Quote of the Month

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

Friday, May 29, 2015

Storing Up Stories

Readers are keenly aware of the books they keep in their personal space.  Whether they have one set of shelves or several bookcases, each title read or unread is like a treasured friend.  Regardless of whatever organizational system is used, if one should become misplaced, the reader knows.

Like all good friendships, it's important to stay connected.  Where Are My Books? (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, May 12, 2015), a debut title both written and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi is full of questions.  It's a mystery waiting to be solved.

Spencer loved books.
His favorite bedtime book was Night-Night, Narwhal.  

He could even read it aloud.  It had a special place on his bookshelf.  He knew it would always be there.

It was quite a shock when he woke up one morning to discover it was missing.  It was nowhere to be found.  Bedtime simply wasn't the same without Night-Night, Narwhal.  Tenacious Todd could not take the place of his beloved book.

Spencer was doubly surprised the next day to find Tenacious Todd was absent from its spot.  One by one his books were disappearing until there was only one left.  His father and mother were no help.  They were as puzzled as Spencer was.

It had to be his little sister.  She must be taking his books.  Her startled cries at his accusation dispelled that theory.

Determined to solve the missing title trouble, Spencer devised a plan.  He attached his best toy buddy to his last paged pal.  In the morning he took off running after the book bandit with his stuffed narwhal trailing behind the rascal.  What Spencer saw filled him with astonishment.  Like a true lover of books and reading, he knew exactly what to do.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi quickly engages readers in her story with the first five sentences.  We know Spencer loves books, especially one specific book.  With the next three words,

Until one morning...

we know there is going to be a definite escalation in the action.  With each subsequent theft, we are right beside Spencer trying to figure out what is happening to his books.  By naming each title, it's as personal for us as it is for Spencer.  Ohi uses words like tenacious, vanished and vowed asking readers to explore meanings.  This all leads to an ending which is sure to elicit a sigh and a smile.  Here is a sample passage.

That evening, he chose Tenacious Todd.  
It was okay.
But Todd was a toad, and toads were amphibians, and amphibian
books were supposed to be for right-after-lunch story time.

The bright, bold colors seen on the identical dust jacket and book case are just a hint of the joy reflected throughout the book.  Careful readers will see a familiar character on the front beneath Spencer's bed.  The look on his face tells us precisely what he is feeling, surprise and dismay.  There is a tiny head with the same expression on the book spine.  On the back, to the left, in a loosely framed oval Spencer is kneeling, reading his favorite book as his smiling sister tugs on his pajamas patterned with narwhals.

On the pale yellow endpapers, complementary to the hues on the jacket and case, we see a small Spencer, looking distressed, dressed in his day clothes hugging his narwhal in the lower, right-hand corner and in the lower, left-hand corner at the end, he, dressed in his pajamas, is happily embracing his book.  His new friends are dancing and laughing around him.  An utterly upset Spencer has his hand to his forehead as he looks at the text on the title page.

Digitally rendered the illustrations vary in size and perspective to extend and enhance the narrative.  Bold, black lines encase cheerful shades.  To create texture Ohi fades the background elements drawing our attention to a portion of the image first.  Then we carefully look at all the wonderful details.

Her pictures tell a story in addition to the text.  We don't read about the items left in place of each missing book, but they are clues.  When Spencer is chatting with his parents outside, his father is gardening as his mother, donning a tool belt, is building a bird house.  She's also looking inside an empty jar.

One of my favorite illustrations is for the words,

It was time for a new plan.

It covers two pages.  It's a close up of Spencer, feeling remorseful, and his now happy sister sitting on a blanket having a tea party.  Readers will again notice the inclusion of well-known book friends.  Spencer's mom is looking down on them with a slight frown.  The three characters are featured in vibrant colors.  The yard, flowers, bushes, trees, leaves and fence are slightly lighter.  The blanket and tea party guests are the lightest.  I really enjoy this layering effect.

Hand Where Are My Books? written and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi to lovers of books and reading, mysteries, surprises and laughter.  As well as being a fantastic read aloud, I think this would be a great title to use in a reader's theater or a puppet show.  Congratulations Debbie Ridpath Ohi on your first book.  It's a gem.

To discover more about Debbie Ridpath Ohi please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  She has another website, Inkygirl.com, dedicated to the art of writing and illustrating in the field of children's literature.  More interior images from the book can be viewed at the publisher's website.  Debbie has been a guest and answered questions recently at Picture Book Builders, Andrea Skyberg|Author & Artist, November Picture Book Month A Celebration!, and The Little Crooked Cottage. Enjoy the book trailer!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Two Terrible

In some situations defined as less than desirable, it's a good idea to give it the it could always be worse test.  Even then sometimes you feel so trapped, helpless or frightened you believe it is truly horrible until life gives you another set of circumstances which is much worse.  Given a choice it's a good time to apply the concept of the lesser of two evils.  In fact you will probably wonder why you thought the first prospect is dreadful.

Many times as a child it's hard to get adults to see your viewpoint.  Sean Ferrell has penned a story that is at once familiar and entirely unique.  Illustrator Charles Santoso enhances those words with every bit of available space.  I Don't Like Koala (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, April 14, 2015) will stay with you long after the cover is closed.

Adam does not like Koala.

This gift, this toy, is the most disturbing thing he has ever received.  The eyes are weird, seemingly following him no matter where he is.  It's downright creepy.

Adam explains over and over to his parents how much he dislikes this Koala.  He finds it utterly disgusting.  They fail to comprehend how upset he is.

Each night Adam follows his typical bedtime habits.  Each night Adam hides Koala, hoping to never see him again.  He falls asleep alone and happy but every morning snuggled in bed with him is Koala.  YIKES!

He tries to throw him away at home.  He tries to leave him at the grocery store.  Adam's dad and mom retrieve Koala each time.  No matter how many times Adam repeats

"I don't like Koala!"

that toy is sticking to him like glue courtesy of his parents.

The eerie factor heightens when after a long trek Adam returns home to find Koala has arrived there first.  How is this possible?  He left him far away.  That evening getting ready for bed, Adam knows nothing on this earth is more sinister than Koala.  A double twist will leave you trembling... and grinning.

Readers jump in with both feet after reading the first sentence written by Sean Ferrell.  Why we ask?  Adam, in succinct sentences, speaks his mind through the narrator and his outbursts to his parents.  Ferrell provides a cadence with each set of words and pacing with the page turns.  We are emotionally invested in what happens to Adam.  That's why the two turns of events at the end are absolute perfection.  Here is another sample passage.

Adam puts Koala away.
Away is a lot of different places.

But every morning
when Adam wakes up...

There is no doubt Adam does not like Koala when readers first see the matching dust jacket and book case.  The look of utter disdain on his face as he flings the toy sends a powerful message.  On the back, to the left, in the lower right-hand corner Adam is carrying Koala in outstretched arms as if he is toxic.  

Illustrations rendered in pencil and colored digitally by Charles Santoso begin the story on the opening endpapers.  On the left a pair of hands is giving a joyful Adam a wrapped present.  With wonder and anticipation in his eyes Adam unties the ribbon on the right.  When looking at the jacket, case and initial endpapers, we are aware of the adept use of white space by Santoso.  On the verso and title page we see the loose ribbon and Adam's hand lifting the lid on the box.  One Koala eye is peeking out.  

With a page turn and the first sentence, Adam is standing far away holding the lid clearly distraught over his gift.  In a stroke of genius Santoso next places an extreme close-up of Koala across two pages.  The eyes are most certainly strange.  Someone goofed at the toy factory.  

Throughout the remainder of the narrative Santoso supplies a series of smaller images, sometimes framed like panels, along with larger ones to masterfully match the text.  Adam's expressions are truthful but hilarious at the same time.  The positions of Koala will have you laughing and wondering.  When Adam is brushing his teeth, just a portion of Koala can be seen looking in the mirror at him.

At one point Santoso throws readers a curve in his interpretation of Adam's trek and return home.  The final four images cover both pages and the closing endpapers.  They take place at night so the prevalent white space is replaced.  These make a huge statement.  

One of my favorite series of pictures spans across two pages.  In eleven small images we are privy to all the hiding places Adam tries to hide Koala.  In the final circular visual Adam is sound asleep smiling.  It's a wonderful set-up for the page turn.  

I Don't Like Koala written by Sean Ferrell with pictures by Charles Santoso is one of the best spooky but not too spooky books of 2015 so far.  No matter how many times I've read it, I keep laughing out loud at the combination of words and images.  Get ready to hear a chorus of read it again.  You might want to have a toy Koala available for hugging...or not.

To learn more about Sean Ferrell and Charles Santoso please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Charles Santoso also maintains posts at Tumblr.  Follow this link to a book review and a series of illustrations at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast hosted by author and blogger, Julie Danielson.  You will be laughing by the end of the book trailer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Solution Seekers

All you have to do is step outside the confines of your home, school or workplace in an area with birds to recognize how well they work together to confront danger.  On any given day you can hear them excitedly chirping or squawking to announce the presence of a predator.  As you move closer to the noise, the culprit can usually be spotted.  Sometimes a group of smaller birds can be seen diving and chasing after a larger bird that has raided their territory, demonstrating the power of eliminating a pest.

Instinctively with remarkable adaptability members of the animal kingdom exhibit the necessary skills to withstand obstacles, change and threats.  Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking (Owlkids Books, April 14, 2015) written by Elin Kelsey with illustrations by Soyeon Kim asks readers to observe and learn.  Over long periods of time creatures in our world have continually created answers to questions.

Problems are like sticker burrs.
They poke.
They prick.
They nag.

Occasionally problems provide solutions coming to us in a flash.  Have you noticed how squirrels will start and stop and dash, start and stop and dash when crossing a busy road?  They've watched and altered their behavior.

Animals are always waiting and thinking.  Each specie approaches a dilemma differently.  Orangutans build nests, not only for sleeping but for pausing and pondering.  It might be necessary like gibbons to hold on and then take a leap toward a better direction.

If you can be still for long enough, you can monitor the process a particular animal uses to accomplish a goal.  They might not succeed on the first attempt but they do not give up.  Did you know chimpanzees fold leaves to scoop up water?

Humpback whales and bubbles work together.  A gifted special effects make-up artist and a mimic octopus have quite a bit in common.  Sometimes animals, like us, need help from family members.  Elders offer advice.

Even the constellations guide smaller members of the wildlife kingdom.  You can't live life without problems.  Look to our animal neighbors for solutions.  Connect, consider, concentrate and correct.

As if we are in a one-on-one conversation with Elin Kelsey she presents to readers the problem solving abilities of a variety of animals who are most at ease on land, sea or air,  Readers and listeners will be challenged by the verbs in her two-word sentences, inviting learning and discussion.  Distinctive parallels are made between those difficulties encountered by animals and those children find in their daily lives.  Here is another sample passage.

When these animals want to
make something happen...
they try.
They get frustrated.
They try again.
They invent tools.

Initially looking at the matching dust jacket and book case you are drawn to the illustrative work of Soyeon Kim.  All of the images are created in dioramas then photographed for publication.  Their ethereal beauty is breathtaking.  The picture extends to the left, the back, with a bear, bees and a child bearing a berry branch in the lower left-hand corner.  One of the final illustrations from the book is framed above this vignette.

The opening and closing endpapers are pale green.  In a darker shade drawings showcase animal creativity in eighteen labeled images.  Two title pages highlight flying birds; one carrying a little girl with arms outstretched like wings.

All of the visuals extend edge-to-edge across both pages with the exception of the final page.  The tiny elements in each scene are stunning. The children's attire and facial expressions are precious.  Kim alters her perspective from diorama to diorama.  Careful readers will see a panoramic view with text and then a portion of that will become the focus of another piece of the narrative.  It supplies a sense of continuity.

One of my favorite pictures is of the seven humpback whales swimming in a circle to create a net of bubbles.  The strings of tiny fish they hope to catch are swirling over the largest whale placed down the center of the gutter.  Two children, a girl and a boy are swimming with the whales.

Wild Ideas:  Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking written by Elin Kelsey with illustrations by Soyeon Kim takes readers into the wild letting them wander where they might not go.  Each statement supported by scientific fact is woven into the whimsical world of Kim's visuals.  This book frees us to be more than we thought we could be.  I would definitely pair this title with This Is Sadie by Sara O'Leary with pictures by Julie Morstad.

If you desire to learn more about Elin Kelsey or Soyeon Kim, follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  The publisher's website has numerous resources; seven scientific podcasts, Q & A sheets on the author and illustrator, a short video on taking the photographs of the dioramas, lesson plans are coming, the note from the author seen in the back of the book, a video of whales blowing bubbles and the press release.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the titles chosen by the other 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge participants.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Imagining Yourself

Children rarely have to dig as long or as far as do adults.  It's much closer to the surface.  For them within seconds, they are transformed and transported to roles and worlds of their own choosing.  Their minds are free of life's accumulated clutter.  They dream big all day long.

We had several vacant lots on our street when we were growing up.  The one, wooded and tall with weeds, was a paradise for all of us.  As soon as we crossed the boundary, we were no longer within the confines of our neighborhood.  In This Is Sadie (Tundra Books, May 12, 2015) written by Sara O'Leary with illustrations by Julie Morstad a little girl reminds us of the potential of creative imagining.

This is Sadie.
No, not that.  That's a box.
Sadie is inside the box.

To Sadie it's not a box.  To Sadie it's a boat; a big boat traveling across a sea so vast there's nothing but water as far as the eye can see.  There might be land nearby but Sadie is content to ride the waves.

Even before a single soul in her home, other than herself, is awake, Sadie has traveled a distance.  She's quiet until she selects her favorite dress to wear for the day.  Her playmates are not all real.  Some of them are characters from stories.

Sadie selects where she goes and who she becomes, diving, howling, sipping and riding.  She has conversations with those others cannot understand.  She soars gliding on wind currents.

No minute in Sadie's day is wasted.  They are brimming with bits and pieces from her collected thoughts.  They are inspired by the inventiveness of others.

In this story Sara O'Leary has given readers a character to cherish.  Through Sara's words we see a girl who looks at her world, making it larger with her making, doing and being.  The best thing is readers are invited to join Sadie in her adventure with the first three words.

The unseen narrator speaks warmly using informal sentences.  When Sadie talks we are intimately aware of the wonder she finds wherever she goes.  Here is another sample passage.

And then she chooses a dress.
"Don't tell the others," she whispers,
"but you are my favorite."

When you open the dust jacket, the first thing you notice is the delicate flowers filling the field across both sides.  Sadie is featured in her fox mask on the front with her stuffed toy fox companion sitting in the grass in the lower right-hand corner of the back, to the left.  Tiny details like the flower dotting the "i" in Sadie are found throughout this title.  When you flip the dust jacket to the inside one of the gorgeous nighttime scenes from the interior becomes a poster with a quotation from the story.  The book case is identical to the jacket with one exception.  The opening and closing endpapers are a deeper forest green with a triangular three dot pattern in white.

The light, lyrical feel of the words is continued with the title page illustration.  The text letters are hanging from a string across the top.  Beneath this the beloved toy is sleeping in cheery bedding.

Rendered in gouache, watercolor and pencil crayon Julie Morstad's fine lines supply exquisite elements in all the illustrations.  Most of the images extend over two pages but for those smaller pictures or larger ones with a white background, the white gives a new dimension to the colors used.  Morstad depicts playfulness in her visuals in contrast to the narrative.  We read

When it is time to start the day,
Sadie tidies her room.

We see Sadie standing among a pile of clothes on the left.  To the right is her bed nicely made but underneath we see her interpretation of tidy.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of a small hill sprinkled with little flowers.  Slightly off center to the right is a large tree with a rounded top.  Bluebirds have gathered among the branches.  We see Sadie's bare legs dangling through the leaves.  Her red bicycle is leaning against the trunk with her fox sitting in the wire basket. You wish you were one of those bluebirds


with her.

This Is Sadie written by Sara O'Leary with illustrations by Julie Morstad is one of those books where the word delightful immediately springs to mind.  We all need a bit of Sadie in us.  Some of us need more than others.  Read this to a group at story time, one on one or to your neighborhood fox family.  (A baby fox was spotted last week.)  I guarantee your listeners will be checking for wings.

To discover more about Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad please follow the links attached to their names to access their online presence.  Julie gives us views of two interior images.  Sara has created another space dedicated to this book at Tumblr.  Teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher, hosted Sara O'Leary on his blog at Watch. Connect. Read.  A link to an activity kit is provided along with the book trailer and a series of questions and answers. Enjoy.  

These two tweets offer more for you about This Is Sadie.  

UPDATE:  Sara  O'Leary is a guest on the podcast, Let's Get Busy, Episode #230 hosted by teacher-librarian Matthew C. Winner

Monday, May 25, 2015

Started By A Freedom Run

When I think of blueberries I recall fresh muffins dotted with soft butter, creamy cheesecake, and warm pie with a scoop of ice cream and my dad.  By far my father's favorite fruit in dessert was blueberries.  He loved cheesecake topped with blueberry sauce.   The first two-crust pie I ever learned to bake was blueberry.  When you accomplish the right combination of tart and sweet, it's like tasting a little bit of heaven.

For others blueberries represent a way to make a living by harvesting them. For entire communities, they offer a seasonal focus.  In Cynthia Lord's newest title, A Handful of Stars (Scholastic Press, May 26, 2015) blueberries attract and rely on the work of a particular type of bee.  These bees in turn give a girl the chance to help her best friend to regain his eyesight.

The only reason I ever spoke to Salma Santiago was because my dog ate her lunch.
Sometimes life is like a long road leading from one "if" to another. 

Twelve-year-old Tigerlily (Lily) has never known a day without Lucky being a part of it.  The now blind black Labrador came with her and her mom ten years ago when they returned to Maine.  With Mama gone, Lily has been living with Memere and Pepere in the apartment over the general store they own and run.

Having slipped his collar Lucky is running like the wind over the blueberry barrens; Lily trying every trick in the book to get him to stop.  The quick thinking of one of the migrant workers raking the blueberry bushes gets Lucky to stop.  There's nothing quite like the whiff of peanut butter and the crunch of potato chips to stop a dog in his tracks.  

At Memere's insistence, with her grandfather, Lily enters the migrant camp for the first time bringing a local specialty meat pie meal to Lucky's savior.  As Lily and Salma, also twelve, officially meet and exchange conversation, a spark of friendship begins.  When Salma shows up at the general store the next morning, they find they have more in common than they might have thought.

Salma with a dream of furthering her education with a focus on art offers to help Lily paint her mason bee houses.  Selling these will raise money to help pay for corrective surgery for Lucky's blindness.  Salma is willing to do anything to help Lucky, having lost her own dog.

During the course of the weeks shared by the two girls, readers find themselves witnessing the changes in Lily, her two-peas-in-a-pod best friend, Hannah, who seems to not share interests with Lily any longer, Lily's grandmother and the community.  Both Lily and Salma challenge themselves personally by participating in activities never experienced before this year.  In a beautiful, yes breathtaking, conclusion over the course of two days, love triumphs.

By page five I was placing small post-it notes in my copy of this book.  Cynthia Lord has a magical way of creating visual landscapes with her words whether we are inside a general store or outside in the local cemetery.  We are drawn into the story experiencing the same surroundings as the characters.

Through Lily's thoughts and the dialogue of the other characters we come to understand each individual's personality.  Page by page Lord shows us the layers which make each person who they are.  We truly care for all of them whether they are initially likable or not.  I would be remiss (at Xena's urging) if I did not mention how aptly Lucky and his behavior are portrayed.  Cynthia Lord definitely has a special place in her heart for animals understanding them as if she speaks with them on a daily basis.  Here are a few of the marked passages from the book.

Even though he couldn't see it, Lucky was on that blueberry like a seagull on a French fry.  His eyes used to be black with a twinkle in them, but now they're blue-ish gray.  They don't even look like they belong to him.  It's like someone just traded out his sparkling black eyes and left blue marbles instead.

Dr. Katz smiled.  "Pink bees?"
I nodded.  "It's different."
"Different can be good," Dr. Katz said.  "It makes you pay attention."

I stood up.  "Remember that day we were swinging at camp?  I was feeling a bit scared, and I realized something.  To do brave things, you don't have to be hugely brave.  You only have to be a little bit braver than you are scared.  Give me your hand."

With eloquence Cynthia Lord tells a story of friendship and family in A Handful of Stars.  With pure mastery she blends two worlds, a girl who has suffered loss but has stability in her grandparents and her community and a girl with imagination who will always move with the seasons, never living in the same place for any length of time.   I guarantee this book will resonate with all readers.  I believe this would be an excellent read aloud.

Please follow the link attached to Cynthia Lord's name to access her website.  There you can enjoy learning about her other work.  Follow this link Andrea Skyberg|Author Artist for a tour of Cynthia Lord's studio and an interview.  John Schumacher, teacher librarian extraordinaire, interviews Cynthia Lord at Watch. Connect. Read.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Barriers Broken With A Beat

Inherent in everything adults do should be a wish for the world to be better for those following in their footsteps.  Our children need to believe all things are possible.  Opportunities should be available for them to pursue regardless of their gender.

It would seem music would rise above any obstacles, visible or invisible but there was a time in a place this was not so.  Drum Dream Girl:  How One Girl's Courage Changed Music (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 31, 2015) written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Rafael Lopez is a poetic and pictorial tribute to a girl who felt the earth's rhythm.  Every place held potential for making a measured melody.

On an island of music
in a city of drumbeats
the drum dream girl

In her mind's eye she captured a cadence, sounding it out on conga or bongo drums and the timbales.  Her hands carried the beat to the instruments.  Unfortunately on this island only boys and men were allowed to play drums.

This did not stop the girl from dreaming.  It only made her desires grow stronger.  Hearing others make music set beats singing in her heart.  Wherever she walked, she listened.

In the picturesque park, with the cavorting carnival dancers or alongside the dragon drummers, she felt the tempo.  Even in her own home, constantly reminded drumming was not for girls, she moved her fingers on every surface, playing the conga or bongo drums and the timbales.  In her dreams she could do anything.  And she did it well.

So impressed with her skills, her older sisters invited her to play in their all-girl dance band. At first her father was firm in his refusal.  Perhaps her determination to continue, even alone, softened his stance for he found her a teacher.  Learn. Learn. Learn. Practice. Practice. Practice.  Dreams, drumming dreams, do come true.

When Margarita Engle wrote the poetry for these pages, it's as if her words are drumming.  Alliteration and onomatopoeia will have your fingers moving without you even being aware.  Based upon the life of Chinese-African-Cuban Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the girl's passion for making music with her drums is visible on every page.  Here is another sample portion of a passage.

...so the drum dream girl
had to keep dreaming

Rendered in acrylic paint on wood board the matching dust jacket and book case and interior illustrations by Rafael Lopez take readers into another time and place.  The rich, vivid darker colors are truly like stepping into dreams.  Wanting to play drums on an island filled with music, even though she was a girl, did not stop her from hoping.  On the back, to the left of the opened jacket and case, a smiling man in the moon looks down on her as she sleeps on a conga drum suspended among tree branches near the water.  The opening and closing endpapers feature a night scene of lush flora and fauna native to her island.  A stunning two page illustration of the girl sitting on a crescent moon drumming above the island of music provides the canvas for the text on the title page.

Nineteen double-page images, two vertical, with breathtaking beauty enhance and extend the language used by Engle. The depicted people and animals are fully alive whether the moment is real or magical.  The girl is in splendid harmony within her world and in her dreams.

There are many of these illustrations which are favorites but one which stands out with particular emotional impact is the one when her father decides to let her learn with a teacher.  On the left a larger smiling moon is watching through tree branches within purple clouds.  A flying bird with legs is on the lower cloud.  Between the two clouds is the drum dream girl playing.  Colored ribbons are wrapping around her.  The ends of the ribbons, gathered together, are held by her father, on the right, standing outside their home at night.  He is pulling her toward him.  The look on their faces conveys happiness and love.

Drum Dream Girl:  How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Rafael Lopez is filled with hope.  The melodic words and eloquent paintings blend with natural elegance.  This book is for those who know dreams come true and for those wishing they do.  A Historical Note and Acknowledgments supplies further information about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga.

To learn more about Margarita Engle and Rafael Lopez, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Here is the link to Rafael Lopez's blog.  Julie Danielson, author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, speaks with both Engle and Lopez here, Beating the Drum for Women's Rights.  Toward the end of 2011 Julie Danielson featured Rafael Lopez on her blog.  Follow this link to a discussion guide. Educator Alyson Beecher shares her views on this title at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Enjoy the book trailer.  Update:  November 23 2015 As an introduction to one of the #SharpSchu December selections Scholastic Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher interviews Rafael Lopez at Watch. Connect. Read.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

No Help Wanted...

Ever since I was first introduced to The Little Red Hen in The Tall Book of Nursery Tales (Harper And Brothers, 1944) with pictures by Feodor Rojankovsky (1956 Caldecott Medal winner for Frog Went A-Courtin'), I've been a collector of different interpretations and variations.  For more traditional tales I've enjoyed The Little Red Hen by Jerry Pinkney and The Little Red Hen: An Old Fable by Heather Forest, illustrations by Susan Gaber.  For stretching the story The Little Red Hen (Makes A Pizza) by Philomen Sturges, illustrations by Amy Walrod, The Red Hen by Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley, Cook-A-Doodle-Doo! and The Little Red Pen by sisters Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel have provided plenty of fun and puns.

Getting right to the heart of what is family, Little Red Henry (Candlewick Press, April 28, 2015) written by Linda Urban with illustrations by Madeline Valentine addresses an alternate view of the familiar.  As a first child or the youngest child can verify, doting parents or older siblings can be overwhelming in their attentions.  Sometimes you have to take a stand for the sake of your own sanity.

Ever since time began,
Mama and Papa and Mem and Sven had loved and cuddled and smooched and squeezed their little redheaded Henry.  

Henry didn't have to do a thing for himself.  His frustration level was at an all-time high.  He was getting to be a big boy.  He was no longer a baby.  He wanted to do things for himself like eating his own breakfast.  

After his morning meal the entire crew rushed to the bathroom to help him brush his teeth.  I guess you know Henry was not going to allow that any longer.  He politely declined all their requests.

Things were starting to look up for Henry.  The next thing on his agenda was to play with his next-door-neighbor friend.  Of course, all his attire was stacked and waiting for him.  He picked out a totally new outfit.  Without waiting for any member of his family to confirm plans for a play date, Henry knocked on Gibson's front door.  Those two boys had the best time.

That evening during dinner, Henry didn't spill a single drop of milk when he poured it himself.  His food was consumed completely and perfectly.  His family was definitely distraught.  If they couldn't do things for Henry, what were they supposed to do?

Big boy, not-a-baby Henry asked them a question.  Their responses altered the evening's events to everyone's joy.  In fact Henry discovered it was necessary to yell out another question.  Their answers were what everyone needed. 

The cadence found in the original tale is cleverly re-shaped by wordsmith Linda Urban.  There is still a goal to be reached.  The shift comes when Henry, unlike the hen, does not seek assistance.  It is repeatedly offered though with the words

Let me

by Papa, Mem and Sven after Mama tries to help.  Like the hen, Henry does everything himself.

And he did.

Urban adds the right touch of humor with her wonderful word choices for each family member's thoughts and suggestions.  You will find yourself nodding your head and laughing when you read

...sick of it.
...itty-bitty chair or
elbowing and calling dibs.  

Her use of alliteration adds to the beat and sheer joy found in the repetition.  The technique of using and more than once in a sentence creates a playful, childlike pace.  When reading this aloud, the sentences make music. 

The look of disgust on Henry's face on the matching dust jacket and book case with his Mama and Papa and Mem and Sven getting him ready for a ride in his wagon, smiles on their faces, sets the tone for the entire book.  The eagerness seen in the family's expressions and body language is in direct contrast to Henry hugging his knees.  On the back, to the left, an interior scene is shown.  Henry is brushing his own teeth as the family peeks around the doorway watching.  Four small illustrations on the opening endpapers show Mama, Papa, Mem and Sven taking those items in their hands and placing them on Henry.  He looks more ready for roller derby than a simple ride through the neighborhood.  The closing endpapers in another set of four pictures complete the story.

Graphite drawings by Madeline Valentine were printed on watercolor paper and then painted in gouache for the visuals.  After the two lengthy introductory sentences accompanying the entire family on a walk, when Henry speaks his first frustrated sentence, Valentine alters her perspective and the use of white space to make an impact.  With each page turn, details create comedy.  

When Henry states he can choose his own clothes, Valentine gives readers twelve vignettes of this process guaranteed to create giggles.  As Henry and Gibson are hanging upside down on the monkey bars, the four heads of his family are looking from behind a tree.  Valentine's color palette and layout enhance the glee in watching this family for a day.  

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Matthew is hiding behind his bedroom door on the right as Papa's, Mem's and Sven's arms extend through the opening offering clothes' choices.  To the left we can see a set of pre-picked clothes folded on his little red chair.  His toy robot and spiky dino-snake are on the floor.

Little Red Henry written by Linda Urban with illustrations by Madeline Valentine will have listeners and readers alike grinning from ear to ear.  A little bit of every family is woven into the words and pictures.  Whether it's shared during a group story time or at bedtime, it's a winner.  

To learn more about Linda Urban and Madeline Valentine and their respective work, please follow the links attached to their names, taking you to their websites.  Linda Urban and Madeline Valentine were part of a trifecta at teacher librarian extraordinaire John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read., stand-on-a-table-yelling-I-Love-To-Read educator Colby Sharp's sharpread and at the Nerdy Book Club.  Linda Urban was a guest at The Little Crooked Cottage.  At the end of the PW KidsCast Linda Urban speaks about this title. (Plus you get to hear about her other new book coming soon.)  At the publisher's website an interior image is shown. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

In Twenty-Four Hours

Several weeks ago in the early evening on a Saturday, a male fox ran across my front lawn.  After recovering from shock and grabbing my camera, I dashed out the door to see it merrily running, as if on a familiar path, down the road in our subdivision.  The following Saturday afternoon a male fox raced across my backyard.  Later, that same day sometime a little after midnight, I was outside with Xena.  I heard something running down the street along the front property line.  In the glow of my flashlight I could see a fox.

As if pulled by an invisible thread when it reached the lot corner, it turned and came diagonally across the yard directly at Xena and me.  Loudly barking it quickly reached us.  With only the driveway separating us from the charging fox, yelling I pulled Xena through the flower garden and into the house.  I kept thinking it was going to leap.

Other than silent observations in the woods, fields or along the Lake Michigan shoreline, this is the closest encounter I've ever had with native wildlife.  It made me realize how delicate the line is between our two worlds.  In Daylight Starlight Wildlife (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group(USA), May 19, 2015) gifted artist and author Wendell Minor takes the hands of readers leading them to marvels in the natural word no matter the time of day.

The sun shines on Earth, bringing the light and warmth of day.  Do you know these daylight visitors?

Looking out in a backyard readers are asked to identify eleven animals.  When viewing the same space during the night, eleven new creatures come into view.  With a page turn the comparison of animals seen during the day is shown with those more prevalent during the night.

Feathered hunters gliding above ground are featured; their keen eyesight searching for food.  Smaller mammals keep their young close as they nestle or wander through the tall grasses.  One even carries them upon her back.

By day a tiger swallowtail seeks nectar.  By night a luna moth looks for another of its kind.  In summer sun a young fawn hides, spots blending with the surroundings.  In winter night a predator jumps with purpose.

Critters from the same family exhibit different habits and physical characteristics depending on the hour.  The larger cats slip soundlessly through the area as the temperatures climb.  The larger canines call out to others in the chill of the dark.

Early risers will see a flash of red and an unmistakable song.  Night owls will find company in the call of their namesake.  Those with senses attuned will discover wealth in the wild.

After the initial two statements followed by questions, Wendell Minor weaves a spell with his poetic observations of the individual pairs of animals.  Descriptors allude to physical features.  The particular activity in which each is engaged is vividly portrayed in word choices.  It is obvious, regardless of the author's note at the end, Minor has been in the presence of each selected animal.  Here are two side-by-side sample passages.

By day, sharp-eyed red-tailed hawk
soars high in the sky and scans
the earth for food.

In the stillness of night,
wide-eyed barn owl silently
swoops through the sky.

The use of light and shadow, the exquisite detail and realistic depictions in Wendell Minor's paintings will have you reaching out to touch the page slowly, careful not to frighten the creature you are sure is alive.  On the matching dust jacket and book case our attention is drawn to two similar animals represented in their most comfortable surroundings.  The warmer golden tones seen during the light of day and the cooler shades identified with nighttime define not only the two sides of the front of the jacket and case but all of the illustrations.  A darker yellow provides the background for the opening endpapers.  On the closing endpapers what I would call blueprint blue is used as a canvas.  On each of them a pattern of animal tracks in a lighter shade is shown.

The first two page painting is a more panoramic view of a wild space near a home.  On the left is daylight.  On the right is starlight.  It's a truly lovely transition.

For each of the ten pairings Minor alternates between double or single page portraits.  We are brought closer to the animal as if we are viewing them at their level. Fine lines define feathers, fur, delicate wings, hard shells, and bumpy skin.  Twice in this title two horizontal pictures span two pages, one over the other.  The emotion Minor feels for his subjects shines in each image.

One of my many favorite pictures is of the barn owl at night. The wings are nearly spread from one corner to the other.  A full moon shines above on the left.  On the right in the corner the peak of a roof outlines a portion of a lighted, rounded window.  Stars twinkle above evergreen trees.  A single light shoots across the sky toward earth.  You can hear the silence only broken by the sound of crickets.

I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal shelves.  Every child and every adult will want to make themselves aware of the wonders found in Daylight Starlight Wildlife written and illustrated by Wendell Minor.  It's a stunning collection of wildlife paintings. At the close of this book a Fun Facts section explains diurnal, nocturnal and crepuscular.  Twenty-two animals are highlighted with additional information.  (I certainly hope to see a luna moth someday.)

To discover more about Wendell Minor and his other work please follow the link attached to his name.  There are many illustrations from this book on the designated page.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other selections of bloggers participating in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Barking It Up In The Bayou

There has not been one single day since Xena entered my life, more than fourteen and one half years ago, when I have not longed to speak with her.  It most certainly would be simpler to share our thoughts verbally.  Instead we have a fine-tuned system of reading each other's body language, realizing certain words are attached to certain moments and knowing what specific snorts, growls, and barks convey. Sometimes I think when you have worked harder for understanding your relationship is better.

You may be familiar with Spencer Quinn as the writer of the Chet and Bernie series for adults or as Peter Abrahams, author of The Outlaws of Sherwood Street series and The Echo Falls Mystery series for middle grade readers.  Using the pen name of Spencer Quinn Peter Abrahams is beginning another series with a dog as the narrator.  Woof A Bowser and Birdie Novel (Scholastic Press, April 28, 2015) is certain to receive a four paws up plus a vigorous tail wag from the canine crowd (and their human pals too).

white-haired woman and a gum-chewing kid.  Gum chewing is one of the best sounds out there, and the smell's not bad, either.  I liked the kid from the get-go.

Grammy and her granddaughter, Birdie, age eleven, are at the shelter fulfilling a birthday wish. A large mutt has caught Birdie's attention.  To his complete and total joy he soon tastes freedom riding in the front seat of Grammy's beat-up pickup truck.  Their arrival at the Gaux Family Fish and Bait is tainted by the discovery of the family heirloom, Black Jack, a mounted black marlin, missing from a prominent space on the wall.

Right away Birdie brings a noticeable scent to everyone's attention including the local sheriff but it is dismissed because Bowser is the only other being who can detect its prominence.  He likes it so much; she leads her to the source of the odor.  Birdie thinks he's a genius.  Bowser knows what he likes, pure and simple.  He has no clue that it's a clue.

As if the missing fish is not enough of a mystery, on a visit at Rory's house, the sheriff's son, Birdie learns of a treasure map.  Supposedly on his return home from serving overseas during World War II, Grammy's dad took long rides by himself into the bayou.  The story of those treks and the map are two more pieces in a growing puzzle.

Clandestine journeys in the dark of night, entering forbidden buildings, frightening swims in the black bayou water, an attempted kidnapping, a dog chase revealing more than Birdie's buddy can process, strange visitors, and a too-close encounter with a monster create action nearly faster than Bowser can run.  And that's pretty fast, folks.  Secrets are shared.  Secrets are kept.  The truth is consumed in a conclusion leaving you gasping for breath.

Spencer Quinn removes us from where we might be reading to the bayous of Louisiana.  His descriptions of the small town and its inhabitants envelop us like the heat and humidity found there.  Care is given to the details of the buildings, homes and the layout of the streets and roads.

Each of the characters, residents and visitors, friends and foes, are revealed in the dialogue heard and explanations supplied through Bowser's narration.  Using a canine viewpoint gives us a true sensory experience and a whole bunch of side-splitting humor.  Bowser's roundabout perceptions coupled with Birdie's more linear ideas give us a unique trail to follow.

Relationships are introduced and explored through a series of incidents; Birdie's online chats with her absent mother and her mention of the town public librarian, eavesdropping on Nola's (Birdie's best friend) sister and company in the dead of night, casual encounters with Rory, the sheriff's methods of investigation (He's no Barney Fife.), questions and answers with Snoozy, an employee who slept through the fish theft and his uncle Lem who once coached Birdie's late father, the Straker family members who own the competitive business and treat the Gaux family with distain, visiting old Maybelline at the local assisted living complex and Grammy's constant care of Birdie and reluctantly of Bowser.  These people are as real as real can be; a dog's nose knows.  Here are a few of the many notable passages from this book.

Was this a good time for growling?  Probably not, which I didn't realize until it was too late.  I should have been doing everything I could to make a good impression.  But you'd be growling yourself if the reason you ate like a bird was because you got feed like a bird.  And, by the way, the whole thing about birds not eating much needs looking into.  Ever seen one of those little red-breasted ones gulp down a long, fat, struggling worm?  Enough said. 

For example, in the human world you've got those who take regular showers and those who don't.  Snoozy was of that second type.  His smell reminded me of a hunk of old cheese I'd once found at the bottom of a tipped-over trash barrel, only more so.  I'd left that hunk of cheese strictly alone, believe you me, except for one quick taste, or possibly two. 

"Eyes peeled?" Birdie said, like she hated the idea.  I was with her on that:  It sounded horrible.  

"Yikes---what was that?  Did you feel something?"
Huh? Why did Birdie look so scared, her face all twisted in the moonlight?  All I felt was the bayou, bubbling pleasantly by, although in those bubbles I did pick up an odd smell---snaky, but not snake.  Froggy, but not frog.  Toady, but not toad.  Lizardy, but not lizard.  I sniffed the air. 

Hand this book off to your readers loving non-stop action, mystery to the max, characters ready to walk off the pages and loads of laughter courtesy of a lovable dog.  Woof A Bowser and Birdie Novel written by Spencer Quinn is a run on the best side there is; sheer fun.  Dog lovers are going to gobble this up in big bites. 

To learn more about Spencer Quinn please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Scholastic has devoted a page to this new series to be found by following the link attached to the title.  An excerpt from this book is there.  Start reading people.  You'll be ready for the next book as soon as you finish the first.  The cover reveal is coming soon.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Greet The Day With A Shout

You step outside first thing in the morning to a rip-roaring chorus of birdsong.  You marvel at the volume a single one achieves.  How can something so small be so loud?

As an educator walking through the hallways before the first bell rings, the noise of chatter quickly erases any remnants of lingering sleep and dreams.  As a teacher librarian with the arrival of each class there is always one (or sometimes more) student whose voice raises above all the others demanding your attention.  This sound makes the birdsong and hallway chatter seem like whispers. How can something so small be so loud?

The exuberance is hard to miss; usually leading to laughter on my part. In Lita Judge's most recent title, Good Morning To ME! (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, May 5, 2015) a peppy parrot delights in announcing greetings.  Her voice has one volume---loud.

Early one morning in a little cottage,
Beatrix was wide AWAKE.

Everyone else was sound asleep.  You would expect anyone in this situation to be quiet.  Beatrix was not quiet.  Clear as a factory whistle at quitting time she exclaimed

"Good morning to me!"

She failed her attempt at whispering, startling her friend Mouse into wakefulness.  She pledged to be better.  Beatrix assured Mouse she would use her

indoor voice.  

This particular vow lasted mere seconds as she quickly but carefully left her perch to walk on the snoozing cat's tail.  With a squawk from the parrot Kitty jumped and gave chase.  Beatrix ran for her life thinking this was the best game ever.  Ah, oh.  Beatrix was in need of help.

It's Mouse to the rescue.  Whew!  Beatrix agreed to try harder but Gracie walked in the door.  Gracie, the resident canine, loved running and Beatrix was ready to ride.  After a wee bit of a disaster, the feathered busybody saw yet another being she loved.

This final hello proved to be more than the lively birdie could handle.  A nap is interrupted more than once.  Words of affection, no matter how ear-splittingly spoken, were a welcome close to the day.

Lita Judge has a way to put words together sending them straight to stored laughter in your heart.  The main character may be a parrot but the joy this bird finds daily will remind readers of them now or in the past.  Beatrix, like so many young readers, sees possibilities everywhere.

Judge captures the playful personality of Beatrix, the instinctive nature of Kitty, the resourcefulness of best friend Mouse and the faithfulness of Gracie perfectly in narrative, dialogue and expressed thoughts.  The contrast between the effervescence of Beatrix and the here-we-go-again demeanor of Mouse supplies lots of giggles.  Here is a sample passage.

Beatrix climbed down from her perch. 
"Watch me, Mouse."
"DAH...dut, DAH...dut, DAH...dut."

On her matching dust jacket and book case Lita Judge introduces readers to almost all the characters in this story.  The curious Kitty is thoughtfully set for a chase, Mouse is worriedly hanging on to Beatrix, Gracie wishes these critters would leave so she can take a nap and Beatrix is being her happy-go-lucky self. The pale golden circle providing the background for the text is replicated on the back as a canvas for Gracie running with Beatrix perched on her nose.

The pale blue stripped wallpaper in the cottage is used on both the opening and closing endpapers.  On each of the four pages are four framed portraits of a running Gracie, Beatrix perched on Kitty, and two of Beatrix and Mouse together.  Beneath the words on the title page, the parrot is sitting on her stand eyes closed at an open window with wooden shutters thrown back.  Ivy and flowers surround the opening.

Regardless of their size all of the illustrations rendered in watercolor and pencil are framed in a loose heavier black line. Judge shifts from a double page to a large image crossing the gutter on the left with a small one on the right, to two single page pictures to start her story.  Her panel sizes, some horizontal and some vertical, dictate the pace of the tale.  Her wordless storytelling is outstanding.

The full color used for Beatrix, Mouse, Kitty, and Gracie is placed on the soft blue of the inside of the cottage.  The crowning glory of her artwork is her attention to detail and the facial expressions on her characters.  Her eyes are full of emotion causing this reader to laugh-out-loud more than once.  When Mouse takes the top of the tea kettle to use it as a hat in many of the illustrations I can't stop smiling.

My favorite sequence of drawings covers two pages.  Mouse is first seen in a vertical column on the left thinking


In three stacked images in a column to the right, Gracie is asked for help.  This is followed by a third column on the right with a closer perspective of mouse on Gracie's nose pointing.  The full page visual on the right is...HILARIOUS.  I'm not going to tell you what it is.

May is National Pet Month in the United States.  Good Morning To ME! written and illustrated by Lita Judge would be a wonderful read aloud to bring readers' attention to what might happen in their homes when they are at work or school.  It's also a fantastic title to show different personalities and how they perceive each day.  I guarantee you are going to laugh every single time you read this book.  And you are going to be reading it repeatedly.

To discover more about Lita Judge and her other captivating and charming titles, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  She dedicates a full page to this title showing you the real Beatrix and Kitty.  She has graciously included many interior illustrations from this book.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


Dear Matthew,

You know I've been a fan of your work for years but when I first read Wish I knew I was holding an extraordinary book.  It was as if all the love you hold in your heart had been placed on those pages.  It addresses with compassion a timeless longing.

From conversations on Twitter after I posted my review, I knew many others, whether they are parents or not, have similar feelings about this book.  A discussion followed about making multiple copies of Wish available to more people.  At the time I suggested to Twitter followers they contact their local hospital foundations.

Two months later on April 30, 2015 I reached out to one of the board members of the Charlevoix Area Hospital Foundation.  When asked how many children were born each year at the hospital, she said there are two hundred.  At the end of our phone call, I knew I would be giving them copies of your book in memory of my mom. 

My mom instilled in me the belief that anything worth doing is worth doing right, so it became important to me that the books given to the newborns be signed by you.  I not only want to thank you for agreeing to autograph the books but for corresponding with me online.  To share your joy in this endeavor has been truly wonderful.

Through our mutual friend, John Schumacher, as you know, I was given a contact name at Anderson's Bookshop.  I am thankful for their assistance in ordering the books and coordinating the signing with you.  As the delivery date for the books gets closer I can feel the excitement growing.

A book plate will be placed inside each copy reading

Welcome to the world!
May this book be the first step on your journey
to becoming a lifelong reader.
It is given with love by Margaret Marie Myers Culver 
in memory of her mother, Agatha Marie Fires Myers,
 a woman who loved introducing the joy books can bring to children.

I have decided to wrap the books, Matthew, in white paper with a yellow ribbon tied around each one.  To me children, like this book, are a gift. 

At this time I am filled with overwhelming gratitude.  I am thankful to be able to give Wish to these children and their parents.  I am thankful for you, Matthew, for writing this book and for agreeing to sign the two hundred copies. I am thankful for all the people who are helping make this beautiful thing happen.  I am smiling on the inside and on the outside.

With love,

Dear Margie,

I am absolutely floored.
Backing up for just a minute… I remember the very moment I first discovered you and Librarian’s Quest. I’d happened upon your review of my book, Another Brother. It was the most perceptive, thoughtful, insightful, and pitch perfect write-up I’d seen. Every last nuance and subtle gag and hidden message I layered into that book—you found them one and all. I got chills. You know when you listen to the perfect song, or see the perfect movie, or (of course) read the most perfect book, and it sends a chill right over your whole entire self? That’s how I felt. And every review I’ve read of yours since has had a similar effect.
It’s obvious that you put so much of yourself and so much of your time and intricate thought into the things you want to say about the books you love. You give complete attention. You truly love what you love. And it’s all done for the sake of the book itself, which I very much admire.
As bitter as this may sound… so many times in today’s world, people throw terrific, outrageous things into the air that will never come into existence. Like, “every baby born at this hospital should receive a copy of your book on the day she/he is born.” It goes into the atmosphere, never to materialize and never to be heard from again. This thing was said, which sounded nice, and then it went away and I had no other thought about it. That was that. Then… out of nowhere, you came back and said that you would actually be making this incredibly generous notion into a reality. I was shocked. Shocked! But at the same time… I can honestly say, I wasn’t all that shocked. That it was coming from you. I still can’t believe it. And yet I can.
On behalf of myself, and on behalf of the tiniest new readers who will benefit from this, and on behalf of their moms and dads who will benefit too, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, Margie.
I am absolutely floored.

With love and admiration,


UPDATE:  Matthew wrote a blog post about our project on May 19, 2015.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Funky Follower

One animal given a wide berth by humans is a skunk.  If you have a dog, your vigilance is continually on high alert.  The slightest glimpse of a furry flash of black and white will send your heart racing.  A skunked dog is a miserable incident for everyone but the potent pest.  A peek in pantries of people with pooch pals should show baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and liquid dish soap at the ready, specifically for a deodorizing concoction.

Despite all precautions, these smelly critters have a way of appearing as if from thin air.  The Skunk (Roaring Brook Press, April 14, 2015), story by Mac Barnett, art by Patrick McDonnell, offers readers a preposterous possibility.  It will leave you with more questions than answers.

When I left my house there was a skunk on my doorstep.

Wait a minute!  Stop right there!  There's a skunk on your doorstep?  Not only is there a skunk on this fancily-attired man's porch but after edging past him with extreme caution, the skunk trails behind him on the sidewalk.

As they get closer to the city, the man is fairly certain the skunk is shadowing his every move.  Regardless of his speed or random turns, the skunk is persistently in pursuit.  In apparent desperation, the man inquires as to the skunk's intentions.

Obviously, he receives no reply.  But then again, how often do skunks follow in your footsteps?  Frustrated to the max, the man takes a taxi to his destination.  So does the skunk.  (Yes, you read this correctly.)

Upon his arrival at the opera house, the man takes extra measures.  Once inside he sighs with satisfaction, sure he has evaded the determined follower.  Guess who shows up on the head of the woman seated next to him?

Panic filling him from head to toe, the man runs from the performance.  There seems to be nowhere he can go without the skunk.  As a last resort he sinks into the sewer system.

Appearing above ground after some distance, the man makes a series of decisions.  The skunk seems to have made some choices too.  With great care, dressed in black and white, a creature moves through the night.

You have to wonder what triggered the idea for this book in the mind of Mac Barnett.  I seem to recall several close encounters his dog had with a skunk from posts on Twitter.  However it happened, readers will laughingly agree this book is like no other they've previously read.

Each sentence is an attentive phrase in a symphony of silliness building to a startling and remarkable conclusion.  Readers are up close and personal with the man due to the first person narration.  It's like reading an entry in a diary but the puzzle has missing pieces.  Here is the passage where Barnett sets readers up for a huge dose of hilarity.

Success! I bounded up the steps and took my seat.  I was relieved to find myself between a lady and a gray old officer.  But then of course skunks can't buy tickets to the opera! ...

When you open the dust jacket you are introduced to the color palette used by Patrick McDonnell throughout most of the book.  The similarities between the man and the skunk, the fur and red nose and the tuxedo with a red tie, accentuate the ridiculous situation in which the man finds himself.  On the back, to the left, a circle is set in a red background.  The man is running from the skunk.

Six large black and white stripes supply the canvas for the front and back of the book case.  A circle on the front repeats the illustration found on the jacket.  The opening and closing endpapers continue the black and white pattern with representations of the two characters respectively.  Above the red text on the title page, a zoological, textbook-type image of the skunk is shown.

McDonnell has provided page after page of gentle tension, comedy and surprise.  With the subtlest of shifts in the characters' eyes and through the use of body language we are taken into the moment.  Regardless of the landscape in which the characters appear, we first look at them.  All of the illustrations are single pages or several on one page.  Most are loosely framed by white space.

One of my favorite illustrations in this title is the first one.  The man is looking out his front door nose bent toward the nose of the skunk.  All we see is his face and stunned eyes behind his glasses.  Calmly looking up is the skunk seated on the porch.  There is the barest hint of the house siding with a blooming rose bush and grass along the bottom.  Ever time I see this, I laugh out loud.

When you finish reading The Skunk written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Patrick McDonnell, you can't help but read it again immediately.  You are seeking solutions.  This book is filled to the brim with possibilities.  This is a story leaving you wanting more.  It's up to you now.

I know you'll want to learn more about Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell and their work.  Please follow the links attached to their names to access websites.  To view interior images from the book, follow this link to the publisher's website. You will enjoy reading this recent interview with Mac Barnett at School Library Journal, Avant-Garde Children's Lit: Mac Barnett on "The Skunk" and Writing Picture Books.  TeachingBooks.net has numerous resources on Mac Barnett.
UPDATE:  Mac Barnett was interviewed at Bookish, Mac Barnet on Skunks, Good Art, and the Occupational Hazards of Writing for Children.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

By The Sea, By The Sea, By The Beautiful Sea

In exactly eleven days an official holiday will signal the unofficial beginning of summer.  Memorial Day weekend is when many individuals will meet with family and friends to travel to the nearest parks and lakes to enjoy a little rest and relaxation for the first time this year.  It's a time to reap the benefits of unhindered sunrises and sunsets, sand and hopefully some solitude.

For others living along one of the coasts, the days will bring about an entirely different kind of adventure.  Those large bodies of water hold mysteries within their depths.  You never know what might wash up along the shores.  In their newest undertaking Cordelia, her younger brother, his teddy bear companion, and her prehistoric pals, Rex, Alan, Rosemary and Clarence, whose delightful antics we've enjoyed in Tea Rex and Camp Rex, are headed for some seaside merriment.  Sea Rex (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), May 26, 2015) is sure to send you packing for your next excursion with a smile on your face.

READY for a carefree day of fun in the sun?
Gather your friends...

Upon arriving at the beach one must take precautions to fully appreciate all this trip has to offer, keeping safety in mind.  This might mean staying within eyesight of the life guard.  If you don't use the proper amount of sunscreen, the sun's rays will keep you uncomfortably warm for days.

Tiptoeing into the water is far too slow.  Go for the cannonball jump!  Watch out for those sudden colossal waves which are a surfer's delight but can create mayhem on the shore.  Everyone knows the sand along the sea reveals endless treasures.  Cordelia and company find seashells to be full of surprises; sharp, loud and gigantic.

When you flip open the lid on your picnic basket new friends will flock to your side.  In fact, they might get carried away (or carry someone away).  If you should race to the rescue, kindly observe the cardinal rules for swimming.  You simply never know what lurks beneath the surface.

This is a day for making memories or sand castles.  It's full of snoozing, floating and snacking.  It's best done with Rex and his roomies.

Charming as ever, like a guide from a bygone era, Molly Idle gives voice to an unseen speaker.  With each statement we are privy to numerous pieces of particular recommendations and several golden nuggets of life advice.  Key words add to the anticipation of searching for the discrepancy between the narrative and the images.  As soon as I read carefree I knew the opposite was going to be true on more than one occasion.  Our fearless formal friend seems to be the recipient of things gone awry which simply creates more fun for the reader.

Beginning with shades of blue on the front and back of the dust jacket (I'm working with an F & G), Molly Idle takes us to the water with its cool colors.  You can't help but rejoice in the playful nod by Idle to another classic cover of a swim at sea.  Readers familiar with the two previous titles will be as happy as Rex and Cordelia to see the two friends reunited.

In this title the crown over Rex is formed from anchors to maintain the theme.  Details like this spell excellence.  The red and white in SEA are those found in a life tube. The opening and closing endpapers contain similar elements but subtle changes point to the storyline; how we begin and finish.  A bug-eyed crab has been busy.

Rendered in Prismacolor pencils on vellum finish Bristol each illustration tells its own story starting with the title page; Cordelia, her brother and teddy bear dressed and ready for a trek to the seashore. With skill Idle supplies pacing in her picture sizes; alternating between small insets, framed single pages, two-page, edge to edge visuals and smaller framed pictures on a single page.  Idle's layout is impeccable.

Mood, motion and lots of humor are generated with facial features, body postures and intricate line work.  You can't help but laugh when you see the tiny sailor hat on the head and the teeny pail and shovel in the hands of Rex. Careful readers will see that even with a pail full of sunscreen one member of the crew seems to have acquired a rather unique sunburn.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a wordless double-page span of Rex, Cordelia, her brother, his teddy bear and a persistent seagull.  Rex is resting on his back, wearing a toothy grin, holding Cornelia's umbrella with the seagull on top over his face and his inner tube's face.  Cordelia's brother is sleeping on Rex's stomach.  The teddy bear is perched on Rex's curled tail peering over the side.  Cordelia is stretched on her beach towel, her hand holding a spot in her book, as she looks up at Rex.  She is definitely wondering why her umbrella has been moved.

Whether you have read the companion titles or not, you are going to thoroughly enjoy Sea Rex written and illustrated with mastery by Molly Idle.  Each character will charm you as the contrast between the text and images depicts one moment of comedy after another.  At the conclusion you will want to give each one a hug after you have walked to the beach to sit beside them.  This book is meant to be shared.

For more information about Molly Idle and her other titles please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  This interview at Andrea Skyberg|Author & Artist gives us a tour of Molly Idle's studio.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Into The Night

In the month of March 1872 by an act of Congress, our first national park was established in the territories of Montana and Wyoming.  Today Yellowstone National Park is one of more than 400 national parks. This year in October the third established national park will celebrate its 125th anniversary.  Portions of this California landscape were already protected under the Yosemite Grant Act of 1864.  Through the efforts of a champion for maintaining our nation's natural wonders Yosemite National Park was created.

This advocate, John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, devoted his adult life to the study and preservation of wilderness.  Through his personal accounts and published writing others, even today, can know of the grandeur to be found.  In John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall (Charlesbridge, March 10, 2015) written by Julie Danneberg with illustrations by Jamie Hogan our focus is drawn to one particular unforgettable evening.

From the sawmill on the creek, John Muir has a perfect view of the springtime waterfall



           CAREENING wildly over the side of the mountain.

For two years John lived near the waterfall in the Yosemite Valley.  He built a cabin where he slept in a hammock over running water. Eventually he lived in a sawmill, keeping his collected works in a special balcony-like room.  

One night he longed for more than watching the waterfall from its base.  An avid climber he moved along the mountain walls with skill.  He was close enough to the falls to feel the mist from the racing water.   

Ever the adventurer he sought a way to bring himself nearer.  He located a ledge, flattened himself against the rock and moved slowly until he could put his hand in the water. When a stiff wind lifted the water away from the ledge and wall, John took advantage of this opportunity.

Behind the watery curtain he could see the moon.  The sound must have been like standing in the center of a percussion section during the 1812 Overture.  At a moment when his senses sang with joy, the breeze calmed.  

John now found himself in a dangerous position.  The full force of the falls struck every inch of his body as he waited and waited.  Patiently, slowly as a snail, a destination was reached.  

Painstaking research is evident in the presentation Julie Danneberg delivers to her readers.  On the left side of each two pages the story, poetic at times, provides a sensory understanding of this event.  In the lower corner on the right or left factual descriptive paragraphs about John Muir's lifestyle supply a more complete picture of the man.  Here is the paragraph placed with the words portraying him touching the falls on the ledge.

Throughout his life Muir recorded thoughts, adventures, scientific observations, and drawings of plants and mountains in his journal, which he carried, along with a magnifying glass, attached to his belt.  He was a prolific writer, and the material for his published writing often came directly from his journals.  

In opening the matching dust jacket and book case readers get a true sense of the size of the falls at Yosemite in comparison to Muir standing on the ledge.  To the left, on the back, an oval portrait of Muir is depicted above his words

Two evenings ago I climbed the mountain to the foot of the upper Yosemite Falls...

A lighter shade of the blue background on the jacket and case is used for the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page Muir is standing in a meadow looking across the river toward the mountains of Yosemite.  The first of fourteen two page illustrations rendered in Prismacolor and pastel pencil on Canson Mi-Teintes paper is a closer perspective of the title page including the publication information on the left. The texture supplied by Hogan's medium mirrors that found in a journal.  

Jamie Hogan alters the image viewpoint to give readers a true sense of being in the moment with Muir.  Her close-ups of his facial features disclose his emotions completely.  Details found in her visuals depict authenticity with every line.   

One of my favorite illustrations is of John Muir looking through the falls from the ledge after the wind has blown the water away from the wall. The reflection in his eyes, the set of his mouth and position of his hat depict barely contained awe at the sight.  On either side of his face white water splashes past.  This is an instant of pure joy.

After reading John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall written by Julie Danneberg with illustrations by Jamie Hogan readers will come away with even more appreciation for the work of this iconic figure in the field of conservation and environmentalism.  His accomplishments have left a profound mark on our natural world and national parks.  In reading this title we not only learn more about the man, but perhaps we can challenge ourselves to be better observers and caretakers.  At the conclusion is a two page note offering more about John Muir.  On the final page are Learn More websites, Books About John Muir and Citations.

To learn more about Julie Danneberg and Jamie Hogan please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Knowing about the author and illustrator enriches the reading of their work.  By following this link to the publisher's website you can view another of my favorite images from the interior of the book.   

To view the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.