There’s Pooh. There’s Paddington. There’s Corduroy. And there’s the Velveteen Rabbit. Those are quite possibly the most famous stuffed toys of children’s lit.
Now, here in 2011, we meet Hopper and Wilson, who join the ranks of Those Children’s Book Protagonists with Stuffing and Seams.
In Maria van Lieshout’s Hopper and Wilson (Philomel, May 2011), readers aren’t privy to exactly which child owns these animals, unlike with Pooh and Christopher Robin, Paddington and the Brown family, Corduroy and Lisa, etc. But it’s no matter. Not at all. What we know is that, as they look out over the big blue sea, they wonder—and just really have to know—what the end of the world is like. Wilson, a little yellow stuffed mouse, hopes for lots of lemonade at the edge of the world, and Hopper, a big blue stuffed elephant, wishes for a staircase to the moon.
So, saying goodbye to their cactus (I love that), they journey to find out. And in a small boat made of newspaper. (I love that, too.)
Things start out well, but then a big rainstorm comes: “The breeze turned into gusts. Gusts became howling winds that flung the boat from wave to wave.” After the storm passes, Wilson realizes Hopper is no longer in the boat. He’s worried. He searches, asking each animal he sees if they’ve spotted his friend. “Hopper is not good at being alone, you see,” he tells a giant fish.
I don’t want to give away the experience of joy that is reading this book, but it’s probably not a surprise to say they find each other. It’s what they find at the end of their journey that I’ll leave for you to discover.
Author/illustrator Maria van Lieshout has a track record of bringing us minimalist art (“gestural artwork” Kirkus called it) with concise texts. This book is no exception, and it’s a delight. A title page note in the book states that the art “was created with watercolors, ink, collage, colored pencil, crayon, a smudge of acrylics and some technology to pull it all together.” In fact, Maria visited 7-Imp in 2009, sharing early art from the book back then. (Fans of this picture book might like to go take a peek at that and the evolution of the characters: Hopper was rather pinkish back then, for one. Neat.) At that post, she talked about her illustration choices while working on this book, writing:
In this book, two friends journey in a little boat to search for the end of the world. I wanted to accentuate the fragile position they are in, bobbing in their tiny boat somewhere on the large angry ocean, so I decided to use collage. The newspaper boat felt quite vulnerable in the large watercolor sea. Watercolor is a wet medium, and newspaper is a dry medium. The tension between the two is heightened, because we all know what happens when newspapers get wet; the two do not go together well.
She has accomplished this vulnerability well with those choices — not to mention fragile lines, generous white space in most of the spreads, and washes of translucent watercolors. What else she has done and done well is nailed the throbbing heart of the book, the friendship between these two. And she manages to build a very real suspense during the storm and Wilson’s search for Hopper. (“HOPPER!!!”, Wilson screams repeatedly on one nail-biting, is-it-really-over spread, which is followed by a spare and beautiful one, in which a voice calls, “Wilson, is that you?” Help is coming one day late, as my favorite musician likes to sing.) There is a touching poignancy when they find one another, which could have been entirely too mushy in the hands of a lesser author/illustrator. “While the underlying message,” Publishers Weekly wrote, “is cautious—Hopper and Wilson’s friendship and safety are more important than their dreams—van Lieshout’s story is filled with adventure, emotion, and imagery that supplies lots of effervescent warmth.” As for the book’s “message”… well, you’ll see when you read it, but let’s just say that sometimes your dreams can be accomplished, not only with your best bud for life by your side, but also right in your own back yard.
Here are some spreads. You may click each to super-size and see in more detail. Enjoy.
what they would find at the end of the world.”
made a wish. Hopper wished to touch the moon.
Wilson hoped to find an endless supply of lemonade.”
Hopper couldn’t hear a thing except the roar of the crashing waves.”
‘I lost my friend Hopper. Have you seen him by chance?’ They had not.”
HOPPER AND WILSON. Copyright © 2011 Maria van Lieshout. Published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin, New York. All images reproduced by permission of Maria van Lieshout.