For thousands of years people have been leaving memories of accomplishments, dreams, discoveries, musings, mysteries, everyday occurrences and unusual events on cave walls, bone, clay, bark, metal, stone, papyrus, palm leaves, string, parchment, paper or anything else they deemed as lasting or appropriate in less than ideal circumstances. To be able to communicate in the absence of face to face opportunities connects us to others, then and now. To do so languages, an understanding of languages and the writing of languages continues to be vital.
When we combine words and pictures to express an idea, it is intensified; sometimes luminous. How To Read A Book (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, June 18, 2019) written by Kwame Alexander with art by Melissa Sweet is a superb, original representation of an idea that does indeed radiate and resonate. It invites, no, it captures our attention and holds us close even after the end.
FIRST, FIND A TREE-A
BLACK TUPELO OR
DAWN REDWOOD WILL DO-
AND PLANT YOURSELF.
The poem continues by advising us that a stoop is fine, too. After all, this is what Langston Hughes favored. Once we are snuggled in a perfect place, we take our book, and open it carefully.
It shines like the sun. It smells like a brand-new day. It softly tickles us. Little by little, page turn by page turn, we enjoy what is offered. Something is building inside us.
Before we know it, we become one with the book. We celebrate through the words with every living thing, their portrayal and their story. We are entertained. We are informed.
We are told to savor every magical moment with unbridled exuberance but to do so with intention. For in using care, we are able to let the words soak into hearts and minds. The final nine words are a mantra to cherish.
Food is to be relished with all our senses; seeing, hearing smelling, touching and tasting. When Kwame Alexander likens opening a book to the peeling of a clementine, he is welcoming us into a total sensation. He continues to reference actions of reading with the consumption of a clementine until we are deeply committed. With elegance he allows us to appreciate each portion of this encounter in this book and in all other books. Here is another passage.
DIG YOUR THUMB
AT THE BOTTOM
OF EACH JUICY SECTION
THE WORDS OUT
The neon pinks and oranges with the lighter greens and blues on the open and matching dust jacket and book case certainly energize readers with anticipation before they look inside. Melissa Sweet's meticulous and signature collage implores us to proceed. To the left, on the back, a superhero with HERO on her shirt, flies down from the upper, left-hand corner, her bold, glowing cape flowing behind her.
On the opening and closing endpapers, four shelves stacked with books stretch from left to right. Pointing fingers and several spirals urge us to keep going. These spirals appear throughout the book. The endpapers are done in various shades of fluorescent pink. With a page turn we arrive at the title page. It is here we are introduced to the first appearance of deer (an explanation follows in the illustrator's note) and an asterisk-like star shape. A hand is reaching for an orange book.
The next two-page image is a three-dimensional collage composed of fifteen stripes. Careful readers will see a clue regarding the presence of deer in the illustrations. The verso page follows with the publication information in the shape and color of a clementine with a stem and leaf.
The illustrations rendered using
watercolor, gouache, mixed media, handmade and vintage papers, found objects, including old book covers, and a paint can lid
are full-page and double-page pictures. They not only enhance the narrative but extend it in new and exciting directions. Cut-out letters spell once upon a time. They are popping out of an orange toaster plugged into a purple outlet. The toaster happens to be a book.
Readers will be pleasantly surprised with a horizontal gatefold which again takes the orange book and turns it into another object entirely. It gives us windows into possibilities. Following this are smaller pages within pages revealing joyful words and employing a die-cut splendidly.
One of my many favorite illustrations is for a phrase speaking of morning air and butterfly kisses. This visual extends over two pages. In the upper, left-hand corner a portion of a neon pink spiral is in place. Underneath this is a vertical strip of paper of a green forest and rolling hills. From this, left to right, are what might be parts of old books. The text is on the left with a neon pink asterisk-shaped star following the period. Extending from the right and crossing the gutter slightly is a young girl with eyes closed in contentment, her left hand raised. Butterflies flutter about her and one lands on the text.
You might want to have a bag of clementines, a bunch of neon markers, all sorts of paper pieces and glue handy after reading this treasure one-on-one or to a group. How To Read A Book, a poetic narrative penned by Kwame Alexander with artwork asking readers to pause by Melissa Sweet, is food for everyone's souls, readers and non-readers. It's an experience to be shared, repeatedly. There is an author's note and an illustrator's note at the end. You'll want to have a copy in your professional and personal collections. You might enjoy pairing this title with How To Read A Story by Kate Messner with illustrations by Mark Siegel.
To learn more about Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites. Kwame Alexander has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Melissa Sweet has accounts on Facebook and Instagram. At the publisher's website you can listen to a portion of the book being read by Kwame Alexander. The cover is revealed at Publishers Weekly with interviews of both creators. There is an interview of Melissa Sweet by Jennifer Jacobson at Highlights Foundation.