Quote of the Month

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

Friday, April 8, 2016

In Celebration Of The Blue Planet

While many of you may know the festivities for Earth Day 2016 will be held on Friday, April 22, 2016, you may not know about the theme for this year.  It's called Trees for the Earth (#Trees4Earth).  We are fighting to combat deforestation all around our planet.  In the year 2020 Earth Day will be fifty years old.  It is this organization's desire to plant 7.8 billion trees by that date.

With this in mind I would like to offer for your consideration three new titles focusing on trees and our wonderful planet Earth.  The Perfect Tree (RP|Kids, January 5, 2016), a debut picture book, written and illustrated by Chloe Bonfield follows a boy named Jack on a quest. He finds answers he was not seeking.

Once, a boy named Jack went on a journey to find the perfect tree.  Not to climb, not to draw and definitely not to hug.

This boy was looking for the perfect tree to cut down and make into a wood pile!  As he walked through the forest and up and down a hill no tree seemed to be worthy.  As he sat thinking and feeling discouraged a voice offered to help him.  A woodpecker leads, flies and sends out a rat-a-tat-tat!  The colorful results swirl around Jack and lift skyward.

Not to be outdone, a squirrel beckons to the boy.  A treasure fit for a king is revealed.  A final guide urges Jack to traverse among jewels until he needs to seek shelter from a pouring rain shower.

Jack does find something extraordinary on this day.  He puts aside what he no longer needs.  He embraces the purpose of trees and their gifts surrounding him with new understanding and respect.

Chloe Bonfield supplies readers with a circle story using an identical phrase in the beginning and to close her narrative but the meaning has changed.  The three encounters with animals, the woodpecker, the squirrel and the spider, each believing their tree to be perfect, show Jack a path he had no idea he needs to follow.  Bonfield mixes onomatopoeia within her story bringing a touch of realism to this fantasy in praise of our natural world.  Here is a sample passage.

Jack's heart soared as birds and feathers filled the air.  They tickled his face and tangled in his hair.

The opened matching dust jacket and book case are a marvel of three dimensional designs.  On the front we see the cool blues of a moonlight night.  On the back, to the left, it's still night but the light shifts to illuminate the hillside in shades of brown, white, black and green.  The opening and closing endpapers are a collected collage continuing forward (and backward) with a page turn.

A series of shifted perspectives and image sizes usher us (and Jack) on this trek filled with wonder and wisdom.  Shadows and light, muted colors and full color ask us to pause and ponder.  We are invited to participate with every page turn.

One of my favorite pictures is for the passage quoted above.  It spans two pages with the trunk of the tree down the center, branches extending to the left and right.  Five vivid birds are in flight, feathers falling as Jack sits on one of the lower branches.  The delicate details are exquisite.

This Is The Earth (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, February 23, 2016) written by Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander with paintings by Wendell Minor is a stunning ode to all things beautiful on our planet.  Through poetic phrases and breathtaking vistas we see what we have and what we need to do to become better stewards.  This is our task.  This is our future.

This is the land,
fertile, alive,
crawling with creatures
that help it to thrive.

We gaze at an African savanna as animals silently roam and watch us.  Water splashes and rumbles past us on a rapid river, trout flashing in the sunlight.  Feathered friends glide above the fields.

We move through history as women and men make their homes from earliest times to the present.  Transportation and technology evolve taking a toll on this land.  Dangerous reminders of our presence fill the land, the oceans and the air.

There are signs of help; recycling, bicycle riding and watching water use drop by drop.  We become caretakers of our animal friends who have no voice.  Each one a valuable link in the chain of life.  What do you do?  What will you do?

The authors, Diane A. Shore and Jessica Alexander, introduce us in single descriptive sentences to the land, a river and the sky.  With care we move to a beautiful, flowing melody of words on how we use the Earth and share its resources.  Continuing one sentence at a time the history of our advancements and the effects of these changes are presented for the goodness they bring to people as well as the cost they exact from our Earth.  Using this is repeatedly is a way to keep us grounded like a familiar group of notes, reminding us not to forget.  Rhyming words are a welcoming refrain.  Here is a sample passage.

This is the sky,
endless and blue,
speckled with birds
as they soar into view. 

Wendell Minor's paintings are gorgeous in their depictions of his interpretations of the text taking us from one side of the Earth to the other, back in time and forward to a better, more appreciative future.  (In my humble opinion the man is a national treasure.)  Rendered in Windsor and Newton watercolors on archival 3-ply Strathmore Bristol paper with a realistic color palette we first journey to Africa on the matching dust jacket and book case.  On the back, to the left, within a circle is a scene of dolphins breaking the surface as pelicans, silent sentinels, fly above them.  The opening and closing endpapers are a gorgeous scene of the Earth as seen from the surface of the Moon.  On the verso and title pages the circular image from the back is extended to include a breaching whale.

Thirteen striking two-page paintings elevate the narrative along with four single page illustrations.  Minor's details are nearly photographic as is the luminosity he uses around certain elements in his paintings.  He guides our gaze in every single visual.

In referring to Minor's masterful interpretation of the text here is an example with one of my favorite illustrations.

This is the Earth that we treat with respect,
where people and animals interconnect,
where we learn to find balance between give and take
and help heal the planet with choices we make, ...

Minor, in a two-page painting, illustrates a scene at a sandy shoreline.  A row of people, young and old, from all ethnic backgrounds, stand watching two children, a boy and a girl, guide baby turtles back to the sea in the distance.  From left to right the perspective shifts from close-up to farther away.  The day simply glows literally and figuratively.

On March 8, 2016 Candlewick Press released a fabulously original representation of a growing danger on our planet.  Where's the Elephant? written and illustrated by Stephane-Yves Barroux is a colorful seek-and-find story.  It is also a call for discussion and for action.

Where's the Elephant?
Where's the Parrot?
Where's the Snake?

After these three creatures are presented to readers in three distinct colors, light grayish tan, red and green, on a background of white a page turn reveals a dense, bright forest.  We need to find the threesome.  They are there but carefully hidden by their habitat.

With each succeeding page turn beginning in the lower left hand corner, a wordless image features a growing number of trees cut from the forest.  As the trees are cut Elephant, Parrot and Snake continue to hide but the area between them is shrinking more and more.  A house appears on the cleared land filled with stumps and logs.

There are more homes and cars and less trees.  Cars need roadways.  More people need more homes.  Soon there are only three trees standing alone in a forest of buildings.  The final four two-page pictures address a sad truth with an outcome which will have you cheering.  The animals make a choice.

In an author's note on the left side of the closing endpapers, Barroux explains what prompted this story after a visit to Brazil five years ago.  Three years later inspiration prompted him to begin work on the book we now have the privilege to read.  After the initial three questions the entire book is wordless, as we look for the animals amid their diminishing home space.

When you open the book case the image from the front spreads across the spine to the back.  All three animals are showcased there amid text which would normally appear on the front flap of a dust jacket.  The opening endpapers are awash in blue until the center of the far right edge where we see a portion of a heavily forested island.  The title page includes nearly all the island with Elephant, Parrot and Snake waiting among the trees.

The remainder of the book is all two-page illustrations rendered in collage, acrylic and pencil.  The colors of the forest are more vivid within the body of the book than seen on the book case.  They are exotic in shades of green, red, yellow, blue, orange and brown.  This makes the absence of the trees more startling.  The white is a most noticeable contrast.

My favorite illustration is the final one.  And that is all I will say about it except it signifies hope.  Barroux has placed himself on the right in the closing endpapers reaching out to touch a log.

These titles, The Perfect Tree written and illustrated by Chloe Bonfield, This Is The Earth written by Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander with paintings by Wendell Minor and Where's the Elephant? by Stephane-Yves Barroux, are absolutely perfect for your personal and professional collections.  Each one addresses the need for stewardship and care for our home planet in distinctly different approaches, each one done with passionate excellence.  All three could be used with all ages.

To learn more about these authors and illustrators and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. The work of Chloe Bonfield is showcased at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  At the conclusion of This Is The Earth both of the authors and the illustrator encourage readers to care for this Earth and how it might be done.  Where's the Elephant? was nominated for The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal and remained on the longlist released in February of this year. To see an interior image from Where's the Elephant? please follow this link to the publisher's website.

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