I was unfamiliar with Paul Hoppe before I picked this up on a recent trip to Vroman’s. (Which, by the way, has the greatest kids’ department EVER. Forget Disneyland on your trip to Southern California, hit up Vroman’s!)
But back to Paul Hoppe. The Woods is a bedtime adventure with a delightful twist. The page turns add suspense, the art creates texture and warmth, and the end is wholly satisfying. A bit of Where The Wild Things Are hops around through the pages too, which is especially sweet now given Mr. Sendak’s recent passing.
What initially attracted me to this book was the striking cover and how it wraps around to the back as well. It’s almost cyclical, with the fearless boy charging to the right, and a hint of what’s to come reaching in from the left.
And because I’m a sucker for endpapers, this got me:
Black is such an unusual choice for a dominant color on a picture book cover, and what made it jump off the shelf to me at Vroman’s. But for a bedtime story, for a little boy who is fearful of the dark, this choice allows space for him to act, to tremble a little, and to ultimately be BRAVE! The contrast between the stark black and the bright lime green is gorgeous.
The same is true within the illustrations — not in two very different colors, but in the bigness of the characters he meets and his own small size.
When we first meet the big scary brown bear and the two scary giants, they are larger than life on the page. The composition is so striking here, and the texture of the watercolor paper softens their big scary blow, should you need a little comforting.
And as it turns out, those big scary nighttime creatures aren’t so big and scary at all. Contrast helps to exaggerate what he sees in his imagination, and contrast serves to wrap up the words and pictures in a very dear bedtime package.
Reading the pictures closely throughout the book makes this initial page especially exciting on a return trip to it. Lots of fantastic moments exist in this early illustration, foreshadowing all of the exciting events to come. Enjoy this one — put a trashcan on your head and embrace the darkness!