Quote of the Month

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

Monday, July 16, 2012

Free To Be

Sometimes it's hard to point out the obvious.  Sometimes it's hard to do what you want to do.  Sometimes it's not easy to laugh at your flaws.  Sometimes children are so much better at this than adults.

Imagine, if you will, an inanimate object, with the will of a child bent on saying whatever it wants, urging someone else to do the right thing, finding someone with the same sense of free spirit.  Author/illustrator, Frank W. Dormer, has grown such an item in the inventive ground of his mind.  His The Obstinate Pen (Henry Holt and Company) has an agenda of its own and nothing is going to stop it.

Uncle Flood unwrapped his new pen and laid it on the desk. 
It promptly stood at attention.
Uncle Flood shivered with delight.

Uncle Flood fancies himself a purveyor of truth, shouting for quiet at his nephew Horace, before he begins to write.  Pen to paper he starts.  What appears on the paper is not

The following story is all true.
You have a BIG nose. 

Three times Uncle Flood attempts to complete his sentence but each time, to his disgust the pen maligns his physical appearance.  So out the window it flies promptly landing on Officer Wonkle's person.  Each time Office Wonkle tries to write sweet Miss Glenda Weeble a ticket the pen tells him, in no uncertain terms, to kiss her. 

Landing in the street after Office Wonkle gives it a toss, Mrs. Norkham Pigeon-Smythe has her chauffeur, Druthers, fetch it out of the tire of her car where it has lodged.  She is so delighted with the unconventional, outrageous statements the pen makes, she encases it in glass.  The pen would rather be free; escaping to be found by none other than Horace.

Without the presence of Uncle Flood hovering, Horace looks the pen over carefully, admiring it's finer points.  The park provides the perfect place to pursue one's passion.  And that's exactly what the pen and Horace do.

Frank W. Dormer's characters have been given names right out of the "Quirky, Wacky Dictionary of Names" designed to create a buoyancy to the tale. Word choice combined with pacing give a rhythm readers enjoy reading in their minds or aloud with others.  Insightful and unexpected responses written by the pen generate smiles galore.

Dormer's preferred medium of pen and ink with watercolor shines in this title with loose-lined drawings that flow with the story, colored in a soft palette.  His beginning endpapers show a wall lined with pictures done in shades of light blue but when readers turn to the back those endpapers have been altered to reflect the pen breaking out.  A nighttime scene on the title page shows the pen still in a store window aglow. 

Added details in his illustrations extend the narrative beyond the text; the old style telephone converted into a lamp (a personal piece of his own), all the pen portraits on the wall of Uncle Flood's study, and the placement of frogs in some of the illustrations.  Facial expressions on each of the characters convey anger, frustration, shyness, surprise, delight and finally satisfaction to a  "T"; noses standing out on each. The feeling of fun for the sake of fun permeates each and every one.

One determined writing utensil has his way during this particular day as The Obstinate Pen written and illustrated by Frank W. Dormer is presented to readers with much humor and perhaps, some advice.  Follow this link to see eight illustrations from this book posted at Macmillan.  At the Get To The Point blog, part of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, check out this the inside scoop on Frank W. Dormer's work space and some information about his drawing.  Read this interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast about all the steps to making The Obstinate Pen.

Points to Ponder
It might be fun to compare this with The Little Red Pen by Susan Stevens Crummel with illustrations by Janet Stevens.  Or perhaps as a writing exercise students could have the pen visit another character before found by Horace, giving them a special name with the pen writing more hilarious sentences.
Did the pen find Horace or did Horace find the pen?
Why did Horace do something different with the pen?

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