Quote of the Month

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

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Where Do You Find It?

More than forty-eight hours ago, a blizzard warning went into effect.  It has been snowing nonstop with wild winds howling.  Any signs of wildlife are nonexistent.  Where are the deer, fox, squirrels, rabbits, and birds?  Hopefully, they have found spaces to keep them safe.

Where they and we humans reside can represent many things.  It can be a shelter from the elements over which we have no control.  It can be a sanctuary from those with harmful intentions.  Sometimes home is more about those with us, than the spaces we occupy.  In 2020 we were introduced to nine characters in Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story Of UsThis tale is one of wonderful parts becoming a marvelous whole.

These beloved characters, Hedgehog, Mutty, Mole, Owl, Beaver, Hen and Chicks (2), and Annika Mae Flores have returned in Our Friend Hedgehog: A Place To Call Home (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, October 18, 2022).  In this newest book of eleven chapters and a beautiful introduction, a discovery leads to a quest.  This quest reveals a truth to hold fast in all our hearts.

Families come in all shapes and sizes.

Autumn is nearly over for the friends in Hedge Hollow.  Hedgehog is dreaming of making a snowhog as soon as the snow falls.  She has gathered all the necessary supplies. 

Today, she and Mutty are on their way from their island to Owl's loft for a story time.  After reaching shore and walking in the woods, Hedgehog and Mutty are stunned by what they see.  It's someone who looks just like Hedgehog.  How is that possible?

At Owl's loft, Owl and Mole comfort Hedgehog and decide she has seen her doppelganger.  The quest begins.  Meanwhile Annika Mae is assisting Beaver as his works on the Friend Fort.  Their conversations revolve around building versus design and cold weather wear and who needs it the most.

Soon, Beaver is asked to help Hedgehog, Mutty, Mole and Owl.  Annika Mae, Hen and her Chicks stay behind at the Friend Fort.  The five friends make an unexpected discovery.  Hedgehog has a decision to make.  What will she decide?  And can she change a decision once it is made?  Overnight snow falls.  

At Friend Fort, there are more good surprises.  Friends embrace friends.  Friends embrace the winter season and its joys.  It is a time of firsts and forevers.

The five-sentence introduction spoken by Annika Mae is a warm welcome, an invitation readers know leads into the pages of a heart-print story.  Author Lauren Castillo, through her intentional descriptions of place and time, brings us back to Hedge Hollow.  Wherever we are we are surrounded by this magical world, as if we never left.  Each chapter heading offers a glimpse of what we can expect to be revealed.

Through the blend of narrative and dialogue by and between the characters, our knowledge of their individual personalities and quirks grows. (Readers will enjoy how Mole adds words from other languages to her commentary.)  They are beings we want to know.  We share their anxieties and triumphs.  We can't help but love them.  Here are several passages.

"What are we looking for again?" Beaver asked as he began paddling.
"Do you ever listen?" Owl hooted. "We are looking for Hedgehog's doppelganger. Her look-alike."
"Is that why you were too busy to help with the fort earlier?"  Beaver groused.  "And why did you need my safety goggles?"
"What are you talking about, Beaver?" Hedgehog looked puzzled.
"I saw you, Hedgehog.  You were headed around that bend."  Beaver pointed past his dam.
Beaver, compadre.  Hedgehog has been with us all morning.  It couldn't have been her, said Mole.
For a moment everyone just looked at each other in confusion.
The doppelganger! cried Owl.  It must have been the doppelganger.
Are you sure it went that direction?"  asked Mole.
Captain Beaver is always sure, Beaver boasted.
Owl rolled his eyes. Let's go!"  he urged.

They would miss snowball fights, snow tubing, and most important of all, snowhogs.  Hedgehog could not imagine sleeping through all of that! These hedgehogs might be made of the same spines and snouts, but their hearts spoke different languages.

In looking at the front, right side, of the dust jacket we are pleased to see Hedgehog and Mutty again.  Hedgehog looks curiously at the other hedgehog.  She has never seen anyone like her.  A first snow coats the landscape, remnants of autumn still visible.  The title text is varnished.  To the left of the bright blue spine is an endearing portrait of the friends seated on the ground covered in autumn leaves and huddled in a hug.  Leaves swirl upward on either side of the text.  It is the introduction.

The book case in the same blue is plain except for the front.  Here we see Hedgehog and Mutty in silhouette, facing each other.  On the opening and closing endpapers is a colorful map of Hedge Hollow.  The river winds past Hedgehog's Island, past Mole's Hole and Owl's Lookout.  Before it gets to Beaver's Dam, it meanders by Hen and Chicks' Marsh, the Friend Fort and Annika Mae's House on the hill.  In the upper, righthand corner is another new addition, Hedge Hideaway.

Artist Lauren Castillo's illustrations rendered

using pen, pencils, watercolor, and Photoshop

warm every page turn with their presence.  Hedgehog and Mutty are on both the initial and formal title pages.  A bundle of autumn leaves showcases the dedication page.  Floating leaves draw our focus to the Contents page.

Gorgeous double-page pictures enhance the text for each chapter heading.  We see Hedgehog's Island in the river bordered by trees dressed in the hues of fall.  We are brought close to Beaver working on the Friend Fort, materials and tools placed near the building.  A bird's eye view shows Beaver, Mutty, Hedgehog, Mole, and Owl traveling by raft down the river on their quest.  Even though snow is falling and covering the ground, you cannot look at the last chapter visual without being warmed at the sight of the endearing characters outside their Friend Fort. (And you will probably laugh out loud at the flag.)

These illustrations convey to readers a world as real as that in which any of us reside.  The intricate details in Lauren Castillo's signature style, her color selections, lines and brush strokes are brimming with emotion and motion.  We willingly pause to not miss a single element.  

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Hedgehog and Mutty.  The affection Hedgehog holds for Mutty is as strong as if Mutty were alive; perhaps more so.  In this two-page image it is snowing.  Snow covers the ground.  From the left side to the right side, we see footprints in the snow.  Hedgehog is walking to the right top part of the visual.  Her back is to us.  She carries Mutty on her shoulders.  This picture is layered with meaning.  Hedgehog's heart is taking her where she belongs.

This second book, Our Friend Hedgehog: A Place To Call Home written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo, in a timeless series is certain to be well-loved and read repeatedly.  Regardless of how many times this title is read, you know as soon as you finish the last sentence, you will read the story again.  The best stories endure.  I highly recommend you place this title in your professional and personal collections.  (I have personally gifted both books this year.)

To learn more about Lauren Castillo and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the page dedicated to this title, Lauren has resources for you to download.  Lauren has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  The cover reveal with a creator interview for this title was hosted by John Schu at Watch. Connect. Read.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images and listen to an audiobook preview.

No comments:

Post a Comment