Monday, August 23, 2021

I Saw a Beautiful Woodpecker by Michał Skibiński and illustrated by Ala Bankroft (release date Oct. 2021)

My thoughts: This is a highly unusual children's book and one to mull over for compassionate understanding.

It is not exactly appealing with its many pages of dark illustrations that do not contain detailed imagery. But once you begin to read and mull over the text and images, you grasp that the darkness is representative of the emotionally dark period in which this 8-year-old boy was writing in his journal.

Upon reading the "about" in the back of the book, one learns that the boy's father is a pilot (Polish?) air squadron who died 9/9/1939 - in the midst of the boy's journal though his father is not mentioned.

The daily activities as relayed in the sparse journal entries seem normal, but pondering this book on multiple reads will convey that the boy's family (grandparents, mother, and even nanny) are involved in moving him about and keeping things at a semblance of normal.

A dire, dark period in man's history was looming and this book brings a real-life-journal, preserved over 80 years, to today's readers capturing  the essence of a childhood survivor of World War II experience in the enveloping darkness that pervaded their lives. And it also records a spot of beauty in the boy's entry, "I saw a beautiful woodpecker."

About the book: It is the summer of 1939 in Warsaw, Poland and Michal is an eight-year-old boy just finishing his school year. In order to improve his handwriting, Michal's teacher gives him a simple assignment: keep a journal, writing one sentence a day. Eighty years later, Michal's diary has been gorgeously illustrated with beautifully atmospheric paintings. Eloquent in its simplicity, the journal is a remarkable artifact that captures the innocence of childhood and the trauma of war. The journal starts out with a typical boy's observations: July 15: I went to a stream with my brother and teacher. July 23: I found a caterpillar. However over the course of weeks, menacing details emerge. July 27: A plane was circling over Anin. September 1: The war has begun. September 3: I hid from planes. September 14: Warsaw is bravely defending itself. These haunting entries are interspersed with visits from relatives, a soccer game, a trip to a park, an ice cream cone. Photographs of pages from Michal's diary enhance the poignancy of this simple record--an ordinary holiday interrupted by war; a life changed forever by an extraordinary moment in history.

I received a complimentary copy to facilitate a review. Opinions are mine, alone and are freely given.

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