Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Aerial Adventures

After a read aloud or storytelling, inevitably requests for scary stories (or more scary stories), are voiced by the listeners.  These are perennial favorites.  The next activity most enjoyed is when the listeners become tellers; feeling secure in sharing their true or imaginative tales.

Taking it one step further is a collaborative effort with each person contributing one or two sentences as we pass the story around a circle.  With few boundaries, their minds working together create the most outlandish but ultimately funny and rewarding chain of events.  When reading Sebastian and the Balloon (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, October 7, 2014) written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead, I couldn't help but think how utterly perfect this adventure is suited for the uninhibited imaginations of the young at heart.

Sebastian sat high on his roof---something he was never supposed to do.

Clearly Sebastian's sense of adventure is near to bursting from his small self to tackle sitting on the top of his house.  What he sees from this vantage point is disappointing.  He knows it's time for a new view, a view filled with amazing possibilities.

Resourceful to the depths of his young soul, he gets together

all the things he would ever need.

Once it's dark outside, because this is the very best time to begin an adventure, Sebastian heads to his very own hot air balloon he has carefully constructed using his Grandmother's handiwork.  Cautious but resolute he is soon drifting along high in the night sky.

Feeling the need for a snack stop the next day, he puts the balloon down next to a rather odd tree, a tree without a single leaf.  A large real bear begins a conversation with Sebastian.  Pickle sandwiches are consumed by the duo.

When the balloon lifts off in the fog, the real bear is now a passenger.  Disaster strikes in the form of a very tall bird with a very pointy beak.  Finding themselves on a rooftop, the trio is questioned by another trio, three sisters who happen to be highly qualified knitters, repairers of hot air balloons with holes.  When they bemoan the absence of needles, Sebastian is ready.

As the balloon and the travelers follow the wind this time, their numbers are six.  On the other side of the mountain, a thrill they are seeking awaits them.  Combined efforts and Sebastian's ingenuity create a ride to remember until...

The words Philip C. Stead has selected to use in this story are filled with wonder.  It's as if his mind like the balloon has floated freely through the anything-wonderful-could-happen world.  Repetition of significant phrases summons readers to the story.  They are more than willing to stay.  Here is a sample passage.

And they fell down, down, down---out of the fog and onto the roof of a ramshackle house.
"I'm sorry," said a very tall bird.  "It was my fault."
"It's okay," said Sebastian.  "Would you like a pickle sandwich?"

If you have never taken a ride in a hot air balloon you really should.  Philip C. Stead captures the sense of awe, the feeling of gliding on the air at night against a full moon, marvelously on his matching dust jacket and cover.  When you open them up you discover Sebastian is holding the string to a kite he is flying, red-ribboned tail streaming outward.  The opening endpapers are the same shade as the bear.  The deep golden yellow used as a background for several of the daylight pictures appears on the closing endpapers.

Rich rustic hues of red, yellow, blue, a muted white, gray and green blend flawlessly in illustrations rendered in pastels, oil paints and pressed charcoal.  Stead's accomplished use of this medium on the heavier matte-finished paper gives each picture the kind of texture you want to stop and touch. Nearly all of the visuals cover two pages, expansive like the journey Sebastian and his newly-acquired friends are taking. The presence of a tiny red bird from the beginning to the end brings comfort and continuity.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Sebastian, the real bear and the tiny red bird sitting on a red-and-white-checkered tablecloth eating their snack.  Hands holding pickle sandwiches Sebastian and the real bear are happily content.  The red bird has a single pickle in its beak.  The glowing golden background adds to the pleasure of this shared moment.

Sebastian and the Balloon written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead is brimming with heart-melting charm.  Careful readers will see Stead's sense of humor present in smaller details in his illustrations.  Sebastian's faith in anything is possible will be passed from reader to reader.  You might start to see those family heirloom quilts and afghans start to disappear around the house.  You also might want to make sure you have a healthy supply of pickles and bread and strawberries too.

To learn more about Philip C. Stead and his work please follow the link to his website embedded in his name.  By following this link to the publisher's website you can view eight images from this book.

Update:  Julie Danielson, author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, interviews Philip C. Stead about this new title on October 22, 2014.

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