Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Creeping, Crawling...Then Taking Flight

Bill Martin Jr. is a household name in the field of children's books.  His Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? was the springboard for three additional similar titles.  His collaboration with author/illustrator Lois Ehlert on Chicka Chick Boom Boom, garnered the duo numerous awards.

Once again they have paired to produce a picture perfect title, Ten Little Caterpillars.

With every other line rhyming Martin created counting verses with a catchy cadence.  Readers follow each of these ten caterpillars into their habitats of flowers, fruits, vegetables, a pool, weeds and even the sea matched by close encounters with fowl, fish and feathered friends of the backyard, woods and field.  They are never idle, always in motion; crawling, wriggling, climbing, falling or scaling.  When the number ten is reached that little caterpillar hangs in stillness awaiting the change the spring will bring---miraculous metamorphosis.

Lois Ehlert is without a doubt the reigning queen of collage.  Before beginning her illustrations she immerses herself in the subject; she walks, wanders and observes absorbing textures, colors and individualistic details. 

The three word title, Ten Little Caterpillars, is immediately elevated to the potential for exceptional possibilities with the cover illustration of ten different caterpillars merrily munching around the heart-shaped leaf.  The hue and feel of the leaf is carried to the endpapers.  The body of the book bears her bold, bright realistically shaded watercolor images meticulously layered.

Ehlert's interpretation of the text is to give readers a tour of the flora and fauna as if it is a biological/botanical collection spread before them delicately labeled.  One of my favorite illustrations is of the line:  The fifth little caterpillar sailed a garden pool.  She choose to picture maple leaves colored by fall floating across the pool; a caterpillar atop one gliding along. 

At the book's end she shows the passage of time with three separate two page spreads of the same apple tree branch in summer, fall and then spring. 

Ehlert extends the narrative by closing with the number, caterpillar, its eating habits and the winged beauty each becomes.  She is ever the educator making information accessible to younger readers.

The work of Bill Martin, Jr. has been continued since his passing in 2004 by Michael Sampson a long-time collaborator.  Ten Little Caterpillars brings together two of the best in the world of children's literature.  It is a gem to be treasured.

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