Quote of the Month

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

Monday, December 26, 2016

Anchors Aweigh

Sometimes when you aren't paying attention or even making an effort to listen, a portion of a remark or conversation will drift your way.  What you hear may or may not be out of context but it can change everything.  It's as if those very words are exactly what you need to hear at that moment, whether the individuals speaking are directing them at you or not.  It's as if the universe has sent you a miracle.

In a certain wood there is a certain creature that had this very thing happen.  The Friend Ship (Disney Hyperion, December 6, 2016) written by Kat Yeh with illustrations by Chuck Groenink follows a marvelous voyage.  It all begins with a misunderstanding.  

Hedgehog was curled up in a prickly little ball in the lonely little nook of a lonely little tree when she heard someone say her name.

In one of the phrases uttered by one of the animals the word friendship is mentioned.  It is followed by these words:

"---all she has to do is look."

Hedgehog immediately knows what she must do.  She has to build a boat fit for sailing on the seas.

As she puts the finishing touches on her vessel, a beaver wants to know if he can come with her.  Hedgehog welcomes the company as she seeks The Friend Ship.  Their first inquiry is made to a group of deer shifting their home for the season.  They have not seen The Friend Ship but they sure could use friends so they set sail with the beaver and Hedgehog.   

Each animal they meet has not seen the ship in question but all want to find it.  More and more animals are passengers searching for pals on Hedgehog's boat.  All are welcomed aboard with a resounding affirmative answer.  They trek to the north, they voyage to the south, and they glide to the east.  

Not finding The Friend Ship makes Hedgehog as sad as she was before this started.  The animals are quick to reassure her.  These critters look at life on the sunny side.  When they arrive at one of the last islands, a very tiny island with a very big sole occupant, Hedgehog receives an answer.  It's not what you might imagine but it will be.

In the character of Hedgehog Kat Yeh creates a universal being.  Everyone at one time or another has been in need of a friend.  Using the word play of friendship and friend ship to propel this story is sheer genius.  Her other choices for words are conversational and less formal; 

"Whatcha doing?" asked a curious beaver. 

With the meeting of each animal, the asked question, their replies and their queries, you can feel a positive force flowing from the pages.  It's amazing what combinations of the word yes can accomplish.  One other thing is the politeness of Hedgehog.  She always says 

"Excuse me."

Here is a sample passage.

"The Friend Ship!" said the rat.
"No...but, pretty please with 
stinky cheese, can I come?"

"Oh, yes!" said Hedgehog.
"Double yes!" said the beaver.
"Yes-yessity-yes!" said the deer.

The scene on the unfolded dust jacket glows.  The varied hue of golden sky shines on the islands and green sea waters.  The ten animals and Hedgehog make for a happy-go-lucky-looking crew.  Even though the images on each of the flaps are different they appear as extensions of the main dust jacket illustration.  The book case is a wavy swirl of glorious ocean blue.  The title text in white appears over the ship with the beaver and Hedgehog as they first set sail.  They are tiny but determined.  

On the opening and closing endpapers Chuck Groenink has placed a map of the seas and islands in pale golden yellow, green and black.  Each of the islands is represented in relief.  Careful readers will see they are labeled.  Those same readers will notice numbers and arrows.  The closing endpapers reveal a little bit more.

One of the first things which captures your attention about the images in this title is the fine lines, delicate details and the expressions on the animals' faces.  These elements give a true sense of place and mood.  In the first two-page picture with Hedgehog curled in the tree, you want to reach out and hug her.  Your love for her starts right here.  

Groenink makes excellent use of white space to frame single illustrations; some of them circular.  Most of his visuals span two pages.  Even now I am smiling thinking about the humor found in some of his pictures; the deer wearing backpacks or holding a coffee cup, the rat fishing off the ledge, and Hedgehog wading in the water at the final island.  It's wonderful how Groenink indicates the passage of time.  You might want to check the mast and bow.  

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It's a bird's eye view of Hedgehog at the rudder and the beaver in the bow of the ship on the left side.  They are easing toward the shore of an island.  Standing in the clearing with the forest behind them on the right are four deer standing upright on their hind legs.  The color palette is muted but natural.  Seeing those deer with their backpacks will at the very least make you smile or in my case burst out laughing.

The Friend Ship written by Kat Yeh with illustrations by Chuck Groenink is splendiferous.  The characters, the story line and the illustrations all add up to joy.  This is the kind of book you need on your personal and professional shelves.  This is the kind of book you give to those you love.  You need to read and share this title often.

To discover more about Kat Yeh and Chuck Groenink please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Chuck Groenink also maintains a blog on Tumblr.