It happens when you use a magnifying glass. It happens when you look through a microscope, a telescope or a pair of binoculars. It happens when you select zoom or wide angle on a camera. It happens when you look through your picture window at night; then deciding to go outside, lie down on the grass and look up at the starry sky.
Every single time you have changed your perspective. In doing this you are making before and after comparisons; adjusting the proportions according to how things are being seen. The newest title by author illustrator Henry Cole, Big Bug (Little Simon, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division) explores the concept of scale by taking readers on a journey to a farm.
Beginning with a familiar insect found nearly everywhere except for the extreme northern and southern regions of our planet, we get up close and personal with a ladybug. When we step back we can see how much smaller it appears on a leaf. Moving even farther away the leaf is only one of many on the stalk of a wildflower.
A curious dog wanders over to the bunch of flowers leaning in to smell them; adding another dimension to the perception of size. In a field a milk cow turns to look at the dog. They are both animals on a very large farm over which a cloud-studded sky stretches.
On the now dwarfed farm (beneath the canopy of the sky) there is a tree. Readers are taken back to locations near the buildings, moving toward the barn and then the house. The day is coming to a close as we draw near to a single luminous window. Inside the farmer is petting the dog. Something else has made its way into the house.
Using only forty-nine words in a collection of two word phrases all of which include either big or little Henry Cole masterfully constructs a meaningful narrative. Readers quickly become comfortable with the alternating cadence predicting the comparison to come on the next set of two pages. Cole is careful to include only those elements easily identified by younger readers as normally found on a farm and the surrounding area.
It's as if we have become a ladybug ourselves as we look at the open dust jacket and book case on Big Bug. It's a nice design item to have the title as an overlay. Opening the cover we zoom back to see a pale leafy green background sprinkled with bunches of tiny ladybugs on the opening endpapers. (The closing endpapers are part of the story. You will have to read the book.)
Each illustration extends edge to edge in an array of realistic rich colors. You feel as though you've stepped into the center of a pastoral setting; taking a day to wander and wonder. Having been raised on a farm, Cole adds warmth to each picture with known details.
For each contrast we might zoom in or out depending on Cole's depiction of the subjects. This, incorporated with the narrative, adds interest. The text for each comparison reflects word choice; a larger font for the big phrase, a smaller size for the little phrase.
Of course my favorite illustration is the one depicting
bringing our attention from right to left toward the dog's face near the flowers. The brush strokes, line work and shading contribute to a texture we can nearly feel as we touch the page. It's easy to imagine a slight breeze blowing through the grass, hearing the sniffing of the dog and bending to smell sunshine caught in its fur.
Big Bug written and illustrated by Henry Cole is brilliant in its simple portrayal of scale. Not only does it introduce readers to this concept but encourages them to make their own observations in their own settings. I can envision using this book to promote discussions as well as combined visual and writing mini-projects using traditional, digital or virtual tools.
For more information about Henry Cole visit his website by following the link embedded in his name. He includes numerous pages about his illustrative process. This link takes you to the publisher's website offering a peek at several pages. There is a series of interviews with Henry Cole at Reading Rockets. Enjoy the video below.
Reviewed from my own copy purchased at McLean & Eakin in Petoskey.