As the calendar flips reluctantly into May, and picture book publishers are either still catching their breath from the holidays, or hoarding titles for the summer, or quaking before the digital apocalypse – as the shelves where I like to go searching have lately felt a little light on inspiration, I find myself returning to books I once purchased in the hope they’d hold up for the long haul, and continue to enlighten, and continue to surprise, like Me, All Alone, at the End of the World, which is not coincidentally how a couple of million freshly minted graduates are probably feeling right now.
Like: Jeez. Is that it? What the heck am I supposed to do with these broadened horizons now? And these books – should I trade them back in for a hoodie? Actually the “Me” in this story starts out at the End of the World and winds up finally resettling the Top, still both of these places look pretty much the same. My son asked me recently if there was, or ever would be, a sequel, and I said I guessed the boy who’d dreamed for so long in such quiet, and looked for treasure, and whistled dance tunes, and imagined beasties slithering and chuckling in the night – I said I thought this boy who watched his private wilderness turn into a mile-high Club Med had probably learned just about everything he needed to know.
“More fun! More fun!” bellows Constantine Shimmer, the lunatic inn keep, through a bullhorn, and that is even after everyone’s finished playing a bunch of wild games I can only sort of picture. Hurl the Gopher and Stumbling Ted – do those maybe ring a bell? Bite the Bullet? Axe to the Grindstone? Blade-O-Matic Mumblypeg?
“Madams, sirs,” continues Shimmer, “I highly recommend vertigo!” echoing every fraternity brother and university president who ever insisted that now – and maybe only now – was really the time to shake things up.
“Um, I think it’s time for me to go,” says the boy from the beginning – now a man by the end? – removing the sparkler hat from his head and turning off his shock mittens. If you feel like you have lived through something a little crazy in this book, well, then maybe you have – and maybe it will linger as a sort of hallucination, “the soft loneliness of the world falling in shadow.” Maybe you dreamed it. Maybe you should read it again. Because there is probably no place so tall or so final that we should not still wonder if we’ve arrived.