Quote of the Month

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

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Coming Home . . .

For many of us entering a library, whether it's for the public, a school or even our personal collections, it supplies us with a sense of homecoming.  In this space, an infinite number of stories are housed.  They enrich and enlarge our imaginations.  Through them we travel into the past, present, and future with greater understanding and compassion.  These stories give us answers to questions while leading us to more discoveries and answers we didn't even know we desired.  Armed with the truths they provide, our knowledge of our planet and its inhabitants, plant and animal, grows.  Not only does our knowledge grow but so does our admiration for the complexity of intertwined systems functioning every second of every day.

For those of us who have spent most of our adult lives serving patrons of all ages in libraries, we are witness to the remarkable moments when readers are connected to the story they need or want.  We not only listen to them with our minds, but also our hearts.  This is how bridges are built between books and readers.  When that bridge is built, when that connection is forged, something nearly indescribable happens.  We see it in their eyes, their demeanor, and their body posture.  It is joy.  This joy is wonderfully expressed in words by John Schu and in artwork by Lauren Castillo in their first collaboration, This Is A Story (Candlewick Press, March 14, 2023).  This book shows us the power of story, our stories and the stories of others.

This is a word.


That word, sea, is then shown on a page, a page within a book.  That book is one of many on a shelf.  It is waiting on one of many shelves in a library.  (We are beginning small and keep seeing a larger view.)  When we step back farther, there are people in a city, a city with that library.

Some of the people in the city are traveling to the library, seeking help, help in finding answers.  That book, one of many on a shelf of many shelves, is given to a child by a librarian.  So begins the reading.  So begins a special connection.

There are other readers here, finding what they need and finding what they want.  In the pages of the books they read, their minds keep stepping back, (like we do in the beginning of this story) enlarging what is known, imagined, and hoped.  Each of these readers have something else, a valuable something else . . . hearts.  Their hearts will increase in their ability to make connections in the books they are reading and in every facet of their lives.

Walking through the doors of a library is walking into a

world of reading.

Like most seeds, this world starts with the tiniest thing and the youngest person.  An early interest is nurtured and encouraged to flourish.  It is nurtured and encouraged to flourish through a story. 

With intention author John Schu builds his narrative, his poem, from a single word.  He takes us on a journey with that word until the book with that word is placed in the hands of a child by the librarian.  Word, book, reader, and story create an unbreakable and lasting link.

We go from that single reader to other readers, who similarly have questions, ideas, hopes, imaginations that can blossom without limits through reading.  John Schu, then, takes us back to the beginning.  It is here the idea of starting small is reinforced.  Word by word, they are strung together to give us a story.  The final sentence he writes will resonate with every reader and every person who has brought a story to a reader. 

(The text in this book is very precise.  At this point I usually supply readers with a passage from the book, but I will not here.  I do not want to diminish anyone's experience in reading this title.) 

For every time I have seen a child hug a book, or every time I have hugged a book, for the sheer happiness that book brings, the visual on the front, right side of the matching dust jacket and book case, is pure perfection.  This is STORY.  The colors around the child radiate warmth.  Along the bottom they mirror her love of the sea and sea horses.  Her eyes are closed because that is what we do when we are overwhelmed by the joy in a moment.

To the left of the spine on a white background, the girl is carrying an armload of books, followed by her little brother.  He is carrying his beloved stuffed toy cat.  This is a nod to author John Schu's cat, Lou Grant.

When the jacket is removed from the case, readers get a larger glimpse of the meticulous care and exquisite details artist Lauren Castillo brings to this book.  On the underside of the jacket are eleven children, from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, seated in a semi-circle reading.  Our sea horse-loving girl is included. For nearly all the books, we can see enough of the jackets and cases to recognize the titles.  (At this point, you might want to get your magnifying glass and start making a list of titles.  I did.)  One of the boys is wearing a yarmulke.  Another child has a hearing aid.  In bright red under this array of readers are the words HAPPY, HAPPY READING!

That same red covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page is an intimate scene of the little girl's father giving her a library card.  For the dedication page, Lauren Castillo has created a double-page view of the father carrying his son down the stairs of their home.  A cat looks out the window.  Ahead of them on the sidewalk, the little girl walks carrying a sea horse kite and striped bag.

A pure white page supplies the space for the first sentence, opposite a wash of blue green for the word, 
SEA.  Each illustration in this title was rendered

in ink, watercolor, and pastel.

They are single-page pictures and glorious two-page visuals.  We are brought as close as possible to each setting, giving us a personal, participatory experience.  For the words,

This is a book on a shelf . . .

we see the book that is the focus of the first portion of this title.  It is shelved with other like books, many which we can identify. (Readers will see friends here on this shelf, too.)  

Just like the words of John Schu, Lauren Castillo's artwork begins small, growing and increasing our view until a double-page wordless picture features the front of the library.  When we step inside that library with the girl, her father, and brother, we might gasp.  Not only is a librarian looking like John Schu standing there, but along the top of the shelves are books we know and love.  Again, the artwork enhances the words to the point where we believe we are there in every moment written and illustrated.  With each page turn, readers are shown with or around books we have read and enjoyed.  (I started to cry in the visual of a child reading the One and Only Ivan.  Here Lauren Castillo has placed elements from the books above the readers' heads.)

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  Across the top hangs a series of colorful pennants.  On the right side in the background, in shades of golden orange, are three adjoining shelves outlined in darker lines.  In front of them, the librarian is squatting down to be at the level of the girl.  In his hands he holds the book about sea horses.  The child is reaching toward it, knowing he is


her to what she wants and needs.  To the right of them on the floor is the sea horse kite, its string wound around a spool.  

Love of story, books, reading, readers, authors, illustrators, librarians, and libraries is tucked into every page of This Is A Story written by John Schu with artwork by Lauren Castillo.  Like the child on the front of the jacket and case, readers will finish this book and hug it close.  It is most definitely a heartprint book.  It invites discussions about story, books, reading, readers, authors, illustrators, librarians, libraries, and favorite books.  I can't imagine a professional or personal library without a copy on its shelves.

To discover more about John Schu and Lauren Castillo and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  At John Schu's website are two videos about this title.  John Schu has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Lauren Castillo has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vimeo, and YouTube.  The cover is revealed by author, blogger, and teacher librarian Travis Jonker on School Library Journal, 100 Scope Notes, including a chat with the creators.  Through the publisher, author, podcaster, and fifth grade teacher Colby Sharp has prepared a Teacher's Guide.  At The Children's Book Podcast, author John Schu and artist Lauren Castillo chat with Matthew Winner about this title.  At the publisher's website, you can view an interior image.  At Penguin Random House, you can view a series of interior visuals.

UPDATE:  Author Erin Dealey hosts John Schu on her blog with a seven-question series about this book.

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