Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

SMILE! Click!

Oh, yes...it's a day unlike any other.  It's a day filled with distractions in the classroom.  It's a day of long waits in line and the wearing of dress-up, sometimes uncomfortable, clothing.  For parents it's remembering to fill out the form, including the proper amount of money and hoping this will be THE year.  Truth be told, for teachers, it's a day unlike any other, filled with distractions in the classroom, long waits in line and students fidgeting in clothing they don't normally wear BUT it's also a day filled with interesting insights and unexpected surprises.

Neat and clean, wearing their favorite shirt, maybe even a tie, pants, blouse, skirt or dress, boys and girls arrive ready to rock school picture day. At least one hundred times they've been told to sit up straight and smile, but be natural and relax at the same time.  They, of course, are wondering at the improbability of those things occurring together.  Picture Day Perfection (Abrams Books for Young Readers) written by Deborah Diesen with illustrations by Dan Santat follows the singular efforts of one boy to achieve greatness on this very important annual occurrence.

I'd planned for months. 
This was going to be the year
of the perfect school picture.

But some days, not everything goes 
according to plan.

 It happens to all of us, despite the precautions taken the night before and our best efforts to sleep soundly without tossing and turning.  We wake up, look in the mirror and see the dreaded bedhead.  Well, perhaps a favorite article of clothing will compensate for the overabundance of unruly hair.  It's not looking exactly tidy from being in the dirty clothes basket but it will have to do.

Now it's on to a pancake kind of breakfast.  Yikes!  It's a maple syrup eruption!  The bus ride to school is less than stellar.  What's that?   The background box checked on the form just so happens to be the same color as that favorite shirt?!  At the moment this is looking like the farthest thing from a perfect kind of school picture day.  It's like this dude has been zapped by the Master of Disaster

Trouble is following this boy around like a shadow, even when practicing smiling.  Paint seems to go everywhere but on his project in Art.  When it's finally time for the picture taking, hearing the photographer say "Cheese" umpteen times, makes his stomach churn and gurgle.

Yes! Oh no! Yes! There's always next year.

Deborah Diesen knows how to build a story sentence by sentence.  With a practiced preciseness she gives each calamity a little more comedy than the one before by placing emphasis on certain words, words added to create exaggerated drama.  We readers turn the pages in anticipation,  wondering what new mishap will befall our protagonist, when the first unexpected twist is thrown our way, quickly followed by another.  Readers won't know whether to laugh at themselves or the guy who has plotted and prepared for 365 days.  Here's a sample, which is great to read to yourself but even better read aloud.

Then it took me quite some time to unearth my favorite shirt.
I finally found it at the very bottom of the hamper.

You might call it "stained."
You might call it "wrinkled."
You might even call it "smelly."
You wouldn't be wrong.

Taking the picture options, the mixture of sizes you get in a typical school picture package, illustrator Dan Santat divides them up, placing the largest on the front jacket, sets of the two smaller choices on the back jacket.  For each of the eleven images the boy's face assumes a different expression, each one more hilarious than the other.  (You have to wonder who the model was for these.)  The front and back cover highlight illustrations from within the story.  Opening and closing endpapers mirror a single and two partial rows of pictures like in a yearbook, leaving an empty frame in the back for your personal photograph.  All the guys and gals are sporting their own unique grins.

Prior to the title pages we are given a hint, Santat style, of possibilities in the narrative; a red, hand-drawn smiley face wearing a mischievous look.  This particular drawing does appear several more times in the book.  Each set of double pages zooms in on an entire image, a group of smaller images opposite a single picture, or large close-ups over fainter elements in the background.  The photographic theme is found in the attention to details; the eyes, nose and grin formed on the pancake stack with fruit, butter and bacon, four-printed snapshots of bedhead, student pictures as slides, publication and pricing information on a photographer's background with camera equipment placed nearby.

The bright, bold colors and definitive lines of these illustrations rendered in Adobe Photoshop, bring the text to life with the same energy as the main character's unfortunate moments throughout the day.  No one portrays humor exactly like Dan Santat does;  the looks on the boy's face alone are enough to have readers exploding with laughter.  From covered in syrup, to walking dismally down the hallway, to the shock of blending into the background, to goofy grin, painted splattered and rascal supreme, we see a person brimming with personality.  It seems pretty perfect to me.

Without a doubt you are going to want to have a copy of Picture Day Perfection written by Deborah Diesen with illustrations by Dan Santat in your personal, classroom or school library.  This team has depicted the misadventures of a boy bent on bringing a bold plan to fruition with the sure knowledge of firsthand experience. I know you will be hearing "read it again" over and over.

If you want to discover more about the work of either Deborah Diesen or Dan Santat follow the links embedded in their names above to access their websites.  Enjoy the book trailer below.


  1. Can't wait to have this book! Great review, too.

    1. You are going to really enjoy laughing along with the story. I can't say enough good things about the artwork of Dan Santat. Thank you for stopping by and reading my review.