I love it when a picture book catches me out. When it taps me on the shoulder and stares me straight in the eye. The Yes by Sarah Bee and Satoshi Kitamura did just that, with a raised eyebrow, saying “you think you know picture books? Do ya? Do ya? You don’t know nothin’!” And it appears I don’t. Because this book caught me out from the moment I looked at the cover.
This is not a book that gently holds your hand and leads you through a lulling story towards a cosy feeling. This book holds you square and shouts “PAY ATTENTION!” It is almost Brechtian in its attempts to make you stop and question.
It begins with ‘a soft comfy nest in a safe warm place’ but do not be taken in by the reassuring familiarity of that sentence. For next we are introduced to the ‘great big orange thing called the Yes’. This is where the questions begin and familiar comfort zones vanish. What is this big orange thing? What is it representing? The questions keep coming.
The Yes travels through the Where and is constantly surrounded by Nos that try to stop him at every step. He reaches a tree and wants to pick the fruit, the Nos say no. He reaches a bridge and wants to cross. The Nos say no. The Yes continues to ignore the Nos no matter how loudly they shout or how tightly they surround him. In the end he climbs to the top of a hill, looking out across the land and leaving all the Nos behind him. A story about listening to yourself and following your dreams, about not letting anything get in your way. But a story created in such a unique way that you will feel like you have never come across that message before.
The text is wonderful. Every word is precise and perfect. It is so tightly and uniquely formed that it forces you to stop and slow down, to look at each word carefully and listen to the rhythm of the sentences. Try it:
‘They were so many and so very that you could see nothing but Nos. They made all the Here and all the Else a no-ness and a notness.’
It makes the adult reader a child again as we try to stop our assumptions and stumble over the words. To read this book you have to throw away all prior knowledge and take it word by word. What a leveller. What a wonderful experience. As an adult reader, this book feels enlightening. It has opened my eyes further to the possibilities of what can be achieved through a picture book. But what do children make of it? Does it appeal to them? Is there enough of a character and storyline for them to relate to?
Initially I wasn’t convinced. But yet again The Yes raises many questions. Are all picture books only meant for young children? Can older children learn about their place in the world through picture books? Do young children benefit from being exposed to art and literature that makes them think and question their world? Like Shaun Tan’s work, this book has a much wider audience and will resonate with different age groups in different ways, making it the perfect book for a school library or classroom. The language becomes playful and lends itself to voices and expression:
Great for reading aloud to children. The concept and the characterization of yes and no are perfect for discussion. Think of all the areas that could be covered. What would a four year old see? What would a seven year old ask? What would a ten year old wonder? This book gives children so much to question and I’m excited about hearing their answers. Watch this space- I’m taking The Yes into a primary school library next week to find out.
Source: kindly sent for review by Anderson Press.
This book is crying out for analysis of form. It is so genuinely clever. Have a look at @chaletgirl’s analysis here. She’s done it beautifully. Go, read it!