Quote of the Month

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

Friday, October 19, 2018

Of Poetry, Priorities And Pals

Your siblings can be your best friends.  People who appear to be your exact opposite can be your best friends.  Best friends can be your same age or decades apart in birth dates.  These people (or other creatures) considered best friends have unconditional affection for you; all of you.  They celebrate your triumphs, offer comfort when sadness descends and see your flaws and mistakes as opportunities for change and growth.  

Several years ago readers were introduced to two rats, siblings, Louie and Ralphie Ratso.  In the book The Infamous Ratsos (Candlewick Press, August 2, 2016) written by Kara LaReau with illustrations by Matt Myers, the duo try to demonstrate how tough they are but words like nice, thoughtful, generous and helpful follow every dastardly deed they attempt.  This combination generates hilarity garnering the title a 2017 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book award.  

A year later the brothers, their dad, Big Lou, and a cast of friends return in The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid (Candlewick Press, September 12, 2017).  An incident at school and a huge neighborhood makeover bring the boys' fears into focus.  In this title, Big Lou offers advice which encourages Louie and Ralphie to face what makes them afraid.  We come to understand how the boys can learn from their father just as he learns from them.  The family dynamics are fabulous.  Each of the characters is evolving.  We find ourselves becoming more and more attached to them.

The third book in the series The Infamous Ratsos Project Fluffy (Candlewick Press, October 16, 2018) further cements the relationship between readers and Louie and Ralphie Ratso.  Popularity plays a role in altering priorities.  Being the older brother does not necessarily make you the smarter brother.  

ATTENTION, STUDENTS! Principal Otteriguez announces to the lunchroom.  "In honor of Poetry Month, Peter Rabbit Elementary will be holding its first annual Poetry Contest!"

Friends of Louie and Ralphie seem to have an opinion on this contest.  Chad Badgerton would rather eat, especially chocolate.  Fluffy only wants to work on designing, planting and growing fruits and vegetables in her plot at the community garden.  Eager Louie and not so eager Ralphie decide to work together.  The first prize would give both of them the chance to purchase coveted skateboards.

Immediately after school, plans change.  Popular Chuck Wood needs Louie's help.  (Louie is known as a great planner.)  The first thing Chuck asks is for Louie to work with him privately.  It's a secret.  Ralphie is not happy about this at all.  This is the beginning of Project Fluffy.

Clipboard in hand Louie decides to dedicate all his time to getting Fluffy to notice Chuck.  All thoughts of the Poetry Contest are gone, much to Ralphie's disgust.  Each Phase of the Project fails miserably supplying one humorous episode after the other.  These plans are having the opposite effect.

Finally a disgusted Chuck Wood stalks off leaving Louie friendless for more reasons than one.  On an evening before the Poetry Contest winner announcements, a family dinner provides food for thought and Louie's stomach.  Real friends . . . and brothers can astonish you.

The constant in the story lines in this series is the high quality of Kara LaReau's writing.  In this book ten short, succinct chapters usually revolve around a single incident designated by chapter headings such as SQUEEEEE!, OOPS or LOVE STINKS.  An adept blend of narrative and dialogue between the characters invites readers into the story.  Not only are we intrigued by the unfolding of the plot but we find ourselves respectfully appreciative of the character development.

The use of language is down-to-earth and appropriate for both the characters and readers.  Kara LaReau exhibits a keen knowledge of her audience.  Here are two passages.

"Not bad," Chuck says.  "But my name is Chuck, not Chucky."
"It's called poetic license," Louie informs him.  "Don't worry, Fluffy will love it.  Girls love mushy poetry.  It's, like, a fact.
"She's better," Chuck says.  I can't take much more of this romance stuff."
"Me, neither," Ralphie grumbles.

"You're going to write a poem about Chuck?  You can't tell a boy you think he's cool," Chad informs Tiny, as he polishes off his second chocolate pudding. "Not if you're a boy."
"Why not?" asks Tiny.
"I don't know," says Chad.  "You just can't."
"I give you my dessert every day because I think you're cool," Tiny informs him.
"You do?" Chad says.  He hesitates . . . then pats Tiny on the back.  "Actually I think you're pretty cool, too."
"Thanks," says Tiny.
Chad takes another bite of pudding.
"Mmm," says Chad.  "Cool, and sweet . . . and chocolatey."
"Why do I think we're not talking about me anymore?" Tiny says.
"I like you a lot, Tiny," says Chad.
"But I love pudding."

From the front of the dust jacket (I'm working with an ARC.) it's clear to see Ralphie is not happy with an oblivious Louie.  We're not sure why but we most definitely want to know.  We are also curious about the individual talking with Fluffy.  Several important scenes take place in the featured park.  On the title page a large tree and grasses on the left cross the gutter to frame the text on the right.  Beneath the dedications a baseball and a strawberry provide a hint to one of the book's conclusions.

Full page and partial page pictures by Matt Myers rendered with ink and watercolor dye on paper supply extra, many times humorous details, to the story.  You need to pause at each illustration to appreciate all the particular elements.  Two of the many book titles Fluffy reads are Soil w/o Toil and The Hole-istic Garden.  When Matt Myers brings us close to the characters, their fully animated features endear us to them.  (I can hardly keep from laughing at Ralphies's oversized eyeglasses.) 

Of my many favorite illustrations one is of Fluffy in the cafeteria at lunch.  It is a partial page picture.  Her rabbit ears are bent on either side of her face.  She is earnestly drawing and writing in her notebook about her garden.  Books are stacked around her.  Her expression reflects her visions and dreams for her garden.  She, too, is wearing large eyeglasses.

From beginning to end The Infamous Ratsos Project Fluffy written by Kara LaReau with illustrations by Matt Myers is captivating and uplifting.  It's guaranteed this book will be read over and over by readers.  (I've read it three times already.)  We are entertained.  We are educated.  This book is a welcome addition to the series.  You will want it on your professional and personal book shelves.  

To discover more about Kara LaReau and Matt Myers, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Both Kara and Matt maintain accounts on Twitter.  Kara stops by Watch. Connect. Read., the site of Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries to chat with John SchumacherShe tells us how many more books are left in this series and this is great news!  Kara is also interviewed at MG Book Village and Bookology.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior illustration, read a sample chapter and download a discussion guide.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Momentous Decision

Each evening after dark, regardless of the weather, when many people are finally relaxing, I am outside with my canine companion.  Consequently, things are seen, heard or smelled which might otherwise be missed.  After a quick glance at our surroundings, my eyes always lift to the sky.  Stars wink in familiar constellations.  If it's partly cloudy shadows shift as those clouds move across the glow cast by the moon in its phases.

Although some things remain the same, nature is full of surprises. Glimpsing a falling star or gazing breathlessly at the northern lights deepens your appreciation for this planet.  Earthrise: Apollo 8 And The Photo That Changed The World (Owlkids Books, October 15, 2018) written by James Gladstone with illustrations by Christy Lundy recreates a time in history when our view of our planet changes forever.

It was a year of unrest.  Many nations were at war.  People around the world marched for peace, fairness, freedom.  They struggled to find the best way to live together.

 People on planet Earth were about to get a surprise as the year drew to a close.  Three astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders, were boarding Apollo 8 with the Moon as their goal.  If you were near a radio or television, you were listening or watching as the Saturn V rocket roared to life and headed into space.

Now in Earth's orbit, these three men would be the first leave it and journey toward the Moon.  Soon the Saturn V rocket left the spacecraft and it continued alone.  The view of the planet, getting smaller and smaller, was stunning.

On day three, the astronauts sent a black and white picture of the Earth so we could see ourselves.  They cruised into orbit around the Moon taking more photographs to be used in studies of the Moon and to prepare for further exploration.  It was on this day, on their fourth trip around the Moon, they looked again toward Earth.

In space, Earth was rising in the darkness like a treasured gem.  In that moment a decision was made. Captured in color, it was and is a view of this precious planet never to be forgotten.

Every sentence written by James Gladstone creates a vivid picture of each significant moment building toward the taking of the Earthrise photograph. His skillful use of language, his verb and adjective choices, brings us into this historic event. The insertion of conversations lends itself to authenticity. It's as if we've stepped through a portal into 1968.  Here are two passages.

There was sound like thunder---rumble and roar!  The crowd stood their ground, while all the ground shook.
The Saturn V engines had burst into life!

Then---just as planned---the Saturn V engine shut off
and broke away from Apollo 8.
Now the spacecraft was coasting on a human dream,
speeding the crew off to another world.

The limited color palette seen on the opened and matching dust jacket and book case is an excellent choice to heighten the superb quality of the graphic design and layout.  On the right and left, front and back, we are inside Apollo 8 looking toward Earth.  In the first, we are with the astronaut.  In the second the Earthrise photograph is placed amid the instrument panel.  On the front the text and Earth are varnished.  On the back only the photograph is varnished.

On the opening and closing endpapers we have a view of the starry expanse of space.  After the title and verso pages, Christy Lundy begins her pictorial enhancement.  Opposite the verso page a young girl holding a toy rocket ship is running toward the right side of the page.  During the introduction she is looking out a window at the peaceful demonstrations mentioned.

Christy Lundy alternates between double-page pictures and full page illustrations to heighten the text and to elevate pacing.  She entwines the child and her family with the story of Apollo 8.  Her family is watching it unfold on their 1968 television.  The little girl places newspaper and magazine articles about the space flight on her bedroom wall.

As surely as the world's perspective of planet Earth changes after the Earthrise photograph, Christy Lundy changes her point of view page turn by page turn.  We see the three astronauts walking toward the Saturn V rocket and Apollo 8 in the distance.  As the rocket launches we are treated to a huge panoramic view with cars, trucks, other vehicles and people much smaller along the bottom of the image.  We move in closer as if we are seated with the astronauts in the space craft.  She connects us emotionally to each instance.

One of my many favorite illustrations is on a full page.  Seven people, a mix of children and adults, are standing in front of a television and radio shop.  Their backs are to us.  The picture window is filled with television sets all showing the black and white view of planet Earth first sent.  The people are bundled in warm clothes as it's Christmas Eve.  A radio broadcaster is speaking on a radio.

There she is, floating in space!

Christmas greenery is draped at the top of the window with red bows. One television set costs 299.99.

Earthrise: Apollo 8 And The Photo That Changed The World written by James Gladstone with illustrations by Christy Lundy is a book to read repeatedly.  Every portion of this space flight, especially the Earthrise photograph, is presented with excellence by weaving facts into a beautiful narrative and depicting its history vividly in illustrations.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal book shelves.

To learn more about Christy Lundy and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  James Gladstone and Christy Lundy maintain accounts on Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  You can read more about this space flight and hear an audio message from the astronauts at NASA.  

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher and read about the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

"Orange" You Going To Pick Me?

It's a term of endearment.  It's a mode of transportation in a popular fairy tale.  It's rich in fiber and low in carbohydrates.  It is a popular and main ingredient in food especially during the autumn season.  Scientifically, it's known as a fruit but there are those who argue it's a vegetable. 

As October 31st draws nearer, grocery stores and farmers' markets are featuring it prominently.  Children can hardly wait to find the best one.  Stumpkin (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, July 24, 2018) written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins (A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals) is about a pumpkin who believes his perfection is flawed.

It was a few days before Halloween.  Outside a little shop in a big city, a shopkeeper placed some pumpkins on the shelves.

Immediately a little girl stopped, looked at the pumpkins and walked away with one in her arms.  Those still on the shelves wondered what was going to happen to their companion.  That evening they had an answer. 

In one of the apartment buildings on the other side of the street, a jack-o-lantern glowed in a window.  The pumpkin turned jack-o-lantern had fared fantastically according to his buddies.  They could hardly wait for the same fate except for one.  He realized he had no stem just a stump.  He was literally pumpkin perfection except for this one detail.

As it got closer and closer to Halloween more and more pumpkins left the shelves and filled windows with happy grins across the street at night.  As each pumpkin left Stumpkin knew he would be the best jack-o-lantern of all.  Would his turn to leave be tomorrow?

People walked by and picked pumpkins.  The shop keeper's cat settled on top of Stumpkin.  A child picked him!  YES! Oh, no!  He changed his mind when a dog did what dogs do around cats. (sigh)  Soon it was just a gourd and Stumpkin on the shelves.  It was now Halloween day.  A boy walked up and picked one of them.  You won't believe which one he picked.  Someone got a new home that night.  Someone else was already in their special space.

When Lucy Ruth Cummins writes a story you know she will take something ordinary and expand your thinking.  In her capable hands it becomes extraordinary.  In this narrative she smoothly moves from narrator to the thoughts of the pumpkins and the thoughts of Stumpkin.  She builds descriptive reasoning into the tale which leads us to humor and the glowing, grinning conclusion.  Here is the bottom portion of a passage.

Poor little . . . Stumpkin.
Still there was plenty to like about Stumpkin.
He was a handsome pumpkin---as orange as a traffic cone.
He was as big as a basketball---and twice as round!
Who know?
Some people might even prefer a stemless pumpkin.

Could there be more excellent colors for a book about a pumpkin and Halloween?  The rich black on the dust jacket extends flap edge to flap edge. On the left it's entirely like a moonless midnight except for a sliver of Stumpkin in the lower right-hand corner.  And without even opening the book case we know Stumpkin is not happy about his physical state. The placement of his eyes and angle of his eyebrows conveys his emotional mood.  The texture of the paper for the jacket is rough like tiny, tiny weaving. 

On the book case we move in closer to Stumpkin on the front.  We see a hint of his stem but our eyes are drawn to his eyes and lots of orange.  A wide black band extends from the spine.  Stumpkin is also highlighted on the back but he is much different; much happier.  On the matching opening and closing endpapers in orange and cream are rows of bricks like the walls of the apartment buildings.

Lucy Ruth Cummins begins her pictorial story on the title page with a truck driving left to right, almost off the page.  The back is filled with pumpkins and one gourd.  Rendered in gouache, pencil, ink, and brush marker the images invite interpretation. Many of the elements are in shades of black and gray to accentuate the pumpkins.  We never see details on the people.  Details are seen in other items; the signs on the shop windows and door and the plants and fruits on display. (Take note of those fruits, page to page.)

The perspective changes from larger views of the shop and apartment buildings across the street to close-ups of the shelves.  This allows us to see the eyes of the cat and the pumpkins as their expressions shift.  The change in visual sizes, double-page to full page, elevates the emotions Stumpkin is feeling.  It also surprises us with six very special pages toward the end which are masterful.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans a full page crossing the gutter to the left. It's a close up of the shelves outside the shop.  It draws our attention to three shelves.  There are four elements on each shelf; nine pumpkins, a single gourd, Stumpkin and the black cat with brilliant green eyes.  All the eyes are looking at Stumpkin.  He is most definitely worried.  He has just noticed his lack of a stem. 

Is this a stellar choice for a Halloween read aloud?  It certainly is!  Is this a super-duper choice for reminding us imperfections in our minds are likely perfections to others?  Yes, it is!  Stumpkin written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins is a book you need to add to your professional and personal collections.  It is destined to be a holiday classic.

To learn more about Lucy Ruth Cummins and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images and portions of the story.  Lucy Ruth Cummins maintains an account on Twitter and Instagram

Saturday, October 13, 2018

All The Hues Of . . .

The air is crisp and a cool breeze stirs the remaining leaves on the trees.  The brilliance of the sky as the sun lights up the colored leaves is breathtaking.  It's a welcome respite after weeks of rain with more predicted for this evening. My canine companion nearly pranced with joy during our morning walk.  Nothing is more appreciated than that which has been missing.

Without our realizing it, the absence of blue was affecting us.  Blue adds balance to the other colors. Blue (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, September 25, 2018) written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger as a companion to her Green, a Caldecott Honor book, not only explores blue as a color but as a poignant expression of emotion.

baby blue

berry blue

Each of the sixteen two word verses, parts of a poetic narrative, connects us to our own life moments and those depicted in the double-page pictures.  Page turn by page turn we watch and understand as two hearts are made whole by the presence of the other.  As they grow so does our compassion.

We sigh with affection at the first image of a puppy and small child sleeping head to head.  A small light blue blanket/scarf connects them as a paw rests on the left and a tiny hand holds it on the right.  A slightly older puppy is pulled in a red wagon by the boy after an afternoon of blueberry picking.  A filled basket sits next to the dog.  We know the duo is already inseparable.

A small boy's artwork with puppy paw prints running across wet paint, a ball bobbing on white-tipped waves and two tired souls sleeping next to each other on the boy's bed draw us deeper into their shared experiences.  A shift occurs midway through the story with

my blue.

A boy's possession now becomes a possession of the dog.

Day by day, season by season, the pair is shown together inside and outside.  They silently snuggle, they joyously laugh, they lovingly offer shelter and trek side by side from adventure to adventure.   In one of the final verses we are prepared for the inevitable.  This is followed by a deeply moving portrait and words signifying a bond which even death cannot break.  We are reminded from sadness hope finds a way to give us

new blue.

With her evocative language Laura Vaccaro Seeger takes us on a journey of love and remembrance.  We have seen or enjoyed tender moments with a puppy.  It's pure peace.  We have watched a dog chase flying butterflies in their blue beauty.  It's merriment to store away.  We have walked through snow on a bitter cold day ready to play with our canine companion.  It's wonderful anticipation.

With her rhyming words Laura Vaccaro Seeger invites us to participate in this sensory passage of time.  We willingly go because we know her words, like those of all great storytellers, will leave our hearts whole.  Blue creates harmony.

The opened and matching dust jacket and book case call out to us.  Like in life, there are numerous shades of blue.  Each one is attached to an item or emotion.  On the jacket the title text is raised.  The opening and closing endpapers are a pale, sky blue and introduce the narrative with a title page and close the book with the dedication (Cooper, a Seeger beloved dog) and publication information.

Rendered in acrylic paint on canvas each double-page image is a window and a door.  It's as if we are watching our own reflections and are being beckoned to join the dog and his boy.  Laura Vaccaro Seeger shifts her point of view in the illustrations.

We are so close to the puppy and baby we can imagine hearing their gentle breathing as they sleep.  In this visual the color choices and brush strokes are softer.  In the following scene after the blueberry picking, on the left the berries and leaves fill the page in a close-up representation.  On the right the puppy in the wagon with the boy pulling him are in the background.  The palette is bolder and vibrant as are the lines, shadows and light.  Each turn of page will have you gasping in appreciation for the use of perspective.

The dog and boy are never more than an arm's length from each other.  They are usually featured next to each other.  Readers will also notice the placement of the treasured possession in almost all of the illustrations.  This is highly significant.  As in her other work, the use of die-cuts is masterful.  The meticulous positioning of each ties us to the next illustration as well as the previous picture.  Scattered blueberries are part of a child's painting and they in turn become paw prints.  Paw prints are highlighted by a grassy field but become part of a butterfly's wing.  Drawer knobs are part of a book but change to illustrations in another book.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when the dog and boy are walking in the winter.  Nearly everything is covered in layers of white.  The technique Laura Vaccaro Seeger uses to present this effect is a mix of light and heavy applications of paint.  A large tree on the left crosses the gutter to the right.  Beneath its branches the duo walks.  Hanging from this branch on the left is a bird feeder.  Perched on the feeder is a cardinal.  The boy's sled is a well-worn red. He is wearing red boots, mittens and a hat with a red hooded sweatshirt beneath his dark blue coat.  From the leash his dog walks beside him.  The boy leans toward the dog.  The dog is looking at his boy.  The dog is wearing a light blue scarf.

Rarely does a book supply readers with a truthful, meaningful and hopeful account of the companionship between a dog and a human.  Blue, beautifully written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, does this.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.  This is one of two other books, Bone Dog written and illustrated by Eric Rohmann and The Rough Patch written and illustrated by Brian Lies, which I believe respectfully and with deep affection understands this is a relationship which never ends.  Memories are forever.

To learn more about Laura Vaccaro Seeger and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At a publisher's website you can view interior images.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson features Blue and Laura Vaccaro Seeger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Laura talks about her process and shares loads of artwork.  You might want to have some tissues handy before viewing this book trailer.  (My wild child, two-year old chocolate Labrador might be wondering why she's getting lots of extra hugs today.)

Mulan is wondering if she should sleep or
get ready for her next adventure.

Sleep wins.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Defy Definitions

It has been happening every single day for generations, hundreds of years. Women of courage and conviction defy the definition of dictated behavior.  They dare to be different.  They pursue their passions even if it means they are alone and are apt to face uncomfortable consequences.  Most of them do so without notice.

A few months before the ratification of The United States Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, a girl named Marie-Sophie Germain was born in Paris, France.  Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain (Little, Brown And Company, June 12, 2018) written by Cheryl Bardoe with illustrations by Barbara McClintock chronicles and honors her life.  Page by page you will be inwardly cheering for this woman until you shout out loud.

Long ago in Paris, a young girl named Sophie Germain understood that math could do more than measure lengths of silk and tally accounts in her father's shop.  

People in Sophie's world held specific expectations for women.  There were boundaries not to be crossed.  Certainly Sophie's love of mathematics had no place in this particular society.  Her parents did everything they could to stop Sophie, trying to protect her from ridicule but Sophie did not give up.  Finally Monsieur and Madame Germain allowed her to study mathematics.

Initially Sophie studied from the safety of her home; the French Revolution made being outside dangerous. The more she learned the more her dedication to numbers grew.  When she was nineteen she posed as Monsieur LeBlanc so she could submit homework to a university's math classes.  Curious about this stellar student, Professor Joseph-Louis Lagrange came to Sophie's house for a surprise visit.  It was indeed a surprise!

With her secret revealed some welcomed Sophie to their social gatherings, others did not take her seriously and some refused to communicate with her because she was a woman.  When she was thirty-two Sophie witnessed an experiment involving sound, vibrations and patterns.  This phenomenon intrigued the entire science community. 

The prestigious Academy of Sciences offered a medal worth 3,000 francs to anyone who could find the mathematical formula that would predict patterns of vibration.

It took two years for someone to submit an entry.  It was Sophie but her solution was erroneous.  For two more years this woman persevered.  She tried again after the Academy extended the offer.  Do you think it was right?  Would they accept her reasons for it working?  In 1816 someone walked away with the grand prize.  Was it Sophie?  Nothing stopped Sophie.

It is the inclusion of particular items of interest by author Cheryl Bardoe which begins and increases our personal bond with this woman.  Key phrases allow us to understand the importance of mathematics in her life.  The repetition of the title words creates a cadence connecting a series of significant incidents.  These events build toward Sophie's amazing victory cementing her willingness to keep working no matter the obstacles.  She believed in the power of mathematics and we believe it because of her. Here is a passage.

Sophie discovered that mathematicians use numbers as poets use letters---
as a language to question, explore, and solve the secrets of the universe.  She
read how ancient Greeks wrote equations that made the impossible possible.

Water flowed uphill . . .

A lone man pulled mighty ships ashore . . .

A scholar measured the size of the earth . . .

Sophie longed to become a mathematician and write such poems of her own.

When you open the dust jacket you are presented with Sophie a young woman on the right and Sophie, a teenager, on the left. (I am working with an F & G.) In both illustrations brightly colored numbers figure prominently in the pictures.  In fact they soar repeatedly in other images in this title.

In the first visual Sophie has just viewed the experiment about vibrations producing patterns. She realizes every sound sends out vibrations.  Surely there is a formula for predicting patterns and vibrations.  We are closer to Sophie in the second illustration.  She is intently reading a book stretched out on a carpet with an oil lamp burning next to her.

The opening and closing endpapers show different mathematical equations in the same palette of vibrant hues.  The background mirrors old paper.  The title page is a panoramic view of Paris; tall buildings nearly covering a blue sky with a few clouds.  Large numbers of people, wagons and horses fill the streets and sidewalks.  Sophie strolls along on the right with numbers soaring from her mind.

Each illustration rendered by Barbara McClintock with markers, gouache, and collage in painstaking detail, eloquently portrays Sophie amid a historical and societal context.  Her altered perspectives from one double-page picture to the next elevate the narrative. Some of the visuals give us a broader view and others bring us near Sophie.  In these it's as if we are there right next to her.

Barbara McClintock gives us a large view of a Paris street outside an upper story window where Sophie studies in their library as the French Revolution chaotically unfolds in the streets outside.  Numbers, huge and bold float above the people.  Numbers are embedded in the architecture of Sophie's home.  In another illustration, an older Sophie sits at a desk working.  She is framed with replicas of correspondence; letters, envelopes and books, too.  Envelopes scatter to the right of her, beneath the text.

One of my many favorite illustrations shows Sophie's parents in their night garments fondly looking at her.  They are on the left of the illustration.  On the right Sophie, wrapped in a blanket, is sound asleep with her head resting on a desk.  Sheets covered with mathematical formulas are scattered on the floor and beneath her head.  Through a single window we can see it's snowing outside.  An equation is positioned in a thought above Sophie's head.  (It was so cold in the room; the ink was frozen solid in the pot.)

This book, Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain written by Cheryl Bardoe with illustrations by Barbara McClintock, is marvelous.  The blend of narrative and artwork is elegant picture book biography perfection.  At the close of the book there are sections titled More About Sophie, Is This Math Or Science?, Discover The Effects Of Vibration For Yourself, Selected Bibliography, A Note From Cheryl Bardoe and A Note From Barbara McClintock. You will want to place a copy of this title in both your professional and personal collections. 

To learn more about Cheryl Bardoe and Barbara McClintock and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website there is an Author Essay, a video chat with Barbara McClintock and an activity kit.  Both the essay and video chat are fascinating.  At author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson's site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Barbara McClintock chats about her process with supporting artwork.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other title included by bloggers this week participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Beginning At The Ending

Have you ever noticed when there is only one of anything left, the value, real or imagined, increases?  When you think you will never enjoy the sensory experience of tasting, touching, smelling, seeing or hearing it again, it's as if there is nothing quite as important as tasting, touching, smelling, seeing or hearing that one thing as much as possible.  Without a doubt you find yourself wondering why you waited until there was only one remaining before you gave it the attention it so richly deserves.

Perhaps this is why we need to protect and enjoy every detail of our lives, each and every day.  The Very Last Castle (Abrams Books for Young Readers, October 9, 2018) debut picture book written by Travis Jonker with pictures by Mark Pett asks us to follow one very brave little girl.  Not only does she ask questions, but she decides to find her own answers.

In the middle of a small town stood something
you might not expect.

A castle. 

This castle is distinctive.  It is the very last castle.  For reasons unknown, no one has been inside nor has anyone left the castle. There is a guard at the top of a tower, unmoving and watchful.

One day Ibb, a girl living in this town with the very last castle decides to drop a stone in the moat.  The guard does not budge.  Sounds come from the castle, snapping, thudding and hissing.  These sounds cause people in Ibb's circle of friends to speculate on what might be inside the castle.

Autumn turns into winter.  The guard never leaves his station.  What could he possibly be sheltering? With the shift in seasons to spring, Ibb grows bold.  Another stone is dropped in the moat.  The guard moves.  The next day, she crosses the moat in a small boat and knocks on the very large door.  One of those three sounds scares her into leaving as fast as she can.

Soon an invitation is delivered to Ibb.  Her presence is requested inside the castle.  She is warned to not honor this summons.  Regardless, she walks to the castle and enters after the drawbridge is dropped.  Amazing answers to questions are revealed.  An agreement benefiting many is reached.

We are immediately intrigued after reading the first two pages.  Travis Jonker begins with not only the unexpected but a mystery.  We have questions.  With four words he opens the door to answers.

Then there was Ibb.

This child's curiosity challenges her to be courageous despite her teacher, friend and grandfather's speculations about what is being guarded inside the castle by someone no one has met.

Each time she decides to be brave Travis uses a repeating phrase to bind the incidents together.  Sound effects play an important role; three different sets plus two.  Dialogue is skillfully blended with the narrative.  All these techniques work wonderfully to create a storytelling rhythm.  Here are two passages.

The next morning, Ibb walked
past the castle.  She stopped and
looked up at the tower.

No guard.

Ibb had an idea.

She floated across the
moat, walked up to the
door, and, with all the strength she had,

When we look at the front, right, of the opened dust jacket we are introduced to a curious little girl and the shadowy figure of a guard on a tower top.  The one is already moving into a part of our heart.  Who can resist the shy smile, adorned backpack and cheerful clothing?  The falling leaves designate autumn as the season.  A careful look at the spine shows it covered with castle bricks.  A tiny figure of Ibb is pulling on the drawbridge lever below the title. An apple is placed above the title.  Why?

To the left, on the back, Ibb is standing in front of the castle door, having crossed the moat.  Her hand is raised as if to knock.  On the book case two different scenes are presented to readers.  One shows a determined Ibb walking toward her destination.  On the left we get our first look at the guard when he is not in the tower.  The two tiny images on the spine of the jacket have been removed.

The opening and closing endpapers are a darker shade of the blue in Ibb's dress.  Mark Pett renders his pictures using pen and ink and watercolor.  They span double pages and full pages.  Readers will want to notice the facial expressions on all the characters, especially their eyes.

Many of the illustrations are in full color but other visuals have limited color.  This not only elevates the pacing but draws our attention to the most important details in any given scene.  Sometimes a portion of an image will be in full color but other elements will have limited color.  The townspeople with the exception of Ibb's teacher, Miss Wicks, her friend, Alex and her grandfather, are never shown in full color.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the story introduces us to Ibb.  She is striding across a pale green field with a few delicate flowers still blooming.  A tiny butterfly comes from the gutter.  Ibb moves with arms swinging from left to right.  She wears her yellow boots, red and white striped stockings, blue dress and polka-dotted long-sleeved shirt.  Her green backpack is covered with her favorite things. Her eyes are closed in contemplation.  The background is a crisp white.

When you read The Very Last Castle with words by Travis Jonker and pictures by Mark Pett for the first time, you are compelled to read it again, then and there.  You realize Travis and Mark have not only entertained you but guided you toward valuable life lessons.  You need to read this book often and share it with others as often as possible.  I highly recommend this for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Travis Jonker and Mark Pett and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Travis has another site here.  Both Travis and Mark have accounts on Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  The cover reveal with a chat between Travis and Mark is at School Library JournalTravis has two great posts about this title on his blog, 100ScopeNotes; here and here. (The comic explaining the story behind this story is super.)  There is also a post full of Twitter tweets from Mark Pett about his illustrative process.  Travis wrote an article for the Nerdy Book Club about being an author.  Travis's friend, Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, celebrates this book at his blog, Watch. Connect. Read., today.  I went to Travis's event on Saturday, October 6, 2018 at McLean & Eakin, a book shop in Petoskey, Michigan.  To hear him read his story aloud was simply the best.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Majestic Matriarch

You think your respect cannot elevate.  You believe nothing else can astonish you.  New information astounds you.  Your admiration climbs.  You realize, yet again, we share this planet with incredible beings. Their very existence, in the light of constant changes and challenges, is nearly miraculous.

Orcas, the largest member of the dolphin family, also known as killer whales are endangered according to the U. S. Endangered Species Act.  This is specific to those orcas found in the southern resident community off the state of Washington.  (They are also protected under the Canadian Species at Risk Act as their range extends to British Columbia.)  In Wild Orca: The oldest, wisest whale in the world (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, September 18, 2018) written by Brenda Peterson with illustrations by Wendell Minor readers, through the voice of a young girl, meet Granny, an orca believed to have lived 105 years.

On the longest day of summer light,
Mia waits for Granny to join them for Orca Song. 

She is joined by her parents and other people gathered on the San Juan Island.  Granny, an elder matriarch, guides three pods. They are named by scientists as pods J, K, and L.  To put her approximated age in perspective she was alive before the Titanic met its fate. 

Granny and the orcas in these three pods communicate with a series of whistles.  Each orca's pod, if you listen carefully, is identified by their whistles.  Mia and her father, a scientist working at the Lime Kiln Point research lab, place a hydrophone in the water to listen for the approach of the orcas, especially Granny.  Orcas use their whistles to detect food and danger.

Drummers drum.  Singers sing.  They wait for the orcas on a hillside overlooking the water.  Mia is worried.  There are dangers to orcas, most of them manmade.  It's even harder for the young.

They are taught how to breathe and are lead in travel by the oldest female.  Granny has been caring for her group for more than one hundred years.  Thankfully when she can't help a member of one of the pods, there are humans ready to assist.  Where is Granny now?

Suddenly the air is filled with whistles.  Dorsal fins skim along the water.  It's a memorable display of acrobatics and song. 

Through her words fashioned from research and a passion for preservation Brenda Peterson supplies us with information about orcas while blending in a tradition seen through a specific child and her parents.  Brenda Peterson uses a pleasing mix of narrative, thoughts and conversation to honor Granny and her pods.  Sound effects are skillfully inserted into the story to welcome readers to this place and time.  Here are several passages.

"It's a superpod!" Mia calls.
J, K, and L pods---all visiting together.
"And there's another new baby!"

Near shore, family pods greet each other.
Headstands and flips.
Wild cartwheels over waves.
Orcas slapping their fins. Ker-splash!

Rolling and bumping one another,
orcas blow and breach.
Burp and chirp.
Spin and spyhop.
Just to peek around.

All the splendor of the arrival of Granny and her pods is portrayed on the opened, matching dust jacket and book case.  The grace and grandeur of these spectacular creatures vividly stretches from left to right in a stunning display. Can you hear the splashing, whistles and calls of the seabirds? The details in the artwork, paintings of Wendell Minor, are breathtaking.

When you view the matching opening and closing endpapers you cannot help but marvel at the mastery of Wendell Minor's illustrations. It's a map of the western portion of Washington State and British Columbia, Canada.  In color it shifts, right to left, from a blended golden-green to green as it gets closer to the islands and then to the blue hues of the Pacific Ocean.  The islands, including Waldron Island, Orcas Island, Blakely Island, Decatur Island, Lopez Island, Shaw Island, and San Juan Island are shown in proportion to the surrounding area but are also enlarged in a square in the upper left-hand corner. The Lime Kiln Point State Park and Lime Kiln Lighthouse are represented, too.  It will take your breath away when you try to understand how Wendell placed Granny over this with the map showing through the center section of her body. 

The verso and title pages are an image of the lighthouse, ocean, rocky shore, Mia and her parents and several orcas.  The sky and water nearly mirror one another.  Wendell has a gift for helping us to feel the emotional and actual atmosphere, weather, at any given moment.

Each illustration, full page and double-page, is a study in the human participants, the natural setting and the orcas.  Rendered in gouache watercolor on Strathmore 500 Bristol paper each picture uses light and shadow to convey particular moments.  There is softness when necessary and a bolder line and shades when depicting the orcas underwater or skimming and playing on the surface.  A vertical foldout will have you gasping.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when we get close to the pods upon their arrival.  It spans across two pages.  The pale skyline is perfect for the placement of the words and a single orca breaching on the left between the texts.  Beneath this the other orcas are moving left to right, gliding on the surface, blowing, leaping, and spyhopping.  The water is blue-green and white with waves and splashes.  This is an exhibition of sheer joy.

Wild Orca: The oldest, wisest whale in the world written by Brenda Peterson with paintings by Wendell Minor is a beautiful tribute in language and art to one of the most enduring and endearing creatures seen on our planet.  It draws attention to how the orcas live, their plight and their habitat.  I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.  Brenda Peterson highlights Granny and orcas on two pages at the end of the book.

To discover more about Brenda Peterson and Wendell Minor and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to visit their respective websites.  You will find lots of extra articles and images at Brenda's site.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Both Brenda and Wendell have Twitter accounts.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Taking Care Of Home Cuidar El Hogar

There are pockets on our planet, special spaces, unlike any other spot.  The plants and animals residing there are unique, survivors of distinctive habitats, weather and climate.  Some of them are found only in this one place.  Seeing these specific plants and animals in these particular locations for many of us will be an unrealized dream.  You have to wonder if perhaps this is the best possible outcome for these areas.

One of these regions is the Galapagos Islands, set in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador. Galapagos Girl Galapaguena (Children's Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books Inc., September 18, 2018) written by Marsha Diane Arnold with illustrations by Angela Dominguez and translated by Adriana Dominguez explores an island and one girl living there and loving everything the island offers her.  Through her discoveries we come to understand enchantment reigns in this island realm.

Valentina was born on an island formed by fire, surrounded by blue-green sea.  

Valentina nacio en una isla formada por el fuego y rodeada de un mar azul-turquesa.

One child among eleven brothers and sisters Valentina saw Sally Lightfoot crabs on the island of Floreana among the lava rocks.  She swam with inhabitants of the ocean, even penguins.  Birds, tall and pink, butterflies, blue and delicate and sneezing iguanas caught her attention.

The sounds of the water and bird calls were like music to this child of the island.  She couldn't help but dance along with the movements of the animals.  A story told to Valentina by her Papa set the course for her future.

He told her how he brought the two tortoises, Carlitos and Isabela, to their island.  He explained the threat to many of the animals on the Galapagos Islands.  Valentina knew they needed her pledge to protect them and preserve their way of living.  When it came time to leave her beloved island to further her education, she spoke aloud from the boat and made a solemn vow.

Whenever there was a break at school, Valentina came home and worked on various islands learning as much as she could about every living thing.  As a biologist she returned to act as a guide for visitors, bringing her knowledge lived and learned to each.  Those who came and left were connected to the Galapagos Islands with the same commitment and passion as their guide. 

When Marsha Diane Arnold writes we first read silently, but we can sense a lyrical quality to her carefully chosen words, asking us to read them aloud.  So we do.  In the text for this book the beauty of a place and its inhabitants is superbly woven into the day to day fascination of a little girl.  She embraces her environment with joy and respect. 

The research conducted by Marsha Diane Arnold is apparent in the details.  This is a deeply personal story about Valentina Cruz and the Galapagos Islands.  Readers like the visitors to the islands cannot help but feel a kinship to this remarkable place and this girl. 

Several times in the narrative words in Spanish are used but this is further enhanced with the matching bilingual text in Spanish.  This makes this story accessible to a larger audience.  Here are some passages.

She listened to waves crashing like cymbals against rocks.
Albatross trumpeting above steep cliffs.
Finches trilling piccolo notes.

Escuchaba las olas, que sonaban como platillos
cuando estallaban contra las rocas.
El graznido de los albatros sobre los escarpados acantilados.
Los pinzones trianado como flautines.

"But, Mama," she protested.  "I am a Galapagos girl.
I belong here with the sea lions and penguins."
"You are ready to learn about the world beyond," said Mama.
"Like the sea, you are strong and free."
"And like our islands, you have a heart full of fire," said Papa.

--Pero mama--protesto--.  Soy galapaguena.
Mi lugar esta aqui, con los lobos marinos y los pinguinos.
--Estas lista para aprender sobre el mundo mas alla de Galapagos
--dio mama--.  Eres fuerte y libre, como el mar.
--Y como nuestras islas, tienes un corazon de fuego--anadio papa.

When you look at the opened dust jacket (I am working with a digital copy.) the pure happiness exhibited by Valentina extends to the reader.  The inclusion of waved albatross, blue-footed boobies, and the marine iguanas alerts readers to a few of the species found only on the Galapagos Islands.  This spirited ocean scene extends across the spine to the back.  On the left, two sea lions bask on rocks as an albatross flies overhead.  The first sentence in the book is placed in the white bank of clouds above the grassy hills. 

Tiny images are placed on the end flaps, Valentina swimming with sea creatures and Sally Lightfoot crabs crawling on rocky outcrops.  Blue-footed boobies dance beneath the dedications, both in English and Spanish.  On the title page, between Spanish and English text, Valentina strides among blue butterflies.

Each full-color visual, rendered in pencil on illustration board with digital color, is as lively as the creatures and Valentina.  These illustrations by Angela Dominguez span two pages or single pages depending on accentuating the pacing of the text.  When Angela portrays the animals she displays their essential endearing characteristics from the dancing of the blue-footed boobies, to the graceful swimming of sea lions and the sneezing of the marine iguanas.  (They are getting rid of the salt in the water.)

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Valentina and the penguins.  It spans two pages, edge to edge.  On the left a swimsuit-wearing Valentina is upside down doing a cartwheel.  A single animated penguin is next to her.  Her blue mask, snorkel and flippers are on the sandy beach.  To the right on rocks on three more spirited penguins.  A blue-green ocean stretches behind them beneath a pale blue sky spotted with clouds.

In an Author's Note Marsha Diane Arnold says

Valentina's and my hope is that after reading this book, you too will say, "We will help to keep them safe."

In Galapagos Girl Galapaguena written by Marsha Diane Arnold with illustrations by Angela Dominguez and translations by Adriana Dominguez this expressed hope is realized.  The rhythmic poetic words, buoyant, vibrant illustrations and Spanish translations create a book reaching numerous readers on several levels.  We are introduced to a valuable woman in the preservation of the Galapagos Islands, we see unique creatures in their natural habitat and we understand on a new level the importance of conserving this habitat.  After the Author's Note, pages About the Galapagos Islands and Fun Facts About the Galapagos Animals You Met in the Story further acquaint readers with this marvelous place on our planet. There is also a lengthy Bibliography.  Everything is in both English and Spanish.  I highly recommend this title for both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Marsha Diane Arnold and Angela Dominguez, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  They both have links to blogs from their websites.  Both Marsha and Angela are on Twitter.  Angela and Marsha have an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images, including one of my favorites.  On September 20, 2018 Marsha Diane Arnold visited this blog as part of the tour for this title.  Her excellent guest post is informative and insightful. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Fetching Canine Qualities

No two are ever alike.  There are indeed similarities.  Most of them bark, howl, growl, run, enjoy earning treats, have a great deal of intelligence, can read human emotions, and are loaded with loyalty and compassion.  They also portray characteristics uniquely their own.  Some may say it's a coincidence but dogs have a distinctive knack for selecting the perfect human pal.

There is no love like the love between a dog and their human.  Each acknowledges the other's strengths and quirks without reservation.  My Dog Laughs (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, August 21, 2018) written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora (I Hear A Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!) reveals all those marvelous attributes and activities which makes sharing your days with a dog priceless.

I Meet My Dog

I name my dog.
This is Olivia.  This is River.
And this is Paco, Munchey, Daisy, and Josie.

Other observations when meeting your dog are to notice how much like you they are.  Their fur is the same color as your hair.  Their eyes have the same sparkle as your eyes.

The more you know them, the more you understand their likes; belly rubs and television watching.  When you are gone, they feel like a piece is missing in the puzzle of their lives.  Or

My dog farts a lot.  
P. U.,

Everything they do is interwoven into your days and nights creating a prized rhythm.

For some it's more work than for others but your dog craves learning and having a job.  They understand certain necessary things to do; sitting, staying and leaving it.  And even though they are not always as good as gold, they recognize when mistakes are made. 

When you go outside with your dog keep them close.  Proper attire is necessary according to the weather.  You'll have to give your dog plenty of exercise and pick up their messes.  Monitoring their behavior is all part of the going-outside routine.  The best part is playing with your pooch.  They go racing after snowballs, dig enormous holes in the sand and later sit quietly with you, resting.  Everything they do with you spells L. O. V. E.

Cheerful and charming, simple, short sentences and phrases fill six definitive portions of this narrative.  It's obvious  Rachel Isadora knows children and she knows dogs.  When she puts this knowing together, it's sheer magic.  She takes the best part of the relationship between children and dogs and presents it to readers. Here is a passage.

Sometimes my dog 
sleeps in my bed.

Sometimes I sleep
in his bed.

My dog likes to sleep a lot!

My dog dreams!

When you look at the front of the  matching and opened dust jacket and book case, you have to laugh.  Look at that dog!  Rachel Isadora gives us one of those rare, wonderful moments when dogs are experiencing bliss.  The red spine with dog bones goes down the front and along the back.

To the left, on the back, are four small interior images from the book.  Each is captioned as follows:

My dog laughs!
My dog dances!
My dog snuggles!
And best of all, my dog
is always happy to see me!

Hooray for dogs!

Twenty seven different kinds (breeds) of dogs are displayed on the opening and closing endpapers.  All of them are posed to look directly at readers.  On the title page a little girl is standing next to her seated dog that happens to be almost as tall as she is.  Both of them are smiling. Rachel dedicates this book

To Mocha and all her friends.

Mocha is her dog.

Rendered in watercolor and ink all of the illustrations are simply enchanting.  Each delicate line frames the soft, textured colorful hues. Every position and expression on the dogs and the children are sure to generate sighs.  Readers will be unable to resist reaching out to touch the pages. 

Several images are included on each page to enhance the pacing of the text.  Children will see themselves reflected in the children depicted here.  They will also see dogs that look like their dogs.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is the bottom one on a single page.  The sun is close to setting at the end of a day of fun.  It forms a path on the waves of a watery expanse.  Sitting in the sand and facing the sun with their backs to us is a boy and his dog.  Even though the dog is larger than the child, the boy has his left arm across the back of the dog.  Nearby are a pail and a sand shovel.

This book, My Dog Laughs written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora, begins and ends with laughter.  Your smile grows with each page turn.  The essence of dogs and their children is masterfully presented.  This title could be used as an introduction to life with a dog, in a dog-themed unit, as a guide for writing descriptive sentences and phrases or for the joy it brings to readers.  You will want this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Rachel Isadora and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior illustration.   (Now go hug your dog or find a friend's dog to hug.)