Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Better Together #1

At an early age humans learn, a helping hand benefits everyone, both the recipient and the giver.  We are never sure where the initial connection will lead. If a leap of faith is taken by extending assistance to another human, plant, animal, or planet, a lasting relationship is often built.  In nature within and without species, this is an observed behavior, contributing to survival.  It supplies all living individuals with the best existence possible. 

For those whose lives have been limited by the pandemic, people delivering mail and packages have been a constant tie to the larger world no longer available.  There have been frequent conversations through windows.  The Lost Package (Roaring Brook Press, March 2, 2021) written by Richard Ho with illustrations by Jessica Lanan allows readers to see how much is gained through discovery and decision.

Like other packages, this one began as an empty box.

The art of packing this particular package was done as a labor of love.  The sender knew the receiver would appreciate and recognize extra details.  This package arrived and left the post office in a series of designated steps.

It was sorted in a labyrinth of moving paths, but on its way to an airport it unintentionally left the truck carrying it.  This box was not bound to a special address any longer.  It was off course from its intended destination.

No one who passed the package gave it any attention.  Now muddy and torn, it was finally noticed.  The extra details, so lovingly added, sent a clear message.

The spotters made a decision.  In the true spirit of the United States Postal Service, they acted. Like many before them, their choice and deeds enriched more than one.

As soon as you read the first two sentences, you are intrigued.  What was in the package? Where was it going?  Who will receive the package?  Who sent the package?  Richard Ho has taken the less is more approach to this story, mastering it beautifully.  His simple, profound prose allows our imaginations to take their own journey as the package follows its own alternate route.  Never mentioning people, but focusing on the package, also leaves room for illustrative interpretation.  Another wonderful technique Richard Ho uses is the repetition of three important words.  When he changes them toward the ending, the impact is greater.  Here is a passage.

Like other packages, it was taken to a building with
wondrous machines.

Machines that zip mail through a maze of moving belts.

Soft, layered elements on the front, right, of the open dust jacket in a full-color palette introduce readers to three important, but never named, characters in this tale of a package gone awry.  On closer inspection you can see how illustrator Jessica Lanan weaves hints of the package's origin and destination in the special details on the brown-paper wrapping. Did you notice how she places the cancelled postal waves through three letters in the title text?  

To the left of the spine, on the back, golden and peach washes supply the canvas.  A loosely framed circular image is placed here.  Within this image our attention is drawn to the USPS truck moving down a city street.  Buildings and other vehicles are a part of the background.

On the book case is the brown-paper wrapping for the package. It is smudged and torn.  Postal insignias and labels are on the back portion on the left.  On the right is a series of stamps, a return address, and a to-be-delivered-to address.  A deep midnight blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.

On the title page, the text is the same as on the front of the dust jacket.  The scene is different.  It is an overview of a large metropolitan city on the east coast of the United States.  A tall identifying landmark reveals the place.

These illustrations rendered

with watercolors

shift in size from page turn to page turn, generating a story within a story.  Readers will pause to make sure to not miss any of the included items; a photograph of both the children in their respective rooms and posters on each other's walls of the place in which their friend resides.  How many will want a bunny lamp like the one in the girl's bedroom?  How many will identify with the boy's passion for fish and sea creatures?

The scenes inside the post office and postal sorting facility are informative and engaging.  Several wordless images speak volumes.  The two-page pictures are lovely as are the cross-country scenes.  

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page picture.  It's one of those times in a story where you hold your breath, waiting to see what happens.  A boy, his mother, and their dog are walking down a wet sidewalk in the rain in the city.  The battered box rests against two large objects in the gutter.  The dog is pulling on its leash toward the box.  A pale sky highlights the buildings, streetlamps, a stoplight, and a bus stop sign. Close to us is the sidewalk shiny in the rainstorm.  It draws us toward the three characters. 

In reading The Lost Package written by Richard Ho with illustrations by Jessica Lanan, we come to understand with greater insight the value of a single act.  It magnifies the notion of what-if.  Both the author and illustrator have notes for readers on the final page.  What a truly genuine and touching story this is!  I highly recommend it for your personal and professional bookshelves.

To discover more about both Richard Ho and Jessica Lanan and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Richard Ho has accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  Jessica Lanan has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. At Macmillan you can view interior illustrations.  You might be able to watch an archive of the launch here hosted by Books of Wonder.

For those who have spent many an hour on water in a boat, what we see around us is only a small portion of the wonders being in a boat affords us.  There is much to be seen underwater which in turn affects what we see above it.  The brother collaborators who gave us The Old Truck (Norton Young Readers, an imprint of W. W. Norton and Company, January 7, 2020) have a new release.  The Old Boat (Norton Young Readers, an imprint of W. W. Norton and Company, March 2, 2021) written and illustrated by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey is an ode to our environment, family, and shared experiences using a boat as a focal point.

Off a small island, an old boat rode the tide.

Over time, the old boat moved from the island into deeper and deeper waters.  It supplied the woman and boy what they needed.  It gave them a place to dream dreams.  In that old boat, they saw breathtaking wonders given to them from the water beneath the waves.

Still more time passed.  Now the boy, a man, traveled farther from the small island.  The island was no longer in sight.

The old boat was weary, worn, chilly and most decidedly lost in a raging storm.  All that remained was the turbulent waves and angry sky.  Fortunately, after the storm passed, the man washed ashore on a sandy beach on another small island.

There, the man saw what needed to be done.  He started, little by little, to change the landscape of the beach, moving into deeper and deeper waters.  He inspired others.  The man and the old boat were settled and satisfied, content in their new places.

Readers willingly place themselves in the old boat near the small island.  Through the words of Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey, we ride with the boy and woman during their shared experiences.  Jarrett Pumphrey's and Jerome Pumphrey's use of alliteration in one special sentence is enchanting.  It's like riding the swells of water formed by wind.

This creative duo brings the story full circle through generations by using repeating words and phrases.  We accept the changes as inevitable, but those things which cement connections to each other and to our planet remain the same, but stronger.  We know something in the story is about to shift when we read this sentence.

But the old boat rode farther (page turn)

and farther.  

Opening the dust jacket for this book gives you a glimpse of the lovely hues used in the illustrations.  The signature artwork of the brothers' is as exquisite here as in their first title.  The image on the right, front, is reversed on the left, back, with a continuous flow over the spine.  On the back there are now two clouds in the sky.  The boy's back is to us.  The fish move away and from under the boat traveling to the left edge and corner.  

On the book case is a textured cream color.  A wide border of green, the same shade as on the boat and title text, covers and spreads from the spine.  On the front of the case, near the top, the old boat is embossed on the cream.  It's a tactile, defining moment when readers run their fingers over the old boat.  

On the opening and closing endpapers is a slightly lighter golden color than as shown on the jacket.  When you turn the page after the endpapers at the front and before those at the back, there is a mirror image with some differences in the land and water. On the first, the island shows only flora.  There appear to be fewer fish and underwater flora.  On the second, the island has colorful homes and less flora.  The water is more populated with sea creatures.  This is a visual explanation of the beginning and end of the old boat's story.

Prior to the title page is a fabulous two-page picture.  It introduces us to the woman, the little boy, their small island, the watery wonders near the shore, and the old boat.  On the title page is only the old boat.  With the page turns, we see how the ages of the woman and the boy progress.  They both get older.  Under them in the water, the sea changes too.  Pollution invades closer to shore, spreading out farther and farther as the two age.

The farther they go out into the sea, the more the residents there present themselves to them, until a stunning moment when the woman is very old, and the boy is a young man.  From then on, for several page turns Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey present the man, alone and now older, in the old boat, too far from home to get what he needs.  This is the pictorial introduction to a huge change.  In one of the more dramatic two-page pictures (They are all two-page images.), there are no words, no boat and no man.

Readers will be entranced by the blend of words and illustrations.  Each page turn invites examination.  Subtle and not so subtle differences are noted in every element.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the boy, a teenager, and the woman, white-haired, are resting in the boat after a successful day of fishing.  He is leaning against the bow and she against the stern.  It is night.  The island is in the distance black and dotted with white houses.  Stars twinkle in the black sky as one streaks from left to right, across the gutter and over their boat on the right.  Beneath several shades of tan water, white jellyfish gather.  The two words on this page are:

and wishes.

There is total contentment and calm in this scene.

If you ever imagine how one person can make a difference, look to The Old Boat written and illustrated by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey.  Here we see how a woman influenced a boy, and how that boy as a man influenced an entire island.  It's about making this world better for those who dwell here now and in the future.  We can do this . . . together.  You will certainly want a copy of this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey and their work, access their website by following the link attached to their names.  There are three double-page illustrations for this book at their website, including the favorite I above noted.  Jarrett Pumphrey has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Jerome Pumphrey has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  The brothers were featured guests on February 4, 2021 at The Brown Bookshelf.  Author illustrator Don Tate is the author of that post.

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