Quote of the Month

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

Sunday, June 15, 2014

What's In A Name?

I've been told I'm named after my Mom's best friend and one of her favorite cousins.  My middle name, Marie, is the same as my mother's middle name.  I have to admit, even after decades, I still cringe when I hear my full name, Margaret.  I can't get the image and mannerisms of the character from the Dennis the Menace comics, Margaret Wade, out of my mind.  Fortunately for most of my life, I have been called Margie.

Wanting to be known by another moniker, other than the one given to you, is as old as time.  There is a certain curiosity associated with the origins of names; giving those books in libraries a well-loved look.  The Change Your Name Store (Sky Pony Press) written by Leanne Shirtliffe with illustrations by Tina Kugler happily follows a girl on her quest to switch things up a bit.

A smart feisty girl
named Wilma Lee Wu
liked climbing trees and
chasing frogs too.

Among all the things Wilma Lee Wu did like, there is one thing she longs to replace, her name.  Determined, map in hand, she searches her town for a shop unlike any other.  The storekeeper, Ms. Zeena McFouz, welcomes her with a smile and a single rule.  Searchers need to wear a chosen name; realizing all each includes.

In a jiffy Wilma finds a name she feels will fit, French with flair.  In mere seconds the rule is abundantly clear.  Looking around she is amazed to see she is standing in Paris with different attire.  Somehow this doesn't seem quite right, so back to the store she goes.

Oh, yes, this next one is simply the best except for... the heat.  Hurricanes are not much to her liking either.  Landing at night surrounded by animal eyes makes her question this fourth choice.  Is there a name for her?

Down in the dumps, our young globetrotter doesn't know what to do.  Wise Ms. Zeena McFouz, classy curator, offers Wilma an exclusive collection.  Yes!  There it is!  This suits Wilma Lee Wu; no other will do.

Not forced but flowing and playful this tale told in rhyme is loaded with learning and laughter.  Leanne Shirtliffe has created characters in Wilma and Ms. Zeena McFouz readers will admire.  You empathize with Wilma's courageous attempts.  You understand the wisdom of Ms. Zeena McFouz giving freedom to her shoppers, the rule and the special drawer.  In true storytelling style Shirtliffe includes a repetitious refrain Wilma says on each return.  Here is a single passage.

Without time to add that magic word "please,"
she found herself on a big hill in Belize.
The beauty amazed her, the friendliness too...
But she opted to leave when a hurricane blew.

Who wouldn't want to walk through a town like debut picture book illustrator Tina Kugler features on her matching dust jacket and book case?  Young readers will appreciate the inclusion of familiar buildings; a market, public library, bank, pet shop, The Change Your Name Store and ice cream shop.  Little details like a cat cozily sleeping in an upstairs window, a mom and her daughter on a bicycle built for two, books stacked on the back chatting as they ride and Ms. Zeena McFouz waving at Wilma and her constant canine companion as they pause in front of the store.

When readers see Wilma smiling, her gap-tooth grin on display, with her dog, tail wagging wildly on the title page, it's instant love.  With a page turn there she is hanging upside down from a tree limb with a frog tucked in her overalls pocket as her pooch partner places his front paws on the trunk.  Smaller insets, single pages and double-page spreads in full color alternate, complimenting the narrative.

Interesting details like the feather on Ms. McFouz's hat (signifying achievement, a feather in your cap), Wilma's dog changing into a poodle when she visits France, the famous people gathered around her in France, the I ♥ Names mug and the names everywhere in the store (you could look at these for hours, days) make for absolutely charming illustrations.  Each place Wilma visits is a true reflection of the culture, flora and fauna; a tapir and toucan are swirling in the wind when she leaves Belize.  You have to wonder if Ms. Zeena McFouz is not a traveler herself based upon all the containers in her shop.

It's truly hard to select a favorite illustration; warmth, compassion and happiness are evident on every page.  Three special illustrations, to me, are the first page, the last page with Wilma, her dog and frog jumping for joy and when Wilma selects her first name.  She is standing on a stack of books pointing, her dog is looking eagerly at her and Ms. Zeena McFouz is smiling with hands clasped.  This picture exudes potential.

Written by Leanne Shirtliffe with illustrations by Tina Kugler, The Change Your Name Store showcases diversity and self-acceptance.  Cheerful pictures partner with the rhyming story perfectly inviting reader participation.  I know readers will be scanning the streets of every town they visit in the future, looking for this fascinating shop.

Be sure to visit the websites of Leanne Shirtliffe and Tina Kugler by following the links embedded in their names above.  Leanne Shirtliffe has several wonderful additional resources, a great teacher/educator's guide, and numerous activity pages.  At Tina Kugler's site is an engaging interview about this title and the upcoming book she is making with her husband plus more links.  Julie Falatko, author of Snappsy The Alligator (Did Not Ask To Be In This Book) Viking 2015reviews this title on Katie Davis's Brain Burps.

UPDATE (June 17, 2014) After returning from vacation, Tina Kugler was generous enough to briefly explain her illustrative process to me in a couple of emails.  Here is what she had to say:

I work 100% digitally, from sketch to finished color, with a Wacom Cintiq tablet and an iMac. I try very hard to make my work look non-digital, I prefer a messier, hand-drawn look, if that makes sense. The major advantage for me in working digitally is that I can save a project and go back to it at any time, without worrying about paint drying or anything like that. I have three boys, so my work is frequently interrupted-- I have to get up and stop them from hitting each other or goodness knows what else (see my NAME STORE dedication). My background is in storyboarding for television cartoons (and I was a film major in college), so I tend to look at my picture books more like a film: a spread is a pan, a page turn is a cut. 
Tina also mentioned there is a sequel in the works. Oh happy day!  The title is No More Beige Food.  Look for it in the fall of 2015.  Thank you so much Tina.  For those of you who have not read the book, the dedication mentioned above is unlike any other I have seen; laughter guaranteed.

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