Inspiration comes in a variety of different forms though family is probably best source. One author might write a picture book and make all the monsters in it the relatives they knew growing up. Another might write a tale based on an amusing catchphrase picked up by her husband. In the case of Hopper and Wilson, author Maria van Lieshout found inspiration when her father and brother found home. Apparently the two went on a sea voyage once and proceeded to get lost. The story has a happy ending since the two came back, wiser and more appreciative of the place they left behind, and so Hopper and Wilson finds its footing. A quiet tale of safe journeys, returns, and friendship, this is the bedtime book you’re looking for when bathtime has come and gone.
Hopper the elephant and Wilson the mouse wonder one day what exactly they might find at the end of the world. Determining that there’s a good chance of finding lemonade there, the two set out in a little boat with only a red balloon for company. Along the way they are caught up in a sudden squall and the two friends are separated. Wilson searches high and low for Hopper, until at last a friendly bird leads the two to one another. Continuing their journey (minus one red balloon) they find themselves back at their old dock. The end of the world is also the beginning. And for that the two of them could not be happier.
Until now the books both written and illustrated by van Lieshout have consisted of small, specialized little stories. Bloom is a tale of two little pigs searching for love while Peep is of the first flight/graduation gift variety and Splash about having a down day. Compared to these Hopper and Wilson plays out like a veritable epic tale. As epic a tale as toys ever have, of course. There is, you see, a stitched quality to Hopper and Wilson. You can make out the long stitched lines on both of their bodies. There’s a comfy, cuddly quality to them. Hopper in particular seems to have rather relaxed stuffing, probably from a lot of hugging over the years. Theirs is a world right out of Winnie-the-Pooh. Of small tragedies, lemon trees, the occasional pet cactus, and the discovery that the end of the world is also the beginning.
The watercolors in the book definitely drill home that dreamlike quality. Van Lieshout has a great deal of fun conjuring up the colors of stormy seas and yellow early morning skies. There’s one moment at night when Hopper and Wilson stare up at the stars and the red of their balloon is reflected oh-so-faintly in the deep dark blue waters below. And I, for one, would love to know what the writing is on that little folded boat they ride. It would not have surprised me to see it change from one bit of newsprint to another over the course of the pages, but instead it’s entirely consistent, saying something about rainforests and soggy rain soaked trails.
I’ve always known that kids like to find hidden details in the picture books they read, but it was only recently that someone pointed out to me that adults like to find hidden clues as well. This is often because they parent will find themselves reading the same book over and over again. If the artist involved includes a tiny detail that’s worth finding, it might mean the life or death of that parent’s sanity. In the case of this book, there’s a small bird that accompanies Hopper and Wilson on their quest and ends up being the saving of one of them. Folks will enjoy spotting this bird as it loops and dives from page to page. And I liked the occasional, perhaps inadvertent, homage. There’s one image in particular that seems to recall Oliver Jeffers’ Lost and Found when, like the boy in that book, Wilson circles icecaps in search of his missing friend.
Quiet adventures that display the joys of finding something, or someone, you have lost are out there but sometimes they’re hard to recall. Hopper and Wilson is easy to remember after you’ve read it, though. I know that the next time a parent walks into my children’s room at the library and asks for good picture book bedtime fare or books that “feel like classics” I’ll have this little number right at hand. Sweet in the best possible sense, these are two animals that are certain to garner more friends in their readers. A lovely book.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from author for review.
Other Blog Reviews: Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Professional Reviews: Publishers Weekly