Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Picturing Possibilities

Each individual expresses their sensory perceptions in a manner distinctive to them.  At times, their impressions will coincide with those of other beings.  Frequently, they stand alone with their ideas.  They understand how their impressions and ideas relate to others through looking, speaking, listening, and reading.

Most individuals are eager to develop the skills necessary to observe with their senses and to articulate and react to what they encounter.  This learning, though, can be a challenge.  Aaron Slater, Illustrator (Abrams Books for Young Readers, November 2, 2021) written by Andrea Beaty with illustrations by David Roberts is the newest title in The Questioneers series.  Readers will be charmed by Aaron Slater's view of the world, his love of stories, and how he shapes his own tales.

At the end of the garden, in the soft, fading light,
when the day turns to dusk and the dusk into night,
the sweet scent of jasmine floats into the air
to mix with the music of laughter, and there . . .
Aaron D. Slater soaks it all in
with his flowery blanket tucked under his chin.

For each of four summer Aaron and the flowers in the garden grow.  Aaron has a spot for his own planting and his own drawing with chalk on a pathway made of slate.  The best part of those summer days are the books being read aloud to Aaron.  With all his heart, he wants to be able to write stories.

Aaron knows he needs to read, but he simply can't make sense of the letters and words they spell, although he has loving help.  When his first day of school arrives, he knows he will be reading lickety-split.  He does not read, not even by the end of the year.

Aaron believes with a sinking sensation; he is not like his fellow classmates. All those things that make him Aaron D. Slater are set aside.  He decides to become invisible.  At the start of second grade, his new teacher, Miss Lila Greer is about to change Aaron's plan to not stand apart.  She wants them to author a true story, sharing it the next day.

Aaron does not get a wink of sleep all night.  He goes to school and stands in front of his classmates, all thirty-three, when his name is called.  His start is slow, but with his eyes closed a story unfolds as his words pour forth.  When he finishes, the gals and guys in his class are stunned.  Tears slide down Miss Greer's face.

And Aaron, embarrassed now, gives her a paper with no words and stands outside in the hallway.  The next exchange outside the classroom between this teacher and her student is a thing of beauty.  A smile and two words send hope surging into a soul.

Composed of rhyming couplets, this narrative by Andrea Beaty is like stepping into your special space.  It is that place where all things are possible, you feel serenity and security, and you can hear the music of your heartbeat.  Through Andrea Beaty's words we watch how Aaron grows within a home filled with warmth, and how it fosters his love of story.  Through her descriptions we feel his sadness, his frustration, and his glorious realization of his gift.  Here is a passage.

And so Aaron does what young Aaron must do.
He works on his story like the rest of Grade Two.
He writes through the evening.
He writes through the night.
He writes and he writes
till the dawn's early light.

Then he drags off to school with his shoes filled with lead
and his stomach in knots and a pain in his head,
and he waits for his turn with his heart filled with dread.

On a canvas of blue and white graph paper, flap edge to flap edge, the talent of Aaron D. Slater unfolds for readers on the back, left, and front, right, of the open dust jacket.  Look at the expression on Aaron's face on the front; his look of satisfied joy is heartwarming.  His artwork is a reflection of his summers in the garden and the stories he loved listening to as he and his siblings rocked in the porch swing.

On the back, Miss Lila Greer is riding a blue dragon next to a black swan wearing a crown.  They fly amid other airborne flowers, birds, and pencils.  Beneath them are several favorable quotations about The Questioneers series.

On a background of white, the book case is covered in flowers.  They are a variety of sizes, shapes, and an array of colors.  In the lower, right-hand corner Aaron stands, colored pencil in hand, drawing the petals on another flower.  You want to walk in this child's garden.  It is bursting with happiness.

The opening and closing endpapers are covered in blue-on-blue graph paper.  For the initial title page, stenciled, block letters in black are placed over Aaron's flowers.  On the verso and formal title page, on graph paper, Aaron, his back to us, draws.

These illustrations by David Robers on white are striking in their emotional portraits.  In the first, double-page picture we meet Aaron D. Slater, wrapped in a blanket and cuddled on the porch swing with his mothers and two siblings.  A third sibling, a sister, sits nearby in a rattan chair strumming a guitar.  Two cats are close to the group.  In a cozy spot above the branch holding the swing is a mother bird with three baby singing birds in a nest.

These pictures rendered 

with watercolors, pen, and ink on Arches paper

are two-page images or single-page visuals.  There is one wordless, double-page picture which is certain to have you cheering and laughing.  David Roberts uses white space superbly.  

The facial expressions displayed by Aaron will endear you to him immediately.  Careful readers will notice familiar faces in Aaron's classroom.  The clothing, physical characteristics, abilities and looks on the faces of all the other students in the building and in Aaron's classroom are fabulous.  Readers will see themselves in this school and in Aaron's family.  Also superb is the manner in which David Roberts depicts dyslexia.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page page which slightly crosses the gutter to the left.  Aaron is four years old.  He and his siblings are swinging in the porch swing hung from the tree.  Patterned pillows add to their comfort.  One of his brothers is reading aloud from a book titled Mythical Beasts.  Aaron's eyes are closed, and his imaginings are drawn in colored pencil over his head.  Next to him is his sister, listening and watching.  At the other end is an older brother with his eyes closed, too.

In this moving story about a boy who struggles with dyslexia and finding how to express his best self, readers, even those without dyslexia, will identify with the challenges we all face in following our dreams. At the close of Aaron Slater, Illustrator written by Andrea Beaty with illustrations by David Roberts are must-read author and illustrator notes.  I can't imagine a collection, personal or professional, without a copy of this title.  You might want to pair this title with A Walk in the Words written and illustrated by Hudson Talbot.

To discover more about Andrea Beaty and David Roberts and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Andrea Beaty has accounts on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. David Roberts has  an account on Instagram.  You can view interior images on the publisher's website as well as a video of the illustrator speaking about this book.  There is an event scheduled for November 17, 2021 (linked here) where both the author and illustrator will be present to speak about this book.

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