Quote of the Month

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




Saturday, July 30, 2016

More Than Meets The Eye

Life experiences teach us people are rarely as first impressions would indicate but instead they are the sum of multiple influences, layer upon layer.  We may think we fully understand someone but often they surprise us.  Certain situations reveal their true character.

Like people Mother Earth has given advantages, many initially unseen, to her living beings which in turn assist them in survival.  The most beautiful can be deadly to predators.  The frailest can become fierce in the face of danger.  Poor Little Guy (Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC, June 7, 2016) written and illustrated by Elanna Allen takes us deep into the sea.  When you are the smallest of the small, it's a frightening place.

The story starts without words as a tiny, unassuming, spectacle-wearing yellow fish approaches certain peril.  A watchful eye on a beast is larger than the tiny swimmer.  As the fish glides in front of and past the white giant fear fills every fiber of his body.

Passing unharmed he utters a sigh of relief.  What he doesn't know is the long arm of an octopus is reaching toward him.  Oh, no!  He's been captured!

The behemoth begins to sing sarcastic phrases taunting the little guy; who will surely be his next meal. As each is uttered the clever colossal creature forms a variety of corresponding shapes around its victim.  Bringing him close to his mouth, he opens wide and places the terrified teeny being inside.

YIKES!  What happens next is too startling to reveal. No one will be more astounded than readers.  Mother Nature does not disappoint.


The lack of text on the first two double-page images followed by a single word on the next three pictures creates absolute perfection in timing and suspense.  Elanna Allen then displays a keen sense of humor with her creative word play.  The tension builds supplying a most excellent atmosphere for the shocking shift in the narrative.  Here are two of her sentences used to intimidate the tiny, unassuming, spectacle-wearing yellow fish.

Catch of the Day!

Let's play the LOST IN A MAZE game!


Both the back and the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, two different images, prepare readers for the alarming situation the fish encounters.  To the left he anxiously peers upward, surrounded by swirling portions of octopus arms.  The opening and closing endpapers feature eleven sea creatures determined to consume the little guy as an entree or munchie.  There is a significant contrast in the two which cannot be disclosed as each begins and concludes the tale.

Using a limited color palette, pale green, white, black, yellow, brown, blue and purple, Elanna Allen visually enhances the text in a series of double-pictures and two single page illustrations rendered in pencil and ink with digital color (And lots of coffee).  The verso and title pages continue the narrative as started on the opening endpapers with the tiny fish looking worried as he glances backward.

She increases the sense of foreboding with varying points of view drawing us close to the action as when all we see is water, two large eyes in a white face with the fish swimming in front and then moving away to give us a more wide-angle perspective when the octopus is whirling in the center of the page tossing the fish from one arm to the other.  When she wants to intensify her text there is a drastic shift from one image to the next.  Her font size also mirrors exact moments.  The use of eyeglasses on the fish is a smart choice, elevating the expressions in his eyes.

One of my favorite illustrations is when the arm of the octopus extends toward the little guy.  Reaching from the left side, large and menacing, it moves across the gutter to the right arching above the tiny fish.  He is swimming toward the lower right-hand corner with his eyes closed.  A single word is placed above his head in a speech bubble.

Phew.


Poor Little Guy written by Elanna Allen is one of those books readers are going to read repeatedly even when they know the ending.  The combination of text and images is so astutely crafted the irony will not diminish.  When read aloud, be prepared for gasps and giggles.

To learn more about Elanna Allen and her other work follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Follow this link for seven pages of fun-filled activities.  Enjoy the book trailer.


Friday, July 29, 2016

Digging Deep

There are those books which command the attention of everyone regardless of whether you are a science geek, fact finder or seeker of trivia. These books are brimming with interest on every page turn.  These books add depth and breadth to our understanding of the world in which we live.

On October 8, 2013 Maps (Big Picture Press) written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski was released.  The size, 10 5/8 by 14 9/16, is indicative of the quality and quantity of the contents. Printed on heavy matte-finished paper with a sepia-toned finish on cream, the text and pictures take readers around the world. Each two-page spread is framed in an intricately rendered border varying in design.

We are treated to a world map, maps of the continents and individual countries.  We see political borders, flora, fauna, cultural foods, activities, natural and man-made wonders, housing, clothing, famous persons and specific place names. Significant bodies of water and mountains are featured.  Famous works of art and literary and historical milestones are included.  Creatures which may be found in the oceans and seas surrounding the land masses are duly noted.

Each element in the images is carefully labeled.  Sometimes one or two sentences offer further explanation.  This book of maps, this atlas, combines the best part of political, resource, and physical maps.







As an enhancement to the original publication Big Picture Press published the Maps Activity Book written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski on July 1, 2014.  Smaller in size, 12 by 8 4/5, this paperback with special binding for ease of  page removal delivers interesting challenges involving drawing, coloring, research, and creative imagining and thinking.  On the back of each of the thirty-six activities a tiny character, children from around the world, impart more fascinating facts in a single speech balloon.


Users might be asked to draw a map of an imaginary country, pretend to be an explorer in the Amazon and draw animals, plants and people they might find there, invent another glyph to add to the ancient Mayan language, color flags from countries and design your own, select which animals on a given page actually live in a specific place or create a pattern for a kimono.  Each of these activities invites readers to discover more than they originally know. The fantastic facts on the back of the activity pages might tell us where the largest active volcano is located, its size and the number of times it has erupted or who designed the updated U. S. flag after Alaska and Hawaii became states or supply readers with information about the original inhabitants of Australia.  The pages can be used for single individuals or as a guide for the generation of more related educational adventures.








The most recent title in this trio, Maps Poster Book (Big Picture Press, February 23, 2016) written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski is twenty-seven maps plus the world map found in the first volume, condensed in size to 11 3/8 by13 9/16.  On one side of the poster is the exact replica of either a country, a continent or a large area, the Arctic.  On the other side the highlighted map is shown in color within a larger two-tone map.  All of the pages are perforated for removal.




The newest book by the collaborative duo of Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski, which again demonstrates their talents in exploring our world exquisitely, is Under Earth Under Water (Big Picture Press, March 1, 2016 UK, October 11, 2016 US).  For sixty-three pages we peer into the ground until we strike the core of our planet.  In the following forty-five pages we work our way to the surface but through the seas or oceans.  A clever design allows you to begin with either the earth or the water.



If we look just beneath the dirt all kinds of creatures seen with the naked eye or under a microscope can be found.  Discovering the giant Gippsland earthworm in Australia would be rather startling as it can grow to be nearly ten feet long.  Anthills are far most vast and sophisticated beneath the surface than what we find above ground.  Did you know there can be more than one queen in one anthill?

Intriguing information about borrowing animals, moles, naked-mole rats, prairie dogs, badgers, and red foxes are revealed in greater depth.  Plants with edible and medicinal portions growing under the surface are explained as other pages showcase majestic trees.  Man-made cables stretched below the surface, the vast networks used to transport natural gas, electricity and water used in homes as well as waste disposal are presented.   Travel by tunnels, general and specific, and how tunnels are made is a fascinating section.

Archaeology, paleontology, speleology, and mining are explained.  Pages are devoted to those products made from the riches, natural resources, taken from the earth.  Information about The Pacific Ring of Fire and plate tectonics are pictorially displayed.  The deeper we go volcanoes, hot water springs, geysers, layers of the earth and the center itself are discussed.

From here we start to head upward learning of vessels like the Deepsea Challenger used to explore the bottom of the sea.  Trenches and their strange inhabitants fill several pages.  Did you know that the glow seen at the tip of the triplewart seadevil's rod is actually other tiny lifeforms?  Have you ever heard of underwater chimneys? Some of those chimneys are found as far below the surface as sixteen thousand feet!

We have studied the Titanic, other sunken ships and an array of places using submersibles specially furnished with scientific equipment.   We have drilled into the seabeds using unique platforms to extract oil and gas.  (I wonder if any of those human workers have ever seen a colossal squid or blue whale showcased in several pages.)  A history of the development of diving suits and submarines will astound readers.  Many forms of diving and famous divers are disclosed.  

As we continue to move toward the surface we learn of water pressure, sinkholes, coral reefs, and the properties necessary for something to float.  To further our knowledge a comparison is made between the residents of an ocean and a freshwater lake.  As we come to the top, seeing the sky above, we can make the choice to dive down beneath the waves again or head to terra firma and start digging once more.


As in the Maps title the authors have meticulously labeled every item in the illustrations, inviting further research by readers.  Each two-page illustration, top to bottom horizontally, places informative text in rounded boxes blending into the image.  Each of these boxes contains one to five sentences written in an easy, conversational style.  (Readers should note the measurements are given using the metric system.)  Here are some sample passages.

The roots that reach deepest are of plants that grow in deserts.  The plants send them deeper and deeper underground in search of water.

In the far north of Russia, beyond the Arctic Circle, scientists drilled the world's deepest hole to gain a better understanding of the Earth's structure.  The borehole took 22 years to create and was more than 12km deep.

The Great Lakes are the Earth's biggest bodies of fresh water.  The most extensive freshwater lake, Lake Superior-on the border of the United States and Canada-is bigger than the Czech Republic.  The world's deepest lake is Lake Baikal in Russia, which reaches a depth of up to 1642m.

At the bottom of the ocean, hundreds, or even thousands of metres underwater, unusual places lie hidden that resemble fields of smoking chimneys.  The clouds that emerge there are not smoke, but hot water full of minerals.


When the book case is opened readers can view the table of contents for each section, earth and water, laid before them like a path to follow, with small images, page numbers and titles given.  Shades of blue are used as the background in the portion on water.  Once we begin to delve into the section on the earth a more varied color palette is used.  

The fine line work, layers of complex aspects, layout and design represent painstaking planning and implementation.  Within each illustration and from picture to picture everything flows flawlessly.  You might think the large amount of elements would be a distraction but that is simply not true.  They are an invitation to explore, discover and learn.

Two of my favorite illustrations of many are one from the water and one from the earth.  The Carmagnolle brothers' diving suit is featured in a single visual stretching from top to bottom.  It is standing in a bed of seaweed entirely submerged.  Seven labels containing facts are attached to it as is an important date.  Bubbles rise from the bottom in several hues of blue.  As a gardener the six horizontal rows highlighting roots, rhizomes, tubers and bulbs are fascinating.  Each is named with most containing special uses and locations where they are found.  Realistic colors are employed.  Gals and guys will be absorbed in the cross-sections devoted to moles, naked-mole rats, prairie dogs, badgers and red foxes.  


Under Earth Under Water written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski is a marvelous, mesmerizing look at our planet's earth and water characteristics, the flora and fauna residing there and the secrets they have revealed to us.  This team has also added people and scientific advancements of significance relative to both.  The sturdy book case and heavy paper make this a lasting worthwhile addition to personal and professional collections.  Your patrons and students are going to love it.  I advise getting several copies.  

I was unable to locate any information on Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski but more information about this title and the others by this team can be viewed at Candlewick Press, Big Picture Press, and Templar Publishing. Enjoy the book trailer.




 To enjoy the other titles selected by participants in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge please access Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Ready...Set...Go

With every race there is a chase.  Even if the contestants begin on equal footing there will be a constant shift in pace as strategies dictate.  First one party takes the lead, then another moves ahead. Predictions will be made naming one as the possible winner.  Sometimes it's so close only the final seconds will reveal the victor.

One of the oldest known races in literary history is found in a collection of stories, Aesop's Fables.  In The Hare & the Tortoise the animals leave us with more than one point to ponder.  In a new retelling, Hare And Tortoise (Candlewick Press, May 24, 2016) written and illustrated by Alison Murray, readers are presented with a lively and entertaining perspective.

Here comes Hare.
Hello, Hare.
Hey, Hare.  Hellooo!
Could you stand still for a 
minute, please, Hare?

As the frisky fellow pauses the attributes of his physique are duly noted; his ears, eyes, head, paws, nose, whiskers and hind legs in descriptive detail.  Three exemplary qualities of his are listed as well as his obsession with carrots.  And admittedly he is not shy about proclaiming his abilities when speed is a factor.

We are next introduced to Tortoise when she is eventually found.  (She can be mistaken for a rock when at rest.)  She does not have a long list of characteristics.  She cannot do any of the three fast facts but her life outlook tops the positive and optimistic scale.

The racers are ready.  The course is set, winding through the farm and ending at the gate near the barn.  With a rooster crow the contest begins.  Hare takes the lead leaping toward certain triumph.  If you've ever seen a tortoise move, you might be ready to concede at this point on Tortoise's behalf.  Tortoise is not exactly whizzing down the trail.

Then two very specific details, an irresistible temptation and The Shady Tree on a knoll, generate a shift in the narrative.  A short time later the spectators at the gate are cheering wildly.  A gracious champion offers a new delicious challenge.


Alison Murray adds new threads to the timeless fabric of this tale repeatedly with great effect.  In acquainting us with Hare and Tortoise prior to the race focusing on the characteristics of one and drawing our attention to the absence of those same traits in the other, our anticipation is heightened.  This approach also provides Murray with the opportunity to supply liberal doses of humor.  Allowing Hare and Tortoise to comment within the body of the story enriches this version.

As we read the tale, the voice of the unseen narrator is exactly like listening to a commentator at a sporting event.  The use of repetition, rhyme and alliteration contributes to the rhythm and rate at which the story unfolds.  Verb choices reflect specific moments during the race.

Hare races through the tickliest grass.  

"I'm so fast, I fly past," sings Hare.

Tortoise trundles through the tickliest grass...

"I may be slow, but watch me go," hums Tortoise.


A first glance at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case tells us Hare and Tortoise at the very least have a healthy respect for one another.  They might even be best buddies.  The color choices radiate warmth.  To the left, on the back, a portion of an interior image shows Hare charging ahead over a hill shouting,

Byeee!

with Tortoise at the bottom exclaiming,

Oh!

The opening and closing endpapers in crisp white with shades of turquoise depicts The Race Course.  Within the rectangle for the Scale 1:100 Alison Murray exhibits the disparity between the two visually and textually.  On the informal title page along with the text Murray places a bunch of carrots and a tree leaf.  The verso and titles pages are a single illustration of Hare and Tortoise frozen in a moment of friendship, looking at each other.

Rendered digitally, these illustrations varying in size, double page, single page, extending across the gutter creating a column for text, or horizontally paired across two pages, literally sizzle with energy or strum slow and steady depending on the character being depicted.  Page turn by page turn Murray is giving us an up-close-and-personal view of the action on the course.  The first eight pages dedicated to readers meeting Hare and Tortoise are sure to induce laughter; Hare leaping over the field filled with tall grasses and flowers, an almost scientific portrait of his physical traits with descriptions in boxes and arrows pointing to portions of his body,  the search for Tortoise among rocks and the "scientific" names assigned to each of them are another example of Murray's comedic details.  The facial expressions on all the characters but especially on Hare and Tortoise are bursting with joy.  Murray cleverly indicates the passage of time by inserting the sun's position in some of her pictures.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is that following a description of Hare as he rests.  He suddenly is aware the real world and his dream world might be one and the same.  On the left of this two-page picture we move close to Hare startled and standing next to The Shady Tree, a look of disbelief on his face.  It matches the text perfectly.  To the right other farm animals are gathered outside the gate watching and cheering as Tortoise moves down the path.  In the distance the barn is decorated with pennants, bluebirds flying past.


You simply can't help but love this interpretation of an enduring fable.  Hare And Tortoise written and illustrated by Alison Murray captures the soul of the original but gives readers charming extension, more breadth.  I highly recommend adding this title to your personal and professional bookshelves.  You will want to pair it with Jerry Pinkney's gorgeous The Tortoise & The Hare.

To learn more about Alison Murray, who lives in Scotland, and her other books, such as Apple Pie ABC and One Two That's My Shoe!, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view one of the interior double-page images.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Planting Change

They are very easy to spot if for no other reason than they are usually smaller than the rest of the students.  They and their caregivers who walk with them are filled with a mixture of excitement and nervousness on the first day of kindergarten.  For many of these little guys and gals this is the first time they have been away from home for an entire day in a school setting with other students older than they are.

For some of them with sisters and brothers who are in higher grades, the experience is less stressful.  If these new kindergartners are the oldest child in their family or an only child, it's not quite so easy.  If they happen to be shy, it can be exceedingly difficult.  The charming child we met and loved in Sophie's Squash (Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, August 6, 2013) has returned in a companion title, Sophie's Squash Go To School (Schwartz & Wade, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, June 28, 2016) written by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf.

On the first day of school, Sophie peeked into her classroom.

Regardless of the fun exhibited by her classmates and the kind words of her parents, Sophie is certain school will make her miserable.  Nothing is right, not the chair, the milk and certainly not her fellow students' attitudes about her best friends, Bonnie and Baxter, two squash. She is appalled when someone asks if the squash can be eaten.

To make matters even worse, in Sophie's opinion, Steven Green with his toy frog, Marvin, follows her everywhere.  Her replies and standoffish air do nothing to dissuade this boy's pursuit of her friendship.  Her parents chat with Sophie about Steven but she remains firm in believing the only pals she needs are Bonnie and Baxter.

Little by little Sophie starts to enjoy others but only in her mind.  And she still wants absolutely nothing to do with Steven Green.  With autumn in full swing, Sophie knows it's time to put Bonnie and Baxter to bed in the ground.  When an art activity results in disaster, Sophie is completely disgusted with Steven Green.

Finding something inside her backpack, a chat with her father and a nighttime visit with Bonnie and Baxter help Sophie to think.  Sophie needs the assistance of a very persistent person to put a new plan into action.  Tender loving care and patience generate a happy dance in Ms. Park's kindergarten classroom.


When Pat Zietlow Miller writes it is with considerable compassion and insight into the personalities of her characters.  Her words evoke empathy in readers for the people found in her books.  In this narrative several realistic topics, first days of school, shyness, and friendship (all kinds), are intertwined into a pleasing whole.

Ms. Park, the kindergarten teacher, and Sophie's parents are supportive and kind. In some of their conversations her parents exhibit little bits of humor as well as nicknames of affection for Sophie.  I really like that Miller continues to have Sophie give her squash names beginning with the letter b.  Here is a sample passage.

Sophie's parents were no help at all.
"Steven sounds adorable," said her mother.  "And it's good to have friends."
"Especially human ones," added her father.
Sophie hugged Bonnie and Baxter tightly.  "I have all the friends I need."


Fine lines, soft brush strokes and delicate details define the work of artist Anne Wilsdorf in this title.  On the matching dust jacket and book case as Sophie strides to school carrying Bonnie and Baxter glancing over her shoulder, we readers wonder what has caught her attention.  This is a definite invitation for us to open this book.

The opening and closing endpapers are a patterned array of Sophie, Bonnie, Baxter, a blue chair from her classroom and a surprise appearance by another character in the final vignette.  Each one of the forty is different alluding to the energy found in Sophie and her love of Bonnie and Baxter.  On the title page Sophie is standing on the blue chair in front of an easel drawing a portrait of the smiling Bonnie and Baxter sitting on the floor.

Rendered in watercolor and China ink the image sizes are altered to heighten the pacing.  The double and single page pictures are brimming with multiple elements asking us to pause and increase our understanding of the scene and the characters' moods.  In several of the visuals Wilsdorf extends her illustration to the left across the gutter tying it to the smaller image shared on the left page.  Her sequences of pictures grouped on a single or double page indicate tension or a turning point. Good cheer and charm are evident in the colorful, textured and patterned clothing worn by all her characters.

A favorite illustration is the first two-page picture of Sophie standing in the doorway of her classroom with Ms. Park welcoming her in front and her parents, behind her, encouraging her.  Spread before the reader is a good glimpse of the room; the children engaged in creative chaos.  Shelves are filled with interesting, playful items and lots of books.  There is a geometric shape and block table, big letters of the alphabet on another table, children are drawing at a third table and another group is sprawled in the storytelling area on a rug with pillows.  This IS kindergarten.


If you are looking for a fresh new title for the start of the school year, Sophie's Squash Go To School written by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf is the perfect book for you.  It's a lively, joyous story with realistic themes lovingly told in words and pictures.  You also might want to consider visiting your local farmers' market to pick up a supply of squash.  I predict Sophie will find a spot in many readers' hearts.

To learn more about Pat Zietlow Miller please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  An older post but still valuable about Anne Wilsdorf can be found at Emu's Debuts, "A book...is a whole world.": An Interview with Anne Wilsdorf.  To get some views of interior illustrations please visit the publisher's website.  Pat Zietlow Miller wrote a post, Five things to know about SOPHIE'S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL, at Picture Book Builders.  Pat Zietlow Miller was recently interviewed at The Winged Pen.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Rambunctious Rodents

Throughout our lives no matter our age there are those we see as guides.  They may be family, friends or people we don't even know personally.  We try to imitate those traits we admire about them the most.

When we are younger it is most likely our parents whose footsteps we wish to follow.  For children living in a single-parent home, this parent may be their only anchor.  The Infamous Ratsos (Candlewick Press, August 2, 2016) an early chapter book written by Kara LaReau with illustrations by Matt Myers follows two brothers who make every attempt to emulate their dad's view of people in the world.


This is Louie Ratso.  This is Ralphie Ratso.  

Neither Louie, a fifth grade student, nor Ralphie, a third grade student, want to be considered a "softie".  Everything they do needs to shout out loud they are tough to the core.  Louie who considers himself the brightest of the duo has a perfect plan to prove this truth.

During recess their body language and facial expressions supposedly convey their disdain for normal activities.  Working together they take a too-small hat from a huge bully, Chad Badgerton.  Their success, though, is short-lived.  It seems the hat was taken from one of their tiniest classmates on the bus earlier.  They are heralded as heroes!

With this failure weighing heavily on the twosome, a snow storm of epic proportions provides them with another opportunity.  Hours of shoveling have them gleefully hopeful but awakening from a much-needed rest, they are flabbergasted by their results.  Two more schemes, a food concoction and sudsy strategy, have Louie and Ralph nearly dancing at the probable outcome.

When they least expect it, Big Lou shocks them with a list of accusations.  If you would have asked any one of the three earlier about the outcome, they would have denied it.  Life is full of surprises.


Seven short energetic chapters written by Kara LaReau will captivate the intended audience.  The family dynamics, the comradeship between the two brothers (except when facing possible consequences) and the characters within the school and neighborhood communities are portrayed realistically.  It's the humor which flows freely in each episode that will have readers alternately cheering and laughing at the brothers.

LaReau uses words and sentence structure familiar to readers.  She writes like they think and talk.  Having Louie and Ralphie repeat a similar phrase at the end of most chapters adds a cadence to the narrative.  Here is a sample passage.

Then he says, "After tonight, everyone in the neighborhood will know how tough the Ratso brothers are."
They wait until they hear Big Lou's snoring, and then they sneak out of the apartment and down the stairs and outside.  They creep over to Mrs. Porcupini's house.  Ralphie reaches into his pockets and pulls out two big...

"Let's teach that prickly pickle not to give us sour looks," he whispers.  


The ink and watercolor illustrations rendered by Matt Myers elevate the comedy found in the narrative.  His first image of a portion of the brick-walled apartment building crosses the gutter to the title page.  Opposite the verso Louie and Ralphie can be seen carrying several water balloons.  In the following picture Louie is releasing a balloon out an open window.  It is on the final page we are privy to the results of that act.  (You will laugh out loud.)

At nearly every page turn we are greeted with a full or partial page picture.  The details mirror marvelously the characters and their surroundings. Readers can see a book titled Rat Trap 1000 Pranks Endless Fun on the floor of the family's apartment, the pattern of sawed logs on Miss Beavers' dress, and the sign hanging in Mr. O'Hare's store window, Hop In We're OPEN.  

One of my favorite illustrations is of the steaming cups of hot chocolate with marshmallows.  They are supposed to say HUG SOMEONE TODAY.  You can see the boys have changed the first word.  One days SLUG SOMEONE TODAY.  The other mug reads BUG SOMEONE TODAY.  They are trying to be tough in all respects, but will only elicit smiles from readers.


The Infamous Ratsos written by Kara LaReau with illustrations by Matt Myers is fun from beginning to end generating a huge dose of giggles and grins.  As readers will discover along with the brothers being tough is hard work.  The final two chapters will have readers hip-hip-hooraying.

To learn more about Kara LaReau and Matt Myers please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website readers can view one of the inside spreads.  Both Kara LaReau and Matt Myers are on Twitter @karalareau @myerspaints

Thursday, July 21, 2016

As Twilight Falls

After the sun sets and darkness colors the sky and humans are tucked inside their homes, creatures of the night awaken.  If we look out our windows on a summer night we can see fireflies blinking messages as they seek mates.  If we venture outdoors we hear the flutter of wings or catch a quick swooping motion at the edge of our vision as bats search for food.  If we walk quietly and slowly we will see a rabbit cautiously move from tall grass to nibble on the clover in our lawns.

For years other beings have crossed the line between the wild and suburban and urban areas.  Their keen survival instincts and adaptability allow them to thrive.  Coyote Moon (Roaring Brook Press, July 19, 2016) written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline is a breathtaking ode to Canis latrans, barking dog.

Moon rises as Coyote wakes in her den,
a hollowed-out pine in a cemetery.
Coyote crawls between roots.
She sniffs the air, arches her back,
shakes her fur.

It's time to search for food.  Pups wait and older brothers and sisters watch and guard.  The female moves like moving mist through the neighborhood.

She pauses and listens hearing what humans cannot.  With a giant leap she hopes to capture a curious mouse.  Her efforts go unrewarded.  She continues her hunt.

Again she pauses, nose lifted in the air.  A familiar scent draws her to a nearby golf course.  Vigilant parents drive her away from a tasty snack.  Big feet, large ears and speedy twists and turns save Rabbit.

Hours have passed with no food for her family.  The light of dawn drives away the night, stars and moon.  Coyote is patient.  Perhaps prey will seek water from the pond.  In the early morning a howl rings out through the houses, an answering reply comes from the roots of a hollowed-out pine.


Reading aloud the words written by Maria Gianferrari is like stepping into the melodious soul of nature.  Each sentence cloaks us; hiding our humanness so we can move as one with Coyote.  Her lyrical depictions of singular minutes in the hours of Coyote's search will have you holding your breath.  The use of alliteration heightens the sensory experience.  Here are two sample passages.

Coyote listens.
Her triangle ears sit high on her head.
She hears scratching.
She slides through boxwood, then crouches.

...She slinks, silent as a shadow.


The glowing eloquence in the illustrations rendered by Bagram Ibatoulline transport readers into the sights, sounds, feel and smells of the night.  His use of light and dark on the matching dust jacket and book case are seen on every image within the book.  The lines on Coyote's fur on the front and the coat of a younger coyote on the back near the den and the bark of the tree and branches scattered on the forest floor are exquisite.  An eye for excellence in the details such as the title text outside of and over the moon is the mark of a master.

A steely blue-gray covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the formal title page the shadows of three coyotes from adult down to pup appear on the garage door of a home in the neighborhood indicating the shift from the wild to a civilized area.  All of the images cover two pages edge to edge in near photographic splendor.

At times we share a viewpoint with Coyote as she travels through the community.  In other pictures we are close observers; almost as if we are companions in her hunt.  The shape of her body and its various positions are portrayed with a kind of majesty, homage to her abilities.

One of my favorite illustrations is a close-up of Coyote.  She has stopped with her nose in the air catching the scent of a possible meal.  Her face takes up a good portion of the right hand side, peering between the leaves of alder bushes.  Other branches and leaves stretch to the left.  In the background, on the left, a smaller bush adds depth to the picture.  There is a slight rosy glow to the lower portion of the sky.  If she were not hunting, you might expect her to open her mouth and sing out a call.

Coyote Moon written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline is an outstanding work of nonfiction; a brilliant example of the finest in bookmaking.  Readers will be drawn to the striking jacket and case, then will reread it over and over for the sheer wonder of the interior pages.  At the close of the book Gianferrari includes a series of coyote facts in seven separate paragraphs.  There is a selected bibliography of print materials and websites.

To enjoy learning more about Maria Gianferrari and Bagram Ibatoulline and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Several images from within the book are available to view by visiting the publisher's website.  Maria Gianferrari was featured at Jama's Alphabet Soup and KidLit 411.



Not only am I thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for Coyote Moon but Maria agreed to answer some of my questions.  

I reread Coyote Moon this morning.  It truly is stunning, Maria.  Your words with Bagram Ibatoulline's illustrations have created a wonderful book.  It really gives readers an inside look at the search for food, an evening in the life of a coyote.  Would you please answer some questions for me to include in the blog post?

Thanks, Margie J!

One of the things I think readers will enjoy about Coyote Moon is that it is placed in a suburban area.  Coyote populations are adapting to the loss of territory.  What sparked your interest in this topic Maria? From the time you first conceived this title to its completion how long did it take?

I’ve always loved nature, animals and wildlife, but I became obsessed with coyotes after a late-night encounter with one in my former suburban Boston neighborhood. I was amazed that these wild predators could live among us. The more research I did, the more I learned about the coyote’s power of adaptability.

In terms of a timeline, I had the coyote encounter in January 2007, and immediately began reading and researching them. I first wrote an article called “New in the Neighborhood” for Highlights magazine which was ultimately rejected. I couldn’t give up on the coyotes though, so it morphed into a picture book text and went through many, many drafts. It was acquired by Emily Feinberg at Roaring Brook Press in May 2013, so six years from initial vision through revision and acquisition.


In my many walks with Xena we were always careful to be on the lookout for coyotes (and even wolves making their way across ice into the upper northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan.)  In all the years we walked we only saw a single one once.  I was never sure if it was a large coyote or a small wolf.  It crossed the road in front of us coming from Lake Michigan.  I carried a can of pennies with me or a whistle for coyote encounters.  Have you or anyone in your family encountered a coyote?

You may very well have seen a wolf in that area, Margie—how cool!

Since I’ve moved to Virginia, I’ve sadly only seen a couple of dead coyotes on the highway L. We have more red foxes here in our neighborhood, and I once saw a gray fox. I saw coyotes several times while living in Massachusetts, but by far, the best sighting was on that cold, January night. It was an almost mystical experience. My husband took our then one year old dog, Becca, for her last walk at 1AM. I watched them as a coyote darted from our yard and began to follow them. I alerted my husband, and he and Becca entered our house through the back porch. The coyote ran all around our fence, sniffing and marking our yard and around our neighbors’ yards. I walked down the sidewalk and there it was: diagonally across the street, less than 20’ away, poised under a utility pole—just like the one Bagram painted on the cover. It was the most gorgeous, most magnificent creature I had ever seen: large, with fluffed up fur and a puffy tail. We looked at each other for what seemed a long time. Then it gave a low growl, turned and loped away. In retrospect, I realized it was probably a young juvenile looking for territory and a mate. It was curious, not aggressive. And it was definitely an eastern coyote/coywolf, since it looked more wolfish than coyote. But I did not know that at the time, I only knew that I was lucky to have had this magical moment with it.

Your words poetically convey each portion of the coyote's search for food.  The essence of those words is portrayed in the illustrations of Bagram Ibatoulline.  I know what I think of them as a reader but what do you think of them as the author of the book?

I was thrilled from the first moment I saw Bagram’s sketches. I couldn’t believe how intricately detailed and full of energy they were. Bagram has made this book what it is—I am so fortunate to have been paired with such an incredibly talented artist. He rendered the coyote and all of the other creatures in such photorealistic detail—it’s just astounding! Everything actually, from the bark on the trees, to the coyote and rabbit’s fur, the blade of grass, veins on leaves, the turkey’s feathers is pure genius! I also love how his use of light and shade give the story its visual voice. I have to credit Emily with having this vision of the book and its atmosphere from our very first phone conversation right after it was acquired. She is amazing and insightful, and I love working with her.


Do you have a special spot for doing your writing Maria? 

I do most of my writing on my computer at my desk, in my study. I also keep journals for ideas, starting new projects, or when I feel stuck. I’ll do edits anywhere—in my car, waiting for appointments, or if I’m lucky, with a lovely view of nature—water, mountains…


Do you have a favorite spot for reading?

My living room couch, since the natural light there is good. I can sit and drink tea, and then stretch out and relax for the book journey.

If there is anything else you would like readers to know Maria please do not hesitate to let me know.  I can form a question or you can add it at the end.

Maybe this?

I’m very excited to be working on another nature book with Bagram for Emily at Roaring Brook! This one is on felines instead of canines and is currently titled A Home for Bobcat. I cannot wait to see what he’ll come up with! I know it will be breathtakingly gorgeous!

Thanks for having me on your blog, Margie J!  


Maria writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with her dog, Becca as her muse.  Maria's debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, was released in July 2015 (HMH Books for Young Readers); a companion book, Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, was released in mid-June.  Her debut nonfiction book, Coyote Moon, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, will be published by Roaring Brook Press in July and is a Junior Library Guild Selection.  In October, Aladdin books for Young Readers will publish another fiction title, Officer Katz & Houndini: A Tale of Two Tails, illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou.  Maria has five additional books forthcoming from Roaring Brook press, Boyds Mills Press and GP Putnam's Sons.  To learn more about Maria, visit her at mariagianferrari.com on Facebook or Instagram.




Other stops on the tour are:



  • FRI 7/15:                   Pragmatic Mom (+ 3 book giveaway)
  • MON 7/18:                 Nonfiction Detectives 
  • TUES 7/19:                Debtastic Reads
  • WED 7/20:                 Kid Lit Frenzy
  • THURS 7/21:               Librarian’s Quest
  • FRI 7/22:                   Kidlit411
  • MON 7/25:                 The Reading Zone
  • TUES 7/26:                Bartography
  • WED 7/27:                 Unleashing Readers



    Wednesday, July 20, 2016

    To Serve As Only They Can

    For more years than we probably know dogs have served humans in a military, rescue, search and protective capacity.  Their intelligence and enhanced senses are invaluable in assisting us and enriching our lives.  It goes far beyond being our best friends.  Their willingness to put themselves in danger, to do a job to the best of their ability, is astonishing.

    The stories of their feats of valor cannot ever be accurately numbered; so many have happened on a daily basis for centuries.  Paws Of Courage: True Tales Of Heroic Dogs That Protect And Serve written by Nancy Furstinger with a foreword by Ronald L. Aiello, President of the U. S. War Dogs Association (National Geographic, April 12, 2016) collects some of these finest achievements.  Readers will feel their admiration for canines growing larger and larger.

    The bond between a military or law enforcement working dog and its handler is unlike any other and goes far beyond what one may imagine. 
                           Ronald L. Aiello

    Divided into five sections, Historic Hounds, Battlefield Partners, To The Rescue, Leaders Of The Pack, and Canine Protectors this title presents specifics about twenty-four fabulous creatures.  While you may be familiar with Sergeant Stubby, a pit bull terrier mix serving in World War I, you might not know about a Yorkshire terrier named Smoky whose human, Corporal Bill Wynne, was serving in the Pacific during World War II.  This little dog actually crawled through seventy feet of eight-inch-wide culvert to string telephone wire underneath a vital airstrip!

    The true devotion between dogs and their handlers is underscored repeatedly.  In the summer of 2012 in Afghanistan a film crew following the team of Air Force Staff Sergeant Leonard Anderson and his canine, a Belgian Malinois, captured Azza in action. The dog stopped just prior to a bomb being exploded by an observer. Leonard flew into the air suffering injuries to his legs and feet. Azza sought him first amid the chaos curling up at his side.  Azza saved his life.  A military dog was captured as a hostage, another rode on a float in the New Year's Rose Parade in California and many are trained to sky dive with their handlers.

    As incredible as the first ten stories are, none of them will prepare readers for The Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs program.  The accomplishments of these mostly Newfoundland dogs, but some Labrador and golden retrievers, nearly defy belief.  Bretagne, a golden retriever, hero of 9/11 and more, Baxter, a Labrador retriever, best known for smelling old scents, and Sage, a border collie, hero of 9/11, Iraq and champion comforter to those with cancer (Sage had cancer at the time, too) left their mark of unwavering loyalty and affection with each human they encountered.

    Did you know there are dogs trained to go into fire scenes to sniff out the possibility of arson?  Did you know working dogs can be adopted in their retirement by civilians?  Did you know dogs routinely work in airports every single day in shifts? Did you know there is a team of dogs trained to track poachers in an African national park?

    K-9 units have been used for more than one hundred years.  The dogs' super sense of smell makes them invaluable in tracking criminals and in locating specific illegal items.  Many engaging in unlawful activities have been deterred by their very demeanor of serve and protect.  They like their military and search and rescue companions live to work, always on the job.


    Nancy Furstinger's passion and compassion for her subject is noticeable on the first page.  The dogs' lives and deeds are related to readers in detail but as if we are absorbed in conversation.  She carefully weaves the place and time into her narratives.

    Explanatory captions accompany each of the images.  Within the specific dog portions, above the main text, she has placed fascinating facts about that dog or working dogs in general. A technique similar to a FAQ asks questions about current military dogs with answers by Chief Petty Officer James Silvis of the U. S. Navy.  Furstinger also includes short pieces of information about each breed as it is introduced; their origin, color, height and temperament.  At the conclusion of each chapter readers are treated to more information under the headings of Military Mascots, Special Ops Canines, Making a Difference, Heroes of All Kinds and Train Your Own Hero Dog.  Here are some sample passages.

    The Belgian Malinois is one of the top breed choices for Navy SEAL teams.  These fearless canines can rappel, parachute, and run twice as fast as an athletic human.

    Staff Sgt. Julian McDonald picked the more stubborn dog as his new canine partner.  The trainer gave Julian a choice of two dogs and he spent hours with them, giving them both commands and practicing scenarios together.  "I liked how Layka performed and her overall stubbornness gave her that extra edge," Julian recalled.  Turns out, it wasn't just helpful but the key to saving Julian and protecting a whole squad of soldiers while serving in Afghanistan.

    But all of a sudden, a dark snout with pointy ears appeared in the window.  It was Kristen's German shepherd partner, Xanto.  The protective police dog heard the commotion and began barking and jumping around inside the vehicle, violently shaking the patrol car, like a monster waiting to be unleashed.  


    Paws Of Courage: True Tales Of Heroic Dogs That Protect And Serve written by Nancy Furstinger will have you turning pages faster than a dog can gobble up a biscuit.  It would be wise to plan on multiple copies for its appeal to dog lovers and readers who enjoy short, informative and captivating chapters.  The 157 pages are plentifully illustrated on colorful backgrounds with a pleasing design and layout; dog tags for chapter name titles, stars beneath short facts, and tabbed extras looking like file folders.  At the end are a short bibliography of further titles, National Geographic reference tools and a list of organizations mentioned in the text.

    To discover more about Nancy Furstinger and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Nancy Furstinger supplies the pronunciation of her name at TeachingBooks.net.  Enjoy the video below.




    Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to check out the other titles listed by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.