For anyone living or visiting northern Michigan the beaches along the Great Lakes are a treasure trove of all forms, shapes and sizes of rocks. It is indeed the only place on earth to find the coveted Petoskey stone. In fact, you don't have to go very deep on any piece of property to find sand, gravel and rocks. Nearly daily I am unearthing rocks from walnut-sized to as large as a fist, mine and the Hulk's mighty clenched hand.
You find yourself wondering about the path taken by any single rock. From where did it originate? Is it part of a larger whole? How long has it been here? Was it present at a significant historic event? A Stone for Sascha (Candlewick Press, May 8, 2018) conceived and illustrated by Aaron Becker, without words, takes readers on a passage through time and discovery of self.
A beloved canine companion is dead. A girl morns the loss as the family lays the animal to rest near their home. Shortly thereafter they leave for their camping vacation; one member is absent this year.
Taking a bucket to the beach to the girl searches along the sand and notices another girl with another dog. As dusk blankets the area that night, a cosmic crack gives us a vision into the past. In the time of dinosaurs a meteor strikes the planet; later large portions of it are found by early people. It is taken from place to place and eventually appears as a carved monolith. Kingdoms and wars cause it to be broken and transported in pieces to other locations.
As a keystone it survives decades of time to be formed later into a precious and intricate work of art. It is a gift. It is plunder. It is lost. When finally found time has smoothed its edges and size to fill a hole in a saddened heart. It becomes . . .
The beauty of this book, beside the glorious illustrations and profound story, is it will resonate differently with each reader. It, like the stone, will heal and connect us to something larger than ourselves. We will, thanks to the imagination and perception of Aaron Becker, take with us in the visual reading of this narrative a greater understanding of the passage of time, life and death. We are all in this together.
When you open the dust jacket you see the girl gazing at the lake from the beach at her camp site. Standing next to the bucket of rocks, she holds her golden treasure. The flow of the complimentary colors is soothing to the soul, allowing us to feel a similar peace she now perceives. To the left, on the back, on a canvas of light royal blue, is the ornate carved golden chest from ancient times.
The book case covered in a darker textured blue is bare except for the center of the front. A golden dog tag, heart-shaped, inscribed with the word
holds this spot. The text on the spine is also embossed in gold. The opening and closing endpapers are two different maps, chronicling the journey of the stone. Aaron Becker includes dates and place names.
On the title page a framed photograph of the girl and Sascha seated together is centered between the text. The girl is hugging the dog as the dog leans into her. The dedication and verso are placed on a two-page breathtaking illustration (all the illustrations are painted digitally) of the girl picking flowers to put on the dog's grave. Her family watches in the distance.
A blend of small images on white, single-page visuals framed in white or placed edge to edge, and grand two-page illustrations fill our eyes with wonder. To delineate the passage of time a series of vertical or horizontal panels are designed to cover one page. Aaron's realistic colors are muted, softened, to take us back in time and to supply a specific emotion. To accentuate meaning, his point of view shifts, bringing us very close to the moment.
One of my many favorite pictures is of the girl on the beach on their arrival at the camp site. The curve of the water meeting the sand is a partial oval in front of her. Behind her the bucket is overflowing with stones as she reaches into the water for another one. To her left in the back is another group of campers. Although she is reaching into the water, she head is lifted up and to the right. A girl runs along the beach carrying a disc as her dog runs along with her. A beach volleyball game is in the background. Amid all this activity her thoughts are drawn to Sascha. (One key technique to note is Aaron places yellow in every picture tying places and time together.)
There is hardly a reader who has not experienced the loss of a beloved family member, friend or cherished animal companion. This book, A Stone for Sascha conceived and illustrated by Aaron Becker, gives solace. Through his perspectives we are able to find our own. I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.
To learn more about Aaron Becker and his other work please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and Tumblr pages. Aaron visits super school librarian Travis Jonker's website, 100 Scope Notes at School Library Journal, to chat about this book. I believe you will appreciate the video. The cover for this book is premiered at All The Wonders. At publishers' websites, Penguin Random House and Candlewick Press you can view interior images. Candlewick Press also has a Q and A with Aaron. Enjoy the other videos.
A Stone for Sascha - official trailer from Aaron Becker on Vimeo.