All I See

10May10

by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Peter Catalanotto

In All I See, Rylant tells the story of a jovial painter named Gregory who only paints whales although he is facing a whale-less lake while he paints. Rylant describes the whales in his paintings as varied, but consistent: “Sometimes the whale was diving in deep water, sometimes it was leaping up out of the water, sometimes it was upside down. But it was always a whale.”

A little boy ventures down to the lake and sees Gregory day after day painting these beautiful whales. As per Gregory’s normal routine, one day after painting he went out on his canoe to float around the lake as he napped. Seeing this opportunity to make initial contact, Charlie starts leaving messages for Gregory telling him that he likes his work. Gregory leaves Charlie a message before he goes out on the canoe telling him to wait around next time.

Upon their meeting, Gregory takes little Charlie under his artistic wing and teaches him about painting. Gregory even gets his own little set-up going, and the two peacefully paint side-by-side along the shoes of the lake. After he has spent more time with Gregory, a curious Charlie asks Gregory why it is that he is always paints whales. With a smile, Gregory replies,“It is all I see” (hence giving us the book’s title!). Reflectively, Charlie looks out upon the water, and “knew Gregory’s whales were there somewhere. He also knew that something was waiting for him, waiting to be seem and to be painted.”

I really liked the message conveyed by this story that we all have our own special thing that we alone can see. This sentimental message is reinforced in the typical sentimentality often expressed in Rylant’s writing style. Using commas to create longer, more thought-like sentences (“They stood side by side then, that day, brushes tucked behind their ears, painting.”), Rylant makes the reader feel like hearing more of a poetic recollection of a dear memory instead of just any old story.  In her typical fashion, Rylant also juxtaposes these long sentences with much shorter ones (“So Charlie stayed.”) This juxtaposition helps the telling feel more colloquial and offers an interesting contrast.
The Illustrations by Catalanotto are soft watercolors in a primarily greens, blues, and neutral palette. I liked that the decision was made to do the illustrations in watercolors giving them a painterly quality, as it reinforced the magic of Gregory’s own paintings. The color choices also reinforce the summer-time setting and lake location of the story. Each page is a full bleed with the text overlaying onto the illustrations, fully immersing the reader into the tale. Catalanotto employs an interesting use of perspective – For example, on the very first page, we only see the top half of the back of Charlie’s head on the left hand side of the page. This is before we have even meet Charlie, which offers some foreshadowing to support the text and our curiosity about its contents.

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