Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A Tale of Friendship And Food

When the word holiday is spoken many different things spring into many different people's minds.  One word which most will agree is associated with holidays is food.  Special foods are prepared according to cultural customs, family traditions and the desire to try something new.

With the dates of winter celebrations approaching fast, people are gathering recipes and ingredients for recreating or making memorable meals or delicious desserts.  For some the food prepared and served during these festivities are only eaten one or two days during an entire 365 days.  When you think and remember these foods, they bring to mind only this time of year.  Wintercake (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, October 15, 2019) written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins is a lost and found story.  It's about more than losing items.  It's about losing faith in individuals.

Where can it be? thought Thomas.
Maybe I left it outside.

Thomas looked and looked.  It was gone.  His friend Lucy, a cardinal, asked him what was missing.  His basket of dried fruits, apples, berries, plums, apricots, grapes and cherries is nowhere to be found.  It has vanished.  How is Thomas going to make his Winter's Eve treat, wintercake?  The celebration won't be the same without it.

As a snow squall begins Lucy leaves, hoping Thomas finds his basket.  He hopes Lucy stays safe.  The snow thickens until Lucy can't see anything.  She crashes and falls.  In the middle of a worrying thought, she smells something wondrous, something delicious and promising warmth.  Through the swirling snow, she spots the door to a tea room.

As Lucy sips tea, conversations drift around her.  Most are focused on the weather, except for one.  She hears the words, basket, dried-up fruits and wintercake.  Lucy feels anger rising in her.  She pays for her refreshments and follows the wily thief with Thomas's basket out the door.  Imagine her surprise when this figure arrives at Thomas's home and returns the basket still filled with the fruit.

Lucy quickly goes to Thomas's door and once inside, tells him the entire story.  She is ashamed.  They decide to make the stranger a wintercake.  It is magnificent but they have a dilemma.  Where does this good Samaritan live?  The trail, they discover, is filled with challenges.  As the sky darkens around them, they realize they are lost and far, far away from home.  In the next few moments several incidents forge a new friendship; a friendship with a foundation made of stories . . . and wintercake.

It begins with a mystery, a tantalizing invitation by Lynne Rae Perkins readers will be unable to resist.  With the appearance of Lucy, her chat with Thomas and the snowstorm, the tension increases.  Throughout these opening pages Lynne Rae Perkins uses dialogue with adept skill, giving readers a greater personal involvement.  We also see bits of humor in the words Thomas uses to describe his state of mind.

Along with the narrative and dialogue, from time to time, words, spoken or thought, are included in speech bubbles.  These heighten the strength of the story and the growing humor. We willingly find ourselves more and more a part of this tale.  Here are two passages.

Thomas drizzled the white icing over it, like snow on a lumpy hillside.  He lifted it onto a pretty plate and tied a ribbon around it.
"I've thought of something," said Lucy.
"What?" said Thomas.

"We don't know where this guy lives," said Lucy.  "We don't even know his name."
"Hmm," said Thomas.  "That's true."

The two friends looked at one another.  They looked at the wintercake, on its plate with its ribbon.  They looked down at their shadows, blue shapes on the snow.  A trail of crispy footprints led from where they stood, away through the forest.
"That's it! cried Lucy.  "We can follow his footprints!"
"Yes!" said Thomas.  "Off we go!"
And off they went.  At first, it was easy.

For those living in the northern hemisphere or for those experiencing a wild winter storm tonight, one of many this season, the scene on the front of the dust jacket addresses the weather with a sure knowledge, but notice the three friends skipping merrily through the wind and snow.  To place them on the top of the wintercake, baked, frosted and placed on a pretty plate, is saying with those for whom we hold affection, let us celebrate and enjoy this delectable dessert.  Let us banish the chill and warm our hearts with food and friends.  The contrast of color choices is marvelous.  The frosting and fruits are varnished.

To the left, on the back the canvas is a darker blue.  Framed by a multitude of tiny snowflakes, bare tree branches and small evergreens is a poem speaking about the essence of this story.  It talks of misunderstanding, loss, mistakes and finding a holiday home.

On the book case we are inside Thomas's home.  On the front is an oval window.  Outside we can see Thomas, Lucy and Tobin taking a toboggan ride.  The pretty blue and white plate is empty except for wintercake crumbs.  It is resting on a red and white checked tablecloth patterned in snowflakes.  On the wall of the house is a note numbered 10.  It reads:

Share with friends.

To the left, on the back of the case, are more notes (four) numbered one through nine, plus one extra.  They are placed among ingredients and utensils used for making wintercake.  For eager readers, these notes are the list of ingredients and steps for making wintercake.  These are all on the tablecloth in Thomas's home.

The opening and closing endpapers are a rich royal blue.  On the title page Lynne Rae Perkins begins the story with Thomas setting the basket down to taste the first snowflakes.  On the verso page the stranger (Tobin) is picking up the forgotten basket.  On the dedication page, Lucy is flying through falling leaves and snowflakes.

Lynne Rae Perkins shifts her illustration sizes to enhance and place emphasis on her narrative.  She begins with a series of smaller ones on white as Thomas looks for his basket of fruit.  She follows these with a full-page picture and two smaller horizontal illustrations on the next two pages.  Then readers are treated to a two-page image of the increasing storm, a sad Thomas and Lucy leaving.  Each visual heightens her words and their emotional impact, even her humor.

Lynne Rae Perkins uses white space with excellence to frame many of her illustrations and to increase the chill everyone feels during winter weather.  Also, shades of the royal blue shown on the endpapers finds its way into the interior illustrations, elevating each scene.  Readers will connect with the characters through their thoughts and their actions as displayed by their facial expressions and body postures.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a full page.  Lucy is perched on a bright green rolled blanket on Thomas's red-frame sofa with two-tone blue plaid cushions.  Thomas is seated at the other end.  He is softly smiling.  Lucy is completely upset and talking about her misjudgment of the stranger.  The basket of dried fruit is on a round coffee table.  This is on a round rag rug.  The colors of the fruit and the colors in the rug are nearly identical.  Next to the sofa is a small table.  On it a lamp painted with roses glows.  Thomas has wainscoting in this room and a small circular window.

This is a story to take away the chill on a wintry day, evening or at bedtime.  Wintercake written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins is a gentle tale of how misunderstandings can lead to the best life has to offer us if we reach out and right a wrong, even if the injured party is unaware.  Lynne Rae Perkins's blend of text, dialogue, thoughts and glorious illustrations will make this a much-requested title.  You'll need to have a copy in your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Lynne Rae Perkins and her other wonderful work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  She has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  This book is showcased at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, at Picture Book Builders in a post by author Pat Zietlow Miller and at Jama's Alphabet Soup by author and blogger, Jama Rattigan.

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