Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Breathe The Open Air

There are bugs that bite.  There are butterflies. There are stinky-spraying skunks.  There are sun-dappled does.  There is an itchy poisonous ivy.  There are trillium, lady's slippers, violets, daisies, maidenhair ferns and water lilies.  There is the odor of smoke that clings to your hair and clothes.  There is the sweet smell of pine trees.  There is sand that is not sand, and you sink.  There are minnows, crabs, clams, and rocks to see in the shimmering water.  There is the sharp crack of twigs in the middle of the night. Bear?  There is the calming chorus of crickets.  There is the humid foggy morning.  There is the crystal-clear, star-strewn sky at night.  There are the bumps in the ground suddenly felt through your slowly flattening air mattress.  There is the snuggly warmth of your sleeping bag.  There is the tent which defies your every effort to stay erected.  There is the tent which envelops you, providing shelter from the elements.

When we venture into the outdoors, whether at a national or state park or designated forest, we are temporarily residents with the wild.  There are detriments to this adventure but the advantages, even brief moments, can last a lifetime.  The Camping Trip (Candlewick Press, April 14, 2020) written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann shadows Ernestine as she goes camping for the first time. It's an experience she and readers will long remember.

MY AUNT JACKIE invited me to go camping with her and my cousin Samantha this weekend, and my dad said yes!

A new sleeping bag and flashlight are only two of the many items Ernestine and her dad gather for this excursion.  Aunt Jackie wants her niece to be prepared.  It's not easy but Ernestine gets everything into her duffel bag.  She's ready and waiting.

When her Aunt Jackie and Samantha arrive, she's excited, but also worried about her dad getting lonely.  The two girls enjoy various activities, including simply staring out the window, on the long ride to Cedar Tree Campground.  The first thing Ernestine realizes when they stand on the shore of the lake is Cedar Tree Campground is huge and . . . silent.

It's hard work, hot and sweaty work, for Ernestine and Samantha to set up the tent.  Swimming is an option, but Ernestine is slightly scared about the fish she sees in the water.  Waiting on the shore is much safer.  After lunch, Ernestine's anticipation grows when they plan a hike, but she is amazed at how strenuous it is.  There is a lot to explore and discover until they come down the hill after hiking.  The best part of dinner that night is dessert.  Ernestine tastes her first s'mores.

Soon the trio are cozy and comfortable in their sleeping bags inside the tent until reading is over and the lantern is turned off.  Samantha and Aunt Jackie are snoozing in seconds.  Ernestine tosses and turns and tosses and turns.  Homesickness descends.  Wisely, Aunt Jackie makes a suggestion.  Wishing on a falling star can change everything.

The next morning, a hearty breakfast bolsters courage.  Packing up and loading the car seem harder.  The ride home is much quieter.  A welcoming hug opens the door to conversing about happy tasty recollections.

Told in first person Jennifer K. Mann allows readers to feel the thrills and the misgivings of this first-time camper.  Through a combination of thoughts, lists, instructions, observations, and conversations we become participants in this narrative.  The use of language by Jennifer K. Mann is marvelous in portraying sincerity.  Here is a passage.

First you roast your marshmallow over a campfire.

Mine is perfect.
Mine's on fire!

Then you make a sandwich.
---graham cracker
---graham cracker

And then you eat it.  S'mores are scrumptious!

In looking at the open dust jacket, readers are given their first hint of the illustrative technique employed by Jennifer K. Mann for this book.  It's a delightful mix of picture book and graphic novel.  Many times, a group of smaller visuals will convey portions of a single event.  For the front we are given snapshots of the entire weekend.  To the left, still on a canvas of sky blue, is a larger image of Aunt Jackie, Samantha and Ernestine climbing up a steep hill.  Ernestine is looking less than happy.

For the book case a stunning, wordless interior spread is used.  It's nighttime at Cedar Tree Campground.  Done in deep midnight blue, black and white, it's a portrait of the trio, holding hands and standing on the shore of the lake.  Above them is a starry sky with a crescent moon.  The lake is so smooth, stars shine in its water, too.

On the opening and closing endpapers are black ink drawings of items needed when you go camping.  They are placed on a rusty brown background.  They are all labeled.  With a page turn we see along the bottom of two pages a cityscape on the left which blends into a wooded scene on the right.  We can see a tent among the trees.  This is the illustration for the verso and title pages.

Rendered in pencil on tracing paper, then digitally collaged and painted, these illustrations vary in size to accentuate pacing and enhance the story. We enjoy a double-page picture, a series of three square images in a vertical column opposite a gathering of items to be packed, six panels of varying sizes on two pages and then a wonderful panoramic setting with four insets.  Some of the illustrations coincide with text and dialogue.  Others tell their own story without words.  In this way Jennifer K. Mann is able to convey a range of emotions and moods. When Ernestine is flashing back, the pictures are shown in shades of blue.

Readers will enjoy the detailed, fine line work.  Characters' expressions will promote empathy and laughter.  The clothing worn by Ernestine, Samantha and Aunt Jackie provide a pleasing contrast to the great outdoors.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture after the trio first come to the campground.  Spread before them is the lake, rolling hills on the opposite shore and clouds spanning the pale blue sky.  Jennifer K. Mann has pieced together what appears to be pages from a specific book to form the hills.  On the lake a bright red canoe is guided by two people.  On either side of Ernestine, Samantha and Aunt Jackie are tall evergreens, lowers shrubs and ferns with some water plants along the lake.  In the foreground is the grassy campsite and their loaded and parked car.  The color of the car is a hue of orange.

You can expect to hear frequent requests to go on your own outing after reading the heartwarming and splendid The Camping Trip written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann.  The voice of the protagonist rings with truth, touching our minds and hearts.  The images take us exactly where we need to go.  I hope everyone will place a copy of this book in both their personal and professional collections.  This is happiness you can hold in your hands.

To learn more about Jennifer K. Mann and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her personal website.  Jennifer K. Mann has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.  You can view interior images at the publisher's website and at Penguin Random House.  Jennifer K. Mann and this book are featured at author Kirby Larson's Friend Friday. If you would like to see the stunning book case, it's revealed at Let's Talk Picture Books on the Vimeo shown below.

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K Mann from Let's Talk Picture Books on Vimeo.

Update:  Today, June 23, 2020, this title is featured by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

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