Quote of the Month

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Have you noticed once July 4th has come and gone, retailers start to mark down all their summer furniture and lawn and garden accessories?  Within days the shelves are nearly empty.  Then they start to fill those vacant spaces....with back-to-school items.  Oh my goodness!  Summer is only officially two weeks old.  We still have seventy-nine days before autumn.

For students, some who only recently finished the past year, this can be a little stressful to observe.  They have to face the challenge another grade level brings after recently and finally finding comfort with the previous teacher, classmates and subjects.  Second Grade Holdout (Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, July 4, 2017), a companion title to First Grade Dropout, written by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Matthew Cordell is guaranteed to have readers nodding knowingly as they laugh out loud.

I was a lot of things in first grade.

Our narrator recalls the high (and not so high) points of grade one but the best one of all was sharing the school year with his best friend, Tyler.  Second grade promises to not be as great. His parents are not helping either.

One points out there won't be as many fun tasks assigned to students.  Learning will be his main job.  (What?!)  Since Tyler is going to be in the other second grade classroom he wants to switch.  This request meets with huge resistance.  His second brainstorm has him staying in first grade.

With loads of determination and ingenuity the reluctant guy is quick to reiterate all the wonders of repeating first grade.   

And I'll definitely be the one who's lost the most teeth.

A visit to the zoo is much more to his liking than a trip to the police station.  As Tyler's two sisters start to vocalize all the trouble second grade is, especially with his teacher, Mr. Glazer, panic fills his soul.

He must look ready to pass out because one of the sisters, Sabrina, adds another thing for him to consider.  Before two seconds have passed Jacqueline, the second sister, starts to tell Tyler all the things wrong with Mrs. Herman's class.  Will second grade be a disaster for both boys?  Pfff!

When Audrey Vernick writes about school related issues, friends and brothers and sisters, she does so with keen insight into their respective mindsets.  She understands their emotional highs and lows.  Each sentence (and one particular word) in this narrative connects us to the characters because regardless of finding the remarks hilarious, we have experienced similar situations.  Here is a sample passage.

Tyler's sisters say second grade is really hard.
And Mr. Glazer's class is hardest of all.
You have to learn the presidents by heart.
Forward AND backward.

You know, without a doubt, at first glance this guy from the first book is having issues again.  He's not happy at all to be moving from first grade to second grade.  Look at his face and body posture.  (I can't keep from laughing.)  To the left, on the back, a bird, flies across a partly sunny sky.  He has a totally glass-half-full attitude.

Second grade rules!

The opening and closing endpapers are a bright cobalt blue.  This supplies a pleasing contrast to the background on the matching dust jacket and book case. 

On the title page the text is still placed on the lined writing paper.  Our hesitant hero is now lying on his back holding the sign upright.  The illustrations rendered by Matthew Cordell in pen and ink with watercolor throughout this title are pure Cordell.

Loose lines, exquisite details, spot-on facial expressions and body postures and loads of humor fill his images.  In one picture Tyler is whistling.  Above him a bird is whistling the same two notes.  Matthew's interpretation of single words and phrases will have you laughing out loud.  For 

Unable to sit still
(according to Ms. Morgan)

our protagonist within a loose frame of black is acting like a showman in a song-and-dance routine, his desk and chair tipped to the side.  He has a top hat and a cane.  A distinctive finger (Ms. Morgan's?) is pointing at him.

The picture sizes vary in keeping with the text and the pacing.  Larger sizes convey emphasis. Smaller sizes depict a train of thought.  Toward the conclusion we move closer to the characters' faces building to an unexpected but quintessential scenario.

One of my many favorite pictures is when the main character is recalling his trip to the zoo in first grade.  He knows as a repeat first grade student he will win the scavenger hunt.  Shown on a single page, he is writing down an answer as he stands in front of the cage with a monkey.  He and the monkey are exchanging "thumbs up" and grinning.

Second Grade Holdout written by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Matthew Cordell is a back-to-school story brimming with comedy from a collaborative team with a winning combination of text and images.  They write and illustrate in the spirit of kids-at-heart.  You will certainly want a copy of this to pair with the first book in your professional collections.  I already have one for my personal collection.

To learn more about Audrey Vernick and Matthew Cordell and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Both Audrey and Matthew were interviewed at author James Preller's blog. 


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