Fuse #8

Friday, September 08, 2006

Review of the Day: Moving Day

A holly jolly Poetry Friday to you all. A break from the normal routine of large fictional tomes I take to bring you this sweet little pudding of a book. Keep your eyes peeled for it.

The other day I was idly flipping through the books in my possession, searching for one contained poems. A well-written book of poems by a single author that also happens to be pleasing to the eye is a rare and wonderful thing. Emphasis on the word “rare”. And “Moving Day”, to be honest with you, didn’t get my attention right off the bat. The cover is rather lovely but I credit illustrator Jennifer Emery for penciling in the autumn leaves that finally lured me closer. Written in a series of small autobiographical poems, author Ralph Fletcher tells the simple story of a twelve-year-old boy whose family is moving from one state to another and the problems that come with something so seemingly simple.

The new mountain bike probably should have tipped Fletch off right from the start. Ditto the fact that his little brother Ray got a hockey outfit out of the clear blue sky. Their family is going to move near to Lake Erie and there isn’t a darned thing Fletch can do about it. It’s rough. First his friends start separating from him before he’s even moved away. Then there’s the fact that he’ll never see that cute girl, Gwen with the dark sparkly eyes, ever again. Slowly, however, good things happen as well. While packing he finds his Willie Mays baseball card he lost a while ago. He will never (perhaps) carry the unfortunate nickname of “Retch” instead of “Fletch”. And when at last he finds himself in a new home with a new room, there are new people about, a doorknob that lights up like a diamond when the sun hits it in the morning, and leaves that swirl, old and new, together.

The writing itself is more than a little clever. For example, Fletch’s little brother Ray is always worrying about seemingly minor things. He wants it perfectly clear that his mother is not allowed to throw any people away. And when he asks his dad at the dinner table if the moon will stay in Massachusetts his dad says without hesitation that the moon is coming with them to Ohio. On hearing this, Fletch says, “Just the kind of thing to make you feel better, if you’re a little kid”. You get the definite feeling from this that the little kid he’s referring to may not necessarily mean Ray. There are thirty-four poems in total here and together their story is one of ups and downs of an everyday nature. Sometimes I wondered whether or not certain sections were taken directly from Mr. Fletcher’s own life. Did a mover “not much bigger than me” really come into the kitchen and carry out a refrigerator on his back while quoting Archimedes’ great line, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the Earth!”? Did his friend Kyle really give him a going away present of a shoebox filled with ball bearings alongside his friend Alex’s gift of “decapitated piñatas”? I don’t suppose it matters, since they work so well within the story. I just wanted to know.

Then there are the illustrations to take into account. Ms. Jennifer Emery has taken the good design choice of rendering all the poems in easy-to-read black on white. There is nothing worse in this world than a children's book of poems hidden in a field of too much ribald off-setting color. Then, for each of these selections, there is a single picture that illustrates what is either being said or thought. These pictures are just quick snatches of images. They look almost as if someone had taken a page and then erased a large swath of it, revealing the hidden illustration behind (if that makes any sense). Each one is a different watercolor color, with the figures drawn in graphite. The effect is startlingly effective. In the poem “Boxes” for example, Fletch reminisces about Gwen, the girl at school. Mostly he concentrates on her eyes. In response to this, Ms. Emery shows just a small section of Gwen’s face. All of it is gone, save the lightest sprinkling of freckles on her nose and, of course, those eyes Fletch can’t stop thinking about. Well played, Ms. Emery. Well played indeed.

The age level on this book is interesting. The hero is twelve-years-old and a little interested in girls. Yet a quick glance at the book and you see that it seems geared for younger kids. An eight-year-old, perhaps, would be better suited to its simple words, pictures, and story. These days publishers are quick to thrust 700 page fantasy tomes at their twelve-year-old readers, totally disregarding those that are either reluctant or not fully prepared to swallow “Lord of the Rings” in a single sitting. I foresee, “Moving Day”, having a lot of popularity with kids who read at a lower level, but don’t want to be caught reading “baby books” or anything with a protagonist younger than themselves.

A quick confession. I wasn’t until I reread the bookflap a second or third time that I noticed that this was an autobiographical book. Honestly, I just thought it a weird coincidence that Ralph Fletcher would write about a kid named Fletch. Oy. Much with the thickness of the head, have I. In my defense, aside from the name of the kid there’s not much to tip the reader off to the story’s personal nature. Neither Fletcher’s words nor Emery’s pictures date the tale in any way. I mean, Emery doesn’t load the book up with iPods and images of kids reading manga either. Together, author and artist have just managed to carve out a small timeless little niche for themselves. Something that won’t date in a year and a half or so.

By the way, the cover of this book has me a little baffled. Here you can see Fletcher sitting in the back of the truck looking vaguely hopeful about everything. And next to him is a box that reads, quite clearly, “library books”. If these people are moving from Massachusetts to Ohio then what the heck are they doing high-tailing it out of the state with a box of library books in their truck? Labeled at that (those cheeky bastards). Librarians of Massachusates, beware.

In some ways, the book of poems that “Moving Day” reminded me the most of (in terms of storytelling, characters, and the quality of the illustrations) was “Speak To Me (And I Will Listen Between the Lines)” by Karen English. The two would actually work well together, should you wish to pair one small book of poems of 39 pages with one of almost equal length (32 pages). The great thing about “Moving Day”, though, is that this isn’t one of those mindlessly slap-happy cheerleading books about how everything involved with moving is GREAT! This book respects kids enough to show them some of the problems, and the benefits, of going somewhere new. Add in the great pictures and the clever writing and you’ve got yourself a keeper. So here’s a note to all you children’s librarians out there. If a parent comes up to you and demands all your picture books on moving, make sure this puppy sits on the top of your pile. A keeper, to say the least.

Mr. Fletcher has quite a website of his own. That goes double for Ms. Emery who presents the double-whammy of both website and blog. Well done, m'lass.


At 11:36 AM , Blogger Jen Hall-Emery said...

Jennifer Emery here. Thanks so much for the classy review. Good words about the work I do carry me a long way when there's no work for me to do.

Anyone who's had the chance to visit my own blog knows that I'm not much for words - but I had to jump in here (finally) and explain myself. The moving box reading "library books" on the cover does seem a weird choice to me now. It is supposed to mean "These books (which belong to us)go in the library when we get to the new house." The box behind says "kitchen dishes" - though it's hard to read. Why I put words on there at all I don't know. Having decided to I probably should have stuck to "Fletch's stuff, keep out."

At 9:31 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Aaaaaahh! I see what you mean. Well, it's always nice to have an explanation. Top notch work, by the way. I found it a particularly nice little poetic title.


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