Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Seeking Sanctuary

This summer there is an abundance of wildlife, from the smallest to the largest.  There are biting bugs and feasting bugs.  Honeybees buzz from clover patch to clover patch.  A toad as big as my fist moves from the front gardens to the back gardens. There are several colors of swallowtails and monarchs fluttering past during the day and moths gather around lights at night. Red squirrels play tag.  The other afternoon a newly arrived resident, a chipmunk, raced from a garden to chase one of the many robins from the yard. There are chickadees, sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, brown thrashers, goldfinches, a variety of woodpeckers, crows, ravens, turkey vultures, hawks, geese, seagulls, sandhill cranes, and sometimes bluebirds.  Rabbits shelter under landscaping at night and a tiny baby bunny squeezes in and out of the chain link fence.  Before the sun lifts over the horizon, two large deer graze just beyond the yard.

To witness their presence and interactions is a thing of wonder.  If we chose to observe and understand them, animals will guide and enhance our lives.  Together We Grow (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, May 26, 2020) written by Susan Vaught with illustrations by Kelly Murphy brings us a tale of a stormy night, and the plight of a fox family.  Sanctuary is essential for survival.

Lightning gash!
Windy lash!

Rain and thunder,
home asunder.

Flood waters rise and wash out the home of a fox family.  One member leaves to seek a dry place to shelter at a nearby barn.  Many domestic animals are in the barn with a few wild friends.  They do not want the fox family with them. 

As the fox family slowly walks from the barn, a tiny duck stands in the open, glowing doorway.  The wee bird goes into the storm and chats with the foxes as the inhabitants in the barn watch.  One by one a change is taking place.

Slowly, all inside come to realize this place, this space, is for everyone.  Fears are set aside and replaced with compassion.  All shapes, sizes and textures need a haven.

All through the night the storm rages.  All through the night sleeping animals find peace as more arrive.  In the light of a new morning, a realization and a resolution remain.

Rhyming couplets penned by Susan Vaught invite us into this narrative.  Each captivating series of phrases conveys authentic place, and time.  We are involved in every emotional moment, fear, hope, discouragement, courage, acceptance, and affection.  Here is another couplet.

Shell and scales,
love prevails!

The diverse selection of animals, domestic and wild, shown on the front of the open dust jacket signifies an unspoken agreement among this gathering.  It clearly depicts how in the worst of times, the best can and does happen.  The palette exudes warmth and affirmation.  You want to pause and name all the animals rejoicing in this portrait.  To the left, on the back, in shadowy blues of night and storm, the three kits are around their parent.  They are looking up at a snail saved by the adult.  It is resting on its nose.  A salamander is stopped on the head of one of the youngsters.  Three butterflies and a several fireflies move about them.  The title text is raised and varnished.

On the book case in two shades of blue, dark on light, are a series of various animals prints moving from left to right, back to front.  The canvas is textured.  The text on the spine is done in copper foil.

Illustrator Kelly Murphy begins her visual interpretation and extension of the narrative on the opening endpapers.  From the left, the sky is darkening, and rain falls as the animals make their way to the barn in the distance.  In the wind birds flock toward the building.  Even a frog leaps from the pond.  On the verso and title pages, a double-page picture features the raging storm, wind bending trees with leaves swirling. The barn is in the distance, light shining from the windows.  On the left, a wet and worried fox emerges from the now-flooded den.

Each double-page, or single-page picture is rendered in

acrylic paints, oil paints, and gel medium on paper.

To accentuate pacing and dramatic effect, there is a single series of four smaller images on two pages.  Exquisite details and atmospheric lighting permeate throughout the title.  The shift in perspectives from very close to the characters, to a more bird's eye view, and then a wide-angle study of a scene increases the reader's participatory feeling.  A single two-page wordless illustration is stunning.  At the end of the book, the closing endpapers herald a fresh understanding between all the animals.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the five-word quote above noted.  It is the same one as shown on the back of the dust jacket.  This exhibits the playful, and gentler side of foxes.  Each of the kits has a different expression on their faces, curious, contented, and amazed. The adult, holding the snail, is demonstrating how they can express the same type of kindness shown to them by the other animals in the barn.

This book, Together We Grow written by author Susan Vaught with illustrations by artist Kelly Murphy, is a welcome sensory presentation of what all living beings need to do to not only survive, but flourish.  We are indeed better together.  This title has received four starred reviews, one in Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.  Your personal and professional collections need a copy.

To learn more about Susan Vaught and Kelly Murphy and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Susan Vaught has accounts on Facebook, and Twitter.  Kelly Murphy has accounts on Behance, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view additional illustrations.

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