Aaron Becker’s 2014 Caldecott Honor book is a classic quest story told exclusively through vibrant pictures. It’s a crucial “read” for story lovers of all ages.
To escape boredom, a young girl uses her magic red crayon to transport herself to fantastical places. When she sees a purple bird unjustly imprisoned, her journey acquires meaning, and her quest begins. In the ensuing pages the girl liberates the bird, gets captured, frees herself when the bird returns her red crayon, and journeys back to the city where she meets the creator of the bird, the boy with the purple crayon. At the end, her victory is evident in her successful rescue of the bird and in her new-found soul mate. Becker’s illustrations of the world of enchantment and of the peaks and valleys in this girl’s journey are completely transporting.
The first analogy reviewers make is to Harold and the Purple Crayon, for the obvious reasons. But this book aims to do much more, and it certainly achieves it. The story line of Journey is not relegated to simple brushes with difficulty and strokes of deus ex machina. There is a narrative arc, and as in all true quest stories, there is darkness verging on despair in the middle. When the girl is captured by guards on a hostile flying ship, the palette turns dark. An utter sense of desolation is conveyed in the smudge of her white T-shirt glimpsed through the bars of her cage. I was immediately returned to the fear I felt as a child in the middle of The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. When the bird reappears with the girl’s crayon and it becomes clear that everything will turn out right, the story embodies a sense of joy and light that characterize a classic quest story’s ending.
For years, I have been searching for a wordless book that vividly depicts the turning point in a story line. As a teacher of reading, I talk about the event that precipitates the change in character. As a teacher of writing, I talk about the moment of dramatic tension. Some kids get it, but a lot of kids don’t. I am very excited to use Journey as a visual representation of this concept for my fourth graders!