Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Birds Have The Words

About the same time birds were returning to herald in spring this year, two books were released with our feathered friends as central characters.  Each of these books uses text sparingly but to great advantage.  Highly expressive illustrations in each reflect and extend meaning.

Up! Tall! and High! (but not necessarily in that order.) (G. P. Putnam's Sons) is written and illustrated by Ethan Long.  Three short tales tell of birds wondering about who's the tallest, who can fly the highest and who would rather be up than down.  The technique of surprise is used in all the stories.

In the first one bird is quite proud of his height until another comes along. To his chagrin this bird is taller.  Then readers see a long, long leg extending off the page with the attached foot placed squarely between these two.  Clearly this newest member is taller.  But is he really tall or rather small or...POOF?  POOF???

Next we see a quartet of these winged beauties gathered, testing their flying abilities.  The problem is one of the group is a penguin.  His sadness is alleviated as he is elevated by a brilliant idea.  After all, what are friends for?

The final story has a small bird resting in the top of a small tree.  Along comes a much larger bird who also wishes to be up among those upper branches.  With a flap of his wings he is there but wait...oh, oh...  Up or down, it's good to have help around.

Ethan Long is short on words but tall on repetition, rhyme and rhythm.  Even without the illustrations the snap, vigor and humor of his language choices soar off the pages.  The final sentence in each ties everything together with warmth and a sense of accomplishment.

Drawing in ink and brush, Long then scanned in and colored his illustrations digitally.  The endpapers introduce the stories' characters as they parade across the pages.  Stick legs, round wide eyes, infectious grins, a slight shift in facial features and those delightfully shaped bodies in bold, complimentary colors burst with emotion.  Sturdy, shiny paper with flaps invite participation until the closing endpapers picturing the gang taking a bow as they leave.

Ethan Long has created a book for all ages where smiling is not an option, laughter is guaranteed.  All you have to do is open the cover of Up! Tall! and High! (but not necessarily in that order.) to enter his particular view of words we use everyday.  Please follow the link embedded in his name above to go to his website.  There you will find fun activities for kids and informative videos about his books and his art.

More (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children) written by I. C. Springman with illustrations by Brian Lies is an inspiring fable, a glimpse of what could be, should be.  Magpies, a part of the Crow family, are known to be an intelligent bird, with similar habits; collecting or attraction to shiny objects.  Mice, on the other hand, seem to make do with what is at hand. (as evidenced by their occupation in various parts of my garage and basement from time to time)

Endpapers looking much like brown-toned, textured grass paper begin and end this story.  Turning to the title and verso readers can see the beginning pictured before them, a tall tree, branch extended, with a mouse peering into a nest as a magpie bends toward the branch.  Single words start the narrative.

A few,
and more
and more.

These first words are spread through eight pages as we watch how a single gift, a marble, from the mouse to the magpie becomes a collection obsession.  All to soon one nest is not enough.  Eight more are filled to overflowing.

The mouse pleads with the magpie, enough is enough.  A habit once formed is hard to break.  The weight of magpie's wanting is almost his undoing.

I. C. Springman takes forty-five words, carefully chosen words, to guide readers through magpie's desire to have not what he needs but what he wants.  Her text, in and of itself, is the lesson she wishes magpie and her readers to learn, less is truly more.  In the end, giving is receiving.

Using acrylic paint and colored pencils on handmade paper, Brian Lies wraps and weaves his realistic, rich illustrations around the text.  How he chooses to depict or interpret a word is exquisite.  For the very first word, Nothing, he places it in the upper left-hand corner of the creamy blank two page spread, picturing the lone magpie head bowed in the lower right-hand corner.

He alters the size of his visuals on pages or within panels, along with the focus.  At times we see a wide view, at others a close-up such as only the magpie's feet with some treasures in his nest.  His details are nearly photographic.  He adds personality to the mouse and magpie with extra touches, a piece missing from the mouse's ear, a band about the magpie's leg.  They are both irresistible.

According to an interview here readers gain a greater understanding of the ideas which prompted both I. C. Springman and Brian Lies to combine their efforts in More.  Oh, yes, you come away knowing the difference between nothing, something, more, less, plenty or enough but what's important is you realize their significance in our individual lives and how it impacts others.  At Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Brian Lies shares more of the process for his artwork in this title.

I highly recommend both these books, definitely as a read alouds, for one-on-one and as great discussion starters.  And for some inexplicable reason these two titles started this song playing in my head.  Perhaps, because the words and illustrations in each of them are so upbeat, so perfectly perfect.

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