Quote of the Month

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

Friday, December 14, 2018

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like . . #5

Sometimes we need to explore and discover (or rediscover) the true spirit of Christmas.  This is the commemoration of the birth of a child who became a man asking us, again and again, to love one another.  It is about giving with no thought of receiving. 

One children's literature character who continually shines as a beacon of friendship is Little Elliot.  In each of their stories, Little Elliot, Big City, Little Elliot, Big Family, Little Elliot, Big Fun and Little Elliot, Fall Friends, this white elephant with blue and pink polka-dots and his friend, Mouse, with one notched ear, spread goodwill consistently. Merry Christmas, Little Elliot (Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company, September 11, 2018) written and illustrated by Mike Curato is about a search for a seasonal feeling.  Sometimes it's already within us but it takes the winds of fate to set it free.

Little Elliot was not excited
about Christmas.

"Let's go see Santa," said Mouse. 

As they waited in line to see the jolly old elf, Elliot knew what he wanted.  When he asked Santa about receiving the Christmas spirit, Santa replied it was not his to give.  Elliot needed to find it himself.

He and Mouse decided to look for it.  It was not at a classic Christmas ballet presentation, at the city center showcasing an enormous decorated tree, or at the park's sledding hill.  When the duo stopped for a hot chocolate break, Elliot told Mouse he could not find the Christmas spirit.

Suddenly a gust of wind delivered a bright red envelope right into Elliot's face.  It was addressed to Santa at the North Pole.  When Elliot and Mouse arrived back at the department store it was closed and St. Nick was gone.  This was indeed a dilemma. 

After deciding to read the letter, Elliot wondered how he could help make this request a reality.  In a few moments he had a plan. He and Mouse took a trip driving hours at night.  At their destination a greeting of great joy announced their presence.  A gift is given and received.

When Mike Curato begins with our pachyderm pal having a problem, we are ready to read and listen.  We, like Elliot's friend Mouse, want to help.  Through a concise, deliberate combination of narrative and conversations the story unfolds with marvelous pacing and pleasing surprises. Here is a passage.

"How do I find the 
Christmas spirit?" asked Elliot.

"I don't know," said Mouse, "but I will help you look!"

It is said not to judge a book by its cover but looking at this opened dust jacket is going to send everyone's holiday spirit into high gear.  There is much to love about the merriment seen on the face of Elliot.  Look at Mouse riding in his Santa's hat!  The sack full of Christmas goodies on the back of the sled and the small ribboned wreath on the front add to the overall happiness.  The bright red canvas with the elegant green ribbon script and child-like writing is pure perfection. 

On the spine Christmas lights bookend the title text.  To the left, on the back, Little Elliot and Mouse are calling out a greeting as Elliot holds the letter.  The characters and text are varnished.  The book case is also red with darker outlines to distinguish the portions of an envelope.  On the front is the return address of the sender which is a delightful play on words.  On the back we can see it's addressed to Santa.  The stamp is a one cent stamp in green featuring a historic United States figure.

Mike Curato uses his opening and closing endpapers to wordlessly begin and conclude the story.  On the former a girl bundled in winter clothing is carrying the red envelope in one hand and opening the rural mailbox in her right hand.  With a page turn on the verso and title pages a single image shows a gust of wind carrying the letter away.  It swirls through white title text on darkened blue and purple sky among snowflakes.  Standing by the mailbox the child has her hands outstretched in probable dismay. 

Through a series of utterly charming double-page and full page, with and without borders, illustrations, rendered with pencil on paper and digital color in Adobe Photoshop, Mike Curato lifts and enhances his text.  Many of the pictures are wordless but as with all beautifully created images, they speak volumes.  In all the scenes Mike's use of light and shadow is wonderful!

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Elliot and Mouse are leaving the city (New York City of a bygone era).  They are riding in a large yellow car.  Elliot is leaning out the rear window having donned the Santa cap borrowed from the Macy's snowman.  He is grinning with glee.  Mouse is carefully peering out the front window, hanging on to the edge.  His tail and ears are perked up.  Behind the car and through the car windows lighted windows in buildings and Christmas lights shine.  It's as if Elliot and Mouse are going to drive right into our space; they are that close to us.

It simply wouldn't be a complete collection of Christmas titles without a copy of Merry Christmas, Little Elliot written and illustrated by Mike Curato.  Exquisite care has been taken with the entire creation of every portion of this book.  It's guaranteed you will smile and sigh when you view the closing endpapers.  I highly recommend this title.  Giving is the spirit of Christmas which lasts forever.

To learn more about Mike Curato and his other work, please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and blog.  On his website he has a link to activities for this title. On his blog he talks about the making of this book and the Easter eggs hidden in his illustrations.  At Mike's website and the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Little Elliot has a website dedicated to all things Little Elliot.  Mike Curato has an account on Twitter and Instagram.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Equine Excellence

Their domestication is inherently tied to human history.  With their presence in our way of life, everything moved faster and more efficiently.  There are still places on this planet where transportation by horse is the quickest method of travel. (On Mackinac Island in the state of Michigan the only way to move from place to place is by walking, bicycling or by horse-drawn carriage.)

Several years ago, a master illustrator, a paper engineer, acquired a parcel of land with an old barn.  It was previously home to ten horses that lived on this property in New York's Hudson Valley.  Today with the help of a crowd funding campaign it is now the 10 Horse Art CenterTen Horse Farm (Candlewick Press, April 10, 2018) written and illustrated with breathtaking paper engineering by Robert Sabuda is a remarkable tribute to this farm and the marvelous animals who lived there.


Single words, with the exception of the final text, describe the actions of a different horse or horses in ten dazzling displays. In the first a brown horse is galloping from left to right, tail and legs extended past the boundaries of the book.  A dog races alongside the horse, tongue hanging out in total bliss.  Next, head bowed and resting, a second cream-colored horse quietly watches playful kittens in a field of flowers.

A rooster takes flight as a dark horse soars over a set of bars and off the top of the illustration.  A wind mill seems to spin high above a horse nearly blending in with rows of wheat.  Is that a goat playing tug-of-war with a horse?  Whoever washed those clothes is in for a surprise.

A tiny mouse cautiously watches a gray horse kick its legs skyward.  The entire animal is off the top of the page except for the front legs.  Two horses with markings like large spots of paint nibble on apples in communal contentment.  On the final visual Ten Horse Farm rises above the page framed by trees.  All ten horses are featured and tucked into the pastoral scene.  You'll need to turn the book to seek and find them all.

By employing the technique of a single word for each image, Robert Sabuda accomplishes several things.  He introduces and defines nine verbs for readers.  He also allows his spectacular pop-up paper engineering to extend the meaning of those words through the actions of his horses.

Whether this is your first Robert Sabuda book or your tenth-plus title, as soon as you look at the front and back of the book case, you know you are holding something extraordinary.  Notice the color of the spine and the rope detail.  On the back the picture for the word Pulling is highlighted.  We receive an invitation to notice the different horses and other animals on the farm.

Full-color resonates from every page turn.  The majesty and movement of the horses draws our attention immediately.  Presenting us with other farm creatures in some of the scenes, Robert Sabuda provides us with fun, humor and the beauty of the landscape around the farm.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for pulling.  In this scene a horse, a Clydesdale, is pulling a farm wagon down a portion of two pathways edged with stones.  The horse is prancing at the top of the page on the right.  To the left the wagon, with wheels looking as if they are spinning, is full of all the farm animals we have seen. The rooster is crowing on the back with the mouse sitting near him.  Kittens are lounging on crates behind the goat.  The duck is attempting to fly away.  At the front the dog seems to be calling out to the horse.

Each time you turn a page and view the pop-up pictures in Ten Horse Farm written and illustrated by Robert Sabuda, you are astounded at the meticulous artwork.  Each image opens and closes with ease.  These three-dimensional masterpieces are certain to inform and entertain readers of all ages.  This title is a must have for your personal and professional book collections, especially for readers who appreciate and love horses.  (With care this volume will last multiple readings.)  This book would be wonderful paired with Tony, An Otis Christmas, If A Horse Had Words, and for older readers, Some Kind of Courage.

To learn more about Robert Sabuda and his other beautiful work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image.  I know you will enjoy this book trailer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Land Mammal Magnificance

When a planet is in peril, so are its inhabitants.  Humans and other living plants and animals have been and are facing challenges never experienced in previous generations. Even with their marvelous methods of adapting to survive, humans' companions, plants and animals, need us to make choices in their favor every single day.

A little more than two years ago the Great Elephant Census was completed and released.  It indicated the population of African elephants except for forest elephants, which are too difficult to count from the air, has diminished 30% in seven years.  According to a National Geographic post regarding the census about 27,000 elephants are killed every year, mainly from poaching. (If you want to make a comparison, look up the population of your community.  My community would be entirely eliminated five times in one year.)  It is believed the numbers for the Asian elephant population are even worse.

Author illustrator Jennie Desmond awakened and enhanced our awareness in her titles The Blue Whale and The Polar BearIn her newest title, The Elephant (Enchanted Lion Books, September 25, 2018) she again draws our attention to one of the largest animals on planet Earth.  Unless we are residents of those places where elephants reside in Africa and Asia, we will never see them in their natural habitat.  Jenni Desmond brings us to where they roam through her informative words and striking illustrations.

Once upon a time, a child took a book from the shelf and started to read.

The book he is reading is the one we are holding in our hands.  Already he knows they are the largest land mammals with extraordinary intelligence and remarkable memories.  Their minds allow them to find food and in the same spots from year to year. 

African elephants and Asian elephants have similarities and differences.  Did you know their ears are shaped like the continents upon which they reside?  The trunks on African elephants are two-fingered as opposed to the single-fingered trunks on Asian elephants.  The tusks on African elephants grow and grow; the longer the tusks, the older the elephants.  Not all Asian elephants have tusks.

It's astounding to realize why a walking elephant appears to glide.  The bone structure causes them to walk on their toes.  Elephants' ears contribute to their exceptional hearing and work as cooling agents.  Their immense trunks not only complete monumental tasks but can pick up a tiny piece of fruit.

Elephants have a matriarchal society.  Males either lead a solitary life or live with other males.  Mother elephants are pregnant for twenty-two months.  For up to five years, a baby elephant will stick to its mother like proverbial glue. 

Along with their massive size, elephants have a massive appetite which in turn generates huge piles of dung (300 pounds) per day.  They are known to travel great distances to find an abundance of water.  It quenches their thirst, keeps them cool and is a perfect place to play.

Elephants are a "keystone species," which means that their existence is uniquely important to other plants and animals. 

Elephants' treatment of those elephants who have died is reverent.  Their sleeping practices are unbelievable.  They deserve our respect and protection. . . now and always.

Jenni Desmond calls to readers with her first sentence.  We listen and lean in to hear the story she tells.  We follow the boy reading the book, along with us, as he steps into the world of elephants.  Facts are flawlessly integrated into the narrative.

We move from generalities to place of residence, physical characteristics and comparisons and lifestyle.  Jenni Desmond builds layer upon layer of information supplying us with a complete vision of these fascinating beings.  Here are two passages.

An African savanna elephant male, or bull, can reach 13 feet tall
and 24 feet long, and can weigh up to seven tons.  That's about the
weight of four large cars.  The females, or cows, are half that size.

Even baby elephants are big.  At birth, an African savanna elephant
calf can be 260 pounds, the weight of a speedy motor scooter.

The stunning enormity and beauty of the African savanna elephant is depicted with such clarity on the opened and matching dust jacket and book case, readers will find it hard not to gasp.  The stark landscape is pure perfection for displaying this elephant and his child companion, our guide in the reading of this book.  The setting continues over the spine to the left.  On the back elephant footprints lead from the edge of the gray (nearly centered) increasing in size until they move off the image in the lower, left-hand corner.

On the opening and closing endpapers very pale sky meets a very pale earth running along the lower fifth of the pages.  A tiny line of elephants ranging in age and size move along the right side on the front and along the left side on the back; as if they are constantly moving.  They also change positions on the closing endpapers apart from the matriarch, who always leads.

On the title page under the text the boy is marching and carrying a red teapot, cups, the book and his four stuffed-animal pals, an elephant, a polar bear, a whale and a tiger.  A single cup lays on the floor behind him.  With a page turn, he is cozily reading on a rug patterned in elephants.  His toys are seated on a small nearby bench with cups and treats in front of each of them.  The polar bear and whale have on hats.  The elephant has on glasses and the tiger is wearing a necklace.  To the left a fire burns in a fireplace shaped like an elephant's foot.  Readers will enjoy looking at the titles on the books on the shelf.  And what's that waving in the window?  Is it two elephant trunks?  This first illustration is one of my many favorite pictures.

With each succeeding page turn we step farther into the realm of elephants, viewing vast scenes dominated by their presence.  Maps indicate where they live.  Diagrams point out their physical traits. 

In the comparison with their height and weight four cars are stacked in front of a full-grown elephant.  The occupants of all four of them are a combination of animals and humans.  The boy rides his scooter into the next scene.  He tiptoes home into the kitchen to get a snack.  Photographs on the wall showcased by his flashlight explain the text.  The final photograph appears on the next page.

Jenni Desmond has a gift of connecting each illustration to the next.  Rendered in watercolor, acrylic, pencil, crayons and drypoint these visuals complement and extend the text bringing us close to a scene and then asking us to step back to get a larger picture or the reverse.  We are completely engaged and captivated.

When she closes with a nighttime illustration, the boy is hugging the trunk of one of the elephants.  In the distance a light is on in his home, which is above ground and shaped like an elephant.  In the final scene she zooms in and we sigh at the sight, like the darkness surrounding the savanna.

Recipient of four starred reviews and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2018 The Elephant written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond is a superb work of narrative nonfiction.  Pair this with Katherine Roy's How To Be An Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild and you will have two quintessential titles on these amazing creatures.  I highly recommend this book for both your personal and professional book collections. 

To discover more about Jenni Desmond and her work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Jenni has a blog here.  She has accounts on Twitter and Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations. 

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Animal Idiosyncrasies

There will be books you read which cause an excitement to grow within you.  Each page turn reveals more inventiveness, information, humor, or opportunities.  You can't wait to read it aloud.  You can't wait to tell someone else about it.

This book, Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets: An Unusual Alphabet (Random House Children's Books, December 4, 2018) written by Sara O'Leary (The Boy And The Blue Moon and This Is Sadie) with illustrations by Jacob Grant, is one of those books.  Readers will be continuously wondering, between bouts of giggles, if there is some truth to the statements.  Who knew our animal friends had so many hidden talents and quirks?

Alligators think you'd like them
if you got to know them.

Letter by letter from a to z, we learn and laugh.  Bears with boo-boos are just like children.  Kisses are the most requested method for healing.  It will come as no surprise elephants' hearts are most joyful when bathing.  Foxes get frantic when they can't take more photographs. 

At times the smallest creature is the most eager to explore.  Aim high little hedgehog!  Gals and guys aren't the only ones who miss their own beds during sleepovers.  Iguanas are known to be wide-eyed awake in the middle of the night.  The unicorns of the sea actually enjoy solitude.

You'll never guess which guests arrive first at a celebration.  (Clue: They wear masks twenty-four hours a day.)  One book is never enough.  Adorable voles value reading.

When you reach the letter z, you'll be grinning from ear to ear.  You'll also not be surprised at the deepest desire of zebras.  It's guaranteed you'll quickly go back to the beginning to read each animal's declaration again.

The sentences written by Sara O'Leary are infused with whimsy and wit.  She uses the physical characteristics and habits of the animals to supply readers with comedy.  We find ourselves laughing because the revelations are curiously close to the truth or completely ridiculous.  Here is another sentence.

Quail get quite tired of being
told to be quiet. 

You can already feel humor radiating from the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  We are drawn into the image by the darker color palette and the two owls, wing tips to mouths seeking our silence and suggestive of them hiding something.  To the left, on the back, eleven of the animals are peering in from the sides and staring up at the owls.  They frame six questions about the alphabet animals.  The title text and animals are varnished.

On a sand-colored canvas on the opening and closing endpapers white letters, a to z, are placed in four rows.  The critters for each upper-case letter at the beginning are tucked behind them.  At the end, lower-case letters highlight the animals in front of them.    On the title page under the text sits the zebra, in two shades of pink.  He's holding a toy zebra.

The illustrations rendered by Jacob Grant are showcased by their placement on a white canvas.  The thicker matte finished paper is excellent for the images which range in size and shape; extending over the gutter, loose frames with elements breaking those borders, and even a cut-away picture.  The range of colors are muted.

The added elements in each scene increase the hilarity and charm.  The alligator is holding a bouquet of flowers.  Chipmunks are scampering around their house while a disgruntled parent, holding a mug with a steaming beverage, watches.  Giraffes are riding a bicycle built for two.  Two young yaks are grinning at their own jokes. 

One of my many favorite illustrations is on a full page.  Five iguanas are having a sleepover.  They are laying in a row under the cover of a large palm leaf.  The iguana on the right end is sitting up and afraid.  He is grasping a tiny purple teddy bear. 

You can be sure whether this book is read silently by an individual, shared one-on-one or with a group, there will be loads of laughter.  Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets: An Unusual Alphabet written by Sara O'Leary with illustrations by Jacob Grant is assuredly an entertaining book about letters and animals, but it is much more.  It issues an invitation to readers to think of other animals and what they might think or do.  Readers can also delve into nonfiction research about these animals and other creatures. You will want a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Sara O'Leary and Jacob Grant, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Jacob Grant also has a Tumblr site.  At the publisher's website you can view some interior pages. The book trailer is premiered at teacher librarian Matthew Winner's site along with some sentence starters that Sara and Jacob finish.  Jacob is interviewed by Maria MarshallSara and Jacob have accounts on Twitter.  You can find Sara and Jacob on Instagram.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Gliding Through The Darkness

If you stand still, there is no sound outside tonight, not even the whisper of a north wind.  As soon as you move your breath is serenaded by the crunch of snow beneath your boots.  It's easy to believe in a special kind of magic on this evening in December.

If a long, low whistle sounds in the distance, you'll know passengers are traveling to a special place along the nearby rails.  Night Train, Night Train (Charlesbridge, October 9, 2018) written by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Wendell Minor is about a similar journey where the everyday becomes marvelous and new.  Light and shadows cast a spell.

Train ride! Bump-bump.
Chug-chug. Slow.
Faster.  Faster.
Off we go.

A child looks out a train window as it leaves the station.  As it moves through the darkness all he can see is shades of gray.  Before too long the engine pulls the cars over a road, spots of red flash.

Through the countryside it goes.  Look!  A blue hue glows in a single window in a farmhouse gable.  Alabaster sparkles from a single star.  Color springs uninvited by the night but is nevertheless welcome.

Metal on metal flares into a familiar combination.  Along a busy highway a sign glimmers as it points toward a destination.  Water laps along a shoreline beneath a bridge.  Light beams from a full moon.

Speeding down the track the train streaks toward another station.  Inside on his seat the boy drifts into dreams.  Soon the shades of gray are banished by the rays of a rising sun.  A new day begins.

After reading the first set of four lines readers will feel the urge to read this book aloud.  Robert Burleigh takes the rhythm of riding on a train and incorporates it into each phrase, rhyming the second and fourth words.   In-between the introduction of nine colors amid those phrases, a repetition of the four-word title plus additional descriptors further defines the train and travel on this train.  Here are some passages.

Round. Yellow.
Mr. Moon.
Watching.  Whispering,
"Be there soon."

Night train, night train, beam-of-light train.

When you look to see the illustrator's name on the front of the opened dust jacket, you realize this is a departure from the usual work of this beloved artist.  After reading the book you can't imagine any other medium or style working as beautifully as the graphite on paper and digital choices of Wendell Minor.  The limited palette, gray, black, white, blue and yellow, on the front (right) of the dust jacket beckons to us.  To the left, on the back, the boy, holding his teddy bear is close to us as he gazes out the train window.  Red, white and blue are elements in this view, too.

A textured gray paper (cloth) covers the book case.  Along the bottom of the front a train track is embossed.  Above this in silver foil is the title of the book.  A soft charcoal is used for the opening endpapers.  On the closing endpapers a pale yellow announces the dawn.

Beneath the text on the title page the boy's suitcase is placed, covered in travel stickers.  His smiling teddy bear is seated next to it.  Opposite the verso and dedication page, which contains a thumbnail of the front of the dust jacket, is a wordless picture of the boy looking out the window.  His teddy bear sits next to him on the seat.  Light outlines them as it does other items throughout the book.

For each of the full page pictures a large border of white frames them.  This is followed by magnificent double-page illustrations spanning from page edge to page edge.  Wendell Minor elevates the mood of the narrative and its pacing by bringing us close to the scene or giving us a more panoramic view.  Sometimes the gutter and borders separate two pieces of a larger image.  The details, light and shading ask us to pause at each picture.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is nearly a bird's eye view of a small community along a river.  It spans two pages.  On the left older buildings, homes and a church with a tall spire nestle together.  The train speeds along the track at the bottom, left to right.  On the right the river stretches to the tree line and horizon.  It's starting to cross a bridge.  Wendell has added spots of colors already mentioned in the poem; an orange light in the church window, a blue shooting star, a red light on the right river bank, white stars, a purple glow in another building and black and gray.  (Every time a color is named the font is changed from white to that specific color.)

The mix of narrative and artwork creates a soothing, rhythmic feeling whenever you read Night Train, Night Train written by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Wendell Minor.  To acquaint readers with colors and travel on a train, this title is a stunning choice.  It would be wonderful with a storytelling train theme, as a quiet time or drifting-off-to-dreamland bedtime book.  I love this book! (Wendell Minor talks about the locomotive in the pictures at the conclusion in an illustrator's note.)

If you want to learn more about Robert Burleigh or Wendell Minor and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Wendell Minor maintains an account on Twitter.

Friday, December 7, 2018

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like .. #4

They date back to the 16th century during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  She had a special baker to fashion men shaped like foreign dignitaries and people in her court. They were made of gingerbread.  Gingerbread men (and women) have become an important feature of Christmas food presentations.  They have also been a part of the folktale realm for more than 150 years.  To our delight tellers of stories have given readers and listeners numerous variations.

The one constant in most of the stories is the tasty treat is usually running as fast as they canTough Cookie: A Christmas Story (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, September 11, 2018) written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway offers readers an appetizing twist.  A brand-new tradition is about to race into your repertoire of holiday tales.

Once upon a time, while Fox
was visiting Christmastown,
in the Land of Holiday Treats . . .

A cookie, fresh from the oven, ran to the bakery door and declared how delicious he was.  Fox could hardly wait to catch this little rascal and savor his sweetness.  The cookie taunted him 

Run, run, as fast as you can!
You can't catch me---
I'm the Sugar Cookie Man!

Fox was fast, faster than the cookie.  He reached out, grabbed him and bit that cookie's head.  YUCK!  He tasted horrible.  He was the worst sugar cookie Fox had ever tasted.

Well, let me tell you; cookie was mad on two accounts.  He had a bite mark on his head and no sugar cookie wants to be told they taste disgusting.  In addition, Fox told him he was so hard, he broke one of his teeth.  Cookie, Tough Cookie, burst into tears.

Fox decided to befriend the little guy attempting to help him be sweeter and faster.  A trip to Christmastown Spa, including a dip in scrumptious eggnog with other luscious choices, running in the Sweet Treat Christmas Race and building a gingerbread home in Cookie Cutter did nothing to improve Cookie's circumstances. He was more depressed than ever.  Always the optimist, Fox was sure something good would happen.  And it did!

Suddenly a chorus of voices pointed out the truth to Cookie and Fox.  How had they missed this tiny but important detail?  Now everything was tree-mendous for Cookie; toughness can be an asset for cookies and their foxy friends.

When Edward Hemingway begins with once upon a time you know you're in for a treat.  The words Christmastown and Land of Holiday Treats conjure marvelous visions.  The blend of crisp, descriptive dialogue and concise, natural narrative create a captivating flow.  Edward uses repetition and clever wordplay to cook up a storytelling cadence with ample seasonings of humor.  Here is a passage.

And that's when Cookie crumbled.

I'm not sweet.
I'm not fast.
I can't even make a
gingerbread house.
Everything I do 
is half-baked!  

It's impossible not to smile when looking at the matching, opened dust jacket and book case.  Wide-eyed Cookie and all his confection companions are grinning with happiness.  Even Fox is joining in the merriment.  On the front Edward Hemingway introduces us to the color palette used in this book.  Snow drifts gather on the title text or maybe it's frosting.  It's Christmastown, after all.

To the left, on the back, Cookie, featured in a circle of white on a pale mint green background, is running and chanting his familiar phrase.  The opening and closing endpapers are patterned in rows of rectangles in a variety of colors.  They are canvases for seventy-five treats (plus Christmas decorations and gifts) with one more for Fox who is leaning over and sipping one of those mouthwatering goodies.  Cookie is shining in the near center.  The eyes, positions of arms and legs and exquisite details in these portraits are wonderful.  

Rendered with oils on board sprinkled with Adobe Photoshop the illustrations throughout this title spanning double pages, single pages and partial pages contribute to stellar pacing.  The speech bubbles and narrative placement are pleasing.  The background elements with the previously mentioned intricate details present a setting readers will be eager to visit.  

One of my many favorite illustrations is the first double-page picture.  We are given a bird's-eye view of a crossroads in Christmastown.  The brick buildings are enchanting.  Peeking out of most of the windows are wide-eyed treats.  A bluebird (of happiness) sings above the Christmastown Bakery sign. The word bakery looks to be fashioned from bread; like the bread displayed in the window.  Bright candy-shaped lights hang along the roof edge.  Fox, standing in front of the bakery, is dreaming of sweet treats.  A candy cane is riding a bike down Sugar Street with a peppermint passenger.  A whip-cream topped drink, cupcake and candied apple are running down Spice Avenue.  A Santa Claus mural on a building faces Spice Avenue.  In the town square a decorated tree is glowing.  It's snowing. 

When you read the title text on the front of the jacket and case you wonder why a gingerbread man, front and center, is smiling.  Why would a tough cookie be smiling?  When you read Tough Cookie: A Christmas Story written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway you'll be smiling too.  It's entertaining from beginning to end.  It's gives us a fabulous new beginning and ending on a traditional tale.  It inspires us to keep seeking our rightful place in the scheme of things.  It also encourages us to start baking because we are craving sweet treats.  With that end in mind Edward includes two separate recipes at the close of the book.  I know you'll want to add this title to your personal and professional book collections.  

To learn more about Edward Hemingway and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  You can view interior images at Edward's site and at the publisher's website.  Edward maintains accounts on Twitter and Instagram.  You'll enjoy this article published about the book in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Heads Turned. People Stopped And Listened.

Every single being is born with a gift.  It might not initially be noticed, but what we do with this gift defines us.  It's how we make our mark in this world.  Hopefully spirits will be lifted and the quality of life of those around us will be better.

In 1936 there was a girl child born in Texas.  What Do You Do With A Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 25, 2018) written by Chris Barton with illustrations by Ekua Holmes presents a stirring account of this child.  She understood the good her gift would (and did) bring to others.

Growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas,
Barbara Jordan stood out.

It wasn't because of the way she looked or acted.  It was because of her voice.  Her voice commanded immediate attention from all who heard it.  She used this voice in church, school and contests.  At the age of sixteen she left Texas for the first time traveling to Chicago as the winner of an oratory competition.

Barbara received counsel from Grandpa Patten during their weekly chats.  With her voice she could do many things but first she needed to go to college.  Through hard work and long hours, she became a lawyer.  The practice of law left her wanting more so when given an opportunity, Barbara lifted her voice.  She believed the best place to create change was politics.

Did she win the first time she ran for office? No.  Did she win the second time she ran for office? No.  She won the third time!  Working as a senator for the state of Texas she knew she could make changes in laws to help those who needed it the most.  Inside and outside the legislative chambers, she spoke and other lawmakers respectively listened.

In 1972 Barbara Jordan went to work in Washington, D. C. as a congresswomen.  She spoke truths about the United States Constitution and how everyone, yes everyone, needed to obey the laws founded on this document.  President Nixon resigned. (I remember listening to her powerful speech.)

Barbara continued fighting for peoples' rights as speculation began about the next office she would hold, but there would be no more politics for her. A debilitating disease, multiple sclerosis, had her going home to Texas.  Barbara took her wondrous, wise voice to classrooms and sporting events.  Even today her words still ring out loud and strong reflected in every life she touched.

For those who have never heard the resounding voice of Barbara Jordan, author Chris Barton through his writing sends its power off the pages of this book into our minds and hearts.  Through his meticulous research he allows us to understand the impact of her influence.  Portions of her life are tied together with a question at the end of paragraphs and phrases.  These lead us to her many accomplishments. By repeating key words, connections are made and a cadence is created.  Here is a passage.

That voice.

That big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice.
It caused folks to sit right up, stand up straight, and take notice.

What do you do with a voice like that?

Just like the voice of Barbara Jordan, the image on the front of the dust jacket stops readers in their tracks. Who is this woman with this voice?  The contrast of the blue face holding many faces of Barbara on radiating yellow is bold and dynamic. To the left, on the back, a collage of swaths of color and words further describes the powerful personality of Barbara Jordan.

Like rays of sunshine, golden yellow on golden yellow, lines stretch from the spine on the book case.  White and yellow stars are scattered among words like democracy, freedom, and the great principles of right and wrong. A vivid sky blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  The blue and yellow palette is used for the text and background on the title page.

Rendered in mixed media the illustrations of Ekua Holmes are individual portraits of an amazing woman throughout her life; each one worthy of framing.  They vary in size, sometimes spanning two pages, or nearly two pages leaving a place for the text.  Other times individual elements are outlined in large amounts of white space.

Each visual elevates the narrative and tells its own story.  The details of clothing worn by Barbara (and others) and her facial expressions in each setting bring us into the moments. The layout of every single element in each picture is superb as is the light and shadow in those items.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Barbara stepped forward to speak when circumstances called for her help.  The picture is a full page on the right crossing the gutter and filling a third of the left page.  Triangular shapes like beams of light in yellows and oranges with a tinge of green extend from the top with square-dotted spirals in white.  Barbara's back is to us.  Her arms are outstretched on either side.  A pearl necklace circles her neck.  A paisley-print dress in pink, purple and blue drapes her frame.  A faceless audience listens in front of her.

I can't imagine a personal or professional collection of books without a copy of What Do You Do With A Voice Like That: The Story Of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan written by Chris Barton with illustrations by Ekua Holmes on their shelves.  This fresh, vibrant depiction in a stunning blend of words and images will promote discussions and further research.  An author's note, timeline, and recommended viewing and reading is found on the final three pages.

To learn more about Chris Barton and Ekua Holmes and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Chris and Ekua maintain accounts on TwitterChris and Ekua also have accounts on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Chris Barton wrote an article at the Nerdy Book Club about this title.  Chris recommends you listen to Barbara Jordan's 1974 speech during the House Judiciary Committee presidential impeachment hearings.

Please take a few minutes to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the titles selected by others participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Are You Ready To Dance?

It doesn't take much for children to dance.  They have no worries about expressing the cadence they hear whether it's found in words, music or a combination of words and music. Not only do they dance but they take great joy in doing it.  It only takes one to start grooving and it spreads in mere seconds.  And oh . . . the laughter accompanying their dancing makes your soul soar.

The air vibrates with happiness when children dance.  Hip-Hop Lollipop (Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, October 2, 2018) written by Susan McElroy Montanari with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is certain to have people in motion as soon as the title is read. They will also feel themselves grinning with gladness.  They know something good, really good, is about to happen.

Mama says, "Lollipop, stop!


Jumping snapping
Arms and shoulders pop 'n' lock.
Lollie's dancing hip-hop.

There is no stopping this little gal.  Her hands, knees, arms and hips are constantly moving.  She is jumping with jubilation. 

When Mama calls out it's bedtime, does she stop? She does not.  She moves down the hallway pausing by her sister's bedroom doorway.  Without missing a beat, Lollie and Tasha become a dancing duo.  Tick. Tock.  Now Daddy adds his voice to the time-for-bed declaration.

As the music bounces off the bathroom walls, the siblings brush their teeth in preparation.  Copper, the family dog, is done for the day.  Boo Boo, the family cat, uses Lollie for a pillow.  Lollie snuggles on top of Copper.  Mama ushers the sleepy trio into Lollie's bedroom.

Pajamas donned, and blankets drawn up to her chin, Lollie still listens to the music, lower and less loud. Daddy gives a goodnight kiss.  Copper curls on the bedroom floor.  Boo Boo snuggles on the cozy bed.  What twirls in Lollie's dreams?

It's impossible to read the words in this story written by Susan McElroy Montanari without nodding your head, shimmying your shoulders, or tapping your toes.  Each phrase is designed to provide a pulse which promptly syncs with readers' internal rhythms.  The rhyming nearly shouts off the pages in total merriment. Here is a passage.

Hands tutting.
Knees jutting.
Arms cranking.
Body swanking.
Hip gyration.


One look, just one look, at this opened and matching dust jacket and book case is certain to have readers smiling and ready to dance.  Like the swirls of rhythm around Lollie, Copper and Boo Boo, this trio is happily stepping to the music.  You can't sit still.  You want to jump into the image and join them.

To the left, on the back, in other curves of color (more green) Tasha and Lollie lift their legs in perfect nearly poetic action.  Copper gladly joins them.  Part of the words from the above quoted passage appears over this illustration. 

The shade of purple used in the title text covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Beneath the words on the title page, Lollie smiles as she holds her portable music player.  Rendered in

watercolor and India ink on Strathmore watercolor paper

by Brian Pinkney, the illustrations are highly animated and loaded with familial cheer and comfort.

More than once the double-page images contain several smaller scenarios to heighten the pacing.  Brian's signature whirls of color combinations and fluid lines will surely engage readers on each page.  Readers will find themselves smiling at the exuberant expressions on the characters faces, even Mama and Daddy. 

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages (as do all the pictures).  A sunny yellow is a prominent hue in the wash of color.  Brush strokes and lines of pink, blue and a bit of green join this vibrant palette.  In the center her body moving to the left and right of the gutter, Lollie dances with abandon.  She is joined by Copper on the left and Boo Boo on the right.  I think I can hear the music and laughter, too.  This image is accompanied by the above-quoted text.

For story time, bed time (sweet dreams are assured), for a unit on music, dance or creative drama, Hip-Hop Lollipop written by Susan McElroy Montanari with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is an excellent choice.  The charm, playfulness and enthusiasm of Lollipop and the members of her family will wrap around you through these words and artwork.  You will want to include this title in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Susan McElroy Montanari and Brian Pinkney and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Susan maintains accounts on Twitter and Instagram

Monday, December 3, 2018

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like . . #3

Before automobiles and before airplanes, trains traveled from place to place carrying people and an assortment of goods and necessities.  Train stations in even the smallest communities were and are hubs and gathering places. Arrivals and departures present situations of mixed blessings. 

Train whistles in the distance conjures different memories for each being. In the case of The Christmas Tree Who Loved Trains (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 18, 2018) written by Annie Silvestro (Bunny's Book Club) with illustrations by Paola Zakimi the sounds of trains are an occasion for celebration.  As the trains come and go, so too does supreme happiness.

A pine tree grew in the farthest corner of the tree farm.  She sat alone on a small patch of land that bordered the train track.

Nothing made this tree as elated as the trains passing by her home on the tree farm.  Her needles shivered in anticipation.  It was too loud for birds and squirrels to rest or scamper in her branches but as long as the trains whizzed past, she was content.

One day a boy who loved trains as much as the pine tree came to pick a tree for Christmas.  After a train hurtled past the child standing by the track, he noticed the lone evergreen seemed just as pleased as he was.  That was the tree for him.

Helping hands came to dig up the tree and wrap her roots in burlap.  The boy was thrilled but the tree could no longer hear trains or feel the wind they made wave her branches.  That night in the darkness of the room in which she was placed, sadness crept into her soul.

A day of decorating eased her sadness.

The tree fell asleep to the ringing of sleigh bells.

She slept so well, she missed sounds only heard one night during the year.  In the morning she was greeted with familiar noises.  A train on a track circled her branches.  Both boy and tree were filled with pure bliss.

Time passed quickly.  Now the little pine was worried and her branches were empty. She did not know the magic of Christmas remained and so did the love of a boy. 

Trains and Christmas equal wonderful surprises but author Annie Silvestro extends our thinking with the premise of a tree who loves trains as much as children (and some adults).  In this story we have a blend of narrative, spoken words of the boy and thoughts of the tree.  We are enchanted, connected and soothed with this technique.  Readers will repeat and join in with Annie's use of onomatopoeia.  Here is another passage.

He watched the track.
He waited.
Then . . . ZOOM!

His hair rippled in the wind as the train roared past.

Rendered in pencil and Adobe Photoshop the images, beginning with the opened and matching dust jacket and book case, are warm and welcoming.  Use of subtle color and fine lines add to the overall atmosphere of each illustration.  The stick in the boy's hand is for playing with his canine companion.

The scene on the front extends over the spine and to the left (back).  The track get larger shifting perspective.  The cloudy sky mixes with the early morning fog, softening the wooded landscape near the track. 

The color in the child's hat, somewhat deeper and darker, covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Beneath the text on the initial title page stands the little pine tree.  For the formal title page, a double-page picture features another angle of the boy watching the train.  His dog is seated next to him.  The author, illustrator and publisher names appear as part of the train track.

Illustrator Paola Zakimi alternates between full-page and double-page pictures.  Her shift in point-of-view gives us a feel for the tree farm, the place of the train within this setting and the importance of Christmas, the boy, the little pine tree and their love of trains.  We develop a strong emotional attachment to this story through her visual interpretation.

One of my many favorite pictures is when the boy first realizes the tree shares his love of trains.  In the lower, left-hand corner of the full-page illustration is a portion of the train track.  Early morning mist swirls around the track and portions of the tree farm.  Slightly off to the right of center is the little pine tree.  Next to her is the boy, his dog and his dad.  All of them feel the swoosh of the train as it passes.  At the top of the image rows of trees continue off the page. There is a sense of supreme joy in this visual.

You can nearly hear the clickety-clack of wheels on a track, the whistle announcing the train's arrival and the zoom as it passes you through the marvelous blend of words and pictures in The Christmas Tree Who Loved Trains written by Annie Silvestro with illustrations by Paola Zakimi.  Readers and listeners will take pleasure in participating in the sounds of the train.  You will definitely get requests for multiple readings.  For those who have given and received trains as Christmas gifts this book is a treasure. This title is recommended for your professional and personal book collections.

To discover more about Annie Silvestro and Paola Zakimi and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Annie was a guest writer during Storystorm 2018 at Tara Lazar's Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).  Both Annie and Paola have accounts on Twitter.  You can also find Annie and Paola on Instagram.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Follow One. Follow Two. Follow Three And More

During recess, after school and weekends children have been playing it for generations.  Follow the leader is a game of observation and physical and mental agility.  The premise is simple, but the goal can be challenging.  If you look around in the natural world, adults and their young instinctively play their own version.

It's a frequent sight in the spring to see a mother duck and her ducklings stopping traffic on roadways as they make their way toward water.  If you happen to see a row of black and white kits trailing behind their parent during a woodland walk, changing your direction is important.  It's never a good idea to be the target of frightened skunks.
A Parade Of Elephants (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 25, 2018) written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes is a day journey overflowing with delight.



Count them.  There are one, two, three, four, five elephants.  One in front of the other they move, all in a row.  They aren't walking, they're marching.  It's a parade!

Sometimes they travel in circles.  Nothing keeps them from marching; not even the hills on their path. Marching over a bridge and marching under palm fronds, all five elephants go.  A natural tunnel does not deter their goal.  Nose to tail they are connected like links on a chain.

Pausing is not an option for these pachyderms.  They keep on marching and marching and marching until a crescent moon begins to glow in the night sky.  They are finished for the day.

They are tired.  Each one yawns and stretches but they have one more thing to do before they can sleep.  It is a surprise of sheer wonder.

He is a master of making every single word meaningful.  His short concise sentences and phrases ring out and linger like a bell strike.  Kevin Henkes uses repetition superbly.  His introduction of colors, numbers, and concepts heightens the rhythm of his storytelling.  Here are two sentences.

Big and round
and round they are.
Big and round
and round they go.

The pastel, limited color palette of pink, green, purple, yellow and blue with soft chocolate brown for this book appears in all its precious glory on the opened dust jacket. The lift of the elephants' feet and their eyes signal their enjoyment in marching.  To the left, on the back, within a band of white the elephants happily move beneath a sun as butterflies keep them company.  Tiny leaves and flowers dot the ground.  On the front the text and elephants are varnished.

The book case is blue on the front and the back is pink with a wide, textured spine in brown.  A large elephant outlined in brown on the front is facing readers.  On the back, the elephant has his back to us.  On a canvas of the soft chocolate brown five butterflies and a sun with rays in pink are placed on the opening endpapers.  In blue on the closing endpapers are the crescent moon and a handful of five stars.  Beneath the text on the title page the five elephants march.  

The matte-finished paper accentuates the softness of Kevin Henkes's illustrations rendered in brown ink and gouache. The first two words are in huge multi-colored type filling the entire page.  The numbering of the elephants extends over two pages; five lines for the addition of each elephant.  This technique of rows is cared to the next two pages with the elephants marching in a larger band of white with a purple band above and below them.  

Kevin Henkes employs the band pattern throughout the book.  It fashions a marvelous flow for readers' eyes.  To elevate interest and pacing he inserts full page pictures and double-page images.  It's genius!

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when the concept of over and under appears.  Within a wide band at the top of the page the five elephants are crossing a stone bridge.  Yellow fish leap in the water below them.  The elephants are in constant motion.  Under this first band is a band of purple holding the text.  Along the bottom the five friends are marching through palm fronds.  Kevin Henkes changes the position of their legs and heads to supply more animation.

A Parade Of Elephants written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes is certain to become a favorite in your homes, classrooms and libraries; it will be welcome wherever it is read.  It is one of those books no one will mind reading five times a day or night before bedtime.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and private collections.

To learn more about Kevin Henkes and his other work, please visit his website by using the link attached to his name.  At the publisher's website a teaching guide is provided for this title and some of his other books.  At Kevin's website other resources are available for this book.  Please enjoy the book trailer.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

In Stillness

Slow down, please.  Now, stop.  Find a place to sit down.  Can you hear it?  What?  Nothing.  This is the sound of silence.  Everything and everyone are at rest.  Wrap yourself in it; feel the cozy comfort of being still.  Enjoy it.  Great things come from this state of being.

Sometimes we believe inactivity is a waste of time; a sign of the absence of accomplishments.  In truth, without it we fail to hear our heartbeat, the heartbeat of others and the beat of Earth's heart.  Quiet (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, October 9, 2018) written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola is a shared walk into serenity.

"My, oh my," the grandfather said.
"Everything is in such a hurry.

A grandfather is strolling with his granddaughter, grandson and family dog among flowers, leafy trees, buzzing bees, other insects and creatures cautiously watching them.  A flock of birds lifts into the air.  The children notice other living things in motion.

Their dog chases a thrown ball.  A nearby frog leaps into a pond.  Look at the trees!  Leaves rustle in a soft breeze.

At the suggestion of their grandfather they all walk toward a bench.  It's time to sit for a few minutes.  While they are there the grandfather points to the flock of birds, now settled in the tree branches.  The pooch has paused for a quick nap.  Residents of the pond are at rest.

Eyes closed the family is as still as everything around them.  Each member realizes quiet allows them to do certain things with ease.  Never underestimate the power of Quiet.

The word choices in the spare text of Tomie dePaola cast a spell of peace over all who read them. The verbs of motion provide a contrast to those representing stillness. An atmosphere of thankfulness permeates the entire walk and rest on the bench.  The grandfather in his conversation with his grandchildren asks them to be mindful of their surroundings.  Out of respect for him, they reply in kind.  Here is another sentence.

"And a dragonfly zooming over the water."

When you hold this book in your hands and look at the front of the opened dust jacket, a hush encompasses your soul.  The presence of white space acts as an element here and on all the pages inside the book.  The soft colors and fluid lines ask us to rest.  When we do, we notice the doves, ladybugs, rabbits, praying mantis on the lily stems and the dragonfly acting as a dot for the "i" in quiet.

Set on a canvas of pure white on the back, to the left, is a dragonfly quietly posed on a bent cattail.  This is extending from the lower, left-hand corner of the page.  The book case is a textured subdued, grass green.  Embossed on the front in metallic soft turquoise is the lily pad and flower seen on the front of the dust jacket.

The opening and closing endpapers are colored in a brighter spring green.  The white outline of a dragonfly in flight on the first and motionless on the second reflects the contents of the narrative.  On the initial title page, the family group is leaving their home.  They are in miniature along the bottom of the page with a large expanse of white above them.  We move in closer to them for the formal title page on a double-page picture.

Rendered in transparent acrylics and colored pencil the illustrations are a beautiful representation of the work of Tomie dePaola and the natural world we enter with this grandfather and his grandchildren.  There is much to see in the first double-page image.  A mole peeks from a hole.  A worm crawls along the grass.  Bees fly, a beetle crawls, a ladybug pauses with a praying mantis and a mother fox curls with two baby pups.

Tomie dePaola outlines each scene in a fine line but in some an element breaks that line giving a sense of motion or the continuation of the area beyond what we can see.  Other creatures are tucked into his images, snails, ants, a squirrel, and a butterfly.  Even in this calm we are accompanied.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a close-up of the dog napping.  This is a double-page picture.  To the left we can see a portion of the bench and the girl's purple dress, knee, hand, leg and shoe.  Looped under the bench is the dog's leash.  A single golden orange daylily curves to the right of the bench.  Stretched from the center of the left side, across the gutter and nearly to the edge of the right side is the dog.  He (she) is lying on his side, front paws extended back in front of the belly.  The back legs are out.  This is the essence of peace.

If you seek calm, Quiet written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola is a wise selection.  It is breathtaking in its simplicity.  After a read aloud with children or students, it would be interesting to have them speculate on the movements in nature in the other seasons of the year.  This is certain to promote conversations about the value of stillness.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Tomie dePaola and his extensive work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations. Tomie is interviewed at Brightly about his work.  Author and teacher librarian Carter Higgins chats with Tomie about this title on her site, Design Of The Picture Book.  Be sure to stop by A Fuse # 8 Production hosted by Elizabeth Bird, Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system, for the cover reveal.  Tomie also chats about this title on NPR's Morning Edition and America The Jesuit Review.  The first is an audio interview and the second is a video interview with some scenes in Tomie's studio.  Enjoy the book trailer.  It's so lovely, you'll hardly be able to wait to hold the book in your hands.

Be Vigilant For Truth

There are those placed in any given situation with others who will observe more.  They will notice the smallest of details about the natural world, objects and the mannerisms of people.  In assessing all this information, they can answer questions, draw conclusions and make predictions.

Able to hone these skills with persistence and practice, they may choose to become scientists, veterinarians, sociologists or officers in law enforcement.  The Eye That Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln (Abrams Books For Young Readers, November 6, 2018) written by Marissa Moss with illustrations by Jeremy Holmes presents highlights of a remarkable life.  It focuses on one episode which most likely changed the course of history.

Allan Pinkerton wasn't any of those things.  Born in 1819, he grew up in one of the worst slums in Scotland. But he had sharp eyes, a quick mind, and a hunger for justice.

At an early age he started to devote his life to rights for workers.  He became a wanted man by the British government.  In fact, on his wedding day, he and his new bride fled the country, hidden on a vessel bound for the United States of America.  Upon their arrival in Chicago, he started a cooperage, barrel making, business.  It was highly successful.

In 1847 finding himself in need of lumber, Allan went to an island in the river hoping to get wood.  He noticed the remains of a recent fire.  By going back night after night, he discovered men making small items in the fire.  Alerting the authorities, they broke up a coin counterfeiting ring.  He did the same thing with another group of counterfeiters in another town.  The Chicago Police Department made Allan Pinkerton their first full-time detective.

Within a year, Pinkerton left to start his own agency.  Increasing the business's abilities meant hiring more agents.  They were all taught using the Pinkerton Method and Manual.  In short order their motto "We Never Sleep" earned them the honor of the best agency in the nation.  This success lead to Pinkerton being hired to protect the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad from harm by those wishing to secede from the union.  In this capacity Pinkerton uncovered rumors of a plot to assassinate newly elected President Lincoln.

Sending in his best people, including the first woman detective, Kate Warne, Pinkerton garnered specific goosebumps-inducing details of the scheme and warned President Lincoln. The clever plan Pinkerton devised to thwart this evil was the stuff of page-turning, thrilling intrigue.  Duly impressed with the work of Allan Pinkerton, President Lincoln created a special team to locate spies for the South and to infiltrate the South as spies.  

Immediately we are enthralled with this man's life by the way author Marissa Moss incorporates facts in this fascinating narrative.  We find ourselves cheering for a person with Pinkerton's powerful characteristics and his actions that support these beliefs.  Marissa Moss's precise and thorough research is apparent in the inclusion of specific details and quotes.  Even though you know the outcome of events, you find yourself hardly daring to breathe.  Here is a passage.

Not trusting the mail or telegraph wires, Pinkerton sent an agent, Kate Warne, to set up an appointment so he could meet with Lincoln, then followed her to Philadelphia, the next city on the president's route.  That night, he pushed his way through the excited crowds in the lobby and halls of the Continental Hotel.  People were even gathered right outside Lincoln's door! This city was friendly to the president-elect.  Here the hordes of people weren't a threat.  What would it be like, though, with angry mobs in Baltimore, a city with strong southern sympathies?

The complementary color palette and illustrative style on the opened and matching dust jacket and book case, capture our attention immediately.  The scratchboard technique devised by illustrator Jeremy Holmes here (and throughout the book) is indicative of a historical piece.  The meticulous details in clothing and architecture take us back in time.  

To the left, on the back, a poster with uneven and wrinkled edges is placed on a wooden wall.  It contains the opening statement with several other lines asking readers to discover how this man became

America's greatest detective.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a patterned diamond design in two shades of purple with what appears to be ink blots.  On the title page the eye, the logo for the agency, is centered with text above and below it.  Scroll work frames the words.

With each page turn Jeremy Holmes creates a series of wordless, successive panels in a variety of sizes or large double page pictures with elements encroaching on the text panel.  This visual storytelling has you examining every single image.  Repeatedly the eye(s) of Pinkerton create a beam of light based on his current work.  

The point of view portrayed in the pictures shifts to coincide with the narrative; bringing us close to Pinkerton or giving us a broader perspective in a particular location.  When speaking of the plot to assassinate the president elect three illustration match the text; a close-up of a hand clutching a red piece of paper, President Lincoln and Mrs. Lincoln driving through groups of people in a horse drawn and open carriage and a large picture of the president's stovepipe hat riddled with bullet holes and script reading

The Deed Is Done.

The use of cross-sections, maps, newspaper headlines, typography, and a Morse telegraph alphabet is excellent.  Speech bubbles add to the authenticity and personal aspects.  A final vertical double-page picture highlights a moment of triumph.  

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Jeremy Holmes zooms in on Pinkerton's face.  His nose centers in the gutter with his face extending on either side.  Pouring from both of his ears are bits and pieces of conversations centering on the plot.  Along the bottom of the page and in front of Pinkerton's beard is an engine, coal car and passenger car of the B & O Railroad.  In the lower left-hand and right-hand corners are squares of text framed in tiny lines.

We become willing and avid time travelers when reading The Eye That Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln written by Marissa Moss with illustrations by Jeremy Holmes.  The word cliff-hanger repeatedly comes to mind with this winning blend of words and illustrations.  A time line, artist's note, author's note, endnotes, bibliography and index add to the excellence of this work.  I highly recommend this for your personal and professional collections.  (Fans of this book will enjoy reading The Detective's Assistant by Kate Hannigan.)

To learn more about Marissa Moss and Jeremy Holmes and their other work, visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Marissa Moss maintains an account on Twitter.  Both Marissa and Jeremy have Instagram accounts.  Marissa is interviewed by Deborah Kalb about this title.  Jeremy visits Let's Talk Picture Books to chat about this book.  You are going to love all the artwork featured.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to discover the other titles listed this week by participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.