Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sending Out Hope

You are ready with all appropriate preparations completed.  Taking no chances you decide to wear your lucky jewelry, favorite underwear, shoes, socks, pants and sweater all day.   You have placed logic aside letting superstitions rule the day.  That night you wait for the first star and make a wish.  You put on your pajamas inside out and backward.  You slip a spoon under your pillow.  As you try to fall asleep you sincerely desire, for the eleventy-hundredth time, the skills of Dumbledore.

We attribute this routine to children alone but you might be surprised by the number of adults longing for the very same thing who would consider, or have done, one or more of these particular actions.  Before Morning (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 4, 2016) written by Joyce Sidman with illustrations by Beth Krommes is a plea.  It's a petition for one very special something.

In the deep woolen dark, ...

The day is done and a city and its people are sleeping.  As they dream, Mother Nature works her own kind of marvels with clouds and wind.  The swirling leaves are being replaced with others, no two alike.

As softly as milkweed pods releasing seeds, it falls.  It covers and coats and comforts.  To the touch it's like the fur on a lamb, duckling, kitten or puppy.

Quiet descends.  Everything stops.  It's morning.

Four eloquent lines in a single poem read like a prayer when the writer is Joyce Sidman.  Taken as a whole it flows as we wait for the word which rhymes at the end of each line.  In the first three phrases a gentle cadence is supplied with the use of commas, dividing each one into thirds.  We wait in anticipation for the final sentence, hoping.  In this one the use of other punctuation mirrors the requested results.  It's not written but there will be an audible sigh from readers.

Appealing to all our senses the matching dust jacket and book case create warmth where it is cold, quiet within noise, brightness over dullness, and new and clean in place of old and used.  On the front they tell us of a sleeping child nestled in coziness cuddled by their cat.  We might wonder about the globe, Amelia Earhart book and toy airplane on the floor.  To the left, on the back, is a scene from the city as horses draw carriages through a park with drivers and passengers bundled against the chilly night air as in the distance travelers await transportation.

On the opening endpapers more than two-thirds are covered in dark, gray clouds threatening a change in the weather.  They hang over the expanse of a large city and the surrounding tree-covered hillsides. On the closing endpapers the scene is similar but with a significant difference.   With a page turn at the beginning illustrator Beth Krommes expands the visual story with her signature scratchboard and watercolors images. On the left, the verso, pigeons are gathered on cobblestones.  On the right, the title page, the feet and legs of an adult and child are shown as they walk a dog.  The dedication page is a two-page picture of people, the adult, child and dog included, sitting, walking and leaving a park. Before them is a street filled with cars, a bicycle, a scooter and a bus with all their lights shining. People on the opposite side of the street stroll, window shopping.

Four single page visuals follow framed in white borders.  This is Krommes leading us into the interpretation of Sidman's words.  The child pauses in front of a bakery window, the trio climbs steps into an apartment building, a father has prepared dinner and a mother dressed as an airplane pilot sits on the bed of a child who does not want her to go.  For the words quoted above the scene is early in the morning, the father and daughter are asleep.  The cat, dog and pilot are awake; she is folding laundry on the kitchen table.

For those pages with Joyce Sidman's words we are given double-page illustrations.  On the wordless pages, seven in total, they are single images on one page.  The experience of viewing illustrations created using this artistic technique is astounding.  Krommes includes the tiniest details enhancing what is taking place in the moment inside the apartment, on the streets of the city, within the park, at the airport and over the entire area.  You are invited to pause at each picture.  This is in keeping with the peaceful pace of the poem.  You will notice the dog barking at squirrels in the park, a single snowflake falling as they enter the building, a pie cooling on the kitchen counter, the street sign indicating airport ahead, a book of poems in the living room and a key on the table as the pilot returns home to embrace the child.  

One of my favorite pictures (They're all my favorite pictures.) is looking inside the apartment windows in the evening as the pilot leaves for the airport.  On the left the child is in bed in a scene nearly identical to the front of the jacket and case.  To the right we peer into the living room.  The father has fallen asleep wearing his glasses with the newspaper draped across his body and a mug on the nearby table.  The dog is curled up on the couch.  Snowflakes are starting to fall more frequently outside the windows. Pigeon feet and a very slight portion of their lower bodies are shown above the left window.  This gives us an idea of perspective.

This collaborative team, poet and author Joyce Sidman and illustrator Beth Krommes, have given us another treasure in Before Morning.  As Joyce Sidman talks to us in her author's note, this is indeed about wishes and invocations. On the opposite page Krommes illustrates it appropriately with two kinds of angels.  It does not get better than this.  To date this title has received five starred reviews in School Library Journal, Booklist, The Horn Book, Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

To learn more about author and poet Joyce Sidman and illustrator Beth Krommes and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  You might be interested in reading Five questions for Joyce Sidman at The Horn Book.  Jama Rattigan features Joyce Sidman in her hotTeas of Children's Poetry: Joyce Sidman at Jama's Alphabet Soup.  Beth Krommes is highlighted at artistsnetwork.  Beth Krommes is highlighted by author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Process art is shared.

I wrote about their other work Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature here.


  1. Huge fan of Joyce Sidman here, so I pre-ordered a copy of this & it's just lovely! I'm a snow-girl, so I appreciated it from that perspective too.

    Love this quote, "As softly as milkweed pods releasing seeds, it falls. It covers and coats and comforts. To the touch it's like the fur on a lamb, duckling, kitten or puppy" Clearly you're a snow girl too :)

    1. I'm a snow girl too Maria! What I think is especially wonderful about this book is the story portrayed in the illustrations which works wonderfully with the text even though not explicitly mentioned.