Eve Bunting has had an astonishingly successful career, having published over 250 works of fiction and nonfiction. Her devoted readers look forward to every new book, which they know will tackle a complex issue with sensitivity.
Bunting’s newest offering, Yard Sale, depicts the emotional turmoil experienced by a little girl whose family is forced to sell most of their belongings before moving from their house to a much smaller apartment. Lauren Castillo, among whose dozen plus titles is a Caldecott Honor (Nana in the City), was an excellent choice to illustrate the book. Her watercolor and ink illustrations capture the bittersweet tone of the story very well.
We can tell from the cover that this is no ordinary yard sale. Rosy-cheeked little Callie stands amid the neatly displayed sale items in front of her warm and welcoming home looking bewildered. Her mom and dad smile behind her, but tentatively. On page one, Callie sits alone on the front steps, her chin in her hands, and tells us with no enthusiasm whatsoever, “It is all for sale.” For financial reasons she doesn’t quite understand, her family has to move.
The sale begins, and through Callie’s eyes we see what it feels like for people to take away her family’s things. She feels guilty for having diminished the value of her headboard with crayons. She loses her head for a moment and tries to rescind the sale of her bike. And though she feels important helping a customer, she breaks down entirely when a woman jokingly asks if she’s for sale.
Castillo’s illustrations add depth to every scene, which she portrays either from Callie’s perspective or from one that shows her emotional reactions. We feel the little girl’s sadness, her anger, and her helplessness. And Castillo employs the very interesting strategy of including in most scenes one or more unpainted objects (a truck, a fence, a shirt, a bed). This creates an awareness of emptiness and loss in the reader, which is of course exactly what Callie is experiencing.
Between the art and the artfully unadorned text, it’s hard not to read the story without getting a lump in your throat, especially when Callie’s parents promise they’d never sell her, “Not for a million, trillion dollars,” and the last of the yard sale items are given away for free.
But because the book is so moving to this point, it’s all the more disappointing that the conclusion is so unsatisfying. The family goes back into their “almost empty house,” but Callie now decides it’s “OK because we don’t really need anything we’ve sold.” And the same girl who moments before cried at the thought of her parents selling her suddenly possesses the wisdom and wherewithal to add, “But we will fit in our new place. And we are taking us.” This pithy epiphany is simply too sudden to be believed.
The talented team of Bunting and Castillo pitch Yard Sale almost perfectly. They will sell you on nearly every page. You’re just not likely to buy the ending.