Quote of the Month

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

Monday, June 30, 2014

To Be Remembered

Each and every year dandelions and I have a contest; they grow and I dig them up.  (Having a canine companion, I am not one to put any kind of chemicals on my lawn; plus there is the obvious factor of herbicides and fertilizers going into the water table.)  Any observer can see who is winning depending on the section of my lawn.  There is no doubt one portion is the kingdom of dandelions; without them there would be no lawn at all.

When they change from yellow to white, the air is filled with their fluff.  You might see me mowing certain areas more than usual to capture the seeds before they can land on the lawn.  As is often the case with children's literature, authors and illustrators make you pause to see life differently.  Your perspective shifts as they expand on their distinctive "what if".  In their first children's book, The Dandelion's Tale (Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books) author Kevin Sheehan and illustrator Rob Dunlavey have insured I may have to rethink my ongoing battle with these persistent plants.

One fine summer day, Sparrow was out flying above a beautiful green meadow.  The warm sun felt wonderful against his brown, spotted feathers.

Spying a tree, Sparrow glided in to land on a branch gazing out over the field.  He saw a single dandelion that seemed to be...yes...crying.  In reply to his question, she said her sadness was caused by her change from yellow to white to only having ten tiny seed pods left.  When they were gone no one would know she had been there.

During their conversation, she asked him to take her to the other dandelions so she could speak with them.  He flew up searching for more like her, but to his dismay there were none.  Dandelion then told Sparrow if she only had one wish it would to be remembered.

Kindhearted and clever Sparrow had an idea.  He would scratch out whatever Sparrow told him in a nearby dirt patch. For hours she spoke of all she had seen.  For hours he wrote her words.  At the close of the day, he read her story to her; promising to return the next day to read it aloud again.   As you can imagine both Sparrow and Dandelion were filled with joy.

In the dark of night the weather played a cruel trick on the new friends; a dreadful storm passed through the meadow.  Daybreak brought sadness and a song.  Weeks passed, there was a story to be told...and Sparrow spoke.

Last night the tweet below appeared in my feed.

In his writing of this book Kevin Sheehan tells us exactly how stories save us; they keep us connected to one another even when one or more are no longer a part of our lives.  Sheehan has fashioned an uplifting tale of not only friendship but of the power of hearing a story and telling it to others.  The rewards are rich for the teller and the listener.

His description of the circle of life through the conversation between Sparrow and Dandelion and the events as they unfold is truthful but filled with love.  Through Sheehan's words we are transported to the beauty of the meadow during the day, the storm and in the following weeks.  He takes great care to surround us with a sense of comfort.  Here are two samples.

"Write that I like the smell of the meadow the day after it rains."

Morning came, and with it, the sun rose in the sky.  Rustling the water from his feathers, Sparrow sprang from his nest and flew to the dogwood tree.

When opening the matching dust jacket and book case readers see a single image of grass, sky with wispy clouds, Dandelion and Sparrow speaking and chains of leaves around the title on the front and a brief annotation on the back.  The pale blue from the front continues as a solid color on the opening and closing endpapers.  A beautiful ring composed of dogwood blossoms, dandelions, clover, Dandelion and Sparrow circle the text on the title page.

Rendered in ink, watercolor, colored pencil, crayon and digital media the illustrations, placed on a heavy matte-finished paper, are utterly charming. Rob Dunlavey chooses to change his picture size and placement enhancing the text.  To begin there are two double-page spreads so readers can get a feel for the meadow as a whole.  When Sparrow goes down to speak with Dandelion it's a close-up of the two on a single page.

To elevate intimacy he includes numerous circular pictures, delicate in detail and color palette. The hues vary when Dandelion is telling her story to more pastel shades.  Speaking of detail, his facial features on Dandelion are precious.

My favorite two pages include four circles representing parts of Dandelion's story.  Beneath these Sparrow is seen writing the words in the patch of dirt.  It's a gorgeous extension and interpretation of the text.

The Dandelion's Tale written by Kevin Sheehan with illustrations by Rob Dunlavey is a radiant representation of friendship, storytelling, memory and love.  It has a timeless quality, a distinct feel of a classic.  It should be on every bookshelf.

For more about Kevin Sheehan and Rob Dunlavey please visit their websites by following the links embedded in their names.  John Schumacher, teacher librarian and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. interviews Kevin Sheehan.  Julie Danielson highlights Rob Dunlavey and his artistic process for this book on her blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  To get a peek at a few pages inside the book, follow this link to the publisher's website.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Of Celebrating Elephant Seals, Caldecott Winners and Birthdays

As teacher librarian at Charlevoix Elementary School I had the pleasure of working with an outstanding educator named Sara Jonker.   Sara frequented the library on a regular basis, her love of books and reading obvious.  She often talked about her brother-in-law, a teacher librarian in another district downstate.

When I began seriously blogging in the summer of 2010, I searched for other blogs to read on a daily basis.  One of the blogs I selected was that of Sara's brother-in-law, Travis Jonker.  At 100 Scope Notes (which has since relocated under the umbrella of School Library Journal) readers can always be sure of insightful, candid, witty and worthwhile commentary on the world of children's literature.  Travis sees details others might miss.

Last year Travis was one of the members of the 2014 Caldecott Award committee. Tomorrow evening he and hundreds of others will be in attendance at the Newbery-Caldecott Banquet during the annual American Library Association conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Everyone will cheer for the medalists and honorees, but Travis will have the unique distinction of being one of the people who chose Locomotive written and illustrated by Brian Floca as the medalist, Journey written and illustrated by Aaron Beck as an honoree, Flora and the Flamingo written and illustrated by Molly Idle as an honoree, and Mr. Wuffles! written and illustrated by David Wiesner as an honoree.

Today is Travis Jonker's birthday.  I am sending him sincerest wishes for one of the best birthdays ever and, of course, many, many more.  To help him celebrate the day I am reviewing one of the newly illustrated books by Brian Floca which was released last month.

Quirks of nature, those things which defy explanation, make for the best stories, especially when they are true.  When animals choose to place themselves closer to humans, rather than remain in their normal habitat, it is newsworthy.  More than twenty years ago, an elephant seal decided to make the waters of Christchurch, New Zealand her residence.  Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas (Schwartz & Wade, an imprint of Random House Children's Books) written by Lynne Cox with illustrations by Brian Floca is her story.

There was once a lovely elephant seal who lived in the city.  

If you were to visit Christchurch, New Zealand, you would see the Avon River moving beautifully on the west side of the city; a small portion of land separating it from the southern Pacific Ocean.  Elizabeth, as she was named by the city residents, made this river her home.  You could see her floating along in the water, resting on the shore and covering herself with mud to keep cool.

Every day on his way to and from school, a boy named Michael would seek out Elizabeth calling her by name if he saw her.  She in turn would give him a glance before snorting.  On one particular morning the friendly seal felt the need to bask in the sun on the warm two-lane road.  As you can imagine after several near collisions Elizabeth moved her considerable bulk, twelve hundred pounds, back to the river.

This became the talk of the town; causing worry for Elizabeth and motorists.  It was decided to tow her far away down the river, out to sea and away from harm.  Michael, on his way to school, was not happy to see this.

Elizabeth was not content in the company of other elephant seals on the crowded ocean beach.  Making her way across the ocean and into the familiar river, Elizabeth once more could be seen sunning herself on the city street.  Joyfully, Michael greeted her.

Not once, but twice more this lovable, determined elephant seal was towed farther and farther away.  Each time she returned to what she knew as home.  Each time Michael and the people of the city welcomed her.  What they finally did was visible proof of their affection.

In her debut children's book, author and internationally recognized long distance swimmer, Lynne Cox writes with skill and the sure knowledge she has a story people will want to hear.  In an introductory author's note she explains how two children told her the tale which she has now passed on to her readers.  Empathy, an understanding, for Elizabeth is generated in her narrative.  Use of repetitive phrases at the beginning and end and each time Michael sees the elephant seal, bind us to this fascinating account.  Here is a portion of the passage where Cox explains how Elizabeth got her name.

...  She was eight feet long--as long as a surfboard---and she weighed twelve hundred pounds---as much as fifteen Labrador retrievers.  The people of Christchurch knew there was something very special about her.  ...

Using pen-and-ink and watercolor throughout, Brian Floca endears us to Elizabeth instantly on the dust jacket and book case; looking directly at us on the front as she comes up for air and gliding by on the Avon River on the back.  The same meticulous care we see in any Floca illustration is apparent in this title.  His depiction of Elizabeth is realistic in its details of her physical characteristics; the eyes, shape of the mouth, tiny hairs above her eyes and whiskers.

His color palette is a reflection of the natural world---blues, greens and yellows prominent on each page.  There is a lightness and golden quality to the pictures; enhancing the heartwarming tone of Cox's writing.  Elizabeth is featured in the center of a blue green sea with a cloud-filled sky above her on the opening and closing endpapers.  Seagulls and a small map of New Zealand decorate the verso page.

Beginning with a gorgeous two page spread of Elizabeth in the Avon River, highlighting the city activity along both banks, Floca alters his illustration sizes with each page turn.  Smaller insets with loose, rounded borders, edge to edge full pages and more breathtaking double page visuals persuade readers to pause and pace themselves.  One of my many favorite pictures is of Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas returning for the final time to the river, citizens lining the bridge as she passes beneath it.  It portrays the pure joy felt by everyone.

You cannot read Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox with illustrations by Brian Floca without feeling the happiness of this true story.  It's a wonderful book to share with children and students who may know nothing about elephant seals, New Zealand or this particular story.  I am thankful to both Lynne Cox and Brian Floca for bringing this to our attention in their delightful collaboration.  I think this would pair nicely with another nonfiction book, Wild Animal Neighbors: Sharing Our Urban World (Twenty-First Century Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group Inc., August 1, 2013) by Ann Downer.

Please follow the links embedded in Lynne Cox's and Brian Floca's names to access their websites.  Here is a link to an interview of Lynne Cox at Watch. Connect. Read., the blog hosted by teacher librarian John Schumacher.  Julie Danielson features Brian Floca, including many images from this book during his illustrative process, on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Here is the link to an article about Elizabeth, Memories of Avon River's sea elephant you can find when searching on the Internet.  This link will take you to the publisher's website where you can see several pages inside the book.

Friday, June 27, 2014

As The Sun Sets

Darkness closes in.  Listeners press closer together around the flickering light of the fire.  A sudden breeze rustles the fallen leaves along the forest floor.  Deep among the trees a branch snaps, breaking the relative silence.  Faces turn, wide frightened eyes look at one another.  It's time.

The moment has come to begin the story; a most anticipated tale of ghosts, houses held together by ancient promises, children all alone and a family caught in a deadly web.  All you have to do is be brave enough to be scared.  All you have to do is open the cover and turn the page of Jonathan Auxier's The Night Gardener (Amulet Books, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams, Inc., May 20, 2014).

Storyteller At The Crossroads
The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October.  A crisp sun shone over Cellar Hollow, melting the final bits of ice from the bare trees.  Steam rose from the soil like a phantom, carrying with it a whisper of autumn smoke that had been lying dormant in the frosty underground.

Siblings, red-haired Molly and Kip, seeking employment, are making their way in a fish cart, drawn by a rather stubborn horse they have named Galileo, to the Windsor estate.  They have come to England from Ireland hoping to be eventually reunited with their missing parents.  Having traveled for days they are cold and hungry; Kip is ill with his lame leg feeling worse.  Along the way, asking for guidance, every person has urged them to turn around, to avoid the sour woods.  An elderly woman, a local storyteller, Hester Kettle, finally gives them the correct directions amid warnings, eliciting a promise.

Their arrival at the manor is not as they anticipated. Next to and growing within the structure is an ageless towering tree.  Mistress Windsor is not expecting them; her now absent husband having failed to inform her of their new household help.  A boy, Alistair, about Molly's age, has an air of entitlement about him.  Only the younger girl, Penny, is excited about their coming.  Already Molly has won her over with one of her special stories.

Constance Windsor, against her better judgment, allows Molly and Kip to stay.   After touring from room to room with her, Molly is certain this family and this house are shrouded in evil.  Further incidents confirm her assumptions; a tall, dark-clothed man wearing a top hat wandering about after dark, deep holes dug around the base of the tree, a small secret room behind a locked green door, and dreams; all the family members, Molly and Kip have bad dreams.

Further complications are Master Windsor's financial problems, a mysterious moonlit garden in the woods and the physical changes creeping over all who sleep in the mansion.  As secrets are revealed unease turns to terror, the line between stories and lies blurs, and your heart's desire has horrific consequences.  As a legend lives, love must fight its biggest battle.

In a four page author's note at the book's end Jonathan Auxier chats with readers about the nine year journey taken to bring this book to them. Evidence of those nine years speaks eloquently on every single page. A deep sense of atmosphere emanates immediately continuing to build even with the final sentence.  Many chapters end with a suspenseful thought.  Your senses are on high alert.

Each character is realistically and fully developed complete with strengths and weaknesses.  As readers we come to understand why they do what they do, even those driven by malevolent desires. These beings stir up feelings of compassion, deep respect, sadness, affection and fear.  We cheer for our champions; when goodness strikes out against the wicked.

That Jonathan Auxier chooses to have two of his characters be tellers of tales, storytellers, is of importance.  One speaks of what was and is; the other weaves words as moments dictate.  More than once the characters (and readers) are challenged as to the use of stories, their place and purpose. Here are some sample passages.

The tree was enormous and looked very, very old.  Most trees cast an air of quiet dignity over their surroundings.  This one did not.  Most trees invite you to climb up into their canopy.  This one did not.  Most trees make you want to carve your initials into the trunk.  This one did not.  To stand in the shadow of this tree was to feel a chill run through your whole body.

Molly turned onto her back and slowly shut her eyes.  For the first time, she let herself feel the exhaustion that she had been fighting for weeks.  Every part of her was worn out.  Her hands, feet, legs, arms---even the tips of her hair felt tired.  Molly was too tired to think about the strange pale family or the strange ugly tree or the strange portrait in the library.
She was too tired, even, to register the sound of a door opening and heavy footsteps entering the house.

Nearly a week has passed since I completed the reading of The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier in one sitting; the story consuming me and my day.  The images of the manor, the tree, the gardener, the Windsor family, Fig and Stubbs, Hester Kettle, Kip and Molly are as real to me now as when I was reading the book.  There is nothing better than a good scary story.  This one lingers asking you to read it again...and you will.  This is classic storytelling.  This is the best.

The dust jacket artwork and book case design add to the overall spookiness of this title.  Leaves in gray and black on the endpapers as well as swirling about each chapter continue creating a sense of foreboding.  Several double page spreads of the tree, the night gardener and a full moon provide a backdrop for the title, verso, dedication, quotations and contents pages.  This is excellent bookmaking.

Please take the time to visit Jonathan Auxier's website linked to his name above.  He has graciously included a post of the playlist; songs he listened to while writing this book.  This is a link to his post at the Nerdy Book Club about The Night Gardener.  Stop by and listen to Jonathan Auxier's podcast interview at Let's Get Busy hosted by teacher librarian, Matthew C. Winner.  This link will take you to a series of posts Jonathan Auxier did about his road to publication.  Enjoy the video below which was posted on YouTube about a Skype visit Jonathan Auxier had with a group of students.

Who Did What...Where...When And How?

Despite the fact numerous cultures and religions have a written or understood variation on the golden rule (See The Golden Rule written by Ilene Cooper, illustrations by Gabi Swiatkowska), there always have been and always will be people who choose, for whatever reason, not to follow this simple example.  They seem to take particular delight in their choice; raising themselves up by belittling others or even worse yet, ignoring them.  For this reason the legend of Robin Hood has particular lasting appeal.

Books, television shows and movies with similar themes of one or more people covertly righting injustice or interceding before a wrong can be committed will continue to remain popular.  When Varian Johnson released his new title, The Great Greene Heist (Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic) into the world, he gave readers one of the funniest, best middle grade books with a hero who sets his sights on the end, a good end.  It's his means to the end plus his group of friends which will have everyone on the edge of their seats, turning pages faster than lightning, cheering and laughing.

As Jackson Greene sped past the Maplewood Middle School cafeteria---his trademark red tie skewed slightly to the left, a yellow No. 2 pencil balanced behind his ear, and a small spiral-bound notebook tucked in his right jacket pocket---he found himself dangerously close to sliding back into the warm confines of scheming and pranking.

Even though a meeting with another eighth grade student, close friend Charlie de la Cruz, editor of the school newspaper, has Jackson determined to stick with his promise of no more plots or secret plans, readers can sense a subtle tension; a beginning of something bigger.  As the day goes on more facts surface; a chat with tech geek pal, Hashemi Larijani, reveals additional possibilities of twists and less than proper turns in the student council election process and the aftermath.  A student running against Gabriela, Gaby, de la Cruz, Charlie's twin sister and Jackson's potential girlfriend, has suddenly dropped out of the race.

Nemesis of Jackson and his crew, Keith Sinclair, has decided to run for president at the last minute turning in his packet late.  Principal Kelsey announces he will allow it, exercising one of the loop holes in the by-laws.  Why did the other candidate withdraw from the race?  Why would Principal Kelsey, according to new information, assure Keith he will win?   To Jackson Greene this can only mean one thing.

Now wasn't a time to be normal.  Now was a time to be infamous.

The subtle tension is now full blown as this extraordinary student reveals his plan to a trusted team.  With the election only three weeks away, they need everything to work with precision; each link in the chain of events needs to be unbreakable.  Life being what it is, people being who they are, makes this particularly tricky.

Conversations, boy-girl mix-ups, basketball, school clubs, the formal dance, locks, and a voting machine all add up to more excitement than this middle school can handle. At the center is Jackson Greene working his signature magic keeping everyone guessing, including readers, right up to the final breathtaking minute.  Will this be the biggest bust or the finest hour for Jackson Greene...allegedly?

With his descriptive writing Varian Johnson captures his readers' interest with the first sentence, introducing the main character and his unique qualities.  Each subsequent chapter adds characters to the mix along with their distinct personalities.  The plot unfolds with increasing surprises more taunt with each episode, the amount of pages shortening between them.

I constantly found myself smiling at the contrast between the realism of the everyday life at this middle school with the conversations between Jackson and the members working to pull-off the heist.  It's not every day you might overhear an exchange like this one.

..."I know.  We'll need a crew." Jackson opened his notebook and began flipping through the names he had jotted down during study hall.  "There are a lot of students with a lot to lose if Keith becomes president.  We just have to find people who won't spill."
"I'm guessing you want Hashemi for tech support."
"We are venturing where few have gone before."
Charlie winced at Jackson's Star Trek joke. "Hashemi couldn't finish a project if his life depended on it."   He nibbled on his lip, then said, "We'd be better off with Megan---"
"No way."
"Rule Number Nine: Loose lips sink ships," Jackson said.  "Hashemi can handle it.  He works great under pressure."
"I hope you're right."  Charlie looked back at the map.  "What about Bradley for an inside guy?"...

Johnson's depictions of supportive parents with gifts of their own, many students breaking out of traditional molds (a cheerleader who is a tech whiz), the various clubs, Tech Club, Botany Club (Jackson is a member) and the Environmental Action Team to name only three, and the camaraderie between siblings quite simply heightens the interest for a larger group of readers.  He does not miss a beat in the dialogue between any of his characters; even with the less than savory individuals like Keith and Principal Kelsey.  You want to be a member of one of these families.  You want to be a part of Jackson Greene's team.  Here is another sample conversation.

Miranda Greene folded her napkin and dabbed at the corner of her mouth.  "Your father thinks---"
Donald Greene cleared his throat.
"Your father and I both think you should socialize more with your friends.  It's been four months since that... unfortunate incident, and your behavior has been nothing but exemplary."
Jackson put his fork down.  "I don't need to go to the formal to see my friends.  I was just at Hash's today, and Charlie was over here last week."
Miranda Greene glanced at her husband.  "We were thinking---"
"Not that we're trying to dictate your love life---"
"This is of course, your decision---"
"You should ask Gaby to the dance."
Jackson felt his body slide a few inches lower in his chair.
"She's smart," his mother said.  "She was just in the Dispatch last week for academic excellence.  I used to have a copy around here..."
Jackson slid another inch.  The newspaper now resided at the bottom of his desk drawer.
"She plays basketball," his father said.  "And she's a looker."

I guarantee once you start The Great Greene Heist written by Varian Johnson, you won't be able to stop.  Johnson's use of language is outstanding to the degree you feel like you've stepped into the pages of this book.  Make sure you read this title.  Make sure you booktalk it to your children and students.  It's absolute pure fun!  Johnson has included explanatory pages of The Greene Code of Conduct and The Great Greene Heist Cons at the conclusion.

If you want to learn more about Varian Johnson and his books, follow the link to his website embedded in his name.  Here is the link to a blog post by author Kate Messner about this title.  Varian Johnson gave an interview at Kirkus linked here.  John Schumacher of Watch. Connect. Read. and Colby Sharp of sharpread have made this title a part of their July #SharpSchu Book Club. (Follow the extra links in this post.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I See, They See, We All See

Upon waking our eyes send signals to our brains about the amount of light in our surroundings.  As adjustments are made shapes form, colors come into focus.  An entire picture becomes clear and distinct.  During our day our eyes tell us wind speed by the movement of plants and trees, the predicted weather by the shades of blue, gray or white in the sky, of birds and bugs sharing our space, about nighttime visitors by prints left in dirt, when danger approaches with quick shifts across our sight line or to stop, really looking at the beauty of a butterfly landing on a flower, the hues of pinks, purples and orange in a sunset and the silvery patterns in a midnight sky.

Despite the advancements in camera technology and photographic software, no captured moment is quite like seeing it with your own eyes.  More than once I've thought about the miracle of eyes.  For those in the animal kingdom eyes are unique to each one; essential to survival.  Steve Jenkins' title Eye To Eye: How Animals See The World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) brings new understanding to the critical importance of eyes to all.

For more than three billion years, all living things were blind.  

This single statement from within the The first eyes introductory paragraph is truly mind-boggling for several reasons.  A large portion of time is hard to comprehend but to not have sight, evolve and survive during this time is incredible.  Jenkins goes on to say, even though there are many different eyes in the animal kingdom now, they can be basically placed in four designs; eyespot, pinhole eyes, compound eyes and camera eye.  

Twenty-four eyes are examined up-close and personal. Eyes function to find proper food sensing a variety of color, protrude to allow sight in a larger area, or appear on stalks to detect shifts in light.  If the eye has no lens, as does the nautilus, water can move in and out of the pupil.  Sometimes eyes can number over one hundred as in the case of the Atlantic bay scallop, lined up along the edge of the shell.

Can you name the animal with an eye as big as a basketball?  Can you name the animals that can only sense food if it moves?  Can you name the animal that sees more colors than humans do?  High up on the goose bump scale is the animal who can see an image of warm-blooded prey in what humans think of as total darkness.

Then there is the creepy crawly that has four sets of two eyes; each with various functions to zero in on dinner.  In the super cool category are eyes which are in parts, looking up and down at the same time for danger, two eyes which can look in separate directions or eyes which move as the animal ages.  The size of an eye opening can narrow to slits to protect the animal from too much light or be huge compared to the body size to act as orbs at night.

Whether sensing only light, light and detailed shapes, multiple images or a single spectacular whole, eyes in the animal world are in a word, amazing.  Hunter or hunted, sight provides food and protection adapting to habitats.  Prepare for eye-opening wonders, pun intended.

 Author Steve Jenkins has the particular gift of saying enough but not too much.  His introduction hooks readers with the basics and then he moves to astounding details for each animal eye explored.  Precise in their information he fascinates readers with two to four sentences.  He describes to readers what we might see if invisible to these animals; moving in next to them for a private peek.  Here is a single example.

Two plus one
The tuatara, the last surviving
member of an ancient family 
of reptiles, has a third eye on 
the top of its head.  This eye is
sensitive to light, but it cannot
form images.

Twelve circles, twelve eyes, greet readers on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  The red is a striking background for these gorgeous eyes.  On the back the circles are repeated with black silhouettes of the entire animal body with the name in black beneath.  Opening and closing endpapers are a solid turquoise, replicating a color from one of the eyes.  The text on the front and back flap is cleverly written from large to small like the letters on a doctor's eye chart.  Centered on the title page is the opposite eye from one of those shown in the body of the book.  Can you discover which animal it is?

On page one Jenkins wows readers with a full page, edge to edge, illustration of the red-crowned Amazon parrot eye. His torn and cut paper pictures follow on every single page portraying realistic texture and detail.  Large amounts of white space act as his canvas for pleasing placement of each larger-than-life eye.  Jenkins has them across the gutter from the bottom or top, coming in from the right or left edge, alternating the design to heighten curiosity with every page turn.  Each animal is featured completely in a smaller image tucked in a corner.

One of my favorite eyes is found in the Atlantic bay scallop.  You can almost feel the intricate hairs along the edge of the shell surrounding the eyes.  The tiny blue eyes look like delicate pearls.

You simply can't read a Steve Jenkins book without taking away new information.  This title, Eye To Eye:  How Animals See The World, is no exception.  I highly recommend you add it to your library or classroom collections.  I know your children and students will be reaching out their hands to touch the pages enticed by the illustrations, intrigued by the words.  At the back of the book a page is devoted to The evolution of the eye, thumbnail pictures of the animals with size, habitat and diet information including a bibliography and a glossary.

More illustrations from this title can be seen by following the link to Steve Jenkins' website embedded in his name.  Follow this link to the publisher's website for additional visuals.  There is even more artwork from this post by Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

I am happy to participate in Alyson Beecher's 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge every Wednesday hosted on her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy.  Make sure you read about the other books bloggers have read by following their links.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Oh To Be Not Seen, Never Heard

Navigating through your middle school years is a bit like motoring a boat down a stump-filled river in the dead of a moonless night.  You are never really sure whether you are going to feel a huge bump accompanied by a scraping sound.  If this should happen your heart races hoping it's only a tiny nick not a large scratch or even worse, a hole.  With a lot of luck and your learned skills you might make it all the way to your dock smoothly and safely.

It truly isn't easy being twelve years old.  If you could somehow fast forward to twenty or even ten years ahead, watching and shadowing yourself living day to day at twelve, you might be able to return viewing your considerable trials with a more open outlook.  Unfortunately this does not happen but with a gifted author, we can follow another twelve year old, laughing like a loon remembering.  How To Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, June 3, 2014) written by Jess Keating will have you smiling so much your face will hurt (in a good way).

This book contains real-life situations and stuff that has actually happened to me.  I'm talking lots of awful boy behavior, wretched girls, best friends who are missing in action, and ridiculous amounts of elephant poop. ...
---Ana Wright, Anonymite Extraordinaire

These two sentences are part of an opening introduction by the main character.  Readers will immediately realize they are about to enter a life filled with hilarious situations.  This is followed by a first chapter with Ana holding the tail end of a crocodile before rushing off to video chat online with her best friend; a friend who has moved to New Zealand from Denver where Ana still lives.

By chapter two we've become acquainted with the boy-next-locker, Zack, star of the tennis courts and Ana's current crush, Ashley, leader of the pack of The Sneerers, a trio of blatant bullies, Daz, Ana's prankster twin brother and his best friend, Kevin, all-around nice guy and genius at everything.  During dinner that evening Ana's already challenging life takes another interesting turn.  The meal, with her two zoologist parents, both who work in the zoo, is interrupted with considerable fanfare as her celebrity (maternal) grandfather and his current actress girlfriend arrive.

It seems Shep Foster is making a documentary about his life which will include television appearances by his daughter, son-in-law and their children.  He is also going to fund a project of his daughter's involving large carnivores at the zoo.  As far as Ana is concerned this has disaster, in a huge way, written all over it.  She is desperate that no one at school realizes: (1) who her grandfather is or (2) her family is moving to live inside the zoo.

Life being what it is, Ana's wishes become attached to a series of incidents even she cannot have predicted.  Amid time with a nine-foot-long crocodile named Louis, posted flyers, a catastrophic lunch hour, shrieking overnight visitors at the zoo, and a reptile exhibition, Ana seeks her brave, true self.  Family, friends and a tiny seedling lend a hand.

First and foremost author Jess Keating has crafted a top-notch middle grade novel speaking directly to the hearts of her readers.  With abundant use of humor in first person voice, we actively join in sharing Ana's last few days of school before summer.  Descriptions of characters, backdrop and situations are realistic not only in Ana's world but easily identifiable as possible in any twelve-year-old's day to day existence.

What sets this book apart from others are several writing skills, working wonderfully with the overall setting.  Ana identifies people in her life by creating a Creature File card which includes species name, kingdom, phylum, weight, natural habitat, feeds on, life span, handling technique and other important notes.  Her insights will cause smiles and head-nodding.  She also ends events and chapters with lists; Growing List of Things I Will Never Understand about Boys, Things I Would Do If It Meant I Could Sleep until College or Five Places to Live, Now That My Fate Is Sealed.  Most chapters begin with an Animal Wisdom fact followed by a comment from Anna looking like a note in a scrapbook taped to the page.  Here are a few sample passages.

"All porcupines float in water."
---Animal Wisdom

How could they even find this out?  Is someone out there dunking porcupines in water?

"I beg your pardon, young man?" Grandpa sputtered.  "You don't see me for years and now all of a sudden you're 'Hey, Grandpa-ing' me?  I don't think so!" Grandpa shoved out of his chair, and to Daz's horror, snatched him right up from his chair into a totally nonmanly hug.  He ruffled his hair under his fist and laughed.  "That's much better.  Good to see you, son." He let Daz go and chuckled at the state of his hair.  Now he looked like he'd been electrocuted.
That'll teach him.
"DAZ IS A PAIN!" Darwin nattered, shimmying on his perch as he watched us eat.  I choked on a mouthful of spaghetti, trying not to laugh.  I'd taught him that little gem in less than a week.

Sometimes, it feels like life should stop until you feel better.  You know, like when bad things happen and you have a moment of silence over the PA system at school or something.  Life should do that for you when you become camel poop girl and your best friend meets a girl named Leilani and your grandpa is parading around the news like a rockstar.  

How To Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied by Jess Keating is one of those lighthearted, funny books which strike serious chords in our souls.  She speaks to the twelve-year-old in all of us. (Where was this book when I was twelve?)  Every time I read this title, I place more post-it notes on pages.  Words like uplifting, hopeful, hilarious, heartwarming and truthful aptly describe Ana and her story.  This is definitely one of my favorite middle grade novels of 2014.  I consider it a must read, recommending you purchase more than one copy for your classroom or library.  The best part is yet to come.  A sequel titled How To Outswim A Shark Without A Snorkel: Book 2 in the My Life is a Zoo series will be here in January 2015.  An excerpt is included at the back of this book. So what are you waiting for?  Grab your safari hat and get reading!

To learn more about Jess Keating visit her website by following the link embedded in her name.  Here is a link to a special A Thank You post she wrote.  Links here, here, here, and here are a few of the posts on her blog tour providing readers with more information about Jess Keating and the writing of this book.  Colby Sharp provides readers with one of his Ten Minute Review posts at sharpread along with a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Interview.  Here is a link to Jess Keating's post at the Nerdy Book Club, On Borrowed Bravery, And The Books That Change Us. Here is a link to an activity kit.

Enjoy a couple of Jess Keating's tweets below.  She is a very positive, active member of the Twitter reading and literacy community.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Connection, Curation, Connection

For several years I have been saving tweets, placing them in several collections using the web 3.0 tool, Storify. (Here is my earlier review of Storify without visuals due to a mistake in using Google+).  To save time but still gather information as I did in Twitterville Talk, I have been creating stories using this online application.  I try to update on a weekly basis.  For those of you who read my blog but are not using Twitter here are the links to my stories plus for the purposes of this post I will embed them all here.

Save These Tweets-May 26, 2014 to June 22, 2014

Friday, June 20, 2014


On any given day, depending on whom you talk to or the hour, most will agree the passage of time is tricky.  For the most part it goes faster than intended, especially if you are enjoying a particular activity.  Whether anyone is willing to admit it or not, age is definitely a factor.  It's been said the perception of time going faster the older you are is because you are not experiencing nearly as many first-time events.

Endless energy seems to go hand in hand with youth as does leaping from one endeavor to another numerous times between awakening and falling asleep.  It's no easy task to turn off all that get-up-and-go.  If you think little humans are the only ones with all this zest, zip and zing, think again.  Time for Bed, Fred! (Walker Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Bloomsbury, February 11, 2014) written and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail (born in Dublin, now based in London) follows a cutie-pie pooch that is simply not ready for rest and relaxation.

It's time for bed, Fred!
Oh no, Fred,
where are you going?

In Fred's mind bed fills him with dread.  There is still too much to do. There is furniture to knock over, gardens to hide in and trees to climb.  Trees to climb?  How did Fred get in a tree? 

Fred wants to dig in the dirt, sniff a caterpillar and scratch the itch that won't quit.  Oh! No!  Not the puddle Fred!  Now Fred is up to his perky ears in bubbles having a bath.

Barely in the tub, he is racing out and down the stairs.  This bundle of fur is full of fast and furious.  Shaking out his coat right next to the clean laundry (Why do they always do that?), Fred is ready for a game of hide and seek.  Where could he be?  

It's getting later and later but Fred brings a book to his human, a request for a bedtime story.  His wish is granted but now he needs to find his bed.  That's what I call a great stalling technique.  Very clever, Fred!

An unseen narrator is in pursuit of Fred, trying to persuade him to call it a day and hit the hay.  Based on the simple sentence structure and word choices Yasmeen Ismail depicts the voiced thoughts of a younger person.  Readers, no matter their age, can easily identify with the events in this story as well as recall those times they avoided bedtime at all costs. The pauses between each phrase raise an already funny book to the status of downright hilarious.

Except for the book case, where we can already see Fred is a rascal, liberal use of white space acts as a canvas for Yasmeen Ismail's cheerful watercolor illustrations.  Each picture is full of the lively antics of this comic canine.  Loose sketches of Fred in various poses among scattered bones, black on red, cover the opening and closing endpapers. 

Ismail may use a full two pages for her visual as in the opening line where six different time pieces all pointing to eight o'clock are featured, signaling bedtime.  Fred is gazing up at the one bonging out the hour.  In contrast if Fred is moving at lightning speed from place to place, she will cluster two or three smaller pictures on a single page.  The expressions on Fred's face combined with his body postures and movements will have readers smiling with every page turn.

Two of my favorite pictures are of Fred in the garden and when he is carrying a book titled WOOF! by R. Hound in his mouth.  The disparity between all the delicate colorful flowers and his dark form lying low in the shallow hole of dirt is grin-inducing.  I can already hear the children laughing when they hear the text accompanying this illustration.  His body covering most of two pages, looking hopefully at his human, with the open book in his mouth goes straight to this book lover's heart.  Who wouldn't read a story to that dog?

Energetic and entertaining, Fred will have you rooting for him all the way in Time for Bed, Fred! written and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail.  Perfect anytime but especially for bedtime this book is a keeper with a capital K.  I would pair it with All The Awake Animals Are Almost Asleep, Sleep Like A Tiger or Dream Animals.

Head to Yasmeen Ismail's website by following the link embedded in her name.  She has pictures from Time for Bed, Fred! on a specific page for this book.  Plus you get to see much more of her wonderful artwork.

This is the image used for the cover in the UK.

To Belong

I daresay that at one time or another each of us has felt like a square peg in a round hole.  Sometimes this can be a very good thing. (I'm talking about all those incidents my Dad said, "If everyone jumps off a cliff, are you going to jump too?") Not following the crowd or fitting in at the moment was a smart decision.  On the flip side standing out in a crowd, being different, is hard work, being brave over and over.  The rewards may be little or difficult to find now and then.

A new title, Gaston (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, June 3, 2014) with words by Kelly DiPucchio and pictures by Christian Robinson follows a pooch with plans and a purpose.  Little does he or Mrs. Poodle know of the shock spring will bring.  Let's begin at the beginning.

Mrs. Poodle admired her new puppies.

Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La and Gaston.

Puppies, all puppies, are precious so Gaston was as warmly loved as his three siblings. Even the least observant reader will notice a discrepancy before they are introduced a second time. When the newest family members began to grow Gaston was considerably larger than the other three.

Gaston worked as hard as he could when life lessons began in earnest; sip not slobber, yip not yap and tip toe not run.  He really tried his best.  Anyone who saw him would see one happy dog.

On their first visit to the park in the spring Mrs. Poodle led her pups with pride.  So did Mrs. Bulldog.  It was clear when comparing the two sets of four that something was not quite right.  The names of the little bulldogs were Rocky, Ricky, Bruno and Antoinette.  It seemed a switch had been made.

The moms agreed to let their children make the decision.  After much fun and frolic, the two sets of four looked perfectly proper; Mrs. Poodle had four poodles and Mrs. Bulldog had four bulldogs.  We readers know just because something looks good does necessarily mean it is good.

Antoinette did not sip, yip or tip toe like her new sisters did.  Gaston did sip, yip and tip toe but his new brothers did not.  Certain parties raced to the park the next morning.  There was no fun or frolic but fast actions fashioned a new future for the two foursomes.

When you read some books for the first time, then the second and third times, it's impossible not to do so without reading it aloud in your mind.  The narrative, the words, demands it of you.  The combinations are playful and musical.  Kelly DiPucchio has done this with her story Gaston.  

When readers are introduced to Mrs. Poodle's and Mrs. Bulldog's puppies she has us read their names but then she says,

Would you like to see them again?

DiPucchio wants us to be active participants in this tale.  There is light humor throughout comparing Gaston to his sisters, as well as having Antoinette prefer to remain with her bulldog brothers.  Many of her phrases rhyme or use alliteration to enhance the cadence of her telling.  Here is a single sample.

And they were taught to walk with grace. Never race!
Tip.    Toe.   Tippy-toe.   WHOA!

You simply have to touch the dust jacket and book case created by Christian Robinson.  The brush strokes on both, as well as all the illustrations rendered using acrylic paint, are an open invitation.  You see the texture, and then you want to feel it.  On the dust jacket many of the elements are raised like embossing.  Children love to run their hands over these types of illustrations. (So do I.)  The pattern on the chair where Gaston is seated appears on the opening and closing endpapers.  The back of the jacket and case show Mrs. Poodle looking at her pups all in a row with their backs to the reader.  You have to smile at the difference between Gaston and his sisters.

There is definite foreshadowing in the opening two page picture across the verso and title page as a doctor wheels out a carriage with a poodle riding in it and as a bulldog peers out the top of a box in the corner.  Robinson varies his visual sizes to elevate the story; two page and single page spreads, edge to edge, or single pages with large white space loosely framing a rectangle.  There is a distinct warmth and charm to his choice of colors; more muted and earth tone.  His dogs are as cute as cute can be.

One of my favorite illustrations is in the living room of the home where Mrs. Poodle and her family reside.  On the wall is a framed poodle picture.  Gaston's chair is in the corner next to Mrs. Poodle in the center, sitting all prim and proper.  The three little poodles with Gaston on the right end are sitting in a row in front of her.  This visual with the text makes me burst out laughing every single time.

Knowing where you truly belong is at the heart of Gaston written by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Christian Robinson.  Comfort comes from within.  This winsome title is an absolute treasure.

If you want to know more about Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson please follow the links embedded in their names to access their websites. UPDATE Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has lots of art from this title and other dog titles in a post.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

To Serve

As the runt of the litter, Xena was extremely small as a puppy, needing to be fed three times a day.  My elementary principal allowed me to keep her in my office at school bringing her out to be with the children during story time.  Even today the sight of the school causes her to bark and twirl with happiness.

As much as she enjoys being with the children, the transformation in them when she is present is a sight to see.  Their goodness shines on their faces and in their actions when she is with them.  It's an exchange of the very best kind.  Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond between a Solider and his Service Dog (Roaring Brook Press, May 27, 2014) written by former captain Luis Carlos Montalvan, USA, with Bret Witter and photographs by Dan Dion tells the true story of the unbreakable bond between these two friends.

In the morning, every morning, 
my friend Luis wakes up to...


This happens to be a close-up picture of the Golden Retriever Tuesday, with large caring eyes and soft brown nose.  Narrator of the book Tuesday explains the time spent with his human companion, Luis, beginning with a doggie lick and a hug given in return.  By habit the dog brings his dish to the kitchen for breakfast as well as Luis's socks and shoes. 

Tuesday continues with an account of Luis's service in the war (Iraq) elaborating on his nightmares during the day and at night.  He provides comfort and calm to the man; always near him, always walking by his right side.  They go everywhere together, two halves of a better whole.

Visits to the veterans hospital, trips to the city park (extra playful when Tuesday's service dog vest is removed), journeys down the stairs to the subway, or even rides at an amusement park on a sandy beach are only a handful of the things these partners share.  In the evening they can be seen eating dinner, watching videos, answering emails and playing with Tuesday's favorite toys.  In this extraordinary relationship of give-and-take, Luis in turn brushes Tuesday's fur and teeth, and cleans his ears and paws.  Hugs, prayers and the peaceful sleep of unparalleled pals close the day and this book.

Together since 2008 Luis Carlos Montalvan knows Tuesday like no other human.  In 2011 the title written for adults, Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him hit The New York Times Bestseller list for several weeks. In this book Montalvan and Bret Witter write for a younger audience using conversational short sentences, bringing in meaningful details important to children.  Here is an example with Tuesday talking about how he helps Luis when they are in the subway.

While we wait,
I stand guard.

The subway train
gets crowded.

Very crowded.

Luis doesn't like
crowds. So he hugs
me while we ride.

For a dog lover like myself the photographs on the front and back of the matching dust jacket and book case, melt my heart.  Tuesday looking straight out at you with his foot resting on Luis's foot (note the dog socks) and the two of them sitting side by side with Luis's arm around Tuesday on a rocky beach on the back say more than any words can.  The red of Tuesday's service coat is carried over into the title and opening and closing endpapers.  

For every sentence, mood and moment photographer Dan Dion has taken a picture to intensify the text.  Moving close to his subjects to provide intimacy or backing away to give greater perspective, his gift with the camera is evident.  Some of the illustrations extend edge to edge on a single or double page, some cross the gutter to increase their size to a page and a half, others are framed with fine white lines on a portion of a page, and still more are inset within an existing visual.  Each element of the day(s) is portrayed with warmth; the love between Luis and Tuesday apparent.

One of my favorite pictures is of Luis and Tuesday on the subway.  Luis is seated within the crowd but Tuesday is as close to him as possible; between Luis's two legs.  Luis is bending over hugging Tuesday their faces pressed together.  

There is no doubt in my mind.  Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond between a Soldier and his Service Dog written by Luis Carlos Montalvan with Bret Witter and photographs by Dan Dion is going to be a huge hit with children.  I would definitely plan on getting more than one copy.  It could easily become a part of several different themed units; dogs, service dogs, soldiers at home or human and animal relationships.  Luis speaks further about their relationship in an author's note at the end.

Please follow the links embedded in the authors' and the photographer's names to access their websites.  Follow this link to the publisher's website to see eight pages from the book. This is a link to a Pinterest page. 

Each Wednesday I feel fortunate to be a part of the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  I have discovered many wonderful nonfiction books through this connection. Be sure to see what others have reviewed for this week by following the links at her blog.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What Makes A Winner?

A band of storms roared through our community about 5:30 this morning.  It wasn't the rumbling thunder or flashes of lightning that woke me but Xena's panting and pacing. She finally settled next to the bed under a tent I made with a blanket as my hand reached down to touch her for the duration of the scary weather.  A couple hours later we woke up to a big surprise.

In sleeping on her side Xena had slid her head and most of her body under the bed.  When she sat up she was stuck.  In a calm manner I tried without success to move her out.  I then took off all the bedding, the mattress and box springs.  Her back would not squeeze from under one of the bars.  After much gentle scooching she was standing between the bed frame bars.  To both our relief I was able to lift her out.

Even Xena The Wonder Dog, writer of blog posts, has moments where she slips from the top of her game.  We all do.  In Number One Sam (Disney Hyperion Books) written and illustrated by  Greg Pizzoli, 2014 winner of the Theodore Seuss Geisel Award for The Watermelon Seeda lovable canine has to rearrange his thinking about the true nature of success and being your best.

Sam was number one.

Sam and his car tear it up at the track with supreme speed, terrific turns and fantastic finishes.  On the day of the next race his confidence is high; he has never lost.  Maggie, an elephant and his best friend, is at the starting line with him.  All is going great as usual until Sam loses the race.  Maggie wins!

Sam is crushed.  How could this happen?  How could anyone be better at speed, turns and finishing first?  Before the next race Sam simply can't sleep.  His belief in himself is at an all-time low.

Not a word is spoken as the competitors, all in a row, are ready to put the pedal to the metal.  Sam is a bundle of nerves managing to miss the beginning of the race.  Despite this Sam is certainly back in the running; his speed, turns and timing have given him the lead.

OH! NO!  It's a fuzzy fivesome.  A split second decision needs to be made by Sam.  Is it beep, beep or peep, peep?

Greg Pizzoli is deliberate in his choice and use of words in this title.  Each sentence conveys a single thought easily understood by early readers.  Pizzoli manages to depict considerable emotion with his spare narrative.  Placement of text on each page scores points in the "pacing race" with purposeful pauses exactly where they should be.

With spot color, inking and printing by hand, a technique Greg Pizzoli utilizes to perfection, readers are welcomed by the characters racing around the track on the dust jacket; the illustration extending to the back flap.  Maintaining the same four colors, red, yellow, blue and black (hmmm...I spy Kroc having authored a tell-all title) the book case exhibits magazine and newspapers headlines highlighting Sam's successes.  Opening and closing endpapers mirror the black and white checkered finish flag winners see first.  This pattern is essential to the theme of the story but I like to think of it as Pizzoli's nod to all readers being winners.

The verso pictures what might be a hero's wall in Sam's home; decorated with trophies, ribbons, newspaper articles, and pennants.  On the title page a smiling Sam is holding a 1 trophy front and center.  Most of the illustrations, on the thick matte-finished paper, span across two pages with backgrounds alternating between white, blue, yellow, black, red or a combination of these colors.  Shifts in perspective and facial features leave no doubt in the readers' minds as to the mood of each character.

I have many favorite illustrations but three I really like are the two pages prior to the first race Sam loses.  The four characters in their cars are all happy on this sunny day full of possibilities.  The wave of dotted colors behind them promises good things.  On the next race day the mood of two of the racers has changed; Sam is clearly nervous and Maggie is worried she has lost a friend.  The patterns on top of the car hoods, a watermelon, a dotted peanut, a heart and a crossed-out 1 with a 2 painted off to the side are priceless symbols of the characters.  Finally there is something about seeing the front of Sam's car, huge, centered and spanning nearly edge to edge on two pages with the blissfully ignorant chicks wearing black glasses smack dab in front that changes everything.

In my mind and heart, the minds and hearts of countless readers who have read it and those who will read it in the years to come (repeatedly for sure), Number One Sam written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli is a book to be displayed with a checkered flag, a first-place winner.  Sam, like all of us, learns winners not always cross the finish line first; sometimes they come in last.  And that makes them true heroes.

Please follow the links embedded in Greg Pizzoli's name above to discover more about him and his work at his website and blog.  This link will take you to an interview at Watch. Connect. Read., the blog of teacher librarian John Schumacher.  John states, rightly so, the book trailer is his favorite of 2014.  I dare you to only watch it once! Teacher librarian, Carter Higgins, features Greg Pizzoli on her blog, Design of the Picture Book

This is my winner this morning after the storms passed.  She was very patient trusting that I would get her out.

How Do They Know?

Any belief I may have harbored about comprehending any dog's, my dog's, keen sense of smell, hearing, sight and the innate ability to determine the needs of humans no longer exists.  Personal experience has taught me their skills at living life best far exceed mine now or in the future.  When you stop to consider their life span at its best is one-fifth (or one-sixth if we're lucky) of ours, their accomplishments are incredible.

How is it they are in a heartbeat able to discern friend or foe?  How is it they can sense a person's mood without a single conversational exchange? Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor-winning author of The Underneath and illustrator Marc Rosenthal, I Must Have Bobo!, I'll Save You Bobo! and Bobo the Sailor Man!, combine their significant talents in a newly released title, Mogie: The Heart of the House (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division).  Prepare to be filled with pure joyful love.

Right smack in the heart of the Big City
is a very special house.

This house is home to many families offering them comfort in style and furnishings, a library filled with books, a very large kitchen, an inside tree house and a gigantic fireplace.  All the families, who call this place theirs, come with their children; children from every corner of the world.  Once a boy named Gage came there.  This boy who people said

"He's got mojo!

is too sick to do the things he loves, to do the things that make him who he is.

Like most homes, this very special house has rules.  One guideline, to be noted above all others and of importance to this story, is

No puppies!

With that being said, let's go to another remarkable house.  In this comfy residence there are not one but ten puppies. Some are meant to be service dogs.  Others are to be trained for Search-and-Rescue.  Four are destined to be paraded in shows.  One...and you know who I mean...Mogie is all play and no work.

This pup has a mind of his own.  You know what he does?  He walks into the

very special house right smack in the heart of the Big City.

Everything and everyone in that home means nothing to him but Gage.  It is like the two are tied together with unbreakable string.

Mogie tries all his doggie tricks to lift Gage's spirits but he realizes what Gage really needs.  The two can be seen sitting side by side looking outside the window.  For Gage's eyes only Mogie's antics one day stir memories of a healthy boy with mojo.  

You won't believe who gets better.  You won't believe who gets to stay at the very special house with the No puppies! rule.  You won't believe who still looks outside the window but is now tied with unbreakable string to sweet Antonia whose cha-cha-cha is missing.  I'm here to tell you to believe because all this is the truth.  You can bet your sweet paws on it.

The next best thing to being there is having Kathi Appelt tell the tale. Her word combinations are like hot chocolate with marshmallows, a cozy blanket on a cold night and snuggling with your favorite stuffed animal; soothing, smooth and comforting.  Expertly weaving a spell with her storyteller's gift she creates a sense of place and purpose in her characters.  Using language like a composer she fashions rhythmic melodies sometimes repeating a cadence to further bind readers to her story.  Here is a single excerpt.

Give Gage a tune and he'd make up silly rhymes for it.
Give Gage a windy day and he'd fly a kite. Give Gage a beach
and he'd build a sand castle that scraped the sky.

Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case readers are greeted with Marc Rosenthal's uplifting, charming picture of Mogie in front of the very special house with sick children on either side of him.  The cooler colors in the background blend beautifully with the bright red of the title, Mogie's collar and the fuzzy warmth of Mogie's coat.  On the back readers are treated to a real life portrait of Mogie, spirited pooch living at the Ronald McDonald House Houston.  Opening and closing endpapers in shades of blue feature a pattern of miniature Mogie in various poses.

Rendered in pencil, charcoal and digitally the illustrations wrap around the text, enhance the narrative with single and double page pictures, and depict a range of emotions.  The selection of colors lends itself to a natural feel for each portrayal.  You want to reach out and touch them; they are full of life.

One of my favorite visuals is of Mogie dreaming, lying on his back, four paws in the air. (This is a sure sign of contentment.)  He sees himself running alongside a healthy Gage.  This particular page follows Gage lying in bed remembering himself as a boy who liked to throw balls, do back flips and build skyscraper sand castles.

If you want a heartwarming title based upon a true story, look no further than Mogie: The Heart of the House written by Kathi Appelt with illustrations by Marc Rosenthal.  Destined to be a favorite, Mogie and his role at the Ronald McDonald House Houston will be a story requested over and over as a read aloud anytime, anywhere. The last line of the book says it all.

Who wouldn't love a dog like that?

An author's note at the back explains how Kathi Appelt met Mogie and the book evolved.  Don't forget to follow the links to the author's and illustrator's websites by following those embedded in their names.  Here is a link to an article about Kathi Appelt and Mogie in the LaunchPad.  This link to the publisher's website contains four short video interviews with Kathi Appelt.