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Saturday, May 15, 2010

When I Wore My Sailor Suit, written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz. Farrar, Douglas & McIntyre. 2009. $19.95 ages 6 and up

"When morning comes, I put on my sailor suit, my sailor hat, and my sailor whistle.
'Where to, sailor?' Mother asks.
'Today I sail on a ship,' I announce.
'A journey requires provisions,' she says, and puts an apple and a cookie in my
little valise."

There has never been a Uri Shulevitz book that I didn't like! The last two, this one and How I Learned Geography (Farrar, 2008) come from his own childhood memories of when he and his family lived in Warsaw prior to World War II. In an author interview Uri Shulevitz explains that when he was a child the family had a friend named Mintz and they had a picture hung in their apartment that caused great concern for the very young Uri. His memory of that picture is surely evident in this story of imagination and fear.

Before embarking on his arduous ocean voyage the young sailor must climb mountains (the staircase) to get where he is going. On his perilous climb, he is met by the Mintzes and tells them he is off on a voyage. They wish him a good trip and he sets out, but a storm soon tests his bravery. He won't quit fighting, so the storm calms. An island paradise beckons; it is inhabited by a fearsome pirate, some distracted monkeys and an abandoned treasure map! Preparation for the treasure hunt is stalled by an eerie sense that someone is watching. Imagination wanes and the young sailor finds himself back at the Mintzes.

Trying to discover the source of his trepidation he sees the picture on the wall of a heavily mustached man with piercing eyes that seem to be always gazing intently at the sailor, no matter his position in the room. He tries to overcome his fear of the unrelenting stare. After valiant attempts he chooses to leave and then frets for days. Finally, he summons up all of his courage and leaves the menacing image behind as he embarks on yet another voyage.

The images that Uri Shulevitz creates take us along on this journey of the imagination. The bold images and strong colors are inviting and so real that we soon feel part of this imaginary trek. Every expression felt by the sailor is felt by the reader, and we revel in his determination to overcome his fear. Bravo!

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