Quote of the Month

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

Colossal Quandaries

The year is 1973.  I am one of seven first year teachers sitting in a conference room ready to listen to a principal new to the district and our building housing grades seven, eight and nine. (In retrospect I can't help but think, how did he do it?)  The first thing he says (and the only thing I remember) is

without the children, you wouldn't be here.

While noting the obvious, to him this meant every decision we made in our classrooms needed to put the children, all the children, first.  That statement and my personal pledge to treat every child as if they were my own have guided my career.

As educators we are not privy to all the individual hopes and fears of our students at the beginning of the year but we can do our best to intentionally create an atmosphere where each one is equally honored, feels safe and knows we sincerely care.  One of the best ways to connect with students is to share laughter, lots of laughter.  Back To School With Bigfoot (Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., June 27 2017) written by Samantha Berger and Martha Brockenbrough with illustrations by Dave Pressler presents one hilarious situation after another.

If you think YOU'VE got BIG back-to-school problems, let me tell you, mine are BIGGER!

This begins the first person...er...cryptid narrative by the one and only Bigfoot.  Yes, he is real and living in a huge three story home in a local neighborhood.  Believe it or not he is going to be a student in an elementary classroom.

With the start of school only days away, the quest for new clothing begins.  Mom Sasquatch has to drag her son to the store where even the largest sizes are a tad bit too small.  Getting rid of those shaggy summer curls demands a trip to the barbershop.  Now that's a lot of hair!  The hunt for shoes is a first-rate disaster.

Now the real worries occupy Bigfoot's every waking moment.  He envisions the school bus driving past him, ruining the class picture and causing a huge ruckus in the cafeteria at lunch.  This guy, regardless of his size, is afraid.  There's too much pressure.  He's simply not going back to school.

In the middle of this panic-induced mind muddle other thoughts start to wiggle their way into his thinking.  This year Miss Sierra Nevada is his teacher.  This year a favorite subject will be studied.  Then the most important thing about school any year takes over his musings.  And the big guy does what he does best.  OOPS!

If you are readers of books written by Samantha Berger and Martha Brockenbrough you know you are in for a rare treat.  These two authors have the innate ability to portray the essence of whatever story they are telling.  First and foremost, they understand children.

Secondly, they find a way to present truth through humor.  The situations depicted in this title, school clothes, haircuts, missing the bus, school picture day and the lunchroom are all real to us but having those issues exaggerated with Bigfoot as a narrator allows us to see the lighter side of each one.  It is also an excellent technique in leading us to the flip side of the coin.  Here is another sample passage.

A back-to-school haircut takes
because I am 

Good golly!  How can you look at the front of the dust jacket without giggling? Look at the size of that guy.  Look at the expressions on those students' faces.  Look at the broken benches.  (The title text is raised.)  To the left, on the back, on a canvas of yellow taken from the same shade in the title, Bigfoot is leaning out from the spine, grinning and waving at readers.  This image is used again on the right side of the bright yellow book case.  Purple covers the opening endpapers and the closing endpapers are yellow, complementary colors.

Prior to the title page an image appears guaranteed to cause mass quantities of laughter.  Bigfoot is seated at a desk, a regular-sized desk.  On the double-page picture for the title page all we see are two big hairy feet stretching from edge to edge, ankles and the bottom of blue pant legs.  The comedy increases with the dedication and publication information pages.  It's a snapshot of a portion of the black-topped playground.  Three gigantic footprints are imprinted in the surface.  The other elements are sure to make you smile.

The artwork for the planning stages and final color art was created on a Wacom Cintiq using Adobe Photoshop CC 2017.  The finished line art was drawn exclusively with Staedtler Mars Lumograph 3B Pencils on Strathmore Bristol Paper by Dave Pressler.  The illustrations shift their size depending on the narrative from double-page pictures to single page visuals.  The color palette is bright and cheerful with details which heighten the comedy.

On the first page of the story, the snapshots of students in frightful moments are funny; a child is covered in paint in art class, some green goo food at lunch with the face of a monster has a student terrified and piles of books surround another student with titles like Confusing Continents and Grammar Ain't Easy.  At the barbershop two of the magazine titles are Zombie Bobs and Wolfman Hair Don'ts!  One of the patrons is drowning in Bigfoot's cut hair.  Ultimately, it's the comparisons between sizes which will have you grinning from beginning to end.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is the first one of him sitting at the desk.  The background is mostly white.  Bigfoot's body fills the entire page.  In fact his feet don't fit at the bottom and his head runs off the top of the page.  He literally dwarfs the desk with his knees raised and his elbows resting on those knees.  He looks so disappointed.  You have to wonder if he's wondering if the desk will hold his weight.

You will want to add this new title, Back To School With Bigfoot written by Samantha Berger and Martha Brockenbrough with illustrations by Dave Pressler, to your school-themed collections.  It's an ideal way to build community in your classrooms through common experiences.  There's nothing better than the laughter of children, when all are enjoying the same moment of comedy.  It's contagious.  It's uplifting.  It's perfection.

To visit the websites of Samantha Berger, Martha Brockenbrough and Dave Pressler and learn more about them and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names.  Dave Pressler also maintains a blog here.  You can view interior images at this publisher's website.  Back on October 23, 2016 the laughter began with the cover reveal and a conversation between Samantha Berger and Martha Brockenbrough at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Samantha Berger, Martha Brockenbrough, and Dave Pressler stop by All The Wonders, Episode 376 to chat with teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner.

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