Quote of the Month

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




Friday, February 27, 2015

Cat Cuteness Conquers

Not being a cat person does not prevent me from being well aware of their distinctive personalities.  Over the years, once permission was granted by the creatures in question, several friends have had feline companions.  Even a true-blue dog person like me is unable to resist the lure of a kitten.

What is important to remember is those tiny beings and their human counterparts have a lot to learn about what they can and cannot do or have.  No, No, Kitten! (Boyds Mills Press, an imprint of Highlights, March 3, 2015) written by Shelley Moore Thomas with illustrations by Lori Nichols follows a tenacious mischief-maker.  This little bundle of fur is paws-itively determined.

Kitten wants a basket.
Kitten wants a pillow.
Kitten wants a blanket.
Kitten wants...

Oh!  No! Kitten is not allowed to have a puppy.  Puppies are for people not cats.  (Guess who climbs in the window?)  Not one to rest for a single second, Kitten is on the move again.

A glass of milk, a catnip plant and an innocent goldfish are the next conquests on this kitten's agenda.  A puddle, a pile of potting soil and an empty fishbowl are signs of recent visits. (You'll be pleased to note the new residence of the fish.)  Mimicking her girl, Kitten decides to don the fishbowl as if it's a helmet.  This is not acceptable.

As Kitten continues exploring for more appropriate playthings, a trip into the girl's bedroom for

engines, gadgets, and lasers

is met with stern disapproval.  Using up all her feline maneuvers she makes a fourth demand, an adventure beyond the confines of Earth's atmosphere.  With patience matching persistence, the girl instructs Kitten in those objects which may be possessed and those which may not.

Before the girl can grasp Kitten's next plan, a countdown begins.  As the number one is reached, an enormous noise erupts from the room.  Out the window flies Kitten and the puppy bound for the planets and stars.

New frontiers are reached.  Back at home Kitten and her girl are startled with an expectant

Woof

When one sees the accomplishments of another, you never know what will happen next.


Readers may not know it but Shelley Moore Thomas is using her gift for storytelling to involve them in this narrative.  She creates constant invitations for us with Kitten wanting three items, and then with a page turn a fourth is revealed.  Each of these is followed by the repetitive exclamation and series of nearly identical phrases.  Once she has us firmly captivated in this rhythm, she really sends us into orbit with a couple of twists; one of which even has Kitten looking wide-eyed.  Here is a sample passage.

No, no, no, Kitten.
You cannot have a puppy.
You are a cat!
Cats do not have pets! 


The combination of the title and look in Kitten's eye, as the fish flies from the bowl and a letter is moved with a tail swish on the dust jacket and matching book case, declare this title to be one filled with action.  On the back, to the left, Kitten is portrayed in a series of rascal-like situations.  The opening and closing endpapers in stark white are patterned with different items of importance to the story.

With a page turn we see on the left a Spudnik, a potato sprouting legs and a leaf, wearing a first prize blue ribbon.  Beneath the title the girl is completely absorbed in one of her science projects with Kitten peeking out from the inside of the spaceship box.  The publication information and dedication pages feature an illustration, spanning edge to edge, of the inside of the house.  Kitten is resting in a chair as the puppy climbs up on the sill of the open window.

Lori Nichols rendered these lively pictures using dip pen and ink and coloring digitally.  She alters the image sizes between a full page, a series of smaller illustrations on a single page and double page spreads, complimenting the text.  The details found in each visual extend the story as well as offering foreshadowing; the artwork on the walls, the program on the television screen, the toys and items on the girl's bedroom shelves.  You have to laugh at the little extras; the expressions on the characters' faces, the playful wag of the puppy's tail even when hiding under the sofa, or the fish's new handy home.

One of my favorite pictures is when Kitten and the puppy blast out the bedroom window.  The pup's ears are straight back due to the force.  Kitten has nabbed the girl's homemade helmet.  Even the inanimate toys in the room have looks of bug-eyed wonder on their faces.


I am confident No, No, Kitten! written by Shelley Moore Thomas with illustrations by Lori Nichols will find an audience in any reader who has heard those familiar words directed at them.  It's a way to learn boundaries and can lead to new discoveries.  I'll bet readers and listeners will be chiming in on the repetitive phrases as soon as they can.  This is sure to be a storytime favorite.


To discover more about Shelley Moore Thomas and Lori Nichols please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.

UPDATE:  Be sure to head over to Watch. Connect. Read.blog of teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher, to read what Lori Nichols has to say about this title and to see the book trailer premiere.  

This title has been endorsed by none other than Lou Grant, famous cat companion of John Schumacher.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

On The Other Hand...

If I had a nickel for every parental proverb heard when growing up (and thereafter), I could fill the shelves with books in a new school library.  Two of the top contenders were "Haste makes waste" and "Many hands make light work" with "The grass is always greener on the other side" coming in at a close third.  When, in the course of my teaching, the opportunity presents itself when one of these might be appropriate, I seal my lips rather than succumb to any adult adages.

Arguably there are times when situations demand speed and doing a project yourself makes more sense.  Unless you are comparing an estate maintained by a gardener with an overgrown vacant lot, experience teaches us appearances are not necessarily what they seem.  I Don't Want To Be A Frog (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, February 10, 2015) written by Dev Petty with illustrations by Mike Boldt explores with hilarity the drawbacks and benefits of being yourself.

I want to be a CAT.

When a junior frog boldly proclaims a desire to be a cat, he is told he can't.  When he inevitably asks why, he is told the obvious.  He is, after all, a frog.

Since being a cat is out of the question, he switches to wanting to be a rabbit.  They both can hop, right?  It is pointed out with patience his lack of matching physical characteristics.  He does not want to be a frog; he finds his attributes less furry and er...too froggy.

Next he declares with gusto his wish to be a pig.  There are a couple of problems that nix this request.  He finally gets overwhelming agreement when he mentions being an owl but then four reasons for this impossibility are listed in momentary frustration by his father.  At this point it looks as though the youngster is doomed to continue participating in one of his many complaints; bug eating.

Suddenly a shadow looms.  A voice makes inquiries and shares a secret about cats, rabbits, pigs and owls.  With instantaneous insight our chief protagonist comprehends the virtue of his identity.  One final point is offered as the ominous visitor leaves.


Even before I read this aloud the voices of the young and adult frogs and the hungry mentor were taking form in my mind.  Dev Petty tells the story entirely in dialogue; a back and forth exchange between the frogs and the final creature.  Each sentence, question and answer is succinct but liberally laced with humor because regardless of what the son says, his father simply replies by stating what any observer would notice. Here's the continuation of their first exchange after the first line.

You can't be a CAT.
Why not?
Because you're a FROG.
I don't like being a Frog.
It's too Wet.
Well, you can't be a Cat.


Readers will hardly be able to keep from bursting out with glee when looking at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  The body posture of the son, mouth open wide, proclaiming his distaste for his nature is comical with a capital C.  On the back, to the left, illustrator Mike Boldt has designed a series of framed shapes which immediately reminded me of Hollywood Squares.  In each window we see a character or an extension of a character plus the ISBN.  Out of little frog's mouth we see the words,

Would YOU want to be a Frog?

The opening and closing endpapers done in pale blue feature a frolicking owl, cat, pig and rabbit along with the frog.  He is pictured differently in the two spots indicative of the narrative.  Boldt begins his interpretation of the story on the title page with the frog reading a book about cats.

All of the text is bold and encased in loosely shaped speech balloons.  The background colors highlighting the animals are either white or one of a variety of pastel hues.  It's the shape of the frogs' bodies, eyes and mouths which will have you giggling from page to page.  The father wearing glasses is an added detail contributing to the fun.

Mike Boldt may choose to show us their entire bodies or only a portion, zooming in for a close-up or backing away to give us a larger picture.  He increases the laughter factor when he lets us know how exasperated the dad is at a particular moment.  As the father pulls down a screen like a teacher in a classroom pointing out reasons his son can't be an owl, we understand his need to provide visuals.

One of my favorite illustrations (of many) is at the very beginning.  The page is entirely white except for the text

Why not? and

the head of the son peeking in from the lower right-hand corner.  The look on his face speaks volumes...all funny.


I Don't Want To Be A Frog by debut picture book author Dev Petty with illustrations by Mike Boldt will have readers of all ages laughing as soon as they read the first sentence until long after the final words are read or spoken.  Be prepared to hear shouts of "read it again".  This is a lively look at not only being okay with who you are but being thankful.

To explore more about Dev Petty and Mike Boldt take a look at their websites by following the links attached to their names.  John Schumacher, teacher librarian extraordinaire and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. hosted the book trailer and an interview with Dev Petty.  Earlier he had Mike Boldt as a guest.  Super teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner interviewed both Dev Petty and Mike Boldt on his Let's Get Busy Podcast.  Here is a link to four printable activity pages for this title.  In addition to interior pages which can be seen at Mike Boldt's site, the publisher has others shown here.  Guest posts written by Dev Petty can be seen at Tara Lazar's blog, How Dev Petty Wrote a Story with Legs...Frog Legs! (plus a giveaway), and at the Nerdy Book Club, Stop Making So Much Sense and Finding The Words.
UPDATE:  Here is a brand new story time kit.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hip Hop Hooray

If a wild creature frequents my yard or garden I have the habit of naming them.  As each winter draws to a close, I eagerly await their return.  For several years there was a large toad about the size of my closed fist who comfortably resided beneath the big bush next to my front porch.  I called him Fred.  A tree toad made his home in the corner of my front porch or sometimes I would find him on my back deck.  When Theo would appear in the spring I felt like all was right with the world.  He was a part of my life for three years.

 More than any date on a calendar or weather update I rely on those inhabitants in our natural world to send me signals.  They feel the heartbeat of Mother Earth far better than we ever will.  I could hardly wait for my copy of Toad Weather (Peachtree Publishers, March 2015) written by Sandra Markle with illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez to arrive.  It is well worth the wait.

In the gloomy-gray 
of a March day
the spring rain keeps falling.

Ally and her grandmother are feeling the effects of a day without sunshine; their usual outdoor activities put on hold.  When Mama eagerly opens the door moments later, she urges them to come with her right away.  She has discovered something special in the city.  Ally is ready for an adventure; her grandmother reluctantly agrees to come too.

In the dim light as dusk falls, the trio makes their way down the sidewalks ready to see what there is to see.  As Ally and her grandmother move quickly, ready to get out of the rain, her mother asks them to slow down and carefully look.  Ally does noticing details.  Her grandmother grumbles.

Each time Ally thinks she has discovered the surprise her mother requests them to keep walking.  Each time Mama says no Grandma wants to turn around and go home.  They finally get to a spot where Mama wants them to stop and listen.

Listen for something unusual.

Ally does hear something out of the ordinary.  It's getting clearer as they move closer.  They see a large group of people, police, a road block and toads...lots and lots of toads.  Grandmother's grumbling turns to grinning.  The trio assists in the amphibian march.


Well-known nonfiction author Sandra Markle evokes a keen sense of time and place, specifically the descriptions of weather and time of day, in the telling of this natural phenomenon.  In her Author's Note she speaks about the actual event taking place in a neighborhood located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania each year.  By experiencing it through the voice of Ally and the dialogue between her, her mother and her grandmother, it becomes more personal for us.  Here are a couple sample passages.

Out in the rainy nearly-nighttime,
streetlights are glowing.
So are shop windows.
But the world is soggy dreary.


"Slow down, you two!" Mama says.
"There are lots of interesting things
to see along the way."
"Like what?" Grandma asks.

"For one thing," Mama says,
"look at all the colorful umbrellas."

"It's like being inside a rainbow," I say.


Even though the artwork on the dusk jacket and book case appear to be identical, your guys and gals will notice the subtle difference on the jacket immediately.  Their fingers love to move over raised text or images.  The toad looks and feels as if it's ready to hop at any second.

When you open the jacket and case you can see Thomas Gonzalez has extended the illustration to the left with swirls of rain on the pavement, portions of three other toads moving from the left edge toward the boots and first toad on the front.  The opening and closing endpapers feature water on pavement in an array of color due to other liquids like gas or oil dropping on the rain.  There is a difference in the closing endpapers but I will let you discover the addition yourselves.  On the initial title page Ally, carrying her umbrella and a flashlight, and wearing her spotted boots is looking right at us, a smile on her face.  A clever verso and formal title page combination highlights the apartment window spattered with rain and an image similar to the front jacket and book case.

All the pictures rendered in pastel, colored pencil, and airbrush on 100% rag watercolor paper span across two pages; the text woven into each.  So exquisite are the details it's like looking at softened photographs.  Gonzalez takes us from a conversation exchanged in the apartment to the city streets effortlessly, showing us a more panoramic view or only boots walking down the rainy sidewalks.  The facial features on the characters are absolutely lovely.  I wonder how long he studied toads to get them looking exactly as they are.

One of my favorite pictures is a close-up of Ally.  She is down at ground level looking at worms crossing the grass and sidewalk.  We see her face peering closely at several in particular, flashlight beam illuminating a portion of her face and a worm.  Curiosity and appreciation are evident in her expression.


As I look out my windows at mounds of snow, knowing it will be months before we have our own days fit for our amphibian friends, Toad Weather written by Sandra Markle with illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez is a reminder of the wonder which awaits.  It's an invitation for us to think about the familiar rhythms of the seasons and the life cycles of those sharing the planet with us.  Make sure you save a spot on your shelves for this work of nonfiction.

To explore more about Sandra Markle and Thomas Gonzalez please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  This link takes you to a Teacher's Guide devised by the publisher.


Please take the time to stop by educator Alyson Beecher's website Kid Lit Frenzy to see the titles other bloggers have included in their posts for this week's 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Simply Fun

Have you ever noticed how the familiar things you walk by every single day may suddenly get your attention? When you stop and stare you wonder why you never fully appreciated what has currently grabbed your focus.  It may be the slope of snow sculpted by the wind, a tiny bird's nest comfortably resting in the bare branches of a tree, the way a folded blanket drapes across the back of a chair or the new grayness around your dog's face.  There is a special contentment in the simple.

For our youngest readers and listeners learning to appreciate the music of language, a few words can become a melody moving through their minds.  Taking commonplace things and putting them together can create pure playfulness.  Smick! (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), February 10, 2015) written by Doreen Cronin with illustrations by Juana Medina does this superbly.

Smick.

Having heard his name called, Smick, one ear cocked, is ready for action.  Tail wagging he easily follows the request of the unseen speaker.  He receives phrase with a doggy smile on his face.

One word, the next word, makes him sit up and take notice.  The word is stick.  For reasons unknown to me, dogs love sticks. (I have seen Xena drag sticks three times her size down roads, through fields and out of the water in total bliss.)

With one thought in his mind, he retrieves the thrown stick in mere seconds.  What he hears next is a tad bit unusual.  It sounds like a chicken.  It's a baby, a mere bundle of fluff.  Wow!

When seen side by side (Chick and Smick), it's easy to see Smick is a big dog, a big, big dog.  He's huge! Smick crouches down ready to play but he needs to proceed with care.  When you add Chick, chasing a stick and Smick together you get a rousing romp of goodness.


After I had read this book multiple times, I couldn't help but think about which word came to author Doreen Cronin first, Smick, Chick or stick?  Or what picture popped into her head before the others, was it the dog, the baby chicken or the stick?  Did she see something which sparked the idea for this story?

The most words read in combination are three.  Usually all that appears is a single word.  It's the use of punctuation, a comma, a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point, which determine the rhythm of the narrative.  It's spirited and catchy.


Rendered digitally in combination with alstroemeria petals and rosemary tree sticks the illustrations of Juana Medina are in lively synchronization with the narrative.  The royal blue background spanning the dust jacket and matching book case make Smick and Chick the perfect pals to bring on readers' grins.  On the back, left, we see the back portion of the duo in the same position. The opening and closing endpapers with the identical blue background are a series of nine new poses of Smick and Chick together; upside down, running, resting, walking away from and running toward us.  They are, in two words, utterly charming.  The picture for the title page spreads from left to right featuring the stick in Smick's mouth.  Chick is perched on the tip.

Crisp white pages make Smick, shaped with thicker black lines (and sometimes Chick), the real stick and Chick formed with flower petals seem like they could jump off the pages at any minute.  Medina alters her perspective of Smick, making him smaller or larger in response to the action of the story.  She crosses the gutter with energetic abandon just like Smick.

One of my favorite of many images is when Smick first encounters Chick.  The speaker cries out

No, Smick, no!

Smick is lying down, larger than life on the left spanning over the gutter to the right.  Wings sticking up in the air is Chick calmly walking right by Smick's nose going toward the left edge.  You can feel the gentle tension wondering what the page turn will bring next to readers.


It's easy to understand why the first three letters of the dog's name are the first three letters in smile. That's exactly what readers will be doing from beginning to end of Smick! written by Doreen Cronin with illustrations by Juana Medina.  My gaze was captured by the dog on the cover but the spare rhyming text masterfully combined with the pictures makes this a little treasure for the youngest listeners and readers (and those of us young at heart).  Make sure to read this aloud with zip and zing.

To learn more about Doreen Cronin and Juana Medina please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Julie Danielson, author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, featured the artwork from this title.  Enjoy the book trailer.




Note to reader:  I am not sure of the gender of Smick so feel free to substitute female pronouns whenever you wish.

Monday, February 23, 2015

To Believe

To wish for something is to believe it is possible even if others name it a miracle.  Once a wish is made, even if we don't conscientiously work toward it, our marvelous minds begin to guide us in the right direction.  What's not always easy to determine is if the variables will align to make this longing realized.

There may come a time when two believe they would be better as three.  Wish (Disney Hyperion, March 3, 2015) written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell is about the desire to become parents.  It's about a wish for wonderful coming true.

At first, there is us.
There is only us.

Without the us, the elephants, even knowing it, a wish has been made.  They go about their lives; getting comfortable as a twosome, looking forward to the future, traveling through each day and to places yet unexplored.  As time passes their thinking shifts from being a duo to wanting a trio.

This wanting swells within them.  They look forward to a different future, needing to know and planning to grow.  Together they travel.  Together they rest, their anticipation heightening.  Ever alert, ever hopeful, hardly daring to breathe, they listen.  But...

Nothing is heard.  There is still only the two of them.  A yearning is unfulfilled.

Day after day the elephants live their lives but something has changed.  This is why they are unprepared.  This is why they are surprised to hear something they do not expect to hear.

It's huge.  It's loud.  It's joyful.  It's the miracle of becoming more than us.


With the beginning two words of text Matthew Cordell starts to frame expectancy for his characters and us readers.  Sentence by sentence he builds his story, the relationship of the two elephants and our connection to them.  We know change is coming, we hope for it as they do.  We feel their excitement, their sadness and sudden bliss.

The narrative is simple but profound.  Many times the sentences will contain only two words.  Each word in each thought has been carefully chosen; specific words in specific places.  Matthew Cordell employs a form of repetition from the time as us to the hope for welcoming a you.  Here is a sample passage.

And then we wait.
We listen.
So quiet, 
so patient,
so still.


You can't see it but on the copy I hold in my hand above the two elephants with their wish colorfully displayed, a tiny elephant, eyes closed in the center, are the words

family begins with a ...

To me the pale yellow background signifies a new endeavor and creativity.  On the back of the dust jacket, the two elephants have their arms around each other, gazing out across the sea as their wish finds a path toward the sun.

Beneath the jacket is a treat for readers, pale blue spread across the left and right, the wish stream taking us toward the baby elephant.  The opening and closing endpapers are patterned in the pastel representation of the wish.  A single small picture of the two elephants facing each other with the wish coming from their trunks is shown on the title page.  It's in the shape of love.

Using bamboo pen and India ink and watercolor on paper for his illustrations, Matthew Cordell places his setting at the seaside.  He opens and closes his story on a tiny island; the time of day and what is featured on the island differing.  When the two hopeful elephants plan to be parents their vessel for travel is no longer a plane of their own making but a boat.  As time passes for the couple, the landscape of their home on the shore changes.

 Cordell alters his image sizes to match the pace of his story, single page to double page to a series of vignettes.  White space is an element used skillfully.  Detailed images, emotion in every stroke, extend the narrative elevating it to elegance.

One of my favorite pictures is of the two elephants in front of their home after experiencing their disappointment.  You can see the objects used for their two journeys and hope in the form of trees.  They are flying a kite on a sunny seaside day.  Ever so faintly in the walkway leading to their front door is a hint of the wish.


Wish written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell is a book to share with children to let them know how important they truly are.  It's a book for people whether they are parents or not.  It's about nurturing a thought toward reality.  It's about becoming a family.

To discover more about Matthew Cordell please visit his website and blog by following the links attached to his name.  In a guest post at KidsReads Matthew Cordell speaks about using elephants in this title and more about the book itself.  At The Styling Librarian read an interview about many of Matthew Cordell's titles. For a chat with Erin E. Stead and Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell follow this link to Number Five Bus Presents...  Matthew Cordell has been a guest at author and blogger Julie's Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast several times. Follow the link to a list of those posts including an extensive one about his work.
UPDATE:  Please follow this link to teacher librarian extraordinaire and blogger John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read. to view the book trailer and read Matthew Cordell's heartfelt message about this book.  

UPDATE:  Please follow this link to super teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner's Let's Get Busy Podcast with Matthew Cordell.  You might want to have tissues handy.

UPDATE:  Please follow this link to an interview of Matthew Cordell at Debbie Ridpath Ohi's blog, Inkygirl.com



Friday, February 20, 2015

Running Toward Life

If you've been fighting the good fight for years, but receive the worst news you can receive, you have a choice.  If you are sick of being sick, you have a choice.  If at the end of the day your best friend is your dog, you have a choice.  You plan.  You run. You do it together.


It's a decision made from heartache; a chance to control your destiny.  It's trying to be strong in the face of fear.  The Honest Truth (Scholastic Press, January 27, 2015) debut novel of teacher, librarian and father of three, Dan Gemeinhart introduces us to twelve-year-old Mark who chooses to reach for the top as long as he is able.

The mountain was calling me.  I had to run away.  I had to. 

The mountain calling to him is Mount Rainier in the state of Washington.  In alternating chapters we travel with him and his dog, Beau and listen to his best friend of years at home, Jessie, describe the reactions of his parents and the secret she carries.  Over the course of several days and nights and hundreds of miles we hang on tight following the emotional and real life roller coaster ride right along with these two people.

Mark has a backpack with his notebook, food, gear and saved money along with his camera, the kind using film.  He's carrying a duffel bag for Beau to climb into when he needs to stay hidden.  He believes he is as prepared as he can be for this kind of trip, a trip steeped in a pledge.  What he does not take into consideration are the people he meets and the impending winter storm.

Jessie's concern for Mark grows as the police continue to come up empty-handed in their search for him.  Their shared experiences bind her as close to him as two people can be without being in the same skin.  Their past promises keep her silent.

We know the comfort of the glowing windows in a diner on deserted streets.  We know the pain felt when dangers lurking in the shadows inflict harm.  We know the relief of singing women in a kitchen.  We know the panic when a path taken threatens to steal away life.  We feel tired; straight to the core, I-can't-go-any-more tired.  Most of all we know truth, the honest truths discovered, or already known, by the characters.


Before we have even read a single line of the narrative the chapter heading page in a black background with a white crevasse, black text reading CHAPTER 1 and white text reading MILES TO GO:  263 establishes a journey to be taken; as a reader a type of tension starts to build.  In the subsequent chapters for Jessie the background is white with a black crevasse.  Her chapters are always the number plus a half.  This is an excellent technique for bringing us more intimately into the story.

Author Dan Gemeinhart describes his characters and their situations expertly, until we feel as though we know each one of them personally, even those who enter the plot briefly.  It's in the little details, the looks on their faces, their body posture and their actions.  Even those hardened by life, committing crimes or following rules, find it in themselves to extend small kindnesses.

We should all wish for friends like Jessie and Beau and strangers like the park biologist Wesley.  Jessie carefully weighs all the conversations she has had with Mark over the years, torn between two rights but as loyal as Beau.  You can tell Gemeinhart has known the love of at least one dog.  Each moment between Mark and Beau is portrayed with moving sincerity.  Wesley's wisdom born of his own grief and his compassionate understanding of Mark are extraordinary chapters.

Here are several passages from the book.  One other technique Gemeinhart employs, along with his cliff-hanger chapter endings, in his writing is the use of the word truth.  As the story progresses, reaching a breaking point, it appears more frequently.

Beau was a small dog.  But size doesn't tell you anything about how important something is.
Beau came out of that duffel bag like hot burning justice.  Like all the right kinds of anger.  Like everything the world ever needed.  He came out into the darkness and the blood of that cold city street fast and loud and hard, all teeth and bark and bravery.

Scared.  A morning walk.
A question needs an answer.
Knuckles on the door.  (Haiku is a significant part of the story.)
Mark's mom answered.  She looked like she hadn't slept all night.  Jessie rubbed Mark's note between her fingers in her pocket.
"We haven't heard anything, honey," his mom said.  "I'm sorry."
"Why did Mark run away?" Jessie asked the question quick, before she lost her nerve.  There was no time for "good morning."  And it wasn't a good morning, anyway.

His next words weren't quite so smooth, not quite as low and even.  "A daddy is supposed to keep his kids safe.  He's supposed to protect them.  That's all there is to it.  That's the truth. ..."


Several days ago I stayed up until 2AM to finish this book.  Just moments ago I finished it again.  Some books like The Honest Truth written by Dan Gemeinhart need to be read more than once.  There is so much life in them they must first be taken in huge gulps, then again a little at a time to fully appreciate the beauty.  I highly recommend this title; a must read 2015 book.

For more information about Dan Gemeinhart and his work follow the link attached to his name to access his website. Dan Gemeinhart was interviewed at The Sweet Sixteens and at the American Booksellers Association.  Dan Gemeinhart is featured at teacher librarian extraordinaire and blogger John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read. Please take the time to watch each of the videos created by author Dan Gemeinhart.  They add to the richness of the reading.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Nonfiction Picture Book Event-I Had No Idea-Biographies Of Known And Known People Who Changed Lives

Ever since the initial tweet went out over Twitter with the date for the upcoming #nfpb10for10 I have been trying first to center on a theme, and second to limit my choices to only ten.  Since participating in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzymy reading of nonfiction picture books has multiplied substantially making it even harder for me to narrow my selections.  What I have found over and over in my reading of nonfiction picture books is the outstanding quality of writing and illustrations.  The efforts of these collaborating artists continue to amaze me with their engaging presentations of known or little known information about their topics.

This year I decided to focus on biographies; on men and women who at some point in their lives made a decision(s) which impacted a significant number of people at the local, national or world level.  It is important to me to include those titles I found fascinating in helping me to expand my thinking about these people. I was fortunate to have a conversation with author Barb Rosenstock earlier this week, voicing my thoughts on the elements present in picture book biographies which make them more engaging for readers.  She referenced an article, Biographies in Focus:  A Framework for Supporting Biographical Writing in the Classroom, which she co-authored with Donna E. Werderich of Northern Illinois University and Alice B. McGinty, children's book author.  (I am currently trying to find a way to make this article available to more readers. I believe if you have an EBSCO subscription you can gain access.) (Update:  I have received permission to post the article in its entirety.  Here is the link.  Posted with Permission by the Illinois Reading Council (IRC).  The Illinois Reading Council Journal is distributed exclusively to IRC Members.  To receive future issues of the IRC Journal, please call the IRC Office at 888-454-1341 to join today or online at www.illinoisreadingcouncil.org.  )  You might want to read this post at Two Writing Teachers, Biographies With Heart, referencing this article and how they used the ideas in a classroom project.

In these ten biographies plus one (Xena wanted to help) I have tried to feature different authors and illustrators.  I have found that these same authors and illustrators have consistently given readers exemplary titles.  In balancing this collection I have included five women, five men and one dog.

When Marian Sang:  The True Recital of Marian Anderson: The Voice of a Century written by Pam Munoz Ryan with illustrations by Brian Selznick, Scholastic Press, c2002


From the jacket text:
In this harmonious introduction to the life of one of our country's greatest singers, feelings accompany the facts as a piano accompanies a voice.

Marian Anderson is best known for her historic concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, which drew an integrated crowd of 75,000 people in pre-Civil Rights America.  While this momentous event showcased the uniqueness of Marian's voice, the strength of her character, and the struggles of the times in which she lived, it is only part of her story.

Marian's decision to continue singing and to find ways to study voice despite the prejudices directed against her allowed the world to enjoy her gift of song.  This was done in all things with dignity.



The Librarian of Basra:  A True Story from Iraq written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, Harcourt, Inc., 2005.


From the jacket text:
Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian in Basra, Iraq.  For fourteen years, her library has been a meeting place for those who love books.  Until now.  Now war has come, and Alia fears that the library---along with the thirty thousand books within it---will be destroyed forever.

Alia's decision to move the books after everyone else deserts the library and the governor denies her permission to do this, saves her city's cultural heritage.  She and her friends' courage in the face of war will impact many people for many years.



The Tree Lady:  The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed A City Forever written by H. Joseph Hopkins with illustrations by Jill McElmurry, Beach Lane Books, 2013.


My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Kate's decisions to pursue her passion for nature and science changed the face of an entire city.  She imagined turning what was barren into a place for trees.  And nothing stopped her.



Brave Girl:  Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 written by Michelle Markel with illustrations by Melissa Sweet, Balzer + Bray, 2013.


My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Clara's decision to stand tall in a union meeting and declare they go on a general strike when no one else did changed the rights of workers across our nation.











Alice Waters and the Trip To Delicious written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin with illustrations by Hayelin Choi, Readers to Eaters, 2014.


My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Alice's decision to extend her love of food and friends beyond her restaurant to children in schools created Edible Schoolyards.

















A Nation's Hope:  The True Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis written by Matt de la Pena with illustrations by Kadir Nelson, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2011.


From the jacket text:
Once a boyhood dream, now
a people's hope
The weight of history hangs
on Joe's shoulders.
On the eve of World War II, African American boxer Joe Louis fought German Max Schmeling in a bout that had more at stake than just the world heavyweight title; for much of America their fight came to represent the country's war with Germany.

Joe's decision to continue to train, to make himself better, in the face of his first defeat by Max Schmeling was a defining event for the American people.




Martin de Porres:  The Rose in the Desert written by Gary D. Schmidt with illustrations by David Diaz, Clarion Books, 2012.



My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Martin's decision to use his training for healing all those who came to him regardless of their background or wealth transformed a city. This man born of a former slave and Spanish nobleman became the first Black saint in the Americas.





Bill the Boy Wonder:  The Secret Co-Creator of Batman written by Marc Tyler Nobleman with illustrations by Ty Templeton, Charlesbridge, 2012.


My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Bill's decision to continue writing the Batman comics, to create a hero birth story for him and to be the mind behind all aspects of the stories, even without receiving credit, gave the world of comics two heroes for all time.








Becoming Babe Ruth written and illustrated by Matt Tavares, Candlewick, 2013.


My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Babe's decision to remember from where he came, to assist Saint Mary's Industrial School for Boys, elevates him from being a sports hero to a remarkable man.










Ben Franklin's Big Splash:  The Mostly True Story of His First Invention written by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by S. D. Schindler, Calkins Creek, 2014.


My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Who knew how Ben's decision as a boy at age eleven to invent swim fins would change everything for swimmers.  You are never too young to make a difference.











The Incredible Life of Balto written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy, Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.


My full summary and recommendation for this title is linked here.

Although most people familiar with the Serum Run of 1925 are aware of the value of another lead dog, Togo, Balto's decision to lead his team in the final run of this mission is historic in the saving of lives.  The best part about this title is knowing what happened to this amazing creature after the run.









There are changes this year in this event.  I encourage you to visit Refine & Reflect:  Building A Learning Community to get directions and see what other participants have listed for their best ten nonfiction picture books.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Liquid Life

Yesterday morning our Tri-County Emergency service called all residents advising them to run a pencil-size stream of water to avoid the freezing of their pipes.  We are expected to receive some of the coldest temperatures this winter in the next few days.  Although from personal experience I am aware of the damage frozen pipes can cause, it gave me pause to think of all the water running unused down most people's drains.  Would any of them save it for other uses?

For those who, through choice, go vacation camping or on longer adventures without running water, steps are taken as preparation in advance.  There is usually the sure knowledge of being able to return to a facility or home to experience the luxury of easily accessible water.  If you have ever had to live without indoor plumbing or even a water pump, you understand it is true comfort.

Nothing could have prepared me for the wealth of information presented in Every Last Drop: Bringing Clean Water Home (Orca Book Publishers, April 1, 2014) written by Michelle Mulder.  It's currently one of the titles listed for the Silver Birch 2015 Nonfiction Award given by the Ontario Library Association's Libraries Advance Ontario Project.  Every single drop of water has value.

Have you ever been to a place where it's dangerous to rinse your toothbrush under the tap?

With that introductory sentence Michelle Mulder tells the story of her life-threatening experience.  In the next four chapters, A Drop To Drink, Riding The Water Cycle, Pump It Up and Deepening The Well she converses with readers about all things relative to water.  She will reaffirm what you may already know, astound you with what you didn't know and have you committed to making a difference.

We begin at the beginning when people found and followed water in order to live.  They hauled it, collected it, redirected it, and dug for it.  How is it that the Minoans had flush toilets 3,600 years ago but they were not easily available in most places in Europe or North American until more recently? Aqueducts got bigger and better from the Greeks to the Romans but you might shudder when you read about the public facilities.  You'll learn about qanats, aquifers, puquios and the invention of steam engines.  With the planet becoming more populated water systems evolved (or didn't) depending on the predominant culture.  You will be thankful to read about the changes in the disposal of waste water.

Of all the water on our planet most of it is undrinkable.  In a balanced cycle without the climate changes we are seeing now, water (simplified) goes up into clouds falling back to the earth as rain or snow.  Natural systems such as wetlands are in place to purify water but they are overwhelmed or disappearing.  All over the world people have been creating ways to find and keep the water they use clean.  It's a good thing they've been doing this.  It takes thousands of years to form an underground aquifer.

Can you imagine not being able to get an education because your day is spent finding drinking water or because you are so often sick from bad water?  Making sure it's clean is a challenge.  Can you boil it?  Can you build a biosand filter?  Can you use a clay pot?  How about a bunch of nails?  The question of making undrinkable water drinkable is answered in amazing and cringe-worthy ways.

In order to guarantee generations will have access to clean water, steps are being taken to cut down on consumption; the creation of toilets using less or no water are two.  During times of plentiful rain it is captured and saved thanks to a system devised by a ten-year-old girl in India.  Farmers are designing their fields as done in the past to make the best use of rain.  All you have to do is read about Professor Wangari Maathai to understand the value in planting a tree.  You will be amazed by the efforts of FogQuest.  Each one of us, person by person, has a chance to make changes in little every day ways or by joining larger efforts.  It's up to us; one drop at a time.


What makes these forty-eight pages of nonfiction so wonderful for readers is the style chosen by Michelle Mulder to present the efforts of her research.  Each chapter is broken into segments captioned with headings such as

SLURP IT UP, BUTTERCUP
LOOK OUT BELOW
DINOSAUR DRINKS
GETTING THE NASTIES OUT
SIPPING SEWAGE or
GULPING WEATHER.

Throughout the narrative she inserts Go with the Flow paragraphs highlighting personal experiences throughout the world.  Nearly every two pages contain a short WATER FACT. 

Canada has less than 1 percent of Earth's population but enjoys 20 percent of its available fresh water.  China has 20 percent of the world's population and only 7 percent of its fresh water.

Imagine all the water of the world in a four-liter (one-gallon) bucket.  Only a tablespoon would be drinkable fresh water.

One in six people don't have access to clean water.  Almost half of those people live in Africa.

Michelle Mulder has what I like to call passion with a purpose.  She wants us to see the big picture bringing it to readers in an engaging manner, using understandable vocabulary.  All the people from various points in the world who have struggled with getting water, using it and preserving it become like our next-door neighbors.  Her efforts to have us be a part of the grand scheme are successful.  Here are two paragraphs from the SWAMPING THE SWAMPS passage.

Turn on a tap. Fill up a glass with water.  Admire this liquid that's been around for billions of years.  Animals have bathed in it.  It's been through the mud.  Maybe it's even sloshed around a toilet bowl at some point.  And we drink that stuff!?

Before you vow never to drink another drop again, remember that people existed in the world for thousands of years before anyone invented water filters.  That's because nature has its own filtration system.  It's called a wetland.


Liberal use of photographs, diagrams and sketches become a part of the layout and design of the text making Every Last Drop:  Bringing Clean Water Home by Michelle Mulder an outstanding nonfiction title.  Every collection will want to have a copy of this pertinent presentation on a timely topic.  Resources, acknowledgments and an extensive index are included at the back of the book.

If you are interested you can learn more about Michelle Mulder and her books by following the link to her website attached to her name.  Here is a link to the publisher's page including other volumes in the series.  There is a document devoted to Common Core Standards Language Arts.


To read about titles selected by bloggers this week participating in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge please stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

There's Trouble Brewing On The Frontier

Hands down the only thing more resilient than our canine companions are children.  Their optimism, willingness to laugh and ability to readily forgive are astounding.  It can also be said there are a couple of things near and dear to their hearts.  Their best friends are extremely important whether it's a real person, a pet, a stuffed animal or an imaginary being.  If this pal should suddenly vanish, it's cause for a major ruckus.  Also of value is their position in the family hierarchy, especially if they are a first child.

If the loss of this status as the only child should coincide with the disappearance of their best buddy, you might want to take cover.  In her debut picture book author Maripat Perkins takes a look at this unwelcome scenario giving it an Old West slant.  With the illustrations of Caldecott Honor winner (Flora and the Flamingo) Molly Idle Rodeo Red (Peachtree Publishers, March 1, 2015) is a rootin' tootin' romp.

I go by the name of Rodeo Red.
My best friend in all the world is my hound dog, Rusty.

To be perfectly clear Rusty is a faithful stuffed toy.  The happiness shared by the duo is rudely interrupted by the arrival of none other than Sideswiping Slim, a baby brother.  And wouldn't you know it; the girl's parents love this new guy.

Before long the rambunctious nature of Slim shows itself in ways contrary to the status quo.  Rodeo Red makes every effort to offer advice on boundaries which are notoriously ignored.  She is fit to be tied with the entire situation.

One day, though, this meddlesome desperado makes a serious mistake kidnapping Rusty.  To make matters worse, the Sheriff and her Deputy (mom and dad) side with Sideswiping Slim.  Rodeo Red even lands in the dreaded time-out chair after her lassoing attempt causes her brother to howl louder than any chorus of coyotes.

An entirely unforeseen delivery of something no cowgirl worth her spurs would ever find useful lights the tiniest spark of a red-hot plan.  The newcomer never has a chance against the seasoned Rodeo Red. Yippee-i-o-ki-ay!  It's time to head home.


By the time you've finished the third sentence in this story you will be firmly planted in life on a ranch.  Author Maripat Perkins ropes you with her words and draws you into her story like a stray steer brought back to the herd.  Rodeo Red is a gal who sees life through cowgirl eyes.  Her determination and savvy will have you grinning from ear to ear.  Trusty Rusty is one lucky hound dog.  Here is a sample passage.

I eased up and tried to slip Rusty out real gentle-like, but Slim was squeezing that dog tighter than a greenhorn riding a bucking bronco.
I tugged and pulled, but it weren't no use.
"Dadburnit, Slim!" I hollered.  "Give me back my dog!"
Well, that woke him up.  He set to squawling like a fire truck heading to a wiener roast gone bad.


When it comes to facial expressions the characters drawn by Molly Idleusing Prismacolor pencil on paper, tell a story all their own with a look, lift of an eyebrow or a tilt of their head.  You can easily tell with a glance at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, there is trouble brewing.  On the back a picture seen inside the book is featured.  Rodeo Red has entered her bedroom as if she has just stepped into the local saloon, legs spread and arms stretched out to hold the doors open.  A rustic dusty red provides the background for the opening and closing endpapers.  Toy cows and a bull are scattered about on both pages with a meaningful addition in the back lower right-hand corner.  Across the title page and verso Rodeo Red is riding her rocking horse with joyful abandon; Rusty at her back and her herd spread around her.

Idle varies her image sizes and framing depending on the narrative.  Even though a picture might be edged with a fine red line, elements will appear outside the border.  Her small vignettes depict passages of time.  Two page illustrations, edge to edge, define turning points.  At one particular spot she focuses entirely on the characters' faces and eyes; readers will pause as the characters ponder.

Careful readers will see words spelled in the toy blocks in the siblings' room.  Not only are Rodeo Red and Sideswiping Slim appropriately attired befitting ranch residents but items in both their rooms signify a fascination with the west; a hanging horseshoe, a toy stagecoach, and a cactus clothes tree.  You can't fail to notice the position of Rodeo Red's body in the timeout chair as she faces readers.

One of my favorite images is of Rodeo Red standing in the doorway to Slim's bedroom.  The light behind her casts a long shadow toward his bed as he sleeps in dreamy bliss holding Rusty.  The two are a study in contrast.


I've spent several days smiling whenever I read Rodeo Red written by Maripat Perkins with illustrations by Molly Idle.  It's one of those read aloud books, you'll want to share over and over.  I would pair it with other western favorites like Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads, Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy, Meanwhile Back At The Ranch, and Frog Trouble and Eleven Other Pretty Serious Songs

To learn more about Molly Idle please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  She was interviewed at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast not once but twice by author and blogger, Julie Danielson.  Molly Idle was interviewed by Matthew C. Winner, teacher librarian, at his Let's Get Busy Podcast Peachtree Publishers has started a board at Pinterest, Rodeo Red's Roundup.  If you want to have your own Rodeo Red's Roundup Peachtree Publishers have created a sixteen page event kit guide. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Big Worlds In Small Places

Nothing in our home was ever thrown away if it had any chance of being used for something else.  We recycled before there were centrally located centers or curbside pick-up.  Tin cans were washed out; both ends were removed and then placed inside the can for flattening.  There was little if any plastic.  Glass jars reappeared on the work bench, in kitchen cupboards and the pantry, and on shelves for craft projects or treasure hunts.

Once an empty container has passed into the hands of children, it's as magical as a blank sheet of paper.  Juna's Jar (Lee & Low Books Inc., January 15, 2015) written by debut picture book author Jane Bahk with illustrations by Felicia Hoshino asks readers to think about friendship, family and the potential of imagination.  It's not about looking at life as a glass half full or not but what can happen when we fill the glass.

Juna's family always had a large jar of kimchi in their fridge.  After they finished eating all the kimchi, Juna sometimes got to keep the empty jar.

Juna and her knowledgeable friend, Hector, would take the jar going on explorations in the nearby park.  There was treasure to be found among the grass, bushes and trees; eye-catching pebbles and crawling bugs.  After she rushed downstairs in their apartment building one morning to knock on Hector's grandmother's door, Juna got a sad surprise.  Hector was gone; his parents had taken him far away to a new home.

To cheer Mina up, her older brother Minho took her to a nearby shop to find a new pal.  It was a little fish she could keep in her jar.  When everyone was asleep that night, something extraordinary happened.  

Juna put on fins and a mask, diving into the jar with her fish.  Together they swam discovering all the wonders of the watery world except for one thing Juna could not name.  If only Hector were there.  The next morning the fish was so big it couldn't live in the jar any more.  

Minho helped his sister fill her jar again with a tiny bean plant he had grown for a school project.  That night, after everyone went to sleep, another adventure unfolded.  Rain forest animals were met but Hector was not there to identify all of them.  Guess what was huge the next morning?

An empty jar was filled a third time.  After a journey taken at night a dream was realized.  Overnight, antennae had grown too large for the jar.  Juna looked and was found.


There is much to enjoy in this story written by Jane Bahk.  In the character of Juna we have a girl who understands the value of a good friend, the importance of looking at the little details in everyday life, the courage needed to search for answers, and the wonder to be found when daring to dream.  Her brother Minho is portrayed as a patient and supportive sibling willing to take the time to help his younger sister.  In all their interactions (and with the other characters too) there is an element of mutual respect tying them together. 

Readers will appreciate the three very different fantastical trips, swimming, hiking, and flying, Juna takes.  She is always ready with the appropriate gear.  Care for the natural world is woven into the narrative by explaining how Juna and Minho fill and empty the jar.  Here is another sample passage.

Juna's fish took her everywhere.  They swam with sea turtles,
played with dolphins, and discovered a giant clam.
"Can you help me find my friend Hector?" Juna asked 
her fish.


A wash of soft glowing greens is predominant not only on the matching dust jacket and book case but throughout all the illustrations.  This adds a sense of renewal and life to the full color palette of pastel shades.  Juna's thoughtful gaze at the empty jar on the front and her care in cleaning it out on the back are indicative of her nature.  The purple used in the title provides the color for the opening and closing endpapers.  Beneath the text on the title page Juna's fish is swimming in the jar on her bedroom window sill.  With a page turn a double page picture shows us Juna's shelves replete with books and jars filled with her favorite things.  A four word glossary and a dedication appearing as a note taped to the wall are easy to spot but do not detract from the theme of the image.

Felicia Hoshino rendered the illustrations using watercolor.  There is a delicate elegance in all the visuals; most are displayed on single pages except for the bedtime outings which extend edge to edge over two pages.  Readers will appreciate looking at all the details; the activities for the other people in the park, shop displays and street signs, the alligator watering can, a flower from the rain forest appearing in her bedroom, the pictures of the animals and plants on her walls and the bugs on Hector's pajamas.  All the characters have soft smiles on their faces.

By sharing several of my favorite illustrations I would be revealing too much of the story.  Another image I really like is Abuelita hugging Juna after she finds out Hector has left.  Her back is to the reader as she holds Juna.  Our eyes are drawn to Juna's face.  We can feel her sadness at his leaving but also the comfort she is receiving.


I can understand why Lee & Low Books honored Juna's Jar written by Jane Bahk with illustrations by Felicia Hoshino with their New Voices Award.  This is a multi-layered story with the feel of a folktale told in an urban setting.  Readers will enjoy it first for the wonderful narrative but the other themes of events coming in threes, the significance of friends and siblings, a love of nature and the places we can go in our minds will gently envelope them.  I highly recommend this title.

To discover more about Jane Bahk and Felicia Hoshino please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  To see a few more interior images please visit the publisher's website.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Seasons, Silliness And Something Special

Without question I am considered an ardent fan of winter.  Hiking or snowshoeing through the woods or across an open field with my canine pal, Xena, tops my list of favorite things to do.  Crisp clear air, sun making the snow sparkle like diamonds, the pop and crackle of trees and the chirping of chickadees are my idea of the outdoors at its finest.  With that being said, this winter, the winter of 2015, is free to go at any time.

It began in earnest in the middle of November and then the much-loved snow depths faltered leaving us with crunchy crust, ice, howling winds and bitter temperatures.  From chatter on social media I am well aware most people along the east coast are probably taking pages from seed catalogs using them for wallpaper.  They are trying to substitute scenes of spring and summer for the snow piles seen outside their windows...that is, if they can even see out their windows.

Venturing outside is falling into the category of only when absolutely necessary; wearing so many layers you could probably win a mummy championship.  That's why last night, after putting another log on the fire and burrowing under a pile of blankets, I found myself laughing out loud over and over.  Reading A Wonderful Year (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, January 6, 2015) written and illustrated by Nick Bruel is like taking a hilarious trip through the four seasons with a guide who really gets the essence of each one.

"IT'S SNOWING!"
said the girl.  

This bright-eyed bundle of energy introduces readers to the first of four stories beginning with winter.  She can hardly wait to get outside.  Who can blame her?  It's been months since the last decent snowfall.

It seems members of the household (even a can of beans) want her to slow down suggesting first one than another seven articles of clothing she needs to wear.  You can well imagine how bundled up she is by the time they are done.  When she opens the door to step outside your already mounting laughter will burst forth loud and long.

With the advent of spring our character is full of all the giddiness this change brings.  Trading in her red sweat pants and sweatshirt for jeans, a t-shirt, tank top, tennis shoes and a tutu she runs outside singing a Fairy Princess song.  Waving her princess wand and wearing her princess star headband, she gleefully notices daffodils, butterflies and her loyal pup.  He declares himself her knight and off they go.

Everything nearly comes to a halt when the family cat, dozing under the nearby tree is less than eager to play.  Captured and then crankily crying out, a revealing conversation ensues.  Finally the feline finds a way to enjoy the best of both worlds.

As the story for summer opens the girl and Louise, the large purple hippopotamus living in her home, are trudging down a sidewalk in the sweltering heat.  Our gal is so hot she turns into a puddle in front of her friend.  Never one to falter in the face of adversity, Louise has a plan.

Figuring prominently are a cup, a straw and the freezer in the refrigerator.  A television show featuring a can of beans nearly causes a disaster.  Ever the clever one, Louise knows exactly what to do to save the day.

Our girl, leaning against the trunk of the large tree, is reading a book.  The tree begins to ask her about the contents of her book.  As their conversation continues it becomes clear which book she is reading.

An act of bravery is disclosed.  As colors change and leaves fall a gift is given.  One final word of advice brings us full circle.


Nick Bruel has a talent for portraying the humorous aspects of larger concepts; the bundling up needed for winter exploring, spring fever's frenzy, and the unbearable heat of summer.  With equal skill he shifts the mood; our thoughts becoming reflective.  When he assigns the ability to speak to the dog and cat it adds more fun but when we are introduced to Louise who also talks, readers know they are in for more playful prose.  Without spoiling anything these three are not the only ones who have the gift of gab.

The section for spring written for the most part in rhythmic rhymes is an open invitation for readers to start humming or singing along.  The sounds Louise makes and her use of

GADZOOKS! 

when problems arise in summer are flawlessly presented; comedic timing perfection.  By now we are more than happy to follow this girl into autumn.  Bruel slows the pace with the questions and answers exchanged between the tree and girl.  And we are glad he does.  Here is one of the rhymes from spring.

Behold a Fairy Princess!
A Princess!
A Princess!
Behold a Fairy Princess,
A fair maiden she!


The bright colors on the matching dust jacket and book case ensure readers' attention will be drawn to the book.  Nick Bruel cleverly displays iconic images of each season within the letters of year.  It's the positioning of the orange and yellow cat, the red dog and a large wide-eyed purple hippopotamus, that will have readers wondering exactly what this story entails.  On the back of the jacket and case, a very puzzled cat is popping out from a pile of brown leaves. (This continues the end of the story wonderfully.)  Turquoise endpapers hold our interest as Bruel begins the story visually on the title page.  The girl, yawning, heads toward the front door of her home.

As she gazes across a double-page snow covered landscape on her street, the dedication is tucked into the left-hand corner and the short story title is displayed on the opposite page.  Each illustration, rendered in ink, watercolor, gouache, and collage on paper, compliments the text by altering image sizes.  A full page accompanies the first piece of text.  It is followed by three single pages divided into fourths horizontally then with another double-page illustration before closing with a final single page divided again into fourths. This first narrative, as are the others, is not only celebrated but enhanced by the pictures.

Body postures and facial expressions will have you grinning in minutes.  Louise steals the show in summer.  One of my favorite illustrations (because I love to laugh) is the series of panels of Louise when the girl has melted in the summer heat.  Louise is first looking directly at the reader uttering her characteristic exclamation with her constant bird friend aflutter.  The execution of her plan with the appropriate sound effects will have you more than eager to turn the page.


If you don't have a copy of A Wonderful Year written and illustrated by Nick Bruel, run, don't walk, to your nearest book shop to pick up not one but at least two copies.  You'll want one for home and another for your students. This is one of those books you have to read aloud even if it's to an empty room.  There is lots of joy within these pages.

To discover more about Nick Bruel visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  If you go to the publisher's website you can view eight interior pages.  Here are links to the first two guest posts by Nick Bruel at teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher's blog Watch. Connect. Read., Are you Ready to Have a WONDERFUL Fall? and Are You Ready to Have a WONDERFUL WINTER?  Don't miss this outstanding interview of Nick Bruel at author and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

UPDATE:  Nick Bruel has visited Watch. Connect. Read. again.  Get ready to laugh when reading Nick Bruel's Letter to SPRING.  Nick Bruel finished his letters to the seasons with this touching ode at Watch. Connect. Read.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Place To Call...

My fireplace mantle this morning.
Whether it's at the end of a walk on a forest trail, the end of a day of teaching or the end of an extended journey, walking through the doors of my home has an immediate calming effect.  It's not the structure itself for I've lived in a tent, a motel room, apartments, small houses, new houses, old houses and large houses.  It's not the setting for I've lived in a neighborhood with sidewalks and on country roads away from cities, in the woods and next to a lake.

No, it's all about the place, the space inside, where a sense of belonging and security surrounds you.  It's a sanctuary for those who live there.  In her debut picture book, Home (Candlewick Press, February 24, 2015) author illustrator Carson Ellis presents her remarkable perceptions of homes.

Home is a house in the country.
Or home is an apartment.

For sailors at sea, their dwelling needs to float; an intricate network of lines, masts and sails making them move.  On land stepping back in time First Nation dwellers fashion homes using trees and bark. Imagined majesty, hidden from view or inside a shoe, homes may come from the pages of Arabian classic literature or Mother Goose rhymes.

In a European country or under the ocean's waves, these residences reflect those who live there.  We cheer, dance and sing but at the close of the concert, the musicians, the members of the band, head out on the open road in their rumbling bus of a home.  Impeccable or rather chaotic, towering or tiny, these structures are all home to someone.  Tanks for fish, hives for bees and a shell of a tree provide habitats.

Then we get to wonder who would live high on a cliff, under mushrooms, or beneath a dome on another planet.  We travel to Slovakia, Kenya, Japan and to the realm of a Norse god.  We are inside the kitchen of a Russian grandmother, the bedroom of a resident on the Earth's moon and the leafy nook of a raccoon.

We turn pages following our winged guide until we land in a creative corner.  It's a gathering of all we've seen, a collection of concepts for homes.  It's a starting point, an ending and a beginning.


Very simple sentences, more like observations, encourage readers to stop and take a look.  Carson Ellis suggests we gaze around us, go back to the past, open a book or spin a globe, to see and dream about places people and creatures might live, real or imagined.  She asks us to look at any home and wonder about the inhabitants.  When she shows us her home, then inquiring about our home, she makes this journey a shared experience, an intimate conversation between her and the reader.  Here are several other pictured passages.

Clean homes.  Messy homes.
Tall homes.  Short homes.


When you open the dust jacket (I'm working from an F & G; albeit a beautiful one.) the back is a varied steelier shade of the teal seen on the front.  The twenty-one homes shown on the front indicate we are in for a rare exploration of homes from the present, past, nature and the imagination.  The precise layout, in a word, is stunning.  The red on the dust jacket supplies the color for the opening and closing endpapers.  When the next page is turned, as our eyes move from the left to the right, we see the vee in a leafy tree branch offers a place for a bird's nest.  In the center of the title page a dove is in flight.  Above the branch the publication information and dedications appear.

Heavier matte-finished paper is the precise canvas needed for these illustrations rendered in gouache and ink.  All the lettering is done by hand.  Carson Ellis has an eye for flawless design.

Using a limited color palette the images extended across the gutter from page edge to page edge.  You will want to pause at each one, not wanting to miss any of the details; the items in the apartment windows, the monkey walking on the ship's line, the delicate trees and flowers, the clothing worn by all the children, the knights riding seahorses or what's cooking in the babushka's kitchen.  Carson Ellis brings us full circle using the dove as an element in every two pages as well as herself, seen in the first and last home.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the little forest world.  Ellis uses a teacup (seen in several other images) to give us perspective.  Everything is in miniature; the flowers, ferns, mushrooms, the snail, butterfly, lichen, bugs and shrew.  The little, little red-roofed house with smoke coming from the chimney with tiny articles of clothing hanging on the line is exquisite.


Debut picture book author illustrator Carson Ellis has given readers a gift sure to send our minds soaring as we view her Home.  We are left wanting to know more about those residences we pass every day, those we long to see or those we find in reading.  It's a book with answers and many more wonderful questions.


Please take a moment to learn more about Carson Ellis by visiting her website following the link attached to her name.  She has a new FAQ section.  Carson Ellis presents a guest post about this title at PictureBook Makers.  Author and blogger, Julie Danielson, talks with Carson Ellis about her book at Kirkus, Home Sweet Home with Carson Ellis.  Danielson follows with illustrations on her blog at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Carson Ellis writes a letter to her readers posted at the Candlewick website.  UPDATE:  Please take a moment to view the video of Carson Ellis speaking about her home and this book at Carter Higgin's website, Design of the Picture Book