Quote of the Month

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

Friday, March 25, 2016

To Wednesday

At puppy Xena's first visit to the vet we were told as a sporting dog she needed long walks every single day.  So we did. In sickness and health (mine) not a day was missed.  There was also a great deal of running, swimming and hole digging (hers).  That's a lot of miles covered over fifteen years although during the last twelve months the walks became strolls and were shorter with lots of sniffing and pausing on her part.

All that walking for humans does not equal the same degree of senses used as it does for dogs.  Although there is quite a bit of seeing, smelling, and hearing what seems to happen the most is time for thinking unless you are taking a trip through your neighborhood.  That changes the entire experience.  Ideas Are All Around (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, March 1, 2016) written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead is about an author in search of an idea.

outside my house
the sunflower opened up.

"Hello, Sunflower!"

After reflecting on the fact this is the only sunflower to be standing tall and blooming from an entire packet of seeds past their prime, we know this author needs a single thought to grow a story.  The dog Wednesday does not want to spend the day inside while her human explores their mind for the special something to start their writing.  Off they go on a walk.

Like a gardener holding an envelope labeled ideas, images and encounters with wildlife, strangers and welcoming residents are collected as this writer and Wednesday roam along familiar paths.  A painted turtle soaking in the sun on a log in the river is greeted by name before vanishing beneath the water.  On the other side of the river a treasured friend shouts a hello.  A memory surfaces about a long ago incident involving paint, an accident and a blue horse.

A line of ducks, graffiti words and a long-legged bird taking flight are duly noted.  As a train passes speculation quickly follows about where it might be going or where the tracks lead in the other direction.  A line of people hungry for breakfast, cloud watching and a probe into the past about the purchase of a typewriter occupy the neighborhood travelers.

Familiar birdsong interrupts the author's musings before Wednesday races after a squirrel.  Finally settling down for a chat with Barbara, the early morning greeter, things seen and remembered are woven into the comfortable conversation.  Soon


is heard.

As each separate observation is revealed Philip C. Stead adds several sentences, statements or thoughts creating a gentle storytelling rhythm.  It's a rare gift for readers to see how his mind measures and assesses each one.  Dialogue is threaded through the narrative.  Most walkers can attest, especially those walking with their canine companion, speaking aloud or silently in your head is frequent, freeing and fun.  We feel our kinship with this man and his dog growing as the walk and story progresses.  Here is a sample passage.

"H-e-y-y-y-y, Barbara!" I call out.
"Maybe we'll stop by later!"
"Okay!" she says. ""I'll make coffee!"
Then comes a line of ducks
floating downstream.
"Hello," I say.
"I don't have any ideas today."
If the ducks have any advice
they keep it to themselves.

A gorgeous blend of artistic techniques, monoprinting, cardboard printing, painting on paper and applying pressure to the back, drawing in crayon on brown paper and cutting out the forms and pictures taken with a Polaroid camera, are used to render the illustrations in this book.  Across the dust jacket large brush strokes and swirls of blue paint form a horse with the other guide, the real dog Wednesday, running alongside in perfect unison.  On the book case an array of Polaroid pictures, seventeen, in rows of three on a background of white give us a first peek at them before their appearance on the interior pages.  The title text occupies one of the spaces.

Sunflower yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Snapshots of Wednesday are shown before the story starts, one on the dedication.

Wednesday dedicates this book 
to the neighborhood.

A heavy matte-finished paper is an ideal canvas for the visuals placed together by Stead.  The cadence of page turns is altered by image size and the use of the Polaroid pictures.  To begin a single page illustration is on the right, a Polaroid on the left.  This slightly shifts with the addition of text on the right.  Then it's art above and below the text extending over two pages before a big beautiful blue horse appears on a double-page spread.  The layout and design are exquisite working in harmony with the words.

I can't help it.  One of my favorite illustrations is at the beginning of the book.  It's of Wednesday sitting on grass with a torn right edge overlapping green and white polka-dot paper.  She's looking right at the reader in all her shaggy-haired, loving wonderfulness.  A bright yellow circular sun is painted on white behind her head; most assuredly a halo for a guardian angel.

An author who needs an idea and a dog who needs a walk trek through their neighborhood, each happy with the results in Ideas Are All Around written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead.  It's a gathering of tiny kernels ready to sprout into stories after planted in a creative mind.  This book is a garden in full splendor.

To learn more about Philip C. Stead and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  To access The Stead Collection pages please follow this link. A sweepstakes is being held in relation to this title.  Information can be found here.  To view eight interior images, including my favorite one, please go to the publisher's website. A teacher's guide for many of the Stead books and a wonderful activity kit for this title are available there also. Reading about the evolution of this book through a guest post by Stead at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is a marvelous.  On March 11, 2016 Philip C. Stead was a guest on the podcast Let's Get Busy, Episode 243


  1. As you know, Margie, I love it too. Your reviews are so fabulous. I liked this one very much, and perhaps especially because I already know this book. Glad we connected today so I could see your post!

    1. We are kindred spirits Linda in our love of this book. Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad we connected too. ♥