Quote of the Month

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

Friday, August 26, 2016

On Shimmering Wings

It is said seven or was it twelve were invited to celebrate the birth of a child; an eighth or perhaps a thirteenth was overlooked.  Good things were gifted to this princess except for one, an evil curse not to be undone.  It is also said there was another girl, in another story, an orphan except for a harsh stepmother and two nasty stepsisters.  In the moment of her greatest sadness a special one appeared to offer her riches beyond her dreams.

There might be a reason these stories dating back hundreds of years, though called fairy tales, rarely have these creatures in them.  Possibly the explanation is fairies are everywhere.  A Fairy Friend (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, May 10, 2016) written by Sue Fliess with illustrations by Claire Keane is a vision of possibility.

There are fairies in the sky.
All around you, fairies fly,
Flit and flutter, tumble, twirl,
When the wind blows, fairies swirl...

Fairies are indeed about in the fields and forests.  If gazing out a window in the evening they can be seen racing past, astride their faithful steeds...dragonflies.  Maybe the cool breath of air we feel brush our cheek in our dreams is the touch of a winged visitor.

You can search those fields and forests for one of these tiny friends but the best thing to do is welcome them and send them an invitation.  Build them a wee cottage out of bits and pieces you find in those areas they enjoy.  Tiny twigs, feathery ferns, fragrant flowers and soft green moss are beautiful materials.

You must be sure to include a proper bed and bath by thinking small thoughts and finding small things.  What would you use for a bath or to soften a fairy's bed?  Pour love and petals into a pot to cook a favorite food.  Carry it carefully, setting it softly down and in view.

You wait, watch and approach in silence.  Your reward will be a dream comes true; hands full of happiness, lessons lifting you to new heights, safety and cozy comfort.  As with all things loved, they need to be free.  But remember...the joy in a return is worth the time apart.

There is a lively, light happiness in the words selected by Sue Fliess  Her use of rhyme and alliteration has woven belief into the fabric of this story.  Each two line phrase hums a musical cadence of magic.  Here are two more sample passages.

Wings of fairies shimmer, spark,
Twinkle, glimmer in the dark.
Shiny spots or wisps of light
Could be fairies in your sight.

As soon as you touch the heavy dust jacket you start to marvel at the eloquence of this book.  On the front and back of the dust jacket the majority of the images are embossed.  The title text and the main illustration on the back are done in foil.  Shiny spot varnish is used on the center picture on the front.  Without even opening this title it is a magnet for those wanting to read about fairies.  (The book case matches the jacket without the varnish, embossing and foil.)

On the opening and closing endpapers in soft, natural colors four smiling fairies are enjoying themselves among leaves, branches and flowers.  There might be some fairy dust floating about them too.  Across the dedication and verso page a fairy swings leaving tiny petals in her wake.  On the title page the young girl is seated in a tire swing as her canine companion watches.

The pictures, rendered in watercolor and Photoshop by Claire Keane, create dream-like visions, delicate and flowing.  Some spread across two pages, others are on single pages and several single pages hold groups of three or two images.  All the illustrations are loosely framed in soft, brush strokes.  The expressions on the girl, her dog and the fairies are full of pure merriment.  There are subtle hints of humor when the dog seeks and sees the fairies before the girl does.

One of my favorite illustrations is the first one in the story spanning two pages.  Our perspective is that of the fairies playing among the tree tops.  Beneath the fairies the girl, wearing a backpack and carrying a net, is strolling in search of fairies.  Her dog, walking behind her, looks up at the tree tops spying the playful beings.  On the right-hand side in the upper corner we can see the girl's home.

Anyone who reads A Fairy Friend written by Sue Fliess with illustrations by Claire Keane will be searching outside for tiny twigs, feathery ferns, fragrant flowers and soft green moss as soon as they finished the final word.  Eventually you may find a fairy residing in your newly built home or a friend of a fairy from the nearby fields or forests.  One copy in your classrooms and libraries will not be enough.  This little treasure will rarely be on the bookshelves.

To learn more about Sue Fliess and Claire Keane and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  On Claire Keane's website you can view interior images from this title.  She also maintains Tumblr pages.  Sue Fliess wrote a guest post about this title for Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. There is a different interior image to be seen at the publisher's website.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Not As Expected

Yesterday started with a plan, a plan for productivity.  The gardens in my newly purchased home are out of control; left to grow with abandon by the previous owners and frankly, not at the top my list until now.  Working in them is no easy task.  The hot summer temperatures combined with the lack of rain makes the soil (clay) like working in cement.  Just as I was about to head out the door promising myself to get, at the very least, the front area completed, torrential rains fell.

The book held in my hand to read during gardening breaks became my afternoon companion.  As life would have it, a significant place in the story is a garden.  Making Friends with Billy Wong (Scholastic Press, August 30, 2016) written by Augusta Scattergood is a slice of life into our historical past.

All it took to send my summer on the road to ruin was a fancy note and a three-cent stamp.  The minute that envelope showed up, Mama was packing my suitcase.

Eleven-year-old Azalea Ann Morgan loves her mother and father and was looking forward to sharing a trip to the Grand Canyon with them.  Gone are her plans of spending the remaining summer days with her best friend Barbara Jean.  Instead she has left Texas for Paris Junction, Arkansas to help her grandmother.  She is having a difficult time believing her mother's words that everything is going to be fine. Didn't her mother and father leave Paris Junction as fast as they could after high school?  Even now, her mama can hardly wait to get on the road back home to Texas.

As Azalea is struggling with how she will survive weeks of living with a grandmother she hardly knows, working in the large garden, cooking and cleaning for them, she is informed other garden helpers will be arriving on certain days.  Too polite to voice an opinion, this is unwelcome news for a girl who is uncomfortable meeting and speaking with new people.  Life in the small town of Paris Junction in 1952 is about to surround Azalea.

Another recent arrival in the community is Billy Wong, great-nephew to the owners of the only grocery store, Lucky Foods.  He's thrilled to be staying and working with his great-uncle and great-aunt so he can attend a quality school, one offering more opportunities.  The prejudice, the looks, taunts and remarks, and vandalism, against Chinese Americans by some community members is a daily hardship for Billy and his family.

Azalea is pleasantly surprised to discover herself considering Billy a friend.  Two people she would not wish to have for friends are fashionista Melinda Bowman and mean-spirited Willis DeLoach, two young people who come to help in her grandmother's garden.  The one is there voluntarily, the other by court order.

Individually and together, in her grandmother's garden and out in the community, Azalea's and Billy's biggest trouble is with Willis DeLoach.  What has made Willis so nasty?  Soon Azalea has more questions than answers.  She is becoming a seeker and keeper of secrets.  One thing is certain, Billy Wong, Grandmother Clark and Paris Junction did not cause Azalea's summer to travel down the road to ruin.  On the contrary, they set her on a path paved with the best things in life.

Books written by Augusta Scattergood make us feel like we've come home, regardless of our age.  Her characters could be our neighbors, best friends or family members. Their joys and concerns become our joys and concerns not only during the story but resonating long after the final word is read.

In this title she alternates between the first person, prose narrative of Azalea filled with realistic dialogue and the poetic thoughts of Billy.  These writing styles take us into the essence of both of these characters and the other people in their lives.  Through their eyes we see the forest and the trees of this very particular time and place. Here are some sample passages.

Inside Lucky Foods Grocery
...Maybe I shouldn't climb trees to daydream in the
But high on a tree branch, stories pop wide open.

I tie the white apron around my waist and
straighten pickle jars.
Stories jumping.
Waiting to explode.
Onto the pages of the Tiger Times. ...

My grandmother had other ideas. "Help me to my room and turn on the radio, Azalea.  Go read a magazine on the porch where it's cool."
Cool, my foot.  I could die of heatstroke sitting on the front steps.  But just in time to save me from boredom, here came a man walking the world's littlest dog, barking her head off.  Now, I love dogs more than anything.  Cats, too.  I'm a whole lot better at talking to animals I don't know than people I don't know.  But this one looked plenty mad.
In case I was attacked by a dog not much bigger than a rat, I backed up.  The man pulled on a skinny leash and waved real big, same as most everybody in Paris Junction.

Once my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I sank into a soft chair that smelled like a rainy day.  I tugged the desk lamp's chain to shine light on a book of old pictures.  After a while, even though I heard the outside noises---cars slowing down, people talking---if I shut my eyes, the bad memories vanished into the room's quietness.  I understood why Billy wanted me to see this special place.

Making Friends with Billy Wong written by Augusta Scattergood addresses the dynamics between generations, family and friendship within the setting of 1952 Arkansas.  Her research is evident but the real gift Augusta Scattergood brings to us in all her books is her ability to make the past relevant in the present.  In her author's note she discusses the importance of Chinese grocery stores in the South, the Chinese immigration to the region and segregation prior to civil rights legislation.  This book comes with my highest recommendation.

To learn more about Augusta Scattergood please follow the link to her website attached to her name.  You can read more on her blog.   Augusta Scattergood chats with Scholastic Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read. when the book cover is revealed. You can read wonderful interviews about this title with Augusta Scattergood at Reflections On The Teche, Twenty by Jenny, and Friend Friday hosted by author Kirby Larson.  A little more than a year ago August Scattergood wrote a blog post at Nerdy Book Club, Top Ten Things I've Learned From Kids About Writing A Book, you will enjoy reading.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Trained To Travel

The first time you saw the puppy, you knew your life would change in more ways than you ever would have thought possible regardless of how many dogs have been in your life.  The energy, the looks, the intense pauses to listen, and the nose constantly in the air or to the ground sensing messages in each experience are new every single time.  Puppies and adult dogs have personalities as varied as humans, but one thing is certain, their love is unconditional and unbreakable.

By their very nature canines bring certain attributes into a relationship.  Their heightened senses, especially their hearing and smelling, are invaluable.  When dogs have been trained in addition to their already remarkable characteristics, the attachment they form with their human is close to miraculous.  Readers first met an extraordinary Golden retriever in Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond between a Soldier and His Service Dog (Roaring Brook Press, May 27, 2014).  Authors Luis Carlos Montalvan, former Captain USA and Bret Witter and photographer Dan Dion collaborate again to give readers Tuesday Takes Me There: The Healing Journey of a Veteran and his Service Dog (Post Hill Press, June 14, 2016). 

This morning, like every morning, my friend Luis wakes up to this.

This is an up-close and personal look at the face of Tuesday, Luis's Golden retriever service dog.  Tuesday tells us of Luis's condition, PTSD, a result of his military service in the Iraq War.  They are leaving the home of another veteran, a friend in New York City.  It's important for Luis to be near friends because strange places and crowds are still hard for him.

Today Tuesday and Luis have a special appointment to keep.  To arrive on time, they will travel on land, over water and in the air.  Their first stop is a ferry, a boat which crosses between Staten Island and Manhattan.  During their ride many different kinds of vessels come into view as well as one very important Lady.  

Once they reach Manhattan they travel on a bus.  It's a bit too slow for Tuesday.  Now walking in the city they see sights from the ground level.  Then it's up, up and away, seeing the same things from the sky.  As the day progresses they whiz along on the subway and enjoy a carriage ride courtesy of Bruno, a well-loved horse.  

Ever vigilant Tuesday leads Luis through crowds with his leash and down stairs with a special harness.  Finally they board a train which takes them to a completely new place, Washington, D. C.  They meet an elected official at the Capitol building and take a rest while gazing at the world's tallest obelisk.  They have still not reached their destination.

More sights seen, more walking and another ride by double decker bus bring them closer.  A red convertible, a covered bridge, a field of flowers and a cool clear stream are parts of their continuing journey.  When Tuesday and Luis reveal their trip's purpose to readers, smiles signal mission accomplished.

In the first sentence Luis Carlos Montalvan and Bret Witter acquaint readers with the closeness between Luis and Tuesday.  In a narrative geared for younger readers in Tuesday's voice we understand how Tuesday works for Luis and the dog's incredible focus in a large city.  We learn how people can move from New York City to Washington D.C. to a community in Maryland by describing more than ten types of transportation.  Short captions tell us about points of interest in all three places; Staten Island, the Statue of Liberty, Freedom Tower, Union Station and Loys Station Covered Bridge to name some of them.  Here is a sample passage.

We find our seat on the Amtrak train.  Luis makes a comfy place for me.  I did a good job taking care of him, so he takes care of me.  It's his way of showing he loves me.
I put my paw on his foot to tell him I love him too.

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

We're here!  But, where is here?

The illustrations in this title, photographs by Dan Dion, take readers right into the action.  On the matching dust jacket and book case Tuesday's dedication and willingness to lead Luis is captured perfectly.  To the left, on the back, an image from the interior shows Luis and Tuesday resting on steps in Washington, D. C. overlooking the Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument.  The rich red from the title text is used as the color on the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, Luis in full uniform with his medals is seated next to Tuesday who is holding Luis's cane in his mouth.  It's a portrait of love.

Each illustration closely follows the journey of Luis and Tuesday.  The size and perspective varies throughout the book.  Some of the shots are from behind them with a panoramic view of a place, others are close to the two as they ride or walk and sometimes only Tuesday is shown in a particular setting.  The clarity, composition and lighting of the visuals are outstanding.  Dion conveys every mood and moment beautifully.  

One of my favorite pictures is of Tuesday and Luis seated in the helicopter.  Luis, wearing a headset, is looking out the window at the harbor and the Statue of Liberty below them.  Tuesday, wearing his Service K-9 harness, is looking at Luis.  

Tuesday Takes Me There:  The Healing Journey of a Veteran and his Service Dog written by Luis Carlos Montalvan, former Captain USA, with Bret Witter and photographs by Dan Dion provides an intimate look for readers of the work done by a service dog and the connection formed with their human.  This book also gives us a glimpse at two large cities, transportation within these cities and to and from them as well as places of interest.  Closing with a poem and the dedication makes this title a fine, fine choice for the classrooms and libraries.  

To learn more about Luis Carlos Montalvan, Bret Witter and Dan Dion and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  There is a website dedicated solely to Tuesday Takes Me There:  The Healing Journey of a Veteran and his Service Dog.  At a publisher's website you can view interior images and read more of the narrative. 

Please take a moment to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other titles chosen by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

On A Street In Gizzford

We all know stories are everywhere.  The most common, everyday object, incident or living being can be the spark for an extraordinary tale.  It can start with something simple, move toward unbelievable and leave us with hope in our heart and a sigh on our lips.

Eleven years ago to the day, a series of books began with a pig.  Does this pig live on Old MacDonald's farm?  No, this pig does not live on a farm.  This pig lives with Mr. Watson and Mrs. Watson in their home at 54 Deckawoo Drive.

Mercy Watson begins her adventures with Mercy Watson to the Rescue (Candlewick Press, August 23, 2005) written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen.  At the close of every day the Watsons tuck Mercy into bed, singing

"Bright, bright is the morning sun,
but brighter still is our darling one.
Dark, dark is the coming night,
but oh, our Mercy shines so bright."

In this opening book, Mercy may be the cause of the Watsons bed, with them in it, to be on the brink of crashing through the floor to the room below.  She does have a constant craving for snacks, especially toast with

a great deal of butter on it.

This hankering leads her to leap from the bed, explore the kitchen and run next door to the Lincoln sisters' home.  Baby Lincoln, the younger, kinder one, thinks the snout in her window is a monster.  Eugenia Lincoln, the no-nonsense, stricter sister immediately calls the fire department.  When firefighters Ned and Lorenzo arrive the sight before them is not what they expect.  Mercy does love a good chase.

Are Mr. and Mrs. Watson saved?  Does Mercy Watson get buttered toast?  You'll have to read it.

As if this pig, the Watsons, the Lincoln sisters and Ned and Lorenzo, the firefighters, had not charmed readers enough, Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride (Candlewick Press, May 9, 2006) takes us on a trip quite unlike any other.  Every Saturday Mr. Watson and Mercy go for a drive.  It's a struggle to get Mercy out of the driver's seat but the promise of buttered toast on their return always does the trick.

On this particular Saturday there happens to be an extra passenger looking for folly and hiding in the back seat. On this particular Saturday Officer Tomilello is parked in his police cruiser.  When a speeding car with a pig in the passenger seat whizzes by, he's got a job to do.

Can pigs drive?  Can pigs fly?  Will grumpy Eugenia Lincoln butter toast?  You'll need to read this to discover the answers.

In her third escapade, Mercy Watson Fights Crime (Candlewick Press, August 22, 2006) noises in the kitchen at 54 Deckawoo Drive wake up Mercy.  These are toaster sounds,

screeeeeech and clannngggg.

She also may be hearing


being sung by a little man who wishes to be a cowboy but is currently robbing the Watsons.

Since Leroy Ninker is not making toast he is able to lull the investigating, sleepy Mercy back to dreams of buttered toast.  In no time at all two things lead to a wild ride, Leroy Ninker's inability to climb over Mercy and the sweet, sweet smell of Butter Barrel candy.  The words of


being hollered with glee work their way into the sound sleep of the Lincoln sisters and Mrs. Watson.

Will Ned and Lorenzo arrive at Deckawoo Drive again?  Will Officer Tomilello continue to ask questions and answer them himself?  Will the daily newspaper headline a

porcine wonder?  

Seventy pages filled with laughter will reveal the truth.

According to the calendar Halloween will soon arrive.  Mercy Watson Princess in Disguise (Candlewick Press, July 10, 2007) celebrates the holiday, trick-or-treating (with a Mercy emphasis on treating) and introduces readers to General Washington, Eugenia Lincoln's new cat.  On the festive night a signal from Baby Lincoln and the super abilities of Mercy's snout are the only elements necessary for chaos creation.

With the swipe of a cat's paw and a pig who loves a good chase, a race is soon being run.  Two curious neighbor children, Frank and Stella who live at 50 Deckawoo Drive, observe from a distance but nevertheless intend to join the parade.  Everything and everyone comes to a standstill at the base of an ancient tree.

Will the stuck general get unstuck?  Can we count on the firefighters?  Will worry-wart Frank approve of the offered fare?  Mercy Watson knows.  You will too.

On a warm spring day or perhaps in the midst of early summer nothing is quite as fine as enjoying the pleasures of outdoors.  Eugenia Lincoln is attempting to bring graciousness to their lives despite having a pig living next door.  In Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig (Candlewick Press, July 8, 2008) the peace and quiet of the neighborhood vanishes at the whiff of newly planted pansies.

This is the last "petal" for the elder sister.  A call is made to the

Animal Control Center.

With Officer Francine Poulet at the ready, help is sure to follow although she is not expecting the problem to be a pig.

Will an Unmentionable Horror happen?  Will a tea party come to a crashing conclusion?  Will there be dogs involved?  You should all expect toast...lots of toast....lots of toast with lots of butter.

The lives of Mr. Watson, Mrs. Watson, Mercy Watson, Eugenia Lincoln, Baby Lincoln, Ned and Lorenzo, firefighters you can count on, Frank and Stella, Police Officer Tomilello, Animal Control Officer Francine Poulet, and Leroy Ninker are about to get even more exciting in the sixth and final book, Mercy Watson Something Wonky This Way Comes (Candlewick Press, July 14, 2009).  It's a lovely evening in the town of Gizzford.  It's a perfect night for a visit to the local Bijou Drive-In theater to see When Pigs Fly.

Leroy Ninker, mostly-reformed thief who wishes to be a cowboy and practices with his lasso whenever he can, works at the concession stand selling Bottomless Bucket popcorn served with real butter.  With the strong smell of butter in the air, Mercy becomes a pig with a single thought front and center in her mind.  She must have butter whether it's on popcorn or toast.

Will Officer Francine Poulet really need her net? Did Officer Tomilello hear a scream?  Is that a fire truck siren?  Six books with stories within a story all lead to Mercy's best kind of ending.

The arrival of a new series, Tales from Deckawoo Drive, is (was) happy news to fans of the Mercy Watson titles.  In the first, Leroy Ninker Saddles Up (Candlewick Press, August 26, 2014) on a specific night at the Bayou Drive-In concession stand during a double cowboy movie feature, ticket taker, Beatrice Leapaleoni makes a very important point.  What Leroy needs more than any attire and his trusty lasso is a horse.  Beatrice also gives Leroy an important piece of advice.

Patty LeMarque is moving and all she wants for her horse Maybelline (not Tornado as Leroy would prefer) is a happy home.  She agrees to give Maybelline to Leroy but cautions him about three idiosyncrasies of Maybelline; she takes great pleasure in sweet words directed to her, she consumes large amounts of food and she cannot be left alone for more than the merest of seconds.

Will poetic phrases turn Maybelline into a speed demon?  Does Leroy have enough spaghetti?  Will a thunderstorm and an umbrella cause the end of a beautiful new friendship?  You, dear reader, will come to agree with Maybelline about the stories in the best movies.  Perhaps you will be surprised but you will understand.

Do you remember the animal control officer who may or may not have captured Mercy Watson successfully?  In Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon (Candlewick Press, August 25, 2015) this winner of forty-seven trophies for her astute animal capturing skills is baffled beyond belief by what she encounters one dark night.  Upon receiving a phone call from Mrs. Bissinger, residing on Fleeker Street, about a screaming-like-a-banshee, shimmering raccoon Francine, who fears nothing, finds herself on a very high roof facing said raccoon.

This meeting with the details better left for you to discover ends with Francine in the hospital with more than one broken bone and broken in spirit.  Upon leaving the hospital she does something completely out of character for a third generation animal control officer.  Words from Frank and a tiny treat from Stella leave Francine Poulet wondering about her future, wondering about her place in the world.

Will our humming genuine article save the day?  Will a new era begin?  You should ask the raccoon.

For the third volume in the series Tales from Deckawoo Drive, author Kate DiCamillo and illustrator Chris Van Dusen showcase a woman in need of change.  Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln (Candlewick Press, August 2, 2016) begins, unlike the previous two titles, on Deckawoo Drive.  It follows the younger, more kind-hearted of the two Lincoln sisters.

Baby Lincoln was dreaming.

A dream of riding on a fast train and stars shooting in the sky comes to a fast close with the shouting of Eugenia.  She wants Baby to wake up and write goals for the day.  Today Baby does something she has never done.  She says no.  It's time for her to take

a necessary journey.

After packing her suitcase, which is no easy task for someone who has never done this and has no idea where they are going, she walks out of the house and down the street to the train station.  Along the way Stella asks to walk with her.  Stella is wise beyond her years.

Now on the train heading toward the town of Fluxom, Baby begins the most interesting part of her trip, speaking with other passengers.  A fur-hat wearing man and the comic section of the daily newspaper leave her filled with laughter.  A young woman with a bigger-than-big bag of jelly beans helps her to see the importance of given names, singing stars and tasting sunshine and springtime. A little, paper-crown-wearing boy, George, awakens the storyteller in Baby.

The station at Fluxom is deserted when Baby arrives.  Beneath the starry sky the only sound she hears is that of a lone cricket.  Thankfully, Stella is indeed wise beyond her years.

It does not matter if Kate DiCamillo is writing about animals or people.  It does not matter if the book is an early chapter book, a picture book or a novel.  There is universality about her writing which finds a way into every heart.  She makes us laugh.  She makes us cry.  And most of all, we are better people for reading her books.

Her storytelling is straightforward but brings many threads together in a nearly magical style of art.  She adds extra descriptive details to very exact portions of her sentences.  When we see the world through her eyes, we see more.  Here are some sample passages from this book.

Baby opened her eyes.  She didn't know exactly what she was talking about either.  But she knew that something important was happening.  Her heart was beating very fast.
The sun was shining into the kitchen, and everything seemed outlined in brightness, possibility.
Eugenia stared at Baby.  Her mouth was open.  She looked quite astonished.
Baby was astonished, too.

Calaband Darsh sounded like a very grand place, a shooting-star kind of place.  Baby opened her purse and took out her wallet.  She handed the wallet to Stella and watched as Stella counted the money inside. 
"Okay" said Stella.  She handed the wallet back to Baby.  She consulted the train schedule.  "Let's see."
It turned out that Baby didn't have enough money to get to Calaband Darsh.
She had enough money to get to Fluxom.
"Fluxom?" said Baby.
"Fluxom," said Stella.
Fluxom did not sound like a shooting star kind of place at all.

The Mercy Watson books and the volumes in the Tales of Deckawoo Drive series have been delightfully rendered with gouache by the talented Chris Van Dusen.  All of the book cases and dust jackets portray key moments in each one of these titles. The Mercy Watson books have full color in the interior pages.  The images in the Tales of Deckawoo Drive are in black and white.

In each of the books Van Dusen includes two page spreads, single pages and smaller picture tucked in the text.  The facial features on all his characters are guaranteed to evoke laughter.  He depicts the people and places exactly as you imagine them to be in your mind as you are reading DiCamillo's words.

In preparation for the most recent book, Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen, I reread all the other titles yesterday.  It was a truly heartwarming experience to step back into the world at Deckawoo Drive.  There are moments of absolute and total hilarity and minutes you want to replay over and over because of their profound truths but most of all these books speak about love in all its forms.

To discover more about Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen and their other work please take a few minutes to visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Here is the link to a website entirely devoted to the Mercy Watson and Deckawoo Drive titles.  Here is a printable PDF outlining activities and lessons related to all the Mercy Watson books.  At each of the publisher pages for each of the nine titles there are many wonderful resources for each book.  They are in order of publication here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here

Monday, August 22, 2016

Delectable Detective

Dating back thousands of years, most tellers use riddles to welcome listeners into their stories.  These specifically-worded queries get our brains in gear, focus our concentration and inspire creativity.  Riddles allow us to participate in a treasure hunt without taking a step.  All we need to do is use our imaginations, expanding our thinking from the obvious to the obscure.  The sense of accomplishment in deciphering these puzzles is a rich reward too.

Readers are guaranteed another adventure full of fun and one smart cookie on the run in The Gingerbread Man Loose at the Zoo (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC, August 23, 2016) written by Laura Murray with illustrations by Mike Lowery.  There is sleuthing and solving.  May they do themselves proud.  It's game on for the Gingerbread Man and the elementary school crowd.

I woke to the sound of a rumbling

The children called out names as the teacher made noises and everyone's excitement grew.  Boarding the bus the hunt was revealed.  The animal clues were no longer concealed.  It was a point-to-point guide around the zoo.

Unraveling riddle number one was done with ease.  In fact Gingerbread Man was soon in a tight squeeze; barely escaping snack status thanks to a sneeze. When he chanced a look, his class was gone.

Knowing his friends needed to be found; the Gingerbread Man unriddled the remaining riddles, animal by animal, in habitats high, low, wet, square and round.  Some beasts were big, other critters were small.  He found them, almost all.  Figuring out the final puzzle, the Gingerbread Man ran as only he can.

Single-minded he moved until...a baby kangaroo came into view.  Now two were lost but the Gingerbread Man was brilliant and bold.  He knew what they were seeking was more valuable than gold.  Hoping and hopping they followed the way.  Happy hero and baby buddy, together, saved the day.

When Laura Murray sends the Gingerbread Man on a trip, we are in for a treat.  As we wind through the zoo, we are learning animal names too.  Her riddles blend into the rhyming rhythm of the narrative asking readers to participate in piecing the clues together.  Within the puzzles we learn about the animals' characteristics, baby names, and food.  Here are two more sample passages depicting Murray's skillful word play.

"HAVE A WILD DAY!" said the man at the front
as we pulled out our riddles to start on the hunt.

I jumped 
on the railing
to get a 
good look
and out popped her tongue
like a curvy blue hook.

The energy in the illustrations rendered

with pencil, traditional screen printing, and digital color

by Mike Lowery will have you ready to go to the zoo.  There's no doubt when looking at the front of the dust jacket (I'm working with an F & G) the Gingerbread Man is ready to romp.  The animals at the zoo look equally willing to share in his pleasant pursuits.  On the back, to the left, readers are given a hint of further play and a problem in three separate visuals.  On the title page the Gingerbread Man is swinging on a vine from the top through the title text, dangling above a bright, light blue and white map of the zoo.  A friendly rhino grins at the reader.

Lowery portrays his interpretation of the story in a series of bordered panels of varying sizes.  He sometimes uses one or two pages, edge to edge to focus on a particular point.  The narrative is usually shown in separate boxes, black on white, at the top or bottom of a panel.  Dialogue is, for the most part, in speech bubbles.

With a dot, circle, or curve of a line, Lowery is able to convey an array of emotion.  These girls, boys, animals and the Gingerbread Man are upbeat and fully animated.  Readers will find themselves smiling repeatedly.

One of my favorite of several illustrations is at the beginning of the story.  The Gingerbread Man wakes up to discover his teacher is the cause of the commotion.  She's looking fierce pretending to be a large cat.  Looking out his window, the Gingerbread Man is smiling at the discovery.  We can see all his details, his frosted brow, his pink and white hat, bow tie, red buttons and brown shorts.  He's one cute cookie!

This entry in the series is a surefire winner.  Everyone is going to love following their favorite smart cookie in The Gingerbread Man Loose at the Zoo written by Laura Murray with illustrations by Mike Lowery.  I know you will hear requests of read it again and most likely pleas for treats, riddles and a trip to the zoo.  

To learn more about Laura Murray and Mike Lowery and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At Laura Murray's site she has mentor text lesson plans, a reader's theater, a design a Gingerbread Man story template, a story sequencing page, zoo animal matching and a color the cover page.  Please take a moment to visit Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.for the book trailer premiere and a wonderful interview.  You will want to visit the Nerdy Book Club to read Laura Murray's recent guest post focusing on gifts and inspiration.  Laura Murray is a guest on Matthew Winner's podcast All The Wonders, Episode 278.  For my views about The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School, The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck, and The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas follow the links.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Power Of Three

For those taking the time to look, patterns of three can be found repeatedly in our collective cultures, its literature and religion.  Every living thing has birth, life and death.  Time is measured in the past, present and future.  Stories have a beginning, middle and an ending.  In nursery rhymes there are three little kittens, three blind mice and three bags of wool.  We have listened to and read the tales and an assortment of variations of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Three Little Pigs.  Characters are given three guesses and three wishes.  How often have we heard the third time is the charm?

For readers who have great affection for characters and their story lives, the most wonderful use of the number three is the word trilogy.  To know, in spite of the wait, two more books in a fictional world formed in the mind of an author will follow is sheer bliss.  In 2013 author and illustrator Aaron Becker introduced us to the enchantment found in his wordless 2014 Caldecott Honor book, Journey (Candlewick Press).

The story in book two, Quest (Candlewick Press, August 26, 2014) begins on the title page.  The girl and the boy she met in Journey are continuing to ride a tandem bicycle they drew using her red marker and his purple marker.  Seeking shelter beneath a bridge during a rain shower, they are asked by the King of Pallonezia, who steps through a doorway, to assist in saving him and his kingdom.  Following a map, they travel to particular prominent points in other lands gathering pieces of light which hold a promise.  Their success is a crowning achievement for them and their companion, a purple phoenix.

Readers' patience was rewarded with the release of Return (Candlewick Press, August 2, 2016) conceived and illustrated by Aaron Becker.  This third wordless volume is as fascinating as the previous two.  It is a more intimate and moving conclusion than Journey or Quest; the completion of a circle.

As in the first book, the girl brings her red kite and red ball to her father, who is drawing at his drafting table.  He is too busy to notice her requests.  She goes back to her bedroom drawing a red door and steps back into Pallonezia carrying the ball with her.  Later her father looks down at the floor noticing her dropped red kite.  Going into her bedroom, he sees and walks through the doorway.

In the distance his daughter's red ball is on the dock.  As a strange mechanical dragon floats by him, he steps on board.  It carries him along the waterways to Pallonezia and the platform where his daughter, the King, the boy and the purple phoenix have gathered.  Before any familial issues can be resolved, the evil emperor is revealed.

In the ensuing chaos some are able to escape due to the boy's creativity but it's only temporary before tragedy strikes again.  The inventive, quick-thinking daughter rescues a few. Cave walls tell a tale.  Wickedness arrives intent on capturing all goodness.  A trap is sprung...twice.  An artist and a daughter close a distance and step through a door of possibilities.

Whether you have read the two previous books or not, looking at the open dust jacket you are fully aware the girl carrying a red marker and a red ball has just entered an extraordinary world.  The lights and lanterns are glowing in the evening darkness as fireflies blink off and on.  You may wonder why she is wearing a crown.  You may also wonder why on the back, to the left, a crown has settled on the bottom of a sea with two fish and a seahorse wondering the same thing.  Beneath the jacket on a cloth cover of deep steel blue a kite is embossed.

The opening and closing endpapers are similar to those found in the first volume, a rich red in color with sketches of images.  These illustrations ask us to engage in activities like baseball, fishing, checkers, skating or reading. With a page turn Aaron Becker starts this story on the title page.  There are hints of events to come in this first visual of the daughter in her father's study/studio.

Rendered in watercolor, pen and ink the illustrations continue with a cutaway of the girl's home as she draws the red door to reenter Pallonezia. (I found myself comparing this picture with the cutaway in Journey.)  With a single exception all of the full or double page pictures extend edge to edge.  When Becker places several smaller vignettes on white space it is to show a quick succession of time or intensify a specific moment.  Becker's lush landscapes will have you gasping for breath either in awe of the panorama spread before you or at the tension in a situation right before your eyes.  His intricate fine lines and exquisite attention to detail will have you flipping back and forth through the pages.

One of my favorite illustrations is a close-up picture of the father on his arrival to Pallonezia.  He is standing on the dock along the stream holding his daughter's red ball.  Floating around the corner is the mechanical dragon.  Lanterns are strung from tree to tree.  Fireflies are flying through the forest.  The lights are reflected in the water.  You can feel the balmy air.  You can hear the night noises.  Your senses are shifting into high alert.

Return conceived and illustrated by Aaron Becker is a marvelous, magical adventure exploring the strength which comes from allowing our imaginations to freely explore.  Friendship, loyalty, family and love are woven throughout this final journey, quest and return to home.  It is a wonderfully rewarding read for all ages.

To discover more about Aaron Becker and the two previous titles please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  To view interior images please follow this link to the publisher's website. The publisher has created an Aaron Becker's The Journey Trilogy Activity Kit.  The book cover premiere for this title is found at All The Wonders hosted by teacher librarian Matthew Winner.  The book trailer premiere is at 100 Scope Notes hosted by teacher librarian Travis Jonker.  Aaron Becker visits All The Wonders Podcast, Episode 277 hosted by Matthew Winner.  Aaron Becker visits KidLit TV in an interview with Rocco Staino on StoryMakers and on Ready Set Draw! Aaron Becker's Watercolor Journey.  Aaron Becker was previously interviewed at Smart Books for Smart Kids, School Library Journal, and KidLit 411.  He is the subject of a post at The Huffington Post.  Enjoy the videos.

To celebrate the release of Return the final volume in Aaron Becker's triology, Candlewick Press is giving away a copy of Journey and Quest.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

It's A Sure Thing

It's referenced in children's nursery rhymes and songs.

Old Mother Hubbard

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone;
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.

This Old Man

This old man, he played one,
He played knick-knack on my thumb;
With a knick-knack paddywhack,
Give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.

It's verified and explained in scientific studies on canine evolution.  Dogs love bones.  

If there is a bone to be found, our pooch pals will find it.  One Hundred Bones (Templar Books, an imprint of Candlewick Press, April 26, 2016) written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer begins with a single dog on a daily mission.  He digs digging.

Scruff was not like other dogs.

Scruff was a stray; a dog without a home.  No human cared for him.  When the other neighborhood dogs walked by wearing collars and leashes, Scruff, free as could be, dug holes.  This did not make the humans happy.

"Get off my lawn!" Mr. Fusspot warned.

No one, least of all Scruff, liked to be treated poorly, so he left.  Roaming around the countryside this super sniffer smelled something downright delicious.  He dug a hole, going down deeper and deeper. What he found boggled his mutt mind.

This was no ordinary discovery.  Scruff knew this was not a one-dog job.  Heading back to the city, he asked

 Percy the pug, Pixie the poodle, Sidney the sausage dog and Ada the Afghan

for assistance.  There was simply no way they would entertain the thought of getting dirty until Scruff mentioned one word. Bones.

Not only did they unearth bones and more bones and still more bones; these did not resemble any they had previously seen.  Being clever canines, they knew where to go and how to get there.  Scruff's affection for dirt and digging lead to more than an assembled, fierce fossil. This time his rewards were forever.

The technique used by Yuval Zommer to tell this story involves a rhythmic repetition.  When the narrator makes a statement, it is followed by several supportive examples.  For instance he does this in describing why Scruff is not like other dogs, the distress the humans have for his digging, Scruff searching for a more peaceful place, and the kind of bones Scruff finds.  This tale will have readers leaning in to listen.  Here is a sample passage.

"Ten bones, twenty bones.
thirty bones...whoa!
Forty bones, fifty bones,
with lots more to go!"

And away Scruff ran
back over the hills,
through the woods,
across the fields,
and into town.

When you look at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case with those dogs holding bones in their mouths, it looks normal except for one thing.  Where are they?  Are those curtains?  Already Yuval Zommer is creating interest with questions.  The expressions on his dogs' faces are alert and curious.  On the back, to the left of the opened jacket and case, Scruff is placed in two colorful loose ovals on a grass green canvas with scattered bones.  These two images foreshadow events.

The opening and closing endpapers and first page turn are a pale brown shade, as if dirt has been rubbed on the paper.  A frame is created with a variety of the found bones.  Rendered digitally using a full color palette the illustrations are as lively as the characters.

White is used by Zommer to supply a loose border around his pictures of varying sizes which place emphasis on his text.  The details in each setting feature delicate leaves, flowers, mushrooms, ferns, vegetables, roots and birds.  These birds seems to be observers of the doggy happenings.  Careful readers will note additional elements which designate the specific geographical setting of the city.  It's a definite nod to dogs that the only part of humans seen in this story is their legs or in the case of the professor from the shoulder down.

One of my favorite illustrations, on a single page, is of Scruff deep, deep underground.  You are given a cross-section of his digging efforts; a zig-zag tunnel before his discovery of the mound of bones.  Roots are weaving through the dirt.  Scruff is holding a rather large bone in his mouth.  His expression definitely says he needs more help.

Let's suppose for a moment dogs have a complete command of the English language.  Let's also suppose we humans are perfectly aware of this.  Can you imagine the chaos the words one hundred bones would cause if stated to one or more dogs?  Thinking about this and reading One Hundred Bones written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer is sure to make most readers grin from ear to ear, regardless if they are dog lovers or not.  Be sure to share this title repeatedly for the sheer entertainment value or with a theme focusing on teamwork, friendship, dinosaurs, dogs or bones.

To learn more about Yuval Zommer and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name.  Yuval Zommer chats at Library Mice about the inspiration for this book.  You can view interior images at two publishers' websites here and here