Blackout written and illustrated by John Rocco
Disney/Hyperion Books, 2011. 40 pages, hardcover. ages 4-8.
John Rocco is an Illustrator to follow. (here is my previous post on Rocco). I put a request in for his latest book at the Library and it finally came in.
“Rocco’s sublime account of a city blackout reveals a bittersweet truth: it sometimes takes a crisis to bring a family together. In a series of graphic novel — style panels, a small child tries to convince family members to play a board game one hot summer night, but they’re all too busy. When the lights go out, though, the neighborhood comes alive and the whole family drifts up to the roof to look at the stars: ‘It was a block party in the sky.’ Rocco (Fu Finds the Way) gets everything right: the father’s pained, sheepish smile when he says he has no time to play; the velvety dark and glowing candlelight of the blackout (as well as the sense of magic that can accompany one); and the final solution to the problem of a too-busy family (a private blackout, courtesy of a light switch). The high-energy visuals that characterize Rocco’s other work get dialed back a little. In the most poignant spread, the family sits on the stoop, eating ice cream: ‘And no one was busy at all.’ It’s a rare event these days. Ages 4 — 8. (May)” Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
If you are a fan of John Rocco’s work, or have yet to become one, Blackout is lovely book to check out, regardless of your age. However, it is one of those picture books to be read to or with someone, because it is all about spending time together. The most tragic image would be the 6-year-old sitting on the couch reading this while their family members are plugged-in elsewhere, too busy or distracted.
I have mentioned before that I am especially drawn to John Rocco’s use of color, depth, and the energy in the drawings. Publisher’s Weekly notes that the usual “high-energy visuals get dialed back a little,” and it does, it is quieter—yet unmistakable. Linger on a page long enough and the illustrations you already swore were breathing begin to move. Your imagination adds dimension to the page in partnership to the illustrators work—as it should be, don’t you think?
Blackout is done more in the style of a graphic novel in movement and format; even the windows of a building become panels. This is exciting for those who are interested in preparing the young one for such shelves; a potential complaint for more traditional picture book readers. The eye is ready to take everything in, make a study of Rocco’s artwork. I think the format works to focus the sequence of the story which is heavily illustrated and it minds the text, spare as it is.
Blackout has incredible relevancy. It is a book about a family getting caught up in their own pursuits, in their individual rooms, in their nuclear home. I like that the setting isn’t a sunshine-inspired jaunt to the park or market where everyone is radiantly garbed and smiling and energetic with Spring. In a book where time spent together as family and/or community is ultimately our choice, the dark is a perfect setting. At an hour where one can be alone or excused to their own devices most easily, a decision to be in company doing family building activities is especially poignant.
This may be a bit of a stretch, but I would also add that the relationships championed here are the ‘in person’ kind. The mother on the computer could be blogging or chatting via the interwebs, connecting on that level of community. The father cooking could likely have a social end goal in mind. The sister on the phone maintaining her lifeline to a friend. That the boy goes to a video game may have other implications*. Blackout doesn’t want to forget the family with which we are in physical proximity. The nuclear relationships also exist within a greater context. The couple having an intimate candle light dinner on the rooftops is an scenario that can be penetrated by the sounds and images of the neighborhood about them—undisturbed but not isolated. The empty streets now have faces/images of life to go along with it during and after the blackout.
I like that the sense of loneliness on the part of the boy isn’t because he doesn’t have something he could be doing—it isn’t from boredom, or even a lack of potential companionship as the cat is constantly by his side. Whether one is thinking about their own home or community, the idea of being alone is a terrible feeling—made worse when the lights go out.
a few other niceties: a non-homogenized household and neighborhood. the boys long hair. the portrait of Edison on the wall. the silhouettes. the shadow puppets. Rocco’s composition.
Blackout might be a fun one to stay up with the family and do star-gazing, shadow puppets, and board games, and/or candlelight dinners (we suggest pancakes). or in the classroom (sans fire, of course)?
*I am not against video game play, otherwise I would be a monumental hypocrite. and admittedly game play can be networked to other players, and thus social and not merely in the interaction with software generated avatars/constructs.
Do read: Rick Moody’s review for the NY Times, “When New York City went Dark”
An interview w/ Rocco: 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast: “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with John Rocco”: (from whence you will recognize the images I–er–borrowed) : I recommend subscribing to ‘7 Imps’ for their interviews alone.
John Rocco’s website, where I found more images. His blog is an excellent way to keep with his process and progress and very busy life.