Quote of the Month

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

Cat Cuteness Conquers

Not being a cat person does not prevent me from being well aware of their distinctive personalities.  Over the years, once permission was granted by the creatures in question, several friends have had feline companions.  Even a true-blue dog person like me is unable to resist the lure of a kitten.

What is important to remember is those tiny beings and their human counterparts have a lot to learn about what they can and cannot do or have.  No, No, Kitten! (Boyds Mills Press, an imprint of Highlights, March 3, 2015) written by Shelley Moore Thomas with illustrations by Lori Nichols follows a tenacious mischief-maker.  This little bundle of fur is paws-itively determined.

Kitten wants a basket.
Kitten wants a pillow.
Kitten wants a blanket.
Kitten wants...

Oh!  No! Kitten is not allowed to have a puppy.  Puppies are for people not cats.  (Guess who climbs in the window?)  Not one to rest for a single second, Kitten is on the move again.

A glass of milk, a catnip plant and an innocent goldfish are the next conquests on this kitten's agenda.  A puddle, a pile of potting soil and an empty fishbowl are signs of recent visits. (You'll be pleased to note the new residence of the fish.)  Mimicking her girl, Kitten decides to don the fishbowl as if it's a helmet.  This is not acceptable.

As Kitten continues exploring for more appropriate playthings, a trip into the girl's bedroom for

engines, gadgets, and lasers

is met with stern disapproval.  Using up all her feline maneuvers she makes a fourth demand, an adventure beyond the confines of Earth's atmosphere.  With patience matching persistence, the girl instructs Kitten in those objects which may be possessed and those which may not.

Before the girl can grasp Kitten's next plan, a countdown begins.  As the number one is reached, an enormous noise erupts from the room.  Out the window flies Kitten and the puppy bound for the planets and stars.

New frontiers are reached.  Back at home Kitten and her girl are startled with an expectant


When one sees the accomplishments of another, you never know what will happen next.

Readers may not know it but Shelley Moore Thomas is using her gift for storytelling to involve them in this narrative.  She creates constant invitations for us with Kitten wanting three items, and then with a page turn a fourth is revealed.  Each of these is followed by the repetitive exclamation and series of nearly identical phrases.  Once she has us firmly captivated in this rhythm, she really sends us into orbit with a couple of twists; one of which even has Kitten looking wide-eyed.  Here is a sample passage.

No, no, no, Kitten.
You cannot have a puppy.
You are a cat!
Cats do not have pets! 

The combination of the title and look in Kitten's eye, as the fish flies from the bowl and a letter is moved with a tail swish on the dust jacket and matching book case, declare this title to be one filled with action.  On the back, to the left, Kitten is portrayed in a series of rascal-like situations.  The opening and closing endpapers in stark white are patterned with different items of importance to the story.

With a page turn we see on the left a Spudnik, a potato sprouting legs and a leaf, wearing a first prize blue ribbon.  Beneath the title the girl is completely absorbed in one of her science projects with Kitten peeking out from the inside of the spaceship box.  The publication information and dedication pages feature an illustration, spanning edge to edge, of the inside of the house.  Kitten is resting in a chair as the puppy climbs up on the sill of the open window.

Lori Nichols rendered these lively pictures using dip pen and ink and coloring digitally.  She alters the image sizes between a full page, a series of smaller illustrations on a single page and double page spreads, complimenting the text.  The details found in each visual extend the story as well as offering foreshadowing; the artwork on the walls, the program on the television screen, the toys and items on the girl's bedroom shelves.  You have to laugh at the little extras; the expressions on the characters' faces, the playful wag of the puppy's tail even when hiding under the sofa, or the fish's new handy home.

One of my favorite pictures is when Kitten and the puppy blast out the bedroom window.  The pup's ears are straight back due to the force.  Kitten has nabbed the girl's homemade helmet.  Even the inanimate toys in the room have looks of bug-eyed wonder on their faces.

I am confident No, No, Kitten! written by Shelley Moore Thomas with illustrations by Lori Nichols will find an audience in any reader who has heard those familiar words directed at them.  It's a way to learn boundaries and can lead to new discoveries.  I'll bet readers and listeners will be chiming in on the repetitive phrases as soon as they can.  This is sure to be a storytime favorite.

To discover more about Shelley Moore Thomas and Lori Nichols please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.

This title has been endorsed by none other than Lou Grant, famous cat of teacher librarian extraordinaire John Schumacher.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

On The Other Hand...

If I had a nickel for every parental proverb heard when growing up (and thereafter), I could fill the shelves with books in a new school library.  Two of the top contenders were "Haste makes waste" and "Many hands make light work" with "The grass is always greener on the other side" coming in at a close third.  When, in the course of my teaching, the opportunity presents itself when one of these might be appropriate, I seal my lips rather than succumb to any adult adages.

Arguably there are times when situations demand speed and doing a project yourself makes more sense.  Unless you are comparing an estate maintained by a gardener with an overgrown vacant lot, experience teaches us appearances are not necessarily what they seem.  I Don't Want To Be A Frog (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, February 10, 2015) written by Dev Petty with illustrations by Mike Boldt explores with hilarity the drawbacks and benefits of being yourself.

I want to be a CAT.

When a junior frog boldly proclaims a desire to be a cat, he is told he can't.  When he inevitably asks why, he is told the obvious.  He is, after all, a frog.

Since being a cat is out of the question, he switches to wanting to be a rabbit.  They both can hop, right?  It is pointed out with patience his lack of matching physical characteristics.  He does not want to be a frog; he finds his attributes less furry and er...too froggy.

Next he declares with gusto his wish to be a pig.  There are a couple of problems that nix this request.  He finally gets overwhelming agreement when he mentions being an owl but then four reasons for this impossibility are listed in momentary frustration by his father.  At this point it looks as though the youngster is doomed to continue participating in one of his many complaints; bug eating.

Suddenly a shadow looms.  A voice makes inquiries and shares a secret about cats, rabbits, pigs and owls.  With instantaneous insight our chief protagonist comprehends the virtue of his identity.  One final point is offered as the ominous visitor leaves.

Even before I read this aloud the voices of the young and adult frogs and the hungry mentor were taking form in my mind.  Dev Petty tells the story entirely in dialogue; a back and forth exchange between the frogs and the final creature.  Each sentence, question and answer is succinct but liberally laced with humor because regardless of what the son says, his father simply replies by stating what any observer would notice. Here's the continuation of their first exchange after the first line.

You can't be a CAT.
Why not?
Because you're a FROG.
I don't like being a Frog.
It's too Wet.
Well, you can't be a Cat.

Readers will hardly be able to keep from bursting out with glee when looking at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  The body posture of the son, mouth open wide, proclaiming his distaste for his nature is comical with a capital C.  On the back, to the left, illustrator Mike Boldt has designed a series of framed shapes which immediately reminded me of Hollywood Squares.  In each window we see a character or an extension of a character plus the ISBN.  Out of little frog's mouth we see the words,

Would YOU want to be a Frog?

The opening and closing endpapers done in pale blue feature a frolicking owl, cat, pig and rabbit along with the frog.  He is pictured differently in the two spots indicative of the narrative.  Boldt begins his interpretation of the story on the title page with the frog reading a book about cats.

All of the text is bold and encased in loosely shaped speech balloons.  The background colors highlighting the animals are either white or one of a variety of pastel hues.  It's the shape of the frogs' bodies, eyes and mouths which will have you giggling from page to page.  The father wearing glasses is an added detail contributing to the fun.

Mike Boldt may choose to show us their entire bodies or only a portion, zooming in for a close-up or backing away to give us a larger picture.  He increases the laughter factor when he lets us know how exasperated the dad is at a particular moment.  As the father pulls down a screen like a teacher in a classroom pointing out reasons his son can't be an owl, we understand his need to provide visuals.

One of my favorite illustrations (of many) is at the very beginning.  The page is entirely white except for the text

Why not? and

the head of the son peeking in from the lower right-hand corner.  The look on his face speaks volumes...all funny.

I Don't Want To Be A Frog by debut picture book author Dev Petty with illustrations by Mike Boldt will have readers of all ages laughing as soon as they read the first sentence until long after the final words are read or spoken.  Be prepared to hear shouts of "read it again".  This is a lively look at not only being okay with who you are but being thankful.

To explore more about Dev Petty and Mike Boldt take a look at their websites by following the links attached to their names.  John Schumacher, teacher librarian extraordinaire and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. hosted the book trailer and an interview with Dev Petty.  Earlier he had Mike Boldt as a guest.  Super teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner interviewed both Dev Petty and Mike Boldt on his Let's Get Busy Podcast.  Here is a link to four printable activity pages for this title.  In addition to interior pages which can be seen at Mike Boldt's site, the publisher has others shown here.  Guest posts written by Dev Petty can be seen at Tara Lazar's blog, How Dev Petty Wrote a Story with Legs...Frog Legs! (plus a giveaway), and at the Nerdy Book Club, Stop Making So Much Sense and Finding The Words.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hip Hop Hooray

If a wild creature frequents my yard or garden I have the habit of naming them.  As each winter draws to a close, I eagerly await their return.  For several years there was a large toad about the size of my closed fist who comfortably resided beneath the big bush next to my front porch.  I called him Fred.  A tree toad made his home in the corner of my front porch or sometimes I would find him on my back deck.  When Theo would appear in the spring I felt like all was right with the world.  He was a part of my life for three years.

 More than any date on a calendar or weather update I rely on those inhabitants in our natural world to send me signals.  They feel the heartbeat of Mother Earth far better than we ever will.  I could hardly wait for my copy of Toad Weather (Peachtree Publishers, March 2015) written by Sandra Markle with illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez to arrive.  It is well worth the wait.

In the gloomy-gray 
of a March day
the spring rain keeps falling.

Ally and her grandmother are feeling the effects of a day without sunshine; their usual outdoor activities put on hold.  When Mama eagerly opens the door moments later, she urges them to come with her right away.  She has discovered something special in the city.  Ally is ready for an adventure; her grandmother reluctantly agrees to come too.

In the dim light as dusk falls, the trio makes their way down the sidewalks ready to see what there is to see.  As Ally and her grandmother move quickly, ready to get out of the rain, her mother asks them to slow down and carefully look.  Ally does noticing details.  Her grandmother grumbles.

Each time Ally thinks she has discovered the surprise her mother requests them to keep walking.  Each time Mama says no Grandma wants to turn around and go home.  They finally get to a spot where Mama wants them to stop and listen.

Listen for something unusual.

Ally does hear something out of the ordinary.  It's getting clearer as they move closer.  They see a large group of people, police, a road block and toads...lots and lots of toads.  Grandmother's grumbling turns to grinning.  The trio assists in the amphibian march.

Well-known nonfiction author Sandra Markle evokes a keen sense of time and place, specifically the descriptions of weather and time of day, in the telling of this natural phenomenon.  In her Author's Note she speaks about the actual event taking place in a neighborhood located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania each year.  By experiencing it through the voice of Ally and the dialogue between her, her mother and her grandmother, it becomes more personal for us.  Here are a couple sample passages.

Out in the rainy nearly-nighttime,
streetlights are glowing.
So are shop windows.
But the world is soggy dreary.

"Slow down, you two!" Mama says.
"There are lots of interesting things
to see along the way."
"Like what?" Grandma asks.

"For one thing," Mama says,
"look at all the colorful umbrellas."

"It's like being inside a rainbow," I say.

Even though the artwork on the dusk jacket and book case appear to be identical, your guys and gals will notice the subtle difference on the jacket immediately.  Their fingers love to move over raised text or images.  The toad looks and feels as if it's ready to hop at any second.

When you open the jacket and case you can see Thomas Gonzalez has extended the illustration to the left with swirls of rain on the pavement, portions of three other toads moving from the left edge toward the boots and first toad on the front.  The opening and closing endpapers feature water on pavement in an array of color due to other liquids like gas or oil dropping on the rain.  There is a difference in the closing endpapers but I will let you discover the addition yourselves.  On the initial title page Ally, carrying her umbrella and a flashlight, and wearing her spotted boots is looking right at us, a smile on her face.  A clever verso and formal title page combination highlights the apartment window spattered with rain and an image similar to the front jacket and book case.

All the pictures rendered in pastel, colored pencil, and airbrush on 100% rag watercolor paper span across two pages; the text woven into each.  So exquisite are the details it's like looking at softened photographs.  Gonzalez takes us from a conversation exchanged in the apartment to the city streets effortlessly, showing us a more panoramic view or only boots walking down the rainy sidewalks.  The facial features on the characters are absolutely lovely.  I wonder how long he studied toads to get them looking exactly as they are.

One of my favorite pictures is a close-up of Ally.  She is down at ground level looking at worms crossing the grass and sidewalk.  We see her face peering closely at several in particular, flashlight beam illuminating a portion of her face and a worm.  Curiosity and appreciation are evident in her expression.

As I look out my windows at mounds of snow, knowing it will be months before we have our own days fit for our amphibian friends, Toad Weather written by Sandra Markle with illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez is a reminder of the wonder which awaits.  It's an invitation for us to think about the familiar rhythms of the seasons and the life cycles of those sharing the planet with us.  Make sure you save a spot on your shelves for this work of nonfiction.

To explore more about Sandra Markle and Thomas Gonzalez please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  This link takes you to a Teacher's Guide devised by the publisher.

Please take the time to stop by educator Alyson Beecher's website Kid Lit Frenzy to see the titles other bloggers have included in their posts for this week's 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Simply Fun

Have you ever noticed how the familiar things you walk by every single day may suddenly get your attention? When you stop and stare you wonder why you never fully appreciated what has currently grabbed your focus.  It may be the slope of snow sculpted by the wind, a tiny bird's nest comfortably resting in the bare branches of a tree, the way a folded blanket drapes across the back of a chair or the new grayness around your dog's face.  There is a special contentment in the simple.

For our youngest readers and listeners learning to appreciate the music of language, a few words can become a melody moving through their minds.  Taking commonplace things and putting them together can create pure playfulness.  Smick! (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), February 10, 2015) written by Doreen Cronin with illustrations by Juana Medina does this superbly.


Having heard his name called, Smick, one ear cocked, is ready for action.  Tail wagging he easily follows the request of the unseen speaker.  He receives phrase with a doggy smile on his face.

One word, the next word, makes him sit up and take notice.  The word is stick.  For reasons unknown to me, dogs love sticks. (I have seen Xena drag sticks three times her size down roads, through fields and out of the water in total bliss.)

With one thought in his mind, he retrieves the thrown stick in mere seconds.  What he hears next is a tad bit unusual.  It sounds like a chicken.  It's a baby, a mere bundle of fluff.  Wow!

When seen side by side (Chick and Smick), it's easy to see Smick is a big dog, a big, big dog.  He's huge! Smick crouches down ready to play but he needs to proceed with care.  When you add Chick, chasing a stick and Smick together you get a rousing romp of goodness.

After I had read this book multiple times, I couldn't help but think about which word came to author Doreen Cronin first, Smick, Chick or stick?  Or what picture popped into her head before the others, was it the dog, the baby chicken or the stick?  Did she see something which sparked the idea for this story?

The most words read in combination are three.  Usually all that appears is a single word.  It's the use of punctuation, a comma, a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point, which determine the rhythm of the narrative.  It's spirited and catchy.

Rendered digitally in combination with alstroemeria petals and rosemary tree sticks the illustrations of Juana Medina are in lively synchronization with the narrative.  The royal blue background spanning the dust jacket and matching book case make Smick and Chick the perfect pals to bring on readers' grins.  On the back, left, we see the back portion of the duo in the same position. The opening and closing endpapers with the identical blue background are a series of nine new poses of Smick and Chick together; upside down, running, resting, walking away from and running toward us.  They are, in two words, utterly charming.  The picture for the title page spreads from left to right featuring the stick in Smick's mouth.  Chick is perched on the tip.

Crisp white pages make Smick, shaped with thicker black lines (and sometimes Chick), the real stick and Chick formed with flower petals seem like they could jump off the pages at any minute.  Medina alters her perspective of Smick, making him smaller or larger in response to the action of the story.  She crosses the gutter with energetic abandon just like Smick.

One of my favorite of many images is when Smick first encounters Chick.  The speaker cries out

No, Smick, no!

Smick is lying down, larger than life on the left spanning over the gutter to the right.  Wings sticking up in the air is Chick calmly walking right by Smick's nose going toward the left edge.  You can feel the gentle tension wondering what the page turn will bring next to readers.

It's easy to understand why the first three letters of the dog's name are the first three letters in smile. That's exactly what readers will be doing from beginning to end of Smick! written by Doreen Cronin with illustrations by Juana Medina.  My gaze was captured by the dog on the cover but the spare rhyming text masterfully combined with the pictures makes this a little treasure for the youngest listeners and readers (and those of us young at heart).  Make sure to read this aloud with zip and zing.

To learn more about Doreen Cronin and Juana Medina please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Julie Danielson, author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, featured the artwork from this title.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Note to reader:  I am not sure of the gender of Smick so feel free to substitute female pronouns whenever you wish.

Monday, February 23, 2015

To Believe

To wish for something is to believe it is possible even if others name it a miracle.  Once a wish is made, even if we don't conscientiously work toward it, our marvelous minds begin to guide us in the right direction.  What's not always easy to determine is if the variables will align to make this longing realized.

There may come a time when two believe they would be better as three.  Wish (Disney Hyperion, March 3, 2015) written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell is about the desire to become parents.  It's about a wish for wonderful coming true.

At first, there is us.
There is only us.

Without the us, the elephants, even knowing it, a wish has been made.  They go about their lives; getting comfortable as a twosome, looking forward to the future, traveling through each day and to places yet unexplored.  As time passes their thinking shifts from being a duo to wanting a trio.

This wanting swells within them.  They look forward to a different future, needing to know and planning to grow.  Together they travel.  Together they rest, their anticipation heightening.  Ever alert, ever hopeful, hardly daring to breathe, they listen.  But...

Nothing is heard.  There is still only the two of them.  A yearning is unfulfilled.

Day after day the elephants live their lives but something has changed.  This is why they are unprepared.  This is why they are surprised to hear something they do not expect to hear.

It's huge.  It's loud.  It's joyful.  It's the miracle of becoming more than us.

With the beginning two words of text Matthew Cordell starts to frame expectancy for his characters and us readers.  Sentence by sentence he builds his story, the relationship of the two elephants and our connection to them.  We know change is coming, we hope for it as they do.  We feel their excitement, their sadness and sudden bliss.

The narrative is simple but profound.  Many times the sentences will contain only two words.  Each word in each thought has been carefully chosen; specific words in specific places.  Matthew Cordell employs a form of repetition from the time as us to the hope for welcoming a you.  Here is a sample passage.

And then we wait.
We listen.
So quiet, 
so patient,
so still.

You can't see it but on the copy I hold in my hand above the two elephants with their wish colorfully displayed, a tiny elephant, eyes closed in the center, are the words

family begins with a ...

To me the pale yellow background signifies a new endeavor and creativity.  On the back of the dust jacket, the two elephants have their arms around each other, gazing out across the sea as their wish finds a path toward the sun.

Beneath the jacket is a treat for readers, pale blue spread across the left and right, the wish stream taking us toward the baby elephant.  The opening and closing endpapers are patterned in the pastel representation of the wish.  A single small picture of the two elephants facing each other with the wish coming from their trunks is shown on the title page.  It's in the shape of love.

Using bamboo pen and India ink and watercolor on paper for his illustrations, Matthew Cordell uses the seaside as his setting.  He opens and closes his story on a tiny island; the time of day and what is featured on the island differing.  When the two hopeful elephants plan to be parents their vessel for travel is no longer a plane of their own making but a boat.  As time passes for the couple, the landscape of their home on the shore changes.

 Cordell alters his image sizes to match the pace of his story, single page to double page to a series of vignettes.  White space is an element used skillfully.  Detailed images, emotion in every stroke, extend the narrative elevating it to elegance.

One of my favorite pictures is of the two elephants in front of their home after experiencing their disappointment.  You can see the objects used for their two journeys and hope in the form of trees.  They are flying a kite on a sunny seaside day.  Ever so faintly in the walkway leading to their front door is a hint of the wish.

Wish written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell is a book to share with children to let them know how important they truly are.  It's a book for people whether they are parents or not.  It's about nurturing a thought toward reality.  It's about becoming a family.

To discover more about Matthew Cordell please visit his website and blog by following the links attached to his name.  In a guest post at KidsReads Matthew Cordell speaks about using elephants in this title and more about the book itself.  At The Styling Librarian read an interview about many of Matthew Cordell's titles. For a chat with Erin E. Stead and Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell follow this link to Number Five Bus Presents...  Matthew Cordell has been a guest at author and blogger Julie's Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast several times. Follow the link to a list of those posts including an extensive one about his work.
UPDATE:  Please follow this link to teacher librarian extraordinaire and blogger John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read. to view the book trailer and read Matthew Cordell's heartfelt message about this book.  
UPDATE:  Please follow this link to super teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner's Let's Get Busy Podcast with Matthew Cordell.  You might want to have tissues handy.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Running Toward Life

If you've been fighting the good fight for years, but receive the worst news you can receive, you have a choice.  If you are sick of being sick, you have a choice.  If at the end of the day your best friend is your dog, you have a choice.  You plan.  You run. You do it together.

It's a decision made from heartache; a chance to control your destiny.  It's trying to be strong in the face of fear.  The Honest Truth (Scholastic Press, January 27, 2015) debut novel of teacher, librarian and father of three, Dan Gemeinhart introduces us to twelve-year-old Mark who chooses to reach for the top as long as he is able.

The mountain was calling me.  I had to run away.  I had to. 

The mountain calling to him is Mount Rainier in the state of Washington.  In alternating chapters we travel with him and his dog, Beau and listen to his best friend of years at home, Jessie, describe the reactions of his parents and the secret she carries.  Over the course of several days and nights and hundreds of miles we hang on tight following the emotional and real life roller coaster ride right along with these two people.

Mark has a backpack with his notebook, food, gear and saved money along with his camera, the kind using film.  He's carrying a duffel bag for Beau to climb into when he needs to stay hidden.  He believes he is as prepared as he can be for this kind of trip, a trip steeped in a pledge.  What he does not take into consideration are the people he meets and the impending winter storm.

Jessie's concern for Mark grows as the police continue to come up empty handed in their search for him.  Their shared experiences bind her as close to him as two people can be without being in the same skin.  Their past promises keep her silent.

We know the comfort of the glowing windows in a diner on deserted streets.  We know the pain felt when dangers lurking in the shadows inflict harm.  We know the relief of singing women in a kitchen.  We know the panic when a path taken threatens to steal away life.  We feel tired; straight to the core, I-can't-go-any-more tired.  Most of all we know truth, the honest truths discovered, or already known, by the characters.

Before we have even read a single line of the narrative the chapter heading page in a black background with a white crevasse, black text reading CHAPTER 1 and white text reading MILES TO GO:  263 establishes a journey to be taken; as a reader a type of tension starts to build.  In the subsequent chapters for Jessie the background is white with a black crevasse.  Her chapters are always the number plus a half.  This is an excellent technique for bringing us more intimately into the story.

Author Dan Gemeinhart describes his characters and their situations expertly, until we feel as though we know each one of them personally, even those who enter the plot briefly.  It's in the little details, the looks on their faces, their body posture and their actions.  Even those hardened by life, committing crimes or following rules, find it in themselves to extend small kindnesses.

We should all wish for friends like Jessie and Beau and strangers like the park biologist Wesley.  Jessie carefully weighs all the conversations she has had with Mark over the years, torn between two rights but as loyal as Beau.  You can tell Gemeinhart has known the love of at least one dog.  Each moment between Mark and Beau is portrayed with moving sincerity.  Wesley's wisdom born of his own grief and his compassionate understanding of Mark are extraordinary chapters.

Here are several passages from the book.  One other technique Gemeinhart employs, along with his cliff-hanger chapter endings, in his writing is the use of the word truth.  As the story progresses, reaching a breaking point, it appears more frequently.

Beau was a small dog.  But size doesn't tell you anything about how important something is.
Beau came out of that duffel bag like hot burning justice.  Like all the right kinds of anger.  Like everything the world ever needed.  He came out into the darkness and the blood of that cold city street fast and loud and hard, all teeth and bark and bravery.

Scared.  A morning walk.
A question needs an answer.
Knuckles on the door.  (Haiku is a significant part of the story.)
Mark's mom answered.  She looked like she hadn't slept all night.  Jessie rubbed Mark's note between her fingers in her pocket.
"We haven't heard anything, honey," his mom said.  "I'm sorry."
"Why did Mark run away?" Jessie asked the question quick, before she lost her nerve.  There was no time for "good morning."  And it wasn't a good morning, anyway.

His next words weren't quite so smooth, not quite as low and even.  "A daddy is supposed to keep his kids safe.  He's supposed to protect them.  That's all there is to it.  That's the truth. ..."

Several days ago I stayed up until 2AM to finish this book.  Just moments ago I finished it again.  Some books like The Honest Truth written by Dan Gemeinhart need to be read more than once.  There is so much life in them they must first be taken in huge gulps, then again a little at a time to fully appreciate the beauty.  I highly recommend this title; a must read 2015 book.

For more information about Dan Gemeinhart and his work follow the link attached to his name to access his website. Dan Gemeinhart was interviewed at The Sweet Sixteens and at the American Booksellers Association.  Dan Gemeinhart is featured at teacher librarian extraordinaire and blogger John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read. Please take the time to watch each of the videos created by author Dan Gemeinhart.  They add to the richness of the reading.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Nonfiction Picture Book Event-I Had No Idea-Biographies Of Known And Known People Who Changed Lives

Ever since the initial tweet went out over Twitter with the date for the upcoming #nfpb10for10 I have been trying first to center on a theme, and second to limit my choices to only ten.  Since participating in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzymy reading of nonfiction picture books has multiplied substantially making it even harder for me to narrow my selections.  What I have found over and over in my reading of nonfiction picture books is the outstanding quality of writing and illustrations.  The efforts of these collaborating artists continue to amaze me with their engaging presentations of known or little known information about their topics.

This year I decided to focus on biographies; on men and women who at some point in their lives made a decision(s) which impacted a significant number of people at the local, national or world level.  It is important to me to include those titles I found fascinating in helping me to expand my thinking about these people. I was fortunate to have a conversation with author Barb Rosenstock earlier this week, voicing my thoughts on the elements present in picture book biographies which make them more engaging for readers.  She referenced an article, Biographies in Focus:  A Framework for Supporting Biographical Writing in the Classroom, which she co-authored with Donna E. Werderich of Northern Illinois University and Alice B. McGinty, children's book author.  (I am currently trying to find a way to make this article available to more readers. I believe if you have an EBSCO subscription you can gain access.) (Update:  I have received permission to post the article in its entirety.  Here is the link.  Posted with Permission by the Illinois Reading Council (IRC).  The Illinois Reading Council Journal is distributed exclusively to IRC Members.  To receive future issues of the IRC Journal, please call the IRC Office at 888-454-1341 to join today or online at www.illinoisreadingcouncil.org.  )  You might want to read this post at Two Writing Teachers, Biographies With Heart, referencing this article and how they used the ideas in a classroom project.

In these ten biographies plus one (Xena wanted to help) I have tried to feature different authors and illustrators.  I have found that these same authors and illustrators have consistently given readers exemplary titles.  In balancing this collection I have included five women, five men and one dog.

When Marian Sang:  The True Recital of Marian Anderson: The Voice of a Century written by Pam Munoz Ryan with illustrations by Brian Selznick, Scholastic Press, c2002

From the jacket text:
In this harmonious introduction to the life of one of our country's greatest singers, feelings accompany the facts as a piano accompanies a voice.

Marian Anderson is best known for her historic concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, which drew an integrated crowd of 75,000 people in pre-Civil Rights America.  While this momentous event showcased the uniqueness of Marian's voice, the strength of her character, and the struggles of the times in which she lived, it is only part of her story.

Marian's decision to continue singing and to find ways to study voice despite the prejudices directed against her allowed the world to enjoy her gift of song.  This was done in all things with dignity.

The Librarian of Basra:  A True Story from Iraq written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, Harcourt, Inc., 2005.

From the jacket text:
Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian in Basra, Iraq.  For fourteen years, her library has been a meeting place for those who love books.  Until now.  Now war has come, and Alia fears that the library---along with the thirty thousand books within it---will be destroyed forever.

Alia's decision to move the books after everyone else deserts the library and the governor denies her permission to do this, saves her city's cultural heritage.  She and her friends' courage in the face of war will impact many people for many years.

The Tree Lady:  The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed A City Forever written by H. Joseph Hopkins with illustrations by Jill McElmurry, Beach Lane Books, 2013.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Kate's decisions to pursue her passion for nature and science changed the face of an entire city.  She imagined turning what was barren into a place for trees.  And nothing stopped her.

Brave Girl:  Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 written by Michelle Markel with illustrations by Melissa Sweet, Balzer + Bray, 2013.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Clara's decision to stand tall in a union meeting and declare they go on a general strike when no one else did changed the rights of workers across our nation.

Alice Waters and the Trip To Delicious written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin with illustrations by Hayelin Choi, Readers to Eaters, 2014.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Alice's decision to extend her love of food and friends beyond her restaurant to children in schools created Edible Schoolyards.

A Nation's Hope:  The True Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis written by Matt de la Pena with illustrations by Kadir Nelson, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2011.

From the jacket text:
Once a boyhood dream, now
a people's hope
The weight of history hangs
on Joe's shoulders.
On the eve of World War II, African American boxer Joe Louis fought German Max Schmeling in a bout that had more at stake than just the world heavyweight title; for much of America their fight came to represent the country's war with Germany.

Joe's decision to continue to train, to make himself better, in the face of his first defeat by Max Schmeling was a defining event for the American people.

Martin de Porres:  The Rose in the Desert written by Gary D. Schmidt with illustrations by David Diaz, Clarion Books, 2012.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Martin's decision to use his training for healing all those who came to him regardless of their background or wealth transformed a city. This man born of a former slave and Spanish nobleman became the first Black saint in the Americas.

Bill the Boy Wonder:  The Secret Co-Creator of Batman written by Marc Tyler Nobleman with illustrations by Ty Templeton, Charlesbridge, 2012.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Bill's decision to continue writing the Batman comics, to create a hero birth story for him and to be the mind behind all aspects of the stories, even without receiving credit, gave the world of comics two heroes for all time.

Becoming Babe Ruth written and illustrated by Matt Tavares, Candlewick, 2013.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Babe's decision to remember from where he came, to assist Saint Mary's Industrial School for Boys, elevates him from being a sports hero to a remarkable man.

Ben Franklin's Big Splash:  The Mostly True Story of His First Invention written by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by S. D. Schindler, Calkins Creek, 2014.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Who knew how Ben's decision as a boy at age eleven to invent swim fins would change everything for swimmers.  You are never too young to make a difference.

The Incredible Life of Balto written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy, Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Although most people familiar with the Serum Run of 1925 are aware of the value of another lead dog, Togo, Balto's decision to lead his team in the final run of this mission is historic in the saving of lives.  The best part about this title is knowing what happened to this amazing creature after the run.

There are changes this year in this event.  I encourage you to visit Refine & Reflect:  Building A Learning Community to get directions and see what other participants have listed for their best ten nonfiction picture books.