Quote of the Month

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




Friday, November 16, 2018

Duds Dismay

Dreamed into reality in 1949, it is still in existence today.  In 1952 it was the first toy to be advertised on television.  Within months it garnered four million dollars for the company.  Most of the households in my neighborhood as a child owned at least one.  It was a star in the 1995 movie, Toy Story.  (And it might be the reason potatoes are my favorite food.)  Mr. Potato Head was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2000.

For the vivid and active imaginations of children (and children at heart), adding ears, eyes, a mouth, feet, arms and hands, a nose, and a variety of hats to a potato opens whole new worlds.  Potato Pants! (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, October 2, 2018) written and illustrated by Laurie Keller brings to readers a tuber-ific tale of excitement, dread, and compassion liberally loaded with hilarity.  How can you even think the title words without laughing?

POTATO IS EXCITED!
(That's why he's doing the Robot.)

I call it
the PO-bot
because I'm a
PO-tato.

In case you are wondering (a) why a potato is talking and (b) why he's excited, the local pants shop is having a spectacular one-day event.  The owner, Lance Vance, is selling trousers designed particularly for potatoes.  Potato is trying not to panic but the advertisement says

ONCE THEY'RE GONE,
THEY'RE GONE!

He's early to avoid the spud stampede but his cheer turns to fear when he sees a pineapple-patterned- pant-wearing eggplant standing inside.  He's frozen outside remembering how this very eggplant shoved him into a garbage bin yesterday.  How is he going to get his perfect pair of pants? Potatoes are coming and going and each is wearing new designer duds.

A passerby gives him an idea but a call to a grocery store yields negative results.  Trying to decide what to do next, Potato learns there is only one pair left.  Desire overcomes dismay, he rushes into the store only to discover the pants are gone.  Potato explodes at the injustice.

His anger is short-lived when he learns of damage he caused in his haste to acquire his perfect pair of pants.  His purple nemesis approaches.  In a twist of tater-tastic scope, Potato and Eggplant leave Lance Vance's Fancy Pants Store wiser.


Only someone with a brilliant sense of humor could write a story filled with this much fun.  Laurie Keller has a knack for knowing which words to use to create an exact comedic effect.  Rhyming, alliteration, repetition, and puns heighten the narrative and the conversations of Potato, the other characters and Eggplant.  Here is a passage.

Poor Potato.  It's not easy for him
to watch all the other potatoes walk
by in their new Potato Pants.

I LOVE my new
POTATO PANTS!

We love
OURS,
too!

Mine have 
polka dots
and 
ruffles!

Mine have
BIG
pockets!

Mine are kind of
SCRATCHY.  I may need some
POTATO UNDERPANTS!


The background seen on the opened dust jacket is like the bags used to package potatoes.  This is very clever.  The smaller images around Potato on the front, right, give readers hints as to the incidents in the story.  One look at the face of Potato on the front is guaranteed to bring on giggles and grins.  It also will have readers wondering why Potato appears frightened.  To the left, on the back, within a potato shape Potato is watching an ad on television announcing the Potato Pants event.

A bright sky blue covers the book case.  Etched in a darker blue Potato does his famous PO-Bot from left to right.  The opening and closing endpapers are a rich, rusty red.  On the title page Potato's perfect pair of pants, the stripey ones with the stripey suspenders are featured.  From the lower right-hand corner an eyeglass-wearing potato, Tuberto, has a few words to say.

Rendered with markers, colored pencils, pen and ink, acrylic paint, potato stamps, collage, and digital drawing the illustrations feature characters looking as if they could leap off the pages.  The large eyes, stick-like hands, arms and feet add to the total funniness of each scene.  Laurie Keller uses a combination of double-page, full page and a collection of smaller illustrations to provide exemplary pacing.

One of my favorite illustrations is of Potato frantically making a phone call.  He is standing on a white canvas framed by speech balloons and text at the top.  He is holding a rather large cell phone with a brand name of Spud Phone to his left ear.  His expression is one of extreme urgency with raised eyebrows, wide eyes, and a large mouth.  His three tufts of hair are standing up.

Potato Pants! written and illustrated by Laurie Keller will generate marvelous merriment for listeners and readers of all ages.  The entire premise promises pure entertainment but there is also a gift for readers in the story.  It's the gift of understanding and truth.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Laurie Keller and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  The cover reveal is found at Publishers Weekly along with a discussion of her professional work with Christy Ottaviano.  At the Nerdy Book Club Laurie talks about the process for writing this book and it's also the premiere of the book trailer.  Laurie has a radio interview about this title on WVXU.  Laurie has an account on Twitter and Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images. They also have a Teacher's Guide.  

(I was doing a search on Pinterest for potato printing and believe me there are lots of ideas for fun using those vegetables but I discovered something else.  Laurie Keller has 188 boards filled with art and things she adores.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Tasty Travel

There's no doubt about it, children love eating.  Within minutes of finishing one meal, they are asking when the next one will be served.  Eating not only feeds their bodies but their souls. Comforting and fond memories are associated with meals due to words and activities associated with those moments.  Stories are shared.  Lessons are learned.  Hopefully, there is loads of laughter.

One thing they enjoy even more than eating is cooking.  This form of creating appeals to all the senses with a delicious conclusion.  Kids Cooking: Students Prepare and Eat Foods from Around the World (Candlewick Press, October 23, 2018) written and illustrated by George Ancona gives us a peek inside the kitchens of several schools; children traveling to other countries one meal at a time.

Today is cooking day!  There are many 
smiles as the kids head to the kitchen.

In the first school, before the preparation begins, an instructor explains about the root vegetables and fresh ginger used in the recipe from the North African country of Morocco.  These vegetables are accompanied by a sauce called chermoula along with oranges and mint leaves.  Wash your hands everyone!

Gals and guys are taught how to cut the vegetables and measure spices.  As the vegetables roast, the children draw pictures of those vegetables.  Other students work to blend the ingredients for the sauce and two other groups work on the mint and the oranges.  With the cooking completed, all sit at the table to eat.

As-salamu alaykum means "Peace be upon you" in Arabic.

At the next school Chinese-American dishes are made but not before children see where China is located on a globe.  Rice is mixed with an array of chopped vegetables, eggs, soy sauce and garlic.  A cold dish, sweet and sour cucumbers, completes this meal.  Even clean-up is fun for these students.

A pot of soup bubbles on the stove after lots of chopping and slicing.  In another area dough is kneaded and shaped for bread sticks.  Minestrone is a favorite dish from Italy.

In the last two schools children learn about the variety of tomatoes used in salsa.  What else is blended with the tomatoes?  Have you ever made corn tortillas using homemade dough and a press? A tale of tamales and family begins another lesson.  At three separate stations children work on the three parts of a tamale.

Buen provecho estudiantes!


As soon as you read the first three sentences, you are fully aware George Ancona enjoys making books for children especially those featuring children.  The flow of one sentence to the next is a descriptive conversation of each cooking day.  Educators and children are named giving the narrative a personal note.  It's like stepping into the kitchen with the students.

For each meal the ingredients are listed along with safety in the kitchen mentioned.  This is a whole experience for these students and us readers. Here is a passage.

Esteban and Kimberley begin making the chermoula by
chopping an herb called cilantro.  Kimberley adds the spices,
olive oil, and lemon juice.

Then, using a mortar and pestle, Natalie grinds everything
into a smooth, delicious sauce.  Natalie's dad lends a hand.
Family members come to the kitchen to help on cooking days. 


One of the first things you notice about the opened, matching dust jacket and book case (after the pleasing layout) is the faces of the children.  They are doing everything with intention.  They are fully engaged.  This is a hint of the wonder within the pages.  George Ancona is highly skilled at capturing the essence of a moment.  Along the bottom of the front and in one of the spaces on the back are drawings made by the students.

The use of hues of blue is carried over to the opening and closing endpapers covered in a royal blue.  Four new children are featured in squares framing the text on the title page.  Throughout the book in a variety of sizes and points of view, George complements and heightens his text with delightful photographs of the children.

He also includes pictures of the ingredients which are like colorful still life paintings.  Sometimes a portion of an image will be framed in white space or an edge of it will break the border of another illustration.  Nearly every page turn includes artwork by the students.


You are certain to be smiling and craving time in the kitchen or browsing through cookbooks after reading Kids Cooking: Students Prepare and Eat Foods from Around the World written and illustrated by George Ancona.  This author illustrator knows his subjects with the keen eye of a photographer and the heart of a writer.  You can use this title with his other book, It's Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden.  For a theme on cooking, food, or countries around the world, this book is highly recommended for your professional or personal collections. 

To learn more about George Ancona and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  At Penguin Random House and Candlewick Press you can view interior images.  George Ancona is interviewed by students at ScholasticIn the acknowledgments George talks about the Cooking with Kids program.  At that website are recipes for some of the food showcased here.


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


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Out Of Darkness

In the still of early morning or late-night hours, darkness yields new vistas.  One of the most breathtaking of these, depending on the phase of the moon, is when we lift our eyes to the sky.  The expanse of stars in any season is breathtaking.  To witness this and to be a part of this is both humbling and wondrous.

It's almost incomprehensible to realize the ages of stars are measured in billions of years.  The Stuff of Stars (Candlewick Press, September 4, 2018) written by Marion Dane Bauer with illustrations by Ekua Holmes is a stunning depiction in lyrical language and mesmerizing images of life and its beginnings.  It is a journey and an awakening.

In the dark,
in the dark,
in the deep, deep dark,
a speck floated,
invisible as thought,
weighty as God.

There was nothing as we know it, absolutely nothing.  In this darkness there was only this speck.  It was waiting.

BANG!

In the tiniest and quickest moment in time, time began.  Everything started and moved outward from the speck.  There were now stars, more than can be measured but there were no planets.  If there were no planets, there was no Earth.  All the things we know were yet to be.

These stars burned long and hot.  This time and this heat made some of those stars burst releasing dust; stardust.  This dust gathered and formed planets; planets like Earth circling around a star, our Sun.  Fortunate Earth was the correct distance from its star to be neither too hot nor too cold but shifting from a tolerable hot and cold as it moved.

The stardust continued its role of gathering and forming those things on Earth of which we are familiar.  There were dinosaurs.  Generations of humans came and went until . . .there is another speck

invisible as dreams,
special as Love.

As the previous speck waited, so too, did this one.  It became YOU.


Regardless of where your beliefs are on the spectrum for the origin of life, the words of Marion Dane Bauer are deeply moving.  She conveys the enormity of the beginning of the universe and the formation of each element within it.  In her words there is a fragility but also great power.  As her phrases connect one to the other, she shows us how we are all tied to the past and to the future.  Here is another passage.

And throughout the cosmos
stars caught fire.
Trillions of stars, 
but still no planets
to attend those stars.
And if no planets,

then no oceans,

no mountains,

no hippopotami.


Extending from the edge on the left, across the spine and to the edge on the right of the opened dust jacket, the swirl of deep, rich shades of blue, purple and red are pulsing with life and brimming with stars.  The two seated figures are you and me.  They are everyone.  The perspective of this image is two-fold; the beings are elements in the universe but also observing it.  The title text is silver foil.  Words amid the upper portion on the back read:

The miracle of every child
is also the miracle of our planet:
each made from stardust.

On the book case a deep midnight blue covers both the left and the right.  Marbleized hues of purple curve and blend over the opening and closing endpapers.  The verso and title pages are a reverse, black text on purple and purple text on black leading us to the time before time.

Each double-and single-page is rendered with

hand-marbled paper and collage and assembled digitally.

On the larger visuals the text is placed in an area appearing to be designed specifically for it.  For other illustrations a column is created to the left or the right for the text.  Ekua Holmes uses a full color palette reflective of the text.  With the word 

BANG!

she has shades of golden yellow radiating from a center of blues and oranges looking like fire.  This moves to peach and orange and turquoise with black for the next illustration.  When the stars burst pinwheels spread from centers in yellow, orange and red with dots of yellow, orange and turquoise.  In the background we catch glimpses of the dust jacket colors.  Every image is vibrant and lively.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for text mentioning bluebirds, butterflies, snails and giraffes.  The hues used are vivid and lavish; black, shades of gray, red, and blue.  The placement of the butterflies and the bluebird cause them to be easily seen but I guarantee when you see the giraffe arching from right to left across the gutter, you will gasp.  It is then the snail comes into view, too.


This presentation, The Stuff of Stars written by Marion Dane Bauer with illustrations by Ekua Holmes, is remarkable.  It is a beautiful symphony of words and art.  Surely it will promote discussions and extensive thinking and research.  You will want to have a copy in your professional and personal collections.

To discover more about Marion Dane Bauer and Ekua Holmes please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Marion Dane Bauer has many resources for this title including two Pinterest boards.  Ekua Holmes has an array of artwork at her site.  Both Marion and Ekua maintain accounts on Twitter.  You can find Ekua on Instagram.  At Penguin Random House and Candlewick Press you can view interior images.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson speaks about this title and posts one of my favorite illustrations at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  The cover is revealed at A Fuse #8 Production by Elizabeth Bird, Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Into The Realm Of Story

It started Friday evening.  It has not stopped.  A second winter weather advisory in forty-eight hours has been issued.  It recently turned into a winter storm warning.  Local school children are going to bed wearing pajamas turned inside out.  Ice cubes are disappearing from the freezer and being flushed down the toilet.  Spoons are placed under pillows.  These gals and guys are doing everything they can to hear the radio or television announce tomorrow morning---Snow Day!

A snow day is a gift from Mother Nature.  It's a time to abandon routine.  It's a time to celebrate the unexpected.  King Alice (Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group LLC, September 25, 2018) written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell is about embracing the present with joy.

SNOW DAY!!

Good morning, 
SIR DAD!

"Y-a-a-a-a-w-n . . . Morning , Alice," said Dad.

Alice forcefully replies she wants to be called King Alice, not Queen, but King.  Alice can hardly wait to begin this day, but her dad is less than enthusiastic at her suggestions involving cooking and beauty makeovers.  When she declares she has a new idea both Mom and Dad believe it might have potential.

It's going to be a book about King Alice and the royal brave knights (everyone else).  First, they are seated having a breakfast of cereal shaped like dragons.  Her royal highness wants everyone to be tidy and to use their napkins.  She also says this is the end of the book.  Oh, oh . . .

Mom and Dad are sure it needs to be longer, so Alice has another idea.  Chapter two is a Princess Tea Party complete with a burping Knight Baby.  Now Alice is bored but Dad is not.  While playing with a set of Kitty Babies a brainstorm rains down on this energetic gal.  It's a pirate invasion in chapter five (Chapters three and four have vanished.) but the day is saved by a tooting monarch.

After lunch a television show sparks another action-packed episode in the book.  An over-zealous rider does get a time out.  Even kings need to temper their actions and apologize.  The appearance of fairies and I'm sorry dust adds another chapter to the book.  Dinner time and bath time lead King Alice to her closing chapter.  As peace and quiet settle over the household, Alice suddenly sits up in bed.

"IDEA!"


In this book, in all his books, Matthew Cordell creates an immediate connection with his readers.  The heart of his story reaches into the hearts of his readers.  He has a keen perception of people of all ages.  This perception is revealed in this narrative and the dialogue between the characters.

We quickly come to understand the personalities of Alice, her dad, mom and baby brother.  Alice's energy and lightning-like ideas, Dad's patience and creativity, Mom's patience and support and baby brother's typical behavior (spitting his lunch at dad) supply us with family dynamics and humor.  Here are two passages; the first from a portion of the snow day book and the other from the title story.

Chapter 5
Then the pirates came in their big pirate
car!  Captain Bellyfish walked around 
and said, "I'm the toughest pirate on Earth!" 

"I'm so, so, so, so, so sorry I bonked you with my unicorn, Daddy.
You are funny and nice and you draw good and smell good and
are neat and nice and will you still play with me now, Daddy?"


On the opened dust jacket readers get a glimpse of the original narrative on the right and the snow day story on the left.  King Alice is standing straight and tall in front of the mirror, pages of the book and crayons scattered around her.  She is definitely in command of the situation.  The title letters in gold are raised.

On the back, more crayons frame the four corners of a page from the book.  King Alice and Princess Dad are happily riding on the back of a unicorn.  King Alice and Princess Dad are written in crayon and in different fonts on lined yellow paper.  The drawing of the duo is pure Matthew Cordell.

The book case is the front and back of the snow day book on lined yellow paper.  On the front King Alice is standing in a regal pose, with eyes closed.  The title text is on top and at the bottom it says

by Alice + Dad.

To the left, on the back, King Alice and a brave knight are eating dragon-shaped cereal as fairies fly above them and two unicorns peek in from the left and right.  The opening and closing endpapers are in purple . . . for royalty.

In a signature technique Matthew begins his visual story prior to the title page with a circular image of the family's home amid a snow storm.  In a speech bubble those two words children love to hear are shouted from a window.  On the verso and title pages we see Alice get up with the family cat, make her crown and continue with her attire until she stands on a crate holding her scepter.

The illustrations are rendered

using pen and ink, watercolor, and whatever colored pencils and markers Matthew Cordell could find from his kids' stash of art supplies.

The large amount of white space draws our attention to the characters and their actions.  Matthew's loose lines supply animation.  His addition of sound effect words adds to the narrative and the comedy.  Readers will find themselves pausing to notice all the tiny elements in each picture.  The presence of the cat and its expressions add to the laughter factor.

Whenever King Alice and her dad are writing and drawing in their book, their pages on the yellow lined paper with crayon drawings follow the narrative.  Sometimes one of Alice's ideas is not a chapter but a double-or single page captioned image.  It's interesting to compare these with the actual happenings.

Several times during the first narrative Matthew displays full page and double-page illustrations with no text.  These contribute to the pacing and the atmosphere in the home.  Matthew closes the book with images in loose circles; just as he did in the beginning.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is early in the book.  Alice as King is standing on her crate with her scepter (back scratcher) on her dad's right shoulder.  Her dad is standing next to her.  The family cat is rubbing against Dad's leg and purring.  Everyone has their backs to us as they stare out the window at the snowy landscape.  Alice is saying

What'll we do 
today, 
Dad?

Dad is thinking

Ugh . . .
More snow . . .

You know this is going to be a day filled with adventure and lots of giggles and grins.


Although winter has not officially arrived there are places receiving significant amounts of snow already.  King Alice written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell is certainly a classic snow day book but more importantly it gives us a very personal peek at the life of a family.  Each of the characters is respected and allowed to be their very best.  This is clear in the dialogue and in the illustrations.  Be prepared with crayons, colored pencils and markers along with lined paper as soon as you read this aloud to one or more listeners.  What could be better than making a book together?  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Matthew Cordell and his other work, please visit his website and blog by following the links attached to his name.  Matthew maintains accounts on Twitter and Instagram.  Matthew stops to chat with Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  The book trailer is revealed on A Fuse #8 Production by Elizabeth Bird, Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system.  This title is also featured at author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  There is loads of artwork.  Matthew is also interviewed by Elizabeth Dulemba about this book on her site.  You can view interior images on the publisher's website.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Reconciliation

When remembering the United States and World War II most people think of the battles and the losses in the European, the Mediterranean, African and Middle East and Pacific theaters.  Rarely does a group of islands off the southern coast of Alaska become a part of the discussion.  There were Japanese and American forces located in several places in the Aleutian Islands.  (One of the many American soldiers stationed there for more than a year was my dad.)  It was a strategy to place troops there to prevent an invasion from this sector.  After the events at Pearl Harbor on Hawaii on December 7, 1941 this was a concern for both countries.

One of the little-known stories originating from this and other areas north and west of the United States takes place in Oregon.  Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story (Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 9, 2018) written by Marc Tyler Nobleman with illustrations by Melissa Iwai chronicles specific events in 1942.  Decades later the tale continued.

Prologue
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, an American Naval Base on Hawaii.  The surprise attack killed thousands of soldiers and brought America into World War II.

On September 9, 1942, a Japanese pilot, Nobuo Fujita and his navigator boarded an airplane on the deck of a submarine.  Soon they would be propelled into the air toward Oregon.  Nobuo carried a 400-year-old samurai sword for luck.  Bombs were placed under the wings of the plane.  The plan was to ignite the woods causing an enormous fire.

The bombs were dropped but the outcome was not as planned.  Brookings' (Oregon) residents were not overly concerned.  Neither was the American military.  Nobuo Fujita did it again . . . at night.

The Japanese believed both missions were a success.  The Americans never said a word about the second bombing.  Nobuo Fujita finally returned home and started a business, never speaking of either flight.  No one said anything until 1962.

In this year the Brookings' Jaycees needed to increase tourism in their town.  They decided to invite Nobuo Fujita to their annual Memorial Day celebration. Did this proposal cause controversy?  Yes.  Did it find support in high places?  Yes.  Nobuo Fujita accepted their invitation and he brought his 400-year-old sword.  The visit was an overwhelming success.  A promise was made when Nobuo and his wife left Oregon for Japan.

That promise was fulfilled.  For the more than thirty years people, Japanese and Americans, made a choice, forgiveness.  This is a remarkable story . . . a story to be remembered, forever.


Every detail of this narrative from 1942 to 1998 is carefully written by Marc Tyler Nobleman.  Specific facts and dialogue are included suggesting painstaking research.  This information makes the story of Nobuo Fujita exceedingly personal for readers.  As each page is turned it's like stepping back in time and shadowing this man.  Here are two passages.

Only that time, for greater stealth, he went by night.
To protect coastal communities from becoming easy
targets, the US military routinely ordered blackouts
during the war.  But the lighthouse at Cape Blanco
remained lit, and guided to shore by its beam,
Nobuo headed to a wooded area north of Brookings
and dropped two more bombs on Oregon.

On his return, Nobuo could not locate the
sub.  Nearly out of fuel, he resigned himself
to dying with honor by winging back and
crashing into the lighthouse.  "The mission
comes first, the sub next," he said to his
navigator. "We come last."


Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case, readers are given a view from 1942 on the right (front) and 1992 on the left (back).  As Nobuo Fujita and his navigator are leaving the Oregon woods behind, we get a glimpse of the smoke in the forest in the upper left-hand corner.  It is a bird's eye view.  On the back, a smaller image surrounded in the dark green of the woodlands is a close-up of two hands cupped around a redwood sapling.  This illustration is framed in ribbons with informative text. 

The opening and closing endpapers are a dark olive green.  Nobuo's plane is soaring across the title page.  Smaller planes move from the verso to the first page over torn and burning newspaper headlines along the bottom after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Tokyo in the Doolittle Raid. 

Rendered in watercolor and mixed media the pictures span double pages, full pages and, to accentuate pacing, smaller insets are placed on a single page.  Artist Melissa Iwai's depiction of each scene maintains historical accuracy in clothing, the aircraft, the submarine, and the setting of Brookings and Nobuo's home in Tokyo.  Emotion is conveyed in the body postures, facial expressions, perspective and in her color selections.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Nobuo is flying at night to Oregon for the second drop of the bombs.  The perspective is as if we are seated with Nobuo.  We can see the airplane instruments, Nobuo and his sword behind him strapped to his seat.  Down in front is the jut of land with the lighthouse, its beams cutting into the night with light.  You can almost hear the sound of the engine and feel the tension in the cockpit.


This book, Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story written by Marc Tyler Nobleman with illustrations by Melissa Iwai, is a valued part of World War II history and its lasting effects.  It showcases the huge capacity of people when given the opportunity to be their best.  You will be moved by this title.  You will not forget this story.  An author's note and selected sources are included on the final page.  I highly recommend this for your personal and professional book collections.

To learn more about Marc Tyler Nobleman and Melissa Iwai and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Both Marc and Melissa have accounts on Twitter.  They also have accounts on Instagram here and here.  The cover is revealed at A Fuse #8 Production by Elizabeth Bird.  You will enjoy reading this article in the Curry Coastal Pilot about Melissa's visit to Brookings to do research for her artwork.


Be sure to take a few moments to view the selections of other participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.






Tuesday, November 6, 2018

There's A What, Where?

There is nothing quite like hearing a group of children singing and humming a melody as they leave the library.  It all begins in story time but the memory of a tale well-told lingers for days, weeks, and yes, sometimes years.  When a song is attached to a narrative it enables the listeners to recall all the details with clarity, note by note.

If another story, additional commentary, is added to the narrative of the tune along with charming and humorous illustrations, you are holding a read aloud treasure in your hands.  Illustrated and adapted by author illustrator Loren Long, There's A Hole In The Log On The Bottom Of The Lake (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, September 25, 2018) is a toe-tapping, hand-clapping, knee-slapping and laugh-out-loud rendition.  It's joy you'll want to share as often as possible.

"Do you hear voices?"

THERE'S A LOG ON THE BOTTOM OF THE LAKE.
THERE'S A LOG ON THE BOTTOM OF THE LAKE.

A turtle and his companion, a snail, offer observations as the melodic poem unfolds.  This particular log at the bottom of the lake is not whole but has a hole at either end and one right in the middle.  As the snail attempts to right the turtle after an unfortunate tumble, a frog pops up through the hole.

A school of small fish swim near the duo prompting the turtle to hurry and join them.  As the group switches directions, the song notes there is a hair on the top of the frog's head.  (Have you ever seen a hair on a frog?)  It now seems a fly has landed on that hair.  (Is this fly minus the intelligence to survive?  Does it know what frogs eat?)

Just when you think the verses can't get crazier, a gnat lands on the fly.  The frog is directing all its attention on the bugs.  The laws of nature dictate this is never a wise choice.

Another resident of the lake glides into the scene unseen.  Suddenly, those who can scatter in a cloud of stirred-up sand.   There's a . . .


As soon as the familiar text in the song appears, Loren Long skillfully starts to add the remarks of the turtle.  They provide a comical contrast to the traditional tune.  They also add another layer to the narrative leading us to the startling original surprise at the end of the song.  Here is another verse with the turtle's accompanying dialogue.

THERE'S A GNAT ON THE FLY ON THE HAIR
ON THE FROG IN THE HOLE IN THE LOG
ON THE BOTTOM OF THE LAKE.

"Ugh, now his bug has bugs?"


As soon as you see the frog (on the opened and matching dust jacket and book case) peeking out of the hole in the log at the school of tiny fish swimming overhead, you know this book is going to be a whole lot of fun.  The eyes and slight smile on the frog are loaded with anticipation.  The deep shades of brown, green and blue replicate the underwater view in a lake with excellence.  The light shining on the log, the frog and shimmering on the fish is rays from the sun.  Certain words on the front of the dust jacket are varnished.

To the left, on the back, the image continues over the spine to the far edge.  A large stone or stump extends at an angle along the left side.  On the opening and closing endpapers, Loren has sketched and placed twenty small illustrations of the turtle and snail in various poses in shades of gray on a pale peach canvas.  They are all precious, simply precious.

On the verso and title pages Loren gives us a hint of how the log with the hole lands at the bottom of the lake.  Each of the following double-page pictures, rendered in acrylic and colored pencils, shifts the point of view according to the song and the placement of the turtle and snail.  These alterations give emphasis to the words in the song, the secondary declarations and the slight tension building toward the conclusion.  (It's guaranteed you'll burst out laughing at the final illustration.)

Each of the details in the visuals adds to the hilarity.  The positions and facial expressions on the turtle and snail along with the frog, fly and gnat are sure to bring on the giggles.  The single curly hair and the frog's feet are funnier than funny.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the frog's head is sticking out of the hole.  His eyes are looking up at the single hair on his head; as if he can't figure out how it got there.  Two of the tiny fish are looking at it.  This portion of the picture is on the right side.  To the left the turtle and snail are floating.  The remainder of the school of fish are swimming off the page to the left.  The expression on the frog's face is hilarious!  The turtle's look is one of shock.


As has been said frequently, there is far too little laughter in our world.  We need it daily.  If you want happy readers, There's A Hole In The Log On The Bottom Of The Lake adapted and illustrated by Loren Long is a surefire hit.  With every verse you will be struggling to keep your tongue from twisting which adds to the total merriment.  You'll probably want to get out your box of instruments to hand out to the children or if this is a read aloud for one or two, start strumming on your preferred string instrument or like turtle, you might want to start guitar lessons.  You will certainly want to add this to your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Loren Long and his other marvelous work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Loren maintains accounts on Twitter and Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view the endpapers.  Enjoy this video with Loren Long singing portions of the song.



Monday, November 5, 2018

Through Their Eyes

For each person entering the field of education the reasons for doing so are varied.  Some believe each generation should strive to make the world better for the next generation.  Some know creating life-long learners leads to individuals becoming the best they can be.  Others seek to be a positive influence hoping they can make a difference.

What educators quickly learn is children equal hope.  We learn as much from them as they do from us. Sometimes they have little or no say in changes affecting their lives but they in turn exhibit extraordinary resilience.  Ella & Monkey at Sea (Candlewick Press, August 7, 2018) written and illustrated by Emilie Boon gives us an intimate look at the voyage a child makes from her homeland to America.

Monkey doesn't like good-bye hugs.
He doesn't want to say good-bye to Oma.
Oma wipes away tears and hugs Mama too.

Ella is not happy about boarding the ship with her mother.  She knows they are leaving their home permanently.  Monkey agrees with Ella.

He does not like the tiny beds on the ship.  Thankfully Ella sings a special lullaby that night.  At the ship's playroom the next day, Ella and Monkey only watch.  When the Captain and waiter approach their table at dinner the companions are polite but without Oma the food, especially the fish, is not good.

Every day in the playroom Ella and Monkey do not play.  As the sea gets wilder, the friends get sadder and crankier.  Plates slide at dinner and sleeping is impossible as the ship rocks in the howling wind.  It's a hurricane!

With all activities cancelled due to the storm, Ella and Monkey use paper and crayons to replicate its ferocity in their room until a broken crayon changes the little girl's attitude.  All the new pictures are handed out to the Captain and helpers on his crew.  The sun is always shining behind the clouds and they never stay.  Ella finally remembers.


Most readers will immediately identify with Ella and her monkey.  We have survived countless times of sadness and shared great joy with a beloved stuffed toy.  Emilie Boon understands this, projecting Ella's thoughts as if they are Monkey's feelings.  Emilie's short, descriptive and direct sentences convey Ella's emotional moods perfectly.  Here are another two passages.

The hallways are empty.
The dining room is empty.
The playroom is almost empty,
and there's nothing to watch.

So we try the crayons, I scribble with angry black.
Scared gray. Cold blue. Bluer, grayer, blacker---
until my crayons snaps.


Seeing Ella with Monkey on the ship as it arrives in the harbor allows readers to become acquainted with her in all her cheerful glory.  This is Ella being resilient.  This is Ella having endured the changes and challenges on the voyage.  We can't help but fall in love with this little girl and Monkey.  All the colors on Ella radiate warmth in contrast to the pale blues of the water and sky.

To the left, on the back of the dust jacket (I'm working with an F & G.) Ella and Monkey are peering through a porthole looking worried.  They are surrounded by the light blue gray of the ship's exterior.  Emilie Boon begins her visual story on the title page.  Ella's mama, Ella and Oma, her grandmother, are walking hand in hand to the ship.

Rendered in watercolor, graphite, colored pencil, and crayon the visuals alternate between double-page illustrations and full page pictures.  On several of the full page pictures there is a liberal amount of white space used to draw our attention to the characters.  The delicate lines and intensity of the hues convey and elevate mood.  With a few lines and dots Emilie creates facial expressions brimming with emotion.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Ella and Monkey are tucked in bed on their first night at sea.  In this picture we are brought close to them.  We can see Ella singing the song while tenderly holding her cherished stuffed toy.  In caring for Monkey she is easing her own fears.


Giving up your home, friends and family is never easy but when you leave one country for another the change is huge.  Ella & Monkey at Sea written and illustrated by Emilie Boon reveals the heart of a child making this transition.  Readers will connect with Ella and her monkey and be inspired by her courage.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal book collections.

To learn more about Emilie Boon and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Emilie maintains an account on Instagram and Facebook.  Emilie is interviewed by Vivian Kirkfield at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.  Emilie has a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club about this title.  At Penguin Random House and Candlewick Press you can view interior images.  Candlewick Press provides a Teacher Tip Card here.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Lift Your Head And Look

When you step outside, depending on your reason for doing this, your senses are usually directed to something in particular.  Whether you remain in your own yard, city block or roam on country roads, you tend to look down, or to the left or right.  Unless a noisy flock of birds, curious cloud formation or startling sunrise or sunset grabs your attention, you usually tend to not look up.

The creative collaborative team giving readers, The Street Beneath My Feet, has returned in another brilliant endeavor.  The Skies Above My Eyes (Quarto Knows, August 28, 2018) written by Charlotte Guillain with illustrations by Yuval Zommer asks us to lift our eyes to the sky, note what we see and informs us of what lies beyond our natural sight.  We travel from the ground to beyond our solar system and back down.

As you go about your daily
life, there is so much going
on around you.  It's easy to
stop and stare at the sights in
the busy city street.  But how
often do you look upward?
So much more is going on in
the sky above you!

Let's take a look . . . 

First we are directed to notice all the street signs and signals giving us as drivers and pedestrians important information.  We can see small pieces of others' lives and workplaces by glancing in windows.  We appreciate the bravery of window washers scaling the side of towering buildings.  Next we take a trip to those able to fly.

Helicopters, airplanes, weather balloons and rockets soar; each having a purpose.  Did you know there's a line called the Karman line which marks the start of space?  Look!  There is the Soyuz capsule journeying toward the International Space Station.  We are now 250 miles above the Earth.  Astronauts and cosmonauts repair the space station by being tethered to the station.  If we go another 234,750 miles where will we be? 

Neil Armstrong was the first human to walk on its surface.

Each of the other seven planets in our solar system orbits the sun.  They are all millions of miles from planet Earth.  Which planet has at least 62 moons?  Which planet has a single day as long as 243 Earth days?  If we travel higher than our solar system there are galaxies numbering beyond our imagination loaded with stars and planets. 

Moving back to Earth we pass through the familiar Milky Way galaxy as comets and asteroids traverse through space.  Different cloud formations produce varying kinds of weather.  Birds with special physical characteristics glide at astounding heights.  Have you ever heard of the Ruppell's griffon vulture?  Yikes!  What are those spiders doing three miles above the ground?

I wonder how close skydivers and hang gliders can get to bighorn sheep and bald eagles. As we drift back to terra firma our eyes still look higher than normal.  We see birds and butterflies who might originally escape our attention.  If we stay outside until dusk we might even see bats leaving trees to hunt for food.  Let's remember to look toward the skies and know and dream about what lies farther than we can fathom.


As our guide author Charlotte Guillain not only leads us upward (and back again) layer by layer but informs us with fascinating facts.  She encourages us to be aware, make observations and expand our thinking.  Using a conversational approach she includes requests and questions in the narrative.  It's as if we are together with her in a special vehicle experiencing everything she explains with her words.  Here are several passages about comets.

Look out!
Here comes a comet!

A comet is a massive
ball of frozen rock, ice, dust,
and gases, hurtling through
space.  When a comet gets close to
a star, it warms up and develops
its own atmosphere,
called a coma.

Dust and gases trail far behind the comet to form
a long tail that shines in the night sky.

Halley's Comet takes 76 years to orbit our Sun---
we should be able to see it from Earth again in 2061.


The first thing readers might do with The Skies Above My Eyes is run their hands over the opened book case.  They will discover on the right, front, embossed and raised portions.  Many of these are glazed or varnished, sparkling in the light.  The scene we see on the front crosses over the spine to the left, back.  We move from the city to snow-capped mountain peaks.  Swirling leaves, paper airplanes, bats, dandelions, and umbrellas, inside out, are replaced with high-flying birds, spacecraft, airplanes, more planets and wait . . . are those aliens?  The wide-eyed girl on the cover explores with us from the beginning to the end.

On the inside of the book case, on the left, is publication information, creator information and an introductory paragraph about the right side.  This right side depicts the planet Earth, troposphere, ozone layer, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere and the Karman line.  On the left these layers are labeled in miles.  This diagram is framed in elements of art by Yuval seen throughout the book.  The background for most of this is black. 

Upon opening the cover we realize the design asks us to turn the book to view the pages, attached like an accordion, vertically.  Extending more than eight feet beyond the book case on both sides of sturdy, matte-finished paper, these images in full color are a stunning display of creative layout.    Illustrator Yuval Zommer continues his intricate, playful and enlightening artwork viewed on the case with every interior double-page illustration.

Each one demands we pause, captivated by the numerous details.  Cutaways welcome further inspection.  Every time this book is read new discoveries will be seen.  Is the cat on the roof ledge going to leap at the pigeons?  Is that a flying saucer? What does the owl see?  Yuval Zommer's visuals heighten this text but also urge us to dream of places beyond our own.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when we are descending back to the ground.  The text discusses a variety of clouds and birds.  The many shades of sky blue in the background provide an excellent canvas for the clouds and birds.  At the top, five miles above the Earth, darker clouds gather as whooper swans fly in v-formation through cirrus clouds.  Beneath these altocumulus and altostratus clouds dot the sky. Tiny snowflakes fall from these. Delicate spiders cascade near another flock of birds, white storks.  It's now raining in earnest and snowing.  We are at one mile.  This is a breathtaking portrait.


All readers will happily open The Skies Above My Eyes written by Charlotte Guillain with illustrations by Yuval Zommer repeatedly.  It increases our respect for the manner in which nature and the universe works.  Further research is embraced willingly with a title like The Skies Above My Eyes.  I highly recommended this book for your personal and professional book collections.

To learn more about Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to visit the appropriate sites. Both Charlotte and Yuval maintain accounts on Twitter. Yuval is on Instagram.

Be sure to visit Kit Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the titles selected by others participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.