Somewhere else by Gus Gordon
Viking, 2016. ISBN 9780670078851
Some birds fly north; some birds fly south; some birds take the bus ... but George Laurent doesn't go anywhere. It seems he is too busy baking his scrumptious pastries to be able to explore the world. Even when his world-travelling customers try to tempt him with descriptions of a sunrise over the Andes, or Paris by night, even the Alaskan tundra in autumn, George always has an excuse - even the ironing is more important!!
But come the bleak, cold days when all his feathered friends have disappeared to warmer parts and George is left alone, his only remaining friend Pascal Lombard drops in looking for somewhere warm for winter. He is puzzled that George has not gone with the others, and slowly he manages to eke out the truth - George Laurent, baker extraordinaire, does not know how to fly. When it was flying lesson day all those years ago he had been doing something else and since then he had just made excuses not to - even though he really would have liked to have been able to go somewhere else. Pascal, who believes he has a knack for solving tricky problems, is determined to teach George how to fly but it is not until they see a picture in a newspaper...
This is an engaging tale which will resonate with many children - having a zillion reasons for not doing something you can't but are expected to be able to do. As a teacher I was a master at detecting avoidance behaviour because I lived it at home with my son, so as soon as I started reading I knew there was an underlying issue. But astute readers may well pick it up in the clues in the amazing illustrations which use a variety of media, particularly collage. From the carefully selected advertisements of old styles of luggage on the endpapers, Gus Gordon has skilfully used pieces of print from all sorts of sources to add depth, mystery and humour to the exquisite illustrations. Every time you read it there is more to peruse and ponder.
Time to get out the atlas and discover the places that George's friends went and maybe even investigate the concept of animal (and human) migration. Why are they always on the move? We can tell the seasons where I live by the variety of birdlife that is present so perhaps it's time to do an inventory of the local birdlife over time - perfect real-life context for data collection and interpretation. Or perhaps a physiological investigation into how most birds fly but some can't and how this has been translated into human flight. Then there is the philosophical question about "no place like home" as George and Pascal discover something familiar is missing from their travels. Some children might even learn from George and seek help to find pathways around their own difficulties.
I love picture books that seem to be written for one age group but with some consideration can transcend all ages, offering the prefect reason to return to them again and again apart from just being an absorbing story. A CBCA Notable for 2017, I was surprised this did not make the shortlist.