imply action and progression of plot) but achieves true characterization and depth of story. Unique among picture books, A Country Far Away avoids didacticism while joyfully celebrating the kinship of human cultures and young boys children everywhere. Ages 3-6. (Sept.)