Quote of the Month

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




Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Looking For Answers

There are those who can never have enough questions answered.  They extend themselves daily not content with a reply but wanting to know why.  We have all had them in our collective classrooms.  We might even be one of those people who have a driving need to know.

The world is an entirely different, a better, place because of these people who never rest in their search to obtain a complete picture of whatever it is (or was) they are pursuing.  Charles Darwin's Around-The-World Adventure (Abrams Books For Young Readers, October 4, 2016) written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes follows one of these people on a voyage which changed his life.  It changed all our lives, then and now.

Charles Robert Darwin would have rather been outside searching for bugs, beetles, worms, butterflies, birds, rocks, and bones than sitting in a classroom.

He was a seeker and a collector, much smarter than his teachers thought he was.  He was unable to follow in his father's footsteps in the medical profession but sought to become a clergyman.  After his completion of studies at Cambridge University, his professor of botany recommended Charles as the naturalist sailing with the HMS Beagle.  The ship would be voyaging to South America to take map measurements.

The ship was captained by Robert FitzRoy (he and young Charles did have disagreements).  It was ninety feet long.  There was not a bit of room to spare between the men on board and the supplies.  Thankfully Charles decided very early to journal everything about this journey.

Charles was happier than he had ever been when visiting the rain forests along the east coast of South America. Stick insects he observed helped him ponder how creatures adapt to continue their species.  He continued to collect and send specimens back home.  Did you know that Charles spent a lot of time on land while the ship sailed along the coast?  What he discovered there prompted other theories.  Everything he saw contributed to his quest to discover as much as possible about animals and their survival.

One hundred miles from the HMS Beagle Charles, the captain and a few sailors had a near-death experience.  Just reading about it gives you the shivers.  You have to wonder how our world would be if Charles had not survived.  Through personal experiences Charles formed hypotheses about earthquakes and volcanoes and their effect on the earth's surface.  One was confirmed with a trip to the Andes and a discovery there.

After four years the HMS Beagle needed to return home but first there were stops at the Galapagos Islands, around New Zealand, Australia, the Cape of Good Hope, Ascension Island, and back to Brazil.  Five years away from home changed Charles more than in age (22-27).  A path for his life's work stretched before him.


Painstaking research and a love of what she read lead Jennifer Thermes to create a nonfiction narrative which captivates readers. Interesting incidents make Charles Darwin the person more accessible.  In the first paragraph she relates an encounter with a beetle that will astound at the very least.  It's a little gross... in a good kind of way.

It's important for us to know Charles was often seasick but his desire for adventure and quest for knowledge overcame any hardships he met.  This leads into his being on land for more time than we might have previously known.  Thermes' descriptions of the surroundings in which Charles finds himself give us a sense of being there with him.  Another skillful technique she employs is to insert questions in the text, suppositions made by Charles.  It will lead readers into forming their own questions.  Here are two pieces of sample text.

In the rain forest, the ground soaked up the downpour while the plants grew green and lush.  Charles was surrounded by the buzz of millions of insects, yet the jungle wrapped him in velvet silence. 

He studied rocks and tried to figure out how steep cliffs and flat plains were formed.  Was it possible that the shape of the land affected the animals' survival?


In a clever artistic move Jennifer Thermes has the tree on the front of the dust jacket aligned with mountain peaks of the Andes on the back, to the left.  This image on the back is taken from the interior of the book.  The illustration on the front is a beautiful blend of a multitude of places Charles visited.  It allows us to see how his views expanded on this trek around the world.  The fine lines and exquisite attention to detail seen here is only a glimpse of what the remainder of the book holds for readers.  The book case is a series of waves, layered from nearly the top to the bottom.  Above them are sky and the HMS Beagle sailing west.  Beneath the vessel is a quote from Charles Darwin.

The opening and closing endpapers are elaborate portraits of the world portraying the voyage as a departure and as a return.  Arrows show the line of travel and stops.  Continents and places are appropriately named.  By turning the page to view vertically you can see a detailed timeline for the five years corresponding to the points in the journey.  The title page and verso is one single illustration of sea and sky with the HMS Beagle beneath the title text.  On the left a picture is placed over this.  There are several specimen jars, rocks, a shell, a bone, a butterfly, and other insects with a magnifying glass.  A dedication is placed on the largest bottle.  Under this is an open journal with the publication information.

Rendered in watercolor and black colored pencil on Fabriano Hot Press Paper these images, wonderfully realistic and brimming with elements, ask us to stop and look.  This is how Charles Darwin viewed our world.  He stopped and looked. (I love that Thermes places a puppy in the picture of Charles as a boy and has the dog grow with him and greet him when he arrives home.)

There are eight maps of varying sizes throughout this title, one which needs to be viewed vertically.  Thermes has them labeled completely and includes animals found in each of the places after leaving England.  Her images range in size from double-page spreads to single pages to smaller pictures set in larger ones.  Her cross section of the ship at sea is illuminating.  Her perspectives are marvelous; a bird's eye view of the ship at sea, Charles riding across the pampas amid mice, rabbits, armadillos, and birds. Gauchos ride alongside him swinging their bolas.  A close-up of collected fossils will have readers searching for their own treasures.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Charles in a small sailboat in the Tierra del Fuego waters.  Behind him is the HMS Beagle on the left.  The scene is framed by sky and mountains.  Penguins stand on ice floes.  Seals swim near him and rest on ice.  Beneath the water we can view an array of marine life; seals, fish of all sizes, a whale, jellyfish, starfish, crabs and an octopus.  All move around in a garden of seaweed.

For this post I borrowed a copy of Charles Darwin's Around-The-World Adventure written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes from my public library.  But rest assured I not only will be getting a personal copy but several others to give away.  This is a stellar work of nonfiction sure to promote curiosity and the value of never stopping pursuit of your passion.

To learn more about Jennifer Thermes and her other work please visit her website and blog by following the links attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images including one of my favorite pictures.  There is artwork and process sketches at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  At Miss Marple's Musings Jennifer Thermes is interviewed.  We get to see her work space and more artwork tied to this title.  We also get to see more about this book and the process involved at The Little Crooked Cottage.  Enjoy Jennifer's tweets.





Remember to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the other selections by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Marvelous Moments Under The Sea

Even on your most super fantastic day, laughter is still welcome.  You can never have enough laughter in your life.  The next best thing is having someone to enjoy the laughter with you.  Certainly every single person can remember being in a group when quiet is demanded but you and one other person (or more) gets a case of the giggles over something ridiculous.  You try to smother the laughter but it keeps bubbling to the surface.  Once you get control of yourselves again each one feels uplifted, a glow of goodness spreading throughout your being.  That's the power of shared laughter.

Leave it to the creative mind of the man who brought us It Came In The Mail to breathe life into two distinctive characters in the first of a new graphic novel series. Narwhal: Unicorn Of The Sea (A Narwhal And Jelly Book) (Tundra Books, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company, October 4, 2016) written and illustrated by Ben Clanton matches unlikely marine animals together for three wonderful episodes.  Get ready for giggles and grins!

NARWHAL IS REALLY AWESOME
ONE DAY WHEN NARWHAL WAS OUT FOR A SWIM, HE FOUND HIMSELF IN NEW WATERS.

WHOA!  WHAT ARE YOU?

ME?  I'M NARWHAL THE NARWHAL!



 Narwhal has run into Jelly who can't quite believe Narwhal is real.  Narwhal turns around and asks Jelly if he is real.  Narwhal has never seen a jellyfish.  Jellyfish has never seen a narwhal. They are both wondering if the other is a figment of their imagination.  The comedic conversation continues until they come to a mutual agreement about pals and waffles.  I know what you're thinking. Waffles?  Under the sea?  That's only the beginning of the fun in this book.

In their second adventure Narwhal has read online (he has a computer) that narwhals travel and live in pods.  He can't find his pod.  Ever the glass-half-full kind of creature, Narwhal is going to make his own pod.  Going from animal to animal each one is gifted with a horn when they join.  Someone is not happy about being forgotten until the word party is mentioned.

When Jelly swims up to Narwhal in their third encounter, Narwhal is reading his favorite book in the world.  When Jelly sees the inside of the book, he is shocked and completely puzzled.  (You will be, too.)  With his upbeat, silver-lining outlook on life, Narwhal proceeds to teach Jelly about the possibilities and potential of having a book like his favorite one.  (There might be a sea monkey involved.)


You can sincerely appreciate the skill of Ben Clanton in fashioning this narrative when you read it aloud.  The contrast in the personalities of Narwhal and Jelly is enough to promote hilarity but still allow them to compromise.  Or, to be truthful, to allow Jelly to adjust his disposition.

The pacing is perfection.  Each conversation builds to an ending which will generate smiles all around.  To pause the story Ben Clanton has inserted Really Fun Facts, More Really Fun Facts and The Narwhal Song between chapters one and two and two and three.  Here is a continuation of the opening dialogue.

A NARWHAL?
YEP! UNICORN OF THE SEA!
ARE YOU REAL?
LAST TIME I CHECKED.
ARE YOU?
AM I WHAT?
REAL!
UM...YEAH, I'M A JELLYFISH.
JELLYFISH? heehee! THAT SOUNDS FUNNY!


In soft sea blues, black, white and yellow, Ben Clanton begins his limited color palette which contributes to the charm of this title.  Who can resist the cheerful Narwhal on the front of the book case?  Jellyfish is looking rather alarmed.  Who is this Unicorn of the Sea?  To the left, on the back, four square blue panels on a yellow background, two with Narwhal speaking and two with Jellyfish talking, promote this book and waffles. On the opening endpapers tiny Narwhals cover the space.  Miniature Jellies cover the closing endpapers.

These images are rendered in colored pencil and colored digitally.  All the text is hand-lettered by Ben Clanton.  Wider, heavy black lines frame each panel and the elements in each picture.  The panel sizes vary from square to rectangle and to full page pictures.  At times Clanton will place a square within a larger visual for emphasis.  For a big "WOW" factor there are several two page illustrations.

It should also be noted that the limited color choices open the door to the zing we get when more realistic color is introduced in the final chapter.  The quality of facial expressions and emotion Clanton gets with a few lines and dots is amazing.  These characters are ready to leap from the sea into your space.

One of my many favorite illustrations is on page nine.  The background is white with light blue bubbles surrounding Jelly who is looking rather grumpy in the center of the page.  His brows are furrowed (a straight line across his eyes).  Two of his six legs are raised to look like arms as he looks directly at the reader making an appeal with his statements.  I dare you not to burst out laughing at this page.

Narwhal: Unicorn Of The Sea (A Narwhal And Jelly Book) written and illustrated by Ben Clanton is a wonderful beginning to what promises to be a delightful series.  I guarantee you will fall in love with these characters after the first few pages.  I can hardly wait for the second book to be released.  According to IndieBound.org it will be May 2017.  Podtastic!

To discover more about Ben Clanton please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  You can get a peek at some of the interior by following this link to the publisher's website. Narwhal and Jellyfish have their own website here.  This book is featured at All The Wonders in a post.  This title is one of the School Library Journal Top 10 Graphic Novels | 2016.

Monday, November 28, 2016

White As...

Once the words fairy tale are uttered an aura of magic and mystery fills the place.  If others are present, without being aware, they move in closer to the speaker.  Even though the particular story selected may be as familiar as our own faces in the mirror in the morning, we still listen as if we are hearing it for the very first time.

Fairy tales have distinctive goodness in them working to overcome blatant evil.  They are not without supreme difficulties but we know there will be a happily ever after.  Author illustrator Matt Phelan, highly respected for his body of work, especially his graphic novels, brings to readers a haunting rendition of one of the most well-known fairy tales.  Snow White: A Graphic Novel (Candlewick Press, September 13, 2016) written and illustrated by Matt Phelan is remarkable for the brilliance of the artwork, setting and narrative.

The story opens with a beautiful young woman lying in a sleigh in a store-front window.  NYPD crime scene tape ropes off the area.  A police detective asks a crying youth:

What's the story here?
Who is she?

He replies:
White as snow...

By the attire worn by the characters, you know this story is taking place in the not-too-distant past.   With a page turn your curiosity is satisfied with the words

1918
Central Park

A little girl, Samantha White, is playing in the snow as her mother strolls along with her but the happy day turns tragic when the woman begins to cough blood.  She passes away shortly thereafter.  Ten years later, Mr. White reads a newspaper article about a hit performer at the Follies.  He is mesmerized by her performance.

Her new stepmother, the Ziegfeld Queen, has Samantha sent away to boarding school.  Back at home Mr. White seems to have survived the market crash but cannot survive the evil wishes and jealousies of his new wife.  At the reading of Mr. White's will his wife is shocked by an amendment leaving the bulk of the estate to Snow White.

A man is hired to kill Snow White but after chasing her in and through Hooverville, he warns her to never go home again.  This man visits a butcher hoping to convince the stepmother the deed is completed.  Snow White finds her way back to the city only to be nearly attacked by two villains in an alley. She is saved by seven boys who live on the streets.

That night Snow White takes the boys to Macy's department store to show them the winter window display, hoping to help them believe there is beauty everywhere.  This is a mistake.  Another mistake is made the next morning.

In a state of shock, sadness and anger, the seven give chase and watch as fate attempts to balance the scales.  Remembering Snow White's first love shared with them, they proceed, with heavy hearts, to carry out their plan.  A detective gets the surprise of his life.  Seven boys finally believe in the power of snow.


Within eighteen chapters Matt Phelan writes a minimal amount of text, the majority of it dialogue.  This presents pivotal points of the plot in more specific detail but allows for the atmospheric images to carry the story.  One highly ingenious twist on tradition is the use of ticker tape instead of a mirror on the wall.  This is no ordinary machine but one filled with malice printing out truth and suggestions to the wicked Mrs. White.  Here's some of the dialogue during the evening with the seven boys.

You're far from the country now, sister.
The same snow falls here.
Hmmph.
This city is beautiful, too.
It has its own magic.
Come on.
I'll show you.
Ain't you scared?  Someone's after you!
Scared?  Of course not.  I have seven brave protectors.


As soon as you open the matching dust jacket and book case you know this Snow White is going to be different.  The image from the left, the back, carries over the spine.  It's a night silhouette of the city skyline.  In the center of the darkness is a picture of the seven boys with a quote from the book.  In the black of the spine the title text and font are replicated.  The opening and closing endpapers are lighter as you get closer to the body of the book, moving toward dark gray on the outside edges.

After the chapter headings pages, a single picture of the face of Snow White in repose is shown.  We move seamlessly from the story's present, to the past, and moving again to the present. Matt Phelan alters his panel sizes to supply the narrative's pacing.

Rendered in pencil, ink, and watercolor with digital adjustments fairly wide margins of white frame each picture.  The details, specifically those depicting an emotional moment, are intensely real.  You will feel your breath catch at some of his close-up pictures.  Phelan's use of light, dark and shadows is masterful.

One of my many favorite pictures is at the beginning.  It's when the detective is speaking with one of the seven boys.  It is a single page picture of the boy crying.  We have zoomed in to his teary face.  A ball cap is off to the side on his head.  A striped scarf is wound around his neck. His head is slightly down and his eyes are closed as two large tears slide down his face.  He utters the classic phrase.


Snow White: A Graphic Novel written and illustrated by Matt Phelan has been named by School Library Journal as one of the Top 10 Graphic Novels | 2016.  Every time you read it you can understand why it received this designation.  Every time you read it, you discover another detail which enriches the telling.  This book should be on every professional and personal bookshelf.

To learn more about Matt Phelan and his other work you can visit his website and blog by following the links attached to his name.  At the publisher's website you can get a peek inside the book; more than forty pages.  At Candlewick Press there is a discussion guide and author's notes about this title.  Be sure to visit Watch. Connect. Read. the blog of John Schumacher, Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, for the book trailer premiere.  It gives you a real sense of the time and place of this version.  There are more teaching ideas for this book at School Library Journal's Inside 'The Classroom Bookshelf'.  This title is discussed with Matt at The Beat Comics Culture and The Comics Alternative for Young Readers.  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

It Is Sufficient

Each decade of our lives can be viewed as a milestone.  We set goals and have dreams.  Some of them are realized; others take more time to reach.  We come to understand the journey is often more important than arriving at a destination.

We weigh the value in having what we need as opposed to what we want.  If we are fortunate we learn earlier rather than later, those things we prize most usually don't have the largest monetary worth.  The Cat From Hunger Mountain (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, November 15, 2016) written and illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner and two time Caldecott Honor winner Ed Young is a story where we shadow an individual who lacks for nothing except for a true vision of the world.

Once on Hunger Mountain, there lived a wealthy lord who had everything imaginable, yet never had enough.

His home was the highest of any on the mountain constructed by the best builders.  His clothing was unsurpassed in beauty and fabric. Skilled hunters brought him the finest meats which were prepared by the most talented culinary experts.

His greed was so excessive; he had no concept of the need to consume all his food when served.  The rice grown on Hunger Mountain was the finest in the land washed by the lord's servants in the Great River.  The workers could never work fast enough harvesting and washing the rice.

One year a drought struck.  All the crops perished without water.  The lord did not notice.  When the drought persisted a second year, the people left Hunger Mountain.  Even though everyone was gone, the lord stayed unwilling to leave his acquired wealth.

Eventually the lord was starving.  Over great distances he wandered in search of food.  Two similar travelers directed him to a special person in a special place.  Upon his arrival at the head of a line, the lord asked a question.  The answer left him stunned.


With simple, spare text the tale is told by the masterful Ed Young.  No word is wasted; each contributing and building toward a stunning revelation.  We are the listeners and he is the weaver of words.  Dialogue is built into the narrative to give us a more personal experience.  Here is a passage.

When Lord Cat's servants asked if their master had finished his meal, they were scolded.
"Are you blind?  Can't you see that the bowl is half-empty?  Take it away."


Exquisite paper collage invites readers to read this story when viewing the front of the dust jacket.  The silhouette of the cat, bowl lifted to the ladle, is a hint of events to come.  Over the spine to the left, on the back, a light cream paper is the background for torn paper water.

The book case replicates the ornate spine seen on the jacket.  A textured, silver gray paper is used for the canvas on the back and front.  On the right of the opened case, the cat image outline is embossed into the paper.

A golden brown, a darker shade of the tones on the dust jacket front, covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page the jacket and case spine paper frames the text.  A quote is placed above a larger visual of the torn paper water opposite the verso page.

All of the interior illustrations span two pages in glorious depictions of the journey the Lord Cat takes toward a life lesson.  In the first one a small tree is placed in the Lord Cat's room.  Intricate lattice work fills a window.  His clothing here and in all the pictures is a lavish blend of texture and color.

The portrayal of his tailor as a peacock, builders as rats (mice), his hunters as falcons, pandas as his servants and the wise generous person as a turtle clearly place this tale as a fable.  The papers selected for each animal depict their physical characteristics as well as their roles in this story.  One facial expression in particular will take your breath away.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is of the Lord Cat directing a worker on the building of his pagoda.  You can see in the distance, far below, the outlines of the rice paddies on the left and for a portion of the page on the right.  The Lord Cat is reaching upward as he speaks to the rat (mouse) worker.  His paw and claw are highlighted against a full moon.  To the left the building rises, bundles of bamboo against the sides.

You can fully understand why The Cat From Hunger Mountain written and illustrated by Ed Young is selected as one of the ten titles on The New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2016.  The eloquent images provide stunning enhancement to the well-told story.  This book asks readers to read it over and over and over again noticing all the details.  This is one title you need to read.

To learn more about Ed Young and his other work take a few minutes to visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  At the publisher's website you can view the title page.  Ed Young is The Society of Illustrators' recipient for the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award (Contemporary).  Other works by and illustrated by Ed Young on this blog are The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China, Nighttime Ninja written by Barbara DaCosta, and A Strange Place To Call Home:  The World's Most Dangerous Habitats & The Animals That Call Them Home written by Marilyn Singer.

Enjoy seeing the book case courtesy of a tweet by John Schumacher, Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #6

Heading home today after sharing thanks and food with friends and their family, my co-pilot, my furry friend perched on the compartment between the front seats like a figurehead on a ship, and I observed in the twilight the signs of the upcoming holiday.  Lighted garlands are wrapped around lamp posts in local communities.  A large green tractor is completely covered in white lights as it sits on the lawn in front of the John Deere building.  Here and there some homes are already brightly decorated with twinkling rainbow lights.  One such home looks like it should join in the feud from the Deck the Halls movie.

For this blog post it has been my practice to highlight those titles which focus on gratitude but this year I am going to showcase two older titles which serve to pay tribute to a man who brought joy to thousands before Christmas every year in the month of November.  My previous posts, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #2, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #3, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #4 and Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #5, featured these books.


The Christmas Tree Ship (Philomel Books, October 6, 1994) written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter is based upon the true story of Captain Herman Schuenemann.  This man used his fishing schooner, the Rouse Simmons, to deliver evergreen trees from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Chicago beginning in 1887.  For twenty-five years he set sail from Thompson to deliver Christmas joy to waiting people on the other side of Lake Michigan.

He and his crew and his wife and three daughters worked cutting trees and loading them on the ship.  As his family waved goodbye the Captain sailed over the frigid waters.  He loved sailing with his ship loaded with trees.  People were always excited when The Christmas Tree Ship moved up the Chicago River to the Clark Street Bridge.

These trees made their way into homes announcing the festivities to come.  On the other side of the lake, a wife and three daughters waited.  The following year snow fell as the trees were cut and taken to the ship.  It was still falling as the vessel set sail.

Out on the lake the snowfall became a blizzard of white, waves and wind.  The Christmas Tree Ship never arrived at the Clark Street Bridge.  A spruce tree was snagged in a fisherman's net.  A bottle washed upon a shore in Wisconsin with a note from Captain Herman.  When November came the next year a wife and three daughters continued the work of a husband and a father.


Jeanette Winter follows the facts closely in her interpretation of this story.  She does change some of the names but the soul and heart of the tale remains true.  When you read her words it's like listening to the storyteller reveal the magic of a legend.  Here are several passages.

Friendly gulls stayed close as The Christmas Tree Ship made its way down the icy waters of the winter lake.
Night fell, snowflakes fell, like stars falling all around.
Night on the lake was the captain's favorite time.


The matching dust jacket and book case immediately call out to the reader welcoming them with the familiar signature style of Jeanette Winter.  For those unaware of the story questions begin to form.  Who is this man?  Who are the woman and the three girls?  Why is he sailing in the winter?  To the left, on the back, six spruce trees are placed in a snowy square of purple against a dark green canvas.  The opening and closing endpapers are a rich red.  Beneath the text on the title page in a square is a small boat carrying a single upright tree.

For every page turn Jeanette Winter has given readers a single, framed image.  Her attention to detail is remarkable.  These pictures are like looking at pieces of Americana.  She alters her perspective giving us close-up views of the characters or panoramic views of the lake or city.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of the arrival of the ship in Chicago.  We are looking down at the scene as if we are a bird.  On either side of the river buildings stand tall, smoke billowing from the stacks.  Bridges cross from side to side as the ship slowly moves toward its destination.




The Christmas Tree Ship: The Story of Captain Santa (The Guest Cottage, Inc., November 2002) written by Rochelle M. Pennington with paintings by Charles Vickery begins in 1912, the final November Captain Schuenemann would sail. The captain knew winter was coming quickly and he had to hurry to make this final delivery of the year.  He had been doing this for more than two decades, selling his trees right from his ship.  For those who could not afford his trees or to charities, he gave the trees away for free.  His generosity earned him the name of Captain Santa.

Every year the captain's wife would ask the same question and every year he gave the same answer.  This year the forty-four year old ship was as loaded as ever when the Captain's voice rang out,

"Unleash the sails! Raise 'em high!

The captain loved to sail.  He loved Christmas.  He loved delivering these trees.

The captain knew he was in trouble when he saw the darkening sky.  The storm came fast and hard with bone-chilling temperatures and fearsome waves.  In Kewaunee, Wisconsin his distress call was picked up by the United States Lifesaving Station.

A crew from Two Rivers headed out to help.  They saw the Rouse Simmons but when they looked again it was gone.  It was two weeks and six days before the corked bottle was found.  (It wasn't until 1971 before the ship was discovered by a diver.  Christmas trees were still tied to the deck.)  But that was not the end of The Christmas Tree Ship in 1912 for the captain's wife Barbara and their daughters continued the tradition for another twenty-one years bringing trees from Michigan to Chicago.

Rochelle M. Pennington spins a tale of a big-hearted man (and his family) using research and poetic language.  She creates an atmosphere with her words taking us into the exact moment.  Many of the passages (I believe) are a reflection of her faith.  Here is a passage.

Then the captain saw it.  It was the one sight he loved more than any other when he was out to sea, this very sight, the sight of seemingly being able to see forever across endless waters and an endless horizon.

Somewhere out there Chicago lay.  The captain knew it.  But for now, it appeared not to be so.  For now, it looked as if he and his ship, with its sails raised high, could sail on forever into infinity.  He embraced the sight with his arms spread wide across the width of the wheel he worked before him.  Sail on, Captain, sail on.


Traditional, classic paintings by Charles Vickery of the schooner's arrival in Chicago and the schooner on the lake grace the front and back of the matching dust jacket and book case.  The use of light and shadow is stunning here and throughout the book.  Exquisite fine lines bring a photographic reality to the illustrations.  A sea green covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Most of the images span a single page opposite the narrative, with some crossing the gutter.  Original photographs are included with captions when appropriate.  They are placed on top of a painted background.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the arrival of The Christmas Tree Ship at the dock in Chicago.  Buildings and other ships on the river provide a background.  The sails on the ship are closed and tied.  Trees are stacked on the deck.  Other trees are being unloaded on carts or sold on the dock.  People are standing in the snow watching.

The Christmas Tree Ship written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter and The Christmas Tree Ship: The Story of Captain Santa written by Rochelle M. Pennington with paintings by Charles Vickery keep alive the memorable story of the work of one man and the work of his wife and daughters.  Their benevolent spirits live in the pages of these books.  Jeanette Winter does include a note at the beginning of her book.

To learn more about Rochelle M. Pennington and Charles Vickery please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Jeanette Winter is interviewed at A Mighty Girl in 2013.  I believe you will enjoy reading The Story of Chicago's Christmas Tree Ship, December 24, 2013 and The Christmas Tree Ship in the National Archives.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Oh, This Day Of Days

There are those books you remember how you felt as you were reading them for the first time.  You recall with clarity what popped into your mind when you finished and closed the cover.  You immediately open it and read the book again.  When you read it a third time you read it aloud, hearing the music the words make; their rhythm and flow washing around you like soft, warm air.  These books fill you with gratitude for being able to read this kind of beauty.

They reach out to you.  They teach you.  A Poem For Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of THE SNOWY DAY (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, November 1, 2016) written by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson is such a book.  Every aspect of this title is remarkable.

BROWN-SUGAR BOY in a blanket of white.
Bright as the day you came onto the page.
From the hand of a man who saw you for you.

Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz was the third and youngest child of Benjamin and Gussie, Jewish immigrants from Poland.  They made a home in one of the poorer places in Brooklyn, New York.  Benjamin worked as a waiter in a cafe.  Gussie had dreams of being a painter but she buried those beneath disappointment.

By the time he was eight years old, Ezra's talent and desire to paint began to shine.  He painted signs for merchants bringing money to the family.  But Ezra wanted more.  He wanted to be an artist.

His dad secretly used money to buy him paints and his teachers and friends offered encouragement.  Ezra discovered treasure in the Brooklyn Public Library.  Here he learned more than he thought possible about his world.  Here he could let his mind go free turning the impossible into the possible.

When he was in high school his painting Shantytown, depicting the darkness and despair of men out of work during the Depression, garnered him notice and scholarships but fate stepped in.  Death came calling.  Ezra's father died of a heart attack.  There was no graduation.  There was no art school.

Surviving on bits of work here and there, Ezra was finally fortunate to be a part of The Works Progress Administration, a piece of President Roosevelt's The New Deal.  From there he drew for comic books, creating heroes but something was missing.  The missing something appeared in a Life magazine article.  Ezra saved this something for decades.  From this a tiny speck began to grow.

After serving in the military during World War II, Ezra officially changed his name to Ezra Jack Keats.  He was well aware of the bias attached to those of Jewish heritage.  Slowly a crystal grew with branches being added until the wonderful year of 1962 when a snowflake formed.  This was the year Peter was introduced to the world.  This was the year when the something missing was seen by everyone.  And to this day we are all, yes, every single one of us, far better than we were before The Snowy Day. 


We understand the sensory sensation we experience during and after attending a play, a musical or a concert in which we have been not only entertained but moved by the performances.  After reading Andrea David Pinkney's words in this tribute piece to Ezra Jack Keats and The Snowy Day, you will find yourself applauding; more than willing to give it a standing ovation.  There is a beat in this poetic narrative which is in sync with the human heart.  It grows and swells within you.

The blend of fact and jubilation for this man and his work is marvelous.  You find yourself pausing and thinking, I didn't know that, before being caught up in the cadence once more. It's a shout.  It's a song.  It's lessons.  It's love...love of a man who

gave us eyes to see.

Here is a partial passage from a single page; one of my many favorite passages.

Snow made opportunity and equality
seem right around the corner.
Because, you see, Snow is nature's we-all blanket.
When Snow spreads her sheet, we all glisten.
When Snow paints the streets, we all see her beauty.


For those of us who have read The Snowy Day and shared it repeatedly over the years with others, the matching dust jacket and book case is cause for contemplation and celebration.  The image of Ezra Jack Keats walking with Peter is heartwarming.  If there is a place where characters can meet their creators, this is that place. To the left, on the back, three separate poses of Peter surround a photograph of Ezra Jack Keats within a snowy shape.  A rusty, burnt orange shade covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson rendered

the paintings for this book in acrylic, collage, and pencil on paper, using images from The Snowy Day, Peter's Chair, Hi, Cat, and Jennie's Hat.

Their color choices reflect the historical period of Ezra's lifetime including actual memorabilia.  Their layout and design envelopes and elevates the narrative.  Some of the page turns will leave you gasping or sighing.

Their attention to detail will have you stopping; the picture of Peter, a lion and a lamb signifying the birth of Ezra, a piece of newsprint with the partial word tenement stuck in a railing outside Ezra's home, dreams in the steam coming from Gussie's cup of coffee and the shattered pathway of Ezra's hopes as graduation floats away.  Fancher and Johnson vary their image sizes.  They select a single page, a double page or a group of pictures over two pages to intensify the text.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the entire passage about snow in the beginning.  A varied pale blue background replete with snowflakes provides a place for buildings in Brooklyn.  The text is on the left.  On the right the darkened windows in the tenements make the lamp post light glow brighter.  It sits at the end of a broken fence row.  A tiny red mitten on a tiny piece of paper lays in the snow.  It hints of Peter's life growing.


A Poem For Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of THE SNOWY DAY written by Andrea Davis Pinkney with pictures by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson will lift your spirits sky high.  It will have you reaching for your copy of The Snowy Day and reading it over and over and over again.  Andrea Davis Pinkney talks about Ezra's Legacy for three pages at the book's conclusion.  She also talks about the form of her text in Keats, The Collage Poet.  A bibliography of Ezra Jack Keats' books is included as well as acknowledgments and a bibliography of books, websites, research collection archival materials and interviews.

To discover more about Andrea Davis Pinkney and Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson and their work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Please stop at The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation to read more about this title and the man.  Andrea Davis Pinkney wrote a piece for November Picture Book Month, 2016.  This title was chosen by The New York Times as Children's Books That Tackle Race And Ethnicity.  Andrea Davis Pinkney is a guest on All The Wonders, Episode 300 hosted by teacher librarian Matthew Winner.  Andrea Davis Pinkney is interviewed at Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb.

Update: Andrea Davis Pinkney is a guest at NPR Books, December 1, 2016.


Please be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected by participating bloggers in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hanging On To The Day

There are some days, make that most days, when you stretch every minute.  You are not ready to go to sleep.  Everything, big and small, feels important, sometimes downright magical.  If you are one of those glass-half-full people, a bunch of little things can add up to one huge spectacular day.

The grass overnight is frosted lacy white, a robin (Why has this bird not flown south?) sends out a morning chirp, book mail arrives, you take a nap on a pile of bedding with your sweet puppy, a cup of hot Good Hope Vanilla tea warms you from head to toe, a stack of picture books you read has you marveling at the gifts of authors and illustrators and the sun shines all day long before a sliver of moon glows brightly are reasons for putting off bedtime as long as possible.  It Is Not Time For Sleeping: (A Bedtime Story) (Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 1, 2016) written by Lisa Graff with illustrations by Lauren Castillo highlights a little guy who continues to welcome one more thing in his day's string of events regardless of how ordinary they are.  His outlook on the day's end will have you longing to join him.

When I've munched and crunched my last three carrots (except for one I fed to Jasper), Mom takes my plate.  
"It's been a good day," she says.
"It is a good day," I tell her.

In the boy's mind there is still plenty left in this day.  Sleeps need to wait its turn.  His dad remarks on the darkness of the sky as they wash dishes together but is it really bedtime dark yet?  Bath time and splashing with Jasper last until water wrinkles skin.

Clad in his favorite footie pajamas, covered in bears, the boy puts on his best bear act for his puppy pal.  It can't be time for sleeping.  It's not even close yet.  A playful teeth-brushing routine leaves him still convinced but wait...is that a yawn?

Jasper and the boy exchange beloved signs of affection as Mom does what Mom's do best at bedtime.  Dad becomes a teller of tales. It seems as though it is time for sleeping now but the boy is not quite ready.  There is one more essential thing never to be forgotten.  May the sweetest of dreams be granted to one and all.


With each interlude of the evening Lisa Graff supplies a rhythm of parental observations and the boy's replies.  As each activity is enjoyed the previous ones are added to the narrative reminiscent of a nursery rhyme.  By having the boy give the same answer each time, Graff opens the door, welcoming another stop on the trip toward sleep.  The blend of conversation between parents and child and the boy's point of view, provides a soothing atmosphere and allows readers to see the shared love.  Here is a passage.

When dinner is over and the dishes are scrubbed and
I'm squeaky-squeak clean and zipped up to my chin,
Dad holds me by my ankles while I brush my teeth,
top ones on bottom and bottom on top.
"Getting tired, silly goose?" Dad asks my feet.
I yawn an upside-down yawn.  "Nope," I tell him.

It is not time for sleeping. 


When you first look at the front of the dust jacket I know every single one of you will sigh.  The boy reaching for his dog Jasper and Jasper looking into his eyes is wonderfully charming whether you are a dog lover or not.  The spotlight effect draws our eyes exactly where they need to be; focused on this boy and his dog.  I don't know about you but I would love to wallpaper a bedroom in the star and moon wallpaper featured here.  To the left, on the back, five stars bookend a crescent moon.

The book case is a light sea green shade with a wide yellow spine.  The only element is on the front.  It's a silhouette of the boy and his dog, Jasper, looking at the reader beneath the title text.  The opening and closing endpapers are a dark midnight blue with the tiny stars' and moons' wallpaper.  On the title page the silhouette shown on the case is in full color under the text.  On the verso the dog and child are leaping and reaching toward the wording.

Lauren Castillo's signature heavier black lines edge all the elements in her illustrations rendered in

ink and watercolor on Arches Hot Press paper.

All of the pictures span two pages with the exception of four and the final page, a visual within a circle.  The heavier matte-finished paper is ideal for the textured effect created by Lauren.  It's as if you can feel the fabric on the clothing, the flooring, the fur on the dog, the towels, the flannel pajamas and the boy's bedspread patterned in clouds and red airplanes.

I adore every single picture in this book!  One of my favorite scenes is of the dad sitting in a rocking chair reading a story to his son.  Jasper is curled and sleeping at his feet.  Just enough light shines in back of the dad.  On the left-hand side the boy is snugged in bed with the covers up to his nose.  He is intently listening but starting to relax toward slumber.


It Is Not Time For Sleeping: (A Bedtime Story) a debut picture book for author Lisa Graff with illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner Lauren Castillo is a bedtime treasure.  I know readers will request repeated readings if they are not already asleep.  It's a lullaby of love.

To discover more about Lisa Graff and Lauren Castillo and their other works, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Lisa Graff and Lauren Castillo chat with each other at Watch. Connect. Read., the blog of Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.  Stop by Publishers Weekly to read Friends and Now Collaborators:  Lisa Graff and Lauren Castillo Interview Each Other.  You can get a peek at two interior images by going to the HMH Young Readers Blog.  Enjoy the tweets.






Look Out, There's A New Face In The Family

Nine days ago my life completely changed... for the good but it is exhausting.  It's been a little more than sixteen years since a puppy was a member of my home.  At two months old Mulan, a chocolate Labrador, is full of energy, teething and trying to get the hang of relieving herself outdoors.  Everything chewable is now placed above five feet.  I am on alert 24/7 gauging the amount of time between food, drink and the last time we were outside.  Her schedule has become my schedule until we can get adjusted to one another.

Last night was the first time we slept more than four hours (which was a huge relief considering I slept in my clothes for several nights, not the same clothes, of course).  There was a mini wake-up but soothing words did the trick and the sweet pup went back to dreaming.  The Boss Baby (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, August 31 2010) written and illustrated by Marla Frazee is about a newcomer with a mind of his own.

He has huge demands which take every single second of Mom's and Dad's time.  He becomes the center of attention.  If all his wants are not met, he puts up an enormous fuss.

His meetings are Mom and Dad trying everything under the sun to make their son satisfied.  He does not care one iota about what time of day or night these occur.  Trying to understand him is nearly impossible because his language is gibberish to their adult ears.

One day no matter what he does, his workers fail to perform.  Nothing seems to get their attention until he does something he has never done.  The results are better than expected.  Is there anything better than being in charge?


Given the laws of life and nature, what goes up must come down.  In other words the Boss Baby is blissfully unaware his authority is about to be challenged.  The Bossier Baby, a companion title, (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, November 1, 2016) written and illustrated by Marla Frazee, shows how upsetting a shift can be for a smooth running company...er...family.

From the moment his baby sister arrived,
the Boss Baby had a feeling that change was in the air.

She has a plan and she is sticking to it.  Her first order of business is to put new leadership in place.  She is now in charge...of everything.

She is even more vocal than the Boss Baby which if you recall he set new records in the bossy department.  Mom and Dad don't seem to mind all this noise.  In fact the Boss Baby is saddened by their total delight in the Bossier Baby.  Her on-the-job perks are much better than his.  How come he never had

a full-time social media team?

The Boss Baby is getting angrier by the minute.  To add fuel to his fury, no one seems to care.  His shocking actions go unnoticed.  So he does something he has never done.

Little-miss-in-charge-of-everything makes a discovery.  You will not believe what the Bossier Baby, the Chief Executive Officer, the CEO, does.  It is something she has never done before.  All appears to be running smoothly.  Or is it?


In both these titles Marla Frazee puts a brilliant spin on the arrival of a new baby in a home.  Her narratives equating the youngsters as the heads of a company are hilarious in their exactness.  In both titles an unseen narrator is assessing the situation as an astute observer.

The tone of each book is straightforward never missing a beat with perfect pacing adding to the comedic effect.  Her descriptions of the meetings, the perks and the

out of the box

thinking by both the Boss Baby and the Bossier Baby are exceedingly creative and clever.  The private jet for Boss Baby is a plane-shaped swing and the private limo for the Bossier Baby is a ritzy, cushioned baby buggy.  Here are passages from each book.

He made demands.
Many, many demands.
And he was quite particular.
If things weren't done to his immediate satisfaction,
he had a fit. 

The first thing the new executive did was outline her business plan and restructure the organization...
from the top down.


In both books the opened matching dust jackets and book cases introduce readers to the no nonsense characters by placing them front and center.  To the left, on the back, of each, the main characters are being catered to by the staff, Mom and Dad.  The opening and closing endpapers on the first title are a happy pattern of baby toys in shades of pink, blue and white. In the companion book there is a geometric, retro design of squares and rectangles with Etch A Sketches prominently in view and part of the mix for the endpapers in yellow, grays, red and orange.

On both of the title pages you have to smile at the scene of each baby arriving at their home.  In the first he is sitting in a rather large backseat, consulting his watch with a huge briefcase on his lap. The Bossier Baby arrives in a snazzy car with her small head, a single curl on top peering out the back window.  She is, of course, wearing sunglasses.

Marla Frazee rendered the art in these books using

black Prismacolor pencil and gouache on Strathmore 2-ply cold press paper.  

Her line work and design are unmistakable giving her images texture and loads of animation.  Many of her illustrations span two pages but her perspectives vary expanding the text.  To provide pacing and slowing the narrative, a single page picture is used or a series of smaller vignettes depict the passage of time.  The expressions on the babies' faces and their body postures (on Mom and Dad too) will have you laughing out loud.

One of my favorite illustrations from the first book spans two pages.  Mom and Dad, looking the worse for wear and barely awake, are standing in front of a crib with Boss Baby making demands in the middle of the night.  He is wearing footie pajamas in black with a tie.  His open brief case is next to him in bed.  A Calder style mobile hangs from the ceiling over his crib.  He is holding a long page enumerating his wants and needs.

One of my favorite illustrations from the second book is when the Bossier Baby enters the home for the first time.  She strides in pushing her sunglasses up on her forehead wearing a classic pearl necklace.   She is caring her Etch A Sketch.  Boss Baby is watching, pressed against the wall and looking aghast.  On the right-hand side of the page Mom and Dad are thrilled with her arrival.  A picture of the original trio is on a nearby table beneath a retro sunburst clock.


The Boss Baby and The Bossier Baby written and illustrated by Marla Frazee are sure to ignite bouts of giggles in readers of all ages.  We all know what it's like to have our lives turned topsy-turvy by a "boss".  These bosses are starting at a very early age.  Who knows what the future holds for either of them.  Whatever it is, there is bound to be lots of humor involved.

To learn more about Marla Frazee and her other remarkable works, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At the publisher's website you can read about the inspiration for the first title. You will enjoy reading The Boss Baby Gets a Starring Role---and Second Billing at Publishers Weekly.  Marla Frazee is a guest at educator and administrator for the Plum Creek Festival, Dylan Teut's blog Mile High Reading.  All The Wonders, Episode 304 by teacher librarian Matthew Winner features Marla Frazee.  Andrea Skyberg hosts a tour of Marla Frazee's studio.




Marla Frazee from Adam Goodwin on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

And So It Begins...

It came with a fury; the wind howling after a brief respite from the breezy day.  In the flashes of lightning leaves flew past my windows.  Thunder rumbled.  Rain pounded the outside of the house.  Temperatures dropped fourteen degrees in minutes with twenty more to fall in the night.  It's coming.  Winter.

Will it begin to softly fall while our world sleeps?  Will the ground be covered in the morning?  Will the air be sharp and chilly? Best in Snow (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon& Schuster Children's Publishing Division, October 11, 2016) written and illustrated with photographs by April Pulley Sayre is a sensory sensation of the season's shift and the precipitation transformation.

A freeze.
A breeze.
A cloud.
It snows.

Flakes fall and cover the fur of waiting squirrels. Birds' feathers billow in the wind as snow swirls around them.  Leaves gracing the ground get a new coat.

If enough snow falls it disguises familiar forms creating new figures.  It goes where the wind wills it.  Heavy and wet, dry and fluffy it's an artist.

Bend close and see the magic it paints in tiny icy creations.  When the air warms it becomes something new.  This is only for mere moments in the scope of the season. Soon the cycle begins anew.


With a writer's eye and ear for cadence April Pulley Sayre fashions a poetic presence for snow.  Twice six words are used; carefully placed between a series of two or four word phrases.  Only once do three words signify a particular pause in the pacing.

With her observations and word choices Sayre draws our attention to snowing and snow.  She points out the conditions for flake formation, how it looks when and where it lands and what happens based upon humidity and temperature.  Here is another passage.

Water seeps.
Crystals feather
as ice creeps.

The opened dust jacket is a beautiful sight for our eyes as April Pulley Sayre freezes in a frame splashes of color in a snowy landscape.  Her choice of perception asks us to be constant in looking at the world in which we live.  On the left, the back, is a more panoramic woodland view with a tiny bit of red in an otherwise brown and very white landscape.  A cardinal sits, still as a statue, on a branch.  When you run your hands over both the left and right sides all the snow is slightly rough to the touch.  The title text is raised.  The book case matches the jacket less the textures.  The opening and closing endpapers are blue-jay blue.

The squirrel, a part of the opening and rhyming closing, is seen on the front jacket flap.  A heron stands poised on a snowy water's edge on the title page.  Each illustration, some spanning two pages, others partial pages or extending across the gutter, is a gorgeous glimpse of the beauty Mother Nature graciously bestows on us.  For some of the text Sayre groups pictures together in a trio separated by thin white lines.  Sayre brings us in close to see frosty delicate patterns and the tiny flakes on oak leaves and a duck's feathers.  She stands beneath a tree lightly coated in snow shooting upward toward a brilliant blue sky.  The hours spent waiting and watching to bring us these images must have been many.

One of my favorite photographs of several is a close-up of evergreen branches coated in snow. The sun has warmed them so icicles have formed on the ends drops dripping. I'll bet if you listen closely you can hear them fall.


Best in Snow is a stunning presentation of the types of snow as it moves through various phases.  The images strikingly enhance the spare but sensory text.  This book is an essential purchase for your professional and personal bookshelves.  At the close of the book two pages are dedicated to Secrets of Snow along with recommended books for reading.  Be sure to read the companion title Raindrops Roll.

To discover more about April Pulley Sayre and her other works, please take a few minutes to visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view eight interior illustrations.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Here It Comes...

Have you been to the NOAA National Weather Service website today?  Look at this weather map!  As Kate DiCamillo's Flora would say Holy Bagumba!  There is a whole swath of winter weather combined with high winds crossing the states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.  We might actually get snow here in Lower Michigan on Saturday as the daytime high drops more than twenty degrees.

Truthfully I can hardly wait.  Winter is one of my favorite seasons for a variety of reasons.  This year it is going to be extra special as my new forever friend, Mulan, a chocolate Labrador puppy, will be seeing snow for the first time.  Anticipation is not only in the air here but within the pages of Little Penguins (Schwartz & Wade, October 25, 2016) written by award winning Cynthia Rylant and pictures by award winner Christian Robinson.  Children and children at heart rejoice!

Snowflakes?

Barely able to see out the window, a small penguin is the first to spy snow drifting down and through their open window.  Quickly four other siblings gather to gaze outside as the flakes fall in earnest.  Without a doubt winter is on its way.

Five penguins sift through a basket looking for five different sets of mittens. They must find attire for their necks and feet.  They are so excited they call out to the first penguin asking about the condition of the snow.

As is the case with storms the depth can build in a short time.  It's deep. And it gets deeper.  It's so deep they begin to look for their mother.

Whee!  There she is with the fifth little penguin.  After a day of play they all head home doing what we all do.  It's time to shed wet clothes and get ready for bed.  Sleep tight little penguins.


How can one word be filled with so much emotion? It signals a change in the seasons regardless of the calendar, it provides opportunities for fun and it gives Mother Earth a clean slate.  Cynthia Rylant is most definitely gifted in the art of simplicity.  Never using more than four words except for one particular repetitive part Rylant tells a story full of excitement and meaning for the five penguins and their parents.  She creates a rhythm by using a single word followed by two words and then three words several times then switches it up forming a new beat.


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case expect to smile at the antics of these five little penguins seen from left to right, back to front. They are walking, talking, diving headfirst into the snow, sliding and strolling with purpose. Have you ever seen such charming penguins?  They certainly are creations of Christian Robinson.  His signature artwork is lively but spare.

Using acrylic paint and cut paper collage he fashions images extending and highlighting the text.  On the opening and closing endpapers readers are given a panoramic view of the little penguins and their home on an ice floe.  There are fish swimming beneath the ice as a whale makes an appearance along with three lobsters.  To the left a seal swims near the fish and a mother and baby walrus sit on a nearby smaller floe. White seabirds fly in the opposite direction.  There is a mailbox outside their igloo.  On the verso and title pages Robinson has placed various geometric shapes to signify ice floes with text inside them.

All of the images span two pages with marvelous layout and design.  White space is used to great effect.  It's very clever to have each penguin wearing a different well known color; red, yellow, blue, green and pale green.  The details in their home add to the appeal of these pictures, the fish-patterned curtains, the whale weather vane on the outside of the igloo, and the ship, abacus and globe on top of their closet.

One of my many favorite illustrations (It was not easy to choose.) is when Robinson is interpreting the words Deeper.  Very deep.  There is quite a bit of white along the bottom of the two pages.  Four penguins are featured. The first and second are standing so we can see all of their bodies below their scarves. The third penguin is sinking up to his body and we see half of the head.  The fourth penguin on the far right shows all of his head with arms (flippers) outstretched for balance.  Half of his body is covered in snow.


Little Penguins written by Cynthia Rylant with pictures by Christian Robinson is an essential volume for snow and winter themed collections for our youngest readers.  It creatively captures the thrill of a first snow and shared fun.  When two masters work together expect a masterpiece.

To learn more about Cynthia Rylant and Christian Robinson and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. You can view interior images at the publisher's website.  The Horn Book Podcast 1.33 special guest is Christian Robinson.  This title is one of many highlighted by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Vibrancy...

Readers of all ages are faced with delightful dilemmas daily. What do we read next? What books will we seek from our libraries?  What books will we purchase for our home library?  We rely on professional journals, recommendations on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, chats on Voxer, online book groups like Goodreads and trusted mentors, colleagues and friends.

There are those very special books regardless of all of the above we would read anyway due to their initial sensory impact. Radiant Child: The Story Of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Little, Brown And Company, October 25, 2016) written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe is one of those books.  There is a resonant ring to the first two words in the title.  Take a moment to read them out loud once, twice and three times.  Without a doubt you are drawn to the front of the dust jacket. Who is this man?  And what does Javaka Steptoe have to say about him?

Somewhere in Brooklyn, between hearts that thump, double Dutch, and hopscotch and salty mouths that slurp sweet ice, a little boy dreams of being a famous ARTIST.

Jean-Michel works daily drawing and drawing focused on creating the very best.  He gets up in the middle of the night, confident a line here or a line there will make his work more perfect.  His art is a wild splash of color and shapes and beauty.

His mother, Matilde, is his inspiration.  Her artistic talents lie in design and sewing.  Through her cooking and cleaning their home looks ready for pictures in a magazine.  She teaches him art is found everywhere; literature, museums, theaters and the city in which he lives.  He always comes home from these visits and makes more art.

After an accident Mama Matilde gives him a book about the human body and its bones to calm his fears.  He draws from this book feeling comfort. But his complete healing is short-lived. His mama is taken from their home.  Her mind is sick.  Heartbroken Jean-Michel keeps on drawing, his emotions bursting from his art.  He visits his mother assuring her he will be famous.

As a teenager Jean-Michel leaves Brooklyn for New York City.  During the day he stays with friends moving from place to place leaving behind pieces of his art.  At night under the name of SAMOO he spray-paints his creativity in the city.  His work is noticed and now is showcased in galleries.  It is a proud day as an adult when he can visit his beloved Mama Matilde and give her the good news of his success.


Don't you think the first sentence by Javaka Steptoe reads like a melody? The book, in its entirety, seems to be a lyrical symphony in tribute to Jean-Michel Basquiat; each combination of words like waves of sound filled with his passion for art.  Throughout the narrative single words are enlarged and written in capitals to give them emphasis; words like ARTIST, BEAUTIFUL, MATILDE and PAINT.  Here is passage from the book.

Back at home, he creates art on the floor as his father, Gerard, plays jazz records.  Mama Matilde cooks arroz con pollo and calls Jean-Michel "MI AMOR."  The energy and life of the city can be felt in each line of his drawings.


In a note opposite the title page Javaka Steptoe talks about the artwork for this book.  As Basquiat did he gathered items from New York City.  He

painted on richly textured pieces of found wood harvested from discarded Brooklyn Museum exhibit materials, the Dumpsters of Brooklyn brownstones, and the streets of Greenwich Village and the lower East Side.  

When you open the dust jacket a collage of these found elements greets your eyes; each item relevant to the subject. On the front is Jean-Michel as a child. The yellow letters of the title text are raised.   To the left, on the back, he is shown as an adult with a different background filled with love.   The book case uses the same pictures without any text, enlarging them slightly.  The opening and closing endpapers are a pattern of white-painted objects on a blue canvas.

Every illustration spans two pages, with the exception of four single-page pictures, in stunning elegance.  The wood is pieced together like a geometric puzzle lines never detracting from the captured moments but adding to the design.  Looking at this artwork is like walking through an art gallery.  You pause with each page turn marveling at the masterful accomplishment.

One of my favorite pictures is of Jean-Michel waking at night to add a colorful line to one of his drawings. His art hangs on his bedroom wall taped there securely.  Clothed in patterned yellow pajamas he is reaching to add some blue to a dinosaur drawing.  To his right we can see the moon shining over buildings on his street.


Written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe Radiant Child:  The Story Of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is a striking and informative look at a unique artist.  The vibrancy of the artwork and beauty in the text will linger long after the book is read.  You need this biography in your professional collections.  It will be a welcome addition to your personal bookshelves particularly if there is an artist in your home.  In addition to the note at the beginning along with a bibliography Steptoe includes, at the end, a page with further information about Jean-Michel Basquiat, motifs and symbolism in Basquiat's work and another note.

To explore his other work and to learn about Javaka Steptoe please access his website by following the link attached to his name.  Art from this book is shown at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, the blog of author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson.  Javaka Steptoe speaks about this book at TeachingBooks.net.  Javaka Steptoe is engaged in conversation at School Library Journal.  Be sure to visit School Library Journal and listen to The Yarn Podcast, Javaka Steptoe---RADIANT CHILD Unraveled.  Thank to teacher librarian Travis Jonker and educator Colby Sharp for bringing this series to us.

Please be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy to view the other titles selected this week by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


UPDATE:  After his Caldecott Medal win, Javaka Steptoe stops by Publishers Weekly.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Astonishing Holiday Event

As educators we are in the unique position, depending on the time spent in a given school district, to teach and learn with brothers and sisters from the same family.  It is equally wonderful to see how alike or different they may be.  Sometimes a particular behavior will have you inwardly nodding at the similarities between siblings.  They are like two peas in the proverbial pod.  There are other times when you find it utterly impossible to believe they have been born and raised in the same household.

Truth be told, the longer you know them the more you can see their particular personality traits shine.  Christmas for Greta and Gracie (Nosy Crow, an imprint of Candlewick Press, September 27, 2016) written and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail introduces to readers two sisters more different than alike.  Their story cheerfully points out the value of being exactly who you are.  Everyone might be unexpectedly surprised.

I like minty
toothpaste.
Strawberry is
for babies.
Did you know
that Santa Claus
eats marshmallows
for breakfast?

Their day is just beginning and already older sister Greta is chatting up a storm as Gracie quietly listens.  There were some things they do the same like their

hoppity-skip walk.

For the most part Greta talks and Gracie usually remains silent.  This is acceptable to Gracie...usually.

The sisters are busy coloring in their Santa book on Christmas Eve.  Greta has five colors and Gracie has the brown crayon.  For every ten sentences proclaimed by Greta, Gracie eagerly asks a single question?

Do you think
Santa
has a bike?

Greta insists Santa's boots are black not brown before declaring coloring to be boring but what is Gracie to do?  She only has one color.

The two wrap up in their winter clothing and go outside to help decorate the community tree.  In typical fashion Greta states facts true to her (the number of elves at the North Pole) and insists on putting the star at the top of the tree.  Gracie is too little. When they go shopping and ice skating Greta insists on taking charge to get a clerk's attention and instructing her younger sister on the finer points of skating.  Gracie is too this and too that.  She is the opposite of Greta.

That night as Greta snores in the bed next to her bed, Gracie hears an out-of-the-ordinary noise.  What it that?  Using those qualities Greta found to be less than stellar, she makes her way downstairs.  Christmas Eve and the following morning could not be more astonishing for both Gracie and Greta.


Yasmeen Ismail depicts with utter delight the two contrasting personalities of Greta and Gracie.  When Greta is speaking you can feel the speed at which she addresses life and Gracie as her thoughts run into one another spilling out with speed.  When Gracie talks her responses are more thoughtful. The blend of narrative and dialogue creates an excellent ebb and flow.  Here is a portion of Greta's response and Gracie's single sentence when the store clerk asks Gracie what she thinks Santa is like.

Oh! Santa is just WONDERFUL!
He is the best and nicest man, and he has a sleigh and reindeer, and he gives presents to good little girls and boys, and he has a HAT and a red coat and a big white bushy beard, and he eats COOKIES.

He is magic.


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case you have to smile at the scene of Greta and Gracie skating with five other children enjoying the ice on the back to the left.  This scene sets the stage for the season as Greta shouts out the title. The bright color palette here is used throughout the title.  Silver foil has been placed on the title text, snowflakes and skate lines as well as on the spine.  Suggestive of a rich and varied citizenry all kinds of animals appear here and in the pages of this book.

The opening and closing endpapers are a vibrant red with wide white lines portraying the branches of a Christmas tree hung with ornaments. The center goes down the middle with the boughs reaching out to the sides. On the first and last red page a smiling, shining white star takes center stage.  Ismail begins her story on the page prior to the two page illustration which includes the publication information, dedication and title pages.  In these images we see the two sisters getting ready to start their day.

Rendered digitally the pictures all span two pages.  White provides a canvas for all of them except for the illustrations when Gracie is going downstairs on Christmas Eve night.  When Greta speaks her words are in a pink speech balloon.  For Gracie a bright yellow is used.  To supply pacing the perspective is altered bringing us close to the girls or giving us a larger view as the story dictates.  Their facial expressions and body movements are highly animated.

One of my favorite illustrations is when they are decorating the community tree. The placement of the tree is at the center in the gutter.  On either side all kinds of animal children garbed in winter clothing are selecting and hanging ornaments from boxes.  Two of the children are having a snowball fight. One animal is mostly inside a box searching.  An adult supervises off to the left side.  You can feel the excitement in the air.


Christmas for Greta and Gracie written and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail is a welcome addition to holiday titles. Not only is the joy of the season captured perfectly but readers come to understand that all traits and talents have value. I know you will be asked to read this over and over again.  Make sure you have this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Yasmeen Ismail and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  You can view different interior images by visiting the two publisher websites here and here.  Yasmeen Ismail is featured at om pom happy.  You might enjoy other posts at this site about her work, Time for Bed, Fred!, and One Word from Sophia.