Quote of the Month

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

Friday, March 19, 2021

The More The Merrier

If you ask a child if they've ever dreamed of having their own home without adults, most will reply with an enthusiastic yes.  Some want siblings to share in the adventure.  Others wish to have close friends join in this exciting endeavor.  For many this vision is one held in their hearts and minds for years.  It is a home they carry with them.

For all those children who hold this dream close, a new collaboration by award-winning creators breathe life into that dream.  The Ramble Shamble Children (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, March 9, 2021) written by Christina Soontornvat with illustrations by Lauren Castillo follows a family of five who happily live without adults.  The siblings work together in all things, even when a shared idea reveals an essential wisdom.

Down the mountain, across the creek,
past the last curve in the road,
five children lived together
in a ramble shamble house.

Each day the children were busy with their designated tasks.  There was a garden to tend.  There were crows to chase away.  There were chickens to feed.  There was mud to savor.

When it was time to eat, each child helped prepare the meal.  There was one exception.  There was still mud to savor. 

These children were always working but working together lightened the load.  At day's end, they snuggled together in the oldest girl's bed to listen to her fantastic tales.  One day, their idyllic lives shifted when they read a book.

Their ramble shamble house needed to change to be a proper house.  The four older children worked all the next day to make their house and yard proper.  When they were done, it did look different, but no one was adjusting to the changes.  And where was mud-loving Jory?!  The children living in the ramble shamble house discovered one of the most valuable secrets of a proper life.  

With each reading, the words in this story penned by Christina Soontornvat cuddle deeper into your reader's heart.  She describes an inviting setting with each individual having a purpose.  She uses the words always and proper to great effect, as familiar and comforting storytelling beats.  In a magical manner, layer by layer with a pleasing blend of dialogue and narrative, Christina Soontornvat casts a spell and teaches readers one of the oldest truths.  Here is a passage.

"Hold on," said Finn.  "Has anyone see Jory?"
"Isn't he in the mud puddle?" said Locky.
"Oh no!  We propered it up!"


Look at the children on the front, right, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  Each one of them are merrily engaged in exactly what they enjoy, hiking, juggling, reading or playing in the mud.  The pastoral, sunny setting amid mountains and surrounded by a forest provides warmth and security.  The title text, varnished on the jacket, fits in the scene perfectly as crows fly from the letters.  

To the left, on the back, a dark teal supplies a canvas.  There we see the twins holding gathered carrots and running.  Near them, a hen perches in a basket with three eggs on the ground.

A soft midnight blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  There, a flock of crows dips and flies in a line.  They are the same hue as that of the title text.  On the title page our focus is on the house, nestled among evergreens in a clearing.

These images by Lauren Castillo rendered

by combining ink drawings and Gelli monoprints in Adobe Photoshop

span two pages, edge to edge, single pages, edge to edge, lovely illustrations set and loosely framed on a single page and two smaller pictures on one page.  These pictures show the five children moving and working in unity.  They hike across the verso and dedication pages.  They garden, chase, feed, and play in the same area.  We view these visuals as more panoramic or close to the children, depending on a desired effect to enhance the story.  We are drawn into each moment by the facial expressions on the children's faces.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations brings us closer to the five siblings.  It spans two pages.  We are close to the front porch of the ramble shamble house.  Finn stands on the second step up on the porch.  He is juggling three eggs as the hen in the basket watches.  On the sidewalk leading to the porch steps, Merra works on the salad with lettuce and tomatoes next to her, on paper and in a bowl.  The twins, Locky and Roozle, run, on the right side, carrying carrots freshly picked from the garden.  Jory, behind them, sits in the mud, totally content.

You will get requests to read this book, The Ramble Shamble Children written by Christina Soontornvat with artwork by Lauren Castillo, over and over again.  It makes a dream seem possible.  It exudes warmth like a beloved blanket.  You'll want to have a copy on your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Christina Soontornvat and Lauren Castillo and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  At Lauren's site she has additional fun resources and images for this title.  Christina Soontornvat has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.  Lauren Castillo has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view the title page.  There is a cover reveal and interview with both Christina and Lauren at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read.

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