Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Both Sides Now: Cloud Country by Bonny Becker

Gale floated on a warm breeze, watching the Land Below. Far off deer trotted across a meadow. Ducklings scrambled after their mother.

Gale sighed, wishing she could look at it all forever.

"Earth-gazing again?" asked her mother.

Gale is a young cloudlet, a drifter who loves the beautiful shapes on the Land Below. But her time to earth-gaze is running out, and soon she will face the feared Formation Examination under the stern eyes of the Guardians, who expect mastery of the required forms for clouds--cumulus, cirrus, stratocirrus, and cumulonimbus, et al.

Even her little brother, aptly named Nimbus, has already mastered the boisterous tornado shape. But when Gale thinks fluffy, floating thoughts, her attempt at a cumulus cloud comes out looking like and elephant or a lamb, at least according to Nimbus. Gale tries to practice, but she can't seem to concentrate on the standard conformations and finds herself earth-gazing far too much.

"Don't worry," said Mama softly. You can do it."

But Gale just can't keep her head in the clouds. The dreaded Formation Day looms, and Gale fears she will not be among the happy cloudlet graduates who will take their place in the business of being mature cloudforms.

Then the trials begin.

Cirree stretched herself into a cirrostratus, and Strato whirled into a dark funnel shape. And when it was her turn, Gale nervously chose the simplest formation of all.

"Cumulus," she said softly.

"Tugboat?" guessed the Head Guardian.

Gale feels rain beginning to form deep within her. She sinks lower as she chastises herself for too much earth-watching and not enough formal practice. But then she is surprised.

"Finally!" the oldest Guardian said, "We have been waiting for another Daydream Cloud for a long time!"

And Gale finds her place after all, in Bonny Becker's Cloud Country (Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase) (Pixar/Hyperion Books, 2015), strikingly illustrated by Pixar's art director, Noah Klocek. Author Becker joins singer-songwriter Judy Collins, in "looking at clouds from both sides now," in her fantasy of a little cloud who daydreams about the Land Below while people sky-gaze and daydream about many familiar forms in the clouds above. Becker's tale of the importance of the dreamer, the character who thinks outside the box, is made accessible to young readers in the evocative and gorgeous purple, blue, lavender, gold, and gray paintings of artist Klocek's ever-changing cloudscape. "A crackerjack salute to the creations of the mind," says Kirkus.

Bonny Becker is also the crackerjack creator of the delightful A Visitor for Bear (Bear and Mouse) and the several sequels in this sweet and funny series (see reviews here).

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