There are no words at all in this book, until you get to the Author’s Note at the end. But the story is clear enough from the detailed ink drawings by the author, entirely in black and white except for splotches of color on each page that highlight the history of a paper bag.
After being created at a paper mill, the bag comes into the possession of a boy and his single father, who adds a red heart to the bag and uses it for the boy’s school lunches; to carry items when they camp out or work together; and to hold sheet music for the boy’s guitar.
When the boy grows up, he takes the bag with him to college, and soon he meets a girl who adds another heart to the bag. At their wedding, a flower girl strews petals carried in the bag, and when their first child arrives, yet another red heart is colored on the bag.
Time goes on, as do the uses for the bag, until finally it serves as a planter for a new tree that perhaps one day will generate a new bag.
The author said he was inspired to write the story based on his own experience with a bag he first got on the first Earth Day. He figures he reused it “about seven hundred times” before passing it on to a friend. It was, he said, “Just one little bag. One well-used, well-recycled life.”
Sound simplistic? I was crying by the end. The warm sketches draw you into the life of this boy and the contemplation of how so much in life changes, while some things stay the same.
Evaluation: Some of my favorite books are wordless. They allow children to supply the dialogue through their imaginations, forcing them to think about what is being depicted and what it might mean, allowing for endless creative interpretations. This particular story may also suggest to kids that some of the things that are the most precious in our lives are not expensive gadgets, but simple objects that have emotional resonance. Indeed, in a meta sense, more astute children might get this message from the medium, because in spite of being mostly in black and white, the illustrations are all the richer for the spare use of color.
Published by Scholastic Press, 2020