John Rocco takes a child’s-eye view of one special summer night in Blackout. At first glance, this captivating picture book seems to offer a straightforward view of a night when a family is forced to move away from their electronic life to a simpler time, a time when families played board games and enjoyed each other’s company. Taking a closer look at the illustrations does for the reader just what the blackout does for the family in the story, allowing us to slow down and appreciate the moment all the more.
Let’s start with the very first image—even before the title page. Here is the main character, a little girl with a screen flickering behind her. Given her dour expression, it appears that the screen isn’t bringing her much joy. Moving to the first pages of the book, we see a busy street in Brooklyn, beneath the bridge. Careful observers will recognize that same girl again in a brownstone window. In other tiny windows, we spot four of the main characters, busy with their work and too busy for the little girl, who wants to play a board game.
In a beautiful moment, the lights of the city slowly dim, prompting the startled child to summon help with a cry of “MOM!” The family adjourns to the roof for a joyous time with neighbors under the starry night (which looks a lot like the Van Gogh painting of the same name). Then it’s back to the street for free ice cream from the ice cream vendor. As the story unfolds, astute readers will note slight changes in perspective and light that let the reader observe the passage of time, but in a slowed-down world without electricity.
Adults know that a power outage can be a pain in the neck, but to a child, it is just another adventure. In Rocco’s beautifully told story, a blackout brings one family together and allows a child to see her city in a whole new light . . . a flashlight.