Quote of the Month

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




Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why Not?

For those students and teachers who began their summer vacation in May, starting another academic year is becoming a reality.  In the state of Michigan, school, by law, begins after Labor Day.  For guys and gals here more than a month of seasonal bliss remains.

For children (and adults too) the words summer and rules don't seem to go together.  Summer is a signal for requirements followed during the school year to be relaxed; alarm clocks are not set, uniforms or specific clothing are traded in for more comfort, a rigid schedule vanishes and schoolwork deadlines are set aside. In his April 2014 release, Rules of Summer (Arthur A. Levine, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.), author illustrator Shaun Tan sets forth another viewpoint entirely.  What he purposes in text and illustrations will have readers mulling over in their minds for weeks or longer.

This is what I learned last summer:

The first rule begins with the word

Never

followed by a request about leaving a particular article of red colored clothing on the clothesline.  On the opposite page to the right readers can see the results of disobeying said rule.  The older boy and his younger brother are crouching behind a tall fence together.  The first has his hand over the other's mouth.  On the other side of the barrier we see just enough of a gigantic red rabbit with a piercing red eye to give us the heebie-jeebies.

We read about table manners, care with glass, making sure everything is secure for the night, honoring even the tiniest and slowest of creatures, being on time, following a process, questioning authority, behavior around unknown beings, the importance of secrets, explanations, the value of winning and expecting to hear I'm sorry.  Each of these twelve rules is preceded by the word

Never.  

The corresponding visuals reflect the bizarre, the fantastic, extreme adventure, forces of nature, steampunk and stark landscapes.  They unlike the text show a shift in the relationship between the two boys.  The older one is distancing himself from the other; his treatment becoming mean.  Is the elder sibling disgusted?  What is the purpose of his actions?  With the reading of each rule, the questions multiple.

After three two-page illustrations sans text the rules begin again.  The word never has been replaced with the word

Always.

The bond between the two boys changes swiftly.  We are told to carry a specific tool, be sure of the right directions to the right place and to

Never

miss a significant moment in time.  The final two words of this conversation about the dos and don'ts of summer are accompanied by the most puzzling illustration of all.


Shaun Tan's single sentence rules without the illustrations sometimes state the obvious but other times one cannot help but think, Why not?  Regardless of this each paves the way for dynamic discussion.  His switching from the word never to always and back to never is sure to prompt additional inquiries.

Rendered in oil paint all the illustrations, including the matching dust jacket and book case, are open to interpretation.  Where is the field with the town off in the distance located?  Who are these two children?  What kind of place contains large wind-up creatures?  There is so much wonder even before the cover is opened.  The identical opening and closing endpapers show the two boys alone on an empty street cast in darkness either after sunset or prior to sunrise.  The oldest one is whispering something to the other.  The marvelous mystery commences.

The title page is mind-blowing; the oldest brother is taking off in some sort of hovercraft as the other runs across a green field carrying a suitcase.  Again the potential for possibilities is without end.  Each succeeding illustration challenges the limits of each reader's imagination.

Impeccable design and altered perspectives invite readers to pause.  Brush strokes on larger items and fine details are smaller elements contribute to create stunning visuals.  Careful readers will speculate about the presence of the crows in most of the illustrations.


Rules of Summer written and illustrated by Shaun Tan is a true mind-bender.  I would not hesitate to use this with students at the beginning of the school year to promote discussions about expectations, perceptions and of course, rules.  It would be interesting to see what images students would pair with each rule.  Do they agree with those of Shaun Tan?  You could have Rules of _____ as an exercise working in groups or pairs.

Another good point of discussion is the relationship between the brothers.    What would they do or not do if in the same situation as the characters in this book?  How do children feel about their siblings?

By following the link embedded in Shaun Tan's name you can access the page at his website devoted to this book.  He has written commentary about each of the illustrations.  The link embedded in the title leads to a website completely devoted to the book.  There are seven videos and an extensive teacher's guide.

This book is also reviewed by Travis Jonker, teacher librarian and blogger at 100 Scope Notes as well as Elizabeth (Betsy) Bird, New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist and blogger at A Fuse #8 Production.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sensing Scents

Over the last one to two years, I've noticed Xena's sense of smell seems to be on overdrive.  Her nose during our walks is constantly to the ground.  On breezy days she stands still shifting her stance with the wind's direction.  I have watched her detect the presence of an animal or certain person long before they come into view.  At night when we take our final walk around the yard, if she freezes nose in the air and starts barking we move speedily back toward safety.

We humans have come to trust the incredible sense of smell found in dogs.  Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, respected nonfiction author, has written Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job (Bloomsbury, September 2014) conveying the important work of canines and their noses.  Within four chapters, forty-eight pages, we are consistently informed and constantly astonished at their abilities.

Take a dog, any dog, for a walk along a sidewalk or in a park, and you won't be walking much---you'll be standing there holding a leash while the dog sniffs at every bush and every lamppost.  

For generations we humans have relied on dogs' noses to assist us in finding food, maintaining order in the herding of other animals and locating wounded soldiers and explosive devices during times of war.  Forty per cent more of a dog's brain is designated for smell than a human's brain.  Specific breed and temperament determine which jobs are best for which dogs.  Training to separate certain smells from others is intense but rewarding for our canine companions.  Once their skills are honed they go to places and in conditions out of the ordinary to complete their assignments.

Top on the list for these trained noses is searching for people and finding explosives.  In the case of an avalanche dogs can sniff out a human under thirteen feet of snow.  They can perceive the whiff of a human recently deceased or dead for hundreds of years.  A MWD (military working dog), known for their proficiency in operating off leash in difficult areas, usually is a teammate with the same handler for the duration of their service.  It's interesting to note dogs working with law enforcement officers live off duty with their human partner.

Pooch snoots have even found a place in protecting our planet, seeking out plants not native to a given area before they take over, scat of endangered species and polluted water.  People with special medical conditions have benefited from dogs' capabilities to smell when a hormone imbalance has happened or a dangerous allergen is present.  It's downright uncanny how their noses know when specific cancers have begun in a person's body.


Dorothy Hinshaw Patent begins each of the four chapters, Dogs And Their Amazing Noses, Searching And Saving, Helping Planet Earth and Medical Alert Dogs, with two page overviews before citing explicit examples.  The discussions of these jobs are also contained within two pages.  Patent converses with her readers offering details which increase reader understanding of what is needed and how these highly trained dogs fill that need.

In addition she chooses to focus on five individual dogs, a Specialized Search Dog in the military, a dog used to identify specific species, a dog who was slated to be put down and is now sniffing out sewage leaks, a dog who never leaves the side of a young boy with Type 1 diabetes and dog in training to smell peanuts as far as three feet away.  These introductions make the subject more personal for the reader.  Men, women and children working with and benefiting from these dogs all find a place within this title.

The color scheme shown on the front dust jacket, yellow, red and teal blue, is used throughout the book.  Colorful, up-to-date and relevant photographs are integrated into the layout and design enhancing the text.  If the background is red, the photographs will be edged in teal blue with the page heading appearing in a block of yellow. An arrow cuts into the image drawing the eye to an enlightening caption.


Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives On The Job written by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a captivating introduction into the fascinating world of dogs' smelling powers.  Not only will readers gain awareness of the topic but perhaps they might be interested enough to pursue a career as a trainer or handler.  Patent includes books and websites for Further Reading and Surfing.  Her acknowledgments identify those who helped her in the writing of this title.

For more information about Dorothy Hinshaw Patent please follow the link to her official website embedded in her name.

My review is based upon an F & G copy received from my favorite independent book store, McLean & Eakin Booksellers located in Petoskey, Michigan. My personal copy is on order there.  I hope you will purchase a copy from your local indie book store or seek one out at your local public library.


Yet again due to my participation in Alyson Beecher's 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted at her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, my knowledge about a topic has grown.  Please follow the link to her site to read about other nonfiction titles selected by bloggers this week.


Only One Hundred

A fact of life for most of my friends and I were our parents collecting S & H Green Stamps.  Certain businesses would give the stamps to customers making purchases; the amount determined by the dollars spent.  The stamps were placed in books ready to be exchanged for merchandise at a redemption center.

In 1964 the S & H Green Stamp catalog became the largest single publication distributed in the United States. (Encyclopedia Britannica)

This practice continues today for consumers with most participating businesses assigning points rather than giving stamps.  Schools still looking for more money to support programs gather soup can labels and box tops or bottoms to exchange for cash.

Upon learning to read, one of my morning delights was to see what was new on the cereal boxes.  If you saved certain proof of purchase portions, you could turn them in for a small toy.  I wish with all my heart I would have read what the two brothers in There's A Lion in my Cornflakes (Bloomsbury UK, July 2014) written by Michelle Robinson with illustrations by Jim Field saw on the fateful day this story starts.

If you ever see this on a packet of cornflakes:
Mr. Flaky
Corn
Flakes
Free
Lion
Just Save
100
Coupons
Ignore it!

The young narrator (Eric) and his older brother Dan decide this is too good to resist.  Combining their savings, making trip after trip to the grocery store and endless hours of cutting give them their desired results.  It also gets them in a bit of trouble.  Their mom has decreed consumption of cornflakes for three daily meals until they are all gone.  As an added precaution she is withholding all pocket money until there is no longer a sign of this particular type of cereal in their home.

You know what?  They are so excited about getting a lion; they don't care about their punishments.  They have plans, big plans, for having a lion of their own; walking with it, riding it to school and even using its teeth to open tin cans.  As a single day of waiting stretches into seven days, it quickly becomes obvious they are not the only people who have collected the proper amount of coupons.  Delivery of one lion after another is made to households all around them.  Where is their lion?

On day eight they are beside themselves with excitement as the all too familiar truck pulls up in front of their house.  Oh! No!  It's not a lion.  It's taken to the wrong house.  It completely destroys the neighbor's back yard.  Apologies are made and cleanup commences.  The problem still remains.  There is no lion.  There is a grizzly bear.

When a letter arrives from the company in response to their query about their free lion's absence and the grizzly bear's presence, they discover another creature is being sent.  (Mr. Flaky is out of lions.)  This one decides to set up residence in the family bathroom.  An irate phone call from the boys' dad prompts the appearance of a third beast.

Dad explodes in frustration and anger, ordering everyone, human and otherwise, into what's left of his car.  He is going to get to the bottom of this fiasco.  On the return trip home only Dad seems to be pacified; mother and sons are decidedly not.  When the brothers begin to discover by looking at what they have instead of focusing on what they don't, pure delight replaces frustration.


By the time readers finish the first three sentences of this title, they are fully hooked.  Author Michelle Robinson has peaked their curiosity.  Page turn by page turn, Eric tells the tale as only someone his age can.  Word choices evoke a sense of drama as the comedy increases.  Here is a single sample passage.

It wasn't our fault! But Mum went bonkers.  She made us apologise to Mr. Harper AND tidy up.  It was awful.  We had a grizzly bear, a grumpy mum and absolutely NO free lion.


Looking at the vibrantly colored front of the book case, it's hard not to hear a resounding roar echoing in the room.  I don't know about you but I want to open this book to see how a lion ends up in the boy's cornflakes.  The beginning and closing endpapers are a repeated tiled pattern of the Free Lion coupon shown in clusters on the back of the cover.  Eric and Dan, wearing their school uniforms, are riding on the back of a lion pictured beneath the title.

Varying illustration size from two pages, to single pages and groups of smaller pictures surrounded by white space, Jim Field's artwork mirrors and extends the humor bubbling to the surface as the story is read.  He shifts perspective to involve us in the events as they unfold; bringing us close to Eric at the breakfast table on the first two pages, moving back to show the brothers cutting out endless coupons sitting on a mound of them nearly covering the family dog and the panoramic view of the park as all the lions already delivered play with their children.  Every time I read this title I see new details; details which guarantee laughter.

Careful readers will notice Eric wearing different colored socks as well as the changing table settings, clothing worn by the family and expressions and positions of the dog when Field depicts the boys having to continually eat cornflakes.  The grouping of three pictures of Eric, Dan and the dog waiting on Thursday, Friday and Saturday for the lion delivery is hilarious.  Each time Eric sinks lower on the page until all we see are his feet after he falls asleep.  The dog goes from holding his collar and leash for a walk, to looking woebegone and eventually sleeping with Eric's glasses on his face.  And there is the distinct yuck factor as a bored Dan picks his nose.

One of my favorite illustrations is the previously mentioned park illustration.  You could look at this for hours discovering the amusing tiny elements.  The tea party scenario is particularly funny.  Two little girls have a blue and white checked tablecloth spread on the grass.   One is pouring the tea as the other carrying a basket filled with treats stands next to the lion.  What makes you grin like crazy is the lion is sitting there prim and proper with its mane in pigtails.


As if the premise of being able to acquire a free lion after saving one hundred cereal box coupons is not silly enough, the parents being more upset with the replacement animals than the fact their sons even did this is the best kind of humor appealing to the child in all of us.  There's A Lion in my Cornflakes written by Michelle Robinson with illustrations by Jim Field is clever and highly entertaining.  I predict it will rarely be on the shelves.  The United States release is to be May 2015.
If you are interested in learning more about the work of Michelle Robinson and Jim Field please follow the links embedded in their names to access their websites.  There are supplemental activities posted in both places.  Enjoy the trailer!



There's a Lion In My Cornflakes - Book Trailer from Jim Field on Vimeo.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Play With A Passion

When something is of value to us, it finds a place of importance in our lives.  If it's a skill to be learned we observe, listen, study and practice.  We devote time; it becomes a joyful commitment.  Another component is passion.  It needs to find a place in our heart.

For some another element may be discovered sooner or later in pursuit of this special endeavor.  In the first picture book he has written and illustrated, NINJA! (Henry Holt and Company), Arree Chung introduces us to a boy with exceptional purpose.  Shh! Let's follow Maxwell on his latest mission.

A ninja needs a thick ninja stick, silent ninja footwear, sticky ninja gloves, an unbreakable ninja rope, and a bouncy ninja paddle. 

Once he has the tools of his trade, confidence needs to be declared with gusto.  Maxwell proceeds to acquaint readers with other traits of a skilled champion; the nimble actions of an Olympic gymnast.  With the goal in sight, every impediment must be overcome (including moving the family dog peacefully sleeping).

Exact care must be taken to advance effectively; a warrior needs to dig deep within himself relying on his inner fortitude.  Nothing is more important, not a single thing, than catching your subject off guard and scaring them witless. (It looks like Dad's nap on the couch is over.)  With this objective fulfilled, it's on to phase two.

Into the kitchen our fearless warrior sneaks.  His younger sister is about to have a snack of cookies and milk.  To ensure continued success he must maneuver with extreme caution avoiding his mom at all costs.

Barely breathing, with measured movement and faith in his abilities at an all-time high, Maxwell leaps, climbs and balances into action. With two cries ringing out, the scales are tipped.  The only honorable thing to do is done.  A young boy has found the final element.


Rich in language with not a single wasted word, Arree Chung gives us a window into the marvelous mind of Maxwell as he fulfills his desire for all things ninja. As each item this ninja uses is listed notice the descriptive adjectives.  In relating his movements a simple beat is created by the word choices; continuing as he tells us of a ninja's inner qualities and movements during the final stage of his mission.  This builds wonderfully and in contrast to his boyish glee at his accomplishments.   It also prepares us readers for the final two pages revealing the heart of a true ninja.

Flap edge to flap edge the dust jacket unfolds in a series of illustrations left to right, back to front, giving us glimpses into the narrative.  Beneath the book case with a wood grain background (closet doors) we see Maxwell on the front swiftly moving across the space declaring his status.  On the back is his sister happily observing her brother.  Both the dust jacket and book case feature the main character initially but focus on the importance of the younger sister if we fully extend them.  A pattern of folded paper ninja stars on a woven background (the same as the rug in the house) cover the opening and closing endpapers.

Rendered in acrylic paint on Rives BFK paper, found paper and Photoshop, the color palette is a direct reflection of the story line; shadowed for stealth, the background shifting to a royalty red (my description alone) with the luminous golden dragon when Maxwell's imagination is highlighted, lighter hues as he moves into the kitchen, total darkness when the discovery is made and back to light on the final pages. Arree Chung changes from one image size to another, two pages, a series of geometric panels across two pages or an individual page, or a single page, as the action dictates.   The expressive facial features on the characters (and body movements) enhance the text providing readers with a hearty dose of humor.

Two of my favorite series of images are when he defeats the angry beast, a series of panels on a single page, and the two pages of panels bursting with action prior to his completed mission.  The design and layout, the changing perspectives and colors make readers feel like they are participants.  Seriously though, all the illustrations in this book are evidence of this boy's love of being a ninja and the imaginative gifts he uses to live his story.

Grab a bag of ties, hand them out to your listeners and let the distinctive words and pictures spin a tale of wonder and laughter as Maxwell's escapades unfold in NINJA! written and illustrated by Arree Chung.  I am certain you will need more than one copy available to your readers.  This is sure to prompt discussions of other imagined adventures. You could fold paper ninja stars having listeners write a phrase for or draw their favorite parts on the points.

Please follow the links embedded in Arree Chung's name to access his website and blog.  His website has numerous fun-filled ideas.  Many bloggers featured posts about NINJA! on its release date or during the release week. You can learn more about the book by reading their thoughts and interviews of Arree Chung.  (These are the ones I could find.  Please list any others in the comments.) Here are their names along with their blogs:

Cynthia Alaniz, teacher librarian Librarian in Cute Shoes
Niki Barnes second grade teacher Daydream READER
Alyson Beecher, educator Kid Lit Frenzy
Carter Higgins, author, teacher librarian Design Of The Picture Book
Debbie Ridpath Ohi author illustrator inkygirl
Katherine Sololowski, fifth grade reading and language arts teacher Read, Write, Reflect
John Schumacher teacher librarian Watch. Connect. Read.

UPDATE: Here is the link to an interview given at KidLit411.



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Connection, Curation, Connection #6

It's been a busy week as educators across the country are gearing up for a new school year.  In fact #titletalk on Twitter this evening will focus on getting students excited about reading in our classrooms.  Archives of missed chats are listed as well as new book trailers.  In case you need an extra dose of cuteness authors, illustrators and members of my PLN are always eager to share pet pictures.  Xena is pretty fond of these.  New items have been added to making our classrooms inviting for our students.  Authors Julie Falatko and Ame Dyckman continue to entertain us with their observations about life.  John Schumacher, the teacher librarian dynamo, provides us with even more resources.  Be sure to check out the newest posts on writing from writers and authors.  Take time for reading.  Have a great week.
Note: I will be taking a screen free week for the next seven days so there will be no post next Sunday. 




Walter Dean Myers---These are the collected tweets and conversations beginning on July 2, 2014 as word of this wonderful man's passing was spread.


Xena's Wooferlicious Tweets---These are gathered tweets that feature dogs or cats...yes cats; many from authors, illustrators and treasured friends.


Readying Our Spaces, Creating Warmth, Inviting In Our Students---This is a collection of tweets which members of my PLN on Twitter are sharing about the spaces they are designing for their students.  It highlights the extras.


The Household Habitat of Julie---Julie Falatko is an author whose family life is uplifting and joyous.


Author Tips on Writing---This is a collection of tweets about blog posts by authors helping others with their writing.  It is my thought that this can be used in classrooms.


The Wit and Humor of Ame Dyckman II---The author of Boy+ Bot and Tea Party Rules,  Ame Dyckman, provides quirky views, one liners, laced liberally with humor each and every day on Twitter, keeping her followers in stitches and filled with positive vibes. Here is the second collection.


Cyber-Sleuth---Mr. Schu---John Schumacher, teacher librarian, 2011 Library Journal Movers & Shakers, member of the 2014 Newbery Award committee and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. is the King of gathering resources for his followers' benefit.  This is a collection of his tweets.


Ivan-A Gorilla-A Mighty Silverback---January 2012 welcomed a new book by Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan.  A work of fiction, based upon the real Ivan living in Zoo Atlanta, impacted the reading community as only a powerful story can. On Monday August 21, 2012 Ivan passed away. This is what happened on Twitter then and now.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Doing What You Do Best (See You In September #3)

For the past several weeks subtle signs have been appearing; shelves of spiral notebooks and bins of pencils, pens, markers and crayons.  Now a more obvious shift is noticeable in the big box stores as summer furniture, lighting, garden supplies and flowers are disappearing.  Back-to-school displays rule the aisles in full force.

For returning students, teachers and educational staff the routine of beginning school is familiar and hopefully welcome.  After working with kindergarten classes for thirteen years, I am well aware of the misgivings these younger guys and gals have about starting school.  A beloved character who first appeared in Chu's Day (Harper, January 2013) is about to embark on a new adventure.  In Chu's First Day of School (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Adam Rex, the little panda guy introduces himself in a big way...a very big way.

There was a thing
that Chu could do.

Chu, like most boys and girls his age, has concerns about school.  He wants to know if his classmates and teacher will be nice.  He wants to know if they will like him.  His father and mother assure him in the affirmative on both counts.  Chu is still apprehensive.

After his parents drop him off at school on the first day, his teacher, who

had a friendly face,

gathers her students into a circle.  She requests they tell one another their name and one thing they love to do. As they say their name she will write it on the chalkboard.

Jengo the giraffe loves to reach up high and get things.  Pablo the tarmarin loves to climb.  As each boy and girl say their name stating what they love, Chu sits still not saying a single word...no not one.

As the teacher merrily writes down the names, erasing other items on the board to make room,  Chu quietly watches until he is the only one left.  When asked he says his name quite clearly. What happens next is the show part of show and tell without the tell.

Holy chalkdust!  The little panda guy has done it again!  By the response from his classmates and teacher this could be the most talked about first day of school ever in the history of first days of school.


With impeccable timing and purpose Neil Gaiman prepares readers for the inevitable with a single opening sentence.  It reminds those of us who know Chu what we can expect, building anticipation.  For those who don't know Chu's gift yet, it propels them forward wondering what it is Chu can do.  It's brilliant.

A cadence is started when he asks his parents questions, it pauses and continues in his classroom the next morning.  Gaiman enhances the beat with the classmates asking the same question after their introduction.  It is followed with the same sentence about Chu's status.  As Chu's parents walk him home and get him ready for bed that evening, the original rhythm resumes.  The same single word which closed the first book concludes this one.  It creates a calming sense of continuity.  We can rest assured that all is right in Chu's world...and in ours.


Immediately the bright rich red background catches the readers attention, as did the bright yellow on the previous book. I don't know about you but as soon as I opened up the matching dust jacket and book case I started to laugh.  There is something comical but enduring about seeing Chu wearing those goggles as he puts items in his backpack. You can almost hear him humming.  I like that Adam Rex has crayons and pictures of Chu and his school on the floor.  On the back we see...the back of Chu with the companion snail openly grinning at us.

On the title page Chu is sitting in a field of daisies in front of the school leading into the first illustration which demonstrates exactly what Chu can do.  As readers look at each of the illustrations rendered in oil and mixed media on board, they are aware of a warmth which permeates all the pages due to the color palette.  Careful readers will notice the attention to detail; the tiny anchor on Chu's father's model boat, the nod to Groucho Marx in one of the pictures of the duck, the tiny bell around the snake's neck and the feet (hands) on the bathtub.

An added touch is the white outline drawings of each animal doing what they love on the chalkboard colored background as they talk.  As each student speaks Chu's expression changes as he relaxes.  I completely burst out laughing when Chu adjusts his goggles at one point and when viewing the two two-page pictures after his sneeze.  The expressions and body positions are hilarious.

Whether readers are acquainted with Chu or not, Chu's First Day of School written by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Adam Rex is just the ticket for easing those first day jitters.  It encourages individuality and acceptance of our special qualities and gifts.  For those of us who already know Chu, this is another gem to tuck away in our treasure chest.  This is a collaboration of two outstanding talents worth sharing with the intended audience.  You won't even mind reading it ten times ten.

Please follow the links embedded in the author's and illustrator's names to their websites to learn more about their work.  At Neil Gaiman's website are six printable PDF pages for use with this title.  By following this link to the publisher's website you can view pages from the inside of the book.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Stacking 'Em Up, Letter By Letter

Our house was a house of making things.  If something needed fixing Dad would devise the perfect albeit unique solution.  No holiday or vacation was complete without lots of arts and crafts; Mom was never at a loss for ideas.

When combining Dad's inventiveness with Mom's creativity, our Halloween costumes were a sight to behold. One particular October I was the neighborhood robot; donning painted boxes decorated with knobs and gizmos galore.  For that reason, the fact children adore anything about robots and my growing collection of alphabet books, I couldn't have been happier when I was handed R Is For Robot: A Noisy Alphabet (Price Stern Sloan, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC) written and illustrated by Adam F. Watkins the last time I visited my favorite independent bookstore.

As you look at the dust jacket, book case, endpapers, title page and verso it's clear this crew of robots is gearing up for a construction project of huge proportions.  Tools are being gathered.  Blueprints are being studied.  With a page turn it sounds like they've already started.

Ahoogah
Beep Boop

This can't be good; the guys moving letter A and letter B have run into one another.  A chorus of noise is heard from a cascade of letter Cs.  The robots for letters D, E and F are leaking, shrieking and leaping.  A dog, water, a spilled dessert and an emergency device definitely figure in the placement of letters G, H, I and J.  I may have just seen a ninja and a singing giant.

Wait a minute!  Did that robot just do what I think he did?  Horsepower, tractor power and a bit more oil than necessary place three more pieces, letters N, O and P, in the structure. There goes that duck again and now one of the workers wants to make music.  Time's a wasting and some parts hardly seem to be moving.

Wait!  Here we go.  Carrying, speeding, flying, rigging, pulling and pulling some more contribute to the final artful arrangement.  It's a rainbow array of letters from A to Z, a monument to words and language.  The assembled automated artisans couldn't be more pleased.



I have yet to walk by a building site without hearing the rise and fall of a mechanical melody.  With this in mind Adam F. Watkins selects twenty-six words, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet describing or imitating a sound.  These words are selected with the process of creating in mind as the robots go about their work.  Interest is heightened as other robots and robotic creatures interact with the business at hand.  An example of this is for the letter G; the word

GRRRR

describes the robot dog, tied to a nearby hydrant, growling at the robot carrying the letter.


Rendered in pen and ink and oil paint on board these colorful, creative illustrations grab your attention as soon as you open up the dust jacket and book case.  These marvelous machines, bits and pieces of moving metal, are distinctive in physical characteristics and expression.  The opening and closing endpapers zoom in on the blueprints first for letters A and B and then for Y and Z.  You have to wonder, looking a the verso page, if the project will proceed according to the plans when a solitary robot is scratching his head as he looks at the entire set.

All the pictures extend from edge to edge with a white background meeting the grassy meadow on which the finished framework will stand but a single letter is on the left and right side.  The robotic activities are tied together always by color but sometimes with one robot interacting with another.  Watkins has included additional elements which begin with each letter; some obvious, others needing a careful eye to locate.

One of my favorite illustrations, already mentioned above, is that for the letters G and H.  On the opposite side of the hydrant is a hose connected to a robot made of a clear watering canister.  With his one arm he is holding a hose hissing steam at the letter H.  A tiny heart is on his body.  The robot trying to avoid the grumpy dog is wearing glasses.  Watkins adds the tiniest details like the water dripping from the attachment of the hose to the hydrant.


If you are looking for quiet book R Is For Robot: A Noisy Alphabet written and illustrated by Adam F. Watkins is not for you.  It's a fun-filled title loaded with action and humor. One read aloud will not suffice.  Expect requests to read this again and again.  I think it would be a great idea to assign a sound to each student in the classroom having them repeat it after it's read adding to the sounds until the end when it will be a symphony.

I have embedded a link to Adam F. Watkins website in his name.  Enjoy the book trailer.

 

I obtained my copy of this book from my favorite indie book store, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan.  Please make a purchase with your favorite independent bookstore or visit your local public library.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When Up There

Yesterday as Xena and I left the house for our morning walk, branches swaying on the maples and pines in a stiff breeze, a raven glided over our heads.  Taking advantage of the more active than normal air currents, it quickly swooped up and away with outstretched wings.  I couldn't help but wonder about the view up there.

I'll never forget the year I won a ride on an air balloon one of the teachers owned in the school where I was the teacher librarian.  My fear of heights vanished as I slowly moved over area landscapes marveling at the herd of deer in a wooded area caught unaware.  With this experience in my memory, for a brief moment I felt a kinship with the raven.

In the early 20th century the invention of the airplane and subsequent flights fueled desire to soar over land and sea in a young boy.  This man's life as a pilot and author is brilliantly and beautifully portrayed in The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine De Saint-Exupery (Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux) written and illustrated by the award-winning Peter Sis.  Like the raven Antoine De Saint-Exupery's life sailed on air, moving up and down but always rising again.

Long ago in France, at the turn of the century, a little boy was born to be an adventurer.

The middle child of five, Antoine had golden hair; earning him the family nickname of Sun King.  Before he turned five, his father passed away unexpectedly.  By the time he was twelve he had tried to fly by adding wings to his bicycle and finally convinced a pilot at a nearby air field to give him a ride in his plane.  For Antoine this experience would drive his waking dreams for the rest of his life.

Two years of required military service began as part of the ground crew in aviation.  Antoine was not deterred taking lessons on his own time.  Several years and various jobs later, he became excited by the news of a company starting up a mail delivery service by air. To his great joy, he was part of the first members of the Latecoere.

Working his way up through the ranks, Antoine was finally given the assignment for taking mail from France to Spain.  From there he would travel throughout Europe, along the West African coast, and even plot routes to South America.  For some time he was stationed at Cape Juby in Morocco.  The solitude of air flight and living in a shack by a desert inspired this pilot to write about his adventures flying.

Despite the company's closure, upon returning to France Antoine continued his exploits in the air and in writing.  With the advent of WWII, he was again flying to serve his country but the Germany occupation changed his status in the military and he fled to the United States for several years.  It was while he was in New York City, The Little Prince was written.  His love of country, his love of family, led Antoine De Saint-Exupery to do his heart's desire for the last time on July 31, 1944.

We have all heard the phrase lost in a book but at the conclusion of reading this title, I literally felt like I was traveling back to the here and now from the past.  The methods used by Peter Sis to acquaint readers as fully as possible within the pages of a picture book with this man's life are like piecing together a puzzle, a puzzle we are anxious to complete.  Along the bottom of each page is the running narrative.  Above this, woven into the illustrations, are some of the choicest bits of information about Antoine De Saint-Exupery's life Peter Sis uncovered through his research.  We get a true sense of this man's accomplishments and pursuits.  Here is an example of an interesting character trait, a habit he developed.

Antoine liked to read and write while flying.  In South America, he worked on his next book, Night Flight.  His cockpit was filled with crumpled paper.


The dust jacket, an illustration covering the front and the back, of sky and the rounded shape of land, with Saint-Exupery and the Little Prince flying together, is only the beginning of one masterful illustration after another. The endpapers in a rich royal blue with outlines in a lesser shade picture the two hemispheres of a globe with a plane circling across the top, going down, and then looping back up.  Print coming from the back creates a path.  On the closing endpaper the direction is reversed.

The exquisite intricacy of each illustration (all two pages with three exceptions) causes readers to pause, studying all the details and the text within each.  Sis uses circles to frame many of his smaller pictures found around the larger visuals.  There is meaning in every single element.

Shades of brown, blue, green, gray, golden yellow and black are predominant on all the pictures except for the portrayal of the German invasion of France during 1940 when red, black and gray are dominant.  The three wordless illustrations are breathtaking as is the final artwork.  One of my favorite visuals is of Antoine's return to France.  A light silhouette of his body, arms outstretched holding a paper as if he is flying, is superimposed on an map of Paris.  This, done in blue, is placed on a light green background.  Around this center item are fourteen circles of varied sizes with smaller pictures inside.  Tiny explanatory text follows their edges.  The layout and design are impeccable.


No one tells or illustrates the story of another's life like Peter Sis.  The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine De Saint-Exupery is a remarkable book.  Please share it with someone as soon as you can.  Then go do it again.  There is a selected bibliography as part of the verso.

I have embedded a link to Peter Sis's website in his name.  This link takes you to the publisher's website so you can look at some of the pages from the book.  You will certainly enjoy this interview, In The Cockpit, Gazing At Stars: Saint-Exupery's Life In Pictureswith Peter Sis at NPR's All Things Considered.
Update: Peter Sis:  Why I made The Pilot and The Little Prince - in pictures.



Visit your public library or local independent book store to get your copy of this book.  I purchased my copy from McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey.


I am happy to participate each week in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Be sure to check out the books highlighted there by other bloggers.


To Seek At Sea

You know you are fully immersed in the world of children's literature when you hear the word bears and don't think of those immense mammals who roam our planet.  When I hear the word bears, I think of Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift, Baby Bear Counts One, You Will Be My Friend, The Bear's Song, The Sniffles for Bear, Bear Has A Story To Tell, Polar Bear Morning, Bear and Bee, Bear's Loose Tooth, Otto the Book Bear, or Tea Party Rules.  Likewise when most readers hear the words three bears, they immediately think of Goldilocks and her encounter with Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear.

A ferocious wind has been howling all day, along and inland from Lake Michigan.  The very last thing anyone would expect to see riding these six foot waves is a boat sailed by three bears. Written and illustrated by David Soman, co-creator of the Ladybug Girl series, Three Bears in a Boat (Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC) is an unforeseen adventure taken to right a wrong.  

Once there were three bears, Dash, Charlie, and Theo, who lived by the sea.

In doing something they shouldn't have been doing when their mother is away, one of her priced possessions is broken.  Worried about her reaction, they leave the house hiding by their boat on the beach.  Now Dash has an idea which Charlie and Theo think is pretty good.  They need to find another blue shell to replace the one now in pieces.  Their mother will never know what they have done.   

In mere minutes they have set sail, noticing other bears in other boats.  Surely one of them will know where to find another blue shell.  Unfortunately neither the bears in the first, second or third boat seem able to help.  It's an older bear, a bear that has spent many days upon the sea, who points them in the right direction.  Off they go to look for 

an island shaped like a lumpy hat.

He also gives them a final piece of advice which proves to be more valuable than the trio initially knows.

They sail and sail and sail past all kinds of places, friendly and not so friendly, until they do not see anything familiar.  As soon as they discover the island they begin their search.  Do you think they find the shell? 

Back at the boat accusations begin escalating into a full-blown growly bear quarrel.  In focusing on fighting rather than navigating homeward, a huge storm catches them by surprise.  Interestingly enough a shift in attitude triggers another change.  They are in for more than one surprise upon their arrival at their very own beach.


A tale of discovery spun in the time-honored storytelling tradition is exactly what David Soman has given his readers.  It's certainly a quest seeking an answer to a problem.  Three times they ask but do not find; an important number in spinning a story.  Even when given directions by the older mentor figure they fail until fear unites them; giving them perspective and new purpose.

Soman employs witty descriptions, causing readers to nod their heads in agreement.  We feel an attachment to the characters.  Beautiful language brings us into their time and place.  Here are two passages.

Afraid of their mama, who, after all, was a bear, the three fled from their house down to the beach, and huddled behind their boat.

Their sail flew open like a wing, and the boat flashed across the water.


Though I have had more than one or two scares on a sailboat at sea, I would not hesitate for a second to set off on a journey with the three bears in their boat as pictured on the front and back of the matching dust jacket and book case.  As David Soman desired, you can sense the sights, sounds and feel of the wind and water in these first images. It's a picture filled with promise.  Done in shades of brown his front endpapers introduce readers to each bear framed by life ring with a lighthouse in the lower left hand corner.  The closing endpapers map their journey complete with a compass rose and an anchor as an additional element for balance

On the title page we are given a glimpse of events to come in mama's absence.  The first two page spread of the three bears at the beach is stunning and completely charming.  Each is wearing their favorite clothing; a scarf, a hat and a striped shirt.  One is flying a kite, the other using a hula hoop and the third is building a sand castle.  Throughout the book altering image sizes creates interest, enhances the narrative pacing and invites us to participate.

Soman gives a nod to other literary greats more than once in his attention to detail.  Additional elements add to the total effect.  The old sea captain is wearing an anchor tattoo and has a gold hoop earring in his ear.  When the bears are swimming underwater looking for the shell at the island, the octopus is glaring at one with hands on its hips.  

While a full color palette is used the emphasis on blues and greens creates a marvelous luminosity.  When their boat is lifted above the water by a pod of whales it's hard not to gasp in delight.  The two pages with this sentence

They sailed on farther than they had every gone before.  

are breathtaking as we gaze at the expanse of sea with the play of light on the water; their boat sitting in a tunnel of shimmering ripples.


David Soman has given readers a book to enjoy over and over for years to come.  Three Bears in a Boat is sure to be on many Mock Caldecott lists.  I know it will find a place on mine.  Share it one on one or with a group.  I don't think you will have to listen too closely to hear a collective sigh at the conclusion...or perhaps see a smile.  Enjoy David Soman's video.






My copies of this book were purchased from my favorite indie bookstore, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan.  I hope you can get a copy from your favorite independent book store or your public library.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Out of HeArt Comes...

By the time I was five years old I was an avid drawer of...rainbows.  Every picture felt incomplete unless those varied hues arched across the paper from edge to edge.  If you happened to visit our home, the refrigerator was covered in a collage of color.

All you have to do is work with a group of little guys and gals to have their unbridled enthusiasm for making art spread to an unsuspecting by-stander; like the best kind of virus in the universe.  They savor new boxes of crayons, sharpened colored pencils, glue sticks, scissors and do-dads galore.  Their concentration is intense and complete.  Each finished project is as unique as the individual who makes them.

There are those books which reach out and wrap themselves around you in a bear hug of warmth as soon as you see the cover.  Kelly Light's debut picture book, Louise Loves Art (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 9, 2014) is one of those books.  Louise, her little brother Art and one clever cat walk right into your heart, staying there even when the story is completed.


I love art!
It's my imagination on the outside.

Papers scattered across her bedroom floor, Louise is busily creating the ultimate picture.  It will be the best representation of her drawing skills.  It will be her spectacular showpiece.

Like a true artist she pays close attention to every single detail; all the lines and shapes must convey the essence of her subject.  The family cat is captured in feline perfection to Louise's delight.  When her brother repeatedly tries to get her attention, she is much too busy to waste a single second.  She has a gallery to create.

Oh my yes...she is energetically engrossed in the task at hand.  It's to the kitchen she goes.  There's nothing like the refrigerator for providing space to display one's creative treasure.  Her contemplation is finally interrupted by a loud

LOUISE!

Oops!  What has Art done?  I guess Art followed his heart...and his sister.


Kelly Light does not waste a single word; each sentence conveying the precise, precious thoughts and voice of Louise.  It's easy to imagine hearing her speak; so lively and full of passion for making art.  She gives a dramatic flair to Louise's speech by adding words like piece de resistance and Voila!  You might want to practice your French accent before reading this aloud.  It adds to the fun factor.

Beginning with the dust jacket these illustrations exude charm and humor.  It's obvious Louise and Art are happiest when drawing but the cat will be supplying the comedy.  On the back we readers are treated to sister and little brother lying across a pile of pictures, drawing away with the cat sprawled on its back watching.  The opening and closing endpapers are entirely in the bright vintage red except for the lower right-hand corner being held back like a curtain by the cat showing Louise and again at the end with Louise holding back the corner revealing Art with the cat stretched next to him. These little touches elevate the excellence of the visuals.

The title page extends across two pages, beginning the story in Louise's bedroom with her drawing, the cat dozing on the bed (one eye open) and Art peeking in through the doorway.  The stage is set for a stellar story.  All the remaining pictures cover both pages, edge to edge with the exception of two sets of smaller visuals which accentuate defining moments in the narrative. (Light continues the story using the verso at the end.)

Rendered with black Prismacolor pencils and Photoshop, using a limited color palette these illustrations pop off the page with pizzazz telling a tale of their own in addition to the text.  We readers are privy to Art's activities as Louise merrily goes about her work.  The cat's facial expressions and body movements are hilarious with a capital H.

Attention to details, all the drawings and the decor in the rooms, make readers feel right at home.  It's next to impossible for me to pick a favorite illustration.  I truly love them all but there are four pages I can't look at without laughing.  The wordless illustration when Louise is sizing up where to hang her masterpiece with the cat trying to get her attention and pointing at Art and the next picture when Art says

LOUISE!

holding something in his hands.  The perspective has zoomed in on him.  The look on what we can see of the cat's face will have readers giggling like crazy.


I for one am so happy that Kelly Light brought these siblings and their cat into the children's literature world in her first picture book, Louise Loves Art.  Make sure you have an abundance of paper, pencils and red crayons handy after reading this aloud.  Of course as the artists are working away, they will most certainly request you read this again to them.  This is a joyful ode to the love of art and Art.

Please follow the link embedded in Kelly Light's name to access her website.  A link there takes you to her blog giving you more information about her process.  These are links to interviews at Idle Illustration, Andrea Skyberg|Author & Artist, and Inkygirl.

Here is a recent tweet about her illustrations.

UPDATE:  Book trailer released on August 7, 2014




UPDATE:  Louise Loves Art is highlighted in a trifecta on September 8, 2014.  Kelly Light writes about her reading journey at Nerdy Book Club.  Educator Colby Sharp highlights a conversation he had with Kelly Light on his blog at sharpread.  John Schumacher, teacher librarian, interviews Kelly Light on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Saturday Morning-Peter Brown

Just a little over twenty-four hours ago, I made a thirty-minute trip to a nearby town.  It is the beginning of the annual Venetian Festival in downtown Charlevoix, Michigan.  As I drove down Bridge Street (the main street) old and antique cars lined the parking spots and were scattered across the green bordering the marina.  It was also the yearly Art in the Park in the city of Petoskey, my destination.

After parking my car, walking several blocks and up a hill, I found myself standing in front of the Carnegie Building, site of the former public library. McLean & Eakin Booksellers, my favorite independent book store, had a display at the base of the steps announcing the visit of author illustrator Peter Brown.  Stepping inside this lovely old building was like going back in time.  A large open area held seating for all the guests with a spot for the children near where Peter Brown would address his readers.

Peter Brown began his session by telling us about his childhood love of drawing and writing showing us examples.  His presentation was filled with the wit and charm found in his books.  His focus was on his newest title, My Teacher Is A Monster! (No I Am Not.).  He explained his inspiration for creating this particular book before reading it to his guests.  It's a wonderful experience to hear an author illustrator read their own book aloud, giving emphasis to those parts they feel are most important.  Ms. Kirby's voice could not have been better.


Finishing up his session Peter Brown demonstrated how Ms. Kirby came to life drawing her in stages so we all could see the combination of shapes and lines.  I was the final person to have my books signed.  Listening to Peter Brown interact with his readers was a true joy.  He loves what he does and it shows.










Connection, Curation, Connection #5

Teachers all across the country are continuing to participate in PD to make the classroom experiences even better for their students in the upcoming year.  Several Twitter chats were a highlight this week with another coming up on Wednesday. Several more tributes to the unforgettable Walter Dean Myers were posted.  Authors, illustrators and people in my PLN continue to post smile-worthy pictures of their pets or pets of others.  If you are looking for laugh-out loud comments catch up on the latest from authors, Julie Falatko and Ame Dyckman.  There is a virtual writing class being mentored by some amazing people.  Stop by to see their challenges.  John Schumacher continues to be a endless fountain of information.  Enjoy these collections.  Have a great week. Take time for reading.





 Walter Dean Myers---These are the collected tweets and conversations beginning on July 2, 2014 as word of this wonderful man's passing was spread.


Xena's Wooferlicious Tweets---These are gathered tweets that feature dogs or cats...yes cats; many from authors, illustrators and treasured friends.


Readying Our Spaces, Creating Warmth, Inviting In Our Students---This is a collection of tweets which members of my PLN on Twitter are sharing about the spaces they are designing for their students.  It highlights the extras.


The Household Habitat of Julie---Julie Falatko is an author whose family life is uplifting and joyous.


Author Tips on Writing---This is a collection of tweets about blog posts by authors helping others with their writing.  It is my thought that this can be used in classrooms.


The Wit and Humor of Ame Dyckman II---The author of Boy+ Bot and Tea Party Rules,  Ame Dyckman, provides quirky views, one liners, laced liberally with humor each and every day on Twitter, keeping her followers in stitches and filled with positive vibes. Here is the second collection.


Cyber-Sleuth---Mr. Schu---John Schumacher, teacher librarian, 2011 Library Journal Movers & Shakers, member of the 2014 Newbery Award committee and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. is the King of gathering resources for his followers' benefit.  This is a collection of his tweets.


Ivan-A Gorilla-A Mighty Silverback---January 2012 welcomed a new book by Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan.  A work of fiction, based upon the real Ivan living in Zoo Atlanta, impacted the reading community as only a powerful story can. On Monday August 21, 2012 Ivan passed away. This is what happened on Twitter then and now.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Secrets And Survival

Again and again when reading a word, a book title or a sentence within the text, a favorite tune, pop song, musical or movie soundtrack will suddenly start playing in my mind.  When recently reading several books about superheroes, Holding Out For A Hero from the movie Footloose was on a continuous loop.  You never know how things will connect in your brain.

Two years ago Kate Messner started a highly charged mystery adventure series with the title Capture The Flag (Scholastic Press, July 2012).  It was followed by Hide and Seek (Scholastic Press, April 2013) which I recently reread.  The three likable, clever characters, Anna Revere-Hobbs, Jose McGilligan and Henry Thorn have become junior members of a secret group, The Silver Jaguar Society, whose mission is to protect artifacts, many centuries old.  Each of them has adult family members who can trace their origins back to famous artists as well as being members of the society.

In the second book they are whisked away within hours from a reception in Washington, D. C. to the jungles of Costa Rica to locate the stolen Jaguar Cup.  Due to an earthquake the children are separated from their parents.  From one incident to the next you are on the edge of your seat but never more so than when the children have to face Vincent Goosen, the diabolical leader of their enemies, the Serpentine Princes, a group of international art thieves.  In case you are wondering at this point, two pieces have consistently played in my mind when reading these books, the theme songs from Indiana Jones and National Treasure.

In the recently published (June 24, 2014) Manhunt (Scholastic Press), the third title, problems for The Silver Jaguar Society have seriously escalated.  The children's ability to work together will be tested to its limits.  Will Anna's natural inquisitiveness, Jose's reliance on quotations and all things Harry Potter and Henry's gamer savvy be enough?

Breaking glass and wailing alarm bells shattered the midnight quiet just before Harry Thorn's baby sister was born.

Throughout the world as midnight strikes in various countries, valuable artwork is being stolen.  It's one of the largest conceived thefts of priceless pieces in Silver Jaguar Society history; masterminded by Serpentine Princes' leader, Vincent Goosen.  He demands the release of his son from prison.  It is abundantly apparent by the items taken members of the society are also in danger.

From a meeting at the society headquarters in Boston, the children and their adult family members escape to a safe house in Paris, France.  After arriving at a society-member-owned book store, Shakespeare and Company, the adults leave on an assignment giving the children strict instructions.  When the Mona Lisa is taken, their parents don't return and a secret message is left on the store bulletin board, Anna, Jose and Henry know it's time to break rules and help in any manner possible.  With the son of the store owner, Hem, assisting they try to crack the riddle left to them before it's too late. 

To add to the predicament in which they find themselves, someone within the society is leaking information to the Serpentine Princes making it difficult to be loyal to someone you might not trust.  When the poetic puzzle turns up missing, they realize others are trying to piece the clues together.  From a crypt at Notre-Dame Cathedral, to a dungeon within the Musee du Louvre, to the burial place, Pantheon, to cells within The Conciergerie and then among the Catacombs, the four relentlessly pursue every lead.

When the unthinkable happens Henry's physical endurance, mental skills and emotional pluck are pushed to their limits.  Trickery and traps abound above and below ground.  Much like the streets and alleys in Paris, this narrative twists, stops and turns.


In this volume author Kate Messner deftly writes a first-class thriller.  You simply do not know from chapter to chapter, page to page what will happen next.  It's as if she has given you a bundle of tiny clues to imagine the solution to this mystery but you're not sure if all the items belong.  Her technique of incorporating cliff-hanger statements or sentiments at the end of chapters keeps you turning pages.  The action scenes give new meaning to the words heart-pounding.

The individual personalities of Anna, Jose, Henry and even Hem, along with their specific family relationships through dialogue, whispered conversations and stress-filled discussions contribute to reader involvement; we are entwined with their movements and emotions.  As in the previous two titles, Messner includes realistic, relevant descriptions of place based upon her personal research as duly noted in her extensive author's note at the book's end.  Here are a few of many marked passages.

"Why are we going to Paris?" Henry must have said it louder than he meant to because the whole van went quiet, and Jose looked back with a worried face.  "I mean...I think we deserve to know what's going on," Henry said, trying to keep his voice even.
"You do," Aunt Lucinda said, peering out the window at the brick buildings rushing past.  "We'll fill you in once we get you to the airport and you're safe."
Her last word hung in the air, and Henry thought about what she meant.
They'd be safe at the airport.
Until they got there, they weren't.

"Yeah..."Anna said, finally breaking eye contact with the skull.  She stood up, brushed off her knees and blinked a few times, fast.  Henry could tell she was trying to get her brave back, but that wasn't easy down here.  "We need to watch for the crossbones.  Remember the photo on that lady's website?"  Anna held up her pointer fingers, crossed like an X.  
Jose nodded.  "The spot marked with imperfect X. ' "  And they started down the hallway of bones.


This latest title in the Silver Jaguar Society mystery series, Manhunt, written by Kate Messner is certain to have readers gasping for breath.  A strong sense of loyalty, family and love shines like a beacon amid all the action.  You couldn't ask for a better combination of plot, strong characters and suspenseful mystery than this book.  Thank you, Kate Messner.

Please follow the two different links embedded in Kate Messner's name to gain further insight into this title.  Kate Messner has created a Pinterest page linked here. 

If you wish to be in the drawing for a copy of the ARC please leave a comment below.  Include your Twitter handle so I can contact you.  If you are not on Twitter check back this weekend to see if you are a winner.  I will conduct the drawing Sunday evening at 5PM EDT.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Not Ever Again

One of many things gained from being an avid reader of historical fiction is there are two sides (or more) to every story.  This is readily apparent during a time of war; each choice made by each person creates layers upon layers.  To see events unfold through the eyes of a child, a person powerless to major decision making, is particularly poignant.

My understanding of World War II deepened when I read Duke (Scholastic Press, August 2013) by 2007 Newbery Honor winner (Hattie Big Sky) Kirby Larson.  As a companion title, Dash (Scholastic Press, August 26 2014), follows the lives of another family on the home front.  Barely completing the first page, readers will have stepped back in time, becoming another member, a silent member, of the Kashino family.

Mitsi Kashino packed her sketch pad, her binder, and her worry in her book bag.  Dash sniffed the straps before flattening himself on top of it, muzzle resting on his front paws.  He watched Mitsi with worried brown eyes.  She ruffled the scruffy almond-colored fur on his head.

Christmas vacation, December 1941, has come and gone.  Returning to school Mitsi, an American of Japanese descent, is hopeful her classmates will no longer stare at her in the hallways or leave hurtful notes in her desk.  Hope leaves when her two friends, Mags and Judy, seem to have acquired another pal, Patty, who is especially cruel to Mitsi.  On the way home from school a group of older boys chase her, circling around, scattering items in her book bag and taunting her with chants.  Thankfully a neighbor, Mrs. Bowker, comes to her rescue, swinging her broom like a ball bat.

Chapter by chapter the dread filling the hearts and home of the Kashino family builds until the day Mitsi and her magic-loving older brother read the announcement posted on a telephone pole.  All people of Japanese descent, whether they were born in America or not, are being evacuated to camps.  They can only take with them those items they can carry.  Stop...think about this...long and hard.  A decidedly horrible situation is made worse when Mitsi is told she cannot bring Dash, her closest friend and confident.

Having built a relationship with Mrs. Bowker, working in her gardens, Mitsi is able to leave Dash with her.  A touching kindness is shown to her by her teacher as all the people gather to ride the trucks to the camp; a gift of pencils and a drawing pad for her artistic student.  Initially they are taken to Camp Harmony (the state fairgrounds) to live in a tiny room with only five cots, a stove to keep them warm and paper thin walls.

These Americans ate in a mess hall, used outdoor latrines for multiple people with no privacy, slept on straw-filled mattresses, delivered and received mail and bought supplies at a canteen.  As days turn into weeks, Mitsi sees her family dynamics change.  Relationships are shifting as connections are made with others at the camp; some are good, others are not.  When a rhythm of living here seems to be forming, more bad news is received.  They are being moved again...by train for three days...to Idaho.


There is something extraordinary about the books written by Kirby Larson.  Great care is taken in depictions of place and people.  Every experience is brought to life through the thoughts of her main character and the dialogue between the other personalities.  Impeccable research leading to specific descriptions creates movies in the minds of her readers.  You are immersed in the worlds her written words weave.

Burning all their Japanese books and heirlooms to maintain their American identity, turning in their radios and cameras to the authorities, and her grandmother having to register because she was born in Japan not only paint a true picture of this historical time period but build a connection between this family and the reader.  We ride with them in the trucks and on the train, stand in line with them at the camps, we suffer their humiliation and lack of privacy, and we feel the resilience and unity of the Kashinos and many others like them.  Our hearts are bound to Mitsi as she struggles to understand, as she develops skills to adjust and survive and writes letters to Dash (Mrs. Bowker) and receives messages in return.  Here are a couple passages from the book.

"What kind of flowers are you going to plant?" she asked.
"Oh, crocus and daffodils and tulips." Mrs. Bowker waved her arm like an orchestra conductor.
"And later on, peonies and roses and gladiolus."
Mitsi thought of the beautiful gardens Uncle Shig planted along the borders of his strawberry fields.  "It must be hard to wait," she said.
"Oh, very hard." Tears glimmered in Mrs. Bowker's brown eyes.  "But that's what life is all about.  Doing winter's work in hopes of summer's flowers."

Mitsi wrapped her arms around Dash.  She inhaled as deeply as she could so she wouldn't forget his smell.
Mrs. Bowker held the camera up to her eye, peering through the viewfinder.  "Say 'cheese' ".
It was a good thing it was only a camera, not an X-ray machine, or all Mrs. Bowker would see was Mitsi's heart broken into a billion kibble-size bits.

Mitsi's throat was raw from the dust, and the ringing in her ears was driving her crazy.  Mom heard from Mrs. Suda who heard from Mrs. Kusakabe that the ringing was because of the altitude.
"Seattle is only about five hundred feet above sea level," Pop explained.  "Here, we're about four thousand feet above.  That's a big difference."
"As soon as you get used to the altitude, the ringing will stop," Mom promised.
Mitsi rolled over on her cot, blanketed in misery.  She was never going to get used to anything about this place, not the dust or the miles of sagebrush or the pancake-flat landscape without one tree to provide shade from the bullying sun.


Give Dash written by Kirby Larson to readers who loved Duke, to readers who like exceptional historical fiction, to readers who enjoy seeing the world of others and to readers who like dog stories.  I know this book would be a favorite read aloud.  Our children need to experience through great stories what happened in the past so we can all be better.  You have to trust me, this book will move you...deeply.

Please follow the link embedded in Kirby Larson's name to read about her and her other books.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Speaking For Those Who Cannot Speak

Earlier this week when visiting the vet for Xena's weekly cold laser treatment, something happened which made me sick at heart.  With all the vacationers and summer residents back for a few months, the office is more crowded than usual.  On this day as we were leaving the room, all the chairs on two sides of the space were filled with people and their pets.

Right outside our door was a black Labrador mix with her human. Xena saw the other dog and they began barking.  This dog was growling too.  Holding tightly to the lease attached to Xena's harness with my legs on either side of her, I guided her through the gauntlet.

We were nearly past this dog when all of a sudden her man decided to bully her into submission.  The loud resounding whack echoed in the office after he struck his dog.  I was stunned saying, "No...No...No." as I left the building.  When I came back inside to make my payment, the dog and her man were already in an examination room.

Mistreatment of animals is beyond my comprehension.  Even today whenever I see a deer, a fox, a hawk, and other creatures of water, forest and field, I softly gasp in wonder.  Those people who champion their protection are my heroes. For these reasons when I closed the cover of A Boy And A Jaguar (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) written by Alan Rabinowitz with illustrations by Catia Chien, I cried.  

I'm standing in the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo.
Why is this jaguar kept in a bare room?  I wonder.

When the boy moves to the bars to speak to the animal his father asks him what he is doing.  He is unable to reply.  The boy is a stutterer.  At school even though his parents say he is not disturbed, that is the class in which he is placed.  The boy, understandably, feels as though he is incomplete.

Returning home each day he is able to speak easily with the animals he keeps in his bedroom closet; a hamster, a gerbil, a turtle, a chameleon, and a garter snake.  He makes a promise to his pets and to the jaguar on a return visit to the zoo.  He survives school enrolling in a special program for stutterers in college.  Working with a teacher for the first time in his life he can talk without stuttering.

Still feeling incomplete on the inside, the young man goes alone to habitats to study black bears, then jaguars.  His work makes him feel complete.  His new found happiness is tinged with sadness though as he realizes despite his best efforts jaguars are being killed by trophy hunters.

This man remembers his childhood promise.  He uses his voice to help those with no voice.  A jaguar preserve is created, the first and only one in the world.  Back in the tropical forest whispered words are again spoken.


When Alan Rabinowitz tells his story, readers feel an immediate empathy.  His use of specific experiences from his childhood, young adulthood and his subsequent work in the field are exactly what we need to know to understand his purpose and passion.  The style of writing is easily understood by younger readers but strikes a chord in readers of any age.  There are pauses in the text perfectly placed to help bring us closer into Rabinowitz's world.  Here is a single passage.

But my father knows the one thing that does
work.  He takes me to the great cat house at
the Bronx Zoo.  I go straight to the cage with
the lone jaguar, lean over the railing, and
put my face against the bars.

I whisper my promise to her.  Fluently.


The two full page illustration spread across the dust jacket and book case is initially intriguing.  After reading the book you are aware of its portrayal of the meeting of the past with a momentous incident in the future.  Catia Chien's choice to place a smaller picture of Alan and his father walking through the entrance to the Bronx Zoo on the title page is of particular importance too.

Rendered in acrylic and charcoal pencil the pictures beautifully depict the isolation this boy felt, how he worked to become whole and of the great things he has accomplished.  Chien alters the image sizes and background colors to convey emotional moments.  The darker burgundy used when Alan explains how he is unable to talk and when he is placed in the class for disturbed children is heart-wrenching.  This is followed by scenes of him speaking to his pets at home with a background of golden yellow; lifting our spirits as his are lifted.

When the young man knows he needs to do more to become whole, all of the pictures extend across two pages with the exception of two single pages.  This makes us aware of the big changes in his life.  Chien also places a single framed smaller picture within two of these larger visuals to provide specific details.

One of my favorite illustrations is of Alan in the tropical forest bending to look at jaguar prints in the soil; noticing a new set.  We readers see the large male jaguar peeking around from behind a tree watching.  The color palette captures this moment splendidly; the rich earth tones of the jungle, the falling shadows as daylight leaves, and the facial expressions on Alan and the jaguar.  This signals the beginning of a memorable encounter.


A wonderful collaboration of narrative and pictures A Boy And A Jaguar written by Alan Rabinowitz with illustrations by Catia Chien is a very important book.  It acts as a bridge, a connection, leading to greater compassion and understanding.  On the larger than normal back flap Rabinowitz is asked and answers five questions about big cats and stuttering.

By following the links embedded in the author's and illustrator's names you can discover more information about each of them and their work.  This link takes you to a special publisher page specifically for this title.  Enjoy the video below.





I know I say this every week but it's the honest-to-goodness truth.  I love participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  I have learned so much about people, places and a host of other things that I would never have known about without this challenge.  Thanks go to Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy for hosting.



I hope you are able to pick up a copy of this book at your local indie store or your public library.  My personal copy was purchased at McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, Michigan.