Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Coolness Of Cold

Red skies glow through a flock of sheep-like clouds scattered before an incoming front.  Snow, accumulating snow, is set to arrive within the next couple of days.  Although it is not officially winter, more cold and snow are welcome to those who enjoy all four seasons.  

This portion of the year brings special and specific benefits.  When Winter Comes: Discovering Wildlife in Our Snowy Woods (Little Bigfoot, an imprint of Sasquatch Books, October 13, 2020) written by Aimee M. Bissonette with illustrations by Erin Hourigan reveals those advantages and some mysteries to readers.  Let's follow a family enjoying a winter world and all it offers to them.

When winter comes,
and deep snow blankets the woods,
and ice forms cold and smooth on
the lakes,
thick enough for us to skate on,
some people think our woods 
are empty.

The woods are not empty.  They are still full of nature's inhabitants.  A fallen, hollow log, coated in snow, harbors some insects, amphibians, and other creeping crawlers like snails or slugs.

Under the deep mounds of snow traversed by the family wearing snowshoes, there are tunnels in the protected earth.  Meadow mice scurry on their highways in search of food.  At night when predators roam, they can hide in safety there.

Under the lake's ice, fish move slowly.  Turtles rest in its mud at the bottom.  Above the ground, covered tree branches provide another haven.  In their sheltering boughs, birds are protected from the wild winter winds.  

The members of this family understand that some animals sleep in winter, others hunt, and others run from hunters.  They know the animals by their tracks.  They know the animals by the sounds they make at night.  Each day as they play in the woods, they know they are not alone but are companions with its inhabitants.

When reading the expressive words penned by Aimee M. Bissonettewe find ourselves enjoying winter in the woods along with the family.  Realizing which animals are near is like discovering a secret held by the season.  A rhythm is fashioned from the repetition of the words we know.  Aimee M. Bissonette frequently uses alliteration in her phrases, elevating her cadence.  Here is another passage.

We know the frozen lake where we come to ice fish
hosts a slushy slumber party of
sleepily swimming rainbow trout.

What one word comes to mind when looking at the front, right, of the matching and open dust jacket and book case?  For me, that one word is contentment.  One of the best parts of being outdoors in winter is the hushed but hopeful quality of the atmosphere.  Here, in this first scene, we are a part of that ambience.  It is as if we can feel the curiosity of the wildlife and the anticipation of the family at the same time.  In this frozen moment, all is as it should be.  

To the left, on the back, an interior image from the book is used.  It shows the family's A-Frame home in a meadow surrounded by evergreens with mountains in the distance.  Bird feeders are full of our feathered friends.  A parent and child watch.

On the opening and closing endpapers a muted hue of deep blue is swirled with snow.  Among the swirls are forest animals.  Some are resting and others are in motion.  A smaller illustration on the title page features the family seated on a log at the lake, putting on their ice skates.  In the foreground a rabbit and a mouse linger.  

Each detailed, two-page illustration is a wondrous display of nature, its animal and human residents living together.  Illustrator Erin Hourigan creates panoramic views you want to enter.  When we are close to the people or animals, it is as if we are there with them in the moment.  The people are animated and joyful.  The animals are carefully represented realistically.  Sometimes cutaways supply us with perspectives of activities above and below the surface.  

One of my many favorite pictures is toward the end of the book.  In this spot, we move close to the beings represented.  On the left side of the illustration a white-tailed male deer, wearing a rack of antlers, stands still in front of snow-covered evergreens as if just stepping from the sanctuary of the woods.  In front of him the parents and children are moving toward a hill for sledding.  The mother and one child are pulling sleds.  The child is slightly turned back and sees the deer.  The father is carrying the younger child on his shoulders.  

In this book, When Winter Comes: Discovering Wildlife in Our Snowy Woods written by Aimee M. Bissonette with artwork by Erin Hourigan, we are reminded of the wondrous world we share with its other residents.  We truly are never alone.  Life is all around us.  This will be a wonderful addition to your personal and professional collections to use for discussions on the seasons, wildlife in winter, and the value of conservation.

By following the link attached to the name of Aimee M. Bissonette and Erin Hourigan, you can learn more about them and their other work at their websites.  Aimee M. Bissonette has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Erin Hourigan has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At Penguin Random House you can view interior images.

There are two important sections of our planet where cold and snow linger longer than any other place.  These locations are essential to maintaining a healthy balance for the continuation of Earth's survival.  They each have distinguishing characteristics with unique plants and animals.  ICE!: Poems About Polar Life (Holiday House, December 1, 2020) written and illustrated by Douglas Florian explores both the Arctic in the north and Antarctica in the south.  Witty wisdom and humor are prevalent in all the poems accompanied by whimsical, signature artwork.

Two polar regions on our Earth, 
and not a third or fourth.  . . .

This is the first sentence in the first of twenty-one poems about the polar regions, Antarctica and the Arctic.  The majority of the poems focus on the animals living in these areas.  Beneath the poems, paragraphs provide facts about each topic.

For these regions the sun, usually warming, is reflected from the snow and ice and maintains the chilly temperatures.  Regardless, ten species of whales are found in Antarctica.  You won't believe what variety of life lives hundreds of years there.  Emperor penguins are the largest penguins on our planet, with the males as protectors of the eggs until they hatch.

Up north in the Arctic climate change is affecting the ice, ice valuable to life there and, ultimately, to all of Earth.  On the Arctic tundra plant and animal life strives to thrive.  Polar bears wearing layers of fur wait for seals, blue whales consuming millions of krill daily are endangered, and Arctic foxes with thicker, bushier tails curl and take cover under those tails against the bitter cold and high winds.

Guess which animal has a special air sac to help them float or which animal can run up to forty miles per hour in spurts to avoid being eaten or which one has "flutings."  Having a hairy nose comes in handy when a moose roams in water.  Teaming up works well for gray wolves when they are hunting.  Caribou hollow hooves cleverly act as both snowshoes and shovels.

As we are entertained with the playful poems and artwork and are astonished by the characteristics of the selected animals, the book closes with a warning about climate change.  This is a difficulty needing a resolution.  We all must do our part.

Admittedly Douglas Florian is a master wordsmith. Each of these twenty-one poems demonstrates his love of language.  His word play is engaging and captivating.  He likens the polar regions to refrigerators.  He replaces words with partial words.  

It's not a place I'd like to live
but an ICE place to visit.

Repetition of a key word identifies the subject without ever mentioning the identifying word.  His rhyming, when used, is beautiful to behold.  Careful readers will spot the use of a homonym.  Within these poems, readers can also glean facts.  Here is a poem in its entirety. 

The largest animal ever on Earth.
Wide as an airplane in its girth.
And head to tail it's just as long.
But yet it stops to sing a song.
And though a blue whale cannot fly,
it loves to leap up toward the sky.
The bones in each flipper resemble a hand,
which means that its ancestors lived on land.
The whale's a tale of evolution---
without an airplane's air pollution.

Rendered with

colored pencils and oil pastels

the illustrations first seen on the open and matching dust jacket and book case by Douglas Florian radiate a childlike quality, but meticulous observers will see the deft placement of prominent characteristics and references to the poems.  The color palette on the front is indeed frosty.  To the left, on the back, an orange canvas (like the shade shown on the front) frames a square image.  Here we see a smaller version of an interior picture of a caribou.  Hats are hanging on its antlers.  And its hooves are wearing boots in reference to their width and capabilities.

A bright blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  A male emperor penguin shelters a newly hatched chick on the title page prior to the contents' text placed on vivid yellow.  Opposite each poem and factual paragraph is a single, full-page visual.

Highly animated, the pictures paint quirky portraits of the subjects.  The canvases on which the elements are placed mirror the frigid temperatures and biting winds.  A sneezing polar bear, an Arctic fox's barely visible face under its busy tail, an Arctic hare carrying an umbrella and seals wearing party hats and blowing on blowout whistles are only a few of the intriguing, humorous depictions.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the gray wolf.  It is one of the simpler images.  The sky is a darker blue.  A huge yellow moon nearly fills the entire sky.  It rests on a hill.  On top of the hill, facing left and in front of the moon, is a wolf, head raised to howl.  Facing right is the face of the moon.  The moon is howling too.

Your personal and professional collections need this book.  At the close of ICE!: Poems About Polar Life written and illustrated by Douglas Florian, we are treated to a page of information about Douglas Florian, and a bibliography divided into books and internet sources.  This thoroughly spellbinding title will be an excellent and happy introduction, and a promoter of research and discussions.

To learn more about the artwork of Douglas Florian, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Douglas Florian has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website there is a two-page educator's guide.  At Penguin Random House you can view portions of the interior including the contents.  I hope you enjoy this recent video with Douglas Florian speaking about poetry.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for including When Winter Comes in this blog piece. And you are so right about Erin's beautiful art! ICE sounds like a great book. Can't wait to read it. 😊