Quote of the Month

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

Monday, February 20, 2017

Build-It Buddies

Given the popularity of empty boxes in all shapes and sizes, small wooden blocks, and LEGO bricks with children, creativity and the urge to build are evident at all ages.  If scrap lumber, large scavenged sticks and stones are available, forts and tree houses will be assembled.  It's not just that they like to create and build, but the sense of satisfaction at completing the work is immeasurable.  Even as adults the inventive spirit will remain strong if nurtured.

Not only do these resourceful souls like to fashion new items but they enjoy watching others do the same thing.  There is a certain fascination in observing a dollhouse, home, skyscraper, boat, or model airplane take shape.  For this reason in May of 2011 Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site acquainting us with movers and shapers, Crane Truck, Cement Mixer, Dump Truck, Bulldozer and Excavator, found a place in readers' hearts.  A companion title, Mighty, Mighty Construction Site (Chronicle Books, February 14, 2017) written by Sherri Duskey Rinker with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld reunites readers with these fond friends.

Down in the big construction site,
five trucks wake to morning light.
It's time to S-T-R-E-T-C-H, roll out of bed,
and gear up for the day ahead!

These pals don't waste a single second, shaking off their slumber and getting ready to go.  A new enormous job is on their agenda.  They've never worked on a task this large.  Cement Mixer hollers with his horn for reinforcements.  It echoes from the city to the country.

Trucks start to roar down the road; friends in need, friends indeed.  Now the group numbers ten.  It's time to get busy; two by two that's what they do.

This work is tough but little Skid Steer shows her stuff, shattering stones for her best buddy, Bulldozer.  Nearby another twosome does a dig and drop dance laying pipe.  Crane Truck lifts and lifts and then astonished learns, everything required is gone.  In the nick of time rumbling into the site Mighty Flatbed carries more.

Great piles of dirt are scooped and carried by friendly companions.  The guy who called the extra crew needs help at new heights.  Concrete is lifted up, up, and up some more.  Pumper's boom pours and pours.   What was large was made small by all ten trucks giving it their all.  As the sun sets five head down the highway home.  Five trucks, five friends, under a crescent moon, stay and soon...sleep.

As soothing as a lullaby but as lively as a brisk breeze Sherri Duskey Rinker wraps her rhythmic words around readers.  We gladly rise and shine with these trucks and the others who heed the call.  Every two lines, like the partners who tackle this task, two words rhyme; never missing a beat.  Alliteration is used with skill, word choices consistent with the setting and story.  Here are some more sample sentences.

Rolling, rumbling, revving hard,
ten big trucks meet in the yard.
A mighty, massive SUPERCREW---
there is nothing they can't do!

The happiness on the "faces" of all ten trucks waiting on the multi-levels of dirt around Excavator as he cradles the new-day sun on the opened and matching dust jacket and book case is sure to spread to readers of all ages.  To the left, on the back, Crane Truck is lifting the block holding the ISBN.  On the two-tone rustic, golden orange opening and closing endpapers truck tire tracks of various designs zig-zag across the pages.

Warm shades of red spread a glow across the two-page image for the title page as the sun rises.  The man in the building near the construction site who yelled about the noise of Dump Truck's snores in the first book, shouts out a

Hey! Wake Up!

to the dozing trucks.  Rendered in Neocolor wax oil pastels on Mi-Teintes paper with digital fine-tuning by Kristen Cella the texture of the illustrations on the matte-finished paper invites you to touch the pages.

Every page turn usually reveals a double-page picture, page edge to page edge.  On many of these Tom Lichtenheld will place another framed smaller visual, sometimes two or even four.  His color palette is in keeping with the setting but his light and shading bring a cheerful luminescence to all the illustrations.  No one makes trucks as lovable as he does with their facial expressions and added details like Crane Truck and his teddy bear.  Careful readers will also notice the return of the little red bird, the blanket on top of Cement Mixer and the "pillow" upon which Bulldozer rests.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the five trucks are lined up and moving along to the construction site in the early morning light.  Crane Truck is carrying the rolled up plan on the far left.  In front of him, left to right, are Cement Mixer, Bulldozer, Excavator and Dump Truck.  Behind them is a faint outline of the cityscape in purple backed by golden puffs of clouds on the palest blue sky.  The only thing missing is the soft sound of engines running.  If you listen closely, you might hear them.

Readers are going walk around hugging this latest title, Mighty, Mighty Construction Site, written by Sherri Duskey Rinker with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld.  The images elevate the marvelous narrative in a spirit of affectionate cooperation.  Readers will be cheering for their favorite five and their new teammates.  You're going to want to have multiple copies available.

To discover more about Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher hosted the book trailer premiere on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Sherri and Tom chat about their work on all their books in this article at Publishers Weekly.  At the publisher's websites for this title there is an activity kit and an activity guide for teachers.  Sherri and Tom visit All The Wonders, Episode 327 to chat with teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner about this new title.

Friday, February 17, 2017

You Were Warned...

The thing about wishes and wishing is they can be a tricky enterprise.  When we wish for something we tend to think of the outcome and not how it is achieved or what may happen if and when a wish comes true.  It's hard to remember it's a rarity if something happens in isolation; good or bad, there are consequences.

Nevertheless if we see a falling star, the first star of the night, or witness a rainbow or when it's 11:11 on the clock, we pull a turkey bone, we find a penny, or when we blow out birthday candles on our cake, we will be making a wish.  You Don't Want a Unicorn! (Little, Brown And Company, February 14, 2017) written by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by Liz Climo is an adventure in the unexpected.  It can be said this is a ride on the wild side filled with first-rate hilarity.

You were gonna wish for a unicorn, weren't you?
Wishing for a unicorn is a 

An unseen narrator continues to offer advice but the little guy, clearly a huge fan of the mythical beast, lets go of his coin.  Within mere seconds of it dropping beneath the fountain waters,


A unicorn of his dreams springs forth from a blaze of rainbows.  The voice continues with dread dripping from every word.

It would be safe to say the boy, riding upon the back of his new friend, does not heed one single syllable.  His wildest dream has come true.  When they arrive inside his home, the joy becomes tinged with problems, HUGE problems.  Did you know unicorns shed gold glitter?  And it sticks to everything...like glue.

If you think house-breaking a puppy is difficult, unicorns can't learn.  (You'll never look at a cupcake the same way again.)  You'll have to be extra careful giving them anything carbonated to drink.  Their burps are an explosion of color with no pot of gold at the end.  Just when you believe you might be able to handle all these "little" idiosyncrasies, the biggest surprise of all pays you a visit again and again and again and again.

Thankfully the narrator has continued to offer wisdom.  His final words must be heeded to undo what has been done.  It's not going to be easy.  Whew!  OH! NO! WAIT!

Using an unseen narrator to tell this story is sheer genius on the part of author Ame Dyckman.  The words she selects to use and their delivery make us active participants in this story.  Before the fourth sentence is even finished you will be laughing... guaranteed.  How many times have you warned a child not to do something and before the sound of your warning has faded away, they've done that very thing?

The cadence in which the narrator speaks through purposeful punctuation gives the story splendid pacing.  The repeated use of

Trust me.

increases the comedic effect.  It will also have you wondering why this particular narrator seems to be so well-informed about wishing and unicorns.  Here is the continuation of the first part.

Just step away and---
Things are about to get--- (page turn)
Trust me.

All of the illustrations rendered

with digital magic

are animated with a high laughter factor on the dust jacket, book case and pages in bright cheerful colors.  The expression on the boy's face on the front of the jacket most definitely matches the title but we are not sure yet why or how the unicorn and boy are currently together.  The unicorn and the word Unicorn shimmer when tipped back and forth in the light.  To the left, on the back, with a purple background, the seated unicorn is burping a burst of color which bleeds over the spine.

The book case is an interior picture on a background of white.  Extra text with arrows has been added.  My lips are sealed as to the content of this image.  On the opening and closing endpapers, amid turquoise, pink, green and orange clouds (eighteen in total), are unicorns in various attire with unique physical characteristics.  There is a distinct difference between the two sets of endpapers reflecting the conclusion of the story.  (Tiny spots on these illustrations shimmer too.)

A large double-page picture provides the canvas for the title page as well as beginning the story.  Three children are playing in a park with a fountain.  Liz Climo alternates between two-page visuals, single page pictures and smaller pictures on one page to match and elevate the narrative's rhythm.  The characters stand out on the crisp white paper with few other details in the scenes colored.  The expressions on the boy's face match his every emotion and the activities of the unicorn.

One of my favorite illustrations is on a single page with a white background.  The unicorn is standing tall, golden horn surrounded by vivid sparkles.  Next to him is the boy grinning.  His eyes are wide open with happiness.  There is pink frosting in his hair and on his I ♥ Unicorns t-shirt.  They are both looking at the next page where the first of several surprises has appeared.  You just know from previous moments that this happiness is short-lived.

I have been smiling since I first read this book, when I read it again and as I was writing this post.  I can't help it.  You Don't Want a Unicorn written by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by Liz Climo is filled with laugh out loud episodes from beginning to the oh-uh end.  It's about wishing, learning and hope.  You have to hope that your next wish might be a little bit different.  Right?  I can already hear the requests for read it again.

To learn more about Ame Dyckman and Liz Climo and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website you can download a storytime kit. John Schumacher, Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, featured the cover reveal and book trailer premiere on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  You have to read and watch both of these!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

No To No Noise

Most living creatures make sounds; some are either too high or too low for humans to hear.  Squirrels chatter from the safety of a branch if you invade their space.  Crickets announce the approximate temperature by chirps made from rubbing their wings.  (You have to do a little math but it works.) Male birds sing in the morning with more clarity and frequency often to attract potential mates.  The bugling of a bull elk will stop you in your tracks.  It is eerie and magnificent at the same time.  Purring in cats can signify happiness, be a call for attention and promote healing.  Dogs bark for a variety of reasons.  Rest assured they will teach you what each bark means.

The point is all these beings make their sounds instinctively.  It's a part of what makes them who they are.  If they are silent when they should not be, then something is not quite right.  We humans make sounds for more reasons than we can possibly list.  What would we do if silence was demanded of us without question? The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet (Scholastic Press, January 31, 2017) written by Carmen Agra Deedy with illustrations by Eugene Yelchin explores the idea of silence, noise and the choice to be one or the other.

There once was a village where the streets rang with song from morning till night.

Inside and outside homes the sounds rang out from human voices, animals, and machines.  Of particular interest was every last soul sang in the shower.  As you might think, La Paz was anything but peaceful.

All this noise started to bother the residents of this village.  They blamed the mayor and promptly dismissed him.  In his place Don Pepe was elected on his promise of complete quiet.  How would he accomplish this feat?  He passed laws, lots of laws.

La Paz was not only peaceful; it was utterly void of any sound.  People who loved to sing left.  Others who stayed, sang in a whisper of a whisper.  Seven years passed.

One day a rooster, his ten chicks and hen strutted into town, roosting in a lovely mango tree.  As a newcomer he knew nothing of the laws, so when the sun rose in the morning he crowed.  Where do you think that mango tree was planted?  It was right underneath the mayor's window!

Not once, not twice, not three times but four times, this mayor took away what made the rooster happy to get him to stop singing but he would not.  Nearly out of his mind, the mayor issued a final threat but the rooster was ready with a reply.  It will make you want to stand up and sing.

No matter how many times a story is read if it stays wrapped around your heart and finds a permanent place in your mind, it changes you.  Perhaps the shift is slight giving strength where needed or maybe it will reverse your thinking.  This is the power of the words written by Carmen Agra Deedy in this book.

Initially as she writes we see a village completely change per their desires but you can't help but wonder if she is asking us to remember to be careful of what wishes we make.  Each time the mayor intimidates the plucky gallito with an ultimatum and action, his answers create a rhythm.  This back and forth series of sequences gradually build tension leading us to the inspirational conclusion. Here is a passage.

"Still singing?" snapped Don Pepe. "You have no tree.  Remember?"
"I have no tree," said the gallito.  "But I have my hen and chicks.  How can I keep from singing?"
"Will you sing if I throw you in a cage---alone?" threatened Don Pepe.
"I may sing a lonelier song," said the stubborn gallito.  "But I will sing."
And he did.  

On the opened matching dust jacket and book case Eugene Yelchin uses bright cheerful colors to announce the title and the character of the plucky gallito.  It's our first hint of the courage this bird reveals in the story.  The illustration seen on the front (right) extends over the spine to the back, including the hen and the rest of the chicks.  It's important to note the attention the chicks are giving their parent.  They are listening.  They are learning.  One is singing too.

One of the blue hues from the jacket and case covers the opening and closing endpapers.  The words, the song of the rooster,

Kee-kee-ree KEE! 

are placed in a pattern in varying sizes across the pages.  Beneath the text on the title page the rooster strides in confidence.  He appears again in the same pose, chicks and hen behind him, across the verso and dedication pages.

These pictures

rendered in oil pastel, colored pencil, gouache, and acrylic

are spirited and in superb synchronization with the narrative, enhancing it with Eugene Yelchin's special techniques.  He uses single page images opposite a page of text and double-page pictures surrounding words.  His color choices and lines are altered to reflect the mood of the story.  His depiction of the mayor, Don Pepe is marvelous.  He looks as dastardly as he is.  The contrast between this man and the rooster is utterly perfect.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is the first one.  Across the upper portion of the single page picture is a brilliant deep blue sky with an orange sun and pale golden clouds.  Beneath them on a hill is the village, stucco buildings and tile roofs with spires of churches rising up.  This is the upper third of the illustration.  The hill is a series of fields and roads with grazing horses, cows and goats.  A single bicycle rider is moving down the main road to the village.  The wonderful thing is Yelchin has placed large musical notes and a staff over the fields, incorporating them into the pattern of the rows.

This book, The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!, written by Carmen Agra Deedy with illustrations by Eugene Yelchin is essential to every collection, professional and personal.  This story is powerful and timeless.  I expect and would welcome a chorus of crowing after each and every reading.

To learn more about the work of Carmen Agra Deedy and Eugene Yelchin please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  They both feature interior images from this title at their sites.  Make sure to stop by Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast hosted by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson to view some artwork and read her words about this title.  This book is included on a list of 2017 titles at Latinxs in Kid Lit.  Carmen Agra Deedy is featured at Time For Kids and KidLit 411.  Eugene Yelchin is showcased at Publishers Weekly and the International Literacy Association.   I hope you enjoy the video with Carmen Agra Deedy speaking about stories as much as I did.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Rhythmic Heartbeat Of A Child

During childhood our words form into chants, songs, rhymes, sayings, poems and stories.  When learned by heart from daily use, we carry them into adulthood.  They are passed from one generation to the next generation, their rhythmic memories echoing through the ages.

As an integral part of our culture, they shape us.  Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood (Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, January 10, 2017) collected by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is a treasury of tradition and history.  It is an astounding resource.

Our earliest toys are our hands, feet, and voices.  When we are babies, our wiggling fingers, curling toes, kicking legs, and flexing fists, combined with our squeals of wonder and surprise, provide us with hours of challenging and entertaining play while helping us develop basic learning skills.

After an introduction nine chapters take us into the past and bring us to the present.  They also provide an invitation for a future full of fun.  These hand claps, jump rope rhymes and games, circle games and ring shouts, songs inspired by the Underground Railroad, spirituals, hymns, and Gospel music, proverbs, psalms and parables, superstitions, fables and Mama sayings, performance pieces inspired by African American writers and folktales and storytelling not only bring together African American children and

have provided a connecting thread among people of color throughout the world  

but reach out a unifying and universal hand to all children.

How many can remember Patty Cake?  Did you know there are more than thirty variations?  It would have been wonderful as a child to have been taught to hand clap to the nursery rhyme Solomon Grundy or to transform Little Anthony and the Imperials song Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop (1960) into an original hand clap.  Jumping rope alone and hot pepper or double Dutch jumping is both a challenge and a joy with these songs.  Gather in the round to the sound of song, clapping and stomping--ring shouts.

Songs guided slaves toward freedom with words having more than one meaning.  In 1871 a group called the Jubilee Singers from Fisk University gathered spirituals sung in the South during slavery.  Gospel songs, a form of worship music, are a blend of enthusiastic voices raised in melody and shouts and body movements.  They praise Jesus as portrayed in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Comparisons to proverbs from other cultures are made to those of African American sayings, supplying us with the sure knowledge we are the same in wisdom.

Native American Saying
Be satisfied with the needs instead of the wants.
African American Saying
There's nothing better than enough.

Biblical psalms and parables serve as a foundation for spiritual thinking.  Superstitions, fables and sayings from mothers abound in every culture guiding, protecting and asking children to stop and think.  Have you ever played Porch School?

Literary giants were featured by children who were "on program".  Pieces were memorized and recited.  A gift handed down from parents to children and them to their children is the art of telling a good story beginning with Anansi and how he came to possess all stories and ending with children's favorite, a scary story.  A lifetime, many lifetimes, are held in these pages waiting for release by readers.

For each of the chapters Patricia C. McKissack has written an introduction providing a basis and personal context for her selections.  She informs us of the histories attached to each of the individual choices within each chapter.  The information she includes is absolutely fascinating for readers of all ages.  We are able to enjoy multiple versions.  Her writing style for this book is as if we are sitting on her front porch gathered together as she shares her years composed of claps, stomps, circles, shouts, rope jumping, songs, sayings, African American literature and stories.  Here is a chant for three rope jumpers.

I Know
(Begin with three jumpers.)
I know something,
But I won't tell;
Three little monkeys
In a peanut shell.
One can read.
(One jumper leaps out.)
One can dance.
(The second jumper leaps out.)
And one has a hole
In the seat of his pants.
(The third jumper leaps outs.) 

Don't you want to start singing, jumping and dancing when you look at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case?  The art of Brian Pinkney rendered throughout this title with watercolor and India ink on Strathmore watercolor paper flows with energy.  To the left, on the back, a single smaller picture features four children, arms raised and mouths open in song.  They are placed above a list of some of the titles showcased in this book.  A deeper sky blue seen in some of the lines on the front of the jacket and case covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Brian states in an illustrator's note at the beginning how his memories of these selections guided his work.  There is much joy in every single line and brush stroke placed on the heavier, matte-finished paper.  His color palette leans to warm and more pastel shades, although his black and white images are equally ready to leap off the pages.

Every chapter begins with a full page picture.  Nearly every page has one illustration.  At times a visual will cross the gutter.  His interpretation of Patricia's selections is striking and memorable.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the chapter Turn About: Jump Rope Rhymes And Games.  Beneath the text a boy, eyes closed in concentration and a smile on his face, is leaping over a rope.  He holds the ends of the rope in his hands.  His feet are kicked up behind him.  You can't look at this picture without smiling or laughing along with the boy.

I read this book in a single sitting.  Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood collected by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is one of those rich and rare books which will be a resource and source of happiness for generations.  Everyone will find connections in this book to their own personal childhoods.  At the close of the book Patricia C. McKissack includes Acknowledgments, Notes for each chapter and a Bibliography for each chapter along with an Index.

To discover more about Patricia C. McKissack and Brian Pinkney and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Several pages of interior artwork are shared by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  You will want to read through this review and conversation with McKissack at Kirkus.

Although this book is far longer than a nonfiction picture book, I choose to feature it for my choice as a participant in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  This challenge is hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Take a few minutes to view the titles chosen by other participants this week.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

From That, This

Having a canine companion affords you great lengths of time for reflection and retrospection.  Whether you are ambling up and down the hills of a disc golf course, strolling along the Lake Michigan shoreline, winding through northern Michigan woods or standing in your own backyard, your mind wanders where it might otherwise not go.  You wonder about the land and lakes hundreds of years ago, who might have lived there or walked along the same path you do today.  It's hard not to believe we are all connected regardless of the dates spanning our lifetimes.

In her newest title author illustrator Deborah Freedman takes these musings one more step.  She offers readers an opportunity to explore deeper connections, connections to the gifts given to us by our planet.  This house, once (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, February 28, 2017) is both intelligent and beautiful. It has one of the best first sentences I have ever read.

This door was once a colossal oak tree about three hugs around and as high as the blue.

Building from the door which opens into a sanctuary, a home, we are asked to think about stones.  Where were they before they became a part of this abode?  They were waiting to be awakened.

We have an entrance.  We have a foundation.  Now come the walls fashioned from the earth; from dirt to the dignity of making a space, a place of hope and happiness for the dwellers therein.

To keep out the seasons, endeavoring to shelter from cold, heat, wind and wet a roof is made.  Sturdy hands sculpted shingles from shapes centuries in the making.  Let's open the door and step inside to the warmth within these four walls sitting on a secure foundation protected by the created canopy.

Our views are sharpened and framed by tiny elements gathered and heated into a liquid that hardens, transparent and tough.  In the glow of dancing light from a fire more moments emerge, allowing us to insert a comma in our thinking.  Let's seek, let's learn, let's know.

In words like a lilting melody we are asked by Deborah Freedman to imagine with care and clarity about the beginnings of those elements which comprise our homes.  She supplies this refrain by presenting a poetic statement about each of these materials.  This artful writing requests us to not only think but to express gratitude.  In addition we can't help but wonder even farther back.  An oak tree grows from an acorn.  And acorn comes from an oak tree but how did the acorn get planted.  This train of thought is absolutely marvelous and important.

These stones were once below,
underground, deep asleep...

When you open the dust jacket for This house, once you instantly feel calm envelope you.  The deep rich shades of purple, the starry sky and crescent moon allow us to begin to imagine.  Is the house in snow or clouds or both?  The spot color of red for the door knob and the raised foil for the title are the ultimate finishing touches of design.

The pale lavender hue used for the text on the spine becomes the canvas across the book case.  On the front of the case the same shade of foil from the jacket etches the house into the background.  On the spine the foil is used again.  On the opening and closing endpapers a soft gray, like stones, provides the color.  With a page turn we have an initial title page, stones lying in grass.  For the formal title page a kitten appears among the stones as oak leaves in clothed in autumn hues drift down across two pages.

Another page turn continues the line of stones but a squirrel, leaping frog and turtle make an appearance as the leaves gather in a pile.  A tiny yellow bird hovers above the publication information on the left and the dedication is on the right.  You must read it.

A lovely, truly lovely rhythm is made by Deborah with her images rendered in pencil, watercolor, and bits of colored pencil and pan pastel, with an assist from Photoshop.  She begins with a white canvas, two pages, with her words on the left and a small but significant illustration on the right.  The next two pages are a stunning wordless extension of the first picture adding in her delightful creatures.  In these gorgeous two-page visuals she may give us a more panoramic view or take us in close.  Some shade of purple unifies all the pages.  Careful readers will notice the presence of one animal in all of them from beginning to end, a circle.

One of my many favorite illustrations (They are all stunning in their soft texture and lightness of line and luminosity.) is for the mud.  Across two pages we have a light purple sky gently framed in pale blue.  Shades of brown form the mud.  Grass, stones and oak leaves are placed on this ground.  The kitten is slapping the surface, paws socked in dirt.  Splashes of mud move upward as the frog happily leaps.  A turtle slowly moves toward the frog and kitten.  Watching this all this activity is the tiny yellow bird.  This picture is filled with life and.... a deep love for our planet.

Right now I have a small stack of books (two) which I want to put under my pillow each night and which are on my desk all day, every day.  This house, once written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman is joining this group.  This book will go deep into every heart imploring us to think more completely and to move through life with gratitude.  This book is one which must be on all bookshelves.

To discover more about Deborah Freedman and her other work take a few moments to visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view interior pages.  Artwork from this title and process pictures are featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Deborah Freedman is showcase at Life's An Art!.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Sharing The View

There are distinct advantages to being small in size and height.  You can be comfortable in small spaces when traveling.  When wanting to curl up on a sofa or chair to take a snooze or read a good book, you'll be cozier quicker than most other people.  You will always be excellent at playing hide-and-seek.  When you need to reach something on a grocery shelf, you can feel confident stepping on other shelves to reach an item, knowing nothing will break.  Your younger students will feel like they share something in common with you.  Your older students will get a kick out of coming up to you and stating, "I'm almost taller than you are."

One notable disadvantage is the overwhelming feeling of not being able to see when you are in a large crowd.  Thankfully our other senses are stronger when one is unable to function properly.  Pax and Blue (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, February 7, 2017) written and illustrated by Lori Richmond gives us a peek at a budding friendship between a human and a bird who share common character traits.  The boy has, as you will discover, another beautiful sense he has nurtured.

Some kids have a dog or a cat or a fish.
Pax has a pigeon he calls Blue.

Each morning Pax chats with Blue and gives him a bit of toast.  He understands very well how being little can be a challenge.  One morning Pax's mom is in a hurry.

Pax can't chat with Blue.  Pax can't give Blue a piece of toast.  Pax is being pulled along by his mom.  Blue does not understand.

Pax is very worried about leaving Blue without so much as a word or sharing his food.  Blue does what any hungry, lonely pigeon would do.  He follows Pax.  Immediately Blue can see this is a mistake.  Everyone is huge.  Where is he?

When Blue's presence is discovered on the subway car, feathers fly, literally and figuratively.  The adults create chaos.  Pax creates peace.  He is thrilled to see his friend.  He knows exactly what to do.  When some least expects it, a child becomes a hero.

Children have an innate desire to help those, especially animals, not noticed by adults.  They feel a kinship with them.  Lori Richmond has expressed this desire and kinship wonderfully.  In her simple sentences she speaks to the empathic portion of all readers' hearts which may be large or in need of growth.  In the character of Pax she shows us how a relationship is formed between a child and an animal.  She also helps us to understand once a friendship like this is formed, a true friend feels responsible. Here are several sentences (which can be seen with the illustrations at the publisher's website).

But this morning was different.
Pax knew little ones can get rushed along---
especially when Mom can't be late.
Blue didn't understand.

And there was no on to explain.

The deliberate, limited color palette seen on the opened dust jacket is used by Lori Richmond throughout the book.  The only stand-out colors are on Pax and Blue drawing our attention to them rather than the other people or the surroundings.  To the left, on the back, is a rear view of the subway car with the ISBN strategically placed.  Staring out the window is the head of Blue.

A pale purple covers the book case.  A wide, black spine extends into the canvas.  Walking across the bottom beneath the title text and author name is Blue, tracks extending from the back to the front.  On the spine the text is in silver foil. The opening and closing endpapers are a shade of the green seen on the front of the dust jacket.

Rendered in ink, watercolor, and charcoal, and composited digitally each image is a delicate portrait enhancing the text.  Some of the illustrations are placed on one page loosely framed on the matte-finished paper.  Others extend across two pages, edge to edge.  For emphasis and emotional impact Lori places single elements on one page, shifting the perspective.  Her stacked picture of the interior of the subway station is brilliant.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Pax looking at Blue after pandemonium broke out in their car.  There is quite a bit of purple on this page.  On the right Pax is hanging upside down looking under the seat at Blue on the left.  All we see of both of them is their heads (and one of Pax's hands).  It is a huge moment of connection between friends.

In a busy world where everything seems to move at a too-fast pace, Pax and Blue written and illustrated by Lori Richmond is a marvelous reminder for us to notice those smaller than we are.  It asks us to view the world with the eyes of others and to choose compassion.  I highly recommend you place this on your professional and personal bookshelves.  I would pair it with Little Elliot, Big City and How To Be A Bigger Bunny.

Take a moment or two to visit Lori Richmond's website by following the link attached to her name.  She has a page talking about the creative process for this book.  Follow the second link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Lori has been interviewed at Mile High Reading,  Karlin Gray's blog, Monica Wellington's news,  KidLit 411, and 32/7.  You can read about Lori Richmond's family vacation journals at the DailyMail.

Friday, February 10, 2017

No Time To Lose--Last Day On Mars Blog Tour

You are leaving the only home you have ever known.  It is the final day to do those things which are familiar or have been a temptation to you; skipping school, leaping off the sides of buildings due to loss of gravity, breakfast with your family, a game with your older sister, a ride with your parents in a Cosmic Cruiser to the research station and waiting and waiting to board the last ship to leave the planet.  Not only are you leaving the planet but the entire solar system.

The sun which the planets revolved around for eons is consuming them, Earth is already gone. It's but a charred memory.  Last Day On Mars (Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, February 14, 2017) written by Kevin Emerson is an edge-of-your-seat science fiction thriller, the first in the Chronicle Of The Dark Star series.


Many hundreds of light-years from the solar system you call home, inside a spindly crystal structure floating at the edge of a great nebula shaped like an eye, a yellow light began to blink.


Good evening
As you all know, for the past four years we have been documenting extremely unusual activity in the sun.  Increased radiation and solar flares have wreaked havoc on daily life.  The best minds in the world have studied this data around the clock, and tonight I can report that while we still do not know the cause, our conclusion is unanimous:  the sun is expanding, and we are all in grave danger.


The great ships streaked away from the red planet like shooting stars.  One, ten, hundreds they went, their fusion rockets burning, solar sails unfurling, their hulls vibrating with millions of sighs of relief. 

From the prelude and an introductory chapter we know there are other beings in the universe.  A chronologist has made a startling discovery and is murdered.  Before she dies, she is able to toss a tiny crystal sphere into a corner of her observatory.  Her observatory happens to be on Mars, the place where humans have been waiting and planning to travel to Aaru, a planet where they believe the human race can sustain life.  No one knows the chronologist had a base on Olympus Mons until the last day on Mars.

Thirteen-year-old Liam Saunders-Chang's older sister Mina and his classmate Shawn have already boarded the ship Scorpius.  Liam has to wait at the research station as his parents perform some final tests regarding terraforming.  His other classmate Phoebe is already there with her scientist parents.

In a day when nothing should go wrong, the first glitch is the departure time is accelerated due to a massive solar storm approaching faster than predicated.  Then Phoebe receives a call from her mother for her and Liam to manually open the surface air valves.  They think this will give them an opportunity to visit one of their favorite places.  They not only think, as they did yesterday when skipping school, but confirm something is on top of Olympus Mons, fading in and out of sight.  The last thing they think will happen is for the turbines at the station to explode.

In a sequence of rapid fire events Liam and Phoebe barely escape death over and over.  An entirely new method of travel is discovered, rescues are made, multiple enemies are thwarted, and hope hangs on a beacon Mina gave Liam as they hurtle into deep space.  Liam's mom's warning echoes in his mind as he carries a data key and a tiny crystal sphere with him.  In the final chapter a revelation will leave you breathless.

When you enter this world penned by Kevin Emerson it's as if you walk among the characters sharing experiences with them.  Through vivid descriptions of landscape, lifestyle, clothing, apparatus and methods of travel in space and time, we are acutely aware of the place in which we find ourselves.  When you open the pages of this book, your world grows hazy and this world comes sharply into focus.

The technique of a prelude, introductory paragraph, an interlude and an epilogue gives us knowledge of which the characters are unaware.  This heightens the tension we feel as each challenge unfolds.  The union of narrative and conversations between the characters is smooth.  Through their words and thoughts we identify with these characters feeling their stress, fear, overwhelming gratitude and laughter. Here are several passages.

But then there are those other times, aren't there?  Those rare moments when the stars twinkle just so, when the wind rustles the leaves just right, and you have that tingling sensation that even though the world is so very big, and you are only one infinitesimal part of it, you are also connected to something greater, somewhere out there beyond the moon and the black of space, something so grand...a pie crust even...

"Okay, that's not good," said Shawn.  "Backup power must have failed.  No dome means no artificial atmosphere, no radiation protection..."
"I thought there were like triple backup generators," said Liam.
"There are," said Shawn. "They've never failed before."
A hot wind from the Martian wastes strafed their faces with dust.  Liam's cheeks and hands started to prickle.  The dust was toxic to breathe.  Add to that the direct radiation with no dome or shelter to protect them...Any minute, their oxygen would be gone, and on top of that, Liam had heard the warning many times about what would happen to a human in normal Martian air pressure...something like all the water in your body evaporating, starting with your eyeballs.  

"Sounds hopeless," said Liam.
"It can, but in a way, sometimes I feel like it might be the opposite.  There's so much that we don't know that we can only do the best we can, and that will have to be good enough.  Maybe that's what being human is really all about.  And sure, we may not know yet what dangers are out there, but we also don't know what good things we'll find."  She put her arm around him.
"We'll take it one unknown at a time.  Does that help?"
Liam nodded.  "Maybe?"
"My little Martian," said Mom.

Last Day On Mars (Chronicle Of The Dark Star) written by Kevin Emerson is impossible to put down once started.  When the line between science fiction and reality blurs, you have one great read.  I know middle grade readers (and others too) are going to read this as fast as they can turn the pages and count the days until the release of book two.

To gain a greater understanding of Kevin Emerson and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Follow this link to the publisher-created educator's guide.

Kevin Emerson is the author of The Fellowship for Alien Detection as well as the Exile series, the Atlanteans series, the Oliver Nocturne series, and Carlos is Gonna Get It.  He is also an acclaimed musician who has recorded songs for both children and adults.  A former K-8 science teacher, Kevin lives with his family in Seattle.

Social Media:
Kevin Emerson on Twitter
Walden Pond Press on Twitter
Walden Pond Press  Facebook
Walden Media Tumblr
Last Day On Mars website on Walden Media

Blog Tour Participants:
Jan. 27th Unleashing Readers
Jan. 30th SciFi Chick
Feb. 1st This Kid Reviews Books
Feb. 3rd Walden Media Tumblr
Feb. 6th Word Spelunking
Feb. 7th Novel Novice
Feb. 8th Charlotte's Library
Feb. 9th Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Feb. 10th Librarian's Quest

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Rabbit Who Reads Succeeds

Language is a beautiful thing to speak, to write and to hear.  Some words can be more than one part of speech.  This gives them extended meanings, sometimes within the same part of speech.  The word big is one of those words.

As an adjective it can refer to size or importance.  In How to Be A Bigger Bunny (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, January 24, 2017) written by Florence Minor with illustrations by her husband Wendell Minor it might have several more meanings.  Inside of some of the smallest beings beats a big heart.

Tickles the bunny yawned.
It was time to get out of bed.

She searched for her brothers and sisters but they had already hopped away for a day full of play.  Was Tickles discouraged Nibbles, Wiggles, Giggles and Jiggles had left her?  Not at all.  She had a new book to read.

How to Be a Bigger Bunny was brimming with its own kind of excitement.  In the first story a bunny wished to reach the top of a tall tree.  Snoozing Tickles dreamt she did reach the top of a tall tree.  You could reach great heights if you never gave up.

She found herself imagining what it must be like to be bold and brave after reading the second story, How to Be Like a Pirate.  Tickles really enjoyed talking like a pirate.  As the hours ticked by our bunny friend was learning how to get out of difficult situations.  Nibbling was involved.  Quite suddenly a loud noise jarred Tickles from her reading.

Cautiously investigating she called for her brothers and sisters.  At first there was only silence but then she heard thumping.  Her discovery prompted her to use all the best parts of the stories she had read.  As she slept later at home Tickles wondered.  The following morning a dream came true.

Remember what I said about the beauty of hearing, writing and speaking language, the wonderful combination of words?  This book written by Florence Minor is a marvelous model of this very thing.  The three stories reflect on life lessons valuable in a variety of situations but for Tickles they match wonderfully the three things she must do to save her brothers and sisters.

The simple, short sentences are ideal for younger readers (and those young at heart).  To add interest and invite participation Florence includes narrative, thoughts, conversation and sound effects.  This blend, with her expertly placed punctuation, provides perfect pacing.  Here is a passage.

Nobody answered, so Tickles hopped off to look for them.

"Hello?" Tickles called.
"Helloooo?" Is anyone there?"
She called out again.
There was still no answer.
She listened carefully, and guess what?
She heard thumping.

Wendell Minor's painting welcomes you to step right into whatever world he has created.  Don't you wish you could stand next to Tickles in the field of flowers seen on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case?  You can almost feel the warmth of the air as a goldfinch flutters nearby and a swallowtail hovers above the blossoms.  You're sure if you reach out a hand you could touch soft fur.  To the left, on the back, Tickles is standing on a stack of books, arms outstretched on a canvas of pale yellow.  Royal purple covers the opening and closing endpapers.

On the initial title page Tickles has moved in the field.  Alone now, she has opened the book.  On the formal title page the story begins with the family cuddled and sleeping on their bed.  The bedspread is a quilt with squares framed in green; radish and carrot bunches in the center.

Rendered in gouache watercolor on Strathmore 500 Bristol these illustrations, nearly all spanning two pages, literally glow with the signature luminosity we adore about Wendell Minor's work.  His use of light is masterful; simply stunning.  Wendell's lines and brush strokes create a truly lifelike texture.  His attention to detail is photographic at times but in some portions of these illustrations Monet came to mind.

One of my favorite of many paintings spans two pages.  It is when Tickles begins her day reading her new book.  It is a close-up of her.  On the left is a field of dandelions and daisies.  On the right Tickles is learning against the truck of a tree with her book open.  She has paused to look straight at us.  Her big bunny feet are spread apart.  I don't think any reader would be a bit surprised to hear her say Hello.  Do you want to read with me?

How To Be A Bigger Bunny written by Florence Minor with illustrations by Wendell Minor is best shared over and over again.  It will be a beloved read aloud.  Within a tale of brothers and sisters the smallest becomes big by doing what any of us are capable of doing; except for the nibbling.

Please take a few moments to visit the website of Florence and Wendell Minor by following the link attached to Wendell's name.  You will be amazed at the large body of work created by these talented individuals.  At the publisher's website you can get a glimpse of the front and back of the jacket and case.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Not To Be Separated

When an animal is taken into your home it becomes a member of the family.  It looks to you for its well-being.  Regardless of the animal, they are far more astute to the routines and emotional state of the household than we may imagine.  If change is happening, they will note the subtlest difference.

If this shift in the norm is any kind of trauma or disaster, natural or man-made, the fate of these animal family members rests squarely on their humans.  Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush's Incredible Journey (Crown Books for Young Readers, January 31, 2017) written by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes with illustrations by Sue Cornelison is about a family fleeing a dangerous life.  They refuse to leave their cat.

Late one night in August 2015, a car driven by a smuggler snuck out of the city of Mosul, in the country of Iraq.  

With the loss of her husband and their father, a woman and her five children sought sanctuary away from the dangers of continuing to live in Iraq.  Each family member had something to carry.  Food and water filled their bags along with one more passenger, their family cat, Kunkush.  They needed to keep his presence hidden.

The family was passed from smuggler to smuggler but they always kept Kunkush farthest away from the leader.  They walked and walked.  After four days they reached a village where another person took them by bus to Istanbul, Turkey.  It was not easy to keep the cat hidden as they moved from place to place within the city for two weeks.

In time they were taken to the coast to cross the Aegean Sea to journey to the island of Lesbos in Greece.  They had to walk three miles on the beach to the place where they were instructed to put on life vests.  Sixty people were packed into a rubber boat meant to carry twenty-five.  This did not work and the boat went back to the shore.

As people were jostling around Sura, the mother, told her children to remain on the raft but Kunkush's carrier latch was damaged.  Three hours later the family reached their destination.  In order to help them disembark, Hakam, the son, put Kunkush's carrier on shore.  It was a means of escape for the cat.

Days, weeks and months passed.  Kunkush, now named Dias for the Greek god Zeus, was in the care of a volunteer named Amy.  Amy and her friends were determined to find the missing family for this cat.  Flyers, social media and a trip from Greece to Germany yielded no results.  Then on February 14, 2016 something remarkable occurred.

The loss of a spouse and parent weighs heavily on a family but to have to leave your home is a choice no one wants to make.  The decision to include Kunkush in the move seems to be a necessity; the tie that binds these people together.  As told by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes every step Sura, Rihab, Hakam, Maab, Ahab, and Ansab (the children were ages 18 to nine) took for days and weeks until the loss of Kunkush is told with complete clarity.  When Kunkush disappears, the story shifts to the particular details of his life.  In some respects the same conditions the cat faced when separated from his humans parallel those they were facing; fear, lack of safety, stranger in an unknown place but also unexpected kindness.

The efforts of those who found Kunkush are extraordinary but as told in this book, so were their reasons for being where they were at the time of his discovery.  Readers feel an immediate connection to this family, their cat and those who helped them all.  Here is a sample passage.

Almost as soon as the overcrowded boat launched, it began taking on water because it was too heavy.  From the shore, people shouted at the passengers to throw their belongings overboard to make the boat lighter, but most refused.  Sura tried to hold Kunkush's carrier above the water, until a wave drenched them all.

Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case through the warmth of selected complementary colors, facial expressions, and body placement the deep and abiding love depicted envelopes the reader.  To the left, on the back, intricate lattice work has been placed in the upper corners in a red.  Beneath this is a photograph of Sura and Kunkush.  It is overlapped in the lower left corner with the illustrator's interpretation of Kunkush peeking from his carrier.

The opening endpapers feature the city at night.  In the window of a home one of the daughters holds Kunkush.  On the closing endpapers readers can view a selection of seven captioned photographs of the family and Kunkush after they are reunited.

Sue Cornelison uses darker but softened hues to capture the essence of this story.  The vibrant red seen on the front of the jacket and case is a unifying color throughout the story.  Alternating between double-page illustrations, single visuals, page edge to page edge or placed within a circular frame on one page or smaller images on a page, she supplies us with a pictorial rhythm found in the journey of this family and their cat.  The faces of the people and the cat mirror real emotion.

One of my favorite illustrations of several is on a single page.  It's a close-up of the people huddled on the overcrowded boat.  A mix of sadness, fear, terror and resolve is etched on all their faces.  This scene, while including Sura, the children and the carrier with Kunkush, is universal.  Behind the seventeen people are the sea and high waves and sky.  

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush's Incredible Journey written by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes with illustrations by Sue Cornelison is an extraordinary story of committed people.  It needs to be on all professional and personal bookshelves as an inspiration and as a testament to the journeys people and their animals make to seek a better life.  At the end is a note from Doug and Amy along with a map of Kunkush's journey.  This is followed by six more photographs of refugee arrivals, the wild cats on the island, Kunkush and Amy.

To learn more about Doug Kuntz and Sue Cornelison please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  A special website is dedicated to this title here.  Kunkush has a Twitter account!  At The Children's Book Review Amy Shrodes talks about My Writing & Reading Life.  This book and its story are featured in articles in The East Hampton Star and MLive Michigan. This title appears on book lists at A Mighty Girl and Brightly.

Please be sure to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected by other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Two Best Friends

When readers connect with characters, for whatever reason, it's a bond which lasts a lifetime.  They will want to read the stories in which these characters find themselves over and over.  Each time they are read it's as if it's the first time but the experience is far richer for those characters have become friends.  This is the huge attraction of sequels, trilogies and books in a series.

If the characters are part of a dynamic duo and happen to be as different as night and day, they become even more attractive to us.  It's the contrast in their personalities which makes for a realistic tension and continual comedy.  In the fourth volume of his highly popular and beloved series Bird & Squirrel On The Run!, Bird & Squirrel On Ice, and Bird & Squirrel On The Edge! author illustrator James Burks delivers more adventure and laughter than ever in Bird & Squirrel On Fire (Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, January 31, 2017).

Today is the happiest day of my life.
I'm almost home.  

Squirrel is thrilled to be nearly back at his tree, his sanctuary from all the craziness he perceives in the outside world.  And to be fair, he and Bird have had their fair share of narrow escapes, all from those wishing to consume them for a main entree.  Bird, on the other wing, believes these escapades to be the very thing which makes life worth living.

Before they arrive a new resident of the forest, Red, a female squirrel, makes an appearance.  She's a chipper and no-nonsense kind of being.  As she jumps away she warns her new acquaintances to be on guard.  There's something evil lurking in the shadows.

Two of their first discoveries, other than Squirrel's home being much too dusty for his sensibilities, are their source of water is bone dry and a beaver, with a wooden block named Castor for a friend, has built a humongous dam.  The next morning Bird, in search of water, is struck by an astounding idea.  They need a party to celebrate their return.  In their zest for delivering the invitations, once Bird convinces Squirrel to host the festivities, two more startling revelations are presented.  Both of them involve the evil something lurking in the shadows.

In what can only be described as death-defying and heart-stopping scenarios, Bird, Squirrel and a fellow forest dweller find themselves barely alive thanks to the bravado of one spunky squirrel named Red.  The nasty rodents have been thwarted but will they return?  Will the party go on?  Is that smoke and flames in the forest?  The roller-coaster ride of action will tug on your emotions, laughter, tears, hardly daring to breathe and cheering...lots of cheering.

With this latest volume James Burks does not disappoint.  The conversational banter between his characters, especially Bird and Squirrel, is stellar.  They have known each other long enough now to be completely honest allowing us to feel the full force of their personalities.  This for readers can be hilarious and profoundly moving.

Amid their adventures, told almost completely in dialogue, Burks delves into more serious life issues.  He explores the definition of home, the value of friendships and sacrifice in several forms.  Here are two sample exchanges.

Come on, those are the things that make life interesting.  One day you will tell your kids all about it.

Oh, no, no kids.  Kids make messes.  And they get sick...all the time.
No, thanks. No kids, not for me.
What was that?

It's nothing.  My bird senses are quiet as a mouse.

In the entire time I've known you, your bird senses have never been right.

That's not true.  What about the time we hit the mountain?  My bird senses were spot-on.

Yeah, after we hit the mountain.

Better late than never.

Hey, I tried to warn you.

Yes, I know.  Now how do we get out of here?

I'm glad you asked.
(long pause)
I have no idea.

What?  You always have some crazy idea.

I've got nothing.

What do you think they're going to do to us?

I'm just spitballing here, but I'd say, based on the bones...
...they're going to eat us.

The cadence James Burks creates with his words is magnified in his illustrations.  It's like we are in the middle of Saturday morning cartoons.  Everything on his pages leaps from those very pages and surrounds us in a colorful collage of sensory perceptions.  You know from looking at the front of the book case (My copy is a paperback.) these two best friends are in the thick of the action and they are off to save the day.  The dastardly eyes looking from darkness lend an extra bit of tension to this scene.  We know things are going to be heated in this volume.  The text is on fire!

The first large image, across two pages, contains the first two lines.  It spans to the left giving a canvas for the publication information.  For many of his pages Burks divides a single page into thirds.  Within each horizontal third there might be a one, two or three illustrations.  With that being said he is not afraid to have elements expand outside a panel or change the shape of a panel to fit the action as when Bird is diving in flight. His framing is with black lines and rounded corners.

In some of his more expressive scenes he breaks this technique giving readers a double-page picture with smaller images placed in a corner.  His sound effects and verbal exclamations are outside speech bubbles adding to their emphasis.  In a word, his facial expressions are fabulous.  You will find yourself laughing over and over again; even when reading this a second time.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is after Squirrel has cleaned his home from top to bottom wearing gloves and a mask and Bird returns to tell him their river is dry.  Bird tromps into Squirrel's house spreading dirt everywhere.  Squirrel is nearly incoherent. When it finally dawns on Bird what he has done, he apologizes and swishes the dirt under the rug.  The look on Squirrel's face is priceless.

Readers are going to be gleefully glad to get this book and read it.  Bird & Squirrel On Fire written and illustrated by James Burks is outstanding in words and art.  It's one of my favorite graphic novel series.  There has never been a greater need for laughter and this book delivers it wonderfully.  I would plan on having multiple copies on your professional shelves.  You will want to have one for home too.

To learn more about James Burks and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Make sure you enjoy the videos he has posted on YouTube.  You are going to love this collection of favorite scenes in a Twitter takeover to announce the release of Bird & Squirrel On Fire. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Through The Book Return

To be sure most of my best memories of libraries under my care are those days when they were filled with children wandering the shelves, small groups gathered together quietly laughing over a book, a single child silently reading in a cozy corner or others seeking answers by connecting virtually with factual research.  When we gathered for story times, collectively experiencing an array of emotions and discussing all manner of topics, bonds with books were formed.  As wonderful as all those remembrances are, the evenings, weekends and vacations when I walked through those doors into complete silence, shelves filled with books lining the walls, are an entirely different experience.

For me there is no other way to explain it other than a combination of joy and reverence.  This place which holds thousands of stories, from information and from imaginations, collected over generations and housed in a single location, to this day, still amazes me.  Bunny's Book Club (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, February 7, 2017) written by Annie Silvestro with illustrations by Tatjana Mai-Wyss is a story which replicates that joy and reverence every single time you hold the book in your hands and read the words.

Bunny loved books.

This love grew from listening to stories being read to children from books at the library.  During warmer weather the woman with the red glasses held story time outside but now it was colder.  There were no animals inside the library.  Bunny had to have books.  Bunny had to read.  Bunny needed a plan.

Late one night he left his snug home with a flashlight.  Every possible opening on the outside of the library was locked up tight.  Then Bunny noticed the book return.

For a rabbit wanting to read, a book return was no challenge at all.  He was so hoppy when he got inside.  Soon he had a stack ready to borrow and take to his burrow.  Bunny became a nighttime patron of the pages.

His absence was noted and a curious friend came knocking.  Bunny did what any lover of books would do.  He shared his secret.  It was passed from one animal to the next until one night a woman in red glasses changed everything.

Debut picture book author Annie Silvestro reaches out to readers with her first sentence sending an alliterative melody by using bunny and books.  She continues by telling us how this affection is formed, the problem Bunny encounters and his solution through the voice of a narrator.  When first one and then more animal characters appear, conversations are included, welcoming readers more personally into the story.

Her descriptive words draw readers into the thoughts and actions of Bunny and company.  The transformation of getting caught up in a story, the sense of victory when a hurdle is cleared and the deep sense of satisfaction in spreading good fortune among companions are portrayed by Silvestro wonderfully.  We can't help but become attached to these forest friends and their shared fondness for books and reading. Here is a sample passage.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" said Porcupine.
"Calm your quills," said Bunny.
"I'm too prickly---I'll never fit!"

Bunny pushed and shoved until...
POP went Porcupine.
Bunny slipped in and flipped on his flashlight. 

One word immediately comes to mind when looking at the front of the dust jacket, adorable.  Look at all those woodland creatures actively reading together!  The delicate details, the tiny daisies, the little mushroom and the decorative pennants add to the charm as does the title placed on a banner tied to the tree.  (I am using an F & G.)  To the left on the back on a canvas of light spring green Bunny is heading home after a trip to the library, his flashlight creating a beam of light as he balances books on his head.  Above this circular image are the words

When you open 
a book,
you discover
a world...

The opening and closing endpapers in shades of light brown are a pattern of circular-like shapes formed by decorative scrolls.  On the outside of these are acorns, oak leaves and mushrooms.  On the inside are the characters in a variety of poses reading books.  On the first set of endpapers something extra has been added which is utterly delightful.  For many it's a reminder of falling in love with books and libraries.  For others it will prompt lovely discussions.

Each illustration, regardless of the size, asks readers to pause, looking at every single element.  The quality of the technique employed by Tatjana Mai-Wyss makes you want to reach out and touch the page.  It's a mixture of fine and firm lines and soft colors and more prominent shades.

To show Bunny's thoughts she inserts smaller pictures within a large illustration or includes them above a visual.  His movements are truly like those of a rabbit in the wild; a cluster of images, up and down, left and right, on two pages.  His home is as comfortable as a cottage with over-stuffed furniture, old-fashioned lamps and hanging light bulbs, checked curtains and a stone fireplace.

One of my many favorite illustrations spreads over two pages.  It's a large overview of the front of the library at night.  Trees and bushes frame the back, left and right.  Bunny is carrying his small red flashlight.  To show how he checks for any possible opening seven circles, tied together with a trail of dots, show him looking in every nook and cranny.

Bunny's Book Club written by Annie Silvestro with illustrations by Tatjana Mai-Wyss certainly belongs in the huggable category.  It honors the wonder of reading, books and libraries through the endearing tale of Bunny and his friends.  It conveys how the determination of one can spread enormous and lasting happiness to others.  You must have this on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Annie Silvestro and Tatjana Mai-Wyss and their other work, visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Annie and Tatjana are on Twitter @anniesilvestro and @mai_wyss  They are also on Instagram @anniesilvestro and @tatjanamaiwyss  Tatjana is on Facebook.  You can view interior portions of the book at the publisher's website.  Annie is interviewed at Picture Books Help Kids Soar and at Karlin Gray's website.  Annie stops by Author Darlene Beck-Jacobson's website to chat about libraries.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

You Look, You See, What Can It Be?

a collapsible shade for protection against weather consisting of
fabric stretched over hinged ribs radiating from a central pole;
especially: a small one for carrying

For most people an umbrella is exactly as defined and written by the authoritative folks at Merriam-Webster.  For others in addition to the more practical uses, it is a fashion statement, a piece of wearable art, a proclamation of one's lifelong pursuits or a declaration of one's viewpoint on a specific issue.  An umbrella may be a solid color on the outside but colorful on the inside for the bearer.  Some have a Monopoly board along the edges; others are shaped like large leaves found in a rainforest.  

For those with the gift of imagining, umbrellas can be a little bit more.  The Green Umbrella (NorthSouth Books, Inc., February 1, 2017), by author Jackie Azua Kramer and illustrator Maral Sassouni, takes us into the realm of marvelous maybe.  This debut picture book for these collaborators encourages readers to challenge what they know.  Like all good stories it asks them what if?

One rainy day an Elephant was taking a walk with his green umbrella.

Clearly enjoying his walk, the Elephant was surprised to be stopped by a Hedgehog.  This Hedgehog accused him of having his boat.  A BOAT?  Without a doubt, Hedgehog perceives the umbrella as a boat describing in great detail his adventures in THAT boat.

The Elephant did not know what to make of this but nevertheless invited the Hedgehog to join him under the umbrella.  In no time at all a Cat stops the twosome making another equally strange claim.  He too relates how the umbrella served him in another capacity as he roamed the woods and stopped for a cup of tea.

Now there are three creatures under the Elephant's green umbrella.  As they walk along they are approached by the Bear whose claims are unbelievable.  The leap from umbrella to flying machine is extraordinary.  To further justify his ownership the Elephant relates all the things the umbrella has been and done for him.  It simply could not belong to anyone else but his justifications do seem to prove a point.

The Elephant begins to walk away when it stops raining.  As the Hedgehog, the Cat and the Bear start to protest up walks an old Rabbit.  An extended but familiar scenario is presented.  As is his custom Elephant offers an answer but this time another voice becomes part of the chorus.  This makes all the difference.

In a rhythm as old as time, Jackie Azua Kramer spins a tale drawing all readers into the woven tapestry with her words.  Not once but three times the Elephant is challenged in his belief but his response is one of kindness.  After the third time the cadence shifts, then is repeated with a fourth encounter.  As the final threads finish the entire scene the Elephant's generosity becomes part of a new adventure for strangers who are now forever friends.

The mix of dialogue and some narrative offers readers a chance to participate in the story.  Repetition of key phrases supplies an ebb and flow.  The explanations of all the animals are vivid and lyrical.  Even though an article precedes each of their names, by capitalizing the first letter they become very significant characters.  Here is a sample passage.

"I crossed the deep oceans on my boat and faced the crash of icy waves.  I saw dolphins leap two by two and tasted the salty spray of whales.  The stars were my guide and my boat a faithful friend," said the Hedgehog.  

Rendered in a mix of painting and cut paper collage all of the illustrations by Maral Sassouni beginning with the dust jacket (I am working with an F & G.) are whimsical and utterly charming.  Her landscapes even in the rain are welcoming.  When you first see the front of the dust jacket, the colorful elephant carrying the green umbrella literally sings out to readers.  (Is anyone thinking of Singin' In The Rain?)  As our eyes drift left to the back, a group of friendly mice wearing raincoats and boots and carrying umbrellas are sure to elicit smiles.

The opening and closing endpapers are an extension of the dust jacket.  The Elephant is now walking over a rolling hill.  He is accompanied by a village of mice wearing raincoats, jackets, scarves, boots and carrying umbrellas.  They are joined by a small bird in similar attire.  One smaller mouse is leaping with joy.  The Elephant is placed under the text on the title page carrying an unopened umbrella.  To the left on the verso is a container filled with unopened umbrellas.

Each page turn reveals either a two page picture, single page visual or a circular image placed on a single page in white.  These shifts in size compliment the narrative superbly.  When the Elephant and the old Rabbit expand on the theme, Maral alters her style giving the one a sepia-toned color palette with spot color and the other a more vibrant depiction looking like places on a map of life.  The inclusion of extra details, the arc of lines, the smiling faces of the characters and open positions of body placements convey an exuberant outlook by the characters.  The pictures when each animal is speaking of their name for the umbrella are so inviting you want to step right into the page.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the Cat explaining the importance and use of the green umbrella.  A tranquil forest is the stopping place of the Cat.  She is seated on the right on a log with a Raccoon.  They are enjoying sweet treats and cups of tea.  To the left the umbrella stands opened over a cozy bed and a rock holding a lantern.  An open book is placed nearby.  Red birds, small red-capped mushrooms and leafy plants frame the duo.  Strung between trees are two rows of pennants.

Sharing The Green Umbrella written by Jackie Azua Kramer with pictures by Maral Sassouni with readers and listeners is sure to generate a cheery connection.  This story will inspire others to think of possible uses for umbrellas pointing out the value in everyone's viewpoint.  The next time it rains be sure to take an umbrella.  You never know who you will meet and what stories they will have to tell you.

To discover more about Jackie Azua Kramer and Maral Sassouni and their work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Yesterday they graciously answered a series of questions about this title and a little bit about themselves in a blog post found here.  Maral includes many pictures of her process.  At a publisher's website you can view several interior images.  John Schumacher, Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, reveals the book trailer on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Be sure to read the posts by other bloggers participating in this blog tour.