By Elizabeth Wroten
Picture Book Review: The Only Child by Guojing
On 04, Jan 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: A little girl—lost and alone—follows a mysterious stag deep into the woods, and, like Alice down the rabbit hole, she finds herself in a strange and wondrous world. But… home and family are very far away. How will she get back there?
I have The Only Child listed as a picture book (and before it came in at the library for me I thought it was), but it’s more graphic novel than picture book. It’s rather long (by picture book standards) and the themes are fairly complex, but the book itself is large and it’s completely wordless. So just a heads up there. I think it will still sell well with graphic novel readers and I think younger readers (first and second grade) will be willing to pick it up and read through it too. There’s a lot for everyone here.
As with many books I was of two minds. Professionally speaking it’s a book that should be in collections. The illustrations are gorgeous. It’s written by and about an author of color so we need to support that.
The story is both beautiful and haunting. I think it really gets at some deep-seated fears of children of getting lost. But it then takes this whimsical turn and ends happily (actually it has a bittersweet ending). This idea and theme will be very relatable for children (and possibly contemplative adults). It’s such a magical story too that fantasy lovers will eat it up, but with just enough realism that your realistic fiction lovers will be willing to pick it up. And if you have animal lovers (who doesn’t?), give it to them too. They will particularly appreciate the artist’s ability to portray the bittersweetness of the ending on the face of the child and in how the panels cut back and forth and zoom in.
My other, personal, mind about the book? I hated it. The author’s note talks about how the story is based on something that happened to the author when she was a child. She also goes on to talk about how lonely she was as an only child (she was product of China’s one-child policy) and I am so tired of this narrative about the poor, lonely, pathetic only child. It makes me so mad for several reasons. First, it fuels the fire with people who have vocal opinions about my choice to only have one child. Second, both my husband, myself, and many of our friends are only children AND WE WEREN’T LONELY OR WEIRD BECAUSE OF IT. In fact all of us enjoyed being only children and made sibling-like bonds with our friends. Third, and this is something I remember from being a kid and reading books with this underlying narrative, it makes only children feel inadequate. Particularly if you like being an Only.
I know, I know. This is not a criticism of the book. It’s me bringing my own baggage, which I why I say this book needs to be in library collections across the board. I just can’t read it without those undertones. Be aware that your only child patrons may not appreciate it either if they read the author’s note or pick up on the stance toward only children in it.