Quote of the Month

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




Thursday, October 23, 2014

Just In Case...

When you have a dog there are several blocks of time in your day delegated to taking walks.  The difference in these blocks of time depends on the age of the dog.  When they are younger greater distances are covered in a shorter amount of time.  As they age twice as many minutes are given to one-sixth of the distance.  These slower walks with lots of stops and starts allow for the best kind of observations of your surroundings.  The simplest thing which captures your attention can lead to wonderful flights of the imagination.

As far as I'm concerned the value of daydreaming is without question.  It's the key to some of my best ideas.  It's the reason I've seen wonderful artwork and writing done by students.  If You Were a Dog (Farrar Straus Giroux, September 30, 2014) written by Jamie A. Swenson with pictures by Chris Raschka gives our minds permission to pretend.

If you were a dog, would you be speedy-quick,
lickety-sloppidy, 
scavenge-the-garbage,
frisbee-catching, ...

Readers get to place themselves within the characteristics of seven animals in the course of two questions asked of them.  For those who have canine companions or have taken the time to observe them, the other descriptions in the initial inquiry will bring smiles and knowing nods of recognition.  The next sentence wonders if you would do what dogs might do.

Cat fur, tongues, delectable meals, and day-to-day work and play follow with their duly-noted behavior toward the aforementioned dogs.  We bear witness to the fun and frolic of fresh water or ocean-going fish.  Little birds and big birds feeding, flying and watching lift us to new heights.

We can almost feel ourselves growing smaller as we become a butterfly, caterpillar, bee, grasshopper or cricket chirping out a familiar melody.  Quickly our hearts beat faster as we spring into action above and below the water as frogs.  Then we get to stretch our thoughts back into time as we roam, romp and roar the lands as a mighty dinosaur.

Even if it's only for the moments within the pages of this book, we understand the opportunity handed to us to be more than ourselves.  As humans, kids or kids at heart, can we do all those things these animals can do?  Or can we do a little bit more?


On her website Jamie A. Swenson tells the story of her inspiration for this book; one of the visitors to her library many years ago planted the seed that would not stop growing.  Through her selection of spirited words she not only understands each of the animals presented but she knows her audience.  With little stretch of YOUR imagination you can picture the amount of fun she must have had creating the text for this title.  Each of the phrases mirrors the definitive characteristics and actions of the animals.  Each section closes with the same sentence summoning listeners to participate.  Here are a couple more portions of passages.

If you were a bird,
would you be a
trout-snatching,
swooping,
soaring,
sky-circling, ...

Would you spring and zing
and hop all day?
BOING, BOING, RIBBET!
Some frogs do.


Using cooler colors as a backdrop with splashes of warmth Chris Raschka extends a hand through his illustrations on the matching dust jacket and book case, asking readers to open the book.  There is an uplifting sincerity which permeates his work here and in all the images in this title. Smaller visuals have been placed on the jacket flaps and above the dedications.  The dog on the front imagined by the child covers the title page in shades of warm brown with outlines in the same blue as seen on the jacket.  The plain red orange color on the opening and closing endpapers is used frequently within the interior.  Everything flows together.

When the first question is set forth, each of the hyphenated descriptors is given its own loosely outlined space on a page expertly designed to direct our eyes from one to the other.  The second inquiry and repetitive reply spreads across two pages supplying the closing beat to the text's tempo. The entire color palette inspires readers to dream.

One of my many favorite illustrations (besides the dogs, of course) is of the cricket.  I'm not sure I've ever seen Raschka use this color combination in previous titles.  It's a close up of a cricket on blades of grass at night.  Loose musical notes are near it.  Hues of brown, blue, golden yellow and peach create a marvelous atmosphere.


I know this book, If You Were a Dog written by Jamie A. Swenson with pictures by Chris Raschka, will be a story time favorite.  I can already hear the howls, hisses, splashes, swooshes, chirps, ribbets, and stomps.  You have to wonder what other animals readers and listeners will imitate.  This would be a great title to use to invite audience participation, reader's theater or to spark drawing and writing adventures.

To discover more about Jamie A. Swenson please follow the link embedded in her name taking you to her website.  Here are links to two interviews of her about this book, Elizabeth Caulfield Felt's Blog and The Storyteller's Inkpot.  If you visit the publisher's website eight more images can be viewed.  If you haven't watched these Reading Rockets videos about Chris Raschka, here's your chance to do so.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Facing The Facts

There are some animals I would not mind seeing face to face if my safety is assured.  There are other animals I would never want to see face to face even if my well-being is absolutely guaranteed.  For the most part I am grateful to be able to roam among their habitats keeping myself from infringing on their space; happy for their unexpected nearness unless they are one of those critters I would rather avoid.

Truthfully, considering the changing conditions on our planet, I stand in awe of the adaptability of animals as they strive to survive.  A husband and wife team from whom we have come to expect the very best have a new title.  Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 7, 2014) by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page clarifies what we can expect to see when we look certain animals right in their eyes.

Dear tapir:
Why is your nose crooked?
The tapir has a funny nose.  At least, it looks funny to us.  To the tapir, however, its nose is not a joke.

With this first page the illuminating format used by this author illustrator team is revealed.  Each animal is given a question by the narrator.  They, in turn, provide a short, but descriptive answer.

From South America, home of the tapir, we travel across the ocean to locate an Egyptian vulture whose face is absent of feathers, to discover why a bold red and blue color the countenance of a mandrill, and visit a frilled lizard to discuss the odd arrangement around his neck.  We journey back to where we started to ask the red fan parrot why they may or may not be wearing a hat. While we are there we are astonished to note feathers on a harpy eagle direct sound to their ears.

The nose of a leaf-nosed bat, the mouth of a horned frog, the cheeks of a hamster and the body of a pufferfish are closely examined.  Oddly enough the horns on the bighorn sheep come in handy rather than being a detriment to movement.  Did you even know there is a type of pig called a babirusa living in the Indonesian Islands?

Below ground the star-nosed mole and mole rate us exterior physical characteristics to navigate, find food and dig.  Whiskers and gills not feathers allow two animals to function properly under the sea.  The wily spicebush swallowtail caterpillar sports spots on their tails to trick predators into thinking they are snakes.

Black-eyes, furry ears, and purple tongues help to discourage enemies, provide warmth and give protection from the sun.  The blobfish is a victim of gravity out of the water.  Ending up on the Pacific side of the globe we learn of the importance of a sun bear's long (more than nine inches on some) tongue, the cleverness of the shoebill stork's beak, the advantage of the thorny devil's spikes and the two main assets of the rock hyrax.

The comedic wordplay used by Robin Page and Steve Jenkins takes learning about these twenty-five creatures to the best level.  If your interest is held when you acquire new knowledge because you are laughing and it's fun, why wouldn't you remember the actual facts or the experience?  Page and Jenkins form their sentences with a specific audience in mind; an audience eager to explore the fascinating world of animals.  Read a couple of excerpts shown below.

Dear Egyptian vulture:
Why no feathers
on your face?
Are you sure you
want to know?
Really? Okay, I'll
tell you. ...

Dear leaf-nosed
bat:
Seriously, is that 
your nose?
I know, I know---it
looks strange. ...


This will be the eighth book illustrated by Steve Jenkins honored in a post on my blog.  His torn-paper and cut-paper collage pictures never fail to amaze his readers.  Authentic colors and characteristics are highlighted with vivid, bold backgrounds.  On his matching dust jacket and book case the red used in the text for the title becomes the canvas for the image on the left or back.  A pufferfish is speaking to the reader in reply to a question shown in speech balloons.

Dear
pufferfish:
What's happening
to you?

I'm inflating! It's
just something I do.
I don't have time to
explain right now, but
read the book and I'll
tell you more.

Hues of gold, green, black, red, orange, blue, and salmon supply the backdrop for these animal portraits appearing on single pages throughout the title.  Only two, the horned frog and the blobfish, extend across two pages.  Texture and the smallest of details are portrayed through the choice of paper and intricate handiwork.  Research through reliable resources assists in the accuracy of the images.  They appear as if alive.

One of my favorites of the twenty-five has to be the red squirrel.  The quickness of movement is frozen in this illustration.  You can almost hear the squirrel chattering at you for interrupting what must surely be a day spent in storing food for the upcoming winter.


Steve Jenkins and Robin Page have delivered a stellar work of nonfiction in Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do.  We feel like listeners of a chatty, informative, humorous talk show.  The final two pages give diet and location of each animal depicted by their silhouettes.  A bibliography is included.  I have a feeling you are going to need more than one copy of this title for your shelves.

By following the link attached to Steve Jenkins name you will be taken to his official website.  This link takes you to an explanation of how the book evolved.  The publisher has produced a series of masks to wear taken from five of the pages.




Be sure to head on over to Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see what other bloggers have highlighted today as part of the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Tribute To The Power Of A Single Book

In the world of children's literature if you don't keep a list of forthcoming books, you will forget what you wanted to read.  In a post on April 28, 2014 teacher librarian Travis Jonker, who blogs at 100 Scope Notes, brought to his readers the 2014 Preview Interview: Flying Eye Books.  In that post I saw several books I knew I wanted to read, but I neglected to list them.  It wasn't until I was at my favorite independent book shop, McLean & Eakin, last week I saw one of those books on display among the shelves.

The colorful book case design immediately gets your attention.  The title, while not asking a question, is intriguing. Who is reading?  What are they reading?  Where are they reading? When are they reading?  Why are they reading this book?   The Best Book in the World (Flying Eye Books, July 29, 2014) by Rilla (Alexander) is irresistible even before you open it up.

Take the first step.
Turn the first page.

With those two sentences on the first two pages, readers are invited to join in the journey being taken by an unnamed girl.  We gladly follow her patterned footsteps out and about her neighborhood to the bus stop.  The entire time her head is bent as she reads an open book.

Like her we can read aloud, read along or read silently the written words.  Never glancing up from the book, she travels with no specific destination in mind.  Or does she?  Perhaps the book is about a trip taken by airplane.  Perhaps the book is about an adventure high in the sky.

Is she wandering in the snowy mountains?  Is she trudging through the sifting desert sands?  Is she floating up and down and up and down watery waves?  Where is she navigating to next?  There are answers to be found with every page turn.

There are bicycles.  There are balloons.  There are wild animals in the deepest, darkest forest.  People, places and moments to remember are multiplying.

The day is coming to close.  The story is almost finished.  But...a story is never really over.  All you have to do is...


With limited text Rilla Alexander guides readers through her story better than any map does when we seek a destination.  She implores us to keep going.  She knows the value in books and in reading them.  Her words encourage us to find the pure elation.  When you read her text aloud (even to yourself), there is an undercurrent of cheerful comfort.

Page by page you're carried away.
So let yourself go!


It's no secret red is Rilla Alexander's favorite color; finding a prominent place in all her published work.  Eye-catching and warm it beckons to readers.  A character she has placed in previous books, though never named within the pages of this title, Sozi sits reading an open book on the front of the book case.  On the back another open book is read by grinning characters found within this title.

Shades of yellow, red, orange and blue and pristine white create squares of graphic designs on the opening endpapers, three featuring Sozi oblivious of her surroundings, as she begins her day, so fully engrossed in her book.  Darker hues of green, blue, purple, red and black conclude the story on the closing endpapers as sleep comes to the characters.  Across the verso and title page, Alexander begins her narrative with the girl reading as she walks away from her home.  This two page spread zooms in on the reader bringing us close to her.

All of the remaining illustrations span double pages, edge to edge, shifting the color spectrum as the book is read and the trip is taken.  You realize time is passing and slowing with the change from a blue font to a white font; white necessary to be seen on the darker palette used.  Bold lines, easily defined shapes and altered perspectives dictate a lively mood on every aspect of this book.

I have two favorite illustrations. One is of the girl floating on the waves, wearing sunglasses, holding and sipping a drink through a straw while sitting in her long-necked bird inner tube with other creatures and characters moving beneath her in the water.  White, black, red, yellow and a turquoise blue are the only colors.  Ten pictures forward only red, black, white and a small bit of pale blue color a peaceful illustration of the girl sleeping in an open book.  It surrounds her like blankets on a bed.


The Best Book in the World written and illustrated by Rilla (Alexander) is a charming, heartfelt appreciation of the gift books are to individual readers.  When readers connect with the right book, everything else passes away, nothing else matters but the story.  The essence of a book is it never ends but begins over and over each time the cover is opened; each time it is shared.

To learn more about Rilla Alexander and her work please visit her website linked in her name.  To enjoy Sozi follow the link embedded in her name.  At the publisher's website fifteen images are posted for your viewing pleasure.  Elementary teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner interviews Rilla Alexander on his Let's Get Busy podcast giving listeners insights into this book and her work in general.  Another informative interview can be found at Look/Book.



The Best Book in the World! from Sozi on Vimeo.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Homonyms, Rules, Numbers and One Dog

Sometimes you are so taken with what you are reading hours pass by without you even moving a single inch.  The characters' story has become intertwined with every breath you take.  When the final page is read you know this is one of those books, rich and rare, which needs to be shared.

Yesterday morning I finished such a book. As I was thinking about it during the day, this tweet appeared in my feed.

 I am certain this book will create a lifetime reader.

I
The First Part
Who I Am---
A Girl Named
Rose (Rows)
I am Rose Howard and my first name has a homonym.
To be accurate, it has a homophone, which is a word that's pronounced the same as another word but spelled differently.  My homophone name is Rows.

This is how Ann M. Martin, Newbery Honor winning author of A Corner of the Universe, begins her newly released title, Rain Reign (Feiwel and Friends).  Continuing in this first chapter Rose introduces us to her fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Kushel, her aide, Mrs. Leibler, her father, Wesley Howard, and her Uncle, Weldon Howard.  Rose has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism, Asperger's syndrome.  Her best friend is her dog, Rain.

Rose has a passion for collecting homonyms, following rules and using numbers to define people, places, events and help her cope with stress.  Her father works as a mechanic at the shop near their home and is a frequent patron of the local pub, The Luck of the Irish.  One evening on his way home from The Luck of the Irish, he finds a dog with no identification, giving it to Rose as a gift.  It was raining that night, so Rose named her Rain.  The two of them know Wesley Howard's moods, having learned to navigate around them with care.

Due to several misunderstandings with the bus driver, Rose needs to be driven to and picked up from Hartford Elementary School.  Her Uncle, who works for a construction company doing their computer work, has an arrangement so he can do this for Rose.  Apparent in their conversations and time spent together on the weekends is his compassion for Rose.

Even the daily occurrences in the classroom, Rose's take on the days with the adults and students, pale in comparison to what happens when Hurricane Susan moves up the eastern coast and heads inland to Hartford, New York.  During the storm toward morning, Rose's dad lets Rain outside without her wearing her collar.  Rain is missing when Rose wakes up.

The devastation left in the wake of the hurricane, the lost homes, the lack of electricity and use of phones, the flooding and destruction to vegetation (trees) and the roads, will take weeks to restore any sense of normal.  For Rose, a life without Rain seems like no life at all.  She methodically devises a plan.  With the help of Uncle Weldon good and not so good things happen.  Rose, her dad and uncle need to make some decisions; life-changing choices affecting the lives of each of them.


Having Rose tell this story in her own words, orderly with precision, is a wonderful technique employed by Ann M. Martin.  It allows readers to experience Rose's world as closely as we can giving us insights into autism.  It also explores the reactions of people to Rose as she perceives them.

 Divided into four sections, The First Part, The Part About the Hurricane, The Next Part and The Hard Part, with forty-nine succinct chapters we are able to easily connect to the rhythm of life in Hartford, New York. By including the homonyms in parentheses and the number values assigned to Rose's thought processes as well as her need for rules and routine, we have a clear image of Rose Howard in our minds.  Rose's descriptions of the characters now and her knowledge of their pasts, give us a greater understanding of their actions.  We don't like how Rose is treated but we can see how events and choices made could lead to the circumstances in which she lives.

Here are some sample passages from the book.

When Rain and I are at home alone together, we sit inside or on the front porch and Rain puts one (won) of her front feet (feat) in (inn) my lap.  I rub her toes (tows), and she gazes into my blue (blew) eyes with her eyes, which are the color of a chocolate bar.  After a while, she starts to fall asleep.  Her brown eyes squint shut until they're completely closed.  At bedtime she crawls under the covers with me.  If I wake up during the night, I find that Rain has smashed her body against mine and rested her head across my neck.

Her head is resting on her front paws (pause), but her eyes are alert.
"Bye," I say to my uncle, and because I like him, I lean back inside the truck before I close the door, and I look directly into his eyes.  "Thank you for the ride," I say clearly.
Uncle Weldon smiles at me. "You're welcome.  I'll see you tomorrow." Finger crosses, heart touches.
My uncle waves to my father through the windshield and turns the truck around.
"You're not at work," I say to my father.
"Nope, not at work. Very observant."
This might (mite) be (bee) sarcasm, which is like mockery.

Rain is not there.  I call her name again.  Then I step onto the porch in my bare feet.  I stand at the top of the steps and call, "Rain! Rain! Rain! Rain!" into the gray morning.
The only sound I hear is dripping.
I begin to breathe very fast.
I think this is a sign of panic.
"Two, three, five, seven, eleven," I say. "Two, three, five, seven, eleven."


Just like life Rain Reign written by Ann M. Martin is heartbreaking and heartwarming.  Once you start this, you won't be able to put it down.  Readers will feel complete empathy for Rose Howard and her beautiful soul.  This book is a must read and should find a place on every bookshelf.

Ann M. Martin dedicates this book

In memory of sweet Sadie,
March 11, 1998-October 7, 2013

Sadie was her beloved dog.  In an author's note at the end she explains the inspiration for this book as well as the assistance she received.  If you follow the link embedded in the title, the publisher has created a special page for this book with excerpts and a discussion guide.  Publisher's Weekly provides Q & A with Ann M. Martin in an informative post.  Readers also might be interested in this article from ELLE magazine, Writing About Autism and Remembering 'The Babysitter's Club': A Q & A With Ann M. Martin.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Way...Way... Down South

For followers of this blog, readers of my recommendations, you know I place a high value on laughter.  My fondest life memories are generally those spent in laughter, especially shared laughter.  To become acquainted with characters whose escapade-filled lives and corresponding dialogue elicit grins, giggles or guffaws is a gift from an author and an illustrator.

We don't want these stories to end.  When they do, it's our fervent hope a sequel, or even better yet an entire series, is in the making.  On September 30, 2014 wishes were granted when James Burks' Bird & Squirrel On Ice (Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic) was released.

When the fearless and fearful pair were last seen, they were making their way south for the winter.

Somewhere high above the South Pole...

I don't like this!
It's cold!
And I'm pretty sure we're...
...LOST!

It's safe to say Bird's flying abilities have taken them farther south than originally intended.  Squirrel's pessimistic assessment is definitely correct.  Within seconds of this conversation, they crash into an iceberg, cause an avalanche which they ride with hair-raising reckless abandon and meet a warrior penguin named Sakari.  She is quick to assume Bird is The Chosen One fulfilling the elements of a legend told for generations in her village.

When the moon is full in two days, it is said The Chosen One will defeat The Great Whale in battle.  This orca of enormous proportions eats most of the fish the penguin population catches each day in exchange for not placing them on the main course menu.  Of course Bird readily falls into his role as the champion for these South Pole residents but true to form Squirrel sees the worst-case scenario.

Ice sculptures, ceremonial regalia and tales of daring-do occupy Bird's days and nights as Squirrel, nerves on edge, knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that doom is coming and coming fast.  With Bird ignoring all his pleas to get help or formulate any sort of plan other than winging it, Squirrel, in the dead of night, seeks Sakari's counsel.  She in turn leads him underground to visit the local wise man...er, penguin.  In the light of the fire Squirrel sees that his worst fears will be realized.

Still in optimum optimism mode Bird does not believe a single word Squirrel says until it's too late.  A warrior and a worrywart need to hatch a winning plan or our daring flyer will be The Great Whale's next tender treat.  Will the trio be trapped by tradition or will they triumph?


As soon as we open the cover and flip the title page, James Burks does not miss a beat, whooshing us right back into the action.  Dialogue driven, with spare narration, the story moves at breakneck speed with purposeful pauses in all the right places.  The clash of personality traits between Bird and Squirrel generate humor and gentle tension.  Introducing the penguin warrior, who has troubles of her own as the daughter of the chief, and The Great Whale with a matching appetite in this setting of ice and snow heightens the appeal of the already-loved duo.  Here is a continuation of the opening lines to demonstrate the relationship of the two.  Bird is replying to Squirrel.

Don't be ridiculous!
I know exactly where we are.
My bird senses are never wrong!  SLAM
My bird senses are telling me we hit a mountain.  CRACK

What was that?
I think we broke the mountain.
AVALANCHE!!


James Burks' cover, front and back, tells a story.  On the front Squirrel is not even remotely happy to be on the ice.  Bird, true to his happy-go-lucky self, oblivious to the danger, is fishing as The Great Whale gets ready to have them both for dinner.  On the back the enemy is leaping over a terrified Squirrel, the ready fighter, Sakari, with spear unraised and Bird grinning with glee.

In speaking with Matthew C. Winner, elementary teacher librarian, and host of the Let's Get Busy podcast (which is fantastic), James Burks talks about incorporating panels on top of full bleed pages.  I have to say this technique, which he employs masterfully, increases the sense of the action swirling about you.  Each panel, placed precisely and varied in size, on all his pages are absolutely captivating.  It's like watching a movie; seamless motion.

A color palette, bright and lively, highlights the animated features on each character; features conveying the emotion associated with every single thought.  If the first ten pages don't hook you, you might want to check to see if you have a pulse.  They are absolutely hilarious.  Another sequence I enjoyed is down in the cave when Squirrel is looking into the fire to see Bird's future.  All Burks' wordless images like this tell a story as compelling as the text.


Bird & Squirrel On Ice written and illustrated by James Burks is an outstanding companion to his first title, Bird & Squirrel On The Run!  It has all the thrills and chills (literally), laughter and companionable bantering between the unlikely friends we love.  The I-can't-believe-this-is-happening twists and turns via the penguin village, the chief, Sakari and The Great Whale are top notch.

Be sure to follow the links embedded in James Burks' name and Let's Get Busy to discover more about this work.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Aerial Adventures

After a read aloud or storytelling, inevitably requests for scary stories (or more scary stories), are voiced by the listeners.  These are perennial favorites.  The next activity most enjoyed is when the listeners become tellers; feeling secure in sharing their true or imaginative tales.

Taking it one step further is a collaborative effort with each person contributing one or two sentences as we pass the story around a circle.  With few boundaries, their minds working together create the most outlandish but ultimately funny and rewarding chain of events.  When reading Sebastian and the Balloon (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, October 7, 2014) written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead, I couldn't help but think how utterly perfect this adventure is suited for the uninhibited imaginations of the young at heart.

Sebastian sat high on his roof---something he was never supposed to do.

Clearly Sebastian's sense of adventure is near to bursting from his small self to tackle sitting on the top of his house.  What he sees from this vantage point is disappointing.  He knows it's time for a new view, a view filled with amazing possibilities.

Resourceful to the depths of his young soul, he gets together

all the things he would ever need.

Once it's dark outside, because this is the very best time to begin an adventure, Sebastian heads to his very own hot air balloon he has carefully constructed using his Grandmother's handiwork.  Cautious but resolute he is soon drifting along high in the night sky.

Feeling the need for a snack stop the next day, he puts the balloon down next to a rather odd tree, a tree without a single leaf.  A large real bear begins a conversation with Sebastian.  Pickle sandwiches are consumed by the duo.

When the balloon lifts off in the fog, the real bear is now a passenger.  Disaster strikes in the form of a very tall bird with a very pointy beak.  Finding themselves on a rooftop, the trio is questioned by another trio, three sisters who happen to be highly qualified knitters, repairers of hot air balloons with holes.  When they bemoan the absence of needles, Sebastian is ready.

As the balloon and the travelers follow the wind this time, their numbers are six.  On the other side of the mountain, a thrill they are seeking awaits them.  Combined efforts and Sebastian's ingenuity create a ride to remember until...


The words Philip C. Stead has selected to use in this story are filled with wonder.  It's as if his mind like the balloon has floated freely through the anything-wonderful-could-happen world.  Repetition of significant phrases summons readers to the story.  They are more than willing to stay.  Here is a sample passage.

And they fell down, down, down---out of the fog and onto the roof of a ramshackle house.
"I'm sorry," said a very tall bird.  "It was my fault."
"It's okay," said Sebastian.  "Would you like a pickle sandwich?"




If you never have taken a ride in a hot air balloon you really should.  Philip C. Stead captures the sense of awe, the feeling of gliding on the air at night against a full moon, marvelously on his matching dust jacket and cover.  When you open them up you discover Sebastian is holding the string to a kite he is flying, red-ribboned tail streaming outward.  The opening endpapers are the same shade as the bear.  The deep golden yellow used as a background for several of the daylight pictures appears on the closing endpapers.

Rich rustic hues of red, yellow, blue, a muted white, gray and green blend flawlessly in illustrations rendered in pastels, oil paints and pressed charcoal.  Stead's accomplished use of this medium on the heavier matte-finished paper gives each picture the kind of texture you want to stop and touch. Nearly all of the visuals cover two pages, expansive like the journey Sebastian and his newly-acquired friends are taking. The presence of a tiny red bird from the beginning to the end brings comfort and continuity.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Sebastian, the real bear and the tiny red bird sitting on a red-and-white-checkered tablecloth eating their snack.  Hands holding pickle sandwiches Sebastian and the real bear are happily content.  The red bird has a single pickle in its beak.  The glowing golden background adds to the pleasure of this shared moment.


Sebastian and the Balloon written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead is brimming with heart-melting charm.  Careful readers will see Stead's sense of humor present in smaller details in his illustrations.  Sebastian's faith in anything is possible will be passed from reader to reader.  You might start to see those family heirloom quilts and afghans start to disappear around the house.  You also might want to make sure you have a healthy supply of pickles and bread and strawberries too.

To learn more about Philip C. Stead and his work please follow the link to his website embedded in his name.  By following this link to the publisher's website you can view eight images from this book.

Update:  Julie Danielson, author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, interviews Philip C. Stead about this new title on October 22, 2014.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lessons From A Gorilla #2---The True Story

On January 28, 2013 I, like many others around the world, was unable to attend the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting And Exhibits in Seattle, Washington. I was however sitting in front of a computer screen listening intently to every single word during the Youth Media Awards ceremony. For the first time in my life when the winner of the John Newbery Award was announced I burst into tears.





Katherine Applegate's book The One and Only Ivan (Harper Collins, January 17, 2012) (my review) is one of those books you will always remember reading for the first time.  You will read it more than once.  You will probably also listen to the audio book.  I knew I needed to share it with as many of my students as possible.  When Ivan passed away I wrote a post, Ivan, Katherine Applegate and Mr. Schu, talking about the impact of reading this aloud to our entire fourth grade student population.  Attending the American Library Association Annual Conference & Exhibition Banquet to hear Katherine Applegate give her acceptance speech was definitely a lifetime highlight for me.



On October 7, 2014 Katherine Applegate continued the story of Ivan with the release of a new picture book.  Ivan The Remarkable True Story Of The Shopping Mall Gorilla (Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) with illustrations by G. Brian Karas.  It is a worthy companion making Ivan's story accessible for a larger audience including younger readers.

In leafy calm,
in gentle arms,
a gorilla's life began.

When Ivan's story began he had no name.  He was part of group, a family, of gorillas living their lives in central Africa among the trees of a tropical forest.  As a young gorilla he played with and watched and learned from the other members, sometimes riding on his mother's back.

Before he was old enough to know fear of humans, he and another young female were captured by poachers. They were placed in a crate and taken to Tacoma, Washington.  They had been purchased like things by a man who owned a shopping mall.

At first due to their size they were treated like human babies and children, even given names after a contest was held.  The young Burma did not survive for very long.  Alone and growing larger Ivan was placed in an enclosure at the mall.

His singular life was not that of a normal male gorilla, a mighty silverback.  Within the confines of his cage he sometimes watched TV, played with a tire and finger-painted pictures using his thumbprint as a signature.   After many, many years of this existence people, children in particular, began to protest against his treatment.

After twenty-seven years in this environment in Tacoma, Washington, Ivan was placed in Zoo Atlanta, Georgia.  Under the care of professionals he became accustomed to his new home until the wonderful day he got to see grass and sky and be present in the company of other gorillas.  How fitting that Katherine Applegate dedicates the book

For everyone who loved Ivan

I believe the love for Ivan will continue to grow as others learn his story through this book.


With the same adept use of words found in her Newbery title, Katherine Applegate brings the facts of Ivan's life to light.  Each sentence, simple enough for her audience to understand, evokes understanding and compassion.  Older readers will notice the authenticity of her research.  Here is a sample passage.

Ivan was about thirteen
when his coat began to shimmer
with silvery-white hairs.
He'd grown into a silverback gorilla.
In the jungle,
he would have been ready 
to protect his family.

But he had no family
to protect.


Through multiple character sketches, viewing videos and spending a day watching gorillas in a zoo habitat, G. Brian Karas is able to open this book with the close-up of a baby gorilla being held in the arms of a caring adult as seen on the matching dust jacket and book case.  Sky blue opening and closing endpapers compliment his scenes from the African jungle and to me signify freedom lost and freedom found.  His artwork of the tropical forest continues, framing the title page, verso and dedication page.

Karas alters his background colors, cream, white and taupe, to assist in creating an atmosphere.  His illustrations vary in size to heighten the emotion behind the truth of the text.  A full realistic color palette enhances his artistic style, his use of lines and shading, to create a wonderful visual memory for readers.

Two of my favorite illustrations are very moving.  Both cover two pages edge to edge.  The first shows the tiny baby gorillas inside the crate, the darkness surrounding them, as the journey is made from Africa to the United States.  The other is of Ivan at Zoo Atlanta on the day he first steps outside into his new home.  He is seated his silverback to us, looking over his shoulder.  The contrast between these pictures is evident; showing two sides of humanity.  I'll take the one signifying hope.

Ivan The Remarkable True Story Of The Shopping Mall Gorilla written by Katherine Applegate with illustrations by G. Brian Karas is not only a must read but a must own.  The care taken by these two gifted creators in the field of children's literature is obvious on every single page.  Photographs of Ivan are included on the back of the jacket and cover, at the end of the story and as part of the pages dedicated to the author's note.  The final page is four paragraphs from Ivan's keeper, Jodi Carrigan, at Zoo Atlanta speaking about their relationship and the importance of Ivan's life.

Please follow the multiple links in this post to gather more information about both of the Ivan books, the author and the illustrator.  Of particular importance is the blog post written by G. Brian Karas.  It speaks about his process in creating the illustrations for this book.

I am happy to participate in Alyson Beecher's 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted at her blog Kid Lit Frenzy each week.  When I went to link up with the other bloggers, I noted several others talk about this same book today.  Alyson highlighted it last week.  Make sure you read all the wonderful posts.