Quote of the Month

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

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A Royal Outlook

There are books you read filled with so much joy it cloaks you in an invisible shield for days.  Wherever you go and whatever you do, the fire started inside you by that book's jubilation is with you.  You cannot help but glow on the inside and on the outside.  It gives you positive power.

When you have this kind of positive power born of pure bliss, it radiates from you to others.  It changes perspectives.  The King of Kindergarten (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, July 2, 2019) written by Derrick Barnes with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a book filled with this kind of joy.  You want to laugh and dance and sing.  You send a wish out into the universe for every child to know this happiness.

THE MORNING SUN blares through
your window like a million brass

It crowns you with its rays of warmth.  This is as it should be because your mother tells you, on this first day of school, you are certain to be

the King of Kindergarten!

Everything you do reminds you of your royalness; the color of your toothbrush, the symbol on your washcloth and the brand of your clothing.  Sharing breakfast with your parents, you gleefully devour a stack of pancakes.  When your height is measured by your father, you remind him you'll be taller than he is before he knows it.

Joining others on the grand yellow transport is the best way to arrive at the stronghold of wisdom.  Remembering your mother's words, this kindergarten student walks tall with a face wreathed in smiles for all your classmates.  Greeted by your teacher, you proudly state your name.

As the King of Kindergarten, you merrily greet all your fellow students and embrace all the new learning experiences during the morning.  During recess an opportunity for bravery is met with success.  An observation at lunchtime allows compassionate concern to provide for a friend.

No day in kindergarten is complete without a bit of a rest.  Then you are ready for a memorable musical afternoon.  At the close of the day, your teacher sends you back home with a hope.  It is there, in your room, you realize every day will be as wonderful as this first day because you are royalty.

Those first three sentences on the first page by author Derrick Barnes are an irresistible invitation to continue reading.  Word selections throughout the story refer to royalty; family crest, reign, fortress, majestic and round table, to name a few.  The inclusion of dialogue adds the perfect personal touch.  Readers can't help but feel as if they are royalty, too.  Here is a passage.

You'll dress yourself neatly in
handpicked garments from the
far-off villages of Osh and Kosh.
B-gosh! You'll be ready to reign!

How can you not smile at the grinning boy on the front (and the back) of the matching dust jacket and book case?  His air of confidence, his let's-go attitude, asks you to join him.  His hands grasping his backpack as he leans forward, looking right at readers, tells a marvelous story without a single word.  You want to know this child.  You want to know this King of Kindergarten.

The varied shades of green for the background on the front and back of the open jacket and case highlight the child and the other elements in the visuals.  Some of the letters and numbers within the frame on the front surround the boy resting his elbows on a stack of books on the back.  The opening and closing endpapers are covered in a "chalkboard" green.  Crowns in bright white are placed in loose rows over chalky, childlike drawings of letters, numbers, shapes and a stick-figure person wearing a crown.

On the title page the boy stands ready to greet the day holding a book in one hand and a ruler in the other.  The ruler is his scepter.  He is wearing the outline of a crown.  On the verso and dedication pages swirls of purple, the color of royalty, supply a canvas for the text.

The illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton,

hand drawn and then colored using Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter

are a beautiful blend of bright, cheerful and pleasant pastel colors.  Layers of details and patterns fill every page.  On the opening two-page picture trumpets are also rays of the sun.  A patchwork quilt on the boy's bed showcases a stuffed toy lion proudly seated. Scattered toys and books on the floor along with drawings on the wall indicate an active life.  There are crowns on the boy's purple pajamas. He has lion fuzzy slippers.

Each two-page image or single-page picture flows flawlessly accentuating the text.  When we read about the smile on the teacher's face and her lively greeting this is emphasized by her bright green shoes and her shirt patterned in leaves similar to the leaves on a bulletin board. The sun is incorporated into several other visuals throughout the book.

One of my many, many favorite pictures spans two pages.  A marbleized teal is the canvas.  On the floor on the left, the King of Kindergarten is seated with his classmates listening to their teacher.  She is seated in a chair on the right, her hands and arms open, one foot in the air, as she smiles and speaks.  On the floor near the children, above them and crossing the gutter are items discussed in the text; letters, numbers, shapes and trucks, trains and tractors.  Out of an open book next to the teacher a tractor pulling a wagon, swirls of numbers, letters, smiling faces, a large pencil and a train tracks are shown. (There might also be a small book with the picture of a royal being on the cover.)

I can't imagine a first day of school being started without reading The King of Kindergarten written by Derrick Barnes with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.  The marvelous mix of words and artwork are sure to inspire readers of all ages.  You have the power to uplift all those around you with your unbridled joy.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton and their other work, please access their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  You can also see more of Vanessa Brantley-Newton's work at Painted Words.  Derrick Barnes has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Vanessa Brantley-Newton has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  You can view an interior image from the book at the publisher's website.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Prized Ocean Abodes

There was once a man, a great uncle, with a gift for working with wood.  Everything he made was refined, smooth as silk and any seams were nearly invisible.  He crafted a set of stackable tray display cases from rich, burnished wood.  They were for a little girl, a girl who loved seashells.

She lined those cases with black velvet to focus attention on the varied textures and colors of the seashells.  Each seashell was carefully labeled.  The girl, until she was in college, only visited the seashore once, but family and friends knew of her collection, bringing her treasures from their trips.  Seashells More Than a Home (Charlesbridge, April 2, 2019) written by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Sarah S. Brannen is the second collaboration by this outstanding duo.  (Their first, Feathers Not Just For Flying, is the recipient of multiple awards.) This book, like those seashells saved by that girl, is a compilation of wondrous information and watercolor paintings guaranteed to have all readers walking along the seashore with new eyes.

Every day, seashells wash up on beaches all over Earth, like treasures from a secret world beneath the waves.

Their shapes, sizes and colors are varied, a reflection of their functions for the beings dwelling inside them.  There is a shell so marvelously formed it can act like a submarine.  It holds gas in tiny compartments which helps it float.  Water, stored in front of those sections, assists it in sinking.  This is a Chambered Nautilus.

There are shells unlike the nautilus hugging the sand bottom for weeks.  Others act like carpenter tools pulling apart other shells for food like a crowbar or boring into the ocean floor to escape hungry enemies like a drill bit.  Did you know there are scallops that glide and dip like a butterfly?  When escaping predators its valves move it along the bottom or through the water.

There is a mollusk with a shell containing plates.  Just like the land animal, an armadillo, it can roll into a ball for safety.  Some seashells are nearly transparent to allow sunshine to grow algae inside it for food.  Others have only small holes acting like vents to rid the animal's waste. (Now you know why there are holes on an abalone.)

Do you need a disguise?  Do you need to know how to perfect the art of camouflage?  Observe the habits of a thorny oyster shell or a flat periwinkle.  Mussels open and close their shells with ease whether in safety or trouble.  If you happen to be the tasty treat a tulip snail favors seek shelter.  They crash and crack.  Regardless of all the other benefits of seashells, they are first and foremost prized ocean abodes.

Author scientist Melissa Stewart delivers a carefully researched narrative using alliteration, distinctive verbs and similes in her conversational writing.  Her curious mind anticipates our questions and she supplies us with answers.  Readers are fully engaged in the comparisons to objects, animals or people with which they are familiar.

Seven sentences reflect those contrasts between the seashells and those objects, animals or people they resemble.  They refer to movement, stability, protection and acquiring food.  Here is a passage.

Seashells can wear disguises like a spy . . .

The spines on a thorny oyster's shell are the
perfect home for sponges, algae, and other
small creatures.  As these hitchhikers grow on
the outer surface of the oyster, they hide its
shell from hungry hunters.

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, a row of shells extends from either side of the spine.  On each side they are placed in order, largest to smallest in size moving from the spine.  The turquoise of the water gently lapping the shore and the darker shade in the title text provides a pleasing balance with the sand.  The sand is a natural and excellent canvas to emphasize the seashells.  It's as if we've been transported to a beach and are ready to stroll among nature's riches.

In shades of brown and white with a title of

Mollusk habitats
and ranges . . . 

each featured seashell is placed in thirteen rectangles on the opening and closing endpapers; six on the first and seven on the second set.  The shell and its geographical location (map) are shown.  They are labeled with the common and scientific names and habitat descriptions.  Beneath the text on the title page an array of seashells is shown in sand.

Sarah S. Brannen created these illustrations using

watercolor on Arches 300 lb. bright white cold press paper. 

She begins with a two-page pictures of five children walking along the beach, sketch pads and pencils in hand.  Two are seated or kneeling busily drawing seashells.  (She also closes the book with these five children leaving the seashore, carrying their drawings.  Shells are scattered in the sand and a sandcastle stands as a testament to further creativity.)  The images for each shell may cover two pages or a single page.  Usually an open sketch pad showcases special points about a particular seashell.  These are set within a larger visual.

Each illustration incorporates the object, animal or person which is being compared to the seashell.  A submarine glides in the water as a chambered nautilus moves.  Through an open window a ship's smokestack releases smoke as an abalone expels waste in a smaller image.  The placement of every element in each picture is as if we are turning the pages in an explorer's journal; we move from panoramic scenes to photographs or to sketch pad pictures.  The details are exquisitely realistic.

One of my many favorite illustrations extends over two pages.  The background picture is a sandy shore with a home and dock in the distance.  Palm trees shade the property.  In the foreground a father and daughter are hard at work repairing and replacing the boards on a small, overturned wooden boat.  The father is using a crowbar to remove planks.  The girl is using a drill bit to make holes in the new wood.  On the left side a lightning whelk is prying open a shell to eat.  On the right side an angelwing clam is burrowing into the sand to stay safe.  On the sketch pad is an angelwing clam showcasing the ridges on its shell used for going deeper into the ocean floor.

This book, Seashells More Than a Home written by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Sarah S. Brannen, is like finding a gift left by the ocean on the sand.  It is brimming with fascinating information and elevated with illuminating paintings.  At the close of the book both Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen offer readers notes on their process.  There is also two pages dedicated to the kinds of seashells; bivalves, cephalopods, chitons, gastropods and scaphopods.  At the conclusion are sources to Continue Your Exploration, Selected Sources, Author and Selected Sources, Illustrator.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Melissa Stewart has accounts on Facebook, Pinterest and TwitterMelissa's blog is an amazing resource.  Sarah S. Brannen has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  The cover for this title is revealed at educator Alyson Beecher's Kid Lit Frenzy.  The book trailer is premiered at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read.  Both Melissa and Sarah are interviewed.  You can view interior images at Charlesbridge and Penguin Random House Canada.

Be sure to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to discover the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Courage In Motion

Love pushes aside fear and makes us brave.  We do and say things we would never do or say except when motivated by love.  If we feel the recipient of our affection is in a precarious situation, we race to the rescue.

Science is still trying to decipher the development of lasting bonds between animals and humans.  For animals and their humans, science is not needed.  The love is tangible.  Truman (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, July 9, 2019) written by Jean Reidy with illustrations by Lucy Ruth Cummins explores courage compelled by a connection between a pet and his human.

Truman was small,
the size of a donut---
a small donut---
and every bit as sweet.

His human, Sarah, lived in the city in an apartment above all the noisy vehicles and the bus labeled 11.  Truman, the tortoise, was the opposite of the noisy streets.  He was quiet and thoughtful.  His Sarah was quiet and thoughtful, too.  They were a perfect match.

One day, Sarah, did some out-of-the-ordinary things.  She ate a banana for breakfast, wore a new sweater and a blue bow in her hair, put on a large backpack and gave Truman extra green beans for his meal, two to be exact.  With her finger she reached out to his shell, leaving a kiss.  She quietly gave him a message and left.

Truman started thinking about all those out-of-the-ordinary things.  He was worried.  He was even more worried when he saw Sarah leave on the bus labeled 11.  He waited and waited and waited for Sarah to come home.  She did not.  He had to find her.  He had to ride the bus labeled 11.  There was one huge problem.  He was inside a glass tank.

Truman was determined though.  He observed what had always been there with fresh eyes. Everything was daunting and HUGE without Sarah but a discovery, and a sound helped Truman to not only remember whispered words but feel them.  A happy arrival and a story at the end of the day gave one small tortoise named Truman all the hope his heart could hold for a future of togetherness with his human, Sarah.

With the first sentence author Jean Reidy gives us a character, a creature, we instantly adore.  Our affection grows upon reading the words, his Sarah.  Despite all the hustle and bustle of the outside world he sees from his tank, Truman finds serenity in living his life with Sarah.  Even when circumstances challenge that serenity, we are enveloped in the story. 

Jean Reidy supplies us with a welcoming rhythm in repeating words.  Alliteration is used to excellent effect.  It's poetic.  She gives us a world seen through Truman's eyes using special descriptions.  We are told Sarah's backpack is big.  (There is room for thirty-two tortoises to fit inside it.)  Here is a passage.

That's when he noticed
the rocks---
three rocks---
that had always been there.

that now

What readers can't initially see is upon opening the dust jacket, Sarah's body extends over the spine. It covers nearly two-thirds of the back.  She is wearing a pink skirt, short, full and bouncy; almost like a tutu. Her knees are bent up and one stockinged foot crosses on top of the other.  It's a relaxed pose as she gazes lovingly at Truman.  The ISBN has been cleverly placed to appear as a fixture in the home.

On the book case readers can see and feel a wide, vivid yellow cloth spine.  The front and back look like pink frosting covered in sprinkles . . . like a donut.  It's exactly like a donut Truman is eating on the first page of the book.  On the opening and closing endpapers a two-tone, golden-green color is used to supply a pattern like Truman's shell.

Each illustration by Lucy Ruth Cummins was

rendered in gouache, brush marker, charcoal, and colored pencil, and were finished digitally.

On the heavier, matte-finished paper liberal, splendid use of white space, accentuates the details, lines and colors in these images.  Lucy Ruth Cummins includes everyday charm like Sarah and her mother eating breakfast barefoot with their shoes next to them on the floor.  When numbers are mentioned, the objects have black numbers next to them.  The color palette within Sarah's home is bright and the patterns are cheerful.

The facial features on Truman and Sarah are completely endearing.  Lucy Ruth Cummins has captured all his tortoise-ness eloquently.  Points-of-view shift from seeing a large portion of a city street with small Truman watching from his tank in the apartment window to a close-up of him eating one of his seven green beans.  For extra emotional emphasis and pacing, we are sometimes very close to Truman.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is a close-up of Sarah and Truman on a white canvas.  Across most of the space Sarah is lying on her stomach, knees bent up and leaning her chin on one hand.  With her other hand she is coloring.  An open box of crayons is next to her on the left.  Other crayons are scattered on the left and right.  She is wearing a blue skirt with straps (a jumper).  Her shirt is pink with white hearts.  A yellow flower is tucked in her hair.  (This is important for later in the story.)  Close to Sarah, nearly nose to nose, is Truman.  He is resting his head on one of his arms as he watches her. 

There is much to appreciate (love) about this book, Truman written by Jean Reidy with illustrations by Lucy Ruth Cummins.  It is a story of bravery born of love.  It is a story of a human and animal bond.  It is a story of the first day of school told from an entirely new perspective.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.  We should all be so fortunate to have a Truman or a Sarah in our lives.

To learn more about Jean Reidy and Lucy Ruth Cummins and their other work, please access their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Jean Reidy has accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  Lucy Ruth Cummins has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  You can enjoy viewing interior images at the publisher's website.

Monday, July 15, 2019

To Be Me

Each living breathing person has an opportunity to be uniquely wonderful.  It's not easy to discover your gifts.  Those things which set you apart from others come from listening to the voice of your heart.  There's a lot of noise in the world.  If you seek those who guide you and not define you, you will hear the truest of words.  These words will help your soul to write its own melody.

There will be times (regardless of your age) when you will be told you can't be true to yourself.  A BOY like YOU (Sleeping Bear Press, July 15, 2019) written by Frank Murphy with illustrations by Kayla Harren is a book which will challenge those who would prevent you from shining your brightest light in the world.  This book will inspire boys (and girls) so they are complete in every way.

There are billions and
and billions
of people in the world.
But you are the only YOU there is!

And the world needs a boy like you.

To begin an unseen narrator tells the reader a boy needs to be kind, helpful, smart and strong.  Strong and smart are described in a sport setting as are other ways to participate appropriately. But . . . sports are only one area when a boy can be himself.

Boys are encouraged to be gardeners, bakers, musicians, writers, scientists and to keep making discoveries.  It's only when you ask questions, you'll have the necessary answers.  When speaking of having the courage to inquire, readers are told

fear and bravery are partners.  

Being smart is when you know to request help.  Being strong is being able to cry.  Everyone cries, young and old, boys and men.  It's good to understand dreams are meant to be followed, even if you reshape them as you work toward them.

Do you remember there are billions and billions and billions of people?  They all have stories just like you.  Their stories are as worthy as your stories. Listen and share.  Be gracious and grateful.  Be the person people will remember for caring for our planet and its people.  Each reader, each boy, is reminded to be totally themselves.  This is the joy this world needs.

The words spoken by the unseen narrator as written by Frank Murphy are full of promise.  They are hopeful and helpful.  The sentences fashion possible scenarios and offer the best choices; choices making boys (all readers) better people.  The repetition of the two words Oh boy followed by a request creates a connecting thread throughout the book.  Here is a passage.

Say, "Please."
Say "Thank you."
Say "I love you."
(And if that's not exactly right,
simply say "I like you.")

And, maybe most importantly, say
"How may I help?"

Helping each other is the best way
to make our world stronger.

Oh boy, be thoughtful.

Every boy, every girl and every adult who looks at the front of the open and matching dust jacket and book case will see themselves or someone they know.  The open, attentive and quietly happy expressions on all the boys' faces welcome you into their company.  You want to know all of them.  Their diverse racial, and ethnic backgrounds are a wondrous sight!  The setting of a grassy field with a golden light in the background is splendid.  To the left, on the back, praise for the book is shown on a darker golden yellow canvas with children running along the bottom.  Our main character, his sibling and dog are among them.

On the opening and closing endpapers on a purple background are items found throughout the book.  They reference all aspects of the multitude of opportunities offered to boys in this book.  They are placed in seven loose vertical rows.  On the title page our main character is walking with his dog beneath the text.  A hummingbird is hovering above them.

Throughout the title the background colors are continually shifting from white, to blue, to green and to yellow.  Sometimes the illustration spans across two pages, smaller images are grouped on a full page and other pictures are on a single page, edge to edge.  Each picture follows and highlights the narrative.  There is motion and emotion in each scene carefully depicted by artist Kayla Harren.

Readers will find the details fascinating.  The boy and his father are both licking spatulas during a baking session.  The text is cleverly placed on a bulletin board in the boy's classroom.  On two separate pages being smart and brave are tied together with a bicycle riding lesson.  Readers will appreciate the continuity of the boy and his pup pictured together as much as possible.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is set on a white canvas.  A loosely framed beach scene is the setting.  On the upper portion of the picture is the water, sand and people enjoying the sunny day on towels and under umbrellas.  In the lower portion of the image is a sand fence.  In front of that on a path the boy is pulling a wooden wagon.  His younger sibling and white dog are riding in the wagon.  He is tossing a used water bottle into a recycling bin.  A butterfly is poised over the dog's nose.  The sun on the boy's t-shirt is wearing sunglasses.  On the youngest child's shirt is a butterfly.  The text reads

Leave every place you visit  . . . better than you found it.

Every time you read this book, whether it's the first time or the tenth time, you will feel the positive energy from the words and pictures soak into your soul.  A BOY like YOU written by Frank Murphy with illustrations by Kayla Harren is a title to have in every professional collection.  You will certainly want a copy for your personal bookshelves.  This book celebrates being exactly who you are meant to be.  There are an Author's Note about Being Strong and From the Author sections at the end.

To learn more about Frank Murphy and Kayla Harren and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Frank Murphy has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Kayla Harren has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  This title is highlighted with an interview with Frank Murphy on Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read.  You can view the book trailer there. Frank Murphy and this book are featured on Writing and Illustrating, Kathleen Temean.  Author illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi showcases Frank Murphy on INKYGIRL.  Kayla Harren has an extensive post at Writing and Illustrating, Kathleen Temean with loads of process art, numerous images and an interview.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Too Much Or Not Enough

Using numbers for counting is a part of nearly everything we do daily.  We have ten minutes left before taking cookies out of the oven.  We are two miles away from the grocery store.  We pump five gallons of gas into our car's tank.  Let's plant those trees four feet apart.  We are consciously or unconsciously counting all the time.  

We probably don't take into consideration the impact of amounts and certain things, but it is an intriguing way to look at numbers.  Is 2 a Lot?: An Adventure with Numbers (Tilbury House Publishers, June 4, 2019) written by Annie Watson with illustrations by Rebecca Evans explores concepts of quantity.  Readers will discover perceptions or points of view do weigh heavily on what may or may not be a lot of something or anything.  You might want to buckle up and hang on tight.  This is no ordinary ride.

One day Joey had a very important question.

"Is 2 a lot?" he asked his mommy. 

Joey's mother's reply is very interesting.  Two pennies are not a lot, but two odoriferous skunks are a lot.  When Joey's mom swerves to avoid hitting the skunks, they end up on an unusual two-track road with warning signs. (The skunks hop inside their station wagon as they travel through a nearly abandoned library.  How did they get inside a library?  And why did the librarian jump into the back of the car with the skunks?)

Joey keeps asking his mother about numbers, increasing them by one until he jumps from five to ten.  They meet a battered knight in shining armor, a group of wayward dogs and cowboys on a city street.  With the appearance of dinosaurs, the traveling-through-time trip takes on a whole new dimension.  Joey's mother keeps on driving as more and more guests hop inside and on top of their car.

Joey's mind leaps from ten to fifty to one hundred and then to one thousand.  Comparisons are made to leaves and letters, and snowflakes and candles.  When the adventurers find themselves at a hot air balloon festival, Joey goes silent.

His mother, who has encouraged all his inquires, turns to him and asks a question of her own.  Thinking back to the contrasts supplied by Mommy, Joey reveals what he has learned.  He has learned, as have readers, a lot!

With every question and two-part answer given, readers learn about the concept of point of view and comparison.  This story, told through dialogue and some narrative, by debut picture book author, Annie Watson, is certain to have readers alternately laughing and thinking about the conversation between Joey and his mother.  Through choice of words author Annie Watson supplies opportunities for expanded thinking.  She also allows readers to see how asking questions of a caring adult is a wonderful way to get great answers.  Here is a passage.

"What about 4?" asked Joey.

"Is 4 a lot?"

His mommy smiled.
"FOUR is not a lot of children
in a school bus," she answered,
"but it is a lot of dogs to walk at once."

Looking at the front and back of the open and matching dust jacket and book case announces to readers this is an extraordinary book about numbers. How often are dinosaurs, running dogs, skunks. hot air balloons, cowboys, dinosaurs, a stuffed toy owl and a parent and child traveling in their station wagon shown together?  The bright color palette leaning toward primary colors welcomes readers.

To the left, on the back, the car driving toward readers is placed in the center of what appears to be a desert.  Two hungry, or at the very least, angry dinosaurs are chasing anything that moves.  Two royal soldiers, two cowboys on horses (one is a girl with braided pigtails flying behind her) two skunks, and two dogs are all running alongside the car.  Joey is one happy little boy.  Mommy is consulting a map.  (I don't think there's a map for where she is.)  A bumper sticker on the front of the car reads:

2 FAST . . .

The vivid sky blue from the jacket and case is used to cover the opening and closing endpapers.  Artist Rebecca Evans starts her pictorial interpretation on the title page showing Joey and his mother walking from their home to the station wagon.  On the verso and dedication pages we move closer to the car.  Mommy is buckling Joey into his car seat.  Joey is carrying a book which looks very familiar.  

With each page turn readers are given visual displays of two-page pictures, or two-page pictures with panel insets, some of them in a series.  Readers will want to stop and look carefully at each illustration especially after the warning signs when Mommy veers off the main road. Rebecca Evans infuses humor in each image.  Readers will be laughing out loud at the details in the settings, and facial expressions and actions of all the characters. 

The carry-over from one scene to the next is splendid.  It presents a continuous flow of motion.  The hilarity increases as the station wagon moves from one geographic location to the next while trekking through history.

One of my many favorite illustrations is at the beginning.  The daylight on the drive Joey and his mother are taking dims as the car avoids hitting the two skunks and takes a dirt road on their left.  This scene takes up all two pages with the car, road and skunks on the left and the darkening forest on the right.  Two warning signs are posted at the entrance to the dirt road.  A vertical inset shows the back of the car as it goes down the road.  The two skunks are scampering along behind it.  On the left is another warning sign.  Dinosaurs?  I can already hear the giggling and laughter of readers.

This book most certainly will engage readers in thoughtful thinking about numbers, counting, perspective and comparison.  Is 2 a Lot?: An Adventure with Numbers written by Annie Watson with illustrations by Rebecca Evans is brimming with action depicted in words and fantastical illustrations.  I know your personal and professional collections will be enhanced by having a copy of this title.

To learn more about Annie Watson and Rebecca Evans and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  There is a classroom connection guide at Annie Watson's website.   Annie Watson has an account on Facebook.  Rebecca Evans has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Listen For Their Music

They appear when you least expect them.  There is the long-ago memory of holding a bouquet of fresh-cut zinnias while standing in my garden.  One landed on a flower to sip the nectar.  I stood, holding my breath.  There is the most recent recollection of digging up a new garden in the first few days of hot summer sun. Wearing a hat with netting to protect myself from the hordes of black flies, a sudden humming near my face had me freezing.  A hummingbird was there before my eyes.  Was I like some giant flower?  Was it coming to say hello? Or perhaps, and thankfully, it was coming to consume some of those flies.

In northern Michigan they are only here during our short summer months, but their tiny presence is a reminder of how resilient even the smallest beings are.  Hummingbird (Candlewick Press, May 7, 2019) written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Jane Ray is a narrative piece of nonfiction.  It's a blend of the annual migration of hummingbirds and how they encounter humans during their trek.  It's a tribute to one of nature's jewels.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are tiny---they weigh less than a nickel---but every spring they fly up to 2000 miles from Mexico and Central America to spend the summer in the United States and Canada, where they build their nests and have their babies.

Let this bit of information sink into your mind.  Think about it the next time you have change in your hand.  That nickel you hold is more than the weight of a hummingbird.  Wow!

A grandmother and her granddaughter wait in a garden for their arrival.  Holding bowls of sugar water, the duo, hardly daring to breathe, watch as the hummingbirds hum to take sips.

Tz' unun! Tz'unun! 

The elder remarks to the child the birds will soon leave to go north, just like her granddaughter. 

A lone sailor at sea watches a plane pass as a hummingbird rests in the ship's rigging for the night.  These birds will lose a great deal of weight during their flight.  Farther along the route siblings wait for the visitors.  In addition to the feeders of sugar water, they have a bug dispenser to provide protein for the hummingbirds.

It takes hummingbirds until May to arrive in southern Canada.  Individuals and families watch them claim their share of nectar and sugar water placed by humans.  Their nests are as tiny as they are.  If you crack open a walnut, half the shell is the size of a hummingbird nest.

Do you remember the little girl with her grandmother?  One day in a park in New York City, she realizes the truth of something Granny told her.  Later, as the chill of autumn comes, so does a letter, a package and an annual guest.

In her writing Nicola Davies provides information which heightens our interest and need to preserve these precious birds and their habitats.  By including several stories of human interactions, she makes life on this planet an act of togetherness.  We humans are enriched by the existence and appearance of hummingbirds.  Here is passage with the accompanying fact.

Hummingbirds must fly south.  The trip is long and hard for such small bodies, and many of them won't reach their destination.

Roads, houses, and cities built by humans
mean that there are now fewer places for
hummingbirds to refuel on their trip.

Stunning illustrations rendered in watercolor and watercolor pencil with gold ink

begin on the matching dust jacket and book case.  Realistic, delicate and intricate elements bring readers closely into the realm of the ruby-throated hummingbird.  The male feeding and the female sitting on their nest gives us a unique perspective of the continuation of these birds' marvelous life cycles.  The breathtaking color of the flora and the birds is elevated by the cream canvas.

To the left of the spine in golden yellow, on the back, the floral scene continues.  It frames text inviting readers to follow a remarkable yearly journey.  On the opening and closing endpapers illustrator Jane Ray has placed a variety of hummingbirds among greenery and flowers.  Some are resting and others are in flight.  These elements appear varnished against the background.  This follows the text---

Their feathers flash in the slants of light.

(This technique is used throughout the book.)

An informative and beautiful map, prior to the title and verso pages highlights the residences of the ruby-throated hummingbird in the summer and winter.  A single setting stretches over two pages for the verso and title.  A tree, leafy branches and flowers border the text.  In the lower right-hand corner blossoms welcome a male hummingbird with their scent and nectar.

Each page turn reveals a double-page picture or several full-page pictures and even smaller images to accentuate the text and pacing.  Each visual is full of lush and luminous items contributing to elegant views of these birds and the humans along their path.  At times in a single illustration Jane Ray alters her perspective giving us a larger point of view on one side before bringing us close on the opposite page.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is a close-up view of Granny's garden.  Spread along the sides, top and bottom are a glorious array of flowers, and leaves.  Rays of pale, golden sunlight radiate in the center of the two pages.  Hummingbirds on both pages seek the flowers.  Along the bottom of the right side, the granddaughter's hand provides a resting place of a male hummingbird.  To her right, Granny holds a bowl of sugar water.  Several hummingbirds are gathered there.

Through carefully chosen words and striking artwork readers are transported into the world of hummingbirds on their travels each year and how they survive.  The humans, as shown here, welcome them and assist them . . . as we should.  Hummingbird written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Jane Ray is a title you will want in your personal and professional collections.  It, like its subject, is a gem.

To learn more about Nicola Davies and Jane Ray and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  At Penguin Random House and Candlewick Press, you can view interior images.  Nicola Davies has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Jane Ray has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. I hope you enjoy the video of Jane Ray speaking about her work.


Please take a few moments to view the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

A Plot Twisted

Wherever you go there will always be those individuals who take pleasure in playing pranks on others.  These tricks range in complexity from a jump and shouted boo to an elaborate deception taking days, or even weeks, to put in motion.  Responses of the recipients of these high jinks range from reluctant admiration, irritation, discomfort, fear or to thoughts of retaliation or justice.  The bottom line, truthfully, is no one likes to be the target of another's shenanigans.

When we see antics like this in action, we have an opportunity to offer support to the unfortunate individual or individuals because, more often than not, there is a very fine line between practical jokes and bullying.  Let's Scare Bear (Holiday House, July 9, 2019), debut picture book written and illustrated by Yuko Katakawa, uses a 

a tale in the Japanese oral tradition known as rakugo

to shape an original and lively look at behavior of individuals.  It, like life, gives readers wisdom in making choices and in determining their reactions.

Manju cake!
Chewy! Sweet! A treat to eat! 

Four gathered friends, who loved manju cake, were about to enjoy this delectable delicacy, until loud noises interrupted them.  It was Bear.  This large, courageous animal of the woodland realm happened to be walking past their tree.

Mouse, who could be viewed as the opposite of Bear, in most respects, wanted to scare him.  Fox decided to scare Bear first.  The display of his teeth was nothing compared to Bear's big open mouth lined with rows of sharp pearly whites.

Spider's web and Snake's squeeze were no match for Bear's strength.  When Mouse decided to utter a boo, it sounded like a peep.  Bear couldn't help himself.  He laughed.  He turned to Mouse, Snake, Spider and Fox and told them there was only one thing which terrified him.

After their failed attempts, the companions could hardly wait to hear what scared this forest champion.  His reply and frightened reaction to hearing the words were unbelievable.  He rushed to his cave to seek shelter.  The foursome rushed back to their tree.  What they did next was precisely what Bear wanted.  By changing one letter in the word scare, Mouse, Snake, Spider and Fox could have results more favorable to everyone.

A delightful blend of narrative, dialogue and sound effects in the writing of Yuko Katakawa captivates readers from beginning to end.  The use of illuminating adjectives and expressive verbs further engages readers in the characters' exploits.  Yuko Katakawa's keen sense of humor is seen in the twist she supplies to the scare tactics of Mouse, Snake, Spider and Fox.  She makes it clear tricksters are open to being tricked in return.  Here is a passage.

"I'll go first," said Fox.

Fox flashed his
knife-sharp teeth
at Bear.

Bear flashed his knife-sharp teeth back at
Fox and laughed.

Using mixed media on all her illustrations Yuko Katakawa gives us a first look at her considerable talent with her dust jacket. (I am working with an F & G.  I don't have my personal copy yet.) Inside Bear's den we can see his umbrella carefully placed in a jar near his entrance.  We are introduced to the forest friends, Fox wearing his jacket, Mouse in overalls, Spider wrapped in her webbing and Snake wearing her glasses with a red bow on her tail.  Will careful readers see beyond Bear's pretended fear?  Will they notice the placement of his paws?  On the other side of a spine with the same pattern found on the opening and closing endpapers are three small images of the foursome.

To the left, on the back, of the dust jacket on a pale golden yellow canvas the friends are exhibiting in these illustrations three stages of emotions.  They go from glee, to despair and to exhaustion.  On the opening and closing endpapers are an intricate, tiny diamond pattern.  In each diamond is a daisy.  The shades of red, white and yellow create a sense of peace.

A half circles pattern in a light teal and white provides a background for the verso and dedication at the front and the author's note at the back.  On the title page on a white canvas Mouse is pouring tea in cups in anticipation of the sweet treats and companionship.  The heavier and matte-finished paper is ideal for the illustrative style and themes present in this story.

Each visual spans a double page or full pages.  The size contributes to the pacing and drama of the story.  Yuko Katakawa shifts her point of view for the same purposes.  We are inside the tree with the friends, farther away, then close and then farther away again before returning to close.  It's as if we are there with them.

Readers will be fascinated with the details in the illustrations.  The patterns on the tea cups, the manju cakes, the clothing worn by the characters, all of the facial expressions and body positions and the extra text found in Spider's webs heighten the narrative.  They contribute to the wonderful enchantment of this new folktale.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  On a canvas of green grass along the bottom with a pale rosy sky above Bear has declared his greatest fear.  On the left, bent over and on the ground in fear is Bear.  His paws cover his face as he trembles in dread.  The four companions on the right are shocked by his announcement.  Fox, holding his tilted head, can't believe it.  Snake coiled on Fox's head is questioning this with the shape of her tongue.  Mouse falling through the air is also questioning this with the shape of his tail.  Spider and her web need answers, too.  Readers will undoubtedly laugh out loud.

As an introduction to a Japanese oral tradition, the art of storytelling, a discussion on bullying, tricksters in folktales or as a highly entertaining story, Let's Scare Bear written and illustrated by Yuko Katakawa is a marvelous selection.  This is guaranteed to be a storytime favorite no matter the age of the listener or reader.  I highly recommend this for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Yuko Katakawa and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Yuko Katakawa has an active account on Instagram