Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Walks On The Wild Side

They walk among us, sometimes seen, and other times unseen.  Purpose is in every step they take.  A future destination guides their direction.  Perhaps they follow a well-worn path or a completely new route.  For some it takes only a day to reach their intended place and for others it is considerably longer. 

One creature known for its unhurried and steady pace is a turtle.  Turtle Walk (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, October 6, 2020) written and illustrated by Matt Phelan is a family's exceptional trek through what is expected toward something extraordinary.  This journey will be long remembered by readers for its priceless and precious delight.

Turtle walk. Nice and slow.

Here we go.

Four turtles leave their home on a green spring day.  They pass by other wildlife enjoying the season.  Voices, the two youngsters, ask if they have arrived yet.  The answer is no.

Time passes, summer sun, is warming blooming blossoms, active insects, and happy children swinging on swings on a playground.  Fireflies light the family huddled together at night.  They have not reached their goal.

Leaves are turning autumn shades of orange, red, and yellow.  People and animals are gathering apples and nuts.  A jack-o-lantern glows.  The family rests but have not come to the right spot.

Snow blankets the ground, making the traveling much slower.  The turtles still go.  When the now familiar question is asked, the answer is in the affirmative.  Another question is asked, and a surprising answer is given.  No one is anticipating the pure bliss which follows as a circle is closed.

Carefully selected words by author Matt Phelan guide readers into the story.  Their repetition elevates the narrative and encourages participation.  This repetition is also a wonderful literary technique to lead us into the contrasting conclusion.  The spare text allows for the illustrations to further enhance the story.

When you open the dust jacket the white canvas on the front, right, and back, left, accentuates the vivid green turtles and the title text representative of the four seasons, spring, summer, autumn, and winter featured in the interior.  This text is varnished.  On the back one of the smaller turtles in on the back of an adult (mother).  Beneath them in purple are the words:


On the book case the two younger turtles, left of the spine, are moving to catch up with their parents.  The adults are moving toward the right edge of the front.  On the opening and closing endpapers, the cool purple of winter provides color.  Prior to the title page an adult (father) comes out of their home in a mudbank by the pond.  Two butterflies glide by and above him.  On the double-page picture for the title page, the father beckons to the mother on the left as the two little ones yawn and stretch as they wake up, on the right.  All the letters in the title text are shades of green.

Watercolor and pencils were used to prepare the full-color art

by artist Matt Phelan.  The illustrations extend across full pages, double pages, or are clustered in loose shapes on a single page.  Black text is on white and white text is used on most of the colors in the scenes.

Each image is replete with delicate details and charming depictions of animals and some humans.  The turtles can be seen in more panoramic views like when they walk beneath black-eyed Susans or brought close to readers when they are asleep among a pile of autumn leaves.  These varying views complement the pacing and lead us, along with the younger turtles, to the marvelous moment and the expansive winterscape view.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is during a summer evening.  The turtle family is huddled together, the two adults encircling the youngsters.  They are cozy in a circle of green.  About them are swirls of twilight blues.  Above them in golden circles, bodies glowing are five fireflies.  The perspective places us closer to the fireflies looking somewhat down on the turtles.  All the turtles are smiling at this wondrous sight.

When you read Turtle Walk written and illustrated by Matt Phelan for the first time, you do so knowing you will be reading it again and again.  The exquisite images implore you to join them on their walk as the words provide a rhythm for their journey.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.  

To learn more about Matt Phelan, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Matt Phelan has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Matt Phelan was the featured creator on Author Spotlight Friday at Annie's Bookstop WorcesterHe visits author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast today to talk about this book.  At the publisher's website is a two-page activity guide.

Up in the far northern realm of the Arctic there lives an animal who touches noses with the same kind of animal to ask for food.  Can you imagine swimming as fast as six miles per hour?  These animals can do this because of their specially designed paws and legs.  They have black skin, but appear white because their fur is translucent, reflecting light.

It is a survival characteristic to have white fur when living in the Arctic.  Polar bears sometimes blend in with their surroundings.  A Polar Bear in the Snow (Candlewick Press, October 13, 2020) written by Mac Barnett with art by Shawn Harris follows a polar bear on a trip through the snow.  This bear moves with purpose.

There is a polar bear in the snow.

We cannot see this polar bear in the snow until it raises its nose to test the air.  Then the bear wakes up and begins to move. We have no idea where he is going or why he is intently going in one direction.

There are lots of seals in the snow, but the polar bear passes them.  He does not wish to eat.  He also does not wish to seek the sanctuary of a cave in the blowing snow.  

When the unseen narrator questions whether this polar bear is seeking a man, the answer is a resounding


This polar bear keeps on going through the snow until he can see his reflection in the water of the sea.  Now we know where the polar bear is going, but we still don't know why.  

When the reason is revealed readers will smile, wishing they have white fur so they can join this polar bear.  Once again on the snow, the polar bear is ready to go.  Where?

Individually the sentences are simple, but when they are connected, they form a captivating story, a story which will have you smiling from the beginning to the last two words.  You are not sure where the narrative or the bear is leading you, compelling you forward, page turn by page turn.  Mac Barnett cleverly asks questions and supplies answers while repeating one key sentence. 

You can already tell from looking at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, the artwork by Shawn Harris is going to be as brilliant as sun on a landscape newly coated with fresh snow.  Using 

cut paper and ink

he, through light and shadow, creates luminous images, realistically textured.  On the front, right, the polar bear looks right at the reader.  What does that look tell us?  The title text is varnished and raised.  To the left, on the back, all we see are the indentations of paw prints in snow, moving away from us.  

The opening and closing endpapers are a turquoise blue.  The verso and title pages have a snowy look to them.  The letters on the title page, due to shadowing, appear as if they are floating.  The same snowy look continues on the first two pages with the single sentence on the left.  Each change in the first three visuals are subtle, then the cut paper artistry begins in earnest.  These illustrations span two pages.

Shawn Harris brings us close to the polar bear, then we see him in an enormous vista of snowy mounds and hills. After encountering the seals, as they vanish, we see only his back half rambling off the right side.  Our point of view of him walking through the snowy wind is as if we are one of the Arctic foxes looking out from a cave.

When the polar bear in the snow reaches the sea, the hues of blue are crisp and cool.  The next three illustrations are breathtaking in their perspectives and depictions.  The third one is wordless, but most readers will gasp in admiration.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations (I can't select a sea scene without spoiling it for readers.) is when the polar bear walks past the cave with the Arctic fox family watching him.  Most of the polar bear is to the right of the gutter.  His head is bent as he leans into the snowy breeze.  The opening of the cave does cross to the left of the gutter.  To give readers a perception of how deep the foxes are in the cave, Shawn Harris has layered torn white paper with each circle a little bit larger than the one underneath it.  The foxes are placed in the far left, bottom corner.  There is an adult, and three young foxes.  Their body postures indicate curiosity.

When you think of the Arctic, snow, and polar bears you would never imagine the clever use of language and art found in A Polar Bear in the Snow written by Mac Barnett with art by Shawn Harris.  You can easily use this book in a study of bears, the Arctic, snow, or for the sheer pleasure of a superb story.  You will definitely be reading it more than once at a single sitting.  Readers will want to listen to it repeatedly.  Your personal and professional collections will not be complete without a copy of this book.

To learn more about Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Mac Barnett has another site here. He has an account on Instagram.  Shawn Harris has an account on Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube. At Penguin Random House you can view interior images.  I hope you will enjoy these two videos.

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