NetGalley introduced me to the work of Ashley Spires this week, and, if you haven’t read any of her picture books, you’re going to be thanking them as much as I am. Spires is both author and illustrator of The Most Magnificent Thing and Over-Scheduled Andrew, as well as many other books. The illustrations are simple – mostly penciled backgrounds, with the colorful characters and all the action in the foreground – but also really expressive.
The young inventor in The Most Magnificent Thing, for example, goes from frustrated to joyous, and back again, and the pictures really show her emotions. And the overly active Andrew gets portrayed lovingly – and jokingly – as well. I’d like to include the illustration of poor Andrew flopping on his face with his best friend, but the file’s protected, so I can’t seem to share. Trust me: you feel that little bird’s exhaustion, right through the page.
Both books are short and simple reads; both have morals that aren’t hitting child readers over the head with them a million times. The Most Magnificent Thing tells the tale of an ordinary, inventive girl and her ordinary, destructive dog. It highlights the need for perseverance, the difficulties of frustration, and what happens when we’re striving for perfection:
Her hands feel to BIG to work, and her brain is too full of all the not-right-things.
I’m sure this is a feeling we can all relate to, and the message of the book – the keep-trying, but also take a break and breathe and look around and step back for a second – will really resonate with kids. Particularly those struggling with a task or beginning readers: knowing that you have to keep trying, but also showing that taking stock of where you are, and how much you’ve already accomplished is an essential skill to teach, when you’ve got struggling readers. It’s nice to have a book address that not being perfect doesn’t mean that you’ve failed.
As for poor Andrew, and his over-scheduling, it comes – as always – from a good place: Wanting to be good in his play, Andrew decides to sign up for debate, to help him with public speaking. Then ballet and karate, to help him keep up with the dance routines, then chess, french film, singing, tennis, newspaper, bagpipes… It sort of snowballs on him, and suddenly the poor little guy is missing out on friend time, flubbing his French, fumbling through tennis. When he eventually misses his cue for the big drama club production (you know, the thing he started all of this improvement for), he realizes that he’s in over his head and starts cutting back. Andrew’s story is the epitome of “jack of all trades, master of none,” and it’s got a place with kids who are doing so much they can’t remember the last time they had an hour free to just play. (I actually know these kids, and am sad for them).
Both books are relate-able; have enough humor that kids will hear their messages without feeling preached to; and are just plain fun to read.