Quote of the Month

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

Friday, January 27, 2012

Singular But Not Alone

Toward the end of November through the month of March handmade snowflakes, keepsakes, some more than twenty-five years old, hang above both entrances and the circulation desk in our library media center.  Students marvel at their intricate patterns amazed by the variety.  Not surprisingly enough I learned through my connection with picture books that no two snowflakes are alike.  If I had learned it somewhere along in my studies in grade school, high school or college, it was tucked away in the back corner of my mind to be resurrected with the publication of Snowflake Bentley, a Caldecott Medal winner in 1999 written by Jacquelin Briggs Martin and illustrated with woodcut designs by Mary Azarian.

Again I am reminded of this marvel in nature with the newest title written and illustrated by Keith Baker, No Two Alike.  An evergreen frosted in snow against a chilly winter sky, snowflakes softly falling, is the resting place of two perky red birds chirping away, a single illustration spanning the front and back covers.  Endpapers thick with snowflakes (I tried to find two alike) introduce readers to the red-feathered fliers as they venture out from their birdhouse to explore the frozen landscape.

Adventures begin, discoveries are made and questions are answered as these words follow the companions:

No two snowflakes are alike,
almost, almost...
but not quite.

The duo soars, completes aerial loops, tries to catch falling flakes, feather-tickles a slumbering squirrel, skis on pine needles, snacks on leaves, and taunts a passing fox.  Throughout their travels using spare, lilting, rhythmic verse Baker recites that nests, tracks in the snow, branches, leaves, forests, fences, roads, bridges, houses, and friends may be similar but each, in their pleasingly particular pattern, are unique.  His closing two page spread against the lacy falling flakes shows two large red feathers falling, identical except for the black tip on the one.

In response to an email Keith Baker states that his digitally rendered illustrations are first sketched in pencil.  Sketches are then scanned into Photoshop.  He draws and adds color with a stylus and Wacom Tablet.  None of his images are imported unless they have been drawn first by hand.  He wishes all his pictures to have a hand-crafted look rather than the super realism or 3-D style. My thanks go to Keith Baker for responding to my request.

To this reader's eye the visuals created by Baker are as fresh and crisp as the season which they depict but there is a softness to them; a feel of collage, a careful placement.  A subtle silence permeates from the pages despite the playful ventures of the two feathered friends.  The choice of red for the birds, that warmth, among the cooler colors of this time of year, when Mother Nature is at rest, draws readers into the narrative.  As he did in his New Times Bestseller, LMNO Peas, small bits of humor are woven into his visuals such as the birds making a pile of snowballs, calling out to the fox, ready to send one sailing through the air.

No Two Alike written and illustrated by the mind and hand of Keith Baker is a charming, refreshing, winter journey taken by two likable birds affirming our individuality with exhilaration.  This is going to be a perfect title to share during these January days aloud to groups of students who I know will beg to hear it again.  I will quickly comply with a smile.

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