Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

To The Dogs #1

For those sharing their lives with beings other than humans, each one has a preference with particular reasons attached to that preference.  This reader has a fondness for dogs.  Four Labrador Retrievers have been members of my family, sisters, Soot and Cinder, sweet Xena, and my wild child cuddlebug, Mulan.   For this reason one saying I hold close to my heart is

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

Roger Caras

Any title referencing dogs has my attention.

Whatever it is, when you begin and end with a dog, expect the extraordinary.  I'd Like To Be The Window For A Wise Old Dog (Doubleday Books For Young Readers, April 5, 2022) written and illustrated by Philip Stead is a place to let your imagination spread as far as it will go.  It's also a reminder to be more observant of the details you might miss at first glance. 

Oh, I'd like to be
the raindrop
falling on a turtle shell

For the next two page turns, the rain continues.  It makes a puddle for a leaper.  It provides the opportunity for an umbrella, an elephant's umbrella, to supply shelter.  And when the rain ends, at the most perfect moment, it fashions a wonder seen out the window.  A window under which a dog sleeps.

The unseen narrator contemplates the movements of penguins, snails, honeybees, and those of a whale.  They ponder mirroring those motions.  With sure knowledge, this individual returns to wanting to be something which gives to another.

Where will the sunshine fall?  Who will nest in an oak tree hollow?  Who will hide in high green grasses?

We read of feathers and weather.  We read of a hummingbird, mouse, and a quiet cat.  Again, with sure knowledge, our wonderer goes to the window and the dog.  As the window, the voice is filled with the happiness of the dog's thoughts as she gazes through the glass.

No matter how many times the book is read, the sheer beauty of the words carefully penned by Philip Stead surround the reader in a hug of serene speculations.  Each pondering asks us to look and marvel at things we might take for granted instead of viewing them with gratitude.  There is a musicality to the shifts in reflections from wanting to be something, to moving like something, and then to being something again.  Philip Stead uses a bit of rhyming, alliteration, and metaphor.  Here is another thought.

I'd like to be
the tall grass
standing with a mother deer
helping hide the little fawns

one     two     three

White is used masterfully by Philip Stead to elevate his full-color artwork throughout the book as first evidenced on the dust jacket.  On the front, elements found in other illustrations are a part of this initial illustration.  The blend of rain and the rainbow, the red ball and red bird, the blue and yellow coneflowers, and the wise old dog hint at continuity which can be comforting.  To the left of the spine, on the white canvas is a mouse carrying an acorn.  The mouse is flying with delicate angel wings.  Beneath the mouse are the words:

And I sometimes wonder . . .

The book case is white and covered on both sides with raindrops.  The raindrops are in the colors found in a rainbow.  The opening and closing endpapers are the same shade of red as the bird and ball.

The first interior picture is of the window.  It is raining outside.  The red bird is singing in a tree with ginkgo-shaped leaves.  The dog, her back to us, is staring out the window.  Next to her is the red ball with a mouse seated on top of it.  The next page turn we zoom to the bird singing in the rain.  The background is blue with white drops, green leaves, brown branches, and the bright bird.  On the title page, the dog now has the ball in her mouth.  The mouse is running across the verso.

For his phrases, Philip Stead uses double-page pictures.  His printmaking is exquisite with subtle shading and fine details.  Before a final phrase or an alteration in phrases, words spread across two pages with no other artwork.  The color of the letters is a hint of what is to come.  As the narrative continues, figures from previous illustrations join other members culminating in a heartwarming array.  Readers will pause at page turns to locate all the creatures.  You will notice other smaller stories embedded in the artwork like the turtle and mouse moving the red ball to its final resting place.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of the elephant holding the umbrella in the rain.  The background is white with blue raindrops.  The elephant is facing to the left with the front portion of its body to the left of the gutter.  Underneath the elephant's body it is white as light blue water puddles around it.  Under the elephant's belly, eight tiny yellow birds are seeking shelter.  Underneath the green umbrella in the elephant's trunk are two more yellow birds.  Two other yellow birds are flying to the right near the elephant's trunk and head.  There is something exceedingly soothing about this scene. 

On the verso, the dedication by Philip Stead reads:

For Wednesday most of all

As previously stated when something begins and ends with a dog, it will be out of the ordinary.  I'd Like To Be The Window For A Wise Old Dog written and illustrated by Philip Stead is indeed remarkable.  It is one eloquent moment followed by another equally eloquent moment.  It is uplifting.  It is hopeful.  It is a tribute to life.  You will want a copy for both your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Philip Stead and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Philip Stead shares a website with his wife titled The Stead Collection.  They share an Instagram account, too.  At the publisher's website, you can view the first few pages of this title.  You can view more artwork from this book at R. Michelson Galleries. Philip and his wife, Erin, and Kevin Henkes and his wife, Laura Dronzek, were part of a virtual event on Friday, June 24, 2022.  The four talk about their newest books.  You can view this event hosted by Books of Wonder here.

Of the many things attributed to dogs, one of the most endearing is their ability to make us laugh.  Their body language, facial expressions, and antics are a constant source of joy.  They welcome every moment of every day.  In Bug On The Rug (Sleeping Bear Press, April 15, 2022) written by Sophia Gholz with illustrations by Susan Batori, a pup's beloved rug becomes an object of controversy and comedy.

Pug on a rug,
cozy and snug.

He's a rug-loving pug.
When along comes . . .

It's a bug!  This bug is looking a tad bit too proud of his position on that rug.  He has set up residence on Pug's rug.  

Growling and buzzing ensues.  Then Bug throws a stick, which Pug sets off to retrieve.  Pug arrives back at his rug mad at that bug.

Pug grabs the rug and a tussle begins, until the duo crash into none other than Slug.  Slug in not happy about being sandwiched between a fighting pug and bug.  Slug says they are being selfish and rude.  

Pug and Bug are filled with guilt.  Sobbing Bug tells the tale of how he lost his home.  Pug tearfully realizes the mistake he made.  When Bug decides to leave, Slug makes a suggestion.  The trio are enjoying the rug until . . .

With a keen sense of humor, author Sophia Gholz invites us into rhyming rhythmic fun-filled fiction.  Her selection of words used to create this tale are delightful, true, and never forced but flowing.  She shows readers how discord can be turned into harmony.  Here is another passage.

Pug growls and howls.
Bug buzzes and scowls.

He might be small,
but Bug stands tall.

The open and matching dust jacket and book case give us a clear glimpse of the funny and frantic mischief-making about to happen between Pug and Bug.  The characters in this tale all have wide-eyed expressions with exaggerated body characteristics, either small or large.  On the dust jacket the image extends from flap edge to flap edge.  On the right flap we are introduced to Slug who is looking surprised to see Bug on Pug's rug.  Pug's body extends over the spine to the middle of the left side.  There, a worm is looking cautiously at the happenings on the rug.

The opening endpapers include the publication information on the left and the title page on the right.  There Bug has set up his new home on the rug.  On the closing endpapers is the hilarious wordless conclusion.  The looks on the characters' faces are totally laughable.

The illustrations by Susan Batori alternate between double-page pictures and full-page images.  Her perspectives in these visuals shift from wide to close enhancing the pacing of the story.  Humor is infused in every line of these highly-animated illustrations.

Readers will appreciate the added elements.  When Bug builds his home on the rug, there is a Welcome mat outside his tent.  He is drinking from a red and white polka-dotted cup.  On a table next to him the red and white polka-dotted teapot sits.  He has a tall lamp!  Whenever the characters are thinking or remembering, those are shown in clouds above their heads.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  On the sides, local flora is shown.  On the grass is the infamous rug.  Looking off-kilter Pug, Bug, and Slug are on the rug.  They have just slid and crashed into one another.  Bug and Slug are squashed under Pug.  They are dazed and bruised.  This is the beginning of a change in the story.

This title, Bug On The Rug written by Sophia Gholz with artwork by Susan Batori, is read-aloud gold.  Listeners and readers will be finger-snapping and swaying after the first few pages.  The humorous phrases forming a story of sharing and friendship will remain with readers long after the book is closed.  Your personal and professional shelves need to house a copy of this book.

To learn more about Sophia Gholz and Susan Batori and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Sophia Gholz has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Susan Batori has accounts on Behance, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  The book trailer premiered along with an author interview at Watch. Connect. Read., the blog of librarian and writer John Schu.  There are more author and illustrator interviews about this book at Kathleen Temean's Writing and Illustrating and at Good Reads With Ronna.

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