It begins with a lonely little girl…and with invitations rejected.
Just outside her scope of vision is a boy with a purple crayon, a creative soul, a kindred spirit. But the girl knows only her loneliness. She invites her mother to play. She approaches her father, her sister. But they are busy, distracted, entranced by flickering screens. They have no interest in the girl’s kite or her scooter or her basketball.
So she sits in her room, alone, dejected. The walls are colorless, and the floor and the bed. Gray bleeds into gray. The only blot of color in the room, in fact, is a red crayon lying on the carpet. The girl sees it. And though the sting of rejection is fresh, still prickling her skin, she understands at once that the crayon is an invitation to her. The crayon is a call to create and explore. And unlike the rest, the girl responds to the invitation by snatching up the red crayon, running to the bare wall, and drawing a red door in the empty space. She turns the knob and opens the door and leaves the gray world behind.
A green wood awaits her. It is lit by lanterns and strings of soft, golden lights. Everywhere the grass is low and smooth, the trees tall and straight. When she comes to a stream, the girl does not hesitate. She begins to understand that there are no limits to this adventure world. Everything is possible. She leans down to the water and draws a red boat with her red crayon. She hops in and rides the current out of the wood and into a grand stone city, one crossed by lanes of water, channels and locks, gates and waterfalls. She waves to the people she passes. She rests. She observes. When the watery lane comes to its end, the girl still does not hesitate. As she tumbles through the clouds, she draws a hot-air balloon and climbs in, and the wind takes her away.
But this is where the story turns, for another invitation is offered. It comes in the form of an elegant purple bird with three long, curling tail feathers. The bird is beauty itself, and the girl cannot endure the sight of the bird’s capture, of its imprisonment in a golden cage in an enormous airship. She risks everything to set it free.
Aaron Becker’s picture book, Journey, struck me from the first moment I laid eyes on it. His illustrations are lush and full of wonder, with ships and castles and cloudscapes and magic carpets soaring over the desert under a star-flecked purple sky. Without any words at all, Becker invites his reader into adventure and beauty. And whether this was Becker’s intent, I saw the hand of a Great Artist, reaching into a gray world, a world of rejection and isolation, and calling me into an experience of beauty and adventure, of redemption in a thousand vivid colors. It’s an invitation I’m eager to accept, one I’m eager to offer my children, and one I believe you’ll see in an entirely new light as you follow a lonely girl through a red door and into the unknown.