Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Countdown To 2019 #5 Snow

Winter is in full swing in northern Michigan.  Prior to Christmas five inches of freshly-fallen snow coated our landscape.  Although currently switching between rain, snow and freezing rain, by tomorrow night there's supposed to be a temperature drop into the teens.  Waking up each morning in this season is full of surprises.

Winter and snow are heartily embraced by some and utterly avoided by others, humans and animals alike.  Good Morning, Snowplow! (Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., October 30, 2018) written by Deborah Bruss with art by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson depicts a dedicated man and his canine companion hard at work while the rest of the community nestles in for the night.  The duo work their magic in the middle of a storm. 

Good night, homes, and good night, cars.
Clouds move in to hide the stars.

Seeing the snow start to fall, the man and his dog take the snowplow to get ready for its job.  As the snow gets deeper and deeper, they push through the city streets moving snow and dropping sand and salt.  All through the night they work, sometimes listening to the radio and singing to a tune.

A car driving without regard for the weather is towed.  The plow keeps going.  A sound and a sight caution the driver.  The snowplow stops.  A train creating billows of snow, chugs past the crossing and down the track.  After hours and hours morning light begins to shine.  It's a snow day!  It's time for partners in plowing to rest.

The rhythmic writing of Deborah Bruss rings with realism and warmth.  Every aspect of the man and the snowplow's labor during the storm from dusk to dawn is beautifully represented with four-line stanzas. The first two lines and second two lines ending with words that rhyme.  It's a lovely flawless flow.  Here is a stanza.

Waves of white curl off the blade.
In its wake, a trail is laid.
How's the road?  A little slick?
Salt and sand mix does the trick.

The artwork of Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson rendered using acrylic paint, colored pencil, pen, and collage is first given to readers on the splendiferous front and back of the open dust jacket.  The solitary aspect of the driver and his dog using the snowplow brings us into an important moment.  Certain elements are varnished, snowflakes, the windshield, snowdrifts and text.  The title text is raised to the touch.

To the left on the back as the morning begins, we see children sledding, and building snowmen.  Homes are in the background and along the lower left-hand corner is the plowed roadway.  On the book case we see the plowed roadway extending from the back (left) to the front (right) with the snowplow, lights glowing out in front, driving off the upper right-hand corner.  A royal purple covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Each two-page image is a stunning depiction, a pictorial interpretation and extension of the author's words.  The illustrators alter their perspective to bring readers into the story.  It's a rewarding participatory experience.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a close-up of inside the cab of the snowplow.  The man is holding the steering wheel with both hands.  His dog is next to his right side.  Both are staring intently through the windshield as the snow swirls outside.

This title, Good Morning, Snowplow! written by Deborah Bruss with art by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson, is a perfect book for one on one reading or during a snow/winter theme for story time.  At the publisher's website are extra materials to use with the book. You can also get some information about the illustrators here.  Deborah's website is linked to her name.  Deborah Bruss and Lou Fancher are interviewed by author Deborah Kalb about this title.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson talks about this title on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Interior images are included.  Arthur A. Levine chats about the title in the video below.

In their fourth title together (Goodnight Already!, I Love You Already!, and Come Home Already!) Duck and Bear are still at odds.  Their wants and desires never seem to coincide, thus supplying readers with non-stop laughter.  In All Right Already! A Snowy Story (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, November 13, 2018) written by Jory John with illustrations by Benji Davies, the duo tackle whether playing in the snow is a good thing or a horrible idea.

"Ah, another magnificent day.  I love my morning routine."

Looking out his window Duck discovers everything is coated in white.  It has snowed . . . a lot.  Duck can hardly wait to tell Bear.

Duck interrupts Bear taking his bath.  There is no way Bear is going outside.  It's too cold.  It's too bright.  For every idea purposed by Duck, Bear replies in the negative.

Duck finally convinces Bear to make snow angels.  Duck is not satisfied and wants to have a snowball fight, but Bear is cold and . . . ACHOO!  Bear is sick.

For every cure mentioned by Duck, Bear says no.  Finally Bear agrees to let Duck help him get well.  (With Duck, that's a mistake.) Duck just keeps asking and Bear is too sick to argue.  Not able to stand another second of Duck's chatter, Bear orders him home.  In a hilarious twist Duck needs care from Bear.  Bear issues his signature statement

I must get some new neighbors.

It's the contrast generated by the conversations between Duck and Bear by Jory John which consistently connect with readers.  With dialogue telling the entire story we can readily identify with both characters.  It's like watching a ping-pong ball tournament with hilarity as the main event.  Here is an exchange between the two characters.

"Do you want to play freeze tag?"
"Build a fort?"
"Make a snowbear?"
"Sled over here?"
"Sled over there?"
"Play freeze tag?"
"You already
said that."

One look at the open dust jacket will have readers giggling and grinning.  You know Duck has finagled Bear into a situation in which he has no desire to participate.  And why is his yellow rubber ducky present?  To the left, on the back, Duck and Bear are racing down a hill on a toboggan.  Bear is wearing his shower cap and his towel has flown off the back.  Duck looks sporty in his red hat and scarf.  Everything but the blue background is varnished.

On the book case an intricate diamond and square pattern in varying shades of blue covers the front and back.  To the left on the back Duck is balancing a huge snowball, ready to throw.  On the front, right, Bear is sitting in the snow, wearing a hat and scarf.  The opening and closing endpapers are a rusty red.

Benji Davies begins the story, visually, with Duck snuggled in bed on the title page under the text.  On the verso and dedication pages we are shown both houses at night with the snow falling in earnest.  A candle glows in Duck's window.  With each page turn the canvas changes from yellow to orange, winter blue in various hues, pink, red and white.  The illustration sizes differ from double-page pictures to full-page visuals and a group of images sharing a page.  Some of the illustrations are framed in white and others span page edge to page edge.

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Bear is in the middle of a huge sneeze.  His cap has blown off.  He is standing in his towel only.  The force of the sneeze has Duck off his feet, scarf trailing behind him.  Snow is scattered with the breeze of breath.  To the left of Bear, who is on the left, is the edge of his house.  A giant drift of snow is about ready to fall off the roof.  Anticipation builds as readers get ready to turn the page.

Whether you are acquainted with Duck and Bear or not, you will find yourself smiling from beginning to end of All Right Already! A Snowy Story written by Jory John with illustrations by Benji Davies.  This is a great title for a theme on winter/snow or a group of humorous books.  It would be wonderful with a bear theme unit.  There is a chat with Jory John at Brightly. There are links to both the author and illustrator websites attached to their names.

Instinctive behaviors found in nature do appear in domesticated relatives.  When walking in the deep snow, my canine companion will freeze.  Then she jumps, pounces and sticks her head as far into the snow as possible.  During these few seconds, it's as if I am watching a fox in action.

Little Fox In The Snow (Candlewick Press, November 13, 2018) written by Jonathan London with illustrations by Daniel Miyares is a journey in the life of a young red fox on a single day.  Through descriptive text and marvelous illustrations, we shadow this wondrous creature.  A season alters a lifestyle.

Little foxling, little fox,
asleep in your hole,
in your halo of warmth---
it's time to wake up!

Raising its nose into the air, the fox walks out into the wintry world.  The youngster is hungry.  It hears something under the snow.  Mouse in mouth, the fox knows this will not suffice.

Over fields blanketed in thick snow, the fox travels, a nearly empty belly as a motive.  A snowshoe hare grabs the fox's attention.  With practiced leaps it tries to get away.  The fox is faster.

With a full stomach and thirst quenched, the fox continues.  He catches what he believes is the scent of a vixen.  It is not!  Run fox run!  The hunter becomes the hunted.  Quickly, the fox flees to his hole.  As a crescent moon rises what are the dreams whirling in a sleeping fox's mind?

With a precise choice of words Jonathan London invites us to accompany this young red fox.  It's as if we are one with this beautiful being.  He depicts not only the actions of the fox but the other woodland animals he encounters; all within a setting in the wild.  The unseen narrator observes and questions.  A repetition of a key phrase ties moments together.  Here is a passage.

Little foxling, belly full,
you make your way down
   to the snow-patched stream,
lap tiny tongue-curls of icy cold water.

Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case, readers are greeted with a gorgeous double-page image of a woodland in winter with the bright red fox striking a contrast in the snow.  Shades of dawn are breaking in the distance.  You can sense the silence except for the soft sound of paws on snow.

The opening and closing endpapers focus on a close-up of a snow-covered field.  Each is different reflecting the time of day and movement of the fox as he leaves (or not) a trail.  A turn to the verso and titles pages gives readers a breathtaking vista of the sky, forest, sunrise and snowy expanse at the bottom.

Each picture rendered by Daniel Miyares in ink and watercolor on paper heightens and extends the narrative.  All of them span two pages but the passage of time measured in mere seconds or minutes is sometimes shown from left to right.  The play of light and shadow is fabulous.

In one setting the fox's shadow, to his left, is huge.  It enriches the words but asks readers to spring toward a possible future.  Within some of the illustrations the point of view changes from one side to the other side; the fox in the distance and the snowshoe hare ready to leap toward us.  We are keenly aware of the time of day through the changing hues in the sky.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the fox stops, leaps and dives into the snow to capture the mouse.  Daniel Miyares, from left to right, gives us four images of the fox in one picture.  Only the front of the fox leads in from the left.  He springs front paws up and back legs steady.  His entire body flies through the air and then near the right corner, head and upper body are buried in the snow.  Back, back legs and tail extend above the ground.  It's a highly animated and realistic portrait.

We become one with this young red fox through the blend of words and illustrations.  Little Fox In The Snow written by Jonathan London with illustrations by Daniel Miyares is an excellent collaboration.  This would be a stellar selection for a study of winter, animal behavior or foxes.  At Candlewick Press and Penguin Random House you can view interior illustrations. Please follow the links attached to the author and illustrator names to access their websites.  Jonathan London is interviewed at The Children's Book Council. Daniel Miyares has accounts on Twitter and Instagram.
Enjoy the book trailer.

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