Quote of the Month

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

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hunting For Home

There is a tiny treasure resting on my bookshelves among all my gardening books.  On my birthday it was a gift from my mom and dad.  The inscription reads

June 11, 1980
To our daughter who is as lovely as a flower-----
Happy Birthday, Margie
With love,
Dad and Mom

They each wrote their own names; their signatures as distinctive as they were.  The book, The Language of Flowers, was originally published in 1968.  Printed in England my edition is the fourth printing in 1976.  This volume lists over seven hundred flowers with their meanings.

Seven kinds of daisies are listed.  In Tracy Holczer's debut middle grade novel, The Secret Hum of a Daisy, daisies figure prominently.  Considering the ox-eye daisy is prevalent in the wild I decided to look up what it represents.

Daisy, Ox Eye, .... A Token


All I had to do was walk up to the coffin.  

Twelve-year-old Grace is at her mother's funeral.  For all the years of her life, it has always been her and her mother alone moving from place to place; fourteen new schools in total for Grace.  Now she would be living with her maternal grandmother, a woman who, before Grace was born, had asked Grace's mother to leave her home after Grace's dad and grandfather were killed in an automobile accident.

In Grace's mind this woman who sent her own daughter away could not possibly want Grace.  At her Grandmother's house, she refuses to live inside taking up residence in her grandfather's workshop.  Here she can't hear the nearby river; its sound a painful memory of her mother's drowning.

After nine months, the longest time they have ever stayed in one place, Grace has grown to love living with Mrs. Greene and her daughter, Lacey, who has become her best friend.  When her mother wants to move again, Grace takes a stand arguing.  That discussion and afterward, those words exchanged in frustration, anger and disappointment is the last time Grace sees her mother alive.

Wishing for Before, afraid of After but needing to connect with life, a new person in a new small town, Grace like many experiencing loss of a loved one is looking for a promise.  When she finds a folded silver origami crane in the bushes on her way to school she believes it is a sign from her mom. In each new home her mom would create a scavenger hunt for Grace.  More and more clues are seen and collected.  Who is leaving these for Grace and why?

Origami cranes, larger cranes fashioned from found metal objects with messages tucked inside, a horse named Beauty, a park, a school project, a field of daisies, spoons and an Egyptian death ceremony are important pieces in Grace building a foundation, finding her place. Poetry, writing letters and stories told by supportive community members and family friends strengthen the framework providing shelter.  Will windows and a door open into Grace's heart?

With the single first sentence, readers, like Grace, are seeking answers.  We want to know more about her Grandmother Jessup, her dad, the community members, teachers and staff at school, Mrs.Greene and Lacey, the next door neighbors, Jo, Max and Mr. and Mrs. Brannigan and...her mother. Their roles are important in shaping Grace's new life.

Tracy Holczer builds her characters conversation by conversation.  We listen to Grace's thoughts as she weighs the pros and cons of her choices.  Talking, thinking and journal writing shape a picture of the past, present and possible future.

We want to understand the significance of the treasure hunt and its link to the meaning of home.  Using the clues and the placement of the paper cranes, we travel from place to place, idea to idea, on a road of discovery right along with Grace.  This moves the narrative briskly with a gentle tension.  Here are some samples of Tracy Holczer's writing in this title.

Each of her birds held a sorrow or a wish---all her sleepless nights and worries, all her hopes for the future---formed into words and sketches tucked deep inside those birds and meant to fly away.  Before that day, I didn't know what she might be worried about, what might have made her feel sorrowful.  I only understood my own sorrows, the way they would settle into the empty spaces meant to be filled by other things---a father, a place to call home---and I didn't know how to scrape them out now.

"You need to give her a name," I said.
"Give who a name?" Grandma said.
"The truck.  We had a name for our car and Mama talked real nice to her, like with plants.  That car always started right up."
"You want me to talk to the truck?" Grandma said real quiet, like it was occurring to her I might have slipped clear off my nut.
Sheriff Bergum looked amused.  "Come on, Miranda.  Give it a try."
"I most certainly will not."
Just to poke at her, I ran my hand along the crisp green metal.  "There you go Granny Smith.  You take your time. I know you can do it."
When I walked to the tailgate, Grandma stared at me through the rearview mirror; her eyes almost kind.
"You can give it a try again," I said.
In a shuddering cough of smelly gray smoke, the truck started right up.  Even I was surprised.

"You will go your whole life Gracie May, and every single person in it will fail you in one way or another.  It's all about repair.  It's all about letting yourself change those pictures."

The Secret Hum of a Daisy written by Tracy Holczer is about feeling hopeless and finding hope, never having a place to call home and finding people who make a house a home and it's about love helping to fill the hole of loss.  It's about being human but extending ourselves for the benefit of others, knowing everyone's lives will be richer for the efforts.  This is a memorable, moving debut.

You will find information about Tracy Holczer, this book (the first chapter for you to read) and a study guide by following the link embedded in her name to access her website.  This link takes you to a page explaining her free Skype visits.  It also includes links to blog posts during her tour, a post at Nerdy Book Club, Unleashing Readers and an American Booksellers Association Q & A. At OneFour KidLit is an additional interview.

Friday, August 29, 2014


After the arrival of the package, it is carefully placed on the kitchen counter.  Knowing what is inside makes the opening all the sweeter.  Fingers feel the raised letters of the author's name.  Eyes see the dust jacket colors arranged in a portrait of hope, the book case in a warm solid chocolate and page edges artfully deckled. Opening the cover and turning pages, the girl on the front is pictured again in black and white and the swirl of butterflies is gray beneath the title rising from the author's name.  Butterflies, in my way of thinking, are a marvelous choice, a symbol of transformation.  Then the dedication is read.

This book is for my family---
past, present and future.
With love.

On August 17th I began reading Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)) written by Jacqueline Woodson.  On the morning of August 27th I read the last three words,

will finally be.

Normally a book is completed in a single day, if not a single sitting but this book is so rich, so rare, it needs to be read slowly like smelling a bouquet of lilacs, tasting tea with honey, watching the sunlight sparkle on waves like diamonds, listening to the soaring notes of a meadowlark and brushing fingers over the fur of a beloved sleeping dog.  Each word or collection of words needs to be held in your mind.  Stopping to read aloud certain passages is a necessity.

Divided into five parts,

i am born
the stories of south carolina run like rivers
followed the sky's mirrored constellation to freedom
deep in my heart, i do believe and
ready to change the world,

Jacqueline Woodson through a collection of poetic memories conveys to readers her childhood.  All the many stories, moments of her days, are braided together leaving a lasting impression.  Like turning the pages of a scrapbook, her words fashion pictures profound and moving.

Born on February 12, 1963 in Columbus, Ohio the first year of her life is determined by her father's voice on naming, football, and the south, descriptions of the Woodson branch of the tree, the flow of good and bad family news, and journeys to her mother's home in Greenville, South Carolina.  We listen in on the debate to name her Jack or Jacqueline.  We ride the bus with her and her siblings at night from the North to the South and back again and again.  All this time historical events, a chorus of sound, is rising across our nation as the civil rights movement gains momentum.


...We are near my other grandparents' house,
     small red stone,
immense yard surrounding it.
Hall Street.
A front porch swing thirsty for oil.
A pot of azaleas blooming.
A pine tree.
Red dirt wafting up
around my mother's newly polished shoes. ...

Now moved to Nicholtown, no return to Ohio in sight, with her older siblings, Jacqueline settles into life with her mother's parents.  Years pass as life in the south, different but somehow familiar, defines their mornings, afternoons and evenings.  First her mother visits New York City, and then she goes, promising to send for her children when a home for them all is found. We understand her grandfather's ties to his garden.  We attend meetings for those participating in the civil rights marches.  We learn as she and her sister, Odella, and brother, Hope, do of her Grandmother's strong faith as a Jehovah's Witness. We feel the simple pleasure of walking into the fabric store with no labels, as people.


...When we hang them on the line to dry, we hope
they'll blow away in the night breeze
but they don't.  Come morning, they're right
where we left them
gently moving in the cool air, eager to anchor us
to childhood.

There is a new baby brother named Roman.  There is a new home in a new city, Brooklyn, for the Woodson children.  Here there is laughter and loss, support and challenges.  We take joy in Jacqueline's affection for storytelling and her thirst to write.  We makes adjustments for each day of the week, for the weather, and for the seasons as do the children whether they are in the city of the North or the town of the South in summers.


...It's hard to understand
the way my brain works---so different
from everybody around me.
How each new story
I'm told becomes a thing
that happens,
in some other way
to me...!

Keep making up stories, my uncle says.
You're lying, my mother says.

Maybe the truth is somewhere in between
all that I'm told
and memory.

A new friendship begins, a forever sister to this day.  The butterfly in Jacqueline is unfolding its wings; she listens, learns and writes.  We travel with Jacqueline to visit her uncle Robert in jail.  We laugh with her and Maria as they trade meals and share stories and secrets. We go with her to Greenville as she says last goodbyes.

writing #1

It's easier to make up stories
than it is to write them down.  When I speak,
the words come pouring out of me.  The story
wakes up and walks all over the room.  Sits in a chair,
crosses one leg over the other, says,
Let me introduce myself.  Then just starts going on and on. ...

Changes come to Jacqueline's family in Brooklyn; when one leaves, another comes.  Dedication to her writing grows and grows.  We listen to her mother's conversations.  We see the change in her uncle Robert as the revolution grows.  We feel her elation at Ms. Vivo's words.

every wish, one dream

Every dandelion blown
each Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight.

My wish is always the same.

Every fallen eyelash
and first firefly of summer...

The dream remains.

Poignant but full of promise Brown Girl Dreaming written by Jacqueline Woodson is a brilliant memoir of life.  We are brought into a vast array of vivid recollections told with such beauty it will take your breath away.  As I sit here completing my thoughts I have read and read passages over and over, some marked with post-its.  I know I will be getting another copy so I can highlight Woodson's thoughts.  This book needs to be on all bookshelves everywhere.

Make sure you follow the link embedded in Jacqueline Woodson's name to visit her website.  She includes important information about herself and her books.  Here is the link to a post from her editor Nancy Paulsen about Brown Girl Dreaming.  Donalyn Miller, author, educator and newly hired manager of independent reading and outreach at Scholastic Book Fairs wrote a reflection about this title and families at Nerdy Book Club.  Here is the link to interview which recently appeared in Time For Kids.  Below are two videos to use to further your understanding of Jacqueline Woodson and the writing of Brown Girl Dreaming. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Happy Birthday John Schumacher!

Today is John Schumacher’s thirty-third birthday.  John is beginning his twelfth year as a teacher librarian at Brook Forest Elementary School in Oak Brook, Illinois.  His blog Watch. Connect. Read. is a resource for the latest book trailers, chats with authors and illustrators and notable news in the children’s literature field.  In 2011 he garnered notice as a Library Journal Movers & Shakers.  As a member of the 2014 Newbery Medal Award committee he read and read and read some more, working with others to select the top titles.  Each month he and his friend, Colby Sharp, educator in Parma, Michigan host the #SharpSchu Book Club on Twitter.  As an avid user of Twitter he continually posts resources nearly 24/7 for those following him at @MrSchuReads.  

For the past seven years John and his good friend Donna Kouri, a teacher librarian at Longwood Elementary School in Naperville, Illinois have traveled throughout the United States spreading their love of books and reading by going on road trips.  It began with Go West ‘07, followed by Go East ‘08, Go Farther West ‘09, Go East Again ‘10, Adventure Out West ‘11, Let’s Go South ‘12, Let’s Go Northeast ‘13 and Let’s Go Somewhere ‘14.  Together they have posted about their adventures at Mr. Schu’s  Wordpress site which has grown for the past seven years.

With these shared experiences, to my way of thinking, Donna might know one or two things about John we may not know.  She is here today to help me celebrate John’s special day by answering a few questions.  Let’s see what she has to say.

Good morning, Donna.  I am wondering how you and John originally met.  Was it through your jobs in Illinois?  Did you attend the same classes in college?  

John and I met in a Master’s Degree program. It was a cohort so we were together weekly and became great friends. I am grateful for that program.

What sparked the idea for these road trips?

The road trip actually started quite randomly. We were discussing what we should do for a vacation and I mentioned that a friend of mine had opened a pizza place in Colorado that I wanted to visit. We thought about it for a few minutes and decided that a road trip would be the perfect vacation. We decided to go get pizza and to have a great adventure on the way. After the first trip, we had so much fun it became a yearly tradition.

When John is reading books aloud to you as the two of you head down the road, does he use voices?  What’s the best thing about hearing John read books aloud?  

John will use voices as appropriate and always does an outstanding job of bringing the book to life. Often the books he reads aloud are novels that do not lend themselves as well to voices, but he will use them on occasion. I love that he often shares books that are unpublished with me. I also love the discussions we end up having about the books. I am not a passive listener and am always interrupting with questions and comments.

What is the funniest thing (or most embarrassing) thing John has ever done on any of your road trips?  What one thing stands out as the most hilarious moment?

In 2009 we decided to head west. We spent several days driving through Texas and found ourselves at a rest area very late at night. This particular rest area was quiet isolated and creepy so we were both a little spooked. John threw something in the garbage can and out popped a raccoon. Neither of us was suspecting it and it startled John so much he began screaming. I, on the other hand, could not stop laughing.



There are many of John’s friends and colleagues who think he never sleeps considering his online presence, the conferences he attends, the committees on which he serves, all the learning his provides through his school library and the huge number of books he reads.  What’s his secret?  Is it a special beverage or favorite food?  

Ha!! This is a good question! I am usually asleep before John and he is usually awake before me so I am not sure I know the answer. I have tried to search his luggage for a superhero outfit but have yet to find one. I am pretty sure superpowers must be involved.

Oh...just in case he might happen to fall asleep when you are driving down the road.  Does he snore or talk in his sleep?

He doesn’t even sleep when I drive! On the rare occasion he does, he is so quiet I can’t tell and sometimes try to talk to him.

Has John ever talked about going farther in your road trips?  I am thinking Alaska or Hawaii.  Has he ever mentioned leaving the North American continent?
We have discussed taking an overseas trip at some point but logistically it would be difficult to do. It is so much easier taking your own car on a road trip which doesn’t work when overseas.

One of John’s road trip followers said he was the Johnny Appleseed of books.  Do you know what started his passion for this sharing?

The first I really remember was in 2009 when John brought along When Life Gives You OJ. I think that people have been so generous in sharing with John that he naturally wants to pay it forward. John believes strongly in paying it forward and really does so on a daily basis.

Thanks for stopping by today, Donna.  We all can hardly wait to follow the two of you on your next summer journey.  Reading truly is a three hundred sixty-five day a year passion for the one and only John Schumacher.

To further celebrate John’s birthday we are giving away copies of Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume One by Kate DiCamillo.  And Xena wants to get in on the action by giving away Otis and the Scarecrow by Loren Long.

Painting Perceptions

When reading good nonfiction, besides providing you with intriguing information, it challenges you.  You are asked to think about how you view your world.  Perhaps you need to look at things through the eyes of the author, illustrator or, if it's a biography, the way the person made choices or followed a dream.  With each book I find myself taking extra hours and days to discover more about the topic.

Having had an interest in art and artists for most of my life, I was thrilled to be able to take an art appreciation class during college.  It enlarged my knowledge of art history and gave me the ability to recognize a specific artist's work.  For me, those like myself, those who have no understanding of a particular artist and people needing to understand the joy of pursuing your passion, Edward Hopper Paints His World (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company) written by Robert Burleigh with paintings by Wendell Minor is an unexpected gift.

Little Edward Hopper had many dreams.  But one dream was biggest of all---he was going to be a painter when he grew up.

Even at an early age Edward was committed; drawing day after day and placing his signature on his work as an artist would do. With his high school education completed he set his sights on New York City.  Taking classes there made him feel as though he was on the right track.  To enhance his skills as a painter, he left the city he loved to spend time in Paris studying and painting outside.

After Paris he came back to New York City working as an illustrator for periodical publications.  He lived economically, working by day to make money, painting what he desired by night and in his spare time.  Despite receiving no recognition for his work, he continued.

Houses and lighthouses, the way the light fell on each portion, fascinated him.  When he was forty-two, a woman he had met previously in art school, Jo Nivison, became his wife.  In her, Edward had a champion.  The two would travel the countryside finding bits and pieces of Americana for Edward to paint.

Though they eventually built a small cottage on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Edward was always drawn back to the city for inspiration.  He had a unique way of depicting what he saw focusing on items others would not choose or miss entirely.  Sometimes he would combine details from various scenes creating from his marvelous mind a place of fiction.

Over time Edward Hopper's work was noticed for the genius it was and still is today.  He and Jo maintained their life style moving between the city and shore with the seasons.  He was a man who lived the

biggest of all

his dreams,

to be a painter. 

One word comes to mind upon repeated readings of this book, inspiration.  Robert Burleigh has combined his painstaking research with his remarkable skills as a writer to give readers a picture of Edward Hopper's life from boyhood to old age; one spent living that which he imagined, never faltering.  Burleigh includes personal information which binds readers to this man; writing "WOULD BE ARTIST" on his pencil box, his nickname of "Grasshopper", statements made by Hopper about his work and the relationship he had with his wife, Jo.  We can't help but feel we know this man after reading this book.  Here is a portion of a passage from a single page.

There, a couple reading in their living room.  There, a man working late in a dim office.  There, a lonely stroller on a dark street.  Often, the people were serious. They seemed slightly sad.  What had happened to them?  What was about to happen?  These small mysteries became the subjects for many of Edward Hopper's paintings.  

Accompanying the narrative work of Robert Burleigh is the paintings of Wendell Minor.  When I (every reader really) hold this book in my hands, it's like holding a museum.  Each visual, each portrayal is splendid.  Minor begins with his interpretation of one of Hopper's most famous paintings, Nighthawks, on the matching front dust jacket and book case.  On the back we see a close up of a piece from the interior of the book, young Edward painting a sailboat while sitting on a dock. The opening and closing endpapers are a gorgeous picture of Edward rowing across the water with a sailboat towing a smaller boat in the background.  It is done in shades of blue looking like a drawing.

Wendell Minor using a full color palette presents double page and single page spreads historically accurate as to time and place with lighting and shading which will take your breath away.  Opposite most of the single pages on the right, he has placed a smaller illustration done in a single color to again look like an artist's sketch.  On two of the double page illustrations he has used this same approach.  This mixture of illustrative techniques compliments the pacing of the text perfectly.

One of my favorite illustrations is his depiction of Edward Hopper's Gas.  In my mind Minor is showing how Edward and Jo might have been driving one evening, coming upon the station as the sun is setting.  Minor's use of color, his brush strokes and choice of details take you right into the moment.

Edward Hopper Paints His World written by Robert Burleigh with paintings by Wendell Minor is a triumphant tribute, a passionate portrayal, of not only a significant American artist but a memorable man.  In the Afterward Burleigh asks readers to think about whether an artist could be a hero or an explorer.  He highlights three important quotations of Hopper explaining their meanings.  Four Hopper Paintings are highlighted further.  On the third page at the back we find important dates, author and artist references and web sources.  Wendell Minor's Artist's Note On Images In This Book is well worth a read.  This book has my highest recommendation.

Please follow the links embedded in the author's name, illustrator's name and the book title to access their personal websites.  You will get a peek at interior illustrations from the book.  Don't miss them.

Each week I consider myself fortunate to be participating in Alyson Beecher's 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at her website, Kid Lit Frenzy.  Please stop by to see the other posts.  There are fantastic nonfiction titles listed there by other bloggers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Silence Shared

Looking like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds my backyard and the air above was populated by hundreds and hundreds of blackbirds this morning, feasting on whatever they could find in the lawn and taking flight, heading in a southerly direction.  For more than a week leaves have been turning yellow and falling from the ash trees still remaining on my property.  Despite the flickering, booming thunderstorm passing through earlier, the high humidity day after day, the constant breezes and the official date of the autumnal equinox weeks away, a change is coming.  Something new is on the horizon.

A beloved character in children's literature is returning in a new story.  If you listen closely you can hear him moving about the farm,

putt puff puttedy chuff.

Otis and the Scarecrow (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)) written and illustrated by Loren Long brings back our fearless friend; the steadfast red tractor, pure of heart, instinctively doing the right thing.

The farmer first brought the scarecrow to the farm, where the friendly little tractor named Otis lived, back in the summer, when the corn was tall and ripe.

Otis, being Otis, immediately goes to investigate this newest member of the farm family.  To his dismay his good cheer and warmth are returned with a stony, silent look.  Each of the other animals, the horse, ducks, little calf, puppy and the bull, are similarly treated.  All walk away wondering about this scarecrow standing alone, grimly overlooking the cornfield.

As fall edges its way into the end of summer days, the crows gather courage mistreating the sentinel.  He says nothing.  He does nothing.   Days pass with the farm changing; corn shocks lining the rows and bright patches of orange where the pumpkins rest.

For Otis and his friends this season ups their energy level; their game playing is wild and fun.  When the tired tractor leads the crew up the hill to the apple tree, there is still one game to be played, the quiet game.  Otis gives his well-known signature trio of sounds signaling the start.  (These are new and well suited to our treasured tractor.)

With one thing leading to another, pretty soon everyone is laughing like crazy except for Otis, still and smiling.  It does not escape his attention there is another standing still but not smiling.  On another day, a chilly downpour forces the country companions to seek shelter beneath their favorite tree.

Gazing at the rural vista Otis again takes notice.  Still gathered under their leafy umbrella the animals watch as their plucky pal

putt puff puttedy chuff

goes down toward another.  Out in the open during the continued cloudburst they cluster around Otis.  The signals are given.  There is a new winner this day.

Having read the four previous books about Otis and life on the farm, it was with a great deal of anticipation this fifth book was read and read again and read so many times I lost count.  Loren Long has in the character of Otis given readers a guardian of all that is good.  In their purest form Otis embodies bravery, compassion, loyalty and love.  He leads by example.

With each page turn we are transported deeper into Otis' world leaving ours behind.  We get a true sense of each character's personalities through expressive verb and adjective choices.  Long feels the pulse of a farm's heartbeat sharing it with his readers; his skill in portraying a pastoral setting is flawless.  Here are two examples taken from this book.

The bull would twitch his nose, which made the little calf giggle.  This made the bull chuckle with a snort.  The bull's snort would amuse the ducks, and their bottoms would wiggle as they held back their giggles.

There was the overflowing Mud Pond.  There were the shiny wet pumpkins and the soaked corn shocks all in a row.  And swaying back and forth in the cold wind and rain was the scarecrow. 

Beginning with what Loren Long describes as a monochromatic scene with shades of black transparent gouache paint he adds color delineating his characters, places on the farm, the season of the year and changes in the weather.  On the front of the dust jacket he portrays characters central to the other books as well as this story.  A tiny Otis is running toward the ISBN on the back beneath a circular image of the cranky scarecrow pestered by pecking crows as Otis watches in the distance.

The formal title page, a single illustration across two pages, showing a happy Otis, puppy and calf amid the rolling hills, with the farmer, his truck and the scarecrow behind them to the left, quickly transports us with a sense of serenity.  It's like we are coming home to what we know and love.  All the pictures, single and double page, are outlined with fine black brush strokes.

 Long's backgrounds are white highlighting his setting and characters with the exception of the rain day.  His use of grays clearly depicts the cold, wet and emotion of being alone.  The final page illuminates the change beautifully.

While all these illustrations are well worth framing two of my favorites are of the animals gathering to play the quiet game.  In the first Loren Long gives us a closer perspective, focusing on the faces around Otis.  In the second he zooms out showing the animals full bodies frolicking in joy despite losing the game.  Otis watches them affectionately.

No action is as selfless as that which has no chance of response. Nevertheless in Otis and the Scarecrow written and illustrated by Loren Long, this tractor, doer of noble deeds, goes ahead.  Readers will understand how kindness can be extended without expectation, how others will notice this kindness, responding in kind and everyone...yes...everyone is the richer for the experience.  Share this title as much as you can.  It's a classic charmer.

For more information about Loren Long and his books as well as additional activities and videos please follow the link embedded in his name to access his personal website and the link embedded in the title to reach the Otis The Tractor web pages.  Here are the links to my reviews of Otis and the Tornado, Otis and the Puppy and An Otis Christmas.  I am including this video Loren Long made for his first book, Otis. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Confident Canine

It's like learning a new dance when a dog and their human meet.  The steps have yet to be choreographed. Each is vying for leader of the pack status.  For the safety and well-being of the canine it's best for the human to remain top dog but they need to be wise enough to understand the signals their friend is giving at all times. A dog's senses are far superior to ours.

Some dogs remain vigilant in their pursuit to be independent of any human requests.  I'm My Own Dog (Candlewick Press) written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein is about such a dog.  In fact it would be safe to say; this dog sees the human-canine relationship in a whole new light.

I'm my own dog.
Nobody owns me.
I own myself.

This dog works until he is bone-tired because he can.  At the end of the day no one brings him slippers for his weary feet.  He does it himself.  Waking or asleep this pup is in complete control.

He would never obey any common canine commands.  That would be downright undignified.  He tosses and catches like a professional baseball player.  There is nothing he can't or won't do to remain resolute in his beliefs.

One day though, there is an itch he cannot scratch.  It is driving him so crazy, he does the unthinkable.  He lets a man scratch that intolerable itch.

Would you believe it?  The man follows him home.  What's this dog going to do?  Given the circumstances, he has no choice.  Let the lessons begin.

With those first three sentences David Ezra Stein, in no uncertain terms, makes it clear this dog is definitely different. He slowly hooks his readers with examples of typical doggy activities with a twist.  This technique makes the second half of the story, the reversal, even funnier.  The final line of the narrative spoken in confidential tones, in all sincerity, couldn't be better.

Take a good look at the dog on the matching dust jacket and book case.  Doesn't he radiate self-assurance?  Look at his stance.  Look at the expression on his face.  On the back we read,

Nobody owns me.
I own myself.

Above this a smaller circular image of the dog gleefully running with a stick in his mouth is framed by a red background with light golden brush strokes.  On the opening and closing endpapers the pattern from the rug within the book is displayed in two shades of the same color.

Hues of green, blue and yellow provide a glowing background or frame for elements in many of the pictures.  In others white space is used to place focus on the dog and his activities.  David Ezra Stein created these visuals by using

pen as well as a kids' marker hacked to dispense India ink 

for the line work.

This was

photocopied onto watercolor paper.  The painting was done in liquid watercolor, with a hint of crayon on the dog's muzzle.

The illustrations, like the dog, have attitude, warmth and humor.  Stein uses various sizes, double page spreads, single pages edge to edge, single page or smaller pictures set on a white background, to dictate the speed in which we read.  One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It brings us close to the dog and the man when they first meet.  A happy dog is receiving relief as the man scratches his back.  It signals a shift in the tale.

If you've ever wondered what a dog or your dog might be thinking, this book is for you.  I'm My Own Dog written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein is a comic look at one confident canine that walks, runs, digs and fetches the talk.  I imagine this will spark conversations about other pooch pal and person behaviors.  This will be a wonderful addition to those story times on dogs, pets or humor.  I can hear that dog talking now.

Please take the time to visit David Ezra Stein's website by following the link embedded in his name. He has a separate page for videos about all his books.  Follow this link to a short author's note about the inspiration for this title.  This book is one of four featured by the publisher in a story-hour kit.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Nighty, Night...Sleep Tight...Or Not

There is one thing which will get a child through thick and thin.  It will get them through a week of school with homework every single night.  It will get them through parental requests and requirements, cleaning their rooms, making their beds and brushing their teeth, every single day.  When they see this on the horizon, their whole world is a glass half full.

Spending the night with a friend is one of those events when the realization exceeds the anticipation.  Those treasured hours chatting, laughing, telling stories, watching television or movies or playing games are sacred childhood memories.  In Sleepover with Beatrice & Bear (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group) written and illustrated by Monica Carnesi a solution is sought by one kind and clever friend.

Beatrice and Bear met on a clear spring day.

Like some first time meetings, an innocent blunder brought them together.  The erring party quickly made amends.  They did what bosom buddies do in the awakening world after winter.

Rain or shine they continued to enjoy activities with one another through summer and into autumn.  One day Beatrice looked and looked for Bear.  He was nowhere to be found.  Squirrel informed the baffled bunny Bear was off to hibernate.

At first sweet Beatrice thought hibernate was a place to visit.  Squirrel again set her straight.  You can't imagine her joy at discovering hibernate is a long nap in winter.  Guess who's packing her suitcase lickety-split?

However her happiness is short-lived.  A disappointed Beatrice simply couldn't share this seasonal snooze with her friend no matter how hard she tried.  She thought and thought.  She questioned and questioned.  Then this friend had a plan.  There was more than one way to enjoy the snow and ice with her pal Bear.

Very simple narrative sentences, conversational exchanges and voiced thoughts written by Monica Carnesi tell this charming tale of Beatrice and Bear.  These quickly reveal to readers the kindness of each character; their willingness to invest one hundred per cent in this growing friendship.  The optimism of the spirited Beatrice is contagious.  You can feel your love for her and her friend Bear grow page by page.

As soon as you open the matching dust jacket and book case, the personalities of Beatrice and Bear are evident; Bear is more easygoing of the two.  Beatrice, like her natural counterparts in the wild, is happily hopping and ready to go.  Dusty blue opening and closing endpapers are covered in etched carrot pairs and hives with buzzing bees.  No space is wasted by Monica Carnesi; her story begins on the title page introducing us to Beatrice standing among her gardening tools.  A page turn has her looking dumbfounded beneath the verso as Bear (on the first page) sits crushing carrot tops in her garden gazing at a bee hive in the nearby tree.

Rendered in brush and Windsor & Newton black India ink with Sennelier and Windsor & Newton artist watercolors and Prismacolor pencils on Fabriano Artistico extra white 140 pound hot pressed paper, these illustrations increase the meaning of the text.  Fine expressive lines, soft background colors and brush strokes and delicate details on facial expressions not only depict the affection these two have for each other but heighten our attachment to them.  Carnesi shifts between double page spreads, single pages, loosely lined smaller visuals and framed panels with elements overlapping those lines to create an impeccable pace.

More than once she makes use of speech bubbles for emphasis.  Tiny items raise our interest; the bird they watched in the spring becomes a drawing in the cave during the beginning of their sleepover, the water wings on Beatrice when they go swimming, Beatrice's map to Bear, the carrot fabric on Beatrice's blanket and her small toy bunny.  My favorite illustrations are the sequence of Beatrice and Bear sleeping in the cave.  Well...Bear is sleeping and Beatrice is trying.  You can't help smiling at these two moving around; one sound asleep and the other wide awake.

I can't imagine a collection of friendship books without this title.  Sleepover with Beatrice & Bear written and illustrated by Monica Carnesi is one of those huggable books.  Beside friendship it could be used to discuss hibernation, the seasons, perseverance and ingenuity.  Get out your bear, rabbit and squirrel puppets for a story hour filled with joy and warmth.

You will be glad if you follow the links embedded in Monica Carnesi's names to access her website and blog.  She includes fun stuff and a teacher's guide at her website.  On her blog is a series of posts about the process for making Sleepover with Beatrice & Bear.