Quote of the Month

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




Friday, September 23, 2016

Waiting And Wishing

One of the things I remember most about my classroom years, kindergarten through high school graduation, is knowing the answers over and over again but being too afraid to raise my hand.  I was painfully quiet except when with close friends.  My solace was in books; books allowed me the freedom to be everything I felt inside on the outside as long as I was reading.

Upon finding out a speech class was required for all incoming freshmen in college, I felt true fear.  What saved me were grim determination and a deep desire.  Teaching was my passion.  If I was going to teach and teach well, this shyness had to go.  In our speech class we were given the opportunity to give our speech the week before it would be graded.  Every single time I not only elected to do this but also volunteered to go first.  To fulfill a dream I forced the fear away.

Reading a book about a character who views their world in much the same way we do ours, encourages us.  Shy (Viking, September 27, 2016) written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman is a book which calls to readers as soon as they see the title.  Let's answer the invitation!

Shy was happiest between the pages of a book.

If a book offered possibilities in a place other than where Shy resided, it was wonderful.  Books about birds, all types of birds, were Shy's favorite kind of books.  Do you think it was because they could fly away?  Do you think it was because they had such a panoramic view of the world?

He knew birds were champion singers of songs, but Shy had never heard a bird sing.  Wait a minute.  That was a real bird singing.  That's a real bird singing near Shy.

Shy wanted to say something but what if he got tongue-tied or worse yet started talking a mile a minute without making a lick of sense.  While he was debating what to do, the bird flew away.  The bird and her song were so lovely, Shy finally made a decision.  He followed the bird.

The world, the vast wide world Shy walked through, was more beautiful than he had imagined.  He could hardly believe all the animals he was seeing.  Quite unexpectedly bird song filled the air; lots of birds' songs. Would Shy find his special golden yellow bird?  Then his heart filled with joy.  She was here.

He could hardly wait to speak with her.  Being in the presence of this bird opened a door long closed inside Shy.  Darkness came and all the birds left; Shy's happiness going with them.  He had waited too long. Returning home, Shy found comfort where he always had.  Would Shy hear the song he loved again?  And if he did, what would Shy do?


With nine carefully chosen words Deborah Freedman piques our curiosity. Who is Shy?  Why is he happiest between the pages of a book?  What do the words between the pages of a book mean in reference to this story?  With a page turn the following sentence completes the spell surrounding us with magic which never leaves, growing stronger sentence by sentence.  We care deeply for Shy whoever or whatever he is.

Two times we read Shy's thoughts as he gets close to speaking with the golden yellow bird.  We understand his desires and the dilemma he faces.  In a marvelous classic stroke of storytelling brilliance Freedman uses a third scenario to reveal Shy's identity and to unfold the results of a decision.  The song the bird sings

treep treep troo-lee

is true bliss to read aloud.  Here is a passage.

He made his way over acres and acres...
Shy felt like he was walking through one of his books,
though it was all far more wondrous
than it ever looked in pictures.


As soon as you open the dust jacket the natural color palette on the single image pulses with peace and quiet.  Nineteen animals of land and air are walking or flying toward and around the title text except for the ostrich with its head in the sand.  A tiny mole noses the ISBN.  (I am working with an F & G.)  Every delicate line and soft stroke of her brush works to create the essence of shyness.  On the title page using the same hues but slightly lighter,  Deborah Freedman has the golden yellow bird turning up the lower right-hand corner of the page as if to say...come, please read this story.  For the next three page turns various shades of the golden yellow are used as the narrator speaks about Shy.

On the third image the top book in the stack of volumes on birds is open to a scene of pale sky blue on white with the golden yellow bird flying from left to right.  When the bird becomes real in the next picture it's like we've zoomed in on the open book.  Freedman maintains variations on these golden yellow and blue colors until the animals and chorus of birds appear.  In a breathtaking change of background she adds rich, dusty reds and oranges as the sun sets. Her night skies are like a comfy blanket.

When the identity of Shy is shown to readers, they will gasp at his placement, color and what he says.  In fact, in every single visual, rendered with pencil, watercolor and bits of colored pencil assembled in Photoshop, all of the elements work to provide a sense of stepping into serenity as if it's a place instead of a state of being.  Details like the faint titles on the spines of the books, notes of songs shown as circular bubbles and the birds in full color with the other animals watching them in more muted tones work to give readers masterful illustrations.

One of my favorite images of many is when the focus of the picture is on seven birds.  It is when Shy discovers his golden yellow bird is present and singing.  Eight faint large circles are positioned around them.  Beneath them, much smaller in scale, readers will be able to find ten animals gazing upward, all of them happy to see and listen to the birds.  The background is pale blues, greens, yellow and brown in overlapping sloping hills.  You want to walk right into this picture joining the animals.


A timeless tale of being afraid but finally willing to follow what you want most, Shy written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman will resonate with readers of all ages.  It's the desire to express your love of something or someone which will give you the confidence you need.  You can't put a price on the reward which fills your heart. The pacing in the text and illustrations and the manner in which they enhance one another is stunning.

To learn more about Deborah Freedman and her other work please follow the links attached to her name to access her original and more recent websites.  You can view my favorite picture and another image at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  There's still time to visit this very special website dedicated to Shy.



Thursday, September 22, 2016

In The Darkness Dwells...

When you move into a new house, go to stay someplace else on vacation for a week or two or visit friends in their home for several days, it takes time to adjust to the room arrangements and where things are placed in those rooms.  If you are used to a light switch being on a certain side of a doorway when you enter a room and it's not there, it can be a little bewildering for a few seconds especially if it's dark.  It can be more disconcerting when you're in a strange room at night during a storm and the lights suddenly go out.

As you are trying to navigate in the total blackout your senses are heightened. You might see or hear something real or imagined.  I Will Not Eat You (A Paula Wiseman Book, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 6, 2016) written by Adam Lehrhaupt with illustrations by Scott Magoon is about a very specific dark place with a very particular inhabitant.  You are definitely going to be surprised several times.

Theodore lived in a cave.
It was a quiet cave,
and that's the way he liked it.

A chatty bird flapped its wings outside Theodore's cave one morning.  It made so much noise he wondered if the bird was offering to be his next meal.  There was not even the slightest inkling of emptiness in Theodore's stomach so he quietly told the noisy creature to leave.

"I will not eat you."

After the bird left a howling wolf approached the darkened entrance.  Again the thought popped into Theodore's head about consuming this beast.  A little more irritated this time, he told the annoying canine to move away from his cave.  He was not hungry.

A third animal, one of the largest of the big cats, strolled up to the cave growling.  Theodore was certainly not hungry and did not like the noise.  He told the uninvited guest to go.  By now afternoon had turned into evening.

To Theodore's amusement (insert eye roll) a boy rode his toy horse to the cave and gave a loud roar.  By this time the state of Theodore's belly was changing.  In a loud voice, far from welcoming, he told the irksome child to skedaddle or he would, without a doubt, gobble him up.  What did this boy do in the face of danger?

What he did was the proverbial last straw.  Theodore raced from the cave in hot pursuit.  The boy ran. Theodore ran.  This went on until something extraordinary happened not once but twice. The results are quite unbelievable.  And the last line...be prepared to laugh out loud.


When Adam Lehrhaupt spins a tale, you know nothing is going to unfold exactly as you might expect.  In this book he lures readers into the center of the story with the three animal visits to Theodore's cave.  The musings of Theodore form a repetitious pattern with the dragon's replies showing his increasing exasperation. The short spirited narrative and dialogue are utterly perfect leading us unknowingly toward the surprises after the fourth "guest" or "entree" appears.  Here is a sample passage.

But Theodore wasn't hungry.
"Go away, loud wolf," he grunted.
"I will not eat you."
The wolf jogged away.


It's the darkest part of dark on the dust jacket; the varnished, bright, golden text (hand-lettered) accentuating the cave entrance with the menacing eyes.  What could possibly be inside that cave? To the left, on the back, among the forest foliage we see three more pairs of eyes, alluding to the appearance of these creatures in the story.  On the book case all is revealed during the light of an early spring morning in the future. All four visitors happily surround the cave opening.  The two glowing eyes look directly at us.  (Readers will notice the change in elements of the boy's attire.)  The opening and closing endpapers are vastly different.  On the first the forest scene is bleak in shades of black and gray like late November.  On the second the sky is awash in the color of new day.  The trees are full of leaves.  There are flowers around the cave.

Scott Magoon's digitally rendered illustrations begin to put a singular enhancement on the story on the verso and title pages. The blush of early morning in autumn in the forest greets readers in a two-page image.  All of the pictures span both pages, edge to edge.  By the change in the color palette for the sky and flora we see the shift in time of day and the seasons.  The eye color of Theodore reflects these differences.

In the one visual where all we see is the darkened interior of the cave, the ground in front and the eyes, the entire tension of the story is intensified.  It makes the approach of the boy more startling.  Carrying his stick pony, a shining flashlight, a shield (a garbage can lid with a star painted on it) and his wooden sword and wearing a blanket cape and muddy boots, he is the classic figure of a knight of the royal boyhood realm.  In keeping with darker colors, a shadow of Theodore gives us our first hint of his identity.

One of my favorite illustrations is for the moments before the double surprises are revealed.  On the left is a close-up of the boy's face. He's covered in muddy streaks and flowers.  His mouth is wide open.  In the beam of his flashlight we see the grandeur of the dragon, wings outstretched, tail behind the boy and standing tall.  Whiskers shoot out from either side of his nose. His eyes are full of amazement or amusement.  Flowers surround his head and face.  His mouth is wide open too.  The colors of black, hues of blue, white, golden yellow, red and brown make for a striking image.


I Will Not Eat You written by Adam Lehrhaupt with illustrations by Scott Magoon is a delightfully dark story which will leave you guessing more than once.  It invites participation with the reoccurring phrases.  You'll want to get your props ready to use this book in a creative drama storytime.

To learn more about Adam Lehrhaupt and Scott Magoon please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Scott Magoon has numerous images on his site showing the illustrative process for this title.  At the publisher's website you can view six interior images.  Both Adam and Scott are interviewed by educator Dylan Teut about this book on his site Mile High Reading.  Scholastic News Kids has an interview with Scott Magoon.


UPDATE:  The book trailer premiere is up at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog Watch. Connect. Read. today, September 23, 2106.  It's perfect!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wet, Wild And Wonderful

Water fights with my dad were epic. They all started innocently enough with squirt guns; someone getting a tad bit wet when they least expected it.  Then the strategy started as the game escalated.   The squirt guns were abandoned.  There were only two outside faucets which needed to be accessed for the filling of pails or buckets.  After that round of water wildness, when we were all nearly drenched, my dad would wait for one of us to round the house and then everything went crazy when he started using the hose.  

In 1990 the first Super Soaker was sold.  Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (Charlesbridge, May 3, 2016) written by Chris Barton with illustrations by Don Tate is an uplifting story of stick-to-itiveness and ingenuity.  My dad would have loved this toy and those epic water fights would have been magnificent. 

Every day brought a challenge for young Lonnie Johnson---the challenge of finding space for his stuff.

Lonnie Johnson was a thinker, an inventor and a doer which is hard to be in a small home with five other siblings.  He could take discarded bits and pieces and create a whole new something.  He had a passion for building just about anything but rockets were a favorite.  His father and mother supported him in any endeavor, even when his rocket fuel making burst into flames in their kitchen.

This boy dreamt of being an engineer.  Even though a test said this would not be a good career choice, Lonnie did not give up on his goal.  He worked for years to build a robot which might take a prize in a science fair.  Guess what a robot named Linex accomplished for Lonnie and his team in 1968?

At Tuskegee University Lonnie's gifts were noticed and his extra work earned him an engineering degree.  It was Lonnie Johnson who devised a system to keep the Galileo, the unmanned craft sent to study Jupiter, working at full capacity even if it lost power.  One day when Lonnie was exploring another way to keep the cooling portion of refrigerators and air conditioners working without the use of R-12, he made a surprising and rather fun discovery.  Right in his own bathroom, he felt and saw the first whoosh of air and water.

With his wonderful mind he fashioned a first, weird-looking but highly efficient water pistol.  When he tried it out at a picnic people couldn't believe how super it was.  It took years and years of highs and lows and never-let-go of your dream moments but Lonnie Johnson finally found a company, Larami, who agreed to make his toy.  (In the second year on the market 20 million Super Soakers were sold.)  From his success and the monetary results Lonnie Johnson built his best workshop yet. He's still dreaming.  He's still inventing.  He's still making a difference. 


Every time you read the story of Lonnie Johnson's life as told by Chris Barton you can feel your creative embers burst into flame.  You can't help but sense excitement in knowing how hard work, persistence and believing in yourself overcame challenges which might have defeated other individuals. Barton focuses on those moments in Johnson's life which will connect with his intended audience.

He presents Johnson's story in an easy relaxed style.  Descriptions of the specific parts Lonnie used to make his robot are sure to generate thinking; inspire "I wonder" and "what-if".  His repetition of just keep on flowing supplies a consistency and cadence. Here are two connecting sample passages.

Lonnie sometimes studied right in the middle of his own parties.  The extra studying paid off.  He became an engineer after graduation, and that took him beyond Alabama---way beyond.

When NASA was sending an orbiter and probe called Galileo to Jupiter, the space agency needed to ensure a constant supply of power to the orbiter's computer memory. The engineer who had to figure out how to do it was Lonnie.  


Rendered digitally using Manga Studio all the illustrations by Don Tate, beginning on his matching dust jacket and book case, are full of life, giving readers a true sense of a time period and the personality of Lonnie Johnson.  It's a brilliant layout on the front with the stream of air and water dividing a younger Johnson from the man who made the Super Soaker.  You can't help but smile at this genius of this boy and this man. On the back, to the left, an interior image shows the younger Johnson in full concentration working on one of his inventions.  On the opening and closing endpapers Tate has drawn representations of Lonnie's inventions (five different ones on each endpaper) labeled and numbered as blueprints. 

The verso and first pages hold the first two-page illustration of Lonnie's neighborhood with him leaning out a window in his home, demonstrating the lack of space for all his inventions.  Tate alternates his image sizes to generate a pleasing flow with the narrative.  His perspectives shift also to place emphasis on a particular potion of the story.  The clothing styles, architecture and items in each scene are in keeping with an era.  In a brilliant design moment Tate fashions a gatefold turning one word into another actually uttered at a demonstration.

One of my favorite illustrations (of many) is when Lonnie Johnson is working on his cooling project trying out a theory in his home bathroom. When the air and water whoosh across the room causing the curtains to billow, the look on his face is priceless.  It's one of those happy "yikes" moments leading to the next invention.  The sink with the separate faucets, clawed tub, toilet, waste basket, pull cord lamp for light, toothbrush holder on the wall and the rugs give a realistic vision to readers.   


Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions written by Chris Barton with illustrations by Don Tate is a stellar biographical picture book.  Regardless of their age readers will appreciate this man's success and admire his attitude.  Knowing Lonnie Johnson continues to pursue his passions to this day makes this book all the more powerful.  

To learn more about Chris Barton and Don Tate please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Both Barton and Tate maintain blogs which you can access from their websites. These blogs contain posts about this book.  You can view my favorite illustration at the publisher's website.  Chris Barton chats about this book at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Don Tate speaks about this title at the Highlights Foundation website.  You might enjoy reading these two articles about Lonnie Johnson at BBC News Magazine and Mental_Floss.


Make sure you visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the titles selected by the other bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Far...So Far

On our planet it is vital, sustaining all forms of life.  As a child we would have found it strange to buy water in bottles or jugs to drink or to use in cooking.  Growing up when we longed for a drink of water, we turned on a faucet to fill our glass. Regardless of this, taking water for granted was never a part of my childhood.  We were taught to conserve as much as possible.  For most of my life, water has come from wells attached to my homes.  In looking back, I'm not sure when I started to buy water to drink and use in cooking.  It's been close to thirty years now. 

As an educator, as a teacher librarian, the more you read about water, fiction and nonfiction, the more you want to encourage students to understand. It's a resource to be cherished.  The Water Princess (G. P. Putnam's Sons, September 13, 2016) written by Susan Verde with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds is based on the childhood experience of Georgie Badiel, a high fashion model.  It's a moving story you will remember...always.

I am Princess Gie Gie.

This girl's realm is the expanse of land and sky in Africa.  Although she is able to work her royal magic on a dog, the tall grass and wind, she has no power over water.  It's very far away from her home and it does not run clear. 

In the morning before the sun rises to light the day, Gie Gie, princess of her mother's heart, wakes up.  She and her mother need to get water.  Gie Gie tries again to command the water to come closer but it ignores her wishes.

As she prepares to begin the walk, Gie Gie dreams of water, cool and clear.  Today, on all days, her crown will be a pot she carries on her head.  Her maman carries a pot too.  Under the relentless heat of the sun and along the dusty path, they fill the day with song as they walk resting once under the shade of a single ancient Karite tree. 

When they finally reach the well, other women and children have gathered there, walking nearly all day to reach the water.  After her maman waits in line for their turn, Gie Gie leaves the company of the children to fill her pot with the muddy water.  On the return home their song is a whisper of its former self. 

Great care is taken with the gathered water for drinking, washing and cooking.  It's not until her father returns and they enjoy their meal that Gie Gie is finally able to drink water.  As the sun sets this princess renews her rule over a dog, the tall grass and wind.  As she settles for sleep lamenting her control over water, Maman encourages her to dream of a day when the water will be close, clear and cool.  


Using the voice of Gie Gie, author Susan Verde presents to readers a profound portrait through a combination of narrative and conversation.  This beloved child rejoices in her home and the land but is filled with great sadness at their lack of water by comparing what she can control with what she cannot.  Throughout the journey to and from the well, Verde makes clear the thirst felt by Gie Gie.

The resilience of this child and her mother, of all the children and their mothers, is very moving.  Verde conveys this through descriptions of singing and dancing to and from the well and how it changes on the return home. Even after the water is gathered and carried, it must be prepared before it can be used.  The portions of the story when Gie Gie finally drinks a glass of water and later when she drinks another saved glass given to her by her mother are represented with great understanding and compassion.  Here is a sample passage.  

The thirst comes quick---dry lips, dry throat.
I squeeze my eyes shut.
I see it.
Clear.
I dip my toes in it.
Cool.
I scoop it up and bring it to my lips. (page turn)

Slowly, I open my eyes.
Nothing.


We are transported to a country and to the life of a child in that country with the matching dust jacket and book case created by Peter H. Reynolds.  His choice of colors, the blues and browns muted under the heat of the sun, allows us to experience the dry dusty conditions.  Having Gie Gie face readers carrying the large heavy water jug with her eyes closed accomplishes several things, I believe.  First it asks us to consider the weight of the jug.  Are her eyes closed because of the difficulty of her task?  Is Gie Gie dreaming of how to make her wish come true as her maman believes she can?  On the opening and closing endpapers is a hue I have seen many times in the cool, clear waters of large inland lakes in Michigan. 

Rendered in watercolor, gouache and digital inks Reynolds' illustrations continue with the various shades of brown as a background color with the exception of his breathtaking night scenes of a seemingly endless deep blue sky peppered with stars.  Image sizes shift to supply pacing; three triangular shapes depict Gie Gie playing with her dog, dancing in the grasses and swirling with the wind.  Single page pictures alternate with double-page visuals.  The details placed in the illustrations, the trees, homes and domestic animals, help us to further understand this girl's world.

A favorite of many illustrations is the first one.  It spans two pages, edge to edge.  Gie Gie is standing alone outside at night.  We are brought close to her face, on the left, as she lifts it to the stars.  On the right in white text is the first sentence.  In this single moment, even though we cannot completely comprehend Gie Gie's life or circumstances, we briefly are connected to her emotions. Many of us have stood beneath a night sky and lifted our faces to the stars.  There is something about this vast display which generates a range of feelings in all of us.  


The Water Princess, based on the life of Georgie Badiel, written by Susan Verde with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds is an important book, a story which will make a mark on your heart and inspire you to make things better.  It needs to find a place on all professional and personal bookshelves. I will be sharing it as often as I can.  

To learn more about Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. You can view interior images from the book at the publisher's website.  Publishers Weekly wrote an article about the making of this book.  Peter H. Reynolds speaks with Rocco A. Staino during a StoryMakers video chat at KidLit TV.

To learn more about how water can be made available to those who have none please visit the Georgie Badiel Foundation to help bring water to Burkina Faso.  Ryan's Well has been working in partnership with Georgie Badiel. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

A New View

No one understands us better than our friends.  They stick with us through the proverbial thick and thin not because they have to but because they want to be there for and with us.  They are another kind of family.

Friends share common interests like loving cupcakes.  Friends introduce us to new individuals, sometimes numbering in the hundreds.  A little more than two years ago an author illustrator presented to readers an unlikely but lovable pair of pals in his debut title, Little Elliot Big City (Henry Holt and Company, August 26, 2014). His second book, Little Elliot Big Family (Henry Holt and Company, October 6, 2015) featuring the pastel pink and blue polka-dotted small elephant, Elliot, and his friend Mouse touched readers with its focus on feeling alone in the midst of many but then realizing with a true-blue companion you will always have a family.  Little Elliot Big Fun (Henry Holt and Company, August 30, 2016) written and illustrated by Mike Curato follows the duo as they spend a day at an amusement park.

Little Elliot and his best friend, Mouse, were heading to the far edge of the big city.

As Mouse talks of the boardwalk, shows, games and lots of rides, Elliot, champion lover of cupcakes, is questioning the presence of treats.  (You will hardly be able to restrain from smiling when Mouse cautions Elliot to stay close as they enter the park.)  Mouse, eager to begin enjoying the rides, asks Elliot if he wants to ride the water chute.  The elephant does not want to take a chance on getting wet or, even worse, falling overboard.  He can't swim.

When Mouse asks about three more rides, especially his favorite one, the roller coaster, Elliot offers up one excuse after another until there's only one thing on his mind, a treat.  Before he even has a chance to enjoy one big lick on his ice cream cone, two incidents have Elliot on the run.  He's too scared to stop when Mouse shouts.  The more he runs, the more frightened he becomes. How could Mouse think this excursion is fun?

Mouse finally finds a decidedly shaken Elliot down by the beach.  A little sun, sand and another ice cream cone do wonders for the panicked pachyderm.  Back at the park Mouse thinks he can make Elliot's wishes come true but he'll need to trust Mouse.

When our elephant friend finally uncovers his eyes, he (and readers) gasps.  A change in perspective can alter moments and moods.  That's what friends do for friends.


When Mike Curato writes about Elliot and Mouse we savor every minute of the story.  His flawless blend of narrative and conversation brings us directly into a scene while enlarging our comprehension of and compassion for his characters.  There isn't one of us who hasn't wanted to share something we enjoy with someone we love.  There isn't one of us who hasn't been frightened to try something beyond our comfort level.  Curato closes the story with a powerful thought, a thought which resolves these two issues with a whole bunch of heart.  Here is a passage from the book.

"Feeling better?" asked Mouse.
"Much better!" said Elliot.
"But I wish there was a ride that
wasn't fast or dizzy or wet."
"I have an idea," said Mouse.
Elliot was nervous but Mouse patted his head.


In this title Mike Curato expands his color choices, presenting us with an array of hues not seen in the previous two books.  There is a larger use of red, yellow, pinks, purples and blues. On the front of the dust jacket, with portions varnished, is a hint of the splendor to come and the shared joy between Elliot and Mouse. To the left, on the back, on a background of deep purple a portion of an interior image has been placed.  As in the two previous books, an ornate antique frame is around the ISBN.  The book case replicates the purple on the left side of the jacket.  On the front a small picture of Elliot and Mouse chatting on the sandy beach has been placed in the center. On the back a cheery character from the book, holding a bunch of balloons, is waving and looking at readers.

The opening and closing endpapers in red, yellow, white, black, brown, light teal, green and a tiny bit of pastel pink and blue are a splendid display of amusement park posters, fifteen in total.  Readers will undoubtedly pause to look at each one.  The verso and title pages feature a speeding train on the left leaving the city headed toward the sign Big Fun with Little Elliot in cursive above it.  Another sign, with Mike Curato's and the publisher's names along with a red arrow pointing right, is under Big Fun.

Placing these titles in the late 1930s gives us a sense of nostalgia but more importantly comfort.  Curato's illustrations are spectacular in historical accuracy, layout and design.  Rendered in pencil on paper and digital color in Adobe Photoshop many of the illustrations extend from page edge to page edge.  To accentuate pacing and a particular emotional state in the story Curato has elected to frame some of the pictures in wide white spaces.  There are several wordless visuals which are truly stellar; a series of nine small images on a white background visualize the prelude to Elliot's frightened run, a ring toss scene, a delightful two-page beach setting and a breathtaking double gatefold.

Readers will find themselves stopping at every page turn to appreciate all the details in lines, light and shadow, facial expressions and body positions.  Easter eggs, nods to family, friends and other kidlit authors and illustrators, are found throughout the book.  Everything about these illustrations invites you to read this book repeatedly.

One of my favorite illustrations is the wordless beach scene.  In the foreground a contented Elliot is seated beneath a blue and purple striped umbrella licking what has to be a chocolate-chip mint ice cream cone.  To his right is an elaborate sand castle with a draw bridge and turrets.  Mouse is at the tip top holding a small yellow banner.  Behind them is an array of people, of all ages and nationalities, enjoying the sun and sand.  Primary colors plus green are used in their attire.  In the background is a bit of a hint of things to come.


In the middle of a day hoping for fun, best buddies are struggling but friendship finds a way. Written and illustrated by Mike Curato Little Elliot Big Fun is an endearing exploration of what matters the most in our life adventures. This title is going to be requested over and over and over again.

To learn more about Mike Curato and his other titles please visit his website and blog by following the links attached to his name.  At his website you can view numerous images from this title. On his blog several posts reveal his process and the origin of his Easter eggs.  There are also illustrations at the publisher's website.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., the cover reveal and earlier interview are included.  The must watch book trailer is premiered at BookPage.  Please be sure to visit the website dedicated to the Little Elliot books.  You are really going to enjoy this StoryMakers video chat at KidLit TV. Mike Curato is interviewed at Miss Marple's Musings and at the Illinois Library Association website.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Under The Moon's Gaze

Last night was a full moon night.  This moon is known as the Harvest Moon.  This special moon is closest to the autumnal equinox, the time in our year (in the northern hemisphere) marking the end of summer and the beginning of autumn.  This year the equinox falls on September 22, 2016.  On this date we will have an equal amount of daylight and darkness.

As parents, educators and those who share their lives with pets know, a full moon does dictate a change in behavior, in my experience, with children and dogs.  As the sun sets and dusk arrives, going to bed and falling asleep are not on their minds.  They are ready to continue playing...for hours.

One of the most popular of my Picture Book Ten for Ten posts is one listing ten plus one books guaranteed to encourage rest, sleep and Sweet Dreams.  Two titles have been released in 2016 which would make worthy additions to these selections.  They each invite readers into the presence of peace.

Two cherished personalities in the field of children's literature collaborate to bring us The Moon's Almost Here (Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, June 7, 2016).  The blend of Patricia MacLachlan's words with Tomie dePaola's illustrations will rock away all the day's cares easing listeners toward dreamland.  Let's follows along with the mime Pierrot and his child taking a walk.

The moon's almost here!
Robin sings in her nest.
Babies fly back to her,
Ready to rest.

A sheep nods to her lamb, a hen chatters to her chicks and ducklings follow their mother from water to land.  A colt listens to the call of a mare. Calves trail behind their mooing mother.  And

The moon's almost here.

A tiny winged creature takes flight hurrying in front of the night.  In the warm air beetles' bottoms blink.  At home, a pet settles, their eyes fluttering with dreams.  Another curls into a cozy ball of comfort.

A hand is offered for a final look outside.  Two stand, the younger speaking in gratitude to the night life.  The moon arrives casting her spell of sleep in a luminous glow of light.


The choice to repeat the first sentence over and over again, six times in total, soothes the reader and listener. The following phrases rhyme in a lullaby rhythm.  When you read the words aloud written by Patricia MacLachlan they ease into song, a soft sweet melody.  Here is another sample portion.

The moon's almost here.
Mama duck drifts to shore.
Ducklings swim after:
One, two, three, and four.


From left side to right across the spine on the dust jacket, an entire illustration of rolling hills, a countryside farm, depicts all the animals visited by the parent and child.  It's a gorgeous visual of life coming to rest welcoming the moon rise.  Careful readers will notice the change in the title text's color as it gets closer to the rising moon. The varying hues of blue and green with spot color and the white apparel, painted face of the parent and rise of the moon are part of the signature palette of artist Tomie dePaola.  On the book case an interior image of the mime Pierrot and his child going back outside to look at the moon is featured.  A lighter contrasting shade of blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Rendered in acrylic on gessoed Arches 150lb cold press100% Rag watercolor paper the pictures begin to tell a story of their own on the initial title page with the parent, arms spread wide, running to the right. On the title page, unlit lantern in hand he moves toward his child who is walking toward him with outstretched arms.  The remaining fourteen two-page illustrations are marvelous depictions of each stop on the duo's nighttime journey.

Each image is like an individual tableau; gazing upward at the fledglings flying toward the mother robin, a baby chick cuddled in the arms of the child as their father lights the candle in the lantern, the two watching the horses and cows through the windows of their home and the child carrying their cat as the dog looks outside.  One of the pictures, the child's bedroom, contains elements of Tomie dePaola visuals, a heart painted on the footboard of the bed and a checked border at the bottom of the page. There is an air of tranquility in each scene.

One of my favorite pictures is of the dog curled up on its bed on the porch.  A ribbon of stars swirls from his left across the gutter to the right.  He is dreaming of jumping over the moon.  The moon has a face with eyes looking upward at the jumping dog.

The Moon's Almost Here written by Patricia MacLachlan with illustrations by Tomie dePaola is a beautifully rendered poetic invitation to bedtime.  Readers can feel the calm from the pages settling around them.  The final illustration is sure to bring on a sigh if not sleep.  Please follow the links attached to Tomie dePaola's name to access his website and blog.  Each is a joyful depiction of the man and his work.




Known for his titles, Oh No, George! and Shh! We Have A Plan Chris Haughton presents readers with another of his colorful gems.  Goodnight Everyone (Walker Books, August 4, 2016 and Candlewick Press, December 13, 2016) is a sleepy stroll toward the best rest.  It's the end of the day.

the sun is going down and everyone is sleepy

Moving from the smallest creatures, mice, to one of the largest, Great Big Bear, each one is sleepy.  They exhibit their condition with yawning...lots of yawns.  There's one though who is not sleepy in the slightest, Little Bear.

No one wants to play with Little Bear.  Each time he asks his animal friends, the mice, hares and deer, they are simply too tired.  He continues to move around ready to play until...wait...what's that?

Little Bear yawns!  Great Big Bear believes it's truly time to end the day in rest.  Each of the animals is visited.  They are fast asleep, gentle snores filling the air.  A goodnight is called to each one.  A final gesture of affection is given to Little Bear.  The narrator calls out to readers and makes one final observation.


With his simple phrases Chris Haughton establishes a reassuring rhythm.  His use of repetition with certain portions of the narrator's remarks asks readers to participate in response. To further engage us, he adds a few new words to each set of sentences.

the mice are sleepy-----YAWN
the hares are sleepy
they sigh
AH----YAWN

In a dreamy use of the number three we visit three animals three times; when they are yawning, when they don't want to play and when they are fast asleep.  The pause in this cadence is when Little Bear engages with Great Big Bear.  This is sheer delight.


If they were to remove Chris Haughton's name from the book case, by the design, layout and color we would still know it is his book. His use of purple, magenta and blues is striking. The inclusion of white in the title text and in the white of Little Bear's eyes on the front and in Great Big Bear's eyes on the back is a pleasing contrast.  I dare you to look at either of these images without feeling your body start to relax.  On the opening and closing endpapers are stunning depictions of first the southern night sky, replete with constellations, on the left and the sun and planets to scale on the right. On the top of the earth is the forest from this book.  On the back the planets and sun are reversed, top to bottom and on the right is the northern night sky.  Little Bear and Great Bear are faintly drawn with the corresponding constellations within their bodies.

On the initial title page Great Big Bear and Little Bear are seated.  The larger is yawning and the younger is wide awake.  On the verso and title pages is a vivid, layered image in blues, purples, magenta, greens, orange and yellows, spanning from left to right with a large white border.  It shows all of the animal groups peeking forth from their special areas.

With a page turn we zoom in on a portion of the title page image.  At the next page turn there is a great deal of white space on the left.  For each of the animals Chris Haughton has designed a small page, a series of three pages imposed on the large right page.  As each is opened the image increases in size.  For the remaining visuals they vary in size to supply pacing, each outlined in a wide white frame with the exception of one two-page illustration.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is of the mice sleeping. The picture takes up nearly one entire page with white space spanning across the gutter to the edge on the right, providing a place for the spare text in purple.  Shades of green fill the image of four mice curled in sleep in their nest.  One of the mice is leaning away from the others, its body resting on the rim of the nest.  The nest is stretched between stems in the grass. Above their heads a dandelion starts to lose its seeds, several floating away.


I can't imagine someone not falling asleep after reading Goodnight Everyone written and illustrated by Chris Haughton. ZZZzzzzz.... Oh, sorry....I dozed off for a moment.  Chris Haughton says at his website this is indeed a book about sleep but also a book about scale.  It is fascinating to read about the development of this book on his blog here.  On both his website and blog there are numerous images.  On the publisher's website is yet another image.

Friday, September 16, 2016

In The Presence Of...

They eagerly look in her direction, quietly waiting.  They know storytime today is going to be out of the ordinary. When their librarian comes to the circle and sits in her chair she is carrying something in addition to the book.  In her arms is a puppy.  This puppy is as excited to meet the children as they are to meet her.  Over the years this librarian realizes the comfort and joy this dog brings to her students as they grow up together. The dog seems to instinctively understand on any given day what a child may need.

We see this as a gift.  They see it as their job.  Canines' affection for humans is unconditional and constant.  Madeline Finn and the Library Dog (Peachtree Publishers, October 1, 2016) written and illustrated by Lisa Papp is the story of a reading journey.  It is a story of the best kind of friendship.

I do NOT like to read!
Not books.
Not magazines.
Not even the menu on the 
ice cream truck.

Reading aloud in the classroom is even more of a struggle for Madeline Finn.  The words are tricky for her to comprehend and speak.  When someone quietly laughs at her attempts, it's disheartening.

She gets stickers like her classmates but their stickers are stars and her stickers are hearts.  Her stickers say

Keep Trying.

If only she could get a star.

Madeline Finn knows what a star means.  She makes a wish on a star. She wishes to be a good reader, especially a good out-loud reader.  For an entire week Madeline works and waits for her wish to come true.  It does not.

On a Saturday visit to the library, Mrs. Dimple, the librarian, greets Madeline with the promise of a surprise.  Madeline reminds her she does not like to read.  When Madeline walks into the children's room, it is filled with dogs.  Mrs. Dimple suggests she read to a rather large white dog named Bonnie.

Regardless of her stumbling with words Bonnie keeps on sitting next to Madeline and continues to watch her and listen. For many Saturdays Bonnie and Madeline sit side by side in the library.  On the Saturday before her next read aloud, Bonnie and Mrs. Dimple are absent.  Madeline is not sure what to do but wishes can come true with extra unexpected surprises too.


With each sentence we feel a connection to Madeline as she tells her story.  She shares her innermost feelings with us.  Lisa Papp's descriptions of her endeavors are realistically depicted. It's important to note there are caring, compassionate adults portrayed in the figure of Madeline's mother, her teacher and Mrs. Dimple the librarian.

As the story progresses Papp deepens our bond with Madeline as her bond grows with Bonnie through her simple sentences and word choices.  We read about her confidence growing in the repetition of a single phrase.  Here is another sample passage.

At first, I'm nervous.
I get the letters mixed up.
The words don't sound right.
But then I look at Bonnie, and she looks right
into my eyes.  She doesn't giggle.


Rendered in pencil, watercolor, and digital coloring the illustrations, beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case, are absolutely huggable.  The pale green background, the soft colors and the position of Madeline leaning against a patient Bonnie with books scattered around them add up to pure bliss.  To the left on the back an interior image of Madeline and Bonnie is placed above the words:

This is Bonnie.
She's a great listener.

A soft sandy hue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Throughout the book a similar shade is used, textured almost like fabric.  On the initial title page a stack of books is a seat for Madeline's ever present stuffed bunny toy.  One of her heart stickers is next to the books.  A frustrated Madeline, arms crossed, is standing with her bunny, books fanning out from her on the floor, on the title page and with the books crossing the gutter to the verso.

Papp varies her image sizes to provide pacing.  A full page picture can bleed across the gutter where two smaller visuals appear in vertical panels.  To intensify a moment the illustration may cover two pages.  To depict a sadder moment the image is alone, a loose circle surrounded by more of the background color.  The delicate details in all the images supply gentleness to the story.

Many of these illustrations are favorites but the series of pictures when Madeline is first reading to Bonnie are completely endearing.  On the left are three framed images. First Madeline is reading with her back to Bonnie.  Then she turns around and reads to her.  In the third picture Madeline looks up from her book at Bonnie. On the right, in a larger illustration are just the faces of Madeline and Bonnie.  Bonnie looks right at Madeline with complete trust.  It is a defining moment for Madeline.


We all know readers who need to emerge from their reading cocoons.  To do so in the presence of a dog (and to watch this happen) is indeed wonderful. Madeline Finn and the Library Dog written and illustrated by Lisa Papp is a charming, delightful portrayal of a truth which can and does happen.  I can predict this will be a favorite of readers and listeners alike.

To learn more about Lisa Papp and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  This links to an entry about this title at the publisher's blog.

Readers might be interested in this article from the American Libraries, Dog Therapy 101.  Enjoy the video below.