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Review: What We'll Build by Oliver Jeffers

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

A celebration of the love and hope for the future.

'What We'll Build' by Oliver Jeffers
'What We'll Build' by Oliver Jeffers

In his 2017 book 'Here We Are', picture book super star, Oliver Jeffers, wrote a wonderful 'welcome to the world' letter, which delighted children and adults everywhere, becoming an instant classic. His latest book, 'What We'll Build' is the perfect follow-on from this, being a celebration of the love a parent has for their child as they grow and as they build a future together. The illustrations of the father and daughter are based on Jeffers and his daughter, Mari, to whom the book is dedicated. Jeffers has the knack of making love flow from every page of his books, without being sickly sweet or cloying.

"What shall we build, you and I? I'll build your future and you'll build mine"

A father and daughter lay their hands next to one another and ask "What shall we build, you and I?" and this manages to capture all of the emotion of the hopes and dreams of parents everywhere. They gather their tools together, both conventional ones such as a hammer, a saw and a chisel, and among them a small stuffed pig, recognising that most important of childhood tools, the cuddly companion for play, comfort and protection. (It's fun to try and spot the pig throughout the book!)

The story starts with just their hands, then their tools and blank space around the father and daughter as the begin to build, beginning with a door "where there was none", so symbolic of the beginnings and opportunities every parent wishes to give their child. Jeffers is renowned for his use of space in his work and this book is a perfect example, with the illustrations slowly filling up the pages as the book goes on and the father-daughter team fill it with their hopes for their future together: books, presents, airplanes, toys, ice cream and a myriad of dreams, some big, some small.

"We'll build some love to set aside, and build a hole where we can hide."

In amongst the hopes and dreams, they build a hole to hide in (which we all need sometimes!) and a fortress to "keep our enemies out", an acknowledgement that the world is not always a safe place and a parent's role is also to protect and provide a safe haven for their child. While, initially, this might seem as though Jeffers is condoning overprotectiveness, the next page reveals that we should also "build a gate to let them in" and the child is taught that we can open our hearts to others, mend fractured relationships and that there is always hope of reconciliation with those we might think of as 'enemies'. This is a message that many adults could stand to hear!

As this wonderful book continues, the father and daughter build tunnels, roads and boats to take them on their adventures in life as they explore this world and others, before coming back to a place where they can rest and keep their favourite things "beside the earlier love we set aside." This invitation to open our minds up to all of the possibilities that life can offer us provides a great stimulus for discussion and building aspirations.

"I think that we may want them later, when times are hard and needs are greater."

We also learn that life is not always going to be easy, but we can build up our store of love and provide ourselves with strength to get through the tough times that will surely come. The book finishes with that focus on the father and daughter's hands once more, which is such a poignant image of parenthood. You can imagine that Jeffers dreamed all of these wonderful images as he held his daughter's hands in his own. Of course, this is not just a book about parental love, but a book about hope, building a brighter future, building resilience, loving, protecting and supporting each other. It's the perfect antidote to our currect situation and a chance to offer children the opportunity to think about the future that we can all build together.

Get the book:

Schools can access a free two-week, whole-school plan based on this fantastic text from the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education intended for use in January. The perfect new year planning! You can register for it here.

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