Quote of the Month

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




Saturday, May 18, 2019

Annual Animal Antics

In the northern hemisphere the longest day of the year marks the summer solstice.  It is the season most welcomed by many; especially those who've endured a long cold winter.  It is a time of annual celebrations, rituals and change-of-pace activities.  For some, summer isn't summer without first watching an old favorite movie.  For others it's a time to enjoy outdoor sports; hiking in the woods or going to a baseball game.  Gardeners, vegetable and flower, are working before dawn and after dusk.  Friends and families gather for reunions and much-awaited vacations.

Many memorable vacations involve camping.  Throughout the United States campgrounds abound in state and national parks with fairly modern to downright rustic conditions.  They are located in forests, mountains and along lakes, rivers and streams.  Most people are unaware of an entire population also awaiting summer and all those vacant human homes.  With huge hilarity in every respect The Great Indoors (Disney Hyperion, April 9, 2019) written by Julie Falatko with illustrations by Ruth Chan gives us the inside scoop on the highly anticipated annual antics by animals of the forest and field.

The bears always arrived first.

The four bears, a father, mother, teenager and baby, bring their suitcases inside the recently empty home of a human family who left for a week of camping.  The teenager calls dibs on the bathroom for preening.  In short order the next group arrives.  It's the beavers.

They stake a claim on the kitchen.  Based on their bags and conversations, they will be providing the meals for the entire group.  Following them are the deer who definitely have a flair for dancing, disco dancing to be precise.  No one questions the skunks desire for resting on the couch and exulting in the electricity.  The first night features the group gathered around the television served by the beavers' most excellent cuisine. 

Each subsequent day finds the bears, deer and skunks participating in their favorite activities, construction, music and social media, with complete uninterrupted abandon. They are well-fed by the zealous beavers.  They are feeling total bliss until the inevitable happens  Now they are victims of too-much-of-a good thing.

There is chaos in the kitchen.  A skunk drinks more than its share of coffee.  Someone is tasting the butter.  In fact, there is not-so-merry mayhem in every room in the house. A cacophony erupts.  It's time to head home in the outdoors.  With echoes of see you next year resonating in the now-deserted rooms, the humans return.  Surprise!


With a talent for finding the funniest side of any situation and flipping the ordinary to extraordinary, author Julie Falatko, starts building anticipation with her first sentence.  Alternating between pure narrative and priceless animal conversations, the gentle tension grows.  The animals are basking in all the modern conveniences the humans have abandoned for a week.  It's a total comedic contrast.

As the initial happiness starts to wan, the laughter factor increases.  You know with the shift in the statements made by the animals, something is going to happen.  Here are some sentences.

The skunks flopped onto the couch.
Ah, the simple life.
When you want light,
you just flip a switch.
So simple.

Just a small toaster fire!
You're not 
supposed to put
nacho cheese in
the toaster!


Upon opening the dust jacket readers get a full view of a portion of the interior of the human's home.  (The scene on the front extends over the spine to the left edge on the back.)  By the wide-eyed looks and grins on the animals' faces, we know shenanigans are in the offing.  The placement and font of the title text is akin to the beginning of an epic movie.  The objects not usually associated with animals are varnished.

To the left, on the back, along the wall are a vase in blue and white with a dragon on it, a chair and a row of four sets of slippers.  On the wall are two photographs from previous family trips.  (Perhaps the vase and picture of the Canadian Parliament building are nods to Ruth Chan's childhood.  Other items in the home refer to the Chinese culture and language which is wonderful to see.)  Spread across the book case is an entire floor mat reminiscent of Twister.  Three deer, one bear, three beavers and two skunks are showcased.  It's funnier than funny to see them stretched out as a beaver works the spinner.  It should be noted one of the skunks is using an electronic devise.

Ruth Chan incorporates the endpapers in her visual interpretation of this story.  On the opening endpapers as the sun rises the family leaves the quiet country setting of their home.  On the closing endpapers the setting has expanded.  We are now in the forest.  There are two signs of the indoors' camping trip.  Readers are sure to burst out laughing.

On the title page the family car has vanished.  Two bears, father and mother, are peering from behind a tree and a bunch of bushes.  On the verso and first page we move close to the front door as father bear walks inside the house.

Most of the illustrations rendered by Ruth Chan span two pages.  To supply pacing smaller illustrations are group together on single pages and perspectives are shifted.  At one point, it's as if the roof of the home has been removed so we can look into all the rooms at once.  Readers will be pausing on every page to look at all the details, tiny text and facial expressions mirroring emotions and the hair styles on the animals.  (Can you spot a picture of Ruth's dog and cat?)

One of my many, many favorite pictures is of the chaos in the kitchen as the week is ending.  It's a close-up of the sink, countertop and oven.  One skunk is asking if another little stinker drank all the coffee.  At the jittery aspect of said skunk, standing on the open oven door, there is no doubt it did drink the coffee.  On the left a deer is licking a stick of butter.  A beaver, on the right, trying to make something wants to know who keeps licking the butter?  A blender is shooting out a beverage (no lid) and the freezer door is wide open.  No one looks happy but readers will be giggling and grinning.


For the laughter, for a unit on summer vacations, camping or a theme of role reversal The Great Indoors written by Julie Falatko with illustrations by Ruth Chan is a rib-tickling romp showing what happens when the outdoors comes inside.  This collaboration between Falatko and Chan is filled with comedy.  You will want to have a copy in your professional and personal collections. 

To discover more about Julie Falatko and Ruth Chan and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Julie Falatko has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Ruth Chan has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  The cover reveal for this book is hosted by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher at Watch. Connect. Read.  He chats with both Julie and Ruth.  Julie Falatko is interviewed at Critter Lit.  Ruth Chan is the featured illustrator for The New York Times Books live Facebook chat.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Looking For The Familiar

Whether we move from city to city within the same state, move to a different state in the same country or leave our country's borders, our apprehension prior to the move finds its center in the people and places we are leaving behind.  Thoughts of using technology to connect with people, and even places, does lessen the worry, but it's still not the same as real life encounters.  As soon as we arrive at our new destination, sometimes even before we begin to settle, we start to explore our surroundings.  We are looking for the familiar. 

For children, the sooner they find places, a park, a library or a restaurant serving their favorite food, in which they feel comfortable, the more apt they are to relax.  A New Home (Candlewick Press, April 9, 2019) written and illustrated by Tania de Regil explores the parallel worlds of two children making huge moves.  They don't realize it, but one is moving to the other's city.

Mom and Dad told me that we
are moving to Mexico City.

Mama and Papa told me that we
are moving to New York City.

Neither of them is excited about the move.  They are already missing important things in their lives.  Will there be a favorite musician playing music on their way to school?  Will there be a food vendor serving a delicious snack on their way home from school?

They each enjoy certain sporting and cultural events with their parents.  They can play in big city parks where they live now; like Central Park in New York City and the Bosque de Chapultepec in Mexico City.  They are both curious to know if there are museums for their new classes to visit in their new cities. 

While realizing the detriments in their respective cities, homelessness and noise, there are multiple activities to occupy them during the summer with their families.  They wonder if there will be friends like they have now in this new city.  There are many unanswered questions.  One thing is certain, the child from New York City and the child from Mexico City, hold hope in their hearts.


As an author experiencing international moves, Tania de Regil understands the emotions of children when facing this sort of change.  Her portrayal of the blend of excitement and concern through simple straightforward text, fifteen sentences total, is profound.  As the narrative progresses Tania de Regil has worked to offer readers of all ages an opportunity.  It's an opportunity, regardless of geographic location, to see similarities in people and in the places where they live.


Un Nuevo Hogar was released on the same day as A New Home. (I don't have a copy of the Spanish title yet.)  When opening the matching dust jacket and book case, readers are introduced to the boy living in New York City on the left and the girl living in Mexico City on the right.  Outside their respective windows readers can point out elements for which their cities are known.  Each child is holding a book reflective of the city which will be their new home. 

To the left, on the back, on a canvas of white are the words:

I hope my life
won't be so different
in my new city.

Along the bottom is a skyline from New York City.  Along the top is flora and birds more likely to be seen in Mexico City.  The opening and closing endpapers are the rich golden yellow shade used on the front of the jacket and case to hold the text.

On the formal title page Tania de Regil has used predominantly green for a map and a purple hue for water.  She has drawn a dotted line from Mexico City to New York City.  The boy is headed toward Mexico City and the girl is walking toward New York City.  They are each carrying their favorite toys.

Rendered in ink, colored pencil, watercolor, and gouache and assembled digitally, the illustrations vary in size from full-page pictures opposite a white page for text, two full-page images sharing the same text beneath them, two smaller visuals on a page sharing text in the middle and a two-page, half page illustration sharing text in the middle between the two pictures.  This layout and design allow readers to notice exactly what Tania de Regil wants us to understand.  For pure dramatic effect the narrative closes with a double-page image.

The perspective shifts to complement and heighten the narrative.  Readers will pause to look at all the details; a pigeon on the fire escape in New York City and on the balcony in Mexico City, grandmothers walking the children home from school, or the presence of the children's toys.  Even though both children wonder about their new homes, there is a warmth conveyed in every single picture.  It's an exploration of possibilities.

Two of my many favorite illustrations are when the children are playing in their respective parks.  For the boy the season is in winter using a soft gray in the cityscape behind leafless trees in Central Park.  In the foreground the boy is laughing, holding his red teddy bear and skating on a pond.  Behind him others are skating, and a film crew is working on a scene.  For the girl, a royal castle is in the background.  In the foreground the smiling girl is riding her bicycle on a large cobblestone pathway.  A food vendor truck is off to the left.  A man selling balloons and whirligigs is in front of her on the right.  Behind her is a pool of water with boaters rowing.  Both pictures convey the fun the children are having.  There is a sense of motion but also calm.


As her picture book debut in the United States A New Home and Un Nuevo Hogar written and illustrated by Tania de Regil is a marvelous depiction of questions children have when moving to a new city in a new country.  It also works beautifully to provide answers and relieve any worry.  There is true artistry in the text and illustrations.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.  At the close of the book Tania de Regil features thumbnails on three pages of the illustrations with further information about the two cities.

To learn more about Tania de Regil and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Tania de Regil has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image.  The publisher has also provided an activity kit.  The cover reveal is at Latinxs in Kid Lit.  The book trailer premiere along with an interview is hosted by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher at Watch. Connect. Read.  Tania de Regil is interviewed about this book at The Children's Book Council.  Process artwork is shared.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Winged Wonders

It is a welcome sound after the lengthy winter months cloaked in snow, chill and silence.  It is so loud, it penetrates the walls of the house.  It's barely warm enough to open a window, but the melodious notes implore a listener to do this very thing.  On a gentle breeze blowing through the now opened window, it's a soul-soothing concert free to all who can hear.

For the past several days in the early morning hours, a single bird sings with piercing sweetness.  Not only does this bird and its companion species provide us with songs but they are essential to Earth's ecology.  Their physical characteristics, habits and habitats are varied and fascinating.  The Big Book of Birds (Thames & Hudson, June 4, 2019) is the fourth book in an engaging series written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer.  It is as captivating as The Big Book of Bugs, The Big Book of Beasts and The Big Book of the Blue.

Can you find . . .
. . .exactly the same egg
15 times in this book?
Watch out for imposters.

With these words, readers are challenged and eager to turn the next page.  We are greeted with a phrase

WHO'S INSIDE?

asking us to look at the titles for the twenty-six, two-page chapters.  To begin birds are grouped into seven families based on their features, abilities in hunting, the strength of their senses, places of residence, and navigation techniques.  We are then acquainted with best practices in observing birds; most important is to remember we are visitors in their realms.

Five short sections advise us on facts about feathers.  Do you know birds share the same protein as humans for our hair and nails in the composition of their feathers?  Migration is addressed disclosing the number of birds who do this annually, how they know when to go, the time of day they prefer to move, how they align themselves with the Earth's magnetic field and what some birds do if they can't fly.

Throughout the title along with more general topics, focus turns to specific birds.  The first bird discussed is the Great Gray Owl.  Of its many distinctive physical capabilities it has an astonishing range of vision.  While you might know why flamingos are pink (their food), it's certain you are unaware how they keep cool.  It's not by standing in water.  Kingfishers tend to swallow their fish whole, head first.

Birds unable to fly make up for this by being fast runners, or hiding underground.  The speed at which an emu can run is unbelievable.  You won't find secretary birds working for or with anyone, but you will notice them for their crest, their height and their consumption of snakes.  Guess which bird can fly as high as nearly seven Empire State Buildings stacked top to bottom?  Although puffins are speedy flyers, their landings leave a lot to be desired.  Look out!

We learn about architectural nests, eggs and hatching, beaks and feeding, bird calls and songs, city birds and how we can make our gardens more bird friendly.  Interspersed among these chapters are facts about the albatross, hummingbirds, peacocks, robins, swans, hoopoes and red-crowned cranes.  Which one rids itself of the salt in water through a hole above its eye?  Which one has to eat seven times in an hour?  Or which one puts its nest on a platform of weeds?  With each chapter, like layers forming a beautiful whole, our respect and fascination with these winged wonders grows.


As in the three previous titles, Yuval Zommer has a masterful knack for selecting those facts sure to entertain and educate readers.  Within the more common traits of a bird, he points out those things which distinguishes it from other birds.  You will constantly and consistently find yourself surprised at what you don't know but glad you now know.  The format of presenting a question at the beginning of each chapter allows Yuval Zommer to supply appropriate and easily understood answers.  Readers will also get a feel for the sense of humor he has in the section headings.  Here are some passages.

Magnetic attraction
A bird finds its way by spotting familiar
mountains and rivers along the way.  It also looks
at where the sun and stars are in the sky.  Birds 
can even sense the magnetic fields in the Earth
to work out which way is north.

Turn that frown upside down
A parrot has a top bill that curves downwards
and a bottom bill that curves upwards.  Parrots
like the scarlet macaw look happy all the time!

Cozy commute
A city is often 9 (degrees F) warmer than the
surrounding countryside.  Millions of
starlings fly into London every night
to get a toasty night's sleep.


When you open the book case an array of birds, their feathers and their activities are depicted among the title text and framing a blurb to the left on the back.  The realistic, colorful birds and the white text on green (wonderful design choice) are varnished to further attract readers' attentions.  Most notable here and within the body of the book are the birds' eyes.  They are either looking at us; as if they are as curious about us as we are about them or both eyes are focused on a specific element in the visual.

On the opening and closing endpapers, in a swirl of light, white clouds on a pale blue sky, are circles indicative of wind patterns.  On the first scene cranes are flying from the lower, left-hand corner.  At the conclusion they are flying off the upper, right-hand corner.  This background pattern is continued on the initial title page with more birds flying.  On the formal title page, birds on the ground among plants and birds in trees provide a border for the text with the exception of the flamingo hanging from the top of the page.

The whimsical, intricately detailed artwork of Yuval Zommer is highly appealing.  The birds are showcased in an attractive manner.  As you would expect for the Bird Family Tree chapter, a large tree supplies perches for most of the birds.  This page and three others are displayed vertically.  Feathers cascade behind birds in flight for Feathers And Flying.  A variety of sea scenes highlight the chapter on Albatrosses.

With each section image are other stories.  Insects, amphibians and reptiles roam among the birds and their habitats.  Who sailed the boat into the puffin picture?  Why is all the plastic debris in one of the ocean illustrations?  Do you think a courageous cat prowling on a rooftop will get the bird?  Background colors are altered due to habitat but also to generate interest.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the chapter Birds On The Move.  It's a night scene probably early when the sky is first darkening.  Only a few stars are showing; it's a full moon night.  The moon is placed in the upper, right-hand corner of this double-page picture. (All the illustrations are double-page pictures.)  Clouds, in shades of white and gray are on the far left; one drops rain.  Cranes soar across the top from left to right.  Beneath them, two lines of smaller birds fly.  A small cloud under them has snowflakes falling.  A final line of birds travels in an arcing line from left to right.  All of this is above a series of mountains with a river between them.  In the lower, right-hand corner a group of emus are walking the first steps of their 300-mile journey.  The perspectives on this page are wonderful.


For science-loving folk, bird watchers or anyone who likes to learn at least one, but probably more, new thing every day, The Big Book of Birds written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer is an excellent choice.  Barbara Taylor acts as a consultant for Yuval Zommer in this title.  At the close of the book thumbnails of the chapters highlighting the hidden egg are provided.  After this six words are defined for those wanting to further improve their bird knowledge.  A complete index closes out the book.

To learn more about Yuval Zommer and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access a website.  Yuval Zommer has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  You can read more about Yuval Zommer through interviews at Acorn Books and The Children's Book Review.






Please take a few moments to view the titles selected this week by participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Royal Ritual Interrupted

One of the more popular and proper forms of social engagement is the act of sharing a cup of hot tea or a glass of ice-cold tea.  Depending on status and customs there are any number of rituals to observe.  They range from the type of tea served, the making of the tea, the time of day when it is presented, the appropriate cups, glasses, mugs or receptacles, and to whether any other forms of refreshment will accompany the tea.

If the invitation to attend a tea comes from royalty, certainly the atmosphere and practices are more formal.  Never Trumpet with a Crumpet (Boyds Mills Press, an imprint of Highlights, May 14, 2019) written by Amy Gibson with illustrations by Jenn Harney is a rhyming reflection replete with hilarious images on exactly what can go wrong (or right).  This noble household will never be the same.

NOW IF PERCHANCE HER MAJESTY
so happens to ask you to tea,
it's time to press your Sunday best.
She'll put your manners to the test.  

The manners referenced in these first lyrical sentences are those of a collection of animals, numbering at least sixteen, gathered at the palace.  Their entrance receives mixed receptions.  The Queen and her pooch, Duke, are slightly horrified.  The young Prince is thrilled.  For the moment decorum is being followed.

As the narrative dictates behavior as to posture and patience, natural instincts of the creatures are replacing etiquette.  Although, to be fair, the magic-manner words of please and thank you have, at least, frozen any ill-timed behavior.  This is, of course, short-lived.  It's hard for an orangutan not to lap up tea or a moose not to inhale cookies.  The use of silverware is abandoned.

When the elephant trumpets when eating crumpets, all sense of propriety is gone.  Eating habits observed in polite society are non-existent.  There are no dainty bites.  How is it possible to chew your food when survival is as natural as sunrise and sunset?

When the guests are asked to quell their activities, the ruckus roars louder and louder.  This is indeed a tea party of preposterous pandemonium.  Yet, with their hunger and thirst, satisfied the animals do what animals do.  And what does the Queen, Prince and Duke do?  You'll have no clue.


The idea of a group of animals responding to a royal invitation to a tea party is brimming with possibilities, possibilities for loads of laughter.  This is accomplished through the adept writing of Amy Gibson.  Her story told in four-line verses with lines one and two and three and four rhyming poses proper courtesies adapted for the guests.  As the gala progresses, though, the entreaties become more outlandish.  It's not often you implore your company with these words:

No swinging from the chandelier

Here is a passage.

Oh, do sit still. Refrain from spills.
Mind your antlers.  Watch your quills.

No reaching, grabbing---mercy me!---
however long your tongue may be.


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case the image extends over the spin with the canvas colors spanning to the flap edges.  On the front we are aware of the hilarity we will find within the body of the book.  The Prince is highly entertained by the crumpet-throwing elephant.  Duke is more than willing to open wide for the treat.

What readers cannot see to the left, on the back, is the Queen seated at the end of the table.  She is gazing warily at the elephant behind her.  Somehow this tea party is not going as planned.  A golden yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.

The illustrative interpretation by Jenn Harney begins prior to the verso and title pages.  We see the Queen grandly carrying the invitation on a tray, walking to the left.  A brisk breeze carries it outside along a grand fence where a trunk lifts and snatches it out of the air.  The next double-page picture features the grand hall set for the tea party.  A grumpy Prince waits as his mother gracefully enters.

Each double-page picture is highly animated and brimming with comedic details.  There are a multitude of stories within this story.  Readers will quickly notice the raccoon has a tendency at thievery, the python seems to have an appetite for more than the offered food and the Queen is headed for a prickly disaster and a loss of her added coiffure.  The facial features and body postures of all the characters are uproariously funny.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations shows readers an angle of the table covered with an assortment of desserts.  On the left all we can see of the giraffe is its long neck wrapped with a napkin.  Next to it is the Prince smiling up at a very large grinning bear.  The raccoon hiding behind a tray piled high with food is stealing the crown off the head of Duke, the dog.  On the ride side of the gutter a seal is balancing a cup full of sugar cubes with the opossum hanging overhead and removing them to place in its pouch.  The Queen looking decidedly uneasy is pouring tea into the open mouth of the hippo.  One of the squirrels watches from its perch on the mouth of the hippo.


According to past practice there may be a specific way to attend and enjoy a royal tea party but after reading this book, Never Trumpet with a Crumpet written by Amy Gibson with illustrations by Jenn Harney, no one will remember what that is.  If you want a laugh-out-loud story time pair this joyful title with Tea Rex written and illustrated by Molly Idle, Tea Party Rules written by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by K. G. Campbell, and How to Behave at a Tea Party written by Madelyn Rosenberg with illustrations by Heather Ross.  This is one title you'll want to have on your professional and personal bookshelves when portraying how manners out of control can be the most fun . . . for everyone.

To learn more about Amy Gibson and Jenn Harney and their other work, please access their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Amy Gibson has an account on Twitter. Jenn Harney has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At Penguin Random House you are given a tiny hint of interior pages.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Looking But Not Seeing

More times than not when taking my canine companion outside for the last time late at night, she'll stop and stare off into the darkness several times.  What she hears or smells or even sees is beyond my human sensory comprehension.  It does cause me to hesitate.  The actual circumstances in those moments and those imagined are probably two entirely different things.  Under a darkened sky with only the light of stars and a moon in varying phases, a different world awakens.

It is in this realm, ripe with possibilities, a creator's gifts will thrive.  Sign Off (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, May 7, 2019) conceived and illustrated by Stephen Savage draws our attention to those objects we look at every day.  He asks us to see opportunities.  In this wordless book he takes us into the night on a journey guaranteed to stay in our collective memories.

Prior to the image we see on the front of the cover, along a roadway bordered by a white fence, the watch-out-for-deer sign is posted under a tree.  With a page turn the deer is standing on its back legs and eating the overhead leaves of the tree.  What would happen if a vehicle came down the road?  Would it need to be totally deserted on this road for the deer to change position and consume the leaves?  These are the sort of questions you will continually be thinking throughout the book.

Near a working farm, the sign showing a rider on a tractor is posted. The deed of the driver is unexpected.  A vehicle is parked in a handicapped spot as evidenced by the sign.  You won't believe what happens next.

As each familiar sign first appears and is followed by the action taken by the sign's occupant, we are repeatedly surprised by the extent of their accomplishment and ingenuity.  There is an architectural wonder and a proclamation of affection.  It's like a gathering of short, short stories.  Then the silent narrative shifts; a rhythm is replaced.

We start to follow the movements of one particular person from page to page.  Others follow.  They are joined by more.  Where are all these individuals going?  It's at the final sign readers will be initially puzzled.  (There is a clue quietly being given.)  A group effort sheds light.


Each time you read this book, in addition to the questions it creates about the narrative, you wonder how author/illustrator Stephen Savage thought of having the images on signs come to life.  The brilliance in this story is that not only do they leave their signs, but a much larger tale is in the making.  It's absolutely unexpected which will leave readers smiling in astonishment.


The limited color palette shown on the front of the book case continues throughout the book.  It's nighttime so shades of blue, purple, green, gray and yellow, black and white along with spots of orange, brown, red and pink are used.  For pure dramatic effect the little bits of color become larger, calling our attention to big changes in the pacing and the narrative.

To the left of the opened book case, on the back, is an interior scene from the story.  It is joined by several questions which request readers to speculate about a larger perspective this narrative takes.  On the opening endpapers we are greeted with the verso and title pages.  On the closing endpapers everything appears normal, but now we are privy to the "real" story of signs at night.

Each image spans two pages.  Point of view alters to generate pacing and build anticipation.  The layout and design are a connected series of contrasts and marvelous revelations.  It is in this simplicity in each scene, the few elements, a larger magic is supplied.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when the sign for the worker shoveling next to a pile of dirt becomes animated on the next page.  The pile of dirt is on the other side of the road opposite a home.  The orange sign is now empty of the worker.  He is standing next to the pile of dirt.  He is holding the shovel, point down to the ground with one leg crossed behind the other in a position of rest.  Out of the pile of dirt a castle has been fashioned.


As Sign Off conceived and illustrated by Stephen Savage is read it's hard not to inwardly or outwardly utter an exclamation of amazement.  We are captivated by the exploits of the signs' occupants but when they begin to gather together, it will be several pages before we start to understand.  This conclusion has a definite "wow" factor.  There are numerous opportunities for reader interaction.  What will the sign's occupant(s) do when the page is turned?  What other signs could be used?  What other things might signs' inhabitants do together?  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Stephen Savage and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Stephen Savage has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.  Stephen is interviewed at Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Fluttering Away

Elusive butterflies are associated with chasing happiness; they and it may gracefully and unexpectedly arrive when we quietly sit.  Butterflies are historically symbolic in numerous cultures.  For many they are viewed as souls in flight.  Their life stages represent distinctive changes in following the Christian faith.  For scores of other people butterflies are simply insects of exquisite beauty that move in and out of their field of vision.

Recently heard on television, a character stated butterflies in your stomach means you care deeply about something or someone.  Everyone has experienced this sensation.  Butterflies On The First Day of School (Sterling Children's Books, May 7, 2019) written by Annie Silvestro with illustrations by Dream Chen depicts with beautiful insight in words and pictures, the fluttery feeling we get in our stomachs when faced with something momentous.

A month before school, Rosie picked out her very first backpack.

It was decorated with flowers.  She adored it, wearing it around the house.  Rosie made sure she knew how to raise her hand when necessary.  She wrote her ABCs over and over.  She said her teacher's name.  She was excited for her first day of school until the night before that day.  Worry settled inside her.

In the morning, Rosie spoke to her mother and father about her reluctance to go.  Her mother told her

"You just have butterflies in your belly."

Before Rosie could ask for an explanation the school bus pulled into view.

On the bus ride to school, three butterflies flew out of Rosie's mouth when she spoke to a new friend.  No one but Rosie saw them.  On the circle rug in the kindergarten room when it was Rosie's turn to introduce herself, the butterflies moved around inside her until she bravely stood up and spoke.  More butterflies left Rosie's belly then and as she worked and played in her classroom.

During recess Rosie noticed a little girl standing alone.  Another friendship formed as a child looked in amazement at a new sight.  At the end of the day, running from the bus into her mother's loving embrace, an affectionate surprise fluttered upward.


When we meet Rosie through the chosen words of Annie Silvestro we are drawn to her charming personality as evidenced by her warmth toward her sister and parents.   We feel a bond with her at her reluctance to go to school.  Why else wouldn't she eat chocolate-chip pancakes?

It's that first connection on the school bus when Violet speaks to her and she responds that a butterfly flies out of her mouth.  This is a wonderful moment for Rosie and for readers as a correlation is made.  We are willing participants in this story as Annie Silvestro adds depth and humor with dialogue. Here are two passages.

The words tumbled out on two silver butterflies.
Rosie watched them flutter down the aisle.
Violet didn't seem to notice. (on the school bus)

Violet went next.
"I'm allergic to dogs," she said.  "And sometimes
to my brother, Alex."  (in the classroom)


A collection of complementary colors captures our attention of the front of the dust jacket (I'm using an F & G for this blog post.) We wonder along with the little girl at the splendor spread above her.  To the left, on the back, on a continuation of the dark cream background, Rosie is featured with the family dog and cat.  She is smiling as a butterfly soars over them.  A passage from the book is above this illustration.

On the opening endpapers what appears to be a collage created by artist Dream Chen spans the two pages.  It's a pattern of yellow and golden flowers, clusters of red berries (replicated on Rosie's first-day clothing) and tiny-leaved green stems.  At the back on the closing endpapers, butterflies in hues of blue, red and yellow fly from the bottom to the top.

Most of the illustrations are placed on a crisp white canvas with generous borders of white, illuminating the bright color palette.  Image sizes vary from full-page pictures to several visuals on a page to larger double-page illustrations in the classroom.  The children are fully animated and fully engaged in conversations and activities. 

One of my many favorite illustrations shows the interior of the school bus.  In the first of four seats in green, Rosie and Violet sit.  The students behind them are laughing and chatting with the exception of one student.  It's Isabella, who we meet later. (It's interesting how she is shown in illustrations until Rosie notices her on the playground at recess.)  Sunlight streams in through the windows making rectangles on the floor of the bus.  Two butterflies float away from Rosie.


Butterflies On The First Day of School written by Annie Silvestro with illustrations by Dream Chen is an absolutely precious title for sharing with students attending school on that first day whether they are in kindergarten or older.  I adore the clever use of butterflies in the stomach and how they fly away as calm settles over Rosie and her new nervous friend.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.  For reading aloud with a group you might want to consider using a flying butterfly surprise which you can wind-up and place inside the book. 

To learn more about Annie Silvestro and Dream Chen and their other work, please access their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Annie Silvestro has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Dream Chen has an account on Instagram as well as a blog on Tumblr.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Nothing Ordinary About This Porcine

Great storytelling takes the ordinary and places it with the extraordinary.  It shocks us.  It captivates us.  It endears us to the characters and their narratives.  Some elements in these marvelous tales are so powerful and positive, they leave a permanent mark on our lives. We seek those elements when we wish to recreate those remarkable moments.

Since the summer of 2005 a very special pig and the characters surrounding her have entertained readers. It all begins with Mercy Watson to the Rescue (Candlewick Press, August 23, 2005) written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen. It is followed by five more titles featuring this pig and her signature activities.  To the delight of readers another series showcasing other characters, Tales of Deckawoo Drive, starts with Leroy Ninker Saddles Up (Candlewick Press, August 26, 2014).  To date the last book in this series is Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package (Candlewick Press, October 10, 2017). While fans of these books believe nothing can possibly get better, something wonderful happens.  A Piglet Named Mercy (Candlewick Press, April 2, 2019) written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen tells about the arrival of Mercy as a tiny pig on Deckawoo Drive.

Mr. Watson and Mrs. Watson lived
in a house on Deckawoo Drive.

There is nothing about Deckawoo Drive or the town it runs through which is anything but typical.  Each and every day, Mr. Watson and Mrs. Watson engage in pursuits one would say are perfectly normal.  In fact, their lives are so routine, Mrs. Watson brings it to the attention of Mr. Watson.  Mr. Watson dismisses her desire for something out of the ordinary.  Why would anyone want to change that which is familiar?

Unbeknownst to Mr. Watson and Mrs. Watson, that evening something does change.  A truckload of pigs passes through town.  One of the pigs, a baby really, falls off that vehicle as it races down the street.  This tiny tot wanders to the porch of the Watsons' home.

In the morning the discovery of the piglet causes a host of surprises; Mr. Watson is only expecting to find his morning newspaper, Mrs. Watson can hardly contain her excitement and their next-door neighbor, Eugenia Lincoln is appalled.  Her sister, Baby Lincoln, is ready and willing to assist Mrs. Watson by offering a bottle of warm milk.  Inside their home, Mrs. Watson and Mr. Watson are beaming with happiness at the piglet, now wrapped in a blanket.  When the Lincoln sisters arrive with the bottle of milk, no one is happier than the piglet. Oink!  Does the milk fill up the hungry infant?  No!

Racing from one position to another the piglet discovers something even better than milk.  It brings her supreme comfort and contentment.  In the midst of cooing and commentary, a name (of which we are most acquainted) is given to the piglet much to the total annoyance of Eugenia.  And the rest, dear readers, is more than a decade of delight delivered to us with love and about love.


Even if you've never met Mr. Watson, Mrs. Watson or Mercy, as soon as you read or hear the words Deckawoo Drive and ordinary repeated twice in the first two sentences by author Kate DiCamillo, you can already feel excitement building.  In the next sentence the repetition continues adding to the promise of extraordinary circumstances.

Kate DiCamillo further enhances the narrative with conversations between Mrs. Watson and Mr. Watson.  When Eugenia and Baby Lincoln join these conversations, the comedy increases between the contrast of the bliss of the majority and the incredulity of one.  Here is a passage.

"Is that a pig?" said Eugenia Lincoln.
Eugenia Lincoln lived next door, and she
did not approve of surprises.  Or pigs.

"It is!" said Mrs. Watson.  "Can you believe our luck?"

"Don't be ridiculous," said Eugenia Lincoln.
"A pig is not lucky at all."


Rendered in gouache the lively illustrations of Chris Van Dusen as seen on the open dust jacket (and throughout the book) bring us immediately into the Watsons' home with the large black and white tile floors and contrasting yellow-striped wallpaper.  There is no possible way to resist learning more about the grinning piglet seated on the chair.  To the left, on the back, the flooring and wallpaper continue on the other side of the bright red spine.  Set in a scallop-edged white frame, we see the final image in the book.  It gives us a hint of the affection growing between the Watsons and Mercy and of the merry mayhem likely to occur.  Mercy, the piglet, seated in a green highchair is sure to produce plenty of laughter.

On the book case covered in the yellow-striped wallpaper with a wide, red cloth spine, we see piglet Mercy kneeling eagerly in front of a stack of her favorite food.  Steam rises from the top.  The opening and closing endpapers are done in a tiny, two-toned blue diamond pattern.  With a page turn the piglet appears, snout raised and looking expectantly to the right.  Perhaps she sees the small image on the verso page.  On the title page baby Mercy rests on a plump green pillow edged in yellow.

The bright, precise illustrations pair with perfection to the text.  Opposite a full-page picture text is bordered in yellow on white.  Circular and oval visuals follow with elements breaking the framing.  For pure dramatic effect a double-page picture highlights the piglet's nighttime fall and her location of the Watsons' home.  There is a rhythm to the image sizes, alternating between single page pictures, double-page illustrations and smaller visuals on a single page.  The facial features on all the characters contribute to the comedy.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  In the kitchen Mrs. Watson and Baby Lincoln have encircled Mr. Watson.  He is cuddling Mercy in his arms after she has devoured her new best-loved food.  They all look at her with adoration in their eyes as they give her a name.  Behind them stands Eugenia Lincoln with her back to them and us.  Her hands are on either side of her blue hair, possibly ready to pull on it, in utter irritation.  She is framed in white and facing the Lincoln home.


For fans of these books or readers new to Mercy Watson, there is no more charming explanation of her initial appearance on Deckawoo Drive than depicted in A Piglet Named Mercy written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen.  This book is not only about meeting Mercy but also those people who love her the most and of course, grumpy Eugenia Lincoln, too.  You will certainly want this book or two or three in your professional collections and one for you, too, in your personal collection.

To learn and discover more about Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Kate DiCamillo has another website located here.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image.  Here is an activity kit.  There is a separate Mercy Watson website.  At Penguin Random House there are more interior images.  Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen are featured with interviews about this book at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. Readers will appreciate this interview of Kate DiCamillo at Read Brightly.  Chris Van Dusen chats about this book with teacher librarian and author Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes and with teacher librarian and author Carter Higgins at Design Of The Picture Book.