I am very sad about the recent, and horribly untimely, death of Australian writer and illustrator Gregory Rogers. I've already featured one of his wordless time-travel picture books (The Hero of Little Street), a book I liked well enough, but today I'm posting about the book I think is his masterpiece, one that is truly a classic, and the one that makes me wish something fierce that Gregory Rogers was still here to give us more --The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard (Roaring Brook Press, 2004).
In this wordless picture book, a boy kicks his soccer ball into an empty theater, and goes in after it. It is strange, and dark, and abandoned...and utterly fascinating. The boy finds himself in the costume room, and dressed as an Elizabethan actor, he pulls the curtains aside to go out on the stage....and WHOM! He's back in time, Shakespeare himself is tripping over the soccer ball, and the play is ruined.
Now the boy must run through the streets of London, pursued by the furious playwright. He hides behind the cage of a dancing bear...who asks (wordlessly) to be set free...so boy and bear together set off to experience what the city has to offer them. But Shakespeare is nothing if not persistent. Fortunately the cell block off the Tower of London offers a refuge, and there they find another prisoner (the baron of the title) to be released!
Now Baron, Bear, and Boy are on the run together. But all is not lost! Their path takes them right to Queen Elizabeth, and she is charmed...
Shakespeare, however, still wants revenge. And he chases the boy back to where it all began--the empty stage, and so back home again.
It is sweet and lovely and funny and fascinating, and utterly wonderful. The story flows just beautifully, despite being wordless. The artwork is full of detail, full of enthusiasm, and captivating as all get out. It is a book that is a delight to share with children of just about any age. Critical and cynical though I am, I cannot think of anything negative at all to say about it.
Thank you, Gregory Rogers, for making me and my children laugh and learn.