At SCBWI LA 2015, I went to Alex Penfold’s sessions on picture books. She’s an agent at Upstart Crow Literary and presented invaluable information on rhyming, the state of the PB market, and the creative process of writing for children. She also read aloud some PBs and gave great book recommendations, including Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley. I recently picked this one up and I love it. I have to take a few minutes to gush about it here.
One word to describe this book: beautiful. Everything about it is beautiful, from the composition to the sounds to the illustrations.
A quick synopsis before I continue: Buckley the beaver and his mother live in a cabin on the beach. Papa is absent and Buckley and Mama miss him terribly. Buckley makes driftwood boats and sends his favorites out to sea, always with the message For Papa. Love, Buckley. If the boats don’t come back to shore, Buckley knows his father received his gift. But Buckley discovers all the boats he sent to Papa in his mother’s desk. I’m stopping here…don’t want to spoil the ending.
Back to the beauty of this book. The author explores a difficult theme: loss. She does this with tranquility. Each time I read this PB, I feel for Buckley. I can’t imagine the pain of growing up without a parent, but she introduces the reader to this theme with soft-sounding words as soothing as the waves in her illustrations. The sentences flow together so wonderfully and I feel like I’m there with Buckley and Mama.
Bagley characterizes Buckley beautifully; he’s a real child with real feelings. He’s hopeful that his father receives his gifts and he builds so much love into his boats. He sends a piece of himself and his longing out to sea with each one. What’s more beautiful is Buckley not only recognizes that his mother is sad, but he realizes that he needs to move forward and help Mama move forward, too. This PB is about more than a child’s hopes and emotions—it’s about a child’s ability to recognize emotions in others and to empathize. Buckley takes care of his mother and it’s incredibly heartwarming.
The illustrations are beautiful as well. The landscape-style spreads make the pictures wide like the ocean. The colors are soft and soothing like the words. And I’m convinced that Bagley has mastered the illustration of driftwood. I grew up near the beach and played with driftwood a lot. Her shapes and colors are perfect!
This book is a wonderful read from cover to cover. It’s a beautiful and tender representation of love and loss between parent and child. Add it to your list of to-reads!