One friendship. (from the front flap)
Next Door is a wordless picture book by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Isaac Liang. The illustrations are vibrant and are full-page and colour. The narrative is told in illustrations of various sizes and layout patterns which keep the reader’s attention and reflect the pace of the story (smaller illustrations for shorter scenes and larger illustrations for longer scenes).
In the story, a little boy who is hearing impaired and his mother see a moving truck at their apartment building. They then go on some errands around town and visit the park. Afterwards, instead of going home to their own apartment, they knock on the door of the neighbor who just moved in. The little boy and his mother give the new family some flowers and cookies as a welcome gift. The reader can infer that the new neighbours have arrived from afar and primarily speak Arabic. The boy sees that there is also a girl about his age in the family, but the girl is initially scared and hides. When the boy finds her, they both realize that they need to find ways to communicate. He shares his cookie with her, and she shares her crayons. Together, they draw pictures, including a picture of the two of them as friends. The story ends with the boy showing the girl the American Sign Language sign for “friend”. Several ASL signs are depicted throughout the book, including, “Are you ok?”, “Yes”, and “Friend”.
In an author’s note at the end of the story, Kerbel explains that the book was inspired by her late sister who was profoundly deaf and how her sister was able to make connections and friends with people regardless of barriers. On the dust jacket on the back of the book, Isaac Liang’s brief biography also states that he is a deaf illustrator. The pairing of Kerbel and Liang creates a synergy that is well-reflected in a unified, enjoyable, and age-appropriate story about the power of friendship overcoming differences.
My 12-year-old daughter was intrigued by the cover of the book and decided to read it. When I asked her what she thought, she said it was a good book and explained, “It’s a nice story about making friends. I also always wanted to learn more about sign language, so I liked that it taught me some.” Her brief review sums up the book well. There is much to enjoy and learn from Next Door. The vibrant and appealing illustrations, along with the uplifting message that we are not so different after all, make Next Door a worthy purchase for home collections and school and public libraries. The well-portrayed insight into the world of those who are hearing impaired or deaf as well as the inclusion of American Sign Language in the book also add to its significance and value for book collections.
Dr. Kristen Ferguson teaches literacy education at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University in North Bay, Ontario.