Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In His Youth

No matter the extent of my exhaustion, there is one daily ritual which is never ignored, reading at bedtime.  It's become such a part of my life, I can't remember a time when I didn't do this.  The other night (actually in the early hours of the next morning), it was with anticipation I picked up a new picture book release to read.

As is my custom I looked at the jacket and cover, my hand running across the gold sticker on the former reading, Signed Copy.  I smiled when I saw the name Jon Agee handwritten beneath the opening title, Little Santa (Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.). The following wordless picture brought on a huge grin and any thoughts of sleep were banished as I continued with the double-page illustration for the formal title page.

In the North Pole, in a little cabin, lived Mr. and Mrs. Claus and their seven children, Larry, Mary, Willy, Millie, Joey, Zoe, and Santa.

Day in and day out the Clauses toll in the harsh wintry climate.  It seems like there is always something to do; chopping wood, shoveling snow, fishing for food, mending the quilts, and tending the fire.  None of them are happy except for one, Santa.

He finds joy in the simple things; building snowmen, creating snow angels, stringing garlands on pine trees and baking cookies.  With no playground nearby, his favorite thing in the whole world is to slide down the chimney.  When told by his family they are moving to Florida, he wonders how they could leave this wonderful place.

To everyone's surprise on the day of their departure, a blizzard has left their home nearly hidden under mounds of snow.  Santa immediately offers to go up the chimney for much-needed help.  Setting off with a bundle of food and snowshoes, his first discovery in a land encased in white is what appears to be a branch.

It's not a tall tree but a reindeer stuck under the snow.  After being freed, the reindeer offers to give Santa a ride.  Let me tell you, readers.  It was a very surprising trip.

Their next stop is a house filled from top to bottom with elves.  (Oh, I love this.) As Santa tells the tale of his family's troubles, the elves are eager to help. There isn't anything they can't build, quickly and carefully.

A return trip is taken by all.  Life at the North Pole for the Claus family is definitely different.  The lure of Florida is still strong though, except for one, Santa.  For that we are most thankful.

Straightforward sentences, stating the truth as seen, propel the narrative.  What makes the storytelling of Jon Agee pure pleasure are the pauses he inserts as well as the unexpected humor...and a talking reindeer.  The stop and go is so smooth you as a reader are unaware you are following the beat of his tale.  Here are a couple of sentences.

The house was full of elves.
"Holy snowflake!" said the oldest one. "Who are you?"

Beginning with a single illustration extending across the front and back jacket and cover, Jon Agee acquaints readers with his main character, a reindeer friend and the snow-covered hills of the frigid North Pole.  Rather than use any of these colors for the endpapers, Agee selects a solid shade of green which appears frequently as an added hue in his illustrations rendered in watercolor. I challenge you not to smile or burst out laughing as I did at the single illustration placed before the formal title page. Set on a stark white background is Santa's bed, his spotted dog sleeping next to it, as he dresses in his one-piece red outfit complete with a pointed hood.

White, blues, grays and a sunrise/sunset sky provide a backdrop for the two-page, single page or smaller drawings Agee uses to enhance his narrative.  This altering of illustration size and viewpoint, aligns well with the ebb and flow of his storyline.  His signature heavy black lines define all the elements in his pictures, the setting, the characters and their expressive moods.  The duller tones of Santa's parents' and siblings' clothing along with their glum faces contrasts with his rosier outlook on life in general, making him stand out.  One of my favorite illustrations is the one interpreting this exclamation:

"Gee whiz!" said Santa. "You're a pretty special reindeer."

The look of wonder Santa is wearing along with the smile on the reindeer's face is a perfect pictorial moment.

Little Santa written and illustrated by Jon Agee is a delightful seasonal title which should be given a spot in all Christmas collections.  His vision and version make wonderful sense.  This book is a gift to all readers.

For more information about Jon Agee, visit his website via the link embedded in his name above.  Make sure you take time to read Five questions for Jon Agee at The Horn Book.  Enjoy the book trailer!

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