Archive | April 2016

Jackie and the Shadow Snatcher, by Larry Di Fiori

Jackie and the Shadow Snatcher, by Larry Di Fiori

It’s a children’s picture book that actually looks like a comic book. There’s a grid of beautifully sketched black-and-white panels on each page of Jackie and the Shadow Snatcher, and the story is told entirely through dialogue balloons. Larry Di Fiori has worked as an illustrator on some picture books using the Muppets. But in this book, he seems to reach back all the way to the 1920s, telling a long fantasy-adventure story that could’ve been serialized during the golden age of the Sunday newspaper’s comics section.

The book is titled “Jackie and the Shadow Snatcher,” and there’s even a bubble on the book’s cover that describes it as “A thrilling adventure and mystery.” There’s criminals wearing the traditional black and white stripes and an eye mask – and an old-fashioned bowler hat. The book opens innocently, with a boy named Jackie in a cap walking past the smokestacks on the edge of town. But if you study the picture carefully, you’ll see something strange happen to his shadow. First it’s in front of Jackie, and then it’s to the side of him – and then it’s just a pair of shadowy legs kicking as they’re dragged into a tree!

The magic of the story makes it instantly intriguing, and the simple characters are still funny to watch. It’s as though it’s taken the best elements of a comic book, and then transported them into a children’s picture book. For example, because the book’s illustrations are black and white sketches, the book is ultimately filled with lots more pictures than usual. And with all the accompanying extra dialogue, this book could keep young readers occupied for a longer period of time!

But what I liked most about this book was the way it takes its time with the story, as though it really was written during a more leisurely era. There’s a whole page devoted just to the eight panels where Jackie’s pet Bulldog arrives, and then sniffs the ground at his feet with concern. And then there’s another page for just the complete text of Jackie’s reaction. (“What are you trying to tell me? Golly! No shadow! Well… I’ll be doggoned. I don’t cast a shadow! I bet I lost it on the way home from school…”)

Ultimately the story finds his way to the spooky mansion of the shadow snatcher – the hide-out for a criminal mastermind and his gang of thieves. The illustrations suddenly get more grand and fanciful, and the final showdown is very satisfying.

And my favorite illustrations shows the glorious liberation…of all the stolen shadows.

A Regular Rolling Noah by George Ella Lyon

A Regular Rolling Noah by George Ella Lyon

“Now I’d never seen a train before today, but I’ve heard its whistle down at the mouth of the hollow…”

A farmhand walks with the animals, wearing patched jeans and a cowboy hat. He’s wearing red suspenders and a blue shirt, and he’s carrying a bed roll, since he’s helping neighbors move their farm to Canada . They ask him to walk along behind their wagon, and eventually they reach the train. “Bedding and seeds and plows, pot vessels and young’ uns – we load them into the train and it shrieking and steaming.”

“A Regular Rolling Noah” was one of the first books written by George Ella Lyon, at the age of 37. But she’d just published her first collection of poetry, and she applies the same skills to her narration.

There’s simple sentences, like “Hay and feed in the boxcar…” but they reveal so much about the character. Each item suggests the farm and its animals, and they’re listed as though they were afterthoughts, remembering a long day of loading up a train…

Illustrator Stephen Gammell keeps the story intriguing with some simple but realistic watercolors. The train’s engine has a red smokestack and its front is a big yellow circle. The skies are pastel blue, with white clouds, and the train’s tracks are surrounded by the soft green of a grassy field. There’s darker greens for the mountains when the train travels on its journey – and of course, there’s also red and yellow boxcars.

 The farmhand rides along with the animals, and it’s a journey into the unknown. Black smoke puffs fro the engine, as the train travels farther and farther. The boxcar door is open a crack, and hay spills out while the farmhand milks a cow. The next morning, when they reach a new railyard, the farmhand trades eggs for coffee with the hoboes.

“A regular rolling Noah,” one of them suggests, and the boy with the cowboy hat smiles. He has to rush after the train as it leaves the station, and then sweep out the boxcar to put down fresh hay. My favorite picture shows the boxcar from the inside, crowded with cows, a horse, and chickens. There’s a pitchfork in the hay, and the boy feeds the mare a green apple. And in the next picture, they’re all peacefully lying on their side to sleep – the horse, the cow, the calf, and the farmhand.