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THE JOURNEY OF OLIVER K. WOODMAN by Darcy Pattison Kirkus Star

THE JOURNEY OF OLIVER K. WOODMAN

By Darcy Pattison (Author) , Joe Cepeda (Illustrator)

Age Range: 5 - 8

Pub Date: April 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-15-202329-1
Publisher: Harcourt

An epistolary picture book whimsically teaches geography, encouraging readers to follow the peregrinations of a life-sized wooden figure. When Tameka invites her Uncle Ray, a woodworker, to visit her in California, he responds that he can’t—but he will send a wooden doll he has fashioned in his stead. Oliver is duly propped up by the side of the road to hitch a ride (“California or bust,” reads his placard), a note in his backpack requesting that his conveyers send postcards back to his friend Ray. What follows is a genial romp that moves back and forth among Oliver, Ray, and Tameka, as Oliver makes his way across the country. The landscape orientation enhances sweeping full-bleed spreads; wordless double-paged openings feature Oliver against the changing American geography and alternate with postcards and letters written by his helpers to inform Ray of his progress. Cepeda’s (Why Heaven Is Far Away, 2002, etc.) cheerily energetic oils vary perspective and angle with abandon, giving the story a wonderful movement. Rendered over an acrylic underpainting; the bits of color that show through the oil coat also lend individual spreads terrific energy. The genius of the interaction between illustration and Pattison’s (The Wayfinder, not reviewed) deadpan postcard text is that the tension regarding Oliver—is he just a giant doll or is he “real”—is never really resolved. Pictured in Reno with a trio of gray-haired sisters from Kokomo, Oliver stands in the background by the craps table, holding up one wooden finger and looking on expressionlessly. The letter reads, “Mr. Oliver’s advice was very helpful. We won $5,000!” Who knows? Readers, like Tameka and those who encounter Oliver on his way, will be happy to choose to believe. Endpapers feature bright, complementary maps of the US: the front is empty, while the back is marked by dotted lines showing Oliver’s journey. All geography lessons should be this much fun. (Picture book. 5-8)