Our days are filled with music; a combination of sounds expressing a mood, signaling a form of communication or announcing the existence of things outside our immediate realm. These melodies can remind us of a particular place, a significant event or a specific individual. They are the heartbeat of life all around us.
During the course of history instruments were made as a result of the desire for a unique sound; many a reflection of the culture from which they came. Each one contributes to the body of beauty we call music. The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling (Candlewick Press, January 10, 2017) written and illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering depicts the power of notes laden with emotion.
Captain Alfred was sailing home. On his little boat, there were new ducks for his farm and, nestled safe inside his fiddle case, a precious gift for his wife.
This gift sitting on a bed of soft hay was an egg, a duck egg waiting to crack open. Alfred spoke to the egg as if bestowing a blessing and gave it a name---Alfred Fiddleduckling. Unbeknownst to the captain a storm was brewing, a storm with a frightening capacity for damage.
The howling winds and towering waves lasted for an hour until as suddenly as it came, it left. In its place was an eerie calm shrouded in fog. This fog extended over the water to land where a kind and tender soul, a woman, waited anxiously for her captain, their dog and the ducks.
In the safety of the fiddle case, a new life emerged. Alfred Fiddleduckling was lonely until he spied an object floating in the water. It did not respond to him but he hugged it with all his might bringing it close to his newborn heart. As his wing stroked it, Alfred was stunned by the notes. It was love at first sight and sound.
Alfred paddled and played and paddled and played until his feet found something other than water...it was land! On this land a large and fearsome thing followed the music and its response to Alfred was astonishing. On this land a kind and tender soul heard the faint sound coming from the thing as the duck and beast lost hope of being found. Three joyful beings burst with happiness and the duck made the object sing across the land and out over the water. And...it was heard.
Like the notes singing from a violin the words written by Timothy Basil Ering wind across the pages, blending to cast a magical spell. We feel a kinship with this violin-playing captain and the love he has for his wife and animal friends. When the duckling hatches this kinship we have for the captain is quickly transferred to Alfred Fiddleduckling.
Short profound sentences take us to emotional and geographical places. There is some dialogue carefully placed to bind us further to the characters and story. Here are two sample passages.
They had landed at a very mysterious place.
Alfred held the object close.
"Don't be afraid," he said.
And in a few moments,
the soft, comforting sounds
All the images rendered in acrylic paint on paper with ink, charcoal, and graphite beckon to readers beginning with the book case. If you run your fingers over the front and spine you will be rewarded with a variety of textures. The egg, cracks in the egg and title text are raised. The multi-colored fabric sewn to the spine is thick like denim with heavier threads. To the left on the back, amid a canvas of gray fog stands the duckling, forlorn in his lonely state.
The opening endpapers are awash in a warm sunrise spreading over the marshy landscape with cattails reaching toward the sky. It begins on the left close to us and stretches to a panoramic view on the right. The closing endpapers take us to the cottage with a conclusion sure to fill readers' hearts with total joy and satisfaction.
Timothy Basil Ering varies his picture sizes; small images on a single page, single page illustrations and some covering two pages. As this story takes place on or near the water, he uses shades of blue, green and gray liberally in his pictures but other elements are done in full color. Bright swirls in an array of hues represent the musical notes.
His visuals are brimming with emotion (every brush stroke and line); the fear of the storm, the worry of the wife, the loneliness and passion of the duckling, the humor of the dog and the pure love between all of them. His shifts in perspective are stunning. On two of the pages line drawings over the other pictures convey utter bliss.
One of my favorite of several pictures is when the duckling feels something other than water under his feet. He is in a wetland off the ocean. The shallow water is not quite up to his little body. The predominant colors are shades of blue and green with gray. He is peering into the water looking at his feet standing on a sandbar. His wings are outstretched for balance, one holds his precious object. Its neck, like his, is dipping beneath the surface.
Time and time again the beauty one has for life is transferred to another in the most surprising ways. The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling written and illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering is one of those stories. The artwork and text lift this book into the world of wonder. It's a radiant example of "what if". You will want this book on your professional and personal bookshelves.
If you would like to see an interior image from this book, please visit the publisher's website. Scholastic Teacher Notes for this title are here. An older series of video interviews of Timothy Basil Ering can be found at Reading Rockets. Teacher librarian and author Carter Higgins interviews Ering on her blog, Design of the Picture Book. You learn quite a bit about his process for this title. Enjoy the videos.