Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Intriguing Insects

From fleas to beetles,
from bed bugs to flies,
bugs and their numbers can be quite a surprise. 
Their feats are amazing, and believe it or not,
there are more than 10 quintillion; that's saying a lot.

Whether you are a lover of insects or not, hours will be spent pouring over the pages of graphic designers, Sharon Werner's and Sarah Forss' newest tome, Bugs by the Numbers:  facts and figures for multiple types of bugbeasties.  Werner and Forss are the team behind a thriving business, Werner Design Werks, Inc. located in St. Paul, Minnesota as well as their earlier book which garnered much praise, Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types.  Their works have found a permanent place in the Library of Congress.

 Ant, butterfly, ladybug, spider, centipede, grasshopper, walking stick, mosquito, praying mantis, termite and even earthworm are just a few of the 23 bugs crawling, flying, jumping, and weaving their way through this book.

Readers are surrounded by numbers at every turn of the page. Squiggling lines attached to numbers decorate the front and back endpapers.  Upon closer inspection the lines are facts about the bug featured with that number.   What this typographical wizard duo has done is to combine research with art.  Rarely has a more captivating technique been employed to make learning so appealing.

Let's take the number 168 which appears on the back endpapers.  A zig-zagging line moves across the two pages reading:  Cockroaches can zigzag 25 times every second, which makes them 1 of the most agile creatures on earth.  Cockroaches have 2 sets of teeth-1 sideways pair in their mouth and another in their digestive system to finish the work.  A cockroach has 5 claws on each leg.  An adult male can squeeze into a space the thickness of a quarter.  Cockroaches have 18 knees.
When readers turn to the page 168 (numbers are in chronological order but many are skipped in between each bug's factual narrative) they are "treated" to this interesting fact:  Cockroaches can move very fast , but sometimes not fast enough and they get squished, oops!  Don't worry, a cockroach can survive for 168 hours without its head.  but sadly, without a mouth it dies of thirst.
Werner and Forss then employ that number repeatedly to design the silhouette of the insect's body surrounded by large white or colorful space.  Each entry has additional numeric tidbits of information along the bottom or side of the pages.

When initially describing this book to potential readers the words astonishing, clever, artistic and informative come to mind.   This visually pleasing array is further enhanced by nine die-cut gatefolds which are a hit no matter the age of the reader.  Multiple viewings are encouraged due to the heavy card stock used for the pages. 

One for the elementary school, one for the middle school and one for me to be read over and over.  Who knew that creepy could be so cool.  What fun!

Monday, May 30, 2011


Memorial Day is more than just getting a long weekend or heralding the unofficial first day of summer.  Tradionally honoring those soliders who died in service of these United States, its origins can be traced back to the Civil War.  Today while remembering those brave men and women of the military many are also thinking of treasured and loved family and friends they have lost.

It seems fitting The Memory Bank by Carolyn Coman and illustrated by Rob Shepperson should be the book highlighted in my post today.  Carolyn Coman is the recipient of the Newbery Honor award for What Jamie Saw and a Michael Printz Honor winner for Many Stones.  Both of these titles were finalists for the National Book Award.  The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have published illustrations by Shepperson.  He has collaborated with Coman on other titles, The Big House, and its sequel, Sneaking Suspicions.

As the reader turns the first several pages black and white pen, ink and pencil graphics show a sleeping child which becomes two young girls awakening and getting dressed.  The older of the two reminds the younger not to forget to wear her whistle; a whistle to be blown if she needs help from her sister.  This daily reminder of Hope to Honey, is representative of the deep and binding love between the siblings.  This closeness is ever so necessary in light of their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Scroggins.  The two could be on a poster advertising cold, unloving, selfish and downright evil. 

For the simple act of laughter, Honey is abandoned along the road waving in a swirl of dust as the car speeds away.  Hope's pleas for her parents to turn around and get her sister fall on deaf ears.  She is told to forget Honey.

All signs of her are removed from their home.  Hope is sent to live and sleep in the garage.  She gives in to despair finding refuge in continuous sleep so she can dream of Honey.

Imagine her surprise when a large, jolly, kind man, Obleratta, interrupts her dreams standing in the garage one morning.  He is a pick-up and delivery specialist working for the WWMB, the World Wide Memory Bank.  It appears that her account is unbalanced with insufficient memory deposits; the result of too much dreaming.

To her wonder Hope is now an invited guest in this amazing world of  memory and dreams.  A host of colorful, imaginative characters greet her every exploration:  Sterling Prion, overseer and man in charge of all memories in the bank, Violette Mumm, guardian of the Dream Vault, Helen, caretaker of first memories, memies and Ute and Franka, Sorters of lobeglobes, marble-like memories traveling down the gigantic Receptor from each and every living soul. 

Continually astonished by the charitable words and actions of all, but most notably by the conversations she has with Violette Mumm,  Hope begins to believe that she may one day see Honey again.
  "Such a dedicated dreamer!  You're trying to find your way back to her!"  Hope's eyes got bigger.  "I am?"  She straightened up.  "Is there a way?  Back to her?"  Her heart galloping in her chest.  "Oh, my dear, of that there is no doubt," Violette answered.  "And your dreams are leading the way."  "They are?"  Hope said daring to hope.

And what has happened to Honey?  Readers are treated to the soft, inviting wordless visuals of Shepperson which are carefully placed between each written chapter telling a story of their own.  A truckload of happy, laughing, lollipop-sucking children have picked her up.  Honey has become a member of the Clean Slate Gang whose only purpose is to war against the WWMB by exploding broken memories in the Dump and gumming-up the inter-workings of this institution with sticky lollipops.  Why they are doing this is for the reader to discover.  The story ends as it began with no text but with a series of picture-perfect pages.

Carolyn Coman remains a storyteller of extraordinary talent.  Rob Shepperson is the ideal match with illustrations that lend themselves to an inventive parallel word.  While this is a first rate fantasy it also touches on childhood fears and the power of memory and dreams to provide hope and extend the boundaries of love.

This post is in memory of my father, a veteran of World War II serving in the Aleutian Islands for a year and for inspiring me to be open to the endless possibilities afforded by reading as much as possible whenever possible.  Thank you, Dad, for expanding my mind and my world.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Virtual Post-It Boards-Yet One More

This newest offering, Primary Wall , for real-time online collaboration between students and their teacher was conceived by a teacher.  It is designed to be used in education by educators, primarily in grades K-8.  It is hosted by Primary Technology and appears to be in beta form.  At this time the basic app is free and no registration is required.  A wall will be saved for thirty days unless the pro app is purchased.  By registering and paying for the pro app users can change the background, font and security level.

To begin click on Create new wall.  A post-it note appears with spots to add the note's title, the body of the note, the name or nickname of the note's writer and a Click to post me! button so the note can be added to the board.  The message appears right away and it can be arranged on the screen by simply dragging or by clicking the Sort button in the upper right hand corner.  There is a search option for locating notes as well as the ability to generate a link so the wall can be shared.  One of the newer features is that the contents of the wall can be integrated into the web 2.0 app, Wordle.  When the Share button is clicked beneath the link the user sees:  At that time send note contents to wordle.  By clicking the Go button the page changes to the Wordle screen. 

Support is available in the form of a Wiki, Community, a forum for asking questions, Blog and Contact information.

Please note that when I attempted to use this in Internet Explorer the program would not load.  When using Google Chrome it loaded instantly and was very easy to use.

This is the link to the wall that I created: http://bit.ly/lL5jTS

Thanks to Richard Byrne for posting about this newer online sitcky note app on his blog, Free Technology For Teachers , on April 1, 2011.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

In The News

Following School Library Journal via Twitter revealed some exciting announcements last week.  At the BEA-BookExpo America in New York, the largest publishing event in North America, one of the most anticipated books coming out October 25, 2011 is The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.

Since its publication in 1984 The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris VanAllsburg has intrigued readers of all ages.  The Chronicles of Harris Burdick is to be a collection of short stories based upon the illustrations in the earlier work.  The all-star cast of authors contributing to this book are Sherman Alexis, M. T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, Cory Doctorow, Jules Feiffer, Stephen King, Tabitha King, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, Walter Dean Myers, Linda Sue Park, Louis Sachar, Jon Scieszka, Lemony Snicket, and Chris VanAllsburg. 

For years readers of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick have imagined or written their own versions of what those pictures are conveying to them.  The anticipation of reading the interpretations of these authors is way, way over the top!

Every other year IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People)presents the Hans Christian Andersen Awards to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children's literature.  For an author and illustrator there is no higher recognition at the international level.

Newly nominated authors and illustrators that are represented in our library media centers are:  United States, Paul Fleischman, author, Chris Raschka, illustrator; Australia, Bob Graham, illustrator; United Kingdom, Philip Pullman, author, John Burningham, illustrator, Ireland, Eoin Colfer, author; Czech Republic, Peter Sis, illustrator, and Canada, Tim Wynne-Jones, author. 

The winners will be announced at the IBBY Press Conference at the Bologna Children's Book Fair on Monday, 19 March 2012.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Equal Time for a C..A..T.., But Don't Breathe a Word of It to Xena

In the wee little village of
Sweet Apple Green,
in the tiniest cottage you've ever seen,
lives a cat causing trouble
within and without...

a cat named Tumford...
Tumford Stout.                                                       

It comes as no surprise to we lovers of dogs, one and all, that a cat would be the source of trouble as the introduction to Tumford the Terrible begins.  Disruption is this feline's middle name, leaving in his wake table settings strewn about the dining area, flattened garden veggies, and multi-colored paint paw prints across the floor.  To Tummy, so nicknamed by Georgy and Violet Stoutt, the very worst thing of all,  that one thing that he could not do, was say sorry.  Instead of uttering that word he hid, yes he did.

Thinking that a change of scenery might modify Tumford's mind and his manners, the Stoutts plan a trip to the village fair.  But a promise is made.  If this black and white bundle of furry fuss makes a mess he must apologize.

A whiff of smelly fish, a dish of kippers, is his undoing.  He leaps spilling them right on the Village Fair Queen. In hiding, of course that's just what he did, Tumford begins to think that perhaps saying that one little word might make all the Stoutts happy, even him.

 All ends as it should with readers knowing why one among many are called magic words. 

Author/illustrator Nancy Tillman is best known for her New York Times Bestseller, On The Night You Were Born.  In  Tumford the Terrible light verse in rhyme with humor spread throughout tells the tale.  Using mixed media she cleverly captures the antics of our character making use of large areas of white space drawing in the reader's eye.  Illustrations that exemplify Tumford's camouflage skills are certain to draw a chuckle or two.

 Tillman's closing narrative in this tale sums up her life's message toward all children--You are loved.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hound Dog Heaven

When a woman introduces her blog: My name is Ree--I'm a desperate housewife.  I live in the country.  I channel Lucille Ball, Vivien Leigh, and Ethel Merman. Welcome to my frontier! readers immediately know that they are in for a humorous treat . Ree Drummond began chronicling her life as the wife of a cattle rancher in 2006.  By 2009 The Pioneer Woman  had earned the Weblog of the Year Award given at the Weblog Awards.  The Pioneer Woman Cooks; Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl was published in October 2009.  A series of blog posts became a book in February 2011 titled The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels--A Love Story.  You just never know what you will discover when gathering information about the author of a new book.

Now three weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list, Charlie the Ranch Dog is Drummond's first book for children.  The droll tongue and cheek narrative found in her blog posts is present in spades as a day in the life of Charlie unfolds.

After Charlie introduces himself and his best doggie friend, Suzie, readers turn pages that compare their traits only to have Charlie tell them:   But all that stuff doesn't really matter anyway.  'Cause tall or short, slow or fast, tiny ears or floppy ears, there's plenty of work around here for both of us. 

As Charlie relates the days events from getting up in the morning, to chasing cows out of the yard, to sniffing the porch steps for critters or helping Mama in the garden, it won't take readers long to figure out that what he says and what he does are two separate things.  In fact midway through-It isn't even lunchtime yet, and I've already worked harder than most dogs out there.  I think I'll just sit down and rest for a minute.  I think I'll just...ZZZZZZZZZZZZ...

It seems that when it comes to napping and food, especially bacon, Charlie is the champion.  When he wakes up from one of those short little snoozes only to find everyone gone, Charlies decides to take---you guessed it--another nap. But lo and behold those big floppy ears hear cows getting in Mama's garden and Charlie lets loose with a big howl.  What would this ranch do without him?!

Unlike Charlie's short legs this story is long on laughter and...love.  For it is obvious that despite his need for shut-eye Charlie has found a warm, cozy spot in this author's heart.

Diane deGroat began illustrating books for others in 1973.  After 20 years she wrote and illustrated her own book, Annie Pitts Artichoke.  Her first picture book was Roses are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink.  Fans  of those Gilbert books rejoice; she is working on her thirteenth book in the series. 

Her artwork in Charlie the Ranch Dog is a true reflection of the playful tone found in the author's text as well as a clever depiction of what is really happening despite what Charlie is telling his readers.  Each one and two page spread reveals another small friend accompanying Charlie throughout his day.  Will readers find this furry companion? 

I encourage you to follow the links for both the author's blog and illustrator's web site.  In every way possible way they are outstanding.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sizzling Scieszka

It came as no surprise to those of us familiar with the work of Jon Scieszka that he would be awarded the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature medal given by Librarian of Congress James H. Billlington on October 11, 2008.

 Prior to and after serving  this two year term he wrote the Time Wrap Trio series which currently has its own TV show, the newer Trucktown books and a dozen picture books on all things weird and wonderful.   One of many done in collaboration with Lane Smith is the Caldecott Award Honor book , The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. 

Jon Scieskza has been a true champion for the cause of promoting not just reading but specifically reading for boys and young men.  At Guys Read he has numerous lists of time-tested books for guys, he has started a library of anthologies called Guys Read; the first is Guys Read-Funny Business which had me rolling with laughter.  In the Guys Read blog yesterday he announced that the second book, Guys Read-Thriller is being released tomorrow.  He offers a separate page for encouraging guys to start a reading group offering print-outs and advice.

Nearly a year ago his newest series began with Spaceheadz,  Book #1.  In describing this newest tome two words come to mind--wild and wacky; well maybe three--hilarious.   Michael K. is the new kid at school and his first day experiences in Mrs. Halley's fifth grade class at P.S. 858 are out of this world---literally.

Paired with two new kids who give a whole different meaning to the word strange, Michael slowly becomes convinced that they are truly aliens from an unknown planet and their mission leader is the class hamster, Major Fluffy. This convincing comes in the form of Bob and Jennifer's speech which is strictly in commercial "sloganese" or other well known short phrases from Big Time Wrestling.
The boy nodded back.  "JUST DO IT."  The girl drew on her Star Wars lunch box: SPHDZ . This was getting beyond weird.  "Michael K., I'M LOVING IT!" said the boy.  "We need your help.  You must become a SPHDZ.  Save your world.  I am Bob."  "Jennifer," said the girl in that deep, echoing voice.  Michael K. watched Jennifer crunch the last of his Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2...Jennifer burped up the eraser from Michael K.'s only pencil.  She spit it out.  "SPHDZ---GET RRRREADY TO RRRRRUMBLE," said Jennifer.  Let's face it--who else would talk like that but two aliens?!

Then, too, there are the conversations between the duo and Major Fluffy who speaks, Week eek eeeekwee weee weee eeee ee eeeek eeeek.  Pair this with the inept surveillance of Agent Umber of the Anti-Alien Agency (AAA) complete with a Picklephone (R), a beat-up old white van and a multitude of surefire disguises that continually backfire and you have a day that gets nuttier and nuttier. 

Their mission on planet Earth is to get three point one four million and one Earth persons to become SPHDZ.  If this mission is not accomplished Earth will be turned off.   Using discarded trash as their technology,  Bob, Jennifer and Major Fluffy design a web site to lure Earthlings to become SPHDZ.  Michael K. has a decision to make, save his sanity or save the world.

Right before Christmas, Spaceheadz, Book #2 hit the scene funnier, if that's possible, than the first book.  Michael K., Jennifer, Bob and Major Fluffy have returned with absurd antics that define their determination to make this mission not impossible.  They are joined by techno geek students, TJ and Venus who have been observing the events with a skeptical eye. The characters of School Nurse Dominique and Agent Magenta become more fully fleshed-out.  Dad K. and the Ad Factory NY offices add another piece to the ever-growing puzzle.  Readers discover that Mom K. is an employee of the ZIA.  But with each revelation more questions rise to the surface which just adds to the increasingly fast-paced action.

Toss in a class project that matches this group of six with the kindergarten students practicing for their version of Little Red Riding Hood, a day of bad food in the school cafeteria and an agent lurking in the sewers of Brooklyn and readers are in for one madcap adventure with a mighty suspicious ending. 

Throughout both books black and white illustrations from the mind of Shane Prigmore extend the downright goofy dialogue and events.  It is like seeing the visuals created in your imagination from the text of Scieszka appear right before your eyes on the printed page.  Sprinkled among the chapters of both books are one page explanations of terms that pop-up in the course of the story, TV and radio, waves, interference/amplification, camouflage and mimicry, to name a few.

Additional appeal for this series comes with five web sites, SPHDZ #1 Website, Mrs. Halley's Comets, Anti-Alien Agency, I'm Sure Glad That Didn't Happen and The Ad Factory.  By going to the Simon and Schuster link here those can be accessed.  Number three in the series comes out this fall and I count myself among those readers who can't wait.

To say that my fan factor for Jon Scieszka is high is an understatement.  Oh, and did I mention, he was born and raised right here in Michigan.  Enough said.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The "Hills" Are Alive with the Sound of Twitter

Tweets were flitting through cyberspace this past Thursday about the latest recipient of the Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature.  Although the award winner was announced on April 26th, the ceremony took place on May 19th.  Since 1973 this award has been given annually to an outstanding book for young children--a book in which the text and illustrations are inseparable, each enhancing and enlarging on the other to produce a singular whole.  This award honors the career of Irma Simonton Black as a writer, editor of children's books and one of the founding members of the Bank Street Writer's Laboratory.

What I love about this award and what sets it apart from other awards in this field in that the final judges are children.  An adult group of writers, librarians and educators select up to twenty-five books which they feel meet the criteria.  These twenty or so books are sent in four sets to the different grade levels of students attending the Bank Street School for Children.  After several weeks of reading and discussion four finalists are chosen.  These four are then sent to other schools in New York and in other states.  A winner is voted upon after four weeks of reading, discussion and re-reading.  Even though older students participate in the selection, the book must be geared for first through third grade readers.  The votes from the cooperating schools are tallied to declare a winner.  According to information at the Bank Street College Children's Library site more than 2,500 children vote on this selection.

Partnering with School Library Journal this year the number of voters increased to 9,500 in more than 94 schools.  How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills, which was discussed here in a post on October 2, 2010, is most deserving of this honor.  In an blog interview at SLJ on May 19, 2011 with regards to winning this year Hills makes an interesting statement in light of numerous discussions being held about the impact of digital versus print.
 Digital applications come into play long after I've finished a book, not while I'm creating it. There are ebook versions of my "Duck and Goose" books. How Rocket Learned to Read is available as an ebook but also as an iPad app, which includes not only the book but some great interactive features and animation and a couple of learning games. But when I'm writing or illustrating, I don't think about the story or the pictures in terms of any possible future digital incarnation.

If you haven't found the time to read this gem yet, please do.  Nine thousand, five hundred children say you should.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Too Much Fun With Photos

Is there no end  to the interesting, imaginative photo editing tools that are currently available online?  I spent way  too much time last evening using PhotoFunia .  There are more than 200 frames in which your image can be placed.

For this app you simply click on an effect, choose a file which must be in JPEG, PNG or GIF format, edit  the area, click OK and click GO.  Your creation appears nearly full screen.

At that time Save, Share, Order a Print or Send as a Postcard can be chosen.  There is a fee for Order a Print or Send as a Postcard.  Posting on Facebook, LiveJournal, LiveInternet or Twitter is just a click away.  Other options of posting in a blog or website, direct link to the image or for posting in a forum can be chosen. 

Only persons 13 years of age are allowed to use this site.  Please click on each of these images individually.  One of them has motion.

It's Not Just For The Birds

It seems like every time I read a blog post I discover some new (to me) web 2.0 application that would be amazing for students or staff to use in their school or personal life.  In reading a post  by Joyce Valenza on April 16, 2011 at NeverEndingSearch on the School Library Journal blog titled Design Tools to Die For she lists Aviary .  The creators of Aviary state:  Aviary is on a mission to make creation accessible to artists of all genres

Aviary can be used without registration but registration is simply accomplished with a username, email address and password.  Under the Terms they are asking that users be 13 years of age.  If not they should be under the supervision of a parent or legal guardian. 

Initially a user can upload a file or paste a URL into the frame on the first page.  That image can be altered by clicking on one of the eggs  to the right--sharpen, rotate, flip, resize, crop, redeye, blemish, colors, saturation, blur, brightness, contrast, drawing, text or stickers.  Beneath are golden eggs that offer various framing and effect options---Instant, Toy Camera, Old Photo and Retro. 

By clicking the Save button users can add a comment before downloading or even editing it further.  Image detail link, image URL, HTML image, HTML link, message boards or linked image are choices that can be selected prior to posting this image.  It can be posted directly with a mouse click to an Aviary account, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit or an email.

This is an uploaded photo that has been sharpened, brightened and enhanced with the Old Photo effect.  It was embedded using the HTML image feature.

Further down the screen Advanced Creative Tools are found.  These fall under the three headings of Photo, Design and Audio.  By launching the Image Editor, Effects Editor or the Screen Capture users can edit layers, merge photos, create patterns or use a variety of photo effects.  Quick cropping, creating logos, illustrations or matching colors can be done with the Vector Editor, Image Markup or Color Editor under the Design graphic.  Podcasts, editing of audio, creating beats or ringtones are some of the selections available below the Audio tab. 
Aviary has 87 tutorials for users to access and learn about these features which can create a definite WOW factor.

But the best, newest feature still in Beta is Aviary Education .  By asking for an account you need your school email, school name and location, how many student accounts and, so they can prioritize, why you need your account.  These student accounts are billed as being 100 per cent  safe and they are private.  Assignments and projects can be monitored and managed.  Educators are asked to get written permission from parents or legal guardians if  their students are under 13 years of age.  When I set  up my account the system was so new that  there was a small glitch which I will quickly point out has been fixed.  The reason that I mention it is that I was contacted by two separate techs until it  was fixed.  Their willingness to help and overall customer service rocks!

By the way, Aviary was selected as the name for the services that  this application supplies because the user is creating on the fly.

An Introduction to Aviary Education from Aviary on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Canine Conversations

Each year during the month of January when Caldecott fever spreads throughout the picture book world, we at Charlevoix Elementary School catch it too in the form of author studies and a Mock Caldecott Election.  Our first grade classes study author/illustraor Lois Ehlert, Caldecott Honor Award winner for Color Zoo.

What some call trash Lois Ehlert sees as treasure.  With an artist's practiced eye for detail she views everyday items as potential parts for her bold, creative collages.  Bits and pieces of our natural world make their way into the pages of her books. Ehlert sees possibilities everywhere. Her newest offering, RRRalph, is a classic example of her artistic talents and her less-is-more writing style.

As the story begins an unseen narrator states, I bet you won't believe me, but our dog can talk.  On the opposite page sits the dog in question. Made of torn and cut textured black and white papers sporting a multicolored striped collar with a zipper for a mouth, a flip-top from a can for a nose and button-like eyes he eagerly awaits  the narrator's first of many questions, What's your name?  Turning the page a two page view meets our eyes with our doggie character upright on his two legs as he speaks: RRRALPH  RALPH

Throughout the story our unobserved speaker continues to pose questions which can be only answered as canines can.  Vivid colors as if spilled from a box of crayons are the backdrop for the numerous poses of Ralph and his varied forms of dog speak.  Ehlert's  genius as a storyteller is revealed in the matched responses and queries; What's on that tree?  BARK BARK BARK 

Whether shared one on one or as a read aloud RRRalph is a rousing romp inviting reader participation.  Trust me, listeners will sit and stay once this tale begins.

Beneath the interesting author's note about the book's inspiration title information states the illustrations for this book were made from zippers, wood, buttons, twine, metal, tree bark, screws, hand-painted and handmade papers, and textile fragments.

Monday, May 16, 2011

It Flows Through Us All

Author, Eileen Clemens Granfors, devotes herself full time to writing after a rewarding career as a high school teacher of English.  Some Rivers End on the Day of the Dead is the first book in a trilogy.  A prequel, The Pinata-Maker's Daughter and a sequel, So You, Solimar, are in the works.

Marisol and her mother flee Tijuana, Mexico, in fear of their lives after her father is murdered in front of their home.  They leave her two younger brothers behind with her Abuela, grandmother.  Meeting her father's younger brother, Tomaso, in Santa Dorena, north of Los Angeles, California, she is dismayed to find that her new home is beneath an oak tree in a river bed.  Both she and her mother have passports.  Marisol's father was an American.  But these facts must be kept secret to protect them.  The musings and heartache that Marisol feels about her plight are revealed in simple, spare, elegant words. 
We have changed our names in America.  I am Marisol DeLira at school.  No Lima for Papa, and when I dropped even his name, I dropped a chunk of my heart to leave back on the street with his blood and broken skull.

Her mother finds employment as a nanny and housekeeper for a nearby wealthy family stashing money in a can beneath the tree roots saving for a small place of their own.  Marisol attends high school finding solace in the classroom of Mrs. Kovacs, her English teacher.  Adapting to the students and life in this school, so different from her Catholic school in Mexico, is not easy.  Mrs. K helps her with the equally challenging use of the English language.  Marisol begins to keep a list of idioms as well as expanding her love of reading.  It is during a group project that Mrs. K pairs her with Sylvan, who will become her best friend. 
Mrs. Kovacs put us together to draw a map of  the hurdles George and Lennie faced to try to reach their dream.  The homework was to draw a map of our own hurdles, which I faked because who would believe a hurdle is making sure I have a shower each morning and that another hurdle is hiding so a drug gang can't find me, making me live under an oak tree?  Who would believe that my father was murdered for telling the truth?

Her most difficult challenge comes in the form of a fire which sweeps through the valley destroying homes and their school separating her from her Mother, Uncle, and her friend Sylvan and her hippy grandmother.   It is when she is thrust into staying with Coach Sneed, his family and an ornery male classmate that her views shift as does her need to get home for the Day of the Dead celebration.

Granfors has spun a story of sincere longing for life to be the way it was and the normal anguish felt by teens finding their way.  The thoughts of Marisol as she weighs decisions rings true.  Life in her town of Tijuana, Mexico as the celebration of the Day of the Dead approaches is woven into the plot as cleverly as is a twist of the facts believed to be true.  Flawed and strong characters shape Marisol's world through dialogue and events that reveal their genuine nature.   As her father's words of a river running through all of us guide Marisol so too does Eileen Clemens Granfors' tale steer us toward universal truths that should not be forgotten.

Some Rivers End on the Day of the Dead gives excellent insight into Mexican culture, of a teen seeking to fit into an unfamiliar life and how people, known and new, in our lives can influence us in ways unexpected but necessary to realize our full potential.  Granfors has included a Reading Guide at the book's end making this perfect for a group read.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Those Pun-y Sisters Are Back!

It hardly seems possible that three years have passed since students, staff and parents were sitting in the library listening with rapt attention to the wit and wisdom of author, Susan Stevens Crummel.  In collaboration with her sister, Caldecott Honor winner for Tops & Bottoms, Janet Stevens, Crummel has produced the famously popular books, Help Me, Mr. Mutt! Expert Answers for Dogs with People Problems, The Great Fuzz Frenzy, Jackalope, And The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon and Cook-A-Doodle-Do!  Be advised interested readers, this duo's newest tale, The Little Red Pen, can be added to the list of winning titles.

With business on her brain Little Red Pen, standing next to a huge stack of student papers awaiting correction, declares Let's get to work! It would seem that in the tradition of The Little Red Hen, Stapler, Scissors, Pencil, Eraser, Pushpin and Highlighter are unwilling to provide assistance to the increasingly hysterical "Queen of Correction."  Unlike the Little Red Hen our outraged "inkster" queries, Why not?  

Their replies brimming with clever word play evoke traditional characteristics of these tools of the trade as well as introducing new twists to the tale--The Pit of No Return and Tank the Hamster.  In the manner of best laid plans Little Red Pen finds herself a potential victim of the frightful bin.  Enter her tenuous helpers whose best intentions have made a mess but teamwork and an enraged hamster turn the tide.

Humor intact Crummel's narrative provides puns galore extenuated by the paint, ink and school supplies gathered one and all in a colorful display by Stevens.  Alternating between one and two page spreads readers' smiles grow as do the antics of these indolent implements.  Exaggerated mood-modeling graphics define the pitch perfect pace.

One can only hope that on some distant day opening a drawer voices will be heard before the contents leap out shouting Save The World!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

BeFunky Fun For Teachers

I have previously mentioned BeFunky on this blog (9/21/2010 and  01/31/2011) As stated on their blog:  BeFunky simplifies photo editing and effects for everyday people. 
Check out how this classroom teacher in England used this web 2.0 application in his classroom, BeFunky In Your Classroom.
In the interview he describes the specific activity, how the children responded and the results which are pretty amazing for the age of the children.  This might be a good year-end project with classroom photographs. 

I checked their Terms/Privacy section again today and it states that users need to be 13 years of age so I am curious as to how he was able to use it with 8 and 9 year old students.  But the app is certainly easy enough for them to use and there is no registration requirement where any information about them could be stored.  To begin they just need to click the Get Started button.  Then they have the option of  clicking on six boxes:  Edit your photo, Apply Photo Effects, Apply Artsy Effects, Add Graphics, Shapes, add Text, Speech Bubbles or Add Frames, Borders.  After selecting one of these boxes a photo needs to be uploaded. 

With parental permission for a classroom activity this would certainly be possible.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Soul Song

As soon as I began reading Jason Barron's Ballad of the Northland I knew that it was going to reach deep into my soul rearranging the bits and pieces there into a better whole. And it did.

Recall the coldest you have ever been, then multiple it ten times, add in gale force winds and blinding snow. Picture a family whose snowmobile has stalled on the ice of Norton Sound between Shaktoolik and Koyuk, Alaska. A smothering darkness has fallen as the father leaves for help despite his wife's pleas to not leave them alone. The Boy and his younger brother huddle with their mother sweetly singing to them. The singing fades and his brother no longer hugs him back. The Boy is alone with the wind or has he become the wind?

Now at twelve it is Uncle, Auntie, Middle Cousin and Little Cousin who are The Boy’s family. Poverty relentlessly pursues them day by day as they barely eke out an existence by fishing, hunting and trapping along and around the Yentna River in Matsu Valley. Life is wrought with harrowing experiences and constant brushes with death in this land of stark, rugged glory which cares naught for man or beast. Uncle keeps huskies for transportation and in pursuit of his desire to win The Great Race, The Iditarod.

Later given the opportunity to have a small team of dogs running his own trapline and assisting Uncle in running his longer line as circumstances dictated, The Boy knows that his center can only be found within the bond formed with these dogs. When his feet are on the runners of the sled or he is running alongside his team, only then can he be true to himself. Only then can he become one with these canine creations. That is his gift.
 His longest run before this had been no more than twenty miles, and he knew that this new adventure would pose a difficult challenge for his small team. Right away, he brought their speed down to a precise trot, careful not to put too much pressure on the drag, instead using the influence of his soft voice and even tempered body language to calm the dogs down….Pilot had joined Apache in the lead. She was short and stocky and not very fast, but The Boy sensed in her a mental toughness that would never waver in the face of adversity; a heart that would always beat for her master’s command.

As the Boy’s life story is laid before us it is always enveloped by the stunning landscape of Alaska breathtakingly described by the experienced eye of Barron.
Through the haze, a mountain range grew in outline to the southwest; gentle lines describing a long waist and full hips, half turned shoulder and slender throat, all in pastel blues and white. As they mushed towards the elegant figure of the Sleeping Lady, the sun settled orange and full behind her back and limned her outline in a flare of spun gold, blanketing the rest of her in a stark black shadow that dazzled The Boy’s eye.

The Great Race is not a dream for The Boy but a journey to be realized at all costs. He begins with the shorter runs building his reputation.
It is just before his first race of many that The Whaler, another musher, speaks with him.
The Boy stared at this savage, this mentor. “Run and be true. Trust your dogs.” The Whaler told him. He gestured up the river. “You were born to this, and the river knows you to be a friend. You know its ways, and there is respect. It will help you even while it’s working to crush your enemies.”
“My enemies?”
“Everybody racing against you; everybody who would choose to place their hopes and dreams before yours. Yes, your enemies.” The Boy is now sixteen.

One of the greatest dangers for mushers and their dogs is moose. Barron’s description of such an attack is stark and frightening in its reality. His ability to comprehend the twists and turns of life in its goodness and sadness is exemplified with this passage following the attack. (SPOILER ALERT)
Sometime in the long hours of darkness, Halo came to a brief lucidity and quietly dragged her ruined frame out of the bunkroom and into the cold and laid herself down under the stars. She had been terribly afraid, but was no longer. Now she just gazed up at the sky pulsing with a display of northern lights which almost seemed to reach down and caress her body, brighter then she had ever before seen them. Her last thoughts were of running for her master, and it was his hand that she felt touching her with love and compassion as all sense of the world faded away.

In the years that follow The Boy’s training intensifies, he and his dogs maintain the ultimate relationship of give and take and The Whaler becomes his mentor in earnest.
At eighteen he is running The Great Race as a rookie. It is the last race to be run for he has left his mark in the mushing world and across the vast Alaskan wilderness as none other before him. He has become the stuff of legend.
His is a strange figure. At once dark and foreboding, with his clothes hanging loose and flapping about his lean frame, a fiercely localized storm seems to shroud his character. At other times, he seems frail and oddly vulnerable, as if the slightest touch could disperse him upon the breeze like thistle down. His face is a dim white oval of scars and twisting sadness. His lead dogs, Legend and Titan, are always at his side. They move when he moves, and when he stops, they stalk near to hand, ready to do his bidding. Together, he and his dogs have made themselves into a weapon.

But this Race is like no other. In this race he and his dogs will face competitors that have won virtually unopposed. The forces of Nature, the Earth herself and the faces of comfortable ghosts from his past will all seek to enfold him in their embrace.

As stated in an interview written by Peggy O’Neill December 17, 2010 in the Independent Record, Jason Barron says of this story, It has been living inside me since I was a boy. Barron grew up in the bush of Alaska where survival was a way of life. He is a veteran of nine Iditarod races.

But readers least you think this is only a story of The Great Race be advised it is more, so much more. It is a story of determined triumph in the face of overwhelming adversity. Reading this will raise you up where you are acutely aware of that wellspring deep within us that longs to make us free. Ballad of the North is to be savored again and again for the sheer beauty of its characters and the landscape that surrounds their journeys.

Jason’s wife, Harmony Barron, an artist with a passion for drawing and painting, has completed three Iditarod races, mushed in other mid- distance races and won the 2002 Montana Race to the Sky. It is her illustrations that grace the pages of each chapter and the cover of Ballad of the North.

I highly recommend this rich, rewarding read for high middle grades and up.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Frantic Feathered Folly

The books of  Doreen Cronin are well known to my students and I.  We have chuckled over the exploits of Duck in Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type, Giggle Giggle Quack, Dooby, Dooby, Moo, and Duck For President.  We have poured over her Diary of  Worm, Diary of a Spider and Diary of a Fly trio. 

Introducing a new series for middle readers with the title, The Trouble with Chickens: A J. J. Tully Mystery (Balzer + Bray), Cronin exhibits that she has grown with her readers.  The dry, drool humor found in her previous books is sharper and more prevalent.  With puns abounding readers will find it hard to not snicker and burst out laughing.  She may have looked fluffy and new, but this chick had already learned that life outside the shell was not all it was cracked up to be.

Short, witty chapters introduce readers to Jonathan Joseph Tully (J. J.) a seven year veteran as a search and rescue dog.  His quiet retirement in the country is being interrupted by the pesky presence of a looney chicken named Moosh (Millicent) and her two chicks, Dirt and Sugar (Loo Boo and Peep).  Dialogue is reminiscent of old detective shows on television or in early novels:  I'm  no chicken expert, but something wasn't right.  "Who's missing?" I asked Moosh.  The truth was somewhere between her brain and her beak.  I wasn't sure it would survive the trip.  "Spill it, Moosh," I grunted.  She was getting on my nerves.

Yes, indeed, two more chicks are missing and a note has been delivered.  There is to be a meeting at twilight but best laid plans get twisted as do loyalties.  One surprise links to another as the peeps, their beaky Mom and Vince the Funnel crash, clash and dash with and against our canine detective.  What follows these fouled-up fowl is for the reader to discover as the doggone truth closes this case.

 The black and white drawings of Kevin Cornell  make this slim 100 plus page tale even more engaging.  These illustations interpret each and every facial twitch and corny characteristic of the critters as they crack the case amid screaming, squawking action (and the occasional dog nap).

Will the daring duo of Cronin and Cornell return?  Stay tuned for The Legend of Diamond Lil.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

They Are Still The One!

Anyone stopping by during story time, no matter the grade level, at our elementary school would be hard pressed not to agree that it is and always will be a favorite with children.  There is a quality of companionship generated in those moments that can not be duplicated during any other activity.  Even though they would be loath to admit it, the middle school students still sense those mesmerizing moments created by the compelling combination of text and most importantly, the illustrations.

Having read it mentioned in two different blogs this morning and in turn reading it myself, I urge you to read this post on the The Horn Book Magazine site.  It is an article that appears in the May/June issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Written by Allyn Johnston and Marla Frazee Why We're Still in Love with Picture Books (Even Though They're Supposed to Be Dead) couldn't have said any better what I have known to be true for years.

Reading Raves

When I began to use Google Reader in the fall of 2010 I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to set up and how much it kept me informed with all that is happening in my fields of interest.
As previously posted on April 25, 2011 I am a reader of the blog by Donalyn Miller called The Book Whisperer.  Last week a colleague of mine at the middle school spoke of recently attending a workshop held by Miller.  In showing me her copy of Miller's The Book Whisperer she pointed out a list at the end of good links to blogs, web sites and networking options.  One of the networking sites is called Goodreads.
Just this morning another blogger that I follow, Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers had a guest post by Jennifer Roberts.  Readers were treated to how she has applied Goodreads in her high school classroom. 

These connections are what is prompting me to write about Goodreads.  A month ago I joined the ranks of Goodreads whose members number well over 4.5 million since its inception in December 2006.
Users must be over 13 years of age and need to have approval and supervision if under the age of 18. 
To register simply give your name, email address and a password.  Facebook, Twitter and Google can also be used to sign in. 

Goodreads has stated on their site:  Goodreads' mission is to get people excited about reading. Along the way, we plan to improve the process of reading and learning throughout the world.
A mission such as theirs is what I and many of my colleagues strive for throughout our careers and lifetime.

Users can create profiles, lists of books read, currently reading or waiting to read.  When a book is selected a rating can be assigned as well as writing a review.  When another reader becomes your Friend popular titles are shared and books can be swapped.

There are as many Groups to join as there are interests; as of this writing there are more than 33,000.  Group members can share with other members as much or as little as they desire adding discussion topic folders whose parameters have been set by the group founder/leader.  Without joining a group you can still view their discussions which I did before joining my only group. 

The Explore tab lists quick links to listopia topics, popular lists, goodreads voice which is a newsy update of books and book people, giveaways, ebooks, the bookswap, random selection of books to browse, genres, trivia, quizzes, quotes, authors, creative writing by tags and genres, events within a 200 mile radius of your area and people who are currently online.

Goodreads offers an incredible way to share with those taken with books and reading of all ages and walks of life and to promote a life-long reading habit.  Get connected today!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Have No Fear, Instablogg Is Here

On Twitter, May 4, 2011, Richard Byrne of Free Technology For Teachers gave a heads up about a new web 2.0 app, Instablogg,  that allows the user to blog single use posts instantly.  There is absolutely no start, setup or maintaining. No age limit has been set in the terms of service but it appears that any post could be viewed in the Explore option. 
The tool bar offers a variety of elements to design a nice looking blog post.  The basics of cut, copy, paste, paste as plain text, and paste from Word are available.  Undo, redo, find, replace, select all, remove format and four alignment options are a click away.  Font can be manipulated to read as bold, italics, underlined or strike through.  Numbered and bulleted lists can be inserted. Images, video, tables, and links can be embedded.

It took me a few tries to figure out how to insert images but once mastered it was easy.  When you create your blog post two URLs are assigned; one that is sent to an email address if you wish to edit it and another for viewers of your blog post.  Readers will be able to leave comments as your blog can be shared on a multitude of sites and online networks.

My Instablogg about a Bear unit conducted in November.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Can't Get Enough Of Reading

As a part of their 90th anniversary, 1920-2010, celebration Scholastic has initiated a Global Literacy Campaign .  At its heart is The Reading Bill of Rights

To further assist in accomplishing the goals set forth in The Reading Bill of Rights, on online auction of artwork by twelve well-known illustrators will begin at 6 P. M. today, May 5, 2011.  The theme of their graphics will be Read Every Day. Lead A Better Life.  The auction will conclude on June 5, 2011.  After that time poster size reproductions will be available for purchase.  Participating artists are:
Norman Bridwell, Bruce Degen, Edwin Fotheringham, Mary GrandPr√©, Barbara McClintock, Jon J Muth, Sean Qualls, Stephen Savage, David Shannon, Jeff Smith, Mark Teague and Raina Telgemeier.  Proceeds from this auction will benefit Reading Is Fundamental and Reach Out and Read.

Now if only I could find that elusive money tree.

Beware The Moon...

It's a scientific fact that our canine friends while having the same five senses as humans, have increased levels of those senses.  Perhaps the most noticeable is that of smelling and hearing.  But those of us who have spent years in companionship with dogs know that they have a sixth sense, if you will, that knows when something is present that we can not detect.  They have an uncanny ability to perceive when there will be a shift in the commonplace; a connection to the natural world that has been forgotten and lost by us. 

Mox, know as Scruffy to his people, has been sent outside for the night confused about his typical dog behavior that was unacceptable to one of his people.  In the darkness he hears the voice of his old friend, Daeden.  Daeden, a stray living on the streets, assists in his escape to freedom. Mox's freedom comes with a price.  He begins having terrifying visions of mass destruction with a Red Moon ever present.

What they need and need soon is advice as to what is triggering these images and causing Mox to go in a frenzy when they appear.  The self-serving crow, Krigg, offers his frightening interpretation which nearly changes the course our Terrier-Schnauzer hero takes.  At Daeden's urging they travel beyond known borders deep into the dense, dark forest seeking the counsel of a coyote, Kaalem.  He warns them of Krigg:  You would be wise not to associate with that one.  He has BAD friends and even WORSE enemies.  He cares little for EITHER.  But he does offer them hope in the the form of a council; a council of great creatures that rule the world's regions that are called together in a time of need.  This is that time.  The Sacred Rock of their meetings is close.

With increased urgency our two friends traverse over land and on the sea in their quest to comprehend what the Om-tira, the language of the spirits of nature, is saying to Mox. It is a rare gift, these visions, and Mox has been chosen.  It has been said that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Mox, despite his stature, rises to unimaginable heights with a heart strong in courage and filled with love. 

Fantasy, yes, but this is more importantly a story of apocalyptic proportions where the least shall become larger than life if humans only choose to not ignore what the world around them is saying. 
Well, they're clearly trying to tell us something, and it seems rather important.  My guess, as is much of the scientific community's is that it's geological in nature and they're sensing something as they would an earthquake or tidal waveHowever, what it also tells us is that it will be something that we've never seen in recorded history...

As an author, McAdoo has crafted as fine a tale as one could want but his illustrations in this first self-published graphic novel, Red Moon, are a visual celebration.  Readers will devour this black and white feast spread before them hungrily.  David McAdoo has drawn panels that collage small vignettes of time passing, soul revealing eye close-ups and two page panoramas that are breathtaking. As the only color, the Red Moon, appears more frequently tension mounts as does the readers' appetite for a satisfying conclusion to this thrilling tale.

What's not to love about a dog that saves the world?  Multiple copies are making their way to our middle school.  Plus I am getting one of my very own so I can read it again and again.

Red Moon received a starred review in the July 2010 issue of Booklist, a recommended review on the School Library Journal blog on June 10, 2010 and made the School Library Journal The Best Comics for Kids list on December 15, 2010.   Please read this interview of David McAdoo on the School Library Journal blog.

My sincere thanks to Mr. McAdoo for granting me permission to post these images from his novel.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

We Are Most Certainly Not In Kansas Anymore

While Christmas Eve is generally a night laden with anticipation for the joy that morning brings, few children remember it as the last time they will see their parents.  Kate, the oldest of three children is awakened by her mother:  "Kate"--her voice low and urgent--"listen very closely.  I need you to do something for me.  I need you to keep your brother and sister safe.  Do you understand?  I need you to keep Michael and Emma safe."  "What..."
"There isn't time to explain.  Promise me you'll look after them."  "But---"  "Oh, Kate, please!  Just promise me!"  "I...I promise."
As she makes this promise Kate looks up to see a shadowy figure silhouetted in the doorway.  The children are quickly placed in a car and whisked away from their parents.  So begins Book One-The Books of Beginning-The Emerald Atlas (Knopf Books for Young Readers, April 5, 2011) by John Stephens. 

For the next ten years they are in and out of one orphanage after another.  Kate is determined to keep the promise made to her mother.  Responsibility for her siblings is done with love but it is a burden that she alone bears.  Studious, spectacle-wearing Michael, notebook and camera in hand, records what he sees in the world about him.  He is obsessed with dwarfs having read repeatedly  The Dwarf Omnibus by G. G. Greenleaf which was found tucked in his blankets after his parents' disappearance.  Tempestuous Emma, the youngest, is as outspoken as she is loyal.  Her stubbornness and tenacity are a mainstay in the course of events that unfold.

Miss Crumley, headmistress at the Edgar Allan Poe Home for Hopeless and Incorrigible Orphans, has put them on a train to a new home that is their last chance.  The location, reached by boat, is across a lake and through the fog to Cambridge Falls; a world near but not so near to ours.  To their puzzlement they are the only three orphans at this new residence.  In fact, they are the only children in the whole town.  Caretakers for this new home are Miss Sallow, who continually speaks to them as if they are French royalty, and gentle Abraham, a taker of photographs.  Mr. Stanislaus Pym, owner of this mansion on the mountain, appears and disappears with regularity. 

While exploring the three children take the stairs into a wine cellar walking through a doorway that was seconds before invisible.  In a room they find a book, emerald in color whose pages are blank.  When a photograph given to them by Abraham is thoughtlessly placed in the book, the children are whooshed back in time. 

The three initially watch in  horror as the truth about what happened to Cambridge Falls is revealed to them by the presence of the cold-hearted, vile witch, The Countess, her hordes of Screechers and her equally malignant secretary, Mr. Cavendish. It becomes crystal clear that Kate, Michael and Emma are part of a master plan put into play thousands of years ago. The fate of our world and that of Cambridge Falls is in their hands.

John Stephens has created a cast of characters finely woven through the threads of time.  Those elements that bring readers to fantasy, good versus evil, alternate worlds, magic, heroes and heroines, special characters such as dwarfs and a magical object, are not only present but so fully described the readers' world fades away to be replaced by the world of The Emerald Atlas.   A huge draw for readers will be the snappy, sometimes humorous but constantly heartfelt dialogue between characters.  Replete with gripping action, unearthly enemies, impressive allies, and the strong bonds of family, the genre of fantasy could ask for no finer representation.

There are three books and three children.  Only time and the pen of John Stephens will reveal which book will claim which child next.  Patience has never been one of my virtues when it comes to sequels.  Like the proverbial child on a trip, until we travel with these three again, my mantra will be:  "Are we there yet?"

Monday, May 2, 2011

Quintessential Companion

It is in solitude that quiet can be observed and noticed. In their first collaboration, The Quiet Book (HMH Books for Young Readers, April12, 2010, author Deborah Underwood and illustrator Renata Liwska touched a chord in the hearts of their intended readers. For that reason it has been on The New York Times Best Sellers list.
In this newest volume, The Loud Book (HMH Books for Young Readers, April 4, 2011), their two parts make a pleasing whole on numerous levels:


In clear, clever phrases readers share in Underwood’s unique understanding of the exuberant, awesome, satisfying, embarrassing, expected and unexpected noises that are commonplace in the lives of children. The book opens with ALARM CLOCK LOUD following the characters in a seamless flow from one sound to another, some the result of the previous loud.

As the final page is turned readers smile as CRICKETS LOUD comes into view closing out the day. In a blog interview on April 1, 2011 on The Children’s Book Review site Deborah Underwood states: My theory is that most children’s authors have inner children, and we’re drawn to writing for that age….Verbal play and just being goofy helps my creative process. So does being around animals, whether they’re the pigs and turkeys at my favorite animal sanctuary or the squirrels and ducks in the park.

Sketchbooks, small enough to carry are always within reach of illustrator, Renata Liwska. Lovable, soft, stuffed-animal-like woodland creatures and a quirky striped lizard find their way from pencil drawings to images that not only reflect the text but expand its definition. Her illustrations are brimming with animation, expression and humor.

Graphics throughout are continuously connected. The front and back of the title page are two characters speaking through tin cans connected with string as the words fan out to become the sound. In WALKING-TO-SCHOOL SONG LOUD a squirrel on a tree branch is flinging pine cones at one of the singers. A bee in an outside scene makes his way inside on another page.

Her attention to detail is exemplified when in SPILLING YOUR MARBLES IN THE LIBRARY LOUD on the book cart is a miniature copy of The Quiet Book. Perhaps one of the best examples of her artistic gift is the shift of perspective in the illustration of FIREWORKS LOUD with all the animals gazing skyward.

Liwska states: I follow the old saying, Draw what you know. But I think I also follow another saying just as much, Draw what you like!

One can not help recalling similar loud situations in their lives or dream up other kinds of loud as they gaze at the pictures and text.  For readers of all ages this book is School's Out For The Summer Loud.