Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Lift Your Head And Look

When you step outside, depending on your reason for doing this, your senses are usually directed to something in particular.  Whether you remain in your own yard, city block or roam on country roads, you tend to look down, or to the left or right.  Unless a noisy flock of birds, curious cloud formation or startling sunrise or sunset grabs your attention, you usually tend to not look up.

The creative collaborative team giving readers, The Street Beneath My Feet, has returned in another brilliant endeavor.  The Skies Above My Eyes (Quarto Knows, August 28, 2018) written by Charlotte Guillain with illustrations by Yuval Zommer asks us to lift our eyes to the sky, note what we see and informs us of what lies beyond our natural sight.  We travel from the ground to beyond our solar system and back down.

As you go about your daily
life, there is so much going
on around you.  It's easy to
stop and stare at the sights in
the busy city street.  But how
often do you look upward?
So much more is going on in
the sky above you!

Let's take a look . . . 

First we are directed to notice all the street signs and signals giving us as drivers and pedestrians important information.  We can see small pieces of others' lives and workplaces by glancing in windows.  We appreciate the bravery of window washers scaling the side of towering buildings.  Next we take a trip to those able to fly.

Helicopters, airplanes, weather balloons and rockets soar; each having a purpose.  Did you know there's a line called the Karman line which marks the start of space?  Look!  There is the Soyuz capsule journeying toward the International Space Station.  We are now 250 miles above the Earth.  Astronauts and cosmonauts repair the space station by being tethered to the station.  If we go another 234,750 miles where will we be? 

Neil Armstrong was the first human to walk on its surface.

Each of the other seven planets in our solar system orbits the sun.  They are all millions of miles from planet Earth.  Which planet has at least 62 moons?  Which planet has a single day as long as 243 Earth days?  If we travel higher than our solar system there are galaxies numbering beyond our imagination loaded with stars and planets. 

Moving back to Earth we pass through the familiar Milky Way galaxy as comets and asteroids traverse through space.  Different cloud formations produce varying kinds of weather.  Birds with special physical characteristics glide at astounding heights.  Have you ever heard of the Ruppell's griffon vulture?  Yikes!  What are those spiders doing three miles above the ground?

I wonder how close skydivers and hang gliders can get to bighorn sheep and bald eagles. As we drift back to terra firma our eyes still look higher than normal.  We see birds and butterflies who might originally escape our attention.  If we stay outside until dusk we might even see bats leaving trees to hunt for food.  Let's remember to look toward the skies and know and dream about what lies farther than we can fathom.

As our guide author Charlotte Guillain not only leads us upward (and back again) layer by layer but informs us with fascinating facts.  She encourages us to be aware, make observations and expand our thinking.  Using a conversational approach she includes requests and questions in the narrative.  It's as if we are together with her in a special vehicle experiencing everything she explains with her words.  Here are several passages about comets.

Look out!
Here comes a comet!

A comet is a massive
ball of frozen rock, ice, dust,
and gases, hurtling through
space.  When a comet gets close to
a star, it warms up and develops
its own atmosphere,
called a coma.

Dust and gases trail far behind the comet to form
a long tail that shines in the night sky.

Halley's Comet takes 76 years to orbit our Sun---
we should be able to see it from Earth again in 2061.

The first thing readers might do with The Skies Above My Eyes is run their hands over the opened book case.  They will discover on the right, front, embossed and raised portions.  Many of these are glazed or varnished, sparkling in the light.  The scene we see on the front crosses over the spine to the left, back.  We move from the city to snow-capped mountain peaks.  Swirling leaves, paper airplanes, bats, dandelions, and umbrellas, inside out, are replaced with high-flying birds, spacecraft, airplanes, more planets and wait . . . are those aliens?  The wide-eyed girl on the cover explores with us from the beginning to the end.

On the inside of the book case, on the left, is publication information, creator information and an introductory paragraph about the right side.  This right side depicts the planet Earth, troposphere, ozone layer, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere and the Karman line.  On the left these layers are labeled in miles.  This diagram is framed in elements of art by Yuval seen throughout the book.  The background for most of this is black. 

Upon opening the cover we realize the design asks us to turn the book to view the pages, attached like an accordion, vertically.  Extending more than eight feet beyond the book case on both sides of sturdy, matte-finished paper, these images in full color are a stunning display of creative layout.    Illustrator Yuval Zommer continues his intricate, playful and enlightening artwork viewed on the case with every interior double-page illustration.

Each one demands we pause, captivated by the numerous details.  Cutaways welcome further inspection.  Every time this book is read new discoveries will be seen.  Is the cat on the roof ledge going to leap at the pigeons?  Is that a flying saucer? What does the owl see?  Yuval Zommer's visuals heighten this text but also urge us to dream of places beyond our own.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when we are descending back to the ground.  The text discusses a variety of clouds and birds.  The many shades of sky blue in the background provide an excellent canvas for the clouds and birds.  At the top, five miles above the Earth, darker clouds gather as whooper swans fly in v-formation through cirrus clouds.  Beneath these altocumulus and altostratus clouds dot the sky. Tiny snowflakes fall from these. Delicate spiders cascade near another flock of birds, white storks.  It's now raining in earnest and snowing.  We are at one mile.  This is a breathtaking portrait.

All readers will happily open The Skies Above My Eyes written by Charlotte Guillain with illustrations by Yuval Zommer repeatedly.  It increases our respect for the manner in which nature and the universe works.  Further research is embraced willingly with a title like The Skies Above My Eyes.  I highly recommended this book for your personal and professional book collections.

To learn more about Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to visit the appropriate sites. Both Charlotte and Yuval maintain accounts on Twitter. Yuval is on Instagram.

Be sure to visit Kit Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the titles selected by others participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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