Quote of the Month

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

Friday, May 14, 2021


On any given day, moment to moment, change is happening all around us.  Some of the transformations are so subtle, it is the following day before we recognize them.  Other shifts announce themselves in glorious splendor.  Mindful observers realize variations, regardless of their size, are extraordinary.

When we are grounded in extraordinary, our sensory awareness expands.  Is Was (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, May 4, 2021) written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman explores change in its many forms.  Through her spare text and distinctive paintings, she introduces possibilities for rethinking how we perceive change. 

This sky is
the same sky that
was blue,

                       but now is 

Clouds have moved into the blue sky.  Soon it is raining hard enough to satisfy a thirsty earth and its inhabitants.  When it stops, the rain goes from is to was, becoming perfect pools.

A fox approaches as an energetic chipmunk, a yellow songbird, and a buzzing bee drink and fashion a melody.   Quickly, everyone but the fox scatters.  The pools of water are no longer for savoring or singing.  Their previous purpose is abandoned.

As the story wraps around readers, there is a constant fluctuation as we follow each of the inhabitants moving in their world.  There are new sounds.  Light goes from bright to shadowed.  Safety is replaced with danger.  The world stills.  

In that stillness, other things are apt to become abundantly clear.  Reach out with all your senses and your marvelous mind.  You will discover the undeniable beauty of our living planet.    

Through impeccable pacing and word selection, author Deborah Freedman tells a story that speaks to every living individual's heart.  She has taken the essence of life and placed it within the pages of this book.  Two words, is and was, supply unbreakable connections bringing everything full circle.  Here is another sentence.

Where singing was,

a buzz is 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .i z z z z z z z z z z z

You cannot simply give the open dust jacket one look.  You need to pause and study every element, flap edge to flap edge.  It pulses with quiet energy.  From the left edge at the bottom the fox moves through the grass, past a group of stones.  Overhead a raptor glides and gazes, looking for an opportunity.  Near the stones on the branches of a shrub, a spider spins a web.  To the left and under the web, the bee flies toward the fox.  As rays of light and hues of blue transition near the spine, the outline of a child appears.  Do you see?  Watch as this child swings back and forth in the changing colors.  The yellow songbird is near the leafy branches at the top and the chipmunk rests at the base of the trunk.  The golden grasses extend to the right flap edge.

For the book case, left edge to right edge, the scene is the same except it is now night.  Stars pepper the darker sky.  The chipmunk is now on the left, on top of one of the stones.  On the right side, right of the tree, a bat soars.

A pale mint green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the initial title page, the yellow songbird flies past the text to the right.  A single cloud frames the other side of the text.  On the formal title page an increasingly cloudy sky makes a canvas.  IS is on the left.  WAS is on the right.  You understand a transition is happening. 

Each double-page image was

rendered in watercolor and pencil

by artist Deborah Freedman.  Each one is more breathtaking than the previous one.  The placement of words and letters in the illustrations is masterful.  Sometimes we are close enough to the lovely beings to be as one with them.  We understand their instincts and responses.  In other settings, Deborah Freedman has us stand back, more as watchers, so we get an enlarged outlook.  There are two wordless visuals.  You have to remind yourself to breathe.  When humans are presented near the end, the magic increases.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for two words.

Quiet is.

We move closer to the stones on the left with the single stone in front of the spider web.  The spider rests on that stone.  The yellow songbird flies between the stones.  The chipmunk is peeking from its hiding space.  There is grass along the entire bottom.  The right side is filled with the blossoming lower branches of the tree.  Only the sharpest of eyes will see what is hidden among those blossoms.

Brilliant in concept and excellent in its achievement, this book Is Was written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman is one to be read often and shared widely.  You will want to gift this repeatedly.  You will want to have a copy on your professional and personal bookshelves.  And you cannot read the dedication at the end without being deeply moved.  (Okay, I got teary.) Thank you, Deborah Freedman for this book.

To learn more about Deborah Freedman and her other wondrous books, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Deborah Freedman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view the entire dust jacket, book case and some interior images.

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