Fellow 2017 debut picture book author Peter McCleery’s BOB AND JOSS GET LOST (illustrated by Vin Vogel; Harper, 2017) coincidentally slid through my mail slot the same week that I started reading Rebecca Solnit’s A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST (Penguin, 2005).
Writing about the richness and complexities of getting lost, wandering, and not being in control, Rebecca Solnit bemoans today’s empty, suburban back yards and what they mean for kids:
Children seldom roam, even in the safest places. Because of their parents’ fears of monstrous things that might happen (and do happen, but rarely), the wondrous things that happen as a matter of course are stripped away from them. For me, childhood roaming was what developed self-reliance, a sense of direction and adventure, imagination, a will to explore, to be able to get a little lost and then figure out the way back. I wonder what will come of placing this generation under house arrest.
Bob and Joss — lucky boys — DO get a chance to roam. Their story begins:
Bob was bored.
“I’m bored,” he said. “Let’s do something.”
“Let’s take a boat trip,” said Joss.
“No way,” said Bob.
“Why not?” asked Joss.
“We will get lost,” said Bob.
“We won’t get lost,” said Joss.
They got lost.
So their adventure begins.
Solnit quotes historian Aaron Sachs on the subject of explorers who, he says, ‘”…were always lost, because they’d never been to these places before. They never expected to know exactly where they were… [T]heir most important skill was simply a sense of optimism about surviving and finding their way.”‘ She continues “The question, then, is how to get lost,” because in getting lost “…lies a life of discovery.”
After only a few moments of enjoying their adventure in lost-ness, Bob and Joss have another exchange:
“We are lost!” cried Bob.
“We can’t be lost,” said Joss. “I know where I am.”
“Yes,” said Joss. “I’m here on a boat with you.”
Joss sounds an awful lot like the pioneer Daniel Boone, who Solnit also quotes: ‘”I never was lost in the woods in my whole life, though once I was confused for three days.”‘ Like many kids — and Boone — Joss is a natural explorer. Always chill behind his flop of surfer-dude hair, he maintains his sense of humor and his calm, enjoying the boys’ various encounters (save for one humanizing moment when he gets freaked out by a snail).
Bob: not so much. He wrings his hands and tugs at his hair, his eyes alternately bugging out and growing heavy-lidded with each new encounter. Bob has moments of childlike abandon (he is the one who introduces the excellent word “scuttlebutt” to the nautical part of the boys’ adventure), but he always returns to angst. Near the story’s end he has a small fit:
“I hate this place. There’s nothing here! No television, no video games, no books, no clocks, no toys, no cars, no paper, no pens, no chairs, no radio, no computers, no bikes, no peanut butter, no jelly. NOTHING!”
Kids getting lost can be really traumatic — though maybe moreso for parents than for most children, which stands to reason: the whole world is new and unknown to children. They spend a lot of their time just being where they are rather than knowing where they are, so the sensation is pretty familiar.
But poor Bob has trouble holding on to his inner child. He’s attached to his worldly comforts, and yet at story’s end, when he’s back with them again, he’s no longer lost but is nonetheless right where he began: bored — trapped between finding his comfort zone to be not-that-fun, and being unable to embrace getting out of it.
If Bob is lucky, maybe he’ll get lost a few more times and start to get the hang of it. Say, in a BOB & JOSS II?!