Below by Nina Crews

The use of photographs in picture books is usually limited to non-fiction and ‘word books’ for children — and for good reason, since using pictures of real people as the characters in a book can end up looking somewhat cheesy. At least that’s what I thought until I picked up Below by Nina Crews (who’s incidentally the daughter of acclaimed children’s book author/illustrator Donald Crews).

The book stars Jack, a little boy who looks to be around the age of 5 or 6, and his little toy figurine, Guy. Like most children, Jack’s vivid imagination brings him and Guy on many adventures, such as conquering high mountains and exploring busy cities. Alas, one day, Guy drops down a hole in the stairs, and Jack has to find a way to rescue him.

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Thanks in part to the great casting, the use of a real boy as the main protagonist works immensely well here to draw children into the story, since they love looking at other children. My two kids, aged 2.5 and 4 respectively, both fell in love with the book immediately and have asked for it to be read multiple times — sometimes, three times at a go! Being pretend-play aficionados themselves, I suppose it’s no surprise that they took to the story so quickly, and readily identified with Jack’s attachment to and anxiety over his toy buddy.

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In addition, the creative photo-collages, particularly those with people, are all viewed from Jack’s eye-level, so the events unfolding feel more immediate and real to the reader.

This is a great book that celebrates a child’s boundless imagination and ingenuity, and I especially love the open-ended conclusion, which leaves room for your imagination to run wild.

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