Quote of the Month

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

Out of HeArt Comes...

By the time I was five years old I was an avid drawer of...rainbows.  Every picture felt incomplete unless those varied hues arched across the paper from edge to edge.  If you happened to visit our home, the refrigerator was covered in a collage of color.

All you have to do is work with a group of little guys and gals to have their unbridled enthusiasm for making art spread to an unsuspecting by-stander; like the best kind of virus in the universe.  They savor new boxes of crayons, sharpened colored pencils, glue sticks, scissors and do-dads galore.  Their concentration is intense and complete.  Each finished project is as unique as the individual who makes them.

There are those books which reach out and wrap themselves around you in a bear hug of warmth as soon as you see the cover.  Kelly Light's debut picture book, Louise Loves Art (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) is one of those books.  Louise, her little brother Art and one clever cat walk right into your heart, staying there even when the story is completed.

I love art!
It's my imagination on the outside.

Papers scattered across her bedroom floor, Louise is busily creating the ultimate picture.  It will be the best representation of her drawing skills.  It will be her spectacular showpiece.

Like a true artist she pays close attention to every single detail; all the lines and shapes must convey the essence of her subject.  The family cat is captured in feline perfection to Louise's delight.  When her brother repeatedly tries to get her attention, she is much too busy to waste a single second.  She has a gallery to create.

Oh my yes...she is energetically engrossed in the task at hand.  It's to the kitchen she goes.  There's nothing like the refrigerator for providing space to display one's creative treasure.  Her contemplation is finally interrupted by a loud


Oops!  What has Art done?  I guess Art followed his heart...and his sister.

Kelly Light does not waste a single word; each sentence conveying the precise, precious thoughts and voice of Louise.  It's easy to imagine hearing her speak; so lively and full of passion for making art.  She gives a dramatic flair to Louise's speech by adding words like piece de resistance and Voila!  You might want to practice your French accent before reading this aloud.  It adds to the fun factor.

Beginning with the dust jacket these illustrations exude charm and humor.  It's obvious Louise and Art are happiest when drawing but the cat will be supplying the comedy.  On the back we readers are treated to sister and little brother lying across a pile of pictures, drawing away with the cat sprawled on its back watching.  The opening and closing endpapers are entirely in the bright vintage red except for the lower right-hand corner being held back like a curtain by the cat showing Louise and again at the end with Louise holding back the corner revealing Art with the cat stretched next to him. These little touches elevate the excellence of the visuals.

The title page extends across two pages, beginning the story in Louise's bedroom with her drawing, the cat dozing on the bed (one eye open) and Art peeking in through the doorway.  The stage is set for a stellar story.  All the remaining pictures cover both pages, edge to edge with the exception of two sets of smaller visuals which accentuate defining moments in the narrative. (Light continues the story using the verso at the end.)

Rendered with black Prismacolor pencils and Photoshop, using a limited color palette these illustrations pop off the page with pizzazz telling a tale of their own in addition to the text.  We readers are privy to Art's activities as Louise merrily goes about her work.  The cat's facial expressions and body movements are hilarious with a capital H.

Attention to details, all the drawings and the decor in the rooms, make readers feel right at home.  It's next to impossible for me to pick a favorite illustration.  I truly love them all but there are four pages I can't look at without laughing.  The wordless illustration when Louise is sizing up where to hang her masterpiece with the cat trying to get her attention and pointing at Art and the next picture when Art says


holding something in his hands.  The perspective has zoomed in on him.  The look on what we can see of the cat's face will have readers giggling like crazy.

I for one am so happy that Kelly Light brought these siblings and their cat into the children's literature world in her first picture book, Louise Loves Art.  Make sure you have an abundance of paper, pencils and red crayons handy after reading this aloud.  Of course as the artists are working away, they will most certainly request you read this again to them.  This is a joyful ode to the love of art and Art.

Please follow the link embedded in Kelly Light's name to access her website.  A link there takes you to her blog giving you more information about her process.  These are links to interviews at Idle Illustration, Andrea Skyberg|Author & Artist, and Inkygirl.

Here is a recent tweet about her illustrations.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Saturday Morning-Peter Brown

Just a little over twenty-four hours ago, I made a thirty-minute trip to a nearby town.  It is the beginning of the annual Venetian Festival in downtown Charlevoix, Michigan.  As I drove down Bridge Street (the main street) old and antique cars lined the parking spots and were scattered across the green bordering the marina.  It was also the yearly Art in the Park in the city of Petoskey, my destination.

After parking my car, walking several blocks and up a hill, I found myself standing in front of the Carnegie Building, site of the former public library. McLean & Eakin Booksellers, my favorite independent book store, had a display at the base of the steps announcing the visit of author illustrator Peter Brown.  Stepping inside this lovely old building was like going back in time.  A large open area held seating for all the guests with a spot for the children near where Peter Brown would address his readers.

Peter Brown began his session by telling us about his childhood love of drawing and writing showing us examples.  His presentation was filled with the wit and charm found in his books.  His focus was on his newest title, My Teacher Is A Monster! (No I Am Not.).  He explained his inspiration for creating this particular book before reading it to his guests.  It's a wonderful experience to hear an author illustrator read their own book aloud, giving emphasis to those parts they feel are most important.  Ms. Kirby's voice could not have been better.

Finishing up his session Peter Brown demonstrated how Ms. Kirby came to life drawing her in stages so we all could see the combination of shapes and lines.  I was the final person to have my books signed.  Listening to Peter Brown interact with his readers was a true joy.  He loves what he does and it shows.

Connection, Curation, Connection #5

Teachers all across the country are continuing to participate in PD to make the classroom experiences even better for their students in the upcoming year.  Several Twitter chats were a highlight this week with another coming up on Wednesday. Several more tributes to the unforgettable Walter Dean Myers were posted.  Authors, illustrators and people in my PLN continue to post smile-worthy pictures of their pets or pets of others.  If you are looking for laugh-out loud comments catch up on the latest from authors, Julie Falatko and Ame Dyckman.  There is a virtual writing class being mentored by some amazing people.  Stop by to see their challenges.  John Schumacher continues to be a endless fountain of information.  Enjoy these collections.  Have a great week. Take time for reading.

 Walter Dean Myers---These are the collected tweets and conversations beginning on July 2, 2014 as word of this wonderful man's passing was spread.

Xena's Wooferlicious Tweets---These are gathered tweets that feature dogs or cats...yes cats; many from authors, illustrators and treasured friends.

Readying Our Spaces, Creating Warmth, Inviting In Our Students---This is a collection of tweets which members of my PLN on Twitter are sharing about the spaces they are designing for their students.  It highlights the extras.

The Household Habitat of Julie---Julie Falatko is an author whose family life is uplifting and joyous.

Author Tips on Writing---This is a collection of tweets about blog posts by authors helping others with their writing.  It is my thought that this can be used in classrooms.

The Wit and Humor of Ame Dyckman II---The author of Boy+ Bot and Tea Party Rules,  Ame Dyckman, provides quirky views, one liners, laced liberally with humor each and every day on Twitter, keeping her followers in stitches and filled with positive vibes. Here is the second collection.

Cyber-Sleuth---Mr. Schu---John Schumacher, teacher librarian, 2011 Library Journal Movers & Shakers, member of the 2014 Newbery Award committee and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. is the King of gathering resources for his followers' benefit.  This is a collection of his tweets.

Ivan-A Gorilla-A Mighty Silverback---January 2012 welcomed a new book by Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan.  A work of fiction, based upon the real Ivan living in Zoo Atlanta, impacted the reading community as only a powerful story can. On Monday August 21, 2012 Ivan passed away. This is what happened on Twitter then and now.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Secrets And Survival

Again and again when reading a word, a book title or a sentence within the text, a favorite tune, pop song, musical or movie soundtrack will suddenly start playing in my mind.  When recently reading several books about superheroes, Holding Out For A Hero from the movie Footloose was on a continuous loop.  You never know how things will connect in your brain.

Two years ago Kate Messner started a highly charged mystery adventure series with the title Capture The Flag (Scholastic Press, July 2012).  It was followed by Hide and Seek (Scholastic Press, April 2013) which I recently reread.  The three likable, clever characters, Anna Revere-Hobbs, Jose McGilligan and Henry Thorn have become junior members of a secret group, The Silver Jaguar Society, whose mission is to protect artifacts, many centuries old.  Each of them has adult family members who can trace their origins back to famous artists as well as being members of the society.

In the second book they are whisked away within hours from a reception in Washington, D. C. to the jungles of Costa Rica to locate the stolen Jaguar Cup.  Due to an earthquake the children are separated from their parents.  From one incident to the next you are on the edge of your seat but never more so than when the children have to face Vincent Goosen, the diabolical leader of their enemies, the Serpentine Princes, a group of international art thieves.  In case you are wondering at this point, two pieces have consistently played in my mind when reading these books, the theme songs from Indiana Jones and National Treasure.

In the recently published (June 24, 2014) Manhunt (Scholastic Press), the third title, problems for The Silver Jaguar Society have seriously escalated.  The children's ability to work together will be tested to its limits.  Will Anna's natural inquisitiveness, Jose's reliance on quotations and all things Harry Potter and Henry's gamer savvy be enough?

Breaking glass and wailing alarm bells shattered the midnight quiet just before Harry Thorn's baby sister was born.

Throughout the world as midnight strikes in various countries, valuable artwork is being stolen.  It's one of the largest conceived thefts of priceless pieces in Silver Jaguar Society history; masterminded by Serpentine Princes' leader, Vincent Goosen.  He demands the release of his son from prison.  It is abundantly apparent by the items taken members of the society are also in danger.

From a meeting at the society headquarters in Boston, the children and their adult family members escape to a safe house in Paris, France.  After arriving at a society-member-owned book store, Shakespeare and Company, the adults leave on an assignment giving the children strict instructions.  When the Mona Lisa is taken, their parents don't return and a secret message is left on the store bulletin board, Anna, Jose and Henry know it's time to break rules and help in any manner possible.  With the son of the store owner, Hem, assisting they try to crack the riddle left to them before it's too late. 

To add to the predicament in which they find themselves, someone within the society is leaking information to the Serpentine Princes making it difficult to be loyal to someone you might not trust.  When the poetic puzzle turns up missing, they realize others are trying to piece the clues together.  From a crypt at Notre-Dame Cathedral, to a dungeon within the Musee du Louvre, to the burial place, Pantheon, to cells within The Conciergerie and then among the Catacombs, the four relentlessly pursue every lead.

When the unthinkable happens Henry's physical endurance, mental skills and emotional pluck are pushed to their limits.  Trickery and traps abound above and below ground.  Much like the streets and alleys in Paris, this narrative twists, stops and turns.

In this volume author Kate Messner deftly writes a first-class thriller.  You simply do not know from chapter to chapter, page to page what will happen next.  It's as if she has given you a bundle of tiny clues to imagine the solution to this mystery but you're not sure if all the items belong.  Her technique of incorporating cliff-hanger statements or sentiments at the end of chapters keeps you turning pages.  The action scenes give new meaning to the words heart-pounding.

The individual personalities of Anna, Jose, Henry and even Hem, along with their specific family relationships through dialogue, whispered conversations and stress-filled discussions contribute to reader involvement; we are entwined with their movements and emotions.  As in the previous two titles, Messner includes realistic, relevant descriptions of place based upon her personal research as duly noted in her extensive author's note at the book's end.  Here are a few of many marked passages.

"Why are we going to Paris?" Henry must have said it louder than he meant to because the whole van went quiet, and Jose looked back with a worried face.  "I mean...I think we deserve to know what's going on," Henry said, trying to keep his voice even.
"You do," Aunt Lucinda said, peering out the window at the brick buildings rushing past.  "We'll fill you in once we get you to the airport and you're safe."
Her last word hung in the air, and Henry thought about what she meant.
They'd be safe at the airport.
Until they got there, they weren't.

"Yeah..."Anna said, finally breaking eye contact with the skull.  She stood up, brushed off her knees and blinked a few times, fast.  Henry could tell she was trying to get her brave back, but that wasn't easy down here.  "We need to watch for the crossbones.  Remember the photo on that lady's website?"  Anna held up her pointer fingers, crossed like an X.  
Jose nodded.  "The spot marked with imperfect X. ' "  And they started down the hallway of bones.

This latest title in the Silver Jaguar Society mystery series, Manhunt, written by Kate Messner is certain to have readers gasping for breath.  A strong sense of loyalty, family and love shines like a beacon amid all the action.  You couldn't ask for a better combination of plot, strong characters and suspenseful mystery than this book.  Thank you, Kate Messner.

Please follow the two different links embedded in Kate Messner's name to gain further insight into this title.  Kate Messner has created a Pinterest page linked here. 

If you wish to be in the drawing for a copy of the ARC please leave a comment below.  Include your Twitter handle so I can contact you.  If you are not on Twitter check back this weekend to see if you are a winner.  I will conduct the drawing Sunday evening at 5PM EDT.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Not Ever Again

One of many things gained from being an avid reader of historical fiction is there are two sides (or more) to every story.  This is readily apparent during a time of war; each choice made by each person creates layers upon layers.  To see events unfold through the eyes of a child, a person powerless to major decision making, is particularly poignant.

My understanding of World War II deepened when I read Duke (Scholastic Press, August 2013) by 2007 Newbery Honor winner (Hattie Big Sky) Kirby Larson.  As a companion title, Dash (Scholastic Press, August 2014), follows the lives of another family on the home front.  Barely completing the first page, readers will have stepped back in time, becoming another member, a silent member, of the Kashino family.

Mitsi Kashino packed her sketch pad, her binder, and her worry in her book bag.  Dash sniffed the straps before flattening himself on top of it, muzzle resting on his front paws.  He watched Mitsi with worried brown eyes.  She ruffled the scruffy almond-colored fur on his head.

Christmas vacation, December 1941, has come and gone.  Returning to school Mitsi, an American of Japanese descent, is hopeful her classmates will no longer stare at her in the hallways or leave hurtful notes in her desk.  Hope leaves when her two friends, Mags and Judy, seem to have acquired another pal, Patty, who is especially cruel to Mitsi.  On the way home from school a group of older boys chase her, circling around, scattering items in her book bag and taunting her with chants.  Thankfully a neighbor, Mrs. Bowker, comes to her rescue, swinging her broom like a ball bat.

Chapter by chapter the dread filling the hearts and home of the Kashino family builds until the day Mitsi and her magic-loving older brother read the announcement posted on a telephone pole.  All people of Japanese descent, whether they were born in America or not, are being evacuated to camps.  They can only take with them those items they can carry.  Stop...think about this...long and hard.  A decidedly horrible situation is made worse when Mitsi is told she cannot bring Dash, her closest friend and confident.

Having built a relationship with Mrs. Bowker, working in her gardens, Mitsi is able to leave Dash with her.  A touching kindness is shown to her by her teacher as all the people gather to ride the trucks to the camp; a gift of pencils and a drawing pad for her artistic student.  Initially they are taken to Camp Harmony (the state fairgrounds) to live in a tiny room with only five cots, a stove to keep them warm and paper thin walls.

These Americans ate in a mess hall, used outdoor latrines for multiple people with no privacy, slept on straw-filled mattresses, delivered and received mail and bought supplies at a canteen.  As days turn into weeks, Mitsi sees her family dynamics change.  Relationships are shifting as connections are made with others at the camp; some are good, others are not.  When a rhythm of living here seems to be forming, more bad news is received.  They are being moved again...by train for three days...to Idaho.

There is something extraordinary about the books written by Kirby Larson.  Great care is taken in depictions of place and people.  Every experience is brought to life through the thoughts of her main character and the dialogue between the other personalities.  Impeccable research leading to specific descriptions creates movies in the minds of her readers.  You are immersed in the worlds her written words weave.

Burning all their Japanese books and heirlooms to maintain their American identity, turning in their radios and cameras to the authorities, and her grandmother having to register because she was born in Japan not only paint a true picture of this historical time period but build a connection between this family and the reader.  We ride with them in the trucks and on the train, stand in line with them at the camps, we suffer their humiliation and lack of privacy, and we feel the resilience and unity of the Kashinos and many others like them.  Our hearts are bound to Mitsi as she struggles to understand, as she develops skills to adjust and survive and writes letters to Dash (Mrs. Bowker) and receives messages in return.  Here are a couple passages from the book.

"What kind of flowers are you going to plant?" she asked.
"Oh, crocus and daffodils and tulips." Mrs. Bowker waved her arm like an orchestra conductor.
"And later on, peonies and roses and gladiolus."
Mitsi thought of the beautiful gardens Uncle Shig planted along the borders of his strawberry fields.  "It must be hard to wait," she said.
"Oh, very hard." Tears glimmered in Mrs. Bowker's brown eyes.  "But that's what life is all about.  Doing winter's work in hopes of summer's flowers."

Mitsi wrapped her arms around Dash.  She inhaled as deeply as she could so she wouldn't forget his smell.
Mrs. Bowker held the camera up to her eye, peering through the viewfinder.  "Say 'cheese' ".
It was a good thing it was only a camera, not an X-ray machine, or all Mrs. Bowker would see was Mitsi's heart broken into a billion kibble-size bits.

Mitsi's throat was raw from the dust, and the ringing in her ears was driving her crazy.  Mom heard from Mrs. Suda who heard from Mrs. Kusakabe that the ringing was because of the altitude.
"Seattle is only about five hundred feet above sea level," Pop explained.  "Here, we're about four thousand feet above.  That's a big difference."
"As soon as you get used to the altitude, the ringing will stop," Mom promised.
Mitsi rolled over on her cot, blanketed in misery.  She was never going to get used to anything about this place, not the dust or the miles of sagebrush or the pancake-flat landscape without one tree to provide shade from the bullying sun.

Give Dash written by Kirby Larson to readers who loved Duke, to readers who like exceptional historical fiction, to readers who enjoy seeing the world of others and to readers who like dog stories.  I know this book would be a favorite read aloud.  Our children need to experience through great stories what happened in the past so we can all be better.  You have to trust me, this book will move you...deeply.

Please follow the link embedded in Kirby Larson's name to read about her and her other books.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Speaking For Those Who Cannot Speak

Earlier this week when visiting the vet for Xena's weekly cold laser treatment, something happened which made me sick at heart.  With all the vacationers and summer residents back for a few months, the office is more crowded than usual.  On this day as we were leaving the room, all the chairs on two sides of the space were filled with people and their pets.

Right outside our door was a black Labrador mix with her human. Xena saw the other dog and they began barking.  This dog was growling too.  Holding tightly to the lease attached to Xena's harness with my legs on either side of her, I guided her through the gauntlet.

We were nearly past this dog when all of a sudden her man decided to bully her into submission.  The loud resounding whack echoed in the office after he struck his dog.  I was stunned saying, "No...No...No." as I left the building.  When I came back inside to make my payment, the dog and her man were already in an examination room.

Mistreatment of animals is beyond my comprehension.  Even today whenever I see a deer, a fox, a hawk, and other creatures of water, forest and field, I softly gasp in wonder.  Those people who champion their protection are my heroes. For these reasons when I closed the cover of A Boy And A Jaguar (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) written by Alan Rabinowitz with illustrations by Catia Chien, I cried.  

I'm standing in the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo.
Why is this jaguar kept in a bare room?  I wonder.

When the boy moves to the bars to speak to the animal his father asks him what he is doing.  He is unable to reply.  The boy is a stutterer.  At school even though his parents say he is not disturbed, that is the class in which he is placed.  The boy, understandably, feels as though he is incomplete.

Returning home each day he is able to speak easily with the animals he keeps in his bedroom closet; a hamster, a gerbil, a turtle, a chameleon, and a garter snake.  He makes a promise to his pets and to the jaguar on a return visit to the zoo.  He survives school enrolling in a special program for stutterers in college.  Working with a teacher for the first time in his life he can talk without stuttering.

Still feeling incomplete on the inside, the young man goes alone to habitats to study black bears, then jaguars.  His work makes him feel complete.  His new found happiness is tinged with sadness though as he realizes despite his best efforts jaguars are being killed by trophy hunters.

This man remembers his childhood promise.  He uses his voice to help those with no voice.  A jaguar preserve is created, the first and only one in the world.  Back in the tropical forest whispered words are again spoken.

When Alan Rabinowitz tells his story, readers feel an immediate empathy.  His use of specific experiences from his childhood, young adulthood and his subsequent work in the field are exactly what we need to know to understand his purpose and passion.  The style of writing is easily understood by younger readers but strikes a chord in readers of any age.  There are pauses in the text perfectly placed to help bring us closer into Rabinowitz's world.  Here is a single passage.

But my father knows the one thing that does
work.  He takes me to the great cat house at
the Bronx Zoo.  I go straight to the cage with
the lone jaguar, lean over the railing, and
put my face against the bars.

I whisper my promise to her.  Fluently.

The two full page illustration spread across the dust jacket and book case is initially intriguing.  After reading the book you are aware of its portrayal of the meeting of the past with a momentous incident in the future.  Catia Chien's choice to place a smaller picture of Alan and his father walking through the entrance to the Bronx Zoo on the title page is of particular importance too.

Rendered in acrylic and charcoal pencil the pictures beautifully depict the isolation this boy felt, how he worked to become whole and of the great things he has accomplished.  Chien alters the image sizes and background colors to convey emotional moments.  The darker burgundy used when Alan explains how he is unable to talk and when he is placed in the class for disturbed children is heart-wrenching.  This is followed by scenes of him speaking to his pets at home with a background of golden yellow; lifting our spirits as his are lifted.

When the young man knows he needs to do more to become whole, all of the pictures extend across two pages with the exception of two single pages.  This makes us aware of the big changes in his life.  Chien also places a single framed smaller picture within two of these larger visuals to provide specific details.

One of my favorite illustrations is of Alan in the tropical forest bending to look at jaguar prints in the soil; noticing a new set.  We readers see the large male jaguar peeking around from behind a tree watching.  The color palette captures this moment splendidly; the rich earth tones of the jungle, the falling shadows as daylight leaves, and the facial expressions on Alan and the jaguar.  This signals the beginning of a memorable encounter.

A wonderful collaboration of narrative and pictures A Boy And A Jaguar written by Alan Rabinowitz with illustrations by Catia Chien is a very important book.  It acts as a bridge, a connection, leading to greater compassion and understanding.  On the larger than normal back flap Rabinowitz is asked and answers five questions about big cats and stuttering.

By following the links embedded in the author's and illustrator's names you can discover more information about each of them and their work.  This link takes you to a special publisher page specifically for this title.  Enjoy the video below.

I know I say this every week but it's the honest-to-goodness truth.  I love participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  I have learned so much about people, places and a host of other things that I would never have known about without this challenge.  Thanks go to Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy for hosting.

I hope you are able to pick up a copy of this book at your local indie store or your public library.  My personal copy was purchased at McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, Michigan.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Simple, Right?

You have a plan.  You have a list.  You have directions to follow.  You have three steps to reach your goal.

A lightning strike during a thunderstorm causes your power to go out so you won't be leaving the house on time.  Looking at your gauge as the needle points dangerously near the E makes you realize stopping at the gas station should have been among your to-do items.  It would have been nice if during the early morning news they had mentioned US-31 would be down to one lane due to painting traffic lines.  It's odd they never mentioned which products not to use when cleaning the spot before placing the new yearly sticker on your license plate.

Even on a good day our best intentions might not turn out as expected.  We begin with one vision in mind only to end with an entirely different scenario.  In A Piece of Cake (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) written and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, on Mouse's path to a friend's house surprising encounters create surprising results.

It was Little Bird's birthday.  Mouse, who was a very kind mouse, made her a cake.

In making Little Bird's cake, Mouse has used up everything he has in his pantry.  He is pleased with the delicious outcome as he sets off to deliver his gift.  He's not the only one out and about on this fine day.

Fairly soon he meets another friend, Chicken.  Now Chicken takes one look at the cake and expresses a passion for a piece.  Wanting to be fair, Chicken offers to give Mouse a cork in exchange.  A cork?  Mouse is not sure what Little Bird will do with a cork, but he is, as we know, a very kind mouse.  The trade is made.

Three other cheerful pals, Squirrel, Bear and Cow, crave cake.  They all barter with equally odd items.  Puzzled by the possible use of each, Mouse, with affection overruling common sense, arrives at Little Bird's house with no cake but a curious collection.

Little Bird is pleasantly pleased with the presents.  It would seem Mouse's kindness is equaled by Little Bird's cleverness.  She is sure each will become most useful; asking Mouse to follow her.  The two companions find Cow, Bear, Squirrel and Chicken in a bit of a quandary.  Four problems with four marvelous solutions will astonish readers as much as they do Mouse.  There might be cake involved.

LeUyen Pham tells an original circle story prepared using the best kind of storytelling ingredients.  Each time Mouse meets his four friends the same greeting is used with only a slight alteration.  Like phrases are used in the following conversations which are a direct invitation for participation.  A give-and-take rhythm is established not only between the characters but between the narrative and the reader.

The brilliance of this tale is in the return trip back to Mouse's house.  Pham designs predicaments with obvious answers but Little Bird wittily thinks outside the box generating more fun for everyone.  When Cow needs a stopper, Little Bird gives her bubbles.  Here is a single sample of a conversation.

Next, Mouse met Squirrel, who was gathering nuts.
Hello, Squirrel! said Mouse.
Squirrel said.
Gadzooks, that's one tasty-looking cake!
Mouse, old buddy, how about giving me some?  
If you give me a piece of cake,
I'll trade you...

The smiling faces, cheery colors and warmth in the layout and design greeting readers on the matching dust jacket and book case are a definite attraction.  You know by facial expressions at least four of those characters desire what friends Mouse and Little Bird are holding.  On the title page LeUyen Pham begins her story with Mouse carrying a milk bottle, a small jar of honey and a basket of acorns.

Drawing them in pencil and digitally coloring her illustrations, Pham shifts her backgrounds for her two page pictures using lighter shades of more prominent colors in her characters and their settings.  Her visuals on the following pages are smaller, grouped together and framed with the same hues surrounded by white.  This technique mirrors the cadence created by the text.

Each item given to Mouse in exchange for a piece of cake is taken from an inclusive detail in the illustrations.  The settings of Chicken, Squirrel, Bear and Cow in which Mouse initially finds them also provide the possibility for each of their eventual problems.  Careful readers will also notice Mouse collecting his own items on the return trip home.  All the elements in LeUyen Pham's illustrations have a purpose relative to her story.

The expression on Mouse's face when Little Bird offers Cow a wire in trade for some milk is hilarious.  It reflects the unexpectedness of Little Bird's suggestion.  This illustration is one of my favorite ones.  It introduces readers to exactly how clever Little Bird really is; setting the stage for the story's marvelous twists and turns.

There is much deliciousness between the covers of A Piece of Cake written and illustrated by LeUyen Pham.  Mouse's kindness and Little Bird's cleverness are a sweet treat certain to brighten any day.  This book is perfect for story time, bed time, reader's theater and teaching children how to tell a story without words using props.  Plus it's sheer genius on the part of LeUyen Pham to title her story with those four words considering their meaning other than the obvious.

To learn more about LeUyen Pham please follow the link embedded in her name.  The chance to win one of her handmade characters is still available.  To view more pages from the book follow this link to the publisher's website. Although this video was made for another project, it gives you insight into Pham's process and passion for her work. (I could not get an embed code to appear.)  Author Julie Falatko presents an audio review on Katie Davis' Brain Burps.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to get a copy of this book from your closest indie book seller.  I got my personal copy from McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, Michigan.  Check with your local library too.