By Mark Pett
Simon and Schuster
I know the old adage “you should never judge a book by its cover” but sometimes I can see the cover of a book and just know I’m going to love what’s inside. Such was the case with The Boy and the Airplane, a beautifully designed book that quietly demands to be picked it up and enjoyed. Its unfussy composition outshined the loud, glittery jackets that surrounded it in the bookstore. It has a faded, brown paper cover with a crimson spine. Block letters, whitened with light scribbles, spell out the title next to a small, delicately drawn boy holding an airplane that shares its luscious crimson color with the book’s spine.
The art, which seems to be made primarily with watercolor and colored pencils, looks as though it’s been created on butcher paper of various hues—earthy, faded tones of blue, grey, brown and green. Mark Pett is the creator of two syndicated comic strips, Mr. Lowe and Lucky Cow, and this wordless picture book has the feel of a perfectly crafted comic strip extended over forty mesmerizing pages. There are no backgrounds and the action consists only of the boy and his activities.
The book opens with the boy—curly-haired, wide-eyed and with no mouth—holding a large, wrapped box that he has just received from an unseen man exiting off the left side of the book.
In the next spread the boy unwraps the gift to find an airplane, deep red with a white propeller; a large smile appears on his face and he’s off and running.
Over the following several pages the boy joyously entertains himself with the new toy while a small, subtly drawn bird, watches the action. Occasionally, Pett draws a faint, barely-there line to denote movement but the energy of the art conveys plenty of motion without additional indicators.
Before long, the airplane lands on the roof of the house; with the plane stuck, the boy’s smile (and mouth) disappears.
He tries several methods of retrieving the plane, many of which are accompanied by adorable costumes, but he cannot free it from the high perch.
Then the boy has an idea, an idea that will take years to execute. He plants a tree.
Over the next several pages, readers watch on as the seasons change and the boy and the tree grow.
Before long the boy is an old man and the tree is broad and strong. The old man, bald, bearded and sporting overalls, climbs the tall tree. He reaches the roof and reclaims his plane at long last.
Finally reunited with his toy, a wide smile emerges through the man’s fluffy beard. And just as he’s about to give the plane a vigorous toss into the air, he thinks the better of it.
The book closes with the still-smiling old man exiting on the right; on the left, a small, mouth-less girl holds a large, wrapped box.
Buy the book!