Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Messages From The Heart

It is a greeting given in friendship.  It is a written declaration of devotion.  It is a token of endearment.  On February 14th, collectively by more people than any other day of the year, love is celebrated.  Brave souls will reveal their sincere feelings for others.  If the fondness is known, shared and has stood the test of time, it is honored for the treasure it is.

You can be a Valentine, the cherished individual, or you can give someone a Valentine, a greeting, a declaration or a token.  This is NOT a Valentine (Chronicle Books, December 26, 2017) written by Carter Higgins with illustrations by Lucy Ruth Cummins offers readers less than traditional displays of tenderness.  They are nonetheless genuine and straight from the heart.

This is not a valentine,
since those come with buckets of roses
and bushels of tulips
that smell like grannies
fresh out of the garden.

On the bus ride to school on Valentine's Day a girl gives a classmate, a boy, a Valentine card.  In response he gives her a handful of dandelions, some blooming, others ready to make wishes come true and several bare.  As he hands her another token he is quick to remind her, this is not a valentine.

Each gesture of kindness and friendship by him to her during the day reveals how well he knows her.  He realizes what he gives her next is not the hues frequently found on Valentines nor is it any of her favorite colors, but it is a color worn by superheroes and she is a superhero to him.  When their teacher asks them to make portraits, his drawing of her is filled with imperfections but his attempt is pure perfection.

His answer to them being separated in the drinking fountain line is an expertly aimed paper airplane.  He has to get her attention as best as he can.  During science he imagines them being sick together from a lesson with negative results but he chooses to find the silver lining.  In the cafeteria at lunch and on the playground at recess, the boy finds readily available mementos to present to his friend.  His purpose for choosing each one is a reflection of his affection.

As the school day closes, the two walk to the bus chatting together.  Unlike the morning, they are riding home side by side.  The boy speaks one final line leaving readers with a profound thought to ponder.

The brilliant beauty of this book penned by Carter Higgins is its truth.  There are many ways to demonstrate friendship and love; sometimes denying either is a demonstration of the opposite.  With the openness and genuineness so easily found in children, this boy allows us to see the wonder in loving someone.  His reasons for selecting each item will stay with readers.  They disclose the depth of his character.  Here is a passage.

This is not a valentine,
since it's got sharper edges than
dainty old lace.
But if you play duck duck goose
with kids who run real fast,
you'll just get stuck in the stew pot.
So meet me at the hopscotch squares.
My lucky rock will help.

Although the title on the opened dust jacket claims this is not a Valentine, the looks on the boy's and girl's faces say otherwise.  The color choices and the size of the book give you the sense this is a Valentine.  To the left, on the back, the ribbon-wearing frog is leaping away to the left from the spine on the same cream canvas.

The book case is a scattering of Valentine envelopes each sealed with a small red heart.  They are placed on a white background on both sides of the case.  The title appears in the center on the far right.  A shade of lavender covers the opening and closing endpapers.  It is a slightly lighter hue than the color of the girl's dress.

Before the title page a single Valentine envelope bears the name Kevin. (At the close of the book there is a notable difference.) Illustrator Lucy Ruth Cummins begins her visual story on the following pages.  The verso shows the front of the school bus as it pulls up to the stop.  The boy and the girl are seated together on a bench waiting on the title page.  She is about to give the boy a Valentine.  The next wordless two-page picture shows his reaction.

Rendered in brush marker, gouache, graphite, colored pencil, crayon, ink and charcoal the images created by Lucy Ruth Cummins are brimming with texture and charm.  The children in their facial expressions and body postures exhibit happiness.  You can't look at them without smiling.  A full page is dedicated to each of the keepsakes given to the girl.  Lucy Ruth Cummins switches perspective to focus our attention on a particular moment in the story; when the ring color matches the color of the girl's shoelaces, when the children are drawing the portraits or eating their lunch.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the boy, seated at the back of the room, is passing a "gift" to the front of the class where the girl sits.  This image is on a cream background spanning two pages.  Our attention is drawn to the colorful clothing of the students.  Their desks, in a row, left to right, are pencil sketches.  On the side of each desk is a pink heart.

This is NOT a Valentine written by Carter Higgins with illustrations by Lucy Ruth Cummins is a Valentine to readers from these two talented women.  It is a touching testament to the variety of Valentines given and received.  Each one is as precious as the other.  You will want to add this delightful title to your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Carter Higgins and Lucy Ruth Cummins and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Both women visit All The Wonders for a book cover reveal with teacher librarian Matthew Winner.  At 12 x 12 and author Melissa Roske's siteCarter Higgins is showcased.  Lucy Ruth Cummins is interviewed at BOOKish

Monday, January 22, 2018

Embracing Friendship And Holidays

In eleven days a special event dating back to 1887 is observed.  On February 2nd a groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, exits his home.  According to tradition if he steps out into the sun and sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of winter.  If the day is cloudy, spring is not far behind.  History tells us that similar celebrations were followed in ancient times in Europe.  They were in turn brought to America with immigrants.

Less than two weeks after Groundhog Day another popular annual holiday is welcomed by many.  It's a time to declare love, share love and remember love.  There is no better way to enjoy this day than in the company of friends.  Groundhug Day (Disney Hyperion, December 5, 2017) written by Anne Marie Pace with illustrations by Christopher Denise presents a problem unique to a charming group of forest friends.

Valentine's Day was only two weeks away,
and Moose was planning a grand party.

Squirrel, Bunny and Porcupine offer ideas for making the party extra special.  For Moose the best part of the party is extending an invitation to everyone.  Bunny is the first to point out a potential complication. 

If their friend Groundhog sees his shadow tomorrow, he will miss the Valentine's Day gala.  All four of them have plans to avoid this dilemma involving a calendar, a blindfold, a tent and Groundhog being stuck inside his home.  They spend entirely too much time arguing about the best strategy.  The sun rises.

When Groundhog sees his shadow, he turns around, scampering back inside and his friends are stunned.  Moose quickly asks Groundhog if he is afraid of shadows.  His reply has them brainstorming. 

Moose, Bunny, Squirrel and Porcupine speak of the beauty of shadows to Groundhog.  Intrigued he steps outside to enjoy the fun of their creations.  At the end of the day though he goes back inside.  There is indeed six weeks of winter remaining.  Groundhog loves his friends giving them a warm embrace before he leaves.  In six weeks when this fellow emerges from his home, a plot twist leaves him and readers surprised but smiling.

With her opening sentences author Anne Marie Pace issues an invitation to readers not for a single celebration but for the joy found in the friendship of these forest creatures.  She also establishes a storytelling rhythm which is repeated giving each of the four, Squirrel, Bunny, Porcupine and Moose, a voice.  They express their views on the necessary components of a great party, how to stop Groundhog from seeing his shadow, their friend's fear, using shadows inventively, and guessing at Porcupine's shadow puppets.  The blend of conversations and narrative is perfection.  Here is a passage.

"Hey, Groundhog," Moose finally said.
"What if we showed you just how awesome
shadows are?  I'll show you the ways leaves
blowing in the wind make shadows dance!"

"I'll show you how to draw silhouettes!" said Bunny.  

"I'll show you how clouds cast shadows on the hills," said Squirrel.

Just looking at the opened dust jacket created in warm, rosy hues welcomes readers to the party pictured and the story unfolding on the book's pages.  It's a cozy scene with the affection apparent in the gestures of the animals.  Squirrel is holding out a box of candy, Bunny is carrying Valentine balloons and Porcupine is giving Groundhog a hug.  Moose is in the background attending to the details of the party.  And speaking of details, readers will notice many in this first image and throughout the book.  To the left, on the back, a pale rose canvas holds a place for a circular illustration framed with a tiny yellow line.  In the picture Bunny is holding a Valentine card and Squirrel is holding a Valentine balloon. 

On the book case the same shade of pale rose covers the front and back.  A single Valentine balloon floats on the front.  The spine on the case and jacket is in yellow with three rose hearts above and below the title text.  On the opening and closing endpapers in various hues of pink, rose and red is a pattern of various Valentine cards and Valentine balloons.  Beneath the text on the title page Groundhog in his robe, holding a steaming beverage and the morning paper, is looking at his calendar.

A page turn gives us a panoramic view of a pastoral picture; a distant mountain, rolling fields, trees, and two small homes, one most certainly belonging to Groundhog.  This picture literally glows.  Rendered using Photoshop and a Wacom tablet by Christopher Denise each illustration, varying in size, brings us into this tale of friendship.  The body postures, facial expressions, and clothing radiate cozy comfort.  You'll want to stop at each image noticing each element.  You don't want to miss what Bunny, Squirrel, Porcupine, Moose or Groundhog is doing.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Moose, Bunny, Squirrel and Porcupine are working on the party planning.  They are gathered around the table in Moose's house.  Porcupine is painting a heart on a Valentine on the wood floor between the stove and a checkered, wing back chair.  Squirrel is balancing on the back of a dining room chair playing with a Valentine balloon.  Bunny is studying a calendar spread on the table.  Moose, glasses in his hand, is leaning over and listening to Bunny.  A string of cut-out hearts is on the wing-back chair.  A teapot and cup and saucer are on the table among books with ideas for planning the party.

The endearing forest characters and delightful luminous illustrations in Groundhug Day written by Anne Marie Pace with pictures by Christopher Denise make this book downright huggable.  This book can be used to focus on seasons, holidays, shadows and friendship.  It is sheer pleasure to read it aloud.  You'll want to make sure to have a copy in all your collections, professional and personal.  You might want to pair it with Groundhog's Day Off written by Robb Pearlman with illustrations by Brett Helquist.

To learn more about Anne Marie Pace and Christopher Denise and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Christopher Denise maintains a blog, an account on Instagram and Twitter.  Anne Marie Pace is found on Twitter.  She has designed a board on Pinterest for this title.  Anne Marie Pace is interviewed by author Caroline Starr Rose on her website about this title.  Anne Marie Pace also visits All The Wonders, Picturebooking, Episode 93 with Nick Patton.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

It Never Fails

She was in her twenties before she heard him say those three powerful words to her.  He was a believer in actions speaking louder than words.  There was no doubt of his love for her but to hear those words spoken to her with quiet purpose is a cherished memory.

Love manifests itself silently without fanfare in everyday moments, a smile or an extended hand.  It can roar so the whole world is aware of its presence.  Love (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, January 9, 2018) written by Matt de la Pena with illustrations by Loren Long lifts up love so readers can rejoice in its beauty as it radiates into our hearts and surrounds our souls.

In the beginning there is light
and two wide-eyed figures standing
near the foot of your bed,
and the sound of their voices is love.

If you listen and look you will hear it and see it in the city scene as you pass by in a taxi.  Love makes an appearance no matter where you live or the time of day.  You need to let it wash over you in the gifts given by Mother Nature and in the singular sounds of human progress.

Children of all ages in all seasons give love in their laughter.  Reach out, share it and join in their joy. In the midst of tragedy, heartache, or a nightmare, a voice can shelter us or a pet can comfort us and speak of love.  Love wraps around us every single day if we think about the people who are a part of our lives.  What they do is a love song just for us.

Have you ever studied the face of a grandparent, parent or beloved adult?  The wrinkles lining their faces represent paths traveled to give love.  Do you remember family stories?  Is there one member whose tales are taller than the others?  This is love.

Strangers send love into the world when they pursue their musical passion.  You have love too.  It's seen in your reflection.  So sweet children, wherever you go, there is love in you, in others, and in the world.

These twenty five sentences, these phrases, written by Matt de la Pena speak of seeking and finding love in ordinary places, in spaces we share with others.  He asks us to be aware and to understand the numerous forms of love.  Readers will be connected to other readers through Matt's depictions of love beginning with his first sentence.  This connection will broaden and grow deeper page by page.  Here are three sentences, one following the other.

And in time you learn to recognize
a love overlooked.
A love that wakes at dawn and
rides to work on the bus.
A slice of burned toast that tastes like love. 

When I first looked at the dust jacket with the shades of yellow and rich blues with a hint of purple, it wrapped around me like a hug. (When I left home for the first time going to college my mother made me a bedspread, pillow case and pillows in these colors.  She said it was to remind me of her and her favorite flowers, violets.)  Artists will tell you these hues are close to complementary.  The front of this dust jacket reminds us storms will pass and sunshine (sunrises and sunsets) will always follow, like love.  This image of the father and child with the yellow umbrella is precious.  To the left, on the back, the darker blue color provides a canvas for a puddle spreading from the top, left portion.  Reflected in the puddle is the child walking and carrying a closed umbrella.  The title text is varnished.

On the book case a thin layer of grass spans from left to right.  Along the top is a slightly larger layer of sky with wisps of clouds.  In the center is bright golden yellow.  This is deeply symbolic.  On the opening and closing endpapers is a deep, deep shade of blue.  On a background of pure white the initial title page shows the word love.  On the formal title page the design of the book case is repeated.

Rendered in

collaged monotype prints, acrylic paint and pencil

the illustrations created by Loren Long will literally take your breath away.   Some of them are loosely framed circles on a single page, others cross the gutter from left to right or right to left leaving a column for text and others span two pages framed in white.  There are single page pictures too.  Loren uses full color but his choices convey mood such as when the child is searching for love in a dream and can't find it.  His perspectives represent shifts in emotion and emphasize those emotions.

The words of Matt de la Pena are enhanced by Loren Long's images.  When Matt speaks of a ride in a cab through a city our eyes are immediately drawn first to the taxis lining the curb.  We are aware of the layers of buildings in the background and the framing of the trees.  We are transported to this park.  A red balloon drifts in the air.  We see the vendor's stand on the far left.  A woman holding a hot dog in one hand and a dog leash, attached to her pup, in the other hand is watching.  To the right a boy in a wheel chair is holding out a hot dog to a man resting on a bench.  A single crutch is leaning against that bench.  There are many stories in this scene.  Each illustration Loren has given us is replete with details inviting discussion and contemplation.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the one for the above-quoted text. It is on a single page.  Two children stand at a window.  The younger of the two is looking outside the window.  It's winter and a man carrying a lunch pail is trudging through the snow toward a bus.  An older sibling is facing the boy, handing him a glass of juice and carrying a plate with burned toast on it.  A large radiator is beneath the window.  (My dad worked in the same factory for forty-one years.  I still have the thermos he carried.  I can't remember him ever missing a day of work.  And I can't eat toast unless it's burned.  My mom always burned the toast.)

Love written by Matt de la Pena with illustrations by Loren Long is as the title states but make no mistake, this is a book conceived and created with love by these two men.  The words and images are about all of us.  We can see and sense ourselves on every single page.  You will want to have multiple copies of this title for your professional collections, at least one for your personal collections and this is one you will be gifting to others often.  Thank you Matt de la Pena and Loren Long.  Thank you with all of my heart.

To learn more about Matt de la Pena and Loren Long and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Both of them have pages on their sites dedicated to Love. (Matt and Loren)  Please visit those special pages for further understanding of their work on this title.  At the publisher's website you are given a peek inside the book.  Matt de la Pena and Loren Long are guests on NPR's All Things Considered.  You will certainly want to visit Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., to read the interview with Matt and Loren.  You can also view the marvelous book trailer too.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

All Is Not Lost

When your family unit is shaken to its core you enter a form of suspended reality.  As a child when the only parent who has cared for you is suddenly removed from your life, it is particularly devastating.  The only place you have ever called home now belongs to someone else.

To make an unbearable set of circumstances even worse, your beloved dog is gone.  Chasing Augustus (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, September 19, 2017) written by Kimberly Newton Fusco is the story of a girl weighed down by unbearable sadness but fueled with grim determination to find the other half of her soul.  Nothing is going to stop her.  Nothing.

My grandpa Harry says vinegar runs through my veins and I am too impatient for my own good.
He says I stomp around like a moose half the time and I am proud, prickly, and rude.
Also, I am thin as an eel and, come to think of it, not much better to look at, either.

This is how we meet Rosie.  She lives with her grandfather in a tiny apartment with windows that shake when the trains roar past. Her dad now resides at St. Camillus.  One day on his way home with Rosie from the donut shop he owns, he had a stroke.  Her mom, who left when Rosie was a baby and is now an attorney in California, sold their house and gave away Rosie's dog, Augustus.

It's the first day of summer vacation after a less than stellar year of fifth grade.  Rosie, on her dad's rickety boyhood bike she calls the Blackbird, is going to explore every nook and cranny of their community and follow every lead until she finds Augustus.  Riding out to the sand pits, a major source of income for their town and the grit which spreads everywhere but builds resolve in the people's characters, is not the best idea.  Caught in a terrible storm, barely escaping with her life, Rosie's grandfather calls a halt to her plans. 

Banned from riding Blackbird, forced to help Mrs. Salvatore, who lives in their building, and befriend one of her new foster children, Philippe, Rosie is at her wit's end.  Another chatty child two years younger living in an apartment, Cynthia, desperate for friendship and lacking any parental care, rounds out this unlikely trio.  As if her summer cannot get any worse, Harry discovers Rosie's report card.  After a visit to the school and a conversation with Mr. Peterson, the sixth grade teacher every student wants, Rosie has a notebook to fill with her story.

Rosie's sleuthing leads her to believe Augustus is being held captive by Swanson, an eccentric, silent woman who lives on the outskirts of town.  Now this intrepid gal needs a whole new set of plans; which she has to alter more than once.  Readers will learn along with Rosie things are not always as they appear, neither are people.

Looking for the other half of your soul takes help you have a hard time accepting.  Looking for the other half of your soul can lead you where you don't want to go.  Looking for the other half of your soul is not easy but the right thing rarely is.

After reading the first three pages written by Kimberly Newton Fusco you, regardless of your age, are connected to Rosie . . . and her no-nonsense, Marine-voiced grandfather Harry.  They both have been placed in circumstances not of their choosing but whether they admit it or not, you know they love each other.  Their pure willpower is constantly at odds as they both strive to survive the situation as best as they can.

Kimberly Newton Fusco's characters are as real as any collection of people shaped by life's twists and turns.  There is a balance between Mrs. Salvatore's cleanliness and caring and the physical environment in which they all live and from which they come.  There is a balance between the quiet of Swanson and the bullying noise of Avery Taylor, high school hockey player.  There is a balance between the pure crankiness of Rosie, the talkativeness and helpfulness of Cynthia and the skittishness of Philippe.  There is a balance between Rosie's dad now and his words ringing in her mind.

Rosie's thoughts and point of view are blended with the conversations of the other characters' voices in what can only be described as marvelous.  The depictions of events, past and present, the nature of the community, the time of day and the weather transport you into this story.  When you are reading this book, everything else fades out of focus as the clarity of the tale draws you to its center.

For readers with canine companions, for those who have loved dogs and for anyone else with hope and compassion in their hearts, the words used to portray Rosie's love of Augustus will have you nodding knowingly and at times on the verge of tears.  (And even for those with hardly a sliver of hope or compassion, these portions will reach out and envelope you.)  Kimberly Newton Fusco knows dogs and people and the bonds which are made between them.  Here are some passages from the book.

My grandpa forgets how much you can love a dog or he would never say that.  My dog slept on my bed and I fell asleep to his heart beating. . . . That's when I learned the real way of things:  When you lose your dog, there's a hole in your heart as big as the sun.  Your head aches all the time and you are so empty inside because you are half the girl you used to be.

I pull the Blackbird out of the toolshed behind our apartment building and lean it against the fence.  Already the wind from the storm coming bends the thin maples on Main Street until they are looking at their feet.  They could use a pep talk.

When I walked into my papa's room, the floor sagged under all the sadness.  My papa didn't hug me and he didn't read to me and he didn't whisper in my ear the way he did every single night of my whole life when he tucked me in:  I am right here and I will never leave you.
That was the day my heart jumped right out of my chest and whirling hornets took its place.  

He learned to be my mama/papa and bought me oodles of books and read them to me in my bedroom under the eaves.  We had reading celebrations with donuts and frappes when we finished a book and we baked a six-layer cake (with raspberry filling) when I read my first fat chapter book.
I was the youngest kid in the history of our town ever to get a library card---or so my papa bragged to everyone at the donut shop.  We kept pages and pages of lists of all the books we read, and when we discovered The World Book, we started making up cusswords.

Once you've started Chasing Augustus written by Kimberly Newton Fusco you have to finish it as quickly as you can.  You have to know what happens to Rosie and the other individuals who touch her life.  You have to know what happened to Augustus.  And once you've finished this book, this story and these characters will stay in your heart.  They are there forever.  I highly recommend placing a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Kimberly Newton Fusco and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Kimberly maintains a blog.  You will want to read her post about the inspiration for this book.  You can read several of the early chapters in part one at the publisher's website. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Flourishing Friendships Forever

Once you've shared your life with a dog, you can't imagine spending the rest of your days without canine companionship.  Their presence adds a sensory quality to every experience.  You find yourself looking at this world with a fresh and better perspective.  You learn to live in the moment.

This relationship, unlike any other you have, is never long enough.  Each dog in your life grows the capacity in your heart for love.  Made for Each Other: Why Dogs and People Are Perfect Partners (Crown Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, January 23, 2018) written by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent with photographs by William Munoz chronicles the beginning and evolution of this exceptional bond.

Dogs and people, people and dogs---we've been buddies for thousands and thousands of years. 

In the first of three parts scientific discoveries and studies reveal dogs and wolves might have gone their separate ways as many as 27,000 years past.  This association may have started because humans offered easier access to food through garbage or perhaps communities realized wolves howled warnings when predators were near.  It is believed wolves and people may have hunted together. 

Wolves, and ultimately dogs, needed to relinquish certain habits and characteristics to reside with humans but they also retained other instincts.  Today specific dogs have specific specialties.  They will safekeep their pack, herd, hunt and retrieve. 

In the second section the affection we hold for dogs and they for us is explored.  Working with dogs and MRI machines, a doctor was able to prove a particular portion of their minds and our minds respond with happiness and love when given certain stimuli. (For dogs it's food and human family members.)  Petting dogs benefits them and us in powerful ways.  Their interpretation of human faces and our interpretation of barks and tail wagging make communication possible. 

Our time spent with dogs is constantly changing as we learn more about them.  There are doggy day care centers and day spas.  Dogs provide therapy for special needs and humans assist dogs with impairments.  Dogs and people play together, work together and love together in greater numbers than ever before in history.

Meticulous research is evident in the information provided by award-winning author Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.  She places facts within the twenty separate but combined conversations in the three parts.  Each is linked to the other in a comprehensible flow.  Here is a passage.

The Loving Touch
Doesn't it feel good to pet a dog, especially one with soft, silky fur?
Well, you're not the only one who feels good---so does the dog!
Petting a dog increases helpful hormones in both your blood and the
dog's, including oxytocin, which helps you feel relaxed, lowers your
blood pressure, and slows your heart rate.  

The front and the back of the dust jacket (I'm working with an F & G) supply readers with two portraits of dogs and younger people captivated by the company of each other.  To the left, on the back a boy dressed in a super hero costume is hugging his pooch pal who happens to be wearing a red cape.  They're both grinning.

The opening and closing endpapers are an extreme close-up of a dog's nose, whiskers and closed mouth.  Out of focus but still visible on either side are the eyes.  This is a nod to the superior senses of our canine friends.

Throughout this title the photographs of William Munoz showcase the closeness between humans and dogs and the qualities of wolves and dogs.  The images are grouped in collages, on single pages, placed as insets on single pages or span two pages.  There are comparative charts with photographs.  These photographs are fully animated, full of realism, humor and affection thereby enhancing the text. 

One of my many favorite pictures is beneath the title page for Part Two: The Science of Love.  Light is shining behind a woman holding her dog as if it is sunrise or sunset.  They are facing each other.  Both of their heads are thrown back and they are laughing.  It's a memorable moment beautifully captured by William Munoz.

Consistently one of the most popular collections is the one filled with books about dogs.  Made for Each Other: Why Dogs and People Are Perfect Partners written by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent with photographs by William Munoz will be a welcome and well-read addition to this portion of professional libraries and for personal collections at home.  A contents page, source notes for each part, additional sources (books and interviews with scientists) and an index complete this sixty-one page volume.

To discover more about Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and her other considerable body of work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  William Munoz maintains a Facebook account highlighting his work.  At the publisher's website you can view the first twelve pages including the wonderful endpapers.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by other bloggers participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bot In A Box

There's something a little bit exciting about seeing the UPS, FedEx, or postal trucks pull up in front of your house even if you have an idea what they are delivering.  Unless it's something you've seen before, there's a slight air of anticipation and mystery.  You're never quite sure if it will be better or worse than expected.

Even more intriguing is when you look out the front door of your house and see a box sitting on the porch without the benefit of knowing how it arrived.  EngiNerds (Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 12, 2017) written by Jarrett Lerner (with jacket and interior spot illustrations by Serge Seidlitz) is about the appearance of such a box, a big, heavy box.   Getting the box into the house is only the beginning of numerous difficulties about to befall the recipient and narrator.


make one thing clear about the guys I hang out with.
I did not, do not, and will not ever endorse our 
"name" or "motto."
That's what we (excluding me) call ourselves.
And our motto?
"Because it's the nerds who are the engine of the 

After we are introduced to this bunch of brainy boys, particularly four, Dan, Jerry Lin, John Henry Knox and Kennedy, the narrator, we come to the box on the porch of Ken's house.  Finally able to persuade his best buddy, Dan, to help him, the duo gets the box into the living room.  Even after opening it, the only thing to do is put the parts together to see if it's a rocket or not. (Dan is really hoping for a rocket.)

After an hour of taxing their ingenuity and physical strength, the guys discover Kitty, Ken's less brilliant dog, has escaped the confines of the house.  After tracking Kitty down and applying the garden hose to her pizza covered fur, the three enter the house and stop cold.  The thing in the box has assembled itself.  It's a large robot named Greeeg and it's hungry, really really hungry.

Everything Dan and Ken give it, it eats, containers and all.  Soon nothing is left in the refrigerator or cupboards, except for a few radishes.  It won't eat those.  Dan leaves and Ken's parents come home from work.  Can you imagine what his mother says standing in front of the open and bare refrigerator and cupboards?  It gets worse, much worse, in the wee hours of the next day.

Finding that Greeeg has left his spot under Ken's bed, he discovers him in the kitchen looking for more food.  Believing in the theory of what goes in, must come out, Ken tells it to dispose.  Shockingly enough, a brown-black cube whizzes out of the machine's posterior section.  The next series of events can only be categorized as first, mind-boggling, and second, miraculous. 

At school the next day, after the final bell rings and on Saturday, a blend of excitement and strangeness starts to fill Ken's world.  Others, other EngiNerds, have received boxes.  The robots are evolving at a rapid rate.  By any means necessary they will complete their programmed goals.  Who sent the boxes and more importantly, why?  Can cleverness save the community from further chaos? In a tension-filled conclusion continuing the undercurrent of comedy, a cliff-hanger sentence leaves you hardly able to keep from laughing and exclaiming, "OH, NO!"

Even before finishing the four-page preface, sticky notes were marking places in my copy of this book.  Jarrett Lerner has a knack for writing short, action-packed chapters, leading you from one to the other as quickly as you can turn the pages.  Between Ken's narration of the circumstances, his thoughts and the conversations between the characters you're never sure but can hardly wait to see what will happen next. 

What are especially appealing are the thought processes of the boys.  It's not that they don't want to rush to solve a problem but their creativeness is impressive.  Readers will also enjoy the give and take in the relationships between the four main characters.  Here are some passages.

But the thing is heavy.
I'm talking crammed-full-of-lead-pipes heavy.  Heavy like the box has been packed up with the pieces of a taken apart truck.
I try and try to pick it up.  I try until my back starts screaming and my forehead fills with sweat.

expect it to be.
Every syllable is sounded out separately.
The emphasis is all off.
It's empty of any kind of emotion.
And before and after and between words, there's nothing.  Not the sound of breath moving in and out of nostrils or past lips---just cold, creepy silence.
Yet Dan's absolutely right when he says:
Because this is most definitely cool.
This is beyond cool.
It's probably the coolest thing that has ever happened to me in my entire, twelve-year, not-exactly-amazing-but-also-not-so-bad life.

And all of a sudden another thought worms its way into my brain.  I'm wondering again if Greeeg really is the world's greatest gift, the coolest toy imaginable, something worth bragging about to the rest of the EngiNerds.  Because right then he feels a lot more like a responsibility.  Like a maniac little cousin that I somehow got stuck babysitting, not a new friend.  Because a friend is someone who gets you out of trouble, not someone who gets you into trouble.

Completely captivating and highly entertaining, EngiNerds written by Jarrett Lerner is a surefire winner for the middle grade reader.  The chapter lengths, short snappy sentences and often hilarious conversations make this an excellent selection for a read aloud or book group.  I can't imagine a collection without a copy of this title.

To learn more about Jarrett Lerner and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Jarrett also maintains a blog you can visit from his main site.  For this title, Jarrett has a Classroom Guide.  At the publisher's website you can read an excerpt.  Jarrett is a guest at author Melissa Roske's website and at All The Wonders, Books Between, Episode 41.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Uncanny Express Blog Tour-A Conversation with Kara LaReau

Images copyright Jen Hill
Happy Monday morning, Kara.  It’s an honor to have you making a stop here at Librarian’s Quest on your blog tour for The Uncanny Express, the second title in your The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters series.  It’s been absolutely bitter cold here in Michigan but on the bright side it’s a wonderful opportunity to get cozy wrapped in a blanket, sipping hot cider and leave the confines of a comfy chair through the pages of a book.  It’s been a distinct and happy pleasure to travel with the Bland Sisters, Jaundice and Kale, first with a band of swashbuckling pirates on The Jolly Regina and second with a group of passengers concealing their true identities aboard The Uncanny Express.

I was wondering if you could tell readers who have not read these two books a little bit about the title of the series.  Why are the adventures unintentional?  Why are the Bland Sisters bland?

Images copyright Jen Hill

A lot of it is just their nature — the Bland Sisters inherently shy away from any kind of excitement or emotional upheaval, but they’ve become even more set in their uninteresting ways since their parents left to run an errand of an unspecified nature. (They’ve been gone for some time now, but Jaundice and Kale don’t tend to think about it too much. They’re sure their parents will return any day now.) It becomes clearer in The Uncanny Express that their strict adherence to routine is one of the ways they cope with their parents’ absence. It’s the only control they have over their situation.

Of course, Bland Sisters want to stay in their comfort zone. So an adventure on a pirate ship, or even — gasp! — on a speeding train, is the last thing they want to experience. Or so they think.

Images copyright Jen Hill
In the beginning of each book two pages are dedicated to the cast of characters in each adventure.  As a high school senior and college student in the seventies, I laughed out loud at the name of one of the pirates, Captain Ann Tennille. Would you tell us about the process of naming your characters?

I’m glad you appreciated that one! Of course, most of the humor in the series is for kids, but I try to include a laugh or two for the adults who might be reading along with them.
I’ve always had a thing for names, perhaps because my own first and last names have given me so much trouble, especially when I was growing up; no one seemed to be able to spell or pronounce them correctly, perhaps because of all the vowels. (FYI, it’s KARE-uh la-ROW.) As a result, I make an extra effort to remember people’s names and how to pronounce them, and this has led to a focus on names in general. I’m particularly interested in words that almost sound like they could be first names — whenever I hear a good one I try to write it down. Most of the names in the Unintentional Adventures come from that running list, though if nothing on that list seems to fit, I try to think about the character’s personality and do my best to find a name that complements it. For instance, there’s a tweedy, wan, put-upon maid on the Uncanny Express, so of course her name is Vera Dreary — and then there’s the brilliant, not-terribly-humble detective, Hugo Fromage (which, for the uninitiated, is French for “big cheese.”) I’m sure you can tell I’ve had a LOT of fun with this!
Images copyright Jen Hill
Each chapter in The Uncanny Express starts with one of Tillie’s Tips and second with a message from Professor Magic’s Rules of Illusion. The tips and rules are really quite good. I particularly like this one:
The closest thing to feeling real magic is performing for people and helping them to experience the impossible.

Why did you decide to employ this technique?  

Images copyright Jen Hill
In the first book, The Jolly Regina, Kale brings along the Bland Sisters’ favorite (and only) reading material, their illustrated children’s dictionary, so the chapter heads in the story all feature dictionary definitions. That dictionary falls by the wayside — quite literally! — in the first book, but I really loved the way it worked and wanted to do something similar in The Uncanny Express. I thought it would be a nice way to show the Bland Sisters’ character development to have them toting around a pretty mundane book of housekeeping tips at the outset of the story, but venturing a bit outside of their literary comfort zone by the end. Also, just as each word defined in the chapter heads is a word used in that chapter in The Jolly Regina, the housekeeping tips and magical advice in the chapter heads of The Uncanny Express are always relevant to the action in each chapter. It’s an extra bit of fun for my readers, and it was a fun sort of challenge for me to work it all out.

As a fan of mystery and detective stories I couldn’t help but make the connect between the Bland Sisters’ trials and tribulations aboard this train and those experienced by characters in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.  Are you an Agatha Christie fan?  Do you have favorite mystery and detective titles or authors?

Oh, yes, I am a huuuuuge Christie fan, and a mystery fan in general. I grew up watching Masterpiece Mystery and started reading Agatha Christie from an early age. Just as The Jolly Regina takes place on a ship, I knew I wanted the second book to take place on a train, and since I’d already had so much fun with the tropes of classic pirate stories, I was eager to try my hand at a Christie parody/homage. Many of the mysteries I read now are all pretty adult — I love Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson, Tana French, and Ruth Ware, for instance. (Interestingly, all women. Hmm…) But I also recently read (and loved) Kristen Kittscher’s The Wig in the Window and The Tiara on the Terrace, I just finished The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie, which was terrific, and I know Lauren Magaziner has a new choose-your-own-adventure-style mystery series called Case Closed launching this spring that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

Did you have to do any special research about magic and illusions prior to writing The Uncanny Express?  If so do you have a favorite resource?  (Students enjoy learning about magic and illusions.)

Images copyright Jen Hill

Yes, I always do tons of research. For The Uncanny Express, I read a great instructional book for kids called Big Magic for Little Hands by Joshua Jay. I also read a lot about the history of magic in books like Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer, and I did online research on Adelaide Herrmann, the real-life Queen of Magic, on whom Magique in The Uncanny Express is based. (There is now an excellent picture book biography about her called Anything But Ordinary Addie by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.)
Images copyright Jen Hill

And of course, I read and re-read Murder on the Orient Express and other Hercule Poirot mysteries. In addition, I watched every episode of the Poirot mystery series and took copious notes, and I read David Suchet’s memoir about playing the great detective, called Poirot and Me (Suchet was committed to playing Poirot exactly as Christie wrote him, so I appreciated his insights).

The portions of the plot when Kale and Jaundice are dreaming add tension and intrigue to the story.  When and why did you decide to include these in The Uncanny Express?

I tend to have very vivid dreams, so I’ve always been interested in dreaming and how our subconscious takes over while we’re sleeping. Jaundice and Kale are so reticent in their waking life, but there’s quite a bit bubbling beneath the surface. It seemed right that their dreams would be pretty telling. Also, dreams continue to play a part in the third book in the series, though I don’t want to give too much more away!

As a writer you have a gift in bringing the characters to life using somewhat quirky traits.  Are the characters fully developed before the plot begins or do their personalities grow as the story progresses when you are writing?

Images copyright Jen Hill
I create character profiles before I start writing, especially for this series, where there are so many characters in each story, and I really need to feel like I have some semblance of control. But they still end up surprising me! For instance, Countess Goudenoff didn’t have a dog at first, but the line “The tea spilled, all over my Chrysanthemum” came to me, and I realized, of course she would have a yappy little lap dog, and of course it would be named Chrysanthemum! Those moments when the story takes on a life of its own are so exciting.

As I was reading both The Jolly Regina and The Uncanny Express I found myself placing sticky notes at bits of life wisdom you weave into the stories.  The final sentence in the first book makes reference to a letter.  Is this why you have the sisters’ parents communicating with them through letters?

Well, given the distance between them, their parents can only communicate with them through letters (at this point, at least). Though all that might change, sooner rather than later!
Although these stories are totally absurd, it’s important that they also have some kind of emotional resonance so the reader can feel invested. Just as the Bland Sisters are learning (however slowly and obliviously!) from their experiences, I hope my audience might be taking something away from the stories, too.

Continuing with this train of thought I enjoyed what Magique says to the Bland Sisters:

I told you that the mind is our most powerful tool.  And that if we use it often and well, it will tell us many things and show us many secrets. . . .”

In addition to the adventure, action, magic and mystery what else do you hope readers will take away from reading about the Bland Sisters and The Uncanny Express?

Among other things, Magique and Hugo Fromage encourage the Bland Sisters to be present and observant, and how important it is to go through life with your eyes and ears open. That piece of advice is also extremely relevant to me as a writer. In that way, I’m a bit of a magician and detective, too!

I think I’ll end with twelve questions.  I know the Bland Sisters would appreciate the fact the number is divisible by three.  I wish you safe travels as you continue your journey on this tour.  I can hardly wait to step into another exciting episode in the lives of these two girls.

Thank you so much — your questions were so thoughtful, and so much fun to consider and answer!

Kara LaReau was born and raised in Connecticut. She received her Masters in Fine Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and later worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and at Scholastic Press. She is the author of picture books such as UGLY FISH, illustrated by Scott Magoon, and NO SLURPING, NO BURPING! A Tale of Table Manners, illustrated by Lorelay Bove; an award-winning chapter book series called The Infamous Ratsos, illustrated by Matt Myers; and a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, illustrated by Jen Hill. Kara lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband and son and their cat.


1/12 YAYOMG!
1/15 Librarian's Quest