Quote of the Month

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

Friday, September 25, 2020

Shaping Our Place In Society

From the time we first enter this world, until we exit, we are, by tiny steps or great leaps, a growing part of a glorious whole.  Whether we act alone, or with others, we are striving to not only find our place in society, but to help others find their place.  We protect.  We preserve.

If the last few years, specifically this year, have taught us nothing else, from this collection of days we know to take nothing for granted.  We know deep gratitude.  We know we cannot be silent, except when it is necessary to fuel our determined actions.  

Within the last two months four special books with a common theme have been released.  Each provides us with information, guidance, and inspiration.  They, individually and together, work as a means for discussions.  V Is For Voting (Henry Holt And Company, July 21, 2020) written by Kate Farrell with illustrations by Caitlin Kuhwald is an alphabet book designed to explain how each individual can make a difference.  It's an invitation we cannot refuse.

A is for active participation.
B is for building a more equal nation.

The next two letters focus on citizenship and our diversity.  It is followed by the need for all of us to be involved.  It is important to keep informed by a free press.  Our government is not only about leading the people but offering guidance.  H speaks to the truth of lands lost to occupation.  

Each person has a purpose, beginning in our communities.  As we pass the middle of the alphabet, we are reminded that each vote is important.  We cannot forget those who paved the way for a better life for future generations.

We need to have goals and stick to those goals, even if it means protesting.  We need to seek answers to our questions and hold those who represent us accountable. Education by 

talented teachers

gives us facts, and the ability to gather additional facts.  

Each time we vote, we are gaining ground toward change for the good.  Each time we vote, we exercise our rights.  Each time we vote, our voice is heard.

The strength of each statement for each letter is like a symphony building toward a crescendo.  Kate Farrell increases our participation in her narrative by rhyming the final word in each pair of letters. Sometimes, she will add another short sentence to the first to fashion the rhyme. Each sentence begins with the letter followed by is for.  Here is another couplet for a single letter.

S is for suffrage---the right to vote.
This fight is ongoing, not history's footnote.

When you open the cover (I am working with an F & G.  My copy has not yet arrived.), the colorful, bold images of illustrator Caitlin Kuhwald are an ideal complement to the text. Her focus on using red, white, and blue, and diverse people is a realistic nod to our country.  The girl, front and center, is shown, as are some of the other people, throughout the book. 

To the left, on the back, two other children are featured protesting.  The boy is holding a sign which reads:


To his right the girl has extended her left arm, fingers holding up the peace sign.

On the opening and closing endpapers are rows and rows of boxes.  In between the black boxes are hearts, stars and peace signs in shades of red.  Many of the boxes have a red x through them to indicate voting.  This design is placed on a cream background.

Throughout the book, the image sizes shift from single-page pictures, edge to edge, to double-page pictures, edge to edge.  For many of them two letters are used in a single illustration.  We see mixed-race families, people of different religious beliefs, and single-parent families.  Historical figures are used as examples with particular statements. In all the people's faces, readers will see calm, but resolve.

One of my favorite illustrations is a full-page image.  It features the neck and chin, torso, and one hand of a distinctive individual.  This beloved person is wearing a black robe with a white lace collar.  Their hand is over their heart.  It interprets these words:

J is for judges.  They're meant to be fair.
To be neutral, unbiased, objective, they swear.

Every collection, personal and professional, will want to have a copy of V Is For Voting written by Kate Farrell with illustrations by Caitlin Kuhwald.  Now, more than ever, all ages need to make educated decisions and exercise their right to vote.  At the close of the book is a short author's note and five discussions about the people highlighted in the letters G, N, S, T and U.  There is also A VOTING RIGHTS TIMELINE.

To learn more about illustrator Caitlin Kuhwald and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Caitlin Kuhwald has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view a series of interior images including the final two pages.

Every day we read or hear about the achievements of a single person.  We are encouraged by the power of their deeds regardless of the size of those deeds or the size or age of the person.  They make us brave.   The POWER of ONE: Every Act of Kindness Counts (Alfred A. Knopf, August 25, 2020) written by Trudy Ludwig with illustrations by Mike Curato is a beautiful portrait of change.

Sometimes One can feel like
a small and lonely number.

But don't let this little number fool you. 

It only takes one person to reach out to another person who needs comfort or support.  Beginnings start with one.  With this one, change is shaped.

One person listens.  One person smiles.  This is the start of connected hearts.

This one being can invite other people to listen and smile, comfort and show support.  Working together heals our souls, those injured and those who caused injury.  Extended warmth and heartfelt ideas make bridges linking more generous hearts.

We need to acknowledge and remember the miracle of a single seed.  Together these single seeds can feed physical and emotional hunger.  This is 


The words written by Trudy Ludwig in this story read like a poem.  Her spare, truthful text makes profound statements and supplies examples in support of those statements.  They also allow us to think between each page turn, imagining how these apply to our own lives.  Her repetition of the word one, is, like the word, powerful.  Here is another sentence.

One warm hug . . .

can lift our spirits up when
we're feeling down.

The front of the open dust jacket not only signifies the implications of the title, but hints at images to come in the body of the book.  The flower and its seeds are important.  Can you see the outline of other people in the glowing background?  To the left, on the back, is a depiction of the child on the front, seated on the ground, after cruel words hurt her.  The first, one, girl to comfort her is kneeling next to her.  This image is beneath the words:

One is the starting point for change.

Beneath the illustration are two endorsements.

On the book case artist Mike Curato shows us a close-up picture of a lush garden, full of leaves, ferns, pods, and fronds.  They are in shades of blues and greens.  Rising and curling from the right side of the spine is a single stem with a red and open flower on it.  Small sparkles in white come from the center.

The opening and closing endpapers are a cheery yellow.  Prior to the title page a wordless image tells the tale of verbal injury with a single soul watching.  Another two-page picture continues this tale for the title page.

On heavy, matte-finished paper  

using pencil, colored pencil, gouache, watercolor, paper, digital color, and photo collage

Mike Curato makes a mix of colorful elements and those in tones of black and gray.  This brings our attention to the main characters and his visual interpretation of the story.  He alternates between more panoramic views to those close to the people.  Sometimes a single item fills the page or captures our attention because it is alone in a larger context.  

The single flower growing as a symbol of friendship, apology, and forgiveness is wonderful.  The continued growth of the garden shows how one can multiple into many.  Many readers will see themselves in the children, from diverse races, highlighted here.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is for the passage above noted.  It spans two pages.  On the left is an enormous garden filled with blue and green leaves of all varieties.  From this garden a single stem has expanded to include three large red flowers and a smaller red one.  The largest flower blooms from the stem to the right of the gutter.  Inside the girl is being given a hug by the boy who hurt her, and she is hugging him back.  Under and to the right of them, another girl is smelling the tiny flower.

We have a choice to hurt and to heal.  The POWER of ONE: Every Act of Kindness Counts by Trudy Ludwig with illustrations by Mike Curato is a lovely example in words and artwork of the art of healing.  It presents to readers loving possibilities.  At the close of the book is a letter from Trudy Ludwig titled Planting Seeds of Kindness in Your Community.  It is followed by Recommended Books for Young Readers and Recommended Websites.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Trudy Ludwig and Mike Curato and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Trudy Ludwig has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Mike Curato has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

It happened the day after our forty-fifth president was inaugurated.  It was January 21, 2017.  At this time, it is the largest single day event, a protest, in United States history.  It is called The Women's March 2017. Based upon a true story Love Is Powerful (Candlewick Press, September 8, 2020) written by Heather Dean Brewer with illustrations by LeUyen Pham follows a little girl as she and her mother get ready to show the world how strong love is.

Mari spilled her crayons onto the
table.  They made a messy rainbow.

"What are we coloring, Mama?"
she asked.

Mama smiled.  "A message for the

Mari was concerned how the world would hear their message.  It's a huge place.  Her mother said 

love is powerful.

Mama wrote words on one poster, too small, Mari thought for the world to see.  On her sign, thinking of her family and friends, Mari wrote her message, the words of her mother.  

Wearing coats to warm them in the cold, the duo left their apartment, going down on the elevator to the street below.  There, they joined a crowd of people.  Again, Mari was concerned people could not hear their message in all this noise.

Soon, Mama lifted Mari to her shoulders.  From there Mari saw the sea of people stretching beyond her sight.  They were carrying signs and cheerfully chatting and shouting.  Still wondering if people could hear her message, Mari called it out.

To her surprise a single voice called it back.  She called it out again.  More voices called it back.  This four-letter word released its full potential that day, started by the voice of a child, a child who now knew the truth.

We happily join in this story as we read or listen to the conversation between Mari and her mother at the start of the book.  Author Heather Dean Brewer engages us immediately with this technique.  Mari's mother's reply to each of her questions with the title words increases the connection to the event in which they are participating.  Layer by layer it draws us toward the amazing conclusion.  Here is a passage.

Some held signs like Mari's, all saying different things.
Everyone cheered as they walked together.  Mama joined
them.  Mari bobbed above the crowd like a canary fluttering
over trees.  She felt as tall as one of the buildings. 

You can feel the sense of purpose when you look at the front, right, of the open dust jacket.  People are peaceful and happy to be able to voice their views in protest.  Not only does this scene mirror the title, but it mirrors the mood of the crowd.  The title text, solid red hearts, Mari and her mother are varnished.  It's a wonderful design style to combine bright colors with muted colors.

To the left, on the back, we are shown, on a canvas of pinkish lavender a picture of Mari and Mama.  Within a loose frame done in red crayon they are seated at the table making their posters.  The string of hearts hangs in their window behind them.  

On the book case, back and front, is a collage, in separate but blended squares, of people from the march.  You can tell these images represent all the marches on that day from around the world.  In the center on the right front, in a large square of its own, is the title.

The opening and closing endpapers are a lavender.  A two-page picture of the buildings in hues of gray of Mari's neighborhood, with the occupants standing in lighted windows, is the setting for the title page.  Artist LeUyen Pham rendered these pictures 

in watercolor, gouache, pencil, and ink.

Their size shifts with the text, enhancing its pacing. There are large images crossing the gutter to make a column for text.  There are double-page pictures with double-page smaller horizontal visuals underneath them.  Sometimes there are small vignettes accompanying the text.  There are full-page illustrations.  There is one large double-page vertical picture requiring you to turn the book.  There are three smaller vertical illustrations attached to one huge swirl of humanity on a full page.

Love abounds in every picture.  So does happiness, mirrored on all the faces.  We are always aware of where Mari and Mama are.  Readers will pause to notice the details; the items in Mari's and Mama's home which make it theirs, the words on the protesters' signs, the diversity of the participants in the march, and all the illustrations have hearts in them.

One of my many, many favorite images is for the quote above noted.  It is a close-up view of the marchers.  Buildings are behind those on the right and on the far left.  We see a collection of smiling faces, mouths open in cheers, and many holding signs.  There are adults and children.  Mari on Mama's shoulders is on the left side.  She watches all this in joyful contemplation.

Love Is Powerful written by Heather Dean Brewer with illustrations by LeUyen Pham is as strong as its title.  It presents an intimate portrait of happiness found when words are brought alive by actions.  At the close of the book is a letter from the real Mari along with a picture of her at the march.  This title has my highest recommendation for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Heather Dean Brewer and LeUyen Pham and their other work, visit their websites by following the link attached to their name.  Heather Dean Brewer has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  LeUyen Pham has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At Watch. Connect. Read., the site of Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, Heather Dean Brewer and LeUyen Pham talk about this book.  At Penguin Random House you can view interior images.

In a beautiful continuation of their collaboration, author Susan Verde and artist Peter H. Reynolds, bring to readers another thoughtful title.  This book guides readers in making a difference.  No matter how small you are, you can bring change to yourself and more importantly, to others.  I Am One: A Book of Action (Abrams Books for Young Readers, September 15, 2020) welcomes you to make the first move.

How do I 
make a difference?

It seems like a tall order
for one so small.

The young child is told things of beauty begin with one.  One seed planted in the ground, one stroke of a paintbrush, or one brick removed from a wall can lead to the greater good.  Are not gardens, paintings, and friends better?

When a wall is gone, we can form bonds with those we were previously unaware.  Still using the number one, each gesture increases the bond between the two individuals.  A word, a hug, and a candle pave the path for the duo.

They arrive at a body of water.  A drop of candlewax in the water produces a ripple, growing and growing and growing.  The friends ride on the swells in a boat carrying their special cargo to new shores.

There they are greeted by others. Individuals, working together, to create a transformation.  They take what was, forming a marvelous masterpiece.

From her initial and only question, author Susan Verde weaves a tapestry of story.  Each of her carefully crafted thoughts add color and detail.  The common thread is the word one.  She begins with the first child, but with the mention of a brick and breaking down walls, another character is welcomed.  It is at this point, the color and detail become more vivid and intricate, representing the realm of possibility.  Here are two companion sentences.

I can use my
One soft voice
to start a friendship. 

I can perform
One act of kindness
to start a connection.

The color white is superbly used throughout this title to highlight the characters and their actions.  The spiral of hues of blue on the front of the dust jacket behind the first child symbolizes the ripples from the single drop of wax.  To the left, on the back of the dust jacket is an interior illustration of the first child leaning over the water so the single drop of wax can fall.  The second child is watching the effect.  The color palette selected by Peter H. Reynolds is full of warmth and calm here and on every single page.

On the book case, on a canvas of pure crisp white, a rainbow brush stroke like a wave moves from the left to the right of the opened case.  A tiny bird flies toward the gutter from the upper, left-hand corner.  Riding on the crest of the wave on the right side is a bright pink boat carrying the children, their precious cargo and a rainbow tree.  

The opening and closing endpapers are washed circles of turquoise.  On the title page is a close-up of the boat with the first child, the contents of the boat, the dog of the second child, and the tiny bird on the dog's head.  Rendered

using ink, gouache, watercolor, and tea

these pictures are portraits of endearing characters and their actions.  Each intricate line, element and color uplift and extend the words.

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

I can perform
One act of kindness
to start a connection.

It is a single-page picture.  Behind the first child on the left are outlines of bricks in the wall.  Several bricks are on the ground.  This child is bending over to give a treat to the dog.  The second child is seated on the ground near a fire and a candle.  Tiny flowers bloom from grassy mounds.

This fifth book, I Am One: A Book of Action written by Susan Verde with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds, in this stellar series is important.  It is important to understand each one of us can contribute to making the world better for others.  Each action no matter how small puts us on the right path.  At the close of the book is a two-page author's note including a mindfulness meditation and a self-reflection activity.  This book has my high recommendation to be included in both your personal and professional collections.  The other titles in the series are I Am Yoga, I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness, I Am Human: A Book of Empathy, and I Am Love: A Book of Compassion.

To discover more about Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds and their other work, please follow the link attached to their name to access their websites.  Susan Verde has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Peter H. Reynolds has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website are additional resources to use with this book.

Previously I wrote a post about Sometimes People March written and illustrated by Tessa Allen.  You might want to include that title with these for a unit of study, a story time, or to promote discussion.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Recognizing Riches In Rubbish

We know with a certain mindset we see things wherever we go that otherwise might be missed.  If we are actively seeking the little details, beauty, kindness, and the best life has to offer, we will find it.  It is not always easy, but with focus we will discover treasures of all shapes and sizes, some fleeting, and others lasting a lifetime.

There are remarkable human beings who do perceive life as an entire sensory experience.  They are all the more exemplary for their sharing of their discoveries.  In Digging For Words: Jose Alberto Gutierrez and the Library He Built (Schwartz & Wade Books, September 8, 2020)  written by Angela Burke Kunkel with illustrations by Paola Escobar (Rescatando Palabras: Jose Alberto Gutierrez y la biblioteca que creo escrito por Angela Burke Kunkel, ilustrado por Paola Escobar, traducido por Teresa Mlawer), we are introduced to a man whose work is alive in those he serves.  Two separate individuals connect through their shared love of story.  It's a blend of fact and fiction based upon the truth.

In the city of Bogota, in the barrio of
La Nueva Gloria, there live two Joses.

Little Jose stirs in his bed.  The early-morning light wakes

En la ciudad de Bogota, en el barrio
La Nueva Gloria, viven dos Joses.

El pequeno Jose se despereza en la cama.   La luz de la
manana lo despierta.

A child living in Bogota longs for Saturday.  On Friday, he rides his bike to school, he tries to listen to his teacher, and plays futbol (soccer) with his friends.  He knows tomorrow is filled with promise.

A man living in Bogota contemplates his day.  He did not complete his schooling as a child.  He left to become a bricklayer to help support his family.  We are told he nevertheless read each night with his mother.  

Un cuento at the end of a long day felt like Paradise.
Un cuento al final de la jornada era como estar en el Paraiso. 

In the evening, the boy returns home.  In the evening, the man gets ready to collect the garbage from other areas of Bogota.  He works all night.  What this man, this grown Jose, does is search through the trash for treasure.  His treasure is books.  It all began many years ago when he found a copy of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.  That book was his doorway into another world.  He has never stopped searching for other doorways.

At the close of every shift, Jose brings home gathered books, placing them in stacks and on bookshelves, his library.  On Saturday, the younger Jose runs like the wind with the other neighborhood children to enter Paradise at the older Jose's home.  There they spend hours looking through all the collected books of all shapes and sizes covering a wide range of subjects and interests.  That night the labors of Jose, the garbage collector, will be enjoyed by children all over La Nueva Gloria, until next Saturday when they, like Jose the child, will again enter Paraiso.

Readers will gravitate to the narrative supplied by debut picture book author, Angela Burke Kunkel.  She combines the story of a fictional child with that of the real Jose Alberto Gutierrez.  Given the work of Jose Alberto Gutierrez, the fictional child is apt to be true.

The writing of Angela Burke Kunkel is clear, concise, and lyrical.  Spanish words are a part of the story, carefully placed so their meaning is easily discernable.  So vivid are her descriptions, we find ourselves seated next to Jose as his trunk makes its nightly runs, and we find ourselves running along with Jose toward his Saturday destination.  Here is a passage in English and Spanish.

A few pages to read, a few hours to dream,
and then it is a new day.  Tonight, he revisits
Macondo, a magical village deep in the jungles
of Colombia, and he is lost in a place where
times moves by its own rules. 

Varias paginas que leer, varias horas para
sonar, y asi comienza un nuevo dia.  Por la
noche, nuevamente visita Macondo, un pueblo
magico en lo mas profundo de la selva de
Colombia, y se pierde en ese lugar, donde el
tiempo transcurre a su ritmo.

When you look at the front, right, of the open dust jacket you see a man and a boy, smiling.  Stacks of books frame them on either side.  From the pages of an open book, we see the stories each find in their books depicted.  It's easy to imagine this very scene happening each day in the library Jose Alberto Gutierrez has made for the people in his barrio.  To the left, on the back, a garbage trunk moves through the nighttime streets of Bogota.  The words read:

Jose scans the sidewalks as he drives,
squinting in the dim light.
He searches the household trash
for hidden treasures . . . books!

Mientras Jose manejo su camion de basura,
escrudina las aceras de la ciudad
entrecerrando los ojos bajo la tenue luz.
Busca entre la basura de las casas
tesoros escondidos . . . !Libros!

On the book case in a wash of muted yellow with streaks of blue, we see the younger and older Jose.  The child is on the left, bending down to pick up a book.  A trail of five books lead to the far right with the older Jose, carrying a stack of books, as he runs off the right edge.

On the opening and closing endpapers artist Paola Escobar begins and concludes her visual interpretation.  On the first beneath a stary sky, brilliant with several larger stars, and a crescent moon, Jose drives his truck, lights shining in front of his vehicle.  Beneath a streetlamp, a can holds bags of trash.  Next to the can is a stack of books.  On the second, the scene is the same, but empty of the truck, the trash, and the books.

These illustrations by Paola Escobar rendered digitally are filled with details of life in the barrio of both the child and the man.  Their size alternates in keeping with the narrative and its pacing.  The eagerness of the boy and the contemplative and determined nature of the man are vividly portrayed.  The two-page pictures are marvelous, giving us multiple perspectives, allowing us to see realty and the magic found in story.  

One of my many favorite pictures is an overview of the cityscape of Bogota at night.  Beginning in the upper, left-hand corner Jose and his truck wind back and forth and back and forth from stop to sop from left to right to the left of the gutter, crossing the gutter, and then winding back through the city up into the hills to the right of the gutter.  Beneath the streetlamps are the garbage cans.  We can see Jose stopping, carrying bags to his trunk, and searching for books.  This gives us a superb overview of the enormity of this man's accomplishments, night after night, book by book.

I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections, supplying both the English and Spanish editions, for your readers.  There is a beauty in both, in the use of language, and in the illustrations.  This book, Digging For Words: Jose Alberto Gutierrez and the Library He Built (Rescatando Palabras: Jose Alberto Gutierrez y la biblioteca que creo) written by Angela Burke Kunkel with illustrations by Paola Escobar, translation by Teresa Mlawer, is a powerful reminder of the power of one.  At the close of the book is an author's note, descriptions of books featured in the narrative, and selected online sources.

To learn more about Angela Burke Kunkel and Paola Escobar, please follow the link attached to their name to access their respective sites.  Angela Burke Kunkel has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Paola Escobar has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Angela Burke Kunkel is highlighted at KidLit411, The Soaring '20s, and at author Tara Lazar's Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).  At the publisher's website you can view interior images in both the Spanish and English editions.  Angela Burke Kunkel is interviewed about this book by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, at his site, Watch. Connect. Read.

To view the other selections this week by participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

We See This

Some of the most cherished memories of spending decades as a teacher librarian are not the moments when children finally understand you, but when you understand them.  It's those times when you step outside your thinking, refreshed by the children's thinking.  Their perspectives tend to be clear, honest, and profound.  You should never underestimate their powerful capacity for compassion, or their wonderful ability to find humor and laugh out loud with abandon.

For these reasons, among many others, children are to be cherished. We live our lives so those who come after us have a richer (and more informed) experience.  If You Come To Earth (Chronicle Books, September 15, 2020) written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall is a book for all children, of all ages.  It's inspired by children and written as a letter from a child to a visitor from outer space.  It's a love letter about this fragile, but fierce planet and its inhabitants.  It's a remarkable read.  

Dear Visitor from Outer Space,

If you come to Earth,

here's what you need to know.

You'll know Earth from the other planets around the Sun by its color, its green and blue.  It has land and water.  Usually people live on the land in spaces of all sizes, or in rare cases alone and away from anyone else.

There are a vast variety of homes, made of a vast variety of materials depending on an equal number of factors.  Living in these homes are families, members who care for each other with love.  The billions of people populating Earth come in all shapes and sizes with a vast array of abilities.  Each one is unique, thinking their own thoughts, which are sometimes mirrored on their faces.

People dress for their jobs, their everyday activities and their weather.  Our weather can be breathtakingly beautiful, nearly perfect, but it can also be terrifying with people losing their homes and worldly possessions.  People find it necessary to move from one point to another, traveling in various methods on land, in the air, or on the water.  

Our letter writer addresses the recipient by revealing they are

a kid

They attend school to become informed to make better decisions as an adult.  As adults, people do many, many different things to keep society functioning.  When not working, their methods of enjoying free time exhibit their particular passions.  Our narrator goes on to discuss the necessity of food and water and its unequal availability.  This takes us to the sea and its saltiness.

On the surface the sea looks vast and fairly empty but it is not.  It is teeming with life, as is our land and our air.  The child presents to the reader what they wish to be if they were not human.  They talk about kinds of singing, music, language, and colors.  They compare those things found in nature, and those things made by humans.  They discuss those things not seen, some lovely, and some dangerous.

In closing the letter, the kid muses how on Earth we don't always agree, we fight, but this is not the best way for us to treat each other.  We find ways to make life easier for each other; those older take care of those that are younger, until their roles are reversed.  We honor the gifts of every age. There are things we don't know, but the writer states if you (being from Outer Space) come here I will honor the invitation at the end of this letter with an open heart.

Well, Sophie Blackall, you've again put your heart and mind on the pages of a book.  You've connected us with your words through the child letter writer.  You've shown us not only where we live, but how we live.

You, with your gorgeous language and ability to place yourself in the soul of your characters, take us from the solar system and to Earth.  We journey with you and your words to communities, to homes, and the people in them living their lives as best as they can.  You communicate through this child the less than best in humans and the best in humans focusing on what is here now, and what we can do to preserve it.  You offer hope.  With your sentences, you leave room for your artwork to offer further interpretation. Here is a passage.

There are more than seven billion people on Earth.
We all have bodies.

But every body is different.

I wish you all could see the marvelous details in the open dust jacket.  There are tiny gold foil dots in the blue sky and in the pattern of planet Earth.  The child's letter spiraling upward is a pictorial presentation of all the wonder to be found by a visitor when they arrive here.  

To the left, on the back, beginning with the ISBN the letter path is wider.  It weaves upward and loops toward the sun in the upper, left-hand corner.  The end of the letter is attached to a circular spacecraft.

On the book case with the universe in its black and starry expanse are possible beings from outer space.  There are four on the back, and one that crosses the spine.  There are four others on the front.  They are all colorful and singular in their design.

On the opening and closing endpapers, Sophie Blackall presents readers with the initial beginning and ending of this story.  First, the sun is rising across a washed sky in early morning blues and purples.  Shrubs fan out on either side of a hillside patchworked in mounds of floral displays.  On the right side of the hill is a two-story home with the letter ribboning out from a lighted second-story window.  On the second set of endpapers, our Moon, full and glowing, hangs about the same house, now on the left.  The letter has been released and found a recipient in the circular spacecraft hovering above the hill in a dusky sky with remnants of the sunset rising above the hill.  The letter flowing from the house on the opening endpapers continues across the verso and title pages, surrounding the text on the first and providing a place for the text on the second.

The illustrations in this book

were rendered in chinese ink and watercolor.

Each image by Sophie Blackall shifts in size to enhance her words.  Sometimes we are looking down on the illustration or looking at a panoramic presentation.  The intricate details will have you stopping at every page.  They ask you to pause and enjoy our Earth and all it offers to us.  They invite you to grow your appreciation for all people, and the inhabitants of this planet, our home. 

Within the two-page pictures there are panels dividing the space, highlighting specific examples to expand the words.  There is also a collection of circular images, or a cluster of windows, horizontal or diagonal illustrations, or a large group of portraits, each amplifying the child's statements.  Diversity is shown repeatedly as reflected in real life.  There are single-page visuals used for direct comparisons.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations in which I gasped out loud when I saw it is a double-page picture.  It is the artwork for the child speaking about birds.  Across the two pages is the shape of a large bird.  This shape, wings in flight, body, head and beak, and tail, is brimming with all kinds of birds in flight or repose.  The penguin is speaking the words:

I can't fly!

If I had a large trunk for treasure it would be filled with books, books with special significance and certain to be classics in time, if not already.  This book, If You Come To Earth written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, would have a place in this treasure trunk. It is stunning in every respect, words, artwork, design, and in the quality of paper.  No matter how many times you read it, you'll find something new and leave the reading with your spirits lifted.  There is a full page Author's Note at the end with Sophie Blackall speaking about her inspiration for this book, her work on this book, and what she wishes readers will take away from this title. I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Sophie Blackall and her body of work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Sophie Blackall has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view lovely, displayed interior images.  Further images are available at the book's website along with a letter writing kit.  Sophie Blackall and this book are featured on PictureBooking.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Where To Start? Look In Your Heart.

There are days so exquisite, your soul feels like it might burst with happiness.  The air is diamond sharp. Even though the temperature is in the mid-fifties; you have your windows open to savor the clarity of the gentle breeze.  Small clouds, tiny puffs, roam across a startling blue expanse of sky.  The sun, at a different angle now, calls forth in warmth the blossoms on autumn flowers. 

Today is one of those days.  You wish, not for the first time, you could bottle it up to enjoy at a future date.   With gratitude, there are books, mirroring these magical days, for us to hold in our hands and read whenever we desire.  One such book is You Are A Beautiful Beginning (Roaring Brook Press, August 25, 2020) written by Nina Laden with illustrations by Kelsey Garrity-Riley.  In this marvelous, mindful guide to life, profound perspectives lead the way to truth and wonder.  

It is not the number of pages.

It is the story in the book.

For many of us it is not the distance we walk from one point to another, but the first move we make.  Do we focus on all the subsequent steps, or look at the world around us?  Lifting our voices in song, whether there are words, or not, is an uplifting style of music all our own.  

Sometimes we try hard for perfection without realizing the special skill behind every attempt.  One good friend, the one who is there despite all obstacles, is more valuable than numerous acquaintances.  It is good to remember not how many things we have, but how many things we are willing to give to others.

Do we try to outshine others?  Do we pride ourselves on being a contributing member of a group?  Do we construct roadblocks?  Do we make new paths?

In each of these comparative thoughts, fourteen altogether, we are asked to assess our thinking.  We are shown how to see the world through the eyes of "we" instead of "me."  We walk side-by-side with words and images toward being exactly who we are, a child of the universe, a spectacular piece in the fantastic whole.

Each of the pair of sentences penned by Nina Laden are a thoughtful study of personal growth.  The final word in the second and fourth statements in two pairs rhyme.  This cadence of rhyming and repetitive words is a gentle invitation for reader participation.  It's as if Nina Laden has held out her hand to readers, willing to walk with us as we converse and ponder the paths we choose.  Here is another passage.

It is not being afraid of darkness.

It is looking for places that glow.

The three children shown walking across the log bridge, on the front of the open and matching dust jacket and book case, meet each other one by one as their days begin and they start to explore their outside world.  The animated elements from nature and the tiny fantastical beings join them as their adventure grows, image by image.  To the left, on the back, is a pastoral scene, looking down a hill toward the tiny community where the children reside.  The final four sentences from the book are placed in the center of the picture.

A plaid pattern of diamonds in two tones of lighter rust cover the opening and closing endpapers.  Wildflowers, mushrooms, small grassy mounds, a beetle, and a snail are items included in the visual framing the lower portion of the text on the title page.  Prior to the book's closing endpapers is a charming two-page picture of the initial girl, asleep in her bed, on the left, holding the book she was first reading.  From the book is a flowing stream of experienced and possible adventures and dreams, stretching from the left to the right edge.  Under the right portion of the stream is the dedication and publication information.

The illustrations rendered by Kelsey Garrity-Riley using

gouache, ink, and colored pencils, with a little bit of digital editing

alternate between large oval images, double-page pictures, and single-page visuals, edge to edge.  With her artwork, Kelsey Garrity-Riley forms a companion story, taking the words of Nina Laden and applying them to the unfolding pictorial tale.  To see this happening as you read the words is quite enchanting.

Readers will stop at each page turn to study all the intricate details.  They will be thrilled to see a beetle wearing a bowler hat, and carrying a curved cane watching the first little girl leave her home.  They will gasp in wonder at the dandelion fluff turned into ballerinas floating on the wind.  They will exclaim at the fairy folk who emerge from their homes to help the children.  They will sigh as the day progresses into evening and everyone is together sheltered by the efforts of their day.  

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

It is singing a song in your heart.

This full-page illustration is a close-up view of a collage of yellow flowers open and budding on a backdrop of leaves in green and blue hues.  Two brown-shaded birds fly into the scene, one from the lower, right-hand corner, and the other down from the top, left-hand side.  In the center of the page in the center of an open yellow flower is the boy we see on the jacket and cover.  His eyes are closed, and his arms are spread wide, ready for an embrace.  His face is raised, and his mouth is open in song.  Three beetles are near him playing instruments.  This is pure bliss.

This book, You Are A Beautiful Beginning written by Nina Laden with illustrations by Kelsey Garrity-Riley, is one to keep close to you.  Each pair of phrases welcomes us to think how we will approach moments in our days and the directions we wish our lives to follow.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Nina Laden and Kelsey Garrity-Riley and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the link attached to their names.  Nina Laden has accounts on Facebook, and Instagram.  Kelsey Garrity-Riley has an account on Instagram.  (You can see pictures from this book there.)  At the publisher's website you can view multiple interior images.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

They Lifted Their Voices

Women of distinction on an international, national, community or familial level achieve this designation by taking a stand.  They stand firm in their beliefs and in following their individual calling.  No challenge, large or small, deters them from their life-long pursuits.  They are an inspiration to many during their lives, and for those who follow in their paths.

During the recent Democratic presidential candidate process, one of the women who later withdrew is now running as the Democratic candidate for Vice-President.  Kamala Harris: Rooted In Justice (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, August 25, 2020) written by Nikki Grimes with illustrations by Laura Freeman looks at this accomplished woman's life from her birth to present day.  It gives readers a deeper understanding of how her beliefs and calling were shaped. 

Eve slammed the door when she
got home from first grade.
"Eve!" You know we don't slam doors
in this house," her mom said.
"What's going on?"

Eve is upset about an incident at school.  When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said she wanted to be President.  Another classmate, a boy, said girls can't be President.  

With this introduction, the mother begins the story of Kamala Harris.  During the narrative, from time to time, Eve and her mother converse about a word or an important event Kamala experiences.  We first learn of the meaning of Kamala's name.  The explanation of a lotus flower's beauty and roots is an apt comparison.

Kamala's mother was born in India and her father was born in Jamaica.  She was born in Oakland, California.  Even as a baby, yet unable to walk, Kamala was a part of her parent's involvement in seeking social equality.  She and her younger sister, Maya, learned the same lessons when visiting their maternal grandparents in Zambia when her grandfather was a diplomat.

When Kamala was seven her parents divorced.  From her new home in Berkeley she was bused to school at Thousand Oaks Elementary where she met students from diverse ethnic and social backgrounds. Her days were filled with studies, outside interests including evenings at a cultural center showcasing Black Americans in the arts and literature.  Kamala, her sister, and mother were deeply involved in their local church, the girls attending on Sundays when they did not visit their father.

When she was in middle school, Kamala's world took another turn when her mother got a job in Montreal, Canada.  Trading sun for snow was a huge shift.  Kamala returned to the states to attend college at Howard University where she won her first election.

Month after month, during her time at Howard University and in the subsequent years every choice, every career decision, lead Kamala Harris to her present place in politics as the second African American woman to be voted into the United States Senate.  Her focus, learned from her family, has been service for the people she represents. In less than two months, we will all see if her dedication will be amplified.

The literary technique of having Kamala Harris's story told through the conversation between a mother and her daughter is highly effective when used in the masterful hands of author Nikki Grimes.  Her careful research is obvious in the specific details she includes.  She takes readers step by step, using her gift with words, to build this distinctive woman's life layer by layer.  Here is a passage.

Once, when tiny Kamala was fussing,
her mother couldn't figure out
what was the matter.
"What do you want, little girl?" she asked.
"Freedom!" said Kamala,
and a waterfall of laughter
sputtered from her mother's mouth. 

The strength of Kamala Harris's character, the people who shaped her life, and her commitment to serving people and this country is depicted with excellence on the front, right, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  The design is eloquent in every respect, as are the color choices.  The text is raised.  

To the left, on the back, a much younger Kamala is seated at a neighbor's table, a red-and-white checkered tablecloth in front of her.  Her head is tilted as she listens to the woman (who we can't see) speak.  Behind her are portraits of famous African American woman and African face masks on the wall.  (This is a portion of an interior illustration.)

The opening and closing endpapers are a bright yellow.  On the title page a younger Kamala Harris, wearing a backpack, is headed to her home.  Two signs in the yard display the title and subtitle.  

These illustrations by Laura Freeman rendered digitally are bold, rich, and warm.  They are double-page pictures and single-page pictures, edge to edge.  Our focus is always maintained by the vivid depictions of Kamala, regardless of her age or the setting in which she finds herself.  Laura Freeman has portrayed her so well, we expect her to come to life at any moment.  If we pause at each illustration, we can see the individual elements included which are all a part of who Kamala Harris is today.  

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is at the beginning of the book.  It is when Eve's mother is starting the story of Kamala Harris's life.  Across two pages is a collage of large lotus flowers, left to right, among teal water with floating smaller lotus flowers and pads.  In the first large lotus flower is baby Kamala grasping a small lotus blossom.  In the second large flower is little girl Kamala, eyes closed, as she smells a larger lotus blossom she holds in both hands.  On the other side of the gutter, a much older Kamala, among large lotus petals, is studying.  This leads us to present day Kamala.  She fills nearly half of the right side, smiling, and with her eyes wide open.  The lotus pattern is overlaid on her clothing.

This woman has left her mark in each portion of her life which is clearly defined in Kamala Harris: Rooted In Justice written by Nikki Grimes with illustrations by Laura Freeman.  Each time you read this title; your respect continues to grow for her commitment to her calling.  You are inspired.  At the close of the book is a timeline of significant occurrences in her life.  A small list of sources is included.  You'll want to have a copy of this book in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Nikki Grimes and Laura Freeman and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Nikki Grimes has accounts on FacebookTwitter, and YouTubeLaura Freeman has an account on Instagram.  The cover reveal for this book was hosted by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, at Watch. Connect. Read.  I believe you will enjoy the conversation between Nikki Grimes and John Schumacher.  At the publisher's website you can view multiple interior images, several of which are my favorites.

This next woman's words still ring with clarity in the music she made.  You can't read or hear her name without one of her songs keeping you company throughout the day in your mind.  You might find yourself humming one of her tunes.  Her voice, like her persona, is larger than life.

As the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame her place in the world of music is forever etched in history.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, August 25, 2020) written by Carole Boston Weatherford with art by Frank Morrison is a tribute in words and art to the power of a single person to effect change for the greater good on a worldwide scale.  Even at this moment, I can hear her singing. 

Cradled by the church, rocked by an ebony sea,
Aretha says a little prayer each night on bended knee.

This introductory sentence is the first of fifteen single hyphenated words followed by one or two explanatory sentences. We learn of the strong foundation of faith present in Aretha's life.  We learn of the family's move to Detroit where the parents and children lift their voices in Gospel song.

Aretha's parents separate, but her musical talent soars.  She is a gifted pianist, playing by ear.  She also listens to her father's voice in the fight for equality across the spectrum.  

At the age of fourteen, Aretha records her first album.  Her father knows true talent when he hears it, a voice able to span 

three-plus octaves.

This woman is not only a strength in the world of music, but a source of power in the civil rights movement.  She gives concerts for free to raise funds.  A moment everyone will remember is her singing of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" at President Barack Obama's inauguration.  Throughout her life Aretha Franklin returns to the foundation from which she rose, deep in her religious beliefs, the Queen of Soul, using her gift from God.

The manner in which author Carole Boston Weatherford unfolds her appreciation for Aretha Franklin in this narrative is akin to a call and response.  A single definitive word is presented, followed by a factual, but lyrical rhyming description. Only twice during this book does she break this cadence to use quoted phrases.  Here is another passage.

Young, gifted, black, Aretha hears a melody.
Then she plays the tune by ear---plinking perfectly.

You cannot help but gasp, at least inwardly, if not aloud, when you view the opened dust jacket of this book.  Artist Frank Morrison displays Aretha Franklin young, vibrant, and definitely a queen from left to right in a majestic depiction.  Her feathered coat, continuing over the spine, barely flows past (on the left) her hand holding a microphone.  In a word, this is beautiful.  The single word main title is raised in gold foil.

On the book case on a canvas of rich, golden brown, orange, and red is a child on the front.  Her lovely, black hair frames her smiling face.  In both her hands she holds an album reading:


with the face of a singing Aretha above the words.

On the opening endpapers is a collage, as if we are looking down, of album covers, records and a record player.  Two people, one a child, and the other older are holding albums.  On the closing endpapers is the image from the book case.

These illustrations rendered in oil paint by Frank Morrison are stunning.  Across the title page is a double-page picture of a pink Cadillac from fins to front.  With a page turn the verso and dedication pages feature Aretha and her siblings playing a game of hide-and-seek at their home in Tennessee.  

Each of the following double-page images are glorious paintings portraying significant portions of her life story.  We see these occasions from multiple perspectives, as observers or participants.  The range of real emotions on the people's faces increases the very personal points of view.  With his artwork, Frank Morrison takes us completely into the experience.

One of my many, many favorite paintings is for the passage above noted.  We are looking directly down on a young Aretha Franklin.  At the top of the page, the piano keyboard extends from edge to edge.  Aretha's fingers are placed on the left and right side of her body on the keys.  We see her arms, elbows lifted, coming from the sleeves of her yellow dress.  We see the skirt of her dress spread out over her legs as she sits on a black bench.  All we see of her face is the top of her head.  The floor is wide-boards and wooden.  Along the lower edge of the image is a fringed, red patterned rug.  It's like we've stepped back in time.

This ode in pure poetic perfection enhanced by powerful paintings will be read and treasured for years to come.  In R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul written by Carole Boston Weatherford with art by Frank Morrison we get informative glimpses into greatness.  At the close of the book there is an author's note which further informs readers.  There is also a list of Chart-Toppers: Aretha Franklin's Biggest Hits.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.  You might want to pair this title with A Voice Named Aretha written by Katheryn Russell-Brown with illustrations by Laura Freeman.

To discover more about Carole Boston Weatherford and Frank Morrison and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Carole Boston Weatherford has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and TwitterFrank Morrison has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view the entire dust jacket, back to front.

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, September 15, 2020

A Trio Of Seasonal Treats

Autumn does not officially arrive until Tuesday, September 22, 2020, one week from today, yet people's thoughts have been turning to the solace found during December holidays as evidenced by the #Lightsforlife hashtag on social media in March of this year.  Lights and holiday decorations appeared outside homes to spread cheer and support for others during this pandemic.  In times of darkness people seek the opposite, they hope for the opposite.  

A trio of Christmas titles, two last week, and one today, are contributing to the comfort.  Each one tells a different story, but each presents the magical merriment found during this season. Happy Narwhalidays (A Narwhal and Jelly Book #5) (Tundra Books, September 8, 2020) written and illustrated by Ben Clanton continues the delightful tale of two friends, a narwhal and a jellyfish, who, more often than not, view the world through contrasting perspectives.  In six short sections replete with their exuberant personalities and some fabulous facts, readers will find themselves singing in their minds, hearts, and maybe out loud.

Jingle Shells, Jingle Shells, Jingle All The Way!
Oh, What Fun It Is To Sing While Swimming In the Bay!
Jingle Shells, Jingle Shells, Jingle All The Way!

Narwhal is happily swimming wearing a red-and-white striped scarf with red ribbon wound around his tusk. Jelly, wearing a ski hat, is anything but happy.  Jelly is shivering in the cold.  Narwhal, in reply to Jelly, states the best part about this time of the year is the arrival of the Merry Mermicorn.  

As you might expect, Jelly is completely skeptical about a being you can't see. Moving through the water, Jelly finds a mysterious package addressed to him.  It contains six mittens.  Jelly is sure Narwhal left this package.  Now Jelly needs to find the perfect present for Narwhal.  It is not easy, not easy at all.

After consulting with Shark, Octopus, Turtle, Shelly, Star, and Otty, Jelly is no closer to finding a gift for his friend.  Suddenly Narwhal greets Jelly, noticing the wrapped gift.  Instead of opening it, Narwhal imagines all the possibilities of what could be inside.  To Narwhal, this is better than knowing.  To Jelly, it is a relief.

The duo then writes a charming story about Super Waffle and Strawberry Sidekick and their encounter with a grumpy green jelly bean whose flavor is

snail-slime puree.

At the close of the book, Narwhal offers something to Jelly.  Jelly discovers the unexpected can be the best present.  The holiday spirit spreads from the tip of Narwhal's tusk to the ends of Jelly's tentacles and out from the pages of the book.

With the exception of the two pages of Cool Facts and parts of The Mean Green Jelly Bean most portions of this book are told in the witty dialogue between Narwhal and Jelly.  Author Ben Clanton reveals what readers have come to love about these characters in everything they say.  Their conversations also offer much for readers to ponder about holiday celebrations and friendship.  His use of puny language elevates the humor.  Here is a passage.

And you've seen this
Merry Miracle-Corn

I think she
might be

So how do you 
know she exists?!

I can feel
it in my 
flippers! She is

Narwhal, that might
be frostbite you're

Using his signature color palette for the Narwhal and Jelly books, illustrator Ben Clanton brings in the crisp shades of blue, white, red and yellow accented with his heavier black outlines.  The contrast between the thinking of Narwhal and Jelly is evident on the front of the book case.  Narwhal is joyous.  Jelly is nearly freezing in the cold.  The red color is in foil.  On the left, back, four square panels further explain the difference in the duo's attitudes.  And yes, you'll be smiling or laughing before you even open the book.

The opening and closing endpapers, in deep sea blue and white, are a pattern of Narwhal and Jelly in their winter attire.  Jelly is still shivering.  On the title page the twosome is placed inside a snow globe.  On the verso and dedication page we read:

To GWEN! It is a gift to
be your papa!

(This says a lot about the heart and mind of Ben Clanton as reflected in his writing and artwork in this book and other titles in the series.)

The contents word is spelled out in red and green lighted bulbs on a string over the list of six sections.  The art 

was rendered in colored pencil, watercolor and ink, and colored digitally.  The text was set in a typeface based on hand lettering by Ben Clanton.

Image sizes shift in excellent pacing to the narrative, double-page pictures, single-page pictures and panels grouped by six, three, five, two, or four.  Most of them are outlined in a black line for framing.  Sometimes a single element will break that border.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is on a half page, framed in black.  The background is a radiating yellow.  We see the upper portion of Narwhal's body from the bottom of the image.  He is smiling with his eyes closed in contentment.  In one of his flippers is the present from Jelly, with the tag For Jelly Narwhal on it.  I wonder how many readers notice when Narwhal or Jelly are smiling, their mouths form a heart.

This newest title, Happy Narwhalidays (A Narwhal and Jelly Book #5) written and illustrated by Ben Clanton, in a well-loved series will be read repeatedly by individuals and shared from reader to reader.  It's a marvelous blend of writing, illustrations, and words of wisdom.  I can't imagine a professional or personal collection without a copy of this book.

To discover more about Ben Clanton and his other work, please access his website by following the link attached to his name.  Ben Clanton has accounts on Instagram, and Twitter.  Narwhal and Jelly have their own Facebook page and website. At the publisher's website you can listen to an audio clip and get a sneak peek at some interior images.  Here is a link to an activity kit.

In a worst-case scenario, the old saying, dating back to Aesop, referring to wishes and their results, has come true for none other than Santa Claus.  Activity at the North Pole, mere days before Christmas, has come to a screeching halt.  All the elves are in a tizzy.  Santa Baby (Henry Holt And Company, September 8, 2020) written by Jonathan Stutzman with illustrations by Heather Fox explains exactly what happens when wishes are granted in an extraordinary manner.

four days until Christmas, and
Santa Claus was feeling old.

Let's face facts, folks.  Santa Claus is old, very old.  This year everything about his physical appearance screams his age!  He is finding it harder and harder to control the reindeer, wander around on rooftops, slide down chimneys, and deliver presents.  Every muscle and bone in his body creaks and cracks.  His Christmas spirit is gone.  He does not feel Ho! Ho! Ho! But he will not disappoint all the children around the world.

Santa Claus does the only thing he can think to do.  He wishes using Christmas magic to be young again.  It works!  He goes from ancient, to middle age, then to young adult, and to a preteen.  Does his anti-aging stop?  It does not.  Before Santa Claus knows what is happening, he is a baby!  

All his attempts to communicate with the elves sound like baby talk.  They panic.  They try to teach this baby version of Santa Claus about the reindeer, chimneys, and presents.  He eats the list of children and their gifts and will not eat vegetables to make him grow.  And this baby does what babies do best, he cries.

Santa Claus knows it's up to him, even in this baby state, to save Christmas.  It's Christmas Eve.  He finally manages to utter three very important words which spur the entire population at the North Pole to act.  When it seems as if a miracle is happening, another disaster befalls Santa Baby.  Just as suddenly, a single act shapes the words for the best wish of all.

Sentence by sentence author Jonathan Stutzman sets the stage for Santa Claus's desperate wish by enumerating in descriptive detail all his dwindling physical and emotional attributes.  When his wish backfires epically, the comedy just keeps coming with the endeavors of the elves failing over and over again.  This leads us merrily to the almost miracle when calamity strikes again.

He cried with the fury of a thousand carolers.

We are, as is Santa Baby, happily surprised when the past becomes a part of the present.  Jonathan Stutzman cleverly weaves the true spirit of the season into the final moments of the story.  Here is another passage.  

Santa Baby tried to calm the elves.  He explained what happened, then laid out an easy, three-step plan for how to change himself back to normal.
But all the elves heard was . . .

Ga-ga goo-goo
GOO-GOO goo-goo
GA-GA goo-goo!

Christmas was in serious trouble.

The rich darker red canvas highlights the brighter red and white on Santa Baby's (and older Santa's) suits. The Santa Baby text is in a muted gold foil as is the framing, edging on the holly and berries and snowflakes.  These details create a classic feel to the illustration.  To the left, on the back, the same framing, holly and berries showcase a crying Santa Baby.  Beneath him the text reads:


The book case features the Santa Baby and Santa Claus figures without the text and framing.  On the opening and closing endpapers, with the same deep red background, are rows of snowflakes in several sizes and white dots.  On the title page Santa Baby, wearing only a diaper and Santa hat, is looking at readers clearly bewildered.

Each illustration rendered by Heather Fox digitally in her unique style conveys a multitude of moods, comedy, and tiny details like allowing readers to read the words written on letters to Santa.  She manages to depict a range of facial emotions on Santa, Santa Baby, and the elves with the tiniest lines.  Her images may be single-page pictures, edge to edge, a collection of smaller circular visuals on a single page, three horizontal pictures on a single page, or dramatic two-page illustrations.

One of my many, many favorite images is a full-page picture with a two-tone, radiating light red background.  In the center, toward the bottom, is Santa Claus from the waist up.  His arms are raised as he holds the star representing Christmas magic over his head.  His eyes are closed, and his mouth is open as he exclaims:

"Make me
young again!"

Expect peals of laughter when you read Santa Baby written by Jonathan Stutzman with illustrations by Heather Fox aloud.  You'll also be hearing requests of "read it again."  The text and images combine in wondrous hilarious timing.  Collections of Christmas stories, personal and professional, will not be complete without a copy of this title.

To learn more about Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the link attached to their names.  Jonathan Stutzman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Heather Fox has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  The cover reveal for this title was hosted by Dylan Teut, executive director of the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival, on his blog, Mile High Reading.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

After nearly two hundred years, the words of this poem never fail to resonate with those who read or hear it.  Numerous times in the month of December over the course of my career with students engaged in a variety of activities, browsing for books, reading books, researching online, or completing a lesson, I would stand in a central location and say:

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Each one of them stopped what they were doing.  They moved toward me.  We sat down and they leaned in to hear the rest of the words.  This is the power of shared storytelling, to connect us to history and a celebration.  Of my personal one hundred, sixty-two plus December holiday books, another seven are editions of the Christmas poem sometimes known as The Night Before Christmas.  When I read this new edition, The Night Before Christmas (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 15, 2020) by Clement C. Moore with pictures by Loren Long, I was immediately struck by the lovely, thoughtful, and loving visual interpretation.  

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.   

If you look closely at the bottom of the dust jacket and matching book case, in framing similar to the outlines of buildings, Loren Long gives readers an initial hint of his intentions.  On the opening endpapers, on a canvas of white, there are four sets of children, preparing for Christmas.  There is tree trimming, letter writing, the drawing of a large picture of a fireplace, and a table full of various stages of cookie making.  On the closing endpapers, on the same crisp white background, we see the same children after the visit from St. Nicholas.

In an author's note prior to the beginning of the poem, Loren addresses his portrayal of St Nicholas based on specific words in the poem.  Do you remember them?

He continues his commentary to readers about the universal impact of Christmas regardless of 

who we are, where we live, or how we celebrate.

This author's note on the left and the title page on the right are placed in an enlargement of the four places shown on the jacket and case.

With a page turn we find ourselves for the first two phrases inside the living room of a farmhouse. Stockings hang from a mantel, and a trimmed Christmas tree is on the opposite side of the room.  Three sets of children's boots are scattered across the floor in front of the fireplace.  Between the fireplace and sofa, a table holds a plate of decorated cookies and a bunch of carrots for the reindeer.  A beagle is curled and sleeping on the sofa.  Through the main window is a barn, silo, and windmill coated with snow.

We next travel to the interior of a trailer.  Two children are sleeping in another room in bunk beds.  Their father is sleeping on the sofa in the living room with the family dog curled on a mat in front of the door.  In the corner of this room on a card table is a small Christmas tree with the word LOVE stretched across the front.  There are Christmas cookies on a plate there.  A note over a coffee maker which says Santa with an arrow pointing down invites him to make a hot drink.  Over the main window is a drawing of a fireplace with stockings hanging above it.  On another table is a lighted Nativity creche.

From here we enter a room with two sleeping boys of different races.  They have identical beds, bedspreads, and matching dressers on opposite sides of the room.  Floating stars, crescent moons, gold Christmas ornaments, a rocket ship, and an airplane hang above them.  Between them is a small table with a tiny Christmas tree on it.  Four kittens are sleeping in three different spots in the room.  Through their window is a snow-covered cityscape.

Inside the fourth home, a mother leaps from her bed, grabbing her glasses from her nearby dresser. Her hair is wrapped in a leopard print scarf. 

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Through double glass doors, bordered with lighted Christmas lights inside, we see a large full moon, homes with adobe sides and tiled roofs.  Palm trees tower over the homes.  Palm boughs can be seen near this home through the doors.  A large wreath hangs in the center of the double doors.

Each subsequent page turn takes us to varying scenes inside and outside each of these four places.  We see them from different perspectives, sometimes a bird's eye view or sometimes as if we are in the very room being featured.  As the poem progresses, the details within the places change. A red-headed and bearded man looks out the upper window of the farmhouse.  A Black man looks out the window of the city home.  There is the silence of snow and Christmas lights over the entire trailer park. The brown-skinned mother peaks around the corner of the entrance to the living room as Santa comes down the chimney into a fireplace tiled in colors of the sea.

Closer inspection of the elements in the rooms reveals more about the occupants of these homes and how they celebrate.  In the living room of the city home on the mantle is a Nativity creche and a Menorah.  It is a children's Menorah with the candle holders as dogs.  (This is an actual Menorah used by the son of librarian Susan Kusel.)  On the plate of Christmas cookies in the home situated among palm trees is a piece of key lime pie.

Rendered using

acrylic paint and colored pencil

these illustrations by Loren Long are exquisite.  Children from different racial or religious backgrounds, with a disability or different family structures will see themselves in these pictures.  Each page turn invites a closer and longer look.  Perhaps readers will see a character from one of Loren Long's previous titles.  

I simply could not select a favorite illustration.  I love them all.  The play of light and shadow, the inclusion of details, and the progression of changes within each home are charming, fabulous, and the best of the best.  

This edition of The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore with pictures by Loren Long needs to be in each personal and professional collection.  It is a splendid blend of the past with the present. It is memorable.

To learn more about Loren Long and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Loren Long has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter