I admit I’m a sucker for fantastic adult authors who turn their talents towards children’s books — and succeed. See also, Neil Gaiman. It’s not an easy task for sure; it’s hard to strike a balance between child-appropriate and childish, and a lot of authors just can’t quite pull it off. Which is why I’m so impressed by Dave Eggers’ brand new release, This Bridge Will Not Be Gray, the true story of the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, brought to life with amazing papercut illustrations by Tucker Nichols.
The is one for junior history buffs for sure, but it’s written in such a conversational, dryly witty, non-condescending way that I think all kinds of readers will find it appealing. Even adults.
While the book starts out in a fairly straightforward manner, within just a few pages it becomes clear that this is no dry history lesson. Beyond the playful illustrations and truly engaging facts that make up the story, kids will love some of the eye-rolling narrative and the humorous editorializing, like: The first design he came up with was the strangest, most awkward and plain old ugly bridge anyone had ever seen…people compared it to an upside-down rat trap. They thought he’d lost his mind.
And then there’s a certain wryness that Dave Eggers fans will appreciate, even if their kids don’t. Like a description of the Manhattan Bridge as “believed to be in or near New York City.” Or the accounts of random strangers needing to have an opinion about everything, something I’m sure that will make those of us in creative fields sigh with resigned recognition.
By the end of This Bridge Will Not Be Gray, I don’t know if kids will even feel like they’ve read a history book. I think what they’ll take away — beyond some fascinating facts to impress friends — is an essential lesson about sticking with your gut, not letting failures stop you, going against the flow, and standing up for yourself, no matter how little power you think you have. That’s pretty awesome for a book that could have been a construction story.
My only small quibble with the book: Is it fair to call the Golden Gate Bridge the “best-loved bridge in the world?” Not entirely sure. But then, I’m from Brooklyn.
Find This Bridge Will Not Be Gray by Dave Eggers and Tucker Nichols at the McSweeney’s online shop, or your local indie bookseller. If you’re in the Bay Area, check out McSweeney’s for book reading event info.