Tag Archives: watercolor

Day 108 – Zen Ties

In honor of Haiku Day on the 17th of April, we read a fantastic book: “Zen Ties” by John Muth. Sprinkled with clever plays on words, beautiful watercolor images, and some insightful and well-placed Haiku, “Zen Ties” is a sweet and gently humorous book about compassion and friendship.Zen ties

The story reintroduces giant-panda Zen master Stillwater and his three friends Addy, Michael and Karl, who originally appeared in Mr. Muth’s Caldecott Honor book “Zen Shorts”. “Zen Ties” also introduces us to Stillwater’s taciturn yet poetic nephew Koo, who arrives at the train station at the beginning of the book. “Hi, Koo” says Stillwater in greeting – foreshadowing the charming bits of poetry that Mr. Muth, through Koo, will insert periodically throughout the story.

It’s summer time in “Zen Ties”, the weather is spectacular, and there is fun to be had playing at the park with Stillwater, Koo, and the children. Michael, however, is troubled; he is nervous about an upcoming spelling bee, and he is afraid his nerves are going to keep him from doing well. Stillwater suggests that the children come with him to bring food for his ailing friend Miss Whitaker. The children are skeptical; to them Miss Whitaker is the angry old lady on their street who is always yelling at them to get out from in front of her house. However, despite Miss Whitaker’s initial gruffness and her blue mood (she appears to be lonely and tired), the visit goes rather well; the children clean around the house and spend time painting pictures for Miss Whitaker. Stillwater suggests that Michael might like to come back the next day. When they return on the morrow, Stillwater explains that Miss Whitaker used to teach English and might be able to help Michael prepare for his spelling bee – which she does, gladly.

Eventually, the children and Miss Whitaker become fast friends, visiting frequently and enjoying apple tea together. Oh, and about that spelling bee: Michael makes it through all the way to the end and has a ribbon to share with Miss Whitaker. When Stillwater walks Koo to the train station at the end of the book, offering to dispose of his tea cup for him, Koo shakes his head:

“Nearing my visit’s end,

summer now tastes of apple tea

I will keep my cup”

I adore this book. I’m not really even sure where to start. The book is very well written – as noted below, Mr. Muth takes care to say what he has to say in the most efficient manner possible – and he manages to work in some humor in the process: “What would you do if you were in a spelling bee?” Michael asks Stillwater…”I would spell words,” he answers. Stillwater’s quiet confidence is comforting as well; you know that if you stick with him, everything is going to work out just right. Mr. Muth’s illustrations are captivating – expressive and colorful – adding heart to the story. My favorite picture was of Miss Whitaker at home alone in the evening after the children’s first visit; she is sitting in the dark peering through a magnifying glass to get a better look at the paintings the children left behind. The connection between Miss Whitaker and the children by the end of the book is inspiring; it always makes me choke up a little when Karl tells Stillwater that Miss Whitaker had been yelling at them just that morning. Stillwater asks “Why are you smiling?” and Karl says, “She was telling us to get out of the street and play in her yard”. Most of all, however, I love the sense of caring and community that shines through in this story.

About the Haiku – I did notice that Koo’s poetic interjections are not truly Haiku in the way Americans know it – with three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. When I first read this book, I thought it was odd to see the obvious play on words with Koo’s name, but not see any true Haiku…as I knew it. In fact, if you read Mr. Muth’s author note (well worth the time, by the way), he makes that point that the rigid 5/7/5 structure is actually an attempt in English to “create an analog with the Japanese language”. Rather than adhering to those particular numbers of syllables, Mr. Muth tries to “have the discipline to say what (he wants) said in the fewest words. It doesn’t always work out to be seventeen syllables”, an interesting lesson in and of itself.


Day 85 – Little Bunny on the Move

“It was time for a little bunny to be on the move. From here to there, a bunny goes where a bunny must.” Will he stop? No – but for a brief nap, this little bunny will not stop – not for pigs, or cows, or fat sheep, or even a sweet little girl who would keep him as a pet. Over hills, through fences, across railroad tracks, this little bunny is not to be deterred – but where is he going?bunny

Peter McCarty’s “Little Bunny on the Move” is a simple and comforting story about a darling little bunny – who looks like a tiny marshmallow puff – moving purposefully across the landscape to make his way back home. While he appears at times to be almost marching across the page, Mr. McCarty’s little bunny is nothing like the frantic White Rabbit of Alice in Wonderland, he is merely determined to rejoin his family.

The book is illustrated in Mr. McCarty’s unique style: a dreamy and lightly tinted combination of pencil and watercolor that creates a lovely softness and augments the gentle feel of the story. There is also an interesting interaction of dark and light in Mr. McCarty’s drawings that creates a certain glow to the illustrations. The overall effect is memorable, so much so that even though we haven’t picked this book up in almost a decade, it still felt familiar.

 


Day 83 – Whose Egg?

Riddle me this: what could be more awesome than a lushly-decorated book with a touch of mystery that also increases your children’s understanding of nature? That same book with lift-the-flap – of course! Enter “Whose Egg” by Lynette Evans and illustrated by Guy Troughton, the second of our Easter-inspired selections this week.whose

Each two-page spread of “Whose Egg” presents a riddle with clues to help identify the animal hiding behind the flaps, and Mr. Troughton’s vibrant watercolor paintings provide additional hints for observant readers. There are eggs from reptiles, birds, insects, and even a certain duck-billed mammal – eight in total. We really enjoyed trying to guess each hidden animal. The only challenge for us was keeping our youngest from opening the flaps too quickly!

Like “An Egg is Quiet”, which we read yesterday, the production quality of this book is wonderful; if nothing else, it is just fun to hold and to look at. I can already tell that it is going to be well loved in our house…and I have a feeling I will be taping some of these flaps back on at some point in the near future!


Day 82 – An Egg is Quiet

I had a feeling just from looking at the cover of this evening’s storybook that we were in for a treat, and I was not disappointed. “An Egg is Quiet” by Dianna Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long, is a beautiful combination of science, poetry, and art.quiet

The simple but elegant text introduces the reader to the wide variety of characteristics an egg can exhibit: not only can they be quiet, but they can also be “clever”, shapely, artistic, and fossilized…just to name a few. Each two-page spread presents a new characteristic complete with stunning watercolor illustrations that are well complemented by the choice in fonts; the production quality is excellent. There are notes scattered around each page providing additional information and letting the reader know what animal belongs to each of the eggs shown. One review I read had what I thought was a particularly apt description of the overall effect: it is like reading a naturalist’s journal.

We read the book through once to get a sense for the flow – the “big picture” if you will – before going back to soak in and discuss all the wonderful details. I really enjoyed being able to identify some of the more unusual eggs from the labels, and was fascinated to learn (for example) that seabird eggs are pointy on one end so that they “roll around in safe little circles, not off the cliff.”

We originally selected Ms. Aston’s book for this week because of the approaching Easter holiday. While not, strictly speaking, an Easter book, “An Egg is Quiet” still fits in nicely – presenting a natural variety and beauty to eggs that outshines the colorful plastic egg decorations we see everywhere this time of year. It seems like the kind of book that would be nice to have on the shelf for little ones to pull out periodically and pore over and I was happy to discover that Ms. Aston and Ms. Long appear to have published several similarly attractive collaborations. I expect we will be reading more of their work this year.