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Monday, January 21, 2013

Oliver, written and illustrated by Birgitta Sif. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $20.00 ages 4 and up

"So Oliver set off on an adventure, through the wild jungle, over the river, up and up the mountain, until he found a narrow gate to somewhere new. It was the beginning of the best adventure he'd ever had."

This is a story for every child, or adult, who doesn't fit the mold created by the rest of their world. It is a delightful, charming book that deserves the full attention of every one of us.

Oliver is not like most children. He enjoys his own company, and the company of his many toy and puppet friends. They share adventures and companionship in a series of imaginary journeys. From a bus ride with his dragon to reading stories in the big chair, from ladders in the library to desert treks on cardboard camels, Oliver seems content. When he must venture into the world on his own, he is less happy and looking for outs. His imagination is what saves him. As Oliver moves beyond being always with his imaginary friends and toys, we note that he is still alone. He swims while 'most' children his age play together on the other side of the pool. He makes a place for himself under the food table while others at the family gathering chatter and enjoy time together. Mostly, he is OK with that. Not everyone is meant to be the life of the party.

When his world changes and Oliver acknowledges that he is different, he follows a lost ball that leads him to a new world of friendship and understanding. "Olivia was a bit different, too."

Birgitta Sif  uses pencil and digital coloring to create a world for Oliver and his friends that is muted and without much color. As he begins to understand that the life he lives in his imagination makes him unlike others, he moves out of his box to the brighter color of the outside world. It is a new beginning for both Oliver and Olivia...and a most welcome one for all who read their story. Finding a kindred spirit is not always easy.

Being an introvert is not readily understood by others; but, an introvert's need for introspection and solitude should be honored as we honor the extrovert's exuberance. When you finally meet Olivia, do you recognize her? I'll bet you do.

Just as an aside, I want to send you looking for a wonderful read for adults...and for introverts. It is called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. I gave it to my son Bret because I knew he would recognize himself in its pages, and now he has returned it to me so that I might discover its incredible stories for myself.

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