Quote of the Month

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

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Four-Legged Forever Friend

There are times before a book is even in your possession; you know you have to read it.  It's one thing when contemporaries recommend a book to you, but when one of your students tells you to read a book you read it with no questions asked.  If they know you well enough to believe you will love a book, then the best connections have been made.  It means you and your students have established a mutual love of reading.  A bridge named trust has been built.

Winter camp for the upper grade in the middle school where I was the librarian was always a long-anticipated event.  One year instead of heading north for these days, we headed to a well-established camp for all seasons in southern Michigan.  One of the activities for the students was horseback riding.

Each group was informed about all the special qualities of horses while gathered around this magnificent animal.  Up-close-and-personal they are big.  Not all the students were eager to ride one so I decided to show them how easy and enjoyable it could be.  When I was finally in the saddle, this horse seemed HUGE and the distance to the ground seemed FAR.  It would be safe to say, I will never forget that day.  My respect for horses, those who ride and love them grew.

When I first read Tony (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, February 7, 2017) written by the late Ed Galing with illustrations by Erin E. Stead I was mesmerized.  Rich in language and artwork, it transports you to another time and place.  Once again my respect for horses continues to grow.


that was his name

This horse is beloved by the narrator as he recalls seeing Tony in the mornings.  Tony pulls a wagon, the milk truck, for a young man who goes by the name of Tom.  When the rest of the neighborhood is sleeping Tom loads his wagon with dairy products and eggs.

Tony is a beautiful animal.  His coat is completely white.  His eyes look straight into your soul.  They are filled with compassion.  As Tom stops and makes his deliveries to each home, Tony silently stands.

The narrator goes on to tell us how he goes out to Tony and gives him a loving embrace.  In return, the gentle horse gives him a bow of acceptance and affection.  Tom makes sure to tell him Tony looks for him every day just like he looks for Tony.

After the exchange of words Tom and Tony slowly make their way to the next house.  The narrator follows them with his eyes, watching.  What he sees will make all readers' hearts sing.

This quiet story told in soothing refrains with words penned by Ed Galing will resonate with readers inviting them to look at the everyday with fresh eyes.  Although the time period described has come and gone, the ability to appreciate the wonder of a beautiful creature is timeless.  Simple but profound descriptions reveal a deep and abiding connection between Tony and Tom and Tony and the narrator.  Here are the words on the front jacket flap and from an interior portion of the poem.

Tony was all white,
large, sturdy,
with wide gentle eyes
and a ton of love,

Using a limited color palette, variations on golden yellow and mint green, Erin E. Stead creates images of calm, steadfastness and affection.  On the front of the dust jacket Tony is waiting for Tom as he makes an early morning delivery.  The light from the open doorway directs our attention to the ordinary but somehow extraordinary horse.  To the left, on the back, surrounded by green is the barn with an overhead lamp lighting the doorway and front yard.  I know this probably makes no sense but you can hear the silence or perhaps feel the silence in these two pictures.

On the book case, charcoal gray in color, is the one word title in white in the lower, right-hand corner.  It is embossed as the title text is on the dust jacket.  A dark teal covers the opening and closing endpapers.  A sheet of vellum with the publisher, author and illustrator names has been placed over the title and a portrait of Tony bowing his head which is also the first word of the poem.  Even if you never read another word, you have to stop and marvel at the sensory perceptions the dust jacket and title page awaken.

Rendered using Gomuban monoprinting and pencil each two-page picture is a study in grace.  Tony standing neck stretched toward the barn door, Tom leading Tony, milk bottles, butter, eggs and a sweet treat, and the companions quietly moving beneath a street light in the pre-dawn hours call out to readers to slow and enjoy the smallest moments.  Many times Erin E. Stead will give us a larger view but when she brings us close to Tony we want to reach out, as the narrator does, and give him a hug.

One of my many (I adore every single one.) favorite illustrations is when Tom is leading Tony toward the open barn door.  The light from the overhead lamp spills across the page like a pathway.  You wonder if they are walking together in the silence of loving partners or if Tom is whispering plans for the morning to Tony.  The golden yellow is the only color.  Everything else is delicately drawn in pencil; the details on the barn door, the shrubs off to the right side and the bridle on Tony being loosely held by Tom.

No bookshelf, professional or personal, should be without a copy of Tony written by Ed Galing with illustrations by Erin E. Stead.  Every time you hold it, even before opening the cover, you can feel the essence of the words and pictures flow around you.  It is utterly breathtaking.

To learn more about Ed Galing I have linked a blog dedicated to him to his name.  To learn more about Erin E. Stead and her other work, please follow the link to her website attached to her name.  She has a blog here.  You can read more about this book here.  Please visit this special page inviting you to join in the efforts to help animals.  If you raise the most money for a local animal shelter you will win a visit from the Steads.  At the publisher's website you can view four interior images.

UPDATE:  Thanks to the reference from author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on March 28, 2017 about an article in The New Yorker by Sarah Larson about this book.

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