Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Mix and Match Making Magic

If you are a reader who is happiest sharing what you've read with others, sometimes, more often than not, as you are reading another part of your mind will be thinking about who will enjoy this book the most.  You can't help but wonder how you can booktalk it.  What parts will you share?  You imagine using the book as a read aloud or showpiece in a thematic story time. 

Two weeks ago, an individual took her experience as an

Emmy-winning visual effects and motion graphics artist and . . . a decade as an elementary school librarian

and used those talents in her debut as both author and illustrator.  She previously released three picture book titles and a middle grade novel as an author.  Circle Under Berry (Chronicle Books, September 14, 2021) written and illustrated by Carter Higgins is a sensory sensation.  Vivid colors combine with classic shapes and spare text to expand our understanding of possibilities.

circle under berry

berry over square

In the next phrase, another item and color are added.  The words are re-arranged, one disappears, and two more are included.  This shifts the experience.  Two separate thoughts become one single idea.

Then, the original colors stay the same, but they are defined differently.  A new term is introduced.  Circle and square are now a trio of shapes.

With the next page turn, readers will be gasping at the appearance of a guppy!  Yes, a guppy is invited into the conversation.  Careful readers will be flipping back to previous pages to see how this evolved.

Wow!  More animals and another hue are now part of the narrative.  We are asked questions as more shapes, directions, and color names are entered into the mix.  What can we do with these shapes, shades, and adverbs and prepositions?  We realize as we read, we hold the key to what we see.  We have the power to expand, subtract, identify and create.  We have the power of story.

Author Carter Higgins begins by stating what we believe is the obvious, but she quickly switches the pattern and pace with a page turn.  We now know, this is going to be an extraordinary exploration of colors, shapes, and language.  With each new word, hue, and form, she is challenging us.  With her questions, she is asking us to participate.  We except the challenge and invitation, because we can't wait to read what she will say next!

On a page we see a square.  Beneath it is a diamond.  Beneath that diamond is a pig shaped from hearts and circles.  What we read is:

blue up high
pig down low
yellow in between

White space is used brilliantly by illustrator Carter Higgins on the book case and throughout the book.  It is her canvas for altering the tale and the elements in that tale.  It draws our attention with purpose to what she wants us to sense with every page turn.  When you open this larger-than-usual board book (It is a little more than 7.5 inches wide and just about 10 inches tall.), you can see how she begins with primary and secondary colors on the front, right side.  

To the left, on the back, we are shown three shapes of distinct colors.  Next to them are altered shapes turned into animals.  We are questioned about what we see.  Here, too, we read what would usually appear on the front flap of a dust jacket.  Without even opening the book, we are eager to discover the potential it holds

On the opening endpapers are nine shapes in nine varied colors.  They represent primary colors, secondary colors, and tints or shades.  On the closing endpapers the original diamond, square, circle, triangle, octagon, heart, trapezoid, rectangle, and oval have changed in appearance.  They are now animals, something to consume, and a place to reside.

These illustrations

were cut and collaged from hand-painted paper and then assembled digitally.

They are presented to us initially in a vertical row.  First there are two, then there are four.  Two pages with two, then a single page with four.  It supplies us with an expected cadence, but then Carter Higgins switches this for two pages before going back to the original rhythm and then . . . we come to accept the remarkable, especially when one of the creations nearly hops off the page.  Soon shapes are shown in a horizontal line, as well as a vertical row.  Our minds are expanding with choices and opportunities!

One of my many favorite illustrations is after we've seen a rectangle, the color emerald, and a grasshopper made with shades of green and familiar forms.  Under the grasshopper we read:

grasshopper here

This grasshopper is at the bottom of a crisp white canvas.  With a page turn that same crisp white canvas is almost empty.  At the bottom we still read


but in the upper, right-hand corner is the word


We see only the back portion of the grasshopper in that corner in mid leap.  Genius.

You need to get and read a copy of Circle Under Berry written and illustrated by Carter Higgins as soon as possible.  This concept book has been presented as a board book, but make no mistake, this book is for everyone.  You simply can't read it once.  I've lost count of how many times I've read it.  Use it to present colors, shapes, parts of speech, creativity and for pure enjoyment.  I highly recommend you have a copy in all your collections, personal and professional.  I'll be giving it out to trick-or-treaters this Halloween.

To learn more about Carter Higgins and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Carter Higgins has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Carter Higgins is interviewed at Publishers Weekly and at Let's Talk Picture Books.

UPDATE:  Carter Higgins talks about writing this book on her blog, Design Of The Picture Book It is a fascinating discussion of her process.

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