Quote of the Month

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

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Seeking Self

You see them coming into your classrooms year after year; testing the waters, doing what they enjoy the most and wondering if anyone will notice their best efforts.  You use your skills to help them discover and enhance their own. Knowing who they truly are, what their purpose might be or where their talents lie can be a pursuit needing perseverance and patience.

It can be somewhat unsettling to find yourself one among many whose gifts are already shining like stars in a moonless sky.  The Mermaid and the Shoe (Kids Can Press) written and illustrated by K. G. Campbell takes us down into the depths of an undersea kingdom.  One very small mermaid has a huge thirst for answers and a brave heart to match.

King Neptune had fifty daughters.  Some might call them mermaids.  They were his pride and joy.

Forty-nine of them had savvy; a green thumb, a flair with fish or words spoken in dulcet song.  Minnow did not; no glorious gardens, only frantic fish and when she sang sea creatures cringed.  One thing she did endlessly was ask questions.

A single sister in particular, Calypso, thought Minnow and her inquisitiveness worthless.  This unkindness caused Minnow, without a word, to seek solitude in a particular spot;

where the current was warm and pleasant.

It was here a beautiful thing floats down to her one day.

One sister thought it might be a hat.  Another offered that it might be a jewel box.  And a third, cold Calypso, said it was junk.  Minnow thought otherwise.  Returning to the warm and pleasant current, she had a plan.  She needed answers.

Swimming through and up, all those she encountered could not identify the splendid object she carried.  Remember those questions she was always asking?  One by one solutions were seen except for one.  Now at the surface she started to wonder if Calypso might have been right.

Then another strange being appeared.  As Minnow watched her excitement grew.  She could hardly wait to share her discoveries.  On this day, a storyteller was born.  It was absolutely remarkable.

Using elements found in the best stories from the land of fairy, the fifty princesses, the three sisters (one with a nasty personality), the three questions, mermaids and lots of happily ever after, K. G. Campbell weaves a spell with words.  A pleasing blend of narrative and dialogue envelope readers gently like we are lovely things drifting through enchanted waters.  What sets this apart is Minnow accomplishes her goals alone by believing in herself and using her strengths. Here is a passage from the book.

She had arrived at the edge of the kingdom, where bubbles burst and the above place began.
"What a wondrous world!" gasped Minnow, eyes wide as sand dollars.

 When you open the matching dust jacket and book case of this title, you are immediately struck by the luminosity of K. G. Campbell's sea scenery.  You get a very real sense of being in the warm current with Minnow and the other beings in the watery depths. The rich brilliant red of the shoe is carried over to the spine.

Rendered in watercolor and pencil crayon Campbell chooses to alter his illustration sizes, breathtaking two page spreads and gorgeous oval insets on white, framed in a variety of sea and tiny floral weeds found on land.  Fine lines, subtle shading and a carefully-selected color palette combine to create a stunning ethereal quality.  Everything about the mermaids, especially Minnow, is magically marvelous; their wide eyes, delicate facial features, porcelain skin, golden tails and flowing hair.

One of my favorite illustrations is of Minnow rising to the surface through the seaweed asking the octopus if he knows what the shoe is.  A small orange seahorse is her constant companion. Readers will wish they could be there swimming in the water with her.

When I first held this book after it was handed to me by a clerk in my favorite indie store, she said everyone there had fallen in love with it.  I understand completely.  The Mermaid and the Shoe written and illustrated by K. G. Campbell is a lovely story; a once-upon-a-time tale to be cherished and shared.

Please be sure to follow the link embedded in K. G. Campbell's name to access his official website.  Here is a link to an interview at John Schumacher's blog at Watch. Connect. Read.  Be sure to visit, enjoying the book trailer.  There is another wonderful interview at Idle Illustration by Caldecott Honor winner author illustrator Molly Idle.  

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