Quote of the Month

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




Friday, August 31, 2018

Seasonal Success

Central locations, streets and parks, are gathering spaces for plentiful produce.  Rows of white-tented booths are bursting with fruits, vegetables, fresh-baked breads and pastries, honey and flowers.  All the hours, days and weeks of work are spread before browsers and shoppers alike.

There is nothing quite like the farmers' markets in August.  In our local area there is at least one for five days of the week.  Some communities have markets twice a week.  Summer Supper (Random House, May 8, 2018) written by Rubin Pfeffer with pictures by Mike Austin is a spirited salute to those who plant in the spring and relish the results in summer.

Shovel soil.
Sow seeds.

With each page turn following the initial text, actions of the families farming and gardening are told through words beginning with the letter "s".  In each accompanying illustration other "s" words label elements in the scene; a word like string, sticks, or sun.  In order for those seeds to grow water adds moisture to the dirt.

Sprinkle, sprinkle.

Soon bits of green are seen, getting taller and taller.  Color bursts forth in the form of flowers, fruits and vegetables.  A shape stands tall among them, guarding the garden.  You're doing a stellar job, Mr. Scarecrow.

In time those fruits, vegetables and flowers are picked and placed like a vivid still life on tables for buyers to see.  As the day begins to end a family gathers in the kitchen preparing, simmering and mixing ingredients.  A group gathers around a large table for an outside supper.

As the sun drops below the horizon the families, now full of home-grown food, make musical memories.  Later many hands share in kitchen clean-up.  There are bedtime rituals and one typical, final surprise beginning with the letter "s", of course.


One of the first things readers will do after reading this book is take a deep breath and wonder how Rubin Pfeffer thought of all these words beginning with "s".  Then they will think of all the fun he must have had searching out these words and how clever he is to have successfully linked them together for this story.  The alliteration supplied by the short, succinct sentences creates a spirited cadence.  Here is another sentence.

Sizzle, swirl, swish, SAUTE!


The soothing golden yellow canvas with hints of green on the matching dust jacket and book case provide the perfect glow of a summer's day highlighting the bounty of fruits, vegetables and flowers carried by the barefoot boy.  It continues over the spine and to the left, on the back, as cornstalks and blossoms frame the words

SEE
SUMMER
SUPPER,
STEP
BY 
STEP!

The same boy stands on the far left of the opening endpapers, now with a hose in hand watering the soil.  Rows labeled with signs for all the "s" vegetables, fruits and flowers are displayed in bright colors.  A bluebird (happiness) watches.  The kettle the boy is holding on the front of the jacket and case becomes a placeholder for the text on the title page.

All of the two page illustrations by Mike Austin in full color present lively and animated scenes.  He alters his perspective inviting readers into each situation.  When the children and a parent are planting the view is larger. We move in a bit closer as a little girl waters the new shoots.  When a bird and chicken inspect a worm we are even closer plus Mike gives us a cross-section of the roots attached to the sprouts, shoots and stalks.

The white text is placed along the bottom of each picture within a colored band alternating between reds, shades of green, hues of blue, orange, brown, purple, pink, and maroon.  The characters' features are minimal but convey every emotion.  Readers will appreciate the mix of races shown in the images.  On the closing endpapers, Mike Austin again features the boy among a vista bursting with enlarged flowers, vegetables and fruits.  He is carrying a pea pod so big it stretches past and above his spread arms.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of the scarecrow.  Across the bottom of the page are sprightly and brightly hued daisies.  On the left and right are cornstalks and big-faced sunflowers.  On the left, poles and string hold up tomato plants. Four birds are squawking and in flight.  One has dropped a strawberry.  The scarecrow is wearing a large-checked shirt in many colors.  Red gloves are his hands.  He is smiling from cheek to cheek.  On his head, over his straw hair, is a baseball cap.


For a unit on farming, gardening, seeds, summer, food, families, alliteration or simply for fun, Summer Supper written by Rubin Pfeffer with pictures by Mike Austin is superb.  Readers and listeners alike will savor the sounds made by the words and feel the happiness in all the images spread throughout their collective souls.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Rubin Pfeffer and Mike Austin and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Author Johnell Dewitt features Rubin Pfeffer in his role as literary agent on his site.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Whatever. Together. Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers Blog Tour

Have you ever felt like your best assets were ignored or abhorred?  Have you consistently been the weak link in a chain?  I think you know where this line of thinking is going.  Some individuals are teased and then believe if, as the saying goes, someone looked up the word dud in the dictionary, their name and picture would be listed.

What no one tells them is the very qualities others find to be lacking are strengths.  These traits will keep them resilient in the face of future adversity.  Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs (Peachtree Publishers, September 1, 2018) written by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Stephanie Laberis is a book championing characteristics regularly undervalued.

Everyone loves elephants.  They're so big and strong.
Everyone respects cheetahs.  They're so fast and fierce.
But this book isn't about animals we admire.

This book is singing the praises of another kind of animal.  This book has us cheering for the Etruscan pygmy shrew and Amau frog.  They are tiny, pinkie-fingernail tiny.  How does this size help them?  They can hide where their enemies cannot go.  The Galapagos tortoise has no need for speed.  Do you know why?

Stepping in a cow pie (manure) once is more than enough.  It's as if the smell is stuck to your nose hairs for days.  There are actually two animals that smell worse.  Yes, this is true.  These two odoriferous creatures cause predators to become ill or run away lickety-split.

Being shy is a silent way to blend into the surrounding flora.  Ask the okapi how this helps.  Sometimes we think of sleepyheads as having a lack of incentive but in reality these animals are storing up energy.  A little bit of food goes a long way with them.

Being clumsy is not necessarily a disadvantage, speed can cause a fall but it does produce a feast more often.  Go western fence lizard, go.  The blubber found on walruses, seals and sea lions is not an anti-beauty statement but a protective key to survival.  Finally the attributes of an underground critter definitely rank them low on the cuddly scale but they are a marvel of adaptation. In the words of the author

Underdogs Unite!

As a meticulous researcher Melissa Stewart brings a respected authenticity to everything she writes.  In this title her easy conversational style replete with captivating facts and the use of alliteration generates a desire in the reader to keep turning the pages . . . as quickly as possible.  As humans we find ourselves amazed by these animals' unique traits and seeing singular characteristics at the same time in us.  We identify with these underdogs.  Melissa also asks readers questions which welcome us as participants in this title.  Here is a passage.

In winter, a walrus's thick layer of fat can weigh more than 400 pounds.  Seals and sea lions fatten up too.  What a bunch of blubbery blobs!  Think these plump lumps should go on a diet? 


You can't help but smile when looking at the opened and matching dust jacket and book case for this title.  Surely humor resonates from the animals' body postures and facial expressions.  There is a funky smell in the air as depicted by the green swirls.

To the left, on the back, the same animals are shown in their same positions but from the back.  The little bat is there too.  What is different is the ISBN.  In a brilliant design moment two naked mole rats are carrying the bars to and from the barcode.  I love this! The opening and closing endpapers are colored in a dark teal to match the color of the title text.  Several of the same creatures are featured on the title page, much smaller and positioned differently.

Rendered in Adobe Photoshop these illustrations by Stephanie Laberis are realistic but also portray her own special brand of animation and humor. Many of the critters are displayed in their habitats but for emphasis they are sometimes taken out of that realm and put in our world. Stephanie does not gloss over the very true-to-life battle for survival.  The Etruscan pygmy shrew and Amau hiding from a bird and snake respectively are frightening situations for them.  When she represents the effect of the hoatzin and zorilla, I know readers will laugh out loud.

Her images spread across two pages, single pages, and may be grouped together as smaller insets.  One of my many favorite illustrations is the double-page picture of the walruses.  The background is a blend of blue-gray rounded clouds.  Snow rests on the icy landscape and on the walruses.  On the left one walrus nearly fills the page, looking directly at the reader.  His expression is priceless.  To his right, across the gutter and on the right side a group of walruses are huddled together on the edge of the ice.  Water is placed in the lower, right-hand corner.


There is much to appreciate and enjoy about Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs written by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Stephanie Laberis.  Readers will come to view the parallels between the lives of these creatures and the bullying seen in human situations.  At the close of the book two pages are dedicated to more information about the animals in this book along with thumbnails images.  Selected sources and important dedications by the author and illustrator appear on the final page.  I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Melissa Stewart and Stephanie Laberis and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Melissa also has a blog.  Both Melissa and Stephanie maintain accounts on Twitter.  Stephanie has an Instagram account.  At the publisher's website are a teacher's guide, a reader's theater and animals stats and a map.  At educator Alyson Beecher's blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, the cover was revealed.  Melissa wrote a guest post about expository literature at School Library Journal and new sources for teaching nonfiction at the Nerdy Book Club.  Melissa is interviewed at For the Love of KidLit.  The book trailer was premiered at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.

As part of the blog tour both Melissa Stewart and Stephanie Laberis are answering a few questions.  And here they are!

Thank you Melissa for graciously agreeing to answer a couple of questions about your latest title, Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs.  I view all your writing with great respect and your dedication to science and nonfiction is wonderful for all of us.

After I read this book, in addition to the animals it features, I started to think how humans, children and students, could benefit from this way of viewing themselves.  Then I went to the back of the book and saw your dedication.

For any child who is being bullied right now---
what others see as a weakness may actually be your strength.

Don’t give up.

Was this the initial reason for writing this book?  Was there a specific incident which sparked the writing of this book?

Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, the Monday posts on my blog, Celebrate Science, will be entitled “Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep,” and each week, a different highly regarded nonfiction author will contribute. You can look forward to posts from Barb Rosenstock, Sarah Albee, Candace Fleming, and many, many more. Thirty-three in all. I was gobsmacked by the generosity of my colleagues and their enthusiasm for this project.

You see, writing nonfiction isn’t just cobbling together a bunch of facts. Every book we write contains a little piece of us. The topics we choose and the approaches we take, are strongly influenced by who we are as people—our personalities, our beliefs, our experiences in the world.

One of the experiences I endured as a child was bullying. From fourth grade to eighth grade it was a constant part of my life, and, in some ways, it shaped the person I am today. For example, it made me resilient enough to keep writing despite receiving about a zillion rejections from editors in the last 20 years. Okay, maybe not quite a zillion. But, trust me, it’s a big number.

Who knows . . . if I hadn’t been bullied, maybe I wouldn’t be writing today. I might have given up a long time ago.

When I decided to start researching animal superlatives (biggest, strongest, fastest) a few years ago, I found myself connecting with the anti-superlative animals (smallest, slowest, shyest, clumsiest,—even stinky-est). One morning, I woke up with the beginning of the book in my head, and I knew I was on to something.

Writing this book meant revisiting a painful part of my past, but it has already also allowed me to connect with educators who have previewed it in truly special ways. All my books are about
science ideas that I’m passionate about, but this book is also about offering hope to kids who really need it. 

Why did you focus on these eight special characteristics?  How did you choose the animals to represent these characteristics?

I’m so glad you asked this question, Margie, because it gives me a chance to geek out about nonfiction text structure—one of my favorite topics.

Like many of my books (and STEM-themed nonfiction picture books by other writers),
Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs is a concept book with a compare and contrast text structure. There is a main idea—surprising adaptations (body features and/or behaviors) can help animals survive—and then lots of examples. Some people call this a list book, and fact-loving kids adore them.

It might seem like the order of the animals in the book is random, but it’s not. And one day, when I’m in the middle of a school visit program, a child who hardly ever seems engaged in school will shock teachers by suddenly raising his/her hand and excitedly pointing out the pattern to me—a pattern that most other people never notice.

That’s the child I write for because he or she is an analytical thinker, a budding scientist or engineer who needs all the encouragement I can possibly provide. Info-kids don’t connect to narratives the way many teachers think they should, but they love expository literature.

So what’s the pattern in Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers? Actually, it’s multi-layered.

As you mentioned, there are eight characteristics featured in the book.

First layer: The number of pages devoted to each one alternates. Two spreads, one spread, two spreads, one spread, etc.

Second layer: The first four characteristics focus on adaptations that help animals stay safe, while the second four characteristics highlight adaptations for getting food or conserving energy, so less food is needed.

Here’s the chart I made to keep myself on track as I was revising.




In some ways, the structure grew out of the animal examples I had to choose from, but in other ways, the structure determined the animals I selected. There was a lot of back and forth to create a book that includes great examples AND has a great pattern. It’s important to have both because even if readers don’t recognize the pattern, they feel it. It affects the pacing and the page turns, so it’s critical to the experience of reading the book.

Thank you Melissa! 



I am so happy to have you here today Stephanie.  I thank you for taking time away from your work to chat with us.

Thank you so much! It’s a pleasure & an honor to speak with you!

When you plan for creating images for a title how does your process begin before you go to Adobe Photoshop?  Do you design a layout?  Do you complete sketches?  Do you do research first?

I always start with photo reference. No matter how stylized my work will be, I make sure that I have lots of photo reference to work from. You have to know the rules to be able to break them, as they say, and the better an understanding I have of an animal’s anatomy, the better decisions I can make about which forms to exaggerate for the sake of expression, while keeping these distortions believable. Sometimes I will read articles about a particular animal to better understand their habitat, what critters might coexist with them, or to learn some interesting habits they might have. It helps to create a more compelling illustration & to build off of the author’s text.

After I have my reference, I do very rough thumbnails, keeping things loose. This is how I figure out compositions & solve the bigger problems in layout. After that, I do a rough layout in Photoshop, using the page template of the book to figure out text layout & to make sure nothing important is lost in the gutter.

After the roughs are approved, I work directly from the rough file in Photoshop to bring the spread to full color. It makes my workflow much more smooth & fast to work this way.

If someone looks at the body of your work in children’s literature, it appears you enjoy illustrating animals more than any other subject? Why is this?  

It’s true, I love drawing animals! I think there a couple of reasons for this, the simplest one being that I don’t enjoy drawing humans as much as animals, haha! Beyond that, I was always into animals, even as a kid. I had a variety of pets growing up, such as dogs, gerbils, anoles, fish & rats, & I was always very interested in nature documentaries (and still am!) I even considered pursuing a career in biology or veterinary sciences at one point. I feel as though I have hit a good balance at this point with my artwork, in that I can still be immersed in the animal world, even focusing on more scientific elements, while being expressive & creative at the same time.

And if I can sneak in one more question . . . there is a good deal of humor in your illustrations for this book. Why?    

That’s a great question! I think mostly it’s because humor is FUN to illustrate! I LOVE pushing poses, facial expressions & actions as far as I can! Even when I do nonfiction works, I try my best to keep some elements of humor or push the expressions in my animals as much as I can, because really, animals in their most basic environment have these sorts of funny mannerisms. I think the fact that I am also an avid animation fan contributes to this - I loved The Lion King as a kid & really loved the balance of animals still running around on all fours, but having human-like mannerisms & expressions, including humor.

Thank you Stephanie!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Digging Deep For More Truth

As much as we like to think we know the truth, the whole truth, about a person, place, thing or event, do we ever know everything?  Certainly there is one tiny detail, one hidden fact, which changes our perceptions . . . or reinforces what we already believe to be true.  It's a little bit tricky when dealing with the past but a diligent detective, a meticulous researcher, can uncover new information.

Our presidents in the United States have had their lives examined with scrutiny.  This will continue as long as people are curious about these American political leaders.  A deeply respected United States President is Abraham Lincoln.  It's safe to say the events described in Abraham Lincoln's Dueling Words (Peachtree Publishers, April 1, 2018) written by Donna Janell Bowman with illustrations by S. D. Schindler have not been the topic of discussion in many classrooms.  The word duel is not typically associated with this man.

See those two fellows in the boat, looking all grim and serious?
Maybe you recognize one of them from your history books.
Yep, that's Abraham Lincoln, Springfield's favorite joke-telling, story-spinning, honest-to-the-bone lawyer.

The other man is James Shields.  This boat is on its way to Bloody Island.  Usually, one party does not return from this dueling land unless the seconds (assistants to duelers) can resolve the conflict.  These two men, Lincoln and Shields, have lead similar adult lives but in personality and politics they are opposites.

In the summer of 1842 James Shields worked in the Illinois government as its auditor.  He was a Democrat.  Due to the fact the state was in financial trouble Shields issued a proclamation demanding people pay their taxes in gold or silver.  Paper dollars from banks were no longer acceptable.  Of course, Lincoln, a staunch Whig, decided this was making unreal demands on people already suffering from poverty.

His plan was to write a letter about everything wrong with the proclamation and James Shields and sign it Aunt Rebecca.  He did it.  So did others.  Shields was furious.  He demanded the editor of the paper reveal the writer.  Lincoln told the editor to give out only his name.  For a while the two dueled with words and then Shields decided a more deadly form was necessary.

As the man challenged to duel, Lincoln was allowed to make up the terms of the contest.  No one expected the weapons he chose.  No one expected the layout of the dueling area he proposed.  And no one expected a lie would change the course of history.

It's hard not to believe we are not reading an account of these happenings in a local newspaper in 1842.  Donna Janell Bowman writes in a style reminiscent of this particular era.  Each paragraph is designed to draw us into Springfield, Illinois as citizens.

Her technique of beginning with the men on the boat headed toward Bloody Island, then stepping back in time to describe both Lincoln and Shields, the proclamation and subsequent incidents and back to the duel is excellent.  This is how storytellers involve their audience.  When she weaves facts and quotes into the narrative we are spellbound.  Here is a passage.

Back in Springfield, folks knew Lincoln for his top-hatted head full of smarts, but also for his friendliness and knee-slapping tales.  Any little ol' thing could start a story spinning in his mind.  Even in court, which should have been quiet and businesslike, something might tickle his funny bone.

"That brings to mind a story," he would begin.  Often, his homespun tale would sway the jury to his side.  Sometimes, the judge even busted out laughing.

"If I did not laugh," Lincoln said, "I would die."


The matching dust jacket and book case leave no doubt in readers' minds about the current mood of the two men, one President Lincoln, with their backs to each other.  What we don't know is who the other man is.  What we don't know is why dueling is in the title.  It's a mystery and that is what makes us want to open this book.

To the left, on the back, a quotation

"I cannot submit to
answer your note any further
until your accusation
is withdrawn."

is placed between the two men, writing at their respective desks.  The red used in the title text covers the opening and closing endpapers. Two title pages with crisp white backgrounds only show the vivid title text.  In fact, throughout the book, white frames many of the illustrations.  These pictures span two pages, single pages, single images crossing the gutter and groupings of smaller visuals.  All supply stellar pacing.

These images rendered in watercolor and ink by S. D. Schindler accurately depict a true-to-life historical perspective.  The characters are animated.  The details invite us to pause and study each picture.  On the boat headed toward Bloody Island a long hook lying on the deck, a dueling pistol held by Shields and a curved blotter on Lincoln's desk, ready for use, reference this time period.  S. D. Schindler also includes small bits of humor.  You need to notice the eyes in the portrait in the room when Lincoln is speaking at a gathering.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Lincoln pacing in front of his desk as he reads the proclamation.  His frustration is evident in his body posture and the position of his one arm and hand behind his head.  He is also deep in thought.  A dog sits next to the desk watching Lincoln.  (Lincoln is well-known for his fondness of animals.)


After reading this book, Abraham Lincoln's Dueling Words written by Donna Janell Bowman with illustrations by S. D. Schindler, you find yourself excited to share this information with the first person you meet.  You want to, at the very least, make sure this is something enjoyed in classrooms.  At the close of the book the words SANGAMO JOURNAL are the heading for a two page author's note about the duel, mudslinging in the written word, Aunt Rebecca letters, James Shields and the Illinois Banking Crisis.  Donna Janell further speaks about writing this title and provides sources with a link for a more extensive list of resources on the last page.

To learn more about Donna Janell Bowman and S. D. Schindler and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Donna Janell Bowman has several pages dedicated to this title; some are here and here.  At the publisher's website you can read an excerpt, use a teacher's guide and view questions and answers with the author.  Donna Janell Bowman is interviewed by Deborah Kalb.  Enjoy the book trailer.



I hope you will stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by others participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Always

Does it have a beginning?  Does it have an ending?  There is indeed a history attached to its measurement.  There are established methods of calculation.  How is it, then, the shortest amount can seem to last longer than the larger amount?  In other words, why can five minutes feel like five hours and why does eight hours seem to whoosh past in mere minutes?  Time is a constant, tick-tocking along, but it appears we can't capture it to fit our wants and needs.

Each situation, each moment, in which we experience life determines the value of time.  Age figures in the appreciation given to time but children are known to have great insight into its preciousness.  Forever or a Day (Chronicle Books, March 27, 2018) written and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby is the detailed descriptions, careful musings and earnest explorations of the concept of time by a child.

If you look closely you can see it.

As a child looks out an apartment window a truck with TIMES on its side putters by on the empty street as the early morning sun's rays color the buildings.  He continues to assess time by realizing sometimes we take our time and in other situations it's gone before we have a chance to grasp it.  There are people who allow it to dictate everything they do.  Others go with the flow.

As a train curves away from the city, the boy thinks becoming old is nearly unimaginable.  For musicians time is a cadence used to fashion the flow of a melody.  Have you ever waited and waited and waited for what you know is going to be wonderful?  Have you ever thought this is taking forever?

Suddenly forever vanishes.  You are greeted by those who feel the same anticipation. The entire day is shared from sunrise to sunset.  You wish, you hope with all your heart, time would stop.

The group gathers around a fire stretching the moments into longer rather than less.  A breathtaking starry vista spans above you until goodbyes are said.  It's a return, pajamas and bed but one final phrase is the true test of time well spent.


Every thoughtful sentence written by Sarah Jacoby in this title rings with realism.  These phrases are not long but a back and forth rhythm is supplied by the comparisons.  This child's assessment of time allows readers to bring into focus its many definitions. Here are two separate sentences.

It can be precise, like pouring the first cup of tea, or picking the perfect shoe.

Perhaps it is a ghost---
it can come and go
and you never even notice it was there.


The gorgeous dust jacket contains an image which goes from flap edge to flap edge, left to right.  On the left the golden sky with streaks of red hangs above a line of evergreen trees.  As this moves to the right the city appears between a basin formed before another row of trees begins.  In front of the trees and city you realize the large area is water.  The two children hands nearly clasping swing their toes and make circles in the water as they sit on the dock.

The book case is covered in a soft black with speckles of stars, one shooting across the sky.  A moon is rising on the horizon.  The children are in the same spot nearly hidden by the darkness.  The opening and closing endpapers are the same soft black with shades of purple and a bit of blue on the background.  Four rows show different phases of the moon.

A page turn portrays the TIMES truck moving along the street.  A rolled-up newspaper is tossed out.  Another page turn has the verso and title pages hosting a continuation of the city street as dawn slides into the city.  Someone walks a dog as street lights glow.

Rendered in watercolor, NuPastel, and mixed media these illustrations bring to mind a single word, hushed.  The use of the medium noted provides a soft texture.  Light and shadow are used masterfully.  Tiny delicate elements ask readers to pause.  Size of pictures and point of view varies giving us smooth pacing.  A wordless picture will have you gasping.


One of my many favorite illustrations covers two pages. On the left a glow is surrounded by a grove of trees.  Two bears are climbing among the trees.  On the right another glow, this from a bright crackling fire, lightens more trees.  Another bear, a group of deer and a fox move toward the people and music from a guitar.


No matter how often you read this book, Forever or a Day written and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby, you will feel the same.  As you read this a sense of deep calm builds within you.  The statements on time are like a lullaby.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Sarah Jacoby and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  (If Mulan could see the illustration on the first page of her site, she would be howling with joy.)  You'll want to stop by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to view an interior image and to read her review at Kirkus.  Sarah's publisher Chronicle has a post titled 13 Questions with Debut Children's Book Author, Sarah JacobySarah is featured at Professional Book Nerds podcast.  Sarah Jacoby has an account on Twitter and Instagram.


(And now I think I'll listen again to Jim Croce's Time in a Bottle.)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Dreaming Purr-fectly

Is there a single day which passes without making at least one wish?  Oh, the actual words, I wish, may not be thought or uttered but a desire might be felt, a longing might be expressed or a hunger for a special food or drink might be pursued.  We go through our lives filled with hopes, some tiny and others large.

There are those with the same dreams as us.  We may or may not realize this.  Cat Wishes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, July 24, 2018) written by Calista Brill with illustrations by Kenard Pak is a special blend of practical and impossible.

Once in the windy wood, there was a hungry Cat.

This cat was not picky about what it ate.  Hearing a noise, it slowly moved toward a likely meal.  In a flash a snake was pinned beneath its paws.

It was not surprising the snake asked to be set free.  It was surprising when the snake said he would grant Cat wishes if allowed to leave.  Cat being Cat did not believe in wishes . . . but the snake slithered away.

Still not a believer Cat decided to experiment with one of his three wishes.  He desired fish.  Regardless of a meal of more than one fish and with a full belly, Cat still thought wishes were nonexistent. 

Cat's nap in the sun was cut short by a rain storm.  When the weather turned nasty who wouldn't want a house.  Did Cat, not for minute thinking wishes were real, think about a house?  (Let's continue thinking about a house.)  If Cat had a house, would Cat want to be alone inside it in the dark?  With a brilliant plot twist on wishes, readers along with Cat will know even the smallest sliver of hope can lead to miracles.


With a rhythmic beat supplied by a mix of rhyming words, alliteration, sound effects, narrative and dialogue, author Calista Brill takes us into the world of Cat.  Her use of language has us becoming a cat.  We, like Cat, are torn between not believing, wanting to believe and acceptance.  The repetition of a phrase ties everything together flawlessly.  Here are several passages.

"No such thing as a wish,"
Cat said.  His belly growled.
"But if there were, I'd wish for a fish."

Pad,
pad,
pad.

Cat walked on
whisper feet.


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, the first two things you notice are the image spans left to right, back to front, and it stretches to the edge of both flaps on the jacket.  The muted, pleasing colors are a mix of reality and dreams.  Cat's wishes in the interior are shown in colorful, loosely formed shapes.  To the left, on the back of both the jacket and case, more cloud-like pastel swirls are shown amid the plants.  In the distance, along the top, we can faintly see the windy wood.

On the opening and closing endpapers a pattern of stars and paw prints in alternating vertical rows cover the two pages.  They are a dusty rose on a cream canvas.  The title page features Cat standing sideways looking into the windy wood.  Grass, leaves and plants border the bottom of the page.  Along the left side a large tree truck provides a frame.

Rendered in

watercolor and digital media

the pictures of Kenard Pak in this title span two pages and single pages.  On one of the double page images several elements are used to accentuate pacing.  The smooth, slightly matted paper is perfect for the limited color palette.  Pak may use browns and grays on cream with splashes of only green in the leaves.  This allows the highlighting of wishes, desires and hopes in light shades of blue, red and yellow and mixtures of these three.  Delicate fine lines and smooth brush strokes generate a sense of serenity.

One of my many favorite pictures is on a single page.  Along the bottom are simple lines of grass and weeds.  Cat has lifted up from his nap, looking forlorn on the bottom right.  Lines of rain fall from the darkened area in the upper right corner.  There is absolutely no doubt about the mood or emotional state of Cat.


Readers are going to enjoy this tale of wishes especially with the twist at the end.  Cat Wishes written by Calista Brill with pictures by Kenard Pak will have them ready to wish as often as possible.  It will also have them looking for a silver lining when it appears as if there is none to be found.  They need to remember (We all do.) Cat did let the snake go.  I would pair this title with I Wish You More, The Littlest Gardner, and You Don't Want a Unicorn!  Sure to promote discussions, I recommend this title for both your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Calista Brill and Kenard Pak and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Both Calista and Kenard have Twitter accounts. You can also find Kenard Pak on Instagram and Tumblr.  

Friday, August 17, 2018

All Together Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Love Grows Love

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

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

Evan and his dog did everything together.

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

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

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

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

Seeing a vine with

prickly stems, fuzzy leaves, and spidery, twisty tendrils

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


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

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

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

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

And soon it was. 


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

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

Created with

acrylics, oils, and colored pencils on Strathmore paper

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

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

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


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

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

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Shared First Step

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

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

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

Mae said, "I'm not going."

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

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

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

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


Without a doubt the words of Mae,

"I'm not going!"

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Buzzworthy Picture Book August 10 for 10 #pb10for10

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

"Bumblebees weren't made to fly."

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

A teacher's guide is provided by the publisher.


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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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



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


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

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



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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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



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

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


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


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



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

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


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

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

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



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


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

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

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


"I'm hungry," says Bear.

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


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

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



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

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


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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

A Saint Among Serpents And Their Kin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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