Quote of the Month

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

Friday, February 8, 2019

Of Pasta, Pachyderms and Power

Pasta is one of those wholly sensory words.  Whether you see the word or forms of pasta, hear it spoken, smell it cooking or served, taste it in its many shapes and sizes and in an array of combinations with other ingredients or touch it, cooked or uncooked, it generates an emotion.  It calls forth memories.  It transports us to other places and other times or inspires future culinary endeavors.

One thing pasta might have never done before is encourage resistance.  Noodlephant (Enchanted Lion Books, February 12, 2019) written by Jacob Kramer with illustrations by K-Fai Steele shows readers how a love of pasta provides a persistent elephant and her group of friends with necessary courage.  Their inventiveness triumphs!

Once there was an elephant who loved noodles.  She loved noodles so much that all her friends called her Noodlephant.

As you can imagine an elephant can consume quite a bit of noodles.  This elephant had all kinds of neighbors in the community where she lived.  One group, though, was unlike any of the others.  The kangaroos regulated relentlessly through their rules.  No one could enjoy the beach, Butterfly Garden or make laws, but kangaroos.

Noodlephant and her buddies knew this was not right, but they compensated with other activities.  They did not want to end up as residents of the Zoo.  The event they all enjoyed the most was Noodlephant's pasta parties.  Sometimes she even used her grandmother's secret sauce recipe made with mushrooms.

A pasta party was planned and Noodlephant was grocery shopping when a kangaroo stopped her.  She was breaking a new law.  Elephants could not eat noodles, only kangaroos could eat noodles.  The penalty was imprisonment in the Zoo.  At the party that evening the consuming of acacia branches was not delicious, it was a disaster.  Contemplating this state of affairs and her bellybutton, Noodlephant was struck with a brainstorm.

This pachyderm and her pals got right to work.  They conceived, they collected, and they constructed a marvelous machine.  No one, certainly not the kangaroos, was going to take away the joy they found in Noodlephant's pasta parties. Those wily kangaroos raided their party!

It did not go well for Noodlephant in the courtroom.  Worried for her well-being, her friends found a way to smuggle help into the Zoo.  The Town of Rooville had never seen before what happened next.  When many minds and hearts act as one, change will arrive.  The Town of Rooville was never the same.

Readers are initially engaged in the story with the three noticeable things the community is not allowed to do and the three things they do instead.  It's the strength of three in storytelling.   The word play, the use of alliteration and puns, by author Jacob Kramer additionally involve us in the rhythm they supply.  There is a pleasing and flawless blend of narrative and dialogue placing emphasis on important portions of the story.  We want to join in the community songs and speeches by Noodlephant, quatrains with rhyming couplets.  Here are two passages.

"Ummm," said Noodlephant, trying to stay calm, "I was thinking of a fresh batch of fettuccine?
Maybe curly cavatappi would be nice.  Or I could stretch a tangle of tagliatelle . . ."

As she was being led away, Noodlephant shouted,

Justice is for all of us,
Not just for the bossiest.
And though right now, it sounds absurd
One day, you'll want to eat your words!

If you love any kind of pasta you will immediately identify with the image of Noodlephant on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  Look at the happiness on her face! Look at the size of that bowl of noodles!  Do you notice the design on the bowl?

To the left on the back, with the same canvas shades in peach and pink, a stern kangaroo is searching in his rule book (or writing a ticket for infractions) and wearing a stick around his waist.  Framing him is a series of seven different pasta meals with noodles ribboned between most of them.  The serving dishes are varied, too.

On the opening and closing endpapers artist K-Fai Steele has painted in black and white (and hues of gray) a map of the Town of Rooville with a visible distinction on the closing endpapers.  Around a steaming plate of pasta labeled Exhibit B beneath the text on the title page are the same pasta dishes as seen on the back of the jacket and case.  Readers will smile to see the tip of an elephant trunk appearing on the right side.

Rendered in watercolor all the illustrations are fully animated and filled with details asking readers to pause.  The expressive eyes and body postures convey joy, rudeness, dismay, fear, sadness, resolve, anger, kindness and contentment.  The image sizes shift from full-page, to double-page to small vignettes on a single page; each contributing to pacing.  The alternating points-of-view assist in emphasis.

One of my many favorite pictures spans two pages.  It is a forest scene with a pathway winding through leafy branches, trees and tree trunks.  Another trunk extends from the left side as Noodlephant seeks and sniffs out a singular ingredient.  Mushrooms, looking like morels, are growing from the forest floor on the right.  There is something wonderful and funny about this pictorial moment.

This book, Noodlephant written by Jacob Kramer with illustrations by K-Fai Steele, is in a category all by itself.  It's about making necessary changes.  It's about speaking out against injustice.  It's about a love of pasta, too.  You could pair this with other pasta books like Strega Nona for a delicious story time and a comparison.  It would be a great companion for The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet if seeking to stress the value of making your voice heard.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

If you wish to discover more about Jacob Kramer and K-Fai Steele and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Both Jacob Kramer and K-Fai Steele have accounts on Twitter. K-Fai Steele has an account on Instagram.  The cover reveal with a Q & A is found on teacher librarian Travis Jonker's 100 Scope Notes, School Library Journal.  Jacob Kramer and K-Fai Steele visit with author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to discuss process and art.  You can view more interior illustrations at the publisher's website.

Noodlephant — Book Trailer from Enchanted Lion on Vimeo.

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