Chalk, by Bill Thomson


Three friends on a rainy day walk through the park toward the playground. A little too grown now for the bouncy “rocking horses” of the cartoonish figures on springs–the children look to be about eight years old–yet still a mysterious bag hanging from the jaw of a plump dinosaur catches their eye.

What else would they do but look inside? The bag is full of chalk, those colorful fat sticks that kids use to scribble on sidewalks.

One girl pulls out a piece of yellow chalk and draws the sun; moments later, the clouds part and the bright sun comes out! The second girl pulls out an orange bit of chalk, and draws monarch butterflies, which extract themselves from the pavement and flutter dizzily around the children up into the sky. The boy pulls out green chalk and (perhaps not surprisingly) draws a many-clawed, jagged-toothed dinosaur, which (surprise, surprise) wrests itself from the pavement and comes after the terrified children.

I’m not up enough on my dinosaurs to know whether this is a tyrannosaur or a raptor (perhaps some little Dinosaur Train fan will enlighten me) but it’s fast, it’s hungry for Tender Child, and it’s got more teeth than the wolf in Red Riding Hood. The children scream and flee, reaching the jungle gym inches ahead of the dinosaur, and crawl into the tunnel slide. The dinosaur peeks up, peeks in and stomps about furiously waiting for them to emerge. What to do? Fortunately, the boy has kept hold of his chalk, and draws…can you guess?

RAINCLOUDS!

The clouds roll back, and the dinosaur peers up at the falling drops in confusion as it washes away as the painting from which it sprang dissolves into a pastel smudge on the pavement. The children gingerly hang the bag of chalk back on the dinosaur’s jaw and walk away, though not without a speculative glance back.

It reminded me of Chris van Allsburg’s work, Jumanji in particular, though David Wiesner’s wordless books might also be fun to read next if you liked Chalk. The details in the pictures is impressive–creasing in the raincoat, ripples radiating and overlapping as the rain falls in puddles, braids in the African-American girl’s hair and the dinosaur’s dentition–but then that’s not unexpected in a wordless book! Or at least I hope not. It was a nice touch that there was one African-American, one Asian and one white kid. Best of all, from the adult perspective, there’s an obvious activity tie-in.

Gathering Books

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