Dec 19, 2017

THE FOG: Seeing What Matters Most

Tundra Books, 2017

THE FOG, with words by Kyo Maclear and pictures by Kenard Pak, is an especially appealing picture book. It took several readings for me to analyze some of its deeper attractions, but my love of the book was spontaneous and strong.

Here's the premise, which is a natural charmer. 

There is an icy northern island, called Icy Land, of course. It attracted many visitors, who were the subjects of Warble the Warbler's rapt attention. Using optical devices and field guides, Warble stays happy and busy classifying and recording the vast variety of human visitors. 
Examples included #671, Behatted bibliophilic Female, #669 Hairy orange-crowned Male (juvenile), and many others. Warble never tired of the observations and note-taking.
the day a warm fog rolled in from the sea, turning the bright, icy island into a dull,  ghost-like expanse. Warble's attempts to disperse the fog failed. Efforts to raise awareness among the other birds failed. Eventually even Warble wondered if this is just the way things had always been, would always be. 
#675 Red-hooded Spectacled Female (juvenile) came into view, singing!
Their friendship blossomed, they found ways to confirm that this "new normal" was not, in fact, normal at all. 
Their commitment and actions lifted the fog so that the bright light of day and the sparkling stars of night were once again part of their lives. 

Doesn't this sounds cute, quiet, and lovely? Well, that's the trifecta kiss of death for getting a picture book published these days. Where are the robots? The superheroes? The crocodiles?
Wait for it... summary completely ignores the delicate humor, wry irony, clever illustration details, sensitive friendship, and intentional comic elements that are as subtle as fog but are ingenious and irresistible. I reread this a half dozen times on the first day I had it, and another dozen times since then. Each time it maintains the original appeal, but reveals another nuance or generates another smile.
That makes it an easy book to recommend, period. 
But it is so much more than that.

  • During this foggy, dark time of year it is a particularly hopeful book, reminding readers that the sunshine and stars will eventually return. 
  • It's a cautionary story about the danger of accepting as "normal" those things that make us less than we are and limit our potential. It reminds us to persevere.
  • It's a testimony to the power of friendship. The power of friendship is greater than the sum of the parts. We would do well to follow the example of Warble and Red-hood, to seek friendships filled with mutual respect, curiosity, openness, and kindness.

But there's more... so much more. 
Author Maclear framed her adult memoir around the concept of birdwatching, and birdwatching themes are immersed in some of her other adult books. That makes this flipped premise  of a "bird-watching" even more ironic and engaging, and explains why the clever details are so accurate and appealing. Illustrator Pak captured and expanded that sensibility to the Nth degree, including the endpapers. I'm curious to know if Maclear provided Warble's "field notes" to inspire those endpapers of if Pak created them on his own.

Get your hands on a copy and see for yourselves how well this picture book demonstrates that there's no limit to the depth and breadth of ideas within its covers. Then add a comment to let me know what you think!

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