Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Slow But Sure And Steady

When your younger sister is obsessed with turtles, they become a part of your life.  You begin to see turtles in every shape and size imaginable wherever you go; made from paper, stone, glass, wood, metal, gems, cloth, plants or a combination of materials.  No turtle is ever left by the side of the road to wander and possibly be hit by a car.  You stop and move it far away before proceeding to your destination.

You also find yourself, as an adult, turtle sitting a large box turtle when said sister goes on a trip.  Before you know it, you become attached to this guy as it follows you around the room.  And contrary to popular belief, they can move quickly when necessary.

Unlike my sister sometimes humans' interest in their turtle companions may not be as constant; having high points and low points in their friendship.  Alfie (The turtle that disappeared) (Abrams Books for Young Readers, October 3, 2017) written by Thyra Heder is a straight-to-your-heart charming story of giving and gifts.  Friendship can and does mean different things to each individual in the relationship.

On my sixth birthday, I got Alfie.

At the shop this little girl is told the turtle is about six years old, too.  They have something in common.  Alfie does not move much even when meeting all of his human's stuffed animal friends and toys or even when she teaches him her dance moves.  He is quiet when she leaves him little presents.  He seems to enjoy being inside his shell.

She continues to talk with him about her day to day activities and shares her most successful jokes with Alfie until she starts to forget about him for a little bit.  It's not until her seventh birthday she remembers him.  She is shocked to discover Alfie is missing.

Nia, as Alfie tells us, is a very special girl.  He feels calm in her home even though it

tickled my toes.

He is thrilled with all her friends and the presents she gives him.  He is determined to make Nia as happy as she makes him.  It's not until before her seventh birthday party when she is talking with him, a plan forms in his mind.  He has to find her the perfect present.

Alfie looks low and low but nothing is to be found.  It isn't until he chats with Toby, the family dog; he realizes he needs to go outside.  This is a whole new adventure filled with tricky feats, explorations and some shocking surprises.  The seasons shift.  Alfie is cold.  He still has not discovered what he needs for Nia.  A friendly snail offers advice as old as time.  It makes all the difference.

When you read the sentences written by Thyra Heder she takes you with intention into the character's point of view.  In the first part of her story the little girl is speaking.  Her observations are beautifully those of a child her age.  Her affection for Alfie is never in doubt regardless of his response.  Each part of her personality and daily activities is shared with him.

In a brilliant piece of storytelling Thyra Heder alters the point of view to Alfie.  All the things Nia talks about doing with him are seen through a turtle's perspective.  We are privy to his reasoning for the grand escape.  What he does in the outside world and the result are sheer wonder and perfectly, magically possible.  Here is a comparison of the two points of view.

I introduced him to everyone.

I taught him my wiggle dance and made him presents,
but he didn't seem to notice.

Nia taught me to dance!  I practiced wiggling inside my shell.
She gave me presents!  I had never been given presents.

Rendered in ink and watercolor all the illustrations are glorious.  On the opened dust jacket the home for Alfie stretches across the spine and to the edge of the back on the left.  There we see several stones, one partially submerged, another totally under water and one with a smiley face drawn on it.  A small seashell has been placed in his tank, too.  On the front the interpretation of Nia and Alfie looking out at readers, both through the glass but one on the outside and the other on the inside, is wonderful.  The homemade lettering made by Nia for his tank gently hangs for the title.

On the book case entirely in white we see a small Alfie in black on the right and the left.  On the first he is being held up by a balloon with the number six.  On the back he is resting on the ground.  Another balloon with a surprising number is tied to him.  The opening and closing endpapers are a close-up of the patterned rug in Nia's home.  The endpapers at the close include an additional element, hinting at Alfie's perspective.

On the title page we are brought near to Alfie as he sits on a rock.  His name hangs above him with the subtitle beneath it.  The images created by Thyra Heder for this title are brimming with delicate details.  Her pictures fill single pages, are grouped together on a single page, or span across two pages to accentuate a particular portion of the plot.  As she did on the book case, white space supplies a canvas for small black visuals at turning points.  Another important item is the heavy, matte-finished paper in this title.  This heightens the illustrative medium bringing softness to the pictures.

When the point of view in the narrative shifts so too does the illustrative perspective.  Readers will want to notice the significance of the balloons.  There is gentle humor and affection in other details; where Toby is looking in the snow and the snow sculpture Nia is making.

There are many, many wonderful images in this book.  One of my favorite pictures is when Alfie sees Nia for the first time.  She is looking through the glass with the label


which is backwards to us.  Her beautiful face is framed on the right by a portion of the balloon with the number six.  Her eyes are wide and full of happiness.  Alfie has his back to us.  We only see about half of his shell.  His head is lifted and looking at this new girl.

There are those extraordinary books you love the very first time you read them.  Alfie (The turtle that disappeared) written and illustrated by Thyra Heder is one of them.  This is a book to be enjoyed for the wonderful story of affection seen from two perspectives.  It will fill your heart with total joy.  It will surely be requested as a read aloud again and again.  I highly recommend this for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Thyra Heder and her other work, please follow the links attached to her name.  She has a website and a Tumblr account.  At the publisher's website you can scroll through interior images including my favorite one.

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