Lately Lily: The Adventures of a Travelling Girl – Micah Player, Chronicle Books, 2014
Books about geography, broadly speaking, for kids, are a lot of fun. They may include maps, and specific information about places in the wide world with which young readers are unfamiliar. They may inculcate both enthusiasm for and knowledge about different cultures and languages. Often, they rely on colorful pictures to make the different manageable and appealing.
Micah Player’s lately lily (the title on the cover has lower case, script letters), mainly presents the idea of venturing out as intrinsically fun. The endpapers feature luggage in several shapes and colors, including a pet carrier. On one valise, Lily’s stylish monogram introduces her. By the end of the book, preschoolers will not have learned much about the different countries which Lily has visited, which are not always named in the text. Instead, they will have met a cute little girl open to new experiences, but also happy to return home.
So who is Lily? She has the exaggerated big eyes so popular in commercial illustrations and toys, the spunk of Eloise without the malice, and the familiarity of a figure from Disney’s It’s a Small World ride. For children too young to focus on specifics about the countries Lily visits, her jaunt around the world is undeniably appealing. Player’s pictures have bright colors, geometric shapes, and lots of other children. The adults are generic; even Lily’s parents, who she informs us “travel all over the world for work” in a moment of rare insight into her life, are depicted from the neck down only.
Lily smiles in every picture, and she totes along her “best friend,” a stuffed animal (donkey?) named Zeborah. This transitional object no doubt helps her to feel secure as she boards canoes, hot air balloons, trains, and bumper cars.
When Lily visits London, we infer where she is by the double-decker bus and other landmarks. Paris and Mexico are similarly cinematic, and if the costumes of some of the locals tend towards the stereotypical, Lilly herself is a broadly drawn caricature of a cosmopolitan, urban child. One lovely scene in the metro has Lily holding on to the pole, earbuds and Mp3 player at hand, while her friend, Zeborah, is seated, reading an ad for pizza. The other passengers are casually multicultural; Player emphasizes diversity in a natural and unaffected way throughout the book.
If you’re a purist, you might object to the fact that the Mona Lisa has Lily’ face, although the same page shows Lily as a chef and a mountain climber. She is just trying on possibilities, from playing guitar to ice fishing, to brushing a llama’s fur. One intriguing picture has her writing a letter to “Dearest Audrey.” Is this an allusion to the beautiful world citizen Audrey Hepburn, and if, to which movie? Either Roman Holiday or Sabrina would fit the theme of trying on new identities in the most glamorous locales.
Children will also enjoy the book’s comforting end because, after all, there’s no place like home. Lily and Zeborah take a well-deserved nap, having arranged the tchotchkes from her trip on a shelf. The book’s title pops up from a retro typewriter, promising that Lily won’t forget to write up an account of her trip. You are your children will enjoy reading it, if it is this innocent and playful invitation to look explore and return.