Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Be Aware Of These Bears And Their Books Part II

Grouchy fictional bears, as opposed to bears in the wild, are to be enjoyed for the hilarity they prompt in readers.  Perhaps it's the contrast between them and their cute, cuddly cousins, toy teddy bears.  Or maybe we see a little bit of ourselves, when we are having a bad day, in their behavior.  Whatever the reason, these next two titles are sure to have readers, at the very least, smiling as soon as they see the front dust jackets.

Four goslings seem to be enjoying their exploration of a rather annoyed bear in Mother Goose Bruce (Disney Hyperion, November 24, 2015) written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins.  Clearly they are unaware of his discontent.  He, on the other hand, is more than concerned with the current state of affairs.

Bruce was a bear who lived all by himself.
He was a grump.

The only thing this forest curmudgeon liked...no craved...were eggs.  To make matters worse for the other woodland dwellers, he took the eggs.  He found them to be most delicious when made into culinary delights.

Searching online Bruce discovered the ultimate recipe,

hard-boiled goose eggs drizzled with honey-salmon sauce.

The stream, hive and nest were raided with determined glee.  To Bruce's dismay when he went to hard boil the eggs, his fire needed more wood.  Arriving back in the kitchen, Bruce was flabbergasted to hear four little voices cry out


This new development was not to his liking at all.  What was a cranky guy going to do with four newborn geese?  He tried to give them back to Mrs. Goose but she had vacated her home.  Leaving them didn't work.  They followed him everywhere.  Roaring didn't work.  They had bonded with Bruce.

Seeing no other alternative his newly-assumed role as a mom was downright difficult and exhausting.  When Bruce noticed the other geese flying south, he was ecstatic.  The four fully-grown geese would leave him in peace.  No. No. No.  They stuck with Bruce like glue.  In a resourceful turn of events Bruce and the geese each got what they wanted and needed.

As the story unfolds, told by an unseen narrator, it's the little snippets of dialogue inserted by Ryan T. Higgins which increase the comedic effect.  Not only is Bruce a grump but he's always looking out for himself first, trying to make the best of a less than hunky-dory situation.  Each of the concise single sentences has been carefully crafted to heighten the disparity between the text and images.  Here is a sample passage.

Last, he went to Mrs. Goose's nest to pay her a visit.
"Are these eggs free-range organic?"

When you run your hands over the front of the dust jacket the title text is raised.  The x through Goose and Bruce are also designed to feel like scribbled crayon.  To the left, on the back, on a textured matte-like golden yellow canvas, a shiny picture of the nest, next to cattails and the pond, has been placed.  Two goslings are walking from the nest on the picture; one is half in the picture and half on the background.  The fourth baby is striding away on the yellow. The book case is a close-up of Bruce's grouchy face on the front and the back of his head on the back.  The opening endpapers feature an early morning sun shining through the trees and on the right is Bruce's home.  The closing endpapers are different but in perfect harmony with the story's end.  (My lips are sealed.)

With a page turn the woods remain on the left.  To the right Bruce is sitting down to partake of his favorite food beneath the title text.  Higgins alters his image sizes, the framing and perspective to elevate a mood and emphasize a particular moment.  His use of white space as an element in the illustrations is first-rate.  It's the facial expressions on Bruce which will have you laughing out loud over and over again.  Well, that and his physique.  And if you are not rolling on the floor yet in uncontrolled mirth there are the extra details; Bruce's use of a shopping cart, the gosling carrier, and the geese wearing hats, coats, scarves and boots.

One of my favorite illustrations is of Bruce standing next to the blue and white polka-dotted kiddie pool watching the goslings splashing in the water.  Bruce ready to join them is wearing pink water wings with daisies, a blue and yellow striped inner tube and yellow flippers.  It's a bright sunny day but his disposition is completely stormy.

Mother Bruce written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins is one of those books when you open the cover you expect to hear laughter ringing from the pages.  I would like to think Higgins has given a hat tip to Bill Peet's Big Bad Bruce with this book.  I urge you to share this title with someone as often as possible.

To learn more about Ryan T. Higgins please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  This title has been chosen by Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries John Schumacher and standing-on-a-desk-and-shouting-I-love-reading third grade teacher Colby Sharp as one of the books for the February #SharpSchu Twitter Book Club.  Ryan T. Higgins was a guest on All The Wonders, Ryan T. Higgins: Picturebooking, Episode 41.

A little more than one year ago readers were introduced to a bear who prefers to be alone and his noisy, nosy neighbor, a duck, in Goodnight Already! The mismatched friends have returned in I Love You Already! (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, December 22, 2015) written by Jory John with illustrations by Benji Davies.  One glimpse at Bear's face (the deer caught in the headlight look) and we know some things (or a bear and a duck) never change.  For those of you who believe in the power of laughter, thank goodness for that.

"Ahh, I really love spending lazy weekend mornings around my house."

Readers will quickly note that Duck has a different plan, nestled in bed, snacking on a cookie with his I ♥ Bear mug next to the bed, and reading

101 WALKS TO take with BEARS.

Within two shakes of a duck's tail he's on his way to Bear's place ready to roll and repeatedly asking Bear to go for a walk.  Bear's morning of tea-sipping and book reading is over.  Duck's six reasons for Bear to come outside are met with an emphatic

"No." and
"You already said that."

If for no other reason than to get some peace of mind, Bear reluctantly agrees to stroll along with Duck.  The winged walker chatters non-stop eliciting the same responses from Bear.  He only wants Bear to like him. Bear tells him over and over that he does like him...ALREADY!

Finally telling Duck he needs some space and longs for a nap, Bears heads to the shade of a tree.  Duck is bored, bored, bored.  Without Bear knowing he climbs the tree intending to snare Bear's attention.  YIKES!  A startled Bear knocks Duck right out of the tree.

In the following conversation a role reversal reveals Bear's true feelings.  Duck's euphoria sets him off and running again.  Bear's final sentence, as he stares right at the reader, sums up his personality perfectly.

You have to admire the skill necessary to form two distinct characters as different as night and day.  The old adage of opposites attract as written by Jory John is indeed true but not readily visible.  The story, told entirely through dialogue, pulls back Bear's outer shell for a few moments before falling back into place.  This is what maintains the humor from beginning to the end.  Here is a sample passage.

"Take a look around, Bear!
Who wants to be alone on
a day like this?"
"Would you like an ice pop,
"I suppose..."
"Um, Bear, I might
need to borrow
a little money."

The bright red on the dust jacket catches your eyes at first glance.  You will notice the shape of the tree branches in a heart and the heart-shaped individual leaves as you look more closely.  Duck hugging Bear with his eyes closed will start the giggles.  To the left, on the back, Bear is sitting on a blue bench in a dejected pose wearing his yellow straw hat as Duck on the other end is talking non-stop.  On the book case the canvas is composed of a diamond and square pattern.  On the right Bear is sitting on the floor, hiding behind a curtain.  On the left Duck is peeking in Bear's window trying to locate his best buddy.  The opening and closing endpapers are the same bright cheerful yellow as the hill on the front of the dust jacket.

The title page is a mirror image of that on the front of the dust jacket with the exception of the changed hues in the leaves and title text.  The publication information and dedication pages show the friends' homes as the sun rises.  The use of yellow, turquoise, grass green, pink, orange and red throughout the book lifts the merriment level.

To provide pacing Benji Davies has created single page images, two illustrations on one page framed in white, and a series of pictures on two pages.  He alternates the background hues to actively engage his readers.  The body movements and postures of both Duck and Bear depict their personalities to a T.

One of my favorite illustrations is of Bear resting against the tree trunk.  He has lowered his hat to partially cover his eyes.  A single daisy is hanging from his mouth.  This image spans across two pages.  This is the "pregnant pause" filled with anticipation.  You know something is coming.

I Love You Already written by Jory John with illustrations by Benji Davies is a fun-filled companion to the original title.  Use it to celebrate Valentine's Day, friendship and the often hidden love between two unlike souls.  To learn more about Jory John and Benji Davies please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Be Aware Of These Bears And Their Books Part I

An unexpected encounter with them puts our lives in danger.  They are the largest land carnivore on our planet.  They are ferocious but generally shy and when observed from a safe distance intriguing. When seen in a toy shop, we select them to become cherished friends.  In 2002 a centennial celebration marked their creation.

In literature, as characters, we laugh at their antics, marvel at their insights and ingenuity and more times than not make room in our hearts for what they represent. As 2015 comes to a close there are five titles featuring bears I would like to highlight in two separate posts.  I Thought This Was A Bear Book (Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, August 4, 2015) written by Tara Lazar with illustrations by Benji Davies gives readers a peek at the potential for problems when books fall from a shelf.

Once upon a time there were three bears.
Zark! Zoot! Zinder!

A spacecraft crashes into the woods normally populated by residents from the land of fairy.  A green being has lost his book and needs to return to Planet Zero.  No one is more surprised by this turn of events than Papa, Mama and Baby Bear.

Prince Zilch is panic-stricken at his plight.  He needs to return to page twenty-seven immediately.  These berry-picking bears, who are sick of eating porridge, are unfortunately more interested in exploring his other-worldly vehicle.  Their fumbling fixes any chance Prince Zilch has of leaving on schedule.  Both the alien and largest bear appeal to the reader for help.  As luck would have it you-know-who, the girl with the golden hair, arrives.

With only certain items on hand, chairs, beds and busted bits, the bears do their best to assist the royal visitor out of their story.  Nothing seems to work.  As parents snooze, Baby Bear proposes a plan.  It might work.  WHOA!  Now look what we've done!

With a talent for fracturing fairy tales Tara Lazar very quickly alters the norm by introducing a character from a different galaxy...er...story.  His language is easy to understand although he does tend to favor the letter z.  Told entirely in dialogue between the characters and at times directed at the reader, humor is prevalent.  The use of alliteration adds to the buoyant cadence.  Here is a sample passage.

Papa Bear Well, maybe you can bounce out of the book using our beds.
Goldilocks Jeesh, can't a girl get some shut-eye around here?

Digitally rendered using an array of hues, leaning toward secondary colors, Benji Davies introduces the characters on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  He peaks our curiosity as to the importance of the open books with familiar faces looking from and leaving the pages.  To the left, on the back, Papa, Mama and Baby Bear are walking away from us toward the berry bushes.  Prince Zilch is zooming past with his signature pink cloud trailing behind his spaceship.

One of the shades of green from the bears' book is used on the opening and closing endpapers.  A page turn shows a child leaving a book case as books slip from position and fall to the floor.  An alien vehicle zooms from one into Goldilocks & The 3 Bears.  On the verso and title pages the image from the back of the jacket and case is extended with an enlarged book on the left.

Picture sizes vary from two pages to single pages and to several on a single page.  Many of them have rounded corners with white space acting as a frame.  The dialogue is placed in colorful balloons of pink, yellow, orange and two shades of blue depending on who is speaking.  Plan on laughing out loud at the details Davies adds to enhance the story.

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  First the alien and then Papa Bear are talking directly to the reader.  The fallen spaceship is behind them.  Behind the vehicle Baby Bear and Mama Bear are smiling and waving at a busload of tourists who have stopped to take their pictures as if they are bears in a national park.  I dare you not to smile.

I Thought This Was A Bear Book written by Tara Lazar with illustrations by Benji Davies is definitely a bear book filled with fractured fairy tale fun.  It's a tribute to the power of story and those who read them.  To discover more about Tara Lazar and Benji Davies please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Tara Lazar includes a teacher's guide and fun activities as well as links to other posts about this book.  At the publisher's website you can view three additional interior images.  

Readers were and will continue to be enchanted with the father and son duo and their winding adventures in The Bear's Song and The Bear's Sea Escape.  In a third title, The Bear's Surprise (Chronicle Books, September 15, 2015) written and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud spring has sprung.  Roles are reversed as Papa Bear seems to have vanished.

Deep in the forest, Little Bear awakens to the sounds of spring.  Outside his cozy den, birds are chirping, animals are scurrying, and Little Bear smells the sweet scent of flowers.

Little Bear's joy at the shift in the seasons is short-lived as he notices his father is absent.  Could he be near the yellow glow beyond the trees?  The shining sun lights the way along an unexplored trail.

Within mere minutes Little Bear is standing in front of a large hole in a hillside.  Could this lead him to Papa?  It's a huge, huge cave filled with beings from fantasy, now and the past.  Oh!  What's this?

How did Little Bear get into a washing machine?  Who are all these creative creatures and people straight from the realm of whimsy?  Little Bear rushes toward a large red tent.  He thinks he spies Papa Bear's behind.  A crowd has gathered and is making their way toward seats.  Suddenly the lights are lowered.

Papa Bear and Little Bear are making magic with their planned and unplanned performances.  The watchers cheer and applaud as Little Bear soars higher and higher.  He flies.  He lands.  He leans.  Oh. ... This is indeed a surprise, a wonderful gift of spring.

Carefully written sentences, brimming with descriptive adjectives and verbs, place readers squarely in the bears' world.  Benjamin Chaud repeatedly asks readers questions, inviting them to turn the pages closely following Little Bear.  Punctuation asks us to pause and ponder his next move.  Here is a sample passage.

Little Bear darts through a collection of quirky clowns, costumed cats, and other curiosities until he spots something behind a great red curtain.  Isn't that Papa Bear's fuzzy brown bottom?  With three quick hops, Little Bear enters the circus tent.  What will he find?

The muted earth tones seen on the matching dust jacket and book case are used by Benjamin Chaud throughout the book.  The fine lines, multitude of details and fascinating characters are his signature style for these bear books.  To the left, on the back, a small oval image amid a golden yellow background foreshadows the surprise.  A similar hue colors the opening and closing endpapers acting as a canvas for a pattern of large white stars.  On the opening right side Baby Bear is seen flying through the air wearing a circus hat.

Beginning with the title page Chaud starts his new technique for this title.  Each two pages contain one or more cut-outs encouraging us join Little Bear.  You will marvel at their placement.  The exquisite intricacy of the elements placed in each two-page illustration will take your breath away.

One of my favorite pictures is when Little Bear goes into the hole in the hillside and enters the cave.  All the passages and little rooms are amazing.  They are filled with creatures you might expect to see; foxes, moles and a skunk.  There is a tiny yellow submarine exploring in the water.  A creature from the age of dinosaurs hangs from the ceiling as bats flit from place to place.  People from the past and present have made their homes here.  You will gasp when you spy two memorable fictional characters.

The Bear's Surprise written and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud is another stunning title in the series.  Readers of all ages will read this over and over looking for new items on every page.  At the publisher's website three more images can be viewed.  Even though this book trailer is in French you can get a closer peek at some of the pictures.  It's also interesting to see the dust jacket used for the French version.

As she did in Inside Outside and Flashlight Lizi Boyd asks us to expand our inventive nature in her newest title.  Big Bear Little Chair (Chronicle Books, October 6, 2015) is a book of concepts.  Opposites combine, two characters' lives intertwine.

Big Bear
little chair
Big Plant
little cocoon

A bird, a zebra, a butterfly, and an elephant are paired with a trick, a rock, a broom and an umbrella.  Is that a star and the moon?  Little Bear is as surprised as Big Bear to see the size of his chair.

What do an owl, a meadow, a lion, a sea, a rabbit and a forest have in common?  They are all matched with little things.  Most are normal, but one is quite extraordinary.  Ahhh....now Big Bear and Little Bear are together next to a little chair (and a big chair).

Another item has been added to the comparisons.  We read from big to little and finally to tiny.  Who's driving the little bus?  What's near the big seal?  Who's walking through the little village in the big snowstorm?  Tales are told.  There are bears in chairs too.

Lizi Boyd divides the book into four sections.  Within the first three she includes six comparisons.  The attention of readers is guaranteed with her ingenious selections.   With each page turn we wonder if we will see an owl on a branch or a zebra with a broom.

Red, white, black and gray are the only colors Lizi Boyd uses in this title.  The red is extended on the dust jacket and book case to the back on the left.  The circles used to hold the title text on the front frame pictures of an owl, an elephant and a turtle on the back.  The endpapers are done in two shades of gray, each with a different graphic design.

A variety of shapes are featured in each single page visual.  Rendered in gouache the lines range from delicate to precise.  Careful readers will notice how the expressions change on Big Bear and Little Bear as the book progresses.  Each animal showcased in the images is content and smiling.

One of my favorite pictures is for big meadow and little salamander.  The flowers in the meadow are done primarily in gray with added details in black on a white background.  The lines are extremely intricate.  Tucked in at the bottom is a small bright red salamander.

Big Bear Little Chair written and illustrated by Lizi Boyd is many things in one.  The graphic designs are impeccable.  The size and shape of the book is perfect for the intended audience.  To learn more about Lizi Boyd please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At the publisher's website are three more interior images.  Lizi Boyd wrote a blog post at Chronicle Books about this title.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Seasons Readings-A Trio Of Treats

Thirty years ago graphic artist Mary Engelbreit issued a poster with text reading

a book is a present you can open again and again.  

The saying is attributed to Barry Liebman, an owner of Left Bank Books at the time, located in Saint Louis, Missouri.  The poster was designed for Left Bank Books.  In all these years the popularity of the phrase and its meaning has never waned.  This is due, in part, to the veracity of the statement.

Christmas 2015 has come and gone but there are three titles yet to be highlighted on this blog which celebrate the spirit of the season.  Each is a gift to be cherished whenever the book makes its way into the hands of a reader whether it's the first time or the hundredth time it's been read. The first, Miracle on 133rd Street (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 22, 2015) written by Sonia Manzano with illustrations by Marjorie Priceman, focuses on food and a definition of family.

Jose was decorating the tiniest Christmas tree ever.  It was practically a twig---and what was he supposed to do with the leftover ornaments anyway?

A shout from the kitchen has both he and his father, also named Jose, rushing to the room.  His mami is also lamenting the smallness of living in an apartment in New York City and the size of her oven.  She wishes she was back in Puerto Rico.  When Jose jokingly says they need a pizza oven for the size of her roast, Papi agrees.

The two, Jose and his papi, bundle up and place the roast in a large box.  As they move through the building down to the street, their neighbors are not exactly spreading holiday cheer either.  One has children home on vacation who are irritating her into a frenzy, an older couple are sad their children will not be visiting, Mr. Franklin is certain they are not thinking straight to leave the building this time of year, money woes, and shopping stress are expressed by others.  Outside children are enjoying the snow or cranky about having to shovel it.

Mr. Ray is happy to share his oven at the pizzeria.  Jose gazes at the large Christmas tree in his shop and falls asleep waiting for the meat to cook.  Within seconds of Papi waking him up, Jose is cast under the spell of the smell filling the room.  Mami's combination of ingredients is marvelously magical, boosting him and his mood.

On their journey back to the apartment, accompanied by an invited Mr. Ray, stars hang like lamps in the dusky sky.  The trio nearly floats along, the bouquet weaving around others, inspiring good will.  As they travel up the stairs, doors open, moods shift, guests gather and a Christmas miracle descends.

A blend of narrative and dialogue by Sonia Manzano raises awareness in readers of what the season might be for many of us.  We can choose to emphasize what might be wrong or recall the sensations of Christmases in the past and those in the present to lift us up so we can help others.  Page by page Manzano uses this story to increase the lightness felt in the soul of her readers.  Here is a sample passage.

Then she sniffed the air, paused, and turned back.
"Well, it is a beautiful tree.  And just the right size," she said.
And then the aroma formed a halo around Mr. Happy's head and he said, "Oh, just take it, no charge.  It's Christmas Eve."
Jose and his father looked at each other, then continued on their way, weaving and wafting until they got to their building.
"Look at this...ohhh..." Yvonne took a sniff, dropped her shovel, and followed them inside.
"Wait for me!" her brother said.

When you open the brightly colored matching dust jacket and book case rendered using gouache and ink by Caldecott-honor-winning Marjorie Priceman the illustration extends to the left edge.  All the beauty of the snow, Christmas decorations and starry night mix to make us feel the same happiness felt by Jose and his papi.  On the opening and closing endpapers white swirls on rich red elevate the warmth.  Spirals in blue move across both of the title pages as Jose, Papi and Mr. Ray carry the roast homeward beneath and next to the text.  In a stroke of cleverness the verso information is in the shape of a Christmas tree on the next page and also on the following dedication page.

Nearly all the images span two pages in a flow of cheerful hues with the vivid golden yellow prevalent on all the pages along with red and orange.  The emotions attached to these shades reach out and surround readers.  The expressive gestures and facial features on all the characters make their attitude alterations more evident.  To heighten the start of Jose and his father's trip to the pizzeria Priceman makes a design change; a vertical image.

I could easily frame many of these pictures.  One of my favorites is Jose, Papi and Mr. Ray walking home after first leaving the shop.  Our focus is on the three as they cross the bridge; water to the right and the city to the left, both more in the background.  All are experiencing a form of euphoria from the odor radiating from the roast as it is carried.  Stars and spirals dance about them.

Miracle on 133rd Street written by Sonia Manzano with illustrations by Marjorie Priceman is a classic tale of Christmas joy dispersed by the memories a smell conjures in the minds of the characters.  If you wish to learn more about Sonia Manzano please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At the publisher's website five interior pages are shown including my favorite.  Jama Rattigan exuberantly speaks about this book at Jama's Alphabet Soup. Julie Danielson, author, reviewer and blogger, also talks about this title at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

I was thrilled when Marjorie Priceman graciously agreed to answer some questions about this book.

What influenced your color palette for the story and for Mami’s memories?

The color palette for Mami's memories is meant to evoke the warmth and sunshine of Puerto Rico in contrast to the icy cold New York winter. 

Did you have a particular street in mind when you created Jose’s neighborhood and apartment building?

The street where Jose lives is not actually a particular street (The title Miracle on 133rd St. was chosen long after the artwork was finished.) but an impression of a vibrant and diverse New York neighborhood with a mix of buildings, shops and people.

I really love the inclusion of a vertical picture.   What prompted the decision to do this in the story?

The vertical picture was a way to show all of Jose's apartment building in one spread and is something I like to do as a surprise for the reader.

What is your favorite smell you associate with Christmas?

My favorite Christmastime smell is fresh pine tree.

On the same day, September 22, 2015 Samurai Santa: A Very Ninja Christmas (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) written and illustrated by Rubin Pingk leaped onto the children's literature scene.  It zips and zings with a lively cast of characters.  Holiday surprises abound.

Christmas Eve was the most PERFECT snow day of the year. Yukio had never seen such BIG snowflakes.  They seemed full of magic.

Like the first snow of the season, snow falling on the eve of Christmas Day elicits excitement in young hearts and the young at heart.  Yukio is hugely disappointed to see no one else outside to participate in what he hopes will be an EPIC snowball fight.  None of his ninja companions dare participate, especially on this night, for fear of appearing on Santa's naughty list.  

In Yukio's mind Santa is spoiling his fun.  He, unlike his friends, does not care about the consequences.  This ninja wants an EPIC snowball fight.  The only way this can happen is to rid Ninja Village of jolly old Saint Nick.  

Cautiously, carefully, Yukio waits and watches as Santa goes about his business.  In the quiet of the night a loud large gong sounds as the ninja shouts 


All the young ninjas wake up looking for this mysterious trespasser garbed in red.  He is not to be found inside or outside.  

Suddenly a SAMURAI appears on the hilltop surrounded by a very spirited group of snowmen ready for a fight...a snowfall fight.  For hours the battle rages.  As the sun rises the ninjas and Yukio realize what they have done.  Upon entering their home another shock awaits these snowball-loving young warriors.  

Short simple sentences invite readers to participate in Yukio's Christmas adventure.  Rubin Pingk uses descriptive, highly-charged words to great effect.  It's all readers can do to not jump right in and join the ninja fun.  Here is a sample passage.

All the GOOD little ninjas were asleep, but not Yukio.
Santa squeezed, slouched, slithered, and stumbled DOWN the chimney...
...while Yukio WAITED for the PERFECT moment to surprise SANTA.

A swarm of eager ninjas with Yukio in the lead in pursuit of the EPIC-snowball-fight-wrecking Santa span from edge to edge across both sides of the matching dust jacket and book case.  The limited color palette of red, white, and shades of gray is used throughout the title.  The opening endpapers and initial title pages feature rows of ninja faces mixed with snowman looks and one very special Santa and Yukio.  The closing endpapers tell a different tale.  The more formal title page and verso present a calm wintry landscape in the snowy mountains, evergreens coated in white as smoke rises from chimneys.  

Each illustrative image rendered digitally by Rubin Pingk, shifting in perspective and size, pairs with the text to create a flawless flow.  Within the narrative the use of a larger font and capital letters places emphasis on specific words also contributing to the pacing.  Anticipation grows as the pages turn.  There is not a wasted moment or movement.  

One of my favorite picture sequences is for the passage cited.  On a background of black we first see Santa climbing into the chimney within a circle of gray.  Beneath him in a smaller circle of red, Yukio waits.  To the right as Santa moves down the chimney it twists and turns like jumbled pipework before he drops, looking quite surprised.  These images, like many, are full of humor.

Samurai Santa: A Very Ninja Christmas written and illustrated by Rubin Pingk is pure fun from beginning to end.  I know everyone will want to read it more than once especially aloud.  Please visit Rubin Pingk's website by following the link attached to his name.  At the publisher's website are six interior illustrations.  My favorite is one of them.  At Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., Rubin Pingk reveals the book trailer for this title.  Don't miss it. 

Running as fast as he can The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), October 13, 2015) written by Laura Murray with illustrations by Mike Lowery races toward readers.  Christmas is coming.  The Gingerbread Man, his teacher and classroom chums are busily working like elves.

 One white snowy morning, I popped from my bed.
My teacher was calling.

She is announcing to the class a plan to

make, say, or do

something unique for people in the community.  They all put on their collective creative thinking caps.  The Gingerbread Man is making a special treat for a special someone. 

Wrapped in coats, hats, scarves and mittens they walk from school through the city streets singing songs, handing out baked goods and homemade cards.  Prominent figures in their city, a police woman, the garbage man and public librarian receive their gifts.  The dentist, grocer, and veterinarian are greeted with smiles.  Everyone is uplifted by their cheerful gestures.  

Suddenly the weather changes prompting the teacher to turn the group back toward the school.  The Gingerbread Man tries to tell them he still needs to present his present.  He's not heard.  Without another word he runs, as fast as he can, to find one special shop.  The wind and wet take a toll on our sweet friend.

Will his goodness be noticed? Cleverness gives The Gingerbread Man the help he needs.  At the conclusion he and his student buddies make merry magic for a distinctive individual.   

Readers and listeners will want to clap and tap as the words penned by Laura Murray playfully romp off the page.  Her rhymes effortlessly elicit the gladness felt by those who spread and receive gratitude.  By taking readers on a tour of the town we are introduced to those members meaningful to the students and The Gingerbread Man in their everyday lives here and in other communities.  Here are a couple sample passages.

The town was so merry! The storefronts aglow. Each window was frosted with icy snow.
We stopped a police lady, sang her a song.  She smiled really big as she waved us along. 

No matter the season, the front of the matching dust jacket and book case is sure to bring on grins as The Gingerbread Man gazes.  The toy shop window all decked out in holiday decor is brimming with glee.  On the back, to the left, The Gingerbread Man, away from the rest of the group is trying to make one final stop as the chilly wind blows.  The opening and closing endpapers, the first in green and white and the second in red and white, are labeled maps of important places in the town.  

Mike Lowery created these images in pencil, traditional screen printing and digital color.  Some are full page or cover two pages.  Many are framed like panels in graphic novels or comics.  Dialogue appears in speech balloons.  The layout and design create energy like the story.  

One of my favorite illustrations is of the town and the streets covering two pages.  At the top on the left a small image shows some of the students and The Gingerbread man ready to leave the classroom.  Residential and business sections of the community are shown and appropriately labeled.  Among the snow, several snowmen make an appearance. 

The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas written by Laura Murray with illustrations by Mike Lowery is a jolly journey of thankfulness with students, their teacher and The Gingerbread Man among townsfolk.  At the back of the book in a pocket is a poster.  On the back are four story stretcher activities.  For more information on both Laura Murray and Mike Lowery be sure to follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Animal Observations And The Music of Language

Early this morning fog and clouds shrouded the mountains as snow fell.  Walking from one room to another something caught my attention; a shadow moved behind the shades still down over the window and door opening to the back deck.  The small tree (Xena's tree) was still lit and twinkling.

It was a large doe moving as lightly as the falling flakes.  In search of food she got through the snow and ate what grass she could find.  I know when spring and summer come she will try to enjoy my gardens.  It will be a challenge as we share the same space but today she was beautiful. 

Author illustrator Julie Paschkis combines her notable skills, her acquired love of the Spanish language and perceptions of the animal world in her newest title. Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems, Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales (Henry Holt and Company, August 18, 2015) is a harmonious tribute to the beauty of written and spoken words.  It seeks and finds joy.

through the grass
the sinuous snake
is writing
a slippery poem
with his body. ...

La Serpiente
por la hierba
la serpient sinuosa
esta escribiendo
un poema resbaloso
con su cuerpo.

Fourteen animals and fourteen poems, each in English and in Spanish, feature characteristics, imagine possibilities, describe moments, and pose questions.  It's not usual to think of snakes as authors but it does make a kind of sense when you wonder about the marks they leave behind.  We know the turtle's shell is a portable home but there might be other treasures carried too.

As a heron takes flight a picture alters.  Even on a rainy day a single crow manages to find a bit of sparkle.  A cat sleeping and awake can explore named points apart on our world.  A field is not a field to a cow but a ready restaurant.  Do the dogs wag their tails or does sheer jubilation?

A tiny fly, a flashy parrot and a silent deer feast, demand and peer.  Perhaps they will travel to watch sea giants waltz with waves.  A haunting hoot pierces the dark as moths and fireflies seek and give light.  Under and on water fish weave a lullaby.

From every place on our planet the familiar become extraordinary as Julie Paschkis uses language like a magician makes magic.  Onomatopoeia, repetition, rhyming and free verse in English are mirrored in the elegance of the Spanish translation.  She has the ability to see beyond the obvious and make us gasp in admiration at her perspectives.  Here is another sample portion.

The moon is a lantern
in the branches.
A shimmer.

A shadow whistles
through the grass.
A whisper.

El Buho
La luna es un farol
en las ramas.

Silba una sambra
por las hierbas.
Un susurro.

Rendered in Winsor & Newton gouache on Arches paper all the illustrations throughout are as stunning as the two on the front and back of the dust jacket.  The earth tones on black are a gorgeous pairing.  On the back, to the left, a male deer, a buck, is looking directly at us from among the trees.  As you will note letters and words in English and Spanish are blended into the illustrations.  This adds a creative, innovative dimension to each image.  The book case is identical to the interior illustration of the heron.  A grass green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Some of the elements from the dust jacket appear on the title page.

All of the visuals span edge to edge across two pages.  Intricate details invite you to pause at each picture.  Sometimes Julie Paschkis draws us directly into the presence of the animal.  Other times we move back and see them within a larger landscape.  Her color palette varies in relationship to the animal and the time of day.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the poem Dog.  Among a swirl of yellow flowers and leaves red balls bounce.  On each side a furry brown dog jumps in joy.  The words bump, bounce, abound, red, ruff and ready and tonto, junto, juego, pronto, redondo, rojo, ojo and rebote appear on the leaves and balls.

Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis is a cheerful frolic among animals, wild and domestic.  I highly recommend this title for reading aloud in either or both languages.  In an author's note, in English and Spanish, Julie Paschkis tells us these poems were first written in Spanish, then English.  Don't wait until National Poetry Month, use this all year long for writing, a study of languages or animals.

To enjoy learning more about Julie Paschkis and her other books please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  If you visit the publisher's website you can view eight interior images.  They are absolutely lovely.  Julie Paschkis was a guest at Jama Rattigan's blog, Jama's Alphabet Soup.  You will enjoy the additional illustrations and the interview.

While some might argue the use of this title for the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy, the use of two languages and animals plus the classification is enough for me.  Please visit the blog to see the other books selected by other bloggers this week.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Down On The Farm

Mother Nature has frosted our landscape these past few weeks as if it's her own personal Christmas cake.  Animal tracks pattern the lawns, sidewalks, paths and roadways in the early morning hours like silver dragees.  After dark homes and nearby bushes and trees outlined with white or colored lights add to the festive atmosphere.

For nearly three hundred, sixty-five days children around the world have been waiting to welcome Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Saint Nick or Santa Claus while others emulate his spirit as in the reply to a child's letter in 1897, Is There A Santa Claus?  Christmas wishes have been made.  Trees have been trimmed.  Stockings have been hung.  Treats have been left for the visitor about to arrive.

And Duck is up to his old tricks.  Duck?!   Yes, the crew of critters making their home on Farmer Brown's acreage is back in a rollicking read, Click, clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 22, 2015) written by Doreen Cronin with illustrations by Betsy Lewin.

Snow is falling.
Lights twinkle.
A few creatures are stirring.
It is Christmas Eve.

Farmer Brown pauses in his holiday preparations to listen to a new noise.  It sounds like Santa Claus is getting closer to his home.  What is Duck doing with spiked sandals, goggles, a rope and backpack?

Hush now!  What's that?  He's getting closer.  Or is he?  Oh, no Duck!  There's something on the roof now.  As Farmer Brown finishes and rushes to bed Duck sneaks at peak at the Christmas Eve sky.  A silhouette crosses the moon.

Of all the unfortunate luck, Duck is stuck.  Yes, the wily fowl has foiled his own plan. First one, then another, and then another get stuck.  That chimney is full of farm friends.  A jolly gentleman and his flying eight wait.


Happily Christmas magic is in the air and so is a lot of soot.  Not a word is heard as they complete their task.  It's a night of good will toward one man as another leaves with new gear.

Three or four phrases grouped together start this tale of an impending approach.  Doreen Cronin by first focusing on Farmer Brown lulls us into believing one thing with her seasonal celebratory sentences.  As our attention is shifted to Duck and company with repetitive words,

HO! HO! Uh-oh.

the first of several plot twists comes as a total surprise.

When readers initially glance at the matching dust jacket and book case, greeted by a wintry scene, a bit of Christmas cheer with Duck front and center, we're not quite sure if Duck is going to be up to his old tricks or not.  To the left, on the back, on a canvas of joyful green, Duck is lifting the newcomer from Click, Clack, Peep!   I won't reveal any more because it does foreshadow one of the plot twists.  The same joyful hue is found on the opening endpapers with a jolly red on the closing endpapers.  A two page visual spans the verso and title pages with Santa-hat-wearing mice (three) dancing among the title text coming from the chimney top.

The major of the images rendered in watercolor by Betsy Lewin extend edge to edge across two pages.  You can't help but chuckle at her wordless pictures placed between the initial narrative sections before Duck gets stuck.  You will burst out laughing at the body positions and expressions on the other animals as they journey to help Duck and find themselves in the same predicament.

Careful readers will enjoy watching the antics of the three mice.  We know what they know but Farmer Brown has no clue as to the real source of the noises.  The tiny details throughout are telling stories too.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is the first wordless two pages.  On the left Duck, looking every bit like a mountain climber, is making his way up a utility pole.  A large rope extends from the top of the pole to the roof of Farmer Brown's house smaller in the distance on the right.  Numerous questions immediately come to mind along with giggles.

If you are looking for a new Christmas title loaded with catchy comedy and several surprises, Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! written by Doreen Cronin with illustrations by Betsy Lewin is the book for you.  I had the distinct pleasure to read this to a group of kindergarten students last week on Friday.  I wish you could have heard the laughter and gasps.  Please add this title to your holiday collection and read it often.

By following the links attached to Doreen Cronin's and Betsy Lewin's names you can access their respective websites to learn more about them and their other work.  In addition to the front dust jacket and book case picture, the publisher's website has six more interior illustrations including my favorite. There are two separate links to printable pages of activities.  Have fun and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2015

For Love Of A Dog #15

The call of the West has been sounding in my ears for decades.  It was not until a year and a half ago; life opened the door of opportunity.   My one huge hesitation to go forward was my sweet Xena.  Her fourteenth birthday was only three months away.

After repeated conversations with her vet, I decided to make a trip to Montana in June to see how we would like it.  You could have not asked for a better travel companion than this chocolate Labrador retriever. She thoroughly enjoyed hiking in the local parks, taking in all the new sights and smells.  Unfortunately, our home in Michigan did not sell.

In the spring of 2015 we re-listed with a new agent.  Our walks in the neighborhood were shorter, maybe a half mile or a few blocks at a time.  Sometimes we only took a couple of spins around the yard.  Weather permitting we spent entire days outside, Xena sitting or sleeping in the yard as I gardened, read and wrote on my laptop.  In the middle of August we finally got a solid offer on the house.  This year she was days away from her fifteenth birthday.  Again I had conversations with her vet.

Within the span of thirty days we made three journeys back and forth between Michigan and Montana by car.  On each of those trips, comfort and a place for Xena to walk were foremost in my mind.  With every rest stop, hotel stay and hours spent on the road, my love for her grew.  Her strength in the face of this enormous change was a marvel to see.   (To read about our western travels, Xena and I wrote these blog posts, Westward Ho!, Blowing in the Wind-Changes, and Blowing in the Wind-Changes Part II.)

For two months after we arrived in Montana she enjoyed hours sitting or sleeping outside unless it was too cold.  We finally had a fenced-in back yard with easy access to keep her safe.  She carefully watched deer move cautiously on the other side of the fences and squirrels leap from tree branch to tree branch.  Like the matriarch she was, she took note of the dogs living next door to us on either side but only gave them a nod.  Her nose would lift in the air over and over again.  She was inhaling all life had to offer.

Shortly after the final trip to Montana a long anticipated ARC, Fenway and Hattie (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House, February 9, 2016) written by Victoria J. Coe, made its way into my possession.  It was previously my honor to host Fenway and Hattie Cover Reveal, Canine Capers in Suburbia on July 15, 2015.  With marvelous insight and humor Victoria J. Coe introduces us to two new characters, a Jack Russell terrier and his girl.

As soon as we get off the elevator, I know something is wrong.  Our apartment has no mat in front.  The muddy boots and fake flowers are gone.  The doorway looks empty.  Abandoned.  Like nobody lives here.

Fetch Man, Food Lady and Hattie, Fenway's human family, are finishing their packing for moving day.  The city with its familiar sights, sounds, sidewalks and a large dog park is being left for a quieter world in the suburbs.  All Fenway knows is some Evil Humans smelling of sweat and coffee have stolen everything while Fetch Man, Food Lady and Hattie watch.  He ferociously tries to warn them of the danger but is placed instead behind The Gate.

A sigh of relief and equal measure of excitement permeate his body when he discovers he is going on a car ride. A long, long time later they all arrive at a house which can only be filled with extraordinary things as the humans are brimming with anticipation. The smells inside and outside are not very interesting but inside there is a Perfect Running Surface and .......Whoa! Ouch! a Wicked Floor covers the entire Eating Place.  This can't be good.  And to make matters worse the Evil Humans have found them here.

In a heartbeat this scenario changes when Hattie opens a door.  It's a Dog Park. There are no other dogs romping or barking, a giant water dish for splashing or jumping benches but there is an expanse of grass surrounded by a fence with a large tree in the center.  Two dogs, Goldie and Patches, in an adjacent dog park attempt to set Fenway straight but it's not until he hears Hattie calling to him from the squirrel house up in the tree that Fenway is not so sure about his place.  Evil Squirrels?  Hattie going where he can't follow?

The appearance of Muffin Lady and her short human, Angel, a strange fetch game with a white ball and leather gloves, the word train-ing, and trouble with getting to his food on the Wicked Floor are everyday occurrences for Fenway.  As if things could not be any more confusing, Fetch Man, Food Lady and Hattie take him to an indoor Dog Park with a One Human present.  There are treats involved but Fenway simply can't comprehend the proper process.

Again and again Fenway tries to protect his best pal, Hattie.  He wants things to be the way they were before the Wicked Floor and the Evil Squirrels.  His attempts to set things right add up to one mistake after another.  What Goldie and Patches are telling him weighs heavily on his doggy soul but this pup is persistent.  His faith in his girl is true.  A Boom-Kaboom night brings out the finest in all.

A deep enduring affection and astute sensitivity for dogs is evident in the writing of Victoria J. Coe.  You have to wonder if they converse with her on a daily basis or come to chat with her as she dreams at night.  Writing this story completely from the viewpoint of Fenway brings us closer through genuine warmth and laughter to knowing how a dog thinks.  We are able to value his perspective while following the growth of Hattie in her relationships with her new friend and parents through his thoughts and the dialogue of the characters, canine personalities included.  Each chapter ends with a wee bit of tension carrying us eagerly to the first sentence on the next page.  Here are some sample passages.

I spring up, furiously pawing the tree, but he's just out of reach.  "You coward!" I bark.  I run in circles around the giant tree, every hackle on my back raised in alarm.
The squirrel turns and creeps down the trunk, tantalizingly close. "Chipper, chatter, squawk!" he screeches again.
I leap and leap, scraping the bark with my claws, "It's called a DOG Park for a reason!" I growl.
But instead of scampering away, he inches closer.  His beady eyes are challenging me.
Does he not know who he's dealing with? I jump higher and higher, my jaws ready to snap!
Finally, he gets the message.  He scrambles way up the trunk.
I watch until he disappears in the rustling and swaying branches.  I am about to bark "Good riddance!" when I spot his flouncy tail shooting through...a window?

The One Human keeps on talking, the humans keep on listening, and the dogs have no idea what's going on.  Do the humans expect us to just hang out and wait patiently?  It's the very definition of impossible. 

Fenway and Hattie written by Victoria J. Coe will captivate readers with the joyful interpretation of life by a dog who is

a professional

at protecting his family and loving his cherished girl.  Chapter by chapter your admiration will grow for this canine cutie and his every effort.  The next book in the series,  Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang, has a teaser which reads:

Fenway thinks nothing can be worse than a gang of Evil Bunnies until he comes face to face with one who is the biggest threat of all.

Victoria J. Coe has graciously offered to answer some more of my questions for this post.

Your insights into a dog’s point of view are astounding.  Did you consult with a dog trainer or dog psychologist or are all your thoughts based upon personal observations and experiences?

Thank you! I based Fenway's point of view on my personal observations and experiences. However since then, I've done a good amount of research that I include in my school visits.

What is Kipper’s favorite dog treat? (Kipper is Victoria's real life canine companion.)

Kipper never met a treat he didn't like! His favorites are anything he finds on the sidewalk or on the ground -  a bit of pizza crust, a bagel, part of a sandwich, you name it! Of course, he also loves dog treats that I buy at the store (and carry in my pockets).

What is your favorite treat?

I'm very partial to sweets. 

What is Kipper’s favorite daily activity?

Without a doubt, Kipper's favorite daily activity is our morning walk. Since we moved, we no longer have a big yard for him to play in, so I take him out for a good five mile walk every day.

What is your favorite daily activity?

You know, I'd have to say our walk is my favorite activity, too! It's a chance to get outside - no matter what the weather - and start off the day getting some perspective on the world. 

To discover more about Victoria J. Coe please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  A page has been dedicated to using Fenway and Hattie in the classroom.  Find out more about Victoria J. Coe at The Sweet Sixteens, a site featuring 2016 Young Adult and Middle Grade Debut Authors.  Victoria J. Coe wrote a post at the Nerdy Book Club, How Ribsy Changed My Life (Or It All Depends On Your Point Of View).  You can read the first chapter of Fenway and Hattie at the publisher's website. 

There are two separate giveaways for this final post in memory of my beloved dog Xena who lived her life with me for more than fifteen years.

UPDATE:  February 18, 2016 Guess what people!  There's a new post about Fenway and Hattie describing all the wonderful and not so wonderful things in Fenway's life.  You'll want to read this. Victoria J. Coe truly speaks for dogs.  

UPDATE:  February 22, 2016 There is a classroom guide on Victoria J. Coe's website now. 

UPDATE:  February 25, 2016 There is a brand new fun interview of Victoria J. Coe at Coffee With a Canine.

UPDATE:  February 27, 2016 If you would like to see some of the interior illustrations the artist posted them here

UPDATE:  July 21 2016 Victoria J. Coe is a guest at educator and author Stacy Mozer's site, It's All About the Journey

Friday, December 18, 2015

For Love Of A Dog #14

For the past three days it's been snowing off and on, mostly on.  We now have a good five inches coating the neighborhood.  There's even more on the mountain tops which have been fading in and out of view depending on the strength of the system.  It's the kind of snow, falling gently and slowly, where you feel like you are standing inside a snow globe.

Walking through the halls at school the air is literally sizzling with excitement.  Vacation starts at the end of the day.  Families and friends will gather to celebrate Christmas next week.

For fifteen years around the beginning of December Xena could detect a shift in my mood.  Christmas is one of my favorite holidays to honor each year.  The boxes were taken from storage and decorations began to fill the rooms of our home and lights covered bushes and trees on the outside.  Hours were spent carefully unwrapping the ornaments, each with a story to tell if they could talk, and placing them on the tree.  Late nights and into the early mornings I worked creating unique cards to be sent to those with a place in my heart.  Gifts were chosen, wrapped, mailed or given in person.

Xena would stick her nose into all those boxes searching and watching.  She would lie at my feet as I worked crafting the cards and wrapping the gifts.  Most of all she loved looking for her gifts under the tree.  Without fail she would find those tagged with her name on them as if she could read.  On Christmas day with no encouragement from me she would take her gifts unwrapping them with her paws and teeth.  She would proudly carry for the day or longer whatever was inside, except for the treats which I saved for later.  Those fifteen Christmases will be most remembered for their joy.

In 1992 the Newbery Medal was awarded to Shiloh (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September 30, 1991) written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.  It was followed by Shiloh Season (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September 1, 1996) and Saving Shiloh (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, August 1, 1997).  On September 22, 2015 the fourth and final book in the Shiloh QuartetA Shiloh Christmas (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), was released.

You know how sometimes you look back on a simple, ordinary day, and you wonder why things couldn't be like that forever?  Why just loving your own dog wasn't enough?

It's on the last Saturday in August, one of the driest summers this area has seen in sixteen years, when Marty Preston brings us into his world located in West Virginia.  He and his best buddy, David Howard, along with his beloved canine companion, Shiloh, are searching for cans and bottles along nearby Middle Island Creek.  Every cent goes toward a debt he owes Doc Murphy for stitching up Shiloh.  First Shiloh, then the boys, discovers a weird looking chair with metal clamps on the arms.  Who threw this here?  Where did it come from?

September ushers in the continued drought with Judd Travers, the man who mistreated Shiloh, offering help to the Prestons, working at Whelan's shop, and trying to change his image with the locals.  For the first time Marty, David and their other friends are attending middle school. A new preacher, Pastor Dawes, and his family have moved into the community but his sermons tend to be of the "fire and brimstone" variety.  Is this why his oldest daughter, Rachel, who's in Marty's grade, never smiles?

Rain comes for a short fifteen minutes in October and people like the Prestons with wells still need to conserve water, every single drop.  Marty volunteers at the John Collins Animal Clinic on Saturdays in the mornings and in the afternoon helps his dad with his mail deliveries.  On one Saturday he goes home instead to help with his two sisters as his mom is not well.  The three of them are working on a Halloween decoration outside when they suddenly stop.  They all smell smoke.  Marty knows his parents will be furious when they discover he is riding straight toward the blaze.  Will he get to Judd's other dogs in time to set them free?

The losses suffered by families are enormous.  There is no trick or treating this Halloween.  With a sinking heart, Marty realizes his wish and his dad's plan to finish the addition so he can have his own room are no longer a priority.  One evening a lone figure stands on their porch asking permission.  Is this why there is a tent in their front yard?

November comes and goes as a gray month with the rains finally coming down in torrents for days at a time.  On an excursion to find something lost, Shiloh disappears.  Marty waits day after day for him to return home.  One morning his dad wakes him but won't let him go outside.  What has his dad seen?

Amid the preparations for Christmas, a problem escalates dangerously.  Good people need to make hard decisions.  The generosity of one astounds the Preston family.  Aunt Hettie's gift and a Christmas Day afternoon signal slow adjustments.  A year of change for Marty and his dog comes to a close in the silence of lives lived the best they humanly can.

Having read this entire two hundred forty-six page book a few chapters short of one sitting, two things come to mind.  First, this book stands strongly on its own merits.  Phyllis Reynolds Naylor deftly weaves essential elements from the three previous books into the fabric of this story narrated by Marty.

Second, the descriptions of the local community and citizens and the conversations between the characters as well as Marty's thoughts are outstanding.  As soon as I completed this book, I wanted to read it again.  Sticky notes fill page after page marking profound insights from more than one person.  Repeatedly books written by other well-known children's literature authors are mentioned.  Here are some sample passages.

The thing is, the first time I tried to keep Shiloh away from Judd, I was honest about it---told Dad how Judd treated his dogs back then, but he made me hand Shiloh over anyway, all trembling in my arms.  Guess there's a legal right thing to do, and a heart right, and anybody got a heart, I don't know how he could give that shaking, whimpering dog back to a man who kicked him in the side with his boot the minute we let Shiloh out of the car.  

Ma's reaching up with her arms, whirling herself slowly around and around like a dancer, her hair all wet down to her shoulders.  I just plain lie down in the grass and let the rain pepper my whole body.  

"So it's not like there's a big reservoir in the sky God could let loose if he wanted?" I say.
"There's whatever has been sucked up by evaporation from the oceans, and at some point it will come down again as rain," says Doc.
"You don't think the drought's because God's mad at us?" I ask.
"I believe there are cycles to nature, and not all of them are to our liking," he answers.
He goes on cutting up apple, I go on cleaning shelves.
I wonder if I am pestering him with these kinds of questions.  After a while I say, "Guess I've got a lot of whys in my head."
"So do I," says Doc.  "And the longer I'm a doctor, the longer I work with people, the more whys I get."

A new woods to a dog must be like a Sunday buffet.  Can't hardly decide what smell to try next, tail awagging like a windshield wiper. 

This book, A Shiloh Christmas, written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has something in it for every kind of reader.  It's a story about the power of family, for good and sometimes not for good.  It's speaks to the prejudices of people regarding a person's past.  It's full of life, little bits of mystery and at times a lot of tension. It's about a community coming together in poignant moments which will bring tears to your eyes.  It's about the love of a dog for his boy and the love of a boy for his dog.  This is a classic masterpiece.

If you wish to read an excerpt from the book please follow this link to the publisher's website.

For Love Of A Dog #13

In the summer of 2014 a study was released, confirming what humans chosen by canines already know, regarding the emotions experienced by dogs, It's Not Your Imagination---Your Dog Gets Jealous.  It is my belief after years of experience they not only exhibit an array of emotions but they have a sense of imagination.  This can be seen in the way they play and go about their doggy day.

Xena channeled her inner otter when she swam, skimming and gliding, for hours at a time.  Within a heartbeat she became a giant of the sea, a whale.  When she was in pursuit of a rock, sometimes bigger than my fist, she not only dove deep but it was incredible to see how long she would hold her breath. (I started timing her out of curiosity. One time she passed forty-five seconds on her way to fifty.  I was heading out to bring her up.)

For readers of these tribute blog posts, you know she had the strength of an ox.  How else could she pull me down a snowy road on cross-country skis?  One minute she was walking along in front of me, the next minute she was tugging me along as if to say, "Your pace is too slow, Mom!"  In the face of danger she became the leader of our pack of two; changing into a wolf to protect us.

She scrambled up steep grassy hills, tall sand dunes and rocky inclines like a goat.  She also tended to eat almost everything as goats are apt to do.  Her hearing rivaled that of a bat.  To try to open a cupboard, refrigerator door, her dog food container or treat bag without her hearing was impossible, even when she was sound asleep.

Elephants are said to have the best sense of smell but I think Xena would have won in a challenge.  A neighbor couple would take care of her if I was going to be late coming home.  After she fell in love with them (and they with her) she could smell when they were outside.  Their home was across the street from ours, kitty-corner and two houses down.  If they were in their back yard, out of sight, she still knew they were there.

She ran like a jaguar for the sheer fun of it or in giving chase with a canine friend.  No Frisbee was safe if she was near, jumping in the air like a kangaroo.  She was a blanket, a pillow, a foot-warmer and most of all an angel watching over me for all of her life.

The imaginative nature of dogs is often exhibited in their curiosity and in their need to discover, regardless of the outcome.  Buddy and Earl (Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, August 11, 2015) written by Maureen Fergus with pictures by Carey Sookocheff follows Buddy on an adventure full of surprises.  A gray day turns into what promises to be years of sunshine.

It was a rainy afternoon.  Buddy was feeling bored and a little lonely.

This feeling of boredom and loneliness is about to change.  One of his humans, Meredith, walks into the living room telling him to remain right where he is as she places a box on the floor. She leaves intending to return in a minute or two.

Buddy simply can't resist this temptation.  Peering into the box he sees the weirdest thing he's ever encountered.  Licking it is a bad idea.  It starts to make noise and move.  This is going to be fun!

After verbal introductions Buddy asks Earl exactly what he is.  Earl's reply of

I'm a race car

does not match Buddy's observations.  Three more improbable answers continue the exchange until Earl suddenly wants to know what Buddy is.  Rather than listening to what Buddy might say, Earl immediately starts guessing.  A huge inanimate object, a large jungle animal, and a tiny mammal are his first three suggestions.

Earl reveals he is only teasing but with complete candor states they must be the same.  With that announcement of their dual identity the shenanigans commence.  Totally enthralled by the excitement of this game Buddy romps on the furniture following Earl's lead.  Mom is not happy by Buddy's antics when she enters the room.  Earl speaks. Buddy hears.  A new status for the twosome is born.  It's simply the best.

Maureen Fergus uses word combinations and character contrasts to entice readers and maintain our interest.  With the words

mysterious box 


"Stay, Buddy!"

she initially elevates our anticipation.  We hope Buddy will not stay.  We feel like cheering at his curiosity.  As the back-and-forth banter between Buddy and Earl starts and progresses the comedy builds until Earl's revelation.  Their play will have you wishing you could join them.  (You'll have to stop laughing first.)  The contrast of Mom's dialogue and Earl's voice (which Mom can't hear) to Buddy at their discovery adds a new dimension to the story bringing us along for the wonderful conclusion.  Here is a sample passage.

"You're right," said Earl. "I'm not a race car, I'm a giraffe."
Buddy thought about this.
Then he said, "I am pretty sure that giraffes have long graceful necks, Earl.  As far as I can tell, you have no neck at all."

At first glance the matching dust jacket and book case let you know this book is going to be spirited.  The motion marks for Buddy's tail and Earl's hedgehog body tell their own story.  To the left, on the back, Buddy is enjoying a peek inside the box, contents currently unknown.  Both the opening and closing endpapers are in a pale blue-gray hue.  With a page turn we see Buddy on his bed watching Earl stroll off the page.

A limited color palette, gray, blue, pale golden yellow, orange and brown, pairs perfectly with the narrative.  Rendered in

 Acryl Gouache on watercolor paper and assembled in Photoshop

the illustrations by Carey Sookocheff give readers a superb connection to the characters.  Some of the images are full page, others are smaller and grouped by twos and for full emotional impact they span two pages.  The background colors shift in excellent unison with the rise and fall of the story line.

The layout of the elements in each picture and the perspective are superb.  One of my favorite illustrations is when Earl is on top of the sofa as their imagined adventure begins.  Buddy with Earl's box on his head is a willing participant as he leaps up to join the hedgehog.  It's interesting to note how the shape of the box changes as their play advances.

Buddy and Earl by Maureen Fergus with pictures by Carey Sookocheff is an outstanding story on the gift of imagination and friendship.  Exceptional pacing will completely engage readers from beginning to end.   This joyful dedication speaks volumes:

For the real Buddy, because he is the best dog ever, and for the real Earl, even though he prickles me.---MF

Readers will hardly be able to wait for Buddy and Earl Go Exploring and Buddy and Earl and the Great Big Baby.

Please follow the links attached to Maureen Fergus' and Carey Sookocheff's names to access their websites.  You can learn more about them and their other work.  At the publisher's website you can view three more interior pages.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

For Love Of A Dog #12

More than a year ago we were shown a huge park with a paved walkway around the perimeter.  No matter which direction you look mountains frame your view.  In the center is a huge expanse of grass.  During the evenings and on the weekends it is filled with people playing soccer games and enjoying picnics under the many pavilions.  On one side a community of prairie dogs has set up residence.  In another portion of the park, outside the walkway, is a designated, fenced area specifically for dogs to be off-leash.

As she got older Xena's sense of smell increased.  She could not get in enough sniffs when exploring.  Her nose was constantly either in the air or to the ground.  Our walks took longer, not because of her arthritis but because of her taking in all the scents.  This new expansive recreational arena was heaven to her.  If she would have been making the decisions our strolls would not have been shorter but longer.  She did not want to leave this wooferlicious place.

I wish she could have seen what else I have noticed in this city.  They love dogs!  Dogs not only accompany their humans in stores particular to pets but I have seen them in departments stores, big box stores, and when I was getting my car title a couple of weeks ago, the assistant said they are frequently brought in the county building.  They are on leashes walking beside their humans or taking in the sights as a passenger in a shopping cart.

Xena and I were nearly inseparable.  If totaling the days we were apart during the fifteen years shared together, you would not surpass two weeks.  In her newest title, author illustrator, Maira Kalman (Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything) shares her passion for dogs.  Beloved Dog (Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, October 27, 2015) showcases the appearance of dogs throughout her many works of art.

When I go out for a WALK, there is so much I see that makes me happy to be ALIVE. 

This is the first sentence in this book.  It begins a poetic, philosophical interlude to the pleasure found in walking.  It speaks about the vast array of people encountered.  It enumerates the lost items left by humans on purpose or perhaps by accident.  It speaks about trees and the other flora and fauna living among them.  Most of all it talks about the narrator's love of dogs.

Their roles in humans' lives, phrase by phrase, page by page, are affectionately documented.  This author illustrator notes how they seem to find a place in all her work, whether they are the focus of the tale or not.  She then goes back to her childhood telling us it was not always this way.

Her grandmother had a deep fear of dogs.  She also needed everything to be neat and tidy at all times in their home, a shack on the river in Belarus.  These beliefs were continued by Maira's mother in their apartment in the Bronx.  Although Maira started to see all people did not share their truths about dogs.

When in college, Maira fell in love with a man, Tibor.  When taken to meet his parents she was understandably terrified by their rather large dog, Boganch.  Tibor and Maira married and had two children.  Within all the ups and downs of family life one thing was definitely clear---

...we all loved each other madly.

When Tibor became gravely ill, it was suggested to Maira to get a dog.  Her mind revolted at the idea but life (and her thoughts) had other plans for her. Pete, an Irish Wheaten, became a part of their family.  Pete and Maira became fast friends.  He was everything and more for her..for them.  First Tibor, then eight years later, Pete left them.  This book chronicles in images from 1986 to the present the significant place dogs have in Maira's world.

With a few words or carefully penned sentences Maira Kalman gets to the essence of all things dog and their invaluable presence in her and our lives.  Her observations are intensely accurate and beautifully spoken.  Her closing page, a collection of nine sentences and phrases, will wrap around your heart like a blanket of truth.  Here is an earlier passage.

He did what everyone said he would do. Help to keep us as sane and as happy as we could be. Quite an extraordinary achievement, but nothing special for a dog.

When opening the dust jacket you see an image rendered in three colors.  Pete looks at us as he must have looked at Maira Kalman so many times.  On the back, to the left, a photograph of Maira and Pete is featured.  On the book case, in a matte-finished tan background, three large words appear in all capitals and in white


On the left a small Woof! is centered.  The book flaps are covered in the names of more than eighty dogs...all beloved.  The opening and closing endpapers, different, joyfully celebrate dogs, and dogs and their humans.

The illustrations all rendered in Maira Kalman's signature style are striking beyond description.  The use of light and shading with every brush stroke will have you pausing at each picture.  They are witty, whimsical and extraordinarily moving.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is of a child placed on a grassy lawn with tiny pink flowers growing through the grass.  The child is seated on the ground with one arm down on a journal, a pencil in their hand.  The other arm is around a dog as an elbow rests on the chair next to them.  The dog is sitting alert, looking directly at us.  The child's eyes are closed.  This painting represents a pose taken by humans and their dogs many times every single day.  They sit patiently as we wrap ourselves around them, sighing in the pleasure of their presence.

Beloved Dog written and illustrated by Maira Kalman is a glorious gift, an expression of gratitude in words and pictures to one very special dog and to the many others who have come and gone and will continue to occupy our existences.  Adult and child readers will enjoy finding familiar pages from books they have read and those they are seeing for the first time.  This book is a treasure for dog lovers.  It shows others exquisitely how great their importance is.

To learn more about Maira Kalman and her other books please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  This title is highlighted at BrainPickings, Beloved Dog: Maira Kalman's Illustrated Love Letter to Our Canine Companions.  HuffPost Arts & Culture chats with Maira Kalman, Maira Kalman Talks New Book, 'Beloved Dog'.  Maira Kalman is interviewed at Publishers Weekly, BEA 2015: Maira Kalman: Homage to Pete, The Bark, The Artful Life of Maira Kalman, and at The New Yorker, Maira Kalman's Beloved Dogs.  I think you will enjoy watching the video below about this book.  Here is the link to another video at BigThink where she shares her philosophy about work and life.  This radio interview at It's Raining Cats and Dogs makes for great listening.