Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Canine Confidence And Companions

It has never been more apparent how fortunate we humans are to be a part of our canine companions' packs.  Their constant presence and unwavering unique personalities are a source of comfort.  Their responses to each day's sensory experiences provide a perpetual parade of expected and unexpected results.  In other words, dogs are a source of hope.

Two titles released in spring of this year focus on these wonderful creatures who have chosen to spend their lives with us.  The first, Lone Wolf (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, May 19, 2020) written and illustrated by Sarah Kurpiel, is a debut picture book looking at how opinions of others can influence us.  When a seed of doubt is planted, sometimes we need a shift in our outlook to realize we are exactly where we need to be.

Maple loved
being the Parker
family dog.

She had a regular routine with each member of the family.  The puzzling thing to Maple was what happened when they went on walks.  Repeatedly people thought she looked like a wolf.  As often as possible, with neighbors and in the classroom at school, the children presented the facts.  Maple was a Husky, not a wolf. 

Maple started to compare herself to other dogs.  She did look more like a wolf.  She engaged in wolf-like activities.  Was she in fact a wolf?

As life would have it, an opportunity in the form of a gate accidentally left open, gave Maple the opening she needed.  She raced for the woods where wolves enjoy living.  Unfortunately, her wolf-like traits failed her out in the wild.  What was easier at home was much harder here.  As darkness cloaked the woods, she missed her pack.

In the nick of time Maple recalled what would normally happen during this time of day.  This was her most beloved thing in the world.  She used her nose to ensure success.  She also discovered a pack is not a pack, if one member is missing.

When the story begins and continues, we are not sure if an observer is speaking or if it is Maple.  Whoever is narrating, it engages readers so we are ready to hear this story, because who among us has not wished our dogs could talk or someone else could understand what they wish to say.  Author Sarah Kurpiel gives each family member a role in Maple's life.  Her combination of Maple's musings and neighbors' dialogue heightens the authenticity. There is a rhythmic beat as each sentence builds on the one before and after it.  The storytelling three is used to great effect.  Here is a passage.

Maybe she was a wolf.  And wolves belong
in the wild, not in houses or dog parks,
not on couches or sidewalks. 

When you first look at the open dust jacket, with only a portion of Maple's head visible on the front, you are not sure if this is a story about a wolf or a dog.  The dotted line and background color continue over the spine, the line looping through more flowers and into the woods in the upper, left-hand corner on the back.  The line, Maple's face and the text are varnished.  The crescent moon tucked into the "o" is a nice design element. 

On the book case the pale teal hue is used again.  In white circles on the back and on the front are two different images.  On the back, Maple is looking out a large window of her home.  On the front she is peeking from behind a big tree in the woods.  These illustrations are done in only two colors except for Maple.

On the opening and closing endpapers on the pale teal with white and black are a series of dogs, of all shapes, sizes, and breeds.  Among them is Maple, looking at several with curiosity.  One of the dogs, a bull terrier, is shown with a wheelchair, wheels attached to its back portion with a harness.  On the title page, the dotted line continues with Maple howling between the text placement.  On the verso and dedication pages are a series of pictures on a wall of the family and Maple and the out-of-doors.  Avery, the daughter, uses a power wheelchair for mobility. 

The illustrations created digitally by Sarah Kurpiel are brimming with details and familial warmth.  They range in size from double-page pictures, to a series of three smaller visuals on a full page, and to full-page pictures.  Sometimes for emphasis two double-page horizontal images will appear together, one on the top, and the other on the bottom.  The circles used on the book case, appear again with a change in purpose.  Point of view figures in the emotional impact.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations takes place near the end of the story.  It's a double-page picture with two separate scenes, beautifully combined.  It's at night in the summertime.  Fireflies are glowing, surrounding the characters.  Light and shadow contribute with excellence.  Perspective elevates the emotional moments. (Saying any more will take away from the impact this will have on readers.)

Lone Wolf written and illustrated by Sarah Kurpiel is a charming exploration of identity and the roles we each assume in a pack with our dogs.  In Maple we are able to discover how our qualities are what make us special.  Embracing who we are adds value to each and every day.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Sarah Kurpiel and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  Sarah Kurpiel has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can download two pages of activity sheets.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read., the book trailer is premiered along with a conversation.  Sarah Kurpiel and this book are showcased at author Tara Lazar's Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) and at author Susanna Leonard Hill's site.

More times than not, people will say humans mirror their dogs.  They will point out similar physical characteristics and even, behaviors.  In this second book, Ollie and Augustus (Candlewick Press, May 26, 2020) written and illustrated by Gabriel Evans, this could not be farther from the truth.  These two best buddies look nothing alike, but nevertheless, they are inseparable.  Will an upcoming event change their friendship?

Ollie was small---like a pickling jar or a shoebox.

Augustus was big---like a fridge or a table.

This duo did all sorts of things together.  They enjoyed people watching, dressing up, digging and stick collecting.  (One of these last things was Ollie's favorite thing to do.  Another was Augustus's favorite thing to do.  You can guess.)

Neither of them was perfect.  They did get on each other's nerves.  They were grouchy to each other, but they always resolved their discontent.

Soon, their schedule was going to change.  Ollie was going to start school.  He was worried about Augustus.  What would Augustus do without him?  Ollie had a plan.

He posted all the lovable qualities about Augustus on a poster seeking a friend.  He mentioned all the other things they loved to do.  The next day, a long line of dogs were ready to audition.  Not one dog understood Augustus.  And he had no desire to do what they wanted to do.  The friend hunt was an utter failure.

On his first day at school Ollie worried about Augustus.  What did Augustus do all day?  He did what he was meant to do.  And Ollie, at the end of the day, did what he knew would make Augustus the happiest.

Oh, my . . . Gabriel Evans has a way with words, words to describe the quirky characteristics of two best friends.  As he tells of their shared activities it reads like a gentle and highly singular song.  Each of the narrator's observations leaves room for the exquisite illustrations to expand the story.  Humor is evident in what Ollie thinks about Augustus and in contrast to what Augustus thinks about Augustus. Here is a passage.

Ollie had an idea.
Wanted: Friend for Augustus.

Augustus has a fun,
outgoing personality.

He enjoys long walks
in the park,
weekend trips to the beach,
watching sunsets 
over a bowl of
and Friday nights at home.

There is something enormously endearing about the picture of Ollie and Augustus standing together on the front of the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  They look nothing alike, yet we come to realize, they are perfect together.  The color palette on the jacket and case is limited and maintained throughout the book.  To the left, on the back, Ollie is racing down the cobblestone street on his tricycle with Augustus hanging on for dear life on the back.  This is our first hint of the comedy found within the pages of this book. 

On the opening and closing endpapers the pale golden canvas is continued.  In a series of fifteen snapshots of their lives, drawn in brown and white and yellow, we get to experience further adventures with this pair of pals.  Ollie wearing a chef's hat is mixing up a batch of cookies.  Some, already baked and sitting on the counter, are being investigated by Augustus.  In another photograph, they are in the garden.  Augustus is facing Ollie, backward in a wheelbarrow.  Ollie is peeking out from a giant flowerpot.

These illustrations by Gabriel Evans,

done in watercolor, gouache, and pencil

are whimsical, fine-lined, and highly detailed.  Sometimes they are opposite a page of text, alone with lots of white space.  They are clustered together, small intricate vignettes of Ollie and Augustus sharing their hours.  There are full-page pictures and double-page pictures for dramatic effect.  These images are also, at times, in opposition to the words, supplying hilarity for the reader.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is one of four on a single page.  It is the image for Ollie's and Augustus's tree climbing.  A rather tall slender tree is featured.  It has an array of branches covered in delicate, small leaves at the top.  Ollie is near the top center sitting in a notch with his arms spread out on either side.  Augustus is seated on the lowest, but still remarkably high, limb on the right.  The lone branch with leaves is pointing toward the ground.  You can't help but wonder how Augustus got to that limb.  You can't help but wonder how the limb can hold his weight.  That is the beauty of this book.

Readers will want to hear the story of Ollie and Augustus written and illustrated by Gabriel Evans over and over again.  They will love the relationship between this boy and this dog.  They will laugh at their daily adventures and their favorite things to do.  You will want to have this huggable book in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Gabriel Evans and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Gabriel Evans has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image, including one of my favorite illustrations.  At Penguin Random House are more interior pictures for you to view.

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