A beautiful and atmospheric picture book about the power of the imagination from award-winning author, Jeanne Willis. At the bottom of Oscar's garden is a magical place called Nowhere, where extraordinary things can happen. Oscar can fly an incredible kite, build an enchanted castle and even set sail in a pirate ship! He can do just what he likes, and there are no grown-ups asking questions.
But when Nowhere begins to feel a little lonely, will Oscar find himself wishing for Somewhere that feels more like home? With ingenious die cuts throughout that give a captivating and magical appeal. A heart-warming family story about the importance of home, perfect for bedtime, by Jeanne Willis, winner of the National Trust Literacy Awards and the Smarties Book Prize silver award.
Reviewed by Sarah Merchant
This is a delightful, expressive picture book about Oscar, a young boy who escapes from ‘Somewhere’ to ‘Nowhere’ in order to avoid what he sees as controlling questions and behaviours from adults. A strong theme explores the balance between human desires for freedom, play and exploration on the one hand, and sanctuary, safety and the right to belong on the other. I can see educators sharing this book with a range of readers. For younger children, discussion might explore ways of experiencing freedom safely. For older children, this would be an inclusive introduction to topics on human rights, migrants, refugees and the general movement of people.
The overall direction of the text and illustrations is fascinating to follow. When Oscar shows the desire to flee, and transports himself to ‘Nowhere’, everything is organised and angled from left to right – words, eyes, birds, plants, abstract shapes and even the sun. Doorways are positioned on the right, like openings into new realms. However, when Oscar shows doubt or reflection, the direction is reversed, showing that he longs for home. Equally clever are carefully positioned die cuts, which draw the reader’s attention to the most dream-like elements of illustrations. Children will enjoy exploring the holes and what these reveal. These die cuts also create rather lovely moments of silence and space within an assured, well-written story.
The immersive illustrations, a mixture of bold and muted colours, work very well, suggesting a blend of the familiar and the imaginary. I am reminded of several fictional worlds, such as Narnia, Wonderland, Neverland and Oz. I would argue that the perfect musical accompaniment to this text would be the song ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. As Oscar becomes lost in ‘Nowhere’, he begins to miss ‘Somewhere’ – especially interactions with people because even ‘annoying’ questions might stem from good intentions! Thankfully, out of the darkness, a feline companion appears and shows him the way home.
At a time when we are all perhaps more attentive to our space and our options for movement, this story teaches us that we all have a right to reflect and enjoy some time on our own. ‘Nowhere’ can be a ‘Somewhere’. Equally, we all have the right to belong and to spend time with those we love. ‘Somewhere’ can be a ‘Nowhere’. My only note of caution is that educators might need to remind children not to mimic the narrative too closely and escape without an adult’s knowledge!
This book would be a welcome addition to any Primary School classroom or library. It reads like a classic but is most certainly relevant to today’s world.