Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What Makes A Winner?

A band of storms roared through our community about 5:30 this morning.  It wasn't the rumbling thunder or flashes of lightning that woke me but Xena's panting and pacing. She finally settled next to the bed under a tent I made with a blanket as my hand reached down to touch her for the duration of the scary weather.  A couple hours later we woke up to a big surprise.

In sleeping on her side Xena had slid her head and most of her body under the bed.  When she sat up she was stuck.  In a calm manner I tried without success to move her out.  I then took off all the bedding, the mattress and box springs.  Her back would not squeeze from under one of the bars.  After much gentle scooching she was standing between the bed frame bars.  To both our relief I was able to lift her out.

Even Xena The Wonder Dog, writer of blog posts, has moments where she slips from the top of her game.  We all do.  In Number One Sam (Disney Hyperion Books) written and illustrated by  Greg Pizzoli, 2014 winner of the Theodore Seuss Geisel Award for The Watermelon Seeda lovable canine has to rearrange his thinking about the true nature of success and being your best.

Sam was number one.

Sam and his car tear it up at the track with supreme speed, terrific turns and fantastic finishes.  On the day of the next race his confidence is high; he has never lost.  Maggie, an elephant and his best friend, is at the starting line with him.  All is going great as usual until Sam loses the race.  Maggie wins!

Sam is crushed.  How could this happen?  How could anyone be better at speed, turns and finishing first?  Before the next race Sam simply can't sleep.  His belief in himself is at an all-time low.

Not a word is spoken as the competitors, all in a row, are ready to put the pedal to the metal.  Sam is a bundle of nerves managing to miss the beginning of the race.  Despite this Sam is certainly back in the running; his speed, turns and timing have given him the lead.

OH! NO!  It's a fuzzy fivesome.  A split second decision needs to be made by Sam.  Is it beep, beep or peep, peep?

Greg Pizzoli is deliberate in his choice and use of words in this title.  Each sentence conveys a single thought easily understood by early readers.  Pizzoli manages to depict considerable emotion with his spare narrative.  Placement of text on each page scores points in the "pacing race" with purposeful pauses exactly where they should be.

With spot color, inking and printing by hand, a technique Greg Pizzoli utilizes to perfection, readers are welcomed by the characters racing around the track on the dust jacket; the illustration extending to the back flap.  Maintaining the same four colors, red, yellow, blue and black (hmmm...I spy Kroc having authored a tell-all title) the book case exhibits magazine and newspapers headlines highlighting Sam's successes.  Opening and closing endpapers mirror the black and white checkered finish flag winners see first.  This pattern is essential to the theme of the story but I like to think of it as Pizzoli's nod to all readers being winners.

The verso pictures what might be a hero's wall in Sam's home; decorated with trophies, ribbons, newspaper articles, and pennants.  On the title page a smiling Sam is holding a 1 trophy front and center.  Most of the illustrations, on the thick matte-finished paper, span across two pages with backgrounds alternating between white, blue, yellow, black, red or a combination of these colors.  Shifts in perspective and facial features leave no doubt in the readers' minds as to the mood of each character.

I have many favorite illustrations but three I really like are the two pages prior to the first race Sam loses.  The four characters in their cars are all happy on this sunny day full of possibilities.  The wave of dotted colors behind them promises good things.  On the next race day the mood of two of the racers has changed; Sam is clearly nervous and Maggie is worried she has lost a friend.  The patterns on top of the car hoods, a watermelon, a dotted peanut, a heart and a crossed-out 1 with a 2 painted off to the side are priceless symbols of the characters.  Finally there is something about seeing the front of Sam's car, huge, centered and spanning nearly edge to edge on two pages with the blissfully ignorant chicks wearing black glasses smack dab in front that changes everything.

In my mind and heart, the minds and hearts of countless readers who have read it and those who will read it in the years to come (repeatedly for sure), Number One Sam written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli is a book to be displayed with a checkered flag, a first-place winner.  Sam, like all of us, learns winners not always cross the finish line first; sometimes they come in last.  And that makes them true heroes.

Please follow the links embedded in Greg Pizzoli's name above to discover more about him and his work at his website and blog.  This link will take you to an interview at Watch. Connect. Read., the blog of teacher librarian John Schumacher.  John states, rightly so, the book trailer is his favorite of 2014.  I dare you to only watch it once! Teacher librarian, Carter Higgins, features Greg Pizzoli on her blog, Design of the Picture Book

This is my winner this morning after the storms passed.  She was very patient trusting that I would get her out.


  1. Wow! I am blown away by this thoughtful write up. Thank you for taking the time and for the encouragement - it's much appreciated.

    Greg Pizzoli

    1. I am so happy you enjoyed the review Greg. It's always a pleasure to talk about wonderful books. I thank you for being a part of the children's literature community. We are the richer for it.

  2. So glad that Xena was okay after that experience.

    1. Me too, Vicky. When you think about it, what are the chances of that happening? That bed has been there for more than ten years. When I finally got the box springs off, she was entirely under the bed. Teamwork and her trust in me saved the day.