Quote of the Month

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

Monday, October 26, 2015

Guardians Of The Wood

Take it from one who knows, moving is mentally and physically exhausting.  The stress from the mess of packing, assignment of duties to willing helpers, phone calls to utilities, banks, mortgage companies, title companies, realtors and moving company personnel seem to be never ending.  Getting boxes, shaping boxes, taping boxes, loading boxes, bubble wrapping anything and everything, lifting and carrying are enough of a work-out to earn extra points on the daily exercise chart.  Then when you arrive at your destination it all happens again, only in reverse.  For children and pets it must be overwhelming.

Each home has good qualities.  Each location has reasons for being selected.  When the change is made it's hard not to compare.  The newness is a mix of excitement and apprehension.  The wife and husband team of Erin E. Stead and Philip C. Stead present Lenny & Lucy (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, October 6, 2015), a look at imagination and the magic it invites.

through the dark unfriendly woods, Peter said,
"I think this is a terrible idea."

Peter, Harold, his faithful furry dog, and his Dad are moving.  The road to their new home takes them through old woods filled with tall trees and little light.  After crossing a bridge, they arrive.  To Peter the bridge is a gate; the woods on one side, his new home on the other.

That first night, Peter and Harold did not get a wink of sleep, worrying about the things not seen in the woods.  The next morning the companions haul piles of pillows from the house along with the necessary blankets.  Peter molds them into a friendly shape; a large bundled up man he calls

Lenny, Guardian of the Bridge.

On this night no one sleeps again, all three of them are awake.  Two are worried about the other being alone.  Lenny sits silently, a single brave soul making sure Peter and Harold are safe.

During the day, after much jumping by Harold and Peter, the piles of leaves are shaped as were the pillows with the necessary blankets from the house.  Lenny will not be lonely any longer.  He now has Lucy for a friend.  All is quiet this night. Everyone is sleeping.

The next day is off to a pleasant start with soup for lunch outside after a rousing game of marbles by the foursome. (You won't believe who wins.) A voice asks if anyone has ever seen an owl.  A binocular-carrying girl, Millie, from next door joins the group.  Five sit in a row looking at the wood.  As evening falls a crescent moon hangs in the sky with everyone and everything exactly where they should be.

When Philip C. Stead writes, the stories unfold in quiet and contemplation.  His first sentence on the opening page leaves us wondering.  Even if we have never moved, we immediately connect with Peter.  Everyone knows the disquiet change brings.

We understand Peter's unease but we are never afraid.  The repetition of Peter's actions and the phrases describing them supply a comforting cadence as the tale unfolds.  When Peter and Harold play with the pillows and leaves Stead adds the number of times they do this to his sentence.  It's one extra word but it is significant.  Our kinship with them grows.

The fourth sentence lets us know about Harold's place in this family; he's a beloved member.  Even though he never speaks, his presence is necessary and part of the narrative.  It brings a sense of normalcy so the wonder is even more surprising.

You probably can't tell but the title is embossed in a copper-like foil on the dust jacket.  This illustration is seen again, slightly more close-up in the interior.  To the left, on the back, we read a single sentence on a ribbon of cream over the large floral pattern, the wallpaper in Peter's bedroom.  The cloth book case is a dusky blue, the color of Peter's hat and mittens and his dad's hooded sweater.  The only image is in the lower right-hand corner, again in the copper foil, a foreshadowing of the fun ahead for Peter and Harold.  A shade of burnt orange covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Before the title page an owl is perched on a bare tree branch except for a single golden leaf still hanging.

Erin E. Stead's illustrations, rendered with carbon transfer printing, egg tempera and charcoal, tell a story of their own extending the text.  A limited color palette defines the pictures placed opposite a shaded charcoal page, or extending edge to edge across two pages.  The hues of black and gray make the added color a striking contrast.  Stead's use of the cream color, sometimes large amounts, is exceedingly skillful.  (I really want to know where the idea for the wallpaper in Peter's room originated.)

One of my favorite illustrations is of Lenny sitting on the ground a plate of toast and jam on the ground in front of his big self.  A glass of milk has been placed in his mittened-hand by Peter.  Harold is ready to pounce in the leaves.   Peter is carrying a huge bunch of leaves.  It's a scene so exquisitely normal and filled with loving companionship that you have to pause.

Readers move through the emotional changes in Peter along with his companions in Lenny & Lucy written by Philip C. Stead with illustrations by Erin E. Stead.  Peter has enough confidence to face his fears, secure in his beliefs, to create help. There is strength in numbers, a loyal dog and a watchful owl.  This title found a place on our final Mock Caldecott list.

To find out more about both Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Here is the link to The Stead Collection site.  At the publisher's website you can view additional images.  Please read the blog posts for Lenny & Lucy at Watch. Connect. Read. hosted by John Schumacher, Scholastic Ambassador for School Libraries, at the Nerdy Book Club, The Art Room by Philip C. Stead and at sharpread where I Love Reading 3rd grade teacher, Colby Sharp interviews Erin E. Stead and Philip C. Stead.  You'll enjoy this interview at Publishers Weekly where the Steads interview each other.

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