Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Curiousity In A New Setting

Once you've lived in northern Michigan, hiked through the woods, walked meadow pathways, strolled along one of the many beaches, canoed in the rivers and gazed at the night sky brimming with stars, the conveniences of life in a city downstate do not compare to the beauty one can see every single day in the tip of the mitt.  Recently returning to this area has offered the opportunity to see some of Mother Nature's gorgeous displays when walking with my furry friend through the woods and along Lake Charlevoix.  You notice the oddly shaped tree, the lichen growing on rocks along the road and the work of woodpeckers.  The play of sunlight and shadow is breathtaking.

Author illustrator Philip Stead, who gave children's literature the wonderfully creative Ideas Are All Around (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, March 1, 2016) through observations when walking with his dog Wednesday, brings another reflective book about taking note of your surroundings as well as how the past blends with the present. All the Animals Where I Live (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, March 20, 2018) acquaints us with the area in which the Steads and Wednesday now reside.  They have moved from the city to an old farmhouse in the country.

past the family of wild turkeys that roost on the wooden fence,
you'll find a ninety-year-old woman who lives all by herself.

It is no surprise a bear was looking through the old woman's window one day.  With no fear, she went outside and chased it away.  Philip, on the other hand, has never seen a bear in the city or the country. He does have a special bear sitting near him when he works. It is Frederick, a gift from his Grandma Jane.

I loved my Grandma Jane.

He remembers a room in her home always smelling of maple syrup.  He remembers a wool blanket made from squares with chickens in the center.  He remembers how he slept beneath that blanket.

He imagines his grandmother as an animal, a hummingbird.  All the other animals would consider her a friend before she flew to Philip's old farmhouse in the country.  Wednesday, of all the places she has lived, loves this place best.

Wednesday watches the coming and going of all kinds of animals; dragonflies, cranes and a lazy toad.  Wednesday sees a turtle drop from the sky.  At night a whole new crew of creatures makes sounds in the darkness.

Summer passes into autumn.  Wednesday still watches but she plays a game with the deer that come to feast on the fallen apples.  Soon snow covers everything in sight.  Everyone is tucked up tight except for brave birds coming to feed on the seed.  One other thing lingers.  It's a sweet, sweet memory.

Like the master teller of stories he is, Philip Stead, sends readers an invitation with his opening two sentences.  He paints pictures as eloquently with words as he does with his art.  He invites us to walk down a familiar road.  We feel like we know the elderly woman who encounters the bear.

We become more intimately involved when Philip shares memories of his past with us.  With enchanting imagery he ties his grandmother to the present and Wednesday and their old farmhouse in the county.  With his use of language we are transported.  Here is a passage.

Then the coyote howls, and nothing moves.
Except for Wednesday.
She runs to the window and barks, barks, barks.
Wednesday echoes through the dark field,
over the apple trees,
and into the woods where the coyote disappears for a while.


entirely by hand using a combination of techniques including oil ink monoprinting, printing from found objects, and drawing with China marker, bamboo calligraphy brushes, and Sumi ink

all of the art beginning with the opened dust jacket are signature Philip Stead supplying readers with atmospheric settings.  The red used in the title text and on the old farmhouse add extra warmth to the countryside scene.  To the left, on the back, of the jacket, the shades of green and rustic golden yellow for ground and sky continue across the spine.  They provide a canvas for a crane with one leg lifted, head raised and beak open in a call.  The painstaking care given to the placement of each element gives readers insight into the love of the artist for his work.  Each detail is exquisite.

On the book case the red used on the jacket is replicated as a background for the front and the back.  Embossed on the front in the lower, right-hand corner in black is a chicken.  A pale mint green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  The initial title page contains a hummingbird at rest on a branch with two delicate leaves in the same color as the hummingbird.  The verso and formal title page contain a more panoramic view of the farm, a cluster of birch trees and the apple trees.  It is done in black on cream with the only color the red of the title text.

With each page turn readers will find themselves pausing to enter each illustration.  We are drawn into the moments presented to us.  We are in the room looking at the bear looking at us.  We feel the love flowing from the image of the teddy bear given by Grandma Jane.  We're warm from sleeping under the chicken blanket.  We easily follow Wednesday as he travels around the farm day to day, season to season.

Of my many favorite illustrations in this title which finds a place in my heart spans two pages (as they all do except for the final picture).  On cream, red and golden birch leaves are pressed along the top on both pages with one drifting down.  Along the bottom are grasses in shades of autumn.  On the left a large hollow stump is the residence of a chipmunk family.  One is sitting in the doorway at the base.  Two others have left; one is seated and the other is running.  They are wary because Wednesday is on her hind legs, paws resting on the edge of the stump.  Her head is bowed as she peers inside.

This book, All the Animals Where I Live written and illustrated by Philip Stead, is an exploration not only of his and Wednesday's worlds but of how we can view the world in which we live.  It allows us to appreciate every aspect of our past and present.  It asks us to live in each moment valuing it for what it can teach us.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections. 

To learn more about Philip Stead and his other accomplished works, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At The Stead Collection website you can follow links titled books, authors, resources and contact.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Here is a link to an activity kit.  I believe you will enjoy this older interview with Philip C. and Erin E. Stead at MackinVIACommunity.

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