Aug 19, 2012

Anyone Lonely Out There?

As summer is winding down any number of forces might generate loneliness in children (and in many of us adults, as well). Older siblings return to campus,  good-byes to camp friends are inevitable,  visiting grandparents pack for home. You know the kind of things that happen.
And, of course, school will be starting soon.
Even the boldest and most confident child harbors a small fearful spot in the pit of the stomach when thinking about the possibilities that lie ahead. For some, that spot looms large, a black hole of anxiety about making friends, being the last chosen, sitting alone at lunch, feeling lost in a new building, or forgetting names.
Unless I'm way off, adults heading off to a new job often feel the same.

Schwartz and Wade Books, 2012
The Lonely Book, by  Kate Bernheimer, illustrated by Chris Sheban,  is a terrific back-to-school choice, or for whenever those lonely feelings appear. This is a story of a lovely library book, admired and sought after from its place of honor on the "new book" display. When even newer books appear, as they always will, the book moves to the "regular" shelves, but is still fresh and pristine enough to appeal to browsers. In time, though, its cover is dulled, a back page torn out, and it languishes on the shelves with no one to discover it and love it.
Until the day Alice takes the Lonely Book home, creates her own last page ending, sleeps with it, and gives the lonely book a home on her bedroom bookshelf.
Library books must be returned, and Alice forgets to renew it. Thus begins a very lonely time for both Alice and the book. It languishes in the "to be sold" stack in the library basement, is passed over on sale day, and is nearly ruined when a sudden storm arrives- at the same time Alice does. Of course it's a happy ending. Alice never forgot the book, and the book always hoped to once again be loved.
Bernheimer's touching story is rendered heartfelt and sincere through Sheban's muted and subtle illustrations. Anyone who has ever felt a special bond with a specific book, made friends with a character, or recognized themselves in a particular story will have no trouble believing the truth of The Lonely Book.
Read more about THE LONELY BOOK in Kirkus review in January, 2012. and in a post from  Gulliver's Quality Books and Toys, among others.

There are many potential touchpoints for this story beyond the surface. In a culture that often glorifies the bling-iest, shiniest things, looking beyond the newest and latest to discover lasting treasures (in people and in books) is a valuable lesson. The same is true for not judging a book (or person) by its cover, and valuing age. My favorite take-away from this story is the idea that books, new or old, rely on readers to come alive. The Lonely Book was not in need of a friend, it needed a partner, someone with whom to share its story, to even recreate what must have been the missing ending- happily ever after, of course.

Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011
For another take on loneliness resolved take a look at Newbery Award winner Patricia Maclachlan's recent picture book illustrated  by Caldecott-honored Bryan Collier: YOUR MOON, MY MOON: A Grandmother's Words To A Faraway Child. Dedicated by the author to a grandchild born halfway across the world, and by the artist to every child or adult who misses a loved one, the moon serves as a universal visual link.
Eloquent text and setting-rich images infused with emotion and everyday experiences in distant cultures make this another book that works on many levels and for many purposes. It is an especially good example of normalizing daily life in widely distant cultures, suggesting visually that we are more alike than different.
A Kirkus review does justice to the visual tale enhancing this loving text. A video interview with Bryan Collier can be found at Reading

Bottom line? Books can comfort, reassure, befriend and strengthen us, even on lonely days. If you know someone heading off to school with a pocketful of loneliness in tow, you just might tuck a familiar book in the backpack to offer the comfort of a friend.


  1. Dear Sandy,
    What a lovely post about end-of-summer loneliness. I like how these books aren't overtly about back to school, but can address the feelings of the transition back to school in a unique way. I loved your idea of packing a familiar book in a backpack--I will have to try that!

  2. I've seen many kids tote small stuffed animals in their backpacks, but for me a book would have done the trick. And how much more likely (even in these tightly scheduled school days) that a teacher would find time to allow a child to share a book with the class, as opposed to a toy. Such a message about the role of literacy in that young life, too.
    Thanks for joining in the discussion, Julie.


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.