Trudy Ludwig's The Invisible Boy is about a quiet little boy named Brian. Brian is not overtly bullied, but he is made to feel invisible because he is ignored by his classmates. When he reaches out to a new classmate, however, things begin to change, and the invisible boy begins to be seen. I'm not normally a fan of overt issue books, but The Invisible Boy worked for me. Part of this was because I love Patrice Barton's gentle illustrations.
But also, I think, The Invisible Boy worked because I so empathized with (ached for) Brian. He's a real character, not a prop for an issue book. He spends his free time "doing what he loves to do best", drawing. He remains hopeful, even in the presence of the other children's indifference (when they don't pick him for a team, or talk right in front of him about a party he wasn't invited to). And when the other kids make fun of the new boy's Korean lunch, Brian "sits there wondering which is worse--being laughed at or feeling invisible." And he takes action. A small, believable, true-to-his-nature action. It's lovely.
Barton's digitally painted pencil sketches are simply perfect for this story. She shows Brian in gray tones, next to the brighter colors of the other kids. As the new boy responds to Brian's gesture, appreciating him for his art, Brian starts to bloom with a hint of color. And by the end of the book, he's "not so invisible after all."
The other kids form a realistically diverse palette, with Brian's eventual two friends Korean and African American. The kids are all rosy-cheeked and in slightly soft focus, in the same style as the baby in Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale, which Barton also illustrated. Brian's drawings are also realistically rendered - they look like the work of an elementary school boy, with imaginative characters and stereotypical adventure trappings (dragons and pirates).
The Invisible Boy is both heartbreaking and hearwarming. It takes on the situation of quiet kids who are overshadowed by their more attention-seeking peers, and personalizes this via Brian. And what I like best is that Brian takes the first step himself to find a solution, rather than being helped by any external forces. (Teachers may not appreciate the complete lack of help the teacher provides here, but I like to see kids solving the problem in children's books.)
The Invisible Boy will resonate with kids who feel lost in the crowd. And isn't that most of them, sometimes. It might even make the chatty kids who are the ones doing the ignoring think twice about the kids on the fringes. Quite a powerful thing from a picture book. Recommended for school and library purchase.
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: October 8, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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