Quote of the Month

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




Saturday, January 30, 2016

Frustrated Forecaster

There will be days when you not only feel unappreciated; you are unappreciated.  The stress of being stuck in a rut weighs heavily on your entire outlook.  You are locked into a time schedule over which you have no control.  To make matters even worse you are just plain tired.  You NEED a vacation.

For most people making a checklist and following it to the letter means you are good to go on that much needed rest.  For others their absence leaves a huge hole in the scheme of things affecting a great many individuals. Groundhog's Day Off (Bloomsbury, December 8, 2015) written by Robb Pearlman with illustrations by Brett Helquist calls our attention to a holiday hero who has had it.

Every year, on one special day in February, Groundhog wakes up extra early.

On this day hordes of people hover around Groundhog's hole.  Every year the only thing of interest to them is whether there will more winter weather or will the signs spring begin to appear.  Most disheartening to Groundhog is these women and men and girls and boys have no real interest in him at all.  They could care less about his likes and dislikes.

THIS year is different.  Groundhog pens a letter, packs his bag and heads off to the spa for a vacation.  And...he takes his shadow.  Thinking as quickly as she can, the mayor decides to hold auditions for replacements.

Well, let me tell you, this does not go well at all.  An elephant, an ostrich, a monkey, a bat, an owl, a mole, an opossum, a puppy and one quirky human have distinct physical characteristics and habits which hinder their bids for the position.  The mayor realizes there is only one animal that can do this job correctly.

A newscast is heard by a relaxing rodent who rallies in a heartbeat.  Could it be true?  Have the townspeople and the reporters changed?  That special day in February comes and goes.  In case you and Groundhog think all is right in the world, a double dose of twists awaits.


Author Robb Pearlman creates a pleasing blend of narration and dialogue with heaps of humor.  He assigns funny features to the contestants elevating the laughter.  His gift to readers is when they think happily ever after has happened but the comedy continues.  Here is another sample passage.

But the one thing they never ask Groundhog about is him.

No "How are you feeling?"
No "Have you seen any good movies lately?"
No "Do you like mushrooms on your pizza?"
Not even "Who does your fur?"


Brett Helquist's signature use of line, color and the facial features on his animals (and people) is apparent on the dust jacket (I am working with an F & G.)  The layout, the use of an arch, the circle of Groundhog's suitcase and the shape of his tennis racket combined with the rays of yellow and blue welcome the reader into the story.  On the back, to the left, the background is a brighter shade of those rays framed in scallops of reds and triangles of orange along the top and bottom.  Groundhog is diving into his hole.

Prior to the verso and title pages a two-page image depicts the town with people gathering around Groundhog's fenced-in home.  A winter weary man is reading a newspaper with the headline reading,

NEWS
WILL WINTER EVER END?
(I believe this is the opening endpaper.)

A page turn shows a small inset of Groundhog brushing his teeth.  On the opposite page he is startled awake by his alarm ringing.  Helquist begins his visual story even before the text starts.

With the remaining illustrations he uses small ovals, circles or free forms with elements outside the border, full page pictures edge to edge or loosely framed with a combination of his brush strokes and white space.  For emphasis his images span both pages.  The expressions on all the characters, particularly Groundhog, are wonderfully funny.  It should be noted that for three of the illustrations there is hardly any color to match Groundhog's initial mood.

One of my favorite images is of Groundhog at the spa.  He is resting on a bed, bamboo growing behind him.  Candles are burning around the room.  Cucumbers are placed over his eyes.  His body is under an herbal wrap.  As he listens to the news on a television with a remote in one paw, the other is lifting a cucumber slice. He is definitely startled by the news.


While you may think you have the ultimate collection of Groundhog Day books, it is lacking without this title, Groundhog's Day Off written by Robb Pearlman with illustrations by Brett Helquist.  Pearlman has cleverly inserted the facts associated with the holiday but continues with a charming narrative.  Everyone will be laughing from beginning to end because they will see bits and pieces of themselves, even if they are not a groundhog, in this story.  The final double-page wordless illustration (closing endpaper) by Helquist is hilarious.

To learn more about Robb Pearlman and Brett Helquist please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Brett Helquist posted about his process for this book on his blog here, here and here.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

..."If I Never Get Back."

On February 24, 2016 people around the world will be celebrating World Read Aloud Day.  One of this year's activities leading up to the festivities, focused on the sheer joy of reading, is the 7 Strengths Countdown.  These seven weeks highlighting specific themes, belonging, curiosity, friendship, kindness, confidence, courage and hope, began the week of January 3, 2016.

Very early this morning I finished
a book, a book with words and pictures resonating long after the final pages are turned and the cover is closed, which embodies every single one of those ideas.  Firefly Hollow (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, August 18, 2015) written by Alison McGhee with illustrations by Christopher Denise is a place called home by firefly, cricket, vole and human nations.  It is an extraordinary place if you have a true heart, a heart ready to believe.

Swoop!
Firefly flitted through a knothole in the hollow tree, straight out into the clearing and straight back in again.  The night air outside the hollow tree was cool, and the air inside was warm.  She whooshed back and forth from cool to warm, outside to inside, faster and faster and faster until---yikes---she accidentally side-swiped Elder.

Since she was a teeny, tiny baby Firefly was watched over and encouraged by Elder.  They had a secret code for communicating, three fast and two long blinks which meant a variety of words depending on the situation.  Regardless of what she learned in her Basics of Blinking, Air Safety and Fear of Giants classes, Firefly practiced her midair flips, loop-de-loops, figure eights and timed her endurance flying.  Firefly had dreams; to explore beyond the safety of her home, to get closer to the miniature giant and to fly among the stars traveling to the moon.  The other fireflies thought she was crazy.

Cricket was usually getting in trouble during the Telling Temperature, High Jumping or Fear of Giants classes taught by Teacher.  He understood the reasons for fearing all water, the sun and giants but he had secrets.  Cricket had been close to the miniature giant, a boy called Peter, many, many times.  At night when the other crickets were singing about the natural world, Cricket hid away from the others among the reeds on the sandy shore, singing the words Peter and his friend sang,

Take me out to the ballgame...

Cricket had a dream; he wanted to be the Yogi Berra of crickets, learning to catch.  The other crickets thought he was crazy.

Vole was the last of his kind.  All the other river voles had lost their lives in a great flood (the giants had destroyed a beaver dam) when he was very young.  He now lived on a boat crafted of cedar by his grandfather tied to the roots of a white birch on the bank of the river.  He practiced a series of sailor knots over and over and memorized the River Vole's Guide.  Many seasons had come and gone and Vole had never left this spot.  He had a dream to sail, as his ancestors had done for years, down the river south to the sea.  The other animals highly respected Vole.

Both Cricket and Firefly were told giants could not see or hear them but after curious Firefly found Cricket, they made discoveries of their own.  These lead to a summer like none other ever experienced before in any of their lives. Firefly, Cricket and Peter helped and healed one another.  Vole watched, waited and cared for the two small creatures.

As the days grew shorter, the leaves started to look a little less green, and Peter's parents kept talking about school (He is refusing to go for reasons I will let you uncover.), a hurtful encounter at the hollow tree had Firefly doing the impossible.  Nations united in unforgettable moments.  Words of wisdom and comfort

You'll know when the time is right.
I'll be watching over you.
Let it come to you.

bound in hope a courageous, kind and confident cricket, firefly, vole and boy.  Their curiosity and sense of adventure created a friendship built on the need to belong.


The realm of Firefly Hollow is a place tucked away outside the hustle and bustle of city life, a small space of trees, leaves, grasses, and wild flowers near a river running to the sea.  We only know of two homes of humans near the wildlife community.  Alison McGhee fashions a world we want to reach out, hold gently in our hands and store in our hearts forever.  In our mind's eye we can see the hollowed tree, home to the firefly nation, the school training all the crickets, the outside and interior of Vole's boat and the flat rock, sandy beach and home of the boy Peter.  We share balmy nights lit by stars and a moon and days full of summer sunshine.

The conversations between the characters are genuine, full of true emotion.  We are also privy to the thoughts of Firefly, Cricket, Vole and Peter.  In addition to the dialogue between the characters McGhee has a narrator softly and subtly unfolding all the parts of the characters' lives, past and present, so we completely and wholeheartedly feel a kinship with them.  Here are some sample passages.

Firefly floated closer still.  This song was not a cricket song at all.  Firefly could hardly believe it, but this song was, in fact, a giant song.   It was the same song that the miniature giant used to sing, back in the days when his friend was still there and they played catch on the shore.

"I don't care..."

This was a song about forbidden things: giants and ball games and crowds.  Firefly fluttered her wings just enough to stay aloft, trying to be as quiet as possible, so that she wouldn't disturb the unknown cricket and his song.

"...if I never get back."

Somewhere out there was a cricket who snuck off at night to sing about something forbidden, something dangerous, something that none of the other crickets wanted.  Somewhere out there was a
cricket
like
her.

Now the sun went down, and the clearing in the woods began to glow with fireflies.  Vole watched the little rebel cricket hop down the creature path and hide himself in the reeds by the riverbank.  Every time Vole heard this particular cricket's song, he crept out onto this deck to listen.  There was something about the little cricket and his song that made him dream of faraway places.  Of what he himself might see, when he finally sailed downstream and beheld the great waters beyond.

Peter tilted his head in the way that meant he was trying to figure something out.  How could Cricket explain to him?
"After we die, we turn into music," he said.  "And we're everywhere."  They turned into the sound of the wind, rustling the leaves on the trees.
The crunch of an acorn in the fall.
The tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker's beak on a tree.
All these sounds were music.  Crickets and the memory of them were still part of the world, even if they were invisible.


The illustrations in this book by Christopher Denise will literally take your breath away.  You are introduced to Vole, Firefly and Cricket during a nighttime conversation along the river bank in the initial visual on the dust jacket.   The luminosity seen here is found in the fourteen full color single page images placed within the interior of this story.  

These eloquent pictures depict fireflies in flight, one doing loop-de-loops beneath a full moon, Cricket gazing at the captured baseball card of Yogi Berra, sunlight streaming through the trees into the clearing, and Peter, eyes open wide in wonder, peering at Cricket and Firefly near their flat rock.  Each image is a study in light and shadow, delicate details drawing you into the world of Firefly Hollow.  Numerous drawings in black and white and various sizes further support the narrative.  Each chapter begins with an oval picture above the text.  One particular image of a small paper boat caused me to burst into tears.

One of my favorite (I love all of them.) illustrations is the interior of Vole's boat at night.  He is sitting in his chair which rests on a small rug on the plank floor, an open book on his lap.  Firefly is floating upward toward her hammock-like bed in a spider web.  Cricket is sleepily leaning against the folded paper boat resting on Vole's table.  The room is lit from the glow of the fire.  Readers will wish they could join them.


Firefly Hallow written by Alison McGhee with illustrations by Christopher Denise is a marvelous story of longing, loss and love.  It's one you want to read at least once a year.  It's a story you will want to share with as many as you can.  Read it one-on-one or to an entire group, but read it you must.  This book is a classic in the truest sense.

To learn more about Alison McGhee and Christopher Denise please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  They both have more information about this book on their respective blogs (Christopher's) which are linked at their websites.  At the publisher's website are several more interior images as well as an excerpt from this book.  Take a moment to read Q & A with Alison McGhee at Publishers Weekly about this title.  Alison McGhee also talks about her writing process for this book at The Pippin Insider.  Christopher Denise and Nick Patton chat together on The Picturebooking Podcast

Update:  Enjoy this broadcast on MRPNews 'Firefly Hollow' The children's book that began with a painting  Writer Alison McGhee on 'Firefly Hollow' and the power of poetry

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Seasonal Survivors

After every snowfall evidence of the neighborhood wildlife is seen in crazy lines on the surface going from yard to yard, in and out of driveways and down the street.  These clues as to identity and directions taken are like searching for treasure.  Some of the prints are repeated again and again in the same spots; pathways instinctively used toward a food source.

On those frigid nights when the house creaks and snaps with the temperature changes, I often think about whether those critters are snug and safe.  In the most recent title in his nature series, Frozen Wild: How Animals Survive In The Coldest Places On Earth (Sterling Children's Books, September 1, 2015) Jim Arnosky writes and illustrates beautifully about animals living in extreme seasonal conditions.  The adaptability of these animals is nearly miraculous.

Quietly it comes. 

Those three words in the introduction create many questions which are expertly answered in the remainder of the introduction, nine subsequent chapters, an author's note and a lengthy bibliography.  We are pointed to the signs all around us of the approaching solstice.

Mighty rivers flow more slowly, turning to slush.  And the north wind blows.

 We learn how the earth's position causes winter at different times in the northern and southern hemispheres.

Though ice forms on the top of streams, rivers, ponds and lakes there is active life underneath each of them.  Look closely at the air hole on top of a beaver lodge the next time the mercury dips deeply in the thermometer.  What will you see?  Plunge holes and webbed feet assist other water mammals and ducks.  Travel over the snow depends on its depth, the weight of the animals, extra fur on their feet and the length and sturdiness of their legs.

To the north in the Arctic, life is further challenged with temperatures known to drop to -80 degrees Fahrenheit.  Brrr! Land, air and sea animals can change colors to camouflage themselves, grow tusks and teeth to fight off other males of their kind, have thick layers of fat and extra fur to keep them warm and either circle together or scatter when a predator advances.  Woodland creatures have extra fat and fur to keep them warm and dry, too.  Birds fluff feathers to create another layer of warmth, air heated by their bodies.

Far down at the southern end of our planet the continent of Antarctica is residence to only penguins, sea birds and seals.  The Wandering Albatross and the Emperor Penguin hold world records with their wing span and diving abilities respectively.  Did you know some of the birds have special tubular noses to enhance their smelling abilities for food?  Cool facts about these creatures living in the coldest conditions are fascinating and captivating.


The familiarity Jim Arnosky has with his subject is evident in the relaxed manner used in the delivery of his narrative.  The explicit information about each animal points to extensive research.  The mix of long chapter introductions and the shorter image captions creates an engaging pace.  Here are some sample passages from the Beavers In Winter chapter.

Introductory sentences from Under the Ice

When a landscape is frozen and covered with snow, water still flows and fish still swim under the ice that forms on the rivers and lakes.  It is cold down deep, but not freezing.  River otters find openings in the ice to dive through and hunt for fish and crayfish.  Otters hunt in a circuit of "plunge holes" that takes about two weeks to complete.

Caption on fold out three page illustration

A beaver lodge is an impenetrable
fortress that even the largest
predators cannot claw into.  


All of the pictures, the matching dust jacket and book case and the interior pages, are rendered by Jim Arnosky in pencil and acrylic paints.  They are rich in atmosphere, realistic detail, color, light and shadow.  The opening and closing endpapers are in a cool pale blue, slightly lighter than the text on the title page.  A seal is featured on the table of contents page.  To the right of five chapters are paw prints signifying a fold out.

Each of the chapter introductions is framed in exquisite pencil drawings of animals, objects and scenes relative to the topic.  Opposite each introduction, even those that are fold out paintings, are single page illustrations.  The fold out pages are striking.  The first is a cutaway of a beaver lodge.  In the upper right-hand corner is a small image of the lodge during the fall as it is being constructed.  The second is four pages seamlessly blending several habitats of the animals in the Arctic.

One of my favorite illustrations, other than the front dust jacket picture, is the Snow Travelers picture.  It's at night during a light snow.   A large bull moose is standing on a hill with trees in the background.  Scampering in front of him is a snowshoe rabbit leaving tracks behind with back paws raised to the reader.  Two birds are in flight to the left.


Frozen Wild: How Animals Survive In The Coldest Places On Earth written and illustrated by Jim Arnosky is a remarkable portrayal of animals.  Readers will enjoy the new information and study the stunning pictures; both inviting further investigation.  I highly recommend the addition of this title to professional libraries and personal bookshelves for those interested in our natural world.

To learn more about Jim Arnosky and his other books please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Jim Arnosky is interviewed at Unleashing Readers and The Children's Book Review about title.


Remember to stop at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the choices selected by the other bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Just Another Day At The Beach?

A solemn promise has to be made first.  When shopping with certain friends this is a requirement.  A pledge has to be taken to not stop in any book shops.  When you've been known to spend hours wandering around the shelves, especially in the children's and young adult areas, people tend to err on the side of caution.

In a conversation this past week I even remarked given a choice I would rather be reading.  Surf's Up (North South Books, Inc., February 1, 2016) a brand new book by Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander (The Crossover) with illustrations by Daniel Miyares (Floatis about more than a day of fun in the sun.  It's about sharing the jubilation found in reading.

SURF'S
UP, BRO!
Not yet, Dude.

Dude is shocked his friend Bro would rather read than head to the beach for surfing. Bro is completely buried in his current book.  The conclusion has captured his attention.

Eyes glued to the pages, Bro does ride along on Dude's scooter to the sandy shore.  While reading he explains how this book is anything but boring.  An introduction to the characters, the plot and several exclamations get Dude's attention.

With each shout Dude's curiosity grows and his questions keep coming.  He has to know what is happening.  A minor mishap throws the surfing soulmates into the thick of the action.  They are surrounded in story.  The beach has vanished replaced by a raging storm, wild waters and an angry monstrous mammal.

When Bro throws his hands up is celebration at the ending, Dude needs answers but his pal is not talking.  Bro knows some things just have to be experienced in person.  A turnabout continues the fun but that's what books and buddies do best.  Totally stoked, readers!


When you think of frogs, their croaking and leaping immediately come to mind.  Those sounds and sights permeate the personalities of Bro and Dude in the dialogue given to them by Kwame Alexander.  Their sentences are short but they hum with lively surfing lingo and plenty of action.  Here are a couple of sentences.

WOWIE
KAZOWIE!

What happened? 


The colors called to mind when you think of frogs, the beach and surfing pop from the matching dust jacket and book case.  Dude, in the red swimming trunks is ready to roll with the waves but he's taking Bro, even though he's reading, along for the ride.  A glimpse of another central character is gliding along the surface in the background as sea, sand and sky supply a glorious blend of blues and tan.  On the back, to the left, on a canvas of the same bright yellow as the title text, Bro's mind is focused on his book shown in the imagination bubble above his head.  Dude is asking a question about the book.

The opening and closing endpapers are washed in sand and sea with foam along with edge.  The first is empty but the second shows remnants of the story amid strands of seaweed.  The verso and title pages are a lovely two page spread with houses in a small town lining the beach and edged in trees as the sun rises.  A card and pocket seen on books prior to automation holds dates and the friend's names; a reminder of the joy of shared books and reading.

Most of the images rendered by Daniel Miyares extend across two pages bringing the real and imagined adventures right to the reader.   At pivotal points (three times) he asks us to pause with smaller pictures on a single page.  Miyares' close-ups of Bro's and Dude's faces are full of animation as are their body movements.  When they are riding on the scooter to the beach, wearing helmets and dressed in their swimming garb with the surfboard strapped to the back, you can't help but smile.

One of my many favorite illustrations is during the first conversational exchange between the friends.  There are two open windows in Bro's bedroom.  A breeze is blowing the curtains even though blue sky with a few clouds is seen.  Dude is poking his head in the first window, the tip of the surfboard visible.  In front of the second Bro is cozy in his blue chair, legs across one arm, reading his book.  There are hints of the adventure taking place in the book around Bro's room; a small whale on his bed and a model ship hanging from the ceiling.


Written by Kwame Alexander with illustrations by Daniel Miyares Surf's Up is a happy, high-octane ode to the fun to be found in reading and books.  It clearly portrays the transformation that takes place when a reader speaks about a compelling story.  Words are a powerful thing.

To discover more about both Kwame Alexander and Daniel Miyares please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website are some activities associated with this title.  At the home page to their site if you click on the catalog you can see additional illustrations from this book including the first two double page spreads.  At Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., the book trailer is revealed along with an interview of both Alexander and Miyares.  Kwame Alexander is interviewed on Let's Get Busy, Episode #226.  Daniel Miyares answers questions at Read It Real Good with Alia Jones.  At author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Daniel Miyares is a guest sharing lots of art work, his process and answering pivotal questions. Share in the festive occasion of the cover reveal in the video shown below.


Monday, January 25, 2016

The Glory Of Story

Stories are everywhere.  According to Merriam-Webster story is defined as a history, an accounting, a statement of facts, an amusing anecdote, a fictional narrative such as a short story, the plot of a longer work and a well-accepted rumor.  It would seem the particular meaning assigned to story would depend on the teller.

Nothing is more enlightening than working with a group of students during a storytelling exercise with each person telling one and the others guessing whether it is the truth or a lie. For the most part the tales shared are genuine and without fabrication.  We are wired to tell stories, our stories.

We share those stories when it feels comfortable to do so.  Snappsy The Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!)(Viking, Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House L. L. C., February 2, 2016) with words by debut author Julie Falatko and pictures by debut illustrator Tim Miller elaborates on a day in the life of an annoyed alligator.  Truth, lies and humor abound.

Snappsy the alligator wasn't feeling
like himself.
His feet felt draggy.
His skin felt baggy. 
His tail wouldn't swish this way and that.
And, worst of all, his big jaw wouldn't SNAP.

Actually Snappsy is not having feet, tail or jaw problems.  He is simply hungry and in pursuit of food.  This intrusive unseen yarn spinner is prone to exaggeration.

When this is pointed out by none other than the protagonist, the teller takes another approach.  They drone on without expression stating what readers can easily see in the illustrations.  An increasingly frustrated reptile responds to these duller-than-dull statements which in turn elevates the false adjectives attached to the story line.

Snappsy finally arrives at the grocery store only to have more untruths spouted by the vexing voice.  Retracing his route Snappsy returns home, placing a no-nonsense sign on his door,

No Narrators Allowed!

before his closes it with considerable force.  This is indeed frustrating.  What could Snappsy possibly be doing inside?  The speculations offered are not flattering.

At his wits end and feeling provoked the green guy proposes and proceeds with plans for a party.  As the festivities reach a high note, someone is peeking in the door.  One surprise after another will leave you as bamboozled as Snappsy.  You'll be giggling with glee too!


The comedic pacing in this story is priceless.  As written by Julie Falatko Snappsy is an unassuming, average alligator who wants nothing more than to enjoy a good meal and a good book.  On the other hand, the narrator seesaws between exaggeration, blandness and unwanted advice and comments while deftly evading reality and manipulating Snappsy and readers toward a desired conclusion.  The alligator's answers in dialogue clearly depict his growing agitation and eventual desire to be the best kind of character.  Here is another sample passage.

"It's just a store.  A grocery store! It's where I buy my FOOD."

Snappsy looked hungrily at the other shoppers...
...while loading his cart with pudding, peanut butter, pita bread, and popcorn.  


The dust jacket is the first funny indication of the story within a story we find in this title.  Snappsy holding a copy of the book as a group of character critters watch is already feeling peeved.  As you can see the gator is a sharp dresser (which has nothing to do with the quality of his teeth) sporting the stiff white collar and pink tie.  To the left, on the back, three stellar authors share their praise of the book.  Responses by Snappsy and the narrator will have you laughing.

The opening and closing endpapers on a white background show Snappsy engaged in ten different activities such as brushing his teeth, reading while wearing his fez, doing the hula and enjoying bath time with his rubber ducky.  They are identical except for two on the far right at the end.  The narrator is revealed.

Rendered in

brush and ink and computer hocus-pocus

Tim Miller brings considerable playfulness to the story in his images.  Snappsy's physical features begin the merriment with his thin body, long nose and wide eyes.  To match the cadence of the narrative Miller alternates between full pages framed in white, single pages with a closer perspective when Snappsy is speaking, and several illustrations on one page.  At one point two pages convey Snappsy's current state of mind in no uncertain terms.  Although his holding of a feather duster does defuse the emotion behind his statements.

Readers will relish all the tiny details included in the pictures. In the opening image two bugs are sitting behind a rock reading a book, later Snappsy searches for food using a telescope, a girl in the grocery store parking lot is reading a copy of this book, the items in the grocery store are shelved alphabetically and a duck is puzzling over the yellow ducky floating in Snappsy's kiddie pool outside his house.  What is the tiny mouse doing as he rests in Snappsy's little red wagon?  Is it the same one with a balloon problem at the party?

One of my favorite illustrations is Snappsy, hands on his hips, standing in the jungle on his way to the grocery store.  He is admittedly disgusted with the narrator's choice of words.  A flock of frightened birds are flying in panic.  A herd of bunnies are frantically fleeing.  Tiny creatures are peering from among the foliage.


Snappsy The Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!) written by Julie Falatko with illustrations by Tim Miller is loaded with non-stop laughter.  The discrepancies between the unseen voice and the alligator's dialogue propel the plot toward a conclusion which only the clever narrator could foresee.  Don't be surprised if your readers begin wearing a pink tie, a fez, or party hats.  They might also start to crave chocolate pudding.

To learn more about Julie Falatko and Tim Miller please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  These will take you to their blogs also.  On Julie Falatko's blog there is a link to a series of five fun activities which you can use.  Tim Miller has several posts on his blog filled with his artistic process for this title plus a recent picture of him reading amid the huge east coast snowfall.  On Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries John Schumacher's blog Watch. Connect. Read. Julie Falatko visits as a guest for the cover reveal.  Tim Miller is interviewed at Miss Marple's Musings and at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  If you want to get a peek at the opening endpapers stop by the publisher's website. Both Falatko and Miller can be found on Twitter at @JulieFalatko and @TM_Illustration



Snappsy Did Not Ask to Be in This Video About How to Draw Him from Tim Miller on Vimeo.

Snappsy Shnibbles from Tim Miller on Vimeo.

UPDATE:  To celebrate Snappsy's release on February 2, 2016 blog posts appear on Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read., super-stand-on-his-desk-yelling-I-Love-Reading teacher Colby Sharp's sharpread and the Nerdy Book Club

Julie Falatko and Tim Miller are featured on the podcast, Let's Get Busy, Episode #233

Author and teacher librarian Carter Higgins features the book on Design of the Picture Book

This interview at The Little Crooked Cottage is hilarious. 

UPDATE:  February 16, 2016  This title is the focus of a round table discussion at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.



Update:  February 25, 2016 Tim Miller is interviewed at Brightly.

Update:  February 29, 2016 You'll enjoy this interview of Tim Miller at Awesome Artists.

Update:  August 6, 2016 Julie Falatko is interviewed at HenryHerz.com---Kidlit, Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Fabulous Five

If you were asked to name your top three favorite things, what would come into your mind first?  Consistently my three are children, books and dogs in equal measure.  I have the deepest affection for them and what they teach me.  For more years than I can remember the trio have been woven into the days of my life, more than once at the same time.

One of the many gifts children and dogs give is their joy for life.  They have an ability to embrace everything they do with their entire being.  All their senses are used in each situation.  It's a total experience for them.  This approach asks adults (me) to slow down and savor the moment.  Rachel Isadora (Caldecott Honor and Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor for Ben's Trumpet) invites us to do the same with her newest title, I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!)(Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House L. L. C., January 12, 2016).

HEAR
Tweet tweet!
I hear the birdie.

Buzz buzz!
I hear the bee.
Uh-oh!

I don't hear the worm.

Six pages are devoted to I HEAR, I SMELL, I SEE and I TOUCH.  I TASTE is given four pages.  Little children from various ethnic backgrounds explore their surroundings with curiosity.  They respond to their discoveries with wonder, delight, frustration, fear, disgust, puzzlement, gratitude and hope.

They walk through the woods or along a sandy beach.  They roam in their homes, make snowmen and play baseball.  They look at food anxious to eat or not sure if they want to eat.  They get colds.  A barnyard harboring a cow or field full of flowers is where they tip toe carefully and find treasures.

Up high or down low sights are revealed.  The shift between light and dark makes a huge difference.  Wishes are made, words are read, a ball is thrown and a balloon is set adrift.  Some little critters can be touched, others cannot.  Textures are felt or avoided.  Accidents happen and a wide circle is given to trouble.

Flavors are favored, spicy, salty, hot, cold and sweet.  You'll never be sure if you like something unless you try it.  Aren't shared treats the best?  Yum!


Simple, short sentences easily understood by younger readers define these children's awareness of their senses.  Rachel Isadora writes as if she is a child hearing, smelling, seeing, touching and tasting each of these things, perhaps for the first time.  The children express a fascination in the commonplace which in my mind is a little bit magical.  Here are several other sentences.

I smell the rain.

I smell the grass!
It's so fresh!

I don't like to smell cow poop.


The liberal use of white space seen on the matching dust jacket and book case is continued throughout the book.  It accentuates the delicate lines in ink and soft shades of watercolor rendered by Rachel Isadora.  A glossy sheen is on the title text, CRUNCH!, the pickle, the jar of pickles and along the pickle-filled spine.  To the left, on the back, are the words

Let's 
celebrate
our
five senses!

On the right each sense is listed as it is on the table of contents page in a vertical column with a tiny interior illustration to the right of the words,

I HEAR
I SMELL
I SEE
I TOUCH
I TASTE

The opening and closing endpapers are in pickle green.  Beneath the words on the title page is the jar of pickles.

On each of the two pages, Isadora has placed four, five, six, seven or eight small images of children enhancing her text.  Their clothing and hair styles are appropriately adorable as are their facial looks and body postures.  They are completely engaged in their activities so they are rarely directly facing the reader.

Each picture looks as though it's been plucked from a living moment.  Each little boy, girl, adult, dog or cat is placed in a complete setting.  When the child does not hear snow, they are standing in front of a snowman amid falling flakes.  A little girl who smells pizza is standing outside a shop gazing through a window at a pizza with the sign JOE'S PIZZA hanging in the window.  Behind her people are walking down the street.  A car is parked by the curb.  When a little boy kneels to smell flowers they are all around him.  A kitten is playfully reaching for two blue butterflies behind him.  Careful readers will notice changes at the top of the pages as the book is read.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of two girls playing with bubbles.  The one on the right is blowing them outward with a jar in one hand and the wand in the other.  To her left the other is standing on her tiptoes reaching to pop them.  A puppy is between them on his/her two back legs trying to catch one.  This scene is marvelously normal but beautiful when depicted by Isadora.


I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!) written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora has convinced me that I need to start a list of books that are huggable.  Readers and listeners will be compelled to do so even before they've heard a single sentence.  Look at the front dust jacket image!  I also predict the entire book will not be finished without readers or listeners thinking of similar experiences or wanting to add other things they hear, smell, see, touch and taste.  You might want to have a huge jar of pickles handy too.

To learn more about the art work and books created by Rachel Isadora please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Her dancer paintings are lovely.  This title was part of a NPR episode, The Children's Bookshelf, on Central Michigan University's station. They have some activities and discussion questions listed at the end.

UPDATE:  February 4, 2016 Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson interviews Rachel Isadora at Kirkus today. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Then. Now. Always.

It's no longer there, the small building with white siding and a long greenhouse attached.  Memories of walking through the moist air, tending the flowers and plants, delivering arrangements and, if fortunate, helping create corsages during a busy time like the senior prom are still vivid in my mind.  At sixteen my first job outside of home was working in a local flower shop located on the same street where I lived.

After graduation from high school it was waiting tables during every vacation from college for four years, arriving at work at five in the morning, getting home at four in the afternoon and sleeping until the next day.  On campus employment was found in the food commons and at the university library.  Upon graduation the salary for my first position as a teacher librarian was $7, 986.00.  To this day one word comes to mind when I think of these various employments.  It's gratitude.

To be one person in millions contributing to the everyday life in this great nation is surprising and an honor.  To be a tiny part in this amazing whole is deeply rewarding. Three years ago to the day, on January 21, 2013 President Barack Obama was sworn into his second term of office.  The inaugural poem was released as a picture book on November 11, 2015.  One Today (Little, Brown and Company) written by Richard Blanco with illustrations by Caldecott Honoree Dav Pilkey is a stunning tribute to people in the United States, to all people.

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores, peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.  

A city and the people residing within the homes and apartments are waking.  Mothers and fathers, men and women, and girls and boys begin their day, walking and riding, laboring and learning. Each person has a purpose; no one is greater or smaller than the other.  We all do this under

one light.

One ground

sustains and supports us.  It provides a platform for all the sights, sounds, and smells associated with our work and play.  It gives us the opportunity to exist in harmony, different but alike.

Like a dome over our world

one sky

watches our accomplishments, as distinctive as the individuals performing them.  It tells us the time of day.  It predicts the weather and seasonal changes.  It shelters and supplies a roof for our love.

At the close of the day when homes are again filled with those mothers and fathers, men and women, and girls and boys the sun passes the task to the moon and stars.  Some will slumber under the light and others will watch and wonder.  As we began, we will end...as one.

Whether you listened to this poem read by Richard Blanco three years ago at President Obama's inauguration or not, the words he wrote are worth reading again and again.  He takes the grandeur of our natural landscape, the sun, ground, sky and moon, using it as a canvas upon which he paints the cherished details of our collective lives.  He mentions school buses and fruit stands, busboys, teachers and cashiers, "I have a dream" dreams, school children gone forever, public places, fields and mines, roads and bridges, the greeting of everyday people, and love.  It is a song of us and for his parents. Here is another sample passage.

Hear:  the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello / shalom / buon giorno / howdy / namaste / or buenos dias in the language my mother taught me---in every language spoken into one wind carrying our lives without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.


A single illustration, moving from left to right and night to day, displays a rolling-hills landscape dotted with homes and buildings, trees and a body of water on the dust jacket and book case.  We are introduced to an older sister walking with her younger brother and their cat.  They are integral to the illustrative interpretation of the poem along with their mother.

On the opening endpapers Dav Pilkey includes the characters' home in the foreground with bare-branched trees on either side (Is this a nod to The Little House?).  It is very early in the morning, still dark outside, as trucks roll out from the city across a bridge in the background.  On the closing endpapers the scene is repeated with the trucks returning to the city at night without the stars. A recent snowfall coats everything.

Rendered in acrylics and India ink the illustrations move through a day, the light and shadows reflecting the changes.  Each image includes wide rays of shifting colorful hues.  Most of the pictures span two pages with the text carefully placed within the picture, along the bottom, or in a side column.

The portrayals of families within their homes, the city streets and buildings, a portion of a church, a park, the river and bridge, with the two children and their cat going about their day amid these pictures as they wait for their mother's shift at the grocery store to finish are strikingly beautiful.  Pilkey alters his perspective with eloquent results; the children dancing down a quiet street as the cat leaps, only their feet and lower half of their bodies showing during an achingly sad moment, a chalk drawing joining the sister and brother along the bottom of an illustration, and the two of them gazing at the city street with their backs to us, the tip of the cat's tail showing next to them.  The color palette conveys every mood and emotion.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the sister, brother and cat dancing down the street.  On either side of them are hills, houses and buildings.  There is a cloud in the sky, shades of pink and purple shooting upward, a large halo of light mirroring the white bright sun.  It continues around and beneath the two.  This image is filled with laughter and joy.

One Today written by Richard Blanco with illustrations by Dav Pilkey is breathtaking.  It's an ode to America by two distinguished artists.  Dav Pilkey's choice to follow the mother, her children and the cat on one of their days in his illustrations reaches out and embraces readers.  This is a book for everyone.

To learn more about Richard Blanco and Dav Pilkey and their other work please follow the links embedded in their names to access their websites.  If you visit the publisher's website they offer a six-page reading group guide.  At the BNKIDSBlog (Barnes & Noble) there is an extensive interview with Richard Blanco and Dav Pilkey about this title.  Susan Rich, Editor-at-large at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, is interviewed at BookPage. Enjoy the video below where Susan Rich is interviewed by Director of School & Library Marketing, Victoria Stapleton.  If you did not hear Richard Blanco reading the poem on January 21, 2013 please listen now as you turn the pages of this marvelous book.



LB School Book Chat with the Editor: ONE TODAY by Richard Blanco & illustrated by Dav Pilkey from LB School on Vimeo.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Sunday Space

In the course of our lives there are places we hold within our memories for individual reasons. No matter how much time passes the beauty of a moment there and the collected sensory elements remain.  It may be the first time we walk through the landscape of a natural monument like the rock formations in The Theodore Roosevelt National Park, stand within an architectural wonder such as The Library of Congress or stroll through a gallery of masterpieces at The Art Institute of Chicago.  


Certain locales hold even greater significance because of the people who assembled there and continue to gather there even today.  It's as if their spirits and the activities in which they engaged linger.  Freedom In Congo Square (little bee books, an imprint of Bonnier Publishing Group, January 5, 2016) written by Carole Boston Weatherford with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie is about such a location.



Mondays, there were hogs to slop,
mules to train, and logs to chop.

Slavery was no ways fair.
Six more days to Congo Square.

For each day of the week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday we become acquainted with the arduous tasks performed from daybreak to darkness in the first couplet.  These slaves care for livestock, plow and plant crops, maintain entire households, preserve the buildings and landscaping, and provide child care.  No job is too large or too small.  They do it all.

The second couplet is a cry for freedom, an abolishment of slavery, followed by the counting of days until Congo Square can be visited.  It gives voice to the conditions in which the slaves worked.  It tells of no rest, severe punishment, songs lifted in prayer and running away.

Continuing with thirteen more verses we are told the never ending work of six days pauses. Sunday is different, a time when free people and slaves can meet in New Orleans at a specific place.  There is dancing, music, the selling of wares, and the exchange of information.  The customs of the land from which they came are kept alive.  So is their hope for their bondage to be broken.


The poetic words, the rhyming couplets, written by Carole Boston Weatherford evoke a deep emotional response.  The weight of the backbreaking, endless work grows heavier as the burdens are listed.  When Weatherford follows with the counting of the days until Congo Square we see it as a small flame which grows as Sunday gets closer.  The joy of those Sundays, those shared afternoons, bursts forth in the final phrases.  Here are two more couplets.

Grouped by nation, language, tribe,
they drummed ancestral roots alive.
They played triangles, gourds, and bells,
banzas, flutes, fiddles, and shells.


Looking at the matching dust jacket and book case, readers are greeted by the bright, bold primary colors and green.  The title text and stones for the square are raised on the dust jacket.  The man dancing on the front is joined by two other men and a woman on the back, to the left.  Their raised arms are an indication of the joy this time brings to them.   A line of instruments are displayed along the top.  The opening and closing endpapers are a loosely painted pattern of diamonds in golden yellow, red and black.  This is also the background for the title page.

All of the illustrations rendered by R. Gregory Christie span across two pages, edge to edge.  Those leading up to the Sunday celebration are heavier in the line work and darker in the hues of color.  The perspectives are more panoramic alluding to the enormity of the slaves' position.

When the narrative shifts to Sunday, the viewpoint is more intimate, closer to the people.  There is more warmth and lightness in the selected shades.  The body postures and facial features express their true feelings.

One of my favorite illustrations is toward the back of the book.  The background is awash in brush strokes of golden yellow.  Three women and one man, two on the left and two on the right are dancing.  The women's skirts flow about them as ankle bracelets and necklaces move to the beat of their tambourines.  The fringe on the man's shirt flies away from his body almost like wings.  I see several tiny hearts in the details.  All of them are singing.


Freedom In Congo Square written by Carole Boston Weatherford with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie is a remarkable work of nonfiction bringing to light an important place in history.  The writing and images work to create symphony of sound and soul.  No professional or personal bookshelf should be without this book.  An expert on Congo Square, Freddi Williams Evans supplies a two-age introduction.  At the close of the book are a glossary and an author's note.  Congo Square is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

If you wish to discover more about Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Two interior pages can be viewed at the publisher's website. Carole Boston Weatherford is interviewed at BrassyBrown.com  There are also older video interviews at Reading Rockets.

Remember to visit educator Alyson Beecher's Kid Lit Frenzy to see the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge this week.




Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Left Behind

One had just turned twenty and the other was still nineteen when the bombing of Pearl Harbor took place on December 7, 1941.  The man would enter the army spending a portion of his service for an entire year on two of the inhabitable islands in the Aleutian chain.  The woman would remain home continuing to work in a secretarial position, joining the USO and selling enough war bonds to earn special recognition from the United States Treasury Department.  Their oral and written recollections, photographs and memorabilia informed me in a very personal way as to the effects this war had for those at home and those serving in the armed forces.

Carefully researched nonfiction, Barbed Wire Baseball, and historical fiction, Echo Dash and Duke, are a few examples of children's literature which built on the understanding given to me by my parents.  There are many stories making up the collective whole of an event as large as a world war in human history.  Paper Wishes (Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, January 5, 2016) written by Lois Sepahban speaks to life of Japanese Americans held at the internment camp, Manzanar, located in California. 

MARCH
Grandfather says that a man should walk barefoot on the bare earth every day.  Mother says that a man can do so if he likes, but her daughter will wear shoes.  

Manami and her grandfather are spending time at the beach on and near their special rock on Bainbridge Island in Washington.  The family dog, most dear to Grandfather and Manami, Yujiin runs along the beach toward the duo.  At school that day as the rest of the students leave, the Japanese American children are asked by their teacher to stay.  She tells them this is their last day of school.  Manami is frightened and filled with questions.  

She and her family along with all the other families of Japanese descent on Bainbridge Island have to leave relinquishing their home, their belongings and their entire way of life.  The family endures medical checkups and is assigned a number and given tags to put on the one suitcase allowed per person.  Manami's older brother, Ron, and older sister, Keiko, are attending Earlham College in Indiana.  Plans have been made for the local pastor to care for Yujiin in their absence.  

On the day they leave Manami cannot bear to part with Yujiin.  She tucks him inside her coat to keep him close.  The dog is not detected on the ferry ride to the mainland.  As they are boarding the bus taking them to trains and then the camp, a solider stops Manami.  Yujiin is discovered, taken from her and left in a crate by a deeply saddened grandfather.  

Days, weeks and months pass in silence.  Ten-year-old Manami does not speak; deep grief and guilt fill her throat like the dust which is everywhere.   Life with her family and the other thousands of internees swirls around her as the community grows.  Always she watches and looks for Yujiin.  Always she hopes for a return to normal.  

After several months the arrival of her brother Ron causes subtle tension and shifts in old and new relationships.  His position as a teacher at the school and his intentions are the subject of scrutiny and misinterpretation. Big changes are coming to the Tanaka and Ishii family members.  What will Manami do this time?


Within the first few pages Lois Sepahban builds a connection between the reader and the characters.  We sense the coming differences in normal life with the mention of the war, the presence of the military and the children being told they can't attend school any more.  By revealing the circumstances of Yujiin becoming a member of the family, we are keenly aware of the dog's importance.  

Using Manami's voice to tell this story brings poignancy to the events.  We come to know each character through their responses to her and to each other.  Dialogue, her thoughts and actions capture a complete picture of their lives at this camp.  By relating simple but everyday moments we feel as though we are there with them.  

Dividing the chapters into the months spent at the camp helps us to understand the smaller portrait of this one family within the larger picture of Manzanar.  The matter-of-fact, realistic sentences overwhelm you with sadness except for the undercurrent of resilience like the carefully tended plants in Manami's mother's garden.  The introduction of Miss Rosalie as Manami's teacher adds more layers to the story.  When she gives Manami paper and pencils daily, in which to express herself, the child's talent and desires are shown to us.  It is particularly heartbreaking to watch her release a paper into the wind thirty-one times with special pictures and words, paper wishes.  Here are a couple of sample passages. 

I soon discover that if I crouch down low with my eyes next to the ground, I can pretend that the dirt looks like sand here.
If I stand tall with my feet bare, I can pretend the dirt feels like sand here.
But when I open my mouth to speak, the dirt no longer feels like sand.  It sticks to my lips and tongue like red mud.  It coats my throat so that I cannot speak.
I think this is what has happened to me
I wish the dirt would cloud my eyes too, so that I would not see this place that is and is not my home without Yujiin.

And then the rain comes.
Mother pulls us outside.  She holds my hands, spinning us around and around.  Others join in our rain dance.  The yard in front of the mess hall is a muddy swirl of people.
The rain does not drip or drop.  The rain pours.  Like the water pump.  Like the showers.
It pours until the laughing faces and twirling feet stop their happy dance.
It pours until Mother begins to frown.
"Hurry, children!" she says.  "We must save my plants."
We run to Mother's garden.  The water pours so fast that there is already a pond forming in the yard.
Mother touches her battered plants one by one.
The pouring rain has pounded them into the ground.  Fragile stems are broken.  Tiny leaves float free.
Mother kneels and pulls me to her, wrapping her arms around my waist.  She cries into my stomach. 


Paper Wishes written by Lois Sepahban brings vividly to life the past.  The weight of sadness for the people who spent years in those camps is profoundly felt.  It is an important book asking us to remember.  It is a book about many kinds of love.  This title has my highest recommendation.  An author's note at the end offers further explanations. (This post is based upon the reading of an advance reader's edition.)

To learn more about Lois Sepahban and her other books please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  You can read an excerpt at the publisher's website.  Lois Sepahban is interviewed at Literary Rambles and the swanky seventeens.  You can find her on Twitter at @LoisSepahban

Update:  Lois Sepahban is interviewed by author Caroline Starr Rose on her blog, January 20, 2016.

Update:  Lois Sepahban is interviewed at The Horn Book Spring 2016 Publisher's Preview Five Questions for Lois Sepahban

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Barnyard Boogie

Many Saturday nights the air in our home brimmed with excitement.  The doorbell rang announcing the arrival of the babysitter.  My parents emerged from their bedroom to answer the door, dressed for an evening of dancing.

Dad wore cowboy boots, a special white shirt with elaborate embroidery, decorative buttons down the front and on the cuffs and a bolo tie.  Mom wore a puff-sleeve blouse, a matching skirt with coordinating trim and several petticoats to make the skirt stand out and swirl as she moved.  Hours of do-si-do, allemande right, allemande left and honor your partner were about to begin.

Elizabeth Rose Stanton who introduced us to Henny, a chicken with human arms, released her second children's title early this year.  Peddles (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, January 5, 2016) is a pig with thoughts taking him beyond the boundaries of the farm.  Peddles dares to dream.

Peddles was just a pig.

For the most part Peddles did the everyday things pigs do.  As he did those everyday pig things, his mind wandered.  He dreamed about eating pizza instead of slop.  He imagined speaking in English instead of the usual grunting and snorting.

Peddles may have looked normal but his vision was extraordinary.  When he looked at birds, frogs and stars this pig left terra firma, if only in his mind.  Despite all this wishing everything remained the same until one night.

As his pals slept, Peddles left the group. He heard voices lifted in joy and saw people moving inside the barn.  A happy hoedown was happening.  And Peddles, being the kind of pig he was, got an idea.

Oh, he tried with all his heart to put his plan into action but nothing worked.  He looked and looked for the final items.  Then he found exactly what he needed but something was still missing.  Then they found him!


The first sentence in this book and the use of a single word suggest to us this may not be an ordinary story.  By using the word just Elizabeth Rose Stanton cracks open the door of possibility.  As she explains how normal Peddles is, she is carefully widening the entrance into the potential for difference.  As Peddles' open-mindedness is revealed we can feel our spirits lifted by the bliss he experiences.  Her fun-filled verbs and adjectives take us into Peddles' world. Here are several sample sentences.

Peddles heard whooping and hollering.
He saw twirling and whirling.


How can you not adore Peddles by looking at the front of the dust jacket?  I can already hear the sighs of readers uttered aloud.  The white canvas on the jacket, and for nearly the entire book, supplies the ideal background for the pencil and watercolor illustrations rendered by Elizabeth Rose Stanton.  To the left, on the back, we are given a hint as to what sparks Peddles' big idea and resolves his dilemma.   On the book case in the same blue as the title text, two circular visuals have been placed.  They show Peddles looking between his legs from the front and the back.  You won't be able to look at these without smiling.

The darker pink on Peddles is used as the opening and closing endpapers opposite the introductory title page and final wordless page of the book.  Stanton gives us another hint as to the items Peddles needs to reach his goal in a tiny image under the dedication.  The front dust jacket picture is repeated on the formal title page.

The delicate details in the illustrations bring readers further into the story.  We either discover a kinship with Peddles or begin to feel brave enough to implement our intentions.  With her images Stanton enlarges the story.  In her narrative his pig friends say

"Get your head out of the clouds, Peddles," and stop being so spacey."
This gave Peddles even BIGGER ideas.

Yes, there is planet Earth with Peddles the astronaut floating among the stars.  Without spoiling anything Stanton does include several other humorous touches sure to elicit bursts of laughter from readers.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is a double page image of Peddles and his porcine companions at night.  The two pages are washed in hues of light blue with white stars.  Along the bottom in a row we see the faces of pigs snuggled in sleep, except for one on their back with their legs in the air.  On the far right is Peddles, ears up and alert and one eye open.  The text reads

until one night...


Peddles written and illustrated by Elizabeth Rose Stanton invites us to dream, be open to possibilities and when an opportunity presents itself, don't give up.  I know you are going to get repeated requests to read this aloud.  I'm certainly glad I have a beloved pig puppet.  You might want to have some country western or square dance music handy too.

To learn more about Elizabeth Rose Stanton, her books and art work please visit her website and blog by following the links attached to her name.  Elizabeth Rose Stanton can be found on Twitter at @PenspaperStudio and on Facebook.  At the publisher's website are six additional illustrations for you to view.  Please take a few moments to read this interview at HENRYHERZ.COM--->KIDLIT, FANTASY & SCI-FI.  

In a moment of serendipity I happened to read this book for the first time while listening to Josh Groban's new Stages CD.  This is the song that was playing.  Sometimes life can be breathtakingly perfect.



Friday, January 15, 2016

Of A Feather

It was as if they were conjured and controlled by an unseen magician.  Neither a chirp nor a cheep was uttered but there was the sound, the sound of hundreds of wing beats.  It was late in the afternoon as they dove and swirled and dove and swirled as if dancing an avian ballet.  My furry friend and I paused in our walk standing as still as stone, both unable to believe this phenomenon was happening next to us.

These starlings left as swiftly as they came, flying as a unit with a seemingly single conscience.  Some scientists speculate they instinctively stay together to locate food and to repel predators; there is survival in numbers.  With humans it is sometimes a different kind of survival; a fine line we walk in choosing which paths to take, wanting to belong but maintaining our individuality.  Nerdy Birdy (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, September 22, 2015) written by Aaron Reynolds with pictures by Matt Davies follows a bird seeking to find his place among his feathered fellows.

This is Nerdy Birdy.
His glasses are too big.
His wings are too small.

He can't eat what other birds eat.  He is not one of the cool birds.  Eagle is a muscle-bound hunter.  Cardinal is a flamboyant vocalist.  Robin is a compulsive connoisseur of worms.

Nerdy Birdy is passionate about reading, video games and reading about said games.  Every time he wants to share his excitement for a particular book or the game, The Earthworm King in World of Wormcraft, Eagle, Cardinal and Robin nix his enthusiasm.  Nerdy Birdy finds himself alone and lonely whether they are with him or not.  One day a voice calls out to him.

This new bird challenges his resolve to remain with the snooty threesome.  In fact, a bunch of nerdy birdies, identical to him in nearly every way, invite him to join their roosting on a wire.  It's goodbye to aloneness and hello to being a member of the brainy bunch.

A new arrival alters the community social dynamics.  Nerdy Birdy is not surprised by some of the responses but others leave him perplexed.  Recognition and compassion forge a bond setting an unforeseen precedent.


One of the first things you notice about this story of friendship is the comedic pacing conceived and supplied by Aaron Reynolds.  Two words, Nerdy Birdy, hook you.  After describing the nerdiness of this bird, Reynolds launches into the attributes of Eagle, Cardinal and Robin pointing out the more obvious physical qualities but adding humorous touches for the intended audience and as well as older readers.  When the trio leaves in pursuit of their daily endeavors he again includes more funny remarks.

The dialogue between the characters throughout the narrative clearly designates their personalities leading us to the heart of the story and the surprising conclusion.  There are groups of three statements and thoughts throughout this story which are attractive to a reader's psyche.  This plus the repetition of key phrases are a sign of excellent writing.  Here is a sample passage.

Three things Eagle is good at:
1. Hunting
2. Fishing
3. Football


If the text does not have you bursting out in laughter (you should probably check to see if you are still breathing if this is the case) the illustrations rendered in pen, ink and watercolor by Matt Davies will have you rolling on the floor.  The matching dust jacket and book case accentuate the qualities of Nerdy Birdy by zooming in on his face.  To the left, on the back, Eagle, Cardinal and Robin are acting out their pretentious, unfriendly identities. Eagle calls out nerd, Cardinal is making the well-known nerd sign with his feathered fingers around his eyes and Robin is pointing and laughing. Bird-beak yellow colors the opening and closing endpapers.

Davies enhances the text at every page turn with his gift for incorporating the smallest details.  When we learn of Nerdy Birdy's too small wings he is standing outside a toy store window featuring a T-Rex.  As he hunts for breadcrumbs he is carrying a basket.  Eagle's hunting and fishing has him attacking a rhinoceros and a shark. Nerdy Birdy is reading a book written by the same author who wrote Worm & Peace. The image on the newcomer's lunch box is hilarious.

Design, layout and perspective by Davies create a flow pairing nicely with the story.  When Eagle, Cardinal and Robin leave all we see are their feet and lower bodies as they exit the page.  Nerdy Birdy is standing alone at the bottom. White space and lightly colored backgrounds play an important part.

One of my favorite illustrations is the first one we see of Nerdy Birdy.  It sets the tone for the entire book.  How can we not want to know more about this bird with those eyes and those glasses?  We can all feel a kinship with a bird finding himself on the outside looking in.


If you have not read Nerdy Birdy written by Aaron Reynolds with pictures by Matt Davies make sure you do so as soon as possible.  If you've already read it, go now and read it again, preferably aloud.  There is nothing better than laughing and learning at the same time.

Please visit the websites of Aaron Reynolds and Matt Davies to learn more about them and their work by following the links attached to their names.  Be sure to stop over at the publisher's website to see eight interior illustrations. Aaron and Matt interview each other on Elizabeth O. Dulemba's site.  You are really going to like what you read at the end of the interview.

For some reason this video is now stuck in my head after reading this book.  It might have something to do with the birds and their words in this book.




If you want to experience visually what Xena and I saw mentioned in the introduction follow this link.  It's amazing.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Scholastic Book Fairs-Reader Leader Blog-Be The Pebble

Today the guest post at Scholastic Book Fairs Reader Leader Blog is a compilation of some of my thoughts and experiences as a teacher librarian.  We are all called as educators to devote our efforts to creating lifelong learners and readers.  Please visit after reading these two introductory paragraphs, leave comments and ask questions.  

Every person who has thrown a pebble into a puddle knows what happens.  A series of rings radiates from the spot where the stone landed.   The distance they travel is determined by a variety of factors but one truth remains.  If the puddle receives no pebble, there will be no ripples.


My first school librarian position was in an intermediate school serving grades seven through nine in a new building with an educational community that had never worked with a certified librarian.  The school library was on the second floor in the center with four sets of windows looking out on a hallway running around the perimeter.  On the other side of the hallway were groups of classrooms.  Clearly the architect and the planning committee realized the importance of this learning center in serving the students and staff.  This was a perfect opportunity to be a pebble.  Although the physical structure of the libraries over the course of my tenure as a teacher librarian have changed in location, this initial position created a vision I have continued to carry with me.  

Bone-A Fide Facts

 Studying traditional annual celebrations is a good way to build a bridge of understanding of cultures outside your own. These holidays are steeped in history, many times dating back hundreds of years.  One of the more fascinating festivities for this student of the Spanish language and, subsequently, my students is observed by persons in the United States, Central America and Mexico.

El Dia de Muertos, the Day of the Dead, begins on November first and ends on November second.  These days are for remembering those who have died, honoring their lives and spirits in a variety of ways.  One of the most prominent symbols seen during this time is the calaveras, human skulls and skeletons.  A respected artist, a creator of the calaveras, Jose Guadalupe (Lupe) Posada, is the subject of the distinguished Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras (Abrams Books for Young Readers, August 25, 2015) written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh.  This title was selected as one of The New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2015 in October, 2015.  On Monday January 11, 2016 at the American Library Association Youth Media Awards a Pura Belpre Illustrator Honor award and the Robert F. Siebert Medal were given to this book.  It is also listed by the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children as one of their honor book selections.

Skeletons riding bicycles...skeletons wearing fancy hats...skeletons dancing and strumming on guitars.  We call these festive bony figures calaveras.  

More than one hundred sixty years ago Jose Guadalupe Posada was born in a city in Mexico.  His artistic talents were noticed by an older brother, a teacher, who assisted in further art education.  At the age of eighteen Lupe learned the art of lithography and engraving by working in a shop owned by Don Trinidad Pedroza.  While working for Pedroza, Posada began producing political cartoons.  Eventually Posada opened a print shop of his own and began raising his family in the city of Leon.  They resided there for many years until a flood washed away his livelihood.

The three, Posada, his wife and son, relocated in Mexico City.  Don Posada was able to make a name for himself here, eventually opening a shop of his own again.  He also began illustrating "broadsides" with Antonio Vanegas.  Each year they were the busiest during El Dia de Muertos.  The duo created short poems, rhyming poems, with illustrations of calaveras.  Of all the literary calaveras designed during this holiday, those of Posada were the most valued.

He refined his art by learning the process of etching.  The literary calaveras elevated the holiday in obvious representations but some also seemed open to clarification.  What kind of statement was Jose Guadalupe Posada trying to make?

When Posada died in 1913 most people did not know the man responsible for the skull and skeleton drawings.  Other notable artists such as Caldecott Honor award winning Jean Charlot and Mexican painter Diego Rivera worked to bring attention to this man's work.  Thankfully another author and illustrator used his extensive talents to showcase the life and work of Posada for a whole new audience.


The written portion of this book by Duncan Tonatiuh is divided to be as engaging as possible for the reader.  Parts are strictly dedicated to his personal and professional growth.  Sections are shown explaining the steps involved in lithography, engraving and etching.  Tonatiuh also speculates on the meaning behind the images and poems, inviting readers to think and discuss.  He includes the political climate and historical changes in Mexico during Posada's lifetime providing context.  Here is a sample passage.

One of the men Don Lupe worked with was Antonio Vanegas.  He published intriguing stories on large sheets of bright paper called "broadsides."  The tales were about a wide range of topics, including scary creatures, fires, miracles, violent crimes, heroes, bandits, cockfights, and bullfighters.  Donn Lupe illustrated many of these tales.  Paperboys sold the inexpensive broadsides on the streets for a few cents, and people---even people who couldn't read---bought them.  They were fascinated by Don Lupe's drawings!


All of the illustrations were hand drawn by Duncan Tonatiuh then assembled digitally.  On the front of the dust jacket we see a blend of his original art (in the center) and that of Posada.  The framing supplied by the combination of bones and the small red flower is continued to the left on the back surrounding descriptions of the other notable titles by Tonatiuh.  Two interior images toward the back of the book have been placed on the book case; asking us to imagine how Posada would portray calaveras in today's world.  The opening and closing endpapers are done in the rustic orange-red shown on the dust jacket.

A muted color palette in browns, greens, grays, blues, white and black with a little red, purple, pink and orange bring an authenticity to the pictures.  The mix of Posada originals and Tonatiuh's pictures is superb in layout and design.  About midway into the book Tonatiuh gives full pages on the left to the drawings of Posada challenging our perceptions.

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  In this image Tonatiuh depicts vendors selling

pan de muerto (bread), cempasuchil (marigold flowers), alfeniques (sugar skulls), and papel picado (paper cutouts).

Two booths are placed on the left and right with saleswomen in each.  Across the top between the two booths a string of the cutouts is displayed.  A girl selling the marigolds sits in the center but off to the right.  A woman and her son seek to make purchases.  You can almost hear the conversations.


You will want to have Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh to use for the history, the art, the explanation of an honored celebration and the beauty of the text and images.  This is an exquisite example of the best kind of nonfiction picture book.  This is also one of those books where each reading will reveal a new detail.  At the close of the book is a two page author's note, a glossary, bibliography, art credits, where you can see Posada's work in the U. S. A., an index, dedication and publication information.

To discover more about Duncan Tonatiuh and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  At the publisher's website you can view other pictures within this title.  A lengthy educator's guide compiled by Lisa Finelli for Vanderbilt University Center for Latin American Studies can be found here.  Five questions for Duncan Tonatiuh can be found at The Horn Book site.  Duncan Tonatiuh was interviewed at EE ME BOOKSHELF.


For additional insights into the Dead of the Dead you can visit the Smithsonian Latino Center interactive site.  More can be found at the National Geographic Education page.

Please stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to see the other books selected by bloggers this week during the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.