August 19, 2015

That Squeak

by Carolyn Beck
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
40 pp.
Ages 6-10
September 2015

With Once Upon a Line (Wallace Edwards, Pajama Press, 2015) and Some Things I've Lost (Cybèle Young, Groundwood Books, 2015), That Squeak makes a trifecta of outstanding youngCanLit picture books being released within the month, truly supportive of the idea that we've entered a new golden age of illustrated books (see an upcoming Quill & Quire examining this issue).

There is no trivial writing or illustration here.  There is a subtle darkness behind That Squeak which draws the reader in from page one.  Two boys, Jay and Joe, on their bikes–Jay's with "that squeak"–spend considerable time exploring and delving in the places beyond town and the farmlands, to the woods and the pond therein. "Our place."  But there comes a time when Jay is gone, killed, and his bike remains abandoned and locked up to a school fence, decaying in the elements of the seasons.  But the new boy, Carlos, doesn't know the bike's history or Joe's friendship with Jay or what happened to Jay and his questions and interest in the bike have Joe erupting.
Everything explodes at once.  I hear the sound of your name bounce off the brick wall of the school  Inside my ribs, big and aching sobs suck and heave like tidal waves.  There's snot everywhere.  And so many tears that I can't see anymore. (pg. 22)
It's not until Joe can see beyond his anger and his grief that he opens himself up to learning of Carlos' own story and the two can deal with their hurts together, recognizing the importance of cherishing some things, even a squeak.

Wow.  That Squeak is not a trivial story or a childish read.  It covers important issues of friendship and death, grief and anger, and acceptance and memory.  And Carolyn Beck writes it with the gravity it deserves.  Readers, younger and older, will recognize the solemnity of the story, and François Thisdale's deep illustrations reflect that weightiness.  Just as he capably conveyed the power of words from a cell-bound writer in the award-winning The Stamp Collector (Jennifer Lanthier, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012), François Thisdale effectively uses painting with digital drawing to deliver colour and line blended just as a friendship can be with sorrows and secrets.  And that's what Carolyn Beck and François Thisdale have done in That Squeak: melded depth and lightness together, in words and images.

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Carolyn Beck will also be attending the Eden Mills Writers' Festival on Sunday, September 13, 2015.  It's definitely becoming a go-to event for lovers of youngCanLit!

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