It happens to everyone. You walk with an air of assurance into a venue full of individuals, only to have them suddenly stop their current activity. They are all staring at you. Your steps falter. Have you drawn their attention because of your projected poise or have you developed the characteristics of the one-eyed, one-horned flyin' purple people eater?
If you are fortunate a kindhearted soul will come to you offering an explanation. Otherwise you realize it would be in your best interest to remove yourself from this place until you can assess the situation. Blue Ethel (Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, May 30, 2017) written and illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt is about a cat completely comfortable with who she is, until she isn't.
Ethel was old.
She was rather plump filling in her black and white fur-coated form much like a pillow stuffed to the brim with feathers. It could be said the word flexible was not a part of her vocabulary. Her outlook on life was extremely rigid.
Her daily routine never wavered; four essential events preceded her much anticipated nap. One day, as the afternoon was coming to a close, her final exercise changed Ethel significantly. Her roll on a sidewalk square, her favorite sidewalk square, altered more than one thing about this consistent feline.
Her roll unbeknownst to Ethel removed her white replacing it with blue. That sidewalk square, her sidewalk square, had become the canvas for an artist. As she walked home the cat community could not contain their comments. And this made Ethel very, very, very sad.
What was Ethel to do? Having decided to stay inside, in the morning she gazed out the window to see young, white, slim, Fluffy wearing a new look. When life gives you sidewalk chalk a faithful follower and friend can give you freedom.
The succinct sentences penned by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, especially the first five, set the tone for the entire narrative. They allow her to follow with evidence of those statements supplying the superb scenario for the total shift which comes next. In this alteration of the ordinary the opportunity for another twist is revealed. Jennifer Black Reinhardt can now introduce a compassionate character wise beyond its years. Repetition of key phrases
It wasn't easy being Ethel, but she was good at it.
totally tie this story together as neatly as the perfectly wrapped present.
How can you not smile when looking at Ethel on the matching dust jacket and book case? Her body shape, that skinny tail straight up in the air, the tiny legs and paws and the Cheshire Cat grin on her face tell readers a lot about Ethel even before we open the book. The ants on the sidewalk, the dandelions growing through the cracks, the butterflies and dragonfly (to the left, on the back) all demonstrate the exquisite details found in the artwork of Jennifer Black Reinhardt. On the back Ethel is posed like someone attempting to do the yoga position for downward dog, stretching as best as possible.
The opening and closing endpapers have a similar large, colorful, grassy and floral area covering the bottom two-thirds of the pages. In the first one Ethel is striding down the lane with conviction as Fluffy watches hidden. In the second one Ethel, Fluffy and other felines are parading proudly, looking other than normal but enjoying it immensely.
Large areas of white space draw our attention to important elements in the illustrations regardless of the image sizes. They invite our eyes to move from left to right as the pictures further enhance the storyline. They also create a contrast to the two-page full color visuals. In all of these the fine lines and loose brush strokes generate a very cat-like feel to the pictures.
One of my favorite of many illustrations is on a single page. For the phrase
Ethel is in hunt mode creeping on all fours, belly to the ground and tail straight up in the air. She is stalking three ants. Underneath her, to the left and up, is a grassy area. On the top portion of this is a pot of geraniums. The pot is patterned in large ladybugs. Peeking through the flowers is the ever-observant Fluffy.
Blue Ethel written and illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt is confirmation of change is good. No matter our age or physical traits, we can adapt to circumstances. It is usually better and easier with the help of a friend. And although we may survive the shift with flying colors, we can still keep our true selves right where they belong, in our hearts. You will want a copy of this title on your personal and professional bookshelves.
To learn more about Jennifer Black Reinhardt and her other work please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog. At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations. At the Iowa SCBWI website Jennifer Black Reinhardt on Writing and Illustrating gives you further insight into her work. At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., Jennifer writes a guest post about this title.