Quote of the Month

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

Monday, July 2, 2012

Eyes On Africa

Our planet is indeed expansive but for many of her creatures what once was wild and free is becoming increasingly smaller.  Without education, keeping informed, how will those of us who should be stewards understand what needs to be done?  In his third book, Crocodile's Tears (Abrams Books for Young Readers), set in Africa, author/illustrator Alex Beard takes readers on a journey to find an answer to a very specific question.

Rhino with Tickbird perched upon his back sees Crocodile on the riverbank tears falling from his eyes.  Rhino wonders,

"Why is Crocodile crying?" 

Tickbird, well aware of the threat of approaching Crocodile, advises them to seek the advice of a golden eagle. 

Although able to see farther from above than most and known for his wisdom, golden eagle avoids crocodiles.  His suggestion is perhaps Crocodile misses the sound of elephants trumpeting.   The pair of seekers finds a lone bull elephant and again ask their question.

From the huge elephant to a tiny, singing tree frog to a fluttering, vivid blue butterfly to a graceful, elegant giraffe and to the gone-in-a-flash cheetah each gives a reply leading to another until cheetah proposes it might be because of the loss of land upon which to run and roam.  Rhino and Tickbird can not very well ask the land so a passing Ostrich listens to the question and all the possible reasons Crocodile might be shedding tears.  Of course Ostrich promptly did what ostriches do best...stuck his head in the sand.

Once again the two companions find themselves back at the river.  In his search for the truth Rhino ignores Tickbird's cautionary words.  Readers and Rhino get more answers than expected in a couple of surprising twists.

Using a well-known folktale technique, the circle story, Beard covers a wide range of African land types and creatures native to those areas.  As each animal is questioned their answers are not only a reflection of the beauty of each but also of the danger the specie faces. A repetition of similar phrases is an invitation to listen and remember.

Alex Beard has a very distinctive artistic style; known as the creator of Abstract Naturalism.  Using pen and ink and watercolor his illustrations have a geometric quality reminiscent of the symmetry found throughout the natural world.  This particular title is a stunning work of art from cover to cover using an array of colors evoking all that is Africa.

Heavy white paper provides the canvas for his pictures beginning with endpapers zooming in on the Crocodile's scales.  The remainder of the visuals spread across two pages representing the immenseness of the continent.  Although the illustrations bleed to the edges, Beard uses a heavy black line to draw attention to the center of each, creating one and two inch frames along the outside.  The trumpeting elephants, singing tree frogs and giraffes crossing the savanna in the hot sun are my three favorite illustrations; simply wonderful.

Having traveled to locales as portrayed in Crocodile's Tears, Alex Beard beautifully captures the essence of the animals instilling in the reader the need to protect, conserve and preserve.  Beard offers explanations and insights in his Author's Note and Glossary of Animals.  At nearly any age level this title is a fable to be heard offering numerous additional educational opportunities. 

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