CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 3. . . .September 22, 2017
Picture the Sky.
Toronto, ON: North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada, 2017.
32 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 3-8.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
There is more than one
way to picture the sky.
In Picture the Sky, Barbara Reid, who pioneered the use of plasticine as an illustration medium, uses modelling clay to take her art to yet a new level in this remarkable visual ode to the omnipresent sky that is above and around us. Readers’ visual sky experiences begin with the joyous cover art which finds a boy launching himself into the sky on his tire swing and continues into the opening endpapers which offer 40 “thumbnails” of different skies. Understandably, young readers may want to hurry past the endpapers and get right into the book, but they need to be brought back to these pages later as each of these small images truly merits its own careful attention. Adult viewers may recognize Reid’s homage to the skies of Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch while children will enjoy an insect’s and a whale’s sky perspective.
Reid’s illustrations definitely confirm the promise made by her opening text (reproduced in the excerpt above). They range from the commanding double-page spread of an endless prairie sky, pp. 4-5) to skies constrained by towering forests (p. 6) or soaring urban structures (p. 7). There are skies of day (p.8) and night (p. 23) and calm (p. 28) and storm (pp. 20-21). There are skies of reality (dawn over a city, p. 3) and those of imagination (a pair of children in a hammock finding animals and other objects in the clouds, pp. 12-13). As Reid reveals, not everyone wants the same sky. A farmer whose crops need moisture (p. 15) would be only too happy to swap his sunny sky for the rain not being enjoyed by the tent-bound campers (p. 15). One of my favourite illustrations is the foggy sky scene (p. 22) wherein objects fade into obscurity.
What continues to amaze me about Reid’s illustrations is her ability to create the impression of texture. For example, when I look at the book’s cover, I can “feel” the grooves in the repurposed tire, or when I look at the melting snowman (p. 17), I can sense the change in the snow’s “wetness”. Reid also populates her scenes with little details that may not be seen on a first reading but which add layers of interest on rereadings. Reid is also masterful at capturing motion. The spread on pages 10 and 11 sees a rural yard being buffeted by the wind. Exactly how hard the wind is blowing can be gauged by the angle of the clothes drying on the clothesline. Reid also incorporates bits of subtle humour. On. p. 24, the text reads: “Artists see a masterpiece”, the words referring to a magnificent sunset that is being captured by three photographers while a fourth person uses her cell phone to take a selfie, with the sunset as background.
Though the picturebook lacks a true plot, Reid’s illustrations frequently invite readers to create their own stories. A spread of a beach boardwalk (pp. 18-19) carries the text, “There may be a sky in your mind’s eye.” Via thought bubbles, Reid shows the sky that each of the seven humans and two dogs imagines based on its present circumstances. A rain cloud hovers over the head of a little boy who has just dropped the ice cream from his cone, but the dog that is lapping up the unexpected treat has a thought rainbow over it. My favourite part of this spread is found on p. 19 where a man is sitting up, asleep, on a bench, his left hand resting on a stroller containing a sleeping toddler. The man’s other hand holds a lidded styrofoam cup precariously resting on his knee. He’s wearing a dark grey hooded sweat shirt (hood up) and light grey sweat pants. So far, that description doesn’t really invite storytelling, but what he’s put on his feet definitely does. On his left foot is a blue running shoe, but he’s wearing a furred brown bedroom slipper on his right. And his sky bubble is just grey. What was last night like for him and the child?
Picture the Sky is also perfectly tied together. On the first page, as storm clouds begin to dissipate and bits of sky reappear, a boy in a hooded yellow raincoat looks at his reflection in a rain puddle while, on the closing page, he leaps in the air at a rainbow’s appearance. And on the second page, as dawn breaks, a boy remains asleep, his knitted owl beside him, and the book’s penultimate page finds him off to bed, his woolen owl still with him.
I could go on and on about the excellence of Picture the Sky, but, instead, I’ll just say it is a must-buy by school and public libraries serving an early years audience. The book would also be an excellent home or gift purchase.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB, where he enjoys glorious prairie sunsets.
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