This wordless picture book traces one brown paper bag’s journey: from timber and manufacturing through the hands of a small, white boy and his single father to those of the next generation.
The skilled black-ink drawings lend a look of pleasant harmony to all the characters that populate the pages, from woodland creatures to humans of various ages and gender and racial presentations. Meticulous attention to composition, textures, and period detail—starting around the 1960s—makes each page a delight. The common feature of each scene is a brown paper bag, which the protagonist’s father decorates with a red heart on his son’s first day of school—the book’s only pops of color. After its first use for the boy’s lunch, the bag becomes a never-ending vessel-of-all-trades. As the boy grows up, the bag serves as, among other things, a de facto lampshade over a flashlight to quell nightmares; a bag for automotive tools; receptacle for an engagement ring when the protagonist, now a young man, proposes to his girlfriend, a black woman; a petal container for the wedding’s flower girl; and a collection bag when the protagonist’s child gathers seashells with grandpa. Because there are no words, children are left to draw their own conclusions from an eventual drawing of the grandfather’s empty chair. (Is he wintering in some warm place? The planting of a pine seedling, its roots protected by that paper bag, offers an alternative interpretation.) The subtitle will disappoint those who equate “amazing” with narratives outside a common, middle-class, heteronormative life. However, the bag’s durability is amazing—and, according to the author’s fascinating note, not impossible.
Beautifully effective as both nostalgia trip and lesson in conservation. (Picture book. 3-7)