Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Harnessing A Power

Despite the order in which they are placed, forward, backward or all jumbled up, this team of twenty-six is unbeatable.  When they go against any adversary, they will emerge victorious.  They can harbor mysteries.  They can comfort, heal and save.  They can move quickly and quietly or if necessary, they can roar like a lion.  They remain steadfast but are fluid enough to function for the well-being of multitudes.  This team of twenty-six are the letters of our alphabet.

They can work individually but function superbly in certain combinations.  Anyone can weld their power.  The Magic of Letters (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, April 23, 2019) written by Tony Johnston with art by Wendell Minor is abracadabra!




When you
they open

We learn at an early age to form the sound for each letter.  We say them over and over, chanting their names.  Soon we arrange them to make our name.  We say this over and over, chanting it like a miracle.

Letters can be used to represent strength.  A single word can stand for a foundation on which great things are made.  These foundations are timeless and true.

Other words made with the magic of letters describe a specific movement, a noise or the way something feels when we touch it.  Still more words make us laugh, hungry or take us into another world.  It's delightful to say them out loud.  What can we create if we connect them together?

As we use letters to build words, and then more words, and then, even more words, we can make creative and crazy and compassionate connections.  We can read creative, crazy and compassionate connections written by others.  In this the magic of letters is revealed.

There is something about the word magic which causes us to pause. Sometimes without even knowing we are doing it, we hold our breaths in anticipation.  With her first three words author Tony Johnston takes us into that pause.  Unlike many magicians, she discloses the secrets of the magic of letters. 

She walks readers through learning each letter, then using those letters to make a series of single words describing anything you can imagine but she doesn't stop there.  Her narrative continues by taking those words to complete thoughts.  She shows us how the magic works with examples.  Here is a passage.

Letters hold
If you swinkle
them sweetly,
new words
like swinkle.

If you are familiar with the artwork of Wendell Minor (Daylight Starlight Wildlife, Wild Orca: The oldest, wisest whale in the world, or Night Train, Night Train) you realize looking at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, the illustrations for this book are stunningly different.  Yet on close examination, the line work we've come to appreciate is present.  Rendered with graphite on paper and digital tools these images take readers on a journey between imagination and reality.

To begin, a rabbit and a black top hat are synonymous with magic.  In this instance the rabbit is the magician as letters spill from the black hat and scatter.  For most of the illustrations throughout the book, the crisp white canvas used on the jacket and case is continued.  It showcases the other elements with excellence.  To the left, on the back, the spectacle-clad rabbit is taking a bow as two words form from inside the hat.  Can you guess what they are?

On the opening and closing endpapers, the vivid hue in the title text is used as the color.  On the initial title page, the rabbit, in front of the hat, is looking up and holding the letter "g".  Other letters spill off the right edge and continue to scatter, left to right, across the formal title page.  With a page turn the first two sentences are placed between the ears of the rabbit as he looks eagerly and straight at the reader.  All we see is his front paws, head and ears.  (This effect is used again beautifully.)

The picture sizes vary in tandem with the pacing and narrative; spreading across two pages, full pages or partial pages.  They are whimsical, lively and as unpredictable as magic.  The rabbit drives a huge dump trunk with words spilling out the back; words like trees, heart, art, libraries, time and diversity.  Words the author calls mighty words.  For the word quesadilla, a row of smiling vegetables and fruits, bookend a portion of this delectable food which stands in place for the letter "a" in quesadilla.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It's for the phrase


Along the bottom of the page is a grassy expanse.  Brightly-colored tulips begin on the left, cross the gutter and grow to the right edge.  Among these on the right is a jack-in-the-box with a rising sun on the front.  A happy-go-lucky clown with arms and hands extended is smiling.  His suit and hat are red-and-white polka dotted.  The word flibbertigibbet is in shades of pink, orange and red and is written across both pages.

The Magic of Letters written by Tony Johnston with art by Wendell Minor is a celebration of letters, words they make and how we say, write and read them.  It is packed with power and energy.  This book can be used in a theme on alphabets, writing, reading or creativity.  You will certainly want a copy on your professional and personal book shelves.

To learn more about Wendell Minor and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  He devotes a page to this title showing several interior images.  Wendell Minor maintains an account on Twitter.

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