I first heard about The Gentleman Bug from John Schu. When I tweeted that I had read it and loved it after his recommendation, John (I hope it's okay that I call him by his first name, but I feel like I know him!) tweeted back his agreement and included the author on the tweet, Julian Hector. Then a few weeks later, I read about Arthur Levine's new picture book, Monday is One Day. When I checked it out from the library, guess who the illustrator is? That's right, Julian Hector! So I'm taking a little break from all of the Nonfiction Picture Books to enjoy a Julian Hector lovefest - his illustrative style is so appealing, I know you'll love him too!
When I read (again, on Twitter!) about Monday is One Day, it seemed like it would something my girls and I would really connect with. As a working mother of two young girls, I have a hard time during the week. Each day is packed full with work, daycare, driving, eating, errands, baths and reading. We run from thing to thing all day. As hard as it is on me, it is doubly hard on the girls. Life can seem like an endless stream of "have-to's" for them. Clearly Levine has seen the same thing happen in his own home because the daily grind for children is what this book is about.
Levine starts with the soothing reassurance "The hardest part of going to work is being apart from you." And then the speaker and their child count the days of the work week until they are free on the weekend. They start with Monday and Levine combines several techniques successfully here. The book goes through the days of the week both by name and by the day's number. Monday is one day, and so there is one hug that goes with Monday. As the week goes on (and the exhaustion of the daily grind increases), there are more and more hugs and kisses. What is remarkable is that Levine creates a space of peace and togetherness in our hectic lives. It's a reminder to give our children what they sorely need - love and time together. The book serves as reassurance to the child, and as an important reminder to parents to slow down and enjoy our children daily.
The illustrations bring Levine's text to life. The colors are bright, primary color washes. There is an enormous diversity of families shown in this book, so a child will be able to recognize themselves and their own family here. That in itself is a comfort - to be able to see so many kinds of families all doing the same thing - going to work and returning to show love. But Hector also shows love in every picture. A grandmother and grandfather hug a little boy on a tractor while wind-up dinosaurs stomp around them. The grandparents' faces are lit up, their bodies turned towards the boy. They are telling him he is the most important thing in their worlds with every part of their bodies. Work is simply the thing we all have to do. But Levine and Hector make sure children understand that as parents we spend every moment wishing we were with our children. It is a book filled with love, and exactly what we needed in our house right now. I hate to return it to the library.
The Gentleman Bug is totally different and equally lovable. The Gentleman Bug is a teacher and a reader who is content with who he is. He isn't the most dapper bug in The Garden, he isn't the most suave bug, but he loves his books and his students. That is, until a new Lady Bug comes to town. He tries to attract her attention, but she always seems to be looking the other way. So he becomes more of a Gentleman Bug (emphasis on the gentleman), but that doesn't make him comfortable either. The ending is so sweet and perfect that I won't ruin it here. But it suits them both perfectly and makes the reader smile.
This book is set in a bug version of Victorian England. Hector has included a winning map on the endpapers of The Garden where this book takes place. There are such locations as Bugadilly Circus and HoneyHive Palace. The endpapers also include labeled cameos of other characters in the story. This is a beautiful added touch - a way to extend the experience beyond the first reading of the plot. Readers can go back and follow these characters on their own journey.
The colors in this book are more muted, as fits the period setting. The colors are gentle, just like the Gentleman Bug. And I hate to say it, but these bugs are all cute! Even the tick is friendly, with his legs waving around. I've seen ticks, and they don't look so affable in real life! You want to just hug the Gentleman Bug and reassure him as he worries. There are also small details to pore over on every page. Hector includes texture everywhere to keep readers' eyes moving. This is a lush book, with a lot of big houses, towering flowers and an oversized queen. And yet it is a book about bugs, which immediately shrinks your perspective. But it is so, so winning and sweet. I already have a copy on my wishlist for Santa!
I can hardly wait to see what Julian Hector creates next. Count me in as one of his fans. Check these books out, and you'll be a fan too!
The Gentleman Bug. Julian Hector. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010.
Monday is One Day. Arthur A. Levine; illustrated by Julian Hector. Scholastic Press: Scholastic, 2011.
Borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library.