The Rough Patch by Brian Lies. unpgd. Greenwillow Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, August, 2018. 9780062671271. (Review from finished copy borrowed from public library while I wait for my own to come.)
As I stood waiting for my purchases to be totalled at Blue Bunny Books in early August, I spied this book with a little note sticking out saying that Brian Lies was signing the following week.
I felt momentary regret at not being able to attend, but took solace in reading the book while I waited. I asked Margie, the bookseller if I could buy it (despite the "display only" message;-). Alas, it was still a week before the publication date and she could not. I went home and put it on my school book order. #nevertoooldforpicturebooks.
Well. I borrowed it from the public library while waiting for my order to be approved, processed and sent. I could not wait to read it again. I'll Love You Forever by Hans Wilhelm (Crown, 1985) and Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley (Lothrop, Lee & Shephard, 1984) are my two favorite picture books dealing with loss. This makes my third.
It is perfect. The text is spare, powerful and moving. The acrylic, oil and colored pencil illustrations are absorbing. The reader rollicks and frolics along with Evan and his dog in a series of joyful spot art. Then, the unthinkable happens. Lies' use of white space here is extraordinary.
Evan is in a dark place. He's sad and angry, allowing readers to own similar feelings. He destroys his garden and it becomes dark and scary and prickly and uncomfortable. Once he allows a pumpkin vine to establish itself, Evan slowly starts to care again. He nurtures it and when it ripens into a truly magnificent specimen, Evan is ready to return to the world again, so he enters the pumpkin into the fair. Realistically, he does not win, but he reconnects with friends and enjoys himself. The prize money comes with a bonus, which Evan doesn't feel ready for; but he relents. And I let out a breath I didn't realize I was holding.
This is a picture book for any age. Anyone who has experienced loss will see himself or herself in Evan. Share widely and listen when your young readers share their own thoughts about The Rough Patch or their own rough patch. What an incredible gift this is. Buy it and share it.