Half a World Away
By Libby Gleeson
Illustrated by Freya Blackwood

Half a World Away
Children's book review by P.J. Rooks

Ages 4-8

For those of us who would sit beneath a setting sun and imagine a sense of communion with all the others who have come and gone under the same changeable sky, Libby Gleeson's Half A World Away is an achingly romantic message of hope.

Pragmatists, on the other hand, may go looking for their hip-waders.

Amy and Louie are the best of friends who always have their ears tuned to the special call of the other. "Coo-ee, Am-ee," Louie yells from across the room -- and Amy comes running. "Coo-ee, Lou-ee," Amy yells from across the fence -- and guess who appears.

But when Amy moves half a world away, will they still be able to hear each other?

"You can only try," says Louie's grandma, even though both his parents have insisted that it isn't possible.

So try he does. Louie watches the seahorse-shaped clouds move away as he fills the heavens with his lonely cry. Breezing silently across the ocean, do they carry a message to his distant playmate, or are they just clouds?

In her home halfway around the world where Amy sleeps during Louie's day, Amy wakes up and says what a pleasant night she's had dreaming of Louie and his special call. And Louie, in his own faraway place, goes to sleep smiling.

Freya Blackwood's relaxing watercolor illustrations steep readers in a warm, deep and rather Zen-like feeling of acquiescence in the face of immutable loss.

A panoramic sky series, for example, gives such a tangibly meditative sense of the movement of Louie's seahorse clouds, you can almost hear the quiet breeze that carries them away.

Many are the children's books that tackle the subject of loss. Well-meaning authors and illustrators who sincerely want to help give it their best crack, trying to share with children the most comforting answer they can find for themselves.

Gleeson leaves the question open to many different interpretations. We never learn whether or not Amy actually "heard" Louie, or whether it was just coincidence that she dreamed of him, but it doesn't matter.

We learn that we don't have to focus exclusively on our sadness. We can hope. We can remember.

I loved this book but have to admit that my alter-egos are at war over it (and in spite of heavy beatings from my inner rationalist, the inner dreamer seems to be winning).

Whatever our adult feelings, though, kids are sure to love Half A World Away and to find comfort in this cozy, creative story of friendship.

Read more of P.J.'s reviews.

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