On August 27, 2013 debut children's author illustrator Christie Matheson released Tap The Magic Tree (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers). In a bright array of colors on crisp white the dust jacket displays secrets about the story. The book case shows us on the right a tree in spring, leaves finally unfurled. To the left the tree has those same leaves turned to shades of red, orange and yellow.
Beginning with a single tree, branches bare, we participate in its life cycle during the course of a year. Readers are invited with rhyming words to tap, turn, rub, touch, jiggle, wiggle, brush away, blow a kiss, shake, knock, pat, blow, clap, wait and see. We bring on the blossoms, opening, falling and forming fruit. Ripe red apples grow and drop. Autumn breezes leave it bare and snow hangs on the limbs before the promises of spring are kept.
Readers feel as though they are Mother Nature shaping and witnessing the wonder of change. Like her we create and appreciate. It's simple, it's magical.
Touch The Brightest Star (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, May 26, 2015), a companion to the first title written and illustrated by Christie Matheson, welcomes us to another performance. We are conductors of the setting of the sun, the arrival of night and its leave-taking at dawn. While others rest, we tingle with expectancy.
First wave good-bye to the sun's bright light.
Do you see it? It's the first firefly of the night. Soon others follow, glowing globes drifting on a gentle breeze we blow. A fawn glides from safety. We watch and then bid it farewell.
A star, wishes and caressing the sky get us ready for a rare event. As the dark deepens more stars appear above us. Carefully we make connections. A bright star in the north forms a utensil and a guide.
Where is the moon? Oh, there it is. Who's calling whoo? There's not one but two.
It's hard to stay awake in the still silence of the night. Welcoming the night is tiring. Time to sleep until a new day brightens us with light.
With her opening sentence Christie Matheson speaks a simple truth to her readers. (I've spent every night for almost fifteen years outside with Xena to know the wisdom of her words.) She opens the door to possibilities. Every two sentences end with a rhyming word, not necessarily on the same page. This is how we are lead through the shifts with impeccable pacing. She may place an additional single word among these phrases to elevate the importance of a moment. Here is a sample.
Gently press the firefly. (right) (page turn)
Press again to light up the sky. (left)
Collages were used to prepare the full-color art by Christie Matheson. On the dust jacket the large star is embossed in silver foil. The shading in the text replicates the changing of the light from night to day and back again. On the back to the left are fireflies and stars introducing some of the magic to readers with invitational text.
The differing book case is an image from the interior of two owls on branches, one over the other, on the left. A full moon is shining on the right. Flowers are sprinkled on the ground below the starry sky. A deep blue covers both the opening and closing endpapers. The title page text mirrors that of the dust jacket, entirely in white. The verso and dedication pages are layers of purple, blue and green sky.
With each page turn Matteson has rendered double-page visuals. The tree is in all of them acting as an anchor giving perspective to the transformations. A bluebird flies out but a firefly takes its place. The fawn peeks in from the left seeing the firefly. As time passes one detail fades and another one grows. There is delicateness in her simple illustrations evoking the mood of the night.
One of my favorite pictures is for the phrase
Now let's blow a quiet breeze.
The time of night is just past dusk. I like to think of it as the moments we hold our breath waiting. Eight fireflies are moving about as the fawn looks up watching. The sky is a blend of turquoise and royal blue. We can still see the flowers clearly.
During quiet time in your classroom, tucked tight with your children before bedtime or as a unit on the changes during the day into night (or the seasons or fruit from her first book), the rhyming words of Christie Matheson in Touch The Brightest Star will sooth your listeners as they reach out to follow her guiding phrases. Charming night creatures amid the stars and moon supply a peaceful presence. You will find it hard not to feel the calm.
To learn more about both these books please read the samples below. Here is a link to a teaching guide for the first title.