Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Ritual of Reading

When I first hold a new book in my hands, no matter the format, I remove the dust jacket and open it up.  I look at the layout, design and palette used, flap edge to flap edge.  Next I look at the book case to see if it matches the dust jacket.  If it's anything but a picture book the color and texture generally have significance.  There might be a single element embossed on the front.  Lifting the cover I check the endpapers in the front and at the back.  As soon as I pass the title page, verso and dedication pages, whether the words are written or not, I think Once upon a time.

Every reader has their own personal approach for beginning a new book.  A recent release, How To Read A Story (Chronicle Books, May 5, 2015) written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Mark Siegel includes all the little intimate details, in a series of steps, making reading the pleasure it can and should be.  They recognize a great deal of the fun comes before holding the book in your hands.

A good one.
It can have princesses and castles,
if you like that sort of thing,
or witches and trolls
(As long as they're not too scary.)

As any resident of life will know, many experiences when shared are much better.  It is the same with reading a book.  Although the choices are varied, it all comes down to finding a buddy who is most comfortable with you and you with them.  The only thing more meaningful is perhaps revisiting step one together.

And just like real estate tycoons say, location, location, location is as important as a good story and a cozy companion.  Be sure to select a special spot; preferably one where you can remain for as long as necessary.  Now take a good look at the unopened book.  Everything there tells a tiny tale.

There are specific things to remember when reading aloud; clarity and intonation go hand in hand.  Don't pig the pictures.  Remember to share the pages with your pal.

Pacing is essential to enjoyment; savoring the words and piecing them together to form questions and to seek answers.  As the conclusion nears and emotions heighten, be ready for whatever the author and illustrator have planned.  You and your friend are in this together until the very end.  (If step one has been followed, a group will have gathered to surround you both.)

Kate Messner has demonstrated her versatility as an outstanding author repeatedly; moving from pictures books Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt to a young readers series culminating (to date) in Marty McGuire Has Too Many Pets, a middle grade series Capture The Flag, Hide And Seek and Manhunt, a middle grade level novel All The Answers and for slightly older readers, a science fiction thriller, Wake Up Missing to name a few.  It is easy for me to picture her seated in a circle with a group of children, a smile in her eyes and on her lips, speaking the words of this book, casually but committed, with love in her heart.  She wants new readers to be put at ease but also wants the experience of story to be memorable.  Each of these steps is identified but expanded in ways close to young people's lives.  Here is another sample passage.

... Make sure your reading buddy is nice and snuggly.
And make sure you both like the book.
If you don't agree...go back to Step 1.
Sometimes it takes a few tries to find just the right book.

Look at all the choices the young main character and his reading buddy have spread before them on the matching dust jacket and book case.  Their body postures are relaxed but ready for exploration.  On the back, to the left, the blue and white is used in a pattern of wide stripes.  The use of primary and complimentary colors (here and throughout the book) sends the intended audience an open arms welcome.  On both sets of endpapers two shades of yellow are striped on the pages, as is the pattern on the boy's reading chair.

Rendered in ink and watercolor, Mark Siegel brings a spirited quality to all the pictures.  A crisp white background supplies the perfect canvas to highlight his artwork.  Each of the steps is written in red.  Like the boy and his blue dog, the text and illustrations work in partnership.  The facial features and body positions are filled with humor; sure to illicit laughter more than once.  Siegel alters placement and size of his visuals appropriately to enhance the narrative.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of the boy and his dog trying to find a special spot for reading.  In this setting they are outside in the winter on a wooden deck.  They are both seated in a pale green Adirondack chair bundled in hats, mittens, a coat, a scarf and blanket.  (The dog only has on a hat.) The dog's eyes are closed in listening silence as the boy reads.  A cup of something hot is steaming on the chair arm.

Everyone, young and old, is going to appreciate this uplifting guide, How To Read A Story written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Mark Siegel.  Each reader and listener can see themselves in this book.  It's a charming conversation about something ordinary and extraordinary which will last your whole life.

For more information about Kate Messner and Mark Siegel please follow the links attached to their names to access personal and informative websites.

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