by Sam Juliano
Though much of his picture book output was produced in collaboration with some exceedingly high profile award winning authors, Wendell Minor sometimes traversed his outdoor habitats solo. The inspiration for his latest solitary foray has produced an uncommonly beautiful book, one that focuses on the animals that live around us while we engage during the day and also while we sleep. There is nothing obscure or geographically specialized in Minor’s new work, rather he seeks to sponsor an open house tour – a zoo without physical parameters that is dictated only by what terrain the readers reside in. Excluding those living in the urban centers or the desert, most would readily identify Wendall’s benign array of wildlife wonderment, either because they encountered some of the animals or were long familiar with the sounds they make. The renowned author-illustrator enticingly broaches how a day turns into night (and vice-versa) and how motherhood is at the center of activity for all mammals.
At the very start Minor sets up the different cast of players that inhabit the diurnal and nocturnal landscapes of chosen locations. His opening spread depicts a wooded clearing framed by a fence, tree trucks and a flat stone pathway. There is pictorial continuity in the design, yet the left panel, subtly lit, shows the creatures we might see in the daylight, while the right shows the ones only seen or heard when the stars are twinkling. Minor asks his young readers to identify those who inhabit his ravishing tapestries, by posing an innocuous inquiry. No wildlife artist captures the soaring majesty of a hawk in flight like Minor, and the bird is promptly presented in detailed close-up that is as arresting as it is radiant:
By day, sharp-eyed red-tailed hawk soars high in the sky and scans the earth for food.
The nocturnal counterpart (“in the stillness of night, wide-eyed barn owl silently swoops through the sky”) shows the full wing spread of an owl that is every bit as magnificent as the one John Schoenherr illustrated for Jane Yolen in the Caldecott Medal winning Owl Moon. Minor brings a full moon, a church steeple and shooting stars into his lifelike starscape, using the double-page spread superbly. He then uses a direct comparison between a “fluffy cottontail rabbit” and a pink-nosed apossom, both with their families moving through the field with their varying mode of movements and during the time they are most comfortable to negotiate them.
Insects appear in the form of a tiger swallowtail butterfly and the luna moth, and kids should have no trouble understanding which comes out at what part of the day, and what general function is associated for each. Minor’s pink flower spread is one of the most sublime in the book. The colorful flower motif is continued in a captivating tapestry of a doe finding her fawn in a field, that might for a moment recall Rovert Lawson’s classic Ferdinand. A fox, high in the air on a cold night pounces on a mouse in a noctural capture that accentuates the emptiness on a barren terrain.
The artist then offers up further pictorial variety by dividing the view horizontally on equal terms with a woodchunk family amidst pink and yellow pedals, and a skunk family shrouded in darkness, both sharing a search for food. The squirrel species includes the speedy grey gathering acorns for winter, the one of the flying variety gliding through the trees, with no one the wiser. More in tune with the ground, a box turtle hunts for slugs, snails and strawberries, while a warty toad feasts on moths. A chipmunk makes the most of a pumpkin (Minor is masterful with his use of orange during the fall season) while a deer mouse prepares to gorge on a firefly. bobcats and coyotes each command Minor’s most expansive wildlife vision with illustrations that are both exquisite and atmospheric.
Minor’s red cardinal is a true thing of beauty, much as the brown-eyed owl sits perched opposite in textured splendor. Raccoon and wild turkeys bring up the rear in rich and sublime depictions, and Minor asks the final scene-specific question. Daylight Starlight Wildlife features a fabulous glossary giving further insights into the book’s animal cast, and the cover is wonderfully evocative and balanced. A treat is in store for young readers, while adults can again express open mouthed astonishment at the annual parade of picture books riches that come from the brush of Wendell Minor, much as easily as the songs written by Richard Rodgers. Daylight Starlight Wildlife is wholly exquisite.