Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Taking Wings With Story

On discovering the December 2022 issue of School Library Journal in my mailbox, I let out a whoop of joy at seeing the cover.  I hugged the magazine to my heart as I walked back from the road to the inside of my home.  For several days, it was on the kitchen counter so I could see it as I walked from room to room.  

The image on the front of the issue created by author illustrator Guojing is a marvelous representation of her 2022 book, The Flamingo (Random House Studio, September 07, 2022).  In this illustration of a pale blue sky sprinkled with a few stars, a glowing full moon is centered.  Flying in front of the moon and soaring upward is a flamingo, wings outstretched.  Upon the flamingo's back is the child protagonist from the story.  The beauty of this scene is layered in meaning as is The Flamingo.

part one
A Trip to Visit Lao Lao
All on My Own

Most of the 140 pages in this two chapter book hold wordless panels.  We see a plane, flamingo pink in color, flying from a city.  After it lands, the girl greets her grandmother, Lao Lao.  Lao Lao drives them to her home in a land of sunshine, palm trees, and a nearby beach.  In exploring her grandmother's home, the child finds a pink and white feather resting in a flamingo-shaped mug.

That night after a bath and dinner, Lao Lao, when asked, starts the story of the feather.  As a little girl she and her dog make an exciting discovery on the beach.  It is an egg.  She fills her bicycle basket with sand and carries the egg home.  She makes a nest for it in a container next to her bed.  Lao Lao stops the story for the night.

The next day, Lao Lao and her granddaughter walk on the beach and find a turtle hatching from its shell.  This prompts Lao Lao to continue the story of her egg found many years ago.  When Lao Lao's egg cracks open a bird emerges, a flamingo.  She cares for the bird and it goes everywhere with the girl and her dog.  On one of their first outings, the flamingo rests on the girl's head as she and her dog sit watching the sunset on the water.

Each day Lao Lao tells her granddaughter more about her flamingo.  As the bird grows, so does their affection for each other.  They are inseparable, until one day the bird flies up, up, and away, leaving behind a single feather.  Lao Lao as a child waits and watches for the flamingo, hoping for its return.  After that point in her story, to the surprise of Lao Lao and the girl, a stunning sight awaits them as they walk on the sandy shore.

part two
My Turn to Fly Home

When the girl has to return to the city, Lao Lao presents her with a prized possession.  Back in her apartment, the buildings, sights and sounds are in sharp contrast to the beach and Lao Lao's home.  One night, a full moon outside her window supplies the light, the necessary spark, the girl needs to make an extraordinary gift for Lao Lao.  The realm of imagination and reality merge and close a distance with love.

In reading the dedication, readers are privy to some of the inspiration behind this story conceived by Guojing.  It reads:

This book is dedicated to
my mother, who said I'm her flamingo,
my son, who arrived when I completed this book,
and my grandma in heaven, who gave me the happiest childhood.

Clearly, the affection between family members is the heart beating in the pages of this book.  This love bridges generations, space, and time.  It lives in story.

When you open the dust jacket, you see images from the two chapters of the book.  On the right side, the front, a flamingo visits the girl on the fire escape outside her bedroom window.  This illustration will have readers asking questions.  Why is the flamingo there?  How does it find this girl?  What does it want?  What does the girl want?  To the left, on the back, is a close-up of one of my many favorite pictures.  It is of Lao Lao as a child with her dog and the baby flamingo.

On the book case, Guojing has placed another interior picture.  It spans left to right, featuring Lao Lao as a little girl.  She is running across the beach with her dog on the left side.  Sky and beach appear nearly as one in shimmering shades of gold.  On the right, the flamingo glides past a glowing sun.  

On the opening endpapers, a pale blue sky is edged along the bottom and the right side in billowing clouds.  The closing endpapers appear as a continuation of that sky.  Two flamingos are shown on the left side, flying to the left.  On the two-page picture for the title page a plane in flamingo pink flies to the left from the right side.

These breathtaking illustrations 

rendered in Photoshop, watercolor, and colored pencil

are wordless panels in an array of arrangements to portray the passing of time, emotional moments, and place.  The varying perspectives bring us deeply into the story.  Sometimes we are only shown a portion of an element, like a set of airplane landing wheels squealing to a stop on the runway or feet in flamingo slippers after a bath or a beak pecking its way out of an egg.  Other times we look down on the flamingo flying over the beach along the water's edge with Lao Lao on her bike and her dog running ahead.

The color palette used in this story signifies the present in limited color with spots of pink in lighter and darker hues.  When Lao Lao's memory story and other "flights" of imagination are showcased brighter, full color is used.  The pacing, size of the panels, and their placement is exquisite.  These images speak volumes giving us a story of generational love, the magic of memory, and the power of sharing stories, real and imagined.

One of my many favorite images (It is nearly impossible to select only one.) is of Lao Lao as a little girl.  It is a double-page picture.  The sea is rippled by a gentle breeze.  A few clouds linger in the sky.  Both are colored in the warmth of a sun dipping close to the horizon.  On the left side is a large stone.  Seated on the stone facing the sea is Lao Lao, her dog, and the tiny flamingo.  Lao Lao's dog is to the left of her.  Her left arm is reaching behind the dog in a hug.  On her head is the baby flamingo.  This scene, like so many in this book, is tender and moving.

Even after having read The Flamingo by Guojing repeatedly, you will find yourself profoundly affected each time.  No one tells a story like Guojing.  Her artwork envelops you completely.  If you have not read her other two books, The Only Child and Stormy, please do.  I highly recommend this title for all your collections.  

To discover more about Guojing and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  Guojing has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Guojing and this title are highlighted at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production with an interview by Betsy Bird and at School Library Journal with an interview by Andrew Eliopulos regarding her cover art for the magazine.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images.

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