Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Shaping Into Special

Each day our world is shaped by our perspectives.  If we seek the extraordinary in the ordinary, we will find it.  It is not easy, but something to be refined with purpose and persistence over time.  

Never has the genius of a master storyteller been more apparent than in this newest release.  Sun Flower Lion (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 22, 2020) written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes takes the familiar fashioning it into an original memorable tale.  This tale encourages readers to look for stories in their everyday surroundings. 


This is the sun.
Can you see it?

When the unseen narrator assumes you have seen the sun, they follow with a simple but profound description and comparison.  This leads us to the next two-page chapter.

Here a statement and a question lead to the description of a flower.  At the close of the chapter, the reader is asked to look closer at the flower.  Does it not look like a lion, a small lion?

Introduced to the lion, we watch him enjoy both the flower and the sun. He tires because of his youth, falling asleep.  In his dream, the flower multiplies into something delicious.  Although he consumes everything in his dream, upon waking, he is hungry.  

In the closing two chapters, one a single page and the other three pages, readers are again asked a question and given an answer.  We, through the narrator, shadow the lion as he finds his way home.  Like the smallest beings in many walks of life, the small lion's day and close of day are defined by his youth.

Kevin Henkes has a gift for making us a part of his stories.  Spare language invites readers into the pages of this book.  Here when the unseen narrator seeks our observations, we step into the realm of sun, flower and lion.  Impeccable pacing is present through the pause found between the six short chapters. Here is a passage.

The flower is growing.
It is growing on the hill.
It looks like a little lion.   

Upon opening the dust jacket, we are shown the limited color palette, black, white, and yellow, used throughout the book.  On the front Kevin Henkes presents all three elements of this narrative, the sun, the flower, and the small lion in a scene.  To the left, on the back, they are placed in a wide strip of yellow bordered on the top and bottom by black.  Each of them, left to right are depicted individually and separately.  On both, the front and the back, the scalloped yellow edging is varnished as well as the lion's tail.

On the book case on the yellow canvas, on both the front and the back, is an enlarged view of the lion's head.  A wide-textured black strip covers the spine.  Rows of the sun, flower, and lion's head without the facial features, pattern the opening and closing endpapers on the same pale-yellow background.

Rendered in 

brush and ink 

the illustrations are framed in thin black lines bordered by large expanses of white.  The chapter-heading pages are on the pale yellow with the text in the center on white.  The sizes of the illustrations vary to place emphasis on the pacing.  There is one two-page picture at the end certain to elicit sighs from readers.  It is fascinating how much emotion Kevin Henkes places in his artwork with the angle of a brush stroke.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is at the end of the third chapter.  It is a single-page square image.  Here the little lion is resting on a grassy hill.  He is facing toward the left, eyes closed.  On the downward slope of the hill, the flower is leaning to the right.  Over the little lion on the hilltop and the flower, the sun shines.  All we see of the sun is the lower curve peeking down from the top edge.

This book, Sun Flower Lion written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes, is like holding untold wealth in your hands.  This gem will be read repeatedly, continuing to gently invite readers into the narrative.  It will have readers wondering what other three similar things they can find to form an original new story.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Kevin Henkes and his other work, please take a few moments to visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  This book is featured by author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson on her site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Interior images are shared.  I hope you enjoy the book trailer.

(Merry Makers is offering a sun flower lion doll.)

In a bright, cheerful ode to our natural world, Round (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 29, 2020) written by Jennifer Ward with illustrations by Lisa Congdon asks us to rethink what the word round means to us.  In an Author's Note on the dedication and verso page, we are challenged to identify other examples of round.  The wonder of this book is twofold; we journey into a search for round as a circle and round in its other forms.  

Up round.
Down round.
Nature all around is round.

Recognized round can be temporary.  What coils in a circle, but moves in a wavy line?  At times round holds other shapes of round not quite a circle.  When was the last time you peeked at a robin's nest?

Take a few moments to stop by a pond.  Stationary shapes there are round, as are those brought by action.  At times round is slow.  Sometimes round portrays youth or is tiny markers on a lady.  What kinds of light are round?

Round can be loud or quiet.  Within seconds it can alter its shape like raindrops.  If we stop to examine a round form, we might discover its composition is a multitude of round grouped together.  Objects can move around in a round path.

What tiny round packed together makes a larger round?  When you hear the hoot of an owl what variety of round might you find?  As we travel toward the end of the book, the end of a season, or the end of a day, readers will find themselves calmly marveling at all the round to be found.

Through her verbal representations, author Jennifer Ward reveals her astute skills of observation.  With her rhyming of the first words in each couplet, followed by the word round, we find ourselves turning the pages to continue the musical exploration of her narrative.  Jennifer Ward welcomes willing readers into the fascination to be detected in all seasons of the year wherever we go.  Here are two more couplets.  What are they?

Glowing round.
Growing round.

Dripping round.
Slipping round.

Truthfully, I exclaimed "Oh my goodness, oh my goodness" when opening the dust jacket and peering at the book case underneath.  The color choices on the open dust jacket conjure visions of (mostly) spring and summer bursting forth with breathtaking hues.  Elements on the dust jacket are to be found within the pages of the book.  On the other side of the spine, to the left, on the back, there is some repetition, but many of the items are new.

On the open book case, the canvas is black instead of white.  Here we see round at night, in the autumn, and in the winter.  It's a different world, but alive with forms of round.  There are objects and animals here not shown on the dust jacket, but they, too, are found inside the book.

On the opening and closing endpapers, there are similarities and differences.  On the first set, the drawings are in a rusty orange on white.  The animals here are awake.  On the second set, the lines are a midnight blue on white.  Readers will know it is night by the animals' positions and eyes.  

This artwork by Lisa Congdon rendered


is a gorgeous depiction of round.  On the verso and title pages, a double-page picture of large blossoms holds the text.  They are in shades of pink, orange, and red.  In the body of the book, page turns disclose double-page visuals with two actions or examples within the picture.  Most of the perspectives bring us close to the featured round.  In many of them an animal focuses on the round.  A fox and squirrel appear in three images each.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for one of the couplets showcased previously.  It is night.  The canvas is black.  On the left in six small circles of light, fireflies light up their immediate area.  To the right, a crescent moon, close enough to touch, hangs in the sky.

You'll hardly be able to wait to go outside and start finding round after reading this title.  Round written by Jennifer Ward with artwork by Lisa Congdon is fantastic!  For a story time on shapes, nature, seasonal changes, or to promote skills of observation, this title is an excellent choice.  Your personal and professional collections need this book.

To learn more about Jennifer Ward and Lisa Congdon and their other work, please follow the link attached to their name to access their respective websites.  Jennifer Ward has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Lisa Congdon has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

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