Author: Paul Fleischman
Illustrator: Kevin Hawkes
My rating: 5 of 5
Wesley’s always been, well, different. His parents worry about him; the other kids pick on him; he just doesn’t fit in anywhere . . . until one summer when everything changes. Wesley decides to work on a summer gardening project, but instead of growing carrots or tomatoes, he prepares the soil and leaves it open for whatever seeds happen to fall, refusing to pull up the shoots that appear to be weeds. And what plants they grow into! Wesley finds all sorts of uses for every single part of these incredible plants. But it’s more than that–he’s developing food, clothing, language, and eventually community and games–all because of this one summer project. In essence, he’s created his own miniature civilization. Pretty incredible!
Weslandia was an unexpected find, although I’ve always enjoyed Fleischman’s writing. It’s an incredible picture book–beautiful and imaginative–that doesn’t just bring a whimsical fantasy to life (although it does that with aplomb!) but also delves into the concepts of what really makes a civilization. Even better, it breaks the concepts down into pieces that even younger children can readily appreciate–without being didactic about it. It’s a story about creativity and ingenuity. Also a tale about being yourself, not giving in to peer pressure, and making friends your own way. All in all, pretty amazing. Not to mention, Hawkes’ art is, as always, charming. I would recommend Weslandia to readers of all ages–but I’d also note that it would make a great jumping off point for classroom discussions about building civilizations and suchlike. Either way, great fun!