Last night I read a really wonderful picture book to my children: Albert, written by Donna Jo Napoli (her first picture book after many award winning novels including one of my favourites The Prince of the Pond and illustrated by Jim La Marche.
Albert is an interesting man. Everyday, he eats his breakfast, reads the comics, gets dressed and thinks about going outside. Everyday, something convinces him it is not the day to venture out. It might be the damp weather. It might be the noises – the not good noises like arguing or rumbling garbage trucks. If we really want to call it, I think Albert experiences some quite serious anxiety about the outside world. Not an easy place to be.
The lovely thing about this book is that Napoli arranges the outside world to come to Albert. In the form of a twig, that becomes a nest, that hosts little eggs and a perching cardinal all on his outstretched hand. For Albert, who finds the outside world too overwhelming, he is gently (but insistently) forced to get one foot firmly planted on the ground – in the form of a hand carefully suspended in the air. Albert keeps his hand with a bird’s nest on it stretched outside his window because . . . how can he not? For days and days. Really! Of course my adult brain wonders how does he go to the bathroom? How does he not drop the nest when sleeping? How does he survive without food or drink? (This is addressed actually when father bird starts dropping berries in his mouth) My children though just got caught up in the magic of it. “He’s so kind!” my son exclaims. My daughter is a little worried. “Mama, Albert doesn’t have a job. How can he get money?”
In the end, the birds fly away and Albert who has been interacting (through the birds) with the outside world realizes that the world is a wonderful place – full of all kinds of noises and experiences. He puts on his hat and goes for a walk.
I asked: “What do you think the birds taught him?”
My daughter had lots to say: “Helping others helps you. You should go outside and fly your heart away!”