Quote of the Month

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




Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Female Fortitude

Their earliest ancestors can be traced back at least 55 million years and are said to have been about the size of a present-day tapir.  Today despite being the largest land mammal on our planet, their numbers are diminishing.  Their existence is threatened by loss of habitat and by poaching for their tusks.  As a keystone specie multiple ecosystems rely on their presence.  

In a powerful new book, readers explore the realm of African elephants.  She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch (Familius LLC, May 26, 2020) written by June Smalls with illustrations by Yumi Shimokawara takes readers on a remarkable journey experiencing the many roles of a female elephant chosen to direct her herd.  We come to understand like all good leaders, she is first and foremost a teacher paving the way for future generations to thrive.

She is the queen.  The matriarch.

Following this first of thirteen statements about the attributes of an elephant matriarch, additional supporting facts and explanations are placed under it.  This information supplies a more in-depth look at each of the characteristics sometimes off to the side of the initial declarative sentence.  After the above-noted words, for example, a definition of matriarchal is given.  We learn this is often the oldest female elephant.  We are told female elephants are named cows.

Elephants live for generations in the same group unless it tends to get too large.  Male elephants, bulls, stay with the group until they are about thirteen years old.  The matriarch will show her family where to locate food and water.  Per elephant, per day, they

can consume up to 300 pounds of food.

That's a lot of food!  In their minds, they maintain a map of places to find water.  They are known to use any means they have to dig it up. 

When a new elephant is born after twenty-two months, all the females join in its care and protection.  Elephants welcome encounters with other groups, but are quick to protect babies when danger approaches, placing them in the center of the herd.  The loss of a mother to a baby two years old or younger is devastating.  If they are older, other females are likely to adopt them

Each baby learns from the older elephants.  They mimic their behaviors such as learning to use their trunks.  It takes considerable practice to use those 100,000 muscles when strength or gentleness are needed.  When the matriarch dies, elephants have been observed performing certain mourning rituals, even returning years later to touch the bones.  The new leader, an elder female, puts her learned talents to use.  Elephants have been known to communicate with other elephants over

110 square miles.

The matriarch speaks and others listen.


The narrative as written by June Smalls has large appeal.  For the youngest of readers, you may want to use the short narrative phrases in bold print initially.  If they have questions, you can move to the paragraph in smaller font on the same page.  This is a wonderful technique inviting multiple readings.  June Smalls knows her intended audience providing those facts which will satisfy their curiosity but also initiate further research.  Here is a sample sentence and the accompanying paragraph.

And who their friends are.

Sometimes those groups that had split apart will meet in the same areas and forage for food together.  These meetings are like a family reunion.  Everyone goes back with their own group when they leave.


The artwork of Yumi Shimokawara seen on the open and matching dust jacket and book case is magnificent.  Her elephant portraits here, and throughout the title, are exquisite in their detail.  The matriarch heading straight at readers on the front is majestic and formidable.  The smaller elephants on the side of her are exhibiting natural behaviors. 

To the left, on the back, we are very close to an adult female grasping grass in her trunk and bringing it to her mouth.  She is placed in the upper, right-hand corner with only a large portion of her head showing.  In the lower, left-hand corner a smaller elephant reaches for a leafy branch.  The words here read:

She is the queen.  The matriarch.
She leads her daughters
and their daughters.

Open your eyes,
princess.

One day you
will lead.

In a stunning design decision, in black and white, on the opening and closing endpapers is a close-up view of elephant skin.  It is also opposite the initial title page and the final image.  A female elephant is shown on both title pages as first a leader and then as parent teacher.

For many of the images white space or a lighter canvas act as an additional element.  Greenery figures prominently in several scenes.  The darkest background is for the loss of the matriarch.  Nearly everything is in hues of deep blue and gray.

The image sizes vary in tandem with the text, elevating it for readers and bringing us into the moment.  Sometimes only a portion of the matriarch is visible making her presence as grand as it is.  White egrets, common companions, are placed in several of the illustrations. 

One of my many favorite images is a series of three smaller pictures on two pages.  It shows younger elephants at play.  Each illustration has the animals on some grass, but they are otherwise surrounded by white space.  In the first, one elephant appears to be climbing on the other one.  In another picture a single elephant is waving a stick with one leg lifted.  In the third illustration an elephant is happily moving quickly with their trunk in the air as a bird flies near it.


This book, She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch written by June Smalls with illustrations by Yumi Shimokawara, focusing on the prominent female is informative and eloquent.  It clearly demonstrates in carefully selected facts and beautiful artwork the value of a female leader and her capabilities in the elephant world but will also instill courage in readers.  This will make a wonderful title to use with How To Be An Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild (David Macaulay Studio, Roaring Brook Press, September 19, 2017) by Katherine Roy, The Elephant (Enchanted Lion Books, September 25, 2018) by Jenni Desmond, The Truth About Elephants (Seriously Funny Facts About Your Favorite Animals) (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, November 27, 2018) by Maxwell Eaton III and If Elephants Disappeared (Roaring Brook Press, August 17, 2019) by Lily Williams.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about June Smalls and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  June Smalls has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At a publisher's website there is an educator's guide and several views of interior images.  There are author interviews at KidLit411, author Cynthia Mackey's site, Picture Book Spotlight and Critter Lit.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

An Appetite For Music

Being true to yourself is at times a difficult task.  You find yourself in the unenviable position of wondering how you will be perceived by your colleagues, friends, or family.  If you already happen to be a distinctive individual for other reasons beyond your control, this challenge is multiplied.

As the only Tyrannosaurus rex in her kindergarten classroom of eleven human children and one teacher named Mrs. Noodleman, Penelope struggles with her innate inclination to consume her classmates as evidenced in We Don't Eat Our Classmates (Disney Hyperion, June 19, 2018) written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins.  In the companion title, We Will Rock Our Classmates (Disney Hyperion, July 21, 2020) written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins, Penelope faces new concerns.  Her heart's desire is to be valued for everything she is, not just seen for her physical characteristics.

Penelope was the only
T. rex in her school.

Sometimes that made her
stand out a little.

Her classmates tended to only see a dinosaur in front of them.  Penelope was much more than a dinosaur.  She enjoyed playing, reading, and drawing.  Penelope held great affection for music.  Her greatest joy was to sing and play her guitar, rocking and rolling with abandon.

When Mrs. Noodleman announced the school talent show and left the sign-up sheet out for her students, Penelope was thrilled and apprehensive.  First, she was worried about going near Walter, the class goldfish with dubious intentions.  Second, she could not stop talking about the talent show at dinner with her parents in the evening.  Penelope lived and breathed rock and roll.

When it came time for the school rehearsal, all Penelope's joy vanished as students voiced what she feared most.  She could not perform.  Why did she ever think a dinosaur could be anything but a dinosaur?  At home that night, and the next day at school, Penelope withdrew in her despair.  She crossed her name off the list for talent show participants.

As an observant parent, Daddy Rex popped into Penelope's bedroom after school on the second day.  His words and the sharing of a family treasure worked magic on Penelope's sadness.  To Penelope's astonishment the next day her newfound courage was met with a surprise courtesy of a few classmates.  It's safe to say this talent show was unlike any talent show in Penelope's school's history, especially Walter's appearance.


The understated humor in each sentence written by Ryan T. Higgins will have you laughing before you even turn to the second page.  To add meaning, depth, and more comedy to his statements, he includes supporting dialogue.  Readers will appreciate the understanding shown by Ryan T. Higgins in assigning attributes and emotions to the color of Penelope's markers.  Ryan T. Higgins is also aware, as a parent of three children, how valuable it is to include elements in a narrative which might have more meaning for adults.  In particular, I am referencing the name of the band.  Here is a passage with Daddy Rex reading to Penelope all tucked in bed for the night.

She loved to read.

Good night, tasty moose,
all wrapped in baloney.
Good night, tasty goose,
with a side dish of pony.

Mmmm. Ponies! 


With the spotlight encircling Penelope on the stage, we know this kindergarten student is rocking her heart out.  It's fun to see her fellow classmates watching from the side of the stage in amazement.  Penelope and the title text are varnished.  The shades of teal fade in the background, as our attention is focused on the full color used for Penelope.  This is a technique Ryan T. Higgins employs throughout the book.  He will have settings lighten to hues of a single color, still replete with details and Easter eggs.  This brings the characters to the foreground.

To the left, on the back, of the dust jacket is a rectangular image.  It is an interior illustration of Penelope happily playing her guitar in her bedroom.  Surrounding this are praise statements for the first title.

Using white on a black background the bookcase reveals the outcome of the talent show.  A rainbow extends from the main element on the front to its right.  On the back a rainbow extends to the left of that main element.  The text will have you laughing out loud.  Please note the fine print!

On the opening and closing endpapers, a string is stretched from left to right across a yellow background.  A series of clothes pins attaches drawings, all different to the string.  They are children's artwork made for this book featuring each individual's talent.  On the title page, a drum set is placed to the right of the center.  On the larger drum are the initials GCH.  There are other initials and first names tucked into images in this book.

The illustrations rendered

using scans of treated clayboard for textures, graphite, ink, and Photoshop

are single-page pictures on a variety of backgrounds and settings.  When Penelope freezes on stage, the canvas goes black.  For emphasis there are several double-page pictures.  To further accentuate the emotional mood, our point of view shifts.  We are brought close to specific items.   Readers will be smiling repeatedly at all the facial expressions and body postures of Penelope and the other characters.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is a double-page picture.  It is the night of the talent show.  It is taking place in the gymnasium/auditorium.  The background elements, and many of the people are in hues of purple.  Closer to the front, the people are done in full color.  Can you recognize some of them?  On the left, gigantic and in full color, are Daddy Rex carrying a bouquet of flowers and Mommy Rex with a camera round her neck, along with her necklace.  On the far-right side is the stage.  Penelope and several classmates have pulled back the curtain and are surveying the crowd.  Walter is in his fishbowl on the stage with an unusual object standing upright in his bowl.  You can feel anticipation crackling in the air.


No matter how many times you read We Will Rock Our Classmates written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins, you'll find yourself smiling at every page turn.  The combination of words, and artwork provide consummate comedy with impeccable pacing. Amid the laughter readers along with Penelope will find we all are made of many qualities making us distinctively wonderful.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Ryan T. Higgins, you can follow the link attached to his name to access his website in progress.  Ryan T. Higgins has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Ryan T. Higgins also has some video episodes beginning with the one linked here on YouTube.  At the publisher's website are several activity sheets for you to download.  Ryan T. Higgins visits with author illustrator Jena Benton at her website about this title.  I know you will enjoy the video.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Secrets Disclosed

If you are fortunate to stand on the shore of a sea or of an ocean, the memory of being there for the first time will remain with you for the rest of your life.  A range of emotions washes over you.  You are amazed.  You are humbled.  You are intrigued.  In your mind, this boundless body of water before you generates a multitude of questions.  It has answers, some more easily found than others.

By careful observation certain discoveries are disclosed.  If you seek other answers, The Sea Knows (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, May 5, 2020) written by Alice B. McGinty and Alan B. Havis with illustrations by Stephanie Laberis is a marvelous introductory volume revealing many mysteries.  It's like taking a tour beneath the blue-green expanse.

We are young.
The sea is old.

The sea has secrets
to unfold.

The sea knows.

The sea is home to the largest mammal on our planet.  It its depths reside some of the tiniest creatures.  The size of the plant life ranges in height.  The patterns on the fish are varied as is their texture.

In the sea there are creatures who are more powerful than others.  Some are clever enough to hide, but equally there are those who know how to find them.  Just like our night sky, the sea harbors stars, and glowing lights.

There is a range of color under the sea.  Their vibrancy calls our attention as does their contrasts.  One thing is constantly true.  No matter where you look or how deep you go, there are many hues of blue.

Some things float upon the sea and others plunge into its deep, dark places.  If you listen and look, the sea shares sensory sensations like splashing and bubbles.  During the sunniest of days or during storms, the sea shows us many sides.  It exhibits high winds and steep waves.  It is a majestic power which can just as quickly subside into serenity.  The sea does know.


Using the final word in a sentence or phrase as a rhyming connection, authors Alice B. McGinty and Alan B. Havis invite readers to join them on a spectacular adventure.  Repetition of key words enhances the tempo.  Opposites inform and challenge readers to speculate.  Each window into this world encourages reflection, further research and welcomes visual interpretation.  Here is a passage.

The sea knows short.
The sea knows tall.

The sea knows spots,
the sea knows shiny.

The sea knows smooth,
the sea knows spiny.


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, you are greeted with two lovely vivid visions of life beneath the waters of the sea.  On the front, right, light from the sun filters to creatures, coral, and plant life as a lone seagull glides above them.  To the left, on the back, a brilliant octopus lounges on a ledge as a sea turtle slides through the water overhead.  The shades of blue and green in both these illustrations display the many varied physical qualities of the sea.  The text and several of the larger fish on the front of the jacket are raised and varnished.

On the opening and closing endpapers, in reverse directions, a school of yellow longnose butterflyfish swim in turquoise waters.  A few fish and seaweed are placed on the verso page.  Another sea scene holds the text for the title page. 

Each page turn supplies readers with wondrous insights into the sea through the artwork of Stephanie Laberis.  Digitally rendered, each one, either a double-page picture, edge to edge, a full-page image, edge to edge, or a full-page visual with loose framing and elements breaking that framing, presents various perspectives.  At times we are close enough to the subjects to be among them.  At other times we are silent witnesses to enchanting seascapes.  The appealing and numerous details inspire further investigation.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page picture for the words

the sea knows spiny.

Rich tones of blue surround the main being.  To the right and left are other animals and structures in contrasting colors.  Front and center is a puffer fish, blown up in defense.  Its spines stick out around its body.  It is looking wide-eyed at readers.


When through the text and images in a book you can travel flawlessly to a place you've never or rarely seen, it is something special.  The Sea Knows by Alice B. McGinty and Alan B. Havis with illustrations by Stephanie Laberis is an attractive and informative title certain to engage readers.  Its rhythm is as varied as the sea, ever-changing and alluring.  At the close of the book, further facts about each specific quality are presented.  You will want to have this title in your professional and personal collections.

To discover more about author Alice B. McGinty and illustrator Stephanie Laberis, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  At Alice B. McGinty's website there are two videos I know you will enjoy, including a read aloud of the book.  Alice B. McGinty has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Stephanie Laberis has accounts on Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  At PictureBookBuilders this book is discussed in a Q & A.  In this post mention is made of the authors' website titled News From The Happy Side.     At Kathleen Temean's Writing and Illustrating Stephanie Laberis is interviewed. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Wishing You The Bear-y Best In Books

By their very presence, respect is given to them by other animals.  Their size is a definite factor as is their appetite for certain foods.  That smaller versions of them have been fashioned into beloved stuffed toys for humans elevates the admiration given to them.  This esteem which they've acquired helps to make them the perfect candidate for characters in stories.

Two recent publications feature bears as a central character.  Both protagonists supply a generous dose of humor.  In the first book, a debut picture book, Soaked! (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, July 14, 2020) written and illustrated by Abi Cushman readers along with Bear discover life can be better in the rain.

Look at this rain.
Everything is dreary.
Everything is drenched.
And no one is happy.

A badger, a bunny, a hula-hooping moose, and Bear are not happy, not happy at all.  Rain takes the delicious out of ice cream cones.  It takes the architecture out of sandcastles and the shape out of cashmere sweaters.  And Bear has great affection for ice cream cones, sandcastles, and cashmere sweaters.

Bear suggests Badger, Rabbit, and the hula-hooping moose gather in his cave.  It's much too cozy for comfort, especially with the moose's antics.  Bear's missing his blue umbrella with bumblebees on it, but strangely enough Badger found an identical umbrella she claims is her umbrella.  Bear decides to mope on a hollow log.  That's what he does until the moose flings a hula hoop into the top of a tree.

As a team they retrieve it, until with a big oops and a splash it lands around Bear's neck.  Bear is encouraged to use it.  He does but shows no enthusiasm.  He asks to be alone with the hula hoop.

Bear begins to act completely out of character.  The moose, Rabbit and Badger are inspired by his shenanigans.  It's remarkable what hula hoops, and rain can do to shift the ordinary into the extraordinary. 


Each word, each pause, each inflection spoken by Bear in this narrative has been carefully written by author Abi Cushman to generate comedy.  Bear's attitude is as blah (and sarcastic) as the wet woodlands which are assuredly in contrast to his companions who are trying to make the best of a less than perfect day. We readers know nothing is going to get Bear out of his grumpy, dumps until the perfect solution presents itself.  The twist comes at the end when Bear is Bear, through and through.  Sound effect words add to the drama and sheer fun of the story.  Here is a passage spoken with irony and sound effects from the hula-hooping Moose.

Oh yes.
Great idea. 

Whoosh!
Whoosh!
Whoosh!
Whoosh!

Doesn't feel
crowded at all
in here.

Whoosh!
Whoosh!
Whoosh!
Whoosh!
Whoosh!


I dare you to not burst out laughing when you look at the front (right) of the open dust jacket.  The facial expression on Bear in comparison to the happy looks on Rabbit and Badger is hilarious.  He is miserable, disgusted, and grouchy.  This sets the tone of the narrative even before you open the book.  To the left (back), the moose with legs extended (balancing on one leg) is twirling three hula hoops.  Rabbit and Badger watch, standing in a puddle.  The text reads:

There is nothing funny
about this book.  Trust us.

Especially not the
Hula-Hooping moose.

On the book case, we are inside Bear's cave.  The story is completed.  These two images, on the left and right, present the back and front of Bear engaged in an activity.  On the left, with Bear's back to us, Badger and Rabbit watch and look at each other knowingly.  Sound effects are also written on the images.

Whoosh!

On the opening endpapers on a pale blue canvas are blue umbrellas with bumblebees and a bear's head handle.  All ten are in different positions.  Perhaps this is a single umbrella tumbling in the wind of a rain shower.  In the lower left-hand corner, Badger is reaching for one of the umbrellas.  On the closing endpapers, a pale yellow provides the background.  Eighteen colorful hula hoops are shown in their entirety or in portions.  On the far-right Rabbit is hula hooping.

On the title page a big drop falls from the "k" in Soaked!  It lands right on top of Bear's head featured along the bottom of the page.  These illustrations

drawn in pencil and colored digitally

by Abi Cushman span two pages or are grouped together on two pages with loads of white space.  The perspectives bring readers close to the characters to heighten the emotional impact.  Sometimes only a portion of the character is depicted.  Their facial looks and body postures are priceless.  Several images have only a few words or none, but there is no doubt as to the exact mood being conveyed.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  The sky is gray.  The rain is pouring.  From left to right sits Bear, Rabbit and Badger on the hollow log.  On the right the moose is standing on his/her front legs.  The top two are spread open and a hula hoop has just swished off the upper right-hand corner.  Bear is looking dejected.  Rabbit is watching Bear.  Badger and the moose watch the hula hoop sail away.  Behind all the animals is the word, in yellow,

Blahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . .


Sometimes the worst situation can bring out the best in a crabby character.  Soaked! written and illustrated by Abi Cushman with much mirth proves to readers you can have loads of contagious fun when you least expect it.  This book is a stellar selection for a one-on-one or group read aloud or for use in a themed unit on humor, bears, rain, friendship, or attitude.  You'll want this title in your professional collections and on your personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Abi Cushman and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At her website you can download a series of ten activity sheets.  Abi Cushman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read. the cover is revealed along with a conversation.  Abi Cushman has a post at author Tara Lazar's Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).  She is interviewed at author Susan Leonard Hill's site, Celebrate Picture Books, Maria Marshall's site and KidLit411.  At the publisher's website you can view the opening endpapers.




The second title, Dozens Of Doughnuts (Putnam, G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, July 21, 2020) written by Carrie Finison with illustrations by Brianne Farley is about a doughnut-loving bear getting ready for hibernation.  Her kind heart, affection for cooking, and healthy taste for pastry become a huge problem.  Sometimes generosity has its limits, however temporary they may be.

Early one morning, as autumn leaves scatter,
LouAnn's busy stirring a big bowl of batter.

She'll eat some sweet treats, then, warm and well-fed,
she'll sleep away winter, tucked tight in her bed.

As LouAnn is about to begin consuming her freshly made dozen doughnuts, her doorbell rings.  It's Woodrow, the woodchuck.  Woodrow wants some doughnuts and LouAnn is willing to share.  Before they can begin eating, the doorbell rings again.  It's Clyde, a raccoon.  Now LouAnn has to make another dozen doughnuts.

As the trio start to chew this new dozen, the doorbell rings a third time.  It's Topsy, an opossum.  LouAnn invites her inside, but her cheerful nature is being strained as is her desire to make another dozen doughnuts.  The foursome is about to gobble down these delectable treats when . . .

DING-DONG!

Of course, LouAnn invites this latest neighbor into her home, but she's getting desperate.  She is using up the last of her doughnut-making ingredients to cook a new batch.  She still has not had a single doughnut.  As the very last dozen doughnuts come from the stove, the doorbell rings again.  LouAnn is at her wit's end . . . and her friends know it.  They hastily retreat. 

LouAnn is frazzled.  After a bit, she curls up on her floor, sad and very hungry.  Can you believe it?  The doorbell rings again. No one is more surprised than LouAnn at this story's tasty finish.


The joyful rhyming couplets invite readers into the story anticipating which words will complete the pairs.  Having the large pause before LouAnn starts to eat a doughnut, followed by the

DING-DONG!

welcomes us to participate in this tale.  A repeating phrase also works to encourage a partnership with readers.  Author Carrie Finison flawlessly blends text and dialogue designing a more personal story. Here is a passage.

One dozen doughnuts, hot from the pan.
A few for her friends, and the rest for---

DING-DONG!

"Topsy?"
"I smelled something good.  Can I hang for a while?"
LouAnn says, "Come in," but she's lost her big smile.


When you look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, you see a very happy LouAnn carrying a dozen doughnuts followed by her neighbors, a woodchuck, a raccoon, an opossum, a skunk, and a chipmunk.  The other half of the chipmunk pair is in front of LouAnn.  The raccoon's body continues on the other side of the spine.  By placing these fully animated creatures in full color on a white and pale yellow background, they and the doughnuts draw our attention.  On the back, left, of the jacket and case, ingredients and cooking utensils are drawn in black and placed on the floor.  The text here reads:

Doughnuts are better shared.

On the opening endpapers on a yellow canvas are twenty-four different doughnuts, numbered and labeled.  They are so realistic you'll find yourself reaching out to pick one up and eat it.  On the closing endpapers only pieces and crumbs remain except for one whole doughnut.  It's number twenty-three, Old-Fashioned.  A paw is reaching to grab it. 

These images by Brianne Farley were rendered

in gouache, colored pencil, and charcoal, with some help from Photoshop.

She begins her visual interpretation on the title page.  LouAnn is standing in front of her window, holding a bowl, and stirring.  This window figures importantly in the story, foreshadowing who will arrive next.  Their tail appears in this window before the doorbell rings.

In a colorful, delightful collection of illustrations spanning two pages, edge to edge, full pages, edge to edge, and with smaller images on a single page, Brianne Farley reveals the personalities of the characters, especially that of LouAnn.  You'll find joy and growing laughter in the facial features.  Sometimes only an outline will be present for added details like the stone walls in LouAnn's home, the ingredients, cooking utensils and glasses on the table.  In several pages white space is used to excellent effect.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  We are close to the characters.  From left to right they are seated on the same side of LouAnn's bright blue table.  First is Woodrow, then Clyde and then Topsy.  In front of these three are plates with three doughnuts and glasses of something to drink.  Clyde holds a chocolate chocolate doughnut in his paws.  They are all smiling.  On the right side of the gutter is LouAnn.  She also holds a doughnut in her paw.  The look on her face is oh-no-this-can't-be-happening as the doorbell rings.  In the window is a skunk's tail.


Generosity and best-laid-plans are challenged in this tale of friendship and sharing sweet treats.  Dozens Of Doughnuts written by Carrie Finison with illustrations by Brianne Farley will have you smiling, laughing out loud, sighing, and wishing you had the ingredients for making your own doughnuts.  This book is a wonderful choice for a storytime or themes on bears, companionship, cooking, doughnuts, or winter.  (I used to have a neighbor who would make doughnuts every time we had a snow day during school.)  This is a title you'll want to have in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Carrie Finison and Brianne Farley and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  At Brianne Farley's site you can view a few interior images.  Carrie Finison has accounts on Instagram, and Twitter.  Brianne Farley has accounts on Instagram, and Twitter.  Carrie Finison is featured on author Tara Lazar's Writing for Kids (While Raising Them). This book is showcased at Soaring '20s High Flying Picture Book Debuts.  This title is also highlighted at Kathy Temean's Writing and Illustrating, PictureBookBuilders, and Laura Sassi Tales.  At the publisher's website you can view the opening endpapers.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Inside, Outside, What Will You See?

Regardless of their speed, they move in silence.  They were revered in ancient cultures, elevated to roles as deities. They have intermingled and lived with humans for thousands of years, yet they are said to be aloof.  Those humans who share their days with them often disagree with this assessment as does a recent scientific study.  They find them to be the best kind of companions. 

Our feline friends are beloved for a multitude of reasons; perhaps one is their ability to notice what others do not.  In 1985, thirty-five years ago, author illustrator Ashley Wolff published a book titled Only the Cat Saw (Dodd, Mead & Company).  (I was able to obtain a paperback copy released by Puffin Books in November 1988.)  In this book, as a family goes about end-of-the-day and nighttime routines inside their home, their cat makes its own observations of the outside world.

After making a gift of this original edition to her editor of ten years, Ashley Wolff was requested to update the images for a republication. Most of the text remains the same with the exception of a name change and the concluding sentences which add an exquisite enchantment to the story.  All the illustrations, the paintings, are new, supplying readers with enhanced perspectives and a diverse family.  One thing remains wonderfully the same.  This book, Only The Cat Saw (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, June 16, 2020) written and illustrated by Ashley Wolff,  is a classic calming ode to our world at day's end and during an nighttime rain shower, inside and outside a home.

It was suppertime,
and night was coming soon.
Mother was busy with Sam.
Tessa was helping Father.

So only the cat saw . . .

With a page turn, a double-page wordless picture reveals what the cat saw.  In both books the cat is still inside looking out at a pastoral scene as the sun sets behind rolling hills.  The number and size of windows has changed as well as the setting in the foreground and the animals.  We are much closer to the cat, the large geranium plant on the table and other objects.

In each of the subsequent moments, the rhythm of text on the left with accompanying full-page image on the right, followed by a dramatic wordless double-page image is beautifully consistent.  We move with ease and contentment from bath time, to bedtime, to dreams, an unplanned early morning awakening, Mother and Sam awake mere hours later, and then it is time for breakfast.  Each of these episodes in the home runs parallel to the cat's journey outside.

Horses are visited as fireflies become playthings.  From under the cover of large leaves, the cat watches an owl swoop to catch an evening meal of a mouse.  Will the owl or the mouse be the victor?  Perched among slumbering ewes and a ram, the cat watches a star arch across a star-studded sky.

As the rain showers concede to a sunny new morning, the cat watches high above the ground.  When the family members stir inside, a shift in the story takes readers to a new point of view.  There is a time and a place for every being to see and to be seen.


In each portion of the narrative, author Ashley Wolff includes one or all of the family members.  She intimately involves readers in these familial situations.  She creates a cadence for readers using the same format for each selection.  You find yourself holding your breath after you read:

So only the cat saw . . .

You wonder what surprise awaits you with the page turn.  Here is another passage.

At bedtime,
Mother and Father were reading.
Sam was finally asleep,
and Tessa was supposed to be.

So only the cat saw . . .


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, you are greeted with a breathtaking, soothing nighttime vista.  As your eyes move from left to right the perspective alters from a background to the foreground on the right.  On the left, as if we are a cat, the two-story family home, lights glowing in some of the windows, rises above wildflowers and grasses in a surrounding meadow.  Behind the home is a starry sky with a full moon.  The white puffs of flowers mirror the moon.  Several moths sip nectar as a small brown mouse freezes on the far left.

On the right, front, the cat comes toward readers, looking directly at us.  If you compare the two front covers, this cat is much closer to us.  It's tail here (and in other scenes) is more curved becoming linked to the title.  This newer cat has different eyes and more distinctive white spots.  The fur is textured.  In the most recent edition two beetles have paused on leaves.  The title text on the jacket is raised.

The opening and closing endpapers are a canvas of golden yellow like the author's name, the flower, and the "O" in the title.  The first illustration on the title page is a single page picture in both editions.  In each one the cat is stretching as if recently waking up.  In the newer version the cat is closer to readers and looking at us.  In this edition of the book is appears as if cooler colors and more vibrant colors have replaced golden shades and subdued hues.

With a page turn we are greeted with a double page picture.  In my older version the mother is hanging laundry.  There is a basket for clothes and one for Sam.  Amy has both arms holding the basket as it rests on the ground.  On a large sheet is the dedication and publication information.  In the new release Dad is hanging up the laundry.  Sam is in front of Dad in a baby carrier.  A small basket on the ground holds clothes pins.  In the laundry basket is a pile of clothes with the cat on top.  Tessa is peeking between two sheets.  The dedication is on one of them. In this book the publication information in on the last page with a stunning picture of the cat.

In the earlier edition all the full-page illustrations were bordered in white.  In this book, the images bleed to the edges.  In all of them we are closer to the subjects.  We are drawn into each location.  The details are many with intricate fine lines.  The use of light and shadow is splendid.  Readers will find comfort in the way the images by Ashley Wolff extend her words.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  The color palette is limited, but it conveys strong emotions.  Inside the barn the ewes, lambs and a ram are curled and cuddled in sleep.  Through the one visible window light from the full moon casts a beam.  The cat is sitting on the body of one of the sheep.  It is looking through the open barn door at the rolling hills, the night sky and the falling star.  You can't look at this picture and not wish to be there.


Both editions of this book are lovely in the lullaby they generate for readers in the words and pictures, but this new release of Only the Cat Saw written and illustrated by Ashley Wolff is eloquent.  Readers will request to have this read to them repeatedly.  It is now one of my favorite bedtime, quiet time, titles.  You could also use this to promote writing, imagining a scene inside a home and what the cat might see outside. There is not a personal or professional collection that would be complete without this title.

If you would like to discover more about Ashley Wolff and her body of work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name to access her website.  Ashley Wolff also has accounts on WordPress, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  In a post at Publishers Weekly Ashley Wolff is interviewed about this new titles and the changes made and why.  I believe you will really enjoy reading it.  In the video below Ashley Wolff talks about the new edition and reads it aloud.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Happy Hearts

For those who stand or sit with stillness in their yards, open meadows, shady forests, or next to cheerful streams, nature will send rewards. She sends hummingbirds to sip sweet nectar from flowers in your gardens.  She sends two scampering red squirrels, so caught up in fun, they nearly run right into your legs.  They chatter at you as they find sanctuary in nearby trees.  They see you as a challenge.  You see them as a gift.

Our animal friends carry on their lives as they have for generations, adapting to changes and honing their instincts.  When we see them with happy hearts, and intent on frolic, they are also becoming their best selves.  Play in the Wild: How Baby Animals Like to Have Fun (Roaring Brook Press, June 30, 2020) written and illustrated by Lita Judge is a companion title to her Born in the Wild: Baby Animals and Their Parents and Homes in the Wild:  Where Baby Animals and Their Parents Live.  It's a lively exploration of animals and their antics.

Pounce, leap, chase, and slide.
Young animals like to play.

In the first of nine sections pertaining to animals and their play, we are given lively examples of head butting, running in circles, wrestling, and winter fun.  The otters, red river hogs and red pandas are seen embracing moments of joyful abandon.  In the subsequent eight sections, more specifics are noted.

So animals are aware that advances are playful rather than fighting, they have techniques for inquiry.  Kelp held in the mouth of a swimming sea lion pup is an invitation to another pup.  Play is a means for locating a meal.  Arctic foxes jump, jump and jump some more in anticipation of leaping up and coming down to catch food scurrying beneath the snow.  Various forms of play abide by certain rules.  Some things are allowed, others are forbidden.

In some animal communities play strengthens the group.  In gray wolf packs, youngsters master skills through play which will later allow them to work together as adults to survive as a single unit.  Some of their play continues for the rest of their lives.  Play is practice for attracting and keeping a mate.  Many males will fight each other as adults, so their pretend fights as babies are a prelude to securing a mate.

If during play, one animal baby hurts the other baby, they have learned to say they are sorry.  If a gorilla bite hurts another gorilla, the injured party will stop until the other one comforts them.  Play builds stronger bodies, thus insuring a greater chance of endurance and continuity.  In conclusion readers are told, animals do play for the sheer joy of it.  You'll know this is true if you ever notice a raven and a coyote doing something extraordinary.  The raven dives at the coyote.  The coyote chases the raven.  If the coyote is not fast enough, the raven waits.  Aren't animals wonderful?


Using spirited language replete with action verbs author Lita Judge acquaints readers with animal play.  For each portion there is a short introductory sentence or two.  The capers of three other creatures, in detail, are offered in support.  Lita Judge is well aware of her intended audience for this book, selecting those facts most likely to remain with her readers.  These pieces of information many times coincide with the play of children.  Here is a sample of a section title, its introduction and one of the animals.

Play can be practice for finding a mate.

Male animals often have to compete with one another
to breed.  The competition can be fierce, so many young
animals develop important skills through play-fighting.

Nubian ibex kids spring vertically in the
air, jump on each other, and knock heads.  These
rounds of "King of the Mountain" may prepare
male billies for the challenges they face in
adulthood.  Adult male ibexes compete for a 
mate by crashing their long horns into each
other like battering rams.


Your heart will fill with happiness simply by looking at the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  The baby elephant splashing through the water, birds flapping to avoid her, is learning to celebrate when goodness is presented.  To the left, on the back, along the top three otters slide down a snowy slope.  Two are starting on the left and all we see of the third is the back legs and tail on the right.  At the bottom center of the image, a fourth otter is staring at readers as if to ask us to join in their sliding.

A dark bird's egg blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the initial title page, two baby cheetahs climb over a patient parent.  On the verso and title pages a double-page picture features a grassy scene with a pale blue wispy sky.  On the right a wolf cub playfully grasps a tail in its mouth. 

Lita Judge's paintings span two pages, full pages and smaller three images are grouped on two pages.  Lightly brushed backgrounds or white heighten her exquisitely detailed depictions of each of the animals and the settings in which they are placed.  She brings readers close to the activities giving us a sense of being in the moment.  All the animals are in motion.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  It takes place in a snowy setting.  Here two red pandas are wrestling.  On the left, the one is rolling on the ground, legs and arms moving to keep the other one away.  The one on the right is standing upright on its back legs.  Its arms are outstretched.  It is ready to leap on its playmate.  Their faces signal their merriment.


Readers will enjoy every single moment of the information, conversations, and artwork in Play in the Wild: How Baby Animals Like to Have Fun written and illustrated by Lita Judge.  It's a delightful new nonfiction book by a gifted person clearly dedicated to presenting the animal world with meticulous care to her readers.  At the close of the book are five pages of more information about each of the twenty-seven animals.  This is followed by a glossary of twenty-three words in which readers might not be familiar.  There is a list of written sources and recommended websites.  I highly recommend this for your professional and personal collections.  You could pair this title with Play Like An Animal!: Why Critters Splash, Race, Twirl, and Chase by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated by Mia Powell.

To discover more about Lita Judge and her body of work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Lita Judge has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.  At Macmillan's website you can view multiple interior images.


Even though educator Alyson Beecher is taking a much-deserved hiatus from her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, please take a few moments to view previous blog posts about the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Perfecting A Talent

Each one of us has one gift or more.  In our lifetimes, we will determine whether to embrace or set aside these gifts.  We will decide to use them to benefit a few or many.  Ultimately, the choice is entirely our own.

As a child, opportunities seem plentiful.  We look around noticing what others do and wonder what is best for us.  It's selecting one thing and then achieving it which can be a challenge. In the newest collaboration by author Atinuke and illustrator Angela Brooksbank (Baby Goes to Market and B Is for BabyCatch That Chicken! (Candlewick Press, July 7, 2020) introduces readers to a little girl with the gifts of speed, agility, and courage.  These traits make her the best chicken catcher in her village. 

This is Lami.
Lami loves chickens.
Luckily, Lami lives
in a compound . . .

with lots and lots of chickens.

As Lami races through her village after a particularly fast bird, friends, siblings, and adult family members call to her.

"Catch that chicken!"

Using all the right moves, Lami is soon holding that hen in her arms.  No one can surpass the skills of Lami.

Her sister Sadia is a whiz at spelling, but not as fast as Lami is catching chickens.  No one can braid hair as quickly as Lami's friend Fatima, but Lami is quicker at catching chickens.  Lami's brother, Bilal works with bulls.  This takes bravery, but Lami has more courage.

Running with her usual speed, one morning Lami bolts through a pen for the livestock.  Everywhere she goes in her village, everyone shouts at her to

"SLOW DOWN!"

Lami is so focused on getting that chicken, she chases it up a gigantic baobab tree.  Everyone is still calling for her to slow down.  She does not listen.  YIKES!  Lami falls from the baobab tree.

Her sprained ankle swells, and she cries in pain.  How will she catch chickens now?  Nana Nadia comes, sits next to her, and offers her some wisdom.  Lami takes Nana Nadia's words and rolls them around in her mind.  She knows what she must do. She does it because her reputation is consistent and constant, unwavering.


In one of the best storytelling traditions, the words penned by Atinuke invite reader participation.  Her simple, declarative sentences blend perfectly with the exclamations of people residing in the village with Lami.  Repetition of words creates a catchy cadence.  Alliteration is used to great effect.  Comparisons in a sequence of three lead readers to the fateful day when Lami learns of another gift she possesses.  Here is a passage.

Lami leans!
Lami lunges!
Lami leaps!


You simply cannot look at the matching dust jacket and book case front (on the right of the opened jacket and case) without smiling.  Lami and the chicken she is embracing are colorful and endearing.  You expect them to begin moving at any moment.  The cream canvas is ideal for accentuating Lami and the hen.  Lami, the chicken and the title text are varnished.  To the left, on the back, text from the interior of the book is placed above three other chickens casually standing in the village.  They are in different postures.  The spine is decorated with a spring green and yellow pattern.

On the opening and closing endpapers two shades of spring green and brushes of white supply readers with a folk pattern found in the fabric of clothing.  The title, dedication and verso pages are one and the same with Lami already running after that chicken.  The background here and throughout the book is white.  The vibrant hues reach out and wrap around readers.

Each of the illustrations rendered in mixed media by Angela Brooksbank portray the liveliness of Lami and her gifts.  The image sizes range from double-page pictures, to a group of smaller visuals on a single page and to full-page pictures.  White space acts as an additional element, framing all the bright elements within each image.  For two pages to heighten the drama unfolding, Angela Brooksbank places three horizontal panels on each page.  Three of them are wordless.  She employs this same technique on another single page.  The point of view in her illustrations shifts to heighten the rhythm of the narrative, moving from close-up to the characters and then to a more panoramic outlook.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is the first double-page picture as the story starts.  We are close to Lami and the chickens.  Five chickens cover, left to right, the lower half of the image.  On the right Lami squats. Her left hand is resting on her left knee.  Her right hand is outstretched as if in greeting.  Her lips are parted as she speaks.  In this moment we know Lami does indeed love chickens.  They must love her, too, because they look as if they are listening, even as two lower their heads seeking food.


If you are looking for a joyful story with a clever protagonist, this book, Catch That Chicken! written by Atinuke with illustrations by Angela Brooksbank is the perfect choice.  Readers will readily join in repeating the phrases.  This would be a great selection for readers' theater.  I know you'll want a copy for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Atinuke, follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Atinuke has an account on Facebook.  Angela Brooksbank has an account on Instagram.   At the publisher's website you can view an interior illustration.  At Penguin Random House you can view other interior illustrations.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A New Voice Of Healing

Anyone who follows multiple news sources and reads a variety of fact-based publications, realizes for a variety of reasons these United States of America are in troubled times, facing difficulties never collectively experienced previously.  We are at a crossroads.  We have the potential to make significant changes for the good of many.  We have an opportunity to move forward, righting the wrongs of generations.

During this election year, November 2020, we have watched as political campaigns have unfolded before and after the worldwide pandemic.  One individual stood apart from the other people in his party.  He was the

first openly gay candidate to run for the Democratic Party

as President of the United States.  Mayor Pete: The Story Of Pete Buttigieg (A Who Did It First? Book) (Henry Holt And Company, July 21, 2020) written by Rob Sanders with illustrations by Levi Hastings chronicles from birth to presidential hopeful the life of this remarkable human being.

He was born while a record-setting snowstorm blanketed South Bend, Indiana.
Joseph and Jennifer Anne proudly welcomed Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg---or---Pete home.

As a child, Pete saw the contrast between where he lived and the abandoned factories within his city.  Through attending Notre Dame football games with his father and as a member of the South Bend community, he was aware of wins and losses.  He was also a boy with dreams, dreams of being an astronaut.  He traded in piano lessons for playing the guitar in a band by the time he was attending high school.

Pete's focus shifted to public service early.  He had failed and was then successful in school elections.  By the time of his high school graduation, he was able to attend Harvard University.  Along with his studies in history and literature, he was an intern at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.  Abroad he continued to study languages.  He attended Pembroke College in Oxford, England learning about politics, philosophy, and economics.

Returning to South Bend, Indiana, he failed at running for Indiana state treasurer, but won as mayor of South Bend.  In each season, Mayor Pete tried to serve his citizens.  He was present as an official at weddings and ribbon cuttings.  He was a reader for second grade students in their classroom.  During his first term as mayor, Pete Buttigieg served in Afghanistan

as a member of the Navy Reserves.

Arriving home, safely, after military service, Mayor Pete needed to begin his reelection campaign.  He chose to be fully transparent, writing an article for the South Bend Tribune about being gay.  Pete won his reelection.  He entered into a relationship with a classroom teacher, Chasten Glezman.  They eventually married, living together in South Bend with their two adopted dogs.  On April 14, 2019 Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg announced he was running for President of the United States.  A milestone in American history was reached.


Combining his years of experience in the classroom, and his research, author Rob Sanders presents to his intended audience an interesting and informative biographical picture book including quotations from Peter Buttigieg.  His blend of facts with his style of writing reads like a conversation with poetic interludes.  His choice of words brings us into the places and times of Pete's life, his high points, and low points.  Repetition of specific phrases tie portions of Pete's life together, strengthening his personal purpose.  Here are several passages.

Corn-harvesting autumns turned
into snowy, cardinal-dotted winters.
Tulip-poplar springs
swirled into firefly summers.

Pete had learned a lot about winning and losing.
Now Mayor Pete's job was to make sure South
Bend and its citizens won more and lost less.

Trading in his suit and tie for fatigues,
Pete drove and guarded soldiers in convoys
along crowded, dangerous city streets.
The work took flexibility, teamwork, and 
communication.
This service wasn't about winning and losing.
This service was about life and death.


(Note: I am working with an ARC received from the publisher for purposes of this blog post. My personal copy will be arriving next week.)

Using vivid primary colors illustrator Levi Hastings superimposes guitar-playing high school Pete on South Bend's two-term elected Mayor.  The portrait with the ribbon-style display for the title text draws our attention to Pete Buttigieg's numerous accomplishments.  To the left, on the back, Mayor Pete is seen walking among a group of people of various ages, races, and genders during a campaign rally. (This is an interior illustration.) This smaller image is placed on a canvas of the rusty red.  Above it is another ribbon-style banner.  The text in it reads:

THE TRUE STORY OF A 
FIRST-OF-HIS-KIND MAN RUNNING
FOR A ONE-OF-A-KIND OFFICE 

On the opening and closing endpapers is a pattern of objects representing some of the special moments in Pete's life.  There is a guitar, a history book, interlocking rings, an American flag, and a gold military star.  These are placed in a repeating pattern on a pale blue background.  The illustrations on the verso and title pages reference his achievements as a politician.

The illustrations on these pages

 were created digitally on an iPad.

They span a single page, are smaller images on a single page, and are panoramic double-page pictures.  Most of them are surrounded by large portions of white space, allowing for the visuals to maintain our attention.  There is care in depicting detail and accuracy in particular places.  In those illustrations containing large numbers of people a representation of people from all walks of life is evident.  The illustrations are highly animated imbued with the same vitality Pete Buttigieg brings to everything he does.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture.  It shows a large number of people with umbrellas standing in the rain waiting for Pete Buttigieg to announce his candidacy for President.  The large number of people are spread across both pages standing in front of buildings.  Pete is on the left, walking toward a microphone on a platform.  (This group of people numbered at least 1,500.  They were the people unable to be inside for the announcement.  That group was a bit more than 4,500.

Buttigieg told those assembled outdoors who huddled under umbrellas and
ponchos, "I am impressed by all those inside, but I am moved by those of you
outside." )


For those wanting an accessible and inspirational picture book biography about Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg, this book, Mayor Pete: The Story Of Pete Buttigieg written by Rob Sanders with illustrations by Levi Hastings, is an excellent choice.  It clearly illustrates in words and artwork how perseverance, and the use of your gifts can make your dreams a reality.  Two pages of back matter include a quotation, questions and answers, a timeline, and selected sources.  I highly recommend this for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about both Rob Sanders and Levi Hastings and their other work, please access their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Rob Sanders has accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  Levi Hastings has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view multiple interior illustrations including one of my favorite ones.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Canine Confidence And Companions

It has never been more apparent how fortunate we humans are to be a part of our canine companions' packs.  Their constant presence and unwavering unique personalities are a source of comfort.  Their responses to each day's sensory experiences provide a perpetual parade of expected and unexpected results.  In other words, dogs are a source of hope.

Two titles released in spring of this year focus on these wonderful creatures who have chosen to spend their lives with us.  The first, Lone Wolf (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, May 19, 2020) written and illustrated by Sarah Kurpiel, is a debut picture book looking at how opinions of others can influence us.  When a seed of doubt is planted, sometimes we need a shift in our outlook to realize we are exactly where we need to be.

Maple loved
being the Parker
family dog.

She had a regular routine with each member of the family.  The puzzling thing to Maple was what happened when they went on walks.  Repeatedly people thought she looked like a wolf.  As often as possible, with neighbors and in the classroom at school, the children presented the facts.  Maple was a Husky, not a wolf. 

Maple started to compare herself to other dogs.  She did look more like a wolf.  She engaged in wolf-like activities.  Was she in fact a wolf?

As life would have it, an opportunity in the form of a gate accidentally left open, gave Maple the opening she needed.  She raced for the woods where wolves enjoy living.  Unfortunately, her wolf-like traits failed her out in the wild.  What was easier at home was much harder here.  As darkness cloaked the woods, she missed her pack.

In the nick of time Maple recalled what would normally happen during this time of day.  This was her most beloved thing in the world.  She used her nose to ensure success.  She also discovered a pack is not a pack, if one member is missing.


When the story begins and continues, we are not sure if an observer is speaking or if it is Maple.  Whoever is narrating, it engages readers so we are ready to hear this story, because who among us has not wished our dogs could talk or someone else could understand what they wish to say.  Author Sarah Kurpiel gives each family member a role in Maple's life.  Her combination of Maple's musings and neighbors' dialogue heightens the authenticity. There is a rhythmic beat as each sentence builds on the one before and after it.  The storytelling three is used to great effect.  Here is a passage.

Maybe she was a wolf.  And wolves belong
in the wild, not in houses or dog parks,
not on couches or sidewalks. 


When you first look at the open dust jacket, with only a portion of Maple's head visible on the front, you are not sure if this is a story about a wolf or a dog.  The dotted line and background color continue over the spine, the line looping through more flowers and into the woods in the upper, left-hand corner on the back.  The line, Maple's face and the text are varnished.  The crescent moon tucked into the "o" is a nice design element. 

On the book case the pale teal hue is used again.  In white circles on the back and on the front are two different images.  On the back, Maple is looking out a large window of her home.  On the front she is peeking from behind a big tree in the woods.  These illustrations are done in only two colors except for Maple.

On the opening and closing endpapers on the pale teal with white and black are a series of dogs, of all shapes, sizes, and breeds.  Among them is Maple, looking at several with curiosity.  One of the dogs, a bull terrier, is shown with a wheelchair, wheels attached to its back portion with a harness.  On the title page, the dotted line continues with Maple howling between the text placement.  On the verso and dedication pages are a series of pictures on a wall of the family and Maple and the out-of-doors.  Avery, the daughter, uses a power wheelchair for mobility. 

The illustrations created digitally by Sarah Kurpiel are brimming with details and familial warmth.  They range in size from double-page pictures, to a series of three smaller visuals on a full page, and to full-page pictures.  Sometimes for emphasis two double-page horizontal images will appear together, one on the top, and the other on the bottom.  The circles used on the book case, appear again with a change in purpose.  Point of view figures in the emotional impact.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations takes place near the end of the story.  It's a double-page picture with two separate scenes, beautifully combined.  It's at night in the summertime.  Fireflies are glowing, surrounding the characters.  Light and shadow contribute with excellence.  Perspective elevates the emotional moments. (Saying any more will take away from the impact this will have on readers.)


Lone Wolf written and illustrated by Sarah Kurpiel is a charming exploration of identity and the roles we each assume in a pack with our dogs.  In Maple we are able to discover how our qualities are what make us special.  Embracing who we are adds value to each and every day.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Sarah Kurpiel and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  Sarah Kurpiel has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can download two pages of activity sheets.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read., the book trailer is premiered along with a conversation.  Sarah Kurpiel and this book are showcased at author Tara Lazar's Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) and at author Susanna Leonard Hill's site.




More times than not, people will say humans mirror their dogs.  They will point out similar physical characteristics and even, behaviors.  In this second book, Ollie and Augustus (Candlewick Press, May 26, 2020) written and illustrated by Gabriel Evans, this could not be farther from the truth.  These two best buddies look nothing alike, but nevertheless, they are inseparable.  Will an upcoming event change their friendship?

Ollie was small---like a pickling jar or a shoebox.

Augustus was big---like a fridge or a table.

This duo did all sorts of things together.  They enjoyed people watching, dressing up, digging and stick collecting.  (One of these last things was Ollie's favorite thing to do.  Another was Augustus's favorite thing to do.  You can guess.)

Neither of them was perfect.  They did get on each other's nerves.  They were grouchy to each other, but they always resolved their discontent.

Soon, their schedule was going to change.  Ollie was going to start school.  He was worried about Augustus.  What would Augustus do without him?  Ollie had a plan.

He posted all the lovable qualities about Augustus on a poster seeking a friend.  He mentioned all the other things they loved to do.  The next day, a long line of dogs were ready to audition.  Not one dog understood Augustus.  And he had no desire to do what they wanted to do.  The friend hunt was an utter failure.

On his first day at school Ollie worried about Augustus.  What did Augustus do all day?  He did what he was meant to do.  And Ollie, at the end of the day, did what he knew would make Augustus the happiest.


Oh, my . . . Gabriel Evans has a way with words, words to describe the quirky characteristics of two best friends.  As he tells of their shared activities it reads like a gentle and highly singular song.  Each of the narrator's observations leaves room for the exquisite illustrations to expand the story.  Humor is evident in what Ollie thinks about Augustus and in contrast to what Augustus thinks about Augustus. Here is a passage.

Ollie had an idea.
Wanted: Friend for Augustus.

Augustus has a fun,
outgoing personality.

He enjoys long walks
in the park,
weekend trips to the beach,
watching sunsets 
over a bowl of
water,
and Friday nights at home.


There is something enormously endearing about the picture of Ollie and Augustus standing together on the front of the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  They look nothing alike, yet we come to realize, they are perfect together.  The color palette on the jacket and case is limited and maintained throughout the book.  To the left, on the back, Ollie is racing down the cobblestone street on his tricycle with Augustus hanging on for dear life on the back.  This is our first hint of the comedy found within the pages of this book. 

On the opening and closing endpapers the pale golden canvas is continued.  In a series of fifteen snapshots of their lives, drawn in brown and white and yellow, we get to experience further adventures with this pair of pals.  Ollie wearing a chef's hat is mixing up a batch of cookies.  Some, already baked and sitting on the counter, are being investigated by Augustus.  In another photograph, they are in the garden.  Augustus is facing Ollie, backward in a wheelbarrow.  Ollie is peeking out from a giant flowerpot.

These illustrations by Gabriel Evans,

done in watercolor, gouache, and pencil

are whimsical, fine-lined, and highly detailed.  Sometimes they are opposite a page of text, alone with lots of white space.  They are clustered together, small intricate vignettes of Ollie and Augustus sharing their hours.  There are full-page pictures and double-page pictures for dramatic effect.  These images are also, at times, in opposition to the words, supplying hilarity for the reader.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is one of four on a single page.  It is the image for Ollie's and Augustus's tree climbing.  A rather tall slender tree is featured.  It has an array of branches covered in delicate, small leaves at the top.  Ollie is near the top center sitting in a notch with his arms spread out on either side.  Augustus is seated on the lowest, but still remarkably high, limb on the right.  The lone branch with leaves is pointing toward the ground.  You can't help but wonder how Augustus got to that limb.  You can't help but wonder how the limb can hold his weight.  That is the beauty of this book.


Readers will want to hear the story of Ollie and Augustus written and illustrated by Gabriel Evans over and over again.  They will love the relationship between this boy and this dog.  They will laugh at their daily adventures and their favorite things to do.  You will want to have this huggable book in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Gabriel Evans and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Gabriel Evans has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image, including one of my favorite illustrations.  At Penguin Random House are more interior pictures for you to view.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Seeing The Truth

Sometimes progress in human history seems to be moving backward at a greater distance than it is moving ahead.  At times like this it is important to remember the great strides made by those who resided on this planet before us.  They stood strong in their determination, inching forward, true to their beliefs in themselves and in their pursuits.  They found a way around or through obstacles. For this, we are grateful.

One such person was a geologist, a student of Earth in all its forms, past and present, and a cartographer, a maker of maps.  She entered these fields knowing they were generally followed by men.  Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed The Ocean's Biggest Secret (Tundra, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers, June 30, 2020) words by Jess Keating with pictures by Katie Hickey gives readers insight into the struggles a woman can have following her dream, but also the benefits of maintaining focus and not wavering.

The beach was a blanket of squishy, soft sand, and Marie wanted to feel it under her feet.
Shoes off.
Socks off.
The ocean stretched out before her, like a big blue mystery.

Whenever her father went traveling outdoors for his work, Marie loved to be at his side.  Her perspective of the world expanded with every adventure.  Her curiosity continued to grow.  She was certain she wanted to understand the same kind of things her father did, even if girls were deterred from doing do.  (Marie tried art, but the sciences were her true passion.)

During wartime with many men gone, avenues opened for women.  Finally, Marie could study subjects which interested her.  She got her first job in a lab in New York.  Unfortunately, with the war now over, men were sent in the field to do research.  Marie had to stay in the lab.  Can you believe that they thought having a woman on a boat was bad luck?  She longed to be on the research ship exploring the ocean floor.

Data from the ship was sent back in boxes to the office.  It was Marie's job to plot those soundings (depth measurements) point after point.  She worked tirelessly at her desk, creating a map of the ocean floor.  She reveled in her discoveries.  One had her definitely puzzled.

She found a deep indentation with mountains on either side on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.  A colleague said it could not be true.  Marie meticulously redid the map with the same results.  Her drawing, her plotted points, seemed to support a theory of the movements of continents.  When a famous explorer of all aspects of the ocean failed to disprove Marie's map, the world embraced her accomplishments.  Beneath the waters of the ocean was geology's most wondrous formation.  Marie's quest for knowledge and truth changed her world then and changed our world now.


With every word author Jess Keating writes she demonstrates her keen insight into the hearts and minds of her young readers.  She weaves facts found in her research into an inspirational narrative.  Jess Keating builds on a young girl's love of exploration and interest in all Earth offers, layer by layer.  She points to specific incidents bringing us into this woman's world, her challenges and how she faced them.  Her poetic descriptions will have you cheering for this woman's achievements in the face of adversity.  Here are two sets of passages.

Marie's fingertips became stained with ink. Eraser
shavings fell to the floor.  Her drafting lamps hummed
beside her.


Instead of the vast, open ocean,
she dove into her tiny, cramped office.

Instead of crashing waves,
she sailed through reams of smooth paper. 


From flap edge to flap edge on the dust jacket and edge to edge on the open and matching book case, illustrator Katie Hickey in hues of blues and greens with touches of yellow portrays the mysterious undersea world mapped by Marie Tharp, complete with valleys and mountains.  The underlying graph paper lines in white are a brilliant design choice.  And there is Marie Tharp gliding over the world she plotted with paper and writing utensil in hand.  Her mouth is open, perhaps exclaiming a joyful remark.  The main title text is embossed in foil.

On the opening and closing endpapers is an eloquent map of the world in shades of blues, greens, and yellows.  Lines are shown here, too.  You can see the darker sections indicating the mountain ranges and rifts.  It is similar to the painting of the map credited to Heezen and Tharp by Berann now held at the Library of Congress.

These illustrations rendered

with watercolor, pencil and mono-printing, and assembled digitally

are stunning in their fine details, use of color and textured layers.  We easily step into the world of Marie Tharp through these pictures.  We understand her purpose and her place.

The pictures span two pages, full pages and sometimes several smaller visuals are grouped together on a single page.  At one point there is a gatefold that creates a dramatic effect.  The perspectives are varied to place emphasis on the pacing. 

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  An enormous blackboard framed in wood covers nearly the entire space.  On it are a variety of scientific equations and diagrams in white chalk.  On either page is a stack of books, spines with titles facing outward.  On top of one is a globe.  On top of the other is a teapot and cup.  On the right side Marie, with her back to us, is standing on a wooden step stool, balancing on one foot.  Her other leg and arm are outstretched for balance.  In her left hand she is writing with chalk on the board.  (This illustration is for the text recounting how women were able to pursue areas of study generally reserved for men because of the war.)


Even today, women struggle for equality.  For some it is much harder than for others, but this book, Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed The Ocean's Biggest Secret words by Jess Keating and pictures by Katie Hickey, will inspire readers to follow their dreams, building on the success of this woman.  At the close of the book is an Author's Note, Questions And Answers and Further Reading.  There is also a link to the Library of Congress so you can see the painting housed there.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.  For a study of this woman or to extend a storytime pair this with Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor written by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Raul Colon.

To discover more about Jess Keating and Katie Hickey and their other work, please access their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Jess Keating has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitterand YouTube.  Katie Hickey has accounts on Instagram, and Twitter.  Here is one of the videos you can find on Jess Keating's YouTube channel.



Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher this week to view the selections by the other participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.