Quote of the Month

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

Monday, March 12, 2018

Friends In Deed

The tips of tulips are poking up through the soil.  Some days there is a hint of warmth in the wind.  The next day snow covers everything before noon but vanishes within several hours.  There are new notes in the birdsong. The robins are here.

Ever since 1931 the American robin has been the state bird of Michigan.  Their presence after winter, rather than the calendar, is a sure sign spring is arriving.  This Is the NEST That ROBIN Built (with a little help from her friends) (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, March 6, 2018) written and illustrated by Denise Fleming commemorates the season and animals of the forest, field and farm in her creative take on a familiar rhythm and rhyme.

This is the SQUIRREL
who trimmed the twigs, not too big,
that anchor the nest that Robin built.

For anyone with a dog, young and ready for action, no one will be surprised to notice its presence in the next line unraveling the string in a stolen weaving.  In a more quiet moment we are taken to the horse, gladly giving straw.  Can you guess the contribution of the Pig?

Moving into the meadow, a tiny creature collects.  One with longer legs and ears selects the choicest greenery.  A shelter for welcoming new life is shaped.

Delicate ovals with a distinguishing color are nestled in their new home.  Soon open mouths and downy heads poke above the rim.  Where is their meal?  Where is their mama?

As the days of spring grow in number, the young robins increase in size.  Fluff turns into feathers.  A proud parent watches wings spread.

You can't help reading this narrative penned by Denise Fleming aloud.  As each of the six animals play a part in assisting Robin to build her nest, the items are described with words which extend the musical quality of the text.  The verbs are full of action, trimmed, anchor, brought, wraps, shared and covers.  Once Robin lays her eggs, Denise takes the story's focus to the inside of the nest.  In a wonderful original conclusion gratitude is given and a salutation is sung.  Here is a partial passage.

This is the HORSE
who shared his straw, rough and tough,
that covers the string, long and strong, . . .

Happiness fills your heart when first looking at the matching dust jacket and book case created by Denise Fleming.  It announces the beginning of new life and a shift in the seasons.  For this most recent title Denise experimented with a new illustrative style; combining print-making techniques with collage bringing to readers her signature attention to detail.  You notice the layers used by Robin in constructing her nest and the attentive ladybugs and beetle among the materials.  What will readers think of Robin's eye?

To the left, on the back, is a blend of shades of green and shapes of leaves signifying boughs on the tree.  A pale spring green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  With a page turn at the beginning (and the end) we see a layer of grass along the bottom of a brilliant blue sky dotted with clouds. With another page turn, at the front, Robin is placed in the sky on the left with the book's dedication on the right.  The title and verso pages are a rich and vibrant depiction of leaves and ladybugs.  (At the close of the book, those same two pages of grass and sky are replicated but extend the ending.)

Each image is a two-page picture brimming with texture and animation.  The six animals are not always alone on their pages.  They share the space with ladybugs, a rooster, mice, insects, and a hungry frog.  A praying mantis peeks over the edge of the nest.  (When Denise illustrates it's a tribute to Mother Nature.)

To increase interest the point of view alternates.  We are close to the squirrel and dog but for the horse we are very close as he bows to look at a mouse.  As the narrative draws toward the ending a beautiful gatefold displays the combined efforts of the animals and Robin.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of the rabbit.  Denise has captured this creature mid hop and stopping and bending to munch on some choice grass.  The animal's body extends from the left across the gutter to the right.  An array of grass and weeds fills the left side and moves to the right.  Readers will be looking for the ladybugs shown here.  The texture on the rabbit's body will surely have readers reaching to touch the pages.  You expect the nose to twitch.

As soon as the matching dust jacket and book case are shown and the title is read, readers and listeners will feel the beat growing inside them.  This Is the NEST That ROBIN Built (with a little help from her friends) written and illustrated by Denise Fleming is sure to have everyone smiling and singing by the book's end.  It's a wonderful title to use in comparison to the original cumulative tale, during a study of the seasons or an exploration of birds and other animals working together.  You could pair this with Robins! How They Grow Up (Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, February 7, 2017) written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow.  I highly recommend this book for your professional and personal collections.

To discover more about Denise Fleming and her considerable work in children's literature, please follow the link attached to her name.  For activities extending this title, you'll want to visit this link.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson, features Denise Fleming and this title on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Enjoy the book trailer and additional video.

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