Summer days are filled with ways to pass the time, and reading a delightful picture book to a group of young children should be one of them. A selection sure to entertain any group is Marilyn Nelson's appealing new book The Ladder. Translated from a poem by noted Danish poet Halfdan Rasmussen, The Ladder depicts the surprising journey of a curious, wandering red ladder that dances, prances and waddles its way into readers' hearts. The ladder begins its travels when its creator/carpenter disappears up the ladder and into the sky. While the long red ladder crosses the countryside, others follow the carpenter's lead and use the ladder as a stairway to the sky. The odyssey continues as a lively collection of onlookers climbs into the clouds on their own adventures leaving the lonely ladder a bit confused by it all. A charming (and reassuring) ending sets things straight.
In simple but cheery illustrations that give the book a retro look, Canadian artist Pierre Pratt conveys the movement of the journey through such elements as a changing landscape, flying birds, the progress of a distant train and the variety of people and animals the ladder meets along the way. The rolling hills and spacious blue skies provide a fitting setting for a poem about possibilities, while fold-out and pull-out pages extend the novelty of the tale. An accomplished poet in her own right, Marilyn Nelson won a Newbery Honor in 2002 for Carver, a collection of poems about the life of George Washington Carver, and a Printz Honor this year for A Wreath for Emmett Till. The Ladder is considerably lighter than these earlier works, and Nelson moves the story along with crisp, rhythmic couplets.
Somewhat longer than the average picture book, The Ladder is a captivating read-aloud experience for young readers and the young at heart. This lyrical story draws in readers and carries them along on a ladder's imaginative excursion. Lisa Long works at and attends the University of North Carolina.