december 2011
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Over and Under the Snow

By Jules

"Over the snow I glide. Into woods, frosted fresh and white."
(Click to enlarge)

Here's a quick post to celebrate a wintry title I really like. Over and Under the Snow (Chronicle Books, October 2011), written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, is what Kirkus calls "utterly charming, and informative, to boot" and Publishers Weekly calls both "informative" and "evocative."

In this book, a young girl explores the snowy woods with her father. As they ski, seen above, he tells her all about the various animals that live under the snow after she first spots a red squirrel, "a flash of fur," and asks where he went. "Under the snow is a whole secret kingdom, where the smallest forest animals stay safe and warm," her father tells her. "You're skiing over them now."


As they continue on, the young girl notes what is over the snow-rattling beech trees, silent pines, a great horned owl, deep hoof prints, reeds "where tadpoles play tag in springtime," a full moon lighting her path to supper--as well as what's under the snow. A chipmunk waits for his meal, a shrew "dodges columns of ice," a queen bumblebee "drowses away December."

Messner chooses precise, evocative words. "Clouds whisper down feathery-soft flakes," she writes in one instance. There are no wasted words, and she draws in the reader with the lyrical way in which she captures the imagery of the scenes laid out in the book. She includes a closing Author's Note, which notes the science of the subnivean zone, "the network of small open spaces and tunnels between the snowpack and the ground," as well as more facts about the animals featured in the book. Notes on Further Reading are also provided.

The illustrations of illustrator and designer Christopher Silas Neal nearly glow in this tall book. Using mixed media on a cool palette, his illustrations are as brisk as a wintry morning. "Unvarnished pages and an elegant layout enhance the sense of magic in a natural world just out of view," writes that PW review, describing these as woodcut-like illustrations.

Here are a couple of additional spreads. Enjoy.

Over the snow I climb, digging in my edges so I don't slide back down.
Under the snow, voles scratch through slippery tunnels,
searching for morsels from summer feasts."
(Click to enlarge)

"Over the snow I climb one last hill. Bonfire smoke rises: warm hands, hot cocoa,
hot dogs sizzling on pointed sticks. Under the snow, a black bear snores,
still full of October blueberries and trout."
(Click to enlarge)

* * * * * * *

OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW. (c) 2011 by Kate Messner. Illustrations (c) 2011 by Christopher Silas Neal. Published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher.


Peaceful Pieces

"...whatever happens to one of us happens to all of us."

As I explain at this page of the site, 7-Imp's header should probably say "a blog about illustration," as that's entirely more accurate. (But I'm sentimental, so I'm not changing it and that's that.) Yep, I like to follow contemporary illustration like my kitten likes to bite my ear at 5 a.m. to tell me it's time to be fed (SHE SAYS WITH GREAT FATIGUE).

But there is one particular type of rendering picture book art which I feel I don't cover enough. And that's the kind of art featured here this morning. Salley Mavor, whom I interviewed around this time last year, calls her work "fabric relief collage." I'm not sure what author/illustrator (or "sorceress of the ordinary"--visit her site to get the scoop) Anna Grossnickle Hines calls hers, but quite simply (though there's very little that's simple about the process, I'm sure) it's quilting. Pictured above--please note that is only the right part of one full spread--is an illustration from her latest title, Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace, published by Henry Holt in March of 2011.

6The Kirkus reviewer for this title wisely noted that it's "very difficult to write about peace for children--or anyone else--without sinking into bathos or pure sappiness." True. But I like these poems. (And, for the record, the Kirkus reviewer recommends the book, which has also been met with starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly.) Hines' poems come in many forms--haiku, rhyming couplets, concrete poetry, acrostics, free verse--and they cover many aspects of peace. There's the child who plays with the kid at school whom everyone else shuns; there's wobbly peace (Hines likens the presence of fear to "peace walk[ing] a tightrope"); there's the way your mouth forms itself into a smile by the mere action of saying the word "peace"; there's the peace that forgiveness brings; there's the frustration of convincing peace to stay ("O Peace,/why are you such/an infrequent guest?"); and much more. These are meditations on peace and even its absence, which can prompt thought-provoking discussions for child readers--and the entire collection would serve as an excellent writing prompt in elementary or middle school classrooms.

And the intricately stitched quilted artwork is beautiful. "The most striking aspect of the book," writes Booklist, "is its quilted, pieced-cloth artwork, and the borderless pages allow maximum impact for Hines' bold, expressive visual statements." One of my favorite parts of the book is its closing: Hines introduces children to some of the "peacemakers" (Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, etc.), whose faces are included on one quilt. And then in a note called "Peaceful Connections," she discusses the time-honored tradition of quilting, as well as how she went about the creation of the book:

...I have not been alone on this journey. While writing the poems, I was supported and encouraged by some of my writing friends. We challenged ourselves to write a poem every day, and I chose peace as a theme.

As I worked on my quilts I drew on a rich and wonderful heritage. Woven into the centuries-old tradition of quilting are the pleasure of creating beautiful and useful objects, an element of storytelling, and a strong sense of community.

In the name of the-art-speaks-louder-than-my-words, here are some images from the book. Enjoy. [Note: These illustrations are each only one half of full spreads. Only a true picture book nerd would point this out, but hey, I think it's important to note you're only seeing part of a full double-page-spread.]



PEACEFUL PIECES: POEMS AND QUILTS ABOUT PEACE. (c) 2011 by Anna Grossnickle Hines. Published by Henry Holt and Company, New York, NY. All Images reproduced by permission of the publisher.

This and many more of Jules's adventures in books, kids' lit and illustration can be found at the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog. Visit often. You will be rewarded for doing so.



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