Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Epic Elf Ingenuity

Usually speculation increases around the date of the winter solstice.  In a few days a trip (defying most scientific evidence) around the world takes place in a single evening.  The speed at which the vehicle needs to move is said to be 5,083,000 mph.  Over decades individuals have compiled mind-boggling statistics on the number of cookies consumed, the glasses of milk drank, and the number of homes visited by Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.  For most children (and true believers), these theories are answered with a single word . . . magic.

It also seems Kris Kringle's driving record is flawless.  Surely we would know if there were ever any mishaps over the centuries.  Right?  Maybe the inhabitants of the North Pole have kept them a closely guarded secret.  The 12 Sleighs of Christmas (Chronicle Books, October 24, 2017) written by Sherri Duskey Rinker with illustrations by Jake Parker gives readers a look at a wonderfully funny and inventive scenario.  

Two weeks before Christmas,
and every elf
is building, rushing, racing, busy---
every elf is in a tizzy!

One major task is to inspect Santa's sleigh making sure everything is A-Okay.  When Tim, Crew Chief and Head Mechanic, with his group of elves see the sleigh, they discover it's in shambles.  It looks as if Santa raced around the world a bit recklessly.

As each elf voices an opinion on the necessary changes, it's decided, out of necessity and to keep the peace, a competition will determine the design of a new sleigh.  Santa will pick the winner.  Oh, the elves are busier than ever; hustling and bustling to build their idea of a marvelous vehicle.  The clamor they raise echoes across the North Pole.

The first team, on the first day, develops a dragster able to glide on the ground and zoom above the clouds.  No reindeer are necessary.  As each day comes and goes the modes of transportation shift from an enormous big rig, to a ship with fifty sails using air like water, to an unstable rocket and blimp combination, to a super-duper plow truck on tank treads, and to a motorcycle sleigh with a side car to hold the toys.

Days whiz by with travel by water, land, air and space all options for St. Nick.  On the twelfth day, Christmas Eve, the jolly man in red commends his elf teams.  Their astounding accomplishments are wonderful but he longs for what is familiar and comfortable and classic.  A voice from the smallest elf, working alone, shouts out what Santa has been waiting to hear.  It's the first of three revelations.

The true spirit of the workmanship, as readers imagine it, of the elves sounds off the pages with a joy from doing what is loved.  These lively individuals take a disaster and turn it into a spectacular display of creativity.  The rhymes written by Sherri Duskey Rinker roll off your tongue in a delightful cadence.  The blend of narrative and conversational comments provides upbeat pacing. Here is a passage.

Welders spark in the dark;
hammers bang, tools clang . . .
all night long,
going strong.
Grinding, buzzing, clanking,
whirling, twirling, cranking . . .
a squeal, a bonk,
A splat?  A quack?

Goodness gracious!
What was that?!

As soon as readers catch a glimpse of the opened, matching dust jacket and book case, they know this is no ordinary variant on the classic Christmas carol as Santa Claus roars above the evergreen tops through a snowy sky on the dragster sleigh.  To the left, on the back, he is followed by other sleighs built by the elves.  They are driving a locomotive, the rocket and blimp combination, a spaceship and the fifty-sail ship.  By the looks on all their faces, they are determined in their desire to be the best.  Can you imagine looking up and seeing this on Christmas Eve?  On the dust jacket the title text is in red foil.  Placing the letters in the folded ribbon gives this book timeless appeal.  

On the opening and closing endpapers in green and white are the blueprints for most of the sleighs.  They overlap each other as if spread on a work table.  On the title page, cans of magic fuel, a wheel, gears, hammers and wrenches are placed among holly, ribbons and a wreath.

The thicker, matte-finished paper is ideal for the color palette of mostly red, green, cream, yellow, blue, some white and a dash of pink and orange.  Jake Parker rendered these images in brush pen coloring them digitally.  He alternates between two-page pictures, single page illustrations and a collection of images on one page.  Once, two pictures appear vertically in panels like a comic.

His elves, with varied skin tones, are garbed in pointed hats, jackets with a big round button at the top, pants and mittens.  Their ears, noses and different colored tufts of hair help to distinguish one from the other.  They are so animated you would hardly be surprised to hear them talking.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the quoted text.  It's a panoramic view of the northern landscape spread across two pages.  On the left are billowy clouds along the horizon.  Evergreen trees frosted in snow dot the hilly vista.  A road curves from the bottom left into the village at the North Pole.  Smoke rises from chimneys.  A sign reading 


is in the snow on the right page.  Behind it their workshop, several stories high, is glowing with lights.  Stars, the result of their efforts, are shooting from the building's walls.  A crescent moon hangs in the sky.  This workshop is on the edge of a cliff. 

Reading this book, The 12 Sleighs of Christmas written by Sherri Duskey Rinker with illustrations by Jake Parker, silently to yourself is truly a pleasure but when you read it aloud, it's a whole fresh experience.  Through the words and art you become a part of the story.  Your readers who gravitate toward the vehicle sections of your libraries will love this book.  Others will enjoy it too for the cleverness of the elves.  You will want to make this a part of your collections.

To learn more about Sherri Duskey Rinker and Jake Parker and their other work, please follow the links embedded in their names to access their respective websites.  Sherri Duskey Rinker is featured at KidLit 411 and HenryHerz.com. Jake has accounts showing his art at InstagramTumblr and on YouTube.  Sherri and Jake are on Twitter.  Jake Parker is highlighted at Smash Pages and byutv. His process for the cover is discussed in a post on the publisher's blog.  There is loads of artwork.  Several activities can be found in links at the publisher's website to extend the experience of reading this title.  Enjoy the videos.

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