Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Clever Conversations With Companions

Each time you step out into the world, you're never quite sure what you will see, smell, taste, touch or hear. You're never quite sure who you will meet. It's a step taken with a sense of adventure laden with anticipation.  There is always the chance of the extraordinary happening.  

When you are greeted with something marvelous, you will silently watch, storing it in your memories to replay in the future.  Curious EnCOUNTers: 1 to 13 Forest Friends (Little Bigfoot, an imprint of Sasquatch Books, August 4, 2020) written by Ben Clanton with illustrations by Jessixa Bagley is about a girl whose exploration of a forest yields wondrous word play. Fortunately for us, she shares the experience.

Off we go for a walk through
the woods!  I wonder where
the trail will lead and what
we'll see along the way.

So begins a magical numerical journey from one through thirteen.  Each meeting reveals animals in action with accompanying conversations.  First, we meet a moose with directorial ambitions.  In fact, he is making a


A duo of raccoons exhibit contrasting behaviors; one continuing with musical inclinations and the other a book worm.  Closer inspection displays a trio of slugs engaged in the pursuit of beverage goodness.  A foursome constructs a residence above ground while wolves engage in knitting wool supplied by a sheep.  

The next group of animals, numbering six, might be wearing clothing shaped by the previous wolves.  Beavers are busy, but not from building dams.  On the water, you'll find a strange pack paddling around in vessels destined to tip if they are not careful.  There are continued antics on the water courtesy of resident rascals.

What do you think ten bears are using as transportation along the shore?  They might be on their way to listen to or watch watery inhabitants perform.  Above this, seagulls swoop.  As the story comes to its conclusion, the girl quietly notices the results of her trek through the forest.

As soon as the girl sees the first animal, we know author Ben Clanton will be entertaining us at every page turn. Alliteration is masterfully used with various parts of speech in each of the numbered statements.  The commentary by the animals uses language artfully.  You'll find puns, homonyms, and rhyming.  Here is a partial passage.

Seven beavers
baking bread.

We're on
a roll!

This bread will be
even butter than 

Readers will be instantly enamored of the animal depictions by artist Jessixa Bagley.  The fine lines, intricate details, animated postures, and expressive facial features welcome you to participate in their activities.  The happiness they exhibit through a full-color palette and softly textured backgrounds is contagious.  On the front of the book case are animals normally found in a forest.  To the left, on the back, are those one might see in the water (with one exception).  The text here reads:

Find some friends you can
COUNT on for fun in this curious
collection of creatures!

The orca is saying:

It's been a whale since
I've laughed so much!

On the opening and closing endpapers are brightly colored numbers one through thirteen.  On the closing endpapers, on the right side, is information about Ben Clanton and Jessixa Bagley you might find on the back flap of a dust jacket.  On the title page two different animal companions are speaking the title in speech balloons, like on the front of the book case.  The dedications and publication information are placed on the final image.  The girl is engaged in an activity to remember these enchanting moments of the day.

Each page turn reveals a double-page picture.  In the first one the point of view is as if we are walking beside the girl.  The other images vary in perspective depending on the size of the animals.  In the final illustration, it is as if we are watching the girl from above her seated position.  

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for 

Five wolves
weaving wool.

The wolves are working in a grassy landscape with taller grass on the left and thicker grass on the right.  In the lower left-hand corner, a sweater-wearing sheep is carrying two bags of wool.  One reads


and the other reads


To the right of the sheep a seated wolf is nearly encased in a red scarf being knitted by another wolf wearing a ski hat.  The red wool for this is coming from a large rolled ball of yarn.  Crossing the gutter and moving to the right is a wolf on a stool spinning wool.  Several tufts of wool are in a basket nearby. Another wolf, seated on a stool, is holding yarn stretched between its paws as the final wolf, seated on a log, knits a tiny sweater with a red heart in its center. Everyone is smiling, even the sheep.  Not only is this image delightful but it is also humorous (as are many of the other visuals).

This book, Curious EnCOUNTers: 1 to 13 Forest Friends written by Ben Clanton with illustrations by Jessixa Bagley, is read aloud gold.  It asks you to read it more than once; initially sharing the statements and then following with the commentary on the second read.  It inspires you to write your own commentary for each of the animal groups.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Ben Clanton and Jessixa Bagley and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Ben Clanton has accounts on Facebook, InstagramTwitter and YouTube.  Jessixa Bagley has accounts on Instagram, and Twitter.  Ben Clanton was recently interviewed at KidLit411.  At Penguin Random House you can view interior images.

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