Quote of the Month

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

Friday, August 17, 2018

All Together Now

It was early morning.  The sun was not up yet but the birds were.  Their different songs were like instruments in an orchestra tuning before a performance.  Off in the woods a squirrel chattering with gusto scolded an intruder.  Branches snapped as a startled deer ran.  Soon hundreds of bees would hum flitting from blossom to blossom.  The number of living beings sharing space with us is huge and amazing.

As is with many things, if we pause and ponder, we realize all kinds of life in all shapes and sizes swirl around us at all times.  We are part of a much greater whole.  Fur, Feather, Fin: All Of Us Are Kin (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, May 1, 2018) written by Diane Lang with illustrations by Stephanie Laberis addresses the similarities and differences in the families of creatures on our planet.

All animals on Earth are kin,
while not the same on the outside or in.
Some we stroke with loving hand;
some we don't yet understand. 

Mammals, that's us too, do not hatch their babies.  We are all born.  Birds come from eggs but their gift is feathers whether they fly or not.  Some use their wings to move on land or in the water.  From fur to feathers to skin smooth to the touch now we have amphibians.

This is a family with big alterations.  Masses of eggs in water, swimming tadpoles and then like magic we get a frog, toad, or a newt.  A change of skin texture helps to regulate body temperature in the following family.

They move on land and through the water, slowly or quickly.  They can even scoop out a place to keep them safe.  You never know what a reptile will do.  Do you know what group has jointed legs and hard exteriors?

Creeping, crawling, flying and fluttering arthropods travel under water, across land and in the air.  (They do tend to eat each other, sometimes.)  Breathing under water with gills plus their bones distinguish fish from other animals.  Do they all look alike?  Not always.  And are there others making their homes in the water?  Yes!  Can you name one?

There is a special kind of creature whose work is never done.  They make what is dead and gone into something rich and new.  Detritivores are essential to the cycle of life.  With every breath we take, many others are doing it right along with us.

Each phrase or sentence supplies a soothing rhythm for readers as Diane Lang carefully creates rhyming words at the end of each line.  Each of three couplets for the families, mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, arthropods, fish, water dwellers, and detritivores, contains distinguishing facts about them.  An introduction and conclusion bring us full circle.  Listen for the beat.  Here are two couplets.

Metamorphosis:  the road
for changing tadpole into toad . . .

or salamander,
or newt.
And at the end, a whole new suit!

A pristine white canvas highlights the array of animals on the matching, opened dust jacket and book case.  You almost expect them to run right off the page. The tiny intricate details are a request for readers to stop and see how many animals they can find.  How many can they name? 

To the left, on the back, a similar twist and turn has a different group of creatures following a path.  On the opening and closing endpapers a beautiful blue-hued sky is patterned with puffy clouds.  Two sea gulls travel past those clouds.  You will notice the change in their position from the front to the back.

On the verso and title pages a panoramic beach scene spreads before us.  A woman and two children are walking toward the water. On the next double page picture, the little girl and little boy are watching all the animals in a tide pool. (The trio is highlighted on the final two-page illustration of a closer view of the ocean.  There are lots of animals to find here.)

Stephanie Laberis alternates between vast two-page pictures, groupings of smaller images on one or two pages and single-page visuals.  These elevate the pacing while giving readers views of a wide range of animals.  Her illustrations are in full color, depicting different kinds of weather, seasons and settings.

One of my many favorite images is on a single page.  Rain slants across a gray sky.  Moving in close it pelts the feathers of a loon.  Its wing is raised to provide shelter for five furry babies in the nest.  They are in various stages of sleep and wakefulness.  Reeds frame the birds on the right and left.

As soon as readers and listeners are shown this book, Fur, Feather, Fin: All Of Us Are Kin written by Diane Lang with illustrations by Stephanie Laberis, I can guarantee they will move in closer to notice all the animals shown in the wonderful images and portrayed with the poetic, factual words.  This title could be used to begin a unit on animals in general, diversity in the animal world or to begin a study of a particular group.  It will spark awareness and promote research.  You will want to have more animal books ready.  At the close in an author's note more explanations are offered about similarities, differences, how we can help animals now and resources.  You will want to have a copy of this book for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Diane Lang and Stephanie Laberis and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Diane has activities to download.  Stephanie maintains Instagram and Twitter accounts.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Love Grows Love

When another being is close enough to share the air you breathe day after day for years, they are a cherished companion.  They are a part of who you are.  Your days are defined by the experiences you have together.  Others identify the two of you as parts of a wonderful whole.

When, for more than one reason, you are separated the world feels in a word, wrong.  The sense of loss makes it hard to breathe.  In The Rough Patch (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, August 14, 2018) written and illustrated by Brian Lies this missing, essential element in a life is portrayed with gifted awareness.

Evan and his dog did everything together.

Their days were full of play, tasty treats, melodies and singing and all sorts of memorable travels.  Day and night, winter, spring, summer and fall, they did it all . . . together.  Their favorite place to be was Evan's garden. 

This was no ordinary garden.  Oh, no.  Once something was planted here it grew and grew and grew.  It was magnificent.

One day Evan discovered his dog was not sleeping in his bed.  He was resting in death.  In a corner of their beloved garden, Evan buried his dog.  And everything shifted.

In his grief Evan no longer desired to be in the garden.  In fact, he destroyed it.  Cleared ground is an open invitation for seeds.  Weeds grew in place of his fabulous vegetables.  They fit his mood perfectly, so he gardened with these undesirable intruders.  Sorrow flourished.

Seeing a vine with

prickly stems, fuzzy leaves, and spidery, twisty tendrils

creeping under his fence, he was tempted to get rid of it but it, too, suited this dreary plot.  Giving it his usual care day after day, something happened, a big something.  Evan loaded up his truck, heading to the Fair.  On this day Evan felt another shift.  Nothing was going to be the same.

No matter how many times this book is read, if you've loved and lost, you will share in Evan's heartbreak.  Brian Lies writes using declarative sentences, brief but profoundly true.  He builds the relationship of Evan and his dog with sweet simplicity so when the dog dies we can't help but shed tears.  We know exactly of what he speaks.

When Brian tells us about Evan's destruction of the garden they loved, we understand completely.  As Evan helps the weeds to thrive the genius of the book's title becomes abundantly apparent.  Most of us have suffered a rough patch but how many of us have literally helped one to grow? 

The introduction of the vine is a subtle alteration in the story.  We can feel something other than a vine growing.  It is an expectation of a change for the better.  Here are two passages from the book.

If Evan's garden couldn't be a happy place,
then it was going to be the saddest
and most desolate spot he could make it.

And soon it was. 

When first opening the dust jacket readers are treated to a soft blue sky extending from left flap edge to right flap edge.  The snow white fence continues along the bottom.  An evergreen, a perch for a crow, tilts on the left side.  Nearby sticks act as braces for a bush.  Along the top edge of the sticks, a pair of scissors and a trowel hang to discourage unwanted nibblers. Evan is intently sculpting with his clippers.  On the far right a rake is propped against the fence.  This is a peaceful scene.  It gives no hint of the interior.  Is it before or after the conclusion?  (I am working with an F & G generously supplied by Brian Lies.)

On the title page, once again Brian, asks us to extend our thinking.  It is a breathtaking view of clouds in autumn at the close of a day.  Trees with leaves turning colors rise above the white fence surrounding the garden.  Evan's garden appears to be as it was in the beginning.  We are close to Evan as he gazes to the right.  Behind him is a large, large fruit (vegetable).  Toward the bottom of the fence is the shadow of Evan's dog. 

Created with

acrylics, oils, and colored pencils on Strathmore paper

each image is stunning, a beautiful study of light and shadow and shifting perspectives.  The use of color plays heavily in supplying a mood and depicting emotions.  Some of the pictures span two pages and others are loosely framed and grouped together on one or two pages.  Brian may inset one visual into another.  His use of white space will have you gasping.  The picture of Evan leaning over his dog's bed will break your heart in two.

I want to address the point of view seen from illustration to illustration.  We are drawn into the image of Evan leaning on his shovel, thoughtfully looking at his dog's resting place in the garden.  The line of the shadow invites us.  When Evan digs up everything in the garden, on the left he is carting armloads to a compost pile.  On the right a spading fork is so close; it's as if we are standing next to it.  On the day the vine comes beneath the fence the vine fills those two pages.  We see the shadow of Evan's hoe.  All we see of Evan are his garden boots with holes for his paws' claws. 

One of my many, many favorite illustrations (I love all of them.) is of Evan at the fair.  It is a two page picture.  It is bird's eye view of an expanse of a certain kind of fruit gathered together. They are all huge.  A pathway winds between them.  Foxes of varying ages are walking on those paths.  Evan is speaking with two other farmer or gardener friends leaning against these prime garden-grown specimens.  It's when we know Evan is easing into a new normal.  We can hear the murmured conversations and feel the crisp autumn air.

Once you read The Rough Patch written and illustrated by Brian Lies you will read it again and again and again.  It allows us to understand how heartbreak can be healed.  It is simply one of the best books on loss.  I highly recommend it for your personal and professional collections for the excellence found in the text and illustrations. 

To learn more about Brian Lies and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. At the publisher's website you can view interior images. At The Horn Book Brian talks about this book.  Brian visits author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to talk about his process art.  Brian writes a guest post about The Rough Patch at 24 Carrot Writing

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Shared First Step

Each year when the kindergarten students enter the library for the first time, they do so with guarded eagerness.  They are not sure what to expect, so everything done is designed to set them at ease.  They are allowed to select their seats.  The tables are covered with books ready for speedy booktalks.  We have multiple read alouds and everyone leaves wearing a newspaper sailor hat. (Tom Goes To Kindergarten by Margaret Wild and illustrated by David Legge)

Those first days are a mix of excitement and worry for the new gals and guys.  Stepping into the unknown is never easy for anyone.  Mae's First Day Of School (Abrams Books For Young Readers, July 10, 2018) written and illustrated by Kate Berube takes us on a journey of discovery.  You are truly never alone.

Today is Mae's first day of school.
When her mother said,
"It's time to get dressed!"

Mae said, "I'm not going."

No matter what her parents said, Mae replied with the same answer.  There was no way she was going to school.  Mae did go to school.  As she and her mother walked toward the building, her mother talked about all the fun things she would do.  Mae was brimming with doubt.

When they arrived at school, Mae's mother chatted with a man waiting outside with his daughter.  Mae disappeared.  She climbed into a big shady tree.  She was not leaving.

She was deciding if she could live here on this comfy branch.  A rustling sound broke into her thoughts.  A girl's head popped into view.  Rosie was not going to school either.

As the two determined girls chatted a tall lady climbed the tree up to their branch.  She was not going to school either.  Three peopled sat in a tree and none of them were going to school on their first day.  This woman, Ms. Pearl, was afraid of the same things as the two girls.  School was about to start.  What were they going to do?

Without a doubt the words of Mae,

"I'm not going!"

are uttered throughout the world by students (and staff) overly concerned about their first day of school. In the character of Mae, Kate Berube reveals universal truths.  These are further affirmed in the conversations Mae has with Rosie and Ms. Pearl.

Through a blend of narrative and dialogue the story unfolds with natural realism.  Repetition of key phrases provides a gentle cadence. When Ms. Pearl appears it supplies a special twist of humor.   The addition of Mae's cookies enriches the commonalities of the trio while initially creating a spirit of compassion.  Here is a passage.

"I'm not going to school," said Rosie.
"Me neither," said Mae.
"Would you like a cookie?"

Today is Mae and Rosie's first day of 
school, but they are not going.

When you open the dust jacket the use of white space enhances the artwork of Kate Berube.  Mae's demeanor, her hands, her feet and expression, in front of the school speaks volumes about her feelings before we even open the book.  To the left, on the back, two interior images from the classroom, one changed and the other the same, give hints as to what the story will tell us about Ms. Pearl and Rosie.

The marvelous book case on the right, the front, shows a view of Mae and Rosie seated together on the branch in the tree.  They are framed by brush strokes of leafy green.  To the left, the back, a scene of the trio gives us a view of the happy resolution.  It, too, includes a large portion of the tree.

On the opening and closing endpapers shades of bird's egg blue are marbleized across both pages.  On the title page, a hesitant Mae stands in front of the school doors.  Rendered

with ink, flash paint, acrylic paint, and colored pencils on cold press watercolor paper

the illustrations span two pages, single pages and for pacing are sometimes grouped two to a single page.  Kate Berube gives readers varying perspectives.  We are close to Mae when she utters her opinion about attending school.  When she and her mother arrive at school we are far enough away to see what the parents cannot see.  We are even farther away when we see the arrival of more students at school as well as a view of the girls in the tree.  As she did on the dust jacket, Kate uses white space to accentuate specific moments for all three characters.  It's truly wonderful the way Kate can convey emotion in her facial expressions with the smallest of details.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Rosie climbs the tree.  This image is spread across two pages.  To the right we are looking down at Mae's legs hanging over the branch.  On the left, coming up the trunk is Rosie.  Her hands are placed on smaller branches to her left and right.  We see her face and a portion of her backpack.  All across the top and to the middle of the right side are green leafy branches.

Whether it's your first day of school ever or your first day of the upcoming school year, Mae's First Day Of School written and illustrated by Kate Berube will resonate with all readers.  It's a reminder of the worries we all have and how alike our worries are.  It emphasizes the value of facing fears together.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Kate Berube and her other work, please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog.  Kate maintains an account on Twitter.  The cover for this book with process art and explanations by Kate is shown on the site of teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner.  Kate Berube is featured at KidLit411.  

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Buzzworthy Picture Book August 10 for 10 #pb10for10

Six years have come and gone but participating in the annual Picture Book 10 for 10 is a highlight every year for me.  People who love books gather their favorites of a year or favorites revolving around a theme.  This yearly celebration was created by Mandy Robeck and Cathy Mere and we extend to them much gratitude. If this is something in which you would like to participate Cathy explains how it works here.

Some years I agonize about what books to select in general or if there is a important theme.  For my first year, I shared ten plus two of my favorite alphabet books from my personal collection.  (I think it might be time to update that list.)  Many times alphabet books are some of the first books read aloud.  They need to reflect the best kind of writing and illustrations.

In 2013 I shifted toward the best dog books.  My sweet Xena choose those titles from my collection numbering more than two hundred fifty.  That year I used an application called Learni.st to host the choices.  This can now only be accessed by using the app rather than the website.  If you use the app Learni.st and search under Xena the book list, August Ten for Ten Xena's Favorite Dog Books, will appear.

For year three my list revolved around books to be used as companions to my first list. They are about counting and numbers.  Apparently I have a hard time counting as I have eleven titles.

Each year there are books I wish to add to my theme for 2015.  These books bring calm and peace any time of the day but bedtime, sleep and sweet dreams are precious.  Like dinosaurs robots command the attention of many readers.  The interest for them is a constant.  In 2016 I choose titles with robots as main characters.  Last year my attention turned to friendship.  How we model and mirror relationships to the children in our lives leaves lasting impressions.  In this topsy-turvy world we need people whose loyalty is constant.  I selected ten plus one titles.  Spirit Xena and my wild child Mulan each selected a book. (Stopping at ten is not easy for me.  The number thirteen is lucky in this list.)

For 2018 I supply a list which has importance not only to me but for everyone on this planet.  Our honeybees are in trouble.  It's only been this last week, I have seen any at all.  All bees seem to be in a frenzy to gather nectar and pollen.  You can hear their buzz among the wild flowers and in gardens.  These are books I will be sharing with my story time patrons in the next two weeks.  A link attached to most of the titles takes you to my full recommendation.

1.  Buzzy the bumblebee (Sleeping Bear Press, October 1, 1999) written by Denise Brennan-Nelson with illustrations by Michael glenn Monroe

One sunny day, in a beautiful garden, there sat a bumblebee named Buzzy.

Can you imagine believing yourself to be able to do something, having done it every single day of your life, and then to suddenly be told you are incapable of doing it?  This is what happens to Buzzy.  He reads that

"Bumblebees weren't made to fly."

Sitting on top of a flower and how to get down is only his first problem.  He also happens to be far from his home.  What Buzzy discovers is what we all need to discover.

A teacher's guide is provided by the publisher.

2.  The Bear's Song (Chronicle Books, September 17, 2013) written and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud

Deep in his den, Papa Bear starts to snore.  Winter whistles through the forest. Hibernation has begun.

Little Bear is not in the den.  Oh, no.  He is merrily following the sound of a single bee.  Despite his youth, he has learned that a bee will lead him to honey.

With an instinct as old as time, Papa Bear suddenly wakes knowing Little Bear has vacated the premises.  Searching left, searching right; Papa Bear can't get the errant youngster in sight.  From the forest he runs until he finds himself among streets lined with buildings and filled with people, lots of people.

Loaded with details and humor, Little Bear searches for a final seasonal sweet treat as Papa Bear searches for him.

3.  Bees in the City (Tilbury House Publishers, November 17, 2017) written by Andrea Cheng with illustrations by Sarah McMenemy

"Aunt Celine's honey is the best in the world," I say, licking the honey off my fingers.

Papa puts a spoonful of the golden honey into his tea.  "That's because she has the best helper in the world."

If you thought beekeeping is only for those living in the country, this book highlights the story of a boy and his aunt working together to save a hive of bees.  His ingenuity and determination and her willingness to preserve the bees are a winning combination. Friends in his apartment building and supportive adults highlight the advantage of urban beekeeping.  Two pages of author notes further enhance this title.

4.  The Honeybee (Atheneum Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, May 8, 2018) written by Kirsten Hall with illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault

A field..
A tree.
Climb it and see . . .

Fields of flowers stretch to the horizon.  In the stillness of watching, a soft sound floats on the air.  It's getting closer and louder.  It's like hearing one of the Earth's heartbeats.  It's a honeybee!

Its four wings, two in the front and two in the back, are creating a welcome song.  It searches in circles and loops.  It finally succumbs to the lure of the ultimate flower.  A flower filled with the sweetness of nectar.  First a sip, then the gathering begins.

Marvelous to read for the lovely words and illustrations this book is also a loving tribute to these necessary and amazing creatures.  A final page is a letter Kirsten Hall has written to readers listing the attributes of honeybees and how we can help them.

5. Bee & Me: A Story About Friendship (Old Barn Books, April 7, 2016) written and illustrated by Alison Jay

This story without words is a contemporary fable with a lasting message.  We begin with a wide view of a city scene, as if we are flying above the busy street lined with buildings on either side.  A bee loop de loops into an open window.  Needless to say, it startles a girl reading on her bed much like the bee in the author's studio.

Whether it was destiny or an accident, the arrival of the bee in Alison Jay's studio ignited a story in this nature lover's heart.  From her pen the concept is one of the value of caring for those smaller and in need.  As the bee grows, so does the friendship, blossoming into a shared desire to make their world a better place.

 This book is a heartwarming tale of compassion for each other and our world.  We learn along with the girl the value of every single living thing.  We can see how caring encourages growth.  After the final image, Alison Jay includes a Bee Aware! page listing things to do to help bees and provide them protection and preservation.

6. Please Please the Bees (Albert Whitman & Company, April 11, 2017) written and illustrated by Gerald Kelley

Benedict was a creature of habit.  He liked to do the same thing every day.

His mornings, afternoons and evenings were marked by his favorite meals and beverages.  In-between he could be seen playing his violin, knitting, riding his scooter or reading.  Life was good for this honey-loving bear until it wasn't.

The bees decide to hold a strike.  Benedict's life without honey is not worth considering.  Choices and actions are needed.  This book has several layers which beg for contemplation and discussion after a read aloud.

7.  The King of Bees (Peachtree Publishers, April 1, 2018) written by Lester L. Laminack with illustrations by Jim LaMarche

Henry and Aunt Lilla lived deep in the Lowcountry, where South Carolina reaches out and mingles with the saltwater to form tidal creeks and marshes.  Sometimes Henry felt like the whole world ended at the far edge of that water.

Included in the landscape of Henry's world beyond his home, the garden, hen house and shed were beehives.  For the bees Henry felt a genuine affection.  He longed to help his Aunt with the bees.  She finally agreed he could watch her work.  Clothed in her bee suit, wearing her hat with a net and keeping the smoker nearby, she spoke softly to them.

An impending danger puts Henry in a position to help but he can't foresee the results.  This title is for one-on-one reading or reading to a group.  It speaks to the love of family and of nature. In an author's note Lester L. Laminack talks about the premise for this book and his lifelong attraction to bees.

8.  The Bee Tree (Philomel Books, April 21, 1993) written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco

"I'm tired of reading, Grampa."  Mary Ellen sighed.  "I'd rather be outdoors running and playing."

"So you don't feel like reading, eh?  Feel like running, do you? Then I expect this is just the right time to find a bee tree!"  he said, taking down a jar and putting on his lucky hat.

The duo are outdoors in no time at all collecting three bees in the jar.  When the first is let out, they take off running to follow it.  As they weave their way through town, first one, then another person starts to follow them.  Soon a group is as eager as they are for the taste of honey.  You might be surprised what Grampa does at the close of the day but his answer will have your reader's heart soaring like a bee going home.

9.  Bear and Bee (Disney Hyperion, March 12, 2013) written and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier

This title shows how the right amount of understanding can fill more than an empty stomach.

Moving about as the snow melts, putting on his red sandals, Bear gets ready to venture out.  By the time he leaves his cozy den, stretching to greet the sunny day, flowers are blooming among the green grasses. A treat is hanging from a nearby tree branch.

"I'm hungry," says Bear.

There is one key thing keeping Bear from going to the tree.  Even though he has never seen a bee, he fears them.  Ensuing conversations between Bear and Bee slowly reveal the truth.  This is a truly huggable book about the relationship, real and imagined, between two of Earth's valued creatures.

10. Honey (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, March 27, 2018) written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein

It was his second year.
"I'm back!" he said.

After his long winter nap, Bear was hungry.  As he was looking for a meal or even a snack, his mind thought of honey.  Every single aspect of honey, every descriptive phrase, floated through his conscience.  He had to have honey!

As we follow Bear from place to place, activity to activity, throughout the summer we come to understand his desire for finding honey.  David's depictions of Bear will find a place in your heart.  His words will have you reaching for the nearest jar of honey and longing just a little bit more for the soothing days of summer.

It's been a hot and dry summer here and for many places in our country and continent but it is a season necessary for the cycle of life.  I hope these books will promote discussions and research.  I hope these books will have all of us working a little bit harder for bees, especially honeybees.  Happy reading to all of you.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

A Saint Among Serpents And Their Kin

A lack of rain this summer in northern Michigan has kept the sightings of snakes in our area down to a minimum.  Which for some, if not many, people are perfectly fine.  They tend to startle you more than present danger if you're not expecting them.  (Believe it or not, I've had a garter snake wrapped around my wrist.  When you're at camp with your students, you need to set aside personal fears to put your children at ease.  Surprisingly enough the snake felt unexpectedly dry and textured.)

Many people have an affinity for at least one kind of animal.  They feel a connection to them.  Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, March 13, 2018) written by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala is a captivating chronicle of a unique and surprising woman.

Back in the days of long skirts and afternoon teas, a little girl named Joan Procter entertained the most unusual party guests.

These party guests were one (or more) of a collection of lizards and snakes she kept in her bedroom.  Like special friends, she was eager to learn everything she could about them.  They were her quiet companions on those many days when her chronic illness kept her from school.

When she turned sixteen, as a birthday present, she was given a crocodile.  It was not an appropriate visitor in her math class at school.  Joan sought solace at the Natural History Museum.  The curator saw a kindred spirit in Joan.

The outbreak of war left vacant positions.  Joan was hired as an assistant to the curator.  At his retirement she became the one in charge. Her work at the museum lead to the London Zoo hiring her to create a new house for their reptiles.  When this new space was open to the public, they were treated to the first ever viewing of two male Komodo dragons.

Joan's reputation and skill in working with reptiles grew, bringing her international attention.  So, too, did her bond with one of the Komodo dragons, Sumbawa.  They were frequently seen together, at presentations, at the zoo and . . . tea parties. 

Each time this book is read admiration for Joan Procter is guaranteed to grow.  Patricia Valdez's extensive research and conversational writing allow us to feel as if we personally knew this extraordinary woman who dedicated her life to reptiles, especially her beloved Komodo dragon, Sumbawa.  Each portion of her years, including specific details as depicted by Patricia, builds toward her unparalleled accomplishments bringing us full circle. Here is a passage. 

The Zoological Society of London invited Joan to present her
Komodo dragon research at a scientific meeting.  As Joan took
the stage, she wheeled out Sumbawa, sitting freely atop a large
table.  The audience squirmed in their seats.

Joan stroked Sumbawa's head and fed him a pigeon.  He ate it
in one gulp.

The ease this woman felt with reptiles, her love of working with them, is fascinatingly portrayed on the matching dust jacket and book case.  Notice how two smaller lizards are entwined in the title text. As our eyes travel across the spine to the left, on the back, we are given a hint of her achievements at the London Zoo.  A portion of a larger interior illustration is collaged on a darker shade of green.

On the opening and closing endpapers illustrator Felicita Sala provides a close-up view of Joan Procter's work space.  An open book, and Manual of Herpetology, a sketch of scales and a snake's nose, a rock, several plants, specimens, a snake, and pencils are seen.  Joan's hand is holding a magnifying glass over the snake.  Between the texts on the title page a specimen jar with a lizard curled around it is placed in the center. 

Each image, some on single pages and others spanning two pages, in full color, show us first a girl determined to pursue those things she loves regardless of the status quo.  As Joan Procter grows older we can see her attachment to her reptiles increase.  Felicita takes great care in taking us to the place and time through the clothing and architecture of the time period.

Another important aspect of her pictures is the perspective.  Altering it allows us to participate in the narrative.  We see a woman surrounded in a circle of reporters, looking down at her Komodo dragon, wishing they would focus on him.  We are in the audience as Sambawa wanders through the feet of the attendees.  We are a bird looking down at Joan with Sambawa beside her as she moves through the zoo in her wheel chair.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when people are first seeing the Komodo dragons.  Joan notices Sambawa appears ill.  On the left side of the picture her feet and hand are extended to him.  The people behind the glass cannot believe she has entered the enclosure.  To the right of the gutter the rest of his body, his head and neck and one foot are laying on an examination table.  Now in a white coat she is tending to his sore mouth with one hand on his head and a swab in the other hand.

For a unit on memorable women, reptiles or must-read picture book biographies Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles written by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala is a title needed in both your professional and personal collections.  Every time I read this book, I am moved by the sheer commitment of this woman.  In a two page author's note we learn more about Joan and Komodo dragons.  A lengthy bibliography is included.

To learn more about Patricia Valdez and Felicita Sala, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Both Patricia and Felicita maintain Twitter accounts.  Felicita has an Instagram account and a blog.  Patricia wrote a guest post on author Beth Anderson's website.  KitLit411 highlights Patricia Valdez.

Make sure you visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected by other participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Starry Memories

No camping experience is complete without at least one night of star gazing.  During the summer in the northern hemisphere away from the city lights, the best time for viewing stars is before, during and after a new moon.  It is the darkest time of those short nights.  In 2018 there has been no lack of events to witness in our night skies. In fact in four days, the Perseid meteor showers will begin their amazing show.

During a night of star gazing the topic of navigating by the stars usually makes its way into a conversation.  For those residing north of the equator, one particular star never sets.  It helps us all to find the four compass points.   First Star: A Bear And Mole Story (Holiday House, May 1, 2018) written and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand, a fifth book about these two lovable characters, takes us on a single night journey.  It's brimming with an explanatory tale, a revelation about an important constellation and the joy of an affectionate bond.

Mole gazed up.

Looking up at the sky Mole has a question for Bear.  He wants to

see the stars turn on.

Bear replies with a suggestion of hiking to Camp Tiptop.  Mole gets their blanket (tent) and they both fill their backpacks with necessary items.

They climb and climb until getting to the top of this rocky mountain.  Once they are there, Mole has another question.  He is concerned about getting lost in the dark.  He decides he wants to go back home.  Again Bear answers.

Bear knows a good story can dispel fears.  He takes Mole back in time to First Father Bear, First Mother Bear and First Little Bear.  They lived as bears do today but at night, it was darker than the darkest dark. 

First Little Bear and First Mother Bear make a large bright light with Earth's materials.  First Little Bear continues using more of Earth's materials spreading smaller lights all over the night sky.  Then First Father Bear does the most amazing thing of all. He gives a name to his accomplishment before doing one more thing.  As our two companions, Bear and Mole, gaze at the stars, the nighttime sky gives them a final surprise.

For our younger readers (and those young at heart) Will Hillenbrand has penned a narrative ringing true to their tender hearts.  First we come to understand the affectionate relationship between Bear and Mole. The comfort Mole feels in asking questions and Bear's patience in answering are indicative of this bond.

With ease, through their dialogue, Bear weaves a story of his own about the origin of celestial bodies.  Several of Bear's thoughts are downright profound.  At the conclusion Will continues by adding a bit of universal folklore about stars.  Here is a passage.

So, First Little Bear helped his mother
dig up white clay.

They shaped it into a ball.  The ball was Moon.
Moon shone brightly.

"Look, Bear, I 
see a funny face
on the Moon!"
called Mole. 

When you first open the matching dust jacket and book case, the friendship between Bear and Mole is apparent in the way Bear holds Mole and the ease Mole feels in Bear's arms.  The joy they feel at sharing this nighttime adventure is evident and shining in their happy expressions. You will come to understand the choice by Will Hillenbrand to depict his stars as small circular shapes but you will also notice the star on the lantern carried by Mole and the use of a star to dot the "I".

The starry sky extends over the spine to the left edge of the back.  An outline of Ursa Minor points toward our pals.  Readers will enjoy running their hands over the jacket to feel the textures.  The title text, Mole's lantern glass and the little bear on the back are raised and glittery.

A pale blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Beneath the text on the title page, Mole stands looking upward and holding his lantern.  On the verso and dedication pages, Mole crawls from under their blanket tent.  On the underside it is patterned in stars.

Rendered in direct impression and pencil most of the illustrations span two pages.  Several smaller images are grouped together to indicate the passage of time on a few pages.  During the telling of the origin story two of the pictures show the bears from the past larger than life in the sky with Bear and Mole seated on a log, much smaller and in the lower right hand corner.  Will Hillenbrand's shifts in perspective are marvelous.  His vertical two-page picture will have readers gasping. (So will the following two illustrations.)

One of my many favorite illustrations is the one for the text noted in the above passage.  It stretches across two pages.  An uneven faint outline in black frames the night sky on all four sides.  On the left First Mother Bear and First Little Bear are shaping the ball glowing in the sky.  They are standing on clouds.  On the right three evergreen trees rise in the meadow grass like black lace.  To the left of them sitting on a log are a smaller Mole and Bear.  They are looking skyward as if watching the work of the First Bears.  Mole's lantern glows on his left.

The marvelous charm of First Star: A Bear And Mole Story written and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand wraps around readers like a cozy blanket.  Perfect for a bedtime story, a story about friendship, and the origin of celestial bodies, this book will become a favorite. You might want to have a bear and mole puppet handy to try a reader's theater with your group of children.  You could also pair this with books about camping like Molly Idle's Camp Rex, or titles about nighttime exploration like Flashlight by Lizi Boyd.

To learn more about Will Hillenbrand and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  At the publisher's website you can access a lesson plan to use along with this title. Enjoy the videos.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Deep, Deeper, Deepest . . . Keep On Digging

Besides delivering unconditional love twenty-four/seven canines have other distinguishing gifts.  They have the innate ability to make us laugh at their weird expressions and sleep positions.  They bark and run when they dream.  Some of them are constantly stealing socks, shoes and gloves or devouring paper toweling.  Many of them can give an excavator a run for its money with their digging habits.

Dogs can create mounds of dirt and sand within minutes.  They can recreate an entire landscape in hours.  They have different techniques; some alternate their front paws in a speedy scooping motion or others dig, pull and jump with both paws at the same time.  One of the true champions in fiction, probably in real life too, is found in A Dog Named Doug (Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, June 26, 2018) written by Karma Wilson with illustrations by Matt Myers.  You might need to duck from the incoming flying dirt if you can stop laughing long enough. 

Once there was a dog named Doug.
Doug liked to dig, but when Doug dug . . .

Nothing in the immediate area near Doug remains unchanged.  It's a glorious eruption of dirt and anything found in that dirt.  One fine day Doug dug up the residence of a ground squirrel who issued a challenge.  Doug accepted.  It was a race to be remembered in the annals of digging.

Did Doug stop after leaving the squirrel in the proverbial dust?  Of course not!  He kept on digging.  He left dirt piles for miles.  The ruts were as deep as gulches.  He traversed on all compass points. He unearthed a fortune in buried treasure. He kept on digging completely focused.

This dog tunneled all the way to Washington, D. C. visiting the lawn of the White House.  After taking a tour (That's what you do when you are in the capital of the United States.) he started to funnel through the Oval Office floor to get back home.  This pup had a purpose but he ended up far from his goal.  Home was not an African savanna, among the heads found on Easter Island, at the top of a snowy mountain peak or the green of a golf course. 

Doug eventually dug his way home.  The family was not happy with the muddy mess BUT they loved Doug and softly bid him good night.  Now, you might think Doug was done digging.  Nope.  He had to find the right spot so he could dream of . . .

Superb use of alliteration by beloved author Karma Wilson will have readers and listeners alike moving to the beat of this story.  Rhyming words at the end of phrases enhance the cadence.  The repetition of

And boy, did Doug


is a clear invitation for participation in the narrative. Here is a passage.

He dug to the 
He dug to the 

He dug his way to a treasure chest
with about a million dollars inside!
Doug smiled wide, then tossed it aside.

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case white as an element allows our eyes to center on Doug digging the "u" in his name but also helps us to see the word dog.  Matt Myers's clumps of dirt soaring upward add to the realism.  To the left, on the back, is a close-up of Doug, panting with joy and covered in bits of dirt.  There is no doubt that this dog lives for digging.  On the dust jacket Doug, the dog and title, are varnished.  The dirt is too but it's also raised to the touch.

The opening and closing endpapers are a rich chocolate brown.  On the title page Doug is digging away in the flower bed in his yard.  The publisher and publishing places are cleverly interwoven among the dirt.  This is the first of numerous, delightful details courtesy of Matt Myers.

Rendered in acrylic and oil paint on illustration board each image is designed not only to elevate the narrative but heighten the humor.  Every page turn will have you smiling, laughing out loud or looking for all the extra elements.  Mounds of dirt become the letters "m".  Punctuation becomes a tunnel with Doug digging.  Words are formed from Doug's digging.

We are privy to all the underground discoveries as well as seeing what is happening above ground.  A miner looking like he's been below the surface for decades is the joyful recipient of Doug's digging.  Doug's particularly attracted to a point of interest inside the White House.  (Is that a Secret Service agent after Doug?)  The illustration sizes shift in size to supply additional pacing.  You will most definitely be unable to contain your mirth at one's specific visual's orientation. 

One of my many favorite pictures is at the beginning of the book.  We are first introduced to Doug's capacity for digging.  The first two-page spread shows Doug in his neat yard near his dog house.  This next illustration is the same scene after Doug digs.  The items he finds are guaranteed to produce loads of giggles.  And readers will wonder why those things ended up buried.  They are scattered within mounds of dirt.  All we see of Doug is his backside as he goes underground, merrily digging.

No story time about dogs, pets, determination or acts of digging will be complete without A Dog Named Doug written by Karma Wilson with illustrations by Matt Myers. Everything about Doug and where his digging takes him is an opportunity for shared laughter.  Each of the places he visits will generate conversations about what he sees.  I highly recommend this for your personal and professional collections.  You might want to pair it with Walk Your Dog (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, June 5, 2018) written by debut author Elizabeth Stevens Omlor with pictures by Neesha Hudson,  George the Hero Hound (Two Lions, March 20, 2018) written and illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler, I Got a New Friend (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, May 23, 2017) written and illustrated by Karl Newsom Edwards, Percy Dog Of Destiny (Boyd Mills Press, March 28, 2017) written by Alison McGhee with illustrations by Jennifer K. Man or Antoinette (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, February 14, 2017) written by Kelly DiPucchio with pictures by Christian Robinson. 

To learn more about Karma Wilson and Matt Myers and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites. At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Karma and Matt are both on Twitter.  You can find them on Instagram also, here and here.  They are featured on Storytime Out Loud Podcast.  

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Hear With Your Heart

When you enter your favorite indie book shop sometimes you are looking for a specific title.  On another occasion you search a subject area or genre with no special book in mind.  There are certain circumstances when after locating what you want, you are drawn to another shelf for no particular reason.  It's uncanny how you reach for a book, read it and realize it speaks to your reader's heart.

You stop for a few moments wondering why this title speaks to your reader's heart.  If A Horse Had Words (Tundra Books, June 5, 2018) written by Kelly Cooper with illustrations by Lucy Eldridge is one of those books.  It addresses with great care and insight how bonds are built between humans and animals.  Some animals have a large capacity for understanding and unconditional love.

THE FOAL IS BORN on a spring morning of sunshine and snowmelt.

She sees the signs of spring around her in the trees, flowers, fresh rainfall and the sky.  Instinctively she knows she needs to stand.  As she struggles to brace her body with her front legs pushing up, her back legs pull her down as they sink into badger hole.

 A truck rumbles into view as she tries to get herself free.  Stepping from the stopped vehicle a man and boy offer assistance.  After the foal is pulled free by a gentle voice, a rope and her own will, she realizes she and the boy are alike.  They both prefer to move as far off the ground as they can.

Seasons come and seasons go.  The foal becomes a horse named Red Badger.  The boy grows into a teen who likes peppermint candies.  One day when the boy tries to ride Red Badger her love of the boy is overshadowed by her dislike of the ground.  She bucks and kicks tossing him to the dirt.  Red Badger is sold.

Many more seasons come and go.  Red Badger is at a rodeo.  None of the cowboys can stay in the saddle on her back.  Again she waits in the chute for her next rider.  She hears a remembered gentle voice.  She smells a familiar scent.  Elation.

A storytelling rhythm is supplied with the picturesque descriptions of Kelly Cooper followed by

If a horse had words, the word would be . . .

With her words she takes us to a place and time acquainting us with the moods and emotions of the horse and her boy.  Sentence by sentence she builds the relationship between the two, one horse and one human, until a timeless friendship is forged.  Here is a passage.

She is tall now, has to bend her head to sniff
the pocket of the boy's shirt.  She smells
something sweet and sharp and delicious.

"Hello, Red Badger."

If a horse had words, the word would be . . .


A generous use of white space on the opened dust jacket draws our attention to the soft, lush images rendered in watercolor here and throughout the book.  Each brush stroke contributes to the subtle textures, and the play of light and shadow.  Spare lines depict emotions on the facial features of the boy and horse.  They are older on the front.  To the left, on the back, both of them are younger, joyously leaping on a sunny spring day.  The text reads:

If a horse had words, the word would be . . .


On the book case white is used as a strong element.  It highlights the final pages of the book.  On the left we see a herd of horses, the new companions of Red Badger.  On the right, a boy (young man) and his horse are together again.  They still move as far off the ground as possible.

On the opening and closing endpapers Red Badger is displayed in five different positions.  The boy is shown in six.  They make a jubilant repeating pattern on all four pages.  Two of those are enlarged and used on the verso and title pages.

Each of the illustrations created by Lucy Eldridge spans either two pages, a single page or a series are placed on a single page.  Sometimes a small image will be tucked above or below the text.  Pictures are also used to frame text.  The manner in which Lucy uses white space causes it to act more as light than white.  It illuminates her watercolor illustrations. 

One of my many favorite pictures is when the boy and foal first meet.  The foal's back legs are stuck in the badger hole.  The rope has been looped around her neck by the boy's father.  The horse is not happy about this rope.  The boy reaches in to touch her nose and softly whisper


A pale green small hill is placed behind them on the lower portion of the page.  Tiny purple flowers, crocuses, bloom in a patch in the lower right-hand corner.  White covers most of the page above the foal and the boy.

It's a story of friendship.  It's a story of remembered love.  I can almost hear readers sigh with pleasure when reading or listening to If A Horse Had Words written by Kelly Cooper with illustrations by Lucy Eldridge.  You will want to use this with a thematic story time on friendship or horses or both.  I sincerely recommend this for both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Lucy Eldridge and her work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  The publisher Tundra Books has an account on Instagram.  You can view additional images there from this book.  You can also see a preview of the beginning at the publisher's website.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Numbered Among The Most Notable

With the reading of each picture book biography, our lives are enriched.  For now, even if we had heard of the selected individual previously, we know more.  We understand their youth.  We understand those who supported them in following their passions and goals.  We understand the obstacles they overcame.  We understand the power of a single dedicated and determined individual.

On November 24, 2015 President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Freedom to Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who worked at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) during the historical time period when Americans first went to space.  Her contributions are immeasurable.  Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt And Company, June 19, 2018) written by Helaine Becker with illustrations by Dow Phumiruk is an informative and moving tribute to an extraordinary woman.

Katherine loved to count.

Wherever she looked and whatever she did, numbers were a part of it.  Fascinated by the stars and beyond, this little girl wanted to learn as much as possible about everything in our world.  She excelled in school moving ahead by three grades!

When most students her age were entering junior high school, Katherine could go to high school.  Segregation tried to stop her.  Her father refused to accept those barriers.

In high school her love of mathematics grew stronger.  After college she became an elementary teacher.  (Choices were limited for women.)  Her dream of being a research mathematician simmered in her soul, though.  In the 1950s NACA (National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics) was looking for women, all women, to hire as mathematicians.  In their second year of hiring Katherine was selected.

As a computer, a human calculator of numbers, Katherine rose to the top.  Her computations of the arc a rocket ship would take from takeoff to landing were lauded.  She was promoted to participate in one project after the other.  It was her re-calculations in the face of the blast Apollo 13 suffered in space which lead to the successful landing. Katherine lived (is living) her dream.

With simple phrases in the beginning of the narrative author Helaine Becker supplies readers with an inviting rhythm.  We willingly step into the life of Katherine Johnson.  How many of us have looked to the stars?  This is an instant connection.

 With each noted instance in the chronicle of Katherine Johnson's life, we find ourselves inwardly cheering her successes.  In the telling of these the research conducted by Helaine Becker is clearly evident.  She also ties multiple scenarios together with the words

count on me.

Additionally in offering an explanation of how the trajectory of a rocket ship works, we have a greater comprehension of the value of Katherine's work.  Here is a passage.

Mercury's missions were going
to be dangerous.  So dangerous that
even the project's star astronaut,
John Glenn, refused to fly unless
Katherine okayed the numbers.

"You can count on me," she said.

Glenn's spacecraft, Friendship 7
orbited Earth three times and
returned home safely.  Glenn became
a national hero. 

Great care in design and layout was given by illustrator (and author) Dow Phumiruk as initially seen on the front of the dust jacket.  Faint lines of graph paper are discernible beneath the hues of blue.  Tiny orbits (look at the details there) circle the large moon brimming with calculations.  Everything about young Katherine speaks to the woman she will become.  Look at her stance and the expression on her face, knowledgeable, curious and full of grace.

To the left, on the back, an interior image fills the page.  We gaze down at Katherine looking out a window in her home at night, imagining all the wonders held in the universe.  Look at the delicate images placed among the stars.  On the book case pale blue graph paper on either side of a red spine displays intricate calculations.  Careful observers will note the repetition of this on the opening and closing endpapers.  In the first young Katherine is shown standing on the stool seen on the front of the dust jacket.  Her back is to us as she performs one of numerous calculations on a chalkboard.

Beneath the text on the title page, an older Katherine works as a computer.  Each of the images, rendered

digitally in Adobe Photoshop with scans of watercolors and textures

spans either one or two pages.  Within those illustrations, Dow Phumiruk may insert other small pictures to place emphasis on pacing and a particular point in the narrative.  Each visual follows into the next seamlessly.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is during the time after the Apollo 13 explosion.  Katherine received a call for help.  The elements in this image have a geometric layout.  Across the top triangular shaped ceiling tile is the backdrop for Katherine, working with determination etched on her face, at a drafting table and calculating the changes.  The base of the desk is white providing a place for the text.  To the left, in a second shape, space is depicted with several orbital paths around the moon, to and from Earth. The damaged ship is part of this scenario.

It's a guarantee individuals will find their souls swelling with respect after reading Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 written by Helaine Becker with illustrations by Dow Phumiruk.  This title honors a true American hero.  I can't imagine a professional or personal bookshelf without a copy of this book.  At the close of the book the author includes More About Katherine and Sources.  One of the sources is from The Makers Project.

To learn more about Helaine Becker and Dow Phumiruk please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Helaine maintains a blog here. Both Helaine and Dow have accounts on Twitter.  Dow has an account on Instagram.  Debbie Ridpath Ohi, author and illustrator, interviews both Helaine and Dow about this book on her site, Inkygirl.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Please enjoy the book trailer.

I know you will enjoy visiting Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by those participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Taking A Bite

Every time we've walked in the past twenty months it's the same thing.  Anyone within hearing distance can detect a voice continually saying, "Leave it, leave it, leave it!"  Labradors are known for their love of food but this one, my Mulan, has an appetite for everything.  It's like having a vacuum cleaner on the end of a leash.

At least with young humans you don't have to worry as much about them having an appetite for everything.  Educators welcoming students, especially kindergarten students, on the first day usually need not add a "do not eat" phrase to a discussion about classroom behavior.  Of course if one of your students happens to be a carnivorous dinosaur, educators might need to rethink the rules.  We Don't Eat Our Classmates (Disney Hyperion, June 19, 2018) written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins is a comedic tale of a student with a craving for children . . . as an entree.

Penelope Rex was nervous.
It's not every day a
little T. rex starts school.

Penelope's mind was filled with questions but of utmost concern was the number of teeth her classmates have.  Wearing her backpack and carrying her lunch box, both covered with ponies because she loved to eat them, Penelope entered her classroom to discover there were not dinosaurs there but children.  She did what any normal T. rex would do.  She ate them.

Mrs. Noodleman, her teacher demanded she spit them back out.  She obeyed her.  Determined to have a good first day regardless of her first transgression, she gave it her best.  Standing at the bottom of a slide with an open mouth at recess was highly inappropriate.  Telling a boy he could sit on her plate at lunch was hardly the actions of a friend.  Her classmates avoided her.  It was a lonely first day.

After school her dad chatted with her about the drawbacks of consuming your classmates.  Oh, how Penelope tried the next day but her true nature prevailed.  It seemed everyone wanted to be where Penelope was not.  Perhaps Walter the goldfish would be Penelope's pal.

Longingly, as an overture of friendship, she stuck her finger into his fishbowl.  Wowee!  She wasn't expecting that to happen.  There was a definite change in Mrs. Noodleman's classroom from that day forward.  (Goldfish are so unpredictable.)

Every sentence Ryan T. Higgins writes is brimming with humor.  The statements are in contrast to normalcy and have a distinct dinosaur perspective, so we can't help but giggle and grin; lots of little gals and guys like ponies but not because they

are delicious.

Ever so slowly all these plot points laden with hilarity are leading us to the twist we don't envision.  These points are aided by dialogue which is out and out laughter inducing.  Here is a passage.

"Penelope Rex," her father asked,
"did you eat your classmates?"

"Well . . . maybe sort of 
just a little bit."

One look at the opened dust jacket front and we know this little dinosaur simply can't help eating her classmates.  Look at the overturned chairs.  Look at the two tennis shoes, especially the one covered in drool coming from Penelope's mouth.  To the left, on the back, on a purple textured canvas is a smaller image with the pony lunchbox, a single box of apple juice and a stack of sandwiches, several breaking the frame.   Portions of both the front and back are varnished.  The title text is raised.

On the book case a single illustration features Walter.  His bowl is on the shelf at school but he is currently alone.  A series of connected straws leave his mouth and travel to that single box of apple juice on the right side of the spine.  This is intriguing to say the least and gives a hint of the shifts in this story.

On the opening and closing endpapers on a paler lime green a line is stretched from the left to the right.  Hanging with clips is a series of dinosaur drawings.  All sixteen are different.  They reflect varying degrees of artistic ability.  (Notice the dedication page.)  Beneath the title page text Penelope is saying

You will never be
eaten by a T. rex.
They are extinct.
I promise!

The illustrations rendered using scans of treated clayboard for texture, graphite, ink, and Photoshop span single and double pages.  These add emphasis to the narrative creating superb pacing.  Sometimes Ryan will place two smaller pictures on a single page.

Readers will be rewarded if they pause at each illustration.  Many significant elements refer to things found in real life. (On several of the images the setting is muted in a limited palette but looks like a particular place.)  There are other items; some reinforcing Penelope's existence.  Do you know why there is a motorcycle on the bookcase in her bedroom?  Does the map hanging on her wall resemble a world you know?  This attention to details in his artwork elevates Ryan's narrative and heightens the fun we have reading this book.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Penelope walks into her classroom on the first day and eats all eleven of her classmates.  It spans two pages.  On the far left Walter sits in his fishbowl on the shelf.  At the now empty tables on the left and partially in the gutter are overturned chairs.  Penelope standing with bulging cheeks and meekly holding her arms in front of her has a tennis shoe dangling from her mouth.  Mrs. Noodleman, hand on her hip and book in the other hand, demands that Penelope spits the students back out.  The expression on Penelope's face is hysterical.

Reading this story silently or aloud will have one or more readers and listeners laughing with total abandon.  We Don't Eat Our Classmates written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins is a blast from the past into our present with the best kind of results.  It's one hundred percent perfection.  You will want a copy (or two) for your professional collections as well as your personal collections.

To learn more about Ryan T. Higgins and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  You can get some activity sheets at the publisher's website.  Ryan is highlighted at three different posts at Publishers Weekly, PW KidsCast: A Conversation with Ryan T. Higgins, Q & A with Ryan T. Higgins, and T. Rex Problems: Spotlight on Ryan T. HigginsRyan visits KidLit TV and chats with author Phil Bildner on Phil's Fast Five, Podcast Bunny Presents #11, and at author illustrator Jena Benton's Simply 7 Interview. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Finding Friendship

There are those who believe not speaking the same language is a barrier.  All those individuals need to do is enter a gathering of children in a classroom, a library, cultural center or other meeting place to understand the error of this logic.  Children find a way to communicate.  They listen and watch with intention. 

Without fail they appreciate the musicality of hearing a language other than their own spoken aloud.  They find joy in knowing the meaning of one or more words.  How Are You? Como estas? (Henry Holt And Company, March 13, 2018) written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez marks the return of two giraffes introduced to readers in How Do You Say? Como se dice? (Henry Holt And Company, November 8, 2016).  These giraffes saw the value of friendship regardless of the language they spoke.  Now a new bird is listening to their words.



The two giraffes have issued a greeting to the ostrich, which looks straight at readers with a perplexed expression.  They next ask the bird about its current emotional state.  It's unable to reply before they continue with their questions.

With one giraffe speaking Spanish and the other speaking English, they want to know how this creature feels.  Is it shy?  No.  Is it hungry?  No.  Why does this bird seem to be in no particular state of mind?

After making several other queries, they repeat their original question.  Finally the ostrich can tell them the truth without interruption.  It quickly prompts another query from the giraffes.

The ostrich can hardly stand still as it answers.  Neither can the giraffes.  Merriment fills the air.  There is only one thing left to do.  The trio does it with great celebration.

As a friend or an individual desiring to be a friend, it's essential to place the well-being of the other first.  This concern or caring shows a commitment to the relationship.  This is why the giraffes ask so many questions.  Angela Dominguez acquaints us with words used to define an individual's current mood based on feelings often portrayed by the intended audience.  When we are quiet it might be due to shyness, hunger, fright or tiredness. 

The gentle humor present throughout this book is evident on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  The ostrich is looking at readers as if to say, "Who is this giraffe?"  "Does he want to be my friend?" "I'm not exactly sure how I am at this moment."  To the left, on the back, on a canvas of white the conclusion of the story is revealed.  It's when we know how everyone is feeling.

On the opening and closing endpapers Angela Dominguez has placed three rows of circles on the left and on the right.  In an alternating pattern, the head of the ostrich appears twice in one row and once in the next row.  The colors of purple, blue and green are used as light and darker pastels.

On the verso page at the bottom left one of the giraffes is speaking.  At the top all we see are four giraffe legs.  To the right on the title page the ostrich is stepping into view.  With each page turn the giraffes and the ostrich are placed expertly to provide pacing in combination with the phrases and single word replies. 

Their expressions and where they are, especially the giraffes, convey the emotional inquiry.  For shy one of the giraffes is attempting to hide behind a rock.  For tired one of them is completely flat on the ground.  In contrast the ostrich is casually standing until the end.  Throughout the conversations you can't help but feel this is building to something wonderful.  All three of the characters are happy.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when the giraffes ask the ostrich


In this image, as on all of them, Angela Dominguez uses white space as an element to draw our attention to the characters.  On either side of the gutter she brings us close to first one and then the other giraffe.  Their mouths, eyes and eyebrows indicate definite irritation.  It is hilarious to see them like this.  In the background on the right the ostrich is saying


The sense of calm usually exhibited is momentarily absent.

Children (and children at heart) are going to gravitate toward How Are You? Como estas? written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez as much as they did her first book with the giraffe characters.  This bilingual tale is sheer delight to both Spanish and English speaking readers.  I recommend again using this for reader's theater.  You will want to place a copy in both your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Angela Dominguez and her other work, please follow the links attached to her name to access her websites.  You can also follow a link to her blog.  Angela maintains an account on Facebook and on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior pictures.