Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Little Girl...Big Dreams, Big Adventures

If you time it right on a full moon night, sitting on the horizon, it looks close enough to touch.  At the darkest hour, when the air is clear, high in the sky overhead, with little stretch of your imagination, you believe it to be closer than it is.  These are the times when visiting the moon for polite conversation seems possible.

In her debut picture book, Red Knit Cap Girl (Megan Tingley Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, June 2012), author illustrator Naoko Stoop introduced readers to one small girl wearing her signature articles of clothing, who takes the time to nurture her curiosity.  This small child has a deep appreciation for the natural world.  This small child dreams big.

In the forest, there is time to wonder about everything. Red Knit Cap Girl wonders about flowers, butterflies, leaves, and clouds.

What Red Knit Cap Girl wants more than anything else is to talk with the Moon.  To get close enough she goes out on a tall branch and has her friend White Bunny lean out over a reflection on the pond.  These don't work, of course, so she asks another friend, Hedgehog how he thinks she can reach the Moon.

His suggestion of seeking advice from Owl, has her approaching his old oak tree in the darker parts of the forest.  He tells her the Moon is much too far away...

"...but if you want, she will bend down to listen to you."

Now Red Knit Cap Girl must do something to get the Moon's attention.  She gathers her friends Bear, Squirrel, Hedgehog, White Bunny and two little white birds, to plan a festive welcome for the Moon that evening.  Each has suggestions and offers of help.

Perhaps small glows of light will let the Moon know Red Knit Cap Girl is waiting for her.  Paper lanterns are made and hung; the merrymaking begins but is greeted only with silence.  In fact, the Moon seems to be absent from the night sky this evening.  Owl and Nature herself provide the answer to making a big dream come true.

Simple delightful sentences surround readers with warmth taking them into the story of Red Knit Cap Girl and her forest friends.  A mixture of narration and conversation tell the tale.  A gentle childlike cadence, perfected by Naoko Stoop using the structure of threes, summons readers to continue.  Here is a single passage.

"The Moon might like decorations," says Hedgehog.
"I can hang them because I am tall," says Bear.
"I can help because I am nimble," says Squirrel.

Readers immediately notice the unique background on the jacket and cover of this title.  Naoko Stoop uses acrylic, ink and pencil on plywood to render her illustrations. If you open the jacket two separate illustrations, the front highlighting Red Knit Cap Girl and White Bunny in a circle of light, the back with the two friends sitting on a branch looking at a large moon, are designed in pleasing symmetry.  The cover, different, has a much stronger wood background depicting each of the characters at play.

Blue shaded, swirled marble-like endpapers, are dotted with varying round white spots...moonbeams?  The pictures move from double page spreads, edge to edge, to single edge to edge pages and to other single pages with large plywood background frames, elements slipping past the edges to depict movement. Colored hues of the backdrop suggest times of day surrounding the delicate-featured characters.  Stoop shows the passage of time with the ever-increasing size of the Moon's shape.  One of my favorite illustrations is a single page.  Red Knit Cap Girl is seated on a branch with Bear, Hedgehog, White Bunny, Squirrel and the two birds, with a single lantern hanging below, glowing, as they long hopefully for the Moon.

I couldn't have been happier to realize this month brought the release of another title by Naoko Stoop, Red Knit Cap Girl To The Rescue (Megan Tingley Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company).  If your view of life is optimistic, chances are you will seize opportunities when others might not.  You will see no danger to yourself in assisting another in trouble.

It's a windy day in the forest.  Red Knit Cap Girl and her friends are playing together. 

As Bear, Hedgehog, Squirrel and White Bunny fashion telescopes, hats and kites from paper, Red Knit Cap Girl spies something clearly in distress out on the open water.  A small polar bear cub is floating on a chunk of ice, having strayed from its home and mother.  Without giving it a second thought, Red Cap Girl makes a large paper airplane glider which she and White Bunny use to bring the wayward stranger to shore.

When the Moon rises in the evening, Red Knit Cap Girl chats with her about finding Polar Bear Cub's family.  As the new day begins, it finds her and her friends busily building a boat to sail across the ocean.  Following the Moon's light, hanging on tight during a turbulent storm and under the guidance of a pair of Orcas, the trio, Red Knit Cap Girl, White Bunny and Polar Bear Cub, journey to the cold north.

New wonders flicker in colored hues across a night sky.  A shoreline stops the boat's passage as all gaze at a world filled with ice and snow.  Is this where Polar Bear Cub will find his family?

It is the innocence, kindness and wondering of Red Knit Cap Girl which shines through in her dialogue with her friends in this story.  The response by them to the goodness she embodies is seen in the narrative.  The bond between readers and this book is strengthened by having each of the characters, the Moon, Owl, Hedgehog, Squirrel, Bear and White Bunny (plus the two little white birds) from the previous title reappear.  Here is an example.

They sail north in search of Polar Bear Cub's home.
"I hope it's not too far away..." says Red Knit Cap Girl.
"Follow the light of the Moon," calls Owl.

On the front and back jacket there is a balanced lightness; the blue sky over the pale shades of golden tan (the plywood) is reversed on the back as Polar Bear floats forlornly in the sea.  It's interesting to note the letters in the title are breezing along with Red Knit Cap Girl and White Bunny as they fly to the rescue.  All the characters are enjoying their paper toys on the cover as leaves float by them.  A variegated mixture of greens with tiny white dots above, color the opening and closing endpapers.

The attractive blend in illustrative sizes seen in the first book is repeated in this title with blues, greens and golds being the more predominant colors. When Red Knit Cap Girl first sees Polar Bear Cub, it is through the circle of her paper telescope.  That same size circle is used to frame several more single page pictures rather than the wide plywood frames used in the previous title.  One of my favorite illustrations is the two pages depicting the storm at sea; stylized pointed waves reaching toward jagged lightning bolts as White Bunny, Polar Bear Cub and Red Knit Cap Girl hold on tight squeezing their eyes closed.  Stoop even gives Polar Bear Cub a paper rain poncho to wear.

Red Knit Cap Girl and Red Knit Cap Girl To The Rescue written and illustrated by Naoko Stoop will not only endear readers to the main character and her friends, but will make us all strive to view the world, appreciate life, through her eyes.  Readers of all ages will find these books completely charming.  I thank Naoko Stoop for bringing these books into the children's literature world.

To learn more about Naoko Stoop and her artwork please visit her website by following the link embedded in her name.  She was featured at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Red Knit Cap Girl was on The New York Times Best Illustrated Books last year.  I was personally thrilled to discover Naoko Stoop's Etsy shop. For an additional interview with Naoko Stoop about Red Knit Cap Girl To The Rescue at Carter Higgins's blog, Design of the Picture Book, follow this link.

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