Quote of the Month

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

Friday, April 27, 2018

From The Sea

When you get into the groove of a daily routine, you usually fail to notice some worthy sights in the scenery of your world.  We tend to focus our thoughts on the past or the upcoming future instead of living in the present. We also are not looking for anything out of the ordinary.

We would never expect to see a giraffe loping along the side of the road in the northern Michigan woods.  It would be a rare happening to see an alligator strolling down the street in Times Square, New York City.  The debut children's book of author Lucy Branam with illustrations by Brazilian artist Rogerio Coelho, Roof Octopus (Sleeping Bear Press, March 1, 2018), is a marvelous, imaginative exploration in the unexpected.

It started with a tap at the window that woke Nora up.  Out she looked and there it sat.

It was not a pigeon.  It was not a bald eagle.  It could not fly.  It was not anything anyone would normally see on the roof of an apartment building in the middle of a city.  It was a HUGE octopus!

She rushed into the kitchen to tell her parents.  At first they did not believe her but then a tentacle came into view outside the window.  Down at street level all the neighbors and Nora's family were looking up and offering a variety of opinions as to the reasoning behind an octopus occupying the apartment building roof.

Nora, unlike the others, befriended the octopus.  It's liked Nora too.  Ignoring the octopus did not cause it to leave.  It was there all day and all night.  It started to help the neighbors with their daily chores.

The thing it did which the children loved the most was when a tentacle would curve in the air and provide them with a swing.  One day, filled with joy and affection for the octopus, Nora asked it to come to her school for a visit on the following Friday.  Can you wonder how she felt when it said yes? Can you understand how shocked she was when the octopus was gone the next day?  Would she ever see the roof dweller again?

There is nothing so welcoming to readers as the beginning of a narrative which quickly leads them to a stunning situation. Author Lucy Branam does this with complete ease taking us into the story with her realistic descriptions and perfectly normal dialogue.  Readers will readily identify with Nora's acceptance of an octopus on her apartment roof.  Adults will knowingly nod at the adult characters' assessments of the current state of affairs.  Here is a passage.

Nora cleared her throat.  "Excuse me, there's an octopus on our apartment."

Her father stopped pouring batter and looked out the 
window. "An octopus ON our apartment?"

Her mother looked out too.  "I don't see anything."  Then a 
tentacle dropped down from above and wrapped itself
around the fire escape railing.

If you don't gasp when you look at the matching opened dust jacket and book case, you're not looking closely enough to the intricate artwork and excellent design and layout.  The placement of the other buildings, the arches in the windows on Nora's apartment building, the curled tentacles on the octopus and the crescent moon all contribute to a glorious first look at this book.

To the left, on the back, on dark blue is an interior image.  It's a more panoramic view of the building with the octopus on the roof.  The neighbors are attempting to ignore it.  The opening and closing endpapers are a pristine white.  On a white background the text on the title page is a shade of purple.  Beneath the words are a row of rooftops in a variety of colors with the sun touching the tops, giving them a glow.  On the book's final page those buildings continue along the bottom.  Above them is the publication information.  There are three tentacles curled down from the top.

All of the illustrations span two pages.  Readers will stop at every page turn, astonished at all the tiny elements in each image replete with elaborate details.  Everything inside and outside the apartment building is colorful, reflecting a beautiful and stylistic architecture.  Rogerio Coelho alters his perspective giving us a more far-reaching view and then bringing us close to the characters.  Both of these approaches bring us deeper into the story.

There is a special uniqueness to the shapes of the people heads and their facial features.  It does not detract but enhances the narrative.  Rogerio Coelho presents us with people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.  It enriches the telling of this tale.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the octopus stays on top of the apartment roof all day and all night when it first appears.  Rogerio Coelho gives us a bird's eye view of the cityscape with the buildings, streets and cars.  Birds glide through the air during the day on the left.  At night the crescent moon hangs in the sky on the right.  Nora's apartment building begins in the middle of the page on the left, crosses the gutter and continues about a third of the way on the right.  The octopus is sitting on roof, covering it completely with tentacles dropping over the edges and curling.  With a smile on its face the octopus is sleeping.  The colors shift from left to right from day to night.  It's a very clever way to portray the passage of time.

There won't be a single child reader who will not believe this story is the absolute truth.  They have a gift of suspending reality in the best possible manner. (And adults will wish it would happen, too.)  Roof Octopus written by Lucy Branam with illustrations by Rogerio Coelho is sheer delight.  At the very least you'll be checking your roof more often.  And you will be much more aware of living in the moment.  Otherwise you might miss something extraordinary.  You will want to have a copy of this on both your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Lucy Branam and Rogerio Coelho and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their website and blog respectively.  Lucy maintains an Instagram account. Rogerio Coelho has several interior images on his blog.  At the publisher's website you can view the first eight pages.  Lucy Branam is interviewed at Chapter 16, a community of Tennessee writers, readers & passersby.

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