Sunday, July 05, 2009

Timepieces: All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant

The past is sailing off to sea,
the future’s fast asleep.
A day is all you have to be,
it’s all you get to keep.

In simple, childlike words and gentle rhymes, award-winning author Cynthia Rylant summarizes that oft-pondered philosophy of the meaning of time, as a young farm boy and his pet hen go through their day, feeding the chicks, watering seedlings in the garden, frolicking with his mother in a sudden rain shower, and lying in the grass on a hillside as they watch the sun drop low in the sky above. Mindfully living in the moment is the theme of this sweet and lovely little picture poetry book which has a lot more to give than is evident at first glance.

A day can change just everything,
given half a chance.
Rain could show up at your door,
and teach you how to dance.

Although the day follows its customary routine of chores, it is not without its surprises. A sudden summer rainstorm sends the boy and his mom into frantic action, quickly snatching down their wash, swinging gaily in the sun just a few minutes before, and dashing for the house. But as the rain splashes down on the dry ground and bounces off their bare arms, the two are drawn back outside to enjoy a refreshing duet of a dance in the cool drops.

Artist Nikki McClure here works in a challenging medium, fashioning her illustrations from scissors-cut black paper, in which the boy and his faithful follower, the hen, are sturdy and strong while the natural world around them is curvaceous and lacy, stretching across each sky-blue or golden page with a reposed energy which draws and holds the eye. Reminiscent of the solid style of early illustrators like Wanda Gag, McClure's art is an admirable foil for Rylant's succinct poetry. Young children may not "get" the theme of living in the moment the way that adults might (or need to, since that is their natural bent), but the technique of McClure's pictures, centering on the child's hands, a feather, a sleeping hen, a tree, focus attention in a way that is that theme.

All in a Day (Abrams, 2009) is the work of two skilled artisans in fine form, a book which gently teaches the beauty and value of small things, each experienced in its own small piece of time.

Underneath the great big sky,
The earth is all a-spin.
The day will soon be over,
and it will not come again.

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