October 25, 2019

Bon Voyage, Mister Rodriguez

Written by Christiane Duchesne
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-9
September 2019

Who is Mister Rodriguez? Where has he gone? These are two questions that the children of a charming coastal town are asking about the exceptional elderly man in the navy swing coat and red scarf. In the end, though, all that matters is that he is happy wherever he has ended up.
From Bon Voyage, Mister Rodriguez by Christiane Duchesne, illus. by François Thisdale
Each day, a group of children, the narrators of this tale, watch for Mister Rodriguez. But on one Monday, they watch him pause and look at his feet and realize the day is going to be different.
From Bon Voyage, Mister Rodriguez by Christiane Duchesne, illus. by François Thisdale
When a dove lands upon his foot and he attaches a very fine thread to her foot, the children notice. The next day the man seems to float just above the street while carrying a goldfish in its bowl upon his head. The following day, an old sheepdog approaches him and he transports the dog down the street in a wicker sled, again levitating above the ground. On Thursday, Mister Rodriguez ties wings to the back of a limping cat. On Friday, he rests upon a piano that appears on the street. And on Saturday, Mister Rodriguez does not appear and the children look for him. Finally the elderly man reappears floating far above them, accompanied by the fish, the cat, the dove, the dog and the piano. Knowing he would never return, they leave him a message in the sand.
From Bon Voyage, Mister Rodriguez by Christiane Duchesne, illus. by François Thisdale
Though the children did not weep for their loss of Mister Rodriguez, knowing that he was happy, I wept. I wept for an extraordinary man whose time had come to pass to the other side but who eased the passage of others with him. Though there is much for young readers to interpret about Mister Rodriguez and his existence on this plane and the next, they will appreciate the richness he brought to the lives of children who took pleasure in "seeing" him walk through or above the street, his cap low on his forehead, his bright red scarf a beacon of his brightness and his overcoat light billowing "as if he had clouds under" it. Christiane Duchesne's text leaves open what the children actually see and what actually happened to Mister Rodriguez but still laces it with the heartfelt emotion of a dear friend's passing.
From Bon Voyage, Mister Rodriguez by Christiane Duchesne, illus. by François Thisdale
Because of the surreal, perhaps supernatural, texture of Bon Voyage, Mister Rodriguez, François Thisdale's illustrations, created with acrylic and digital media, have the perfect blend of the ethereal and the realistic. The foggy coastal town is ghostly with its overhanging mist and crashing waves and a man who may be intangible. Still François Thisdale allows us to see how the children see Mister Rodriguez: walking, helping, guiding, living and not. He is a sympathetic and intriguing character, both down-to-earth and elevated.

Picture books about death and dying are plentiful and all aim to help children understand loss and grief. But Bon Voyage, Mister Rodriguez presents the concept of death in a wholly unique fashion, leaving open what happens after we leave the physical world. Mister Rodriguez, along with a lovely assortment of companions, may transition from one world to the next under the watchful of a group of children but it's evident that his life is far greater than just a physical presence in this world.