Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Fold By Fold

One of the most fun and funny activities ever year is teaching the entire second grade how to fold a single origami animal.  (During the final weeks of school all classes participate in a storytelling unit.)  The Something Special found within the pages of the wonderful The Story Vine: A Source Book of Unusual and Easy-to-Tell Stories from Around the World by Anne Pellowski with illustrations by Lynn Sweat is one of the tales told to the second grade.

Step-by-step, fold-by-fold the, event-by-event the listeners are lead to a beautiful conclusion and the creation of a distinctive bird.  Before the sound of the final word has faded in the room, every single student wants to make that bird.  Twenty-five (or more) little guys and gals with square sheets of paper and one teacher attempting to help them all is an unforgettable time full of lots of smiles.  Taking it slow and persistence are keys to success.  

In her picture book debut author Dori Kleber portrays a boy with a passion for learning an ancient art.  More-igami (Candlewick Press, May 10, 2016) with illustrations by G. Brian Karas follows a love which turns into a cherished skill.  It's a skill worth sharing.

Joey loved things that folded.

No fold went unnoticed by Joey.  His acquisition of folded items grew.  Awake and asleep this boy was as close to anything folded as he could be.

When a classmate's mother came to school and made an origami crane, Joey's heart nearly burst with joy.  He wanted to be taught to make a crane but he was advised 

you'll need practice and patience.

No piece of paper was safe from Joey's eager, creative hands.  Homework, his sister's violin music, and a special family recipe card were bent into shapes.  When he used dollar bills from his mother's purse, she asked him to stop his folding.  How can you achieve success at origami if you aren't allowed to fold available paper?  

A neighbor, a restaurateur, offers counsel.  Mr. Lopez then notices what Joey's restless hands have made.  After school every day the boy visited Mr. Lopez his hands guided by his heart, until one day he was asked a question.  Joey's reply was an end and a beginning.

Simple enlightening sentences begin the narrative introducing us to Joey.  Dori Kleber uses verbs, collected, played and slept to convey the boy's love of all things folded.  We understand from these why seeing the art of origami demonstrated fills him with the desire to learn.  Kleber's solution to Joey's problem is ingenious.  She also ties beginning moments and concluding moments with the use of repetitive words.  Here is a sample passage.

Joey started that afternoon.  He practiced on his notebook paper and on the construction paper from the art shelf.  But even his simple shapes were crooked and crumpled.

The layout and design of the matching dust jacket and book case are a true reflection of the story.  G. Brian Karas renders all the illustrations using gouache and pencil on paper.  On the front he frames Joey, hard at work, in origami folds.  To the left, on the back, is a triangle-patterned paper in orange and white.  This is used again on the left side of the opening endpapers.  The three remaining portions of the endpapers are different pieces of origami paper, a floral, a stripe and another floral.  The green shapes on the front of the jacket and cover are enlarged in a different green shade as a background on the verso and title pages.  

As a canvas for images throughout the book, Karas continues with lightly colored varied hues with noticeable folds.  Each picture contains, regardless of the background, paper shapes in the elements.  Karas alters his perspective as the story progresses bringing us further emotionally into narrative.  Endearing warmth is in the visuals due to the facial expressions of each character.  

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  We see six different pictures of Joey.  He is placed within sections of folded pale blue paper wearing a red and white striped shirt.  In each of these snapshots of him he is at a different stage in folding an origami animal.  It's a marvelous way to show the progression of Joey's skill and the completion of this item.  His actions are precise and his attention is complete.  

More-igami written by Dori Kleber with illustrations by G. Brian Karas is a charming book about working hard to achieve a goal.  When one door is closed, another can open in the most unlikely of places.  A spark becomes a flame and then ignites another.  At the conclusion of the book G. Brian Karas has illustrated the six steps to creating an origami ladybug.  

To discover more about Dori Kleber and G. Brian Karas and their work please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  If you go to the publisher's website you can view an interior image.   Dori Kleber is interviewed at The Winged Pen.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Entertaining Elements...Of Speech

A group of students have just entered your classroom and taken their seats.  You announce today they will be spending time writing.  Or you could announce time today will be dedicated to playing in addition to any designated recess they might have.  Which proclamation will receive the most favorable response?

Words, individually or gathered together, offer infinite opportunities.  When the use of words is connected to fun, it's a win.  Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs (Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 8, 2016) written by Linda Sue Park with illustrations by Jennifer Black Reinhardt explores the versatility of language.

Yaks yak.
to yak=to talk

Eighteen creatures are featured participating in activities spelled and spoken exactly as they are.  It's a menagerie of definitions.  It's a formula for fun.

Insects take pleasure in annoying each other.  Sea critters fail to succeed.  Birds cringe at the slightest hint of unease seeking shelter for protection.

Primates and canines irritate and persevere respectively.  It might be a little strange but on a clear day, looking over the side of your boat, who knows what you will discover happening beneath the waves.  Flying mammals head for a dugout.

Fighting crawlers, crouching water fowl, and blustering birds have their way, save the day and have their say.  Pigs will ponder their piles of produce.  Children will be children.  These word combinations are unlikely to bore a boar.

When you begin to discover the potential for play and words existing at the same time, as done by author Linda Sue Park, it can't be ignored.  With her choice of animal-verb medleys Park invites us to find our own.  For several of the pairs three words appear instead of two.  In a switch, an exclamation mark makes a point.  Here is another match.

Parrots parrot.
to parrot=to repeat

Throughout the title, beginning on the matching dust jacket and book case, the illustrations were rendered in watercolor and ink on Arches 300 pound bright white, hot press, watercolor paper.  Delicate, fine lines, intricate details, soft texture and a full color palette enhance the humor found in the text.  As you can see with the yaks on the front, Jennifer Black Reinhardt creates animated characters.  To the left, on the back, in the same hue of blue as the title letters, a background highlights a circular frame filled with two parrots saying

love this book.

One is wearing a bow tie and the other a tie.  A raised foot and wing let us know their discussion is lively.

The opening and closing endpapers are done in vertical stripes in two shades of green like wallpaper in a traditional, quaint setting.  The title page is enclosed in a garland of tiny leaves.  A crow wearing a top hat adorned in colorful feathers is walking across the title text.  A small fly leaves a dotted trail from the edge of the final letter k.

All of the images span two pages.  Each is a unique depiction of the animal-action pairs.  The yaks yak over a cup of tea in a parlor but their food is a pile of grass on a plate.  As flounders flounder their air bubbles include exclamations of dismay and puzzlement. When the quails quail a bright-bold scary kite flies in from the edge of the right side.

Readers will want to stop and look at each picture.  There is happiness to be found.  One of the apes is wearing bling in the form of earrings and a necklace.  A fish has hooked a book titled

The Book of Compliments.

Tea cups, hats, and apples appear more than once.  Reinhardt has cleverly placed the definition within each picture.

One of my favorite illustrations is for steers steer.  The setting is an amusement park.  The animals are riding in bumper cars.  The looks on their faces and the spinning of one in particular will have you grinning from ear to ear.  The seven cars are different colors.  The sign holding the definition of steer acts as the marquee for the ride.

Winning wordplay in Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs written by Linda Sue Park with illustrations by Jennifer Black Reinhardt will have readers reaching for their dictionaries between bouts of laughter.  It's a delightful fusion of whimsy and wit.  At the end two pages explain the origins of the animals' names and the actions.

To learn more about Linda Sue Park and Jennifer Black Reinhardt and their work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At Picture Book Builders Jennifer Black Reinhardt talks about the process for creating her art for this book.  Be sure to watch this Tedx Talks video Can A Children's Book Change the World by Linda Sue Park.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Rogues At Rest

At an early age they enter the world of stories stored in our memories.  The huffer-puffer of homes, a granny imitator, the baker of gingerbread houses, a mirror watcher, the spell caster of long sleeps, a spinner of straw, a fee-fi-fo-fum guy liking Englishmen, and a guarder of bridges all play a part.  It's a part that fills the hearts of others with fear.

At the stories' end, is it really the end?  When you open the book, there they are again.  Good Night, Baddies (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, May 17, 2016) written by Deborah Underwood with illustrations by Juli Kangas follows these doers of dastardly deeds.

Sun slips down; the day has gone.
Witches, wolves, and giants yawn.
Queen and dragon, troll and gnome:
tired baddies head for home

Well, this is without question an unexpected turn of events.  These baddies dwell one and all in a formidable fortress.  Once inside it's easy to see by night these folk are downright friendly.

A meal is shared before bedtime preparations commence.  Snow White's nemesis dons her nightie.  A muddy monster cleans up his act.  The girl in the hood and porkers numbering three rest easy as their foes floss.

Books are read and tales are told as nighttime rituals unfold.  The largest of the residents, teddy bear in hand, is afraid of royalty that might be hiding beneath his bed.  Eyelids droop and dwellers doze.

When cuddled under comforters, a howling song drifts through the starry night air.  Baddies bid the day adieu.  Their dreams are...

Deborah Underwood peels back a layer we believe to be true giving us a different view.  Lilting lyrical four-line verses rhyme; the first and second, then the third and fourth.  It's a fracturing of many fairy tales blended together as one.  Here is another passage.

Wolves, today was not so good.
You didn't catch Red Riding Hood.
You huffed and puffed without success.
But brush your fangs, please, nonetheless.

A single illustration spans the matching dust jacket and book case.  We are shown a gathering of fairy tale foes but they appear as friends.  Rumpelstiltskin reads aloud as a dragon, witch and wolf listen.  From the left a pajama-clad troll, carrying a lacy pillow, joins the group.  Don't you just love that the wolf has a pig stuffed toy?  The pillows, braided rug, glowing lamp, books on the sill, a pitcher of milk and a glass nearby complete the cozy image.  Stars and a crescent moon are framed by an arched window.

The opening and closing endpapers ask us to pause first noting all the baddies doing their deeds during the day and second to watch them sleep at the end.  Oval shapes framed by intricate vines hold the twelve different portraits.  There might be spiders and webs and a few bats too.  These are done in two hues of brown.

Thirteen double-page pictures in a full color palette rendered in watercolor with oil washes over the top by Juli Kangas begin with the title page and continue with the verso and dedication pages.  With each page turn you will feel compelled to stop, enjoying all the details included by Kangas.  A house mouse and a black cat are shown in most of the visuals.  The dragon and wolf are passing a tossed salad to each other at dinner. Vegetarians?  The face in the queen's mirror is sleeping.  You will appreciate the framed pictures on the giant's bedroom wall.

One of my favorite images shows the area outside the bathroom door as well as inside the bathroom.  We get a glimpse of the queen wearing slippers with crowns coming down the stairs.  A waiting witch is reading the Bad News as the cat cleans its paws.  Rumpelstiltskin is wondering when he gets to bathe.  He did remember to bring his rubber ducky.  The troll is soaking in a bubble bath, bunny slippers next to the tub.  Guess who is scampering by a bridge seen through the window?  The details in this picture are seen throughout the book.

You are most certainly going to want to add Good Night, Baddies written by Deborah Underwood with illustrations by Juli Kangas to your bedtime story collections at home and at school.  With a cheerful cadence it asks us to consider the familiar in an unfamiliar way.  It will prompt discussions about other fairy tale characters and how they might be seen differently.

To learn more about Deborah Underwood and her other books please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Deborah has a song on the page dedicated to this title which you can download.  She beautifully sings the story to us.  At the publisher's website you can view additional interior illustrations.  Please spend a few minutes at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. as he chats with Deborah Underwood about this book, school libraries and some of her other books.  Deborah Underwood writes a guest post at author Tara Lazar's Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).  Educator Dylan Teut chats with Deborah Underwood at Mile High Reading.  Enjoy the book trailer.

UPDATE:  There is a Story Hour Kit!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Bawk! Bawk! Blast Off!

There will be those beings that look at life through a different lens than others.  They will not conform.  They take common everyday objects redefining them; a leaf floating along the gutter of a street becomes a boat for an earthworm king, flower blossoms are homes for fairies and ladybugs or tiny girls named Thumbelina, butterflies are messengers, a jar lid is a swimming pool for slugs, and a piece of paper shifts shape becoming a crane.  Their imagination fuels their creativity.  They are the dreamers and the doers.

If we were to wander into a particular farm we would meet an extraordinary member of the local community.  Chicken in Space (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, May 17, 2016) written by Adam Lehrhaupt with illustrations by Shahar Kober is about a fowl with a fantastic future.  This bird has her barnyard buddies buzzing.

 Zoey wasn't like the other chickens.

You won't find this gal clucking and pecking inside or outside the coop. There will be no grass growing under her feet.  She struts with determination.  An adventure is taking shape in her mind; a scheme of epic proportions.

Her loyal pal, a pie-craving pig named Sam, accepts her invitation but his stomach is rumbling for dessert. As Zoey passes by her other country companions she makes the same request.  Each with proper names, a dog, a mouse and a cow, decline her offer with a variety of excuses.  They are content, wary of danger and puzzled by Zoey's proposal.  How is this duo going to get into space?

Never fear when Zoey is near!  Using materials at hand she builds a vehicle which lifts them up, up and up higher still.  In her mind the everyday becomes something else entirely.  She sees exquisite views.  Sam's looking for pie.  Zoey is in full-blown astronaut mode.

Items whizzing past them are given cosmic identities.  As their trip comes to a quick close courtesy of aliens, the friends find themselves with different opinions as to their success.  When the teller tells their tale a twist or two will leave readers smiling.

After reading Adam Lehrhaupt's dedication

For my parents,
who always encourage me to follow my dreams,
no matter what they are

you know you are about to open a gift.  The first four simple sentences are brilliant in their pacing; narration leading up to the first conversational exchange between Zoey and Sam. By the time Zoey and Sam are about to embark on their voyage, we are keenly aware of the chicken's outlook on life.  She is most definitely a glass-half-full kind of individual.  Lehrhaupt's mix of dialogue and narration is top-notch. The pig's persistent desire for pie adds a distinctive element of comedy.  Here is a sample passage.

"Put your hat on, Sam," said Zoey.
"We're going to space!"
"Before lunch?" asked Sam.
"Before pie? Is that a good idea?"
But Zoey was already off.

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case you can see the entire image spanning from left to right.  The four farm friends are gazing with curious expressions at Zoey.  Filled with glee, she is ready to go according to a plan taped to the side of the barn.  On the opening and closing endpapers fine line drawings of chickens in various sizes and poses create an overlapping pattern.  Zoey is drawn with red wearing her hat and goggles, looking as if she could enter space without any ship at all.  The dedication, verso and title pages feature a single picture of Zoey, seated on a hillside, looking up at the title text in large block letters over the farm.  There is a tiny clue of events to come tucked into the scene.  

Rendered digitally in Adobe Photoshop Shahar Kober brings energy to his characters in their facial expressions and body postures.  We are well aware of their emotional state in every single visual.  Comical details add to the pizzazz in the pictures; the satellite dish and antenna on the chicken coop, the hats worn by Zoey and Sam, and the eyeglasses on the mouse.  The majority of the illustrations span two pages with shifts in point-of-view enhancing the uplifting spirit in each one. 

One of my favorite illustrations is when Zoey grabs Sam placing him in her newly created "spaceship.  The looks on their faces are completely different.  Zoey is brimming with happiness.  Sam is decidedly looking startled.  We are very close to the action.  Off to the right, farther away and smaller in size, Pip, Henry and Clara are watching.  

If you are looking for a story full of cheerful optimism Chicken in Space written by Adam Lehrhaupt with illustrations by Shahar Kober is the perfect title for you.  Nothing is going to dim the exuberance of this character in the pursuit of whatever she decides to do.  Sam is more than willing to go along for the ride if pie is involved.  He is also one of Zoey's most steadfast supporters.  

To discover more about Adam Lehrhaupt and Shahar Kober and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At Watch. Connect. Read. the blog of Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries John Schumacher, the book trailer is revealed along with a conversation between John and Adam.  Adam Lehrhaupt is a guest at The Hiding Spot, a blog hosted by Sara Grochowski.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Up, Down And All Around-Animals On The Move

Walking past the glassed doors leading out to my deck and backyard Wednesday evening, I was greeted by an unexpected sight.  Lying as peaceful as milk cows in a grassy meadow were two large deer.  The closer of the two seemed to be in charge, eyes and ears alert.  The smaller deer was positioned in one of my raised gardens as if it was its own personal resting place.  I imagine all the plants there have been consumed for a snack.  The entire yard is surrounded by a chain link fence.  When they leap over it, they seem to float.

The beauty of how animals move within our communities and in their natural habitats is a constant source of amazement.  In their newest collaboration Steve Jenkins and Robin Page share seven forms of locomotion used by animals.  Flying Frogs And Walking Fish (Leaping Lemurs, Tumbling Toads, Jet-Propelled Jellyfish, and More Surprising Ways That Animals Move) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 3, 2016) is a study of travel.

Animals walk, leap, climb, and swim.  Some roll or turn flips.  Others fly or glide, and a few are even jet-propelled.  

If you could peer along the floor of the ocean you might see an octopus using only two of its eight legs, taking a stroll.  Six other fellow creatures use legs, wings, fins, and a tail to go from place to place.  If you want to add speed a leap would be handy.

You would be a super hero if you could go fifty times as high as your own body length.  That's what a jumping spider can do.  Seeing a Japanese red-crowned crane spring into the air and gently fall to the ground must be breathtaking.  To move through water a trunk becomes a snorkel.  We all know how painfully slow a three-toed sloth meanders but when in the water, it's a different story.

Wouldn't you like to see a canine climb or a bird with clawed wings seek safety in a tree?  All sorts of animals can glide with ease and fly freely.  Look out for that snake!  Look out for that ant?  Did a lizard just float by?

Gymnasts in the critter realm can somersault to freedom like the mantis shrimp, curl and roll like a hedgehog or bite its tail turning in a circle like the armadillo lizard.  Even faster than the leapers are those zipping along as if launched from a canon.  All of those noted reside in water.  They use it as a force like the nautilus pushing water from its shell.  In many places on all our continents these animals go up, down and all around.

Robin Page and Steve Jenkins have pieced together a fascinating narrative.  This team understands which particular facts will be the most interesting to readers.  Single sentences are used for each animal; a variety of descriptive verbs creating images of their movements.  Seven lengthier paragraphs give an overview at the beginning of each section.  You want to wander in the worlds their words create.  Here is a sample passage and a couple of their sentences.

Rivers, lakes, and oceans can be challenging environments for animals adapted to life on land or in the air.  But swimming, even awkwardly, helps many creatures cool off, find food, or escape danger.

A young baboon dives in and paddles around just for fun.
A sleek cormorant plunges deep into the sea as it pursues a school of fish.

Steven Jenkins unmistakable style of illustration, torn-and cut-paper collage is noticeable immediately on the matching dust jacket and book case.  The canvas of bright sky blue on both the front and the back, to the left each feature an animal in green, the flying frog and the red-lipped batfish.  The white and black text provides a stunning contrast.  On the back is an assortment of action verbs used within the body of the book. (These are great to read aloud.)  The opening and closing endpapers are a swirl of hues of red; patterns of looped-leaf-like shapes.  The two creatures on the jacket and case make an appearance again on the title page.

The realistic intricacies Jenkins achieves in his collages are astounding; the circular suction cups on the octopus, the hundreds of legs on the millipede, the fur on the ring-tailed lemur, the texture on the elephant's skin, the feathery lightness of the leaves on trees, and the armor on the pangolin.  For each animal with eyes he captures the spark of light seen in each of them.  Their body stances and the lines defining them are brimming with motion.  The introductory animal spans two pages and the remainder are grouped on the following two pages.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the hedgehog.  It's shaped into a circle with a multitude of spines, brown flecked with white and gray.  A small gray face looks at the reader, brown eyes curious and nose ready to work.

Flying Frogs And Walking Fish written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page is a winning title sure to increase and satisfy curiosity simultaneously.  For the sections, walking, leaping, swimming, climbing, flying, rolling and jetting, thumbnails with more information about each animal is provided at the end.  A bibliography is included on the closing endpapers with the publication information.

This educator's guide with several of Steve Jenkins' titles includes this most recent title.  To follow the process used in making this particular title please follow the link attached to Steve Jenkins's name.

Please visit educator Alyson Beecher's blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, to read about the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

She's Big, She's Bad, And She's Back

In the realm of fairy there are villains in need of vanquishing...always. They plague the residents' pursuit of a life filled with peace.  One of the most haunting tales is of children wandering deep into dark woods.  Under the guise of goodness a wicked witch lures them lost and hungry into her home.

The canny canine in The Three Ninja Pigs (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., September 27, 2012) written by Corey Rosen Schwartz with illustrations by Dan Santat and back again in Ninja Red Riding Hood (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), July 10, 2014) written by Corey Rosen Schwartz with illustrations by Dan Santat was permanently put in place by masterful martial artists, a pig phenom and a gal and her grandmother.  Another member of the family is famished, looking for food.  Hensel And Gretel Ninja Chicks (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, May 24, 2016) written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez with illustrations by Dan Santat follows a fiendish fox.  Fearless fowl intend to foil her feast.

Once upon a menacing time
two chicks knew a fox was at large. 
Their Ma had been taken
and Pop was quite shaken
so Hensel and Gretel took charge.

In the village dojo, they learned a new form of martial arts mojo.  Silence, shadows and stealth became their friends as they sought to bring this reign of terror to an end.  Imagine their dismay when they arrived home to find their father had been taken away.  Without a minute to waste, they hiked in great haste; leaving crumbs in their wake.

Feeling great fear and fright, discovering their morsels had vanished from sight, they wandered into the night until they saw a light.  Following the glow up ahead they discovered an abode made entirely of corn bread.  Little did Hensel know as she snacked, she was about to be attacked.  Once inside, she knew the vixen had lied.

In a cage Pop had been stuck and Mama was next to be plucked.  Finding herself behind bars, Hensel thanked her lucky stars for her lock picking skills.  In case you're wondering about good Gretel, knowing her family was in trouble, down the chimney she went on the double.  Mother and daughter combined their survival savvy giving the fox a fight.  Pop and Hensel helped to set things right.  Kiya!

Combining their warrior writing expertise Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez create a story moving and grooving to a rhyming ninjutsu beat.  Elements of the original tale are deftly woven into this fractured version focusing on chickens and the foul fox.  The dialogue blended with the narrative is dynamic creating tension and comedy at the same time.  Here is a sample passage.

She gasped, and then dashed 
to the corner,
where Pop was confined in a crate.
"Watch out!" Papa cried.
"You'll be
She sidestepped,
but it was too late. 

When opening the dust jacket, to the left, on the back, readers see a canvas in the same hue as seen on the title text on the front.  In a diagonal panel the fox is pictured engaged in battle with the two chicks, one kicking outside the lines of the frame.  We read the words

Is that witchy fox ready for kung POW chickens?

On the front the no-nonsense expressions on the faces of the chickens and fox and the body stances on all of them foreshadow the events to come; wok in hand the fox will fight for food and the chickens are determined to do battle to spare everyone's lives.  The opening and closing endpapers feature first the coop-like residence of the chickens sitting in a clearing surrounded by the forest.  At the back, in a more mountainous setting, the fox's house awaits the arrival of some unlucky soul, smoke rising from the chimney.

Rendered throughout with Sumi brush work on rice paper and completed in Adobe Photoshop Dan Santat visually begins the story with a two page image on the dedication, verso and title pages; Pop, Hensel and Gretel, worried and wary, are walking to the gates of their town.  A BEWARE sign, with a fox on it, is hanging on the gate.  Nods to the two previous books are seen on buildings as the trio approach the dojo.  Santat's perspective in these first two large illustrations draws our attention directly to the main characters.

Many of the remaining pictures spread across two pages but Santat places pictures within pictures as the action dictates.  Even his single page pictures flow across the gutter forming a wonderful whole. The color palette reflects the time of day along with the correct emotional atmosphere.  Each scene is vivid and vibrant, especially the fighting segments.  There is so much energy in his images they embrace you. You'll believe you can hear voices and sounds.

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Within this picture we see the passage of time and the journey Hensel and Gretel take through the forest.  Clothed in their ninja clothing they move with caution through trees, across a bridge near a waterfall, along a mountainous path and carefully approach the light seen through the trees on the right toward the bottom.  The layout and design fashion a feeling of motion.

Hensel And Gretel Ninja Chicks written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez with illustrations by Dan Santat is fairy tale fun full of twists and turns.  When the words are read aloud with these images, your listeners will be ready to assume positions in defense of whatever scoundrel skulks into view.  This is one of my favorite Hansel and Gretel variants.

To learn more about Corey Rosen Schwartz, Rebecca J. Gomez and Dan Santat and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  The trio can be found on Twitter at @CoreyPBNinja @GomezWrites and @dsantat  Enjoy the book trailer.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Under The Summer Sun

The word summertime signifies many things to many people.  In thinking about its arrival it seems to always begin in the same way.  It starts as a blank sheet of paper.  Regardless of or in spite of plans and spontaneous opportunities, the stark emptiness fills with memories, some of which will last a lifetime.

The tiniest variable or larger influence can and will make a difference.  Raymie Nightingale (Candlewick Press, April 12, 2016) written by Newbery Medalist (Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, September 24, 2013) Kate DiCamillo invites readers to participate in the transformative experience of three individuals.  No one will be unchanged.

There were three of them, three girls.
They were standing side by side.
They were standing at attention.

This trio of ten-year-old girls is taking baton twirling lessons.  It is the 5th day of June in 1975.  Raymie Clarke, Beverly Tapinski and Louisiana Elefante all want to enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest.  Each one of them has very real reasons for participating.

Raymie's father, Jim Clarke, of Clarke Family Insurance has run away with a dental hygienist. If he sees Raymie's picture in the paper, surely he will come back.  To avoid staying in the county home and to get Archie back from the Very Friendly Animal Center, Louisiana needs to win the one thousand nine hundred and seventy-five dollars.  Sabotage is the only thing on Beverly's mind.  In a flurry of is-this-really-happening activities these very different people come together like parts of a single heart.

It all begins with a requirement to do a good deed, a book about Florence Nightingale and the Golden Glen Nursing Home.  Along the way a hand is held, screams are heard, a yellow bird finds freedom and Granny Elefante comes racing down the road in the family's rattletrap station wagon.  It's time to get the heck out of Dodge.  The wisdom of school librarian Mr. Option, a lifesaving coach, Mr. Staphopoulos and his sidekick, an eternal grinning Edgar, elderly Mrs. Borkowski and the insurance agency secretary Mrs. Sylvester is infinitely helpful.

A clandestine nighttime escapade increases their number.  Swans, sinkholes and shopping carts swirl together, stirred by the hands of the Fates.  The Rancheros are held together by hope...and a miracle.

There is richness to the writing of Kate DiCamillo.  We feel wealthy from the reading of her words.  Her descriptions of things we might not notice, those things we should notice and of everyday life with its too-much-sometimes sadness are overflowing with hope; the flame that can shrink to a tiny flicker or swell to a blazing inferno.  When we see the world through the eyes of her characters' lives we become better people.

Each of the three main characters comes to this improbable friendship with talents and troubles.  Their strengths, the best part of each of them, are revealed in the events, Raymie's thoughts and their conversations.  Rough and tumble Beverly, imaginative, ethereal and optimistic Louisiana and shy, careful and ultimately courageous Raymie are exactly what each of them needs to create an unbreakable bond.

 The secondary characters, especially Granny, are wonderfully marvelous.  Her energy, sense of adventure and creativity in the face of huge obstacles generate promise as well as providing the story with comic relief.  It's as if there are small stories all around the three girls (us) which contribute to their much larger story.

This narrative unfolds through DiCamillo's short chapters, beginning and ending with moments moving us forward as quickly as possible.  We have to know what will happen.  We have come to feel great affection for these three girls.   Here are only a few of my many marked passages.

The sun was way, way up in the sky, and the whole thing was like high noon in a Western.  But it was not a Western; it was baton-twirling lessons at Ida Nee's house in Ida Nee's backyard.

"Oh, my goodness," said Louisiana. "I'm just all filled up with feather and regrets.  And fears.  I have a lot of fears."
She stood there staring at both of them.  Her eyes were dark.  They were brown.  No, they were black, and they were set very deep in her fact.  She blinked.  "I've got a question for you," she said. "Have you ever in your life come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on you?"
Raymie didn't even have to think about the answer to this question. "Yes," she said.
"Duh," said Beverly.
"It's terrifying, isn't it?" said Louisiana.
The three of them stood there looking at one another.
Raymie felt something expanding inside of her.  It felt like a gigantic tent billowing out.
This, Raymie knew, was her soul.

They were going very, very fast, and the car emitted a lot of noises:  screeches (from the piece of loose wood siding), thumps (from the door that would not stay closed), and a cacophony of mechanical grinding noises---the overworked and desperate sounds an engine makes when it has been pushed beyond its limits.

I've finished Raymie Nightingale written by Kate DiCamillo for the second time. With each reading it gets better; the sign of a classic.  This is a book to cherish.  This is a book to read aloud.  Her characters resonate with readers, bringing all our lives into perspective.  It is love which defines and binds us.

To learn more about Kate DiCamillo and her other books, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can read the first five chapters, download an Event Kit loaded with activities, download a Teachers' Guide, and a Book Group Discussion Guide.  At another site you can lesson to an audio clip.  Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries, John Schumacher, chats with Kate DiCamillo on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Kate DiCamillo is interviewed about this title at NPR All Things Considered, Public Libraries Online, and BuzzFeed Books. Enjoy the videos.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Delight In Deciphering

A personal library with bookcases filled with picture books is evidence of my unwavering love of them.  The depth found in those few pages as a result of a beautiful blend of text and images is a constant source of amazement.  Without question they hold appeal to readers of every age.

Have you ever taken the text from a picture book and written it on a separate piece of paper?  It's a discovery in the power of the written word to create pictures in your mind.  Perhaps this is why my youngest listeners, those who are not yet reading on their own, continually request I read everything on a page of a picture book; the narrative text, the speech bubbles and extra comments uttered as an aside.  They understand the potential found in words.

When they recognize words as you are reading, they are eager to read them along with you or repeat them.  This is not a picture book! (Chronicle Books, May 3, 2016) written and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier follows two companions seeking the potential in words.  Their discoveries will fill your reader's heart.

A book!
There are only words in 
this book?
Where are the pictures?!

Needless to say, the duckling is completely distraught with the lack of illustrations in the book he has found.  He is so upset, he kicks it away.  His real affection for books overcomes his anger.  He picks it up and apologizes.

Now seated, puzzling over the words, a bug appears wanting to know what the duckling has.  Since he's told it's a book, the bug wants to know if the duckling can read it.  And this, readers, is where this story, like all good stories, takes us to places familiar and startlingly new.

At first duckling is struggling, words can be tricky.  Studying the pages, he suddenly notices words he knows.  This is one happy duckling!  These words are emotionally charged as he talks about them to the bug.  There are high points and below low points.

Both duckling and bug realize words lift you away from the here and now.  They fashion a cocoon around you, until you emerge changed.  You will remember.

The text is spare; single sentences or phrases, exclamations and questions.  With great care Sergio Ruzzier has selected thoughts he wishes to share with us; thoughts depicting the journey everyone takes when they learn to unfold the meaning of words.  He portrays the frustration and the elation impeccably.  Gently but with purpose he takes us back to where we belong.  Here is an illuminating moment.

Words are so difficult.
Wait! I know some
of these words!

In an act of design brilliance the background for the matching dust jacket and book case is an enlarged portion of another part of the book.  Varying shades of the bright red for the title text are used throughout the book.  On the front the duckling and bookbug are clearly perplexed by what they see on the page.  To the left, on the back, we see a resolution to their difficulties.  The opening and closing endpapers are identical but entirely different.  That is all I will reveal.

Sergio Ruzzier begins the story for us with four pages prior to the title page as the duckling finds, rejects and recovers the book.  These pages and others prior to the duckling and bug crossing a log bridge have a crisp white background.  It is not until the duckling begins to comprehend words that the background is altered.  Now we have the wonderful, whimsical color schemes singular to the work of Ruzzier.

Pastel landscapes, intricate details, fine lines, and soft muted shades define his work.  Quirky creatures; fish with feet, blowing bubble heads, an eye-glass wearing animal with a nose like a flute or a large orange bird with blue-tipped wings and a green head and feet.  Rendered in pen, ink and watercolor these illustrations exude spellbinding charm.

One of my favorite illustrations is for

and peaceful words.

A gorgeous mix of blue, pink, peach and cream clouds swirl above calm waters mirroring the sky.  The duckling is lying in the bottom of a boat near the stern, the book raised in his hands as he reads.  The bug, eyes closed is resting and listening in the bow of the boat.  A green fish looks at them from the water.  The large bird is flying toward them from the upper left-hand corner.  This IS peace.

Whenever I read a book written and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier I find myself wanting to hug it.  This is not a picture book! is no exception.  The final sentence, the lingering thought, will have readers sighing.  You will have much in common with the duckling at the conclusion...and the bookbug.  I can't imagine a book collection, personal or professional, without a copy of this book.

To learn more about the work of Sergio Ruzzier please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  By following this link you can use pages provided for you after reading this book.  I predict hours of happy drawing.  Sergio Ruzzier was showcased at Watch. Connect. Read., the blog of the Scholastic Ambassador for School Libraries, John Schumacher.  He chatted about this book, other projects and completed John's sentences.  Sergio Ruzzier was a guest at All The Wonders, Episode 252 with teacher librarian Matthew Winner.  Let Kids Read is a must-read guest post Sergio Ruzzier wrote for the Nerdy Book Club. Sergio Ruzzier and this title are highlighted at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, the blog of author and reviewer Julie Danielson.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Nighttime Nuisance

When your house is surrounded by woods in a neighborhood surrounded by woods, as the nights start to get cooler with the approach of winter, you can usually expect uninvited guests.  Regardless of applying foaming filler in every nook and cranny, they find a way into your humble abode.   As they make their presence known and your canine companion chooses to ignore them, you do too.  It's a sort of a live and let live philosophy.

There are times though when lying in bed reading, their skittering and scampering in the walls is downright distracting.  The new release, Good Night Owl (Disney Hyperion, April 19, 2016) by Geisel Award-winning author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli (The Watermelon Seed) has one of our nocturnal, feathered friends struggling to enjoy total peace and quiet.  His night is anything but good.

Owl was settling into bed 
when he heard a noise.

It wasn't very loud but it was a tad bit weird.  He thought someone might be at the door but when he checked there was not a soul in sight.  Owl decided to tuck himself back into bed and wish himself good night.

Mere seconds later, he heard the same sound again.  Perhaps it was inside the house.  He not only looked in a cupboard in the living room but took every object off the shelves until they were bare.  There was no noise there.

Back in bed he tried to go to asleep.


Oh, no!  It was the noise.  Where could it possibly be?  Grabbing his tool box he set to work.  It was not under him.  Can you believe it?  Owl heard that noise a fourth time as he was trying his hardest to have a good night and to sleep tight.

Getting more and more frustrated, determined to locate the source of the sound, he became even more industrious.  He found himself able to gaze at the night sky...from his bed.  At this point Owl was beyond frazzled.  He waited for the sound.  And he waited some more.  Any thoughts of sleep were gone.  And then it happened.  You might get what you expect or you might get more.

When you long for sleep, the slightest sound, especially a new noise, can jolt you into restlessness faster than caffeine.  This is a universal truth.  Greg Pizzoli uses this to excellent advantage.  The blend of narration and dialogue expands our involvement.  He creates a story cadence with Owl settling in, hearing the noise and trying to locate it.

Each time he attempts to eradicate the presence of the noise, his actions escalate.  They become more and more extreme which increases the comedy of the entire situation until the final episode when readers (and the noise maker) are not quite sure what Owl will do.  This moment is marvelous.  Here is a sample passage.

So Owl went back to bed.
"Good night, Owl," he said.
And then he heard the noise.

When you look at the front of the dust jacket, you are not quite sure what is bothering Owl but his wide-eyed stare lets you know everything is not right in his world.  The grinning mouse leaning over his headboard gives you the smallest clue.  You might also wonder why Owl seems to be in his bed under the stars.  To the left, on the back, of the dust jacket a small circle of white in placed on the darker starry canvas.  Mouse is standing there, finger to lips, telling us to be quiet.   The colors seen on the dust jacket are used throughout the book.

The book case is a close-up of the walls of Owl's home, a soft shade of gray.  On the right is a cross stitch Home Sweet Home picture Owl has hanging on his wall.  This, when you consider what is going to happen, is hilarious.  On the back of the book case is the underside or back of the sewn picture.  The opening and closing endpapers are the same pattern as Owl's bedspread; crisscross lines making diamonds, some filled with pastel hues.

On the title page Owl is peering at us out one of the windows in his home.  Mouse is looking out the other.  Many of the illustrations are single page, framed in a wide white border.  For emphasis Pizzoli uses larger images.  The text appears alone on a page, beneath and above pictures and sometimes with small images on a colorful background. To create further tension Pizzoli does have a series of four visuals framed in a black line zooming in closer to Owl's face with each one.  Careful readers will see small details giving a nod to his other titles as well as the passage of time.

I have many favorite images in this book.  Each one accentuates the narrative.  One of them is Owl going back to bed for the fourth time.  His eyes are closed as he sleeps on his side.  Wearing a grin Mouse is leaning over the headboard.  You know with every fiber of your being, Owl is going to hear the noise again.

Will this title be a bedtime favorite?  Yes!  Will this title be a storytime favorite? Yes!  Will Good Night Owl written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli be an anytime favorite?  YES!  We can easily identify with both of the characters.  We will love to laugh at every new incident.

To learn more about Greg Pizzoli and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Greg Pizzoli maintains a blog here.  Nick Patton chats with Greg Pizzoli at All The Wonders, Picturebooking Episode 53.  It is totally fascinating.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Born To Play

It was summer.  We were all rookies.  Coach Wadsworth was patient to a fault.  He really understood the skills of the players on his softball team, enhancing our abilities.  He knew as a whole we were only as strong as the weakest link.

So he worked with all of us, hour after hour, game after game.  If you weren't a powerhouse hitter but a fast runner, he made sure you bunted with the best of them.  If you were quick on your feet with honed reflexes but could not throw great distances, he placed you in the infield.  He saw potential; teaching the shortest member of his team to pitch fast, underhand strikes.

There are certain individuals who have a knack for baseball, unlike us rookies of a summer in the sixties, as soon as they can move.  The Kid From Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story Of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton (Clarion Books, March 29, 2016) written by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Steven Salerno is a story about a remarkably gifted player.  Let's turn back the clock.

Edith Houghton used to say, "I guess I was born with a baseball in my hand," and if you'd seen little Edith playing in the 1920s, you'd probably have believed it.  She was magic on the field.

As the youngest of ten children, Edith lacked no opportunity to play the game, especially within the neighborhood.  Across the street from her home on many a summer evening baseball was played by men and watched by Edith from the comfort of a bedroom window.  In 1922 the Philadelphia Bobbies, an all-female professional baseball team, were looking for new players.  Edith tried out for the team and her amazing skills landed her a spot as starting shortstop at the age of ten!

Nicknamed The Kid by reporters her abilities were duly noted by fans of the game no matter who they played.  At the age of thirteen her team was offered a trip of a lifetime; they were going to Japan to play against men's baseball teams at the college level.  They traveled by train for twelve days to the west coast and by boat for thirteen days until they reached their destination.  I'll bet they were quite a sight when they played ball on the deck of the ship.

So much was different in Japan than back at home in Pennsylvania but once the first game started that was all that mattered.  Baseball was baseball.  For the games in Japan, the team had a male pitcher and catcher.  To those who knew Edith it was no surprise how she acquired a great deal of yen after a promise from one of the players.

For two months, the girls and young women did everything together; played baseball, enjoyed the sights of the country, relaxed creating musical medleys and even, on the return voyage home, managed to puzzle a few passengers on board with a prank.  Arriving in Philadelphia they received a heartwarming welcome.  The best greeting of all for Edith Houghton was at 2502 Diamond Street.

For readers the highlight of this book, other than learning about the astonishing life of Edith Houghton, was the care given by author Audrey Vernick in writing a narrative with fascinating explicit details.  In describing Edith becoming a part of the team, she mentions everything needed to be done to make the uniform fit the ten-year-old.  She works actual quotes from Edith into the story seamlessly.

As you read this title you are given a very clear picture of defining events which Vernick links together as a wonderful whole.  We get to know Edith on a very personal level.  Here is a sample passage.

No one Edith knew had been to Japan.  Most people she knew hadn't stepped foot outside Pennsylvania.
"My parents had to go to school and explain to them about this," Edith said. "The principal and teachers agreed that I'd get more out of that trip than being in that class, and it's true."

You don't realize it when looking at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case initially but after reading the book, you know Steven Salerno has captured the essence of Edith Houghton in her stance and with the expression on her face.  By placing the suitcase labeled with places next to her, he gives us an idea of her travels with the team.  To the left, on the back, an image of the team from the interior of the title has been placed on a shade of green with a circle around the center, focusing on Edith, displaying the actual colors of grass and sky within it.  The opening and closing endpapers are a bright grass green.  The title text from the front is repeated on a much larger scale for the title page.

Nearly all the illustrations

created with charcoal, ink, and gouache with added digital color rendered in Adobe Photoshop

span across two pages.  Salerno's color palette, shading, fine lines, and use of light easily transport readers to a time in the past.  The design and layout is fabulous as his perspectives shift to further engage readers.

One of my favorite illustrations covers two pages.  Blue window edges and blue window shades frame images of a ball game during the evening.  A light glows on the field near home plate as a batter waits for a pitched ball to arrive and near the third baseman.  Along the road cars have stopped with people standing outside them to watch the game.  Above this with arms resting on the window sill is Edith, wearing her ball cap with the brim tipped up, a half smile on her face.  Gauzy white curtains are billowing in a gentle breeze.

The Kid From Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story Of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton written by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Steven Salerno is an out-of-the-park biography.  You will find yourself inspired and cheering for this girl who knew what she wanted and went after it with her whole heart.  In a two page A Note From The Author Audrey Vernick goes on to explain how baseball was a part of Edith's life until her passing in 2013.  This woman garnered more than one "first".

You can enjoy more information about Audrey Vernick and Steven Salerno by following the links attached to their names to access their websites.  They both have blogs also.  A Discussion and Activity Guide has been created for this title.  Audrey Vernick was a guest at author Kirby Larson's Friend Friday. Audrey Vernick was interviewed by Beth Shaum on her blog, A Foodie Bibliophile In Wanderlust.  Here are a couple of links about Edith Houghton; From Edith Houghton to Amanda Hopkins, MLB's 70-year gap in female scouts and Edith Houghton, Rare Woman Among Baseball Scouts, Dies at 100.  

You might want to check out the other collaboration by Audrey Vernick and Steven Salerno, Brothers At Bat: The True Story Of An Amazing All-Brothers Baseball Team.

Please take a moment to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other selections by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

To See In The Sea

It's not done very often.  When it is done, it's a rip-roaring success.  If it's been memorable, you would think it would become standard practice.  Call it intuition of a lifelong reader but reading a book aloud to a group of students for the first time without reading it first yourself, can be and has been pure magic.

There are those books when you first gaze at the dust jacket and book case, it's as if they are speaking to you.  If you are like me, you've learned to listen.  One look at Barnacle Is BORED (Scholastic Press, May 10, 2016) written and illustrated by Jonathan Fenske and you can hear the laughter of readers and listeners building in the background, softly at first and then bursting forth loud and long.


Attached to the underside of a pier, Barnacle wishes he could be anywhere but where he is.  This crustacean's spirit is crushed.  It doesn't matter whether the tide is in or out, nothing is right.

This member of the marine community sees no joy in absolutely anything, day or night.  When a happy, bright and colorful fish swims by, Barnacle instantly gets a case of the-sea-is-bluer-on-the-other-side-of-the-dock.  He is certain this fish's days are filled with merry moments as opposed to his dull and dreary lifestyle stuck in a single spot.

Barnacle imagines all the activities the fish enjoys with other residents of this watery realm.  Diving, soaring and flipping are only a few.  Perhaps a game of tag is played with other smaller ocean occupants.

As Barnacle is about to speculate on another fine bit of fun this fish is surely savoring, he stops mid-sentence.  Mr. Humdrum is at a loss for words.  When the next sentence is uttered, there is a marked difference.

Jonathan Fenske wants readers to become as attached to Barnacle as he is to the wharf.  With Barnacle as the sole narrator, listing every mundane thing in his stationary situation, we are lulled by the established rhythm. (I really like the use of opposites in this portion.)  This allows for the creation of a lively contrast upon the arrival of the fish and Barnacle's descriptions.  Fenske perks up the discourse with alliterative phrases which in turn sets us up for the final hilarious twist.  Here are some sample sentences.

Waves roll OVER me.
Waves roll UNDER me.

I bet he DIVES with dolphins.

When you open the book case you are treated to a single image of Barnacle attached to the dock on the right just past the spine.  On the back, to the left, bubbles surround the text about Jonathan Fenske just as they do the title text on the front.  The simple color palette of white, black, green, blue, shades of brown and pale peach is used throughout the book with the exception of the other sea creatures.  They provide a distinction by being more colorful.  This pairs perfectly with the text.

Fenske uses every portion of the book for this tale with the beginning and conclusion on the endpapers.  The first is a more panoramic view of Barnacle, the pier and the sea.  The second is a close-up for maximum impact. On the verso, dedication and title pages, we zoom in on Barnacle with his dismal expression and two of his four limbs crossed.

When Fenske changes his perspective of Barnacle and the other sea creatures, it brings us directly into the mood of the story.  We can see clearly the expressions on Barnacle's face and the other faces too.  Barnacle's eyes, mouth and arms are what trigger the laughter.  Fenske also adds some additional commentary text by the fish and a pelican guaranteed to elicit giggles from readers and listeners.  Three wordless images are particularly powerful.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when Barnacle is describing the fish with two speech bubbles of text; one which says:

The little polka-dotted show-off.  

We are brought in close to his face.  The four identifying green circles are more pronounced.  His eyebrows are critically raised over wavy eyelids and eyes full of sarcasm.  If he had hands and hips, those hands would be his hips.

Trust me when I say, readers will hardly be able to contain their laughter when the pages of Barnacle Is BORED written and illustrated by Jonathan Fenske are read by an individual or as a read aloud.  The kindergarten students and I could not stop laughing once we started.  The comedy builds and builds until the final picture.  There is hardly anything better than sharing a funny story with others and this book delivers.

Please visit Jonathan Fenske's website to learn more about him and his other work by following the link attached to his name.  By following these links you can read a bit about the journey of this book's publication and the celebration of its release.  This title was included in a post by Rocco Staino at School Library Journal when he interviewed Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher and in a post by teacher librarian Travis Jonker on his blog 100 Scope Notes at School Library Journal.  Jonathan Fenske is interviewed at Eyes And Books

UPDATE:  Jonathan Fenske is a guest at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog Watch. Connect. Read.  Sunday, May 22, 2016.

UPDATE: May 24, 2016  I am happy as can be to have Jonathan on the blog today chatting with me about his work.  I think you all are going to enjoy his answers as much as I do.  

From your website we read that you have a BFA in Sculpture from Clemson University.   You have a successful career as a gallery artist.  From the birth of your first daughter this love of art and illustration transitioned to being a picture book creator.  As a child were you always intrigued with art?

Yes!  I wasn't exposed to a lot of "classical" art as a child (museums, etc.), but I was always fascinated by things that exuded creativity. Cartoons, namely Droopy Dog and Looney Tunes, were probably the art form that I was most drawn too at an early age!

Did you enjoy drawing and painting then?

Oh yes. I would draw anything in sight. As a young teen, I would just sit around and do black and white drawings of cars and airplanes from magazines. My school notebooks have margins full of doodles of teachers, classmates, or my own made up characters.

Or was there a defining moment when you knew this is what you wanted to do?

I was never one of those people who knew from an early age what I wanted to be. When I went to college, I enjoyed creativity and the creative process and wanted some sort of direction in that realm, but what I really wanted to be was a professional soccer player. Obviously, I came to my senses as my art classes displaced my sports fantasies and became my passion. 

Did the image of Barnacle as we see him in this book come to you immediately or did his physical traits evolve?

I have a little doodle of Barnacle on the back of an ATM receipt that I did when the title first came to me. For someone who loves the process of character development, I am surprised at how remarkably unchanged Barnacle is since that first doodle. He's pretty much the same four-tentacled, doofy-eyed creature dangling from his shell. One change was that in the original rough storyboards I had him hanging sideways on the pier, which presented some challenges that were solved by having him dangle straight up and down.

Could you tell us briefly about your process in creating this title.  Did the text come first or the images?  What kind of medium did you use for these illustrations? 

I tend to wake up at 3 a.m. with book ideas in my head (I don't know why...unfortunately, that seems to be the time I am most creative!). Almost always the words and images come out together in a rough storyboard format. Sometimes the words dictate the pictures or vice-versa, but they do tend to come to me hand-in-hand. I do a rough dummy in pencil, then character development in more polished pencil sketches. I then translate the sketches to a digital format and color them. The original rough dummy and pencil and paper drawings are absolutely my favorite part of the process. 

Your comic pacing in Barnacle Is BORED is wonderful.  Do you have a favorite humorous picture book?

Well, first of all, thank you so much for the compliment! I would have to say Lane Smith's The Happy Hocky Family is one of my favorite picture books. The way he skewered the traditional "Dick and Jane" format was pitch-perfect, and the illustrations, though very different from a lot of his work, were such simple yet elegant (not to mention hilarious) companions to the text. 

Thank you for answering these questions Jonathan.  Is there anything else you would like to share?

I would just like to share my gratitude to all those who support children's literature. I am very fortunate that there are so many librarians, parents, teachers, etc. whose passion is the driving force keeping these kinds of books on the shelves. Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Survival Of The Most Intelligent

When a plan is in place, preparations are made to support it.  Every action taken focuses on the goal.  We all know though, plans, preparations and actions combined do not always equal the desired result.  Mother Nature has a way of throwing the proverbial monkey wrench into the mix.

Rain cancels picnic feasts, blizzards cancel a day on the slopes and too much sun cancels a hockey match on the neighborhood pond.  In his debut middle-grade book Peter Brown (Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, My Teacher Is A Monster!: (No, I Am Not.)) begins with weather on the rampage.  The Wild Robot (Little, Brown and Company, April 5, 2016) is first a story of survival but each chapter broadens and deepens the very definition of the word.

Our story begins on the ocean, with wind and rain and thunder and lightning and waves.  A hurricane roared and raged through the night.  And in the middle of the chaos, a cargo ship was sinking.

Aboard this ship was a load of crates; each filled with a single robot.  In the morning the only sign of the ship was five floating crates which traveled until a small rocky island was in sight.  Only one was lifted by waves undamaged to a safe position on the shore.

Poking about the robot wreckage in the early light of the day was a group of sea otters.  They were unable to resist the shininess of the body parts and the damaged but intact crate.  In their eagerness to grasp the spongy protective layer inside the crate, one of them brought the enclosed machine to life.  And this began a tale like none other.

ROZZUM unit 7134, Roz, adapted as she was programmed to do. Her desire to survive first finally had her blending in as part of the flora, allowing her to learn from the animal inhabitants on the island.  At one of their Dawn Truce meetings she presented herself but the animals wanted nothing to do with her.  Not a one of them wanted to help or teach her.

A fox in need, an opossum with first-class acting skills and an orphaned gosling started to shift the animals' assessment of this uninvited resident.  In her endeavors to care for Brightbill, a name given to the gosling by the elderly goose, Loudwing, Roz made connections with the beaver and deer families.  Skills were traded with everyone a winner.  As the spring passed into summer Roz was assimilating more into the animal culture on the island as Brightbill adeptly, with his Mama's help, increased his goose swimming and flying abilities.

As autumn approached an unprovoked attack left Roz a little less herself.  Winter brought frightening challenges but the arrival of spring was celebrated until terror visited the island.  Edge-of-your-seat tension continued chapter after chapter as heroes were born.  As long as there was hope change for the greater good would be accepted.

As soon as chapter one is read, readers know this is going to be an extraordinary book.  The narrator, when speaking, directly addresses the readers personally involving us in this story.  We are privy through Roz's thoughts and the animals' observations and all the conversations, how this robot becomes not only a part of the community but vital to the survival of many members on the island.  Peter Brown through the character of Roz also directs our attention to respect for the natural world, how each species are integral, environmental concerns and the place and purpose of technology.

The technique of short chapters replicates real life; our day is composed of many linked moments.  Each one ends with a carefully crafted sentence, sometimes a statement of fact, but they encourage us to continue.  Vivid descriptions of the island help us to create pictures of the landscape in our minds.  We come to understand how the animal inhabitants live, die and survive.  The relationship between Roz and Brightbill evolves into a heartwarming bond; a beautiful blend of logic and love.  Here are some sample passages.

Animal sounds filled the forest.  Chirps and wingbeats and rustlings in the underbrush.  And then, from the sea cliffs, there came new sounds.  Heavy, crunching footsteps.  The forest animals fell silent, and from their hiding places they watched as a sparkling monster stomped past.

When Roz first stomped across the island, the animal squawks and growls and chirps had sounded like nothing more than meaningless noises.  But she no longer heard animal noises.  Now she heard animal words.  

"Have you done any acting?" asked the opossum.
"I have not," said the robot.
"Well, you should!  You might enjoy it.  You can start by imagining the character you'd like to be.  How do they move and speak?  What are their hopes and fears?  How do others react to them?  Only when you truly understand a character can you become that character..."

"Should I stop calling you Mama?" said the gosling.
"I will still act like your mother, no matter what you call me," said the robot.
"I think I'll keep calling you Mama."
"I think I will keep calling you son."
"We're a strange family," said Brightbill, with a little smile. "But I kind of like it that way."
"Me too," said Roz. 

Throughout the book Peter Brown has drawn images in black and white.  Their size varies according to the passage, point in the story, they enhance.  Each one evokes an emotional response in the reader.

 One of my many favorite illustrations is inside the Nest.  There is no fire going at this moment.  Roz and Brightbill are facing each other.  Brightbill has just pressed the button.  The expressions on their faces speak volumes.

The Wild Robot written and illustrated by Peter Brown is a memorable, moving tale of survival, community and family.  Whether read silently and individually or as a read aloud, this book will be counted as a favorite of readers for this year and as a cherished title for many, many years to come.  No collection, professional or personal, should be without a copy.  Thank you, Peter Brown.

To learn more about Peter Brown and his other work, please visit his website by following the link embedded in his name.  The second of the two links takes you to the page describing the journey this book made until its publication.  To read an excerpt please stop by the publisher's website.  Peter Brown is interviewed at Publishers Weekly and at the Barnes & Noble BNKIDS blog.  Peter Brown is also a guest at All The Wonders, Let's Get Busy, Episode 247 with teacher librarian Matthew Winner.  You might want to listen to one of the chapters read aloud by following a link in one of the tweets.