Every once in awhile, a picture book comes along that falls into the deep well of classic reader response literature. A “quiet” book that reverberates for miles underground like the subtlest of seismic tremors. And it does this through the perfect marriage of evocative text and art.
The story begins immediately, as the illustrator makes good use of real estate on the copyright, dedication, and title pages to present a wordless opening. An enormous, tethered bear sits high atop a building in a city.
An old man, leading a solitary life, heads off in his pickup truck.
Where is that old man going? Why, to the factory where he works, the building with the giant bear on top.
Ellsworth’s paws wave in the wind. A passing car honks a greeting.
Every day of every season, Iver climbs to the roof to take care of and eat lunch with his friend. He tightens Ellsworth’s ropes, plucks leaves from his tummy, shines his paws and shakes snow from his shoulders. Then one day, it’s time for Iver to say good-bye.
Iver is retiring, and he is “off to a new somewhere.”
The page where the old man says good-bye breaks my heart. Note how the illustrator chose NOT to show Iver’s face. It gives readers the opportunity to put themselves in Iver’s place, to feel the emotion that goes along with that one sentence, “I’m going to miss you.”
Ellsworth continues to sit atop the building, day in and day out, with no one to take care of him. Iver goes about his solitary life. As time passes, the tethers that hold Ellsworth to the building weaken. And eventually, they break, sending him on his own journey to a new somewhere. I love how the wordless spreads show Ellsworth flying free on the top half of the page, while we see Iver leading his life, alone, on the lower half.
Ellsworth flies past a diner, past a dinosaur exhibit, past a used car lot (note the funny waving man)…and then….see below how the light fixture on the right hand page swings inside Iver’s cozy home. This is a great place to ask kids for clues that help predict what they might see on the next spread.
The language of this story is so carefully chosen, the events so carefully depicted, that when Iver secures Ellsworth to the roof of his own home, and the two sit there happily looking out over the entire world, their “new somewhere,” your own heartstrings thrum in the breeze. And when a passing car honks a greeting, you know these two friends have not only come full circle, they have also reached a new beginning.
Title: Iver & Ellsworth
Author: Casey Robinson
Illustrator: Melissa Larson
Publisher: Ripple Grove Press, 2018
Themes: friendship and commitment
More Perfect Picture Books can be found on Susanna Hill’s website.