Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

If Not For Them...

Living in northern Michigan there are two things you simply can't ignore, trees and water.  One of my favorite hikes is through the woods along the shore of Lake Michigan.  When no one else is around, early in the morning, I've seen white-tailed deer playfully jumping in the water along the beach and a bald eagle soaring above the treetops.  By climbing a series of hills on paths winding among pines, oaks, maples, poplars, beeches and ferns, I can see two different arms of Lake Charlevoix.

It would be easy to take such abundance of both for granted, but I don't.  Reverence would be an apt description of how I feel about trees and water, knowing they could disappear if not protected.  In 2012 a book garnering a Golden Kite Honor Award, Picture Book Text, placement on the International Reading Association Teachers' Choices 2013, Primary Readers, the position of a Minnesota Book Award Finalist 2013, The John Burroughs Riverby Award for 2012 and listed on the National Council of Teachers of English 2013 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts titled A Leaf Can Be... (Millbrook Press) written by Laura Purdie Salas with illustrations by Violeta Dabija spoke (still speaks) to the youngest of readers (which means all of us) about the place of leaves in the natural realm. 

A leaf is a leaf.
It bursts out each spring
when sunny days linger
and orioles sing. 

After these introductory poetic phrases which truly make you feel like singing yourself (go ahead, read them aloud now), you read the title of the book followed by eleven, rhyming, two-word defining sentence finishers; one set per page.  Then the first sentence of the volume is repeated with three new lines moving from spring to fall.  Again two-word, lyrical, rhyming descriptions depict the ever-changing potential of leaves in the lives of many.

Clearly Laura Purdie Salas is a keen observer of the out-of-doors; noticing the multiple purposes of leaves.  Her true gift though lies in her combinations of words.  Not only are they true but absolutely beautiful. Here are two sets of couplets.

Tree topper
Rain stopper

Wind rider
Lake glider

After the narrative concludes, she takes each of her two-word phrases, explaining them in more factual terms. This is not only an invitation for learning but for readers to challenge themselves to think of their own two-word portrayals of leaves.  The final page includes a small glossary as well as a list of four books containing more information.

Fortunately for readers three short weeks ago Laura Purdie Salas and Violeta Dabija released a new collaboration bringing us a second stellar title, Water Can Be... (Millbrook Press).  Having watched the levels of Lake Michigan fall to their lowest in my memory, this ode to the splendor of water in all its forms is timely and timeless.  From drop to downpour, it's never been more eloquently depicted.

Water is water---
it's puddle, pond, sea.
When springtime comes splashing,
the water flows free.

As in the previous title we readers are treated to eleven representations of water in the world.  Each pair's cadence creates a melody not dissimilar to the sounds water can make; almost silent to a roar.  We are magically moved to each location.

Water is a birthplace and residence, a mirror, a source of food and drink, a land shaper, a cycle maker, a disguiser, a temperature changer, a color coordinator and a source of destruction.  Its capabilities, like a leaf, change with the seasons.  We can see its distinctive values in the outer world as well in our homes and workplaces.

When you read the word choices of Laura Purdie Salas, you want to grab a pencil and paper as fast as you can, to start jotting down what you notice about water in the spring, summer, fall and winter.  She makes you realize you need to pay closer attention, to be more appreciative.  Her use of language challenges you to stretch beyond the obvious, renaming what you see, hear, smell, touch or taste.  Here are several twosomes from this title.

Thirst quencher
Kid drencher

Salmon highway
Eagle flyway

Four pages are devoted to clarifying water's role in the double word phrases.  Her sentences are enlightening and entertaining at the same time.  Salas is careful to speak as if in conversation with her readers.  Here is a single sample.

Rainbow jeweler: Did you know that without water, we would have no rainbows? They form when sunshine meets water vapor in the air.  The sunlight hits the water vapor, bends, and travels to your eye.  The light makes different colors depending on how it bends.

A glossary and list of five books ends this title.

Of Violeta Dabija the publisher's website says:

She works in both traditional and digital media and often mixes them to produce delicate and atmospheric illustrations with a traditional feel.

The matching dust jacket and book case on each volume features an altered version of a visual from within the pages.  On the back is a smaller illustration framing or highlighting a question to the reader about a leaf or water.  The endpapers are a solid color, taken from the front of the jacket and case.

The shapes and hues on the title page blend and extend into the verso and first page, softly stunning, so lovely you wish you were standing beneath the tree branches filled with singing birds or next to the rapidly moving stream.  For each set of words, Dabija has created lively, graceful images endearing and expressive, favoring shades of green in the first and of blue in the newest title.  That is not to say she does not use other colors to great effect.

 She adds her unique, skillful brand of marvel and magic on every page.  The final two pages, a single illustration in both books, show men and women creating topiaries from shrubs and trees and a castle, crescent moon, rabbit and dragon from ice.  In A Leaf Can Be... one of my favorite pictures (nest former) is of a flock of white birds gathering leaves to make homes in a single tree.  The combination of greens, blues and browns, tiny white blossoms surrounding the shape of the branch ends, is life affirming, full of peace and hope.  Featuring a cascading stream, white-tipped waves forming, falling down through the spring forest with snow-capped mountains in the distance, Dabija pictures Downhill speeder from Water Can Be...  You can almost hear the racing sound of the water.  This is one of several favorites of mine.

Let us hope that A Leaf Can Be... and Water Can Be... written by Laura Purdie Salas with illustrations by Violeta Dabija are the first two of many collaborations.  These books are breathtaking in word and pictures.  Read them for the quiet pleasure they bring.  Read them for the information they provide.  Read them to see a leaf and water in a new light.  Most of all, share them with everyone often!

Please follow the links embedded in the author's and illustrator's names to access their official websites. Laura Purdie Salas has numerous extra features for educators; how the book began (for A Leaf Can Be...), reading guides, videos and activity sheets. Follow this link to the publisher's website for inside views of both books, and a PDF downloadable bookmark for A Leaf Can Be... At this link to Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, Cynsations, view several videos about Water Can Be...  Here is a link to a Pinterest board Laura Purdie Salas created for Water Can Be...

Do not miss the #SharpSchu Book Club tonight on Twitter which features these two books.  Be sure to check back here later for a link to the archive if you miss the chat.  Watch. Connect. Read. John Schumacher  Sharpread Colby Sharp


  1. I am overwhelmed, Margie. Thank you for sharing my books with others, and for sharing your own connections with the books and thoughts upon reading with me!

    1. I appreciate, more than you can know, you stopping by my blog to comment. You are most welcome. I have read them again and again. They are simply wonderful, Laura.