Quote of the Month

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

Monday, September 28, 2015

Numbering The Unexpected

Every single day is filled with surprises in all sizes.  There is the kindness of complete strangers helping you to reach something high on a shelf in the grocery store or allowing you to merge in traffic.  A typical visit to the car wash can turn into a humorous moment long remembered.  Handing the attendant a twenty dollar bill, I ask for eight bucks back.  Instead of reaching in his pocket for change, he disappears for a lengthy bit of time.  When he returns he hands me this note.

A sudden hug from a grateful student will last long beyond the day in which it is given.  A worst case scenario can reveal unknown benefits.  Sometimes you have to look long and hard but they are there.  In his newest title for younger readers, Two Mice ( Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 1, 2015) Sergio Ruzzier presents us with a series of challenges faced by utterly charming characters.

One house

In this single little home one mouse with brown spots wakes up looking over at its sleeping companion.  In the next scenario there are three cookies, two glasses of milk, and a single red pitcher sitting on the kitchen table.  The first mouse is happily munching on two cookies.  Hands on hips, the second mouse is grumpily staring at the remaining cookie.

In what will be a turn of events the duo set out to explore, finding three boats and two oars.  This time

one rower

works to move them across the water.  It is the mouse who greedily consumed the two cookies.  The white mouse is lounging with eyes closed in the stern.

As they coast toward shore numbers one and two promise them a delicious treat but three gives them not one but two shocks.  Our friends find themselves in troubled waters.  An island with trees promises them relief but OH! NO!

Now airborne their misfortune is tripled.  With sinking hearts they look upon... a clever change of events.  HOORAY!  Hand in hand the two mice walk as readers count one...two...three and three...two...one.  There's plenty for both at day's end.

With warmth and wit Sergio Ruzzier blends counting from one to three and three to one not once but four times into a timeless tale of short-lived misadventure, startling discoveries and enduring friendship.  We move merrily from hope to discouragement and back again as Ruzzier demonstrates his gifted use of language.  Groups of three two-word phrases are punctuated with periods, a question mark and an exclamation point to provide readers with emotional impact and a cadence carried throughout the story.

When you hold a book by Sergio Ruzzier in your hands the signature style of his illustrations and unique color palette are a welcoming invitation to open the cover and let your mind soar.  Seeing those two mice gleefully running across a Ruzzier landscape on a sunny day with soft clouds in the sky makes you want to join in the fun.  The use of red in the title text and along the spine offers further encouragement.  On the back of the matching dust jacket and book case, to the left, on a background of blue are the three cookies with a bite missing from one and two glasses of milk.  A shade of salmon (daybreak) colors the opening endpapers and a deeper blue (early evening) covers the closing endpapers.

A page turn shows the house with smoke rising from the chimney and the first two words of the story.  The title page follows but also continues the tale.  Mint green walls and a hexagonal, floral pattern in tiles on the floor form a room for the mice's two iron beds.  I love seeing a book peeking out from beneath one of the beds.

All of the images span across two pages except for the final one.  Using pen and ink and watercolors Ruzzier supplies mood and movement with his tiny details, fine lines, brush strokes, shading, facial expressions and body movement.  His pictures alone reveal every facet of the narrative.

One of several favorite illustrations is for the text

One island
Two trees  .

The mice are near the land eager to be out of the water.  Both, even though they are wet and have lost their transportation, are wearing big smiles.  Careful readers will see what they cannot see.  The two trees have claws at their root bases.  These are no ordinary trees.  Anticipation is already building as the page is turned.

Small in size, perfect for the hands of his intended audience, Two Mice written and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier is a tiny treasure waiting to be found over and over by readers.  And believe me, you will be asked to read it repeatedly, counting but also following these two best buddies in and out of their difficulties.  It is simply enchanting.

To learn more about Sergio Ruzzier and this title please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and one of several special pages for this title.  In a link to the starred Horn Book review Ruzzier answers questions about the trim size for this title.  In a wonderful interview at Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Sergio Ruzzier talks about this book sharing the process and artwork.  Update: November 6, 2015 Sergio Ruzzier writes a guest post at Elizabeth O. Dulemba about his process.  He includes lots of sketches. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Blue Ribbon Bedlam

Within the last thirty days my wonderful four-footed furry friend and I have traveled from Michigan to Montana and back and then out to Montana to our new home.  During these trips one thing has been abundantly clear; people with dogs enjoy the ride with more leisure.  Rest areas and places of interest are evidence of frequent pauses and longer periods of rest.  Our canine companions' needs are telling us to slow down, stop and smell the scent of a gazillion dogs.

Another observation and lesson humans sometimes fail to learn is the spontaneity of dog behavior.   We may think we know how they will act in any given situation but they can and will continue to surprise us.  Maybe this is why each of us embraces the unique personalities of our beloved pals.

Those lovable characters introduced to readers in How to Behave at a Tea Party, Julia, Charles, Rexie, the frog and the brothers McKagan, have returned in How to Behave at a Dog Show (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 15, 2015).  Author Madelyn Rosenberg and illustrator Heather Ross collaborate to highlight the lighter side of sharing a life with a dog.  To be the best depends on those giving meaning to the word.

First, you fill out the form:

Julia is happily completing all portions of the Happy Tails Kennel Club, Sixteenth Annual Best of Breed Dog Show official entry with the exception of the breed blank.  Locating the dog for beautification is a must.  As she and Charles ready the bath, Rexie quickly slips away with the stealth of a ninja.  Making sure the soap is actually soap is equally important.

As a dog handler classic attire is essential.  Once the dog is located yet again, digging, playing fetch and making friends with a skunk are to be avoided at all costs.  A speedy arrival is now at the top of the agenda.  Grooming before presentation is better without the skills of a pesky brother and his rascal neighborhood friends.

Ignoring the remarks and the plugged noses of the judges, interpretations of commands, the love-at-first-sight antics of contestants, and a runaway shoe thief are easier said than done.  YIKES! Rexie is on the move.  Charles, the McKagan brothers, the frog, a bicycle, a skateboard and a seesaw are not a good combination.  Did I forget to mention the dog show is sponsored by Sloppy Kisses Dog Food?  To showcase their product a pyramid of cans is holding the golden cup for first prize.  This will probably not end as planned.

True to her stalwart spirit Julia rallies the group, Rexie, Charlie, the frog and the McKagan brothers, as they head for home.  She, of course, has a plan.  It's a spectacular, unprecedented happening accentuating talents with attention given to every last detail...even if it lasts until the stars fill the sky.

Using her gift of infusing humor in a narrative, Madelyn Rosenberg gives us laughter with each page turn.  Masterfully mixing what should be with what actually is we are willing participants in every merry moment.  Her lively characters and the hilarious situations in which they find themselves are utterly believable.  She is most definitely in tune with children, brothers and sisters and of course, dogs.  Here is a sample passage.

That's not soap, Charles!

Sigh.  You must hope the judge thinks
Rexie is a Bluetick Coonhound.

Rendered digitally the fun found in the illustrations by Heather Ross begins with the dust jacket.  Bright colors mirror the animated characters and their antics.  You know, without a doubt, prim and proper Julia is in for a challenge thanks to Charles, Rexie and the frog.  Their looks mirror pure mischief.

On the back, to the left, an interior visual gives a hint as to judges' true feelings about Julia and her dog.  The title page foreshadows the ending as the verso begins the interpretation of the narrative.  From the beginning Julia and Rexie already have entirely disparate ideas about a dog show.

A series of vignettes, single page images and double-page pictures proclaim with clarity the contrast between Julia's point of view and what readers see happening.  Fine lines replete with details depict the sheer laugh-out-loud scenes; Julia and Charles wearing goggles to bathe Rexie, a trail of blue leading to the escaped Rexie, the tiny eyes peering from the darkened tree hollow, and the flies buzzing around Rexie.  The facial expressions on all the characters, primary and secondary, are marvelous.  Careful readers will eagerly look for the frog's role in this rollicking romp.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is a single page image at the start of the story.  Julia and Charles are ready to wash Rexie but he has run away... again...out the window.  The screen is torn into a dog shaped hole and the curtains are hanging in disarray from a broken rod.  The goggle-wearing duo is standing next to the tub with water spilled all over the floor.  The frog is peering out over the side of the tub.

If laughter is what you are after, How to Behave at a Dog Show written by Madelyn Rosenberg with illustrations by Heather Ross is the title for you.  Readers learn as do Julia and company, there are all kinds of best.  Sometimes what others might not consider best is what makes an individual extraordinary and lovable.  Going with the flow, enjoying what you have, is the true key to happiness.  I certainly hope Rosenberg and Ross have another adventure starring these characters in the works.

To learn more about Madelyn Rosenberg and Heather Ross please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Madelyn Rosenberg has developed an activity for Hosting Your Own Pet Show for Teachers and Librarians.  She has also started a Tumblr for posting pet pictures and stating their best something.  32Zoo interviewed Madelyn Rosenberg about this title and her other new book.  Enjoy the book trailer.  (Can you find Xena?)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Blowing In the Wind-Changes Part II

Dear Readers:

On August 20, 2015 Xena and I left the lakes area of northern Michigan to embark on a new adventure.  After two years there was finally a solid offer on the sale of my home.  My hope for many years has been to live in the west.  Friends from high school have been living in the state of Montana since college.  I believe if they and Hattie could live in Big Sky Country, so could I. (Thank you Kirby Larson.)

After having made the trip to Montana last year, I found I would rather look at the Mackinac Bridge than cross it.  This year I went south into Indiana and Illinois.  After only a few wrong turns (I was still learning the GPS on my car.),  Xena and I spent a restful night in Normal, Illinois.

Bright and early the next morning we traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  When the two of us walked that evening, I noticed a funny cast to the sky and setting sun.  Checking the National Weather Service it mentioned possible severe thunderstorms in the area the next day along with a high wind advisory and high wind warning for the entire state.  I made the decision to alter my route going as far south as I could, staying on main roads.

Needless to say, from one side of South Dakota to the other the winds were terrifying.  It was two-hand-death-grip-on-the-wheel driving.  At one point I took the closest exit because my hands ached and were shaking.  This exit was a little two-track dirt road leading to a small white church with a tall steeple, probably room for about thirty people, and a single home.  I pulled into the parking lot.

The winds were so powerful, at a standstill, my car rocked with every gust.  When I looked up after about ten minutes, a cement truck pulling a trailer had stopped also.  Thankfully, I had Tim Federle's audio books about Nate to listen to as I weathered this storm.

Finally arriving in Rapid City, South Dakota I decided to eat.  I waited and waited for my name to be called.  They kept calling for a Parker to pick up their meal.  Looking at my slip I discovered I had a new name.  It was a relief to arrive in Gillette, Wyoming for the night.  Before the sun set the next day, Xena and I arrived in Missoula, Montana.

For the next two days, I looked at more than twenty houses.  At the end of the second day, we found a new home.  It was touch and go as to whether we would have a contract but by Friday, Xena and I were headed back to Michigan.

On the way home we learned:

Always ask what pet-friendly means... we ended up walking at a lovely park and path around the local hospital because the hotel was surrounded by cement right next to a busy main road.

If you ever get lost among residential and county roads in the dark of night, unable to find the main highway, there is a wonderful woman named Kelsey who works the 911 line in the St. Cloud, Minnesota area.

Anywhere near Chicago, traffic can and does come to a complete stop, more than once, even on a Sunday.

Always check your hotel room before unloading anything from your car, especially if there is a funky smell.  (The night manager said it was disgusting when he saw it.)  We ended up on the second floor that night.  Xena got her first ride in an elevator.  (This guy deserves a raise after all the help he gave us.)

Going through the center of Fort Wayne, Indiana is still better than taking the by-pass.

Even though she is fifteen years old, Xena can still protect me.  Stopping at a rest area, we were walking when a man and a child approached us.  My usual friendly companion started barking.  They backed away and I sighed with relief as I hugged her.

Xena, my warrior princess, was so happy to get home she nearly ran around the house outside and inside.  I joyfully joined her.  Two days later the packing started.  Today (Sunday) I finished with help from many friends and neighbors.

My contact who gave me an estimate for the move told me no one has ever transported this many books before me.  The majority of my weight is for the almost eighty boxes filled with books.  Those stories will travel from state to state to state.

I have missed visiting with all of you on Twitter and Facebook.  The connections in the children's literature community are wonderful.  Hopefully I will be a more frequent presence in the upcoming weeks.

The move will begin in less than forty-eight hours.  Anticipation fills the air.  A dream is coming true.

I wish you all good things each and every day.


Monday, September 7, 2015

This Reader. (she say "rock on")

Life has a way of throwing us monumental change within seconds and without notice.  A single act by another or us with or without a response can alter our immediate lives.  It can expand to include others, even the world at large.

Some things done are better left without any acknowledgement at all.  Others elicit a reaction triggered by emotion or logic.  A little more than one year ago we were introduced to a boy and his best friend, a woolly mammoth, in this Orq. (he cave boy.)  Readers could not help but feel joyful by the love the two have for each other.  I am happy to announce the return of the duo in this ORQ. (he say "ugh!") (Boyds Mills Press, an imprint of Highlights, September 8, 2015) written by David Elliott with illustrations by Lori Nichols.  Orq and Woma are challenged repeatedly by two new characters.

This Orq.
He cave boy.
Wear skins.
No shoes.
Sometimes say ...

The cave boy and his woolly mammoth companion enjoy every single day having as much fun as they can.  One of their favorite things to do is to build architectural shapes and forts out of turtles, stacking them like bricks.  We are made aware, nevertheless, of the hardships of dwelling in a cave.  It's chilly, dark and the food is uncooked.

As if this is not enough, Dorq, a bigger, stronger and hairier boy, and his cave bear cohort, Caba, relish making life miserable for Orq and Woma.


Mother's suggestion to ignore them is simply unreasonable.  They're like shadows, spoiling all those activities Orq and Woma delight in doing, fishing, finding and building.

The single advantage the pals have is speed.  They can and do outrun the bullies.  Until ...one day on a hunting expedition a

tremendous turtle

turns out to be trouble.  Dorq and Caba have been practicing their chasing.

It looks as though the terrible twosome have the upper hand.  An egg escalates the encounter.  Anger born out of love and two rocks reverse the course of events.  Heroes, like change, can be created in the blink of an eye.  Everyone wins...well, almost everyone.

As he did in the first title, David Elliott gives readers phrases inviting their participation.  The shortened sentences are playful, humorous and full of rhythm.  The technique of designing events in clusters of three works extremely well; each time leading to a pause or a shift in the narrative.  Elliott demonstrates insight into the thinking of his expected readers with word choices and character interactions.  Here is a sample passage.

But cave life tough.
Cold cave.
Dark night.
Raw bison.
And ...

Spanning from left to right we are greeted with a two-page spread across the matching dust jacket and book case.  Clearly Woma and Orq are distressed as the dreadful duo, Dorq and Caba, laugh in the background.  The three red-tufted blue birds seen gathered around the ISBN on the first title have returned, joined by jazzy-shelled turtles.  A matte-finish on these as well as the interior pages provides a pleasing tactile experience for readers.

The identical opening and closing endpapers feature a pattern of turtles, snakes, a woolly mammoth puppet and a single egg. With a page turn another double-page picture greets readers.  Everyone will grin at the scene showcasing the title.  A smiling Woma is running toward a singing Orq bathing in a pond joined by the three birds, one floating on its back in the water.  Orq's grass clothing and blue-striped underwear are hanging on a twig.

The next large image on the right holds the publication information plus The Turtle Challenge.  Readers are asked to count the number of turtles Lori Nichols has placed in this title.  Woma, spraying water from his trunk, is now bathing in the pond as Orq struggles to get dressed.  The first lines of the story appear on the right.

Rendered in

#4 pencil on Strathmore drawing paper and colorized digitally

the illustrations vary in size from two-page to single page and smaller visuals grouped on one page to extend and enhance the pacing of the story.  The facial features on all the characters depict the emotional status of each scene perfectly.  Nichols' lines, fine or large, convey setting, mood and motion, taking readers into the moment.

One of my favorite images is the second double-page picture in the story.  On the left Woma is sitting surrounded by turtles.  He holds one in his arms ready to hand it to Orq, who is being held aloft in his trunk.  Orq and Woma have made an arch of smiling turtles on the right.  We are reminded of the shared affection of these two friends.

This ORQ. (he say "ugh!") written by David Elliott with illustrations by Lori Nichols is a heartfelt and witty look at friendship and those who would strive to take away another's joy.  The BIG surprise during the final confrontation with the mean-spirited Dorq and Caba will have everyone cheering.  The change of words in the key phrase and Nichols' final illustration will fill readers with warmth.  This book.  This book great.  Share this book. Happy reader. Third title September 2016.

To discover more about David Elliott and Lori Nichols please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  John Schumacher, blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. and the new Scholastic Ambassador of School Libraries, shared a vine of this title. Enjoy.