Picture Book Review: 'World on a String' by Larry Phifer
by Larry Phifer
illustrated by Danny Popovici
You have to actually touch the jacket cover of World on a String to fully appreciate the art. The title and the balloon are embossed on the page, slightly raised, shinier than the surrounding images, and smooth as stickers. Though this isn't designed to be a texture book, young children won't be able to resist running their fingers over the cover before it is even opened. The deeply color-saturated illustrations of Danny Popovici and the touching story by Larry Phifer will keep them and their parents entranced throughout.
Charlie finds a balloon in the forest, and it soon becomes his best friend. The boy and his balloon are inseparable until a storm comes along and the wind blows the balloon away.
Charlie tries to grab it back, but it's too late, and he quickly moves from bewilderment, to fear for the balloon's well-being, to grief at his loss. But when he thinks back on the good times he shared with his friend, he imagines it shining in the sky like the moon, and falls asleep to dream of balloons holding up the sky like stars.
On the whole, it's a beautiful story of love and loss. The illustrations appear to be paintings which feature bright lights and colors against a dark background. Charlie's face is large and round, reflecting the shape of his beloved balloon, and his eyes (and sometimes mouth) are the only features portrayed on his face, but they still manage to convey feeling.
The language of the story is lyric and smooth up until the point where Charlie begins to dream of his balloon becoming a star, at which point the phrasing becomes awkward and rhymes falter. The illustrations change character during the dream scene as well, taking on a brighter, almost otherworldly quality, that is somewhat jarring against the backdrop of the shadowed hues of the rest of the story. The dream scene itself seems superfluous, since Charlie has already imagined his balloon to be a moon shining in the night sky.
Aside from those three pages (which children will likely overlook), World on a String offers a poignant and compelling depiction of a child learning to survive the loss of a love - a lesson that will be relevant to any reader, regardless of age.
Larry Phifer wrote World on a String because he lost something very special. He lives with his wife and four crazy dogs in El Paso, Texas.
Danny Popovici is an artist living in Portland, Oregon. His girlfriend, Hayley, and their wild Australian Shepherd, Ollie, inspire him to create beautiful things.
Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at reneesreads.com.