Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Moving To The Music Of The People's Hearts

No matter where you go in the world in any given point in history, people are dancing.  Some have to do it secretly but they dance.  Some movements and steps are particular to a specific region.  Other styles are more popular with individual age groups.  Certain dance forms can cross cultural boundaries, recognized and practiced throughout the world.

If people wish to express sorrow or loss, observe a holiday or celebrate an event in their family or community, they dance.  Some people dance for the sheer joy of living in the moment.  DANZA! Amalia Hernandez and El Folklorico de Mexico (Abrams Books For Young Readers, August 22, 2017) written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh is a tribute to a singular woman dedicated to creative declarations through the art of dance.

Amalia (ah-MAH-lee-ah) Hernandez was born in Mexico City in 1917, and everyone assumed she would grow up to be a schoolteacher like her mother and grandmother.  Even Ami (AH-me), as everyone called her, expected that.

This changed when she and her family were on a vacation.  A group of dancers performing in a town's square caught her attention.  That is what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.  Her mother was happy with Ami's choice but it took her military-minded father a little longer to help her with her dream.

A studio was built in their home and she had the best ballet instructors, performers themselves.  When she was twenty-two Ami watched some dancers from the United States who came to her city.  She was fascinated with their modern style of dance.  Now she was studying two forms of expression.

She was a dedicated student using her talents to their fullest.  Ami became a dance teacher and a choreographer.  When she was thirty-five audiences cheered for one of the dances she choreographed.  It was a reflection of her earliest memories of dancers.   This was the spark which ignited a fire in Ami which never died.

Again a student, she went out among the people in their villages throughout the regions, learning their dances and noting the traditional dress they wore.  With her imagination and knowledge of ballet, modern dance and her people Ami choreographed a remarkable style of dance, uniquely her own.  She and her company of seven other dancers became a sensation.

From eight they grew to fifty.  Their costumes and stage scenery were dazzling.  They danced in tribute to all people of Mexico, past and present.  By the time she was forty-four they were known internationally for their performances and awards.  At the age of eighty-three Amalia Hernandez passed away but her dance company, El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico dances on several times a week.  They have never stopped in more than fifty years.  Her gift is still giving.

As readers delve into the narrative penned by Duncan Tonatiuh they find themselves transported to the near past.  We get swept up in the dreams of a little girl watching them grow as Duncan includes pertinent milestones and accomplishments.  He also brings certain aspects of her parent's lives into his retelling by referring to the handling of the company as her father would do it and how she finishes her career by opening a dance school and teaching as her mother and grandmother did.  Here is a sample passage.

Audiences loved the folkloric ballets, and Amalia's dance company quickly became very famous.  In 1954, they performed on the Funcion de Gala television show.  They danced on the show every week for more than sixty weeks!

There is dignity radiating from the front of the dust jacket on this title.  Amalia Hernandez stands ready to perform, head held high as two other dancers holding instruments are captured mid-step.  The festive backdrop suggests the dance to be one of celebration.  Study their faces.  They are full of passion and determination.  To the left, on the back, is a list of other books by Duncan Tonatiuh with praise paragraphs from professional reviewers along with lists of awards.

The book case is a replication of an expansive, breathtaking interior image.  A line of dancers in a variety of costumes are dancing from right to left.  Their stage is a map of the world, rounded.  Along the arc at the top are notable monuments found in places around the world.  On the right in the sky is a crescent moon.  On the left in the sky is a brilliant sun.  The opening and closing endpapers are a pattern of a pair of shoes and a hat.

Each picture within the pages of this book hand-drawn, then collaged digitally not only shines the light on Amalia but on the beauty of the dances in Mexico.  They highlight the people and their clothing within the context of a special setting.  Some of the visuals span two pages, others on a single page.  The attention to detail is superb indicating a great deal of research on the part of Duncan Tonatiuh.  The facial expressions on the people and their body movements lead you to believe they could come fully alive and perform at any minute.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is for the performance of La Gran Tenochtitlan.  This is a dance based upon Mexico's pre-Columbian past.  On the top and bottom of the page Duncan has drawn an ancient pattern.  Beneath the top is a blue sky with wispy clouds.  Along the top of the stage surface, shown like wood flooring, are pyramids.  Two of the dancers are facing left and two are facing right.  Two are clothed in costumes representing birds and the others appear to be spotted like leopards.  All are caring instruments in both hands.  This must have been marvelous to watch.

Assuredly DANZA! Amalia Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh pays homage to a memorable woman and her culture but it also serves to inspire readers to use their gifts and to believe in the power of dreams.  This is one of those books which need to be in any classroom studying the people of Mexico or their language.  For not the first time and certainly not for the last time, I can't help but think Where were books like this when I was in school and college studying the Spanish language?  I highly recommend this title.

To learn more about Duncan Tonatiuh and his other work please visit his website and blog by following the links attached to his name.  Duncan was interviewed on the PBSNewshour on November 2, 2016.  The Google Doodle for September 19, 2017 celebrated Amalia Hernandez's 100th birthday.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected by other participants in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Conversation With Susan Verde

Good morning, Susan.  I am thrilled to be meeting you virtually with hopes of spending time, even a little, with you in real life sometime in the near future.  After lots of rain these past few days, we have blue sky dotted with big fluffy white clouds, warmth and gusty breezes.  Let’s imagine for a few moments, the two of us are sitting on my back deck, soaking up the fresh air and holding cooling cups of tea.

Hi Margie!
Thank you for this interview. I can feel the gentle breeze and taste the warm tea...is it chamomile? It’s lovely.

I’ve just finished rereading all six of your children’s picture books, The Museum, You and Me, I Am Yoga, The Water Princess, My Kicks: A Sneaker Story! and I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness.  Each of the beautiful stories in these books is told from the first person point of view.  Would you please explain why these stories are told from this perspective?

Often when I am writing I am calling forth many of my own experiences and emotions so there is definitely an element of “me” personally coming into play. However, I also feel that hearing the “I” gives the reader a chance to really embody the story and “become” the character. With “I” there is an instant connection. Even if it’s an experience the child has never had or someone who might look different from the reader, in the first person the story becomes an experience that is possible and a feeling or set of feelings to contemplate and explore and perhaps emphasizes the universal qualities of the character. Any good story will do that whether it’s in first person or not but it’s definitely the way I tend to write.

All of your books, even My Kicks: A Sneaker Story! with its exuberance, have an undercurrent of gentle serenity about them.  To what do you attribute this?  Is this a conscience effort on your part?

What a lovely thing to say Margie. I can’t really say that it is a conscious effort but my approach to the ups and downs of life is to try to handle them with care and calm. Maybe being a mom or a teacher or perhaps even having a mindfulness practice have influenced this approach. Each experience in life is an opportunity to notice and proceed with kindness and my hope is that kids should feel that no matter what they are going through it’s okay...they are okay.

I would like to shift our conversation to your most recent title, I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness.  What prompted you to write a companion title to I Am Yoga?

I Am Yoga was meant to capture the way yoga makes us feel and how it helps us manage our feelings. Mindfulness is a component of yoga but also a practice unto itself so it seemed like a natural follow up. Children have a lot of stress, just like adults and mindfulness is a way of helping children manage. I Am Peace is intended to give them yet another tool just like yoga and to show them that it’s the peace we feel inside that helps us show compassion and empathy to others.

The comparison of the character’s jumbled thoughts to swiftly moving water, then riding on those thoughts adrift in a boat and eventually finding an island beneath the narrator’s feet is truly inspired.  Was there a specific event or moment when this analogy came to you?

In one of my trainings we learned many ways to help children connect to their breath as it is the best way to formally practice mindfulness and bring attention away from distressing thoughts. Using the image of breath as an anchor when our “ship of thoughts” is being carried away was one technique. I loved it so much and found it really helpful when talking about our worries and emotions and how we can get swept away. I couldn’t wait to use the analogy. Kids get it when you can give them something relatable and visual to connect to their experience. They know just what it means to be carried away by moving water...by too many thoughts and worries and what it means to come ashore and feel land under their feet.   

This is the fifth collaboration with Peter H. Reynolds as the illustrator of your words.  Were you aware before seeing his art of the three images without words which join your text, I make a difference to I can hug a tree… ?

Working with Peter is pure joy. When I write I know he will make the words come to life in a beautiful way that captures my intentions but with his own style. He is a very mindful person and artist. Because of our partnership and the fact that we really work in a collaborative way I often get sneak peeks of what’s to come and we have some back and forth. I did get to see this part ahead of time but I certainly wasn’t expecting it and when I saw it I was blown away albeit not surprised. The whole spread was such a moment of mindfulness. Kids love to see the dropping seeds and make predictions and then consider how the spilling of seeds is an act of sharing with and connecting to nature.

What is your wish for this title and its readers?

My wish is that I Am Peace makes mindfulness accessible to teachers, parents and especially kids. It can feel like an esoteric term and we hear it all of the time these days but it is really simple to practice and has measurable physiological and emotional benefits. I hope this book inspires the practice of noticing without judgement and being kind to oneself. We all have stress and big emotions but there are ways to get through it and find more peace within. I hope they learn that even with these tools they will make mistakes but again with kindness and awareness they can learn from their mistakes and not hold onto them. I often ask the children I visit and work with to talk about their worries and stresses and then ask them if they find it easy to be kind to someone else when they are feeling upset within themselves. Of course the answer is no. But, if we can cultivate more peace inside then we can share peace with others. Just imagine what this could do to our world…. I just have to say that children are so smart. They are willing to go deep and look inside and have so much wisdom to share. It’s through them that we can really effect change.

I hope you have a few more moments for some other questions.  I shared this book with two kindergarten classes this past week.  I think they might like to know a little bit more about you and your family.

What made you decide to shift your life’s work from working in the classroom as an educator (with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s degree in Reading Remediation) to teaching yoga and mindfulness to children of all ages with a full-time writing career?

I loved being a classroom teacher! When I had my children I took some time away from teaching but continued to practice yoga to stay sane as a mom of 3 and as a person in the world! As my kids got a bit bigger I began to think about how I could continue my work with children but I felt like I wanted to have a different experience than being in a classroom full time. My own yoga practice was so beneficial for me that it made sense to share it with children especially in the school setting where they feel so much stress and need more support even at a young age. That’s when I decided to become a kid’s yoga and mindfulness teacher. Best decision ever! Writing is something that I have been doing for as long as I can remember and mindfulness and yoga support that creative process. It is sometimes hard to juggle all of these things but I am fortunate because as challenging as they can be (and they can be VERY challenging), teaching, writing and parenting are all things that fill my soul and I am grateful everyday.  

If you could describe the location of your home and your house using your senses how would that be?

Ooh I love this question! My house is at the end of a long winding road lined by strong tall trees and lots of green in the summer and brown in the fall and white in winter. The house is covered in brown shingles and natural wood and there are big windows all around. Our street has other houses painted white and yellow with quiet neighbors until it’s summer then voices are heard and dogs are being walked and kids are skateboarding on the road. The tops of the trees that fill our yard let in the sunlight in warm patches. The leaves rustle in the breeze and fall in crunchy piles in Autumn. You can smell the ocean and the fresh cut grass and whatever is cooking in the kitchen when you stand in the backyard. Inside, the house smells like lavender oil and sometimes the stinky feet of teenagers. You can feel the grass between your toes and the hard pavement of the driveway and the itchy bites of mosquitoes in summer and the refreshing cool water in our pool. If you catch us on the right day you can taste the vanilla cupcakes that my daughter will no doubt be famous for someday. There are always sounds outside and in.. deer eating plants, crickets used for feeding pets chirp and our pet frog croaks, squirrels dance on the roof, and sometimes woodpeckers make the sound of a mini drill on the side of the house. There are talking children and clanging pots and pans, my daughter playing her ukulele and singing and my sons rapping and all of us occasionally breaking into spontaneous dancing AND a barking dog. There is always something to hear even when it’s quiet.

How old are your three children?  Do they practice mindfulness?

My boys, Josh and Gabe are twins and are on the verge of being 14 and Sophia is 12. They do practice mindfulness meditation and have reached a point where they are pretty good at  connecting with their breath and being kind to themselves when they feel overwhelmed or caught up in a big emotion and as teenagers they have a lot of big emotions!  They are also pretty good at reminding me to take a breath when I get overwhelmed. I love to see them doing the things they are passionate about and being fully present and in the moment. Gabe is a surfer, Josh pays football and Sophia sings. When they are doing those activities it is amazing to see how connected they are to their own experience. It’s mindfulness in action!  

What kind of dog do you have?  How did he/she get their name?

Our dog is a Coton de Tulear. It’s a fancy name but he’s really just a scrappy little white fluffy doggie who barks too much but is very loving. We were reading a lot of Harry Potter when we got him and I wanted to call him Neville but that was quickly dismissed so we just started calling out names and someone said Gizmo (could have been me thinking of the movie Gremlins) and we all agreed on that! Not much of a story but it has turned out to be the perfect name. He is definitely a Gizmo.

I couldn’t be happier to have been able to spend this morning with you Susan.  Thank you for chatting with me and visiting Librarian’s Quest.  I am wishing you PEACE.  

Thank you Margie! I am grateful for the time together and have really enjoyed answering all of your thoughtful questions. It has been truly wonderful. I wish you PEACE as well.  

To learn more about Susan Verde and her books please take a few moments to visit her website. She has links at her site to articles she has written for other publications on yoga and mindfulness.  By following the links attached to five of her books listed above you can read my blog posts.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Gathering Remembrances

After the autumn rains tree leaves shimmer like they've been dusted with glitter, glistening as the gusty winds rustle their branches.  High above the treetops ravens glide on the speeding wind currents, clouds scurrying across the sometimes blue, sometimes gray sky.  Clinking and clunking sounds are evidence of the oak trees throwing their acorns on the back deck.  Squirrels scamper across lawns, pausing to dig feverishly burying food for another day.

As the sun signals the passing of a storm, the afternoon chorus of birdsong is strangely silent.  Many have left for their southern journey.  In the Middle of Fall (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 5, 2017) written by Kevin Henkes with illustrations by Laura Dronzek, companion title to When Spring Comes (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, February 9, 2016), these collaborators in children's literature and life address with poetic eloquence the beauty of one season moving into the next season.

In the middle of Fall,
when the leaves
have already turned

At this time of year in the northern hemisphere, the world is waiting in anticipation.  The skies are steely, shedding little light.  It's time to wear coats, hats and gloves to keep toasty warm.

Squirrels working alone or in groups are always on the move.  Gardens, long past their prime, are like grocery stores for smaller creatures.  Pumpkin patch business is booming.  Apple trees are laden with fruit.

When we observe all these things, it's time.  Everything is ready.  All it takes is one single event to alter what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch.  We need to save memories like squirrels are storing up nuts.  And then when the world is blanketed in stillness, another change comes, as delicate as downy dandelion seeds.

Using only two sentences, words strung together like pearls of wisdom, we become observers alongside author Kevin Henkes' narrator.  We are there as the little girl spends a day(s) with her dog, as squirrels gather, as fields fill with ripened pumpkins and apple orchards turn the colors of their fruit.  When Henkes writes we are in the moment with every page turn building toward the magnificence of an annual shift.  It's a sensory experience.  Here are two phrases.

and the pumpkins are ready
and the apples are like ornaments, 

For those of us living in a part of the world with four distinct seasons we recognize the blue used on the matching dust jacket and book case by artist Laura Dronzek.  It's a rare shade seen on those days when humidity is absent and the air is brisk.  It's an announcement of autumn's presence.  The squirrel resting and ready to stretch for an acorn, framed with vibrant oak leaves, is another sign of a seasonal shift.  To the left, on the back, within a loose circle three large pumpkins in a patch are grouped together.  The dog accompanying the girl in the story is sitting behind them, waiting or perhaps guarding them.

The opening endpapers and first page are a darker shade of blue; almost like a night sky.  A variety of tree leaves garbed in their fall colors pattern the pages with acorns.  The closing end papers and final page reveal the last word in this title.  Beneath the title text and above the author and illustrator names are three oak leaves and two acorns grouped together exactly as you might see them on the ground. A pumpkin with its vine sits above the dedication.

Except for the first and last images framed in circles and white space, all of the illustrations rendered in acrylic paint span page edge to page edge on single and double pages. Heavy dark lines provide accents and outlines of elements.  The foliage, creatures and clothing worn by the girl supply a contrast to the increasing presence of brown and a starker landscape.

One of my many favorite pictures spans two pages.  The sky is more gray than blue.  Colorful leaves are cascading down on both pages.  The girl wearing her red-hooded coat is leaning on a stone wall along a road.  Leaves are mounded against the wall and along the road.  Her pup has its head next to her left elbow, chin resting on the top rock.  Five small circular visuals are placed like the falling leaves against the sky and one resting on the road.  They are filled with memories previously mentioned in the story.

There is something supremely wonderful about In the Middle of Fall written by Kevin Henkes with illustrations by Laura Dronzek.  It's an ode to a season welcome after the summer heat drawing our attention to those singular instances we need to remember.  The words and illustrations enhance each other in harmonious perfection.  I can't wait to read this aloud to students.

To learn more about Kevin Henkes and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name.  A teaching guide is provided at Kevin Henkes' website.  If you would like a peek at the first four pages follow this link.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Driving Through Gray

It's been raining off and on for days over the past two weeks but yesterday and today it's been raining for almost twenty hours.  Our thirsty ground is sighing with pure happiness.  Vibrant green lawns now carpet the neighborhood.  The soothing, steady sound of the rain on the roof and windows is a reminder of the power of weather.

For those traveling under the gray skies, rain and evening fog, caution is taken on the highways, roads and streets.  Home in the Rain (Candlewick Press, June 13, 2017) written and illustrated by Australian Bob Graham is about a journey on such a night.  The ordinary is transformed into memorable moments.

"Goodbye, Grandma."
"Goodbye, Francie," said Grandma.  "You both take care.
It's wet out there and such a long way home."

Francie and her mom are driving through rain so heavy traffic slows.  Their windshield wipers are unable to keep up with the flow.  A huge truck and trailer sends up a blast of water as it passes moving them into a picnic area.

Animals in the field are finding shelter from the rain.  A bird of prey can't seem to find the meal it is seeking.  Fishermen are drenched but ducks happily swim in the canal.

Home is far away for Francie, her Mom and Baby Sister.  (Her Mom is pregnant.)  As their car's glass fogs, Francie writes three names on the windows.  Daddy, out working at sea, covers the entire front windshield.

As mother and daughter take a much needed rest and eat a lunch packed by Francie's grandmother, they chat about a possible name for the baby.  They wonder about her arrival and when Francie's dad will come home.  Miles and miles closer to home, Francie and her mom stop with other travelers.  No one else notices what happens there but Francie will carry it in her heart and mind always.

When Bob Graham frames this story, he does so within the larger setting in which it takes place.  By doing this we can understand and appreciate how life-changing events can take place surrounded by normalcy.  He explains the exact activities of wildlife, the fishermen at the canal and those people stopped at the service station. He gives us their names to bring us into the same scene as Francie and her mom.  These observations are maintained as the journey continues to indicate the passage of time. Here is a sample passage.

Young Marcus, water
running down his neck,
his fingers smelling of bait,
wished he were somewhere else . . .

while the water ran off the
backs of ducks.

Although the images featured on the front and the back of the matching, opened dust jacket and book case take place at different times, Bob Graham creates them as a single illustration.  He does this by extending the background of the countryside and the berry brambles, wildflowers and field animals in the front over the spine to the back.  The truck we see on the front is driving in from the left on the back.  Francie and her mom are in the little red car on the right of the jacket and case but they are also standing at a critical instance on the left, much closer to readers, as if we are being given a peek at the future within the current context of the rainy highway.

Rendered in watercolor and ink the pictures give readers a panoramic, birds-eye-view of some scenes across two pages, more intimate visuals grouped together on a single page, and single page pictures.  Some of the two-page images are close to a particular moment as when the large truck and trailer whooshes by Francie and her mom.  We are well aware of the constant rain and overcast sky but Bob Graham also includes spots of color in clothing and vehicles.

It is in the details we are further captivated by this story.  On the wall of Grandma's home hangs a painting of a kestrel, a bird mentioned within the narrative.  Each time we see the canal with the fishermen and little Marcus, the ducks have moved farther down the waterway.  On the overhead highway signage one of the signs reads:

A1 Francie's

A tiny snail clings to a blade of grass overlooking the highway scene below the hill.  As Francie and her mom walk back to their car from inside the station we are given an overview of the area.  On one wall someone has written in large letters HOP.  A small e is tucked in the right-hard corner.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Francie and her mom stop at the picnic area.  The perspective is of them sitting inside the car.  Francie has moved up front with her mom.  They both have their shoes off and their lunch is finished.  Francie is lying down with her head on her mom's stomach, feeling her tiny sister moving inside.  On the back right window we can see where Francie has written her name.  This is a very personal moment; a snapshot of love.

In a word Home in the Rain written and illustrated by Bob Graham is beautiful.  In this story he reminds readers how in the most everyday circumstances brief minutes of sheer wonder exist.  I am looking forward to reading this aloud with students.  I highly recommend it for your professional shelves and personal collections.  The Children's Book Council of Australia gave it The Picture Book Of The Year award.

To take a peek at interior images visit the publisher's website (Penguin Random Househere and (Candlewick Presshere.  At Walker Books are printable Classroom Ideas pages. Enjoy this video by Candlewick Press of Bob Graham talking about picture books.

Author and illustrator Bob Graham discusses picture books from Candlewick Press on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Slow But Sure And Steady

When your younger sister is obsessed with turtles, they become a part of your life.  You begin to see turtles in every shape and size imaginable wherever you go; made from paper, stone, glass, wood, metal, gems, cloth, plants or a combination of materials.  No turtle is ever left by the side of the road to wander and possibly be hit by a car.  You stop and move it far away before proceeding to your destination.

You also find yourself, as an adult, turtle sitting a large box turtle when said sister goes on a trip.  Before you know it, you become attached to this guy as it follows you around the room.  And contrary to popular belief, they can move quickly when necessary.

Unlike my sister sometimes humans' interest in their turtle companions may not be as constant; having high points and low points in their friendship.  Alfie (The turtle that disappeared) (Abrams Books for Young Readers, October 3, 2017) written by Thyra Heder is a straight-to-your-heart charming story of giving and gifts.  Friendship can and does mean different things to each individual in the relationship.

On my sixth birthday, I got Alfie.

At the shop this little girl is told the turtle is about six years old, too.  They have something in common.  Alfie does not move much even when meeting all of his human's stuffed animal friends and toys or even when she teaches him her dance moves.  He is quiet when she leaves him little presents.  He seems to enjoy being inside his shell.

She continues to talk with him about her day to day activities and shares her most successful jokes with Alfie until she starts to forget about him for a little bit.  It's not until her seventh birthday she remembers him.  She is shocked to discover Alfie is missing.

Nia, as Alfie tells us, is a very special girl.  He feels calm in her home even though it

tickled my toes.

He is thrilled with all her friends and the presents she gives him.  He is determined to make Nia as happy as she makes him.  It's not until before her seventh birthday party when she is talking with him, a plan forms in his mind.  He has to find her the perfect present.

Alfie looks low and low but nothing is to be found.  It isn't until he chats with Toby, the family dog; he realizes he needs to go outside.  This is a whole new adventure filled with tricky feats, explorations and some shocking surprises.  The seasons shift.  Alfie is cold.  He still has not discovered what he needs for Nia.  A friendly snail offers advice as old as time.  It makes all the difference.

When you read the sentences written by Thyra Heder she takes you with intention into the character's point of view.  In the first part of her story the little girl is speaking.  Her observations are beautifully those of a child her age.  Her affection for Alfie is never in doubt regardless of his response.  Each part of her personality and daily activities is shared with him.

In a brilliant piece of storytelling Thyra Heder alters the point of view to Alfie.  All the things Nia talks about doing with him are seen through a turtle's perspective.  We are privy to his reasoning for the grand escape.  What he does in the outside world and the result are sheer wonder and perfectly, magically possible.  Here is a comparison of the two points of view.

I introduced him to everyone.

I taught him my wiggle dance and made him presents,
but he didn't seem to notice.

Nia taught me to dance!  I practiced wiggling inside my shell.
She gave me presents!  I had never been given presents.

Rendered in ink and watercolor all the illustrations are glorious.  On the opened dust jacket the home for Alfie stretches across the spine and to the edge of the back on the left.  There we see several stones, one partially submerged, another totally under water and one with a smiley face drawn on it.  A small seashell has been placed in his tank, too.  On the front the interpretation of Nia and Alfie looking out at readers, both through the glass but one on the outside and the other on the inside, is wonderful.  The homemade lettering made by Nia for his tank gently hangs for the title.

On the book case entirely in white we see a small Alfie in black on the right and the left.  On the first he is being held up by a balloon with the number six.  On the back he is resting on the ground.  Another balloon with a surprising number is tied to him.  The opening and closing endpapers are a close-up of the patterned rug in Nia's home.  The endpapers at the close include an additional element, hinting at Alfie's perspective.

On the title page we are brought near to Alfie as he sits on a rock.  His name hangs above him with the subtitle beneath it.  The images created by Thyra Heder for this title are brimming with delicate details.  Her pictures fill single pages, are grouped together on a single page, or span across two pages to accentuate a particular portion of the plot.  As she did on the book case, white space supplies a canvas for small black visuals at turning points.  Another important item is the heavy, matte-finished paper in this title.  This heightens the illustrative medium bringing softness to the pictures.

When the point of view in the narrative shifts so too does the illustrative perspective.  Readers will want to notice the significance of the balloons.  There is gentle humor and affection in other details; where Toby is looking in the snow and the snow sculpture Nia is making.

There are many, many wonderful images in this book.  One of my favorite pictures is when Alfie sees Nia for the first time.  She is looking through the glass with the label


which is backwards to us.  Her beautiful face is framed on the right by a portion of the balloon with the number six.  Her eyes are wide and full of happiness.  Alfie has his back to us.  We only see about half of his shell.  His head is lifted and looking at this new girl.

There are those extraordinary books you love the very first time you read them.  Alfie (The turtle that disappeared) written and illustrated by Thyra Heder is one of them.  This is a book to be enjoyed for the wonderful story of affection seen from two perspectives.  It will fill your heart with total joy.  It will surely be requested as a read aloud again and again.  I highly recommend this for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Thyra Heder and her other work, please follow the links attached to her name.  She has a website and a Tumblr account.  At the publisher's website you can scroll through interior images including my favorite one.

Using Her Gift

Each individual has within them a gift.  How they determine to use it or not to use it will chart the course of their lives.  For some it appears early and easily.  For others it takes time for the answer to present itself.

In 1932 a girl child was born in Prospect Township, South Africa.  Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope With Her Song (Farrar Straus Giroux for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, October 10, 2017) written by Kathryn Erskine with illustrations by Charly Palmer is the story of this girl child's life.  Her memorable music will long hold a place in history.

Miriam sang as soon as she could talk and danced as soon as she could walk.

She sang for family, friends and in her church's Sunday school choir.  Singing gave her a feeling of freedom in a world without freedom for people of color.  In South Africa, regardless of your ethnic group, nonwhite people suffered under apartheid, a system of laws designed to enforce segregation.

Miriam used her voice, her songs, to protest these laws, this inequality.  She sang her songs in the languages of the ethnic groups, disguising their meaning from the ruling white government.  Her popularity soared like her words.

She met people like Nelson Mandela championing for racial equality for everyone.  Regardless of the risks she continued to perform and spent time in jail.  Miriam did not silence her voice.  She sang for her people.  She sang for freedom.

An accident and a death fueled her anger and prompted her performance in an anti-apartheid movie.  This brought attention to Miriam and apartheid.  She left South Africa singing in Europe and the United States.  She had to be careful though because her family still remained in her homeland.  She was not careful enough.  Miriam was banned from returning home to South Africa.

The protests in South Africa increased.  Those killed and jailed increased. Miriam told about everything in her songs.  She was invited finally to speak at the United Nations about South Africa.  Those there heard her voice, a voice strong for her people.

Even when her songs were banned in South Africa, her people listened.  More people around the world listened but it was a stunning event in the township of Soweto that shocked the world even more.  Miriam sang louder.  Other singers joined her.

It was fourteen years after this event before Miriam lifted her voice in sheer joy for the freedom gained by her people.  She could go home after thirty years.  Eighteen years later Miriam died singing.  She used her gift with her last breath.

The narrative penned by Kathryn Erskine is a poetic tribute to this remarkable woman.  Each portion of text is like a verse in a song whose volume grows.  They are connected by particular words.  Some of the last words in one portion will be included in the beginning of the next section.  Kathryn not only educates us about Miriam, but the environment in which she lived.  Historical facts about apartheid in South Africa are threads in the fabric of Miriam's life.

We become personally attached to this woman's life through noted specific incidents such as nonwhite people in South Africa having to have passes to leave their neighborhoods.  If they didn't have passes they were jailed.  Even if they had passes the police could or would say they were not legal.  Kathryn also uses Miriam's personal quotations and words from her songs to add emphasis.  Here is a sample passage.

South Africans, many of them, both black and white, protest apartheid---marching, striking, speaking, writing.  Some black protesters must flee the baases.  They go to northern Africa and find Mama Africa.

Mama Africa helps the refugees---young men and women, even children.  She gives them food, clothes, and song.  When her song becomes too loud for some, they say she is not a singer but a politician.  "I am no politician," she says.  "I just see what I think is wrong and what is right."

The bright bold colors used by artist Charly Palmer are a reflection of the essence of Miriam Makeba.  Her portrait shown on the front of the dust jacket is fully alive.  You expect to hear her singing at any minute.  The use of light and shadow is extraordinary as is the use of blue hues to frame her face and upper body.  To the left, on the back, the final passage written by Kathryn Erskine is placed in vibrant text, like a marquee, over an African landscape with silhouettes of people along the bottom. (I am working with an F & G.)

The same lively shades of blue and purple color the title page with a nearly full figure of Miriam singing on the right side of the page.  Yellow, red and green are used in the title text. (I am wondering if the significance of these colors refers to the South African flag.)  White text is used on the following pages for the verso and dedication pages done in those same shades of blue and purple.

With each page turn readers view a double-page picture filled with color, mood and emotion.  It's as if we are walking in a gallery from painting to painting as the story visually unfolds.  You become involved on a very personal level.  You feel the joy of a little girl singing, the deep sadness when she cannot go swimming at the same beach as whites, the contemplation of a young woman listening to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald protest songs on records, the sheer terror of being stopped by the police and producing a pass, the depth of grief from being banned from your county as tears become musical notes and the horror of Soweto as fallen bodies shift to barbed wire to protesters and then to a musical score. 

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Miriam Makeba is invited to speak at the United Nations.  She begins slowly and quietly but as she thinks about Nelson Mandela her voice becomes louder and louder telling truths.  Kathryn Erskine ends with the voice of Mama Africa being like the roar of a lion.  In an arc of deep blues beginning in the upper left-hand corner the members listening at the United Nations are seen in shadow moving to cover nearly half of the right side.  In the center of the circle are lighter shades and white.  This provides space for the text.  To the left a lioness roars over the figure of Miriam Makeba speaking.  Stars radiate up from Miriam through the body of the lioness. This is a stunning depiction by Charly Palmer.

Readers can't help but be grateful to author Kathryn Erskine and illustrator Charly Palmer for their work in celebrating the life of this woman in Mama Africa!  How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope With Her Song.  In an extensive three page Author's Note with quotations by Miriam Makeba Kathryn Erskine explains her connection to Miriam Makeba.  She says:

I hope that through reading her story you can understand that, even in the face of great odds, you always have a voice and your voice is powerful.

A selected bibliography of books and audio and video recordings, further reading of picture books and books for older readers is included.  A glossary is to be present in the final book released.  You will want to have this book on your professional shelves.  It will be an honor to make it a part of my personal collection.  Excellent picture books of this kind promote relevant discussions and further research.  (I have already spent hours researching Miriam Makeba and apartheid.)

To further acquaint you with Kathryn Erskine and Charly Palmer and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson features Charly Palmer at Kirkus and follows with artwork at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast the next week.

Be sure to visit KidLit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles chosen by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Making A Stop On Deckawoo Drive

We all know people who have a day to day routine set in stone.  They are the people who believe a place for everything and everything in its place.  They simply can't handle any deviation from the way they believe all things should be.  These demands they place on themselves and others tend to make them cranky.

This persistent peevishness in many (every) situations is so contrary to what others say and do, it's hard not to burst out laughing.  In Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package (Candlewick Press, October 10, 2017) written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen, the latest entry in the Tales from Deckawoo Drive series, the story revolves around such a person, a very outspoken, familiar person. Her world is about to be turned upside down and inside out.

Eugenia Lincoln was a practical person, a sensible person.  She did not have time for poetry, geegaws, whoop-de-whoops, or frivolity.

Given her personality Eugenia was not happy when a deliveryman brought a large package to their door addressed to her.  It was not expected.  No one, including her sister Baby, had any idea who sent it and what was inside.  Neighbors Frank, a boy and Mrs. Watson and her pig, Mercy, arrived to speculate about the contents.  Against her better judgment Eugenia opened the box.  An accordion?!

Eugenia wanted an accordion like she wanted the proverbial hole in her head.  To make matters worse the company who sent it refused to take it back.  The only thing to do was make a list.

When a constantly-grinning, I-can-do-anything kind of man in a green velvet suit with a green velvet hat appeared at their door the next morning, Eugenia was sure he wanted to buy the accordion.  He did not.  He was there to teach her accordion lessons.  What?!  When he strolled right into their home, she was flabbergasted.  Had the world gone crazy? 

In no time at all Mr. and Mrs. Watson with Mercy and Frank were gathered in the kitchen.  Events quickly became unbearable for Eugenia.  To make matters worse a huge storm was raging outside.  Eugenia left for her room with General Washington, her cat, and hid under the covers on her bed.

When she woke up the next morning and came downstairs she was shocked several times by what she saw.  Deciding to take drastic measures, Eugenia, with surprisingly no plan in mind, and General Washington left 52 Deckawoo Drive carrying the source of all her troubles.  A voice from above and a request released a song held in a heart for too long.

When Kate DiCamillo writes readers can be sure to glean hidden nuggets of truth and love carefully tucked into her narratives.  These are heartfelt to the point you want to underline them or copy them into a notebook to savor later.  As you read the eight chapters and the concluding coda in this title, each ends with a single sentence, thought or spoken word signaling the end but also offering a beginning.  Lighthearted humor permeates this story through the events described by Eugenia's observations.  You will most assuredly find yourself smiling often and laughing out loud.  Here are some sample passages.

Eugenia Lincoln was very fond of lists.
They helped her think.  Lists calmed her.
They made the world seem orderly and
reasonable and manageable, even though
the world was none of those things. 

"No, no," said Gaston.  "I am here only
for your lessons, so you may learn to play
the sweet songs and the sad songs and all
the little songs in between."
"I refuse," said Eugenia.
"You refuse to learn to play the music 
that is waiting inside of your heart?"

Rendered in gouache by Chris Van Dusen the illustrations throughout this title add to the energy and hilarity.  Study the expressions on the characters' faces on the front of the dust jacket.  You see curiosity on Frank's face, nearly unbridled joy on Baby Lincoln's face and pure disdain on Eugenia Lincoln's face.  These are their personalities in a nutshell.  To the left on the back, is a panoramic view of Deckawoo Drive.  The book case is a darker shade of purple, textured in tiny diamonds.  The opening and closing endpapers are lavender with dark musical notes drifting down the middle.

There are only a few page turns without an image.  They vary in size depending on the plot of the story; extending a point and providing pacing.  They are expertly placed within the text. The settings, architecture and clothing are slightly retro.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is the first one.  It's a close-up of Eugenia Lincoln standing on the edge of the front porch of their home.  She is leaning to her right with her hand on the railing.  Her left hand is strategically placed on her left hip.  Her right foot is crossed over the left foot.  She is standing with a slight slouch.  Her face has the quintessential gaze of a complete grouch.

Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen is another stellar entry in this delightful collection.  In this title joy is searching for a way into a hardened heart.  The mystery of who sent the package adds an extra element to this tale.  I can't imagine a professional bookshelf without this title.  My copy for my collection arrived yesterday.  (I've already read it three times.)  If you desire to read all of the Mercy Watson and Deckawoo Drive books as I do annually, you can read about all of the previous titles in a blog post written here.

To learn more about Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names.  At Candlewick Press you can view an interior image.  They also supply a teacher's guide.  At Penguin Random House they allow you a peek at twenty-one pages.  There is a special website specifically for the Mercy Watson and Deckawoo Drive titles. Both Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen were interviewed at Reading Rockets here and here.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Of Pickles, Presents And Friendship

Let's suppose you are celebrating a holiday for the first time.  You may or may not be aware of all the customs associated with this festivity.  For each person, family or group observing this holiday, there are additional traditions attached to the event.  These unknowns are rather daunting in contrast to your natural excitement.

If you happen to be sharing a holiday for the first time with a new friend, for all those stated reasons it can be stressful.  The ever cheerful mouse and the grumpy bear for which readers have great affection are back in their sixth offering.  A Christmas for Bear (Candlewick Press, September 19, 2017) written by Bonny Becker with illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton is one of those stories to be read aloud as a part of your celebratory rituals for years and years to come.

Bear had never had a real Christmas.

All the trimmings and food associated with Christmas have been absent in Bear's life.  This year was different.  He had everything one could possible want to have the best possible Christmas, especially the pickles. (Pickles?)

One evening, he heard the familiar

tap, tap, tapping

announcing the presence of Mouse at his front door.  Dressed from head to toe in red and carrying a holly sprig, Mouse entered, as exuberant as ever.  Bear was having a party this year.  The first thing Mouse wanted to know was if it was time to open gifts.

True to his nature, Bear thought that was rather unseemly.  They would sit, look at the tree, eat a little food, sip tea and Bear would recite a poem.  When Bear left the room to get the pickles, Mouse vanished.  Bear finally discovered him upstairs under his bed.  He might have been looking for a present, his present.

Each time Bear left to bring in food, Mouse was nowhere to be found when he returned.  Eventually the party settled into a dignified state until Bear started the poem.  The atmosphere was suddenly charged with shouts, enlightenment and glee.  A tradition transpired to reveal the depth of the growing friendship.

As readers have come to expect Bonny Becker begins the book with a short paragraph providing us with insights into Bear's current outlook and state of being.  When we then read the words

tap, tap, tapping,

it's like a once upon a time for this and the previous titles to begin.  We know Mouse is going to supply us with his sunny disposition in contrast to Bear's crotchety characteristics.

A cadence is generated with their back and forth verbal exchanges and actions.  These also provide for the story's humor, building to a resolution which will have readers smiling, if not exclaiming with joy.  Here is a sample passage.

The scurry sound was under his bed!
"Yes?" came a muffled voice.
"Are you looking for a present?"

Mouse peeped out from under the bed; he had a bit of dust on his nose.
"Perhaps," said Mouse.

What readers enjoy seeing prior to opening a book is found on the matching dust jacket and book case.  On the front Bear and Mouse are decorating a Christmas tree, clearly a prelude to the story. The title text is red foil.  To the left, on the back, amid a pale blue and white tiny, checked pattern is a small oval image.  It's a close-up of Mouse next to an evergreen outside in a wintry setting. This is a hint of what the conclusion will bring.

For the opening and closing endpapers on a muted, golden-yellow canvas illustrator Kady MacDonald Denton has placed stars, candy canes, gingerbread bears and pickles.  With a page turn after the opening endpapers, on a crisp, white background, is another hint of what is to come.  The verso and title pages host a gorgeous winter scene in the familiar setting of the forest and field surrounding Bear's tall Tudor-style home.  A Christmas wreath hangs on Bear's front door.

Rendered in watercolor, ink and gouache the pictures throughout this book span across two pages, single pages and sometimes share a single page with other smaller images.  The delicate lines, soft colors, intricate details invite readers into the story of Bear and Mouse.  The decorations throughout the home, the traditional fireplace, the wood stove in the kitchen and comfy furniture all contribute to the welcome.  The layered brush strokes provide texture, light and shadow.

What makes the visuals extra special is the depiction of Bear and Mouse.  Each of them is given individual physical characteristics which endear readers to them.  Their expressive eyes, the movements of their hands, Mouse's tail and ears and their attire all work together.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is a spectacular picture of Bear's living room.  The Christmas tree, fully decorated with candles burning brightly, is standing near the fireplace with a festive garland draped on the mantle.  On the left page, Bear, wearing a full-length apron with an evergreen tree in the center and a chef's hat, is frozen near his chair.  He has just come from the kitchen carrying an elegant dish loaded with pickles.  Mouse is suspiciously absent.

Once you've read A Christmas for Bear written by Bonny Becker with illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton, you'll want to start planning all those special little things people do for those they love at Christmas.  The relationship between this duo has grown but their individual personalities still shine and bring giggles and grins to readers.  This title is a wonderful addition to the series and to holiday collections.

To learn more about Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image. A Bedtime for Bear and The Sniffles for Bear were highlighted on this blog.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Gleam Of Green

When the world of reality collides with the realm of imagination within the pages of a book, it's easy to find yourself gasping, sighing, laughing or crying in the most public of places.  You're so thoroughly a part of the story; you literally forget where you are.  Everything and anything is possible.  We all know what is perfectly normal can be transformed into something frightening, outlandish, unpredictable and unforgettable.

Five years ago Creepy Carrots! (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, August 21, 2012)(2013 Caldecott Honor Book) left readers warily wandering through the vegetable section of their neighborhood grocery stores.  As these roots now become a part of our meals or snacks, we half expect them to talk to us or walk out of the kitchen thanks to collaborators, author Aaron Reynolds and illustrator Peter Brown.  Two days ago standing in the middle of a Scholastic Book Fair, it was exceedingly difficult not to burst out laughing while reading the companion title, Creepy Pair of Underwear! (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, August 15, 2017).  Our bewildered bunny is back!

Jasper Rabbit needed new underwear.
On Thursday Mom took him to the underwear store
and grabbed the last three packages of Plain White.

Before they could pay and leave, something caught Jasper's attention.  It was an enormous display for Creepy Underwear.  They were neon green, with a Frankenstein face on the front.  After Jasper reminded his mom he was no longer a tiny tyke, she agreed to a single pair of creepy underwear.

Jasper proudly put on the new ghastly undies before heading to bed.  He declined his dad's request for the hallway light to be left on. In the deep dark of his bedroom he noticed something for the first time.  The cranky creature's countenance glowed in the dark!

You never saw a rabbit move so rapidly.  In a finger snap, the offending attire was stuffed in the hamper and replaced with Plain White.  Imagine his surprise to awake up in the morning wearing the creepy underwear!  What?!

No matter where Jasper put those shimmering pants, where he sent them, or what he did to them, they found their way back to their favorite rabbit.  There was no one to tell.  Who would believe him?  It was time to steer his desperation in another direction.  No one was more surprised than Jasper Rabbit at the results.

When Aaron Reynolds writes about underwear, the usually response, laughter, is replaced with shivers and shudders.  He adeptly uses repetition and alliteration in his depiction of Jasper's actions and the description of the underwear.  Each time Jasper tries to rid himself of the underwear, the fright is gradually replaced with funny in the form of subtle humor.  This leads us expertly to the dual conclusion.  Here is a sample passage.

He closed his eyes.
He pulled up the covers.
He buried his face in his pillow.
But it didn't help.
He could still see that 
ghoulish, greenish glow.

The limited color palette, the blend of black, gray, white and green, and the ingenious use of light and shadows not only on the matching dust jacket and book case but throughout the title focus our attention on precisely how creepy these techniques can be.  The neon glowing green hue paired with the white eyes filled with fear on Jasper reaches out and grasps readers.  We realize the rabbit is genuinely terrified.

On the front of the jacket and case we are brought close to him sharing his dread.  To the left, on the back, is a duplication of an interior illustration. Jasper is standing in his bedroom window on the first morning when the creepy underwear has somehow moved from the hamper back to his body.  On a background of black on the opening and closing endpapers are rows of plain white undies except for one pair of creepy underwear.  Careful readers will note the difference between the two.

Each illustration has rounded corners with black frames, like pieces of film or a screen on the first black and white televisions.  Rendered in pencil on paper and then digitally composited and colored by Peter Brown the pictures portray varying perspectives.  Many times it's as if we are indeed watching a movie or television show but we also feel as though we are in the scene with the characters.

The expressions on Jasper's face convincingly convey his jitters but at the same time readers know he's trying to demonstrate he's a bigger bunny, more grown up.  He's also filled with a sense of determination and at times, elation.  The humor increases when readers notice the altered looks on the Frankenstein face on the creepy underwear.  Several will undoubtedly prompt outbursts of laughter.

One of my many favorite pictures is when Jasper first discovers the creepy underwear glow in the dark.  Across two pages, we get a bird's eye view of Jasper's bed.  It extends from the right-hand corner, filling the page, at an angle across the gutter to beyond the center of the left page.  The quilt, patterned in squares like the floors and bathroom tile, is pulled back and held by Jasper to reveal his body.  The creepy underwear is gleaming brightly with an angry scowl on its face.  Jasper looks shocked.

As sure as the full moon casts a spell on the earth below, readers will request this title, Creepy Pair of Underwear! written by Aaron Reynolds with pictures by Peter Brown, to be read to them repeatedly.  It's scary but not too scary and the conclusion will have them howling at the humor.  Readers, like Jasper, will understand rather than trying to hide from your fear, the better outcome might be to face it.  I highly recommend this title for your professional shelves.  It will never be there, passed from reader to reader.  Your personal collection will need a copy too.

To learn more about Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images from the book.  There is also a four page activity kit.  Aaron Reynolds is featured at PictureBooking, Episode 86.  On The New York Times Books Facebook page under Videos Peter Brown draws art from this book, reads portions aloud and chats about his process.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

For Love Of Books And Children

When walking among and working for decades in the realm of children's literature you come to respect the work of and have affection for the authors and illustrators. What they do is powerful.  Yesterday during a chat on social media I remarked that children's literature is going to save the world.  It is smarter, brighter and better than ever.  So are our children.  I believe this to be true.

It was not always this way.  There were no books being written specifically for children. Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children's Books (Chronicle Books, April 4, 2017) written by Michelle Markel with illustrations by Nancy Carpenter is an energetic exploration of a remarkable man.

Every page,
   every picture,
every word, and even its
   letters are designed for
your pleasure.

This lively, inviting introduction concludes with how fortunate readers are today and reminds them it was not like this in 1726.  There were indeed wonderful books for all kinds of readers but nothing was written for children.  They were made to read dry, didactic tomes riddled with rules.  At this time John Newbery was barely a teen.

When he was able John left the family farm to pursue working for a printer.  This young man who loved books was now making them.  He eventually moved to London to begin a business in publishing.  He wanted to be the man who put books in the hands of all readers, adults and children.

Working hard to gather the best material for a children's book, new and classic, filled with marvelous illustrations, and a letter to parents, John released his first title, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book.  He advertised it along with a toy.  What child could resist a book and a toy?  Apparently none of them could.  It was a huge success.

John's mind was on fire with publishing ideas for children; a magazine, titles for older readers and even a novel, The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes.  It was a winner on both sides of the pond.  There is even a history of mystery with this book and others John published for children.

His shop was a haven and a little bit of heaven for his young readers.  They knew he knew what they loved best.  To have established and named a children's literacy award given annually

"to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children"

is an honor most suited to this man who devoted a significant portion of his life to books for children.

Once you've read the first four sentences, an introductory paragraph, written by Michelle Markel you have to keep turning pages.  Her word choices captivate and engage us;

got a kick out of,
he went big time,
smack dab in the heart of the book marketplace and
gobbled them up like plum cakes.

Her ability to entwine threads of historical truth into jaunty, joyful text is marvelous.  Her storyteller's heart is evident on every single page.  Here is a sample passage.

Why shouldn't they have
books of their own?

John!  What were you thinking?
What about the parents?  Many mums and dads worried
that if their little nippers read fun books, they'd turn
wild as beasts! 

There is absolutely no way you can look at the matching, opened dust jacket and book case without smiling.  There stands John Newbery among all the children gathered in a London street, buildings in the background framing their cheer.  Opened and closed books appear in hands and thrown in the air.  The children's open mouths are probably giving him at least three Hip! Hip! Hooray! cheers.  What illustrator Nancy Carpenter has done is to give readers a true slice of life moment, presenting children from all walks of life.

The opening and closing endpapers are a swirl of teal, pink and golden yellow looking like paper perhaps used for covers of children's books during John Newbery's publishing career.  Rendered in pen and ink and digital media the illustrations are clever, animated and reminiscent of the time period.  The edges of each page mirror the pages of a very old book; a book inside a book.

Several times the corner of a page will be rolled back to provide us with an aside.  Picture sizes shift from two pages, to those which cross the gutter paired with a smaller image, single pages or a grouping of smaller pictures to depict the passage of time.  The fine lines, the color palette, layout and design replete with intricate details will have readers pausing in pleasure at every page turn.  Happiness and humor is evident everywhere.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  John Newbery is sitting in the back of his bookshop on a bench covered with sheets of paper.  One of his arms is resting on his desk and the other is holding an open book.  He is definitely thinking of his next project.  The room is filled with books, papers, tools of his trade, and a printing press. A sleeping canine companion rests nearby on and under paper.  John's coat and hat hang below a clock next to a doorway. Through the door we can see customers in his shop.  A little girl is peeking around the doorway at John.

When you read nonfiction picture books, a biography, like Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children's Books written by Michelle Markel with illustrations by Nancy Carpenter, you feel a distinct connection to the past and its influence on our present.  When you hold this book in your hands you are holding pure delight.  Be sure to have a copy on your professional bookshelves and in your personal collection.  There is an author's note, a discussion about books mentioned in this book, suggested books for further reading, a selected bibliography and articles listed at the back of the book.

To learn more about author Michelle Markel and her other work, please follow the link embedded in her name to access her website.  At the publisher's website a teacher's guide is provided.  You will want to head over to Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. to enjoy the conversation he had with Michelle Markel on the date of her cover reveal.  Several years ago Publishers Weekly supplied readers with a Q & A with Nancy Carpenter.

I am a day late for my post at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher for the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge due to a prior commitment but be sure to see what the other participants listed this week by visiting Alyson's blog.