Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, January 3, 2019

In Search Of A Definition

There will be times in the course of our everyday lives, or perhaps in the middle of an out-of-the-ordinary experience, when we make a discovery.  We find ourselves in uncharted territory.  We see, hear, smell, taste or touch something entirely new.  It peaks our curiosity.  It challenges us to seek answers.

We are never sure where this search will take us.  We are never sure if the information we find will be favorable.  Love, Z (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, December 18, 2018) written and illustrated by Jessie Sima is about such a discovery, quest and revelation that will leave a print on your heart.

On a bright, chilly day, Z went out looking
for adventure and stumbled upon a piece
of half-buried treasure.

On a piece of paper, the little robot found, the only legible words were at the bottom.  They said:

Love, Beatrice.

Love was a new word.  The little robot had no idea what it meant.  And who was Beatrice?  At home in the evening he got ready to power down.  A series of rituals helped him to get ready.  When he asked the question weighing heavily on his mind, none of his caretakers, the old, rusty robots, had an answer.

After spending a sleepless night, Z left to look for Beatrice.  Surely, she would know about the word love.  Z met the captain, a cat, of the S. S. Catnip.  Together they sailed down the river in search of Beatrice and the definition of love.  Along the way they met three other beings but none of them were Beatrice.

One did say what love meant.  This caused the travelers to alter their direction.  At a bakery another said love was being patient and teaching new things to someone.  Another path was taken by Z and the cat captain.  They were now at a school.  A whole chorus of voices told them what love was.  Unfortunately, none of these computed for Z.

In a moment of despair Z wanted to go home but a place to spend the night suddenly appeared. Here they found someone and something very important.  Z made a new discovery.  Sometimes that which you desire is closer than you think.

When a story begins with an encounter of something extraordinary, readers find themselves immediately engaged.  Jessie Sima continues to build this relationship with a blend of narrative and conversations.  She employs the use of "storytelling three" in Z's bedtime rituals, who he questions on the river and the places he visits to acquire replies.  This gently leads us to not one but two surprises.  Here is a passage.

"I don't know any Beatrice,"
said the crow.  "But to me . . ."

"Love is sharing your food,
even when it's delicious."

That did not compute.  But Z thanked the crow anyway
and changed course toward a place with delicious food.

A warm, reddish peach provides the canvas for the open dust jacket.  If love were a color, would it be this?  To the left, on the back, within a circle of blue and green, a green, corked bottle floats.  We see a rolled-up piece of paper and the word Love.  On the front, to the right, Z is thinking the title, but this also appears again at an important point in the story.  The rusty, old robots and the cat captain, his companions, are smiling and wrapping around him in a circle.  Careful readers will notice the letters on the robots.  If you move them around, what do they spell?  The title and Z are varnished.

The book case, front and back, appears to be knitted in shades of the warm, reddish peach.  The stitches are very clear.  In the middle of the front in hues of blue is the letter Z.  This is a huge hint of what is to come.

On the opening and closing endpapers in blue and purple a series of robot heads, outlined, supply a pattern.  Across the verso and title pages, Z is standing in and on an abandoned footed bath tub, wearing his paper sailor cap and holding a telescope.  Each illustration rendered in Adobe Photoshop by Jessie Sima spans double pages, single pages, or are grouped in a cluster on a single page.

When the individuals are replying to Z about what love is to them, these are encased in a speech bubble.  They reflect an experience from the past.  To enhance an emotion Jessie Sima will shift her perspective.  This is apparent when Z can't sleep, when he is setting out on his quest, when he is discouraged or when he experiences his first of two surprises.  She also uses eyes to great effect when conveying mood.  Readers will want to pause at each image to notice the details Jessie includes.

One of my many favorite illustrations covers two pages.  It's snowing and the river has widened.  It looks like a vast expanse of water.  On the right is an island with a dock reaching into the water.  A mailbox is placed on the shore.  Nestled among evergreens covering the island is a small cottage with smoke billowing from the chimney.  Lights glow in the two windows on the first floor.  The S. S. Catnip is tied to the dock.  Z and the cat captain have just left the boat.

If you want to set the tone for a day or night, read Love, Z written and illustrated by Jessie Sima.  It is a labor of love about love.  It will wrap around readers like a hug.  It will certainly promote discussions about what love is.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To discover more about Jessie Sima and her other work, please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog.  Jessie has accounts on Twitter and Instagram. At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

UPDATE:  Jessie Sima is highlighted at Let's Talk Picture Books on January 22, 2019.

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