Occasionally, I read a picture book that makes me wonder how so few words can contain such depth. The answer is often a pesky critter that taps at a dark window, only to disappear when I turn to look. One thing I’ve noticed is that these kinds of picture books usually come from an author breaking away from the traditional narrative story arc.
Like this one.
Perhaps I enjoy the questions that are raised, as Mac Barnett likes to say, the sense of wonder, rather than feeling like the ending says all that needs to be understood about the story. And in this case, the story appears to be deceptively simple:
One day in spring, a bison appears in a meadow where a little girl is playing with her mother. Over the time, the bison and little girl develop a friendship (one that involves food and hot drinks by the fire). Every winter, the bison leaves, only to return in the spring. Each time the bison returns, the little girl fills him in on all that has happened during his absence. The pair grow old together, and one year, the bison doesn’t return. But the old woman feels her friend’s spirit, and hears his truth in her heart:
“I am in every spring flower, every sound in the forest, and every snowflake.”
He was always with me.
He had never left me.
This elegy for the wonder of friendship and loss of a loved one (sometimes simply through distance) has been created in such a deft and gentle way, and has been so loved by me that my library has auto-renewed the loan twice. But instead of feeling like it’s me who can’t let it go, it’s more like this visual tone poem won’t let go of me. I’m not complaining.
Although the illustrations in charcoal are often dark, the final two spreads open to a dark blue night sky filled with stars, and perhaps the dancing spirits of those who’ve left us.
We do carry those we love with us in our hearts and in the tangible objects that we associate with them, no matter where they are on this mortal coil or beyond the horizon of our limited vision.
This quiet book about love, loss, and remembering has left its imprint on my psyche, as I’m sure it will on yours. For we can’t always have our loved ones near us, and the knife edge of loss is something everyone experiences throughout their lives.
Create a memory box or collage of small things that remind you of someone you love who lives far away or of someone you’ve lost. For the collage, pair this book with Me and Uncle Romie by Claire Hartfield. The end of the book contains a wonderful collage from the boy to his uncle (the artist, Romare Bearden) who lives far away. It’s a longer book that can be read by older kids, but my son loved having it read to him even when he was small.
Make an origami bison
Make your own starry watercolor painting, using deep blues and salt.
Title: My Bison
Author/Illustrator: Caya Wisniewski
Publisher: Princeton University Press, 2020
Theme: friendship, loss, healing
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s blog.