Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Stay The Course

We count down the days, weeks, and months.  Our anticipation continues to grow.  Others have worked far longer to ensure a promise filled with possibilities becomes something we can hold in our hands.

When the expected date arrives, we can hardly contain our excitement.  We read it first, consuming it with care, savoring the words and pausing at the illustrations.  We read it a second time to experience the joy it brings, again.  This is how readers feel when characters we enjoy, those who have captured our hearts, return in a companion book.  The positive, can-do attitude of Penguin in Flight School (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, April 15, 2014) is an inspiration to all.  Today he's back in Penguin Flies Home: a Flight School story (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, January 15, 2018) written and illustrated by his talented creator Lita Judge.

Penguin loved to fly.

It was true he needed a little help with
the technical parts---but that's why he
worked hard as a student at flight school.

Penguin had the most important characteristic needed to fly; he had heart.  There was nothing Penguin did not like about flying except at the end of the day.  It was then he thought about his home and the penguins there.  He wanted his friends to feel the same exhilaration he felt when flying.

His teacher and Flamingo knew Penguin needed to go home.  This next morning a normal take off turned into a field trip . . . a long, long field trip.  Penguin was happy to be home with his penguin friends.  He presented Teacher, Flamingo and Egret with pride.  Next on his agenda was to teach all those penguins to fly.  Fly?

It's safe to say his exuberance was not reciprocated.  He tried his best to demonstrate the basics, flapping, jumping, going up and landing, but one by one his penguin pals dove into the water for a swim.  His usually energetic manner was crushed.  Alone, he wandered to a snowy peak watching darkness descend and the aurora begin.

Penguin thought and thought and knew he had to hold fast to his dreams.  In the morning he wanted to tell his friends he was going back to Flight School with Teacher, Flamingo and Egret.  Penguin had no idea of the surprise awaiting him.  It was a victory for love.

Within the first two pages, even without reading the first Penguin book, readers will know of this bird's passion for flying.  Through the writing of Lita Judge he continues to acquaint us with all the explicit sensations he has when high above the landscape beneath him.  Our appreciation for his mentors grows with their acute observations.

With intention and care Lita Judge inserts little bits of humor in the side comments of Penguin's pals at home.  In his desire to pass on his love of flying to them, he does not hear what they are saying which makes his heartbreak more profound.  It also contributes to the elation Penguin (and readers) have at the end.  Here is a passage.

I don't think so!

I think we heard wrong.

Penguins don't fly.

"Follow me birdies!"
Penguin said.
"It's time for class to begin."

On the front of the dust jacket you simply can't resist smiling when seeing the happy grin on Penguin's face as he glides away from his gathered penguin pals.  His colorful red goggles, spread wings and fluttering feather embellishments are sure to lift readers' spirits and send them soaring, too.  If you are questioning the lines around his body disappearing off the top of the page, an answer will be revealed.  Certain elements in this image are varnished and raised.

To the left, on the back, within a circular picture, we see Teacher, Flamingo, Penguin and Egret flying over the water to Penguin's home.  This illustration is framed by a white canvas.  On the opening endpapers with a pale blue background we are presented with the Flight School Yearbook.  It is a collection of ten framed drawings of notable characters and two of Penguin's memorable moments.  It is first here we note Penguin has become the Flight School Mascot.  Labels and captions provide further explanations.  In contrast on the closing endpapers with a rich black canvas, we have Penguin's Scrapbook. This collection of ten images captures fun-filled activities during the visit home.  As in the first endpapers, comments in the scrapbook increase readers' connection to the characters.

A light wash of blue and yellow begin the pictorial story on the verso and title pages.  A pelican wearing a mailbag (starting on the far left) flies over Penguin (on the right) perched on a wooden piling.  The pelican drops him a postcard from the South Pole wishing Penguin well at Flight School. 

The illustrations rendered in watercolor by Lita Judge are double-page pictures, full page visuals, loosely framed circles on single pages or a series of small images on two pages.  Their size is dictated by the narrative.  The shift in perspectives will have readers gasping in admiration.  Readers will delight in the details in the characters' facial expressions and body postures.  Whether we are at Flight School, the South Pole, on land, in the air or beneath the water, these illustrations are alive with emotion.  They glow with a special essence straight from this artist's soul.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Across most of the background is a night sky at the South Pole.  It pulses with the aurora Australis; a few stars shining against the darker sky.  Along the bottom a still ocean rests.  To the far right are two icebergs.  Taking up most of the bottom half on the left is a curved high jut of ice.  Penguin prints move to the top.  There stands Penguin with his back to us; feathers and line streaming behind him.  His red goggles make for a striking comparison.

Penguin Flies Home: a Flight School story written and illustrated by Lita Judge is a book you will be asked to read again as soon as it is finished.  Readers welcome the warmth radiating from the characters.  In Penguin with his round body, soul of an eagle and cheerful mind-set, there is a hero they can embrace.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional bookshelves.

To discover more about Lita Judge 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.  They are also found at Lita Judge's website, but she includes numerous concept sketches, too.  The book trailer with an interview is premiered at Watch. Connect. Read., the blog of Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.  Lita Judge maintains accounts on Instagram and Twitter.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Marking Of Twenty-Six

One of the most enjoyed units in our library each year was exploring the Japanese form of poetry called haiku.  For students hesitate to write poems, our choice to use a line of five syllables followed by a seven-syllable line and concluding with a five-syllable line was a structure many of them appreciated.  Did all of them adhere to the perimeters?  Not always, but the results, whether they selected the pattern or not, were wonderful.  You could feel the joy in the room as they discovered simple and ordinary things in our world are worthy of transformation and validation.

In 1968 the Haiku Society of America was founded.  One of its charter members was New York City public school teacher and writer Sydell (Syd) Rosenberg.  This woman, who passed away suddenly in 1996, had a dream.  Her children, specifically her daughter Amy Losak, vowed to make her vision a reality.  H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z (Penny Candy Books, April 10, 2018) written by Sydell Rosenberg with illustrations by Sawsan Chalabi is a collection of twenty-six poems written for children (but to be enjoyed by all ages). In an introduction Amy Losak writes a letter to readers before her mother poetically defines haiku.

These twenty-six haiku poems take a different approach to exploring our alphabet.  Instead of solely focusing on a person, place or thing represented by a letter, each poem begins with the appropriate letter. It's a different path to take, allowing for more possibilities.

Adventures over
the cat sits
     in the fur ring
of his tail, and dreams 

Everyday sights in her city capture Rosenberg's attention.  A boy seated on a mailbox, a berry-carrying blue jay and the act of getting a first library card are a few of the first to be noted.  Items seen on the back seat of a car are prime elements in her imaginative mind.

On a rainy day, a cluster of children holding umbrellas become fungi.  A large seed carelessly tossed is a toy for a fun-loving feline.  A broom is formed by a tail twitching in the rays of sunshine.

The simple act of riding a bike on an autumn day reads like a short symphony.  You will wonder which is louder; a thunderstorm or the cacophony of recorders.  A perception on a full-moon night tricks a looker's eyes.

Laundry hanging on a clothesline reveals memories.  Puddles take pride in their purpose.  Each letter takes readers on a journey of discovery.  During this trip we are invited to breathe deeply, stop, focus and use every one of our senses. 

With her writing of haiku in this book, Sydell Rosenberg guides children into the world of not only poetry but in the art of observation.  As she talks in her definition, haiku is a captured heartbeat.

Before the hoof comes down---that's haiku.

Sydell Rosenberg takes what might be an insignificant instance and with intention delivers something connecting us to each other.  Here is another of her poems from this book.

Neon wings
     of moth
exploding into headlight,
on a country road

At her website artist Sawsan Chalabi states most of her work is digital but she also uses

traditional line work and textures.

On the front of the dust jacket she gives us the impression of the H as being a part of the landscape with the clouds on the front extending over the spine to the left and back of the jacket.  This is precisely what author Sydell Rosenberg wants readers to see in her poems and in their day to day lives.  The featured girls are relaxed, comfortable.  I particularly like them being barefoot.

A colorful, tiny "v" patterns the opening endpapers (I'm working with a digital copy.)  On the title page a turtle mentioned in one of the poems is basking on a rock.  He is one of the first examples of a keen sense of humor Sawsan Chalabi displays in this book.  His nose is rather long. (He reminds me of Jimmy Durante.)

The full-color illustrations shift from full-page pictures to double-page images.  Some of the visuals only contain two colors, limited colors or an array of hues.  The fonts are bold, like many of the lines.  Readers will be delighted and surprised at the change of perspective; landscape view to close-up, depending on the poem.  Sometimes the illustrations are distinctively alone but other times one joins another; separate but parts of a larger whole.

One of my favorite pictures is of the children walking in the rain.  All four children from the bottom of the page to near the top are carrying red umbrellas with large white polka-dots.  The colors in their clothing, yellow, teal and orange, and the umbrellas are reflected in the colors of the letters in the poem.  The green from the iguana on the previous page is the color of the first letter, "H".

Sure to inspire and challenge readers to pen their own poems, H Is For Haiku written by Sydell Rosenberg with illustrations by Sawsan Chalabi is like a welcome sign.  Readers will start to look around a room in which they are sitting or standing, they will watch people whether they are in a grocery store or a movie theater and they will seek out animals domesticated and wild.  All have the potential to become part of a haiku poem.  Poetry collections will benefit from having this title.

To learn more about illustrator Sawsan Chalabi please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrationsAmy Losak and Sawsan Chalabi are interviewed at author and illustrator, Jen Benton's website.  Amy is interviewed at Matt Forrest Esenwine's site, Vivian Kirkfield's site, at Cynthia Leitich Smith's site, at KidLit411 and Celebrate Picture Books.  Amy Losak wrote a guest post at Laura Sassi Tales.  At Teachers & Writers Magazine, a lesson around Sydell Rosenberg and this title is showcased.  Amy maintains an account on Twitter

Friday, January 11, 2019

Constantly Changing

For most beings it beats out a cadence of life.  It comes in all shapes and sizes. If broken, it may be mended.  It's capacity for collecting (or not) is far greater than its physical size would indicate.

We store many things in our hearts, some tiny and some enormous.  An attached significance determines its prominence.  My Heart (Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, January 8, 2019) written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken (The Book of Mistakes) explores the assorted aspects of listening to, following and tending our hearts. 

My heart is a window,
my heart is a slide.
My heart can be closed
or opened up wide.

At times our hearts are vast and other times, they appear as a much smaller version of the first.  They even get heavy and shrink as small as the smallest seed.  When this happens, we need to remember what happens to the smallest of the small seeds.  They can blossom into something spectacular.

Our hearts may separate us far from others.  Sometimes the sound of our hearts is a mere breath of the tiniest breeze.; only those closest to us can hear.  If our hearts should shatter, we should pick up the pieces and make it whole.

Our hearts follow us but also lead us.  They do not leave us.  We are inseparable.

Ten sentences, ten simple but profound sentences, portray and reveal how our hearts reflect us.  Corinna Luyken uses rhyming words at sentence ends to welcome us into her book and to invite us to think about our own hearts. With her use of language, she asks us to listen, learn and accept.  Take a few minutes to reread her first two sentences.  Can you think how these apply to you? 

We are introduced to the limited color palette selected by Corinna Luyken when viewing the open dust jacket.  Yellow, white, and shades of gray and black elevate the impact of the carefully chosen words in the narrative.  The grassy scene peppered with tiny yellow heart-shaped flowers extends to each flap edge.  On the flaps there is a profusion of blooms.

On the book case large brush strokes of yellow on white move over the spine, left to right, only to disburse, to the right and top, like a flock of heart-shaped birds.  Strong charcoal gray, almost black, makes a large border on the bottom of the opening and closing endpapers.  A wide expanse of white and pale gray spreads above it.

On the first endpapers, a bespectacled boy squats in front of a hole, holding a heart-shaped plant.  An empty pot is next to the hole.  Two other flowers are planted.  A fourth waits.  On the closing endpapers four flowers flourish, their tiny-tendril roots visible and flowing beneath the surface.

A gorgeous double-page picture focuses on a third child, a girl, standing on steps, holding a watering can.  Spread before her on the title and verso pages is a garden cloaked in yellow.  These illustrations by Corinna Luyken rendered with

a print-making process called monotype, using water-based ink and pencil

each span two pages.  The hues of the colors blend, moving from light to dark and dark to light, accentuating the textual descriptions.  Readers will be examining each image for hearts.  Some are substantial, and others are minute.  All will be happy to see a diverse cast of characters featured.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the words

my heart is a slide.

A slide arches upward, the ladder forming one side of the top of a heart.  It drops to the ground, forming the point.  The shadow, on the grass, completes the shape.  Two children are near the ladder; another is poised to slide at the top.  A faint yellow surrounds him/her.  The point of the slide/heart goes into a yellow glow.  Genius.

If you want a book offering hope, championing the right to choose and ringing out all the characteristics of our hearts, My Heart written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken is that book. It envelopes you in wisdom and calm.  You could pair it with Love and Love, Z for a thematic story time or bedtime.  I know readers will want to share examples of the workings of their hearts.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Corinna Luyken and her other work, please follow the links attached to her names to access her website and blog.  Corinna Luyken maintains accounts on Twitter and Instagram.  Corinna chats with Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Corinna is also interviewed at Brightly and Mile High Reading, a site maintained by Dylan Teut, director for the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival in Seward, Nebraska. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

From Flora

As winds howl sending snow swirling into drifts, reading transports us to other places in other times.  While most of nature is at rest, within the pages of books, we look to the seasons which follow.  That which is asleep will awaken.  Where there is no life, new creations will emerge and flourish, coming back full circle to winter.

The beauty displayed by the flora during most seasons in our world can and is preserved for study and art. Drawn from Nature (Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, March 13, 2018) written and illustrated by Helen Ahpornsiri is an informative and breathtaking display of animals and plants in spring, summer, autumn and winter.  For each season our attention is focused on six to eight special elements, all meticulously formed from petals and leaves.

Life in the wild doesn't stay still for long.
Year after year, plants bloom in spring and fade
in autumn in a cycle as old as time.  Animals follow the pattern of the seasons, too---searching for food and rearing their young---sometimes roaming many miles between one chapter of their lives and the next. 

In the spring birdsong announcing the coming of dawn is a call for a mate; the louder the song, the greater the attraction.  Female hares, larger than rabbits, stand on their hind legs to push back undesirable males.  It's called "boxing".  There is a reason new ducks follow their mothers closely.  They need the oil from her feathers to protect their own, helping them to stay on top of the water, swimming.

There are creatures of the field, in the summer, who can hang from stalks of grasses and wheat.  Harvest mice have prehensile tails.  Did you know dragonfly larvae can stay in the water for up to two years?  The leaves on the variety of trees are green for a reason . . . breathe in, breathe out.  At night owls are skillful hunters using the shape of their faces to capture sounds.

When autumn falls the noise of rutting deer is heard a mile away.  Dropped colorful leaves carpet forest floors protecting wildlife and seeds.  Nuts buried by busy squirrels, if forgotten, grow into new trees.  Rains bring out vivid displays of mushrooms; lovely to look at but many times deadly to consume.

Winter arrives.  Snoozing hedgehogs slow their heartbeats 

from 130 beats per minute to 20.

Birds not leaving for warmer residences fluff and puff to block the cold and preserve heat.  On days when moist air lingers, and temperatures drop, the morning reveals an ice-coated world.

As delicate as her pictures, the words written by Helen Ahpornsiri resonate with a respect and passion for our natural world. Facts are embedded in lyrical descriptions.  She points out details and transitions from season to season she wants us to remember.  It's as if she is taking us on our own personal walk through the meadows and woodlands, and past nearby ponds.  Here is a passage.

Butterflies & Blossoms
A spring breeze blows, carrying with it a flurry of pink-white
petals.  They land, like snow, beneath the trees, where butterflies
flit between banks of bright flowers.
The warm days of late spring tempt more and more butterflies to appear.  
Some have made long journeys on their migrations while others are
just coming out of hibernation.  The spring flowers provide
a rich source of nectar for the butterflies---just what
they need after the winter.  You'll see them most on 
calm sunny days, when neither wind nor rain can
threaten their delicate wings.

The open and matching dust jacket and book case are a first stunning glimpse at the splendor to be found within the pages of this book.  The graceful lines and intricate parts achieved with the collage artistry of Helen Ahpornsiri are masterful.  Numerous points on the heron, featured on the front of the jacket, contain gold foil.

To the left, on the back, on a continuation of the white canvas are a row of exquisite flowers arching upward on the right.  Across the top a branch of pale purple blossoms reaches from the left.  Four butterflies move among the blooms.

On the opening and closing endpapers an array dense with ferns fashion scroll work.  In pockets of white bees, butterflies, moths and a dragonfly rest and glide.  This design is carried forward to the first page and the last page.  Tiny bits of nature dot the title and verso pages, the contents and introduction.  

For each season Helen Ahpornsiri places a full-page picture on the left showcasing items from that season.  Some of those are used in the animal she places above the heading.  For most of the sections in a season the background is white, but three times she uses black.  (You will gasp at the beauty.)  Some of the illustrations cross the gutter to extend a theme.  These may be full-page images or striking double-page visions.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is of the hare.  The grass is placed along the bottom of two pages, extending to nearly the center.  On the right she is frozen with her head turned toward the reader; her one dark eye unblinking.  The position of every leaf defines her fur and muscles.  It is eloquent. 

Readers will be captivated by Drawn from Nature written and illustrated by Helen Ahpornsiri.  They will pause to study each image.  They will relish the information and be excited to learn more and take their own walk among nature.  There is a short glossary at the end.  You might want to have a flower press handy to show your readers.  I am including a video at the end on how to make your own.

To learn more about Helen Ahpornsiri and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  You can view an interior image at the publisher's website.  There are more illustrations at Penguin Random House. Helen Ahpornsiri has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  She is featured by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Please take a few moments to enjoy these videos.

Remember to stop at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by others participating in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A Hero's Hero

For children (and adults) of the fifties and sixties some heroes of the television screen performed with supreme intelligence.  They never spoke a single word but there was never any doubt as to their capabilities to tell a memorable story.  From week to week and year after year, their audiences grew.

For five years (1954-1959) The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin and for nineteen seasons (1954-1973) Lassie highlighted the exploits of dedicated and fearless canine actors.  Perhaps these two spirited dog characters were following in the paw-steps of a previous popular star.  Strongheart: Wonder Dog Of The Silver Screen (Schwartz & Wade, February 6, 2018) written by Candace Fleming with illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Eric Rohmann recounts the very real rise to fame of a singular German shepherd.

On a farm between the Bavarian Alps and the city of Berlin, a carefree puppy named Etzel played in a sun-washed barnyard.
He chased the chickens, barking in delight at their squawks and flaps.
He tipped over his water bowl, splashing and sliding in sloppy-fun mud.
And he gulped down the last of his kibble, licking the bowl to shiny emptiness.

One day, suddenly without warning, Etzel is removed from the wonderful life he knows, placed in a dark bag and shuttled to a new life.  He is treated with cruelty, cruelty designed to shape him into a police dog.  He works on command governed by a fierce fear.

Unbeknownst to him on the other side of the ocean, a film director, Larry Trimble, and his screenwriter, Jane Murfin, have a plan.  They are going to search for a new star, a dog star.  Throughout the United States no dog appeals to Larry, neither did any in England, France, Italy but when he goes to Berlin, the police station in Berlin, everything changes.  The crash of broken glass, a lunge by muscle and fur and moments when time stands still reveal the beginning of a new friendship.

The journey home to the United States is one of constant patience by a human and unwavering wariness by his canine companion.  Through a conversation one day between Larry and Jane, Etzel receives his new name and his first lesson in learning to play, again.  A red rubber ball is his constant toy.  What Larry and Jane come to realize is Strongheart seems to understand everything they say.

Every single soul on the set of his first film is stunned by his abilities.  The Silent Call is an enormous success.  (This is in 1921 and movies are in black and white and silent.)  There are endorsements, especially for a dog food renamed Strongheart, publicity tours and more films.  Strongheart distinguishes himself unexpectedly on several occasions when his police dog training moves him to act justly.  Even when it seems as if the tide has turned against this amazing creature, the truth sets him free in a dramatic conclusion.

Using thirty-one chapters in 233 pages author Candace Fleming weaves facts from her research into this marvelous middle-grade novel.  The chapters, captivating in their detailed descriptions and realistic conversations, propel readers forward flawlessly.  The length and placement of the chapters add to the ever-growing tension, adventure and romance (canine and human).  Here are several passages.

The place did not look hopeful.  It squatted on a street corner, gray and tomblike.  Iron bars covered the windows.  Barbed wire coiled across the top of brick walls.  Surely he wouldn't find his star here.  He turned away.
From inside the grim fortress came the muffled sound of barking.
Larry turned back.  He shrugged.  "Aw, what the heck?  I'm here, aren't I?"
He pushed open the gate.
"Get out of the yard!" yelled a voice.
There came a bark like a clap of thunder, a crash and a splinter of glass.
Etzel leaped through the broken window and tore across the yard.  Fur on end, teeth flashing, the dog sprang for Larry's throat.
"Stop!" Larry's voice sounded more pleading that commanding.
Etzel pulled back mid-lunge.  Alert and suspicious, his muscles still tense, he stood unmoving.
So did Larry.
Dog and man stared at each other.

Strongheart let the duck drop from his mouth.  
He took a stumbling step forward.  Stopped.  He took another step forward.  Stopped.
"There's no way to save them," Larry went on.  "You've lost everything that matters to you . . .everything in the world."
Strongheart turned his head and gazed into the distance.  He seemed to be looking into the years ahead without his family.
"That's it," said Larry.  "That's terrific, boy.  Hold it  . . ."
A memory came to Strongheart:  Rough hands were ripping him from his family.  Stuffing him into a bag.
Strongheart fell to the ground.  Howling, he covered his face with his paw.
"That's impossible!" cried Ed Brady.
"Dogs can't do that!" exclaimed Pete.
"Holy mackerel!" Jane gasped.  "He looks like he's crying."
For several long moments, the dog lay there, sides heaving.  Finally, he lifted his head and looked deep into the camera with an anguished expression.  Then, he dropped his head back to his forepaws.  Life, his actions seemed to say, had no meaning for him anymore.
Silence---broken only by the camera's grinding and the crew's sniffling---fell over the set.

Even without the text on the front of the dust jacket, the portrait of Strongheart depicts strength and compassion.  This dog is poised for whatever is about to happen.  Within seconds he could turn and stare into your eyes or leap forward to chase or play.  To the left, on the back of the jacket, a faded scene from one of the films is the canvas for explanatory text and a portion of a starred review from a professional journal.  On the book case everything is removed except for Strongheart and the mountainous landscape.  The endpapers are covered in black.

Rendered in oil paint by Eric Rohmann the illustrations throughout this title, in black and white, are highly animated presenting a range of emotions.  There is heartbreak, injustice, humor, play, courage and genius (the dog's).  On numerous occasions the illustrations are without words.  They vary in size depending on the narrative.

The point of view in the pictures also supplies readers with a more participatory sense.  We are not only observers but also with Strongheart.  It's been almost ninety years since this beautiful animal died, but through the artwork of Eric Rohmann he comes back to life.

One of my many, many favorite paintings is on a single page.  It is opposite the portion of final text quoted.  Half of the page is the gray background.  On the right half of the page we zoom close to Strongheart, only seeing a portion of his alert right ear, wide, soulful right eye and the surrounding fur.  This is one powerful picture.

This title, Strongheart: Wonder Dog Of The Silver Screen written by Candace Fleming with illustrations by Eric Rohmann, was released nearly one year ago, but its value is lasting.  It is one of those books whose appeal will endure for generations because of the masterful storytelling in words and artwork.  It is a marvelous example of historical fiction that should find a place on the bookshelves of your personal and professional collections.  A lengthy The Truth Behind This Tale, actual photographs, a bibliography and notes conclude this book.  You could pair this title with Emily Arnold McCully's picture book, Strongheart: The World's First Movie Star Dog.

To learn more about Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can read an excerpt and look inside the book.  Both Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann have video interviews at Reading Rockets.  Candace Fleming maintains accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  This is a A New York Public Library Best Book of 2018 and A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2018.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Flight Of The Bluebird Blog Tour-Chatting With Author Kara LaReau

It’s a pleasure to have you back at Librarian’s Quest, Kara, on the first Monday in 2019.  It’s hard to believe that nearly an entire year has come and gone since your last visit showcasing The Uncanny Express, the second title in The Unintentional Adventures Of The Bland Sisters.  Once again the landscape outside my window is cloaked in more than eight inches of snow.  And it’s still snowing, but the absolute beauty and fun of the books in this series is they reach out, wrap around us and pull us into the current adventure.  We’ve been on a ship brimming with rowdy pirates (The Jolly Regina) and a train full of mysterious travelers.  Now we find ourselves airborne with the twins, Jaundice and Kale, in an effort to save their lives.

When reading the Flight Of The Bluebird (Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, January 8, 2018) the first thing readers might be curious about is why are the sisters traveling by plane this time and why is the name of the plane, Bluebird?

Well, I already had them on a ship in The Jolly Regina and a train in The Uncanny Express, so putting them on a plane seemed like the next natural step! The plane is called the Bluebird for two reasons: 1. Amelia Earhart named one of her planes “The Canary,” and since she is one of the inspirations for the character Beatrix Airedale, it seemed fitting to name the plane in my story something similar, and 2. It’s a bit of an insider joke with myself! I have a freelance editing business called Bluebird Works, which I started almost ten years ago and named after the bluebird of happiness. It took a lot to get that business off the ground, much like the airplane in the book!

You have continued with two wonderful elements in this book, employed in the first two titles.  At the beginning on two pages you have The Unintentional Cast of Characters.  The two villains are called Victor and Uggo.  Is this in reference to Victor Hugo, the French writer?  If so, why do you focus on him?

Victor Gazebo doesn’t have anything to do with Victor Hugo; I chose the name “Gazebo” because I liked the way it sounded, and the combination of “Victor” and “Gazebo” worked (to my ear) as a good villain’s name. Uggo is a play on Ugarte, Peter Lorre’s character from Casablanca, on which the character in my story is based. So there is a method to my naming madness!

I won’t ask about the other character names because I prefer to have readers discover the answers for themselves.

Secondly, you have each chapter heading highlighting insights and suggestions from a book the Bland Sisters are currently reading or happen to be carrying with them.  In Flight Of The Bluebird, the book referenced is Taking Off! With Trip Winger  (Your character/fictional names are fantastic, Kara.  You most definitely have a gift with word play.) As in the past, do each of the recommendations have to do with something happening in each chapter?

Yes, I made sure that each bit of aeronautical advice is somehow relevant to the action in the story. And I don’t want to give too much away, but the culmination of all this knowledge proves vital at the end of the story!

Is there a reason you decide to have one of the Bland Sisters participate in the method of travel this time?

I thought it was important to show that even though Jaundice and Kale retain much of their Blandness throughout the series, there is still character development and a clear arc to that development through the stories. I don’t want to give too much away, but that moment where one of the girls takes control (and one of them doesn’t) felt necessary on their journey together and as distinct personalities.

Do you ever plan on getting a pilot’s license Kara?  The reason I’m asking is my girlfriend had her pilot’s license when she was sixteen.  We used to go to a small airfield after school and on weekends and she would fly us in a two-seater airplane.  We had to spin the propeller sometimes to get the engine fired-up and going.

I don’t have any plans right now to get my pilot’s license; I can barely tolerate it when someone else is flying the plane!

This leads me to another question.  You mention in your author’s note that Beatrix Airedale is a blend of women like Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart and Nellie Bly.  Is there a favorite book you’ve read about any or all of them you would like to share with us? Candace Fleming’s book, Amelia Lost: the Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, was an utterly gripping account.  I could not put it down.

In the interest of time, I did some reading and watched some great documentaries during my research. Candace Fleming’s book is great, and I also learned a lot from reading Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes. I happened to watch a biography of Bessie Coleman which was streaming on her birthday last year (January 26th!) and really inspired me; though I can’t seem to locate the name of it, I see there’s a new documentary about her life called The Legend which is streaming on Amazon Prime right now, and I can’t wait to check it out!

In the portion of the book where the plane lands for refueling (the plane and food for the characters) you make several references to the film Casablanca.  I burst out laughing at one of them.  Why Casablanca?

Casablanca takes place at about the same time as Raiders of the Lost Ark (which is also when Flight of the Bluebird is set), so it seemed like a fun choice and definitely ripe for parody!

I think readers are going to be fascinated with the setting of this title.  Did you know this is where the third adventure would unfold when you were writing the first two titles?

I didn’t know what the second or the third book would be when I wrote the first book, but when I sold it to Abrams, I roughly fleshed out the rest of the trilogy. I wanted to “go big” with the final story, so an action-packed adventure in Egypt filled with lots of villains and mysteries and dreams and revelations (and a curse!) felt right!

The cryptic postcards the children receive from their parents add to the mystery and adventure.  Also what prompted you to use their mother’s journal to be a part of explanatory flashbacks?

I got the idea of the journal from Indiana Jones’ father’s Grail diary in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I thought it would be a great way to introduce some of the Bland Sisters’ parents backstory, and also a few clues that help along the way with Jaundice and Kale’s adventures.

There are other items I would like to chat with you about but I don’t want to spoil anything for readers.  I will leave them with several of my many favorite lines from the book.

Beatrix tells the twins---

Life’s not worth living unless we’re taking risks and challenging ourselves.

I find both of these sections hilarious and typical of the Bland sisters.

Reading something so dry and practical was always a comfort.

“What now?”  asked Kale.
“I don’t know,” said Jaundice.  “I’ve never been trapped in a rug on a moving truck, surrounded by assassins.”

LOL. I’m so glad you enjoyed these lines, and the book in general — I had so much fun writing Flight of the Bluebird and all of the Unintentional Adventures. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about these stories!

Kara LaReau was born and raised in Connecticut. She received her Masters in Fine Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and later worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and at Scholastic Press. She is the author of such picture books as UGLY FISH, illustrated by Scott Magoon, and Good Night Little Monsters, illustrated by Brian Won; an award-winning chapter book series called The Infamous Ratsos, illustrated by Matt Myers; and a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, illustrated by Jen Hill. Kara lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband and son and their cat.

1/7 Librarian's Quest

Saturday, January 5, 2019

They Aimed High

It's important to stop and realize the choices afforded us every day have not always been available.  Many of the opportunities are here now because of a path built by others.  These people dared to be different.  These people followed a vision they had for themselves not one dictated by acceptable social norms.

Three courageous women decided to pursue their passion for flying.  Skyward: The Story Of Female Pilots In WWII (Flying Eye Books, September 4, 2018) written and illustrated by Sally Deng is based on their remarkable actions.  They and their accomplishments are worth remembering. 

First Flight
Three girls looked to the sky and wondered what it must feel like to be up so high.  What would it be like to cut through clouds so swiftly that the wind struggled to keep up?

We begin in the year 1927 in San Francisco, California.  Hazel is at the air field with her father on a Saturday for their weekly outing.  A Curtiss Jenny lands and its pilot invites her for a closer look.  She knows she will be a pilot.  On the other side of the pond in England, Marlene's brother lands a plane in their field.  He invites her to take a ride.  She knows she will be a pilot.  In Russia a pilot has to make an emergency landing in a tiny town.  One of the many children gathered around the smoking plane is Lilya.  She can't stop making drawings of flight and that plane.  She knows she will be a pilot.  Three separate incidents shape three lives.

One of them with the help of her sibling, learns to fly.  Another has to work to pay for lessons and read about flying when she can't afford them.  The third must learn in secret, until before her eighteenth birthday, at a flying club.  She finally announces the club has asked her to be an instructor.  In 1939 war changes the world and challenges these three young women.

Each one of them assists other women in the war effort.  It is especially tense for Marlene and Lilya.  All three would rather be flying but their inquiries are quashed until the military becomes desperate for pilots.  Hazel begins training with the Women Airforce Service Pilots. (Hazel's friend, Elizabeth, also a pilot, is not allowed to fly.  She is an African American.) Marlene applies and passes a physical for the Air Transport Auxiliary.  Lilya writes a letter to Colonel Marina Raskova

the most famous aviatrix in the Soviet Union.

For the first time in her life she leaves her community to journey by train to Moscow.  She is accepted by Colonel Marina Raskova herself.  All three suffer ridicule, taunts, ill-fitting clothing and even staying in a cowshed for lack of proper housing  They endure and embrace training and begin to fly.

Hazel performs flight tests when no man will.  There are times when ferrying planes, she has to guard the plane with pistol in hand.  Marlene ferries planes too.  She flies in the fog when others stay on the ground.  Maintaining radio silence in the heavy fog causes her to crash one time.  Lilya and her navigator fly at night, dropping bombs along enemy lines.  They are called Night Witches.  At the end of the war, the numbers assigned to the deeds of these three woman are impressive.  They built a path for others.

Opposite the title page author Sally Deng tells us this book is a 

work of creative fiction.

It contains real events experienced by real people. It's important when she begins with three different occasions in 1927.  This allows readers to be a part of following how the three girls' initial dreams come true.

With the passing of the years, Sally Deng weaves the girls' lives together flawlessly including specific examples to support their experiences.  One of them can hardly stand the frustration felt when male doctors don't seem to know a thing about women.  Another receives a necklace for good luck from her mother on the eve of her departure.  The conversations within the narrative serve to illuminate the girls' personalities and captivate readers.  Here are two paragraphs.

When the sun set, the dangerous part of their mission would
begin.  Pilots and their navigator climbed into their PO-2s.  Lilya sat
in front, Tatyana in her own seat behind her.  Each team followed the 
same plan.  They would fly out to the enemy line and get as close to
the German camps as possible.  Before they got into hearing range,
Lilya would shut off the engine and glide her plane down towards
the target. wsssssssssssssssssshhhhhhh

The thunderous wind in her ears was a whisper to those on the
ground.  When they were close enough, she pulled a lever that would
drop bombs down below.  If the lever became stuck, Tatyana would
stand up and push the bombs out by hand.

When you hold this book in your hands, the front image, a compilation of the three women, what they endured, and their achievements, beckons to readers.  The texture of the book case, the cloth spine and varnished elements supply a pleasing tactile sensation.  To the left, on the back, between text normally found on the front flap of a jacket, four women wrestle with a barrage balloon.

Across the opening and closing endpapers shades of the title text color on the front of the book case is used to create a pattern of rows of planes and military symbols.  On the title page the three featured women are positioned on the wings and body of an airplane.  Opposite the Contents a child, her back to us, wearing a pilot's helmet, jacket and too-large boots is watching the shadows of planes fly overhead.

On the page with the first five sentences Sally Deng introduces us to the Hazel, Marlene and Lilya as girls looking skyward.  Readers can't help but be enthralled with the exquisite details in every illustration.  The research used to replicate settings, architecture, clothing and the airplanes is evident.

We are shown large landscape views and stunning close-ups.  Many times we are looking like a bird or a pilot at a scene below us.  To show the passage of time or to emphasize a portion of text, Sally Deng groups very small illustrations together.  For several of the chapter beginnings the three women, even though they are in separate locations, are placed together.  The heavier, matte-finished paper is a wonderful selection to highlight her fabulous illustrations.

One of my many, many favorite pictures spans two pages.  It is when Marlene is flying for the first time as a passenger in her brother's plane.  Across both pages as a background streaks of pale blue, blush, cream and white replicate the sky.  On the left is a close up of Marlene's face, her hair blowing in the wind and crossing the gutter.  Her eyes are covered by goggles, but her mouth is shaped in a circle of wonder. 

Even having read this book, Skyward: The Story Of Female Pilots In WWII written and illustrated by Sally Deng, three times you still feel what these three women felt; their passion, fear, tension, frustration, pride, determination and pure love of flying.  This story, their stories, are sure to inspire others to step outside what is expected.  Readers will want to know more, and an author's note and bibliography offers them that option.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal book collections.

To learn more about Sally Deng, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Sally maintains an account on Instagram. You can read more about her at the publisher's website along with viewing multiple interior images.  You can view additional pictures at Penguin Random House.  Sally Deng is interviewed at AI-AP|DART and the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media.