Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Those Rascal Residents Down The Road

There are things over which we have little or no control in our lives.  Two of them are bugs and neighbors.  We know the former is essential to maintaining the balance in our environment and there are those who believe they will outlast all other living beings on our planet.  To be truthful one of the benefits of winter is being able to enjoy the out-of-doors without flies or mosquitoes buzzing around your head.  Granted you are bundled up like an Arctic explorer but the joy of being bug free is worth it.  As to the latter, despite your best efforts, it's much like flipping a coin.  People seem to have varying definitions of being friendly, cooperative or even civil.  Some neighbors are downright scary.  

More than seven years ago Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash collaborated on a title, Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug (Harcourt, June 1, 2007), addressing the unexpected presence of a bug in a terrier's life.  Without benefit of words we follow this dog as he follows the bug around a square block in a daytime adventure with less than normal events.  On November 11, 2014 the duo brings readers another longer wordless book (there have been other concept books showcasing this character, the last in 2009), Bow-Wow's Nightmare Neighbors (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press).  In the darkest part of the night trouble looms. 

Unlike the first book the opening and closing endpapers include the title, verso and dedication pages. An ornate pattern looking like flocked-wallpaper in a Victorian home is colored in black and gray.  The scroll work design features cats.  The text for each of the pages is placed on a white, gray and black background surrounded by an embellished gray on gray frame of three different shapes like hanging pictures.  A page turn reveals on the left a complete black canvas except for the tips of three white tails.  

On the first page Bow-Wow is sleeping peacefully on his cozy teal-colored bed.  It's the same shade as his collar.  Through an open window a full moon hangs in the star-studded sky.  Three cat faces are peering over the window sill.  All we can see of the smaller one is a pair of ears.

Bow-Wow is shocked awake when something bites his tail.  As he leaps into the air his bed vanishes out the window.  Howling with unhappiness he follows a trail to a house; the sight stopping him in his tracks.  It is the very definition of haunted.  But a dog needs his bed.

Inside he falls through floors, glares at a picture with moving eyes, and is followed by ghostly cats.  Yelping with pain his tail continues to be nipped again and again.  Several encounters with items thought to be his bed lead him on a chase and frighten an unwanted guest.  Alert and using all his senses, he heads upstairs.  

Terror with a toilet, an exploding closet and a colorful room deepen the spookiness but the nose knows.  Before Bow-Wow can make a move a gigantic shock allows him to see that which cannot be seen.  Leaping in fear out into the stormy night, our furry friend finds himself in a perilous position.  

Lightning ignites a change in thinking.  An eerie exodus ensues. This is a night to remember.  Sweet dreams?

Impeccable layout and design contribute to perfect pacing.  Each of the images is framed in heavy black lines as are many of the elements in the pictures.  White space further delineates each panel.  

Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash vary the number of illustrations on each page to control the flow of the narrative.  All are square or rectangular.  At times, to give the reader an inside scoop, almost as an aside, a single page square will contain a circular picture surrounded by black.  Point of view shifts supplying emotional impact.  

To create an atmosphere, once inside the haunted house, most of the illustrations are done in a palette of gray and black with Bow-Wow, his collar and items in teal the only additional hues used.  To draw our attention to pain or a temporary loss of sight additional spots of color appear.  In the final pages of the story more color is shown, pulling readers toward a warm resolution. 

I have read this book over and over and over and each time I see a new detail.  Perhaps every single element is not initially consciously recognized but it enriches the collective whole.  For Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash to conceive and produce this pictorial story achieving those results is impressive.  

One of my favorite illustrations is divided by black lines and white space framing it into nine elements; Bow-Wow falling down the tunnel.  Several others are prized for their humor; the group of four showing Bow-Wow following his bed up the stairs with the tops of the stairs lifting after he passes to reveal seven ghost cat heads or the five pages involving the toilet in the bathroom switching picture sizes back and forth.  The final three visuals are classic comfort.

If you have a reader who likes a hauntingly good tale filled with twists and turns, then hand them Bow-Wow's Nightmare Neighbors written and illustrated by Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash.  It's storytelling at its very finest.  Readers, like me, will be compelled to open the front cover again as soon as the back cover is closed.  

For more information about both of the authors/illustrators please follow the links embedded in their names to access their respective websites.  The Bow-Wow books have their own web pages linked here.  This title is listed as one of The Horn Book Fanfare picks for 2014.  An article appeared in Publishers Weekly, The Return of Bow-Wow.  I thoroughly enjoyed this interview of the two by Philip Nel at The Comic Journal, Nightmare Neighbors, Dream Collaborators.  

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