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Bedtime Report: Quest Edition

What's this? A quest, you say?! But what IS a quest besides part of the word question? Oh, wait! That's a clue. These related words share a common Latin root (questa) that means "search, or inquiry." We ask questions to find answers, to get information, to learn. We go on quests for the same reason ... though sometimes the "answers" that epic heroes seek are more material (and they usually learn something and change in the process, alas not always for the better).

But I digress. Stay on target!

We read some fabulous books at bedtime this week, and a few had questing themes that made me pull out some of our other favorite quest picture books, because, well, we love quests, be they short or long, local or faraway, real or imagined, you name it. Years ago, I was enthralled with Joseph Campbell, who wrote a fun book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which is all about the mythological and psychological patterns of the hero's journey, a popular theme in literature (Bilbo Baggins, Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Percy Jackson, Amari Peters, and so many more, each with their own variations) and other media (I played early PC games called King's Quest and Hero's Quest once upon a teenage lifetime ago) ... and the book lets you know why this pattern repeats (albeit with twists).

Most narratives are in some way a quest, the search to solve a problem, to resolve a conflict, but some are more epic in scale or more quest-feeling than others. (Our lives, to greater and lesser extent, are quests.) So, today, I want to share a few of our favorite picture book quests with you. PLEASE tell me about your favorites in the comments. I won't hit every quest book and I'm sure there are many I haven't even seen but would like to!

First up, the one this week that got me thinking on this track: The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater and the Fan Brothers, Eric Fan and Terry Fan. We loveloveloved the illustrations, as we always love the Fan Brothers' work, from the maps to the creatures to the stunning sea- and landscapes. You just want to jump right in the pages. However, we also enjoyed the story itself ... of a disparate group of animals off to find adventure ... and some material and immaterial rewards. Marco, the fox, is searching for something more esoteric than the others, and in the end, rather like Big Panda and Tiny Dragon in James Norbury's fabulous longer picture book by that name, he learns that the answers are in the journey and in the company. Both books have a quiet epic feel that just wraps you up like a warm blanket with wings and carries you away. Also, how can you not love these characters?

The Fan Brothers always produce epic works, or as someone else suggested recently, books that feel cinematic. This next one, Ocean Meets Sky, written and illustrated by them, has the quest to back it up as a boy sets out to live the adventures bequeathed him in stories by his grandfather. I'd like to wallpaper a room in these pages.

Next up, no quest list is complete without the picture book so-titled and its companions. Among wordless picture books, the trio Journey, Quest and Return by Aaron Becker top our list of favorites. What's more magical than drawing a door on the wall and stepping into another world, especially one was brilliantly illustrated as Becker's? Psst! There's a bit of good company in these too.

I find many of Oliver Jeffers' books to be quest-driven as well, particularly his three Boy books, and the fourth I just noticed that I haven't read! From stars to South Pole to moon, these three books delight with curiosity and discovery: How to Catch a Star, Lost and Found, and The Way Back Home.

This next picture book (with a graphic novel feel) is lengthier and worth the extra pages. Lift by Minh Lê and Dan Santat takes you on an absolutely fabulous adventure in which a moment of irritation opens a world of possibilities. It also compels us to include another book by this dynamic duo, Drawn Together, about a journey of discovery between another boy and his grandfather, and the whimsical story of Beekle, a loveable NOT imaginary friend on a quest to find his kid, written and illustrated by Santat. The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend is one of our all-around bedtime favorites!

Oh, my, this is already getting longer than I thought. Think you can hang in there for a few more? So many picture book biographies tell the tales of individual quests, in a slice of a person's life or over the course of their entire life, and the one we read this week was the other to inspire this post: Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky and Julie Morstad tells about the stunning around-the-world adventures of Anne-France Dautheville. Wow. If you're looking for a mighty girl, here she is. From France to Canada to Japan to India to Afghanistan and back across Europe, she rode (and otherwise travelled across the seas, but on land, rode). The narrative is written with such a lovely lyrical voice, and the illustrations are just captivating. A new favorite! Also, Morstad has several other books, biographical and otherwise, that I would love to put in this post but I feel the pressure of scroll-space ... So, please, check them out!

Sigh. There are so many other picture book biographies that could go here. I might have to do a separate post some time ... For now, I'm going to move on to a few immigrant stories, as leaving one's home to find and make a new one is perhaps one of the greatest and most consistent tales in the history of our species. Wishes by Mượn Thị Văn and Victo Ngai relates an autobiographical tale from the author's life, about her family's journey from Vietnam. Watercress by Andrea Wang and Jason Chin also relates a slice-of-life quest from the author's own family history in which the reluctant hero finds something unexpected in what she views as mundane. (Also, Jason Chin has many fabulous books on that take you on quests into the natural world and the wider universe.) The Journey by Francesca Sanna draws inspiration from the shared story of many refugees but tells them through the lens of one family forced to leave their home. Similarly, Boundless Sky by Amanda Addison and Manuela Adreani tells the overlapping tales of Bird and Leila, both in search of a safe place to land.

I am going to make myself stop there even though so many other books are yammering, whispering and tugging at me to be included ... Actually, I'll leave you with a video read-aloud of another favorite quest by another favorite dynamic duo: Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. This one's full of hidden treasure! :)

Happy questing, adventurers! (Btw, any pirate picture books likely make a romping good quest, too! Here's a whole big list of those. Some favorites aboard that ship, too.)

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