Quote of the Month

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

Monday, December 5, 2022

Spellbinding . . .

When writing a blog post, I always go to the Library of Congress or the Michigan eLibrary to find the subject headings for a given title to add to my post.  Sometimes, I do not agree with the selections and I will add my own.  For this post, the subject headings made me smile.  They spoke to truths I hold deep in my heart.  Our minds' memories hold the stories of our lives, and all the stories we've heard and read.  This is powerful magic.

Each memory, ours and those of others, enrich our lives.  They enlarge our view of the world.  They transport us to other places and other times.  With each story, the magic around us and beyond the four directions gets stronger and stronger.   In Witch Hazel (Little, Brown And Company, October 11, 2021), author illustrator Molly Idle presents a visual and written masterpiece.  It is a tale to be savored by one generation and passed to another generation, over and over.  It will be remembered.

IN THE SPRING, Hilda helped Hazel sweep the front porch.

Hilda enjoys spending her days with Hazel.  They, like the season mentioned in the first sentence, are old and new, wise woman and youth. In sweeping the porch, Hazel recalls how she as a child would spend hours with her 

furry friend

reading stories together.  Hilda wants to hear one.  In telling of their adventures, Hazel leaves part of these stories with Hilda and her 

furry friend.  

When summer arrives, the duo move inside to the music room.  Here Hazel recalls, as a young woman, playing music for and with a songbird.  She then tells Hilda how she released the bird, giving it freedom.  Hilda becomes Hazel's songbird in the sultry summer.

Dusting in the parlor in the autumn, Hilda asks Hazel about a portrait over the mantelpiece.  It is Hazel as a grown woman.  She is gowned in all her glory at a ball.  She is wrapped in magic as much as Hilda is now wrapped in a scarf Hazel is knitting for her.

Hazel stays in bed during winter.  Hilda lovingly cleans her room and  keeps Hazel company.  This time it is Hilda who magics stories for Hazel, stories of Hazel's life she shared with Hilda.  Memories swirl around in the room.  In the spring, it is not the same for Hilda and

her furry friend.

There is sadness, but also joy in remembering.  Our stories never really end.

Great care by author Molly Idle is evident in her writing of this story.  The pauses in the narration are excellent.  The word choices reflect each of the seasons.  They also mirror the particular portion of Hazel's life being revealed.  The blend of narrative and dialogue welcomes us into the lives of Hazel and Hilda.  This, too, allows for the images to extend the story into elegance.  Here is a passage.

IN THE SUMMER, Hilda helped give the music room an airing.  The old piano bench creaked a bit as Hazel sat upon it.

Hazel creaked a bit, too.

She laid her hands, feather light, upon the keys.

If there were hues for memory, storytelling, and magic, then the color palette you see on the open dust jacket (and throughout the book) are those used by artist Molly Idle here.  The sepia tones, cream, and white are exquisitely rendered using

graphite and Prismacolor pencil on Stonehenge paper.

Each line, each use of light and shadow, and each detail brings us into the story.  We are already asking ourselves questions as we look at the image on the right.  What is now?  What is memory?  What is the story being told?  The floral fan element in the four corners on the right and left sides is a portion of the feather duster used by Hilda.  The leaves in the oval frame appear like hearts . . . or is it love surrounding these two wonderful beings?  On the back, the left side, another smaller oval fashions a border for Hazel's hat in white and clouds of sparkles.  The words above it read:

The stories passed down
from our loved ones
become a part of us. 

On the book case there is a shift in the images on both the front and back.  On the front, Hilda has the broom.  Its tip touches the broom held by Hazel, now appearing only in white.  The cat is real.  In the oval on the back, with leaves more realistic, is a stack of books.  Next to them is Hilda's feather duster.

The endpapers created by Molly Idle are a part of this story.  In the first set Hazel sits on the steps of her home.  She holds her broom with the feather duster on the bottom step.  A tree to the right of the house provides a branch for a swing to hang.  Younger Hilda with a kitten waves at Hazel on the far right side.  In the closing endpapers, Hilda now sits on the porch step, imaging the scene we saw on the opening endpapers.  Hilda now holds the broom as she looks at Hazel from the past.  Her cat, now larger, watches Hilda and her kitten of the past on the right side.  The bushes and vines on either side of the porch have grown and are blooming.

On the title page, Hazel, now standing with her broom, holds out the feather duster for Hilda who sits in the swing hanging from the tree.  Each subsequent page turn gives readers a single page image or a group of smaller pictures representing the passage of time or a large double-page illustration drawing us deeper into the story.  When Hazel's stories are told, they are wordless.  You cannot help but look at every single item in each scene.

What magic is the broom bringing into the setting?  Items from Hazel's stories are left behind.  Why do you think this is shown?  Hazel's hat is not always on her head.  Hilda is growing up as is her kitten.  At the same time, Hazel is showing signs of getting older between spurts of remembering her youth.  The three-page gatefold toward the end of the book is gasp-worthy, leading us to a poignant end and beginning.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page visual.  Here Hazel is seated on the piano bench with her hands on the left side of the keyboard.  Hilda is to her right with her hands on the keyboard.  Hazel's broom is propping up the piano's lid.  Her hat rests on the tip at the top of the lid.  Magic floats from the piano to the open window.  There stands a youthful Hazel watching her bird fly to freedom.  Hilda's cat holds the feather duster in its mouth.  The bird cage next to the piano is empty.

This book, Witch Hazel written and illustrated by Molly Idle, is an ode to the power of memories and  stories, and the connections forged between generations by those memories and stories.  Each sentence brings us into the life of Hazel, her past, and her present with Hilda.  The artwork transforms wherever we are into the magical realm where Hazel and Hilda are.  I highly recommend you place a copy in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Caldecott Honoree Molly Idle and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Molly Idle has an account on Instagram.  She chats about this book at A Fuse #Eight Production with Betsy Bird and at The Children's Book Review with Bianca Schulze.

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