Imagination, Hard Work, and Some Friends

The Perfect Plan – written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021

Maya’s adventure in The Perfect Plan involves a determined and creative child who wants to build the best tree fort possible. While high standards sometimes lead to frustration, especially when children naturally lack the skills to match their vision, Maya gets some help.  Leah Gilbert’s picture book is composed of empathy, fantasy, and respect for the natural environment.  The proportions of all these components are as well-balanced as Maya’s feat of engineering.

The entire point of the fort is to provide a special and secure place to dream, and Maya approaches her work as something of an individualist. Without preaching to children about cooperation and STEM teamwork, Gilbert reveals that Maya will need some assistance.  But every construction project begins with an idea some careful research; crumpled papers and multiple drawings reflect the young engineer’s intense focus. At this point, only her cat is helping, perhaps with some moral support. Maya plans and packs and goes outside in search of a location. But her efforts and lugging logs and consulting her sketches don’t bear fruit.

When Maya spots some beavers, known for their building skills, things pick up. Now Gilbert moves away from the strict limits of reality.  Everyone knows that beavers build dams, but soon Maya enlists the support of other animals not as well-known for building.  They are all residents of the natural world and they want to help someone who they sense is, like them, attuned to the special qualities of their home.

Soon there are birds, bears, and moose working together to create a fort that is both functional and a work of beauty.  There are no artificial divisions between the two qualities that Maya needs for her home-away-from home.  Ornamented with pastel-colored flowers and sparkling lights against a green background, the fort is a refuge.  Maya has found room for her friends, though.  The final image shows her engaged in the solitary pursuit of reading, but surrounded by all the creatures who helped her.  The Perfect Plan draws a parable about creativity, solitude, and persistence and places it securely in a child’s imaginary world.

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