Occasionally, I find books that make me stop in my tracks. Books that scream at me. Books that say, “Notice me. Read me again and again.” Well, this past two weeks have uncovered two such books that I just have to share with you.
Firstly, there’s Dan Santat’s latest book, Are We There Yet? (Little Brown & Co, 2016) We don’t yet have this one , but it is on order. I was lucky to get a copy before the actual pub date. Thanks, Little Brown!
On to the fabulousness. A new Santat is cause for celebration. Some of you may already know how very much I adore Beekle, that little imaginary guy. Well, Are We There Yet? is pretty swell, too. Take off the dust jacket (or peek under the cover if you are looking at a library copy). There’s a surprise under there! The book is encased in lovely film-frame endpapers depicting a day’s travel. Open to the title page, and you know that Santat has been stuck in a car with a boy yelling, “Are we there yet?”. And you know he remembers what it was like to be a kid stuck in a long car ride. You know all that by the expression on the faces of everyone in the car. He might even know what it is like to be the Mom. The title gives you a big clue about the story, but the basic premise is this: family is going to Grandma’s house for a birthday party. Kid is bored. Kid’s imagination goes wild (or maybe Dan Santat’s imagination has gone wild).
As the story progresses, suddenly, the book forces us to flip it. In the hands of a less accomplished book-maker, this might be just a gimmick. But Santat flips the reader and keeps them there for quite a while. It works. It is clever. It is not gimmicky. We are taken on a very grand adventure. We even meet a robot who speaks QR code (and yes, those codes do work!). Santat takes us finally to the party, pulls another surprise, and leaves us with something to think about. And all this presented in lovely, funny, thoughtful art. PS — can you find Beekle in the book? AND– the BOOK TRAILER was just released!
Next up is Sydney Smith’s latest, The White Cat and the Monk (Groundwood Books, 2016). Based on a poem that has been retold by Jo Ellen Bogart, this is a lovely tribute to books, cats, pets, poetry, and the fine art of companionship. I was expecting to like this book. After all, Sidewalk Flowers charmed me the instant I met it. But I was not expecting to be utterly smitten with this book. Granted, it could be the subject matter– after all, I have recently fallen in love with Medieval manuscripts. And I am addicted to picture books. So a picture book that celebrates Medieval manuscripts (and cats!), well, it has just about everything I could ask for in a picture book. Speaking of cats – Smith has gotten the feline just right. The dark shadowy monastery is never scary. His use of yellow to contrast candlelight with shadows is perfect. The book has the right colours — the muted palette makes the appearance of the illuminations pop.
When the monk’s manuscripts are shown, the reverence to these books is captured– this wordless spread makes me pause, look around, admire, and think, as it is meant to. Even the pages are thick, recalling the parchment of old. I might be overdoing it here, because I have a huge crush on this book. But you must take a look at it. It would pair so well with Brother Hugo and the Bear, and Medieval Monsters, that I wish I were a teacher so I could create a unit around these books.