Some of the most wonderful discoveries and inventions have been made because a single person wanted to know a little or a lot more. When a group of people are looking for a response to a query, change is in the wind. In working with children you are surrounded by questions all day long. Their thirst for needing to know is nearly unquenchable.
Sometimes they need to understand the tiniest detail about a particular subject. Other times their thoughtful thinking leads to discussions about problems on a global scale. Seeking answers is like the best kind of treasure hunt. Author illustrator Marie-Louise Gay meets many children with many questions. Her new book, Any Questions? (Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, August 11, 2014, October 13, 2014), addresses questions, answers, and the use of imagination. There really is no end; only a continuation of beginnings.
Sometimes I daydream about when I was young.
I was a very curious child. I always had a million questions about everything.
Do trees talk?
Where does rain come from?
Why do cats have whiskers?
Can I be a dog when I grow up?
The list was endless.
According to our narrator, Marie-Louis Gay, if we don't ask questions how are we ever going to learn anything? As an author illustrator one of her favorite questions to answer is
Where does a story start?
It starts with nothing which can lead to everything. A blank page is full of possibilities.
A white page offers scenarios different than an ancient page of yellow, one the color of a rainy day sky or another colored like the deepest dark of night. When a kitten character asks if stories have to start with a color, how do you think she replies? A story can begin with words. Whether it's a single word or a bundle of words, we get to pick and choose until the ideas they generate start to make sense, start to shape a story.
If we are artistically inclined we might start to doodle or devise characters. We might think of things for them to do in our setting. Or we might get stuck. Then we have to shuffle our ideas like a deck of cards. If that doesn't work we draw, dream and dare to think of the improbable. One thought strings together with another until...
Once upon a time, a million year ago, or was it only yesterday,
in a dark, green, mossy forest, where the sun rarely shown and
where the trees were so old that they could hardly walk, let
alone dance, there lived a young giant.
And so within this story on how a story starts, pages of another story appear. We learn of the giant's life in these woods of old until horrible sounds fill his world. Then, just like that, the story stops. We are asked to continue the tale. Is it a monster? Yes, the children have created a very, scary, gigantic fiend of the forest.
When the giant meets the monster, his size and shyness are set aside so he can discover the reason for the rampage in his realm. The trees, forest creatures, the beast, and all the question-asking children, who have helped write and draw, gather near the giant. He speaks using words as old as time. There really is no end; only a continuation of beginnings.
Marie-Louise Gay brilliantly shapes a story about starting a story by asking questions rather than giving answers. She sets forth proposals. She sends out words like a kite on a string allowing you to let go if necessary. In addition to the text of the narrative her characters add to the flow with their replies in speech bubbles. It's a conversation, an exchange and a collaboration. Here's a single passage.
Her words: For example, a blank white page could become a...snowstorm.
One child: Wait for me! I want to be in the story.
Second child: I know! You could write a story about a baby polar bear lost in a snowstorm.
Third child: Let's put penguins in the story. I love penguins.
Polar bear: Penguins! Uh-Oh! I'm really lost.
Fourth child: It makes me a little dizzy.
Fifth child: Isn't this a beautiful snowstorm?
Delicate detail, fine lines, animated facial expressions and a palette full of lively colors introduce us to this title and all the pages within its covers. These wonderful, active and questioning children contribute to answering their own question. On the back, the left, of the matching dust jacket and book case a snail speaks about the book's contents and offers advice about whether to read it or not just in case we might have an allergy to elephants. A swirl of bleeding watercolors supply the background for the opening and closing endpapers, each featuring different hues. Characters are seen walking to the right at the beginning only to vanish at the end leaving behind a pencil and pieces of paper. A lovely double-page glimpse of Marie-Louise Gay's studio strewn with ideas of every shape and size covers the verso and title pages.
Rendered in watercolor, pencil, pastel, ink, colored pencil and collage the illustrations are not only an extension of the narrative but tell a story of their own. All the small elements ask you to stop, wondering at their purpose and importance to the overall story. All the items fit together like a happy composition. You might see a cat flying on a paper airplane, penguins rolling down a snowy hill with children, a boy riding a pterodactyl, an ant crawling on a crescent moon, or a tree running through a forest.
One of my favorite illustrations brings us to the top of Marie-Louise Gay's art table. A single sheet of white paper is spread across the top. Three children are working with a pencil, fountain pen and several brushes as if they are the same size as the children. One runs carrying the pencil, another paints a purple swirl filled with stars and the third dabbles in a box of watercolors. There are scraps of paper, jars of paints, paper clips, pieces of all types of paper, scissors, an eraser, a rabbit needing help, the cat running from the watercolor box, a bird, snails and a couple of googly-eyed monsters. This is the stuff of story.
Any Questions? written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay is pure fun. Read this as a story to be shared. Read this as an introduction to writing. Whatever you decide to do just read this and read it often. I adore this book.
For more information about Marie-Louis Gay, her other books and this title please follow the link attached to her name to access her website. This link takes you to the publisher's website where you can view other images from the interior of this title. You can also see the two awards containing this book on their short list as well as its placement on four best books of 2014 lists. TeachingBooks.net has a list of resources for Marie-Louise Gay.