Quote of the Month

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

Gathering Remembrances

After the autumn rains tree leaves shimmer like they've been dusted with glitter, glistening as the gusty winds rustle their branches.  High above the treetops ravens glide on the speeding wind currents, clouds scurrying across the sometimes blue, sometimes gray sky.  Clinking and clunking sounds are evidence of the oak trees throwing their acorns on the back deck.  Squirrels scamper across lawns, pausing to dig feverishly burying food for another day.

As the sun signals the passing of a storm, the afternoon chorus of birdsong is strangely silent.  Many have left for their southern journey.  In the Middle of Fall (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 5, 2017) written by Kevin Henkes with illustrations by Laura Dronzek, companion title to When Spring Comes (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, February 9, 2016), these collaborators in children's literature and life address with poetic eloquence the beauty of one season moving into the next season.

In the middle of Fall,
when the leaves
have already turned

At this time of year in the northern hemisphere, the world is waiting in anticipation.  The skies are steely, shedding little light.  It's time to wear coats, hats and gloves to keep toasty warm.

Squirrels working alone or in groups are always on the move.  Gardens, long past their prime, are like grocery stores for smaller creatures.  Pumpkin patch business is booming.  Apple trees are laden with fruit.

When we observe all these things, it's time.  Everything is ready.  All it takes is one single event to alter what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch.  We need to save memories like squirrels are storing up nuts.  And then when the world is blanketed in stillness, another change comes, as delicate as downy dandelion seeds.

Using only two sentences, words strung together like pearls of wisdom, we become observers alongside author Kevin Henkes' narrator.  We are there as the little girl spends a day(s) with her dog, as squirrels gather, as fields fill with ripened pumpkins and apple orchards turn the colors of their fruit.  When Henkes writes we are in the moment with every page turn building toward the magnificence of an annual shift.  It's a sensory experience.  Here are two phrases.

and the pumpkins are ready
and the apples are like ornaments, 

For those of us living in a part of the world with four distinct seasons we recognize the blue used on the matching dust jacket and book case by artist Laura Dronzek.  It's a rare shade seen on those days when humidity is absent and the air is brisk.  It's an announcement of autumn's presence.  The squirrel resting and ready to stretch for an acorn, framed with vibrant oak leaves, is another sign of a seasonal shift.  To the left, on the back, within a loose circle three large pumpkins in a patch are grouped together.  The dog accompanying the girl in the story is sitting behind them, waiting or perhaps guarding them.

The opening endpapers and first page are a darker shade of blue; almost like a night sky.  A variety of tree leaves garbed in their fall colors pattern the pages with acorns.  The closing end papers and final page reveal the last word in this title.  Beneath the title text and above the author and illustrator names are three oak leaves and two acorns grouped together exactly as you might see them on the ground. A pumpkin with its vine sits above the dedication.

Except for the first and last images framed in circles and white space, all of the illustrations rendered in acrylic paint span page edge to page edge on single and double pages. Heavy dark lines provide accents and outlines of elements.  The foliage, creatures and clothing worn by the girl supply a contrast to the increasing presence of brown and a starker landscape.

One of my many favorite pictures spans two pages.  The sky is more gray than blue.  Colorful leaves are cascading down on both pages.  The girl wearing her red-hooded coat is leaning on a stone wall along a road.  Leaves are mounded against the wall and along the road.  Her pup has its head next to her left elbow, chin resting on the top rock.  Five small circular visuals are placed like the falling leaves against the sky and one resting on the road.  They are filled with memories previously mentioned in the story.

There is something supremely wonderful about In the Middle of Fall written by Kevin Henkes with illustrations by Laura Dronzek.  It's an ode to a season welcome after the summer heat drawing our attention to those singular instances we need to remember.  The words and illustrations enhance each other in harmonious perfection.  I can't wait to read this aloud to students.

To learn more about Kevin Henkes and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name.  A teaching guide is provided at Kevin Henkes' website.  If you would like a peek at the first four pages follow this link.

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