Quote of the Month

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

Friday, October 2, 2015

Mighty Messages

More than two thousand years ago, as the ancient historians write, a slave may have won his freedom with his storytelling.  These tales he told were not long in length but each contained a powerful moral lesson.  The slave was Aesop and his stories are called fables.

Many fables use animals as characters helping readers to see faults or imperfections which may or may not be a part of their life choices or personality.  These short instructions have been a part of our literary history for so long; they have been assimilated into our everyday lives.  With the success of Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists (First Second, October 11, 2011) and Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists (First Second, September 24, 2013) First Second brings to readers another timeless treasury, Fable Comics edited by Chris Duffy (September 22, 2015).

Twenty-eight fables are portrayed through the artistic interpretations of twenty-five graphic artists and authors.  Each brings their signature talent to the page in a colorful depiction sure to entertain (you will find yourself laughing out loud more than once) as well as educate.  Most use a series of panels with speech bubble conversations to convey the narrative but one uses five full-page spreads to tell the story.  Some in the tradition of classic fables include the lesson at the end.

As one of the bloggers celebrating the publication of this title, I was thrilled to have been selected to focus on The Dog And His Reflection by Graham Chaffee.   In this fable a dog sees a chance to acquire a bone by stealth.  He trots away carrying his prize, only to discover what he believes is another dog with another bone.  Using a full-color palette with a series of varied layouts, Graham Chaffee presents the original fable without words set among conversations between humans and the landscape of the human condition.  Below you will find my questions and Graham Chaffee's answers relative to his perspective on this classic tale.

In your website biography you note attending and graduating from Art Center College.  Students will want to know what inspired the shift from freelance illustrating, teaching illustrations and writing and illustrating graphic novels to becoming a tattooist as your main artistic form of expression.  Would you please tell us?

I was getting a lot of tattoos at the time (early 90s) and fell in love with the folk-art quality of traditional American tattooing---illustration was barely paying the bills, and tattoo seemed like a decent way to make a living as an artist---still does ☺

Did you study to become a tattooist?  How does the process for creating a tattoo differ from creating a print illustration?  Are your steps different?

I am largely self-taught---got my equipment from a mail-order catalog and practiced on myself and a few of my dumber friends until I had enough pictures to build a little portfolio and find a shop.
Tattoos are made in much the same way as any graphic artwork.  You begin with a line-drawing and gradually add black shading and color.  The tools and canvas are different but the overall process is the same.  The biggest difference is the technical difficulty inherent in the craft.  Simple things like circles or parallel lines, which are no big deal on paper, can be a real challenge on the skin---you can't use a ruler for one thing, and skin is an unpredictable surface to work on.  Being able to control the quality of your linework involves years of practice---solid color is a technical triumph---stuff a conventional artist takes for granted, becomes a real obstacle course for a tattooist.  Also, you're hurting people and they tend to wiggle around, which can dramatically affect the quality of the tattoo...

Could you briefly tell us the process for illustrating The Dog And His Reflection?  Do you design thumbnail sketches first?  Do you storyboard?

I drew layouts in a sketchbook---rough pencil things to get the panels in the right order, but nothing too elaborate---most of the art was developed right on the page.

What medium did you use to make these visuals?  Do you work traditionally or digitally?

I use a 2h pencil to draw everything, a 00 brush for inking (Higgs Black Magic) and Dr Martins dyes for the color---I have a little kid's watercolor palette to mix my colors in and a cup of tap water for diluting the hues---I do use the internet as a giant reference file for pictures of factories and telephone booths, so that part is digital ☺

You tell the fable without an actual narrative.  The panels with humans appear to be a commentary on the moral of the story.  I think this will make for great discussions.  Why did you decide to add the human component?

I never use narration boxes in a story---show it, don't tell it is my motto---so I had to build a (very human) narrative environment of materialistic achievement around this animal.  America is the land of "more is better" and seemed like a natural fit for this particular fable---it's a super American story, all the way from ancient Greece...

In several of your other graphic novels dogs are featured.  Do you have a dog?  If you do would you tell us the breed and name?

I had a dog years ago---Sophie, a pound-rescue mutt---but my current living circumstances make pet ownership problematic.  If I ever get into a proper house with a yard, I shall certainly get a dog to go with it. ☺

Thank you Mr. Chaffee for stopping by the blog today and answering these questions.  It was a pleasure to learn more about you and your work.  If you desire to know more about Graham Chaffee please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and additional pages there.

At the publisher's website you can see eight interior images from this title including one of Graham Chaffee's images.  At this School Library Journal site dedicated to comics Chris Duffy speak about this book plus there are interior pictures.  Gina Gagliano of First Second has included lots of visuals of this in her blog post.  At the end of the title Chris Duffy offers commentary and there are short paragraphs about each of the artists.

  To visit other blogs and their featured artists follow the list below.

Fables are a wonderful way to learn – and they have been for many centuries!  Chris Duffy organizes this great collection of an all-new take on fables … in comics format!  In this blog tour, we’ll feature each of the authors and fables from the collection with reviews and interviews.  Join us for a fabulous adventure!
SLJ Good Comics for Kids features Fable Comics editor Chris Duffy, 9/21 http://blogs.slj.com/goodcomicsforkids/
Charlotte’s Library features James Kochalka and ‘The Fox and the Grapes,’ 9/22 http://charlotteslibrary.blogspot.com/
Musings of a Librarian features Tom Gauld and ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse,’ 9/23 http://musingsoflibrarian.blogspot.com/
Sharp Reads features George O’Connor and the ‘Hermes’ fables, 9/24 https://sharpread.wordpress.com/
Fly to Fiction features Sophie Goldstein an ‘Leopard Drums Up Dinner,’ 9/25 http://flytofiction.blogspot.com/
Supernatural Snark features Charise Harper and ‘The Belly and the Body Members,’ 9/26 http://supernaturalsnark.blogspot.com/
It’s All Comic to Me features R. Sikoryak and ‘Lion + Mouse,’ 9/27 http://itsallcomictome.blogspot.com/
Ex Libris Kate features Jennifer L. Meyer and ‘Fox and Crow,’ 9/28 http://exlibriskate.com/
The Roarbots features Eleanor Davis and ‘The Old Man and Death,’ 9/29 http://theroarbots.com/
Fleen features Jaime Hernandez and ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf,’ 9/30 http://fleen.com/
The Book Monsters features Simone Lia and ‘The Crow and the Pitcher,’ 10/1 http://thebookmonsters.com/
Librarian's Quest features Graham Chaffee and ‘The Dog and His Reflection,’ 10/2 http://librariansquest.blogspot.com
Librarian in Cute Shoes features Maris Wicks and ‘The Dolphins, The Whales, and The Sprat,’ 10/3 http://librarianincuteshoes.blogspot.com/
Women Write About Comics features Vera Brosgol and ‘The Hare and the Pig,’ 10/4 http://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/
The Busy Librarian features Kenny Widjaja and ‘The Demon, The Thief, and the Hermit,’ 10/5 http://www.busylibrarian.com/
The Book Rat features Corinne Mucha and ‘The Elephant in Favor,’ 10/6 http://www.thebookrat.com/
Watch. Connect. Read. features Liniers and ‘The Mouse Council,’ 10/7 http://mrschureads.blogspot.com/
Cherry Blossoms and Maple Syrup features Mark Newgarten and ‘Man and Wart,’ 10/8 https://innocencewalker.wordpress.com/
Jenuine Cupcakes features Israel Sanchez and ‘The Milkmaid and Her Pail,’ 10/9 http://jenuinecupcakes.blogspot.com/
Bumbles & Fairy Tales features Ulises Farinas and ‘The Great Weasel War,’ 10/10 http://bumblesandfairytales.blogspot.com/
Graphic Policy features R.O. Blechman and ‘The Sun and the Wind,’ 10/11 http://graphicpolicy.com/
The Book Wars features Graham Annable and ‘The Hare and the Tortoise,’ 10/12 https://thebookwars.wordpress.com/
Sturdy for Common Things features John Kerschbaum and ‘The Grasshopper and the Ants,’ 10/13 http://www.sturdyforcommonthings.com/
Kid Lit Frenzy features Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline and ‘The Thief and the Watchdog,’ 10/14 http://www.kidlitfrenzy.com/
Maria’s Melange features Gregory Benton and ‘The Hen and the Mountain Turtle,’ 10/15 http://www.mariaselke.com/
Read Write Reflect features Roger Langridge and ‘Demades and His Fable,’ 10/16 http://readwriteandreflect.blogspot.com/

Monday, September 28, 2015

Numbering The Unexpected

Every single day is filled with surprises in all sizes.  There is the kindness of complete strangers helping you to reach something high on a shelf in the grocery store or allowing you to merge in traffic.  A typical visit to the car wash can turn into a humorous moment long remembered.  Handing the attendant a twenty dollar bill, I ask for eight bucks back.  Instead of reaching in his pocket for change, he disappears for a lengthy bit of time.  When he returns he hands me this note.

A sudden hug from a grateful student will last long beyond the day in which it is given.  A worst case scenario can reveal unknown benefits.  Sometimes you have to look long and hard but they are there.  In his newest title for younger readers, Two Mice ( Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 1, 2015) Sergio Ruzzier presents us with a series of challenges faced by utterly charming characters.

One house

In this single little home one mouse with brown spots wakes up looking over at its sleeping companion.  In the next scenario there are three cookies, two glasses of milk, and a single red pitcher sitting on the kitchen table.  The first mouse is happily munching on two cookies.  Hands on hips, the second mouse is grumpily staring at the remaining cookie.

In what will be a turn of events the duo set out to explore, finding three boats and two oars.  This time

one rower

works to move them across the water.  It is the mouse who greedily consumed the two cookies.  The white mouse is lounging with eyes closed in the stern.

As they coast toward shore numbers one and two promise them a delicious treat but three gives them not one but two shocks.  Our friends find themselves in troubled waters.  An island with trees promises them relief but OH! NO!

Now airborne their misfortune is tripled.  With sinking hearts they look upon... a clever change of events.  HOORAY!  Hand in hand the two mice walk as readers count one...two...three and three...two...one.  There's plenty for both at day's end.

With warmth and wit Sergio Ruzzier blends counting from one to three and three to one not once but four times into a timeless tale of short-lived misadventure, startling discoveries and enduring friendship.  We move merrily from hope to discouragement and back again as Ruzzier demonstrates his gifted use of language.  Groups of three two-word phrases are punctuated with periods, a question mark and an exclamation point to provide readers with emotional impact and a cadence carried throughout the story.

When you hold a book by Sergio Ruzzier in your hands the signature style of his illustrations and unique color palette are a welcoming invitation to open the cover and let your mind soar.  Seeing those two mice gleefully running across a Ruzzier landscape on a sunny day with soft clouds in the sky makes you want to join in the fun.  The use of red in the title text and along the spine offers further encouragement.  On the back of the matching dust jacket and book case, to the left, on a background of blue are the three cookies with a bite missing from one and two glasses of milk.  A shade of salmon (daybreak) colors the opening endpapers and a deeper blue (early evening) covers the closing endpapers.

A page turn shows the house with smoke rising from the chimney and the first two words of the story.  The title page follows but also continues the tale.  Mint green walls and a hexagonal, floral pattern in tiles on the floor form a room for the mice's two iron beds.  I love seeing a book peeking out from beneath one of the beds.

All of the images span across two pages except for the final one.  Using pen and ink and watercolors Ruzzier supplies mood and movement with his tiny details, fine lines, brush strokes, shading, facial expressions and body movement.  His pictures alone reveal every facet of the narrative.

One of several favorite illustrations is for the text

One island
Two trees  .

The mice are near the land eager to be out of the water.  Both, even though they are wet and have lost their transportation, are wearing big smiles.  Careful readers will see what they cannot see.  The two trees have claws at their root bases.  These are no ordinary trees.  Anticipation is already building as the page is turned.

Small in size, perfect for the hands of his intended audience, Two Mice written and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier is a tiny treasure waiting to be found over and over by readers.  And believe me, you will be asked to read it repeatedly, counting but also following these two best buddies in and out of their difficulties.  It is simply enchanting.

To learn more about Sergio Ruzzier and this title please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and one of several special pages for this title.  In a link to the starred Horn Book review Ruzzier answers questions about the trim size for this title.  In a wonderful interview at Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Sergio Ruzzier talks about this book sharing the process and artwork.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Blue Ribbon Bedlam

Within the last thirty days my wonderful four-footed furry friend and I have traveled from Michigan to Montana and back and then out to Montana to our new home.  During these trips one thing has been abundantly clear; people with dogs enjoy the ride with more leisure.  Rest areas and places of interest are evidence of frequent pauses and longer periods of rest.  Our canine companions' needs are telling us to slow down, stop and smell the scent of a gazillion dogs.

Another observation and lesson humans sometimes fail to learn is the spontaneity of dog behavior.   We may think we know how they will act in any given situation but they can and will continue to surprise us.  Maybe this is why each of us embraces the unique personalities of our beloved pals.

Those lovable characters introduced to readers in How to Behave at a Tea Party, Julia, Charles, Rexie, the frog and the brothers McKagan, have returned in How to Behave at a Dog Show (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 15, 2015).  Author Madelyn Rosenberg and illustrator Heather Ross collaborate to highlight the lighter side of sharing a life with a dog.  To be the best depends on those giving meaning to the word.

First, you fill out the form:

Julia is happily completing all portions of the Happy Tails Kennel Club, Sixteenth Annual Best of Breed Dog Show official entry with the exception of the breed blank.  Locating the dog for beautification is a must.  As she and Charles ready the bath, Rexie quickly slips away with the stealth of a ninja.  Making sure the soap is actually soap is equally important.

As a dog handler classic attire is essential.  Once the dog is located yet again, digging, playing fetch and making friends with a skunk are to be avoided at all costs.  A speedy arrival is now at the top of the agenda.  Grooming before presentation is better without the skills of a pesky brother and his rascal neighborhood friends.

Ignoring the remarks and the plugged noses of the judges, interpretations of commands, the love-at-first-sight antics of contestants, and a runaway shoe thief are easier said than done.  YIKES! Rexie is on the move.  Charles, the McKagan brothers, the frog, a bicycle, a skateboard and a seesaw are not a good combination.  Did I forget to mention the dog show is sponsored by Sloppy Kisses Dog Food?  To showcase their product a pyramid of cans is holding the golden cup for first prize.  This will probably not end as planned.

True to her stalwart spirit Julia rallies the group, Rexie, Charlie, the frog and the McKagan brothers, as they head for home.  She, of course, has a plan.  It's a spectacular, unprecedented happening accentuating talents with attention given to every last detail...even if it lasts until the stars fill the sky.

Using her gift of infusing humor in a narrative, Madelyn Rosenberg gives us laughter with each page turn.  Masterfully mixing what should be with what actually is we are willing participants in every merry moment.  Her lively characters and the hilarious situations in which they find themselves are utterly believable.  She is most definitely in tune with children, brothers and sisters and of course, dogs.  Here is a sample passage.

That's not soap, Charles!

Sigh.  You must hope the judge thinks
Rexie is a Bluetick Coonhound.

Rendered digitally the fun found in the illustrations by Heather Ross begins with the dust jacket.  Bright colors mirror the animated characters and their antics.  You know, without a doubt, prim and proper Julia is in for a challenge thanks to Charles, Rexie and the frog.  Their looks mirror pure mischief.

On the back, to the left, an interior visual gives a hint as to judges' true feelings about Julia and her dog.  The title page foreshadows the ending as the verso begins the interpretation of the narrative.  From the beginning Julia and Rexie already have entirely disparate ideas about a dog show.

A series of vignettes, single page images and double-page pictures proclaim with clarity the contrast between Julia's point of view and what readers see happening.  Fine lines replete with details depict the sheer laugh-out-loud scenes; Julia and Charles wearing goggles to bathe Rexie, a trail of blue leading to the escaped Rexie, the tiny eyes peering from the darkened tree hollow, and the flies buzzing around Rexie.  The facial expressions on all the characters, primary and secondary, are marvelous.  Careful readers will eagerly look for the frog's role in this rollicking romp.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is a single page image at the start of the story.  Julia and Charles are ready to wash Rexie but he has run away... again...out the window.  The screen is torn into a dog shaped hole and the curtains are hanging in disarray from a broken rod.  The goggle-wearing duo is standing next to the tub with water spilled all over the floor.  The frog is peering out over the side of the tub.

If laughter is what you are after, How to Behave at a Dog Show written by Madelyn Rosenberg with illustrations by Heather Ross is the title for you.  Readers learn as do Julia and company, there are all kinds of best.  Sometimes what others might not consider best is what makes an individual extraordinary and lovable.  Going with the flow, enjoying what you have, is the true key to happiness.  I certainly hope Rosenberg and Ross have another adventure starring these characters in the works.

To learn more about Madelyn Rosenberg and Heather Ross please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Madelyn Rosenberg has developed an activity for Hosting Your Own Pet Show for Teachers and Librarians.  She has also started a Tumblr for posting pet pictures and stating their best something.  32Zoo interviewed Madelyn Rosenberg about this title and her other new book.  Enjoy the book trailer.  (Can you find Xena?)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Blowing In the Wind-Changes Part II

Dear Readers:

On August 20, 2015 Xena and I left the lakes area of northern Michigan to embark on a new adventure.  After two years there was finally a solid offer on the sale of my home.  My hope for many years has been to live in the west.  Friends from high school have been living in the state of Montana since college.  I believe if they and Hattie could live in Big Sky Country, so could I. (Thank you Kirby Larson.)

After having made the trip to Montana last year, I found I would rather look at the Mackinac Bridge than cross it.  This year I went south into Indiana and Illinois.  After only a few wrong turns (I was still learning the GPS on my car.),  Xena and I spent a restful night in Normal, Illinois.

Bright and early the next morning we traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  When the two of us walked that evening, I noticed a funny cast to the sky and setting sun.  Checking the National Weather Service it mentioned possible severe thunderstorms in the area the next day along with a high wind advisory and high wind warning for the entire state.  I made the decision to alter my route going as far south as I could, staying on main roads.

Needless to say, from one side of South Dakota to the other the winds were terrifying.  It was two-hand-death-grip-on-the-wheel driving.  At one point I took the closest exit because my hands ached and were shaking.  This exit was a little two-track dirt road leading to a small white church with a tall steeple, probably room for about thirty people, and a single home.  I pulled into the parking lot.

The winds were so powerful, at a standstill, my car rocked with every gust.  When I looked up after about ten minutes, a cement truck pulling a trailer had stopped also.  Thankfully, I had Tim Federle's audio books about Nate to listen to as I weathered this storm.

Finally arriving in Rapid City, South Dakota I decided to eat.  I waited and waited for my name to be called.  They kept calling for a Parker to pick up their meal.  Looking at my slip I discovered I had a new name.  It was a relief to arrive in Gillette, Wyoming for the night.  Before the sun set the next day, Xena and I arrived in Missoula, Montana.

For the next two days, I looked at more than twenty houses.  At the end of the second day, we found a new home.  It was touch and go as to whether we would have a contract but by Friday, Xena and I were headed back to Michigan.

On the way home we learned:

Always ask what pet-friendly means... we ended up walking at a lovely park and path around the local hospital because the hotel was surrounded by cement right next to a busy main road.

If you ever get lost among residential and county roads in the dark of night, unable to find the main highway, there is a wonderful woman named Kelsey who works the 911 line in the St. Cloud, Minnesota area.

Anywhere near Chicago, traffic can and does come to a complete stop, more than once, even on a Sunday.

Always check your hotel room before unloading anything from your car, especially if there is a funky smell.  (The night manager said it was disgusting when he saw it.)  We ended up on the second floor that night.  Xena got her first ride in an elevator.  (This guy deserves a raise after all the help he gave us.)

Going through the center of Fort Wayne, Indiana is still better than taking the by-pass.

Even though she is fifteen years old, Xena can still protect me.  Stopping at a rest area, we were walking when a man and a child approached us.  My usual friendly companion started barking.  They backed away and I sighed with relief as I hugged her.

Xena, my warrior princess, was so happy to get home she nearly ran around the house outside and inside.  I joyfully joined her.  Two days later the packing started.  Today (Sunday) I finished with help from many friends and neighbors.

My contact who gave me an estimate for the move told me no one has ever transported this many books before me.  The majority of my weight is for the almost eighty boxes filled with books.  Those stories will travel from state to state to state.

I have missed visiting with all of you on Twitter and Facebook.  The connections in the children's literature community are wonderful.  Hopefully I will be a more frequent presence in the upcoming weeks.

The move will begin in less than forty-eight hours.  Anticipation fills the air.  A dream is coming true.

I wish you all good things each and every day.


Monday, September 7, 2015

This Reader. (she say "rock on")

Life has a way of throwing us monumental change within seconds and without notice.  A single act by another or us with or without a response can alter our immediate lives.  It can expand to include others, even the world at large.

Some things done are better left without any acknowledgement at all.  Others elicit a reaction triggered by emotion or logic.  A little more than one year ago we were introduced to a boy and his best friend, a woolly mammoth, in this Orq. (he cave boy.)  Readers could not help but feel joyful by the love the two have for each other.  I am happy to announce the return of the duo in this ORQ. (he say "ugh!") (Boyds Mills Press, an imprint of Highlights, September 8, 2015) written by David Elliott with illustrations by Lori Nichols.  Orq and Woma are challenged repeatedly by two new characters.

This Orq.
He cave boy.
Wear skins.
No shoes.
Sometimes say ...

The cave boy and his woolly mammoth companion enjoy every single day having as much fun as they can.  One of their favorite things to do is to build architectural shapes and forts out of turtles, stacking them like bricks.  We are made aware, nevertheless, of the hardships of dwelling in a cave.  It's chilly, dark and the food is uncooked.

As if this is not enough, Dorq, a bigger, stronger and hairier boy, and his cave bear cohort, Caba, relish making life miserable for Orq and Woma.


Mother's suggestion to ignore them is simply unreasonable.  They're like shadows, spoiling all those activities Orq and Woma delight in doing, fishing, finding and building.

The single advantage the pals have is speed.  They can and do outrun the bullies.  Until ...one day on a hunting expedition a

tremendous turtle

turns out to be trouble.  Dorq and Caba have been practicing their chasing.

It looks as though the terrible twosome have the upper hand.  An egg escalates the encounter.  Anger born out of love and two rocks reverse the course of events.  Heroes, like change, can be created in the blink of an eye.  Everyone wins...well, almost everyone.

As he did in the first title, David Elliott gives readers phrases inviting their participation.  The shortened sentences are playful, humorous and full of rhythm.  The technique of designing events in clusters of three works extremely well; each time leading to a pause or a shift in the narrative.  Elliott demonstrates insight into the thinking of his expected readers with word choices and character interactions.  Here is a sample passage.

But cave life tough.
Cold cave.
Dark night.
Raw bison.
And ...

Spanning from left to right we are greeted with a two-page spread across the matching dust jacket and book case.  Clearly Woma and Orq are distressed as the dreadful duo, Dorq and Caba, laugh in the background.  The three red-tufted blue birds seen gathered around the ISBN on the first title have returned, joined by jazzy-shelled turtles.  A matte-finish on these as well as the interior pages provides a pleasing tactile experience for readers.

The identical opening and closing endpapers feature a pattern of turtles, snakes, a woolly mammoth puppet and a single egg. With a page turn another double-page picture greets readers.  Everyone will grin at the scene showcasing the title.  A smiling Woma is running toward a singing Orq bathing in a pond joined by the three birds, one floating on its back in the water.  Orq's grass clothing and blue-striped underwear are hanging on a twig.

The next large image on the right holds the publication information plus The Turtle Challenge.  Readers are asked to count the number of turtles Lori Nichols has placed in this title.  Woma, spraying water from his trunk, is now bathing in the pond as Orq struggles to get dressed.  The first lines of the story appear on the right.

Rendered in

#4 pencil on Strathmore drawing paper and colorized digitally

the illustrations vary in size from two-page to single page and smaller visuals grouped on one page to extend and enhance the pacing of the story.  The facial features on all the characters depict the emotional status of each scene perfectly.  Nichols' lines, fine or large, convey setting, mood and motion, taking readers into the moment.

One of my favorite images is the second double-page picture in the story.  On the left Woma is sitting surrounded by turtles.  He holds one in his arms ready to hand it to Orq, who is being held aloft in his trunk.  Orq and Woma have made an arch of smiling turtles on the right.  We are reminded of the shared affection of these two friends.

This ORQ. (he say "ugh!") written by David Elliott with illustrations by Lori Nichols is a heartfelt and witty look at friendship and those who would strive to take away another's joy.  The BIG surprise during the final confrontation with the mean-spirited Dorq and Caba will have everyone cheering.  The change of words in the key phrase and Nichols' final illustration will fill readers with warmth.  This book.  This book great.  Share this book. Happy reader. Third title September 2016.

To discover more about David Elliott and Lori Nichols please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  John Schumacher, blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. and the new Scholastic Ambassador of School Libraries, shared a vine of this title. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

PSST! Celebrating Xena's Birthday With A Cat Book But Don't Tell Her

Fifteen years ago on the twenty-first day of August a sweet girl puppy was born; the runt in a litter of Chocolate Labrador Retrievers.  Knowing she would need to make up for her size in spirit, I named her Xena, the Warrior Princess.  Anyone who meets her agrees the name fits her perfectly.  Her zest for life is contagious.

As a youngster she was so small she needed three meals a day.  For the first six months of her life with me, she came to the elementary school library, safely tucked away in my office.  She was frequently seen on my lap during story times.  Over the years when I worked evenings, weekends and summers at school, she was a constant companion.  We have rarely been apart.

This form of devotion, a love that's completely unconditional, is a rare gift we humans receive from our animal friends.  People from all walks of life will readily concur with their own stories about these daily moments.  One of the more notable examples of this faithfulness can be found in one of this year's newer titles, Mummy Cat (Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, July 21, 2015) written by Marcus Ewert with illustrations by Lisa Brown.

The winds hiss over desert sand.
The moon shines down on empty land.
And long ago...

Traveling back in time to ancient Egypt, within the walls of a pyramid built to house a queen, a being stirs after one hundred years of stillness.  It's a cat, wrapped in cloth, which awakes from death.  Each century this cat seeks to see if his friend, Hat-Shup-set, no longer sleeps.  During her reign the two were inseparable.

Paintings in the tomb chronicle their lives and shared experiences.  Days resting during game challenges, playing along and on the River Nile, dreaming and lounging beside the pool and posing for an artistic pal are some of the pastimes they relish.  Treachery ends their joy.

Each is prepared, carefully bound, for their journey into the afterlife.  This the cat sees while searching for his queen as sadness descends like a shroud.  Ahead a doorway leads to a room, a storehouse for lifetime treasures.

At the center a coffin bears a likeness of the beloved young woman.  All the cat desires is to see her again after three thousand years.  Waiting.  Wanting.  Wishing. Wonderful!

As quietly as the tomb in which the story begins Marcus Ewert writes words in gentle rhyme flowing flawlessly.  We are wrapped, like the mummies, in history woven into the narrative.   We learn of a culture past and of a rare friendship standing the test of time.  Here is a sample passage.

Or this mural of a noontime nap:
dreams of mice, on the queen's own lap.
Their couch was set beside the pool.
The shade from date trees kept them cool. 

Unfolding the dust jacket readers see a happy mummy cat arising from a long sleep; hieroglyphs on the coffin spelling out the title.  Like the cat the text is wrapped in cloth.  Two yellow butterflies appear here and on interior images throughout the book.  Perhaps they are representative of transformation, souls living after death or acting as guides.  A single mouse watches.  On the back, to the left, two other mice, friends with the first, gaze at a painting on the wall of the tomb, the queen happily holding the cat on her lap.

A stylish book case, different from the jacket, uses a darker gray as the background, appearing like stone. (This is used again in the body of the book.)  An Egyptian pattern adorns either side of the spine.  On the front the queen and her cat are walking together in life.  On the back they are walking away from us as they appear in death.  The opening and closing endpapers are rows of two different lotus shapes; highly symbolic in ancient Egypt.

Lisa Brown starts her visual story on the double-page spread for the title page with a panoramic view of the Egyptian desert with pyramids and a setting sun.  A closer view is presented to readers under a full moon on the next two-page image.  Each set of two pages brings us closer to the door of the tomb and finally inside.  The textured floors and walls supply a realistic but important background helping to make the fine details in the artwork, cat, mice and butterflies, the queen and her sister visually stunning.

A series of smaller images are placed on a white background to serve as an introduction to the relationship between the cat and queen.  The portrayals of the animals are beautifully rendered as if they are ancient Egyptian art.  From the entrance to the tomb until the next to last two pages hieroglyphics have been incorporated into the design of the pictures.  Brown also extends the text to provide readers with an additional illustrative story as to the events leading to the death of the queen and her cat.  A true sense of stepping back in time is generated.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  The background in the stone gray showcases the highly decorated queen's coffin extending nearly edge to edge from left to right.  The three mice are placed along the coffin's upper sides.  The mummy cat wearing the queen's favorite ring on his paw meows a message.  Will this be magical enough?

Although Mummy Cat written by Marcus Ewert with illustrations rendered in ink, gouache, and watercolor on paper with digital collage by Lisa Brown is a work of fiction, we learn much about the culture in which the story is placed.  It's a story of eternal love and friendship.  This is guaranteed to be a much requested story time title.  At the close of the book there are several pages dedicated to Mummies, Cats, Queens and Hieroglyphs.

To learn more about Lisa Brown please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  The publisher has provided a fun page on Tumblr.  Lisa Brown is a guest at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Both Marcus Ewert and Lisa Brown talk with teacher librarian Matthew Winner on the Let's Get Busy Podcast #170 about this book. An earlier title Lisa Brown illustrated, Emily's Blue Period, is featured as a trifecta at the Scholastic's new Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic Book Fairs John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read. Links to other posts by the author are found there.  Enjoy this video about the making of Mummy Cat. 

Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert and Lisa Brown from HMH Kids on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Blowing In The Wind-Changes

Dear Readers:

I actually started this blog back in October of 2008 with a single short post.  Professional duties shifted and it was almost two years later before I began to blog in earnest in August of 2010.  I worked my way through an online program called School Library Learning 2.0.

Through my posts explaining websites and online tools, book recommendations, cover reveals and professional news gleaned from Twitter, I found my professional and personal connections growing with like-minded people.  With every exchange, virtually or face to face, my passion, my lifelong dedication to service in the field of library science, expanded.  Over the weeks, months and years I have felt myself improve as a writer, especially in expressing why a certain author, illustrator and their work needs to be shared with others.

We are living in a time when there is an abundance of wonderful books being written, illustrated and published.  It has become an important part of my life to write these posts for you.  It feels as though a day is not quite whole unless I talk about books, authors or illustrators at Librarian's Quest.

With that being said, over the next several weeks my blog posts will not be as regular.  Xena and I are going on a new adventure.  A dream decades in the making and further fueled by Kirby Larson's Hattie Big Sky is about to be realized.  Nothing will be certain until late September but excitement is brewing.  I hope all of you will be patient with my intermittent posting.  I will also be a less frequent visitor on social media but I will be back as soon as I can to talk about all good things in the world of children's literature.

I wish you all the best each and every day,
xxoo Margie