Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Buddy Building

Sticks and stones can be used to make homes.  Stones and sticks can be used to shape words in dirt or sand.  Sticks and stones can be used to channel water.  Stones and sticks can be used to bring imagined miniature worlds into reality in fields, woodlands or even backyards.  With skill they can supply warmth through fire.  They hold, hide, mark, filter, and form.  They are indispensable.

Together they are better.  Stick and Stone (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 7, 2015) written by Beth Ferry with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld introduces us to a stick and a stone who discover the benefits of not being alone.  They fashion a friendship, firm and true.


Two separate beings wander and watch in singular silence, day and night.  One is roly-poly like a zero.  The other is tall and thin like the number one.  There is no pleasure in their play.

One fine day Pinecone comes strolling along.  He laughs, and then laughs some more, at a struggling Stone.  Stick steps up being brave; sending Pinecone on his way.

Stone is pleasantly surprised.  Friends do this is Stick's reply.  The two, Stick and Stone, are inseparable until the weather intervenes.  It's a hurricane!

Stick gets caught in the wind, whirling out of sight. (Pinecone does too.)  Stone seeks Stick but he is nowhere to be found.  What's that?  What's that sound?

Stone rolls and rockets to the rescue.  Friends do this for their branchy best buds. The score soars.

The more you read the words of Beth Ferry the more you understand the sheer genius of her selection.  Single words rhyme but convey much emotion; sadness, happiness, fear and humor.   Younger readers (and all who remember being younger) can readily identify with the story line.  Most of the sentences are three to five words long; succinct but highly successful in telling the tale.  The friendship between Stick and Stone feels real and is therefore powerful.  Here is a sample passage.

"Vanish!" says Stick.
His word does the trick.

As soon as I looked at the matching dust jacket and book case for this title I knew I was going to like Stick and Stone.  Their facial expressions exude happiness and a close camaraderie.  The color palette used on the front and back, blues, greens, golden browns, a touch of red and a smidgen of purplish pink (on the jacket flap) is maintained within the body of the book.  Tom Lichtenheld adds extra finishing touches repeatedly elevating the charm.  Notice Stick balancing on the N in the title.

The opening and closing endpapers are done in a muted rustic orange with shaded black drawings.  Each in turn explains the birth of Stick and Stone.  On the title page the elusive but present butterfly weaves through the text near two clouds and over a single flower in the grass.

The word placement on the pages, providing the pacing, is perfection.  The first six pages are single page images with Stick and Stone as the main element.  Their position in the pictures depicts the characters' feelings superbly.  Shifting from single page illustrations to double page pictures, Lichtenheld's expertise shines in the way his visuals complement and enhance the text.

One of my favorite illustrations is for the text which reads

Stick, Stone. (left)
A friendship has grown. (right)

This image spans both pages.  On the left Stick is holding a bottle of liquid bubbles and the wand.  Stone with eyes closed is blowing.  The bubbles arc up and loop over to the right page.  They support the words which climb to the upper right-hand corner.  To me this also signifies the rising affection between Stick and Stone.

Stick and Stone with words by Beth Ferry and illustrations rendered in pencil, watercolor and colored pencil by Tom Lichtenheld is a gentle, rhythmic ode to the strength of shared experiences; to having someone who cares about you as much as you care about them.  The text and pictures mirror the relationship of the characters, friends to the end.  This is a wonderful read aloud generating laughter, sighs and discussion.  It would be fun to think of all the uses for sticks and stones.  I wonder how many phrases with sticks and stones can be listed;

Between a rock and a hard place
Out on a limb
Branching out
Stick in the mud...

To learn more about Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Enjoy this Activity Kit provided by the publisher.  Beth Ferry was a guest at teacher librarian extraordinaire John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.   Be sure to visit Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast hosted by author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson to read about Tom Lichtenheld's process for creating the art for this title.  Both of these interviews make the reading of this title richer.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Delivered From Danger

Technology today affords us connectivity unlike anything we have ever experienced previously.  The deeds of a worthy hero can go viral within mere minutes.  Other times only the rescued and rescuer silently observe the events.

On a Sunday at 8:30 in the morning on December 11, 2005 a crab fisherman, eighteen miles off the shore of San Francisco in open water, noticed a humpback whale in serious distress.  It was tangled in crab trap ropes and pots.  The weight was making it almost impossible for the whale to successfully breath.  Trapped!  A Whale's Rescue (Charlesbridge, April 14, 2015) written by Robert Burleigh with paintings by Wendell Minor is a fascinating retelling of this true story.

The huge humpback whale dips and dives.  Her sleek black sides shimmering, she spyhops, lobtails, flashes her flukes.

On one of mammals' longest known migratory trips, she is making her way from the northern polar region along the California coast to more tropical waters.  She consumes massive amounts of krill in her daily diet.  This mighty queen of the ocean is free to perform her spectacular dance.

What she does not know is the lines attached to crab pots left by fisherman are in her path. (Each rope can be up to 240 feet long with traps weighing 90 pounds attached.)  Soon they are wrapped around her.  She cannot free herself. They are so tight, they cut into her body.  Her struggles leave her exhausted.

Still in the water a sound reaches her.  Boats with rescuers arrive.  The only way to save her is to risk their lives by diving next to her and cutting the ropes.  It may be too late already.  Nearly seven hours have passed since she was first sighted.

They cautiously begin to slice the lines.  Any movement she makes could kill one of them.  When the final rope falls away from her body, she does not swim away.  She circles her liberators.

No one can explain what she does next.  No one can know what she is thinking.  One by one each diver is nudged as if in gratitude.  It is unforgettable.

Through lyrical sentences Robert Burleigh brings readers full circle.  He begins with descriptions of the whale's beauty in moving above, through and below the water, easily giving us a sensory perception of her life.  As the ropes trap her, the tone created by his words darkens, causing us to feel her loss of freedom and her sense of despair.  With the arrival of the divers, a shift in his word choices allows us to comprehend the risk of her rescue.  His final three phrases clearly define her remarkable actions.  Here is another sample passage.

With each thrust of her tail, she tries.
Her sides heave.  She flops.  She flounders.
At last the great whale shudders and lies still.

In a stunning image extending across the open matching dust jacket and book case, Wendell Minor brings us immediately into the enormity of the situation.  His painting portrays with realistic and emotional accuracy.  A shade of the blue used in the text for the title becomes the background color for the opening and closing endpapers.  Beneath the words on the title page, Minor has painted a close-up of the whale's eye watching the diver cut away the rope caught in her mouth.  Across the two pages for the publication information and dedication, a fishing boat is off to the left as a whale tale breaches the ocean surface, water dripping and splashing.

All of the illustrations rendered in gouache span two pages edge to edge with the exception of four single pages framed in small white borders.  Minor's paintings breath as if alive; giving us sight, sound and smell.  We can see the grace, the majesty, of the whale's movements.  His altered perceptions give us a true sense of her size in comparison to the divers and boats.  We watch in wonder as she moves among the swimmers, finally free again.

One of my favorite illustrations is the final wordless spread.  A clear night sky filled with stars is shown for most of the two pages.  Beneath is a calm sea.  Just off to the right of the gutter a full moon glows.  In the center a whale emerges from the water fins outstretched.  Her body is outlined in luminescence.  A streak of light is painted across the sky as her left fin arches.  The beauty will make you gasp or sigh or both.

Trapped!  A Whale's Rescue written by Robert Burleigh with paintings by Wendell Minor is a stunning recreation.  Every bookshelf will want to hold a place for this blend of words and artwork which compose a beautiful nonfiction picture book.  At the close of the title are two pages of columns of information, Behind The Story, Rescuing Whales, More About Humpback Whales and Did You Know?  This is followed by a page of print and online resources.

To learn more about Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor and their work please follow the links attached to their names taking you to their websites. This link takes you to the publisher's website where you can view an interior image from the book.  This links to a discussion guide developed by the publisher.  Here is a link to a newspaper article in the SFGate (San Francisco).  Another resource for learning about humpback whales is these pages in ARKive.  This page from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife gives you an idea of the shape and size of the crab traps.  Scroll to the bottom for size and weight. Enjoy the whale song video.

Please be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to see what other participants have included in their 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge this week.

Here is a fun tweet from John Schumacher, teacher librarian extraordinaire who hosts Watch. Connect. Read.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Coming Home

All the children freeze in place.  It floats through the neighborhood like fog, soft and sure, until the final note fades away.  Glances are silently exchanged before everyone takes off running.  It's dinnertime and the call to come home has sounded.

It may be the resonating ring of a bell or the familiar tinging of a triangle.  Each parent's signal is unique.  In Mama Seeton's Whistle (Little, Brown and Company, April 14, 2015) written by Jerry Spinelli with illustrations by LeUyen Pham four siblings race toward a promise.

The first whistle happened one day when Skippy Seeton was two years old.  

Mama Seeton was surprised when Skippy was nowhere in sight.  She had been watching him play in the backyard.  After several unanswered calls, worry made its way to her lips.  She gave a whistle.  Like a bee to honey, that boy came to his mother.  He had been hiding nearby.

When brothers Sheldon and Stewart and sister Sophie were born and finally able to move on their own, Mama Seeton's whistle worked its magic on them too.  It did not matter where they were in the neighborhood, when they heard it, they headed for home.  They knew it was time for dinner and a piece of their mother's chocolate cake.  Every single day it was the same.

As the brothers and sisters grew up they wandered farther from home to the ends of the neighborhood to play but never too far to miss hearing the whistle.  When they got even older they could be seen in town doing those things they loved best; climbing a favorite tree, visiting Papa Seeton at the cab company, watching the monkeys at the zoo or simply running for the sheer joy of it.  The clear notes of their mother's song never failed to bring them home.

When Skippy, Sheldon, Stewart and Sophie became adults and left home to continue doing what they loved best, Mama Seeton no longer whistled.  Her children were too far away to hear.  Her cake baking was less frequent.

One day Papa Seeton had an idea.  Mama Seeton thought he was a little loony.  Two light, smooth tones traveled.  Promises were kept.  A legacy was born.

In the masterful hands of author Jerry Spinelli a childhood memory becomes a story for generations to enjoy.  It's as if we are gathered around a campfire listening intently.  His pairing of words, like the names of the children, creates a cadence.  His description of the whistle repeated several times binds us to the tale.  His easy similar sentences flow through time taking us with them.  Here is a sample passage.

As the Seeton kids got older, they played farther and farther from their own backyard.
They played in the alley.
They played to the end of the block.
They played all the way to Stony Creek.
Then across the creek and into the park. ...

A warm and welcoming palette on the matching dust jacket and book case rendered, as are all the illustrations, in ink and watercolor by LeUyen Pham creates a feeling of family and home.  There is a cheerful, lilting quality about framing the Seeton parents and children in meaningful moments on both the front and the back.  The tiny notes of the whistle wrap around Mama Seeton and her children like love.  On the opening and closing endpapers a soft white background features each of the children coming home on their bike, scooter, skateboard or at a fast walk with the whistle like a ribbon overhead.  On the initial title page a chocolate cake sits beneath the text.  On the formal title page Pham pictures Mama Seeton in a chair holding a newborn Skippy with the dog, a pup, in the basket next to her.  Her whistle frames the words.

As a charming, lovely complement to the story Pham alternates her image sizes from two pages, to single pages and then to smaller visuals with the text and whistle weaving around them.  She generates a feeling of constant connection.  As time passes we see its evidence in the clothing, vehicles and hair styles.  Readers will want to pause at each picture noticing the tiny details.  At one point Sophie mails home one of her medals to Mama Seeton.  In a later illustration we see it hanging on the wall of the Seeton home.

One of my favorite pictures is the two-page span for the partial passage noted above.  We are given a bird's eye view of the neighborhood.  The Seeton home is framed in rosy red rays at the top left as the notes travel to the children.  Pham shows us the change of seasons as we follow the whistle to the far right, beginning with spring or summer, moving to autumn and then to winter.

Heartwarming from beginning to end, Mama Seeton's Whistle written by Jerry Spinelli with illustrations by LeUyen Pham is a trip through time worth taking again and again.  It demonstrates the value of family, the promises held in our homes and significance of tradition.  You will have a hard time not beginning your reading with the words, Once upon a time.  In the author's note at the end Jerry Spinelli speaks about the real Mama Seeton who was his childhood neighbor.  LeUyen talks about her artistic process in her illustrator's note.

To discover more about Jerry Spinelli and LeUyen Pham please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Holding Hope In Your HeART

Sometimes people can be unkind.  Sometimes people can be cruel.  Sometimes people fail to see who you truly are; dismissing your very essence.

From the time you are born, every day is one less day of life.  None of us truly know the number of those days.  For some the unkindness, the cruelty, and the feeling of being invisible are like a death knell.  For some, fighting a terminal illness, the bell rings louder.

When all the doors are closed by those people closest to us, the natural realm can provide a sanctuary, a place receptive to our deepest desires.  Unlike the humans in our lives, in this place, the plants and animals listen to us.  It's like we share a heartbeat in common.  In Nikki Loftin's newest title, Wish Girl (Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), February 24, 2015), two people, who need such a place, find one.

The summer before I turned thirteen, I held so still it almost killed me.

This is our introduction to Peter Stone.  He and his family have recently moved from San Antonio to Texas Hill Country living in the old Carlson place. The reasons for the new location are revealed within the story.  At this moment Peter is standing on a cliff overlooking a beautiful valley he has newly discovered.  A diamondback rattler is coiled around his ankles.  Peter is an introvert.  His gift is stillness.

That evening through conversations and arguments around the dinner table we meet his parents and two sisters, one fifteen years old and the other a toddler.  His mother, constantly distracted by the demands of working, motherhood and social media received a promotion at the bank where she is employed at the same time his father lost his job.  Hoping to resurrect his career as a drummer in a band, his dad is constantly practicing and leaving home during the day looking for gigs.

Everyone and everything they do in his family is loud.  Peter's quietness earns him labels of weird and wimp.  He is made to feel as though the state of affairs in which they find themselves is his fault.

The next day at the valley Peter meets Annie Blythe, a guest for two weeks at a near-by art camp.  She tells him she's a wish girl but in truth she is a girl wanting to change the course of her life.  She is about to begin a series of radiation and chemotherapy treatments for her cancer, the late effects possibly destroying what makes her who she is.  She, like Peter, is trapped by people who won't really listen to her.  Her gift is seeing beauty everywhere, even in people, even in Peter.  Her gift is making art from this beauty.

There are several other characters who figure prominently in the relationship growing between Peter and Annie.  One is the Colonel's wife, Mrs. Empson, a widow who owns the valley and surrounding property.  Her outspoken wisdom and no-nonsense ability to set things right, not to mention her skill in maneuvering her monster go-cart like a race car driver, earns respect from those who know her.

True evil appears in the personalities of brothers, Jake and Doug.  Their desire to prey on those weaker than them or those who can't escape their guns creates knot-in-your-stomach tension.  At the other end of the spectrum is the valley.  Readers, along with Peter and Annie, come to appreciate it as a living breathing force for good to those with pure hearts.  It is a place listening to wishes.

As the end of the two weeks comes to a close, one incident after another fall like dominoes toward a heartbreaking happening.  No character is left untouched.  No reader will forget.

With her first sentence Nikki Loftin pulls readers into her narrative and does not let go until the final word whispered by the wind.  We are completely captivated by Peter's and Annie's lives; watching page by page as their friendship is woven into something tight, true and eternal.  Our compassion for both expands as we, through thoughts and dialog, come to understand them as real people, people we already know or will know.  Annie through her acceptance of Peter gives him the first real happiness he has ever known.  Peter through his support of Annie gives her hope.

Loftin's descriptions of particular events bring you into the moments with exquisite clarity.  You are walking along with the characters, experiencing every emotional nuance with them.  You will long to visit this valley.  Here are some sample passages.

Just far enough away that I couldn't hear crying or yelling or drumming.
It had seemed like a dream.  For the first time in years, I hadn't heard cars or trains, TVs or video games or people.  Hadn't seen a roofline or even a plane in the sky.
I'd been alone for the first time in my whole life, almost.  I liked it.
No, I loved it.  Out there, my heartbeat was as loud as anything in the world.

"Art isn't pretty," Annie said, whirling around.  "It's transformative!  Real art changes you---whether you like it or not.  Real art isn't"---she looked down at the yarn thing in her hand---"it's not just wrapping yarn around sticks, or coloring in the lines.  Real art makes a difference.  It has meaning.  I'll show you tomorrow."

Like it was important to be true down here.  To each other and to ourselves.  Even if we couldn't be true anywhere else.
Especially because of that.

In looking at the dust jacket and each of the chapter beginnings with a dandelion and seeds floating in the air you know this is definitely a book about wishes.  Even more important, after reading this book, are the color choices, a red garnished in fluff, for Wish Girl, and Nikki Loftin's name and the book case in a rich golden yellow.  Both speak to specific aspects of the story.  I finished Wish Girl written by Nikki Loftin for the second time very early this morning with tears in my eyes.  This is a title destined to touch your heart, leaving a forever memory.  I highly recommend it.  I believe it would make an excellent read aloud.

To discover more about Nikki Loftin and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  She wrote a guest post, Magical Places, about this title at the Nerdy Book Club.  Nikki Loftin is interviewed at The Hiding Spot hosted by Sara Grochowski.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Roaming The Roads

Some are large and obvious.  Others are faint and more hidden.  Both are used, starting, stopping, wandering and weaving. All are roadways.

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.  Stretching for about 2,200 miles, it's a hiker's challenge.  Route 66 one of the original highways in the United States bridges the distance between Chicago, Illinois and Los Angles, California.  It has been commemorated both in song and in a television show in the early 1960s, Route 66.  These are well-known avenues of travel.

Less recognizable are those pathways shared by local wildlife through woods, meadows and vacant lots in communities.  Only a keen nose, instinct or sharp eyes can find them.  Wherever You Go (Little, Brown and Company, April 21, 2015) written by Pat Zietlow Miller (Sophie's Squash) with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler (Miss Maple's Seeds) follows a free-spirited rabbit journeying to search and see.  Let's check the air in our tires and oil the chain on our bikes, pack life's essentials, invite a friend and join him.

When it's time for a journey, to learn and to grow,
roads guide your footsteps wherever you go.
Roads give you chances to seek and explore.
Want an adventure? ...

The country path from his doorway leads him through the woods, up and down hills and beneath a covered bridge.  He and his buddy, an owl, gaze with wonder at roadside streams and over the large expanse of an ocean.  In the distance the lights of a large city beckon.  Tall buildings line the streets, vehicles of all shapes and sizes speed by and the duo join the noisy night life.

An unplanned trip through a village built near small and large waterways provides them new options and connecting structures to cross.  At times two roads blend together creating a greater route to places and pals yet unknown.  It's a leap of faith to follow where these highways lead.

Each decision offers enriching experiences.  Others on the road slow to a stop or pause to peek at the views.  New vehicles supply transportation to towering heights.  Hikes to the top above the clouds present panoramic sights.

Rest and reflection on the trails taken or not, the planned and unplanned circumstance and with whom each step was shared are part of the trip.  Soon the haven of home calls to the travelers. Back they go beneath the covered bridge, down and up hills and past trees as familiar as friends to the place where their hearts reside.

Like a feather caught in currents of air, moving gently up and down, over, under and around, Pat Zietlow Miller's phrases envelope and carry us as we shadow the adventures of rabbit and his companions.  Her meticulously chosen words form quiet rhymes flowing as naturally as a sunrise and sunset.  They take us places, real and imagined, on roads being as they are meant to be.  Here is another sample passage.

Small, distant roads sometimes travel alone,
marking the miles out there on their own.

Then a new road wants to join in the fun,
heads the same way, and the two become one.

In what can only be described as a glorious scenic vista spanning both sides of the opened matching dust jacket and book case, Eliza Wheeler has created, here and within the book, marvelous realms for us to traverse rendered in dip pens and India ink and colored with watercolor and gouache. You can smell the sweet fresh air along with rabbit and feel the delicate breezes.  Do you notice the little animal reading on their front porch?  On the back, to the left two alligators are heading to their fishing hole, poles over their shoulders.  The orange van a la Volkswagen carrying a menagerie of travelers crosses a bridge in the distance.  The rustic red blush seen on the trees provides the solid background for the opening and closing endpapers.

A soft golden luminescence appears on all the pages, like a perfect opportunity.  A soothing palette permeates all the pages with darker hues at night.  The exquisite line work, the painstaking tiny details on the animals, the structures and natural elements is breathtaking.  You will want to pause on every single picture, almost all of them spanning two pages but often depicting the passage of time from left to right.

Her artwork not only enhances the words of Miller but offers more stories to the careful observer.  On one particular two pages, rabbit with owl in the front basket is passing by two mice floating down a river in their houseboat.  When the sky darkens and rain begins to fall, we see rabbit and owl with umbrellas over their heads.  On the back of the bicycle beneath rabbit's umbrella, the mice and their boat are safely strapped in place, sheltered from the shower.

One of my many favorite illustrations (I would frame and hang any of them in my home.) takes place in an old forest filled with tall, tall trees.  It starts with dusk falling as the van loaded with the adventurers, including rabbit and owl, winds down the road.  To the right with darker purple shades on the tree branches, we see all sorts of homes built on the trucks glowing with light.  The trees are connected with wooden slat bridges.  In the center of the right page, all the friends are gathered around a table outdoors enjoying tea and treats.  You want to walk right into the page and sit down with them enjoying the laughter and conversation.

Wherever You Go written by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler is a heartwarming trek on all types of roads, in all kinds of weather, during all parts of the day through wonderful landscapes.  Hope bursts forth on every page.  It reads aloud beautifully, so I highly recommend it for sharing.  I will be adding it to my Mock Caldecott list.

To discover more about Pat Zietlow Miller and Eliza Wheeler please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Here is the link to a post Eliza Wheeler did about her process at Picture Book Builders. It is a must read.  These two links take you to interviews at Inkygirl.com hosted by author/illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi with Pat Zietlow Miller and Eliza Wheeler.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Disappearing Dessert

To discover characters you've come to enjoy will be returning in another story is like celebrating your birthday more than one day a year.  They are friends you can take with you anywhere, experiencing their adventures, their joys, their tears and their fears.  Over time, books in a series allow you to watch characters grow.

While reading about these fictional pals we can see little pieces of ourselves in them.  Sometimes we notice something before they do, willing them to share in this realization.  One of the best things is when they make us laugh, completely unaware.  Yesterday teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher hosted author Robin Newman on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  After reading the post I knew I had to move her debut title, The Case Of The Missing Carrot Cake (A Wilcox and Griswold Mystery), Creston Books, LLC, May 12, 2015) to the top of my stack.  Late into the night I was bursting into laughter at her words and the funny detailed illustrations of Deborah Zemke.

Boys and girls, this case is about thieves on Ed's farm.  The names have been changed to protect the good guys.
Over 100 animals live on this farm.  Most work.  Some horse around.  Others steal.

The phone at the MFI (Missing Food Investigators) office rings at ten on Monday morning.  It would seem that a carrot cake, baked by Miss Rabbit in anticipation of an upcoming party, has vanished.  Detective Wilcox and Captain Griswold, two vigilant policemice, head to the scene of the crime in their squad car.

After sliding down the rabbit hole, they see crumbs, carrots and frosting all over the kitchen, even on the pajama-clad Miss Rabbit.  Clearly she is in a state of extreme agitation.  The sleuths are stumped as there is no evidence pointing to a culprit.

Three possible suspects are questioned with due diligence, Fowler the Owl, who would enjoy consuming a particular rabbit and two nearby mice more than an evil-smelling carrot cake, Porcini the Pig, a corn-loving thief with a list of priors, and Hot Dog, a dog with gourmet cooking skills and an appetite to match.  Their replies only add to the who-done-it mystery.  A cake consumer is on the loose.

Detective Wilcox devises a plan to ensnare the wily rogue, employing a cook's culinary confection and a tried-and-true technology.  Nearly twenty-four hours of waiting end when a shout of sheer chagrin pierces the air.  Another heist has happened.

Can this carrot cake case be cracked? Will the gumshoes get the sticky-pawed prowler?  Read and savor the delectable conclusion.

Be prepared to grin and grin again from the first page to the very last courtesy of clever word play written by Robin Newman.  Readers are treated to case-solving lingo, puns and well-known phrases expertly inserted into the narrative and dialogue.  Detective Wilcox carries the conversations while Captain Griswold's stares and glares make their own statements.  Each episode ends with a definitive thought by Wilcox,

A hard nut indeed. or
Slower than molasses indeed. 

for example.  To heighten the thrill of the chase, times and places begin the chapters and portions within chapters.  Here is another sample passage.

Porcini's cheeks turned the color of a red hot chili pepper.
"I may take the cake as the best corn thief in town, but sirs, I am not a common cake thief!
The captain handed me Porcini's rap sheet. (That's a record of arrests for all you non-cops.)
It was a mile long for corn robberies, but he had no cake priors.
"Seems like you've spent some time in the pen," I said, hoping his reaction would give me a clue.
"Why peck at the past?  I did my time and now I'm clean.  I bet Hot Dog ate the cake.
That slobbering hound has a sweet tooth."

The crumpled paper spattered with cake crumbs covers both the front and back of the book case.  On a file folder with a tab reading CAKE, CARROT book blurbs are featured on the opened left.  One look at the determined faces of Detective Wilcox and Captain Griswold framed in the oval on the right and you know the crooks will be captured.  The opening and closing endpapers continue the theme with the Case Report containing the publication information opposite the title page at the beginning.  The dedications are paper-clipped to the top.  At the end an evidence folder appears on the left with wanted descriptions of the author and illustrator on the right.

The illustrations rendered by Deborah Zemke using a full-color palette are a blend of spot insertions, oval headers for chapters, full page pictures framed in a white border, smaller images on a single page and a two page illustration surrounding the text.  These variations in size enhance the pacing to perfection.  She skillfully maintains perspective with the animal sizes on the farm. Facial features and body language add to the comedy.

Zemeke's details are as playful as the text.  The squad car is a wind-up toy.  When taking pictures at the crime scene, Captain Griswold uses an old-style flash camera.  At one point Fowler The Owl is wearing a gas mask.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the squad car traveling down the road at the start of the story.  We are given a bird's eye view of the farm complete with two chickens crossing the road in a crosswalk with an appropriate sign at the side.  I dare you not to laugh when you see the wind-up key sticking out the side of the policemouse car.

This early reader, The Case Of The Missing Carrot Cake (A Wilcox and Griswold Mystery) written by Robin Newman with illustrations by Deborah Zemke, is one you don't want to miss.  Whether you read it to yourself or as a read aloud plan on a chorus of "read it again" and shared smiles.  It's one case you won't want to close.  I would stock multiple copies.  An every-last-crumb-will-be-consumed Mollie Katzen's Carrot Cake recipe is included at the end.  A second book is coming in the fall of 2016. Hooray!

To learn more about Robin Newman and Deborah Zemke please follow the links attached to their names taking you to their websites.  Here is a link to Robin Newman's blog. A Curriculum Guide for Educators & Readers is located here.  Enjoy the book trailer.

The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake from Robin Newman on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Boisterous Abodes

It snowed last night.  It's April not November so the local flora and fauna are in a bit of shock.  Early this morning the robins were in a vocal tizzy, probably calling for a riot against Mother Nature.  It's easy to imagine those coming forth from winter homes snuggling back in for a few more weeks.  Those intent on the arrival of spring babies are renewing efforts to make proper residences.

On this Earth Day 2015 I am happy to celebrate the fifth book in a series by author Dianna Hutts Aston with illustrations by Sylvia Long.  Their last collaboration, A Rock Is Lively, left readers ready for more of their outstanding observations about our world.  A Nest Is Noisy (Chronicle Books, April 14, 2015) is a fascinating examination of spaces made for newborns.

A nest is noisy.
It is a nursery of chirp-chirping...
bubbling babies.

A beginning speaks of how bird nests are constructed but also points out orangutans build similar structures high in rain forest tree tops.  It's comforting to know leaves are used to provide a rain-proof roof.  Comparisons are made in size; the largest at three feet long and up to sixteen feet high of a dusky scrubfowl and the smallest nest of a bee hummingbird.  Two inches is tiny.

Nests can be constructed within cactus for protection, of wood fibers chewed to make paste and of pebbles on a streambed.  The ingenuity of a foamy nest in trees and a nest formed of bubbles on water, each lasting only long enough to protect the eggs and babies, is completely captivating.  Heat figures in the formation of some nests acting as a kiln.  In others the temperature causes the babies to be either male or female.

Not all nests are above ground.  Some are tucked into the sand on beaches, tunneled along streams or burrowed into desert meadows.  Bivouacs are living nests created by the insects themselves; they, millions of them, are the nest.  Those army ants know how to work as a team.

Birds known for their pink feathers and long legs lay only one egg.  It is placed on top of a mound of mud, grass and stones. Another brave bird, the buff-breasted paradise kingfisher, is willing to sacrifice its life, to break a hole in a termite nest so eggs can be laid in a created tunnel. Whether it's noisy or quiet, large or small, sharp, soft or hard, squishy or crumbly, warm or hot, hanging, above or below ground or silent, these nests are a testament to the marvelous adaptability within the animal kingdom.

With the skill of a naturalist and poet, Dianna Hutts Aston takes readers on a tour around the world giving us a peek at animal parenthood.  Each statement of a nest is presents readers with supporting information in detail.  Aston, through research, is able to provide those captivating details which enlarge our respect for those beings inhabiting our planet.  They, by instinct and resourcefulness, create the best possible place for their young.  Here is another sample selection.

Cave swiftlets concoct a nest made entirely of saliva.  Swinging its head from side to side, the male spits long, pearly strands onto the wall of a cave that harden into a lacy bowl when exposed to air. ...

The intricate full-color pictures rendered in watercolor by Sylvia Long are breathtaking.  When you open the matching dust jacket and book case the illustration spans to the left; the back including the nest of a bald-faced hornet at the top, a black-tailed prairie dog, tunneled underground, in the center and an American alligator at the bottom.  The details on the leaves, flowers, branches, and animals are nearly photographic but softened by the medium.  The opening and closing endpapers are a close-up of a bird's nest, woven materials swirling and intertwined.

On the next set of two pages, Long pictures twenty-four nests on a crisp white canvas, which is used splendidly throughout the book with most of her images. (Prior to the closing endpapers we see the twenty-four animals which left those nests showcased on two pages.)  The verso and title page feature the tree and top of an orangutan nest.  All of the following visuals are either edge to edge on two pages or a masterful blend of one page into another.  Each nest displayed is flawlessly connected to the next.  We are up-close and personal with these illustrations.  All of the text is hand-lettered labeling each nest and inhabitants.

One of my favorite pictures is after the title page. The background is a pale golden yellow.  A moss-covered branch extends from the left across the gutter.  In the center on the right is the nest of a ruby-throated hummingbird.  Two babies with beaks open are waiting for the adult to place a bug in their mouths.  Leaves and vines of a trumpet flower are placed in the upper right-hand corner and along the left side.

This newest volume, A Nest Is Noisy, in a stunning series written by Dianna Hutts Aston with illustrations by Sylvia Long is a must-have for your personal and professional shelves.  It's a tribute to the creativity and cleverness of our animal partners.  Readers of all ages will leave a reading of this title enlightened in the best possible way.

Please take a moment to learn more about Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long when visiting their websites by following the links attached to their names.  The publisher has provided a teacher's guide.

I am happy to participate in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge each week at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.  Please stop by to read about the other featured titles.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Triumphant Traits

Hardly a day goes by without my wishing for the same skills, even for a few minutes, of Doctor Dolittle.  We know the sounds animals make are a form of communication. What exactly is it they are saying?

If you are fortunate to share your life with one of them, after a time, you can read their expressions and body posture and understand their voices, to a degree. (Xena actually snorts now when she's disgusted with a decision I've made regarding her.)  Author Karen Beaumont and illustrator Janet Stevens (The Little Red Pen, HMH Books for Young Readers, April 18, 2011) take us to an animal gathering in their new title. Wild About Us! (HMH Books for Young Readers, April 7, 2015) invites readers on a jaunty journey loaded with lively laughter.

Can't be who I'm not.
I am who I am,
and I've got what I've got. ...

Warty further informs us of his utterly charming tusks and warts.  This guy does not lack confidence.  Crocodile smiles wide with pride. Thank you, I'll keep my distance.

Rhino decries the need for smooth relishing every single wrinkle.  Trumpeting with glee Elephant gives a nod to a nose long on talent.  Bending low, looking us in the eye, Giraffe's stilt-like legs are agile and strong.

Feathers boldly pink, body pleasingly rotund and travel deliberately measured are creature features joyfully shared.  Should we question Porcupine, Leopard or Hippo about straight spikes, frantic freckles or a bouncing bottom?  Like saucers on a ball, these ears hear all.  Big feet are a bonus for this hip-hopping mom.

Thirteen animals positively proclaim their love of physical attributes.  They abound with assurance and attitude.  They are a zoo full of fun, every single one.

The words written by Karen Beaumont strut, stretch, peek, roll, waddle and wander across the pages in a rhyming romp.  Each selected representation is familiar to readers; championing those characteristics many humans share in common, making it easy for readers to rejoice in their own uniqueness.  The spirited conversational tone provides proclamations and asks questions.  Here is another sample passage.

Would you dare tell Flamingo
he shouldn't be pink?
Or Potbellied Pig she's too
plump, do you think?

Rendered in watercolor and colored pencil Caldecott Honoree Janet Stevens animates these beings with her trademark pizzazz.  When you look at the matching dust jacket and book case you can almost hear the animals talking or looking aloof as Flamingo is doing.  On the back, to the left, we read the words

We like us just
the way we are!

as Chimp looks up.  He's also watching a particular annoying buzzing insect in flight which makes an appearance on each animal. (He's pretty tricky to locate sometimes.)  The opening endpapers are Leopard's fur and the closing endpapers feature Flamingo's brilliant feathers.

White space is masterfully used as an element beginning with the title pages.  That pesky bug flies over from the left weaving around the text as Warthog peers out at readers from the bottom.  When Warthog staunchly shouts out an introduction on the next two pages, we notice portions of text in a complementary color and a different font.  This is repeated for each animal whether their words are given one, two or three pages.

Pacing is supplied with page turns, perspective and size.  Readers need to turn the book vertically twice.  Several times just the head of the animal will be placed in a corner followed by the entire body performing a well-known pose or activity.  Faces appear from the left, top, bottom and right.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Chimp.  It's one of the two-page vertical spreads.  We see a full body view of Chimp leaping in the air, mouth wide open, palms outstretched and feet moving.  If you can't hear him laughing you need to look at this until you do.

I know guys and gals of all ages are going to ask to have this book, Wild About Us! written by Karen Beaumont with illustrations by Janet Stevens, read to them over and over.  You can feel the exuberance of the narrative and pictures on every page.  It makes you feel like dancing or giggling or both!

Please follow the links attached to Karen Beaumont's and Janet Stevens' names to access their websites.  Karen Beaumont's site is under construction but she asks you to keep coming back.  There is a lot to read and share at Janet Steven's site particularly if you are doing an author/illustrator study.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Much Depends On The Word Go

There have been many times when walking through a field, along a sandy shore or down a forest path or traveling across the waters of a stream, river, lake or ocean, I've thought of all the people and animals from the past that've done the same.  It's not uncommon for me to think, if only this tree or that rock could talk.  While it's important to live in the present, it's also critical to value the past as a guide for our future.

In order to be better we need to build on what we know to be true.  There are, however, mysteries from history yet to be solved.  One of them is the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island.  In Caroline Starr Rose's newest novel in verse (Her first was May B. A Novel, Schwartz & Wade Books, January 10, 2012), Blue Birds (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), March 19, 2015) through the voices of a Native American girl of thirteen, Kimi, and twelve year old Alis, a girl with the group of English settlers, we are shown possibilities.

July 1587
Almost three months we've journeyed,
each wave pushing us farther
from London,
every day moving us closer 
to Virginia.

But now we're anchored on sandy banks
in a place we're not to be.

The enormity of our circumstance
comes crashing down around us.
Though this is Virginia,
it's not our new home.

We will be forced ashore
miles from where 
our pilot, Ferdinando,
promised to take us.

Yet our Governor
does nothing to stop him.

Not only have the one hundred seventeen men, women and children landed in the wrong spot, but they discover the remains of a burned building, the bones of a human man and the fifteen soldiers left at this settlement have vanished.  Unease wraps around the newcomers.  Watching from the forest, Kimi notices the women and children accompanying the men this time.  She wonders about the show of affection between Alis and her mother.  Looking toward the forest, Alis sees the shadow of movement.

The leader of the Roanoke, Wanchese, who traveled to England with Manteo after the first settlers arrived but later returned to his people, listens to Kimi's news.  Manteo, of the Croatoan, has remained with the English and is with this fourth group.  The two Native American men have a difference of opinion about the arrival of these settlers but are still able to converse with respect.  Wanchese and his people remember the beheading of Kimi's father, Wingina, their previous weroance and the disease the English brought killing many members of their people, including Kimi's sister.

Curiosity overcomes the admonishments of adults and Alis ventures into the nearby woods, picking flowers for her mother.  She is startled when Kimi appears at her side. In her haste to leave she drops a wooden bird carved by her beloved Uncle Samuel, one of the missing soldiers.  It is a likeness of the blue birds seen in the forest.

Kimi believes the carving carries Alis's spiritual power.  It represents the beginning and continuing connection between the two.  It also symbolizes the love they both have for the beauty of the land.

The two girls keep meeting, without anyone knowing except for Manteo and an English boy, even though their alternating chapters reveal tensions are mounting.  When a settler, George Howe is killed on the beach while crabbing by the Roanoke, the English try to ease the severely strained relationships using the Croatoans as intermediaries for peace.  As the ten day period expires without a response from the Roanoke, the English decide to attack their village.  At great risk Alis goes to the woods but Kimi is not there.

A grave error is made by the English.  Another settler is slain.  Danger mounts for both Kimi and Alis.  Words like betrayal and traitor float in the air.  Secrets are no longer silent but spoken in anger.  A leader leaves for help.  One of the English, a boy, kills one of the Roanoke.  What will become of these two girls who each carry the sorrow of family losses?  What will become of these two girls who find comfort and companionship with each other?  What will become of these two girls who see each other as friends, friends from different worlds, but willing to seek peace?  What will happen between the English and the Roanoke?

Two weeks ago I completed reading this title for the first time.  I finished it again today.  Even knowing the outcome, the verses penned by Caroline Starr Rose resonate in their intention to recreate the events of those three months and the return of Governor White three years later.  Rose gives us knowledge of background events which define the girls' initial thoughts about each other.   With careful pacing as the bond tightens between Kimi and Alis, the distrust between the Roanoke and the English grows larger.  This moves the story into page-turner mode.  The reader's need to know is great.

In dialogue spoken by key figures on both sides, woven into the girls' poems, we come to understand the circumstances and how decisions were made.  We feel the courage it took for Alis and Kimi to continue their relationship.  We feel the compassion they have for each other.  We feel the joy they had in finding similarities and in embracing differences.  In the course of several chapters, Rose has both girls speaking, creating a larger emotional impact.    Here are a couple of additional passages.

I stay
long enough to study
the patterns on her arms,
close enough
to meet her eyes
with no urge to lower my gaze.

We are not together,
but neither are we apart.

Three times 
I have come here.
Three times
we have met.

fascinating, fragile
grows between us.

I kneel by the stream.
Water flows over my hands,
loosening my tired fingers,
washing away
a day's labor
in the fields.

From behind me
there's a sound,
but I 
see nothing.

Mother and her sisters
stand together,
laughing as they cup the water,
letting it run down their arms.
I watch them
crowded about Nuna,
the first baby born to us
since the English illness
killed so many.

Do English women
gather together
after work is done?

Do they form ties
with one another
that cut as deep as rivers?

If their women are like ours,
are we so different after all?

Again I hear it,
a voice
one frantic word.

Could it be Alis?
To come this close,
to risk discovery.
What would bring her so near?

Mother and sisters are occupied,
absorbed in one another.
I slip away.

In Blue Birds a novel in verse written by Caroline Starr Rose the facts of English arrivals on Roanoke, specifically the fourth in July 1587, are threaded through the fabric of this story.  It puts forth ideas for discussion and consideration which I believe good historical fiction does for its readers.  In her extensive (six plus pages) author's note Caroline Starr Rose states in the first paragraph

Why do I write historical fiction?  For the same reason I used to teach history.  I'm nosey, plain and simple.  While this is not an especially polite thing to admit about myself, it's what makes historical fiction a beautiful fit for me.  Research lets me dig into other people's experiences and live in their world.  It's a perfectly respectable way to satisfy my curiosity.

To learn more about Caroline Starr Rose and her other work please take the time to visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  This link to the publisher's website allows you to read an excerpt from the book.

Friday, April 17, 2015

To Want, To Hope For, To Dream Of...

It was a gift.  It was a gift from the parent of a student.  It became the symbol of the beginning and the end.  I still have it; a cherished token of hundreds of storytelling hours with girls and guys of all ages.

It looks like a genie's lamp; formed on a potter's wheel and fired in a kiln.  A wide wick coils in a pool of oil and then winds up the neck where it can be lit.  There is magic attached to this small beacon of light and warmth.  At the close of stories told, one is chosen to blow out the flame but all in attendance make three wishes; a wish for someone, know or unknown, anywhere in the world, a wish for someone you love, even a pet, and a wish for yourself.  You are, after all, very special.

In their newest collaboration Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld weave words, art and wishes together to bring us I Wish You More (Chronicle Books, March 31, 2015).  You don't need a lamp, a star, the first robin of spring or a newfound penny.  You can do it every day as often as possible.

I wish you more ups than downs.

In a series of comparisons destined to spread a feeling of gladness from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, someone is sending out goodness to another.  We experience the thrill of sharing.  We find relief in being able to keep our head above water. Limber limbs to the rescue.

If everyone pulls their own weight, everyone is a winner.  Handing out hugs goes a long way to taking away the blues.  Be sure to celebrate but not too fast!

We learn to be persistent in our climb.  We know that trying over and over leads to success especially when making bows.  Who wouldn't like to capture endless snowflakes on an outstretched tongue?

Be sure to notice the world around you; take time to see the little details.  Will you be ready to stay dry when it rains?  You can never have enough bubbles in a bath.  You can never gather enough tiny riches from nature.  You can never have enough tales to tell.  All this goodness is sent because you...wonderful you...are loved.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal has the gift of finding joy and conveying it in the best words possible for her intended audience.  She appeals to those universal moments most children share; the act of giving, standing on your tip-toes in the water, learning to tie shoelaces in a bow, or standing under an umbrella listening to the rain hit the fabric.  The way one sentence follows another in a mix of opposites, alliteration and rhymes creates a melody of affection.  Here is another sample.

I wish you more will than hill.

If you live where there are dandelions, you have wished on the seeds, scattering them to the gentle winds carrying your desires with them.  The matching dust jacket and book case is a single illustration with the seeds scattering across the back, to the left, on the pale blue sky.  The white illumination seen on the bottom of the jacket and book case is carried to the opening and closing endpapers in the softest golden yellow.  On the publication page is a large dandelion gone to seed.  Opposite this on the title page three seeds spin above the text on the same blue background.

Rendered in ink, watercolor, pan pastels and colored pencils with digital art assistance from Kristen Cella, Tom Lichtenheld's illustrative interpretation of Amy Krouse Rosenthal's words is delightful.  For each of the fourteen I wish you more phrases he gives readers double-page illustrations with the exception of four.  On these there is liberal use of white space with text on the right followed by an image on the left.

Lichtenheld uses a full color palette.  His details are an uplifting complement to the narrative.  On the bubble bath pages the two bs in bubble are raised up by a bubble.  On one of the top bubbles sits a yellow rubber ducky.  The children's expressions are precious.  The little girl who is trying to tie her shoe is chewing on her tongue as her dog watches.

One of my favorite illustrations is near the end of the book.  For the words

I wish you more stories than stars.

it's nighttime.  The scene is inside a child's bedroom as they are reading by flashlight beneath the blanket.  On the bookshelves are a top, blocks, a toy truck, a globe and a sock monkey.  A skateboard rests against the shelves.  Beneath the bed are frog slippers with big googly eyes.  Outside the sky is filled with stars.  A crescent moon is framed in a single window pane of six.

I Wish You More written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld definitely falls in the category of books I hug when I finish reading them.  Children who read this or have it read to them will know their true value, priceless treasures every one.  I know this will be on all professional and personal shelves but I plan on buying multiple copies to give as gifts.

To learn more about Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Here is a link to a free activity kit and posters at the publisher's website. UPDATE:  This post by Tom Lichtenheld on May 20, 2015 at the Nerdy Book Club about the process for creating this book is a must read.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

To Play Or To Work

Their world beneath our feet is a series of tunnel roadways leading to the queen's residence.  I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see some form of John Heywood's timeless quotation,

Many hands make light work

strategically mounted along their hidden passages.  Never at rest, always on the move, all the members of team ant know what to do and when to do it.

As a classic piece of folklore a fable uses animals to convey a moral or lesson.  None are more recognized than those of Aesop.  None are more gorgeous in their retelling than those of Caldecott Medal winner, Jerry Pinkney.

On April 7, 2015 a companion to The Lion & The Mouse (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010 Caldecott Medal) and The Tortoise & The Hare (Little, Brown and Company, October 1, 2013) was released.  In the first book the setting is the African Serengeti and in the second title we travel to the American Southwest.  In the third book, The Grasshopper & The Ants (Little, Brown and Company), we find ourselves in the woodlands.

When first looking at the dust jacket, you will want to take your time to notice the exquisite details deftly depicted by Pinkney.  For mere moments a group of Ants have paused to listen to the music man, the Grasshopper, who carries his drum set, banjo and concertina with him everywhere.  The delicate wings on his back are breathtaking.

The staff in pastel shades of blue, pink and yellow swirling about him indicates the lightness of the melody.  Dandelion seeds, like wishes, float on the air.  This illustration extends to the left, the back, in a lush view of the forest floor, filled with leaves, flowers, Ants, a monarch butterfly, a caterpillar and a lady bug, wings spread ready to soar.  (It should be noted the front flap images align with the opening endpapers.)

Beneath the jacket on the book case, with a white canvas, framed in dandelion leaves and flowers are portraits of the Grasshopper and an Ant observing the reader.  On the back is the Ants' winter abode with the note laden staff twisting forth from an opening.  This picture is outlined in holly branches and leaves.

Both the opening and closing endpapers are a naturalist's delight in an array of leaves, flowers and the Ants' stump home covered in shelf fungus.  Both feature the Ants busy at work.  Only the Grasshopper is featured differently.  I wonder how many readers will stop to identify all the leaves and flowers.  With a page turn we see the title spread across two pages; the letters formed from leaves, tiny twigs, and flowers.  The Grasshopper and the Ants are busy doing what they do best.

In a series of twelve spectacular double-page visuals Jerry Pinkney gives his signature spin on the tale. (There is also a gasp-worthy surprise toward the end.) In addition readers can see two framed single pages where elements break out from the lines and two edge-to-edge single page pictures as well as the final illustration.  At one particular point in the narrative he even uses a set of smaller framed images to enhance the pacing and add a bit of tension.

"Why work so hard?"
sang Grasshopper.
"It's spring and time to go fishing."

"No time to relax,"
said the Ants.

With these three sentences Pinkney begins.  As the seasons progress Grasshopper asks the same question with alterations to his words.  The Ants reply in kind.  Each time Grasshopper's phrases are increased making his invitation more enticing.  In the autumn and winter the Ants do not reply.  Grasshopper finally realizes his activities would be better if shared.

For the remainder of the book all of the illustrations are wordless with one exception.  A wise matriarch offers a cup of compassion.  It is humbly accepted.

All these illustrations are deserving of being framed.  One of my favorites is when the first snow comes.  The Ants are nowhere in sight but Grasshopper is beside himself with glee, wings extended, hovering above trees branches and lingering fall leaves in rustic reds and browns.  Snowflakes are falling in all shapes and sizes.  Concertina music rides the breeze.  (At this point Grasshopper is not wearing his leaf snowshoes yet.)

When you first hold this book in your hands, after you look at the dust jacket and book case, you can't help but run your fingers over the heavy smooth matte-finished paper.  It's like you have to touch the beauty.  Please add The Grasshopper & The Ants written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, a true national treasure, to your professional and personal collections.  Share it with everyone as often as you can.  You will enjoy reading the Author's Note on the final page.

To learn more about Jerry Pinkney and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  If you access the TeachingBooks website they have many resources about Jerry Pinkney.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Royal Robbery

Yesterday morning before the sun rose, a crescent moon hung in a deep blue sky over black lace treetops.  The air was filled with birdsong.  In fact, the birds seemed to be participants in some celebratory party as many were wildly flying from point to point.  As I moved toward the end of my driveway two flew past me at breakneck speed.  They were so close I felt the rush of air as they passed.

I wondered how they could see so well in the dim light of dawn.  I wondered how they missed colliding with me.  The Queen's Shadow:  A Story About How Animals See (Kids Can Press, March 1, 2015) written and illustrated by Toronto-based author illustrator Cybele Young artfully explores the vision of many animals through a mysterious theft.

The Queen's Ball had begun like any other of her royal parties---lavish displays of food and festive entertainment were being enjoyed by society's most important nobility.

Catching her guests unaware an unexpected booming burst of noise and flash of lightning flooded the room with blinding brightness before seconds later all went as black as night.  Then as if someone had flipped a switch, all was light again.  Mere heartbeats later a scream was heard.  It was the Queen.

Her shadow was missing; stolen in the stormy confusion.  As you can imagine everyone, especially the Queen, was in a tizzy.  Into the foray stepped calm, cool and methodical Mantis Shrimp, the Royal Detective.  No one was to leave the room.

Of the nine partygoers Sir Chameleon was obviously the thief according to quick deductions.  Explaining how his eyes work, independently of one another when searching for food, it was impossible for him to have consumed the shadow.  He pointed a finger at Captain Shark.

As each animal was accused by a companion, their particular sense of vision provided an alibi.  Whether by distinguishing patterns in gloomy conditions, sensing body heat in light or dark, knowing when enemies approach due to peripheral sight, using compound eyes or extremely large eyes, seeing into great distances and sensing a huge array of color or using an entire body to look, the sea urchins, pigeon, colossal squid, dragonfly, goat, lancehead pit viper snake, shark, chameleon and particularly the mantis shrimp were all innocent. Where was the Queen's shadow?

Two giggling animal children who loved a good game of hide-and-seek provided the answer.  In stunned silence, the Royal Guards and the Royal Detective did their duties.  Thus ended the party and the mystery.  But...all was still not quite right.  Or was it?

By the second paragraph the entire mood of the story changes as Cybele Young captivates her readers with an intriguing mystery.  This quick shift from elegant party to burglary is an excellent hook.  To have animals with given nobility names adds a pinch of humor but also opens the door to the discussion of their vision.

Through a pleasing blend of narrative and dialogue the plot unfolds much like the best kind of detective story.  The Queen's exclamations as each member of the company are proclaimed the perpetrator will have readers grinning. The inclusion of a side panel with a more detailed explanation of each animal's eyesight in support of their claims is the crowning perfect touch.  Here is a sample passage.

"SNEAKY, SLIPPERY SERPENT!" cried the Queen.  Stupefied, Lancehead declared:  "I was behind the Queen.  I thought it a sssafe place to hide from Goat'sss trampling feet!  (Some proper dance lessonsss would do him well.)  Goat was coming from Her Majesssty's ssside, and I saw him drawing nearer in the blackout.  He was looking straight at Her Majesssty."

Intriguing is the word which comes to mind when looking at the matching dust jacket and book case of this title.  All nine of the animals are shown in a colorful array spreading out from the back of the Queen on the front.  Their particular shades pop when placed on the white canvas.  Sir Chameleon is perched on top of the barcode on the back.

On the opening and closing endpapers the (royal) purple of the Queen's gown supplies the background.  Etched in white on one side is the elegant design seen in her dress.   This design (her shadow?) appears again on the initial title page.  For the more formal title pages Sir Chameleon is sitting on a swinging chandelier lit with candles with faint outlines of the shadow.  Those same graceful images are seen on the verso and dedication pages framed within a squid tentacle.  A tipped cake, falling from a plate, makes an appearance too.

Throughout this story the pictures may be framed with fine lines on single or double pages, spread out as if we are seeing what the animal speaking is seeing or as small accents to a particular portion of the narrative.  The layout and design is splendid.  It's like a combination of a naturalist's notebook and a fairy tale mystery.

The details are intricate, skillfully rendered.  One of my favorite illustrations is of the dragonfly's explanation.  The circles of dotted greens for the vision span intermingled with the tentacles of Colossal Squid's movements are wonderful.  An indignant Queen, hands on hips listens as does the Royal Detective.  The sight circles bleed across the gutter perfectly.

Readers will develop an appreciation for the marvel of animal sight through the fascinating mystery of The Queen's Shadow:  A Story About How Animals See written and illustrated by Cybele Young.  Whether read by an individual, shared with a group at story time or as a one-on-one read aloud, this book is exquisite in word, art and information.  At the end, Young offers a two page clarification on vision, two pages with further facts on each of the animals and a single page glossary.

To learn more about Cybele Young and her work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Please stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other titles highlighted by bloggers participating in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What We Give Up, What We Keep

It hangs in my front picture window near the entrance to my home.  It's a small poster the size of notebook paper.  Beneath a large picture of my chocolate Labrador are the words Rescue Me, I'm Xena.

While it would be heartbreaking to loose family photographs and artifacts, pieces of furniture which belonged to my parents when they were children, letters and cards from cherished friends, artwork, decades of successful lessons and created games used in my school libraries and thousands of books, nothing is more precious than the being who has shared her fourteen years and seven months of life with me.  I remember asking my vet if moving from one home to another would be hard on Xena at this age.  He told me as long as Xena had me, wherever we were, she would be fine.  This truth about family is beautifully portrayed in words and pictures in Yard Sale (Candlewick Press, April 14, 2015) written by Eve Bunting with illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner (Nana in the City) Lauren Castillo.

ALMOST EVERYTHING WE OWN is spread out in our front yard.  It is all for sale.  We are moving to a small apartment.

Callie's parents did take her to see the new apartment.  She will be sleeping in a bed which comes down from the wall.  No matter how nice it may be, it's strange to her.

She watches all the people walking around, looking at her family's possessions and asking about prices even though her mom and dad have labeled them.  She's hurt when a woman wants to give less for her headboard because of the crayon marks.  They aren't simply crayon marks to her but a record of something special.

As she chats with her best friend Sara, who brought along her little brother Petey, she abruptly stops in alarm.  A stranger is taking her bike.  She hurries over to tell him, reaching for it.  Her dad rushes to them; reminding her of a conversation they had about having no place to ride a bike at their new home.   Callie agrees to let the man have the bike on one condition.

Resuming her talk with Sara, it's clear the two are going to miss each other deeply.  They are not entirely sure of the reason for the move, but Callie believes it's about money.  Sara offers an exchange of Callie for Petey but she would miss her parents.

Their goodbyes said Sara and Petey leave as Callie watches people coming and their things going.  Prices are lowered.  A woman who thinks a seated Callie is adorable wants to know if she is for sale.  This alarms her.  Crying she runs to her mom and dad who reassure her with a group hug.  She will never be for sale.

Items left are now free.  Soon the yard and home are empty.  Some things are still full; the hearts of a mom, dad and their precious little girl.

To me the words of Eve Bunting, as a whole in this title, are infused with wisdom.  Within a day, she takes a situation experienced by many, a drastic change due to money, moving from losing things to understanding the value of those people we keep in our lives.  Through narrative thoughts and conversations we experience along with Callie her sadness, bewilderment and acceptance.

Bunting focuses on specific moments.  The comparison of a small empty apartment with a home filled with familiar things now on the lawn.  The woman who points out the crayon marks on the headboard has no idea of the significance to Callie.  It's like complaining about lines on a wall marking a child's growth.  It's the meanings attached to our things which she brings to our attention.

When Callie is confused by seeing her bike going, in the ensuing conversation, she is startled by what she sees in her dad's eyes. Bunting is careful to have the buyer be particularly understanding.  In this way, readers see how adults view these same shifts.   Bunting is building on each event during the day toward a hopeful conclusion, a new beginning filled with love and family.  Here is another sample passage.

Almost everything is gone.  Anything that's left my dad is selling cheap.  He and my mom look droopy.  My dad is rubbing my mom's back.  

Rendered in ink and watercolor by Lauren Castillo the matching dust jacket and book case reach right into the heart of the reader.  You can tell by the expressions on the characters faces, this yard sale is not about getting rid of unwanted items.  This yard sale signals a move.  You want to embrace this family.  In fact, to the left, on the back, a small oval set in the signature red background, frames the family in a group hug.

The yellow seen on the spine, in the chair on the lawn and in one of the balloons is the shade used for the opening and closing endpapers.  With a page turn Callie is holding the four balloons as her dad places the sign in the yard.  A two-page illustration holds the verso and title.  Rooftops are shown against blue sky and wispy clouds as one of the balloons floats away.

The next picture is also edge to edge across two pages.  We zoom in on Callie sitting on her front porch looking over the lawn filled with her family's belongings.  It's a beautiful day but we see the heartbreak in Callie by her body posture.  All of the illustrations either cross the gutter or cover double pages which enlarges the emotional impact.

Endearing in every single detail, through her color choices and perspective, Lauren Castillo binds us to all the characters.  Although Callie's age is never mentioned her bike has training wheels attached.  The pajamas worn by her best friend and her brother make you want to smile.  Castillo is meticulous but her softened lines, blended hues and the play of light and shadow are full of warmth. Careful eyes will see the passage of time through the balloons.

One of my several favorite illustrations is the scene of Callie and her dad talking with the man who is buying her bike.  We are close to the three of them.  We know Callie's dad is lovingly explaining to her by his body posture.  The buyer is squatting down on their level too with his hands clasped around his knees.  The bike is between them.  This is a powerful portrait.

I have yet failed to read this book without being deeply moved, even though I know the words and pictures well.  Yard Sale written by Eve Bunting with illustrations by Lauren Castillo is an eloquent depiction of one of life's hard times.  It's touching and brimming with trust.

Please follow the links attached to Lauren Castillo's names to access her website and blog.  This link will take you to a series of video interviews of Eve Bunting by Reading Rockets.  After her Caldecott Honor win, John Schumacher, teacher librarian extraordinaire, interviewed Lauren Castillo on Watch. Connect. Read. For a truly lovely discussion of this title, please read the post by author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Julie Danielson at Kirkus.  UPDATE:  Julie has some of Lauren's process artwork on her blogEnjoy some of Lauren Castillo's tweets below in which she shares art from this title.