Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Strength As One

More than one year ago, the world was overrun with a deadly virus.  This invasion was and is unprecedented in most living people's lifetimes.  It is still happening and evolving.  It has forced entire countries to shut down and close their borders.  Regions, states, and communities required and still require people to stay in their homes unless it is essential for them to leave for work or to obtain items for their well-being.  When people depart from their residences, they are either mandated or asked to wear face masks, stay no closer than six feet from others, and to wash their hands frequently.  Life on our planet has drastically changed and is continuing to change.

Adults and children find themselves in situations; they never could have imagined.  Priorities have shifted.  What is valued most, those people, places, and things we hold in our hearts, are in sharper focus.  Outside, Inside (Roaring Brook Press, January 5, 2021) written and illustrated by LeUyen Pham using spare, eloquent text with realistic, poignant images portrays the very difficult adjustments and surprising accomplishments and results.

Something strange
happened on an
unremarkable day
just before the season

One day, as usual, everybody was out and about doing what they always did.  Then, as if a switch clicked, they were inside.  This happened all around the world.

Everyone inside wondered and paused and paused and wondered.  Some, though, were not always inside.  These people kept the outside world running for those now inside.  Medical personnel worked to exhaustion. Their duties multiplied.

Outside nature continued through the seasons, much quieter with the absence of most adults and children.  Inside families expanded their activities, baking, cooking, reading, playing games, inventing, and watching television.  A little bit at a time outside and inside were becoming different, adapting to the new normal.

Time did not stop outside or inside; growth did not stop.  Why did we all go inside?  The narrator's explanation leads us to a new manner of musing about the words outside and inside.  They become about us, all of us.  Remember, seasons offer hope for change.

With each reading the words written by LeUyen Pham speak to readers with increased relevancy.  Using the two title words, outside and inside, LeUyen Pham compares what happened to two parallel worlds as we existed in various forms of quarantine.  With impeccable pacing, specific observations are represented.  As the pages are turned, we move through subtle transformations as we remain under the cloud of the pandemic.  These transformations reveal in a conclusion the resilience of people who work together for the common good.  Here are several sentences from the outside and inside pages.

there were fences
both real
and pretend.

Swings sat still,
and slides
were lonely.

we waited
and we worried,
we laughed
and we cried,
and we tried to breathe.

The little girl and her cat featured on the front, right, of the open dust jacket are a constant, flowing in and out throughout the pictorial. (Readers will be looking for both on every page.) They anchor the narrative.  The girl, the cat, the title text, and the author illustrator's name are varnished on the front of the jacket.  To the left of the spine, on the back, the room transitions into the family's kitchen.

A herringbone, two-tone green wallpaper provides a place for family photographs, a calendar, notes, the girl's artwork, and hooks holding face masks.  On the counter is a flowerpot full of crayons and a bowl of rising bread covered with a red-and-white-checkered cloth.  On the table a freshly baked loaf of bread cools on a rack.  Next to it is an open laptop and schoolwork.

On the book case we are outside the child's home in her neighborhood.  Only she, her father, masked and holding her jacket, and the cat are visible.  The girl and her cat are looking at each other eye to eye on a small hill. On the sidewalk, in chalk, someone has drawn a rainbow between two billowing clouds.  Above it is a cluster of hearts.  Below it are the words:


On the opening and closing endpapers on first a pale green canvas, we see the girl embracing her cat inside her house colored in white.  Secondly, on a white canvas, the girl, smiling with outstretched arms, is running from her home now in pale green.  Ahead of her the cat prances.  On the title page, a double-page picture brings us close to the girl and her cat cuddling in front of double windows inside their home.  

These illustrations by LeUyen Pham rendered digitally in full color span two pages or are grouped together in geometric shapes on two pages like collages.  Their grouping is intentional contributing to the atmospheric impact of the text.  A broad spectrum of facial expressions mirrors a range of moods and emotions during this pandemic.  Readers will see themselves and those they know in these images.  Particularly poignant is the double-page group of twelve smaller pictures inside hospitals and medical facilities.  Readers will smile at the four-page gatefold portraying hope near the end of the book.

One of my many favorite pictures is a double-page illustration.  Without giving too much away, it is a mirror image of the previous page except it is early evening.  The buildings are all uniformly dark against a purple sky.  All the window openings are golden with light.  The people, now like dark silhouettes, are all doing the same thing.  They all have a single element on their bodies.  Clusters of this element rise upward in great joy.

This book, Outside, Inside written and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, is a marvelous title to share often and widely with children (and adults).  It expertly captures in words and pictures what this confinement has meant and continues to mean to many.  The two-page author's note and dedication at the close of the book must be read.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about LeUyen Pham and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  LeUyen Pham has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Here is a link to an activity kit.  You will enjoy School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production, Outside, Inside: The LeUyen Pham Interview and Trailer Reveal hosted by Elizabeth Bird, the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system.  Author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson showcases LeUyen Pham and this title on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  At Publishers Weekly you can read LeUyen Pham Celebrates Kindness in Covid-19 Picture Book.

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