Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Two Fast Friends

Reactions upon finishing books for the first time are as varied as the books themselves. Tears may come if your heart is pierced to the core.  Laughter may burst forth if you are filled with joy from head to toe.  Hugging is assured if the book is endearingly adorable.  It goes without saying, especially if they are picture books, rereads are a given.

Even before I finished reading Ollie and Claire (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.)written by Tiffany Strelitz Haber with illustrations by Matthew Cordell, I knew it would be a favorite.  To begin, the characters, best friends, are dogs.  Secondly, there is something about Matthew Cordell's illustrations that I find irresistible.

What I tend to do on the second reading is to read the story aloud.  Before I had finished the first page my reaction to this book made a tuneful appearance.  I was singing the narrative of Ollie and Claire!

Ollie and Claire were a tightly knit pair,
like hot buttered biscuits and jam.
They frolicked by day at the park and the bay,
where they yodeled and yoga'd and swam.

There is no doubt about it, Ollie and Claire are best buds day in and day out.  You could set your clock by their routine.  For Claire this perfect punctuality starts to become a problem.  She's ready for a little variation, new discoveries.

On a Friday morning stroll she sees an answer to her dilemma hanging on a nearby tree.  Someone wants a companion on a trip around the world.  The thought of what she might do or see thrills her, fills her with excitement. She quickly pens and posts a reply.

 Not wasting a second, she heads home to pack.  Though, truth be told, a phone call from Ollie that evening leaves her perplexed.  All weekend she worries and frets. Claire writes another note, this time left for a friend.  It's now Monday at 4 and there are surprises; surprises galore for both Ollie and Claire, friends to the end.

You couldn't ask for a more lively story penned in flawless rhyme.  Tiffany Strelitz Haber is a wizard with words; her selection a reflection of the canine companions' love for one another and their secret desire for a bit of adventure in their lives.  The narrative flows from one rhythmic sentence to the next with a catchy cadence.  The bits of humor, their yodeling, practicing yoga, running hurdles, bologna on white and their visions of travel, are sure to elicit smiles. (I'm grinning still.)

With no stretch of imagination you can feel the elation of Ollie and Claire on the front and back jacket and cover. Whether they are yodeling among the flowers or twirling in a circle, hands clasped, suitcases upraised Matthew Cordell 's special interpretation, his flair for creating comical creatures is evident.  Twelve possible scenarios of the two engaged in the most outrageous of activities, hand gliding, floating as astronauts in space, or snowmobiling or the most everyday, inline skating, biking or butterfly catching, decorate the opening and closing endpapers.  Their two houses, side by side, are shown on the title page as they meet, eat and leave in three small visuals on the verso and dedication pages.

Using pencil (with a hint of digital magic) and watercolor Cordell works his own brand of magic with a blend of light and bold colors using wide margins of white space to frame his pictures, except for several two page, edge to edge, spreads.  It's impossible not to laugh at the eyes, mouths, the facial expressions, and body movements of the two dogs; eating and talking while standing on a park bench or looking like ballet stars in the ocean wearing a bathing cap (Claire) and goggles (Ollie).  As Claire is dreaming of and packing for her new escapade, careful readers will see who her "new" partner really is as Cordell tucks them into the pictures. The downtown store front dream scene in this place populated by dogs is downright hilarious as is the visual of Claire throwing things out of her closet in her packing frenzy.

Ollie and Claire is a happy-go-lucky ode to friendship and its challenges.  When you pair the rhyming writing of Tiffany Strelitz Haber with the distinctive, detailed art of Matthew Cordell you have a book that will be a joy to read repeatedly.  This is a story where listeners will be moving to the narrative beat and laughing at the lovable dogs.

Make sure you follow the links embedded in both the author's and illustrator's names above to view their official websites.  Enjoy the book trailer below.

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