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Over and Under the Pond | drawn by Christopher Silas Neal • written by Kate Messner

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

It is very difficult to choose which Kate Messner/Christopher Silas Neal book to highlight—each book in their Over and Under series is flat-out beautiful. I'm focusing on Over and Under the Pond (2017), because the color palette is gorgeous, and I've been really into under water perspectives as of late. But I recommend the others at the end of this post and encourage savoring each one.

The cadence and descriptors in Messner's text have a tranquilizing effect, while the illustrations present unique vantage points that expand the imagination. This is a book I like to read slowly and take time to study each page. The mixture of cross-sections, overhead views from high up or hovering just above, and scenes from below provide so much to dwell on. Neal's style is pleasing in that everything he puts in the scene is clearly detectablemy eye doesn't have to fight to find things. He makes a way for bringing brushy, expressive life into his work, while keeping things uncomplicated and serene.

Messner's poetry lulls us into a state of observant stillness, like the characters in the book watching the animals quietly in awe. These books capture the wonder of simultaneous activity and states of being within an ecosystem, teaching us all that can be revealed the longer you sit and look. The privilege of shifting between spying above and getting a glimpse below the waterline is a magical experience one daydreams about, as expressed in the little boy's question to his mom: "What's down there?" It taps into the curiosity we have about what it would be like to fly like a bird or swim like a fish.

Each poem (I am going to adjust my language because truly Messner's words are more poetic in composition than narrative), sheds light on the exciting and surprising facts about the food chain and survival in these environments. In Over and Under the Snow, it's a fox pouncing to catch a mouse. In Over and Under the Pond, it's a great blue heron striking the water for a minnow. They highlight the fascinating contrast of drama in the suspense of these moments with the gauze of tranquility we experience as outsiders looking in to this secret world.

In 2011, Kate Messner treated everyone to a Q&A on her blog with Christopher Silas Neal talking about his process. Over and Under the Snow being the first book in the series, they discussed how they came to the final product together. Here is one of my favorite soundbites from that conversation:

"I knew right away, this was the story for me. It’s simple, filled with great animal imagery and has a classic sensibility. It’s a quiet story which I thought would pair well with my visual approach which is most often simple, muted and restrained. Under the Snow isn’t a character driven narrative in the way most children’s books are. In this case, nature is the true star of the show..."

To learn about his technique and the rounds he produced to find the perfect tone for the animals and the landscapes, keep reading here.They definitely landed on something unique and needed in the market, and we are delighted that they kept going.

Two dreamy spreads... one from Over and Under the Snow (2011):

and one from Over and Under the Rainforest (2020):

Other books in this series by Messner/Neal:


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