Quote of the Month

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

Friday, February 23, 2018

Finding A Way To Play

It was on the south end of the street on the east side across from the factory.  It may have looked like a vacant lot to everyone else but to the children living on that street, it was paradise.  In the spring and summer it was the site of epic baseball and softball games.  When the crisp air of autumn settled in the neighborhood the voice of a quarterback could be heard hut 1, hut 2, hut 3 as flag football battle strategies were put into play.  Hearts pounded until touchdown was yelled with triumph.

If there's an open space children will find a way to use it, imagining it into whatever they want and need.  The Field (North|South, March 6, 2018) written by Baptiste Paul with pictures by Jacqueline Alcantara takes readers to an island in the Caribbean.  There a child beckons and a community follows.

Vini! Come!
The field calls.

The child moves from home to home and chats with a man at his fruit stand.  Twins carry a goal made from bamboo.  Cows are chased from the pasture.  Teams form.  A game is about ready to begin.

Friends call out plays to one another as they race down the grass.  Neighbors cheer encouragement along the sidelines and behind a fence.  Arms and legs are moving in a rhythm, feet passing the ball, when suddenly the sky darkens and rain falls.

No storm is going to stop this soccer game!  The players move through the water and mud with total dedication and pure joy.  A temporary pause allows for participants to adjust to the conditions.

Clouds move away as swiftly as they arrived and the sun's rays shine on a victory.  Although mothers call to their children, the call of the game is stronger.  Finally mud-caked gals and guys run home.  Darkness descends and dreams begin, dreams of the field.

The spare text, a beautiful blend of Creole and English, penned by debut picture book author Baptiste Paul reads like a poetic tribute to futbol, soccer, and the children whose passion for playing is like breathing.  The short sentences and phrases provide the same cadence as the game; a series of pauses, passes, running and kicking.  Exhilaration and enthusiasm radiate from the pages.  Here is a passage.

Ou. Ou. Ou. You. You. You.
Friends versus friends.

Annou ale! Let's go!

One of the first things you notice upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case, in addition to the lush greens of the island flora, is the energy of the children. Their body postures are indicative of the game they are playing.  This energy of the children is in direct contrast to the calm of the cows chewing the grass.

To the left, on the back, in the lower right hand corner two cows on a background of green are standing, mouths full of grass.  A soccer ball flies over their heads.  If readers carefully watch the eyes of the cows throughout the book, they will notice a gentle kind of humor in their reluctant acceptance of relinquishing the field to the children.

Debut picture book illustrator Jacqueline Alcantara uses every bit of space to tell her visual story.  Beginning on the opening endpapers a scene spreads from the forest to the field.  The child is moving and running through the trees kicking the soccer ball until it soars through the air toward the grazing cows and a goat.  On the closing endpapers the field at night stretches down one page and over to the other with lighted homes on either side framing it.

A crisp white background allows our eyes to be drawn to a single palm tree branching across the right side and over the gutter to the left on the title page and verso.  Beneath the palm fronds the child and sibling race together, the soccer ball in front of them.  Jacqueline Alcantara alternates between several visuals gathered on a single page, framed in white, to a single-page picture framed in white and then a glorious two-page image.  Two of the double-page spreads are a series of moves on the field in the rain. Several of the illustrations are wordless, the strength of the elements giving readers words.

One of my many favorite illustrations is wordless.  On a single page the child wearing the soccer uniform with bright yellow shoes is in full stride watching over their shoulder.  In front is the brother all dressed in bright red wearing a red ball cap, barefoot and running like the wind.  You can't help but smile at the intensity of their focus.  You long to be on the field with them.

Depicted with the true spirit of the game in words and images, The Field written by Baptiste Paul with pictures by Jacqueline Alcantara will have readers, regardless of their age, wanting to run outside to the nearest field (or vacant lot).  With ease you are carried to that island and that field as a spectator (or perhaps as a participant).  This story wraps around you like a blanket, a blanket of the happiness of the children and their community.  An Author's Note and Creole Words and Phrases glossary appear on the closing endpapers.  I highly recommend placing this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Baptiste Paul and Jacqueline Alcantara and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Jacqueline Alcantara also maintains a blog here.  At a publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.  At the publisher's website a discussion guide and an activity sheet have been prepared.  Baptiste Paul is featured at The Brown BookshelfJacqueline Alcantara is highlighted at Latinxs in Kid Lit.  Both Baptiste and Jacqueline visit Watch. Connect. Read., the blog of Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, for a chat and the premiere of their book trailer. At This Picture Book Life Baptiste and Jacqueline are interviewed about this book.

UPDATE:  Jacqueline Alcantara is featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on March 4, 2018. She speaks about the creation process for the art for this title.

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