Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Reading Ritual Interrupted...

It's the comforting rituals from childhood which form lasting memories.  The anticipation of those daily, weekly, monthly or yearly occurrences bring a sense of security and belonging to a boy's or girl's world creating a rhythm for their lives.  It might be shopping for supplies before a new year of school, celebrating holidays and birthdays, a weekly visit to the library to gather a stack of books to bring home, eating an evening meal together or taking a walk with your dog one last time at the end of the day.  These customs are as varied as the people who make up the families, small or large.

One thing, one very important thing, can happen every single day.  It's cost is measured in minutes or hours but the rewards are priceless.  It happens at different times all around the world; everyone is the better for these shared moments.  In the forest realm, something has interrupted this nightly event, something silent, mysterious.  Author Helen Docherty and her illustrator husband, Thomas Docherty, have teamed together for the first time to tell this tale in The Snatchabook (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky).

One dark, dark night in Burrow Down,
a rabbit named Eliza Brown
found a book and settled down...

when a Snatchbook flew into town.

All the creatures of Burrow Down, owls, mice, rabbits, badgers and hedgehogs, read books or listened to books being read aloud at bedtime every night.  Stories of dragons, witches, pirates or princesses had them dreaming and pretending.  Eliza Brown is amazed when without warning, the book she is reading disappeared from her hands.

She did see her curtains move a bit.  The owls did hear tapping.  Perhaps the squirrels heard something, too. What everyone was sure of though was their books were vanishing.  Each night it was the same; something, someone, was stealing their books.

With a plan in place, Eliza Brown was not about to let this continue.  A stack of books as bait did the trick.  Terrified but determined she called out as a shadow crossed her bedroom floor.

A reply is heard.  Words are exchanged.  Everyone, even a Snatchabook, needs stories.

After several silent readings and one aloud, I find the words composed by Helen Docherty ring with a magical beat of their own.  Rhyming phrases invite pausing and pacing.  Readers will wonder about the mystery, will cheer on Eliza Brown's courage and cleverness and find solace in the resolution. Here is a single passage from the book.

The little owls, on Mommy's lap,
were quite surprised to hear a tap
against the bedroom window glass.
Tap, tap! The noise came really fast.
Before they'd even looked around,
the book was gone---without a sound.

When looking at the  matching jacket and cover, featuring the two main characters, the front in the light of day in a woodland nook, the duo surrounded by stacks of books, the back at night in a bunny's cozy bedroom, readers will begin to speculate about the title, wondering about the story to be told.  Opening and closing endpapers done in two shades of blue showcase a scene from the forest at night, moon in the sky, small closed windows and doors in tree trunks indicating the presence of animal homes.  When Eliza appears, hands on hips, looking at the Snatchabook perched on a book stack on the title page, I guarantee readers will already be falling slightly in love with them both.

Thomas Docherty's illustrations light up each and every page whether they are his two page spreads, single pages or smaller pictures framed in white.  His fine lines, exquisite details, draw the reader's eyes into the story.  Peeks into the animal homes at night are precious, perfectly extending the narrative.   The color palette on the jacket and cover are continued on all the pages, giving the reader a feel for being in the forest.  One technique in particular I like is his placing of large open pages of books into the illustrations, making the animal readers into the characters.  One of my favorites is of Eliza Brown tucked under the covers in bed, lamp next to her (with carrots on the shade), small stuffed toy bunny on the bed, reading a book.  The larger part of this visual is filled with a page from a book, looking much like a scene from Little Red Riding Hood. 

Do you want a book that celebrates books and reading?  Do you want a book that shines a joyful light on reading aloud at bedtime?  The Snatchabook written by Helen Docherty with illustrations by Thomas Docherty does this splendidly.  This book is a gem, a gem to be shared repeatedly.

To read more about the author and illustrator, follow the links to their websites embedded in their names above.  Thomas Docherty features several more pages from this book at his site.  This link is to The Snatchabook Activity Kit.  An educator's guide can be found by following this link.

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