[Review Copy Courtesy of Tundra Books]
Is Petra a mountain? A pebble? An egg? An island? Or a child’s pet rock? Well, whatever Petra is, she knows that she is going to be amazing and that with each new day and each new phase in her life — something wonderful is bound to come of it.
Petra is a joy of a picture book that gently guides readers to ponder themes of flexibility, self-perception, change, time, and anticipation. Petra herself is enchanting and sparks enthusiasm and ebullience in my young ones as they ask me to read it to them, “Again and Again!” With its sparse text and elegant illustrations, Petra is deeply philosophical and yet immensely enchanting and playful. It is a picture book that is genuinely for everyone.
Told in a first person narrative, Petra explains that she is a mountain, and is certain nothing can or ever will move her. She knows exactly who she was, is, and always will be.
The readers, too, are very certain that Petra is who she says she is. We have no reason to doubt her certainty. But then, a massive stick, so large and so surprising comes flying overhead. The readers are just as surprised as she is, and at first it is disorienting and takes a moment to fully grasp that yes, this is a stick. Then, and even more surprising, a huge dog goes by. But soon we see that this dog is normal size. We thought, and she thought, that Petra was a massive mountain– but now we know she is a pebble. The reorientation of perception here is so unexpected and so skillfully done it feels like a magic trick.
Petra is in denial. But before she can even get used to the idea that she is but a pebble, she is thrown from a boy’s hand into a bird’s nest. Petra is much happier and declares that she is now an egg and whatever it is that she hatches into, she is sure she will be amazing.
But the mother bird does not perceive her in the same way and Petra is once again, thrown. Petra is not amused by this pattern. But she lands in the middle of a pond and now she is an island! And what an island! She is thrilled until someone comes by, declares her to be a cool rock, picks her up and brings her home. This person has their own ideas of what Petra is — and with astounding grace and positivity — Petra adapts, is not worried, and wonders who she will be tomorrow.
Petra’s optimism and flexibility is a very refreshing look at identity, self-perception, and one’s environment. Coppo adroitly and playfully shows readers of all ages that how we see ourselves may not how others see us, that who we are today may not be who we are tomorrow, and that as the old adage goes: Nothing is permanent except change.
The illustrations are exquisite and Coppo does an impressive job of using very subtle changes on Petra’s face to express a wide range of emotions. Coppo takes advantage of white space to change the reader’s perception of Petra’s size and environment. Tempera, pastels, and digital collage are seamlessly used to set the tone that balances realistic with optimistic.
Reading Petra feels magical. It isn’t every day you see a rock teach about flexibility without ever being didactic. It inspires readers to think in more fluid terms about self and it talks to children in terms that they understand about change. But it is most impressive how Petra does all of this with simplicity and light-heartedness and in such a universal way.
Recommended Ages 3 to 7. Publisher Tundra Books 2018. 48 pages. ISBN: 978-0735262676 Fiction.
Where to Get it:
Author and Artist Websites:
- Author & Artist: Marianna Coppo
- Kirkus Reviews — Starred Review
- Publisher’s Weekly — Starred Review
- Picture Books Blogger
- Design of the Picture Book – Interview!
Where Obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher. No other compensation was received. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
FTC Disclosures: Some of the links in the post above are Amazon affiliate links and others are IndieBound affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase something, I will receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Which goes to fund my family’s picture book habit. It’s a vicious cycle, but we manage. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”