CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 26. . . .March 11, 2016
High in the Sky.
Kathleen Gauer. Illustrated by Sari Richter.
n.p., Skipping Stone Press (www.skippingstonepress.net), $13.95.
32 pp., pbk., $13.95.
Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 3-6.
Review by Meredith Cleversey.
Whenever I feel my world’s too small
And I’m ready to EXPLODE
I just hop on top of my tire swing
to ZAP this overload.
All of a sudden, I’m in control.
The harder I pump, the higher I soar.
I bend my knees and off I go
To places I’ve never been before.
In Kathleen Gauer’s High in the Sky, a little boy frees himself from the burdens of his young life by climbing onto his tire swing and flying off into the world of his imagination. Instead of simply swinging back and forth on the tire, he pretends he’s in outer space, surfing a big wave, and travelling through the jungle. Even once he is back on earth and tired out from his adventures, he uses the memory of his swing to lull him into dreams of flying high once more.
Readers of High in the Sky will appreciate how this story understands that children often feel times of stress and worry, and it highlights how something as simple as swinging on a tire can be an excellent form of stress relief. The boy of this story is free and easy while he’s by himself on the swing, using his imagination to escape into fantastic worlds. In one scene, the tire swing becomes a roller coaster, and in another, it helps an Olympic skater spin and twirl on the ice. The motion of the swing transports the boy into a variety of different settings, and readers will have fun guessing where the swing might take the boy next. At the end of the story, there are also additional activities for children, parents, and educators to partake in, including tricks for swinging (such as pushing off a parent’s hands to have a ‘blast-off’ effect), as well as things to try while off the swing (such as creating a poem about swinging).
The story is told through rhyme, although the rhyming scheme is at times inconsistent, and the rhymes seem occasionally forced. For example, one page uses the line “Those tickles in my tummy”, and then pairs it with “The feeling is so yummy”. The scene, itself, is about the tire swing acting like a rushing roller coaster, and the use of the description ‘yummy’ doesn’t feel very authentic to the situation. In addition, while some of the activities at the end of the book encourage children and adults to partake in fun, imaginative swinging activities (such as decorating a swing with streamers, paint, and googly eyes), some of the activities seem lacking (instead of listing instructions on how to build and use a tire swing, the book simply suggests checking the internet for tips on how to do this). It would have been interesting for these activities to be more in-depth and hands-on, and it would have been advantageous for this follow-up material to include an introduction to—or perhaps a history of—the tire swing, as some readers may be unfamiliar with this kind of playground equipment.
The watercolour illustrations by Sari Richter do an excellent job of highlighting the imaginative worlds created by the little boy in this story, as each picture incorporates the tire swing differently. When the boy is on a roller coaster, the coaster’s track rests on the curve of the tire. When the boy is surfing, the swing is the surfboard itself. As readers try to guess what creative world the boy on the swing might enter into next, they will also delight in seeing how the tire is used in each location. These inventive interpretations of each scene, combined with the bright colours and vivid backgrounds of the illustrations, make High in the Sky’s images lovely to view.
High in the Sky is a cute book about the simultaneously mellow calm and playful excitement a child can experience while spending time in a favourite place or with a cherished plaything, such as a classic tire swing.
Meredith Cleversey is a librarian in Cambridge, ON. She loves to read, write, and live in a world of pure imagination.
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