Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Holding On To Beauty

They walk among the towering fifty foot tall ponderosa pines and tamarack trees grazing on grasses and bushes.  You can see them as darkness falls away to daylight, in the mid-morning or late afternoon hours, and at twilight.  They can be heard munching on apples at two am if you have to go outside with your dog.  Chain link fences surrounding homes built more than thirty years ago mean nothing to them.  This is their land.  It has been for centuries.

Gliding through our city and outlying suburbs alone, in pairs or large groups, the white-tailed deer are a reminder of our need to protect and preserve.  As stewards of our fragile planet our vigilance is not an option.  Counting Lions: Portraits from the Wild (Candlewick Press, October 13, 2015) writing by Katie Cotton, illustrations by Stephen Walton and a foreword by Virginia McKenna draws readers into the wild with stunning artwork and poetic observations.

One lion
sits and watches his rough-and-tumble pride.
He surveys the golden savanna, and a flicker catches his eye---something moving in the grass.

This big cat, a monarch, a sentinel and a soldier, ever attentive, rules, observes and fights to safeguard his family.  It seems fitting the group is called a pride.  His look is fierce and filled with purpose.

As a page is turned the numbers advance.  Two gorillas, a mother and child, nose to nose, are so close they are sharing the same air.  Tiny at birth, the baby will stay near for several years.

Tall, graceful and spotted they reach for leaves.  Three giraffes roam the grasslands on long legs with stretched necks.  Nestled near three cubs a majestic tiger stares and dares anyone to come near her family.

Did you know elephants walk from the day they are born?  Five search for food and water where others have traversed before them.  They are not found anywhere else in our world, these Ethiopian wolves.  Even though they are six in number, they work as one.

Seven cuddle and get cozy as a storm swirls about them in Antarctica.  Wearing no crown, these Emperor penguins live an unimaginable existence in a land of ice and snow.  Every two to four years these female turtles move en masse to lay their eggs.  Eight swim toward the sands.  How much longer will these creatures grace our oceans?

Wearing bold-hued feathers nine macaws line a limb.  Their chatter informs each other of the latest forest gossip.  Displaying coats which leave no doubt as to their identity, ten zebras lean down to quench their thirst.  Though their heads are bowed, their eyes miss nothing.  Others seeking them for dinner need the water too.  Fifty-five animals altogether, from one to ten, counting on us.

For each specie Katie Cotton has penned sentences lyrical in style.  We are taken to the place, we are keenly aware of the animals' physical qualities, and we are asked questions.  Each piece begins and ends with a number followed by the name.  This along with vivid description, alliteration and the repetition of the number followed by a noun in the next to last line create a pleasing rhythm.  Here is the completion of the first.

...A challenger to his throne?
His muscles tighten.  He throws back his huge head,
about to roar---but it is only a lioness, returning with a kill.
He settles down to keep watch again.
Who knows what he has seen?
One king.
One lion.

Mesmerizing is a word which comes to mind when first looking at the matching dust jacket and book case.  These images rendered by Stephen Walton in charcoal reach out, grab you and don't let go.  You can't turn away.  You want to sit and study every single one.  On the back, to the left three giraffes look at you from the left-hand corner. The orange color of the title text is replicated on the opening and closing endpapers.

Throughout the book the only colors are the white background, the orange text and shades of charcoal.  The first image is the only one on a single page.  The rest span both pages, the narrative placed outside the scope of each picture.  You will find yourself frequently reaching out to the page wanting to touch one of the featured animals.

Light and shadow and fine lines create beings ready to break free from the confines of the page at any moment.  You believe if you close your eyes and then open them; the animals might be alive in the room with you.  The way they stare right at you is marvelous.

One of my favorite illustrations of several is the five elephants ranging in ages.  The younger ones stay close to their parent in the grass.  The notched ears and wrinkled skin are exquisitely portrayed.  You can almost hear them breathing.  For the moment they have paused to eat but you know they'll move on soon.

Counting Lions: Portraits from the Wild written by Katie Cotton with illustrations by Stephen Walton and an introduction by Virginia McKenna is an eloquent, poignant look at ten different animals, some needing our help more than others.  At the close of the book several paragraphs are dedicated to supplying more details about each of them.  Information is included about the author, illustrator and the role of Virginia McKenna as a champion for wildlife.  There is also a page of websites for those seeking additional facts.

To learn more about Stephen Walton and his work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  This is a link to a blog post, Why I don't edit 'proper books' for grown-ups, by Katie Cotton which gives you a feel for her passion for picture books.  Enjoy the book trailer provided by the UK publisher.

Be sure to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected by other bloggers participating in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. This looks like a beautiful book. Can't wait to read it.