Quote of the Month

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

Friday, February 28, 2014

For The Little Guys And Gals...

There is nothing quite like having your library filled with a kindergarten class.  At the beginning of the school year, you seriously wish you could clone yourself when they are learning to browse for books.  Many lessons involve breaking into song for showing them how to save their spot with a marker, explaining the fiction and nonfiction areas, the difference between an author and an illustrator and getting settled in the story area.

When it comes to reading aloud you couldn't ask for a more captive audience.  The sound of their oohs, aahs and laughter is the best music in the world. If what you are reading has the slightest cadence, they will soon be responding with body movements to match the beat.  Little Poems for Tiny Ears (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group(USA) ) written by Lin Oliver with illustrations by Tomie de Paola will have listeners grinning, giggling, singing and sighing in no time at all.

These twenty-three rhythmic rhymes cover a variety of aspects and activities from the babyhood realm.  The startling discovery of seeing someone exactly like you doing everything you do in tandem when first looking in a mirror, the numerical fascination with ten toes, the built-in buffer of behinds when learning to walk or cruising the neighborhood in a vehicle powered by parents are examined with the open enthusiasm of a child.  A nose, a sneeze and a tongue are placed, defined and described with transparent truths.

What's that noise?  What's that you said?  There's simply no sense to these sounds except to the one making them.  Friendly dogs and cuddly cats are constant companions and communicators. The advantages of sitting in certain places are featured with eager energy.

Silly games, clanging kitchen utensils, and moving mobiles provide endless entertainment.  Daily rituals, diaper-changing time, nap time, bath time and bed time, are titled and shared with delightful musings.  The three "b"s, belly button, beard and blankie are all part of this creative welcoming collection.

You can almost hear the childlike voices reciting these poems as they are read.  Lin Oliver combines her keen observations of human behavior and stellar writing skills to deliver verses as lively as the subjects. There is a sense of sincere respect for these marvelous moments shared by children as well as a gentle joy, a touch of humor, in each of Oliver's selections.  Here is a single poem.

Without my blankie,
Me so cranky.
When it's by me,
Me all smiley.

The beautiful layout and design found on the front extends to the back of the matching dust jacket and book case; the row of square blocks continuing with fifteen more, alternating background colors, stretching to an enlarged back book flap.  In what can only be described as brilliant, this longer jacket flap unfolds covering the front of the book.  It can be secured in place by a variety of stickers provided in the back of the book; a gift inside and outside.

Using transparent acrylics in his signature palette of pastel shades, Tomie dePaola frames each of his single or two pages illustrations in a double border with tiny inverted shapes resembling photograph corners in the four respective spots.  His children's faces from diverse ethnic backgrounds are animated with the full range of emotions you take joy in seeing.  Tiny stars, confetti-like shapes, dots, and hearts are sprinkled on many of the pages.  Exquisite details encourage participation; pictures on the walls, stuffed animals, bugs and butterflies, balls, teddy bears and blocks, dolls, toy cars, and rubber duckies.  You want to jump right in the pictures with these children as they tell their poetic tales.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the poem, My Car Seat.  The steps necessary to get ready to go are depicted with absolute charm.  Everything is there, the stuffed animals, the dangling overhead toys, the striped hat on the boy's head and the necessary bag of cereal.

You couldn't ask for a better book on a day in the life of babyhood than these twenty-three poems, Little Poems for Tiny Ears, written by Lin Oliver with illustrations by Tomie dePaola. You will be grinning from ear to ear before you have even finished the first one.  I guarantee you will be able to hear the soft laughter of little children in the background.

For more information on the author and the illustrator, please follow the links embedded in their names to their official websites.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

If Wishes...

For years I (with classroom teacher permission) have conducted Poetry Breaks all year long, walking into classrooms unannounced, shouting out Poetry Break!, and standing in front of the class reciting a poem from memory. When the poem is completed I smile and leave the room.  I was introduced to this idea from attending a session by Caroline Feller Bauer.

By far one of the most popular pieces was Mother Doesn't Want A Dog by Judith Viorst.  (I deliver the final two lines with an extra prop courtesy of Caroline Feller Bauer.) I don't know about you but I was one of those children who grew up wishing for a dog more than anything else, just like the narrator in the poem.  Dream Dog (Schwartz & Wade Books) written by Lou Berger with illustrations by David Catrow is about wishes coming true in the most extraordinary way.

Harry wanted a dog.  No, no, more than wanted! He wanted a dog.

Unfortunately for Harry his dad worked in a pepper factory.  This caused his father's nose to be very sensitive; sensitive to the presence of dogs.  A life of sneezing was not what Harry's dad wanted.

A lizard that changed colors to match his surroundings was Harry's dad's answer to his desire for a puppy pal.  It was the best an allergic father who loves his son could do.  Mathilda Gold, Harry's neighbor and friend, certainly liked the lizard more than he did.  He craved canine companionship.

Harry knew what he had to do and he did it.  Placing his X-35 Infra-Rocket Imagination Helmet (an old football helmet decorated "to beat the band") on his head, he dug deep into his mind.  Humming with all his heart, he conjured up the dog of all dogs naming him Waffle when he appeared.

It's only understandable that the two were inseparable.  Harry's dad understood his requests for rolling down the window when Waffle was along for a ride or when he suggested Waffle might need more shampoo to get rid of his fleas during bath time. Harry's response to Mathilda's less than supportive comments was a sign of unconditional love.

Before Harry's next birthday, a change in his dad's employment circumstances altered Harry's dog status.  Harry being Harry wants everyone to get along as friends should.  And Waffle...well he did what dogs do best.

Lou Berger is no newcomer to writing for children.  According to the dust jacket flap he was the head writer of Sesame Street for eleven years, one of the first writers for Reading Rainbow and the recipient of ten Emmy Awards for writing.  His narrative mixed with dialogue in this story is brimming with emotional clarity.  You have to wonder if he ever longed for a dog like Harry or was in a similar position to Harry's dad.  I won't share my favorite passage with you, it would spoil the story.  I will share this small bit with you.

...They played hide-and-seek, and Waffle would scamper deep into the park where Harry couldn't find him.  But then Harry would give his special whistle, and Waffle would come bounding out, ears flapping.
At night, Waffle would jump onto Harry's bed and snuggle close, protecting Harry from shadows and creakings.

If the artwork on the matching dust jacket and book case don't make you want to hug this book, then I don't know what will.  The shaded blues, wispy clouds and sheer contented looks of love on both Harry's and Waffle's faces head straight to your heart.  The opening and closing endpapers are covered in clouded skies; the one during the day, the other at night.  The title page and verso continue with the brilliant sky and feathery clouds.

The work of David Catrow is truly his own.  Illustrations rendered in gouache, pencil and ink cover for most of the book two pages; others cross the gutter creating slim panels along the right or left side.  Sometimes Catrow will choose to group smaller pictures together or use a single page to make a point.  His use of color is spectacular conveying every magical mood.

The details in his work are pure fun; zip drip and sneez ex on the father's medicine bottles, Mathilda's bathroom with a fishing pole in the shower, a toy boat stuck in the toilet and a one-eyed octopus wearing a sailor hat pictured on the wall, the dinosaur lamp in Harry's bedroom and the pepper factory.  Every reader is going to want a dog like Waffle; filled with unrestrained joy and life.  One of my favorite two pages shows Harry and Waffle playing hide-and-seek, running beneath the clouds and peacefully sleeping together.  The layout couldn't be better.

As soon as I saw the cover of Dream Dog written by Lou Berger with illustrations by David Catrow, I knew it was going to become a favorite.  It's about wishing your dreams into existence.  It's about the bonds between a father and his son.  It's about love.  I love this book, I really do.  Share it now with as many people as you can.

To learn more about David Catrow follow the link embedded in his name to his official website.  This link takes you to the publisher's website where you can view additional pages.  I'm so happy with this book; I'm giving away a copy.  Please fill in the form below.  The drawing will take place at 5PM EST tomorrow, February 28, 2014.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Different Point Of View

There are authors' and illustrators' books, no matter the topic, when read you know you will learn something new.  There may be one fact on a subject, a subject in which you thought you were well versed, which will make you gasp in surprise.  From that moment on, you will become the proverbial sponge, going backward and forward, reading the text and pictures.

Last year I highlighted several books illustrated and written by Steve Jenkins, one in collaboration with his wife Robin Page.  My First Day by Robin Page and Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, January 2013) chronicles twenty-two newborn animals.  The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest---and Most Surprising---Animals on Earth (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, October 2013) by Steve Jenkins is a masterful work on all things animals.  Little did I know that in-between those two another stunning publication, Animals Upside Down (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, August 2013) was released.

What do spiders, bats, and birds of paradise have in common?  Along with many other creatures, they turn upside down.  A few of them, in fact, spend most of their lives this way.

Twenty-six known or unknown creatures, depending on where you live, are the object of this interactive introduction.  Readers pull tabs moving animals and sliding windows, open flaps, turn pages to reveal pop-ups and spin circles; each one an intriguing  revelation.  On land or water, readers travel the globe to explore and wonder at the amazing adaptability of each living thing.

While I am more than familiar with the abilities of a striped skunk, I was unaware of the darkling beetle's capabilities to duplicate a similar response in defense.  A fire-bellied toad is aptly named changing colors to ward off predators; the poisonous skin is a pretty good deterrent too.  Playing dead works well for a hog-nosed snake, a pale green weevil and opossum.  One even takes it to the extreme, passing out cold in fright.

Being able to move in the opposite direction, while looking at different angles than most, comes in handy for the nuthatch.  Lots of tail action on the part of a harvest mouse, an armored pangolin, a monkey skink and a woolly monkey aid in movement and feasting on food.  You have to appreciate the cleverness of the net-catching spider lowering the woven trap on its next meal while hanging above it.  As many times as I've watched hummingbirds, I've yet to see one upside down to get nectar.

When you've grown up boating on the water for pleasure or fishing, it's not uncommon to see mallards or other ducks, tipping their bodies to put their heads in the water for food.  But what the sparrowhawk does in flight to capture an unsuspecting bird is not something I have ever seen.  There's more than eye-catching pink to the traits of a flamingo.  Their beaks are nature's own strainers.

Turning around to leave a specially built home, hanging from a branch like a dead leaf, and being the only bird to sleep upside down assist each of these three in staying alive.  All of these creatures either originally or evolved to exist "outside the box".  Their point of view makes all the difference.

For the most part two sentences, sometimes three or four, define the unique characteristics of these animals.  They are clearly understandable, written with a choice of words to convey place and purpose, matching beautifully with the illustrations.  The name of the animal is displayed in bold text to focus the reader's attention.  At the back of the book two pages are devoted to thumbnail pictures of the animals with short paragraphs providing further information usually including size and geographical location.  (Who knew skunk spray could go not one, not two but twelve feet?)

Here is a sample of text.

A hungry trumpetfish lurks, head down.  Disguised as a piece of soft coral, this stealthy fish waits for its prey to come close.  

The contrasting blue, brown, gold and red on the book's cover with the bat looking straight ahead on the front and the spider about to catch an unsuspecting fly on the back, is a direct invitation to the reader.  The endpapers are a part of the book, every bit of space is an element.  A warm bright white supplies the background for Steve Jenkins' lively cut and torn paper collage illustrations which pop off the page even without the paper engineering.

Alternating the action taken by readers, pulling a tab to bring a change into a pre-cut gap, opening a flap, pulling a tab to slide sections into creating a new image, pulling a tab to make an animal's body move, opening pages to reveal a pop-up or spinning a circle to make an creature shift position, contributes to the constant interest, the solving of a marvelous mystery.  Purposeful placement of the animals on the pages serves to add to the overall excellent design.  Text is located next to or around each creature.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the weaverbird's nest formed of woven grass and palm fronds hanging down from the top of the page.  The bird, in bright shades of golden yellow, peeks from the narrow bottom.  When the tab is pulled most of his body comes out, upside down.

Reading this book is like going on a treasure hunt; each page turn adding to the bounty we call knowledge.  No matter your age Animals Upside Down (A Pull, Pop, Lift & Learn Book!) written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page is a fascinating look at these twenty-six individual living beings.  Its colorful pictures, enlightening text and sturdy construction on heavy paper make for a lasting book to be enjoyed repeatedly.

The link embedded above in the title is to Steve Jenkins' website.  It gives you a look at four of the pages, dissolving into the changes.  Enjoy the trailer.  

I am excited to be participating in Alyson Beecher's 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted on her blog, Kid Lit Frenzyeach Wednesday.  I love filling in my nonfiction book gap with many great titles, new and old.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Add Presence To Pinterest With Pinstamatic

Each week Heather Moorefield-Lang, Education Librarian at Virginia Tech and current chairperson of the American Association of School Librarians Best Websites for Teaching & Learning sends out recommendations for applications and websites for people to try.  She is an amazing resource.  My favorites' list on Twitter is filled with possibilities, thanks to her.

Last week she mentioned a tool which could be used to enhance the Pinterest experience.  This free tool is called Pinstamatic.  Pinstamatic is based in Brighton, Sussex (UK) and is nearly two years old.

When you first access their home page it looks like the image below.  Each of the icons along with top represent items which can be added to a board. (Personally, I think their graphic design is outstanding.)
From left to right the icons represent adding: a website (1), quotes and text (2), a sticky note (3), a song from Spotify (4), a Twitter username which will show their last tweet (5), a calendar date (6), a map (7) and an image (8).

Here's a quick look at each screen when adding any of the items to a Pinterest board.  For a website all you need to do is enter in the URL. A thumbnail screenshot appears to the right.

When adding a quotation or text you have four font style choices.  As you type it is entered in at the right.  There is no need to select the Preview button.

I often wonder how I survived without sticky notes.  It only stands to reason they can be added to a Pinterest board.  You have several color choices.  As when adding text, when you type the message it appears at the right.

I recently joined Spotify so it is interesting to see how this option works.  When entering in a song title, a drop-down menu appears so you can select a single song.  When chosen, the preview appears on the right.

For the Twitter and calendar selections, simply enter in a handle or a date when prompted.  I had trouble getting an image to appear for the Twitter handle in Preview mode.   It was not working properly at the time of this post.  I have sent a message via their Support option.

For adding a map you are asked to type in a location.  You can add a title and short description about the place and it's purpose on your board.  You can also move around the pin to get a more precise location.  

This shows the original image on the right with the changed image at the bottom on the left.

When adding a photo, you can select it from:  My Computer, Take Picture, Facebook, Gmail, Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, Flickr, Instagram, Web Images or Link (URL).  You have choice of adding a caption at the top or the bottom.  Captions can be aligned to the left, center or right.  Or if you choose Filter, you have many different "looks" which can be applied to your image.

I decided to create a board for an author study of Ame Dyckman using all of these options.  I included Dan Yaccarino and K. G. Campbell as illustrators of her books.  For some reason there seemed to be a glitch loading the websites sometimes.  Most of the time the preview image would appear but the site would not always load.  I primarily use Google Chrome as a browser.  I have sent questions to the Pinstamatic team and am waiting for a reply.  Here is a link to my board titled Ame Dyckman Author Study.

I can't wait to create more boards using Pinstamatic!  It couldn't be easier to add these extra types of content to a Pinterest board without the use of editing software.  In an educational setting Pinstamatic has many uses; as a study board, as a thematic board, as a research project board or as a field trip board.  I think I am going to use it for my next #10for10 post in August.  I will update this post about the minor snafus I had today as soon as I hear from the Pinstamatic support team. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Something Is Missing

Day after day after day, it shakes trees, funnels down the chimney, swirls among snow, leaves or grass and shifts everything within its grasp.  You get so accustomed to the sound and feel of its presence, its absence is startling.  You step outside fully expecting it, but are greeted with stillness and silence.

Boaters who sail and travelers who use hang gliders depend on it.  All kinds of animals rely on it; most notably birds.  In Bluebird (Simply Read Books, January 2014) written and illustrated by Lindsey Yankey while a small winged being is searching for one thing, another is surprisingly discovered.

Early one spring morning, a little bluebird woke up in her nest eager to fly.

Immediately she noticed something was not quite right.  The wind, a constant companion every other time she had flown, was gone.  From her perch above the park she began looking for her pal.

From the seeds of dandelions, to a park bench and then a graceful old willow, not a breath of air was stirring.  What was observed yesterday was not to be found today.  Did the wind take a vacation into the city?

Newspaper pages are turned by human hands with no help from the wind.  A vendor's scarves hung straight with no colors fluttering.  Was nothing carrying a balloon, drying the laundry in the alleyway or helping boats to glide across the pond?

Searching with no success, the bluebird tried one more spot.  As luck would have it, her friend was not there either.  Wondering how she could fly without the wind, she realized where she was.  When you least expect it, goals are achieved.

In a mix of narrative and voiced thoughts, debut author illustrator Lindsey Yankey spins a story gliding from page to page as easily and gently as a feather on a soft breeze.  Her word choices evoke the actions of flight and searching; take off, landed, hurried, left, visited and reached.  Imagery created by her descriptions of the wind is delightfully exquisite.  Here is a single passage.

Maybe the wind was hiding somewhere higher.  Sometimes she had seen it dancing with brightly colored balloons, dipping and spinning them high in the sky.

This title has no dust jacket but images from within the story grace the front and back cover.  A wide "bluebird" blue cloth spine separates the two. Endpapers feature an "Old World" cityscape in warm shades of tan, a gauzy white and a lighter blue.  There is a wide margin of the lighter tan at the top of both the opening and closing endpapers.  On the final page the bluebird is flying high up in the upper right-hand corner.

Using mixed media collage, Lindsey Yankey, for each of the two-page spreads throughout, introduces readers to her stunning, unique style.  The world of Bluebird is like no other.  Delicate scroll work, leaves and dandelion seeds are mixed with what appears to be block printing.  To illustrate a transition, part of the illustration is side-ways on the left to a straight-on view on the right.  Rich and warm colors welcome readers into this singular work of art.  Beautiful typography is used to highlight key words on each page.

One of my favorite pictures is of the little bluebird among the dandelions.  Each dandelion is different but the same in that you have no doubt what they are.  Bluebird is situated among them almost as if she is a flower also.  Designs and textures from the title page are shown on the left, side-ways.

A story of a missing friend found and of confidence gained, Bluebird by Lindsey Yankey is pure pleasure.  It is a quiet, thoughtful story wrapping around you like a warm hug.  This is a book meant to be shared anytime with anyone.  I think it would pair nicely with Bob Staake's wordless picture book, Bluebird.  Comparing the two would promote great discussions.

Please follow the links embedded in Lindsey Yankey's names above to her website and blog.  This link is to the publisher's website where additional pages can be viewed.  Follow this link to an interview of Lindsey Yankey at Sturdy for Common Things.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Twitterville Talk #140

People are certainly ready for signs of spring as one weird weather front after another pushes across the country.  The good thing about it is more time for reading.  Suggestions abound daily for individual titles but good lists keep appearing also.  Have a wonderful weekend. Rest and take time for reading.  Look for the giveaways.

How fortunate that a member of the Association for Library Service to Children Odyssey Award wrote a post at the Nerdy Book Club, Ten Treats For Your Ears by Teri Lesesne.  You can't go wrong with her suggestions.
To the first person who can tell me the last title on the list, I will send a copy of Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson.  Please leave your answer in the comments below or send me a DM on Twitter. (This title has been won.)

Thanks to the Nerdy Book Club for this tweet.

On the same day as the Nerdy Book Club post and on subsequent days, she followed up on her blog with these posts, Reading with my EarsEars On? and Voices in my head.  You'll have to look long and hard to find better material on audio books.

Thanks to Teri Lesesne, professor and blogger at The Goddess of YA Literature, for these posts and tweets.

And here we go with this week's book trailers and authors/illustrators speaking about their work.

Have you seen School Library Journal's Strong Women, Strong Stories:  Audiobooks for Women's History Month|Listen In?
To the first person who can tell me the second title on the primary grades list, I will send a copy of Duck, Duck, Moose! by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen with pictures by Noah Z. Jones.  Please leave your answer in the comments below or send me a DM on Twitter. (This title has been won.)

The United States Board on Books for Young People has released their 2014 Outstanding International Books divided into five categories by grade.

The winners of the 2014 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award were announced this week!

Author illustrator Yuyi Morales, winner of the 2014 Pura Belpre Illustrator Award for Nino Wrestles the World, adds her video to the ALA Youth Media Awards thank-you videos.

In support of independent booksellers, The Check Is in the mail:  Patterson sends over $267,000 to Booksellers

Since we can't actually visit this extraordinary library, this is the next best thing, 'Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library' Optioned by Nickelodeon (Exclusive)

Here are the Jeff Kinney Boomwriter videos.

This is going to make Children's Book Week all the better, Kate DiCamillo and ABA Launch Indies First Storytime Day.

Thanks to John Schumacher, teacher librarian, co-host of the monthly #SharpSchu Book Club, 2011 Library Journal Movers & Shakers, 2014 Newbery Medal Committee member, and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. for these tweets.

The issue has been debated for years but never quite like this, An Argument with Myself:  An ALSC Graphic Novel Award.

This video of a presentation given by author John Green speaks to the value of storytelling, among other things.

Thanks to Travis Jonker, teacher librarian, 2014 Caldecott Medal Committee member, and blogger at 100 Scope Notes, for these tweets.

There were more reveals this week leading up to the School Library Journal Battle of the Kids' Books.  Sheila Turnage was named as a judge.  The Big Kahuna is Jennifer Holm.  The Judges' Brackets were announced.

Thanks to the Battle Commander for these tweets.

I doubt there has ever been or ever will be a #SharpSchu Book Club like the one coming up this week.  Are you ready?

Join others in becoming a Children's Book Week Champion; get the Digital Toolkit.

Thanks to Colby Sharp, educator, co-host of the monthly #titletalk, co-host of the monthly #SharpSchu Book Club, co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club and blogger at sharpread for these tweets.

Hey there Percy Jackson fans, did you hear the news?  There are new covers for the books.  One image per day was released this week.

Thanks for these tweets go to author Rick Riordan.

She is celebrating her new website with a giveaway.  Read her post and share what the words courage and hope mean to you.

Thanks to author Caroline Starr Rose (May B. a novel) for this post and tweet.

If you missed the #virtualbookclub discussion on Monday of Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures it is archived here.

Thanks to educator and blogger at Daydream Reader, Niki Ohs Barnes for this tweet.

When you can take a break, listen to Let's Get Busy with author illustrator Elizabeth Rose Stanton, the latest podcast.

Thanks to Matthew C. Winner, elementary teacher librarian, founder of #slmshelfchallenge, co-founder of #geniuscon, 2013 Library Journal Tech Leader Movers & Shakers and blogger at The Busy Librarian, for this tweet.

For those of you who have read and enjoyed Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust or Don Brown's The Great American Dustbowl, this link to An Interactive Story About the Dust Bowl will be a perfect extension.

Thanks to educator, presenter, author and blogger at Free Technology for Teachers, Richard Byrne, for this link and post.

This is a great article at the Random House Kids Random Acts of Reading website, In Favor of Graphic Novels.

Thanks to author Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle) for this post and this tweet.

Are any of your favorites on this list? Announcing the L. A. Times Book Prize finalists for 2013

Thanks to author John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) for this tweet.

Store this link for future reference, RIF's Multicultural Booklists.
To the first person who can tell me the title of the first book on the first list, I will send a copy of Please Bring Balloons by Lindsay Ward.  Please leave your answer in the comments below or send me a DM on Twitter. (This title has been won.)

Thanks to teacher librarian and blogger at The Styling Librarian, Debbie Alvarez, for this tweet.

One of many benefits of Twitter is learning about special lists for which you might have forgotten about.  I was please to see this, The Nature Generation Announces Shortlist for 10th Annual Green  Earth Book Awards.  

Thanks to author Loree Griffin Burns (Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey)for this tweet.

I dare you not to laugh like crazy when watching this book trailer.  It's presence was quietly announced by the author illustrator.

Thanks to author illustrator Adam Rex (Moonday, Chu's Day, Chloe and the Lion) for this tweet.

In case you missed all the tweets about #nf10for10 last Wednesday, follow this link to a host of great lists of nonfiction book.

Thanks to Cathy Mere, educator and blogger at Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community, for this tweet and for this challenge.

We (Xena sure picked some strange tweets this week) certainly hope you enjoy the quotes, announcements and pet personalities revealed in this week's collection.

Friday, February 21, 2014

To Survive

When you are younger panic changes to sheer will to live as when I nearly drowned at the YMCA during a swimming lesson.  When you are older, finding yourself momentarily lost in sunny autumn woods, everything you have learned from your outdoorsman father takes over.  No panic this time, just a calm resolve to locate the trail again.

When a dog (or more) chooses you, everything changes.  You are no longer alone but a team.  They can read you and your surroundings better than you could have ever anticipated.  It's a two-way trust like no other.  This trust is tested in a grueling, riveting story of survival, Ice Dogs (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Terry Lynn Johnson.

All eight of my dogs are stretched in front of me in pairs along the gangline.  They claw the ground in frustration as the loudspeaker blares.

It's a Saturday in Alaska.  Fourteen-year-old Victoria Secord is running her dogs in an effort to qualify for the White Wolf Classic.  Within twenty-four hours her desire to not only qualify for that race but to win it, to put together the best team of dogs she can, will save a life but begin a fight to remain alive.

Deciding to take six of her best on an unfamiliar trail Sunday, to talk with Cook about dogs he is selling, seems like a good idea when she starts out on the run.  Her efforts to reach his kennel and return home before dark are hampered first by the discovery of an injured snowmobiler and then by the onset of a ferocious snowstorm.  Darkness creeps in; insuring all will be spending the night in the Alaskan bush.

As day two draws to a close, it becomes apparent Chris, the rescued newcomer to Alaska, clearly does not remember the way to his home.  Their only hope is to move forward attempting to reach more traveled trails and a main road.  Despite Victoria's considerable skills learned from her late father, a trapper and musher, Chris's lack of experience, his unintentional bungling, impedes her efforts as does the merciless wilderness.  Every gain is followed by a setback; the loss of a map, an unexpected cliff or an explosion.

The scales hang in a fragile balance between life and death as day five dawns.  The relentless frigid temperatures, lack of food and water have taken their toll.  Everything is about the dogs.  Everything depends on the dogs.

From the start of this adventurous novel, author Terry Lynn Johnson, has taken great pains to ensure you will have to continuously remind yourself to breath; page-turner does not even begin to describe the depth and breadth of the non-stop action.  Drawing on her own years of dog sledding and working in the out-of-doors, she creates vivid images of the Alaskan landscape.  Detailed depictions of every vista and time of day will take you into the moment.  Through her writing the wilderness becomes an additional character.

Readers will be unable to help cheering for the two teenagers, Victoria and Chris, from vastly different backgrounds, one raised in the Alaskan bush, the other in the city of Toronto.  Johnson fully portrays two people through their thoughts, banter and conversations.  Readers become informed through dialogue of their strengths, flaws and personal sadness.

Care of the dogs, the individual characteristics of the dogs and their affinity to Victoria and even Chris will bring greater understanding to readers while adding to the story's depth.  It's as if the plot moves in sync with the motion of a dog team on the trails.  Depending on the conditions of the snow, the terrain, the weather, other wildlife, rest and nourishment, they move fast, slow, forward, right or left.  So too does the narrative.

Here are a couple passages taken from the book.

The din of the crowd fades behind us.  It's just me and the dogs and the sunbeams breaking through the spruce branches stretching across the trail like cold fingers.  The runners slice over the snow making their familiar shhhh sounds.  I breathe in the tang of spruce pitch and the icy air is sharp in my throat.

"What---?" Chris gasps in my ear.  An answering howl rises up again.  With many voices.
"Wolves," I tell him.
"I know it's wolves," Chris hisses. "I've heard them on TV.  But it's so different when they're live.  Actually right there in the dark." ...
...The dogs rustle nervously outside so I push aside the flap on the sled bag and sit up.  Freezing air attacks me.  Once I'm out of the dimness of the canvas bag, I see the cloudless night sky lighting our campsite with the glow from the stars and half a moon.  The hairs in my nostrils stiffen as I inhale. ..."That's the wild letting us know it isn't sleeping?"
"We have to be aware of things all the time.  Respect it.  Maybe the wolves are just passing through," I say loudly.  "We should make noise to let them know we're here."
Chris bursts into singing at the top of his voice.
"There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.  I don't know why, she swallowed the fly..."

The dogs explode forward, with me hanging on to the gangline.  Suddenly, I'm yanked between the dogs, my arms stretched above my head, my hip dragging on the trail.
"Set the hook! The snow hook!" I grip the gangline with damp gloves, dig into the snow with my knees to slow us, and feel Gazoo's feet tramping me as he runs.  The dogs are powerhouses when they want to be.  

After one complete reading and rereading many portions repeatedly, I am confident I am going to be giving as many readers as I can a copy of Ice Dogs written by Terry Lynn Johnson.  This is not just a book for those who like adventure, survival, dogs, mushing or Alaska, this is for anyone who likes a truly outstanding story.  It is a ride on the wild side to remember.

For more information about Terry Lynn Johnson, please follow the link to her website embedded in her name above.  This link takes you to an interview of Terry Lynn Johnson at From The Mixed-Up Files...  For another interview at author Caroline Starr Rose's blog follow this link. Read the first twenty-five pages by following this link to the publisher's website.


Thursday, February 20, 2014


Avid readers have piles of books, stacks of books and bookshelves stuffed with books they have read or want to read.  I know I do.  Within those needing to be read are a select group of titles.  They are not the new releases I read as soon as possible.  They are those I set aside in anticipation of greatness.

There are authors' and illustrators' work I treasure.  When two of them collaborate on a book, it's like a phenomenal present.  All books are gifts but these are in a whole separate category.  God got a dog (Beach Lane Books, October 29, 2013) written by Cynthia Rylant, Newbery Medal and Honor winner, with illustrations by two-time Caldecott Honor winner, Marla Frazee is one of these cherished treasures.

God woke up

And He was groggy,
so He got a nice cup of coffee
and went to sit
under an apple tree. ...

So begins the first of sixteen poems, initially appearing in a larger collection titled God Went To Beauty School (HarperCollins).  God decides to participate in the human experience; doing what people do or dream of doing.  God's descriptions for each scenario will make you pause, ponder and sigh in pure pleasure.

He realizes, like many of us, the importance of being near a tree, seeking shelter and comfort in the size and canopy of branches overhead.  He notices the joy resulting from the simplest things.  When you paint someone's nails you get to marvel at the bones in their hands.

Being above or next to water, is not the same as floating across it in a boat.  Testing whether spaghetti is completely cooked leaves a noodle zapped on Jupiter.  A visit to the doctor produces no cure for the little skip in a heartbeat.

Jail, a bathtub, a street, an alley or boardwalk reveals God's anger, shyness and pure elation.  Wouldn't it be great to call up Mother Teresa when you're sick to ask for a visit?  God can and does.  There's a very special little boy God wrote and read a story to as a child.  Who do you think it is?

Taking a break, discovering a place of true Holiness, working at a desk all day or writing more than a couple letters to a celebrity allow us to put ourselves in those situations, seeing God's point of view.  India, elephants and the loss of everything give readers a new understanding of a Plan.  Particularly comforting is the final poem, knowing how at the end of a day, God finds warmth as many of us do.

Even after multiple readings, I go back over and over to savor the words of Cynthia Rylant.  In every poem she captures the essence of the activity bringing an element of reverence to each.  There is a childlike wonder in the observations and yes...a sense of humor too.  I like that the gender of God varies from poem to poem.  Here's the beginning and end of the poem, God wrote a book.

No, not that one.
Everybody thinks She
wrote that one,
but She didn't. ...

... She read it to the boy
at bedtime
because the boy couldn't sleep.
So God read him a book.
The boy grew up.  He became a writer.
Which one?
Not telling. 

More than a year ago this series of tweets appeared on Twitter. (Thanks to Marla Frazee for granting me permission to use them.)  These clearly convey the process used to get an illustration "just right"; to have it enhance and extend the text as well as tell a story all its own.  I had no idea this would be one of the more than sixteen pictures in this book.  I don't know about you but I can hear the sound of the television and the soft flapping of bird wings.  I can feel the warmth of true companionship.

The black and gold matching dust jacket and book case is spectacular in its simplicity.  Sprinkled in the upper left-hand corner of the back are a cluster of stars.  The opening and closing endpapers make me think of the vastness of the universe; shades of gray patterned in darker stars.

On the title page is a tiny white mug with a big "smiley" face on it beneath the words.  God is holding this in the first poem.  It appears again on the final page, the dog leaning over to take a sip.  It's details like this that elevate a book to excellence.

Each poem is accompanied by a single page illustration.  Marla Frazee has chosen to have God appear at varying ages and ethnic backgrounds, a child, wearing a yellow life vest, drifting in a swan boat, a middle-aged, apron-wearing, hair-in-a bun woman sitting at a table covered with a red and white checkered tablecloth, a vest and bandanna wearing biker guy angrily shouting in front of a jukebox or a young boy skating along a raised boardwalk.  All her portrayals of God have a faint but definite light around them.

The color palette used, the intricate lines and shading all convey a vivid sense of time and place.  As each poem is read you are drawn into the illustration as a willing observer.  All of the illustrations in this book are my favorites, each speaking to me differently as do the poems.  The one which tugs on my heart, as you can easily guess, is of God spotting the stray dog by the railroad tracks in the pouring rain.

To tell you the truth I was literally stunned after reading this the first time; more than several of the poems and pictures brought tears to my eyes.  God got a dog written by Cynthia Rylant with illustrations by Marla Frazee is, in a word, wondrous.  I love it...every single part...with all my heart.

If you wish to know more about either the author or illustrator please follow the links to their respective websites embedded in their names.  This link to the publisher's website offers readers the chance to read four of the poems.