Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

To See In The Sea

It's not done very often.  When it is done, it's a rip-roaring success.  If it's been memorable, you would think it would become standard practice.  Call it intuition of a lifelong reader but reading a book aloud to a group of students for the first time without reading it first yourself, can be and has been pure magic.

There are those books when you first gaze at the dust jacket and book case, it's as if they are speaking to you.  If you are like me, you've learned to listen.  One look at Barnacle Is BORED (Scholastic Press, May 10, 2016) written and illustrated by Jonathan Fenske and you can hear the laughter of readers and listeners building in the background, softly at first and then bursting forth loud and long.


Attached to the underside of a pier, Barnacle wishes he could be anywhere but where he is.  This crustacean's spirit is crushed.  It doesn't matter whether the tide is in or out, nothing is right.

This member of the marine community sees no joy in absolutely anything, day or night.  When a happy, bright and colorful fish swims by, Barnacle instantly gets a case of the-sea-is-bluer-on-the-other-side-of-the-dock.  He is certain this fish's days are filled with merry moments as opposed to his dull and dreary lifestyle stuck in a single spot.

Barnacle imagines all the activities the fish enjoys with other residents of this watery realm.  Diving, soaring and flipping are only a few.  Perhaps a game of tag is played with other smaller ocean occupants.

As Barnacle is about to speculate on another fine bit of fun this fish is surely savoring, he stops mid-sentence.  Mr. Humdrum is at a loss for words.  When the next sentence is uttered, there is a marked difference.

Jonathan Fenske wants readers to become as attached to Barnacle as he is to the wharf.  With Barnacle as the sole narrator, listing every mundane thing in his stationary situation, we are lulled by the established rhythm. (I really like the use of opposites in this portion.)  This allows for the creation of a lively contrast upon the arrival of the fish and Barnacle's descriptions.  Fenske perks up the discourse with alliterative phrases which in turn sets us up for the final hilarious twist.  Here are some sample sentences.

Waves roll OVER me.
Waves roll UNDER me.

I bet he DIVES with dolphins.

When you open the book case you are treated to a single image of Barnacle attached to the dock on the right just past the spine.  On the back, to the left, bubbles surround the text about Jonathan Fenske just as they do the title text on the front.  The simple color palette of white, black, green, blue, shades of brown and pale peach is used throughout the book with the exception of the other sea creatures.  They provide a distinction by being more colorful.  This pairs perfectly with the text.

Fenske uses every portion of the book for this tale with the beginning and conclusion on the endpapers.  The first is a more panoramic view of Barnacle, the pier and the sea.  The second is a close-up for maximum impact. On the verso, dedication and title pages, we zoom in on Barnacle with his dismal expression and two of his four limbs crossed.

When Fenske changes his perspective of Barnacle and the other sea creatures, it brings us directly into the mood of the story.  We can see clearly the expressions on Barnacle's face and the other faces too.  Barnacle's eyes, mouth and arms are what trigger the laughter.  Fenske also adds some additional commentary text by the fish and a pelican guaranteed to elicit giggles from readers and listeners.  Three wordless images are particularly powerful.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when Barnacle is describing the fish with two speech bubbles of text; one which says:

The little polka-dotted show-off.  

We are brought in close to his face.  The four identifying green circles are more pronounced.  His eyebrows are critically raised over wavy eyelids and eyes full of sarcasm.  If he had hands and hips, those hands would be his hips.

Trust me when I say, readers will hardly be able to contain their laughter when the pages of Barnacle Is BORED written and illustrated by Jonathan Fenske are read by an individual or as a read aloud.  The kindergarten students and I could not stop laughing once we started.  The comedy builds and builds until the final picture.  There is hardly anything better than sharing a funny story with others and this book delivers.

Please visit Jonathan Fenske's website to learn more about him and his other work by following the link attached to his name.  By following these links you can read a bit about the journey of this book's publication and the celebration of its release.  This title was included in a post by Rocco Staino at School Library Journal when he interviewed Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher and in a post by teacher librarian Travis Jonker on his blog 100 Scope Notes at School Library Journal.  Jonathan Fenske is interviewed at Eyes And Books

UPDATE:  Jonathan Fenske is a guest at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog Watch. Connect. Read.  Sunday, May 22, 2016.

UPDATE: May 24, 2016  I am happy as can be to have Jonathan on the blog today chatting with me about his work.  I think you all are going to enjoy his answers as much as I do.  

From your website we read that you have a BFA in Sculpture from Clemson University.   You have a successful career as a gallery artist.  From the birth of your first daughter this love of art and illustration transitioned to being a picture book creator.  As a child were you always intrigued with art?

Yes!  I wasn't exposed to a lot of "classical" art as a child (museums, etc.), but I was always fascinated by things that exuded creativity. Cartoons, namely Droopy Dog and Looney Tunes, were probably the art form that I was most drawn too at an early age!

Did you enjoy drawing and painting then?

Oh yes. I would draw anything in sight. As a young teen, I would just sit around and do black and white drawings of cars and airplanes from magazines. My school notebooks have margins full of doodles of teachers, classmates, or my own made up characters.

Or was there a defining moment when you knew this is what you wanted to do?

I was never one of those people who knew from an early age what I wanted to be. When I went to college, I enjoyed creativity and the creative process and wanted some sort of direction in that realm, but what I really wanted to be was a professional soccer player. Obviously, I came to my senses as my art classes displaced my sports fantasies and became my passion. 

Did the image of Barnacle as we see him in this book come to you immediately or did his physical traits evolve?

I have a little doodle of Barnacle on the back of an ATM receipt that I did when the title first came to me. For someone who loves the process of character development, I am surprised at how remarkably unchanged Barnacle is since that first doodle. He's pretty much the same four-tentacled, doofy-eyed creature dangling from his shell. One change was that in the original rough storyboards I had him hanging sideways on the pier, which presented some challenges that were solved by having him dangle straight up and down.

Could you tell us briefly about your process in creating this title.  Did the text come first or the images?  What kind of medium did you use for these illustrations? 

I tend to wake up at 3 a.m. with book ideas in my head (I don't know why...unfortunately, that seems to be the time I am most creative!). Almost always the words and images come out together in a rough storyboard format. Sometimes the words dictate the pictures or vice-versa, but they do tend to come to me hand-in-hand. I do a rough dummy in pencil, then character development in more polished pencil sketches. I then translate the sketches to a digital format and color them. The original rough dummy and pencil and paper drawings are absolutely my favorite part of the process. 

Your comic pacing in Barnacle Is BORED is wonderful.  Do you have a favorite humorous picture book?

Well, first of all, thank you so much for the compliment! I would have to say Lane Smith's The Happy Hocky Family is one of my favorite picture books. The way he skewered the traditional "Dick and Jane" format was pitch-perfect, and the illustrations, though very different from a lot of his work, were such simple yet elegant (not to mention hilarious) companions to the text. 

Thank you for answering these questions Jonathan.  Is there anything else you would like to share?

I would just like to share my gratitude to all those who support children's literature. I am very fortunate that there are so many librarians, parents, teachers, etc. whose passion is the driving force keeping these kinds of books on the shelves. Thank you, thank you, thank you! 


  1. Love that cover, Margie--I'm attached :). It really does look funny. Will look forward to reading it!

    1. I'm glad you are attached, Maria. :) :) It is totally hilarious. I know you will enjoy it.

  2. Thank you so much for hosting Barnacle yet again, Margie! He is so happy to be here on your blog!

    1. You are welcome, Jonathan. I really enjoy your answers. Barnacle and the laughter he brings can visit anytime they wish.