Quote of the Month

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

Monday, May 4, 2015

Bound By Books

Today kicks off the 96th celebration of the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country.  Children's Book Week runs through the 10th of May.  It highlights books for young readers promoting a love of reading.  A visit to the site reveals many suggestions and promotional tools.

There is no better way to begin this jubilation than with a book about books.  LOOK! (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), April 7, 2015) written and illustrated by Jeff Mack uses only two words to tell his story.  He is expanding on the successful technique of using only two letters as he did in AH HA! (Chronicle Books, August 20, 2013).

A rather bored gorilla is trying to get the attention of a little guy seated on a stool, eyes glued to a television screen.  On a small table near the duo is a stack of three books.  The gorilla takes the top one, opens it and places it on his head like a hat.  He gently pokes the boy in the back asking him to


When the boy fails to move a single muscle, including his eyes, the laughing gorilla leans over the screen balancing the book on this nose, waving his arms and shouting.  The boy exclaims,

Look out.

Having tumbled backward, the gorilla gazes at the three books now on the floor.

Using his superb skills, the positive primate stacks the books edge to edge on top of one another.  On one foot he stands at the top like balancing ballerina.  When he falls to the floor, the child shouts his original exclamation again.  The gorilla points and laughs.  The boy points out an open door.

Now the room is dark except for the glow from the screen casting light on the boy's face.  With a shout, actually seven shouts, the jovial giant bursts through the door juggling all three books as he arrives, standing on the seat of a tricycle on one foot.  This is going to be a spectacular display of best intentions gone wrong.

Amid much shouting two things disappear, the hypnotic glow and the once happy but now tearful gorilla.  The boy is nearly alone.  Without words, time passes.  Without words, a discovery is made.  With cheerful yells a tale within a tale is told.

Jeff Mack employs to great effect the different meanings, combinations and nuances of the words look and out.  The only punctuation used is periods and exclamation points.  Without those readers can sense the shift in emotion and pacing; eagerness, surprise and sharing.  The final use of the word out could not have been done better.

Textured like cloth the matching dust jacket and book case background opens up the possibility of a book within a book.  Readers will know, without a doubt, the gorilla is willing to do whatever it takes to get the attention of the boy.  On the back, to the left, we see signs of his antics; the fallen table, books and a tricycle wheel.  A bright orange canvas for the opening and closing endpapers complements the bright bold colors of the jacket and case.

With a page turn Jeff Mack begins his story without words.  It continues on the title page illustration, rendered in mixed media, including pencil, watercolor, collage, and digital manipulations, as are all the pictures.  For these two pages and the following two pages, the main elements are placed on other existing open books.

Each of the subsequent single and double page images are displayed on a variety of backgrounds frequently seen in books.  Mack supplies text in different fonts, even using crayon to write some of his words.  There is an underlying zip, zap and zing on every page.  The enthusiasm of the gorilla, the total motionless of the seated boy and his eruptions of disgusted anger provide for hilarity.

One of my favorite illustrations of several is on a single page.  After one of the gorilla's falls, the red book, opened, is now on the boy's head like a hat.  The television has slipped off the stand.  The gorilla is pointing and saying LOOK.  Clearly he is happy with the outcome.  The child's body posture states he is clearly not happy.

It's not every day a gorilla enters your home wanting to be your friend but this gorilla is determined to get the boy's attention.  Little does he know the power of the objects he is using for his purposes.  LOOK! written and illustrated by Jeff Mack is one of those titles with a timeless message about the power of books to bring people together.  It will make for a fun-filled read aloud with a storytime group or a cozy one-on-one sharing with someone you love.  You might want to have a stuffed toy gorilla or puppet handy.   I think this would make a wonderful reader's theater.  Don't be surprised to see guys and gals trying to balance books on their noses.

To learn more about Jeff Mack and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  If you click on the image for this book, you can see additional interior pictures.

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