Quote of the Month

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

Monday, July 3, 2017


Regardless of the natural disaster it rebuilds.  It does not happen overnight but over time.  Little by little, day by day it grows until it becomes visible. As long as there is the hope of life, life continues.  What appears fragile and in a delicate balance acts through incredible strength and adaptability.

All lives undergo change but there are things in the world which are constant; sustaining each step taken.  Life (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, June 27, 2017) written by Newbery Medalist (Missing May) Cynthia Rylant with illustrations by Caldecott Honoree (They All Saw A Cat) Brendan Wenzel reminds us of the splendor to be found in the glorious thing we call life.  This book, like life, is beautiful to behold.

Life begins small.

Even for the largest of beings, it begins small.  What starts tiny does necessarily stay this way; it becomes larger and larger like elephants.  As these things grow they all do so under the same sky with the same sun, same moon and same stars.

Each living being enjoys certain aspects of life more than others.  It all depends on whom or what is answering the question.  For some the sky is far grander than sand or grass or water.

Within this marvelous thing we call life, dark times will come.  These times are hard to navigate.  They seem to go on and on with no end in sight but light finds a way.  This light can reveal a new direction, a new path to follow.

We are asked to reflect on several undeniable facts; there are always those to love and to protect.  If a day should come when we look around and do not see all that life lays before us, we should stop.  We should watch the animals who endure despite change.  They understand change is the heartbeat of life.

There are certain picture books we keep near to us to read and reread; each one for a particular purpose.  The words in this title penned by Cynthia Rylant read like a morning prayer to begin a day.  Each line is full of truth and gratitude.

One constant woven throughout the lyrical narrative is the word grows.  It ties the different portions together; beginning small, what animals love about life, the troubles which darken life and some which open doorways to new directions, and looking to animals for answers. Each carefully chosen word works together to supply a sense of peace.  Here is a sample passage.

The turtle may remain quiet.
It has seen much in its hundred years.
But the turtle loves life.  How could it not,
with so much rain on its back? 

Beneath the full moon and stars the lush forest along the river teems with life on the matching dust jacket and book case.  Careful readers will spy several animals hidden in the greenery framing the title text.  If you run your hands over the front of the dust jacket portions are varnished and others, the flora, are matte-finished and slightly raised.  To the left, on the back, the sun is shining in a partly cloudy sky over mountain peaks with plants beginning to grow along the bottom.

The opening and closing endpapers are a star-studded sky; a constant in our ever-changing world.  On the title page we see a two-page image.  It's night with the starry sky mirrored in a pond surrounded by rocky hills.  A small animal swimming in the water looks upward.

Brendan Wenzel uses white space to great effect on those pages with smaller illustrations.  They are all loosely framed but other elements appear on the sides, bottom and top.  Sometimes entire scenes appear in miniature along the bottom.  In one particular visual items drift from the frame across the white space on two pages.  For dramatic effect two pages are used in great panoramic views.  Readers will definitely pause to enjoy the numerous intricate details.  Is there a reason one special bird is colored blue?

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Beneath the ocean surface a pod of whales is sleeping.  Schools of small fishes move about them.  Air bubbles rise to the surface.  A small seal swims upward to the sunlight.  Mulan's favorite illustration is of a dog sitting on a woodland path holding a stick in its mouth, looking directly at the reader.  A tunnel is fashioned from the overhead branches.  Sunlight streams behind the dog.  Ferns and an assortment of leaves pattern the forest floor.

You will want to read Life written by Cynthia Rylant with illustrations by Brendan Wenzel several times for the sheer joy of it.  The blend of text and images creates a comforting blanket of calm.  As a read aloud, it would be wonderful to ask listeners to name what individual animals love about life before asking them what they love about life.  Every bookshelf needs to have a copy of this book.

To discover more about Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images. Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson features images on her blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Dylan Teut, the director of the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival in Seward, Nebraska, interviews Cynthia Rylant on his blog, Mile High Reading.

1 comment:

  1. So behind with your reviews, Margie--I can't keep up :). I LOVE Brendan Wenzel's art, and have long been a fan. This cover is stunning & it sounds like my kind of book--can't wait to read it!!