Quote of the Month

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

Monday, February 3, 2014

Being You

Being different, an individual in a crowd of sameness, based upon a personal decision is not the same as having no voice in the matter.  When you find yourself in the position of being unlike those around you, through no fault of your own, the choice shifts.  You can either choose to embrace your uniqueness or not.

Whether by instinct, as a means of survival, or both, the animal kingdom abounds with examples of adaptations.  I must admit, though, to not having seen one quite like the resilient character in Elizabeth Rose Stanton's debut picture book.  Henny (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers), realizing she is no ordinary chicken, decides to high-five life.

Henny was not a typical chicken.
Henny was born with arms.

One can only imagine the hen house chatter when Henny hatched but her mother, clearly surprised, gives Henny the same affection as her other chicks.  Having arms has its advantages and disadvantages.  Having arms can bring uplifting joy or humiliating sadness.

When you are a chicken with arms you tend to worry about which hand you will favor in completing tasks, the style of clothing best suited to your needs or taking care of underarm odor.  Blending in (or not), finding her place, on the farm requires the use of mail order catalogs, cardboard boxes and being in the right place at the right time.  Henny's differences come in pretty handy when Mr. Farmer needs assistance.

Sleep is replaced with dreaming of all the things Henny can do with her fingers, hands and arms; things normally taken for granted by others.  Little things like plugging her ears, unusual things like carrying a purse or big things like joining a circus fill Henny's mind with possibilities.  When daring to wonder, like Henny, the everyday can be accomplished by exalting in your differences.

Steeped in gentle humor, Elizabeth Rose Stanton tells Henny's story in simple sentences.  We experience her moments of joy, heartbreak, concern and curiosity.  As the tale progresses an undercurrent of optimism becomes more obvious.  Words like worry, imagine and could define Henny's growth.  Her true nature emerges filling us as readers with her distinct outlook in extraordinary circumstances.  One of my favorite sequences in the narrative uses a wonderful technique; one activity builds on another and yet another.

True to nature, after opening up the jacket, smiling at the waving Henny on the front, and having my grin grow as I looked at her mother's astonished gaze at the newborn Henny on the back, I removed the jacket.  Underneath the rich red of the title spreads across the front and back case acting as a background frame for a white circle in the center of each.  As if inside a spotlight, we see Henny standing, looking at us calmly with clasped hands resting on her stomach.

The opening and closing endpapers are integral to the story.  On the first we see the title in red over a single egg; the later revealing the triumph of Henny.  Contributing to the lightness readers feel when reading this book is the liberal use of white space.  Elizabeth Rose Stanton's pencil and watercolor illustrations, all carefully positioned on each page, literally glow.

Often we see a single sentence centered on a single page making an important point.  The placement and quantity of sentences and pictures, alternating in size and framing, on a page provide a pacing which encircles readers with Henny's buoyant personality. Facial features and the positions of Henny's arms add to the overall charm of this title, welcoming us into Henny's real and imaginary world.  One of my favorite two pages is the series of pictures where Henny realizes she can offer Mr. Farmer help.  We never see more of Mr. Farmer than the lower portion of his body, drawing our attention to Henny's good deed for the day.

When Henny written and illustrated by Elizabeth Rose Stanton is read, each individual will leave feeling a little bit better, a little bit happier, and a little bit more prepared to greet the day with a smile and hope in their heart.  Look out world, this cheerful chick has big plans.  Share Henny one on one or with an entire class, but make sure you do share her story.  It would be fun to have students imagine what other accomplishments or adventures Henny might do or have.

To look at additional artwork or read more about Elizabeth Rose Stanton please visit her website and blog linked above in her name.  John Schumacher, interviewed Stanton at Watch. Connect. Read. and premiered the book trailer shown below.  Follow this link to a recent interview of Stanton at Miss Marple's Musings.  For a peek at more illustrations from the book head over to the publisher's website linked here. UPDATE: Julie Danielson interviewed Elizabeth Rose Stanton at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on April 13, 2014.  UPDATE: Henny is interviewed at The Little Crooked Cottage.  It's lots of fun.

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