By Barry Falls. Farshore. $8.99.
Your World Now! By Barry Falls.
There is a reason that these two Barry Falls books have titles ending in
exclamation points: there are so many emphatic things in them! And they have a
theme in common: joining the world! Or refusing to join it: there is a kind of
introvert’s delight about the young boy in Alone!
He is happy, really happy, being left
alone, “for Billy McGill liked to be on his own.” He accomplishes this by
living high atop a tall, otherwise deserted hill: “‘This is my hill,’ said
Billy McGill. ‘I live here alone! Always have, always will.’” But maybe not quite always, because it turns out that
in the pursuit of aloneness, sometimes one must stop being alone.
Billy is delighted with his isolation, which Falls neatly contrasts with
the hustle and bustle of the town nearby. Billy likes to read, make himself
small snacks, and generally avoid all the “toing-and-froing” going on elsewhere.
The quiet is wonderful: “From morning to night,/ and all the year round,/ there
was barely a whisper,/ and hardly a sound.” That is, until one day Billy hears
a thoroughly unwanted scratching and squeaking and discovers, to his horror,
that there is a mouse in the house! This
is thoroughly unacceptable, so Billy
overcomes his dislike of all the activity in the town beneath the hill, goes
there, and gets a cat to chase the mouse away.
You can probably guess where this is going; kids, for whom the book was
written, can probably guess, too – but the fun is in how it is going where it’s got to go. And that “where,” in the fine
tradition of Dr. Seuss (to whom Falls clearly owes a lot of his sensibilities),
is in the direction of greater and greater complication of Billy’s formerly
simple and stress-free life. It turns out that the cat does not drive the mouse
away: the two think chasing is a great game, and soon Billy’s quiet life is
even less quiet. What to do? Obviously, get a dog to chase the cat to chase the
mouse…and that goes about as expected, which is to say “not well.” Now what? In
one of the book’s funniest illustrations, we see Billy sneaking a bear, no less, out of the town’s zoo:
Billy is perched on the bear’s back, disguised with a hat and mustache while he
and the bear are both wearing an oversize coat. The idea is that the bear’s
roars will scare away all the other intruders on Billy’s formerly pristine
The bear is tired after the trip up the hill, unfortunately, so everyone
goes to sleep – and Billy’s attempt to use a tiger to scare the bear to scare
the others is equally ineffective. So finally, inevitably, Billy turns to
people for help. There is a veterinarian, who prescribes knitting the tiger a
sweater from sheep’s wool, which requires Billy to obtain a sheep; and to shear
the sheep, there is a hairdresser, who will help out if Billy watches his baby;
so Billy agrees, but the red balloon he uses to keep the baby happy blows away,
and – well, eventually Billy is roaring his displeasure in capital letters, but
to no avail. So Billy storms out of his once-quiet house, a dark raincloud
hovering over his head and dumping rain on him (he really is “storming”!), and
eventually gets to “the far side of town” and “beyond through the valley and
over the sea” to find another calm,
quiet place to live. But the lost red balloon suddenly comes floating to this
new place, and Billy just has to
return it to the hairdresser’s crying baby, and one thing leads to another, and
all the animals finally flee so that “Billy is happy/ and peace is restored.” But
there has to be something learned from all this, doesn’t there? And so there
is: in fine Seuss-influenced fashion, Billy discovers that unremitting chaos is
still something he wants to avoid at all costs, but manageable chaos – in the form of once-a-week visits from friends
both human and animal – makes rest-of-the-week quietness even more enjoyable.
There are even stronger Seuss tie-ins in It’s Your World Now! Both this book’s plot line and the cadence of its rhymes are closely akin to those in Oh, the Places You’ll Go! And Falls paces his book in a thoroughly Seussian manner. The idea is that a child (actually a succession of children) can be found walking here and there with a parent (actually a succession of parents), being given a big, bright, positive introduction to Life with a capital L: “Oh yes, I’ve learned a trick or two/ and I can pass them on to you./ Three simple rules that you will find/ are useful things to bear in mind.” The first lesson is about all the wonderful sights, sounds and happenings with which the wide world is packed. But the second is the lesson that really echoes the 1990 Seuss book, which gently warned that life is not always and inevitably positive. The way Falls puts this is: “Things won’t always go your way./ You cannot always win the day./ You will not always be the best/ or finish first or ace the test.” In the most-telling illustration of the book, Falls shows giant dressed-for-corporate-work-in-black-and-grey men and women, so big that only their feet and the lower portions of their legs will fit on the page, pointing at a very small girl dressed in bright yellow, who looks up disconsolately while being told “no no no” and “don’t be pushy” and much more. People like that, the parental narrator warns, will try to force the child to behave and think in specific ways! But wait a minute, the narrator wonders: am I myself doing just that? “Do I believe, because I’m tall,/ my little one, I know it all?” It is best, the parent decides, to let the child find his or her own way, since “lessons that have worked for me/ may not apply to you, you see.” This is a surprisingly un-didactic bit of didacticism, highly effective in the context of this book, and wisely used as the second of three lessons – so there is room for a third, affirming parents’ love for children and urging kids to “go and play and live and learn./ It’s your world now. This is your turn.” Remember love, Falls concludes, and everything will fall into place. Except, of course, when it doesn’t – but knowing a parent’s love is there no matter what will make the inevitable reverses of life that much more bearable. That makes it sound as if there’s a ton of preachiness in It’s Your World Now! And, well, there is – but the sermon is so well-delivered and pleasantly illustrated that the book comes across as caring and thoroughly engaging, not demanding or hectoring in the slightest. Its message has elements of caution, true; but all in all, the book and its thoughts are just sweet enough to counterbalance any tinges of not-too-bitter setbacks.