Finding Time for Discovery

Meghan Dietsche Goel -- October 27th, 2017

I meant to post this report on the MPIBA Fall Discovery Show last week, but the unpredictability of the fall season caught up with me. It’s exactly that wall-to-wall eventfulness of the season that makes the timing of our regional trade show so valuable. With so much focus in these fall months on events and promotions and making all the trains run on time, it’s always helpful to hit pause for a few days to re-center on the experience of discovery.

Some of the great books I brought home.

While I’ve locked in most of our store’s holiday picks by the show, and my rep conversations have mostly turned to Winter / Spring (or even Summer), I find the opportunity to refocus and refresh my perspective on Fall titles at this show really helpful. Talking to other booksellers and publishers about what they’re seeing excitement for helps me see things I may have missed and round out my thoughts about what’s coming out right now. Coming out of the show, I shipped home a rather large box of buzzy new books and ARCs to either spread around to staff or to take a closer look at. Some I, of course, already knew and loved; some were new to me, like the Rextooth Studios graphic novels about dinosaurs (that come with an endorsement from the Field Museum in Chicago); and others I returned appreciating in a whole new way, like Robinson by Peter Sis.

I always love the depth and intricacy of Peter Sis’s work, partly because that intricacy often means that his books get better and more interesting with each reading. So I very much enjoyed getting to hear him talk about his new book Robinson. Rooted in an experience from childhood when Peter’s Robinson Crusoe costume was met with unexpected ridicule from his friends, Robinson brilliantly explores and illuminates the emotional aftermath of such a public betrayal. Shocked and humiliated, young Peter retreats from a world that has wounded him into a lushly imagined literary world that never has, envisioning himself on a deserted island with only his own resourcefulness to see him through. Guided by very simple text, we follow young Peter not only through his island fantasy but through his full emotional journey—from excitement and pride to shock and embarrassment to introspection and strength to empathy and forgiveness.

Peter Sis spells out very little of young Peter’s inner experience in words, letting his incredible art do a lot of the talking and using the evolution of young Peter’s expressions to great effect. His illustrations of island life also sing with love for the natural world and cleverly feed into kids’ fascination with the practical steps involved in making life happen. A page in the book showing young Peter tending to all the things he has built on the island between romps with his animal friends reminded me in an odd way of something I loved about Irene Haas’s The Maggie B when I was a kid, which was the very matter-of-fact setting out of tasks and activities for the day, including scrubbing the deck, fishing for lunch, and battening down the ship’s hatches before a storm. There’s also a great sequence at the beginning of Robinson showing Peter and his friends playing pirates while their real world games are juxtaposed playfully against the much grander versions in their collective mind’s eye.

One of the best things is that Robinson can be read on so many levels, depending on the reader. It’s a story of self-esteem and strength. It’s a story about the magic of books. It’s a story about imagination and individuality. It’s a whimsical wilderness adventure. Above all, I can’t think of another one of Peter Sis’s books that pulses with such a visceral, primal emotional life. As young Peter builds shelter, tools, and gardens, his transformation of the island mirrors the transformation of his inner turmoil as he reclaims his identity as one that is his and his alone. And of course he doesn’t mind sharing some of that restored inspiration with his friends, who eventually show up with an (illustrated) apology in hand. Rich with SEL touchstones to draw out on every page, this is a magnificent book to share and discuss. The more time I spend with it, the more enchanted I become.

“I feel stronger now and brave.”

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