Quote of the Month

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

Monday, January 22, 2018

Embracing Friendship And Holidays

In eleven days a special event dating back to 1887 is observed.  On February 2nd a groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, exits his home.  According to tradition if he steps out into the sun and sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of winter.  If the day is cloudy, spring is not far behind.  History tells us that similar celebrations were followed in ancient times in Europe.  They were in turn brought to America with immigrants.

Less than two weeks after Groundhog Day another popular annual holiday is welcomed by many.  It's a time to declare love, share love and remember love.  There is no better way to enjoy this day than in the company of friends.  Groundhug Day (Disney Hyperion, December 5, 2017) written by Anne Marie Pace with illustrations by Christopher Denise presents a problem unique to a charming group of forest friends.

Valentine's Day was only two weeks away,
and Moose was planning a grand party.

Squirrel, Bunny and Porcupine offer ideas for making the party extra special.  For Moose the best part of the party is extending an invitation to everyone.  Bunny is the first to point out a potential complication. 

If their friend Groundhog sees his shadow tomorrow, he will miss the Valentine's Day gala.  All four of them have plans to avoid this dilemma involving a calendar, a blindfold, a tent and Groundhog being stuck inside his home.  They spend entirely too much time arguing about the best strategy.  The sun rises.

When Groundhog sees his shadow, he turns around, scampering back inside and his friends are stunned.  Moose quickly asks Groundhog if he is afraid of shadows.  His reply has them brainstorming. 

Moose, Bunny, Squirrel and Porcupine speak of the beauty of shadows to Groundhog.  Intrigued he steps outside to enjoy the fun of their creations.  At the end of the day though he goes back inside.  There is indeed six weeks of winter remaining.  Groundhog loves his friends giving them a warm embrace before he leaves.  In six weeks when this fellow emerges from his home, a plot twist leaves him and readers surprised but smiling.

With her opening sentences author Anne Marie Pace issues an invitation to readers not for a single celebration but for the joy found in the friendship of these forest creatures.  She also establishes a storytelling rhythm which is repeated giving each of the four, Squirrel, Bunny, Porcupine and Moose, a voice.  They express their views on the necessary components of a great party, how to stop Groundhog from seeing his shadow, their friend's fear, using shadows inventively, and guessing at Porcupine's shadow puppets.  The blend of conversations and narrative is perfection.  Here is a passage.

"Hey, Groundhog," Moose finally said.
"What if we showed you just how awesome
shadows are?  I'll show you the ways leaves
blowing in the wind make shadows dance!"

"I'll show you how to draw silhouettes!" said Bunny.  

"I'll show you how clouds cast shadows on the hills," said Squirrel.

Just looking at the opened dust jacket created in warm, rosy hues welcomes readers to the party pictured and the story unfolding on the book's pages.  It's a cozy scene with the affection apparent in the gestures of the animals.  Squirrel is holding out a box of candy, Bunny is carrying Valentine balloons and Porcupine is giving Groundhog a hug.  Moose is in the background attending to the details of the party.  And speaking of details, readers will notice many in this first image and throughout the book.  To the left, on the back, a pale rose canvas holds a place for a circular illustration framed with a tiny yellow line.  In the picture Bunny is holding a Valentine card and Squirrel is holding a Valentine balloon. 

On the book case the same shade of pale rose covers the front and back.  A single Valentine balloon floats on the front.  The spine on the case and jacket is in yellow with three rose hearts above and below the title text.  On the opening and closing endpapers in various hues of pink, rose and red is a pattern of various Valentine cards and Valentine balloons.  Beneath the text on the title page Groundhog in his robe, holding a steaming beverage and the morning paper, is looking at his calendar.

A page turn gives us a panoramic view of a pastoral picture; a distant mountain, rolling fields, trees, and two small homes, one most certainly belonging to Groundhog.  This picture literally glows.  Rendered using Photoshop and a Wacom tablet by Christopher Denise each illustration, varying in size, brings us into this tale of friendship.  The body postures, facial expressions, and clothing radiate cozy comfort.  You'll want to stop at each image noticing each element.  You don't want to miss what Bunny, Squirrel, Porcupine, Moose or Groundhog is doing.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Moose, Bunny, Squirrel and Porcupine are working on the party planning.  They are gathered around the table in Moose's house.  Porcupine is painting a heart on a Valentine on the wood floor between the stove and a checkered, wing back chair.  Squirrel is balancing on the back of a dining room chair playing with a Valentine balloon.  Bunny is studying a calendar spread on the table.  Moose, glasses in his hand, is leaning over and listening to Bunny.  A string of cut-out hearts is on the wing-back chair.  A teapot and cup and saucer are on the table among books with ideas for planning the party.

The endearing forest characters and delightful luminous illustrations in Groundhug Day written by Anne Marie Pace with pictures by Christopher Denise make this book downright huggable.  This book can be used to focus on seasons, holidays, shadows and friendship.  It is sheer pleasure to read it aloud.  You'll want to make sure to have a copy in all your collections, professional and personal.  You might want to pair it with Groundhog's Day Off written by Robb Pearlman with illustrations by Brett Helquist.

To learn more about Anne Marie Pace and Christopher Denise and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Christopher Denise maintains a blog, an account on Instagram and Twitter.  Anne Marie Pace is found on Twitter.  She has designed a board on Pinterest for this title.  Anne Marie Pace is interviewed by author Caroline Starr Rose on her website about this title.  Anne Marie Pace also visits All The Wonders, Picturebooking, Episode 93 with Nick Patton.

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