Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

No Rest On The Rails

The tracks are miles away from my home but not so far I can't hear the whistle blow as it speeds by a crossing late at night.  As I stand and stroll in my backyard with my canine companion listening to the sound, memories stir.  A little girl is putting together the tracks so her new train set can run around the Christmas tree, counting the cars between the mighty engine and the caboose as she waits in the back seat of her parent's green Chevrolet, sitting on the seat of a small train taking her through the local zoo or a jungle filled with parrots in Florida.  A young woman is gripping the arm rests as a train climbs through mountains in Canada. As an adult a woman visits the bustling city of Chicago for the first time traveling by train into the famous and now ninety-two year old Union Station.

There never seems to be a time of day when a train is not moving along the tracks, destination known.  Trains Don't Sleep (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2, 2017) written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Deirdre Gill is a soothing, sensory journey with trains designed for a variety of functions.  It's a tribute to this fabulous form of transportation.

Trains are humming, coming near.
Coupled cars from front to rear.
Rumbling, grumbling, screech and squeal,
Rolling, trolling wheels on steel.

Through the night the train zooms, never slowing.  As the light of morning breaks over the horizon, a train pulls into a country station before making another stop in a city rimmed with tall buildings.  The large windows and comfy seats welcome passengers.

On another parallel track, a locomotive pulls cars of different shapes and sizes.  Each one with a particular purpose.  It's certainly fun to know, they sometimes carry other vehicles that perform special tasks when they get to go.

These trains travel over all types of terrain using bridges, trestles and tunnels to reach a place.  In all kinds of weather they push forward, never wavering from their goal.  What's this we see chugging past?

Its cars are carrying precious cargo destined to bring cheer to audiences near...and far.  Animals, performers and crew have exceptional assignments to do.  Trains leave.  Trains go.  The day is done, evening descends.  They meet together at their travels' ends.

When the narrative written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum comes to a close readers will feel as if they have rambled across the tracks with these trains, dawn to dark.  The gentle rocking felt as a passenger, the click-clacking heard as trains pass, the hiss heard when trains to life or heard when they screech to a halt or the sight of each train, car contents known and unknown, these things all contribute to our connection to this manner of moving from one point to another point.  At the end of every two lines, gathered by two or four, rhyming words whisper the cadence of wheels on tracks.  Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum creates a memorable melody for her readers.  Here are sample passages.

Trains don't sleep---
They CLANG and HOOT,
Reaching stations on their route.

Quiet town to noisy city,
Looming large and strong and gritty.

Rendered in oil on paper the illustrations beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case are a pictorial homage to trains.  The arched bridge stretches across the spine to the left, on the back.  The forest beneath the expanse is shown in various deep green hues as the sky blooms in the dying light of day, a full moon rising in the sky as stars begin to show.  Speed and resolve are conveyed in the lines and angles of the train.  Notice the formation of the text letters.  On the opening and closing endpapers one of the darkest shades in the sky covers the space.

In the glow of an engine light the words appear on the informal title page as the trains shown in the story are named.  A glorious night scene of the train moving down a hill toward the station, windows bright with a pale golden shimmer, spans the verso and title pages.  With each page turn an image extends from page edge to page edge.

The pictures are stunning through the use of light and shadow by Deirdre Gill.  Wild and domestic animals are shown when appropriate as the trains race and rumble through cities, towns, country, forests and mountains.  Deirdre shifts her point of view drawing readers deeply into each scene, a train passing through tall grasses with cows grazing, standing on a station waiting for the arrival of a train, two passengers watching the city fade as the train moves, or an engine breaking through piles of snow in a darkening storm.  Each visual can stand alone but flawlessly becomes part of the wonderful whole as the hours pass.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the freight train, Engine106, is trudging through the snow.  You can almost hear the sound of the wind and the ferocity of the storm as the drifts grow deeper on the tracks.  The contrast of the dark engine, snow and gray sky supplies a perfect mood.  You'll find yourself reaching for a sweater or a blanket.

Trains Don't Sleep written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Deirdre Gill is like a lullaby taking us through a day and closing with the promise of another new day.  Through a blend of words and illustrations we experience trains in three distinct capacities.  Be sure to read this aloud whether one-on-one or with a group.  I would pair this with Train (Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., September 24, 2013) written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper,  Locomotive (A Richard Jackson Book, Atheneum Book for Young Readers, September 3, 2013) written and illustrated by Brian Floca, How to Train a Train (Candlewick Press, September 24, 2013) written by Jason Carter Eaton with illustrations by John Rocco or Steam Train, Dream Train (Chronicle Books, April 16, 2013) by Sherri Duskey Rinker with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld.

To discover more about author Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrator Deirdre Gill please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Andria is interviewed at GotInterviews, Picture Books Help Kids Soar and KidLit 411.  At Lauri Fortino's Frog On A (B)log you can find an interview with Deirdre Gill.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Small Beginnings

One of nature's many miracles is seeds.  Some of them are so small when you sow them it's like scattering sugar.  Other's need to be soaked overnight so growth is encouraged and stems will appear sooner. Many members of the gourd family are grouped together to grow in hills.  If you want a potato, plant a potato, making sure there are several "eyes" buried in the dirt.

Unless you are an avid horticulturalist finding a seed without any sort of identification is like discovering a mystery.  What Will Grow? (Bloomsbury Children's Books, February 14, 2017) written by Jennifer Ward with illustrations by Susie Ghahremani gives readers the means to crack the code of what each seed holds inside.  All the answers build toward a pleasant surprise.



For each of the twelve seeds a poetic description provides clues.  Physical characteristics may be supplied.  How the seed is sown hints at the outcome.  With a glance to the right, the reader can easily see if their guess is correct.

If the seeds are planted in a precise row, a gardener has plans for them.  If a clever woodland creature buries them, something tall and sturdy will stretch to the sky.  If currents of air spread them here, there, and seemingly everywhere, a carpet of yellow is sure to appear in the spring.

A tiny package can contain a much larger, succulent fruit which can vary in size depending on the variety.  Black and white stripes can contain giant bursts of golden yellow swaying on tall stalks.  These floating tufts of white generate food for the majestic monarch.  Without it monarchs cannot survive.

A core tossed alongside a roadway, last year's jack-o-lantern squashed to mush, or a holiday wreath left hanging a bit too long all have the potential to create something beauty and beneficial.  In every season the wonders stored inside seeds work their marvels.  We fortunate humans and other animals reap the rewards.

The melodious words written by Jennifer Ward welcome participation and speculation.  They also ask us to pause, close our eyes and visualize her depictions.   The rhythm supplied by her two lines and rhyming words at the end of each will captivate readers as they attempt to figure out the riddle.  Here is another sample passage.



The first thing readers will appreciate about this book is the choice of paper for the dust jacket and interior pages.  The matte finish and heavier stock furnish us with a wonderful, tactile experience.  When opening the matching dust jacket and book case the color palette presents a soothing sense and the image, extended to portray hilly expanses, shows more sunflowers in various stages of growth.  The sunflower seeds scattered along the bottom give readers the chance to connect the one with the other.  The rabbit is the first of many animals featured on every two pages.

The opening and closing endpapers are a cool green with a pattern of seeds, each kind grouped together, across the pages.  On the verso and title pages we see a progression of growth, seeds to tall stalk, as a ladybug journeys from place to place, climbing and flying.  Rendered in gouache on wood and hand lettered by Susie Ghahremani these visuals are works of art.

Her two page illustrations, with four gatefolds, hold our gaze from left to right.  We get to see the seeds form the plants in a stunning display almost like slow motion but totally complete at the same time.  All the seasons of the year are presented in full earth-tone shades.  Most of the illustrations bring us close to the seeds, animals and the resulting plants.  We are usually viewing the picture from a perspective other than human.

The attention to detail is utterly lovely.  Susie is careful to present the correct animal in each scene.  Readers will be looking intently for a certain bug after every page turn.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the pumpkin seeds.  The background hills are now a golden shade.  In the foreground a garden in varying hues of brown serves as a canvas for the scattered seeds, seedlings and slowly growing vines.  On the right the vines have produced blossoms and several pumpkins.  A tiny ladybug crawls on the far left.  On the right a raccoon stands eagerly looking at the pumpkins.  Its hands are brought up in front as if in anticipation of a snack.

You can't read this book only once.  I predict What Will Grow? written by Jennifer Ward with illustrations by Susie Ghahremani will have a well-loved look quickly whether it's on library, classroom or home bookshelves.  Readers will be ready to garden before they have even finished it the first time.  By the third time, they will be leaving the garage or shed with a shovel in hand. At the close of the colorful reveal, each seed in alphabetical order is explained further.  You are told when it's best to sow, the necessary steps and when it will grow.  A simple, perfect textual and visual explanation is offered for the four stages from seed to plant on the following two pages.

To learn more about Jennifer Ward and Susie Ghahremani and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Jennifer is interviewed at Tucson Tales.  Susie is interviewed at websites with a heart.  At the publisher's website there is a twelve-page activity guide for you to download.

Be sure to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the choices this week by other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Splendid Scenarios Under The Sea

When precious personalities from books make a return appearance readers rejoice.  When you find yourself smiling just from looking at the book case, without reading a single word, you know laughter is sure to follow.  The cheerful nature of the characters is contagious.   This is something you are more than willing to spread.

Last autumn we meet two very likable sea creatures who also happen to be best friends in Narwhal: Unicorn Of The Sea (A Narwhal And Jelly Book) (Tundra Books, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company, October 4, 2016).  The second book in the series Super Narwhal And Jelly Jolt (A Narwhal And Jelly Book) (Tundra Books, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company, May 2, 2017) written and illustrated by Ben Clanton adds three more marvelous chapters in the adventures of one unique narwhal and jellyfish.  Prepare to be entertained.  Prepare to have your heart swell with love for these two remarkable pals.

Ahoy, Jelly!
Hey, Narwhal!  What's up?
I was just about to go for a swim.  After that I'll have something for lunch, probably a waffle, and then...

Narwhal announces with great exuberance his intentions to become a superhero.  When Jelly points out the obvious fact you can't become a superhero instantly, Narwhal asks exactly what is needed.  During the course of their conversation the idea of super outfits, a superhero name, a secret identity, the necessity of a sidekick, and a superpower clearly demonstrate the truth of Jelly's statement.  Of course, Narwhal, with his usual super positive outlook on everything is not discouraged.  He lives for looking on the bright side.

One evening when out for a swim, Narwhal comes upon Star (a starfish) resting on a rock.  Star would much rather be shining in the night sky.  Ever helpful, Narwhal suggests several possibilities for Star's wish to come true, even attempting some of them.  It's the final effort which will give readers a hint of Narwhal's true power.

In the third episode Narwhal is moving through the sea wearing his secret identity when he discovers Jelly is feeling rather sad.  In perfect form Narwhal transforms into Super Narwhal using his awe-inspiring nature to work wonders on Jelly.  Before long readers and Jelly will be laughing.  The lively twosome lead by Super Narwhal continues to alter their entire briny blue realm.


As soon as you start reading the dialogue penned by Ben Clanton you feel your spirits start to soar.  The exchanges between Narwhal and his sea friends, especially Jelly, are lively and positive.  Narwhal is always looking for solutions within each situation.  The humor comes in the answers and questions by Jelly and in the word play.

Through the contrast in the personalities of the characters readers are given the opportunity to place themselves in similar situations and ask themselves how they would respond.  Are they more like Narwhal or Jelly or a little bit of both?  As in the first book in the series Ben Clanton adds two extra chapters to shift the cadence.  He includes Super Sea Creatures which shares some fun facts about the mimic octopus, dolphins, blue whales, crabs, flying fish and sailfish.  A new escapade showcasing Super Waffle and Strawberry Sidekick (written by Narwhal and Jelly) will have you groaning at the puns and smiling nonstop.  Here is a sample passage from the book.

I've never had a mustache, Super Narwhal.
Too Bad! You'd look really great with a mustache.
Is that why you're blue?  Because you've never had a mustache?
Huh?  It has nothing to do with a mustache.
Did you accidentally set your hair on fire?

We're underwater!

The smiles on the faces of Narwhal and Jelly on the front of the book case set the tone for the entire title.  Readers will wonder what new excitement awaits these sea creatures turned superheroes.  To the left, on the back, readers can enjoy four square panels.  In one Narwhal is speaking, in two Jelly is adding to the fun and together in the fourth panel, the duo announce their new names.  Beneath the visuals we read:

Ben Clanton (A. K. A. Clantoons) is faster than a stationary bullet, more powerful than a toy locomotive, and can make super stories like this one and Narwhal: Unicorn Of The Sea!

The opening and closing endpapers done in two hues of golden yellow show miniature Super Narwhals and Jelly Jolts respectively on the first and second sets.

The limited color palette of a washed ocean blue, yellow, black, white and gray heightens the delight factor while also allowing for the punch which comes when adding spot color and full color in the Super Waffle And Strawberry Sidekick story.  Rendered in colored pencil, watercolor, ink and colored digitally the images span full pages, edge to edge, framed single pages, groups of panels on a single page and two full pages.  Shifting the sizes clearly contributes to the wonderful pacing.  All of the text is hand lettered by Ben.

The facial features Ben Clanton creates with dots, curves and lines are fantastic.  You can't help but be connected to his characters.  Their emotions and moods are experienced by everyone.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is a full page panel with a heavy black line and generous white space for a frame.  It's a close-up of Narwhal in his secret identity.  All we can see is the portion of his body from his tie up to the tip of his horn.  His is looking straight at the reader wearing a yellow tie, mustache and spectacles with a fin raised.  He's exclaiming:

Sounds like a job for...

Super Narwhal And Jelly Jolt (A Narwhal And Jelly Book) written and illustrated by Ben Clanton is a fun-filled read, silently or aloud.  These under-the-sea buddies are sure to find a place in each reader's heart.  This is a graphic novel series you will want on your personal and professional bookshelves.  Ahoy!

To discover more about Ben Clanton and his other work be sure to visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  There is a link there to his Instagram account.  By going to the publisher's website you can view some interior pages.  Narwhal and Jelly have their own website here.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Tearing Down...Building Up

Even if you have a fear of heights, once you arrive and enter everything changes.  The small space, four walls with perhaps a single door, a single window and a roof to keep out the weather, is a place where memories lasting a lifetime are created.  Wishes are spoken aloud.  Promises are made.  Secrets are voiced.

When this haven is constructed by hand and with help, its value increases.  That Neighbor Kid (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, May 9, 2017) written and illustrated by Daniel Miyares is about the art of reaching out and receiving.  Taking chances can lead to a far greater joy than believed is possible.

In a nearly wordless narrative a dreary day is the backdrop for a shift in a neighborhood dynamics.  A moving truck is parked in front of one of the houses on a street lined with sidewalks and filled with mature trees.  As the household items are unloaded, a boy reads a book in the back yard next to a large tree.  He is unaware of being watched.

We along with the observer realize he is focused on seeking sanctuary in that tree.  Still hidden the neighbor sees the new boy remove and take some of the boards on the fence dividing their property.  He then climbs up smaller pieces of wood nailed as steps to a top part of the tree.  The hammer stuck in his waistband drops.

The hammer is retrieved by the neighbor.  She arrives where the boy is puzzling over plans amid his bucket of nails and boards.  Looks, a single word and items for building are exchanged.  A crew of two now knows what to do.

The pure bliss they feel at their accomplishments glows like the colors now visible on the fall foliage.  Fun continues as the project and day come to an end.  A starry sky and glowing windows hold the hope for future endeavors.

One single word, the same word, is spoken by each of the characters once. This story conceived by Daniel Miyares thoughtfully looks at the development of friendship, the idea of offering advice and accepting it, of removing barriers to build something new, teamwork, and having the courage to do all of these things.  In the way each portion of the story unfolds, Daniel Miyares allows his readers to ask questions, think about their own choices and come to the realization the best and most lasting things rarely happen quickly.

When you open the dust jacket the scene of homes, the field of grasses and sky with a few clouds extends over the spine and to the left.  The difference is the colors fade.  It's the promise of friendship which adds brightness to the day.  The little details like the apple core next to the boy and the grasshopper on a bit of grass give authenticity to the image.

On the book case the elements are extremely spare on a cream background.  To the left the grasshopper remains but the grasses are few in number.  The girl, a smile playing about her mouth, crosses the spine.  She follows the boy running and carrying a board.  We don't see his entire body; part of him is off the case.  The opening endpapers are a wash of deep grays.  The closing endpapers are golden yellow with hints of brush strokes.

Rendered in ink and watercolor on Strathmore paper most of the pictures cover two pages.  These larger visuals reach out to envelope the reader.  When the two children meet and begin working together Daniel Miyares wants us to slow down and work alongside them.  These images are smaller and framed with the tree branches.  It's a beautiful thing to watch.  With each successive illustration more of the oak leaves turn from gray to autumn shades.

One of my favorite pictures of many (you could frame any of them to hang on a wall) is when the children are taking a break in their building.  We are looking at them from above.  The floor (maybe more) of the tree house is completed.  The plans are spread on the floor along with a saw, pencil, nails, boards and the hammer.  One of the windows is indeed in place casting a shadow over the girl lying on her back, smiling with pigtails spread behind her.  The boy, lying on his back, is holding a bright red leaf and smiling with legs crossed and one arm behind his head.  Sunlight is splashed on other portions of the illustration.  This is childhood at its finest.

There is a timeless quality to the story and the portrayal of the characters in Daniel Miyares's That Neighbor Kid.  Even the title supplies wonder; is it the girl or the boy who is the neighbor kid?  I can't imagine a personal or professional bookshelf without a copy of this book.

To learn more about Daniel Miyares and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to this name.  Daniel has an account on Instagram.  You can view interior images from this book at the publisher's website.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson talks with Daniel Miyares at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  In one of his Saturday videos to educator Colby Sharp, Scholastic Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher talks about this title at Watch. Connect. Read.  Daniel Miyares is featured at KidLit 411 and All The Wonders, Let's Get Busy, Episode #232.  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What We Leave Behind

They are nearly fifty years old.  They were planted by my mother forty-eight years ago.  Perhaps she brought them from my parent's old home to their new one built in 1968.  Since then they have been lovingly moved three times.  Where I go my mother's peony bushes go.  Each time they are placed in a new garden, another plant fills their former space.  Gardens grow in more ways than are easily recognized.

Each person who tends flowers and vegetables in gardens of varying sizes leaves behind the stories associated with each plant.  The forever garden (Schwartz & Wade Books, May 2, 2017) written by Laurel Snyder with illustrations by Samantha Cotterill asks us to think about what we sow, not only in gardens.  It's a loving and charming tribute to people of all ages who care for everything in their lives.

In sunshine and shower, in darkness and wind,
Honey tends her garden...

Honey's knees are always muddy.

Whatever the weather and whatever the time of year, Honey looks after her garden.  She knows what it needs and takes great joy in its stages.

Honey sings to the kale.

A neighbor girl observes this her curiosity increasing.  When sent to Honey's for eggs from her chickens, the child marvels at the colors of the shells and their warmth, fresh from the nest.  Honey brings bunches of bounty from her garden when visiting their home for Friday night dinners.

Sometimes the nights are mild enough Honey enjoys dinner in her garden.  For dessert the little girl joins her eating cookies and watching the fireflies.  One day, a single sign, brings change for the girl and Honey.

In conservations both the girl and Honey reveal the affection they have for each other.  They will be missed.  The little girl also comes to know the value of adding something or leaving something behind, a visible (not always on the outside) reminder of you having been part of memory making at a particular place.  In this way a tradition can continue; a garden can last forever.

Readers will find themselves as deeply connected to Honey as is the little girl through her first person narrative as written by Laurel Snyder.  The inclusion of sounds, Honey's spoken phrases and their chats create a warm and intimate story.  Readers will come to believe the best kind of friendships can bind people together regardless of their ages.  Here is a sample passage.

Each Friday night I ask Honey to dinner.
She brings bouquets of funny things.
Squash blossoms,
raspberries on a prickle branch.

Nothing matches, but everything fits.
And the table smells like a meadow.

At first glance readers can tell there is a deep fondness between the two pictured characters.  Their facial expressions and body gestures are evidence of this fact.  The soft textures and color choices radiate tenderness and the belief in continual growth; flowers and vegetables are being planted, enjoyed and harvested.  To the left, on the back of the matching dust jacket and book case, the girl is seated on the fence between their two properties, holding a tiny carrot given to her by Honey who is standing with a basket full of lettuce.  A striped cat watches.

Rendered in pen-and-ink on watercolor paper and colored digitally by Samantha Cotterill the illustrations are as brimming with details as Honey's garden is full of vegetables and flowers.  Some of them cover two pages, others single pages and some are small and grouped together on one page.  Most of the smaller images are circular; in keeping with the forever theme of the book, no beginning and no ending.

One of my many favorite pictures is of Honey and the neighbor girl lying on their backs on a quilt in Honey's garden at night.  Fireflies are blinking around them.  A string of decorative lights is hanging along the fence.  Pots of flowers are placed around them.  A pitcher of water, glasses and a plate of cookies are on the quilt.  The cat is playfully reaching for a firefly.  You can almost hear the crickets chirping as the child quietly talks and points.

This title, The forever garden, written by Laurel Snyder with illustrations by Samantha Cotterill is sure to be a classic with a timeless theme of making a beneficial and lasting impression wherever you are and wherever you go.  Readers can find joy in the diverse characters and their multi-generational relationships.  The Author's Note on the verso opposite the title page is a must read; explaining the inspiration for this story.  I highly recommend this title for use with other books on friendship and gardening.

To learn more about Laurel Snyder and Samantha Cotterill please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Samantha Cotterill can be found on Instagram.  If you go to Flickr for the publisher you can view more illustrations.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Give Me Sleep

You know the feeling.  You're so tired you could sleep nearly anywhere but the spot you long for most is your personal place.  It doesn't matter if it's big or small, hard or soft, or covered in cozy quilts and bunches of fluffy pillows or a single blanket and a single pillow.  Your bed is your sanctuary.

When you settle in for a serene night of rest and the sweetest of dreams, every muscle relaxes and all the worries of the day fade away. At least this is how it's supposed to be.  In Go sleep in your own bed! (Schwartz & Wade Books, May 2, 2017) written by Candace Fleming with illustrations by Lori Nichols animals on a farm are having a not-quite-right night.

Snuggled in.
Snuggled down.
Bedtime on the farm.

Hardly able to keep his eyes open Pig strolls toward his sty.  Rolling into his mud, he realizes someone is in his bed.  Cow is hogging his space.  Pig orders him to go to his own bed.

Cow ambles into her stall and lies down but a horrible squawk startles her.  There's a hen roosting in her hay.  As did Pig, she orders the chicken to go to her own bed.

To Hen's surprise a very large member of the farm community is occupying almost the entire coop.  She clucks and clucks until the intruder wanders over to his bed.  As you can probably surmise, Horse is unable to sleep in his stable.  Someone else is in the wrong bed.

This series of out-of-the-ordinary events continues until the last animal, resigned to her fate, settles down on her particular, private bed.  Will she remain there?  Unlike the others will she find a warm, welcoming snuggling place?

Bedtime on the farm.

The first three phrases lead readers gently into what they believe will be a nighttime ritual on the farm.  It's a perfect beginning for the hilarity which follows.  Candace Fleming understands her intended audience (and those young at heart) by asking them to participate with a repeating question and sentences.  Her word choices supply a visual of the movements from place to place by the animals and how they settle in their beds only to discover they are not alone.  The words uttered by the animals when ordered to leave are full of fun and sure to generate giggles and grins.  Here is a sample passage.

"Oh, w-w-w-h-o-o-o-a is me," whickered Horse.
And he shambled to his stable, cloppety-plod.

But when he settled down---
Who do you think he found?

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case the front is the first hint things might be a little unusual on this specific night; a cow curled up in pig's sty is a tad strange.  And the one-eyed look Pig is giving Cow is most definitely the tiny start of the huge humor which follows.  To the left, on the back, Hen is nearly sleepwalking to the coop.  She can't see what readers can; the backside of a horse is facing the entrance.  On the opening and closing endpapers, done in a deep midnight blue and a lighter blue for outlining with hints of white and golden yellow, another story is being told.  You will get a chuckle out of the conclusion on the closing endpapers.  Each one is a scene of the layout of the farm...with a few changes.

A two-page picture of the farm at night from the vantage point of a tree top supplies the canvas for the verso and title pages.  Here as on the jacket and case Lori Nichols continues the limited color palette, hues of blue, purple, brown, white, pale yellow and green.  (Splashes of other colors make an appearance in a few illustrations.)  An owl watches with eyes wide open.

The image sizes vary from two page pictures to single page illustrations and other visuals on a single page surrounded by white space.  These pair perfectly with the narrative supplying a cadence for readers.  Rendered in acrylic ink using a dip pen and colorized digitally the looks on the characters' faces and their body postures will have you laughing out loud.

One of my favorite of many pictures is when Cow settles into her stall only to discover Hen is there.  Large portions of white space frame the stall divider, another cow, Cow and the sleeping Hen.  Cow is curled on her hay but the


has her giving the source of the sound a one-eyed look.  Hen is sleeping on her back, wings spread and red and white stripped legs straight up in the air.

Go sleep in your own bed! written by Candace Fleming with illustrations by Lori Nichols is meant to be read aloud one-on-one or with a group.  Readers will quickly join in when the repeating phrases appear.  They will be delighted by the word choices supplying sounds and moods of the animals.  This is perfect for bedtime but I will be sharing it anytime I can.

To learn more about Candace Fleming and Lori Nichols and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images including the opening endpapers.  Lori Nichols is featured on Andrea Skyberg's website.  Enjoy the adorable book trailer.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

As Free As A Bird

Whenever calm is broken by stiff breezes or high wind gusts, looking skyward reveals our larger feathered friends enjoying what nature has offered.  Wings spread wide; they soar on the currents of air, moving up and down, until they glide out of sight.  It's as if we've been given the gift of bearing witness to this miracle of wings and wind.  Do they feel as much joy in this act as we do watching them?

Almost two hundred, twelve years ago a first in the field of aviation was written into the history books.  Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot (Candlewick Press, March 14 2017) written by Matthew Clark Smith with illustrations by Matt Tavares brings to readers the fascinating story of how this woman fulfilled a childhood dream.  All she ever wanted to do was to fly.

It was November 1783.  For months France had buzzed about the brothers Montgolfier and their mad dreams of floating bags in the sky.

The news of their success reached five-year-old Sophie Armant.  She lived in a small town along the coast of France.  She feared and avoided the noise of crowds and carriages but the thought of flying like the seabirds thrilled her.

France was totally caught up in the balloonists and ballooning after the success of the Montgolfiers.  Two of the more famous balloonists were Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries.  They were the first to cross the English Channel by balloon without incident. (Well, they did have to remove some clothing.)

Sophie yearned to fly and she learned all she could about the balloonists.  Now a young woman, she attended one of Monsieur Blanchard's exhibitions, introducing herself to him.  He recognized a kindred spirit in Sophie.  They were married.  After several flights with her husband, Sophie piloted a balloon solo in 1805.

Ballooning was not without its dangers and Sophie lost her husband three years later.  She continued shows as he had to make a living, loving every moment in the air.  Her preference was to ride in a form shaped like a chair, small and compact.  She flew into heights of bitter cold and thin air.  She nearly drowned.  She kept on flying, winning the approval of rulers of France.

What Matthew Clark Smith does for readers is to first give us an accurate historical perspective on the craze for balloonists and ballooning in France.  Into this he inserts Sophie's fondness for flight over other methods of travel.  We have a vivid awareness of not only this inclination but her longing to be alone, above the hustle and bustle of crowds.  By including specific incidents where she placed herself in danger, he gives us an authentic picture of her life's passion for ballooning.  Sophie Blanchard was her best self in a balloon.  Here is a sample passage from the book.

Sophie read everything she could about Blanchard and his fellow adventurers.  And there was one thing she couldn't help noticing.  All of the balloonists were men.  The sky was no place for a woman, some said.  It was too cold up there, the air too thin, the winds too fierce.  Women were made of weaker stuff.  Their place was on earth.
Deep in Sophie's windswept heart, she knew that couldn't be true.

All the glory felt by Sophie Blanchard when she was aloft alone in the balloon on her first solo flight radiates across the opened dust jacket.  Matt Tavares portrays her heart's desire to fly like the birds she loved to watch as a child.  The color choices of golden sky and clouds contrast beautifully with the delicate shades of blue and green on the balloon and the clothing worn by Sophie.

On the book case along the lower half are clouds brushed in pale yellow and green.  Above them are darker golden hues, some nearly orange.  In the upper left-hand corner of the front we see a much smaller version of Sophie flying in the balloon.  It gives us a very clear perspective of her courage and commitment.  A deep burnished orange covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Before the title and dedication pages a sky with fluffy blue and white clouds is the background for a quote by Charles-Augustine De Coulomb about any attempts by man to fly.  With a page turn a gorgeous balloon framed in tiny scrolls and tiny balloons provides space for the dedications.  Rendered in ink and watercolor the images throughout this title vary in size and point of view to heighten the impact and pacing of the text.

In the beginning and ending portions of the book, several of the pictures are framed in intricate scrolls and lines with the tiny balloons in the corners or other very small items which reflect the current storyline; fireworks, snowflakes, thunder clouds or birds.  (In almost all the visuals birds are shown.)  Matt gives us a one page view of Sophie walking the beach as a little girl with the sandpipers running ahead of her and then taking flight from the one page picture to the opposite page holding the text.  His skies often reflect the mood of the storyline.  These illustrations usually span two pages; the loss of Sophie's husband or the joy in continuing the ballooning shows.

One of my many favorite images is when Sophie is a teen.  The sky looks as if rain is coming; a mass of gray clouds.  Sophie is seated on a hill overlooking the sea.  The grass seems to hold the same color as the sky and water.  Her knees are drawn to her chest and her arms are hugging her legs.  Her expression is thoughtful but determined.  Matt has placed a light on her face as if the sun broke through from the clouds and shined on her.  Newspapers are strewn and blowing about her.  Can you see the picture on one of them?  What is it?

There is so much to be learned from reading nonfiction picture books like Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot written by Matthew Clark Smith with illustrations by Matt Tavares.  This woman overcame incredible odds to realize her heart's desire.  An Author's Note, Illustrator's Note and Selected Bibliography follow the narrative.  This is a worthy purchase for your personal and professional bookshelves.

To discover more about Matthew Clark Smith and Matt Tavares and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Matt Tavares maintains a blog here.  You can view interior illustrations at Penguin Random House and Candlewick Press.  There is a teacher's guide available at Candlewick Press.  This title and Matt Tavares's illustrations are featured by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  There is an interview of both these creators during the cover reveal at educator Dylan Teut's blog, Mile High Reading.

Be sure to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to read about the titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.