Quote of the Month

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

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Puzzling Predicament

For three hundred sixty-five days you and your best friend have been planning for this single day of pure childhood bliss.  Squirreling away weekly allowances and odd-job monies earned in the neighborhood are part of the grand scheme.  Past experiences help you to generate a list of those places you must visit and of those things you must do.  You have been dreaming with ever growing excitement about the mix of sights, sounds, smells and tastes of an afternoon at the fair.

It seems as though the car ride is endless but your parents finally have the car parked; you and your friend are walking to the entrance.  Strolling through the gateway, you stop and look at each other, your grins growing.  You Must Be This Tall (Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, March 8, 2016) written and illustrated by Steven Weinberg (Rex Finds an Egg! Egg! Egg!) is about a day at the fair full of the expected fun of shared activities with more than one surprising twist.

Frank and Harold are at the fair.

Frank and Harold are as inseparable as the proverbial two peas in a pod except they are snakes.  Of the pair Frank is very long (tall) and thin.  Harold is much sturdier and shorter.

As soon as they can, they are enjoying one romping, rollicking ride after another.  Certainly this twosome is nearing exhaustion or at the very least dizzy from all their experiences.  On the contrary, they nearly shed their skins when they see the ultimate fair marvel spread before them, The Rattler.  This is the roller coaster of all roller coasters.  There is one huge problem.

A very persistent pig announces:


Harold is too short.  Even standing on the tip of his rattle, Harold is a smidgen too small.

Ever the faithful friend, Frank has a plan.  Actually Frank has several plans.  A costume booth helps them with Frank's first idea.  Unfortunately the proprietary pig has keen eyesight.  Will the high-wire, trapeze strategy work?

Frank's final approach to this dilemma is so shocking readers will be stunned.  They can't believe they are witness to this tactic but they might find themselves bursting aloud in laughter.  A persnickety pig meets his match.

Each sentence written by Steven Weinberg builds a narrative not unlike a roller coaster.  We go up, up, and up enjoying all their fun and then plunging down when they encounter the height requirement.  As Frank puts his plans into action we start going up, up, and up again and down over and over until we reach the top, crowning achievement.  When we descend to the start it is with great satisfaction.

Lots of action is infused into the story with word choices like slammin' and bouncin'.  Adjectives like scary and smelly are completely understandable and reader friendly and sure to elicit knowing nods.  If your younger self (or in my case recently) has tried to reach something on a top shelf, like hidden cookies, two of the pages might find you sitting up straighter or standing on your tippy toes.  Here is a short sample passage.

No fair!
Hang in there, Harold.
Frank has a new idea...
Together they
s t r e t c h ! ...

A kaleidoscope of color in a full illustration stretching from side to side on the open matching dust jacket and book case greets readers' eyes.  We immediately understand the problem Frank and Harold are facing.  Frank looking longingly to the left watching others, a rabbit, duck and beaver, ride the Rattler, increases our empathy.  On the opening and closing endpapers on a darker teal canvas Steven Weinberg has placed a woven wonderment of snake bodies stretching from top to bottom in vertical, rows, looking like an intricate fun-filled maze.  Careful eyes will note the differences between the two endpapers.

Frank and Harold are featured in their contrasting lengths (heights) on the two pages dedicated to the title.  Frank is hanging over the row of fair pennants mouth open above the T in tall as Harold strives to reach the top of the letter L.   Their friendship is further depicted by their happy postures on the verso and dedication pages.

Rendered in watercolor and pencil, then colored digitally the images match the pacing of the narrative.  A blend of single page visuals is followed by several smaller pictures grouped together and then there are double-page spreads.  One of them requires readers to rotate the book vertically as the pig proclaims the requirement each time.  As the team races toward the final outcome Weinberg uses only large visuals across both pages.

The expressions on the faces of Frank and Harold are sure to have readers smiling.  Frank's tongue is as demonstrative as his body.  All kinds of animals are enjoying the fair; a moose, shark and turtle ride the roller coaster on one of the interior images as two mice, a balloon-carrying turtle and an elephant stand in line. (The mice suffer the same fate as Harold.)  Frank's friendship toward Harold is continually noted by the curling of his body's around Harold in comfort.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is the first one.  Frank and Harold have just entered the fair.  They are standing beneath two strands of pennants.  In the background without the firm, bold, and blue outlines is the pink and brown landscape of a desert.  Harold and Frank are holding ice cream cones with the ends of their tails, although the scoop is falling from Frank's cone.  Their grins could not possibly be bigger.  A nearby cactus acts as a holder for three small white flags.

To reinforce the power of friendship, teamwork and the unforeseen twist a story can take You Must Be This Tall written and illustrated by Steven Weinberg is a splendid choice.  I am certain you will be reading it more than once at a sitting.  The subtle word play will be duly noted by the more sophisticated readers.  You'll want to find this title at your favorite book shop tomorrow on its release date.

To learn more about Steven Weinberg and his other work please take a moment to visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior images.  When his first book was released author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson hosted Weinberg at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

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