Quote of the Month

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




Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pachyderm Problems

Children's love of telling stories is a constant source of delight.  Realizing the power in setting their imaginations free, they see this as a source of shared joy.  Their ability to connect dots and design a plot outside the box is a unique and amazing gift.

Once they get started they cannot contain themselves.  One story leads to another story and to a third story.  One individual will hear a part of their story in another's story.  It's an endless, glorious chain of stories.  In 2011 a Caldecott Honor book, Interrupting Children (Candlewick Press, August 10, 2010) written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein acquainted readers with Papa and Chicken, a father and daughter, with a daily ritual of reading a bedtime story.  Actually they read more than one story leading readers from one hilarious incident to the next.  Interrupting Chicken And The Elephant Of Surprise (Candlewick Press, September 11, 2018) written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein is the phenomenal companion title.  Papa and Chicken are at their wonderful best.

It was after school for the little red chicken.

After Papa greets Chicken she begins to tell him about her day at school.  Her teacher taught them about the elephant of surprise in every story.  Papa patiently explains it is an element of surprise.  His definition of an element of surprise rather than clarifying Chicken's mistake reinforces her use of the word, elephant. She states this meets the Whoa factor criteria.

Papa is convinced there will be no elephant in the story Chicken chooses for them to read.  As Papa reads, suddenly an elephant does pop up in the story's dialogue, courtesy of the little red chicken.  In the ensuing conversation between father and daughter one is convinced The Ugly Duckling has an elephant of surprise in it because all good stories do.

At Chicken's suggestion another book is chosen.  No one is more stunned at the presence of an elephant in Rapunzel than the prince and Papa.  Chicken, on the other wing, is thrilled and happy for the discovery.

By this time Papa is frustrated with all this silliness but allows Chicken to choose the required third story to complete her homework assignment.  The appearance of a pachyderm in this tale is even more ridiculous.  In Papa's final attempt to demonstrate the lack of elephants in all stories, he makes up his own story.  A burst of boisterous laughter is guaranteed from all readers at the twist Papa's tale takes and in the final sentence of this book.


The first sentence in this book, as it the previous title, is an honest-to-goodness simple statement of fact.  This astutely leads us into the conversational narrative between Papa and his little red chicken.  David Ezra Stein's sense of humor shines in every exchange between the daughter and father.  No matter what Papa says, Chicken manages to support her theory (and love of elephants) and of course, Ms. Gizzard's lesson.

When the fairy tales are being read by Papa and inserted into this book, David masterfully selects the perfect spot for an elephant to enter the story.  This creates excellent comedic pacing with maximum marvelous results.  Here are two adjoining passages.

With all haste, the prince began to climb.  When he
reached Rapunzel, he gazed at his love, and she said, ---
Surprise! I'm an
elephant!
You've done 
it again!
You're welcome!

Chicken, I know there is no elephant in Rapunzel.
That is just plain ludicrous."

"Don't you feel sorry for the elephant, Papa? . . ."


It's impossible to look at the opened, matching dust jacket and book case without at least cracking a smile.  This introductory verbal exchange between Chicken and Papa sets the stage for repeated hilarity.  The blue elephant peeling back the paper and laughing heightens the mirth readers are already feeling.  David Ezra Stein's color choices here and throughout the book grab our attention and keep it.

To the left, on the back, is another speech bubble placed on top of the rose-patterned upholstery of Papa's chair.  It reads:

WHoa!  I didn't
know That was
going to Happen!

The opening and closing endpapers are covered in a deep, rosy-coral shade found in the roses.  On the initial title page, Chicken is peering through the window of her school bus as rain falls.  The title text is on a full, two-page picture of the interior of the little red chicken's home.  Seen through the front room window, the school bus has stopped.  Hints of Chicken's love of elephants are tucked into the image several times.

Rendered in

watercolor, water-soluble crayon, china marker, pen, opaque white ink, and tea

the illustrations contain animated characters ready to walk out of the book into our lives . . . and they do!  Some of the visuals extend from left to right crossing the gutter, cover a single page or are smaller and surrounded by liberal amounts of white.  When David inserts the four pages of the fairy tale into the story, they are in a complete different style.

The color choices are few and muted with a traditional, older illustrative technique.  This allows the presence of the elephant along with Chicken to stand out.  The elephant is garbed in appropriate attire, wings and feathers of a swan, a dress and long braids of hair and a grass skirt and coconut top.  The facial expressions on the other individuals in those fairy tales at the sight of the elephant are funnier than funny.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Chicken is taking the third fairy tale book out of the bookcase.  This picture, loosely framed, extends from the left to the right over the gutter.  Chicken, on the left, is standing on the matching ottoman to Papa's chair and is holding the book.  Papa, on the right, has slipped down in his chair with legs extended and his glasses are clasped in one of his wings.  To the right on the floor next to Papa's chair is the box of cereal and carton of milk, still out after Chicken's snack.  Her bowl and his cup of coffee rest on a side table.  You get a real sense of Papa's patience, Chicken's determination and anticipation for the next round of laughter.


The stellar use of wordplay in Interrupting Chicken And The Elephant Of Surprise written and illustrated by David Ezra is excellent entertainment elevating it to be enjoyed by readers of all ages.  You can read this for fun, for a unit on fairy tales, for a study on the use of language or as a bedtime story.  I highly recommend you share this repeatedly and often as you can with as many as you can.  You'll want to have a copy in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about David Ezra Stein and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image. (I know you're going to laugh.)  For the cover reveal and an interesting discussion about the book, take a few minutes to read this post at Publishers Weekly.  David participated in The New York Times Books Live Art.  



Monday, September 17, 2018

Sixty-Five Days In 1968

Every single day with every breath they take people from all walks of life are striving to mend things which are broken.  These things cannot be fixed with super glue, a hammer and nails, or scissors and tape.  They are made whole with courage, persistence, intelligence, compassion and sacrifice.

Efforts by those trying to repair a breach in what should be and what is often work in anonymity. Other times we are aware of the struggles even if they are in another part of the world, country or area in which we live.  They are headlines on the evening news. They have a place in human history.  Memphis, Martin, And The Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike Of 1968 (Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights, August 28, 2018) written by Alice Faye Duncan with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie depicts an event with unforgettable results.

MEMPHIS---1968
I remember Memphis.
I remember the stinking sanitation strike.
Alley cats, rats, and dogs rummaged through piles of trash.
Black men marched through Memphis with protest signs raised high.
I also marched in '68 with red ribbons in my hair.

Fifteen memories of moments are recalled through the first person voice of a little girl in poetry and prose.  Following an initial introduction, a parallel is made between two storms the day two sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, died.  The first is a rain storm and the second is a strike.

Less than two weeks after the workers' deaths and repeated failed negotiation attempts with Mayor Henry Loeb, workers numbering 1,300 left their jobs and marched from February 12, 1968 to April 16, 1968.  Money was tight beyond imagining; no lights and no telephone but help came. Organizations formed and organizations reached out in support.  Workers attended rallies and strategized.  At home wives asked and wondered how much longer will this last.

As Lorraine, the little girl, read the latest newspapers and magazines, given to her mother, a maid for a local family, her family learned of Dr. King's visit on March 18, 1968.  His speech bolstered the minds and hearts of all listeners especially when he set a date to return.  He did not come back, Mother Nature intervened.

On March 28, 1968 Dr. King and thousands of others gathered in Memphis to march.  It ended in violence on Beale Street.  Mayor Loeb called in the National Guard and a curfew was put in place.  Looking out your window and seeing tanks roll by was frightening.

On April 3, 2018 Dr. King returned speaking as a dreamer to all the dreamers in attendance at the church.  At the close of the next day at the Lorraine Motel Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., crusader for equal rights and the eradication of poverty for workers, was assassinated.  Sadness trickled down people's faces then and later when forty thousand strong still marched in silence to honor a promise and the strike ended shortly thereafter.  We still weep today.


There will be books you read once, twice, three time and more because the writing compels you to do so.  This book written by Alice Faye Duncan is one of those books.  By having the events recollected by a nine-year-old girl with working parents, her father a sanitation worker and her mother, a maid, we have a personal connection.  We are not just reading about facts; we see everything through the eyes of a child directly involved.

The technique of breaking the narrative into fifteen separate reflections is brilliant in creating understanding and pacing.  Specific details of the conditions of the sanitation workers, the marches, the meetings, the impact on families' lives, the setbacks, the victories and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. bring us into this history. Here are portions of two passages.

When they could take the abuse no more, 1,300 men deserted their
garbage barrels.  They organized a labor strike on February 12, 1968.
In the morning and afternoon, for sixty-five days, sanitation workers
marched fourteen blocks through the streets of downtown Memphis.
From Clayborn Temple to the steps of City Hall, they squared their
shoulders, raised their heads, and carried their picket signs.
My daddy marched in that number.  He marched for better pay.
He marched for decent treatment.  My daddy marched for me.

He said, "All labor has dignity."
Dr. King's voice was loud and stirring.
I listened with my parents from a crowded church pew as the
famous leader drafted a plan to march in Memphis with the
striking men.
Dr. King set a date for March 22.
Daddy leaned toward Mama's ear.  He said, "We need everybody
to march that day."
Mama did not waver.
She assured Daddy, "I'll take off work.  You can count on me."
Then Mama patted my hand and said, "We will take Lorraine. 
She can march with us.


When first looking at the front of the dusk jacket, you know this title is going to be intensely individualistic.  Placing Lorraine Jackson on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel draws up deeply into her story.  Children have the remarkable gift of getting to the soul of any situation.  They are unencumbered by past experiences. (I am working from a digital galley.)  On the title page striking sanitation workers, carrying blank and white picket signs, crowd beneath the title text.

All of the illustrations painted with Acryla Gouache by R. Gregory Christie span two pages.  Each is like a piece of art hanging in a gallery of pictorial history.  What readers will recognize initially are the facial features on the people portrayed.  They reflect an array of emotions.

In some of the scenes the elements are more abstractly depicted than being realistic representations.  At times the realism is so vivid you feel as though your five senses are awakened. When the sanitation worker is carrying a rusted barrel of garbage, it drips down on his clothes and person.  For the haiku Omen the snowy vista is stark, bitter cold and windy.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the piece titled Black Widow.  The background like many of the images is a golden swirl of color.  On the left and right marchers wearing their best clothing silently form behind the dignified, majestic figure of Coretta Scott King. In contrast to those behind her, her clothing and facial features are most prominent.  It's an impressive portrait.


When you read Memphis, Martin, And The Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike Of 1968 written by Alice Faye Duncan with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie you will be moved to tears more than once.  I expect as a read aloud the classroom will be as silent as the marchers through Memphis on April 8, 1968 before they burst with questions and comments.  At the conclusion of the title is an informative and detailed time line from January 1, 1968 to April 16, 1968.  A museum (National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel) to visit is listed as well as sources and source notes.  I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Alice Faye Duncan and R. Gregory Christie, please access their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Alice Faye Duncan maintains an account on Twitter.  At a publisher's website you can view interior images.  At A Fuse #8 Production by Elizabeth Bird Alice Faye Duncan is interviewed along with a cover reveal.  Alice is also showcased at KidLit411 and LILbooKlovers.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Each Day Start Anew

It does not matter how old you are.  It does not matter how many times you've done this in the past.  Each time, it's like starting over.  You step into an unfamiliar setting, glancing around only to discover your outward appearance is different.  Your brave, confident, inside-self grows a little bit smaller.

It should not be, but for children this is particularly challenging.  Children are courageous, compassionate and more willing to embrace change.  They are in the process of becoming their best selves and this is what makes them vulnerable.  The Day You Begin (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, August 28, 2018) written by the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by award-winning Rafael Lopez explores through beauty in words and images first time apprehensions.

There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.

One or more things about you set you apart from the other people.  The language you speak or the accents given to the words you use are unique.  Saying your name out loud makes laughter fill the room until your teacher repeats it.  Then it envelopes you in welcoming warmth.

What do you say when the other children speak of summer visits to other countries and states, proudly holding mementos in their hands?  Your summer was a comfort to your sister.  Days of shared joy and love, quiet naptimes and hours of reading filled your shimmering-hot weeks.

What do you do when your beloved ethnic food is looked upon as strange at lunchtime?  What if no one will play with you at recess because you don't share the same skills?  This is when you call out to your inside-self asking it to be bold.

You realize, as you tell the tale of your summer, the light of awareness sparks in the eyes of those listening.  You are still a wonderful individual, as are they, but little similarities reach out to join in friendship.  Be strong, little one, your confidence is contagious.


There is a question at Jacqueline Woodson's website,

Do you think you'll ever stop writing?

Her reply shines through each word she carefully places on the pages of her books.

When I stop breathing.

In this title, the unseen narrator softly chats with a child (all children) eloquently using language to fashion scenarios so real you can recall the familiar ache of being different.  The repetition of specific phrases supplies a gentle refrain. Each portion of this story is a layer building toward a marvelous result waiting to be found and released.  Here is a passage.

And in that room, where no one else is quite like you, you'll look down
at your own empty hands and wonder What good is this
when other students were flying
and sailing and
going somewhere. 


All of the poetic truth of Jacqueline Woodson's words is depicted by the vivid, lively and heartwarming images of Rafael Lopez.  The uncertainty the little girl senses is reflected in her body posture and face on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  The shifting shades in the varnished colors of the text hint at the color palette. The beauty coming from her book is symbolic of the power of shared stories.  The ruler placed on the door is used several other times within the interior of the book.  This is sure to promote discussions on its significance.

To the left, on the back, text is framed with leaves, trees and flowers from the children's native countries.  Shades of muted green paint a pastoral scene on the opening and closing endpapers.  A grasshopper perches on a stem and a bird rests on a flower stalk.  A single rose-colored blossom, petals closed, is the only other hue on the opening endpapers.  The conclusion of the story is mirrored in the closing endpapers as the grasshopper leaps into the air with two other insects.  Two other birds join the first in flight.  How many flowers do you think are in bloom now?

Rendered

with a combination of acrylic paint on wood, pen and ink, pencil, and watercolors, and put together digitally in Photoshop

these illustrations begin their story on the verso and dedication pages as the child sits in her apartment window reading on a summer day.  All of the pictures extend from page edge to page edge across two pages with the exception of the final wordless single page, the perspective a birds-eye view of pure bliss found in contented children.  Rafael Lopez's rich visuals focus on the children striking a chord in our hearts.

At times we are drawn close to their faces to accentuate a moment.  Other times we step back as imagining and wonder resonate from his scenes. Birds and natural landscapes flow from page to page.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is of the boy dismissed from playing with the other children at recess.  He walks to the edge of the ground bordering a pool of water.  The sky glows with the heat of those first few days of school, a full-bright sun hanging in the sky on the left over a single home.  The boy also on the left, closed book in hand, looks into the water. The water does indeed reflect what is above with a brilliant alteration.  The boy is grinning holding a now-opened book.  There is a yellow glow around him.  From the book loveliness pours forth in vines, leaves and blossoms.

Surely this title has been used to start many classroom sessions.  The Day You Begin written by Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by Rafael Lopez transcends age inspiring all who read it to bring out our brave, willing to speak our truths with others.  How else are we to make our world better for everyone?  How else are we to discover our connections while preserving our singularities?  This book has my highest recommendation for your personal and professional collections.

To read and learn more about Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. Both Jacqueline and Rafael maintain Twitter accounts and Instagram accounts here and here.  At the publisher's website is a teacher's guide for Jacqueline Woodson books, including this title.

Friday, September 14, 2018

I Call Banker!

It lasts for hours; sometimes even days.  Many a summer afternoon is spent on a large blanket under a shade tree, on a deck beneath an umbrella, around a kitchen or dining room table or on a bedroom floor; a board centered among a gathered group.  The hours race by on snow days or wild winter evenings as minds strategize while others hope for sheer luck to alter their course. It stakes a claim in the memories of childhood and adulthood.  Around the world it's a staple in many homes. Monopoly is a game firmly cemented in human cultural history.

Monopoly has numerous editions and versions.  It can be played electronically and online.  What many of these players might not know is the origin of this famous pastime.  Pass Go And Collect $200: The Real Story Of How Monopoly Was Invented (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt And Company, July 17, 2018) written by Tanya Lee Stone with illustrations by Steven Salerno is an eye-opening look at exactly who is responsible.

What kind of Monopoly player are YOU? Do you save your money until you land on Park Place or Boardwalk?  Do you buy up all the properties you can?  Do you always want to be banker?

Regardless of the type of player you are or how long a typical game lasts for you and others, to find the beginnings of Monopoly we need to dial back the clock more than one hundred years.  Elizabeth, Lizzie, Magie was a woman with gifts, many gifts.  One of the things most upsetting to her, though, was the inequality between rich landlords and poverty-stricken tenants.  To demonstrate this gap in wealth, Lizzie used one of her gifts and designed a game.

Lizzie's game was meant for adults but she believed children were clever enough to benefit from playing it.  She filed and was granted a patent in 1904.  She was thorough in outlining both sets of rules, a picture of the game board and the pieces to be used.  You can't help but read her rules of play and see the direct parallel to the game you've played countless times.  Lizzie called her original The Landlord Game.

Before long people were making their own boards and adapting the game.  It began to be called Monopoly by students in a university business class.  Its popularity was growing. Twice, the first time in 1909, Lizzie took her game to the Parker Brothers company.  They turned her down.  With a renewed patent in 1924 she was still adapting her game's rules.  Other people continued to make variations, too.  One of the more lasting was in 1930 by a woman living in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

In 1930s the Great Depression left people wealthy and poor alike in dire conditions. Now there was a man named Charles Darrow, jobless, who played the 1930 version at a friends' home.  He liked it so much he began to make his own with new and improved changes. And, unlike others, he sold his version and took credit as its creator!  In four years, Charles was marketing his game.

He was turned down by other companies but department stores began to buy individual copies.  The success of these sales got the attention of the Parker Brothers company, who had turned him down too.  There was a huge problem with buying and selling Charles Darrow's game.  Lizzie Magie had a patent.  What happened next is still a subject for discussion.


This book is written in a style both captivating and informative by Tanya Lee Stone.  Her first three paragraphs make connections with each reader drawing us into her story.  She gives us personal and specific details about Elizabeth, Lizzie, Magie and her game as well as the historical setting prompting her to devise The Landlord Game.  Each step of the way she builds her story of Lizzie, growing our respect for this woman.

When Charles Darrow appears in the narrative, we can identify with his dilemma and his initiative. Tanya Lee Stone continues with her same use of language and overall tone but we know a conflict is coming.  The concluding two paragraphs are especially important.  They further engage readers in this story.  Here is a passage about Lizzie and one about Charles.

Elizabeth Magie---or Lizzie, as she was called---was a woman of many talents.  She was smart, made people laugh easily, wrote poetry and short stories, and enjoyed acting.  Sometimes Lizzie would dress in a costume, knock on her own door, and trick her husband into thinking she was someone else!  She wasn't afraid to speak her mind publicly, either, which was brave behavior for a woman at the time.

He made each one by hand, drawing the game board on a large piece of oilcloth with pen and ink and using oil paint for the colored bands.  He cut scraps of wood into houses and hotels and painted those too.  He also typed up the rules.  Each game took about eight hours to make. 


Even though the people around the table playing Monopoly on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case are from another era, there is something about the scene with the game pieces, houses, hotel, dice and money which transports readers to every game of Monopoly they have played.  Each portion of this image, including but not limited to the color choices and font style, is a reflection of the game.  To the left, on the back, an interior illustration shows both Lizzie and Charles, back to back, claiming to be the inventor.  A card placed along the lower portion of their bodies reads:

Chance
Invent Popular Game
Become Millionaire  

A familiar figure on the card sits in a chair with his feet propped on a desk.

The opening and closing endpapers are a pattern of alternating yellow and orange rectangles (cards) with a question mark on the yellow and a dollar sign on the orange.  Beneath the dedication on the verso is a light bulb.  Striding between the text on the title page, carrying a bundle of money on his cane is Rich Uncle Pennybags.

These illustrations were originally created with

crayon, ink, gouache, and pastel on paper.  After scanning the drawings, he (the artist) layered and arranged them into the final compositions using adobe Photoshop, with additional coloring applied.

With the exception of four single page pictures, all of the visuals extend across two pages.  Believe me when I say they are crackling with life and authenticity.  Steven Salerno's ability to shift perspectives within a single image or from picture to picture is excellent. His attention to details, the architecture, clothing, games, Lizzie's hair style and eyebrows, literally takes you back in time. For emphasis and pacing portions of his illustrations are larger than life.

One of my many favorite pictures is of Lizzie standing in front of The United States Patent Office in1904.  The office extends from the left side to the right side bleeding off the edges.  It provides an imposing background for Lizzie who is standing in front close to readers on the right side.  She is dressed in appropriate attire, smiling.  In both her hands she is holding her patent sheet for her game.  A larger circle with the patent number is framed in red with an arrow pointing to the number on the patent sheet.  This is an important visual.  It matches a final statement by Tanya Lee Stone in a series of paragraphs.

The patent was granted in January 1904, at a time when women received fewer than one percent of all US patents.


If you want to give the ultimate gift for a birthday, holiday or housewarming of the game Monopoly you have to include Pass Go And Collect $200: The Real Story Of How Monopoly Was Invented written by Tanya Lee Stone with illustrations by Steven Salerno.  It's a spirited and compelling account of the truth in both words and pictures.  It represents inspiration, innovation and determination.  At the close of the book are Tremendous Trivia!, Monopoly Math, A Note From The Author and Sources.  I highly recommend this title for both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Tanya Lee Stone and Steven Salerno and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Tanya Lee Stone maintains a Twitter account.  Steven Salerno maintains an account on Facebook as does Tanya.  To view interior images please take a few moments to stop at the publisher's website.


Be sure to check out the titles listed at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher by others participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Baking Light

As long as the moon glows among the stars in our night sky, people will gaze upward at its light.  Its rhythm from a new moon to a full moon and back gives watchers an overall feeling of tranquility.  It's a comforting constant.

In the French language the word for why is pourquoi.  It is often associated with origin stories under the umbrella of folktales.  A BIG Mooncake for Little Star (Little, Brown And Company, August 28, 2018) written and illustrated by Grace Lin is an original, tender, and exquisite explanation of the phases of the moon.

Little Star's mama laid the Big Mooncake onto the night sky to cool.

This celestial mother and her daughter had just finished baking.  Little Star's mama did not want her to touch this mooncake until she was given permission.  Little Star enthusiastically agreed with the request.  As each portion of her bedtime ritual was performed Little Star remembered her promise.

Suddenly in the middle of the night Little Star woke up.  The only thing she wanted to do was touch the Big Mooncake. She left her bed and quietly went to that tempting treat. Would her mother notice if she touched it?  Would her mother notice if she took a teeny, tiny bite?  It was scrumptious!  Wait!  Was that a noise?

Each night Little Star wondered if the Big Mooncake was still hanging in the sky.  It was.  Each night she took a bite.  She sighed with pleasure at the taste before scurrying back to bed.  When you add all those nights of nibbles together all you have left is nothing.

Little Star's mama discovered the Big Mooncake was missing.  When her mother came to her bed asking if she ate the Big Mooncake again, Little Star only had one answer.  Little Star had a suggestion and her mama, like Little Star, only had one answer.


Each time Grace Lin tells a story, we tuck it away in our hearts to remember forever.  In this tale of the bond between a loving parent and her child, a flawless blend of narrative and dialogue gives us an intimate portrait of their relationship.  The use of sound effects adds to the endearing quality of the story.  Readers are alerted to a possible outcome through the repetition of key phrases which also supplies a gentle cadence.  Here is a passage.

Pat pat pat.
Little Star's soft feet tiptoed to the Big Mooncake.

Would Mama notice if she took a tiny nibble?
Little Star didn't think so.
Mmmmm, yum!


The rich black background peppered with stars stretches across the opened dust jacket, left to right and over the spine.  Little Star holding a Big Mooncake is a depiction of delight as she enjoys the delicious pastry.  There is a bit of a mystery for readers looking at this jacket.  We are not sure yet what will unfold.  To the left on the back Little Star is seated, enjoying a little nibble from a crescent moon.  This image is captioned

Watch the phases of the moon transform as
Little Star takes a bite of the Big Mooncake!

Across the opened book case in a series of twelve small illustrations, left to right and top to bottom, Little Star is taking nibbles from the Big Mooncake changing it from a full moon to a sliver.  The matching opening and closing endpapers honor Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal.  Grace Lin has hidden many wonderful elements in these endpapers referencing that title and our night sky and its constellations.  Little Star intent on helping make the Big Mooncake is unaware of the look on her mother's face but we see the love.

Rendered in

Turner Design Gouache on Arches 100% Rag Watercolor Paper 140 lb. Hot Press Bright White

these illustrations convey the spirit of a shared and cherished endeavor done in relative quiet.  There is a hush radiating from these pages.  Yet, we know the conversations between mother and child are lively but soft, not loud.

The dark clothing covered in stars Little Star and her mother wear add to the overall atmosphere.  The facial expressions on both Little Star and her mother are a study in mood and emotion.  The black background becomes one of the elements in each picture; most of them spanning two pages.

Grace shifts the point of view in each visual to enhance her careful pacing.  When Little Star wakes up in the middle of the night the first time, we are close to the top portion of her face on the left.  On the right the Big Mooncake is waiting for her.  On another night Little Star is much smaller and seated next to the Big Mooncake nibbling.  Her toy rabbit is keeping her company. They are shown on the right side in a larger starry sky.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  In the upper, left-hand corner is a portion of the Big Mooncake.  We are close to Little Star as she races back to bed; her figure moving from the left, over the gutter and taking up most of the right side.  Mooncake crumbs are scattered on her face and streaming behind her.  Her face is smiling.  It looks as though she might be giggling.


This book, A BIG Mooncake for Little Star written and illustrated by Grace Lin, is one of the most enchanting explanation tales you will ever read.  It's about love and the lure of something delectable.  You can use it to focus on the moon phases, cultural folktales, artwork paying homage to another artist, or family.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Grace Lin and her other work, please follow the links attached to her name to access two different websites.  The cover for this title is revealed at All The Wonders.  On the book's birthday Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, highlighted a video on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  In this video Grace chats about this book, why she wrote it and speaks about the endpapers.

(I don't know about you but now I am craving authentic mooncakes.)

Monday, September 10, 2018

Unexpected Educator

One of the most classic cases of a substitute teacher's name striking fear in the hearts and minds of students in the classroom is found in children's literature.  In the case of this woman you can certainly judge her character by her appearance. Her frumpy black dress, striped stockings and black clunky shoes accentuate her exaggerated facial features and hair.  When you combine this with her unwavering sense of discipline students have no choice but to behave with robotic-like goodness.

Miss Viola Swamp first stepped from the pages of Miss Nelson Is Missing written by Harry Allard with illustrations by James Marshall in 1977.  To this day it would be hard to have an inclusive list of books about classroom teachers without mentioning her and this book.  A more recent title also broaches the subject of what happens when the regular teacher is absent.  Dear Substitute (Disney Hyperion, June 19, 2018) written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick with pictures by Chris Raschka has a distinctive presentation. 

Dear Substitute,
Wow. This is a surprise.
What are you doing here?
Where's Mrs. Giordano,
and why didn't she warn us?

As the morning begins each element of the usual routine and special activities enjoyed on a Tuesday are addressed by the little girl.  She writes to them as if they are recipients of a letter.  Regret and empathy are expressed for the mispronunciation of students' names during attendance.  Mrs. Giordano is missed.

It's discouraging to have sacrificed what you want to do in order to complete your homework only to discover it will not be collected on the due date.  A weekly trip to the library is not made.  The substitute has another plan. 

The classroom pet, a turtle, is not going to have his tank cleaned.  Our letter writer asks Elmo to be patient.  Classroom rules are not followed.  An earned turn at being line leader is ignored.  Lunch may be the only ordinary thing about this day until the eyes-in-back-of-her-head substitute catches the girl breaking a lunchroom rule.  How is this fair?

A change during story time further unsettles the girl.  This is when an extraordinary shift in the day happens.  This is when the student makes an unforgettable discovery about the day, herself and the substitute teacher.


Every reader, regardless of their age will identify with the apprehension voiced by the protagonist.  Authors Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick tap into the emotional state of the girl and her universal worries with keen insights.  They are well aware of the importance of stability during the day in a classroom but they are also savvy enough to realize the benefits of creative change. 

By having the girl write letters to each portion of her day, a deeply personal level is achieved in the story.  These letters build upon each other leading us to the surprise.  Here is another letter.

Dear Class Rules,
We have you for a reason.
And one of the rules should be:
the whole day can't be
changed around by a sub named Miss Pelly.
"Pelly like a pelican," she told us.
And then she laughed---again.
Miss Pelly doesn't take anything seriously.


Upon opening the dust jacket readers are treated to a view of the endearing student writing the letters.  The carefree swing of her pigtails invites us to know this girl and comprehend her disquiet in this situation.  The border of apples and pencils, well-known symbols of classrooms and teachers, supplies an additional sense of welcome.  The color choices by Chris Raschka are cheerful contributing to the spirited and heartfelt messages of the girl.  To the left, on the back, Elmo, the classroom turtle is showcased, enjoying a clean tank. 

On the book case in bright loose squares are thirty portraits of students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.  On the opening endpapers the lower portion of students' bodies are highlighted as they casually stand in a hallway.  On the closing endpapers is a view of items found on a teacher's desk.  The use of color is limited to those objects.

On the verso and dedication page Chris allows readers to see the reason for Mrs. Giordano's absence.  Tongue protruding from her mouth in concentration the girl is writing beneath the text on the title page.  Each page turn is a study in the signature style of Chris Raschka who rendered these illustrations in watercolor and gouache.

His loose lines and brush swirls of hues depict the emotions conveyed in the narrative.  His choice of colors enriches the moods as well as the time of day.  His shifts in point of view place emphasis on stronger feelings.  When the girl is near tears, all we see are her eyes, nose and some hair.  Some of his images are on single pages; others span two pages.

He frames the text in curtains, scenes from around the school or with elements in his pictures.  Humor is present in his clever details.  He gives Miss Pelly the shape of a pelican.  The girl is shown as a fish.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of the letter addressed to 

Dear Story Time.

In this picture spreading across two pages Miss Pelly is seated on a rosy red rug on the right-hand side.  Her red glasses, cheeks and lips are mirrored in the flooring.  She is seated, head bent and reading.  Clustered around her along the top, sides and bottom are the feet of the students on their rugs, seated and listening.  This is a turning point in the story.


The beautiful blend of words of Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick with the artwork of Chris Raschka gives readers a treasure to hold in their hands with this book, Dear Substitute.  We are privy to a transformation.  We realize people might not be what they appear to be at first glance (except for Miss Viola Swamp).  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Liz Garton Scanlon, Audrey Vernick and Chris Raschka, please follow the links attached to their names to access informative websites.  At the publisher's website there is an educator's guide to download.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read., the cover is revealed with a post by the authors.  At the blog, For the Love of KidLit, Liz and Audrey are interviewed.  This title is one of several new books focusing on school featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Trekking Toward Education

In some homes if you, as a child, dare to complain about having to go to school, you receive the mantra of having one or both parents relating their trials in getting to school as a child.  It seems they had to walk miles through extreme weather conditions or over extreme terrain or arrived at their destination by enduring extreme modes of transportation.  This is meant to remind you of how trivial your objections are in light of their difficulties.  It is also a suggestion to be more grateful for the opportunities to be enjoyed each day in your classrooms.

While some of the adults' stories about getting to school are certainly exaggerated; others have a ring of truth.  Adventures To School: Real-Life Journeys Of Students From Around The World (Little Bee Books, May 1, 2018) written by Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul with illustrations by Isabel Munoz brings to light documented cases of students taking risks and enduring unusual circumstances to get an education.  In learning about their stories we gain a greater understanding of the countries in which they take place.

Ustupu, Guna Yala (San Blas Islands), Panama
It's just after midnight when I wake up.  There are so many stars in the sky!

You might be thinking this is a typical scenario for anyone, anywhere, excited or anxious about going to school but this student is up this early to ride in a small boat with her parents.  They will make a six hour trip to her school across rough water.  She and her mother will stay with a host family.  Across the ocean on the continent of Africa, a girl carries her sister on her back as she makes her way to school. She is barefoot navigating through garbage and mud and safely past strangers and guards.  It is 2am.

Back in South America in the country of Bolivia a young student rides a teleferico, a car thirteen thousand feet above sea level, powered by electricity.  A fear of heights might make this a tricky trip to school!  Have you ever heard of the heaven ladder located in China?  Children go over a cliff and climb down the side of a vertical rock wall to reach the bottom. Thankfully, they do not need to do this each day. 

Running for almost a mile and a half to avoid elephants is not a usual way to begin a school day but for students in Kenya, it is.  A tiny carriage moves along a wire bridge over a river in Nepal.  A brave brother sings to comfort a frightened sister.  Another brave duo, a grandmother and her granddaughter quietly walk the street to her school building after a night of fighting in Donetsk, Ukraine.  Glass from broken windows is swept away by teachers.

A ride on a crowded subway car in Japan does not deter a little child.  Wearing a yellow flag is a signal for adults to help him if he gets in trouble.  Three hour walks in all kinds of weather or an early morning horse ride to catch a bus are customary for students in two other countries.  These children and those with parents realize the value and power in having an education.


In an authors' note prior to the beginning of the book, we are told each of these thirteen stories are a composite of real individuals.  For this title the names of the children are fiction.  The authors also explain the diversity within each place, its people and their customs and culture.  Both Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul combine their talents to write compelling, truthful episodes in the lives of these children.

Using a first person voice for the children creates an immediate connection with us.  On the page opposite each child's tale is information about their country.  The authors chose points of interest most likely unknown by most readers.  Here are portions of two passages.

El Alto and La Paz, Bolivia
Artists are painting a new mural as I enter the station.  I walk up many stairs, take out my tarjeta, and wait in line.  A worker waves me into the moving car.  I slide to the far window, and other passengers join me.  The doors close, and the busy noise of the city disappears.  I feel a little dizzy when the teleferico moves quickly, but the ride is smooth.  It's like we are flying!

An electric-powered teleferico (with solar-powered Wi-Fi) operates at thirteen thousand feet above sea level, connecting the mountainous cities.  It has transported more than forty million passengers since it opened in 2014.  Over three thousand students ride the cable car every day at a discounted fare that is equivalent of less than twenty-five cents.   


Day after day when many students ride the familiar yellow school bus to their classrooms I wonder how many of them would feel about riding the modes of transportation featured on the front and back of the opened, matching dust jacket and book case.  Would they like to ride thousands of feet in the air over their city?  To the left, on the back, framing text in a series of panels, eight other forms of travel are featured.  The illustrations fashioned by Isabel Munoz, for the jacket and case, while in all color, feature the primary colors heavily, relying on this appeal for the intended audience.

The opening and closing endpapers are an intricate, delicate pattern of pencils, crayons, paper clips, and push pins amid tiny leaves and teeny lady bugs.  The design on the back of the jacket and case frames the text on the title page.  Each two page picture provides an intimate, true-to-life and moving testament to the words of the child and the facts on each place. 

We see dedicated and loving parents rowing a canoe carrying their sleeping child across winter waters.  We see a girl carrying her sister on her back as she carefully moves through a metal fence, avoiding trash and dirt.  We see children climbing down a steep, steep wall on precarious ladders. 

For each of these images, Isabel Munoz gives us a perspective which will involve us in the journey.  Sometimes we are close to the travelers and other times we are given a larger view for greater impact.  She helps us to understand what these children endure to receive an education.  A single small illustration and the country's flag are showcased on each page.

One of my many favorite illustrations takes place in Meru and Samburu, Kenya.  It is a bird's eye view of the village.  Isabel Munoz gives the land a barren look with little vegetation.  It is shades of cream with bits of green.  In the far right-hand corner is a partial view of a damaged home.  Large elephant tracks are visible in the dirt from left to right.  Seven children are hurrying to school, anxious to avoid the elephants.  Most of their backs are to us.  One child is turned, possibly to tell the one farthest back to walk faster.  All but the smallest of the children leave their own footprints in the dirt.


Without a doubt Adventures To School: Real-Life Journeys Of Students From Around The World written by Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul with illustrations by Isabel Munoz will generate much discussion if not outright gasps during a read aloud.  The blend of true stories, factual accounts, and the details about each country are sure to promote further research.  A lengthy bibliography is included at the book's end.  A full bibliography is at the publisher's website.  I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Miranda Paul, Baptiste Paul and Isabel Munoz and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  At a publisher's website you can view interior pictures.  Here is a link to an educator's resource guide.  At their publisher's blog Miranda and Paul chat about this title.  Maria Marshall interviews the Pauls about this title.  Isabel Munoz has an Instagram account.  Miranda Paul, Baptiste Paul and Isabel Munoz are all on Twitter.


To learn about the other titles selected by participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.