Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Thinking About Our Food

Whenever reflecting about the food we eat, I remember vividly becoming informed about the PBB food contamination in Michigan in the 1970s.  It was years later after the initial poisoning but once I knew, I quit eating beef and drinking milk.  To this day I have not eaten beef and it's only lately I have started to drink milk again.  As recently as May 2016 it is still a topic of concern as evidenced by this article, 43 years after chemical mix-up, Michigan blood shows elevated toxin levels.  Michigan Radio has coverage on this over the course of several years ending in 2014.

Some people zip through the grocery store without giving a thought as to what they are placing in their baskets or carts.  This disaster taught me decades ago to be a careful shopper, spending more time than most looking at labels.  In her debut book, Let's Eat!: Sustainable Food For A Hungry Planet (Orca Book Publishers, February 7, 2017), author Kimberley Veness explores how our food is cultivated and the journey it makes from place to place before it arrives in our kitchens and on our tables.

Do you ever wonder what your groceries would tell you if they could talk?

Within four chapters sources of our food are revealed, on a large scale and from smaller venues, how farming functions in cities and how growing food will look in the future.  Many of our fruits, vegetables and grains come from hundreds and thousands of miles from our homes grown in monocultures.  These extensive farms grow one crop and the pesticides and fertilizers used spread far beyond their point of origin.  The majority of meat comes from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations rather than from animals growing in pastures. Our seafood is similarly raised in aquaculture but even this needs to be better so as to not contaminate our water and lands.  Labels inform us as to the humanely raised meats.  Barcodes on produce tell more than you might think about your food.

People are working whenever financially able and out of necessity to farm within more compact perimeters.  Companion planting works on several levels, plants helping each other in a give and take relationship. Did you know ducks are used in raising rice?  Organic versus non-organic and pasteurized versus raw are discussed.

There are probably more people than they know who live in food deserts.  How can we fix this?  If you look around the city you can see common gardens or community gardens or food forests.  Some foods are now being grown completely inside in specially monitored environments.  More green is becoming visible on roof tops.

What does the future hold for our food?  Some are raising fish and vegetables together; a field called aquaponics.  Many cultures already consume insects realizing their value as providers of protein.  Did you know a hamburger was grown entirely in a laboratory in 2013?  Genetic engineering of food is an option being explored but it is still controversial.  When space pioneers travel to Mars their food will likely be grown using hydroponics.  As with many things in our lives on this planet great strides have been made but we need to change our focus to one of preserving as well as producing.

As key points are supplied by Kimberley Veness they are done in the context of a historical background.  In each of the chapters she includes a From Farm to Table section which is a personal reflection.  Farming Fact paragraphs or sentences are inserted several times in each chapter; informing us of items of interest such as the scientific proof of the happiness we feel when digging in the dirt, the alarming number of pesticides in a single grape or sweet pepper (non-organic) or purple and white carrots were grown before the well-known orange variety.  To challenge readers Kimberley Veness asks us to Chew on This!  In these asides she gives us an assignment such as listing all the food we eat for a day and its country of origin or find a local farm where you can get fresh seasonal food.  In all of these, the body of text and added elements, she speaks with readers in easy conversations.  Here is a passage.

Tilling the ground is like kicking an anthill.  It took a long time for the ants to build the intricate passageways and chambers to make their home functional, and it will take just as long to repair the damage.  Like ants, soil microbes take time to build healthy soil.  Conventional farming, which over-tills the soil, strips away soil nutrients over time.  Because commercial agriculture is all about efficiency, farmers add fertilizers instead of waiting for the soil to regain its natural nutrients.

Throughout the title photographs have been selected and captioned in support of the narrative.  Special charts are included to present information on food labeling.  On the first page of each chapter single color line drawings highlight the main theme.

Whether you read Let's Eat!: Sustainable Food For A Hungry Planet written by Kimberley Veness in a single sitting or a little bit at a time, you will be captivated by the processes used to provide food for this planet's people.  Some of the facts are vivid eye-openers and others give us realistic options.  At the close of the book print, online and video resources are listed with a glossary and index.  This is another fine title in a continuing series.  If you wish to know more about Kimberley Veness the publisher provides an interview on their blog.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the choices of the other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

In The Darkening Wood

If you stand perfectly still and wait, wonder comes to you.  As the day ends, twilight descends.  Soon the only light comes from the stars or the moon depending on the date.  A world populated by nocturnal creatures begins to stir.

They call to those in their family and other residents of the forest.  You step into this nighttime realm when reading All ears, all eyes (A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, March 7, 2017) written by Richard Jackson with illustrations by Katherine Tillotson.  The haunting beauty of their words and pictures linger enveloping you.

What sails?
What flies?
Down low
far off...
up high
Who listens?
Who looks?
Who hears?
Who sees? 

These lyrical lines lead us into the woods.  An owl calls and notices two raccoons playing and feasting.  Nearby a prickly porcupine quietly moves as a bat soars above a deer.  If you listen closely, you can hear them.  If you look with careful eyes, you can see them.

Wings rubbing send out chirping.  (Wise listeners can tell the temperature from these sounds.)  Who is barking?  Who is harking?  Fireflies signal on and off, calling out for companionship.

Eyes adjusting to the dark, searching for woodland critters find some and miss others.  The owl continues to hoot.  What messages are being sent?  A lone tree frog replies with a familiar song.

The wind of the day calms but then starts again, pushing branches and leaves with unseen fingers.  All forest life is wide awake alternately moving and still, quiet and loud.  Good night.

Not silent but comforting are the words written by Richard Jackson.  We explore with eyes wide open and ears tuned to the music only heard at night.  Words rhyme.  Lines are brimming with alliteration and onomatopoeia.  As the animals go about their activities and communicate they remind us to rest easy.  Here is another passage.

What scoots
between roots?
All ears
a bat flies,
wings whirring

as light falls
and night rises.

Looking at the fox running through the deep forest falling into darkness under the watchful eyes of the owl and framed in the text is like an open doorway into this book.  The design choices are superb as are the selected hues.  To the left, on the back, of the matching dust jacket and book case is a large portion of white, a place for interior text.  Above it is a portion of the woods.  On the opening endpapers, in the same crisp white, a scattering of leaves drift from the upper left-hand corner to the lower portion of the right side.  Fewer leaves lift upward on a background of darkness and shining stars on the closing endpapers.

The introductory lines prior to the title, verso and dedication pages appear on a continuation of white with leaves and several birds in flight.  They are the remnants of day as the sun sets.  On the title page we step back with a more panoramic view of the woods before the verso and dedication pages which follow.

The illustrations rendered using a combination of watercolor and digital techniques by Katherine Tillotson all span two pages in breathtaking splendor.  They flow taking our eyes from left to right.  Leaves either frame or take center stage in all of them, further connecting each image to the next one.  The color combinations, greens, blues and purples, deep golden yellow and orange with purple and brown, an array of greens, pinks, blues and purples and more are gorgeous.  The method of layering asks us to pause after each page turn to savor the words and pictures.

One of my favorite of all the images features a canopy of leaves across the top in purples, blues and greens, some of them drifting down the right side.  Several tree trunks are highlighted in the foreground.  An owl is perched on a branch on the left.  A bat floats overhead as the fox continues to run.  A mouse sits quietly on a branch on the right side.  And nestled on the forest floor is a design close to my heart.  Can you see it?  I wonder if there are others.

Peace will settle over your soul as you read All ears, all eyes written by Richard Jackson with illustrations by Katherine Tillotson.  It takes us gently by the hand through the forest blanketed with the night.  I highly recommend this for your professional and personal bookshelves.  Read it aloud whenever you can with love; for surely this is how the words were penned and the artwork created.

To discover more about Katherine Tillotson and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  This is one of the titles showcased by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Deborah Kalb interviews Katherine Tillotson on her blog and Katherine Tillotson appears on Kathy Temean: Writing and Illustrating.   Bookology has an interview with Richard Jackson and Katherine Tillotson.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Gifted At Birth

With the number of books being published each month in a given year, it's an overwhelming task to read all those which may interest a reader.  It's a good problem to have but sometimes it may take months before you read a title.  You shuffle books on and off your purchase list.  You move volumes from top to middle to bottom of your to-be-read stack and back to the top again.

Finally a book makes its way into your home.  And then a day comes when you know you have to read it; it's calling to you.  The Mermaid's Purse (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, October 4, 2016) written and illustrated by beloved Michigan author illustrator Patricia Polacco is one of those books.  When such a book fills your heart with joy and your eyes with tears, you know the saying of "a story chooses you" is completely true.

A clap of thunder roared at exactly the moment my grandmother came into the world during a raging storm in 1883 on her parents' farm in Locke Center, Michigan.  She was the first of nine children.

At this baby's birth the midwife declared

"God's blessing and gifts will fall upon this child like spring rain."

This precious girl, given the name Estella, was born in a Mermaid's Purse, a protective sac.  From that moment forward she was living proof of the midwife's prophecy.

Her affinity for predicting storms was uncanny.  It was astonishing how early she learned to speak and read.  As she grew older she saved every penny earned to purchase books.  Her collection grew larger and larger to the point her father volunteered to build her a library.

One fine day a group of her father's friends gathered and constructed a perfect little library for her.  One, Fred Barber, an apprentice, could not take his eyes off of Estella.  Another, cranky Pig Ears Lonsberry thought the whole thing was total foolishness.  As the last stack of books was carried from house to library, a storm rolled into the area.  Right then and there Estella named her library the Mermaid's Purse.

Estella decided to start taking books in a cart from farm to farm, giving the men and their families who had helped her a chance to enjoy the benefits of a book.  Local children came to the Mermaid's Purse for storytelling.  It wasn't until a book actually helped a farmer on the verge of losing an entire herd of sheep, that Estella's books demonstrated their purpose.

Storms in all seasons came and went with Estella knowingly warning those around her.  More than one life was saved.  It was a terrible event though, a twister, destroying everything this generous spirit held dear which truly portrayed the admiration the community felt for Estella and her Mermaid's Purse.

Gather close readers.  When Patricia Polacco writes it's as if she is within the same space as you are, softly telling you a tale, sometimes true, casting a spell to bring you into that remarkable world.  She is a master at creating a true sense of place and making the characters fully alive.  There is an emotional impact in her stories touching on those things all people believe are valuable.  She invites and unites us with her words.  Here is a sample passage.

She swam to a large rock in the center of the pond.
She no more than scrambled up on it when she
heard a low rumbling off in the distance.  The
sky was darkening and the clouds glowed
with shards of lightning.
"Get out of the water!" she warned the boys.

All scrambled out but one.  Moon Eyes Fred.
"Fred!" she shouted.  "Thunderstorms are something I know about.  That lightning  is closer than you think."
No sooner had she said those words than there was a bright flash of light and Fred disappeared beneath the surface of the water. Stella jumped in and pulled him to shore. 

From the moment you hold the matching dust jacket and book case in your hands, you know another Patricia Polacco jewel will be added to the treasure on your bookshelves.  Who is the girl reading on a pile of books? What is a Mermaid's Purse?  To the left, on the back, this same girl is handing a book from a cart full of books to a dubious farmer?  The opening and closing endpapers are pale sky blue with darker blue vertical stripes.  With a page turn an image of a midwife holding a newborn announces the introduction describing Estella's birth.

Rendered in pencils and markers each illustration created by Patricia Polacco, in full color, spans two pages.  Although she painstakingly portrays the settings, inside and outside homes, it is the depiction of her characters which reaches out to readers.  Clothing, quirky traits and personalities reflected in faces and body postures bring her people to life on the pages.  We sincerely connect to her people.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the clouds burst with rain on the day they move all of Estella's books from her home to the Mermaid's Purse.  On the left of the two-page picture she is standing in the rain, legs spread as she runs and arms open wide.  Her head is lifted to the sky as she names her library.  On the left several of the workers, including Fred Barber watch astonished outside the library.  You will find yourself feeling as though you are standing in the middle of the storm, rain pelting your body and laughing with happiness along with Estella.

If ever there was a book depicting the power of books, reading and libraries, The Mermaid's Purse written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco is that book.  You find your heart swelling with gratitude for the soul of this girl.  This is a true story based upon the life of Patricia Polacco's grandmother.  On the last page she includes several photographs of Estella at different points in her life.  Stella eventually donated her collection of books to the Williamston Public Library in Michigan where she taught school,

...where books from it still remain today.

To learn more about Patricia Polacco and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  She is holding an open house on July 22, 2017 at her home in Union City, Michigan.  Patricia Polacco is interviewed on video at Reading Rockets.  Patricia Polacco is active on Facebook.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Color Me Confident

It happens to everyone.  You walk with an air of assurance into a venue full of individuals, only to have them suddenly stop their current activity.  They are all staring at you.  Your steps falter.  Have you drawn their attention because of your projected poise or have you developed the characteristics of the one-eyed, one-horned flyin' purple people eater?

If you are fortunate a kindhearted soul will come to you offering an explanation.  Otherwise you realize it would be in your best interest to remove yourself from this place until you can assess the situation.  Blue Ethel (Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, May 30, 2017) written and illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt is about a cat completely comfortable with who she is, until she isn't.

Ethel was old.

She was rather plump filling in her black and white fur-coated form much like a pillow stuffed to the brim with feathers.  It could be said the word flexible was not a part of her vocabulary.  Her outlook on life was extremely rigid.

Her daily routine never wavered; four essential events preceded her much anticipated nap.  One day, as the afternoon was coming to a close, her final exercise changed Ethel significantly.  Her roll on a sidewalk square, her favorite sidewalk square, altered more than one thing about this consistent feline.

Her roll unbeknownst to Ethel removed her white replacing it with blue.  That sidewalk square, her sidewalk square, had become the canvas for an artist.  As she walked home the cat community could not contain their comments.  And this made Ethel very, very, very sad.

What was Ethel to do?  Having decided to stay inside, in the morning she gazed out the window to see young, white, slim, Fluffy wearing a new look.  When life gives you sidewalk chalk a faithful follower and friend can give you freedom.

The succinct sentences penned by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, especially the first five, set the tone for the entire narrative.  They allow her to follow with evidence of those statements supplying the superb scenario for the total shift which comes next.  In this alteration of the ordinary the opportunity for another twist is revealed.  Jennifer Black Reinhardt can now introduce a compassionate character wise beyond its years.  Repetition of key phrases

It wasn't easy being Ethel, but she was good at it.

totally tie this story together as neatly as the perfectly wrapped present.

How can you not smile when looking at Ethel on the matching dust jacket and book case?  Her body shape, that skinny tail straight up in the air, the tiny legs and paws and the Cheshire Cat grin on her face tell readers a lot about Ethel even before we open the book.  The ants on the sidewalk, the dandelions growing through the cracks, the butterflies and dragonfly (to the left, on the back) all demonstrate the exquisite details found in the artwork of Jennifer Black Reinhardt.  On the back Ethel is posed like someone attempting to do the yoga position for downward dog, stretching as best as possible.

The opening and closing endpapers have a similar large, colorful, grassy and floral area covering the bottom two-thirds of the pages.  In the first one Ethel is striding down the lane with conviction as Fluffy watches hidden.  In the second one Ethel, Fluffy and other felines are parading proudly, looking other than normal but enjoying it immensely.

Large areas of white space draw our attention to important elements in the illustrations regardless of the image sizes.  They invite our eyes to move from left to right as the pictures further enhance the storyline. They also create a contrast to the two-page full color visuals.  In all of these the fine lines and loose brush strokes generate a very cat-like feel to the pictures.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is on a single page.  For the phrase

chase villains

Ethel is in hunt mode creeping on all fours, belly to the ground and tail straight up in the air.  She is stalking three ants.  Underneath her, to the left and up, is a grassy area.  On the top portion of this is a pot of geraniums.  The pot is patterned in large ladybugs.  Peeking through the flowers is the ever-observant Fluffy.

Blue Ethel written and illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt is confirmation of change is good.  No matter our age or physical traits, we can adapt to circumstances.  It is usually better and easier with the help of a friend.  And although we may survive the shift with flying colors, we can still keep our true selves right where they belong, in our hearts.  You will want a copy of this title on your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Jennifer Black Reinhardt and her other work please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations. At the Iowa SCBWI website Jennifer Black Reinhardt on Writing and Illustrating gives you further insight into her work.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., Jennifer writes a guest post about this title.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

No Rest On The Rails

The tracks are miles away from my home but not so far I can't hear the whistle blow as it speeds by a crossing late at night.  As I stand and stroll in my backyard with my canine companion listening to the sound, memories stir.  A little girl is putting together the tracks so her new train set can run around the Christmas tree, counting the cars between the mighty engine and the caboose as she waits in the back seat of her parent's green Chevrolet, sitting on the seat of a small train taking her through the local zoo or a jungle filled with parrots in Florida.  A young woman is gripping the arm rests as a train climbs through mountains in Canada. As an adult a woman visits the bustling city of Chicago for the first time traveling by train into the famous and now ninety-two year old Union Station.

There never seems to be a time of day when a train is not moving along the tracks, destination known.  Trains Don't Sleep (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2, 2017) written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Deirdre Gill is a soothing, sensory journey with trains designed for a variety of functions.  It's a tribute to this fabulous form of transportation.

Trains are humming, coming near.
Coupled cars from front to rear.
Rumbling, grumbling, screech and squeal,
Rolling, trolling wheels on steel.

Through the night the train zooms, never slowing.  As the light of morning breaks over the horizon, a train pulls into a country station before making another stop in a city rimmed with tall buildings.  The large windows and comfy seats welcome passengers.

On another parallel track, a locomotive pulls cars of different shapes and sizes.  Each one with a particular purpose.  It's certainly fun to know, they sometimes carry other vehicles that perform special tasks when they get to go.

These trains travel over all types of terrain using bridges, trestles and tunnels to reach a place.  In all kinds of weather they push forward, never wavering from their goal.  What's this we see chugging past?

Its cars are carrying precious cargo destined to bring cheer to audiences near...and far.  Animals, performers and crew have exceptional assignments to do.  Trains leave.  Trains go.  The day is done, evening descends.  They meet together at their travels' ends.

When the narrative written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum comes to a close readers will feel as if they have rambled across the tracks with these trains, dawn to dark.  The gentle rocking felt as a passenger, the click-clacking heard as trains pass, the hiss heard when trains to life or heard when they screech to a halt or the sight of each train, car contents known and unknown, these things all contribute to our connection to this manner of moving from one point to another point.  At the end of every two lines, gathered by two or four, rhyming words whisper the cadence of wheels on tracks.  Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum creates a memorable melody for her readers.  Here are sample passages.

Trains don't sleep---
They CLANG and HOOT,
Reaching stations on their route.

Quiet town to noisy city,
Looming large and strong and gritty.

Rendered in oil on paper the illustrations beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case are a pictorial homage to trains.  The arched bridge stretches across the spine to the left, on the back.  The forest beneath the expanse is shown in various deep green hues as the sky blooms in the dying light of day, a full moon rising in the sky as stars begin to show.  Speed and resolve are conveyed in the lines and angles of the train.  Notice the formation of the text letters.  On the opening and closing endpapers one of the darkest shades in the sky covers the space.

In the glow of an engine light the words appear on the informal title page as the trains shown in the story are named.  A glorious night scene of the train moving down a hill toward the station, windows bright with a pale golden shimmer, spans the verso and title pages.  With each page turn an image extends from page edge to page edge.

The pictures are stunning through the use of light and shadow by Deirdre Gill.  Wild and domestic animals are shown when appropriate as the trains race and rumble through cities, towns, country, forests and mountains.  Deirdre shifts her point of view drawing readers deeply into each scene, a train passing through tall grasses with cows grazing, standing on a station waiting for the arrival of a train, two passengers watching the city fade as the train moves, or an engine breaking through piles of snow in a darkening storm.  Each visual can stand alone but flawlessly becomes part of the wonderful whole as the hours pass.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the freight train, Engine106, is trudging through the snow.  You can almost hear the sound of the wind and the ferocity of the storm as the drifts grow deeper on the tracks.  The contrast of the dark engine, snow and gray sky supplies a perfect mood.  You'll find yourself reaching for a sweater or a blanket.

Trains Don't Sleep written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Deirdre Gill is like a lullaby taking us through a day and closing with the promise of another new day.  Through a blend of words and illustrations we experience trains in three distinct capacities.  Be sure to read this aloud whether one-on-one or with a group.  I would pair this with Train (Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., September 24, 2013) written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper,  Locomotive (A Richard Jackson Book, Atheneum Book for Young Readers, September 3, 2013) written and illustrated by Brian Floca, How to Train a Train (Candlewick Press, September 24, 2013) written by Jason Carter Eaton with illustrations by John Rocco or Steam Train, Dream Train (Chronicle Books, April 16, 2013) by Sherri Duskey Rinker with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld.

To discover more about author Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrator Deirdre Gill please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Andria is interviewed at GotInterviews, Picture Books Help Kids Soar and KidLit 411.  At Lauri Fortino's Frog On A (B)log you can find an interview with Deirdre Gill.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Small Beginnings

One of nature's many miracles is seeds.  Some of them are so small when you sow them it's like scattering sugar.  Other's need to be soaked overnight so growth is encouraged and stems will appear sooner. Many members of the gourd family are grouped together to grow in hills.  If you want a potato, plant a potato, making sure there are several "eyes" buried in the dirt.

Unless you are an avid horticulturalist finding a seed without any sort of identification is like discovering a mystery.  What Will Grow? (Bloomsbury Children's Books, February 14, 2017) written by Jennifer Ward with illustrations by Susie Ghahremani gives readers the means to crack the code of what each seed holds inside.  All the answers build toward a pleasant surprise.



For each of the twelve seeds a poetic description provides clues.  Physical characteristics may be supplied.  How the seed is sown hints at the outcome.  With a glance to the right, the reader can easily see if their guess is correct.

If the seeds are planted in a precise row, a gardener has plans for them.  If a clever woodland creature buries them, something tall and sturdy will stretch to the sky.  If currents of air spread them here, there, and seemingly everywhere, a carpet of yellow is sure to appear in the spring.

A tiny package can contain a much larger, succulent fruit which can vary in size depending on the variety.  Black and white stripes can contain giant bursts of golden yellow swaying on tall stalks.  These floating tufts of white generate food for the majestic monarch.  Without it monarchs cannot survive.

A core tossed alongside a roadway, last year's jack-o-lantern squashed to mush, or a holiday wreath left hanging a bit too long all have the potential to create something beauty and beneficial.  In every season the wonders stored inside seeds work their marvels.  We fortunate humans and other animals reap the rewards.

The melodious words written by Jennifer Ward welcome participation and speculation.  They also ask us to pause, close our eyes and visualize her depictions.   The rhythm supplied by her two lines and rhyming words at the end of each will captivate readers as they attempt to figure out the riddle.  Here is another sample passage.



The first thing readers will appreciate about this book is the choice of paper for the dust jacket and interior pages.  The matte finish and heavier stock furnish us with a wonderful, tactile experience.  When opening the matching dust jacket and book case the color palette presents a soothing sense and the image, extended to portray hilly expanses, shows more sunflowers in various stages of growth.  The sunflower seeds scattered along the bottom give readers the chance to connect the one with the other.  The rabbit is the first of many animals featured on every two pages.

The opening and closing endpapers are a cool green with a pattern of seeds, each kind grouped together, across the pages.  On the verso and title pages we see a progression of growth, seeds to tall stalk, as a ladybug journeys from place to place, climbing and flying.  Rendered in gouache on wood and hand lettered by Susie Ghahremani these visuals are works of art.

Her two page illustrations, with four gatefolds, hold our gaze from left to right.  We get to see the seeds form the plants in a stunning display almost like slow motion but totally complete at the same time.  All the seasons of the year are presented in full earth-tone shades.  Most of the illustrations bring us close to the seeds, animals and the resulting plants.  We are usually viewing the picture from a perspective other than human.

The attention to detail is utterly lovely.  Susie is careful to present the correct animal in each scene.  Readers will be looking intently for a certain bug after every page turn.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the pumpkin seeds.  The background hills are now a golden shade.  In the foreground a garden in varying hues of brown serves as a canvas for the scattered seeds, seedlings and slowly growing vines.  On the right the vines have produced blossoms and several pumpkins.  A tiny ladybug crawls on the far left.  On the right a raccoon stands eagerly looking at the pumpkins.  Its hands are brought up in front as if in anticipation of a snack.

You can't read this book only once.  I predict What Will Grow? written by Jennifer Ward with illustrations by Susie Ghahremani will have a well-loved look quickly whether it's on library, classroom or home bookshelves.  Readers will be ready to garden before they have even finished it the first time.  By the third time, they will be leaving the garage or shed with a shovel in hand. At the close of the colorful reveal, each seed in alphabetical order is explained further.  You are told when it's best to sow, the necessary steps and when it will grow.  A simple, perfect textual and visual explanation is offered for the four stages from seed to plant on the following two pages.

To learn more about Jennifer Ward and Susie Ghahremani and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Jennifer is interviewed at Tucson Tales.  Susie is interviewed at websites with a heart.  At the publisher's website there is a twelve-page activity guide for you to download.

Be sure to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the choices this week by other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Splendid Scenarios Under The Sea

When precious personalities from books make a return appearance readers rejoice.  When you find yourself smiling just from looking at the book case, without reading a single word, you know laughter is sure to follow.  The cheerful nature of the characters is contagious.   This is something you are more than willing to spread.

Last autumn we meet two very likable sea creatures who also happen to be best friends in Narwhal: Unicorn Of The Sea (A Narwhal And Jelly Book) (Tundra Books, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company, October 4, 2016).  The second book in the series Super Narwhal And Jelly Jolt (A Narwhal And Jelly Book) (Tundra Books, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company, May 2, 2017) written and illustrated by Ben Clanton adds three more marvelous chapters in the adventures of one unique narwhal and jellyfish.  Prepare to be entertained.  Prepare to have your heart swell with love for these two remarkable pals.

Ahoy, Jelly!
Hey, Narwhal!  What's up?
I was just about to go for a swim.  After that I'll have something for lunch, probably a waffle, and then...

Narwhal announces with great exuberance his intentions to become a superhero.  When Jelly points out the obvious fact you can't become a superhero instantly, Narwhal asks exactly what is needed.  During the course of their conversation the idea of super outfits, a superhero name, a secret identity, the necessity of a sidekick, and a superpower clearly demonstrate the truth of Jelly's statement.  Of course, Narwhal, with his usual super positive outlook on everything is not discouraged.  He lives for looking on the bright side.

One evening when out for a swim, Narwhal comes upon Star (a starfish) resting on a rock.  Star would much rather be shining in the night sky.  Ever helpful, Narwhal suggests several possibilities for Star's wish to come true, even attempting some of them.  It's the final effort which will give readers a hint of Narwhal's true power.

In the third episode Narwhal is moving through the sea wearing his secret identity when he discovers Jelly is feeling rather sad.  In perfect form Narwhal transforms into Super Narwhal using his awe-inspiring nature to work wonders on Jelly.  Before long readers and Jelly will be laughing.  The lively twosome lead by Super Narwhal continues to alter their entire briny blue realm.


As soon as you start reading the dialogue penned by Ben Clanton you feel your spirits start to soar.  The exchanges between Narwhal and his sea friends, especially Jelly, are lively and positive.  Narwhal is always looking for solutions within each situation.  The humor comes in the answers and questions by Jelly and in the word play.

Through the contrast in the personalities of the characters readers are given the opportunity to place themselves in similar situations and ask themselves how they would respond.  Are they more like Narwhal or Jelly or a little bit of both?  As in the first book in the series Ben Clanton adds two extra chapters to shift the cadence.  He includes Super Sea Creatures which shares some fun facts about the mimic octopus, dolphins, blue whales, crabs, flying fish and sailfish.  A new escapade showcasing Super Waffle and Strawberry Sidekick (written by Narwhal and Jelly) will have you groaning at the puns and smiling nonstop.  Here is a sample passage from the book.

I've never had a mustache, Super Narwhal.
Too Bad! You'd look really great with a mustache.
Is that why you're blue?  Because you've never had a mustache?
Huh?  It has nothing to do with a mustache.
Did you accidentally set your hair on fire?

We're underwater!

The smiles on the faces of Narwhal and Jelly on the front of the book case set the tone for the entire title.  Readers will wonder what new excitement awaits these sea creatures turned superheroes.  To the left, on the back, readers can enjoy four square panels.  In one Narwhal is speaking, in two Jelly is adding to the fun and together in the fourth panel, the duo announce their new names.  Beneath the visuals we read:

Ben Clanton (A. K. A. Clantoons) is faster than a stationary bullet, more powerful than a toy locomotive, and can make super stories like this one and Narwhal: Unicorn Of The Sea!

The opening and closing endpapers done in two hues of golden yellow show miniature Super Narwhals and Jelly Jolts respectively on the first and second sets.

The limited color palette of a washed ocean blue, yellow, black, white and gray heightens the delight factor while also allowing for the punch which comes when adding spot color and full color in the Super Waffle And Strawberry Sidekick story.  Rendered in colored pencil, watercolor, ink and colored digitally the images span full pages, edge to edge, framed single pages, groups of panels on a single page and two full pages.  Shifting the sizes clearly contributes to the wonderful pacing.  All of the text is hand lettered by Ben.

The facial features Ben Clanton creates with dots, curves and lines are fantastic.  You can't help but be connected to his characters.  Their emotions and moods are experienced by everyone.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is a full page panel with a heavy black line and generous white space for a frame.  It's a close-up of Narwhal in his secret identity.  All we can see is the portion of his body from his tie up to the tip of his horn.  His is looking straight at the reader wearing a yellow tie, mustache and spectacles with a fin raised.  He's exclaiming:

Sounds like a job for...

Super Narwhal And Jelly Jolt (A Narwhal And Jelly Book) written and illustrated by Ben Clanton is a fun-filled read, silently or aloud.  These under-the-sea buddies are sure to find a place in each reader's heart.  This is a graphic novel series you will want on your personal and professional bookshelves.  Ahoy!

To discover more about Ben Clanton and his other work be sure to visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  There is a link there to his Instagram account.  By going to the publisher's website you can view some interior pages.  Narwhal and Jelly have their own website here.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Tearing Down...Building Up

Even if you have a fear of heights, once you arrive and enter everything changes.  The small space, four walls with perhaps a single door, a single window and a roof to keep out the weather, is a place where memories lasting a lifetime are created.  Wishes are spoken aloud.  Promises are made.  Secrets are voiced.

When this haven is constructed by hand and with help, its value increases.  That Neighbor Kid (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, May 9, 2017) written and illustrated by Daniel Miyares is about the art of reaching out and receiving.  Taking chances can lead to a far greater joy than believed is possible.

In a nearly wordless narrative a dreary day is the backdrop for a shift in a neighborhood dynamics.  A moving truck is parked in front of one of the houses on a street lined with sidewalks and filled with mature trees.  As the household items are unloaded, a boy reads a book in the back yard next to a large tree.  He is unaware of being watched.

We along with the observer realize he is focused on seeking sanctuary in that tree.  Still hidden the neighbor sees the new boy remove and take some of the boards on the fence dividing their property.  He then climbs up smaller pieces of wood nailed as steps to a top part of the tree.  The hammer stuck in his waistband drops.

The hammer is retrieved by the neighbor.  She arrives where the boy is puzzling over plans amid his bucket of nails and boards.  Looks, a single word and items for building are exchanged.  A crew of two now knows what to do.

The pure bliss they feel at their accomplishments glows like the colors now visible on the fall foliage.  Fun continues as the project and day come to an end.  A starry sky and glowing windows hold the hope for future endeavors.

One single word, the same word, is spoken by each of the characters once. This story conceived by Daniel Miyares thoughtfully looks at the development of friendship, the idea of offering advice and accepting it, of removing barriers to build something new, teamwork, and having the courage to do all of these things.  In the way each portion of the story unfolds, Daniel Miyares allows his readers to ask questions, think about their own choices and come to the realization the best and most lasting things rarely happen quickly.

When you open the dust jacket the scene of homes, the field of grasses and sky with a few clouds extends over the spine and to the left.  The difference is the colors fade.  It's the promise of friendship which adds brightness to the day.  The little details like the apple core next to the boy and the grasshopper on a bit of grass give authenticity to the image.

On the book case the elements are extremely spare on a cream background.  To the left the grasshopper remains but the grasses are few in number.  The girl, a smile playing about her mouth, crosses the spine.  She follows the boy running and carrying a board.  We don't see his entire body; part of him is off the case.  The opening endpapers are a wash of deep grays.  The closing endpapers are golden yellow with hints of brush strokes.

Rendered in ink and watercolor on Strathmore paper most of the pictures cover two pages.  These larger visuals reach out to envelope the reader.  When the two children meet and begin working together Daniel Miyares wants us to slow down and work alongside them.  These images are smaller and framed with the tree branches.  It's a beautiful thing to watch.  With each successive illustration more of the oak leaves turn from gray to autumn shades.

One of my favorite pictures of many (you could frame any of them to hang on a wall) is when the children are taking a break in their building.  We are looking at them from above.  The floor (maybe more) of the tree house is completed.  The plans are spread on the floor along with a saw, pencil, nails, boards and the hammer.  One of the windows is indeed in place casting a shadow over the girl lying on her back, smiling with pigtails spread behind her.  The boy, lying on his back, is holding a bright red leaf and smiling with legs crossed and one arm behind his head.  Sunlight is splashed on other portions of the illustration.  This is childhood at its finest.

There is a timeless quality to the story and the portrayal of the characters in Daniel Miyares's That Neighbor Kid.  Even the title supplies wonder; is it the girl or the boy who is the neighbor kid?  I can't imagine a personal or professional bookshelf without a copy of this book.

To learn more about Daniel Miyares and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to this name.  Daniel has an account on Instagram.  You can view interior images from this book at the publisher's website.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson talks with Daniel Miyares at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  In one of his Saturday videos to educator Colby Sharp, Scholastic Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher talks about this title at Watch. Connect. Read.  Daniel Miyares is featured at KidLit 411 and All The Wonders, Let's Get Busy, Episode #232.  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What We Leave Behind

They are nearly fifty years old.  They were planted by my mother forty-eight years ago.  Perhaps she brought them from my parent's old home to their new one built in 1968.  Since then they have been lovingly moved three times.  Where I go my mother's peony bushes go.  Each time they are placed in a new garden, another plant fills their former space.  Gardens grow in more ways than are easily recognized.

Each person who tends flowers and vegetables in gardens of varying sizes leaves behind the stories associated with each plant.  The forever garden (Schwartz & Wade Books, May 2, 2017) written by Laurel Snyder with illustrations by Samantha Cotterill asks us to think about what we sow, not only in gardens.  It's a loving and charming tribute to people of all ages who care for everything in their lives.

In sunshine and shower, in darkness and wind,
Honey tends her garden...

Honey's knees are always muddy.

Whatever the weather and whatever the time of year, Honey looks after her garden.  She knows what it needs and takes great joy in its stages.

Honey sings to the kale.

A neighbor girl observes this her curiosity increasing.  When sent to Honey's for eggs from her chickens, the child marvels at the colors of the shells and their warmth, fresh from the nest.  Honey brings bunches of bounty from her garden when visiting their home for Friday night dinners.

Sometimes the nights are mild enough Honey enjoys dinner in her garden.  For dessert the little girl joins her eating cookies and watching the fireflies.  One day, a single sign, brings change for the girl and Honey.

In conservations both the girl and Honey reveal the affection they have for each other.  They will be missed.  The little girl also comes to know the value of adding something or leaving something behind, a visible (not always on the outside) reminder of you having been part of memory making at a particular place.  In this way a tradition can continue; a garden can last forever.

Readers will find themselves as deeply connected to Honey as is the little girl through her first person narrative as written by Laurel Snyder.  The inclusion of sounds, Honey's spoken phrases and their chats create a warm and intimate story.  Readers will come to believe the best kind of friendships can bind people together regardless of their ages.  Here is a sample passage.

Each Friday night I ask Honey to dinner.
She brings bouquets of funny things.
Squash blossoms,
raspberries on a prickle branch.

Nothing matches, but everything fits.
And the table smells like a meadow.

At first glance readers can tell there is a deep fondness between the two pictured characters.  Their facial expressions and body gestures are evidence of this fact.  The soft textures and color choices radiate tenderness and the belief in continual growth; flowers and vegetables are being planted, enjoyed and harvested.  To the left, on the back of the matching dust jacket and book case, the girl is seated on the fence between their two properties, holding a tiny carrot given to her by Honey who is standing with a basket full of lettuce.  A striped cat watches.

Rendered in pen-and-ink on watercolor paper and colored digitally by Samantha Cotterill the illustrations are as brimming with details as Honey's garden is full of vegetables and flowers.  Some of them cover two pages, others single pages and some are small and grouped together on one page.  Most of the smaller images are circular; in keeping with the forever theme of the book, no beginning and no ending.

One of my many favorite pictures is of Honey and the neighbor girl lying on their backs on a quilt in Honey's garden at night.  Fireflies are blinking around them.  A string of decorative lights is hanging along the fence.  Pots of flowers are placed around them.  A pitcher of water, glasses and a plate of cookies are on the quilt.  The cat is playfully reaching for a firefly.  You can almost hear the crickets chirping as the child quietly talks and points.

This title, The forever garden, written by Laurel Snyder with illustrations by Samantha Cotterill is sure to be a classic with a timeless theme of making a beneficial and lasting impression wherever you are and wherever you go.  Readers can find joy in the diverse characters and their multi-generational relationships.  The Author's Note on the verso opposite the title page is a must read; explaining the inspiration for this story.  I highly recommend this title for use with other books on friendship and gardening.

To learn more about Laurel Snyder and Samantha Cotterill please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Samantha Cotterill can be found on Instagram.  If you go to Flickr for the publisher you can view more illustrations.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Give Me Sleep

You know the feeling.  You're so tired you could sleep nearly anywhere but the spot you long for most is your personal place.  It doesn't matter if it's big or small, hard or soft, or covered in cozy quilts and bunches of fluffy pillows or a single blanket and a single pillow.  Your bed is your sanctuary.

When you settle in for a serene night of rest and the sweetest of dreams, every muscle relaxes and all the worries of the day fade away. At least this is how it's supposed to be.  In Go sleep in your own bed! (Schwartz & Wade Books, May 2, 2017) written by Candace Fleming with illustrations by Lori Nichols animals on a farm are having a not-quite-right night.

Snuggled in.
Snuggled down.
Bedtime on the farm.

Hardly able to keep his eyes open Pig strolls toward his sty.  Rolling into his mud, he realizes someone is in his bed.  Cow is hogging his space.  Pig orders him to go to his own bed.

Cow ambles into her stall and lies down but a horrible squawk startles her.  There's a hen roosting in her hay.  As did Pig, she orders the chicken to go to her own bed.

To Hen's surprise a very large member of the farm community is occupying almost the entire coop.  She clucks and clucks until the intruder wanders over to his bed.  As you can probably surmise, Horse is unable to sleep in his stable.  Someone else is in the wrong bed.

This series of out-of-the-ordinary events continues until the last animal, resigned to her fate, settles down on her particular, private bed.  Will she remain there?  Unlike the others will she find a warm, welcoming snuggling place?

Bedtime on the farm.

The first three phrases lead readers gently into what they believe will be a nighttime ritual on the farm.  It's a perfect beginning for the hilarity which follows.  Candace Fleming understands her intended audience (and those young at heart) by asking them to participate with a repeating question and sentences.  Her word choices supply a visual of the movements from place to place by the animals and how they settle in their beds only to discover they are not alone.  The words uttered by the animals when ordered to leave are full of fun and sure to generate giggles and grins.  Here is a sample passage.

"Oh, w-w-w-h-o-o-o-a is me," whickered Horse.
And he shambled to his stable, cloppety-plod.

But when he settled down---
Who do you think he found?

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case the front is the first hint things might be a little unusual on this specific night; a cow curled up in pig's sty is a tad strange.  And the one-eyed look Pig is giving Cow is most definitely the tiny start of the huge humor which follows.  To the left, on the back, Hen is nearly sleepwalking to the coop.  She can't see what readers can; the backside of a horse is facing the entrance.  On the opening and closing endpapers, done in a deep midnight blue and a lighter blue for outlining with hints of white and golden yellow, another story is being told.  You will get a chuckle out of the conclusion on the closing endpapers.  Each one is a scene of the layout of the farm...with a few changes.

A two-page picture of the farm at night from the vantage point of a tree top supplies the canvas for the verso and title pages.  Here as on the jacket and case Lori Nichols continues the limited color palette, hues of blue, purple, brown, white, pale yellow and green.  (Splashes of other colors make an appearance in a few illustrations.)  An owl watches with eyes wide open.

The image sizes vary from two page pictures to single page illustrations and other visuals on a single page surrounded by white space.  These pair perfectly with the narrative supplying a cadence for readers.  Rendered in acrylic ink using a dip pen and colorized digitally the looks on the characters' faces and their body postures will have you laughing out loud.

One of my favorite of many pictures is when Cow settles into her stall only to discover Hen is there.  Large portions of white space frame the stall divider, another cow, Cow and the sleeping Hen.  Cow is curled on her hay but the


has her giving the source of the sound a one-eyed look.  Hen is sleeping on her back, wings spread and red and white stripped legs straight up in the air.

Go sleep in your own bed! written by Candace Fleming with illustrations by Lori Nichols is meant to be read aloud one-on-one or with a group.  Readers will quickly join in when the repeating phrases appear.  They will be delighted by the word choices supplying sounds and moods of the animals.  This is perfect for bedtime but I will be sharing it anytime I can.

To learn more about Candace Fleming and Lori Nichols and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images including the opening endpapers.  Lori Nichols is featured on Andrea Skyberg's website.  Enjoy the adorable book trailer.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

As Free As A Bird

Whenever calm is broken by stiff breezes or high wind gusts, looking skyward reveals our larger feathered friends enjoying what nature has offered.  Wings spread wide; they soar on the currents of air, moving up and down, until they glide out of sight.  It's as if we've been given the gift of bearing witness to this miracle of wings and wind.  Do they feel as much joy in this act as we do watching them?

Almost two hundred, twelve years ago a first in the field of aviation was written into the history books.  Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot (Candlewick Press, March 14 2017) written by Matthew Clark Smith with illustrations by Matt Tavares brings to readers the fascinating story of how this woman fulfilled a childhood dream.  All she ever wanted to do was to fly.

It was November 1783.  For months France had buzzed about the brothers Montgolfier and their mad dreams of floating bags in the sky.

The news of their success reached five-year-old Sophie Armant.  She lived in a small town along the coast of France.  She feared and avoided the noise of crowds and carriages but the thought of flying like the seabirds thrilled her.

France was totally caught up in the balloonists and ballooning after the success of the Montgolfiers.  Two of the more famous balloonists were Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries.  They were the first to cross the English Channel by balloon without incident. (Well, they did have to remove some clothing.)

Sophie yearned to fly and she learned all she could about the balloonists.  Now a young woman, she attended one of Monsieur Blanchard's exhibitions, introducing herself to him.  He recognized a kindred spirit in Sophie.  They were married.  After several flights with her husband, Sophie piloted a balloon solo in 1805.

Ballooning was not without its dangers and Sophie lost her husband three years later.  She continued shows as he had to make a living, loving every moment in the air.  Her preference was to ride in a form shaped like a chair, small and compact.  She flew into heights of bitter cold and thin air.  She nearly drowned.  She kept on flying, winning the approval of rulers of France.

What Matthew Clark Smith does for readers is to first give us an accurate historical perspective on the craze for balloonists and ballooning in France.  Into this he inserts Sophie's fondness for flight over other methods of travel.  We have a vivid awareness of not only this inclination but her longing to be alone, above the hustle and bustle of crowds.  By including specific incidents where she placed herself in danger, he gives us an authentic picture of her life's passion for ballooning.  Sophie Blanchard was her best self in a balloon.  Here is a sample passage from the book.

Sophie read everything she could about Blanchard and his fellow adventurers.  And there was one thing she couldn't help noticing.  All of the balloonists were men.  The sky was no place for a woman, some said.  It was too cold up there, the air too thin, the winds too fierce.  Women were made of weaker stuff.  Their place was on earth.
Deep in Sophie's windswept heart, she knew that couldn't be true.

All the glory felt by Sophie Blanchard when she was aloft alone in the balloon on her first solo flight radiates across the opened dust jacket.  Matt Tavares portrays her heart's desire to fly like the birds she loved to watch as a child.  The color choices of golden sky and clouds contrast beautifully with the delicate shades of blue and green on the balloon and the clothing worn by Sophie.

On the book case along the lower half are clouds brushed in pale yellow and green.  Above them are darker golden hues, some nearly orange.  In the upper left-hand corner of the front we see a much smaller version of Sophie flying in the balloon.  It gives us a very clear perspective of her courage and commitment.  A deep burnished orange covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Before the title and dedication pages a sky with fluffy blue and white clouds is the background for a quote by Charles-Augustine De Coulomb about any attempts by man to fly.  With a page turn a gorgeous balloon framed in tiny scrolls and tiny balloons provides space for the dedications.  Rendered in ink and watercolor the images throughout this title vary in size and point of view to heighten the impact and pacing of the text.

In the beginning and ending portions of the book, several of the pictures are framed in intricate scrolls and lines with the tiny balloons in the corners or other very small items which reflect the current storyline; fireworks, snowflakes, thunder clouds or birds.  (In almost all the visuals birds are shown.)  Matt gives us a one page view of Sophie walking the beach as a little girl with the sandpipers running ahead of her and then taking flight from the one page picture to the opposite page holding the text.  His skies often reflect the mood of the storyline.  These illustrations usually span two pages; the loss of Sophie's husband or the joy in continuing the ballooning shows.

One of my many favorite images is when Sophie is a teen.  The sky looks as if rain is coming; a mass of gray clouds.  Sophie is seated on a hill overlooking the sea.  The grass seems to hold the same color as the sky and water.  Her knees are drawn to her chest and her arms are hugging her legs.  Her expression is thoughtful but determined.  Matt has placed a light on her face as if the sun broke through from the clouds and shined on her.  Newspapers are strewn and blowing about her.  Can you see the picture on one of them?  What is it?

There is so much to be learned from reading nonfiction picture books like Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot written by Matthew Clark Smith with illustrations by Matt Tavares.  This woman overcame incredible odds to realize her heart's desire.  An Author's Note, Illustrator's Note and Selected Bibliography follow the narrative.  This is a worthy purchase for your personal and professional bookshelves.

To discover more about Matthew Clark Smith and Matt Tavares and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Matt Tavares maintains a blog here.  You can view interior illustrations at Penguin Random House and Candlewick Press.  There is a teacher's guide available at Candlewick Press.  This title and Matt Tavares's illustrations are featured by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  There is an interview of both these creators during the cover reveal at educator Dylan Teut's blog, Mile High Reading.

Be sure to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to read about the titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Nature's Champions

She entered our hearts and minds from the pages of a book eight years ago; a middle child in a family of seven, three older and three younger brothers.  Eleven years old in the summer of 1899 Calpurnia Virginia Tate thought and acted differently than girls did or were expected to during this time period in the hot heat of Texas.  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate a debut novel written by Jacqueline Kelly and the recipient of a 2010 Newbery Honor award revealed to readers the quiet and not so quiet determination of a girl wanting to be allowed to pursue her own interests.  Not quite two years ago on July 7, 2015 The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate continued this young woman's journey to follow her own convictions amid history's events, the ups and downs of family life and the large disparity between what was appropriate for young men and young women.

In this second book the relationship between Callie Vee and her younger brother Travis strengthened.  Her pursuit of the natural sciences and his love of animals (wanting to make each one a pet) forged an unbreakable bond.  This past fall a new series for early readers, Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet began featuring these two memorable characters.

Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet Skunked! (Henry Holt and Company, October 4, 2016) written by Jacqueline Kelly with illustrations by Jennifer L. Meyer and jacket art by Teagan White begins as the title suggests with a skunk.  We all know the scenarios that single word raises in our collective minds.  The results are sure to be smelly.

None of the terrible things that happened need have happened at all if the skunk hadn't drawn attention to itself by ripping up our garden and stealing a bunch of vegetables.

The year was now 1901.  The skunk in question was a mama skunk.  One fine morning out for a walk, Travis heard the sound of what he believed was a kitten in the hollow of a tree truck.  It was a kit, a baby skunk and an orphan.

Of course, Travis enlisted Callie's help with the skunk's care.  She was dead set against keeping it, but Travis had already named it Stinky.  She simply couldn't resist his kind heart.  The two kept it hidden in a rabbit cage in the darkest part of the family barn.

All seemed to be going well, until with the help of a frantic Stinky another kit, near death, was discovered in the hollow trunk.  Now a cover story for items needed for its care was fabricated by Callie and Travis.  It was touch and go for the life of the second skunk, Winky, and for the devoted brother and sister in protecting their secret.  They might have succeeded except for one thing...the family dog named Ajax and a crazy decision by Travis one day at school.

In the second full length novel a veterinarian arrived in the town of Fentress, Texas.  Dr. Pritzker allowed Callie Vee to assist him with jobs around his office, to accompany him when he tended to sick animals and even read his books.  As you might expect this was kept strictly confidential from Callie Vee's mother who would be very unhappy with this arrangement.

In the second early reader title, Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet Counting Sheep (Henry Holt and Company, April 4, 2017) written by Jacqueline Kelly with illustrations by Jennifer L. Meyer and jacket art by Teagan White Mrs. Tate might have need of the skills acquired thus far by her daughter.  Callie knows she walks a fine, well-guarded line but her Grandfather, an extraordinary and brilliant scientist living with them, offers continuous wisdom. A morning jaunt with him challenges her skills before they are critically tested.

What I am going to tell you about took place on our farm in Fentress, Texas, in the early spring of 1901.  Now if you don't live on a farm, you might not know that spring is the season when most of the animals have their babies, and places like ours were overrun with lambs and calves and piglets and kittens.

After one early morning expedition digging in the mud, Callie Vee earned the stern discipline of her mother but managed to venture out later with her grandfather.  During their time together she found a leaf containing three dots.  In true scientific investigative style, she studied them until the fateful day when they hatched into beautiful butterflies.

One of the three had an injured wing.  Over the course of several days with the help of Grandfather and encouragement from Travis, Callie Vee performed a minor miracle.  If sheep could talk one would be grateful for this butterfly's injury.

Mother Tate had a prize sheep with wool known for its unique softness.  She bred the sheep hoping to sell the lambs for their fine wool.  When it came time for the mother to birth, she demanded Travis fetch Dr. Pritzker. (Of course Callie Vee explicitly told her it would take several hours.  That shared knowledge did generate some uncomfortable questions.)  Ease turns to unease leaving no one but Calpurnia to demonstrate being smart, ready and lucky was an advantage with brothers and life.

With her adept use in painting a setting with words Jacqueline Kelly takes us back in time to the farm, surrounding meadows and woods and the banks of the river.  We can hear the gentle sound of the water, the hum of insects and the call of birds.  Through conversations with her brothers, especially Travis, her mother, Dr. Pritzker and their cook, Viola, we come to admire all the characters and find ourselves laughing out loud more than once.  The comparison between what is acceptable to Mrs. Tate and what Callie Vee actually does are miles apart.  Here are sample passages from both books.


I watched him to see if he got the joke.  It took him a moment, but then he laughed.  I always enjoyed making him laugh.  It was like the sun bursting out from behind the clouds on a gloomy day.

"Oh, boy, another one!" Travis cried, all excited.  Stinky grew even more excited at being reunited with his brother (or sister, who could tell?).  The three of them would have thrown a party if I'd let them.  The only one not excited by the reunion was yours truly.  No, not excited.  Not at all. 

Counting Sheep

Mother said, "Send us your bill, Doctor."
"Good heavens, Mrs. Tate, I did nothing to help.  I can't send a bill on Mother Nature's behalf.  No, no.  I bid you good day.

I left Mother and Travis staring at the lamb and walked the vet back to his buggy.  I gave his mare Penny a quick pat while he loaded up.

"Well, Calpurnia, is that the first lambing you've attended?"
"Yessir, although I've read all about it in your books."
He paused.  "Have you now?  Have you...uh...told your mother about your reading those books?"
Was he crazy?  Mother would likely have a fit if she found out.  "Never, Dr. Pritzker."

Each volume contains a variety of delicate black and white illustrations drawn by Jennifer L. Meyer.   The chapters begin with a thematic picture carried throughout each book, a reflection of the main storyline.  The size of the images heightens the emotional mood of the text varying from a partial page to a full page or spanning across two pages.

The intricate details draw readers into the illustrations, making us feel as though we are participating in the story beside the characters.  The facial expressions on the characters not only depict the current mood but endear us further to the people.  The flora and fauna are portrayed with realism and also an underlying appreciation for the natural world.

One of my favorite pictures in the first title is of Travis sneaking the newly found kit into the barn.  It covers one page.  As he walks past the horses, cow, and kittens he is holding a finger to his lips asking them to not utter a sound revealing his secret.  Jennifer L. Meyer has tucked a tiny mice into a ladle, up in the loft and around a hanging lantern.  In the second book one of my favorite illustrations, on a full page, is of Callie Vee holding a jar with the lid in her hand.  The butterflies are being released.  Travis watches while holding his beloved Bunny, an angora rabbit.  Two mice and several kittens watch too.  Both of these visuals create a vivid sense of time and place.

Calpurnia Tate Girl Vet Skunked! and Calpurnia Tate Girl Vet Counting Sheep written by Jacqueline Kelly with illustrations by Jennifer L. Meyer and jacket art by Teagan White are absolutely wonderful!  I have read them both twice and they get better with every reading.  The humor is genuine, the sense of history is true and the characters are irresistible.  Volume three is set to be released the first part of October 2017.  You won't want to miss a single one.

To learn more about Jacqueline Kelly and Jennifer L. Meyer please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. Jennifer L. Meyer has a blog here.  The artist responsible for the jacket art, Teagan White, has a website here and Tumblr pages here.  You can read an excerpt from volume two at the publisher's website.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Lured By The Need To Know The Explorers: The Door in the Alley Blog Tour

Life is full of temptations.  There will be situations when you know you should heed your mother's words of "when in doubt, don't".  Every fiber of logic in your mind is telling you to stick to the well-known path but there's a tiny whisper, an urge to stray.  What can it hurt?  Right?  There are also those people who have no choice but to leap into the face of the unknown.  It can be a matter of life and death for them and for others.

Breaking free of one's comfort zone will usually have consequences.  The Explorers: The Door in the Alley (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, April 25, 2017) written by Adrienne Kress with illustrations by Matthew C. Rockefeller will have you glued to its pages from the first sentence.  The results of choices made lead two new friends into unfamiliar territory.

Chapter 1
In which we meet
This story begins, like most stories do, with a pig wearing a teeny hat.

Quite frankly, a story beginning with a pig wearing a hat is a bit out of the ordinary so first we follow Sebastian home from school one day along with his cousin Arthur.  Sebastian goes to a special school for those most interested in math and the sciences, grades four through eight.  Sebastian's life is very precise never deviating from a set direction in anything.  Arthur, on the other hand, creates a situation where change is inevitable for Sebastian.  He is about to experience the flip-side of the coin of his life.

The next day the pig wearing a teeny hat finally makes an appearance running into Sebastian's path as he nears his home.  It belongs to a man who requests Sebastian follow him down the creepy alley from yesterday into a place with a sign next to the door reading

The Explorers Society.

Through no fault of his own, after a series of encounters, Sebastian earns a punishment requiring him to return to The Explorers Society after school daily.

For two long years Evie has been attending classes and living at the Wayward School since her parent's deaths.  Each week she attends the home of the Anderson couple for dinner.  It's an honor to be chosen but it's so boring she can hardly stand it. At least she gets to leave the school and the girls there who make her life miserable.

This week, on this night, the cocktail hour is interrupted by a man coming to the door.  His jaw is weirdly wired together; he has weapons.  In a bizarre scenario dinner proceeds but then everything goes amiss.  Another man arrives with half of his face looking as if melted.  There are gunshots, a frantic escape through an underground dirt tunnel and a treacherous fire.  Evie is handed a letter by Mrs. Anderson and told to go to

The Explorers Society.

Now it stands to reason Sebastian and Evie will meet.  They do but after both of them are asked to leave The Explorers Society after voicing questions and concerns to the head, Myrtle.  It seems she wants nothing to do with Alistair Drake, Evie's grandfather, and The Filipendulous Five, a renowned group of explorers banned by the society.

Armed with clues from the letter Evie got the night of the fire and photographs and newspaper clippings Sebastian uncovers from a puzzle box he finds at the society, the two make a pact to find the key and help save Alistair Drake from whatever danger has him trapped.  The action increases tenfold as the duo try to find members of the original five.  (You will find yourself holding your breath repeatedly.) The two deadly pursuers from the night of the fire will do anything to get the key before Sebastian and Evie.

A heart-pounding thrill-a-second-chase at The Explorers Society will have you wondering how the conclusion will unfold.  This building is no ordinary building with ordinary floors and ordinary rooms filled with ordinary objects.  When you think all is well, it most definitely is not.  One word readers says it all...a humdinger of a cliffhanger.  Okay...five words.

The writing style of Adrienne Kress is captivating.  Each chapter begins with a sentence predicting a major event or situation to be revealed;

In which we attend a different kind of dinner party.

In which no dead bodies are found. or

In which we experience a higher education.  Literally and figuratively.

Within the chapters a combination of dialogue, narrative and humorous footnote commentary propel the plot fast and furiously forward.

Vivid descriptions of place and the action bring them directly to the reader.  Through the conversations between the characters we become keenly aware of their personalities.  Here are some sample passages.

Suddenly he felt arms wrapped around him, squeezing whatever breath remained in him out in one tight hug.  "Oh, thank you, thank you!  You won't regret this, I promise!" said Evie.

"You're welcome," wheezed Sebastian.  "Could you...release me now, please?"

"Of course!"  Evie let him go and just stared at him, smiling wide.

"It's uh...probably time for us to turn in," said Sebastian, feeling a little uncomfortable with how grateful she looked.

"Okay!  So the plan for tomorrow will be we say we're going to school, but really we'll get on the bus and head to the university.  I think we'll have plenty of time to get there by one."  Evie stood up and so did Sebastian.

"Good plan," said Sebastian, realizing just then that not only would he be skipping school, but he'd have to lie to his parents about it.  He really couldn't talk about this anymore; he might black out from the stress.  "Here, let me show you to your room."

And then she spun around, leapt up onto the atlas, and pulled herself through the tiny window, scrambling out onto what was fortunately a sill, though unfortunately, an incredibly narrow one.  The man's hands appeared through the window a moment later, grabbing at her fleeing foot.  She narrowly avoided him, scrambling to hold on to the side of the building.  She pulled herself up to standing and walked carefully along the wall away from the window, willing herself not to look down.

The man stuck his head out the window and stared at her, aghast.  She understood the feeling; she was pretty aghast herself.  What on earth had possessed her to just launch herself out through a third-story window like that?  Well, fear for her life, she supposed.

That this title, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley, written by Adrienne Kress with illustrations by Matthew C. Rockefeller is the first in the series is fantastic.  You may think you can read this book in parts but I guarantee you will reach a point when you can't put it down.  You are driven by the need to know.  Some secrets are revealed but many more need to be uncovered.  I can't wait for the next book.  (This post is based upon my reading of an ARC.)

To discover more about Adrienne Kress and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  If you would like to read an excerpt stop by the publisher's website.  Adrienne Kress visited Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Quill & Quire shines the spotlight on Adrienne Kress.  Adrienne Kress is a guest on All The Wonders, Books Between, Episode 22.


Date Blog  URL 
24-Apr Live To Read ~Krystal http://livetoread-krystal.blogspot.com/
25-Apr Imagination Soup http://imaginationsoup.net
26-Apr Mom and More http://momandmore.com
27-Apr Pandora's Books www.pandorasbooks.org
28-Apr Mommy Ramblings http://www.mommyramblings.org
1-May The Lovely Books http://thelovelybooksbookblog.blogspot.com
2-May Batch of Books http://www.batchofbooks.com
3-May Oh, for the Hook of a Book! www.hookofabook.wordpress.com
4-May To Read, or Not To Read http://www.toreadornottoread.net
5-May Grandma's Cookie Jar http://www.grandmascookiejar.net/
8-May Good Reads with Ronna www.goodreadswithronna.com
9-May Geo Librarian http://geolibrarian.blogspot.ca/
10-May Life By Candlelight http://lifebycandlelight.blogspot.com/
11-May Jumpin Beans http://jumpin-beans.blogspot.com/
12-May Always in the Middle https://gpattridge.com/
15-May Librarians Quest www.librariansquest.blogspot.com
16-May The Book Wars http://thebookwars.ca/
17-May Middle Grade Mafioso http://middlegrademafioso.blogspot.com/
18-May Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile http://www.hopelessbibliophile.com
19-May Tween You & Me http://tweenlibrarian.blogspot.com/
22-May Mrs. Knott's Book Nook http://mrsknottsbooknook.blogspot.com/
23-May Mundie Moms  http://mundiemoms.blogspot.com 
24-May The Write Path http://www.dorinewhite.blogspot.com/
25-May foodiebibliophile.com www.foodiebibliophile.com
26-May Beach Bound Books http://www.beachboundbooks.com/
29-May Middle Grade Ninja http://www.middlegradeninja.com/
30-May Night Owl Reviews https://www.nightowlreviews.com/v5
31-May Cracking the Cover http://www.crackingthecover.com 
1-Jun Jenni Enzor http://jennienzor.blogspot.com/
2-Jun Literary Hoots http://www.literaryhoots.com/
5-Jun From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/
6-Jun The Winged Pen http://thewingedpen.com/
7-Jun Operation Awesome https://operationawesome6.blogspot.com/
8-Jun Leeanna.me www.leeanna.me
9-Jun Bloggin' 'bout Books http://www.blogginboutbooks.com
12-Jun YA Books Central http://www.yabookscentral.com/
13-Jun Ms. Yingling Reads http://msyinglingreads.blogspot.com
14-Jun MGMinded blog  http://middlegrademinded.blogspot.com/
15-Jun Smack Dab in the Middle http://smack-dab-in-the-middle.blogspot.com/
16-Jun Swoony Boys Podcast www.swoonyboyspodcast.com
19-Jun Book Foolery  http://bookfoolery.blogspot.com/
20-Jun Unleashing Readers http://www.unleashingreaders.com/
21-Jun Kit Lit Reviews https://kid-lit-reviews.com/
22-Jun The O.W.L. http://owlforya.blogspot.com
23-Jun This Kid Reviews Books