Quote of the Month

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Topsy-Turvy Tale

Of one thing you can be certain, nothing is rarely ever certain.  Predictions can be made using the best possible scientific evidence or research but one tiny unknown or slight imbalance can shift the results.  There have been many times when I have been hauling hoses to water gardens when one hundred per cent chance of thunderstorms moved above or below our region or spent hours shoveling one foot of twenty per cent chance of snowfall.  You truly have to be prepared to expect the unexpected.

It's in those what-are-the-chances-of-this-happening minutes we can learn and flourish.  Patrick McDonnell, creator of The Monster's Monster and Caldecott Honor winner of Me...Jane has written and illustrated a new title, A Perfectly MESSED-UP Story (Little, Brown and Company), destined to generate quite a bit of conversation.  It's a joyous example of life's little accidental incidents and how one can choose to respond.

This is
Louie's story. 

Once upon a time, little Louie
went skipping merrily along.

He was also singing a merry little song.  We all know skipping and singing mean nothing, absolutely nothing, is wrong.  Suddenly Louie skids to a stop.

There is an irregular-shaped gooey blob smack dab in the middle of his pastoral scene.  Hmm...it smells like jelly and it tastes like jelly.  Louie is flabbergasted someone would eat a jelly sandwich while reading his book.  Before he can even process the audacity of this, a huge glob of peanut butter lands on his face.  What?!

Wait a minute!  Black fingerprint smudges are appearing all over the pages.  This is a catastrophe!  Can it get any worse?!  It sure can and does.

In a truly earnest monologue Louie states the value of books and asks to continue his story again sans surprises.  Alas, it is not to be.  Crayon scribbles appear like an alien cloud in the sky.  Louie's request for assistance elevates the eyesore.  As you can imagine, Louie is more than a little irritated.

This story, his story, is in a shambles.  In fact, Louie gives up.  Heedless of his down and out statements, the narrator finally finishes the third sentence.  With that final word, Louie makes a startling discovery.  Way to go and grow, Louie!

The combined word choices and sentence structure fashioned by Patrick McDonnell are brimming with pizzazz and emotion.  The contrast between Louie's storyline, the narrative, and his spoken reactions are fantastically funny.  It's like you have a lighthearted tune being played by a piano and flute suddenly interrupted by a cymbal crash.  Here is a small sample.

For in his heart, 
Louie knew everything
was just

Opening up the dust jacket there stands, beneath a contrasting typed and hand-drawn title,  a somewhat baffled- looking, book-holding Louie amid jelly, crayon scribbles, an orange juice ring and numerous black fingerprints.  When your eyes look to the left one of the pages from the book is featured upside down.

Things don't always go by the book.

appears above Louie who states resignedly, in a conversational speech bubble,


Lightly golden checked opening and closing endpapers are identical except for the words in a small book plate on each.  The closing endpapers also hint at additional events.

Rendered in pen and ink, brush pen, crayon and watercolor on watercolor paper, the illustrations by Patrick McDonnell are lively using a full-color palette.  Each single-page picture has a softly-defined edge which creates a border using the heavy cream-colored paper.  When Louie despairs, believing his book is destroyed, the background scenery fades away to nothing.  It's just Louie and his voiced thoughts until his magic moment of realization.

One of my favorite illustrations is the third one in the book.  Louie is skipping across a hilly field of flowers with trees, clouds and blue sky in the distance.  He is singing his song,

Tra la la la la

Wearing his one-piece yellow suit with the two tiny red buttons, his face full of happiness and mouth open, he is the ultimate picture of bliss.  It's the perfect set-up for the following page as well as depicting the strength of Louie's character which is recognized by everyone, Louie too, at the end.

A Perfectly MESSED-UP Story written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell is sheer delight on every page.  It portrays in the best possible way, through humor, of how everyone's story can continue even though messes appear.  Readers of all ages will fall in love with Louie.

This is a great read aloud.  I can see having children act out the story after it has been read through one time first.  Get ready for a reader's theater romp and props as messy as you dare.

For more about the work of Patrick McDonnell please follow the link embedded in his name.  It takes you to a special publisher's website showcasing all his books.  There are lots of extras complimenting his earlier titles.
Update:  Patrick McDonnell was interviewed at Watch. Connect. Read. teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher's blog on November 21, 2014.

This review is based upon an uncorrected proof which I received from my favorite independent bookstore, McLean & Eakin Booksellers located in Petoskey, Michigan.  I can't wait until the projected release date of October 7, 2014 to get a copy of the hardcover.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Globetrotting Twosome

Even the youngest children are familiar with place names but they usually are not knowledgeable enough to determine if what they know is a city, state, or country.  Some of my more memorable question and answer sessions during story time with kindergarten students have been when we attempt to identify places on a map or globe.    Given the speed in which we can become readily connected anywhere in the world and informed of events any time of day, working knowledge of people and places outside our immediate area is fairly important in becoming citizens of our planet.

The duo who introduced readers to the alphabet in A Is For Musk Ox and numbers and counting in Musk Ox Counts are back in all their guffaw-inducing glory.  The World According To Musk Ox (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press) written by Erin Cabatingan with illustrations by Matthew Myers follows the team on a trip to the seven continents.  Get ready for a little learning and loads of laughter.

What happened to the globe?
What do you mean?
Nothing happened to it.

The only portion of the globe still attached to the stand is the area known as the Arctic.  Mr. Mischief himself has broken off the other portion.  Why would anyone care about the rest of the world?  Musk oxen are the best thing on four legs and they, of course, live in the Arctic.

Zebra, quick to point out his preference for Africa, (it is his home) gets a typical response from Musk Ox.  He has never heard of this place.  Deciding it's about time Musk Ox broadens his horizons, Zebra announces in his no-is-not-an-option voice they are off for a visit.

Immediately Musk Ox is too toasty.  Pointing out it is the hottest continent; Zebra kindly gets him a huge block of ice to place on his head.  While they are enjoying several different regions, Musk Ox happens to notice two wildebeests, promptly falling in love.

Continuing their adventure to the coldest place, Antarctica is next on the agenda.  Wind nearly blows them off the surface.  And did you know Antarctica is the largest desert in the world?  Still more shocking news awaits Musk Ox; there are more continents.

Sticking with alphabetical order their next stop is Asia.  A trio of facts, the tallest, the longest and the biggest, are casually relayed by the stripped guide to his woolly companion before they head down to Australia.  Zebra calmly notes two particularly nasty creatures known for being the most venomous in the world.  That sound you just heard was Musk Ox screaming like a baby.

Europe, among other things, holds the title for having spectacular ice caves known as Eisriesenwelt.  The duo does need to leave rather speedily for North America after you-know-who boldly goes where he should not have gone.  Zebra hurriedly points out there is more to this continent than the Arctic.  After traveling to one of the largest tropical rain forests in the world found in South America, Musk Ox wants to make one more stop; to a country not a continent.  I'll bet you can't guess where or why.

How fortunate for readers everywhere, when nearly two years ago Erin Cabatingan brought Musk Ox and Zebra into the children's literature world.  As in the two previous titles, the entire narrative is a witty no-holds-barred conversational exchange between the pair. Despite their differing personality traits, Miss Manners could probably learn a thing or two from Zebra but run screaming from the antics and attitude of Musk Ox, their relationship seems to be evolving into one where they are more tolerant of one another even if they rarely find common ground.  Here is a partial passage from one of the pages.  It is one of many moments of subtle hilarity.

What, no smart remarks?
Well, you do sound like you swallowed a computer.  But I suppose there are lots of interesting things in the world.
Besides musk oxen?
Possibly.  But don't tell anyone I said that.

An addition to the narrative is a series of Hysterical Marker points on each continent.  There may be one or two.  These, while informative, are not without their own sense of fun.  


How can you not laugh when you open the book case?  A grinning Musk Ox is poking his head through the broken globe via a cutout to the title page.  Barely suppressing his disgust, Zebra wears part of the globe like a hat.  On the left (back) Musk Ox declares, while lounging on his traveling trunk being carried on the back of Zebra:

If you want a really useful book about geography...
this isn't it.

The title page and verso on the left feature an illustration crossing the gutter of Zebra struggling to haul the same huge trunk with Musk Ox on top holding a fancy drink.  The contrast between the trunk and Zebra's small stripped suitcase is just the beginning of great details sure to bring on the grins. 

In his paintings Matthew Myers never misses a beat, altering their size to fit the pacing of the storyline.  If Zebra and Musk Ox are having a transitional conversation, the background is usually a solid color.  If they are exploring a new place, Myers provides appropriate resplendent scenery with his comedic touches evident.  In the beginning Musk Ox is playing with toys, musk oxen, a Polar bear and a small road sign with arrows pointing in opposite directions, Minsk and Miami.  Zebra packed for their first stop is carrying his toothbrush in his tail.

If you look carefully at each illustration you can find many extras.  For each continent Zebra is wearing a different hat indicative of the area. Several times Zebra is providing the method of transportation for Musk Ox's trunk, a rolling snowball or a bicycle rickshaw, unless of course they are sliding down an icy slope or dropping over the edge of the Niagara Falls.

One of my favorite illustrations is the double-page spread devoted to their arrival in Europe.  At this point they are in Paris.  Zebra is unfolding a brochure of European sights labeled Hoofing It In Europe: A Walking Tour.  You can clearly see the label on his suitcase, Z. Bra.  The tape holding the globe together is visible.

The World According To Musk Ox written by Erin Cabatingan with illustrations by Matthew Myers is one of the funniest adventures across the seven continents readers will likely have encountered to date.  The banter between the companions provides all the entertainment you could want while learning just enough information to peak your interest.  Get out your globe and ready this aloud to an audience of one or many.

To discover more information about Erin Cabatingan and Matthew Myers please follow the links embedded in their names.  If you would like to see more visuals from this title, head over to the publisher's website.  Half of my favorite illustration can be seen.

This review/recommendation is based upon an Advance Reader's Edition which I received from my local independent book shop, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan.  This title is set to be released on September 30, 2014.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


All it takes is one good book.  With this any reader's life has the potential to be changed regardless of their situation.  This single volume starts a fire which will continue to be fueled by works from the same author or illustrator or new authors and illustrators.

For those fortunate enough to have classroom and school libraries, public libraries or homes filled with reading materials and who are supported by dedicated certified staff and/or caring adults, transformation is guaranteed.  Draw! (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers) by Raul Colon is a visual offering giving evidence to the power of reading and individual imagination.  Entirely without words, it will leave you speechless, stunned by the images and the story they tell.

On the first page a boy is sitting on his bed, leaning against several pillows, reading a book with AFRICA on the cover.  Next to him is a safari hat.  On the floor, leaning against the bed, is a sketch book.  A glass of water and several pencils have been placed on his bedside table.

With a page turn, the illustration and our perspective grow.  An inhaler is also on the table, perhaps explaining the boy's presence in his bedroom.  He is now drawing.  A pair of binoculars, an umbrella, a stack of books and a sandwich on a plate have also been added.  But that is not all...a thrilling shift in the story is taking place.

A series of bolder, more vibrant pictures, moving from left to right, increasing in size, are superimposed on this visual.  They begin next to the boy's head.  In each of them, he is walking across an African landscape, wearing his safari hat, a canteen, an easel and a backpack while carrying his sketch book.  Readers know a kind of magic is beginning to unfold.

In the next series of single page illustrations, he befriends an elephant accompanied by a small white egret.  After completing a drawing of the elephant and bird, he rides on the elephant's back toward a herd of zebras.  Each time he completes a picture we are drawn deeper into his journey.

Giraffes running across the grasslands, lions lying lazily and standing majestically on a rocky outcrop, gorillas sitting among trees, water buffalo grazing, a hippo wading in shallow water, a charging rhino and monkeys quenching their curiosity fill page after page.   The adventuring artist climbs trees, shares his sandwiches, hat and pencils, hangs from vines, runs like the blazes and embraces a pachyderm pal.  We are definitely fortunate, as are his fellow classmates, to experience this fascinating day with him because of his talent; a talent to read, dream and do...through his drawing.

  Raul Colon has a distinctive illustrative process.  Each picture in this title invites readers to pause.  Opening the dust jacket an original piece features the boy drawing the charging rhino, intent but ready to run.  On the left an interior page from the book shows the boy on the back of the elephant holding his binoculars in one hand, a sandwich in the other.  In the background, a now calm rhino is staring at his portrait placed against a tree.  The book case is a different single illustration taken from the book of the giraffes running as the boy draws.

On the title page three pencils, the binoculars, a safari hat and a backpack stuffed with sandwiches and an umbrella give readers a peek at events to come.  All of Colon's visuals glow due to his technique of beginning with a golden undertone wash; thus illuminating his other colors.  A palette of browns, blue, greens and hues specific to each animal spread from edge to edge on single or double pages.

A sense of warmth not just because of the color choices but because of the acceptance (well except for the rhino) of the animals toward the boy is present.  They are as comfortable with him as he is with them; certainly this is due to his elephant guide.  Colon interjects easy, playful humor into some of his pictures; the gorillas holding the boy's hat and eating a sandwich and the monkeys drawing a picture of the boy in his sketchbook on the easel.

One final point is the two pages of the rhino charge.  Four small illustrations on a single page show him getting closer and closer to the boy.  With a page turn the action bursts forth across double pages.

My favorite illustration, which I would hang in my home in a heartbeat, is the boy, eyes closed, standing next to the elephant at the day's end.  The elephant's trunk is curved around his body, brushing against his ear.  Colon brings us up close to this scene focusing on the boy and the lower two-thirds of the elephant.  It is very moving.

When I read Draw! by Raul Colon last night at the end of my day, I was astonished at its beauty.  I immediately read it again and again.  Hand this to your art teacher, young artists and those who need or want to see the power of reading and imagination.  My Mock Caldecott list grew by one more title.

For more information about Raul Colon follow the link embedded in his name to the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature.  Here is a link to a site, Illustrated Friday, where Raul Colon answers ten questions about his work and process.  Here is a link to an interview at School Library Journal.  Enjoy the videos below.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Defined By Childhood

There is no denying the influence of our natural world, the place in which we live and our family during our childhood; ultimately determining the way we live our entire lives.  We can select consciously or unconsciously to emulate those sensory perceptions we experience.  Decisions in opposition to those impressions can also direct the course we take.

Beginning her author's note Patricia MacLachlan says:

Why do painters paint what they do?  Do they paint what they see or what they remember?  The great painter Henri Matisse's life story may have some answers.

In her newest picture book, The Iridescence of Birds:  A Book About Henri Matisse (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press), MacLachlan traces the paths followed as a child and as an adult by this accomplished artist.  Hadley Hooper, illustrator of Here Come the Girl Scouts!, pictures the text

using a combination of relief printmaking and digital techniques.

If you were a boy named Henri Matisse who lived
in a dreary town in northern France where the skies were gray   ...

Let's pause for a minute.  What would YOU do?  Have you figured it out?  Henri, as a young boy, chose to wish for color and the warmth of the sun.

His mother painted plates full of bright hues which were hung on the walls in their home.  She brought the outside inside decorating them with flora and fauna from their surroundings.  Henri helped her by blending basic shades of paint to create other colors.

After a trip to the market, buying fruits and flowers, it was Henri who placed them around their home.  Their town, a mill town, had people who wove vibrant bolts of silk in an array of patterns.  Perhaps to bring more warmth into their home, his mother would hang red rugs on the walls and place them on the dirt floor of their parlor.  Henri noticed the same red on the feet of his pigeons.  He marveled at the shifting shades reflected on their feathers.

In the final nine pages we are offered a comparison.  We are given gifts.  We see his youth mirrored in his lifetime works which have and will continue to stand the test of time.

Clearly Patricia MacLachlan is familiar with the life and art of Henri Matisse as evidenced by her narrative.  Its integrity, a single thought, runs through the pages like a meadow brook, quiet, clear and with purpose.  Her mastery exemplified, she writes a string of poetic ifs, important elements in Henri's life, leading readers to the singular outcomes.  It's so beautiful I keep reading it over and over.

Upon opening the dust jacket we see a single illustration conceived by Hadley Hooper.  On the front, through an open doorway boy Henri is watching his pigeons outside in the yard.  On the left, the back, a grown-up Henri is seated in a chair sketching outside another open doorway.  It's a lovely picture capturing the focus of the writing.  The red pigeon legs, the red chair in which Henri is seated and the red box for the title mirror those splashes of color from Henri's life.  On the title page, a pale dusty green background highlights the fonts and Henri walking with three pigeons following behind him.

All of the visuals extend across two pages in splendid, textured varied perspectives.  Easy but explicit lines define all the parts of each illustration.  We see Henri walking through the darkened streets of his town, hanging plates as his mother paints, taking delight in mixing the paints, arranging fruits and flowers, watching the fabric weavers and tending and watching his pigeons.  When the text shifts to the masterpieces created by the older Henri, Hooper places the young Henri in each of those pictures watching.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Henri feeding his pigeons.  Shades of blue and green with some red dominate this picture.  A smiling Henri is holding a dish to one of three pigeons on the roof of the dovecote, as two others inside look at him.  Noticeable in this visual, in all of them, is the cheerfulness of Henri.  Each is as uplifting as the narrative.

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse written by Patricia MacLachlan with pictures by Hadley Hooper is a breathtaking look at the artist's life.  In words and illustrations with impeccable pacing, readers come to understand the value each aspect of our childhood plays in shaping us as adults.  This is a tribute to the artistic brilliance of Henri Matisse who lived his art and then shared it with the world. An author's note, an illustrator's note and a selected bibliography are included.

For more information about Hadley Hooper and her work please follow the link embedded in her name taking you to her website.  Eight images from the book are available for your viewing at the publisher's website.  This title is set to be released on October 14, 2014.  Don't miss it! UPDATE: Check out this interview of Hadley Hooper at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast hosted by Julie Danielson on September 30, 2014.

This review/recommendation is based upon an Advance Reader's Edition which I received from my favorite independent book store, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan.

Please spend some time at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to see what other outstanding nonfiction titles have been listed by bloggers participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ghostly Guides And Gifts

Many a time growing up I waited with my mother for my father to arrive.  He would have been called away from his job in a small town near our small town.  My mother needed his key.  We had been locked out of our house or our car.  This unwelcome ability has to be genetic.

I've lost count of the number of times I have had to jimmy a window, crawling through tiny openings and dropping down unsafe distances, card doorways and become best friends with the local locksmith.  Locks and keys are my downfall.  My new best friends are deadbolt keypad locks.  Never are keys as important as when they are lost or fail to work properly.

The word key, besides its obvious function, can be defined as instrumental or pivotal in a variety of situations; the legend on a map, the way to recognize or categorize items, or decode a language or series of symbols.  In Edith Cohn's debut novel, Spirit's Key (Farrar Straus Giroux), the value of household keys is crucial to the survival of many.  There is more to unlock in this story than doors though; superstition, magic and mystery wrap themselves around Bald Island like natural elements.

When I get home from school, every cabinet in the kitchen has been thrown open.  There's a mess in the living room, too.

Twelve-year-old Spirit Holden's father has been going through the stacks of boxes, floor to ceiling, in every room of their home.  He believes in being overly-prepared for every possible situation which may or may not occur on their island.  His gift, being able to see someone's future by holding the key to their house, has lately been in need of assistance or what he calls, mumbo jumbo.  A neighbor is due to arrive soon and he decides to use candles to create the appropriate atmosphere.

On this day many thoughts swirl around in Spirit's mind, her father's waning talent, the late arrival of her own abilities (generations of Holden's have been able to predict the future) and the absence of her dog, Sky.  It's been fourteen days since Sky's death and the sorrow weighs heavily on her heart.  Six years ago, when she and her father came to the island, Sky, an island dog, a baldie, was found ill beneath their house.  After nursing him back to health, none of the islanders accepted him or understood, as Spirit did, his gentle nature.  Island legends told for centuries named the wild dogs as evil spirits.

Now another baldie has been found dead near their neighbor's home, away from the forest where they normally live.  Even stranger is the unexplained illness of the man who found the dead baldie.  As more people become sick and additional baldies are found dead, Spirit feels compelled to discover the truth before decisions based upon superstition and lack of knowledge endanger the entire population.  She will not be alone in her search; Sky is back.

Edith Cohn certainly knows how to create a page-turner.  The descriptions of the physical setting reflect her childhood adventures on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Unexplained packages and notes, the uncanny appearance of a bald eagle plus the power of Sky's grave site introduce marvelous moments of magic. Quirky characters with unusual names, whose thoughts, conversations and actions captivate, create a unique, memorable narrative.  Some you will love, others you will grow to understand and a few are the kinds to be avoided.

Cohn propels the storyline forward with multiple (thirty) short chapters.  Each ends with a moment which carries into the next seamlessly.  This is why many, if not most, readers will find themselves reading this in a single sitting, even if it means staying up far into the early hours of the morning.  Here are some sample passages taken from the book.

Dad takes a sip of coffee, then picks up Mr. Selnick's key again.  He closes his eyes and begins to rock.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  Then he shakes like he's cold, shivering until he jumps up and drops the key on the table like it burned him.
"There's danger ahead."
"Dag-nab-it! I knew that baldie paws up in my yard was an omen." Mr. Selnick shakes his finger at the air.  "I told my wife: The devil's after us."
"Get Jolie and the kids.  Pack your bags."
"What?" Mr. Selnick looks dumbfounded.
Dad walks to the door.  "You have to leave the island."  He stares hard at Mr. Selnick. "Tonight."

" 'Course, child.  Don't you believe in miracles?"
I dreamed Sky came back from the dead.  It seemed like a miracle.  "I believe in dreams."
"Wonderful! A dream and a miracle are sisters-practically twins. ..."

As I read through Spirit's Key written by Edith Cohn, like a desert survivor finally finding a cool drink of water, I could not help but think how many guys and gals are going to love this book.  It has heart-stopping action, suspense, and just enough fantasy.  The pacing is pure perfection.  The relationships between family members and neighbors provide individual food for thought and the opportunity for great discussions in the classroom, book groups and for families using this as a daily read aloud.  I advise you to give it a place on your professional and personal bookshelves.  Oh...and you might want to have more than one copy on hand.

To discover more about Edith Cohn and the writing of this book please follow the link embedded in her name.  There is so much to read on her website and blog.  This link to the publisher's website provides you the first chapter to read.  Here is a link to the Let's Get Busy podcast hosted by Matthew C. Winner, elementary teacher librarian, where he chats with Edith Cohn about this book.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Shapely Shenanigans

 If you look around wherever you are, shapes define the space.  Even before we know the name of shapes, our young minds recognize them.  We might group them together, favor one more than another or avoid some completely.

Shapes help us communicate by forming and stringing letters together to make written words.  Lines of shapes, notes, make music.  They convey certain meanings when we can't read; like the STOP sign.  In science, mathematics, architecture and art their significance is invaluable.

Given their importance I can think of no two I'd rather have introduce shapes to young readers than Moose and Zebra from Z is for Moose.  The comedic characters are back in Circle Square Moose (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) written by Kelly Bingham with illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky.  A first-class rascal leads his play-by-the-rules friend on a riotous romp.

Shapes are all around us.  We see them every day.  Have you ever looked at a button?

Most of us can answer a resounding yes to this first question, recognizing a button as a circle.  When the narrator goes on to name a sandwich as a square, a big moose mouth is taking a huge bite from it.  Warned to quit eating the prop for the story and to vacate the book, Moose holds up what is left of the sandwich when the word triangle is mentioned.

Does Moose leave when asked?  Of course he doesn't.  He again holds up two cat ears to depict the triangle.  The narrator repeats this is not an animal book, but a shape book.  Moose and the cat need to skedaddle.

Thinking the book is back to normal, examples of rectangles are shown.  All is well until Moose appears in a window, crossing out words and replacing them with Moose.  The narrator is trying to politely get Moose to leave but he is being his usual mischief-maker self.  Somehow re-forming himself to appear in a kite, Moose creates more havoc when the shape diamond is explained.

With frustration clearly mounting, the narrator's plea for Moose to leave is interrupted by Zebra stating he will take care of this Moose problem.  Like Zebra's words were an invitation for a game of tag, Moose takes off cavorting through the pages.  When a mess created by a wayward ribbon threatens Zebra, Moose's ingenuity creates an escape and an ending with friendship in a starring role.

By the third page, the conversational presentation of a circle, then a square takes a definite turn toward hilarity with Moose's presence and the narrator's replies.  By moving forward with the initial premise, complete with rhyming text, it elevates the disruptions caused by Moose igniting outbursts of laughter in readers.  Kelly Bingham's verbal interplay between the narrator, Moose and Zebra is liberally laced with civility, indignation, playfulness, distress, surrender and confidence.  I really like when she has Zebra and Moose use the same phrase when offering assistance.  Here is a sample passage from the book.

A wedge of cheese
A piece of pie
A sail

or ears like these! (Moose's words in a speech bubble over the final phrase.)

I couldn't help but smile when I removed the dust jacket from the book case.  Paul O. Zelinsky's decision to make the designs different adds to the humorous overall quality.  On the back of both Moose is pictured with a circle, rectangle, diamond, star, triangle and square.  On the front of the book case the title reads, My First Book Of Shapes.  Moose is inside the circle, square and triangle having crossed off the appropriate words painting over them in purple with the words Moose.

A lighter shade of the purple covers both the opening and closing endpapers.  In the upper left-hand corner of the first set of endpapers a corner is turned down showing the inside of a library with the characters reading.  Another turn of page shows eight squares featuring the shapes in hues of purple.  Moose is peeking out from one of them.  These also figure at the end of the book showcasing a final exchange between Zebra and Moose.

Full color illustrations rendered in mixed media illuminate the text in vivid frivolity.  The design techniques whether the pictures are on a single page or two are superior; your eyes carefully follow the interaction between the characters, seen and unseen.  When Zebra and Moose finally take their leave the shift in background color is brilliant, highlighting the final shape and the friendship between the two.

One of my favorite illustrations is the one for the passage referenced above.  Zelinsky's skill at portraying expression is highly evident in Moose's and the cat's eyes; one full of impishness, the other wide-eyed acceptance.  We are so close to the two of them only parts of their faces and bodies are shown.  It's a perfect perspective when placed next to the following picture of Moose walking away, shoulders slumped in defeat with the cat watching.

This companion title to Z is for Moose, Circle Square Moose, is another triumph for the collaborative team of Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky.  It is a read aloud, fun-filled treasure.  You might want to have large shapes at the ready to use for props.  Expect a chorus of read it again.

For more information about both Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky please follow the links embedded in their names to access their websites.  Paul O. Zelinsky did a remarkable thing in the final illustration for the text.  He includes his radio interview and a picture of Moose and Zebra in Alice Springs, Australia.  Here is a link to an interview and more artwork courtesy of Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Primary, Secondary And A Little Bit More...Get Out The Paint!

Yesterday the color of Lake Michigan spanning outward from the shoreline between Charlevoix and Petoskey was stunning.  The combination of bright sunlight, clarity of air and cloudless sky created a shade of blue hard to name.  It was worthy of stopping the car, watching the waves and soaking up the beauty.

I wondered at the time how to duplicate the precise quality of the lake without the benefit of a camera.  Even then, would a photograph be the same?  It reminded me of my first watercolor set; of adding liquid to those solid squares of color to make paint and new hues.  As a concept book for younger readers Herve Tullet's new title, Mix it Up! (Handprint Books, an imprint of Chronicle Books LLC) pictures the excitement of making vibrant art.


Reading the second sentence you will notice the previously blank page now has a small gray blob of paint in the center.  On the fourth page you are asked to, ever so lightly, tap the dot and observe.  Now it looks as if finger-made spots of blue, yellow and red (and isn't that pink?) are racing toward the tiny gray dot.

There don't seem to be enough so we are urged to tap and tap some more.  Wow!  Immediately there are lots of dots; red dots, blue dots, yellow dots, green dots, purple dots, orange dots and pink dots.  The gray dot has plenty of company.  Are we done?  Oh...no...we are just getting started.

We are requested to place our hand on top of all those colors.  With a page turn we see the outline of a hand nearly absent of any red, blue, yellow, green, purple, orange or pink.


Using our fingers we smear primary colors with one another making green, purple and orange.  We slide our book one way and then another, we press and rub, forming blended swirls, drips, splashes and smudges of secondary shades.  Is the fun over?  Oh...no...we are questioned to see what we've learned.

What will white do?  What will black do?  What will they do together? Our hands, at the invitation of the narrator find answers and...the enchantment of blending color.

This book is like holding an art lesson in your hands.  Herve Tullet is speaking to each individual reader in the simplest manner while encouraging participation.  In presenting the role of primary and secondary colors and using white and black to lesson or intensify each, we learn by doing.  You know it's not real but it feels real.  Anticipation builds with each suggestion and the following results.  Here is a small sample of a conversation.  The first phrase is beneath a smudge of red, yellow and blue.  The second is under a large irregular dot on the following page.  On the third page the original three dots are pictured with no text.  A green dot with a little blue and a little yellow peeking out from the edges is above the final questioned word.


Of course paint was used to render all the illustrations in this book.  The high sheen to the paper gives realistic texture to every single color.  It makes following the narrator's instructions even more fun.  You expect to feel paint on the page and on your fingers.  Both the opening and closing endpapers are rows of thumbprint colors.  We begin without a title page, verso or dedication.  Herve Tullet knows his audience; he understands their eagerness to make art.

Each illustration is exactly as you would expect it to be if you had made it yourself within the last few seconds.  Each time I turned a page I could not help but think how much fun Tullet must have had making this book.  The shaken pages have marbleized color.  The tilted pages have color runs.  Squished pages have splatters radiantly spreading to the edges.   This illustrator is truly gifted at enhancing simple ideas to foster learning.

I think one of my favorite illustrations is toward the beginning.  The outline of the hand among all the colored thumbprints truly visualizes the power of creation.  It announces the start of a whole new world.

It's a good thing heavier paper is used for the pages in Mix it Up! written and illustrated by Herve Tullet. Readers, young and old alike, are going to be tapping, rubbing, smudging, tilting, shaking, and squishing to their hearts' content and then starting all over to do it again.  Keep paints and extra copies at the ready.  And like Herve Tullet states at the end


Please visit Herve Tullet's website by following the link embedded in his name.  Here is an earlier interview about his work and the title, Doodle Cook, at Design Mom.  The publisher has made an activity kit.  Enjoy the book trailer below.

The Power Of The Spoken Word

Over the years when working with students during a storytelling class, I am always deeply moved by their need to share their stories.  Some are more eager to tell than others but the story of one can connect to the memory of a story in another student's mind.  Soon everyone wants to tell their story.

We always sit in a circle; no one person has greater importance than another.  For those shared minutes an unbreakable bond is created.  It is an empowering experience.

Four years ago author Barbara Bottner and illustrator Michael Emberley introduced readers to a first grade student in Miss Brooks Love Books! (and I don't) who had a tough time finding a book for the Book Week celebration, but she did.  When it came to warts, snorting and a particularly dreadful ogre, it was true love.  Missy and her school librarian have returned in Miss Brooks' Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome!)(Alfred A. Knopf).

Miss Brooks has Story Nook first thing before school, and I don't like to miss it.

As luck (or not) would have it Missy needs to pass by Billy Toomey's house if she uses the short cut.  The problem is Billy Toomey chases her and grabs her hats.  His laughter and overt taunting at her frustration makes the entire situation intolerable.  The long way to avoid him is not an option on this rainy day.

Arriving late Missy joins the group only to be startled with the others when a boisterous boom of thunder makes all the lights go out. Miss Brooks can't continue reading in the dark, so she suggests a round of storytelling straight from her listeners' imaginations.  Missy declares herself to be more of a reader than a teller.  Upbeat Miss Brooks replies

"Good readers make wonderful storytellers."

Missy's mind is a complete blank when it comes to thinking of a tale to tell even when Miss Brooks advises them to think of a problem needing solving or a compelling character.  You know who keeps popping into her mind.  In a flash, not unlike a bolt of lightning, it comes to her.  An ogre.

This particular ogre lives on her street.  This particular ogre has animals, not domestic but wild.  One of Graciela's prized pets, a snake, gets loose.  With interjections from friendly classmates and coaching from a wise book lover, Miss Brooks, Missy becomes a skillful yarn spinner except for one thing.  How will her story, this story, be wrapped up?

Shifting between Missy's narrative, character dialog and the story within the story, Barbara Bottner persuades readers to actively participate in this book. (I can see listeners leaning in closer to not miss a single written line.)  During the telling of Missy's tale, Miss Brooks proposes story parts, introductory details, action, lengthier plot, and an ending which works with the rest of the pieces.  In response to the natural interplay of conversation, these recommendations fit flawlessly with the flow.

Bottner's word choices in Missy's thinking and voice as well as the three students, Wilbur, Plum and Violet, up the funny factor.  I love that Missy uses the phrase

It's vexing.

Missy is a character who knows her mind and displays a special kind of wit.  The repeated remarks of her classmates to add aliens, ghosts and kittens to her story will provoke laughter with ease.  Here is a sample portion of a passage.

"I love stories more than anything," said Miss Brooks.
"So let's close our eyes and let out minds wander.
Everyone has a tale to tell."

"I've got nothing," I said.

When you first glance at the dust jacket and book case, you wonder how the pictured characters connect; lively Miss Brooks, a boy giving someone the raspberries, an animated Missy and a green-skinned, earring-wearing ogre.  The facial features on each are enough to bring on the grins.  Michael Emberley has the gift of infusing the right touch of humor in his illustrations from the beginning, throughout the book and on the final page.  Red and yellow striped endpapers leave no doubt as to the positive outcome.  A two-page illustration spans the title page featuring an animated Miss Brooks reading a pirate story.

There always seems to be a bit of wizardry involved when the picture size, the design and layout of all the elements and the use of white space work to elevate the text.  Emberley's artistry is evident with every page turn.  An excellent example is his visuals for the single sentence,

I slipped into Story Nook.

Four small pictures depict a wet, hatless Missy arriving at school, searching in her backpack, finding her favorite indoor stripped hat and putting it on.  These are a header of sorts for the larger illustration of Miss Brooks reading to the group after Missy finds a seat.

One of my favorite pictures is after the lights have gone out.  Miss Brooks has her back to the reader as she removes her skull-and-crossbones hat, gathering the students near to her.  There is warmth in this scene. Trust has been previously established and a sense of anticipation is prevalent on the students' upturned faces.

Every child needs to have a Miss Brooks in their lives.  Miss Brooks' Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome!) written by Barbara Bottner with illustrations by Michael Emberley is as entertaining, playful and gratifying as the companion title.  Plan on having more than one copy available (if you don't already) and if you are like me, you and your listeners will be reading it over and over.

To discover more information about Barbara Bottner and Michael Emberley please visit their websites by following the links embedded in their names.  Michael Emberley provides quite a bit of information about his process in making the illustrations for this book.  Here is the link to the publisher's website.  Take a peek inside the book.  Here is a tweet which appeared in my feed today.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What The Eye Cannot See

The exact event escapes me but the memory of receiving a microscope as a gift remains.  Nothing was safe from my scrutiny.  All types of items were positioned on slides, set on the stage and held in place with the clips.  Seeing the most common things magnified was like looking at their essence.

Sitting in the late afternoon sun on the lawn, it's fun to imagine all the minute beings residing on a single blade of grass among thousands, crawling across the leaves or bark on a nearby maple tree and moving about the shiny brown fur of your nearby sleeping dog.  Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes (Candlewick Press) written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Emily Sutton introduces readers to the amazing life forms normally unseen by the human eye.  From this book what might have been previously viewed as mundane is lifted to marvelous; mystery is replaced with awareness.

You know about big animals,
and you know about small animals...

With a page turn readers are asked two questions?  These questions take what is known about an ant and a whale making comparisons as to the number of microbes found on the antenna of an ant.  A single sentence describes microbes as the narrative further explains their population in the millions and billions relative to a drop of water and a teaspoon of soil.

Of particular interest is microbes can live where nothing else does.  They populate on and in plants and animals including humans.  Try not to think about how many are currently on your skin, more

than there are people on Earth,

 or an even larger amount setting up housekeeping in your stomach.

Students of basic biology study the one-celled Paramecium which is humongous compared to the polio virus, one of the tiniest microbes.  Close examination reveals microbes, hungry for absolutely anything, come in an array of shapes and sizes.  They are Nature's chief change agents; rulers in the realm of recycling and reusing.  They definitely have championship status when it comes to making more microbes and doing so quickly.

For this reason, their ability to multiply rapidly, germs and those things carrying them are to be respected.  On the other hand their accomplishments are to be applauded; ever so tiny but together landscapes change.  Minuscule but miraculous.

Nicola Davies begins her nonfiction narrative by talking about two animals, differing greatly in size, in which readers will be familiar. Her goal of increasing understanding and exciting fascination is met and enhanced with her technique of comparing what is known to that which might not be known.  As readers explore the information she provides, in a truly appealing and conversational manner, their appreciation for their world will grow as swiftly as microbes split again and again.  Here is her description of microbes; simple but complete and intriguing.

They don't have eyes, 
heads, or legs,
branches, roots, or
leaves because they
aren't animals or plants.
But they are alive.
They are called
and there are lots of them.

Rendered in watercolor, the illustrations of Emily Sutton pair beautifully with the text.  The girl, boy and cat shown on the matching dust jacket and book case guide readers on the journey of discovery throughout the book.  A matte-finished paper provides for a more tactile experience and softens the colors.  Tiny microbes in shades of blue and black pattern the opening and closing endpapers.

A hued expanse of blue picturing a deep sea spans across the two pages for the dedication and title.  The girl, boy and cat are sailing in a tiny boat bobbing between the waves.  On the next two pages an immense blue whale glides nearby, tail splashing the surface.  A branch extending over the water is a pathway for an ant.  Clearly Sutton is extending and enhancing the narrative.

With visuals varying in size, giving weight to Davies's words, Sutton's texture and detail are impeccable.  You could frame her paramecium, the children working in the vegetable and flower garden, the depiction of the starry skies surrounding Earth or the initial whale and ant scenes.  My favorite illustration is the spoon holding a teaspoon of soil coming from the top left corner of a double page spread.  The remainder of the illustration is of a multitude of people in a market place in India, buildings and palm trees in the background.  In a word, this is stunning.

Hand this title to a budding scientist, a curious reader or anyone of any age.  I guarantee they will finish in awe as I did.  Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Emily Sutton is an exceptional work of nonfiction, deserving of a place on any book shelf.

For more information about Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton please follow the links embedded in their names.  Nicola Davies has a great video at her site about her work and an outstanding blog post about the difference between fiction and nonfiction.  Emily Sutton's website was unattainable as of this writing but the first link mentioned and this interview at Bettys should give you insights about her art.  This link is to the publisher's website for this title.

It's an honor to participate each week in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Be sure to follow this links to other blogger's recommendations.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Seasonal Smiles

April 2007 heralded the birth of two new characters in children's literature.  Either one of them could be a beloved member of a family as a precious pooch or treasured toy.  Together they bring magic to the pages of their books now numbering four.

In each volume three everyday events are highlighted with focused and funny results. New meaning is given to going outside, wanting to play with a pal and changing your name in Dog and Bear: Two Friends, Three Stories (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, April 2007).  Dog and Bear: Two's Company (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, April 2008) features running away and ice cream, birthday cakes and candles, and being tired and tender care.  A problem pail, brash bouncing and organizational overload keep the two friends busy in Dog and Bear: Three To Get Ready (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, September 2009).

With Halloween a little over six weeks away, excitement for this autumnal celebration is already building.  Laura Vaccaro Seeger's newest title, Dog And Bear: Tricks and Treats (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press), highlights the pair's preparations.  Their take on the simplest things makes for the silliest moments.

The first of three stories finds Dog and Bear wandering around a costume shop.  Bear holds up superhero apparel advising Dog, wearing a hot dog disguise, this is the one he wants to try.  In the changing room is a mirror.

Bear believes it is another Bear, identical in every respect to him.  Running to get Dog announcing this amazing news, the two now stand before the mirror.  As you can guess the final sentence proves that two heads are not necessarily better than one.

Halloween night has arrived in story two.  Bear is calmly reading his favorite book, the first book in this series, in his rocking chair.  Every time the doorbell rings, Dog leaps up eager to greet the trick-or-treaters.

After the traditional chorus rings out, Dog always replies treat.  After numerous visitors, Bear comes to check on Dog wondering why they still have candy.  Oh, they still have candy; way too much candy.

This title closes with Dog and Bear heading out to roam the streets, bags in hand.  At the first house a ghost refuses to give them any treats.  He, like the readers, can easily see that Dog and Bear are not wearing costumes.

The two look as they do every single day of the week.  A tennis-match-type argument ensues; back and forth, back and forth.  The final reveal leaves the ghost boo-less.

In each of the books, as well as this one, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, is a master at using a minimum amount of words for maximum results.  Within nine pages she successfully engages her readers, endears them to her characters and delivers a conclusion guaranteed to result in delightful peals of laughter.  Character conversations and thoughts build with a gentle tension; we know something is coming but we're not quite sure what it will be.  Therein lies Seeger's gift.

A consistency in the color palette, primary colors plus green and brown, with few exceptions is used in all the books.  These bold hues, against the pristine white of the background, pop off the page like familiar old friends.  The book case presents a clear, welcoming theme as do the opening and closing endpapers in orange.  On the title page the pumpkin present on the cover has now been carved into a jack-o-lantern with Dog and Bear on either side holding it.

Each story title, The Other Bear, Ding Dong and No Treats For You, is accompanied by a small illustration alluding to the narrative.  For most of the pictures Laura Vaccaro Seeger uses a single page.  Sometimes she will include two smaller framed visuals on a page.

Bear with his buttoned parts and Dog with his collar of gold are full of life especially in their facial expressions and body movements.  One of my favorite illustrations in this title is Dog greeting two trick-or-treaters, a skeleton and a mummy, at the door.  His nose is in one of their bags.  Careful readers will notice the difference between the tables with the bowl of treats in this picture in comparison to the previous one.  Seeger is building up to the ending in the best possible way.

I am a huge fan of this series written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  This new title, Dog and Bear: Tricks And Treats, is as clever and captivating as the others.  They are ideal for the intended audience and those of us lucky enough to be able to read them aloud.

For further information about Laura Vaccaro Seeger and her work please visit her website by following the link embedded in her name.  For two separate activity kits follow the links here and here. To celebrate this new book I am hosting a giveaway.  Please enter below for a chance to win a Dog and Bear READ poster and one hundred matching bookmarks.

Monday, September 15, 2014

An Expected Arrival

The empty hummingbird feeder sways in the brisk breezes, frequent flyers having left for the year.  Milkweed pods hang on slim stems ready to burst open.  Every morning fresh deer tracks pattern my gardens; hostas, ornamental cabbages, mums, hollyhocks, hydrangeas and phlox are their urban salad bar.   High and low temperatures for any given twenty-four hour period plunged by at least fifteen degrees last week; it looks like they are staying.  In eight days it will be official.

In eight days on September 23, 2014 the autumnal equinox will arrive.  It signals a significant shift in weather forecasts, animal patterns and habitat transformations paving the way for the coldest season of the year.  Winter Is Coming (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) written by Tony Johnston with illustrations by Jim LaMarche is a remarkable ode to this resplendent interval.

It is a cold September day.
Fall is still here but ice
is in the air, I feel it.
Winter is coming.

A young girl walks through the archway entrance to her farm, heading toward the neighboring woods.  Ever so quietly she makes her way to a platform in a tree, carrying a backpack and sketchbook, ready to observe and record.  Still as a stone she listens and looks; a red fox seeks the last apple on a nearby branch.  Two bears, a mother and a cub, hunt for food nearby on another day.

Skunks, woodpeckers and rabbits search and work in preparation for winter in October.  The animals are getting ready; they know and understand.  Food is scare; nothing found is wasted.

The month of silence and silver descends.  A lynx at moonrise, scampering chipmunks, speckled fawns and a doe make an appearance on different days in November.  The stillness is shattered by honking geese; their familiar V gliding overhead.

There comes a time though when no creature comes to the special place in the forest.  The very air is filled with anticipation.  Could it be there are no more lessons to be learned among the hushed trees and fields?  Snowflakes fall on a young girl and a red fox.  Winter comes.

As she calmly sits in the presence of nature's changing seasons a girl gives voice to her perceptions.  Her spoken words, given a timeless tempo by author Tony Johnston, are as gentle, quiet and patient as she and the world around her.  It's as if we are breathing with the same rhythm she is.  Repeated words,

winter is coming

add to the near silent symphony.  Interspersed among her musings are shared words of wisdom from her father and mother.  Her family is clearly in touch with nature.  Here is a portion of a passage.

I can smell them before I see them.
Not a bad smell; a real smell.
My father says
animals are true
to themselves.
Skunks are skunks.

When I opened the dusk jacket of this book, I held my breath.  Readers are warmly invited to experience everything the character enjoys with her senses.  Jim LaMarche brings us near to her as she stands next to the steps leading up to the platform in her tree.  The book case beneath is identical except for the color of winter and the author's and illustrator's names.  The silver is now bright white.  On the opening endpapers a pair of binoculars, several colored pencils, a writing pencil, a small hand-held pencil sharpener, blank paper and sketchbooks are displayed.  Filled with drawings of observed animals, paper and sketchbooks along with a single colored pencil, an eraser and a collected maple leaf are spread across the closing endpapers.

No space is wasted by Jim LaMarche; his illustrative story begins with the first page turn. Rendered in acrylics, colored pencils, and opaque inks on Arches watercolor paper all the pictures cover two pages, edge to edge.  Photographic details are softened through his use of medium.  His color palette, rich and luminous, golden yellow, rustic red, soft brown, deep green and complimentary blues and purples, is absolutely stunning.  Altered viewpoints create a rare realism; you could step into any one of the visuals.

One of my favorite illustrations is on the day no animals come.  LaMarche shows the girl seated on the platform, her back to us, looking into the woods.  She is wearing her purple scarf and hat with her rosy coat.  Her backpack is hanging on a broken tree branch.  The pair of binoculars, a thermos, two sketchbooks and several pencils are on either side of her.  The overall color is of a cold, misty morning near the end of autumn.  A few reddish leaves remain on the boughs; others have fallen to the forest floor and the platform.

Run, don't walk, to your nearest bookstore, to get your personal and a classroom copy of Winter Is Coming written by Tony Johnston with illustrations by Jim LaMarche.  It's an eloquent portrait of autumn moving into winter.  This title will certainly be placed on my Mock Caldecott list.

Friday, September 12, 2014

An Appetite For Anything And Everything

Most people who have been chosen by canine companions can attest to quickly learning to keep their pals close at all times.  Otherwise you and your friend might be taking a tomato juice bath after a close encounter with a skunk or making an emergency visit to the vet to remove porcupine quills looking like acupuncture gone wrong.  It's important to observe leash laws at all times to protect our dogs from vehicles, other dogs and a multitude of other potential problems their noses might lead them into within seconds.

I am here to warn all humans who love their furry friends to beware of a heretofore unheard of hazard.  This book just ate my dog! (Henry Holt and Company, September 30, 2014) written and illustrated by Richard Byrne reveals the consequences of getting too close to a badly behaved book.  You will need to keep a wary eye on those stacks and shelves in book shops, libraries and even in your own home.

Bella was taking her dog for a stroll across the page when...

Wait a minute!  You have got to be kidding me!  Bella's dog has all but disappeared into the gutter of this book.  Yes, I am talking about the very book I am holding in my hands right this minute.

Now all that's left is a very taunt leash Bella is struggling to hold.  Balloon-holding Ben comes meandering down the page.  Bella shouts out the horrible news.  One curious boy has vanished.  This can't be good.

To Bella's delight in the nick of time the dog rescue truck roars into view...and then it disappears too.  It happens again and again.  No one, nothing, is safe near this book.  Stella decides to take matters into her own hands.  Now what? I am holding a book void of characters and objects that has just burst forth with the most revolting noise.

Incredulous to say the least, I am further surprised when an envelope pops out of the center.  It's a written request from Bella asking me to perform a specific task over and over and over and over and once more.  I would like to report everything is currently perfectly perfect, but I can't.

I'll wager there's not a single school librarian who has not received a book returned after it's been partially consumed by a family dog.  Using a minimal amount of text, Richard Byrne completely switches this scenario with hilarious results. His use of words creates an appropriate atmosphere;

very odd

There is a back and forth rhythm put into place.  Initially it cautiously invites readers to participate.  A single sentence or portions of a sentence (with the exception of the note) are the only text on a page supplying flawless pacing.  It leads them to the wholly unexpected burst-out-laughing ending.

Removing the dust jacket and lifting the flaps, readers are treated to an illustration spanning left to right across the back and front.  A very surprised Bella is leading her dog.  On the back we read:

Nice reader
to show this
naughty book
who's boss.
Please help! 

The flap on the left shows a smaller version of Bella.  On the right we see the rear section, tail and two legs, of her dog.  Beneath the jacket, the book case in the corresponding vivid turquoise blue has a single sentence printed repeatedly,

I promise not to be a naughty book

Opening and closing endpapers feature outlines, white on pale blue, of the emergency vehicles.  They are identical with a glaring exception which I will not reveal.  The verso and title page picture begins the story with the sleeping dog being called for a walk.

Straight wide brush strokes in gray and tan are a backdrop for the full color portrayals of the characters and trucks.  Red is used for the text, leash, and as a major color or accent on the other elements.  The smallest lines for eyes, noses and mouths serve to feature contentment, shock, fear, good cheer, bewilderment, joy, anger, surprise and relief.  Careful readers will notice all the tiny details.

One of my favorite illustrations is the first one when the narrative begins.  Bella and her dog walking along the page are carefree and enjoying this activity together.  The dog's tail is wagging in pure pleasure.  This picture serves to introduce readers to the two main characters and sets the stage for the surprising contrasts ahead.

You can't read this title, This book just ate my dog!, written and illustrated by Richard Byrne without smiling the entire time, page after page.  I know with certainty when the last double-page illustration comes into view readers and listeners alike are going to roar with laughter.  The dog knows.  You know.  But Bella is blissfully unaware.  I recommend getting multiple copies.  Plan on a chorus of read it again when the cover is closed.

To visit Richard Byrne's official website please follow the link embedded in his name.  If you are like me, after reading this title I know I need to read more of his work.  Here is a link to a single page activity provided by the publisher.

Macmillan Children's Publishing Group has graciously agreed to give away a copy of this book to one lucky winner.  Please complete the form below.  Good luck!

Turn Back Time

When you are younger you can hardly wait to grow up believing adulthood to be far superior to childhood.  Once you reach a certain age, even if you embrace it with acceptance, you long for the days to slow down.  Time seems to go faster with each passing year.

Wrinkles, gray hair, and creaky joints go with the territory.  It is decidedly hard though to see parents and peers age quicker for reasons other than their number of birthdays.  Jennifer L. Holm, triple Newbery Honor winner (Turtle in Paradise, 2011, Penny from Heaven, 2007 and Our Only May Amelia, 2000) explores family relationships, friendship, and why life, however long it is, is valued in a new title, The Fourteenth Goldfish (Random House).

When I was in preschool, I had a teacher named Starlily.  She wore rainbow tie-dyed dresses and was always bringing in cookies that were made with granola and flax and had no taste.

Ten-year-old Ellie is shocked to discover Goldie, her goldfish, is not a natural wonder having lived for seven straight years.  She was under the mistaken impression the original pet given to her by Starlily has been alive for quite some time.  Her mother, in an attempt to shield her from many untimely deaths, has been replacing each goldfish as they expired.  Number thirteen has recently left to swim in the big pond in the sky.

Now eleven and facing the uncertainty of sixth grade and middle school, Ellie is in for another colossal surprise.  Her maternal grandfather, Melvin Herbert Sagarsky, a renowned scientist, is going to be living with her and her mother, a drama teacher at the high school.  (Her parents divorced when Ellie was little but have remained good friends.  Her father, an actor, tours with a theater company.)  Certainly having a grandparent living under the same roof is an adjustment but this grandparent has made an epic discovery.  This grandparent is now a thirteen-year-old teenager.  Life is about to enter uncharted waters.

Without a doubt Ellie's grandfather has conceived a way to reverse the aging process by using a previously undocumented specie of jellyfish.  One of several problems is the sample is in his lab; his younger self is being denied access.  How is he going to document this scientific achievement without proof?

Now enrolled in the same middle school as Ellie, her distant cousin "Melvin" looks like an eccentrically-attired student but retains all the wry wit and feistiness of a seventy-six-year-old scientist providing for more than a few humorous moments. Through the other characters Ellie makes discoveries of her own; childhood friends drift apart and develop other interests but new friends make a path into your world, parents and their children, no matter their age, are still parents and children, and life needs to move forward.  Even knowing the outcome, on the second reading, I, like all readers, could not turn the pages fast enough, anxious for each quest to be fulfilled and for each question to be answered.  In this title, as in life, there are no endings, only beginnings of possible.

Having seen more decades then I can hardly believe come and go, losing both parents and a spouse, it's easy for me as a reader to identify with Ellie, her mother and her grandfather.  Jennifer L. Holm depicts them (and all the characters) with extraordinary realism.  Each voice, particularly Ellie's, rings true to life with clarity and humor.  Holm's gift in portraying the interplay of generational give-and-take is exquisite.

She skillfully weaves science, a realm full of potential, into this title.  Ellie's parents are hopeful she will find her passion, preferably in a pursuit similar to theirs.  With her teenage grandfather now taking up residence in their home, her joy for science is revealed layer by layer through their marvelous discussions.

Deft at descriptions of time and place Holm transports readers into Ellie's daily life.  Whether at school, home or on an escapade to gain the Turritopsis melvinus we are there side by side with the characters.  We know what they know.  We feel what they feel.  We grow in understanding as they do.

Here are some samples of Holm's writing from this title.  My pages are peppered with post-it notes.  Every time I read this I add more.

Warm air drifts through my bedroom window.  We live in the Bay Area, in the shadow of San Francisco, and late-September nights can be cool.  But it's hot tonight, like summer is refusing to leave.

Then he goes to the fridge, takes out the milk, and pours himself a big glass.  He drinks it and pours himself another.
He waves the carton of milk at me and burps.  "Make sure you take your calcium.  Everything they say about bone density is true.  I lost two inches in the last ten years of my life.
"You shrank?"
"The perils of old age," he says.

This is so interesting.  He's so interesting.  It's like I've never really listened to him before.  And maybe I haven't.  Usually when we're together, he and my mom just bicker.
"How do you know so much about this?" I ask.
"Because I've been researching it for the last forty years.  It's my side project.  I've had articles published, you know."
I'm starting to think that maybe I don't know him at all.  Not really.  It's like he's been playing the part of Grandfather in a play, but underneath the makeup is something more.  A real person.

But maybe there's also a little magic in cooking, taking all the plain old ingredients and turning them into comfort and memory.  Because when my mom walks in the door, she sniffs the air expectantly.
"Something smells wonderful," she says.
"We cooked dinner!" I say.
My grandfather holds out a plate to her.
"Is that----" she starts to ask.
My grandfather finishes her sentence, "Your mother's coq au vin."
She takes a bite and her face turns up in a smile.
"It tastes exactly the way I remember it," she murmurs.
His eyes shine, "Yes," he says.

The Fourteenth Goldfish written by Jennifer L. Holm is a beautiful novel creating a bridge of understanding between the lives of parents and children, exploring profound questions about life and death and affirming the wonder to be gained in the field of science.  It's a middle grade must-read but every single age will find connections within its pages.  Heartwarming and uplifting, this is writing excellence.

For more information about Jennifer L. Holm and this title please visit her official website by following the link embedded in her name.  At the publisher's website several beginning chapters are posted for you to read. Teacher librarian John Schumacher featured the cover reveal at Watch. Connect. Read. a little less than a year ago. Educator Colby Sharp chats with Jennifer L. Holm at sharpread and Nerdy Book Club. (I don't believe in coincidences.  These posts were made on my father's birthday.)  Thank you for this book, Jennifer. Update:  After you've finished this book head over to Jennifer Holm's website where she reads the final chapter aloud.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Up And Around And Then Back Down

It can be seen for miles and miles in the distance, a beacon against the horizon announcing a spectacular experience in the offing.  During the day or night this spinning marvel is the next best thing to flying; giving passengers a bird's eye view of the surrounding landscape.  Your heart may be in your stomach but the visual feast is well worth the ride.

What thinker conceived this masterpiece of engineering excellence?  Mr. Ferris and His Wheel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) written by Kathryn Gibbs Davis with illustrations by Gilbert Ford introduces readers to George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. and his spectacular invention.  It's a story filled with monumental moments.

It was only ten months until the next World's Fair.  But everyone was still talking about the star attraction of the last World's Fair.

Certainly an American could create a showpiece for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair which would surpass the wonder of the Eiffel Tower erected in Paris, France.  George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. saw the national contest as a chance to present an idea he had been carrying around in his mind since childhood.  His structure would be more distinctive.  His structure would move.

At first his plans were dismissed as unrealistic but George knew his wheel would work.  He would use a new metal for its construction, steel.  Not only did the fair judges wait until there was only four months until the opening date before giving permission but they refused to provide any financial assistance to Mr. Ferris.  He was not deterred but determined.

A brutal winter, frozen ground and quicksand made laying the foundation particularly tricky.  Between two steel towers a forged axle was placed, breaking a record for its size and length.  With the fair date looming in the near future, the teams worked nearly nonstop piecing together more than 100,000 parts.  Eight weeks before the fair opened it was almost completed but once the cars were attached would it function?

The elegance and size of the cars, even by today's standards, were mind-boggling.  It must have been breathtaking for George, his wife and their honored guests as they sat in #1 rising up and up.  For fifty cents customers could circle twice around taking a twenty-minute trip.  George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. built his dream at the age of thirty-four.  One hundred twenty-one years later people still feel the thrill when reaching the top of his daring design.

Notice how author Kathryn Gibbs Davis begins by building a feeling of anticipation; like the start of world-class race.  Her narrative gains strength page after page as she describes with details, supported by research, of George's planning with his assistant, William Gronau, of his presentation to the judges, of his pursuit of funding and of his tireless work with his crews to complete the Ferris wheel.  As an extension of facts presented in the main story, Davis supplies two to three sentence paragraphs, in smaller font off to the side, focusing on specifics.  Here is an example.

Two thousand tons of steel began to turn around as the soft clanking of a large chain drove the mighty machine.

Two steam engines (an extra one in case one broke) made the wheel turn.  George had hidden them under the wooden platform where riders boarded.

Unfolded, the dust jacket (and matching book case) illustration spreads in all its nighttime splendor flap edge to flap edge.  The palette of blue, purple and golden yellow shades remains prominent throughout the entire book with accents of rose and green.  With little stretch of your imagination you get a real sense of viewing this scene from a building in Chicago.  If the window were open the newly invented light bulbs, numbering 3,000, would be sparkling in the dusk as sounds from the fair drifted inside your room.

Most of the images created by digital mixed media with ink and watercolor by Gilbert Ford span two pages.  Prior to the title illustration, readers are treated to a single visual of a boy fishing in a pond next to a mill with its wheel gently turning surrounded by a forest.  Tucked into the pond is a quote from the American architect and construction chief of the 1893 World's Fair, Daniel H. Burnham.

The buildings, clothing, daily activities and room interiors carefully reflect the appropriate time period in all of Ford's artwork for this title.  Each scene, with or without people, is alive, animated.  One of my favorite pictures is a panoramic view of the park as the sun is setting.  The lights are beginning to shine in the darkening buildings and on the Ferris wheel.  Leaves on the trees are turning golden and red.  Birds in flight are silhouetted against a rosy red sky with a few stars starting to shine.  You can feel a chill in the air.

The thing about really good nonfiction is it makes you notice everything differently.  After reading Mr. Ferris and His Wheel written by Kathryn Gibbs Davis with illustrations by Gilbert Ford readers will never look at a Ferris wheel the same way again.  They will remember its construction in the context of a World's Fair, which they may not have even known about previously.  They will remember the passion and persistence of Ferris, silently respecting his achievements.  Maybe they will want to know, as I did, how he lived the remainder of his life.  At the close of this title, quote sources, a selected bibliography and websites are listed.

For further information about Kathryn Gibbs Davis and Gilbert Ford please follow the links embedded in their names, taking you to their official websites.  Gilbert Ford has an excellent post on his blog about the process for creating his artwork.

Here is a little extra fun and a tribute to George Ferris courtesy of Google.

Each week dedicating a post to nonfiction has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this year.  I am truly thankful to Alyson Beecher host of Kid Lit Frenzy for her 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  Stop by her site to read the recommended nonfiction selections by other bloggers.