Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Reach For It!

It's a hot, dusty summer evening.  Parents, siblings and friends linger, lounge and watch from the sidelines.  Your knees are bent and your feet are poised for action.  Your eyes move from the pitcher to the plate and then to a runner at second base.  Your left hand rests easily near your left knee before you bring it up to your right hand wearing the mitt.  The pitcher winds up and releases the ball.  It flies toward home plate in perfection.  The batter taunt with anticipation swings and drives the ball just inside the line toward you.  Heart pounding, breath quickening and legs and feet moving, you reach for it!

Those moments after a pitch, a swing and a hit are nearly frozen for an immeasurable amount of time before the entire ball diamond bursts into action.  If that ball comes toward you, no matter your position, there is only one thought on your mind.  You have to snag that ball as if it's metal and your mitt is a magnet.  I Got It! (Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 3, 2018) conceived and illustrated by David Wiesner cleverly captures, without benefit of more than three words, the thoughts of one ball player intent on making a catch.

After the endpapers and the turn of a page, we see a boy dressed in a red t-shirt, khaki shorts and red tennis shoes standing behind a fence as other players gather on a ball diamond.  His arms are crossed behind him.  On one hand, his left, he wears a mitt.  Gathering his courage he moves inside to the field.

After speaking with one of the leaders, he is assigned a position in the outfield.  The first batter swings and hits the ball toward him.  He runs, reaching upward and calls

I got it!

What follows is a series of scenarios where catching the ball seems impossible.  It's the stuff of ball player nightmares.  Birds watch as tree roots appear in the field, tripping the boy.  The results are decidedly not good.  Suddenly the strength of those roots is magnified and trees grow where there were none.  It's hard to catch a ball when you've run into a tree trunk.

Even more bizarre possibilities unfold as the sizes of elements in the illustrations are altered.  Tension mounts as readers wonder at the outcome.  Will the ball fall into the mitt?  Will the boy's endeavors be rewarded?  The birds know the answer.

Rendered in acrylic, gouache and watercolor the enchantment David Wiesner creates through his art begins on the dust jacket.  The arm of the boy outstretched, aligned to catch the ball will have you holding your breath whether you intend to or not.  The blue sky and clouds extend over the spine to the left on the back.  There in the upper left-hand corner three birds fly toward the ball, the glove and the boy.  The title, the ball, the mitt and arm are varnished.

On a canvas of shiny white the book case tells a story not seen in the book.  It presents another potential problem for the boy.  His hat has fallen to the ground and is a nest for three sparrows.  So many birds have gathered they are able to lift the boy into the air.  And the ball . . . you'll have to read the book to see where it lands.

The opening and closing endpapers are a bright golden yellow.  David Wiesner wastes not one opportunity to tell this story.  Beginning with a single page image, he then portrays a double-page spread for the verso and title pages and then a series of five horizontal pictures divided in panels over two pages continue the tale.  Each illustration size enhances the pacing. 

When the boy begins to imagine the potential outcomes, full pages and double-page visuals reveal his worst fears.  Emotion is etched on his faces and the faces of the other players.  The presence of the birds will promote discussion (as all of David's books do).  Readers will be fascinated by the attention to detail, the masterful brush strokes and the use of shadow and light.  There will be more than one instance of gasps after a page turn.

One of my many favorite pictures is the second one showing three of the ball players including the boy.  He is placed in the foreground.  All of them are reaching for the ball.  The concentration and intense desire is highly visible on all their faces.  The tension in this moment is palpable.  David Wiesner only shows the upper portion of their bodies, faces and outstretched arms.  He has placed them as if they are running from the lower, left-hand corner reaching toward the upper, right-hand corner on this single page.  The background is blue sky with white clouds.

You don't have to be a fan of the game to appreciate the imaginative seconds suggested in this nearly wordless wonder, I Got It!, by David Wiesner.  You can literally feel the rise and fall of action as each inventive alternative is presented.  This title is certain to enhance an author illustrator study, an exploration of wordless books, a baseball-themed story time or a swing into spring and summer sports display.  I highly recommend this for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about David Wiesner and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  There is a link there to his blog.  The publisher has a site devoted to David Wiesner and his titles.  I think you'll enjoy a page honoring David Wiesner created by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.  David Wiesner is interviewed by students at Kid Scoop News.

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