"review" · juvenile lit · recommend · wondermous

{book} Jellyfish & Grief & Marvelous Writing

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Little, Brown & Co., 2015

Advanced Reader’s Copy thanks to Publisher & NetGalley in exchange for a fair/honest review.

After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy’s achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe…and the potential for love and hope right next door. –Publisher’s Comments

I need you to know that I do not get excited about reading what I call issue-driven books. One, they tend to be Contemporary Fic of the 1st person variety, where I preference Fantasy in the 3rd. Two, so many feels! Three, you really risk the message-y-ness. When artfully done, it compels empathy, rather than outright demands it. If you can relate to any of the three anxieties, you will do more than fine with The Thing About Jellyfish. Make it one of your bi-annual issue-driven reads.

My skepticism for the early praise that would rank The Thing About Jellyfish with the absolute must-read issue-driven novels: Wonder (RJ Palacio) and Out of My Mind (Sharon Draper) faded with the first ‘chapter’ of the book “Ghost Heart.” As I read, my thoughts moved to Kate DiCamillo’s work; which is just as challenging for a debut children’s writer to confront. Because of Winn Dixie was on my mind even before Benjamin’s protagonist referenced it. These are names whose company sells a book, but I want to impart some sense of the experience of the reading. The thing is: I’m not sure I can relay just what kind of elegance or lovely progression you can expect of Ali Benjamin in The Thing About Jellyfish.

You’ve read the Jacket Copy I provided at the start. The thing is is that Suzy and Franny are no longer best friends during the fatal occurrence. And one of the most compelling arcs in the novel is the revelation as to how the best of friendships disintegrated into such wrenching, guilt-ridden grief.

Where Suzy has decided to no longer speak within the world around her, she speaks to Franny in alternating sections of the novel. Suzy recounts their history, expresses a lack of understanding, and tries to explain why and how they came to be where they would ultimately conclude. The italicized sections inform every part of the novel and, most importantly, the main character. It is so well done, so increasingly painful. And damn if it isn’t familiar: the attempts to reconcile the changes between the one you fell in love with and the person they now want to be. The risks and results to the relationship feels like betrayal; and just who is the traitor? what if no one is? what if things just happen.  As Suzy’s elder brother and his boyfriend often say: Middle School does suck; it is hard; friendship is hard.

It’s the prose writing that reminds me of DiCamillo, and the subjects of grief, brokenness and of separation, which DiCamillo is so adept at conveying. It is also in the way DiCamillo describes children who are different without being medically conditioned. Suzy is a Science Nerd; she is a constant-talker; she has frizzy out-of-control hair; she is curious; and because the story hangs on it: she requires explanations. [yeah, she doesn’t sound that “different” does she?]

Suzy’s mother’s explanation for Franny’s death, despite Franny being an excellent swimmer, is left wanting and Suzy’s imagination focuses upon the Jellyfish.

The things we learn about Jellyfish and the way Benjamin incorporates it into the story is the most marvelous thing. How Suzy’s relationship to Jellyfish shifts situation (e.g. enemy, simile, etc.) is subtle and terribly important. Relationships are dynamic; they require love, and seek understanding. Suzy and that scientific and poetic mind is seeking and learning. She is stubborn, but she is also hurting. She is real enough and accessible enough to be flawed and forgiven for it.

Benjamin draws such a fully realized character that we are reminded, beyond the 1st person narrative, that the novel is from Suzy’s perspective. She requires patience and curiosity in order come to understand where she is coming from, in order to try (as reader’s do) to anticipate where she is going, where she will end up. You become invested in her own project, to learn what happened not only to the relationship with Franny, but to Franny (and Suzy) herself.

There are other relationships being built, being tested within the novel. Their beauty is not that they merely add charm, but they contribute to the overall coherence. For instance, there are echoes of Franny/Dylan in Suzy/Justin; which isn’t to suggest romance, but how relationships can change. In time, Suzy may be able to sympathize with Franny. Another question to confront is the one Sarah poses: that of mistaking the depths of relationship based on appearances, of which cues to read. Confrontation and communication is important.

With Suzy no longer speaking, she is keenly aware of how much language is physical, how much sound is still created. How perfect to situate this conversation in a time where we become so acutely aware of our and others’ physical presences. Add makeup and costuming (as Benjamin does).

Relationships are dynamic creatures, but then, so are we. We change. We diversify and then clump back together, maybe in different configurations. Each iteration of ourself is an impression, leaves an impression. And you can see where Suzy is especially pained in her preoccupation with Franny never becoming any older than 12. The problem for Suzy is that Franny will never inhabit another impression than the last one she’d left her with. Of course, not unlike the immortality jellyfish, Suzy gives us stories of her and Franny from before that last scene. And indeed, her recollections give us more, it reinterprets things. Most importantly, there is room to redeem it, via time and experience. The problem is the impulse that is the preservation of self, and other, and the learning to let go.

The difficult thing about the novel is that it is a journey through a time of grieving. It is hard to anticipate the conclusion. The only reassurance is that there is one. And it will be a beginning. For all the lovely cleanliness of the structure and pacing and writing, grieving is a messy, fraught, business. There will be ugly-crying and screaming and hatred, but even that is quite beautiful in Ali Benjamin’s hands. While the poetic language lends rationality to the scientific, it allows the emotional content absolute reason. Benjamin successfully ratchets up the intensity, explaining Suzy even as Suzy, in turn, has no explanation for Franny. Things just happen. The coming down from that is tenuous. The scientific lends the poet a way to frame the world, to fit words to an observation, a conclusion.

The Thing About Jellyfish is structured in 7 Parts with numberless, but titled Sections within each. Each Part begins with a quote from Mrs. Turton the 7th Grade Life Science Teacher and all around bad-ass. Each quote is an explanation for different aspects of conducting a Research Project (the final part being the “Conclusion”). Each Section essentially reads like a short story. These pieces are primarily reliant upon juxtaposition (as a Literary work might) rather than the old dependable segue. All the transitions are effortless. Even the switching between two linear time-lines is done with ease.

I ramble into thoughts, but the thing about The Thing About Jellyfish is how accessible it is. The structure buoys its subjects. The brevity of the Sections and Parts ease the weight of the content. Any educational component is rendered relevant, not just geek-worthy. Where the drama (and trauma) of Middle School is a bit daunting—especially when the author exaggerates the fracturing of childhood with puberty by adding death and divorce—the science is exciting (zombie ants?!). The writing is enchanting, if not completely effortless. And the kind of courage witnessed in so many characters in the novel is inspiring. What Middle Schooler (what human) couldn’t use some sympathy and inspiration to keep moving.

“Whatever was about to happen next in that dream […] it was better than staying still. The staying still was the worst part. The waiting and not-knowing and being afraid: That was worse than anything else that might happen” (220).

Another terrible thing that might happen is missing out on The Thing About Jellyfish.


Of note: I do love the effortless realism of Aaron and Rocco. Aaron is Suzy’s brother; Rocco is his beloved. I adore the discovery of the photograph on the mantel. I love that the parents are present, however clumsy, but earnest. I love the contemplations on the universe and the stars. I am grateful for the blip that was blood that read menstruation and how perfect its timing.

The “Author’s Note” includes more information on events, videos, figures, etc. referenced in the novel. This book would be so great to teach. Or Book Club.


{book} imagine Beekle

beekle coverThe Adventures of Beekle, The Unimaginary Friend

by Dan Santat (Little, Brown & Co. 2014)

On a magical island, a creature is born and left to imagine the friend made especially for them. Nameless, the creature waits in increasing despair while the others meet their matches.

The creature in Dan Santat’s The Adventures of Beekle is from the point-of-view of a yet-named Beekle, but the reader can easily imagine the perspective of the child awaiting Beekle’s realization. Beekle’s perspective is easily understood to be felt and experienced not only by itself, but the the human child as well.

Beekle_Int_HiRes2Santat dreams up the origins of unimaginary friends, and sends one of them on an adventure. Beekle dares to not be forgotten or left unimagined, braving the enormity of nature and adulthood to find where childhood resides. Though smaller in scale, the vibrantly imagined stands out against cold, dark hues of a contemporary urban landscape, walking among renderings of industry and isolation. The shift back to the warmth rendered in that magical island occurs when Beekle enters a playground. Even so, Beekle is alone, everyone else occupied with their unimaginary companion. Santat draws out the tension, the hopefulness that our new friend will find a pairing, and that the adventures will be less lonely. Either kind, alone or in the company of a child, Beekle’s adventures are familiar and moving.


Prepare to be utterly charmed by the creatures Santat renders for the story. Fans of Santat will have already anticipated excellence in color and texture. And the pencilled text is hand-lettered reminding the reader yet again that the author/illustrator is invested in a story about friendship and imagination. After all, the book sitting on its shelf is waiting for a reader to join it in an adventure. I certainly hope that audiences will be inspired to illustrate their own imaginable creatures and adventures; or perhaps play them out. It would be a heartening way to portray the world with childhood portraits (think school pictures) with an equalled attempt to represent an unimaginary friend.

b/w image of the endpages
b/w image of the endpages

Santat is known for his humor and imagination, but this one is less silly than I had come to expect. It brushes close to Shaun Tan’s work. Santat renders the overlap of the rich inner & outer life beautifully. The sweet hopefulness resides just this side of the melancholic, not yet ready to surrender to the disillusionment of childhood in modern life. Fears of being left out, last-to-be-picked, loneliness are buoyed with the optimism of youth and the experienced voice of a wiser and practiced storyteller.

The Adventures of Beekle is sure to be classic, and one to stay on the shelves well beyond childhood and its unimaginary friendships.


santatCheck out this Interview by Minh Le for Book Riot in which Santat answers the book’s dedication is Alek: “Alek is my oldest son who is eight years old. Years before he was born, the idea of an imaginary friend who couldn’t be imagined was something I was tinkering with for years. […] When Alek was born, and when he could finally speak, his first word was Beekle, which was his word for bicycle. At the time, my wife mentioned that it would be a great name for a children’s book character and I immediately realized that I had a name for my new character. Once I named the character the rest of the story flowed right out of me naturally and because of that the scene where Beekle learns his name is especially precious to me.”

Dan Santat is the author/illustrator of Sidekicks and the winner of the Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators for Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) by Mac Barnett. He is also the creator of the Disney animated hit, The Replacements. Dan lives in Southern California with his wife, two kids, and various pets.

{images belong to Dan Santat}

Beekle is my 5th Santat-illustrated book reviewed here (thus far): Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds; Crankenstein by Samantha Berger; Kel Gilligan’s Daredevil Stunt Show by Michael Buckley; & The Guild of Geniuses by Dan Santat. I can easily recommend them all.


"review" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · recommend

{book} a red knit cap girl to know

30 days of pbDay Twenty-Three:

Red Knit Cap Girl and Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue 

by Naoko Stoop 

Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown and Co 2012 and 2013 respectively

red knit cap girl cover

I would start with “charming story,” but what captures my attention is the medium in which Naoko Stoop illustrates Red Knit Cap Girl: Acrylic, ink, and pencil on plywood. The gradation of colors catch in the grain creating an intriguing texture. The brushwork of the moon’s face is just lovely on plywood. The lanterns are pretty sweet, too.  Not every page bears a full-wash of color, but Stoop frames out a page or two, to striking effect.


Red Knit Cap Girl would like to speak to the Moon and wonders how to find her. She learns that Moon with come close, so Red Knit Cap Girl and friends dream up of ways to attract Moon’s notice. They create lanterns, sing songs, but cannot find her. Stories that reward problem-solving are rarely so understated and cute. The animal friends are really adorable. Cute and wise is even more rare.

The Moon smiles and says, “You have made it dark enough to see me and quiet enough to hear me.” For all the light and activity, there is a benefit to darkness and silence, to whispers and listening. Welcome to your next bedtime story.

red knit cap girl to the rescue cover

Stoop returns with her adorable Red Knit Cap Girl and animal friends—and paper cuts. The text is simpler as the illustrations create most of the narrative. And I must say the storm at sea is gorgeous in interpretation. The story is magical, flying with paper gliders, sailing in a paper boat, making new friends and helping them find their way before returning home.

red kcg2-10

red knit cap girl to the rescue page

The background colors are stronger of hue. The blues and greens are really beautiful. The illustrations are straightforward, calm and they make me think of a folk art version of something Jeffers would do, though with less clever humor. That Stoop carries off adventure stories without the impulse for high-energy is impressive and incredibly appealing.

I’m looking forward to Red Knit Cap Girl and The Reading Tree (2014).


Naoko Stoop’s love of drawing began when she was a young child growing up in Japan. She was educated at Keio University in Tokyo and New York School of Interior Design in New York. Naoko now lives and paints in Brooklyn, New York.” She “uses found materials including plywood and brown paper bags as her canvas. She has shown her work in a variety of galleries and stores in New York and hopes that, through her artwork, she can inspires the child within everyone. –jacket copy

Red Knit Cap Girl is her first picture book. She has also illustrated: All Creatures Great and Small (Board Book), Sterling Children’s Books 2012; Noah’s Ark, illus. for Susan Collins Thomas (Sterling 2013); Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree (2014)

“I walk around in my neighborhood with a sketchbook. And I meditate in my studio to be present. I’m trying to bring out the five-year old in people through my artwork. Because I believe that is the last moment before children start learning how complicated the world is, and that was when I once stopped drawing. It took me decades to come back to myself. Now? Here I am drawing everyday!” –(bio) 

{images/text belongs to Naoko Stoop}


"review" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · recommend · wondermous

knock for yourself…

30 days of pbDay FifteenKnock! Knock!: My Dad’s Dream for Me

By Daniel Beaty, illus. Bryan Collier

Little, Brown for Young Readers 2013.

knock knock coverEvery morning, I play a game with my father.
He goes knock knock on my door
and I pretend to be asleeptill he gets right next to the bed.And my papa, he tells me, “I love you.”
But what happens when, one day, that “knock knock” doesn’t come? This powerful and inspiring book shows the love that an absent parent can leave behind, and the strength that children find in themselves as they grow up and follow their dreams.—publisher’s comments.

It is not unusual enough for me to laugh loud enough to draw attention when reading picture books in public spaces. It is a rare moment for a picture book to draw a tear, even in private. Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is one that slays me every time. Seated with a stack of picture books in the studiously quiet adult section of the library, I was tearing up and sniffled beneath a few casual stares.

KnockKnock3I was first moved by the tender ritual between father and son. The heartstrings tightened to breaking when the boy wakes to find his father no longer there. It is a slow waking. A dawning is not fully realized until the end of the book when the boy has grown into a man with a family of his own, “For despite my absence you are still here.”

Why or where the father has gone is left without explanation. There are any number of reasons, nevertheless the little boy is left to deal with the reality of the absence and unrequited desires: “Papa, come home, ‘cause there are things I don’t know, and when I got older I thought you could teach me.”

knockknock2Like A Snowy Day (Keats) and Bird (Elliott) we see a boy sitting by the window looking out from the inside. We are there with him as he sends a paper airplane letter into flight.

The text is powerful on its own, the father’s letter is touching, and the son’s maturity aggrieved but inspiring as he comes to take on the dreaming for himself. But the images do more than hold their own. They have the kind of narrative complexity I usually anticipate with graphic novels. Everything about them moves to strengthen the evocation of the written narrative.

Collier’s photo collage and water color, the inclusion of textures and patterns–a life made up of clippings–gives the images layers, depth, the concrete complications of reality. Not only are the boy and his settings tangible, but the emotional conflicts as well. The most easily read is the rainbow on the wall that falls. I love the border of marching elephants, memory in a line on a bedroom wall, large in composition. The construction trucks crash together in the hands of a troubled boy. Instead of constructing something they become destructive. As the young boy grows, the childhood interest in construction, in building things, returns in a positive aspect for the man he would become.

knock knock pagesBuildings figure in as the story expands from a room to a kitchen to the neighborhood and we see the photographic images of children’s faces on tenement rooftops, and then street level the fading of a father’s visage. This is when the boy tells his absent father: “I want to be just like you, but I’m forgetting who you are.” We witness the juxtaposition and, indeed, the conflation of the forgotten and the forgetting. He is left imagining what it would be like to be a grown man, a husband, a father. Fortunately, the imagination proves able. He dreams and grows into an image of wholeness, of achievement, of being present.

Knock! Knock! is not one to only be especially selected for a reader’s situation. The narrative, the gorgeous visual storytelling, this is a book that should belong to everyone. If you can only own it for a little while (thank you public libraries) please do.

of note: I really really love that cover. It was appealing before the read, but so much more deeply felt afterward.


Daniel Beaty  is an award-winning actor, singer, writer, and composer. He has worked throughout the U.S., Europe, and Africa performing on programs with artists such as Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Jill Scott, Sonia Sanchez, MC Lyte, Mos Def, Tracy Chapman, Deepak Chopra, and Phylicia Rashad. He holds a BA with Honors in English & Music from Yale University and an MFA in Acting from the American Conservatory Theatre. He is a proud member of New Dramatists and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University. Both Emergency &Through the Night have are published by Samuel French and available online. Knock Knock is his first children’s book based on his poem.  Daniel has also written a Spoken World Ballet Far But Close that premiered in the 2012/13 season for Dance Theater of Harlem.  (via site’s bio)

the poem performed:

Bryan Collier‘s “interest in art was always encouraged both at home and at school. He began to develop a unique style of painting that incorporated both watercolors and collage.

“Collage is more than just an art style. Collage is all about bringing different elements together. Once you form a sensibility about connection, how different elements relate to each other, you deepen your understanding of yourself and others.”

In 1989 Bryan graduated with honors from Pratt Institute with a bachelor of fine arts degree. Today Bryan spends his time working on his book illustrations, creating his own studio pieces, and going into classrooms to talk with teachers, librarians, and students about books and art. “I ask them to tell their own story. Then I ask them to tell their own story through art.

“The experience of making art is all about making decisions. Once the kids really get that, you see them making the connection. They go from saying, ‘That’s not about me’ to ‘Hey. Look at me. This is who I am.'” (via site’s “bio”)

"review" · Children's · horror/scary · Picture book · recommend · wondermous

laszlo and the dark

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Nineteen: The Dark

by Lemony Snicket, illus by Jon Klassen

Little, Brown & Co. 2013.

When you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.–Nietzsche


“Laszlo is afraid of the dark. The dark is not afraid of Laszlo.”*

Seriously, how chilling is that? And I didn’t even have to use the Vincent Price voice to excite goosebumps.

“Laszlo lives in a house. The dark lives in the basement.”*

If only it would stay there. But of course, it won’t, because we’d rather be frightened than bored.

“One night, the dark comes upstairs to Laszlo’s room, and Laszlo goes down to the basement.”*

The hunter has just become the hunted–okay, so not really. It’s more like Laszlo is being carried off to his doom.

“This is the story of how Laszlo stops being afraid of the dark.”*

The *jacket copy reads like dark chocolate. Too bad the daughter is thirteen and not three, because this could have been really fun to read together. She wasn’t as macabre when she was three–as macabre.

Imagining the dark as this living breathing thing that lurks is lovely.  It  is Laszlo’s fellow inmate of a big sparsely furnished house. And it speaks. This sort of schizophrenia not only plausible, but acceptable in picture books. Of course, Laszlo speaks to the dark first.

dark3 (1)

“Laszlo would peek at the dark every morning [which always retreats to the basement by then]. ‘Hi,’ he would say. ‘Hi, dark.'”

It’s cute, because Laszlo acts as if the dark comes to visit him because he wouldn’t visit it’s room; as if the dark were lonely, instead of each of them minding in-house boundaries. Which they are. But maybe, too, the dark is only trying to be just as thoughtful when it visits Laszlo. After all, who else seems to know what you are looking for when all the room goes dark–which is what happens before the dark’s voice lures Laszlo from his bed.


And really, how can you enjoy the light without the dark? The question of one needing the other for something is a clever way to go in this picture book about being afraid. Laszlo’s fears needed the dark, until he doesn’t any longer. Until he needs the dark [in order] to have light.

Klassen’s illustrations add a significant coherence to the story. The illuminated spaces are carved out by the dark. Even the text can be read because of the dark, because we are reading in the dark… The dark gives things shape just as the light in the more lit spaces emphasize shadow.

“Mr. Klassen’s genius is entirely accidental. He has no idea what he’s doing. Often he does something good, but it’s purely by chance.” Daniel Handler in a Kirkus interview. There is something to a well-honed instinct and Klassen’s previous works recommend him a gift for timing and placement and color values. Handler is quite good with his sense of story as well.


The Dark is something you are going to want to experience for yourself.


read Jenny Brown’s amusing interview for Kirkus here, in which she actually asks Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) “Would you say that, over time, you have become more compassionate?”

{images belong to Jon Klassen}

"review" · Children's · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend · Uncategorized

sighting (citing) monsters

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay One: Crankenstein

written by Samantha Berger, Illustrated by Dan Santat

Little, Brown and Company, 2013. hardcover.

crankenstein cover

All books should be read cover to cover, but Crankenstein (Little, Brown Company 2013) as written by Samantha Berger and Illustrated by Dan Santat really is a must. The book is a complete production and the subject–that dread state–crankiness. The inside jacket copy reads like a freak-show announcement:


Who is Crankenstein? He’s an ordinary kid, just like you. But on a Bad Day, he could transform into…Crankenstein! A monster of grumpiness that no one can destroy!



Turn the pages to see this creature of crankiness. You might even learn how to turn him back into a boy… If You Dare!

The end pages open with rain drops and close with sunshines; the before and after. The copyright page:

crankenstein copyright page

Is this like method acting or immersion–er–therapy?  The author bios at the jacket’s close involves further hilarity. The back cover: fresh scooped ice cream (with sprinkles) on pavement with the shadow of the monster, recently emptied cone in hand–“When cranky kids have monstrous days…” indeed.

I dare anyone to take maintain their miserable mood during the course of this read. Whatever the ambiance Santat finessed in order to depict this Crankenstein so convincingly, worked. The character seethes from where he storms and sulks on the page. And you can’t help but smile. We were laughing out loud.

Berger walks us through the most likely sightings of Crankenstein. I can still identify with the sing-song morning greeting as someone yanks open the curtain to that too startling intensity of daylight. Then there is teeth-gritting flame-encompassed “Mehhrrrr!!!” to the blindingly bright and smiling sun begs commiseration. Berger and Santat nails it. Of course “you might see Crankenstein […] when it’s way too hot for popsicles.” Stick clenched in a red sugary-ooze covered fist. Head thrown back while the other fist is shaking a damn you! “Especially when it’s way too hot for popsicles.’ Natalya was laughing uproariously at the next page:

crankenstein line
pre-text image

She points to the height sign. Yeah, you know this is not going to be good once Crankenstein learns of this! You see in this image how Santat uses the light to contrast mood and that relentless bright (just short of too much) and cheeriness earns my sympathy.

He looks sinister when he’s told “Bedtime!” Berger’s use of “definitely” in this sighting is perfectly demonstrated in the posture and the shine of the eyes off the page. The chill wears off quickly when another Crankenstein is introduced.

crankenstein pancakes
made me think of Sean

The color palette is always going to be vibrant and perfectly tuned when Santat is illustrating. I was struck by how close Santat brings us to the protagonist, the maple syrup, the candy bag, the arm extended, they are huge! The spare text proportionate. He fills the double-page spreads lent to each sighting. The exaggeration suits the temperament of the book, the identification with the character, and bonus:  no need to squint from the back of the reading-time rug.

Santat is talented and translates the humor in the story fantastically, but Berger is not outdone.  The textual narrative is well-timed. And the tone is one of “hey! we have bad moments, and these instances suck! but…” The “but” comes with a realization of just how ridiculous that tantrum is, and there are reasons to let that potential-rage-response slide of your back (or deflect off your head with a resounding “bonk!”). Humor is the best medicine for a hard day and you will find it in Crankenstein.


recommendations: You’ll be tempted to share this with your favorite grade-school-aged monster and you should go with the impulse, but this is a picture book for even the most darling (if such a beast actually exists)… This would be good to have after (or during) a hard day, and/or to gift your favorite younger-elementary-grade school teacher.

{images belong to Dan Santat and Little, Brown and Company}


PBMLOGO-COLOR_HIGHRES-300x300Dan Santat on “Why Picture Books are Important” (Nov. 2012) for Picture Book Month.  An excerpt: 

“The first book I ever read was Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff. My mother had read the book to me hundreds of times until the words became familiar to my own eyes. Then there was a realization that I was reading the book with my eyes without having to hear my mother’s voice. But it isn’t until you read a book out loud to others, that the world realizes that you are reading.”

"review" · Children's · Illustrator · juvenile lit · Picture book · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

{book} the tale I told Sasha

DAY 18

The Tale I Told Sasha by Nancy Willard

Illustrated by David Christiana

Little Brown and Company, 1999.

Natalya still keeps a few picture books from her younger years on her bookshelf. I decided to just pick the first one to come to hand (the shelves are a mess at the moment). The Tale I Told Sasha is wonderful…and strange; which is probably a bit part of why it still lives with N.

A yellow ball rolls out of sight, over the Bridge of Butterflies, across the Field of Lesser Beasts, through painted trees, to the place where all lost things are found.—publisher

The epigraph quotes The White Queen from Through the Looking-Glass.: “Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” In the tale Nancy Willard told Sasha (see dedication), more than six impossible things occur in “the thinning evening light” as the girl in the story looks for the yellow ball that has been lost to the shadows. “Our mantel clock did not keep time/ but in the thinning evening light/ its shadow deepened to a door/ that opened nearly out of sight/ on brighter rooms, an older space.” On a day that was “wet and dull” in house where the “dining room was dark and plain” and their “living room was plain and small” the girl enters a world where the lost can be found, a curious place with a road under a coin, a door beside the road from whence “a golden fish swam out and growled, “Your yellow ball is far from here.””

—-The adventure has the surreal quality of the magical and the quiet of something potentially dark and creepy. The lighting, the wash of the water color and pastel illustrations lend a more harmless dream-like quality. Though strange, it is a lovely rather than panic-inducing kind of exploration. While the Alice down the hole or through the glass comes to mind, where the girl’s goes is not without familiar influences.  Creatures and sets alike incorporate household objects and some are not cute, but all are striking. David Christiana’s images as provoked by Willard’s tale evoke whimsy and the upside-down. He populates the pages in company with the prose, but he provides more opportunities for exploration. “Our house is quiet, small and plain, and yet its rooms run far and wide.”

When you see the mother give the girl the yellow ball, notice the paintbrushes tucked in her hair, the creature in her overall’s pocket, the print framed in the hall over her shoulder, the books. There is little wonder who nurtures the kind of tale the narrator has to tell and the kind of images the illustrator is inspired to share. I remember this particular book being shared with a certain stillness, a kind of quiet. The Tale I Told Sasha provides a different kind of experience from the many picture books with poetic language/images, a different kind of journey into the other places of our world (our imagination). I think this one is great for the already reading. Still, for adults who love language and appreciate the atmospheric call for creativity this invokes and if you’ve a child who seems to enjoy the wonder of the shadows and the lost and the strange…

{images belong to David Christiana}