John Rocco's Blackout catches the eye from the very first page, and completely pulls the reader into the story. It's a simple story. A young boy is sad because all of his family members are too busy to play with him. Then the power goes out, and suddenly everyone has time. Time to look at the stars, socialize with the neighbors, and just sit on the front step eating ice cream. When the power goes back on, things go back to normal. But it turns out that "not everyone likes normal."
The family lives in an apartment in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, and is matter-of-factly stereotype-bending. The dad cooks, while the mom works on the computer. The dad is white, the mom is darker skinned, and the boy has unconventionally long hair (I thought he was a girl at first, actually). The sister is the most typical, a pre-teen girl attached to her phone, yelling at her pesky brother to go away.
Blackout has a graphic novel feel, with many of the pages shown as multiple panels, and the spare text alternating between dialog and narrative bubbles. Sentences are frequently drawn out over multiple panels, like: "Everyone was busy. Much too busy." This simple text spreads across two pages and some eight panels.
And really, the illustrations make this book. Rocco has a background that includes creating illustrations for animated movies, and this shows from the first page. The city lights (before the blackout) glow from nearly every window. The lights on the bridge shine fuzzily, like the stars in a later page spread. The colors throughout, though not bright (especially during the blackout), still seem warm throughout the book. And the contrast between light and dark (even the dark pages usually feature a flashlight or starlight) is everywhere. One simply dives into the illustrations.
Blackout is a book that delivers a comforting message about the simple joys of family and neighborhood without ever being heavy-handed. The reader, far from feeling like the recipient of a message, feels like someone watching a small yet compelling drama. Personally, I didn't want the blackout, or the book, to end. Highly recommended!
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children (@HyperionVoice)
Publication Date: May 24, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Jennifer Donovan
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).