Quote of the Month

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

Friday, February 13, 2015

Seasons, Silliness And Something Special

Without question I am considered an ardent fan of winter.  Hiking or snowshoeing through the woods or across an open field with my canine pal, Xena, tops my list of favorite things to do.  Crisp clear air, sun making the snow sparkle like diamonds, the pop and crackle of trees and the chirping of chickadees are my idea of the outdoors at its finest.  With that being said, this winter, the winter of 2015, is free to go at any time.

It began in earnest in the middle of November and then the much-loved snow depths faltered leaving us with crunchy crust, ice, howling winds and bitter temperatures.  From chatter on social media I am well aware most people along the east coast are probably taking pages from seed catalogs using them for wallpaper.  They are trying to substitute scenes of spring and summer for the snow piles seen outside their windows...that is, if they can even see out their windows.

Venturing outside is falling into the category of only when absolutely necessary; wearing so many layers you could probably win a mummy championship.  That's why last night, after putting another log on the fire and burrowing under a pile of blankets, I found myself laughing out loud over and over.  Reading A Wonderful Year (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, January 6, 2015) written and illustrated by Nick Bruel is like taking a hilarious trip through the four seasons with a guide who really gets the essence of each one.

said the girl.  

This bright-eyed bundle of energy introduces readers to the first of four stories beginning with winter.  She can hardly wait to get outside.  Who can blame her?  It's been months since the last decent snowfall.

It seems members of the household (even a can of beans) want her to slow down suggesting first one than another seven articles of clothing she needs to wear.  You can well imagine how bundled up she is by the time they are done.  When she opens the door to step outside your already mounting laughter will burst forth loud and long.

With the advent of spring our character is full of all the giddiness this change brings.  Trading in her red sweat pants and sweatshirt for jeans, a t-shirt, tank top, tennis shoes and a tutu she runs outside singing a Fairy Princess song.  Waving her princess wand and wearing her princess star headband, she gleefully notices daffodils, butterflies and her loyal pup.  He declares himself her knight and off they go.

Everything nearly comes to a halt when the family cat, dozing under the nearby tree is less than eager to play.  Captured and then crankily crying out, a revealing conversation ensues.  Finally the feline finds a way to enjoy the best of both worlds.

As the story for summer opens the girl and Louise, the large purple hippopotamus living in her home, are trudging down a sidewalk in the sweltering heat.  Our gal is so hot she turns into a puddle in front of her friend.  Never one to falter in the face of adversity, Louise has a plan.

Figuring prominently are a cup, a straw and the freezer in the refrigerator.  A television show featuring a can of beans nearly causes a disaster.  Ever the clever one, Louise knows exactly what to do to save the day.

Our girl, leaning against the trunk of the large tree, is reading a book.  The tree begins to ask her about the contents of her book.  As their conversation continues it becomes clear which book she is reading.

An act of bravery is disclosed.  As colors change and leaves fall a gift is given.  One final word of advice brings us full circle.

Nick Bruel has a talent for portraying the humorous aspects of larger concepts; the bundling up needed for winter exploring, spring fever's frenzy, and the unbearable heat of summer.  With equal skill he shifts the mood; our thoughts becoming reflective.  When he assigns the ability to speak to the dog and cat it adds more fun but when we are introduced to Louise who also talks, readers know they are in for more playful prose.  Without spoiling anything these three are not the only ones who have the gift of gab.

The section for spring written for the most part in rhythmic rhymes is an open invitation for readers to start humming or singing along.  The sounds Louise makes and her use of


when problems arise in summer are flawlessly presented; comedic timing perfection.  By now we are more than happy to follow this girl into autumn.  Bruel slows the pace with the questions and answers exchanged between the tree and girl.  And we are glad he does.  Here is one of the rhymes from spring.

Behold a Fairy Princess!
A Princess!
A Princess!
Behold a Fairy Princess,
A fair maiden she!

The bright colors on the matching dust jacket and book case ensure readers' attention will be drawn to the book.  Nick Bruel cleverly displays iconic images of each season within the letters of year.  It's the positioning of the orange and yellow cat, the red dog and a large wide-eyed purple hippopotamus, that will have readers wondering exactly what this story entails.  On the back of the jacket and case, a very puzzled cat is popping out from a pile of brown leaves. (This continues the end of the story wonderfully.)  Turquoise endpapers hold our interest as Bruel begins the story visually on the title page.  The girl, yawning, heads toward the front door of her home.

As she gazes across a double-page snow covered landscape on her street, the dedication is tucked into the left-hand corner and the short story title is displayed on the opposite page.  Each illustration, rendered in ink, watercolor, gouache, and collage on paper, compliments the text by altering image sizes.  A full page accompanies the first piece of text.  It is followed by three single pages divided into fourths horizontally then with another double-page illustration before closing with a final single page divided again into fourths. This first narrative, as are the others, is not only celebrated but enhanced by the pictures.

Body postures and facial expressions will have you grinning in minutes.  Louise steals the show in summer.  One of my favorite illustrations (because I love to laugh) is the series of panels of Louise when the girl has melted in the summer heat.  Louise is first looking directly at the reader uttering her characteristic exclamation with her constant bird friend aflutter.  The execution of her plan with the appropriate sound effects will have you more than eager to turn the page.

If you don't have a copy of A Wonderful Year written and illustrated by Nick Bruel, run, don't walk, to your nearest book shop to pick up not one but at least two copies.  You'll want one for home and another for your students. This is one of those books you have to read aloud even if it's to an empty room.  There is lots of joy within these pages.

To discover more about Nick Bruel visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  If you go to the publisher's website you can view eight interior pages.  Here are links to the first two guest posts by Nick Bruel at teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher's blog Watch. Connect. Read., Are you Ready to Have a WONDERFUL Fall? and Are You Ready to Have a WONDERFUL WINTER?  Don't miss this outstanding interview of Nick Bruel at author and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

UPDATE:  Nick Bruel has visited Watch. Connect. Read. again.  Get ready to laugh when reading Nick Bruel's Letter to SPRING.  Nick Bruel finished his letters to the seasons with this touching ode at Watch. Connect. Read.

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