Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Astonishing Holiday Event

As educators we are in the unique position, depending on the time spent in a given school district, to teach and learn with brothers and sisters from the same family.  It is equally wonderful to see how alike or different they may be.  Sometimes a particular behavior will have you inwardly nodding at the similarities between siblings.  They are like two peas in the proverbial pod.  There are other times when you find it utterly impossible to believe they have been born and raised in the same household.

Truth be told, the longer you know them the more you can see their particular personality traits shine.  Christmas for Greta and Gracie (Nosy Crow, an imprint of Candlewick Press, September 27, 2016) written and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail introduces to readers two sisters more different than alike.  Their story cheerfully points out the value of being exactly who you are.  Everyone might be unexpectedly surprised.

I like minty
Strawberry is
for babies.
Did you know
that Santa Claus
eats marshmallows
for breakfast?

Their day is just beginning and already older sister Greta is chatting up a storm as Gracie quietly listens.  There were some things they do the same like their

hoppity-skip walk.

For the most part Greta talks and Gracie usually remains silent.  This is acceptable to Gracie...usually.

The sisters are busy coloring in their Santa book on Christmas Eve.  Greta has five colors and Gracie has the brown crayon.  For every ten sentences proclaimed by Greta, Gracie eagerly asks a single question?

Do you think
has a bike?

Greta insists Santa's boots are black not brown before declaring coloring to be boring but what is Gracie to do?  She only has one color.

The two wrap up in their winter clothing and go outside to help decorate the community tree.  In typical fashion Greta states facts true to her (the number of elves at the North Pole) and insists on putting the star at the top of the tree.  Gracie is too little. When they go shopping and ice skating Greta insists on taking charge to get a clerk's attention and instructing her younger sister on the finer points of skating.  Gracie is too this and too that.  She is the opposite of Greta.

That night as Greta snores in the bed next to her bed, Gracie hears an out-of-the-ordinary noise.  What it that?  Using those qualities Greta found to be less than stellar, she makes her way downstairs.  Christmas Eve and the following morning could not be more astonishing for both Gracie and Greta.

Yasmeen Ismail depicts with utter delight the two contrasting personalities of Greta and Gracie.  When Greta is speaking you can feel the speed at which she addresses life and Gracie as her thoughts run into one another spilling out with speed.  When Gracie talks her responses are more thoughtful. The blend of narrative and dialogue creates an excellent ebb and flow.  Here is a portion of Greta's response and Gracie's single sentence when the store clerk asks Gracie what she thinks Santa is like.

Oh! Santa is just WONDERFUL!
He is the best and nicest man, and he has a sleigh and reindeer, and he gives presents to good little girls and boys, and he has a HAT and a red coat and a big white bushy beard, and he eats COOKIES.

He is magic.

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case you have to smile at the scene of Greta and Gracie skating with five other children enjoying the ice on the back to the left.  This scene sets the stage for the season as Greta shouts out the title. The bright color palette here is used throughout the title.  Silver foil has been placed on the title text, snowflakes and skate lines as well as on the spine.  Suggestive of a rich and varied citizenry all kinds of animals appear here and in the pages of this book.

The opening and closing endpapers are a vibrant red with wide white lines portraying the branches of a Christmas tree hung with ornaments. The center goes down the middle with the boughs reaching out to the sides. On the first and last red page a smiling, shining white star takes center stage.  Ismail begins her story on the page prior to the two page illustration which includes the publication information, dedication and title pages.  In these images we see the two sisters getting ready to start their day.

Rendered digitally the pictures all span two pages.  White provides a canvas for all of them except for the illustrations when Gracie is going downstairs on Christmas Eve night.  When Greta speaks her words are in a pink speech balloon.  For Gracie a bright yellow is used.  To supply pacing the perspective is altered bringing us close to the girls or giving us a larger view as the story dictates.  Their facial expressions and body movements are highly animated.

One of my favorite illustrations is when they are decorating the community tree. The placement of the tree is at the center in the gutter.  On either side all kinds of animal children garbed in winter clothing are selecting and hanging ornaments from boxes.  Two of the children are having a snowball fight. One animal is mostly inside a box searching.  An adult supervises off to the left side.  You can feel the excitement in the air.

Christmas for Greta and Gracie written and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail is a welcome addition to holiday titles. Not only is the joy of the season captured perfectly but readers come to understand that all traits and talents have value. I know you will be asked to read this over and over again.  Make sure you have this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Yasmeen Ismail and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  You can view different interior images by visiting the two publisher websites here and here.  Yasmeen Ismail is featured at om pom happy.  You might enjoy other posts at this site about her work, Time for Bed, Fred!, and One Word from Sophia.

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