Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, July 21, 2016

As Twilight Falls

After the sun sets and darkness colors the sky and humans are tucked inside their homes, creatures of the night awaken.  If we look out our windows on a summer night we can see fireflies blinking messages as they seek mates.  If we venture outdoors we hear the flutter of wings or catch a quick swooping motion at the edge of our vision as bats search for food.  If we walk quietly and slowly we will see a rabbit cautiously move from tall grass to nibble on the clover in our lawns.

For years other beings have crossed the line between the wild and suburban and urban areas.  Their keen survival instincts and adaptability allow them to thrive.  Coyote Moon (Roaring Brook Press, July 19, 2016) written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline is a breathtaking ode to Canis latrans, barking dog.

Moon rises as Coyote wakes in her den,
a hollowed-out pine in a cemetery.
Coyote crawls between roots.
She sniffs the air, arches her back,
shakes her fur.

It's time to search for food.  Pups wait and older brothers and sisters watch and guard.  The female moves like moving mist through the neighborhood.

She pauses and listens hearing what humans cannot.  With a giant leap she hopes to capture a curious mouse.  Her efforts go unrewarded.  She continues her hunt.

Again she pauses, nose lifted in the air.  A familiar scent draws her to a nearby golf course.  Vigilant parents drive her away from a tasty snack.  Big feet, large ears and speedy twists and turns save Rabbit.

Hours have passed with no food for her family.  The light of dawn drives away the night, stars and moon.  Coyote is patient.  Perhaps prey will seek water from the pond.  In the early morning a howl rings out through the houses, an answering reply comes from the roots of a hollowed-out pine.

Reading aloud the words written by Maria Gianferrari is like stepping into the melodious soul of nature.  Each sentence cloaks us; hiding our humanness so we can move as one with Coyote.  Her lyrical depictions of singular minutes in the hours of Coyote's search will have you holding your breath.  The use of alliteration heightens the sensory experience.  Here are two sample passages.

Coyote listens.
Her triangle ears sit high on her head.
She hears scratching.
She slides through boxwood, then crouches.

...She slinks, silent as a shadow.

The glowing eloquence in the illustrations rendered by Bagram Ibatoulline transport readers into the sights, sounds, feel and smells of the night.  His use of light and dark on the matching dust jacket and book case are seen on every image within the book.  The lines on Coyote's fur on the front and the coat of a younger coyote on the back near the den and the bark of the tree and branches scattered on the forest floor are exquisite.  An eye for excellence in the details such as the title text outside of and over the moon is the mark of a master.

A steely blue-gray covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the formal title page the shadows of three coyotes from adult down to pup appear on the garage door of a home in the neighborhood indicating the shift from the wild to a civilized area.  All of the images cover two pages edge to edge in near photographic splendor.

At times we share a viewpoint with Coyote as she travels through the community.  In other pictures we are close observers; almost as if we are companions in her hunt.  The shape of her body and its various positions are portrayed with a kind of majesty, homage to her abilities.

One of my favorite illustrations is a close-up of Coyote.  She has stopped with her nose in the air catching the scent of a possible meal.  Her face takes up a good portion of the right hand side, peering between the leaves of alder bushes.  Other branches and leaves stretch to the left.  In the background, on the left, a smaller bush adds depth to the picture.  There is a slight rosy glow to the lower portion of the sky.  If she were not hunting, you might expect her to open her mouth and sing out a call.

Coyote Moon written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline is an outstanding work of nonfiction; a brilliant example of the finest in bookmaking.  Readers will be drawn to the striking jacket and case, then will reread it over and over for the sheer wonder of the interior pages.  At the close of the book Gianferrari includes a series of coyote facts in seven separate paragraphs.  There is a selected bibliography of print materials and websites.

To enjoy learning more about Maria Gianferrari and Bagram Ibatoulline and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Several images from within the book are available to view by visiting the publisher's website.  Maria Gianferrari was featured at Jama's Alphabet Soup and KidLit 411.

Not only am I thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for Coyote Moon but Maria agreed to answer some of my questions.  

I reread Coyote Moon this morning.  It truly is stunning, Maria.  Your words with Bagram Ibatoulline's illustrations have created a wonderful book.  It really gives readers an inside look at the search for food, an evening in the life of a coyote.  Would you please answer some questions for me to include in the blog post?

Thanks, Margie J!

One of the things I think readers will enjoy about Coyote Moon is that it is placed in a suburban area.  Coyote populations are adapting to the loss of territory.  What sparked your interest in this topic Maria? From the time you first conceived this title to its completion how long did it take?

I’ve always loved nature, animals and wildlife, but I became obsessed with coyotes after a late-night encounter with one in my former suburban Boston neighborhood. I was amazed that these wild predators could live among us. The more research I did, the more I learned about the coyote’s power of adaptability.

In terms of a timeline, I had the coyote encounter in January 2007, and immediately began reading and researching them. I first wrote an article called “New in the Neighborhood” for Highlights magazine which was ultimately rejected. I couldn’t give up on the coyotes though, so it morphed into a picture book text and went through many, many drafts. It was acquired by Emily Feinberg at Roaring Brook Press in May 2013, so six years from initial vision through revision and acquisition.

In my many walks with Xena we were always careful to be on the lookout for coyotes (and even wolves making their way across ice into the upper northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan.)  In all the years we walked we only saw a single one once.  I was never sure if it was a large coyote or a small wolf.  It crossed the road in front of us coming from Lake Michigan.  I carried a can of pennies with me or a whistle for coyote encounters.  Have you or anyone in your family encountered a coyote?

You may very well have seen a wolf in that area, Margie—how cool!

Since I’ve moved to Virginia, I’ve sadly only seen a couple of dead coyotes on the highway L. We have more red foxes here in our neighborhood, and I once saw a gray fox. I saw coyotes several times while living in Massachusetts, but by far, the best sighting was on that cold, January night. It was an almost mystical experience. My husband took our then one year old dog, Becca, for her last walk at 1AM. I watched them as a coyote darted from our yard and began to follow them. I alerted my husband, and he and Becca entered our house through the back porch. The coyote ran all around our fence, sniffing and marking our yard and around our neighbors’ yards. I walked down the sidewalk and there it was: diagonally across the street, less than 20’ away, poised under a utility pole—just like the one Bagram painted on the cover. It was the most gorgeous, most magnificent creature I had ever seen: large, with fluffed up fur and a puffy tail. We looked at each other for what seemed a long time. Then it gave a low growl, turned and loped away. In retrospect, I realized it was probably a young juvenile looking for territory and a mate. It was curious, not aggressive. And it was definitely an eastern coyote/coywolf, since it looked more wolfish than coyote. But I did not know that at the time, I only knew that I was lucky to have had this magical moment with it.

Your words poetically convey each portion of the coyote's search for food.  The essence of those words is portrayed in the illustrations of Bagram Ibatoulline.  I know what I think of them as a reader but what do you think of them as the author of the book?

I was thrilled from the first moment I saw Bagram’s sketches. I couldn’t believe how intricately detailed and full of energy they were. Bagram has made this book what it is—I am so fortunate to have been paired with such an incredibly talented artist. He rendered the coyote and all of the other creatures in such photorealistic detail—it’s just astounding! Everything actually, from the bark on the trees, to the coyote and rabbit’s fur, the blade of grass, veins on leaves, the turkey’s feathers is pure genius! I also love how his use of light and shade give the story its visual voice. I have to credit Emily with having this vision of the book and its atmosphere from our very first phone conversation right after it was acquired. She is amazing and insightful, and I love working with her.

Do you have a special spot for doing your writing Maria? 

I do most of my writing on my computer at my desk, in my study. I also keep journals for ideas, starting new projects, or when I feel stuck. I’ll do edits anywhere—in my car, waiting for appointments, or if I’m lucky, with a lovely view of nature—water, mountains…

Do you have a favorite spot for reading?

My living room couch, since the natural light there is good. I can sit and drink tea, and then stretch out and relax for the book journey.

If there is anything else you would like readers to know Maria please do not hesitate to let me know.  I can form a question or you can add it at the end.

Maybe this?

I’m very excited to be working on another nature book with Bagram for Emily at Roaring Brook! This one is on felines instead of canines and is currently titled A Home for Bobcat. I cannot wait to see what he’ll come up with! I know it will be breathtakingly gorgeous!

Thanks for having me on your blog, Margie J!  

Maria writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with her dog, Becca as her muse.  Maria's debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, was released in July 2015 (HMH Books for Young Readers); a companion book, Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, was released in mid-June.  Her debut nonfiction book, Coyote Moon, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, will be published by Roaring Brook Press in July and is a Junior Library Guild Selection.  In October, Aladdin books for Young Readers will publish another fiction title, Officer Katz & Houndini: A Tale of Two Tails, illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou.  Maria has five additional books forthcoming from Roaring Brook press, Boyds Mills Press and GP Putnam's Sons.  To learn more about Maria, visit her at mariagianferrari.com on Facebook or Instagram.

Other stops on the tour are:

  • FRI 7/15:                   Pragmatic Mom (+ 3 book giveaway)
  • MON 7/18:                 Nonfiction Detectives 
  • TUES 7/19:                Debtastic Reads
  • WED 7/20:                 Kid Lit Frenzy
  • THURS 7/21:               Librarian’s Quest
  • FRI 7/22:                   Kidlit411
  • MON 7/25:                 The Reading Zone
  • TUES 7/26:                Bartography
  • WED 7/27:                 Unleashing Readers

    UPDATE:  I recently discovered this post on Reading for Research ReFoReMo with Maria dated June 28, 2016.


    1. Margie--you've done it again, and this time I am the lucky recipient of one of your thoughtful and heartfelt reviews!! Thank you so much for featuring Coyote Moon on your blog!! And by the way, the Coyote-alder image is one of my very favorites too! <3 <3

      1. Your book is so lovely Maria, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. It was a pleasure to feature your book here and be a part of the blog tour. I think it's pretty great that we like the same image.♥♥♥

    2. This is so lovely and lovingly written, Margie--thank you so much for featuring Coyote Moon!!!

      1. Thank you Maria, thank you so much. This book is beautiful, beyond words. I am going to include it in my Halloween trick or treaters giveaways.

    3. Thanks again for having me here, Margie :)!! Love your blog!

      1. You're welcome Maria~ I love sharing your book with readers. I'm even including it in my Halloween trick or treat hand-outs.