Quote of the Month

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

Saturday, August 31, 2019

From The Vines

Cooler nights the past week have hinted at the nearness of autumn.  There's not as much birdsong in the air in the mornings signaling the beginning of their migration south for the winter.  Farmers' markets are filled with an abundance of summer-harvest fruits, vegetables, flowers, honey and other homemade delicacies.

Pumpkins are ripening on their vines. It's that special time of year to make selections for celebrations of Halloween.  Pick a Pumpkin (Candlewick Press, July 9, 2019), a companion to Pick a Pine Tree (Candlewick Press, September 19, 2017) written by Patricia Toht with illustrations by Jarvis follows a family from seeking the perfect pumpkins to strolling through their neighborhood on a spooky October 31st.

Pick a pumpkin 
from the patch---

tall and lean
or short and fat.

There is an abundance of colors of orange, some white and green, too.  This mom and her children fill their wagon with pumpkins of all shapes and sizes.  They take a break to sip on an autumn drink and munch on crispy, candy-coated apples.

Once home every speck of dirt is removed from their chosen gourds.  An area is made ready for carving and tools, utensils and bowls are brought outside.  A few neighbor children join the fun. 

Cutting, pulling and scooping clear the canvas.  Let the creativity begin!  Eyes wide with wonder or suspicious slits and noses form above mouths of happy grins or grumbling growls.  Soon all the pumpkins are completed to perfection.

Next the outside of the house with the help of dad is adorned with webs and web-weavers, shimmering ghosts, skeletons and swooping bats.  All the children don their costumes cheerfully chattering.  There's a witch, a mummy and is that a cute little pumpkin in mom's arms?  Those perfect pumpkin prizes are carried to their places; now glowing, the jack-o-lanterns are sidewalk sentries.  There's only one thing left to do, and it's done with exuberance.

Author Patricia Toht welcome us with her masterful use of poetic language, punctuation and pauses into the marvelous atmosphere of preparing for this holiday.  Her sentences with their embedded rhymes are like stanzas in a melody leading us into this night full of magic and mystery.  Alliterative phrases will have readers ready to move.  Here is a passage.

Lumpy chunks. Sticky strings.
Clumpy seeds. Guts and things.
With a spoon, scrape sides neatly.
Clean the inside out completely.
           Now all together . . .

Across the open and matching dust jacket and book case are pumpkins and one jack-o-lantern of every shape and size and shade.  The color palette radiates Halloween with hues of orange, purple, blue, green and a spooky white.  The costumed siblings can hardly contain their delight among the webs, spiders, bats, black cats, scurrying and curious mice, birds, autumn leaves and a wide-eyed ghost positioned around the ISBN on the back.

On the opening endpapers is a vast autumn sky with the birds shown on the jacket and cover flying over a nearly setting sun. On the closing endpapers it's the same scene with leafless branches and shrubs along the bottom and the huge sky above.  Now that sky is darkened, and the sun is replaced with a full moon.  Is that who I think it is riding her broom across the moon?  The birds have been replaced with bats.

The verso and title pages are a stunning work of art by illustrator Jarvis.  A row of autumn trees spans both pages with a windmill on the far right.  In front of them is a three-rail farm fence.  We move in close for the lower half of the illustration.  Muted-fall foliage is scattered on the ground.  On the right two large pumpkins are growing from vines.  Three crows, one on the left, watch and caw. 

Rendered in pencil, chalk, and paint and colored digitally all the illustrations are double-page pictures.  The choices of color for all the elements, including backgrounds which accentuate the other details, are absolutely splendid. Every visual is full of anticipation and animation.  The expressions on the people's faces convey pure excitement.  There are birds, mice and a black cat in nearly every picture. (Readers are going to love looking for those creatures.)  Near the pumpkin patch are two shops; one named Jarvis Art Supplies and the other Patty's Book Shop.  You won't believe the number on the side of the wagon the family is using at the farm.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when the family and neighborhood children are standing in front of the pumpkin, now a glowing jack-o-lantern.  The background is hues of blue darkening to deeper greens near the bottom.  Dad, on the left as a vampire, has his hand resting on mom's shoulder as she stands on the right.  She's wearing devil horns and holding the baby garbed in a pumpkin costume.  Left to right are two children on either side of the gutter wearing their costumes.  One is holding the cat.  In a low arc at the bottom is the top of the jack-o-lantern with its stem in the gutter and extending out on either side.  All their faces show awe.  They are radiant from the light of the jack-o-lantern.

If you are looking for the ideal pumpkin or Halloween title, then this book, Pick a Pumpkin written by Patricia Toht with illustrations by Jarvis comes highly recommended.  I can't imagine a storytime without this title as a selection.  You'll definitely want to have a copy in your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Patricia Toht and Jarvis and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Patricia Toht has accounts on Instagram and Twitter  You can find Jarvis on Instagram and Twitter, too.  At the publisher's website and at Penguin Random House you can view interior images.

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