Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, April 16, 2015

To Play Or To Work

Their world beneath our feet is a series of tunnel roadways leading to the queen's residence.  I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see some form of John Heywood's timeless quotation,

Many hands make light work

strategically mounted along their hidden passages.  Never at rest, always on the move, all the members of team ant know what to do and when to do it.

As a classic piece of folklore a fable uses animals to convey a moral or lesson.  None are more recognized than those of Aesop.  None are more gorgeous in their retelling than those of Caldecott Medal winner, Jerry Pinkney.

On April 7, 2015 a companion to The Lion & The Mouse (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010 Caldecott Medal) and The Tortoise & The Hare (Little, Brown and Company, October 1, 2013) was released.  In the first book the setting is the African Serengeti and in the second title we travel to the American Southwest.  In the third book, The Grasshopper & The Ants (Little, Brown and Company), we find ourselves in the woodlands.

When first looking at the dust jacket, you will want to take your time to notice the exquisite details deftly depicted by Pinkney.  For mere moments a group of Ants have paused to listen to the music man, the Grasshopper, who carries his drum set, banjo and concertina with him everywhere.  The delicate wings on his back are breathtaking.

The staff in pastel shades of blue, pink and yellow swirling about him indicates the lightness of the melody.  Dandelion seeds, like wishes, float on the air.  This illustration extends to the left, the back, in a lush view of the forest floor, filled with leaves, flowers, Ants, a monarch butterfly, a caterpillar and a lady bug, wings spread ready to soar.  (It should be noted the front flap images align with the opening endpapers.)

Beneath the jacket on the book case, with a white canvas, framed in dandelion leaves and flowers are portraits of the Grasshopper and an Ant observing the reader.  On the back is the Ants' winter abode with the note laden staff twisting forth from an opening.  This picture is outlined in holly branches and leaves.

Both the opening and closing endpapers are a naturalist's delight in an array of leaves, flowers and the Ants' stump home covered in shelf fungus.  Both feature the Ants busy at work.  Only the Grasshopper is featured differently.  I wonder how many readers will stop to identify all the leaves and flowers.  With a page turn we see the title spread across two pages; the letters formed from leaves, tiny twigs, and flowers.  The Grasshopper and the Ants are busy doing what they do best.

In a series of twelve spectacular double-page visuals Jerry Pinkney gives his signature spin on the tale. (There is also a gasp-worthy surprise toward the end.) In addition readers can see two framed single pages where elements break out from the lines and two edge-to-edge single page pictures as well as the final illustration.  At one particular point in the narrative he even uses a set of smaller framed images to enhance the pacing and add a bit of tension.

"Why work so hard?"
sang Grasshopper.
"It's spring and time to go fishing."

"No time to relax,"
said the Ants.

With these three sentences Pinkney begins.  As the seasons progress Grasshopper asks the same question with alterations to his words.  The Ants reply in kind.  Each time Grasshopper's phrases are increased making his invitation more enticing.  In the autumn and winter the Ants do not reply.  Grasshopper finally realizes his activities would be better if shared.

For the remainder of the book all of the illustrations are wordless with one exception.  A wise matriarch offers a cup of compassion.  It is humbly accepted.

All these illustrations are deserving of being framed.  One of my favorites is when the first snow comes.  The Ants are nowhere in sight but Grasshopper is beside himself with glee, wings extended, hovering above trees branches and lingering fall leaves in rustic reds and browns.  Snowflakes are falling in all shapes and sizes.  Concertina music rides the breeze.  (At this point Grasshopper is not wearing his leaf snowshoes yet.)

When you first hold this book in your hands, after you look at the dust jacket and book case, you can't help but run your fingers over the heavy smooth matte-finished paper.  It's like you have to touch the beauty.  Please add The Grasshopper & The Ants written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, a true national treasure, to your professional and personal collections.  Share it with everyone as often as you can.  You will enjoy reading the Author's Note on the final page.

To learn more about Jerry Pinkney and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  If you access the TeachingBooks website they have many resources about Jerry Pinkney.

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