Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Seen And Unseen, Earth's Residents

There can never be enough.  There can never be too much.  The more knowledge and understanding we have about how the natural world works, the better able we are to preserve and protect its riches and value to all life.  The task of caring for our planet and its inhabitants is a continuous challenge.  Sometimes it seems as if we move forward a single step, then back two.

Even a small piece of information can promote admiration or awe.  In a companion title to Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature author and zoologist Nicola Davies has penned a collection of poems which both inform and inspire.  A First Book of Animals (Walker Books, October 6, 2016) with illustrations by Petr Horacek takes us to every corner of the world; we journey beneath the waters, across the land and soar in the air.

Divided into five sections, Big And Small, Colours And Shapes, Animal Homes, Animal Babies and Animals In Action, these fifty poems create a living landscape.  At the close of each of the five portions, two pages are devoted to discussions about animal categories, animal camouflage and warnings, parasites, eggs and animals that use tools.  It's a portable enchanting exhibition.

Blue Whale
Words can't describe a blue whale's size.
Big and huge and large don't work.
Even enormous, vast, gigantic aren't enough.
But when you hear a blue whale's blow---
a deep per-wuffing sound that makes you think
of caverns, caves and concert halls---
and see its breath punch upwards
like a house-high exclamation mark,
you know that it's the biggest creature
there has ever been.

Close your eyes.  Now think of a bird so large and another bird so small that it can fit inside the large bird's eye and you will have identified the ostrich and a particular hummingbird.  Elephants living in Asia and elephants living in Africa have an identical physical trait with one notable difference.  Who knew?  Have you ever wondered how ants can find food so easily? When it is discovered a scent trail is left for others to follow.

When you think of flamingos you think pink.  Why pink?  One hump or two humps, depending on the camel, help them survive.  The clever bird who weaves a nest is waiting for a companion.  It hangs from a branch with an opening at the bottom.  Certainly their shells offer safety but they also keep them wet not dry.  This is the life of a snail.

Anemones which look like colorful stems sting some but are a haven for clownfish.  Animal relationships are a puzzle but also a wonder.  Some mothers lay their eggs and leave, never to return.  Other mothers give birth and cuddle their young.  Would you rather be a sea turtle or a gorilla?  Name two animals with fathers that tend the eggs.  Here are some clues.  One is under the sea and the other is in the coldest place on the planet.  One does not neigh and the other does not fly no matter how hard its flippers are flapped.

A slow moving sloth turns green as tiny plants hook to its fur.  Bees may not know how to communicate with us but they do speak with steps and wiggles to convey distance and direction to their hive mates.  There is so much to learn.  There is so much to know.  This is what we need to do to help our animal friends live and grow.

A variety of poetic styles and use of language depict beauty, even if deadly, in the animal world in this collection. Nicola Davies weaves truth into her free verse, rhymes and alliteration like a master artisan creating an elegant tapestry.  She gives a voice to each animal by connecting us to them with her words.  We zip but do not buzz with the bumblebee bat.  We stalk with the deadly komodo dragon that does not need flames to fashion fear.  We turn streams into a lake with the engineering skills of beavers.  Here is another poem.

The Swiftest Sailfish
Fast and fierce:
Fin flouncing, flashing, flexing;
Sword swishing, stabbing, slashing,
Small fry flinch and die
As the sailfish feeds, swift and furious.

The panda seen on the front of the dust jacket is quiet and contemplative in a setting pleasing to them; among the bamboo in a forest.  The brush strokes, lighting and shading and choice of color create a textured, realistic quality.  To the left, on the back, a canvas is supplied in shades of blue and green.  It appears to be a pattern of beetles. In the center, a loosely-formed circle frames a Monarch butterfly on a pale yellow background.  The book case has the same background with two more loosely-formed elements.  The one on the front features a giraffe.  On the back is a hummingbird.

In hues of blue an interior image of Arctic terns is used for the opening and closing endpapers.  A swarm of Monarch butterflies in flight spans across two pages circling the title text.  You expect to hear the sound of wings in both these pictures.  Beneath the table of contents a scene from an African savanna stretches across two pages as elephants, giraffes and zebras walk and stand.

For each poem a lustrous painting by Petr Horacek spans two pages with the exception of eight single page pictures, the colors used as backgrounds are indicative of the animals' habitats; darkened blues, purples and greens for the bumblebee bat, hot golden yellow for the giraffes, lush shades of green for the leaf insect and chameleon, blowing snow for the polar bears and Emperor penguins and crisp, clean white to showcase particular animals and their poems.  For the five special sections they've been illustrated to look like journal entries; black, gray and two hues of cream.  The heavy, semi-gloss paper is an excellent selection for the pictures and the use this book will receive.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is of the two seahorses facing each other.  One, the male, is releasing teeny babies into the water.  Seaweed waves in the water around them. Soft swirls of greens and blues flow with the current.

A First Book of Animals written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Petr Horacek reminds us when we are curious we care.  This collaborative team raises awareness in readers of known and unknown animals.  Some of the facts are familiar, other facts will astound readers.

To learn more about Nicola Davies and Petr Horacek and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  They both maintain blogs; Nicola Davies chats about her life and work and Petr Horacek includes many posts about this title.  There is a lovely article about this title including artwork and comments by Nicola at The Guardian.  Picture Book Party, a blog maintained by Walker Books, highlights Nicola Davies and Petr Horacek in individual posts about this book.  They are absolutely wonderful conversations and Petr's is full of artwork and insights into his process.   For a pronunciation of Petr Horacek's name please go to TeachingBooks.net.  Petr Horacek is interviewed at Where The Board Books Are.  Enjoy the videos.

Please stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Common Ground

It seems as though in the circle of life those at the beginning and those at the end embrace everything around them with a similar energy and outlook.  When beings are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching something for the first time it's charged with emotion.  Unless the circumstances are threatening, it's usually with a sense of wonder.  As our days become numbered, even if those somethings have been seen, heard, smelled, tasted and touched before or perhaps many times, they become sharper, clearer and more meaningful.

The very young and the very old know how to live in the moment.  In Old Dog Baby Baby (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, October 11, 2016) written by Julie Fogliano with art by Chris Raschka we are gifted with a portrait of this shared experience.  It is a love letter to seeking joy.

old dog
lying on the
kitchen floor

One look at an old dog and you know they have the wisdom of their ages in their faces.  They know when to sleep and when not to sleep.  Watching them rest in ease grants the viewer a feeling of peace.  Comfort caresses them and youthful dreams envelope them.

Although their body posture may not initially acknowledge it, if their space is shared with another, they will be fully aware.  When a baby comes creeping along the kitchen floor, a happy exclamation pushing aside the curtain of quiet, the old dog lifts up her head and looks.  Canine sniffs and canine kisses supply a greeting received with glee.

The two, baby and old dog, play with abandon, touching and clutching, pushing and pulling.  Both are grinning.  It's a best buddies' romp.

As you may expect at their respective ages, it is not long before a change takes place.  The once dynamic duo is done.  Look.  Where there was one, now there are two.  Listen.  Can you hear it?  This is a moment for everyone; a bit of the divine.

 Simple but enlightened words written by Julie Fogliano convey the essence of an old dog, a baby and their happy meeting.  Surely she is a student having studied the behavior of babies and old dogs.  Their mannerisms and behaviors are adeptly defined.  Words are repeated for emphasis and pacing.  Words rhyme to create a lively and sweet beat.  Here are two passages.

old dog dreams
old dog twitches
old paw scratches
old ear itches

baby fingers
baby toes
"puppy! puppy!"
baby goes

When Chris Raschka paints we see life in every brush stroke.  Every line is with intention and purpose.  Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case, the baby and dog are stretched perfectly over the spine to the left on the back.  The affection they have for each other is evident in the child's smile and in the dog's patience.  The basic color palette of red, green, blue, yellow and white of the title text and the child with the white, black and gray of the dog conveys the gentleness and playfulness of the narrative.  A burnt orange covers the opening and closing endpapers.

On the title page the baby is leaning over a green chair, finger touching the old dog's nose as it sits on the other side.  Raschka begins his interpretation of the narrative with a two-page picture on the verso and dedication page.  A child is seated at the kitchen table looking at a photograph album with the old dog sleeping on the floor.

All of the images span two pages with the exception of seven single-page pictures.  All supply us with varying perspectives.  With a page turn we zoom in on the girl and old dog as a woman stops to speak with her.  We get a glimpse of another woman via a single foot and red shoe in the upper, right-hand corner.  With a second page turn we are very close to the dog, now beneath the table.

When the girl leaves we can see she has been viewing pictures of the dog as a puppy. As the baby crawls through the door, our view is larger showing the kitchen counter, an appliance and another table.  On this table is a family photograph, two women, two children and the dog, and a potted flower. It's this dedication to detail and design which makes these illustrations remarkable.

One of my many favorite images is of the old dog and baby rolling on the floor.  Raschka has chosen to only show us the upper portion of their bodies.  On the left, upper section of the visual the dog is positioned with his head upside down, ears flapped to the sides and tongue hanging out, paws pushing.  The baby is on the right toward the bottom.  Arms are wide open, eyes are closed and a huge grin is on the child's face.  You can almost hear the giggles and soft woofs.

Old Dog Baby Baby written by Julie Fogliano with art by Chris Raschka is the best of both worlds, baby and old dog with the heart of a puppy.  The warmth of a happy home in which joy can be freely expressed is evident on each page.  I've lost count of how many times I've read this book.  You'll lose count too.  It's a book to be shared often.

To view two interior pages please follow this link to the publisher's website.  Julie Fogliano maintains a page on Facebook.  Chris Raschka can be found on Twitter.  Julie is interviewed at the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation site.  Lydie Raschka, Chris's wife, talks about his artistic life at The Horn Book.  Chris Raschka is interviewed at Reading Rockets in a series of videos.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Fear Flies In The Face Of Frienship

Most of us have things which we wish to avoid at all costs.  These ask us to leave our personal zone which is far too comfortable.  The number of these things on our list of risks to never take can be very few or vast.  What one may fear, another might find completely enjoyable.

It seems it would be difficult to fully appreciate your world if you had the jitters more often than not.  Peep and Egg: I'm Not Hatching (Farrar Straus Giroux, February 9, 2016) written by Laura Gehl with pictures by Joyce Wan presents to readers two cute little cheepers.  As the title suggests one has no wish to get cracking.

"Are you hatching yet?" Peep asked.  "We're going to have so much fun once you hatch!"
"Too scary," said Egg. "I'm not hatching."

Peep speaks of all their possible adventures on the farm beginning with watching the sunrise.  In response Egg whispers a refrain which will become all too familiar.  Egg also starts to add reasons, believing they justify apprehension.

The puddles are too wet.  There will be no duck watching because the walk to the pond is much too long.  Noise in the barnyard is much too loud to even consider a game of hide-and-seek.  It's not for lack of mathematical skills but the night is dark, dark, dark.  There will be no star counting.

With a final attempt, appealing to a youthful appetite, Peep implores Egg to join in the proposed good times.  Egg's shouted retort and Peep's answer seem to end the entire discussion...or do they?

Laura Gehl has perfected with supreme simplicity and clarity the mindset of an individual, initially through nervousness and later perhaps due to stubbornness, unwilling to take a step forward.  In the character of Peep she reveals to readers a tender-hearted soul that entreats by example.  By having Egg repeat the signature phrase, supplying a subtle but welcoming beat, this is an invitation to readers to participate in the story.

The thick outlines in black (and other colors within the interior pages) are a marvelous artistic choice by Joyce Wan when illustrating a title for a younger audience.  In the matching dust jacket and book case, these draw the readers' eyes immediately to the two characters.  The pastel color palette here and bold, cheerful hues throughout are joyfully and playfully splendid.  You already know Peep is as determined as Egg, providing tension and comedy.  To the left, on the back, you are given a bit of a hint of events to come with Peep offering a tasty pastry to Egg.

On the opening endpapers is Egg presented in rows with one small exception; a surprise under the lower, left-hand flap.  The closing endpapers showcase the resolution in an image asking us to join in the scene.  On the verso Peep is peeking over the upper, left-hand edge looking at the reader.  On the opposite page, the title page, Egg is, well, an egg but an egg with an opinion.

Wan makes wonderful use of white as a powerful element in her images.  She brings the reader closer to the characters at key points in the storyline; the better to see Peep's expressions.  The sizes of her pictures, single or double page, create a tandem cadence with the text. 

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when Peep is pointing out to Egg how much fun it would be to count the stars.  The background is a rich purple dotted with stars and a crescent moon.  Peep and Egg are perched on the front of a red tractor.

Peep and Egg: I'm Not Hatching written by Laura Gehl with pictures by Joyce Wan is an endearing view of how friendship can help overcome fear.  The excellently paced narrative with equally delightful illustrations is sure to be a favorite read aloud.  It would be wonderful as a reader's theater.

To discover more about Laura Gehl and Joyce Wan and their other work please follow the links attached to their names.  You can see some interior pictures from the book at the publisher's website.   Here is an extensive teacher's guide for this title written by Marcie Colleen.  Laura Gehl and Joyce Wan chat at author Tara Lazar's Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).  Laura Gehl wrote a guest post at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Joyce Wan is interviewed at KidLit411.  There are illustrations and process art.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Some individuals can hardly contain their excitement and are thrilled with Halloween.  There are also those who view the entire holiday through eyes covered with their hands ninety-nine per cent of the time.  For them the spooky celebration and particularly the eerie guests (costumed and imagined) are too frightening.

The darling duo has returned in a companion title, Peep and Egg: I'm Not Trick-or-Treating (Farrar Straus Giroux, August 9, 2016) written by Laura Gehl with pictures by Joyce Wan.  Having conquered a fear of hatching, Egg is now worried about October 31st.  It's only once a year but thoughts of those things which go bump in the night give Egg the shivers.

"Trick-or-treating is going to be so much fun," Peep said.
"Are you ready yet?"
"Too scary," said Egg.
"I'm not trick-or-treating."

Initially Egg refuses to dress in a costume.  When Peep suggests their first place to visit, Egg believes it will be occupied by vampires.  Peep, obviously disappointed, suggests a much drier spot.  Egg is not convinced and issues a resounding negative answer.

Remembering how a different approach assisted Egg in breaking through the shell, Peep believes humor might work.  There is not the slightest hint of a smile on Egg's face.  This attempt appears to backfire, actually prompting another outburst.

Peep is a persistent pal though.  Was that a teehee? Peep keeps going.  Was that a guffaw?  This could be working.  Oh, no.  Well, Peep did try.  Finally using a proven technique, fright in the night might make everything all right.

In this companion title Laura Gehl shifts her narrative rhythm. Told entirely through dialogue, as in the first book, you can see both of her characters growing.  Peep tries three different approaches to persuade Egg.  While Egg's reactions are ultimately the same, readers can begin to see trust growing a bit sooner.  The insertion of a form of a comedy routine is highly engaging.

Whether you are acquainted with these two characters from the previous book or not, you have to admit that the front of the matching dust jacket and book case is cuter than cute.  Peep looks downright adorable in the butterfly costume and the contrast with a determined and negative Egg begins the laughter in readers' hearts.  The larger lines and the rounded shapes are a huge draw for the intended audience.

A pattern of the whites of scary eyes in a black space covers the opening endpapers.  Be sure to peek under the lower, left-hand corner of the flap for a little gift.  The closing endpapers continue the story with a purple canvas covered in happy-go-lucky jack-o-lanterns.  Peep and Egg are there too.  On the verso a calendar with October 31 circled hangs above a costumed Peep dashing toward Egg hiding behind a bale of hay on the title page.  A pumpkin trick-or-treat basket sits next to the hay.

Fully animated Peep and Egg are presented in a variety of image sizes, alternating from two-page pictures with white or bright-colored backgrounds, to single page close-ups framed in orange and sometimes several visuals will be placed on one page to provide pacing.  As in the first title, readers can enjoy looking at the tiny details provided by Wan; the itsy-bitsy "vampire teeth" on the ducks, the pumpkin lights hanging in the trees and Halloween pennants draped in the barn and along the fence.  Careful readers will notice a particular small, eight-legged arachnid as it journeys throughout the story.

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Peep is encouraging Egg with the suggestion of a visit to the cows.  Egg imagines Peep crawling between the fencing as he stays hidden.  The smiling cows looking straight at the readers are wrapped to appear like mummies.

Peep and Egg: I'm Not Trick-or-Treating written by Laura Gehl with pictures by Joyce Wan is a charming confection.  Readers will laugh and sigh in all the right places; Gehl's text and Wan's pictures are a flawless mix.  This is a marvelous choice for younger readers and listeners at Halloween.

You can view interior pages at the publisher's website.  Laura Gehl visits YA and Kids BookCentral.  Joyce Wan stops to chat at The Little Crooked Cottage.  Joyce Wan stops by KidLit TV to teach us how to draw Peep and Egg.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Who's House Is This?

Certainly we can use more laughter in our world.  It's a better cure than an-apple-a-day for nearly everything and it's free.  If you should be fortunate enough to share grins, giggles and guffaws with children, well your life is pretty much the best it can be.

At the tail end of November last year Mother Goose  Bruce written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins was released to readers who could hardly get from one portion of the story to the next without breaking out into peals of laughter.  That's what happens when a crabby bear, with a craving for gourmet meals prepared with eggs, ends up becoming a mother to four goslings.  As spring moved to summer and then fall, Bruce was still not relieved of his parenting duties.  The only solution was five bus tickets to sunny Miami.

In a companion title Bruce is unenthusiastically continuing the sojourn to sunny Florida each year.  Not for the first time, Bruce longs for the good old days of hibernation.  Hotel Bruce (Disney Hyperion, October 18, 2016) chronicles the surprise awaiting the bear and four geese on their return.

Bruce was a bear
who lived with four geese...
But he was their mom.

The northward trek from the bustling beaches was exhausting. To say Bruce was shocked to find his humble home turned into a hotel in his absence by three mice was an understatement.  His cranky-o-meter was on the rise as he broomed them out of his abode.

To heighten his anxiety his bed was already occupied by guests, a moose, rabbit, porcupine, raccoon and slumbering turtles who assumed he was there for the sole purpose of attending to their every need.  His "alarm" in the morning took the form of opossums engaged in a hearty battle...with pillows.  With each new surprise the situation escalated.

Apparently the three mice had regained control and turned the four geese into attendants.  In the midst of a heated discussion, the fox, who was attempting to lure the turtles into a soup pot with a promise of a spa-like experience, interrupted them, scared witless and running like the wind. It was revenge of the reptiles.

As you can surmise Bruce was on the verge of a major eruption but even that was misunderstood. When the bear thought he must surely have stepped into some woodland version of an alternate universe, he fears were confirmed.  The expected and unexpected blend into a conclusion that's all Bruce.

When Ryan T. Higgins writes, especially in this book, an undercurrent of hilarity runs through the text waiting to bubble to the surface.  Meticulous pacing and short sentences build toward the inevitable. The mix of narrative by someone we can't see with characters' dialogue elevates the story's capacity for comic results.  Here is a passage.

It was a long night.

Can I have a drink of water? (raccoon)
You're hogging the sheets. (moose)
I want to snuggle. (porcupine)
I need to pee. (rabbit)

Nobody draws a grumpy bear like Ryan T. Higgins.  Clearly Bruce is not a "happy camper" with the residents in his home. One of the geese wearing the bellhop attire is the crowning touch.  The anxious looking guests peering out the window are in sharp contrast to the chatty mice.  To the left, on the back of the dust jacket, placed on a textured blue background is a scene of the remaining three geese in the caps and coats, saluting the third mouse, who happens to be wearing glasses and has a mustache.  This image is varnished.

On the book case it's as if we are inside Bruce's house looking at the newly wallpapered walls which you only glimpsed on the jacket.  A variety of photographs are hanging along with a ticking pendulum clock.  The NO PETS sign is a classic touch.  The opening endpapers are a sunny fall day outside Bruce's then quiet home.  A serene summer vista spreads across the closing endpapers, absent of any life.

The heavier matte-finished paper enhances Higgins use of white space, the fine lines, animated details and general physical traits of the characters.  The body postures on all of them and their exaggerated facial expressions, particularly those on Bruce, are priceless.  Just when you think you can't laugh any more, he places something in an image like a feather sticking to Bruce's nose, which makes you laugh even more.  The size of the illustrations is alternated to showcase the text and place emphasis on a given situation.

One of my many favorite illustrations is toward the beginning of the story. It spans two pages.  It is the beach scene with a Welcome To Miami sign stuck in the sand.  The sand is loaded to the beaks with honking geese, some in Hawaiian shirts.  Two alligators are singing and dancing while playing a ukulele and tambourine.  A third alligator is throwing a beach ball in the air. Bruce is in the middle of this chaos wearing his Hawaiian shirt looking rather gruff and grim.

I'm surprised this book, Hotel Bruce written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins, does not shake with chuckling and chortling in your hands even before it is opened.  When Bruce and the geese are back it's the best of the best.  You should be prepared for a resounding "read it again" as soon as you are finished.

To learn more about Ryan T. Higgins please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  The cover for this title is revealed along with an interview at educator and director of the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival, Dylan Teut's website, Mile High Reading.  Author and teacher librarian Carter Higgins features this book on her website Design of the Picture Book including some interior images.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sending Out Hope

You are ready with all appropriate preparations completed.  Taking no chances you decide to wear your lucky jewelry, favorite underwear, shoes, socks, pants and sweater all day.   You have placed logic aside letting superstitions rule the day.  That night you wait for the first star and make a wish.  You put on your pajamas inside out and backward.  You slip a spoon under your pillow.  As you try to fall asleep you sincerely desire, for the eleventy-hundredth time, the skills of Dumbledore.

We attribute this routine to children alone but you might be surprised by the number of adults longing for the very same thing who would consider, or have done, one or more of these particular actions.  Before Morning (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 4, 2016) written by Joyce Sidman with illustrations by Beth Krommes is a plea.  It's a petition for one very special something.

In the deep woolen dark, ...

The day is done and a city and its people are sleeping.  As they dream, Mother Nature works her own kind of marvels with clouds and wind.  The swirling leaves are being replaced with others, no two alike.

As softly as milkweed pods releasing seeds, it falls.  It covers and coats and comforts.  To the touch it's like the fur on a lamb, duckling, kitten or puppy.

Quiet descends.  Everything stops.  It's morning.

Four eloquent lines in a single poem read like a prayer when the writer is Joyce Sidman.  Taken as a whole it flows as we wait for the word which rhymes at the end of each line.  In the first three phrases a gentle cadence is supplied with the use of commas, dividing each one into thirds.  We wait in anticipation for the final sentence, hoping.  In this one the use of other punctuation mirrors the requested results.  It's not written but there will be an audible sigh from readers.

Appealing to all our senses the matching dust jacket and book case create warmth where it is cold, quiet within noise, brightness over dullness, and new and clean in place of old and used.  On the front they tell us of a sleeping child nestled in coziness cuddled by their cat.  We might wonder about the globe, Amelia Earhart book and toy airplane on the floor.  To the left, on the back, is a scene from the city as horses draw carriages through a park with drivers and passengers bundled against the chilly night air as in the distance travelers await transportation.

On the opening endpapers more than two-thirds are covered in dark, gray clouds threatening a change in the weather.  They hang over the expanse of a large city and the surrounding tree-covered hillsides. On the closing endpapers the scene is similar but with a significant difference.   With a page turn at the beginning illustrator Beth Krommes expands the visual story with her signature scratchboard and watercolors images. On the left, the verso, pigeons are gathered on cobblestones.  On the right, the title page, the feet and legs of an adult and child are shown as they walk a dog.  The dedication page is a two-page picture of people, the adult, child and dog included, sitting, walking and leaving a park. Before them is a street filled with cars, a bicycle, a scooter and a bus with all their lights shining. People on the opposite side of the street stroll, window shopping.

Four single page visuals follow framed in white borders.  This is Krommes leading us into the interpretation of Sidman's words.  The child pauses in front of a bakery window, the trio climbs steps into an apartment building, a father has prepared dinner and a mother dressed as an airplane pilot sits on the bed of a child who does not want her to go.  For the words quoted above the scene is early in the morning, the father and daughter are asleep.  The cat, dog and pilot are awake; she is folding laundry on the kitchen table.

For those pages with Joyce Sidman's words we are given double-page illustrations.  On the wordless pages, seven in total, they are single images on one page.  The experience of viewing illustrations created using this artistic technique is astounding.  Krommes includes the tiniest details enhancing what is taking place in the moment inside the apartment, on the streets of the city, within the park, at the airport and over the entire area.  You are invited to pause at each picture.  This is in keeping with the peaceful pace of the poem.  You will notice the dog barking at squirrels in the park, a single snowflake falling as they enter the building, a pie cooling on the kitchen counter, the street sign indicating airport ahead, a book of poems in the living room and a key on the table as the pilot returns home to embrace the child.  

One of my favorite pictures (They're all my favorite pictures.) is looking inside the apartment windows in the evening as the pilot leaves for the airport.  On the left the child is in bed in a scene nearly identical to the front of the jacket and case.  To the right we peer into the living room.  The father has fallen asleep wearing his glasses with the newspaper draped across his body and a mug on the nearby table.  The dog is curled up on the couch.  Snowflakes are starting to fall more frequently outside the windows. Pigeon feet and a very slight portion of their lower bodies are shown above the left window.  This gives us an idea of perspective.

This collaborative team, poet and author Joyce Sidman and illustrator Beth Krommes, have given us another treasure in Before Morning.  As Joyce Sidman talks to us in her author's note, this is indeed about wishes and invocations. On the opposite page Krommes illustrates it appropriately with two kinds of angels.  It does not get better than this.  To date this title has received five starred reviews in School Library Journal, Booklist, The Horn Book, Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

To learn more about author and poet Joyce Sidman and illustrator Beth Krommes and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  You might be interested in reading Five questions for Joyce Sidman at The Horn Book.  Jama Rattigan features Joyce Sidman in her hotTeas of Children's Poetry: Joyce Sidman at Jama's Alphabet Soup.  Beth Krommes is highlighted at artistsnetwork.  

I wrote about their other work Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Not To Be Sold, Not To Be Purchased

The capacity for individuals to endure is never known until it is tested.  When we imagine a specific situation in which it's hard to believe anyone can survive but know millions did in historically-verified horrific conditions is cause for heartbreak and supreme admiration.  To read about the Middle Passage is to see humans at their very worst and to see greatness in others.

On September 13, 2016 a title was released which has garnered five starred reviews in School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, The Horn Book and Publishers Weekly.  It is a finalist for the Kirkus Prize.  Freedom over me: Eleven slaves, their lives and dreams brought to life by Ashley Bryan, esteemed author and illustrator, is a stunning work based upon a single original document, the Fairchilds Appraisement of the Estate dated July 5, 1828.

Mrs. Mary Fairchilds
I mourn the passing of
my husband, Cado Fairchilds.
He managed our estate alone.
Eleven Negro slaves,
they carried out the work
that made our estate prosper.
He never hired an overseer.

This is a portion of the initial poem in this collection introducing readers to the widow of the estate owner.  It is followed by twenty poems, also in free verse, acquainting us with the slaves.  For each of these people we are given their name and their value as seen on the appraisement.  Mr. Bryan has added what he believes to be their age based upon the words woman, girl, man and boy.

Of the eleven there are people ranging in age from sixty-two to eight. There are six women, one girl and four men, of these men one is sixteen.  With the exception of the child, for each of them a poem describes their position, their work on the estate, and a second piece allows us to see into their hearts through their dreams.

The first slave poem is titled Peggy.  She is the Fairchilds' cook working at the Big House.  She toils as long and hard as those people in the fields, preparing special foods for the Fairchilds, their friends and much plainer meals for the slaves. As their cook she is allowed to freely walk on the estate and nearby woods, learning the value of plants local to the area.  On these walks memories of her homeland, Africa, come to her.  Thoughts of the day she and her mother were captured and her father killed, the auction when she last saw her mother and the name given to her are vivi in her mind.  She does find strength in knowing she honors her family with her acquired skills.

In the second poem, Peggy dreams, she tells us of the naming day celebration when her parents gave her the name Mariama, Gift of God.  We learn of her room attached to the shed behind the Big House but we also learn of her determination to remain a vital part of the lives of the other slaves on the estate.  She teaches the slave child Dora all she can about the healing power of the plants.  To be able to pass on the knowledge she has acquired to another is a source of great happiness.  To heal another member of her "family" fills her heart more than the words of the Fairchilds and their guests about her cooking skills.

The praise, however,
that touches my heart
is to hear the slaves
call me Herb Doctor.

We become familiar with Stephen the carpenter, his gift for working with tools, his love for Jane and John and their secret.  Jane is the estate seamstress who returns her love to Stephen and John.  John tells us how when he was eight years old he was a birthday gift to Mrs. Fairchilds. He excels at artwork.  Athelia is the laundress who believes in her African traditions of passing on knowledge

by example and voice.

Charlotte, a basket maker, and Bacus, the blacksmith, are married in their hearts by "jumping the broom."  Their daughter is Dora.  The two parents weave and hammer their past and present into their work, teaching their daughter and talking of freedom.  With each page turn as readers we become more connected to the lives, the personalities, hopes and dreams, of eleven individuals.  They were and are people. People.

Each poem, written for us in first person, by the masterful Ashley Bryan takes us to that place, that time and into the lives of those slaves.  It's as if their spirits guided his every word giving us small journal entries into their lives. (He writes about his process in an author's note.)  But oh, make no mistake, in the two poems written by Bryan for each person, he gives us a whole picture.  They are as real as if they are living and breathing today.

He uses the pronoun "I" repeatedly to bring us closer to these people.  He has them speak about the outrage they feel at having new names given to them, the supreme sadness at the loss of family members, the hope of escaping to freedom, the fear of being sold but what shines the brightest is their resilience, their pride in their African homeland, traditions and in their work and skills.  There is so much love in these pages.  Here is another partial passage from Jane dreams.

At the estate,
weaving became my salvation.
Working with cloths
became the song
of my hands.

I have grown in artistry
through the clothes I create.
The praise I receive,
I offer as a tribute
to my ancestors.

Stephen and I
treat the young slave John
as our son.
We never lose hope
that we will one day
live free.
I weave these thoughts
into dreamcloths
of Freedom.

Rendered in pen, ink and watercolor, plus collaged photoreproductions of historical deeds, all the illustrations beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case speak to the moving portraits contained in this book. The raised portions on the jacket of the links and Ashley Bryan's name symbolize his connection to these people.  Each element of the design on the front is there for a specific purpose.  To the left on the back is a picture of The Fairchilds Estate 1828.  The opening and closing endpapers are enlarged reproductions of a document.  These are followed by document reproductions on the title page, smaller and more complete.

The document and other publications are used as a background for the portrait of each slave to the left of each initial poem.  Heavy black lines define their features. The technique Mr. Bryan uses is reminiscent of stained-glassed windows.  To the right of the following poem we see them at work; surrounded by an environment they have made their own.  These pictures are framed in what I like to call flames of hope.

The vibrant colors in the dream illustrations speak to the individual personalities of the people; they swirl and flow with life.  The facial and body features, their eyes, mouths and hands, connect to others and that which they love.  Each one is simply beautiful.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is of Peggy inside her kitchen.  Behind her on the left is a shelf filled with ingredients, then moving right, a window looking outside and finally hooks from which hang plants to be used in her professions. Working at the table with her kneading and forming loaves of bread is Dora. Resting his hand on her is John, a bandage around his head from the healing poultice she placed there.

I know these free verse poems are works of fiction written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan in Freedom over me: Eleven slaves, their lives and dreams brought to life.  Before I wrote a single word of this post though, after several readings of the book, I was compelled to know more.  What I found in my research and what I listened to and read about Ashley Bryan's process prompted me to place this book here.  It is based on a primary resource Mr. Bryan has in his possession. I believe it will inspire discussions and further searching by all readers.  I am very moved by this book, brought to tears more than once.

To discover more about Ashley Bryan and his work please follow the link attached to his name to access The Ashley Bryan Center established in 2013.  At the publisher's website you can view multiple interior images. At TeachingBooks.net Ashley Bryan has recorded a message about this title.  There are several video interviews of Ashley Bryan at Reading Rockets.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other selections by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It's An Officer Katz and Houdini Celebration and Giveaway

Who can say for how many centuries dogs and cats have had a less than amicable relationship?  Storytellers from numerous cultures have handed down explanations for generations in folktales.  Some scientists have offered up the canines' prey drive as to why some dogs chase cats.  When people with both cats and dogs in their households say they get along fine, you wonder if instinct and survival has been put aside in favor of a truce.

In similar discussions people have pondered which of the two, cats or dogs, are more loyal, lovable, intelligent or clever.  Officer Katz and Houndini: A Tale of Two Tails (Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, October 18, 2016) written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Danny Chatzikonstantinou is about a long-standing rivalry in a very specific place.  Time is dictating a call to action.

Officer Katz was an inventor extraordinaire.
His Katz-traptions were the best in Kitty City.

Even with his imagination and skills Officer Katz was no match for the Great Houndini, an escape artist of exceptional talent honed over decades of experience.  Each year the mustached magician visited Kitty City with his traveling show, The Great Escape.  Each year the town founder's portrait was vandalized with a telltale mustache.

As Officer Katz watched the arrival of the familiar wagon, he knew this was the year he needed to make a decisive move as his retirement loomed on the horizon.  Crowds of cats converged to gasp and applaud the marvels performed by Houndini.  Journalists and photographers were there to record his stunts in print and on film.  They all saw there was nothing that could hold this canine captive.

Backstage after the curtain closed on the final act, Officer Katz stopped Houndini in his tracks with a challenge; a three-part challenge to test the dog's breakout abilities against the canine's ingenious inventions.  There were consequences for Houdini if Officer Katz won and likewise for Kitty City and Officer Katz if Houndini was the victor.  The press was ready and waiting in the wings.

On days one and two

 a bow and a wow and a tip of his top hat

told the tale but the third day was not quite the same.  A misplaced piece of the Katz-apult caught both parties up in an unexpected consequence.  The conclusion is paws-itively unprecedented.  Even Squirrel and Deputy Catbird were perplexed but the show must go on.

No matter how many times you read this title, you can't help but be amazed at the wordplay penned by Maria Gianferrari.  Her use of alliteration and puns provides non-stop appreciation for her skills with language.  One clever technique this reader enjoyed is having newspaper headlines incorporated into the narrative.  A true passion for portraying animals, especially dogs and...okay...cats, in her books makes this story a win-win for everyone, characters and readers alike.  Here are two passages from the book.

Houndini hurtled into town,
tipping his top hat,
his cape billowing in the breeze.

On the first day, Officer Katz strung his
new-and-improved Katz-net in Cat and Mouse
It was as sticky as a spiderweb and as stretchy
as a cat's cradle.  

The dust jacket (I am working with an F & G.) introduces readers to the muted full color palette used for all the images.  We also get a first peek at the attention to detail provided by Danny Chatzikonstantinou in each illustration.  Note the rope in the sub title, the wood used in Officer Katz's inventions as part of the title text, the two intertwined tails of the cat and the dog and the placement of their partners, Deputy Catbird and Squirrel.  To the left, on the back, the two assistants are sleeping next to one another on top of the center of three suitcases framed by stage curtains. Their dreams appear above each in a circular speech balloon.

The opening and closing endpapers are several hues of teal. It's a large representation, a map, of places on The Great Escape's tour with names like West Cheddar and Nutbury.  Beneath the words on the title page, Officer Katz and Houndini with their tails still wrapped together are glaring at each other, paws on hips.

Chatzikonstantinou alternates his picture sizes to supply pacing and to elevate the narrative, using a variety of background hues, white, deep blue, purple, mint green, turquoise, teal and rose.  He shifts his perspective also; as if we are looking from an upper window down at Houndini's arrival, as one of many members in the evening audience viewing the stage from a distance, or a cross-section of Houndini's routes inside a maze.  Careful readers will notice other elements such as the cat trees around the performance venue, the opera glasses used by two leading characters, Officer Katz's special rope and the shape it forms, and the pawprint emblem on Houndini's cape.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the Tabby Times front page on day two.  The headline reads


In the lower left hand corner Houdini is lifting his hat, twirling and winking at the audience.  In the upper right hand corner Officer Katz is proudly posing for his victory picture.  Beneath this is an image containing a small pile of dirt, a hole and a dog paw lifting out to grab a signature hat.  This is one of many times when humor is prominent in the pictures.

If you appreciate an original take on an age-old conflict, Officer Katz and Houndini: A Tale of Two Tails written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Danny Chatzikonstantinou is a title perfect for you.  The clever narrative and spirited illustrations bring to readers a new paw-spective.  It might be fun to perform this as a reader's theater or to challenge readers to think of other puns.

You can view interior images from the book at the publisher's website.  Maria Gianferrari was a guest at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  She was also featured at Jama's Alphabet Soup maintained by Jama Rattigan and at KidLit411.  Yesterday Maria Gianferrari started this blog tour at author Tara Lazar's Writing For Kids (While Raising Them)  Be sure to visit this site and the other's listed below on the tour.


Monday, Oct. 17th:                      Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) THREE GIVEAWAYS: a query pass from the amazing Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary; picture book critique from me, and a copy of Officer Katz & Houndini!!
Tuesday, Oct. 18th:                     Librarian’s Quest
Wednesday, Oct. 19th:              Bildebok
Thursday, Oct. 20th:                   Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love
Friday, Oct. 21st:                          Pragmaticmom + THREE book giveaway
Monday, Oct. 24th:                      Homemade City
Tuesday, Oct. 25th:                     ReFoReMo THINK QUICK Interview with Carrie Charley Brown

This photograph credit goes to Monogram Arts.
Hot diggety dog!  Maria Gianferrari's a lucky dog---she gets to write stories about cats and dogs, and when she's dog-tired, she can catnap in her office.  Maria lives in northern Virginia with her cat's meow of a family:  her scientist husband, artist daughter, and top dog, Becca.  She is the author of the Penny & Jelly books as well as Coyote Moon and the forthcoming Hello Goodbye Dog.  To learn more about Maria, please visit her website at mariagianferrari.com, Facebook or Instragram.