THE ISLANDER. Cynthia Rylant. 97 pages. DK Inc. A Richard Jackson Book. $14.95.
This slim book is the epitome of simplicity with undertones of spirituality. There is no powerful dialogue nor grandiose notions of universal claim, only a simple narrative told by a boy who grows to manhood. It is like a simple rain shower that carries the punch of a thunderstorm!"The Islander" is reminiscent of "The Little Prince" in that the message of tender magic results in understanding the fulfillment of fife. The plot is as consistent and basic as the tides; a boy is raised by his grandfather on an island where they care for injured birds and eke out a living making carvings. The boy sees a mermaid and is given a key and a puppy. These are the temporal evidences. Within his stable temperament of an islander comes all that is required of life, happiness.
Each event - so lacking in crescendo that it might not be called "an event" - is like the reflection of a moonbeam on the ocean pulsing with the ocean. The reader has to look quickly and carefully while reflecting on the image or it might be lost.
What first appears as a "little story" with a pleasant message is truly a panorama of one's very existence:
". . . I also felt a profound happiness. Magic is one thing. And it is a marvelous thing. But an everlasting spirit is even more . . . "
Rylant is one of the most skilled at cutting through the debris of a text to extend the heart of the message.
Two other books by Rylant show this same skill.
THE BLUE HILL MEADOWS (illustrated by Ellen Beier) and SCARECROW (illustrated by Lauren Stringer) both published by Harcourt Brace & Co.
Four tiny stories tell about Blue Hill, Virginia, which lays ". . . in a soft green valley with blue gray mountains and clear, shining lakes all around . . ." This may have been Rylant's Virginia home of the past. Certainly, she knows the Meadow family, which finds a stray dog in the summer, goes fishing in the autumn and has a blizzard party in the snow.
When there is such a clamor for "good family stories," this is one that fills the bill. I suspect the Meadows will appear again and again in more stories to delight family reading time.
When we see scarecrows perched atop hills and in gardens, it is with the understanding that they are there to protect against birds. Right? But this gentle garden creature lifts its wooden arms with pans at the end and welcomes the birds - the crows, grackles, starlings and jays - to sit on his arms and chat all day.
What a lovable old character he is! Living in his "borrowed suit" with objects from a button drawer and a slow smile (which is his own) he lives a peaceful silent life. Rylant's sparse text is enhanced by Stringer's lovely acrylic paintings across two-page spreads that are fluid in earth tones. A close-up of Scarecrow with a mouse borrowing straw from the "borrowed hat" lends humor to the story.