Neville

It starts with a colorless world.

The only color comes from the belongings he’s brought with him to this foreign land.

An unsanctioned move, an unfamiliar school, and unknown classmates, who most certainly won’t become friends.

This is the bleak landscape in which a young boy finds himself at the beginning of the picture book, Neville, by Norton Juster.

9780375867651

At the beautifully gentle suggestion of his mother, he takes a walk down the street on the off chance of meeting someone.  Reaching the end of the block, he looks skyward and bellows a name.

Neville

Is this the name of a friend he’s left behind?  A pet who’s wandered off into this new neighborhood?

It’s unclear who he’s summoning, but first one, then a whole slew of children answer the call.  They all begin to seek out Neville without even knowing who he is.  Not exactly synchronized, but part of a collective effort to find this unknown friend.

“Hey, I don’t know anyone named Neville who lives around here.  Is he new?”

“I guess so,” the boy said uncertainly.  “Everyone has to be new sometimes, don’t they?”

The anxiously-sought-after Neville becomes a great source of curiosity, the children clamoring for information and hoping to meet him soon – though they’re pretty impressed with his friend, perhaps even more so than the mysteriously absent Neville.

Returning to his new house, it looks a little less bleak.  Closing his eyes that night, his mother wishes Neville goodnight.

The surprise reveal of Neville’s identity is a clever twist.  The entire book is a poignant look at the void a move can create; what is left behind is no longer accessible, but it’s unclear yet how to access the new resources available.  The tentative way Neville approaches it all is such a realistic depiction – for children and adults alike experiencing a move.  Readers will feel for Neville’s plight (even before we know it’s him), but not just because he’s a nervous kid; because he represents the ambiguity we all face when we experience a move.

We’ve all been tempted to raise our face to the sky and bellow our own name to see what comes back.

In the case of Neville, it’s all good.

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