A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a selective visual history of the United States, full of cunning and humor, with each two-page spread capable of sparking an extended discussion on the pictured locale. The horse rider's journey is depicted in stunning, playful, pen-and-wash detail. There are no words, so participation in a read-aloud is critical. Finding recognizable images is as fun as a treasure hunt.
What's the story?
Mitsumasa Anno's journeys are cultural and historical geographies of the highest order. Without words but with absolutely captivating artwork, readers follow the peregrinations of the little blue man on horseback as he trots through time and space across the USA, meeting Whistler's mother, seeing the Alamo, and witnessing a zoo escape in New York City, among many events. Anno's traveler lands his rowboat first in Hawaii and then makes his way across the continental United States on horseback. Along the way he moves back in time, but there are time shifts on each two-page spread: They might be homesteading on the Plains, but they are also playing basketball. Icons in American cultural and political history are sprinkled tantalizingly throughout the pages. Eventually the traveler makes it to the East Coast, there to find the Mayflower and then, as he pushes off in his rowboat, the Santa Maria.
Is it any good?
Readers will come to both envy and cherish the traveler in this wordless book -- in Mitsumasa Anno's entire series of books, for that matter. He gets the chance to serve as witness to so many fabulous events in history and offers soothing comradeship: Rarely has one who has spoken so little conveyed so much. Reading this book in a library is a perfect setting. A squadron of 7-year-olds was sent scurrying to gather additional books to explain the many references: "Go get a book on George Caleb Bingham," they were instructed. To have the material further illustrated made the history quite real for these children.
The hide-and-seek setting is not an end in itself for Anno, but a springboard. Once you have found Waldo, that's that; once you have identified two jokers trying to move a piano in the streets of colonial Boston, it is just the beginning of an acquaintance with Laurel and Hardy.