Quote of the Month

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

Wacky And Wild Fun In The Sun

Spring Break.  Are there any two words sweeter than those to students and their educators?  As a child, memories of a visit to Parrot Jungle in Miami, Florida with the colorful birds sitting on my arms and shoulders linger.  Later as an educator when the mass exodus began in April, cars with students and their parents would honk and pass my husband and I as we all traveled south.  For those living in the northern regions of the United States, the lush greenery, vivid floral displays, sun, sand and surf are an annual welcome respite.

Staying at a variety of motels with swimming pools, eating at restaurants serving local cuisine and exotic dishes, and exploring all the historic and unique attractions leave unforgettable impressions no matter your age.  In the autumn of 2016 a new series which completely recreates spring break memories while shaping and sharing the life of year-round residents was released.  Welcome To WonderLand Home Sweet Motel (Random House Children's Books, October 4, 2016) written by Chris Grabenstein with illustrations by Brooke Allen introduces a cast of characters in comedic situations which will have you exploding with laughter one minute and on the edge of your seat the next minute.  

Gator Tales
Like I told my friends at school, living in a motel is always exciting---especially during an alligator attack.
"To this day, nobody knows how that giant alligator made it up to the second-floor balcony of my family's motel on St. Pete Beach," I told my audience.
The cafeteria was so quiet you could've heard a taco shell snap.

This is readers' introduction to Phineas Taylor Wilkie, known as P. T. to his friends, student at Ponce de Leon Middle School and resident of the Wonderland Motel, formerly known as Walt Wilkie's Wonder World.  All that's left of the motel's glory days in the 1970s are a bunch of large, eclectic decorations like a giant dinosaur, rocket ship, and jackalope, a small train not currently running on tracks and a miniature golf course.  His grandfather, Walt, owns the place and his mother is in charge of managing it.  P. T. is a spinner of outlandish and humorous tales taking after his grandfather who looks at life with a twinkle in his eye and is constantly tinkering on his next big dream.

In short order we become acquainted with P. T.'s staunch friends, Pinky, Kip and Porter as well as new long term guests at the motel, Gloria Ortega (P. T.'s age) and her sports newscaster father.  Gloria has a knack for business unlike most people her age (or many adults).  Her sensible pragmatic approach paired with P. T.'s flare for fiction is a match made in hospitality heaven.

P. T.'s fabulous life with his mother and grandfather at Wonderland Motel is in serious trouble!  A balloon payment on a loan his grandfather took out on the motel and forgot to tell his mother about is due.  They need to raise one hundred thousand dollars in thirty days!  

Gloria, P. T. and his grandfather hatch one outlandish marketing scheme after another which seem to be working but trouble is never far behind their successes in the form of a middle school history teacher, Mr. Frumpkes, a beautiful woman from Grandpa Wilkie's past and two notorious criminals.  An Unsolved Mysteries television segment elevates the action and the hilarity.  Will Wonderland Motel be saved?  Only time, a baloney with yellow mustard on white bread sandwich and a tiger will tell.

Here are several passages from Welcome To WonderLand Home Sweet Motel.

We can't afford to give away free ice cream, Dad," Mom told Grandpa when she saw me and my friends swirling our cones under the pump handle.
Pinky Nellington wasn't using a cone.  He just stuck his face under the nozzle.

"Spring Break also means no school," I said, because as you'll see, I like to look on the bright side, even when it's darker than the inside of my pants pockets at midnight.
Not that I've ever actually looked inside my pants pockets that late at night, but you get the idea.

"P. T., tell me:  what makes Walt Disney World so special?"
"Um, everything?"
"Nope, nope, nope.  It's the stories.  Why do kids want to meet all those Disney princesses at the castle?  Because they know their fairy tales backward and forward before their families even pull into the parking lot.  Pirates of the Caribbean?  That ride tells such a great story they turned it into four different movies."

When he was all laughed out, he belches up another cloud of Cel-Ray salad gas.
"Of course," he said, rubbing his face, "no one wants to hear my corny old stories anymore."
"But it used to work?"
"Like a hot knife through presliced butter.  Because everybody needs a little wonder in their lives, P. T.  That's why vacations were invented.  To give us room for amazement!"

Fortunately for readers another stellar title in this series was released this year.  Welcome To WonderLand Beach Party Surf Monkey Book 2 (Random House Children's Books, May 23, 2017) written by Chris Grabenstein with illustrations by Brooke Allen follows further escapades of P. T., Gloria, Grandpa Walt, P. T.'s mom and Gloria's dad as they try to save the motel from further trouble, this time at the hands of a hotel developer.  The sun isn't the only heat coming to the residents of Wonderland Motel.

Scary Tales
"When you live in a motel," I told my audience, "you never know when your neighbors might be fiendish jewel thieves!"
Like always, the whole cafeteria was hanging on my every word. Even the lunch ladies in their plastic shower caps had come out to hear what I'd say next.  It was so quiet you could hear a straw squeak its way into a milk carton.

As P. T. and Gloria bask in their recent success another villain finds his way into the lobby of their motel.  Edward Conch aims to acquire the Wonderland Motel as he did three neighboring motels to make his hotel bigger and better.  He and his equally devious daughter always get what they want...or so they say. 

His proposition appeals to P. T.'s mom who longs for a solid future for her son and the loss of worries about making ends meet.  Believe me when I say P. T., Gloria and Grandpa Walt are not about to let this happen.  In the middle of their first money-making weekend gone wrong, a miracle in the form of a Hollywood star taking cover in the rump of their large dinosaur changes everything for the motel residents.

To their utter amazement a pitch at a movie production meeting winds up winning their motel as the setting for Beach Party Surf Monkey. Chaos in the form of a movie crew, a male star with a meltdown temper, a down-to-earth female star and a YouTube sensation monkey fills the Wonderland Motel rooms and grounds.  While you might think this ends the financial troubles for our characters, it's only the beginning of battling those who want them to lose.  Enemies known and unknown will do anything to see this movie fail.

The ins and outs of movie-making, competition in the motel-hotel trade, a kidnapping and a notable disappearances increase the excitement and mystery amid zany day-to-day events.  A chicken gobbling gator, a cannonball pool winner, a poop-throwing monkey, and the arrival of a four hundred pound pig certainly contribute to the high laughter factor.  A stinky smell eventually tells the true tale. 

As soon as you read the first few sentences penned by Chris Grabenstein you realize this man has a pure humor gene in his makeup.  The one-liner thoughts and statements and the stories P. T. thinks, says and tells will have you smiling from cover to cover, page after page.  This boy thrives on the power of story.  

In the other characters of Gloria, Grandpa Walt, P. T.'s mom and Gloria's dad we see wonderfully human people who reach out and grab life through their bold and bright personalities.  P. T.'s and Gloria's friends, the actors, film crew and the figures of Mr. Conch and Victoria and the secondary characters all provide essential parts.  Through all their conversations we find ourselves fully connected to every moment.  Here are some sample passages.

"ESPN is the leader of the pack," Mr. Ortega tells me all the time.  "And if you're not running with the lead dogs, P. T., all you see is a bunch of furry butts."

"And who, pray tell, is Kevin the Monkey?" asked Mr. Frumpkes.  "One of your pimple-faced pop stars?"
"Kevin the Monkey is a supercool capuchin from the Sunshine State Primate Sanctuary," said Kate.  "He's a total YouTube sensation!"
"And a savvy PR vehicle," added Gloria.  "Last year Kevin the Monkey's channel earned one point six million dollars for the animal rescue charity, thanks to rollover ads.  Net-net, he and the primate sanctuary have put together a rock-solid monkey business plan!"
When Gloria said that, the class cracked up.
"Monkey business!"  
The laughter grew louder when somebody (probably Kate Mackenzie Williams, because she's a total gadget freak) used their phone to hack into the Smart Board's Wi-Fi connection and run a hysterical Kevin the Monkey clip.

Gloria and I have since turned it into our private clubhouse.  It's a great place to hang out, swap stories, and plot schemes---except in August.  Then it's more like a sauna inside an oven located at the molten core of the earth.

Grandpa proudly displayed his package of luncheon meat to the crowd.  "Bologna, ladies and gentlemen.  It is the duct tape of foods.  There ain't nothing it can't do!"

Throughout both titles the artwork of Brooke Allen, done in black and white, further defines the narrative adding to the hilarity.  Her full page illustrations, partial page pictures and single page visuals crossing the gutter are brimming with details.  Images spanning two pages add impact to the given event.

Many of the illustrations contain speech bubbles with additional text enhancing the given moment and mood.  They clarify the personalities of the characters further.  The chapter beginnings all contain a single small picture in keeping with the book title.

Welcome To WonderLand Beach Party Surf Monkey Book 2, following Welcome To Wonderland Home Sweet Motel, written by Chris Grabenstein with illustrations by Brooke Allen is exactly what readers need---action, mystery and laughter...lots of laughter.  These characters find themselves in situations with hilarious results as they seek to solve realistic problems.  Using P. T. as a narrator amid the upbeat conversations of all the characters ties readers to his stories.  We want these characters to succeed.  And amid the fun there are issues which will promote discussions.  I can't imagine a professional bookshelf without multiple copies or a personal bookshelf without a set.

To discover more about Chris Grabenstein and Brooke Allen and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At Chris Grabenstein's pages for these books you can view book trailers, read excerpts and listen to audio.  At the publisher's websites you can read excerpts and view the interior of the second title.  Chris Grabenstein is the winner of the 2017 Sid Fleischman Humor Award for the first title.  There are more participants in the Welcome To WonderLand Beach Party Surf Monkey Blog Tour. Here are three of them.  Teacher librarian Laura Given interviews Chris Grabenstein at LibLaura5.  Educators Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Michele Knott at Mrs. Knott's Book Nook talk about the title.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Destination High Adventure

Regardless of the intentions of the protagonists in an adventure story, they find themselves constantly in and out of danger.  Their paths are littered with obstacles.  These may come in the form of monsters from lore, unexpected natural disasters or at the hands of unsavory individuals.  Moving at breathtaking speeds, the action is non-stop.  As readers we are never sure from one minute to the next if survival will be their fortune.

A year ago yesterday Compass South (Four Points, Book 1) (Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux) written by Hope Larson with illustrations by Rebecca Mock raced into the world.  A three page prologue, the air laden with mystery, introduces us to Mr. Hodge, the red-headed twin babies left in his care and the necessity of keeping two heirlooms in their constant possession, a compass and a knife.  Hester, the love of Hodge's life, we are told is now deceased.  The children, a girl and a boy, will never know her.

Twelve years later the children believing their father, Hodge, is dead join a street crew, the Black Hook Gang. In a robbery gone bad, Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge find themselves seated in front of the head of the local police.  To save themselves from prison they reveal the location of the gang hideout.

Although they are being sent from the city with a clean slate, they know their lives will be short if Luther, the leader of the gang, finds them.  Waiting for the purchase of train tickets to New Orleans they see an ad in the newspaper. A father, a very wealthy father, is looking for his twin sons, his redheaded sons, last seen five years ago.

From New Orleans they have to get to San Francisco to collect the reward as well as be reunited with their "father."  Their plans get turned inside out when they discover another set of twins with the same idea.  To add to their predicament Luther is indeed looking for them but he is now working for an unscrupulous pirate who has to have the compass and the knife.  These objects hold the key to untold treasures.

As events unfold, the two sets of twins find themselves separated but paired with each other.  A tumultuous sea voyage and a jungle journey take them closer to known and unknown perils.  Shipboard battles, sword fights, quick sand, wild animals, high winds, stormy seas and treacherous currents work against them but bigger surprises than they could have imagined await them as the conclusion draws closer.

To announce this first book there were numerous articles and interviews, Comics Alliance, Comics Alternative,  School Library Journal, Drawn to Comics, and Book Riot. A blog tour described the process of creating this title.  Two of the posts can be read at teacher Colby Sharp's blog, sharpread, and at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  To view interior panels please visit the publisher's website.

And now one year later...

The twelve-year-old twins, Alex and Cleo, return in further heart-pounding escapades as they crack the code hidden in the knife and compass in Knife's Edge Four Points, Book Two (Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, June 27, 2017).  Now aboard the ship Almira commanded by Captain Tarboro, a man with a near legendary life, they set sail for the Marshall Islands.  They do so knowing the dreaded pirate Felix Worley, sailing El Caleuche, is trying to get to the riches before they do.  

For the first time in their lives the twins are at odds in their goals; Alex wants the life of a sailor for himself on the Almira and Cleo is struggling to find a place for herself.  Without the knowledge of anyone else, she convinces Captain Tarboro to give her sword fighting lessons.  The tension heightens when the ship seeks harbor in Honolulu.  Separated from Alex at the market Cleo uncovers more secrets increasing the questions about her and Alex and...Luther!  

Trying to change his destiny he saves Cleo from a brawl in the tavern and escapes the pirate crew to sail with the twins.  Of course this means a highly risky situation has turned decidedly deadly.  Worley will kill him for desertion.  Worley will pursue the Almira to the ends of the earth.

A high speed chase across the waves and the brutal outcome of an encounter with a reef alters the course for the twins, Luther, Captain Tarboro, his crew and the Almira. Evading pursuing sharks an island is reached but it, too, holds shocks.  It seems death has not had its day.

Friends and enemies blend in a twist of fate.  Is it a kidnapping or a secret pact?  Betrayals abound on all sides.  Page-turner can't begin to describe the minutes and hours leading to the first conclusion.  The power of story discloses another ending.

When it comes to crafting an adventure, Hope Larson has a gift.  Life in the 1860s moves from the pages into our presence so completely we are drawn into the world of the Hodge twins.  There is never a pause in the action except when as smooth as silk she weaves the past into the present through stories.  Told completely in dialogue we are captivated from beginning to end.  

Certainly the settings and the events tied to them play a huge part in readers' enjoyment of this book (and the first title, too) but her characters are strong and true, whether they are friends or foes.  They exhibit strengths and weaknesses.  Love is a driving force, an undercurrent in several relationships.  Here is a sample conversation between Cleo and Luther after he saves her.

Where am I?
The basement.
Who are you?
Shh! You'll wake up the giant.
She's coming to.  You don't look hurt---can you walk?
Who's there?  I hear whispering.
I think so.
There you are!
Don't you dare!  Don't you dare shut that door!
Open this door!  Let me out!
You can't know how glad I am to see you.
Glad?  One look at me and you ran off full chisel.
Had to get you away from Alex.
Did you also have to drop me through a hole in the floor?
You were in trouble.
Was not!
Okay, I was.  But I'm not sayin' thanks.  Last time I saw you, you about got me killed.
Fair enough.

The artwork on the matching dust jacket and book case suggests the adventure found on every page.  You can sense the tension and excitement in the twins aboard the Almira.  The image crosses the spine to continue on the back.  There we see Captain Tarboro with a guest on the ship who I will not name in case you have not read the first title.  The use of light and shadow by Rebecca Mock is stunning.  The details on the ship are in keeping with the time period.  The color on the opening and closing endpapers mirrors a pale blue sky.  

On the title page the illustration of the compass upon the knife as seen on the jacket and case appears beneath the text.  To the left of this is an old-style map of the voyage.  Each of the eleven chapters begins with a small but significant framed picture.

Panel sizes alter and are grouped to enhance the pacing of the narrative.  At times Mock will superimpose one element on another for emphasis.  Speech bubbles, sound effects and wordless images flow seamlessly together.  Color is used to great effect to elevate the time of day or mood of a scene.  It's the exquisite detail in all the illustrations which will have readers pausing, adding to the pleasure of the story.

One of my many favorite illustrations is in the market on Honolulu.  Cleo, who is struggling with the person she wants to become, is holding a bag of tea and smelling it.  Memories of things said to her about her tea making skills spiral out from the central element.  It's an emotional moment but also a prelude to a turning point in the story.

Knife's Edge Four Points, Book 2 written by Hope Larson with illustrations by Rebecca Mock is as thrilling as the companion title.  You simply can't start it without finishing it in one sitting; reading it as quickly as possible.  It is a period piece of a particular kind of adventure superbly done brimming with beginnings and endings.  You will want multiple copies of both books on your professional shelves.  And your personal bookshelf needs to have a copy of each, too.

To learn more about Rebecca Mock and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  She maintains a Tumblr account here.  To view interior images please follow this link to the publisher's website.  Hope Larson is interviewed for this title at School Library Journal.  The Comics Alternative again chats with the collaborators, Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock.

To view the other posts in the Knife's Edge Blog Tour follow this link.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Look Once And Look Again

If you've ever been a student or an observer in an art class, you know every single participant, when asked, will recreate the same setting differently.  We all see identical elements with new eyes.  We all have our own specific style.

You would think we might be able to come to an agreement on opposites.  It seems pretty cut and dried but when you add perspective to the conversation clarity shifts.  Double Take!: A New Look at Opposites (Candlewick Press, June 13, 2017) written by Susan Hood with illustrations by Jay Fleck encourages readers to broaden their thinking.

Do you know opposites?
YES or NO?

If I say STOP,
you say GO.

For the following five pairs, it seems simple.  The opposite of sleep is awake.  Day and night are at the beginning and end of a day.  There is no debate on these concepts.

As the narrative continues we are presented with a puzzle. How does the label small apply unless there is something bigger?  The same idea can be applied to height and speed.  It's all about comparisons.  A human is slow to a cheetah but a human is speedy to a turtle.

If you have several points on a line, how can one change from being far to near?  Sometimes a common object can look rather abstract when you are as close to it as possible.  If you move away, it looks more natural. Each time you take a picture you can experiment with this altered outlook.

What you need to do is put yourself in someone else's shoes, looking at the world with a new view.  Someone's up might be another one's down.  How many examples can you identify with opposites adjusted?

Concept books are an important form of children's literature but rarely do they challenge readers by inviting them to think outside what is ordinary (or inside the extraordinary).  This is masterfully done by Susan Hood through easing from the obvious to the more complex. The cadence created by her rhyming word choices create a path readers are willing to follow. Here are two more passages.

HIGH might look hazy
until we see LOW.

A racer's called FAST
when rivals are SLOW.

Now just when you think you've mastered that notion,
watch relative words set matters in motion.

Rendered digitally the illustrations throughout this title pair wonderfully with the lively inviting text.  On the matching dust jacket and book case debut picture book illustrator Jay Fleck  introduces us to not only to characters seen on every page turn but to the potential of what can appear when we look more than once.  On the front the reflected image is varnished.  To the left, on the back, on a lighter background two flowers in pots ask us to think about big and small, tall and short, and high and low.  Readers will want to keep their eyes open in order to spot the frequent appearance of these two other animal friends, a tiny red bird and pale gray mouse.

The endpapers are covered in a coral (muted red) canvas.  This is one of the limited color palette hues; others are blues, greens, yellow, gray, black and a little bit of pink on a two-page picture.  The title page and closing illustration feature a rising (setting) sun on a large body of water; the one with a dock and the other from a boat.  Across the publication and dedication pages is a bird's eye view of a city, an amusement park and the sea.  As the narrative begins we zoom into a portion of the city.

The precise lines, layout and design supply a harmony to the illustrations.  Readers will be unable to resist the boy with his red wagon, the black cat and the blue elephant who accompanies them.  There is a tender quality in these images endearing the characters to readers.  Fleck alternates between single page pictures, two images on a single page and two page visuals.  Readers will be searching for the exquisite details; the open and closed sign on a door, animals in building windows, sweatbands on exercisers, the helmet wearing turtle and animals driving cars in the distance.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the three companions are seated on a bench in an art museum.  The elephant is between the boy and his cat.  All their heads are tilted to the right studying the picture before them.  It is framed in blue with red, yellow, green and blue looping swirls, dots and dashes.

The narrative and artwork in this title, Double Take!: A New Look at Opposites, written by Susan Hood with illustrations by Jay Fleck is a marvelous blend of simplicity.  Readers will eagerly look for the characters and what they are doing on every page.  It would be fun to think of other opposites and imagine what activity the trio would be enjoying in the images.  You will want to have this book on your professional and personal bookshelves

To discover more about Susan Hood and Jay Fleck and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  You can view interior images on publisher websites here and here.  Susan Hood is a guest writer at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.   Susan Hood was interviewed at Mile High Reading by Dylan Teut, the director of the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival in Seward, Nebraska.    Jay Fleck maintains a blog and has an account on Facebook and Instagram. Jay was highlighted by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Take a few minutes to enjoy the titles this week selected by other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challege at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Field Trip Friendship

Wouldn't it be great to imagine every day as if it is a field trip? You wake up knowing something new and exciting is going to happen.  To explore a place you've never visited offers endless opportunities.  Experiencing this adventure with friends or even alone creates unforgettable moments.  Learning something unusual about our world increases our respect and admiration for those very things.

As a cherished class pet, the days during the school year are likely brimming with routine but also shrouded in an air of expectancy.  In the first book in her new early reader series, Fergus And Zeke (Candlewick Press, June 13, 2017) author Kate Messner acquaints us with a personable, lovable character (maybe two).  This mouse, Fergus, is no ordinary class pet.  His escapades are illustrated by artist Heather Ross.

FERGUS LOVED being the class pet in Miss Maxwell's room.  He loved everything about school, and he was good at following the class rules.

Whether it was storytime, a lesson in following directions or solving math problems, Fergus was a model student.  During music, the best part of the day as far as Fergus was concerned, he was so happy he danced his jazzy dance.  When Miss Maxwell told the students they would be going to the Museum of Natural History, he could hardly wait.  He wanted to see everything the students wanted to see.  The day was finally here.

To Fergus's disappointment he could not go to the museum.  Not to be deterred Fergus found a way to go on the field trip.  Emma's backpack was the ideal method of transportation.  The next problem our fearless mouse faced was he needed a buddy.  The one he discovered in Emma's backpack was not very mobile.  Suddenly a voice spoke in the cloakroom.

A friendly mouse named Zeke lived in the museum.  He would be Fergus's buddy and tour guide.  Pitted space rocks, the fluttering butterflies in their house, the massive blue whale and frightening reptile room were on the duo's agenda.  The exhibit filled with ferocious lions and large elephants was better than any other playground but the best part was the towering Tyrannosaurus rex.  From the height of its mouth Fergus could see everywhere and everyone.  Gasp!  Miss Maxwell's class was leaving...without him!

To say Fergus panicked was an understatement.  The twosome raced past all the visited rooms but a shortcut revealed the most spectacular sight of all.  There were questions. There were answers.  The biggest surprise of all was back at the classroom at the close of the day.  It was time for a jazzy dance.

Kate Messner is one of the most versatile writers in the world of children's literature.  Regardless of her intended audience, from picture books to middle grade novels, her dedication to meticulous research and reaching the hearts of her readers is obvious.  She speaks the language of relevance.

In this title her succinct sentences are a blend of narrative, thoughts and dialogue.  A technique of multiple perspectives draws us into the story.  Here is a sample passage.

Everyone was excited.  "I want to see the dinosaurs," said Emma.
"I want to see the butterfly garden," said Jake.
"I want to see the planetarium," said Lucy.  "I want to wish on a shooting star!"
Fergus wanted to see all those things, too.  What fun it would be to wish on a shooting star!  He couldn't wait for the big trip. 

Watching the two mice scamper across the matching dust jacket and book case front, wide-eyed and smiling, is sure to have readers doing the same thing.  Who wouldn't be happy walking among dinosaur bones?  To the left, on the back, the pals are seated looking in contentment at each other.  Their pink ears and purple and gray fur seems soft enough to touch.

On the opening and closing endpapers Heather Ross has placed a spring green background.  Upon this is a pattern of loose circles.  Within them are things to be seen at this museum.  Throughout the title Heather alternates between full page pictures, two page visuals, smaller pictures grouped together or images crossing the gutter beneath text.  To enhance the narrative she has added insets in different perspectives.  Under each of the chapter headings a single item represents events within those pages.

We get to see this visit through the eyes of the mice rather than the humans.  Adding to the sense of adventure are their expressions and body movements. The fun and the growing friendship are evident.

One of my favorite of several illustrations is of Fergus in the butterfly house.  A pale background mirroring a moist tropical atmosphere colors the canvas.  Bright green leaves reach in from the top and bottom framing Fergus.  Butterflies in beautiful hues fly above him.  His eyes are closed in pure bliss hoping one of them will land on him.  The entire scene is as if we are looking down on Fergus.

As soon as readers finish reading Fergus And Zeke written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Heather Ross, they will do one of two things.  They will immediately read it again and then they are sure to say, "When is the second book going to be available?"  The second book in the series, Fergus And Zeke At The Science Fair is being released sometime next year....I think.  Make sure you have multiple copies of this title available at home and at school.

To discover more about Kate Messner and Heather Ross and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  You will enjoy reading the story behind the story at Kate's website.  You can get a sneak peek at interior images and text at the publishers' websites here and here.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Of Capes And Courage

Some people carry an object with them believing it inspires them when they need it the most.  There is something intrinsically reassuring about reaching into your pocket to rub your fingers over a treasured memento; its value known only to you.  Others wear a specific article of clothing to ensure good luck is with them during a particular day or a specific event.  

Remembrances are attached to certain outfits hanging in our closets.  We recall some as gifts, or the place it was purchased or the spectacular circumstances we enjoyed while wearing it.  Super Manny Stands Up! (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, July 4, 2017) written by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Stephanie Graegin speaks to the superhero in all of us.

Every day Manny put on a different cape after school.  

Each colored cape represented his ability to conquer those beings who wished him or others harm.  They also made a very special trait within Manny rise to the surface.  Donning his blue cape made battling unsavory sea creatures easy.  Manny was fearless.

His red, yellow, purple, and green capes helped him defeat zombie bears or forest giants.  He could be brave or powerful depending on the foe and the cape he wore.  His most important cape was the one saved for school.  It was his

top secret undercover cape.

No one could see this cape but Manny knew it was there.

Mutant monkeys on the playground and giant squids in the cafeteria were no match for Super Manny.  One day at lunch a voice boomed above the general hum.  Tall One was teasing Small One.  Manny knew he should do something but his capes were at home.  Then he remembered his

top secret undercover cape.

Manny left his seat and spoke.  Tall One immediately turned his attention to Manny questioning his words.  Our invincible raccoon spoke louder.  Tall One was surprised and not pleased with what happened next.  A cape spread courage from one to many.

With her first sentence Kelly DiPucchio welcomes us into the story.  We are already asking questions.  Why does Manny put a cape on after school?  Why does he have different capes?  As each color is depicted a narrative rhythm is established with the introduction of the dangers and the corresponding trait in Manny.  The distinctive characteristics are shouted by Manny in speech bubbles.

During the disruption in the cafeteria all those imaginary evils Manny has fought and conquered are listed in his mind again along with a mantra of his attributes.  This technique asks readers to participate in the tale of Super Manny.  Here is a sample passage.

When legions of alien robots with laser-beam eyes invaded, Manny tirelessly fought them off in his purple cape.


Now I ask you, how can you resist the proud, happy raccoon standing on the front of the dust jacket? (I am working with an F & G.) His confidence radiates as strongly as the stars blasting forth behind him.  The title text, Manny, and the stars are varnished.  Each individual star is textured with raised glitter.  To the left, on the back, we see the same hill on the blue background.  This time Manny is facing away from us.

On the opening and closing endpapers illustrator Stephanie Graegin is giving us a hint of happenings to come in the book.  On the first set Manny is wearing different colored striped shirts with different colored capes.  All the poses (40) are altered.  The final set has an addition to the rowed pattern.  (My lips are sealed.)

Rendered in pencil and ink and then assembled and colored digitally the illustrations span two pages, single pages and smaller images on a single page.  For those smaller ones on single pages, Stephanie Graegin usually has a circular shape.  Sometimes the elements will extend outside this frame.

When Manny is facing each of the collective foes they appear in the color of his cape superimposed over the normal activities of the other characters.  When the angry army of zombie bears attack, it is in the middle of his sister's tea party.  Her disgust at his roaring is typical and funny.  Manny is beating the forest giants in a game of croquet as his mother and sister work in the garden.

The layout and design of these images is superb.  The details will have readers pausing to look; the title of Manny's sister's book, the kind of books Manny likes to read, and the cat holding chopsticks in the cafeteria.  Body postures and facial expressions are as exactly as you would expect and are sure to produce smiles in all readers.  Readers will want to join Manny in his exploits.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the unsavory sea creatures appear.  On a crisp white background Manny is behind a fish bowl looking at the regular fish inside.  The outraged sea creatures are beginning to float from the top as water splashes.  This shift in perspective heightens the pacing.

Readers will count this title as one of their favorites on having the courage to speak up against those who are being unkind to others.  Super Manny Stands Up! written by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Stephanie Graegin is an inspiration to all readers.  One person can make a difference especially if they are wearing their invisible cape.  Make sure you have a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Kelly DiPucchio and Stephanie Graegin 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. Kelly DiPucchio maintains a blog.  Dylan Teut, director of the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival in Seward, Nebraska, interviewed Kelly DiPucchio on his blog, Mile High Reading.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Conquest Of Words

During the 2015-2016 school year I was fortunate to work with a group of kindergarten students. Visiting them once a week, introducing them to authors, illustrators and the joy of appreciating not only the stories they told but how they accomplished their work was memorable.  As a thank you for our time together they wrote a book for me.  In it are letters of gratitude.

These letters are one of my greatest treasures because in my years of education I have had the opportunity to watch students learning to shape letters and string them together to make words.  When they are able to do this their happiness is huge.  Little Plane Learns to Write (A Neal Porter Books, Roaring Brook Press, June 6, 2017) written and illustrated by Stephen Savage takes readers on a journey of practice makes perfect.

It was time for class at flight school.

Little Plane could hardly wait to begin.  Their flight instructor told them about their new lesson.  They were going to learn to write.

Practicing arcs, dives and loopity-loops was important to their success.  Little Plane zoomed into the air.  Completing arcs was no problem.  The loopity-loops were not so easy.  They made him feel upside down and inside out.

He tried his best the next day but writing about clouds was minus an o.  Of course the flight instructor noticed the omission encouraging him to try again.  Little Plane gave it his best effort but again his next word lacked an o.

As the day darkened into night, Little Plane was deeply discouraged.  The night was partly cloudy.  As the clouds moved across the sky a glowing revelation gave Little Plane an idea.  With great care he flew.  His happiness was huge.

When Stephen Savage writes for our younger readers he speaks directly to their collective hearts and minds.  His sentences are simple and easily understood but still convey emotion.  His careful use of words allows us to connect to his characters.  This story becomes a bit more personal with the inserted dialogue by the flight instructor.  Every single one of us understands the struggle to learn to write and form words.  Every single one of us needed (needs) support.  And it's surprising, as Stephen demonstrates, when that support will appear.

Two dots and two curved lines give readers all they need to know about the mood of Little Plane as he flies over the countryside beneath him.  He has just completed writing the text for the title and could not more thrilled.  His red hue conveys warmth in beautiful contrast to the predominant use of primary colors throughout the book .  To the left, on the back, the canvas shifts to all sky blue.  Within a circle of yellow is a lighter blue.  Little Plane is flying out of the circle, a large grin on his face.

Readers are going to love the opening and closing endpapers.  Little Plane along with the other students have written the upper and lower case letters of the alphabet between the two images.  A through M is on the first and N through Z is on the second.  The background shifts in shades of blue to delineate the passage of time.

Digital techniques created the illustrations which all span two pages.  Stephen's use of line, shadows, light and shapes is ideal for the intended audience.  He alternates smoothly between panoramic and close-up views.  They contribute to the sensory impact.

One of my many favorite pictures is when Little Plane is trying a second time to get his loopity-loops to form.  The lower two-thirds of the page is a cityscape with a bridge in the background on the left.  Over the right side of the city is a large rainbow.  Above this the word is correctly spelled without an o.  Little Plane is flying away glad with what he has accomplished even without the o.  

Little Plane Learns to Write written and illustrated by Stephen Savage is an ode to learning and persistence.  It also shows how students learn differently and at varying rates.  I predict this book is going to be requested repeatedly by readers as a read aloud one-on-one or as a group.  You will want to add this title to your professional and personal collections of Stephen Savage books.  It's a definite winner.  (Can you guess which letter the students who wrote to me struggled with the most?)

To learn more about Stephen Savage and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  To view interior images of this book please view them at the publisher's website.  Stephen is interviewed at Where The Board Books Are and BKLYNER.  This book is one of those featured by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Stephen Savage had the distinct honor to be selected as the Irma Black and Cook Prize ceremony keynote speaker on May 18, 2017.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Shaping Laughter

There are days when you crave great gulps of it.  It's an elixir for your soul.  You need it like your body needs air. It can come over you spontaneously or build until it bursts out in the open.

Whether it's a snicker or a shriek, laughter is contagious.  It's a rare person who hears it and does not feel at the least, a hint of a smile forming.  Claymates (Little, Brown and Company, June 20, 2017) written by Dev Petty with illustrations by Lauren Eldridge is certain to send spirits soaring.  There will, without a doubt, be a great deal of roaring...with laughter.

So...are you new here?


Me too.

What do you think is going to happen?

Probably something WONDERFUL.

Two balls of clay, one gray and the other brown, are calmly chatting and getting to know one another when an artist approaches the studio table, forming them into a wolf and an owl.  The twosome is thrilled when they are left alone again.  Owl thinks they are perfect.  Wolf has other plans.

Faster than you can say ears, it stretches them to look like airplane wings.  Owl is flabbergasted predicting doom and gloom at Wolf's antics in altering its appearance.  Finally after persistent prodding, Owl tries it.  Yahoo! Where did Owl go?  And what is in its place?

Like caged creatures set free the duo are an explosion of creativity.  When one becomes something new, the other complements it.  They progress from imaginative creatures, to things out of this world, to bigger, smaller, flatter and sharper.

The artist's jar of tools is fair game for these companions as they merrily make and remake themselves until the inevitable happens.   They hope their fast thinking solves their current predicament but the outcome generates full-blown hilarity.  For a third time they find themselves alone.  And as it is said, the third time is the charm.

Told entirely through the conversations between the two balls of clay, this story instantly captures your undivided attention and keeps it until the final syllable is uttered.  Dev Petty's keen sense of humor resonates in each word.  It's delightful to see how she plays one personality against the other until doubt is dispelled, replaced with exuberant play and the roles come full circle.  Here is a sample conversation.

You definitely shouldn't do that.

Why not?
I can fix it.

Don't I look loooovely?

You look like 
you're going to get
us in trouble.

It's a given you will start to giggle as soon as you see the matching dust jacket and book case.  Lauren Eldridge in this title, her debut picture book, demonstrates her masterful use of clay, found objects and photography.  The color choices for the text and the white background assure your attention will be directed at the characters.  You know the wolf and owl are as happy as can be but you are not sure why until your eyes drift left at the back.  A gray elephant is now holding a giant brown peanut in its trunk.  Off to one side you can see a portion of the studio table with other balls of clay ready to be used.

On the opening endpapers we get a clear view of the entire studio, including the table and photography space. What an introduction to possibilities!  On the closing endpapers with the publication information, author's and illustrator's notes and dedications it's the same area with noticeable differences.  (I'm laughing again.)  On the title page we zoom in close to the characters and bowls holding balls of clay.  The title letters formed from clay are spread across the top of the two-page picture.

Rendered in

polymer clay, acrylic doll eyes, tinfoil, and wire to create the many shapes of the gray and brown claymates and using objects from around my (her) house

Lauren Eldridge fashions a series of images on white or framed in wide bands of white.  She might include two illustrations on a single page, a single picture on one page, a wordless collage of visuals or a close-up spread across two pages.  Her choice of size directs the pacing and heightens the narrative.

The conversations are shown on torn pieces of paper with text color to match the character's color. What Lauren does with their eyes is fabulous! You know exactly what they are thinking and feeling.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the first two-page spread.  The wolf has just pulled its ears out making them longer.  Its eyes and mouth are wide open with its tongue hanging out as it exclaims


Owl on the right is shocked with wings askew, one tip pointed toward its chin.  The eyes are as wide-open as Wolf's but not for the same reason.  Owl says


You can't read this title, Claymates written by Dev Petty with illustrations by Lauren Eldridge, only once.  You have to read it again and again.  And, this is the best part, even though you know what is going to happen you laugh louder and longer with every reading.  I love this book!  I already have more copies on the way.  I would plan on multiple copies for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Dev Petty and Lauren Eldridge and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  The exclusive cover reveal along with an interview is at teacher librarian Travis Jonker's blog at School Library Journal, 100 Scope Notes.  The book trailer was premiered at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  He chats with Lauren Eldridge.  Lauren is featured at Celebri-Dots.  Dev Petty talks about this book at Nerdy Book Club.  Enjoy the video.

Book Chat with the CLAYMATES Creators from LB School on Vimeo.

Admiration For Earth's Survivors

If you set the acquired fear aside, in its place is utter respect.  They have

survived five major extinction events, including one 65 million years ago that destroyed the dinosaurs.

Their skin is uniquely designed for speed.  Some of their species can swim up to sixty miles per hour.  Attempts have been made to duplicate their skin in swimwear for athletes.  As a top predator in the food chain their very existence is essential to maintaining a balance in our oceans.

One woman devoted her life to dispelling the fear, replacing it with verifiable facts.  Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist (Sourcebooks, Jabberwocky, June 6, 2017) written by Jess Keating with illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens presents to readers how one girl grew a dream from a passionately planted seed to a full-blown bloom of reality.  Readers can easily connect with Eugenie Clark and her sharks.

It was Saturday, and Eugenie wanted to stay at the aquarium forever.

While she was at the aquarium she would watch the sharks longer than the other animals even pretending to walk through the sea rather than the facility.  A big supporter of Eugenie's dream, her mom would take her to the shore so she could swim.  Can you believe this little girl stuck gum in her ears so she could dive?  Nothing was going to keep her from exploring her already beloved ocean.

Though she wished to swim with sharks, she first had to learn everything she could about them.  She read and wrote and read and wrote some more.  To her surprise her mom bought her a fifteen-gallon fish tank to bring a watery world into their small apartment.  For a girl with Eugenie's desires this was one step closer to making her greatest wish come true.

As she continued her studies, her dream was not easy to accomplish with current beliefs as to what a woman should or shouldn't do.  Studying sharks was clearly not what a woman should be doing but Eugenie did and she did it very well.  After college graduation Eugenie finally got to swim in the open ocean.  In the Red Sea she discovered three new species!

Can you imagine how thrilled she was when she swam near her first wild shark or found a cave of sleeping sharks?  As prejudice against sharks grew so did Eugenie's persistence in proving those thoughts wrong.  Her gift to the world is to never give up on your dream.  One person can make a difference for the good.

Eugenie was the first scientist in the world to train sharks and even learned they could remember their training for at least two months after.

What makes readers feel as though Eugenie Clark is a friend of theirs (or they wish she was a friend) is the style of writing used by Jess Keating.  Throughout this book she brings us into the exact moment Eugenie is experiencing.  She describes the setting in sensory terms.  She describes what Eugenie is feeling through explicit examples revealing her research into this remarkable woman.

She supplies us interesting facts as Eugenie moves closer and closer to making her dream a reality.  Keating does not shy away from the unfounded opinions of those against Eugenie's pursuits or sharks.  By referring to Eugenie diving figuratively and literally she fashions a rhythmic thread throughout the text.  She also uses the words smart and brave to reinforce important points more than once. Here are two sample passages.

So she dove...

...this time into books.  Whale sharks.  Nurse sharks.  Tiger sharks.  Lemon sharks.  Eugenie wanted to know about them all.  She also joined the Queens County Aquarium Society as its youngest member.

Eugenie's notebooks filled with sharks.  They swam in her daydreams and on the margins of her pages.

When readers first see the matching dust jacket and book case for this title, given any preconceptions they have about sharks, they are going to want to read this book.  Who is this woman swimming near a shark?  The design of the front with the plant life and small fishes providing a frame for Eugenie Clark and the shark is marvelous.  The complementary colors with the bold white textured main title along with the varnished portions give the impression of being under water.  To the left, on the back, a younger Eugenie is diving along the shore in a circular setting with fish and plant life breaking the border.  This is varnished also.

The opening and closing endpapers are a blue on blue display of a variety of sharks with their common and scientific names.  On the first they are swimming to the right and on the second they are swimming to the left.  Clever.  Beneath the text on the title page Eugenie has risen to the surface of the water with a small fish swimming in a jar she holds.

Rendered in Adobe Photoshop the full color artwork by Marta Alvarez Miguens spans single pages, double pages, pages crossing the gutter from one side to the other to form a column for text, a group of three on one page and is featured in a circle or an oval on a single page.  Each image size is carefully visualized to enhance the text.  The people and their personalities in these illustrations are a variety of ages, ethnicities and from all walks of life.  The settings in which they are placed and their clothing is appropriate for the time periods.  It's their facial expressions which will connect to readers the most.

The underwater images will take your breath away in their hues and representation of the plant and animal life.  By altering the perspectives in these, Miguens brings us into each depiction.  Another stunning portrayal is the picture with Eugenie looking through the glass of a shop highlighting shark fishing for sport, newspaper headlines about sharks, shark fin soup and a set of a shark's jaw and teeth.

One of my favorite of several pictures is when Eugenie starts to dive into books.   It spans two pages.  On the right Eugenie is seated at a table surrounded by books and there are more stacked on a chair next to her.  She is at the public library.  Swimming from the left amid the shelves are three sharks.  It's a blend of the natural world with a human-made environment.

One of the best things about nonfiction picture books is learning something new about a particular person, place or thing.  What makes Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist written by Jess Keating with illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens the finest example of this is how it enlarges our understanding of an incredible creature and the woman who loved them.  To finish this title two pages, Shark Bites, give us eight extended facts about sharks.  Following these are two pages dedicated to a timeline of Eugenie Clark's life and accomplishments.  Jess Keating concludes with an Author's Note and Bibliography.  

To discover more about Jess Keating and Marta Alvarez Miguens please visit their online presence by following the links attached to their names.  The cover reveal for this title along with an interview by teacher librarian Matthew Winner of both Keating and Miguens is found at All The Wonders.  Scholastic Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, features Jess Keating on his site here and premieres the book trailer here.  Jess Keating wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club about this title.  The publisher provides an activity kit for this book.  Enjoy this video Jess Keating made about Shark Lady.

UPDATE:  JULY 6, 2017  Jess Keating talks about the writing of this book and the writing of nonfiction on author Tara Lazar's blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).

Make sure you stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to read about the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Small But Mighty

You may not be able to see them all the time, but you can certainly hear them.  Their buzzing, chirping and whining announce their arrival and residence.  Others who live in relative silence leave behind their handiwork in the shape of silken webs or sandy hills.  It can be said that several of them are the ultimate survivors, their existence noted before the dinosaurs.

Some take wing and fly as soon as we approach.  Others, as still as stone, blend in with their surroundings. If we are fortunate enough to see them, it's like a gift.  Cricket in the Thicket: Poems about Bugs (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt And Company, May 9, 2017) written by Carol Murray with illustrations by Melissa Sweet is a lighthearted, informative approach to acquainting readers with members of the insect community; twenty-nine poems take us on a journey through their buggy realm.

Cricket's Alarm

Cricket in the thicket, cricket.
Cricket in the house, cricket.
Cricket in the bedroom, not as quiet as a mouse, cricket.
Cricket in the closet in a pocket or a shoe, cricket. ...

As the male cricket chirps we are reminded other cultures keep them in their homes as pets.  Can you guess which insects number the highest in the world?  Delicate to touch, as light as a feather, a cicada leaves behind a layer.  No weaver but a wanderer, the jumping spider uses silk to enhance travel toward prey.

The next time you see an inchworm carefully watch how they move before they become moths.  Bumblebees keep our flower population thriving sharing the task as pollinators with honey bees.  Dung beetles were sacred in ancient times?  Who knew? They have a secret which makes them able to swim underwater; water beetles do more than skate along the surface.  Is it a stick that looks like a bug or a bug that looks like a stick?

If you are a feathered friend, beware the milkweed muncher, they are poisonous and so are their majestic butterflies, monarchs.  Do you know the other name for harvestman?  Who has ears near their knees?  If their web is no longer useful, spiny-back spiders eat them.

When the dreaded mosquito is near, she had better look before she bites if an ebony jewelwing is close.  If we only saw life through a microscope (sometimes not always), these creepy crawlies, fruit fly, tick and mite, would be given more attention earlier.  In truth some bugs bug us but these poetic and visual tributes tell and show us, they are indeed mighty.

You will want to run outside as soon as possible after reading these lively verses penned by Carol Murray.  She has created an excitement for bugs!  Her focus is on the essential quality of each insect.  Her rhyming, rhythmic lines replicate those characteristics.  In small paragraphs at the bottom of the page she elaborates on something mentioned in the poem.  Here is one of her poems in its entirety.

Dragons Fly the Sky                         S
A lovely wisp,                                       R
awash in blue,                                  A
with light and lacy wings,          O
a mini-glider in the sky, who S
but never stings.

Woven in, around and under the title text Melissa Sweet places many of the bugs highlighted in the narrative.  She gives them personality with a plus!  The varnished red on cricket and green on thicket add to the pizzazz of her design.  To the left, on the back, the poem noted above is placed on a light background with a group of dragonflies flying around a naturalist's collection envelope.  The opening and closing endpapers are the same shade of red as the title text.

These illustrations rendered in watercolor and mixed media are as fascinating as the subjects they feature.  On the title page a grasshopper is leaping over an array of flowers beneath the text.  On the dedication page a close-up of a leaf shows a grasshopper munching out a large hole.  He is looking right at the reader through the gap in the leaf.

For each poem a distinctive, individualistic image has been created, many of them bringing the insect world closer to readers. Most of them are on single pages but for three Sweet spans two pages.  Her unique details will have you stopping at every page turn; a cricket poised on the edge of a red tennis shoe, ants crawling over a single stalk as a night scene unfolds, inchworms and measuring tape for a garden plot, the B in buzz becoming bumblebee wings, six circles showing a roly-poly rolling...up and unrolling and June bugs blasting against a light bulb.  Her style and color combinations take you into the moment.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the inchworms.  The background is a dark sage green.  A root vegetable (radish) is magnified.  On three sides a blue-green measuring tape frames it.  Pieces of tape are strategically placed off the top, bottom and left sides.  Inchworms are crawling along the top and left sides.

Cricket in the Thicket: Poems about Bugs written by Carol Murray with illustrations by Melissa Sweet is one of those wonderful books with multiple appeal.  You can use it in an insect unit or an exploration of poetry.  There is a contents section at the beginning and Cricket Notes at the end.  These provide even more information about each bug.  You really need a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Carol Murray and Melissa Sweet please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Carol Murray has a book trailer for this title on her site.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wherever We're Together

Defining home depends on the individual.  For some it's a permanent structure in the same place year after year.  A more temporary residence with a changing location is home to others.  Home may not even refer to a physical object.

Home may not be something you can see.  It might be anywhere as long as you are with a particular being, or where you feel loved.    For those in the animal world home can be these things along with other attributes.  The Road Home (Abrams Books For Young Readers, March 7, 2017) written by Katie Cotton with illustrations by Sarah Jacoby presents a breathtaking lyrical and visual representation of home through four animals.

Fly with me to far away,
where sun sill warms the ground.

An adult bird beckons to a baby, asking it to take flight.  The seasons are shifting and they need to do the same.  Winter can be harsh.

A tiny mouse, though its paws are sore, is encouraged to keep working.  A nest must be made from straw and leaves offering them protection.  To be hidden is to be safe.

Wolves race for food, hunger gnawing at their stomachs.  The younger of the two is learning to hunt. To take a life is to save their own lives.

Two rabbits, hearts pounding, run for shelter through brambles.  The chilling fingers of cold mingle in their fur.  They are pushed by the panic filling their bodies.  Their den offers sanctuary.

Each of these animals is moving during the day with different intentions but what they seek is the same...home.  Home is survival, the opportunity to live another day.  Do you think they see the world as a whole as home?

Though the narrative describes difficult living conditions it does so with grace and distinction through the words written by Katie Cotton. For the bird, the mouse, the wolf and the rabbit at least four sentences, two of them rhyming, depict survival essentials.  Warmth, safety and food are driving forces in their lives.  To have the same sentence at the close of each description ties all the animals together.  When Cotton alters it at the end, a truth is revealed.  Here are three more sentences.

Come with me through tangled trees
and thorns that grasp our coats.
The air is cold and sharp as ice.
It chills our trembling throats.

Rendered with watercolors and digital media the illustrations by Sarah Jacoby create an atmosphere complementing and heightening the text.  The intricate lines and exquisite details as well as the altered perspectives seen on the book case are continued throughout the book.  To the left of the adult and baby mouse, on the back, is a panoramic view of snow-capped mountains in the background with forest trees and rolling hills in the foreground.  Framing this along the bottom is the last of the flower blooms of the season.  The title text is embossed copper foil.

The opening and closing endpapers reflect in a wash a season or perhaps a time of day.  The first is in hues of blue and the second is in warm golden yellow and orange.  Beneath the text on the title page the two mice are shown in miniature.

Most of the images span two pages with the exception of several grouped together on one page with a single page picture opposite them.  Those smaller illustrations, three, in a group definitely ask us to slow our reading.  This allows us to feel the full emotional impact.

One of my favorite pictures of many is at night.  Snow covers the ground as a full moon glimmers through the tree branches on the right.  Beneath it are rows of evergreens behind a large open field.  A path cuts through the white.  On the left we can see inside a hill where the adult rabbit and baby rabbit are curled in sleep, safe for the night.

The majesty of animal life is conveyed beautifully in The Road Home written by Katie Cotton with illustrations by Sarah Jacoby.  The eloquence of the words and luminous illustrations fashion a volume which reads almost like a lullaby.  You will want a copy on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Sarah Jacoby and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  You can view interior images at the publisher's website.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Match Made In...

Is there anything better than watching children and puppies playing together?  The rest of the world falls away as they focus on each other.  They seem to embrace life with pure bliss and complete interest.  It's as if they are connected by an invisible thread.

They are the ultimate example of "love at first sight."  I Got a New Friend (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, May 23, 2017) written and illustrated by Karl Newsom Edwards celebrates this mutual affection. As soon as you open the book it reaches out and envelopes you.

I got a new friend.

A little girl is given a puppy, receiving her with a little bit of shyness and apprehension.  As you might expect this hesitancy does not last very long.  The puppy and girl are soon snuggling.

This leads to running and romping with total abandon outside.  They both prefer this sensory sensation.  After this activity cleanliness is the last thing on their minds; napping takes precedence.

They discover they have a lot in common.  There are malodorous moments, necessary baths, and overzealous eating habits.  Being quiet is simply too hard for them; noisy is much more fun.

When they eventually rest they sleep together.  Awake they are inseparable, showering each other with displays of devotion.  Like all of the best things in life, essential efforts yield a wondrous outcome and a welcome surprise.

Fourteen sentences in total, simple declarative sentences, tell a tale of a friendship which will stand the test of time.  Karl Newsom Edwards has with a great deal of genius written in such a manner so there is no dispute as to the truth of these statements but what they are indeed open to is the interpretation as to whom is speaking.  They also have openness to them allowing for visual depictions showcasing the developing relationship.

In this sample sentence who is she?  There are muddy foot prints and paw prints across the carpet, the ottoman and on the chair.  The little girl is covered in a blanket but her pooch pal is nestled across her body as they nap.

She messes up the house and sleeps on the furniture.

When you first see the matching dust jacket and book case, one word comes to mind.  That word is adorable.  Using a background of white, the child and the puppy hold our gaze.  Having them nose to nose is a charming blend of curiosity and caution.  A pleasing detail is the dot for the letter i matches the spots on the puppy.  To the left, on the back, the background color is the same as the title text.  In a small oval over the words

Have fun with your new friend!

the little girl is sharing an ice cream cone with the dog.

Across the white opening endpapers are muddy foot prints on the left walking toward muddy paw prints moving from the right to the left.  On the closing endpapers are nine small pictures illustrating

how to care for your new friend.

These like the narrative can be in either character's voice.

On the title page is a basket of puppies with the little girl peering at them from an open door.  White space is an important element in the design of the illustrations rendered

with pencil and watercolor and then refined digitally.

For pacing and impact the picture sizes vary from double page, to single page and then to several smaller visuals across two pages.  For maximum effect the perspective moves close to the characters.  An excellent technique used by Karl is the shadowing (shading) around the characters and other objects.  It softens each scene.  The facial expressions on both the girl and the puppy will have you wanting to hug this book.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when the duo is having a bath.  They are outside in an orange and yellow polka-dotted kiddy pool on the lawn.  A garden hose curves around the left side.  Water is overflowing the top and being splashed by the little girl and the puppy seated in the pool.  It is loaded with soap suds.  Can you hear the squeals and barks of delight?

Will this book make a great read aloud?  Yes!  Will this book be a bedtime title read repeatedly?  Yes!  I Got a New Friend written and illustrated by Karl Newsom Edwards is brimming with exuberance.  I cannot imagine a professional or personal bookshelf without a copy.  I would pair this with Our Very Own Dog.

To learn more about Karl Newsom Edwards and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  He has a page dedicated to this title which you will enjoy.  You can get a sneak peek inside the book at the publisher's website.   Karl Newsom Edwards was featured at Watch. Connect. Read., the blog of Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Melodious Moments

Our days are filled with music; a combination of sounds expressing a mood, signaling a form of communication or announcing the existence of things outside our immediate realm.  These melodies can remind us of a particular place, a significant event or a specific individual.  They are the heartbeat of life all around us.

During the course of history instruments were made as a result of the desire for a unique sound; many a reflection of the culture from which they came.  Each one contributes to the body of beauty we call music.  The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling (Candlewick Press, January 10, 2017) written and illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering depicts the power of notes laden with emotion.

Captain Alfred was sailing home.  On his little boat, there were new ducks for his farm and, nestled safe inside his fiddle case, a precious gift for his wife.

This gift sitting on a bed of soft hay was an egg, a duck egg waiting to crack open.  Alfred spoke to the egg as if bestowing a blessing and gave it a name---Alfred Fiddleduckling.  Unbeknownst to the captain a storm was brewing, a storm with a frightening capacity for damage.

The howling winds and towering waves lasted for an hour until as suddenly as it came, it left.  In its place was an eerie calm shrouded in fog.  This fog extended over the water to land where a kind and tender soul, a woman, waited anxiously for her captain, their dog and the ducks.

In the safety of the fiddle case, a new life emerged.  Alfred Fiddleduckling was lonely until he spied an object floating in the water.  It did not respond to him but he hugged it with all his might bringing it close to his newborn heart.  As his wing stroked it, Alfred was stunned by the notes.  It was love at first sight and sound.

Alfred paddled and played and paddled and played until his feet found something other than water...it was land!  On this land a large and fearsome thing followed the music and its response to Alfred was astonishing.  On this land a kind and tender soul heard the faint sound coming from the thing as the duck and beast lost hope of being found.  Three joyful beings burst with happiness and the duck made the object sing across the land and out over the water.  And...it was heard.

Like the notes singing from a violin the words written by Timothy Basil Ering wind across the pages, blending to cast a magical spell.  We feel a kinship with this violin-playing captain and the love he has for his wife and animal friends.  When the duckling hatches this kinship we have for the captain is quickly transferred to Alfred Fiddleduckling.

Short profound sentences take us to emotional and geographical places.  There is some dialogue carefully placed to bind us further to the characters and story. Here are two sample passages.

They had landed at a very mysterious place.

Alfred held the object close.
"Don't be afraid," he said.

And in a few moments,
the soft, comforting sounds
began again.

All the images rendered in acrylic paint on paper with ink, charcoal, and graphite beckon to readers beginning with the book case.  If you run your fingers over the front and spine you will be rewarded with a variety of textures.  The egg, cracks in the egg and title text are raised.  The multi-colored fabric sewn to the spine is thick like denim with heavier threads.  To the left on the back, amid a canvas of gray fog stands the duckling, forlorn in his lonely state.

The opening endpapers are awash in a warm sunrise spreading over the marshy landscape with cattails reaching toward the sky.  It begins on the left close to us and stretches to a panoramic view on the right.  The closing endpapers take us to the cottage with a conclusion sure to fill readers' hearts with total joy and satisfaction.

Timothy Basil Ering varies his picture sizes; small images on a single page, single page illustrations and some covering two pages.  As this story takes place on or near the water, he uses shades of blue, green and gray liberally in his pictures but other elements are done in full color.  Bright swirls in an array of hues represent the musical notes.

His visuals are brimming with emotion (every brush stroke and line); the fear of the storm, the worry of the wife, the loneliness and passion of the duckling, the humor of the dog and the pure love between all of them.  His shifts in perspective are stunning.  On two of the pages line drawings over the other pictures convey utter bliss.

One of my favorite of several pictures is when the duckling feels something other than water under his feet.  He is in a wetland off the ocean.  The shallow water is not quite up to his little body.  The predominant colors are shades of blue and green with gray.  He is peering into the water looking at his feet standing on a sandbar.  His wings are outstretched for balance, one holds his precious object.  Its neck, like his, is dipping beneath the surface.

Time and time again the beauty one has for life is transferred to another in the most surprising ways.  The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling written and illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering is one of those stories.  The artwork and text lift this book into the world of wonder.  It's a radiant example of "what if".  You will want this book on your professional and personal bookshelves.

If you would like to see an interior image from this book, please visit the publisher's website.  Scholastic Teacher Notes for this title are here. An older series of video interviews of Timothy Basil Ering can be found at Reading Rockets.  Teacher librarian and author Carter Higgins interviews Ering on her blog, Design of the Picture Book. You learn quite a bit about his process for this title.  Enjoy the videos.