Quote of the Month

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

Rescued And Rescuer

You would think after spending more than one-third of my life in the company of dogs nothing they do would surprise me, but I am continually amazed by their capabilities.  They know to accomplish a particular task, working together is better.  They also have huge heroic hearts ready to act individually if the opportunity presents itself.  Humans should take lessons on their unwavering loyalty and unconditional love.

In their minds every single day is to be savored with excitement.  Each day is full of possibilities for learning.  Remembering Vera (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, October 3, 2017) is the newest offering from renowned author illustrator Patricia Polacco. No one, least of all the serviceman who rescued her, knew what kind of dog the pup would become.

"What will the Ol' Man say?" one of the guys piped up.
"Davie, if the Ol' Man catches her in here, he'll order her to be taken to the pound, and you know what will happen to her there!" another said.
"Well . . . I'm a-keepin' her!" Davie Bunch said definitely.  "We're just gonna have to hide her and keep her hidden from the commander!" he insisted. 

As good as his word Davie kept the dog naming her Vera.  Vera was one of his favorite aunts.  This dog never left the guys; wherever they went, she went too.  Davie taught her tricks.  She would go after and bring back whatever he threw.

On a particularly windy day, a call for help came to the Coast Guard company.  A ship was taking on water and sinking.  To make matters worse a squall was added to the already windy day.  As the men raced to help, you should know readers, Vera was on board.  And today, so was the commander, the Ol' Man.

The seas were so rough the Coast Guard cutter could not get near the other boat.  Each time they tried to shoot a line to the frantic people, it missed.  Then the Ol' Man noticed Vera and bellowed out his surprise.  Davie stepped up offering a solution.  Vest-wearing Vera could carry a line to the sinking boat.  It was a tense time for the men on that cutter watching Vera dive into the water.  Soon they lost sight of her in the wind and waves.  She made it!

On that day a canine hero was born, spending a great deal of time with the commander for the rest of her days.  It was the first of other rescues giving her star status.  After another spectacular deed nearly ending her life, Vera was given a medal for valor and made an honorary member of the United States Coast Guard.  It was at the close of her life, the immense love the men held for her was revealed.

In the hands of storytelling master Patricia Polacco two events in her life more than forty years ago, years apart, provide the impetus for this narrative.  Her gift for getting at the soul of a story forms the dialogue, the descriptions of the intense rescues, the bonds Vera forms with the men and their dedication to her.  Each sentence carefully builds our emotional attachment to the dog and her place in the United States Coast Guard.  Here is a sample passage.

Vera paddled with fierce determination toward the wrecked sailboat.  It was as if she knew that she was the last hope that those people had!  Everyone, including the Ol' Man, was cheering her on.  Time after time the waves would hide Vera in a trough.  She'd disappear only to surface again, paddling ever nearer the distressed boat.  Suddenly she vanished beneath the waves.  Everyone fell silent.  All that could be heard was the howling of the wind.

A single glance at a book illustrated by Patricia Polacco will tell you she is the artist.  The familiar loose lines, expressive facial features and the meticulous care given to detail are her signature attributes.  The emotion of a moment shines from her pages.

On the matching opened dust jacket and book case, the beaming face of the Ol' Man next to a happy Vera clearly defines their relationship and her eagerness to do her job.  To the left, on the back, an interior image from her first rescue is displayed.  You can see the shock and relief on the faces of those people in distress.  You can also see the intense pride on Vera's face at her achievement.

The red color used in the title text covers both the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page Vera is in the center, sitting in front of the United States Coast Guard symbol.  Rendered in

two and six B pencils and acetone markers

the pictures throughout this title span two pages with the exception of two single page images and a series of smaller visuals when Vera is a playful puppy.  Depending on the point in the story Patricia will alter her perspective, bringing us close to the characters or giving us a more panoramic view.

One of my many favorite pictures is on a single page.  Vera has successful taken a line to the stranded sailors.  She is now back on board the US Coast Guard cutter.  The Ol' Man is holding her in both his hands so she can face him.  A towel dripping with water is wrapped around Vera.  The emotion on both their faces is love at first sight and sheer happiness at Vera's success.

Remembering Vera written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco will have readers laughing and crying at the heroics of this determined dog.  Her willingness to serve is apparent on every page.  Based upon true facts, when this book is finished and your listeners ask if this really happened, you can say yes.  For those who have a special place in their hearts for animals and dogs, this book will resonate with them.  It is a great read aloud title from a storyteller extraordinaire.  Patricia Polacco has notes at the beginning and ending of this book relative to the circumstances inspiring this story.

To learn more about Patricia Polacco and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images. There is an interesting article about Patricia Polacco at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in the state of Virginia.  Please enjoy this video with Patricia talking about this book.

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