Quote of the Month

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




Friday, May 22, 2015

Barriers Broken With A Beat

Inherent in everything adults do should be a wish for the world to be better for those following in their footsteps.  Our children need to believe all things are possible.  Opportunities should be available for them to pursue regardless of their gender.

It would seem music would rise above any obstacles, visible or invisible but there was a time in a place this was not so.  Drum Dream Girl:  How One Girl's Courage Changed Music (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 31, 2015) written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Rafael Lopez is a poetic and pictorial tribute to a girl who felt the earth's rhythm.  Every place held potential for making a measured melody.

On an island of music
in a city of drumbeats
the drum dream girl
dreamed...

In her mind's eye she captured a cadence, sounding it out on conga or bongo drums and the timbales.  Her hands carried the beat to the instruments.  Unfortunately on this island only boys and men were allowed to play drums.

This did not stop the girl from dreaming.  It only made her desires grow stronger.  Hearing others make music set beats singing in her heart.  Wherever she walked, she listened.

In the picturesque park, with the cavorting carnival dancers or alongside the dragon drummers, she felt the tempo.  Even in her own home, constantly reminded drumming was not for girls, she moved her fingers on every surface, playing the conga or bongo drums and the timbales.  In her dreams she could do anything.  And she did it well.

So impressed with her skills, her older sisters invited her to play in their all-girl dance band. At first her father was firm in his refusal.  Perhaps her determination to continue, even alone, softened his stance for he found her a teacher.  Learn. Learn. Learn. Practice. Practice. Practice.  Dreams, drumming dreams, do come true.


When Margarita Engle wrote the poetry for these pages, it's as if her words are drumming.  Alliteration and onomatopoeia will have your fingers moving without you even being aware.  Based upon the life of Chinese-African-Cuban Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the girl's passion for making music with her drums is visible on every page.  Here is another sample portion of a passage.

...so the drum dream girl
had to keep dreaming
quiet
secret
drumbeat
dreams.


Rendered in acrylic paint on wood board the matching dust jacket and book case and interior illustrations by Rafael Lopez take readers into another time and place.  The rich, vivid darker colors are truly like stepping into dreams.  Wanting to play drums on an island filled with music, even though she was a girl, did not stop her from hoping.  On the back, to the left of the opened jacket and case, a smiling man in the moon looks down on her as she sleeps on a conga drum suspended among tree branches near the water.  The opening and closing endpapers feature a night scene of lush flora and fauna native to her island.  A stunning two page illustration of the girl sitting on a crescent moon drumming above the island of music provides the canvas for the text on the title page.

Nineteen double-page images, two vertical, with breathtaking beauty enhance and extend the language used by Engle. The depicted people and animals are fully alive whether the moment is real or magical.  The girl is in splendid harmony within her world and in her dreams.

There are many of these illustrations which are favorites but one which stands out with particular emotional impact is the one when her father decides to let her learn with a teacher.  On the left a larger smiling moon is watching through tree branches within purple clouds.  A flying bird with legs is on the lower cloud.  Between the two clouds is the drum dream girl playing.  Colored ribbons are wrapping around her.  The ends of the ribbons, gathered together, are held by her father, on the right, standing outside their home at night.  He is pulling her toward him.  The look on their faces conveys happiness and love.


Drum Dream Girl:  How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Rafael Lopez is filled with hope.  The melodic words and eloquent paintings blend with natural elegance.  This book is for those who know dreams come true and for those wishing they do.  A Historical Note and Acknowledgments supplies further information about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga.

To learn more about Margarita Engle and Rafael Lopez, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Here is the link to Rafael Lopez's blog.  Julie Danielson, author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, speaks with both Engle and Lopez here, Beating the Drum for Women's Rights.  Toward the end of 2011 Julie Danielson featured Rafael Lopez on her blog.  Follow this link to a discussion guide. Educator Alyson Beecher shares her views on this title at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Enjoy the book trailer.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

No Help Wanted...

Ever since I was first introduced to The Little Red Hen in The Tall Book of Nursery Tales (Harper And Brothers, 1944) with pictures by Feodor Rojankovsky (1956 Caldecott Medal winner for Frog Went A-Courtin'), I've been a collector of different interpretations and variations.  For more traditional tales I've enjoyed The Little Red Hen by Jerry Pinkney and The Little Red Hen: An Old Fable by Heather Forest, illustrations by Susan Gaber.  For stretching the story The Little Red Hen (Makes A Pizza) by Philomen Sturges, illustrations by Amy Walrod, The Red Hen by Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley, Cook-A-Doodle-Doo! and The Little Red Pen by sisters Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel have provided plenty of fun and puns.

Getting right to the heart of what is family, Little Red Henry (Candlewick Press, April 28, 2015) written by Linda Urban with illustrations by Madeline Valentine addresses an alternate view of the familiar.  As a first child or the youngest child can verify, doting parents or older siblings can be overwhelming in their attentions.  Sometimes you have to take a stand for the sake of your own sanity.

Ever since time began,
Mama and Papa and Mem and Sven had loved and cuddled and smooched and squeezed their little redheaded Henry.  

Henry didn't have to do a thing for himself.  His frustration level was at an all-time high.  He was getting to be a big boy.  He was no longer a baby.  He wanted to do things for himself like eating his own breakfast.  

After his morning meal the entire crew rushed to the bathroom to help him brush his teeth.  I guess you know Henry was not going to allow that any longer.  He politely declined all their requests.

Things were starting to look up for Henry.  The next thing on his agenda was to play with his next-door-neighbor friend.  Of course, all his attire was stacked and waiting for him.  He picked out a totally new outfit.  Without waiting for any member of his family to confirm plans for a play date, Henry knocked on Gibson's front door.  Those two boys had the best time.

That evening during dinner, Henry didn't spill a single drop of milk when he poured it himself.  His food was consumed completely and perfectly.  His family was definitely distraught.  If they couldn't do things for Henry, what were they supposed to do?

Big boy, not-a-baby Henry asked them a question.  Their responses altered the evening's events to everyone's joy.  In fact Henry discovered it was necessary to yell out another question.  Their answers were what everyone needed. 


The cadence found in the original tale is cleverly re-shaped by wordsmith Linda Urban.  There is still a goal to be reached.  The shift comes when Henry, unlike the hen, does not seek assistance.  It is repeatedly offered though with the words

Let me

by Papa, Mem and Sven after Mama tries to help.  Like the hen, Henry does everything himself.

And he did.

Urban adds the right touch of humor with her wonderful word choices for each family member's thoughts and suggestions.  You will find yourself nodding your head and laughing when you read

...sick of it.
...itty-bitty chair or
elbowing and calling dibs.  

Her use of alliteration adds to the beat and sheer joy found in the repetition.  The technique of using and more than once in a sentence creates a playful, childlike pace.  When reading this aloud, the sentences make music. 


The look of disgust on Henry's face on the matching dust jacket and book case with his Mama and Papa and Mem and Sven getting him ready for a ride in his wagon, smiles on their faces, sets the tone for the entire book.  The eagerness seen in the family's expressions and body language is in direct contrast to Henry hugging his knees.  On the back, to the left, an interior scene is shown.  Henry is brushing his own teeth as the family peeks around the doorway watching.  Four small illustrations on the opening endpapers show Mama, Papa, Mem and Sven taking those items in their hands and placing them on Henry.  He looks more ready for roller derby than a simple ride through the neighborhood.  The closing endpapers in another set of four pictures complete the story.

Graphite drawings by Madeline Valentine were printed on watercolor paper and then painted in gouache for the visuals.  After the two lengthy introductory sentences accompanying the entire family on a walk, when Henry speaks his first frustrated sentence, Valentine alters her perspective and the use of white space to make an impact.  With each page turn, details create comedy.  

When Henry states he can choose his own clothes, Valentine gives readers twelve vignettes of this process guaranteed to create giggles.  As Henry and Gibson are hanging upside down on the monkey bars, the four heads of his family are looking from behind a tree.  Valentine's color palette and layout enhance the glee in watching this family for a day.  

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Matthew is hiding behind his bedroom door on the right as Papa's, Mem's and Sven's arms extend through the opening offering clothes' choices.  To the left we can see a set of pre-picked clothes folded on his little red chair.  His toy robot and spiky dino-snake are on the floor.


Little Red Henry written by Linda Urban with illustrations by Madeline Valentine will have listeners and readers alike grinning from ear to ear.  A little bit of every family is woven into the words and pictures.  Whether it's shared during a group story time or at bedtime, it's a winner.  

To learn more about Linda Urban and Madeline Valentine and their respective work, please follow the links attached to their names, taking you to their websites.  Linda Urban and Madeline Valentine were part of a trifecta at teacher librarian extraordinaire John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read., stand-on-a-table-yelling-I-Love-To-Read educator Colby Sharp's sharpread and at the Nerdy Book Club.  Linda Urban was a guest at The Little Crooked Cottage.  At the end of the PW KidsCast Linda Urban speaks about this title. (Plus you get to hear about her other new book coming soon.)  At the publisher's website an interior image is shown. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

In Twenty-Four Hours

Several weeks ago in the early evening on a Saturday, a male fox ran across my front lawn.  After recovering from shock and grabbing my camera, I dashed out the door to see it merrily running, as if on a familiar path, down the road in our subdivision.  The following Saturday afternoon a male fox raced across my backyard.  Later, that same day sometime a little after midnight, I was outside with Xena.  I heard something running down the street along the front property line.  In the glow of my flashlight I could see a fox.

As if pulled by an invisible thread when it reached the lot corner, it turned and came diagonally across the yard directly at Xena and me.  Loudly barking it quickly reached us.  With only the driveway separating us from the charging fox, yelling I pulled Xena through the flower garden and into the house.  I kept thinking it was going to leap.

Other than silent observations in the woods, fields or along the Lake Michigan shoreline, this is the closest encounter I've ever had with native wildlife.  It made me realize how delicate the line is between our two worlds.  In Daylight Starlight Wildlife (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group(USA), May 19, 2015) gifted artist and author Wendell Minor takes the hands of readers leading them to marvels in the natural word no matter the time of day.

The sun shines on Earth, bringing the light and warmth of day.  Do you know these daylight visitors?

Looking out in a backyard readers are asked to identify eleven animals.  When viewing the same space during the night, eleven new creatures come into view.  With a page turn the comparison of animals seen during the day is shown with those more prevalent during the night.

Feathered hunters gliding above ground are featured; their keen eyesight searching for food.  Smaller mammals keep their young close as they nestle or wander through the tall grasses.  One even carries them upon her back.

By day a tiger swallowtail seeks nectar.  By night a luna moth looks for another of its kind.  In summer sun a young fawn hides, spots blending with the surroundings.  In winter night a predator jumps with purpose.

Critters from the same family exhibit different habits and physical characteristics depending on the hour.  The larger cats slip soundlessly through the area as the temperatures climb.  The larger canines call out to others in the chill of the dark.

Early risers will see a flash of red and an unmistakable song.  Night owls will find company in the call of their namesake.  Those with senses attuned will discover wealth in the wild.


After the initial two statements followed by questions, Wendell Minor weaves a spell with his poetic observations of the individual pairs of animals.  Descriptors allude to physical features.  The particular activity in which each is engaged is vividly portrayed in word choices.  It is obvious, regardless of the author's note at the end, Minor has been in the presence of each selected animal.  Here are two side-by-side sample passages.

By day, sharp-eyed red-tailed hawk
soars high in the sky and scans
the earth for food.

In the stillness of night,
wide-eyed barn owl silently
swoops through the sky.


The use of light and shadow, the exquisite detail and realistic depictions in Wendell Minor's paintings will have you reaching out to touch the page slowly, careful not to frighten the creature you are sure is alive.  On the matching dust jacket and book case our attention is drawn to two similar animals represented in their most comfortable surroundings.  The warmer golden tones seen during the light of day and the cooler shades identified with nighttime define not only the two sides of the front of the jacket and case but all of the illustrations.  A darker yellow provides the background for the opening endpapers.  On the closing endpapers what I would call blueprint blue is used as a canvas.  On each of them a pattern of animal tracks in a lighter shade is shown.

The first two page painting is a more panoramic view of a wild space near a home.  On the left is daylight.  On the right is starlight.  It's a truly lovely transition.

For each of the ten pairings Minor alternates between double or single page portraits.  We are brought closer to the animal as if we are viewing them at their level. Fine lines define feathers, fur, delicate wings, hard shells, and bumpy skin.  Twice in this title two horizontal pictures span two pages, one over the other.  The emotion Minor feels for his subjects shines in each image.

One of my many favorite pictures is of the barn owl at night. The wings are nearly spread from one corner to the other.  A full moon shines above on the left.  On the right in the corner the peak of a roof outlines a portion of a lighted, rounded window.  Stars twinkle above evergreen trees.  A single light shoots across the sky toward earth.  You can hear the silence only broken by the sound of crickets.


I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal shelves.  Every child and every adult will want to make themselves aware of the wonders found in Daylight Starlight Wildlife written and illustrated by Wendell Minor.  It's a stunning collection of wildlife paintings. At the close of this book a Fun Facts section explains diurnal, nocturnal and crepuscular.  Twenty-two animals are highlighted with additional information.  (I certainly hope to see a luna moth someday.)

To discover more about Wendell Minor and his other work please follow the link attached to his name.  There are many illustrations from this book on the designated page.  Enjoy the book trailer.





Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other selections of bloggers participating in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Barking It Up In The Bayou

There has not been one single day since Xena entered my life, more than fourteen and one half years ago, when I have not longed to speak with her.  It most certainly would be simpler to share our thoughts verbally.  Instead we have a fine-tuned system of reading each other's body language, realizing certain words are attached to certain moments and knowing what specific snorts, growls, and barks convey. Sometimes I think when you have worked harder for understanding your relationship is better.

You may be familiar with Spencer Quinn as the writer of the Chet and Bernie series for adults or as Peter Abrahams, author of The Outlaws of Sherwood Street series and The Echo Falls Mystery series for middle grade readers.  Using the pen name of Spencer Quinn Peter Abrahams is beginning another series with a dog as the narrator.  Woof A Bowser and Birdie Novel (Scholastic Press, April 28, 2015) is certain to receive a four paws up plus a vigorous tail wag from the canine crowd (and their human pals too).

TWO HUMANS STOOD OUTSIDE MY CAGE, A
white-haired woman and a gum-chewing kid.  Gum chewing is one of the best sounds out there, and the smell's not bad, either.  I liked the kid from the get-go.

Grammy and her granddaughter, Birdie, age eleven, are at the shelter fulfilling a birthday wish. A large mutt has caught Birdie's attention.  To his complete and total joy he soon tastes freedom riding in the front seat of Grammy's beat-up pickup truck.  Their arrival at the Gaux Family Fish and Bait is tainted by the discovery of the family heirloom, Black Jack, a mounted black marlin, missing from a prominent space on the wall.

Right away Birdie brings a noticeable scent to everyone's attention including the local sheriff but it is dismissed because Bowser is the only other being who can detect its prominence.  He likes it so much; she leads her to the source of the odor.  Birdie thinks he's a genius.  Bowser knows what he likes, pure and simple.  He has no clue that it's a clue.

As if the missing fish is not enough of a mystery, on a visit at Rory's house, the sheriff's son, Birdie learns of a treasure map.  Supposedly on his return home from serving overseas during World War II, Grammy's dad took long rides by himself into the bayou.  The story of those treks and the map are two more pieces in a growing puzzle.

Clandestine journeys in the dark of night, entering forbidden buildings, frightening swims in the black bayou water, an attempted kidnapping, a dog chase revealing more than Birdie's buddy can process, strange visitors, and a too-close encounter with a monster create action nearly faster than Bowser can run.  And that's pretty fast, folks.  Secrets are shared.  Secrets are kept.  The truth is consumed in a conclusion leaving you gasping for breath.


Spencer Quinn removes us from where we might be reading to the bayous of Louisiana.  His descriptions of the small town and its inhabitants envelop us like the heat and humidity found there.  Care is given to the details of the buildings, homes and the layout of the streets and roads.

Each of the characters, residents and visitors, friends and foes, are revealed in the dialogue heard and explanations supplied through Bowser's narration.  Using a canine viewpoint gives us a true sensory experience and a whole bunch of side-splitting humor.  Bowser's roundabout perceptions coupled with Birdie's more linear ideas give us a unique trail to follow.

Relationships are introduced and explored through a series of incidents; Birdie's online chats with her absent mother and her mention of the town public librarian, eavesdropping on Nola's (Birdie's best friend) sister and company in the dead of night, casual encounters with Rory, the sheriff's methods of investigation (He's no Barney Fife.), questions and answers with Snoozy, an employee who slept through the fish theft and his uncle Lem who once coached Birdie's late father, the Straker family members who own the competitive business and treat the Gaux family with distain, visiting old Maybelline at the local assisted living complex and Grammy's constant care of Birdie and reluctantly of Bowser.  These people are as real as real can be; a dog's nose knows.  Here are a few of the many notable passages from this book.

Was this a good time for growling?  Probably not, which I didn't realize until it was too late.  I should have been doing everything I could to make a good impression.  But you'd be growling yourself if the reason you ate like a bird was because you got feed like a bird.  And, by the way, the whole thing about birds not eating much needs looking into.  Ever seen one of those little red-breasted ones gulp down a long, fat, struggling worm?  Enough said. 

For example, in the human world you've got those who take regular showers and those who don't.  Snoozy was of that second type.  His smell reminded me of a hunk of old cheese I'd once found at the bottom of a tipped-over trash barrel, only more so.  I'd left that hunk of cheese strictly alone, believe you me, except for one quick taste, or possibly two. 

"Eyes peeled?" Birdie said, like she hated the idea.  I was with her on that:  It sounded horrible.  

"Yikes---what was that?  Did you feel something?"
Huh? Why did Birdie look so scared, her face all twisted in the moonlight?  All I felt was the bayou, bubbling pleasantly by, although in those bubbles I did pick up an odd smell---snaky, but not snake.  Froggy, but not frog.  Toady, but not toad.  Lizardy, but not lizard.  I sniffed the air. 


Hand this book off to your readers loving non-stop action, mystery to the max, characters ready to walk off the pages and loads of laughter courtesy of a lovable dog.  Woof A Bowser and Birdie Novel written by Spencer Quinn is a run on the best side there is; sheer fun.  Dog lovers are going to gobble this up in big bites. 

To learn more about Spencer Quinn please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Scholastic has devoted a page to this new series to be found by following the link attached to the title.  An excerpt from this book is there.  Start reading people.  You'll be ready for the next book as soon as you finish the first.  The cover reveal is coming soon.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Greet The Day With A Shout

You step outside first thing in the morning to a rip-roaring chorus of birdsong.  You marvel at the volume a single one achieves.  How can something so small be so loud?

As an educator walking through the hallways before the first bell rings, the noise of chatter quickly erases any remnants of lingering sleep and dreams.  As a teacher librarian with the arrival of each class there is always one (or sometimes more) student whose voice raises above all the others demanding your attention.  This sound makes the birdsong and hallway chatter seem like whispers. How can something so small be so loud?

The exuberance is hard to miss; usually leading to laughter on my part. In Lita Judge's most recent title, Good Morning To ME! (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, May 5, 2015) a peppy parrot delights in announcing greetings.  Her voice has one volume---loud.

Early one morning in a little cottage,
Beatrix was wide AWAKE.

Everyone else was sound asleep.  You would expect anyone in this situation to be quiet.  Beatrix was not quiet.  Clear as a factory whistle at quitting time she exclaimed

"Good morning to me!"

She failed her attempt at whispering, startling her friend Mouse into wakefulness.  She pledged to be better.  Beatrix assured Mouse she would use her

indoor voice.  

This particular vow lasted mere seconds as she quickly but carefully left her perch to walk on the snoozing cat's tail.  With a squawk from the parrot Kitty jumped and gave chase.  Beatrix ran for her life thinking this was the best game ever.  Ah, oh.  Beatrix was in need of help.

It's Mouse to the rescue.  Whew!  Beatrix agreed to try harder but Gracie walked in the door.  Gracie, the resident canine, loved running and Beatrix was ready to ride.  After a wee bit of a disaster, the feathered busybody saw yet another being she loved.

This final hello proved to be more than the lively birdie could handle.  A nap is interrupted more than once.  Words of affection, no matter how ear-splittingly spoken, were a welcome close to the day.


Lita Judge has a way to put words together sending them straight to stored laughter in your heart.  The main character may be a parrot but the joy this bird finds daily will remind readers of them now or in the past.  Beatrix, like so many young readers, sees possibilities everywhere.

Judge captures the playful personality of Beatrix, the instinctive nature of Kitty, the resourcefulness of best friend Mouse and the faithfulness of Gracie perfectly in narrative, dialogue and expressed thoughts.  The contrast between the effervescence of Beatrix and the here-we-go-again demeanor of Mouse supplies lots of giggles.  Here is a sample passage.

Beatrix climbed down from her perch. 
"Watch me, Mouse."
"DAH...dut, DAH...dut, DAH...dut."


On her matching dust jacket and book case Lita Judge introduces readers to almost all the characters in this story.  The curious Kitty is thoughtfully set for a chase, Mouse is worriedly hanging on to Beatrix, Gracie wishes these critters would leave so she can take a nap and Beatrix is being her happy-go-lucky self. The pale golden circle providing the background for the text is replicated on the back as a canvas for Gracie running with Beatrix perched on her nose.

The pale blue stripped wallpaper in the cottage is used on both the opening and closing endpapers.  On each of the four pages are four framed portraits of a running Gracie, Beatrix perched on Kitty, and two of Beatrix and Mouse together.  Beneath the words on the title page, the parrot is sitting on her stand eyes closed at an open window with wooden shutters thrown back.  Ivy and flowers surround the opening.

Regardless of their size all of the illustrations rendered in watercolor and pencil are framed in a loose heavier black line. Judge shifts from a double page to a large image crossing the gutter on the left with a small one on the right, to two single page pictures to start her story.  Her panel sizes, some horizontal and some vertical, dictate the pace of the tale.  Her wordless storytelling is outstanding.

The full color used for Beatrix, Mouse, Kitty, and Gracie is placed on the soft blue of the inside of the cottage.  The crowning glory of her artwork is her attention to detail and the facial expressions on her characters.  Her eyes are full of emotion causing this reader to laugh-out-loud more than once.  When Mouse takes the top of the tea kettle to use it as a hat in many of the illustrations I can't stop smiling.

My favorite sequence of drawings covers two pages.  Mouse is first seen in a vertical column on the left thinking

Rats!

In three stacked images in a column to the right, Gracie is asked for help.  This is followed by a third column on the right with a closer perspective of mouse on Gracie's nose pointing.  The full page visual on the right is...HILARIOUS.  I'm not going to tell you what it is.


May is National Pet Month in the United States.  Good Morning To ME! written and illustrated by Lita Judge would be a wonderful read aloud to bring readers' attention to what might happen in their homes when they are at work or school.  It's also a fantastic title to show different personalities and how they perceive each day.  I guarantee you are going to laugh every single time you read this book.  And you are going to be reading it repeatedly.

To discover more about Lita Judge and her other captivating and charming titles, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  She dedicates a full page to this title showing you the real Beatrix and Kitty.  She has graciously included many interior illustrations from this book.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Wish

Dear Matthew,

You know I've been a fan of your work for years but when I first read Wish I knew I was holding an extraordinary book.  It was as if all the love you hold in your heart had been placed on those pages.  It addresses with compassion a timeless longing.

From conversations on Twitter after I posted my review, I knew many others, whether they are parents or not, have similar feelings about this book.  A discussion followed about making multiple copies of Wish available to more people.  At the time I suggested to Twitter followers they contact their local hospital foundations.

Two months later on April 30, 2015 I reached out to one of the board members of the Charlevoix Area Hospital Foundation.  When asked how many children were born each year at the hospital, she said there are two hundred.  At the end of our phone call, I knew I would be giving them copies of your book in memory of my mom. 

My mom instilled in me the belief that anything worth doing is worth doing right, so it became important to me that the books given to the newborns be signed by you.  I not only want to thank you for agreeing to autograph the books but for corresponding with me online.  To share your joy in this endeavor has been truly wonderful.

Through our mutual friend, John Schumacher, as you know, I was given a contact name at Anderson's Bookshop.  I am thankful for their assistance in ordering the books and coordinating the signing with you.  As the delivery date for the books gets closer I can feel the excitement growing.

A book plate will be placed inside each copy reading

Welcome to the world!
May this book be the first step on your journey
to becoming a lifelong reader.
It is given with love by Margaret Marie Myers Culver 
in memory of her mother, Agatha Marie Fires Myers,
 a woman who loved introducing the joy books can bring to children.

I have decided to wrap the books, Matthew, in white paper with a yellow ribbon tied around each one.  To me children, like this book, are a gift. 

At this time I am filled with overwhelming gratitude.  I am thankful to be able to give Wish to these children and their parents.  I am thankful for you, Matthew, for writing this book and for agreeing to sign the two hundred copies. I am thankful for all the people who are helping make this beautiful thing happen.  I am smiling on the inside and on the outside.

With love,
Margie



Dear Margie,

I am absolutely floored.
Backing up for just a minute… I remember the very moment I first discovered you and Librarian’s Quest. I’d happened upon your review of my book, Another Brother. It was the most perceptive, thoughtful, insightful, and pitch perfect write-up I’d seen. Every last nuance and subtle gag and hidden message I layered into that book—you found them one and all. I got chills. You know when you listen to the perfect song, or see the perfect movie, or (of course) read the most perfect book, and it sends a chill right over your whole entire self? That’s how I felt. And every review I’ve read of yours since has had a similar effect.
It’s obvious that you put so much of yourself and so much of your time and intricate thought into the things you want to say about the books you love. You give complete attention. You truly love what you love. And it’s all done for the sake of the book itself, which I very much admire.
As bitter as this may sound… so many times in today’s world, people throw terrific, outrageous things into the air that will never come into existence. Like, “every baby born at this hospital should receive a copy of your book on the day she/he is born.” It goes into the atmosphere, never to materialize and never to be heard from again. This thing was said, which sounded nice, and then it went away and I had no other thought about it. That was that. Then… out of nowhere, you came back and said that you would actually be making this incredibly generous notion into a reality. I was shocked. Shocked! But at the same time… I can honestly say, I wasn’t all that shocked. That it was coming from you. I still can’t believe it. And yet I can.
On behalf of myself, and on behalf of the tiniest new readers who will benefit from this, and on behalf of their moms and dads who will benefit too, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, Margie.
I am absolutely floored.

With love and admiration,


Matt   

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Funky Follower

One animal given a wide berth by humans is a skunk.  If you have a dog, your vigilance is continually on high alert.  The slightest glimpse of a furry flash of black and white will send your heart racing.  A skunked dog is a miserable incident for everyone but the potent pest.  A peek in pantries of people with pooch pals should show baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and liquid dish soap at the ready, specifically for a deodorizing concoction.

Despite all precautions, these smelly critters have a way of appearing as if from thin air.  The Skunk (Roaring Brook Press, April 14, 2015), story by Mac Barnett, art by Patrick McDonnell, offers readers a preposterous possibility.  It will leave you with more questions than answers.

When I left my house there was a skunk on my doorstep.

Wait a minute!  Stop right there!  There's a skunk on your doorstep?  Not only is there a skunk on this fancily-attired man's porch but after edging past him with extreme caution, the skunk trails behind him on the sidewalk.

As they get closer to the city, the man is fairly certain the skunk is shadowing his every move.  Regardless of his speed or random turns, the skunk is persistently in pursuit.  In apparent desperation, the man inquires as to the skunk's intentions.

Obviously, he receives no reply.  But then again, how often do skunks follow in your footsteps?  Frustrated to the max, the man takes a taxi to his destination.  So does the skunk.  (Yes, you read this correctly.)

Upon his arrival at the opera house, the man takes extra measures.  Once inside he sighs with satisfaction, sure he has evaded the determined follower.  Guess who shows up on the head of the woman seated next to him?

Panic filling him from head to toe, the man runs from the performance.  There seems to be nowhere he can go without the skunk.  As a last resort he sinks into the sewer system.

Appearing above ground after some distance, the man makes a series of decisions.  The skunk seems to have made some choices too.  With great care, dressed in black and white, a creature moves through the night.


You have to wonder what triggered the idea for this book in the mind of Mac Barnett.  I seem to recall several close encounters his dog had with a skunk from posts on Twitter.  However it happened, readers will laughingly agree this book is like no other they've previously read.

Each sentence is an attentive phrase in a symphony of silliness building to a startling and remarkable conclusion.  Readers are up close and personal with the man due to the first person narration.  It's like reading an entry in a diary but the puzzle has missing pieces.  Here is the passage where Barnett sets readers up for a huge dose of hilarity.

Success! I bounded up the steps and took my seat.  I was relieved to find myself between a lady and a gray old officer.  But then of course skunks can't buy tickets to the opera! ...


When you open the dust jacket you are introduced to the color palette used by Patrick McDonnell throughout most of the book.  The similarities between the man and the skunk, the fur and red nose and the tuxedo with a red tie, accentuate the ridiculous situation in which the man finds himself.  On the back, to the left, a circle is set in a red background.  The man is running from the skunk.

Six large black and white stripes supply the canvas for the front and back of the book case.  A circle on the front repeats the illustration found on the jacket.  The opening and closing endpapers continue the black and white pattern with representations of the two characters respectively.  Above the red text on the title page, a zoological, textbook-type image of the skunk is shown.

McDonnell has provided page after page of gentle tension, comedy and surprise.  With the subtlest of shifts in the characters' eyes and through the use of body language we are taken into the moment.  Regardless of the landscape in which the characters appear, we first look at them.  All of the illustrations are single pages or several on one page.  Most are loosely framed by white space.

One of my favorite illustrations in this title is the first one.  The man is looking out his front door nose bent toward the nose of the skunk.  All we see is his face and stunned eyes behind his glasses.  Calmly looking up is the skunk seated on the porch.  There is the barest hint of the house siding with a blooming rose bush and grass along the bottom.  Ever time I see this, I laugh out loud.


When you finish reading The Skunk written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Patrick McDonnell, you can't help but read it again immediately.  You are seeking solutions.  This book is filled to the brim with possibilities.  This is a story leaving you wanting more.  It's up to you now.

I know you'll want to learn more about Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell and their work.  Please follow the links attached to their names to access websites.  To view interior images from the book, follow this link to the publisher's website. You will enjoy reading this recent interview with Mac Barnett at School Library Journal, Avant-Garde Children's Lit: Mac Barnett on "The Skunk" and Writing Picture Books.  TeachingBooks.net has numerous resources on Mac Barnett.
UPDATE:  Mac Barnett was interviewed at Bookish, Mac Barnet on Skunks, Good Art, and the Occupational Hazards of Writing for Children.