Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Defining And Defending Equality

There are those who see injustice and speak out loud about it.  There are those who see injustice, speak out loud about it, and take action to correct it.  There are a select few among us who see injustice, speak out loud about it, take action to correct it, and devote their entire lives to inequities.

At eighty-seven years old, there is a woman, currently sitting on the Supreme Court who is one of these people.  In her twenty-seven years of service to our Constitution and laws, her voice has not wavered. Ruth Objects: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Disney Hyperion, February 11, 2020) written by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by Eric Velasquez is a memorable portrait in words and images of a remarkable woman.

Ruth's mother, Celia, wanted to go to college,
but her family had only enough money
to pay for their eldest son to attend.  
When Celia married, her husband
made her stop working as a bookkeeper.
He worried that people would think
he couldn't support his family.

For her daughter, Ruth, Celia wanted other choices.  She wanted her to be firm in her resolve, but to do so without animosity.  Both her parents supported strong academic pursuits, as well as outside interests.  The family observed lighting of candles on Friday evenings to begin the Sabbath.  While her childhood was filled with a wide range of opportunities and experiences, deep sadness came to Ruth right before she graduated from high school.  Her mother died.

College at Cornell exposed different conditions, more constraints for women than men.  An event there determined the course Ruth's life would take.  Prior to graduating from college Ruth met her perfect life partner, Martin Ginsburg, an attorney.  He fully supported her endeavors.  When Marty began his service in the military, Ruth began working in government, but when she informed her employer she was pregnant, her responsibilities were diminished, and she was required to leave in her ninth month.

Graduating first in her class paved the way for Ruth to attend Harvard Law School, but here too, she faced gender differences.  Ruth and her husband shared parenting, and Martin was the better cook.  When they were both working on their law degrees, Martin got cancer.  Ruth continued her studies and made sure Martin missed nothing.  She rarely got enough sleep.  Marty survived and was hired in a firm in New York City. Ruth completed her law education at Columbia Law School.  She tied for top of the class.  Not one judge would hire her as a law clerk, until a professor intervened.

In 1963 Ruth was teaching at Rutgers University in New Jersey, getting less pay than a man doing the same work.  Ruth's students, women law students, asked her to teach a class on

women and the law.

Ruth and other female law professors decided to petition the court for equal pay.  They won.  This was the beginning of one successful win after another as Ruth challenged the norms which failed to live up to the Constitution.  Ten years later, in 1973, she argued her first Supreme Court case.  She won with an eight to one vote.  Ruth continued to fight for gender equity, for women and for men. 

In 1993, as a newly sworn-in member of the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg stayed the course. Even if a case was not decided to her liking, a dissent could sway another body to take action as in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which President Barack Obama signed into law on January 29, 2009.  A year later Ruth Bader Ginsburg lost the love of her life, Martin Ginsburg died due to cancer.  Today, Ruth is one of three women on the Supreme Court.  May her strength be a guide for us all.

With each reading of the words written by Doreen Rappaport for this book, you will find yourself more in awe of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  The detailed facts allow us to be a participant in many aspects of her life.  Each time Doreen Rappaport gives us an accounting of a certain portion of Ruth's life, she includes a quotation.  This increases the authenticity of the narrative.  Here is a passage.

Ruth tied for first place in her graduating class,
but not one law firm interviewed her.

"Traditional law firms were just
beginning to hire Jews, but to be a
woman, a Jew, and a mother to boot,
that combination was a bit much."  

If the picture on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case does not take your breath away, you might want to make sure you are breathing.  The portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the rendering of the Constitution of the United States behind her is wondrous.  (In my humble opinion, it should be hanging in a gallery.)  You expect her to start speaking at any moment.  To the left, on the back, is a red curtain, folded and still.  The title text is placed here along with the author and illustrator names.  Under the secondary title is a bit of lace in reference to the signature jabot for which Ruth is known.

On the golden, painted opening and closing endpapers are two different quotations of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  On the title page between two sets of text, artist Eric Velasquez has placed a judge's gavel and block.  These stunning paintings by Eric Velasquez vary in size to elevate the text, and to extend the visual interpretation.  They are one-and-one-half pages creating a column for text, smaller insets on a larger image, a series of vertical panels on two pages, two horizontal panels on a single page, or dramatic double-page pictures.

The elements included in each illustration reveal the meticulous research by Eric Velasquez.  The facial features, body postures, and clothing reflect the historical perspective and moment being showcased.  Through his illustrations we are able to watch a young girl grow and change to become the esteemed person she is today.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a one-and-one-half page picture with a column on the left for text.  Eric Velasquez's painting of the Constitution of the United States supplies the canvas for an image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  It is a depiction of a younger Ruth.  We see a greater portion of her body, from the waist upward.  She is dressed in attire for this period.  She has a copy of the Constitution in her right hand.  She faces readers with a look of calm determination on her face.  This page is discussing the lawsuit for equal pay for women professors.  They did win.  In this illustration, as in all of them, Eric Velasquez is masterful with his use of light and shadow.

Even after repeated readings, readers will feel their respect and admiration of this woman climb.  Ruth Objects: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg written by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by Eric Velasquez is an outstanding presentation of this woman's contributions toward equality for all. At the close of the book are Important Dates, Author's Note, Illustrator's Note, Selected Bibliography, To Learn More About Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Acknowledgements and Source Notes.  You could pair this with Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R. B. G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter with illustrations by Stacy Innerst.  You will want to include this title in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Doreen Rappaport and Eric Velasquez and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Eric Velasquez has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Please take a few moments to see what titles were selected this week by other participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Seeking Sanctuary

This summer there is an abundance of wildlife, from the smallest to the largest.  There are biting bugs and feasting bugs.  Honeybees buzz from clover patch to clover patch.  A toad as big as my fist moves from the front gardens to the back gardens. There are several colors of swallowtails and monarchs fluttering past during the day and moths gather around lights at night. Red squirrels play tag.  The other afternoon a newly arrived resident, a chipmunk, raced from a garden to chase one of the many robins from the yard. There are chickadees, sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, brown thrashers, goldfinches, a variety of woodpeckers, crows, ravens, turkey vultures, hawks, geese, seagulls, sandhill cranes, and sometimes bluebirds.  Rabbits shelter under landscaping at night and a tiny baby bunny squeezes in and out of the chain link fence.  Before the sun lifts over the horizon, two large deer graze just beyond the yard.

To witness their presence and interactions is a thing of wonder.  If we chose to observe and understand them, animals will guide and enhance our lives.  Together We Grow (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, May 26, 2020) written by Susan Vaught with illustrations by Kelly Murphy brings us a tale of a stormy night, and the plight of a fox family.  Sanctuary is essential for survival.

Lightning gash!
Windy lash!

Rain and thunder,
home asunder.

Flood waters rise and wash out the home of a fox family.  One member leaves to seek a dry place to shelter at a nearby barn.  Many domestic animals are in the barn with a few wild friends.  They do not want the fox family with them. 

As the fox family slowly walks from the barn, a tiny duck stands in the open, glowing doorway.  The wee bird goes into the storm and chats with the foxes as the inhabitants in the barn watch.  One by one a change is taking place.

Slowly, all inside come to realize this place, this space, is for everyone.  Fears are set aside and replaced with compassion.  All shapes, sizes and textures need a haven.

All through the night the storm rages.  All through the night sleeping animals find peace as more arrive.  In the light of a new morning, a realization and a resolution remain.

Rhyming couplets penned by Susan Vaught invite us into this narrative.  Each captivating series of phrases conveys authentic place, and time.  We are involved in every emotional moment, fear, hope, discouragement, courage, acceptance, and affection.  Here is another couplet.

Shell and scales,
love prevails!

The diverse selection of animals, domestic and wild, shown on the front of the open dust jacket signifies an unspoken agreement among this gathering.  It clearly depicts how in the worst of times, the best can and does happen.  The palette exudes warmth and affirmation.  You want to pause and name all the animals rejoicing in this portrait.  To the left, on the back, in shadowy blues of night and storm, the three kits are around their parent.  They are looking up at a snail saved by the adult.  It is resting on its nose.  A salamander is stopped on the head of one of the youngsters.  Three butterflies and a several fireflies move about them.  The title text is raised and varnished.

On the book case in two shades of blue, dark on light, are a series of various animals prints moving from left to right, back to front.  The canvas is textured.  The text on the spine is done in copper foil.

Illustrator Kelly Murphy begins her visual interpretation and extension of the narrative on the opening endpapers.  From the left, the sky is darkening, and rain falls as the animals make their way to the barn in the distance.  In the wind birds flock toward the building.  Even a frog leaps from the pond.  On the verso and title pages, a double-page picture features the raging storm, wind bending trees with leaves swirling. The barn is in the distance, light shining from the windows.  On the left, a wet and worried fox emerges from the now-flooded den.

Each double-page, or single-page picture is rendered in

acrylic paints, oil paints, and gel medium on paper.

To accentuate pacing and dramatic effect, there is a single series of four smaller images on two pages.  Exquisite details and atmospheric lighting permeate throughout the title.  The shift in perspectives from very close to the characters, to a more bird's eye view, and then a wide-angle study of a scene increases the reader's participatory feeling.  A single two-page wordless illustration is stunning.  At the end of the book, the closing endpapers herald a fresh understanding between all the animals.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the five-word quote above noted.  It is the same one as shown on the back of the dust jacket.  This exhibits the playful, and gentler side of foxes.  Each of the kits has a different expression on their faces, curious, contented, and amazed. The adult, holding the snail, is demonstrating how they can express the same type of kindness shown to them by the other animals in the barn.

This book, Together We Grow written by author Susan Vaught with illustrations by artist Kelly Murphy, is a welcome sensory presentation of what all living beings need to do to not only survive, but flourish.  We are indeed better together.  This title has received four starred reviews, one in Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.  Your personal and professional collections need a copy.

To learn more about Susan Vaught and Kelly Murphy and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Susan Vaught has accounts on Facebook, and Twitter.  Kelly Murphy has accounts on Behance, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view additional illustrations.

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Pompous Pilferer

If there is a body of water, regardless of its size, it is likely they will be there.  Their constant cawing chorus creates a discordant melody with the wind and waves.  They strut on the beaches like royalty.  They search from the air like super spies.  When they find what they desire, their speed at acquiring it is the stuff of legend.

Who are these master thieves of land and water?  Seagulls!  With much hilarity Smug Seagull (Little, Brown and Company, May 26, 2020) written and illustrated by Maddie Frost tells the tale of a bird with an abundance of cleverness about to be tested.  He discovers he does not have a corner on cunning.

Don't waste your time looking at the boring copyright stuff.

If you want to see something exciting,
watch this . . . .


With an expert swoop and grab, readers are privy to a first bird narration by this seaside food burglar.  He points out his deft techniques.  In his not-so-humble opinion he believes others agree with this assessment of himself as evidenced by a restaurant bearing his name, a beach sign about feeding seagulls and his ardent fans, sea lions.  They must be shouting praise, right?

If we are not already charmed by the seagull's characteristics, he performs a series of dance moves.  As he falls to the sand, he sees a small red crab carrying a large, crispy french fry.  It isn't easy, but he manages to filch this tempting treat from the crustacean.  Before he can boast about his success, the crab snatches it back.

The crab's abilities, and, then, disappearance under the water makes the seagull crazy.  Donning goggles and carrying a net, he dives through the waves to get the french fry back.  He is repeatedly obstructed from his endeavors, before being terrified.  Back on the sand (thankfully), the seagull decides to return to what he can do best, but something has happened.  His prowess has vanished.  He has been bested by a small red crab.

In a dramatic monologue, the seagull tries to plan his next move.  Two things transpire in quick succession, signaling a change of plans.  As the saying goes---Two savvy food foragers are more fortunate than one who flies solo.

Every available opportunity to spin this story is skillfully used by author Maddie Frost.   The comedic text begins on the dust jacket, continues on the verso and title pages, remains throughout the body of the book, and concludes on the closing endpapers.  The voice of the seagull provides a constant commentary, and precise pacing with perfect pauses for the images to extend the words.  We are happily entertained from beginning to end, laughing out loud repeatedly.  Here is a passage.

All right, listen up, Short Stuff.
Nobody, I mean NOBODY, swipes
from me!

Don't you know
who I am?
Didn't you read my sign?

Well, pal, I just so
happen to be the---

PLIP (The crab dives into the sea)

(Note:  I am working with an F & G.  My hard copy has not arrived yet.)

We meet Seagull in all his exuberant glory on the front of the dust jacket.  He is already informing us of his signature attribute with an example clasped in his wing.  The raised eyebrows on the crab is a bit of foreshadowing.  To the left, on the back, we are shown a scene from the interior of the story.  It's another hint at the craftiness of the little red crab.  Seagull is not happy at the french fry now in the claw of his challenger.  The sand and sea continue flawlessly across the spine and to each of the flap edges.  Along the spine are teeny examples of snacks seagulls love to acquire from beachgoers.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a panoramic view of the beach and the sea with the sand full of people enjoying a variety of activities.  Among them are eight seagulls being pests.  Our protagonist has flow in his amazing swipe from the left to the right with a pizza slice in his beak.  A surprised boy is chasing him.  On the closing endpapers the sun has set.  The same people have moved around a bit, shifting from daytime experiences to settling in for the evening.  Eight seagulls are there now, snacking, hiding and even lounging in a chair.  Our new pals are flying overhead.

Each of the illustrations varying in size from double-page pictures, to a group of panels framed in white on a single page (or crossing the gutter in a dramatic display), and full-page images are highly animated.  Rendered by

using scanned mixed media and Kyle T. Webster brushes in Photoshop with text set in Smug Seagull, and the display type hand-lettered

the pictures heighten the humor and the cadence of the narrative.  Sometimes Maddie Frost brings us very close to the action, and other times we get a bird's eye view.  The facial expressions, especially the eyes enrich the laughter factor.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations takes place after the little red crab steals the french fry back from the seagull.  It is a vertical underwater scene on a little less than one-half of a page.  It is framed in white with rounded edges.  Seagull is wearing a set of purple goggles and carrying a darker teal net.  He is looking disgustedly to the right.  The little red crab is hanging on to the french fry in one claw and gripping a fishing line with the other claw.  He is surrounded and protected by five lavender smiling, and zapping jellyfish.  Clearly the crab has the upper claw.

This book, Smug Seagull written and illustrated by Maddie Frost is burst-out-laughing funny.  In this title there is a stellar blend of words and visuals.  It is a perfect choice for a summer, vacation, beach, humorous, or a bird-themed storytime.  It is one of those titles which will be requested for a reread again and again.  I know you'll have to have a copy for your personal and professional collections. (I have one on its way for mine.)

To learn more about Maddie Frost and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Maddie Frost has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.

Enjoy this addition video about Maddie Frost and Smug Seagull.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Bidding Farewell

They never speak a single word in the language of humans.  Signature sounds instinctively passed from generation to generation are heard. Final moments are not spent alone.  A last breath is acknowledged.  A life is honored and mourned.

These are the noted observations of scientists who have studied loss within certain animal groups.  Death completes a circle.  For this reason, certain rituals are of importance.  In A Last Goodbye (Owlkids Books, April 15, 2020) written by Elin Kelsey with artwork by Soyeon Kim, this remarkable collaborative team who brought us You Are Stardust, Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking and You are Never Alone, addresses the end of life as a significant part of life.

When it comes time to say
our last goodbye,
I will wrap my trunk around you
and support you with my tusks.

An elephant is showing their faithfulness to a companion.  A killer whale signals the desire to elevate to the surface another member of the pod who needs to breathe.  Chimpanzees add to the comfort of a bed upon which a dying friend rests, using natural materials.  They will also use their hands to comb and care for their fur.

Each featured animal reminds their failing partner, they will not be left alone.  They will be comforted.  Even in death, the closeness is continued.  It will be done in silence or with cries of sadness.

Others will come to mourn your leaving, some journeying for miles and miles.  They will remain in your presence for hours.  Objects will be left by your side or brought to cloak your body.  The site of your passing will be remembered and visited in the future.

In the place where you remain, there are questions to be answered.  How will you continue to contribute to the richness of our Mother Earth?  You need to know you will not be forgotten.  You will be missed.  You will be found in others' memories for the joy you gave to them.  You are always a part of each subsequent generation.

The first sentence of this book, noted above, leads readers gently into the topic.  In her words, based on research, Elin Kelsey invites us with reverence into the natural sanctuary animals create for their dying family members and friends.  Every noted action conveys compassion.  Through grief, comfort given is a blanket of hope.  Here are two more sentences.

We will visit the place
where your body rests.

What gifts will it share
as it settles into the earth?

The front of the dust jacket and book case is your first glimpse of the intricate and detailed portraits of animals loving and mourning other animals as they are dying and dead.  Every item is meticulously placed to depict calm and solace.  To the left, the back, of the dust jacket we are shown at the top the last interior image within its framework.  Beneath this are thumbnails of the three previous books with excerpts from reviews.  Inside the dust jacket is a highly illustrated four-step process for the creation of the artwork.  On the book case the tree placed on the front crosses the spine.  Branches hang over two gorillas close to another which has passed.

The remarkable artwork of Soyeon Kim continues on the opening and closing endpapers.  A velvety teal color provides a canvas for line drawings of constellations featuring animals, numbering twenty-one, and including two humans.  They are labeled with their common and scientific names.

The initial title page features a gathering of black-billed magpies carrying items to place on a dead comrade.  On the double-page image for the verso and title pages, a pod of killer whales circles the text.  Each subsequent two-page illustration is a stunning representation and extension of the text.  The rich hues of blue (and mauve) in the backgrounds illuminate each exquisite item. 

At times Soyeon Kim will blend several different animals into a single visual.  Each of the depicted animals are displayed in their most natural colorations.  The deceased animals are featured in lighter shades.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is the first double-page picture.  In this instance the background is two shades of black.  Delicate flowers hang on the far right.  Across all the left and most of the right are two elephants.  The one in the background has wrapped their trunk around the trunk and head of the one in the front, supplying support.  It is a moving portrayal of offering care.

Bidding farewell for the final time to a beloved family member or friend is one of the hardest endeavors we all face.  A Last Goodbye written by Elin Kelsey with artwork by Soyeon Kim allows readers to understand how death is approached by other animals.  It helps us to find our place in this part of life.  This book is a tour de force.  At the close of the book is a note from the author.  Please consider placing it on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Elin Kelsey has an account on Twitter.  Soyeon Kim has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website there are multiple resources including two videos, one with the artist describing her process for this book.  There is a downloadable, eight-page teacher's guide designed by two psychologists.  There are several interior images for you to view.  There is an article in Psychology Today about this title.  Elin Kelsey is featured on a podcast about the process of process titled:  Episode 23: Elin Kelsey-Why Hope Matters For the Environment, For Art, and During A Pandemic. The host is Ruby Josephine.  (I have not listened to all of this.)  On Sunday, July 5, 2020, Elin Kelsey will be participating in a storytime showcasing this book.

Please take a few moments to enjoy the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  They can be found at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator, Alyson Beecher.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Honoring Generations And Cultural Traditions

Life leaves marks on every living thing, some are visible, and others are unseen.  These marks symbolize all manner of things, events, encounters, values, or cultural practices.  For many these visible signs or patterns are by choice.  They are badges of honor.  For all, they are reminders.

When these characteristics are noticed by others their reactions vary.  They may be puzzled, curious, accepting, or critical.  One thing is certain; in knowledge there is understanding and in understanding there are bridges not walls.  Nana Akua Goes To School (Schwartz & Wade Books, June 16, 2020) written by Tricia Elam Walker with illustrations by April Harrison is an eloquent account of love in action.

It's Circle Time, Zora's favorite time of the day.  She scoots to a spot next to Theodore and crisscrosses her legs on the rainbow-shaped rug.

As the class listens to their teacher, Mr. Dawson, he reminds them of the following Monday being Grandparents Day.  When the grandparents come to school, they are speaking about

what makes them special.

Zora is worried about her Nana Akua coming to school.  Nana Akua is the most-valued treasure that Zora holds in her heart, but sometimes people make unkind comments about or stare at the tribal marks on her face.

After school and at home, noticing her granddaughter's unhappy face, Nana Akua speaks with Zora and suggests an idea she has.  Zora is not sure, but she agrees to bring the quilt Nana Akua made for her.  On the quilt are Adinkra symbols.  They signify valuable qualities like

beauty and care or
learn from the past
to build the future or
strength and wisdom.

On that Monday both Nana Akua and Zora wear African clothing. Voices in the classroom murmur in appreciation.  One by one the grandparents are introduced and each talks about their unique characteristics or abilities.  After Zora presents her beloved grandmother, Nana Akua faces everyone in the classroom.

She addresses the children with affection and starts with a question.  At one point she stands and walks among the listeners.  She then proposes an activity so all present can achieve greater awareness.  Zora's quilt figures prominently in this endeavor. At the close of this story Zora returns a distinctive gift to her grandmother.

This is a narrative steeped in compassion and gentleness.  The words of Tricia Elam Walker reveal a deep love of parents for children, of grandparents for grandchildren and of grandchildren for their grandparents.  It is built on mutual respect and wisdom.  A beautiful blend of text and conversation envelopes readers and brings them into the world of Zora and her Nana Akua.  Words from other cultures are carefully woven into the story.  Descriptions are poetic.  Here is a passage.

When Zora's paapa brings her home from school, 
Nana Akua, her favorite person in the whole universe,
is peeling potatoes for dinner.  Although Nana's feet
don't even reach the floor, she seems as tall as the giant
playground slide.  Maybe that's because she's filled to
the brim with stories about growing up in West Africa,
where people carve statues out of wood, trees drip with
mangoes, and crayon-colored outdoor markets sell
everything you can imagine. 

There is majesty and sense of purpose present in the images on the front and back of the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  The hues chosen by artist April Harrison are rich, royal and complementary.  On the front, Nana Akua and Zora look forward together; each thinking their own thoughts, but also knowing how they are bound together, heart to heart.  To the left, on the back, a colorful wider oval shape holds a picture of Nana Akua and Zora standing side-by-side in front of the classroom after they enter. This illustration is placed on a canvas that seems to be a wash of many of the shades used in these first two pictures.

On the opening and closing endpapers, placed on a similar background as the back image on the jacket and case, are a series of Adinkra Symbols And Their Meanings.  They number twenty.  Readers look at each one, wondering which might represent them best.  With a page turn we see the verso and title pages.  Readers will pause to read the dedications on the left as well as a note from the author.  On the right, the title page, geometric shapes hold the Adinkra Symbols as the create a frame around the text.

Each vibrant illustration rendered in

mixed-media collage

by April Harrison spans two pages, a full page, or is a wide-shaped oval or circle on a collaged pale background.  Every page turn invites us to pause, enjoying all the intricate details and the expressive facial features on all the characters.  Each carefully placed element contributes to the vibrancy of these images.  There is a current of interconnectedness flowing throughout all these pictures.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a circular picture on a single page.  It is placed on a fusion of textures and hues depicting comfort and calm.  The image is a close-up of Nana Akua and Zora.  Nana Akua has paused her work in peeling potatoes for dinner.  She sits in a sky-blue chair at a sky-blue table with intricate white stenciling on its top.  Her eyes are closed as she wraps her arms around Zora giving her hug.  Zora's eyes are closed, too, in total contentment.

More than once, no matter how many times you read Nana Akua Goes To School written by Tricia Elam Walker with art by April Harrison, you will pause, emotionally moved by the story.  On the final page is a glossary, list of sources and acknowledgments.  It is in celebrating our differences that compassion is elevated.  I highly recommend this title for any collection.

To learn more about Tricia Elam Walker and April Harrison, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Tricia Elam Walker has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  April Harrison has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At Penguin Random House you can view interior images.  At author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, this title is featured.  A guest post at We Need Diverse Books is written by author Tricia Elam Walker and is titled, Why Diverse Books Are Important for Everyone---Not Just Marginalized Kids.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

A Lullaby

For the past few nights, the light of the moon is waning.  By Sunday, the New Moon will shed no glow.  In this black sky, the stars seen overhead are increasing.  Broad highways, pinpoints of light, stretch as far as the eye can see.  Falling stars are more frequent.  Shapes of constellations are more prevalent.  You have to wonder, too, if the absence of traffic for previous months is contributing to the clearer visibility.

When you stand in stillness beneath this star-studded dome, its vastness is soothing but remarkable.  As your senses adjust, you see outlines of your surroundings and hear creatures of the night.  In The Night Is For Darkness (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, June 2, 2020) written by Jonathan Stutzman with illustrations by Joseph Kuefler, readers take a journey with siblings and their father.  It's a time of encounters, anticipation, and the warmth of welcoming familial routines. 

The night is for darkness
and bright golden beams.

As the car moves along the empty highway, the children are treated to views of deer seeking food, water, and space to sleep.  Wild rabbits leap alongside the car as if racing them to their destination.  When they enter a forest, the boy's and girl's eager looks seek other critters sheltering in their homes.

As the landscape stretches before them, it is easy to see a front moving across the terrain.  In the distance lightning forks to the ground and thunder rumbles.  Ahead of them, the moon continues to cast its luminous light. 

Inside the car, flashlight beams assist in antics as headlights disclose nighttime flight.  Soon a home is reached.  Windows are beacons offering sanctuary.  Arms open in affection.

Bedtime rituals, cozy and comfortable, are for listening and speaking and wishes come true.  Parents calm weary children.  And the moon shines on slumbering souls.

The poetic cadences penned by Jonathan Stutzman lull readers with their repetition of key words and rhythmic rhyming in each pair of sentences or phrases.  As pages are turned, readers are invited to participate in what the darkness provides.  We enjoy the revelations, some familiar and some, perhaps, entirely new. Here is a passage.

The night is for hiding.
And search
and finding.

For spooky tall forests.
For paths long and

The magic often found during the darkness of night emanates from the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  We are drawn into the spacious mountainous landscape.  We are quieted by the shades of blue and purple spanning the partially clouded sky.  The moon illuminates portions of the rabbits' bodies on the front and on the back.  The rabbit on the back is facing the hilly plateaus.  They have both paused in their nighttime activities to watch as the family's car travels down the highway.  Do you notice the special shading on the title text?

On the opening and closing endpapers a rich velvety black supplies a canvas for wisps of clouds, a few stars, and a full moon.  From the first set to the second set, the moon and clouds move.  Joseph Kuefler begins his visual interpretation and enhancement on the title and verso pages with a double-page picture.  The brother and sister are seated on the hood of their car, waiting for their father to finishing packing the boxes on top.  To their left is the home they are leaving.  A For Sale sign hangs in the yard.

With a page turn the siblings are looking out the back window of their car as it leaves their home.  This is a wordless two-page image of a neighborhood with the strong presence of the night sky.  The moon is reflected in one of the windows.  (I am wondering about the significance of the names on the street signs and the license plate number.)

Strong elements are present in all the two-page pictures.  There is a powerful contrast between the darkness, night, and the lights of the car and the moon.  These opposites are created with excellent skill.  Joseph Kuefler shifts between panoramic views and zooming in on a particular scene.  Readers will enjoy the small details he includes like the tiny stuffed animals in the car and their real-life matches in some of the settings.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when the car stops for a family of deer to cross the highway.  A section of the upper, right-hand corner shows the night sky.  The rest of the double-page picture is glowing in the headlights.  In the background we can see the outline of the car and the faces of the brother and sister filled with wonder.  In the foreground one deer is nearly off the left side.  A fawn is in the middle of the image.  Coming in from the right side is a male with antlers.  Both of their heads are turned toward the car.

Every time this book, The Night Is For Darkness written by Jonathan Stutzman with illustrations by Joseph Kuefler, is read it envelopes you in serenity.  It speaks of the natural rhythm of the outside world and our place in it.  It invites us into a home with bedtime rituals designed to convey love and security.  It, like the last sentence which is repeated, is a pathway to the sweetest of dreams.  I can't imagine a professional or personal bookshelf without a copy of this title.

To discover more about Jonathan Stutzman and Joseph Kuefler and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Jonathan Stutzman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Joseph Kuefler has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Riding Into People's Hearts

They are songwriters and crooners.  They are poets.  They have words specific to their craft. They are animal whispers of the highest order.  They are predictors of weather shifts.  They are survivors.  They are cowboys.

Some excel at performing in an arena.  These hardy souls ride bulls and broncos at rodeos, displaying feats akin to those of superheroes.  Let 'Er Buck!: George Fletcher, the People's Champion (Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., February 5, 2019) written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson with illustrations by Gordon C. James chronicles the career of a black cowboy who rode with passionate persistence.

The Old West may be
gone, but memories
and legend live on.
Ask any cowpoke and, boy howdy, he'll tell
some tales.  Ask a cowboy from Umatilla
County, and he'll for sure come around to the
story of the Saddle Bronc Championship at the
1911 Pendleton Round-Up---and a bronc buster 
named George Fletcher.

At ten years old, George Fletcher and his family moved from Kansas to Pendleton, Oregon.  George had a tough time at home and also in the community because of his skin color.  He found respite with the children and families on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Their language and way of life was studied by George.  Riding on a bucking bronco fashioned from a barrel pulled by ropes was something George could do all day.

He quickly moved to riding beef calves and then horses.  He learned from his Native mentors to work well with horses.  He valued their spirit.  When he was sixteen, George Fletcher rode for prizes.  He was rarely treated fairly, and sometimes he was not allowed to compete, but that did not deter George from doing what he loved most.  George rode animals no one else would ride and stayed on them.

In 1911 at the Pendleton Round-Up, George faced stiff competition in Jackson Sundown, a 48-year-old Nez Perce and in John Spain, a 30-year-old white rancher.  George was twenty-one years old.  A coveted

silver-trimmed Hamley saddle

worth $350 was the prize.  Area ranchers brought their wildest horses to the Saddle Bronc Championship.  The rules were firmly in place and understood by participants.  The names of the horses ridden by the contestants were drawn from a hat.

One of the three riders fell from his horse.  Another was said to have pulled leather, grabbing hold of his saddle or horse with his free hand and a third rode and rode and rode until the crowd went wild from the spectacle.  When the winner was announced the crowd was stunned into silence.  Quickly, a man, Sheriff Tillman Taylor, stepped up to deliver the truth as witnessed by the spectators on this day in 1911 at Pendleton, Oregon.  George Fletcher was the

People's Champion!

With her introduction prior to the title page, author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson reaches out to readers and wraps them in the past.  Her use of language is superb in its rhythmic truths, embedding rodeo and western words easily into her narrative.  Each portion of his life described is purposefully, and with suspense, leading us to the final event of the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up.  The skill of Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is masterful to the point of readers will want to stand up and cheer as if they are in those stands on that day.  Here is a passage.

George was purely tickled when he moved up to riding beef calves.  But when his hip pockets first landed on a horse, he was smitten.  He got thrown a lot at first but just kept getting back on.  Every day George marveled more at these magnificent animals.  He was spellbound by the drumming of hooves beneath him, the swirling and swaying, the rocking and reeling---his dance with a wild mustang.  This was where he belonged.

The majestic mountains bordered by green trees and grass on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case extends over the spine to the far-left side of the back, as does the expanse of sand and dirt.  The pure pleasure George Fletcher found in riding a bucking bronco radiates from his face as he thrills the crowd in the stands.  The artistic design used as a frame, reminiscent of the period, used here is found throughout the book to differentiate sections and to provide pacing.

A rich maroon canvas is placed on the opening and closing endpapers.  A double-page image spans the title page.  A blazing sun against a brilliant sky on the open plains supplies a setting for George Fletcher to be riding a bucking bronco.  His back is to us as he rides with abandon.

Each illustration rendered by Gordon C. James with

oil on board

is a study in the exquisite use of light and shadow, his brush strokes imbued with emotion and meaning. His characters seem to breathe as we look at each page.  Each picture is a sensory experience whether it is a two-page picture, a full-page image, or smaller visuals on a single page.  Sometimes we are close to the action or farther away to get a broader sense of a moment.  We may even only see a spur slipping or gloved hands.  What we see repeatedly is love; the love of a man riding a horse.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is of a younger George Fletcher.  It is a smaller image, a square placed on a black background with white-lined framing.  Much of the image is filled with the head of a horse, his nose lowered.  In the lower, left-hand corner George's head is tipped so his nose and mouth are next to the horse.  They are sharing breath.  Behind them pastel shades indicate a day filled with rose and peach sunlight over a green field.  This is a radiant and moving portrait of a boy destined to greatness through his pure courage.

This 2019 publication, Let 'Er Buck!: George Fletcher, the People's Champion written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson with illustrations by Gordon C. James, has garnered multiple awards.  (A full list is on the author's website.)  It is an inspirational tale, thrilling in every respect through words and art.  At the close of the book a page is dedicated to Rodeo and Western Words and one to George Fletcher.  A portion is written About the Research, Jackson Sundown, John Spain, Sheriff Tillman Taylor and more facts in Bits and Pieces.  There is a Selected Bibliography of books, articles, videos, and interviews.  I believe you will enjoy reading the acknowledgements.  This book comes with my highest recommendation for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Gordon C. James, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Gordon C. James has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images and read an excerpt.  On the publisher's blog you can read an interview with the two creators about this title.  On her blog author Caroline Starr Rose chats with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson about her work.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the selections of other participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge for this week.