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Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Whisper, written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2015. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"At first it felt difficult to imagine a story, so she looked harder at the picture. Are the bears best friends? she wondered. Maybe the Blue Bear is bringing honey as a gift. Bears love honey. BLUE BEAR'S VISIT - now, that's a good title, she thought. Then she began to tell herself a story: Blue Bear arrived on the first day of spring. He promised ... "

If you have not had the pleasure of poring over Pamela Zagarenski's exceptional mixed media paintings in other works, you are in for a real treat. Please give yourself the time needed to examine every small detail. You will come away from the book in awe of such talent and beauty. Of her work she says:

"I could go on and on about my specific reasons for why I paint people the way I do, my use of imagery such as crowns and teacups, wheels, bowls, bees, foxes, and whales ... and why I use bits of my great-grandmother's passport from Lithuania in almost every painting. But what I honestly wish for the children and adults looking at my paintings is the chance to imagine the stories and reasons for themselves."

What an invitation for joyful attention to the pages of this new book that tells the tale of a red-caped girl who is blessed with a love of stories and a teacher who recognizes and encourages that love. Noticing a mysterious book on a high shelf, the girl reveals a curiosity about it. The teacher lends it, promising magic in the stories it contains. In her excitement to get home and get started at the reading, the girl is unaware that, as she runs, the words are tumbling out of its pages. When she gets home there are no stories, only pictures. What will she do?

A wind's whisper offers advice:

"Dear little girl, don't be disappointed.
You can imagine the words.
You can imagine the stories.
Start with a few simple words and imagine from there.
Remember: beginnings, middles, and ends of
stories can always be changed and imagined differently.
There are never any rules, rights or wrongs in imagining -
imagining just is."

The text runs along the bottom of the pages in accompaniment to the glorious spreads above. As she narrates her own stories for the pictures, leaving them always incomplete, readers will understand that they may have tales of their own to tell ... and tell them they can.

The fox, present and watching on each page, eventually returns the words to the little one. It is then she realizes that she no longer has any need for them. In a nod to one of Aesop's beloved fables, the fox asks for and accepts needed help to get the grapes he covets -  and a new ending for his own story! His story is told on the splendid endpapers.

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