The Sign Painter by Allen Say is a haunting story about choices in one’s life and chasing dreams. Say’s illustrations are truly remarkable and help captivate readers of all ages.
A young boy comes into town looking for work. He finds a sign shop and decides to head inside. A man hires the boy to paint a billboard. The man finds that the boy is a very good artist. As they are finishing the billboard, a stranger in a white car pulls up. Words are exchanged between the stranger and the man, and then an envelope is handed to the man. The man then asks the boy if he would like to work with him painting a dozen billboards.
They set off to the desert where they will be painting billboards. Each billboard has only one word, ArrowStar, and a picture of a lady. The boy is good at painting the artwork, but dreams to paint more, even just one cloud. The man stays true to what he was paid to do and tells the boy that they should not paint anything more. They talk of the boy’s dream of becoming a painter, and the man says that while he cannot paint freely, at least he is earning a wage.
The monotonous job of painting the same billboard carries on until finally they have one left. But a dust storm comes, and they spend a night finding safety in their truck. The next day, they head to their last billboard to find it broken by the storm. While they are debating what to do, a car zooms past them, barely missing the man. Wondering who the lady in the car is and why she was in the desert, the man and the boy head onward toward a giant structure. As they approach, they find it to be a giant roller coaster, along with a cluster of houses situated on a rock. The man and the boy investigate. They hear the voice of a man in a white suit nearby. The white suit man is talking about his dream, the roller coaster, and how he will advertise to attract people to come to his park.
The man and the boy discuss how they wish the man in the white suit’s dream would come true. The man says that dreams can come in all sizes and then asks the boy to continue working with him. The boy does not answer. When they arrive back to the city, the boy decides that he will say good-bye to the sign painter and move on with his life, like a passing cloud.