Once in a while you happen on a book that requires you to slow down and savor each page in order to fully appreciate it. The Blue Bench is one such picture book.
The blue bench has been a fixture of the local park for as long as anyone can remember. It features on every spread of the book–sometimes in the foreground, sometimes tucked away in the corner of the page–as ‘silent witness’ to the stories that have played out in the park. From brief encounters to blossoming relationships and the starkness of grief, the bench has seen it all.
We are treated to insights into some of these stories through both words and images. In one spread, a Great Dane and tiny white terrier greet each other with a nose-to-nose sniff; in another two very young girls sitting on the bench declare their love for one another, and again as adults embracing in the moonlight.
Three characters, Peter, John and Maria, play a more prominent role in the book, although the narrator’s lens does not always specifically focus on them. We learn about Peter’s interest in keeping the blue bench shiny and new in the opening few pages, but author/illustrator Albert Asensio also features him, or hints at his presence, in the backdrops of later illustrations. Similarly, we follow Maria as she finds friendship, love and solace in the park, then realize on re-reading the book that she also featured as an unnamed young girl in an earlier scene.
Asensio uses visual cues, such as a wheelbarrow or a blue hat to enable the reader to make connections and draw the stories together. Maria may age in the course of the book, but the same blue hat with its floral band remains with her throughout. A wheelbarrow emerging from behind a tree indicates that Peter is about to (re-)enter the scene. Read the book in a hurry and chances are you’ll miss these important little details. Just as you may miss the way in which the changing seasons and animal interactions lend interest and meaning to individual stories.
The helpful end notes to The Blue Bench implore us to slow down, look around us and connect with our surroundings:
‘We need to learn to look in depth to discover and enjoy the small things that make life so much more beautiful.’
So, why not create a quiet space and make the time to explore every page of this delightful picture book. Next, head to a comfortable bench in your local park to observe the beauty of nature and diverse stories playing out all around you.
Originally published in Catalan as El banc blau by Babulinka Books, 2016.
By Albert Asensio
English adaptation by Michael Sedunary
2019, Berbay Publishing
Awards: Premi Llibreter de Literatura Catalana 2017
Reviews: Magpies Magazine
Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT and IBBY Australia. When she is not writing, she is reading, and chasing after her two young children. She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com