Archive for January 21st, 2020

by Sam Juliano

When reference librarians generally unfamiliar with the new releases in the children’s literature section are asked about a book named Truman they either ponder scanning all the books about our 33rd president or in a more scene-specific sense eye a popular biography with the same title written by David McCullough.  Indeed some of the brightest children from the third grade and upwards might also conclude that a book with such a title can only be about “Give ‘Em Hell Harry” and that it best be found on the biography shelves.  Alas, the subject of this kid-lit revisionism isn’t about a Chief Executive at all but about a donut-sized tortoise accustomed to a birds-eye view of the street below from its third floor window vantage point,  one who is hopelessly smitten with a Fern Arable-like young girl named Sarah who provides him with security, attention and love.  And yet this juvenile story about mutual adoration, written by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins has proven itself in just a little over six months as a durable library loan title and a classroom favorite.  For elementary school readers whose contact with the world is often through the books they encounter, the central theme in Truman is every bit as meaningful as any work exhibiting intellectual scholarship.

The two women responsible for this charming picture book surely conform to the overused idiomatic expression “a match made in heaven.”  Reidy, acute to her intended audience employs word economy in seamlessly flowing and descriptive terms and her artist Cummins responds with astonishing gauche, charcoal and colored pencil, digitally negotiated art that isn’t only beautiful to look at but for both kids and adults is wholly endearing.  From an irresistible dust jacket cover featuring the story’s human protagonist lying on a rug cuddling up to her adored pet, through turtle-shell brown-green end-papers that are sustained on the frontispiece before yielding to a center stage pink-icing donut aside Truman readers are whisked off into an adventure that may intimate more than it executes, yet within the claustrophobic confines of a city apartment there is Toy Story-like wonderment and genuine emotional investment in a terrapin that took little time in capturing the hearts of the reader from the very moment he was described as sweet as as the donut he munched on.  On a thoroughfare that recalls the titular scene in the Caldecott Honor winning Last Stop on Market Street, Truman is perched in a glass tank overlooking some measure of vehicular madness, described by Reidy as “honking taxis and growling trash trucks and shrieking cars.  A special mention is made of the No. 11 bus, whose run heads southward.  Cummins’ deft incorporation of color in the minimalist background outlines splendidly creates atmosphere, which is immediately contrasted by a close-up of Sarah with Truman at her side engaging in a coloring session.  Reidy relates that the sedate tortoise, much like his master wasn’t into bombast of any kind, much preferring the soulful interaction possible only indoors. (more…)

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