Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Comedy Times Two #2

Readers know you can't judge a book by its cover, but we also know a cover can be an incentive.  A cover can ask us to stop and look.  There, if we look closely enough, we see a bit of a story.  This bit of a story offers an overture to what might unfold in the body of the book. 

If there are characters portrayed on those jackets and cases, we can take clues from their facial expressions and body language.  We Love Fishing! (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, February 23, 2021) written by Ariel Bernstein with illustrations by Marc Rosenthal examines the concept of the word we.  In the events in this tale, there is a me who has a contrasting outlook.  Therein the comedy resides. 

Bear, Porcupine,
Otter, and Squirrel
love fishing.

When you keep reading each one, Bear, Otter, and Porcupine, issues individual statements in agreement, except for Squirrel.  Squirrel says---

They love fishing.

Bear, Porcupine, and Otter glorify the merits of fish consumption.  Squirrel can't stand the odor of fish.

Walking through the woods to get to the fishing spot is sheer delight for the exuberant trio.  Squirrel lacks even the slightest desire for exercise, finding fault with ever step taken.  As you can surmise, fishing from the boat is a pastime enjoyed by three and abhorred by a fourth.

When the rain begins, comments by Bear, Porcupine, and Otter are the height of optimism.  Squirrel laments the condition of his fur.  When it appears as though a fish is hooked, happiness is met with confusion.  Keeping the fish in the net, unfortunately is Squirrel's task.

A mishap is met with stunned silence . . .initially.  Will the bonds of friendship hold?  Only Fish knows.

The sentences written by author Ariel Bernstein and the rhythm they generate make this narrative a joy to read, silently or aloud.  First, we read a declarative statement, followed by three collaborative assertions and one dissenting remark.  What elevates the humor is Squirrel is apt to make several verbal observations, all in contrast to the majority opinion.  In the true style of a storyteller, Ariel Bernstein fashions a pause, a point of reflection, before the cadence resumes.  Here is a partial passage with a sentence by Otter and several, but not all, by Squirrel.

I don't know 
what I love more.
Walking or

Can we take a taxi?
I stepped on
a pebble.
Ack! I see a fly!

Look at the cheery faces on Otter, Bear, and Porcupine on the front of the dust jacket.  Then, when you focus on Squirrel, you get a hint as to the divergence in points of view and fun to come.  The color choices imply a happy-go-lucky day outside in a relaxed natural setting.  The wide spine with the row of fish also offers a clue as to the upcoming happening.  The wide blue border continues on the back.  There we see Squirrel repelled by the slippery Fish, barely in the net.  Squirrel, the net, Fish and a small portion of the boat are set on the cream background.  The title text is raised and varnished.  The fish on the spine border are varnished.

On the book case, on a canvas of the same bright blue as the spine border, the image from the back of the jacket is placed in a smaller circle.  On the front is the same illustration as on the front of the jacket, smaller, and framed by an oval blue-green line.  Bordering that line is an wider oval of cream, framed in a green line.  Within this is the Fish pattern.  This is placed on the bright blue background.

On the matching opening and closing endpapers, we are greeted with an underwater scene. Waves in varied shades of turquoise are a superb canvases for fishes and Fish.  They are swimming in two different directions.  Bubbles form in two vertical rows, top to bottom, one on the left side and one on the right side.  Fish is approaching the hook on a line.  On the title page the foursome is gathered, three gleeful about fishing and Squirrel totally grumpy.

These images by Marc Rosenthal 

were rendered in Prismacolor pencil and digital color.

White, cream, is a strong element in all the pictures.  Texture, shading and light figure prominently.  The illustrations shift in size to accentuate the pacing.  Readers will enjoy all the added details; the lures in Bear's collection, Otter's love of supreme ice cream sundaes, Porcupine's intensity, tongue out, as he fishes, and Squirrel's passion for acorns.  

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It features a close-up of the red and yellow boat ono the lake.  Bear, eyes closed, is stretched out on his back in the bow of the boat.  A pole behind him has a line in the water.  Over him Porcupine holds a reel and pole with another line in the water.  At the end of Bear's feet, Otter, wearing his fisherman's cap, holds the net.  On the back seat Squirrel sits, hands on either side of his face.  Just off the right side of the stern, Fish is poking its head above the water.  This picture complements the text splendidly.

Throughout all our lives, our friendships will always be tested.  In this book, We Love Fishing! written by Ariel Bernstein with illustrations by Marc Rosenthal, the art of compromise, amid grumbling, is displayed wonderfully, full of laughter and yes, love.  You will enjoy having this title as a part of your personal and professional collections.  It's sure to promote discussions after the giggling dies away.

To discover more about Ariel Bernstein and Marc Rosenthal and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Ariel Bernstein has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Marc Rosenthal has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.

Sometimes as soon as you read a title aloud, bursts of laughter can be heard throughout the gathered listeners during a story time.  Certain words are overloaded with hilarity.  That hilarity, though, can vanish in a second if the word is used to diminish an individual's character or worth.

Don't Call Me Fuzzybutt! (Sleeping Bear Press, March 15, 2021) written by Robin Newman with illustrations by Susan Batori shows us how anger can escalate.  In that anger, civility is set aside.  Taking the high road seems out of reach.  The Golden Rule is forgotten.

Bear needed a lot of sleep.  Two hundred and
forty-three and a half days, to be precise.
Anything less and he turned grizzly.

In addition to needing the specified number of days for sleep, Bear could hear the softest noise.  He could hear the sound of one raindrop.  It woke him up.

He fashioned attire to block out noise.  Through signs, he notified his neighbors of his need for silent sleep.  And he cut down trees to make a soundproof door.  On his first hibernation day, he went blissfully to sleep until . . . 



woke him up.

What Bear did not know was the trees he cut down were architectural wonders created by Woodpecker.  Woodpecker was dismayed to find all his homes were gone.  Rabbit, Mouse, and Squirrel had no clue as to the disappearance of said structures.

Woodpecker hung up flyers offering a reward.  He finally noted sections of his houses strewn in a path to Bear's new den door.  Using his signature work ethic, Woodpecker was taking back what was his.

With every peck, Bear's frustration grew.  He roared.  Outside his den, he asked a question horrifying Rabbit, Mouse, and Squirrel at the use of one word.  Woodpecker heard it and confronted Bear.  Bear stomped back inside and fell asleep.

Considering his ability to hear even the softest sound, Woodpecker unintentionally woke Bear again, this time with a different noise.  In a much longer encounter, tempers of both parties flared into a nasty blaze of name-calling.  Two wounded individuals called a truce and constructed a plan.  After two hundred and forty-three and a half days, spring was not the only renewal enjoyed by forest friends.

With her first three sentences, author Robin Newman opens the door for a problem to enter.  The slight tension increases when we learn of Bear's hearing abilities.  With the presentation of Woodpecker's dilemma, we understand a clash is coming.

Robin Newman uses the storytelling rule of three with skill.  The repetition of key phrases and application of alliteration provide a cadence welcoming reader participation.  The combination of descriptive dialogue and equally illuminating narrative achieve a flawless flow.  Here are two passages.

Before Bear could say "salmon and honey on toasted pumpernickel bread," he was asleep.

But lately his houses were disappearing.


Woodpecker went looking.

On the double-page image spread from the left to the right, back to front, on the matching dust jacket and book case, readers are given a view of Bear's den with the door built from Woodpecker's houses, the autumn forest with its golden glow, and the cast of characters.  Clearly Woodpecker and Bear are disgruntled.  Rabbit, Mouse, and Squirrel are skittish about what has happened and about what might happen next.  Illustrator Susan Batori first exhibits her inclusion of tiny details in the flight of the honeybee above the final title word and in the items on and near Bear's den.

The opening and closing endpapers are a crisp white.  Bear and Woodpecker, with angry glances and arms-crossed stances, are on the title page.  The other three creatures are looking at them, afraid.

To enhance and complement the pacing of the story Susan Batori employs a blend of full-page pictures crossing the gutter, smaller insets grouped together, full-page pictures, edge to edge, and dramatic double-page pictures.  Emotions are heightened with alternating perspectives.  We are brought close to characters or given a larger view of their forest setting, even from a bird's eye view.  

What is notable about these images are the facial features on the characters, specifically the eyes.  The wide-eyed looks convey a range of emotions.  Underlying the seriousness of what unfolds, there is a current of humor in the pictures and individual items.  Bear's nightshirt includes a pattern of honeybees.  On the flyer Woodpecker posts it reads:

(pictures of houses)

One of my many favorite pictures is a single-page picture toward the end of the story.  It's a close-up of Bear all snuggled in bed, dreaming of a honeybee and its honeycomb.  He is wearing his knitted cap and earmuffs.  His teddy bear is under the covers with him as he sleeps.  Off to the left side is Woodpecker, wing to his beak, making the SHHH gesture.

Relevant and timely, Don't Call Me Fuzzybutt! written by Robin Newman with illustrations by Susan Batori will engage readers from beginning to end with the clever, rhythmic language and lively pictures.  This book is guaranteed to inspire discussions and group projects.  I hope you will all add a copy to your personal and professional collections.  

By following the link attached to Robin Newman's and Susan Batori's names, you can access their websites learning more about them and their other work.  Robin Newman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Susan Batori has accounts on Behance, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  The cover reveal with an essay by Robin Newman is hosted at Nerdy Book Club.  At Books of Wonder on March 13, 2021, there is a virtual launch.  You can view some portions of interior illustrations in Susan Batori's Instagram feed.  Here is the link to a post on Robin Newman's Facebook page for a follow-up activity. 

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