Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

"It's elementary my dear..."

When an event occurs with no initial logical explanation it can be considered a mystery.  Likewise any story in which this type of event drives the main plot is named a mystery.  As you read collecting the clues, it's like going on a scavenger hunt.  Following along with the characters is almost as exciting as being there with them.

Down through the history of mystery fiction there are classic and contemporary detective teams; Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Frank and Joe Hardy (The Hardy Boys), Nancy Drew, Bess Marvin and George Fayne (Nancy Drew Mystery Stories) Emily Crane and James Lee (The Book Scavenger), Detective Rick Zengo and Detective Corey O'Malley (Platypus Police Squad), and Detective Wilcox and Captain Griswold (Wilcox and Griswold Mystery).  For younger readers a new duo hits the scene in their first puzzler.  The Missing Mola Lisa (Case #1 Q & Ray series) (Graphic Universe, a trademark of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., August 1, 2017) presented by the collaborative wife and husband team of author Trisha Speed Shaskan and illustrator Stephen Shaskan.

Before the first of ten chapters begins we are introduced to an assortment of characters on a page titled

Who's Who.

Our terrific twosome, Quillan Lu Hedgeson aka Q and Ray Ratzberg followed by Mr. Shrew, media specialist, Ms. Boar, classroom teacher, Ms. Easel, art teacher, Jimmy, magic shop owner, The Great Don Realo, magician and Officer Rocco all play various and vital roles.  As readers will note Mr. Shew and the media center serve as the hub of the Super Sleuth happenings.

After an exchanged greeting between Mr. Shrew and Ray, we discover the new student from France is really Q attempting to fool Ray with a disguise.  It's her goal to become a master.  Ray wants to be a master of something else besides cheese-and-onion sandwiches.  Magic is his aim.

Their second grade classmates are going on a field trip today to see the famed Mola Lisa at the Elm Tree Art Museum but first the students are entertained by The Great Don Realo, a surprise visit by the magician.  In the afternoon as the children of Elm Tree Elementary stand before the Mola Lisa suddenly the lights go out, fire is sighted but before they can exit the lights are back on and the fire has disappeared.  The fire is not the only thing missing. The Mola Lisa is gone.

Sharp-eyed and on the job, Q and Ray quickly discover two clues.  Visits to three locations increase their knowledge of the culprit responsible for the crime but they lack real evidence.  Like the great detectives before them, they reexamine all the gathered clues, leading them to the truth. Q and Ray, masters of magic and disguise, deliver the final surprise.

Nearly the entire narrative is told through conversations between the characters.  Trisha Speed Shaskan weaves interesting facts about magic into the story which careful readers will eventually see are key to locating information about the theft.  She also cleverly uses Q's passion for disguise as part of the plot details.

The dialogue between the characters will be easily understood by the intended audience.  When Q and Ray are trying to solve the case, it's as if we are joining in the chat.  Humor appears when you least expect it.

Class:  ABCs!
Raise your paws!

Here is another passage during lunch between Ray and Q.

How about a magic trick?
Look at the quarter.
It's been in my family for years.
We've passed it from one rat to the next.
Ha! It's gone!

Don't worry.  I won't let history
slip through my paws.  It's
right here! Or---right ear!
Aces! How did
you do that?

When you first look at the front of the book case, it's hard not to think of Saturday morning cartoons.  The characters are cute and comical at the same time.  Illustrator Stephen Shaskan has tied all the elements in the image together to look like a display at a gallery.  And he includes a huge clue or is it a red herring?  To the left, on the back, is text relative to the title you might find on a jacket flap.  The opening and closing endpapers are a crisp, pristine white.  A design technique similar to the case is used for the title page with text and images like pictures hanging on a wall.

In this graphic novel the panels are varied in size with the frames having rounded corners.  Smaller panels are placed within larger panels.  Sometimes we will be given a different perspective to draw our focus to a specific point as when Ray is doing his magic trick. Stephen's signature geometric rays radiant from his characters in some of the scenes.

The placement of the speech balloons will assist early readers.  For emphasis and dramatic effect text is enlarged, made bold and placed in jagged speech balloons.  Readers can easily discern the elevated volume of the speaker's voice.  I think readers with any art knowledge will find the depiction of The Scream, Girl with a Pearl Earring and the Mola Lisa hilarious.  A nod is given to two specific artists in the clothing worn by Ms. Easel.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is when Q and Ray are talking over a twist in the case.  They are standing facing each other.  Q is wearing a yellow jacket and skirt with purple accessories and shoes.  Ray is wearing another combination of his usual checked shirt (light blue and white) with red pants and shoes with light blue socks.  Their expressions are animated, endearing and funny.

During an impromptu and very short questions and answer on social media several nights ago, Trisha had this to say about this first title in the proposed series.

Like our picture book Punk Skunks, Stephen and I created Q & Ray together from its conception.  While brainstorming which type of story we wanted to create, we decided on a mystery for a few reasons.  For years, I taught mystery-writing classes to elementary students; it was my most popular class.  From teaching it, I always wanted to write a mystery.  Like the students, Stephen and I loved mysteries as kids.  At first, Q & Ray was a chapter book, but two things happened.  One: Stephen and I read tons of graphic novels for kids to prep for a class we taught kids on the subject.  In the meantime, I worked as a literacy coach with elementary school students.  Some of the emerging readers wanted to read the Babymouse and Lunch Lady graphic novel series, but they didn't have the reading skills to read them, yet.  I though the format could provide a readable text, but also visual cues for young readers.  Stephen and I chose the names Q & Ray as a riff on Q & A, questions and answers, which are the basis of mysteries.  While writing the story, I drew upon my love of Sherlock Holmes.  While illustrating the story, Stephen drew upon his love of the aesthetics of Harvey Comics (Little Dot, Richie rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost),---for the use of thick black lines and flat colors.  Together, Stephen and I drew upon the power of friendship; how a team versus an individual can be best suited to tackle the odds of solving mysteries---and of course, creating books!

For readers eager to read graphic novels and solve mysteries while enjoying the companionship of two likeable characters hand them The Missing Mola Lisa (Case #1 Q & Ray series) written by Trisha Speed Shaskan with illustrations by Stephen Shaskan.  I think it might be fun to act out some of the chapters or scenes from the chapters like a reader's theater.  I know there will be a copy of this on my personal bookshelves and ready to hand out at Halloween.  You will want one on your professional shelves too.  On the final page under Fun Facts readers can learn about Leonardo da Vinci upon which Leonardo da Squity is based in this book.

To learn more about Trisha Speed Shaskan and Stephen Shaskan and their other work please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  To view interior portions of this title please stop by the publisher's website.  Both Trisha and Stephen wrote posts for Picture Book Month.  Trisha was featured at KidLit 411.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

This Is Not Your Imagination!

The first time I can recall using the word monster was after some person of questionable scruples told me about the possibility of one hiding under my bed.  I can't remember how long it took me to not be afraid to hang any portion of my body over the outline of the bed.  And there is no denying the fascination with cryptids such as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Bunyip, Chupacabra, the Jersey Devil or the Michigan Dogman to name only a few.

Most dictionaries define the word monster by using the word imaginary.  Monsters are simply not real.  Or are they?  In a companion title to the highly popular, Pink Is For Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals (The World of Weird Animals series)     (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, February 2, 2016) zoologist and author Jess Keating presents What Makes A Monster?: Discovering the World's Scariest Creatures (The World of Weird Animals series) (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, August 8, 2017).  David DeGrand returns with his quirky, humorous illustrations.  If you want to read a book, gasping at every page turn, this is a title you can't miss!

What makes a MONSTER?
Turn the page to find out,
if you dare...

Those three little words, if you dare, will apply throughout this title.  Seventeen of our planet's occupants on land, sea and air from the animal kingdom are revealed in all their strange, bizarre wonder.  You might think the cover creature has been shocked by its expression but the aye-aye uses those bony claws to tap on tree trunks looking for prey. When it finds something, it munches through the bark and gulp!  There are superstitions attached to the aye-aye; it is seen as a harbinger of death or even worse...causes death.  They, vampire bats, may not be Dracula but the way they get blood gives me the shivers.

You are not going to believe which fearless creature can be bitten by a venomous snake and live another day.  There is no escaping the tentacles of this group of animals which move as one.  They are usually thirty feet long but can be one hundred sixty-five feet long!  Holy heroes!  This frog is also known as the Wolverine frog. Guess why?

Facts about birds that kill the young of other birds after laying their eggs in that bird's nest, an ant brain feeding fungus, and a stinging insect that saves lives will astound you.  And trust me; you will never look at a prairie dog the same way again.  Who knew?  As if ants don't have enough problems already, another bug uses their corpses as clothing.

Sea creatures defending themselves with two sets of jaws and another who lives in the deep, deep depths sucking in its food like a vacuum are to be respected.  They are no ordinary dragons of legend and lore but Komodo dragons are deadly, eating anything they can.  There will be some readers who will be surprised by the seventeenth animal named.  I'm not one of them.  It's what makes this book a stunning accomplishment, asking us to really think about the use of the word monster and what it means to us.

Armed with knowledge of her subject and gifted for knowing exactly what readers need and want to know Jess Keating educates her readers like a master teacher.  For each of the seventeen animals she begins with an informative narrative paragraph.  This is followed by extensions relative to the animal; local superstitions, feeding habits, a detailed explanation of a unique trait, origin of a name or survival techniques.  On the right side of the right page (two pages are dedicated to each animal, beginning with a realistic photograph on the left), Jess gives us their name, species name, size, diet, habitat and predators and threats.

As if we are engaged in a one-on-one conversation she has readers riveted to the pages from the beginning to the end.  As you move from animal to animal, though, you find yourself speculating on their place and purpose in the grand scheme.  Above all else Jess Keating is inviting us to think.  Here is an example of one of the extended, second sections.

A Curious Claw
Claws are found in a wide range of species,
but clawed frogs are only found in Central
Africa.  In other animals, claws are made of
keratin, the same substance that creates
our own nails and hair.  But the claws of
horror frogs are unique---instead of
keratin, they are made of bone.

After you have read the words written by Jess Keating you are pleasantly surprised to find yourself laughing at how perfectly cartoonist David DeGrand seems to portray exactly what you are thinking.  For each of the seventeen animals he includes a comical image pertaining to a particular trait.  As the aye-aye taps on the outside of a tree trunk an insect quickly avoids death by leaping out a hole, ants are walking in a line upright with arms outstretched chanting All hail, Fungus! after their brains have been attacked by cordyceps fungus, a cute little prairie dog looks innocent as deadly, angry germs surround it and a barely alive Japanese giant hornet is leaving a smoking honeybee nest.  One of my favorite of several illustrations is of the tyrant leech king sitting in a chair and ottoman with a straw extending from its mouth, sucking on skin.

You must have multiple copies of What Makes A Monster?: Discovering the World's Scariest Creatures (The World of Weird Animals series) written by Jess Keating with illustrations by David DeGrand.  Readers will read these over and over again until they have the well-loved look.  Students will pass this book from reader to reader.  They will be quoting facts aloud.  At the close of the book Jess Keating asks us to ponder monster pairs.  She also has another page requesting us to seriously consider several questions about scary creatures, welcoming discussions. A Say What?! A Glossary of Useful Words closes the title.

To discover more about Jess Keating and David DeGrand and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Jess Keating's website is a treasure trove of resources for everyone but especially for educators.  She is continually sharing her zoological passion with readers bridging any gaps between us and the animal world.  Both the cover and the book trailer for this title were revealed at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. By visiting the publisher's website you can view a portion of the book's interior.  I recently discovered an interview of Jess Keating at Celebrate Picture Books which you might enjoy.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected by other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Heart To Heart

When a dog and their human connect, it's indescribably beautiful.  If you are one of those humans, each day you look at your dog thinking how fortunate you are.  Surely this is a miracle this wild thing chooses to be with me.

It's as if two separate souls become inseparable.  As a human, whether you realize it or not, you have become a member of a pack.  Your dog's loyalty is one of the most humbling experiences you will ever have.  Hello Goodbye Dog (Roaring Brook Press, July 25, 2017) written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Patrice Barton is the story of two hearts full of love, the one for the other.

"Hello, Moose!" said Zara.
There was nothing Moose loved more
than hello.

Hello means many good things, like a ride in the car.  Goodbye is not such a good thing.  Goodbye means Moose and Zara cannot be together.  Goodbye means Zara has to go to school...without Moose.

In Moose's mind, this is unacceptable.  At the first opportunity Moose turns the goodbye into a hello.  An opened door has Moose zooming toward Zara's school.  Guess who's peeking in the window in Zara's classroom?

Zara's classmates are thrilled to have Moose with them.  Mrs. Perkins knows dogs are not allowed in school but Zara assures her Moose enjoys a good real aloud.  And he does.  Of course Moose has to say goodbye again.

Goodbye was being tied up in the backyard.

To a dog, a rope is an invitation to a good chew.

Moose manages to thwart every goodbye attempt replacing it with his own special brand of hello.  He demonstrates his ability to remain calm when being read a book with each subsequent visit until one goodbye too many has Moose creating mayhem as he plays catch-me-if-you-can.  Now Moose is stuck in a goodbye from which he cannot escape but Zara has a big idea.  When an idea comes from love, there are many winners.

When Maria Gianferrari writes about animals, especially dogs, her admiration and yes, love, of them shines in every written word.  The blend of narrative and conversation flows naturally.  One technique employed by Maria which encourages audience participation is each time Moose needs to say goodbye she uses the same phrase,

Moose put on her brakes.

This is followed by the names of the people who are assisting her to leave.  One extra person is added after Moose continues to appear at school.  This circles back to Moose at the story's conclusion.  In one particular part, Maria also increases the action with a series of rhyming words which are a read aloud joy.  Here is a sample passage.

Hello was a pat on the head.
"Dogs aren't allowed in school," 
said Mrs. Perkins.
"Moose will be quiet," said Zara.
"She loves story time."

Moose lay at Zara's feet as Mrs.
Perkins read a story.

The shared love between Moose and Zara glows on the front of the dust jacket (I am working with an F & G.)  Dogs like to place their paws on their humans to stay linked.  Zara is well aware of this.  If the locked glances do not signal their mutual affection, the wagging tail on Moose is a clear signal.  The stack of books between them is a clue of this dog's love of listening to books being read aloud.  The staggering and stacking of the title text along with the three color choices mirrors the stack of books.

To the left, on the back, with the same canvas Zara and Moose are pictured alone.  Zara is reading the book previously on her lap to Moose. Her tail is wagging in sheer happiness.  The opening and closing endpapers are dotted with a zigzag trail of paw prints.  It's a given you will break into a smile looking at the title page.  Moose is standing on her hind legs, tongue hanging out of a grinning mouth.  She is leaning on a tall pile of books with others scattered around her.

Each illustration is rendered in Patrice Barton's signature soft, delicate style.  She opens the story with a two page picture, alternating image sizes to correspond and elevate the text.  Her attention to details is exquisite; a boy draws Moose as Mrs. Perkins reads the story, the chewed rope remains attached to Moose's collar, Ms. Chen is shown eating her lunch with the students, and the trail of food to lure Moose out of the cafeteria is wonderfully typical.

You are going to want to hug all these characters; their animated faces and movements are simply charming. And Moose will have you laughing out loud.  Patrice portrays dogginess with a knowing skill.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture. It's when Moose first visits the school looking in the classroom window.  The children are seated in groups around round tables. The looks are their faces at the sight of Moose are full of delight. Moose with her paws on the window sill only has eyes for Zara and she is downright ecstatic. Zara is pointing and smiling.  Mrs. Perkins, holding a book, looks astonished.  Believe me, from personal experience, this moment is depicted with perfection.

As you read this story your heart fills with laughter and lightness. Hello Goodbye Dog written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Patrice Barton gives readers an up-close look at the desire of a dog to be with her human always and of her human's loving response.  Children and adults alike will enjoy seeing themselves in this story.  You will most definitely want a copy on your professional and personal bookshelves.

By following the links attached to Maria Gianferrari's and Patrice Barton's names you can access their websites to learn more about them and their other work.  You can view several interior illustrations at the publisher's website.  Maria Gianferrari has been interviewed at several sites during the past two years, KidLit 411, PictureBookBuilders, and Picture Books Help Kids Soar to name a few.

Maria was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

I know you are a huge lover of dogs, Maria.  I think readers would like to know a little bit about you and your dog Becca.  Would you tell us how Becca came into your family?

Indeed I am, Margie!! It’s a bit of a magical story. Our friend was about to have a baby girl and my then four-year old daughter, Anya, and I were discussing names. The name “Rebecca” popped into my head. Needless to say, the baby was not named Rebecca, but the very next day I went on Petfinder.com and found our Rebecca—it was meant to be! Here’s the photo that made me fall in love with her.

She was dumped near a highway in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a lovely couple who already had many pets took her in and brought her to a rescue organization. She was eventually transported to NH where we picked her up. Incidentally, my next fiction book, Operation Rescue Dog (coming from Little Bee in 2018) is about a girl named Alma who meets her rescue dog, Lulu.

As a little girl I was always stumbling, tripping and I did fall down a few stairs more than once.  I was given the nickname Moose because I was not known for my agility.  In this book the dog is named Moose.  Why did you give this dog that name?

I love all dogs, but I especially love big dogs, since they’re generally such gentle giants. I wanted the name to convey her size. One of Becca’s best neighborhood friends is a huge French Mastiff with a delicate name: Scarlett. I just love the irony!

Moose's connection to his girl, Zara, is understandable and completely endearing.  Is this bond between the two based on a personal real life experience or the experiences of someone you know?

Absolutely! It’s based on Anya and Becca. Anya’s an only child, and Becca is like her dog sister and playmate. As I mentioned above, we got Becca when Anya was 4, and Becca was approximately six months old. Now Anya’s 15 ½ and Becca’s 11 ½. This is my mouse pad and favorite photo of them. I’ve dubbed it “best friends.” My Penny & Jelly books are based on their bond too.

(If you want to read about the Penny & Jelly books I talk about them here.)


*Monday, July 24th:                                   Pragmatic Mom + THREE book giveaway!
*Two for Tuesday, July 25th:              Librarian’s Quest

*Wednesday, July 26th:                          Homemade City
*Thursday, July 27th:                                Kid Lit Frenzy
*Friday, July 28th:                                      Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
*Monday, July 31st:                                   Picture Books Help Kids Soar
*Tuesday, August 1st:                              Bildebok
*Wednesday, August 2nd:                      The Loud Library Lady
*Thursday, August 3rd:                           DEBtastic Reads!
*Friday, August 4th:                                  Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love
*Monday, August 7th:                               Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

EXTRA: August 25th:                                Kidlit411—Interview with Patrice Barton 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Views Of Hues

To receive a new coloring book as a gift as a child is marvelous.  If it comes with a new box of crayons or colored pencils it is the best of the best.  The possibilities the coloring book and box of crayons offer the recipient are endless.

The trend in adult coloring books beginning several years ago can be attributed to many things but two are the inner child in all of us wants to play and they remind us of childhood.  A sense of calm is supplied by coloring, like a form of mediation for those seeking calm in the face of a variety of situations.  I Don't Draw, I COLOR! (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, March 21, 2017) written by Adam Lehrhaupt with illustrations by Felicita Sala is for everyone who longs for the freedom to express their creativity however they choose.

Some people are really good at drawing.

Other people are not really good at drawing.  Our narrator tends to make puppies, cars and people using a collection of lines and curves vaguely resembling those subjects.  He realizes his drawing techniques are minimal but he makes up for it by coloring.

Starting with the primary shades he swirls them on his paper.  He varies the shapes and sizes of the lines in combination with the hues to convey his feelings.  Happy is yellow and orange fireworks.  Angry is dark red scribbles, over and over and over until it's solid.

He is ready with a reply when asked if he wants to draw.  He politely responds with

"...I don't draw.
I color."

In fact he knows anything can be colored whether it's concrete or abstract. 

Some students would be challenged by a class assignment but not this guy.  When he is asked to make a self-portrait, he has the perfect answer.  Not only is his response perceptive but he, more than any one else, can depict himself with confidence and competence.

With just the right amount of humor and insight Adam Lehrhaupt writes simple but profound sentences spinning a narrative in which many readers will identify with the character.  His point of view rings true.  With each page turn readers are being given permission to be themselves rather than act upon the expectations of others.  This is an empowering message.  Here is one of my favorite examples:

Or something full of

The swirl of shades bursting from the yellow crayon on the front of the dust jacket as our young narrator colors loops over his head, across the spine and to the edge of the back, on the left.  Yellow blends into variations of green, then hues of blue and finally to purples and spots of pink and red.  The white title text pops superbly.  

On the book case, still on a background of crisp white, the sizes of lines and shapes convey several emotional moods.  On the opening endpapers is a sunny yellow.  Complementary purple is on the closing endpapers.  The same purple is used for the title text on the title page except for the word color.  Each letter is a different shade; red, blue, purple, yellow and orange.

Rendered in watercolors, drawing and colored pencils, and crayons by Felicita Sala the images vary in size to emphasize pacing.  Throughout the narrative until the conclusion the boy is portrayed in shades of black and gray, as are the other children.  This allows for the use of color, usually on a white canvas, to intensify the connection readers have with the story.  The children and adult hand are descriptively depicted.

One of several favorite pictures is for the words 

Or something full of

Here readers can see the guy extending his emotional representations.  Large areas of green in assorted shades fan upward from the bottom of the page.  On the upper edges yellow appears.  Lines looking like stems shoot toward the top with small lines and dots on all the edges.  

In a word I Don't Draw, I COLOR! written by Adam Lehrhaupt with illustrations by Felicita Sala is inspirational.  This story is an invitation.  This story gives permission.  It makes you want to race to the store to get a new box of crayons. Educators will want to use it to begin the school year or a new unit.  Make sure you have a copy on your professional bookshelves and one for home too.  I believe it would pair wonderfully with SWATCH: The Girl Who Loved Color by Julie Denos. 

To discover more about Adam Lehrhaupt and Felicita Sala and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Felicita Sala has several interior images on her website and at her blog.  To view interior images you can also visit the publisher's website.  

Friday, July 21, 2017

There's No Time Like...

More than four hundred fifty years ago, a phrase was coined indicating you should do something immediately rather than wait for a more opportune time.  It was understood there was no purpose in planning and fretting about possibilities; it was believed the present was the optimum moment.  Today this definition still holds true.

Another perspective for there's no time like the present would be to ask ourselves to pause and rest our minds.  Are we constantly mulling over an incident from the past?  Are we thinking about something which may or may not happen in hours, days or weeks in the future?  What wonder would we enjoy if we focused on the present alone?  Now (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, July 11, 2017) written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis (Wait, Best Frints in the Whole Universethrough the mind and actions of a child depicts finding joy in the moment.

This is my favorite breeze.

A single leaf, this leaf, held like a fan is cherished by the child, the narrator.  She also relishes one particular hole in the ground.  It's the one she is sitting in.  It's the one she is digging.

As she stands in mud, holds a worm and gazes at clouds, she declares each one her favorite.  It's not because of a particular quality each one exhibits but because she is experiencing that puddle of mud, that wiggling worm and that gauzy cloud now.  This little girl is teaching us that nothing is better than reveling in this second.

No matter the weather or the loss, she looks for the bliss.  She uses her senses, encountering her world through sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing.  Her favorite song is not at the top of the charts, it's the one she happens to be singing now.

She prods the empty space in her mouth, missing a tooth.  Her cat is the not so thrilled recipient of a goodnight embrace.  But as this day of many days comes to a close she declares her final favorite.  It's a declaration of why Now is the very best now of all nows.

The simplicity of the statements written by Antoinette Portis allows readers to be lifted up and into the story.  Through the voice of the child we come to understand how delight can be found in everyday things; most of them free for all.  The grouping of the sentences establishes a rhythm; the naming of two favorites followed by a third because it is engaging the little girl at the present time.  Here is a sample group of three phrases.

This is my favorite rain.
That was my favorite boat.
This is my favorite tree because it's the one where I am swinging.

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case the attraction of the front of each is increased.  Now we can see the entire face of the girl continuing over the spine and to the left on the back.  It's not entirely symmetrical which is an excellent design choice.  There is more white space on the left.  On the left the girl's ear is covered with her hair.  The center of the leaf is tilted to the right.

The hue from the title text and the leaf covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Pale green clouds dot the title, verso and dedication pages.  A large sun holds the dedication name.

The illustrations, rendered using sumi ink, brush, and bamboo stick with color added digitally by Antoinette Portis, extend the openness of her text filling the pages with utter delight.  A limited color palette, leaning toward earth tones and perfect for the heavier matte-finished paper, adds a sense of realism.  We can easily imagine ourselves finding the same contentment as the little girl.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is the first one we see.  Spanning two pages, it portrays the girl standing on a grassy hill on the right.  Her eyes are closed.  Her hair is blowing behind her.  Her arms are lifted on either side of her toward the sky.  Large brush strokes of teal stretch from left to right blending into the girl's face, shirt and striped skirt.  She is feeling the breath of the breeze.

Now written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis is about standing still in the rush around us.  It's asking us to observe and extend gratitude for each given opportunity...now.  This perspective grants readers a feeling of peace.  It would be interesting to see how readers would extend this title relative to their surroundings at the moment.  I can't imagine a professional or personal bookshelf without this title.

To learn more about Antoinette Portis and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  You can view interior images at the publisher's website.  Antoinette Portis maintains an Instagram account.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson shares her review and interior images at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  There are several interviews and conversations with Antoinette Portis from two years ago at Number Five Bus Presents..., The Horn Book, Publishers Weekly and Kid Lit Frenzy.  While the title discussed the most in these is Wait, you can still learn about Antoinette Portis and her process.

Never Enough

Are there ever enough minutes in a day?  How often have you looked at a clock wondering how the hours vanished?  Morning blends into noon; evening seems to approach in a blink of an eye.

If you really want to make very moment meaningful shadow a dog.  They are always ready to play and they do so with extreme exuberance. Given the opportunity to be outside, they take it, savoring every smell, taste, sound and movement.  Nothing escapes their attention.  Every human they see is initially treated equally.  Every day is a new day; they are forgiving.  Stay A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List (Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, July 18, 2017) is the newest offering by collaborative sisters, Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise.  It honors the unbreakable bond between a dog and their human.  It honors the beauty of the canine condition.

When Astrid came home from the hospital, Eli was there waiting.  He was Astrid's first friend.

Being Astrid's friend lead to other enjoyable jobs for Eli, bodyguard, pillow and his large size offered her a good place to hide.  They shared everything; a home, a place to eat and a place to sleep.  This human and this dog were more alike than different except for one thing.

Eli and Astrid were growing and aging differently.  Astrid was getting taller than Eli.  Eli was getting older faster than Astrid.  Even at the early age of six Astrid noticed how quickly Eli was moving from puppy to older adult.

After one particularly pleasant day at the playground Astrid decided to make a list of everything she and Eli needed to do before he got too old; a bucket list on the side of their bucket now empty of popcorn.  No matter how tricky the activity was Astrid was going to make it happen; like rigging a platform so Eli could ride on the back of her bike.

Astrid discovered the joy of reading aloud to Eli and giving him a bubble bath.  Her last thing on the bucket list was a delectable delight to show her gratefulness for his loyalty.  Soon there were no more strolls to their favorite places.  During cuddle time Astrid asked if there was anything else to add to the list.  Eli's reply was exactly why dogs are surely heaven sent.

One of the first words a new puppy learns is stay.  It ensures first and foremost his or her safety in a human world.  What author Kate Klise has shown us is stay is an integral part of a canine's character.  Their loyalty to their "pack" is without question.  Not only do our dogs (Eli) stay but they do so out of a love more pure than we can fully understand.

Throughout this story we are shown in the things Astrid and Eli do together how their friendship is formed.  We are privy to the growth of a very special kind of affection.  By including Eli's thoughts in response to Astrid's comments we see inside both of their hearts.  There is also a gentle kind of humor in Eli's replies; their dogginess is genuine.  Here is a sample passage.

"Eli," Astrid said, "have you ever been down a slide?  You really should before you get too old."
So with Astrid's help, Eli slid down the sun-warmed slide.

That was fun, Eli thought.  Who knew?  

For those of us who have been honored with the love of a dog, the picture on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case is a dream comes true.  Who wouldn't want to be able to share a dinner with their canine companion at a fancy restaurant?  The glow of the candle light on the two happy faces says a lot about this story.  The word Stay is varnished.

To the left, on the back, Eli is curled in a living room chair leaning over the arm.  Astrid is seated next to the chair reading aloud dog books.  (I can't begin to tell you the number of times, one of my dogs has been on the furniture with me seated on the floor.  This scene is classic.)  A mint green covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Rendered in acrylic paint on bristol board the illustrations are filled with warmth.  Many of them are placed on a canvas of pale golden yellow; others the wallpaper in the home, a scene in the park, or the backyard at night.  M. Sarah Klise brings us into this relationship almost as if we are experiencing it ourselves.  There is no doubt; Eli is a member of this family.

The image sizes vary in keeping with the pace of the story; delicate details enhancing the mood and emotion in each one.  Careful readers will notice the content of the pictures on the living room wall, the marquee at the movie theater and the growth of the tree next to the driveway of Astrid's and Eli's home.  All of the illustrations build toward the final page guaranteeing a sigh of satisfaction from all readers.

One of my many favorite pictures spans two pages.  Astrid and Eli are at the playground.  On the left a group of children are climbing on a jungle gym.  A woman with a dog on a leash who is resting watches them.  In the background another woman is walking her dog.  To the right Astrid and Eli are swooping down the slide.  Eli is in front of Astrid, her arms around his body.  His four legs are spread in total contentment.  Beneath the slide is the empty popcorn bucket.

Stay A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List written by Kate Klise with illustrations by M. Sarah Klise will make a mark on every reader's heart.  It speaks of growing old and how to celebrate the time given to us.  No one knows better than a dog how to stay.  No one wants them to be here longer than their human friends.  You need to have a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.  It would pair perfectly with Elisha Cooper's Homer.

By following the links attached to Kate Klise's and M. Sarah Klise's names you can learn more about them and their work at their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.  At Publishers Weekly the sisters were interviewed five years ago about their work.  Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise were recently part of a Q & A at The Horn Book about this book.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Flash Of Red

In the past few years, more red fox crossed my path than all the previous years combined.  It would be nice to believe their population is increasing or perhaps my perception is more finely honed.  They seem to be on the move more during the day rather than strictly during the evening or night.

They are frequently seen vanishing into the undergrowth along a country road.  One in particular had a route which extended through my home property, even venturing close to me and my dog one night by the front door.  All thoughts of them being shy are gone.  With their repeated sightings, a curiosity is growing.  The Secret Life of the Red Fox (Boyd Mills Press, an imprint of Highlights, March 7, 2017) written by Laurence Pringle with illustrations by Kate Garchinsky is an outstanding exploration of the days in the life of a red fox through several seasons.

Vixen awakes from a nap.
She is surrounded by snow but feels cozy.

To hold in her body heat she is comfortable in a nook with her tail curled around her.  As she steps outside she lifts her nose into the air using her super sense of smell to look for a meal.  Moving through the snow her back feet are placed in the exact point her front feet land; one trail of tracks is visible.  Finally her extraordinary hearing tells her a meadow mouse is eating beneath a foot of snow.  She makes her jump and dive move, rewarded with a meal.

When she captures extra food, she puts it in a cache. Near daybreak she meets her mate greeting him by sniffing and touching.  At this point they don't necessarily spend all their time together.  Their territory is marked and messages are sent with urine.

Vixen's ability to elude dogs on her scent is an admirable feat.  Several days later she begins to scout out abandoned dens.  When she finds one with the options she desires, she digs to enlarge the area.

As winter blends into spring Vixen and her mate are together more often.  Eventually she does not leave the den.  He hunts and brings her food.  One day the red fox ventures out of the den.  Following her are four kits. Until the autumn when they strike out to create their own territories, both parents participate in the care of their babies.  Perhaps you will see a flash of red as one passes near you when you least expect it.  Enjoy the gift.

There is an undercurrent of respect for his subject in the narrative nonfiction penned by Laurence Pringle.  Woven into the story of this vixen's life is information about the physical characteristics and lifestyle of the red fox.  With each description you find your admiration for these beautiful animals growing in proportion to the increase in your knowledge.  It's as if you are shadowing her.  Here is a sample passage.

In the snow, her back feet usually land right in the marks made by her front feet, so she leaves a single line of footprints in the snow.  Fresh snowflakes dot her russet winter coat, and Vixen's white-tipped tail floats behind her like a banner.

Foxes are omnivores, which means they eat both animal and plant food.  But in winter Vixen finds no berries or other plant foods to eat.  Now she is mostly a predator, hunting animals.  She explores a thicket where rabbits often hide, but finds no prey.  She grows more and more hungry.

Opening the matching dust jacket and book case, you find yourself holding still barely able to breathe.  It's as if you are standing in the snow at the edge of a field watching Vixen move.  The illustration on the front moves over the spine to the left, covering the back with the light-dappled snowscape.  The blends of soft pastel colors depict the glory of the early morning sun.  Notice the title text for Red Fox.  It's tipped in white and textured to represent their tails.

The opening and closing endpapers are snow.  On the first is a line of red fox prints.  On the second another line stretches again from the lower left side to the upper right.  This time a fox is descending over a small hill with weeds framing it on the left and right.  Beneath the title text a red fox sits, leg lifted to scratch under its chin.  (Both of these snow scenes continue to first the title page and begin again at the close of the book after the dedication and publication information.)

Rendered in pastels and aqua crayons on sanded paper by Kate Garchinsky each illustration spans two pages.  They are as gorgeous as photographic images but far richer in their luminosity and texture.  Each one is worthy of framing, a study in intricate detail.

One of my many favorite pictures is of Vixen when she first steps out of her winter shelter.  It's a close-up of her upper body and head.  She is turned looking at a bird on a branch on the left as snow falls.  Her ears are alert.  Her breath clouds the air.  Her whiskers and eyebrow hairs are delicately displayed.  It's breathtaking.

The Secret Life of the Red Fox written by Laurence Pringle with illustrations by Kate Garchinsky is a stunning representation of this wondrous creature.  Each time you turn a page you will learn something new.  Each time you turn a page you will gasp at the loveliness of the pictures.  You will want to place this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Laurence Pringle and Kate Garchinsky and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Kate Garchinsky has an extensive Pinterest board studying the red fox.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.