Quote of the Month

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




Thursday, December 14, 2017

Creative Collaborative Comedy

Students and library users in general, regardless of their knowledge of the particular classification system being used, can, without hesitation, direct you to the section in their school and public library housing their favorite books.  If they have not been taught fiction is alphabetical, they still know where to look.  Without mastering the Dewey Decimal Classification they can find the shelves holding the animal books.

If their resident librarian is nearby, they will tell them they can find their favorite books in any library if they know a few simple facts.  Fiction books are generally alphabetical by the author's last name.  It really is as easy as ABC.  Nonfiction books are found in numerical order.  It's as simple as first counting by hundreds.  For most early library users the best practice is to memorize their favorite nonfiction number.  For those animal books it's 590.

Some books break the mold when determining where they are to be shelved.  It can be tricky to decide whether it's fiction or nonfiction.  It can be much harder to figure out if it's really about the subject noted in the title.  This Is Not a Normal Animal Book (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, November 7, 2017) written by Julie Segal-Walters with pictures by Brian Biggs is one of those books.  And it's rip-roaring hilarious!

Animals can be classified into groups by
their unique traits.

Here are some examples of
each category:

This is a straightforward introduction starting with a cat but when the narrator (author) adds

If the cat laid an egg . . .

everything begins to get a little crazy.  The other narrator (illustrator) has a completely different approach to the topic.

He first features the cat laying an egg because that's what the text said.  After the author shouts out the intended reply, the illustrator complies with a yellow note taped to the page showing a hen with an egg.  Each time the story continues in the voice of the author, the current animal switches activities changing it into another animal.

This, of course, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to the illustrator.  How can hopping on a lily pod make you a frog?  What do frogs and honey have in common?  The illustrator, in full mad-scientist mode, starts inventing creatures and names until the author puts a halt to it with a more detailed description of traits.

As the author continues with explicit characteristics, the illustrator voices his disapproval.  His artistic interpretation is being called into question.  The book comes to a screeching stop when the author names an animal the illustrator does not want to draw.  After failed attempts at how-about-this, a compromise seems to be reached.  No. Yes. What?!


This is one of those books when you read and read it again and read it still one more time, it becomes funnier and funnier.  You wonder how much laughter filled the room when debut author Julie Segal-Walters was writing this book.  The pacing is impeccable as the frustration on the part of the author and illustrator, within this narrative, heightens as they start to feel the process deteriorate.  The illustrator is struggling with the presentation of a mammal, bird, amphibian, insect and reptile.  As the author's final two choices are noted the illustrator's responses are guaranteed to have readers rolling on the floor with uncontrollable giggling.  Clearly this author and illustrator do not share the same vision.  Here is a passage.

If the bee slithered and hissed . . .
Oh, come on.
it would be a snake.
A plain green garter snake!
With a stripe down its back!
Look. You write the
words YOUR way.
I'll draw the pictures
MY way.


By all the extra elements on the front and back of the unfolded dust jacket you can't help but notice someone, the illustrator, is making adjustments.  The bright yellow background helps to draw the reader's attention to those changes.  On the back, to the left, on a white background a photograph of the selected amphibian is attached to a portion of the insect with scotch tape.  Crayon drawings visualize other attempts.  As on the front a crayon is shown along with an eraser.  The book case is bright yellow, front and back.  The title is Animal Book.  Beneath it is a hen.  This is utterly plain and simple.

On the opening and closing endpapers an assortment of orange wide-eyed animals are placed on the yellow background.  The animal shown at the end of the book is placed under the text on the initial title page, a foreshadowing of the last straw.  On the more formal title page the illustrator is back making humorous alterations.  A full color display of animals, several from each group, is shown on the first single page image.

In the following illustrations Brian Biggs moves from single page pictures, page edge to page edge, pages with notes taped to the page, crayons, photographs, paper cut-outs and jelly and other revisions to two pages of what can only be named as pure confusion or playful peevishness.  The font style changes between the voice of the author, normal typeface, and the illustrator, hand-written in crayon.  As the exasperation on the part of the illustrator grows so does the text and image sizes.  The author's annoyance escalates in the form of single words followed by periods and the use of exclamation points and capital letters.

One of my favorite, of numerous, illustrations is when the cat is bending over and looking at the egg.  The look of puzzlement on its face is enough to summon spontaneous grins, if not outright laughter.  This is one of the gifts Brian Biggs gives to readers; the comic expressions on the animals' faces when they notice the odd situations.


If you're looking for a book about the collaborative and creative process AND animals, This Is Not a Normal Animal Book written by Julie Segal-Walters with pictures by Brian Biggs is an excellent title.  It is read aloud gold which urges the use of voices for each character.  The Facts about Animals page at the end does give a fact about each animal but the illustrator has other thoughts which appear in orange crayon.

Insects
Insects have three-part bodies and outnumber all other animals.
They have VERY stinky feet. 

I can't imagine any collection, professional or personal, without a copy of this book.

Please visit the websites of Julie Segal-Walters and Brian Biggs to learn more about them and their other work by following the links attached to their names.  Teacher guides at Julie's site are here.  Julie is a featured guest writer at Picture Book Month's website in 2017.  At author Vivian Kirkfield's site, Picture Books Help Kids Soar, Julie Segal-Walters is interviewed.  At Brian's site there are several posts about this title.  You can view interior images at the publisher's website.

At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., the cover reveal for the dust jacket is featured with an interview with Brian Biggs.  On the same date, educator extraordinaire, Colby Sharp, chats with Julie Segal-Walters at SHARPREAD with her case cover reveal in one of his 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 interviews.  Both Julie Segal-Walters and Brian Biggs visit with teacher librarian Matthew Winner at All The Wonders, Episode 401.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Still Counting . . .

You go outside as often as possible walking through woods, fields and along lakeshores.  Some of the trails you take are man-made, others are worn by use and there are those you design.  There are moments during these explorations when you stop.  You listen.  You look.  You smell. 

In these moments you understand you are embraced by a multitude of flora and fauna.  It's a humbling, exhilarating and comforting feeling.  It's an invitation to be a valued and trusted member of this vast community on our Blue Planet.  LOTS: The Diversity of Life on Earth (Walker Books, April 2017 UK, Candlewick Press, November 2017 US) written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Emily Sutton is a tribute to the abundance we have and a call to action to preserve and protect it. 

How many different kinds of living things are there on our planet?

One, 
two,
three,
LOTS!

There are big animals like elephants (two kinds) and huge plants like oak trees (more than 600 kinds).  There are living things so tiny; they can't be seen with the naked eye.  It's astounding to know there might be 5,000 kinds of microbes in a single teaspoon of dirt.

Everywhere we venture or take a peek, whether it's dry or wet, embedded or on top of creatures or within a spot above the temperature of boiling life finds a way to thrive.  It may be challenging to find but people pursue the need to know.  Their discoveries help us to understand the complexity within a single fish or the difference found in two butterflies which look alike but are not the same.

There are lots and lots and lots of plants and animals.  There are so many we may never find all of them.  BUT

So far; human beings have
found and counted almost
two million different kinds
of living things.  

We have to keep learning all we can.  We are all continuously connected.  There is a problem, though.  It's a huge problem.  Humans are continuously damaging the connection.  There are signs of this wherever you are.  Every time something becomes extinct we all are the losers.  We want the numbers to climb higher every single time we count.  Let us never move in reverse.

With the books Nicola Davies pens the living world which envelopes us is brought into our presence.  In this title her language for even the youngest of readers is conversational but intentional.  She takes a vast subject, making it clearer and more meaningful.  Captions with the illustrations disclose further factual wonders.

All the creatures on this page have
been found in the last 50 years.


The detailed portrait of a place teeming with plants and animals on the front of the book case crosses the spine extending to the edge of the left of the back.  The girl seated with her clipboard and pencil is counting each valuable piece in this essential puzzle called life.  This scene, frozen in time, demonstrates the diversity shared within the book.  The opening for the title text is replicated on the back offering a short blurb about the title's contents.

On the opening and closing endpapers, in cream and teal, are etchings of all kinds of animals and plants from many of the classifications.  Another setting, a desert setting, spans the title page and verso page to the left.  The text is skillfully placed within the image without detracted from its splendor.  The girl, dressed in appropriate clothing for the desert, is walking from left to right.

The size of each illustration Emily Sutton creates is dictated by the text.  After the initial phrase and words, each visual depicts the myriad of plant and animal life in each portion of our world being discussed.  For many of them she gives us a panoramic view but for others she takes us close to the subject.  In the case of feather mites she shows us a parrot but next to the bird a close-up view of a single feather gives us a glimpse of the mites on this feather. 

The exquisite elements Emily Sutton includes will have you easily pausing for an hour or more on a single page or image.  You will be wondering about the name for each plant and animal.  You will be curious about where they are found. 

One of my many favorite illustrations accompanies the words

or the bottom of the coldest seas.

Along the top of the page are clouds in various shades of blue-green and an icy landscape.  Five penguins dive into the water in front of the girl.  She is wearing a suit and scuba gear.  In the beam of her flashlight the life along the bottom is more brilliant.  To the left and right of the beam, the floor is covered in plant and animal life.


Now more than ever it is critical to educate ourselves and the present and upcoming generations about the importance of Earth.  LOTS:  The Diversity of Life on Earth written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Emily Sutton is a stunning representation of the life all around us.  We have a responsibility to give the planet our care.  It should be an honor to do so.  Every life depends upon this choice.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.  I can see more research following the reading of this book.  In the United States this book is titled Many:  The Diversity of Life on Earth.  It was released in November of this year by Candlewick Press.  My favorite illustration can be seen at their website.

To learn more about Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Emily Sutton maintains an account on Instagram.  Emily Sutton's work is featured on Jama Rattigan's Jama's Alphabet Soup.


You will want to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other selections chosen by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Listen And You Will Hear

Your head insists on a logical explanation.  Your heart tells you another truth.  You can't let go of what your heart tells you.  You still believe. 

You accept and expect a special seasonal magic.  You remember and take comfort in the wonder you witness over and over again on the eve of Christmas.  The Little Reindeer (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 19, 2017) written and illustrated by Nicola Killen is an extraordinary nighttime journey.
 

It was Christmas Eve and Ollie had just gone to sleep when
jingle, jingle, jingle
she woke again with a start.

There was nothing to be seen outside her window but newly fallen snow.  Ready to discover what made the sound, she left her bedroom and went outside with her sled. The silence of the night is broken with another trio of jingles.

Leaping on her sled, Ollie sped down the hill getting closer and closer to the sound of bells.  A wind was beginning to blow, making the sound clearer.  Running into the trees, she made a discovery.  Like an ornament a thing not of the natural world was on a tree branch.  

Surely this red collar with silver bells was another's prized possession.  Another sound announced the arrival of a reindeer.  It was a perfect fit.

With the return of the collar a gift was freely given.  An unforgettable memory was made.  A friendship only found in dreams became a reality. 


The first of the four 

jingle, jingle, jingle

sounds is a declaration, a declaration of possibility.  Nicola Killen awakes a sense of adventure in all of us.  We eagerly follow Ollie as she goes down the stairs, walks out of her home, slides down the hill and strolls into the woods.  The suspense builds with each sound getting clearer and nearer until the collar is found and the reindeer appears.  With what Nicola Killen tells us next, we are filled with the same jubilation as Ollie.  Here is a passage prior to finding the collar.

The bells got louder as the wind
whistled and the trees shook.
Jingle, jingle, jingle.
Ollie was getting close.

She took a deep breath and, feeling very brave,
she ran into the darkness.


The first thing you realize when touching the opened dust jacket is the rough texture of the paper.  The limited color palette in shades of soft black and white with spot touches of rich red is used throughout the title.  The wintry Christmas Eve scene in which Ollie in her reindeer pajamas is standing extends over the spine to the back and to the edges of each flap.  We can see on the back what Ollie cannot.  Standing on a hill is the reindeer.  This entire setting is one where the magic is ready to burst forth.

The book case is identical except the silver foil text is replaced with red.  On the opening and closing endpapers the night sky holds a few stars, snowflakes and a winter wind.  On the initial title page Ollie is snuggled in bed, beneath her patterned quilt, hugging her stuffed toy bunny and reindeer. On the following formal title page a luminous, eloquent winter wonderland is presented.  We see a series of gentle hills, three new homes and the reindeer is moving in the opposite direction.

If ever a child loved reindeer, it's Ollie.  On the first two page image we see her room wallpapered in a reindeer pattern, reindeer drawings hang on her walls, a reindeer is drawn on her chalkboard, a reindeer bookend is holding a row of books and on her pillowcase is a reindeer.  An opened book about reindeer is on the floor.  As she stands at the window the first of three perfectly aligned cutouts gives us a new view.

Nicola Killen alternates between two page pictures, single page images, edge to edge and single page visuals with rounded-corner frames.  She also includes a glorious two page wordless illustration.  The rosy cheeks on Ollie and her simple facial features endear readers to this child whose greatest wish is coming true.

One of my favorite of many illustrations spans two pages.  From the right to the left tall, leafless trees stretch upward in the snowy sky.  They cover the page from top to bottom on the right.  To the left they open up into a small clearing.  Ollie is leaning forward to take the red collar with the silver bells from a branch.  Behind her is her sled with her stuffed bunny seated on it.  A doorway made of branches, a cutout, shows more trees farther behind her.  On the right owls, a squirrel, birds, mice and a wild rabbit watch Ollie.  This is a breathtaking moment.


Written and illustrated by Nicola Killen The Little Reindeer is a charming tale of the quiet joy to be found on Christmas Eve.  It's a time for wishes to be realized.  You will want to enrich your story time telling with this title.  It will be a welcome addition to your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Nicola Killen and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. At the publisher's website you can view several interior pages.  Nicola Killen joins Sherry Duskey Rinker and Betsy Cordes at Picturebooking, Episode 92 with Nick Patton.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Seeking The Soul Of The Season

If you are asked to name your favorite part of the Christmas season, what is your answer?  Also, what one word best describes what Christmas means to you?  Like many things in life it is to be expected our replies would be a reflection of our age, experiences and current circumstances.  Maybe our responses would be different from one year to the next. 

Sometimes we get so caught up in the preparations for the events attached to the celebration, we never truly pause to reflect on either of these questions.  Our time is completely occupied with the cooking and baking, the decorating, the sending of Christmas cards and selecting the gifts to be given.  In Finding Christmas (Albert Whitman & Company, October 1, 2017) written by Lezlie Evans with pictures by Yee Von Chan, three friends find themselves in an unexpected situation with life-changing results.

The Little Burrow was nearly ready for Christmas.

Hare was singing carols at the top of his voice as he placed decorations on the tree.  Squirrel was placing finishing touches on freshly baked cookies.  Mouse was leaving their home.  She still had to find the perfect present for Hare.

It seemed like Mouse had barely left the house when she returned deeply agitated.  She needed their help immediately.  Squirrel and Hare followed her through the snowy woods until they came to a swallow lying on the ground, a thin blanket of snow covering her.  The three carried the ill bird back to their Little Burrow.

Placing her close to the fire covered in blankets was not helping.  She did not move.  Hare had an idea.  He gave Squirrel his gift.  Squirrel was puzzled and did not want to open it yet, but Hare insisted.  Inside was Squirrel's favorite thing.  He understood it would help the swallow.

Next Squirrel gave Mouse her gift to open.  Inside was an item surely meant to keep the chill of winter from reaching her.  She understood it would help the swallow.  All night long the trio tended the swallow.

When Christmas morning arrived Hare, Squirrel and Mouse were talking about their gifts for each other.  Mouse, of course, was sad she had no gift for Hare.  As the light of a new day filled The Little Burrow, something else was carried on the air.  Hare did have a gift from Mouse.


With her storytelling skills author Lezlie Evans takes readers into the heartwarming relationship of the three friends within the first six sentences.  As the story continues we come to understand how much their affection is for each other by their gifts.  We also realize their true character in their willingness to give to another in greater need.  The repetition of a single phrase strengthens our knowledge of this.  Here is a passage before Mouse's sudden return.

As Squirrel pulled the last batch of cookies from the
oven, Hare hit a high note.
"Could you tone it down a bit?" asked Squirrel.  Hare
had been singing at the top of his lungs all morning.
"But music's my favorite part of Christmas," said Hare.
"Music helps bring the Christmas spirit."
Though tomorrow was December 25th, it didn't feel
like Christmas yet. 


The charm of a woodland setting and the three friends who dwell within its surroundings are immediately felt by readers who look at the matching, opened dust jacket and book case.  The blue-gray background with snowflakes provides an ideal canvas for the windows into the warmth of The Little Burrow.  Delicate, intricate details in each setting and in the leaves, berries and nuts framing each of them contribute to the overall enchantment.  To the left, on the back, again framed in holly leaves and berries, a red ribbon, ferns, berries, pine boughs, oak leaves and acorns, Mouse, Squirrel and Hare are doing their best to awaken the swallow and keep her warm.

A muted forest green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page readers are given a view of The Little Burrow as if we came upon it in the woods.  Snow is mounded over the rounded roof.  Light glows in the windows on either side of the circular door.  Smoke drifts upward from the chimney.  Trees frame the home.

Illustrator Yee Von Chan invites us into the world of these woodland creatures with two-page pictures, single page pictures, edge to edge and single page images in loose circular or oval shapes.  She alters the perspective to heighten the mood of the narrative.  Her fine lines and exquisite elements remind us elegance is found in the simple things.  Readers will notice she includes two other birds in several illustrations; each of them is wearing a scarf to maintain their warmth in winter.

One of my many favorite illustrations takes us close to The Little Burrow.  We are looking inside it on Christmas Eve along with two birds who are perched on the window ledge.  The window covers nearly two pages, framed in snow and the outside of the home.  Through the window we can see Hare loading a log on the fire, Squirrel feeding tea to the swallow, placed on a rug and covered in blankets, and Mouse offering a comforting touch.  A part of their Christmas tree, table with a plate of cookies and stove are visible.  A tray with a tea pot and cups is on the floor near the swallow.  We are looking at love.


Through the words of Lezlie Evans and the artwork of Yee Von Chan Finding Christmas is an engaging and heartfelt story of the best this season brings.  It is a gentle reminder to follow the Golden Rule, to choose compassion, whenever the opportunity presents itself to us.  You will want to add this title to your professional and personal collections. 

To discover more about Lezlie Evans and Yee Von Chan and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Here is a link to the advent calendar Lezlie Evans recommends creating in her interview for the book trailer premiere at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  At the publisher's website you can view interior pages.  Lezlie Evans is interviewed about this book and her work at the Albert Whitman Blog  She is also interviewed about this title and her process at Picture Book Playlist.  At Yee Von Chan's website she lists the other social media connections she has in which you can see her work.  She has another website called Whimsy Whimsical.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Silent Beauty

Waking up to a fresh, first blanket of snow is exhilarating.  No one enjoys it more than a puppy.  Their stops, nose to the ground, followed by quick starts and hops along with full-blown running in circles enlivens the heart of any individual.  They are soaking up this gift from Mother Nature and expressing their gratitude in ways we humans can never replicate.

Even more enchanting is to witness a living being experience the first snowfall of their lives. All their senses awaken to it. Hoot and Peep:  A Song for Snow (Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, November 14, 2017) written and illustrated by Lita Judge is a charming blend of anticipation and the value of patience.

It was Peep's first winter,
and she cuddled close to
her big brother, Hoot.

There was a chill in the air; the kind of chill signaling the arrival of snow.  Peep thought snow was a she.  Hoot explained it was a thing.

Peep, full of questions, wanted to know what sound snow made.  Was it like rain, wind or falling leaves?  Hoot had a hard time replying because he was as young as Peep when he first heard snow.  Its melody was too faint for him to remember.

Hoot was content to wait calmly for snow.  Peep was too excited to perch and ponder.  She flew off to search for it.  Squirrel was as new to the world as Peep and he had not seen snow either.  He did offer Peep his song.

Without any fanfare snow came, flake by flake.  Peep, Squirrel and a little mouse companion sat watching in wonder.  Peep swooped back to join Hoot.  Wisdom was appreciated.  Playful tunes were sung until dawn's first light.

The conversations between this older brother and baby sister endear these two characters to readers.  The simple innocence of Peep and the insights offered by Hoot will resonate with readers and listeners alike.  Lita Judge in this title (in all her titles) finds a way to express with her words a needed gentleness and a thoughtful way at looking at our world.  Lively humor is found in the voicing of sounds by Peep in contrast to Hoot's soft Hooo.  Here is a passage.

"Rain falls from the sky," said Peep.
"Does snow drop, ploppety splop,
like the rain's song?" 


When you look at the matching opened dust jacket and book case, the happiness exhibited by the owl siblings and their mouse friend spills outward filling your heart with warmth.  You also wish you could fly to their starred roost and join them.  Everything but the soft background is varnished.  The title text is raised to our touch. To the left, on the back, Peep tosses snowballs at Hoot as they stand in a courtyard of trees dressed in soft drifts.

The opening and closing endpapers are a very pale blue with exquisite snowflakes floating across the pages.  On the title page Peep, Hoot and the mouse are looking directly at us from the top of a tall shrub shining with Christmas lights as the snow falls.  Here and throughout the book, with her flair for choosing a color palette, the background lifts the characters forward without diminishing its nature.

Rendered in watercolors with a few digital finishing touches these pictures literally glow.  Lita Judge includes lights in windows, tiny lights on the starry tower top, lighted shop window displays, street lamps, Italian lights strung in park trees and Christmas lights woven into the decorative garden.  The images either span two pages, a single page, a page and a half or portions of a single page to enhance the narrative's pacing.  They are loosely framed with elements occasionally leaving the border.

The brush strokes for the birds' feathers, the tufting around the mouse's ears and Squirrel's tail invite you to reach out and touch the pages.  The large eyes full of emotional expression connect us to the characters.  They draw us into their experiences.

So many of these illustrations are favorites.  One beautiful picture spans two pages.  Hoot is leading the way through a city street to the best place to wait for snow.  Peep is following with the little mouse riding on her back.  They are flying by a pastry shop.  All shapes and sizes of delectable desserts are on display in the window.  Large circular peppermint candies hang from the awning.  A mobile of toys sways as they pass.  The name of the shop is fashioned into a metal sign with an attached lamp.  Oh, to have been there when they passed!


Without a doubt readers who enjoyed the first title Hoot and Peep (students were singing the sounds during a read aloud) will find themselves loving Hoot and Peep:  A Song for Snow written and illustrated by Lita Judge.  This uplifting story of an once-in-a-lifetime event is told with words and art which convey pure magic.  Children will ask for this story repeatedly.  Soon they will have the sounds memorized.  I recommend this for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Lita Judge, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  She has a short video there about the creation of an image for this book.  If you click on Inside this book you can view five interior illustrations including several favorites of mine.  At the publisher's website you can view the title page and a portion of the first picture. If you follow this link you'll discover two pages from the book to color courtesy of the publishers.  Lita Judge has been a guest at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast several times, herehere and here.  Lita Judge is interviewed at Great! Storybook.

Taking Wing . . .

We were traveling from northern Michigan back downstate to our homes.  The views from the two-seat airplane were spectacular.  Riding with a pilot known for his excellent flying abilities provided a sense of safety until . . . he did a loop-de-loop. YIKES!  Who knew your legs could turn into cooked noodles in a matter of seconds.  For a girl with no fear of heights, this was an epic moment.

Safely back on the runway at a nearby small town airport, my self-assurance at being above ground was shattered and replaced with unease. There were times in the following years when this was set aside to help others with a greater fear than mine or when a foot of snow needed to be shoveled off a roof.  The confidence and courage were still present but the distress at being up was stronger.  Little Iffy Learns To Fly (Two Lions, October 17, 2017) written and illustrated by Aaron Zenz is certain to strike a chord with anyone fearful of taking the first step (or flap) in realizing their full potential. 

Little Iffy is a bitty griffin.

       Griffins are part lion   
       and part eagle.

The eagle part of Little Iffy prefers to have both feet planted on the ground.  The slightest sound startles this gentle soul.  As he watches his red balloon drift away, he knows he won't fly.  He knows he won't go up to get it.

Down is Little Iffy's favorite word.  Down feels safe.  Down is rock solid.

Little Iffy's friends have other ideas.  They want him to fly.  Eggs Pegasus is full of plans.  It's one of her best qualities.  A swing set, a long slide and a tower of friends are essential to possible success.  With each suggestion Little Iffy has the same reply.  He finally sits at

the down-est 
place he can find. 

Suddenly, through no part of any plan, Little Iffy is in the up-est place he was avoiding.  Grabbing hold of that which he lost, an earlier fright places him in even greater jeopardy.  Down takes on a whole new meaning.  So does up.


The simple sentences in the narrative and conversations penned by Aaron Zenz leave no doubt as to Little Iffy's whole attitude on flying.  With a few more page turns we are also aware of the support Little Iffy has in his group of friends.  They recognize his fear but offer encouragement whenever they can.

A repetition of key words and phrases welcomes reader participation.  Aaron interjects humor in the unexpected element during the last of three plans.  It's guaranteed to trigger laughter.


Upon opening the book case the scene on the front extends over the spine to the left on the back.  Little Iffy's three additional friends are smiling and talking as they lean in from the left edge.  Clearly Eggs Pegasus wants her friend to fly but he's certainly not ready.  His fearful look is in direct contrast to the expressions on his friends' faces.  The cheerful pastel colors on the case are found throughout the title.  A rich purple covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Digitally rendered the illustrations begin to tell their story on the title page with a happy Little Iffy holding a red balloon.  Aaron alters the picture sizes from two pages to single pages to assist with the pacing of his narrative.  A crisp white, pale blue or pale yellow background is perfect to draw our attention to his characters.

Readers will readily identify with Little Iffy.  I'll bet younger gals and guys have been in many of the shown body postures at one time or another.  What's really wonderful is the way Aaron uses a balloon and bee several times to enhance his story.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is when the unplanned element is introduced into the story.  As our eyes move from left to right, even before seeing what happens to Little Iffy, we know a huge surprise is coming. The looks on the three friends' faces are anything but happy.  Aaron Zenz cleverly leaves it to readers to guess what Little Iffy is thinking and feeling.


Little Iffy Learns To Fly written and illustrated by Aaron Zenz expresses with utter charm the joy found when we do the thing we think we can't do.  Young readers are going to want to hear this story read to them repeatedly.  And you will gladly comply.  You will want to have a copy on your professional and personal shelves.

To discover more about Aaron Zenz and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name. Aaron maintains an Instagram account filled with his delightful artwork.  Aaron wrote a guest post for the Nerdy Book Club, The Family Who ReadsSchool Library Journal hosts The Yarn podcast when Aaron visited Travis Jonker's school for an author visit, Anatomy of an Author Visit with Aaron Zenz.  Author and educator extraordinaire, Colby Sharp, showcases Aaron at one of his 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 interviews on SHARPREAD.  Aaron visits All The Wonders, Episode 280 with librarian Matthew Winner.  I know you will enjoy reading about Aaron's spectacular project at Artprize.


Be sure to visit the other stops on this blog tour.  You'll read some fantastic interviews, book reviews and get to see loads of artwork in the process of creating this book.  Have fun!

Monday December 4: Mile High Reading
Tuesday December 5: Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Wednesday December 6:  100 Scope Notes
Thursday December 7:  Everead
Friday December 8:  Librarian's Quest
Saturday December 9: Amanda's Pile of Books
Sunday December 10:  Kids Talk Kid Lit
Tuesday December 19:  Nerdy Book Club
Monday January 1: Picturebooking Podcast

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Quest For Truth

When you finish a book, close the cover and sit in silence, it's a book worth remembering.  If this particular title should be a biography, you can't help but think, not for the first time, how much better our world is for this person having lived here.  If you are unfamiliar with this individual and their accomplishments, you send waves of thanks into the universe for the work of those responsible for this book.

Next to me as I write this post is such a book.  I am filled with wonder and immense respect for this man who is introduced to readers in Schomburg: The Man Who Built A Library (Candlewick Press, September 12, 2017) written by Carole Boston Weatherford with illustrations by Eric Velasquez.  If he had lived past his sixty-four years, what other treasures might he have discovered?

The American Negro must remake his past in
order to make his future . . .History must
restore what slavery took away.
                        ---Arturo Schomburg

You would like to think educators treat all students equally, lifting them up and realizing their potential.  For Arturo Schomburg, a fifth grade teacher did not lift him up.  She told him

. . . Africa's sons and daughters
had no history, no heroes worth noting.

This statement lit a fire in Arturo and it was never extinguished.  He dedicated his life to searching for and finding primary sources and facts to proclaim the truth of black heritage.  No child should ever hear what he heard in fifth grade.

As a boy his search began, reading everything he could.  Benjamin Banneker's words and achievements fueled his fire further.  At seventeen Arturo left Puerto Rico immigrating to New York. He became involved in political issues, taught Spanish as he was learning English and, regardless of a setback with his educational records, found work as a law clerk.  His book collecting started in earnest.

Arturo had a gift for finding items others might miss.  He was fascinated with Phillis Wheatley, learning more about her than he imagined.  For Arturo Frederick Douglass was a glorious example of the power of the pen.  The more Arturo searched, the more he found.  Toussaint Louverture, David Walker, Denmark Vesey, and Nat Turner were his heroes.

He discovered connections to Africa in the ancestry of John James Audubon, Alexandre Dumas, Alexander Pushkin and Ludwig van Beethoven.  By studying volumes he unearthed, he made connections to like-minded people such as Paul Cuffee, a wealthy African American (1759-1817) and Marcus Garvey, a well-known name in the Harlem Renaissance.  Now working as a mail room clerk Arturo was highly respected for his growing personal collection and knowledge.  He was asked to search for those items most likely to further instill black pride.  He brought to light one fascinating piece of information after another.

Eventually he had more books than his home could hold.  The Carnegie Corporation bought his collection for $10,000.  It was donated to the New York Public Library in 1926 becoming the core of the 135th Street branch and the Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints.  Arturo ventured out of New York to Fisk University for a year.  Eventually he traveled to Spain, Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Cuba.  Least you think he only collected books, he added art to the Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints.  A little more than two years after his death, the Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints was renamed the Schomburg Collection for Negro History, Literature and Prints.  What would this remarkable man think of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture found at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem?


As readers turn each page in this title they will indeed feel respect swell for Schomburg as presented by Carole Boston Weatherford.  There is a passion for this man revealed in every sentence she writes blending his quotations and his personal life within her conversational, lyrical narrative.  We walk in his shadow as Carole Boston Weatherford shares with us his findings about specific individuals.  She weaves all these lives together with beauty.  Here are two passages.

But Phillis was most phenomenal as a poet.
If only Arturo could have been a gull
swooping and crooning above the waves
as Phillis crossed the Atlantic a second time,
bound for London to promote her book---
Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral---in 1773.
If only that same year Arturo could have witnessed
that stroke of pen granting Phillis her freedom.
If only Arturo could have looked over her shoulder,
seen her penning that praise poem
to George Washington during the Revolution.
Although she offered subscriptions
for a second book, her final manuscript
was never published or found.
If only, thought Arturo, I could find that

Art, he thought, might reach those
who would never read a rare book.


Rendered in oil on watercolor paper the illustrations on the matching dust jacket and book case (as well as all the interior images) by Eric Velasquez are luminous. In each one our eyes are initially drawn to Schomburg.  We focus on his current situation with respect to the text.  Notice how the light shines on portions of his face.  Then our eyes wander to the other elements noting the historical accuracy of the architecture, clothing and transportation.  I am particularly pleased to see how Velasquez has the books stacked in Schomburg's arms, exactly as he arranged them in his collections.

To the left, on the back, an interior illustration is featured.  It shows Schomburg standing, with arms crossed, in his collection, positioned between two acquired sculptures with book cases behind him.  The opening and closing endpapers are in a pale rustic red.  On the first is a book plate reading

EX LIBRIS.

On the title page is a picture of the 135th Street branch building beneath the text. Spanning from left to right is a row of books, color-coordinated, on the verso and dedication pages.  Full color pictures crossing the gutter create larger than life portraits of Schomburg.  Others are shown on single pages or portions of pages.  These visuals depending on their size provide columns for the text.  When Schomburg is learning about an individual person, the images are framed in fine red lines with a date tucked into the painting.  The people are depicted engaged in the activity Schomburg most admires.  These illustrations are like snapshots of history, accurate but emotional.

One of my many favorite pictures covers a single page and extends over the gutter to half of the right side.  It is the 135th Street branch building.  It rises into a blue sky dotted with clouds.  It is shown at an angle as if we are gazing upward at it.  In fact, Schomburg is standing in front of the building with his back to us, hands on his hips.  This historic building is like a treasure chest holding a man's life's work.


Schomburg: The Man Who Built A Library written by Carole Boston Weatherford with illustrations by Eric Velasquez is an outstanding picture book biography highlighting a fascinating life. This remarkable man never wavered in his quest.  At the close of the book a time line, source notes and bibliography are presented.  I highly recommend this title be a part of your professional and personal collection.

To learn more about Carole Boston Weatherford and Eric Velasquez and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior illustration.  There is an eight page teacher's guide.  They've also prepared several pages on Eric Velasquez.  Carole Boston Weatherford is interviewed at Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson highlights Eric Velasquez on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Eric Velazquez is showcased at The Brown Bookshelf



Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to read about the titles selected by other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.