TITLE: After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)
Author/Illustrator: Dan Santat
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (2017)
While we are on the topic of books that heal (see my previous post about Draw the Line), After the Fall is a recent book that's creating huge and well-deserved buzz. Both books are from Roaring Brook Press but couldn't be more different in their approach. While the former is extremely simple with line drawings and only two colour schemes to represent good vs bad feeling, this latest work by Caldecott Medal winner Dan Santat is a rainbow of a recovery story. It is the clever "real story" of Humpty Dumpty's healing. Both books are powerful in their own way and will appeal to a similar age group.
All the kings horses and all the kings men, were able to patch Humpty Dumpty up (the delightful picture of Humpty walking out of the Kings County Hospital is proof of his regained health) but on the very next page, we see Humpty lying despondent on the floor of his bedroom, his high bed now impossible to reach. Humpty is racked with anxiety, and he changes his life accordingly. He can't reach the awesome cereal he usually eats, so he makes do with whatever he can find (in drab colours) on the bottom shelf. He devises a way of imagining his former heights by making a paper bird.
One of the most dramatic images in the book, cleaved basically in half by the valley in the middle, is the horrified look on Humpty's face as he realizes that his precious bird has landed neatly on top of the wall. Look at his face below. Can't you just imagine yourself and a time that your stomach sank to your knees when all of your best laid plans came crashing down around you? Children have less power than the rest of us - their lives controlled by adults who may or may not have kids' needs foremost in their minds. I believe that every child will have bucket loads of empathy for Humpty on this climactic page of reckoning.
* Cover art and this illustration provided by the author, with permission
Santat's Caldecott winning The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend shares certain aspects with After the Fall. There is something so fragile and vulnerable in each book, and to me the band-aids in this picture closely resemble the bits of sticky tape used to secure Beekle's cardboard crown. In every kid's daily life there are bandaids and tape, little imperfect tools that are used to hold things together until the bigger problems can be solved. In this picture, the bandaids peek out from Humpty's collar even as the huge wall looms reflected in his eyes.
It's this breathtaking attention to the detail and Santat's loving expression of feelings important to children that makes this book such a powerful book. The nursery rhyme really takes on another life and teaches gently without a hint of being didactic. Humpty knows better than anyone that each reader will make their own decisions and overcome their fears only at their own pace. The masterful climax is a twist that surprises everyone including our dear Humpty. Each one of us carries inside the secret happy ending we never knew we had.
An Australian who lived in Japan with my bicultural family now living in the USA, I believe that there are more different realities than there are books to be written.