Quote of the Month

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




Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Christmas Truth

Christmas celebrations around the world are indeed a time to honor the holiday but they are also a reflection of the country in which they are observed.  They are steeped in traditions born from history going back hundreds of years. One constant in many of them is the Christmas Eve evening appearance of a generous being, an individual known by many names.

One of the names given to this visitor is Santa Claus.  He is said to fill stockings with gifts hung from fireplace mantels, door knobs, bedposts or other designated places.  He may leave presents under a Christmas tree.  In return a beverage and sweet treats, milk and cookies, are left for him.  Some people even leave bunches of carrots for the reindeer said to pull his sleigh around the world in a single night.  Children may write him letters sending them to the North Pole or left next to the milk, cookies and carrots.  As children our belief in Santa Claus is strong, so strong that as adults we do not relinquish the habit of hanging up stockings.  We know they are still filled on Christmas Eve but the gifts last a lifetime.  Love, Santa (Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., September 26, 2017) written by Martha Brockenbrough with illustrations by Lee White is a story to cherish, leaving a print on your heart to carry for the rest of your life.

When Lucy was five, she wrote Santa a letter.

In this letter to Santa, Lucy did not ask for any gift but she voiced her concern for Santa. She wondered how he was able to keep warm at the North Pole.  That year for Christmas she got a red coat from Santa.  It was the perfect present for a growing girl.  He also left her a letter enclosed in a red envelope with her name on the outside.  It answered her question.

The next year Lucy wrote Santa another letter.  As a six-year-old she was a bit braver.  This year she asked for an elf.  She also gave Santa two other options; one regarding her gift and the other with respect to his preference for cookies.  Wisely, Santa responded to the offered options.  She received another note tucked inside a red envelope.

By the time she was seven Lucy had a lot more questions for Santa.  She wrote two letters that year.  She only left the second one next to his plate of cookies.  She was not quite ready for the possible answers to her queries.

As an eight-year-old, Lucy wrote her final letter.  It had a single sentence, a question.  On Christmas Eve she placed it in a different spot.  Very early on Christmas morning Lucy found the familiar red envelope addressed to her, waiting to be opened.  The words penned to her changed Lucy and they will change you too.  They sing of the miracle of Christmas.


On the back of the book case Martha Brockenbrough writes a letter to readers.  She explains the personal experiences leading to this book.  The lens through which Martha views life is clearly present in all her books but never more sharply in focus than in this title.  Her gift is to find the essence of a situation (and of the people within it) portraying it (them) with beauty and truth. 

By first presenting the written correspondence between Lucy and Santa, we understand how the relationship unfolds and leads to the final two letters.  Lucy's letters to Santa are exactly as you would expect for a girl her age for each year.  Particularly heartwarming are the responses provided to Lucy in Santa's letters and the gifts left for her.  Lucy is well-known and deeply loved.


Upon opening the white book case you can see the faint green words spanning from the back to the front, left to right.  They are taken from the letters Lucy writes to Santa.  The wide green foil along the bottom is like the ribbon on a precious package.  The gold on the ornament, on the front, is also done in foil.  In the lower right-hand corner of the back, Lucy is shown reaching into the mailbox to place one of her letters to Santa.  The red flag is up, waiting for the mail person to send the letter to the North Pole.

The opening and closing endpapers are in the same hue as the ornament.  On the title page beneath the text, a pajama-attired Lucy with her cat is seated at her desk writing her first letter.  Rendered in watercolor and mixed media by Lee White the illustrations depict in single and double page visuals each year of the written conversation.

Delicate details and soft brush strokes portray an intent Lucy writing a letter and then move to a larger scene of a wintry landscape with Lucy mailing the letter.  Flawlessly Lee White moves from one perspective to another enhancing the words of the story.  He artfully places six actual envelopes within his images.

They can be opened and contain letters to be unfolded and read.  From Santa the envelopes are always red.  Lucy's letters are in envelopes with differing patterns over the course of the years.  For the final letter to Lucy it is slowly revealed over the course of five page turns.  Each of Lee's pictures supplies readers with a loving look at what the words are telling Lucy and us.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is one of the two-page images when Lucy is reading the final letter.  On the left Lucy holds the letter.  Above her on top of the red envelope is an enlarged portion of the letter.  Above this and extending over the gutter to the edge of the right page is a single evergreen bough.  Hanging from the branch is a sepia-toned ornament, filling up the entire right page.  A possible Christmas scene in Lucy's future is presented inside the ornament.


I can't imagine a personal collection not having a copy of Love, Santa written by Martha Brockenbrough with illustrations by Lee White.  I will be recommending it to every parent I can.  I read it over the phone last night to a colleague and good friend.  There was stunned silence when I finished it. We both might have been in tears.  Thank you Martha Brockenbrough.  Thank you Lee White.  This is a treasure to hold in a hug and in our hearts. 

To learn more about Martha Brockenbrough and Lee White and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  On Lee White's blog you can view several of the interior images.  At the Vermont College of Fine Arts' website Martha talks about this title. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Conversation with Stacy McAnulty and a Cover Reveal

Happy Monday morning to you, Stacy.  On Saturday the wind was howling (again) and the rain was so heavy it left standing puddles around the neighborhood (again).  The wet, windy outside made the cozy warmth of inside even more comfortable and appealing.  I’m not taking any chances on the weather today.  While it would be great fun to talk with you as we walk our dogs, let’s settle in cushy chairs for a chat.


Your journey from having a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and working in the field for almost a decade to writing for children has been one of many years of hard work and eventual success in writing picture books and chapter books for younger readers.  On May 1, 2018 your debut middle grade book is set to be released by Random House.  I am curious about the switch from writing picture books and chapter books for younger readers to a middle grade novel.  What prompted this?


Ha, maybe I’m finally growing up. Actually, it’s probably because my kids are growing up. I originally tried to break into publishing by writing novels intended for adults. But every night, I was reading to my young children and loving it. I was the one asking, “Can we read one more? Please.” It slowly dawned on me that I wanted to write for kids. Now my daughters are long out of diapers and borrowing my clothes, my son--the baby of the family--is learning long division, and we’re all falling in love with new books. So the stories I want to write are changing too. Though I continue to read and write picture books.

According to data at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the chance of getting struck by lightning in a single year is 1/1,083,000 and if you live to be eighty years old the chance of being struck by lightning in your lifetime is 1/13,500.  Your main character in The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is struck by lightning.  How did you decide this would be the event to change her life?  Could you explain to us why this happened when she was eight years old? Do you know someone who has been struck by lightning?  


Thankfully, none of my family or friends has been struck by lightning. Me neither. (Knock on wood.) For the story, I needed a major event that was realistic and rare, and also something that the reader could imagine. We’ve all experienced thunderstorms. They occur across the globe. In the book, the main character is struck by lightning at the age of eight, which is four years before the story begins. She is changed by the zap within days and learns to live and thrive with her newfound abilities, basically for those four years. She’s homeschooled and happy, but then her grandmother sends her to middle school, and suddenly she doesn’t know anything.


This lightning strike changed Lucy Fanny Callahan.  Would you tell us about the changes?


The lightning strike rewires Lucy’s brain, and she becomes a mathematical genius. The medical term is acquired savant syndrome, and it’s a real thing. I’ve read cases about normal people after a head injury having sudden genius talents like the ability to do math as accurately as a calculator, or learn any language after hearing it a few times, or playing the piano without any lessons. Not only can Lucy add, subtract, multiply, and divide any numbers as fast as she hears them, she also memorizes numbers without effort and sees math in everything. For the four years before the story begins, she’s dedicated herself to learning higher-level mathematics. But the genius of savant syndrome always comes with a tradeoff. For Lucy, it’s OCD.  


I have to ask: What is your favorite element in the final art for the book’s cover?  


Tough question! There’s so much to love--the torn paper, the hand lettering, the lightning bolts, and the random math equations. I made a few small changes to the math for accuracy. And the cover has my name on it! I still can’t believe I’m going to be a novelist. Cue up Frank Sinatra, “Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you…”


Here’s the cover folks!



I hope you don’t mind answering a few more questions.  We are both fans of our furry friends, dogs.  In fact your picture book, Excellent Ed, is one of my favorite dog books.  I know readers will want to know if a dog plays a part in this middle grade debut novel.  What can you tell us?


Aw, thanks for being an Ed fan. Yes, there is a dog in the novel. Actually, there are several dogs, but one plays a starring role. Unlike you and me, Lucy has not been around pups. It’s a new and challenging experience for her. But dogs have a way of winning over even the weariest of humans.


Do you currently have a dog as a member of your family?  Breed?  Age? Name?


I have three dogs. They spend their days with me in my office while the rest of the family is off at school and work. I’m lucky. Every day is bring your dog to work day for me. There’s Pepper, a German Shepherd, who is almost nine. Jack is the big mutt (over seventy pounds) and he’s about seven. Our newest addition is a small, fluffy Chihuahua mix, who is about a year old. Her name is Munchkin. When we adopted her I had hopes that she’d snuggle on my lap as I write. Nope! She’d rather hang with the big dogs.




My students always want to know if an author has children, what their names are and their ages.  Would you share this with us, please?


I tell people I have those three furry kids and three non-furry kids. Cora is my oldest and she’s in tenth grade. Lily is the easy-going middle child, who is in eighth grade. And then there is Henry, a fourth grader. So three kids in three different schools with three different start and end times keep me hopping.


Thank you Stacy for chatting with me today about your middle grade novel debut, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl and for the honor of revealing the cover.  I promised myself I would read it closer to the release date but I’ve already read chapter one.  Readers are in for a treat.  I’ll have to shelf it or I’ll finish it in a single sitting.


If you are interested in learning even more about Stacy McAnulty (I was), please feel free to visit WeGrowMedia with Dan Blank, Mile High Reading with Dylan Teut, Literary Hoots with Emily, Picture Books Help Kids Soar with Vivian Kirkfield and Cracking The Cover.  Stacy’s website is here.


Here is the description for this title as seen in the Random House catalog.


Middle school is the one problem Lucy Callahan can’t solve in this middle-grade novel perfect for fans of The Fourteenth Goldfish, Rain Reign, and Counting by 7s.


Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school!


Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation?


A celebration of friendship, Stacy McAnulty’s smart and thoughtful middle-grade debut reminds us all to get out of our comfort zones and embrace what makes us different.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Call Of The Sea

No matter how much we study and learn, they will continue to astound us, some more than others.  We think we know, given a certain set of circumstances, how they will act. With each feat, our admiration grows for members of the animal kingdom.

In 2016 an octopus residing in the National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napier, New Zealand decided it was time for a change of scenery.  Inky's Great Escape: The Incredible (And Mostly True) Story Of An Octopus Escape (Sterling Children's Books, November 7, 2017) written by Casey Lyall with illustrations by Sebastia Serra proposes an account of this clever getaway.  This octopus knew his capabilities, saw an opportunity and traded captivity for freedom.

Inky was the greatest escape octopus of all time.  He'd slithered his way out of every trap invented and lived to tell the tale.

All these escapes had taken their toll, so when fishermen caught him one day; he decided to go with the flow.  He ended up staying with another octopus named Blotchy at an aquarium.  Their days and nights were filled with fun and games and plenty of stories. 

Having lived in the aquarium for as long as he could remember, Blotchy found Inky's accounts of daring deeds a bit hard to believe.  One quiet evening when they were alone, Blotchy issued a challenge.  Inky accepted it with confidence, declaring it would be his best escapade ever.

A plan was designed by the masterful Inky.  As time passed Blotchy teased him, saying he was all talk and no action but Inky knew waiting was integral to the success of the operation.  An aquarium worker finally provided a sliver of possibility.

Using all his mental and physical skills, the eight-armed creature crept from the confines of both his tank and the building.  A trail told the tale of the triumphant avenue toward the open water.  Inky did indeed make history but a mystery remains. 


Using a marvelous blend of fact and fiction author Casey Lyall recounts an adventure to remember.  She provides a potential introduction and conclusion to the famous news headlines, answering questions readers might have about the escape artist and his tank mate.  Humor is interjected in the form of the games they played, hide-and-seek, charades and Crazy Eights, and the subtle mention of the bookshelves Blotchy maintains.

The conversations between Inky and Blotchy clearly indicate their different personality traits.  Her description of the magnificent disappearing act will have readers on the edge of their collective seats.  Here are sample passages.

Inky's limbs swirled as he hauled himself
along the tiles.  He forged ahead while the
"Incredible Idea for an Ingenious Escape"
unfolded perfectly.

All the creatures in the
aquarium had their sights
set on Inky.  They watched
his every move, hardly
daring to blow a bubble. 


The color palette used in the matching, opened dust jacket and book case will have readers grinning in pleasure.  The flora and fauna of the world in the aquarium invite them to reach for their closest reference books on residences of octopuses.  By placing the broken chains on either side of Inky, we know he is a one-of-a-kind octopus.  To the left, on the back in an extension of the scene on the right, Blotchy looks with respect and affection at a poster declaring:

INKY
THE GREATEST ESCAPE
OCTOPUS
OF ALL TIME.

Readers will love the raised elements and use of foil.

In shades of blue and green, ocean creatures swim on the different opening and closing endpapers.  In the first one, Inky is moving off the right edge.  In the final endpapers, the poster announcing Inky's accomplishments is set among coral and seaweed as the animals gather to read it.  The verso and title pages are a continuation of the opening endpapers with Inky leaving a trail of bubbles from left to right as he appears under the title text smiling up at the words.

Rendered in pencil and ink and then digitally colored the bright, spirited illustrations by Sebastia Serra span two pages.  To indicate the passage of time or separate incidents other smaller images are placed within the larger context.  Sebastia Serra alters his perspectives bringing us close to Inky and Blotchy and then giving us a larger view of the tanks within the aquarium.  This brings the story into our space.  His attention to details welcomes readers to pause at page turns.

One of my many favorite pictures is when Inky has taken advantage of the aquarium worker's mistake.  Most of his body is on top of the tank; a few arms are still in the water.  Inky is looking back at Blotchy and asking the octopus to come with him.  Oblivious to what is happening, the worker walks away to the right wearing headphones and carrying a ladder.  The fish in the tank next to Inky and Blotchy, on the right, are all pointing upward and watching the event.  The aquarium is dark except for two overhead lights shining on particular portions of the tanks.  Tiny explanatory signs are posted in front of each tank window. 


Inky's Great Escape: The Incredible (And Mostly True) Story of An Octopus Escape written by Casey Lyall with illustrations by Sebastia Serra vividly brings to life for the intended audience (and those of us lucky enough to read it aloud) a story of opportunity, patience and possibilities.  It highlights the truth, heightens our desire for more information and illuminates the power of inventiveness in readers and the author and illustrator.  Your professional and personal collections need to make space for this title.

To learn more about both Casey Lyall and Sebastia Serra and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  The cover reveal for this title with a short Q & A with the illustrator and author appears at This Picture Book Life.  Here is a link to one of many accounts of Inky's real life escape as noted by NPR.

Friday, November 17, 2017

On Center Stage

You recognize them as soon as they walk into your classroom.  There isn't a sign of glitter on them anywhere but they sparkle.  It's noticeable in the way they walk, the intonation of their voice as they talk, and in the combinations of colors and patterns on the clothing they wear.  They are making a statement with an air of assurance.

They can be five or fifteen, age is not a factor.  For them life is most definitely not a dress rehearsal and their world, wherever they are, is a platform for a performance.  Starring CARMEN! (Abrams Books for Young Readers, September 12, 2017) written by Anika Denise with illustrations by Lorena Alvarez Gomez is a look at an energetic girl and her equally energetic hermanito (younger brother) Eduardo. 

Carmen is a one-girl
SENSACION!

She can act, sing, dance and design costumes.  She never tires of being in the spotlight on stage.  Every night she requires the attendance of her ever-so-patient and supportive parents at her show.  No two shows are alike.

Carmen takes every opportunity to practice.  This is what performers wishing to excel do.  Eduardo watches Carmen with affection and longing.  He wants to be a part of the shows.  Carmen is not eager to share the fame and glory.

As the newest show is about to start she determines Eduardo would be better as a lamp, wearing a shade over his face, than his original role of a rock.  Tonight the musical is rather lengthy; seventeen songs, slightly less dances and a bit of karate.  Poor Eduardo is not aware the show is over.  (How can you with something over your face?)

When Carmen requests an encore at dinner, her parents resist her urgings.  The next morning they try to cheer up a melodramatic Carmen, pouting at having only one show the previous night.  When she attempts to make a point, her mother counters with a fan letter from an admirer. 

Pirate play encourages Carmen to assume another position in the upcoming rock opera.  As the evening event is about to start everyone in the family appears to be happy with this production, especially Carmen.  There is nothing better than an inspired great surprise.


There is no denying the liveliness of the main character in this title when reading the words penned by Anika Denise.  To heighten the effervescence of the story, Spanish words and phrases are used with affection by Carmen's parents.  A blend of narration and dialogue contribute to the connection readers will feel with Carmen, her little brother Eduardo, and their parents.  The dialogue also informs us of the moods of the characters as well as the strength of the family unit.  From this we can see the gentle humor in more than one situation.  Here is a sample passage.

Dress rehearsals start early.
"Can I be in your show tonight?" asks Eduardo.
"Sure!  I'm the queen.  You can be a rock."
"How do I be that?" asks Eduardo.
"Don't move," says Carmen.

"Do I have any lines?"
asks Eduardo.

"Shh," says Carmen.
"Rocks can't talk."


You expect her to dance right off the dust jacket, singing one of her many songs.  Looking right at readers Carmen gives us a preview of her personality and presence on and off the stage.  The dazzling hues in the set, curtains and props, extend over the spine, unfolding like a Broadway musical presentation.  On the left, the back, gazing over his shoulder at his sister, Eduardo, holding a smiling star on a wand, is adding his share of magic to the show.

On the book case we get a peek at an interior illustration spanning edge to edge.  Carmen is taking a bow after her show.  Eduardo is not sure what's happening.  This is our first glimpse of the elaborate, inventive and vividly colored costumes and sets fashioned by Carmen.  The opening and closing endpapers are a rich, rose canvas.

Beneath the text on the title page, dressed in costumes, Carmen and Eduardo dance in pure happiness.  Rendered with paper, pencils, and Photoshop by Lorena Alvarez Gomez the illustrations invite participation in the story and generate ear-to-ear smiles.  Her full color images are frequently placed on a crisp white background to draw our attention to the included details.  They may be loosely framed.

Her pictures spreading across two pages are marvelous in their use of precise shapes, clean lines and colors ready to burst out of the book.  These ask the reader to stop.  They ask us to step into the lives of these family members.  We reply with an eager YES!

One of my many favorite illustrations is the one depicted by Lorena Alvarez Gomez for the text previously quoted.  The bodies of three sea dragons swirl and curl in shades of pink, golden orange and blues and greens across both pages.  Colored paper, scissors, glue, pictures, books and already completed fish surround Carmen as she works on one of the dragons in the center of the right hand portion of the picture.  Outside the gutter on the left, paper in hand, stands Eduardo.  Wide-eyed and hopeful he is asking Carmen to participate in the show.  She is looking up at him with skepticism.


We should all be so fortunate as Eduardo and his parents to have someone like his sister in our lives.  Starring CARMEN! written by Anika Denise with illustrations by Lorena Alvarez Gomez is in a word, exhilarating.  This character's passion for performing and positive perspective on life is contagious.  Her propensity to stand in the spotlight alone is tempered by her love for her brother.  Your patrons will be asking for this book frequently.  They will hardly be able to wait for the promised sequel.  I can't wait to read this one aloud. 

To learn more about Anika Denise and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  If you follow the link to the page about this title, she has activity guides in English and Spanish and templates for Starring CARMEN! crafts.  At the publisher's website they have printable activity kit pages.  I know you'll want to visit Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., to enjoy the premiere of the book trailer and a chat with Anika Denise.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Making Magic For Her Boys

If you are fortunate, like I was, you grow up hearing stories.  Your parents tell you of their adventures as children, teenagers and adults before you became part of their world.  They speak of these things to create a familial bond with you; to give you an understanding of your heritage.  These tales are also meant to help you become the best person you can be; to assist you in realizing your potential.

There are other stories less truthful, born in their imaginations.  These transform hours, some of boredom and illness, into memories never forgotten.  There was an extraordinary woman, a mother, whose stories still hold their original magic today.  Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton (How Mike Mulligan's Steam Shovel And Friends Came To Life) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 5, 2017) written by Sherri Duskey Rinker with illustrations by John Rocco reveals how this woman used her remarkable gifts to bring joy to her two sons and other daughters and sons for generations to come.

This is Virginia Lee, but everyone in seaside
Folly Cove simply calls her Jinnee.
Anyone who meets Jinnee
will tell you that
she is quite
magical.

She has a way to coax colorful beauty into being in her gardens.  Animals, domestic and wild, see in her a friend they can trust.  When she dances, her shape seems to shift into whatever she wants us to see.  Best of all, when she draws, a spell is cast on all who view her work.

For her two boys, Aris and Michael, she pictures what they love best,

BIG MACHINES.

With her hands she brings to life a powerful train, a hardworking steam shovel, a tireless snow plow and determined cable car.  These machines' stories leave readers with timeless truths formed by their adventures and the work they do.

When Jinnee begins to draw a little pink house sitting on a hill with daisies and apple trees, Aris and Michael can see she has definitely strayed from what they enjoy most.  She asks them to be patient.  This little house is to be a part of an even greater adventure; one filled with the growth of a city and the machines who are a part of that growth.

In this book she shows the two boys how vehicles offer salvation to the little pink house.  She knows her two favorite readers and what they want and need.  She knew all of us too.


With each reading of this title penned by Sherri Duskey Rinker my appreciation for the accomplishments of Virginia Lee Burton grows.  The approach of beginning Virginia's story after her two boys are born brings a special connection to the intended audience.  Reminding readers of the admiration felt by the members of the Folly Cove community for her is a refreshing introduction to the magic of her talents as an artist and a writer.  Viewing her drawing and painting tools as a wand is genius.

When Sherri Duskey Rinker describes how Virginia Lee Burton creates the train, Choo Choo, the steam shovel, Mary Anne, for Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel, the crawler tractor turned snow plow for Katy And The Big Snow, and Maybelle for Maybelle The Cable Car it's like we are in the studio with her as she shapes and forms these characters.  With Sherri's words Aris and Michael are participants in each of these big machines' tales.  We watch and hold our breaths along with the boys as we see what is happening to the little pink house. Here are two passages.

And right before Michael's eyes:
A bucket loads and lifts, clearing
earth to make canals, cutting
through mountains for
railways, leveling land for
highways and runways,
digging deep into the
earth, making 
foundations.

Smoke blows from her stack.
There, loud and proud, strong
and steely, always hard at work:
Mary Anne!


The first thing, the very first thing, I did upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case was study those champion characters from children's literature recalling their stories read and shared repeatedly over the years.  When my eyes moved to the left, on the back, there was the little pink house, the city grown up behind her and on both sides.  The subway moved beneath her and the train ran around her.  Smoke filled the sky as the charcoal like images shown are washed from top to bottom in a shade of blue to green and then yellow.

The opening and closing endpapers are in pale yellow with light blue images.  Gears are stenciled around matching elements on the left and right.  It's the little house with the apple trees and daisies on the little hill.  In a circle around it are the cable car, crawler tractor, steam shovel, train and the truck in a repeating pattern.  Beneath the text on the title page, John Rocco places each of the big machines and the little pink house with the truck pulling it back home.

Rendered in watercolor, colored pencil, and digital media the full-color illustrations truly take us back in time.  John Rocco presents us with large two-page pictures and single-page images flowing and golden, many of them moving from the left into the right.  To show us the artistic process of Virginia Lee Burton he gives us a bird's eye view of her working from farther away to very close through a series of six small pictures on a single page.  As she draws the characters for her books, it's a different technique for the presentation of each one but the key factor is the two boys are always a part of the visual narrative.  The meticulous research of John Rocco is clearly evident.

I have many, many favorite pictures.  One of my favorites is of the creation of Katy.  On the left Virginia is first standing in front of a blank page.  She then sketches outlines of a crawler tractor on several sheets of paper.  They are filled in with red.  Then a blade appears.  Along the bottom on the left the boys dressed for winter weather are following Virginia, now wearing boots, as she puts on a winter coat.  They walk through snow and falling snow to the right.  Katy is there in front of them, larger than life.  She is framed with blue swirls reminiscent of the cover on the original book.


Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton (How Mike Mulligan's Steam Shovel And Friends Came To Life) written by Sherri Duskey Rinker with illustrations by John Rocco is a book to cherish.  You will read it over and over again.  You will hardly be able to wait to share it with others.  And you will get copies of the Virginia Lee Burton books to read at least once more, to share with first time readers or to add to your collection.  You need to have this book in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco and their other work, please visit their websites (and Sherri's blog) by following the links attached to their names.  Here is the link to a special publisher website for this book. Travis Jonker, teacher librarian and blogger (among other wonderful accomplishments) at 100 Scope Notes, reveals the cover for this title.  Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco are interviewed at The Horn Book about this title.  Sherri Duskey Rinker is interviewed at KidLit 411, Where The Board Books Are and HENRYHERZ.COMJohn Rocco is featured about this title at the BookPage and at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Enjoy the video below.



Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected this week by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Do You Know . . .

There are books which fill readers with a surge of joy, welling up inside us and growing stronger with each page turn.  There are books you want to read aloud and alone standing in a grassy meadow at the top of a hill you navigate with difficulty.  There are books you wish to share in a sanctuary filled with people, reading each phrase slowly with purpose so those gathered together can feel the power of those words.

There are books brimming with glorious illustrations, lifting the narrative to new heights.  There are books with colors, patterns, light and shadow carefully pieced and placed together, singing off the page like a melody straight from the creator's soul to our hearts.  There are books with words and images complementing each other in such excellence they are engraved in our memories.  Hey Black Child (Little, Brown And Company, November 14, 2017) written by Useni Eugene Perkins with illustrations by Bryan Collier is all of those books.

Hey Black Child

Do you know who you are
Who you REALLY ARE

You have potential to unlock all your dreams. Each time you try to follow those dreams, you are much closer to making them come true.  Listen.

There is a path for each one of you to follow.  It was started before you were born.  It is growing and changing.  As you travel lessons are presented to you.  When you endeavor to learn those lessons, you come closer to what you want.  Listen.

There is strength inside each of you regardless of your physical size.  You need to build on this strength.  It will support you, this inner power, in all you do.  Listen.

Children are encouraged to lift up their potential, take strides down the path and use the power each one has inside to accomplish everything they want to be and can be.  By doing these things and maintaining focus, the nation in which they live, will be a place of their design.  Listen.  


When read for the first time, the poem written by Useni Eugene Perkins urges you to read it again.  The words when read silently are indeed commanding but when read aloud they resonate long after they are uttered.  The repetition of the opening words ties each portion together with a call, a request to listen.

For these portions Useni Eugene Perkins forms the initial phrases as a question.   He then follows with another series of phrases which are part question but are mostly affirmations containing the promise of wonderful accomplishments to come in the future.  These portions are connected to the concluding words by emphasizing the central thought in each section as a statement.


Upon opening, unfolding, the dust jacket for Hey Black Child you are immediately captivated by the radiant beauty and heartfelt happiness on each child's face.  The blue rays, solid and patterned, are carried to the left, on the back of the jacket.  (I am working with an F & G.  My copy of the finished book is arriving tomorrow.)  The use of primary colors is continued on the back with the boy wearing a blue shirt and the girl wearing a top of blended primary and secondary colored dots.  Two balloons, one a larger yellow, with a smudge of red, and one red, smaller in size, float above the two children.  On a yellow spine, the four children are featured above and below the title text.

On a canvas of pale, washed blue, balloons in hues of green, yellow, blue, red, and orange drift on the opening and closing endpapers.  A much lighter version of the dust jacket background spans the two pages for the title.  Two of the children, a boy with his back to us and holding a paint brush as if he has painted the letters and a girl, thoughtfully gazing downward, holding her arms as if in a dance movement, are placed with three balloons moving off the pages.

These illustrations rendered 

in watercolor and collage on 400-pound Arches watercolor paper

and each covering two pages, edge to edge, are stunning.  The four children are featured from varying points of view.  In the greeting we are brought close to their luminous faces.  With a page turn past or current events serve as a link to the present.  In a subtle shift the future for each is shown leading to the conclusion.

Rays of light and balloons figure prominently in most of the images.  Bryan Collier has supplied an artistic bridge from one picture to the next; the boy is painting the girl dancing, the dancer plays a piano moving into the boy among trophies of people holding significant signs and then to a little girl with a telescope.  This illustration is when the present, a child, is shown in another child's future.  The final picture is full of hope and inspiration, a hand reaching upward, rays bursting among real children and past events.  

One of my many favorite illustrations is the first one.  On the left a collage of balloons rises from the bottom of the page.  Behind one of them the face of an African man, wearing traditional clothing, looks at us.  To the right on a pieced background of fabric or wallpaper is the first child, a boy.  His face covers most of the page.  You can see the bottom portion of a crown he is wearing.  His face, oh his beautiful face, is so full of joy you can feel tears of sheer happiness spring to your eyes.  The energy in this visual will lift you up.  


This book, Hey Black Child written by Useni Eugene Perkins with illustrations by Coretta Scott King Award winner and Caldecott Honoree Bryan Collier, is a title you will want to be a part of your professional and personal collections.  If happiness, hope, faith and love could be held in your hands, this book is the means.  In an Author's Note Useni Eugene Perkins speaks about this poem originally written in 1975 and its impact.  Bryan Collier has written an Illustrator's Note about what he hopes his art brings to the words written by Perkins.

To learn more about Useni Eugene Perkins I discovered an older interview at The History Makers.  At School Library Journal read Useni Eugene Perkins On Adapting His Iconic Poem into Picture Book Form.  To discover more about Bryan Collier and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  In 2013 Bryan Collier is interviewed at School Library Journal by Rocco Staino.  At Reading Rockets Bryan Collier speaks in a series of videos.  You are going to enjoy this video with Bryan Collier talking about Hey Black Child.

Monday, November 13, 2017

From a Blaze of Brilliance to a Blanket of White

With every gust of wind they rain down faster.  Swirls of gold, red, orange, brown and faded green fall.  A patchwork pattern of overlapping leaves covers the grass.  These colorful showers signal the passage of time in autumn 2017.  Only thirty-eight days remain until the arrival of the winter solstice.

There are now entire trees with bare branches lifting toward crystal blue skies one day and cloudy, gray vistas the next day.  September and October are memories.  Full of Fall (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, August 29, 2017) written and illustrated by April Pulley Sayre represents through poetic phrases and her signature photography the changes we witness as one season passes into the next.

September sun 
is low in the sky.

So long, summer.
Green, goodbye!

Whether you look at a large landscape as you travel down a path or road or focus on a single leaf in your own backyard, they herald change.  They are a reflection of what was and what will be.  The individual shapes of each tree are now outlined in their respective hues.

Shades of yellow, gold, orange and red hang like Nature's jewels on rough boughs of brown.  A canopy of color provides shelter from sun or rain.  Ponds, streams, rivers and lakes capture the array.

Run your hands over the bark on trunks.  Close your eyes and feel a single leaf or hold one up to the light filtering through the trees.  What message do they bring?

Soon the assistance leaves supply to trees is finished.  They let them go.  Now they nurture the dirt and water in a necessary cycle.  Their brilliance fades.  It's coming.  Snow.


As an astute observer of the world in which we live, April Pulley Sayre asks us, through her words, to notice the seasonal shift.  During those ninety days as our world spins from summer's end to autumn and then to winter, many small events contribute to the grand scheme.  Each one plays a significant part.

A series of phrases are joined by her rhyming words.  Some only have one or two words.  Others have six or seven. The cadences they create invite us to join her as we walk through the days of autumn.  Here is another sample passage.

Trees are ready.
Twigs let go.

Leaves slip
and spin.

Wind sweeps---
leaves blow!


Beginning with the opened, matching dust jacket and book case, we experience the full majesty of the transformation of autumn.  As you run your fingers over the front of the jacket, the title text is raised.  The large maple leaf has been given a matte finish in contrast to the glossy background.  It's as if we are touching a real leaf.  To the left, on the back, a squirrel scampers along a downed branch among a carpet of fallen yellow and brown leaves. 

The opening and closing endpapers are a rich, rusty orange.  On the title page an ancient stump, rings ragged and wide, provides a background for fallen leaves and text.  With each page turn a photograph raises our awareness of the variations revealed during this season. 

The point of view, through her camera lens, has us gazing through a field of browning grasses, light tipping the tops, watching closely as a squirrel grasps grass with edges blurred, or standing on the side of a pond, gasping in awe at the opposite shore lined with red, orange and yellow trees, their hues reflected in the water.  Some of the pictures span two pages and others are group by two or three.  The multiple illustrations on two pages are separated by thin white lines.  The placement of text is perfection.

One of my many favorite pictures spans two pages.  We are looking along a rough trunk of a tree upward as the branches stretch from page edge to page edge.  Patches of blue sky can be seen through the tiny yellow, gold and slightly green leaves.  It's absolutely exquisite.


April Pulley Sayre has a gift as a master poet and photographer.  She weaves words and images together in Full of Fall to fashion a sensory experience for readers.  This title, with the companion books, Raindrops Roll and Best in Snow, should be in every professional and personal collection.  At the close of the book two pages offer scientific explanations for particular phrases relative to leaves.  April Pulley Sayre also talks about Fall around the world and Never the same show.  She includes resources on the final page, an image of two beautiful leaves on bark.

To learn more about April Pulley Sayre and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  You will enjoy the backstory associated with this title.  At the publisher's website you can view several beginning interior pages along with the explanation pages at the close of the book. April Pulley Sayre is interviewed at PictureBookBuilders about this title.