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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ideas Are All Around, by Philip C. Stead. Roaring Brook, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $21.99 all ages

on a small log
is a painted turtle
sitting very still
in a pocket of sunshine

His name is Frank.

"Hello, Frank!" I say.
And like each time before
he makes quick for the dark water"

I am not an artist, as I have mentioned in many past posts. I admit that I often wonder where ideas come from to the incredible artists who make illustrated books for children; it is a question I share with many of those same children. Philip Stead, in this new book, helps us to understand that ideas are not always front and center.

This first person narrative begins with the man wanting to write a story ... the ideas just won't come. Thought stalking is a sure fire method to get the brain thinking about other things, allowing a clearer look at the problem. I use it all the time to help me focus. I credit Flavia de Luce, child detective extraordinaire with the idea. In A Red Herring Without Mustard (Bradley, 2011), she explains:

 "I had long ago discovered that when a word or formula refused to come to mind, the best thing for it was to think of something else: tigers, for instance, or oatmeal. Then, when the fugitive word was least expecting it, I would suddenly turn the full blaze of my attention back onto it, catching the culprit in the beam of my mental torch before it could sneak off again into the darkness.
"Thought-stalking," I called the technique, and I was proud of myself for having invented it."

In keeping with Flavia's idea about distraction and discovery, the artist goes for a walk with his dog and comes to appreciate once more all that is life. As they go, he is reminded that there is a lot we take for granted. As he and Wednesday walk, they make new connections to what is often overlooked. They notice graffiti on nearby walls, ducks on a pond and a turtle, the lineup for food at the soup kitchen and they have a visit with a happy, thoughtful neighbor. It is a lovely reminder that time is ours and we choose how to use it. There is much to consider as they note the commonplace.

Using drawings, prints, collage and even Polaroid snapshots, he fills his journal with recollections of this journey. They will provide a focus for his new story. As we watch the two return home, we can see in their wake all those things they have noticed and discussed while out for their walk. The animals are depicted vividly, while the humans are not recognizable as anyone in particular. The blue horse is a standout, reminding me of Eric Carle's wonderful book, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse (2011). If your children don't know that book, now might be a good time to share it and make the connection. Older readers with an interest in art may want to learn more about Franz Marc and his original painting.

This is on my pile of favorite books so far this year. With each new read, I see more and have a better understanding of the creative process. The next time I want to talk with kids about the block that most artists experience at  one time or another, I have the perfect book to share with them.

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