Sunday, October 23, 2011

While the Giant is Sleeping

Living here in Montana, there are many local features that we admire.  This is a mountain range known as "the Sleeping Giant" - see his face and chest in the photo to the left (from Google Images)?  This is unfortunately pretty abstract for young children to see and recognize.  The name sounds so appealing, but they have to look closely and carefully to actually see him.  I know when we would mention the Sleeping Giant to Frances and Gloria, they would get excited: "What?  Where's the Sleeping Giant?  I don't see him!  I want to see him!"  But in order to recognize him, children have to be able to know what a giant looks like, and then take time to match that up with the landform.  It usually just ended in frustration for the girls.

We were introduced to a book this spring that really made an impact on Frances and Gloria that talks about this local wonder.  Frances & Gloria's aunt is a school librarian at a local elementary school, and we spend quite a bit of time there.  She told us that a local author and illustrator were coming to do a presentation, and invited us to tag along.  The author, Alycia Holston, read the book and talked about why she created it.  Then the illustrator also talked about her creative process, including how she took many, many photos of the Sleeping Giant in all seasons.

This book is unusual in many ways.  It really helps personify this landform for children.  And when I use the word personify, I don't mean that children will think that this giant is alive and talking during the book.  The author and illustrator just help match the features of the mountain to a giant's body through this book.  There are just three or four lines of text on each double-page spread, always beginning with "While the giant is sleeping...".  Each page ties the mythical giant to the real, natural world around him.  The sun shines in his eyes, deer graze near his belly, the town below him includes schoolchildren who keep a watch over the Sleeping Giant.  There are pages for each season, too, as snow covers him like a blanket or rain pours down on his head.  It is told in a soothing, almost folktale style.  After all, this is a sleeping giant.  But Holston takes care to tie this sleeping giant to the land - he isn't going to wake up any time soon.

The illustrations (chalk pastels) are also very realistic.  The giant is reproduced exactly as he looks off in the distance from our house.  In reality, the Sleeping Giant is surrounded by open land, and Stranahan does a great job of showing the wide open spaces around the giant.  His features are very discernible without being over-emphasized.  Children can really see the giant's face, chest and stomach.  He definitely looks like a mountain, though - he isn't going to sit up and wink at you.  This realistic illustrative style is perfectly suited to Holston's text.  Both the text and the illustrations give you the majesty of Montana's wildlife and this wonder. 

Frances and Gloria haven't met many authors or illustrators, so for them, even at their young age, this program was very impactful.  Not only were the author and illustrator here, in Helena, to talk to them, but this author and illustrator were talking about a book written about their town!  And seeing the pictures close up meant that the girls were able to identify the Sleeping Giant for possibly the first time since we moved here.  Usually the Sleeping Giant had been pointed out to them in the distance, or as we whiz past it on the highway.  This book really delineated the Giant for them.  Now whenever we are driving, even Gloria calls out "There's the Sleeping Giant!"  This book has helped connect them to their local landscape in a new way.

If you are a planning a trip to Montana, I definitely recommend finding this book.  Even though it is specifically about Helena, Helena is the state capital.  Many of the wild animals and birds captured in these illustrations are seen throughout the state.  This book was published by a small press, but it is available locally and even on Amazon.  A sweet, soothing book.

While the Giant is Alycia Holston; illustrated by Suzi Stranahan.  CrossRiverkids, 2011.

borrowed from the Lewis and Clark library

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