What We’ll Build: Plans for Our Together Future – written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

What We’ll Build: Plans for Our Together Future – written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, Philomel (an imprint of Penguin Random House), 9780593206751, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Oversized hardcover

What did you like about the book?  If you’re already an Oliver Jeffers fan, especially of Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth (2017), then you’ll probably like this book. Jaunty, pared-down rhyming text and big, bold, trademark Jeffers’ illustrations in watercolor spread right to the edge of every page, documenting a conversation between a dad and a little girl. The two tell us all the things they’ll build together to make their lives complete. It’s a fantasy, with a lot of nonsensical objectives, focusing on the joy of planning together (and includes a 1839 quote from Edward Bulwer-Lytton…).  Jeffers’ artwork, as always, is distinctive and beautiful. Each object is stripped down to its essence, but remains solid enough to cast a shadow and obvious enough that even young children will have fun examining and identifying each of the tools being gathered into the tool box or the toys being stashed on shelves in a secret cabin. Both characters present as white.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Maybe it’s the general gloom of 2020, but I found the book dark. Although some of the activities looked like fun (stargazing, dancing to a record on a phonograph), others were a bit scary: digging a hole “where we can hide” or a fortress to keep enemies out. And the enemies? OK on the pirate, ogre and witch, but a doctor with a vaccine just seems like either a poor choice or misguided message . “Let’s build a boat that can’t be broken, that will not sink or be cracked open” accompanies an ocean liner going down in stormy seas, and then there’s “a place to stay when all is lost…when times are hard and needs are greater.” The book’s tone exists uneasily between twee and catastrophic.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Fathers looking for a book to share with daughters might enjoy this as a read aloud. Also those who do like the idea of planning, either for kid-size projects (building a clubhouse) or looming crisis (preppers).

Who should buy this book? Public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: January 3, 2021

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