Quote of the Month

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




Monday, January 26, 2015

Keep Looking

Nearly forty years ago I found myself exploring the Jordan River (Michigan) when canoeing with friends.  This vantage point, being in the valley and on the water, was breathtaking.  To fully experience the vastness of this 18,000 acre block of state-owned forest land a drive down one of the nearby county roads, cruising up hills and down again and winding around corners, provides you with stunning vistas.  On a clear day with the sun at the right height the hues of red, gold and orange in autumn are stunning.  In the winter months all the bare branches look like a border of black lace between the ground and sky.  As the days get warmer and longer hints of green begin appearing until, seemingly overnight a variety of shades spreads throughout the trees like delicate filigree.

Fairly early I learned not to wish my life away but the waiting between seasons, knowing the beauty each one brings, is never easy.  In Carin Berger's latest title, Finding Spring (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, January 27, 2015) a cub can't wait to experience this change.  Curiosity leads him on a merry chase.

The forest was growing cold.
Mama said that soon it would be time to sleep,
but all Maurice could think about was his first spring. 

He makes a melody of the word, singing as they follow the path through the woods. Maurice wants spring more than he wants to sleep. Mama softly speaks to him before she drifts into slumber.

Wrapped in his red scarf Maurice ventures outside to find spring.  All his forest friends are busy getting ready for winter.  Squirrel, rabbit, deer and robin each advise him to wait as they bury, dash, eat or fly.  Fueled by the eagerness of his age he keeps on walking but he begins to sense something unfamiliar.

This newness must be spring. First one than another of those frosty flowers, no two alike, touch Maurice before quickly disappearing.  Racing after them through the woods and over an ice-covered stream to stand on the Great Hill, he is very nearly speechless at the spectacle before him.  He breaks into song.

Taking off his scarf he tucks some spring inside. Returning to their cozy den, he sleeps contentedly next to Mama.  Maybe because he got a late start, Maurice is the last to wake up.  His collected proof has vanished.  With maternal wisdom, Mama asks the right question.


With her words Carin Berger brings readers into a story soothing but sprightly in tone.  She blends a world coming to rest with a little bear ready for adventure.  Eloquent descriptions of place and Maurice's experiences make us feel as though we are there with him.  Here are two sample passages.

"I am looking for spring,"
Maurice told Squirrel.
"That might take a while,"
Squirrel chittered,
turning to bury
a large acorn.

The woods 
smelled musky,
and there was 
something new
and tangy
in the air.


The rolling hills dotted with flowers extend flap edge to flap edge on the dust jacket (working from an F & G). Carin Berger portrays the flowers spinning in the air above Maurice's head to replicate his observations of winter.  On the left (back) of the jacket on the creamy background we read

Spring is all a little bear
named Maurice
can think about.
Where is it?
What is it?
When will it arrive?


On the opening and closing endpapers Berger uses old-looking dark tan lined paper with the lines running vertically.  A single path of tiny seeds blowing in the wind twirls from edge to edge along the upper half.  (On the verso at the back we see from where the seeds come.) Maurice is running along past a patch of grass and flowers placed under the text on the title page.

Using cut-paper collages made

using ephemera, such as catalogues, old books, receipts, letters, and ticket stubs

Carin Berger fashions a world of gentle, playful wonder using a full color palette leaning toward more natural colors.  Fine lines, exquisite detail and marvelous points of view invite readers to look at each illustration carefully.  Image sizes span across two pages or several smaller visuals may be grouped together to match the rhythm of the text.  The articles of clothing worn by the forest animals add to the overall whimsy.  Matte-finished paper lends itself beautifully to the overall softness of the narrative.

One of my favorite pictures of many is a single page.  We are looking down at Maurice as he stands between two trees.  Berger has cut out dainty branches in circular shapes.  A single small snowflake is touching the tip of Maurice's nose.  The text arcs around the top of the bottom tree.  This announces a shift in the story line.

With every reading of Finding Spring written and illustrated by Carin Berger the story becomes more endearing.  It reminds us we might find something special and beautiful when looking for something else.  It reminds us to enjoy every single day of the present while anticipating the future.  Everything about the illustrations, the texture, the blend of light and shadow, colors, intricate elements and layout, is remarkable.

To discover more about Carin Berger and her work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Julie Danielson, author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, features her in an interview at Kirkus.  Artwork will follow on her blog this week.  She also talked with Carin Berger last year at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast about this title.  There are several illustrations about the process in making the art for this book.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Then And Now

In fifty-six days the spring equinox will arrive in northern Michigan.  On most days slower walks and careful eyes will reward you with signs of life in the snow, deer and rabbit tracks, and zig-zag lines just under the top of a small animal moving from one place to another.  By holding branches on shrubs and trees, tiny buds are seen waiting for a chance to alter their appearance.  On milder nights a whiff of skunk in the air reminds you to be wary.  The end of the long pause is getting closer.

The shift of winter to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall and fall back to winter year after year are a promise of what will come.  Expectations are measured by what we know.  French artists Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Aregui have designed and published a unique look at change in their title Before After (Candlewick, October 14, 2014).


Without a single word we wander through the pages and wonder about the differences time brings to animate and inanimate things.  The first two pages show us, left to right, a moon surrounded by stars and a constellation in a black sky followed by a pale sky blue with a fiery sun in the center.  A bud on a green stem reveals a daisy in full bloom.  These concepts are easy to understand.

The birth of a jungle near a towering mountain and the building of a city across an empty skyline have a common element in the next two images.  Can you guess what it might be?  A caterpillar consumes a leaf but a page turn has the same caterpillar in a new spot flying away as a butterfly.  Two separate shifts sharing something in common.

A single word, rocket, depending on the definition, can have dissimilar results.  Our mind is taken from items needed to bake a cake, to the origin of the item, to the presentation, representation, of this point of origin and back to a single slice left of the cake.  A series of pages take us through the seasons in obvious and unusual approaches.

The passage of time, the introduction of heat, and the effects of weather are depicted with normalcy and drama; fishing through the ice and fishing from a boat and a ship caught in a storm ending up beneath the waves on the bottom of the sea.  Sheep wandering among the hills produce yarn but hands holding needles knit a hat made from yarn.  A scene in a wintry forest with an axe stuck in wood becomes a crackling blaze inside a fireplace.

Exploration of thought processes goes from octopus to a volcanic mountain island in twelve pages.  Vision is given to building something and how it is broken.  A more essential form of light is lost but inventions change how light is delivered in homes.

Like the caterpillar, a chameleon is shown with instinctive skills but also as an agent causing loss of life.  Pages representing a well-known fairy tale rely on the familiar.  Eight illustrations on twelve pages close the book much as our day closes taking us back to the beginning.


The variety of viewpoints conceived by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Aregui cover a wide range but a connective thread runs through all the pages.  Their presentation of what we know is stretched asking us to look deeper.  Their visual interpretation of time is classic but refreshing in the combinations.

The book case when opened asks us to take the usual and flip it around.  On the back the acorn, caterpillar and chicken are beneath the tree, butterfly and egg. The endpapers are also opposite; the opening pages, left to right, are black and white.  At the end we see white, then black.  To the left of the title page, the verso holds a picture of an hourglass nearly full.  On the final page it is empty; all the sand rests on the bottom.

Rendered digitally all the pictures captivate readers with a design which moves our eyes from left to right in an easy flow.  Ramstein and Aregui, for the most part, use single pages to contain their images but nineteen visuals span two pages for more impact asking us to stop before the next illustration. A full color palette on heavy matte-finished paper invites repeated readings.

Several of my favorite illustrative combinations are the chimney for the fireplace on the following page showing smoke coming out during a snow storm with a stork safely nesting on the top in the spring.  The humor of the duo comes through in the four pages where we view an egg, a chicken, then a chicken and an egg.  The woodland scene near a pond during daylight and then at night is lovely; a prelude to the end of a day and the end of the book.


Before After created by artists Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Aregui is a fascinating look at the minutes, hours, days, week, months and years of our lives portrayed by inviting us to alter our perceptions.  The possibilities for use in the classroom are only limited by your imagination; discussions and opportunities for creativity.  As I read this over and over I kept thinking about how these two planned out the pages; what lead them to go from one concept to the next.  You could pair this title with Tomorrow's Alphabet written by George Shannon with illustrations by Donald Crews.

The websites for Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Aregui can be accessed by following the links embedded in their names.  They appear in French but can be translated.  At Matthias Aregui's site there are fifteen double page spreads from the interior of the book.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

On The Inside

Labels are helpful when wanting to know the ingredients in a particular food product, how often to take a specific medicine, or the needed number of applications for a foolproof fertilizer for the lawn and garden.  These labels are designed to inform and protect. When labels are given to people rather than things their value diminishes.  

Even if the label for someone is good, it might tend to stop us from truly knowing them.  If we are told over and over we are one thing, it might be hard to uncover who we are and how best to use our gifts.  Red: A Crayon's Story (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, February 3, 2015) written and illustrated by Michael Hall follows a crayon's journey to self-discovery.

He was red

So says pencil, chief narrator of this tale.  For reasons obvious to the reader or listener Red lacks the ability to be as the paper wrap suggests he should be.  Everything he draws is blue.

His teacher believes practice is the answer.  His strawberries look like weird-shaped blueberries.  His mother tries her best by encouraging Red to mix with others like Yellow.  She is hoping to see a nice orange orange.  It's not quite ripe yet.

Silver and Gray, Red's grandparents, make him a gift of a scarf to ward off the chill they are certain he is feeling.  It's going to take more than apparel to make this crayon red.  It seems every crayon in the box has an opinion but nothing seems to work.  Even when other members of the art table, tape, scissors and a sharpener, get involved the result is the same.  What Red reads is not what Red sees.

But...on a very special day, a day Red will always remember, a new pal in the pack, Berry, asks Red to color the ocean beneath the boat.  Red denies he can do it because he is red after all but with Berry's encouragement Red draws wavy water.  And it's blue.  And it's easy for Red to do!

Red can't stop now; everything he creates is correctly colored.  Pencil and the box crowd change their words as fast as a finger snap.  His teacher finally understands uttering a prophetic truth.


With those first three words Michael Hall captures our undivided attention; conflicting with the image seen, a bright blue crayon wrapped in a Red crayon label.  With nearly all the narrative phrases he includes comments from another crayon or group of crayons adding an emotional layer to his story.  These candid observations readily define their personalities.  Here is a sample combination.

His mother thought he needed
to mix with other colors.

Why don't
you two
go out
and draw
a nice,
round
orange.

A really
big one. (Yellow)

A really
orange
one! (Red)


Opening the dust jacket of the F & G the solid blue on the front carries across to the left and extends into each flap.  The comments of the orange and yellow crayons at the bottom on the front announce the contrast between the color and the color tag.  On the back the berry and purple crayons make comments foreshadowing the story's outcome.  The blue used in Red on the front is used again on the title page.  A stark white background provides a canvas for the pencil's words

As told by me!

 written in gray on black paper taped to the page.  In the lower left corner a portion of scissors can be seen near scraps of black paper.  This is clearly a story told by items of interest to artists.

The illustrations are placed on either a black or white background with lots of empty space drawing readers' eyes toward the individual elements and the text.  All drawings made by Red, Scarlet, Yellow, the other students in class, and Berry look as if they have been drawn using crayons.  Simple but purposeful in layout, the perspective does not shift except at the explicit turning point.

One of my favorite illustrations is for the phrase

But he didn't catch on.

Green draws a

Green frog!

Black draws a

Black sheep!

 Brown draws a

Brown cow! 

Red draws an ant that is blue.  For his text we read...

Red...
aaack!


If you've ever felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, Red:  A Crayon's Story written and illustrated by Michael Hall is a perfect pick.  It's a story highlighting the journey necessary to find your true self.  It's about that one person who might help you make the discovery.  This is a story when shared will be appreciated by any age.  Wonderful!

If you are interested in learning about Michael Hall and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  This link takes you to the book trailer reveal by author, New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collection Specialist and blogger at A Fuse #8 Production, Elizabeth Bird.  My posts for his other titles, Perfect Square and It's An Orange Aardvark can be read by following the links.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Portrait Of A Prodigy

Sitting among other musicians as sounds swirl around you and feeling the beat deep in your bones is one of the finest things in the world.  Our band director was a master at bringing the best out in all of us.  Memories of practicing and performing with classmates for more than six years are lasting for all the right reasons.

In the beginning it is not always easy to perfect your musical abilities but for some their special gifts shine at an early age.  It's as if the rhythms of the world are calling to them.  Little Melba and Her BIG TROMBONE (Lee & Low Books Inc., September 1, 2014) written by Katheryn Russell-Brown with illustrations by Frank Morrison is an uplifting tribute to the life and work of an extraordinary instrumentalist and composer.

SPREAD THE WORD! Little Melba Doretta Liston was something special.

From the time of her birth, 1926, and

as far back as her memory would go,

Melba was surrounded by music; raised in an era and home thriving on beautiful beats.  As early as seven years old she knew she wanted to study this in class at school.  Looking for an instrument to play, a trombone caught her eye.  Her mother simply could not say no.

Her grandfather, a guitarist himself, gave her pointers and encouragement.  There was no bedtime for Melba the first night she owned her trombone.  She worked and worked until an easy melody could be heard.  And she kept right on practicing.

Within a year her talent was noticed by a local radio station; her horn's sounds broadcast over the airwaves.  The effects of the Great Depression caused Melba and Momma Lucille to move from Kansas City to Los Angles.  Changes were coming to eleven-year-old Melba.  Her intelligence was noted moving her up two grade levels.

By the time she was in high school her abilities as a trombonist were superior to all others her age.  Her skills as a player continued to grow as did her accomplishments at composition.  At seventeen she left home to begin playing with a band led by Gerald Wilson on tour in the United States.  She toured in another band with Billie Holiday through the south.  When tough times came, the tunes helped to sustain her.

Even when she wasn't sure, people were certain they wanted to hear the sound this remarkable woman made with her trombone.  They wanted to play the music she created.  Her notes were heard then and now around the world.


The first thing you notice when reading the words penned by Katheryn Russell-Brown in this title is the passion; passion she has for Melba Liston and the passion Melba Liston had for music.  Specific details reveal Russell-Brown's  meticulous research.  She is as much a composer as Liston using word choices rather than notes to supply a tempo throughout her text.  Beginning and ending her narrative with the same sentence is further evidence.  Here is a sample passage.

Traveling with the band was a thrill.  Each city, from Salt Lake to New York, was an eyeful of something new.

Melba became a master musician.  She composed and arranged music, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs.  And when Melba played the trombone, her bold notes and one-of-a-kind sound mesmerized the crowd. 


When you look at the matching dust jacket and book case painted by artist Frank Morrison you immediately want to know who this girl is playing an instrument bigger than she is.  Her happiness revealed by her body posture very nearly sings off the page.  On the left, back, is the complementary color purple with only the trombone and a quote from Melba Liston about her first trombone.  The golden hue on the opening and closing endpapers appears frequently on other images.  In fact all the illustrations painted in oil by Frank Morrison seem to glow.

The layout and design of Morrison's art is marvelous, shifting from two-page pictures with framed text, to visuals crossing the border to make a column on the left or right for the narrative, edge to edge double-page illustrations with embedded text, framed smaller images on a page with text above and below and full page wordless pictures.  Details reflecting time and place take us into Melba Liston's world.  His people's faces are beautiful in their expressions and in the play of light and shadow.

Two of my favorite illustrations are of Melba playing her trombone.  The first is of her and her grandfather working together the first night.  His arms are stretched to hold the instrument for her as she stands close to him.  He is seated on a bench next to the brick wall of their home, a guitar leaning against the side.  In this picture the word stretch breaks the border of the image mirroring the slide on the horn.  In the second picture Melba is older with a closer perspective as she plays.  Behind her are a keyboard with notes and memorabilia, playbills of her shows.  With little imagination you can hear her song.


Little Melba and Her BIG TROMBONE written by Katheryn Russell-Brown with illustrations done in oil paint by Frank Morrison is one of the most inspirational biographies of 2014.  This girl crossed barriers with a heart full of music, determination and perseverance.  It makes you want to find your own music and follow it the best you can for the rest of your life.

To explore and discover more about Katheryn Russell-Brown and Frank Morrison follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Follow these links to the publisher's website to read an interview with Katheryn Russell-Brown about her research, an interview with Frank Morrison about his process and a post about his playlist when working on this book. John Schumacher, teacher librarian extraordinaire chatted with author Katheryn Russell-Brown about this book on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.

Please remember to check the other books featured by bloggers this week who are participating in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

You Don't Look Like A...

Before the first word is read at story time, the guys and gals are asked to stand, hold hands and make a circle.  Then those words they love are uttered, let's pretend.  You are a baby elephant wanting to get your mother's attention; put your hands together forming a trunk and trumpet.  You are a puppy outside for the final time that day with your human; raise your nose to the moon and howl.  You are a duckling who just can't keep up; waddle and quack to tell your siblings to slow down.  You are a kitten trying to catch a dragonfly; you move with caution, pounce and swipe with your paws.

If you've ever watched newborn and young animals, they mimic their parents instinctively knowing this will increase their chances of survival.  They are constantly being coached to sharpen these skills.   What if they like the children pretended to be other than themselves?  Those two darling characters first introduced to readers in Hey, Duck! (Random House, January 22, 2013) written and illustrated by Carin Bramsen have returned in a companion title, Just a Duck? (Random House, January 27, 2015).  

My good friend Duck!
Why slink like that?

Well, can't you see? I am a cat.

Cat brings to Duck's attention his lack of similar physical characteristics.  Ever the optimist Duck says he will look like Cat once he grows up.  His ears are simply tiny but Cat sees no ears whatsoever.

Noticing Duck's crestfallen look Cat decides to agree with Duck.  With a whoop of joy, Duck joins Cat in a favorite pastime.  Tree climbing proves to be a bit of a challenge though.  Like a true friend Cat again suggests Duck needs time for claws to grow.

When Duck suggests they try to play canoe on the lake, Cat's eyes widen.  Another idea seems much better; run, jump and catch a leaf.  Oh! No!   A last leap off the end of the dock results in a resounding splash.  Water and cats don't go together.

Concern for a cherished companion has Duck splashing into the pond regardless of a cat's dislike of all things wet.  With a death grip on a nearby floating log, Cat looks wild and wide-eyed at the little duck.  Dry land is definitely a desired destination.  Heroic efforts and a little rock 'n' roll make for a wonderful watery outcome.


This story starts, as did the first title, with the slinking of cats.  Rather than wanting Cat to be a duck, Duck now thinks and acts like a cat.  This ties neatly to the last word of Hey, Duck!, MEOW!  Lilting, rhyming sentences by Carin Bramsen wrap readers in the warmth of Duck and Cat's friendship. Their conversations reveal a strengthening in their relationship; a give-and-take banter.  Here is a sample passage.

Oh, dear! This
really is a shame.
I think I'm off my
climbing game.

Now, now. We climb with
claws, you know.
Your claws might need some
time to grow.
On, yes, I think they're still
too small... 


Unfolding the dust jacket, we are treated to an illustration spanning both pages of the weathered boards of the rustic, rich red barn as a background for Cat and Duck.  Added details of the forget-me-nots, poppies, pansies and sunflowers along with the battered green bucket with garden tools provide readers with more information about the home of the two pals.  Carin Bramsen's meticulous details add texture to this and all the pictures throughout, inviting you to touch each one.  Downy yellow duckling feathers cover the opening and closing endpapers. Splashing water is the backdrop for the verso.  On the title page, as on the front dust jacket, Duck's wings are uplifted; he's looking at them wondering if they are paws.

Bramsen shifts the image sizes to enhance the cadence of her story; two page spreads, smaller illustrations on a single page, a single page visual or a single image like a cutout surrounded by white space.  For the sequence of Duck trying to climb a tree and Duck and Cat in the lake there are eight wordless squares on two pages.   Facial features of each character are so expressive no words are necessary.

Every single image exudes enchanting appeal but one of my favorites is the first one in the book.  Duck is bent over raising his tiny legs to replicate the smooth movements of a cat.  Close behind in the grass is Cat.  As usual they are engaged in a chat.  In the distance we can see the barns, brilliant blue sky and rolling green hills.


Just a Duck? written and illustrated by Carin Bramsen continues to explore the themes of personal identity and friendship through a story brimming with charm in text and illustrations.  You keep hoping the characters will walk right off the pages into your presence.  So lovable are Duck and Cat, this book will be read and read again preferably with distinctive voices.

To explore more about Carin Bramsen and her other books please visit her website by following the link embedded in her name.  At the publisher's website you get a sneak peak at more interior pages.  Here is an interview of Carin Bramsen at Frog On A Blog posted shortly after my review of her first book.

Monday, January 19, 2015

It Wasn't Me

When you are the oldest child in the family, blame for seemingly everything lands squarely on your shoulders.  It's obvious you can't point the finger at a younger sibling when the mishap in question involves writing or reading and they can't do either yet.  (In one of my not-the-sharpest-tack-in-the-box moments, I tried this very thing.) When it comes to the disappearance of all the chocolate chips from the package it's an entirely different story.  Anyone can accomplish this feat, even if they are too short to reach the cupboard.

As I have mentioned before if it gets to the point when no one is willing to take responsibility, the "ghost" is blamed. The Bear Ate Your Sandwich (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, January 6, 2015) written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach is about a bear's apparent quest for an irresistible meal.  Anyone who has watched Yogi Bear running, jumping and swinging his way around Jellystone Park knows bears simply can't help themselves when it comes to lunch boxes and picnic baskets.  Right?

By now I think you know what happened to your sandwich.  But you may not know how it happened.  So let me tell you

This unseen narrator confidently relates how a bear gets a whiff of something delicious as he steps outside his den.  A bed of a pickup truck is loaded with boxes of plump berries.  He climbs inside, eats every last one and dozes off to sleep full and happy.

When he awakens the sounds of the forest have been replaced with a distinctive grumbling vibration.  Trees are no longer visible but tall rock-like structures appear on all sides.  When the grumbling vibration is silenced, he sets off to explore this amazing place.

It is definitely different but he is blissfully replicating some of his same activities.  The smells are out of this world, leading him to another open place filled with fun.  This is when, according to the narrator, the bear notices the sandwich, unattended.  It's like it is asking him to eat it; which he does without a second thought.

As the last bite is being swallowed, he hears unmistakable sounds of witnesses to his deed.  He skedaddles as fast as he can to the closest, tallest tree; searching and sighting his woodland home.  Another journey using another mode of transportation brings him back to the sights and sounds he knows so well.  But dear readers, as you may have guessed, this is not the end of the story.  There is more.  It might involve a piece of lettuce.


Like squirrels scampering along a trail of nuts, we readers follow the words written by Julia Sarcone-Roach.  Her nearly poetic descriptions of the bear, his ride in the back of the truck, his ventures in the city and the nearby park, his theft of the sandwich and subsequent return to his den are so meticulously conceived we are hard-pressed to contain our astonishment (and laughter) at the conclusion.  She surrounds us with the story rather than the truth.  Here is a sample passage.

He was being quickly swept
along like a leaf in a great river.
The forest disappeared in the 
distance and high cliffs rose up
around him.


As I am awaiting the arrival of my book and currently working with an F & G, the illustrations rendered in acrylic paints and pencil by Julia Sarcone-Roach are rich and luminous beginning with the dust jacket.  From the front with the bear eyeing the sandwich with obvious interest, we move to the left with a shift in perspective.  Sarcone-Rich has zoomed in on the sandwich in the lunch box placing a shadow of the bear squarely in the center with the word

Sandwich?

Eighteen squares on the opening and closing endpapers feature seventeen different kinds of sandwiches.  Initially we see them in all their uneaten glory; only to see mere crumbs at the end.  Revealing noses in the eighteenth place divulge the secret.  The pictorial story begins on the double-page picture for the title page; a bear is curled in his den framed by leaves.

A vivid color palette of golden yellows, spring and forest greens, turquoise, red, orange and rustic browns create sensory images.  Even though not all the illustrations span across the gutter edge to edge, our eyes flow easily from image to image even if they are single pages or smaller pictures grouped together.  From fluid brush strokes to tiny details Sarcone-Roach defines every single scene telling us more than the text states.

For the words

This forest had many great climbing spots.

we see Bear going up the side of a building, perched on the edge of a fire escape, moving paw over paw hanging upside down on a clothes line between buildings, climbing a roof and squeezing through the O opening in the word HOTEL on a sign.  His body positions, stretching by his den, in the city alleys, on the playground and when he sees the sandwich, will have you grinning not to mention his facial expressions.  Two of my favorite visuals are the panoramic view as the truck moves from the forest across the bridge into the city with bear sitting up in the back of the truck looking around and of him returning home, touching his paw to the water.  They are two varied viewpoints both having emotional impact.

 The Bear Ate Your Sandwich written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach is a spirited blend of text and pictures.  The twist, the final reveal, will have readers and listeners gasping first, and then giggling.  I think it's time to start my Mock Caldecott list for 2016.

To learn more about Julia Sarcone-Roach, her artwork and her other titles please follow the link embedded in her name to access her website.  This link takes you to the publisher's website where you can get a peek at some of the interior pages.  If you want to see lots of behind the scenes and process images for this book head on over to author and blogger Julie Danielson's site Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Bursting Forth From The Blizzard Is...

Although it's winter in northern Michigan, a strange sight was seen in our neighborhood yesterday morning, a snow plow.  Usually we don't see a plow in our neck of the woods until late afternoon; when the school buses have already dropped the guys and gals back home.  We must be last on their route due to the closeness of the county garages.  There really hasn't been much snowfall lately either.

What was really surprising was the size of the plow on the front of the truck.  It was so big it could have been used in the last Ice Age.  It was gargantuan.  I began to wonder what this driver and his truck knew that the meteorologists were keeping from us.  It is evident this truck must be related to the new character in Stephen Savage's latest title, Supertruck (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, January 6, 2015).

The city is full of brave trucks.

Each of the trucks in the city has specific acts of valor for which they are noted.  The green truck with the bucket on top can reach to fix power lines.  A hose shoots out water from the red truck to put out fires.  A hook and winch help the blue truck tow away stranded vehicles.

One truck in gray and white simply picks up the city's garbage.  This job, mostly behind the scenes, steadfast day in and day out, is not noted as being particularly gallant.  An evening in winter is about to reveal another side to this ordinary truck.

It begins with a few fluffy flakes tumbling from the sky.  The snow keeps falling until it gets deeper and deeper.  Life in the city comes to a standstill.  The green, red and blue trucks are stuck.

In the darkest part of the night, one truck, a gray and white truck, makes its way to a garage.  WHOA! Out of the doorway emerges SUPERTRUCK!  With a big orange plow on the front he trudges through the city.

Roads, avenues and streets are cleared through his single-wheeled efforts.  The other trucks marvel at his magnificent moves.  Who is this truck?  His secret is tucked away inside one lone garage on a deserted pier as the garbage truck makes his daily collections the next morning.


Simple straightforward sentences written by Stephen Savage introduce readers to life in the city dependent on the heroism of the trucks.  The first four followed by a question set the calm pace.  It's one word in the sixth sentence, just, which sends out a clever possibility, a shift in the story.  You get the feeling there might be more to this truck than meets the eye.  As the momentum builds with the arrival of the blizzard we know something is going to happen.  We keep turning the pages to discover the truth.  This is wonderful!


The pull of the rich bright red cloth spine with the silver lettering made me eager to open the book case.  The blue gray of the grinning Supertruck on the front supplies the background on the back.  A wheel with Supertruck in white acts as a frame for a frontal view of him happily plowing through the snow.  Another shade of vivid blue/purple is used for the opening and closing endpapers.  Kids' hearts of all ages are already humming.  On the title page Stephen Savage places an image beneath the text of white eyes, headlights, peering from a darkened garage on a pier with the cityscape in silhouette behind it.

Rendered in pencil, paper, stylus, tablet and currants (for the snowflakes) all of Savage's illustrations span two pages with the exception of the first and final pages.  On those readers are treated to circular pictures; the first in sunny yellow featuring the first three trucks, the second in the dusky blue evening, snow falling as the garbage truck goes into the special garage.  Simple lines and geometric shapes convey the essence of the city and the trucks.  The bird's eye views of the city are graphic gorgeousness.

Each of the vehicles is given eyes and mouths to convey emotion.  A carefully placed squirrel and bird perched on a fire hydrant add to the reality of each scene.  The fact that Savage gives the garbage truck glasses makes my superhero-comic-book-loving-self sing especially when they are not shown as Supertruck dons the plow.

One of several of my favorite illustrations is when the garbage truck is moving through the snow toward the garage on the night of the blizzard.  In the background is the lighted bridge.  A glow illuminates the doorway.  There is a look of determination on the truck.  The colors in this image are shades of blue and purple with snow falling everywhere. (Cue: Superman music)


You don't have to be a fan of trucks to love Supertruck written and illustrated by Stephen Savage.  Heroes come in all shapes and sizes but the one thing they have in common is their huge hearts.  I can almost hear the theme song now...by day a trash-picking garbage truck, while the city sleeps in the dead of night while the winds of a snowstorm howl it's Supertruck to the rescue.  I think I need to create a list of huggable books or a shelf on Goodreads.  This title would definitely be placed there.

To learn more about Stephen Savage and his other titles please visit his website by following the link embedded in his name.  I have reviewed Where's Walrus?, Little Tug, and Polar Bear Morning. Though mentioned in an earlier post please follow this link to an outstanding interview of Stephen Savage at author and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Teacher librarian extraordinaire and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read., John Schumacher chats with Stephen Savage at this book here.  It is in this chat that Savage reveals his illustrative techniques for this title.  To see eight images from the book go to the publisher's website.

Stephen Savage was kind enough to respond to an email.  Here are three photographs on the currants he used to create snowfall in his illustrations.  Red pepper flakes and cereal simply would not supply the same effect.  If you visit the publisher's website you can see the final result.