Quote of the Month

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

Friday, October 30, 2015

Breakfast Buddies Battle

Anyone with an ounce of sense will tell you it's ridiculous.  You think it's ridiculous.  There are certain books though, books you have finished reading, which cause you to look at inanimate objects with a different mindset and a more cautious approach.  The line between fiction and maybe-it-could-be-real tends to blur in these stories.

Long after the cover is closed there's a teeny, tiny voice in your mind whispering words, reminding you.  Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast (Sterling Children's Books, September 1, 2015) written by Josh Funk with illustrations by Brendan Kearney will have you wondering about those odd noises you hear your refrigerator make after all the lights are out.  Even in the middle of the day upon opening the door, your eyes will scan the shelves wondering if something (someone) has moved.

Deep in the fridge and behind the green peas,
way past the tofu and left of the cheese,
up in the corner, and back by a roast,
sat Lady Pancake beside Sir French Toast.

Within seconds of hearing the news, the two best friends become rivals in a race.  There is only one drop, a single sweet taste, of maple syrup left.  They both want it. (cue Chariots of Fire).

Food becomes a forest, a fountain and a mountain to navigate at an ever-increasing speed.  They strive to be first abandoning caution.  One nearly falls off a ledge; the other does plunging into a jar of jam.

Nimble Lady Pancake rappels with ease using pasta and leaps over veggies and a fruit like a champion hurdler. Surpassing the skill and style of medal-winning Alpine skiers Sir French Toast swiftly glides from a summit of sauerkraut.  There's a thump!  Then someone else is mired in a spicy mix of mud.

Ignoring the plea of a chickpea starts an icebox disaster.  A ladder provides safety and leverage.  A parachute supplies a heightened view.  The duo, looking the worse for wear and feeling it too, trudge toward their goal.  Finally standing side by side with the bottle reached, they are stunned.  Evil lurks when you have your eyes on the wrong prize.

If there were a contest for rhyming with rhythm, Josh Funk would walk home with the blue ribbon.  Not only do his characters run, romp and roam through the confines of a household appliance with rambunctious remarks but his words leap off the pages and linger in our collective minds.  Each has been chosen with care entertaining us and asking us to look at our food as a landscape of possibilities. Here is another passage.

Pancake made use of her seafaring skills
and sailed across oceans of soup, causing spills.

When you open the dust jacket and run your hands over the front and back you will notice the heavy textured paper.  On the front, on and around the jar, the elements are raised.  The crown, dots, ampersand and moustache are in copper foil.  Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are off and running with a smile and a glint in their eyes.  On the back readers are treated to the reverse of the front, the jar, beans and the two main characters.  A third party lurks off to the left, foreshadowing an unexpected future.

On the opening and closing endpapers Brendan Kearney, in two shades of green, has sketched in outlines all varieties of food.  The textual design from the front of the dust jacket and book case is repeated on the title page.  In full color, animated food is placed beneath it.

Rendered in pencils and digital media the illustrations span across two pages or single pages.  Kearny keeps us close to the action using color, shading, and circular framing.  Prominent characters including Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are boldly depicted many times against outlines of food stuff in the background.  Tiny dots, lines and curves portray an array of emotions on the other food.  At the close of the story two brilliantly hued images will delight readers as will the special fold-out.

One of my favorite illustrations is of Lady Pancake.  She is sailing in the soup.  An appetizer pick with a tiny flag on top is her mast.  Swiss cheese is her sail.  It looks like she is standing on a bow of bratwurst.  At the moment her gaze is triumphant.

Are you introducing a unit on food?  Are you hosting an overnight party, needing a book for breakfast?  Are you teaching a writing unit on rhyme?  Are you looking for a fun food fight without the mess?  Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast written by Josh Funk with illustrations by Brendan Kearney is exactly the book you need.  Readers and listeners will be cheering for their favorite but realize, as the pals do, most things are not worth the loss of friendship.

To discover more about Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Josh Funk maintains a blog.  Brendan Kearney's blog is older but has some great illustrations there.  I was fortunate enough to interview both Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney when their cover was revealed.  John Schumacher, Scholastic Ambassador for School Libraries and blogger at Watch. Connect. Read. premiered the book trailer.  If you go to Josh Funk's page for this title he has a complete list of all articles, interviews, blog posts and podcasts relative to this book.

UPDATE:  Josh Funk was recently a guest at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.  Read his interview. April 16, 2016

UPDATE:  Josh Funk was interviewed by Karlin Gray.August 15, 2016

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Rope In The Right Place

There have been or will be events in our lives when we think, "I can't believe I did that.  How is it that I am still alive?"   Or we will be placed in a situation completely beyond our control wondering if this will be our last moment to draw breath.  At times such as these we are reminded, if we have forgotten, to be grateful every single day.

In the course of history there are those people, for reasons not immediately understood, who are saved when they should have died.  The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower or John Howland's Good Fortune (Candlewick Press, September 22, 2015) written and illustrated by P. J. Lynch, his debut as an author, chronicles the days of such a person.  It also serves to show how those who begin in one position in life can be elevated through circumstances, hard work and service to others.

London was a fine city when I was there.  Greatest city in the whole world.  Smelled bad, I must say, but it was huge and busy and exciting for a young lad like me.

As an indentured servant to John Carver, John Howland is busy as are the other servants to those people readying a rented ship bound for America.  They have come from Holland where they fled due to religious persecution by the ruling royalty.  William Brewster, the leader of the Separatists, will be aboard the Mayflower too.   Working long hours into the night, all is eventually loaded.

After setting sail before morning's light and before they leave the coast of England John has earned the respect of first mate Bob Coppin with his forthright honesty.  As a smaller ship, the Speedwell, from Holland joins them; there is much celebration and excitement for the voyage ahead.  Two weeks pass with bad news for the travelers.  Half their supplies are gone and they have not left England.  The Speedwell is simply not seaworthy.  This boat and many of the people stay behind as the Mayflower leaves.

Treacherous storms pound the ship, one after the other.  Water pours from the top into the decks beneath, soaking the passengers.  They are continuously advised to stay below until given permission to leave.  On one occasion when the crew decides to turn the boat into the wind without sail hoping to keep it safe, John Howland, no longer able to stand the stench comes outside.  An enormous wave tips the ship throwing him overboard.

As he accepts his fate, a voice calls to him and a flash of lightning reveals hope.  When he arrives in the company of the passengers and crew, all are amazed.  For a week he lays at rest recovering.  During his absence, the rest of the passengers are beginning to show signs of the poor living and eating conditions.  Illness and death begin to plague the ship.

In the months stretching into more than a year, land is finally sighted but it is not the longed for Virginia, a new charter is written, a search for a suitable settlement takes them north, there are encounters with the Native Americans, two-thirds of the members who sailed on the Mayflower die, King Massasoit of the Wampanoag and especially Squanto visit and assist the newcomers, the Mayflower returns to England, houses are slowly constructed, crops are planted in the spring and a feast to celebrate a good harvest lasts for several days in November.  When a ship, the Fortune, is sighted before the winter snow falls, John Howland has a decision to make.  Should he follow his dream to return to London a free man or stay in the new world?

As each portion of John Howland's harrowing journey to America and the equally challenging events once land is reached unfold, an underlying tension is felt with every page turn.  P. J. Lynch, through research, makes these historical moments seem real and recent.  Having John Howland narrate his own story makes it even more intimate.  Woven into his vivid accounts are pertinent conversations and descriptive details.  Here is a portion of a passage on a page.

Safe Harbor
We collected ourselves and loaded into the shallop right quick and cast off, heading north along the coast.  We sailed with the icy winds whipping around us all that day without seeing a harbor, a river, or even a creek.

A squall blew up of a sudden, and with Bob Coppin and me learning on the tiller to steer us away from the rocks, the hinges of our rudder broke.  There was nothing we could do but try to steer with our oars.  Over the din of the storm, Bob shouted, "Be of good cheer, lads.  I see it...I see the harbor!" and we cut in for the break in the shoreline.

The illustrations, rendered in watercolor and gouache, readily allow readers to reach back in time placing them alongside John Howland.  Opening the dust jacket, this first image stretches across the spine to nearly midway on the back.  A portion of the narrative on the left mirrors what we see on the front.  A shiver of fear passes through us as we watch John fall into the raging, bitter cold water.  All our senses are heightened.  On the title page with a white background, opposite the text in black, P. J. Lynch has placed a portion of the ship's rigging and sail.

Each painting is a study in the architecture, clothing and people of this time period.  Exquisite light and shadow give the perception of a lively scene frozen in a particular moment.  The layout alternates in a pattern of two full pages edge to edge with the words in an inset, a page crossing the gutter to cover another third, leaving space for text and a full page opposite a large column of text with a vertical image on the other side.  Sometimes we are given a panoramic vista or brought in close to the people.  Other times a bird's eye view portrays the vastness of a depiction.

One of my many favorite illustrations is at the docked ship before they leave London.  Beyond the lantern light, the darkness of the city shrouds the wagons, barrels, baggage, animals and people in shadow.  Nearer the glow we see the people working and carrying to get ready.  This image, like all of them, is so skillfully painted we feel as though we can hear the muffled conversations and animals calls, smell the city and shipyard odors, taste the salt in the air and feel the fur of the nearby sheep, goats and dog.

P. J. Lynch has written and illustrated a remarkable work of nonfiction in The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower or John Howland's Good Fortune.  The hardships Howland and the others endured to seek refuge in another land are nearly unimaginable.  Readers will leave this recounting with a far greater appreciation of all individuals involved but specifically John Howland.  Every personal and professional shelf needs this book.

To increase your understanding of P. J. Lynch and his work please visit his website and blog by following the links attached to his names.  Several pages of the book can be seen at a publisher's website. Candlewick provides a note from the author for readers.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other titles selected by bloggers participating in this week's 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Summer Shift

There are those books read in one sitting; not because they are necessarily short but because the story is completely compelling.  These books tend to have appeal to a wide audience with a range of ages due to commonality of life experiences.  A connection between generations happens.

Last week I found myself sitting in a laundromat, the last patron there late at night, as my clothes first swished and swirled in washing machines and then spun around and around in dryers.  As I finished the last page of the book I was reading my eyes filled with tears.  No matter where you are, alone or in the company of others, a great story will strike a chord in your heart.  Everything else fades away but the book.  Sunny Side Up (Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, August 25, 2015) a new graphic novel by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm is truly memorable.

Sunshine State
August 1976
West Palm Beach, Fla.

As a plane lands and the passengers depart a young girl looks for her grandfather.  They are clearly glad to see each other but you're pretty sure she would rather be someplace different.  Spending a summer vacation in a community where children and pets are not permitted is going to be challenging for Sunny.

In the third chapter we go back two months to June.  Sunny and her best friend are excited about being able to share the family vacation at the shore together.  Clearly these two are like the proverbial peas-in-a-pod.  The question now arises as to why Sunny is in Florida alone with her grandfather instead of with her family and best friend.

Chapter by chapter moving from the present back to key incidents in the late and more recent past, readers are able to piece together the story of a family in crisis but held together by the strength of their love.  As an older sibling struggles, parents intervene and a grandparent offers sanctuary and advice, we along with Sunny grow in understanding about all the situations and about each individual.  What is said does not have the same meaning for each party present.

Fortunately for Sunny a stubborn vending machine helps her meet the son of the groundskeeper at Pine Palms.  Buzz, for Buzz Aldrin, is an avid reader and collector of comic books.  His favorite characters and their stories become a means for Sunny to address her own problems.  Golf balls, Big Al and missing cats in the community (rules are meant to be broken especially by elderly residents) supply funding for Sunny and Buzz to pursue their love of comic books.

With only a few days left before Labor Day we and Sunny realize what initially looks like a disaster can turn into a bunch of fun.  The young can learn from the old and the old can remember the joys of youth.  It's never too early or too late to learn, become friends or love one another.

As I read chapter after chapter of Sunny Side Up I continued to believe I was reading fact more than fiction; every sentence felt genuine.  These characters, what they did and said, could be any one of us.  Jennifer L. Holm has a way of writing dialog which speaks directly to her readers' hearts.  We welcome the opportunity to identify with her characters.  We are touched by the sadness and tension they experience and we laugh out loud exactly when we should.  Here is a sample section of conversation between Sunny, her grandfather and two residents on a trip out for dinner.

There you are!  I'm taking you and the girls out to dinner.  Better hurry up and get dressed.
Isn't it a little early?
Early? It's already 4:00! We need to be on the road by 4:15!
(At a traffic light about to turn red...)
Punch it, Pat!
Or we'll be late!
(Standing in front of a sign which reads:
We're just in time!
Thank goodness!
Get whatever you want!
It's all delicious!
Except the creamed spinach.
Definitely avoid that.  It gave me gas last time.

The dust jacket and book case of Sunny Side Up does not convey the depth of the contents but it does reflect the title, how the title is used in the book and the growth of the characters within the pages.  On the back, to the left, we see Sunny and her grandpa standing, looking right at us, after her arrival at the airport.  Bright yellow opening and closing endpapers mirror her name.  The title page is a close-up of the text and beach ball from the pool on the front.

Matthew Holm's artwork, a series of pages and panels in varying sizes, flows together flawlessly like a motion picture.  Numerous times without words we are privy to sounds, sights, events and emotions.  To depict traumatic moments from Sunny's memory the warmth and lightness of the color palette fades to darker hues.

The facial expressions and body postures on all the characters but especially Sunny and Gramps are wonderful.  For impact, Holm zooms in on a particular aspect of important moments.  When the comic book characters are introduced to Sunny, we are treated to full page images.

I think one of the many funny segments is Sunny's introduction to Big Al.  She and Buzz are on the golf course gathering wayward golf balls for extra money.  Completely unaware Sunny is wading in a pond trying to get the twentieth golf ball.  When Buzz points out Big Al you can't help but yell out "Run, Sunny, run!"  Her travel on the water is nearly Biblical.

After reading Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm twice, I can say with confidence it gets better and better.  This sister and brother team consistently gives readers their very best and it's apparent in the narrative and illustrations of this graphic novel.  If you don't have multiple copies already, you are going to need them.

To learn more about Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  This title is one of two selected for the #SharpSchu Book Club scheduled for October 29, 2015.  Read this post by Scholastic Ambassador for School Libraries, John Schumacher, at Watch. Connect. Read.  I Love Reading 3rd grade teacher, Colby Sharp, blogger at sharpread and teacher librarian, Travis Jonker, blogger at 100 Scope Notes have started a podcast series, The Yarn.  Season One revolves entirely around this title and the people who brought this book to us.  The episodes are as follows:

Welcome To The Yarn
Raina Telgemier
David Levithan
Phil Falco
David Saylor
Lark Pien
Matthew Holm
Jennifer and Matthew Holm
Fact or Fiction

Monday, October 26, 2015

Guardians Of The Wood

Take it from one who knows, moving is mentally and physically exhausting.  The stress from the mess of packing, assignment of duties to willing helpers, phone calls to utilities, banks, mortgage companies, title companies, realtors and moving company personnel seem to be never ending.  Getting boxes, shaping boxes, taping boxes, loading boxes, bubble wrapping anything and everything, lifting and carrying are enough of a work-out to earn extra points on the daily exercise chart.  Then when you arrive at your destination it all happens again, only in reverse.  For children and pets it must be overwhelming.

Each home has good qualities.  Each location has reasons for being selected.  When the change is made it's hard not to compare.  The newness is a mix of excitement and apprehension.  The wife and husband team of Erin E. Stead and Philip C. Stead present Lenny & Lucy (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, October 6, 2015), a look at imagination and the magic it invites.

through the dark unfriendly woods, Peter said,
"I think this is a terrible idea."

Peter, Harold, his faithful furry dog, and his Dad are moving.  The road to their new home takes them through old woods filled with tall trees and little light.  After crossing a bridge, they arrive.  To Peter the bridge is a gate; the woods on one side, his new home on the other.

That first night, Peter and Harold did not get a wink of sleep, worrying about the things not seen in the woods.  The next morning the companions haul piles of pillows from the house along with the necessary blankets.  Peter molds them into a friendly shape; a large bundled up man he calls

Lenny, Guardian of the Bridge.

On this night no one sleeps again, all three of them are awake.  Two are worried about the other being alone.  Lenny sits silently, a single brave soul making sure Peter and Harold are safe.

During the day, after much jumping by Harold and Peter, the piles of leaves are shaped as were the pillows with the necessary blankets from the house.  Lenny will not be lonely any longer.  He now has Lucy for a friend.  All is quiet this night. Everyone is sleeping.

The next day is off to a pleasant start with soup for lunch outside after a rousing game of marbles by the foursome. (You won't believe who wins.) A voice asks if anyone has ever seen an owl.  A binocular-carrying girl, Millie, from next door joins the group.  Five sit in a row looking at the wood.  As evening falls a crescent moon hangs in the sky with everyone and everything exactly where they should be.

When Philip C. Stead writes, the stories unfold in quiet and contemplation.  His first sentence on the opening page leaves us wondering.  Even if we have never moved, we immediately connect with Peter.  Everyone knows the disquiet change brings.

We understand Peter's unease but we are never afraid.  The repetition of Peter's actions and the phrases describing them supply a comforting cadence as the tale unfolds.  When Peter and Harold play with the pillows and leaves Stead adds the number of times they do this to his sentence.  It's one extra word but it is significant.  Our kinship with them grows.

The fourth sentence lets us know about Harold's place in this family; he's a beloved member.  Even though he never speaks, his presence is necessary and part of the narrative.  It brings a sense of normalcy so the wonder is even more surprising.

You probably can't tell but the title is embossed in a copper-like foil on the dust jacket.  This illustration is seen again, slightly more close-up in the interior.  To the left, on the back, we read a single sentence on a ribbon of cream over the large floral pattern, the wallpaper in Peter's bedroom.  The cloth book case is a dusky blue, the color of Peter's hat and mittens and his dad's hooded sweater.  The only image is in the lower right-hand corner, again in the copper foil, a foreshadowing of the fun ahead for Peter and Harold.  A shade of burnt orange covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Before the title page an owl is perched on a bare tree branch except for a single golden leaf still hanging.

Erin E. Stead's illustrations, rendered with carbon transfer printing, egg tempera and charcoal, tell a story of their own extending the text.  A limited color palette defines the pictures placed opposite a shaded charcoal page, or extending edge to edge across two pages.  The hues of black and gray make the added color a striking contrast.  Stead's use of the cream color, sometimes large amounts, is exceedingly skillful.  (I really want to know where the idea for the wallpaper in Peter's room originated.)

One of my favorite illustrations is of Lenny sitting on the ground a plate of toast and jam on the ground in front of his big self.  A glass of milk has been placed in his mittened-hand by Peter.  Harold is ready to pounce in the leaves.   Peter is carrying a huge bunch of leaves.  It's a scene so exquisitely normal and filled with loving companionship that you have to pause.

Readers move through the emotional changes in Peter along with his companions in Lenny & Lucy written by Philip C. Stead with illustrations by Erin E. Stead.  Peter has enough confidence to face his fears, secure in his beliefs, to create help. There is strength in numbers, a loyal dog and a watchful owl.  This title found a place on our final Mock Caldecott list.

To find out more about both Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Here is the link to The Stead Collection site.  At the publisher's website you can view additional images.  Please read the blog posts for Lenny & Lucy at Watch. Connect. Read. hosted by John Schumacher, Scholastic Ambassador for School Libraries, at the Nerdy Book Club, The Art Room by Philip C. Stead and at sharpread where I Love Reading 3rd grade teacher, Colby Sharp interviews Erin E. Stead and Philip C. Stead.  You'll enjoy this interview at Publishers Weekly where the Steads interview each other.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Egg-Citing Encounter

There are advantages and disadvantage to being alone.  Of course, it usually depends how much time you find yourself without company.  Is it hours, days or almost always?  A few hours without the hustle and bustle of daily life can be a sought-after miracle.  If this extends to day after day, month after month and year after year, it is an adjustment but certainly allows for thoughtful reflection on any and all things inside and outside your world.

A disadvantage is seeing something wondrous and having no one to chat with about it but remember there are those discoveries better kept to yourself.  They are simply too hard to explain.  Lizard from the Park (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 8, 2015) written and illustrated by Mark Pett (The Boy And The Airplane and The Girl And The Bicycle) represents the many phases of friendship, both joyous and challenging.

Like most days, Leonard walked home by himself.  On this particular spring afternoon, he took a shortcut through the park.  

Before we turn to the next page, let's pause a minute here.  First, Leonard is alone.  Second, he is taking a shortcut.  I can already feel the tension and anticipation increasing, can't you?  Now he's in

the deepest, darkest part.

We readers and listeners of stories know Leonard's life is about to change.

Leonard finds an egg and it's extraordinary...at least to Leonard.  He does exactly what a curious boy who is alone most days would do.  He plops it into his backpack.  Leonard lives in a large city in an apartment at the top of his building.

The egg never leaves his side for the rest of the day.  That night the two are snuggled together in bed.  When morning comes what is inside the egg decides to come out.  It is a lizard which Leonard promptly names Buster.

Over the next several weeks Leonard is thrilled with Buster's company sharing the things he enjoys doing most in his favorite places.  When the season shifts into summer Leonard notices two things about Buster which cause him some concern.  As the end of autumn nears and a holiday approaches Leonard hatches a plan which has to work.  It will lift them both up, up and away into fresh friendships.

When Mark Pett introduces us to Leonard regardless of our individual personality, we are drawn to him for his solitude and energy.  Pett has an easy, matter-of-fact but intimate way of narrating Leonard's and Buster's story.  With one or two but sometimes three sentences per page or per illustration, we are privy to every thought and action of the two.  Repetition of certain phrases connects one part of the story to another like pieces on an elegantly stitched quilt.  Here is a sample passage.

In the weeks following, Leonard took Buster everywhere. They spent their mornings together, their afternoons together, and they spent their in-between together. 

Unfolding the dust jacket and opening the matching book case moves readers to a park surrounded by a large city and introduces us to the two characters.  By viewing the back, to the left, we know exactly which city this is by the reading place selected by Leonard for him and Buster.  The finely wrought details and soft shading employed by Pett using charcoal and digital painting welcome us into this charming, thoughtful tale.  His use of pale purple is especially appealing.  A light, bright spring green colors the opening and closing endpapers.

The verso and first page is a single image of the buildings on the left with Leonard walking into the park on his way home from school.  The next two pages have him in the thickest part of the park.  When he spies the egg Pett sets a smaller framed rectangle within the larger picture.  With flawless placement the illustrations shift size from double pages, to single pages, to almost two pages with a narrow vertical visual.

Sometimes a group of small vignettes will be surrounded by the cream background softly framing them.  The wordless two page image showcasing Leonard's plan for Buster will have readers cheering.  Careful observers will notice the repeated presence of another even before Leonard does.

One of my favorite sequences of illustrations is Leonard trying to help Buster blend in with the other people.  His disguises are hilarious.  In the final image readers will burst out laughing at the inability of even Leonard to help Buster look like a regular guy any longer.  Personally I think the picture of Leonard reading with Buster between the lion's paws should be a poster to promote literacy with a friend.

Tender and triumphant Lizard from the Park written and illustrated by Mark Pett is a quiet treasure.  How fortunate for Buster to have a friend like Leonard, clever and creative who puts others before himself.  This book is a joy to read repeatedly.

To learn more about Mark Pett and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Head on over to the publisher's website to view six interior images including one of my favorites.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Veterinarian's Hands, A War And A Child's Love For Bears

I like to think that even in the most fabulous, fantastical piece of fiction there is a shred of truth.  Perhaps the writer saw, heard, smelled, tasted or touched something real which triggered a thought carefully saved in their memory or journal.  All stories start with a single captured moment.

If we are fortunate enough to read a story, an entire story, so wonderful it feels like fiction even though it is based upon fact, we have been given a gift.  Finding Winnie:  The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear (Little, Brown and Company, October 20, 2015) written by Lindsay Mattick with illustrations by Sophie Blackall is one of those books.  It's about chance, choice, connections and love.

"Could you tell me a story?" asked Cole.
"It's awfully late."  It was long past dark, and time to be asleep.
"What kind of story?"
"You know.  A true story.  One about a Bear."
We cuddled up close.
"I'll do my best," I said.

A mother begins a story to her son Cole.  It takes place at least one hundred years before the boy is born.  It's about a veterinarian named Harry Colebourn.  It's said the warmth in Harry's heart moves to guide his skillful hands in caring for all animals.  A war in Europe extends its influence across the ocean to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada where Harry lives and works.  Harry leaves his home to care for the horses used in this war.

After the train carrying the soldiers weaves through the countryside for several days a stop is made at White River.  Strolling along the platform Harry sees a bear cub tied alongside a man, a trapper.  Reaching into his pocket, kindness guiding a decision, the veterinarian offers the man twenty dollars for the young animal.  As you can imagine, the Colonel is initially shocked by Captain Colebourn's actions.  The rest of the men in his regiment are intrigued and thrilled with the bear's antics. The bear is given the name of Winnipeg, Winnie for short.

Winnie is never far from Harry as he works in the special tent, among many as far as the eye can see, designated for horses. He makes sure she acts like a proper solider and her skills surpass those of her human counterparts when it comes to finding something.  When all those men and all those horses sail for Europe, Winnie sails with them too.  She is the mascot for the men.

When the orders are issued for the men to join the fight in France, Harry makes another choice.  His love for Winnie is greater than his need to be with her.  She is placed in the London Zoo.  Young Cole can't believe this is the end of Winnie's and Harry's tale, but it is.  It is NOT the end of Winnie's story.  Nor is it the end of Harry's story.

A boy looking for a name for his stuffed bear visits the zoo, spying the bear cub and thinking her name would be the perfect for his beloved toy.  Again and again he returns; allowed inside the enclosure to be close to Winnie.  His adventures with his stuffed bear, inspired by Harry Colebourn's Winnie, are written down by the boy's father, A. A. Milne.

Happily Harry returns home to Winnipeg tending the animals under his care.  His son has a daughter who has a daughter who has a son named...Cole.  One man's love, one boy's love and one father's love are linked forever.

If you've ever read aloud to a child or a group of children, even though you are speaking and they are listening, there is an exchange taking place and a bond is being formed.  If they are comfortable with you, questions will be quietly asked during pauses or blurted out loud as curiosity overwhelms them. Lindsay Mattick writes with a natural and knowing voice both in the conversations between Cole and her and as she is relating the story of Winnie and Harry and Winnie and Christopher Robin.  Her words flow effortlessly as one who is familiar with the truth and with the wisdom of life experiences.  Here is a sample portion of a passage which resonates on many levels.

"Sometimes," I said, "you have to let one story end so the next one can begin."
"How do you know when that will happen?"
"You don't," I said.  "Which is why you should always carry on."

You can't help but marvel at the genius of the dust jacket as designed and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. On the front Winnie is looking right at the reader as she might have looked at Harry Colebourn when he first saw her.  She clings to his boot knowing he will care for her.  To the left, on the back, the blue and white pajama leg of a child and a part of their top is visible. In their hand is a teddy bear.  It's the two Winnies.  If you read a tweet below you can learn how the background was chosen.

Across the book case left to right are seven marching soldiers in a line silhouetted against a sky blushed in either a rising or setting sun.  Birds fly above them as Winnie leads the way.  On the opening endpapers a lush forest scene, a stream winding through the trees, greets readers.  A lone fox looks up.  Another two-page spread for the title page shows us what is beyond the stream. A small bear cub looks down from a tree branch.  The closing endpapers complete six pages of a photo album highlighting actual photographs and memorabilia of Harry Colebourn, his regiment, statues of Harry and Winnie, Christopher Robin and Winnie and Lindsay and Cole.  By turning the book the verso can be read on the final page.

Rendered by Sophie Blackall in Chinese ink and watercolor on hot-press paper the illustrations sing out warmth and love.  The trees in the first two images are seen again as wallpaper in Cole's bedroom.  The colors and patterns selected for Lindsay's and Cole's clothing as well as the bedding, books and the shelves are a beautiful blend of shades and geometric bliss.

In the telling of Harry's and Winnie's and Winnie's and Christopher Robin's stories picture sizes vary spreading across the gutter to leave a column on either the left or right with an inset of Lindsay speaking with Cole within a small circle.  Sometimes an image will cover a single page edge to edge or a partial page leaving room for the narrative on the side or bottom.  Blackall groups three or six illustrations framed in cream to show the passage of time.  The layout and placement of pictures is wonderful.

The details readers see on every page will have them pausing to take notice; the cost of reading material on a rack at the train station, the engine number on the train, the military uniforms and tents, the initials on Harry's duffel bag, the scenery as Harry drives Winnie to London, the bird's eye view of the London Zoo and the comparison views of the soldiers leaving for Europe and their return home at the train station.   One of my many favorite pictures is of Harry first holding Winnie on the train after she has eaten a variety of food.  She is happily sucking on a bottle of condensed milk, humming away.  The other men watch, grinning and laughing.  In the midst of what was surely a frightening time for them Winnie provides a pleasant distraction, a reminder of home.

This book, Finding Winnie:  The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear, written by Harry Colebourn's great-granddaughter, Lindsay Mattick, with illustrations by Sophie Blackall is a stunning work of textual and pictorial storytelling.  Every reader, no matter their age, will find these tales touching their collective hearts.  It's all about being connected and we are...we truly are.  It would be interesting to compare this title with students along with Winnie:  The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh (Henry Holt and Company, January 20, 2015) written by Sally M. Walker with illustrations by Jonathan D. Voss.

To learn more about Sophie Blackall and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Update:  At Sophie Blackall's blog she has posted Finding Winnie, Part 1, The Making of Finding Winnie Part 2 and The Making of Finding Winnie Part 3.  At the publisher's website you can read an excerpt starting with the opening endpapers.  It's interesting to see the image chosen for the UK version book case.  At CBC Books is a nice graphic timeline.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson has a remarkable post about this title at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, One Picture-Book Roundtable Discussion Before Breakfast #4: Featuring the Women of Finding Winnie.  This link takes you to an educator's guide.  Historica Canada has a conversation with Lindsay Mattick.  Be sure to listen to PW KidsCast:  A Conversation with Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall.

UPDATE:  After the announcement of Sophie Blackall winning the 2016 Caldecott Medal for this title she was interviewed at Publishers Weekly.

Enjoy the tweets below.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to view the other choices in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge by other bloggers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Pondering The Pause

It seems a contradiction the older you get the less you mind waiting.  With fewer hours on your life clock, it would make sense to not favor waiting.  Perhaps a lesson learned is the peace to be found in pausing.  If we forget why, for whom, or for what we are waiting and use our senses and minds to enjoy the moments, we are far richer in things no dollars can buy.

When you are younger waiting is everywhere in every day.  It's not easy.  Sometimes it's downright frustrating.  Waiting (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 1, 2015) written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes lovingly shows the worth in waiting.

There were five of them.
And they were waiting...

Each windowsill watcher longed for something different; the moon, the rain, the wind and the snow.  One simply enjoyed looking out the window.  Some of these natural occurrences happened more often than others.  No matter the length of time or frequency, each was content.

Were they always together?  Were they always in the same spot on the sill?  Did they ever rest?  Did other objects or visitors appear?

Regardless of the answers to those questions, one thing was abundantly clear.  As the seasons passed they saw marvels in the sky made by the hand of Mother Nature and the cleverness of humans.  These and their most desired experiences, over which none of them had any control, defined their happiness.

Early in the spring the five eagerly noticed a change on their light-filled linear home.  A cat with patches joined the owl with spots, the pig with an umbrella, a bear with a kite, a puppy on a sled and a rabbit with a starry collar.  Is the cat waiting too?  More can and will be the merrier.

When Kevin Henkes writes he offers the heart of his story to readers as simply and beautifully as possible.  His gift is in knowing exactly what his readers need; for the intended audience and the rest of us.  When you read this story aloud (silently too) the quiet truth surrounds you in soothing waves.   Here are two separate passages about one of the animals.  For each of the other four similar phrases are used to make a kind of music.

The bear with the kite was waiting for the wind.  ...
When the wind blew,
the bear was happy.
The kite few high and far.

The first thing you notice when opening the dust jacket is the feel of the paper; matte-finished and heavier.  The use of the creamy white is soft and inviting.  Those five friends sitting on the windowsill enjoying the wondrous shapes of them reflected in the clouds fill you with longing to be there with them.  On the back, to the left, one element is placed on the creamy white background.  It is the new friend.

The book case takes the mint green color from the spine as a canvas for the rabbit placed in the right and left corners respectively.  A warm chocolate brown colors the cloth spine which is then used for the opening and closing endpapers.  Above the title text on the formal page, the five animals look at us, to the right or at each other.  Above the dedication we are shown the gifts in advance.

The shades of blue, green, pink, and brown Henkes uses delicately depict his characters' wishes and their fulfillment as well as their cheerful acceptance of waiting.  To focus on one in particular Henkes frames them in an oval or offers us a closer view of the sill. Their facial expressions, eyes and mouths, and small body movements convey every mood.

 Most of the time the setting is the windowsill and the world outside this specific location.  I want to note also the use of the window panes as frames.  Each contains a separate design element but the image flows from one to the other exquisitely.  Seasons change as do the positions of the animal companions. There are four pages without words; each equally brilliant.

One of my many favorite illustrations (I would frame any page) is of the five watching fireworks.  All of them have their backs to us with the exception of the bear that is slightly turned.  Each is relaxed. (The puppy lying on the sled is precious.) You can almost hear them sighing with pleasure.

This title, Waiting, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes is both eloquent and charming.  You want to hug it, put it under your pillow at night and share it with the world.  You also wish you had these characters to sit upon your windowsill reminding you of the wonder to be found in waiting.

To learn more about Kevin Henkes and his other delightful books, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Here is a link to an author study and some memory cards for this title.  At TeachingBooks.net there are many links to resources about Kevin Henkes.  You are really going to enjoy listening to this interview at NPR:  Some Kids' Books Are Worth The Wait: 'They Do Take Time,' Says Kevin Henkes.  I loved hearing him read excerpts.  Below are some tweets about this title.

Don't miss reading this excerpt.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fixing 'N Friendship

It hangs on the wall above my work space.  It holds a hammer he made.  All the tools are engraved with his initials, CSM.  It's not just a toolbelt holding those few implements of his I still have, it's a cache for memories. It holds his voice telling me how to hold a nail and swing that hammer.  It reminds me how to use the proper motion when using a saw.  It asks me to look at a problem, figuring out the best way to make something, anything, work.

Yesterday as I was busy decorating my home with strings of orange lights for Halloween, I paused to put my pumpkin stakes along the walkway.  The previous owners used river rock extensively in the landscaping.  Using a hole punch Dad gave me, I was able to pierce through the stone and webbing to make a spot for those stakes.  As I finished, holding the punch, I knew Dad was there next to me and grinning.

In his dedication for his newest title, Little Robot (First Second, September 1, 2015), Ben Hatke writes

For my DAD,
who showed me
how COOL it is to

Being able to envision an end product or goal, to figure out a way to make it work with the materials at hand and feel satisfaction and success is a gift.  It's rarely easy but as Ben's new protagonist shows us, the rewards are invaluable.

A crescent moon hangs in the sky above a highway bridge as vehicles cross.  One, a truck, hits some rocks on the road dislodging a box from the back.  It plunges into the river, drifting into the countryside.

In the morning a young girl sneaks out the window of her trailer home scampering away as others ride the bus to school.  She wanders and explores in a neighbor's yard and near a junkyard by the water.  The floating box grabs her attention.  She gets it on the sand, opens the box and surprises herself with the contents.

With some shimmying and shaking a little robot forms.  It's wobbly just like a newborn child.  With a bit of help from the human, it quickly learns to walk without falling.  Meanwhile...

At the robot factory, the missing box is duly noted.  An eight-legged, one-eyed, menacing spider- type machine is sent out to locate the absent robot.  As it searches, Little Robot with the guidance of his new friend discovers the finer points of cats, flowers, pond life and the fine art of skipping stones.  With the setting of the sun on the second day of their new companionship, it's easy to see these two are inseparable.

With all new relationships there are challenges.  These two must spend their nights without each other. Sometimes best efforts fall short.  Sometimes best efforts succeed grandly.  One is human, the other is a robot.  Something evil wants one of them.  Ingenuity, determination, and a need to find puffballs are qualities in a friend I would enjoy for life.

Robot-speak and short conversational sentences, more like thinking aloud, are the sole narration.  Ben Hatke's images, based on each reader's perceptions and past experiences, convey volumes.  It's as if he is telling us a story filled with text, once upon a time and the end.

On the matching dust jacket and book case Ben Hatke introduces us to the human child, Little Robot, a junkyard cat and the nefarious machine.  The girl wears her white nightshirt and carries her toolbelt like the hero she is.  Little Robot brings out the best in her.  We can readily see the color palette, the fine line work, and shading used throughout the book.  To the left, on the back, on the extended hillside stand four other little robots ready for action.  The gear pattern in the title text is used on the spine also.

On the opening and closing endpapers two-tone light blue gears provide a background for a pale yellow dancing Little Robot and his human girl child.  On the formal title page a darker shade of the same blue showcases Little Robot and the girl kneeling and looking at a flower with the text in yellow.  This leads beautifully into the first two-page image.

Hatke takes us from illustration to illustration flawlessly.  He might put a smaller picture within a larger one.  Panels may be grouped in four with a larger one underneath horizontally or two might be side by side vertically.  Most of the panels are framed in a loose white border.  Gorgeous visuals close out each chapter.

Changing perspective, bringing us close to the characters' faces, involves us intimately in the emotional moments of the story.  Hatke may use a series of panels grouped by six to depict a few seconds in time.  He desires us to be with the characters.  And we are.

I have many favorite illustrations but the two pages where the girl is showing Little Robot how to skip stones on the river is delightful.  She eagerly demonstrates with one skip and a plunk.  With a couple of clicks and a blip Little Robot performs like an Olympic champion.  The look on the girl's face as she watches and then glances at Little Robot is sure to bring on a smile.  Then in a heartbeat she's ready to play a new game.

Little Robot conceived, written and illustrated by Ben Hatke is a tribute to the strength of true friendship.  He salutes creativity.  He salutes girl power.  These are the kind of characters for whom you want to cheer.  I highly recommend this book for your personal and classroom shelves.  Thank you Ben for this book.

To learn more about Ben Hatke and his other work please follow the links attached to his names to access his website and Tumblr.  You can view eight interior images at the publisher's website.  Ben was interviewed about this title (plus there are more illustrations) at Entertainment Weekly, Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, The Beat Comics Culture and BookPage.

On October 29, 2015 Little Robot is one of the titles selected by John Schumacher, Scholastic Ambassador for School Libraries and Colby Sharp, 3rd grade teacher and co-founder of Nerdy Book Club for the #SharpSchu Book Club on Twitter.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Grab A Seat, The Curtain Is Rising

It's a miracle!  Every moment we are alive the systems of the human body work in unison striving for optimum performance.  No matter the size of their components, as tiny as capillaries or as large as a femur, each has an important role to play.

There is no ticket necessary to enjoy The All-Singing, All-Dancing Anatomy Extravaganza! Human Body Theater: A Nonfiction Revue (First Second, October 6, 2015) written and illustrated by Maris Wicks.  A Now Showing table of contents reads like a program. An introduction, eleven acts, one for each system and the five senses, and an intermission entertain and inform you about this marvelous structure in which we live.

As the lights dim a bony hand draws back the curtain.  Our master/mistress of ceremonies and guide, a skeleton, first showcases the stagehands, cells.  One particularly nice member of the team, Golgi Bodies, continues with insights on molecules and atoms.  Appropriately Act One features The Skeletal System.  We examine the outside of bones as well as the inside.  We get the scoop on broken bones, repairing bones, maintaining healthy bones and how bones are held together.

Did you know we have more than 640 skeletal muscles?  The strongest one has the force of twenty bowling balls coming down at one time.  Now I know why parents are always saying "Get your fingers out of your mouth!"  Act Two, The Muscular System, closes with a launch into the delivery of oxygen.

One of the most interesting pieces of information shared in Act Three, The Respiratory System, was the source of most of the oxygen we breath.  It's not trees, readers.  You will have to think bigger and...wetter.

Our blood transports this oxygen, among other treasures throughout our body.  Act Four, The Circulatory System, focuses on blood's composition, red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.  You will not believe how many red blood cells are in a single drop of blood.  We learn about blood pressure, blood types, and how blood heals wounds.

Taking center stage for Act Five, The Digestive System, the skeleton gleefully swings guts around and carefully places them back in position before telling us how to determine the length of time it takes for our food to be digested.  I don't think I'll ever look at corn quite the same way in the future or a peanut butter and banana sandwich.  Enzymes, salts, minerals and vitamins take the stage.  I know you'll be scurrying to get a glass of water as the curtain closes.

After gulping down a glass or two Act Six, The Excretory System, offers an informative explanation on why you'll be glad Intermission is coming up next.  Viewing hormones as messengers makes perfect sense in Act Seven, The Endocrine System.  This has our gangling guide jumping for joy as the spotlight shines on Act Eight, The Reproductive System.  This act simply steals the show with finesse, facts and fun.

From every area of our body warriors run ready to fight when germs threaten us.  Act Nine, The Immune System, will have you cheering for the efforts of mucus, tears and saliva.  You'll swell with pride at the efficiency of white blood cells, neutrophils and antibodies.  Bacteria, viruses, fungi and allergens play their parts well.

Our brain governs all actions, involuntary and conscience thought.  In the Nervous System, Act Ten, a fascinating network needing as much care as the other systems in our body is revealed.  It's the conductor for the orchestra of everything.  Each of the five senses, Smell, Taste, Hearing, Sight, and Touch, Act Eleven, help to keep us alive.  They are uniquely designed to function in a capacity to warn us or create a delightful sensation.

Words full of vitality by Maris Wicks captivate her audience.  We are aware of learning and loving every minute of it.  The conversational interplay between the characters is as real as two neighbors chatting over a fence or classmates comfortable sharing the latest news in the hallway at school.  Humor abounds in every act especially through the voice of the master of ceremonies; act titles will cause a chuckle or two.  In addition to thorough discussions on each system, Wicks speaks thoughtfully about the care and upkeep of each.

Bright, cheerful full color panels with loads of rich red shades draw readers' eyes to the pages.  Maris Wicks uses white space artfully as an element to highlight a specific item.  We are given an overview of each system and numerous fascinating close-up sections.  The animated features, physical characteristics and body movements on the skeleton host and the other lively players are deftly drawn.

Be sure to follow the links attached to Maris Wicks' names to access her blog and Tumblr sites to learn more about her and her work.  This link to the publisher's site will give you a view of eight interior pages.  Gina Gagliano of First Second celebrates this title on their blog with many images.

I am thrilled to be the final host on the blog tour for this stunning nonfiction graphic novel, the first both written by and illustrated by Maris Wicks.

Welcome to the Human Body Theater, where your master of ceremonies is going to lead you through a theatrical revue of each and every biological system of the human body!  Starting out as a skeleton, the MC puts on a new layer of her costume (her body) with each "act."  By turns goofy and intensely informative, the Human Body Theater is always accessible and always entertaining.

I'll bet you've never stopped to think how you would do all the things you do without the use of your elbow.


In your arm, there is a bony intersection where your humerus and ulna meet (ok, and the radius hangs out there too): the ELBOW! The elbow is a joint - a place where two bones meet - and this particular one is called a hinge joint (like hinges on a door). If you touch the pointiest part of your elbow, that’s the very end of your ulna (one of the two bones in your lower arm), but if you feel your elbow as it bends, you can actually feel the ulna glide over the humerus. Joints all over our bodies allow us to bend and twist, and each joint is cushioned by a piece of squishy cartilage. So, tell your arm to bend and take a (el)bow for all the work that it does!

Maris Wicks lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. She has harnessed the power of her various biological systems to draw comics for Adhouse Books, Tugboat Press, and Spongebob Comics, and written stories for Image and DC Comics. Wicks is the illustrator of the New York Timesbestselling Primates, with Jim Ottaviani. When she's not making comics, Wicks works with New England Aquarium. She's especially proud of her pulmonary system. 

Be sure to visit other hosts on this tour.

Fuse #8, 10/5
Sharp Reads, 10/7 
The Roarbots10/8 
The Book Rat10/14

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Company Of Captivating Creepiness

Are your doors and windows locked?  Are all the curtains closed and the blinds lowered?  Do you have a flashlight or matches and a candle handy in case the lights unexpectedly go out?  Is your best buddy, your furry friend, nearby?  Are you snuggling with a favorite blanket or stuffed toy you haven't used in years?  If you answered yes to all of these, you might be ready to read a collection of new truly scary stories.

My last encounter with a Guys Read title and an explanation of the series was Guys Read:  Other Worlds (Walden Pond Press, September 17, 2013) edited by Jon Scieszka with illustrations by Greg Ruth.  Stories from those outstanding creators still linger in my mind.  On September 16, 2014 the fifth title, Guys Read: True Stories (Walden Pond Press) edited by Jon Scieszka with illustrations by Brian Floca was released.  Ten authors known for their stellar work in writing nonfiction contributed.

The newest book, the sixth in the series, Guys Read:  Terrifying Tales (Walden Pond Press, September 1, 2015) edited by Jon Scieszka with illustrations by Gris Grimly is another highly anticipated work which exceeds all expectations.  I did not pace myself in reading these stories.  I consumed them like a survivor of a hike across Death Valley gulps cool water.  Michael Buckley, Nikki Loftin, Adam Gidwitz, Kelly Barnhill, Dav Pilkey, Daniel Jose Older, Rita Williams-Garcia, Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown, R. L. Stine and Claire Legrand, whose work you think you may know, will garner your respect for their versatility as writers.  These tales, their stories, will give you the willies for weeks...or longer.

 Jon Scieszka's introduction exquisitely sets the tone with a winning combination of creepy and comedy.  Here is a sample passage.

I'm not sure why some people like to read scary stories.  Many experts say it might be a way of conquering fears in practice.  Other experts say they love the rush of excitement, and the relief when the terror is over.
I say these people are nuts.

I hear my little brother's terrified screams a block away.  I pump my pedals as hard as I can and steer my bike toward home.  Tearing through my yard, I destroy my mother's azalea bush on my way to the back of the house.  There I find him clinging to the highest rung of a rotting rope ladder.

Tyler's imaginary friend, who through therapy with a child psychiatrist, he has walled out of his mind for years is back...in the flesh, befriending his four-year old brother.  Michael Buckley paints a horrifying picture of the realm of imagination crossing into reality.  Caught in a web of deception Tyler fights for his own sanity and the lives of his family.

My mouth is full of tarry black candy.  Licorice needles, Mrs. Carlson calls them.  She gave me a few long pieces, said I could have the whole jar if I didn't mess up reading today.

Nikki Loftin designs a scenario so normal the truth will pierce deep into the depths of your soul.  An old blind woman (or is she) misses reading her favorite literature.  A seventh grade boy needs to bring his English grade up to a B.  His mom thinks it's the ideal situation for them both with Jeremiah reading to Mrs. Carlson after school every day plus she makes the most delicious baked treats.  Do you remember the childhood chant of sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me?  Jeremiah discovers how truly evil words can be.

Once upon a ti---
I'll stop.  You don't even want me to finish that sentence.  Now you think I'm going to tell you a fairy tale.  You did not pick up this book in order to read a fairy tale.  You picked up this book to read a story that would scare you; that would freak you out; that would give you nightmares; a story so scary you'd pee your pants.  That's the kind of story you're looking for.  Right?

Trust me when I say Adam Gidwitz gives his own special treatment to a classic fairy tale of gruesome top-notch horror.  Three sisters, three brothers, hunters every one, and one man, a fowler, who is farthest from ordinary as you can be all live in a great, wild wood.  The youngest and least beautiful of the sisters, Marleenken, observes strange events but her clever mind seeks solutions.  Marriage, magic and murder might be mentioned more than once.

Before I start this story, let me first say that it is never, never, never, never, never okay to push your brother down a creepy, old, possibly bottomless well.
Or, almost never. 

There are legends attached to fountains and wells.  Wishes made when a coin is tossed into one are said to come true.  In Kelly Barnhill's version a rock with a paper wish attached thrown into a well on a polluted parcel of land gets carried to devilish darkness.  This wished-for brother has healthy appetites.  This wished-for brother has Arne, best friend Jamal and Owen the family cat going where they should not go and doing what cannot be undone.

When I was a kid, I loved scary things.  I watched horror movies constantly.  ...And my bedroom was filled with tons of cool monster stuff.

What by day was perfectly fine turns totally frightful every night for this boy.  Sneaking a flashlight to shine a bit of brightness works pretty well until the third grade, then Dav Pilkey sees what no guy should see; a sister who is not all there, so to speak.  Needless to say the commotion he creates causes his parents, particularly his dad, to make his life scarier than he can ever have imagined.

I haven't been back here since that night two years ago when my father died.  Then, it was summer.  I wore a red T-shirt and even though it was late, the sky still glowed purple and red over the abandoned sugar factory across the river.  Now it's October, and the night is everywhere, pushing through the skyscraper corridors on the howling wind.  The air tightens and releases like giant gasps; the whole city seems like it's trembling, waiting for the storm to hit.

Since the evening his abuela sent him to bring his father home for dinner, Marcos has not spoken a single word.  The events leading up to and after his father's murder have haunted him as have spirits coming from the river.  Daniel Jose Older leads us and Marcos on a journey where waiting and wanting blend with reality and the realm on the other side of life.

This is how I know something's different about my mother.  My waste not, want not, save-don't-spend mother says to me, while we're all next to the JetBlue check-in line, "It's not too late.  I can still get you a ticket."  She takes a blue booklet from her purse and sings, "I have your passport!"

Rita Williams-Garcia does not waste a single sentence wrapping us in mystery, tension and eventually terror from the beginning.  Winston, his brother Colin, who has escaped to college, and his dad are convinced their mother and wife has become a darker version of herself but that's ridiculous...isn't it?  After her return from Jamaica her gift to Winston of three coconut heads bearing an uncanny likeness to his cousins pushes him to fight for his life on his own.  Winston's worst fear is realized.
Chop, chop, chop.

If I'd known what suffering Thaddeus Rolf would bring me, I'd have put an end to my life right then.
Instead, I took his. 

Who can blame a thirteen-year-old lad from wanting to escape grueling servitude at the hands of an unrelenting master?  Certainly desperation pushed him to commit this heinous crime, assuming the identity of another man.  As Adele Griffin tells it and Lisa Brown visualizes it for us, Rolf punishes his assassin with his artistic ability from beyond his tomb in a barrel of stout.  For any crew member aboard the good ship, Charming Molly, a tattoo is a sign of a worthy sailor.  With each inked piece appearing on the boy's body, without benefit of a tattooist, disasters plague the voyage, the ship and its men.  There is no escaping this curse.  None whatsoever.

My name is Mark Martindale, but my magician name is Magic Marko.  Yes, I'm one of those weird kids who is totally into magic and magicians and tricks.  Someday, I'm going to be a famous magician and amaze millions of people.  I'm serious.  

Mark's best gift ever is a suitcase filled with one hundred magic tricks.  As fast as he can, trick by trick, he perfects them and marvels people with his abilities.  When a master magician comes to town Mark will do anything to attend the show, even if he has to take his pesky seven-year-old brother, Kevin.  Mark and his brother are about to discover the truth behind Alexander the Semi-Great's boast of not performing tricks but bending reality.  R. L. Stine is the true magician in this story.

Grandma Ruby had never trusted libraries.  "Don't go," she told Clark one gray day, when he was twelve years old and in the seventh grade, and quite frankly hating life at the moment.  

Clark and his new best friend Nina go to the library regardless of Grandma Ruby's eerie whispered songs which she sings daily since her daughter, Clark's Aunt Mara, has disappeared. As soon as Clark meets the librarian, Mr. Dunn, his eyes neatly hidden behind glasses glaring in the lights of the library, all his instincts tell him this man is wrong, this place is wrong.  When the shadowy kids with too-long limbs wearing masks slid up and down the shelves and walls, it's too late.  Then Claire Legrand writes

That was when the lights went out.

Guys Read:  Terrifying Tales edited by Jon Scieszka is a superb gathering of ghoulish, ghastly, and ghostly occurrences.  The characters conceived by these ten authors will amaze you with their bravery, threaten to freeze the blood in your veins with the depth of their evilness, and have you cheering at their wit.  Sheer dread seeps into you and your surroundings by their written words creating visions of worlds better seen than entered.  You have to remember to keep breathing believing the slightest sound on your part could signal your demise.  You should plan on getting multiple copies in your classroom or school libraries.  This title would make a great treat to hand out at Halloween.

The illustrations by Grim Grimly featured to the left of each story's beginning (with the exception of the Dav Pilkey and Lisa Brown images) depict the essence of each tale.  Shivering is not an option but a direct result from seeing each picture.  You will never look at old ladies or coconuts the same way again.

Do follow the links attached to each author's name to access their websites, learning about them and their other work.  I have included a link to the page at the Guys Read website for this title.  Enjoy reading a lengthy excerpt courtesy of the publisher.