Picturebook Trio: A Night Gardener, a Gryphon, and a Whisper

Genres: Picturebooks

There are picturebooks…and then there are Picturebooks. I bring Three special titles to you today.

THE NIGHT GARDENER

This picturebook might be my favorite picturebook of 2016. THE NIGHT GARDENER is absolutely gorgeous in its design, word/image interaction, and limited but rich textual narrative. It is a gift waiting for the reader to open, and I would not be surprised to hear that others have had profound experiences with this story.

First, I noticed that the way the book opened was unique. Whereas in other stories there might be a buildup to a grand event, this narrative stepped into its beginning rather quickly—in fact, on the second page. At the same time, the build up begins with the extra-textual materials of the book, which I loved. The copyright page itself features an important double page spread.

In other words, the book designers don’t waste any space in advancing and illuminating the meaning of the narrative.

And there are multiple meanings one might take away from this gem of a book by the Fan Brothers.

For example, the Night Gardener is bringing a kind of reformation and revival of beauty to the small town in the book. But two characters are affected in the story—our protagonist, William, and then the town as a whole. First, William is awed by the work of the Night Gardener and eventually pursues and finds him, deciding to help him in his work. Then, William plays a role in continuing the important work of the Night Gardener within the town. The magic and beauty and wonder that the Night Gardener brings through his “transformations” and “works of art” begin to change everyone—in a lasting way. There is a lot more to say about this simple and yet profound story, but I’ll stop there.

IF I HAD A GRYPHON

This book is actually written by a friend of mine, Vikki Vansickle, whom I met in Toronto when she was a bookseller! What we both shared in common is that we had both completed an MA in Children’s Literature and we always had wonderful bookish chats when we met. I’m absolutely thrilled to say that If I Had a Gryphon is lovely, charming, and whimsically wonderful!

The rhyme and rhythm of the narrative pairs perfectly with the pictures, and there is much to see in these illustrations! Whimsical, bright, and vivid—these illustrations pop off the page and pull you into the dreamlife of our protagonist. The fact that the story is told in verse adds another enjoyable aspect to the book.

Read the words out loud and you’ll be captivated by their rhythm, humor, and ability to bring these mythical creatures to life on the page. Poetry for young people can sometimes be daunting and hard to understand, but the rhymes of this book remove any stress related to poetry and provide a fantastic experience with verse. Sometimes a poetry book might have stellar illustrations but mediocre text, or wonderful text, but pictures that are not as strong as they might be. If I Had a Gryphon receives gold stars on both fronts!

THE WHISPER

The Whisper is a new addition to my school library and it is gorgeous! Whimsical, imaginative, and full of wonder, this gem of a picturebook tells a story that invites endless interpretations and curiosity. Its cover boasts a girl in a red hood, holding an open book with a crown on its cover, a crown floating above the girl’s head and also a fox at her side. A bunch of grapes hover over the fox’s head, slipping in an intertextual reference to Aesop’s fables (a preview of something that will happen later in the story).

Everything about the book promises a luxurious experience—pictures filled with detail that will keep you reading for a long while, and if you are looking for an opportunity to create your own stories, you will look no further. The endpapers alone kick off the story and provide a puzzle for the reader to unlock. My favorite part in the story is the double page spread at the beginning when the girl is rushing home with the special book on loan to her from her teacher. The fox balances on a wheel as he “scoops” up the words of the story in his net.

Each picture in the book invites its own narrative…or all the stories connected? No matter—your imagination is the key to unlock it all, and it becomes a marvelous experience the more you read.

Why is it called The Whisper? Well, you’ll just have to find out.

Have you read any of these picturebooks from 2016? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please tell me what you thought of these beautiful titles!

What Katie Read

If We Were Having Coffee (Valentine’s Day Edition)

Hello, Friends! It’s been awhile, but I’m incredibly happy to share a new blog post with you today. And I hope you’re excited because….we’re going out for coffee.

**The “If We Were Having Coffee” feature came from Jamie at Perpetual Page Turner, who actually discovered it on another blog.

If we were having coffee, I would hope you had chosen a coffee beverage you really enjoy and that you would have ordered it in a cup “for here.” I would also hope you had a slice of cake to go along with your coffee.

I would ask you if you were enjoying the snow. I would mention that I don’t mind the cold so much, because growing up in Northern California meant that our winters didn’t always bring snow. I like the four seasons, and I appreciate the wardrobe change. I’d ask you how you were coping with the colder weather and what you thought of the notion of these bits of fluffy cotton falling from the sky…

If we were having coffee, I would ask you if you had an upcoming winter break, like I do. I would mention that I’m visiting Italy with friends for the week, and that it’s my fourth trip to that beautiful country. Though I have been to Florence before, it was only for a few days. I’m pleased to be returning for longer. Florence is that magical kind of place you imagine you could visit periodically for the rest of your life. The last time I was there I tried to imagine what it was like for Lucy Honeychurch to encounter George Emerson in Room with a View. I plan to re-read E.M. Forster’s classic while in Florence. I’d ask you if you’d been to Italy or other European destinations. I’d wonder if there were places you return to again and again. 

I would mention that it is only recently I could even get excited about going to Italy. My job in the School Library has been so busy this year–so many classes to teach and an entire library to manage! You would think that being surrounded by so many books would mean you could get loads and loads of reading done, but it’s not exactly like that. It has been challenging at times to keep up with my reading and, as you know, to update this blog. I want that to change! You wouldn’t believe the amazing books I’ve been reading over the past few months. I think you’ll also be excited about all the wonderful titles I picked up from ALA Midwinter in Atlanta in January.

To be honest, I don’t even like saying I’m “busy.”  I want people to think they could ask me to sit down for a coffee at any time. Or even that they could drop by and I would have a pie made from scratch to offer.

That doesn’t seem the norm—this is a busy culture and sometimes it seems you have to plan a coffee meeting weeks and weeks out. How I miss the days of hearing a knock on the door and seeing a friend! I would ask you what you thought of spontaneous coffee outings, and if you had any strategies for navigating our busy culture.

So, if we were having coffee, I would tell you how happy I am you took the time to sit down and talk. I would appreciate being able to tell you what’s happening with me, and I would be thankful to hear what’s going on with you. I would ask you if you needed a refill of your coffee.

I would tell you that recently I’ve been wondering why I chose to live so far away from my family. For some reason, it has felt more difficult, and it seems as if those 3,000 miles might as well be 30,000. I would reflect that you can’t really get the California out of me. There’s a bit of London there too. I would mention that I’m thinking about Londoners right now, in the swirl of winter, and that I so enjoyed speaking with my dear friends in Oxford (along with their dog, Bramble, barking in the background) on Sunday afternoon. I would ask you if you’ve ever lived in another country or state and what it was like leaving that place.

If we were having coffee, I would ask you what you were reading. I would say that I have so many good books lined up to read, and that I recently read a historical novel called When We Meet Again, by an author I met at ALA this past summer in Orlando. I would ask you if you knew that German prisoners of war had been sent to work on farms in Florida after WWII. I might mention that there were probably many German soldiers in the war that didn’t really support Hitler, but were caught up in a horrendous world event that would send them far, far away from where they were born. I would ask you if your perspective about people changes when you read historical fiction, and what you think about the power of literature to change people’s hearts and minds. I would ask you if you love history and what historical period you would go to, should you be granted the ability to time travel.

If we were having coffee, we might be figuring out our next coffee meeting. I would mention that it should happen again sooner, rather than later.

As we were finishing our coffee, I would mention that I really miss blogging. I remember when I blogged almost every day, when I was working from home. I miss those days of sharing my thoughts about every book I read and participating in the Top Ten Tuesday every week. I would share the ideas I have for blogging in 2017, and you would know I’m really excited about it. I would mention that instead of just writing book review posts, I hope to share my thoughts about some other subjects….such as a research project I’m planning with a favorite video game. I would ask you what you think of stories in different mediums, and whether you were currently playing any intriguing games.

So, go ahead….tell me! Grab your coffee and take a break from receiving all those roses and chocolates (or giving them) and let’s catch up. I’m excited for the weeks ahead on the blog, and I can’t wait to hear what you’ve been up to and reading!

What Katie Read

Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon: Mid Event Survey

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Well, Hello There!

It’s Hour 12 of Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon, and though I won’t be able to stay up for all 24 hours, I at least am making the most of what I can stay up for, and decided to share with you my Mid Event Survey. The day has been fantastic so far and I’m looking forward to more books, tea, and chocolate for the remainder of the evening!

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  1. What are you reading right now?

I’m nearly finished with Empire of Storms, and I’m about to start a mystery, Buried in a Book.

  1. How many books have you read so far?

I’ve read FOUR books so far! The Poet’s Dog, Mighty Jack, Moo, and Heartsong

  1. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

I’m looking forward to finishing Empire of Storms, though it will be kind of painful since I have to wait so long for the next installment. But I sense some things are going to happen that are going to be shocking and surprising. I’m also really looking forward to this mystery I picked up at the library–it’s the perfect evening for a read-a-thon–the wind is blowing and the scent of homemade applesauce is filling the house!

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  1. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

I’ve had other tasks I needed to accomplish, but during my reading, I haven’t had any interruptions, so it’s been relatively smooth.

  1. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

What surprises me is that I don’t do this more often because I enjoy it so much, and it often helps me to unwind and just give myself time to relax and have no other agenda but drink coffee, tea, and read….

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What Katie Read
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