Quote of the Month

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

Monday, October 1, 2012

El Lugar Tranquilo

Up until college I never had to make new friends or be in unfamiliar surroundings.  After graduation seeking a position lead to moving more than once; four new school districts, communities, neighborhoods, colleagues and friends.  As an adult I had to abandon my shyness letting my passion for what I do take over.  Knowing this I can understand how hard it must be for someone coming into a new country, a strange culture and learning another language when they are young.

How a child adjusts to new circumstances is dependent on support of family, their new school environment, teachers and classmates and, in some instances, the power of imagination.  At times they (we) may dream of a more comfortable spot.  In the newest collaboration by Sarah Stewart and David Small, The Quiet Place (Farrar Straus Giroux, September 18, 2012), a little girl creates her own kind of beauty in her new home.

It is mid-spring in the year 1957.  Isabel, her older brother, Chavo, with her mother and father have left Mexico for the United States to live in a city near Lake Michigan.  In a series of letters, so she can practice her English, she writes back home to her Aunt Lupita, a school teacher.

She recounts the landscape in her journey, of making snow angels in a late winter snow and how speaking and reading Spanish makes her feel safe. Understandably, she is shy at school and although her teacher does not speak her language, she welcomes Isabel with a smile.  Something wonderful happens, too.

Her father buys a refrigerator and gives Isabel the box; her own sanctuary for writing letters and keeping her books.  Even a sudden rainstorm cannot discourage her quest for boxes. Every time her mother cooks for children's birthday parties is a new opportunity to bring home one of those cozy cubbies.

Her supportive family helps and allows her creativity to flower; a single room grows to many.  Each celebration leads to another until it is Isabel's special day.  Gifts of words, the practice of writing, paint, paper, pencil and perseverance are reflected in Isabel's joyful one-of-a-kind quiet place.

Twelve letters sent to Mexico, concise, conversational thoughts filled with emotion, convey to readers the true ups and downs felt by a child trying to fit into one life while longing for her old one.  We journey with her, seeing a blending of the two worlds, past with the present.  Sarah Stewart writes as if her heart is the heart of this young girl.

Words are carefully chosen, as if done by a person learning to think, write and read in another language. A single sentence tells us Chavo has a way with words, Father is thinking how to help his daughter adapt and Mother is understanding in so many ways.  We readers feel compassion and admiration for Isabel because of Stewart's ability to say much with little.

Here are a couple of her sentences from this story.

Chavo said, "We left a sea of blue at our feet and entered an ocean of blue over our heads."

Writing to you is easier than speaking to all the new people in my life. That is because I know you love me.

David Small begins and ends this story on the book's endpapers.  His impressive ink drawings are further brought to life with watercolor and pastel chalk wonderfully evoking a captured moment.  His altered perspectives are a ready invitation; the green landscape of the Mexican village nestled beneath the mountains with a close-up looking into the back of the retreating car, Isabel squatting, elbows to knees, and gazing at the snow angel or looking into the newly acquired refrigerator box with the house, delivery men and truck in the background.

His attention to those tiny, poignant details adds much to his two page spreads throughout the book.  At the Mexican border we see Isabel extending her arm out the car window, teddy bear in hand so he can see what everyone else is seeing, or at the diner counter (1950s Formica pattern) Chavo is reading an edition of Life magazine or when we see the created quiet place, a doll is wearing the same dress as Auntie Lupita in the farewell scene.  Isabel's teddy bear can be found in nearly every illustration.

Four illustrations, in addition to the endpapers and title spread are without text but they continue the story beautifully.  The four-page fold-out near the book's end is a stunner.  Isabel's quiet place is revealed in all it's colorful, imaginative glory.  It's a tribute to her Mexican culture, her resilience and joyful spirit.

The Quiet Place written by Sarah Stewart with illustrations by David Small is a gentle, graceful, story about coming to a new country and starting over surrounded by a loving family who embrace their heritage and their new community.  I love everything about this book; absolutely everything.

If you follow this link to Macmillan  there is a mini-slide show of illustrations.  This link  to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast shows the illustrative process David Small used for this title. There are some gorgeous drawings.

These are links to interviews given by Sarah Stewart and David Small prior to the release of this title.
To get to their main website follow the link embedded in David Small's name at the beginning of this post.


  1. Another beautifully written review -- you're one of the most thoughtful, articulate bloggers out there. You've totally captured the spirit of this lovely book with your words. Cornelius thanks you for mentioning Isabel's teddy bear :).

  2. I was so touched by your comment I had to blink back tears. I have been talking about books with my students and staff for decades but blogging is fairly new to me. Thank you for noticing my efforts and commenting. Tell Cornelius, you're welcome from me and Xena.

  3. Your love for books and reading really shines through. It's always a pleasure to hear your thoughts. Do you/have you written for professional journals? I read a lot of blogs and a fair number of professional reviews, and your posts stand out :). I'm so glad our paths crossed via 7-Imp!

  4. I am so grateful for your kind words and support. I have never written for professional journals.
    I, too, am glad to have met you through 7-Imp. It's a meeting ground for those who love children's books. I'm off to see what delicious goodies you have on your blog today.