Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, February 13, 2020

A New Definition

At every point in our lives the term old takes on a different meaning.  At twelve years, we are old to a newborn, but to our grandparents we are a youngster.  It seems for great periods of our lives we are not old enough. Then in what seems like seconds, we are too old.

Words synonymous with old can give it different meanings.  It can refer to age, antiquated or established, familiar and solid.  It is this last comparison which appears in the pages of The Old Truck (Norton Young Readers, an imprint of W. W. Norton and Company, January 7, 2020) written and illustrated by brothers Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey.  In this title readers discover old can mean home.

On a small farm, an old truck worked hard.

It worked for hours during the day and through the seasons of many years.  As time passed the truck struggled to keep working.  It needed to pause.  In that pause, there were dreams.

In those dreams the truck became a scientific ship exploring the seas, a plane seeking new heights and a vehicle traversing a unique celestial landscape.  The old truck got older and older.  Life very nearly enveloped it where it sat.

One day the hard work and long hours continued, but there was a new farmer.  This new farmer, like the old truck, struggled to keep working.  She did not pause, but she dreamed.  In those dreams, like the dreams that came before, old became new.  It was, after all, about tenacity and attitude.

There are books you read again and again and again for different reasons.  In the writing of Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey for this book, those multiple readings reveal numerous stories depending on the person holding the book.  Their text, beautiful in its simplicity, is an open invitation.  The repetition of key words is like a soothing refrain tying the generations together.  The following sentence opens numerous possibilities and brings the narrative full circle.

So the old truck rested (page turn)

and dreamed.  

The open dust jacket reveals an extension of the image from left to right.  The portion of the illustration on the left is a reverse of that on the right.  The truck is facing left and the girl on the tailgate has her back to us.  We can see a large full sun between two clouds on the left, also.  It is here on the jacket that the color palette is introduced to readers.  The use of these colors, lighter or darker, brings a calming continuity throughout the book.

On the book case Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey used a heavy paper in cream and golden celery green for the wide spine.  On the front the truck is embossed into the case. Children and children at heart love to run their fingers over texture.  It seems to create a stronger tie between reader and story.

A pale, pale hue of their chosen blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  The brothers designed more than 250 stamps to make the art for this book.  Each page turn discloses the genius of their design.

For example, on the first single-page picture after the opening endpapers we see a scene of a young corn field, sky with clouds, flowers along the bottom, a pathway and the back of the new barn being built.  On the next double-page image the barn continues, as does the pathway.  The wife, soon to be a mother, is picking flowers as her husband carries lumber toward the front of the barn.  The old truck is sitting in front of their home.  The tree next to the house is a sapling.  The next page turn is the verso and title pages.

As you study and enjoy each illustration you can see elements the brothers have added depending on the time of day, season of the year and age of the little girl.  In this book, the brothers have fashioned a beautiful story of family and a commitment to hard work and ingenuity in their artwork.  For each sentence of their text, their illustrations add layers to the words.  Their wordless visuals are powerful.  All their pictures apart from the first and last ones are double-page illustrations.

One of my many, many favorite images is when the girl, now a young woman, is working late inside the barn.  From left to right we are inside the barn except for the open doorway for about two-thirds of the right side.  The young woman, with her back to us, is wearing blue jeans and a white and red large, polka-dotted blouse.  Her long black hair is braided, tied with a red ribbon and lays along her back.  She is standing in front of a work bench, hard at work on something we cannot see.  Above her, hanging on the wall, are a pitchfork, a coil of rope and a wooden ladder.  A large overhead lamp casts a warm glow.  Outside the barn sits the old truck.  Above it is a dark sky replete with stars and a full moon.  The truck is very old, now, rusty brown with age.  The hood is up.

With every reading of The Old Truck written and illustrated by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey readers will be enthralled with the harmony found in the words and illustrations.  Underneath the pastoral scenes is a thread of perseverance, a sense of dedication to work and the accomplishments it brings.  And there is love, in its many forms.  You will want to have a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves. 

To learn more about Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their website.  At this website you can see how the work is progressing on the old truck purchased by Jarrett Pumphrey.  Jarrett Pumphrey has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Jerome Pumphrey has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Their visit to author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is a must read.  There is lots of process art presented.  The brothers are also interviewed at The Horn Book with Roger Sutton and at NPR Special Series Picture This as part of Weekend Edition Sunday.

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