Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Melodies With Meaning

When we reach out to the world, human and natural, music is everywhere.  Some of the tunes are without words, but still speak volumes to us.  For those seeking to communicate with language, it might not be one we comprehend.  We know understanding what is said can have a greater impact on some individuals more than on other people. 

In this newest offering, author Jamie A. Swenson and artist Scott Magoon in collaboration present an interesting dilemma.  Chirp! Chipmunk Sings For A Friend (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, July 13, 2021) follows this creature yearning for someone to sing with her.  This is a story of her search and the outstanding outcome.

Chipmunk lived on a rock.

From the first light of day until the stars scattered across the darkened sky, Chipmunk chirped.  Her songs mirrored a range of emotions.  Rock could listen, but Rock could not sing.  Chipmunk decided to find someone to accompany her.

Pinecone agreed to meet Rock.  Pinecone was a perfect match for Rock, but not for Chipmunk.  She left again.  

Log was willing to meet Rock and Pinecone, but Chipmunk could not move Log.  She started to sing out her feelings.  Raccoon heard Chipmunk and asked her to keep singing.  Together they attempted to move Log.  Nothing worked. 

The duo sang out their feelings and were heard.  Moose came to listen.  After they were done, Moose agreed to help them move Log.  It did not go as expected.  No, it did not.  There are listeners and there are singers.  Sometimes, they find each other.

In this gentle, musical tale penned by Jamie A. Swenson, readers encounter a willingness to step into Chipmunk's journey.  Jamie A. Swenson uses the technique of three to great advantage creating a pattern and rhythm, inviting reader participation.  It is used in reference to songs, listening friends, moving, and singing friends.  Her combination of narrative and dialogue elevates the pacing.  Here is a passage.

"That is a sad song," said Raccoon.
"It is the song of my heart," said Chipmunk.
"It is beautiful," said Raccoon.  "Keep singing."

Chipmunk smiled and sang a bit more.
Raccoon swayed and tapped her paw.

One of the first things you realize upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case is the flow of the images rendered by Scott Magoon.  The illustration on the front, right, moves over the spine on the left and over the crease of the flap on the front.  The picture on the back continues to the edge of the back flap.  Chipmunk on the front is hopeful, ready to find a companion to share in her singing.  Her gaze asks us to join her.  The main title is in green foil.  Chipmunk is varnished.

To the left, on the back, Chipmunk is upright on her back legs.  She is swaying to her song.  It moves in double loops above her.  Do you hear this song of longing?

A bright spring green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, Chipmunk is peeking from behind Rock.  What will she find?  These digital images by Scott Magoon are atmospheric.

They bring us close to Chipmunk and the other characters, but also give us expansive views of Chipmunk's world.  The facial traits on the characters are animated and textured.  Even Rock, Pinecone, and Log urge us to touch them.  The matte-finished paper adds to the softness of the narrative and the visuals.  Many of the pictures are placed on a crisp white background.  Most of them are single-page images except for several double-page illustrations to accentuate significant moments.  And sometimes the single page visuals cross the gutter just a bit.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page picture.  Chipmunk is speaking to Pinecone.  Pinecone agrees to meet Rock.  It is a close-up of the twosome.  Chipmunk is so hopeful with one paw holding Pinecone and the other raised for emphasis.  Pinecone is tilted with needles attached to the tiny tip.

Readers will identify with the characters in this charming story, Chirp! Chipmunk Sings For A Friend written by Jamie A. Swenson with art by Scott Magoon, of hope and joy fulfilled.  Who among us, at one time or another, have not wished for someone to share what makes us the happiest?  This is a book to keep close as the conclusion is worth singing about loud and clear.  You will want to have copies on both your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Jamie A. Swenson and Scott Magoon and their other work, please access their respective websites by following the link attached to their name.  Jamie A. Swenson has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Scott Magoon has accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations and the dust jacket.

Each week in our community, the area farmers come to market.  Their stalls and tents dot the space between the main street and the harbor on Round Lake.  The air is charged with people hoping to find fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, freshly cut flowers and other home-grown products.  Sellers are equally enthusiastic people will find their offerings enticing enough to select and buy.  A Song of Frutas (Atheneum Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, August 13, 2021) written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Sara Palacios is a generational tale of supreme happiness and memories to hold in your heart.  It is written in a blend of Spanish and English. 

When we visit Abuelo, I help him sell frutas.
We sing the names of each fruit
as we walk, out footsteps like drumbeats,
our hands like maracas, shaking
bright food shapes
while we chant
with a rhythm:

As granddaughter and grandfather stroll through a town in Cuba singing, people in their homes listen and buy the fruit.  On the streets, other pregoneros sing.  Grandfather sings even louder, his song rising above the rest.

It is the only way for him to compete with the man selling tamales or the woman holding up her fresh herbs.  There is also a woman with a heavenly song persuading people to purchase her delicious treats.  This child's best memories are of New Year's Eve.

On this day people gather to buy grapes from her grandfather.  Twelve grapes are needed per person.  Do you know why?  Think of wishes and a better future for everyone.

Soon the granddaughter leaves for home.  She no longer sings with her grandfather in his town.  The two have discovered another way to sing.  It is a different kind of music, a symphony of one soul embracing a beloved soul.

This book, this poem, by Margarita Engle is uplifting from the first words we read.  Her presentation of Spanish and English supplies its own special kind of song.  Her similes ring radiantly across the pages.  Her descriptive words, her adjectives, take us deeply into this narrative.  Here is a passage.

Best of all is la dulcera,
a woman with the voice
of an angel, who croons so sweetly
in praise of los caramelos---
chocolates and other delicious candies.

Looking at the front, right, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case, you can't help but feel your spirit soaring.  The beaming faces of el abuelo and his granddaughter, singing about his fruit, are the essence of happiness.  Artist Sara Palacios infuses her images with cheer through her bright color choices.  To the left, on the back, we are fortunate to view an interior visual.  Here a basket loaded with fruit is being pulled up to a balcony by a mother.  Her daughter watches.  Below grandfather and granddaughter lift and wave in gratitude at the exchange.  On the dust jacket front, the title text, grandfather, granddaughter and the dog are varnished.

Sunshine yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page the duo is putting fruit in containers.  The grandfather holds a bunch of grapes.  On the dedication page, they and their two dogs are making their way to the town, a cart loaded with their fruit.

Each digitally rendered illustration, two-page pictures, single-page images, and groups of smaller visuals, heightens the energy found in the text.  The blue of the sky shown in many of the pictures is like a reflection of the sea surrounding the island.  The buildings are as varied in their hues as the fruit.

The facial expressions on the granddaughter and her grandfather as well as most of the other people in the community are brimming with joy.  They have, through Sara Palacios, chosen to receive their days with hope.  (I am more than happy to see the two canine companions which add to that joy.)

One of my many favorite pictures is the second double-page image.  We move close to the grandfather and his granddaughter as they hold out their fruit singing.  They are near their cart with buildings and that brilliant blue sky behind them.  Their two dogs are close, contentedly listening to the singing.  The boxes of fruit are labeled with their names in Spanish.  A woman and another man curiously watch.  Will they buy these splendid fruits?

A Song of Frutas written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Sara Palacios will have you wishing you could join this girl and her grandfather.  This book honors the traditions of los pregoneros, the New Year's Eve wishes on each of twelve grapes, the music of the spoken and written word, and the love between a grandparent and child.  At the close of the book in an author's note, Margarita Engle addresses Spanglish, Travel Restrictions, Los Pregoneros, and New Year's Eve.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections. (Please note this title is also released in Spanish.)

To discover more about Margarita Engle and Sara Palacios, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Margarita Engle has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Sara Palacios has an account on Tumblr.  To showcase this title Margarita Engle is interviewed at A Fuse #8 Production, School Library Journal and We Need Diverse Books.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Here is a link to an activity page.

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