Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

On The Fourth Day Of The Week

We can all agree life is wonderfully unpredictable.  We make plans only to have them change repeatedly; sometimes they disappear altogether as priorities shift.  Every single day we wake up, we know there will be ups and downs.  At times it seems there may be more downs than ups but without being aware we may suddenly think to ourselves things are happily stable.  We savor those times.

In fact we may have a particular saying to get us through those tougher days and another one to remind us to be grateful for our good fortune.  If we are facing an event with a specific outcome in mind, we may wear certain clothing or carry a good luck charm.  Because of Thursday (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, October 18, 2016) written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco follows the life of one woman whose happiness stems from the fourth day of the week.

Thursdays had always been lucky for Annie Fetlock.
She was born on a Thursday.
She won her first cooking contest at the age of eight on a Thursday.
She met the love of her life, Mario, on a Thursday.

For Annie and Mario and their two sons, Thursdays were the best day of the week.  At their diner Annie would create her signature cuisine on Thursdays, a pasta salad called Poke Salad.  Over time Poke Salad at the diner brought people from everywhere who wanted to taste this flavorful blend of ingredients.  As you might expect the diner kept this little community humming with activity.

The two boys grew into fine young men who became lawyers practicing law in larger cities but they always stayed in touch with their parents visiting whenever they could.  One day Mario did not feel well.  It was not a Thursday.  Bad news from the doctors was followed by the passing of Mario.  Neither happened on a Thursday.  When the love of your life goes, sometimes the flame in your heart dims and fades away.

Poke Salad Thursdays at the diner were not the same.  People stopped coming.  Eventually Annie simply closed the doors for good.  It was a sad day for the once bustling town.

If you walked by Annie's house you could see her sitting alone on her porch until one very special Thursday.  On this day, Annie made a discovery near the butter churn on her porch.  A tiny boy kitten was wrapped in a dish towel.  Stitched on the outside of the cloth was the word---Thursday!

Of course Annie named the cat Thursday.  Like that special day of the week, this cat worked wonders in the life of Annie, the neighbor children, their parents and other community members.  That cat was nearly magical in its gymnastic talents.  It was those very talents which worked another miracle in Annie's and the community members' lives.  It's astonishing how wonderfully unpredictable life...and Thursdays can be.

Inspired by her cat Thursday, Patricia Polacco has written an original tale of love lost and love found again.  Her storytelling skills are masterful in that the narrative unfolds as if we are learning about someone in our neighborhood and in our town.  Her people are as real and right as rain but there is also a hint of folktale in her stories.  Patricia Polacco writes about what she knows bringing the rich experiences of her lifetime to the printed page.  Here are two sample passages.

People came from far and wide just to taste it.  After one bite they devoured it, almost in a single gulp, then wanted more!  Annie called it Poke Salad, because the more you poked at it, the more scrumptious, succulent, delectable surprises you'd find hidden in, under, and around the pasta.  As a matter of fact, everyone called Annie...Poke Salad Annie.

As the years passed, Poke Salad became an institution in that little town.  People came from other towns, then other cities, then other states, and even other countries.  It was almost as if Poke Salad cast a spell on anyone who ate it so they'd just keep coming back over and over again!

There is sheer joy in both images on the opened matching dust jacket and book case.  The lively animation seen in the characters and the cat leave no doubt as to steadfast spirit of this story.  The facial expressions and color palette are pure Patricia Polacco.  Those two big bowls of pasta on the front hint at the narrative about to unfold.  To the left, on the back, Annie is resting in her favorite chair, eyes closed and smiling as she holds a happy purring Thursday.  Next to them on a table is a picture of Mario.  A vibrant reddish orange seen on the front in the hue of the boy's sweater covers the opening and closing endpapers.

On the initial title page we see a smiling younger Annie surrounded by cooking pots, utensils and ingredients wearing a chef's hat and a big blue ribbon.  On the two-page picture for the more formal title page we are guests at the wedding of Mario and Annie.  It is a garden scene with a gazebo and groomsmen and bridesmaids holding cooking utensils in the air, making an arch.  Cooking utensils are placed in all the floral bouquets.

In the sixteen double-page illustrations throughout this title rendered in two and six B pencils and acetone markers Polacco fills them with life's details; the baby boys in carriers as their parents serve customers in the diner, a bird's eye view of the diner's outside patios and people walking along the street, the heartfelt affection shared between Annie and Mario, and the look of surprise more than once after the arrival of Thursday the cat.  One thing Polacco does is to connect two separate scenes in one illustration.  Two different moments in time are tied together even if the perspective changes.

One of my favorite illustrations demonstrates this technique.  On the left Annie is sitting on the porch of her farmhouse in a pink flowered dress and her pink fuzzy slippers.  In the background her car sits in a garage.  On the porch readers can see the rolled towel next to the butter churn.   Continuing the design of the porch we move to the right with a close-up of Annie's face, wide-eyed with surprise.  She is lifting up the towel and has seen the kitten.  We can see one tiny paw.

Because of Thursday written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco is uplifting and hopeful.  It reminds us how fragile and strong life can be.  It's a book about luck, love and the blessing an animal can bring into human's lives.  This book will invite discussions about those very things.

To learn more about Patricia Polacco and her other extensive work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view six interior illustrations including my favorite one.  I have written about other Patricia Polacco books, Bun Bun Button, The Art of Miss Chew, Gifts of the Heart and The Blessing Cup.

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