Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Every Little Bit . . .

Each morning Mulan, my canine companion, and I take the same route on our morning walk.  More than half of the route is without sidewalks and when there are sidewalks, we tend to stick to the edge of the roadway due to other walkers, runners, and dogs.  Without fail, there is one driver each day who not only ignores the posted speed limit, but comes so close to us that we have to move off the road or jump aside.  They drive as if their hair is on fire and they are the only person on the planet.

Despite this one soul without regard for other living things, there are multiple drivers who slow down and nod, wave or smile.  Those small acts of kindness when added together have a huge effect on our morning walks.  Those people are used to seeing us and respond accordingly.  I have no idea who they are, but I consider them friends.  The mutual respect we have for each other has established a community of sorts. Today is the book birthday for a title, One Small Thing (Beaming Books, May 9, 2023) written by Marsha Diane Arnold with artwork by Laura Watkins, which presents the practice of rising above ourselves to assist others.  Every little bit helps and does not go unappreciated.  

All the animals in Brightly Wood were talking about what happened.

During a storm the previous night, lightning struck Raccoon's home.  All that remains are ashes.  Squirrel, Badger, Beaver, Mouse, and Rabbit are recreating the event in their conversation. In addition to the loss of his home, Raccoon has suffered burns on his feet and his cricket companion is missing.  In the concerned comments made by Raccoon's friends, readers get a hint at their personalities.  

Beaver wonders where Raccoon will live now.  Rabbit hardly knows Raccoon. Mouse is so little and this problem is huge.  Badger, seemingly a curmudgeon, wonders where the 

silly cricket

is.  Squirrel is overwhelmed by the sadness of this event.  They all leave for their respective homes except for Badger.  Badger heads to the darkest part of the forest.

Squirrel, Mouse, and Rabbit start on tasks exemplifying their talents.  Beaver knows she excels at home construction, so she works all day to build another home for Raccoon.  As Squirrel sips her tea, she begins to think.  As Mouse hangs herbs from his rafters, he begins to think.  As Rabbit nibbles on honey bread with honey,  a single thought pops into Rabbit's mind.  The four friends find Raccoon and snuggle inside the new house drinking tea and eating honey bread with honey.  Mouse rubs a balm made from his herbs on Raccoon's feet.

Where is Badger you ask?  Is Badger lost among the shadows of Brightly Wood?  That thunderstorm created a major loss, but much was found the next day because Beaver, Squirrel, Mouse, Rabbit and Badger decide to do . . .

A bit of a mystery introduces us to this narrative with the first sentence.  Author Marsha Diane Arnold has piqued our interest.  She leads us, as she does so often, to examine our hearts as each of her characters do the same.  By having each of the animals offer an opinion several times, she establishes a rhythm to her story.

As we follow their actions and thoughts, we see how each personality works through a tragic event and responds as they are able.  Readers will see themselves in one or more of these characters' reactions.  The title of the book is beautifully woven into Squirrel's, Mouse's and Rabbit's ultimate decision. Here is a passage.

Beaver stepped back and looked at her work, then hurried off to find Raccoon.
All the other animals hurried off to find Raccoon too.
Except Badger.  He kept wandering through Brightly Wood, muttering,
"Where is that silly cricket?"

A single, full-color image extends from the left edge of the book case to the right edge.  It is the dawn of a new day in Brightly Wood.  Mouse, Squirrel, Rabbit, Badger, and Beaver, eyes closed in affection, offer a group hug to their friend, Raccoon.  We can see by Raccoon's eyes, this hug is needed.  Everything about this scene, the brightening sky, soaring birds, glowing sunlight reflected on the grass and calm breezes, suggests warmth and connection.

A pale lemon yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page is a close-up of Raccoon's mailbox secured to a tree.  Careful readers will see with the opening single-page picture, artist Laura Watkins uses the background sky to indicate weather and time of day.  She continues this throughout the book.  The colors in her outdoor scenes tend to not only reflect the time of day and weather, but the mood of the characters.

The facial features and body postures on each of the animals reveal their emotional status and personality traits.  While their physical characteristics are realistically portrayed, there is also a quality about the animals that depicts them charmingly enough that you might want to hug them. Two of them are more motivated to immediate action, while the other three tend to mull over circumstances.  This is mirrored in Laura Watkins's art.

As the pages are turned, Laura Watkins moves from single-page pictures to groups of vignettes, and to large double-page images, one, a bird's eye view of Brightly Wood.  She also shifts perspectives to enhance the text.  Within Squirrel's, Mouse's, and Rabbit's homes, readers will be fascinated by the attention to detail.  They will also come to understand how a certain moody friend can walk unafraid into the less inviting portions of Brightly Wood.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture.  Beaver has found Raccoon seated on a log near the river, soaking his burned feet in the water.  The river mirrors the sky as the day comes to a close.  There are hues of orange, golden yellow, and purple in the sky, silhouettes of trees and trees near the river.  Beaver is seated next to Raccoon on the fallen tree, embracing her downcast friend.  

This book, One Small Thing written by Marsha Diane Arnold with illustrations by Laura Watkins, is a quiet but compelling tale reminding us that we are never too small to effect change or an action we take for good is never too small to make a difference.  It demonstrates how like single snowflakes can combine to make a blizzard that many small things can create a huge shift in someone's life.  It might be fun to do this as a reader's theater.  You will want to have a copy of this on your personal bookshelves and in your professional collections.

To learn more about Marsha Diane Arnold and Laura Watkins and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Marsha Diane Arnold has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Laura Watkins has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  There is a wonderful thirteen-page activity guide at the publisher's website for you to download.