Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hip Hop Hooray

If a wild creature frequents my yard or garden I have the habit of naming them.  As each winter draws to a close, I eagerly await their return.  For several years there was a large toad about the size of my closed fist who comfortably resided beneath the big bush next to my front porch.  I called him Fred.  A tree toad made his home in the corner of my front porch or sometimes I would find him on my back deck.  When Theo would appear in the spring I felt like all was right with the world.  He was a part of my life for three years.

 More than any date on a calendar or weather update I rely on those inhabitants in our natural world to send me signals.  They feel the heartbeat of Mother Earth far better than we ever will.  I could hardly wait for my copy of Toad Weather (Peachtree Publishers, March 2015) written by Sandra Markle with illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez to arrive.  It is well worth the wait.

In the gloomy-gray 
of a March day
the spring rain keeps falling.

Ally and her grandmother are feeling the effects of a day without sunshine; their usual outdoor activities put on hold.  When Mama eagerly opens the door moments later, she urges them to come with her right away.  She has discovered something special in the city.  Ally is ready for an adventure; her grandmother reluctantly agrees to come too.

In the dim light as dusk falls, the trio makes their way down the sidewalks ready to see what there is to see.  As Ally and her grandmother move quickly, ready to get out of the rain, her mother asks them to slow down and carefully look.  Ally does noticing details.  Her grandmother grumbles.

Each time Ally thinks she has discovered the surprise her mother requests them to keep walking.  Each time Mama says no Grandma wants to turn around and go home.  They finally get to a spot where Mama wants them to stop and listen.

Listen for something unusual.

Ally does hear something out of the ordinary.  It's getting clearer as they move closer.  They see a large group of people, police, a road block and toads...lots and lots of toads.  Grandmother's grumbling turns to grinning.  The trio assists in the amphibian march.

Well-known nonfiction author Sandra Markle evokes a keen sense of time and place, specifically the descriptions of weather and time of day, in the telling of this natural phenomenon.  In her Author's Note she speaks about the actual event taking place in a neighborhood located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania each year.  By experiencing it through the voice of Ally and the dialogue between her, her mother and her grandmother, it becomes more personal for us.  Here are a couple sample passages.

Out in the rainy nearly-nighttime,
streetlights are glowing.
So are shop windows.
But the world is soggy dreary.

"Slow down, you two!" Mama says.
"There are lots of interesting things
to see along the way."
"Like what?" Grandma asks.

"For one thing," Mama says,
"look at all the colorful umbrellas."

"It's like being inside a rainbow," I say.

Even though the artwork on the dusk jacket and book case appear to be identical, your guys and gals will notice the subtle difference on the jacket immediately.  Their fingers love to move over raised text or images.  The toad looks and feels as if it's ready to hop at any second.

When you open the jacket and case you can see Thomas Gonzalez has extended the illustration to the left with swirls of rain on the pavement, portions of three other toads moving from the left edge toward the boots and first toad on the front.  The opening and closing endpapers feature water on pavement in an array of color due to other liquids like gas or oil dropping on the rain.  There is a difference in the closing endpapers but I will let you discover the addition yourselves.  On the initial title page Ally, carrying her umbrella and a flashlight, and wearing her spotted boots is looking right at us, a smile on her face.  A clever verso and formal title page combination highlights the apartment window spattered with rain and an image similar to the front jacket and book case.

All the pictures rendered in pastel, colored pencil, and airbrush on 100% rag watercolor paper span across two pages; the text woven into each.  So exquisite are the details it's like looking at softened photographs.  Gonzalez takes us from a conversation exchanged in the apartment to the city streets effortlessly, showing us a more panoramic view or only boots walking down the rainy sidewalks.  The facial features on the characters are absolutely lovely.  I wonder how long he studied toads to get them looking exactly as they are.

One of my favorite pictures is a close-up of Ally.  She is down at ground level looking at worms crossing the grass and sidewalk.  We see her face peering closely at several in particular, flashlight beam illuminating a portion of her face and a worm.  Curiosity and appreciation are evident in her expression.

As I look out my windows at mounds of snow, knowing it will be months before we have our own days fit for our amphibian friends, Toad Weather written by Sandra Markle with illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez is a reminder of the wonder which awaits.  It's an invitation for us to think about the familiar rhythms of the seasons and the life cycles of those sharing the planet with us.  Make sure you save a spot on your shelves for this work of nonfiction.

To explore more about Sandra Markle and Thomas Gonzalez please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  This link takes you to a Teacher's Guide devised by the publisher.

Please take the time to stop by educator Alyson Beecher's website Kid Lit Frenzy to see the titles other bloggers have included in their posts for this week's 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. What a beautiful review. You've certainly made me want to read this, especially as I have a snowstorm going on right now too. In our dry climate of Colorado, we don't see toads or frogs much, but I grew up in Missouri, & we often had a frog sitting outside in the warm parts of the year. Thanks!

    1. Thank you Linda! I hope you are able to locate a copy soon. The artwork is beautiful. I did not know about this until I read what Sandra had written. I hope this will take you back to your childhood spent in Missouri.

  2. I have really been looking forward to this one. I love the cover so I suspect I will enjoy the photos inside too.

    1. I really believe you are going to enjoy this Crystal. I know the cover looks like a photograph but all of the illustrations are done in pastel, colored pencil and airbrush. His work is amazing!

  3. Love that you included a teacher's guide here. What a thorough review as always! Beautiful. I will have to find this one.

    1. I hope you will find the teacher's guide useful Myra. Thank you! This is a title to be enjoyed.

  4. I love this book. I remember walking up around the paths near JPL and the timing was just right and there was this mass crossing of tiny baby toads and when I read this book I was immediately taken back to that day.

    1. I love that you witnessed a toad migration Alyson. Before this book, I had never heard of it. Thanks to you and your challenge I am learning more every week.