Quote of the Month

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

Monday, December 10, 2018

Gliding Through The Darkness

If you stand still, there is no sound outside tonight, not even the whisper of a north wind.  As soon as you move your breath is serenaded by the crunch of snow beneath your boots.  It's easy to believe in a special kind of magic on this evening in December.

If a long, low whistle sounds in the distance, you'll know passengers are traveling to a special place along the nearby rails.  Night Train, Night Train (Charlesbridge, October 9, 2018) written by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Wendell Minor is about a similar journey where the everyday becomes marvelous and new.  Light and shadows cast a spell.

Train ride! Bump-bump.
Chug-chug. Slow.
Faster.  Faster.
Off we go.

A child looks out a train window as it leaves the station.  As it moves through the darkness all he can see is shades of gray.  Before too long the engine pulls the cars over a road, spots of red flash.

Through the countryside it goes.  Look!  A blue hue glows in a single window in a farmhouse gable.  Alabaster sparkles from a single star.  Color springs uninvited by the night but is nevertheless welcome.

Metal on metal flares into a familiar combination.  Along a busy highway a sign glimmers as it points toward a destination.  Water laps along a shoreline beneath a bridge.  Light beams from a full moon.

Speeding down the track the train streaks toward another station.  Inside on his seat the boy drifts into dreams.  Soon the shades of gray are banished by the rays of a rising sun.  A new day begins.

After reading the first set of four lines readers will feel the urge to read this book aloud.  Robert Burleigh takes the rhythm of riding on a train and incorporates it into each phrase, rhyming the second and fourth words.   In-between the introduction of nine colors amid those phrases, a repetition of the four-word title plus additional descriptors further defines the train and travel on this train.  Here are some passages.

Round. Yellow.
Mr. Moon.
Watching.  Whispering,
"Be there soon."

Night train, night train, beam-of-light train.

When you look to see the illustrator's name on the front of the opened dust jacket, you realize this is a departure from the usual work of this beloved artist.  After reading the book you can't imagine any other medium or style working as beautifully as the graphite on paper and digital choices of Wendell Minor.  The limited palette, gray, black, white, blue and yellow, on the front (right) of the dust jacket beckons to us.  To the left, on the back, the boy, holding his teddy bear is close to us as he gazes out the train window.  Red, white and blue are elements in this view, too.

A textured gray paper (cloth) covers the book case.  Along the bottom of the front a train track is embossed.  Above this in silver foil is the title of the book.  A soft charcoal is used for the opening endpapers.  On the closing endpapers a pale yellow announces the dawn.

Beneath the text on the title page the boy's suitcase is placed, covered in travel stickers.  His smiling teddy bear is seated next to it.  Opposite the verso and dedication page, which contains a thumbnail of the front of the dust jacket, is a wordless picture of the boy looking out the window.  His teddy bear sits next to him on the seat.  Light outlines them as it does other items throughout the book.

For each of the full page pictures a large border of white frames them.  This is followed by magnificent double-page illustrations spanning from page edge to page edge.  Wendell Minor elevates the mood of the narrative and its pacing by bringing us close to the scene or giving us a more panoramic view.  Sometimes the gutter and borders separate two pieces of a larger image.  The details, light and shading ask us to pause at each picture.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is nearly a bird's eye view of a small community along a river.  It spans two pages.  On the left older buildings, homes and a church with a tall spire nestle together.  The train speeds along the track at the bottom, left to right.  On the right the river stretches to the tree line and horizon.  It's starting to cross a bridge.  Wendell has added spots of colors already mentioned in the poem; an orange light in the church window, a blue shooting star, a red light on the right river bank, white stars, a purple glow in another building and black and gray.  (Every time a color is named the font is changed from white to that specific color.)

The mix of narrative and artwork creates a soothing, rhythmic feeling whenever you read Night Train, Night Train written by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Wendell Minor.  To acquaint readers with colors and travel on a train, this title is a stunning choice.  It would be wonderful with a storytelling train theme, as a quiet time or drifting-off-to-dreamland bedtime book.  I love this book! (Wendell Minor talks about the locomotive in the pictures at the conclusion in an illustrator's note.)

If you want to learn more about Robert Burleigh or Wendell Minor and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Wendell Minor maintains an account on Twitter.

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