Master cartoonist and author Jules Feiffer takes a common family scenario and plays it out to the hilarious end in his delightful, over-the-top picture book By the Side of the Road
. "'If you don't behave,' my father said, 'I'm gonna pull over right here, and you can wait by the side of the road till we come and get you.'" Little brother Rudy decides to cooperate, while older brother Richard chooses to wait by the side of the road: "An hour later I was kind of used to it. Two hours later it was where I wanted to live." Three hours later, his family comes back for him, but he's not ready to go. He's not ready the next time, either, but does accept a hamburger. And a sweater. Eventually, he is living full-time by the side of the road, aided by mother and father only occasionally dropping by with a poncho or a snowsuit, or a house, tutor, and generator, depending upon the season. Richard's elaborate tunnel system for storing "secret stuff" from comic books to "bottles thrown out of car windows" is straight out of every child's wildest dreams, as is his mock-Thoreau-style existence, free from grumpy dad and family rules (but well stocked with computer games and other essentials).
Throughout this outlandish scenario (Richard grows up and has his own family, still by the side of the road, later to be joined by his elderly parents), we think about discipline ("The way he said it made me unlearn the lesson I was right then in the middle of learning"), about family ("Sometimes you have to make concessions"), about independence, about dependence ("I'm hungry and I'm cold"), about loneliness, and about self-sufficiency. Feiffer's expressive, fluid drawings capture every motion and emotion with just the right lines, making this crazy run-on picture book a rousing success. (Ages 7 and older) --Karin Snelson
From Publishers Weekly
On a two-hour car ride, Richard wrestles with his brother in the backseat despite his parents' angry glances. He reports the incident in disaffected sentences, while duotone images picture his refusal to heed the threats. " `If you don't behave,' my father said, `I'm gonna pull over right here and you can wait by the side of the road till we come and get you.'... Who likes to be pushed around? `I think I'll wait by the side of the road,' I said." After his family drives away, Richard isn't afraid. In fact, he enjoys the grassy shoulder. When his scowling, heavy-set father returns and snarls, "Learned your lesson yet, wise guy?" the boy coolly chooses his own destiny: "The way he said it made me unlearn the lesson I was right then in the middle of learning." He goes on living by the highway, where he digs a system of caves and becomes the envy of other children. It becomes apparent that the child has abandoned his parents, instead of the other way around, as Richard's disempowered mother and father humbly bring provisions for his new home. Whereas Feiffer's I'm Not Bobby! described a boy's noisy defiance in assertive statements and an oversize scrawl, this compact, horizontal-format book conveys equally intense passion in a quieter way. The cinematic sequence of blurred, ink-wash illustrations traces Richard's independent life into adulthood and concludes on an absurd but credibly contented note. All ages.
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