There are moments when reading a picture book, a graphic novel, a book for middle grade readers or a novel for a high school audience, when you think to yourself about the absolute brilliance of the author to articulate a setting, a mood, create a conversation or weave a plot line. If I could point to only one thing, although I believe it is a mix of many, they all have in common it is their keen sense of observation. They make a practice of noting details in life each and every day. They store these away in their minds until their creativity or curiosity encourages them to grow.
Two time Caldecott Honor winner (Sleep Like A Tiger written by Mary Logue, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, October 23, 2012 and Red Sings From Treetops: A Year in Colors written by Joyce Sidman, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, April 6, 2009) Pamela Zagarenski debuts as both an author and an illustrator in The Whisper (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 6, 2015). The potential found in images to awaken our imaginations is discovered by a little girl. The result is a marvelous journey into the realm of storytelling.
There once was
a little girl who loved stories.
She loved how the words and pictures
took her to new and secret places
that existed in a world all her own.
Just before school was to end at three o'clock she noticed a single shelf in her classroom. On the shelf was a book quite unlike any she had ever seen. When questioned her teacher replied the book was a gift received from a grandmother. It was brimming with stories, magical stories. When her teacher asked if she wanted to borrow it for the night, the little girl excitedly said yes.
On the way home, unknown to the little girl, letters and words escaped from the inside of the book. A fox following behind netted them. After settling in for the evening, with high hopes, the girl opened the book only to discover page after page of pictures with no words. How could this be? Were illustrations without words stories? As she sat there in her bedroom a breeze brought in a whisper.
The whisper spoke to her about imagining asking her to think of words reminding her there are
never any rules, rights, or wrongs in imagining---imagining just is.
Unused to thinking of her own stories, the little girl struggled but managed an acceptable title and two thoughts for the first image. As she studied the next picture details seemed to jump out at her and the words came more quickly. She found herself adding dialogue to her narratives.
Each page turn brought more elaborate tales. Unaware of the passage of time, as the little girl drifted off to sleep a single story had been created by her for each illustration. In the morning as she hurried to get ready for school, those stories and their characters lingered in her mind. On the way a meeting left her puzzled but one good turn was exchanged for another. As the book was returned her enthusiasm was met with joy.
Pamela Zagarenski crafts this book with care; making sure it goes straight into the hearts of those who already have a love of stories but also invites them and others to venture into experimenting on their own. Using the little girl as an example we follow as she, page turn by page turn, increases her ability to look at an image and see more. The technique used by Zagarenski to begin the story but not complete it for the readers is fascinating, leaving each one wanting and willing to continue in their own minds. Here is one of the stories. Pictured is a magnificent ox resting with a man leaning in to speak in his ear.
The Secret "Mr. Ox, you must please promise not to tell anyone, but we need your help. Last week...
Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case readers are greeted with magical whimsy. The little girl, the fox, grapes, bees, and the crown, floating above the two and on the book she is holding, are full of possibilities. This image continues to the left on the back. A portion of a lion is stepping and reaching from the edge. Through a hoop (window of sorts) a white rabbit circled by stars leaps.
The opening and closing endpapers most certainly signify a beginning and an end of stories and days. While some of the same elements appear in both, those at the conclusion contain more, welcoming readers to wonder at their inclusion and placement. Rendered in mixed media Pamela Zagarenski's paintings are spectacular in their singularity.
Each two-page spread is full of delicate details. Her perspectives ask us to pause, study and wonder. Each image is loosely framed as if its page is torn. Zagarenski places elements outside the frame extending the impact of the illustration. As we look at a larger version of a page from the book, the little girl is shown at the bottom looking in her book.
You can't help but want to see the originals and feel the texture. It's nearly impossible to select a favorite. The two pages depicting the little girl sleeping after creating a story for each picture is beautiful. Characters and elements from all the illustrations swirl around her. On the floor next to her, the fox is curled by her side. Her head, now wearing a crown, rests on the book.
Today we started our Mock Caldecott unit with the entire fourth grade. To hear the reactions of the students during the reading of this book and during the discussions later was wonderful. The Whisper written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski is one of those books inviting interpretations as varied as the readers. It's a celebration of the time-honored tradition of storytelling, the power of pictures and the glory of imagination.
To learn more about Pamela Zagarenski and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. You will enjoy reading her About Me page. Please take a moment to read author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's discussion of this book at Kirkus. Visit her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, to see images from the book.