Quote of the Month

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

Monday, March 26, 2018

Teaming Toward Triumph

As a human fortunate to have shared her life with four canine companions, it is without reservation I declare they save lives.  When my beloved Xena passed away on November 30, 2015, she took a part of my heart but left behind a larger portion filled with unconditional love and loyalty which humbled me.  Today another dog, a wild child of one year and six months, is softly snoring at my feet as I write.

Almost five years ago on April 15, 2013 during the Boston Marathon a bombing injured more than two hundred people and three individuals lost their lives.  No one is the same after an event like this.  It scars you on the inside and for those more than two hundred people; it scars you on the outside.  Authors Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes were injured.  Jessica is a double amputee and Patrick is an amputee.  Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship (Candlewick Press, April 3, 2018) with illustrations by Scott Magoon is the story of a girl named Jessica, a younger version of adult Jessica Kensky based upon her truths.  It speaks of the unbreakable bond formed with a service dog named Rescue.

On a special farm in the countryside, a pup named Rescue was in training.  He was learning to help people who could not see.  But he was worried.

This pup was worried because he had been told he was better suited to be a service dog.

"Service dogs work beside their partners, instead of in front of them."

Rescue wanted to be the best he could be.

A girl in a nearby hospital was also worried.  She had lost one leg and was in danger of losing her right leg.  How was she going to be the best she could be?

On the farm Rescue trained and worked hard.  At the hospital Jessica was adjusting to life with a prosthetic leg.  Although they both made huge gains, Rescue and Jessica were still uncertain about their future.  All this changed on the day they met.

They taught each other what they had learned on the farm.  Back in the city, they were a team with Rescue providing assistance and Jessica making sure Rescue got to be a dog.  One night Jessica was not at home but she was back in the hospital.  Rescue never left her side as she slept.  Now Jessica needed to adjust to life with two prosthetic legs.

Every step of the way Rescue served Jessica as she invented a new normal.  They were inseparable (and still are). Dogs are sent here to deliver happiness.  Jessica knows this to be true.  So does Rescue.

An appealing technique used by authors Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes is to tell the story of Rescue and Jessica separately for the first portion of the book.  This allows readers to develop a strong relationship with both Rescue and Jessica.  We feel a deep kinship with each of them.  As their individual narratives unfold, we begin to secretly cheer for them to form a partnership.  When this happens we know these two beings will bond for life.

Using a blend of narrative and dialogue makes this story more realistic.  Also key phrases are repeated when speaking of Rescue and Jessica prior to them meeting. The number of sentences and paragraphs used create a natural storytelling rhythm from page turn to page turn.  Here is a passage.

Rescue was proud of all he had accomplished,
but he still worried.

He was named in honor of a brave firefighter.

He had big shoes to fill.

Rescue wanted to help people, just like his

Using a pale background with familiar images of the Boston cityscape, illustrator Scott Magoon is able to highlight Rescue and Jessica using bolder colors with pops of red in them and in the title text.  It's clear to see them as a team with their eye contact and heads tilted toward each other.  This image is certain to generate discussion even before the story is read.  Children are curious, having a need to know.

To the left, on the back, Rescue is featured in his dog house.  A tennis ball rests between his paws.  Leaning against the house are a pair of crutches.  (I am working with an F & G from the publisher.)  On the title page Rescue as a pup is trotting toward the reader beneath the text.

Rendered digitally each image is textured, timely, animated and brimming with emotion capturing the moods of Rescue and Jessica.  Rescue is so perfectly portrayed you expect him to leap into your lap for a snuggle.  Jessica in and out of the hospital is featured exactly as you would expect anyone to be in her situation.  Her facial expressions denote worry, uncertainty, happiness and victory.  (According to an illustrator's note the brother of young Jessica shown in most of the pictures is based upon Patrick Downes.)

The image sizes and perspectives vary in sync with the rhythm of the narrative.  Some of them cover more than a page and others are much smaller and grouped on a single page.  Readers will pause on pages to notice the details such as the inclusion of a particular constellation in the surrounding dark in the hospital room after Jessica's right leg was removed.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Rescue is still on the farm in training.  It spans a single page.  Set in a meadow with a forest behind it is a house for ducks.  Heading up the ramp is a mother duck followed by five ducklings.  On the outside of the house a sign reads:


Rescue's trainer is leaning against the left side of the home.  Rescue is pulling a rope to open the door of the house for the ducks.  He is wearing his blue training cape, collar and muzzle.

No reader will remain unmoved after reading Rescue & Jessica:  A Life-Changing Friendship written by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes with illustrations by Scott Magoon.  Your admiration for the skills acquired by both the dog and his human (and Patrick) will grow page by page.  In the face of seemingly unsurmountable odds these two prevail like the champions they are.  This book will indeed serve to inform readers about persons with disabilities and their service dogs.  I highly recommend this title for both your professional and personal collections.  At the close of the book is an author's note and acknowledgments.

To learn more about Jessica Kensky, Patrick Downes and Rescue follow @rescueboston on Twitter.  They are also on Instagram.  Please follow the link attached to Scott Magoon's name to access his website.  Scott highlights this title on more than one page at his site.  He is also running in the 2018 Boston Marathon to raise money for Rescue's Racers.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior imageCandlewick Press also has a teacher's guide and nine pages of questions and answers with Jessica Kensky, Patrick Downes and Scott Magoon which are a must read.  At another publisher's website, Penguin Random House, you can view additional pictures.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's site, Watch. Connect. Read.you will enjoy the discussion with Scott Magoon.  Also there are three videos you need to watch.  They will further endear you to this title. 

UPDATE:  Please read this article in the Boston Globe on March 30, 2018.

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