Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Stepping Outside Into The Gathering Dark

Humans tend to shelter inside at day's end.  Some activities are better enjoyed and accomplished within their homes.  If we should venture outside, a whole new world greets us.  In the absence of light, shadows rule, creating new forms.  Our senses of hearing and smelling are heightened.

When homes are passed during our exploration of the world at night, we see scenes inside them rarely observed during daylight hours.  It's as if we have stepped into a magical realm.  Night Walk (Groundwood Books House of Anansi Press, September 29, 2020) written by Sara O'Leary with illustrations by Ellie Arscott is an enchanting excursion through a neighborhood during the evening hours.

The time was long past when I should have been
dreaming, but I lay in my bed, owl-eyed and awake.

With the special sense parents have, her dad realized she was still awake.  He suggested they take a walk.  The little girl's other siblings and mother were content, so it was only she and her dad sharing this adventure.

The girl and her father moved down the sidewalk between the dark and light cast by streetlamps.  All the windows glowed in some homes.  Other residences had one lamp shimmering in the darkness.

People she knew acted differently when she saw them in their homes.  People she didn't know were celebrating an event special to them alone.  She was pleasantly surprised how many people were awake when she was normally asleep.

Her dad explained about growing up in the country with houses far apart.  Seeing these homes with her on this night was different for him.  For her growing up in this neighborhood was all she knew.  And that was all she needed.

Authored by Sara O'Leary, this story reads like a lullaby.  It is told through the eyes of the little girl except for two pieces of dialog by her dad.  Each sentence is a soothing observation, even before the child and her father leave the house.  Short phrases replete with childlike wisdom wrap around you in cozy comfort.  Here is a passage.

In one house a big family was eating a meal too late for supper and
too early for breakfast.  They were so happy it made me happy too.

The scenes on the right, front, and left, back, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case, invite readers into the journey with the little girl and her father.  We can feel the silence of the evening enveloping them.  We easily embrace the light given by the moon, stars, and streetlamps.  I love that we see the backs of the duo leading us into the park on the front.  To the left, a vertical rectangular image gives us a glimpse of another night walker with her dog.  The layout and design of this picture is gorgeous.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a deep midnight blue.  A loosely framed oval illustration precedes the verso and title pages.  It is a bird's-eye view of the neighborhood at night.  A closer perspective of the community, a single-page picture, is placed on the title page.  The use of light and shadow by artist Ellie Arscott is marvelous.

These illustrations rendered

in watercolor and ink pen on paper

are delicately detailed.  There is a softness, like the night, in all of them.  Ellie Arscott has included elements readers will enjoy discovering.  Will they recognize the picture books on the little girl's bed?  Do they have lights in their own bedrooms like the lights on the wall over the little brother's crib?  Do they have the same kind of shops in their neighborhood?

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  The girl and her father are standing on the sidewalk outside a corner house.  To the left of the gutter is the front of the house with an open porch and a street lined with buildings going in a perpendicular direction.  The home has several stained-glass windows on the side and a larger window.  At the back of the house is an enclosed sunroom, with floor to ceiling glass.  Lights are strung over its roof to a nearby tree.  Inside the glass room is a man playing his violin.  A white cat watches.  A dog, perched on the sofa, is howling in accompaniment.  In a touch of whimsy, the man, in addition to a plain shirt and pair of pants, is wearing pink bunny slippers.  

For those who have taken walks in the evening or for those who have not, this book rings with beautiful truth.  Night Walk written by Sara O'Leary with illustrations by Ellie Arscott is certain to inspire more shared strolls through neighborhoods.  It is guaranteed to bring peace and promote the sweetest of dreams.  I highly recommend this title for both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Sara O'Leary and Ellie Arscott and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Sara O'Leary has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Ellie Arscott has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Debut picture book illustrator Ellie Arscott is a guest at author illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi's Inkygirl.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

For those of us with canine companions, strolls are taken at all hours of the day and night, but those after dark are particularly spellbinding.  Our partners on those walks do so with elevated senses.  They alert us to things we might not notice.  Sometimes they do this as a protective measure.  Other times, it is as if they want us to see, hear, or smell what they see, hear and smell.  Woodland Dreams (Chronicle Books, October 27, 2020) written by Karen Jameson with pictures by Marc Boutavant is an ode to forest creatures, ten in number.  It is a poetic goodnight with rich, stunning artwork for each one.

Come home, Big Paws.

Berry picker
Honey trickster
Shadows deepen in the glen.
Lumber back inside your den.

A young girl with her dog, heading home, walk through the forest.  As they pass by each of the inhabitants, words are uttered for each one.  These words welcome them to their resting place.  They describe each animal with a nickname and their prominent characteristics.

There is the swimmer with a head of antlers, a swift-moving youngster bearing spots on its fur, and a long-eared leaper that enjoys a good meal of fresh clover.

As it gets darker and darker, snow begins to fall harder and harder.  A turtle rests drawing its feet and head inside its shell.  A woodpecker seeks its last meal before snuggling inside a hole in a tree.  A squirrel scurries by the light of the moon to its nest.

There is a final poem, an eleventh nickname and four distinctive lines.  A girl and her furry friend rest as quietly as those they passed in the woods.  Of what will the creatures, the child and her dog dream tonight?

The cadence of these poems penned by Karen Jameson is as pleasing on repeat readings as the first time it is enjoyed. Readers will be captivated by the nicknames of each animal following the words

Come home

at the beginning of each poem. Lines one and two rhyme with some of the best personality or characteristic traits readers are likely to encounter.  Offering perceptions of the time of day and its conditions, the narrator encourages them to return to their respective homes in lines three and four which also rhyme.  Here is another poem.

Come home, Painted Wings.

Nectar sipper
Dizzy dipper
Stars are twinkling. Flutter. Search.
Light upon your leafy perch. 

The open and matching dust jacket and book case radiate warmth and comfort.  The chosen color palette for the images on the front and back refer to the darkness of nighttime, but the natural earth tones are welcoming. The illustration on the front, right, of the squirrel curled in slumber with gathered treasures in its nest enfolds not only the girl and her dog but us. (The treasures are varnished.)  Careful readers will notice the girl is carrying a sketchbook.  This is foreshadowing for the final two-page, wordless picture at the conclusion. 

To the left, on the back, of the jacket and case, the canvas is still black.  Autumn leaves, a sprig of pine needles, an acorn cap, and a single Queen Anne's lace flower form a ring around the girl and her dog.  They are fast asleep in her bed at home.  The child and her dog are curled around each other.

On the opening endpapers the forest is alive with life as the sky shifts into the golden yellows and pinks of sunset.  We see a startled fawn watching us in the lower portion on the left side.  On the right, higher up, a woodpecker pauses staring at us.  Among the row of tree trunks are a variety of leaves, evergreen branches, holly, and pinecones.  The closing endpapers is the same section of the forest, but the changing light gives us different insights.  There is more definition to the trees and surrounding foliage. The fawn and woodpecker are no longer present.  The sky is dark with some snowflakes falling.  In a previously empty hollow, the squirrel now sleeps.

The illustrations by Marc Boutavant are simply splendid.  Each scene gives us appreciation for another portion of the woods.  The light in the sky changes as the walk progresses.  The weather shifts too.  The girl and her dog are shown far away from the animals or closer depending on safety for all.  In each setting they may quietly wait for the animal to pass, stop as it runs away or past them, or sometimes they will pause to watch it move at its own pace.  Readers will savor the moments shared by the girl, her dog, and the animals they encounter.

There is a blend of single-page pictures and double-page visuals.  When there is a single-page image, the text is placed on the opposite page with the animal at rest.  The elements in each illustration ask us to look closely before each page turn.  How many readers will see the final sketchbook paper on the girl's bed as she and her dog sleep?

One of my many favorite pictures is a single-page image.  It is the illustrations for Velvet NoseIn the foreground the girl is kneeling on the ground facing her dog.  The dog is seated.  She is holding his nose with one hand and her other hand with her finger pressed to her lip in a shushing gesture asks the dog to be quiet.  Behind them is an array of forest shrubs and trees filling almost all the page.  Passing through the shrubs and trees, nearly hidden, is a large moose.

For one on one or as a storytime read aloud Woodland Dreams written by Karen Jameson with pictures by Marc Boutavant is an ideal selection.  Whether you are using it for a theme about forest animals, the shift in seasons, or as a quiet or bedtime book, listeners will relish every moment.  You will want a copy of this title for your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Karen Jameson and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  The link attached to Marc Boutavant's name takes you to his agency page dedicated to his work.  Karen Jameson has accounts on Facebook and TwitterMarc Boutavant has an account on Instagram. Karen Jameson was recently interviewed at Lynn Becker Books Blog.

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