Quote of the Month

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

Friday, January 20, 2017

We Are Family

It's interesting to see the variety of definitions for the word home depending on the source.  For the purpose of this post I am referring to

the social unit formed by a family living together from Merriam-Webster


the place in which one's domestic affections are centered from Dictionary.com.

There is an interesting article from 2012 in the Smithsonian which states in the heading home is

also an idea---one where the heart is.

Home is a place where your heart is heard and protected.  Above all else it is a sanctuary filled with the love of those in residence.

Beloved author Vera B. Williams passed away on October 16, 2015.  There was one last book she wanted to release into the world.  Not sure if she had the strength to complete the pictures she asked a fellow author and illustrator, Chris Raschka, for help.  Home At Last (Greenwillow Books, September 13, 2016) written by Vera B. Williams and illustrated by Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka, a tender story of adoption and family, is the result of their collaboration.

Lester tripped over the laces of his new shoes just as he went out the door and down the steps of the children's center.

He could hardly wait for the arrival of Daddy Albert and Daddy Rich, his new parents.  He could hardly wait to see their dog Wincka again.  It had taken a year for the adoption process to be completed.

As he climbed into their car, which he absolutely loved, he carried his little blue suitcase and his most prized yo-yo.  Daddy Albert and Daddy Rich helped him unpack and get settled in his new room.  He was assured he would never need his big suitcase again.  He was home.  Lester was reluctant to give up his little blue suitcase filled with his action figure collection.  He wanted them near...just in case he needed protection.

Every night one of his dads would read him a story or tuck him into bed.  Every night Wincka would follow them out of the room.  Every night Lester would appear in his parent's bedroom carrying his suitcase.  He just could not stay settled in his room no matter what they did; no hot chocolate, no toast, songs, stories, kind words or lots of conversations could fix the hole in his heart.  He did not tell his parents what he was really thinking.

Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert had talked a long time before adopting Lester and they were talking now about his late night walks into their bedroom.  They set up rules for Lester.  He had to stay in his own bed except on special Sunday mornings when no one had to go to work the next day.  Rich bought a new bike for Lester and spent the day playing with him.  Albert was not so patient.  One night, he became angry at Lester for not staying in his own room and waking them up.

When Lester began crying, Daddy Albert felt his heart melt and questioned the child.  His parents listened to him talk, telling them the truth.  They were worried.  There was one member of the family not worried and he took steps on four furry feet to make things right for his boy.  Now dear reader, this is not the end of this story but I'll let you enjoy the rest on your own.  With that being said, I guess you know who saved the day, made another life whole and at home...at last.

Everything about this story penned by Vera B. Williams is beautiful.  Her descriptions of Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert leave no doubt as to their personalities and parental love they have for this boy they are bringing into their lives.  The care they give to making him a part of their home is exactly what all members of a family need.  Her descriptions of Lester's hopes, fears and the reason for his living in the children's center will resonate with every reader.

Her inclusion of specific moments like Lester tripping over the untied laces of his new shoes, Lester checking to make sure Wincka is following them, Daddy Rich playfully pretending their attic is haunted, Lester talking to his action figures, and playing with his four new cousins during a sleepover so much they hardly slept at all bring this story into sharp focus.  The words spoken by Daddy Rich, Daddy Albert and Lester in comments and conversation are as real as sunrise and sunset.  Here is a sample passage.

When Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert finally opened their very sleepy eyes and saw their new son, Lester, standing by their bed, they would say, "What's wrong?  What's the trouble, sport?"  Daddy Rich would feel Lester's forehead for fever and ask if he was too cold or too hot or hungry.

A few times Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert, followed by Wincka, even took Lester into the kitchen and fixed him hot cocoa and toast.  His daddies sleepily slurped up the cocoa and Wincka sleepily crunched up the toast, because it was not cocoa and toast Lester wanted.

When opened the matching dust jacket and book case immediately fill your heart with the cozy comfort found in the two images.  You know Lester has found a home with Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert and Wincka in the illustration on the front.  To the left, on the back, is a close up of the hero of the house with Lester.  Lester, eyes closed, has his arms around Wincka in a huge hug.  I think I see the wisp of a smile on the dog's face.

A collage of words,

home, who will take care of me, mommy, daddy, keep me safe, hug me, Grandmother and love,

covers the opening and closing endpapers in shades of black, purple pink and white.  Across the title page is a picture of the dormitory, a row of beds, with Lester sitting on one, waiting.  The sizes of the illustrations flow with the narrative shifting from two pages, to a single page, a half page or several smaller ones on a single page.  The signature color palette and loose lines of Chris Raschka are clearly evident.

In his illustrations there is motion and emotion with an underlying color of golden yellow casting a feeling of warmth.  Changes in perspective match the narrative perfectly.  Careful readers will notice the tiniest of details; lattice work on a balcony, the gas burners on the stove, books stacked on the shelves next to Lester's bed, and the tear on Lester's cheek.

One of my favorite pictures of many is of Lester and Daddy Rich biking around the neighborhood.  It is a half-page illustration.  The park is spread out behind them.  In front of them on the left a man is seated on a bench reading a newspaper.  On the right a man is scooping out ice cream to waiting children.  Lester and Daddy Rich are just finishing up their ice cream cones, standing next to their bicycles.

This is the kind of book. Home At Last, written by Vera B. Williams with illustrations by her and Chris Raschka which clearly defines home and family.  It's about where hearts reside in true affection.  This is an important book.  Home At Last is where children can see themselves and others in the pages of a book.  (We Need Diverse Books)

To learn more about the life of Vera B. Williams and her work please follow the link attached to her name to read her obituary at Publishers Weekly.  Publishers Weekly also has an article about the process of completing this title.  There is an enlightening and wonderful post with additional links and artwork at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  At the publisher's website there is a link to a five page article about the collaboration between Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka.

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