Picture Book Reviews: Outside In & My Bison

Two picture books on the review docket today! Courtesy of the kind folks at Raincoast Books, I will be talking about Deborah Underwood and Cindy Derby’s Outside In, and My Bison by Gaya Wisnieski. Please enjoy!

“Once we were part of Outside and Outside was part of us. There was nothing between us. Now sometimes even when we’re outside…we’re inside.” Bestselling author Deborah Underwood, who has numerous much-loved picture books to her name, joins forces with breakout creator Cindy Derby (How to Walk an Ant) for the sublime Outside In. A superb meditation on our forever-relationship with the outside world, Outside In takes readers on a journey of reflection and consideration. Perhaps our world and our experiences may seem more ‘inside’ or disconnected from nature then ever…but how truly ever far from us is the Outside? Outside, we learn, is there: “with flashes at the window and slow magic tricks”; in sending “the sunset and shadows inside to play”, in singing “to us with chirps and rustles and tap-taps on the roof”; in smells, and in touch, in taste and even more! Deborah Underwood’s text is tranquil and so smooth- truly beautiful- beckoning and understandable for a wide audience. Cindy Derby’s mixed media illustrations are perfect here: unpredictable yet wholly refined with varying hues, shapes, focus of details, and perspectives. (Readers who have experienced How to Walk an Ant or the artwork in Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children may already be in love with Derby’s beautifully unexpected, idiosyncratic style). In a reflective review on School Library Journal, Betsy Bird speaks to great affect of how Outside In perhaps rings more truthfully or poignantly since the rampant spread of COVID-19 and our attempts at isolation and actively staying in and away from the outside. It is arguably reassuring if not overwhelmingly meaningful to read Outside In with our new-and-now eyes and know that the “Outside reminds us” that it is there. Always. In one form or another. Waiting for us “until we answer”. Overall, Outside In is a magical experience in both text and illustration, and a simply marvelous read that can gently sway or astonish you with its quiet significance.

“The first time I saw him, it was springtime. I was walking in the tall grass. My mother picked me up so I could see him.”. So begins My Bison, the first English picture book by author and illustrator Gaya Wisniewski. After her mother introduces her to a bison that one spring day, a young girl begins what will become an everlasting, unbreakable friendship with a bison. After forming a bond with the bison, the little girl- who only seems to have her mother for company out in the deep woods- becomes accustomed to his companionship and misses him terribly when the snow melts and he and the other bison leave. Readers see as their bond stays the course of time; and as she and her bison both age, the pull of loneliness and memory settle in. With elements of the fantastical, and overarching themes regarding the bonds of friendship, of loss, and of love that lasts over passages of time, My Bison is a introspective and bittersweet story. At a few places, the text and movement of the story feels just slightly unconnected (not sure if a factor of the translation from French?), but overall this a tender, moving story. Wisniewski’s charcoal and ink illustrations- mostly black and white- are rather breathtaking and arguably the star here. The art is striking in how stark yet textured and intimate the artwork- especially that of the bison and the girl- come across. An unexpected read, to be sure, but one that will likely tug at readers’ hearts. For readers who love the deeply thoughtful, quiet storytelling of Philip C. Stead (Samson in the Snow), and the illustrative style of creators such as Akiko Miyakoshi (The Tea Party in the Woods) or Guojing (The Only Child), My Bison is a lovely, dreamy, tenderhearted pick.

I received copies of these titles courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own. Titles have been published and are currently available.

Author: michelle@fabbookreviews

Reference & Children's Librarian. Reader. Reviewer.

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