Albert’s Quiet Quest
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Albert’s Quiet Quest
That’s it! QUIET! For Pete’s sake, can’t someone just read a book around here or what?!
All Albert wants is somewhere quiet to sit and read. “‘Ugh,’ he exclaims as he stalks off out of his house, book in tow. ‘It’s so loud in there… I’m going OUT!’” So out he goes into the back lane where he discovers someone has left a landscape painting out with their trash. He pulls up a chair and, with a little imagination, finds himself relaxing by the seaside. Relaxing, that is, until the other kids of Mile End begin to trickle in. Frustrated by their constant interruptions, Albert finally snaps. But who’s to say that quiet time can’t be a group activity?
Albert’s Quiet Quest is the second of Québécoise author/illustrator Isabelle Arsenault’s “Mile End Kids” stories; a follow-up to her 2017 picture book Collete’s Lost Pet. ( www.cmreviews.ca/cm/vol24/no1/coletteslostpet.html )Though both books feature the same group of neighbourhood kids, the stories are not related, and one need not read one before the other. The kids of Montreal’s hip Mile End district are a diverse and quirky group. They are big-hearted (and literally big-headed) kids left to their own devices with no parents in sight. In many ways, the Mile End Kids feel like a modern successor to the Peanuts gang. One can almost hear the ‘‘good grief!’ on the tip of Albert’s tongue.
While the text is charming, it is the artwork in Albert’s Quiet Quest that takes centre stage. Arsenault’s exuberant images are rendered in her signature style - a mix of pencil, watercolour, and ink. She uses a limited pallet of robin egg blue and burnt orange highlights atop grayscale images throughout. Her ability to convey so much using seemingly so little is astounding. Visually, this book is stunning. Arsenault, an award-winning illustrator with almost twenty books to her name, is at the top of her game. Her masterful capture of motions and emotions with only a few lines is remarkable. The cacophonous spreads of kids being kids (an homage to the Wild Rumpus?) are exceptionally delightful.
Arsenault’s deft experimentation with form and layout may challenge readers’ expectations of what a picture book can be. The entire text is conveyed in speech bubbles, and often pages are divided into comic panels, giving the book a graphic novel feel. However, the numerous two-page wordless spreads bring the work decidedly back into picture book territory. As a result, the book feels fresh and unexpected in the best possible way. This could make Albert’s Quiet Quest a fun one to read together with a child just learning to read, taking turns with the characters, or to perform with a larger group in a ‘reader’s theatre’ style.
Pitch-perfect and never preachy, Albert’s Quiet Quest is a humorous and relatable take on navigating social interactions and the need for downtime as an introvert as well as being a loving ode to the quiet power of a good book.
Devon Arthur is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg’s Young People’s Texts and Cultures program. Formerly a children’s bookseller, she now works at the Vancouver Public Library.