by Arthur Yorinks
A Caldecott Medal Book
Hey Al! is a thought-provoking story that many readers can identify with. It won the 1987 Caldecott Medal for the best illustrated children's book of that year.
Al is "a nice man, a quiet man, a janitor". He lives with his dog Eddie in a dingy one-room apartment. Al and Eddie are unhappy living in this cramped place, and long for a house with a yard.
One day a huge bird pokes his head through their window and offers to take them to a better place, where they will have "no worries, no cares". They agree, and the bird carries them to Paradise - an island high up in the sky, filled with birds, butterflies, flowers, waterfalls and streams. They laze in pools of water and eat delicious fruit.
But Paradise is not what it seems. One day, Al and Eddie realize they're turning into birds. Al cries, "I don't want to be a bird. I'd rather mop floors!"
So they escape from Paradise Island and return to their small home, a wiser man and dog (yes, they do regain their original human and canine forms). And Al does something constructive to improve his living conditions - he paints the apartment a bright yellow. The story closes with this epigram: "Paradise lost is sometimes heaven found".
If you're looking for bedtime stories for kids, here's a good one you can use to launch a discussion. What do you think the book is trying to say? That there's no perfect paradise here on earth? That we should be contented with our lot in life? (Is contentment such a good thing after all? Doesn't change for the better come about when we're dissatisfied with our circumstances and work to improve our lot?) Shall we dream "impossible dreams"?Are all things really possible for us to achieve?
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