Quote of the Month

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

Friday, May 9, 2014

When The Wind Blew In

It's a rarity in the north along the Lake Michigan shoreline to have a day without wind.  Small craft advisories and gale warnings are commonplace.  Depending on the direction these breezes can be a blessing or a curse.  You're never sure what sights you'll see during the gusts or after they subside.

Wind can play a paramount role in a book; whether the piece is fiction or nonfiction.  Its part, sometimes so integral to the narrative, can make it feel like a character.  The Grudge Keeper (Peachtree Publishers) written by Mara Rockliff with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler has fantastic fun with this force of nature.

No one in the town of Bonnyripple ever kept a grudge.  No one, that is, except old Cornelius, the Grudge Keeper.

Cornelius receives everyone's grudges, no matter their size or importance, storing them carefully within the rooms of his cottage.  When a goat eats zinnias, a schoolboy hooks the teacher's toupee like the catch of the day and a clumsy guy treads, not so lightly, on a gal's new shoes at the local dance, grievances are aired at the Grudge Keeper.  As you can well imagine after much time passes, every nook and cranny is overflowing with grudges in Cornelius's home.

In the true nature of folktales, life as the people of Bonnyripple know it, is about to change.  A wind starts to blow.  At first no one notices but when a particular pie flies off a window ledge and the schoolmaster's hair piece ends up as a goat's entree, unease ripples through the town.  As the gale continues to howl during the night, people gather their grudges to be taken to Cornelius as soon as they safely can.

All is calm as the day dawns except for the state of the folks' attitudes.  Marching up to the Grudge Keeper's house on the hill, they can't believe their eyes.  Grudges are everywhere in a ginormous pile, mixed and matched not according to size or importance. More than one discovery is made this day. A mischievous boy, a cat and, of course, the wind may have lent a helpful hand.

Fortunately when Mara Rockliff has a thought, her imagination takes wing fashioning it into a timeless picture book for all ages.  Word play abounds in exquisite descriptions, alliteration and puns.  When she makes a statement she supports it with picturesque phrases.  Characters' names roll off your tongue leaving a smile on your face.  Here is a single passage.

The wind had mixed and mingled, tossed and turned,
tumbled and jumbled, and finally dumped the rumpled,
crumpled grudges in one whopping pile.

You know you are going to someplace special when you open the dust jacket and matching book case on this title.  The golden glow continues on almost every single page of the story.  The pastoral setting, the style of the homes, inside and out, and the attire wore by the townspeople is from a time past, a time filled with just enough magic to make it fanciful.

The opening and closing endpapers, different, feature important characters before and after the wind. The initial title page gives a snapshot of the village with Cornelius trudging up the hill in the distance, wheelbarrow loaded with grudges.  The formal title page and verso is a two-page spread of the village in the distance zooming in on Cornelius.

Double page illustrations, almost exclusively throughout, made using dip pens, India ink and watercolor by Eliza Wheeler exude welcoming warmth. Delicate lines convey a wealth of emotion, movement and whimsy.  Careful readers will sense events to come based upon hints in her visuals; the swirl of wind during the night or the glance of the schoolmaster at the crouching boy.

One of my favorite illustrations is the cutaway of the Cornelius's cottage in the beginning.  The layout of the home is small but filled with comfortable items.  Tiny scrolls representative of the grudges are sorted in numbered jars; a quill and inkpot sit upon a desk next to a book for record keeping.  Already every possible storage space is overflowing.  Cornelius is reaching for a jar on the mantel, stuffing yet another grudge into the opening.

With a delectable union of narrative and pictures The Grudge Keeper written by Mara Rockliff with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler has all the earmarks of a charming, enduring story.  You feel as though you've discovered a forgotten fairy tale on forgiveness.  Will there be words younger readers might not know?  Yes, but that's the joy of this book, the wonderful use of language.  I highly recommend this title.

Please follow the links embedded in Mara Rockliff's and Eliza Wheeler's names to enjoy their websites.  This link is to an interview of them both at the Peachtree Publishers blog about the making of the book.  Here is an earlier interview of Mara Rockliff at John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.

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