Quote of the Month

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




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

HEY KIDS!
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.

Welcome!

Bienvenida!

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

Annoyed?
Irritada?

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

No.

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.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Drumming, Dancing, Dreaming

A memory of the drums remains.  A procession of men, of all ages, proudly and respectfully walks down the center of the arena.  The rhythm is maintained, steady and strong, like a beating heart.  There is no other sound but the drums.

Remembering a first powwow, whether you are young or old, is powerful.  Repeat attendance, stories read and stories told enrich the experience.  It is a time of singing, dancing, drumming, eating, renewing relationship bonds and celebrating family and new friends.  Bowwow Powwow Bagosenjige-niimi'idim (Minnesota Historical Society Press, May 1, 2018) written by Brenda J. Child, translated by Gordon Jourdain with illustrations by Jonathan Thunder honors these gatherings.

Bowwow! Bowwow! When Windy Girl saw a lively puppy barking at a painted turtle down by the lake, she knew she had found a dog that could make her laugh.

Itchy Boy, a great canine companion, barked at everything.  The animals in the woods and a minnow on the end of her line for bait attracted his attention. When Uncle's green pickup truck appeared Itchy Boy barked louder than ever.

Both Windy Girl and Itchy Boy knew a ride in Uncle's truck meant stories would be told.  For the girl, the tales of powwows were the best. Uncle told of a special dance performed before a powwow; the same song would be sung as the dancers moved from house to house.

We are like dogs.
We are like dogs.

As summer drew to a close a powwow was held.  Windy Girl and Itchy Boy enjoyed every minute.  She ate, listened and watched.  He romped with the other dogs. As the powwow continued into the night, the girl and dog fell asleep together.  Windy Girl dreamed.

Each tradition of the powwow was a part of her dream.  Each participant in her dream was a dog.  Tobacco was offered in gratitude, veterans walked in the Grand Entry, a group drummed and the dancers danced.  Each dancer moved through her dream wearing regalia specific to their dance.  The food stands were there too.  Itchy Boy's barking and an announcer's voice woke Windy Girl.  Now was the time for everyone to celebrate the past and the present together.


Like a circle, with no beginning and no end but having a center, the narrative written by Brenda J. Child focuses on the growing relationship of Windy Girl and Itchy Boy.  Her conversational sentences widen the circle to include the presence of Uncle, welcomed by both the child and her dog.  His stories of the past about the powwow and Windy Girl's present day experiences are beautifully depicted in her dream.  The repetition of the words she dreamed supplies a cadence like the beat of a drum.  Here are some of Brenda J. Child's sentences.

Fortunately, all children and dogs love to fall asleep under the northern lights while
listening to the steady heartbeat of a drum. 

Windy dreamed about the elders, who taught her to
offer tobacco to express gratitude, and to dance for
those unable to dance.

She dreamed about the grass dancers, treading the northern earth.


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, the joy shown on the faces of Windy Girl and Itchy Boy on the front is continued on the back.  A pack of eight other dogs race behind the truck.  They want to join Itchy Boy and his girl. The line of evergreens extends to the far left and northern lights swirl in the sky giving light to the constellation of the dog dancer on the front.  The painted turtle is a frequent presence throughout the book.

The opening and closing endpapers are ablaze with the northern lights.  Beneath the text on the title page a happy Itchy Boy is shown jumping. Most of the illustrations created by Jonathan Thunder span two pages.  His fully animated characters convey a full range of emotions; nearly all of them embrace finding joy in the moment.  If he is blending the past into the present it is set apart as if in a cloud of mist.

For the series of illustrations during Windy Girl's dream the background is done in hues of blue and green, mirroring the northern lights.  This canvas allows the dogs in the powwow to be prominently displayed.  It also leads us into the stunning two-page wordless picture near the end of the story.

One of my many favorite illustrations is at the beginning of Windy Girl's dream.  She is remembering the elder's instructions.  We are brought very close to the scene.  Across both pages three powwow dancers are walking past the tobacco.  Two are already holding some in their fists.  The third, at the end of the line, is reaching into the container.  We can see portions of their regalia.  Behind them stars sparkle among faint lines in the sky.  We can see their arms and hands are not human.  They are the arms and paws of dogs, strong and sure.  This is our first insight into Windy Girl's dream.


As readers join Windy Girl and Itchy (and Uncle) in Bowwow Powwow Bagosenjige-niimi'idim written by Brenda J. Child, translated by Gordon Jourdain into Ojibwe, and illustrated by Jonathan Thunder we cannot help but feel the elation of joining a powwow and the respect given to the past and the present.  By including both the English and Ojibwe words of the story all readers are welcomed to this narrative.  (I carefully read several pages of the Ojibwe to my canine companion who listened with concentration.)  I would sincerely enjoy hearing this read aloud by two readers; one speaking Ojibwe and the other English.  I highly recommend this title for both your professional and personal collections.

If you desire to know more about author Brenda J. Child please follow the link attached to her name to read her university page.  Jonathan Thunder's website can be accessed by following the link attached to his name.  He also maintains accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Native America Calling Book of the Month hosts Brenda and Jonathan as they talk about this title.  Brenda and Jonathan chat on Minnesota Reads radio show.  Author Traci Sorell interviews Jonathan Thunder about this book on Cynsations, the blog of author Cynthia Leitich Smith.  I believe you will greatly appreciate this video interview with artist Jonathan Thunder which aired on June 24, 2018 on PBS.  This link provides many programs where Gordon Jourdain speaks about the Ojibwe. He is an educator at the Misaabekong Ojibwe Language Immersion program for Duluth Public Schools. (from jacket flap)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Soul Of The Ocean

Home to one of the most diverse collections of life, coral reefs are known as the rainforests of the sea.  Although they cover less than two percent of the ocean bottom, it is believed one quarter of all ocean species depend on them for food and shelter.  (Ocean Portal Team, Smithsonian.  "Corals and Coral Reefs." Ocean Find Your Blue, Smithsonian, April 2018, ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/invertebrates/corals-and-coral-reefs.)  They are vital to life on our planet but they are dying.

There are champions recognizing the danger of the diminishing coral reefs.  They are working tirelessly to renew these valuable places in our oceans.  The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding The World's Coral Reefs: The Story Of Ken Nedimyer And The Coral Restoration Foundation (Chronicle Books, May 8, 2018) written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Matthew Forsythe portrays the life of one of these champions.

It starts with one.

It's dark.  The full moon has come and gone but this phase is a signal for a magnificent event on our coral reefs.  On this one night millions of tiny gametes are released.  One will start a new coral; more coral equals a new reef.

Growing up close to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and having a father work for NASA meant Ken Nedimyer saw his share of rockets climbing into space.  Unlike his father Ken did not lift his head to the sky but sought the beauty in the surrounding ocean.  He was fascinated with men like Jacques Cousteau.  His greatest joy came in swimming the reefs of the Florida Keys.

Ken went from snorkeling to scuba diving.  He filled his bedroom with aquariums so he could examine gathered specimens.  One summer when exploring his favorite place, he noticed there were less fish and the reefs were pale versions of their normal vivid colors.  The sea urchins, essential to the balance on coral reefs, were dying.

Believing there was nothing he could do, Ken, now an adult, had a live rock farm in the Florida Keys.  One night the annual coral spawning event happened near his farm.  Some of those gametes traveled to the rocks and they grew staghorn corals.

Ken and his daughter tried an experiment.  It worked!  Coral pieces could be carefully cemented to rock where it would grow.  Now it was time for another experiment on the reef where Ken dived as a young boy.  Others came to help Ken and his daughter.  This was the beginning of the Coral Restoration Foundation.  These people, volunteers, and Ken were changing the ocean environment.  Never doubt the value of an individual with a singular passion to preserve places on our planet.


Meticulous research is apparent in the narrative written by Kate Messner.  Her sentences reveal her appreciation for the natural realm through her word selections as she weaves gathered facts into almost poetic descriptions of the ocean, coral reefs and the life of Ken Nedimyer.  She further engages readers by inserting groups of questions into the text.  Here is a passage.

The reefs of the Florida Keys
teemed with life.

They painted the ocean floor fire red and murky gold.
How could the reefs grow so large?
What made all the different colors and shapes?
How could such tiny creatures build such
elaborate homes of rock? 


How can you not want to dive along with the boy shown on the matching dust jacket and book case?  The artwork of Matthew Forsythe beckons to readers, asking them to enter this magical space.  The blend of colors, and the design of the fish, the sea turtle, coral and plant life are breathtaking.  On the front, the text, boy's mask and some of the flora and fauna are varnished.  The scene continues over the spine and across the back.

The book case is identical except all the text has been removed.  We are indeed under the sea.  The opening and closing endpapers are "seaweed" green.  Beneath the text on the title page, coral is given a prominent position.

There is a soft texture to the two-page images displayed with every page turn.  The brush strokes depict the angle of light and shadow beautifully.  With each shift in perspective, an important emotion is added to the illustration.  We feel the thrill of exploration when young Ken is snorkeling, the sadness as his flashlight casts a beam on the dying reef and the sea urchins and the building of anticipation as he and his daughter get ready to dive with sea birds circling above them.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Ken, as a boy, is snorkeling.  On the left side of the image a school of fish are sweeping downward and out toward him on the right.  The sunlight creates bright spots and where it does not reach, darker areas.  Layers of sand form smooth low hills.  Coral grows along the right side.  We are looking at the sea as Ken sees it through his mask but Matthew Forsythe also shows the top of his head and snorkel tip above water.  It's perfect.


In words and artwork The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding The World's Coral Reefs: The Story Of Ken Nedimyer And The Coral Restoration Foundation written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Matthew Forsythe brings to readers not only the importance of our coral reefs but the significance of a single individual working with intention.  His commitment and accomplishments serve to inspire others.  At the close of the book Kate has included sections titled

What Happened To The Coral Reefs
How Can Kids Help
Read More
Explore Online (Organizations and Articles) and
Coral Reef Vocabulary.

I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional bookshelves.  In addition to the books listed by Kate, I would recommend Science Comics Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean written and illustrated by Maris Wicks for slightly older readers.

To learn more about Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Both Kate and Matthew maintain accounts on Twitter. Kate can be found on Facebook.  Matthew can be found on Instagram and Tumblr.


Please be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to note the titles selected this week by those participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.




Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Terrifying Tale

There are not many things better than gathering around a campfire on a summer's night.  The only sounds, if you listen, are crickets chirping out calls, coyotes yipping in the distance or the occasional owl hoot.  You have either snagged one of the few chairs or you're one of several seated on a stump or a long log.  This is a first-class setting for a session of storytelling.  This is a night for scary stories; the scarier the better.

If the bugs are bothering you or a sudden rainstorm moves into the area, a tent with a lantern at its center is a cozy substitute.  You snuggle in your sleeping bag ready for a case of the shivers.  Big Bunny (Chronicle Books, March 20, 2018) written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins is a witty salute to humankind's grand oral tradition.

Once upon a time,
there was a BIG BUNNY.

A ginormously SCARY bunny?

In reply to this question the bunny is not ginormously scary but simply big.  He does not live on an oversized floating carrot as the listener suggests but on a regular planet like our Earth.  And the carrots growing on this celestial sphere are completely typical carrots.  None of them will be winning any carrot competitions for size.

The listener is getting discouraged at the ho-hum quality of the plot.  Are there going to be any scary parts?  No matter what the teller says, it's not even close to being scary.  Even the introduction of trucks, bridges and trucker penguins does not heighten the listener's interest until the teller gives up.  Now the roles are reversed.

The action kicks into high gear.  That Big Bunny consumes all the bridges and all the trucks and he is still hungry.  (He does not eat the penguins because giraffes driving buses help them escape to Florida.) He inhales all the buildings and he is still hungry.  At this point the first teller asks for a pause, saying all this hunger and eating is worrisome.  What the second teller says next will either have you laughing out loud or shaking in your proverbial boots.


We all know there will be times when what the teller tells and what the listener perceives are two entirely different things.  The intentions of the teller are necessary for consideration also.  Rowboat Watkins delivers a masterful example of these discrepancies in this title. The conversational exchange between the first voice and the second voice are absolutely spot-on and downright hilarious.  When the second voice takes over the narrative, you can feel the tension building toward something.  You're not sure what it is but this makes the twist even more delicious.  Here is a passage.

BIG BUNNY ATE TEN 
CARROTS in ONE! BITE!
Not scary.
Without CHEWING!
Still not scary.
TWENTY carrots?
Nope.
TWO HUNDRED carrots?
Sorry.   


Looking at the unfolded dust jacket the reader can come to only one conclusion (well, maybe two).  This bunny is huge or the illustrator is playing with perception.  Look at that open mouth!  Look at those teeth!  There is nothing cute about that enormous nose.  To the left, on the back, our eyes are shocked by a fluffy tail taking up most of the space. 

The black background on the book case highlights the gazillion tiny carrots displayed.  The opening and closing endpapers are a visual contrast in point of view.  On the first against a blue sky peppered with white clouds are two large, very large, bunny ears, one on each side of the gutter.  Much smaller ears appear at the end against a nighttime sky.  On the title page the top of a large bunny head with ears, viewed from its back, frames the text.

Most of the images, pieced together with this & that, span two pages.  In this way, with shifts in perspective, Rowboat Watkins is able to depict the various storytelling techniques of the narrators.  Each picture welcomes study.  You need to look at all the details realizing their purpose.

One of my many favorite illustrations is across two pages.  The Big Bunny is lying on his side, his larger than large belly bloated from eating more carrots than you can imagine. His ears nearly touch the left side and his body with his feet extends over two-thirds of the right side.  His eyes are crossed in discomfort.  The trucks carrying all the carrots with a large carrot logo on their side are scattered about him like empty candy wrappers.  He has a truck in each paw and one rests on his stomach.  Peculiar noises are coming from his body.


If you want fun and funny all rolled into one singular story, Big Bunny written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins is exactly what readers will want.  The pacing and humor are excellent.  This is certain to be a story time favorite.  I highly recommend this for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Rowboat Watkins and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Rowboat maintains a Facebook page.  Rowboat is a guest at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  He has loads of process art for this title.  He was previously a guest at Elizabeth Dulemba's website.

Monday, July 23, 2018

In Kindness Found

It cannot be sold or purchased for any sum.  It's free.  It starts in an individual's heart, is nourished by attitude and grows stronger daily.  Many times when given the opportunity, even though it costs nothing to acquire, it is not given.  It is refused.

These individuals who chose to withhold kindness sometimes find they are denied compassion from others when it is desperately needed.  Mela and the Elephant (Sleeping Bear Press, March 15, 2018) written by Dow Phumiruk with illustrations by Ziyue Chen is a folktale set in a jungle in Thailand.  It is an adventure with unexpected results.  It is a journey of self-discovery.

Mela set out to explore the banks of the Ping River near her home. Her little brother followed to the edge of the yard, hoping she'd take him along.

Mela told him to return home because he had nothing to give her in exchange for accompanying her.  When Mela reached the edge of the river near the dock, she saw a large fish swimming. She jumped in her uncle's boat determined to catch it for dinner.  She netted the fish but the swift river current took her into the jungle.

Fortunately the boat got stuck in tree roots but unfortunately Mela could not see her village.  When she asked a crocodile to tow her home, he agreed accepting the fish as payment.  As soon as he had the fish, he quickly left her.  Moving from the rock to shore, she started to walk.

When a leopard softly approached, Mela requested help.  She was lost.  The large cat knew the way to her village.  Offering up her sweater to keep the animal warm at night, he stole it and ran.

A trio of monkeys tricked the girl too.  Darkness falls and sitting on the ground Mela cried.  Suddenly noises signaled something large was coming toward her.  An elephant came into view.  Mela had nothing left to give if help was extended.  On this day a generous heart needed nothing.  


Without realizing it readers are immediately introduced to a behavior in need of help when Mela refuses her brother.  Dow Phumiruk quickly places the main protagonist in peril.  The storytelling technique of three is splendidly used bringing us to the point when the elephant comes to Mela.  The integration of dialogue with the narrative text engages us in Mela's every movement during her day.  Here is a passage.

Mela looked around her.  Tall trees blocked out most of
the sun's light.  Leaves stirred overhead and the river rushed at
her side.  She pointed herself upstream and started to walk.

A leopard slinked into sight.
"Leopard, I am lost.
Do you know a way back to the village?"


On the opened and matching dust jacket and book case the use of white as an element accentuates Mela and the elephant.  Using leaves around the title text takes us into the Thailand jungle before we even begin the story.  To the left, on the back, in a smaller image Mela is trying without luck to paddle in the splashing water back to her village.  Jungle is on both sides of the river. 

In shades of green on the opening and closing endpapers illustrator Ziyue Chen has placed darker leaves on a light canvas.  The full two-page picture on the verso and title pages is a view of the jungle, shore and river from the heights of a tree.  Throughout the title, illustration sizes vary between two-page pictures, single pages and several smaller visuals on a single page to promote pacing.  

By the expressions on the faces of Mela, her little brother and the animals we are well aware of their moods.  If we are careful observers we might see hints of their inner personalities.  Whenever we catch glimpses of the sky we can tell the time of day; noting the passage of the hours.

Each illustration is a like a framed moment enhancing the story's text.  One of my favorite illustrations is when Mela has removed her sweater.  She is happily standing in the jungle holding it up in front of her.  Her backpack is next to her in the grass.  The seated leopard has its back to us in the foreground.  It's a hopeful moment but also one filled with tension.  What will the leopard do?


Set in Thailand this tender tale is sure to resonate with readers of all ages.  Mela and the Elephant written by Dow Phumiruk with illustrations by Ziyue Chen reminds us kindness from a pure heart is freely given.  For a thematic story time on kindness this is an excellent choice.  In an author's note Dow talks about Thailand and how gratitude is portrayed there.  You could pair this book with Be Kind Roaring Brook Press, February 6, 2018 written by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Jen Hill.  At the post for that title other books on kindness are listed.


To learn more about Dow Phumiruk and Ziyue Chen and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Both Dow and Ziyue are on Twitter.  You can find Dow on Instagram as well as Ziyue Ziyue has an account on Tumblr. Ziyue is featured at Miss Marple's Musings.  At the publisher's website you can view interior portions of the book.  I hope you enjoy the trailer.


Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Beat Of Buzz

Several summers ago, honey bees swarmed by the hundreds gathering goodness from flowers on a particular set of bushes towering along one side of my deck.  They allowed me to get close enough with my camera to capture the golden pollen on their legs.  Watching them for hours was like a gift from Mother Nature.

In the following years the bees have diminished in great numbers.  Thankfully there are keepers of bees like Don Snoeyink of Thornapple Woodlands dedicated to their care. In his presentation at our summer reading program he fascinated us with facts about these essential creatures.  (A queen can lay more than 2,000 eggs a day in the summer!) When we learn about these marvels of the insect world on a personal level, our respect and desire to assist in the quality of their lives grows.  The King of Bees (Peachtree Publishers, April 1, 2018) written by Lester L. Laminack with illustrations by Jim LaMarche allows us to see their value by leaving a mark on our hearts.

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.

Their buzzing was not a reply to her words but a sign of them working.  They danced when they had news to share.  It was the sister bees doing all the work.  Only a few boy bees, drones, were needed to help the queen make more bees.

No amount of begging changed Aunt Lilla's mind about Henry working with the bees.  He knew from past experiences patience on his part was important but one morning he went to the shed to look over the beekeeping items.  As he looked at each thing, especially the suit, he imagined talking to the bees.

Finding his Aunt in the garden they chatted about the queen, sister bee workers and the brother bees.  Henry was determined to help the sister bees.  He even practiced dancing around the bees telling them about a clover patch.  Can you guess what Henry saw among those flowers the next day?

One day unusually activity at the hives caused Aunt Lilla to leave on an errand.  Henry wanted to help too.  Doing what he had never done before now, Henry bravely spoke without words and danced.  What happened next is a story worth telling so all ears can hear it for years and years.

When Lester L. Laminack tells us a tale he brings us deep into the place and time with his lovely descriptions.  He enriches us with the personalities of his characters through the conversations they share.  In them we see the best people have to offer to each other.  In this particular narrative he strengthens our connection to nature through the bees.  Every living thing is integral to keeping balance.  Here are two adjoining passages on separate pages.

His eyes came to rest on the bee suit.  He
was certain there was something magic about
it.  He just knew if he had one of his own he
could get closer to the hives and bee-talk like
Aunt Lilla.

Henry left the shed and found
Aunt Lilla in the garden.  "How come
the brother bees don't help their
sisters?" he asked.  "Can't the king
bee make them do some of the work?"


As soon as you see the face of the boy on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, you are intrigued by his hat, the net and the bees.  Is he the king of bees?  If he is, what makes him the king?  As your eyes move across the spine to the left a field of flowers is spread before you.  A low tree (shrub) line is behind them.  Two bee hives are in the field.  The soft earth and pastel tones used by illustrator Jim LaMarche draw us into this peaceful scene.  The title is embossed in foil.

On the opening and closing endpapers we are presented with a bird's eye view of Henry and Aunt Lilla's property bordered by water on two sides.  With a page turn at the beginning we see a close-up of clover and daisies with bees humming among the blossoms.  The sky is awash in breathtaking shades of blue with a few clouds.  On the title page a hive is placed beneath the title text.  Bees swarm from the hive on this page and across the gutter to the left on the verso page.

Each two-page picture rendered in ink and watercolor by Jim LaMarche is a beautiful and loving moment frozen in time. We are transported to South Carolina in the summer season.  We can feel the humidity in the air, hear the soft murmur of the water and the call of birds.  More importantly we hear the humming of the sister bees.

Jim LaMarche alters his perspective to heighten our involvement in the story and to accent the pacing.  Several times he brings us close to Henry.  Other times we are looking at a setting from above or as a landscape.  Mr. LaMarche's artwork is nearly photographic in its details but softened by the medium.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when we are reading about Henry's need for patience in working with the bees.  A past experience in the hen house is shared with readers.  We zoom in on Henry carrying three eggs in his hands raised up to his face.  A fourth egg is under his chin.  A fifth egg is tumbling to the straw.  Behind him in glowing hues three hens sit on their nests in their boxes.  The light and shadow and colors on Henry's face are gorgeous.  And many of us have held the same expression on our faces as appears on his.


A gentle story, The King of Bees written by Lester L. Laminack with illustrations by Jim LaMarche, 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. You could pair this with  Bee-&-Me: A Story About Friendship Old Barn Books, April 7, 2016 written and illustrated by Alison Jay, Please Please the Bees Albert Whitman and Company, April 11, 2017 written and illustrated by Gerald Kelley and 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.

To learn more about Lester L. Laminack and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the publisher's website you can view an excerpt, a printable poster and additional resources.  Here is a teacher's guide they created.  The cover is revealed by Lester L. Laminack at the Nerdy Book Club.  At November Picture Book Month Lester L. Laminack talks in an essay about the importance of picture books.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Wired For Ingenuity

Children are full of questions and answers.  Sometimes the insight shown in their queries will leave you inwardly gasping for breath.  You will be equally astounded at the knowledge they have acquired in their few years.  Their curiosity is never-ending.

In our world hopping with technological leaps and bounds children have a golden opportunity.  When given access they can plug into a device and its applications with the ease of a professional.  DOLL-E 1.0 (Little, Brown And Company, May 1, 2018) written and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey acquaints readers with a girl who embraces technology with every fiber of her being.  She sees the world as an arena brimming with "what-if".

Charlotte's head was always in the cloud.
Tinkering.
Toggling.
Coding.
Downloading.

Whatever electronic problem her mother or father happened to have, this gal solved it with ease.  She and her pooch pal, Blutooth, tested and tried all types of gadgets and gizmos.  They were as happy as two DDR4s on a motherboard but Charlotte's parents were concerned.

When Mama placed a present in front of her one day, Charlotte was shocked at the contents.  It was a small stroller with a doll in it.  It did not want to build, pretend to be fantastical beings, or dance.  It did nothing at all.  Charlotte was beyond frustrated until she heard

Ma-ma.

Not thrilled at being a parent, Charlotte started to put two and two together.  This humanlike thing had batteries.  It must also have a memory component.  As Charlotte got excited, the green-eyed monster began to take over Blutooth.  He snatched that thing off the table and ran from the lab (Charlotte's bedroom).

Gazing at the destruction, Charlotte's mind began wondering about possibilities.  Picking up parts and adding more parts resulted in a completely new creation.  Charlotte, Blutooth and the doll were definitely altered by the unexpected but the best things remained the same.


Clever use of technological terminology by Shanda McCloskey draws readers directly into Charlotte's world.  A mix of dialogue and narrative create a lively story.  How Charlotte responds in each situation through specific word selections contributes to our understanding of her enthusiastic and scientific personality. Here are several passages.

Now things were getting interesting.

Got any other 
words in your
database, Dolly?

Ma-ma.
Ma-ma.
Ma-ma.

Just one word, huh?

I know!  I could run an update on
you.  You could say more words!
Would you like that?


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, the first thing you notice is Charlotte's USB cord and screwdriver in her hands.  The collection of bolts, screws, and washers on the floor let you know she's been tinkering.  Dolly with her permanent smile holding the wrench is further evidence of Charlotte's work.  The cord winding through and over the title text is an excellent addition.  The next thing readers will notice is Charlotte's attire including her safety glasses.  This girl breaks the mold on several levels.

To the left, on the back, Blutooth, holding a dripping bottle of glue in his jaws, is looking at a sign on the wall.  It reads:

BUILDING
a friendship
is hard work!

This text is on graph paper with a blue heart drawn in crayon in the center.  Off to the left are other objects Charlotte uses; a T square, a carpenter's square, the controller for her mechanical arm and a spool of red thread.  A tiny mouse is watching from the floor.  The final important thing readers will notice is the background, computer circuitry. 

This background continues on the opening and closing endpapers.  On the first one tools, bits and pieces of parts and Charlotte's spare parts box are placed across the floor.  Blutooth eagerly holds the wrench in his mouth as he leans on the box.  Charlotte is controlling the arm which angles off the upper, right-hand corner.  Without giving too much away, the final endpapers show a blissful blend of before and after.  Readers will certainly get a chuckle when viewing the title page as the mechanical arm reaches across two pages and turns up the lower, right-hand corner to reveal a portion of the next illustration.

Rendered in pencil, painted in watercolor, and then edited in Photoshop Shanda McCloskey supplies readers with one charming illustration after another.  Some of them are two page images, others are single page pictures.  Sometimes two illustrations are framed in black on a single page.  When Shanda does frame a visual, elements within that picture at times break the frame.

Readers will be captivated by all the details, especially the mechanical arm, the use of USB connections and pulleys.  It's interesting to notice what is on the work table in Charlotte's room and the design on her curtains.  Readers will need to follow the expressions on Blutooth which hints at the coming disaster.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Charlotte (and Blutooth) is trying to get Dolly to dance.  A spinning disco globe glitters and hangs from the ceiling.  A speaker is sounding out notes.  Charlotte is doing a robot dance and looking at Dolly hopefully.  Blutooth is doing his own rendition of a robot dance.  Snaking up from the bottom of the page the mechanical arm is holding a tray with three juice boxes on it.


Honoring imagination, technology and a determined girl, DOLL-E 1.0 written an illustrated by Shanda McCloskey is pure fun.  The text, dialogue and wonderfully detailed images produce a story which works without a single glitch.  You can't help but cheer for this character and her dog.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Shanda McCloskey and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At her website you can find extra activities related to this book.  Shanda McCloskey is highlighted at author Karlin Gray's website, at author Beth Anderson's website, at KidLit411 and at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  You will love looking at all the artwork.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Ocean Occupants

Many of us when speaking of the large bodies of water covering our planet refer to them as oceans or seas interchangeably.  Geographically seas are smaller and considered a part of oceans.  Usually seas are partially enclosed by land.  Even for someone spending most of their life able to walk along the shores of Lake Michigan, to step on the sandy beach of a sea or of an ocean is stunning.  As far as you can see there's water.  If you venture in a vessel for enough time on this water, you suddenly realize the land has vanished.  There is nothing but ocean.

To be out in a boat on the ocean with no terra firma in sight is a lesson in perspective.  Who are we compared to this expanse?  What lies beneath our boat?  In his third title (The Big Book Of Bugs and The Big Book Of Beasts) author illustrator Yuval Zommer presents a multitude of answers in The Big Book Of The Blue (Thames & Hudson, June 5, 2018).

Can you find . . .
. . . exactly the same sardine
15 times in this book?
Watch out for imposters.

In twenty-seven separate sections following this challenge it's a given readers will be actively looking for the sardine among the flow of creatures moving on each page.  They will certainly stop at the first two-page picture dedicated to Who's Inside?  Here they receive an overview of the contents with the corresponding page numbers.

Five Ocean Families are presented based upon specific characteristics such as having gills or lungs, being cold-blooded or warm-blooded or living with a particular type of skeletal structure.  Whether you realize it or not, Fins and Flippers are not the only form of motion for these residents of the watery realm.  Seahorses are the only fish with fins swimming upright.  By gathering water into its body and blasting it out, an octopus wastes no time getting from one point to the other.  All these animals, like us, need air to survive.  How they acquire oxygen varies.  Did you know a sperm whale can go for two hours without taking a breath?

The lack of teeth does not deter sea turtles from cutting their food; knifelike jaws work very well.  In order to leap out of the water a flying fish needs to be speeding at 37 miles per hour.  Like a human's fingerprint, a seahorse's crown is unique.  You won't believe the missing parts on a jellyfish.  One of them is a heart.  Perhaps there's a folktale explaining this and the three hearts found in an octopus.

They are not vegetables but whales are grouped in pods.  Have you ever wished you could look in two different directions at the same time?  Ask a crab how this works.  There are sharks that have to keep swimming or they will suffocate.  It's been said krill form groups large enough to be seen from space.  This is amazing when you realize they are about two inches long.

It's fascinating when you learn why sea snakes shed their skin multiple times (between nine and twenty) during a given year.  Did you know a swordfish can poke a hole through a boat? The facts about tuna will make your head spin especially the number of tuna tins one blue fin tuna can fill.  The colors on a penguin protect it when it's in the water mimicking water and sky.

The second most poisonous animal in the world is the only fish that blinks.  Even tide pools are tiny kingdoms of amazing life.  You probably won't have any luck grabbing a butterfish; they're actually greasy.  We are shown what creatures live at 450 feet all the way down to 20,000 feet and beyond.  Two pages address how large vessels, overfishing and global warming are harming the oceans as well as the danger of plastic.  Thumbnails help readers locate those sardines they could not find.  Six paragraphs on two pages address terms used most often when talking about our oceans.  The title closes with sea creatures bordering a two-page index, white print on a black background.  It's an informative and striking depiction.


Yuval Zommer takes his skill as a researcher and writer and uses it to gather and present the best kind of information about each topic.  He has this childlike curiosity of wanting to know as much as possible but particularly those weird and wonderful tidbits of knowledge.  You are unlikely to forget what he tells you in this book.  His sentences are succinct but entirely conversational.  He has the gift of awakening the seeker in all of us.  Here are some of his enticing words.

Swim goggles
A sea turtle has see-through eyelids that it
uses like a pair of goggles to see underwater. 

Not half bad!
If a jellyfish is cut in half,
it becomes two living jellyfish.

Half-asleep
A dolphin sleeps by resting one
half of its brain at a time.


Opening the book case allows you to see the vast and exquisitely detailed sea creatures swimming around the text on the back (speaking about the book) and among the title text on the front.  The letters on the front and all the animals are varnished on the case.  This is a captivating introduction of what the book holds for readers.

On the opening and closing endpapers a pale-blue, nearly marbleized, canvas extends from edge to edge.  Several schools of small fish are featured in the background.  White lines circle and swirl indicating currents.  More brightly colored fish swim in from the upper left-hand corner on the opening endpapers.  On the closing endpapers this group appears in the center.  The smaller schools have moved also.

On the title page, table of contents, and index pages Yuval Zommer uses his ocean residents to frame his text. You are never quite sure the shade of the ocean you will see when turning a page but it's guaranteed you will be intrigued and entertained.  The intricacy of each scene and the elements you find there are certain to have you returning to pages repeatedly.

The illustrations are completely realistic but in Yuval Zommer's signature style.  It's as if he has lived among the animals he draws so they and their habitats are portrayed fully animated.  A seagull turns its head in curiosity at a crab on the sand.  Seals swim through a variety of fish but also lounge on rocks partially covered in seaweed.  Dragonets glide past sea fans, seaweed, octopuses, jellyfish and other inhabitants.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the two pages dedicated to krill.  Along the top of the two pages a ship moves through the waves.  A night sky with a full moon and a few stars is partially covered in clouds.  On the right two other boats move in and out of the scene. The water color is deeper reflecting the darkness of the sky.  Krill move in swarms on the sea.  Creatures who feed on them are present.  On the left a large, hand-held magnifying glass focuses on several krill so readers can see their shape and size.


Without a doubt this title, The Big Book Of The Blue written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer, like its predecessors, will rarely be on the shelves.  Readers of all ages can't resist the illustrations and the facts found in these pages.  I highly recommend this book for your professional and personal book collections.

To learn a bit more about Yuval Zommer please follow the link attached to his name.  Yuval is a guest at the World Book Day site.  You will enjoy the Q & A.  He also has an account on Twitter where he frequently posts artwork.  You can see interior views from this book there.


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




Tuesday, July 17, 2018

This Means Everyone

Whether you've lived in the same community your entire life or it's brand new for you, today is a different day.  Today is the start of something filled with potential and unexpected twists and turns.  Today is about being your best self and helping others to be the same.

As individuals open the doors of their school and walk down the hallways, they need to know everyone is accepted and appreciated regardless of physical characteristics, ethnicity, or religion.  All Are Welcome (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, July 10, 2018) written by Alexandra Penfold with illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman is like walking into a party where everyone got an invitation.  All feel the jubilation of being honored equally.

Pencils sharpened in their case.
Bells are ringing, let's make haste.
School's beginning, dreams to chase.
All are welcome here.

Children chatter around the room as parents deliver them into their teacher's care.  The gals and guys come from countries around the world, dressing differently, practicing religions differently and living in families with different dynamics. They embrace these differences.  They are children.

Spending time with musical instruments and placing colorful paints on paper with brushes is done with merry intention.  There are universal truths found in the telling of certain tales.  Connections are made through these stories.  They are children.

Midway through the day, the cafeteria is an array of cuisine from various continents.  Food is shared and tasted.  The playground is a happy haven of games galore.  All join together for fun.  They are children.

In this neighborhood diversity is uplifted.  The knowledge and gifts of one child are freely given to another.  Cultural traditions are enjoyed by all.  When the school day comes to a close, everyone leaves hardly able to wait for the next day. They embrace these differences.  They are children.  They are hope.  Sweet dreams you beautiful little people.


As you read these words written by Alexandra Penfold you find yourself gently swaying or maybe softly tapping your foot.  Whether you are reading them silently or aloud, a melody comes unbidden into the stream of the story.  The repeat of the phrase All are welcome here invites participation.  There is never a question of whether a child or their family is acknowledged or respected.  It's simply who the people in this school are.  By the time you get to the end, you find yourself wrapped in harmony and happiness.  It's the best kind of feeling.  Here is another passage.

Open doors, rush outside.
We will swing we will slide.
We'll have fun side by side.
All are welcome here.


Animated and vibrant the image spread across the opened dust jacket celebrates all children and their families.  They are eager to enter their school building.  They are smiling and greeting each other.  The yellow and white striped walkway and the bold and bright colors on their clothing placed on a white varnished background shouts out a big "Hello world!  Here we come!" (There is a treat on the inside of the dust jacket.)  On the book case thirty different children in three rows of ten (separated by the spine) are spread across the front and back.  They are clasping hands and looking right at the readers.  It's as if they are saying we are in this together.  Won't you join us?

On the opening and closing endpapers a cityscape including the school is presented.  On the first parents are walking through the neighborhood with their children at the start of the day.  (In this picture and all the images there is a prevalent use of primary colors.)  On the final endpapers the school day is over and it's near sunset.  Families are gathering again and carrying food for a special festival.  The school building is on the left side.  As our eyes move to the right we see the playground.  Behind this are apartment buildings.  Beneath the title text a taxi is en route.  A father is driving his little girl to school.

All of the illustrations created using acrylic paint, ink, crayon, and collage with Adobe Photoshop by Suzanne Kaufman span either two pages, a single page, or several visuals are grouped on one or two pages.  These shifts in size contribute to enhancing the text and accentuating the pacing.  Some of the smaller pictures are loosely framed in soft shapes.  A dramatic four-page gatefold will send your spirits soaring.

It's important to notice all the details Suzanne Kaufman uses in completing her images.  The color and type of clothing, the body positions and facial expressions on all the people, adults and children, and what is emphasized in the classroom settings contribute to the overall sense of the book.  She uses white space as a valuable element throughout the story.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the children are on the playground after lunch.  It spans two pages.  (Even after looking at it multiple times, I expect to hear the shouts and laughter of the children at any moment.)  Across three quarters of the picture is the surface of the playground.  Above that is a layer of grass and then blue sky, trees bearing fall foliage and a full sun.  Several children are reading under one of the trees.  On the left all four swings are being used.  Children are bouncing a ball for four square.  Teether balls are looping around poles on the right.  Two children are playing near the red slide.  A group gathers around the map of the world painted on the surface of the playground.  This is a wonderful sight!


Have you ever looked at something so full of pure contentment you wanted to laugh out loud?  This book, All Are Welcome written by Alexandra Penfold with illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman, is one of those things.  The blend of words and illustrations leaves readers with a form of bliss so complete, there will be many requests to have it read again.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Both Alexandra and Suzanne maintain blogs.  Alexandra is on Twitter and Instagram.  Suzanne is also on Twitter.  You can view interior pages at the publisher's website.  This book and Suzanne are showcased at Pragmatic Mom: Education Matters.

Monday, July 16, 2018

On The Menu

For some individuals it's an art form perfected over every second of their lives. They are literally a catalogue of seemingly infinite ideas. These beings are schemers and dreamers, daring to imagine and do.  They never stop thinking outside the box.

If you are a cow with this marvelous mindset and your best buddy is a duck, it's a guarantee the results will not be as expected.  Meeting Moo Moo and Mr. Quackers in Moo Moo & Mr. Quackers present Moo Moo in a Tutu (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, April 25, 2017) was a reading adventure down a path filled with laughter.  The companions have returned in Moo Moo & Mr. Quackers present What's Cooking, Moo Moo? (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, April 3, 2018).  Author illustrator Tim Miller serves readers a memorable meal with heaping helpings of humor and equal measures of friendship.

Great news, 
Mr. Quackers---I just thought
of my best idea ever!

What is it this time,
Moo Moo?

Assuring her friend this latest pursuit will mean more quality time for them together, Moo Moo grabs Mr. Quackers and heads out the door.  In a blink of an eye, the duo is standing in front of a diner with a large sign reading

MOO MOO & 
MR. QUACKERS'S
CHOW HOUSE.

To say Mr. Quackers is stunned would be an understatement.

He's even more flabbergasted when Moo Moo reveals the source of funding for this new endeavor.  Moo Moo encourages him with promises of fun times ten.  A crowd gathers outside the door as Moo Moo cuts the ribbon at the grand opening.  It's a stampede to get inside. 

As a waiter Mr. Quackers' techniques are slightly lacking.  Filling a water glass with a hose is not the usual practice.  Having a single item, the Moo Moo Special, on the menu puts a lot of pressure on Chef Moo Moo.  When the contents of this gourmet delight are disclosed, expect to burst out laughing.  When it's served to the customers you won't be able to stop your giggles and grins.

Ever the friend, Mr. Quackers steps forward to offer assistance by cooking his

top secret recipe.

When the patrons discover the signature ingredient, they can't leave the restaurant fast enough.  It's a stampede in the other direction.  With their enterprise in food services at a close, the pals pause to reflect.  In this instant Moo Moo gets another brainstorm.  How are your yodeling skills?


With the first words out of her mouth, Moo Moo sets the stage for multiple hilarious scenarios.  Told entirely in dialogue, this story penned by Tim Miller is a series of back and forth bantering between two characters with opposite expectations.  Therein lies the comedy.  Hopefully the name of Mr. Quackers'

important ingredient

will not be overlooked by readers.  (The innuendo is superb, Mr. Miller.)  Here is a portion of dialogue.

You know how you wish
we could spend more
quality time together?

Did I really say that?

Well, I figured out
the perfect way to make
your dream come true!

You mean we're 
going on a vacation? 


Using a palette similar to the first title, inside and outside their shared apartment, and infused with splashes of full color, we enter the world of this particular cow and her friend, a duck.  Cool colors, in blues and purple are complemented with shades of yellow and Moo Moo's pink.  We know by looking at the front of the dust jacket, Moo Moo is blissful about her cooking but Mr. Quackers is decidedly apprehensive.  The soft star in the background gives this story the feel of a production we are about to experience. 

To the left, on the back of the dust jacket, in a framed image hanging on the wall, Moo Moo is looking at Mr. Quackers seated on a stool in front of an easel.  Paintbrush in hand Mr. Quackers is recreating Moo Moo in her favorite pose.  The book case will elicit gasps from readers.  It is a copy of The Daily Quack.  It features, on the right, an article with quotes, about the restaurant opening.  The four entries in the Classifieds on the left are huge hints of what is to come and one makes reference to the first book.  I dare you not to laugh reading this.  

The opening and closing endpapers on the left and right are framed portraits of Mr. Quackers and Moo Moo done in two hues of blue.  Both are wearing aprons and chef hats.  Beneath the text on the title page Moo Moo at the stove flips food into the air.  It lands on Mr. Quackers' head.  The verso and dedication pages have funny illustrations of merry Moo Moo and hesitant Mr. Quackers.

Rendered using brush and ink and digital hocus-pocus the illustrations span two pages, single pages and several are grouped on a single page. These variances provide perfect comedic pacing.  Most of them are framed in a heavy black line and white space.

What Tim Miller is able to accomplish with two dots for eyes and the mouths on all the characters is fabulous.  As you turn the pages your focus first falls on Mr. Quackers and Moo Moo.  You then find yourself noticing all the little details included; the sign on the taxi cab, the items in apartment windows, the guy reading while walking his dog, the decor and table settings inside the diner, ingredient labels, and the type of business located next to the diner.

One of my many favorite images is the lower illustration on a page with two horizontal visuals.  Moo Moo and Mr. Quackers, wearing their restaurant attire, are lying flat on their backs.  Mr. Quackers' body and feet are extended into the air.  Ever the optimist Moo Moo utters

I told you this was
going to be fun.

And Mr. Quackers replies

Is that what you call it?

This comedic image is a result of the stampede to get inside the restaurant.  It clearly delineates the two personalities and their enduring relationship.


Readers sincerely enjoy seeing the return of characters we love in a companion title with a continuation of their escapades.  Moo Moo & Mr. Quackers present What's Cooking, Moo Moo? written and illustrated by Tim Miller brings much shared joy to all of us. Readers will want to read this title repeatedly plus I am willing to bet the first book will be added to the mix.  There is no better concoction than comedy and Tim Miller stirs up the best.  You'll be more than ready to include this title in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Tim Miller and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Tim maintains a blog here.  At the publisher's website you can get a peek inside the book.  There is also a link to an activity guide.  The cover for this book is revealed on Watch. Connect. Read. the blog of Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.  I believe you will enjoy their conversation.  Tim is featured on KidLit TV's Ready, Set, Draw!  On May 9, 2017 Tim visits Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to chat with author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson.  There is loads of artwork to see.  He also stops by Let's Talk Picture Books on September 19, 2017.  Tim is one of The New York Times featured artists who make live art videos.  He was showcased on January 3, 2018.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Love Sees With New Eyes

The first things we see when we step outside each morning are a multitude of elements composing one unique scene next to or layered on another scene.  These visuals are full of shifting colors, lights and darks and blends of various hues.  If we are able to dim our other senses momentarily we can see harmony in these presentations, regardless of the season or setting. 

There is unity between the colors as they work together complementing each other.  MIXED: A Colorful Story (Henry Holt and Company, July 3, 2018) written and illustrated by Arree Chung celebrates this cooperation and respect.  It's a call for us to step beyond the realm of color and recognize differences, similarities and the beautiful found in each individual.

In the beginning, there were three colors.

There were Yellows, Reds and Blues, each with their prevalent characteristics.  They worked and played together in a single city.  One day, a grumpy Red declared

REDS are the BEST!

The Yellows were not happy about this, challenging this announcement with one of their own.  The Blues felt this entire discussion was beneath them and remained quiet.  Before too long, the three groups decided it was best to live in three cities instead of one.

Later a Yellow was out and about one day and spotted a Blue seated on a bench.  The attraction was instant and mutual.  Of course, other Yellows, Reds and Blues were not happy about this relationship but that did not bother this Yellow and that Blue.  They felt nothing but love and married.

Their new baby was named Green.  She had the best parts of Blue and Yellow in her but also was her own singular self.  This little miracle got the attention of other Yellows, Blues and Reds (even the grumpy one).  Her existence gave others permission to see new choices and make changes.  She was hope.


Using a mix of narrative and dialogue Arree Chung tells an important and timely tale.  His short declarative sentences give readers a clear sense of reality in the world of the three original colors focusing on their strengths.  It is one of those unique abilities found in the one Yellow which bridges the resulting divide.  In the conversational asides Arree supplies common arguments which readers realize have no value when stacked against love and acceptance.  Here is a passage.

But then, one day, a Yellow noticed a Blue

And something happened.

I feel so
happy
when I'm 
near you!

And I feel so
calm when
I'm with you!


Placing the beginning central characters, a Red, a Yellow and a Blue on the crisp white background brings our attention to the individual facial features, body postures and added details in black highlighted here.  We know by these three individuals something big is going to happen inside this book especially when we look to the title and see the result of combining red and yellow and yellow and blue. To the left, on the back, four other titles by Arree Chung are showcased beneath a group of colorful characters.  The main title text and the three characters are varnished and raised.

On the book case smiling circular faces in all sizes look at readers.  They are a blend of the primary colors in all the resulting hues.  The opening and closing endpapers are rows of smiling faces, the first in the primary colors and the second a replication of the book case.

Using liberal amounts of white space Arree Chung is able to create a focus on his characters.  All the details on each of them, their hats, scarves, sunglasses and glasses, and additional elements like a microphone and a car are done in black and white.  This minimalist approach is highly effective.

The black lines are bold creating realistic cityscapes. They become thicker in times of crisis or during strong moods and moments such as the closing image.  When the emotional content is lighter, the lines are finer.  The use of visuals in varying sizes provides a wonderful pacing from small pictures surrounded by white to full, two-page pictures powerful in their depictions.

One of my many favorite pictures is after the birth of Green.  She is shown in three separate images on a single page.  In the first she is doing a happy dance because she is

bright like Yellow.

In the second she is leaning against a pillow reading a book because she is

calm like Blue.

In the final scene she is framed by flowers (in black and white) as she stands in a garden.  She is holding a tiny shovel and wearing an over-sized straw hat.  A basket is placed next to her.  A teeny ladybug crawls along the ground.  She is joyfully waving at us.


If asked to give a single word to the result of reading MIXED: A Colorful Story written and illustrated by Arree Chung, it would be uplifting. It is indeed a book about colors but it is much more.  It's about us and the ability to see beyond color.  We are shown how individual qualities can build bridges and break down walls.  It's about honoring singularities and generating one city for all.

To learn more about Arree Chung and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  I believe you will enjoy reading past posts on his blog.  Arree maintains Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.  There is also an activity guide.  On June 12, 2018 Arree visited the Children's Book Podcast #443 to chat about this title.  Arree is featured on BookPage in an Icebreaker article.  Here is a link to Arree's YouTube channel where you can view two videos (trailers) for this book.

Seasonal Views And Hues

This year in the northern hemisphere on September 22 summer will come to a close.  The daylight hours are already shortening but during those minutes the world around us is bursting with color in every hue imaginable.  The blend of shadow and the height of the sun give us breathtaking beauty.

We wake to filtered sunrise rays peeking through trees, bushes and flowers giving them a golden glow.  Cloud cover alters every instance.  Wind works a special wonder.  Summer Color! (Little, Brown And Company, May 15, 2018) written by Diana Murray with illustrations by Zoe Persico takes us on a tour of a summer day shared by siblings and their family.

The hot summer sun lights the sky like a torch
as folks fan themselves on the shady back porch.

With this opening sentence we see the first hue of the day---yellow.  It shines on the sunflowers.  As parents and cousins join the duo ice cold sweet treats on a stick are shared.  Their vibrancy shines with a primary color.

Brother and sister run fast past familiar places until they realize the day has darkened.  Clouds swell turning a stormy gray.  All the animals in the field hurry toward the safety of the green woods.  As the rain falls everything starts to shimmer.  Brights are brighter.

The companions traverse farther into the forest, seeking a cool sheet of white water tumbling to a pond.  Making their way home past the lake with people seeking shelter beneath blankets of purple and past meadow mice tucked in their cozy abode, they run to their door.

Soaked through and through, they cuddle under the warmth of orange towels noticing the color of the fence and shed in their backyard.  As suddenly as it arrived, the disturbance disappears.  The leftover droplets cast a silvery sheen.  The children run outside looking at the clear blue of the sky only to find an arching surprise.


Listening and reading children alike will find themselves caught in the cadence of the words written by Diana Murray.  Twelve vivid hues are spotlighted in rhyming couplets (and other poetic techniques such as alliteration), each focusing on an action; everything and everyone is in motion.  Diana Murray's descriptions of place and time entice us to recall similar experiences or to create new adventures in the near future.  Here are two couplets.

Splashing and splattering, streak after streak,
the rain soaks the earth and sweeps over the creek,
where frogs start to croak and the water snakes slink,
and wildflowers glisten with petals so pink.


Using an F & G (looking forward to having my own copy of the book), the dust jacket unfolds to display a green hill topped with the children's home, a field of flowers spreads from flap edge to flap edge.  The blue summer sky holds places for fluffy white clouds, the warm yellow sun and a cardinal gliding on the breeze in the far left upper corner.  On the opening and closing endpapers a fun-filled meadow scene is shown. (In the back these endpapers also display the dedication and publication information.)

A fox calmly watches eleven white mice and nine blue-green frogs frolic on and off the pages.  Eight snails slide across the right corner.  A variety of flowers and mushrooms grow in clusters.  Two of those snails move across a meadow with brown farm fencing on the two-page picture for the title page.  In each corner we are given a close-up view of flowers.

Rendered by Zoe Persico using traditional-art-inspired digital brushes and media the illustrations radiate from every page, blissfully conveying the magic of a summer day.  Each two-page picture feels as though it's in motion, frozen only for a moment until we can jump in and join the characters.  The facial features on the humans are those of contentment and happiness.  Even in the animals there is a sense of harmony.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a close-up of the children running from stone to stone across the creek as the rain begins in earnest.  They are moving from left to right on the left side.  All we can see are their sneakers, legs, a pair of shorts, a skirt and the bottom portion of their shirts.  The girl's hands and arms move in motion with her legs.  Pink land and water flowers dot the image.  A snake glides toward the left side of the page.  A brilliant green frog watches from a rock on the right.  We can see the rain drops streaking downward.


You'll want to use this title, Summer Color! written by Diana Murray with illustrations by Zoe Persico, for your seasonal story times as a charming introduction to all that can be seen in a single summer day. It can also be used with a unit on weather and for any theme involving the concept of color.  Children (and children at heart) will be attracted to the gentle but energetic beat of the words and the spirited illustrations.  It would be wonderful to have this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Diana Murray and Zoe Persico and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Both Diana and Zoe are on Twitter. Diana has an account on Pinterest.  Zoe has Tumblr pages and an Instagram account.  Both of them are interviewed by writer and illustrator Jena Benton about this book on her blog.  Enjoy the trailer.