Book: A Long Way Away
Author: Frank Viva
Age Range: 3-6
A Long Way Away by Frank Viva is a picture book that's designed to be able to be read from two directions. Starting from the side with the black cover (shown), one finds the story of a little alien creature who leaves his (?) family to travel through space and all the way down to earth, and the bottom of the deep sea. Turning the book over and starting with the blue cover, one can instead follow the creature as it travels up from the bottom of the sea and out into space, eventually finding home.
You hold this book sideways, so that when you are looking at each page spread, the top and bottom (which would ordinarily be left and right) form a single image. In fact, an endnote explains that the book "was created as a single, continuous twenty-six-foot-long piece of art using Adobe Illustrator", printed, and then the type was hand-drawn by the author. I can envision it as a very long panel stretching out across, say, a school hallway, with kids walking along reading it top to bottom, or bottom to top. But the book form is more convenient.
As you might imagine for a book that can be read forwards or backwards, the text in A Long Way Away is brief. It begins:
A HAPPY FACE
A HAPPY PLACE
A LONG WAY
Where the --- indicates turning to the next page spread. A few pages have a little more text than that, but not much. A Long Way Away is clearly a story that's meant to be told more through pictures than through words. Without the pictures, the story wouldn't make much sense at all. But it is still fun to read aloud, with short phrases, and extended rhymes across pages. In fact, the limited vocabulary and prevalent rhymes could make A Long Way Away work as an early reader.
But it's Viva's visuals that really shine. His background as a designer is unmistakable. The little alien looks kind of like an onion with arms, eyes, and mouth. He swoops along through a curvy yellow tube that widens for him, and loops along like a narrow, overlapping path otherwise. (It reminds me a little of the string in Hugo and the Really, Really, Really Long String by Bob Boyle.) Everything that the little guy passes is rendered with a modern art sort of feel, boxy houses and people shown with minimal features, in slightly muted primary colors (a dusty red, yellow, and blue, with lots of black for accent).
A Long Way Away is clearly a book that's been designed more than written (as was Press Here by Herve Tullet, for example). The storyline, while certainly linear, is minimal - representing a journey through space and sea. But the illustrations are eye-catching, and the text is entertaining to read aloud. I think that kids will find the gimmick, the way that the book can be read from front or back, fascinating. And if that draws them in to wanting to read the book, then that's a happy thing. I think that the space alien aspect to the story will appeal to kids, too. I think that A Long Way Home is going to be a hit.
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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