For storytime this past Saturday, I chose a book written in 1990, Ginger Jumps, by Lisa Campbell Ernst. This book was one of my absolute favorites when I was younger and still holds a dear place in my heart. It is a thrilling story of wishes, searching, overcoming fears, and family.
I honestly don’t know much about Ms. Ernst and a bit of googling didn’t pull up too much information. From the looks of it, she began her illustrating career in 1980 with the book It’s a Girl’s Game, Too by Alice Siegel and Margo McLoone. She also illustrated for authors like Harriet Ziefert and Seymour Simon which seems to have opened the door for her own works to be published. Her first self-illustrated book was in 1983 with Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt which is classified as historical fiction and labeled her, according to Publishers Weekly, “as an original and beguiling author.” She has over 20 books to her name, the most recent being This Is the Van That Dad Cleaned, published in 2005. She was raised in the Midwest and currently resides in Kansas City with her husband and 2 daughters.
Growing up in the Midwest myself, I feel a sort of bond with Ms. Ernst. Her style of writing and illustrating is very recognizable and her human or animal protagonists are always so lovable. There is a very approachable feeling to her characters and their settings which makes them somewhat timeless. Something fantastic typically happens in her books, but it is the kind of fantastic that could happen to you too.
I first met Lisa Campbell Ernst and her books when I was in first grade and they stole a place in my heart. Ms. Ernst read Ginger Jumps to my class in the school library and also did book signings at the time.
That little doodle of Ginger meant the world to me then, and has stuck with me ever since.
The plot: The book opens by introducing you to this young pup who has always lived with the circus and is overlooked by the hustle and bustle of circus life and the more talented performers. She desperately wants to play with someone and more importantly, to belong to someone and have a family.
When she is a bit older, she begins training with Sir Deedrick and his daredevil dogs and learns basic tricks to perform. Ginger loves the circus, but especially loves the marvelous audience members, children. She practices and performs faithfully, but in her spare time is watching the children and searching for the one little girl of her dreams with a magical laugh.
The big day comes when Sir Deedrick has a new act and places Ginger as the main dog. It will be marvelous, especially as Ginger will be highlighted and seen by the one girl she hopes to find.
Unfortunately during practice, they discover that Ginger is terribly afraid of the act and simply cannot perform. Disheartened, she returns to her simple tricks and resigns herself to watch the snobby special dog take the spotlight.
The act is performed by three new clowns who will be taking the special dog to live with them in their trailer. During the debut of the new act and clowns, a humorous turn of events reveals to Ginger that the smallest clown just might be the girl she has been searching for. In a thrilling ending, Ginger leaps into action and performs the act she was terrified of, landing in the arms of the one she longed for.
The verdict: As I stated before, I love this book. It is a decent length, longer than a lot of new ones, but the pace and anticipation really carry it along. Text length on the pages may be daunting to a reader or listener, but the images have so much depth and intriguing things going on that you don’t feel the length. I remember as a child just pouring over the pages and delighting in every detail from the different dogs’ collars, to finding Ginger wherever she may have been. The size of the book also helps as it is tall and wide which makes the images that much more enticing. Ms. Ernst knows how to pack in detail to keep you looking.
There is a nasty dog character, Prunella, who used to just irk me as a child. I dearly loved Ginger and really despised that Prunella. I mention her because she is a significant part of the book and she says a few awful things which may be copied by certain impressionable children (you know if you have one!). The worst of her lines, in my opinion, is “sniveling brats,” which is incredibly mean and may provoke questions or further discussions. I always feel it is best to give fair warning because to some it wouldn’t matter at all, but to others, it may make a huge difference.
Did I mention that I love this book? It will continue to remain on my shelf and I’ll always be looking for an occasion to share it. Ginger is endearing and lovable and you can’t help but root right along with her hoping that she’ll find that special family and overcome her fears.
The art: Lisa Campbell Ernst has a unique artistic style. Her books are always easy to spot. The characters tend to be nice and plump with a rosiness in their cheeks. Her color palette is robust and vibrant often including moody hues and lots of pattern. A few of her books attest to being created in pastel, ink and pencil; and that would be my guess for this book as well. While not realistic in rendering, the massive amounts of details on each page are spectacular. I especially love the end papers in Ginger Jumps, as they look very similar, but an observant eye will notice the specific changes. Check this one out if you have the chance. I trust it will become beloved to you as well.