Title: OUT OF THE WOODS: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event
Written and illustrated by: Rebecca Bond
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015
For Ages: 4 and UP
Themes/Topics: true stories, natural disasters, forest fires, nature, animals, wonder, memory
Antonio Willie Giroux lived in Ontario, Canada, in the town of Gowganda, on the edge of Gowganda Lake, in a hotel his mother ran. It was not a fancy place in 1914, but it was big—three stories tall.
Summary (from publisher):
Antonio Willie Giroux lived in a hotel his mother ran on the edge of a lake. He loved to explore the woods and look for animals, but they always remained hidden away. One hot, dry summer, when Antonio was almost five, disaster struck: a fire rushed through the forest. Everyone ran to the lake-the only safe place in town-and stood knee-deep in water as they watched the fire. Then, slowly, animals emerged from their forest home and joined the people in the water. Miraculously, the hotel did not burn down, and the animals rebuilt their homes in the forest-but Antonio never forgot the time when he watched the distance between people and animals disappear.
Why I Like This Book: Bond’s beautifully-detailed illustrations and lyrical text reveal a unique and fascinating setting. As readers, we’re right there in the hotel with Antonio, peering into rooms, smelling “sweet tobacco and wood, wool and leather,” and hearing the stories and laughter of the “men who worked in the forest.” And when the lanterns are blown out, we’re with Antonio when it becomes “so quiet that he could hear the fir boughs brushing against the windowpanes.”
Bond keeps us close as Antonio explores outside, too. We see and hear the signs of animals – tracks and fur left behind. But these “half glimpses” are not enough for Antonio. He understands that the animals stay safe when they remain hidden away, but he longs to see them up close.
It’s a disaster – a massive forest fire – that grants him his wish. People and animals alike went into the lake – the only safe place – when the fire came. We experience Antonio’s wonder at seeing the animals up close. “Wolves stood beside deer, foxes beside rabbits. And people and moose stood close enough to touch.”
Bond captures the mesmerizing way an event like this can feel almost as if it stands outside of time and how it can leave an indelible mark on those who experience it. It reminds me of a recent natural event, this one not a natural disaster, but an astronomical event – the solar eclipse. For many of us, this collective experience of something that took us out of our everyday experience, will leave a lasting impression.
(For a mammoth list of links to picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)