Friday, June 7, 2013

STANLEY'S STICK


Written by John Hegley

Illustrated by Neal Layton

(Hodder Children’s Books, 2011)

Often when I take my dog for a walk in the woods or along the beach, we’ll encounter another dog, trotting contentedly with a stick in its mouth. The dog’s expression conveys sheer joy. Such a simple toy. (My dog engages in stick play only fleetingly. It is an unworthy substitute for human interaction.)
When Legos and computer games are pushed aside, children can also find sticks to be amusing springboards for the imagination. Antoinette Portis captured this notion in the simply written and illustrated Not a Stick (a follow-up to Not a Box).

Stanley’s Stick by John Hegley and Neal Layton expands on this theme. It highlights the imaginative play of children, but adds an emotional attachment to toys, even to something as simple as a stick. Indeed, Stanley’s stick goes with him everywhere, joining him at the outset at Stockport Station as Stanley’s family readies to head to the seaside. Throughout the book, Hegley’s phrasing sings:

Stanley’s stick was once part of something tall and grand and it will never return.
But it can still be a stick as best as it can. 

The stick comes to life in not just Stanley’s mind, but in our own.

The stick is not just a toy; it’s a tool. Stanley and the stick do good things like rescuing slugs that slither onto the station platform. Such an act of heroism makes us emotionally attached, too. Thus, it becomes as surprising to us as it is to Stanley’s parents when Stanley finally wanders to the shoreline and tosses the stick out to sea. We need to read on.

Neil Layton’s illustrations complement the story perfectly. Layton starts with simple drawings reminiscent of Quentin Blake’s art in Roald Dahl books and then sprinkles them with sparkly touches like mixed media bits of fabric and photos of ocean waves. We want to imagine the illustrations extending beyond the page as well.

Stanley’s Stick is well-crafted in every way. It’s a story that will make you look at sticks (and slugs) anew.

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