After The Fall by Dan Santat – A picture book for all ages

This wonderful book tells the story of what happened after that most famous nursery rhyme fall. How Humpty Dumpty survived and then decided to get back up again with truly astounding results.

After the fall cover

Often as a school librarian I have said that you are never too old for a picture book. A retelling of a traditional nursery rhyme with a twist would, you may imagine, be a treat to read aloud to little ones. Maybe humorous; perhaps it would prompt discussion about the original rhyme and the differences created by the author. This book does all that but  so very much more too. Santat uses the original premise to create a fable with a moral message told deftly using the illustrations to support the text’s impact. This is a book that encourages us all to believe that when life goes wrong we can find the strength to pick ourselves up, put ourselves back together and overcome our fears in order to achieve things we may have felt were simply impossible.

The story begins after ”the great fall”. It was just an accident but it had changed Humpty’s life forever. Although he has been put back together physically, emotionally he has not recovered.

”There are some parts that couldn’t be healed with bandages and glue.”

Poor Humpty has been left with a fear of heights. There is great poignancy in the pictures as we see Humpty asleep on his bedroom floor unable to climb up the steps to his bunk bed. His favourite foods are just out of reach on the top shelves in the supermarket. The illustrations subtly show how his fears are restricting Humpty’s life. He loved being up high in the city watching his friends, the birds, but he is not brave enough to try again. He knows now that accidents can happen. But then one day he has an idea and decides to make a paper plane that will fly up to the sky to the birds he misses so much. He perseveres with his plane and eventually it resembles one of his much loved birds. He tosses his creation upwards and it soars up into the sky. Humpty is briefly happy again. However his beautiful plane then comes to land right on top of the wall. His wall. Distraught Humpty starts to walk away thinking that he can’t risk another accident. But gradually he thinks of all that he is missing and the effort he put into his special plane. Can he conquer his fears and overcome his anxiety to save it? Will he find some bravery when he needs it most?

After the fall inside

The illustrations are so clever and rereading the book you see more detail that you may have missed at first. The use of light and dark to convey Humpty’s emotions is excellently done and I particularly liked the picture of Humpty lit up by the sunshine standing on top of the wall, arms raised in victory. Santat also uses white space and text position extremely well. Children of all ages and adults too would learn much from a close examination of these illustrations and this is most definitely a book that supports the view that picture books are not only for the very young.

Dan Santat won the Caldecott Medal for this thoughtful and intelligent book and I am not at all surprised. Without ever adopting a preaching or didactic tone this wonderful story provides a valuable lesson to everyone. It’s not only children who suffer from fears, anxiety or a lack of confidence. Sometimes it’s not failure that produces these feelings but simply circumstances and it’s not always easy to find the inner reserves to help you conquer these fears. This book’s positive and soothing message would be a comfort to readers of all ages. It would work perfectly in school assemblies about perseverance, finding strength in difficult times or conquering irrational fears. I thought the ending was both unexpected and beautifully perfect. A very special picture book that I am glad to have read. Highly recommended for everyone!

The Classroom Bookshelf from the School Library Journal have listed a number of teaching ideas linked to this book that would be very useful in the Primary School classroom.

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