Quote of the Month

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

Monday, May 9, 2016

A True Heart Fights Fear

Most children feel an instant kinship with baby animals.  They want to get as close to them as possible and they long to touch them.  It's been my experience when children have the opportunity to watch an animal grow, seeing and interacting with it in a variety of stages, any fear they might have for it will be lessened.

When I was allowed to bring Xena to school as a puppy, then as a frequent visitor, the students, especially the younger ones, got to grow up with her.  A special relationship is formed in this kind of situation.  Hannah and Sugar (Abrams Books for Young Readers, March 8, 2016) written and illustrated by Kate Berube is a relevant and touching debut from this artist.

Every day after school, Hannah's papa picked her up at the bus stop.
And every day after school, Sugar was at the bus stop waiting for Violet P.

Sugar was the P family's canine companion brought each day to the bus stop by Mrs. P.  She asked Hannah if she wanted to pet Sugar.  Sugar got lots of affectionate attention from the other students on the bus.  Every day Hannah declined the invitation.

All year long the routine was the same but Hannah, regardless of the friendliness of Sugar, continued to say

"No, thank you."

Although it seemed Hannah's comfort level around Sugar was changing.

One day Mrs. P was at the bus stop alone.  Sugar had been missing all day and the previous night.  The children and their parents agreed to help find Sugar.  They looked and looked and looked until dusk and dinnertime called them inside.

As Hannah sat on her front later she imagined what it would be like to be alone, away from family.  When she was thinking it would not be a good thing, she heard a sound apart from the nighttime noises.  Hannah's investigation led her to make more than one startling discovery.  From that night forward every day after school there was a change at the bus stop.

When a child is fearful of an animal, of a dog, their fear is real and needs to be treated with tender loving care.  This is exactly how the narrative unwraps, like a gift, for readers, slowly, gently and thoughtfully.  When Kate Berube uses the words

every day after school

repeatedly as the beginning of sentences, she designs a cadence of comfort, a story rhythm.

This allows us to have greater understanding of Hannah's uneasiness.  It also makes the loss of Sugar and the subsequent events more powerful. When Berube uses it again in the closing sentences, the circle is closed.  Here is a sample passage.

After dinner Hannah watched the stars come out.
She listened to the sound of the trains in the distance
and she wondered how it would feel to be lost in the dark.

The look Hannah and Sugar are giving each other on the front of the dust jacket is one of curiosity.  The entire image is asking a question with the white space directing our attention to Hannah and Sugar.  To the left on the back of the jacket Mrs. P., Violet P. and a group of children are gathered around Sugar at the school bus stop.  This is an illustration from the interior.

The book case features two illustrations of Hannah and Sugar on a white background with the spine color the same as Hannah's jacket.  This hue is also washed on the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page a hesitant Hannah is gazing sideways at Sugar on a leash.  Berube begins the story with an illustration spanning the verso and dedication pages of the parents and Sugar watching the arrival of the school bus.

The pictures rendered with ink, Flashe paint and acrylic paint on cold press watercolor paper by Kate Berube alternate between double-page visuals or smaller pictures grouped to show the passage of time.  A matte-finished heavier paper is an excellent canvas for her mediums.  The details, colors, facial expressions and body movements in each image contribute to a collection of endearing depictions.   One particular wordless two page picture is filled with meaning. As in many of her illustrations the use of white space is exquisite.

One of my favorite of several illustrations is of Hannah sitting on her front porch.  Above the tree lined street and row of houses the sky is studded with stars.  Lights glow from the windows of the three homes.  Hannah is surrounded by light coming from the doorway.  It's a scene filled with peace and calm but also anticipation.

Hannah and Sugar written and illustrated by Kate Berube portrays with great sensitivity the anxiety felt by some children around dogs.  As Hannah and Sugar move toward solutions for their difficulties, the story becomes a tribute to the girl and the dog.  This is a book for everyone, promoting compassion.

Please take a few minutes to learn more about Kate Berube and her work by visiting her website and blog, following the links attached to her name. Kate Berube is interviewed at This Picture Book Life.  Author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson features Kate Berube introducing her work and this title in two separate blog posts here and here at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.


  1. I just read this a couple of weeks ago. It's very sweet, and the illustrations are adorable!

    1. I completely agree Maria! It's a winning combination.