I like to keep an eye on some “Caldecott award watch” websites, and when I saw one mention a book called Ideas Are All Around, by Philip C. Stead, it caught my attention as one that the Story Warren crowd might be interested in. This whimsical picture book is a simple story; the narrator goes on a walk with his dog, Wednesday, and greets a few neighbors. The beautiful art is what really draws you in. Stead uses a collage of photographs, typewriter print, and drawings of animals to beautiful effect; my favorite spread is a wordless collection of photographs of a clear blue sky, presented in Polaroid frames. Another page cleverly morphs an image of bombs falling from a plane into the peaceful outline of a fish in the water. The whole story and even the structure of the book—few words on a page, a length of 48 pages instead of the traditional 32 pages—seems to be an invitation to slow down, to take time and observe what’s around you, instead of tearing through life in a rush.
From the opening phrase, “I don’t have any ideas,” we are set up to be on the lookout, waiting for the narrator to have an idea come to him like a lightning bolt, or a lightbulb turning on above his head. While there are plenty of idea-producing moments in the book, there’s no lightning bolt, no lightbulb. The narrator goes back home, and the dog takes a nap. It’s a slow burn of a story, one that I think suggests more behind the scenes than it puts up front. It makes a good book for reflection and idea-gathering. It’s a story that acknowledges that work can be hard, that ideas don’t always come when you want them to. Kids—and adults!—who are authors themselves might find that aspect of the story interesting.
The ending presents a challenge, I think. While the title reminds us that “ideas are all around,” it doesn’t present those ideas in a neatly-wrapped box at the end. It’s up to the reader to dig for them. It’s a book that is open to interpretation from each individual reader; what ideas did they find after reading it? Do they think the narrator came home with any ideas? Perhaps, even though it might not seem like it, those ideas are still underneath the surface, waiting to be explored.
Not every kid will love this book; it’s abstract, it’s challenging, and it requires a bit of work from the reader. But I think it could be a great jumping-off point to a family nature walk, or a quiet story before bedtime. I enjoy it because it opens our eyes to the slow work of noticing. And isn’t that where all ideas come from, anyway?
Featured image from philipstead.com