Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Question As Old As Time...Well, Almost

It's spring! Everywhere you look new life is peeking through the soil, cheeping from a nest, waddling toward the nearest water or covering the landscape.  Looking across the wooded horizon, leaves are finally unfurling on the branching boughs.  For the first time in anyone's memory, the tiniest of trees are sprouting from seeds by the thousands, literally covering people's lawns and gardens.

I have become a third parent in the saga of guarding the new robins nesting in my hanging ivy; chasing away an enormous crow looking for an easy snack today.  Patient parents glide in and out of the nest, sometimes together taking care of their growing, hungry brood.  With growing joy, I saw wings flapping above the nest edge today.

All parents in the animal kingdom care for their young instinctively, as they have for year after year after year.  In the human realm, young children are understandably curious about the arrival of their new brothers and sisters; catching the vibes of the expectant parents.  In The Baby Tree (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)) author illustrator Sophie Blackall provides answers in her charmingly original signature style.

After I wake up
and after I get out of bed,
after I wake up Dad
and wake up Mom
and wake up Dad again,
and after I get dressed
and feed Brian,
we have breakfast.

In true youngster ramblings a boy tells us of his morning.  At the breakfast table his parents have news for him; big news.

A new baby is coming.

Loaded with questions, the boy asks the one his stomach dictates.  Fortunately his parents, happy with their announcement, allow him to have a second helping of cereal.

On the way to school with his teenage walking companion, Olive, he questions her.   Her reply, as to where babies do come from, is a seed.  This is no ordinary seed.  This seed grows a Baby Tree.  

His attempts to paint a Baby Tree during art at school, don't quite measure up to the vision he has in his head.  He asks his teacher the same question.  Without hesitation she says babies come from the hospital, quickly changing the subject.

Knowing his Grandpa was in the hospital, he is sure he will have the correct answer.  A stork?  He leaves a bundle at the door?  He keeps checking but there is no bundle.  He decides to ask the mailman, Roberto.  Roberto seems to think babies come from eggs whose origins are unknown.

Four people have delivered four different answers.  This boy is definitely befuddled.  After dinner, bath, and bedtime stories one and two, he asks his parents.

Where do babies come from?

And you know what?  They, as parents do, give him the perfect answer.

There is something completely endearing about this narrative written by Sophie Blackall.  She speaks to the reader with the distinct knowing voice of a young child.  Without hesitation, unburdened by inhibitions, he seeks truthful responses from those people in his life he trusts.  Their replies are small tidbits of fact (except for Grandpa who the boy is going to set straight).  I love this sentence after Grandpa's answer.

I check the doorstep every morning before breakfast but there are no babies, only the mail.

You want to sigh from the sheer adorableness of the dust jacket and matching book case.  Looking at those newborns, looking at one another and at their surroundings, wrapped in blanket buds with those pointed hats, is sure to elicit smiles.  This is a picturesque introduction to the gentle playfulness found throughout the book.  The soft blue background with the golden yellow bottom is carried to the back where a nest containing three eggs, two cracked sits in the center.  A head has popped out from one; a tiny foot is pushing out from the other.

Opening and closing endpapers feature a pattern of delicate branches with tiny leaves.  Among the spaces they form are an egg, a stork, a hospital, and a tiny growing seed.  A design found every time the boy imagines a given answer begins on the title page; a large thought bubble extending to the edge of the page.

A thick matte-finished paper provides the perfect texture for Sophie Blackall's watercolor and Chinese ink illustrations.  Their size is altered to complement and enhance the boy's story.  Eight small pictures visualize the first sentence.  Usually she uses two pages to convey the message found in the text.

I could easily frame many of these illustrations to hang on my wall but two which fill my heart are the sequences with the boy speaking with Grandpa.  The two are standing close together with Grandpa placing his arm around his grandson.  The flight of the pigeons and the stork carrying the child are beautiful.  It's interesting to see a framed picture of the stork hanging on Grandpa's wall in one of the final pages.

Every bookshelf in homes, classrooms and school libraries will want a copy of The Baby Tree written and illustrated with exquisite care by Sophie Blackall.  I have never seen a book which answers this question with such intention and love for the audience for which it is written.  In addition to the parent's response Sophie Blackall has a page with six other questions and factual answers.  What are you waiting for?  Go now.  Get at least one copy. (Plus Sophie Blackall honors two of her studio mates.  See if you can find how she does this.)

Please follow the link embedded in Sophie Blackall's name above to her official web pages.  John Schumacher, teacher librarian, dedicated a blog post to celebrate this title at Watch. Connect. Read.  The delightful book trailer can be found there.  Carter Higgins, author and teacher librarian, highlights this title on her blog, Design of the Picture Book.  Her giveaway lasts until June 2, 2014.   Julie Danielson, author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast reviews this book and has art pictured in a post. Head over to The Horn Book for Five questions for Sophie Blackall.

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