Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Contrary Companions

For readers of this blog, to you it comes as no surprise I am an over-the-top lover of dogs.  My life feels less than whole unless I am sharing it with a dog.  What you may not know is one of my all-time favorite dog books is Homer by Elisha Cooper.  I wrote about it here.  Even reading it today, my eyes filled with tears.  Dogs give love freely.  Dogs understand the meaning of family.  Dogs recognize and experience complete contentment.

In his latest book, Elisha Cooper again turns to canine and feline characters. (Two cats are featured in his 2018 Caldecott Honor winning title, BIG CAT, little cat.)  In YES & NO (Roaring Brook Press, April 13, 2021), Elisha Cooper presents the essence of dogs and cats and their attitudes to daily life.  Their responses to an unseen narrator are both profound and delightful.  Let's meet this puppy and its cat (or as the cat would say, let's meet the cat and its puppy).

Good morning, good morning!
It's time to wake up.

The puppy responds to the voice and the next question with a resounding yes.  The cat replies with a distinct no.  The next two questions asked receive wholehearted positives from the dog and barely audible negatives from the cat.  So begins a day of contrasts.

When it comes to mealtime, the puppy is ecstatic, but readers understand why the cat says it has previously eaten.  When requested to play nicely together, the puppy is thrilled.  The cat can't get away fast enough.  They are finally told to romp around outside. 

For the puppy this is the next best thing to paradise.  For the cat, it is tolerated.  Apparently, the activities in which they are engaged are not quite appropriate.  They are implored to find others.  This time both of them do, but what has the cat's attention?  Hole digging is unacceptable!  They must go now and take care of each other.  Soon they've, after wandering and wondering, left the yard for a grassy hilltop.

Here in silence and still as stone, they sit.  Side by side they look at the world spread before them.  Too soon, they are called home.  Now, the puppy answers no to all the questions.  The cat does not speak.

The puppy, like many of us, is reluctant to end a beautiful day.  It is the cat that eases the youngster into rest.  With the final query, the puppy finally says yes, but the cat . . . 

For those sharing their lives with cats or dogs or both, they know it is perfectly natural to speak in conversation with them as if they speak human language themselves.  This technique by Elisha Cooper to introduce the unseen narrator is ingenious and simply perfect.  The replies of the puppy and cat written by Elisha Cooper are typical to the extent you'll find yourself laughing out loud.  They ring with veracity, leaving room for his illustrations to extend their meaning.  Here is a passage.

Can we all clean up a little?



In looking at the open dust jacket, the puppy's and the cat's personalities are apparent.  The one looks ready to play and cuddle and the other has their back to you.  Here they are quintessential yes and no.  The puppy's body is completed on the spine and slightly to the left of the spine.  Rolling on the background on the back are three pieces of fruit, knocked from the kitchen table in one of the morning scenes.

The open book case presents a night setting.  We are looking directly down on the home, yard, and hill.  It's like an architectural landscape drawing in shades of gray and silver.  The area is framed in a heavy black line and wider shadow.  The cat sits on the hill facing the home.  There is an exquisite sense of calm in this picture.

On the opening and closing endpapers is the same scene.  From the bottom up we see a silhouette of the land, trees, home, and hill.  In the first one, the cat sits on the hill as the sun rises.  It is in hues of orange.  In the second one, the colors are tones of deep blue with a full moon over the chimney of the house.  The cat watches, looking at its home.

Elisha Cooper created these illustrations

with ink and watercolor.

He begins the pictorial story on the verso and title pages with a double-page picture.  The cat is climbing from the outside through an open window.  The cat is moving toward the puppy curled on a rusty-red blanket on the floor.  The title text is placed on the closed curtain of a window.

The illustrations place an emphasis on the pacing altering in size from full-page pictures to a collection of smaller images to indicate motion, and to dramatic two-page visuals.  Your eyes flow wonderfully from page turn to page turn, illustration to illustration.  There is never a doubt as to the mood or emotions of the puppy or cat.  Elisha Cooper depicts them masterfully. The disparity between the puppy's exuberance and the cat's indifference are priceless.  

When they initially go outside, every possible position of the dog is indicated in eight small pictures.  The cat calmly walks along the top of a fence.  When the unseen narrator finally sends them out of the yard, Elisha Cooper gives readers not one, not two, not three, but four marvelous two-page, wordless illustrations. 

One of these is one of my many, many favorite pictures in this title.  We move in closer to the puppy and cat as they reach the crest of the hill.  To the left and behind the puppy are patchwork pastures and farm buildings.  To the right of the cat are rolling, sharply peaked hills.  On the left, the puppy stretches in a familiar position of smelling the air with its nose lifted to get the best possible smell.  On the right, the cat sits, back to us with its tail tip peeking through the grass.  It is staring in the distance.  This is the ideal setting to prepare readers for the next picture which is breathtaking and tender.

There is something extraordinary about YES & NO written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper.  With each page turn this knowledge grows in you.  This is not only a book about contrary companions.  This is a book about looking at life differently and finding harmony.  This harmony is reached when common values are found and shared.  I highly recommend you place a copy or two on your professional shelves and have a copy in your personal collection.

To learn more about Elisha Cooper and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At his website you can view one of my favorite illustrations.  Elisha Cooper has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.  I know you will enjoy reading Elisha Cooper's guest post at the Nerdy Book Club titled How To Write A Great Children's Book.  And you must read this conversation between Elisha Cooper and Betsy Bird at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production.  (It's good to know I am not the only one who gets teary looking at some of the pictures.)

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