A gentle reminder that to be somebody’s favorite thing in the world requires a certain quality of thingness.
“A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in her sublime meditation on reading. But how that transplant happens is a matter wholly subjective and deeply mysterious. In the unusual, wonderful, and magically meta picture-book The Jacket (public library | IndieBound), writer Kirsten Hall and illustrator Dasha Tolstikova explore the beauty and terror of falling in love with a book from the perspective of the book itself.
It is also a story about the aching disconnect between merit and confidence, and the way in which love both transforms us and brings us closer to ourselves.
“Book was a book that had just about everything,” the story begins. “He was solid and strong. His words were smart and playful. The problem was, Book didn’t feel special.”
True though it may be that “there’s a difference between wanting to be looked at and wanting to be seen,” Book does want to be noticed — so that he can be truly seen as a child disappears into his pages and falls in love with his story.
And then, one day, it happens. A little girl walks into the bookstore and falls in love with Book.
Book fit perfectly into the girl’s hands.
She took him everywhere, and Book thought he must be the girl’s favorite thing in the whole wide world?
Who doesn’t long to be someone’s favorite thing in the whole wide world?
But Book soon discovers that he must compete for the girl’s affections with her other beloved earthly companion — her dog, Egg Cream.
Book could see why the girl adored her dog.
He was wild and funny, furry and sweet.
He scratched at the door.
He rolled around on the floor.
He did neat things with sticks and balls.
He was warm and cozy. And he loved the girl.
For Book, though, Dog was a big problem.
A big, clumsy problem with scary teeth and a huge slippery tongue. He was messy and wet, and he licked and drooled.
No, Book didn’t like Dog one bit.
Then, sure enough, as Book is enjoying a quiet picnic with the girl “one perfectly lovely afternoon,” Dog-begotten disaster strikes. Suddenly, mud splatters from all sides and smothers him. Distraught that he has ruined Book, the girl screams at Egg Cream.
That night, her mother helps clean Book up, but the girl is “too sad and gloomy” to read.
As Book watches her sleep, he sinks into wistfulness as he contemplates no longer being her perfect book.
But when the girl opens her eyes in the morning, “something had changed.”
She has a plan.
With quiet excitement and optimism, she sits down at her desk with some art supplies as Egg Cream and Book wonder what she’s working on.
And then, the reveal: a colorful handmade jacket for Book, which she wraps around him as she beams a smile.
The book’s final spread features delightful hand-drawn instructions for how to make your very own book jacket.
Underpinning the sweet story is also a gentle clarion call for holding onto the intangible joys and tactile rewards of old-fashioned spine-and-paper books — an ebook, after all, can’t return the embrace of a handmade jacket, nor can it really be someone’s “favorite thing in the whole wide world” when its very thingness is so woefully nebulous.
The Jacket comes from Brooklyn-based Enchanted Lion Books, by far the most intelligent and imaginative picture-book publisher today, whose remarkable roster includes such treasures as The Lion and the Bird, The River, Little Boy Brown, Mister Horizontal & Miss Vertical, Wednesday, and Advice to Little Girls.