When I discovered The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, I was enthralled; immediately transported on an adventure. I devoured the whole series (at least twice). It was such an important part of my early childhood reading. An escape from reality. Just looking at "my" cover brings back fond memories of lying upside down, draped off the couch or hiding under my covers.
It was such a big thrill this summer when I explored Oxford with my sister. We visited all the colleges where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Lewis Carroll wrote and/or taught. We ate a great lunch in The Eagle and the Child; the pub where these authors met as a critique group! Talk about awe inspiring! We even sat under artwork from the Hobbit.
Upon returning home, I learned that Caroline McAlister had created a book on C.S. Lewis and the background to his creation of Narnia. I couldn't wait to read it. With the amazingly talented Jessica Lanan illustrating it, this picture book was everything I'd hoped for and so much more.
Finding Narnia: The Story of C.S. Lewis and His Brother
Author: Caroline McAlister
Illustrator: Jessica Lanan
Publisher: Roaring Press Books (2019)
Biography, nonfiction, imagination, and siblings.
Finding Narnia is Caroline McAlister and Jessica Lanan's captivating picture book biography of two brothers, Jack and Warnie Lewis, whose rich imaginations led to the creation of the magical world of Narnia.
Before C.S. Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, he was a young boy named Jack who spent his days dreaming up stories of other worlds filled with knights, castles, and talking animals. His brother, Warnie, spent his days imagining worlds filled with trains, boats, and technology. One rainy day, they found a wardrobe in a little room next to the attic, and they wondered, What if the wardrobe had no end?
Years later, Jack began to think about what could be beyond that wardrobe, and about a girl named Lucy and her siblings. This picture book biography introduces the beloved creator of The Chronicles of Narnia to a new generation of children who see hidden magic in the world around them.
Jack and Warnie weren't just brothers; they were best friends. But they were very different. From the beginning, it was Jack who dreamed up stories of other worlds.
Why I Loved this book:
This book is treasure trove of information on Jack (C.S. Lewis) and his brother Warnie, inspiring images of their lives from childhood through the wars, and little snippets about creation of the beloved Chronicles of Narnia.
Jessica and Caroline created a wonderful thread of the juxtaposition and interaction of reality/technology and imagination. It starts the minute you open the book. The front end-page is a map of Ireland and the United Kingdom, including the Lewis' house, school, and Oxford. And the back end-page is a map of Narnia and other countries along the Great Eastern Ocean.
The narrative ingeniously carries you through this fusion of seeming opposites; demonstrating how even though Warnie was practical (interested in ships, trains, and schedules) and Jack was imaginative (fascinated with Norse mythology, knights, and castles), the brothers combined their interests to create imaginary worlds of adventures. One such world, Boxen, allowed them to escape the sadness of their mother's terminal illness, spurring Jack to wonder "what if the wardrobe had no end?" and "what if they could escape to Boxen and stay there?" But life intruded on imagination; they were sent off to school and grew up.
Text © Caroline McAlister, 2019 . Image © Jessica Lanan, 2019.
Caroline continues with this thread of two different personalities drawn together to create magical worlds and adventures. She tracks each man's individual journey. After serving in WW I, Jack took his imagination to Oxford and Warnie applied his practicality to the army. However, when they reunited after Warnie's retirement, the dichotomy of Jack (eschewing technology and creating magical images with his pen) and Warnie (ever practical and fond of technology, typing the manuscripts), collaborated to create a beloved series. Beautifully shown taking shape in the shadows behind and between the brothers.
The value of this book as a mentor text is enhanced by the excellent author and illustrator notes; detailing how and where Caroline and Jessica found the thread of these different, yet collaborative, brothers who created the magical world of Narnia. This is a great book for those who've loved Narnia, are just getting into Narnia, or simply love nonfiction biographies. One I hope finds its way into every library.
- write a story, or draw a picture, of your own make-believe world;
- how are you different, and perhaps the same, from your siblings or parents?
- if you could write a letter to Jack or Warnie who would write to and what would you like to ask them?
- using a box, decorate the outside as a wardrobe. On the inside, create a collage or draw a picture of what you see when you step through your wardrobe. You could make it big enough to walk through or small enough to hold (https://sweetbenannasam.wordpress.com/tag/rainy-day/).
If you missed the interview of Caroline McAlister on Monday, find it (here).
This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.