John Rocco takes a child’s-eye view of one special summer night in Blackout. At first glance, this captivating picture book seems to offer a straightforward view of a night when a family is forced to move away from their electronic life to a simpler time, a time when families played board games and enjoyed each other’s company. Taking a closer look at the illustrations does for the reader just what the blackout does for the family in the story, allowing us to slow down and appreciate the moment all the more.
Let’s start with the very first image—even before the title page. Here is the main character, a little girl with a screen flickering behind her. Given her dour expression, it appears that the screen isn’t bringing her much joy. Moving to the first pages of the book, we see a busy street in Brooklyn, beneath the bridge. Careful observers will recognize that same girl again in a brownstone window. In other tiny windows, we spot four of the main characters, busy with their work and too busy for the little girl, who wants to play a board game.
In a beautiful moment, the lights of the city slowly dim, prompting the startled child to summon help with a cry of “MOM!” The family adjourns to the roof for a joyous time with neighbors under the starry night (which looks a lot like the Van Gogh painting of the same name). Then it’s back to the street for free ice cream from the ice cream vendor. As the story unfolds, astute readers will note slight changes in perspective and light that let the reader observe the passage of time, but in a slowed-down world without electricity.
Adults know that a power outage can be a pain in the neck, but to a child, it is just another adventure. In Rocco’s beautifully told story, a blackout brings one family together and allows a child to see her city in a whole new light . . . a flashlight.Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.
"It started out as a normal summer night"—until the lights go out, citywide.
When it gets "too hot and sticky" inside their apartment (no fans or AC tonight), one busy family (mom, dad, two girls and a black cat) heads to the rooftop of their building, where they find light via stars and a block party "in the sky." Other parties are happening down on the street, too. When the lights come back on, everything returns to normal, except for this family, which continues to enjoy the dark. The plot line, conveyed with just a few sentences, is simple enough, but the dramatic illustrations illuminate the story. Beginning with the intriguing cover—the silhouetted family on their rooftop under a vast, dark-blue sky dotted with Starry Night–type swirls, black is used as both a backdrop and a highlighter. Page composition effectively intermingles boxed pages and panels with double-page spreads, generating action. Brilliantly designed, with comic bits such as a portrait of Edison on a wall and the cat running from a hand shadow of a dog.
Not all young readers will have experienced a blackout, but this engaging snapshot could easily have them wishing for one. (Picture book. 5-8)Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Rocco's sublime account of a city blackout reveals a bittersweet truth: it sometimes takes a crisis to bring a family together. In a series of graphic novel-style panels, a small child tries to convince family members to play a board game one hot summer night, but they're all too busy. When the lights go out, though, the neighborhood comes alive and the whole family drifts up to the roof to look at the stars: "It was a block party in the sky." Rocco (Fu Finds the Way) gets everything right: the father's pained, sheepish smile when he says he has no time to play; the velvety dark and glowing candlelight of the blackout (as well as the sense of magic that can accompany one); and the final solution to the problem of a too-busy family (a private blackout, courtesy of a light switch). The high-energy visuals that characterize Rocco's other work get dialed back a little. In the most poignant spread, the family sits on the stoop, eating ice cream: "And no one was busy at all." It's a rare event these days. Ages 4-8. (May)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC
PreS-Gr 2--The view inside this family of four's duplex depicts what might be a typical night for them. The younger child is reaching for a board game, her older sister is talking on the phone, dad is cooking, and mom is working at the computer. When the girl tries to enlist the others to play the game with her, they're all too busy--until "The lights went out. All of them." It's a blackout! At first, the family members sit at the kitchen table with a flashlight and some candles; then they head up to the roof for a look at the bright stars against the dark cityscape; and, finally, they go down to the street, where there's a festive atmosphere of guitars playing, free ice cream, and an open fire hydrant. In the end, readers will see that simple pleasures and a spirit of togetherness can be enjoyed even when the electricity comes back on. The colorful pictures work beautifully with the book's design. Rocco uses comic-strip panels and a brief text to convey the atmosphere of a lively and almost magical urban landscape. Great bedtime reading for a soft summer night.--Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL[Page 77]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.