On the Edge of the World – Anna Desnitskaya

On the Edge of the World by Anna Desnitskaya, Lena Traer
Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers on September 26, 2023
Genres: Children's
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A uniquely formatted book about dreams, loneliness, and the universal longing for connection.

Vera and her family live on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, a place that feels like the edge of the world itself. Lucas and his family also say they live on the edge of the world, but their home is thousands of miles away on the coast of Chile. Vera spends her days devouring fantasy books, throwing balls to her dog, and longing for a friend who would care about the treasures she’s hidden underneath the alder bush. Lucas spends his days looking for fossils, playing solo games of soccer, and wishing for a friend who would read with him on the best branch of his favorite tree. One evening, both Lucas and Vera head to the beach, blink their flashlights into the dark—and discover that the edge of the world is not such a lonely place after all.

In this playful, perceptive book, acclaimed author-illustrator Anna Desnitskaya shares the mirroring lives of two children in two separate but surprisingly similar settings. As readers flip the book between Vera in Russia and Lucas in Chile, they will learn just how big—and how small—a place the world can be.

On the Edge of the World is a touching story about loneliness and the longing for friendship. The story starts with Vera, who lives in the Kamchatka Peninsula off the eastern coast of Russia. Her mom calls it the edge of the world and “if you left from our edge of the world and sailed across the Pacific Ocean for a long, long time, you’d eventually reach another country, somewhere like Chile.”

The next set of panels shows us Vera’s most valuable things. The story is told in first person, with all the excitement and info-dumping and non-sequiturs of actual children. There’s a lot for readers to take in here, as you’re subtly introduced to cultural elements, literature, nature, and skills (like knot-tying or making a sekretik) that children will find interesting. But then it moves along to Vera’s loneliness: “I wish I had a real friend, for some reason I don’t have one yet.” We learn about Vera’s life in Russia as an imaginary friend gets drawn into some of the panels. It ends with Vera standing alongside the ocean shore with her flashlight and flashing in Morse Code “Hi, I’m Vera.” Her mom says that no one can see, but today she saw a response “Hi, I’m Lucas.”

And…wait. This is only half the book. Flip the page and everything is upside down. Turn the book around and start over and you’re told the story of Lucas, who lives off the coast of Chile. The story reads much the same. There are cultural explorations, interesting facts, and so on. But also the theme of loneliness. We learn about Lucas’s culture and life as the illustrations mirror what we saw in Vera’s story. And then it ends the same way: with Lucas shining his flashlight over the ocean in search of a friend.

On the Edge of the World is perfect for launching a number of conversations. Studying Russia or Chile? Here’s a book for you. Wanting to explore themes of loneliness and friendship? Here you go. As an aside, for Western readers this has the added benefit of showing the Russian people as people—not as political stereotypes. The book’s author is Anna Desnitskaya, a native of Moscow who now lives with her family in Israel. The book was originally written in Russian and was translated by Lena Traer, who has translated other Eerdmans books.

Even though this is a picture book, it’s best suited for older elementary kids. The illustrations are engaging and educational. There’s any number of avenues for educational conversations—from learning about the culture of other places to discussing how to make friends and the impact of loneliness. It’s really a lovely and touching book.