Quote of the Month

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

Friday, September 12, 2014

An Appetite For Anything And Everything

Most people who have been chosen by canine companions can attest to quickly learning to keep their pals close at all times.  Otherwise you and your friend might be taking a tomato juice bath after a close encounter with a skunk or making an emergency visit to the vet to remove porcupine quills looking like acupuncture gone wrong.  It's important to observe leash laws at all times to protect our dogs from vehicles, other dogs and a multitude of other potential problems their noses might lead them into within seconds.

I am here to warn all humans who love their furry friends to beware of a heretofore unheard of hazard.  This book just ate my dog! (Henry Holt and Company) written and illustrated by Richard Byrne reveals the consequences of getting too close to a badly behaved book.  You will need to keep a wary eye on those stacks and shelves in book shops, libraries and even in your own home.

Bella was taking her dog for a stroll across the page when...

Wait a minute!  You have got to be kidding me!  Bella's dog has all but disappeared into the gutter of this book.  Yes, I am talking about the very book I am holding in my hands right this minute.

Now all that's left is a very taunt leash Bella is struggling to hold.  Balloon-holding Ben comes meandering down the page.  Bella shouts out the horrible news.  One curious boy has vanished.  This can't be good.

To Bella's delight in the nick of time the dog rescue truck roars into view...and then it disappears too.  It happens again and again.  No one, nothing, is safe near this book.  Stella decides to take matters into her own hands.  Now what? I am holding a book void of characters and objects that has just burst forth with the most revolting noise.

Incredulous to say the least, I am further surprised when an envelope pops out of the center.  It's a written request from Bella asking me to perform a specific task over and over and over and over and once more.  I would like to report everything is currently perfectly perfect, but I can't.

I'll wager there's not a single school librarian who has not received a book returned after it's been partially consumed by a family dog.  Using a minimal amount of text, Richard Byrne completely switches this scenario with hilarious results. His use of words creates an appropriate atmosphere;

very odd

There is a back and forth rhythm put into place.  Initially it cautiously invites readers to participate.  A single sentence or portions of a sentence (with the exception of the note) are the only text on a page supplying flawless pacing.  It leads them to the wholly unexpected burst-out-laughing ending.

Removing the dust jacket and lifting the flaps, readers are treated to an illustration spanning left to right across the back and front.  A very surprised Bella is leading her dog.  On the back we read:

Nice reader
to show this
naughty book
who's boss.
Please help! 

The flap on the left shows a smaller version of Bella.  On the right we see the rear section, tail and two legs, of her dog.  Beneath the jacket, the book case in the corresponding vivid turquoise blue has a single sentence printed repeatedly,

I promise not to be a naughty book

Opening and closing endpapers feature outlines, white on pale blue, of the emergency vehicles.  They are identical with a glaring exception which I will not reveal.  The verso and title page picture begins the story with the sleeping dog being called for a walk.

Straight wide brush strokes in gray and tan are a backdrop for the full color portrayals of the characters and trucks.  Red is used for the text, leash, and as a major color or accent on the other elements.  The smallest lines for eyes, noses and mouths serve to feature contentment, shock, fear, good cheer, bewilderment, joy, anger, surprise and relief.  Careful readers will notice all the tiny details.

One of my favorite illustrations is the first one when the narrative begins.  Bella and her dog walking along the page are carefree and enjoying this activity together.  The dog's tail is wagging in pure pleasure.  This picture serves to introduce readers to the two main characters and sets the stage for the surprising contrasts ahead.

You can't read this title, This book just ate my dog!, written and illustrated by Richard Byrne without smiling the entire time, page after page.  I know with certainty when the last double-page illustration comes into view readers and listeners alike are going to roar with laughter.  The dog knows.  You know.  But Bella is blissfully unaware.  I recommend getting multiple copies.  Plan on a chorus of read it again when the cover is closed.

To visit Richard Byrne's official website please follow the link embedded in his name.  If you are like me, after reading this title I know I need to read more of his work.  Here is a link to a single page activity provided by the publisher.

Macmillan Children's Publishing Group has graciously agreed to give away a copy of this book to one lucky winner.  Please complete the form below.  Good luck!

Turn Back Time

When you are younger you can hardly wait to grow up believing adulthood to be far superior to childhood.  Once you reach a certain age, even if you embrace it with acceptance, you long for the days to slow down.  Time seems to go faster with each passing year.

Wrinkles, gray hair, and creaky joints go with the territory.  It is decidedly hard though to see parents and peers age quicker for reasons other than their number of birthdays.  Jennifer L. Holm, triple Newbery Honor winner (Turtle in Paradise, 2011, Penny from Heaven, 2007 and Our Only May Amelia, 2000) explores family relationships, friendship, and why life, however long it is, is valued in a new title, The Fourteenth Goldfish (Random House).

When I was in preschool, I had a teacher named Starlily.  She wore rainbow tie-dyed dresses and was always bringing in cookies that were made with granola and flax and had no taste.

Ten-year-old Ellie was shocked to discover Goldie, her goldfish, was not a natural wonder having lived for seven straight years.  She was under the mistaken impression the original pet given to her by Starlily had been alive for quite some time.  Her mother, in an attempt to shield her from many untimely deaths, had been replacing each goldfish as they expired.  Number thirteen had recently left to swim in the big pond in the sky.

Now eleven and facing the uncertainty of sixth grade and middle school, Ellie is in for another colossal surprise.  Her maternal grandfather, Melvin Herbert Sagarsky, a renowned scientist, is going to be living with her and her mother, a drama teacher at the high school.  (Her parents divorced when Ellie was little but have remained good friends.  Her father, an actor, tours with a theater company.)  Certainly having a grandparent living under the same roof is an adjustment but this grandparent has made an epic discovery.  This grandparent is now a thirteen-year-old teenager.  Life is about to enter uncharted waters.

Without a doubt Ellie's grandfather has conceived a way to reverse the aging process by using a previously undocumented specie of jellyfish.  One of several problems is the sample is in his lab; his younger self is being denied access.  How is he going to document this scientific achievement without proof?

Now enrolled in the same middle school as Ellie, her distant cousin "Melvin" looks like an eccentrically-attired student but retains all the wry wit and feistiness of a seventy-six-year-old scientist providing for more than a few humorous moments. Through the other characters Ellie makes discoveries of her own; childhood friends drift apart and develop other interests but new friends make a path into your world, parents and their children, no matter their age, are still parents and children, and life needs to move forward.  Even knowing the outcome, on the second reading, I, like all readers, could not turn the pages fast enough, anxious for each quest to be fulfilled and for each question to be answered.  In this title, as in life, there are no endings, only beginnings of possible.

Having seen more decades then I can hardly believe come and go, losing both parents and a spouse, it's easy for me as a reader to identify with Ellie, her mother and her grandfather.  Jennifer L. Holm depicts them (and all the characters) with extraordinary realism.  Each voice, particularly Ellie's, rings true to life with clarity and humor.  Holm's gift in portraying the interplay of generational give-and-take is exquisite.

She skillfully weaves science, a realm full of potential, into this title.  Ellie's parents are hopeful she will find her passion, preferably in a pursuit similar to theirs.  With her teenage grandfather now taking up residence in their home, her joy for science is revealed layer by layer through their marvelous discussions.

Deft at descriptions of time and place Holm transports readers into Ellie's daily life.  Whether at school, home or on an escapade to gain the Turritopsis melvinus we are there side by side with the characters.  We know what they know.  We feel what they feel.  We grow in understanding as they do.

Here are some samples of Holm's writing from this title.  My pages are peppered with post-it notes.  Every time I read this I add more.

Warm air drifts through my bedroom window.  We live in the Bay Area, in the shadow of San Francisco, and late-September nights can be cool.  But it's hot tonight, like summer is refusing to leave.

Then he goes to the fridge, takes out the milk, and pours himself a big glass.  He drinks it and pours himself another.
He waves the carton of milk at me and burps.  "Make sure you take your calcium.  Everything they say about bone density is true.  I lost two inches in the last ten years of my life.
"You shrank?"
"The perils of old age," he says.

This is so interesting.  He's so interesting.  It's like I've never really listened to him before.  And maybe I haven't.  Usually when we're together, he and my mom just bicker.
"How do you know so much about this?" I ask.
"Because I've been researching it for the last forty years.  It's my side project.  I've had articles published, you know."
I'm starting to think that maybe I don't know him at all.  Not really.  It's like he's been playing the part of Grandfather in a play, but underneath the makeup is something more.  A real person.

But maybe there's also a little magic in cooking, taking all the plain old ingredients and turning them into comfort and memory.  Because when my mom walks in the door, she sniffs the air expectantly.
"Something smells wonderful," she says.
"We cooked dinner!" I say.
My grandfather holds out a plate to her.
"Is that----" she starts to ask.
My grandfather finishes her sentence, "Your mother's coq au vin."
She takes a bite and her face turns up in a smile.
"It tastes exactly the way I remember it," she murmurs.
His eyes shine, "Yes," he says.

The Fourteenth Goldfish written by Jennifer L. Holm is a beautiful novel creating a bridge of understanding between the lives of parents and children, exploring profound questions about life and death and affirming the wonder to be gained in the field of science.  It's a middle grade must-read but every single age will find connections within its pages.  Heartwarming and uplifting, this is writing excellence.

For more information about Jennifer L. Holm and this title please visit her official website by following the link embedded in her name.  At the publisher's website several beginning chapters are posted for you to read. Teacher librarian John Schumacher featured the cover reveal at Watch. Connect. Read. a little less than a year ago. Educator Colby Sharp chats with Jennifer L. Holm at sharpread and Nerdy Book Club. (I don't believe in coincidences.  These posts were made on my father's birthday.)  Thank you for this book, Jennifer.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Up And Around And Then Back Down

It can be seen for miles and miles in the distance, a beacon against the horizon announcing a spectacular experience in the offing.  During the day or night this spinning marvel is the next best thing to flying; giving passengers a bird's eye view of the surrounding landscape.  Your heart may be in your stomach but the visual feast is well worth the ride.

What thinker conceived this masterpiece of engineering excellence?  Mr. Ferris and His Wheel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) written by Kathryn Gibbs Davis with illustrations by Gilbert Ford introduces readers to George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. and his spectacular invention.  It's a story filled with monumental moments.

It was only ten months until the next World's Fair.  But everyone was still talking about the star attraction of the last World's Fair.

Certainly an American could create a showpiece for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair which would surpass the wonder of the Eiffel Tower erected in Paris, France.  George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. saw the national contest as a chance to present an idea he had been carrying around in his mind since childhood.  His structure would be more distinctive.  His structure would move.

At first his plans were dismissed as unrealistic but George knew his wheel would work.  He would use a new metal for its construction, steel.  Not only did the fair judges wait until there was only four months until the opening date before giving permission but they refused to provide any financial assistance to Mr. Ferris.  He was not deterred but determined.

A brutal winter, frozen ground and quicksand made laying the foundation particularly tricky.  Between two steel towers a forged axle was placed, breaking a record for its size and length.  With the fair date looming in the near future, the teams worked nearly nonstop piecing together more than 100,000 parts.  Eight weeks before the fair opened it was almost completed but once the cars were attached would it function?

The elegance and size of the cars, even by today's standards, were mind-boggling.  It must have been breathtaking for George, his wife and their honored guests as they sat in #1 rising up and up.  For fifty cents customers could circle twice around taking a twenty-minute trip.  George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. built his dream at the age of thirty-four.  One hundred twenty-one years later people still feel the thrill when reaching the top of his daring design.

Notice how author Kathryn Gibbs Davis begins by building a feeling of anticipation; like the start of world-class race.  Her narrative gains strength page after page as she describes with details, supported by research, of George's planning with his assistant, William Gronau, of his presentation to the judges, of his pursuit of funding and of his tireless work with his crews to complete the Ferris wheel.  As an extension of facts presented in the main story, Davis supplies two to three sentence paragraphs, in smaller font off to the side, focusing on specifics.  Here is an example.

Two thousand tons of steel began to turn around as the soft clanking of a large chain drove the mighty machine.

Two steam engines (an extra one in case one broke) made the wheel turn.  George had hidden them under the wooden platform where riders boarded.

Unfolded, the dust jacket (and matching book case) illustration spreads in all its nighttime splendor flap edge to flap edge.  The palette of blue, purple and golden yellow shades remains prominent throughout the entire book with accents of rose and green.  With little stretch of your imagination you get a real sense of viewing this scene from a building in Chicago.  If the window were open the newly invented light bulbs, numbering 3,000, would be sparkling in the dusk as sounds from the fair drifted inside your room.

Most of the images created by digital mixed media with ink and watercolor by Gilbert Ford span two pages.  Prior to the title illustration, readers are treated to a single visual of a boy fishing in a pond next to a mill with its wheel gently turning surrounded by a forest.  Tucked into the pond is a quote from the American architect and construction chief of the 1893 World's Fair, Daniel H. Burnham.

The buildings, clothing, daily activities and room interiors carefully reflect the appropriate time period in all of Ford's artwork for this title.  Each scene, with or without people, is alive, animated.  One of my favorite pictures is a panoramic view of the park as the sun is setting.  The lights are beginning to shine in the darkening buildings and on the Ferris wheel.  Leaves on the trees are turning golden and red.  Birds in flight are silhouetted against a rosy red sky with a few stars starting to shine.  You can feel a chill in the air.

The thing about really good nonfiction is it makes you notice everything differently.  After reading Mr. Ferris and His Wheel written by Kathryn Gibbs Davis with illustrations by Gilbert Ford readers will never look at a Ferris wheel the same way again.  They will remember its construction in the context of a World's Fair, which they may not have even known about previously.  They will remember the passion and persistence of Ferris, silently respecting his achievements.  Maybe they will want to know, as I did, how he lived the remainder of his life.  At the close of this title, quote sources, a selected bibliography and websites are listed.

For further information about Kathryn Gibbs Davis and Gilbert Ford please follow the links embedded in their names, taking you to their official websites.  Gilbert Ford has an excellent post on his blog about the process for creating his artwork.

Here is a little extra fun and a tribute to George Ferris courtesy of Google.

Each week dedicating a post to nonfiction has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this year.  I am truly thankful to Alyson Beecher host of Kid Lit Frenzy for her 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  Stop by her site to read the recommended nonfiction selections by other bloggers.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Polite Protocol

Certainly since the dawn of time, elders have served as guides for those younger than they are.  As parents or siblings it's almost an instinctive sense of duty. While most recognize the educational importance of making one's own mistakes, there are some things which must be done with the utmost care given to a prescribed sense of order, a code of conduct.

For whatever reason older sisters take this task to heart especially when it comes to younger brothers. It's a pleasure to present How to Behave at a Tea Party (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) written by Madelyn Rosenberg with illustrations by Heather Ross. Julia's little brother Charles has got a lot to learn; she's just the sister to show the way.

First, you open the invitation.

Overall grubbiness will not be tolerated; attention needs to be given to those places most likely to attract extra dirt.  Proper attire with emphasis on formal and fancy is required.  It would be unthinkable to attend without the quintessential hat.

Certain guests are not welcome at the suitably set table.  Oh...my...it seems those previously uninvited friends have arrived.  Er...it might be a good idea not to eat the flowers or for that matter the tablecloth.  At this point the demeanor of the hostess is deteriorating slightly.

Teacups must be held delicately.  Only certain food will be served with the exception of the dog being allowed his bone. The cornerstone magic words of manners are to be used at all times. Oh...oh...Julia is looking a tad bit more frazzled; her quiet mode of instruction has been replaced with frenzied pleas of can't, don't and no...no...no. YIKES!

Now that all the rascals, Charles, Rexie the dog, the frog and the irritable McKagan brothers, have retreated Julia can begin anew.  There are several teeny, tiny problems when following decreed tea party decorum.  It's too quiet.  It's too orderly.  It's up to the banished troublemakers to put a new spin on the best way to celebrate this time honored tradition.  Bring on the moat maker, the castle creator and daring, darling dragon!

Oh, how I love the way Madelyn Rosenberg uses words to convey the best part of any given situation. She paints pictures of personalities, transports us into best laid plans gone awry and supplies ample opportunities for us to grin, giggle and guffaw.  You can feel the tide turning and the tension building as prim and proper shifts back and forth between hilarious havoc.  Here is a single passage.

You must say "please"
and "thank you".
You must NOT slurp like a moose.
Or burp like Uncle Victor. 

The title is telling readers one thing but the dust jacket/book case front illustration depicts an entirely different scenario.  Clearly this tea party is going to be anything but ordinary.  I can hardly contain my laughter when I look at it.  On the back is featured an interior picture on the pouring and drinking of tea.  Rendered digitally the visuals begin their interpretation of the story on the title page, verso and first page as Julia writes the invitation and delivers it to her brother Charles, innocently playing with his toys on the floor.

As Julia narrates Heather Ross shows readers exactly what is happening.  Charles is not cleaning his ears but Rexie's with a toothbrush and Rexie is cleaning Charles's nose with doggy kisses.  Initially Julia is blissfully unaware which sets the stage for one comedic situation after another.

The wide-eyed looks on all the characters (except the teddy bear who stares like a deer caught in the headlights), small upturned noses and mouths shaped in an array of emotions will have readers in stitches.  Younger readers, who notice the smallest details, will be totally captivated by the expressions and antics of the frog.

One of my favorite set of illustrations is for the text

Next you put on fancy clothes.  Wear a fancy hat.  Underwear does not count as a hat.

As Julia dons a hat and ruffled cape, Charlie and the frog head for the hills.  Rexie is smitten with wearing a pink tutu.  Julia does manage to snare Charlie placing a sailor cap on his head; prompting an outburst of laughter from the frog.  Purple, lace-edged underwear labeled Tuesday ends up draped over the frog's left side.

From the first time I read this book and each subsequent reading, I have had a smile on my face every single minute.  How to Behave at a Tea Party written by Madelyn Rosenberg with illustrations by Heather Ross is an adorable accounting of the misinterpretation of manners.  Sometimes a girl just has to go with the flow...or in this case...the frog. Be ready to hear a chorus of read it again.

For more information about Madelyn Rosenberg and Heather Ross follow the links embedded in their names to find their official websites.  Today on Twitter people have been posting the cutest photographs of tea party attire and settings.  Here are only a few.  Follow the hashtag #howtobehaveatateaparty .

Enjoy the book trailer.  I am about to savor my final cup of tea for the day.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Nix The Naysayers

It seems to me children come into this world ready to freely express themselves anytime, anywhere.  For some this continues for the rest of their lives.  For others it's simply not easy.  Trust me when I say, I have firsthand experience in feeling apprehension prior to public speaking whether it's answering a question in class or standing before a room full of my peers.

For this reason, my students and I have conversations about making everyone feel welcome to share; appropriate responses are discussed.  Each person truly has a remarkable, unique story to share.  Talent show jitters can be particularly troublesome especially when you know deep down inside, you are good.  Author Judith Viorst and illustrator Sophie Blackall have given readers an encouraging, amusing and oh-so-true look in And Two Boys Booed (Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux) at experiencing and overcoming stage fright. 

On the morning of the talent show, I was ready to sing my song.

Why is this guy ready to sing his song?  Not only has he practiced over and over and over, but he is wearing his two favorite articles of clothing.  He's feeling even better when he realizes, seated and waiting, there are five students ahead of him in line.

As each of his classmates performs, shortening the time before he sings, his sense of "this is a piece of cake" turns to "why did I ever agree to do this".  When his turn arrives he stands up, then sits down and repeats this again.  Apparently this is not okay to two boys in his classroom.  They do the unacceptable; they boo.

His thinking gets muddled; words are switching places with other words in his mind.  His frustration grows.  But...all is not lost for this young soloist.  Practicing, blue boots and pants with pockets save the day; his classmates have a hand in it too!

What readers and listeners will like about this book is the cumulative format used by Judith Viorst with the narrative.  Each of the boy's new thoughts is added on to the previous one with the slightest alterations.  It's a wonderful technique for building anticipation.  In this case it creates the ideal canvas for his mishmash of thoughts as his doubt increases.  

Through her illustrations Sophie Blackall is able to cast her special artistic light on the essence of a story and also broaden the reader's view.  She takes a single scene elevating our awareness with her whimsical but realistic details.  As an example look at the dust jacket/book case.  The main character is off to the left with the five students who performed before him sitting in the chairs glancing in his direction.  Juggling balls and paper airplanes are placed above and below them.  It's a stroke of design brilliance to have them holding cards spelling out the final word of the title.   

To increase the pure fun of reading this book she has placed ten flaps within her pictures; readers gaining further insight with every lift. We might see the boy with the covers over his head and then smiling beneath them when they are pulled back or the teacher clapping.  The shape of the final flap is HEARTwarming.

Blackall shifts her visual size to emphasize a particular point in the story.  When the text speaks about the number of times the boy practices, twenty-five small pictures spread across two pages show all the boy is doing at the same time he is singing.  She has readers turn the book to see her vertical illustration zooming in on the pants and boots.  When the boy is shown waiting with the five others they are spread apart to depict his initial ease.  As it gets closer to his turn his stripped sweater acts as a turtle's shell.  I particularly enjoyed watching what the girl did with her poem.  Blackall is a master of conveying the everyday; no element is too small to note.  

The collaboration of Judith Viorst and Sophie Blackall in And Two Boys Booed is certain to dispel any fears, large or small, guys and gals might have when faced with standing before others.  It is brimming with understanding.  It builds a bridge between those with no fear and those who are not at ease.  It deserves a standing ovation.  

The link embedded in Sophie Blackall's name gives readers access to her personal website.  This link to the publisher's website shows eight pictures from the title.  This book, Judith Viorst and Sophie Blackall are part of a trifecta.  Sophie Blackall is featured by teacher librarian John Schumacher on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read., Judith Viorst is interviewed by educator Colby Sharp on his blog sharpread, and Sophie Blackall talks about making books at the Nerdy Book Club.  TeachingBooks.net has audio recordings of both Judith Viorst and Sophie Blackall speaking about their names.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Dusk And Dreams

As if on some internal clock, a stiff breeze blowing throughout the day will calm as dusk descends.  Squawking blue jays, save further chiding for tomorrow.  Bright blooms fold their petals until the sun welcomes with warming rays in the morning.

A busy pace is slowing. In Go To Sleep, Little Farm (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) written by Mary Lyn Ray with art by Christopher Silas Neal readers are gently lead about the farm, surrounding fields, and nearby woods as night falls.  Inside the house a little girl mirrors the animals and their activities as she and her family welcome bedtime.

Somewhere a bee
makes a bed in a rose,
because the bee knows day has
come to a close.

A beaver builds a bed of branches, a bear snuggles inside a log and mice burrow to hide from a hungry owl. Kits heed the call of a mother fox.  Horses, cows and a single rooster come to rest.  A peaceful pastoral scene is unfolding.

A clear sky supplies a canvas for twinkling stars.  Rabbits run for home.  Deer come out of hiding to eat their meals.

Having finished for the day a farmer father turns out lights, heading to tuck in his daughter.  A book is opened. A story is shared.  A mother bends to whisper words as a daughter drifts into dreams.  Outside the world heads further into slumber.

Simple lilting words by Mary Lynn Ray lead readers into the soothing softness of the dark.  Her rhymes pave a path for us to follow from creature to creature.  Through a selective use of language she shapes a lullaby balancing between the inside and outside worlds.  Here is another example.

Somewhere a worm sleeps in the dirt.
Somewhere a pocket sleeps in a skirt.

It's impossible not to feel a sense of calm when looking at the illustration spanning the dust jacket and cover.  Christopher Silas Neal's color palette, here and throughout the book, reflects the fading light of sunset to the shadows of twilight and the deep hues of night.  The rusty barn red, shades of blue, gray and black, green and pale yellow, cream, brown and white mingle on a matte-finished paper to convey emotion and mood.

Neal alters the size of his illustrations to heighten the meaning of the text; taking readers close to an item, moving back to give a greater perspective or showing a cut-away underground, underwater or inside (the log) to bring us into the story.  It's interesting how he interprets the text by showing a comparison of the animals engaged in getting ready for bed on the left with the young girl doing something similar on the right; the beaver building a pile with sticks as she builds a pile of toys on her bed.  Careful readers will note the passage of time through not only the change in background colors but in the time conveyed on the bedside clock.  Neal meticulously places series of the letter z adding to the tranquility.

His two-page picture of the brown rabbits clustered together in sleep with a seventh hopping to join the group is one of my favorite illustrations.  They are gathered in a flower-dotted clearing surrounded by bushes and trees.  The barn, farmhouse, fencing and a single horse are featured on a rise in the distance.  This is the accompanying rhyme.

Already, trees sleep the way that trees sleep.
Brown rabbits snuggle in a sleepy heap.

To settle a group, to close a day of classroom work or send your children off to bed, Go to Sleep, Little Farm written by Mary Lyn Ray with art by Christopher Silas Neal is a stellar selection.  I guarantee everyone, readers and listeners alike, will feel the calming comfort of the combined text and pictures.  So get comfy, snuggle with your friends and family and read this book.  It's sure to become a often-requested title.

For more information about Mary Lyn Ray, her life philosophy and her work visit her website by following the link embedded in her name.  At Christopher Silas Neal's website, linked to his name, he includes nine interior illustrations.  Information is also supplied about the process used to create other artwork.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Of Apples And The Art Of Compromise

Due to modern technology and transportation, many grocery stores carry apples every month of the year.  Regardless, there is something ultimately more satisfying about going to nearby orchards and getting the fruit right off the tree. It's somehow crispier, juicier, sweeter or tarter.  Still warm from the making, apple doughnuts are a culinary treat bordering on the divine. It's one of the many perks of autumn in northern Michigan.

Old deserted homesteads, vacant fields, conservancy parks and small farms are dotted with at least one, if not more, apple trees.  You can't drive the country roads without seeing them.  In author illustrator Chris Raschka's new title, Give and Take (A Richard Jackson Book, Atheneum Books For Young Readers), a farmer and his dog discover more than apples on their daily walk.

Every morning a farmer said to his dog, "Let us inspect the apples."

Together they head toward the trees.  Noticing the apples are ripe for the picking, the man fills his basket to the brim.  Imagine his surprise when a wee little guy calling himself Take pops out from the bushes.

He promises the farmer, who already believes his life to be perfectly fine, a finer life.  A stop at a neighboring farm has the farmer replacing his apples with pumpkins; many, many pumpkins.  He is also told to take a hike.  Finally arriving home exhausted, the pumpkins are used to make a concoction neither the farmer nor his dog like.  All he really wants is an apple.

The next morning the apple-loving farmer tells Take to take his leave.  Thankfully, our friendly fellow finds more apples to fill his basket.  A second time he is startled when a wee little guy calling himself Give leaps out of the tree.  With as much zeal as Take he assures the farmer, who already believes his life to be superbly sweet, a sweeter life.

Whispered advice later, the farmer, is again home with absolutely nothing.  Upon waking he tells Give to get out.  A third tree, the greenest, is visited on this day.  Now the farmer and his furry friend depart with a basket of apples, and...two argumentative wee little guys... and a plan. 

Why he has the grumbling gents with him is genius.  Stopping at the mill on the way home yields encouragement freely given and taken in conversation.  A tantalizing twist ends the tale.  

As surely as if he said Once upon a time, Chris Raschka leads readers into his story with the opening sentence, establishing a rhythm.  This storytelling beat continues with each encounter with the wee little guys; a promise, a response, another promise and an unsatisfactory result.  The three visited trees are the best of their kind.  It's even more fun when the outcomes all involve subjects beginning with the letter p. 

Cheerful banter, humorous exclamations and skillful use of repetition keep the reader eagerly turning the pages at the proper pace.  You can almost hear the voices of each of the characters; their personalities evident by the descriptive interactions.  Here is a sample passage.

Just then a tiny little man dropped out of the branches.
"Muttering Mutsus!" said the farmer.
"Who are you?"
"I am Give," said the tiny man.  "If you will listen to me, your life will be sweet."

The bright white on the matching dust jacket and book case as well as interior pages provides the ideal background for Chris Raschka's black ink and watercolor illustrations.  Shades of pink, peach, red, green, gold and orange focus on individual elements in each picture.  Varying line widths contribute to impressive layout and design.  

Raschka alters perspective from visual to visual, sometimes on a single page.  An illustration on the left might cross the gutter to the right drawing attention to another picture.  Everything, every single thing, the patterns on the farmer's clothing and basket, the facial expressions on all the characters, borders and no borders, the blend of text and images, flows flawlessly. 

One of my favorite illustrations is toward the beginning when the farmer and his dog visit the first tree, seeing the ripe apples.  Our eyes follow his pointing finger enjoying the display of fruit moving to the other page.  There we see the farmer's hand reaching to pick an apple.  Even without the text a story is being told.

Reminiscent of a classic folktale, Give and Take written and illustrated by Chris Raschka is a charming story of finding middle ground; to do so might supply a fine and sweet conclusion.  Listeners will be eager to join in when phrases are repeated.  I think this would be a great book to use for reader's theater.  It's as fresh, fun and delicious as a newly picked apple.

Here is a link to a series of video interviews with Chris Raschka at Reading Rockets.  At TeachingBooks.net Chris Raschka pronounces his name and gives a short history of its origin.