Quote of the Month

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

Monday, May 13, 2019

Looking But Not Seeing

More times than not when taking my canine companion outside for the last time late at night, she'll stop and stare off into the darkness several times.  What she hears or smells or even sees is beyond my human sensory comprehension.  It does cause me to hesitate.  The actual circumstances in those moments and those imagined are probably two entirely different things.  Under a darkened sky with only the light of stars and a moon in varying phases, a different world awakens.

It is in this realm, ripe with possibilities, a creator's gifts will thrive.  Sign Off (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, May 7, 2019) conceived and illustrated by Stephen Savage draws our attention to those objects we look at every day.  He asks us to see opportunities.  In this wordless book he takes us into the night on a journey guaranteed to stay in our collective memories.

Prior to the image we see on the front of the cover, along a roadway bordered by a white fence, the watch-out-for-deer sign is posted under a tree.  With a page turn the deer is standing on its back legs and eating the overhead leaves of the tree.  What would happen if a vehicle came down the road?  Would it need to be totally deserted on this road for the deer to change position and consume the leaves?  These are the sort of questions you will continually be thinking throughout the book.

Near a working farm, the sign showing a rider on a tractor is posted. The deed of the driver is unexpected.  A vehicle is parked in a handicapped spot as evidenced by the sign.  You won't believe what happens next.

As each familiar sign first appears and is followed by the action taken by the sign's occupant, we are repeatedly surprised by the extent of their accomplishment and ingenuity.  There is an architectural wonder and a proclamation of affection.  It's like a gathering of short, short stories.  Then the silent narrative shifts; a rhythm is replaced.

We start to follow the movements of one particular person from page to page.  Others follow.  They are joined by more.  Where are all these individuals going?  It's at the final sign readers will be initially puzzled.  (There is a clue quietly being given.)  A group effort sheds light.

Each time you read this book, in addition to the questions it creates about the narrative, you wonder how author/illustrator Stephen Savage thought of having the images on signs come to life.  The brilliance in this story is that not only do they leave their signs, but a much larger tale is in the making.  It's absolutely unexpected which will leave readers smiling in astonishment.

The limited color palette shown on the front of the book case continues throughout the book.  It's nighttime so shades of blue, purple, green, gray and yellow, black and white along with spots of orange, brown, red and pink are used.  For pure dramatic effect the little bits of color become larger, calling our attention to big changes in the pacing and the narrative.

To the left of the opened book case, on the back, is an interior scene from the story.  It is joined by several questions which request readers to speculate about a larger perspective this narrative takes.  On the opening endpapers we are greeted with the verso and title pages.  On the closing endpapers everything appears normal, but now we are privy to the "real" story of signs at night.

Each image spans two pages.  Point of view alters to generate pacing and build anticipation.  The layout and design are a connected series of contrasts and marvelous revelations.  It is in this simplicity in each scene, the few elements, a larger magic is supplied.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when the sign for the worker shoveling next to a pile of dirt becomes animated on the next page.  The pile of dirt is on the other side of the road opposite a home.  The orange sign is now empty of the worker.  He is standing next to the pile of dirt.  He is holding the shovel, point down to the ground with one leg crossed behind the other in a position of rest.  Out of the pile of dirt a castle has been fashioned.

As Sign Off conceived and illustrated by Stephen Savage is read it's hard not to inwardly or outwardly utter an exclamation of amazement.  We are captivated by the exploits of the signs' occupants but when they begin to gather together, it will be several pages before we start to understand.  This conclusion has a definite "wow" factor.  There are numerous opportunities for reader interaction.  What will the sign's occupant(s) do when the page is turned?  What other signs could be used?  What other things might signs' inhabitants do together?  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Stephen Savage and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Stephen Savage has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.  Stephen is interviewed at Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb.

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