Traditional Thursday: Hey, Al

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Hey Al is a picture book written by Arthur Yorinks and illustrated by Richard Egielski. It was the winner of the 1987 Caldecott Medal.

The story talks about a city janitor named Al. He lives in a single room on West Side. Al’s best friend and also his favorite companion is his dog, Eddie. They did everything together, and they were not always satisfied by their life. Al and Eddie had to work whole days but they were still struggling all the time. One day, a huge bird visited Al through the window of his bathroom. The bird said he could offer Al a place where there were no worries and no cares. The next day Al and Eddie got packed and waited at the bathroom. The large bird appeared and took them to an island in the sky. Al and Eddie were welcomed warmly by all the birds on the island. The birds brought them food and flowers and sang for them. Al and Eddie really enjoyed their time on the island. However, one morning, Al and Eddie woke up and found themselves turning into birds. They were scared and said they would rather mop the floor than turning into a bird. Al and Eddie flew into the sky with their bird wings and headed back to their home. On their way, the feathers on their wings fell off. Eddie fell into the sea and disappeared. Al made it home alone and he was heartbroken. But fortunately, Eddie was a talented swimmer and he found his way back to the West Side. At the end, two friends reunited and lived happily ever after.

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I personally like this book a lot. The story has a lot of fantasy elements and a moral lesson. The pictures displayed in this book are very creative and impressive. One of my favorite part is how Egielski developed the illustration as the story goes on. The illustrations start out with very dull colors, as Egielski wanted to show readers how old and dusty Al’s room was. Besides, the space of Al’s room is always limited in a small box and only occupies one page. On the other hand, when Al and Eddie were on the island, the illustrations are much more colorful and take up both sides of the pages. When Al and Eddie got back to home, the illustrations were again in plain colors and in a boxed container.

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In addition, the illustrations are also highly detailed and very realistic. For example, we call tell easily from the cracked wall and the broken bed that Al is definitely not leading a easy life. Besides, when Al and Eddie were in their room, they are portrayed in a two-dimension manner. However, when the bird took them into the sky, the illustration then emphasizes a three dimensional perspective. Furthermore, there are also many details used to describe the characters in the book. For instances, Al is always wearing his janitor hat. Eddie’s facial expressions and movements are different on every page. And each bird has its own characteristics and colors.  Overall, the illustrations are certainly memorable and compliment the story as it is told.

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About the story itself, I think it teaches children a lesson that “you should appreciate what you already have”. At the end of the story, Al was trying to paint the walls with colors so the room would look less dull. It indicates Al and Eddie’s effort to make their life more delightful. The story ends with the line: “Paradise lost is sometimes Heaven found”.  It contains a positive moral meaning and I think the book can create an interesting discussion about personal values in classroom or between parents and kids.

I would recommend this book to parents and children and everyone else who is interested in fantasy stories or beautiful illustrations.

Posted by Tianchun Xia

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