Archive | June 2018

When Dad’s at Sea, by Mindy L. Pelton

When Dad's at Sea, by Mindy L. Pelton

When Dad’s at Sea has an obvious message: a little girl will miss her father during his time away in the Navy. The realistic illustrations (by Robert Gantt Steele) try to dispel the mystery, showing exactly where the Navy pilot goes. But it’s really the story of the pilot’s daughter, and it describes all her feelings throughout the long absences of her father during his service. And in telling her story, Mindy L. Pelton sends a message to other children of military personnel: that they are not alone.

The book is dedicated “to Katherine and Meredith, and to the children and families of our United States Armed Forces,” but it still finds a fanciful tone. To help his daughter keep track of his days at sea, the father builds a long paper chain which they hang on the living room wall. “Take off one circle every night,” he tells his daughter Emily. “I’ll come back when the chain is gone.” The book finds a way to make the girl’s feelings tangible. The little girl hides the chain under her bed, and hopes that will make her father stay home.

It’s a dramatic story, but all the drama comes from the little girl’s sadness over her father’s departure. He says he doesn’t want to leave “the two most special people in the world,” but even when he was still at home, the girl remembered that “I missed Dad before he even left.” Some days he lives with the family in “a blue house with an American flag on the porch.” But other days he lives “with pilots, like himself, and sailors on a U.S. Navy ship carrying rows of airplanes.”

And despite the sad subject matter, there’s also some sweet moments. The little girl discovers her dad was on TV – since her mother had videotaped the father reading a bedtime story before he left. In the first circle on the paper chain, the father had written “I love you.” He sends the family an email every day from the ship. And the girl even discovers a new friend in town who’s father is also away on a long Navy cruise. “Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone…”

The girls trace their father’s journey on a map of the world. And perhaps fittingly, the end of the journey seems to arrive surprisingly fast. The girls paint “Welcome Home” signs to hang for his return. And of course, there’s a happy ending. “There he is , Emily!” yells the little girls mother. The father removes his helmet and strolls out of his airplane, and he’s carrying a bouquet of flowers. The end is predictable, but it’s still very satisfying.

He says to his daughter that “The chain is gone, and your dad is home.”

Giving Thanks, by Jonathan London

Giving Thanks, by Jonathan London

“Of course my young friends call me a tree hugger,” says author Jonathan London. “But they’re right. I am.” And he celebrates nature in his 2003 book, Giving Thanks. London teamed up with Gregory Manchess, a self-taught illustrator who also lives on the west coast, who calls their book “a timeless expression of love for nature and of understanding our place in the realm of life.” And according to the book’s jacket, author London admits that just like the characters in his story, “I give thanks to the things of nature every day.”

In the story, the father says a thank-you for the day every day, to Mother Earth and to Father Sky. “Like his Indian friends – singers and storytellers – Dad believes that the things of nature a gift,” London writes. While he explains his philosophy, they stroll through some amazing scenery. A raccoon scurries as they walk under purple clouds. And as the sky turns blue, a tiny frog hides in the tall grass.

It’s the illustrations that really give the story its visual impact. (On the book’s jacket Manchess is identified as a “self-taught illustrator,” and I found myself wondering if that gave his pictures an extra wildness.) Gregory Manchess is like an impressionist Edward Hopper, capturing the light and shadows on the house and the trees around it, while using soft edges to suggest the shapes. He contributes a gorgeous watercolor for the title page – with swatches of yellow-white representing the clouds at sunset, covering a purple sky. The color scheme continues on the next page, where those colors are now covered by the dark-green silhouettes of a pine tree’s leaf, and the amber horizon of a hill is visible in the background, and at its base is a row of distant trees.

The father says a thank you to “the wild mushrooms that smell like pumpkins.” He thanks the trees, with their spectacular red and yellow autumn foliage. There’s an exciting drawing of a fox leaping off over a yellow field. There’s tracks of a deer, and a flock of scattering quails – and the father thanks them all.

Though it’s a simple story, it keeps getting more and more interesting, thanks to Machess’s imaginative illustrations. When London mentions a hawk, “high in the sky,” Manchess switches to a panoramic aerial view, with the hawk’s wings in the foreground and a yellow forest beneath. In the next illustration, it’s just the yellow of the sunset, and the hawk is disappearing among the last clouds. But then there’s a spectacular moonrise over an ancient and twisted tree.

And then the father gives thanks to the moon.