Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Rhyming Ritual

When reading aloud the musicality of words will seriously undermine the ability of readers of all ages, but more importantly of younger readers, to sit still.  Once they feel a rhythm made by words they want to move.  They also want to repeat those words, making them into a melodious mantra.  There's been many, many visits to the library with students leaving in a line as they walk down the hallway whispering words as they do their own inventive dance.

In her debut picture book, author Cheryl B. Klein collaborates with artist Tomie dePaola to bring readers Wings (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, March 5, 2019).  A rhyming poetic interlude of twelve single words and various punctuations is enhanced with lively, expressive images.  It's an ode to new life, flight, self-confidence and the sheer pleasure of the sounds made by combinations of letters.


Four curious baby birds sit in a nest.  One opens its wings.  This is a first.  Moving from the safety of the group, this brave soul grasps the edge of the nest and gazes at the distance from the nest to the ground.

In a moment of courage, with no instruction or practice, the baby bird jumps.  It does not end as well as it could have.  It hurts.  It's wet.

Something good attracts the bird's attention.  There is a decision to make.  There is an action to take.

Three siblings rejoice at the persistence, ingenuity and generosity of their nestmate.  That baby bird is downright jubilant.  A soul and body soar.

All the emotions felt by this baby bird beat in readers' hearts as the words are read silently or aloud.  Cheryl B. Klein cleverly and with intention strings these words together to tell us a tale of adventure.  All these words rhyme supplying a special cadence.  This beat is enhanced by the insertion of periods, pauses, exclamation points and a single question mark.  This encourages irresistible participation. 

There is not a group of listeners circled around a reader for story time that won't sigh when they see the front of the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  They will readily identify with the baby bird perched on the edge of the nest.  They all know about balancing on the edge of something trying to decide if they should jump or not.  The title text and the baby bird on the edge of the nest on the jacket are raised to the touch.

To the left, on the back, the courageous tiny bird, greets its parents as they rest, side-by-side, on a nearby branch.  A snail seen throughout the book is resting on the ISBN.  Instead of continuing the pale blue seen on the front, a soft lavender is the canvas for the back.  On the opening and closing endpapers is a lighter variation of the bright pink colors used in the baby birds.  A double-page picture for the verso and title pages shows two trees on either side, one holds the nest and on the other the parents rest and watch.

Rendered by collage using Avery full-sheet labels with markers for the color and the background paper was painted using acrylics, these illustrations are a departure from the usual technique in the artwork of Tomie dePaola.  Nevertheless, readers can see hues associated with his work in these images.  The backgrounds alternate between pale yellow, light orange, light pink, pale lavender, pale green and a pale bird's egg blue.  These canvases highlight the vibrant pink, blue, green, brown, orange and purple hues in the palette.

Readers will delight in the perspectives presented by Tomie dePaola.  For the first few pages we are close to the nest and the actions of the baby bird.  At one point, for maximum effect we move closer to the baby bird's face full of discouragement.  For one of the words only a portion of the baby bird is shown.

Wordless illustrations bridge between one word and the next placing emphasis on the pacing.  The book closes with the final of four visuals without words.  Careful readers will note the emotions shown in the eyes of the baby bird throughout the book.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the word Wrings.  On a pale lavender two-page canvas bright spring green stretches along the bottom.  A blue puddle takes up half of the space.  On the left readers will notice something special moving into the scene.  On the right the curious snail watches the bird, shaking droplets out of its feathers.  You can almost hear the combination of water and wings.

For a theme on rhyming, spring, poetry or birds I highly recommend Wings written by Cheryl B. Klein with illustrations by Tomie dePaola.  I can see this story expanding into creative dramatics with listeners acting out each word.  It would be a wonderful readers' theater.  You could have children expand the list of rhyming words.  You will want to have a copy for your personal and professional collections.  With this book, the theory of less-is-more takes flight.

To discover more about Cheryl B. Klein and Tomie dePaola and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Cheryl's website is highly informative.  She offers thoughtful extensions for her books and her other skills.  Tomie dePaola has a blog linked to his name, too.  Cheryl B. Klein has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Tomie dePaola has an account on Facebook. On October 22, 2018 Tomie dePaola was the featured illustrator at The New York Times Books with a video on Facebook.  This is a lovely look at Tomie dePaola's work.  He reads from a previous title.  Cheryl B. Klein and Tomie dePaola are interviewed by Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production, School Library Journal for the cover reveal.  To view interior images please visit the publisher's website.

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