Quote of the Month

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

Monday, October 10, 2016

Pets, More Pets And Still More Pets

We many not know it but they choose us.  They appear when we seem to need them the most which can translate into total surprise for us.  In time we start to manifest their physical characteristics and emotional moods.  Of this we are probably the last to know.

Observations of humans and their animal companions will lead most people to the conclusion there is the perfect pet, the perfect pal for everyone.  On April 5, 2016 The Grumpy Pets (Abrams Books for Young Readers) written and illustrated by Kristine A. Lombardi growled into the world.  Now I don't know about you but as soon as I saw the title, I knew I had to read this book.

Mom took Billy and Sara to 
Perfect Pets one Saturday.

Billy is a cantankerous character whose mom hopes this trip to a shop filled with rescue animals will perk up his personality.  With so much love floating around the room, certainly Billy will crack a smile.  Every child who walks in connects with a critter, even his sister Sara.

The more cheerful the animals, the bigger the scowl grows on Billy's face.  This is too much happiness for him. He starts to meander through the shop and discovers a back area with more crates.  These residences are filled with the least friendly canines you have ever seen.  Their body language, their fur, their looks and voices shout out orneriness with a capital o.  Good grief!  There are even a couple of cranky cats in the bunch.

These animals are exactly like Billy; in fact one particular dog catches his eye.  A starring contest develops and expands with crabby exchanges until they astonish one another.  Those two lives are never going to be the same.

Simple sentences by Kristine A. Lombardi provide excellent pacing.  Each one creates and expands on the peevish personality of Billy leading us to the surprise.  We realize Billy is not swayed by cuteness; rather it makes him feel worse.  Here is a sample passage.

He began to look around,
but every single pet was just so happy.
Blech, Billy thought to himself.

The row of grouchy, cranky faces on Billy and the assorted dogs and cats on the front of the dust jacket are intriguing.  Are these individuals always grumpy? Did something happen to them?  When you open the jacket and look to the left you get an entirely different perspective from three other dogs in front of the buildings.

 On the book case amid teal brush strokes are oval frames on the front and back.  A very bad-tempered Billy looking like a volcano about to erupt is on the front.  On the back is an interior image of three blissful looking dogs labeled appropriately.  A pattern of grumpy pets drawn in several shades of turquoise are displayed on the opening and closing endpapers.  A trio of crabby pets begins on the title page and stretches with more grumps across the verso and dedication pages which follow.

Many of the illustrations span two pages.  On the single page pictures Lombardi uses circles and ovals to frame the individual images.  The layering, shading and details ask readers to pause and let the atmosphere surround them.

One of my favorite illustrations is a close-up of Billy on the left and of the petulant pup on the right.  Their staring contest is in full swing.  In this particular picture you can readily see the use of texture in Lombardi's work in the outlines, clothing and fur.  The arch of both individuals' eyebrows and the set of their mouths are grumpy in its purest form.

To learn more about Kristine A. Lombardi and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website. Be sure to read her blog linked there to enjoy her other artwork and process examples.  Here is an interview with Kristine A. Lombardi after the publication of her first book at Monica Wellington's news.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Sometimes our pet pals don't make any sense at all to others.  They fail to see the connection.  They fail to see the attraction. They are dumbfounded.

It would stand to reason a boy living on a farm would develop a fondness for one of the animal inhabitants.  Gus has an attachment to a lot more than one.  My Favorite Pets by Gus W. For Ms. Smolinski's Class with words by Jeanne Birdsall and pictures by Harry Bliss is a laugh a minute look at a boy's obsession and report writing.

My favorite pet is sheep.  We have
seventeen in our yard.  Seventeen
sheep are still sheep, not sheeps.

Gus acquaints us with boy sheep, girl sheep and baby sheep.  We now know the horns on a male do not come off, a female sheep will not respond to a call of "What are ewe doing?" and if you swap your little brother for a lamb, your mom will definitely notice.  Clothing on sheep is also not a good idea.

If you should happen to use a sheep as an umbrella in a blinding rainstorm, your dad will also definitely notice.  Do not use scissors on a sheep's behind.  Do not use sheep to give your little brother a "horsey" ride.  Sheep are not good playmates for boys. They simply can't move from point "A" to point "B" as boys or even adults travel.

Bringing sheep into your home is NEVER a good idea. Their presence gives new meaning to the word mess.  Your parents will both definitely notice simultaneously.  You and the sheep will quickly be dispatched to other areas.  Of course a boy and his sheep can't be parted.

The first person point of view in this narrative formed by Jeanne Birdsall to replicate a school report is hilarious.  Gus seems to be stating the obvious but it is really leading to specific comedic moments.  The humor is increased with occasional questions and outbursts by Gus's mom and dad in contrast to the representations made by Gus. Here is a sample passage.

A baby sheep is a lamb.  If you
trade your little brother for a lamb,
your mother will say,
Why is Sammy 
covered in

At first glance the matching dust jacket and book case with the notebook paper above and below the characters, hint at the form of the narrative.  Two things are certain though, the boy loves those sheep and those sheep love to nibble and chew.  To the left, on the back, the words

One boy.
Seventeen sheep.
What could go wrong?

are placed over a sheep climbing out of the chimney on the house's roof.

On the opening and closing endpapers Harry Bliss gives us a view as if we are seated at Gus's desk looking out the window in his yard filled with sheep.  Readers get a glimpse of what is important to him, comics, Gus's Sheep Diary and a note to finish his report.  Rendered in black India ink and watercolor the heavier matte-finished paper enhances the double and single page images throughout the title.

Bliss's interpretation of the text raises the laughter factor providing an extension of the story.  For the observation regarding sheep's wool, cutting some off and Gus's mother's reaction, Bliss supplies a visual of Gus seated on the lawn, scissors, glue and a book titled Beards of History next to him.  He has glued the sheep's wool to his face and is holding a mirror to observe his handiwork.  Bliss embeds humor in every image.  He conveys much emotion which the shape of his lines and the position of a single dot.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when the sheep are in the kitchen.  It is a scene of utter chaos. One of the sheep is on the kitchen sink grabbing the nozzle in its mouth and squirting water. Another is wide-eyed and slipping on the wet floor.  One is about to nibble the table runner. And a fourth has its head stuck between the chair slats.

To discover more about Jeanne Birdsall and Harry Bliss and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their individual websites.  At this publisher's website you can get a sneak peek at a few of the interior images.

What is colorful?  What is noisy?  What is totally alive with action?  These are words used to describe a gathering of creatures and their humans.  It's a day set aside to showcase attributes. It's a day to showcase those who have our affection.

The duo who brought readers Some Insects (Beach Lane Books, March 4, 2014) have returned with another delightful take on the animal world.  Some Pets (Beach Lane Books, August 23, 2016) words by Angela DiTerlizzi and pets by Brendan Wenzel present all those things which make pets the beloved individuals they are.  Let's join the conversation!

Some pets
Some pets
Some pets
Some pets

Dogs and cats are getting ready to be put on display.  They are still acting in their normal canine and feline way.  An obstacle course is the spot for a wriggling reptile and a leaping rabbit.  They do what they do out of habit.

Wheels spin and the noise begins.  Critters raise their voices in a clamorous chorus.  In the midst of all this fantastic fun, the hunger bug bites each and every one.

As the day draws to a close, pets let their humans know how much they care.  When all is said and all is done, love is in the air.  Friendship first and friendships that last.

Whether these words are read in silence or spoken aloud you can't help but feel the rhythm of the verses penned by Angela DiTerlizzi.  They have a playful pizzazz courtesy of rhymes and alliteration which mirror the essence of each animal.  There is nonstop action at every page turn leading readers to the final magical moment.

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case the gathering of eager animals crosses the spine to the left and the back. A string of pennants with paw prints hangs announcing the gala. Brendan Wenzel's use of color joyfully lifts the spirit of DiTerlizzi's words.  His pets are ready for the story to begin.  On the opening and closing endpapers one of the orange hues is used.

The illustrations for this book were rendered in almost everything imaginable. From the initial title page to the closing image at the back of the book containing the author and illustrator note and publication information, these images are lively depicting the best in the human and animal connection.  On the formal title page we see a bird's eye, panoramic view of the Pet Show venue.  The happiness pops off the page.

Thirteen more double-page images with details which will have you grinning from ear to ear give readers the inside scoop on the day's activities. We see a dog enduring a tooth brushing, toothpaste foaming from his mouth, cats leaping from their pedestals reaching for a toy mouse, pigs running a race, dogs in costumes and a girl snuggling with her hedgehog.  The facial expressions on the pets and their people are simply precious.  Wenzel creates wondrous wide-eyed looks.

One of my favorite illustrations is the group of dogs at the Costume Party. Bowls of kibble are filled and placed around the ground. A pug in a lobster suit is gobbling up his food. There is a Golden retriever wearing a stethoscope. Another pup is ready to buzz like a bee pausing over his meal served in a black and yellow striped dish.  The Great Dane dressed like a dragon is fabulous.  Oh, and there is a wild squirrel sneaking a snack.

After the narrative two pages are devoted to all the pets present in the book giving readers their common name and the name given to them by their people. To learn more about Angela DiTerlizzi and Brendan Wenzel and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view some interior images.  There is also a link to four printable activity sheets. Angela DiTerlizzi is interviewed at Watch. Connect. Read., the blog maintained by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.  Brendan Wenzel is a guest at All The Wonders, Episode 285 hosted by teacher librarian Matthew Winner. 

These three titles, The Grumpy Pets written and illustrated by Kristine A. Lombardi, My Favorite Pets by Gus W. For Ms. Smolinski's Class words by Jeanne Birdsall and pictures by Harry Bliss and Some Pets words by Angela DiTerlizzi and pets by Brendan Wenzel are guaranteed to make for a spirited storytime. Listeners will be begging you to read them again and again.  And you will do it because these books have that special quality we recognize in marvelous storytelling.


  1. Love this post, Margie!! I'm a huge fan of Brendan Wenzel's art, and already have Jeanne Birdsall's book on request. I'll be picking it up tomorrow. Just requested The Grumpy Pets. What a cute trailer. Love those endpapers. (I usually read your blog w/ another window open with my library account, so I can request books right away :) )

    1. Thank you Maria! I had a fun time writing it. I think Wenzel and DiTerlizzi make a great team. The illustrations in the Jeanne Birdsall book are over-the-top hilarioius. :) :)