Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Nothing Ordinary About This Porcine

Great storytelling takes the ordinary and places it with the extraordinary.  It shocks us.  It captivates us.  It endears us to the characters and their narratives.  Some elements in these marvelous tales are so powerful and positive, they leave a permanent mark on our lives. We seek those elements when we wish to recreate those remarkable moments.

Since the summer of 2005 a very special pig and the characters surrounding her have entertained readers. It all begins with Mercy Watson to the Rescue (Candlewick Press, August 23, 2005) written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen. It is followed by five more titles featuring this pig and her signature activities.  To the delight of readers another series showcasing other characters, Tales of Deckawoo Drive, starts with Leroy Ninker Saddles Up (Candlewick Press, August 26, 2014).  To date the last book in this series is Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package (Candlewick Press, October 10, 2017). While fans of these books believe nothing can possibly get better, something wonderful happens.  A Piglet Named Mercy (Candlewick Press, April 2, 2019) written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen tells about the arrival of Mercy as a tiny pig on Deckawoo Drive.

Mr. Watson and Mrs. Watson lived
in a house on Deckawoo Drive.

There is nothing about Deckawoo Drive or the town it runs through which is anything but typical.  Each and every day, Mr. Watson and Mrs. Watson engage in pursuits one would say are perfectly normal.  In fact, their lives are so routine, Mrs. Watson brings it to the attention of Mr. Watson.  Mr. Watson dismisses her desire for something out of the ordinary.  Why would anyone want to change that which is familiar?

Unbeknownst to Mr. Watson and Mrs. Watson, that evening something does change.  A truckload of pigs passes through town.  One of the pigs, a baby really, falls off that vehicle as it races down the street.  This tiny tot wanders to the porch of the Watsons' home.

In the morning the discovery of the piglet causes a host of surprises; Mr. Watson is only expecting to find his morning newspaper, Mrs. Watson can hardly contain her excitement and their next-door neighbor, Eugenia Lincoln is appalled.  Her sister, Baby Lincoln, is ready and willing to assist Mrs. Watson by offering a bottle of warm milk.  Inside their home, Mrs. Watson and Mr. Watson are beaming with happiness at the piglet, now wrapped in a blanket.  When the Lincoln sisters arrive with the bottle of milk, no one is happier than the piglet. Oink!  Does the milk fill up the hungry infant?  No!

Racing from one position to another the piglet discovers something even better than milk.  It brings her supreme comfort and contentment.  In the midst of cooing and commentary, a name (of which we are most acquainted) is given to the piglet much to the total annoyance of Eugenia.  And the rest, dear readers, is more than a decade of delight delivered to us with love and about love.

Even if you've never met Mr. Watson, Mrs. Watson or Mercy, as soon as you read or hear the words Deckawoo Drive and ordinary repeated twice in the first two sentences by author Kate DiCamillo, you can already feel excitement building.  In the next sentence the repetition continues adding to the promise of extraordinary circumstances.

Kate DiCamillo further enhances the narrative with conversations between Mrs. Watson and Mr. Watson.  When Eugenia and Baby Lincoln join these conversations, the comedy increases between the contrast of the bliss of the majority and the incredulity of one.  Here is a passage.

"Is that a pig?" said Eugenia Lincoln.
Eugenia Lincoln lived next door, and she
did not approve of surprises.  Or pigs.

"It is!" said Mrs. Watson.  "Can you believe our luck?"

"Don't be ridiculous," said Eugenia Lincoln.
"A pig is not lucky at all."

Rendered in gouache the lively illustrations of Chris Van Dusen as seen on the open dust jacket (and throughout the book) bring us immediately into the Watsons' home with the large black and white tile floors and contrasting yellow-striped wallpaper.  There is no possible way to resist learning more about the grinning piglet seated on the chair.  To the left, on the back, the flooring and wallpaper continue on the other side of the bright red spine.  Set in a scallop-edged white frame, we see the final image in the book.  It gives us a hint of the affection growing between the Watsons and Mercy and of the merry mayhem likely to occur.  Mercy, the piglet, seated in a green highchair is sure to produce plenty of laughter.

On the book case covered in the yellow-striped wallpaper with a wide, red cloth spine, we see piglet Mercy kneeling eagerly in front of a stack of her favorite food.  Steam rises from the top.  The opening and closing endpapers are done in a tiny, two-toned blue diamond pattern.  With a page turn the piglet appears, snout raised and looking expectantly to the right.  Perhaps she sees the small image on the verso page.  On the title page baby Mercy rests on a plump green pillow edged in yellow.

The bright, precise illustrations pair with perfection to the text.  Opposite a full-page picture text is bordered in yellow on white.  Circular and oval visuals follow with elements breaking the framing.  For pure dramatic effect a double-page picture highlights the piglet's nighttime fall and her location of the Watsons' home.  There is a rhythm to the image sizes, alternating between single page pictures, double-page illustrations and smaller visuals on a single page.  The facial features on all the characters contribute to the comedy.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  In the kitchen Mrs. Watson and Baby Lincoln have encircled Mr. Watson.  He is cuddling Mercy in his arms after she has devoured her new best-loved food.  They all look at her with adoration in their eyes as they give her a name.  Behind them stands Eugenia Lincoln with her back to them and us.  Her hands are on either side of her blue hair, possibly ready to pull on it, in utter irritation.  She is framed in white and facing the Lincoln home.

For fans of these books or readers new to Mercy Watson, there is no more charming explanation of her initial appearance on Deckawoo Drive than depicted in A Piglet Named Mercy written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen.  This book is not only about meeting Mercy but also those people who love her the most and of course, grumpy Eugenia Lincoln, too.  You will certainly want this book or two or three in your professional collections and one for you, too, in your personal collection.

To learn and discover more about Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Kate DiCamillo has another website located here.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image.  Here is an activity kit.  There is a separate Mercy Watson website.  At Penguin Random House there are more interior images.  Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen are featured with interviews about this book at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. Readers will appreciate this interview of Kate DiCamillo at Read Brightly.  Chris Van Dusen chats about this book with teacher librarian and author Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes and with teacher librarian and author Carter Higgins at Design Of The Picture Book.

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