Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

If These Walls Could Talk

Probably at one time or another you've walked into a room thinking to yourself or aloud, "if these walls could talk" what tales would they tell?  From a historical perspective think of the unknowns which would be revealed.  On a more personal level if the walls had the ability to speak; perhaps we would locate missing items much more quickly.

Most educators in my circle of colleagues leave their classrooms prior to summer break ready for the first day in September when classes resume.  New colorful and relevant posters, banners and bulletin boards are placed on the walls ready to greet students.  Displays of books are placed around the rooms.  Seating is rearranged based on best practices.  For my part I do all these things plus a yearly inventory; this helps me to weed annually and remember the depth and breadth of my collection.  It refreshes my lessons and gives me ideas for new approaches to curriculum.

During frequent summer visits to the building to insure all new materials are ready for students and staff on the opening day; greetings are exchanged with the custodial employees hard at work.  School's First Day Of School (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, June 28, 2016) written by Adam Rex with illustrations by Christian Robinson is a fresh perspective on getting ready for and participating in the activities of the first day.  It's not only humans who might have the jitters.

That summer, they dug up the big field, and poured the foundation, and set brick on top of brick until they'd built a school.

The school was called Frederick Douglass Elementary.  The school thought this was a fitting name.  Yes, this story is told from the perspective of the new school.

Initially the school chatted with a man named Janitor but he advised the school of the upcoming first day when the building would be brimming with all kinds of children.  This was worrying to the school especially when learned Janitor would only be there after the day was over.  On the first day the sheer numbers were nearly overwhelming.

As the children used the building and enjoyed the playground, the school learned new things.  The school experienced sadness when listening to cranky bullies.  (He did regretfully retaliate.) One particular child upset the school even more.  She had to be carried into the building.

A surprise fire drill, cafeteria chuckles, kindergarten lessons and time for art further fascinated the school.  In an end-of-the-day conversation with Janitor, school had a request which will make readers smile at Janitor's answer.  As the sun set, gratitude full of promise closed the story.

This innovative approach to the first day of school by author Adam Rex will increase readers' sensitivity to their fellow students.  The blend of narrative, the school's thoughts, comments and conversations with Janitor ask us to examine what we do in the course of our day.  By focusing on the kindergarten students doing everything for the first time, the school (and readers) become intimately part of the overall experience.  Here is a sample passage.

At twelve o'clock the school was filled with food.
At twelve thirty the school was filled with garbage.
At one table a boy told a funny joke, and another boy
laughed so hard that milk came out of his nose.
"Now I'm covered with nose milk," thought the school.
He had to admit that it was a pretty funny joke, though. ...

Across the back and front, left to right, of the matching dust jacket and book case on a background of pristine white (which is used superbly within the book), Christian Robinson presents to readers a vibrant multi-ethnic community with buildings of all shapes and sizes with the school at its heart.  What is most pleasing about this first look at the book is the color palette and the shapes employed.  It calls to children and those who still value their child's heart.  I can't help myself; looking at Christian Robinson's illustrations rendered in acrylic paint and collage techniques I feel joy.

For the opening and closing endpapers Robinson chooses to change the background to brushed black.  This choice, like the white, draws our attention to his use of primary and secondary shades.  The heavier lines are in white outlining all the playful points on the playground.  Prior to the beginning of the narrative, Robinson starts the story visually with the machinery and crews building the new school across the verso and title pages.

With a few exceptions all of the pictures span two pages.  Even inanimate objects look alive in the capable hands of Robinson; the front of the school appears to be smiling.  As you get closer to the school in some images five panels on either side of the door are decorated with child-like mosaics.  Impeccable layout and design draw our eyes into the visual story.  Extra details like the time on the wall clocks, the inclusion of a READ poster in the library and the potted plants on the school's roof add warmth and authenticity.

One of my favorite illustrations, other than the fabulous endpapers, is the two-page picture of the front of the school prior to the first day.  My first thought upon seeing it was, who wouldn't want to go to this school?  I love the stylized trees and shrubbery!  Robinson brings us in for a close look at the door panels and inside one of the classrooms.  All of the elements and the colors work together in complete harmony.

School's First Day Of School written by Adam Rex with illustrations by Christian Robinson is fabulous!  Is it September yet?  Although as stated by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and Kirkus, it can be enjoyed any time of the year by all ages.  You had better plan on multiple copies in your school libraries and classrooms; this is going to be requested repeatedly.

To learn more about Adam Rex and Christian Robinson, please stop by their respective websites or Tumblr pages by using the links attached to their names.  The publisher's website has four interior images for you to view.  Here is the link provided by the publisher to an activity kit.

Peeking Into A Pastry's Past

Certain foods prompt memories; the first (or only) time you tasted something new, a parent's special recipe or when you cooked a meal all by yourself.  They are an integral part of annual celebrations and cultural traditions.  One very special pastry has been a crowd-pleaser for more than one hundred fifty years.

Growing up there was nothing better than walking into the local bakery early in the morning and tasting one freshly made.  In one of my school positions whenever there was a snow day, one of my neighborhood family's made them, inviting me to join in the fun.  The Hole Story Of The Doughnut (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 3, 2016) written by Pat Miller with illustrations by Vincent X. Kirsch adds a delicious ingredient to an already scrumptious treat.

Few remember the master mariner
Hanson Crockett Gregory, though
he was bold and brave and bright.

At the age of thirteen Hanson left his home in Maine to sail the seas as a cabin boy.  He became a cook's assistant and then was assigned to scale the ship's rigging releasing the sails.  Can you imagine climbing eight stories on lines in your bare feet?

Six years later he captained a cargo schooner, then in a short time lead a crew sailing a clipper ship from coast to coast.  He even received a medal from Queen Isabella II of Spain for rescuing Spanish sailors at sea.  There is little doubt as to the excellence of Hanson Crockett Gregory's skills aboard a ship.

This book is not solely about Hanson's abilities as a sailor but his ingenious leap of faith in the galley one morning cooking for the crew as an assistant when he was a teenager.  Rather than making the less than savory "sinkers", ball-shaped fried dough with gooey, greasy centers, he altered the routine.  Voila!  A new delectable treat was born.

Over time legends of an elaborate nature were told about the doughnut's origin, daring rescues at sea involving sinkers, wheels and belaying pins but we readers know the truth.  Decades later Hanson is quoted in a newspaper interview, giving a humorous and humble reply to a query.  Today in his honor he still looks to the sea from his resting place.

With her introductory two sentences Pat Miller reminds readers there are many stories within the single story of our lives.  She highlights the sailing life of Gregory first; giving us a foundation for his famous invention.  Then using a flashback technique we are privy to his creativity and how it spread from ship to shore.  The specific details in both of these narratives represent meticulous research.  By including other tales of the origin, she allows us to see how legends are formed.  Here is a sample passage representative of her conversational presentation in this book.

Hansom formed balls of sweetened dough.  Both men stood on spread legs as the cramped galley lurched with the ship.  Pans clanged overhead.
The aroma of browning sugar rose as the cook dropped in the first blobs of dough.  The iron railing on the stovetop kept the pot in place as the Ivanhoe bucked and plunged. ...

For knowing observers of children literature illustrators, they will recognize the work of Vincent X. Kirsch last seen in Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution.  The attention to details on the matching dust jacket and book case enhance the narrative adding tasty pieces of humor; the medal on Gregory's jacket, the whale reaching toward the doughnut mouth open and the expression on Gregory's face after sampling his invention.  On the back, to the left, within a circle of rope (a line) all eight legs of an octopus are holding a doughnut through the hole.  The blue along the bottom edge on the front crosses the spine becoming the hue surrounding the golden shade inside the circle. Eighteen rows of nine doughnuts and life rings around a doughnut with a ship's anchor in an array of decorative patterns (Fourth of July, Halloween, and a snowman) cover the opening and closing endpapers.  A clever set of marine signal flags spells out a request on the verso page.

Throughout the volume Kirsch places his images within circles framed by white space, background visuals extending the opposite picture and rope.  His perspective shifts bringing readers into the moment;  a smaller Gregory high in the vast rigging with the sun behind him, the movement of the ship at sea, a close-up of the defining ingenious moment in the galley or brave rescues during stormy waters.  All of the illustrations are suggestive of the energy surrounding this man; nothing is static.  Although my knowledge of period attire and architecture is limited it seems that Kirsch is authentic in his work.

One of my favorite illustrations is when Kirsch zooms in on Gregory hard at work in the galley bending over a tray of "sinkers".  Behind him are the shelves in the galley lined with ingredients.  He gives additional color to the important element there.  The look on Gregory's face is determined as well as full of hope.  You can see the progress of his baking spread before him.

This nonfiction picture book biography will linger in readers' minds as surely as the first sweet taste of a well-cooked doughnut will in their mouths.  The Hole Story Of The Doughnut written by Pat Miller with illustrations by Vincent X. Kirsch is savory and informative from beginning to end.  The final four pages include a photograph of Hanson Crockett Gregory, an author's note, a timeline, acknowledgments and a selected bibliography.

To discover more about Pat Miller and Vincent X. Kirsch please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Vincent X.Kirsch gives readers a peak at several interior images from this title.  Please read the review of this title at Jama's Alphabet Soup by Jama Rattigan.  She includes other helpful links on the progress of this book's creation.  On May 18, 2016 Pat Miller is a guest on a podcast at Storybook Spotlight, SSP86.

Please stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to discover the other books selected by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

An Obstinate Obstacle

There are big ones.  There are small ones.  Some are easily remedied.  Others are pretty tough to figure out.  Most days will have at least one or maybe two.  Other days are brimming with them.  (You want to rewind those kinds of days and start all over again.)

Those tough ones to solve can hang on for weeks or even longer.  Following the success of What Do You Do With An Idea? (Compendium, February 1, 2014) author Kobi Yamada and illustrator Mae Besom have collaborated to present to readers another thoughtful title.  What Do You Do With A Problem? (Compendium, July 1, 2016 but released earlier) is perfect as a picture book for younger readers but the story, like most picture books, is for all ages.

I don't know how it happened,
but one day I had a problem.

Like almost everyone our protagonist was not happy one little bit with having a problem.  The child is at odds with the fact the problem follows him everywhere.  He is certainly not sure how to handle it or to make it go away.  This problem is sticking to him like a second skin.

When dilemmas linger, we all tend to start to worry.  So did the child.  He imagined it's hungry for him, ready to gobble him up.  It became a monster ready to destroy all he valued.  Worry filled the child from the tip of his toes to the top of his head.

No matter what the child did the problem was there, getting bigger and bigger.  It was huge!  It saddened him to the depths of his soul.  It had him cornered.

The child decided to stop fleeing, turn around and hinder this quandary; needing to get back his happy self.  He formed a strategy.  Following through on this plan was probably the most courageous thing he had ever done in his short life.  What the child found was not expected but it altered his outlook for the rest of his life.

Told using the simple logic and language of a child, Kobi Yamada allows readers to see the essence of a problem from beginning to end as it unfolds.  We can readily identify with what the child is saying; having experienced similar situations.  The brilliance is in the conclusion.  It's a change in thinking and attitude explained with absolute clarity.  Here is a sample passage from the book.

I worried a lot.  I worried about what would happen.
I worried about what could happen.  I worried about this
and worried about that.

And the more I worried, the bigger my problem became.

Upon removing and opening the dust jacket you can see a grand expanse of a storm buffeting the child from the back, left, to the right.  This is the way Mae Besom has chosen to illustrate a problem.  On the book case a background of purple gray, storm cloud color, covers the back and front.  The only image is the child from the dust jacket in gold foil on the front.  The identical opening and closing endpapers show a compass rose moving across a pattern of wheat fields, leaves, waves and clouds.

The interior pictures initially show the child in a limited color palette walking through a seaside village.  As the problem grows it occupies a larger area of the page.  Most of the illustrations span two pages.  The visual for the text noted above is a close-up of the child, eyes closed, fists to his face.  As the storm roars around him several animal companions join him.

Details in all the images abound.  Inventiveness plays heavily into the solutions employed.  As a resolution is reached the colors shift with golden overtones and more full color.  There is a sense of peace, satisfaction and an eagerness to seek new adventures.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the child at work in his bedroom.  To the left of the child is shelving overflowing with collections and books.  The work surface is a mass of toys and gadgets.  Leaning over the table the child is intently drafting a plan on the top sheet of rolled large pieces of paper.  A look of resolute determination fills his face.

What Do You Do With A Problem? written by Kobi Yamada with illustrations by Mae Besom is a marvelous look at how creativity can address obstacles large or small appearing in our lives.  The blend of narrative and images is accomplished.  This is a welcome addition which I believe should find a place on professional and personal bookshelves.  The child is never portrayed strictly as a boy or a girl granting the story universal appeal.  For ease of writing I assigned male pronouns in this post.

To learn more about Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom and their work please follow the links attached to their names.  At Publishers Weekly read One Small Publisher's 'Idea' Yields Big Results

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Good Ones---Ms. Bixby's Last Day Blog Tour

Decades after elementary, middle, junior high and high school they are firmly affixed in our memories as if we just left their classroom only days ago.  They are the teachers who don't teach subjects but children.  These teachers create an aura of close community, family, in the space you will share with them for the next nine months.  Their goal, always, is to help you discover your best self.

I consider myself one of the fortunate ones.  Most of my teachers were wonderful.  I can still picture all of them in my mind noting memorable things about each of them.  The special educator who will continue to be the one who most inspired my life is my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Urquhart.  Before we had the polio vaccine, she contracted the disease.  She moved around using a wheel chair and special crutches.  While visually we were aware of her limitations, it never interfered with her ability to teach.

During the early sixties when President John K. Kennedy was in office, there was a huge push for physical fitness.  I can vividly recall Mrs. Urquhart playing the Chicken Fat song sung by Robert Preston every single morning.  Years later when I was assigned to teach physical education at the elementary level in addition to being the teacher librarian, I located a copy of the song to play at the beginning of our gym classes.  The students groaned but loved it.  We all loved it.  Mrs. Urquhart was there in spirit cheering us on as she often did a group of fifth grade students in the 60s.

I am sure during the course of the year Mrs. Urquhart read many stories and books to us, but the ones I remember the most were those of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.  She didn't just read us these stories, the stories became a part of our classroom.  We studied the characters in depth creating life sized images which were placed on all four walls.  We learned about the cultures from which these stories arose.  I could almost hear her voice when I needed a push to attend storytelling school in Jonesborough, Tennessee for two summers.  I taught storytelling for more than twenty years with my students.  To this day whenever I visit a community I locate their public library browsing through the 398.2 section hunting for new stories to tell.  If I could have another last day with Mrs. Urquhart, I would tell her how much I love her.  I would tell her she is one of my life's heroes.

After spending a day reading and rereading portions of John David Anderson's newest title I know this man experienced one of these special people in his life.  In Ms. Bixby's Last Day (Walden Pond Press, June 21, 2016) we come to know Ms. Bixby and three significant students in her sixth grade classroom becoming intimately involved in their lives.  Quite simply we don't want this story to end...ever.


With this opening statement Topher, short for Christopher, introduces us to his two friends, Steve, a brilliant boy with a photographic memory and a love of statistics and numbers and Brand, a creative wordsmith and a young man who stands fast no matter what happens and Ms. Bixby.  It is here we read the first of many Bixbyims.

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be," she adds.

We also conclude this first chapter with a sense of sadness.  We know bad news is coming.  Ms. Bixby delivers it three short weeks later.  She has been diagnosed with ductal adenocarcinoma.

In the alternating voices of Topher, Steve and Brand, chapter by chapter, a story of the present day is intertwined with past episodes.  To start, all the plans for a party on the scheduled last day for Ms. Bixby are cast aside when the school principal announces she has had to leave five days early.  This calls for action by the trio of boys.  They devise a plan during recess which, by the way, is written in ink from a stolen pen on Brand's arm.

Of course, life being what it is, obstacles pop up immediately.  They cannot complete their quest on a Saturday but must skip a day of school.  Every step of their plan is continually revised from one moment to the next, sometimes leaving readers hardly able to breath at what might happen but nevertheless turning pages as rapidly as possible.  Each boy outside of the grand scheme has a very specific reason for needing to see Ms. Bixby again.  Sometimes it seems as if everything has gone wrong but ultimately everything is better than expected because it's with Ms. Bixby.  Their year's journey with her and this day's adventure to be with her changes everything for Topher, Steve and Brand.  It will change you too.

John David Anderson had my attention from the first line.  With every single sentence I found myself more and more attached to these three boys and their teacher, Ms. Bixby.  Their conversations and thoughts are very realistic; to the point you believe these boys are flesh and blood people.  And yes, there are Ms. Bixby's in our schools.  There aren't as many as there should be but thankfully they are there guiding children and hopefully mentoring other educators.  Ms. Bixby's interactions with her students are professional but personal.  She sees into the hearts of her students as individuals knowing what to do and say and when her presence is needed.

You will chuckle and nod knowingly at Topher's description and attributes of teacher categories, Zombies, Caff-Adds, Dungeon Masters, Spielbergs, Noobs and The Good Ones. You will feel your heart swell when she places a ribbon earned by Steve on the board for a day, honoring him more than his A-or-nothing parents do.  You will cheer at the bravado of Brand in confronting a teacher who attempts to thwart their plans.  Every single incident plays out like the best kind of movie with its setting, time of day and dialogue.  Here are some sample passages.

"If we could pull it off," Steve repeated, then sighed before saying, "But you're right about one thing.  You couldn't possibly do it without me."

Brand looked back up. "So you're in?"

Steve nodded reluctantly.  I smiled.  Brand started rubbing his hands together, super-villain-like. "But only if you can promise that we won't get into any trouble." Steve countered.

I gave him my Indiana Jones smile.  "When have we ever gotten you into trouble?"

"Three days ago," he replied.  "And twice last week."

"I swear I thought Mrs. Samuelson's dog had an Invisible Fence," I said, remembering the three of us running like mad down the street, that wannabe-ferocious little schnauzer yapping at our heels, threatening to chew Steve's shoes off his feet.

Constants are called that for a reason.  You can take them for granted.  Like sunrises or breathing or the hissing sound a can of Coke makes when you open it.  Like the quote your teacher puts on the board every morning.
Or your best friend saving your seat on the bus.

The door swings shut behind us, no chimes or ringing bells to give us away.  Topher call out a "Hello?"  There's no answer.  "Bizarre," he says.

"Yeah," I say.

"And creepy," Topher adds.

"That too."

"You ever been here before?"

I shake my head.  "Didn't even know the place existed."

Topher inches a little closer to me.  I can't imagine what he's thinking.  His imagination must be in overdrive.  "Reminds me of the bookstore from The Neverending Story," he says.

"Never read it," I say.

"That's all right.  It's practically impossible to finish anyway."
Any other time I'd laugh, if I wasn't feeling so weirded out.  We stand by the door, none of us wanting to take a further step inside.  There aren't enough lights---at least a third of the bulbs are burned out---and that makes for a lot of shadows on the walls.  I get a chill, and it seems to be contagious because Topher and Steve shiver too.  Then, just as I'm about to suggest turning around, heading back and waiting at the bus stop, Steve sneezes so hard he get a blob of snot in the crook of his elbow.  A huge yellow glob quivering there like Jell-O.  I think about the time I picked his nose.  This is way grosser.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day written by John David Anderson is one of the finest middle grade titles of 2016.  It will resonate with all readers but will find a permanent place in the minds of middle grade readers.  I imagine it being passed from individual to individual and never being on the shelf all year long.

John David Anderson is a guest at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog Watch. Connect. Read. Here he completes John's sentences talking about this book and writing for Walden Pond Press.

Here is a link to a forty-six page excerpt from the book.

Here is another link to a video and additional resources for this book.

To learn more about John David Anderson and his work read:

John David Anderson

Author Bio:
John David Anderson is the author of many books for young readers, includingSidekicked and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wife, two kids, and perpetually whiny cat in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org.

ISBN: 9780062338174
ISBN 10: 006233817X
On Sale: 06/21/2016
John David Anderson, author of Sidekicked and The Dungeoneers, returns with a funny, heartwarming, and heartbreaking contemporary story about three boys, one teacher, and a day none of them will ever forget.
Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind.
Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan—more of a quest, really—to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.

The Dungeoneers
ISBN: 9780062338143
ISBN 10: 0062338145
On Sale: 06/23/2015
An action-packed, funny, and unexpected middle grade fantasy-adventure from the acclaimed author of Sidekicked.
The world is not a fair place, and Colm Candorly knows it. While his parents and eight sisters seem content living on a lowly cobbler's earnings, Colm can't help but feel that everyone has the right to a more comfortable life. It's just a question of how far you're willing to go to get it.
In an effort to help make ends meet, Colm uses his natural gift for pickpocketing to pilfer a pile of gold from the richer residents of town, but his actions place him at the mercy of a mysterious man named Finn Argos, a gilded-toothed, smooth-tongued rogue who gives Colm a choice: he can be punished for his thievery or he can become a member of Thwodin's Legions, a guild of dungeoneers who take what they want and live as they will. Colm soon finds himself part of a family of warriors, mages, and hunters, learning to work together in a quest to survive and, perhaps, to find a bit of treasure along the way.

ISBN: 9780062133113
ISBN 10: 006213311X
On Sale: 06/24/2014
John David Anderson returns to the world of superheroes he created in Sidekicked with an entirely new cast of characters in Minion, a funny and emotional companion to his first breakout tween novel—perfect for superhero fans who also love the work of bestselling authors Rick Riordan, Louis Sachar, and Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Michael Morn might be a villain, but he's really not a bad guy. When you live in New Liberty, there are no Supers and only two kinds of people: those who turn to crime and those who suffer. Michael and his adoptive father spend their days building boxes—special devices with mysterious abilities—that they sell to the mob at a price. They provide for each other, they look out for each other, and they'd never betray each other.
But then a Super comes to town, and Michael's world is thrown into disarray. The Comet could destroy everything Michael and his dad have built, the safe and secure life they've made for themselves. And now Michael and his father face a choice: to hold tight to their life or to let it unravel.

ISBN: 9780062133144
ISBN 10: 0062133144
On Sale: 06/25/2013
The Avengers meets Louis Sachar in this hilarious and action-packed tween novel by John David Anderson, which Publishers Weekly called a "superhero story that any comics fan will enjoy" in a starred review.
Andrew Bean might be a part of H.E.R.O., a secret organization for the training of superhero sidekicks, but that doesn't mean that life is all leaping tall buildings in single bounds. First, there's Drew's power: Possessed of super senses—his hearing, sight, taste, touch, and smell are the most powerful on the planet—he's literally the most sensitive kid in school. Then there's his superhero mentor, a former legend who now spends more time straddling barstools than fighting crime. Add in trying to keep his sidekick life a secret from everyone, including his parents, and the truth is clear: Middle school is a drag even with superpowers.

But this is all before a supervillain long thought dead returns to the city of Justicia, superheroes begin disappearing at an alarming rate, and Drew's two identities threaten to crash head-on into each other. Drew has always found it pretty easy to separate right from wrong, good from evil. It's what a superhero does. But what happens when that line starts to disappear?


Saturday, June 25, 2016

No Place To Hide

There is not a reader among readers who has not done this.  It can happen almost any time of the day.  You move with the stealth of a ninja seeking a place of solitude; a secret of all secret nooks.   You have to start this one important book getting lots of buzz or you have to finish the final two chapters of an edge-of-your-seat title.  You have no control over this desire.  This is simply the way it is.

Since the beginning of the printed word, book nerds and readers, this challenge has been and continues to be an arduous task.  Let Me Finish! (Disney Hyperion, June 7, 2016) written by debut picture book author Minh Le with illustrations by Isabel Roxas follows an avid reader on a quest for quiet.  We all know how troublesome this can be.

Ahhhh...nothing like a quiet spot and a new book.

As our bespectacled hero settles in for a great story, three avian voices loudly share their comments, completely spoiling the moment for him.  All he wants to do is finish a book without any interruptions.  Trudging back home, he chooses another book sneaking away undetected...hopefully.

This time he selects solace in a darkened cave, flashlight in hand. YIKES!  Not only have the birds followed him but a bear joins the chorus.  With sagging spirits he goes back home to find a package on his doorstep.  It's a title he has been yearning to read for a very long time.

Nonchalantly moving past the birds and the bear, he locates the perfect place among the trees.  He opens the book and... WHAT?!  A giraffe appears speaking about the very same book.  This cannot be happening!  The boy, in a loud, frustrated voice asks


Being chased by an assortment of animals up high and down low, our intrepid reader is on the run, book in hand.  Sprinting, swimming and climbing through a variety of landscapes, he finally reaches a peak of perfection.  He is alone at last.  Or is he?  Superb twists close this tale.

With his use of language Minh Le speaks with a true reader's heart.  He understands the absolute need for a reader to discover individually the story a book will tell them.  Even if a story is heard with a group, each individual will bring their personal interpretation to the telling.

When the boy is speaking, we can easily identify with his anticipation and eagerness to read a certain book.  His frustration is acutely felt with the inclusion of specific sentences.  The remarks by the birds, the bear and the collection of animals are all things voiced by those who are not mindful of spoilers.  Without us knowing it, Le is guiding us to a huge surprise which will have readers turning back pages to look for clues.  Here is a sample of his narrative.

Now to find a peaceful spot
where I won't be disturbed.

Have you gotten to the part
where the puppy runs away?
That was so sad.

But then they
saved the poor
thing from the well!

What a surprise ending!

Grandma to the rescue!

OH No!

When you remove the dust jacket and open it up, a stunning, energetic image meets your eyes from flap edge to flap edge.  Isabel Roxas uses bright, though realistic hues, on her animals who are uttering partial statements, short sentences and questions while chasing the boy; leading us to the beginning of the narrative.  To the left, on the back, the bear is carrying the ISBN.  Two shades of burnt orange cover the book case and spine.  One element on the front and another on the back give hints as to the unexpected twist in this story.  The matching opening and closing endpapers are a splash of color spreading out like fireworks filled with spirals, stars, lightning and discordant musical notes.  This is the noise in the home from which the boy seeks peace.

Thicker, matte-finished paper with a white or cream background acts to highlight the other elements in the interior pictures.  Roxas' illustrations are a joyous collage of the boy, the out-of-doors and the intruding animals.  Every single page turn is fully animated.  The size of the visuals dictates impeccable pacing.  Eleven of the illustrations are wonderfully wordless.

A multitude of emotions are expressed in the facial looks on the characters, especially the eyes.  The over-sized orange glasses on the boy are charming.  This little guy is totally lovable.

One of my favorite pictures is wordless.  The boy is seated on the floor of the cave.  His backpack is sitting next to him.  His newly found book is open across his legs.  The cave is dark except for the upturned flashlight shining on his face.  He is grimacing but we aren't quite sure why yet.

With every reading Let Me Finish! written by Minh Le with illustrations by Isabel Roxas becomes more marvelous.  It conveys the love of books and reading with excellence delivering the ultimate surprise.  It makes for a great read aloud.  I urge you to share it repeatedly.

To learn more about Minh Le and Isabel Roxas please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Isabel Roxas also maintains Tumblr pages.  The cover for this title was revealed on 100 Scope Notes by teacher librarian, 2014 Caldecott committee member and blogger, Travis Jonker.  Minh Le was recently highlighted at KidLit411 and Jama's Alphabet Soup.

UPDATE:  Minh Le and Isabel Roxas are guests on All The Wonders, Episode 268 June 28, 2016.
UPDATE:  Artistic process of Isabel Roxas is featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. July 13, 2016

Friday, June 24, 2016

Howling At The Moon

It's one of those places where the mere mention of it causes your anticipation to grow every second until your arrival or you dread being any closer than one hundred miles from the location.  These feelings can be based upon personal experiences or the assessments of others.  If you have never been there and no one you know has either, perhaps this place is a perfect fit for you.  It calls to your deepest desires and undisguised actions.

When the opportunity to visit and be a guest presents itself, how can you resist?  Wolf Camp (Schwartz & Wade Books, May 3, 2016) written and illustrated by Andrea Zuill is an adventure on the wild side worth taking.  If you are a dog, it's a dream come true.

My name is Homer.  I am a dog...
...but sometimes I am very wolfish.

Homer continues explaining to the reader about the wolfish heritage all dogs have.  As his human is pouring kibble into his dish at meal time, something falls from the bag.  It's a flyer for Wolf Camp!  

This canine is determined to go, carrying the pamphlet and presenting it over and over again to his people.  Finally they relent, telling him he can make this trip.  Homer is more excited than he ever imagined.  He knows his inner wolf is going to grow and surface.

The two camp counselors, Fang and Grrr greet Homer and two other campers, Pixie and Rex.  Although his two pals are a little frightened by Fang's pep talk, Homer is ecstatic.  Marking, howling, tracking and hunting are the daily order of business.  Homer's first letter home clearly states the differences between the norm and this living in the wilderness.

As time passes the trio acquires new talents until their efforts are rewarded.  A call echoes off the mountains and through the trees as the bus pulls away returning the friends to their humans.  At home Homer realizes some things never change.

Telling this tale from Homer's point of view is a warm welcome for readers to join directly in the fun.  When Andrea Zuill adds the dialogue of the humans and wolves and thoughts of the dogs, the energy in the story, already high, gets even better.  These asides to the main narrative elevate the comedy of each situation, too.  Here is a sample passage.

The big moment was here.  It was time to hunt!

Hey guys! Wait up!
We're going to eat that?


On the matching dust jacket and book case Homer and Fang are starring at each other intently.  We aren't quite sure what they are thinking but we want to understand.  We want to know what Wolf Camp really is.  On the back, to the left, the flyer which falls from Homer's food is enlarged for readers.  The opening and closing endpapers are different in color; the first is a deep grass green and the second is a rich blue-green hue.  The title page features the Wolf Camp sign with a grinning Homer sitting off to the right.

Andrea Zuill makes marvelous use of white space placing her images, varying in size, on this canvas.  Many of her pictures share a single page horizontally.  For visual impact and to intensify the story her illustrations may span two pages or a single page edge to edge.  The expressions on the characters faces will have you laughing out loud at the absolute hilarity.  The added details, Mr. Moose, the computations on the blackboard, the dogs sniffing each other, the smashed bug, and the heating pad on Homer's bed elevate the comedy.

One of my favorite pictures is contained on two pages.  On the left Fang is issuing his rules and recommendations.  They spread out in a gigantic speech balloon becoming the background for the right half of the left page and the entire right side.  Rex and Pixie are looking a tad bit frightened but Homer is ready for the challenges.  The trio occupies the center on the right.  The rules are totally funny.  Here is how the last line reads.

And, finally, never trust a squirrel.  They can be very

Pure perfection for story hours with a camp, dog or wolf theme, Wolf Camp written and illustrated by Andrea Zuill will have readers and listeners hugging their sides in laughter.  It's one of those stories where the experience exceeds expectations...even beyond a return home.  You will want to read this one with multiple voices.

By following the link attached to Andrea Zuill's name you can access her website, learning more about her and her work.  Andrea Zuill is featured at KidLit411 and on a podcast at Storybook Spotlight.  Check out the Saturday post at Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. to discover how he highlights this title.  To view interior images follow this link to the publisher's website.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Reaching Upward

An hour ago, standing on my front porch as the sky lightened with a new day, the air was literally filled with bird song.  Trees reaching astounding heights line the yards of many homes in our neighborhood.  These trees were filled with our avian friends calling us awake.  Their roots run deep keeping the leaves green even though we need rain.

It's easy to imagine them when they were younger providing space for young adventurers to climb among their branches, perhaps even to the top to see the world from a different perspective.  As a breeze blew through those branches, the child hiding among the leaves gently swayed too.  In an informative title and tribute to the influence trees bring to our planet and to us, author Nikki Tate as part of the Orca Footprints series wrote Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet (Orca Publishing, February 9, 2016).

No matter where you live, even if it's in a big city, chances are you won't be far from a tree or two.  

Continuing with her introduction Tate concludes:

In Deep Roots, we'll have a look at why trees just might be our best friends, barometers of how we are looking after our planet, and our partners as we move forward to create a healthier world.

Within four chapters titled Earth, Air, Water and Fire we are educated as to the value and remarkable attributes of trees. Each chapter is divided into between eight and ten sections.

One of the tallest trees in the entire world makes its home in the Redwood National Park in California.  When these large sentinels die or any tree falls, they continue to sustain the earth providing food for essential insects and invertebrates.  Roots from trees act as a filtering system and a freeway system.  Details are given to us about the importance of replanting when trees are harvested.  Did you know that tree rings show us more than age?  They can inform scientists as to the rate and type of climate change.

Trees are carbon sinks absorbing huge amounts of CO2 releasing oxygen in return.  In the canopies of tree giants whole communities live, communities which most of us will never see due to their heights.  What do you know about baobabs?  Why are they known as the Tree of Life?  The positive emotional impact of looking at trees and being among trees is supported by studies.

If you have never seen trees as rain makers before now, you will after understanding this facet of the water cycle.  The Great Green Wall is an enormous project to stop the spread of the Sahara Desert.  The volume of trees estimated to be planted is mind-boggling.  A cycle of salmon swimming back to their origin, bears waiting and feeding on them and the growth of trees along the Pacific Northwest is completely fascinating.

Man-made fires, unless controlled for a distinct function, are never good for our forests but they and those caused by lightning strikes do serve a purpose.  Heat causes certain seeds to be released from cones and ash has many uses; a soil enhancer, a pest deterrent and an ingredient in soap making.  For countless years the wood from trees has been used as fuel.  Trees yield themselves for transportation in the making of roads and vessels on water, for food, for homes and for the air life needs.

By dividing the narrative into four separate chapters and then sections within the chapters, Nikki Tate broadens our knowledge of trees in smaller, manageable portions.  Outside of the main narrative she includes seven Try This! columns such as asking us to commemorate a significant occasion by planting a tree.  She supplies eight Forest Fact insets such as

A tree planter in the Canadian bush can plant 1,600 to 5,000 new tree seedlings every day.

In four Wood Works she advises us further as to how wood is beneficial in very specific incidences.

In her I ♥ Trees paragraphs, all eight, we are privy to the very personal aspect trees have played in the life of Nikki Tate.  She shares with readers the influence of trees planted on her farm, a special tree commemorating an event, trees and gardening, tree climbing, remembering particular trees, and children's literature and trees. Here is one of those paragraphs.

For as long as I can remember I have loved climbing trees.  Even though I am usually afraid of heights, for some reason I always feel quite safe when I'm sitting up in the branches of a tree.  My old apple trees are a lot of fun to climb, especially early in the fall when their branches are full of apples.  I never get tired of climbing up into branches, reaching out for an apple and taking a bite.  Yum!

Throughout the title, pages are replete with photographs in a variety of sizes, all captioned.  Line drawings of branches, logs, trunks, root systems and camp fires are carefully placed to enhance the text. The backgrounds on divisional pages are textured mirroring wood grain.

Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet written by Nikki Tate is a highly enlightening title.  Things you may have already known are supported with further knowledge.  You will learn many new important pieces of information.  Only with greater understanding from nonfiction picture books such as this volume can we educate ourselves to becoming better stewards for our planet.  This is highly recommended.  In addition to the table of contents in the front, print and website resources, a glossary and an index are included at the end.

To learn more about Nikki Tate please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  She has an account on Twitter @writergrrrl

Each week I enjoy joining other bloggers and reading about their selections in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Make sure you view their choices for this week.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

After Hours Escapades

You laughed out loud repeatedly more than two months ago.  You read it again yesterday laughing even more than you did the first time.  As an adult you pause to wonder why, realizing readers of all ages will agree with you.  We share something in common.  We have all attended elementary school.  Most readers have had pets in their classrooms.  You know you are holding humor gold in your hands when this particular book is read.

On January 11, 2016 as the American Library Association announced the Youth Media Award medal and honor award winners I was among those cheering long and loud for Roller Girl (Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, March 10, 2015) written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson when it received a Newbery Honor award.  Along with many others, I was looking forward to her new graphic novel for the younger set (and those young at heart) with anticipation.  The Great Pet Escape (Pets On The Loose) (Henry Holt and Company, February 16, 2016) far exceeds expectations.

Three month,
two weeks,
and one day.
That's how long I've
been stuck in this
terrible prison,
otherwise known as...
a second-grade 

With these words found in the opening panels we are introduced to GW, George Washington, a hamster and his two friends, Furry Fiends, Biter, a guinea pig, now known as Sunflower and Barry a bunny.  The three reside at Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School in separate classrooms.  GW is no ordinary hamster.  He is a first class inventor with a workshop in the wall behind his cage.  On the evening this story begins he is about to test out his Hairy Houdini Escape-O-Matic having acquired the final missing piece, a bobby pin.

Hooray!  Free at last!  He scurries to liberate his two buddies only to discover they are a little bit different than he remembers.  Apparently they have been influenced by the activities in their respective classrooms. Barry is found reading a book stopping to mark the pages and tuck in three toy stuffed animals before he leaves his cage.  When Barry breaks the news Biter, the fiercest of the threesome, has been placed in the most dreaded place in the school, GW is stunned.  Not kindergarten?!  Yes, kindergarten.

The transformation of Biter, now called Sunflower is stunning...and hilarious.

Namaste, friends.

After convincing Sunflower to join them in their escape, the trio is stopped in their tracks by a villainous voice.  Harriet, a fourth-grade pet, a mouse and her mice minions as well as Lucinda, a fifth-grade pet snake (more giggles and grins come with this addition) are not about to let the Furry Fiends leave.  Harriet and company have an evil plan to put in place.  Champions are born in the comedic chaos.

Told entirely through the thoughts of the hamster George Washington, his conversations and dialogue of the other characters, readers instantly join in the playful pandemonium created by the words written by Victoria Jamieson.  We barely have a chance to breathe we are turning the pages so quickly; anxious to see where her plot twists and turns gleefully take us.  The personalities of the characters are well-known to us as this episode concludes with the promise of more excitement in the future.  Here is a sample passage through a collection of panels.

Look, GW, there's something
you should know.  It's about Biter.

Barry has this habit of pulling 
on his ears when he's nervous.

What are you not 
telling me, Barry?

You know how Biter
was a bit of a ...
erm, tough case
when she came in?

"Boneyard Biter?  I'll say she was 
something of a "tough case"!

Well, I don't know exactly how to
tell you this, but they put her...
Oh, I can't say it.  I just can't.

Barry, pull yourself 
together.  WHERE IS SHE?

She's...she's doing hard 
time in the worst cell block in
this place.  Her jailers torture
her nearly all the time with stupid
songs and crazy behavior...

You don't mean...

How can you look at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case and not expect loads of unexpected fun and laughter?  One glimpse of the threesome's faces tells a tale.  On the back, to the left, looking like a police file are vital pieces of information about GW, Biter, Barry and Harriet.  It's titled Classified Information, Property of Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School.  The same tubing framing the title on the front points to the ISBN on the back.  A hue of the same color in GW's escape balloon covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Victoria Jamieson uses a full color palette for her pictures rendered in pen and ink and colored digitally varying her panel sizes to enhance her narrative.  Most of her square-shaped or rectangle-shaped images are framed in white.  She changes her pattern breaking through the frames with specific elements in key moments.  Wit spills from her pages in the facial expressions and body positions of her characters.  Readers need to watch the snake for extra smiles.

One of my favorite of many, many illustrations is when GW and Barry first see Biter in her prison cell (cage).  The change is remarkable as she sits on a pillow meditating with hanging lanterns behind her and candles burning on a low table.  She is wearing a wreath of tiny yellow flowers.  The expressions on GW's face and Barry's face are of sheer shock.

The Great Pet Escape (Pets On The Loose) written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson is a book I will be recommending often.  I plan on including it in my giveaways for trick-or-treaters at Halloween this year.  We can never have enough laughter and this title delivers it abundantly page after page.

You are going to want to learn more about Victoria Jamieson and her other work.  Please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  You can view eight of the first pages in this title by following this link to the publisher's website.  You will enjoy this recent interview at School Library Journal.  Here is Victoria Jamieson's thank you video after her Newbery Honor win.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Seeking Truth On The Sea

You and a companion have seen the most amazing thing in the world.  You can hardly wait to get home to tell everyone and anyone.  When you relate your experience no one believes you.  If only you had been able to find your phone in time.  If only you hadn't dropped your brand new camera last week.  It's beyond frustrating when you can't share and spread the excitement you feel.

In their debut picture book, The Whale (Templar Books, an imprint of Candlewick Press, April 12, 2016) collaborative husband and wife team, Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow pose a similar scenario.  Without benefit of words we sail the sea with two determined young people.  They each strive to seek the truth.  It is highly personal for both of them.

On August 28th fifty years ago, a girl and a boy were out fishing together.  Upon their arrival on shore they claimed a Great Spotted Whale came so close to their boat it consumed their fishing tackle.  Their only proof was a less than clear picture. Their names were never released because people believed their story was and still is a hoax.

Today in response to an open invitation in The Cape Chronicle, the local newspaper, a girl and a boy, are working separately but with determination to get to the truth of the fifty year old legend.  They each have designed boats with inventive detecting equipment to aid them in their search.  In spite of the advancement of Hurricane Betsy, they head out to sea.  During the course of their trip, the storm strikes.  Their boats rising and falling in the waves come together and CRASH!

They and their vessels, the worse for wear, fortunately wash ashore on a small island, Puffin Island.  A recently established observation platform will help them see what they have just heard.  Could it be the elusive Great Spotted Whale?  In the light of a full moon, their hearts nearly stop beating at the sight before their eyes.

Former adversaries, the two work as a team to build a boat from the wreckage.  They need to get closer to what they have seen.  As they sail over the waves toward their goal, they receive surprise after surprise.  As their voyage comes to a close, a welcoming group of people greet them as they slowly approach their home harbor.  On September 1st new headlines span the paper with yet another surprise for readers.  

Rendered entirely in pencil the matching dust jacket and book case capture readers' attention immediately.  We know what the children are seeing in their binoculars by looking closely at the lens openings.  The texture in this first image we see is stunning in its realism.  The addition of the tiny whale tail on the h in the title is the kind of exquisite consideration we see in the entire book by Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow.  To the left, on the back, beneath a full moon a whale tail slaps the surface of the sea.  A solid rich blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.

The Murrows begin the nearly wordless title with images of the present day boy and girl working on their inventive projects.  One has the newspaper article on their work station.  The other sees it as a billboard in their community by the sea.  The boy clearly focuses on sound; the girl on photography.  With a page turn we are given a close up view of the newspaper; articles recounting the past and present news.  These tidbits of information become the foundation for this tale; the springboard for this wonder in pictures.

As the action rises in the narrative we are brought closer to the children.  You can feel the swell of the waves, the shuddering impact of the collision and the relief as well as the frustration when they arrive on the island.  In a series of smaller images horizontally above two pictures on two pages, you can sense the keen anticipation and excitement.  The next two page spread is breathtaking.  Every line, the shading, and use of light fill these pages with emotion.  You want to smile joyously with the children as they skim the water toward their goal.  You will gasp repeatedly along with them as events unfold.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is of the boy working on his plans for his boat and the trip he will make.  We are looking above him and slightly over his shoulder.  A map and drawings are spread before him.  Boards with nails in them, and loose nails indicate he has been hard at work as he holds a hammer in his hand.  Off to the side is a bell.  

Eloquent images convey a story spanning decades in The Whale conceived, written and illustrated by Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow.  In this ode to inventiveness, perseverance and a true spirit of adventure readers young and old alike will find inspiration.  This is a book to be read and enjoyed over and over searching for more details and gaining additional viewpoints.

To learn more about Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow, their work and their collaborative process please visit Ethan Murrow's website and their joint website by following the links attached to their names.  At these publisher's websites, here and here, you can view interior images.  At PICTUREBOOK MAKERS Ethan and Vita Murrow and this title are featured.  The process behind the creating of this book is completely fascinating.  Enjoy the video below.

Readers could pair this title with other wonderful books about whales.  The Blue Whale (Enchanted Lion Books, May 26, 2015) , If You Want To See A Whale (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, May 7, 2013) written by Julie Fogliano with illustrations by Erin E. Stead or Whale Trails: Before and Now (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt And Company, January 20, 2015) written by Lesa Cline-Ransome with illustrations by G. Brian Karas.

You might also enjoy Dario and the Whale (Albert Whitman & Company, March 1, 2016) written by debut picture book author Cheryl Lawton Malone with illustrations by Bistra Masseva, To the Sea (Disney Hyperion, June 2, 2015) written and illustrated by Cale Atkinson, Trapped!  A Whale's Rescue (Charlesbridge, April 14, 2015) written by Robert Burleigh with paintings by Wendell Minor or Breathe (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, April 1, 2014 ) written and illustrated by Scott Magoon.