Quote of the Month

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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Something New

On October 30, 2014 the Hallmark Channel aired the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards.  One dog is selected to represent each of these categories:  Law Enforcement Dogs, Arson Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Service Dogs, Military Dogs, Guide and Hearing Dogs, Search and Rescue Dogs, and Emerging Hero Dogs.  The Emerging Hero Dogs category is for those dogs who are heroes to their people; ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things.  From these eight winners one champion is chosen for the year.

Several of these dogs had survived incredible hardships reshaping their lives and the lives of the humans they chose.  Madame Martine (Albert Whitman & Company, September 1, 2014) written and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen is a story about a woman living alone in Paris caught in a comfortable routine.  One rainy day, a Saturday, when she least expects it, change is about to step into her life.

Madame Martine lived alone in a little apartment in Paris.  She took the same walk every day.  She shopped at the same stores.  She wore the same coat.  

She is perfectly content with this arrangement.  Even though she can see the Eiffel Tower from her window, she has never visited or seen the views from its heights.  For each day of the week she eats the same food.  On Saturdays and Sundays she does the same thing without exception.

Standing under her umbrella on that rainy Saturday, the life-changing Saturday, she sees a small, wet and dirty dog looking at her from bushes lining the sidewalk.  When no one appears to be looking for a lost companion, she decides the dog needs her.  He is only too happy to comply with the coziness she offers.

On Sunday she and Max, her name for him, take a short walk, chatting with tourists about the Eiffel Tower.  She gives them directions but does not understand why anyone would want to see it.  Max easily falls into the comfortable routine Madame Martine follows.  Or does he?

On a later Saturday as they are returning from feeding the birds, Max spots a squirrel, pulling his leash from Madame Martine's hands.  It happens they are walking beneath the Eiffel Tower.  The little furry scamp dashes up the stairs toward the second level, flight of stairs after flight of stairs.  Madame Martine has no choice.  She climbs up after Max.

This is not what Madame Martine planned for her Saturday.  Oh, no, not at all.  Max leads her to look with new eyes.  Their Saturdays are never the same again.

For more readers than we probably know Paris is a geographical place name only or perhaps completely unknown. For this reason I am thrilled Paris and the Eiffel Tower are the setting for this story.  It works splendidly with the flow of the narrative Sarah S. Brannen creates.  The technique of repeating the same phrases at the beginning and the end is one readers enjoy; bringing them into the characters' lives.

It's also important to recognize even though Madame Martine is pleased with the ritual of her days, she is open to adding a difference.  Initially Max brings her out of her sameness shell giving her company and altering her focus.  Little does she know how much richer her life will become.

Sarah S. Brannen expertly draws us into the action, keeping us on the edge of our seats as Madame Martine chases Max. Here is a sample portion of a passage from the book.

Madame Martine climbed after him.  One flight,
two flights, three flights.
"Max!" she called. Four flights, five flights, six
flights.  She stopped to catch her breath.
Max saw her resting and also stopped to catch
his breath.

Rendered in watercolor the illustrations throughout evoke an astute sense of time and place.  With the opening picture on the matching dust jacket and cover, we are sure Madame Martine is in for a surprise.  The look on Max's face mirrors the joy of freedom found or a dog on a mission.  On the back the image, a bird's eye view of a part of the Eiffel Tower and surrounding area, extends to the flap edge.  In a series of five different small images of Max, the opening and closing endpapers are styled in rows of diamonds in hues of white and the rusty red of the patches on his coat.

Small brush strokes form the delicate elements in every scene.  Sarah S. Brannen uses a full color palette but in the beginning, before Max, there is a paler overtone with more gray.  Madame Martine's clothing is of darker, duller shades of brown, gray and blue.  The longer Max is with her the more golden glow is added to her days.

Brannen shifts her illustration sizes and our view of the characters creating mood and emotion, framing some with white space.  One of my favorite scenes stretches across two pages.  It is the only one without text but it conveys much about the relationship of Madame Martine and Max.  The little lost dog has accomplished quite a bit as they both see something for the very first time.

If I needed to choose one word to express my impression of Madame Martine written and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen it would be charming.  This is one of those books which can be simply adored for the story it tells but also can be the beginning of discussion about doing something different.  It asks us to notice the amazing things around us every day which we may neglect.  I can understand completely how Max transformed Madame Martine's world, Xena does the same for me every single day.

If you would like to learn more about Sarah S. Brannen and her work please visit her website by following the link embedded in her name.  On her blog she speaks about her tour for this book.  One thing she mentions is a pack of cards her publisher designed.  It might be fun to try this; having your readers create cards about anything new to do.

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