What’s the worst birthday present you’ve ever received? For Pablo (at least briefly) it’s a chair he receives from his grandmother. That is until he discovers chairs can make great companions on an adventure.
“For his birthday Pablo receives a chair. What can he possibly do with that?
The opening pages to Perret’s picture book capture a child’s perspective on the world humorously and honestly; the morning newspaper announces that it is the first day of autumn, but says nothing about the scab on Pablo’s knee, nor his victory in his soccer game, and most notably it omitted to announce that today is his birthday – surely the most important day of the year.
This opening page depicts a glorious and innocent piece of childhood, where a child can digest and make sense of the world in relation to themselves and their immediate concerns, before it expands a little to allow in more than just the concerns of birthdays and knee scabs. A.A. Milne was a writer who captured these moments of childhood simply and eloquently: “What day is it?” It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. My favourite day,” said Pooh.” This exchange between Pooh and Piglet was one particular quote which came to mind when reading Perret’s opening page, as they both depict something of the contained yet expansive world of children.
The book goes on to describe Pablo in all his glory – sometimes a stunt boy, sometimes a student, sometimes a kid, musician, astronaut, cowboy, or even a soccer player. A child reading this book will be able to relate to these many versions of Pablo, and to themselves, as they explore parts of their personality and have fun with trying things on for size.
For his birthday, Pablo is given a chair. Naturally, he asks himself what one can possibly do with a chair? The bearer of the gift, Pablo’s grandmother, watches him open the gift with tears in her eyes, and the reader gets a sense that this may be a turning point in the tale, and for our hero Pablo. Despite his grandmother’s suggestion that the purpose of the gift is to encourage him to sit still, Pablo straps the chair to his back and sets off on a great adventure.
“He crossed the living room, opened the front door, and turned to give a big wave goodbye. Then he set off quickly down the road.”
This turn of events leads to what is a very original and memorable coming-of-age story. Pablo sees the ‘world’, encompassing towns, cafes, huge cities, summer soup, lions, musicians, shoe polish, theatres, and a very successful career as an acrobat, using his chair as a prop.
For anyone reading this book who has also seen the film Big Fish, based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, it is difficult not to call to mind the extravagant world of Edward Bloom – the big fish in a small pond, who was always thirsty. Edward Bloom’s character encapsulated the eternal longing to see and be part of the bigger world where he felt he truly belonged. Pablo’s escapades are also symbolic of this bigger world, the world beyond the scab on his knee and his birthday. A world of adventure, work, interaction, uncertainly, society, new friends, and developing talents. The irony of his grandmother’s intention of wanting the chair to keep him still, is that it acted instead as the catalyst that would show him the world, but her tears suggest that she might have expected this outcome.
“Pablo’s escapades are also symbolic of this bigger world, the world beyond the scab on his knee and his birthday. A world of adventure, work, interaction, uncertainly, society, new friends, and developing talents.”
The theme of coming home in this story is as strong as the theme of growing up and exploring the world. Pablo does return from his adventures, to find that his spot at the table is waiting for him, as though no time has passed. But the chair he uses to sit at the table is his own. He has come a journey that has earned him the use of his own chair, and he is now ready to sit still. Although Pablo’s age is not mentioned in the story, the reader certainly gets the feeling that it is a milestone birthday. The symbolism is strong, the chair the most symbolic, demonstrating a bridge to adulthood, a piece of home to keep him connected to his roots, an encouragement to be himself and expand his talents, and a seat at the kitchen table, carved out in his shape.
The illustrations in the book are as unique and recognisable as the narrative. Pablo’s family members have red hair, green hair, hats, glasses, beards, and there is even a bear sharing a place at the table. They are fun, and evoke a sense of variety and inclusiveness, mirroring the multicultural and expansive adventure Pablo has returned from. There is a message in here about the family of origin, and the extended family one makes throughout life, through friends and various other encounters. The illustrations of the towns and cities he encounters are no less vivid and detailed.
This is a lovely picture book for an older reader, providing an opportunity to read as well as enjoy the illustrations. It will also provide an excellent opportunity to discuss the exciting, if not sometimes scary and uncertain, changes and opportunities that await children as they begin to think about the world and their place in it. It is also suitable for a younger reader as the tale and can be read out loud and will spark the imagination, in combination with the lively and clear illustrations.
Overall, a delightful and poignant picture book which is thoroughly enjoyable.
- Author/Illustrator: Delphine Perret
- ISBN: 9781616894900
- Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
- Age range: 5-8 years