|Greenwillow/Harper Collins Children's Books, 2018|
I never planned to provide daily posts (and I'm still in awe of those who manage to do so). I'm very selective about the books I feature here.
Deciding which picture books to discuss and how extensively to write about each book challenges me. I look for something unique in the books I feature, searching for something that attracts my attention, draws me back again and again, and allows me to uncover new elements in the text and the illustrations on each rereading.
I share books that are multi-layered, both timeless and ageless, in my opinion.
Even though it goes against my nature to name favorites among the many books I love, some continue to absorb my attention, even years after an initial reading or post.
THE ROUGH PATCH, written and illustrated by BRIAN LIES, will undoubtedly be such a book. I'm not alone in feeling this way. It has already garnered rave reviews and three stars. Check out what School Library Journal said (HERE), Kirkus Reviews (HERE), and Publishers' Weekly (HERE). Each outlines the story well and makes note of a few of the many distinctive details, like Evan's garden boots.
I offer these trusted sources to confirm that my opinion about this tender story wasn't unduly influenced by the fact that I faced a heartbreaking final good-bye to my own four-legged companion earlier this summer. In fact, if this book had been released in June I probably wouldn't have chosen to read it at that time. My emotions were still too new, too raw.
Having read it now, though, I wish it had been available to me then.
There is as much comfort between the covers of this book as I feel when wrapped in one of my heirloom family quilts.
Yes, on one level, THE ROUGH PATCH is a story of loss. But it is so much more than that. It explores and celebrates the amazing capacity and power of friendship and love. It reveals the depths and strengths of human emotions, the importance of living in the moment, and, yes, the circle of life.
In fact, the initial opening spreads are joyous, vibrant, luminous. Evan (the Fox) and his friend (the Dog) savor every moment of their full, shared lives. Their companionship, comfort, and wordless communication shine on the pages and will be deeply felt by those who share their own lives wth dogs, cats, or other friends.
The scant but potent text in each spread, throughout each stage, conveys Fox's joy, grief, anger, and eventual healing. Lies's writing perfectly suits the lives of this garden community: simple, direct, and pure. It reminds me of a free-verse Robert Frost. In one achingly gentle double spread, Evan realizes that "the unthinkable happened."
The next several spreads follow Evan through his stages of grief: his isolation and anger, and his rejection of his formerly joyful garden. The metaphoric title plays out superbly in the middle portion of the book, in which "a good place won't stay empty for long". Evan destroys his formerly manicured garden, but nature abhors a vacuum. The space soon fills with growing things: weeds, thorns, and spiky intruders. Evan nurses that negativity, embraces it. In the process, though, he experiences the healing power of resuming his daily habits despite his aching, broken heart.
Time passes, sun shines, and a "volunteer" vine creeps into the garden.
When Fair Week finally rolls around Evan is open to a twinge of familiar excitement. Time and old habits have allowed his heart to begin to heal, to give himself permission to enjoy familiar joys. When a scrabbling tendril of possibility reaches out to him at the fair, he chooses to begin anew.
Throughout each page and stage, Lies uses his mastery of illustration to combine expressive features, shifting perspectives, light, shading, color, and detail to create scenes that beg to be examined closely while urging readers to turn the page and know the characters more deeply. Throughout it all I found myself walking hand-in-paw with Evan, wanting desperately to comfort him but knowing his was a journey to be traveled alone.
Lies has created many books I admire. His talent for capturing the nuance of expression, movement, habits, and postures in animals is incredible. I first described that talent in a post (here) about MORE, which he illustrated for author I. C. Springman.
Apart from the elements within each scene or spread, I greatly admire the way he conveyed the emotional arc of this book through the continuity and transformations from first page to last. In THE ROUGH PATCH I noted his use of similar artistic tools, and yet he achieves distinctly different effects. In both cases, the transitions are so deftly accomplished that what might be considered simple circle stories instead become salvation stories, each ending with the characters transformed and strengthened in ways that are layered and lovely.
I recommend many books, but put THE ROUGH PATCH at the top of your list.
Share it widely.
This fox and dog represent all of humanity.