A Stone Sat Still, illustrated and written by Brendan Wenzel, published by Chronicle, ISBN: 978-1452173184, ARC reviewed, to be released: August 27, 2019.
Writing about this outstanding picture book poses a bit of a challenge.
There is such much going on, so many different layers at work here, so many intriguing spreads to point out and describe. I could compose an epic-sized essay that still wouldn’t do Brendan Wenzel’s work justice. It’s a book that throws many visual ideas (and puns) at the reader, juggles several playful notions about perspective, and delivers a powerful ecological message as well. And it’s all about a stationary rock that Wenzel says (in a recurring meditative refrain) sits still “with the water, grass, and dirt/and it was as it was/ where it was in the world.”
This title serves as a companion to the 2016 Caldecott Honor winning modern picture book classic They All Saw a Cat, which shows how the appearance of a feline would change depending on who views her. Wenzel takes this idea and runs with it even further. Animal after animal encounters the stone, and the conditions surrounding the encounter change, but not in any way the reader expects. For example, “the stone is bright” shows an owl at night sitting on the titular object–it is indeed bright but because of the moon glow. The rest of the scene has a dark nighttime feel; I love this juxtaposition. In other moments, the stone feels rough to a smooth snail, but smooth to a rough porcupine. A wolf interacts with the stone by smelling it, while otters associate the stone with their sense of taste by having their meals on it (“the stone was a kitchen”). To a giant moose the stone is a pebble, to a little beetle the stone is a hill. Oh, and I love the sneaky regal look on that wildcat’s face on the “and the stone was a throne” page.
I have written a lot on this blog about the way Brendan Wenzel has his own unique style. Even though Wenzel is endlessly inventive, taking wildly different approaches to creating his art, using all kinds of materials to do something new from spread to spread, his artistic creations always shout out “I have been created by Brendan Wenzel!” It’s in the way he creates the animals’ eyes (I call them Wenzelian Eyes), their bodies. His love for the animal world shines through in every moment. When Chronicle, the book’s publisher, allowed me a sneak peak at this work and asked what I thought, I wrote this in my response: “I consider Brendan Wenzel one of the most inventive illustrators working today, and A Stone Sat Still reaffirms this. What I always see in his work is a joy for creativity, for illustration, for art (with a love for nature as well). The philosophical nature of the book is haunting: the stone sitting still while change goes on around it, meaning so many things to so many beings. His work here is distinct and superlative. It’s a book that only Brendan Wenzel could create.”
A Stone Sat Still serves up an intriguing twist halfway through that involves the stone becoming submerged under water. A sense of melancholy prevails and haunts, inviting reflection. The final images of the stone sitting still in the world are both beautiful and mesmerizing. This is one of those terrific picture books that stay in the memory long after you close it, and invite you to revisit it on a frequent basis to bask in its inventive wonder.