Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Taking The Plunge

The first time you stand on the shores of one of the Great Lakes or a sea or an ocean, the vastness of the water spread before you is a stunning revelation.  Being near something so large the opposite shore is not visible, shifts your perspective. You always knew it was immense but now, while having a special beauty, it's a bit daunting.

Your respect for this watery vision grows and little trickles of fear zing through your body.  You wonder about the safeness of leaving the shore.  Don't Worry, Little Crab (Candlewick Press, April 7, 2020) written and illustrated by Chris Haughton explores with knowledgeable insight the emotional ups and downs of venturing into new territory.

Little Crab and Very Big Crab
live in a tiny tide pool. 

Today is a very special day for the duo.  Today Little Crab is going to THE OCEAN.  He is excited.  He can hardly stand the suspense.

From their tide pool they trek over rocks, other pools of water and seaweed.  His confidence expanding after these short accomplishments, Little Crab declares his first-class ability as an adventurer.  This all changes when he gets his first glimpse of THE OCEAN.  A very small


sums up his thoughts.

He begins a series of suggestions for remaining on the cliff which are countered by Very Big Crab.  When the first wave crashes over them, fortunately both crustaceans hug the rocks.  Whew!  Another larger wave rushes toward them.  Will Little Crab stay fast?

Little Crab survives that wave but he's ready to head home.  Big Crab gently urges him to take one step and then another step and still one more step.  Little Crab can't believe it, he's in THE OCEAN!

A gigantic wave approaches and the twosome dive.  A world of wonders spreads before Little Crab.  A crowd of friends introduces themselves.  Little Crab moves from one delectable moment to the next.  The biggest surprise of the day, for him and readers, comes at the end of the day.  It's marvelously truthful.

What readers, regardless of their age, appreciate about Chris Haughton is his masterful ability to convey large feelings with few words.  He blends dialogue into the straightforward narrative.  Alliterative sound effects accompany his storyline.  Punctuation provides pacing and emotional drama.  We find ourselves drawn deeper and deeper into his words.  Here is a passage.

"Maybe it's better if 
we don't go in the
ocean," says Little Crab.

"Don't worry,"
says Very Big Crab.
"It will be OK."

But the waves are getting bigger . . .
Look! A huge wave!
Hold tight!
Here it comes!

The teal canvas on the matching dust jacket and book case spreads edge to edge, including the flap edges.  It's an ideal background for the white text and brilliant colors used in the creation of Little Crab.  His size on the front, right side, proportionality indicts how small he is.  To the left, on the back, Little Crab and Very Big Crab are shown side by side with their large eyes looking to the right.  On the front Little Crab and the text are varnished.

A darker ocean blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Using a lighter blue, Chris Haughton outlines two different beneath-the-sea scenes on each set of endpapers.  The initial title page is a replication of the front of the jacket and case, but Little Crab is placed on white with teal letters.  The formal title page is a two-page image of the vast ocean, rocky crags and splashing waves.  On the dedication and verso page Chris Haughton places this quote:

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion
to one's courage." --- Anais Nin

The distinctive digitally fashioned illustrations of Chris Haughton span double and single pages.  Regardless of the image size, Chris Haughton varies his point of view to accentuate the narrative visually.  He alternates his background from shades of blue to white.  Most of his pictures have large white borders.  Chris Haughton's use of color is vivid, imaginative and highly appealing.  Readers will be captivated by his ability to depict emotion with shifts in the crabs' eyes and placement of their claws.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages with a wide white frame around it.  On the left a portion of rock generates a triangle from the upper left corner to the gutter.  On this is Little Crab.  He appears large because we are very close to him.  A tiny bit of one of his claws is in THE OCEAN.  It's fairly calm with the remnants of white foam on top.  Behind this is a teal background.  Little Crab's eyes are large with astonishment as he realizes he's in THE OCEAN.  You can feel his supreme bliss.

Sometimes if we approach our fear step-by-step with the help of a friend, our bravery builds until we can experience more joy than we imagined.  Don't Worry, Little Crab written and illustrated by Chris Haughton is a book with a jubilant blend of words and expressive visuals conveying the journey of one tiny crab in a single day.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Chris Haughton and his work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At his website you can view numerous interior images from this book.  On his blog he outlines the making of this book.  I believe you will enjoy his illustrative process.  Chris Haughton has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  You can view an interior image at the publisher's website and others at Penguin Random House.  Here is a link to an Activity Kit.  Teacher librarian and author Travis Jonker features this book and Chris Haughton on his blog at School Library Journal, 100 Scope Notes. Please enjoy the book trailer.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

"Both Sides Now"

For me it begins with How Much Is That Doggy In The Window and it's continued to this day.  It's like we have a library of songs in our minds.  We sing them.  We hum them.  We play them on a variety of devices over and over depending on our moods, moments and activities.  Each song by each artist is a milestone in our lives.

To this days whenever I gaze at clouds and the patterns they make, the words of Joni Mitchell from her song, Both Sides Now (Clouds), spring into my mind.  I can hear her singing it as clearly as if she is standing next to me.  This is the power of music and music makers.  Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell (Harper, HarperCollinsPublishers, February 25, 2020) written and illustrated by Selina Alko is an inspired walk into and through a life of making art.

Joni Mitchell painted with words.

These words were (and still are) her truth regardless of the emotions conveyed.  She grew up as Roberta Joan Anderson in a tiny community in Canada.  She was a child of nature and encouraged by her mother, but still she was more of a free spirit walled in by rules.  During her piano practicing, her own notes floated from her fingers.

At ten, Joni, caught polio.  Her confinement in a hospital was heartbreaking for a child which moved like the wind.  Her mother only visited once in six weeks.  She made a promise during her restricted activity.  This promise to herself became her life's work.

She started with painting, mentored by a teacher in junior high.  After saving on her own in high school she bought her first guitar.  Attending art school in college, opened a world for Joni to express herself in paint and words and music.  Meeting a folk singer from America, Chuck Mitchell, changed the course of Joni's life.  She ended up in Detroit, Michigan.

From Michigan, Joni moved to New York City.  Here Joni wrote and sang among heroes of the musical scene.  From New York City, Joni left for California.  She thrived among others with her same passion for song.  Joni sang what she saw.  Joni sang her feelings.  Missing Woodstock in 1969 resulted in Woodstock (1970).  Her fame grew.

One of her most popular albums, Blue, further cements her place as an artist able to portray her sincerest feelings through music.  Entering her mid-thirties, Joni altered her style, but not her commitment to truth.  It's in her truths so many see their own truths.

Threads woven into the tapestry of Joni Mitchell's life are expertly presented through the narrative penned by Selina Alko. Her words are as poetic and truthful as the lyrics of Joni Mitchell's songs.  Page by page we are walking alongside this distinctive musician as specific aspects of her life informed and heightened her talents.  Here is a passage.

It began in junior high.  The Andersons moved to
Saskatoon, where a teacher named Mr. Kratzmann
admired Joni's paintings.  He encouraged her to look
deep inside herself.

He said, "If you can paint with a brush, you can
paint with words."

Paintings turned to poems on the page. 

As soon as you open the matching dust jacket and book case, you find yourself drawn into a kaleidoscope of color, textures and artistic mediums.  The illustration of Joni playing in her room to the sights and sounds beneath her on the city street extends to the flap edge in a wide brush stroke of white.  On the other side of the spine, to the left, another swirl of white loops and circles at the top of the page over layers of vibrant colors.  There is a portion of a setting of the stage at Woodstock.  This design spans to the left edge, including information about Selina Alko, the jacket art and design.  On the front of the jacket, the text is varnished.

A sunny yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the initial title page an exquisite display of intermingled raindrop shapes points to the text.  A double-page picture provides a marvelous presentation for the verso and title pages.  Joni on the right is playing a piano as larger raindrop shapes, her musical words, fan out from right to left.  A butterfly is tucked into the shapes.  Shades of red, orange, blue and green are predominant.

Selina Alko rendered these illustrations using

acrylic paint, collage, found objects, and wild flowers.

All the pictures are double-age pictures.  They characterize a variety of aspects of Joni Mitchell's life and her songs.  They are replete with details and numerous elements. Text, lyrics, are tucked into the visuals.  Perspectives shift in reflection of the narrative.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations brings us close to the setting.  We are looking down on a younger Joni as she plays the piano.  Across the top of the page is the keyboard.  Her hands are on the keys as she plays her own melody.  Flowing from her head, like strands of hair, on the left and right are wide ribbons of textured paper, some with ledger lines.  It is a bold, stunning portrait.

For use in a biographical or musical themed unit, for those interested in Joni Mitchell and her music or for those who've never met her or her music previously, this book, Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell written and illustrated by Selina Alko is outstanding.  Within a two-page Author's Note Selina Alko reveals her introduction to the music of Joni Mitchell and what it means to her.  This is followed with a Discography and Bibliography.  I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Selina Alko and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Selina Alko has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  This book is showcased at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  This is a fabulous post replete with artwork.  At the publisher's website you can view other images.


To see the titles selected by other participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please take a few moments to stop at educator Alyson Beecher's Kid Lit Frenzy.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Looking For The Sunshine Side

Given the current circumstances around the world, it is safe to say with whatever people are coping, it is increasing exponentially hour by hour.  Every emotion, every incident is magnified.  Life is more terrifying.  Life is more beautiful.  Even time seems skewed; a week takes on the character of a month.

Into this comes a book revealing all the nooks and crannies in which we may find ourselves as we travel through our lives.  That's Life! (Little, Brown and Company, March 31, 2020) written by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by Cori Doerrfeld is a roller coaster ride exploring a range of experiences.  You will easily see yourself in the pages of this book.

Who could that be?

Life has shown up, as it always does, when we are completely unprepared.  We are instructed to be careful because Life is unpredictable.  In fact, it is downright wacky at times.

There is no guidebook for Life; learning is done on the run at a fast pace.  The thing is, Life can and does take you anywhere (literally) at any time.    We must appreciate these unplanned stops and starts.  What we need to realize about Life, too, is to expect the unexpected.

If Life bumps us off track, we swerve and resume.  Life continually reminds us our day to day situations are a series of opposites.  Life gives us something unsavory and we have the ability to make it delectable.  Let's be honest, Life is painful, but it doesn't stop.  Neither should we.

Every second is to be enjoyed because Life is finite.  In those rare moments of calm, Life will share how extraordinary and breathtaking it is.  For this reason, embrace Life, the results will fill your heart.

With the same glorious moments of laughter and light found in our lives, author Ame Dyckman delivers in full measure in her newest title.  It's wonderfully inventive (and perfect) to have life become a character with a capital letter.  This allows for the shift in contrasts Life delivers to be insightful but also humorous.  Here is a passage.

Don't waste a second.
Life is short, but---


Life, uh . . . finds a way.

The pristine white canvas on the open dust jacket (I'm working with an F & G.  My copy has not arrived, yet) joyfully highlights exuberant Life jumping out of the delivery box.  This illustrator's interpretation of the narrative will have you experiencing happiness at every page turn.  All the craziness of life is embodied in the fuzzy, constantly-in-motion figure.

To the left, on the back, the showcased protagonist, a wide-eyed little girl, is getting a kiss from Life, like we do from our canine companions.  She is putting on her coat, getting ready for an adventure.  The text reads:

Meet Life! Fun, messy, and MORE!

Cori Doerrfeld rendered these lively, colorful illustrations

in digital paint.

On the opening endpapers across a cloud-studded pale blue sky a red-and-white striped parachute is carrying the box labeled LIFE to its destination.  Two curious eyes peer from the inside of the box.  On the closing endpapers words of invitation are placed in a similar sky as multiple boxes drift in the air over a group of curious and excited children.  Life is busy at work, paper and pencil in hand, with the initial girl.

Each space is utilized by Cori Doerrfeld in her visual narrative.  On the verso page, the parachute releases the box upon the child's doorstep.  We see her kneeling on a chair at a table, making a list, on the title page.

Each image elevates the words of the story.  White space is used with excellence drawing our attention to the child and a specific moment.  These visuals are in various sizes dependent upon the desired emphasis.  For a single word of text and one loud sound effect we are gifted with a double-page picture.  When the story mentions you never know what

Life's gonna throw at you,

Life is shown throwing a Safari hat, paddle and life jacket to the girl.  This leads beautifully into the next scene of a wild raft trip and the upbeat wording.  Readers will delight in all the expressive facial features.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a response to the phrase---

When Life gives you lemons---

The girl has opened a box given to her by Life.  She's grinning at what she finds inside but Life is larger than life in this scene.  Life is giving, a nod in disguise, to a famous comedian.  This is one of those times when an illustrator tucks something in a book which speaks directly to older readers but also opens the door to a discussion.  I love this!

You could not ask for a more important book which addresses the issue of all the ups and downs life hands to all ages day after day.  In That's Life written by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by Cori Doerrfeld challenges are presented and they are countered with marvelous solutions being offered.  I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Ame Dyckman and Cori Doerrfeld and their other work, please access their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Ame Dyckman posts all kinds of goodness on Twitter daily.  Cori Doerrfeld has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can join in the That's Life fun by participating in quiz.  Perhaps you will be amazed at the results.  Ame Dyckman and Cori Doerrfeld chat with writer and illustrator Jena Benton at her site.  Maria Marshall interviews Cori Doerrfeld on her site, July 2019.

Get to Know THAT'S LIFE! from LB School on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Guardians Of Life

For some it starts at an early age.  We are taught by our parents, grandparents or adult mentors, to nurture and care for Earth in her entirety.  For me it was my father.  We spent early morning and evening hours in summer on the lakes and rivers fishing.  He taught me to watch the weather, the time of day and how fish might think.  We walked for miles in the woods in autumn during bow hunting season.  To and from our spot, he was always whispering to me about the various trees and plants and how to look for signs left by all animals.  (On our hunting trips, an animal never lost its life in our presence.  There is a reason for this, but that's another story.)

When it came to water, my dad had rules.  You never put anything on or into the ground which might harm the water table or any animals who frequented that area. You used water sparingly, except for keeping a garden healthy or for drinking.  To this day, I'm the one homeowner digging out hundreds of certain unwanted weeds from my gardens and lawn rather than applying harmful chemicals.

Having lived near many different small lakes and rivers or one of the Great Lakes in Michigan for more than sixty-eight years, I have witnessed their splendor and their challenges due to the careless hands of humans.  We Are Water Protectors (Roaring Brook Press, March 17, 2020) written by Carole Lindstrom (Anishinaabe/Metis and tribally enrolled with the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe) with illustrations by Michaela Goade (of Tlingit descent and tribally enrolled with the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska) is powerful in both words and artwork.  It speaks to the fierce dedication of Indigenous Peoples to guard our water and invites everyone to stand strong against those who wish to do it harm.

Water is the first medicine, Nokomis told me.

We come from water.

A grandmother chats with her granddaughter explaining how water sustains all life and how water connects us all.  Water is to be cherished.  Its sounds and movements are our sounds and movements.

It is foretold there is a deadly danger coming.  It is described as a black snake.  This black snake will bring destruction to Mother Earth, water and all the flora and fauna.  Unfortunately, the black snake has arrived, poisoning all it touches, poisoning the water.

This granddaughter listening to her elders, places their words in her heart.  There, those words fuel her actions.  She will protect her people.  She will protect their water.  She will lead them in fighting the black snake to preserve Mother Earth.

This young warrior knows this is difficult, but who else is to defend those who cannot defend themselves. Our planet and every living thing upon it, needs us to step forward as its caretakers.  Nokomis taught her granddaughter that water has a spirit, a spirit with memories of individuals' spirits.  For this reason, this daughter of Mother Earth and other Indigenous Peoples are strong in their resolve, battling as one against the black snake.  Join them.

With her meticulously chosen words, Carole Lindstrom, builds on generational traditions with respect to the vital role water plays in all aspects of life.  It is by listening to elders a continuous connection is created.  Each sentence contributes to the energy building within this narrative.

Woven into this story is the repetition of a poetic chorus, like a heartbeat, supplying strength and inspiration to readers.  This pulse ties the other portions together as if we are running in a race with the number of participants swelling until they stop and remain firm like a wall of resistance against a common foe.  Here is a passage.

The river's rhythm runs through my veins.
Runs through my people's veins.

Looking left to right across the matching and open dust jacket and book case, readers find themselves marveling at the beauty of the scene before them.  On the left, toward the upper, left-hand corner wide ripples of water waves in several hues of teal. These move over the spine to the right, in front and behind the granddaughter.  She stands tall, confident in the midst of the water, a beacon for her people.

As you can see, above the water is the royal blue landscape.  It is topped by people clasping hands, a line of defense.  These people extend over the spine to the left edge.  This entire setting is placed beneath a star-studded sky.  Some of the waves of water, as well as the granddaughter, are varnished.

The opening and closing endpapers are a pale yellow.  On the initial title page, the text is placed in a wash of blue.  On the verso and title pages waves span from left to right, providing a canvas for the words.

The illustrations by Michaela Goade, according to an interview were rendered in watercolor with

some colored pencil and gouache detailing with some digital edits in photoshop at the end.

These mostly double-page images are sweeping in the portrayals of water, the land, animals, trees and flowers and the people.  At times other details are super-imposed on the central illustration generating an effect of layers.  One page flows into the next page, like water.  The pages holding the repetitive chorus show an increase of people each time, representing a gathering force.

Each picture asks readers to pause and ponder the reality and the symbolism depicted.  To accentuate the words, Michaela Goade gives us varying points of view.  We are brought close to a hummingbird sipping nectar among flowers as other insects and a snail go about their day.  The colors are brilliantly natural.  We gaze in wonder at a landscape of rolling hills, a wide river (or lake) bordered by dense forests and a small cabin near the water.  A family of bear wander on one shore as a deer drinks from the water on the other shore.  Two birds watch from a distance as the sun lowers in the sky.  The colors are rich shades of golden yellow, pink, purple and blue.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  The canvas is a pale, nearly white, blue.  In the center stands the granddaughter.  She is looking forward, at the reader.  The tresses of her hair become swirls of water flowing out to the edges and bottom of the page.  On top of the water are stunning pink and peach water lilies, lily pads and fish.  Her hands, palms up, are cupped.  This is the picture for the passage quoted previously.

This book, We Are Water Protectors written by Carole Lindstrom with art by Michaela Goade, pays homage to water, the Indigenous Peoples who protect it and invites others to participate.  At the close of the book in a portion titled More On Water Protectors, the author talks about tribal traditions, prophecies and paths.  Her motivation for writing this book were the events surrounding the Standing Rock protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Here is an excerpt.

This is not just a Native American issue; this is a humanitarian issue.  It is time that we all become stewards of our planet so we can protect it for our children and our children's children.

A title is supplied for additional reading as well as a glossary of six terms.  The Illustrator's Note is very informative.  Here is an excerpt.

Standing Rock is just one powerful example of what happens when we rise up, resist, and join together in solidarity for Mother Earth regardless of where we come from.  

The final page, Earth Steward And Water Protector Pledge, has a place for a name and a date.  With certainty I can recommend this book for every personal and professional collection.  Its value is priceless.

To learn more about Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Carole Lindstrom has accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  Michaela Goade has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images. This book and its creators are featured at Publishers Weekly, and CBC-Radio-CanadaCarole Lindstrom is highlighted at KidLit 411 and Prairie Public NewsMichaela Goade is showcased at Let's Talk Picture BooksCarole Lindstrom reads their book in this video.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A Raptor Reality

Deep in the darkening shadows of night, a sound echoes from the trees.  Along an empty roadway, the heavy flapping of wings stirs the air around bare branches.  You hear them more than see these mostly nocturnal predators.  It's a gift to observe one in the wild.

Known as mighty hunters, they silently and swiftly strike.  Their combined physical characteristics create a deadly force.  Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story (G. P. Putnam's Sons, March 3, 2020) written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Jonathan Voss is an informative, captivating exploration of the life cycle of these majestic birds.

A great horned owl pair
Finds a squirrel's nest of oak leaves
Perched high in a pine.

This haiku poem is the first of twenty-four beautifully worded insights.  Each observation adds to our growing knowledge of great horned owls.  It's as if we are present, watching this duo day by day through the seasons.

The newly discovered nest is re-fashioned while snow still coats the ground.  The owl pair are not without enemies; crows are a constant distraction.  The male hunts while the female tends the eggs, three pale orbs.

Even the most vigilant parents can loose an egg, a feast for a nearby woodland creature.  After the remaining two eggs hatch, mother and father feed, shield and guard them.  Watch out for that hawk!  Owlets venture from the nest, testing their feathers.  Flap wings, flap!  Flee from a waiting fox!  A mother dives.

Owlets rest, now safely back in their nest, eyes glowing in the night.  Parents protect.  Owlets learn to survive as months pass.  When autumn approaches, wings lift two to begin their lives away from the only home they've known.

With each haiku, writer Maria Gianferrari brings us deeper into the sensory experience of being a great horned owl.  Her masterful use of this literary form provides facts but also supplies us with a range of emotional moments.  We become one with these raptors through alliteration, onomatopoeia and poetry. Here are two more haiku.

Mama lays an egg
In the starlight it glistens
A moon of its own.

Pip. Pip. Pip. Poking.
A hole, cracking. Cracking. Crack!
Pink owlet pecks out.

Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case readers will have to remind themselves to breathe.  This stunning portrait of the great horned owl parents and two owlets presents them for the nobility they are.  This nocturnal setting shows them at their realistic best.  The exquisite details throughout the book begin with this initial image.  The use of light and shadow is excellent.

The trunk of the tree crosses the spine to show the male in flight, wings spread upward.  Its eyes are searching, glowing as it gazes.  This bird is poised for action.  The tip of the left wing bleeds off the top, indicating motion.

A dark forest green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page the male and female have located an empty squirrel nest.  The one perches on a branch above the nest, as the other, wings up, prepares to land in the nest. On the final page, tree branches frame the text as a great horned owl, mouth open, flies between the dedication and publication information.


using sepia ink and watercolor on Arches 300# hot press watercolor paper with color added digitally

by artist Jonathan Voss these illustrations elevate the words.  The depiction of the settings, seasons and time of day involves you completely as readers.  All the pictures are double-page visuals.  Sometimes the text is tucked into an image.  Other times a column is supplied on either the right or the left for the narrative.  Jonathan Voss has painted a smaller separate illustration to be placed on these columns at the bottom.  They expand the story vividly.

To place emphasis on pacing Jonathan Voss alters the point of view.  When the crows initially attack, it is at night.  We see them swooping against a somewhat cloudy sky with the full moon peeking through as the female owl, closer to us, defends the nest.  When the fox tries to consume the owlet and the mother plunges to the rescue, we are right in the action.  You can hear all the loud sounds amid the fury of wings and snapping teeth.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the first owlet cracks through the egg.  We are very close to this wonder of new life.  The nest is shown along the bottom of the page.  The mother owl's body extends from left to right.  On the left her head is shifted to look at the newly emerged owl baby.  Her wing acts as a sheltering roof over the small bird.  The use of color and shading is radiant.

This book, Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Jonathan Voss, is a remarkable nonfiction depiction.  Two pages at the end are devoted to twelve more fascinating facts and a list of resources divided into books, websites and videos.  I can't imagine a personal or professional collection without a copy of this book.

To learn more about Maria Gianferrari and Jonathan Voss and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Maria Gianferrari has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  Jonathan Voss has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view the title page.  This title is highlighted with interviews at Mrs. Knott's Book Nook, Jennifer Mary G, Wild Delight and Miss Marple's Musings.

WHOO's Maria Gianferrari?  She's a self-proclaimed bird nerd with a special fondness for raptors.  Her love affair with birds began in 7th grade science class when her teacher, Mr. Lefebvre, initiated a bird count.  While walking in her neighborhood, Maria's always on the look-out for all kinds of birds, and she loves searching winter treetops for nests in her northern Virginia neighborhood where she lives with her German-scientist husband and German speaking daughter.  This is her first book with GP Putnam's Sons.  She's also the author of another bird book, Hawk Rising

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Sleep Tight Garden Residents

Several weeks ago, marked the arrival of two boxes of materials to construct raised-garden beds.  Yesterday an order for twenty bags of soil was sent.  Packets of seeds are waiting for the right combination of warmth and water for planting.  Centuries of practice dictate it will soon be time for personal, community and large-scale gardeners, farmers, to begin their work.

Gardening is a partnership between humans and Mother Nature involving hard work and respect.  Goodnight, Veggies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 10, 2020) written by Diane Murray with illustrations by Zachariah OHora is a lovely, loving lullaby to edibles and their efforts.  From beginning to end, readers will feel their appreciation for produce expanding as each word and image fashions a comforting, cheerful harmony.

Sunset in the garden.

Robins watch from a nest as a sole gardener tends to a community garden.  One by one the individual vegetables are visited and observed as evening descends.  Below the dirt turnips and potatoes get ready to rest.

Tomatoes, eyes closing in fatigue, quietly murmur a melody.  Cocooned in leaves, cauliflowers snuggle as nearby neighbors sag with weariness.  Storytime begins in the rhubarb patch as broccoli and baby plants listen.

Teeny, tiny eggplants, new to the world, dream dreams of travel.  Where will they go?  Other scrumptious roots relax.  Cabbage, celery and corn are eager to doze.  (Some need to sleep more than others.)

As moonlight shimmers and stars sparkle, the vegetables cozy in their beds slumber.  If we happen to tiptoe past, we will see why this pause has purpose.  Can you surmise?

This lilting bedtime poem written by Diana Murray is certain to soothe readers of all ages.  The use of descriptive alliteration and rhyming words at phrase endings is certain to have you humming if not singing a song softly aloud.  The array of vegetables will have you reaching for the nearest seed catalog as soon as possible.  Here is a passage.

Turnips tucked in tightly.
Potatoes closing eyes.

Tuckered-out tomatoes
humming lullabies.

When you open the dust jacket the cross-section of vegetables in repose spreads over the spine to the back edge.  Another sleeping turnip and dozing carrot are featured on the back.  The smiling, dapper worm wearing a cap and single shoe on the front is a showcased extra in the garden throughout the book.  The color palette is eye-catching and engaging.

On a white canvas a variety of veggies are highlighted on the book case.  From the back to the front thirteen are shown, smiling.  Each one is labeled.  On the front the worm stands in the lower, right-hand corner.  By him words read:

What will
you grow in 

A bright, cross-hatched design in turquoise covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page in a charming display, the worm is reclining on a striped sun lounger underneath a trio of poles entwined in vines of peas.  Each image is rendered

with 100% vegetarian printmaking and acrylic paint.

Each double-page picture is an illustrative, interpretive joy.  Illustrator Zachariah OHora presents shifting perspectives, as well as, combining different points of view in a single visual.  In the first scene we see an adult and child sitting on steps on the street below as the sun sets.  As our eyes move to the right, solar panels on a roof capture heat as a woman waters plants in the rooftop garden.  Alongside the building is a large tree, home to a robin's nest.  In the next image we zoom closer to the tree, as our worm adventurer and guide hops from the tree to the garden.  We continually move closer and closer to the vegetables.

The vegetables are happily winding down a day of growing with smiles and drowsy eyes.  Rocks and roots are shown underground as a tiny yellow butterfly flutters above them.  Bees are busy as tiny blossoms bloom.  The final illustration of the worm in his home is priceless.  The matte-finished paper is perfect for these pictures by providing and increasing texture.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is of the cauliflowers and peas.  The bottom half of the picture is a look at the ground below the surface.  The pathway of the worm cuts through the dirt across and up as he pops out for a look at the peas on the right.  Roots of the cauliflowers on the left and peas on the right stretch down.  A larger cauliflower embraces a smaller one with a curled leaf.  Two bees fly from the cauliflowers.  The peas in their pods hang down from a tripod made of sturdy sticks.

In spreading a sense of calm to readers Goodnight, Veggies written by Diana Murray with illustrations by Zachariah OHora, we also take a delicious, delightful journey through a garden.  This book is an excellent addition to the bedtime collection of books and is certain to inspire gardening.  I highly recommend it for your personal and professional collections. 

You might want to include this title with Bedtime for Sweet Creatures, Just Because, Sleep Train, Good Day, Good Night, The Perfect Siesta, All ears, all eyes, It Is Not Time For Sleeping: (A Bedtime Story), The Moon's Almost Here, Goodnight Everyone, or Cricket Song. You might like to use books contained in Sweet Dreams Picture Book August 10 for 10.  Hoping you will all maintain a sense of peace.

To learn more about Diana Murray and Zachariah OHora, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Diana Murray has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.  Zachariah OHora has accounts on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Finding Solace In Nature

In times of great adversity, the people on this planet tend to seek calm in our natural world.  During the current crisis of a pandemic around the world, the arrival of spring in the northern hemisphere is a welcome declaration of hope.  Despite what is happening in the human world, nature stays the course.  The sighting of a first robin, a sliver of a rainbow or the tips of tulip leaves poking through the dirt send our spirits soaring.

Like spring itself, bursting forth with new life, many March releases in children's literature embrace the wonders of our outdoor environment.  Nesting (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, March 3, 2020 written and illustrated by Henry Cole focuses on the annual ritual of robins becoming a pair, building a nest and how the hatched eggs grow and prosper to become part of the flock.  A marvelous color palette will fully fascinate readers.

It is an early spring morning.
The ground is covered with frost.
From the branch of an apple tree, 
a robin starts to sing.

He sings a warning to other males and sings an invitation to a nearby female.  Together the new duo finds materials to fashion a nest in a discovered nook.  Completed it provides a place with purpose for the female.

She lays one, two, three, four eggs.  They are a brilliant blue against the nest.  Calmly she cares for those eggs, as the baby birds grow inside.  When they finally hatch, they rely completely on their parents.  They need to be fed and fed and fed some more.  Their parents are busy flying to and from the nest.

This nest shelters the tiny birds from a brief storm.  It harbors them when a sneaky snake wants them for food.  Like fierce warriors the male and female robins chase the intruder away.

Soon feathers form on the babies and they grow, crowding each other out of the nest.  As fledglings they learn to fly and find their own food.  When spring turns to summer and summer turns to autumn the robins prepare for winter and their long flight south.  Even as the snow falls, we know they will return in the spring to chase away males and call for a female to begin the cycle once more.

The beauty of these birds is presented in the simplicity of the language used by Henry Cole.  Each moment in this life cycle is described in careful detail to replicate the scene for readers.  Henry Cole also establishes a rhythm in the use of his words similar to the rhythm of robins in each season. We are very much a part of their lives.  Here is a passage.

The nest is finished.
It is perfect.
It is just the right size and shape.
The mother robin settles into it and sits quietly.

The most striking, visually arresting, aspect of the matching and open dust jacket and book case is between the three robin's eggs and the nest.  If you've ever seen robin's eggs in the wild, Henry Cole has depicted this in stunning reality.  The title text on the jacket is done in copper foil.

To the left, on the back, on a cream background, three baby robins, now with feathers, are struggling to find a spot in the nest.  They have outgrown their home.  On the opening and closing endpapers is a canvas of brilliant robin's egg blue.

The title page is a vast display of the bare branches of a single tree reaching out from left to right on a double-page picture.  The male robin is flying toward it from the lower, right-hand corner.  All the images by Henry Cole are rendered in

Micron pens and acrylic paints.  

For the most part they appear in black and white.  The illustration sizes range from double-page pictures to single-page visuals framed in fine lines, to groupings of smaller images on a single page, a series of vertical panels on two pages or clusters of rectangles on two pages and full-page pictures, edge to edge.  For the slightest bit of shading, the robin's egg blue is sometimes used as spot color.  The most impressive use of this blue is in the eggs.  The delicate lines used by this artist and his details are nearly photographic.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans nearly two pages.  It's as if we are looking from the bottom of a tree up to the bird's nest in the nook where is rests.  Leaves swirl in the wind as lightning cuts a jagged edge through the sky.  The nest is firmly in place with the female robin faithfully sitting on the babies to protect them.  This is in black and white.  A column is created on the left by the expanse of the image from left to right crossing the gutter.

As an introduction to spring as a season of rebirth, a study of birds or robins in particular, Nesting written and illustrated by Henry Cole is excellent.  One page at the end is devoted to five more facts about robins in an Author's Note.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Henry Cole and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Henry Cole has an account on Facebook.

There is no doubt about the value of bees as essential elements in world ecology.  Due to their drastic reduction in population, more people have entered the field as keepers of bees.  Kaia and the Bees (Candlewick Press, March 10, 2020) written by Maribeth Boelts with illustrations by Angela Dominguez explores life with a young girl whose father is a beekeeper.

I'm the brave type.
Like hottest-hot-pepper brave.
And furry-spider-in-the-basement brave.

Despite her bold claims, Kaia was not brave around bees.  Being stung once was enough to instill fear in her.  And to make matters worse, her dad, a beekeeper, had thousands of bees in hives on the roof of their building.

Her father, knowledgeable about bees, explained to her their value but she never went with him to the hives.  Did she tell her friends about her fear?  She did not.  They thought she was an expert like her dad until one day her dread was revealed.

Her friends' reaction to her fear made Kaia mad and determined to face her foe.  She donned protective gear and followed her dad, also in a suit, hood and gloves, to the roof.  As her father explained the bees and hives to Kaia her bravery increased.  Then she made the mistake of removing her glove.  Kaia was stung again!  She did not go back to the roof.

Soon it was time to get the honey from the hives.  Kaia, her mother and father worked all day in their kitchen, filling jars with honey.  A quiet conversation with her father, another insect incident and final understanding completes this story of bees and courage, and a parent and their child.

Written with the experience of being a keeper of bees, Maribeth Boelts uses a blend of first person narrative and dialogue to convey Kaia's story.  Each of the characters are realistic in their demeanor so as to connect with readers.  Maribeth Boelts' ability to weave information into the story of Kaia and her fear of bees is outstanding.  Here is a passage.

The honey flows, and I want to draw a picture.
But no crayon is that golden, and you can't draw the smell
of warm, sweet honey filling our apartment.

Kaia's face, deftly portrayed, front and center on the right of the open and matching dust jacket and book case, asks a question of readers.  We want to know why Kaia appears to fear the bees.  We want to know why Kaia is near bees.  The use of purple and golden yellow, complementary colors, is a pleasing design choice.

To the left, on the back, on a purple canvas, Kaia is standing to the left of her father as he lifts a frame of bees from the hive.  Both are wearing beekeeping apparel.  In the upper, left-hand corner is a large portion of honeycomb with two bees working on it.

The opening and closing endpapers are an enlarged honeycomb in rich golden-yellow shades with three bees hard at work.  These three are placed in the corners.  One is coming in from the bottom of the page.

These illustrations by Angela Dominguez rendered with

colored pencil on illustration board, with color added digitally

are as bright and bold as Kaia.  The full-color images on a crisp white background invite readers into the story.  A variety of perspectives and image sizes supplies readers with a captivating and pleasing visual glimpse into facing a fear.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a full-page picture, edge to edge.  On a very pale blue background we are close to Kaia.  With her gloved hands on either side of her face she is facing forward, gazing at a bee drinking water.  You can see she is becoming more relaxed around the bees.  She is excited to see the bee in its own setting.

Kaia and the Bees written by Maribeth Boelts with illustrations by Angela Dominguez is a book to be enjoyed for numerous reasons.  It's a story of bravery.  It's a story of beekeeping.  It's a story of how to care for those who can't care for themselves.  I highly recommend this book for both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Maribeth Boelts and Angela Dominguez and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Maribeth Boelts has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Angela Dominguez has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website and Penguin Random House you can view interior images.  At the publisher's website is an Author's Note you can download and print.  Maribeth Boelts is the guest blogger for March 2020 at The TeachingBooks Blog.  Illustrator Angela Dominguez talks to us about this book in a video.

As children, if we are fortunate, there will be someone young or old who will ignite a spark within us for the natural world.  They will teach us to notice and value every aspect of the landscape around us.  We will learn everything large and small, seen and unseen, has a place.  The Keeper of Wild Words (Chronicle Books, March 10, 2020) written by Brooke Smith with illustrations by Madeline Kloepper presents an affectionate relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter.  This relationship blooms into an appreciation for and preservation of words and what they represent.

At the end of a long cinder lane,
surrounded by meadows
and pine trees and sky
that wrapped around and back again,

Brook ran up to her grandmother's door,
swung it open,
and she belonged.

On this day she had a request for her grandmother.  Brook needed something for the first day of school, something special for show-and-tell.    Her grandmother had a request of her, too.  Her grandmother, Mimi, was an author.  Mimi had a list of words, words that were disappearing because they were not being used.  She asked Brook to protect these words by being The Keeper of Wild Words.

Mimi showed the list of words to Brook asking her to take a walk, from light until dark to discover the words.  As soon as they began, the first word, WREN, uttered a melody to capture their attention.  Flowers sprang from the ground, fruit grew on prickly vines and seeds from large trees were at her feet.

At a nearby pond tiny MINNOWS and a BEAVER swam.  Herbs around the pond offered a sharp, savory treat as a water bird took flight.  Bright-patterned insects and a bounty of wildflowers fluttered and blanketed her path.

A rare sight of STARLINGS flew in unison where Mimi and Brook rested.  From the meadow into the forest, they walked.  Quietly they moved to cherish the flora and fauna, not disturbing either.  A final sighting, a final word, not only brought the day full circle but gave Brook a loving look at the origin of her name.  That evening a grandmother and her granddaughter paused, remembered and celebrated wild words.

Like the world seen in this book, the words written by Brooke Smith are connected in a constant and enchanting chain.  Each one serves as a priceless piece in a larger whole.  Each time a word is disclosed, the scene is described with poetic joy.  There is a blend of narrative and dialogue making the shared day and evening personal, intimate.  Here is a passage.

POPPIES in the corner of the yard
suddenly popped open!
Paper petals reaching to the sun.

When you open the dust jacket the foreground of the flowers, close to the reader, extends over the spine to the far-left flap (and on the right).  The area on the other side of the path where Brook and Mimi walk also extends over the spine to the flap edges.  Portions of the dandelion floating in the air on the right, float on the left, too.  A tiny butterfly glides on the far left.  By the body language and facial expressions on Brook and Mimi we are aware of their close relationship.  The title text is varnished.

On the book case is a pattern of flowers, ferns, leaves, birds, feathers, animal prints, seeds, and a nest.  They are tiny.  They look as if they have been gathered by a naturalist for safekeeping.

On the opening endpapers Brook, wearing her bicycle helmet, rides past a group of flowers, ferns and shrubs to her grandmother's house.  The verso and title pages are a continuation of this floral design.  A wren is placed on the left.  On the right, the text is written on a piece of notebook paper tucked into the grass.

Each illustration created by Madeline Kloepper using

mixed media and Photoshop

spans two pages, except for two single-page pictures.  At times we are shown a larger, nearly panoramic view and then brought close to the characters in a natural setting for emphasis.  The colors and lines are soft.  The details are delicate.  Even inside Mimi's home we are a part of nature.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the twosome is first beginning their walk.  On the left, Mimi and Brook have stopped among bunches of violets.  In a closer perspective dozens and dozens of red poppies nod from the right across the gutter to the left.  In the center of this setting a full sun, rays extended, shines.

Not only is The Keeper of Wild Words written by Brooke Smith with illustrations by Madeline Kloepper a tribute to words and our natural world, it is a daily adventure between two like souls.  At the close of the book is a two-page Author's Note.  This is followed by an envelope adhered to the binding in which to store your own wild words.  The closing endpapers feature a notebook paper on the left and items of nature on the right.  This book is a wonderful choice for your personal and professional collections.  It inspires us to write down and seek our own wild words.

To learn more about Madeline Kloepper, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Madeline Kloepper has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  At this link you can listen to a portion of the audiobook on SoundCloud.  Courtesy of this video by Let's Talk Picture Books you can view the book case.

The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith and Madeline Kloepper from Let's Talk Picture Books on Vimeo.

With millions and millions of people around the world currently confined to their homes under a quarantine or because of isolation, the appeal of the outdoor world and being a part of it has more allure than ever.  Why is it we don't fully appreciate the value of something until it's no longer readily available?  During this time some will be able to go solo in parks or designated walkways or neighborhoods, some will dream of days when nature will envelope them again, others will recall countless adventures in the outdoors, and many can travel within the pages of a book.  HIKE (Candlewick Press, March 17, 2020) conceived and illustrated by Pete Oswald is a nearly wordless trek into the best nature has to offer.

We start as the sun starts to rise on a neighborhood in the suburbs.  A dad, still clad in his pajamas and holding a cup of coffee, gently wakes his child up.  Slow to wake, the child suddenly jumps from bed remembering what this day will bring.  The child and their father, dress and pack, and drive from their home, through the city and into the country.

The road takes them higher and higher until they reach a trail head.  Putting on their backpacks, they head up the path into the forest and into the mountains.  They observe birds and wildlife as they are observed in kind.  Pictures are taken, sketches are made and each turn on the trail reveals new fun like a thrown snowball and challenges like crossing a log over a swift river.

After resting and snacking, they continue to climb.  Now wearing helmets, they scale rocks to top a ledge with a spectacular view.  Later, on more level ground, readers will be intrigued to see them pause.  An item is removed from the child's backpack.  A picture as proof is taken.

As shadows lengthen and the sun starts to dip from the sky, the duo reaches their car.  A celebration of their accomplishments is enjoyed before the drive home begins.  The car moves down the mountain, into the city, the suburbs and into their driveway.  Nighttime rituals fill this home with warmth as one final deed of the day chronicles their HIKE.

Pete Oswald has conceived a story of companionship and exploration with memorable achievements in a single day.  He offers, through this book, a means for others to partake in comparable activities.  He shows us how to treat each other and our world with respect and love.

On the matching and open dust jacket and book case, readers gaze in complete admiration at the design of the title with the father and child climbing up the letters.  Small moments in their day are depicted in each letter.  By placing these elements on white our focus is directed at the characters and the title.

To the left, on the back, is a majestic forested mountain scene.  Bald eagles float in a sky wispy with clouds.  The text here reads:

A father and child head out on a hike,
keeping a cherished family tradition alive.

On the opening and closing endpapers in shades of brown is a map of the trip from their home to a star shown in the mountains.  From the opening endpapers a page turn shows the parent and child, dressed and carrying their backpacks, standing side by side with their walking sticks in hand.  The title page, a two-page picture is a bird's eye view of their home with the cityscape and mountains in the background as the sun rises.

Pete Oswald rendered these pictures digitally with the few words, sounds, lettered by hand.  Images are single page, double page, and groups of smaller illustrations to indicate the passage of moments.  Sometimes with a minimum of details a great deal of emotion is conveyed as when we are only shown one hand reaching for another hand after a frightening deed.  Like real life, these glimpses are powerful and meaningful.  We are aware continually of the mood of the child and father through their expressive faces.  In each scene Pete Oswald has captured the rich and rare experience of being a part of nature.  His images are sensory in every aspect.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  It is a bird's eye perspective of the father and child walking on the path in the forest.  Tall trees and grass stretch from either side of the path.  Flowers, like stars, are sprinkled throughout the setting.  In the upper left-hand portion of the visual a fox slowly moves.  On the other side of the path, on the left, a female bird perches on a nest with three eggs high in a treetop.  On the right, near the gutter, the male bird brings another twig to the nest.  The duo walks toward the upper, right-hand corner of the page.  You know they walk in silence except for the sounds of the forest.

This book, HIKE conceived and illustrated by Pete Oswald, is a glorious day spent with nature.  To hike in the woods in the mountains is a unique undertaking but to do so with someone you love, it's extraordinary.  This is cleverly and creatively presented by Pete Oswald.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Pete Oswald and his other work, access his website by following the link attached to his name.  Pete Oswald has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website and at Penguin Random House you can view interior images.  This title is featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and at Mel Schuit's Let's Talk Picture Books.