Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, December 16, 2011

Watching Over Us

At the beginning of this year, now nearly at a close, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing released information that the first two books in a new series by acclaimed author/illustrator, William Joyce would be published.  The series was to include seven picture books and six chapter books, the first that we've seen from Joyce in almost a decade.

Twenty years in the making William Joyce relates in an article:

I've been working on a unified mythology for the icons of childhood since my daughter was born in 1991.  As a parent I felt that Santa Claus, the Man in the Moon, all of them had become a little diminished.  They deserve to be thought of as grand, heroic, epic.  If Spiderman has an origins mythology, then why not the characters we actually believed in?  Their stories became my mission.

The first in the picture book series, The Guardians of Childhood, The Man in the Moon, hit the shelves on September 6, 2011.  It is written and illustrated by Joyce.

Of course you know the Guardians of Childhood.  You've known them since before you can remember and you'll know them till your memories are like twilight; Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, the Easter Bunny, and the others.  But the very first one was the Man in the Moon.
Many once upon a times ago...

So begins a story which will surround you; compel you onward page after page.  Among the stars far removed from the blue and green planet known as Earth a ship, Moon Clipper, sailed from one planet to another.  On that ship a baby, the Man in the Moon, MiM, lived a safe and serene life with a father teaching him the wonders of space and a mother reading to him from her Primer of Planets by the light of giant Glowworms as the Moonbot and Moonmice Crews moved about.  Guarding MiM from nightmares sprinkling Dreamsand over him as he slept was his devoted friend, Nightlight.

But evil cannot abide such peace; being attracted to that which is unblemished and pure.  Pitch, the King of Nightmares was determined to find this child and claim him for himself.  MiM's father and mother knew of a perfect little planet in a distant galaxy having no moon, Earth.  Nearly arriving at this place of protection they were attacked by those aboard the Nightmare Galleon, Pitch and his crew.

Nightlight is charged to protect MiM at all costs spiriting him away into the depths of the ship.  Carrying the child to safety he sees a single tear on MiM's cheek; holding it he feels excruciating pain.  Upon opening his hand he sees that the tear has become a diamond formed to a point, a weapon to be sure.

Nightlight keeps his promise; a blinding brilliance is followed by a deafening sound. Afterward MiM cannot find his parents; two new constellations have appeared above him.  Nightlight has disappeared but a shooting star falls to Earth.  What of the Moon Clipper? That ship will sail no longer; now a moon to Earth. 

Moonbots, Moonmice, Glowworms and Lunar Moths parent the orphan as he leads a charmed life of discovery on the Moon; realizing that there are children on Earth.  He watches over them using his father's telescope capturing their lost balloons listening to their hopes and dreams within those floating spheres.  From his heavenly view he seeks others to protect and assist the children.

With these new "guardians", the Moonmice, and the Moonbots they kicked up the sand on the Moon until it shown with a glorious glow much as Nightlight had for MiM as a baby.  Together they would protect the children of Earth.  Together they became the Guardians of Childhood.

Following on October 4, 2011 was Book One, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King by William Joyce and Laura Geringer with illuminations by William Joyce.  This chapter book, the first in The Guardians series, introduces readers to the horrors of Fearlings and Nightmare Men, minions of Pitch, the Nightmare King who has been awakened after years of imprisonment.  To combat this darkness is a light, the last of the great wizards, Ombric Shalazar originally from Atlantis.

From a great meteor fallen to Earth he has fashioned in the starkness of Siberia the town of Santoff Claussen.  This sanctuary for persons of curiosity and education, men, women and their children, is protected by three rings of power; a hundred foot high hedge with a thorny top, a great black bear and majestic oak trees complete with an enchanting woman of the wood offering beauty and jewels who turns unwelcome visitors into stone.  When the shadows of darkness nearly capture the children one evening in the woods Ombric realizes that Pitch has returned. 

Ombric brings all the children of Santoff Claussen and their parents to the safety of Big Root a sapling found in the center of the meteor crater now grown to gigantic proportions.  Here he shares his knowledge of the Man in the Moon and the cravings of the Nightmare King to spread evil.  At the same time in another part of this frozen world a most unlikely hero is being summoned having had a dream given to him by a moonbeam.

Nicholas St. North is the king of thieves, cunning and a ferocious fighter. One night following a light, not of this world, on clouds, over mountains and across water, North soon finds himself within the boundaries of Santoff Claussen.  After nearly losing his life his heart becomes bound to a young ward of Ombric's, Katherine.  For the first time in his life he has found a friend and a calling that he never would have conceived possible.

With lightning speed events compound quickly.  Nicholas St. North learns he has a knack for magic, five relics from the exploded Moon Clipper need to be recovered, a quest leads North, Ombric and Katherine to the top of the world, a djinni proves deadly and an epic battle reveals assistance in the Lama of the Lunar Lamadary, Yetis and the Great Snow Geese of the Himalayas.

What a wondrous world William Joyce and Laura Geringer have fashioned with words.  The narration paints pictures in the reader's mind nearly as vividly as those done by Joyce.  The technique of chapter headings that foretell is skillfully utilized.
From The Man in the Moon--

In search of MiM, Pitch sailed in his Nightmare Galleon on waves of fear--plundering planets, extinguishing stars, and scuttling every airship that crossed his path. 

From Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King--

Strange rocks, curling like melted wax, framed the yawning mouth of the cavern.  The cave was thick with shadows that seemed to breathe like living things. 

And in a single perfect moment the children saw what looked to be a spritelike boy holding a staff with a brilliant moonlit glow at its end.  He seemed to glisten like beads of light.  He stood calmly amidst the chaos, his laughter bringing forth swirls of mist that hovered in the air. Then, in an instant, he blurred into a hundred shafts of refracting light that came together around the children like a protective cone, driving back the shadowy blanket.

An amazing array of illustrations are laid before readers of The Man in the Moon.  Title information states that mixed media was employed.  Cover, endpapers disclosing the Moon Clipper's transformation, the Moonbot Crew, the Moonmice Crew, The Glowworms, The Great Lunar Moths and the Family, and a variety of visual depictions bring Joyce's interpretation of the narrative to life.  Vibrant colors that shift with character presentations, setting and action, pictorial insets and variations in size, and the minute details set William Joyce's pictures in a class of their own; definitely first class.

Visuals in Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King were rendered in a combination of graphite, charcoal and digital media.  Placement within the text is perfection; size, subtle or bold, is equally so.

If these first two titles, The Man in the Moon and Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King, are any indication,  readers are in for a rare treat; timeless classics in the making. 

A visit to the website, The Guardians of Childhood, supplies much information as well as visual delights.  You have to marvel at the imagination of someone who can conjure up a place such as this peopled with his particular, extraordinary and charmingly creative characters.

A Dreamworks Animation film, Rise of the Guardians, is set for release in late November 2012.  Stars Dakota Goya, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine, Isla Fisher and Jude Law have been named as voices.

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