Vigilant observers of our natural world will be rewarded, not always instantly or even after years but many times when they least expect it. Sometimes Mother Nature will leave you clues; a color not previously present, a movement caught out of the corner of your eye, an unusual sound or a strange smell.
If you are fortunate when driving down a two-lane highway in northern Michigan, you will see a flash of black and white by the side of the road. When it lifts into the air you believe it to be the largest Pileated woodpecker you have ever seen, but...when you peek into the woods as you pass by it's not a woodpecker. It is the closest you have ever been to an adult bald eagle!
You gasp at seeing what is surely an extraordinary gift. Pond (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 13, 2016) written and illustrated by Jim LaMarche is about a boy finding a hint of what was and what could be. It's about having determination and dedication to preserve, protect and resurrect.
"This is so weird," I said to myself as I watched the clear water bubble up from the ground.
We had always called it "the Pit."
Following the stream created by the water source, Matt gives an old spot another look. With the assistance of his sister, Katie and his best friend Pablo, the trio clears all the junk and rubbish from "the Pit." They build a dam with rocks and logs from the surrounding wooded area. During their work Pablo makes an exciting discovery; a glass-like blue rock chipped in the shape of a heart.
Spring passes into summer with the site gradually filling with water; a pond is forming. An old wooden boat is patched, rough portions are sanded and nails are pounded back into place. Idyllic days are spent on the pond in the refurbished vessel.
Before the trio realizes it, the day before school arrives. Matt's and Katie's dad takes them for a sleepover at the pond. In autumn, for the first time the children can remember, geese pause to rest instead of flying overhead without stopping. Winter days are spent skating on the ice as soon as it freezes.
With the last of the snows melted and spring in full bloom, Matt, Katie and Pablo race to the top of the hill overlooking the pond. From this perspective they can hardly believe what they see. They finally reach a decision together. They are rewarded with a quiet, remarkable happening which none of them will ever forget.
A deep affection and appreciation for the out-of-doors is evident in the work of Jim LaMarche. His narrative embodies a timeless quality. What the children accomplish could be done today or decades ago. LaMarche makes a reference to this in some quiet remarks by Matt's father.
His combination of first person point of view and dialogue bring a genuine quality to the story. As the three children work and play together LaMarche allows us to see their separate personalities emerge; the thinker, the researcher and the musician. It's important the parents of all the children are included with the occasional assistance they provide. Here is a passage from this book.
"The Dragonfly floats!" Pablo proclaimed as we pulled the boat into the pond. The water was cool and crystal clear and shallow enough to walk around the entire pond. We all took our turn pulling the boat.
"Those are barn swallows," said Katie. "They eat mosquitoes."
"Well, then, I love barn swallows," said Pablo.
The image you see on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case continues over the spine to the far left edge. It is a stunning display of animals frequently seen in woods, fields and around a pond; cottontail rabbits, Canadian geese, a Red-Winged Blackbird, egrets, a fawn, a mallard, a mourning dove, and two smaller birds on the left. The boy standing there is a testament to the mutual regard grown between them. The raised varnished letters of the title are a complement to the other hues.
On the opening endpapers LaMarche gives readers a bird's eye view of the pond in the late spring before Matt makes his discovery. At the edge of the wood is a row of houses and a city is in the near distance. It is a stark scene. On the closing endpapers it is late spring one or more years later. The boat is pulled up at the edge of the pond. A painter stands at an easel capturing the beauty before him.
Rendered in acrylics, colored pencils and opaque inks on Arches watercolor paper these illustrations all span both pages left to right in a delicate, soft depiction of the discovery, the work, the enjoyment and the reward of the children. LaMarche begins on the publication page with Matt walking through a gate in his fenced in back yard. The title page shows him going into the woods and seeing the old boat.
In keeping with the text the visuals may give us a larger view as when the children are carrying logs and stones or bring us close for when they look at the blue, heart-shaped rock. LaMarche's light and shading create breathtaking scenes replete with his intricate details. They create wonderful sensory experiences for readers.
One of my favorite of many illustrations is the lovely wordless picture of a summer day at the pond. Katie is in the boat, a patched umbrella standing in the center for shade. As she gently paddles at one end we can see sandals in the bottom and three glasses on a seat next to a jug. Another paddle lies in the boat. Two books are open on the back seat with the blue, heart-shaped stone. A duck has climbed on the back edge. A bird is perched on the top and two are on sides of the umbrella. An egret and heron wade in the pond as a kingfisher flies away carrying a fish. A rabbit watches from the bank as Matt rests on a floating raft and Pablo scoops water into a pail. The slow movements on the surface and reflections of light are wonderful.
Pond written and illustrated by Jim LaMarche brings to readers the wonders our world offers to us if we have the eyes to see and the mind, heart and strength to do what needs to be done. This book offers readers an opportunity. I highly recommend its use in units on the seasons, teamwork and appreciation and preservation of our natural world.
In addition to the front jacket and case illustration you can view six other interior images at the publisher's website. You will gain insight into this author illustrator by reading this discussion and interview when his book, Up, was released. Here is a biography found at another publisher's site which is informative. I think you will enjoy this video where LaMarche discusses how he creates his illustrations; in this case for The Carpenter's Gift.