Quote of the Month

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

Friday, July 31, 2015

Points Of View

The first noise heard is the glee-filled yells of the children.  Then the familiar scents of fried foods, the sweetness of cotton candy and the tartness of home-made lemonade drift toward you on the sultry summer air.  You will pick up the calls of the barkers tempting you to try whatever challenge or oddity their booth offers. In the distance the roar of racing cars resonates.  Depending where you wander the faint whiff of barnyard odors and the soft sounds of animal conversations might float to your nose and ears.

For one hundred sixty-one years the Ingham County Fair in Mason, Michigan has welcomed visitors.  Having attended numerous times as a child and later as a chaperone for children, the excitement has never faded.  County fairs and their larger counterpart, state fairs (Michigan State Fair) celebrate the end of the summer and the accomplishments of many individuals.  In Billy and Goat At The State Fair (Alfred A. Knopf, June 30, 2015) written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino a friendship is challenged.

Billy and Goat were
the best of friends.

They were not best friends because they shared the same interests.  In fact if the phrase opposites attract were illustrated in a dictionary, portraits of Billy and Goat would be featured.

Billy liked to fix the tractor,
and Goat like to ride it.

It's safe to say, Billy's idea of fun was to read about it but Goat would rather be doing it.  In a search for excitement Goat found exactly what he wanted.  He made sure Billy knew about it too.  A huge billboard was being hung announcing the state fair.

Part of the sign announced a Best-Goat Competition.  Billy was thrilled.  Goat could hardly wait to attend.  When they arrived at the fair Billy could not believe how enormous it was.  It was intimidating.  Goat wanted the truck to stop immediately.

When the livestock tent was located Billy felt relief.  Goat decided to get free and see the sights.  It seemed like wherever Billy looked Goat was one step ahead.  Nearly in a panic Billy finally found his friend....on a gigantic float in the parade.  Truth be told, Billy was enjoying this as much as Goat was.  The rest of the day and into the night the two friends were inseparable.  Did someone say roller coaster?

Dan Yaccarino announces with his first sentence about the strength of the relationship between Billy and Goat.  He then proceeds to tell us more about their likes and dislikes defining their personality types.  Ever so slightly Yaccarino begins to set us up for the fairground chase when we realize each one is excited to attend the fair for entirely different reasons.  Billy wants calm and the competition and Goat wants wild exploration.  Here are two sample sentences.

They shared corn dogs.
(Goat thought the sticks
were delicious.)

On the matching dust jacket and book case Dan Yaccarino, in a back to front, edge to edge, illustration introduces us to Billy and Goat against the backdrop of the state fair.  We can already see how their relationship works.  Billy is looking straight at the reader, proud as punch with his ice cream cone.  He seems to have forgotten Goat will tend to do the opposite of what Billy expects.  Notice how the use of limited color in the background makes Billy and Goat stand out from the general hubbub.

An idyllic pastoral scene with the barn, farmhouse and Billy carrying a book with Goat following behind spans the entire opening and closing endpapers.  When we turn to the title page, an open- mouthed Billy is chasing that scamp Goat running away with Billy's book.  In the first part of the narrative, when Yaccarino wants us to pause we are greeted with a two-page image for emphasis.  As he makes a comparison or wants to show the passage of time, smaller illustrations will be grouped together.  During the chase he shifts to single page illustrations and two pictures to a page to create more tension.

With curved lines and dots, Yaccarino has the adept ability to convey on their faces the exact moods of Billy and Goat.  Rendered in brush and ink on vellum and Adobe Photoshop, simple elements work in combination to depict more intimate moments in contrast to larger expanses at the fair.  Yaccarino works humor into his story best during the chase.

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages on a background of white.  Silhouettes in purple of Billy and Goat begin to wind their way on a dotted path through the fairgrounds past the merry-go-round, the Ferris wheel, floral and vegetable exhibits, a pie-eating contest, games, a maze and other rides until they find the livestock tent.  It gives an overview of the state fair but also offers sneak peeks at places figuring into the tale later.

Hand this book, Billy And Goat At The State Fair written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, to those looking for a way to open a conversation about events during the summer, to those wanting to see how opposite personalities can work to benefit a friendship and to those who enjoy laughing.  Readers can appreciate the use of a conjunction to separate a term but connect two characters in companionship.  How can you look at the front dust jacket and book case and not smile?

To learn more about Dan Yaccarino please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the publisher's page for this title you can see interior views.  This book is reviewed by teacher librarian Travis Jonker on his blog, 100 Scope Notes.

The Laughter Side of Life

For several summers days were spent in anticipation of a sighting.  Plans were made to work or read in front of the cottage so the dock on the river was never out of view.  Whenever she (could have been a he) was spotted spirits were immediately lifted.

There was playfulness in every movement.  This otter of the river enjoyed having an audience.  I could have watched for hours.  On April 29, 2014 author illustrator Sam Garton sent I Am Otter (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) into the world.

HI!  I am Otter.
No one really knows where I came
from.  Otter Keeper says that he found
me in a box on his doorstep one day.

As is the case with most youngsters Otter is small and slightly frightened of Otter Keeper but this is soon remedied with the formation of a fast friendship.  Teddy, courtesy of Otter Keeper, becomes of member of the household.  The trio has loads of fun together, particularly on Saturday and Sunday.

When Mondays roll around Otter performs every trick in the book to ensure Otter Keeper stays to play instead of going to work.  Constantly on the move and thinking Otter decides he and Teddy need a job too.  They are going to open a toast restaurant.

Soon it is plain to see this business has problems which are obviously Teddy's fault.  Reservations, the cost of toast and incorrect orders lead to customer complaints which in turn lead to customers being forced to leave.  Teddy is out of a job and Giraffe is the new chef.

As if Otter does not have enough worries, Otter Keeper comes home.  Getting everyone out of sight is highly difficult.  There is no time to clean up the mess.  Hide!

Unfortunately Otter Keeper finds Otter, orders a tidying up session and requires all the guests to be returned to their proper places.  In his defense Otter places the blame for this disaster on Teddy.  Where IS Teddy?  Oh, no!  There is no time to rest, Teddy must be found.  A sleepless night tells a tale with more than one ending.

Sam Garton must be part otter as his narrative clearly depicts the frisky nature of these charming creatures.  In the character of Otter we see an inventive personality with endless energy.  By having the story told from Otter's point of view, humor builds as the story progresses.  The disparity between the words and images are sure to generate multiple laugh-out-loud moments.

Digitally created using Adobe Photoshop all the illustrations, beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case, radiate the exuberance of Otter.  We know Otter will be cooking with his pals.  The tie hanging on the "O" signifies his stint as restaurateur.  The pale yellow background draws our attention to the vibrant full color palette.  On the back, to the left, we see other companions, toys, of Otter's along with a sign reading

open ----->

The blue on Giraffe becomes the background color for the opening and closing endpapers (foreshadowing?).  On the title page Garton begins the story with a box left on the doorstep of Otter Keeper's home.  A crisp white is the canvas for all of the images.

The size of the visuals is a reflection of the text.  They are placed on single pages, two, three, or five to a page, toward the bottom, off to the left or right or for emphasis across two pages, edge to edge.  They are in direct contrast to and enhance the narrative.

Every single detail, of which there are many, heightens the hilarity; Otter wearing a helmet while drive a motorized car with Teddy as a passenger, Otter wearing glasses and a party hat singing karaoke, or Otter throwing Otter Keeper's clock in the goldfish bowl to stop time.   Otter's expressions especially when interacting with the inanimate toys are laughter-inducing.

One of many favorite illustrations is for the phrase

Some of the customers
complained and had to be
asked to leave the restaurant.

We see a window on the outside of Otter Keeper's home open.  Two clay pots are on the sill.  A garbage can, overflowing, is beneath the window along with a broom.  Toys are being tossed out of the window.

This year on May 5th, the second book in the series Otter in Space (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) was released to readers.  An outing with Otter Keeper and Teddy does not end with the return home.  Ever creative Otter is ready for a new adventure.

On Sunday, Otter Keeper took me
and Teddy to the museum.
The museum is the best place ever!

A dinosaur skeleton, a large life-like bear, classic artwork and artifacts are all intriguing but the section dedicated to space is Otter's favorite place.  Interactive exhibits are a treat for this on-the-move otter.  At the gift shop an armload of goodies to take home is reduced to a single item by Otter Keeper. The toy space ship is nifty but what's a rocket without a moon rock.

On Monday, Otter, Teddy and Giraffe all agree a moon rock is needed.  Otter thinks and thinks and thinks some more.  Like a blast into outer space, the perfect plan pops into Otter's head.  Teddy and Otter are going to get a moon rock from the moon.

A list of necessary steps is made and followed.  Space suits are fashioned and training is started.  Teddy is having a hard time with keeping the gear on and problem solving but does a smashing job with antigravity (washing machine).  It seems Giraffe is selected to be mission control.

Totally focused and clearly task-oriented Otter builds a spaceship destined to land on the moon or the nearby slide.  The results of the journey are not as expected but our fearless astronaut is not to be deterred.  A moon rock must be secured for the return to Earth.  Otter Keeper in none too happy about this newest discovery but Otter always has a plan.  You'll be triply surprised.

The way the mind of Otter works through the words of Sam Garton is a constant source of comedy.  His viewpoint appreciates the wonder found in everyday things; things others take for granted.  The simple sentence structure will appeal to younger readers (and those fortunate enough to read these aloud).  Here are a couple of sentences.

We saw a huge dinosaur skeleton
and met Teddy's cousin.
We looked at old paintings,
made before crayons were invented.
In a museum, even boring things
become interesting if they are
old enough.

Like the title text on the first book, when you run your fingers over it, you will feel the raised letters.  The shaded blue sky on the matching dust jacket and book case signify a journey in the making.  The attire worn by Otter, Teddy and Giraffe will certainly create smiles and questions.  To the left, on the back, Otter is reading a book titled Outer Space to Teddy as they sit on a hill.  The hue in the word Otter is used as the color for the opening and closing endpapers.

Beneath the title page text, we see Otter's backpack, the toy space ship, crayons, a museum guide and Teddy's backpack.  A charming two-page picture, for the verso and first page, features the museum, surrounding trees and decorated enclosure with Otter Keeper, Otter and Teddy standing in front ready to begin their tour.  Rendered in Adobe Photoshop the placement and size of the images supply pacing to complement and enhance the story.

As in the first title, Otter and Teddy wear attire as if they are small children.  When traveling in the car, Otter has a car seat and Teddy is securely fastened in a seat belt.  This will delight readers of all ages.  Another source of smiles is the writing of Otter.  Words are spelled as they sound but not necessarily correctly.

There are so many illustrations I adore in this title (as in the first one) but one of my favorites is of Otter and Teddy taking a lunch break before making the space suits.  The two are seated together on the floor.  Teddy is propped against the toy space ship with Otter feeding him strawberry jam with a spoon.  Otter is eating slices of toast and snacks while reading a comic book...upside down.  His water cup with a straw is close at paw.

Get ready for giggles and grins when reading I Am Otter and Otter in Space written and illustrated by Sam Garton.  A singular point of view and an ingenious spirit will endear readers to the character of Otter.  Hand these books to readers who love to laugh; life is too short not to enjoy it in the same spirit as this charming creation of Sam Garton.  Otter Loves Halloween hit shelves in book shops on July 21, 2015.  I can hardly wait to get a copy.

To learn more about Sam Garton and his work, please visit his website by following the link attached to this name.  There are two websites dedicated to Otter, I Am Otter, an updated blog and I Am Otter from the publisher. 

Enjoy this video about Sam Garton and some of the gathered tweets from Twitter. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Meteorological Moments

For those whose livelihood depends on the weather; farmers, fishermen, builders of bridges, roadways and homes, or airlines, railroads and other forms of transportation (to name a few) accurate forecasts are vital.  Some rely on generations of folklore, observations of the natural world, to predict daily, weekly, seasonal or yearly shifts in patterns.  The National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, depends on the expertise of climatologists and meteorologists, highly technical equipment and computer programming in order to provide the best, most up-to-date and extended weather information.

Having lost count of the number of times

Red sky at night, sailor's delight
Red sky in morning, sailor's warning

has been uttered in my presence and having witnessed the veracity of this lore, I've often wondered if there is a scientific basis for these occurrences.  Author Kathleen V. Kudlinski and illustrator Sebastia Serra answer this question among many others in Boy, Were We Wrong About the Weather! (Dial Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, July 7, 2015).   Let's go back to 1500 B.C.

Long, long ago, before people knew anything about the weather, even mighty Sumerian warriors were frightened by wild storms. 

They were certain their weather god, Enlil, was in a bad mood.  It was thought dancing might make him happier.  Today there is a scientific explanation for lightning and thunder involving jumping water droplets inside a cloud.  Spanish explorers took home the beliefs of the Taino Indians as to the cause of the killer storms they encountered.  If only those who ridiculed their frightening tales knew the truth of hurricanes.

A learned scholar in Greece taught the four elements, earth, air, wind and fire, as the cause of weather.  Now we know the sun, land forms, natural disasters and human transformation of the land figure prominently in forecasting.  You will be surprised to know how he did play a part in naming the science of weather.

Not dragonflies but water and dust can foretell a storm.  A drop in air pressure, indicating a shift in weather, measured by a barometer works best.  The ancient belief of the weather being generated all the way to the stars we now know to be untrue.  Our atmosphere only goes so high.

Climate changes have happened over the course of thousands of years in the past.  Today, people's lifestyle choices are speeding up the process at an alarming rate.  Global warming is generating uncommon weather worldwide.  Scientists will continue to collect, monitor and dispense gathered data to understand weather.

By presenting weather first in a historical context, Kathleen V. Kudlinski sets the stage for using her title phrase as a connection to disclosing the truth as we know it today.  She seeks to introduce the most interesting points about the past and explanations of the present.  Of particular interest is her opening the discussion about current climate change and global warming in light of those events in the past. Her sentences are conversational and easily understood by the intended audience. Here is another sample passage.

People have never liked being surprised by the weather.  So they searched for ways to predict it in advance.  The ancient Chinese thought that if a dragonfly was seen flying up and down instead of sideways, it meant rain was coming.
Boy, were they wrong! 

Rendered in pencil and computer graphics Sebastia Serra begins our weather journey by combining the past with the present on the matching dust jacket and book case.  This illustration crosses the spine to continue on the back to the left.  It's a wild storm with funneling winds off the coast of a community from the past.  As then yields to now, the wild weather gives way to a sunny day.  The prominent shade of blue on the jacket and case is used on both the opening and closing endpapers.  The barometer held by the girl on the front is shown in better detail on the title page.

With a page turn Serra takes readers through the four seasons on the verso and dedication pages.  As on the jacket and case his use of vibrant colors with animated characters, human and animal, supplies us with lively images.  Most of his visuals cover two pages.  At times he chooses to place a smaller picture within the larger whole.  There are some single page pictures, edge to edge or framed in white, assisting readers in pausing during the narrative.

His images are brimming with details creating entire worlds or a specific moment, altering our perspective as the text dictates.  Your eyes go to the image, read the text, and then go back to examine the story told in the illustration.  Humor appears when you least expect it.

One of my favorite pictures is of the classroom engaged in listening to a presentation about the water cycle.  The arrangement of the desks, the decor, the diversity of the students and the blend of a chalk board with a computer screen is in sync with the text.  The student with a stop watch, timing the seconds between lightning and thunder during the storm, shows a high level of interest.  This classroom exemplifies the entire book, lively and informative.

Boy, Were We Wrong About the Weather! written by Kathleen V. Kudlinski with illustrations by Sebastia Serra is a science book with high appeal to all readers.  Everyone who reads this will leave knowing something new.  It entertains, explains and invites us to explore more about our weather and climate.  At the conclusion of the book a time line is listed along with two websites for gathering more information.

To become acquainted with Kathleen V. Kudlinski and Sebastia Serra please follow the links embedded in their names to access their respective websites.

I truly enjoy adding my blog post to the list of others at Kid Lit Frenzy each week.  I continue to be thankful to educator Alyson Beecher for hosting the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  Make sure you check out some of the other titles.  There are some outstanding recommendations this week.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tempest Endurance

For every moment of our lives together Xena has been my barometer.  If a weather change is coming her behavior is directly affected.  As she ages her movements are slower when a front is on its way.  Her nose will lift skyward as if she can smell the shift.

If bird song dies away you can be sure a storm is advancing.  A light breeze will still as the air gets heavy.  Over in the Wetlands:  A Hurricane-on-the-Bayou Story (Schwartz & Wade Books, July 14, 2015)  written by Caroline Starr Rose with illustrations by Rob Dunlavey takes readers on a striking tour of a vital ecosystem.

Over in the wetlands
where the silky mist weaves,
Dragonfly lights on a slender reed.

By all appearances everything is well in the bayou but the wind softly speaks otherwise.  As the speed ever so slightly increases a crab family moves.  Varieties of birds continue to feed in shallow water but the ripples have become waves.

A mother gator carries five babies toward a hidden hole.  As clouds move toward the wetlands so do fish seeking safety in deeper water.  A hurricane is approaching landfall as winds grow wild.

Turtles scramble toward security.  Graceful egrets lean low in shelters of green.  It's as dark as night within the blowing trees.  They and the wind, an eerie orchestra, create a haunting melody.  It seems as if this fierceness will go on without end.

The harsh hurricane finally fades.  Mothers and babies play, glide, bask and settle as sunset red colors the now still waters.  As stars shine and reflect Dragonfly glides.

With every reading the writing of Caroline Starr Rose takes us deeper and deeper into the Louisiana wetlands teeming with flora and fauna.  Her word combinations are a true sensory experience.  If we close our eyes and listen to her narrative we are transported.  As the storm intensifies we are acutely aware of an ever-growing tension due to the shift in her sentence structure.  Her use of punctuation creates a nearly musical rhythm of life before, during and after the hurricane.  Here is another sample passage.

Wind-whipped waves
smash up debris.
Turtles swim for safer seas.
Dark clouds snarl, press down the skies.
The hurricane grumbles,
the hurricane writhes.

Portions of interior illustrations are placed on the front and back of the matching dust jacket and book case.  Each, the egrets and the diving fish, portray a growing sense of unease in the wildlife.  Their movements are indicative of the impending storm.  Shades of teal and wetland green are used on the opening and closing endpapers.  Tiny, almost imperceptible, wavy lines stretch across both, row after row.  It's an interesting texture much like the changing water of the bayou area.

A paler, muted shade of green supplies the canvas for the verso and title page.  A narrow oval picture of the bayou and Dragonfly is placed between the text on the right.

Rendered in watercolor ink, pencil, paint, collage, and Adobe Photoshop  

the images span edge to edge across two pages.  Rob Dunlavey heightens the words of Caroline Starr Rose.

We feel the humidity, feel the changing air, hear the crabs crawl, hear the splash as pelicans dive, gaze in wonder at mothers and babies, watch the shifting sky colors and clouds, and hear the roar of the hurricane as it wages a windy war on the wetlands.  Varied perspectives bring us near to the animals or depict the vastness of the area.  A blend of fine, flowing lines, hues prominent in the region in all kinds of weather and naturalist-like details on the animals and plants draw readers to Louisiana.

One of my favorite pictures is the first one.  Against the backdrop of the trees, water, reeds and leaves of the bayou we zoom in on Dragonfly resting.  One wing is dipped to make ripples on the otherwise smooth surface.  It is most definitely the calm before the storm.

Over in the Wetlands:  A Hurricane-on-the-Bayou Story written by Caroline Starr Rose with illustrations by Rob Dunlavey is a breathtaking look at a habitat probably not known by others except those living near to the area.  It's a tribute to the strength and adaptablility of both the flora and fauna.  It's a plea for preservation.  At the end an Author's Note further explains the wetlands of Louisiana including five websites for more research.  On the opposite page more information is given about the highlighted animals.

To learn more about Caroline Starr Rose and Rob Dunlavey please visit their websites by following the links embedded in their names.  They both have an online presence in other venues.  At the publisher's website you can view more interior illustrations.  When I read Caroline Starr Rose's post at Nerdy Book Club  today about this book, I knew I had to write a post.  A four-page printable discussion guide is located here.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Attitude Adaptation

Some days are harder than others; they are out-and-out challenging.  You are so down; it's hard to see up.  It's been purposed repeatedly developing an attitude of gratitude makes all the difference even if the silver lining you find is the tiniest of slivers.

Anticipation and expectations can also figure into our perceptions of any given moment.  It's tough when you go into a situation believing it will be one way and everything is seemingly contrary to your assumptions.  Birthday parties are supposed to be fun for everyone.  A kitty in Bernice Gets Carried Away (Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, July 14, 2015) written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison (Extraordinary Jane, February 6, 2014) is struggling with her current state of affairs.

It was a horrible, dreary day, and it suited Bernice's mood just fine.

Bernice and a group of friends are attending a birthday party.  Adorned in party hats the animals are chatting and waiting for the pieces of cake to be passed to them.  Bernice is the only one to get a piece without a frosted decoration. Humph!

The other six partygoers manage to snag a frosty drink but not Bernice.  She gets an odd flavor and it's definitely not cold.  When pinata time rolls around our increasingly frustrated cat is on the outside looking at the all the goodies gained by the others.  Double humph!

In a determined move, Bernice races toward as a bunch of balloons on strings being carried toward the celebrating creatures.  In a shocking turn of events, after she grabs them all, she is lifted higher, higher and higher.  Before she even has time to think, the balloons are stuck on the grumpy cloud threatening to rain.

As she looks down at everyone looking up and then looks up, her point of view, now a bird's eye view, transforms her thinking and heart.  Slowly but surely Bernice makes one choice after another choice.  Her actions cause a reaction in the bear, rabbit, fox, pig, goose and turtle.  Enlightening!

Using the storytelling technique of three, Hannah E. Harrison creates a rhythm in her narrative.  Bernice dislikes three incidents during the party before she takes action.  She completes three acts of kindness before another major turn toward the conclusion.  As readers we know something is coming but we're not quite sure what will happen.

Readers can see themselves on their worst days in the character of Bernice.  Each disappointment deepens her grouchy mood.  I find it interesting that rather than continuing to pout or stomping off in a snit, Bernice makes a daring decision.

Although Bernice, paws on hips and scowling, is looking rather cranky on the matching dust jacket and book case, readers might feel compelled to smile or laugh because they are well aware of feeling the same way.  Her expression coupled with the title also raises at least one question.  What is Bernice going to do?  The choice of words opens up more than one possibility.  To the left, on the back, we are given a sneak peek at the resolution with a new illustration. The opening and closing endpapers are in the same shade as the title text on the front.

On the title page Hannah E. Harrison begins her story with a row of animals carrying gifts to the party.  Bernice, happy at the moment, brings up the rear.  Their bright colorful clothing and cheerfully wrapped packages herald a joyful beginning.  Everything changes with a page turn.

The verso and first page showcase a gloomy day.  Bernice, arms crossed, is pouting beneath a tree.  The others are chatting near the table.  Careful readers will see the hint as to the reason for the bluebird's sadness.  All the illustrations, rendered in acrylic paint on Bristol board, are rich in detail; the cranky squirrel living in the tree, the signs around his hole, his artificial turf and lawn ornament, are sure to supply laughter.

The facial looks on all the animals' faces along with their body movements but especially those of Bernice convey every mood.  The background scenes also mirror the emotional temperament of the cat.  They are glorious.  Harrison alters her image sizes from two pages, to single pages edge to edge or framed in white and singular illustrations on a background of pure white.

One of my favorite pictures is a single page image, edge to edge.  All of the guests and the birthday bear are seated around the table.  Everyone has received a piece of cake with an icing rose.  Bernice's eyes are alight with anticipation.  Each rose is a different color coordinating with the hues on the party hats and clothing worn by the animals.   You can almost hear the eager chatter.  It's a sharp contrast to the weather and the next picture.

Written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison Bernice Gets Carried Away will have readers laughing at the disparity between her experiences and those of the other birthday party participants.  Through words and pictures we come to understand how lessening one's load can bring joy to others.  Unexpected glee is highly contagious.

To discover more about Hannah E. Harrison and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website they share the title page illustration.  Hannah E. Harrison is interviewed at Picture Book Builders by children's book author, Tammi Sauer. Update:  Penguin posted this brand new video on Twitter today (July 30, 2015).  Enjoy.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Finding Your Place

If you were to ask a group of children what they do best, their answers will span a broad spectrum, some understandably typical, others refreshingly original.  Continuing the conversation I wonder what one thing they will see themselves doing as adults.  What will be their occupation?  What will they dedicate their lives to doing?

It is not easy to discover your talent.  When you search your mind and heart, you need to listen closely so the voice of your gift can be heard.  Once you understand this, where will you go, what can you do or who will you help?  Ellie (Disney Hyperion, May 12, 2015) written and illustrated by debut picture book author illustrator Mike Wu is about a zoo, the animals making their home there and an elephant longing to make a discovery.

On a bright winter day, when Ellie was just finishing her lunch, the zookeeper came by with an announcement.  

The news was not good, not good at all.  The zoo, the place where the animals lived, was closing.  Ellie and her friends needed a plan.

Gerard, the gorilla, suggested they make the zoo look a little more presentable.  Lucy, the giraffe, began by shaping the trees.  This made for a tasty lunch too.  Gerard flexed his muscles, moving rocks.  Even the monkeys got in on the action by cleaning.  Ellie was small as elephants go.  What could she do?

She thought Walt, the zookeeper, might have an answer but he was hard at work.  Momentarily called away, Walt left the tool he was using for his job.  Ellie picked it up.

When Walt came back, he took one look at Ellie's work and ran.  Oh, oh!  What had she done?  Pulling a wagon loaded with cans of paint, Walt returned grinning from ear to ear.

Soon Ellie's efforts were adding color where there had been none.  Her creativity sparked a demand for portraits and paintings.  People from everywhere gathered at the zoo.  Ellie found her savvy using it exactly where it was needed for those most important to her.

Using a blend of narrative and dialogue Mike Wu reaches out a hand for us to hold as he takes us on a tour of the zoo and Ellie's life there.  Ellie's gentle soul shines on every page.  Readers can sense a quiet tension building through Wu's words choices.  It makes Ellie's discovery more heartwarming.  Here is another sample passage.

"I'll prune the trees,"
Lucy said, nibbling a leaf.
"If only my trunk were longer!" said Ellie.
"I'll move this rock," Gerard
huffed, clearing it off the path.
"If only my muscles 
were bigger!" said Ellie. 

Ellie's creative potential is showcased on the front and back of the dust jacket.  By all the paint splatters on the ground, canvas and Ellie we know she has been busy.  To the left the image is reversed showing us the back of Ellie and what she has painted.  She is most excellent at capturing a true likeness of her friends.  Upon removing the dust jacket readers will see the different colored spine.  It's gone from orange to sky blue.  Splashes of paint cover both sides in hues of green, blue, orange and pink.

Mike Wu has included the opening and closing endpapers in his narrative, a visual beginning and ending.  Each depicts the entrance and wall surrounding the zoo.  They do convey totally different perspectives.  The verso to the left of the title page is a city skyline at dusk.

Each image has a classic, retro design.  Rendered in watercolor the delicate line work supplies the right emotional impact at the right time.  Small details reflect the personalities of the characters, Ellie's large eyes, Gerald wearing glasses and reading a book, and Lucy's advantageous height.  Walt, the zookeeper, is pencil thin; a man on the move with a mission.

White space is used to excellent advantage no matter the size of the picture.  It frames and defines the elements.  It also acts as an agent to change.  As Ellie's skill grows the whiteness is replaced with a more colorful background.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Walt returns pulling the wagon stacked with paint cans.  When Ellie, her feet spattered in paint, sees him her eyes light up and a smile spreads across her face.  Walt is nearly running on air, eyes closed, smiling, and carrying an extra can of paint.  This exhibits a colorful shift in the story.

Hand Ellie written and illustrated by Mike Wu to anyone who enjoys an uplifting tale.  It speaks to each person and the path leading to knowing what we will love to do with all our heart.  We are reminded of the individual talent(s) we hold within ourselves.

To learn more about Mike Wu, his work and other endeavors please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  His children's clothing line is adorable.  (Xena thinks I should get the Woof t-shirt.  I tried to tell her I left the toddler stage ages ago.)  Teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher interview Mike Wu on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Ellie is featured at author, teacher librarian and blogger Carter Higgins' site, Design Of The Picture Book. Mike Wu is interviewed about this book at Geek Dad.  The book trailer is available at all three sites.  In a word, it's precious.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Triumphant Twenty-Six

You can see it on their faces; the joy felt in the mastery of the alphabet song.  When you say the first letter attached to the well-known first note, children begin singing immediately.  Once learned it's a tune available in our memory banks for instant recall.

These twenty-six symbols represent more than we can imagine.  They are the keys to locks on doors not yet made. Author illustrator Tad Hills (How Rocket Learned to Read, Schwartz & Wade, July 27, 2010 and Rocket Writes a Story, Schwartz & Wade, July 24, 2012) has recently released another delightful treat in R is for Rocket: an ABC book (Schwartz & Wade, July 7, 2015).  Rocket, his pals and a character from other Tad Hills' books don't want to miss telling readers about the astonishing alphabet.

Rocket and his friends have fun learning the alphabet.

Rocket finds acorns.

Owl draws an angry alligator.

Readers will see Bella with a familiar ball.  Owl knows how crows crave collectibles.  Emma enthusiastically digs and discovers an egg-cellent object.  Why is Fred in the field at night?

Gathered in conversation, the group fails to notice someone in the grass.  What does attire for heads and green items have in common?  You'll have to ask Bella and Rocket.  Owl is jazzed about kindly winds.

Rocket enjoys reading a lovely note as an insect leans near to hear.  Fred meets a friend.  Owl needs seaside encouragement and Bella gears up for the occasion.  It only makes sense to have Rocket and Owl partnering to be productive.

Shhh... our nighttime frequent flier is not quitting but recovering in the silence of the day.  Two terrapins travel toward a talented bird.  Someone needs the ultimate weather protection.

As the end nears the duo, Rocket and Bella, take action and ask a question.  Notes from a musical instrument ring out in the woods as Yellow Bird offers an opinion.  Readers agree, from a to z, these animals are as busy as the proverbial bee; you'll see.

Using one, two or three statements, a question or a conversational observation Tad Hills introduces the letters of the alphabet and reinforces their use.  His use of alliteration makes the sentences fun to read aloud.  I enjoy new words for younger readers like frolics, prefers, zest or zeal.  In conjunction with the other words, their meaning will be easy to decipher.  Here are two more sentences.

Rocket finds a hat on a hill and puts it on his head.
It makes him happy. 

When readers look at the matching dust jacket and book case, they will find comfort in the return of beloved characters.  A willingness to work together is unmistakable in their presentation of the title.  On the back, to the left, Rocket sits alone on a hill with a hat on his head. When unfolding the jacket, readers are in for a surprise, a Rocket-style surprise.  The color used for the Rocket text on the jacket and case is the background hue for the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, the tiny but tremendous teacher, chalk in hand, gazes at a chalkboard filled with upper and lower case letters of the alphabet placed on an easel in the meadow.

In all kinds of weather, day or night, the setting is the familiar woods and fields frequented by Rocket and his companions.  Rendered in oil paint, acrylic, and colored pencil Tad Hills continues to create characters you wish you could meet in your very own woods and fields.  Their expressive, wide eyes convey a range of feelings.  A tilt of head, outstretched arms or a hand, and legs lifted or running invite us to join them.  Most of the images cover two pages but Hills pauses the pace with smaller oval pictures framed in white.  He does offer another surprise with a page turn.  Tilt the book to see.  When a specific letter is being addressed it will appear in bold.

Xena's favorite illustration is of Emma digging.  Only her head and a little bit of her shoulders are visible above the hole.  Mounds of dirt are placed around her.  Opposite this, a patch of daisies covers the right page.  One of my favorite pictures is of Bella, the squirrel, ready to play in the ocean.  She is wearing a stripped inner tube, red water wings, and a blue snorkel and mask.  It's not something you would expect to see on a squirrel.  Tad Hills does know how to make us smile and endear his characters to his readers.

R is for Rocket written and illustrated by Tad Hills is an adorable addition to the Rocket books.  It walks us through Rocket's world, engaging us in an assortment of activities and events as well as the feelings of his friends.  I'm adding it to my collection.  I know you will want to do the same.

To learn more about Tad Hills and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name taking you to his website.  At the publisher's website they give you a peek at several interior pages.   There are different images on their Flickr pages.  A video with Tad Hills is showcased below.

Update October 7, 2015 Enjoy this video with Rocco Staino interviewing Rocket and Tad Hills on KidLit TV.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Living In Music

Growing up in a small town in a small house, five rooms, did not mean we were small on music.  We had one of those big radio-record player units in a cabinet in our living room, front and center, circa no television.  My parents loved most kinds of music.  I still recall a favorite, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, and lots of big band tunes.  The music of George Gershwin was popular, especially Rhapsody in Blue.  The haunting beginning is what convinced me to pursuit playing the clarinet in the junior and high school bands.

Money was tight but my parents found a second-hand clarinet which served me well for all those years.  When it comes to making music or even listening to it, true hearts will find a way.  Trombone Shorty (Abrams Books For Young Readers, April 14, 2015) written by Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews with pictures by Bryan Collier is about keeping a dream alive and those who lift us closer to its realization.

We have our own way of living down here in New Orleans, and our own way of talking, too.

After bidding readers hello, Troy Andrews asks us to go back to the beginning to understand how he came to be given the nickname of Trombone Shorty.  Music was and is important to him because it was and is important to his community.  You cannot walk the streets of Treme anytime without hearing melodies surrounding you like a welcome breeze.

His older brother, James, played trumpet in his own band.  Troy and his friends imagined themselves in this band too.

James would say.

During Mardi Gras, a festive time of celebration with the sounds of the brass bands, Troy was mesmerized.  Those parades lifted the spirits of everyone.  This boy's mind likened the kind of music he wanted to make to those foods most enjoyed by the people of Treme; a little bit of everything blended to perfection.

While it was difficult to have a band without instruments, Troy and his companions designed their own and used them until one very special day.  Troy found an old discarded trombone.  He blew music out of that metal.  It was much bigger in size than he was; so much so that James shouted out his nickname


Wherever Troy went, the trombone went too, even in his bed at night.  It went with him to a special event, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.  It was here that a world-renowned musician noticed the boy, inviting him to play on the center stage.  That event was all Trombone Shorty needed to validate what he already knew to be true.

Page after page, reading the words written by Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, readers hear a note played in their hearts grow into a loud, glorious tune.  The beat of New Orleans and Treme music is captured with the use of language in the narrative.  It's the vivid descriptions of the places and the people and the sounds of both which create a song of this man's life; soft and slow, loud and fast and pauses.  Here is another sample passage.

But before you can understand how much music means to me, you have to know how important it is to my hometown, my greatest inspiration.
I grew up in a neighborhood in New Orleans called Treme.  Any time of day or night, you could hear music floating in the air.

Rendered in pen and ink, watercolor, and collage the illustrations on the dust jacket, book case and the interior pages are beautifully brilliant.  It's as if Bryan Collier has woven Trombone Shorty's musical magic into his illustrations. The sound from his trombone shouts out from the front of the dust jacket.  To the left, on the back, Troy and his friends are featured with their home-made instruments and the newly discovered broken trombone.  You will not be able to resist reaching out to touch the texture here and on every page.  The book case shifts from the jacket's rich, warm hues to cool, calm and classic colors.  Each of the four different images can be found inside the book.

The endpapers appear as two-tone gold marbleized paper.  Beneath the bold text on the title page is a close-up of Trombone Shorty as a child playing his trombone.  Each two pages is a masterful exhibit of design and layout.  We are given panels, interplay of shadow and light to distinguish different places; street views intermingled with interior views, and symbolic balloons.

I have many favorite illustrations but one which portrays the dedication of Troy Andrews is him sleeping with his trombone.  The pages are a fusion of blues, patterns, swirls, books, a bed, a boy and his beloved musical instrument.  It's a blissful scene but also depicts dedication in its purest form.

Trombone Shorty written by Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews with pictures by Bryan Collier is worthy of standing ovation after standing ovation.  It's a nonfiction picture book triumph from beginning to end.  Readers can see how holding onto a dream and receiving support can make it a reality.  An Author's Note with black and white photographs is part of the concluding back matter.  There are extensive Acknowledgments and information About The Trombone Shorty Foundation.  Bryan Collier has also included a valuable Illustrator's Note. 

The link attached to Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews' name takes you to his official music web pages.  For more information about Bryan Collier please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  TeachingBooks.net offers a pronunciation of Bryan Collier's name.  Bryan Collier and this title are featured by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  A series of video interviews of Bryan Collier can be found at ReadingRockets.  In a May 1, 2013 interview at School Library Journal Bryan Collier was highlighted.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Every week I am excited to continue participating in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  I am anxious to see her and the other bloggers choices each week.  I hope you stop by there too.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Standing Up For The Good

Depending on your personality, the situation or both, being invisible can be a useful survival technique.  Blending in with a crowd, keeping silent whenever possible, and not drawing attention to yourself serve a purpose.  There are those who follow this lone wolf path; either by choice or because they are not welcome as a part of the pack...yet.

Maneuvering through the uncertain realities of middle school is tricky.  Everything thought to be true is changing.  As a sixth grade student you're constantly scrambling to keep both feet on the ground.  Zack Delacruz:  Me And My Big Mouth (Sterling Children's Books, August 4, 2015) debut novel by author Jeff Anderson addresses, with liberal amounts of humor, the lone wolf, the observer, who creates a pack, a group with a common cause.

A typhoon spray of spit.
A stupid assembly.
And my big mouth.
That's all it took to ruin my life.
If you're a sixth grader at Davy Crockett Middle School in San Antonio, Texas, you start off every day in advisory.  Besides cruel and unusual punishment, advisory is an avoiding game:  avoiding eye contact, avoiding talking, and, so far, avoiding trouble.

Thought to be a relief from the dreaded advisory, the school population heads en masse to the gym for an assembly on bullying.  Needless to say, the presenter, while making some valid points, probably has even the faculty rolling their eyes with her over-the-top perky style.  Later a group of students gather in the library for class.  Our narrator, Zack Delacruz, introduces us to several of his classmates through an incident involving Janie Bustamante, prone to spitting when speaking.  For reasons unknown even to him, Zack speaks out on behalf of Janie who is being harassed by Jose, El Pollo Loco, and class clown.

Mrs. Darling, their quirky librarian, misses this confrontation while taking a phone call.  The results of the call and an impromptu dance competition place adversaries Zack and Jose in charge of a sixth-grade candy-selling campaign.  This is no ordinary fund raiser.  Forty-eight hundred dollars' worth of bars need to be sold in five days in order for the sixth grade students to be able to attend, for the first time ever, the seventh and eighth grade fall dance.

Thankfully Zack has a good friend in Marquis, a bit of a math and organizational wizard.  They met and ride the same bus home on alternating weeks, when Zack stays with his Dad.  Let's pause here for a minute.  Zack is beginning his first year of middle school, his parents have recently divorced, all plans of staying invisible are out the window and he is basically in charge of making sure the sixth grade students get to go to the dance because Jose is no help at all.  This guy's life is loaded with daily unexpected developments.

Worried about five extra boxes after every student has taken their share, Zack is ecstatic when the next day Janie wants all of them.  In his current life of constant challenges, a miracle is in the making.  As the fates would have it, this euphoric moment vanishes like a puff of smoke.  A candy crisis of epic proportions rolls in like a sudden summer storm.

Marquis' sprained ankle, a pamphlet in Nurse Patty's office, a phone call, an online search, an intervention and Instant Lube might provide a solution.  Zack, Marquis, Jose, Janie, Sophie and her groupies, Sophie's eighth grade boyfriend, Raymond, and his crew, Cliche Jones and Chewy Johnson need to do the improbable, work together.  As the page turns speed up, so do the events culminating in an unforgettable Night At The Alamo. NO LOITERING!

Jeff Anderson's experiences, over twenty years in the classroom, are evident on every page.  These fictional characters are a window and a mirror.  They give readers unaware of middle school a direct link to the swirl of everyday life in and out of the classroom.  Readers will see themselves within these pages.

Zack's voice, his perspective, is spontaneous and hilarious.  The narrative unfolds from conversations held with his classmates and his thoughts.  The portraits he paints of Mrs. Darling, the librarian, Mrs. Harrington, their English teacher, Coach Ostraticki, and Principal Atkins are classic.  Zack's Dad will have you cheering.  You will be laughing and nodding your head in agreement at the realism described in this book.  Here are some sample passages.

I stumbled through the rusted metal door frames of the gym.  Echoing laughter and shouts bounced off the hardwood floors.  A sea of black, red, and khaki uniforms collected at the door as everyone looked for their friends.

Marquis never accused me of lying that day or the next, even though I supposed he knew.  He'd given me a pass, and my lie floated away like a loose plastic bag on the side of Highway 281.  And it was replaced by friendship.

It was like Raymond Montellongo had just punched me in the stomach.  But this was Dad.  First Mom made Dad move out.  Then, I had to live with Dad every other week in a place that isn't even fit for living.  He had promised we'd get a TV.
"I want to make some changes, Zack," Dad said.
He wouldn't stop.  He just kept going.  Dads are supposed to give kids everything they need, like TVs and snacks.  And for crying out loud, dad's feet aren't supposed to stink so much.  I stood up, clamping my nose.
"Why don't you change your socks?" I said.
"Very funny, Zack."  He reached over and patted the back of my leg.  "I think we watch TV too much."
"Not lately.  Not since we moved to the Villa De La Prison."
"Hey now, Zack."  He moved in for a side hug.
"Dad, I want to make some changes too," I squirmed out from his arm and stomped toward the door.  My voice shook.  "The first is no more changes."  And I slammed the door like an exclamation mark, telling Dad I was serious.  Seriously mad.

Jeff Anderson has penned a title, Zack Delacruz:  Me And My Big Mouth, which will resonate with the intended audience.  It addresses pertinent issues faced by middle school students with truth and laughter.  I think copies of this book will have the well-loved look in no time at all.  I am not sure if the letter from the editor and author will appear in the final copy (my recommendation is based upon an ARC) but they add insight into the story.

For more information on Jeff Anderson please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Jeff Anderson is interviewed by Franki Sibberson at A Year Of Reading.  Please take a few minutes to read his post about the writing of this book at write.share. connect. Update:  Jeff Anderson is interviewed at Kids Talk Kid Lit by educator Kurt Strohs.

Announcing The 2015 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Finalists

Press Release

2015 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Finalists Announced

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the finalists for the 2015 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction.  Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit. 

The 2015 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

Diamond Boy by Michael Williams
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Cinco Puntos Press

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Penguin Young Readers Group

Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy) by Deborah Wiles
Scholastic Press

All Walden Award titles will be identified by an award sticker—gold for the winner and silver for the four finalists.  The winner will be announced on Tuesday, July 28th.  The winning title and finalists will be honored on at the 2015 ALAN Workshop on Monday, November 23rd at 4:25pm in Minneapolis, MN, and authors will be invited to participate in a panel discussion.
The 2015 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation, the ALAN Executive Council, the ALAN Board of Directors, NCTE, and the thirty-six publishers who submitted titles for consideration.

The 2015 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered nearly 300 young adult titles throughout the process.  The committee was comprised of eleven members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities.  They are:

2015 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee

Lois Stover, Committee Chair
Dean – School of Education and Human Services
Marymount University, Arlington, VA

Kellee Moye, Past Committee Chair
Teacher/Reading Coach
Hunter’s Creek Middle School, Orlando, FL

Cathy Blackler
English/Journalism Teacher
Santana Alternative High School, La Puente, CA
Nancy J. Johnson
Professor, Children’s/YA Literature and English/Language Arts Education
Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA

Sara Kajder
Assistant Professor English Education
University of Georgia, Athens, GA

Mark Letcher
Assistant Professor English Education
Lewis University, Romeoville, IL

Joellen Maples
Associate Professor, Graduate Literacy Program
St.  John Fisher College, Rochester, NY

Suzanne Metcalfe
Dimond High School, Anchorage, Alaska

Beth Scanlon
Cypress Creek High School, Orlando, FL

Lisa Scherff
English Teacher
Cypress Lake High School, Fort Myers, FL
Jessica Lorentz Smith
Bend Senior High School, Bend, OR

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents http://www.alan-ya.org/