Quote of the Month

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




Tuesday, February 28, 2017

It Couldn't Be Better

You wake up realizing you got a full night's rest for the first time in weeks.  As you step outside your car shortly after sunrise to walk in the park with your canine companion, there's not a whiff of a breeze.  The sun, beaming from a crystal blue sky, is warming the frost-tipped leaves on the ground.  Canadian geese are honking in the distance as a mallard and his mate float down the river on a swift current.

About a quarter mile into your walk you round a corner at the bottom of a hill.  Standing in the road ahead is a young doe.  She curiously watches you coax your stubborn puppy with treats.  Your dog has no idea the deer is present and sits without moving.  You can hardly keep from laughing out loud.

This day, while still young, has all the beginnings of being perfect.  Is it a combination of things or a single thing which makes a day perfect for you?  Accomplished author illustrator Lane Smith delivers perfection with a twist in his newest title, A Perfect Day (Roaring Brook Press, February 14, 2017).

The warmth of the sun...
felt good on Cat's back.

The daffodils were blooming in the garden where Cat lounged.  This cat enjoyed the heat, the fragrance and the comfort of being in her private outdoor parlor.  Dog had other ideas.

His human, Bert, knew exactly what made him happiest.  Keeping cool was achieved by sitting in a kiddie pool filled with water. Bert was keeping busy today.

He made Chickadee sing out a song.  Although Chickadee sent out no invitation Squirrel tried to partake of her treat but a clever contraption foiled the attempts.  A cob of corn was kindly dropped for the creature.  All was well in Bert's backyard.

Wait a minute!  What's a bear doing there?  Each animal wild and domestic skedaddled for shelter as the rambling bulk barged from one previously blissful spot to the next.  The perception of perfection has shifted.


A gentle rhythm is established with the introduction of each element, sun, water, birdseed and corncob, followed by an appreciative animal.  Lane Smith elaborates on the reason they find these simple pleasures so comforting with one, two or four short sentences.  These sentences are a reflection of the personality of each animal.

Each portion is closed with the same sentence except for the final word.  When Bear enters it is a change in the inflection of the same single verb which alters the entire tone of the story.  This supplies pure, perfect...yes perfect...pacing and humor.


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, the texture of the elements in the image which extends front to back, right to left, and the body posture of the bear with eyes closed and nose extended to the flower, present a sense of total bliss.  At this point readers have no indication as to the events leading to this vision of a perfect day.  These muted, earth-tone colors are used throughout the title by Lane Smith. The opening and closing endpapers are a rich, golden yellow.

Heavy, matte-finished paper provides a most excellent surface for the mixed-media artwork; a blend of loose black lines, hues and painting techniques inviting you to reach out and touch the pages.  Smith alters his picture sizes, extending some page edge to page edge across two pages, and others one and a half pages, leaving a column of white (cream) space on the left for balance and the introduction of the repeating text.

This allows for further impact when Bear is introduced.  As he steps from the left into the wordless illustration we know a HUGE change is happening.  All the remaining images with Bear are two-page pictures.  These in turn create the masterful opportunity for the final page visual.  It's like the close of a movie when the outside fades to focus on a circular scene.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is of Bear in the garden.  The background is a colorful array of flowers.  In the lower, right-hand corner we get a glimpse of Cat scampering out of the way.  Bear is on his back, all four arms spread out at his sides.  They are moving as if he is making a "snow angel".


Have you decided yet what makes a day perfect for you?  You might even define it differently depending on circumstances from the past, present or even an imagined future.  After reading A Perfect Day written and illustrated by Lane Smith you will most certainly agree a day can turn completely around with the unexpected presence of an unwelcome being.  A bear can have that effect.  Of course, if you are the bear the day might be the best one yet.  Be sure to share this book with everyone you can, as often as you can.  It's wonderful!

To learn more about Lane Smith and his other work, please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and blog.  The blog is old but contains some earlier illustrations.  To see several interior images from this book please go to the publisher's website.  There is also a fun-filled activity kit.

Monday, February 27, 2017

You Are...

In the capacity as a teacher librarian you are in the unique position to be acquainted with every single student in your building.  Depending on the level of the building you will usually spend between three to five years learning and teaching each one.  You are fortunate to be present as they grow into remarkable individuals.  Their honesty is heartwarming, heartbreaking and hopeful.

You have the opportunity in your space to offer all of them an atmosphere where information and imagination are limitless.  They will come to understand the meaning and value of respect and acceptance.  All are equally welcome.  Not Quite NARWHAL (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, February 14, 2017) debut book written and illustrated by Jessie Sima is about discovery in many forms.

Kelp was born deep in the ocean.

From the beginning Kelp understood he was not quite like the other narwhals.  His physical features, what he liked to eat and his swimming abilities were far from similar to his friends' traits, tastes and dives, but they liked him regardless of these differences.  It was easier to love yourself when others loved you.

One day a current stronger than any other Kelp had encountered carried him away from his home.  He ended up so close to land he saw a being on a cliff.  To his surprise it was like looking in a mirror.

Kelp could hardly wait to see this creature so he swam toward the land...slowly.  Walking for the first time on sand was no easy task.  From the beach, he reached the forest.  From the forest he entered a clearing filled with rainbows and ...unicorns.  Kelp wasn't a narwhal.  He was a unicorn!

Time spent with the other unicorns was glorious but he missed the sea and his other companions.  Upon returning home, Kelp was astonished by the narwhals' actions and words.  He believed he had to make a decision.  It seemed impossible but friendship can create potential for new opportunities.


Each reader can identify immediately with Kelp as his differences are pointed out to us by author Jessie Sima.  Who hasn't felt like an outsider?  At the same time she quickly reveals how he is made to feel a part of the narwhal community.  This will ask readers to think how they are made to feel in similar situations or how they make others welcome (or not).  All this is told to us in an easy to understand narrative, simply stated but genuinely sincere.

As the story continues she allows us to become more connected to Kelp sharing his inner thoughts and by adding in dialogue.  Sima's repetition of three nearly identical phrases in a single sentence ties his experiences on land and his life under the sea together splendidly.  Here are a couple of sample sentences.

When he finally reached the shore,
Kelp felt a little bit anxious---he had never left the ocean.

He was nervous about walking for the first time,
but the land creatures made it look so easy!


Readers will enjoy running their hands over the sparkly raised title text and the stars and dots in the faint rainbow beams of light on the front of the dust jacket.  The tiny red, orange and green fish are a delicate and cheerful contrast to a smiling Kelp.  To the left, on the back, those same contrasting colors are used in butterflies, flowers and grass as Kelp runs over land with rainbow glows spotlighting his fun.  On the book case rows of solid color Kelp images in vivid lavender, blue, green, orange, red and pink create a pattern with Kelp finding a spot once on the front and on the back.

On the opening endpapers Kelp, kicking up his hooves in happiness, is framed in a seaweed oval among fish, butterflies, flowers and seaweed using several hues of teal.  On the closing endpapers shades of green are used with the same elements but one change is added within the oval frame.  It's a final act of hilarity in this story.

Rendered in Adobe Photoshop Jessie Sima brings her own special style to all the illustrations; some spanning two pages, single pages or several images on one page.  Her depictions of Kelp, the other narwhals and the unicorns are adorable.  Their facial features and characteristics will have readers smiling right along with them.  What's not to love about Kelp wearing the clear helmet?  Careful viewers will note the swimmies worn by Kelp, the unicorn playing a guitar, the crab waving goodbye and all the wonderful details in the final two page image.

One of my favorite illustrations is a night scene.  Kelp's head is out of the water when he realizes his nearness to land.  A full moon is supplying a path on the water's surface.  A tall, tall cliff rises above the sandy beach and forest.  Standing on top, silhouetted against the moon, is a unicorn.  Sparkles surround him.


This book, Not Quite NARWHAL, written and illustrated by Jessie Sima allows readers to identify with the main character but also to place themselves in the position of the narwhals and unicorns.  It's a marvelous portrait of finding yourself and being welcomed wherever you go.  I can't imagine a professional or personal bookshelf without at least one copy (or more). This will be popular with many readers.

To learn more about Jessie Sima please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and Tumblr account.  To see some interior images please visit the publisher's website.  There is an entire website dedicated to this title.  The cover premiere and an interview as well as an All The Wonders, Episode 326 podcast with teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner are found at All The Wonders. Jessie Sima has a Not Quiet NARWHAL Pinterest board.  Jessie Sima is a guest author at the Nerdy Book Club.  Jessie Sima and Kelp have Twitter accounts. @JessieSima @notquitenarwhal




Saturday, February 25, 2017

Family...All Of Us

Every day a signal is given; a call to action.  You may not be aware but you can and need to adjust your perceptions.  It might be in the song of a black-capped chickadee, the tracks of a white-tailed deer encased in mud or a footfall crackling leaves and twigs in the underbrush.  No matter where humans call home, it is shared by a multitude of beings in the animal kingdom.  We should recognize them, realizing without our help their numbers will continue to diminish.  Every one lost makes this world, our planet, less than it was.

We are connected to all of them as members of a huge collective family.  Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World In Poetry And Pictures (National Geographic, February 14, 2017) photographs by Joel Sartore and words by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess and Deanna Nikaido is a moving and memorable tribute to our animal companions.  It is a collaborative labor of love.

chorus of creatures
singing our names
see what we can save---together

Through the selected words, like Mother Nature's heartbeat, we are asked to look into the soul of her children through their eyes, in the color of their feathers or how they move.  We are asked to appreciate their homes, fixed or mobile.  We are asked to understand their cleverness in surviving.

Sometimes the noise they make is loud like Asian elephants walking or so quiet as to be nearly silent like an Andrew beach mouse running.  Animals can dance and sing, fly like a superhero or be as still as stone. They can be beautiful and deadly to prey and humans or simply, uniquely beautiful.

Their stunning hues shimmer in the sea or glisten on land sometimes changing for protection.  Wolves howl alone or in a chorus.  Have you heard them?

The animal babies born are a sign of hope and a chance to do what is right.  After they grow we can see their more than one hundred feet or the warning tattoos of red like on the Southern black widow spider or their roar like the critically endangered Malayan tiger.  We need them all.  They all, every single one, need us.


Whether read silently or aloud the words penned by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess and Deanna Nikaido resonate, speaking directly to our conscience and our sensory impressions.  Each line, each poem, creates a thoughtful link with the featured creature.  The cadence supplied using Japanese haiku focuses our attention on the singular characteristics of each one.  Here is another poem above a row of Ploughshare tortoises.

homes of courage
on humble backs
this is not a race


Throughout this title photographer Joel Sartore uses a crisp white or velvet black background to showcase the animals.  In his own words he states:

In Photo Ark every creature is equal.  I use simple black and white backgrounds, which make all animals appear to be the same size, no matter how large or small they might be in the wild.

Who can resist the facial expression of the brown-throated sloth on the front of the dust jacket with the Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly dotting the i?  To the left, on the back, an equally-happy appearing chimpanzee is shown.  On the book case front a red celestial eye goldfish is looking right at readers while on the back a quokka looks like he is laughing. The opening and closing endpapers share the same shade as the text Ark.

Alternating between black on the first seven pages and white on the next four pages Sartore first showcases a cream-spotted tigerwing butterfly chrysalis and Gulf fritillary butterfly on the title page followed by a two-page gatefold highlighting twenty-nine animals opposite the opening lines of poetry.  When that gatefold is closed we are privy to eight stunning butterflies.  Each animal is given a single page or two showing us their entire body or a significant portion in the remainder of the book.

In the center is a four-page gatefold presenting thirty-three animals group on the two outer pages with a melodious lengthier poem on the inner two pages.  These collages of animal portraits, as are all the pictures, are stunning.  The closing of this gatefold reveals two resting blue waxbills.  To see them in the wild would be unforgettable.

One of my favorite of many photographs is of the waxy monkey frog.  Sartore has captured this frog in mid leap or ready to leap with the right rear leg raised.  You wouldn't know it to look at this picture but they only grow to be two to three inches long.  He brings us close enough to see the spread toes, spots on the belly and intricate details in the eyes.


All the creators desire to have readers notice these animals in a new light, bringing us close to their importance in the grand scheme of life on this planet.  Joel Sartore and Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess and Deanna Nikaido have accomplished this mission in Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World In Poetry And Pictures.  At the close of the title a page is dedicated to A Note From the Photographer and A Note From the Writer.  A small captioned box within this second note speaks about haiku.  A final gatefold names all the animals shown on the dust jacket, book case, flap and interior pages other than those named in previous gatefolds.

To learn more about Joel Sartore, Kwame Alexander, Mary Rand Hess and Deanna Nikaido and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  At a publisher's website you can view some interior pages.  A page at National Geographic Kids with links and videos is dedicated to the Animal Ark project and this book.  Enjoy Kwame Alexander reading the long poem taken from the center of the book.


Animal Ark: Celebrating our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures from cosproductions on Vimeo.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

It's All In The Wand

In those homes receiving the daily newspaper in print or online, one of the most widely read sections is still the comics.  The popularity of individual comic books has continued to rise in the last five years.  Matching the popularity of comic books is graphic novels.  It's nearly impossible to keep these titles on the shelves in our school and classroom libraries even with multiple copies.

Three cartoonists worked together to create Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Your Doodles Into Comics (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, April 9, 2009).  This title was followed by Adventures in Cartooning: Christmas Special! (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, September 18, 2012), and Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, October 8, 2013).  All three books have enjoyed places on professional and state award lists.

In 2015 the cartoonists, James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost released the first in a series of books focusing on the Knight and her faithful horse, Edward.  The first, Sleepless Knight (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, April 7, 2015), follows the dynamic twosome on an eventful camping trip.  As you might guess, not everything goes according to plan.

This will be the BEST camping trip EVER!

With nothing left behind in the packing, especially her Teddy, the hopeful Knight leads an overloaded Edward across the drawbridge toward a new and exciting escapade.  After what appears to be a long and arduous trek, they stop for the night to make camp...still in sight of the castle.  A crackling fire and an overindulgence of marshmallows set the stage for a restful night for the Knight and Edward, who is passed out from pure pleasure.

To her dismay the Knight can't find Teddy.  She unintentionally awakens not one but two woodland creatures.  Heading back to her tent and Edward a discovery is made which changes the entire evening for the Knight, Edward and the two woodland creatures.  Pass the marshmallows, please.


Gryphons Aren't So Great (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, September 8, 2015), the second volume, draws our attention to the Knight's deep desire to fly.  In fact when the story opens she and Edward are defying the odds by jumping off a cliff.  When they land safely in water, she and Edward catch sight of something they should not be seeing.

Faster, Edward! FASTER!
We're flying! YEE-HAW!

A gryphon has left the mountain heights to soar near the castle.  Edward tries and fails to protect the Knight but she is able to calm the strong beast.  In no time at all the Knight is flying on the back of the gryphon promising to return soon.  Edward can't follow her, so he waits and waits and waits.  After darkness falls and the stars are shining a voice calls out to Edward.  This being makes an offer Edward can't refuse.

In the morning the Knight awakens to see the gryphon is waiting for her on the ramparts.  They take off climbing higher and faster.  Yikes!  They might be too high!  Another form comes into view.  The Knight is in serious peril.  How can Edward possibly help her?  Horses can't fly.


A game of fetch with Edward is interrupted by loud rumbling.  It can't possibly be thunder because the sky is blue with fluffy white clouds.  When the Knight looks in the same direction as Edward, she gets a shock. Ogres Awake! (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, July 12, 2016), the third title, takes a tantalizing turn.
John Schumacher, Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, revealed this cover on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.


C'mon, Edward!
Bring it back!!
LET'S GO!
CHOP
CHOP!!!  

Not one, not two, not three and not four but five giant ogres are sleeping in front of the Knight's tower castle.  Lickety-split she and Edward ride to warn the King of the danger to the kingdom.  Strangely enough the King would rather read a comic than heed her warnings because he has a plan in place.  Her help is needed to make this plan succeed.

As each step of the strategy is revealed the Knight is more and more puzzled.  Her weapon of choice, her sword, is exchanged for another implement.  It is not until the final moment amid shouts of

For KING!
For COUNTRY!

as the ogres are crashing into the castle, that readers along with the Knight, will understand.  Does anyone have another spoon?


On January 24, 2017 the fourth book, Hocus Focus (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press) was released.  Like the previous three books, the Knight and her loyal steed, Edward find themselves in a situation unlike any of the other predicaments.  Impatience nearly destroys everything.

Wizard! I'm ALWAYS stuck peeling vegetables!
You promised you would teach me MAGIC!

Well, this magic potion requires peeled turnips to be added slowly over three days...
It's all about the turnips...

The wizard leaves fully expecting the Knight to peel all the turnips.  She has other ideas.  Sneaking into the wizard's study she discovers all sorts of amazing ingredients, a book, Transformations for All Occasions, and the wizard's wand.  Taking the wand and book, she and Edward set off to concoct a spell of giant proportions.

Still as impatient as ever the Knight does not follow the instructions of the spell as she should.

Let's just DOUBLE the recipe...
This way, we don't have to cook it for so long.

As she reads from the book, Edward is following the directions until a worst case scenario happens.  The words and wand in the incapable hands of the Knight backfire in a HUGE way.  Bunny slippers are lost but a wand is found.  There might be a lot of puke involved...and of course, turnips.


The short sentences liberally laced with humor guaranteed to generate laughter make this most recent book and the three earlier ones perfect for the youngest readers.  Sound effects and one or two word exclamations add to the attraction.  The contrast in the non-speaking Edward and the talkative Knight heightens the hilarity.  The final words by the Knight are the crowning comedic touch.  Here is another conversation.

DIRTY DIAPERS! 
It's easy to do magic when you have a magic wand!
C'mon Edward! If the wizard won't teach us magic, then we'll
just have to figure it out for ourselves!


Drawn and colored in Adobe Photoshop using a Wacom tablet, with text hand-lettered on Vellum paper using Staedtler pigment liner pens, the images throughout are fully animated in a bright full color palette.  Readers will enjoy looking at the tiny details throughout the book like those seen on the front of the book case; gems, a skull, a red feather, lab vessels, black cats and of course, the worm and the wand.  On the opening endpapers step-by-step directions for drawing the Knight on the left and Edward on the right are given.  (This is in all four books.) Each of them is shown in a variety of moods and activities.  The Knight is doing the Boogie Woogie and playing a tuba.  Edward is floating in a ducky inner tube in the water sipping a drink and he is also a space explorer.  In the three previous books, how to draw the new characters is shown on the closing endpapers.  In this latest book eight mix and match bodies are revealed.  These are sure to produce plenty of giggles and grins.

The panels in this title are two or three to a page.  Sometimes one panel will cover an entire page. For most of the pages it will be two vertical illustrations or two squares over or under a vertical picture.  All of them are outlined in a black line.  The speech bubbles blend very well into each panel.  Bold text and punctuation creates the narrative's pacing.

We never seen the Knight's face as her helmet is always down but her body positions combined with her voice leave no doubt as to her emotional state.  Edward's facial expressions are funny with a capital F.  His body shape, on the chubby side, is a constant and highly chucklesome element.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when the Knight and Edward are pouring more ingredients into the cauldron to double the recipe.  The ground is littered with empty bottles and cartons.  A small fire burns under the pot.  Pink goo is running over the side as purple smoke rises into the air.  At this point you know something is about to happen.


Hocus Focus written and illustrated by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost is another rollicking romp with two forever friends, the Knight and her horse, Edward.  It's fascinating to see the interplay of this duo as they survive their adventures.  Hand this (these) book(s) to anyone who loves a good story, enjoys cartooning and is a fan of graphic novels.

You can learn more about James Sturm and Alexis Frederick-Frost and their other work by following the links attached to their names.  For more information about each of the previous books please follow the links attached to the titles.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior pages for this fourth book. The exclusive cover reveal is here.  James Sturm is interviewed at Comics Alliance about the Adventures in Cartooning books.  All three creators take part in a discussion at Paste.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

In Common

Throughout history during times of war heroism can assume different forms.  Some acts are so small they are swallowed up by time only known by a select few.  We are indeed fortunate when individuals are able to document those moments so decades later they can be remembered.  Other incidents are on a much grander scale.  Even these can be lost in the larger surrounding events.

During the American Civil War a fierce battle at Fredericksburg, Virginia was fought during the month of December 1862.  Soldier Song: A True Story Of The Civil War (Disney Hyperion, February 7, 2017) written by Debbie Levy with illustrations by Gilbert Ford focuses on happenings after the battle.  This story reveals the greatest truth held in the hearts gathered at Fredericksburg.

DECEMBER 
1862
THE CIVIL WAR, America's great and terrible conflict between North and South, was in its second winter.

It was the desire of President Lincoln, before the effective date of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, to have a big win over the Confederacy.  Floating bridges were built by the Union troops to cross the Rappahannock River to take control of Fredericksburg.  After three days the losses on both sides were steep but higher for the Federals.  After dark on the fourth day they carefully and quietly retreated.

You might think with the win by the Confederates and the loss of the Union army, they would go their separate ways but that is not what happened.  Both forces planned to and did stay.  One thing both camps shared was the combinations of bugle, fife and drum to dictate the daily rituals of the soldiers.  Also as December 25, 1862 approached the same thing was on all the men's minds---home and family.

When the demands of life as a soldier were completed the men engaged in all kinds of activities like writing letters, telling stories and using those bugles, fifes and drums to play familiar songs.  Voices floated over the water from both sides of the river.  A kind of back and forth of singing and playing of the bands evolved.  One late afternoon as the day drew to a close the bands began as they always did, playing the patriotic tunes their men wanted to hear.  After several songs something extraordinary happened.

A familiar melody began on one side.  It was answered with a continuation of the notes from the other side.  Soon the bands were playing the same song together...for the very first time.  The men, Union and Confederate soldiers, stood and listened in silence.  For at least thirty minutes after the song ended, the men declared their deepest feelings.

Eventually an order was issued stating this particular song not be played.  We all know, once heard and hearts once stirred, a song will not vanish.  Music and words are a powerful combination.


This narrative is bookended with an explanation of the situation prior to the event and at the end of the Civil War, June 1865.  Author Debbie Levy begins each of these with a simple declarative sentence which allows her to elaborate in a clear, conversational style.  Between these two single pages, her sentences shift to a more personal level as the story unfolds.

Vivid descriptions take us into the action.  The inclusion of letters written by Union and Confederate soldiers connects us more deeply to these men.  Levy adds a natural phenomenon occurring at the end of the third day supported by another letter further bringing the past to the present for readers.  After the battle she continues to relate the day to day conditions and activities in both camps.  These coupled with the explanation of the musicians' songs build toward the unprecedented occurrence.  Here are two sample passages.

Those who weren't injured set up camp.  On cold nights, they felt the frozen ground beneath their bedrolls.  On warmer days, they wallowed in mud as the earth thawed underfoot.
The two armies---thousands and thousands and thousands of soldiers---dug in for the winter across the ribbon of water from each other.
Neither side was leaving.

Besides the singing, the music of brass bands also soared across the water.  The buzz of cornets pierced the air.  Velvety notes from deep-throated horns spread like soft blankets.  The rattle of side drums kept time.


The colors on the opened dust jacket, deep midnight blue, sky blue, red, orange, blue, white and black, are used throughout the book in various hues with shades of green, pink and purple to create stunning images with every page turn.  The illustration on the front of the soldier sounding his horn with the battle on the right extends over the spine to the left, the back.  Four more musicians are playing their instruments in a line behind the first man.

The book case is a red orange color with a wide sky blue spine.  Embossed on the front is a horn with a swirl of notes supplying a circular frame for a Confederate hat and a Union hat.  Purple covers the opening and closing endpapers.

The title page resembles a piece of music with treble and bass staffs in the corners.  The title text ribbons over a battle scene at Fredericksburg.  Gilbert Ford follows this with a bird's eye view of the troops on either side of the river in a two-page picture.  Another view, much closer to the river, provides an illustration for the verso and dedication pages.

Most of the images, appearing like block printing, span two pages.  The soldiers' letters are placed within some of them.  A single-page picture might be opposite a group of smaller visuals.  He alters his perspective sometimes within a single illustration; Union troops crossing the floating bridges with a horn player close to the reader on the left.  Depictions of the battle and camps are realistic age-appropriate representations.  The layered circular swirls Ford uses to portray music are marvelous.  In fact the words to some of the songs and the musical lines with notes look like they are hand drawn. This contrast between the battle and camps and the music is skillfully represented.

One of my favorite illustrations is spread across two pages.  Again it is a bird's eye view of the river and camps on either side.  We are a bit closer; able to see the details in the town's buildings, the tents and the flags flying in each camp.  This stretches from the upper left-hand side to the lower right-hand side.  In the upper right-hand corner and the lower left-hand corner light rays extend to the central scene.  On both sides orange swirls filled with lines of music and notes are lifting over and back and upward.


This story is the type of nonfiction narrative readers need to read.  Soldier Song: A True Story Of The Civil War written by Debbie Levy with illustrations by Gilbert Ford takes a glorious event amid the tragedy of war reminding us of common threads we share in the fabric of humanity.  This is an outstanding nonfiction picture book.  I highly recommend it for your professional and personal book shelves.  At the close of the book two pages are dedicated to The Civil War And The Battle Of Fredericksburg.  Two pages are given to the words and music of the song with a bit of the history about the song, places to access the song and other songs mentioned in the book.  There is a Time Line Of The Civil War and a Selected Bibliography with primary and secondary sources as well as further reading for young people.  Quotation sources are provided also.

To understand more about Debbie Levy and Gilbert Ford and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Interior images can be viewed at Ford's website.  Gilbert Ford is showcased at The Children's Book Review and Emu's Debuts.  The publisher provides an extensive teacher's guide.

UPDATE:  Debbie Levy writes a guest post for the Nerdy Book Club, We Have Our Reasons, an explanation of why she wrote this book.


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


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Toe-Tapping Tunes And Tales

Children know a good story when they hear one.  Even if they have never personally experienced the same situations as the characters, they will have empathy for those individuals in a well-told tale.  This story connects to them intimately and emotionally through laughter, tears, fears, and hope.  If the tale is connected to music, it will remain in their minds and hearts far after the final word.

The Okee Dokee Brothers, Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing, have known each other for most of their lives.  Combining their love of travel and music they won a Grammy for the Best Children's Album of the Year 2013 for Can You Canoe? after taking a month-long canoe trip down the Mississippi River in 2011.  In 2013 they walked the Appalachian Trail for a month and in 2015 the duo set out across the West, horse-packing along the Continental Divide for four weeks.  From those two trips they were nominated for Grammy awards for Through The Woods and Saddle Up. 

On May 17, 2016 their first book, Can You Canoe? And Other Adventure Songs (Sterling Children's Books) with illustrations by Brandon Reese was released with a CD featuring twelve songs from their three treks.  The tunes invite you to ramble but also include profound life observations like these


Ya know love is like an echo---
If it's pure and it's true,
Then sing it out to the world
And it'll come back to you.
(Echo)

Move 'em out, move 'em in---
Every story has to end.
But some stay in your heart---
They go round and round;
They get lost and then found
'Cause the end is just another place to start.
(Saddle Up)

Their soon-to-be-released Thousand Star Hotel (Sterling Children's Books, March 7, 2017) written by Joseph Mailander and Justin Lansing (The Okee Dokee Brothers) with illustrations by Brandon Reese is a single tale, similar but delightfully different from a well-known Grimm story.  It is accompanied by a CD with twelve tracks, including a narrated audio version of the Thousand Star Hotel.




There were once two river rats---muskrats to be exact---who lived in a cabin near a big old river.

To be sure, this cabin had seen much better days.  The walls were cracked and hardly any of the roof was left after a storm.  They were happy as a couple could be except on their daily fishing trips Mr. Muskrat longed to catch one big fish, ensuring them a better life.  He was tired of only having enough fish for one sorry pot of soup each night.

One morning as they were sitting in their small boat, Mr. Muskrat hooked a fish of enormous size.  He thought his heart would burst before they wrestled it to their boat.  When he did, he and his wife could not believe their eyes.  It was a giant shimmering golden catfish.  It spoke.  If they would release the fish, a single wish would be granted.

Initially at a loss for words Mr. Muskrat heard his wife ask for a hammer and some nails to fix their roof.  This shocked him into asking for a big fancy house.  As the fish intoned four final lines, Mr. Muskrat burst forth with

"WAIT JUST ONE RIVER-STINKIN' MINUTE! ...

He was sure they could wish for something much better.  This happened more than once with Mrs. Muskrat offering simple and more practical wishes.  Mr. Muskrat, on the other paw, could not stop wishing for abodes grander than the last wish.

Finally Mrs. Muskrat made an astute suggestion which Mr. Muskrat thought was the best idea in the whole wide river.  The magical catfish must have thought so too, because as he uttered ...

WISHED 

he vanished into the river.  Scurrying home, pushed by a forceful wind, Mr. and Mrs. Muskrat were shocked but what greeted them on the outside and the inside of their residence.  What you need is far better than what you want.


Readers will soak up the wit and wisdom penned by The Okee Dokee Brothers in this original narrative straight from the American heartland.  The words are conversational but tinged with the fantastical.  The down-to-earth perspective of Mrs. Muskrat versus the more lavish viewpoint of Mr. Muskrat makes for increased tension leading to the unforeseen but superbly perfect ending.  The rhythmic and rhyming chant of the fish encourages participation.  Here is a sample passage.

After much STRUGGLIN', TUGGLIN', YANKIN', AND CRANKIN', 
they managed to catch a giant golden catfish whose scales shimmered like stars.
It burst out of the water and swam up to their boat, peering at the river rats 
through big bulging eyes.


You will love to run your hands over the front of the book case.  The title is raised.  If you look closely each letter is formed by connected stars as if they are part of a constellation.  Mr. and Mrs. Muskrat are varnished.  To the left, on the back, is information you would usually find on dust jacket flaps.  The opening endpapers are a teal blue background with bright green willow branches drifting down from top to bottom.  The CD is encased on the left at the front with a picture of the catfish and the river rats.  On the left of the front a phrase from one of the songs reads:

If you're always wishin',
You'll miss the point of fishin'.
Livin' life while you wait
Has always been the best bait.

The same color scheme is used on the closing endpapers.  The willow branches are tied back with red ribbons like curtains to reveal information about the authors and illustrator on the left.  On the right are the credits listing the contents of the CD:  Thousand Star Hotel (audio), Thousand Star Hotel (song), Gone Wishin', King Kong Kitchie Kitchie KI-ME-O, Along For The Ride, Small And Simple, Memphis Town, Sister Moon And Brother Sun, Evergreen, Baby Mine, Lighten Your Load, and Last Lullaby.

Rendered using Photoshop Brandon Reese, using a full color palette, brings the essence of life on the river to his pictures.  Tiny details abound in each image; grasses, flowers and berries on bushes, the weave of a basket, the movement of waves, and the frogs inside a hollow log on the river bank.  Nearly all of the pictures span two pages, edge to edge but several are on single pages within a loose circular frame.  When Mrs. Muskrat and Mr. Muskrat are wishing Reese outlines these visuals in soft clouds.  His background hues reflect the mood and time of day wonderfully.

One of my favorite illustrations is when the fish swims up to the boat.  The golden catfish is raised above the waves taking up the entire left side of the two-page picture with his tail crossing the gutter to the right side.  Rays of light surround him above as water splashes below.  Mr. and Mrs. Muskrat are starring at him open-mouthed and smiling from the center of their small boat.  Mr. Muskrat is holding his pole and Mrs. Muskrat is holding the net.

It is guaranteed your heart will be much lighter and happier after reading Thousand Star Hotel written by Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing with illustrations by Brandon Reese.  The words, artwork and accompanying songs are sure to make this a favorite of all readers, young and old.  I can't wait to share it with students.  Make sure you have this title on both your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about The Okee Dokee Brothers and Brandon Reese and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  The Okee Dokee Brothers have a channel on YouTube.  Both the authors and illustrator are on Twitter @OkeeDokeeBros @brandonreese 






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.

UPDATE:  Tom Lichtenheld talks about his process with author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. April 18, 2017

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.

WAIT!
You were gonna wish for a unicorn, weren't you?
Wishing for a unicorn is a 
BIG MISTAKE!

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,

POOF!

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---
(PLIP)
Uh-oh.
Things are about to get--- (page turn)
POOF!
ugly.
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!.

UPDATE:  Deborah Freedman is interviewed by educator and director of The Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival, Dylan Teut on his blog, Mile High Reading, February 23, 2017.

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.