Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Ocean Occupants

Many of us when speaking of the large bodies of water covering our planet refer to them as oceans or seas interchangeably.  Geographically seas are smaller and considered a part of oceans.  Usually seas are partially enclosed by land.  Even for someone spending most of their life able to walk along the shores of Lake Michigan, to step on the sandy beach of a sea or of an ocean is stunning.  As far as you can see there's water.  If you venture in a vessel for enough time on this water, you suddenly realize the land has vanished.  There is nothing but ocean.

To be out in a boat on the ocean with no terra firma in sight is a lesson in perspective.  Who are we compared to this expanse?  What lies beneath our boat?  In his third title (The Big Book Of Bugs and The Big Book Of Beasts) author illustrator Yuval Zommer presents a multitude of answers in The Big Book Of The Blue (Thames & Hudson, June 5, 2018).

Can you find . . .
. . . exactly the same sardine
15 times in this book?
Watch out for imposters.

In twenty-seven separate sections following this challenge it's a given readers will be actively looking for the sardine among the flow of creatures moving on each page.  They will certainly stop at the first two-page picture dedicated to Who's Inside?  Here they receive an overview of the contents with the corresponding page numbers.

Five Ocean Families are presented based upon specific characteristics such as having gills or lungs, being cold-blooded or warm-blooded or living with a particular type of skeletal structure.  Whether you realize it or not, Fins and Flippers are not the only form of motion for these residents of the watery realm.  Seahorses are the only fish with fins swimming upright.  By gathering water into its body and blasting it out, an octopus wastes no time getting from one point to the other.  All these animals, like us, need air to survive.  How they acquire oxygen varies.  Did you know a sperm whale can go for two hours without taking a breath?

The lack of teeth does not deter sea turtles from cutting their food; knifelike jaws work very well.  In order to leap out of the water a flying fish needs to be speeding at 37 miles per hour.  Like a human's fingerprint, a seahorse's crown is unique.  You won't believe the missing parts on a jellyfish.  One of them is a heart.  Perhaps there's a folktale explaining this and the three hearts found in an octopus.

They are not vegetables but whales are grouped in pods.  Have you ever wished you could look in two different directions at the same time?  Ask a crab how this works.  There are sharks that have to keep swimming or they will suffocate.  It's been said krill form groups large enough to be seen from space.  This is amazing when you realize they are about two inches long.

It's fascinating when you learn why sea snakes shed their skin multiple times (between nine and twenty) during a given year.  Did you know a swordfish can poke a hole through a boat? The facts about tuna will make your head spin especially the number of tuna tins one blue fin tuna can fill.  The colors on a penguin protect it when it's in the water mimicking water and sky.

The second most poisonous animal in the world is the only fish that blinks.  Even tide pools are tiny kingdoms of amazing life.  You probably won't have any luck grabbing a butterfish; they're actually greasy.  We are shown what creatures live at 450 feet all the way down to 20,000 feet and beyond.  Two pages address how large vessels, overfishing and global warming are harming the oceans as well as the danger of plastic.  Thumbnails help readers locate those sardines they could not find.  Six paragraphs on two pages address terms used most often when talking about our oceans.  The title closes with sea creatures bordering a two-page index, white print on a black background.  It's an informative and striking depiction.

Yuval Zommer takes his skill as a researcher and writer and uses it to gather and present the best kind of information about each topic.  He has this childlike curiosity of wanting to know as much as possible but particularly those weird and wonderful tidbits of knowledge.  You are unlikely to forget what he tells you in this book.  His sentences are succinct but entirely conversational.  He has the gift of awakening the seeker in all of us.  Here are some of his enticing words.

Swim goggles
A sea turtle has see-through eyelids that it
uses like a pair of goggles to see underwater. 

Not half bad!
If a jellyfish is cut in half,
it becomes two living jellyfish.

A dolphin sleeps by resting one
half of its brain at a time.

Opening the book case allows you to see the vast and exquisitely detailed sea creatures swimming around the text on the back (speaking about the book) and among the title text on the front.  The letters on the front and all the animals are varnished on the case.  This is a captivating introduction of what the book holds for readers.

On the opening and closing endpapers a pale-blue, nearly marbleized, canvas extends from edge to edge.  Several schools of small fish are featured in the background.  White lines circle and swirl indicating currents.  More brightly colored fish swim in from the upper left-hand corner on the opening endpapers.  On the closing endpapers this group appears in the center.  The smaller schools have moved also.

On the title page, table of contents, and index pages Yuval Zommer uses his ocean residents to frame his text. You are never quite sure the shade of the ocean you will see when turning a page but it's guaranteed you will be intrigued and entertained.  The intricacy of each scene and the elements you find there are certain to have you returning to pages repeatedly.

The illustrations are completely realistic but in Yuval Zommer's signature style.  It's as if he has lived among the animals he draws so they and their habitats are portrayed fully animated.  A seagull turns its head in curiosity at a crab on the sand.  Seals swim through a variety of fish but also lounge on rocks partially covered in seaweed.  Dragonets glide past sea fans, seaweed, octopuses, jellyfish and other inhabitants.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the two pages dedicated to krill.  Along the top of the two pages a ship moves through the waves.  A night sky with a full moon and a few stars is partially covered in clouds.  On the right two other boats move in and out of the scene. The water color is deeper reflecting the darkness of the sky.  Krill move in swarms on the sea.  Creatures who feed on them are present.  On the left a large, hand-held magnifying glass focuses on several krill so readers can see their shape and size.

Without a doubt this title, The Big Book Of The Blue written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer, like its predecessors, will rarely be on the shelves.  Readers of all ages can't resist the illustrations and the facts found in these pages.  I highly recommend this book for your professional and personal book collections.

To learn a bit more about Yuval Zommer please follow the link attached to his name.  Yuval is a guest at the World Book Day site.  You will enjoy the Q & A.  He also has an account on Twitter where he frequently posts artwork.  You can see interior views from this book there.

Please remember to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the title selected this week by other participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

This Means Everyone

Whether you've lived in the same community your entire life or it's brand new for you, today is a different day.  Today is the start of something filled with potential and unexpected twists and turns.  Today is about being your best self and helping others to be the same.

As individuals open the doors of their school and walk down the hallways, they need to know everyone is accepted and appreciated regardless of physical characteristics, ethnicity, or religion.  All Are Welcome (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, July 10, 2018) written by Alexandra Penfold with illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman is like walking into a party where everyone got an invitation.  All feel the jubilation of being honored equally.

Pencils sharpened in their case.
Bells are ringing, let's make haste.
School's beginning, dreams to chase.
All are welcome here.

Children chatter around the room as parents deliver them into their teacher's care.  The gals and guys come from countries around the world, dressing differently, practicing religions differently and living in families with different dynamics. They embrace these differences.  They are children.

Spending time with musical instruments and placing colorful paints on paper with brushes is done with merry intention.  There are universal truths found in the telling of certain tales.  Connections are made through these stories.  They are children.

Midway through the day, the cafeteria is an array of cuisine from various continents.  Food is shared and tasted.  The playground is a happy haven of games galore.  All join together for fun.  They are children.

In this neighborhood diversity is uplifted.  The knowledge and gifts of one child are freely given to another.  Cultural traditions are enjoyed by all.  When the school day comes to a close, everyone leaves hardly able to wait for the next day. They embrace these differences.  They are children.  They are hope.  Sweet dreams you beautiful little people.

As you read these words written by Alexandra Penfold you find yourself gently swaying or maybe softly tapping your foot.  Whether you are reading them silently or aloud, a melody comes unbidden into the stream of the story.  The repeat of the phrase All are welcome here invites participation.  There is never a question of whether a child or their family is acknowledged or respected.  It's simply who the people in this school are.  By the time you get to the end, you find yourself wrapped in harmony and happiness.  It's the best kind of feeling.  Here is another passage.

Open doors, rush outside.
We will swing we will slide.
We'll have fun side by side.
All are welcome here.

Animated and vibrant the image spread across the opened dust jacket celebrates all children and their families.  They are eager to enter their school building.  They are smiling and greeting each other.  The yellow and white striped walkway and the bold and bright colors on their clothing placed on a white varnished background shouts out a big "Hello world!  Here we come!" (There is a treat on the inside of the dust jacket.)  On the book case thirty different children in three rows of ten (separated by the spine) are spread across the front and back.  They are clasping hands and looking right at the readers.  It's as if they are saying we are in this together.  Won't you join us?

On the opening and closing endpapers a cityscape including the school is presented.  On the first parents are walking through the neighborhood with their children at the start of the day.  (In this picture and all the images there is a prevalent use of primary colors.)  On the final endpapers the school day is over and it's near sunset.  Families are gathering again and carrying food for a special festival.  The school building is on the left side.  As our eyes move to the right we see the playground.  Behind this are apartment buildings.  Beneath the title text a taxi is en route.  A father is driving his little girl to school.

All of the illustrations created using acrylic paint, ink, crayon, and collage with Adobe Photoshop by Suzanne Kaufman span either two pages, a single page, or several visuals are grouped on one or two pages.  These shifts in size contribute to enhancing the text and accentuating the pacing.  Some of the smaller pictures are loosely framed in soft shapes.  A dramatic four-page gatefold will send your spirits soaring.

It's important to notice all the details Suzanne Kaufman uses in completing her images.  The color and type of clothing, the body positions and facial expressions on all the people, adults and children, and what is emphasized in the classroom settings contribute to the overall sense of the book.  She uses white space as a valuable element throughout the story.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the children are on the playground after lunch.  It spans two pages.  (Even after looking at it multiple times, I expect to hear the shouts and laughter of the children at any moment.)  Across three quarters of the picture is the surface of the playground.  Above that is a layer of grass and then blue sky, trees bearing fall foliage and a full sun.  Several children are reading under one of the trees.  On the left all four swings are being used.  Children are bouncing a ball for four square.  Teether balls are looping around poles on the right.  Two children are playing near the red slide.  A group gathers around the map of the world painted on the surface of the playground.  This is a wonderful sight!

Have you ever looked at something so full of pure contentment you wanted to laugh out loud?  This book, All Are Welcome written by Alexandra Penfold with illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman, is one of those things.  The blend of words and illustrations leaves readers with a form of bliss so complete, there will be many requests to have it read again.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Both Alexandra and Suzanne maintain blogs.  Alexandra is on Twitter and Instagram.  Suzanne is also on Twitter.  You can view interior pages at the publisher's website.  This book and Suzanne are showcased at Pragmatic Mom: Education Matters.

Monday, July 16, 2018

On The Menu

For some individuals it's an art form perfected over every second of their lives. They are literally a catalogue of seemingly infinite ideas. These beings are schemers and dreamers, daring to imagine and do.  They never stop thinking outside the box.

If you are a cow with this marvelous mindset and your best buddy is a duck, it's a guarantee the results will not be as expected.  Meeting Moo Moo and Mr. Quackers in Moo Moo & Mr. Quackers present Moo Moo in a Tutu (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, April 25, 2017) was a reading adventure down a path filled with laughter.  The companions have returned in Moo Moo & Mr. Quackers present What's Cooking, Moo Moo? (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, April 3, 2018).  Author illustrator Tim Miller serves readers a memorable meal with heaping helpings of humor and equal measures of friendship.

Great news, 
Mr. Quackers---I just thought
of my best idea ever!

What is it this time,
Moo Moo?

Assuring her friend this latest pursuit will mean more quality time for them together, Moo Moo grabs Mr. Quackers and heads out the door.  In a blink of an eye, the duo is standing in front of a diner with a large sign reading


To say Mr. Quackers is stunned would be an understatement.

He's even more flabbergasted when Moo Moo reveals the source of funding for this new endeavor.  Moo Moo encourages him with promises of fun times ten.  A crowd gathers outside the door as Moo Moo cuts the ribbon at the grand opening.  It's a stampede to get inside. 

As a waiter Mr. Quackers' techniques are slightly lacking.  Filling a water glass with a hose is not the usual practice.  Having a single item, the Moo Moo Special, on the menu puts a lot of pressure on Chef Moo Moo.  When the contents of this gourmet delight are disclosed, expect to burst out laughing.  When it's served to the customers you won't be able to stop your giggles and grins.

Ever the friend, Mr. Quackers steps forward to offer assistance by cooking his

top secret recipe.

When the patrons discover the signature ingredient, they can't leave the restaurant fast enough.  It's a stampede in the other direction.  With their enterprise in food services at a close, the pals pause to reflect.  In this instant Moo Moo gets another brainstorm.  How are your yodeling skills?

With the first words out of her mouth, Moo Moo sets the stage for multiple hilarious scenarios.  Told entirely in dialogue, this story penned by Tim Miller is a series of back and forth bantering between two characters with opposite expectations.  Therein lies the comedy.  Hopefully the name of Mr. Quackers'

important ingredient

will not be overlooked by readers.  (The innuendo is superb, Mr. Miller.)  Here is a portion of dialogue.

You know how you wish
we could spend more
quality time together?

Did I really say that?

Well, I figured out
the perfect way to make
your dream come true!

You mean we're 
going on a vacation? 

Using a palette similar to the first title, inside and outside their shared apartment, and infused with splashes of full color, we enter the world of this particular cow and her friend, a duck.  Cool colors, in blues and purple are complemented with shades of yellow and Moo Moo's pink.  We know by looking at the front of the dust jacket, Moo Moo is blissful about her cooking but Mr. Quackers is decidedly apprehensive.  The soft star in the background gives this story the feel of a production we are about to experience. 

To the left, on the back of the dust jacket, in a framed image hanging on the wall, Moo Moo is looking at Mr. Quackers seated on a stool in front of an easel.  Paintbrush in hand Mr. Quackers is recreating Moo Moo in her favorite pose.  The book case will elicit gasps from readers.  It is a copy of The Daily Quack.  It features, on the right, an article with quotes, about the restaurant opening.  The four entries in the Classifieds on the left are huge hints of what is to come and one makes reference to the first book.  I dare you not to laugh reading this.  

The opening and closing endpapers on the left and right are framed portraits of Mr. Quackers and Moo Moo done in two hues of blue.  Both are wearing aprons and chef hats.  Beneath the text on the title page Moo Moo at the stove flips food into the air.  It lands on Mr. Quackers' head.  The verso and dedication pages have funny illustrations of merry Moo Moo and hesitant Mr. Quackers.

Rendered using brush and ink and digital hocus-pocus the illustrations span two pages, single pages and several are grouped on a single page. These variances provide perfect comedic pacing.  Most of them are framed in a heavy black line and white space.

What Tim Miller is able to accomplish with two dots for eyes and the mouths on all the characters is fabulous.  As you turn the pages your focus first falls on Mr. Quackers and Moo Moo.  You then find yourself noticing all the little details included; the sign on the taxi cab, the items in apartment windows, the guy reading while walking his dog, the decor and table settings inside the diner, ingredient labels, and the type of business located next to the diner.

One of my many favorite images is the lower illustration on a page with two horizontal visuals.  Moo Moo and Mr. Quackers, wearing their restaurant attire, are lying flat on their backs.  Mr. Quackers' body and feet are extended into the air.  Ever the optimist Moo Moo utters

I told you this was
going to be fun.

And Mr. Quackers replies

Is that what you call it?

This comedic image is a result of the stampede to get inside the restaurant.  It clearly delineates the two personalities and their enduring relationship.

Readers sincerely enjoy seeing the return of characters we love in a companion title with a continuation of their escapades.  Moo Moo & Mr. Quackers present What's Cooking, Moo Moo? written and illustrated by Tim Miller brings much shared joy to all of us. Readers will want to read this title repeatedly plus I am willing to bet the first book will be added to the mix.  There is no better concoction than comedy and Tim Miller stirs up the best.  You'll be more than ready to include this title in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Tim Miller and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Tim maintains a blog here.  At the publisher's website you can get a peek inside the book.  There is also a link to an activity guide.  The cover for this book is revealed on Watch. Connect. Read. the blog of Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.  I believe you will enjoy their conversation.  Tim is featured on KidLit TV's Ready, Set, Draw!  On May 9, 2017 Tim visits Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to chat with author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson.  There is loads of artwork to see.  He also stops by Let's Talk Picture Books on September 19, 2017.  Tim is one of The New York Times featured artists who make live art videos.  He was showcased on January 3, 2018.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Love Sees With New Eyes

The first things we see when we step outside each morning are a multitude of elements composing one unique scene next to or layered on another scene.  These visuals are full of shifting colors, lights and darks and blends of various hues.  If we are able to dim our other senses momentarily we can see harmony in these presentations, regardless of the season or setting. 

There is unity between the colors as they work together complementing each other.  MIXED: A Colorful Story (Henry Holt and Company, July 3, 2018) written and illustrated by Arree Chung celebrates this cooperation and respect.  It's a call for us to step beyond the realm of color and recognize differences, similarities and the beautiful found in each individual.

In the beginning, there were three colors.

There were Yellows, Reds and Blues, each with their prevalent characteristics.  They worked and played together in a single city.  One day, a grumpy Red declared

REDS are the BEST!

The Yellows were not happy about this, challenging this announcement with one of their own.  The Blues felt this entire discussion was beneath them and remained quiet.  Before too long, the three groups decided it was best to live in three cities instead of one.

Later a Yellow was out and about one day and spotted a Blue seated on a bench.  The attraction was instant and mutual.  Of course, other Yellows, Reds and Blues were not happy about this relationship but that did not bother this Yellow and that Blue.  They felt nothing but love and married.

Their new baby was named Green.  She had the best parts of Blue and Yellow in her but also was her own singular self.  This little miracle got the attention of other Yellows, Blues and Reds (even the grumpy one).  Her existence gave others permission to see new choices and make changes.  She was hope.

Using a mix of narrative and dialogue Arree Chung tells an important and timely tale.  His short declarative sentences give readers a clear sense of reality in the world of the three original colors focusing on their strengths.  It is one of those unique abilities found in the one Yellow which bridges the resulting divide.  In the conversational asides Arree supplies common arguments which readers realize have no value when stacked against love and acceptance.  Here is a passage.

But then, one day, a Yellow noticed a Blue

And something happened.

I feel so
when I'm 
near you!

And I feel so
calm when
I'm with you!

Placing the beginning central characters, a Red, a Yellow and a Blue on the crisp white background brings our attention to the individual facial features, body postures and added details in black highlighted here.  We know by these three individuals something big is going to happen inside this book especially when we look to the title and see the result of combining red and yellow and yellow and blue. To the left, on the back, four other titles by Arree Chung are showcased beneath a group of colorful characters.  The main title text and the three characters are varnished and raised.

On the book case smiling circular faces in all sizes look at readers.  They are a blend of the primary colors in all the resulting hues.  The opening and closing endpapers are rows of smiling faces, the first in the primary colors and the second a replication of the book case.

Using liberal amounts of white space Arree Chung is able to create a focus on his characters.  All the details on each of them, their hats, scarves, sunglasses and glasses, and additional elements like a microphone and a car are done in black and white.  This minimalist approach is highly effective.

The black lines are bold creating realistic cityscapes. They become thicker in times of crisis or during strong moods and moments such as the closing image.  When the emotional content is lighter, the lines are finer.  The use of visuals in varying sizes provides a wonderful pacing from small pictures surrounded by white to full, two-page pictures powerful in their depictions.

One of my many favorite pictures is after the birth of Green.  She is shown in three separate images on a single page.  In the first she is doing a happy dance because she is

bright like Yellow.

In the second she is leaning against a pillow reading a book because she is

calm like Blue.

In the final scene she is framed by flowers (in black and white) as she stands in a garden.  She is holding a tiny shovel and wearing an over-sized straw hat.  A basket is placed next to her.  A teeny ladybug crawls along the ground.  She is joyfully waving at us.

If asked to give a single word to the result of reading MIXED: A Colorful Story written and illustrated by Arree Chung, it would be uplifting. It is indeed a book about colors but it is much more.  It's about us and the ability to see beyond color.  We are shown how individual qualities can build bridges and break down walls.  It's about honoring singularities and generating one city for all.

To learn more about Arree Chung and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  I believe you will enjoy reading past posts on his blog.  Arree maintains Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.  There is also an activity guide.  On June 12, 2018 Arree visited the Children's Book Podcast #443 to chat about this title.  Arree is featured on BookPage in an Icebreaker article.  Here is a link to Arree's YouTube channel where you can view two videos (trailers) for this book.

Seasonal Views And Hues

This year in the northern hemisphere on September 22 summer will come to a close.  The daylight hours are already shortening but during those minutes the world around us is bursting with color in every hue imaginable.  The blend of shadow and the height of the sun give us breathtaking beauty.

We wake to filtered sunrise rays peeking through trees, bushes and flowers giving them a golden glow.  Cloud cover alters every instance.  Wind works a special wonder.  Summer Color! (Little, Brown And Company, May 15, 2018) written by Diana Murray with illustrations by Zoe Persico takes us on a tour of a summer day shared by siblings and their family.

The hot summer sun lights the sky like a torch
as folks fan themselves on the shady back porch.

With this opening sentence we see the first hue of the day---yellow.  It shines on the sunflowers.  As parents and cousins join the duo ice cold sweet treats on a stick are shared.  Their vibrancy shines with a primary color.

Brother and sister run fast past familiar places until they realize the day has darkened.  Clouds swell turning a stormy gray.  All the animals in the field hurry toward the safety of the green woods.  As the rain falls everything starts to shimmer.  Brights are brighter.

The companions traverse farther into the forest, seeking a cool sheet of white water tumbling to a pond.  Making their way home past the lake with people seeking shelter beneath blankets of purple and past meadow mice tucked in their cozy abode, they run to their door.

Soaked through and through, they cuddle under the warmth of orange towels noticing the color of the fence and shed in their backyard.  As suddenly as it arrived, the disturbance disappears.  The leftover droplets cast a silvery sheen.  The children run outside looking at the clear blue of the sky only to find an arching surprise.

Listening and reading children alike will find themselves caught in the cadence of the words written by Diana Murray.  Twelve vivid hues are spotlighted in rhyming couplets (and other poetic techniques such as alliteration), each focusing on an action; everything and everyone is in motion.  Diana Murray's descriptions of place and time entice us to recall similar experiences or to create new adventures in the near future.  Here are two couplets.

Splashing and splattering, streak after streak,
the rain soaks the earth and sweeps over the creek,
where frogs start to croak and the water snakes slink,
and wildflowers glisten with petals so pink.

Using an F & G (looking forward to having my own copy of the book), the dust jacket unfolds to display a green hill topped with the children's home, a field of flowers spreads from flap edge to flap edge.  The blue summer sky holds places for fluffy white clouds, the warm yellow sun and a cardinal gliding on the breeze in the far left upper corner.  On the opening and closing endpapers a fun-filled meadow scene is shown. (In the back these endpapers also display the dedication and publication information.)

A fox calmly watches eleven white mice and nine blue-green frogs frolic on and off the pages.  Eight snails slide across the right corner.  A variety of flowers and mushrooms grow in clusters.  Two of those snails move across a meadow with brown farm fencing on the two-page picture for the title page.  In each corner we are given a close-up view of flowers.

Rendered by Zoe Persico using traditional-art-inspired digital brushes and media the illustrations radiate from every page, blissfully conveying the magic of a summer day.  Each two-page picture feels as though it's in motion, frozen only for a moment until we can jump in and join the characters.  The facial features on the humans are those of contentment and happiness.  Even in the animals there is a sense of harmony.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a close-up of the children running from stone to stone across the creek as the rain begins in earnest.  They are moving from left to right on the left side.  All we can see are their sneakers, legs, a pair of shorts, a skirt and the bottom portion of their shirts.  The girl's hands and arms move in motion with her legs.  Pink land and water flowers dot the image.  A snake glides toward the left side of the page.  A brilliant green frog watches from a rock on the right.  We can see the rain drops streaking downward.

You'll want to use this title, Summer Color! written by Diana Murray with illustrations by Zoe Persico, for your seasonal story times as a charming introduction to all that can be seen in a single summer day. It can also be used with a unit on weather and for any theme involving the concept of color.  Children (and children at heart) will be attracted to the gentle but energetic beat of the words and the spirited illustrations.  It would be wonderful to have this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Diana Murray and Zoe Persico and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Both Diana and Zoe are on Twitter. Diana has an account on Pinterest.  Zoe has Tumblr pages and an Instagram account.  Both of them are interviewed by writer and illustrator Jena Benton about this book on her blog.  Enjoy the trailer.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Gifts Freely Given

There are gifts given to us every single day.  Sometimes they are more spectacular than others but they are free if we only reach out to take them.  They are the sudden appearance of a gigantic rainbow arching from one compass point to another, the happy, musical chirping of birds feasting on wild berries, baby bunnies nibbling on grass, two spotted fawns moving through your woods with adult deer and sunset-light shows seen through clouds and tree branches.  Mother Nature's generosity is humbling.

People have and continue to walk among us who honor those gifts with their life's work.  One of those people spent her entire life in the state of Michigan. Nature's Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story (Sleeping Bear Press, July 15, 2018) written by Lindsey McDivitt with illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen pays tribute to a remarkable woman.

Gwen followed her brothers and sisters everywhere, like a small fawn follows its herd.  They roamed the woods and fields near Croswell---their tiny town tucked into the thumb of Michigan.

For Gwen this was not easy to do.  She was disabled from a sickness at a very early age.  Her hands were not strong.  It was difficult for her to talk, slurring her words.  Her one foot dragged as she walked.  But . . .

Her mother inspired her to do whatever she wanted to do.  She stood behind Gwen sending her to school with the other children.  Gwen learned quickly but remember her hands were not strong.  Her teachers thought she would never write.  Her mother gave her all the supplies she needed to practice using her hands to make words and pictures.  It worked.

When you are a child with disabilities, making friends is hard but nature did not judge Gwen.  She found solace there.  After a move to the outskirts of Detroit, Gwen, now in high school, sought new avenues of skill.  She worked on painting, mechanical drawing and learned to use a band saw.  This was brave of Gwen considering the time period.

During art school she mastered the art of carving linoleum and making prints.  Striving to earn a living she began to work in metals even garnering the notice of Henry Ford's wife, Clara.  World War II ended her career in metal but that did not stop Gwen.  She went to work at the Ford Motor Company helping to build bomber planes on the assembly line.

After a day at the factory, Gwen went home to pursue her passion for linoleum print making. She also longed to be close to nature again.  Gwen and her beloved dog Teddy finally settled in northern Michigan, first in Frankfort and then on a large tract of land along the Betsie River near Benzonia.  Her business, Presscraft Papers, the note cards, calendars and books she wrote, allowed others to view nature as Gwen did.  Her respect and love for the out-of-doors continues through her art.

Whether you grew up in Michigan hearing about Gwen Frostic or have met her for the first time in this book, author Lindsey McDivitt through her skillful blend of information and lyrical writing style breathes life into the spirit of this inspiring woman.  It's not only a careful chronicle of her accomplishments but Lindsey builds on those milestones allowing us to see why Gwen was who she was.  Throughout the book are quotes by Gwen, a high school classmate, and a lyric from the "Rosie The Riveter" song.  Here are two passages.

Gwen loved learning, but trying to make friends could leave
her feeling as prickly as a porcupine.  Nature felt like a friend,
pulling her out to play.  With so much to discover, Gwen
didn't have time to feel lonely.

Swaying grasses whispered in fields thick with Queen
Anne's lace.
Tiny ferns unfurled at her feet.
Frogs lapped up bugs with long, quick tongues.
Gwen breathed it all in.  She listened to their messages. 

A feeling of peace settles over readers when they look at the matching dust jacket and book case of this title.  For those fortunate enough to live close to nature, the depiction of Gwen sitting cross-legged in the woods sketching with her dog is one we can easily understand.  It draws the attention of those living outside of nature how much can be gained by being in its presence.  The design and layout of this first scene is pure serenity, simply beautiful.

To the left, on the back, extending the purple seen on the front and using it as a canvas, a smaller image of an older Gwen and her dog is featured. They are standing on the edge of a stream near a meadow.  The sky and clouds are golden with a sunrise or sunset.  Pristine white covers the opening and closing endpapers.  A little girl Gwen, picking flowers and seated, is beneath the text on the title page.

The illustrations rendered by Eileen Ryan Ewen span a single page and a page plus when crossing the gutter.  These larger images supply a column for text.  Many times opposite the pictures a small visual will portray something notable from the text; a bird building a nest, a small mouse in a forgotten shoe as Gwen sits soaking up nature, mechanical drawing tools or Gwen's dog, Teddy.

Eileen Ryan Ewen's color choices, fine lines, attention to details and historical accuracy ask us to pause.  Her illustrations further acquaint us with this woman, who like the nature she loved, left her mark on Michigan and throughout the world.  Each scene reminds us of the work and research illustrators do for each image.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a reflection of the perspective shifts Eileen makes in this title.  It spans a single page.  Spread out and layered are works of Gwen's art carved on linoleum and printed on paper.  We see some of the most popular works created by Gwen Frostic.  On top of these in the middle is a piece of linoleum.  Gwen's left hand holds the left side as her right hand carves a woodland scene.  There is something very moving about this picture.

Having visited the business, studio and printing presses of Gwen Frostic for many years during our family summer and fall vacations on Crystal Lake and later on Little Platte Lake and Platte River, this book, Nature's Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story written by Lindsey McDivitt with illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen, is a marvelous representation.  It serves as a testament to following your heart's desire regardless of difficulties. I highly recommend it for your professional and personal collections, especially for my Michigan friends and colleagues.  Lindsey McDivitt includes an author's note at the end with an activity.  You might want to pair this title with In Mary's Garden (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 17, 2015) written and illustrated by Tina and Carson Kugler

To learn more about Lindsey McDivitt and Eileen Ryan Ewen and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Lindsey McDivitt maintains a blog and account on Twitter.  Eileen Ryan Ewen has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website there are a couple of activity pages to download.

The website for Gwen Frostic is here. Here is the page dedicated to Gwen after her induction into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame.  Here is a PBS Destination Michigan episode devoted to Gwen Frostic. This is the 2018 9 & 10 News article about Gwen Frostic Day celebrated each year.  Gwen Frostic gave a sizeable donation to Western Michigan University.  Their art school is now named in her honor.  The Michigan Reading Association has an annual award, Gwen Frostic Award, showcasing those Michigan authors and illustrators who have greatly influenced literacy in Michigan.

Remember to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Friday, July 13, 2018

RUN! SWIM! For Your Lives!

Having survived more years than we can imagine, they have our deepest respect and for some of us, our fear.  They are serious apex predators of the sea.  To utter their name at an ocean beach full of swimmers is certain to have people scurrying in total panic.  In reality we harm more of them in any given year than they harm us. 

Sharks have inspired blockbuster movies, week-long television series and bestselling books.  One of the newest titles with these fascinating fish as a central character is Misunderstood Shark (Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., April 24, 2018) written by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by Scott Magoon.  By the time you finish reading this book your respect for sharks will be strengthened as you roar with laughter.

Here we go,
Underwater World with Bob
broadcasting live
in 3 . . . 2 . . . 
. . . 1 . . .
Hey! Who did this?!

Bob barely has his first few sentences finished when a grinning shark bursts into view.  Needless to say several of the crew, two squid, are ready to run.  Bob, a jellyfish, reminds Shark not to eat a fish, a tiny orange one in his grasp, in front of the people watching.

When Shark realizes people can see him, his sweet reply is contrary to what they and everyone on the watery set believe to be true.

You misunderstood!

He says he was only showing the fish his new tooth.  Trying to recapture the audience's attention Bob entertains us with a 

Fun Fact 

about sharks and their teeth.  Continuing to speak Bob thinks he is chatting with Shark but the wily predator is after something, a baby seal, swimming on the surface. 

A similar scenario ensues with readers learning another informative item about sharks and their appetites.  Just when Bob (and dare I say readers) is beginning to trust Shark, he takes off in hot pursuit of an enticing scent.  As Shark speeds toward 


Bob decides to give us another interesting detail about sharks and their sense of smell.

Shark is closing in on the source of the blood.  People are scattering across the sand, leaving their belongings behind.  Shark is despondent at this treatment.  He was only trying to help.  Bob and the two squid are offering comfort (and comedy) at this current situation.  Will an act of compassion change the dynamics of Underwater World with Bob?  Stay tuned.

When it comes to writing humor Ame Dyckman is masterful.  By telling the tale through dialogue, it's as if we are viewing this entire show in real life.  Even before the narrative starts, the comments of the television crew are sure to have readers smiling.  They continue to offer tidbits of opinions heightening the humor.

By using repeating phrases in each situation Ame invites audience participation.  As we join in Bob's and Shark's refrains, we have no idea what Shark will say next, but when he does answer it's so ridiculous we can't help but laugh.  This rhythm sets us up grandly for the surprising conclusion.  Here is a passage.  

"Fine, Shark.  Maybe you weren't going to eat that fish . . ."
"Where's Shark?"
"Oh, no." 

As soon as you open the dust jacket you know you are in for a delightful treat.  The image stretches from flap edge to flap edge.  On the back flap, Ame and Scott wearing appropriate swimming gear for above and below the water look as though they are characters in the book.  A group of green and blue fish swims below.  On the front flap Bob and the two squid offer comments intermingled with the blurb.  

Looking at the front we already know things might not go as Bob plans.  His look and the expression on Shark's face are not quite the same.  The design cleverly places Shark's fin in place for the letter "a".  To the left, on the back, the octopus, the cameraman, the two squid, the tiny orange fish and the baby seal are watching.  The ISBN is placed on the clapperboard.  The sea creatures, Ame and Scott are varnished on metallic blue hues.  On the book case all of the text has been removed except for the clapperboard.  The ISBN is replaced with the title of the show. 

The opening and closing endpapers are part of the story.  The squid, Bob and Shark offer conversation on both sets.  One features the sea in daylight and the other as darkness comes.  On the title and verso pages, the dedications and publication information are placed inside air bubbles.  One of the squid is holding the clapperboard with the title text (slightly alerted) on it.

All of the illustrations are bold and bright spanning single or double pages.  Sometimes Scott Magoon places a series of illustrations on a single page to indicate the passage of time and to accentuate pacing.  There is even a dramatic vertical, double-page picture.  To give us an indication of the importance of a particular point in the story the point-of-view will be switched; when Shark first sniffs the blood.

The layout of the elements is excellent; when Shark first appears during the show, when Bob is following Shark as he swims toward the baby seal, or when Shark starts to cry at the beach.  Readers will be looking for all the extra details like the tattoo on Shark's fin.  And the facial expressions on all the characters are outstanding.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page image.  It's a scene with Shark sobbing at the people running away from him.  A first aid box with three bandages falling out of it is in the water next to Shark.  Beneath him Bob is talking to listeners (readers) about how likely it is to be bitten by a shark as opposed to being bitten by a person.  A crab, clam and starfish are watching.  On the right the two squid, one holding the clapperboard and the other the microphone boom pole offer opinions.  The first is wearing sunglasses on its forehead.  The other is wearing earphones.  These characters are all placed in an underwater seascape.

For a story time featuring humor or sharks, Misunderstood Shark written by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by Scott Magoon is a surefire winner.  This duo's combination of words and artwork will have readers laughing like loons.  For an interesting and funny shark theme I would pair it with Swimming With Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark written by Heather Lang and illustrated by Jordi Solano, Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist written by Jess Keating with illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens and DUDE! written by Aaron Reynolds with illustrations by Dan Santat.  You will want this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about both Ame Dyckman and Scott Magoon and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Scott has loads of extras about this book on his site.  Both Ame and Scott have Twitter accounts.  You can find Scott on Pinterest and Instagram.  The cover for this title was revealed by Scholastic Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  He chats with both Ame and Scott.  Next you'll want to head over to the publisher's website to see what they offer regarding this title for readers.  Enjoy the videos.