People watching and wondering about the lives of others is something many of us enjoy doing, especially when riding on the underground. Who is going where? Why are they going there? What kind of lives do these people lead? But what can we really know about the life of somebody just by looking at them? As Milo discovers, appearances can be very, very deceiving.
One Sunday a month, Milo and his sister take a long subway ride. On the train they are surrounded by unfamiliar faces. There’s the lady in the wedding dress, the whiskered man with his crossword puzzle, the smartly dressed boy with his dad, the breakdancing children. While his sister occupies herself with her phone, Milo busies himself with his sketchbook, drawing the lives he imagines of those around him. But appearances do not always tell the whole story and when Milo reaches his stop he understands you cannot really know anyone just by looking at them…
From Matt De La Peña and Christian Robinson, the duo that created the award-winning Last Stop on Market Street, comes another outstanding picture book that I love for so many reasons. On a very authentic train journey, Milo does what we have all done at some point and confidently imagines the lives of others based on their appearance. The woman in the wedding dress is obviously on the way to marry her husband, the smartly dressed boy probably lives like a prince in a castle and the grumpy old man definitely resides alone in an apartment with cats.
But as Milo discovers when the smartly dressed boy joins the queue for the same place as he does at the prison entrance - yes, Milo’s final destination is the prison to see his incarcerated mum - you can never judge anyone based on their appearance. This leads to a wonderful moment of understanding and a flurry of new drawings; the grumpy man with a loving family, the women in the wedding dress with her new bride. You don’t need to know the exact circumstances of people but you must acknowledge all the possibilities. A particularly poignant moment is when Milo stares at his reflection and wonders what people see when they look at him.
We do not find out that Milo is on his way to see his mum in prison right until the end, it is not the sole focus of the story because there is so much more to this journey. It is about those snap judgements that we make and the importance of fully understanding. It is about the emotions that Milo is experiencing, although we don’t know where Milo is going we know that he feels excited, confused, full of love, nervous, ‘Like a shook up soda.’ Honestly, I wanted to reach in and give Milo a hug - here is a young boy trying to make sense of the world, his mum is in prison, yet he is wise beyond his years and is able to reflect and adjust his thinking in ways that many people with much more life experience are unable to do.
To my knowledge, books aimed at a young audience that feature a parent in prison are few and far between. Thought-provoking and clever, this is an important book to explore with all children and to begin discussions around prison and its effects on families. Brilliantly written and superbly illustrated, this should be on the bookshelf in every home, school and library.
Recommended for 6+.