Quote of the Month

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




Monday, January 30, 2017

Blame It On The Ball

On January 23, 2017 the American Library Association announced their annual Youth Media Awards in what is one of the premiere events in the children's literature world.  Twenty-one separate categories honor distinguished works and their creators.  One of the categories is the (Theodore Seuss) Geisel Award.  It is given to

the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year.

This year there was one award winner and four honor selections.  Of those honor selections I have previously written about The Infamous Ratsos and Good Night Owl.  I did read the winner We Are Growing:  A Mo Willems' Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! Book written and illustrated by Michigan author illustrator Laurie Keller.  It definitely qualifies as one of the most hilarious books of 2016.  Upon reading one of the other honor books, Oops Pounce Quick Run!: An Alphabet Caper (Balzar + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, February 16, 2016) written and illustrated by Mike Twohy, it's easy to see why the committee gave it notice.

Asleep

A story unfolds with this single word.  We look inside the home of a mouse quietly resting in a reclining chair opposite a hole in the wall.  With the next word, ball, the nap is interrupted, starting a series of actions each beginning with a letter of the alphabet.

As the ball is held by the surprised mouse a large nose and eye of the canine variety seek the said ball.  Quicker than you can call look out, paws reach into the hole for the lost toy.  One scared mouse escapes through the home's entrance lickety-split.  And the race commences in earnest.

Through the kitchen and living room they run until the baffled dog can't find the mouse.  Now where could the tiny creature be?  Ah! Ha!  The pooch's pounce misses.  They tear toward the mouse's house.  Whew!  He made it.

In a clever twist on the chase and race theme, the tiny creature has a better idea.  The dog is an exceedingly pleased pup.  And there you have it readers...wisdom for the win.


With true brilliance Mike Twohy strings single words, sometimes two and even a single letter, to fashion a story full of fun and energy.  The only time the character(s) are not moving is at the beginning and the end which is another stroke of genius; a circle story in several respects.  Twohy shifts the focus from one character to another and to both with flawless ease generating a captivating pace.


The fast and furious lines on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case leave no doubt as to the commotion and comedy found inside this book.  In this scene the canine seems to have the upper paw but when you look to the left, at the back, a different "tail" is told.  The dog has been placed on the same pristine white background in the center.  By the movement of his head from left to right and back again, you know he has lost sight of the mouse.

The opening and closing endpapers are the bright orange color of the ball.  On the initial title page Twohy sets the stage by showing us the mouse hole beneath the text.  All of the single page illustrations, rendered in India ink and felt-tip pens, are on single pages with the exception of the letter H.

To heighten interest the first letter is shown in different colors; bright pink, blue, orange, red, teal, blue, and grass green.  The images are showcased by continuing to use the crisp white background.  Spot color is added to the characters or one or two items in the scene.  The body language and facial expressions convey emotion with clarity and a great deal of humor.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the letter X.  I wish I could tell you more but I don't want to spoil it for you.  I can't look at it without bursting out in laughter.


You will want to plan on having multiple copies of Oops Pounce Quick Run!: An Alphabet Caper written and illustrated by Mike Twohy on your professional and personal bookshelves.  It's an imaginative and intelligent use of the alphabet to tell a story.  And best of all...your guys and gals are going to love it.

At the publisher's website you can get a brief overview on Mike Twohy.  He does have a yellow Labrador who enjoys his ball.  There is also a short view of some pages with audio.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Two Trios Times Two

Comedy is rarely lost on children.  They long for laughter with it bubbling to the surface of their personalities freely and easily.  If there is the slightest edge of silliness involved, they will seek it out at every opportunity.  

When little guys and gals or someone learning to read for the first time encounter characters enjoying the same kind of activities they might do, they have found new and lasting friends.  Salina Yoon, a gift to the children's literature world, creating heartwarming books for young readers (and those young at heart), introduces three new individuals.  In the first book, Duck, Duck, Porcupine! (Bloomsbury Children's Books, May 17, 2016), Big Duck, her not-yet-talking younger brother, Little Duck, and Porcupine begin with three adventures set forth in three short stories (chapters). 

This is a perfect day for a picnic, Porcupine. 

Porcupine heartily agrees.  As Big Duck goes off to get the picnic basket, Porcupine heads away to get a blanket.  Without uttering a sound, Little Duck looks skyward, noting gathering clouds.  He has an umbrella tucked under his arm.

Rain begins falling in earnest with Big Duck and Porcupine saddened by this turn of events.  Taking a different view Little Duck looks for the silver lining.  It's not long before Big Duck and Porcupine shift their attitudes too but their conclusions will have you grinning.

In the second tale Big Duck keeps trying to remember something very important.  She even has a string tied around her wing tip (which she fails to notice initially).  Little Duck tries six different times to jar Big Duck's memory with huge hints but she keeps missing his point.  Like a bolt of lightning the truth strikes and her comment to Porcupine is hilarious.

With a declaration of 

"Let's go camping!

the threesome is diving into a new experience.  Organizer extraordinaire Big Duck assumes control by generating a list.  As the hours pass, the list gets longer.  It seems Big Duck likes to be prepared.

As she and Porcupine, who has never been camping, gather items darkness descends.  Number ninety-nine on the list will have readers roaring with laughter.  What has Little Duck been doing?  He's been getting the only things necessary for the ultimate camping trip.  Move over, Little Duck.  I'm with you.


My Kite Is Stuck! And Other Stories (Bloomsbury Children's Books, January 10, 2017) written and illustrated by Salina Yoon is a companion title (A Duck, Duck, Porcupine! Book) with three new charming and comical narratives.  Problem solving, friendship and entrepreneurship are presented with wisdom and wit.  The three characters' personalities shine brighter than ever.

Oh no!
My kite is stuck in the tree!

When Porcupine's kicked ball and Little Duck's thrown (by Big Duck) hula hoop into the tree don't dislodge her kite, Little Duck enters the scene.  He is pushing a step ladder on wheels.  It looks like this might work until Big Duck does the unthinkable.

As if that's not the most ridiculous solution ever, she decides to give Porcupine an impromptu flying lesson. YIKES!  Little Duck offers his assistance yet again but Big Duck and Porcupine are on an entirely different plane of thought which will have you giggling.

Excited as can be, Porcupine greets Big Duck with news about a new friend in the second tale.  This new friend is happily buzzing around joining Porcupine in his activities.  Every time Big Duck points out what she thinks a bee can't do, Porcupine points out her capabilities.  Before long, Big Duck has a new friend.  

What you might ask is the difference between a bee and a ladybug?  Big Duck's point of view makes all the difference.  WAIT!  What's going on with Little Duck?  He's not sure about this new "friend".

In the midst of a hot sunny day, there is nothing better than a cool glass of lemonade.  Big Duck announces they need to make a lemonade stand.  She and Porcupine paint and build like true professionals.  They make sure all who pass their stand know exactly what they are selling and the cost.

Just when Porcupine thinks they are ready for business, Big Duck wants to add decorative touches.  As customers line up, it dawns on the duo what is missing.  We've been given hints about our silent hero Little Duck working on his own project.  Of course, Big Duck has the last word but we know the rest of the story.


Written with a keen understanding of her audience and masterful pacing Salina Yoon has created two wonderful early chapter titles.  The distinctive characters, born leader (in her own mind), the easy-going friend and the-silent-but-oh-so-wise younger sibling, immediately claim a place in readers' collective experiences.  Her simple sentences state the obvious but each conversation builds toward the final observations which are like punch lines in the best kind of joke.  By having Little Duck be silent, it leaves room for audience participation in imagining his thoughts.


Rendered digitally in Adobe Photoshop all of the images beginning with the front of both book cases introduce us to the happy-go-lucky characters.  If you will notice in both of them Little Duck is looking directly at readers.  He is the one who without saying a word will be most closely aligned with us in visual asides.  On the back of each volume the pictures and text inform us as to the type of stories we will read.  The color of the opening and closing endpapers is identical to the color on the spine of each; sunny yellow and bright orange.

In the first book the title page features Big Duck and Porcupine snacking at their picnic.  Little Duck is showcased on the title page in the second book.  Opposite the verso is a Three Short Stories table of contents.  A single page is devoted to the title of each story.  

Using her signature wide black frames around her illustrations and heavy black lines outlining the elements in her pictures along with cheerful, bright colors, Salina Yoon creates a most excellent venue for these characters and their stories.  Her details, the blue baseball cap on Little Duck, the flower in Big Duck's feathers and the bow tie on Porcupine contribute to the overall spirited nature of these individuals.  She also adds tiny sound effect words in her pictures drawing us into the action.  But the best thing of all is how she is able to convey an array of emotion with her facial expressions and body postures; subtle shifts in placement.  Her eyes are simple but they all tell a tale.

There are so many illustrations in each book to love but in the first title one of my favorite pictures is of Little Duck trying to help Big Duck remember what she forgot.  It is a two-page picture.  On the right beneath a sunny blue sky, Little Duck is pecking at a date with a red star on a calendar.  Hands on her hips, Big Duck is complaining that his pecking is not helping her to think.

In book two I burst into laughter at the close-up of Little Duck's face on the single page image opposite the latest attempt of Big Duck to get her kite unstuck.  Who would have thought she would throw the small step ladder into the tree instead of using it as a...well...ladder?  His look is hilarious.  His eyes are saying...Did this really just happen?


Duck, Duck, Porcupine! and My Kite Is Stuck And Other Stories (A Duck, Duck, Porcupine! Book) both written and illustrated by Salina Yoon strike the right chord for young readers.  I highly recommend you give them a place on your professional and personal bookshelves.  Be sure to have multiple copies available.  You are going to be hearing lots of laughter.  

To learn more about Salina Yoon and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Duck, Duck, Porcupine! was one of the nominated titles discussed by The Association for Library Service for Children during the process for their Notable Children's Books-2017.  You can preview some of the interior images for the books at the publisher's website for Duck, Duck, Porcupine! and My Kite Is Stuck And Other Stories (A Duck, Duck, Porcupine! Book). 

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Four-Legged Forever Friend

There are times before a book is even in your possession; you know you have to read it.  It's one thing when contemporaries recommend a book to you, but when one of your students tells you to read a book you read it with no questions asked.  If they know you well enough to believe you will love a book, then the best connections have been made.  It means you and your students have established a mutual love of reading.  A bridge named trust has been built.


Winter camp for the upper grade in the middle school where I was the librarian was always a long-anticipated event.  One year instead of heading north for these days, we headed to a well-established camp for all seasons in southern Michigan.  One of the activities for the students was horseback riding.

Each group was informed about all the special qualities of horses while gathered around this magnificent animal.  Up-close-and-personal they are big.  Not all the students were eager to ride one so I decided to show them how easy and enjoyable it could be.  When I was finally in the saddle, this horse seemed HUGE and the distance to the ground seemed FAR.  It would be safe to say, I will never forget that day.  My respect for horses, those who ride and love them grew.

When I first read Tony (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, February 7, 2017) written by the late Ed Galing with illustrations by Erin E. Stead I was mesmerized.  Rich in language and artwork, it transports you to another time and place.  Once again my respect for horses continues to grow.

Tony

that was his name

This horse is beloved by the narrator as he recalls seeing Tony in the mornings.  Tony pulls a wagon, the milk truck, for a young man who goes by the name of Tom.  When the rest of the neighborhood is sleeping Tom loads his wagon with dairy products and eggs.

Tony is a beautiful animal.  His coat is completely white.  His eyes look straight into your soul.  They are filled with compassion.  As Tom stops and makes his deliveries to each home, Tony silently stands.

The narrator goes on to tell us how he goes out to Tony and gives him a loving embrace.  In return, the gentle horse gives him a bow of acceptance and affection.  Tom makes sure to tell him Tony looks for him every day just like he looks for Tony.

After the exchange of words Tom and Tony slowly make their way to the next house.  The narrator follows them with his eyes, watching.  What he sees will make all readers' hearts sing.


This quiet story told in soothing refrains with words penned by Ed Galing will resonate with readers inviting them to look at the everyday with fresh eyes.  Although the time period described has come and gone, the ability to appreciate the wonder of a beautiful creature is timeless.  Simple but profound descriptions reveal a deep and abiding connection between Tony and Tom and Tony and the narrator.  Here are the words on the front jacket flap and from an interior portion of the poem.

Tony was all white,
large, sturdy,
with wide gentle eyes
and a ton of love,


Using a limited color palette, variations on golden yellow and mint green, Erin E. Stead creates images of calm, steadfastness and affection.  On the front of the dust jacket Tony is waiting for Tom as he makes an early morning delivery.  The light from the open doorway directs our attention to the ordinary but somehow extraordinary horse.  To the left, on the back, surrounded by green is the barn with an overhead lamp lighting the doorway and front yard.  I know this probably makes no sense but you can hear the silence or perhaps feel the silence in these two pictures.

On the book case, charcoal gray in color, is the one word title in white in the lower, right-hand corner.  It is embossed as the title text is on the dust jacket.  A dark teal covers the opening and closing endpapers.  A sheet of vellum with the publisher, author and illustrator names has been placed over the title and a portrait of Tony bowing his head which is also the first word of the poem.  Even if you never read another word, you have to stop and marvel at the sensory perceptions the dust jacket and title page awaken.

Rendered using Gomuban monoprinting and pencil each two-page picture is a study in grace.  Tony standing neck stretched toward the barn door, Tom leading Tony, milk bottles, butter, eggs and a sweet treat, and the companions quietly moving beneath a street light in the pre-dawn hours call out to readers to slow and enjoy the smallest moments.  Many times Erin E. Stead will give us a larger view but when she brings us close to Tony we want to reach out, as the narrator does, and give him a hug.

One of my many (I adore every single one.) favorite illustrations is when Tom is leading Tony toward the open barn door.  The light from the overhead lamp spills across the page like a pathway.  You wonder if they are walking together in the silence of loving partners or if Tom is whispering plans for the morning to Tony.  The golden yellow is the only color.  Everything else is delicately drawn in pencil; the details on the barn door, the shrubs off to the right side and the bridle on Tony being loosely held by Tom.


No bookshelf, professional or personal, should be without a copy of Tony written by Ed Galing with illustrations by Erin E. Stead.  Every time you hold it, even before opening the cover, you can feel the essence of the words and pictures flow around you.  It is utterly breathtaking.

To learn more about Ed Galing I have linked a blog dedicated to him to his name.  To learn more about Erin E. Stead and her other work, please follow the link to her website attached to her name.  She has a blog here.  You can read more about this book here.  Please visit this special page inviting you to join in the efforts to help animals.  If you raise the most money for a local animal shelter you will win a visit from the Steads.  At the publisher's website you can view four interior images.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Singing From Her Heart

Before we could afford a television set the place of prominence in our living room was filled by our radio and record player combination furniture.  By today's standards it was huge; a large unit with the record player sliding out like a file cabinet drawer in the front.  It played 78RPM records and 45RPM with an adapter.  My parents loved listening to their favorite music when they were not working.  One of my dad's favorite singers was Lena Horne.  If I close my eyes I can travel back in time, listening to Stormy Weather with my dad.

More than ever I wish I could talk to him, asking him if he knew as much about her life as I now do after reading this most recent picture book biography about her life.                        The Legendary Miss Lena Horne (Atheneum Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, January 24, 2017) written by Carole Boston Weatherford with art by Elizabeth Zunon is stunning.  Readers will be captivated as soon as they read her introductory quotation before the narrative begins.

You have to be taught to be second class; you're not born that way.
           ---Lena Horne

The Horne family tree was laden with achievers: teachers, activists, a Harlem Renaissance poet, the dean of a black college, and Lena's grandmother Cora Calhoun Horne, a college graduate.  

Lena's parents, Teddy and Edna, lead interesting lives.  Her father never passed up a chance to make money; betting on a card game to pay the bill for her hospital stay on the day she was born.  Her mother was an actress who traveled from city to city and state to state.  Even at the age of two the way was clear for Lena.  She was prominently featured as a member of the NAACP and pictured on one of their bulletins.

Soon thereafter her parents left her in the care of her grandmother Cora in Brooklyn.  Her grandmother expected the best of her grandchild encouraging her in her education and outside interests.  Lena found solace in books and reading.  For a bit of time she was taken from her grandmother's home by her mother to travel with the group but this child longed to return home to Brooklyn.  When with her grandmother Lena had the finest opportunities.

Back with her mother and stepfather during the Great Depression Lena was placed onstage to perform for money.  Working at the Cotton Club she was noticed moving from a chorus line to Broadway to working with the Noble Sissle Society Orchestra.  At eighteen Lena made her first record.

Headlining with an all-white big band did not spare this young woman from ill treatment due to her race.  She did continue to attract attention for her talent, starring in films and being offered the first studio contract for an African American actress.  The NAACP supported and urged her to take roles other than those of maids or mammies.  It was a hard battle to wage.

During World War II she supported the troops eventually paying her own way due to continued discrimination.  After the war during the McCarthy era Lena Horne was blacklisted.  So she and her new husband Lennie Hayton worked to make her a nightclub star.  She was that and more.  She was a champion during the Civil Rights movement.  When life gave Lena sadness, Lena gave life her song and self.

When I read this book written by Carole Boston Weatherford for the first time, I stood at the kitchen counter not moving from beginning to the end but gasping from time to time.  The second time I read it was exactly the same. The presentation of this remarkable woman's life as written by Weatherford takes your breath away.

Well-researched and based upon a true personal connection to this musical wonder and civil rights activist, readers are immediately connected to the whole person of Lena Horne.  We follow her childhood from stability in Brooklyn to on the road with her mother.  We feel every sting of discrimination but see this woman rise up again and again.  Every place she went, everything she did shed a light of beauty on those around her.  Her strength and commitment spark a flame of inspiration through her story told by Weatherford.  Here are two more sample passages.

Respectable roles, though, were few for black actresses.
So Lena was cast, instead, in singing numbers that could be easily snipped from films when shown in the South so as not to defy racist views.

Lena dubbed herself "a butterfly pinned to a column."  She did get to fly in black films like Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather, whose title song become her anthem.  Even in black-and-white movies, this butterfly dazzled.


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case you are immediately struck by the inner and outer beauty of Lena Horne.  Illustrator Elizabeth Zunon chooses to feature her on the front in the dress she wore in Stormy Weather.  To the left, on the back, we see Lena as a little girl, surrounded by books.  She learned to read before she was in kindergarten.  The title text is raised.

The rich red rose color from the front of the jacket and case covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the end flaps a portion of a record provides the background for the text. A similar record is shown in greater detail on the title page at the top; supplying a canvas for the word Legendary.  Opposite the verso two stars feature the dedications.  On golden yellow like a stage Lena's quote appears on the right of a two-page picture.  A pale green stage curtain is drawn back to reveal it.

Rendered in oil paint and cut paper collage the images fashioned by Elizabeth Zunon are unique and lovely with every page turn.  Her mixture of textures is amazing.  A family tree has portraits hanging from it like leaves.  Loving parents smile with affection at baby Lena but we are aware of their talents.  Family photographs are nearly photographic.  The detail work in these illustrations is marvelous.  On some of the visuals Zunon has placed quotations in small asides as if stitched in place on fabric.

Perspective changes to reflect the narrative but also the emotion in a particular portion.  When Lena leaves Brooklyn to travel with her mother, all we see is the lower half of her body.  She is wearing a plaid dress.  Her hands are in front clasping a suitcase, feet in white ankle socks and black Baby Jane shoes, one toe pointing inward.  Zunon also alters her picture sizes, single pages, double page spreads and smaller pictures on one page.  

One of my favorite of many illustrations is on a single page.  Lena is seated in an aircraft during World War II.  She is surrounded by Tuskegee Airmen at their base in Alabama.  The pale golden color behind Lena and the pilots highlights their faces.  It's important the aircraft is shown in less detail drawing our attention to the people first.  This is based upon an actual photograph taken in 1945.


Whenever I can and as often as I can I will be talking about The Legendary Miss Lena Horne written by Carole Boston Weatherford with art by Elizabeth Zunon.  All readers will be lifted by this woman's courage and dedication.  Her talents and the changes she wrought for the good of many will never be forgotten.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.  There is a two page author's note and extensive bibliography at the end of the book.

To learn more about both Carole Boston Weatherford and Elizabeth Zunon and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view several of the interior images mentioned in this post.  Elizabeth Zunon is interviewed at All Over Albany and Book Q & A with Deborah Kalb.  There is a collection of video interviews of Carole Boston Weatherford at Reading Rockets.


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









Tuesday, January 24, 2017

An Affectionate Answer

There will be days when a book makes its way into your reading life at the best possible moment.  Your heart is heavy and reading its story takes the weight away for just the right amount of time to allow you to step back.  The narrative strikes a chord in your mind.  You know you won't forget this book.

Mothers are a clever, strong, incredible group of human beings.  I know this because of my mother.  I know this because of all the mothers' children who have entered my libraries over the years.  I know this because of their willingness to speak out for what is right for today and tomorrow.  Hug It Out! (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, January 3, 2017) a debut picture book, written and illustrated by Louis Thomas, will have readers nodding knowingly and grinning from ear to ear because they can see themselves in this story.

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon.  Woody and Annie were playing inside.

Their imaginations were in high gear as the one designed an airport and the other constructed a community.  All was well until they both wanted the same thing, a toy car.  What's an airport or a town without vehicles?  Quickly yells to mom were heard.

When admonished to share, the siblings pinkie-promised their mother they would take turns using the car.  Seconds later the name calling began and then shouts to Mom joined the chorus.  Woody and Annie had to apologize for the name calling.  Before two heartbeats passed the kicking commenced.

Mom stormed into the room declaring there was to be no more fighting...at all.  In fact every time she so much as heard a whispered discord, they would have to

"...HUG IT OUT."

Wait a minute.  Hug it out?  Yikes!  Needless to say, this was not appreciated by the sister and brother.  They even had to practice before their mom left the room.  It was disgusting to them.

If you think they decided to play nicely after this declared new rule, you would be wrong.  Shouts of

"Hug it out!"

rang through the house repeatedly.  Finally Annie turned to Woody with a revelation.  Woody turned to Annie with an equally funny observation.  Several mutual agreements were reached.  It's a win for all.


With a clear knowledge of the lingo used by siblings, Louis Thomas has penned a story of truth, ingenuity and acceptance.  The combination of narrative and dialogue is guaranteed to make readers and listeners laugh out loud.  In true storytelling fashion there are three conflicts leading to the shocking proclamation by Mom.  Here is a sample passage.

"You kids need to apologize to each other," their mother said.
"I'm sorry," mumbled Annie.
"Me too," whispered Woody.
"You're not a dumb-dumb."
"And you're not a ding-dong.  Well, not a big one, anyway."
"Okay," said their mother.  "Good enough." 


You would never know what happens inside the covers of this book from the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  We are seeing the results of one clever mom.  But if you look closely at the toys scattered about Annie and Woody, you get a hint of the events previous to this charming conclusion.  To the left on the back, the family cat is hugging an unlikely animal pal.  This small image is placed on a canvas of red; the same color as Woody's shirt.  The characters and text are varnished.  The opening and closing endpapers are sky blue.  On the title page the words are framed in flowers.  A teeny tiny being is sitting on the T in Thomas.  It is a very wise teeny tiny being.  Above the publication information is the family cat looking very startled.  On the dedication page the toy car which starts the day of squabbling is featured.

There is much to look at in each illustration rendered by Louis Thomas.  On the first page as the children play quietly, the cat is stretched sleeping next to the toy car.  Careful readers will see a teeny tiny visitor peeking from among the books on the shelf.  This creature and the cat have a separate story for readers to follow.

It's the wide eyes on all the characters and the exaggerated movements of the cat which will generate lots of giggles and grins.  Thomas alters his perspective during moments of heightened wildness on the part of the siblings.  The wordless double-page picture when Annie and Woody hear their mother's new rule is totally hilarious.  Fluid fine lines and brush strokes supply a feeling of realism.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when the children's mother first comes to break up their argument about the car.  She is calmly kneeling in front of them on the right as they stand next to each other on the left, pinkie fingers entwined.  Between them is the toy car on the floor.  Unknown to the characters the cat is stretching out a long arm and paw to snag the car.


This is one book which is going to be enjoyed by all who read it or hear it.  I can already predict the calls of Hug It Out! in classrooms and homes.  Louis Thomas in his debut picture book is spot-on with sibling quarreling and a resolution worth shouting out loud as often as necessary.  I would pair this with Hug Machine written and illustrated by Scott Campbell and The Runaway Hug by Nick Bland with illustrations by Freya Blackwood.

To learn more about Louis Thomas and view his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his blog.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  There is an activity kit and a dedicated website for this title.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Around Around And Around

When two animals come face to face unexpectedly, the results are hard to predict.  If they are both living in the wild, one might become a meal for the other.  If one shares their life with humans and the other is wild, it's guaranteed for a split second time will be frozen as they stand and stare at each other.  Then curiosity and instincts will quickly assume control.

When curiosity and instincts rule, observers can sometimes witness magic.  From the adept minds and hands of author Emily Jenkins and illustrator Chris Appelhans we get to hold this very thing in our hands and experience it again and again.  A Greyhound A Groundhog (Schwartz & Wade, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, January 3, 2017) is a tongue-twisting, exuberant read, silently or aloud.

A hound.
A round hound.
A greyhound.

A hog.
A round hog.
A groundhog.

With the introductions made, we are further acquainted with the pair through elaborations on their physical characteristics; little and brown respectively.  Do you think the greyhound is a puppy?  As the groundhog waddles from his hole, the dog takes notice.  Let the chase begin!

The twosome runs and runs; first the hound is after the hog.  Then the hog tries to catch the hound.  They make a swirl of grey and brown as they go around and around and around.  They cover a lot of ground going around and around.

First comes, greyhound, then comes groundhog and then they are running side by side.  Whew!  I'm getting tired just reading about all this fun on the run.  Wait!  What's that?  They stop and stare at wings of beauty.

They're off again leaving the field for a new terrain.  One thing is certain.  This duo knows how to find joy in the moment and make it last.


Twenty words, not counting a, and and the are moved from place to place within two word statements and the final, wonderfully paced nineteen word sentence.  Emily Jenkins designs an enticing rhythm which rolls right off your tongue...if you're lucky.  The narrative these words fashion could not be more delightful; two beings meeting for the very first time and turning it into a rollicking romp.  Here are several other wonderful phrases.

A greyhound, a groundhog,
a found little
roundhog.
Around, round hound.
Around, groundhog!


Admit it!  When you first look at the matching dust jacket and book case, you can feel a smile forming.  The majestic stance of the greyhound next to the grinning groundhog is our first clue as to how their meeting will unfold.  To the left, on the back, illustrator Chris Appelhans gives us the same stance but the back view.  On the dust jacket the characters and title text are varnished.  Even on the left flap the groundhog peeking from his hole is varnished.  The opening and closing endpapers are in a pale, dusty blue.  On the title page paw prints of both animals move across the lower portion of the page.

Rendered in watercolor and pencil each image and the elements within it are delicately depicted on a canvas of pristine white.  This liberal use of white draws us toward the text and pictures.  Initially the words are on one page and the characters on the opposite page.  This is perfect pacing as they are next shown together before the text swirls around the action of the playful pals.

Appelhans's lines are superb in the motion shown.  By the facial expressions we know these two are having the time of their lives; the dog's tongue hanging from its mouth and an open-mouthed grin on the groundhog.  And yet, when the greyhound and the groundhog see beauty, they freeze.  I love that!

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the bottom two phrases noted above.  It spans two pages, like most of the pictures.  Lines of blue, pink and purple spring from the bottom representing grasses and flowers.  On the left the groundhog is running on two legs.  You can almost hear him laughing.  He is chasing after the greyhound in full run, tongue hanging out from his mouth.  The greyhound stretches from half of the left side, crosses the gutter and the nose heads toward the right edge of the page.  You can't help but wish you were running with them.


A Greyhound A Groundhog written by Emily Jenkins with illustrations by Chris Appelhans is utterly charming and filled with word play and pure play.  I highly recommend you share it with readers and listeners.  Be sure to place a copy on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn about both Emily Jenkins and Chris Appelhans and their other work, visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  If you want to get a sneak peek at some of the interior, especially the dedication page, stop by the publisher's website.  Chris Appelhans is interviewed at Let's Talk Picture Books about this title.

Friday, January 20, 2017

We Are Family

It's interesting to see the variety of definitions for the word home depending on the source.  For the purpose of this post I am referring to

the social unit formed by a family living together from Merriam-Webster

and

the place in which one's domestic affections are centered from Dictionary.com.

There is an interesting article from 2012 in the Smithsonian which states in the heading home is

also an idea---one where the heart is.

Home is a place where your heart is heard and protected.  Above all else it is a sanctuary filled with the love of those in residence.

Beloved author Vera B. Williams passed away on October 16, 2015.  There was one last book she wanted to release into the world.  Not sure if she had the strength to complete the pictures she asked a fellow author and illustrator, Chris Raschka, for help.  Home At Last (Greenwillow Books, September 13, 2016) written by Vera B. Williams and illustrated by Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka, a tender story of adoption and family, is the result of their collaboration.

Lester tripped over the laces of his new shoes just as he went out the door and down the steps of the children's center.

He could hardly wait for the arrival of Daddy Albert and Daddy Rich, his new parents.  He could hardly wait to see their dog Wincka again.  It had taken a year for the adoption process to be completed.

As he climbed into their car, which he absolutely loved, he carried his little blue suitcase and his most prized yo-yo.  Daddy Albert and Daddy Rich helped him unpack and get settled in his new room.  He was assured he would never need his big suitcase again.  He was home.  Lester was reluctant to give up his little blue suitcase filled with his action figure collection.  He wanted them near...just in case he needed protection.

Every night one of his dads would read him a story or tuck him into bed.  Every night Wincka would follow them out of the room.  Every night Lester would appear in his parent's bedroom carrying his suitcase.  He just could not stay settled in his room no matter what they did; no hot chocolate, no toast, songs, stories, kind words or lots of conversations could fix the hole in his heart.  He did not tell his parents what he was really thinking.

Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert had talked a long time before adopting Lester and they were talking now about his late night walks into their bedroom.  They set up rules for Lester.  He had to stay in his own bed except on special Sunday mornings when no one had to go to work the next day.  Rich bought a new bike for Lester and spent the day playing with him.  Albert was not so patient.  One night, he became angry at Lester for not staying in his own room and waking them up.

When Lester began crying, Daddy Albert felt his heart melt and questioned the child.  His parents listened to him talk, telling them the truth.  They were worried.  There was one member of the family not worried and he took steps on four furry feet to make things right for his boy.  Now dear reader, this is not the end of this story but I'll let you enjoy the rest on your own.  With that being said, I guess you know who saved the day, made another life whole and at home...at last.


Everything about this story penned by Vera B. Williams is beautiful.  Her descriptions of Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert leave no doubt as to their personalities and parental love they have for this boy they are bringing into their lives.  The care they give to making him a part of their home is exactly what all members of a family need.  Her descriptions of Lester's hopes, fears and the reason for his living in the children's center will resonate with every reader.

Her inclusion of specific moments like Lester tripping over the untied laces of his new shoes, Lester checking to make sure Wincka is following them, Daddy Rich playfully pretending their attic is haunted, Lester talking to his action figures, and playing with his four new cousins during a sleepover so much they hardly slept at all bring this story into sharp focus.  The words spoken by Daddy Rich, Daddy Albert and Lester in comments and conversation are as real as sunrise and sunset.  Here is a sample passage.

When Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert finally opened their very sleepy eyes and saw their new son, Lester, standing by their bed, they would say, "What's wrong?  What's the trouble, sport?"  Daddy Rich would feel Lester's forehead for fever and ask if he was too cold or too hot or hungry.

A few times Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert, followed by Wincka, even took Lester into the kitchen and fixed him hot cocoa and toast.  His daddies sleepily slurped up the cocoa and Wincka sleepily crunched up the toast, because it was not cocoa and toast Lester wanted.


When opened the matching dust jacket and book case immediately fill your heart with the cozy comfort found in the two images.  You know Lester has found a home with Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert and Wincka in the illustration on the front.  To the left, on the back, is a close up of the hero of the house with Lester.  Lester, eyes closed, has his arms around Wincka in a huge hug.  I think I see the wisp of a smile on the dog's face.

A collage of words,

home, who will take care of me, mommy, daddy, keep me safe, hug me, Grandmother and love,

covers the opening and closing endpapers in shades of black, purple pink and white.  Across the title page is a picture of the dormitory, a row of beds, with Lester sitting on one, waiting.  The sizes of the illustrations flow with the narrative shifting from two pages, to a single page, a half page or several smaller ones on a single page.  The signature color palette and loose lines of Chris Raschka are clearly evident.

In his illustrations there is motion and emotion with an underlying color of golden yellow casting a feeling of warmth.  Changes in perspective match the narrative perfectly.  Careful readers will notice the tiniest of details; lattice work on a balcony, the gas burners on the stove, books stacked on the shelves next to Lester's bed, and the tear on Lester's cheek.

One of my favorite pictures of many is of Lester and Daddy Rich biking around the neighborhood.  It is a half-page illustration.  The park is spread out behind them.  In front of them on the left a man is seated on a bench reading a newspaper.  On the right a man is scooping out ice cream to waiting children.  Lester and Daddy Rich are just finishing up their ice cream cones, standing next to their bicycles.


This is the kind of book. Home At Last, written by Vera B. Williams with illustrations by her and Chris Raschka which clearly defines home and family.  It's about where hearts reside in true affection.  This is an important book.  Home At Last is where children can see themselves and others in the pages of a book.  (We Need Diverse Books)

To learn more about the life of Vera B. Williams and her work please follow the link attached to her name to read her obituary at Publishers Weekly.  Publishers Weekly also has an article about the process of completing this title.  There is an enlightening and wonderful post with additional links and artwork at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  At the publisher's website there is a link to a five page article about the collaboration between Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

No Way No How!

Being little, as in very young, is not easy.  Everything is new.  Your senses are continuously on overload as you take in every single thing that is completely unfamiliar.  Your mind is constantly working to store every tidbit of information for future reference.  Some days everything seems to be a challenge.

When something (or someone) asks you to step outside your comfort zone instinct kicks into high.  It shouts at you to watch out, warning you of all the things which might go wrong.  NOPE! (Viking Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, January 17, 2017) written and illustrated by award-winning cartoonist Drew Sheneman addresses the very real issue of being afraid of heights.  For a bird this is a distinct problem.  This debut picture book, nearly wordless, is a classic comedic prize.

The story begins with mother bird cruising in for a landing in the nest where her fledgling is clinging to the edge.  She invites him to fly but as he looks over the side, the view is akin to standing on the top of the Empire State Building (at least in his tiny bird mind).  He frantically rushes back to her and loudly proclaims

NOPE!

With her wing she nudges him to try again and points toward the brink of the only home he has ever known.  What his mind conjures up is terrifying.  He can't believe what he is seeing.  He looks again and it's even worse.

Shouting more forcefully than before, he tells his mother he won't go.  In great detail he explains his reasons as he forcefully gestures.  As mothers are apt to do, she points toward the boundary of the nest.

With mounting apprehension he looks over and what he sees (in his tiny bird mind) would scare anyone.  This time negative responses, in an assortment of languages, are pouring from his beak like raindrops in a thunderstorm.  With gentleness, his mother picks him up and showers him with affection before she does the unthinkable.  UH! OH!   OH! NO!  OH! WOW!


All it takes is one word, one single word.  It's the placement of this word and the number of times it's used that give this story one humorous moment after another.  It also provides the quintessential setup for the twists Drew Sheneman adds when the baby bird and readers least expect them.  (I dare you not to burst out laughing.)


There is something about the expression on the face of the mother bird on the front of the dust jacket which gives a wee hint of the surprise to come.  Is it affection, wisdom or the look of a plan forming in her mind?  The infant bird is definitely terrified of leaving the nest.  As the branch extends under the spine and continues on the back, to the left, Drew Sheneman places four small square images on the sky which also hint at the story's outcome.

On the book case another branch or an extension of the first branch has the baby bird running like crazy toward safety.  He looks ready to yell out NOPE!  On the opening and closing endpapers thirty-nine white sketches of the baby bird in various stages of distress (and sometimes peace and joy) have been patterned in four rows on a blue canvas.  The two page illustration for the title page begins the story of mother bird happily coasting in to the nest.

Painted digitally in Adobe Photoshop the illustrations are presented in a format similar to a graphic novel; one page may contain three horizontal pictures followed by a single page picture, all framed by fine lines and white space.  Then Sheneman surprises us with a large double-page illustration, edge to edge, for dramatic effect.  His use of white space is brilliant as is his typography for the word nope.

One of my many favorite illustrations is actually a series of four vertical pictures on two pages.  It is after the baby bird has looked over the edge for the second time imagining a horror.  He first looks at us sideways with fear.  Then he shakes his head in disbelief.  It is followed with him hitting his head with his wing to dislodge the sight from his mind.  In the final panel he looks over the edge again aghast at what he sees.


Even with few words, as a read aloud, NOPE! written and illustrated by Drew Sheneman is a winner.  Students readily chanted the text and laughed and gasped as the tale unfolded.  You are going to need more than one copy of this for your professional shelves.  You will have to have one for yourself and to gift to others.  NOPE! is a definite YES! 

To learn more about Drew Sheneman and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Drew can be found on Instagram, Facebook and he maintains Tumblr pages.  There is some process art at his website for this title.  You can view the endpapers at the publisher's website.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Cooking In The Wild

If you've ever gone camping you know how difficult starting a good fire can be.  Once you get the fire going, it's tricky to cook with the inability to regulate the heat with ease like you can with a stove or an oven.  It's not like you have multiple burners either.  You have to plan with precision how you are going to cook each part of the meal.  You might have to bury a portion of the food in a pit of hot coals to slow cook all day.  If the weather is inclement, a whole new set of problems appear.

Let's step back in time to the early nineteen hundreds.  Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service (Charlesbridge, August 2, 2016) written by Annette Bay Pimentel with illustrations by Rich Lo is a tribute to the skill and determination of one man who triumphs no matter what happens.  He was an American who loved his country and wanted to do what he could to protect it.

Tie Sing was a frontier baby, born high in the mountains in Virginia City, Nevada.  Growing up, he breathed crisp Sierra air and scuffed through sagebrush.  He learned to write in both English and Chinese.

Tie Sing watched and knew how Chinese were treated with prejudice in America.  He realized he would have to work with diligence to elevate himself above those positions usually obtained by the Chinese.  His desire was to be the best cook for those exploring the mountain areas.

His reputation grew:  the best trail cook in California!

In 1915 one of America's wealthiest men, Stephen Mather, was trying to create a National Park Service to preserve the natural grandeur in our United States.  To make this a reality he knew he needed to get those in power to the land itself.  He organized a trip for

writers, tycoons, members of Congress---and even a movie star---to go camping.

To insure this trip's success he hired the best wilderness chef---Tie Sing.  This was no easy task for Tie Sing.  Ten days of meals for thirty people was quite an undertaking even for the best in the business.  An assistant, Eugene, helped to ease his load but these two men worked from before dawn until well after dark with no modern conveniences.  This included packing (every single day) all the food, tableware, dishes, napkins, tablecloths, cooking, maintaining and starting the fires, washing dishes and linens and keeping the entire camp comfortable for the visitors.


Their menus were as elaborate as those in fancy restaurants until one morning disaster struck.  The mule carrying all the fine, fine food was gone.  No amount of searching revealed its whereabouts.  Angry but with purpose in his heart, Tie Sing altered his meal plans.  His ingredients were changed but his cooking was as superb as it could possibly be.  No one left the evening meal hungry.

With great care Tie Sing navigated a narrow trail the next day but one stubborn mule fell over the cliff, damaging its entire load.  When he arrived at the camp, it was late and everyone was more than ready to eat.  What Tie Sing did was nothing short of a miracle.  And he was not finished yet.  On their last night, he put all his beliefs in the beauty of this land into an extra project which

one year, one month and one day 

later revealed results.


Author Annette Bay Pimentel makes it very clear in the first three pages how much Tie Sing loved the country of his birth and his intentions to live in the outdoors whenever possible.  He perfected his culinary expertise so he could do what he loved best where he felt most at home.  Pimentel's extensive research is evident in her use of quotes and details.  She brings this man and his environment to life for readers by making us a part of the day to day tasks during this specific ten day excursion.  Here is a passage from a point on the trail.

Each morning Tie Sing woke in the shivering dark and whispered instructions to Eugene.  They stacked firewood in the cookstoves and fed kindling to trembling flames until the fire burned steady and strong.  They watched the edge of the sky turn rosy while they cracked dozens of eggs.  As the other campers crawled out of their sleeping bags, Tie Sing packed box lunches and put steaks on to sizzle.  He served breakfast as a yellow edge of sun peeked above the horizon.


Rendered in

pencil drawings and watercolor washes done on paper, then scanned and layered in Photoshop

the illustrations beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case evoke a very real sense of place, time and a remarkable man; larger than life among nature's grandeur.  To think of him packing and unpacking the loads on those mules day after day and leading them over the western terrain is astonishing.  To the left, on the back, Rich Lo gives us a beautiful, close-up view of Tie Sing's final gesture on the final evening of this trip. (I won't spoil it for you.)

Done in several tones of brown the opening and closing endpapers contain a map of the trip beginning at Giant Forest and ending in Horseshoe Meadow.  The legend includes towns, roads, the camping trip route, campsites and the boundary of Sequoia National Park today.  Beneath the text on the title page is a snapshot view of a western town.

The majority of the illustrations span two pages, edge to edge.  They may contain more than one perspective as our eyes move from left to right.  They may also portray more than one single moment in time. There is a quality to each image where the scenic landscape and Tie Sing evoke the same sort of emotion in the reader.

One of my favorite pictures is of Tie Sing setting out pieces of apple pie for dessert after the mule ran away during the day.  He's smiling at one of the seated campers who have a cup raised in his hand.  Four others are seated around the golden blaze of a roaring fire.  Night is coming as the sky darkens.  The atmosphere is relaxed.


Without the efforts of author Annette Bay Pimentel and illustrator Rich Lo in making Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service how would readers come to know the marvelous lifetime achievements of Tie Sing?  Through this book you will come to understand how valuable he was in helping to establish the National Park Service.  At the close of the book author Annette Bay Pimentel has four pages dedicated to further explanations about Tie Sing, the National Park Service, where they camped, and some of the members making the journey.  Real photographs are included.

You will want to visit the websites of Annette Bay Pimentel and Rich Lo to learn more about them and their other work.  Rich Lo includes several interior images from this title.  Annette Bay Pimentel was a guest at the Nerdy Book Club on November 20, 2016.  She wrote a post for author Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog Cynsations on March 9, 2016.  Annette Bay Pimentel was interviewed at From The Mixed-Up Files...  Rich Lo was interviewed at Manhattan Book Review.  This title was featured at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher on August 17, 2016.


To view the titles selected by bloggers this week participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge please stop by Kid Lit Frenzy.






Breadlam In The Neighborhood

When attending college dorm life was highly regimented.  Compared to campus life now, it was downright laughable.  One thing which was never a laughing matter though was the schedule for meals on Sunday.  There were only two; the final one at noon.  When dinnertime arrived my suitemates and I sometimes pooled our financial resources and ordered a pizza but we usually went without food.  After studies and class prep for Monday, we went to bed early.

Inevitably as we were lying there waiting for sleep, someone would call out their favorite food.  Someone else would call out their favorite food.  Pretty soon, we were not only all talking about food but describing it so vividly you could swear the rooms were filled with the aromas of a banquet hall before a feast.  It was as if you could reach out and taste whatever your heart desired.

Cravings for a particular cuisine are a powerful thing.  Nanette's Baguette (Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Group, October 25, 2016) words and pictures by Mo Willems follows a frog during a food fiasco.  A first becomes the worst.

NANETTE!
Today is a day Nanette won't soon forget.

It's hard to forget the first day you get to get the baguette.  It's a huge undertaking for Nanette but she's ready for the task.  Along the path to the bakery she greets four friends, one even has his clarinet.  Another is walking his pet, Antoinette.

Leaving the foursome, Nanette walks into the bakery where Juliette is waiting.  She hands her the most beautiful baguette.  It's still warm from the oven.  It smells delicious.  It seems to be bigger than a normal baguette.  YIKES!

How did that happen? Yum! Yum!  Nanette took a bite of the baguette.  It tastes scrumptious.  YIKES!  She did it again!  The baguette is not quite as big as it was.  What will Nanette do next?

Well, that was probably not the best decision Nanette has ever made.  In fact, now she seems to be in a bit of a pickle.  Adding to her trouble, the weather turns dismal and wet; much like her mood.  Now what?  Mom knows best.  Bakery baguettes are still warm from the oven.  Bakery baguettes still smell delicious. YIKES!

This two word title, Nanette's Baguette, is the basis for an entire story in the masterful mind of Mo Willems.  The impeccable rhyming creates a catchy cadence.  Some of the phrases are barely shy of tongue twister status. The repetition of key words is a welcoming invitation for audience participation. Here is another sample passage.

Getting to get the baguette is Nanette's biggest responsibility yet.
Is Nanette set to get the baguette?


As soon as you look at the opened, matching dust jacket and book case, you know there is something extraordinary about the illustrations for this title.  Mo Willems fashioned these images by

comprising them of photographed handcrafted cardboard-and-paper constructions digitally integrated with photographed illustrations and additions.

 He made the entire village for this story by hand.  The front is a close up of the bakery window with Nanette and the baguette.  To the left, on the back, Nanette and her mom are sitting on the bench in the town circle, snacking on a baguette.  This smaller picture appears to be in 3-D, raised from the rustic, reddish orange canvas.

The opening and closing endpapers are a dusty green with baguettes placed on them in rows.  Those on the closing endpapers tell a tale, leaving space for the publication information.  The two-page picture for the title page is a panoramic view of the village featuring many of the characters.

Throughout the story the backgrounds shift from green to purple to blue, a golden brown and brown; a reflection of the emotional turns in the narrative.  Many of the illustrations appear raised from the background in square or rectangle shapes with elements moving outside the frame.  Other illustrations are created on the canvas itself, a collection of smaller (or huge) visuals.

The facial expressions on Nanette leave no doubt as to the state of her mind (and stomach) during the tale.  Her eyes and body posture speak volumes.  Her hat, shirt and skirt are the delightful finishing touches.

One of my favorite of many illustrated pages is when Nanette first has the baguette.  In one of the pictures with closed eyes she is hugging it close to feel the warmth.  In the next image, eyes still closed, mouth in a blissful grin, she is smelling it.  In the third visual she is slightly larger and we see only her body from the waist up.  She is holding the baguette in one hand, lengthwise and vertical.  Her eyes, now wide open, are assessing the large size of the baguette.  You can feel the tension mounting as a decision is going to be made.


Will you laugh out loud repeatedly reading Nanette's Baguette, words and pictures by Mo Willems? YOU BET!  Will you be craving a taste of a baguette before you're even started with the story?  YOU BET!  Will you imagine you can feel its warmth and smell the savory scent?  YOU BET!  I recommend you read this repeatedly to yourself and out loud so others can enjoy all the fun.  Get multiple copies for your professional shelves and one for your personal bookcases at home.

To learn more about Mo Willems and his other work please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and blogs.  Julie Danielson, author, reviewer and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast reviews this title at BookPage. (Be sure to visit Julie's blog too to view interior images.) Mo Willems was a recent guest at The Yarn: The Inside Story of Children's Books by Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp.  Enjoy the videos.







Monday, January 16, 2017

An Amphibian Objects

Oh, if only we could speak the language of animals.  The conversations would be lengthy and informative.  They probably have a separate set of rules for any number of situations.  We, of course, have no clue as to the dos and don'ts in their realm.

Apparently there are particular places where specific animals are supposed to sit as we learned in Frog On A Log? (Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., August 25, 2015) written by Kes Gray with illustrations by Jim Field.  At the conclusion of that title the frog was in a less than comfortable position.  You could say he was in a difficult state of affairs.  In a sequel Oi DOG! (Hodder Children's Books, July 28, 2016, UK) authors Kes Gray and Claire Gray collaborate with Jim Field as the frog airs his dissatisfaction with the rules.

Oi DOG!
GET OFF THE FROG
said the frog.

"But I like sitting on frogs," said the dog.

As the dog explains why his posterior likes to be placed on frogs, the know-it-all cat, sitting on a mat, chants the litany of rules.  Well, frog is having nothing to do with those particular decrees.  He's changing them.  Dogs will sit on logs.

Dog is not too happy about sitting on a log.  Cat is not too happy about sitting on gnats rather than a mat. Getting in the groove of this switcheroo of guidelines, dog wants to know what bears will sit on.  Firmly in control now, frog happily replies

"Bears will sit on
stairs."

When dog asks about slugs, frog gleefully gives an answer for them, flies, crickets and moths. Each time dog asks, a reply, no matter how strange, is issued with the speed of lightning.  When dog points out whales might not like where they have to sit, frog authoritatively answers much like cat did in the past. (Oh, oh.)

Nine more animals are issued new directions for their state of sitting.  This leads us to one final question.  As the now king of commandments, frog's response and action break all the rules.  (Prepare to burst out laughing.)


With all the utterly ridiculous rhymes penned by Kes Gray for this title, it's hard not to imagine bouts of loud giggling coming from his writing room.  You will find yourself wondering if he thought of the animals first or the objects upon which they are assigned to sit.  And speaking of animals we have those from the forest, the jungle, the insect world, African grasslands, domestic and wild types from the same family, the largest and the smallest, and even one from fantasy.  Here's another passage.

"You're really getting the hang of this," said the dog.
"I know," said the frog.  "And that's not all...
Gnus will sit on canoes, pigs will sit on wigs, and boars will sit on oars.


When you contrast the frog pointing an accusing finger at the dog on the front of the opened book case (There is no dust jacket.) and the dog's startled look, you know this book is going to be as full of humor as its predecessor.  To the left, on the back, a decidedly disgruntled cat is grumpier than ever at where he is now sitting and probably because of losing his rule-setting status.  For the opening and closing endpapers, on a rusty orange background, the dog is posed in fifty-four small, captured actions certain to have readers howling at their hilarity.

On the verso the shocked dog is looking straight at the reader.  With a page turn we move in close to the dog sitting on the frog in a two-page picture.  Once dog removes himself from frog, frog now has the chalk and is educating the animals on his new rules on a blackboard.  For his guidelines, Jim Field has varied the canvas for each single page image; turquoise, orange, purple, and green.  Sometimes he will extend the illustration from left to right as frog continues to speak.

The comedy found in his details will have readers pausing repeatedly; bears eating bowls of porridge, a moth reading a book about light bulbs, the look on the sheep's face with a leopard sitting on the shepherd, the Adam's Apples painted on the side of a wagon and a skunk wearing a clothespin on its nose.  It's the expressions on the animals' faces which seal the deal.  Frog is featured somewhere on one of every two pages.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is the one on the right for the above-noted passage.  Frog is doing the back stroke alongside a canoe.  Sitting in the canoe is a big gnu, holding a double-paddled oar in his hands.  On each oar a boar is seated.  One is wearing a pink, pig-tailed wig looking like Pippi Longstocking.  The gnu is wearing a wig like those worn in the French court by women during the eighteenth century.  Sitting on top of the gnu's wig are three little pigs.


I can already hear the laughter of readers as Oi DOG! written by Kes Gray and Claire Gray with illustrations by Jim Field is silently read or read aloud.  The combination of text and images is loaded with humor at every page turn.  It is more than a fitting sequel to the first title.  You must have both books on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Kes Gray and Jim Field please take a few moments to visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Jim Field has a lot of process art on the page dedicated to this book.  It's interesting to compare what was initially drawn and what remains in the book.

Friday, January 13, 2017

In Sickness And...

Never is good health so appreciated as when you suddenly find yourself with the king of colds.  You're hotter than hot one minute and shaking with the chills the next minute.  Every part of your body aches.  You can't breathe but your nose is constantly running (in a race where you are the loser).  You begin coughing but the sound closely resembles a barking seal. You are so miserable you can't even enjoy the fact you get a day (or two or more) off from your normal activities.

At times like this there is only one person in the world you want, especially if you are a younger gal or guy.  Bob, Not Bob! (To be read as though you have the worst cold ever:)(Disney Hyperion, February 14, 2017) written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Matthew Cordell explains with great insight and huge doses of humor exactly who this is. It is not your canine companion.  It is not your beloved stuffed animal.

Little Louie wasn't all that little.  It wasn't like he needed his mom every minute of the day.

When he started sneezing and wheezing, he did need his mom.  He needed her a lot.  You could almost say he needed her constantly.

When his cold was in high gear, nothing satisfied him more than the presence of his mom but his nose was so stuffed when he yelled Mom it sounded like Bob.  It just so happened that Louie had a larger than life dog named Bob.  Guess who came running ready to romp?  Bob the dog.

Louie, besides being sicker than sick, kept on saying

NO!
I wan by
BOB, 
not
BOB!
BOB! BOB! BOB!

Needless to say, Bob the dog was a bit confused.  Louie's mom with the wisdom bestowed on mom's everywhere knew exactly who he wanted and did come to his room but she had other obligations too.

Day two was even worse.  Louie's words came out weird.  His little sister Tessa was as mystified as Bob the dog.  Feeling more wretched by the minute Louie was going a little bit nuts.  His mom was too.  And Bob the dog keep running to Louie.

So Mom did the only left to do.  Louie sighed.  Mom was glad he was glad.  So was Bob the dog.


As you read this story you will constantly be thinking about how much fun Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick had working together to create the words for the unseen narrator and the dialogue of little Louie.  They create the quintessential sick child situation right down to the tiniest details.  As they are describing exactly how sick Louie is, each sentence builds on the previous one to create a type of cadence.

When Bob the dog enters the scene each time he is not only running but slobbering.  When they insert the word cuckoo into the story, it becomes so kid-perfect you feel like (and probably will) laugh out loud.  All these clever pieces place readers exactly where they need to be for the resolutions.  Yes, there are two.  Here is another sample passage.

So he just lay there getting hot and sweaty,
which sounded like "Hotten Smetty."
"Who's Hotten Smetty?" asked his sister. ...


The layout and design on the matching dust jacket and book case are two trios superbly aligned, the title text over Mom, Louie and Bob the dog.  Each of them, Mom, Louie and Bob the dog, is wearing an expression indicative of their personalities in this story; happy to help, miserably sick and confused...and slobbery.  The title text on the jacket is varnished.  To the left, on the back, the green from the front becomes the canvas.  Within a loosely framed circle is Bob's ball, a box of tissues and the stuffed teddy bear.

On the opening endpapers a giant BOB is placed slightly to the right off center.  Mom is standing tall and smiling with Louie crying and clinging to her leg.  From the left Bob is standing at attention, ball in mouth, looking at them.  This BOB has a heart shape in the center of the O.  This is how Matthew Cordell distinguishes between Mom (Bob) and Bob the dog.  Readers will notice a difference on the closing endpapers as Louie seems to be back to one healthy little guy.  On the title page the arrangement shifts with Mom, Louie and Bob the dog standing on top of the text.  They are looking right at us.

In this title Cordell uses white space as an element.  He positions his characters in the image to convey emotional moods and the passage of time; more in the center, at the bottom or in several spots on one page.  The spoken text and sounds play an important role too, heightening those emotional moments.  The facial expressions on the characters' faces, including Bob the dog, are absolutely spot-on and hilarious.  (They're wonderfully loving too.)

One of my favorite of many illustrations is when Louie is crying out

I just wan by BOB!

again.  His mom is carrying a laundry basket as he wraps both arms around her legs.  A box of tissues and used tissues are scattered on the floor.  With her free hand Mom is covering her eyes.  If she were speaking you know exactly what she would be saying.  Her patience is hanging on by a very thin thread.


Every person on the planet that has had a cold can easily identify with Louie.  Every mom or caregiver can place themselves in Louie's mom's shoes.  If dogs could talk, they would tell us Bob the dog is doing the best he can under the circumstances.  This is what makes Bob, Not Bob! written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Matthew Cordell a rib-tickling riot of fun.  This is real aloud gold!  Make sure you have a copy for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To find out more about Liz Garton Scanlon, Audrey Vernick and Matthew Cordell please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Take a tour of Liz Garton Scanlon's studio at Andrea Skyberg's website. She also invites Matthew Cordell to visit her site and gives us a tour of his studio.  Matthew Cordell stops by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, sharing previous projects, this title and some not released yet.  Author James Preller interviews Audrey Vernick on his site in an author to author conversation.

UPDATE:   I know you are going to enjoy this article at Tara Lazar's site, Writing For Kids (While Raising Them).  Audrey and Liz chat about this title and reveal the book trailer.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

On The Fourth Day Of The Week

We can all agree life is wonderfully unpredictable.  We make plans only to have them change repeatedly; sometimes they disappear altogether as priorities shift.  Every single day we wake up, we know there will be ups and downs.  At times it seems there may be more downs than ups but without being aware we may suddenly think to ourselves things are happily stable.  We savor those times.

In fact we may have a particular saying to get us through those tougher days and another one to remind us to be grateful for our good fortune.  If we are facing an event with a specific outcome in mind, we may wear certain clothing or carry a good luck charm.  Because of Thursday (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, October 18, 2016) written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco follows the life of one woman whose happiness stems from the fourth day of the week.

Thursdays had always been lucky for Annie Fetlock.
She was born on a Thursday.
She won her first cooking contest at the age of eight on a Thursday.
She met the love of her life, Mario, on a Thursday.

For Annie and Mario and their two sons, Thursdays were the best day of the week.  At their diner Annie would create her signature cuisine on Thursdays, a pasta salad called Poke Salad.  Over time Poke Salad at the diner brought people from everywhere who wanted to taste this flavorful blend of ingredients.  As you might expect the diner kept this little community humming with activity.

The two boys grew into fine young men who became lawyers practicing law in larger cities but they always stayed in touch with their parents visiting whenever they could.  One day Mario did not feel well.  It was not a Thursday.  Bad news from the doctors was followed by the passing of Mario.  Neither happened on a Thursday.  When the love of your life goes, sometimes the flame in your heart dims and fades away.

Poke Salad Thursdays at the diner were not the same.  People stopped coming.  Eventually Annie simply closed the doors for good.  It was a sad day for the once bustling town.

If you walked by Annie's house you could see her sitting alone on her porch until one very special Thursday.  On this day, Annie made a discovery near the butter churn on her porch.  A tiny boy kitten was wrapped in a dish towel.  Stitched on the outside of the cloth was the word---Thursday!

Of course Annie named the cat Thursday.  Like that special day of the week, this cat worked wonders in the life of Annie, the neighbor children, their parents and other community members.  That cat was nearly magical in its gymnastic talents.  It was those very talents which worked another miracle in Annie's and the community members' lives.  It's astonishing how wonderfully unpredictable life...and Thursdays can be.


Inspired by her cat Thursday, Patricia Polacco has written an original tale of love lost and love found again.  Her storytelling skills are masterful in that the narrative unfolds as if we are learning about someone in our neighborhood and in our town.  Her people are as real and right as rain but there is also a hint of folktale in her stories.  Patricia Polacco writes about what she knows bringing the rich experiences of her lifetime to the printed page.  Here are two sample passages.

People came from far and wide just to taste it.  After one bite they devoured it, almost in a single gulp, then wanted more!  Annie called it Poke Salad, because the more you poked at it, the more scrumptious, succulent, delectable surprises you'd find hidden in, under, and around the pasta.  As a matter of fact, everyone called Annie...Poke Salad Annie.

As the years passed, Poke Salad became an institution in that little town.  People came from other towns, then other cities, then other states, and even other countries.  It was almost as if Poke Salad cast a spell on anyone who ate it so they'd just keep coming back over and over again!


There is sheer joy in both images on the opened matching dust jacket and book case.  The lively animation seen in the characters and the cat leave no doubt as to steadfast spirit of this story.  The facial expressions and color palette are pure Patricia Polacco.  Those two big bowls of pasta on the front hint at the narrative about to unfold.  To the left, on the back, Annie is resting in her favorite chair, eyes closed and smiling as she holds a happy purring Thursday.  Next to them on a table is a picture of Mario.  A vibrant reddish orange seen on the front in the hue of the boy's sweater covers the opening and closing endpapers.

On the initial title page we see a smiling younger Annie surrounded by cooking pots, utensils and ingredients wearing a chef's hat and a big blue ribbon.  On the two-page picture for the more formal title page we are guests at the wedding of Mario and Annie.  It is a garden scene with a gazebo and groomsmen and bridesmaids holding cooking utensils in the air, making an arch.  Cooking utensils are placed in all the floral bouquets.

In the sixteen double-page illustrations throughout this title rendered in two and six B pencils and acetone markers Polacco fills them with life's details; the baby boys in carriers as their parents serve customers in the diner, a bird's eye view of the diner's outside patios and people walking along the street, the heartfelt affection shared between Annie and Mario, and the look of surprise more than once after the arrival of Thursday the cat.  One thing Polacco does is to connect two separate scenes in one illustration.  Two different moments in time are tied together even if the perspective changes.

One of my favorite illustrations demonstrates this technique.  On the left Annie is sitting on the porch of her farmhouse in a pink flowered dress and her pink fuzzy slippers.  In the background her car sits in a garage.  On the porch readers can see the rolled towel next to the butter churn.   Continuing the design of the porch we move to the right with a close-up of Annie's face, wide-eyed with surprise.  She is lifting up the towel and has seen the kitten.  We can see one tiny paw.


Because of Thursday written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco is uplifting and hopeful.  It reminds us how fragile and strong life can be.  It's a book about luck, love and the blessing an animal can bring into human's lives.  This book will invite discussions about those very things.

To learn more about Patricia Polacco and her other extensive work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view six interior illustrations including my favorite one.  I have written about other Patricia Polacco books, Bun Bun Button, The Art of Miss Chew, Gifts of the Heart and The Blessing Cup.