Quote of the Month

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




Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Look To The Sky Again

When we get caught up in the seemingly normal busyness of our days and nights, it is easy to pass by something out of the ordinary.  We are going in a rush but as our mind focuses on what we saw, heard or smelled we literally put on the brakes wondering if what we just experienced could possibly be true.  It's like when you go out with your dog in the early hours of the morning, slightly past midnight, and the sky suddenly explodes in color.  It's so unexpected you can't believe it's real but the display of northern lights is a wonderful truth.

If an extraterrestrial happens to crash his ship in your yard, you might feel as though you are dreaming but this is exactly what happens in Your Alien (Sterling Children's Books, August 4, 2015) written by Tammi Sauer with illustrations by Goro Fujita.  A fast friendship is formed between the human boy and the small green alien child.  Fortunately for readers the best buddies are reunited in Your Alien Returns (Sterling Children's Books, October 4, 2016).  Space contains no boundaries when love fills two hearts.

When you least expect it, something special will get your attention.

Your alien will be back.

Can you imagine waking up to see your extraterrestrial pal peeking in your window, wanting you over for a playdate?  Of course, you ask your parents for permission.  As usual they are perfectly preoccupied.

You gaze out of your alien's ship as you whiz through space and past planets, barely able to contain your excitement.  On your arrival, like a good host, he offers you a snack.  One you eat with relish, the other, more alive one, you decline.

You present your favorite toys to one another, resting afterward in an otherworldly fort.  Meeting his playmates is a bit overwhelming; there are a lot of them. You do your best to fit it, but you feel like a failure.

Your forever companion, your alien, he knows you better than you can believe.  Quick as a wink he changes inward groans to outward grins.  This is what friends do for friends, no matter where they live.  That night after you have related the events of the day to your patient (but unbelieving) parents, a look out your window yields yet one more surprise.


By using a second person point-of-view, Tammi Sauer allows us to be up-close and personal with every moment of this story.  We can easily become the boy or his alien.  This style of narration connects us more deeply to the emotional impact of the interactions between the friends.  It's as if we are experiencing everything in real time.

Not only will her use of language in writing this tale touch your heart but it will also tickle your funny bone.  She leaves room for illustrative interpretation when the boy checks with his parents about leaving the planet with his alien friend or when a snack with lively eyes is offered by the alien.  Each sentence carefully builds to bring readers back to the beginning but we like the boy and his pal, are far richer than we were.  Here is a sample passage.

Your alien will show you around his neighborhood.
Some things will remind you of home.
But other things will be completely new.


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, a full image spans from the left to the right.  As the sun rises over the rolling landscape of the boy's yard, his friend hovers above him ready to take him on a ride to remember.  As in the first title, if you run your hands over the title text you will feel its nubby texture.  The boy and the spaceship are also slightly raised.  On the back, to the left, placed in the lightening sky are the words

AN INTERPLANETARY PLAYDATE BETWEEN
BEST FRIENDS WHO LIVE WORLDS APART.

You simply can't help but smile at the opening and closing endpapers created by Goro Fujita.  Between the two eighteen pictures of the alien engaged in fun activities on his home planet appear on a black canvas.  A few of the pictures show him with a helmet on his head as he rides on a rocket-propelled skateboard, or as he snacks on scoops of geometric ice cream, tongue ready to taste, kneels to look at a creature in a fish bowl which looks similar to a favorite treat, soaks in red goo and twirls a wand like a giant sparkler.  On the verso and title pages, the alien is zooming between planets, a smile on his face as he travels to Earth.

Rendered in Adobe Photoshop these visuals span one or two pages, full of life and light.  Sometimes Fujita will place two or three loosely framed images on a single page to emphasize a point.  In particularly strong emotional sequences we are near the characters' faces.  Every mood of the duo is conveyed with truth and excellence.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the boy is requesting permission from his parents to travel with his alien.  It takes place in the kitchen of his home.  His mother is shielding herself from a geyser shooting from the center of the sink.  His father is tinkering with the plumbing under the sink.  Puddles of water can be seen in the sunlight on the floor.  Behind the talking boy, the alien is peeking around the corner from the hallway.

Your Alien Returns written by Tammi Sauer with illustrations by Goro Fujita clearly shines a light on the soul of friendship.  Differences in appearance, food, games, customs and where you live don't matter to friends.  The most important thing is each other.  This is an uplifting tale and a stellar companion to the first title.  You will be asked to read them both over and over again.

To discover more about Tammi Sauer and Goro Fujita please follow the links attached to their names to access her website and his blog.  At Tammi's website she has an Alien Activity Kit for you to use with both books.  Fourteen interior pages can be viewed by following this link.  KidLit 411 chats with Tammi Sauer.  PictureBookBuilders showcases this title.  In the autumn of the year of the summer release of the first book, Emily Yarrow created a Your Alien song.


Cultural Bridges Through Language

On Monday morning January 23, 2017 the American Library Association Youth Media Awards will be announced.  Of the awards announced that day, one is the Pura Belpre Award.

The award is named after Pura Belpre, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library.  The Pura Belpre Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms and celebrate the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

 As I have said before, there is hardly a day that goes by when I do not thank my Dad for encouraging me to study the Spanish language from junior high school through college.  It opened my eyes to a culture different from my own, enlarging the small world in which I was raised.  As an educator working with English speaking children, their enjoyment in hearing another language spoken, regardless if they understand the words, never ends.  Perhaps they recognize it for more than it is.  It's not just a language but a song of a people.

Two outstanding titles in 2016, both written and illustrated by Latina women, are bilingual.  Both women are recipients of multiple Pura Belpre Honor awards for their work.  The first 2016 title, How Do You Say? Como se dice? (Henry Holt And Company, November 8, 2016) by Angela Dominguez explores a growing friendship between two individuals who do not speak the same language.  It presents simple words and phrases as they share a day together.

Ooh
Aaah

Food!
!Comida!

Snacking on leaves, they share an appreciation for their delectable taste.  Then they decide it's time to exchange greetings, informal and more formal. After their nibble fest, their thirst is quenched.

Well, there is nothing better than good food and good drink, so the duo is feeling about as good as they can.  They express this freely.  It's time now to ask a question.  They both give the same answer at the same time!

With growing joy they do what anyone would do.  They celebrate! All this activity has drained their energy.  Sweet dream amigos, dulces suenos, friends.  Again the giraffes reply identically.


For younger readers of either Spanish or English or for anyone desiring to learn another language, Angela Dominguez has written an utterly charming title.  We along with the giraffes are looking at the little, everyday pleasures in life and enjoying them. Single words and short phrases in English on the left and Spanish on the right are punctuated to express emotion.


When you look at the matching dust jacket and book case, besides the display of different languages, you see two happy giraffes on the right and left sides.  The back uses one of the interior images when the twosome is at the height of their merriment.  The opening and closing endpapers are a close-up of the distinctive giraffes' coat pattern.  On the title and verso pages one giraffe is looking up and over at the other which is looking down and over but from the top of the title page.

Angela Dominguez uses liberal amounts of white space as an additional element in her images rendered with pencil and tissue paper on illustration board, then colored digitally.  She places her subjects at different points on a page, coming in from varying edges of the pages.  Sometimes she brings us close to the giraffes as in when they are joyously talking about food.  Or she gives us a larger perspective as in when they are drinking from a pool of water by the tree.

The giraffes, their surrounding area and the text are done in realistic color but then Dominguez brings in purple to heighten the glee.  The eyes and mouths convey a full range of moods.  At one point their front legs are used to express perfect jubilation.

One of my favorite illustrations is for the word Delicious! !Sabrosa!  On either side of the gutter long branches of leaves hang down like a vine and come together toward the bottom.  The giraffes on either side have their eyes closed and long tongues extended out to the leaves.  They look like gourmets tasting their most beloved dish prepared by a master chef.

Certainly every professional and personal collection will want a copy of How Do You Say? ?Como se dice? written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez.  It's a delightful peek at the fun of learning new words and meeting new friends.  I can see developing it into a reader's theater.

To learn more about Angela Dominguez and her other work please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog.  To see four interior illustrations follow this link to the publisher's website.  Angela Dominguez has been featured on KidLit TV twice; StoryMakers and Ready Set Draw!  Angela Dominguez was one of three illustrators showcased at Latinxs in Kid Lit.





The second book takes us into another world.  !Olinguito, de la A a la Z!: Descubriendo el bosque nublado Olinguito, from A to Z!: Unveiling the Cloud Forest (Children's Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books Inc., February 15, 2016) written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre is a tribute to the discovery of the olinguito and a stunning presentation of the wonders in this creature's world.  Let's travel to the Andes with a zoologist from Washington, DC.

Alto, alla arriba en los Andes
High, high up in the Andes

A forest lush and green is colored with bromeliads.  It provides a residence for creepers, crawlers, fliers, hoppers and the elusive olinguito.  This place is teeming with life; flora and fauna of all shapes, sizes and colors.

Fig and coffee trees grow together.  Ginger flourishes flowering alongside rivers.  Lizards, tanagers, monkeys, butterflies and moths mingle.  Have you ever heard of spectacled bears?  They live here too.

A tiny hummingbird pauses as a quetzal watches.  The marvelous glass frogs call the cloud forest home.  They share this space with toads and salamanders, too.  There are tarantulas, tiger cats and blueberry bushes.  Yes, blueberry bushes!

After the sun sets and the sky darkens, a full moon rises.  The zoologist from Washington DC catches a glimpse of a modern day miracle.  He lifts his camera.  Click!


For each letter of the alphabet the combination of words penned by Lulu Delacre in Spanish is an alliterative melody. In English the descriptions are lyrical.  In both languages the information, as it is presented, takes us deep into the cloud forests examining the residents and their surroundings.  We get a real sense of how the experience must have been for those searching for the olinguito.  Here are three more combinations of phrases.

brilla un bosque bordado de bromelias...
blooms a brilliant forest embroidered with bromeliads...

y de undivino olinguito, de dia dormidito.
and a dozing olinguito dreaming the day away.

Lagartija sobre liquen, loritos en las lianas y llovizna leve, leve...
A lizard lies on lichen, tanagers line the vines, and the lightest drizzle...


Created using mixed media the illustrative beauty found in this title begins on the matching dust jacket and book case.  The olinguito placed in its natural setting framed in the title text is a varnished image on the jacket.  A specialized technique on the framing is like the atmosphere found in the cloud forest.  To the left, on the back, is a panoramic, bird's eye view of the cloud forest of the Andes.  A deep green covers the opening and closing endpapers.

A smaller version of the framing is set in a replica of the back illustration for the title page.  This smaller frame becomes the holder for each letter of the alphabet.  Each page turn is a single, double-page illustration.  Authentic scenes in realistic color replete with details depict the every aspect of this unique space. You expect to hear the sounds of this living, breathing place at any moment  

The text is set in a border created with the layering style employed by Delacre.  Carefully readers will note the change in the sky from sunrise to moonrise as the narrative moves from A to Z.  It's amazing how much we can see in a single day!

One of my favorite illustrations is for the letters K and L.  On the left a river slowly swirls past banks full of greenery and kermes-colored ginger blossoms.  On the right a branch covered in lichen hangs over the water.  A lizard rests on this branch as tanagers gather on vines.

Olinguito, de la A a la Z!: Descubriendo el bosque nublado Olinguito, from A to Z!: Unveiling the Cloud Forest written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre is the best kind of nonfiction with appeal to all readers regardless of their previous knowledge about cloud forests, the olinguito, Spanish and English.  So many glorious things about our world can be found in the pages of this book.  It will educate, entertain and inspire.  At the conclusion Lulu Delacre includes several pages in Spanish and English about the Discovery of the Olinguito, The Cloud Forest, The Illustrations and hints about being an explorer.  There are thumbnails of the specific flora and fauna discussed in her narrative along with the scientific names and brief descriptions.  There are More Helpful Words and the Author's Sources.  

If you desire to learn more about Lulu Delacre and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  A list of honors and awards already given to this title are listed on a special page along with a teacher's guide. At the publisher's website you can view interior images, access an activity kit, and other STEM resources.  Lulu Delacre has been interviewed at Reading Rockets in a series of videos.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Fleeing Toward Freedom

There are those who celebrate making the trip from one room of the house to another.  There are visits to the doctor, dentist or hospital we dread our entire lives.  As children we have to go places we would never choose to go as a child (or an adult) but we go because our parents insist.  There are vacations we wish would last twice as long for the experience is full of new people, places and things.  Short drives, perhaps not even an hour out of our day, can fill us with a sadness which never truly leaves.

During the course of our lives when we move from one house to another, from one city to another or from one state to another, it is usually by choice.  To fear living in your own country and in the only home you have ever known and forced to flee would be a terrifying trip.  The Journey (Flying Eye Books, September 13, 2016) written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna chronicles a family's flight.

I live with my family in a city close to the sea.  Every summer we used to spend many weekends at the beach.

Now they cannot go to the beach.  War has come to their country.  Nothing is as it used to be.  The bad times get worse when the girl's family loses her father to the war.

Saddened, worried and on the advice of a friend, the mother makes plans to travel to another country, a great distance from their home, a place with high mountains.  The children are curious and the mother tries to show them through pictures of this country far safer than their own.  All their possessions are packed in suitcases.

They leave in their own car in the dead of night.  They move from place to place day after day, changing modes of transportation.  The farther they move from home the fewer possessions they still have.  When they arrive at the border there are an enormous wall and a fearsome guard ordering them away.

Hiding in the dark forest, their only comfort is their mother's arms.  Loud voices filled with anger wake them up.  The guards are after them!  Running as fast as fear will carry them; hope suddenly appears and assists them.  A perilous journey across the sea, in treacherous weather, lasts for far too many days aboard a vessel with far too many people.  Even when they eventually reach land, they are not yet safe...but they will be.


A profound and powerful story has been penned by Francesca Sanna.  By the second sentence you get a clear sense of impending doom when she says:

...we used to spend...

With the third sentence it is confirmed.  Sanna conveys the darkness, despair, fear and determination with few words but they are carefully chosen.

There are never more than five sentences with each image; usually only one sentence. You are with this family every portion of their journey.  You are cheering inwardly for their success but are well aware of the realities of this situation through Sanna's writing.  To make the story more personal for readers there is a flawless mix of first person narration and dialogue.  Here is a sample passage.

The boat rocks and rocks as the waves grow bigger and bigger.  It feels like the sea will never end.  We tell each other new stories.  Stories about the land we are heading to, where the big green forests are filled with kind fairies that dance and give us magic spells to end the war.


Taking a cue from all the elementary children who entered my library over the years, the first thing this book asks me to do is run my hands over the book case.  The spine is cloth with white birds soaring upward from branches on either side.  If you study the illustration on the front you can see tiny figures which show the mother and children running from the war, traveling to the wall and meeting the fearsome guard, getting help, riding over the sea and traveling by train to their destination.  Birds, well known for their seasonal migrations, follow them.  The suitcases signify the beginning of their trip with their mother packing the book about the safe place.  To the left, on the back, beneath text you would most likely read on the front and back flaps, is a similar stack of suitcases with only a cat resting on one of them.

The opening and closing endpapers if placed side by side show the journey to the sea and beyond to freedom.  An Author's note has been placed on the left side, the sea, of the closing endpaper.  One leg of their journey, traveling in another man's van filled with jars, is shown on the title page.  The limited color palette; shades of red, black, green, golden yellow, brown and blue work very well to convey the emotional trauma of this tale.

You need to pause at every single image to study the intricate, fine details Francesca Sanna includes in her collage work.  When fear is a factor (and once hope) she enlarges the source; such as the dark grasping hands of war or the leering angry guard at the border.  Every element in her illustrations has meaning.  The heavier matte-finished paper is ideal for her work.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of the mother reading to her children, showing them pictures of the safe place.  They are seated together.  As the mother reads, the daughter is reaching down to play with the cat.  Forest trees are placed beneath and above them.  Large bears and a great stag become part of the background.  Mountains, leaves, evergreen trees, an owl, a fawn, a fox, a rabbit, a squirrel and a wolf are all blended into this scene.  I can't even imagine how much time it must have taken to create this picture.


The Journey written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna is a brave and necessary book.  It is stellar in conveying the plight of people forced to leave their homes and their countries.  It is fearful but also courageous.  It should fill every reader with complete compassion.  In her Author's note Sanna explains about how she came to write this story.  It is highly recommended for purchase for your personal and professional bookshelves.  It appears on The New York Times Notable Children's Books of 2016, the Kirkus Best Picture Books of 2016, the School Library Journal Best of 2016 Picture Books and one of the New York Public Library Best Books for Kids, 2016 Picks.  It received a Parents' Choice Gold Award.

To discover more about Francesca Sanna and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  You can get a peek at some of the interior pages by stopping at the publisher's website.  Francesca Sanna is interviewed about this book and her process at Let's Talk Picture Books, November 29, 2016.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Heart's Desire Is Heard

Never doubt the significance of first impressions.  I am not saying they are always right.  Upon closer examination, those initial perceptions may need to be altered.  With that being noted, sometimes when you read a book for the first time your reaction is exactly as it should be.  What you need to do next, after enjoying it multiple times, is to decide why the book left a mark on your heart.

Is it the text which made a connection?  Are the illustrations such they will cause a sensory experience?  Is it a beautiful blend of narrative and images?  Upon first reading The Christmas Boot (Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, October 18, 2016) written by Lisa Wheeler with illustrations by Jerry Pinkney I was visibly moved.  You will be too.

Deep in the forest on Christmas morning, Hannah Greyweather gathered bundles of kindling wood.  For her, this day was no different from any other.

Hannah has adapted to her aloneness by chatting out loud to the surrounding flora and fauna.  They, of course, are silent in their replies to her commentary.  Arms full of wood; she spies something out of the ordinary in the pristine snow.  It's a black boot.

It looks so comfortable and cozy she slips her left foot inside.  Compared to her feet wrapped in rags and numb with cold, this feels downright divine.  Hannah is more than a little surprised when the large boot quickly conforms to the size and shape of her foot.  Hannah cannot believe her good fortune.  As she climbs into bed that night she speaks aloud her desire for the matching boot for her right foot.

What you need to remember is this is Christmas Day.  There is a great deal of magic in the air on Christmas Day.  Hannah is shocked to see two boots next to her bed the following morning. Having warm feet as she goes about her business in the forest gives her a new outlook on life.  On this second night she chats aloud to the left boot about her wonderful good luck.  She remarks how much happier she would be with two warm mittens.

To her utter surprise a pair of mittens, one each inside each boot, awaits Hannah in the morning.  This fantastic happening has her wondering if she should wish for more; a comfy bed, delicious food and a large home.  She does not but goes outside to gather some chestnuts.  She is so thrilled with her warm feet and warm hands; she makes a snowman before setting off for home.

What she sees in place of her humble house is astounding.  Inside the sights are even more remarkable.  As nice as all of this is, something feels a little strange to Hannah.  While she is thinking about this, there is a knock on her door.  Her visitor believes she has something belonging to him.  After an evening of conversation, he winks and leaves her with two gifts and an even more welcome surprise in the morning.


There is a specific storytelling rhythm established with the writing of Lisa Wheeler in this book.  It connects Hannah to her surroundings and us to Hannah.  With each of her observations said aloud, Wheeler has a reply:

The mountain didn't answer.
The forest remained silent.
The walls did not reply.

This technique reinforces Hannah's aloneness setting the stage for the final two surprises.

Wheeler's mix of dialogue, mostly Hannah talking out loud, with the narrative also contributes to the story's pacing.  We feel a genuine relationship developing between us and this woman.  Here are two consecutive passages. (only a portion of the second one)

"Glory be!" Hannah said to the right boot.  "How did you get here?"
The boot didn't say.
Then Hannah Greyweather placed both her feet into those warm black boots.  They fit most comfortably.

As she went about her wood-gathering, Hannah had a spring in her step that hadn't been there for years.  She danced in the spruce grove, skipped along the creek bed, and even made snow angels on the hillside.


How is it that every book illustrated by Jerry Pinkney causes you to feel like you are holding a living, breathing marvel in your hands?  Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case readers are greeted with an entire winter wonderland scene which extends to the edge of the flaps.  Notice the shifts in perspective from the close-up of the boot with the holly draped over the top and the animals curiously looking at it and then to the mountain in the distance with Santa Claus in his sleigh and his reindeer crossing in front of a full moon.  To the left, on the back, the body of the weasel continues.  A snowy white hare watches from the bottom.  Toward the top tucked in among the spruce trees is Hannah's tiny, one-room home, lights glowing from the windows.  One of the shades of blue from the jacket and case covers the opening and closing endpapers.

In a beautiful snowy scene with Hannah leaving her home for wood-gathering, footprints marking her path, the title, author, illustrator and publisher text has been placed.  Rendered in

pencil, Prismacolor pencils, and watercolor on Arches cold press watercolor paper

the illustrations are stunning in their eloquent detail.  The lines and brush strokes convey the crisp chilly air, the silence of the soft snow on boughs and branches, the sound of birds chirping greetings and Hannah's breath making fog and her voice ringing out wherever she may be.  In each picture outside there are animals with Hannah.  They feel a kinship with this woman of their world.

The interior of her home conveys the simplicity of her life; cooking over an open fire, a bucket of water nearby, light from a kerosene lamp, a bed made of birch branches and homemade quilts to keep Hannah warm at night. The patterns on all her clothing are bright, cheerful and intricate.  Hannah's face is lined with life.  The depictions of the animals are so real you expect them to leave the page and join you.  Jerry Pinkney alters his image sizes from double page to single page to two pictures together on a single page or a smaller picture inserted in a large visual.  Every page turn is a delightful surprise.

One of my many favorite (I love all of them.) illustrations is wordless.  It covers two pages.  Hannah is lying on her back making a snow angel, laughing.  One hare is next to her right hand raised in happiness.  Another hare has its front paws on her left boot.  Birds are singing next to her left leg.  Another bird has come to rest on her outstretched left hand.  The weasel is watching from the far right-hand corner.  This is true, pure bliss.


If you are looking for a new Christmas book for your personal or professional collections or to give as a gift, I highly recommend The Christmas Boot written by Lisa Wheeler with illustrations by Jerry Pinkney.  This is a title to be treasured for years and years to come.  And I promise you the ending will cause you to sigh or shed a few tears.  Please share this book repeatedly.

To learn more about Lisa Wheeler and Jerry Pinkney and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  You can get a sneak peek at the inside at the publisher's website.  This title is celebrated at PictureBookBuilders with an interview of Lisa Wheeler.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Looking For Answers

There are those who can never have enough questions answered.  They extend themselves daily not content with a reply but wanting to know why.  We have all had them in our collective classrooms.  We might even be one of those people who have a driving need to know.

The world is an entirely different, a better, place because of these people who never rest in their search to obtain a complete picture of whatever it is (or was) they are pursuing.  Charles Darwin's Around-The-World Adventure (Abrams Books For Young Readers, October 4, 2016) written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes follows one of these people on a voyage which changed his life.  It changed all our lives, then and now.

Charles Robert Darwin would have rather been outside searching for bugs, beetles, worms, butterflies, birds, rocks, and bones than sitting in a classroom.

He was a seeker and a collector, much smarter than his teachers thought he was.  He was unable to follow in his father's footsteps in the medical profession but sought to become a clergyman.  After his completion of studies at Cambridge University, his professor of botany recommended Charles as the naturalist sailing with the HMS Beagle.  The ship would be voyaging to South America to take map measurements.

The ship was captained by Robert FitzRoy (he and young Charles did have disagreements).  It was ninety feet long.  There was not a bit of room to spare between the men on board and the supplies.  Thankfully Charles decided very early to journal everything about this journey.

Charles was happier than he had ever been when visiting the rain forests along the east coast of South America. Stick insects he observed helped him ponder how creatures adapt to continue their species.  He continued to collect and send specimens back home.  Did you know that Charles spent a lot of time on land while the ship sailed along the coast?  What he discovered there prompted other theories.  Everything he saw contributed to his quest to discover as much as possible about animals and their survival.

One hundred miles from the HMS Beagle Charles, the captain and a few sailors had a near-death experience.  Just reading about it gives you the shivers.  You have to wonder how our world would be if Charles had not survived.  Through personal experiences Charles formed hypotheses about earthquakes and volcanoes and their effect on the earth's surface.  One was confirmed with a trip to the Andes and a discovery there.

After four years the HMS Beagle needed to return home but first there were stops at the Galapagos Islands, around New Zealand, Australia, the Cape of Good Hope, Ascension Island, and back to Brazil.  Five years away from home changed Charles more than in age (22-27).  A path for his life's work stretched before him.


Painstaking research and a love of what she read lead Jennifer Thermes to create a nonfiction narrative which captivates readers. Interesting incidents make Charles Darwin the person more accessible.  In the first paragraph she relates an encounter with a beetle that will astound at the very least.  It's a little gross... in a good kind of way.

It's important for us to know Charles was often seasick but his desire for adventure and quest for knowledge overcame any hardships he met.  This leads into his being on land for more time than we might have previously known.  Thermes' descriptions of the surroundings in which Charles finds himself give us a sense of being there with him.  Another skillful technique she employs is to insert questions in the text, suppositions made by Charles.  It will lead readers into forming their own questions.  Here are two pieces of sample text.

In the rain forest, the ground soaked up the downpour while the plants grew green and lush.  Charles was surrounded by the buzz of millions of insects, yet the jungle wrapped him in velvet silence. 

He studied rocks and tried to figure out how steep cliffs and flat plains were formed.  Was it possible that the shape of the land affected the animals' survival?


In a clever artistic move Jennifer Thermes has the tree on the front of the dust jacket aligned with mountain peaks of the Andes on the back, to the left.  This image on the back is taken from the interior of the book.  The illustration on the front is a beautiful blend of a multitude of places Charles visited.  It allows us to see how his views expanded on this trek around the world.  The fine lines and exquisite attention to detail seen here is only a glimpse of what the remainder of the book holds for readers.  The book case is a series of waves, layered from nearly the top to the bottom.  Above them are sky and the HMS Beagle sailing west.  Beneath the vessel is a quote from Charles Darwin.

The opening and closing endpapers are elaborate portraits of the world portraying the voyage as a departure and as a return.  Arrows show the line of travel and stops.  Continents and places are appropriately named.  By turning the page to view vertically you can see a detailed timeline for the five years corresponding to the points in the journey.  The title page and verso is one single illustration of sea and sky with the HMS Beagle beneath the title text.  On the left a picture is placed over this.  There are several specimen jars, rocks, a shell, a bone, a butterfly, and other insects with a magnifying glass.  A dedication is placed on the largest bottle.  Under this is an open journal with the publication information.

Rendered in watercolor and black colored pencil on Fabriano Hot Press Paper these images, wonderfully realistic and brimming with elements, ask us to stop and look.  This is how Charles Darwin viewed our world.  He stopped and looked. (I love that Thermes places a puppy in the picture of Charles as a boy and has the dog grow with him and greet him when he arrives home.)

There are eight maps of varying sizes throughout this title, one which needs to be viewed vertically.  Thermes has them labeled completely and includes animals found in each of the places after leaving England.  Her images range in size from double-page spreads to single pages to smaller pictures set in larger ones.  Her cross section of the ship at sea is illuminating.  Her perspectives are marvelous; a bird's eye view of the ship at sea, Charles riding across the pampas amid mice, rabbits, armadillos, and birds. Gauchos ride alongside him swinging their bolas.  A close-up of collected fossils will have readers searching for their own treasures.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Charles in a small sailboat in the Tierra del Fuego waters.  Behind him is the HMS Beagle on the left.  The scene is framed by sky and mountains.  Penguins stand on ice floes.  Seals swim near him and rest on ice.  Beneath the water we can view an array of marine life; seals, fish of all sizes, a whale, jellyfish, starfish, crabs and an octopus.  All move around in a garden of seaweed.

For this post I borrowed a copy of Charles Darwin's Around-The-World Adventure written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes from my public library.  But rest assured I not only will be getting a personal copy but several others to give away.  This is a stellar work of nonfiction sure to promote curiosity and the value of never stopping pursuit of your passion.

To learn more about Jennifer Thermes and her other work please visit her website and blog by following the links attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images including one of my favorite pictures.  There is artwork and process sketches at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  At Miss Marple's Musings Jennifer Thermes is interviewed.  We get to see her work space and more artwork tied to this title.  We also get to see more about this book and the process involved at The Little Crooked Cottage.  Enjoy Jennifer's tweets.





Remember to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the other selections by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Marvelous Moments Under The Sea

Even on your most super fantastic day, laughter is still welcome.  You can never have enough laughter in your life.  The next best thing is having someone to enjoy the laughter with you.  Certainly every single person can remember being in a group when quiet is demanded but you and one other person (or more) gets a case of the giggles over something ridiculous.  You try to smother the laughter but it keeps bubbling to the surface.  Once you get control of yourselves again each one feels uplifted, a glow of goodness spreading throughout your being.  That's the power of shared laughter.

Leave it to the creative mind of the man who brought us It Came In The Mail to breathe life into two distinctive characters in the first of a new graphic novel series. Narwhal: Unicorn Of The Sea (A Narwhal And Jelly Book) (Tundra Books, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company, October 4, 2016) written and illustrated by Ben Clanton matches unlikely marine animals together for three wonderful episodes.  Get ready for giggles and grins!

NARWHAL IS REALLY AWESOME
ONE DAY WHEN NARWHAL WAS OUT FOR A SWIM, HE FOUND HIMSELF IN NEW WATERS.

WHOA!  WHAT ARE YOU?

ME?  I'M NARWHAL THE NARWHAL!



 Narwhal has run into Jelly who can't quite believe Narwhal is real.  Narwhal turns around and asks Jelly if he is real.  Narwhal has never seen a jellyfish.  Jellyfish has never seen a narwhal. They are both wondering if the other is a figment of their imagination.  The comedic conversation continues until they come to a mutual agreement about pals and waffles.  I know what you're thinking. Waffles?  Under the sea?  That's only the beginning of the fun in this book.

In their second adventure Narwhal has read online (he has a computer) that narwhals travel and live in pods.  He can't find his pod.  Ever the glass-half-full kind of creature, Narwhal is going to make his own pod.  Going from animal to animal each one is gifted with a horn when they join.  Someone is not happy about being forgotten until the word party is mentioned.

When Jelly swims up to Narwhal in their third encounter, Narwhal is reading his favorite book in the world.  When Jelly sees the inside of the book, he is shocked and completely puzzled.  (You will be, too.)  With his upbeat, silver-lining outlook on life, Narwhal proceeds to teach Jelly about the possibilities and potential of having a book like his favorite one.  (There might be a sea monkey involved.)


You can sincerely appreciate the skill of Ben Clanton in fashioning this narrative when you read it aloud.  The contrast in the personalities of Narwhal and Jelly is enough to promote hilarity but still allow them to compromise.  Or, to be truthful, to allow Jelly to adjust his disposition.

The pacing is perfection.  Each conversation builds to an ending which will generate smiles all around.  To pause the story Ben Clanton has inserted Really Fun Facts, More Really Fun Facts and The Narwhal Song between chapters one and two and two and three.  Here is a continuation of the opening dialogue.

A NARWHAL?
YEP! UNICORN OF THE SEA!
ARE YOU REAL?
LAST TIME I CHECKED.
ARE YOU?
AM I WHAT?
REAL!
UM...YEAH, I'M A JELLYFISH.
JELLYFISH? heehee! THAT SOUNDS FUNNY!


In soft sea blues, black, white and yellow, Ben Clanton begins his limited color palette which contributes to the charm of this title.  Who can resist the cheerful Narwhal on the front of the book case?  Jellyfish is looking rather alarmed.  Who is this Unicorn of the Sea?  To the left, on the back, four square blue panels on a yellow background, two with Narwhal speaking and two with Jellyfish talking, promote this book and waffles. On the opening endpapers tiny Narwhals cover the space.  Miniature Jellies cover the closing endpapers.

These images are rendered in colored pencil and colored digitally.  All the text is hand-lettered by Ben Clanton.  Wider, heavy black lines frame each panel and the elements in each picture.  The panel sizes vary from square to rectangle and to full page pictures.  At times Clanton will place a square within a larger visual for emphasis.  For a big "WOW" factor there are several two page illustrations.

It should also be noted that the limited color choices open the door to the zing we get when more realistic color is introduced in the final chapter.  The quality of facial expressions and emotion Clanton gets with a few lines and dots is amazing.  These characters are ready to leap from the sea into your space.

One of my many favorite illustrations is on page nine.  The background is white with light blue bubbles surrounding Jelly who is looking rather grumpy in the center of the page.  His brows are furrowed (a straight line across his eyes).  Two of his six legs are raised to look like arms as he looks directly at the reader making an appeal with his statements.  I dare you not to burst out laughing at this page.

Narwhal: Unicorn Of The Sea (A Narwhal And Jelly Book) written and illustrated by Ben Clanton is a wonderful beginning to what promises to be a delightful series.  I guarantee you will fall in love with these characters after the first few pages.  I can hardly wait for the second book to be released.  According to IndieBound.org it will be May 2017.  Podtastic!

To discover more about Ben Clanton please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  You can get a peek at some of the interior by following this link to the publisher's website. Narwhal and Jellyfish have their own website here.  This book is featured at All The Wonders in a post.  This title is one of the School Library Journal Top 10 Graphic Novels | 2016.

Monday, November 28, 2016

White As...

Once the words fairy tale are uttered an aura of magic and mystery fills the place.  If others are present, without being aware, they move in closer to the speaker.  Even though the particular story selected may be as familiar as our own faces in the mirror in the morning, we still listen as if we are hearing it for the very first time.

Fairy tales have distinctive goodness in them working to overcome blatant evil.  They are not without supreme difficulties but we know there will be a happily ever after.  Author illustrator Matt Phelan, highly respected for his body of work, especially his graphic novels, brings to readers a haunting rendition of one of the most well-known fairy tales.  Snow White: A Graphic Novel (Candlewick Press, September 13, 2016) written and illustrated by Matt Phelan is remarkable for the brilliance of the artwork, setting and narrative.

The story opens with a beautiful young woman lying in a sleigh in a store-front window.  NYPD crime scene tape ropes off the area.  A police detective asks a crying youth:

What's the story here?
Who is she?

He replies:
White as snow...

By the attire worn by the characters, you know this story is taking place in the not-too-distant past.   With a page turn your curiosity is satisfied with the words

1918
Central Park

A little girl, Samantha White, is playing in the snow as her mother strolls along with her but the happy day turns tragic when the woman begins to cough blood.  She passes away shortly thereafter.  Ten years later, Mr. White reads a newspaper article about a hit performer at the Follies.  He is mesmerized by her performance.

Her new stepmother, the Ziegfeld Queen, has Samantha sent away to boarding school.  Back at home Mr. White seems to have survived the market crash but cannot survive the evil wishes and jealousies of his new wife.  At the reading of Mr. White's will his wife is shocked by an amendment leaving the bulk of the estate to Snow White.

A man is hired to kill Snow White but after chasing her in and through Hooverville, he warns her to never go home again.  This man visits a butcher hoping to convince the stepmother the deed is completed.  Snow White finds her way back to the city only to be nearly attacked by two villains in an alley. She is saved by seven boys who live on the streets.

That night Snow White takes the boys to Macy's department store to show them the winter window display, hoping to help them believe there is beauty everywhere.  This is a mistake.  Another mistake is made the next morning.

In a state of shock, sadness and anger, the seven give chase and watch as fate attempts to balance the scales.  Remembering Snow White's first love shared with them, they proceed, with heavy hearts, to carry out their plan.  A detective gets the surprise of his life.  Seven boys finally believe in the power of snow.


Within eighteen chapters Matt Phelan writes a minimal amount of text, the majority of it dialogue.  This presents pivotal points of the plot in more specific detail but allows for the atmospheric images to carry the story.  One highly ingenious twist on tradition is the use of ticker tape instead of a mirror on the wall.  This is no ordinary machine but one filled with malice printing out truth and suggestions to the wicked Mrs. White.  Here's some of the dialogue during the evening with the seven boys.

You're far from the country now, sister.
The same snow falls here.
Hmmph.
This city is beautiful, too.
It has its own magic.
Come on.
I'll show you.
Ain't you scared?  Someone's after you!
Scared?  Of course not.  I have seven brave protectors.


As soon as you open the matching dust jacket and book case you know this Snow White is going to be different.  The image from the left, the back, carries over the spine.  It's a night silhouette of the city skyline.  In the center of the darkness is a picture of the seven boys with a quote from the book.  In the black of the spine the title text and font are replicated.  The opening and closing endpapers are lighter as you get closer to the body of the book, moving toward dark gray on the outside edges.

After the chapter headings pages, a single picture of the face of Snow White in repose is shown.  We move seamlessly from the story's present, to the past, and moving again to the present. Matt Phelan alters his panel sizes to supply the narrative's pacing.

Rendered in pencil, ink, and watercolor with digital adjustments fairly wide margins of white frame each picture.  The details, specifically those depicting an emotional moment, are intensely real.  You will feel your breath catch at some of his close-up pictures.  Phelan's use of light, dark and shadows is masterful.

One of my many favorite pictures is at the beginning.  It's when the detective is speaking with one of the seven boys.  It is a single page picture of the boy crying.  We have zoomed in to his teary face.  A ball cap is off to the side on his head.  A striped scarf is wound around his neck. His head is slightly down and his eyes are closed as two large tears slide down his face.  He utters the classic phrase.


Snow White: A Graphic Novel written and illustrated by Matt Phelan has been named by School Library Journal as one of the Top 10 Graphic Novels | 2016.  Every time you read it you can understand why it received this designation.  Every time you read it, you discover another detail which enriches the telling.  This book should be on every professional and personal bookshelf.

To learn more about Matt Phelan and his other work you can visit his website and blog by following the links attached to his name.  At the publisher's website you can get a peek inside the book; more than forty pages.  At Candlewick Press there is a discussion guide and author's notes about this title.  Be sure to visit Watch. Connect. Read. the blog of John Schumacher, Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, for the book trailer premiere.  It gives you a real sense of the time and place of this version.  There are more teaching ideas for this book at School Library Journal's Inside 'The Classroom Bookshelf'.  This title is discussed with Matt at The Beat Comics Culture and The Comics Alternative for Young Readers.