Quote of the Month

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

Friday, November 28, 2014

Refrigerator Surprises

Have you ever had a carton of milk or jug of orange juice in your hand while opening the door on a cupboard or microwave?  You're distracted to the point you're not thinking about what should go where.  Have you ever opened the door on your refrigerator expecting to find some delicious snack, only to discover it has disappeared?  You're positive you purchased it.  You're positive you couldn't have eaten it already.  Immediately you might think as was commonly heard around the house when I was growing up, "The ghost must have done it."

In my wildest dreams I've never opened anything inside my home expecting to find something alive.  (I did open a bathroom vanity one time to find a mouse waving at me, but that's another tale for another time.)  Those beings are much better at existing in the outside world.  For this reason Duck In The Fridge (Two Lions, September 2, 2014) written and illustrated by Jeff Mack is hilarious before you've even read the story.


As a dad sits down next to his son's bed to begin reading a bedtime story, a question prompts an unexpected reply.  The boy wants to know why his dad always reads Mother Goose.  The boy is beside himself with excitement when his dad answers,


Yes!  You read that right.  When he is a tad older than his son's age he finds a real live web-footed, orange-billed, white-feathered quacker in the kitchen appliance.

That's not the only place there are ducks either.  They make getting ready for bed nearly impossible. Sleep is entirely out of the question.  Crackers barely curb their hunger.  They, the ducks, decide to order pizza.

The boy's dad makes a phone call for help.  His request for something very scary ends up with two very hairy items prone to baaing a great deal and watching television.  His bigger, better, scarier plea prompts the delivery of not one, not two but three dogs.  Now his home is filled with ducks, sheep and canines who love card games.

At his wit's end one more phone call supplies him with a humongous box on his doorstep.  A wild rip-roaring party ensues.  When a duck, wearing an unusual hat, proclaims his lack of reading skills, the boy's dad, a very smart guy for his young age, has an idea.

Before long all the critters are crowding around him.  Questions are being asked and answered.  Good night, sleep tight one and all; night after night after night.

Every reader will be laughing by page two at the absurd turns in this tale spun by Jeff Mack.  The puns and jokes spoken by the animals are so goofy you'll be groaning but grinning at the same time.  Mack skillfully mixes the dad's narration with comments and conversations added in speech bubbles.  Having pizza as the food of choice will be readily understood by readers.  Here is a sample passage.

I gave the ducks some crackers,
but they ate them all.
Then they ordered out for pizza.



Look at the illustration on the matching dust jacket and book case spreading across the back to front!  All the red with the other bright cheerful colors, not to mention the expression on the duck's face contrasted by the look of total shock worn by the boy, will draw readers to the book immediately.  (I love the red refrigerator.) In two shades of golden yellow Jeff Mack has drawn the interior shelves of a refrigerator loaded with food for both sets of endpapers.  A turn of page takes readers to the verso and title page beginning the story with the boy jumping into his bed, stuffed duck toy following behind, as his father calls out to him.

Cartoon-like illustrations rendered digitally by Jeff Mack show a full range of facial emotions, some zooming in closer than others.  Mack chooses to vary his illustration sizes, double or single page edge to edge, or a single page with a liberal use of white space.  His large illustrations with all the animals are flawless creative chaos.  You could look for hours at all the details...and pieces of pizza.

One of my favorite illustrations of several is at the beginning.  The boy (the child's dad when younger) is lying in bed grasping the covers up to his mouth which is open wide.  Behind his glasses his eyes are expressing complete disbelief.  Next to him under the covers is a duck wearing one of his tube socks as a hat saying...


Off to the side of the scene in the lower right-hand corner is a portion of a Mother Goose book.

Sure to be a bedtime favorite with many requests for repeated readings but good anytime if you want to hear peals of laughter, Duck In The Fridge written and illustrated by Jeff Mack is the book you need.  I recommend you read with many voices full of expression to match the spirited words and pictures.  The twist at the end is absolutely perfect.

For more information about Jeff Mack and his work please follow the link to his website embedded in his name.  To learn more about this title and his process follow this link to an interview at This Kid Reviews Books.  John Schumacher, teacher librarian extraordinaire, interviewed Jeff Mack on his blog Watch. Connect. Read. in 2012.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #4

In thinking about writing this fourth post about favorite titles used to express gratitude I can't ignore the snow-covered landscape outside my window.  For the second November in a row we have had plenty of snowfall beginning in the middle of the month; even prompting an early snow day for our schools.  I can't help but think the natural world might be sending us a message.  There will be those who say it's part of a cycle or some propose it's a result of global warming and climate change but perhaps it is a signal to simply slow down more.  We need to take time to pause and ponder; to appreciate all the goodness in our lives, even the littlest of things.  My three previous posts, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #2 and Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #3, highlight the following six titles.

Back in 1999 The Blue Sky Press (an imprint of Scholastic Inc.) released Thanksgiving Wish written by Michael J. Rosen with paintings by John Thompson.  In collaboration the two bring readers a heartbreaking and heartwarming book based upon tradition, family and making memories.  You truly wish you could talk to both of them to see how the narrative and artwork were created.  Is this story based upon a real life experience?  Who served as models for the people in the pictures? 
ONCE A YEAR, ever since Amanda knew the word Thanksgiving, her family would travel to her grandmother Bubbe's house for the holiday.  Even more than Chanukah or Passover or the other Jewish holidays that Bubbe loved to share with her family, Thanksgiving had always been Bubbe's special holiday.

Amanda's grandmother spends the entire month of November cooking dishes, the same dishes year after year, to serve to her family at Thanksgiving.  It is a gift from her heart.  While all the food and family, uncles, aunts and cousins, is an important part of the day, it's right before falling asleep when the best part happens.  

All year long Bubbe saves the wishbones from the birds she cooks so every single child can make a wish.  She comes to them at bedtime holding various sizes in her hand depending on the size of the wish needing to be granted.  After the pull, whoever has the largest piece is sure to get their wish fulfilled.  Even when Amanda asks Bubbe she will never talk about her wish.  If a wish is shared it can't possibly come true.

When Bubbe passes away, the first Thanksgiving without her is to be held at Amanda's family's new house; a very large, very old house.  Using her Grandmother's recipes kept in a special file, Amanda, her parents and two sisters try to cook up a feast the day before all the relatives arrive.  They continue through the night working together.

On Thanksgiving morning, they keep on preparing and cooking food.  It is a rainy gloomy day.  When two sets of uncles, aunts and cousins arrive they are soaking wet.  Being told by Amanda's mother dinner will be a little late, they settle in, drying themselves out, watching television and talking about Bubbe.  Suddenly all the lights go out.  There is no power.

Everyone else in the neighborhood is fine.  Fuses in the old electrical system can't be replaced until the following day.  A knock at the door announces the beginning of a day like no other, a day of gratitude, remembering and the creation of a new tradition.

Characters so real they could be your next-door neighbor woven into events so true to life they must have happened are the mark of Michael J. Rosen as a storyteller.  His blend of narration and dialogue between the characters make readers feel as if they are there.  He understands the dynamics of families and the connection between children and their grandparents.  Here is a sample passage.

The Thanksgiving before Bubbe died, as unexpectedly as anything you want to live forever dies, Amanda asked her a question. "Bubbe, I've always wondered:  What are you wishing for tonight?  I know we're not supposed to tell, but maybe...well, can you tell me what you wished for last year?"

Her grandmother held out the wishbone for Amanda to grab, and said, "Tonight?  Last year?  I'm wishing for the same thing I wish for every time."

The illustrations, the paintings, on the matching dust jacket and book case are images taken from the interior of the book.  The grandmother's and child's hand getting ready to make a wish and Amanda's mother holding her at the Thanksgiving table as she tells Amanda and the rest of the family, Bubbe's wish each year.  Opening and closing endpapers are a warm, golden brown.  A single wishbone is framed on the title page.  

John Thompson includes a full framed picture on a single page with a small detailed inset on the opposite page within every two pages.  The skill in his paintings is so masterful as to be photographic in quality.  It appears as though he might use some type of underlying wash giving all his illustrations a glow.  The play of light and shadow are stunning.  

One of my favorite illustrations is of Amanda lying in bed with Bubbe offering her the choice of three wishbones.  They are both smiling in anticipation.  Everything, the facial expressions, body postures, clothing, hair, quilt on the bed, teddy bear and angel hanging on the bedpost, speaks of comfort and love.  

Without a doubt attending the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee for several Octobers over the years, is a lifetime highpoint.  I, with many others, listened in fascination to Native America teller and author, Joseph Bruchac.  Listening to him tell stories or reading his many books, gives us valuable insights into the culture from which he comes.  

The Circle of Thanks: Native American Poems and Songs of Thanksgiving (BridgeWater Books, 1996) told by Joseph Bruchac with illustrations by Murv Jacob presents thirteen poems or songs from ten different peoples.  Both Bruchac and Jacob draw on their Native American culture to present authenticity in the words and illustrations.  Giving gratitude for everything every day, especially the bounty of our natural world, is inherent in those Native American cultures represented here.  

As I play my drum
I look around me
and I see the trees.
The trees are dancing
in a circle about me
and they are beautiful. ...

Beginning on the northeast coast with the Micmac people we are introduced to the importance of the drum, the circle it represents and sending praise for the trees, sun, moon, stars and people.  Mother Earth is shown honor by the Mohawk for her constant and strong presence.  Without rain, the Papago of the southwest would be unable to sustain themselves with their corn crops.  Praise for both can be found in their traditions.

The Cherokee of the southeast and the Kwakiutl of the northwest coast pay tribute to the blessings bestowed on their people by the generosity of plants and trees.  The Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest believe if gratitude is expressed to the black bear for the giving of their life, traits of that bear will be passed to the hunter who killed it.  In the southwest the Hopi sing to the Kachina who come to their villages dancing, depicting things in the universe over which they have no power.  These songs are sung in thanksgiving.

Songs and poems about thunder from the Navajo, the sun from the Osage and the stars from the Pawnee of the southern plains signify the appreciation held for these natural wonders.  The final piece, WORDS CALLED TO THE FOUR DIRECTIONS, is a reverent plea for calm and peace everywhere.  This collection pays tribute in words as true today as when they were first uttered.

Joseph Bruchac opens this book with a note to the reader and closes with an afterward.  He also provides two pages of further explanations about each of the thirteen poems and songs and the beliefs of the people. Each telling can be easily understood by even younger readers providing points for discussion and further research.  There is a feeling of devout respect to be found on every page.  Here is one of the poems.

Look as they rise,
look as those stars rise
there over the line
where the earth meets the sky.

Those Star Dancers,
they rise up together.
Look, as they rise up,
how they come to guide us.

They lead us safely,
they keep us as one.

Dancing Stars,
we watch you as you rise.
Teach us to be, like you, united.

Pawnee, Southern Plains

Each illustration with the exception of the front dust jacket, book case, title page and final page spans across two pages.  These paintings by Cherokee artist, Murv Jacob provide a background for the framed text set upon each of them.  A full color palette evoking seasons, housing, activities and dress are done with infinite care.

In all the images flora and fauna native to a specific area are showcased focusing on one or more element as well as the people.  Jacob chooses to alter his perspective by providing us with a panoramic or close-up view depending on the poem or song.  One of my favorites is for the shared Pawnee poem.

It is night with the sky a swirl of tiny colored dots.  Seven stars are brighter than the others with the bodies of women outlined in the sky attached to them.  Beneath the sky is a grassy plain upon which three riders gallop on their ponies.  In the lead is a woman followed by two men.  

I am grateful for both Thanksgiving Wish by Michael J. Rosen with paintings by John Thompson and The Circle of Thanks: Native American Poems and Songs of Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac with paintings by Murv Jacob.  If you wish to learn more about Michael J. Rosen, John Thompson or Joseph Bruchac please follow the links embedded in their names.  John Thompson has several images from the book at his site.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Right Taste

No thoughts of Thanksgiving are complete without thinking of my Dad.  He and his three younger brothers were extraordinary cooks.  Their gift began in being highly skilled in gardening, working with the soil and tending every single seed and plant until it was a thing of beauty.  They believed a good meal began with those items it contained.

Of the four my father, with no prejudice intended, was the best gardener and culinary wizard.  His favorite herb to use was sage, growing his own plants, picking the best leaves, washing them, drying them and grinding them up to give as gifts to family and friends in carefully labeled jars.  When I first read Alice Waters and the Trip To Delicious (Readers to Eaters, Bellevue, Washington, August 26, 2014) written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin with illustrations by Hayelin Choi I rejoiced in knowing about one woman who devoted her life to what was a significant aspect of my childhood.

Some people want new red shoes.
Some people want to sing on stage
or play basketball.

Chef Alice Waters wants every kid in the country
to come with her on the trip to Delicious.

She believes every child should enjoy lunch, a lunch full of flavor and unforgettable taste.  This desire did not come to her in adulthood, during college, her teen years or even her first years in school.  It's safe to say this kinship with food began when she was three years old.  It had something to do with winning a costume contest.

Her affection for food led her to France where she studied, worked and talked with like-minded people.  

Sharing good food
could start a party, make memories.

Upon her return home to America, Alice wanted this connection between food and friends to continue.  Searching for the best fruits, vegetables, meats, herbs and spices, cooking and serving the meals gave her an idea.  There never seemed to be enough room in her home so she decided to open a restaurant, a restaurant which felt like her home.  Chez Panisse became a reality.

Alice was relentless in her pursuit of the very finest, freshest ingredients.  Her restaurant's popularity soon brought farmers to her with their produce. No meal was served unless Alice tasted it first.  Everyone needed to reach the same destination, Delicious.

Alice's restaurant served people from all walks of life which earned her an award given to a woman for the first time.  She made sure even children would feel comfortable at Chez Panisse.  This care given to meals for the youngest eaters made her notice something else.  Another idea was about to be born.

A school without a kitchen was on her route to the restaurant each day.  What if there was a garden at the school?  What if the students learned to cook meals?  What if the students traveled down the path to Delicious?  The Edible Schoolyard became a reality there and is still expanding today to other places around the world.  One person, Alice Waters, changed the way we think about food.

Jacqueline Briggs Martin forms the narrative for her biographies with an initial premise, building upon this event by event making her readers more acquainted with an individual on a personal level.  Her inclusion of specific slices of Alice's life, the first place prize for the costume, her studies in France, the meeting with the boy in Turkey, the results of the first night Chez Panisse was open, Alice searching for natural foods, the famous individuals who visited her restaurant, and her attention given to the school she walked past every day, help to make readers appreciate the difference Alice has made in the food community, in the lives of thousands of people, especially children.  By adding the small circles containing precise facts to the larger conversation text it's as if Martin has pulled up a chair next to us, telling us everything she knows about Alice Waters.  She tells us those things which will have us honoring this woman as much as she does.  Here is a sample excerpt.

And that was a problem---
finding enough fresh, tasty food.
Frozen food was handy.
Food that had been on the shelves for days
was cheap.
But those were not right for the trip to Delicious.
Alice worked day and night finding just the right food.
She drove to the fish and poultry markets
in Chinatown---so often that her car began to smell
like a fish wagon and no one wanted to ride with her.

Debut picture book illustrator Hayelin Choi has rendered all the illustrations using brush and black ink, scanning them digitally and then coloring them.  Each element is blended together using Adobe Photoshop. Beginning with the front and back of the book case the color choices, lines and design evoke cheerfulness while introducing readers to the lengths Alice Waters goes to acquire fresh foods.  A lighter and darker shade of the predominant green on the cover is used in a design on the opening and closing endpapers; a swirling array of fruits, vegetables and fish.

The heavier matte-finished paper is the ideal canvas for Choi's work, serving to illuminate her style which looks almost like block printing.  Her pictures altered in size and perspective elevate the text as do the different background colors.  Many of her images are pure genius in their depiction of time, drawing your eyes from one point to another with lines or by following a pictorial border around text.

One of my favorite illustrations spans across two pages.  On the left Alice is shown cooking in her kitchen with pots, utensils and a light above her head.  She is crushing food with a mortar and pestle in her right hand.  With her left hand she is reaching for an onion being carried in the back of a small truck; about toy size.  What Choi has done is create a series of farms on the left connected by a roadway which runs into Alice's kitchen.  The farmland blends into her preparation counter.  I love this picture!

Alice Waters is a true inspiration; a living hero for children (and adults).  In reading Alice Waters and the Trip To Delicious written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin with illustrations by Hayelin Choi we understand how following a dream can impact the world in more ways than initially imagined.  I believe those who read this book will be excited to pursue some, if not all, of Alice Waters' ideas.  At the book's end is an afterward written by Alice Waters, an author's note, a bibliography, and a list of resource (Grow Your Own and Cook Your Own).

To learn more about Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Hayelin Choi please follow the links embedded in their names to access their personal websites.  At Hayelin Choi's website she has shown more images from the interior of the book.  Here is the link to The Edible Schoolyard Project website.  Follow this link to an interview of Jacqueline Briggs Martin by educator Mary Ann Scheuer for Parents' Press.  I would recommend using this title with Jacqueline Briggs Martin's other title, Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, and It's Our Garden:  From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden by George Ancona.

I am thankful to be participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge each week hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Be sure to visit her site to see the titles recommended by other bloggers. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Dose of Happy

Standing on the doorstep poised for action, she sniffs the air and glances outward before looking hopefully back at her human.  As the walk begins a prance replaces her usual plodding pace, everywhere she sees a fresh blanket of snow.  It's as if the puppy portion of her fourteen-year-old heart grows larger and larger.  She runs and dips her head into the whiteness gulping huge mouthfuls of icy goodness.

If you want to see joy, try watching a dog, at least my dog, in the snow.  This, like most enjoyed pursuits, starts in puppyhood.  Every dog I have ever known embraces everything they do with enthusiasm.  I Love Dogs! (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, December 30, 2014) written by Sue Stainton with illustrations by Bob Staake is a cheerful celebration of one boy's complete, one hundred percent affection for dogs.

I love dogs!

Is there a specific kind of dog this boy likes?  Does he prefer one size over another?  Is there a certain personality quirk he requires in dogs?  Of course not!

He sees strength as a virtue as well as dogs that make comfy cuddlers.  Taking a snooze or running, even around in circles, is perfectly fine dog behavior as far as he is concerned.  Always hungry dogs, taking advantage of every opportunity dogs or patiently waiting dogs are the consummate canine companion.

This boy can't help telling the world how much dogs fill his entire being with happiness. If they have smooth fur, fluffy fur, or fur with polka dots, he simply does not care.  If they sniff or are smelly or if they bark or quietly sneak, he treats them equally.

As he follows signs through the park with a definite destination in mind, everywhere he looks he sees dogs.  Long bodies, tall bodies, short bodies, and tails and noses in motion are traits he treasures.  This boy knows everything about dogs in art, dogs in the news and how they are very smart.  This boy loves dogs with all his heart!  Where is he going on this fine day you ask?  I'll never tell.

If you want exhilaration on every single page, read the words written by Sue Stainton for this title.  Her character, the boy, not only declares his fondness for these four-legged friends but he tells us exactly why he feels the way he does.  Stainton groups at least ten two-word phrases together; the first two and second two rhyming descriptions preceding the word dogs.  When she switches this up with three word phrases the final word rhymes.  Her repetition of the words I love dogs and Dogs, dogs, dogs contributes to the delivery of the beat and helps build toward the finale.  Here is a sample.

Chasing dogs,
racing dogs.
Speedy dogs,
greedy dogs.
Dogs in the snow,
dogs that know.

Looking at the bright colors and facial expressions on the front and back of the dust jacket will make readers want to lift their hands and laugh too.  On the left is a separate single illustration of the boy, eyes closed, nearly lying on the ground as two dogs happily bark at him and lick his face.  This is a portion of an interior two-page picture. As my copy is an F & G I am not sure how the endpapers will appear.

Bob Staake's remarkable, individualistic images begin the story on the title page as the boy walks by a sign which points the way.  The verso and dedication pages hold a single visual of a street surrounding a park with a pathway the boy will follow.  The park is a haven for dogs.

All of the illustrations spanning edge to edge across two pages are rendered digitally.  People's faces and dogs are every shape, hue and age.  Trees and their trunks are striped, plain and variegated.   The architecture of buildings is mixed.  I want to step into this world created by Bob Staake.

I could spend hours (even more than I already have) looking at the details in each illustration.  Some dogs are on leashes, some are being pulled in wagons; some are running free or running after another dog.  Some collars are small, others are big and one is even worn on a tail.  You won't have to look for very long to see burst-out-loud-laughing humor that tops the smile you are already wearing.

One of my favorite illustrations is one of the center portions of the park; four paths branching from a small pool.  Nearly every single being is in motion, except for a newspaper reader on a bench.  Our lover of dogs can be seen on the far left, arms outstretched, head raised proclaiming

I love dogs!

with a single tooth showing in his open mouth.  The hat one of the men is wearing might remind you of another book character.

I love books!  I love reading! And I love dogs!  The narrative written by Sue Stainton paired with the artwork of Bob Staake in I Love Dogs! is a title which welcomes not only readers with my same passions but anyone looking for delight with a capital D.  This is a great read aloud inviting listeners to participate by shouting out repetitious words and would be wonderful to do as a reader's theater production.

Please follow the link embedded in Bob Staake's name to access his website.  I was fortunate to obtain this F & G from my favorite independent book shop, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey.  Be sure to visit your nearest indie store to get a copy or your local public library when the end of December appears on your calendar.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Solstice Sleep, Solstice Sights

The winter solstice signals the shortest day and the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.  Bare branches wave in the winds.  Only the cawing of crows, the honking of migrating geese or chirping of chickadees breaks the silence.  The snow reveals those beings still awake; footprints betraying their nocturnal travels.

Mother Nature demands this rest, this sleep of renewal.  Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 4, 2014) written by Joyce Sidman with illustrations by Rick Allen recreates this natural interlude in all it's fascinating elegance.  We listen. We read. We marvel. And we grow in understanding.

Dusk fell
and the cold came creeping,
came prickling into our hearts.

This is the first sentence in the first poem of twelve titled Dream Of The Tundra Swan; transporting us into the residents' realm.  Not only can we claim a clear vision of white wings shaking off gathered flakes of ivory but to know these creatures soar up to 5,000 feet in the air is astounding.

Readers may shiver not from cold but from the thought of thousands of garter snakes gathering to slumber together in the same spot year after year.  Water drops drop from clouds gathering vapor on formed crystals moving without direction, each one different, and each one adding to the growing crowd to layer the ground with snow.  A moose moves with its mother from one spring season to the next weathering winter depths on tall thin legs built for its bulk.

Did you know busy honey makers huddle around their queen, a living buzzing ball?  Beavers hide beneath the ice all winter never seeing the light of day unless it dimly shines through the walls of their mound of sticks and chips.  Ravens and wolves work together in the air and on land, not in complete harmony, to find food.

If voles are fortunate snows will fall deep enough so tunnels can offer protection and passage.  Clever predators are always ready to listen, dig and capture them. Those sentinels, standing silent except for the creaking and cracking on bitter windy days, those trees survive through the ages.

Chickadees cheerfully maneuver from point to point seeking food until the shift in seasons.  Tiny arthropods gather by the thousands as winter weakens and those early floral harbingers send out their skunky scent.  A change is coming.

Poetic master, Joyce Sidman, creates amazingly realistic images with her words. Reading her poetry is an experience for our senses bringing us into the essence of her subject.  Free verse, rhyming patterns, repetition, and two voices speaking surround us with their pulse, Nature's heartbeat in rhythm to our own. Here are two examples from this title.

In the fat white wigwam
made of ripped chips and thrashing twigs
is a heart of fur, curled and cozy,
far beneath the winter sunshine.
(Under Ice; a pantoum)

From dawn to dusk in darkling air
we glean and gulp and pluck and snare,
then find a roost that's snug and tight
to brave the long and frozen night.
(Chickadee's Song)

To the left of each poem are short informative paragraphs offering intriguing details about each subject.  They are the types of facts which get to the heart of each.  They are the types of facts which will garner even more appreciation for each animal, snowflakes, first flowers and trees.

Unfolding the matching dust jacket and book case, readers are greeted by the first of fifteen illustrations spanning across two pages.  With a color palette as icy as the temperature except for the warmth of the featured beings, we are moved to the woodland as surely as if we walked through a door.  Many parts of this world sleep and slow but others are as animated as the foxes moving over the snow.  A steely blue-gray covers both the opening and closing endpapers.  After the turn of the title page highlighting a moose deep in the snow facing readers, a tree branch spans from left to right, final clinging autumn leaves falling, shifting to bare twigs and huge snowflakes drifting downward.  At the book's close the branch is there again.  Snowflakes leave to reveal new buds.

Rick Allen rendered these artistic pieces as stated in this portion taken from the verso.

The individual elements of each picture (the animals, trees, snowflakes, etc.) were cut, inked, and printed from linoleum blocks (nearly two hundred of them), and then hand-colored.  Those prints were then digitally scanned, composed, and layered to create the illustrations for the poems.  

You want to pause at each visual to gaze in wonder at the details, the movement, the background and the texture.  You can hear wings being lifted in flight, the soft fall of snowflakes and crunching and tearing of moose teeth on willow.  Every scene is a study in the marvels of animal and plant adaptation shown in varied perspectives.  In every double-page image but three the fox can be seen.

Several of my favorite illustrations are of the moose and its mother foraging and resting together to sleep. The shades of color in the background are a striking contrast to the warm browns of their fur.  The beavers moving beneath the ice, gathering sticks, swimming and curling up inside their lodge is fantastically portrayed; the shadows of being near the bottom of the stream against the clarity of the room.  Having walked the woods for many years in the early spring to see the first flower, skunk cabbage, I know this close-up view is perfect.  The reflection of the fox drinking in the pool of water is stunning.

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold written by Joyce Sidman with illustrations by Rick Allen is a beautifully conceived and executed work.  The poetry literally sings off the pages, elevated by breathtaking art.  This title would be a welcome addition to a personal or professional collection.  Reading it aloud is mesmerizing.  A single page glossary is included on the final page.

To learn more about Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen please follow the links embedded in their names to visit their personal websites.  Joyce Sidman has several extra items for her titles including videos.  Here is a link to an educator's guide for this book.  Author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Julie Danielson, interviewed Rick Allen recently.  The questions and his answers along with the pictures and artwork are wonderful.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Now What Cat?

Two weeks ago when heading home through town down several side streets, I couldn't believe my eyes.  One of the houses looked like Clark Griswold had paid a visit; lights twinkling in the early dusk.  Not too many days later wreaths and garlands began to appear outside markets and nurseries. Members of the high school band were canvasing neighborhoods selling seasonal greens to raise money.

Perhaps the early snow storms contributed to the air of preparation and expectation but there is no doubt, the season of winter holidays is upon us.  Children throughout the world, depending on their cultural customs await the arrival of a special night, a night of gift-giving.  You may recall there is a rather cunning cat we first met in Here Comes The Easter Cat (Dial Books for Young Readers, January 24, 2014).  For reasons soon to be revealed he has returned in Here Comes Santa Cat (Dial Books for Young Readers, October 21, 2014) written by Deborah Underwood with pictures by Claudia Rueda.

Hey, Santa!
Have you seen Cat?

Readers, unlike the unseen narrator, are quick to recognize Cat dressed in Santa garb.  When the unidentified voice realizes their mistake, they ask Cat why he is wearing a suit of red trimmed in white fur.  Through the use of his clever mode of communication we decipher the true reason for Cat looking like Santa Claus.  He wants to give himself a gift.

He is secure in his assessment the real Santa Claus will not be giving him a gift.  On the naughty or nice pie chart, his nice section is a mere sliver.  Cat has no other option.

In further conversation, it's clear his role as the jolly giver of gifts has not been carefully considered.  Climbing down chimneys is too messy.  Not being in possession of flying reindeer, Cat decides to wear a device of his own choosing with disastrous results. (He does have a love of speedy means of transportation.)

He could simply be nicer even if there are less than twenty-four hours left.  His ideas of caroling, giving presents to children and decorating the tree in the town center are fabulous failures. Regardless of his less than stellar attempts, the narrator decides to give him two cans of his favorite fancy food.

Now a new problem presents itself to Cat in the form of a younger character.  Cat has a choice to make.  It's not going to be an easy decision because Cat is.... Well he's Cat.

Jingle Jingle Jingle

Look what's happened to Cat now.  Merry Christmas to you too.

Continuing with the narrative technique which worked extremely well in the first title, Deborah Underwood uses a conversation between Cat, displayed through the use of signs, with an as yet unnamed speaker.  This voice questions, discusses, reasons, advises, responds and supports Cat in all things.  It's the actions of Cat, devised by Underwood, which will have listeners rolling on the floor with laughter and readers giggling with glee.  Cat's personality is distinctively his own.

Claudia Rueda has rendered all the illustrations

with ink and color pencils on white paper, surrounded by hundreds of cats (ink cats!).

White space is definitely an element in all her visuals beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case.  The look on Cat's face sitting on top of the gift holding up the sign covering Claus makes me laugh every single time.  On the left the expression on his face sans the suit (the hat is behind his back) is without a doubt devious.  Rueda begins her visual story several pages before the formal title page with Cat wandering by a pet store displaying a bounty of items.  By the time he passes the shop he has a plan.

In a pattern which splendidly dictates the pacing, adding to the humor of the story, Rueda alternates with an illustration on one page with the black text spoken by the narrator on the opposite side.  On several pages pictures alone carry the story line seamlessly.  Her artistic technique and style convey every single nuance of Cat's moods.

With a soft touch to her color and lines and with the smallest of details, the mere hint of a smile with his paw resting on his lips, a toothy grin, a frown with upraised eyebrows, or crinkled whiskers, we know what Cat is thinking and feeling.  Her use of shading depicts Cat's change from being downcast to expressing alarm and then hopeful.  Selecting a favorite illustration is nearly impossible.

I think one of my favorite funny pictures is after the big CRASH!  Cat is standing wearing the Santa hat and coat with a string of Christmas lights wrapped around him from head to paw.  On the opposite side is a single word spoken by the narrator.


For me the "heart" factor comes with the illustration featuring Cat wearing his new set of clothes having just given a gift to his unexpected visitor.  After the gift is opened I can already hear readers sighing.

Who doesn't love to laugh? We need it every day.  The effect is immediate and beneficial.  Here Comes Santa Cat written by Deborah Underwood with pictures by Claudia Rueda is one of those seasonal books certain to lift spirits not only for the wit but for the wisdom Cat discovers.  I am grateful to Deborah Underwood and Claudia for creating this series.  (I'm still smiling after numerous readings.)

To learn more about Deborah Underwood and Claudia Rueda please visit their websites by following the links embedded in their names.  Deborah Underwood was a guest blogger at PiBoIdMo, Picture Book Idea Month, hosted by Tara Lazar on November 17, 2014.  She talks about the creation of Cat and the first book.

 Update: Enjoy the new trailer released on December 15, 2014.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

To Wait

If you choose to think about it in this way our lives can be measured by the time we spend waiting.  When younger we can't wait until we are grown up; only to wish we could turn the clock back every so often.  We wait to hear our name called to make the walk in front of classmates, friends and family to receive our high school, then college diploma. We anxiously await news about our first job.

One of the most highly-charged times of waiting is for the return of loved ones.  A hole in the fabric of lives is plainly felt by their absence.  Coming Home (Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan, November 4, 2014) written and illustrated by Greg Ruth vividly portrays the arrival of soldiers.  


This word is the first of only eighteen words in this story.  Each illustration offers an explanation or an extension of the text.  The initial visual of fourteen double-page pictures accompanying this single word shows two rows of people waiting behind a roped-off area. 

Eight people and a dog are more prominently featured.  It is the boy in the red shirt off to the side that draws our attention.  He, the dog and another woman are intensely focused on a plane, steps lowered, which has landed.

A signal is given.  The boy and the dog on a leash held by the woman race out the doors onto the tarmac.  The dog jumps on a kneeling female soldier as the boy walks away.  He runs again searching and watching as others greet one another; hugs shared, kisses given and pictures taken. 

He wanders among all the people. He looks in every direction filled with hope.  A soldier stands alone with a duffel bag at their feet.  The boy stands alone perfectly still staring ahead.  He suddenly yells with hands upraised, joy spread across his face.  A hero has returned.

Until the final page only one or two words have been selected for use by Greg Ruth on some of the pages.  Each choice not only builds anticipation but offers the boy's response to observations made as he seeks his parent.  We can also sense his increased frustration making the eventual reunion all the more joyful.  Bracketing specific words with repeated words and phrases mirrors the pace of the boy walking and pausing.  

When opening the dust jacket Greg Ruth gives readers a before and after glimpse into the reality for those left at home with loved ones in the armed services.  A boy and a dog stand on the airstrip watching a plane fly overhead each waiting respectfully.  On the left or back the airstrip is extended with the landed plane across its surface.  Passengers are embarking.  The tiny figure of the boy and his parent can be seen.  On the book case Ruth has placed the image from the book's interior when the boy and his parent first see one another.  A pale yellow color apparent in all of the illustrations covers the opening and closing endpapers.  

Each page turn reveals gorgeous images brimming with motion and emotion.  Body postures and facial expressions express more than words could convey.  Each and every reader can connect to the feeling of meeting someone who has been absent; someone whose presence makes your life richer.  

Ruth's technique of having elements in the illustrations appear more faded in the background drawing your attention to those in full color is beautiful.  As you focus on the dog jumping on the soldier, the woman kissing the male soldier's nose, the man touching the pregnant woman's stomach, or the child wearing a male soldier's cap you understand completely the exchange taking place in those moments. One of my favorite images uses these techniques to great effect.

Greg Ruth shifts his perspective zooming in on the boy peering between two separate groups of people.  We still have the more faded people in the background.  In the foreground the people are much darker in shades of brown and black drawing our eyes immediately to the boy.  His look of inquiry might be tinged with increased hope.  You can't really know until you turn the page.

Coming Home written and illustrated by Greg Ruth needs to find a place on every bookshelf.  Its portrayal of the arrival of returning soldiers home to friends and family of all ages is striking in its truth.  This is an important and moving book; a homage to those who serve and those who await their homecoming.  An Author's Note concludes the book.

To learn more about Greg Ruth and his other work, please visit his website by following the link embedded in his name.  On November 10, 2014 Greg Ruth was a guest blogger at teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher's site, Watch. Connect. Read.   He speaks about this book and several illustrations are posted.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In Silence Heroes Rise

For nearly five years in the 1950s audiences thrilled to The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.  During the same year The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin first aired and lasting for nineteen seasons, Lassie was a beloved classic recreated for television.  Even today hearing the opening music for either show brings back memories of watching the episodes each week.

Unbeknownst to me, stretching back to the era after World War I, another canine is responsible for the fame found by dogs on the silver and later the television screen.  Based on factual research, this fictionalized account, Strongheart: The World's First Movie Star Dog (Henry Holt And Company, November 11, 2014) written and illustrated by Emily McCully, shines the spotlight on a little-known hero.  With the assistance of his humans this dog became a household name.

This is the story of Etzel von Oeringen, who became the first movie star dog.

Etzel von Oeringen was born in Germany in 1917.  He was a pup with a lineage firmly in place; champion dogs known and trained to work with police.  During World War I he served in the German Red Cross earning recognition before being sent to American in 1920.

Director and animal trainer, Larry Trimble along with his screenwriter wife, Jane Murfin, wanted to create a movie, a silent film, with a dog in the starring role.  After an initial encounter with Etzel where he exhibited frightening traits relative to his training, the couple still decided to take him from his kennel near New York City back to their home in Hollywood.  Larry worked for weeks with Etzel retraining him for his new occupation.  He needed to focus more on play than work but still be obedient.

Larry and Etzel became more of a team as the dog seemed to anticipate his every move and thoughts; his face actually mirroring Larry's emotions.  Ready to begin the filming of Jane's script, The Silent Call, all Etzel needed was a screen name.  Strongheart was born. 

Strongheart was a natural on the set even performing his own stunts.  This first film with a dog in the lead was a huge hit; earning him a national tour with treatment fit for a star.  Upon his return home, his original training served his humans unexpectedly.  It seemed his fame was destined to flourish whether he was in front of the camera or not.  More movies, a mate and puppies that starred in movies too, extended the legacy of Strongheart: The World's First Movie Star Dog.

Emily Arnold McCully chooses to focus on those points in Strongheart's life most appealing to her reading audience.  Her research provides her with specific examples used to support other statements in the narrative.  By including components of his first three years of training she is able to contrast it with the results gained by Larry Trimble's work with his dog.  Her simple sentence structure works in tandem with the included dialogue creating an authentic portrait of this dog's life.  Here is a sample passage.

In time Etzel
learned to play ball,
to fetch, and to chase.
He loved his toys.  He would take each toy out of
the closet, play for a while, and then carefully put it
back where it belonged.
His favorite was a mouse.  He wouldn't let anyone 
else touch it.

Rendered in watercolor and pen and ink on watercolor paper all the illustrations by Emily Arnold McCully, beginning with the dust jacket, exude warmth.  On the front a mature Strongheart is shown from a scene in a movie.  On the back she places the puppy Etzel within an oval shape surrounded by the same shade of red from the title.  The opening and closing endpapers are five strips of film showing frames from the movies.  Three of the frames have words on them as was done in silent movies.  They are done in black and white placed on the identical rich red background.

McCully has included an introductory title page and a formal title page.  On the first a cameraman is standing behind an alert Strongheart.  A full double-page picture is next with the camera and light crew along with director Larry Trimble to the left of a movie set with actors and Strongheart on the right.  A full color palette is used with exquisite attention given to the smallest of details.  Appropriate clothing, hair styles, buildings and decor in keeping with the time period is evident in all of the images.

The pacing set by the illustrations seems to be similar to what would be found in the silent films of the 1920s.  Emily Arnold McCully uses many smaller visuals to accentuate her text with only a few double or single page spreads to emphasize more dramatic moments.  Her delicate brush strokes and fine line work convey overall mood and singular emotions with skill.

One of my favorite illustrations spans a single page.  It shows the interior of a movie theater premiering The Silent Call.  The audience is in the foreground with a pianist in front of them providing the musical score.  The upper left hand corner shows a close-up of Strongheart on the screen.  This truly captures the historical perspective presented overall in this title.

Strongheart:  The World's First Movie Star Dog written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully preserves and presents to readers the place this canine holds in film and dog history.  Her narrative flows well captivating her readers and inviting them to do further research about this amazing animal.  A one page Author's Note supplies more details about Strongheart.  A short bibliography follows.

You might enjoy the insights of Leonard Marcus in his review of Strongheart:  The World's First Movie Star Dog found in an issue of The New York Times Sunday Book Review.  He places it with other nonfiction titles.   As usually happens to me every week when I am looking for nonfiction books to review, I found even more interesting primary sources on Strongheart, pages from an article in Photoplay 1921. (Yes...1921!) The links are here, here and here.  This is fascinating reading folks.

I am sending many thanks to Alyson Beecher, educator and blogger at Kid Lit Frenzy for hosting the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge this year. Make sure you visit the other blogs to read about this week's choices.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Twenty-Six Tales To Tell

Twenty-six unique symbols with twenty-six individualistic sounds comprise our alphabet.  Twenty-six distinctive characters, either vowels or consonants, when combined make words.  A word or group of words strung together to form a sentence give us the opportunity to express ourselves in writing or through speech with extraordinary results.

If these letters were given the chance to sit down and chat with us we might be treated to twenty-six exceptional yarns spun from centuries of experience.  Or perhaps they might chose to whisper in the ear of the talented Oliver Jeffers.  Once Upon An Alphabet: Short Stories For All The Letters (HarperCollins Children's Books, September 25, 2014 UK)  written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers is a whimsical, original celebration of exactly what letters can and will do when placed in the hands of a master.

If words make up stories, and letters make up words, then stories are made of letters.
In this menagerie we have stories, made of words, made FOR all the LETTERS.  

These stories for the letters use as many parts of speech as possible starting with the individual featured letter.  To begin we have an astronaut afraid of heights even though he has been training for ages for a particular adventure to acquaint himself with aliens.  There is a bridge burned by two not-buddies, a cup who crashes after leaving a cupboard and a delightful daring girl who dashes away on a donkey.

There might be elephants and an envelope, an unfortunate frog, a glacier guy, a woman who wishes she had used a hammer and a suspicious iceberg.  A thieving dog, dancing royalty, an electrifying woodsman and a mysterious microscope might have something to do with keys, cheese, light bulbs and shrinking.   Discovering what those elephants and envelopes and nuns have in common will drive you nuts...with laughter.

Teamwork finds resolutions, questions lead to more questions (a certain vegetable will never learn and it seems something is lost), and robots have resorted to robbery.  A previous dynamic duo averts a drowning but a tree-eating monster switches his favorite food.  Monkeys, a frustrated musician, a weird but effective giraffe, special glasses, a discarded toy and the return of the astronaut tie all the tales together.

The sentences and phrases used for each letter number as high as eleven and as low as two.  Sometimes Oliver Jeffers uses succinct thoughts, short, to convey exactly what he wants readers to know.  Other times alliterative descriptions boggle your mind at their ingenuity.  More than once he uses a combination of rhyming words to depict his story.  Additions of conversations between characters and narrator asides increase the humor.  Before a story begins one page is devoted to a brief introduction.  As each letter's words are read you can't help but be amazed how Jeffers connects one to another.  Here is a sample letter.

There once lived an ingenious
inventor who invented many
ingenious things.
His latest invention allowed
him to observe iguanas in their
natural habitat...

(Two iguanas talking)
Is that an iceberg?
I've no idea

The electric red dust jacket shouts out, "Hey readers!  Look at me!"  Oliver Jeffers includes the astronaut and the Zeppelin, the beginning and the end, on the front.  On the back of the jacket the alphabet is listed in rows in a darker shade of red.  O, R, S, T and Y are in white arranged to flow spelling story.  Embossed in the book case, which is the darker red shade, are eight rows of the letters of the alphabet in the jacket color.  Spread across the white opening endpapers are the capital letters of the alphabet again in the jacket red.  Small elements from the twenty-six stories are cleverly pictured on the closing endpapers.  The title page combines letters from the front and back of the dust jacket.

Each introductory page includes the heading, a large capital letter and a small significant visual.  Jeffers illustrations range from double page to single page to smaller insets.  Every detail is important; the text never says it but Danger Delilah is juggling daggers and naturally there is a fly zipping around from page to page near the frog,   You never know when something from one letter will appear with another regardless of the text; the ladder sticking out of a hole in the background for the letter L comes in mighty handy during the letter U story.  Many details from the O story reappear in this title or have appeared in another book entirely.  Jeffers artwork is playfully marvelous.

One of my favorite illustrations is a smaller one at the close of the L story.  The lumberjack who has been struck by lightning repeatedly is sitting up in his bed reading.  He is holding a glowing light bulb in his hand.  It looks as though there are bears on his pajamas.  The book he is reading is titled Once Upon An Alphabet.  The entire image is done in black and white.

Once Upon An Alphabet:  Short Stories For All The Letters written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers is a rich and rare alphabet book.  As soon as you close the back cover I'm certain you'll open up the front and read it all over again not once but many more times.  I would plan on having more than one copy available to your readers.

To learn more about Oliver Jeffers please follow the link embedded in his name to his website.  This link takes you to an interview at NPR All Things Considered.  Oliver Jeffers talks about this book and reads several of the stories aloud.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Blow Winds Blow, Blow The Falling Snow

It's like living inside a snow globe someone is constantly shaking.  The landscape is laden with more than a foot of white fluff.  Soon the winds will begin to howl rattling the windows and singing down the chimney.

When the National Weather Service issues a gale and winter storm warning together, it's time to expect the unexpected especially when Thanksgiving is ten days away.  Back in February 1978 no one was prepared for the severity of the storm; no one was sure the meteorologists were correct.  Caldecott Honor winning author illustrator John Rocco (Blackout, Disney Hyperion, May 2011) writes and illustrates his version, Blizzard (Disney Hyperion) with all the childlike awe this spectacular event deserves.

One day, when I was a young boy,
nearly four feet of snow fell from the sky.

On a Monday morning when school was in session the flakes began falling.  When they were dismissed early; they were accumulating, getting deeper and deeper.  Even as bedtime approached, the snow kept coming down.

Leaving the house by the door was not an option the next morning.  Moving through the snow was nearly impossible.  Thankfully a working woodstove and hot chocolate warmed up John, his older sister, Mom and Dad.

For the next few days endless shoveling and digging in the snow were on the agenda.  By Thursday no snow plows had been through the neighborhood yet.  Having enough food was becoming a concern.

For a boy who had faithfully read the Arctic Survival guide, there was only one thing to do.  On Saturday, with a list and creative ingenuity on his feet he left the house.  Many stops in the neighborhood were made, delaying his arrival at the local market.  

With his goal accomplished, getting home before dark was necessary.  Many stops in the neighborhood were made, making his arrival home all the more welcome.  In 1978 memories were made.  In 2014 we lucky readers get to read a book recreating those meaningful moments and the incredible efforts of one ten-year-old boy.

It's like John Rocco has turned back the clock several decades, allowing his younger self to tell the story.  His sentences highlight those exact things which would capture the attention of a ten-year-old.  The revelation of a series of personal events by using specific word descriptions gives readers a sense of being side by side with John.  Here are a couple of examples.

We laughed as we sank deep in the frozen powder.  
But walking was hard---
it was like trying to move through white quicksand.

We made camp by the woodstove,
and our feet tingled as we sipped
hot cocoa made with milk.

How can you look at the front of the dust jacket and not smile?  The ten-year-old boy with outstretched arms standing in his windswept snowy neighborhood is feeling downright joyful.  On the back of the dust jacket a picture taken from the book's interior of him, his dog and sister struggling unsuccessfully in the snow gives readers a precise idea of its depth.  Underneath the book case a bird's eye view of the rows of houses, buried beneath the storm's drifts as flakes swirl around, leaves no doubt as to the extent of the blizzard.  The opening endpapers are in a pale steely blue with heavy snow falling into piles.  Nothing but pure white covers the closing endpapers except for a path of telltale prints extending from one corner to the top of the next page.

I burst out laughing at the page before the double title page spread.  Using a single page John Rocco has a series of six pictures of himself holding a measuring stick.  In each one the snow gets higher and higher until all you can see is the boy's hand at the top of the stick and the top of his ski hat with the white pom-pom. Breathtaking would be a word to define the title page.  Again it's as if we are looking from above through a break in the storm clouds at the neighborhood below before the snow begins to fall.  

Rendered in pencil, watercolor, and digital painting the illustrations vary in size according to the amount of white space framing each.  Several span from edge to edge on a single page or across two pages.  Rocco has cleverly inserted the name of each day into the images; as part of the message on the blackboard in the classroom, squirrel tracks over a snow-covered roof, snow-covered branches on a tree, or raisins spilled across the floor from a snack box. His four-page fold-out of the boy's trip to the neighborhood market is wonderful.  The labels of all the stops made couldn't be more perfect.  

Two of my many favorite illustrations follow one another.  The first is the scene from the boy's bedroom as he gazes out the window at the falling snow on Monday night.  The Arctic Survival book in tented to a remembered spot on his bed, his penguin lamp glowing.  On the wall hangs an Everest poster.  Lying next to the bed is his dog.  Outside a street light illuminates the Stop sign.  About a foot of the post is uncovered.  On the next page all readers see is blue, lots of falling snow and the Stop sign, now partially covered in snow.  

Blizzard written and illustrated by John Rocco marvelously documents seven days during the blizzard of 1978 as seen and experienced by a ten-year-old boy.  It is said you should write about what you know.  John Rocco does it brilliantly in text and illustrations working together in seamless harmony.  This title is on our Mock Caldecott list.  

To learn more about John Rocco, his books and illustrations please visit his website by following the link embedded in his name.  Follow this link to a recent review by author and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. (My two favorite pages are featured.) This links to a post at Kid Lit Frenzy as part of the blog tour for Blizzard. Several days remain on the tour.   

Friday, November 14, 2014

Geometric Gymnastics

Some people look at a pumpkin and only see a pumpkin.  Other people look at ivy and see nothing more than a blur of green.  Still more people look at a pot and see an everyday container for plants.  Most people look at snow and simply see snow.

If you are author illustrator Denise Fleming you will see circles, ovals, stars, triangles, curves, rectangles and lines, lots of lines.  You will understand perhaps, the combination of these creates something where no two are ever alike.  When you look, you see balance and beauty.  Go, Shapes, Go! (Beach Lane Books, October 7, 2014), Denise Fleming's latest title, explores the world of shapes and what they can form.

SHAPES are in place
and ready to go!

Sixteen shapes, a square, a triangle, a small arc, an arc, a circle, an oval, two small ovals, two tiny circles, two thin rectangles, two big rectangles, and two half circles, are placed on a page.  A small mouse scooting on wheels shouts out maneuvers like a musical choreographer.  First getting in the groove, the square makes a move.

Smooth forms shimmy and shake.  I wonder what the circle, oval and arc will make.  Lines, angles, and rectangles to the front get ready for their part in this stunt.  All the tiny pieces scurry into position, the mouse's voice giving them permission.

Say! Hey! This newly created jolly, jaunty forest friend is eager to play. Oh! No! The mouse is in out-of-control motion.  Tallyho! Yikes!

Mouse gives a shout.  Fallen shapes, every single one, assemble.  What's that we see?  Mouse begins to tremble.  Is this the end? Let's hope Mouse finds his friend.

Denise Fleming is a rhyming wizard.  Each phrase begins with a single action word spoken by the mouse giving direction to the shapes.  The final word in each group ties to the next in rhyme.  She has created a catchy cadence in this narrative of shapes thinking for themselves when given the chance.  Here are two.

Bounce, OVAL,
up and down.
round and round.

Beautifully rendered in her unique style, Denise Fleming poured the backgrounds adding cut purchased handmade paper with pastel accents for her illustrations.  In looking at the matching dust jacket and book case, readers know they are in for an animated, textured treat.  To compliment the vibrant orange-red and lime green, the endpapers are soft plain purple.  The mouse is dashing across the title page as if coming down from the top of the front jacket and case.

With the first and last page of the story as the only exceptions, all of the pictures span two pages edge to edge.  No backgrounds are identical but all are rich and bold serving to highlight the shapes and the text.  Prior to the shapes leaving to make mouse's pal, they are identified in smaller print.

As the mouse's companion is made one of my favorite illustrations is after the small arc is added.  We get to see emotion, as well as the motion we have noted in the previous pages, in his smile as his eyes look down at his new feature.  Mouse's single eye is looking directly at the reader.

As a read aloud the rhythm and rhymes of Go, Shapes, Go! written and illustrated by Denise Fleming will have you singing and your listeners dancing within the first few pages.  Not only is this a lively presentation of shapes but a happily-ever-after story too.  Mouse makes a marvelous director.

If you have never visited Denise Fleming's website before, you will want to go there now by following the link embedded in her name.  There is much to be learned about her and her work.  She has numerous activities to accompany her books.  Here is a link to the page for Go, Shapes, Go!  This links to the printable PDF.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

They're Getting Away Again...

When learning a story yourself or teaching storytelling to others, the key is not in recalling it word for word but finding the essence of the narrative.  To me this is what knowing it by heart means.  If the bare bones of the tale are timeless, if it has appeal across cultures to people regardless of their age, it will remain as long as there is memory.

When reading any of the earlier versions of The Gingerbread Man (which as far as I can tell is strictly an American adaptation on the runaway food motif from folklore)  he was made by a little old woman and a little old man who had no children of their own.  Since that time authors and illustrators have delighted readers with their individual interpretations and enhancements on the original.  Catch That Cookie! (Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, August 14, 2014) written by Hallie Durand with pictures by David Small is an extraordinarily tasty tale mixing all the necessary ingredients for a recipe readers will remember.

It was December, and Marshall's class had 
heard stories about runaway gingerbread
men all week long.

Marshall is far too sensible to believe a single word in any of these stories.  Anyone knows gingerbread men can't run.  They are cookies, plain and simple.  Cookies are to be eaten.

Today is the day his class is making their own gingerbread men.  Marshall is eager to begin, acting as the chief mixer of dough.  After the cookies are cut, the decorating begins in earnest.  Marshall adds extra raisins so his man has six eyes and a nifty silver ball belt.  Mrs. Gray checks and re-checks the oven door to make sure no cookies can escape.

The students minus Marshall are delirious with glee when the timer chimes and the opened oven reveals the cookies have vanished.  To make it even more exciting the gingerbread men have left not one but four clues.  The chase is on!  They are led up high, down low, and from the classroom into the gym and back again.

Marshall is sure there is a logical explanation.  Gingerbread men can't leave clues.  Certainly there is a reason the writing is so sloppy on the notes.  Certainly there is a reason he spies a single silver ball on the floor.    Certainly there is a reason he discovers hundreds of gingerbread footprints.  Could the answer be magic?  Marshall takes a leap of faith.  Will you?

The blend of unseen narrator with dialogue by Marshall, his classmates and Mrs. Gray, their teacher, along with the gingerbread clues are skillfully composed by Hallie Durand.  She understands the atmosphere in school classrooms and the conversations to be heard on a daily basis.  Disbelief, excitement, positive support, mutual respect, curiosity, teamwork and riddles resolved are so lively you expect to hear someone speaking at any moment.  The beat of the G-men hints heightens the story's cadence.  Here is a sample.

If you can find us, we'll be your snack,
But if you can't, we're never coming back.
We ran from the oven, we were bored and hot,
Now we're hiding in a big, black___.

Caldecott Medalist and two-time Caldecott Honor winner, David Small's illustrations are smile-inducing from dust jacket and book case to the closing endpapers.  Animated typography on the front jacket and case with Marshall jumping through the "O" to capture his runaway cookie announces the spirited story to follow.  On the back Small has a wanted poster for the missing G-man looking somewhat like a recipe card.  His descriptions, height, weight, eyes, taste, last seen and warning, are hilarious.  The opening and closing endpapers are created in shades of a cool wintry blue with abstract snowflakes scattered from edge to edge.  The only difference between the two is a small circular image on the left at the end.  It's of Marshall and that's all I am going to say.

No space is wasted by Small as he begins the story on the two-page illustration for the title.  Marshall and his classmates are seated on the story circle rug as Mrs. Gray reads a gingerbread man book aloud.  The verso and the first page visual zooms in on a perplexed Marshall.  Rendered in pen and ink, ink wash, watercolor and colored pencil each page is a blend of varied illustration sizes and text.  The design and layout flow flawlessly.

The care given to detail is exquisite; the snowflake pattern on the endpapers is duplicated on Mrs. Gray's smock which in turn matches the snowflakes hanging from the classroom ceiling, in each setting fine lines outline objects placed within different colored washes allowing for the characters' and the action to draw our attention.  The facial expressions, the shift in perspective and red lines used to focus on specific elements are pure perfection.

One of my favorite illustrations (in addition to the last two pages and the closing endpapers) is when Mrs. Gray opens the oven to find it empty.  She is wearing a completely shocked look.  Marshall's nine classmates are jumping for joy.  He is standing in stunned suspicious silence.  Small has used a light gingerbread-colored wash to emphasize the classroom area but then has it frame his characters. This is definitely a picture packed with emotion.

Every time I read this book I begin and end with a smile.  In fact I never stop page after page.  Catch That Cookie! written by Hallie Durand with pictures by David Small will have you sniffing the air for a whiff of spice and molasses.  You might want to have cookies handy when reading this aloud or even silently to yourself.  Get ready for a chorus of read it again when you close the cover.

To explore the other works of Hallie Durand and David Small please follow the links to their websites embedded in their names.  Here is a link to an interesting article,  The History of Gingerbread, which includes a recipe.  I have created a Padlet of other books for you to use. (The link is here.) If you know of more, please leave the titles in the comments.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

From The First Breath

You may forget the exact time of day.  The details will fade from your memory.  The way you felt as you watched the puppies being born remains.  Over the course of hours, days and weeks, the relationship of the mother and her new children is fascinating to watch.  How she and they interact in the outside world is a montage of images, increasing the feeling of being witness to one of nature's marvels.

Naturalist, author and artist Lita Judge's new title, Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents (Roaring Brook Press, October 21, 2014) discusses many of the adaptations new babies face in our world.  We travel to varied habitats on six of our seven continents.  New and familiar, prevalent and endangered members of the mammal family are featured.

A baby is born.

This is the first of nine single sentence headings.  Following each, two pages highlight how different mammals, usually three, address each area of their newborns' lives.  Let's see how similar or unlike us they are.

I'll bet you will never look at a squirrel the same way again when you realize baby polar bears are the same size when they are born.  Rather than be food for large cat predators, at least two African newborns are ready to run in hours.  Now threatened grizzly bear cubs drink their mother's milk for two to three years.

I wonder how many of you have walked by a fawn hidden in the grass, staying still for protection for days after birth.  Even as an adult I like the idea of a herd of musk oxen surrounding me if danger is near.  Imagine how safe their calves must be.

Homes in woven grasses, tunnels underground or hollowed trees gave babies needed shelter.  The pouches and backs of marsupials are nature's baby strollers.  Extended families act as teachers and offer protection.

Elephant trunks, cougar tongues and chimpanzee hands offer cuddly comfort.  The fun of play leads to required acts for survival.  Learning by watching and doing can take mere minutes or as long as ten years depending on the skill and the animal.  At any time or any place on our planet, mammals are being born and seeking survival.

With the reading of each nonfiction title written by Lita Judge admiration grows at her skill in presenting knowledge about her subject, as if in conversation she reveals captivating details.  It's a gift to supply information by placing it in the proper perspective so readers can see the connections between nature and their world.  It's as if we have traveled with her to each of these animals' homes, observing them with their young.  Here is a sample paragraph.

A musk ox calf is strong enough to endure harsh Arctic
storms but she is defenseless against hungry wolves.  With
sharp horns, snorts, and stamps, the entire herd forms a tight,
protective circle around the little one, guarding against attacks.

On the dust jacket and book case elegant portrayals of a mother giraffe nudging her curious baby and a small orangutan with closed eyes on the back of their mother convey the essence of each relationship.  Plain opening and closing endpapers are the same color as Born and Wild on the front which in turn is a shade similar to the orangutans' fur.  An inviting design and layout has already captured readers' interest.

On the title page and each of the nine introductory pages a double page depiction of a mother or family with the newest members brings us close to the selected activity.  The pages in-between each of these frame smaller memorable images with white space.  Lita Judge's realistic drawings enhanced with watercolor are simply stunning as she brings you into the intimacy of the moment.

It's very hard to pick a favorite illustration but one of them is the interior visual of the older orangutan with the baby on its back.  They are together among bunches of branches.  The parent with out-stretched arms is showing how to take the leaves forming them into a nest.

Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents written and illustrated by Lita Judge is nonfiction at its best.  Each illustration elevates the text which informs every single reader.  Judge has supported her work with meticulous research as evidenced by the list of written and online sources at the book's end. She has included a glossary of eight terms in which younger readers might not be acquainted.  Four pages are dedicated to supplying more information about the twenty-six mammals showcased in this title.  You might like to use this with Robin Page's and Steve Jenkins' book, My First Day.

Please visit Lita Judge's website to learn more about her other wonderful titles by following the link embedded in her name.  Eight images from the book are shown at the publisher's website.  On author Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, Cynsations, Lita Judge visits for an interview about this title.

Please stop by Alyson Beecher's blog Kid Lit Frenzy to read about the other nonfiction titles chosen by bloggers participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.