Quote of the Month

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

Friday, September 29, 2017

Looking At The World Her Way

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
Henry David Thoreau

It takes great courage to be an original, especially for children.  The way you dress and wear your hair, the manner in which you voice your opinions, and how you choose to act all set you apart from everyone else.  Even if there are those who admire your outlook on the world in general and specifically how you live each day, they may keep silent.  The "box" has thick and tall walls.

What we all need to remember is those who dress, speak or act outside what is considered normal don't do so necessarily for the sake of being different but because this is who they are.  Beatrice Zinker: Upside Down Thinker (Disney Hyperion, September 19, 2017) written and illustrated by Shelley Johannes, her debut offering, gives us a character to cherish, for her individuality, her indomitable spirit and generous heart.  You will finish this title knowing if Beatrice Zinker were to be your friend, it would be an honor.

Beatrice Zinker always did her best thinking upside down.  It worked like magic, and she never questioned it.

It worked like poof.
It worked like presto.
It worked like shazam---
on every problem,
every pickle, and
each and every jam.

As the middle child Beatrice realized her older sister, Kate, and mom where cut from the same mold and her dad and little brother, Henry, were like two peas in the proverbial pod.  She, on the other hand, rejoiced in her two favorite words, wow and maybe.  Beatrice was in first grade before she found a friend, who understood her free spirit and extraordinary point of view.  For her and Lenny Santos no adventure was too grand.

In fact, just as summer was starting at the end of second grade, Beatrice's best idea ever, a scheme of large proportions, was discussed and planned for the first day of third grade.  On that day, Beatrice could hardly wait to see Lenny after her absence in the Philippines for a family vacation.  It hadn't been easy to get out of the house wearing her ninja outfit but cleverness had won the day.  So it was a deep disappointment to see Lenny not wearing her ninja attire but a new hairstyle and not Lenny-like clothing when she entered Classroom 3B.  And to make current circumstances even more challenging Lenny had a new neighbor, a new classmate and new friend at her side.

Beatrice, being Beatrice, however puzzled by this change in Lenny was determined to stick with Operation Upside.  Her new teacher, Mrs. Tamarack, a no-nonsense kind of woman who seated Beatrice right next to her, was not going to make it easy.  Beatrice had to survive, without getting into trouble, until recess. 

With the morning difficulties in the past, Beatrice is ready to climb toward the sure success of her plan but people and trees being what they are, disaster strikes.  Considerable time spent away from her classmates gives this free-thinking girl time to formulate another path toward progress.  With maybe and her compassionate soul guiding Beatrice a solid friendship remains true as another is formed.  At the end of the day, the first day of third grade, even her family decides to look at life with a new attitude.  Yum! Yum!

In Beatrice Zinker author and illustrator Shelley Johannes has fashioned a character who readers will feel an immediate affection.  Her individualistic approach to anything and everything is energetic, clever and full of heart.  The other characters we meet, her parents, siblings, friends, staff at the school and a neighbor and her cat, complete a world as natural and as wonderful as we could wish them to be.  

The twenty short chapters, with telling chapter headings, are linked together with concluding sentences leading us happily to discover what will happen next.  Humor is in abundant supply through the dialogue and thoughts of the characters.  Here are some sample passages.

When Beatrice finally spoke,
her first word was WOW.

"Wow indeed," said
her father.
"Uh-oh," said Kate.

"Oh, no," said her mother, "what now?"

As Beatrice grew, Kate said a lot of UH-OH.
Nancy Zinker said a lot of OH NO and a lot of

Every idea starts as a
tiny seed---even the biggest 
idea of the very best upside down
thinker.  Three months later
Beatrice launched the most
important plan of her upside
down life, but the seed of the idea was planted
that very afternoon in June on graduation day.
The award was still crisp in her hands.
The ink was still damp.
Her cheeks still hurt from smiling.
Beatrice had never felt better.

Up was the only option.
Beatrice lifted herself into the branches of the 
nearest tree.
The view was amazing.
With a panorama of the playground, she
plotted her course.  Ninja-nimble, feline-flexible,
and doggedly determined, Beatrice used all
her best moves.

There are only a few page turns without the loose-lined, whimsical, playful illustrations by Shelley Johannes.  Black and white with spots of orange-red, they are as animated as the people, places and activities being depicted.  Each one enhances the story line or broadens the text.

These images fit within the body of the words like pieces in a puzzle.  Their sizes vary to influence the story's pacing.  Some are single items and others are entire scenes being recreated.  All of them endear us to the characters, even Mrs. Tamarack.

One of my favorite pictures of many is actually a photograph taken by Beatrice's mother after she wins the award for Best Upside Down Thinker.  Beatrice is holding the award upside down.  When her mother asks her to flip it around, Beatrice does...her way.  In the picture she is standing on her hands with the award, right-side up, in her mouth.  Shelley has added spot color on Beatrice's shirt and the award.

Even now, after two readings of Beatrice Zinker: Upside Down Thinker written and illustrated by Shelley Johannes, I find myself smiling the entire time reading it.  Our world could use more people like Beatrice.  Our world could use more people recognizing the value of people like Beatrice.  This is an outstanding beginning to a promised new series.  You are going to want multiple copies on your professional shelves.  This is one book you will want in your personal collection too.  You'll pick it up to be inspired.

To learn more about Shelley Johannes please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Shelley Johannes wrote a guest post for the cover reveal of this title at the Nerdy Book Club.  Shelley is a guest at Cracking the Cover here and here.  Shelley is a guest on author Kirby Larson's blog for Friend Friday.  At Storymamas Shelley answers three questions. At The Horn Book Shelley answers five questions. 

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