Quote of the Month

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

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Change of Pace

An early morning walk this week heralded the difference.  The sky was a bit bluer.  The air was crisp and much cooler.  The humidity prevalent in this Great Lakes state was thankfully lower. In less than three weeks the advent of autumn is official.  This season awakens treasured memories of family vacations taken annually in the fall.  The normal routine of school and work left behind for an entire week to explore and enjoy the wonders of this time of year in northern Michigan.

Readers fell in love with a very special blue-and-pink-polka-dotted elephant and his equally small friend with one notched ear introduced in Little Elliot, Big City (Henry Holt and Company, August 26, 2014).  When they returned in Little Elliot, Big Family (Henry Holt and Company, October 6, 2015) our affection for the pals grew.  Little Elliot, Big Fun (Henry Holt and Company, August 30, 2016) strengthened the duo's friendship, making us lifelong followers of whatever adventure they chose to take.  Like my family fall getaway the charming companions are taking a break from life in the city with Little Elliot, Fall Friends (Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company, August 29, 2017) written and illustrated by Mike Curato.

Little Elliot and his best friend, Mouse, loved living in the big city.

Despite this love, the city could be too much of everything sometimes.  Mouse's declaration of them needing a vacation found them on a bus to the country as soon as possible.  As they left the hustle and bustle and noise behind, they were welcomed with the colorful array of fall foliage.

The views as far as their eyes could see left them nearly speechless.  It was so wide.  It was so open.  Before too long Elliot's need for food had them heading down a hillside toward some apple trees.  With full stomachs and play in piles of leaves, Elliot and Mouse were having the time of their lives.

At Mouse's suggestion of a rousing game of hide-and-seek, Little Elliot was hiding and Mouse was seeking.  They discovered nooks and crannies in the nearby forest and on the farm.  When Elliot hid among the rows of corn stalks, he was sure Mouse would never discover this spot.  Mouse did not find him.

Sunshine turned to sunset.  There was no Mouse.  As Elliot wondered about this situation, his nose for sweet treats caught a whiff of something scrumptious.  He followed the scent to an open farmhouse window.  A freshly-baked pie sat on the sill.  There was more, much more, waiting for the elephant than pastry.  A friend knows a friend's nose.

In this fourth title through conversations, thoughts and the narrative, Little Elliot and Mouse find a forever place in readers' hearts. Simple sentences with meticulously chosen words by Mike Curato ask us to enjoy the vacation with the two friends.  We experience their exuberance at discovering what the season and location have to offer.  The wisdom presented to us through this friendship is lasting and profound.  Here is a sample passage.

Elliot and Mouse got off the bus
and smelled the fresh air.

"Wow," said Elliot.  "This country
is even bigger than the city!"

"I'll race you up that hill!" said Mouse.

The design and elements on the front of the dust jacket are reminiscent of driving down a country lane to your favorite farm and enjoying the fruits of a fall harvest.  The autumn leaves along the top, the sign holding the title text, the rolling hills, the colored trees, the pumpkin and basket of apples are all part of a best-day-ever scenario.  Clearly Elliot and Mouse are enjoying themselves.

To the left on the back amid a burnt orange background Elliot and Mouse are having a romp in a pile of leaves.  A yellow oval, like a spotlight, draws our attention to them.  The ISBN is framed in wood.  Significant items on the front and back are varnished.

On the book case, done in two shades of a textured orange, with a wider, darker shade along the spine, Elliot and Mouse are featured.  On the front they are gobbling up apples.  Elliot is tossing an apple in the air to the left, on the back. In both images grass provides an area for them to sit and stand.  The opening and closing endpapers are patterned in apples in various positions, with and without leaves attached.  One is a core.  The colors used are nearly the same as Elliot's hues.

The verso and title pages is a single scene of a barn on a hill in the country in the background with a signpost and arrows in the foreground on the right containing the title text. The dedication on the left reads:

For city sunrises and country sunsets.

Rendered in pencil on paper and digital color in Adobe Photoshop Mike Curato brings all the charm of this relationship and life in the country in the autumn to his illustrations.  He alternates between breathtaking double-page spreads to single page pictures framed and other single page pictures edge to edge.  Sometimes more than one visual will be on a single page.  Each of these choices contributes to the pacing; asking us to pause and notice. (One particular picture using silhouettes reminds me of a famous fairy tale.)

It's interesting how Mike shifts his color palette between his city scenes and the country life.  In the first illustration we understand why Elliott and Mouse love their life in the city but we also understand why they need a break through the following pictures.  Perspective, bringing us close to the characters and then shifting to a panoramic vista, is used to marvelous effect as is white space in one sequence.  (I love the snail.)

I have many, many favorite pictures.  One is a wordless scene on a single page.  On either side of a grassy lane are apple orchards. At the end of the lane sits a farmhouse. In the foreground Mouse is sitting on a branch among apples throwing one down to the waiting Elliot with outstretched hands.  Once again a friend is helping a friend.  In this illustration, as in all of them, the choice of shades and the use of light and shadow are stunning.

I know readers familiar with these characters are going to ask for this book to be read repeatedly.  For those not yet introduced to Elliot and Mouse, Little Elliot, Fall Friends written and illustrated by Mike Curato is a wonderful choice, perfect for this time of year.  There is something extraordinarily special about these two friends and each book in which we find them.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Mike Curator and his other work please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and blog.  He has several images from this book on his website.  The publisher's website also contains interior illustrations from this title.  There is a special website dedicated to the Little Elliot (and Mouse) books.  Mike Curato is featured at All The Wonders, Episode 379.  Make sure to check the previous posts to learn more about Mike Curator, his art and his process.

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