Quote of the Month

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

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Barnyard Buddies

Spring has been in full swing for many weeks now.  The word weeks instead of months (the spring equinox in 2018 was March 20th) is used because in northern Michigan the worst snow storm of the 2017-2018 winter season was April 13th to April 17th.  It's only been two months since there was two feet of snow on the ground in many places.

Mother Nature has been busy catching up; the wild buttercups and daisies are blooming, an abundance of birdsong begins each day and hordes of insects are hatching. In more domesticated scenes, farms, babies are being born.  Pip & Pup (Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company, April 24, 2018) written and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin introduces readers to two newborns who aren't quite sure what to think about each other.

As this wordless delight begins an egg cracks open.  With a lot of effort, a tiny chick emerges and hardly believes the shell was its home.  Finding a perch on the barn roof, the fluffy bundle of yellow fashions binoculars with its feathered wings.  It spies a puppy, sleeping deeply.

The puppy is curled next to the large wheel of a tractor.  In order to get the dozing canine's attention, the chick decides to give its nose a quick peck.  It works splendidly with the pup barking at the now alarmed chick.  Scurrying in frantic circles among the other animals, the chick makes it safely back to the two-part shell.

All of sudden at thunderstorm blows over the farm.  Inside the shell the chick is safe using the smaller piece as a cap.  The pup is not as fortunate.  It is frightened and wet.  In a series of scenes the chick arrives, assesses the situation and offers the only form of comfort available.  It's perfect for the pup.

As the storm diminishes and blue sky and sunshine appear, the relationship between the two barnyard buddies gets stronger.  There are comical antics and laughter until disaster strikes.  Of course, the puppy has a solution even if it's not an exact match.

Beautifully conceived by Eugene Yelchin this tale of springtime camaraderie will connect with a variety of readers.  The idea of new life seeking out other new life certainly strikes a chord with readers finding themselves in completely new situations.  The introduction of the inclement weather provides a venue for kindness to build a bridge between the two.

Beginning with the dust jacket, the illustrations rendered in colored pencils, oil pastels, and digital painting are an open invitation to hug this book.  That chick and that puppy on the front of the jacket are adorable with a capital A.  Behind them to the left, on the back, the grass extends with a fence and barn buildings above it.  A bright sun is peeking from a cloud.  The text is varnished as are the puppy and chick on the flaps.

The book case is covered in yellow with flecks of orange, a charming duplication of downy baby chicken feathers.  On the opening and closing endpapers a delicate sky blue hints at the happy ending.  The first image, the cracking egg appears before the title page.  Opposite the title page are six comical pictures of the chick peeking and seeking from the broken shell.

Each wordless illustration is brimming with mood and emotion.  We feel curiosity, wonder, surprise, humor, kindness and the love of friendship.  The manner in which Eugene Yelchin places the elements on each page has us filling in the words in our minds.  He has chosen to make some parts of the picture more prominent (darker) than others, giving us a true sense of perspective which shifts from page to page providing pacing.  There is a special quality to his technique which draws us into each moment.

Most of his illustrations are single page with a fine red line framing them.  To celebrate the end of one thing and the beginning of another six vertical panels span two pages. You will laugh out loud at the final image at the close of the book.  It appears above the dedication and publication information.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is actually two on opposite pages.  On the first one, on the left, the chick nearly fills the page.  It is standing on the peak of the barn roof. A few clouds are drifting by in the background.  The chick is lifting its wings to its eyes forming binoculars.  It is looking right at the reader.  On the next page within two circles is the sleeping puppy.  It's as if we are seeing this canine cutie through binoculars.  Around the two circles is a brushed green shade.

Without a doubt this book, Pip & Pup written and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, will become a story time and bedtime favorite.  This is an excellent story without words singing its way into our hearts. When it's read aloud, I know you will hear sounds of laughter.  I know you will hear sighs.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Eugene Yelchin and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  He includes several interior images on his site.  Eugene Yelchin also maintains a Facebook page.  At the publisher's website you can view additional images including the two favorites I mentioned here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

To Be Of Courage

When you think of the word brave, other synonymous meanings come to mind like courageous, heroic, bold or fearless.  If you were to ask a group of children what brave means to them, I wonder what they would say.  Would they be able to think of an individual who has exhibited the condition of being fearless?  Most of them would not think of the combined efforts of an engineer and an explorer as being particularly heroic.

Perhaps they have never heard of two bold souls who saw life in the darkest part of the sea before any others.  Otis And Will Discover The Deep: The Record-Setting Dive Of The Bathysphere (Little, Brown And Company, June 5, 2018) written by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by Katherine Roy features two men who dared to defy the watery depths.  Their determination changed the course of our understanding of the oceans.

Otis Barton discovered the ocean early.

He splashed in the Atlantic on summer vacations, sailed Vineyard Sound.

Will Beebe discovered the ocean later.

First, he hiked northern forests on summer vacations.  He tracked woodland animals, studied snakes in his bedroom, and raised an orphaned owl.

Otis wanted to dive deeper than the sand sharks he watched.  He tried to use a garden hose to breathe.  He tried a washtub over his head to hold air.  His final invention (with the help of friends) worked!

Will was older when he first discovered the beauty of sea life on a reef near the Galapagos Islands.  This was his beginning of wanting to know what was farther below in the oceans.  Will started planning and creating a diving tank.  Otis saw the plans and knew Will needed his help but it was months before Will would agree to meet him.

Once Will saw Otis's ideas he believed a like-minded person was standing before him.  They both wanted the same thing, to go as deep as possible.  The Bathysphere was becoming a reality.  There was detail after detail which needed to be considered, being safely lifted off the deck, oxygen levels, seals and the overall design.

The 5,000-pound unit was only four and a half feet in diameter.  It was a tight squeeze for two men measuring six feet tall.  The hatch weighed 400 pounds!  Can you imagine this?!

On the day of the launch they dropped 100 feet, 200 feet, 300 feet and 400 feet.  It was getting colder and darker.  A momentary fright was resolved.  They kept going.  On this date, June 6, 1930, they reached 803 feet.  These two bold souls made unprecedented scientific history.

By supplying us with specific moments in the early years of both men's lives, Barb Rosenstock gives us an idea of the passion which fueled their desires.  She uses repeating phrases to link them together then and again when they finally meet, dive and reach their destination. Her descriptions of the physical Bathysphere start to intensify the suspense of the dive.  She builds on this with particular pieces of information.  By telling us what happens at each one hundred foot drop, the tension builds.  Her repeated use of the word stop and the phrase breathe in and breathe out helps us to experience what Otis and Will might have felt.  Here is a passage.

700 feet. Stop.
The dark ocean glowed!  Their eyes played tricks
in the mysterious inky gleam.  Will tried to read---
print disappeared on the page.  Otis examined
color charts---saw only black and white.


When you open the dust jacket of this book it's as if you are

the deep.

The dark blue hues speckled with dots of light extend over the spine and to the ends of each flap.  The light shining from the Bathysphere continues to the lower, right-hand corner of the flap.  Sea creatures are evident on the front flap, the front and the back.  The style used for the fonts and framing of Otis, Will, Barbara and Katherine replicates the edges of the windows and the hatch on the Bathysphere.

To the left, on the back, outlines of details found on the blueprints for the vessel are lightly etched in white drifting around an interior view of Otis and Will inside the Bathysphere.  The book case canvas is darker blue hues with spots of light.  The only additional element is on the front.  It's the Bathysphere suspended with the cables, looking small in the largeness of the ocean.

On the opening and closing endpapers, each set different, illustrator Katherine Roy showcases animal life found at different depths.  They are placed on a background of watercolor washes looking like sand. The twenty animals are labeled.

Exquisitely rendered using pencil, watercolor, gouache, and ink the illustrations draw you back in time into this narrative.  Extensive research brings authenticity to every image.  Perspective, the shifts in picture sizes and their placement on one or two pages (and a breathtaking four page gatefold) elevate and extend the text to the point where the visual story wraps around us.  We are jumping off a dock into the ocean. We are climbing a tree to observe birds.  We are crammed inside a vessel diving hundreds of feet below the surface wondering if we will live through this day but also exhilarated by the sights we see.

One of my many favorite pictures is when we are inside the Bathysphere with Otis and Will prior to the drop.  Neither of them is looking at us. They are focused to the left and right of the gutter.  Otis is ensuring the telephone headset is operative and checking the oxygen levels.  Will makes certain he can see at all angles through the window.  He wants to record everything he sees.  There is intensity and tension in this moment. It is perfectly depicted.

Readers will savor every word and image of Otis And Will Discover The Deep: The Record-Setting Dive Of The Bathysphere written by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by Katherine Roy.  It's an adventure filled with mystery, anxiety and excitement and it's true!  At the close of the book there are an informative author's note, an illustrator's note, and a note from Constance Carter, Former Head, Science Reference, Library of Congress who was mentored by William Beebe.  Sources are listed, too.  As a read aloud this book is fantastic.  I highly recommend it for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Barb Rosenstock and Katherine Roy and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. Barb Rosenstock includes a five page educator's guide.  Katherine Roy has a link to her blog. Both Barb and Katherine maintain accounts on Twitter. Please enjoy this video with Barb and Katherine unboxing their book.  It's highly informative and fun.


Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles chosen by participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge this week.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Wide-Eyed And Wide Awake

We all know children are the last people to admit they are sleepy.  Even if they can hardly sit or stand upright, they would rather give up dessert for a year than admit they are tired.  They live life to the fullest and simply don't want to end any of their days.  You have to love their energy and attitude, even if you long for them go to bed and fall asleep.

Give a child a game especially with a challenge and it's an invitation they can't refuse.  DON'T BLINK! (Random House, April 3, 2018) written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal with illustrations by David Roberts openly asks for reader participation.  It's the best kind of dare.

Here's how it works.
If you can avoid getting to the end of this book, you can avoid bedtime, simple as that.
(It's a pretty sweet deal, actually.) 

The true test is the tricky part.  Every time you blink you have to turn a page.  You don't want to turn pages, so you definitely can't blink.

Now we all know as soon as you've been told not to do something, you have a difficult time not doing it.  It's as if all of a sudden you have to do the thing you are not supposed to do. Of course, readers will be unable to stop from going to the next page.  The narrator, the owl, is flabbergasted that a page is turned.  He believes you blinked.  You are warned again.


As each page is turned (you can't help it), the owl continues to issue his statement.  You are getting closer and closer to completing the book.  We know what that means.  Game over.  Bedtime.

In his infinite wisdom the owl suggests you do the opposite of blinking which is staring.  A variety of subjects are presented for your attempt at staring.  With each new tactic (and there are many), the reader is getting nearer to the end of the book.  With a final exclamation

Holy pillow puffs!

an entirely new approach is suggested.  This clever twist will have readers wondering, smiling and requesting "read it again" unless they are already on their way to dreamland.

For those of you familiar with the writing of Amy Krouse Rosenthal (or even if this is the first of her books you read), you will be astounded at the way in which she finds the universality in any given area.  She has an innate manner in reaching out to all readers creating a genuine and shared experience.  In this particular title she involves readers through the dialogue of the owl.  He talks directly to us on every page guiding us to avoid bedtime with ample doses of humor.  Here is a passage.

You BLINKED again.
I thought you wanted to stay awake!
You do realize that each BLINK
gets you closer to you-know-what?!

Look at the front of the dust jacket.  Look at those large eyes.  Despite the words of the title, don't you want to blink?  This owl is a definite attention-grabber.  The limited color palette used in this first image is maintained throughout the book.  If you look closely, the tag on the body of the owl is the illustrator's name, David Roberts.  To the left, on the back of the dust jacket, the owl is starring at a toy zebra, trying not to blink. 

The opened book case is on a canvas of black.  The illustration on the back is identical to the dust jacket but on the front there is a distinctive difference.  It hints at the book's conclusion.  The opening endpapers are bright yellow and the closing endpapers are black.  These are other indications at the twist the story will take.

On the title page the text, DON'T BLINK!, appears within the owl's eyes.  The liberal use of white space accentuates the words, expressions and body language of the owl.  A slight change in his arms and eyelids conveys the exact mood being depicted.  It also will have you laughing out loud.  An ingenious technique employed toward the end of the book has the elements in the visuals shown as if they are within an eye, an eye slowly closing in sleep.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the owl (Is he a beloved stuffed animal?) is asking the reader to

STARE at the person next to you.

That person happens to be a toy zebra, casually sitting upright.  The chunky body, stripes, rounded-ears, large nose and wide eyes are guaranteed to make you smile.  This picture (all the pictures) is surrounded by white.  It is on a single page. 

No matter how many times this book, DON'T BLINK! written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal with illustrations by David Roberts, is read laughter is sure to be part of the story.  Readers will be commenting in response to everything the owl says.  You might want to pair this with Good Night Owl (Disney Hyperion, April 19, 2016) written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli.  This is a surefire winner for story times and bedtimes.  I hope you place a copy on your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal and David Roberts and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their sites. David Roberts maintains an Instagram account.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Soaring, Seeking And Seeing

Over the past few days a brisk, gusty wind has kept the bugs at bay and the temperatures more moderate.  If you look to the sky you are more than likely to be rewarded with the sight of a red-tailed hawk riding the aerial highway.  Even though science tells how they can soar, glide or fly, to watch them do this feels like we are privy to a miracle.

As other animals have done and fortunately for us, these beautiful birds of prey have adapted to living near and among humans.  Hawk Rising (Roaring Brook Press, June 5, 2018) written by Maria Gianferrari (Coyote Moon Roaring Brook Press, July 19, 2016) with illustrations by Brian Floca (Locomotive A Richard Jackson Book, Atheneum Book for Young Readers, September 3, 2013) is a majestic tribute in words and pictures to survival.  From the perspective of the bird and observant humans, we spend a day soaring, seeking and seeing.

Father Hawk stretches wide his wings.

He is not the only one stretching.  In a home nearby a girl and her younger sister awaken.  The oldest looks high for the hawk.  He sits high on a pole, hoping to catch some food for the chicks in the nest protected by Mother Hawk.  Rosy rays of sun paint the morning sky.

As the child leaves her home, carrying binoculars, Father Hawk notices the quick movements of a chipmunk.  He speedily leaves his perch, intent on capturing the meal.  The crafty chipmunk scurries under a nearby porch.  Up the red-tailed hawk climbs into the sky.

The girl watches the hawk.  The hawk watches from lofty heights.  A group of crows gather and chase him from their area.  He finds sanctuary in the tree tops and spots sparrows on the ground.  He plunges toward them but they scatter to safety.

The girl and her sister are still watching and waiting. The hawk does not deter from his task. With instinctive patience and sense of responsibility, he too watches and waits as the sun lowers in the sky. A squirrel dashes toward security but Father Hawk has a family to feed.  Night descends on two families until tomorrow.

By moving the narrative between Father Hawk and the girl, Maria Gianferrari allows us to be a part of both worlds. She shows us how to observe the splendor living among us.  She masterfully describes the movements of the hunter.

Short sentences with repetition align the two worlds, bird and human.  Alliteration and rhyming supply a welcoming cadence.  Word choices bring the time of day like a blanket to wrap around us.  We are there with Father Hawk.  We are there with the girl and her sister.  Here is one of the passages.

Father Hawk lands on a light-pole.
Dandelions ripple.
Oaks tremble.

Father Hawk perches
and searches.
Sun sinking.
Daylight blinking.
Chicks waiting.

You fading.

When you open the cover of an F & G (or look at the front image) and momentarily stop breathing, you know when you hold the finished book, it will be stunning. The red-tailed hawk, wings spread and ready to take flight will assuredly have readers wondering if Father Hawk will come to life.  The details in this scene, the fine lines, brush strokes and color palette, are found in each and every illustration rendered by Brian Floca.  The authenticity is fabulous!

To the left, on the back, we zoom in to see the hawk perched on top of a pole, ready to dive.  The lighting is paler, suggesting the sun is higher in the sky.  On the title page a small, loosely framed picture of the girl's house and the nearby nest depicts the breaking day.  With a page turn the publication information on the left and the first sentence on the right are set in a spectacular two-page picture of both hawk parents in the nest with the chicks.  They fill the entire visual.

Brian alters his image sizes to enhance the pacing, small pictures with uneven shapes, single page pictures and breathtaking two-page visuals.  He takes us close to the action (You don't know whether to cheer for the hawk or his prey.) and then gives us a panoramic outlook.  When you look at those landscape vistas, you can't help but feel as though you are flying side by side with Father Hawk.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Father Hawk has just missed getting the chipmunk.  He takes flight, rising higher and higher.  Brian has pictured him turning so we see the underside of his body, legs tucked back by his red tail.  Beneath him are neighborhood homes and the street.  On the right the girl stands in her backyard watching the hawk.  Her sister stands on the porch.  The hawk in the foreground takes up half of each page on either side of the gutter.  The homes are much smaller to his left and right.  

Today (Sunday) as I worked in the yard and even later as the sun was setting, I kept looking to the sky hoping to see the elegance described so eloquently in Hawk Rising written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Brian Floca.  The more we and our children look to those animals sharing this planet with us, the more our lives are enriched.  I highly recommend the placement of this title in your personal and professional collections.  

To learn more about Maria Gianferrari and Brian Floca and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Both Maria and Brian have Facebook accounts.  They (Maria and Brian) also have Instagram accounts.  Brian Floca does have a blog and can be found on Twitter.  Two other places where Hawk Rising is being celebrated are Miss Marple's Musings and PictureBookBuilders.  Maria Gianferrari is interviewed at both spots.  At As The Eraser Burns Maria chats about her craft and all kinds of other things in a Q & A.  Maria is showcased at Reading for Research featuring ReFoReMoTo view interior images please visit the publisher's website


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

What Happened To Happy?

Life is a roller coaster of emotions; up and down, around and around.  As adults the better we know ourselves, the better we can react and adapt to the inevitable lows.  For children sadness can be a strange feeling.  It can sneak up on them without warning.  They find themselves in the doldrums not understanding the cause or the cure.

With their signature skill for perceiving the minds and hearts of children, author Michael Ian Black and illustrator, Debbie Ridpath Ohi return with a third collaboration, I'm Sad (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, June 5, 2018).  Their previous two books, I'm Bored (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, September 4, 2012 and Naked! (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, April 29, 2014) display the essence of both topics with truth and humor.  You will find this newest title as insightful. 

I'm sad.
Will I always feel like this?

Replying with total honesty, the girl on the swing is sure her flamingo friend won't feel this way always.  Chiming in is Potato commenting he was sad once.  Needless to say, Flamingo can't believe a potato can be sad.  

Everybody feels
sad sometimes.

The girl challenges the potato's statement but he assures her it's true.  The trio continues their conversation pondering the state of sadness and why it happens.  Finally, Potato has an idea.  Flamingo needs to focus on cheerfulness.

The girl yells about her most cheerful thing.  Of course, flamingos and potatoes can't enjoy this particular delectable delight.  When Potato roars out his happiest thing, readers will roar with laughter.  A competition ensures with the girl calling out all her favorite joyful things but Potato sticks with his single word.  

Does any of this make Flamingo happy?  It does not.  The three companions continue to talk about being sad until Flamingo asks an important question.  Potato's reply is perfection.  

The beauty of the narrative in this title is the tone created through the words penned by Michael Ian Black.  It's as if he is having a one-on-one conversation with each reader.  He truly comprehends children.  And although this is clearly written for a younger audience, every single one of us will take something important away from this book. 

Another distinguishing feature of Black's writing is how the characters' personalities shine through the dialogue.  Their questions, answers and comments reveal what makes them unique.  Will readers see themselves as the girl, Potato or Flamingo or a mix of them all?

Rendered digitally, the illustrations, lively and colorful, are a welcome invitation to readers beginning with the opened and matching dust jacket and book case.  The three characters, the girl, flamingo and potato are each expressing an emotion and appear to be in conversation.  This is how the story begins, continues and ends.  To the left, on the back, we read:

Brought to you by
Michael Ian Black
Debbie Ridpath Ohi
. . . and a flamingo. 

Flamingo is featured looking downcast.  (Every element is raised and varnished on the lavender canvas on the front.)  The opening and closing endpapers continue with the same background hue. Each character is saying the word SAD but a different mood is attached to the word by the punctuation used.  Swinging from the upper, left hand corner is the girl.  With only a neck and head showing Flamingo appears in the lower, left hand corner from the center.  With his words vertical Potato is looking grumpy sitting on the D.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi uses white space masterfully to enhance her characters, their body positions and facial features.  Her color palette ties the trio together.  On the girl's dress is a pink heart.  In her hair are brown bows.  Debbie adds in green grass, purple swings and the girl's yellow dress and blue shoes.  She includes other spot colors but stays true to the main shades.

Depending on the text, her images may be single page pictures, several illustrations on a page or potent double page spreads.  Another wonderful feature is the different colored text given to each character when they speak.  Readers can easily understand who is talking.  On the final two visuals, Debbie is in soothing sync with the narrative using a silhouette technique.  

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  The girl, the flamingo and the potato have reached an impasse in their musings about sadness.  From the left side to the right side is a mound of sand.  The girl is lying on the left, arms spread out holding her orange sand shovel in one hand.  Stretched across the top with legs down one side and neck and head down the other side is Flamingo.  Snuggled in the sand on the right is Potato.  They all utter a single word. 


I'm Sad written by Michael Ian Black with illustrations by Debbie Ridpath Ohi is one of those books which you will reread as soon as you finish it.  You have to read it again.  It's that excellent.  The manner in which this book addresses the feeling of sadness is superb.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Debbie Ridpath Ohi and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Debbie's website is brimming with creative goodness.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior images including one of my favorite pictures.  The publisher also has several activity sheets you can download.  Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, features the cover reveal and a conversation with Michael and Debbie on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Debbie is showcased on The Blob Blog, Quill and Quire and by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Debbie has Instagram and Pinterest accounts.  Both Michael and Debbie are on Twitter

Monday, June 4, 2018

It's Back To The World Of Weird Animals With Cute As An Axolotl Book Trailer Premiere

When you hold a book authored by zoologist Jess Keating in your hands you know you will find yourself fascinated by facts about our animal world as well as being entertained with her approach and insights.  She has partnered with illustrator David DeGrand, who must have a special blend of humor humming through his veins, in two titles in The World Of Weird Animals series, Pink Is For Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, February 2, 2016) and What Makes A Monster?: Discovering the World's Scariest Creatures (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, August 8, 2017). The duo is collaborating on a third book, Cut As An Axolotl: Discovering the World’s Most Adorable Animals (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books).  It is set to be released on August 28, 2018).

This third title features creatures, like the previous two, from all parts of the world.  We journey from Lake Xochimilco, near Mexico City to Western Australian Rottnest Island and Bad Island, to the deciduous forests of North America and to the forests of northern Japan.  These seventeen critters will have your cute meter exploding with preciousness. AND the book trailer premiere is happening here TODAY!

When reading these titles aloud or booktalking them to an individual or a group, readers crave information about the author and her process.  I am happy to have author Jess Keating visiting Librarian’s Quest in celebration of this third book.   Let’s see what she has to tell us.

Hi, Margie! Thank you so much for having me, and for debuting this trailer!

In your first two books, Jess, you focused on color and then on creepiness.  Now you are wowing us with cute. How did you decide on those topics and this third subject?

From the beginning, it was important to me that these books were about more than animals. I’ve always been interested in the relationships between humans and animals, as I think it’s an often overlooked factor in conservation and getting people educated about the natural world. I wanted to use this series as a chance to explore these creatures, but also create an opportunity for readers to shine a light on their biases, prejudices, and judgements. I chose the color pink in Pink is for Blobfish, because it’s such a gendered concept, and conversations about gender expectations are always timely. The second book, What Makes a Monster, focuses on what scares us. Oftentimes, if we don’t understand something, we immediately fear it, so my hope was to gently introduce the possibility that we need not fear something just because it’s different from us. (This doesn’t just apply to wild animals, as we know!)

With Cute as an Axolotl, I turned to appearances. People are very good at compartmentalizing and pigeon-holing. Sometimes it serves us, but often, we miss out on a lot. Cuteness is such a great example of this, because we see very obvious examples in our daily lives: attractiveness and cuteness is everywhere. I want readers to take a look beyond the ‘cute’ and realize that labels like this can miss the bigger picture. This is important from a logical, conservation standpoint, as studies have shown that ‘cuter’ animals get more conservation funding and attention. But I also think that, to be good humans, we need to look beyond appearances across the board.

So, to sum up (this very long answer!) I look for two things when choosing a theme: 1) will this theme explore enough biodiversity to get kids falling in love with nature? And 2) Does this theme bring something human to the conversation?

If I can accomplish both of those things, I’ll move onto the research phase!

Your format is both conversational and factual, Jess.  You peak our interest with several engaging paragraphs as if we are speaking face to face and then you have a more scientific sidebar.  What prompted you to choose this format?

I’m so glad you enjoy this element of the books—thank you! As far as the tone goes, my natural writing voice is very conversational, goofy, and casual. It’s always how I prefer to talk about science, because some people can still be very intimidated by complicated subjects and I never want to scare anyone off. In fact, when I was in grad school, I was asked several times to “tone down the voice” in my academic papers. That’s a big reason I’m an author today! My goal with the tone and voice of these books is to allow the real fun of science to shine through a bit: at its heart, science is just the act of being incredibly curious about cool stuff.

It was also important to me to include the sidebars you mention. I’ve chatted about this before and readers can check out this link http://celebratescience.blogspot.ca/2017/11/the-overlooked-benefits-of-expository.html for more!) I think the value of the expository layouts is really underestimated, especially for kids. Some kids prefer narrative, but a great deal of them prefer to get the facts laid out in a simple format like this. I have my theories about why, but in general, there is a power
to having the facts. As a kid, these “sidebar” type facts opened up ways for me to interact with others. I also think it’s important to remind kids that truth, at its core, is enough. It’s a solid thing that they can lean on, and that sort of knowledge can give confidence. It’s so much more than a sidebar to me—it’s a hug to all those fact-loving kids!

You always manage to select animals that are simply amazing?  How do you choose which creatures to include? Could you tell us a little bit about your research process?

This is the difficult part! For each book, I only have space for 17 animals. And for each book so far, the original list of animals I want to include has about 50 species on it. That’s a lot of cutting! I’ve heard fiction authors say they must kill their darlings, but nonfiction authors do as well, and in my case, I often feel guilty on behalf of the poor animals that don’t make the cut!   
When I begin the research for each book, I’ve already got a list in my head of animals that I want to include. Most of these animals were already on my radar previously, from various points in my life as a zoologist and general animal lover. When narrowing down, my aim is to ensure that there’s a great range of biodiversity, pulling from each vertebrate class of animals to start, then peppering in some invertebrate weirdoes as much as I can.

An animal gets cut if it’s too similar to another, and when given the choice of covering a familiar animal versus a more obscure one, I will always choose the obscure one! I also take each animal and create a list of the absolute coolest, most mind-blowing facts I can find. The final step of deciding who is included is taking a broad view of the material, and puzzling together a combination that allows me to balance the most awesome information, the most diversity in species, and the most variety in physical “coolness”. (For example, I’d love to do an entire book about moss animals, but that wouldn’t have the visual appeal needed for this series!)

All in all, it’s a very logical process, but I tend to handle it intuitively. Some animals demand to be included, no matter what arguments I can make to cut them! Others are quieter, but I know they will become favorites for readers if given the chance to shine.
In each of the books as well as this newest one, you extend the premise of the book by asking readers to think beyond the information included in the narrative.  This time you challenge us to ponder the definition of cute. You follow this with many questions for readers and even ask them to make a drawing. I have an idea why you do this Jess, but would you tell us in your own words, please.
Of course! Something funny happens when you start to ask people to look at patterns: the truth has a way of rising to the surface, and once it does, it’s hard to unsee! By looking at all the creatures in this book, most kids will no doubt have their favorites. (Sidenote: a great conversation will happen in classrooms if teachers try this, and notice what class of animals kids choose as the cutest!)

Pondering exactly what elements we find cute, or drawing our own, it becomes much easier to see our own patterns and preferences. Are the ‘cutest’ animals always mammals, for example? Are they creatures that we see as “human-like”, with large, expressive eyes or adorable smiles? If so, are we sending the message that something is more deserving of love or attention if it’s similar to us? What about those that are different from us?
Big questions, for sure. But exploring these biases in a non-threatening, low stakes way like a book about animals is one way to get the conversation going.
For me, personally, my respect and admiration for all animals is heightened with each one of your books but with this book, I am even more excited.  In this book there are two animals if I look with great care, I might find. How many of the animals in Cute As An Axolotl: Discovering the World’s Most Adorable Animals (or the other two titles) have you seen in the wild?

It’s so amazing to hear this! Honestly, when I think about just how amazing the natural world is, and how lucky we are to be a part of it, I get all choked up. I could spend my entire life trying to express the magnitude of awe I feel, and it would never be enough. I’ve seen my fair share of wild creatures out there, but many of them are nearly impossible to find without a lot of time and patience!

Some standouts from Cute as an Axolotl for me are fairy penguins, which I’ve spotted in New Zealand, and of course, our cover model, the axolotl! One creature that I would love to see but haven’t yet is the pangolin—they are such amazing creatures, I can’t wait to meet one in person!
Is there anything else you would like your readers to know, Jess, before we reveal the book trailer?

I hope readers enjoy this book as much as I did working on it! (And my favorite cute animal? I’ll never tell!) Thank  you again for having me, Margie!

On the count of three . . . one . . . two . . . three.

You are always welcome to visit Librarian's Quest, Jess.  It was informative and loads of fun to have you here today. (And I wish you were standing in front of me now.  I could just hug you for some of your answers.)  I know this book trailer is going to get readers excited about all the cuteness to be seen in the pages of this book.  As soon as Mulan heard the word puppies she was looking for them.  (She would never admit it but I think she was completely fascinated with the kittens.)

I hope readers will visit Jess's website by following the link attached to her name.  It's a treasure of information period but you can find out about her books, writing, and the videos she makes for us.  She has two channels, an author channel and a science channel.  She has a monthly magazine you can receive via email.  I look forward to it each month.  Jess is on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. (Jess shares her artwork on Instagram.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Restoration

For those of us living in the state of Michigan we are familiar with the power found in the things for which we have no control.  Many, if not most, of our inland lakes and the five Great Lakes were formed during the last glacial period.  Also as a part of the solar system our planet is subject to the effects of the sun and the forces of nature each and every day.

For any number of reasons changes to our landscapes happen, too, due to human interference.  Creekfinding: A True Story (University of Minnesota Press, March 7, 2017) written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin with illustrations by Claudia McGehee follows the efforts of one man to unearth a cherished treasure.  Nature is resilient if we honor our stewardship.

An excavator is a machine
that chomps dirt.
Excavators dig holes for basements,
trenches for water pipes, paths for roads.

Sometimes excavators help find lost creeks.
How do they do that?

The word lost is generally not applied to a creek.  A creek is there or it isn't but man has powerful tools at his disposal.  With them he can take away what nature has formed.  A creek is more than water running down a path.  It's an entire small world composed of a variety of flora and fauna.

The creek in question did not get up and leave, it was covered over with dirt so a farmer could plant fields of corn.  The spring which fed the creek was buried under layers and layers of soil.  Years went by and the land was sold to a man named Mike.  Mike had a dream of turning the land into a natural prairie.

To Mike's surprise when he was working on his property one day, another man came by to say he had caught a brook trout in the exact spot where they were standing.  Now Mike had a new dream.  He was going to locate that creek regardless of what others said.  One person did not feel Mike was following a task doomed to failure.  He was given an old picture; a picture of the creek.  This was all Mike needed.

Friends with big machines came.  Friends with a willingness to plant came.  A spring bubbled back to life and brought other life with it.  Brook Creek was born.

As you read through the conversational paragraphs penned by Jacqueline Briggs Martin you feel the same marvel she must have felt doing the research for the writing of this book.  In her author's note she states:

I have always been drawn to stories of finding and fixing, stories of patching what has been broken.

Jacqueline Briggs Martin begins by connecting us to the creek.  We feel the loss when it and the plants, birds, insects, and frogs disappear under the dirt from the farmer's bulldozer.  This sadness makes the knowledge of Mike's chance meeting and new dream even better.  Page by page she builds on this excitement.  As the months and years pass she uses specific examples to build our hope for the revived creek, Brook Creek.  In addition to the main narrative, we are privy to further facts about a creek, the plant life around a creek and the animal inhabitants.  This text is italicized and written in a smaller font.  Here are some passages.

Mike and his friends tucked cordgrass
and other green shoots into the creekbanks.
Three summers grasses grew.
When the creek bed needed more rocks
Mike had a problem.

Heavy trucks crossing
to the creek would press
deep ruts into the ground,
kill new prairie plants.
How could he get more
rocks to the creek?

Small rocks protect the soil under the streambed and are home to many tiny plants and creatures.

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, you have to wonder at the intricate detail achieved using the scratchboard and watercolor artistic technique.  All the elements on the front and the back are telling their own story.  The first picture is issuing an invitation as it promotes questions.  To the left on the back, a close-up of a red-winged blackbird brings us directly to the creek.  Can you hear the birdsong?  Can you feel the soft prairie breeze against your skin or see it blow through the grass?  Can you hear the hum of insects?

The opening and closing endpapers are a gorgeous display of the creek edge; flowers, grasses, and cattails in motion.  The first is as night closes and the sky begins to lighten.  The second is filled with the orange shades of a setting sun.  On the inside of the opening and closing first pages is a diagonal pattern in gray and white of swimming trout.

With each page turn readers are treated to either a single page picture or marvelous two page vistas or a series of explanatory smaller visuals.  They flow flawlessly to supply a soothing but expectant pace.  Claudia McGehee alters her perspectives, sometimes within the same image.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is a full moon night in winter.  Claudia uses a pleasing blend of white, black, gray, purple, spots of brown and yellow to fashion a breathtaking expanse of the creek winding through the prairie.  The creek and the land near it are in the foreground.  Above this is a line of trees and shrubs.  A night sky with a few stars fills the top of the picture.  On the right the moon shines down.  On the left an owl glides over the snow-covered grasses.

Although published more than one year ago this title is new to me and new to my local public library.  I am very thankful to have found Creekfinding: A True Story written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin with illustrations by Claudia McGehee on their shelves.  It is a story sure to inspire readers to never lose sight of their dreams.  It is a story reminding us to care for our planet.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.  Included with the author's note is an illustrator's note and more about Mike.

To learn more about author Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrator Claudia McGehee, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Both Jacqueline and Claudia have blogs.  Claudia maintains an account on Instagram.  This title is the recipient of the 2018 Green Book Award, Picture Book category.  It is also one of several books honored with a John Burroughs Association 2018 Riverby AwardYou might enjoy listening to Creekfinding: A True Story About a Creek that was Lost, Found, and Restored on Iowa Public Radio.  Both the author and illustrator are interviewed.  Bookology has an interview of Jacqueline Briggs Martin about this title.  Enjoy the video showcasing the artistic process of Claudia McGehee.

Scratching a magpie from Claudia McGehee on Vimeo.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by others participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.