Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Being Your Best Self

Every single individual has potential.  Choices made daily determine how this capacity is developed.  We get to decide how we look at ourselves, each other and the world as a whole.  We very quickly learn we will not have control over everything that happens but we do have the ability to create our response.

Three titles published within the last several months focus on developing a positive perspective so our lives, the lives of those closest to us and the lives of people we may never meet are rich and full.  Collaborators author Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld present Friendshape (Scholastic Press, August 25, 2015), a charming tale on the comforts trustworthy companions bring.  I Used To Be Afraid (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, September 29, 2015) written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger explores conquering fears by stepping back and looking at them with different eyes.  A daily ritual of a father with his children becomes Beautiful Hands (Blue Dot Press, September 29, 2015) written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi and Bret Baumgarten.

What's so great about having


We're glad you asked!
See, the great thing about having friends is ...

A blue circle, a yellow square, a green triangle and a red rectangle cheerfully list all the attributes of having a friend.  Each quality is not only displayed textually but visually.

Friends make you feel happy.

On the opposite page the foursome are indeed grinning but their shapes make a smiling face.

You know how you feel like you can be yourself in your own home.  Friends make you feel the same way no matter where you are.  It's like your minds are in sync. They have a gift for seeing play when no one else can and they do so with equality for all participants, even newcomers.

When you don't see eye to eye, they value you more than being right.  Through thick and thin there's nothing they won't do for you.  In case you are wondering why friends are friends to the end, the quartet arranges themselves to spell out the answer.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal speaks the language of her readers knowing what they value most.  She understands the importance of simplicity; her words clearly defining eleven virtues of lasting relationships in single sentences.  Each one builds toward the final thought.  Here is one of the sentences.

Friends may quarrel...
...but they don't stay bent out of shape for long.

Rendered in pencil with digital color the illustrations on the matching dust jacket and book case playfully extend the text in a punny sort of way.

An uplifting celebration of friendship 

is highlighted with a balloon (a symbol of celebration) floating upward with the Square happily hanging on tight.  On the back, to the left, the words

Here's to a great circle of friends! 

curves around Circle as Rectangle, Square and Triangle surround it.  The four pages of the opening and closing endpapers are in green, yellow, blue and red.  Everyone is equal.

Tom Lichtenheld places the characters on a crisp white background with the exception of elements placed on cosmic black to reflect one of the statements.  The secondary asides in the narrative are sure to elicit grins galore due to Lichtenheld's pacing and placement.  With careful curves and two dots emotions are readily depicted.

One of my favorite images is for the second portion of the quarrel statement.  Circle and Square are apologizing to each other on the left.  On the right Rectangle looks at Triangle and says

You know,
you have a good point.  

I used to be afraid of SPIDERS
but not anymore.

A young girl shares her fears with readers.  She then introduces us to her new view inviting us to try the same with our fears.  In a rhythmic back and forth of exchanges we are privy to her thought processes.

When a spider swings down on a silken thread we are startled but the beauty in their web work helps to ease the initial moment of panic.  Shadows shift when we have control of their creation.  In the face of change relief is found in those things which remain with us.

Some fears stay but not all the time.  We can turn the fear into fun.  Family does that for us.

Laura Vaccaro Seeger establishes a cadence, a sense of expectation, with the repetition of

but not anymore

in each of her sentences.  The fears addressed are real to many.  She moves from concrete (spiders and shadows) to more abstract (change and being alone) and then back to a person.  This final fear ends the entire narrative in laughter and warmth.

There is real fear expressed on the face of the girl on the matching dust jacket and book case.  By bringing the girl close to us we immediately have empathy and a little curiosity.  What has her frightened?  Opening the cover the narrative starts with us stepping back to see her peering from behind a living room chair as the dog looks at her.  This is also the title page.

Each image rendered in acrylic paint and collage spans two pages.  First the fear is portrayed followed by the relief found when looking at it differently.  Laura Vacarro Seeger is a master of the die-cut.  When the page is turned what initially appears alarming, turns into beauty, love, light, heightened self-esteem, or comfort.  Four two-page spreads are devoted to being alone and to her big-brother, extending into the closing endpapers.  The twist at the end is perfectly pictured.

One of my favorite visuals (Xena's too) is her fear of the dark.  She is seen peeking over the edge of her covers in bed with her pink stuffed bunny by her side.  A circle in the upper right-hand corner turns into the moon with a page turn.  Now she is sitting outside gazing at the sky with her canine companion at her side.

What will your beautiful hands DO TODAY?

This introductory question guides each subsequent series of questions and a reply that is also a question.  We are first asked

Will they PLANT?
What can you plant?

We are engaged in this conversation.  Our minds race as possibilities come to the surface.  Will we plant seeds, vegetable, flowers, or trees?  Oh no...


Now we are wondering what hands can do.  Will they fix, fashion or grasp?  They will touch, lift, stretch and reach but what will they touch, lift, stretch and reach?

Once again we think of potential words to join with the questions.  We understand we are being challenged to expand our ideas into larger concepts.  Will this end today?  Do we do this every day?  What do you believe?

Kathryn Otoshi's text is based upon the first question which Bret Baumgarten asked his children every day as he held their hands.  By having the replies followed by a question mark, she is asking us to continue our thoughts.  She welcomes discovery through a more philosophical approach.

The rainbow color palette seen on the book case is used throughout the book.  All the images are created using the hands of Kathryn Otoshi's and Bret Baumgarten's families with the exception of a final illustration employing more than one hundred hands.  Most of the background color is a pristine white.

Portions of the first two questions are written in cursive.  The letters on the key words are cut from hand prints as are the replying questions.  For a few the letters look as if they were written in finger paint.  The layout and design flows from left to right.  We see beginnings and the beautiful results; seeds to flowers, a caterpillar to a butterfly and a lizard to a dragon.

One of my favorite illustrations is the two-page spread at night.  The background is a rich deep blue.  A tree spans across the gutter, branches extending to nearly the page edges.  It is covered in fireflies.  In white we are asked

What will your beautiful hands DO...

These three books, Friendshape written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld, I Used To Be Afraid written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger and Beautiful Hands by Kathryn Otoshi and Bret Baumgarten will add joy in your classrooms and home.  They will have every reader extending themselves, wanting to grow into the best they can be.  I can already imagine the discussions between readers and listeners and readers and readers....of all ages.

To discover more about Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Tom Lichtenheld, Laura Vaccaro Seeger and Kathryn Otoshi please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Update:  November 21, 2015 A wonderful Pinterest board has been created by Amy Krouse Rosenthal for their book.  Eight interior images from I Used To Be Afraid can be viewed at the publisher's website.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has some artwork and a link to her review at BookPage.  Hand in Hand: Kathryn Otoshi on Her Collaboration with Bret Baumgarten for "Beautiful Hands"  is posted at School Library Journal.  Enjoy this video about the book.

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