Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Curiosity, Courage, And Communication

In his poem, Mending Wall, poet Robert Frost has one of the speakers repeat twice:

good fences make good neighbors.

Undoubtedly this poem and this particular line have been discussed and debated more times than we can count.  Fences are decorative.  They do provide protection for pets and young children and discourage wild creatures.  Fences designate boundaries.  In this respect fences act as a sanctuary, but do they make good neighbors?  

Fences, if they are strong and sturdy, with a foundation become walls, like those forming homes.  Hopefully, they are still safe spaces.  What happens when these walls are outside our homes keeping us from leaving or seeing beyond their heights?  Every Little Letter (Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, August 4, 2020) written by Deborah Underwood with illustrations by Joy Hwang Ruiz takes us to a place of walled cities.  As has happened often in human history, children (the littles) are the impetus for change, change for the better. 

Once upon a time,
there was a city of letters
surrounded by walls.

The only distinguishing feature about the letters was their size; otherwise they were the same.  Everywhere they looked they saw the letter H (h).  It was comforting to these letters to be surrounded by the walls, regardless of the fact other letters were located outside their confines.

Among the inhabitants was one curious little h.  She had questions about the other letters.  Were they even real?  One day, she got her answer.

Peeking through a hole in the wall she saw an i.  They both reached and together they formed:


Unfortunately, a large H saw this, and the hole was patched.  

In her sadness the little letter h formed a plan.  Using paper airplanes, she sent out a flurry of letters to i.  One happened to land within the walls of the letter o.  Soon the air was filled with letters.  The little letters loved this idea.  Their worlds were expanding word by word until . . . the big letters discovered the little letters' activities.

The little h hid two letters.  By moving them around, she designed another strategy.  In the dark of night, the little letters put her solution to their problem into action.  Daybreak revealed the results.  Were the large letters shocked?  Was their fear too great?  Words, brave, bold, and true won.

When picture books have broad appeal across the ages, there is something special about them.  This book penned by Deborah Underwood is one of those books.  Using letters as her characters makes them easily recognized by the youngest reader.  The concept of the twenty-six letters living in walled cities is timely and timeless. The rhythm fashioned by her words is one of exploration, and extraordinary elation, an ebb and flow of setbacks, persistence, and resonating revelations.  Her simple, but profound words supply readers with inspiration and more importantly, hope.  Here is a passage.

The idea spread from one small letter to another.

The x's tic-tac-toe
games became much
more exciting.

The b's playground
was full of surprises.

And the y's finally
got some answers.

The image extending across the front and back of the open and matching dust jacket and book case cheerfully greets readers with a combination of pastel and bright hues.  It radiates happiness through the letters' facial looks and body postures, and asks a question.  What do we need to know about every little letter and their position on the stone wall?  On the front the letters are varnished.

The sky, stone wall, and scenery stretch over the spine to the far-left edge.  The wall diminishes in a small valley before continuing upward again.  Standing in front of it are the little letter h holding a paper airplane and an even smaller h shaped like a dog.  

The opening and closing endpapers are a reflection of the beginning and conclusion of this lively and uplifting narrative.  Across a pastoral landscape, on the opening endpapers, are rows of letters in alphabetical order enclosed in walls with two clouds hanging in the upper, left, and right-hand corners.  The same landscape is present for the closing endpapers as are the letters, but warm light beams from the left to the right.  One more element is missing.

These illustrations by Joy Hwang Ruiz 

created digitally, with the help of ProCreate

span partial, single, and double pages.  They, with lots of charming details, are highly animated.  They display a range of emotions building toward the final double-page picture luminous in its joy.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when the little letter h and the little letter i extend their hands through the hole in the wall.  The double-page picture portraying this moment is pure bliss.  A rainbow of color glows on the pages.  In white hi appears in several different kinds of fonts.  The little letter h is to the left of the gutter.  The little letter i is to the right.  Both their hands are stretched to the gutter.  Above their heads in a shared speech balloon is the word hi in cursive.  

This is a book to read repeatedly.  This is a book to inspire discussions and to inspire change.  Every Little Letter written by Deborah Underwood with illustrations by Joy Hwang Ruiz is a title for all ages to serve as a beginning, and a reminder of what we can accomplish.  I can't imagine a personal or professional collection without a copy of this book.

To learn more about Deborah Underwood and Joy Hwang Ruiz and their other work, please access their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Deborah Underwood has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Joy Hwang Ruiz has accounts on Instagram, and Twitter.  On the publisher's website you can view the opening endpapers.

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