Quote of the Month

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

Friday, May 22, 2020

Up And Into

As you sift through your memory files, some of those labeled the first time are easier to recall than others.  Some are clearer because they are unforgettable.  It was a sensory experience as you looked at items not previously seen, inhaled specific smells, listened to new sounds, touched familiar and unusual things, and perhaps, tasted something unique.  It was as if you had entered a distinctively different world.

These are recollections held by many who step into an elevator for the first time.  You enter a small room in one place and in a short amount of time, you arrive at another spot.  Even when you learn about the mechanics of its operation, it still seems a bit magical.  Lift (Disney Hyperion, May 5, 2020) written by Minh Le with art by Dan Santat is the newest collaboration by the team who created the marvelous and memorable Drawn Together.  In this title the enchanting essence of our first elevator ride ascends to a wondrous level.

Hi, my name is Iris.

Iris is a fan of pushing elevator buttons, especially if she needs cheering.  Day after day, week after week, it is her job to push the elevator buttons from the lobby to their floor or from their floor to the lobby.  One week, though, on a Thursday, Iris's little brother reaches out and pushes the button.  WHAT?!

Her parents are deliriously happy.  Iris is not, not one little bit.  On Friday, it happens again, inside the elevator.  In a very un-Iris-like fit of anger, she pushes all the buttons.  Her little brother loves this.  Her parents do not.

When they get to the lobby, Iris is fascinated by the broken elevator button the maintenance man discards. (He is fascinated playing with her brother.) She grabs the elevator button out of the waste basket.  When Iris gets back to her room, she tapes that button to her wall, and pushes it, probably out of habit and desiring happiness.

Can you imagine her surprise when it dings?  Can you imagine her surprise when a door opens?  When Iris walks through that door, her heart races with the sheer joy of an explorer.  The doorbell to their apartment ringing distracts her, and she returns to her room, closing the door.

A babysitter arrives as her parents leave.  An evening of food and fun is in the offing.  Iris tolerates every moment until she is finally alone in her bedroom for bedtime.  She is not sleepy at all. It's safe to say after pushing the button again, this experience takes Iris to new heights, until her brother's crying brings her back to her room.  Iris knows a favorite book which will soothe his heart.  On Saturday, the next morning, you won't be able to stop smiling at the unfolding of events.  They are heartwarming.  They are unprecedented, hopeful, and inspirational.

With limited, but conversational and heartfelt text, Minh Leusing the voice of Iris, brings us into a week in which every single one of us can identify.  He does this with his keen insight into children and their feelings.  We have felt Iris's pride and her frustration.  Minh Le doesn't only know his intended audience, he understands others who will be reading this book.  He has a gift of connecting generations.  His pacing and word choices are designed to build anticipation (and to supply us with a bit of comedy).  Here are two sentences.

When we get back home, I just want to be alone.
I wish I could be anywhere but here.

Looking at the front of the open dust jacket, you know this book is going to be extraordinary.  You can see the normalcy of Iris's room behind her, but what surrounds her is astonishing.  There is also a hint of foreshadowing here.  Notice the placement of the letters of Minh Le's and Dan Santat's names.  They are elevator buttons.  Dan Santat's attention to detail, layout and design is already apparent.

To the left, on the back, of the dust jacket on a canvas of muted green is the discarded elevator button, taped to Iris's wall.  We have zoomed in close.  The button is lighted.  Beneath it is a Carl Sagan quotation reading:

"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that
never were. But without it, we go nowhere."

On the book case we are looking at the door from two different points of view.  On the front, we are standing in Iris's bedroom looking at the door.  Light glows around all the edges.  On the back, we are in an alternate world, a rainforest.  We are looking through the doorway into Iris's apartment.

On the opening endpapers Dan Santat has placed Iris standing in the light of the doorway after pushing the button.  Her wide-eyed look tells a story all its own.  On the closing endpapers Iris stands with her little brother on that Saturday morning, looking through the doorway and standing in the light.  Their expressions are of supreme joy.

After the opening endpapers, a page turn reveals the title page which is the lobby of the building.  There is a big L above an elevator button.  In front of the out of service elevator is the title in large block letters.  Iris's mom holding her little brother, Iris, and her dad carrying groceries are waiting in front of the elevator door. Their backs are to us.  Prior to the closing endpapers is a two-page image which will have you gasping like Iris and her little brother.  It is also the dedication page with publication information beneath it.

In this book the illustrations are a series of geometrical panels (wide framed in black), full-page images, combinations of vertical panels and horizontal panels, squares and rectangles and heart-stopping double-page illustrations, edge to edge with no borders.  There are series of images without words, interpreting the narrative flow.  Dan Santat shifts the perspectives to bring us close to the characters or farther away.  Each of these decisions places emphasis on emotional impact.  Sound effect text heightens moments.

The facial expressions on the characters are pure perfection. (I can't begin to tell you how many times I burst out laughing.) Dan Santat leaves no doubt in any reader's mind as to what the characters are thinking or feeling.  It's when you are looking closely at the characters that you notice other intricate elements.  Iris quickly realizes that a twig from her first elevator journey is still stuck in her hair when she greets the babysitter.  The name of the game the babysitter brings is Out Of This World.  The little brother's tiger stuffed animal is named Iris.  I wonder how many people will notice the lamp on Saturday morning in Iris's bedroom.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations (without giving anything away) is a series of three.  It is three horizontal pictures on a single page.  It is after Iris has pushed all the buttons.  Of course, the elevator stops at every floor, dings and the door opens.  As it opens, we see Iris's dad holding her brother, Iris, and her mom.  Her dad is resigned, as he holds a gleeful youngster.  Her brother cheers and flings back his hand holding his toy stuffed tiger in the second scene.  Iris is mad in all three.  Her mother's mood ranges from angry, to impatient and then to why me?  (I am laughing right this minute.)

This book is the answer to many questions.  It raises your mood and shifts your outlook.  Lift written by Minh Le with illustrations by Dan Santat is to be read often and widely.  We need this book for its universality and truths, insight and humor, and for its tribute to imagination.  I highly recommend this for your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Minh Le and Dan Santat and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Minh Le has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Dan Santat has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  The book trailer for this title is premiered with a conversation between Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, and Minh Le and Dan Santat at Watch. Connect. Read., John's site. (The book trailer is a treat to be enjoyed repeatedly.)  At a publisher's website you can view a Q & A with the creators and a praise sheet of their two books can be downloaded.  Minh Le and Dan Santat are interviewed about this book at The Roarbots.  I believe you'll want to read it.

No comments:

Post a Comment