As much as I love the summer, the end of summer along with the beginning of autumn is one of my favorite times of the year. Visiting the farmers' markets, seeing all the fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers on display, for me, is like walking through magic. When you think about it, everything in the surrounding stalls and tents came from the tiniest of seeds, nurtured by man and nature; a precarious partnership, the one always at the mercy of the other.
Another of life's magic, never failing to cause me to pause in wonder, is looking at the world through the eyes of a child. What may or may not capture their attention, their interpretation, is a thing of marvelous mystery. Sophie's Squash (Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, August 6, 2013) written by debut author, Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf explores a charming friendship lasting from season to season, one year to the next.
One bright fall day, Sophie chose a squash at
the farmers' market.
What Sophie's parents did not know at the time is that Sophie is not looking at the squash as a side dish for supper, she is looking at it as the right size for so many things. At home in her bedroom she draws a face on the squash, a smiling face. Sophie is smiling on the inside and outside too.
In the kitchen her mother takes one look at the squash knowing it will not be a part of the evening meal. Sophie names it Bernice. From that moment Sophie and Bernice are inseparable; trips to the library, the same farmers' market and somersaulting down the hills in the garden. Like a favorite doll she tucks Bernice in at night in her own cradle.
One morning, Sophie's mother casually suggests Bernice may be getting mushy soon; she believes Bernice will be delicious cooked with marshmallows. Horrified Sophie begs Bernice not to listen to such nonsense. None of her parent's suggestions for possible places for Bernice or substitutes for Bernice can weaken Sophie's resolve to keep her friend forever.
Sophie is indignant at the library story time when boys and girls point out Bernice's expanding blotches. She has to admit as cooler weather descends Bernice lacks her usual vigor. Sophie decides to seek the advise of a professional back at the farmers' market. Inquiries made and answered she heads home.
Going to Bernice's favorite spot outside Sophie makes sure she does all necessary to bring Bernice back to good health. Winter snows come followed by the new life of the changing season. Bernice flourishes through spring into summer giving Sophie a surprise; friends forever.
Pat Zietlow Miller has created an endearing character in Sophie. Her devotion to Bernice through the seasons, defending her, doing what is best for her, even though it means they must be apart for awhile, is utterly charming. Sophie's parents are supportive in her fascination with Bernice even though they try to dissuade her gently, if only to spare her future disappointments. These two sentences are only a sample of their kindness.
"I call her Bernice," Sophie said.
"I'll call for a pizza," said her mother.
There is a cadence to Miller's writing; using right size in sequential sentences, wrapped and rocked in a single sentence, thought and events structured in threes. Whether read silently or aloud it flows like a soft breeze wrapping its warmth around the reader. Throughout the narrative a familiar and familial humor softly permeates.
Every night, Sophie gave Bernice a bottle, a hug, and a kiss.
"Well, we did hope she'd love vegetables," Sophie's mother told her father.
"Shhhhhhh," Sophie said, "Bernice is sleeping."
As stated in an interview illustrator Anne Wilsdorf believes the cover, endpapers and body of the book contribute to the world of the book. All are important to the reader's entry into that world. Her illustrations rendered in watercolor, ink and China ink are an open window into a light and lively story. Her soft, warm colors, fine lines, varied visual size and perspective say what words do not say.
Across the front and back dust jacket and book case readers are introduced to the season, Sophie, Bernice and the ever present cat. Opening and closing endpapers joyfully feature Sophie in forty-three different playful poses with her squash and company. The upturned noses, wide circular eyes and mouths expressing emotion on all the characters and critters (even the stuffed animals) will have readers falling in love with them all.
I think my favorite illustration besides the garden tea party is the double-page spread of Sophie's bedroom which illustrates the phrase above. The attention to detail is superb; Sophie's drawings of Bernice on the wall, the drawing of her cat on the floor, the cat chasing a butterfly in the room, a stuffed mouse toy looking at a stuffed cat toy in a cage on top of her armoire, Bernice in her cradle with a doll buggy next to it, the homemade rabbit next to the stuffed rabbit toy and Sophie's parents bending over her. It's precious.
Let me add my praise without reservation to the four starred reviews( Booklist, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly) Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf has received to date. It's a tale of loving friendship, life's changes and parental patience. I can't think of a single bookshelf that won't want to have a copy of this title resting easy among all the other titles to be removed frequently and read repeatedly.
I encourage you to follow the links above to learn more about both the author, the illustrator and the publication of this book. Follow this link to the publisher website to get a glimpse at more of the illustrations.