Halibut Jackson Review

Halibut Jackson
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Sometimes I like to believe that the truly great picture books out there are the ones written by author/illustrators that have studied children's literature for years and years. I would imagine that they slaved to make the "good" picture book after many attempted (and failed) tries. Then finally, after years and years of effort, a picture book would come into fruition that epitomizes everything that the picture books of the past have led to. Then an author like David Lucas comes along and, in his first picture book, creates something as deeply original and wonderful as "Halibut Jackson" and my entire theory goes ka-blooey. "Halibut Jackson" is, to my mind, one of the finest picture books that I have had the pleasure of reading in a long long time. Simultaneously beautiful and detailed, the story is reminiscent of older picture books some forty years back. It's well worth a peek.

Halibut Jackson is a shy fellow. When he finds himself in a public situation where he must interact with other people, Halibut freaks. To avoid this problem, he has constructed clever clothing that blend into any situation. If he wants to go a-walking amongst the daisies, he merely slips on his flower covered poncho. If it's a trip to the library on his mind instead, on goes the book covered clothing. Everything is going perfectly well until one day Halibut gets an invitation to the palace for the very first time. Halibut wants to go, but the idea of being around so many party guests doesn't appeal to him. That next day he constructs a suit covered in silver, gold, and jewels, assuming he'll fit right in and never be noticed. But what Halibut didn't reckon with was that this was a garden party. Suddenly he's the center of attention, and everyone wants him to construct clothing for them. With this encouragement, Halibut goes into business, creating crazy clothing for every person's needs. Says the book, "And although he was still a little shy, it seemed not to matter so very much at all".

The story may not blow you away after reading it, but the illustrations in this puppy are to die for. Halibut Jackson himself walks around wearing clothing that, at times, look as if the author/illustrator was simply tracing a protractor for a design. I loved that despite the somewhat old-fashioned feeling of this tale (it's something about the use of lines and colors, I guess) the cast of characters that Halibut encounters is wonderfully raucously multi-racial. Heck, the king's black and the queen's white cementing this tale as definitely a twenty-first century picture book. I also loved the intricate details that fill the pages. Every spread features pictures that fight and contend with one another for the reader's attention. My favorite scene was of Mr. Jackson's clothing store at the end. By this point the shy tailor has truly let his imagination run wild. There's a suit that resembles the sun, a dress (with matching swan hat) of Monet's waterlilies, and a cot that's filled with a million different people.

Nostalgia is selling quite a lot of picture books these days. Adults are looking wistfully at their own favorites and trying to find modern creations that look and feel like such books as, "Make Way for Ducklings" or "Andy and the Lion". I think what "Halibut Jackson" does so well is that it captures the feeling we get from reading older picture books, but not the unfortunate stereotypes of the time period. Though steeped in old-fashioned storytelling techniques, this is truly a modern concoction that kids today will adore.

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