Quote of the Month

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




Saturday, June 25, 2016

No Place To Hide

There is not a reader among readers who has not done this.  It can happen almost any time of the day.  You move with the stealth of a ninja seeking a place of solitude; a secret of all secret nooks.   You have to start this one important book getting lots of buzz or you have to finish the final two chapters of an edge-of-your-seat title.  You have no control over this desire.  This is simply the way it is.

Since the beginning of the printed word, book nerds and readers, this challenge has been and continues to be an arduous task.  Let Me Finish! (Disney Hyperion, June 7, 2016) written by debut picture book author Minh Le with illustrations by Isabel Roxas follows an avid reader on a quest for quiet.  We all know how troublesome this can be.

Ahhhh...nothing like a quiet spot and a new book.

As our bespectacled hero settles in for a great story, three avian voices loudly share their comments, completely spoiling the moment for him.  All he wants to do is finish a book without any interruptions.  Trudging back home, he chooses another book sneaking away undetected...hopefully.

This time he selects solace in a darkened cave, flashlight in hand. YIKES!  Not only have the birds followed him but a bear joins the chorus.  With sagging spirits he goes back home to find a package on his doorstep.  It's a title he has been yearning to read for a very long time.

Nonchalantly moving past the birds and the bear, he locates the perfect place among the trees.  He opens the book and... WHAT?!  A giraffe appears speaking about the very same book.  This cannot be happening!  The boy, in a loud, frustrated voice asks

JUST LET ME FINISH!

Being chased by an assortment of animals up high and down low, our intrepid reader is on the run, book in hand.  Sprinting, swimming and climbing through a variety of landscapes, he finally reaches a peak of perfection.  He is alone at last.  Or is he?  Superb twists close this tale.


With his use of language Minh Le speaks with a true reader's heart.  He understands the absolute need for a reader to discover individually the story a book will tell them.  Even if a story is heard with a group, each individual will bring their personal interpretation to the telling.

When the boy is speaking, we can easily identify with his anticipation and eagerness to read a certain book.  His frustration is acutely felt with the inclusion of specific sentences.  The remarks by the birds, the bear and the collection of animals are all things voiced by those who are not mindful of spoilers.  Without us knowing it, Le is guiding us to a huge surprise which will have readers turning back pages to look for clues.  Here is a sample of his narrative.

Now to find a peaceful spot
where I won't be disturbed.

Have you gotten to the part
where the puppy runs away?
That was so sad.

But then they
saved the poor
thing from the well!

What a surprise ending!

Grandma to the rescue!

OH No!


When you remove the dust jacket and open it up, a stunning, energetic image meets your eyes from flap edge to flap edge.  Isabel Roxas uses bright, though realistic hues, on her animals who are uttering partial statements, short sentences and questions while chasing the boy; leading us to the beginning of the narrative.  To the left, on the back, the bear is carrying the ISBN.  Two shades of burnt orange cover the book case and spine.  One element on the front and another on the back give hints as to the unexpected twist in this story.  The matching opening and closing endpapers are a splash of color spreading out like fireworks filled with spirals, stars, lightning and discordant musical notes.  This is the noise in the home from which the boy seeks peace.

Thicker, matte-finished paper with a white or cream background acts to highlight the other elements in the interior pictures.  Roxas' illustrations are a joyous collage of the boy, the out-of-doors and the intruding animals.  Every single page turn is fully animated.  The size of the visuals dictates impeccable pacing.  Eleven of the illustrations are wonderfully wordless.

A multitude of emotions are expressed in the facial looks on the characters, especially the eyes.  The over-sized orange glasses on the boy are charming.  This little guy is totally lovable.

One of my favorite pictures is wordless.  The boy is seated on the floor of the cave.  His backpack is sitting next to him.  His newly found book is open across his legs.  The cave is dark except for the upturned flashlight shining on his face.  He is grimacing but we aren't quite sure why yet.


With every reading Let Me Finish! written by Minh Le with illustrations by Isabel Roxas becomes more marvelous.  It conveys the love of books and reading with excellence delivering the ultimate surprise.  It makes for a great read aloud.  I urge you to share it repeatedly.

To learn more about Minh Le and Isabel Roxas please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Isabel Roxas also maintains Tumblr pages.  The cover for this title was revealed on 100 Scope Notes by teacher librarian, 2014 Caldecott committee member and blogger, Travis Jonker.  Minh Le was recently highlighted at KidLit411 and Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Howling At The Moon

It's one of those places where the mere mention of it causes your anticipation to grow every second until your arrival or you dread being any closer than one hundred miles from the location.  These feelings can be based upon personal experiences or the assessments of others.  If you have never been there and no one you know has either, perhaps this place is a perfect fit for you.  It calls to your deepest desires and undisguised actions.

When the opportunity to visit and be a guest presents itself, how can you resist?  Wolf Camp (Schwartz & Wade Books, May 3, 2016) written and illustrated by Andrea Zuill is an adventure on the wild side worth taking.  If you are a dog, it's a dream come true.

My name is Homer.  I am a dog...
...but sometimes I am very wolfish.

Homer continues explaining to the reader about the wolfish heritage all dogs have.  As his human is pouring kibble into his dish at meal time, something falls from the bag.  It's a flyer for Wolf Camp!  

This canine is determined to go, carrying the pamphlet and presenting it over and over again to his people.  Finally they relent, telling him he can make this trip.  Homer is more excited than he ever imagined.  He knows his inner wolf is going to grow and surface.

The two camp counselors, Fang and Grrr greet Homer and two other campers, Pixie and Rex.  Although his two pals are a little frightened by Fang's pep talk, Homer is ecstatic.  Marking, howling, tracking and hunting are the daily order of business.  Homer's first letter home clearly states the differences between the norm and this living in the wilderness.

As time passes the trio acquires new talents until their efforts are rewarded.  A call echoes off the mountains and through the trees as the bus pulls away returning the friends to their humans.  At home Homer realizes some things never change.


Telling this tale from Homer's point of view is a warm welcome for readers to join directly in the fun.  When Andrea Zuill adds the dialogue of the humans and wolves and thoughts of the dogs, the energy in the story, already high, gets even better.  These asides to the main narrative elevate the comedy of each situation, too.  Here is a sample passage.

The big moment was here.  It was time to hunt!

Hey guys! Wait up!
Yikes!
We're going to eat that?

Grrr!
Snarl!
Growl!


On the matching dust jacket and book case Homer and Fang are starring at each other intently.  We aren't quite sure what they are thinking but we want to understand.  We want to know what Wolf Camp really is.  On the back, to the left, the flyer which falls from Homer's food is enlarged for readers.  The opening and closing endpapers are different in color; the first is a deep grass green and the second is a rich blue-green hue.  The title page features the Wolf Camp sign with a grinning Homer sitting off to the right.

Andrea Zuill makes marvelous use of white space placing her images, varying in size, on this canvas.  Many of her pictures share a single page horizontally.  For visual impact and to intensify the story her illustrations may span two pages or a single page edge to edge.  The expressions on the characters faces will have you laughing out loud at the absolute hilarity.  The added details, Mr. Moose, the computations on the blackboard, the dogs sniffing each other, the smashed bug, and the heating pad on Homer's bed elevate the comedy.

One of my favorite pictures is contained on two pages.  On the left Fang is issuing his rules and recommendations.  They spread out in a gigantic speech balloon becoming the background for the right half of the left page and the entire right side.  Rex and Pixie are looking a tad bit frightened but Homer is ready for the challenges.  The trio occupies the center on the right.  The rules are totally funny.  Here is how the last line reads.

And, finally, never trust a squirrel.  They can be very


Pure perfection for story hours with a camp, dog or wolf theme, Wolf Camp written and illustrated by Andrea Zuill will have readers and listeners hugging their sides in laughter.  It's one of those stories where the experience exceeds expectations...even beyond a return home.  You will want to read this one with multiple voices.

By following the link attached to Andrea Zuill's name you can access her website, learning more about her and her work.  Andrea Zuill is featured at KidLit411 and on a podcast at Storybook Spotlight.  Check out the Saturday post at Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. to discover how he highlights this title.  To view interior images follow this link to the publisher's website.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Reaching Upward

An hour ago, standing on my front porch as the sky lightened with a new day, the air was literally filled with bird song.  Trees reaching astounding heights line the yards of many homes in our neighborhood.  These trees were filled with our avian friends calling us awake.  Their roots run deep keeping the leaves green even though we need rain.

It's easy to imagine them when they were younger providing space for young adventurers to climb among their branches, perhaps even to the top to see the world from a different perspective.  As a breeze blew through those branches, the child hiding among the leaves gently swayed too.  In an informative title and tribute to the influence trees bring to our planet and to us, author Nikki Tate as part of the Orca Footprints series wrote Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet (Orca Publishing, February 9, 2016).

No matter where you live, even if it's in a big city, chances are you won't be far from a tree or two.  

Continuing with her introduction Tate concludes:

In Deep Roots, we'll have a look at why trees just might be our best friends, barometers of how we are looking after our planet, and our partners as we move forward to create a healthier world.

Within four chapters titled Earth, Air, Water and Fire we are educated as to the value and remarkable attributes of trees. Each chapter is divided into between eight and ten sections.

One of the tallest trees in the entire world makes its home in the Redwood National Park in California.  When these large sentinels die or any tree falls, they continue to sustain the earth providing food for essential insects and invertebrates.  Roots from trees act as a filtering system and a freeway system.  Details are given to us about the importance of replanting when trees are harvested.  Did you know that tree rings show us more than age?  They can inform scientists as to the rate and type of climate change.

Trees are carbon sinks absorbing huge amounts of CO2 releasing oxygen in return.  In the canopies of tree giants whole communities live, communities which most of us will never see due to their heights.  What do you know about baobabs?  Why are they known as the Tree of Life?  The positive emotional impact of looking at trees and being among trees is supported by studies.

If you have never seen trees as rain makers before now, you will after understanding this facet of the water cycle.  The Great Green Wall is an enormous project to stop the spread of the Sahara Desert.  The volume of trees estimated to be planted is mind-boggling.  A cycle of salmon swimming back to their origin, bears waiting and feeding on them and the growth of trees along the Pacific Northwest is completely fascinating.

Man-made fires, unless controlled for a distinct function, are never good for our forests but they and those caused by lightning strikes do serve a purpose.  Heat causes certain seeds to be released from cones and ash has many uses; a soil enhancer, a pest deterrent and an ingredient in soap making.  For countless years the wood from trees has been used as fuel.  Trees yield themselves for transportation in the making of roads and vessels on water, for food, for homes and for the air life needs.

By dividing the narrative into four separate chapters and then sections within the chapters, Nikki Tate broadens our knowledge of trees in smaller, manageable portions.  Outside of the main narrative she includes seven Try This! columns such as asking us to commemorate a significant occasion by planting a tree.  She supplies eight Forest Fact insets such as

A tree planter in the Canadian bush can plant 1,600 to 5,000 new tree seedlings every day.

In four Wood Works she advises us further as to how wood is beneficial in very specific incidences.

In her I ♥ Trees paragraphs, all eight, we are privy to the very personal aspect trees have played in the life of Nikki Tate.  She shares with readers the influence of trees planted on her farm, a special tree commemorating an event, trees and gardening, tree climbing, remembering particular trees, and children's literature and trees. Here is one of those paragraphs.

For as long as I can remember I have loved climbing trees.  Even though I am usually afraid of heights, for some reason I always feel quite safe when I'm sitting up in the branches of a tree.  My old apple trees are a lot of fun to climb, especially early in the fall when their branches are full of apples.  I never get tired of climbing up into branches, reaching out for an apple and taking a bite.  Yum!

Throughout the title, pages are replete with photographs in a variety of sizes, all captioned.  Line drawings of branches, logs, trunks, root systems and camp fires are carefully placed to enhance the text. The backgrounds on divisional pages are textured mirroring wood grain.


Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet written by Nikki Tate is a highly enlightening title.  Things you may have already known are supported with further knowledge.  You will learn many new important pieces of information.  Only with greater understanding from nonfiction picture books such as this volume can we educate ourselves to becoming better stewards for our planet.  This is highly recommended.  In addition to the table of contents in the front, print and website resources, a glossary and an index are included at the end.

To learn more about Nikki Tate please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  She has an account on Twitter @writergrrrl


Each week I enjoy joining other bloggers and reading about their selections in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Make sure you view their choices for this week.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

After Hours Escapades

You laughed out loud repeatedly more than two months ago.  You read it again yesterday laughing even more than you did the first time.  As an adult you pause to wonder why, realizing readers of all ages will agree with you.  We share something in common.  We have all attended elementary school.  Most readers have had pets in their classrooms.  You know you are holding humor gold in your hands when this particular book is read.

On January 11, 2016 as the American Library Association announced the Youth Media Award medal and honor award winners I was among those cheering long and loud for Roller Girl (Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, March 10, 2015) written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson when it received a Newbery Honor award.  Along with many others, I was looking forward to her new graphic novel for the younger set (and those young at heart) with anticipation.  The Great Pet Escape (Pets On The Loose) (Henry Holt and Company, February 16, 2016) far exceeds expectations.

Three month,
two weeks,
and one day.
That's how long I've
been stuck in this
terrible prison,
otherwise known as...
a second-grade 
classroom.

With these words found in the opening panels we are introduced to GW, George Washington, a hamster and his two friends, Furry Fiends, Biter, a guinea pig, now known as Sunflower and Barry a bunny.  The three reside at Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School in separate classrooms.  GW is no ordinary hamster.  He is a first class inventor with a workshop in the wall behind his cage.  On the evening this story begins he is about to test out his Hairy Houdini Escape-O-Matic having acquired the final missing piece, a bobby pin.

Hooray!  Free at last!  He scurries to liberate his two buddies only to discover they are a little bit different than he remembers.  Apparently they have been influenced by the activities in their respective classrooms. Barry is found reading a book stopping to mark the pages and tuck in three toy stuffed animals before he leaves his cage.  When Barry breaks the news Biter, the fiercest of the threesome, has been placed in the most dreaded place in the school, GW is stunned.  Not kindergarten?!  Yes, kindergarten.

The transformation of Biter, now called Sunflower is stunning...and hilarious.

Namaste, friends.

After convincing Sunflower to join them in their escape, the trio is stopped in their tracks by a villainous voice.  Harriet, a fourth-grade pet, a mouse and her mice minions as well as Lucinda, a fifth-grade pet snake (more giggles and grins come with this addition) are not about to let the Furry Fiends leave.  Harriet and company have an evil plan to put in place.  Champions are born in the comedic chaos.


Told entirely through the thoughts of the hamster George Washington, his conversations and dialogue of the other characters, readers instantly join in the playful pandemonium created by the words written by Victoria Jamieson.  We barely have a chance to breathe we are turning the pages so quickly; anxious to see where her plot twists and turns gleefully take us.  The personalities of the characters are well-known to us as this episode concludes with the promise of more excitement in the future.  Here is a sample passage through a collection of panels.

Look, GW, there's something
you should know.  It's about Biter.

Barry has this habit of pulling 
on his ears when he's nervous.

What are you not 
telling me, Barry?

You know how Biter
was a bit of a ...
erm, tough case
when she came in?

"Boneyard Biter?  I'll say she was 
something of a "tough case"!

Well, I don't know exactly how to
tell you this, but they put her...
Oh, I can't say it.  I just can't.

Barry, pull yourself 
together.  WHERE IS SHE?

She's...she's doing hard 
time in the worst cell block in
this place.  Her jailers torture
her nearly all the time with stupid
songs and crazy behavior...

You don't mean...


How can you look at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case and not expect loads of unexpected fun and laughter?  One glimpse of the threesome's faces tells a tale.  On the back, to the left, looking like a police file are vital pieces of information about GW, Biter, Barry and Harriet.  It's titled Classified Information, Property of Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School.  The same tubing framing the title on the front points to the ISBN on the back.  A hue of the same color in GW's escape balloon covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Victoria Jamieson uses a full color palette for her pictures rendered in pen and ink and colored digitally varying her panel sizes to enhance her narrative.  Most of her square-shaped or rectangle-shaped images are framed in white.  She changes her pattern breaking through the frames with specific elements in key moments.  Wit spills from her pages in the facial expressions and body positions of her characters.  Readers need to watch the snake for extra smiles.

One of my favorite of many, many illustrations is when GW and Barry first see Biter in her prison cell (cage).  The change is remarkable as she sits on a pillow meditating with hanging lanterns behind her and candles burning on a low table.  She is wearing a wreath of tiny yellow flowers.  The expressions on GW's face and Barry's face are of sheer shock.


The Great Pet Escape (Pets On The Loose) written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson is a book I will be recommending often.  I plan on including it in my giveaways for trick-or-treaters at Halloween this year.  We can never have enough laughter and this title delivers it abundantly page after page.

You are going to want to learn more about Victoria Jamieson and her other work.  Please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  You can view eight of the first pages in this title by following this link to the publisher's website.  You will enjoy this recent interview at School Library Journal.  Here is Victoria Jamieson's thank you video after her Newbery Honor win.




Monday, June 20, 2016

Seeking Truth On The Sea

You and a companion have seen the most amazing thing in the world.  You can hardly wait to get home to tell everyone and anyone.  When you relate your experience no one believes you.  If only you had been able to find your phone in time.  If only you hadn't dropped your brand new camera last week.  It's beyond frustrating when you can't share and spread the excitement you feel.

In their debut picture book, The Whale (Templar Books, an imprint of Candlewick Press, April 12, 2016) collaborative husband and wife team, Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow pose a similar scenario.  Without benefit of words we sail the sea with two determined young people.  They each strive to seek the truth.  It is highly personal for both of them.

On August 28th fifty years ago, a girl and a boy were out fishing together.  Upon their arrival on shore they claimed a Great Spotted Whale came so close to their boat it consumed their fishing tackle.  Their only proof was a less than clear picture. Their names were never released because people believed their story was and still is a hoax.

Today in response to an open invitation in The Cape Chronicle, the local newspaper, a girl and a boy, are working separately but with determination to get to the truth of the fifty year old legend.  They each have designed boats with inventive detecting equipment to aid them in their search.  In spite of the advancement of Hurricane Betsy, they head out to sea.  During the course of their trip, the storm strikes.  Their boats rising and falling in the waves come together and CRASH!

They and their vessels, the worse for wear, fortunately wash ashore on a small island, Puffin Island.  A recently established observation platform will help them see what they have just heard.  Could it be the elusive Great Spotted Whale?  In the light of a full moon, their hearts nearly stop beating at the sight before their eyes.

Former adversaries, the two work as a team to build a boat from the wreckage.  They need to get closer to what they have seen.  As they sail over the waves toward their goal, they receive surprise after surprise.  As their voyage comes to a close, a welcoming group of people greet them as they slowly approach their home harbor.  On September 1st new headlines span the paper with yet another surprise for readers.  


Rendered entirely in pencil the matching dust jacket and book case capture readers' attention immediately.  We know what the children are seeing in their binoculars by looking closely at the lens openings.  The texture in this first image we see is stunning in its realism.  The addition of the tiny whale tail on the h in the title is the kind of exquisite consideration we see in the entire book by Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow.  To the left, on the back, beneath a full moon a whale tail slaps the surface of the sea.  A solid rich blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.

The Murrows begin the nearly wordless title with images of the present day boy and girl working on their inventive projects.  One has the newspaper article on their work station.  The other sees it as a billboard in their community by the sea.  The boy clearly focuses on sound; the girl on photography.  With a page turn we are given a close up view of the newspaper; articles recounting the past and present news.  These tidbits of information become the foundation for this tale; the springboard for this wonder in pictures.

As the action rises in the narrative we are brought closer to the children.  You can feel the swell of the waves, the shuddering impact of the collision and the relief as well as the frustration when they arrive on the island.  In a series of smaller images horizontally above two pictures on two pages, you can sense the keen anticipation and excitement.  The next two page spread is breathtaking.  Every line, the shading, and use of light fill these pages with emotion.  You want to smile joyously with the children as they skim the water toward their goal.  You will gasp repeatedly along with them as events unfold.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is of the boy working on his plans for his boat and the trip he will make.  We are looking above him and slightly over his shoulder.  A map and drawings are spread before him.  Boards with nails in them, and loose nails indicate he has been hard at work as he holds a hammer in his hand.  Off to the side is a bell.  


Eloquent images convey a story spanning decades in The Whale conceived, written and illustrated by Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow.  In this ode to inventiveness, perseverance and a true spirit of adventure readers young and old alike will find inspiration.  This is a book to be read and enjoyed over and over searching for more details and gaining additional viewpoints.

To learn more about Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow, their work and their collaborative process please visit Ethan Murrow's website and their joint website by following the links attached to their names.  At these publisher's websites, here and here, you can view interior images.  At PICTUREBOOK MAKERS Ethan and Vita Murrow and this title are featured.  The process behind the creating of this book is completely fascinating.  Enjoy the video below.





Readers could pair this title with other wonderful books about whales.  The Blue Whale (Enchanted Lion Books, May 26, 2015) , If You Want To See A Whale (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, May 7, 2013) written by Julie Fogliano with illustrations by Erin E. Stead or Whale Trails: Before and Now (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt And Company, January 20, 2015) written by Lesa Cline-Ransome with illustrations by G. Brian Karas.

You might also enjoy Dario and the Whale (Albert Whitman & Company, March 1, 2016) written by debut picture book author Cheryl Lawton Malone with illustrations by Bistra Masseva, To the Sea (Disney Hyperion, June 2, 2015) written and illustrated by Cale Atkinson, Trapped!  A Whale's Rescue (Charlesbridge, April 14, 2015) written by Robert Burleigh with paintings by Wendell Minor or Breathe (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, April 1, 2014 ) written and illustrated by Scott Magoon.

Friday, June 17, 2016

To Be Named

In two days another Father's Day will be celebrated.  Families will be paying tribute to dads, uncles, grandfathers, older brothers and significant men in their lives.  For me it will be another Father's Day without my dad.  It will be a day to remember all the memorable moments we shared and those times I've wished for him to be with me.  It will be a day to miss him but to reflect on how much a part of my life he still is on a daily basis.  The tools in his original carpenter's belt are used often, his initials etched in the handles.  The care of my gardens and lawn reflect his green-thumb gifts.  The maintenance of everything I own, making them last beyond the time they should, is due to his constant attention to detail.  It's as if he is right beside me, guiding me.

Dads play important parts in all our lives.  In Sherman Alexie's first picture book, Thunder Boy Jr. (Little, Brown and Company, May 10, 2016) illustrated by Yuyi Morales, a son speaks to readers about his beloved father.  The boy is unsure how to address a huge problem he has.

Hello, my name is 
Thunder Boy.

As his younger sister proclaims he is Thunder Boy Smith.  At birth he received this name from his father.  He would much rather have been given a normal name like Sam. (That's what his mom wanted to call him.)  He is not the only Thunder Boy either, he is Thunder Boy Jr.  His dad is Thunder Boy Sr.

This might be okay but his dad is affectionately and with respect called Big Thunder.  He is Little Thunder.  This does not seem right to him.  He shares a secret with readers.

I HATE MY NAME!

The boy keeps this secret to himself out of love for his dad.  He does imagine being named for accomplishments in his young life.  For touching a wild orca on the nose perhaps he should be named

NOT AFRAID OF TEN THOUSAND TEETH.  

He thinks how much his dog enjoys chasing his own tail and the costume tail Thunder Boy Jr. sometimes wears.  Maybe his name should be

CAN'T RUN FAST WHILE LAUGHING.

He thoughtfully ponders nine possibilities.  How can he be truly himself when he shares a name with his dad?  This little guy does not know what to do with his unhappiness.  Someone far wiser has an answer.  Your heart will swell with the same joy Thunder Boy Jr. feels.


Even though Thunder Boy Jr. has a personal, real dilemma, Sherman Alexie, forms each sentence so readers realize the boy is living in a home filled with loving family members.  We form a compassionate connection to him as he speaks to us.  When he relates his experiences, each which could serve to give him a name more specific to him alone, his exuberance, his zest for life, sails off the pages.  Alexie also uses repetition with excellent effect.  Here is a sample passage.

People call him 

BIG THUNDER.

That nickname is a storm
filling up the sky.

People call me

LITTLE THUNDER.

That nickname makes me
sound like a
burp or a fart.


One of the first things I do when reading a book is to check to see how the artist created the illustrations.  This is what I read on the verso for this book.

The illustrations for Thunder Boy Jr. were made from the remains of an antique house in Xalapa, Mexico, where Yuyi now has her studio and where she created this book.  When the rotting roof and some of the walls came down, she picked out old wood as well as clay bricks that she later scanned and used their colors and textures to digitally paint the illustrations.  

This is why when you open the matching dust jacket and book case, you have to marvel at the force radiating from the images.  The bold outlines and vibrant colors on the sizzling backgrounds are full of energy.  A collage of circles in red, magenta, yellow, turquoise, black and gray fashion a pattern on the opening and closing endpapers.

Text balloons, speech bubbles, are placed throughout the narrative holding narrative words as if they're spoken.  This involves all the characters, even the family's dog.  All of the pages are connected across the gutter even if they portray a separate moment.

Within the story Yuyi Moralesin a series of pictures, includes a mini-story of the boy and his sister disagreeing over the possession of a large colorful ball.   Two other elements which I really like are first the size of the parents with respect to the children.  Our parents are and will remain larger than life to us.  The other aspect is when Thunder Boy Jr. is imagining possible names; the father is a part of the orca and the mountain.

Readers will notice elements from one picture carried into another one; the children riding their bikes, the playing of the guitar and the presence of the bear, coyote (wolf) and snake.  You will want to stop and look at every detail in picture after picture.  The image of Thunder Boy Jr. powwow dancing is stunning.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is of Thunder Boy Jr., his sister and their dog playing in the dirt.  It looks to be fairly muddy with dark brown splotches spreading out from the children and the dog.  The brother and sister are sliding through it on pieces of cardboard.  Their faces are glowing as they laugh and laugh and laugh.  You want to jump in and join them!


With each reading of Thunder Boy Jr. written by Sherman Alexie with illustrations by Yuyi Morales your affection for this boy and his father will grow.  You can almost hold the joy found in these pages in your hands.  This IS a book for everyone.  It is wonderful to read it aloud.


To learn more about Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Sherman Alexie and this title are discussed at The Washington Post.  Sherman Alexie is interviewed on NPR Books about Thunder Boy Jr.  Teacher librarian and 2014 Caldecott committee member Travis Jonker premieres the book trailer on his blog, 100 Scope Notes.  It's a superb trailer.  Both Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales are on Twitter at @Sherman_Alexie @yuyimorales  Yuyi Morales is a 2016 Sendak Fellow.  I have enjoyed following her tweets about this experience.

To Follow Or To Break

Nearly every evening it was a routine during dinner.  Looking to make sure my mom was preoccupied, my dad would pick up a piece of food with his fingers. Inevitably my mom would catch him in the act exclaiming "Use your fork!"  Dad would laughingly reply "Fingers were made before forks!"  We would all laugh despite the fact we had heard this so many times we had lost count.

Even though my dad was able to do this, no one else dared to do the same.  If household "directives" were not followed, there were consequences; consequences of the variety insuring said "directives" would be followed in the future.  Rules Of The House (Disney Hyperion, May 3, 2016) written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Matt Myers will have you rethinking your position on obeying rules.

Ian always followed the rules.
Here he is following the rule
ALWAYS PACK A TOOTHBRUSH.

Ian never falters in his steadfast adherence to what his family or society at large requires of him.  Ian's older sister Jenny is the exact opposite.  She takes particular delight in breaking the rule of not pinching.  OUCH!

The two are on their way with their dad to a large cabin in the woods to spend their vacation.  As the brother and sister squabble in the back seat, their dad reminds them of another rule,

DON'T TELL LIES.

The decor in the house is quaint and classic with an old potbelly stove, a claw-foot bath tub and a bearskin rug.  Ian loves all this stuff.  To his delight a set of rules, numbering four, have been left by The Management.  The last one states the red door is to be left unopened, ALWAYS.  Jenny agrees to comply but still calls Ian toady.

A variety of outdoor activities are enjoyed during the day but when inside the house Jenny breaks the first three rules with abandon and determination.  When Ian cautions her and chants his familiar phrase, Jenny snaps and...opens the red door.  HA!  Not one little thing happens. BUT when Ian and Jenny are all snuggled in bed, the fright comes into the night.

It's simply too scary for words.  Okay...okay...here are a few hints.  Someone is about to become an entree.  Did I mention monsters?  Another someone has to make decisions completely out of the ordinary.  Power to toothbrushes and to them who wield them!


With impeccable pacing and a masterful story arc, Mac Barnett has our attention from the very first page.  We are invited into the story with his wording as he makes statements and then demonstrates the veracity of each.  The trio of rules woven into this initial portion of the narrative is integral to the conclusion.

Barnett carefully creates the contrast between the siblings with a blend of text and dialogue.  You know something is about to change when you read two defining sentences at the close of the outdoor activities.  There is a shift in the atmosphere of the story.  It gets scary but not too scary after Jenny opens the red door.  Two short phrases speak volumes.  As readers' heart rates increase so does the tension in this tale racing toward the ending.  Here is a sample passage.

Best of all was a framed piece of paper
in the hallway that said

THE RULES OF THE HOUSE

"Look!" said Ian.  "Rules!"
"You're such a toady," said Jenny,
and then pinched him.
"OUCH!" said Ian.  "You're not
supposed to---OUCH!"

Ian drew a deep breath and read out
the rules with gusto.


Appropriately inviting and scary the front of the dust jacket screams you have to read this book.  Artist Matt Myers incorporates the tree trunk letters into the landscape.  The fiery red glow from the inside of the house draws our attention to the animated items.  To the left, on the back, a single toothbrush is highlighted in a yellow star with the rule printed beneath it.  The book case, left and right, is the red door.  We are doomed as soon as we open this book.  A pale sea green is used for the opening and closing endpapers perhaps in reference to an eye color mentioned in the story.  The title page and verso images are the red door.  Opposite the verso Myers has the children jumping back in fear at something they have seen.  The stage is set.

The picture sizes and perspectives are altered to fit the mood of the story; each one creating a separate effect.  Myers places a smaller image within a large visual.  He gives us a bird's eye view of the day's fun, mapping it out before us.  This allows for the contrast in what is to come; those haunting (but not too haunting) scenes of the cabin after everyone has gone to bed, the awful encounters in the children's bedroom and the kitchen.  The background colors play a significant role also noting a change in the current conditions.  Myers' use of light and shadow works wonderfully.

One of my favorite illustrations is of Ian standing outside in the dark wearing his pajamas and carrying his toothbrush.  He is standing on a small hill thinking.  Evergreen trees are placed in the background with silhouettes of more trees behind those.  His head is framed in a full moon.


On the first reading of this book, Rules Of The House written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Matt Myers, I thought---Gals and guys are going to love this book!  It's a fantastic combination of scary and fun.  Beneath the fast-paced action runs an exploration of rules; when to follow them and when to break them.

To discover more about Mac Barnett and Matt Myers please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Enjoy the video interviews of Mac Barnett at Reading Rockets.  Mac Barnett speaks at TED, Why a good book is a secret door.  Both Mac Barnett and Matt Myers are on Twitter.  @macbarnett and @myerspaints  Enjoy the video chat below with Mac Barnett and Matt Myers at Politics & Prose Bookstore.