Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, November 29, 2018

In Stillness

Slow down, please.  Now, stop.  Find a place to sit down.  Can you hear it?  What?  Nothing.  This is the sound of silence.  Everything and everyone are at rest.  Wrap yourself in it; feel the cozy comfort of being still.  Enjoy it.  Great things come from this state of being.

Sometimes we believe inactivity is a waste of time; a sign of the absence of accomplishments.  In truth, without it we fail to hear our heartbeat, the heartbeat of others and the beat of Earth's heart.  Quiet (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, October 9, 2018) written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola is a shared walk into serenity.

"My, oh my," the grandfather said.
"Everything is in such a hurry.

A grandfather is strolling with his granddaughter, grandson and family dog among flowers, leafy trees, buzzing bees, other insects and creatures cautiously watching them.  A flock of birds lifts into the air.  The children notice other living things in motion.

Their dog chases a thrown ball.  A nearby frog leaps into a pond.  Look at the trees!  Leaves rustle in a soft breeze.

At the suggestion of their grandfather they all walk toward a bench.  It's time to sit for a few minutes.  While they are there the grandfather points to the flock of birds, now settled in the tree branches.  The pooch has paused for a quick nap.  Residents of the pond are at rest.

Eyes closed the family is as still as everything around them.  Each member realizes quiet allows them to do certain things with ease.  Never underestimate the power of Quiet.

The word choices in the spare text of Tomie dePaola cast a spell of peace over all who read them. The verbs of motion provide a contrast to those representing stillness. An atmosphere of thankfulness permeates the entire walk and rest on the bench.  The grandfather in his conversation with his grandchildren asks them to be mindful of their surroundings.  Out of respect for him, they reply in kind.  Here is another sentence.

"And a dragonfly zooming over the water."

When you hold this book in your hands and look at the front of the opened dust jacket, a hush encompasses your soul.  The presence of white space acts as an element here and on all the pages inside the book.  The soft colors and fluid lines ask us to rest.  When we do, we notice the doves, ladybugs, rabbits, praying mantis on the lily stems and the dragonfly acting as a dot for the "i" in quiet.

Set on a canvas of pure white on the back, to the left, is a dragonfly quietly posed on a bent cattail.  This is extending from the lower, left-hand corner of the page.  The book case is a textured subdued, grass green.  Embossed on the front in metallic soft turquoise is the lily pad and flower seen on the front of the dust jacket.

The opening and closing endpapers are colored in a brighter spring green.  The white outline of a dragonfly in flight on the first and motionless on the second reflects the contents of the narrative.  On the initial title page, the family group is leaving their home.  They are in miniature along the bottom of the page with a large expanse of white above them.  We move in closer to them for the formal title page on a double-page picture.

Rendered in transparent acrylics and colored pencil the illustrations are a beautiful representation of the work of Tomie dePaola and the natural world we enter with this grandfather and his grandchildren.  There is much to see in the first double-page image.  A mole peeks from a hole.  A worm crawls along the grass.  Bees fly, a beetle crawls, a ladybug pauses with a praying mantis and a mother fox curls with two baby pups.

Tomie dePaola outlines each scene in a fine line but in some an element breaks that line giving a sense of motion or the continuation of the area beyond what we can see.  Other creatures are tucked into his images, snails, ants, a squirrel, and a butterfly.  Even in this calm we are accompanied.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a close-up of the dog napping.  This is a double-page picture.  To the left we can see a portion of the bench and the girl's purple dress, knee, hand, leg and shoe.  Looped under the bench is the dog's leash.  A single golden orange daylily curves to the right of the bench.  Stretched from the center of the left side, across the gutter and nearly to the edge of the right side is the dog.  He (she) is lying on his side, front paws extended back in front of the belly.  The back legs are out.  This is the essence of peace.

If you seek calm, Quiet written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola is a wise selection.  It is breathtaking in its simplicity.  After a read aloud with children or students, it would be interesting to have them speculate on the movements in nature in the other seasons of the year.  This is certain to promote conversations about the value of stillness.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Tomie dePaola and his extensive work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations. Tomie is interviewed at Brightly about his work.  Author and teacher librarian Carter Higgins chats with Tomie about this title on her site, Design Of The Picture Book.  Be sure to stop by A Fuse # 8 Production hosted by Elizabeth Bird, Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system, for the cover reveal.  Tomie also chats about this title on NPR's Morning Edition and America The Jesuit Review.  The first is an audio interview and the second is a video interview with some scenes in Tomie's studio.  Enjoy the book trailer.  It's so lovely, you'll hardly be able to wait to hold the book in your hands.

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