Quote of the Month

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

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Place For All

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Albert Einstein.

There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.

This seems to go hand in hand with my thoughts on the difference between extraordinary and ordinary.  The more you know, the more you come to understand there is a line barely visible between the two.  Simply stated it relies on point of view.  What may be counted as normal for some is unusual for others.

I would venture to say most people who have been chosen by a dog, who have had the very good fortune to share their life with a canine companion, can relate to this connection being anything but typical or predictable.  Every single day is an adventure.  Every single day is important because each living thing has value.  In her debut picture book author/illustrator Hannah E. Harrison invites readers into life under the big top in Extraordinary Jane (Dial Books for Young Reader, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)).

Jane was ordinary, in a world that was extraordinary.

Jane, a sweet fluffy little dog, lives in a circus.  Her mother can pose on the back of a galloping horse.  Lifting an elephant in the air is an everyday accomplishment for her father.  Being shot out of a cannon or walking along a high wire are feats her siblings achieve with ease.

Jane can do none of these things.  It's not like she hasn't tried but her efforts fall short of their goal.  Being up high makes her woozy.  Listeners usually wish for earplugs when she tests her musical talents.  In fact, attempting one particular skill leaves most of the residents in the circus bandaged and bruised.

Jane is friendly.  Jane is helpful.  Jane is a sweet fluffy little dog.  Her caretaker, the ringmaster, watches, learns and loves.  Barnaby Beluchi is a very wise man with a pure point of view.

The simplicity of the words used by Hannah E. Harrison delightfully beckons readers to her story of Jane.  It's a timeless storytelling technique establishing an intimate bond between the teller and the reader or listener.  Her word music will have readers cheering for and identifying with the lovable pup.  She designs a cadence by repeating what Jane is in contrast to what others around her are capable of doing.

Readers initially are drawn to the matching dust jacket and book case resplendent in an array of soft colors.  The single illustration, spanning across the front and back, of the clothed, costumed and animated characters, with the exception of Jane, portrays those who most definitely enjoy their lives as members of the circus.  Six different full length portraits of Jane set within intricate oval frames pattern the opening and closing endpapers.  Every single one is guaranteed to create a smile.  Hannah E. Harrison chooses to continue this on the next page, front and back.

The formal title page shines the light on three circular pictures, the ringmaster on the left and the circus tent on the right with a close-up portrait of Jane in the center.  The verso and first page of the book includes a series of circus posters highlighting the outstanding artistry of all the circus members except Jane. A turn of page shows the inside of the tent; three red rings in place, with all the acts in full swing.  Jane sits patiently observant off to the side.

Rendered in acrylic paint on bristol board each visual glows against the pristine white background. This white space acts to draw your focus to important elements in each picture.  The altering of perspective on all of the illustrations makes you feel a part of the story; the close-up of Jane's mother on the horse's back, her six sisters balancing on the high wire as the ringmaster looks up from below or Jane looking down at everyone as she tries the trapeze.

Humor plays a key component in these pictures; Jane leg raised scratching as her mother balances on the horse, Jane head down, paws over her eyes before her brothers are shot out of the cannons and the looks on all the circus members' faces as they sit in a row in the emergency ward.  What readers will come to understand is the love Barnaby Beluchi feels for Jane, noticing his looks of affection as she plays her part in the circus day or his gentle care in giving her a bath.  The color palette, the layout, the details, facial features...well everything...works to generate a feeling of goodness and warmth.

I think one of my favorite two pages is the series of four small pictures of the ringmaster with Jane.  He has removed his red coat and top hat to bathe and towel her dry.  As he sits in his chair she then brings his hat to him.  When she sits up in front of him, the look on his face is total joy.

Author illustrator Hannah E. Harrison has delivered a treasure to each of us who read Extraordinary Jane.  It's a superb choice for a read aloud.  I can almost see the looks on the listeners' faces and hear the collective sigh at the story's conclusion.  Sharing this title with others is a pleasure you don't want to miss.  I will be adding this title to my Mock Caldecott list for 2015.

Please follow the link embedded in Hannah E. Harrison's name above to access her official website.


  1. Collective sigh? How about full-blown weeping? ;) This book moved me so deeply.

    1. Okay---I did cry Beth. You are so right. It is a very moving story with exceptional illustrations.