Ray – Marianna Coppo, Tundra Books, 2020
Inanimate objects with a life of their own are always fascinating to children. From The Brave Little Toaster to Toy Story, electrical and mechanical things with human qualities have a story to tell. Marianna Coppo, the creator of a lifelike rock in Petra, has now created Ray, a lightbulb and a bit of loner, until he gets pulled out of his dark closet and taken on an unexpected camping trip.
Children can be resistant to change, and adults can, too, so we may all relate to Ray’s unexpected odyssey: “Then, one day, Ray feels his head spin. He feels upside down. And then strangely light.” His adventure begins with uncertainty and ends with a reassuring sense of permanence.
Ray’s closet may be simple, but it’s home. (image). Furnished with spider webs, old Christmas trees, and castoff clothes, it’s pretty cozy, if small. “Once he counted as many as 41 things,” Coppo remarks, a number which turns out to be the maximum number he can imagine. This is a book with a minimalist tone but a maximalist message about the limits of flexibility.
Ray is round, his other objects are angular, and people are something new. When Ray sleeps, he doesn’t dream. So when his familiar dwelling is suddenly replaced by the great outdoors, children will wonder if Ray will even survive. He lacks the mental vocabulary to even understand where he is; Coppo’s playful irony about language will amuse both adults and children.
How can he acclimate himself when he equates evergreens with Christmas trees in storage, and a winding stream with “a very long scarf?” Nighttime at the campsite is particularly disorienting, since every other object and person is asleep, and Ray is a nocturnal.
Ray has an almost spiritual moment of recognition when he comes to appreciate that the natural and human-made worlds are related. All of a sudden, camping is fun, people are nice, and stars are for wishing. Just when you may assume that Ray is ready to abandon his closet forever, Coppo reminds you that lightbulbs, and people, still need anchors, and that we can change and still remain the same. A fable, a cartoon, a hymn to nature and to all the stuff we have accumulated indoors; Ray is an unforgettable and stellar addition to Coppo’s quirky universe.