Quote of the Month

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

Friday, March 22, 2019

Maybe A Mermaid Blog Tour

There is no better way to welcome those first days of spring than to highlight a debut author.  Today Josephine Cameron is stopping by Librarian's Quest as a guest to chat with us about her book, Maybe a Mermaid.   She shares with us the inspiration for seeking a True Blue Friend.  Welcome, Josephine.

What inspired the idea for a "true-blue" friend?

When I started writing Maybe a Mermaid, I knew I wanted to write about a lonely girl who is looking for a friend.  As I developed the character of 11-year-old Anthoni Gillis, who has had a hard time finding friends because she is constantly the new girl, I thought a lot about the types of friendship we look for in our lives.

When I was a kid, I longed for a certain kind of friendship.  The Anne and Diana (or Emily and Ilse), Frog/Toad, Wilbur/Charlotte kind.  I knew from an early age that there's a difference between a friend (someone you like and hang out with) and a kindred spirit (someone who sees the inner strengths that no one else sees, and who understands your deepest flaws and loves you anyway).  A true friend was a friend for life, no matter what ups and downs, fights, or distance got in the way.  

I remember being Anthoni's age and realizing that some friends I'd thought were true were only true on the surface.  And that others were truer than I'd known---only I wasn't looking in the right direction.  I think sometimes we can try so hard to fit people into our idea of who we think they are or who we want them to be, that we're willing to go to great lengths to change our own perceptions of reality.

In Maybe a Mermaid, Anthoni struggles with all of this.  More important than finding a True Blue Friend, she has to figure out how to BE one.  Because ultimately, for all of us, that is what opens us up to so many hopeful, magical possibilities.

Thank you, Josephine, for this insightful glimpse into your writing.  Readers can find out more about Anthoni Gillis when Maybe a Mermaid releases on March 26, 2019.  It is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

You can discover more about Josephine Cameron at her website.  Josephine maintains an account on TwitterJosephine chats with another author about her writing and this book at Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb. At the publisher's website you can read an excerpt.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

One Musical Moment

There are two, among many, things of which we can never be sure.  Unless we have the ability to fast forward in time, we are never quite certain how we may favorably influence another contemporary or someone in the future.  We also can't truly imagine the consequences of a seemingly unimportant situation.  Our lives are filled with "what-if" this or that did or did not happen.

Whether we realize it or not, music surrounds us.  It is in the clicking of a dog's toenails on a hardwood floor, the sound of a spoon stirring in a stainless steel pot, the hum of heat moving through duct work, garden wind chimes ringing in a soft breeze, the crack of melting ice, the hoot of a nearby owl or the howl of a coyote in the distance as darkness gathers.  Composers gather those sounds enveloping our world making their own music, music longing to be heard and played.  BECAUSE (Hyperion Books For Children, March 5, 2019) score by Mo Willems and performance by Amber Ren explores the influence of composers, musicians, symphonic performances and the elements of serendipity and perseverance.

This is how it happened:

Two composers, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, contemporaries, lived in the same city, centuries ago; the former influencing the latter.  Franz's rich and harmonious Symphony no. 8 in B-minor in turn, years and years later, brought a group of musicians together, forming an orchestra.  One member after another were asked to join because of their love of music and their dedication to perfecting the playing of their instruments.

A concert was planned.  Individuals outside the orchestra contributed to the event's success; a poster maker, a train engineer, an orchestra librarian and the musical conductor each assisted.  The score was polished through practice.  Concert hall workers applied finishing touches to the venue and ushers welcomed the audience.

An illness, a cold, resulted in a niece taking her uncle's seat at the concert and that . . . shifted . . . something in the child's soul.  Year after year her interest in music grew.  She studied.  She practiced.  She wrote.  She was heard.

Like those original members of the orchestra who played Franz Schubert's Symphony no 8 in B-minor, she was asked and given an opportunity.  As a tribute to a single unplanned event her notes wove through an audience.  And BECAUSE . . .

Gentle, searching like a lively, uplifting melody, Mo Willems takes a single word using it as a common theme for connecting events and people over centuries, years, months, weeks, days and hours.  Each sentence and phrase begin with Because followed by the actions of individuals pursuing that which they love to do.  Mo Willems also uses two repetitive thoughts to excellent effect creating a full circle.  What will amaze and thrill readers is how these all work to form a series of changes.  Here are two of the sentences.

Because the usher helped the aunt
and her special guest---
they found their seats.

Because everyone was there to hear beautiful music---
it was quiet. 

In her debut as a picture book illustrator Amber Ren glows like the lovely refrain of words she enhances.  Using the stage of the concert hall as a focal point on the front of the dust jacket, she alludes to the possibilities, before and after, this single event.  The line of music swirling about the child and off the right edge is a part of nearly all the images within the body of the book, changing in color as the story progresses.  The title text is varnished.

To the left, on the back, beneath the words

an unexpected note
can change a life.

an interior illustration is placed within a circle.  It's the child after the concert conducting music to an audience of toys.  The darkened color at the edge of the stage supplies a canvas here and on the book case.  Within an elegant gold frame on the front of the book case, the girl writes music, perhaps remembering why she attended the concert that evening.  The music moves to the left and appears again on the other side of the spine weaving upward as another child is caught in its spell.

On the opening and closing endpapers a music stand is placed from left to right.  On each a different musical score has been placed; two pages in length, one on the left and the other on the right.  Around the outside of the opening music stand is a golden yellow.  On the closing endpapers the framing color is a spring green, indicative of the transformation.  On the title page the little girl is featured bowing to an imaginary audience as music winds around her.

Alternating between double-page pictures and single-page visuals Amber Ren takes us on a journey through time.  She presents a variety of diverse people, with different ages and with a common interest---music. Her fine lines are filled with soft hues of color on matte-finished paper.  Readers will be fascinated with her attention to detail; the portrait of Franz on the sick uncle's wall, a large musical staff being used as a bookcase and framed records on a wall.  Careful readers will spot guest appearances by the book's creators.

One of my many favorite pictures is that highlighted on the book case and in the interior of the book.  On a single page we are looking at the child's bedroom.  It's an upper story room with the roof peak making a "v" behind her.  On that wall hangs pictures of her favorite things.  To the right is her keyboard.  On a large oval rug in pale green sitting in a half circle are seven toys, their backs to us.  Eyes closed and an arm raised holding her baton the child presents her music.  From her baton a shining vine extends, traveling over the gutter to the next series of illustrations.

Radiating warmth and creative potential BECAUSE written by Mo Willems with illustrations by Amber Ren is a sensory symphony to treasure.  This is a glorious example of the ripple effect.  We can never know how our lives will alter other lives.  We can never know how a single event can fashion a future.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Mo Willems and Amber Ren and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Mo Willems has another site here, a blog and an account on Twitter.  Amber Ren also has an account on Twitter.  For your enjoyment I've included the book trailer and a video of Franz Schubert's Symphony no. 8 in B-minor.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Breathe Deep . . . And Take In The Splendor

More nighttime moments than can be recalled are spent in gazing up and looking at the starry array spread across the sky.  Depending on the time of year and the phrase of the moon, shapes formed by connecting lines are familiar companions, reminding us some things remain the same.  There is a comfort in knowing how old and vast the universe is.  To be a part, a very tiny part, of this majesty is rather like being a part, a very tiny part, of a wondrous mystery with clues being slowly revealed.

The more we learn about the universe in which we live, the more it astounds us.  The Day The Universe Exploded My Head: Poems To Take You Into Space And Back Again (Candlewick Press, March 5, 2019) written by Allan Wolf with illustrations by Anna Raff is a melodic, meticulous and merry trek into outer space.  Through rhythmic words and playful images, we are entertained and informed.

A Solar Sunnet, er, Sonnet

Born four and one half billion years ago,
I'm ninety-nine point eight percent the mass
of everything the solar system knows.
My gravity holds all within its grasp.

In this portion of the first of twenty-nine literary compositions we are given a glimpse of the facts found within each one.  We travel from the sun to the farthest reaches of our solar system.  We make stops to learn about the Earth spinning on its axis, the names of moons (and their gastronomical make-up), the Perseid Meteor Shower, a famous meteorite, Planet X, the power of stars, how distances in space are measured, eclipses, black holes, space exploration, famous astronomers, and rockets.  Not only do we gain an understanding of these wondrous places, people (and animals), objects and events but we do so through a variety of poetic styles.

To give readers a sense of watching the stars shoot across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower, it's written to be read in three voices, alternating lines and combining as a chorus for emphasis.  Even though the lines are short, like the time we see these stars, we are told when they arrive, how they are formed and what they are.  The real, frightening fall of the meteorite in Chelyabinsk in 2013 is brimming with exaggerated humor, yet readers will be able to glean a verifiable fact.

Venus, named for a Roman goddess, is the opposite of its namesake, a dangerous enchantress.  Thankfully our Blue Planet is next in line offering sanctuary, if we care for her.  Did you know Jupiter has a magnetosphere greater than that of the sun?  Neptune's news is written in a blues format which is understandable considering it's always dark there; a perpetual night.

A star, using the tune and beat of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, advises a human exactly what to expect if they meet face to face.  A quirky rap spoken by DJ Energy and MC Square tell us about astronomical units and the speed of light.  A concrete poem, aptly circular in shape, relates the density and desire of consumption of a black hole.  Did you ever hear of Ivan Ivanovich?  The concluding poem, taking the title of this book, in three voices, brain, heart and human, builds up tension verse by verse until every fiber of your being wants to celebrate.

While poetry read in silence by a single reader is powerful, these poems penned by Allan Wolf ask us to read them aloud; these poems welcome an audience.  Each one has a distinctive beat as distinguishing as the subject it highlights.  Cleverness prevails when moons become gourmet delights.  First person voices demand our attention as planets disclose personalities.  Metaphors wrap around readers like comforting cloaks.  Beneath most of the poem titles is a subtitle.  Here is a portion of a poem.


I'm one part theoretical.
I'm one part hypothetical.
I'm one part mathematical.
They call me Planet X.

I'm one part supercilious.
Another part mysterious.
One part you-can't-be-serious.
They call me Planet X.

The black matte finish on the front of the dust jacket is sheer perfection for the blast of varnished color.  Each item in the scene is referenced within the body of the book.  You can also see the lively, humorous characteristics given to the subjects.  To the left, on the back, the darkness continues.  The sun, clad in dark glasses, has orbits spinning around and out with other known planets and stars (and a monkey) spinning.  A happy portion of a constellation appears in the upper, left-hand corner.

On the book case a galaxy of stars spreads across the universe.  In the upper, left-hand corner of the opened case and in the lower, right-hand corner are two constellations.  They are familiar but also not known.  (That's all I'm going to say.)

The matching opening and closing endpapers are done in several shades of turquoise.  They feature the sun and the eight orbiting planets.  On the title page the text is constructed, letter by letter, as if they are constellations.  For the "o" in exploded our planet, Earth, is placed there.

Each image,

digitally assembled color collages made from sumi ink washes, salt, pen, and pencil

by artist Anna Raff, is a joyful adventure.  They span two pages, and a few single pages.  They reflect the pacing of the text and take it to the next level.  Perspectives shift to take us close to the subject or give us a panoramic view as in the poem for the Perseid Meteor Shower.  The animated facial expressions and body postures add to the overall emotion, usually happiness.  Readers will pause to find all the extra details.  The dark starry background is wonderful for the bright color palette.  (There are some of these science fans will want to frame.)

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the planet Neptune's poem is highlighted.  On the left Neptune is given a cowboy hat and a guitar to strum out his lonely woes.  A microphone on a stand is etched in stars in front of him like a constellation. A musical stanza stretches from his guitar sparkling with stars and notes across the gutter to the right side.  His arms are wearing a plaid-shirt pattern.  The poetic text is expertly placed under the image on both pages.

After you read The Day The Universe Exploded My Head: Poems To Take You Into Space And Back Again written by Allan Wolf with illustrations by Anna Raff you won't be able to read it once.  You'll have to read it again and again and again.  You'll want to share it with as many people as possible.  AND you'll be looking to the stars armed with new knowledge.  After the poems, there are two pages of Notes On The Poems.  These give further information about the topics and explain the style for some of the poems.  This is followed by a Glossary Of Selected Space Terms, Internet Resources and Acknowledgments.  I highly recommend this for your professional and personal collections.  It's a super selection for National Poetry Month in April.

To learn more about Allan Wolf and Anna Raff and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Allan Wolf has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Anna Raff also has accounts on both Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image.  They have also developed a Teacher Tip Card.  At Penguin Random House you can view the title page and the first several poems.  Allan Wolf recently wrote a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club.  Enjoy the book trailer!

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Out Of The Mouths Of Dogs

You've read it here before, but it can never be said enough.  Some of life's greatest lessons are taught by our canine companions.  There is not a moment during a day when they don't know exactly what to do.  Year after year, according to their age, they savor what should be savored and ignore that which should be ignored.  For this reason, they experience joy, contentment and peace in equal measure. 

If a dog is sharing your home multiple treks are a daily event.  If you want to see a dog smile, say walk or outside.  Olive & Pekoe: In Four Short Walks (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, March 5, 2019) written by Jacky Davis with illustrations by Giselle Potter gives us a pooch's point of view during four outings.  Their personalities quickly emerge, reinforcing the notion of opposites do attract.

Walk One
Olive and Pekoe
Take a Walk in the Woods

Pekoe is a bouncy puppy who loves to run.  

Long-legged and loaded with energy Pekoe wishes his friend Olive would move a bit faster.  Olive is an elder dog with short legs.  She wishes Pekoe would walk with less exuberance.  As a puppy, Pekoe puts just about everything in his mouth.  Olive is completely satisfied to wait on the sidelines.  At the end of the walk they agree on one thing.  Can you guess what it is?

One day the duo is caught out-of-doors when a thunderstorm rumbles into their neighborhood.  Pekoe gives a bark and Olive wonders why she ever left home.  Pekoe hides from this unwelcome weather.  Olive is getting sadder and sadder.  With a shake Pekoe gets rid of a lot of water and says goodbye to Olive.  He knows what she wants.  She can already feel herself snuggling into

her cozy pillow.

Watching a mix of chipmunks and dogs can entertain you as long as the stripped, furry nuisances decide to stay.  Olive could care less about chipmunks.  Pekoe is thrilled beyond belief to see one.  Olive sits.  Pekoe goes nuts.  When the critter vanishes each dog has a thought?  They are as different as the two pals.

Going to the dog park is confusing for Pekoe but Olive takes it in stride until she realizes Pekoe needs help.  As an experienced user of this area, she knows to support her friend during a confrontation.  Pekoe, although at the opposite end of life as Olive, welcomes her advice.  This is friendship in its truest form.

When thinking about the writing presented by author Jacky Davis, three things come immediately to mind. The first element is the voice used to present the story.  This narrator speaks in short, descriptive, and conversational sentences.  Readers will notice, secondly, the author has a clear understanding of the behavior of dogs and the shifts in their personalities as they age.  Finally, whether they are reading this silently to themselves or listening to it read aloud, they will feel the pull of the cadence created by the alternating voices which leads to a pleasing conclusion at the end of each of the four chapters.  Here is a passage.

Walk Three
Olive and Pekoe
Meet a Chipmunk

Olive is not impressed to see
a chipmunk darting through the leaves.

Pekoe can't believe how great it is
that the world has chipmunks in it!

Rendered in watercolor, ink and color pencils illustrator Giselle Potter gives us our first hint of her color palette and the singular characteristics of Olive and Pekoe on the dust jacket.  With the focus on their walks, we are taken into a natural setting.  By the attention they show each other, we understand the bond these two unlikely canines share. The image on the front extends to the spine. 

To the left, on the back, on the rich creamy background a large oval illustration rests.  Within this frame Pekoe and Olive are sitting and looking at each other, nearly nose to nose.  On the book case, on the same rich creamy canvas, a single photograph is framed in wood on the front and the back.  It's a forest scene.  The real-life, big Pekoe puppy is sniffing in the grass off the trail.   Walking down the path and a bit behind is the real-life Olive.  Her face is wonderfully aged with gray fur.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a dark steel blue, previously used on the jacket.  Opposite the title page, a single-page picture shows Pekoe sitting and looking at Olive, who is also sitting.  It is a different setting from the previous visual which lets readers know, this position is a familiar one.  Pekoe is shown on the verso page.  Olive makes an appearance on the contents page.

Throughout the title single-page pictures, small insets, and text framed in sticks, storm clouds, oak branches with acorns, and leashes accentuate the text.  Each image based upon the facial looks and body actions supports and enhances the pacing.  There is never a doubt as to the mood of the moment for either of the dogs.

One of my many favorite illustrations is during the chipmunk caper.  Oak tree trunks, five in total, supply a background and a border on the left.  Oak leaves tinted in autumn colors dangle from branches and fall on the ground.  Behind Pekoe who is jumping against a tree, scampers the chipmunk.  In the foreground Olive sits looking at us.  If she could talk, she would be saying, "Look at that crazy guy!"

The pure fun of Olive & Pekoe: In Four Short Walks written by Jacky Davis with illustrations by Giselle Potter is being able to participate in the lively animated time these two dogs share.  This book invites us to be observers of dogs and other animals around us.  Could readers imagine other walks these two dogs would take?  I highly recommend this book for your professional and personal collections. 

If you desire to learn more about Jacky Davis and Giselle Potter and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.   Jacky Davis has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Giselle Potter has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior pages at the beginning of the book.  John Schumacher, Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, hosted the book trailer premiere for this title along with interviews with Jacky and Giselle on his site, Watch. Connect. Read.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Frank And Bean Cover Reveal

For many residents of the United States, especially those experiencing blizzards less than a week ago, it’s hard to think of the arrival of the vernal equinox.  Regardless of the mounds of snow observed around our homes, a shift in seasons is coming in two days. This means winter’s rest is ending, albeit slowly.

It’s a time of fresh new beginnings.  Birdsong swells as many return to their seasonal homes.  Tiny bumps of fuzz pop out on pussy willow branches. Once the snow completely recedes bulbs nestled in the cool, dark earth push shoots upward revealing their brilliant greenness.  To further herald spring it’s a distinct pleasure to host children’s literature creators Jamie Michalak and Bob Kolar at Librarian’s Quest. They are collaborating on a new early reader title, Frank & Bean.  We are excited to reveal the cover but first let’s get to know Jamie and Bob and their work on this book a little bit better.

It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jamie and Bob.

From your previous titles, Jamie, I know humor plays a big part in your books.  How did you decide on these characters and their names? Would you tell us a little bit about their personalities?

I didn’t have to look far for inspiration when it came to the characters — I live with them! My youngest is chatty, like Bean, and obsessed with donuts, drums, and anything loud. My oldest is more like the quiet, outdoorsy, oatmeal-loving Frank. I’d wanted to write a book starring food, and once I hit on the names, Frank and Bean popped into my head.

As keen observers of life, I realize author’s glean ideas for their books just about anywhere. How was the focus of this story formed? Did a single incident supply the spark?

I was inspired to write this book after seeing many children, including my own, on phones and other devices. I wondered how they’d cultivate their imagination and create when they’re never bored. At its heart, Frank and Bean is about sparking creativity by carving out the quiet space needed to hear the stories within. I hope this book will inspire kids to write their own story, poem, or maybe even a song like Frank and Bean’s!

Reading the title, Bob, without any images, readers initially will have no idea of the physical characteristics of Frank and Bean.  Would you tell us how they developed? Which one did you visualize first, Frank or Bean?

Frank came first. A walking talking hotdog seemed pretty normal in my world. I had to decide whether he would have a bun or not.  He just seemed naked without it. Bean was a little more difficult. The size relationship was throwing me. A bean is usually much smaller than a hotdog. I guess a bean doesn’t usually go camping, ride a motorcycle, eat donut holes, and play the trumpet either. He ended up being a really huge bean.

Did the manuscript dictate the setting shown on the cover?  

Yes, it’s a camping in the woods adventure story.

What medium did you use for the cover and the artwork within the book, Bob?

Artwork was created digitally. I do most of my stuff on the computer now. I spent most of my childhood watching cartoons. Maybe working on the computer just reminds me of watching TV.

Are you more like Frank or Bean, Bob?

Oh, I’m totally a Bean. I’m loud and annoying. I spend most of my time having fun or thinking about how to have more fun. I have a short attention.... hey look, a squirrel!! What was the question?

Which character resembles you, Jaime?

Frank. I have a secret notebook and love the outdoors and quiet time, too. But my good friends are wild and crazy Beans, and I never pass up karaoke.

Just for fun, what is your favorite comfort food, Jamie?

Like Mercy Watson, I love hot toast with a great deal of butter on it. Some of my all-time favorite memories are of eating freshly baked bread. (Oh my gosh, I really am a Frank!)


I really like food.  I like almost all of it.  Breakfast foods are all definitely in my comfort category. If I had to pick one, it would be a piece of sourdough toast. (only because I just had one and I have that short attention span)

Thank you, Jamie and Bob, for taking the time to chat with me about this brand-new book you are making together.  I have been waiting to reveal this cover so I can hear peals of laughter resonating around the planet. I can’t even think about it without laughing.

Here’s to the arrival of spring in two days.

Here’s to Jamie Michalak and Bob Kolar and
Frank and Bean

This title published by Candlewick Press is set to be released on October 8, 2019.

To learn more about Jamie Michalak and Bob Kolar and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Jamie Michalak has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Bob Kolar has an account on Instagram.

Jamie Michalak is the author of many children's books, including the highly acclaimed Joe and Sparky early readers series: Joe and Sparky, Party Animals!, Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels; Joe and Sparky Go to School; and Joe and Sparky, Superstars!, which Kirkus Reviews called a "little treasure" in a starred review. All are illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz. Jamie Michalak lives in Rhode Island.

Bob Kolar is from Cleveland, and now lives in Kansas City with his wife Lisa. As a kid, his big dream was to be a jungle guide, astronaut, or a farmer. So, naturally he went to art school and became an illustrator, designer, and writer. He did a corporate job there for a while, but now he just creates books, toys and fun stuff for kids. Bob also teaches a little bit at the Kansas City Art Institute.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Badger's Perfect Garden Blog Tour

 Although the twenty-four inches still on the ground next to four-foot piles of snow are no prelude to the official arrival of spring five days away, the appearance of garden catalogs in my mailbox are.  The colorful displays of flowers, shrubs, trees and vegetables are filled with promise. To think that every seed, bulb or root will supply vibrant splendor is nothing short of a miracle.

It’s hard not to put pen to paper and design layouts for potential plots housing an array of beauty.  In Badger’s Perfect Garden (Sleeping Bear Press, March 15, 2019) written by Marsha Diane Arnold with illustrations by Ramona Kaulitzki Badger inspires his animal friends with his dream of a flawless presentation of his gathered seeds.  Badger and his friends discover and remind us, plans gone astray may yield glorious unexpected results.

One spring morning, Red Squirrel found Badger
Surrounded by dozens of jars.
The jars were filled with seeds.  The seeds looked
Hopeful, just like Badger.

Curious as to what Badger was doing with all those jars of seeds, Red Squirrel was told they had been collected last summer in order to plant a flawless formation of botanical beauty.  When the squirrel saw all the varieties of seeds and the amounts, he knew his friend would need help. Soon Weasel, Dormouse and Red Squirrel along with Badger were hard at work preparing the soil, laying out straight rows according to Badger’s plan, and finally, planting the seeds.

Muffins and mulberry juice were consumed in celebration of a successful session of gardening.  As necessary the next day, rain fell. On the following day heavier rain fell. By day three the showers were torrential.  Badger went outside trying to save his now less than perfect garden.

Nothing Red Squirrel, Weasel or Dormouse said could calm the defeated badger.  Days passes inside with Badger trying to occupy his time until one day in summer a knock on his door woke him up.  Three friends could hardly wait to show Badger the work of a master gardener, Mother Nature.

Author Marsha Diane Arnold fills this narrative with endearing characters, charming, descriptive phrases and delightful word play.  A little bit of information about where to find seeds is woven into the story. As the friends work, readers come to understand how gardens are groomed.  With each step we feel Badger’s desire for precision. This is why we keenly feel every emotion, all the ups and downs and ups, in this tale of four forest friends. Here is a passage.

When the earth was as smooth as the forest pond in winter,
Badger pushed big sticks into the dirt.  Red Squirrel and
Dormouse stretched string between the sticks to mark rows.

“Be sure the rows are perfectly straight,” said Badger.  

 When you open the matching dust jacket and book case several single words come to mind; serenity, companionship and community.  It’s easy to imagine a windy spring day with friends working together for a common good. It’s also easy to feel as though any one of us could step right in and join them.  The natural soft colors and delicate lines are an open invitation.

To the left, on the back, the double-page image travels over the spine to reveal Badger’s cozy home in a hollow tree trunk.  A tiny lamp hangs from a branch next to his arched doorway. Next to it is a circular window. A path of stones extends from his stone porch steps.  Early spring flowers bloom in the front.

Crisp white covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Badger, wearing a backpack and garden gloves, is holding a magnifying glass as he gathers seeds in a swirl of blooms on the title page. Each illustration, regardless of the size, contributes and enhances the pacing and emotional impact.

Artist Ramona Kaulitzki alters the perspective for further impact.  To depict Badger’s increasing worry, she brings us close to the window in his home, rain streaking diagonally across the glass as he gazes sadly outside.  Careful readers will pause to notice all the extra details. Will they notice a little worm lifting its head to look at the seed jars, the tiny boots Dormouse wears, tulip petals falling from a bouquet in Badger’s home, and Badger’s bunny rabbit stuffed toy for snuggling and napping?

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  On the left in front of his home Badger is placing sticks in the cleared garden patch.  Behind him on the stones is his rolled-up garden plan. A small bucket in front of him holds more sticks.  Seed jars and rakes are leaning against a stone fence. Red Squirrel and Dormouse are unrolling string and tangling it up around themselves, too.  A small bird is perched on a nearby house. Weasel is running through a field in the back carrying a forked stick.

Readers will learn about the rewards of helping a friend.  They will understand how to make a garden grow. Most importantly Badger’s Perfect Garden written by Marsha Diane Arnold with illustrations by Ramona Kaulitzki brings to us the peace we find when letting go of a plan.  This would make a wonderful addition to your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Marsha Diane Arnold and Ramona Kaulitzki and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Marsha Diane Arnold has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Ramona Kaulitzki has accounts on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.  At the publisher’s website you can view interior pages.

As a showcase of this blog tour, Marsha Diane Arnold is visiting Librarian’s Quest again to chat with me about this new title. I am grateful for this opportunity.

I have an idea from reading this book that gardening is important to you, Marsha.  Did you come from a family of gardeners?  Is this connection to the earth something you have instilled in your family and you wish to pass on to your readers?

You would be right, Margie. I love gardens and gardening, but even more I love Mother Nature, which you noted so beautifully in your review – “Three friends could hardly wait to show Badger the work of a master gardener, Mother Nature.”

And yes, behind me, I have a whole history of farming, gardening, and deep connection to the soil.

Once upon a time there was a people, long known for their superior farming abilities – my ancestors, Swiss-German Amish/Mennonites. Due to religious persecution, they eventually migrated to Volhynia, Russia, invited, largely due to their farming skills, by Catherine the Great. In 1874, they migrated again, this time to America. My great-grandfather Peter made his home in Pretty Prairie, Kansas, and was known as a “man of the soil.” My aunt tells me he was also a “story teller”.J

Peter’s daughter, my grandmother Emma, had a huge garden to feed her family of 8 children. But she also loved her flower gardens, which surrounded the farm house. Beauty amidst the dust. These were not small flower gardens, but long sweeps of flowers – iris, lilacs, petunias, and many more. One of my fondest memories is of my grandmother sitting in her rocking chair looking through the seed catalogs, planning her next garden.

My father was a wheat and dairy farmer, but like his mother before him, he loved flower gardens too and always planted flowers around our home. He also drew them.

I like to think I’ve instilled a love of nature and gardening in my son, daughter, and grandchildren. My daughter enjoys planting whenever she has an opportunity. My son, though he works in NYC, has a 150-year-old farm house in Connecticut so his family can get away to the country. And my granddaughter, as you see, is quite enamored by milkweed.

 Is there any one reason or incident which planted the seed which grew into this book?

I have a suspicion that I wrote this story because my husband and I were starting to prepare for a move from our home of 35 years in Sebastopol, California to Florida. I was very sad to be leaving my half-acre flower and fruit garden that had taken me….35 years to create! I’d also be leaving my woodland friends – fox, raccoon, deer, quail. Though none of these animals made it into Badger’s Perfect Garden, I think they inspired my writing about beautiful forest creatures.

I really enjoyed the blend of narrative and dialogue in this title.  Is there anything you changed considerably from your original draft?

This is one of those stories that felt like a walk in the garden. J  The text changed very little from first draft to last. I really enjoy using dialogue in my stories.

I loved Ramona’s illustrations when I first saw them. However, I did need to change a few phrases of my original text. For example, I imagined Red Squirrel and Badger being in the same room on the first spread, so I had written, “What are you doing with all these seeds?” When I saw Ramona’s lovely illustration of Red Squirrel in the tree, I changed that phrase to “those seeds.” It was much easier to change the text than the art and besides, Ramona was absolutely right to have Red Squirrel high in a tree looking down on all those jars full of seeds. It’s a wonderful perspective.

I believe these illustrations match the story . . .well . . . perfectly.  What did you think when you first saw them?

I credit Sleeping Bear Press with finding wonderful matches for my SBP books, both May I Come In? and Badger’s Perfect Garden. When I first saw Ramona’s illustrations, I adored them. I was raised a long time ago and grew up in the country. To me, Badger’s story and the lovely art Ramona created for it are what children’s books should be. Delicate, fun, filled with kindness, celebratory!

Thank you Marsha for your perfect answers and this most excellent book for spring, gardening and the wonder of friendship.

Marsha Diane Arnold's award-winning picture books have sold over one million copies and been called, "whimsical" and "uplifting." Described as a "born storyteller" by the media, her books have garnered such honors as Best First Book by a New Author, Smithsonian Notable, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library and state Children's Choice awards. Recent books include Galapagos Girl, a bilingual book about a young girl growing up on the Galapagos Islands and Lost. Found., a Junior Library Guild book illustrated by Caldecott winner Matthew Cordell.
Marsha was born and raised in Kansas, lived most of her life in Sonoma County, California, and now lives with her husband, near her family, in Alva, Florida. She still loves nature and nothing makes her happier than standing in her backyard in the midst of dragonflies or purple martins swooping for insects.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Keeping It Green

Whether you are a city, country or in-between-city-and-country dweller, walking into a protected, dedicated natural place for public use is like entering a sanctuary.  The hours and days spent in local, state and national parks have a lasting beneficial effect on our minds.  The more often we can experience what these spaces have to offer, the more inclined we are to seek them repeatedly.  Their worth is immeasurable.

More than 160 years ago the first of America's landscaped public parks was formed into existence.  A Green Place To Be: The Creation Of Central Park (Candlewick Press, March 12, 2019) written and illustrated by Ashley Benham Yazdani chronicles a dream and its fulfillment.  Today the park covers more than 840 acres.

Central Park in Manhattan is green and growing and full of life.  It's a vibrant jewel at the heart of New York City, but it wasn't always this way . . .

Part of the area needed for the park was devoid of trees, cut down and never replaced. People living in a village there, free African-Americans, some Irish and German immigrants and others, were forcibly displaced by the city.  The city needed this land.

Time was of the essence because New York City was quickly growing.  City officials and park planners decided to hold a design contest for the park.  Calvert Vaux wanted to win but he needed help.  He had good ideas for the park, but he did not know the area on which it was to be built.  He asked Frederick Law Olmsted, the superintendent of the proposed park, to join him.

Their drawing was ten feet long; Frederick was laying out the flora and Calvert was thinking of bridges and buildings.  Every single element in their design was placed on that drawing with meticulous care.  They called it Greensward.  They worked so intently they almost missed the deadline for the contest.  Fortunately for all visitors to the park, they were quick thinkers.  They were also the winners.

Blasting and rock removal was lasting.  No single item was wasted but integrated into the park.  The landscape was altered fashioning new highs and new lows.  Water was redirected.

In 1858 what is known as the Lake opened.  It was followed in 1859 by the Ramble.  Did you know the Children's District gave parents and children access to fresh milk at the Dairy?  Other prominent names, Jacob Wrey Mould, Emma Stebbins and Ignatz Anton Pilat contributed to the beauty found at the park.

Did you know thirty-four bridges of unique structure were built by Mr. Mould and Calvert?  Frederick lovingly placed small trees and plants in specific locations knowing what years of growth would reveal.  It took more than a decade and a half until Central Park was completed.  They believed in their vision and they succeeded.

Beginning with present day Ashley Benham Yazdani works backward to the beginning presenting each layer in the development of the park.  She conversationally combines discussions about the land, the need for a green place, the personalities and strengths of Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, their design and its implementation.  Her research is evident in the included details; insisting visiting friends add grass to the drawing, the almost missed deadline, Calvert skating on the Lake, the musicians Frederick had playing in a boat on the Lake when another section of the park opened and the names and architecture of all the bridges. Here are two passages.

Every day, rackety horse carts were tumbling, 
clattering, rolling along, moving broken
boulders and mountains of soil.  Rocks removed 
from one place were reused to build new
structures elsewhere in the park, and nothing
went to waste.

Frederick and Calvert designed the roads
crossing the park to run below ground level,
allowing visitors to walk through the park
without disturbance from carriages.  Pipes
were laid, and new bodies of water bubbled
up where only bog had been before.

Rendered in pencil and watercolor and assembled digitally the illustrations on the matching dust jacket and book case (and throughout the title) by Ashley Benham Yazdani present intricately detailed portraits, then and now, of Central Park.  On the front Calvert and Frederick are tucked in a cove as if to see the park in its entirety, surveying their work.  The initial title is varnished in dark green.

To the left, on the back, a field of dandelions supplies a canvas for an oval depiction of the park today.  Tall buildings in the background look over the Conservatory Water.  Kerbs Boathouse is included in the scene as model boats glide on the surface.  Children lean in to watch, one about to put their own vessel in the water.

On the opening and closing endpapers blue hues resembling blueprints disclose two different bird's eye views of the park.  Paths weave among trees and around bodies of water.  Text on the title page is framed by a large arching tree on the right as we look into the distance following a path through Central Park.

Each illustration, double-page pictures, full-page images, and small inserts with text, heightens the impact of the narrative.  Ashley Benham Yazdani gives us panoramic views, some bird's eye, and other more intimate vantages.  Her two-page visual of Calvert with thirty small bridges is fascinating.  Attention is given to period clothing and architecture.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  The map of their design stretches, on a table, from the left to the right.  Period carpeting covers the floor, a piano stands in a corner and wainscoting and wallpaper are spread across the walls.  A cat watches Calvert and Frederick in various poses as they work.  This indicates movement and the passage of time.  A gray squirrel watches from outside a window.

Even though you may have heard of Central Park or even visited there, A Green Place To Be: The Creation Of Central Park written and illustrated by Ashley Benham Yazdani (her debut picture book) will prove to be pleasantly informative.  At the close of the book, Ashley dedicates a page to both Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, and a page with extra information about the map, the building the duo raced to trying to beat the design deadline, skaters on the Lake, the park's bridges, Seneca Village, home of the displaced people, elm trees, gray squirrels and a particular wedding in one of the scenes.  Ashley Benham Yazdani also has an author's note, acknowledgements and bibliography of sources.  You will want to place a copy of this title in your professional and personal collections.  I found myself doing extra research immediately.  At the official website for Central Park you can find a page about Seneca Village, Resources for Researching Central Park and a printable pdf, Central Park: A Research GuideI also found a very old article in The New York Times about Seneca Village.

To learn more about Ashley Benham Yazdani and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Ashley Benham Yazdani has an account on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter.  Interior views can be seen at Candlewick Press and Penguin Random HouseCandlewick Press has a Teacher Tip Card for use.  Ashely Benham Yazdani has a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club about this title.  She includes process art.

To view the other titles selected this week by those participating in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.