Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Imitation Is The Sincerest . . .

One of the best parts of three-day holiday weekends is the extra time for reading.  Memorial Day 2019, like those of past years, is a time to reread favorite series.  It's a traditional way to get ready for summer.  One favorite collection, leaving us with a lighter heart, is the Elephant & Piggie set written and illustrated by Mo Willems.  From 2007 to 2016 the twenty-five titles entertained readers of all ages.  In 2016 a new series entered the children's literature world, Elephant & Piggie Like Readingand it's still growing.  The work of other authors/illustrators is featured in this collection of books Elephant and Piggie enjoy reading. (I laughed and laughed yesterday reading sixteen of the Elephant & Piggie books plus four in the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! group.)

The beauty of books in a series is the growing excitement in waiting for the next title.  Harold & Hog Pretend For Real! (Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, May 7, 2019) written and illustrated by Dan Santat is well worth the wait.  It's an imagination sensation.



What is it, 

I found 
a book about 
and a PIG!

Piggie runs to Gerald with this very book in her hands.  The two best friends can hardly wait to read a book about an elephant and a pig.  Before they start reading it, the page is turned. Hog and Harold are thrilled they see their two literary heroes.

Immediately, Harold has a bright idea.  He thinks they should pretend to be Elephant and Piggie.  Hog is not convinced this is a good idea.  In the blink of an eye, Harold produces glasses for himself and a Piggie nose for Hog.  And just like that, Harold is certain they have become Elephant and Piggie.

Hog is confused not knowing how to be Piggie.  Harold offers one suggestion after the other.  When Hog, now Piggie, points out how that sounds scary, he mentions it's a good thing Gerald, really Harold, is cautious.  Harold demonstrates how he will be mindful as he smiles, dances and flies all at the same time.  Now Hog is totally frustrated.  Gerald, the real Gerald, would not act like this.  Harold and Hog are startled to realize Hog is more like Gerald and Harold is more like Piggie.  What a dilemma!

As the duo start to speculate further about how they are not like Elephant and Piggie, their logic takes a wrong turn.  It only last moments because true friends with two hearts beating as one find the best kind of answer.  Before the story ends, more laughter and characters enter the fun. 

What makes a book written by Dan Santat sing off the pages is his keen sense of humor, sincerity and pursuit of presenting the soul of a story to his readers.  In this title, told entirely through dialogue, the sentences, page by page, emphatically reveal the true character of Harold and Hog.  The word choices and pacing leave room for reader interpretation as well as the stellar illustrations providing emphasis and contrast to the text.  Here is a passage.

You are so lucky, "Piggie."

You get to smile . . .

and dance . . .

and fly . . .


What is wrong?
I cannot
do THAT!
Why not?

One look, one long look, at the front of the book case and readers will see hilarity is forthcoming.  First, we have the "disguises" worn by Harold and Hog and their differing expressions.  The words Elephant & Piggie have been covered by Harold & Hog.  Mo Willems has been crossed out and replaced by Dan Santat.  This is going to be no ordinary story. 

On the opening and closing endpapers, as in the other Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! books, the famous duo is reading the book we hold in our hands.  Careful readers will see the renowned bird who wanted to drive a bus behind Elephant, leaning on his head and reading, on the second set of endpapers.  Three page turns into the book and readers begin to discover the real nature of this story when Hog turns the previous page.  Then Harold and Hog walk to stand in front of a screen. 

Dan Santat's facial expressions and body positions, the exaggerated hesitancy on Hog and the over exuberance of Harold, are highly effective and downright funny.  The two images with no words are perfectly placed.  You can almost hear readers' gasps and sighs and see knowing nods of understanding.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Harold as Gerald is demonstrating to Hog as Piggie three things Piggie enjoys doing:  smiling, dancing and flying.  Seeing Harold in these three stances with his face full of joy is funny but Hog standing in front of him is guaranteed to have readers burst out laughing.  Hog is wide-eyed and has absolutely no desire to smile, dance or fly.

Harold & Hog Pretend For Real! written and illustrated by Dan Santat is a brilliant execution of a story with characters imitating other characters.  It's about discovering your essential self and celebrating this wonderful being you are.  It's a tribute to the friendship found in the Elephant & Piggie books.  It's going to be read repeatedly.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To discover more about Dan Santat and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Dan Santat has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website there is an educator's guide.  I believe you will enjoy these interviews at Creative Playdate podcast and Literati with Dan Santat.

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