Quote of the Month

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




Friday, March 10, 2017

Water Wonders

Early Monday a sound was echoing over the fields and gravel pathway.  As a puppy Mulan was hearing it for the first time.  For me it was the sound of a new season coming once again.  The spring peepers were back.

Throughout the park are wetlands and ponds with the Grand River running along one of the boundaries.  Canadian geese use the river has a highway and a new mallard and hen have taken up residence in a pond.  Cardinals, blue jays, robins, pileated and downy woodpeckers, chickadees, and crows are frequent flyers throughout the area.  Deer, seven in number, keep their distance but stop and stare. A haunting cry draws our attention.  Looking upward we see two herons in flight.  Later a hawk circles looking for supper.

Water is essential to all life.  An abundance of life surrounds it and lives in it, even in a park close to a bustling suburban community of 24,000.  Over and Under the Pond (Chronicle Books, March 7, 2017) written by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal is the third book in their collaborative series.  It invites us to journey into this marvelous domain.  (Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt are the first two titles.)

Over the pond we slide, splashing through lily pads, sweeping through reeds.

A mother and her son come to a stop on a pond.  He asks her what is below them. She replies:

"Under the pond is a whole hidden world of minnows and crayfish, turtles and bullfrogs.  ..."

Like the peaceful exhaling and inhaling of a living being as they move over the pond, we are privy to what they see on the surface and what moves beneath them.  Mother and son notice beetles scooting on the water as minnows do the same under their boat.  Of course the minnows need to be wary.  Hungry trout are ready to gobble them up.

Some creatures can sun themselves on a log and dive into the pond.  What are they?  Materials above and below the surface form homes for birds and larva.  Food is found around and in the pond by land and water dwellers; a moose munches and a beaver grabs.

New life above the pond is ready to take flight leaving the comfort of a nest.  Along the bottom of the pond tails turn into leaping limbs.  As the hours pass a bright sun is drifting downward, painting the sky with peaches and pinks.  Smooth, slow strokes with a paddle move a boat toward home and a restful evening as darkness dictates a new cadence for life in the watery world.


When you grow up and live in Michigan with parents and friends who enjoy the out-of-doors, you are likely to spend a great deal of time near or on the water.  After more hours than can be counted in a canoe, you are remarkably aware of the sensory perceptions experienced on the water.  Kate Messner depicts this with such clarity she transports you to the boat with the boy and his mother.

Her choice of words, splashing, sweeping, skim, loop, twirl, dart, rustle and shush, create scenes like the brush of a painter.  She easily moves us from the above to the below varying the length of the discussion to create a pace like a boat gliding over the water.  Sometimes one sentence for over the pond will be immediately followed by a sentence for under the pond.  Other times she will expand to two sentences followed by two sentences.  Then she will completely change it to multiple sentences followed by a single sentence.  Like life over and under the pond she shifts the cadence.  Here is a sample passage.

Over the pond, we lift and dip and pull past a row of painted turtles on a waterlogged tree.
        One-two-three-
they slip off and away-
splash-gurgle-sploosh!-under the pond.


When you first look at the opened, matching dust jacket and book case for this title you are soothed by the scene you see.  You can easily imagine holding your breath and swimming along the bottom of the pond over the sand and pebbles and through the grasses and reeds.  In your mind's eye the boat grows, but not too much, so you can carefully but still cozily, join the mother and son.  I don't know about you but I can feel the whisper of a breeze, hear the call of birds and gentle splashes as animals move over and under the pond.

Christopher Silas Neal's color palette of cool and calm hues, subdued but natural, are a perfect selection for this narrative.  On the opening and closing endpapers he has created a pattern of rows of silvery minnows.  The verso and title pages are a close-up of lilies and lily pads, a dragonfly and frog.

Nearly all of the images, rendered in mixed-media span two pages.  Neal repeatedly alters his perspective, giving us a panoramic view or zooms in.  We may see the world as passengers in a boat or as a turtle looking up at the boat from underneath the water.  Careful readers will observe the passage of time portrayed by the shades of the sky before the text draws our attention to the day's end.

One of my many favorite pictures is near the beginning of the book.  It's a close-up of the boy and his mother in the boat.  Their backs are to us as they look over the side of the boat.  Reeds and lily pads frame the water on the left and right.  You can see the shadow of a fish swimming.  The reflections of the people shimmer in front of them.  There is something extremely natural and personal about this moment in time.  It's about connections; mother to son, people to nature and us to both the people and nature.


If you want to feel the calm of spending a day on a pond, gliding over the water leisurely in a boat, quietly watching the animals and realizing how linked we are to one another, Over and Under the Pond written by Kate Messner with pictures by Christopher Silas Neal is a book for you.  It's a tribute to an ecosystem and a call to honor and protect it.  At the close of the book Kate Messner includes an author's note and small paragraphs about eighteen animals.  She supplies us with further reading choices and websites.

To learn more about Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Christopher Silas Neal maintains a Tumblr account. Kate Messner has created a Pinterest board for this book.

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