Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Let It Shine

At least half of our days in northern Michigan are without sun.  We have quite a bit of cloud cover even if there is no form of precipitation.  You can't help but crave the feel of those warm rays after a chain of dull gray skies.  No wonder plants bend toward those welcome shafts of light.

On September 30, 2014 the fourth title in an outstanding series, My Light (Blue Sky Press, 2004), Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life (Blue Sky Press, 2009), Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas (Blue Sky Press, 2012) was released.  Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed The Earth (The Blue Sky Press) written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm with illustrations by Molly Bang is a remarkable, informative piece of nonfiction.  Readers of any age will benefit from this title, enjoying every single minute spent within its pages.

Even from 93 million miles away,
I warm your land, your seas, your air,
and chase the darkness from your days.

So begins our journey of understanding narrated by the sun itself.  Not only do we, and every other living thing, need energy to exist but we consume it to maintain basics and to bolster our expanding technology.  This energy comes from coal, oil and gas, fossil fuels.

Very simply explained fossil fuels are plants, old, very old, plants buried beneath the surface of the Earth chock-full of sunlight.  When we burn these, the stored energy is unleashed.  In case you are wondering how all this sunlight is kept by those plants, look no farther than one of your first lessons in plant life, photosynthesis.  It's the give-and-take dance performed by carbon dioxide and oxygen creating chains of carbon---sugar.

Did you know this creation of carbon chains and oxygen is almost, yes almost, in balance?  Over millions and millions of years the little bit more of each is Earth's blessing.  But...over the course of life developing on Earth, those millions and millions of years, the imbalance begins to shift when humans start to use the fossil fuels.  All this consumption is releasing more carbon dioxide into the air than can be recycled through our flora and water.

This carbon dioxide, as explained by Bang and Chisholm, is one of many gases creating a cover around the planet.  When sunlight passes through this covering it works its magic, zipping back into space. The problem which is growing at an alarming rate is carbon dioxide is not allowing the heat to go back trapping it underneath the covering.  More carbon dioxide caused by more burned fossil fuels is causing the over-heating of Earth.  Further commentary about the cycle of temperature changes in the life of our planet ends with an undeniable fact and questions asked by the sun.  We need to think.  We need to make choices.

This discussion of fossil fuels written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm (who has been a professor at MIT teaching Ecology for thirty-eight years) is exemplary in every respect.  After several sentences of conversational factual observations, they follow with a question.  At the turn of the page, an answer is given.  The answer is clearly explained concluding with another question.  Each time a question appears and each time an answer is given we learn more about the balance of life, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide on Earth.  They take us back to the very beginning before life existed on land up to the present.  Told from the point of view of the sun provides for a broader and more in-depth overview.  Here is another passage.

What makes them "FOSSILS"?
Like dinosaurs, they 
are ancient life that was
buried deep underground.
But fossil fuels are ancient
PLANTS.  They captured
light I shined on Earth
millions of years ago.
All this time, those fossil
plants have kept my
sunlight-energy locked
inside themselves.

The artwork Molly Bang provides for this title is absolutely astonishing beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case.  The front features Earth wrapped in gasses moving in and out from the surface with life forms spread across the continents.  The back showcases an illustration highlighting the formation of fossil fuels with praise for the other three titles in the series.  Opening and closing endpapers are star-filled space.  The two pages dedicated to the title page are a breathtaking view of a sea coast city alight at night.  Beneath the surface spots of energy, fossil fuels, sparkle like tiny suns.

Seventeen pages of pictures spanning both pages, several with smaller images framed as squares and rectangles inset, visualize in intricate details the magnificence of the sun, the array of development on our planet, how fossil fuels are extracted, photosynthesis, the cycle of life, the formation of life on land from the sea, the effects of warming, the gaseous "blanket" and alternate forms of energy. Shades of blue, green, and yellow are prominent but Bang adds other earth tone colors to fill in her palette.  Everything is done with a wide perspective, in miniature, as if we are the sun looking down on Earth.

One of my favorite spreads is for the cycle of life.  Spread across both pages we see huge pale white arrows filled with carbon dioxide and oxygen moving over plants and animals on the land and the sea.  It's a stunning image of the balance needed to sustain life.

Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed The Earth written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm with illustrations by Molly Bang is a must read.  The only way we can become sincere stewards of our Earth is through greater understanding.  This title fills our need to know building a bridge from the science community to younger readers.  But rest assured everyone can benefit from reading this book. Extensive author notes over six pages give additional information.

To learn more about both Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm please visit their websites linked to their names.  There is a special site dedicated to all the titles in this series linked in the introduction.  School Library Journal supplies this post, Earth Day Q&A: SLJ Talks to MIT Professor Penny Chisholm About Her Upcoming Picture Book with Children's Author Molly Bang, for further insights about the book.  TeachingBooks.net has a few links for more details about Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm.

This book, this recommendation, is one of the reasons I am thrilled each week to participate in educator, Alyson Beecher's 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  I continue to be amazed at the quality of work and information given to readers in each title.  Please visit the other blog posts linked to Kid Lit Frenzy this week.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cozy Cooking Comfort The Bear-y Best Kind

With golden leaves whirling about in the stiff breezes, pumpkins and mums decorating home entrances and snow predicted for the end of the week, it's easy to get in the mood to fill the house with the scent of fresh-baked goods. Welcoming warmth fills the kitchen spreading to nearby rooms in contrast to the chilly temperatures outside. This is what makes a house a home.

To share this cooking adventure with others is a memory worth making.  Baking Day at Grandma's (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), August 14, 2014) written by Anika Denise with illustrations by Christopher Denise follows three bear children as they happily traipse through the snow to their grandmother's home.  Anticipation whispers promises in the air.

It's baking day!
It's baking day!
It's baking day at Grandma's!

Dressed from head to toe in hats, coats, mittens, scarves and boots they pull their sled from a cottage to a cabin, past the pond and up and down hills.  Grandma Bear is ready and waiting for their arrival.  A crackling fire gets them warm on the outside as quickly as grandmother's greeting warms their hearts.  

Utensils and ingredients are gathered.  Aprons are donned.  A recipe is read. Can't reach the table?  Then stand on a chair to blend everything together.  You can even sneak a taste.

Delicious smells come from the oven; a cake is rising.  Grandma gives steaming cups of hot chocolate to her treasured trio as Jack Frost paints patterns on the windows.  Singing, dancing and smiles add to the merriment.  

A timer signals this confection is done to perfection.  Shapely gifts are decorated, covered in paper, tied with a bow and gently placed in personalized pouches.  Dressed from head to toe in hats, coats, mittens, scarves and boots the three, glowing inside from exchanged hugs and their sled brimming with hand-made goodies, head home, the path lit by a full moon.

Get ready for some audience participation! Anika Denise begins with a refrain echoed throughout this story which your readers are going to voice with unbridled enthusiasm.  In-between she tells the story with rhymes rich in rhythm, a spirited beat.  Words express the mood and emotions connected to the day as well as conveying the steps taken to create this delightful delicacy.  Readers will understand love is the most important element in making this cake but the pleasure of the day is doubled when it is given away.  Here is a three sentence sample of her writing.

Pass out aprons, "One-two-three."
Grandma reads the recipe:
flour, sugar, butter, eggs.
Stand on chairs with tippy legs.

Rendered in Adobe Photoshop each illustration exudes luminosity.  Those on the matching dust jacket and book case are taken from interior pages.  Looking at the children and grandma dancing in the kitchen makes you want to do the same thing.  On the back they are on their way to the cabin singing the baking song.  The cool steel blue on the opening and closing endpapers match shades found in the morning and evening skies.  The still life of the measuring cup, bowls, wooden spoon, recipe book and checkered towel foreshadow the activity to come.

With visuals other than his edge-to-edge double page spreads Christopher Denise uses white space as an element to frame his one page illustrations and smaller insets on pages containing text.  A very fine red line also delineates his one-page pictures.  His characters' features are lively and lovable.  The bears' physical traits are realistic even if they are wearing clothes.  

What readers will notice are his careful details in his landscapes and the interior of the cabin.  The little bear in the rear watching his reflection in the pond as they pass a group of birches with trees and mountains in the distance is absolutely perfect. The rag rugs, the cuckoo clock and sampler handing on the wall, the wooden table and chairs, the copper tea kettle on the old stove and oven, and the Victrola are charming. (Count me in when everyone heads to Grandma's for a day of baking.)

I would gladly frame any one of these illustrations but one of my favorites is when the three children are dancing around the table carrying the recipe book, wooden spoon and whisk and the bowl above their head.  Grandma Bear is clapping in time to their song, the table covered with other baking ingredients and utensils behind her.  The cabin is awash in light from the fire, the sunny day and glee.

Make sure you have everything on hand to bake Grandma Rosie's Chocolate Cake.  I know readers and listeners will hardly be able to wait to cook and taste after reading Baking Day at Grandma's written by Anika Denise with illustrations by Christopher Denise.  This book is pure one hundred percent comfort.  What a treat it is!  The recipe is on the last page above the publication information.

To enjoy more about the work of Anika Denise and her husband, Christopher Denise, please visit their websites by following the links embedded in their names.  Several days ago Anika Denise tweeted about extras available at her website which are linked here.  Anika Denise is interviewed by Stephanie Bernaba.  Christopher Denise is interviewed about this title and his other work at all creativelike and Writing and Illustrating. When I first saw this book at my favorite independent book shop, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan, I immediately thought of Jama Rattigan and her blog, Jama's Alphabet Soup.  After her blog post about this title which contains even more links and several illustrations from the book, I went back to get a personal copy.

Monday, October 27, 2014

One Small Fowl And Feathered Friends Are Lead Astray

Our senses and sensibilities really do make the days of our lives more enjoyable while still being key to our basic survival.  At times they seem to go above and beyond the real truth when it comes to alerting us to danger.  For a moment imagine you are groping about in a basement suddenly gone dark when the power is lost.  Something brushes against the bare skin of your arm.  You yelp believing it to be a spider of gigantic proportions, only to discover when the lights come back on it was only a piece of fuzz.

The combination of our hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, smelling and mental perceptions can take us down the path leading to the imaginary realm.  Brave Chicken Little (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), August 7, 2014) retold and illustrated by Robert Byrd takes the familiar broadening and deepening the story line.  This story, his vision of a classic, rekindles our love of folklore and its capacity to entertain and expand our thinking.

One fine day Mrs. Chicken Licken decided to bake a cake.
But there was nothing to make it with, so she sent Chicken Little off to the market to buy honey and flour and milk.
"Do not dillydally," she said.  "Come straight home."

As life would have it, dillydallying is going to be the least of Chicken Little's worries.  An acorn falls from a tree landing squarely on his head.  That had to hurt.  The little guy harboring this new pain is certain the sky is falling.  He hurries down the road to report this news to the king.

Rushing with all due haste he first meets Henny Penny who willingly agrees to go with him.  In short order Ducky Lucky and Turkey Lurkey are coming along to offer additional assistance.  When the sky is falling the ruler of the land needs to know.

Piggy Wiggy, Rabbit Babbit and Natty Ratty, fellow friends, are sure the greater number carrying this message will give it more meaning. The total has now swelled to seven.  As they wind their way toward the palace two moles, Roly and Poly Moley, and one frog, Froggy Woggy, join their ranks.

Meeting a too cheerful and hungry Foxy Loxy, offering help and an invitation to dine at his home, the parade is lead in a different direction.  Can you picture the surprise on all their faces (and a shiver of fear) as they are introduced to Mrs. Foxy Loxy and seven little foxes eagerly waiting their next meal?  Before they can even predict what will happen next, they are locked in a dimly lit basement.

One small window high above them next to the ceiling is their only hope.  Junk, apples and foolishness multiplied boost bravery.  As to the falling sky, not another word was ever heard about it.

A cumulative tale with repeating refrains enriches the storytelling experience.  When you add in the two word rhyming names of the nineteen animal characters you will have your listeners chanting along with you over and over again as the narrative continues.  Robert Byrd's use of dialogue with narration keeps the action moving along seamlessly; the tension increasing until the sleepy resolution. Here is another sample passage.

So down the road ran Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Turkey Lurkey, Piggy Wiggy, Rabbit Babbit, Natty Ratty, Froggy Woggy, and Roly and Poly Moley.
And whom should they meet but---Foxy Loxy.
"Hello, hello," he sang out.  "Good day and cheers! Where are you off to, my scrumptious little dears?"
"The sky is falling," said Chicken Little. "And we are going to tell the king."

The first thing you notice when you open the matching dust jacket and book case of Brave Chicken Little is the exquisite detail on the illustration spanning across the back to the front.  Every bit of flora and fauna native to this area is shown; butterflies, bees, caterpillars, dragonflies, flowers, ferns and other bugs.  On the left the six remaining friends not on the front are following the twists and turns of a path through the woods.  Watching from behind a tree with a crafty grin on his face is Foxy Loxy.

A pattern of a tiny single acorn, gold and brown, is placed on a teal background for the opening and closing endpapers.  The story opens with an illustration on the title page; the window of Chicken Little's home is featured as his mother speaks to him.  Robert Byrd's color palette and his delicate fine lines have a softness, old-style feel, to them.  Having his characters clothed in apparel reminiscent of the old English countryside contributes to the classic quality of this tale.

Byrd chooses to alter his picture sizes, extending some edge to edge on two pages or a single page.  At times his images will be loosely framed or a rectangle framed in pristine white.  Light and shadow are skillfully integrated into each illustration.  The quality of paper, a matte-finish, increases the timeless aspect of his work on this story.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Chicken Little leading six of his friends down the road lined with stone-bordered fields.  Carrots, cabbages and heads of lettuce are laid out in rows, small white butterflies, caterpillars and worms move in and above the dirt.  Hills and trees extend into the distance, a pale blue sky filled with puffy clouds.  On the right a frog and two moles greet the group hurriedly making their way to the king.

I am confident every book shelf, classroom, library, professional and personal, will want a copy of Brave Chicken Little retold and illustrated by Robert Byrd.  Foxes, friends, a king, a cake and courage make this a new classic.  I think it's time to give new meaning to the words Chicken Little.

For further information about Robert Byrd and his books please follow the link attached to his name.  This link takes you to a portion of his site highlighting more pages from the book as a slide show.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Put A Hold On Hibernation

There is only one more thing which tests the bonds of friendship as much as time; distance can make it tricky to maintain a relationship.  When you take away the ability to Skype, text, tweet, send a message on a social network or via email, this leaves you keeping your connections alive through letters.  When writing, words need to be carefully chosen so any reading between the lines conveys the right sentiment.

Sometimes the promises made between friends are hard to keep.  Herman's Letter (Bloomsbury, November 11, 2014) written and illustrated by Tom Percival poses the perennial problem between friends of one moving away from the other.  Missing someone is different for everyone, isn't it?

Herman and Henry had been 
best friends for as long as 
anyone could remember.

Herman is a big brown bear.  Henry is a pink...yes pink...raccoon.  As long as anyone can remember means all the way back to birth.  That's a long time to be friends.

They master game playing, form an exclusive club and devise a TOP SECRET handshake.  It looks like nothing is going to change their wonderful days together until Henry moves far, far away. They, of course, will write letters and pledge to be best friends always.

When Henry's first letter arrives Herman is not so sure Henry misses him as much as he misses Henry.  Herman focuses on one particular part in the letter instead of the other sentences written by his raccoon buddy.  The green-eyed monster is threatening to take up residence in Herman's heart.  With every cheerful letter from Henry, the bear sinks farther and farther into loneliness.

As spring, summer and fall pass, Herman finds himself getting ready for his winter nap.  Settling into his favorite chair ready to drift off to dreamland, he is startled by a familiar sound.  A letter has been delivered.  It's from Henry!

Herman is overjoyed with the words he reads.  Penning a reply to his pal he hurries out to put it in the forest mailbox.  What?!  How can it be closed for the winter?  If Herman wants Henry to get this letter there is only one thing he can do.

Drifts are getting deeper.  Winds are howling.  Temperatures turn everything icy.  Herman is far, far away from home and hibernation.  A suitcase gone wild spells trouble for Herman.  Will the mail go through?

The friendship of Herman and Henry is laid before us in the first expressive four sentences. Tom Percival knows the importance of shared laughter and playful memories in joining two beings together.  With each letter and the matching narrative after Henry moves, Percival heightens Herman's despair laying the foundation for total elation when the final letter is received.  It also makes perfect sense for the ensuing trek but he doesn't let us rest, providing the final two twists.

Upon opening the book case readers are treated to a two page illustration with letters as the background for the title and story line promotion.  One of the interior photographs used to portray Herman's and Henry's friendship is attached to the back letter with tape as if in a scrapbook.  While the cover shows winter as the season, the story begins in spring as shown on the initial title page.  The formal title page and verso are a collage of photographs of Henry and Herman and letters.

Alternating the illustrations' sizes and the number on each page or across two pages compliments the rhythm of the narrative and the lift-the-flap letters.  Full color pictures, with the weather and the background colors depicting moods, provide splendid pacing especially in the sequence of smaller images as Herman travels.  Of importance is the insertion of humor to maintain the faithfulness of the hopeful story line; Herman standing in the rain over a smoking barbecue, the words Oh bother in a speech balloon as Herman stands on a mountain range peak and results of the suitcase ride.

One of my favorite illustrations takes place in the springtime.  Herman and Henry are wearing appropriate pirate garb sitting in their tree house which looks like a ship on the ocean blue.  Henry is looking for bounty with a spyglass as Herman sips a cool drink.  It illustrates the phrase

Everything was just perfect...

Yes it is.

Who doesn't like to get letters?  Who doesn't like to interact with a book by opening and closing written greetings? Herman's Letter written and illustrated by Tom Percival will be a hit with readers who need to see how moving away may challenge a relationship but true friendship does last forever...even across the miles and through hibernation.  I would pair this book with Sergio Ruzzier's newest title, A Letter For Leo, Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague (first of a series) or the classic The Jolly Postman or Other People's Letters by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.

For a little bit more information about Tom Percival follow the link to his website embedded in his name.  John Schumacher, teacher librarian extraordinaire, interviews Percival on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  An eight page activity kit has been developed by the publisher.  Enjoy the videos below.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Just In Case...

When you have a dog there are several blocks of time in your day delegated to taking walks.  The difference in these blocks of time depends on the age of the dog.  When they are younger greater distances are covered in a shorter amount of time.  As they age twice as many minutes are given to one-sixth of the distance.  These slower walks with lots of stops and starts allow for the best kind of observations of your surroundings.  The simplest thing which captures your attention can lead to wonderful flights of the imagination.

As far as I'm concerned the value of daydreaming is without question.  It's the key to some of my best ideas.  It's the reason I've seen wonderful artwork and writing done by students.  If You Were a Dog (Farrar Straus Giroux, September 30, 2014) written by Jamie A. Swenson with pictures by Chris Raschka gives our minds permission to pretend.

If you were a dog, would you be speedy-quick,
frisbee-catching, ...

Readers get to place themselves within the characteristics of seven animals in the course of two questions asked of them.  For those who have canine companions or have taken the time to observe them, the other descriptions in the initial inquiry will bring smiles and knowing nods of recognition.  The next sentence wonders if you would do what dogs might do.

Cat fur, tongues, delectable meals, and day-to-day work and play follow with their duly-noted behavior toward the aforementioned dogs.  We bear witness to the fun and frolic of fresh water or ocean-going fish.  Little birds and big birds feeding, flying and watching lift us to new heights.

We can almost feel ourselves growing smaller as we become a butterfly, caterpillar, bee, grasshopper or cricket chirping out a familiar melody.  Quickly our hearts beat faster as we spring into action above and below the water as frogs.  Then we get to stretch our thoughts back into time as we roam, romp and roar the lands as a mighty dinosaur.

Even if it's only for the moments within the pages of this book, we understand the opportunity handed to us to be more than ourselves.  As humans, kids or kids at heart, can we do all those things these animals can do?  Or can we do a little bit more?

On her website Jamie A. Swenson tells the story of her inspiration for this book; one of the visitors to her library many years ago planted the seed that would not stop growing.  Through her selection of spirited words she not only understands each of the animals presented but she knows her audience.  With little stretch of YOUR imagination you can picture the amount of fun she must have had creating the text for this title.  Each of the phrases mirrors the definitive characteristics and actions of the animals.  Each section closes with the same sentence summoning listeners to participate.  Here are a couple more portions of passages.

If you were a bird,
would you be a
sky-circling, ...

Would you spring and zing
and hop all day?
Some frogs do.

Using cooler colors as a backdrop with splashes of warmth Chris Raschka extends a hand through his illustrations on the matching dust jacket and book case, asking readers to open the book.  There is an uplifting sincerity which permeates his work here and in all the images in this title. Smaller visuals have been placed on the jacket flaps and above the dedications.  The dog on the front imagined by the child covers the title page in shades of warm brown with outlines in the same blue as seen on the jacket.  The plain red orange color on the opening and closing endpapers is used frequently within the interior.  Everything flows together.

When the first question is set forth, each of the hyphenated descriptors is given its own loosely outlined space on a page expertly designed to direct our eyes from one to the other.  The second inquiry and repetitive reply spreads across two pages supplying the closing beat to the text's tempo. The entire color palette inspires readers to dream.

One of my many favorite illustrations (besides the dogs, of course) is of the cricket.  I'm not sure I've ever seen Raschka use this color combination in previous titles.  It's a close up of a cricket on blades of grass at night.  Loose musical notes are near it.  Hues of brown, blue, golden yellow and peach create a marvelous atmosphere.

I know this book, If You Were a Dog written by Jamie A. Swenson with pictures by Chris Raschka, will be a story time favorite.  I can already hear the howls, hisses, splashes, swooshes, chirps, ribbets, and stomps.  You have to wonder what other animals readers and listeners will imitate.  This would be a great title to use to invite audience participation, reader's theater or to spark drawing and writing adventures.

To discover more about Jamie A. Swenson please follow the link embedded in her name taking you to her website.  Here are links to two interviews of her about this book, Elizabeth Caulfield Felt's Blog and The Storyteller's Inkpot.  If you visit the publisher's website eight more images can be viewed.  If you haven't watched these Reading Rockets videos about Chris Raschka, here's your chance to do so.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Facing The Facts

There are some animals I would not mind seeing face to face if my safety is assured.  There are other animals I would never want to see face to face even if my well-being is absolutely guaranteed.  For the most part I am grateful to be able to roam among their habitats keeping myself from infringing on their space; happy for their unexpected nearness unless they are one of those critters I would rather avoid.

Truthfully, considering the changing conditions on our planet, I stand in awe of the adaptability of animals as they strive to survive.  A husband and wife team from whom we have come to expect the very best have a new title.  Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 7, 2014) by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page clarifies what we can expect to see when we look certain animals right in their eyes.

Dear tapir:
Why is your nose crooked?
The tapir has a funny nose.  At least, it looks funny to us.  To the tapir, however, its nose is not a joke.

With this first page the illuminating format used by this author illustrator team is revealed.  Each animal is given a question by the narrator.  They, in turn, provide a short, but descriptive answer.

From South America, home of the tapir, we travel across the ocean to locate an Egyptian vulture whose face is absent of feathers, to discover why a bold red and blue color the countenance of a mandrill, and visit a frilled lizard to discuss the odd arrangement around his neck.  We journey back to where we started to ask the red fan parrot why they may or may not be wearing a hat. While we are there we are astonished to note feathers on a harpy eagle direct sound to their ears.

The nose of a leaf-nosed bat, the mouth of a horned frog, the cheeks of a hamster and the body of a pufferfish are closely examined.  Oddly enough the horns on the bighorn sheep come in handy rather than being a detriment to movement.  Did you even know there is a type of pig called a babirusa living in the Indonesian Islands?

Below ground the star-nosed mole and mole rate us exterior physical characteristics to navigate, find food and dig.  Whiskers and gills not feathers allow two animals to function properly under the sea.  The wily spicebush swallowtail caterpillar sports spots on their tails to trick predators into thinking they are snakes.

Black-eyes, furry ears, and purple tongues help to discourage enemies, provide warmth and give protection from the sun.  The blobfish is a victim of gravity out of the water.  Ending up on the Pacific side of the globe we learn of the importance of a sun bear's long (more than nine inches on some) tongue, the cleverness of the shoebill stork's beak, the advantage of the thorny devil's spikes and the two main assets of the rock hyrax.

The comedic wordplay used by Robin Page and Steve Jenkins takes learning about these twenty-five creatures to the best level.  If your interest is held when you acquire new knowledge because you are laughing and it's fun, why wouldn't you remember the actual facts or the experience?  Page and Jenkins form their sentences with a specific audience in mind; an audience eager to explore the fascinating world of animals.  Read a couple of excerpts shown below.

Dear Egyptian vulture:
Why no feathers
on your face?
Are you sure you
want to know?
Really? Okay, I'll
tell you. ...

Dear leaf-nosed
Seriously, is that 
your nose?
I know, I know---it
looks strange. ...

This will be the eighth book illustrated by Steve Jenkins honored in a post on my blog.  His torn-paper and cut-paper collage pictures never fail to amaze his readers.  Authentic colors and characteristics are highlighted with vivid, bold backgrounds.  On his matching dust jacket and book case the red used in the text for the title becomes the canvas for the image on the left or back.  A pufferfish is speaking to the reader in reply to a question shown in speech balloons.

What's happening
to you?

I'm inflating! It's
just something I do.
I don't have time to
explain right now, but
read the book and I'll
tell you more.

Hues of gold, green, black, red, orange, blue, and salmon supply the backdrop for these animal portraits appearing on single pages throughout the title.  Only two, the horned frog and the blobfish, extend across two pages.  Texture and the smallest of details are portrayed through the choice of paper and intricate handiwork.  Research through reliable resources assists in the accuracy of the images.  They appear as if alive.

One of my favorites of the twenty-five has to be the red squirrel.  The quickness of movement is frozen in this illustration.  You can almost hear the squirrel chattering at you for interrupting what must surely be a day spent in storing food for the upcoming winter.

Steve Jenkins and Robin Page have delivered a stellar work of nonfiction in Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do.  We feel like listeners of a chatty, informative, humorous talk show.  The final two pages give diet and location of each animal depicted by their silhouettes.  A bibliography is included.  I have a feeling you are going to need more than one copy of this title for your shelves.

By following the link attached to Steve Jenkins name you will be taken to his official website.  This link takes you to an explanation of how the book evolved.  The publisher has produced a series of masks to wear taken from five of the pages.

Be sure to head on over to Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see what other bloggers have highlighted today as part of the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Tribute To The Power Of A Single Book

In the world of children's literature if you don't keep a list of forthcoming books, you will forget what you wanted to read.  In a post on April 28, 2014 teacher librarian Travis Jonker, who blogs at 100 Scope Notes, brought to his readers the 2014 Preview Interview: Flying Eye Books.  In that post I saw several books I knew I wanted to read, but I neglected to list them.  It wasn't until I was at my favorite independent book shop, McLean & Eakin, last week I saw one of those books on display among the shelves.

The colorful book case design immediately gets your attention.  The title, while not asking a question, is intriguing. Who is reading?  What are they reading?  Where are they reading? When are they reading?  Why are they reading this book?   The Best Book in the World (Flying Eye Books, July 29, 2014) by Rilla (Alexander) is irresistible even before you open it up.

Take the first step.
Turn the first page.

With those two sentences on the first two pages, readers are invited to join in the journey being taken by an unnamed girl.  We gladly follow her patterned footsteps out and about her neighborhood to the bus stop.  The entire time her head is bent as she reads an open book.

Like her we can read aloud, read along or read silently the written words.  Never glancing up from the book, she travels with no specific destination in mind.  Or does she?  Perhaps the book is about a trip taken by airplane.  Perhaps the book is about an adventure high in the sky.

Is she wandering in the snowy mountains?  Is she trudging through the sifting desert sands?  Is she floating up and down and up and down watery waves?  Where is she navigating to next?  There are answers to be found with every page turn.

There are bicycles.  There are balloons.  There are wild animals in the deepest, darkest forest.  People, places and moments to remember are multiplying.

The day is coming to close.  The story is almost finished.  But...a story is never really over.  All you have to do is...

With limited text Rilla Alexander guides readers through her story better than any map does when we seek a destination.  She implores us to keep going.  She knows the value in books and in reading them.  Her words encourage us to find the pure elation.  When you read her text aloud (even to yourself), there is an undercurrent of cheerful comfort.

Page by page you're carried away.
So let yourself go!

It's no secret red is Rilla Alexander's favorite color; finding a prominent place in all her published work.  Eye-catching and warm it beckons to readers.  A character she has placed in previous books, though never named within the pages of this title, Sozi sits reading an open book on the front of the book case.  On the back another open book is read by grinning characters found within this title.

Shades of yellow, red, orange and blue and pristine white create squares of graphic designs on the opening endpapers, three featuring Sozi oblivious of her surroundings, as she begins her day, so fully engrossed in her book.  Darker hues of green, blue, purple, red and black conclude the story on the closing endpapers as sleep comes to the characters.  Across the verso and title page, Alexander begins her narrative with the girl reading as she walks away from her home.  This two page spread zooms in on the reader bringing us close to her.

All of the remaining illustrations span double pages, edge to edge, shifting the color spectrum as the book is read and the trip is taken.  You realize time is passing and slowing with the change from a blue font to a white font; white necessary to be seen on the darker palette used.  Bold lines, easily defined shapes and altered perspectives dictate a lively mood on every aspect of this book.

I have two favorite illustrations. One is of the girl floating on the waves, wearing sunglasses, holding and sipping a drink through a straw while sitting in her long-necked bird inner tube with other creatures and characters moving beneath her in the water.  White, black, red, yellow and a turquoise blue are the only colors.  Ten pictures forward only red, black, white and a small bit of pale blue color a peaceful illustration of the girl sleeping in an open book.  It surrounds her like blankets on a bed.

The Best Book in the World written and illustrated by Rilla (Alexander) is a charming, heartfelt appreciation of the gift books are to individual readers.  When readers connect with the right book, everything else passes away, nothing else matters but the story.  The essence of a book is it never ends but begins over and over each time the cover is opened; each time it is shared.

To learn more about Rilla Alexander and her work please visit her website linked in her name.  To enjoy Sozi follow the link embedded in her name.  At the publisher's website fifteen images are posted for your viewing pleasure.  Elementary teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner interviews Rilla Alexander on his Let's Get Busy podcast giving listeners insights into this book and her work in general.  Another informative interview can be found at Look/Book.

The Best Book in the World! from Sozi on Vimeo.