When you've grown up hearing anything worth doing is worth doing right it's hard not to strive toward perfection. You complete tasks over and over and over again, working toward the best possible outcome. There will come a time, hopefully sooner than later, when golden moments happen. In these instances it will dawn on you, whether it was planned or not, that you are standing in the midst of perfection.
For some the aim for perfection in one or more aspects of their lives becomes all-consuming. In her debut title, Grandmother Thorn (Ripple Grove Press, August 29, 2017), Katey Howes addresses this desire for flawlessness. Her wise, warm, and original tale is enhanced through the art of Rebecca Hahn.
lived in the very first house
on the very straight road
to Shizuka Village.
Day after day this woman worked in her gardens creating a visual masterpiece. Everything had a place and Grandmother Thorn made sure it remained. She tirelessly raked her paths in swirls, imitating the flow of water in a silent stream.
Grandmother Thorn valued peace and quiet and a supreme sense of order in her garden. If it was disturbed you could hear her voice rise in anger. The only person never to receive rebuke from her was her elderly friend, Ojiisan.
Regardless of the fact his body caused him to carry one shoulder lower and drag one foot as he walked, she only had a smile for this kind man. He often brought her sweet treats. After they spent time in quiet contentment in her garden, she re-raked her paths as he left.
During a particularly hot summer day, a traveling seller paused in the village. Ojiisan was thrilled with the taste of one particular item, insisting the last basket be taken to Grandmother Thorn. He did issue a warning for the young man to stand at her gate and not enter the garden.
The warning was ignored with disastrous results. Grandmother Thorn raced one way and the vendor raced the other way leaving the fruit scattered. This woman with meticulous intentions missed something.
Seasons passed and with them a struggle ensued between Grandmother Thorn and a strange prickly vine. It diminished her spirit. The return of spring revealed the work of a beloved friend and the marvelous resilience of a member of Mother Nature's family.
There are books you read when the connection is immediate. You know an author has put their heart on the pages. This is one of those books.
Katey Howes supplies us with intimate knowledge of Grandmother Thorn's personality. This is a wonderful piece of storytelling leading us to the friendship with Ojiisan and to the assault on the seedling she did not plant. In these contrasts Grandmother Thorn and readers can see the value in shifting perspective.
The dialogue woven into the narrative brings us deeper into its meaning. We get a true sense of the bond growing between Grandmother Thorn and Ojiisan. Here is a sample passage.
A week later, Ojiisan spotted his friend crouched in the same place.
"I must not have removed the entire root," she said, digging up the offending vine.
"I will certainly get it this time."
Each time Ojiisan visited, he found Grandmother Thorn more consumed by her battle
with the stubborn sprout. He began to worry.
At first glance our eyes are quickly drawn to the face of Grandmother Thorn on the opened dust jacket. We have questions about the expression on her face. What is she seeing? What is she hearing? What kind of woman is this Grandmother Thorn? A closer inspection reveals the array of patterned paper used and the tiny stitches on the branches. To the left, on the back, the tree extends over the spine and toward the top. Beneath the branches is the bench where she and Ojiisan sit and chat when he visits.
On the book case a third shade of teal, textured in appearance provides a canvas. On the front a hair comb worn by Grandmother Thorn near the conclusion is entwined with blossoms important to the story. The opening and closing endpapers are a series of rows of overlapping fan shapes. These shapes are a design theme throughout the title.
With a page turn a stunning panoramic, bird's eye view of the village with Grandmother Thorn's home supplies a place for the title page. Two cranes are flying from the left. The intricate and delicate details invite readers to stop and gaze in wonder.
Usually each image, painted, sewn and crafted by hand by Rebecca Hahn, each piece of art, spans two pages. Borders may frame one side in a scalloped edge or a series of panels to show the passage of time. You will be continuously amazed at the care taken in the stitching of certain elements. A muted, limited color palette is suggestive of gardens but also makes the use of red and some pink more effective. At the close of the book, the same picture for the title page is used for the dedication and publication information. Can you spot the difference?
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Grandmother Thorn needs to heal. She is resting in the home of her eldest niece, wrapped in a blanket. Her back is to us. We are looking through several doors at a landscape with her home, mountains and cascading waterfalls in the near distance. Ojiisan is in her garden. Four small folded cranes (wishes for healing) move from the text. One rests on top of Grandmother Thorn. The sides and foreground of this picture are done in shades of teal. The scene outside the home is done in the complete color used by Rebecca Hahn in this book.
This is a quiet but powerful look at how we should welcome another viewpoint of "perfection". It also reminds us we should never stop learning, regardless of our age. Grandmother Thorn written by Katey Howes with art by Rebecca Hahn is enchanting with a timeless quality to the story and in the exquisite pictures. I highly recommend it for your personal and professional bookshelves.
To learn more about Katey Howes and Rebecca Hahn please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names. Katey Howes has links to educator's guides here. You can view details from a few illustrations at the publisher's blog. Katey Howes wrote a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club and at ReFoReMo. She is interviewed on Karlin Gray's blog and at Writers' Rumpus. Rebecca Hahn is highlighted by author and teacher librarian Carter Higgins at Design of the Picture Book. Both Katey and Rebecca are interviewed at Let's Talk Picture Books.