Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, August 29, 2019

At Water's Edge

As the weekend of the unofficial end of summer approaches, the beach along Lake Michigan has been anything but favorable for exploring.  There have been gale warnings, rip tide warnings, small craft and lakeshore flood advisories for the past two days.  The good news is all this wind changes the sand, creating an altered landscape.  The high waves wash in new treasures to discover.  It's paradise for beachcombers.

You never know what wonders await as you walk along the water's edge.  In Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? Footprints at the Shore (Sleeping Bear Press, April 15, 2019) written by Susan Wood with illustrations by Steliyana Doneva we spend the day at the beach with a family.  The siblings find the most interesting markings in the sand.

Sandy feet,
on the beach,
make prints in the sand.

The first set of prints are easy to name.  The family has a frisky pup with them.  The brother spies delicate three-toed shapes.  Can you name this bird with thin legs and a hopping gait?

Shallow scoops like a miniature highway zig and zag across the sand as something scurries.  Watch out for those two claws!  A familiar scavenger leaves prints before flying away crying like a crow of the water.  

One of the silent sentinels of the sea glides by, drops and scoops up a tasty tidbit.  Along the sand something else moves using five legs.  How fast will it go?  It's watched by barnacles clinging to wooden pier posts.  

How fortunate for these children to see this sight as a nest is hollowed in the warm sand.  Later, their architectural skills form a marvel.  Laughter follows as their mother helps them find another use for their piles of sand.  There's nothing quite like a day at the beach with this family and Mother Nature.

Little readers and listeners and those reading this book penned by Susan Wood will feel the spell cast by her use of language.  The rhyming words at the end of every two sentences depict a rhythm not unlike the gentle cadence of waves on a sandy shore.  With ease we move from one creature to the next one and complete the circle as we begin---with the family.  Susan Wood uses lively verbs and adjectives to describe each kind of feet and the actions of the individuals.  Here is the sentence which follows the first one.

Digging feet,
furry, friendly,
wet dog licks your hand.

The sandy beach extends over the spine to the far left of the back on the matching dust jacket and book case.  The children mirror the actions of those enjoying a day at the beach.  It's a contrast between lots of motion and careful contemplation.  The billowing clouds match the foaming of the waves.  I wonder if readers can name the prints in the sand before reading the book.

On the back two sandpipers move from the left to the right.  Above them are two photographic snapshots.  They are portions of interior images of a sea turtle and a crab.  Both are captioned and ready to be placed in an album.

The opening and closing endpapers are a crisp white like the clouds and foam from the waves.  Illustrator Steliyana Doneva gives us a sandy background for the title page text.  Starfish prints move in a loop from the left edge to the right edge. For the first page turn there is no text, but the visual story begins with the parents walking to the beach carrying gear as their children and dog run into the water.

All the illustrations span two pages.  The perspectives vary with elements being close to us as others in the same scene are farther away.  Sometimes we get the sense there are dunes rolling along the beach.  We may only see human feet and ankles as a bird walks past them or we may be looking down at the children as another creature hurries away.  It's as if Steliyana Doneva presents us with a sensory experience in her artwork.  We feel the joy expressed on the humans' faces and their dog's face, too.  Another technique she employs is to give a hint of the next sentence by placing those footprints in the sand in the previous image.

One of my favorite illustrations features a bird's eye, but close-up view of the children.  Their heads are bent studying the markings in the sand.  Sand fills most of the two pages but the waves' foam forms a half circle from the left edge to the right edge.  Both children are on the left.  A crab moves from the left to the right side.  In front of it are a new set of prints.

There are still beach days left for this summer in Michigan and for many places in our world, there are beach days every day.  This title, Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? Footprints at the Shore written by Susan Wood with illustrations by Steliyana Doneva, mirrors this adventure beautifully.  At the close of the book two pages are dedicated to providing further information about the nine footprints shown in the words and pictures.  Readers are challenged to be ecology detectives using their observations, cameras and sketch pads and pencils.  You'll want to have a copy of this book for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Susan Wood and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  Susan Wood has an account on Twitter.  Steliyana Doneva lives and works with her family in Sofia, Bulgaria.  The link attached to her name is an artists' website.  She is interviewed at Kid Lit 411 and Miss Marple's Musings.

Please remember to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other selections this week by those participating in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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