If You Want to See a Whale: A quiet story in a perfect package.

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If You Want to See a Whale

Picture Book

Ages 2-7

By Julie Fogliano

Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

32 pages

Roaring Brook

2013

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If You Want to See a Whale is a flawlessly designed book. The diminutive trim size, approximately 9×7, begs to be held; the enticingly serene cover prompts readers to curl up and escape into its pages. Peeling away the deliciously smooth coated matte cover reveals a rich blue cloth with a humpback whale in relief. Complementing the deep blue background, the book’s title is stamped on the spine in a lavish copper foil which perfectly matches the endpapers. The interior paper has substantial weight and its milky white canvas spotlights the art.

 

Absent of punctuation and in a font reminiscent of a typewriter the exclusively lower-case text is judiciously set apart from the art, accentuating the story’s quiet, contemplative feel. This is not a story to be rushed through. This is a story about waiting, about being quiet, about being still. Readers, like the book’s main character, are rewarded for these virtues.

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Fogliano’s compact, lyrical prose is reminiscent of Ruth Krauss and Karla Kuskin but her style is decidedly her own. Her stories are thoughtful, poetic and sublimely profound. Like Fogliano and Stead’s other collaboration, And Then it’s Spring, If You Want to See a Whale offers tranquility—a welcome and necessary port in a sea of noise.

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Stead’s art— composed of whisper thin lines, fervently detailed and ever so delicate—invites the reader to study each spread. Color, at once saturated and transparent, is used sparingly. Stead’s incredibly involved process of creating the art can be viewed here.

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A young ginger haired boy and his loyal basset hound are determined to see a whale, but seeing a whale is no simple task. It requires an ocean, and a window for watching, and a chair for sitting, and patience, for it may take a very long time. A whale watcher cannot get too comfortable, for fear of falling asleep. A whale watcher cannot allow himself to be distracted by passing ships, or puffy clouds. A whale watcher must simply watch, and wait. And as with all important things in life, focus and determination pay off in the end.

 

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The Big Adventure of a Little Line by Serge Bloch

The Big Adventure of a Little LineIMG_1184

Picture Book

Ages 5 and up

By Serge Bloch

88 pages

Thames & Hudson

2016

 

 

 

 

 

Occasionally I’ll pick up a book from an author or illustrator I’m not familiar with and, after some research, will be stunned to discover that the person has published multiple books and is a sensation in another area of the world. French-born author and artist Serge Bloch is an example of one of these discoveries.

His animated SamSam series, based on his SamSam comic, is hugely popular in Europe. His series Max et Lili, (published in France since 1992) has sold millions of copies. He compiled and illustrated a book of Steve Martin’s tweets and he regularly draws editorial illustrations for publications including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, as well as Time and New York Magazine.

So, Serge Bloch’s extraordinary illustrations have finally etched their way into my consciousness, although I must have seen his work among the pages of some magazine or newspaper and filed it away in my brain because, as soon as I picked up The Big Adventure of a Little Line, the art was familiar. And probably not just because Bloch was clearly influenced by Tomi Ungerer, R.O. Blechman, Shel Silverstein, Quentin Blake and Charles Addams. Like these other masters of the line, Bloch is able to convey a considerable amount with minimal details. It is a true gift and I find this style immensely appealing.

I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing many artists as a result of my career in children’s books. The relationship between an artist and his art is complex and rife with struggles, but the artist’s art is essential to the artist’s well being. Creative compulsion can be exhilarating, comforting, and freeing. It can also be confusing, frightening, and debilitating. The combination of Bloch’s minimalist visual style and to-the-point story of living with and nurturing a creative drive lays bare the complicated relationship between an artist and his art starting at the most fundamental level.

Art as a profession is often the subject of parental fears. It can be incredibly difficult to develop and maintain an artistic career. But whether an artistic person decides to pursue a career in the arts is frequently irrelevant to the level of personal importance the art has in that person’s life. That creative impulse should be nurtured, loved, respected and supported. Should the person end up  in a job or career that is more financially practical, artistic expression  may prove to be an important outlet in maintaining a balanced life as well as the key to mental wellness. I highly recommend The Big Adventure of a Little Line for any person realizing an artistic inclination.

The book opens with a wistful looking boy out for a walk when he spots a small reddish-orange line lying by the side of the road. Intrigued, the boy takes the line home and rests it on a shelf alongside other cherished objects. The line sits mostly forgotten until the boy takes it down and lays it on an open page in his notebook. Thus begins the life of an artist.

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Like many lifelong relationships, this one  starts simply, though not necessarily easily, and develops over time into something integral. The boy and the line need to learn about each other, and find a way to co-exist. We follow the newly formed pair through airy, uncluttered spreads of discovery and understanding, interspersed with chaotic images of frustration and struggle.

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The line helps the boy grow into a man and becomes his complement. Traveling the world, delighting children, opening exhibits, stirring emotions and fraternizing with other artists, the creative relationship proves magical.

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The artist grows old, and eventually he and the line agree that it is time to use a bit of their magic to inspire others. As the book comes to a close, the contented elder artist snips off a small bit of his line and deposits it on a stretch of road. It is quickly spotted by a grinning girl who immediately tucks it into her pocket, an apt metaphor.

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An inherently beautiful effect of art is to bring about thoughts, feeling and emotions that one might not otherwise have had. Art does not simply exist as an expression of the artist, it also moves, inspires and stimulates. I like to imagine that many little pieces of the artist’s line were discovered, collected and carried by others throughout the career of the man and his craft, whether he meant to inspire or not.

 

 

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When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for all Seasons

When Green Becomes Tomatoes

Poetry Collection

Ages 2 and up

By Julie Fogliano

Pictures by Julie Morstad

56 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2016

 

 

 

 

Every April, elementary school teachers and librarians scramble for books to celebrate National Poetry Month and booksellers are hard-pressed to produce anything new and worthy. The standard favorites and repetitive collections are highlighted and praised for 30 days then poetry gets shoved back in the closet for eleven months. But poetry—often glossed over, taken for granted or dismissed as frivolous—is an essential medium. It often seems to get the same treatment as jazz: it is deemed important but does anyone really understand it, or care?

Generally, the very first words read to an infant are those of Mother Goose: simple rhymes whose rhythms are meant to soothe an audience instinctively soothed by a mother’s heartbeat. Rhyming poetry is, in a real way, meant to speak the language of the heart. But poetry doesn’t always rhyme or follow any convention; it sometimes seems purposely vague, and it is generally accompanied by lengthy explanation, and so, appreciating poetry takes a certain kind of awareness. A recent article in The Atlantic focuses on the importance of teaching poetry. And it is important; supremely important. These two paragraphs sum it up perfectly:

Yet poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected in high school literature classes.

Students who don’t like writing essays may like poetry, with its dearth of fixed rules and its kinship with rap. For these students, poetry can become a gateway to other forms of writing. It can help teach skills that come in handy with other kinds of writing—like precise, economical diction, for example. When Carl Sandburg writes, “The fog comes/on little cat feet,” in just six words, he endows a natural phenomenon with character, a pace, and a spirit. All forms of writing benefits from the powerful and concise phrases found in poems.

However, despite being such a necessary form for understanding both language and the human spirit, well-crafted poetry collections are few and far between. When Green Becomes Tomatoes, a truly exceptional poetry book, is a rare gift and will no doubt be a timeless classic for generations to come.

Poetry is characterized by an economy of words and Fogliano is adept at economical writing. Poetic in their simplicity her picture books, And Then it’s Spring and If You Want to See a Whale, demonstrate this austerity as well. Her refined prose is imbued with a childlike perspective that speaks to its readers on an elemental level. Reading her carefully chosen words, it’s clear that none are wasted. Fogliano writes with a beautiful simplicity that can make people believe writing for children is easy, but I assure you it is not; achieving this kind of elegant perfection requires an immense amount of skill.

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Beginning and ending with a poem for the first day of spring (March 20th), the 47 poems in When Green Becomes Tomatoes are named for the dates they honor. Fogliano’s masterful compositions encapsulate the very essence of each season and every one of these captivating, playful poems immerses its reader in a moment.

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Her style, distinctly her own and one I expect many will try (and fail) to replicate, can rightly be compared to such icons as Ruth Krauss and e e cummings.

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Some of these poems could easily stand alone as their own books.

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Morstad’s art is perfection: never excessive, always inviting. Her illustrations, luxurious at times and modest at others, harmonize with the text. Adjusting her palette to the season, choosing warm or cool colors as needed, she captures the spirit of the ever-changing flora and fauna. With a style that is reminiscent of Alain Grée and Ezra Jack Keats, she depicts a diverse group of children to accompany readers on their journey through the seasons. At a time when the lack diversity in children’s books is being spotlighted, her multi-cultural cast is an oasis in a desert.

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I’m an avid lover of the changing of the seasons; it’s such an invigorating time. I love seeing the first heralds of spring, feeling the first hint of summer heat, smelling the first breeze of autumn and experiencing the unadulterated joy of the first snow. Superbly capturing all the inherent delight that these harbingers induce, Fogliano and Morstad have created the perfect companion to all the glorious wonders of the seasons.

A marvel as welcome as spring’s first blush of color after a long, drab winter: When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons is a thing you knew you needed but didn’t fully comprehend how much until you finally had it.

 

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