Quote of the Month

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

Read On Read On Read

Each person stores away their sensory perceptions, what they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, in ways unique to them.  Several people could discover the same thing but remember it differently; noting the color, texture, shapes, the time of day, the temperature inside or outside, a specific noise, or a pungent odor, giving one more importance than the other.  To me what is most meaningful is that they noticed.

When we stop, take the time, to use our senses we realize stories can be found in the simplest everyday events; many beyond our control.  This attention given to heeding those stories not only helps us to grow in appreciation but connects us to each other.  The final title in the Mock Caldecott unit in which Katherine Sokolowski, an educator in Monticello, Illinois and I are collaborating is Blue on Blue (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, December 2014) written by debut author Dianne White and illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner (The House in the Night, 2009) Beth Krommes.

Cotton clouds.
Morning light.
Blue on blue,
White on white.

As the sun rises starting a new day, a blue sky is patterned with clouds.  A young family awakens.  Children play outside as the light brightens.

As a front moves in, the clouds change in size and color.  Cool air rides on rising wind gusts.  A gloomy darkness descends.  Booming and flashing announce the rainfall.  It's an endless cloudburst of noise and wet.

As quickly as it starts, the downpour shifts to drops.  The change is so gradual you barely notice when it stops, but it does. There are glorious puddles and mud around every corner.  Jump! Roll!

As the last rays of a setting sun warm the yard, barn and surrounding land a family gathers together to head back home.  It's a full moon night with a few sparkling stars for companions.  Colors change as sleep comes to all.

When I read the words of Dianne White as she describes a single day from sunrise to wild weather to calm to sunset and into the night, I can feel Mother Nature's heartbeat.  Intertwined with this rhythm are the lives of a young farming family living near the seashore.  Their responses to the sudden summer storm are in complete harmony.

The technique of joining similar or identical words with the preposition "on" creates a beat throughout the story.  Thoughts are tied together with rhyming words at the end of lines and the repetition of words from line to line.  Spare, explicit text brings readers intimately into each moment.  Here is another example.

Dripping dropping.  Never stopping. (page turn)
Never stopping.  Dripping dropping.

It's as if we are peering through wildflowers as the idyllic scene of a small farm home, perched on a hill, enveloped by the sea, unfolds before us upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case. At first look one word comes to mind---stunning.  On the right Beth Krommes introduces us to the mother, her older daughter, their two dogs and a cat.  We see laundry hanging on the line.  On the left is a perfect extension of every element from the front forming a larger picture; the exception is the dark clouds, falling rain and waves on the water.  That special cornflower blue of sky reflected off water is the color for the opening and closing endpapers.  As if cupped in a reader's hands a small visual appears beneath the title; flowers in a garden, the cat, a jump rope, a watering can, an umbrella, a ball in a puddle of water and a single red rain boot.

Crossing the gutter a nearly two-page spread begins the story on the verso and dedication pages with one of the puppies looking outside into the yard through the screen door at the cat.  Laundry in a basket along with a bucket of clothes pins are ready as are the jump rope, ball, red tricycle and rain gear.  All of the twenty-two double-page illustrations and the three single page pictures rendered in scratchboard and watercolor by Beth Krommes heighten the poetic words of Dianne White.  Krommes' portrayal, her interpretation of the words, is nothing short of marvelous.

The fine lines of her artistic style create exquisite images rich in depicting the natural world within which the family resides on their farm.  She brings readers breathtaking panoramas of sea, sky and land, warm snapshots of daily life between the parents and their children, and the importance of the animals wild and domesticated.  Perspectives change from picture to picture or even within the same visual.  We may be looking down upon the house, barn, yard and pond with the farmer plowing to the right as if we are one of the horses on the hill.  We may be inside the girl's bedroom as she and the pups hide beneath the covers as the thunder booms and the lightning flashes.  Outside her window her father is bringing the horses to the barn.  No element is missing.  Layer upon layer of detail is present.

It's impossible to single out a favorite illustration.  The final two pictures for the words

Black on gold... (page turn)
on silver night.

are breathtaking.  The first is inside the barn with the mare feeding from a bucket as the colt is curled around the sleeping black cat.  Hues of brown and gold are defined with black, gray and white supplying cozy comfort.  Farm tools, the farmer's hat and gear for the horse are hanging on or leaning against the walls. Stars and a full moon fill the window.  Our focus then changes outside to the sea filled with rolling waves, a whale emerging to the surface.  Islands are shown in the distance.  To the left a cliff rises; steps formed in the side.  On the top is the house and barn of the family's farm.  A few clouds and stars are placed on the black sky.

The lyrical words of Dianne White enhanced by the artwork of Beth Krommes in Blue on Blue gives readers a truly beautiful book.  I can guarantee at least two things will happen when this book is read either by an individual reader or shared with a group.  First and foremost the elegance read and seen on every page will astound them into silence.  Secondly everyone will look at the visuals over and over noticing new elements each time.  I would plan on getting more than one copy.  You might like to compare this book to TAP TAP BOOM BOOM written by Elizabeth Bluemle with illustrations by G. Brian Karas.

If you wish to discover more about Dianne White or Beth Krommes please visit their websites by following the links embedded in their names.  They were both interviewed about this title at The Nonfiction Nook late last month.  Here is a link to an extensive interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast hosted by author Julie Danielson from several years ago about the artwork of Beth Krommes. Update:  Here is a guest post Dianne White did about this book at Cynsations, a blog hosted by author Cynthia Leitich Smith. 

I think everyone should have this title on their personal and professional shelves.  That's why I am giving away a copy.  Good luck!

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