Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mr. George Baker

Written By: Amy Hest
Illustrated By: Jon J. Muth

Mr. George Baker, written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Jon J. Muth, is the story of an unlikely friendship between two neighbors—Harry, who is in first grade, and Mr. George Baker, who is one hundred years old.  The two wait for the school bus side by side sitting on the front porch every morning—for they are both going to school to learn how to read.

As told from the perspective of the young boy Harry, the language of the story is simple and focuses on things that a child would notice and be fascinated by.  For example, “See his pants, all baggy, baggy, baggy?  What holds them up—suspenders!  Brown baggy pants with two side pockets, and two in back.  There’s candy in those pockets.  Little chocolate candies in twisty silver wrappers.  George pops one in his mouth and I do too.”  Harry is also in awe of Mr. George Baker and how he can tie two double knots that never come undone.

Hest also incorporates repetitive and rhythmic language to keep young readers engaged.  For example, Mr. George Baker used to be a musician and the young Harry describes Bakers hands as, “See these crookedy fingers, going tappidy on his knees?  They fly across his knees.  Tappidy-boom.  Tappidy-boom.  Tappidy-boom-boom-tap.  George Baker is a drummer man, and some people say he’s famous.”

The watercolor illustrations by Jon J. Muth are full-bleed, with some pages being completely saturated with warm, inviting colors and other pages having bright white surround the images.  His style is mostly impressionistic, as he emphasizes light, movement and color over detail.  For example, when the story begins, our perspective is as if we are watching from across the street as Harry walks over to Mr. George Baker’s porch.  The proportions of the figures are accurate, however, we are unable to see the details of the character’s facial expressions at this point.  Near the end of the story, as Harry and Mr. Baker are getting on the bus, we again see them from a distance and do not see many details in terms of their expressions.

Muth also uses a variety of perspectives throughout the story.   After the story’s beginning, when we are watching from across the street, our perspective changes with a page turn and we now see Mr. Baker from Harry’s point of view.  It is at this time Muth’s illustrations are more representational.  We continue to see the porch from a variety of different perspectives—at times, we feel like an insect crawling around looking up at the porch.  It is in these illustrations that we are invited to feel the close connection between Baker and Harry.  Readers can sense the happiness George Baker has had in his life through the illustrations including his wife, who is thought to be ninety.

The beautifully crafted illustrations and the simplistic text in this story of friendship and determination leave readers feeling happy that Mr. George Baker is finally learning how to read.  Young children may find it hard to believe that there are adults who are unable to read and may question why Mr. George Baker did not have the opportunity so many years ago.

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