Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Little Bird Told Me

More than forty years ago a wise man told me, "If you want friends, you need to be a friend."  While I already knew this to be true, there is something about the context in which this was said, the act of kindness shown by him, that has stayed with me.  When you are basically shy, small in height and old enough to have felt the sting of betrayal, though, most of the time, this is easier said than done with the exception of students.  The hearts of children are the blessing of humanity.

On the other hand it's truly heartwarming to see what a simple greeting will do when given to a complete stranger.  Watching their face brighten, transforming at being noticed, is what keeps us (me) brave in the act of creating friendships.  This magic is tenderly portrayed in stunning visuals and light, spare text by author illustrator, Philip C. Stead in his newest title, Hello, My Name Is Ruby (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, September 3, 2012).

Ruby introduced herself. "Hello, my name is Ruby."
"Hello," said the bird standing in the cool water.

By introducing herself not only does Ruby receive a cordial reply but an invitation.  For the very first time Ruby gets to fly with a friend.  Oh, here's a new bird.  I wonder what will happen this time?

After a friendly hello Ruby asks this bird to go flying with her.  Flying is a foreign activity to this bird.  This bird moves about by walking.  Ruby sees life differently at ground level.

At her next meeting Ruby is up high again but not flying.  This time she is chatting with a bird as small as herself, each of them perched on the ossicones of a giraffe.  Her little friend is most gracious in showing Ruby exactly how sometimes fear at one's size can be banished.

Ruby goes from bird to bird, from one new habitat to another, making friends through her simple, cheerful invitations. All goes well until she meets the peacock who answers Ruby's question politely but in the negative.  As if nature understands Ruby's spirits have hit a low, it begins to rain.

Singing a sad song until the sun breaks through, our feathered friend looks up at a very, very large bird who has approached.  It's not easy after the last disappointment but Ruby courageously asks the stranger its name.  In the course of their conversation the bird reveals a surprise to Ruby;  friends multiply when we least expect it and need it the most.

As you read this book, the first thing that strikes you is the sentence structure, the flow of the narrative.  There is a directness about it, an innocence in the question and answer conversations between Ruby and the new birds she meets, even the peacock whose answer is not what she would like to hear.  With each fresh acquaintance a discovery is made by Ruby and the others; flying together, what flying is, what walking is, courage in numbers, and the meaning of a name. (Ruby's definition will melt your heart.)  With each reading the voices of the characters become more distinct, more endearing.

Using a mixture of media, chalk pastels, colored pencils and colored inks, Philip C. Stead, has formed luminous, textured illustrations.  The front and back jacket and cover showing the meeting between Ruby and her last large friend, reach out to readers immediately creating a bond.  Ruby's body stance, her upward gaze, and the shape of her beak, contrasting with the other bird looking down at her, is priceless.

The heavier, matte finished paper is a perfect compliment to the visuals, all double page spreads except for four.  The lines, varied in thickness and the colors, sometimes bold, sometimes softer, but in shades across the spectrum, blend together in happy harmony.  One of my favorites is the cover piece, the other, the wordless elephant spread.  I quietly gasped when I saw it.

Hello, My Name is Ruby written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead is a treasure of a tale about the give and take between and the value of true friends. His text and visuals are beautifully essential to one another.  I will be placing this title on my Mock Caldecott list.

I encourage you to stop by Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to read the post today about Stead's process in writing and illustrating this book.  It's fascinating.  It's truly lovely.  It includes the new book trailer.  As with all my posts, follow the link embedded in the author/illustrator name to access their website.  Here is a link to a publisher Friendship Activity Kit.

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