There's no denying the joyful jolt you get when pleasantly surprised. You may discover robins have built a nest in the new ivy you placed in a hanging planter. Seemingly overnight the tops of perennials are popping up through the soil. You hear the clatter of hoof beats running down the middle of the road after you and your dog startle deer during a late night walk
The same feeling can happen when you open a new book by an author /illustrator. Having read their previous work, you have certain expectations. I have to say when I read the April 29th release of Gravity (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press) written and illustrated by Jason Chin I may have said "Wow" more than once before I closed the back cover.
GRAVITY MAKES OBJECTS FALL TO EARTH.
This is the first of only seven sentences in this title which explains clearly, concisely and precisely what gravity is. One word appears on each of the first six pages except for the last page on which two appear. The first page, without any text, is part of the initial two page visual.
Readers see sky filled with clouds as a surprised seagull flies by an open book, this book, covering most of the illustration. Continuing with the bird's eye view, a panorama spreads across the next two pages; a small figure can be seen on the beach below as the book descends much like a bird itself. It falls next to a boy wearing a beach towel for a cape, goggles and a snorkel. His hands are holding a toy spaceship and astronaut. Scattered on the sand are the remnants of lunch and sand castle building.
With the next sentence, everything slowly swooshes into space because gravity is gone. Our moon moves away from us as we move away from the sun. Everything changes without gravity gliding through space. Fortunately with gravity the sun, Earth and moon are once more keeping each other in place; mass determining the strength of the pull. It also means those things sent adrift fall back to Earth.
Jason Chin's economic use of words has a dual purpose in this title. Not only do they provide a definition of gravity for younger readers but they act as a narrative impetus for his illustrations. Repetition of key phrases reinforces meaning and brings the story full circle.
You have to wonder what this book will deliver when you first glance at the matching dust jacket and cover. Why are a toy astronaut, beach ball, half-peeled banana, toy spaceship, sand pail and shovel floating above Earth? Plain, rich, deep blue endpapers representative of the atmosphere envelope the pages.
Using a book, this book, as part of the illustrations is a stroke of genius. It gives the sense of a continuous story. As an element in the pictures it acts exactly like a gravitational force drawing the reader into the words and pictures.
When gravity is gone, the looks of disbelief on the boy, the sea gull and crab add a dimension of humor. In that first scene you can almost hear everything moving away from the beach out into space. Carefully readers will notice other important items next to those found on the beach when everything is drifting away from Earth.
When showing how the moon moves from Earth and the Earth moves away from the sun, Chin uses a series of four panels shifting perspective. It's a brilliant use of layout and design. Again when creating his visuals for defining how mass determines gravitational pull, readers will gain a true sense of size as he shows tiny black objects approaching the gigantic sun as well as comparing the sun and Earth at opposite ends of a double-page illustration.
Without giving away the conclusion of the story, I have to say Chin's final two-page illustration and the one on the publication page at the close of the book are masterful pieces of storytelling. His ability to present factual information within a visual narrative is done magnificently. One of my favorite illustrations is in the beginning when the boy looks at the open book after it falls on the beach. What is the boy (and the seagull) thinking?
I find myself smiling every single time I read Gravity written and illustrated by Jason Chin. The blend of text and illustrations is stunningly conceived and executed. Prior to the publication page Chin includes two pages with smaller illustrations telling readers more about gravity. Eight sources are listed in a bibliography. I will be including this book in my Mock Caldecott list for 2015.
Please follow the link embedded in Jason Chin's name to access his website. There is a host of information there for educators. This link to the publisher's website shows you illustrations from the book. Update: This link is to an interview of Jason Chin by Julie Danielson at Kirkus Reviews. She follows the interview with artwork on her blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Please be sure to see all the other nonfiction books others have read and reviewed at the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy. This week she is highlighting new releases for May.