Quote of the Month

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

Monday, February 27, 2023

Get Lost And Found In A . . .

It happens to all of us regardless of the length.  When the last word is read and the cover is closed, we look up.  For a few moments, we are confused as to where and when we are.  We are still lost in a story, a story other than our real lives.  Not only are we still part of the world within those pages, but we come away with having found something.  It may be something we have misplaced or misunderstood or something fresh and new.

This is the gift of a book, given to us again and again whenever the cover is opened.  Authored by Grace Lin and Kate Messner with illustrations by Grace Lin, Once Upon a Book (Little, Brown And Company, February 07, 2023) is a layered narrative with hidden references to other titles and different cultures. It is a story of longing and belonging.

Alice was tired of heavy sweaters and thick
socks and staying inside with nothing to do.

As she grumpily walked away from her mother, wishing to be away from the constant chilly and cloudy weather, she noticed a book on the floor. Its pages gently flipped in the air.  Reading it aloud prompted the birds in the illustration to invite her into the book.

When Alice stepped into the book, the book she was reading appeared there, too.  The warm air and the birds as playmates suited Alice perfectly. until it started to rain.  Using the book like an umbrella, Alice continued reading and wished for somewhere dry.

Several camels asked her to join them in the desert.  Riding on a camel through the desert was grand until a dust storm began.  Alice did not stop reading.  What she read next encouraged the inhabitants to welcome her into their world.  Away she went.

Two more times, Alice was not quite as satisfied as she believed she would be in a new and distinctive setting.  With her final wish, she read words describing a place memorable and comfortable to her.  A voice she had heard her entire life said,

"Turn the page."

What do you think Alice did?

Authors Grace Lin and Kate Messner have penned an imaginative, immersive and original circle story.  They have masterfully used classic storytelling elements.  The places Alice visits are enticingly descriptive, appealing to the reader's senses.  Each time Alice reads from the book, the inhabitant (s) of that place request she joins them.  This is followed by the same reply from Alice.  Now at a new setting, she continues to read until something specific interrupts her satisfaction.  This repetition fashions a participatory rhythm. We can't wait to read where Alice will venture next!  The blend of text from Alice's book, her commentary, and the words of the beings inside the book take readers on a remarkable journey.  Here is a passage.

"I wish I were someplace that wasn't so
cramped and crowded." Then Alice read,

So the girl went to a place of wide-open blue,
where she would be boundless and free.

"That sounds like our home,"
said the clouds.  "Turn the page
and come in . . ."

The open dust jacket reveals a single large image.  It is the open book read by Alice.  Four of the book's corners bleed off the edges of the jacket.  Tropical birds fly from the upper, left-hand corner, across the spine to the lush flora of the forest.  Hidden in this forest is a white rabbit, a companion who joins Alice on her adventures within the pages of the book.  Notice the fabric of the dress Alice is wearing.  This is intentional by artist Grace Lin.  The title text and Alice are raised to the touch on this glossy dust jacket.

The book case is a bright, shiny red.  The only element on the case is a white rabbit in the lower, right-hand corner on the front, right side.  The rabbit is leaping upward.  

On the opening endpapers is Alice's home.  Icy sleet falls on the snow-covered roof and ground.  A snowman creates a mound in the snow with only a head and one arm remaining.  A flamingo is walking to the left, placed at the far corner of the house.  A cat sits in the large picture window.  Alice looks outside from a window on the right.  She is not happy.

On the closing endpapers is Alice's home.  What we see in the windows is altered.  It is evening and the sleet has stopped.  A full moon hangs in the sky.  A rabbit is curled within its boundaries.

With a page turn we find ourselves at the dedication, verso and title pages.  Rabbit slippers belonging to Alice are tossed on the far left.  Clothes make a pathway to Alice as she takes her print, sleeveless dress from her dresser.  On top of the dresser, readers will want to notice the items there.

These gorgeous illustrations by Grace Lin were rendered 

in gouache on Arches hot press Watercolor Paper.

Pausing to look at each visual will reveal to readers undisclosed tiny elements.  When Alice first begins to read the book before stepping into the story, the mix of reality and imagination is wonderfully portrayed.  I can only wonder at the gasps when readers see her first walk into the book.

The luminous, vibrant colors in each setting are breathtaking.  Whether we are viewing the story from a more panoramic perspective or close-up, we cannot help but feel as if we are there with Alice.  Astute readers will notice that each time Alice goes into a new setting, her dress becomes the hue of her surroundings, forest green, sandy brown, sea green, sky blue or charcoal or black, until she arrives where she began.  All of the illustrations are double-page images except for the first one.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Alice is still in the forest.  She is holding the book over her head in the rain and continues to read.  She is looking up at the open book.  We see the book as if we are Alice.  The gutter in the book matches the gutter in this book.  A tropical bird rests on her arm, looking at the book.  To the left of the gutter, two other birds look at the book along with a butterfly.  Peering down from the upper, right-hand corner is a part of the rabbit's head. Superb.

This title, Once Upon a Book, written by Grace Lin and Kate Messner with artwork by Grace Lin is wondrous.  To read this book aloud is to take listeners on the best kind of adventure, one of the mind's inventions.  I can already think of wonderful discussions.  Where else might Alice go?  What might cause her to want to leave?  This is a book to share often and widely.  It is a book to gift to others.  I highly recommend it for all your collections.

To discover more about Grace Lin and Kate Messner, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Grace Lin has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.  Kate Messner has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is a video you must watch.  Here Grace Lin talks about her illustrations.  Grace Lin, Kate Messner and this book are featured on NPR Books, KidLit TV, KQED Mindshift, The Harvard Crimson, and an upcoming PBS Books event on March 1.

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