Quote of the Month

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

Monday, February 22, 2016

Wily Wind

It can be as gentle as puppy's breath or as fierce as a lion's roar.  It scatters seeds planting them where they fall. It creates currents in the sky for gliding birds. It moves boats of all shapes and sizes through waters, large and small.

It sends visual, vocal and written messages a few feet or across an unknown amount of miles.  The wind can unwittingly (or maybe by plan) lend a helping hand in the forming of friendships.  The Red Hat (Disney Hyperion, December 8, 2015) written by David Teague with illustrations by Antoinette Portis traces paths taken amid great gusts.

Billy Hightower lived atop the world's tallest building.
Even the clouds didn't reach so high.

When you live higher than the clouds, you miss out on some of nature's more welcome moments.  The one thing you always have is wind.  Some days are breezier than others.  On those days, the wind is a complete trickster.

Rather than wide open sky, Billy Hightower finds himself, after a series of changes, one morning looking at another building higher than the clouds.  On the roof of this towering structure is a girl; a girl wearing a red hat.  He shouts out his name.  The wind blows it up and over those two super skyscrapers.

A paper airplane is creased and folded.  Written on the surface is a message for the girl from Billy Hightower.  The wind swirls it out of reach.  A kite with words on the tail suffers a similar fate at the whims of the wind.

With determination and more than a little courage Billy Hightower appears on his roof again with a large blanket.  Oh, my Billy!  First it billows out and then ascending like a balloon the wind carries the boy toward the girl in the red hat.  A relentless burst of boisterous breezes foils his plans and steals her hat.

Back on terra firma despite the howling blasts Billy Hightower strides toward his goal, as resolute as ever.  Something catches his eye.  His heart swells with happiness.  His now knows he can reach new heights.

As surely as a warm spring breeze swirls dandelion puffs skyward, the words written by David Teague will lift your spirits.  Simple sentences and phrases full of wonderful verbs supply a blustery atmosphere as well as describing a boy with wishes he is willing to make come true.  Teague uses repetition to reinforce Billy's intentions.

Then he folded it, and folded it, and folded it...

Through this story we are beside Billy each time he tries to connect with the girl, adding more thoughts to each message.  In this boy we are able to see how a hindrance becomes the means to an end when a creative mind is at work.  Here are two more sentences.

The wind howled.
It yowled down alleyways,
almost stopping him cold.

When I opened up the dust jacket the use of four colors with spot glossy whirls of a light teal made me whisper in appreciation.  The sky, swirls and clouds continue to the left over the spine to the back.  The flaps are in red with white text.  It's a stunning combination. The stolen hat shaped like a heart sends us a hint of the warmth found in this story.

The book case is white, front and back.  Shiny light teal whorls come from the lower left-hand corner on the back meeting another whorl coming from the lower right-hand side of the front.  Tucked in their center is the girl's red hat.  The opening and closing endpapers are the same blue as on the dust jacket with clouds along the bottom.  Black and white buildings peek through the tops of the clouds.  The wind currents are shown swooping across the entire image.  This is carried over to the verso and title pages.

Antoinette Portis begins by alternating between double-page images and single page pictures framed in white.  The single pages are tied together over the gutter through creative design.  From the moment Billy brings the blanket to the roof, the remainder of the illustrations spans both pages as the narrative intensifies.  Another color, gray, becomes more visible when Billy lands on the ground walking through the city.

The heavy black lines, the color palette and shifts in perspective completely captivate readers.  We don't know what a page turn will bring but we can hardly wait to find out.  Portis tucks in little details to make the story more endearing; the shape of a balloon caught in tree branches and the name of the girl's building.

One of my favorite illustrations is of Billy drifting through the sky.  He's still among the clouds, arms stretched high as the wind holds the blanket aloft. (All we can see are the grasped corners of the blanket.)  As you would expect his mouth and eyes are wide open in surprise and anticipation as to what might happen.  Along the bottom of the visual are a row of city buildings in black.  The swirls of air are wrapped around him, carrying him down.

When the Children's Choice Book Award nominees were announced last week John Schumacher, Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, posted the press release on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  The Red Hat written by David Teague with illustrations by Antoinette Portis was selected as one of the Children's Choice Illustrator hopefuls.  The blend of text and art in this story is a brilliant example of less is more.  Whether it means to or not the wind fuels a growing warmth on every page.  This book offers readers a chance to discuss and ponder many things.

To learn more about David Teague and Antoinette Portis please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  I really enjoyed this post by Betsy Bird, Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system, at Fuse #8 Production, School Library Journal.  In the final publication the text she speaks about in her second to last paragraph is wonderfully visible.

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