Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Lady Leads The Way

In 1865 she was only an idea; an idea born from a desire to commemorate a lasting institution and friendship.  She arrived in pieces by ship in New York City's harbor in 1885.  Months passed before her full 305-feet-tall height was established.  At the official unveiling and dedication on October 28, 1886 President Grover Cleveland in a speech voiced without the use of notes declared:

"we will not forget that liberty here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected."

Since that dedication day The Statue of Liberty residing on Liberty Island has welcomed all who visit, begin new lives or return home on the eastern shores of the United States of America.  Her Right Foot (Chronicle Books, September 19, 2017) written by Dave Eggers with art by Shawn Harris presents known and little known information about this great lady, a constant beacon of hope and freedom.  It also draws our attention to a particular aspect of the statue, encouraging us to think deeper about the symbolic implications behind her design.

You have likely heard of a place called France.  

The people who live there are called the French.  Our Statue of Liberty came from the country of France.  Two Frenchmen, one with an idea and one with a design, worked to build Lady Liberty.

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi oversaw the development of his design; piece by piece due to the size of the statute.  Over her frame a skin of copper was fashioned.  You know she was then delivered to the United States to stand in the New York City Harbor but what you might not know is what happened in Paris, France before she traveled across the Atlantic.

Unlike a chameleon the Lady did not shift colors after thirty-five years instinctively but did so because of her materials.  The book she is holding, the number of spikes on her crown, her torch, her interior framework and her construction all have unique meanings and stories attached to them.  One feature of Lady Liberty usually not discussed is the central focus of this book.  All of the information has been leading us to this point.

If you look at her feet, specifically the back of her right foot, it's not stationary.  Oh, no readers, she is not standing still.  Her back right foot is lifted, toe to the ground, heel raised.  For the remaining half of the book, points are offered for us to ponder, discuss, promote and champion.  This Statue of Liberty is meant to move our minds and hearts as surely as she greets all who come to our shores.

As soon as you begin to read this book, you know the writer, Dave Eggers, is passionate about his topic and is ready to chat with you about it, one-on-one.  That's the way his narrative reads.  He asks questions and follows them with his no-nonsense answers.

You find yourself informed but entertained through his sense of humor which is underlying in this book.  An excellent technique he employs is to maintain his lively commentary before taking a huge pause switching up his use of words from

And you may know


you might not know.

Here is a sample passage.

Bartholdi liked to see the sculpture rise above the harbor.
Sometimes he watched the construction from the water.
Sometimes he watched it from the land.  Usually he was
wearing a sturdy black hat, for he, like most European
men of the time, favored sturdy black hats.

Rendered in construction paper and India ink the illustrations, loose, stylized and somewhat geometric, beginning on the opened dust jacket, pair perfectly with the spirited, straightforward text.  The limited color palette, blue, green, yellow, white and black brings our eyes to the center.  To the left, on the back, we zoom in to the crown.  A park guide and visitors are standing in the eleven openings.  In this picture as in several others illustrator Shawn Harris includes a cat and a dog.

The book case, in the green shade of weathered copper, is a reflection of the book held in Lady Liberty's hand.  The opening and closing endpapers take us close to the exterior details on the torch when she arrived and as they appear today.  An airplane dots the sky on the final endpapers.

Many of the images span two pages but their perspectives are greatly varied; a street scene in Paris, France, the crew working on the statue's hand, a map of a portion of New York City and the harbor, the Statue of Liberty's face and crown and her right foot with a park ranger and young boy pointing.  With each visual Shawn Harris usually shifts his hues used but his choices are still limited.  His decision to include more details increases the animation but even without the added lines each illustration evokes emotion.  Little touches of humor can be seen, too; the dog eyeing a pastry, exhausted workers sleeping on the rays of the crown and a startled cat coming in through a special door.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Shawn Harris shows us the base of the statute.  We can see both of Lady Liberty's feet, the front of her feet, beneath her robe.  The broken chains are visible.  It is a large picture beginning on the edge at the left and covering two-thirds of the page on the right.  It gives you a sense of the grandeur of this work.

This book, Her Right Foot, written by Dave Eggers with art by Shawn Harris is a remarkable portrait of the Statue of Liberty.  More importantly it asks readers to think of the intent of the designer.  It asks us to remember what these United States of America has offered to all people during the course of its history.  Some of the lines written by Dave Eggers will leave you stunned by their truth.  Some of the illustrations by Shawn Harris will leave you equally mesmerized.  I highly recommend this book for professional libraries and personal libraries too.  It invites, no demands, we partake in discussions.  There are lists for Further Reading and Sources at the end of the book.

To learn more about Shawn Harris please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  This title is his first illustrated book.  At the publisher's website you have the opportunity to view and use a classroom guide.  Dave Eggers is interviewed in a broadcast about this title here.   The ins and outs of a children's illustrations project regarding Her Right Foot are found here.  Educator Alyson Beecher wrote about this book on her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy.  Shawn Harris visits author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to talk about his process.  Author illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka talks about this title on his podcast The Book Report.

To get a little bit of a better idea about Dave Eggers, this TED talk might help.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected by participants in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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