Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rainstorm, by Barbara Lehman (2007)

RainstormRainstorm is one of the many delicious fruits of yesterday's trip to our public library.  It is also one of five beautifully crafted wordless picture books by Barbara Lehman, a 2005 Caldecott honoree for The Red Book.  Like her other books (and like many of David Wiesner's wordless books), Rainstorm elicits wonderment by moving seamlessly between fantasy and reality in ways that evoke surprise and delight, that feel magical. 

The story opens with a "poor little rich boy" trying unsuccessfully to entertain himself in his large, empty house when a rainstorm keeps him indoors.  He accidentally stumbles upon a key, which opens a trunk, which leads to a secret passage and, eventually, a parallel world.  Lehman's paintings are seemingly simple and cartoonish (in contrast to, say, Wiesner's detailed realism).  But they are intensely evocative, revealing the emotional journey of a protagonist whose eyes are simple dots and whose mouth is a merely small curved line.  She also uses border, perspective, and other picture book conventions to bring her readers fully into the scene; we are most definitely along for the ride.  as with other well-designed wordless picture books, Rainstorm welcomes "readers" at all levels of language proficiency and offers them a truly interactive and creative "reading" experience; teachers might find it effective as a creative writing prompt for older children and/or in working with English Language Learners.

Like so many classic children's books, Rainstorm registers our desire to turn boredom into adventure---a desire that young people may express more explicitly but from which their elders, no matter how busy, are not immune.  It invites readers of all ages to revel in the possibility of finding something extraordinary beneath the veneer of our ordinary lives.  In the process, it promises, our loneliness will give way to companionship and connection as surely as the rainstorm gives way to sunshine.

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