by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013
There is something about holding, feeding, bathing, playing with, and caring for my 7-month-old son that causes latent childhood memories to resurface with frequent and vivid detail. Most of my earliest memories are positive and innocent, but a few (as expected) are a little less upbeat. As a preschooler and kindergartener, I was quite shy. When left to my own devices, I would sit alone, hide in the shadows, and watch my classmates play with one another from afar. I longed for friendship, but I hated that pesky “conversation” thing that seemed to be a prerequisite for companionship. But for the kindness of outgoing classmates and attentive teachers, I probably would have remained unseen and unheard throughout my adolescence. I feel incredibly fortunate for the folks who noticed me along the way.
Against this backdrop, The Invisible Boy has become a fast and relatable favorite of mine. The plot is simple: Brian is a shy young boy who feels invisible at school. He is ignored by teachers and classmates alike, and his sadness grows with each snub. The author depicts Brian in black and white against a colorful backdrop for a majority of the short story. When Justin – a new student – joins Brian’s class, the two gradually become friends. And as their friendship strengthens, so does Brian’s color. (Who says children’s books lack depth?) My son Noah loves this book. The font is big and bold, the characters’ expressive faces stand out, and the dialogue bubbles almost dance. Unsurprisingly, Noah is drawn to the visuals. I am drawn to the simple, yet important lessons.
I look at Noah after we’ve read the book for the 60th time. Who will you become? Like Brian, the invisible boy? Like Justin, the confident companion? A mix of the two? Only time will tell. But no matter who he grows into, I hope that this book and others like it remind Noah that he is seen, heard, and loved – no matter his disposition.