Quote of the Month

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

Friday, December 13, 2013

Beauty Is In...

Ask any human with a dog in their lives, they will tell you each dog has their own personality.  It's a combination of their physical characteristics, body movements and facial expressions.  Most will attest to the fact they are positive their dog understands more, much more, than they choose to reveal.

Dogs are no different than people when it comes to their attributes on the outside.  If you love them (which we dog people do), it does not matter how they look.  We can see beyond their appearance into their hearts; the spirit which makes them unique shines.  In Spike: Ugliest Dog in the Universe (Beach Lane Books) written and illustrated by Debra Frasier, Spike's world is turned upside down more than once.

One day my owner entered me in the
Ugliest Dog in the Universe contest.

Can you imagine the kind of person who would do such a thing?  No, me neither.  To add insult to injury, Spike won!  The humiliation of having his picture attached to the local newspaper headlines about the contest win is a blow; it crushes his doggy heart.

In Spike's mind

you can't judge a book by its cover.

When it feels like it can't get any worse, it does.  His human abandons him; leaving him tied up on the porch.  Fortunately, Joe, the boy next door, comes over releasing Spike, feeding him and taking him back to his house.

Joe and Spike together are like two halves of a perfect whole but Joe's mom feels they can't afford to keep Spike.  It looks like he is going to the animal shelter when the weekend arrives.  This calls for some crazy courage.

Spike decides to seek the advice of his nearest neighbor, an award-winning cat.  Yes, you read that right---a cat.  Evangeline suggests Spike act more like her; purring, staying clean, eating carefully, napping, being quiet and enjoying an occasional sardine.  All doggy delights must be put on hold.

Ever mindful of the looming threat, Spike is pup perfection.  Joe begins a pictorial offensive, posting hand-drawn reminders all around the house of Spike's more positive features.  Each day Joe's mom seems to be leaning toward Spike becoming a part of the family...until Saturday.

At each stop along their errand route, Spike is a model of decorum. They still drive to the animal shelter.  But wait!  It's closed!  Joe's mom says they will be back tomorrow.

Back home Spike is awakened from a nap on the porch by a whiffy smell.  Something's fishy.  Evangeline is in need of a hero.  Will Spike prevail?  Will he still have to go to the DOG POUND?  Another newspaper article, a drawing of Joe's and a long conversation wag the tail...er...tell the tale.

Debra Frasier certainly knows how to write a story.  Told entirely in first person point of view she takes readers right into the center of the action.  Spike's voice rings true, loud and clear.  Her impeccable pacing, moving back and forth between good news and bad news, keeps us guessing page turn by page turn.  You will be cheering for Spike, Joe and yes, Evangeline, every step of the way.  Here is a passage from the book.

Have you ever smelled a sardine?
It's a tiny fish with a BIG stink.

Evangeline licked her paws.
"Now it's time for my beauty sleep, ohhhh yes."

Without a doubt what immediately catches your eye, after the title, are the materials used to create the illustrations.  On the verso, Debra Frasier states:

The illustrations for this book are collaged with Cansons papers, used clothing, and worn blue jean pieces.  The jeans were gathered from friends, students, coffee shop comrades, and thrift stores, as well as the author-illustrator's own collection.  

Frasier goes on to explain how the pieces were laid out, positioned, moved and photographed.  Final editing was done in Photoshop.  Her opening and closing endpapers are layers of worn and torn denim pieces with Spike peeking out from a hole or a pocket.

All the frayed edges forming holes in the fabric provide frames for Spike, text and layers used in a picture.  Each page is an astounding example of workmanship, artistic layout and design; text is placed on or pieced into each illustration.  Every portion of a pair of jeans is used, legs, pockets, seams and waist bands.

At times Frasier will cover nearly the entire page in denim with only a word or part of a face showing through a worn spot.  You'll be surprised how much emotion is conveyed with this technique. The color red is used to enhance and accent in all the right spots.  Illustrations may fill double pages, a single page or carry over the gutter; matching the flow of the narrative.  A two page spread at the beginning when Joe comes to the porch where Spike has been abandoned is one of my favorites.  I like how Debra Frasier has placed the word beautiful in red on white surrounded by denim.

Spike: Ugliest Dog in the Universe is quite simply a masterpiece for the story it tells and the illustrations visualizing the words.  Debra Frasier is truly gifted as both an author and illustrator.  The meticulous detail within each picture is marvelous.

Please follow the link embedded in the title to a fantastic page for this title at Debra Frasier's website.  There you will find an explanatory video about the artistic process and an assortment of related activities.  Here is a link to the publisher's website containing additional pages for viewing including my favorite.  Enjoy the book trailer.

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