Quote of the Month

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

Friday, July 24, 2015

Finding Your Place

If you were to ask a group of children what they do best, their answers will span a broad spectrum, some understandably typical, others refreshingly original.  Continuing the conversation I wonder what one thing they will see themselves doing as adults.  What will be their occupation?  What will they dedicate their lives to doing?

It is not easy to discover your talent.  When you search your mind and heart, you need to listen closely so the voice of your gift can be heard.  Once you understand this, where will you go, what can you do or who will you help?  Ellie (Disney Hyperion, May 12, 2015) written and illustrated by debut picture book author illustrator Mike Wu is about a zoo, the animals making their home there and an elephant longing to make a discovery.

On a bright winter day, when Ellie was just finishing her lunch, the zookeeper came by with an announcement.  

The news was not good, not good at all.  The zoo, the place where the animals lived, was closing.  Ellie and her friends needed a plan.

Gerard, the gorilla, suggested they make the zoo look a little more presentable.  Lucy, the giraffe, began by shaping the trees.  This made for a tasty lunch too.  Gerard flexed his muscles, moving rocks.  Even the monkeys got in on the action by cleaning.  Ellie was small as elephants go.  What could she do?

She thought Walt, the zookeeper, might have an answer but he was hard at work.  Momentarily called away, Walt left the tool he was using for his job.  Ellie picked it up.

When Walt came back, he took one look at Ellie's work and ran.  Oh, oh!  What had she done?  Pulling a wagon loaded with cans of paint, Walt returned grinning from ear to ear.

Soon Ellie's efforts were adding color where there had been none.  Her creativity sparked a demand for portraits and paintings.  People from everywhere gathered at the zoo.  Ellie found her savvy using it exactly where it was needed for those most important to her.

Using a blend of narrative and dialogue Mike Wu reaches out a hand for us to hold as he takes us on a tour of the zoo and Ellie's life there.  Ellie's gentle soul shines on every page.  Readers can sense a quiet tension building through Wu's words choices.  It makes Ellie's discovery more heartwarming.  Here is another sample passage.

"I'll prune the trees,"
Lucy said, nibbling a leaf.
"If only my trunk were longer!" said Ellie.
"I'll move this rock," Gerard
huffed, clearing it off the path.
"If only my muscles 
were bigger!" said Ellie. 

Ellie's creative potential is showcased on the front and back of the dust jacket.  By all the paint splatters on the ground, canvas and Ellie we know she has been busy.  To the left the image is reversed showing us the back of Ellie and what she has painted.  She is most excellent at capturing a true likeness of her friends.  Upon removing the dust jacket readers will see the different colored spine.  It's gone from orange to sky blue.  Splashes of paint cover both sides in hues of green, blue, orange and pink.

Mike Wu has included the opening and closing endpapers in his narrative, a visual beginning and ending.  Each depicts the entrance and wall surrounding the zoo.  They do convey totally different perspectives.  The verso to the left of the title page is a city skyline at dusk.

Each image has a classic, retro design.  Rendered in watercolor the delicate line work supplies the right emotional impact at the right time.  Small details reflect the personalities of the characters, Ellie's large eyes, Gerald wearing glasses and reading a book, and Lucy's advantageous height.  Walt, the zookeeper, is pencil thin; a man on the move with a mission.

White space is used to excellent advantage no matter the size of the picture.  It frames and defines the elements.  It also acts as an agent to change.  As Ellie's skill grows the whiteness is replaced with a more colorful background.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Walt returns pulling the wagon stacked with paint cans.  When Ellie, her feet spattered in paint, sees him her eyes light up and a smile spreads across her face.  Walt is nearly running on air, eyes closed, smiling, and carrying an extra can of paint.  This exhibits a colorful shift in the story.

Hand Ellie written and illustrated by Mike Wu to anyone who enjoys an uplifting tale.  It speaks to each person and the path leading to knowing what we will love to do with all our heart.  We are reminded of the individual talent(s) we hold within ourselves.

To learn more about Mike Wu, his work and other endeavors please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  His children's clothing line is adorable.  (Xena thinks I should get the Woof t-shirt.  I tried to tell her I left the toddler stage ages ago.)  Teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher interview Mike Wu on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Ellie is featured at author, teacher librarian and blogger Carter Higgins' site, Design Of The Picture Book. Mike Wu is interviewed about this book at Geek Dad.  The book trailer is available at all three sites.  In a word, it's precious.

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