Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Both Are Needed

My best friend has four legs with four paws, shiny chocolate brown fur and a sense of hearing that can differentiate between the sound of the opening of the refrigerator fruit, vegetable, or cheese drawers.  When expressing joy she zooms like a roadrunner in the house or yard, leaps like a gazelle through snow drifts, and jumps straight up in the air off her four paws.  She is not much of a conversationalist, but she knows I know what every sigh, whimper, bark, and pointed look means.

In moments of quiet and aloneness, I have witnessed some remarkable occurrences, but nothing is as welcome as the sound of her claws clicking on tile or wood floors to find me or the jingle of her collar tags as she walks or runs next to me. In Sometimes It's Nice To Be Alone (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, February 14, 2023) written by Amy Hest with illustrations by Philip Stead readers are soothed by the contentment of being alone and awakened to the joy of shared experiences.  Rhythmic text presents the solace found in ordinary activities but also elevates those through imagination coupled with exquisite artwork.

Sometimes it's nice to 
be alone.

Just you, eating your
cookie, alone.

On the other hand if unexpectedly a friend appears, eating a cookie with them is really quite nice.  What if you happen to be reading a book alone and suddenly you are not alone?  It is a different feeling to be reading a book with a friend there.  It is as if you both have stepped into the pages of the story.

Do you remember days when it is just you outside tumbling on the grass, somersaulting to your heart's content?  Then a voice asks to tumble with you.  You and your friend are now a team of tumblers.

Head down and legs and feet pumping, you might be bicycling up, up and up hills all alone. With arms stretched out and feet kicking, you might be dancing among a whirlwind of colorful leaves in the autumn all alone.  When a friend is with you, the downward slope is more thrilling and the fall frolic is more exhilarating.

Doing something alone is one kind of special.  Doing the same thing with a friend is another kind of wonderful.  What will you do alone next?

The writing in this book by Amy Hest is marvelous.  The title text begins each lyrical portion.  This is followed by a description each time of what the child is doing.  We then read the question about the appearance of a friend.  Each reply to this question begins with the same seven words.  This establishes a cadence and participatory invitation to readers.

The mastery of this writing is that certain words are altered as the narrative progresses.  The descriptions become more vivid and sensory.  Here is a passage.

Just you, alone, on a 
seaside walk, making
big footprints, and heel
and toe prints, at the 
edge of the choppy sea.

The pictorial interpretation of the text by artist Philip Stead is superb.  We are introduced to his limited color palette on the open dust jacket.  His use of  primary colors here is at once strikingly ordinary and remarkable in their depictions. (The sky, sea, and sand continue on the other side of the spine.)   

The presentation of the sky in blue and white gives the perception of the white being either clouds or sea birds.  The added elements of the footprints leading from left to right and the handprints on the sand castle create an air of innocence and sheer happiness in spending a day at the beach.  On the left side a red and yellow and blue and white beach ball rests in the sand.  The title text is varnished.

The book case is identical to the dust jacket without any text on the front or the back.  The opening and closing endpapers are the golden color of the sand.  Beneath the text on the title page, a golden butterfly tinged with purple has been placed.

These two-page visuals by Philip Stead were rendered 

entirely by hand using monoprinting techniques.

As the story progresses, we can see by the clothing worn by the girl that the seasons are shifting.  We begin in spring and end in winter.  Hints are featured in the first picture about the form the friend will assume in the second picture.  These second illustrations are highly and delightfully ingenious.

Philip Stead also initially puts his own signature spin on 

pushing and panting
to the top of each hill.

and in the sea scenario.

He does this, too, when showcasing the friend with the girl in the autumn leaves.  I love what the friend is holding in their mouth.  I think readers will gasp at the one vertical image.  And I believe readers will sigh and perhaps shout aloud knowingly at the final illustration.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the girl is somersaulting in the grass in the morning.  Mid tumble on the right side, we see her wearing her red and white striped short-sleeved shirt.  Her bare feet are kicking her over as her hands brace the roll.  Bluebells decorate the grass.  Above her on a white canvas is the butterfly we saw on the title page.  Her feet do cross the gutter to the left.  Under the text and in the grass on the left side is a stuffed toy whale.  The girl's red and white striped socks are laying across the whale.

With every reading you will be more endeared to the book, Sometimes It's Nice To Be Alone written by Amy Hest with illustrations by Philip Stead.  This is a magical pairing of writing and artwork.  Listeners will request this to be read again and again.  There will be discussions about what we enjoy doing alone and who might appear to share it with us.  I highly recommend you include this title in all your collections.

To learn more about Amy Hest and Philip Stead and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Amy Hest has an account on Instagram.  Philip Stead shares an account with his wife, Erin Stead, on Instagram.  At the publisher's website are activity sheets to download. 

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