Do you ever wish it just snowed, beautiful white snow, even if it means that parts of daily life might be canceled? Would you welcome a slow down in the pace of life? I came across this gem in the book, Children’s Literature, Briefly, as a recommendation. It is an easy reader picture book and is unique in that the art work is made of scratch board images. In it, the reader sees snow beginning to fall in a bustling city. The reader also sees a family, the mother of which is getting ready for work, as a pilot. Her child, is sad about this. What will happen? Before Morning is a gorgeous picture book that tells a story with the power of evocative images more than text, tells an timely message of slowing down and uses carefully chosen words to evoke a simple but powerful message.
EVALUATION OF BOOK
There are many ways in which a picture book can be illustrated. Krommes, a Caldecott medalist, uses a scratch board technique to illustrate this work. This gives the story a feeling of being settled with the black of the under board always being a presence. She gives emphasis to characters, emotions and scenes by illuminating them with white. In one picture, for instance, a mother appears to be preparing to leave to pilot a plane while a child sits on her bed. This scene is brought to the forefront with a white illumination around them (See Image 2). The illustration is tied perfectly to the text. The scratch board technique is also appropriate for the setting of the big city with bustling scenes of shopping, a park, and traffic. It is easy to evoke this weather, mood and setting. The detail with which Krommes makes this picture book worth reading and re-reading. Each re-read offers the reader to discover more details that escaped their notice before, from the items in travelers bags at the airport, to the statues in the park, to the Amelia Earhart book on top of a side table.
While the art work of this picture book unfolds the plot through pictures, (Young, Bryan, Jacobs, & Tunnell, 2020, p.) the text comes in relatively late into the book at eleven pages deep. It enters unobtrusively as a way to complement the illustration. The illustration tells the whole story and is enhanced by Sidman’s poetry. For me, the text, while beautiful, functions more as an ornamentation than as a necessity. After the reader has already begun to experience this book, Sidman begins the poem as we see the mother getting ready to leave for work:
“In the deep woolen dark,
as we slumber unknowing,
let the sky fill with flurry and flight. (2016, pp. 11-15)
Here Sidman enhances the narrative with her poetry, ironically painting the mood, setting and tone of the work. It is a beautiful union and marriage of two artforms.
While understated, there is a story of a mother who is going to work, while her daughter feels sad or melancholy about her leaving. The audience sees the flight delay, the mother returning home, hugging her sleepy daughter and enjoying their time together as a family in the snowy weather. Even though this book was written and illustrated in 2013, it remains relevant more than ever. At this point, we as country are slowly emerging from 15 months of isolation, quarantine and loss. At the same time, during the quarantine, many families, like mine, found themselves spending more time together than ever, due to school at home, and working from home. While I never hope for a global pandemic to slow down our lives the way it did recently, I do think this picture book makes an important statement of how necessary it is to enjoy the time we we have with our loved ones and relish each moment and slow down.
This piece is exquisitely illustrated, with the scratch board method used by Krommes. She pays extraordinary attention to detail, whether from her depiction of the emotion on the character’s faces to the steam rising from a freshly baked pie. While the poetry is sparse, it is poignant, thought provoking at paints the story. These two elements combine seemingly effortlessly as a duet to present the most important message of the story. It is the snow, the unexpected cancellation of plans that brings unexpected happiness. In the past 15 months, our collective lives have been altered by a global pandemic. In this time, amid loss and fear, some immediate families have spent more time together than ever before. In this, some have rediscovered what is important – spending time with those you love. Before Morning takes us on a journey of the unexpected and how it can make a family happy. This is a book that belongs on any library that serves children.
Sidman J. and Krommes B. (2016) Before morning. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Young, T.A., Bryan, G., Jacobs, J.S., Tunnell, M.O. (2020). Children’s literature, briefly. Pearson Education, Inc.