Quote of the Month

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

Monday, September 2, 2019

Solid As A . . .

You can't live in northern Michigan without encountering rocks.  Just beneath the mostly sandy soil is an entire community of stones of every conceivable shape and size.  When excavating to build the basement for a house now sitting on a hill, these giants were unearthed.  Now they grace the top of the garden along a driveway.  A day at the beach, near the tip of the Mitt, will yield Petoskey stones found primarily in Michigan.  Large or small, this area has them all.  Wherever you go, there they are.

You can pick them up, skip them on the water, use them to build a wall or sit for a bit to just listen or look.  A Stone Sat Still (Chronicle Books, August 27, 2019) written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel (They All Saw a Cat, Caldecott Honor winner, and Hello Hello) is a wonderful imagining of sensory perceptions with respect to a stone.  For all of you who have every wished an inanimate object could talk, this book speaks volumes.

A stone sat still
with the water, grass, and dirt

and it was as it was
where it was in the world.

Depending on the hour of day this stone appeared dark or light.  Depending on its current occupants, it was noisy or silent.  Depending on its age, to the touch, it was jaggy or polished.  Weather and the seasons changed its colors.

Even though its size remained basically the same, to one creature it seemed to be a place to step and to another critter a mountain rose up before them. Animals used the stone for a variety of purposes; as a sanctuary, a food preparation space or a vantage point for a predator.  Like other natural landforms, it served as a guide and a challenge.

The stone continued to be many things to many residents of the wild.  It told tales.  It hosted concerts.  In the spectrum of this planet's history, the stone was both old and new.

As climate shifted the stone was no longer sitting with

water, grass, and dirt.

Water rose until it was surrounded.  Then it vanished.  Or did it?

Even with repeated readings, the fascination of how one thing, a stone, can be much to many, does not diminish but grows.  Brendan Wenzel, with this narrative, stretches our thinking.  He asks us to use all our senses and to place ourselves in the position of an array of animals to determine the purposes this stone serves.

His pacing is impeccable.  His repetition of several phrases ties one portion of his lyrical observations to another portion.  Alliteration creates a welcoming cadence.  Here is a passage.

And the stone was the wild

and the stone was a home

and the stone was a kitchen

and the stone was a throne.

The liberal use of crisp white on the open dust jacket places emphasis squarely on the stone and the snail.  The lower left corner of the stone crosses the spine and extends to the back.  There blades of grass, some sprouting seeds, span most of the lower portion to the flap edge.  The stone and the blades of grass fashion a nook for the ISBN.  On the right side of the stone, on the front, its corner continues to the right flap with grass to the edge, also.  The title text, the snail and the stone are varnished.

On both sides of the book case we are given a close-up view of the stone.  It covers it completely.  The meanderings of the snail supply an intricate maze which, if the case is moved in the light, reflects its varnished trail.  The opening and closing endpapers tell a story of the stone.  On the first the stone is as it is.  On the second the stone is no longer in view on land as evidenced by what is now attached to its sides.

Rendered in a variety of media, including cut paper, colored pencil, oil pastels, marker, and the computer,

these illustrations, most spanning two pages, supply readers with an excellent sense of place and time.  For the purpose of altering the rhythm of his words, Brendan Wenzel inserts full-page pictures, a series of vertical vignettes, four, three and four, over two pages. For dramatic effect there are two horizontal images together on two pages.  These are followed by a wordless, double-page image which silently makes a huge statement.

Readers will want to ponder each picture.  They will want to follow the snail's progress and the resting and flight of the owl.   Will they notice the growth of the grass, plants and tree?  What will they think of the encroaching water?

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the words

and the stone was bright

At the top of a darkened sky with speckles of stars is a circular portion of a full moon on either side of the gutter.  Beneath it, ablaze with moonlight, is the stone covering most of both pages.  A few clumps of new grass are growing through the dirt around the stone.  A sapling has sprouted to its left.  On the stone, wide-eyed and on the right, sits an owl, feather tips gleaming in the glow.  What has the owl's attention?

Readers and listeners will want and need to re-visit this book, A Stone Sat Still written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel, repeatedly.  It presents us with the advantages of viewing the world through multiple sets of sensory points of view.  It asks us to appreciate and admire our planet and all its inhabitants.  It requires us to question our purpose in caring for Earth.  This title is highly recommended for your personal and professional shelves.

To learn more about Brendan Wenzel and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Brendan Wenzel has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and TwitterAt each of these places, Brendan Wenzel shares his processes for this title and other titles.  Here is a link to a video he posted on Instagram about the development of the stone.  Here is another one about the creation of his cut paper moose.  There is a Q&A with Brendan Wenzel about this book at Publishers Weekly.  Enjoy these two marvelous videos.

UPDATE:  This title is featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on November 6, 2019.

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