There are advantages to living in a small community or a specific neighborhood within a larger city. Everyone knowing everyone can facilitate a sense of security, continuity and belonging. People are recognized by name and also for what they do. I know this because I grew up in a small town; living there for the first twenty-two years of my life.
We could walk to the grocery, five and dime and hardware stores, the bank, the post office, the roller skating rink, the public library attached to the township hall, Deadman's Hill for sledding in the winter, Kiwanis Park any time of the year and all the schools; elementary, junior high and high school. The flower shop where I got my first job at sixteen was on the same street as my home.
If we look within these close-knit communities and neighborhoods we will see they're alive with stories. (Now don't get me wrong. I think stories can be found everywhere but sometimes the intimacy of a smaller setting makes the details easier to see.) Lucy (Candlewick Press, August 2, 2016) written and illustrated by Randy Cecil recalls and pays tribute to the slower pace of another time. Told in four acts the tale spins like a magical movie.
As the sun rose over Bloomville,
a distant trumpet began to play---
In an alley a little white dog sleeps through the music but wakes when a car door slams. She gets to her feet leaving to run through the streets; a mission on her mind. Familiar shops, the one-eyed cat in the window, and the pigeons in the park are passed. She reaches her destination. Up the steps she goes to wait in front of the red door of an apartment.
Inside the apartment a daughter, Eleanor Wische and her father, Sam, prepare to go about their daily tasks with the same focus as the little white dog. Eleanor wants nothing more than to lower a string with a bit of food attached to feed the dog. Her father wants nothing more than to perfect his juggling skills so he can perform in front of a live audience at the local vaudeville theater.
After her breakfast the dog finds a place to nap, dreaming of her former life. Sam goes to his job as a store clerk. Eleanor visits Enzo's Deli to buy her lunch. Each of the three characters continues their day; the little white dog getting food any way she can, Eleanor greeting other dogs on the street while thinking of the little white dog who she would name Lucy and Sam attempting to juggle at the theater. The curtain closes but not before a hook removes one failed juggler from the stage.
The next two days are similar but different; enriched by added elements. On the third day love and courage cause Eleanor and Sam to deviate from their regular routines. In a quirk of beautiful fate the little white dog, Sam and Eleanor are in the presence of each other but not all are aware. A highly skilled nose and a memory will prompt a standing ovation.
Even after repeated readings the flawless flow of Randy Cecil's writing will continue to enchant readers. There is a rhythm established with the repetition of each character's day but in each act Cecil includes extra incidents which in turn endear us further to the characters. We long for Lucy to find a home after her past is revealed in her naptime dreams. We yearn along with Eleanor for Lucy to be her own when we discover she is saving leftover lunch money to purchase toys for the little white dog. With every failure we cheer harder and louder for Sam.
The introduction of musicians, the neighbors with their dogs known by name, the familiar family playing in the park with their dogs and the store proprietors also known by name heighten the feeling of this story surrounding us. It's as if we are living in Bloomville too. Here is a sample passage.
As evening approached, Lucy positioned herself
across the street from Bertolt's Butcher Shop.
Mrs. Pennington ambled by
on her last walk of the day with Bailey.
And Mrs. del Rio strolled leisurely past
with Dahlia and Daisy.
Lucy sniffed a mailbox.
She pretended to inspect a lamppost.
Then she crossed the quiet street.
The front of the dust jacket contains the only color, red, in this title. (I am working with an ARC.) The interior art is reproduced in duotone with the illustrations rendered in oil. Throughout the book, the soft, textured quality seen on the front of the jacket is maintained. When we open the book case it's as if we are stepping into a theater.
At the beginning of each act Randy Cecil has painted a double-page depiction of a street in Bloomville. All the remaining pages contain a single visual in a loose circular shape. Readers will want to go back and look at these over and over to recognize the meticulous care Cecil has given to each one. Not only will they notice the tiniest of details but they might observe other stories within the illustrations.
One of my favorite pictures is of Eleanor and Lucy in the beginning. Lucy, sitting on the stoop in front of the red door, is looking up at Eleanor. Eleanor is leaning out her window unwinding the ball of string with the sausage attached at the end. There is a lot of emotion in this image; hunger for body and soul.
Lucy written and illustrated by Randy Cecil is a remarkable, charming and heartwarming tale with three distinct stories intricately tied together. Rarely will you see a picture book with the length of 144 pages. In this one there may be only a partial sentence, a single sentence or a few sentences accompanying each image. Whether you share this one-on-one or with a group, it will be greatly enjoyed. I can only imagine there will be collective sighs at the end.
To learn more about Randy Cecil and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. You can view interior illustrations at two different publishers' websites here and here. Randy Cecil is a guest at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. At Walker we can learn more about Randy Cecil. At Publishers Weekly you can enjoy a Q & A with Randy Cecil about this title. Randy Cecil chats with teacher librarian Matthew Winner at All The Wonders, Episode 274. Enjoy the book trailer.
UPDATE: Author, blogger and teacher librarian Carter Higgins interviews Randy Cecil at Design of the Picture Book, October 11, 2016.