In The Welcome Chair, friends and acclaimed decadeslong mainstays of children’s literature Rosemary Wells and Jerry Pinkney team up to tell a moving, memorable and quintessentially American story.
Inspired by Wells’ own ancestral history, the tale begins in the early 1800s as a young Bavarian boy named Sam sets off to achieve his dreams in the United States. A carpenter’s apprentice, Sam builds a lovely rocking chair that is handed down from family to family. As the years pass, each owner adds their own legacy to the chair, carving the word for welcome in their language at the top of its back panel. The story of the chair becomes the story of its people. There’s a Civil War soldier who fights against slavery, a determined Irish immigrant, a pair of nuns from the Dominican Republic, a compassionate doctor who works for the Red Cross, an infant orphaned by an earthquake in Haiti and more.
Although The Welcome Chair has a fairly high word count for a picture book, Wells’ straightforward narration keeps the story moving. Every line is considered and earnest, and the text is full of vivid descriptions. Pinkney’s illustrations are mesmerizing and iconic, covering every page with tiny, intriguing details. There’s a sketchy feel to his linework that gives the images dimension and a historical feel that’s both inviting and thoughtful. When paired with a soft, muted color palette, the effect evokes the way we often imagine history looks. Pinkney’s ability to capture the specifics of time and place while maintaining the story’s legendary spirit is a true gift; I cannot imagine an illustrator better suited for this story.
The kind of book that deserves to become a modern classic, The Welcome Chair pulls together themes of family, hard work, compassion, kindness and community in an honest and loving way. The book ends with what feels like a pause instead of a stop, because the chair’s story—like our stories—will continue. Who else will sit in the chair and rock their baby to sleep? Who may read or do their homework, curled up on its seat? What kind of futures might we imagine while perching on its sturdy frame? A tribute to America’s history as a nation of immigrants, The Welcome Chair truly welcomes all.