Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Ho Hum, De Dum

In all honesty there are people who have never been bored.  Most moments of their lives are filled with doing something at all times.  They were probably raised by parents who rarely rested when working or playing.  Even if these parents were big readers, reading was to be enjoyed after everything else was completed.  (These people raised by these parents might have had to hide to continue or finish a completely captivating book.)

And it goes without saying, these people would never admit to having unfulfilled free time because those parents would produce a never ending to-do list.  There's Nothing To Do! (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, September 19, 2017) written by Dev Petty with illustrations by Mike Boldt is a new companion title to I Don't Want To Be A Frog and I Don't Want To Be Big.  The young frog who has brought laughter to readers repeatedly seems to be at a loss with how to spend his time.  Clearly his dad is not like some parents we might know.

I don't know what to do today.

You can't think of

It's not that our likeable amphibian can't think of a single thing, he just chooses not to do any of them.  After three suggestions of possibilities by his dad which Frog has no desire to follow, he decides to check with his friends.  Perhaps they will recommend something more appealing.

Rabbit wants to hop and then stop.  When he stops, his next activity is not at all what Frog wants to do.  Cat's proposal is downright yucky.  Frog and Owl are at complete odds.  When Frog approaches Pig he has several thoughts, one involving mud and the other a list.  Frog is not impressed.

Despairing of discovering anything to do, Frog rests flat on his back.  The day is nearly over.  Suddenly a new face appears, leaning over Frog. Her thoughts are in direct contrast to all the advice Frog has received.

She and Frog practice.  They wait.  As the sun sets Frog has a revelation.  When he and his dad chat at the day's end, Frog shares his grand plan for tomorrow.  There is one little problem, though.  What will Frog do?

By telling the entire story in dialogue Dev Petty personally involves readers in Frog's current dilemma.  With each proposed pastime and Frog's reply we realize his frustration is growing.  What is good for one individual is not always a good fit for another.  This builds toward the final idea; an idea not just for Frog but for all readers.  What makes this story even more memorable is the delightful twist Dev inserts at the end.  Here is a sample conversation.

Rabbit, what 
should we do today?

Hope around in
circles and then ...

...stare off into space.
Like this.

This is even less
fun than it looks.

There is something about the expression on Frog's face on the matching dust jacket and book case which sparks giggles and grins.  His words, the book's title, are in direct contrast to the toys surrounding him.  You can feel the comedic effect start to bubble inside you.  To the left, on the back, Frog maintains his commentary as the two previous books are shown.  When he points to the ISBN and asks

What's THIS?

you have to smile.  (When you are reading this aloud, this is a super opportunity to talk about the ISBN.)

The opening and closing endpapers in pale blue highlight Frog first in six boring poses and second in six alternate pursuits guaranteed to generate happiness.  The title page is nearly identical to the front of the jacket and case but Frog is walking away with his arms in the air in a sign of exasperation.  Throughout the book the background colors are varied; pale blue, white, darker blue, purple, pale yellow, pale green and golden shades of a blazing sunset.  The vibrant primary colors placed on those canvases by illustrator Mike Boldt add extra exuberance to the illustrations.

It's not just Frog's facial looks which will cause hilarity but on all the characters' faces.  The inclusion of extra details increase the humor and ask us to stop and enjoy the moments.  Notice the words on Dad's crossword puzzle, Dad's attire when he proposes a swim, Pig's latest project, and Rabbit's crinkled whiskers.  The size of the illustrations, single page and three double-page pictures elevate the pacing.

One of my favorite pictures of several is on a single page.  Frog and his dad are talking.  When his dad asks him what Pig is doing, Frog yawns and replies

Probably something boring.

Frog is leaning against a Popsicle stick replica of the Eiffel Tower being glued together by Pig.

In There's Nothing To Do! written by Dev Petty with illustrations by Mike Boldt is full of the fun we have come to love about Frog, his dad and the other animals in his world.  The mix of words and images is energetic and lasting.  Readers won't want to miss this third title.  You'll want to have a copy on your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Dev Petty and Mike Boldt and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Get a peek inside at the publisher's website.  Mike Boldt has a guest post on PictureBookBuilders about this title.  You're going to enjoy the artwork.

Friday, September 22, 2017


Have you ever noticed how our canine companions have numerous things in common with children? They greet each day as a new adventure, looking for fun or creating their own.  They use all their senses to experience each moment.  Unless past circumstances dictate differently, they approach all humans as equal individuals.  Age, physical characteristics, and abilities do not figure in their opinion of us.  They see inside us.

If you watch a group of little children playing with puppies, you can see this is true.  As dogs grow older this remains the same.  When children grow older sometimes this changes, but it need not be so.  Why am I me? (Scholastic Press, August 29, 2017) written by Paige Britt with pictures by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko explores how we see ourselves and how others see us.

Why am I 
me . . .

. . . and 
not you?

As a boy and his father and a girl and her mother wait to board a rapid transit train, the questions begin in their minds.  They are curious about their outward appearances and the possibilities hidden inside.  As they ride in the car, each continues their internal musings.

They both look around at the variety of people in their presence; young and old, light and dark skins (and all the marvelous shades in between) and the different attire.  They both wonder why people are the way they are.  What makes them unique?  What makes them who they are?

The two children then ask who they might be if they were different.  They even think if another person were them, would that person be the same as they are?  As the train reaches a stop, they both get off with their parents.

It is now evening with stars sparkling in the darkened sky.  They both are still thinking about their own special individuality.  A gift is then freely given.

Ten questions and a two-letter word reply written by Paige Britt are a poetic interlude on a large life query.  It is a gentle exploration as a child would think but as adults could or perhaps should think.  Observations by the children further their interest and ultimately give them their answer.  Here is another question.

Who in the world are we . . .

. . . if we aren't you and me?

The rich choice of color seen on the matching dust jacket and book case is a reflection of the treasure waiting to be discovered in each individual person.  The image on the front, to the right, of the boy and girl overlapping with the shared star sparkling in their eyes seems to suggest the waiting wonder in our world.  To the left, on the back, we are shown the array of people found in the subway car.  (Our lives are better with all of us together.)

On the opening endpapers a quiet neighborhood mirrors the diversity of residents.  Many of them appear later inside the subway car, including the boy and his father.  Rendered in acrylic paint, colored pencil and collage the illustrations by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko continue to unfold the story as the title page shows another street with the girl and her mother walking by shops and people.  On the verso and dedication pages the transit is shown above ground.  The children and their parents have arrived there.  On the closing endpapers, it is nighttime in a neighborhood.  A street light glows. We can see both the boy and girl through windows warm with light in separate buildings.

Each picture spans across two pages.  The imaginings of the boy and the girl are noticeable in their facial expressions; curious, fascinated and hopeful.  Readers will also enjoy looking at all the individual faces of the people on the train and in the world outside as it is passed by the passengers.

Sean and Selina vary the point of views throughout the book but also inside the train.  At one point we are close to the boy and girl and then we step back to see all the other people around them.  Even when the boy is watching children at play in a park (a more panoramic view) as the train speeds by his face is larger at the window focusing on his question.  As the story comes to a close, we are brought near to the children with them looking out at us.  This brings us more deeply into the narrative.

One of my many favorite pictures is of the boy and his father and the girl and her mother on the train.  We are close to them.  The boy, holding his book and skateboard, is looking down.  His father holding an open book has paused in his reading to gaze at his son.  The girl, on the right, is looking at the boy.  Her mother is looking at her.  There are many emotions in this scene; all of them are wonderful.  I really like the star on the boy's shirt and the yellow bird on the girl's shirt.  You can see tiny print on the pages of the boy's book.

Regardless of how many times you read Why am I me? written by Paige Britt with pictures by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko you will be enveloped by its beauty.  The quality of contemplation it invites in readers will vary but will surely promote inner reflection and outward discussions. You need to share this book as often as you can.  I highly recommend it for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Paige Britt, Sean Qualls and Selina Alko and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Sean Qualls also maintains a blog.  This title is featured at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, the blog of author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson. And you must read the interview between these three collaborators at author Chris Barton's website, Bartography.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Lady Leads The Way

In 1865 she was only an idea; an idea born from a desire to commemorate a lasting institution and friendship.  She arrived in pieces by ship in New York City's harbor in 1885.  Months passed before her full 305-feet-tall height was established.  At the official unveiling and dedication on October 28, 1886 President Grover Cleveland in a speech voiced without the use of notes declared:

"we will not forget that liberty here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected."

Since that dedication day The Statue of Liberty residing on Liberty Island has welcomed all who visit, begin new lives or return home on the eastern shores of the United States of America.  Her Right Foot (Chronicle Books, September 19, 2017) written by Dave Eggers with art by Shawn Harris presents known and little known information about this great lady, a constant beacon of hope and freedom.  It also draws our attention to a particular aspect of the statue, encouraging us to think deeper about the symbolic implications behind her design.

You have likely heard of a place called France.  

The people who live there are called the French.  Our Statue of Liberty came from the country of France.  Two Frenchmen, one with an idea and one with a design, worked to build Lady Liberty.

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi oversaw the development of his design; piece by piece due to the size of the statute.  Over her frame a skin of copper was fashioned.  You know she was then delivered to the United States to stand in the New York City Harbor but what you might not know is what happened in Paris, France before she traveled across the Atlantic.

Unlike a chameleon the Lady did not shift colors after thirty-five years instinctively but did so because of her materials.  The book she is holding, the number of spikes on her crown, her torch, her interior framework and her construction all have unique meanings and stories attached to them.  One feature of Lady Liberty usually not discussed is the central focus of this book.  All of the information has been leading us to this point.

If you look at her feet, specifically the back of her right foot, it's not stationary.  Oh, no readers, she is not standing still.  Her back right foot is lifted, toe to the ground, heel raised.  For the remaining half of the book, points are offered for us to ponder, discuss, promote and champion.  This Statue of Liberty is meant to move our minds and hearts as surely as she greets all who come to our shores.

As soon as you begin to read this book, you know the writer, Dave Eggers, is passionate about his topic and is ready to chat with you about it, one-on-one.  That's the way his narrative reads.  He asks questions and follows them with his no-nonsense answers.

You find yourself informed but entertained through his sense of humor which is underlying in this book.  An excellent technique he employs is to maintain his lively commentary before taking a huge pause switching up his use of words from

And you may know


you might not know.

Here is a sample passage.

Bartholdi liked to see the sculpture rise above the harbor.
Sometimes he watched the construction from the water.
Sometimes he watched it from the land.  Usually he was
wearing a sturdy black hat, for he, like most European
men of the time, favored sturdy black hats.

Rendered in construction paper and India ink the illustrations, loose, stylized and somewhat geometric, beginning on the opened dust jacket, pair perfectly with the spirited, straightforward text.  The limited color palette, blue, green, yellow, white and black brings our eyes to the center.  To the left, on the back, we zoom in to the crown.  A park guide and visitors are standing in the eleven openings.  In this picture as in several others illustrator Shawn Harris includes a cat and a dog.

The book case, in the green shade of weathered copper, is a reflection of the book held in Lady Liberty's hand.  The opening and closing endpapers take us close to the exterior details on the torch when she arrived and as they appear today.  An airplane dots the sky on the final endpapers.

Many of the images span two pages but their perspectives are greatly varied; a street scene in Paris, France, the crew working on the statue's hand, a map of a portion of New York City and the harbor, the Statue of Liberty's face and crown and her right foot with a park ranger and young boy pointing.  With each visual Shawn Harris usually shifts his hues used but his choices are still limited.  His decision to include more details increases the animation but even without the added lines each illustration evokes emotion.  Little touches of humor can be seen, too; the dog eyeing a pastry, exhausted workers sleeping on the rays of the crown and a startled cat coming in through a special door.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Shawn Harris shows us the base of the statute.  We can see both of Lady Liberty's feet, the front of her feet, beneath her robe.  The broken chains are visible.  It is a large picture beginning on the edge at the left and covering two-thirds of the page on the right.  It gives you a sense of the grandeur of this work.

This book, Her Right Foot, written by Dave Eggers with art by Shawn Harris is a remarkable portrait of the Statue of Liberty.  More importantly it asks readers to think of the intent of the designer.  It asks us to remember what these United States of America has offered to all people during the course of its history.  Some of the lines written by Dave Eggers will leave you stunned by their truth.  Some of the illustrations by Shawn Harris will leave you equally mesmerized.  I highly recommend this book for professional libraries and personal libraries too.  It invites, no demands, we partake in discussions.

To learn more about Shawn Harris please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  This title is his first illustrated book.  At the publisher's website you have the opportunity to view and use a classroom guide.  Dave Eggers is interviewed in a broadcast about this title here.   The ins and outs of a children's illustrations project regarding Her Right Foot are found here.  Educator Alyson Beecher wrote about this book on her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy.  Shawn Harris visits author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to talk about his process.  Author illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka talks about this title on his podcast The Book Report.

To get a little bit of a better idea about Dave Eggers, this TED talk might help.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected by participants in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Finding Riches At Sea

You often hear people talking about when my ship comes in.  Good fortune will shine upon their destiny.  Monetary riches will suddenly appear.  This ship, figuratively speaking, when it arrives will change their lives for the better.

Some people spend every day wishing for this vessel to sail into the harbor of their hopes.  Other people work toward the very things this ship would offer.  Let's suppose there is a third group of individuals.  The Antlered Ship (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 12, 2017) written by Dashka Slater with illustrations by The Fan Brothers (Eric Fan and Terry Fan) presents readers with a crew of animals setting sail together for the first time; each searching for something they desire.  They aren't waiting for their ship to come in.  They're on it.

The day the antlered ship arrived,
Marco wondered about the wide world.

Marco was a fox, a fox with lots of questions.  His questions were full of curiosity about the deeper meanings and possibilities within the world as a whole.  When a fox had these types of questions, he had to look for answers.  He went to the ship.  As he crossed the dock, three deer left the deck, joining him.

Sylvia, the captain, was looking for a crew as she and her fellow deer were lost.  Marco agreed to go.  He had a need to know.  So did four pigeons with a leader named Victor.  They welcomed adventure.  The deer were hoping to locate Sweet Tree Island.

The weather and consequently the sea were not kind to the antlered ship or its occupants.  The pigeons preferred playing games.  The deer fretted about what could go wrong.  Marco continued to have questions.  They were shivery, soggy and a bit hungry with the limited provisions.  The fox decided a change in attitude was needed.

A recipe book and charts altered their outlook.  As if sensing their moods' shift, the seas calmed and the moon shown in a clearing night sky.  Oh, their troubles were not over because sailing the seas meant continued natural challenges and scuffles with nasty scoundrels but often it's those difficulties which bring us to the riches we sought.

Author Dashka Slater honors in this tale the right to examine one's world and life outside what is expected.  Each animal is seeking something beyond their distinctive and instinctive boundaries.  One would never expect three deer, four pigeons and a fox to set sail on a ship, an antlered ship.

Using an exemplary combination of narrative, conversation and Marco's thoughts we travel with the companions.  We experience their doubts during the storm.  We are uplifted with their renewed determination.  We cheer and smile at one of the best three word lines in the book.  We triumph alongside them in victories.  We take joy in their hillside reflections.  Here is a sample passage.

As they plotted their course, the wind picked up.
The storm clouds thinned into marvelous swirls.
"Raise the sails!" Sylvia cried. 

When you open the dust jacket, the first thing you might think (if you are me) is I wish I could frame this artwork.  The antlered ship sailing through the Maze of Sharp Rocks at sunrise spans flap edge to flap edge.  It is a stunning display of adventure at sea.  You can smell the salt-tinged air and hear the waves crash against the rocks and the cry of the seagulls.  You can feel the ship cut through the water.  And you wonder where this magnificent ship with two pigeons, a deer and a fox is going.  Another spectacular feature is the texture of the jacket.  It is rough to the touch; like feeling a piece of the side of a wooden ship.  The title text is raised.

Beneath the jacket the book case is a deep sea green with a wide red, cloth spine.  On the front, to the right, is the anchor for the antlered ship.  To the left the ship's helm is pictured.  Each of these is embossed in an even deeper shade of sea green.  On the opening and closing endpapers in shades of brown like an old sea map is the water and land through which the voyagers weave their way.  Readers will enjoy the tiny details and given names for geographic points.

The majority of the illustrations, with the exception of four, span two pages with shifts in perspective to enhance the narrative.  Using graphite and ballpoint pen with digital coloring The Fan Brothers, Eric Fan and Terry Fan, have created truly spectacular illustrations; Marco on a cliff watching the antlered ship enter the harbor, the storm at sea, the reviving stew scene, studying the charts, the terrifying pirate crew, and Marco's search for other foxes and answers.  The passage of time and changes in weather are displayed with beautiful shifts in sky shades.  Humor is found in the smallest elements (Victor the pigeon) and in the page with the pigeons shirking shipboard duties.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is at night.  On the right against a sky sprinkled with stars is the bow and antlers of the ship.  Sylvia is standing close to the front.  Sitting in the center of the large antlers is Marco gazing toward the left.  Pigeons sit on either side of him.  The other two pigeons are together on a lower, left antler.  To the left of the picture a full moon is rising over a small island.  The moon lights a path on the calm water.

This collaboration between Dashka Slater and The Fan Brothers, The Antlered Ship, is one adventure you want to have repeatedly.  Their journey of discovery, not only in finding what they initially seek, but in forming lasting friendships is a tale to hold in your heart.  And the illustrations will literally have you exclaiming out loud.  You will most definitely want to have a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Dashka Slater and The Fan Brothers and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior illustrations.  Eric and Terry Fan are interviewed at Words for Life and Read and Shine. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Always Together

Their song is unmistakable to even the most novice listener.  If they decide to make their home near your home, you will be awakened by their sweet melody.  Both the male and female trill the well-known cheery refrain.  It's a comfort to know they mate for life.  It's a comfort to know they have chosen to be near you.

Eleven days ago author illustrator Matt Tavares posted a photo and comment on Facebook about stepping into a hotel elevator with portraits of cardinals hanging on the wall.  It was his first event promoting his new book, Red & Lulu (Candlewick Press, September 19, 2017).  We had a short chat about "signs" but what I didn't tell Matt at the time was cardinals were my Mom's favorite bird.  Each year it became a tradition to buy her a new cardinal ornament for her Christmas tree.  My mother had red hair and all her friends including my father called her Red.  This enchanting title will resonate with readers for varied reasons but for all it lifts up the power of love and the hope of a miracle.

In the front yard of a little house, on the branches of a mighty evergreen, there lived a happy pair of cardinals.

This tree offered them all they needed during spring, summer, autumn and winter.  They preferred winter over the other seasons because the family living in the little house decorated the tree with colored lights.  They sat and listened to

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy leaves are so unchanging...

Do you think the carolers heard them joining their chorus?

On an early morning before autumn turned to winter Red left to find food for him and Lulu, who waited in the tree.  As he returned he was shocked by the sight before him.  The tree was on its side on a truck.  Lulu was softly singing inside the branches.

As the truck sped down the road, Red called to Lulu.  He would not leave her.  He tried to keep up but the truck was too fast.  He lost sight of the truck, tree and no longer heard Lulu's song as it headed toward a vast city.  Red was in a place in stark contrast to the yard of the little house where the tree had stood.

The noise and buildings nearly overwhelmed the exhausted cardinal as he searched for Lulu day after day.  When the snow started to fall, the ache of her absence grew stronger.  He felt so connected to her he thought he heard their winter song.  Joy flooded the brave bird's body.  He flew and flew and stopped, stunned.  Lights.  Love.  And ...

When an author begins a story prior to the title page they are inviting you into something extraordinary.  With a single sentence Matt Tavares gives us once upon a time.  He continues to explain the contentment Red and Lulu find living in that particular tree all year long.  In this way, he creates a bond between readers and the pair of birds.  We understand the value of home and lasting companionship.  In this respect we feel the same alarm as Red when the tree is moved with Lulu in its branches and when he can't keep up with the truck.  But...

Matt has also fashioned a cherished tradition the duo share during their cherished season of the year.  This is the kind of hope on which their relationship flourishes.  Here is a sample passage.

Red chirped frantically,
telling Lulu to stay 
right where she was,

telling her that he
would be right there.

When viewing the opened dust jacket (I have an F & G.) the front view is striking.  The panoramic view as seen by Red and Lulu transports us to New York City at Christmas.  We, like the two birds, are drawn to the tree.  To the left, on the back, the affection between Red and Lulu is presented by Matt Tavares by taking us inside the tree.  Red and Lulu are resting on branches as the Christmas lights twinkle.  It is a smaller, more intimate image in an oval surrounded by a pale green canvas.  The opening and closing endpapers are a muted cardinal red.

Prior to the title page we see one of the children, dressed in winter garb, filling a feeder hanging from the roof.  The large evergreen looms to the right.  Everything is frosted in a thick layer of snow.  The title page, like the front of the dust jacket, is a marvelous sweeping view but instead of the city, it's of the community where the little house is located.  The two birds fly near their names, the title, on the left.  The large tree rises between Matt's name and Candlewick Press on the right. 

Rendered in watercolor and gouache the illustrations have a limited but natural color palette.    They vary in size to provide perfect pacing. Some are framed in a generous amount of white and others flow edge to edge.  Many of them are wordless which allows for more active participation by the reader and assists in furthering our emotional attachment to the story and Red and Lulu.

With a pair of cardinals as the main characters readers are treated to numerous birds-eye-view pictures but we are also taken deep into the story with shifted perspectives.  Matt knows exactly when to make this change.  We move in close when Lulu is frightened by the tree's move, Red is flying along a city street between the legs of walkers, or when he hears a sound close to his heart.

Several other items of note are the luminosity present in each picture.  It's not just the lights but an overall glow suggestive of warmth.  Careful readers will recognize some of the skaters at the Rockefeller Center rink.  And as he did in the beginning, Matt closes the story with an extra page, the possibility of another tale.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is on a single page.  The point of view has changed to bring us close to Red.  He's flying in the city at night as snow falls.  Behind him buildings stretch on either side, windows glowing from the lights.  Street and vehicle lights shimmer.  He is not looking directly at the reader but off ahead.  His body is moving with intent.  His feathers are a vivid contrast to the night, lights and snow.

As soon as I finish reading the story, look at the final two pictures, read the author's note about The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and view the image on the publication page, I go back to the start of Red & Lulu written and illustrated by Matt Tavares and read it again.  You are completely captivated by it because it rests in truth.  The blend of Matt's words and artwork has a timeless quality.  You will want to have at least one copy on your professional bookshelves as well as your personal bookshelves. (It's all I can do to not read it aloud to all the classes this week but I will wait for the finished copy and a time nearer to November.)

To learn more about Matt Tavares and his other work please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and blog.  Matt has several interior illustrations you can view on his website.  Matt is interviewed on a Candlewick Press podcast.  The cover is revealed at Mile High Reading hosted by the director of the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival Dylan Teut.  The book trailer is revealed at Watch. Connect. Read. by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.  At the cover reveal and the book trailer premiere there are interviews.        

Friday, September 15, 2017

No One Asked Me!

If there was ever a library so large people could literally get lost in there for hours or maybe even days, it would be wise to head to one section and one section only.  Hopeful of finding the nonfiction books and then carefully following the numerical order on the spines, you should seek the 398.2 titles.  Within folklore, fairy tales specifically, we can usually find our way home.  Those stories entertain and educate us, as well as guide us to where happily ever after is possible.

Each variant on those original narratives enlarges our thinking about alternate and creative paths leading to the same ending.  It's Not Jack And The Beanstalk (Two Lions, September 19, 2017) written by Josh Funk with illustrations by Edwardian Taylor takes an entirely new approach.  What if the characters rebel against the status quo?

Once upon a time, Jack lived in a tiny cottage in a dreary village.  He always dreamed that someday he would find his fortune.

Psst!  Jack!  Wake up!

I'm dreaming...

And put on some pants!

As the well-known events continue Jack needs to sell the cow, his only possession.  Since this is no ordinary fairy tale, Jack objects.  Bessie Cowpoke McPinwheel just happens to be Jack's BFF.  He's even more upset to find out she's only worth five beans.  Five beans!?

When their so-called magical qualities fail to function, he tosses them out the window after he's told he can't even eat one.  (The poor lad is operating on an empty stomach.)  Every time the unseen narrator moves forward in the action, Jack fails to comply without a grumble and a gripe.  The next morning he is elated he did not eat a bean considering what grew overnight.  He is also flabbergasted he has to climb it.  (Who wrote this story anyway?)

With every phrase uttered by the narrator, Jack is increasingly belligerent.  He's not tired from scaling the stalk plus he spies Cinderella's castle on his way up.  An invitation is issued but the now equally frustrated voice reading the story urges him in no uncertain terms to keep going.  Upon his arrival at the giant's home, an imminent clash ensues.

It's a blend of traditional and (cue Getting To Know You sung by Julie Andrews) exceedingly friendly conversation between a captured Jack and the giant.  A rip roaring argument escalates between Jack and the giant (Fred) and the reader.  If you can manage to stop laughing the conclusions, all of them, are exactly as they should be.  The End.  Maybe.

With every sentence read silently or aloud written by Josh Funk, you feel the urge to share this book.  The snappy asides by the reader/narrator as part of the story text and Jack's comments provide an abundance of humor.  As the story and alternate story unfold you can't help but wonder why more characters have not objected before Jack and Fred, the giant.

Another technique adding to the comedic effect is the use of modern phrases,

You're joking, right?
Spoiler alert.

The flow between the known narrative, the reader's statements, and Jack's and the giant's observations is seamless on the individual pages and as it resumes on the following pages.  There is not a skipped beat in the cadence.  Here is a sample passage.

Everything inside the house was tremendously large.

Spoiler alert:
A giant lives here. Can I go home now?

Suddenly, Jack heard a booming voice---


Umm, that 
doesn't even 
rhyme.  How about:
I can see the 
giant's bum?

Upon opening the exuberant, colorful dust jacket readers are treated to two views of the skyward climb up the beanstalk.  Although our focus is drawn to the main character in each image, the two blend together nicely across the spine.  The title text carved into a sign reflects the old world quality of the tale but the two painted words make it clear this will be no normal rendition of the story.  To the left, on the back, framed in stalks and leaves, the giant's harp is singing out a fun challenge for readers.  Two birds are watching her from above as ladybugs rest on a leaf.  Bean blossoms are seen throughout the illustrations. (I am working from an F & G so I don't know if the book case is the same.)

On the opening and closing endpapers is a pattern featuring leaves, beans, Jack's backpack, his rope and ax, the magic beans, the magic bean bag, a compass, tiny blue gloves, boots, a framed picture of Bessie, tortilla chips and Jack's hat.  These items are placed on a crisp white background.  Across the verso and title pages a night scene with Jack and Bessie out and about amid fireflies is full of cheer and friendship.

Rendered digitally by Edwardian Taylor the pictures vary in size from two page spans to single page illustrations and to smaller images set in larger ones.  His shifting perspectives enhance the hilarity of this variation.  His exaggerated facial expressions with the wide-eyed looks leave no doubt as to the current emotional state of the characters.

Careful readers will note familiar individuals even without reading the invitation on the back of the dust jacket.  This draws attention to the details Edwardian Taylor includes in each picture.  You pause to look because you don't want to miss any nuance he places in his pictures.

One of my many favorite illustrations is spread across two pages. The giant's face covers nearly every bit of space, edge to edge.  His nose is meticulously aligned in the gutter.  His mouth is open in anger.  His fingertips grip the table edge.  To the left of the picture a small human Jack, standing on the table with his arm, hand and finger raised to make a point, eyes closed, is stating a couple of facts, seemingly unconcerned with the trouble he is facing.

As soon as you begin It's Not Jack And The Beanstalk written by Josh Funk with illustrations by Edwardian Taylor you can already hear the laughter of readers and listeners.  The very idea of characters objecting to the story line is funny enough but the chosen words and energetic pictures created by these two collaborators elevate the hilarity.  You will most definitely want to place this title on your 398.2 professional shelves and add it to your personal fairy tale collections at home.

To discover more about Josh Funk and Edwardian Taylor and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Edwardian Taylor also has a Tumblr account.  The cover was revealed on Mile High Reading hosted by Dylan Teut, the director of Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival.  Today at the Nerdy Book Club Josh revealed the book trailer.  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

For Her Son

Many an educator stands in the hallways of schools around the world at the end of the day watching students pass, secretly sending blessings their way to keep them safe, healthy and happy.  Once they leave our classrooms and libraries, we have no way to offer them further education until they return to us the following morning or after a vacation.  If it should happen to be the final day of a school year, we hope with all our hearts we have provided them with the knowledge and skills to ensure they live the best life possible until we meet again.

For parents this desire is surely stronger.  In Your Hands (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September 12, 2017) written by Carole Boston Weatherford with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is a deeply moving request.  It is reverent.  It is full of faith.

When you are
I hold your hand and study your face.

I name you
firstborn son.

This mother, like so many mothers, holds dreams in her heart for this child.  She takes his hand to keep him safe as he learns at home and school.  And when he is sad, she comforts with affection.

A bedtime ritual of stories and reminders of living by the Golden Rule usher the child to sleep.  As the child grows, this mother realizes she cannot always be there to offer assistance.  This is when a prayer is made to God to hold this boy in His hands.

She asks for safety.  She asks for the child to walk with assurance.  She asks for guidance.  These things can be as everyday as navigating a street crossing or as challenging as becoming a teen.

When she says

I will pray that the world sees you as a 
child of God

she wants for this beautiful boy of hers as every parent wishes for their sons (and daughters).  This is a universal desire.  This is a universal connection between parents.

She continues to define what it is to be a child of God.  This child is seen for their inner character.  This child is given second chances so lessons can be learned.  This child is given bravery.  This child is able to stand strong.  She closes with asking for a long life for this beautiful boy of hers so he too can have sons and grandsons.  This mother's words on the first of the final two pages are being sung throughout the land.

The first several times I read this silently and then aloud, it was as if I was seated in a sanctuary of a church.  When I just stepped outside moments ago to the evening sound of katydids I knew this prayer would resonate wherever it is spoken.  Carole Boston Weatherford writes with a pure heart of truth.

She begins with the love song of a mother to a newborn.  She follows with the mother's thoughts as she imagines a future for her son until he, too, is a parent.  The voice of this woman, this mother, is sincere, founded in love and in the knowledge of the world as it is.  Here is a sample passage.

I will 
that you are
in neighborhoods beyond our own
and that you feel confident
when you face new challenges. 

Viewing the fluid lines of artist Brian Pinkney is the same as receiving an invitation.  They reach out, draw you into the text, embracing you even after the last word is read or spoken.  The illustration on the front of the dust jacket of the boy held in the hands of God is gorgeous.  The title text is raised and varnished.  To the left, on the back, the mother is cradling her newborn child in her arms.  The colors used for them are golden yellows and oranges.

Beneath the jacket on the book case covered in powder blue we see on the right the title text in white with the mother's hands reaching downward to help her son take his first steps.  The same illustration as on the back of the jacket is on the back of the case.  A pale mint green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  The front book case image is repeated prior to the title page.  To the left of the text on the formal title page, Brian Pinkney again has a picture of the child walking within the hands of God.

Rendered in watercolor, gouache, and India ink on Strathmore watercolor paper the pictures fill the pages opposite the narrative placed on varied pastel shades of yellow, blue, pink, purple, and a brighter burnt orange.  Warm shades whirl around loosely drawn elements in black.  Each visual is breathtakingly beautiful, certainly worthy of framing.

A favorite illustration of many is of the child sleeping.  Above his head are swirls of black, pink, blue and yellow and one brush stroke of pale purple.  As he rests his head on his pillow with closed eyes, his mother's hands reach to tuck the blankets around him.  In a truly tender moment the boy's hand is reaching to hold one of her hands.  On his bedspread vehicles race in a scattered pattern.  Brian Pinkney continues to place loose brush strokes of pink, blue and golden orange within the mother and child.

In Your Hands written by Carole Boston Weatherford with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is not only a prayer but a promise.  It is this mother's assurance to her boy child she will do everything to lift him up so his life can be fulfilling and lasting.  This is every mother's hope, but in this title it is the song sung for an African American child by his African American mother.  This title is highly recommended to be on all bookshelves, professional and personal.

To view the websites of Carole Boston Weatherford and Brian Pinkney to discover more about them and their work, please follow the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.