by Sam Juliano
Wait is one of two picture books released in 2015 that includes the titular root word in its title. The connotation of its meaning is literal. The other book, Waiting by Kevin Henkes is to some degree existential. In the former work by Antoinette Portis, there is a constant tug of war between a mother and her young son, both of whom see the practical value in their obstinate posturing. The mother recognizes that a busy street will hamper efforts to make time, so she implores her boy to “hurry,” and holds him tightly by the hand as she heads for the transportation hub. At first siting she eyes her watch while her observant toddler affectionately regards a dachund being walked by a woman behind them. He stalls to pet the dog briefly, but mom rallies to issue another make haste proclamation as she heads back down the street past a fire hydrant and coming up to some road marker, boy in tow clutching a cell phone. Her Hurry! is yet again met with resistance as the boy exchanges salutations with a cement mixer outside the entrance of a park.
Again, mom urges her charger to Hurry! but he is smitten with the prospect of feeding bread to pond ducks wanting to follow the lead of an older man who is well armed for the cause. Alas, on the next page he is seen getting that chance, even while being pulled away by his exasperated guardian, who by chance happens to pass an ice cream truck. Inevitably the boys stops to examine the selections. The mother manages to squelch that aspiration, but again is challenged while passing a pet shop displaying tropical fish in the large front window. The boy, taking his cue from the halting trigger word, is awed as he looks at a loaded aquarium. Coming up on the train station the boy is again waylaid by some greenery where he sees and holds a butterfly. Then the weather intervenes, and mom urges him to Hurry! so they can remain dry, while helping him into some yellow rain gear, as the boy samples some rain drops with his tongue. They hurry up the stairs amidst a row of people with umbrellas, as the boy looks for yet another reason to delay. As they move forward on the platform to approach the open train doors the boy again begs his mom’s indulgence as he sees a colorful conflagration behind tall buildings. The boy then tugs as the flustered matriarch, imploring her to Wait as he points to something. The mother looks and they both observe a spectacular two pronged rainbow across the sky. Faced with such a ravishing visual scheme mom finally agrees with her son: Yes. Wait, and the rites of passage have been achieved.
Portis’ timeless book is about appreciating the things we take for granted, having the patience to walk at a more observational pace and the reality of lost opportunities. Ironically enough it is the boy who understands that the jaunt is so much more meaningful than the object of the excursion. Wait is about the appreciation of what we so often take for granted, and the realization that life is too short to always be in a rush. Portis juxtaposes Hurry! and Wait to show there are two school of thought in this world. On one side are the pragmatic people who are concerned about the importance not to waste time, which usually results in a loss of capital. Such people are more inclined to ignore much of which exists around the. On the other side of the spectrum are those who find the trip is so much more worthwhile than the destination. The boy in Wait demonstrated a love for people, animals and beauty, and in the end he is rewarded with glowing stamp of atmospheric approval, one that even the seemingly disinterested parties find impossible to resist. The eternal struggles visualized in the book include discovery vs. boredom, experience vs. routine, investigation vs. brevity and idealism vs. pragmatism.
Digitally colored matte illustrations originally sketched in charcoal and ink offer up a bold and direct point of view that both points to a child’s pared down focus and an adult’s uncluttered sense of purpose. The buildings, like the simple but pointed story are economically rendered, but they are lovely and realistic, and take place in a city with some parks. Illustration like the boy drinking raindrops, Mother and son ascending the stairs in an ocean of umbrellas, the close-up of the boy holding a butterfly, the boy and his mom passing the pond and man feeding the ducks, and the magnificent rainbow spread are alone worthy of illustration accolades, but teamed with the other delightful art and the irresistible theme, Wait is a treasure for the youngest kids and a treat for the parents who are all too often prone to taking so much for granted. Caldecott attention for Portis, who last year gave us the uniquely charming Froodle has been very well earned.
Note: This is the seventh review in the 2015 Caldecott Contender series that will be published at this site over the coming months, up until the January 11th scheduled awards date. The books that will be examined are not necessarily ones that are bonafide contenders in the eyes of the voting committee, but rather the ones this writer feels should be. The order they will be presented is arbitrary as some of my absolute favorites will be presented near the end.