Quote of the Month

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

Friday, September 29, 2017

Looking At The World Her Way

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
Henry David Thoreau

It takes great courage to be an original, especially for children.  The way you dress and wear your hair, the manner in which you voice your opinions, and how you choose to act all set you apart from everyone else.  Even if there are those who admire your outlook on the world in general and specifically how you live each day, they may keep silent.  The "box" has thick and tall walls.

What we all need to remember is those who dress, speak or act outside what is considered normal don't do so necessarily for the sake of being different but because this is who they are.  Beatrice Zinker: Upside Down Thinker (Disney Hyperion, September 19, 2017) written and illustrated by Shelley Johannes, her debut offering, gives us a character to cherish, for her individuality, her indomitable spirit and generous heart.  You will finish this title knowing if Beatrice Zinker were to be your friend, it would be an honor.

Beatrice Zinker always did her best thinking upside down.  It worked like magic, and she never questioned it.

It worked like poof.
It worked like presto.
It worked like shazam---
on every problem,
every pickle, and
each and every jam.

As the middle child Beatrice realized her older sister, Kate, and mom where cut from the same mold and her dad and little brother, Henry, were like two peas in the proverbial pod.  She, on the other hand, rejoiced in her two favorite words, wow and maybe.  Beatrice was in first grade before she found a friend, who understood her free spirit and extraordinary point of view.  For her and Lenny Santos no adventure was too grand.

In fact, just as summer was starting at the end of second grade, Beatrice's best idea ever, a scheme of large proportions, was discussed and planned for the first day of third grade.  On that day, Beatrice could hardly wait to see Lenny after her absence in the Philippines for a family vacation.  It hadn't been easy to get out of the house wearing her ninja outfit but cleverness had won the day.  So it was a deep disappointment to see Lenny not wearing her ninja attire but a new hairstyle and not Lenny-like clothing when she entered Classroom 3B.  And to make current circumstances even more challenging Lenny had a new neighbor, a new classmate and new friend at her side.

Beatrice, being Beatrice, however puzzled by this change in Lenny was determined to stick with Operation Upside.  Her new teacher, Mrs. Tamarack, a no-nonsense kind of woman who seated Beatrice right next to her, was not going to make it easy.  Beatrice had to survive, without getting into trouble, until recess. 

With the morning difficulties in the past, Beatrice is ready to climb toward the sure success of her plan but people and trees being what they are, disaster strikes.  Considerable time spent away from her classmates gives this free-thinking girl time to formulate another path toward progress.  With maybe and her compassionate soul guiding Beatrice a solid friendship remains true as another is formed.  At the end of the day, the first day of third grade, even her family decides to look at life with a new attitude.  Yum! Yum!

In Beatrice Zinker author and illustrator Shelley Johannes has fashioned a character who readers will feel an immediate affection.  Her individualistic approach to anything and everything is energetic, clever and full of heart.  The other characters we meet, her parents, siblings, friends, staff at the school and a neighbor and her cat, complete a world as natural and as wonderful as we could wish them to be.  

The twenty short chapters, with telling chapter headings, are linked together with concluding sentences leading us happily to discover what will happen next.  Humor is in abundant supply through the dialogue and thoughts of the characters.  Here are some sample passages.

When Beatrice finally spoke,
her first word was WOW.

"Wow indeed," said
her father.
"Uh-oh," said Kate.

"Oh, no," said her mother, "what now?"

As Beatrice grew, Kate said a lot of UH-OH.
Nancy Zinker said a lot of OH NO and a lot of

Every idea starts as a
tiny seed---even the biggest 
idea of the very best upside down
thinker.  Three months later
Beatrice launched the most
important plan of her upside
down life, but the seed of the idea was planted
that very afternoon in June on graduation day.
The award was still crisp in her hands.
The ink was still damp.
Her cheeks still hurt from smiling.
Beatrice had never felt better.

Up was the only option.
Beatrice lifted herself into the branches of the 
nearest tree.
The view was amazing.
With a panorama of the playground, she
plotted her course.  Ninja-nimble, feline-flexible,
and doggedly determined, Beatrice used all
her best moves.

There are only a few page turns without the loose-lined, whimsical, playful illustrations by Shelley Johannes.  Black and white with spots of orange-red, they are as animated as the people, places and activities being depicted.  Each one enhances the story line or broadens the text.

These images fit within the body of the words like pieces in a puzzle.  Their sizes vary to influence the story's pacing.  Some are single items and others are entire scenes being recreated.  All of them endear us to the characters, even Mrs. Tamarack.

One of my favorite pictures of many is actually a photograph taken by Beatrice's mother after she wins the award for Best Upside Down Thinker.  Beatrice is holding the award upside down.  When her mother asks her to flip it around, Beatrice does...her way.  In the picture she is standing on her hands with the award, right-side up, in her mouth.  Shelley has added spot color on Beatrice's shirt and the award.

Even now, after two readings of Beatrice Zinker: Upside Down Thinker written and illustrated by Shelley Johannes, I find myself smiling the entire time reading it.  Our world could use more people like Beatrice.  Our world could use more people recognizing the value of people like Beatrice.  This is an outstanding beginning to a promised new series.  You are going to want multiple copies on your professional shelves.  This is one book you will want in your personal collection too.  You'll pick it up to be inspired.

To learn more about Shelley Johannes please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Shelley Johannes wrote a guest post for the cover reveal of this title at the Nerdy Book Club.  Shelley is a guest at Cracking the Cover here and here.  Shelley is a guest on author Kirby Larson's blog for Friend Friday.  At Storymamas Shelley answers three questions. At The Horn Book Shelley answers five questions. 

Sensing The Moment

As soon as the door opened and we stepped outside, we were acutely aware of our surroundings.  The crisp, cool air was a welcome respite from the heat and humidity amid a lingering dry spell.  The overpowering perfume of skunk was not as desirable.  To be sure my canine companion and I were moving our heads as fast as possible to locate the source of the odor.  Fortunately the culprit was nowhere in our vicinity.

In this instance, happening in seconds, we were totally conscious of where we were, who we were and what was in the range of our senses.  We were fully engaged in the moment.  I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness (Abrams Books for Young Readers, September 26, 2017), a companion title to I Am Yoga (Abrams Books for Young Readers, September 8, 2015) written by Susan Verde with art by Peter H. Reynolds supplies answers to questions.  Concern is replaced with calm.

There are times
when I worry about
what might happen next
and what happened before.

The child speaking to readers is full of doubt. She feels as though her mind is swirling out of control.  She likens it to water, fast flowing water.  She imagines herself in a boat on that water, adrift and caught in the current.  She flips.

With water all around her, she pauses.  She assures herself.  A tiny island lifts her up.  As her thoughts gather, her spirit finds strength.

I am Peace.

The child discovers peace opens up opportunities within us.  It expands our generosity.  It gives us the confidence to know we matter.  Our observations and actions broaden our world view.

Smell, taste, touch, see and hear are finely tuned as each breath goes in and goes out.  The water around the island, the island now home to new life, is still.  The boat and the child are secure.  This is now the time for the release of peace.

During the waking hours of our days, children (and adults) sometimes get caught up in the craziness of things to do and schedules to keep.  When we need to rest, it's nearly impossible.  Susan Verde reminds and shows us to how to practice peace.

She leads us with her narrative from our own jumbled and troubled thoughts to the place where we long to pass the mindfulness to others.  Her simple, direct sentences are a soothing, soft song.  Here are some samples.

I can watch my worries gently pop and disappear.
I let things go.

I can say what I feel inside out loud.
I know myself. 

When you are so still, so in tune with your surroundings, birds feel safe resting on your out-stretched arms, then you are indeed peace.  This image on the front of the dust jacket conveys the essence of the book.  The complementary colors used in the attire, the peace hat and peace necklace, supply a sense of calm.  They act as statements of intention and achievement.  To the left, on the back of the jacket, the child is resting on the island beneath the tree, the foliage a rainbow of color.  The boat, island and trunk of the tree are shown in rich, warm shades.

Beneath the jacket on the book case, a white background highlights the child, first on the front, playing a guitar as a bird resting on the neck sings along with the notes.  The child's eyes are closed in contemplation.  On the back, on the left, the child is feeding the birds who sit on his hand, head and one is flying toward them.  The child is carrying the bag of seeds, of peace.

A swirl of blue-green with a center on the opening and closing endpapers reflects the idea of water and our thoughts before we attain calm.  On the title page the child is leaning back on his arms, eyes closed, as the sun shines on him and the small new island.  Rendered in ink, gouache, watercolor, and tea the illustrations of Peter H. Reynolds extend the text beautifully.  In this particular title Peter uses predominately warms colors with only spot cool hues of blue, green and teal on white backgrounds.

When the child's thoughts are out of control, he features the hat unwinding like a ribbon, creating the water upon which the boat rides.  After the words

I can make a difference

Peter, without words, gives a special new dimension to the story for five pages.  He shifts his perspective to focus on the new possibilities growing.  It's a lovely transition to the next text.

One of my many favorite pictures is when the child is shown with arms straight out and up at his sides.  We are closer to him only seeing his body from the waist up.  His eyes are closed as he stands in stillness.  Two birds are resting on his hands.  A third bird with wings open for flying is coming to the top of his head.  Animals have the ability to know what we hold inside and these three birds are aware of the calm.

You cannot read this book without a sense of complete serenity enveloping you.  I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness written by Susan Verde with art by Peter H. Reynolds shows readers how we are capable of bringing harmony within and without ourselves.  At the close of the book, Susan leaves readers with a guided meditation.  I know children will willingly gravitate to this title. I highly recommend this title and its companion volume for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Be sure to visit Peter's blog too.   At the publisher's website you can download the meditation guide.  I'm placing the video here with Emily Arrow and Susan from the first book for you to enjoy again.  Susan Verde and Emily Arrow stopped by KitLit TV with Rocco Staino.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Majestic, Mighty Giants

They are the world's largest land mammal.  This is an amazing thought to ponder.  There is nothing bigger on this entire planet than they are.  The females live in herds and the males tend to remain alone.  Their lives can span up to seventy years.  Social bonding is nearly or as strong as it can be in humans.  Not surprisingly humans, even though their weight and height are considerably more than the average man, are their greatest threat.

We have continually encroached on their land diminishing their habitat size as we expand ours for living and resources.  Poachers still slaughter them in alarming numbers for their ivory.  African elephants are now listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (ICUN).  At the beginning of the 20th century there were millions and millions and millions of them.  They now number less than five hundred thousand.  The more we know, the more we can do to protect these giants.  In a dazzling array of art and words Katherine Roy gives us How To Be An Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild (David Macaulay Studio, Roaring Brook Press, September 19, 2017).

WITH FLAPPING EARS and whiffling trunks, the herd quickly spreads the news.  After 22 months of growing, a new baby is on her way.

In eleven divisions, short chapters, many of them beginning with a page turn, readers are acquainted with this infant.  As she learns we learn how she will grow to become an adult member of the herd.  Of first and utmost importance is her family.

Matriarchal in nature, the members stay together forever.  Their combined knowledge will lead and guide the baby girl for the rest of her life.  They will help her balance on specially equipped feet geared for silence and speed.

Her nose, trunk, balances out her poor eye sight; food and water, family and friends and danger can be detected with a sniff of a whiff.  Her nose, having more than 100,000 muscles, functions as a tool most fabulous.  Did you know an adult elephant sucks up water in their trunk and then pours it into their mouth?  They consume up to forty gallons a day.

Both as a baby, and then as an adult, elephants have an expansive repertoire of sounds; each one used for a specific purpose.  As herbivores elephants are crunching and munching for most of their waking hours but babies have it a bit easier.  They are little recyclers.  (You'll have to read the book to find out more about this homemade baby food.)  Using ears better than air conditioning, taking mud baths, engaging in playful games to get rid of less than dangerous foes, and rumbling in the air and the ground are more lessons to learn.

The value of African elephants to the land on which they reside is intriguing and essential; a highly evolved relationship of give and take.  Their necessity for space is not only important to them but to other animals sharing the land with them.  We must adapt.  We must understand.  We have to learn.

Katherine Roy has taken her extensive research and personal experiences in Africa to write a completely riveting conversation about the lives of African elephants.  She informs us to the extent our admiration for these creatures grows as she presents particular fascinating facts.  Each chapter flows flawlessly into the next as one lesson builds on the other whether speaking about physical characteristics or behaviors.  The way Katherine Roy writes is like being a student in the best science class you ever attended.  Here is a sample passage.

REMEMBER THE LOUD, low-frequency calls that an elephant makes with her high-powered voice?  These rumbles fall below the range of human hearing and can travel much farther than higher-frequency sounds---up to 2 miles during the day and over 6 miles at night, when the air is cool.  Other elephants within range can hear the rubles as either sound waves in the air or vibrations in the ground, which they're able to detect with the tips of their trunks and the cushioned soles of their feet.

The majestic display of the African elephant mother with the baby across the matching, opened dust jacket and book case with some of the remaining herd in the background is not only breathtaking because of the subject matter but because of the masterful use of perspective.  The lines, light and shadow, color palette, and details all work to bring readers into the circumstances of what it is to be an African elephant.  On the opening endpapers it is before dawn.  Members of the herd are gathering for the birth.  On the closing endpapers we see Katherine and her guide observing from their vehicle a herd of elephants crossing a river in a line, the baby among them.

Each illustration rendered by Katherine usually spans two pages.  For those single page pictures, a smaller image or an explanatory diagram is placed on the opposite page.  These are carefully labeled to assist readers in terms they can understand.

As noticed earlier the point of view seen in these images literally bring you into the activities of the herd.  We gather when they gather, we watch in awe as many trunks reach out to touch a newborn, we quench our thirst either by kneeling and gulping or sucking water into our trunks and releasing it into our mouths, and we shelter in the heat beneath our mom with our ears flapping.  Every aspect of life is portrayed with realism and a heartfelt respect and affection is seen in every illustration.

One of my many favorite pictures spreads, without words, across two pages.  There is a golden glow to the entire scene indicting the time of day.  The entire herd is enjoying the benefits of mixing water and dirt in a water hole or along a river.  Adults are standing on the perimeter, some are lying on the bank, and the youngest, the baby, is splashing in total delight.  This visual articulates the social bonds and playful nature of African elephants.

How To Be An Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild written and illustrated by Katherine Roy is not a book you can only read once.  You will read it repeatedly gaining insights and information.  A lengthy note from the author, selected sources, scientific articles, books, films, and websites are included at the close of this title.  Readers can further understand the extent of Katherine Roy's work by reading her acknowledgements.  This book is a must-have for all professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Katherine Roy and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Here is a link to Katherine Roy's June Newsletter.  Katherine Roy talks about this book at School Library Journal.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson features this title at Kirkus and her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the titles selected by other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

If Only We Would Listen

In this new home, to make a back yard space, a fenced-in place for Mulan, my chocolate Labrador, a tree service was hired to remove sixteen trees.  My apologies on that fateful day, to the trees, were profuse.  Trees have always been a huge part of my life.  Climbing to the tops of a special willow and another maple as a child, our entire neighborhood was spread before me.  Swings were tied to their sturdy boughs for hours of dizzy contemplation. Picnics were consumed and game board competitions were played in their shade.  Yellow ribbons were bravely tied all over one particular maple on another street in a different town years later.  A now tall, majestic blue spruce still grows in the back yard of my parent's former home, a tribute to my father.  Author friends sent me a tree in memory of my sweet Xena when she passed away.  The Xena tree moves with me.

The weather here has been unseasonably dry and very hot.  Even though the calendar has declared it's autumn, Mother Nature has other ideas.  Walking outside now, the katydids are singing.  It's still seventy-eight degrees.  There's not a breath of air.  Tears still fill my eyes as I walk up to one of the thirty-three trees remaining on my corner lot.  My arms wrap around the rough bark of one as I lean my head on the trunk and whisper an apology and a thank you.  I have just finished reading Katherine Applegate's newest title, Wishtree (Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group LLC, September 26, 2017).  I am listening.  I know you will, too.

It's hard to talk to trees.  We're not big on chitchat.

Red, a northern red oak, is speaking to us.  Two hundred sixteen rings count the days he has spent rooted to the land on a street near one small green and one small blue house.  Across the street another larger home stands.  This resident owns the little green and blue houses and the tree. You should know Red is the name given to him by his animal friends.  Humans know him as the wishtree.

Each year on the first day of May people come, hang and tie their wishes, hopes and dreams to his branches.  Some are whispered aloud as the paper, cloth, and even a pair of gym socks are attached.  Red keeps all the softly spoken conversations on this day and throughout the year a secret.  It's a rule trees and animals have to remain silent even though they can communicate.  Currently owl, raccoon and opossum babies and their mamas reside in Red's hollows.  Nearby a group of skunks, living under a porch, visit regularly.  A crow named Bongo is Red's best friend in every respect.

This past winter a new family moved into the little blue home.  One early morning at 2am the ten-year-old girl, Samar, visits Red leaving a wish.  She longs for a friend.  Thereafter when she comes to the tree, as the rest of the neighborhood sleeps, the baby animals come to her as she sits on a blanket.  She is no ordinary girl but there are those who do not like her or her family.  Everything is about to change.

One day a boy, an older boy, not known to Red approaches.  He carves something in the tree.  Red wonders if it is an early wish.  It is not.  It says


Two local police officers investigate, a reporter asks questions, and Francesca, the owner of the tree and two small houses, one blue and one green, arrives.  She makes a decision which shocks and saddens the animal realm.  It rallies Red.  There isn't much a tree can do, but Red like Samar is no ordinary tree.

A wish must be fulfilled.  A story stretching back through generations must be revealed.  A key must unlock forgotten history.  A four-letter word first uttered by one and then by many ignites the truth hidden in hearts.

By page two the first of thirty-two sticky notes was placed in my copy of Katherine Applegate's marvelous masterpiece.  Completely captivated by the voice of Red readers will eagerly embrace the ways of trees and animals learning about names, family dynamics and observations current and over the course of two-hundred plus years.  Red describes his domain as

Different languages, different food, different customs.  That's our neighborhood:  wild and tangled and colorful.  Like the best kind of garden.

Now something has changed.  A Muslim family in the small blue house is not welcomed by the adults in the small green house.  When Katherine introduces readers to the boy, Stephen, living in the green house, she sends out the beginning of hope.

Each of the short but insightful chapters ends with a sentence, a thought, which propels you forward and promotes reflection.  Through the conversations between the animals and Samar and Stephen we find ourselves trusting the unbelievable and wishing, yes wishing, for it all to be true.  And that's the gift Katherine Applegate has given readers with her words in this book.  She has given us the means to make a difference, to be agents of change, and to raise up the beauty found in human hearts and the world in which we live.  Here are a few sample passages.

Trees can't tell jokes.
But we can certainly tell stories.
And if all you hear is the whisper of leaves, don't
worry.  Most trees are introverts at heart.  

Hollows are proof that something bad can become
something good with enough time and care
and hope.

Animals compete for resources, just like humans.
They eat one another.  They fight for dominance.
Nature is not always pretty or fair or kind.
But sometimes surprises happen.  And Samar
every spring night, reminded me there is beauty in
stillness and grace in acceptance.
And that you're never too old to be surprised.

I've read Wishtree written by Katherine Applegate with artwork on the cover and final black-and-white illustrations throughout by Charles Santoso (Ida, Always) twice in one evening.  I have returned to those thirty-two marked passages and read them repeatedly.  Every page sings out hope.  I will be ordering multiple copies to give away at Halloween.  You will want multiple copies on your professional bookshelves and one for your home collection.

A special website is dedicated to Wishtree.  You can leave a virtual wish there.  This coming Thursday is Nationwide Wishing Day.  Read how you can participate.  There is an event kit and a teacher's guide you can download.  The cover was revealed on the Nerdy Book Club by Katherine Applegate.  Katherine answers four questions at Publishers Weekly.  This book trailer was premiered on Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  You will enjoy the chat there about this title with Katherine.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Back To The Wall

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

This particular nursery rhyme is brimming with mystery.  Speculation abounds as to who or what Humpty Dumpty was.  No one can say with certainty why Humpty Dumpty was on a wall.  Some believe they know which king's horses and king's men were present.  Many believe they understand why Humpty Dumpty was doomed to remain broken.  It's hard to fix an egg when it falls off a wall.

In the mind of a clever author and creative illustrator all those mysteries are resolved.  Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat (The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend) has written and illustrated the extraordinary After The Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) (Roaring Brook Press, October 3, 2017). You will never forget where you were and how you felt the first time you read this book.  I will always remember.  

My name is Humpty Dumpty.

This was my favorite spot, high up on the wall.
I know, it's an odd place for an egg to be,
but I loved being close to the birds.

High on the top of the wall was as close to the birds as Humpty Dumpty could get.  Following their flight, binoculars held to his eyes, was his life's greatest joy.  When he fell, unlike the rhyme, the king's men, staff at the local hospital, mended Humpty's breaks.  What they could not fix was his broken bravery.  Humpty Dumpty now feared heights.

Walking by the wall each day did not alleviate his fright but reminded him of what could happen.  It wasn't the same watching the birds from the ground but unexpectedly an answer to his problems passed through his range of sight.  Humpty Dumpty was consumed with making the perfect paper airplane.  He crafted one after another over and over and over again 

until I got it just right.

The old elation, missing for so long, filled his soul as he watched this bird, formed with his own fingers, soar.  Then what he dreaded most happened.  His perfect paper airplane, his avian adventurer, drifted down to the top of the wall.

Humpty Dumpty had a choice to make.  This choice would determine the direction he would follow for the rest of his life.  To face one's fright is to achieve the unimaginable.  

As soon as Humpty Dumpty introduces himself to readers, we recognize his candor.  We comprehend through the first person voice author Dan Santat has given him the importance of this spectacular version, this new vision, of a nursery rhyme.  Page by page as his story is told our compassion grows.  Who among us has not had to face a fear, begin anew or conquer worry?

As our connection to this character strengthens, we share in his renewed hope through the idea of fashioning a paper airplane.  As he talks about how hard this is, we can't help but think of the brilliance of this plan.  Something is building inside us as we read.  The word choices and sentences are taking us with intention toward a conclusion unlike anything we have ever experienced.  Here are two sample sentences.

Fortunately, all the king's men managed to put me back together.

There were some parts that couldn't be healed with bandages and glue.

With the blue birds (happiness) surrounding a smiling Humpty Dumpty seated on the wall on the dust jacket, it's easy to see how much he enjoys this activity. The title text appears to be a part of the construction of the wall.  The wall crosses the spine and continues to the left edge on the back.  The ladder Humpty Dumpty uses to climb to the top is shown on the left.  Text above the wall reads:


The book case (shown on Dan Santat's Instagram account) (I currently have an F & G and can't wait for the release date.) is light in color.  It shows Humpty Dumpty tumbling through the air, binoculars falling too.  The birds flutter above, below and to his left. 

On the opening and closing endpapers we are shown a panoramic view of the realm with the wall behind the community.  In the first a small Humpty sits on the wall on the right with the birds around him.  A day is beginning.  In the second the sky has changed.  Lights are on in some of the windows.  The sky is purple as dusk darkens it and a few stars shine.  The blue birds are soaring higher.  And Humpty . . . 

The title page mirrors the jacket but Humpty Dumpty has started his fall backward off the wall.  On the verso the dedication is carved into the wall.  It's For Leah with a heart and arrow beneath it.  Leah is Dan Santat's wife.  

Most of the images extend over two pages in dazzling portrayals enhancing the character's story.  Dan takes us into a grocery store as a discouraged Humpty shops rows of shelves spread before and above him, down a nearly empty street along the wall as fall leaves glide down, into the snowy cold of winter as Humpty looks up at birds and with Humpty as he lifts his perfect paper airplane bird victoriously in the air.  Each of these images demonstrates the masterful use of perspective.  We are alongside our character, we are looking down at him or we become him.  In some of the double page pictures the use of white space will take your breath away.  

After you have read this book you need to notice all the exquisite details included.  The framed Daily News article about Humpty Dumpty's bird watching award, the pictures on his coffee cups, the reflection in Humpty Dumpty's eyes when the accident happens, and a familiar family name above a building all point to this not only being a personal story for our nursery rhyme friend but also for the creator.  There is passion in every line, in every color.  This is indeed a labor of love.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Humpty Dumpty is in the grocery store.  Even though this is when he reveals to readers his fear of heights, it is also an opportunity for Dan Santat to insert his humor.  The first two rows are full of color and sugar and crunch.  You will love all the names like Sugar Bunny, Just Marshmallow and Bowl-O-Cookies.  With each lower row the color leaves until the bottom row is shades of gray.  Some of those names are Cardboard, Twigs & Berries and Fiber Flakes.  A dejected Humpty looks mournfully at the choices.

One word which rings out of your mind after reading After The Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) written and illustrated by Dan Santat is triumph.  This book is that (and more) for the character, for Dan Santat and us lucky readers.  I would plan on multiple copies for your professional shelves and it's a must have for your personal collection.  

To learn more about Dan Santat and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the site dedicated to this book you can view the book trailer.  To get a peek at interior images please visit the publisher's website.  Dan Santat is a guest at PictureBooking, Episode 83.  Dan Santat answers five questions at The Horn Book. Dan speaks about this book, why he wrote it and what he hopes its value is for readers at the Publishers Weekly PW KidsCast.  

Educator extraordinaire, author and editor Colby Sharp continues his Vlog series with Dan Santat, asking him about the dedication in this book.

UPDATE:  Dan Santat stops by All The Wonders, Episode 392 to talk with teacher librarian Matthew Winner on October 6, 2017.

UPDATE:  Dan Santat speaks with Sarah Enni at First Draft, Episode 121.

UPDATE: Dan Santat shares process art at author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Ho Hum, De Dum

In all honesty there are people who have never been bored.  Most moments of their lives are filled with doing something at all times.  They were probably raised by parents who rarely rested when working or playing.  Even if these parents were big readers, reading was to be enjoyed after everything else was completed.  (These people raised by these parents might have had to hide to continue or finish a completely captivating book.)

And it goes without saying, these people would never admit to having unfulfilled free time because those parents would produce a never ending to-do list.  There's Nothing To Do! (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, September 19, 2017) written by Dev Petty with illustrations by Mike Boldt is a new companion title to I Don't Want To Be A Frog and I Don't Want To Be Big.  The young frog who has brought laughter to readers repeatedly seems to be at a loss with how to spend his time.  Clearly his dad is not like some parents we might know.

I don't know what to do today.

You can't think of

It's not that our likeable amphibian can't think of a single thing, he just chooses not to do any of them.  After three suggestions of possibilities by his dad which Frog has no desire to follow, he decides to check with his friends.  Perhaps they will recommend something more appealing.

Rabbit wants to hop and then stop.  When he stops, his next activity is not at all what Frog wants to do.  Cat's proposal is downright yucky.  Frog and Owl are at complete odds.  When Frog approaches Pig he has several thoughts, one involving mud and the other a list.  Frog is not impressed.

Despairing of discovering anything to do, Frog rests flat on his back.  The day is nearly over.  Suddenly a new face appears, leaning over Frog. Her thoughts are in direct contrast to all the advice Frog has received.

She and Frog practice.  They wait.  As the sun sets Frog has a revelation.  When he and his dad chat at the day's end, Frog shares his grand plan for tomorrow.  There is one little problem, though.  What will Frog do?

By telling the entire story in dialogue Dev Petty personally involves readers in Frog's current dilemma.  With each proposed pastime and Frog's reply we realize his frustration is growing.  What is good for one individual is not always a good fit for another.  This builds toward the final idea; an idea not just for Frog but for all readers.  What makes this story even more memorable is the delightful twist Dev inserts at the end.  Here is a sample conversation.

Rabbit, what 
should we do today?

Hope around in
circles and then ...

...stare off into space.
Like this.

This is even less
fun than it looks.

There is something about the expression on Frog's face on the matching dust jacket and book case which sparks giggles and grins.  His words, the book's title, are in direct contrast to the toys surrounding him.  You can feel the comedic effect start to bubble inside you.  To the left, on the back, Frog maintains his commentary as the two previous books are shown.  When he points to the ISBN and asks

What's THIS?

you have to smile.  (When you are reading this aloud, this is a super opportunity to talk about the ISBN.)

The opening and closing endpapers in pale blue highlight Frog first in six boring poses and second in six alternate pursuits guaranteed to generate happiness.  The title page is nearly identical to the front of the jacket and case but Frog is walking away with his arms in the air in a sign of exasperation.  Throughout the book the background colors are varied; pale blue, white, darker blue, purple, pale yellow, pale green and golden shades of a blazing sunset.  The vibrant primary colors placed on those canvases by illustrator Mike Boldt add extra exuberance to the illustrations.

It's not just Frog's facial looks which will cause hilarity but on all the characters' faces.  The inclusion of extra details increase the humor and ask us to stop and enjoy the moments.  Notice the words on Dad's crossword puzzle, Dad's attire when he proposes a swim, Pig's latest project, and Rabbit's crinkled whiskers.  The size of the illustrations, single page and three double-page pictures elevate the pacing.

One of my favorite pictures of several is on a single page.  Frog and his dad are talking.  When his dad asks him what Pig is doing, Frog yawns and replies

Probably something boring.

Frog is leaning against a Popsicle stick replica of the Eiffel Tower being glued together by Pig.

In There's Nothing To Do! written by Dev Petty with illustrations by Mike Boldt is full of the fun we have come to love about Frog, his dad and the other animals in his world.  The mix of words and images is energetic and lasting.  Readers won't want to miss this third title.  You'll want to have a copy on your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Dev Petty and Mike Boldt and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Get a peek inside at the publisher's website.  Mike Boldt has a guest post on PictureBookBuilders about this title.  You're going to enjoy the artwork.

Friday, September 22, 2017


Have you ever noticed how our canine companions have numerous things in common with children? They greet each day as a new adventure, looking for fun or creating their own.  They use all their senses to experience each moment.  Unless past circumstances dictate differently, they approach all humans as equal individuals.  Age, physical characteristics, and abilities do not figure in their opinion of us.  They see inside us.

If you watch a group of little children playing with puppies, you can see this is true.  As dogs grow older this remains the same.  When children grow older sometimes this changes, but it need not be so.  Why am I me? (Scholastic Press, August 29, 2017) written by Paige Britt with pictures by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko explores how we see ourselves and how others see us.

Why am I 
me . . .

. . . and 
not you?

As a boy and his father and a girl and her mother wait to board a rapid transit train, the questions begin in their minds.  They are curious about their outward appearances and the possibilities hidden inside.  As they ride in the car, each continues their internal musings.

They both look around at the variety of people in their presence; young and old, light and dark skins (and all the marvelous shades in between) and the different attire.  They both wonder why people are the way they are.  What makes them unique?  What makes them who they are?

The two children then ask who they might be if they were different.  They even think if another person were them, would that person be the same as they are?  As the train reaches a stop, they both get off with their parents.

It is now evening with stars sparkling in the darkened sky.  They both are still thinking about their own special individuality.  A gift is then freely given.

Ten questions and a two-letter word reply written by Paige Britt are a poetic interlude on a large life query.  It is a gentle exploration as a child would think but as adults could or perhaps should think.  Observations by the children further their interest and ultimately give them their answer.  Here is another question.

Who in the world are we . . .

. . . if we aren't you and me?

The rich choice of color seen on the matching dust jacket and book case is a reflection of the treasure waiting to be discovered in each individual person.  The image on the front, to the right, of the boy and girl overlapping with the shared star sparkling in their eyes seems to suggest the waiting wonder in our world.  To the left, on the back, we are shown the array of people found in the subway car.  (Our lives are better with all of us together.)

On the opening endpapers a quiet neighborhood mirrors the diversity of residents.  Many of them appear later inside the subway car, including the boy and his father.  Rendered in acrylic paint, colored pencil and collage the illustrations by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko continue to unfold the story as the title page shows another street with the girl and her mother walking by shops and people.  On the verso and dedication pages the transit is shown above ground.  The children and their parents have arrived there.  On the closing endpapers, it is nighttime in a neighborhood.  A street light glows. We can see both the boy and girl through windows warm with light in separate buildings.

Each picture spans across two pages.  The imaginings of the boy and the girl are noticeable in their facial expressions; curious, fascinated and hopeful.  Readers will also enjoy looking at all the individual faces of the people on the train and in the world outside as it is passed by the passengers.

Sean and Selina vary the point of views throughout the book but also inside the train.  At one point we are close to the boy and girl and then we step back to see all the other people around them.  Even when the boy is watching children at play in a park (a more panoramic view) as the train speeds by his face is larger at the window focusing on his question.  As the story comes to a close, we are brought near to the children with them looking out at us.  This brings us more deeply into the narrative.

One of my many favorite pictures is of the boy and his father and the girl and her mother on the train.  We are close to them.  The boy, holding his book and skateboard, is looking down.  His father holding an open book has paused in his reading to gaze at his son.  The girl, on the right, is looking at the boy.  Her mother is looking at her.  There are many emotions in this scene; all of them are wonderful.  I really like the star on the boy's shirt and the yellow bird on the girl's shirt.  You can see tiny print on the pages of the boy's book.

Regardless of how many times you read Why am I me? written by Paige Britt with pictures by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko you will be enveloped by its beauty.  The quality of contemplation it invites in readers will vary but will surely promote inner reflection and outward discussions. You need to share this book as often as you can.  I highly recommend it for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Paige Britt, Sean Qualls and Selina Alko and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Sean Qualls also maintains a blog.  This title is featured at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, the blog of author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson. And you must read the interview between these three collaborators at author Chris Barton's website, Bartography.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Lady Leads The Way

In 1865 she was only an idea; an idea born from a desire to commemorate a lasting institution and friendship.  She arrived in pieces by ship in New York City's harbor in 1885.  Months passed before her full 305-feet-tall height was established.  At the official unveiling and dedication on October 28, 1886 President Grover Cleveland in a speech voiced without the use of notes declared:

"we will not forget that liberty here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected."

Since that dedication day The Statue of Liberty residing on Liberty Island has welcomed all who visit, begin new lives or return home on the eastern shores of the United States of America.  Her Right Foot (Chronicle Books, September 19, 2017) written by Dave Eggers with art by Shawn Harris presents known and little known information about this great lady, a constant beacon of hope and freedom.  It also draws our attention to a particular aspect of the statue, encouraging us to think deeper about the symbolic implications behind her design.

You have likely heard of a place called France.  

The people who live there are called the French.  Our Statue of Liberty came from the country of France.  Two Frenchmen, one with an idea and one with a design, worked to build Lady Liberty.

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi oversaw the development of his design; piece by piece due to the size of the statute.  Over her frame a skin of copper was fashioned.  You know she was then delivered to the United States to stand in the New York City Harbor but what you might not know is what happened in Paris, France before she traveled across the Atlantic.

Unlike a chameleon the Lady did not shift colors after thirty-five years instinctively but did so because of her materials.  The book she is holding, the number of spikes on her crown, her torch, her interior framework and her construction all have unique meanings and stories attached to them.  One feature of Lady Liberty usually not discussed is the central focus of this book.  All of the information has been leading us to this point.

If you look at her feet, specifically the back of her right foot, it's not stationary.  Oh, no readers, she is not standing still.  Her back right foot is lifted, toe to the ground, heel raised.  For the remaining half of the book, points are offered for us to ponder, discuss, promote and champion.  This Statue of Liberty is meant to move our minds and hearts as surely as she greets all who come to our shores.

As soon as you begin to read this book, you know the writer, Dave Eggers, is passionate about his topic and is ready to chat with you about it, one-on-one.  That's the way his narrative reads.  He asks questions and follows them with his no-nonsense answers.

You find yourself informed but entertained through his sense of humor which is underlying in this book.  An excellent technique he employs is to maintain his lively commentary before taking a huge pause switching up his use of words from

And you may know


you might not know.

Here is a sample passage.

Bartholdi liked to see the sculpture rise above the harbor.
Sometimes he watched the construction from the water.
Sometimes he watched it from the land.  Usually he was
wearing a sturdy black hat, for he, like most European
men of the time, favored sturdy black hats.

Rendered in construction paper and India ink the illustrations, loose, stylized and somewhat geometric, beginning on the opened dust jacket, pair perfectly with the spirited, straightforward text.  The limited color palette, blue, green, yellow, white and black brings our eyes to the center.  To the left, on the back, we zoom in to the crown.  A park guide and visitors are standing in the eleven openings.  In this picture as in several others illustrator Shawn Harris includes a cat and a dog.

The book case, in the green shade of weathered copper, is a reflection of the book held in Lady Liberty's hand.  The opening and closing endpapers take us close to the exterior details on the torch when she arrived and as they appear today.  An airplane dots the sky on the final endpapers.

Many of the images span two pages but their perspectives are greatly varied; a street scene in Paris, France, the crew working on the statue's hand, a map of a portion of New York City and the harbor, the Statue of Liberty's face and crown and her right foot with a park ranger and young boy pointing.  With each visual Shawn Harris usually shifts his hues used but his choices are still limited.  His decision to include more details increases the animation but even without the added lines each illustration evokes emotion.  Little touches of humor can be seen, too; the dog eyeing a pastry, exhausted workers sleeping on the rays of the crown and a startled cat coming in through a special door.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Shawn Harris shows us the base of the statute.  We can see both of Lady Liberty's feet, the front of her feet, beneath her robe.  The broken chains are visible.  It is a large picture beginning on the edge at the left and covering two-thirds of the page on the right.  It gives you a sense of the grandeur of this work.

This book, Her Right Foot, written by Dave Eggers with art by Shawn Harris is a remarkable portrait of the Statue of Liberty.  More importantly it asks readers to think of the intent of the designer.  It asks us to remember what these United States of America has offered to all people during the course of its history.  Some of the lines written by Dave Eggers will leave you stunned by their truth.  Some of the illustrations by Shawn Harris will leave you equally mesmerized.  I highly recommend this book for professional libraries and personal libraries too.  It invites, no demands, we partake in discussions.  There are lists for Further Reading and Sources at the end of the book.

To learn more about Shawn Harris please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  This title is his first illustrated book.  At the publisher's website you have the opportunity to view and use a classroom guide.  Dave Eggers is interviewed in a broadcast about this title here.   The ins and outs of a children's illustrations project regarding Her Right Foot are found here.  Educator Alyson Beecher wrote about this book on her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy.  Shawn Harris visits author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to talk about his process.  Author illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka talks about this title on his podcast The Book Report.

To get a little bit of a better idea about Dave Eggers, this TED talk might help.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected by participants in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Finding Riches At Sea

You often hear people talking about when my ship comes in.  Good fortune will shine upon their destiny.  Monetary riches will suddenly appear.  This ship, figuratively speaking, when it arrives will change their lives for the better.

Some people spend every day wishing for this vessel to sail into the harbor of their hopes.  Other people work toward the very things this ship would offer.  Let's suppose there is a third group of individuals.  The Antlered Ship (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 12, 2017) written by Dashka Slater with illustrations by The Fan Brothers (Eric Fan and Terry Fan) presents readers with a crew of animals setting sail together for the first time; each searching for something they desire.  They aren't waiting for their ship to come in.  They're on it.

The day the antlered ship arrived,
Marco wondered about the wide world.

Marco was a fox, a fox with lots of questions.  His questions were full of curiosity about the deeper meanings and possibilities within the world as a whole.  When a fox had these types of questions, he had to look for answers.  He went to the ship.  As he crossed the dock, three deer left the deck, joining him.

Sylvia, the captain, was looking for a crew as she and her fellow deer were lost.  Marco agreed to go.  He had a need to know.  So did four pigeons with a leader named Victor.  They welcomed adventure.  The deer were hoping to locate Sweet Tree Island.

The weather and consequently the sea were not kind to the antlered ship or its occupants.  The pigeons preferred playing games.  The deer fretted about what could go wrong.  Marco continued to have questions.  They were shivery, soggy and a bit hungry with the limited provisions.  The fox decided a change in attitude was needed.

A recipe book and charts altered their outlook.  As if sensing their moods' shift, the seas calmed and the moon shown in a clearing night sky.  Oh, their troubles were not over because sailing the seas meant continued natural challenges and scuffles with nasty scoundrels but often it's those difficulties which bring us to the riches we sought.

Author Dashka Slater honors in this tale the right to examine one's world and life outside what is expected.  Each animal is seeking something beyond their distinctive and instinctive boundaries.  One would never expect three deer, four pigeons and a fox to set sail on a ship, an antlered ship.

Using an exemplary combination of narrative, conversation and Marco's thoughts we travel with the companions.  We experience their doubts during the storm.  We are uplifted with their renewed determination.  We cheer and smile at one of the best three word lines in the book.  We triumph alongside them in victories.  We take joy in their hillside reflections.  Here is a sample passage.

As they plotted their course, the wind picked up.
The storm clouds thinned into marvelous swirls.
"Raise the sails!" Sylvia cried. 

When you open the dust jacket, the first thing you might think (if you are me) is I wish I could frame this artwork.  The antlered ship sailing through the Maze of Sharp Rocks at sunrise spans flap edge to flap edge.  It is a stunning display of adventure at sea.  You can smell the salt-tinged air and hear the waves crash against the rocks and the cry of the seagulls.  You can feel the ship cut through the water.  And you wonder where this magnificent ship with two pigeons, a deer and a fox is going.  Another spectacular feature is the texture of the jacket.  It is rough to the touch; like feeling a piece of the side of a wooden ship.  The title text is raised.

Beneath the jacket the book case is a deep sea green with a wide red, cloth spine.  On the front, to the right, is the anchor for the antlered ship.  To the left the ship's helm is pictured.  Each of these is embossed in an even deeper shade of sea green.  On the opening and closing endpapers in shades of brown like an old sea map is the water and land through which the voyagers weave their way.  Readers will enjoy the tiny details and given names for geographic points.

The majority of the illustrations, with the exception of four, span two pages with shifts in perspective to enhance the narrative.  Using graphite and ballpoint pen with digital coloring The Fan Brothers, Eric Fan and Terry Fan, have created truly spectacular illustrations; Marco on a cliff watching the antlered ship enter the harbor, the storm at sea, the reviving stew scene, studying the charts, the terrifying pirate crew, and Marco's search for other foxes and answers.  The passage of time and changes in weather are displayed with beautiful shifts in sky shades.  Humor is found in the smallest elements (Victor the pigeon) and in the page with the pigeons shirking shipboard duties.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is at night.  On the right against a sky sprinkled with stars is the bow and antlers of the ship.  Sylvia is standing close to the front.  Sitting in the center of the large antlers is Marco gazing toward the left.  Pigeons sit on either side of him.  The other two pigeons are together on a lower, left antler.  To the left of the picture a full moon is rising over a small island.  The moon lights a path on the calm water.

This collaboration between Dashka Slater and The Fan Brothers, The Antlered Ship, is one adventure you want to have repeatedly.  Their journey of discovery, not only in finding what they initially seek, but in forming lasting friendships is a tale to hold in your heart.  And the illustrations will literally have you exclaiming out loud.  You will most definitely want to have a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Dashka Slater and The Fan Brothers and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior illustrations.  Eric and Terry Fan are interviewed at Words for Life and Read and Shine. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Always Together

Their song is unmistakable to even the most novice listener.  If they decide to make their home near your home, you will be awakened by their sweet melody.  Both the male and female trill the well-known cheery refrain.  It's a comfort to know they mate for life.  It's a comfort to know they have chosen to be near you.

Eleven days ago author illustrator Matt Tavares posted a photo and comment on Facebook about stepping into a hotel elevator with portraits of cardinals hanging on the wall.  It was his first event promoting his new book, Red & Lulu (Candlewick Press, September 19, 2017).  We had a short chat about "signs" but what I didn't tell Matt at the time was cardinals were my Mom's favorite bird.  Each year it became a tradition to buy her a new cardinal ornament for her Christmas tree.  My mother had red hair and all her friends including my father called her Red.  This enchanting title will resonate with readers for varied reasons but for all it lifts up the power of love and the hope of a miracle.

In the front yard of a little house, on the branches of a mighty evergreen, there lived a happy pair of cardinals.

This tree offered them all they needed during spring, summer, autumn and winter.  They preferred winter over the other seasons because the family living in the little house decorated the tree with colored lights.  They sat and listened to

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy leaves are so unchanging...

Do you think the carolers heard them joining their chorus?

On an early morning before autumn turned to winter Red left to find food for him and Lulu, who waited in the tree.  As he returned he was shocked by the sight before him.  The tree was on its side on a truck.  Lulu was softly singing inside the branches.

As the truck sped down the road, Red called to Lulu.  He would not leave her.  He tried to keep up but the truck was too fast.  He lost sight of the truck, tree and no longer heard Lulu's song as it headed toward a vast city.  Red was in a place in stark contrast to the yard of the little house where the tree had stood.

The noise and buildings nearly overwhelmed the exhausted cardinal as he searched for Lulu day after day.  When the snow started to fall, the ache of her absence grew stronger.  He felt so connected to her he thought he heard their winter song.  Joy flooded the brave bird's body.  He flew and flew and stopped, stunned.  Lights.  Love.  And ...

When an author begins a story prior to the title page they are inviting you into something extraordinary.  With a single sentence Matt Tavares gives us once upon a time.  He continues to explain the contentment Red and Lulu find living in that particular tree all year long.  In this way, he creates a bond between readers and the pair of birds.  We understand the value of home and lasting companionship.  In this respect we feel the same alarm as Red when the tree is moved with Lulu in its branches and when he can't keep up with the truck.  But...

Matt has also fashioned a cherished tradition the duo share during their cherished season of the year.  This is the kind of hope on which their relationship flourishes.  Here is a sample passage.

Red chirped frantically,
telling Lulu to stay 
right where she was,

telling her that he
would be right there.

When viewing the opened dust jacket (I have an F & G.) the front view is striking.  The panoramic view as seen by Red and Lulu transports us to New York City at Christmas.  We, like the two birds, are drawn to the tree.  To the left, on the back, the affection between Red and Lulu is presented by Matt Tavares by taking us inside the tree.  Red and Lulu are resting on branches as the Christmas lights twinkle.  It is a smaller, more intimate image in an oval surrounded by a pale green canvas.  The opening and closing endpapers are a muted cardinal red.

Prior to the title page we see one of the children, dressed in winter garb, filling a feeder hanging from the roof.  The large evergreen looms to the right.  Everything is frosted in a thick layer of snow.  The title page, like the front of the dust jacket, is a marvelous sweeping view but instead of the city, it's of the community where the little house is located.  The two birds fly near their names, the title, on the left.  The large tree rises between Matt's name and Candlewick Press on the right. 

Rendered in watercolor and gouache the illustrations have a limited but natural color palette.    They vary in size to provide perfect pacing. Some are framed in a generous amount of white and others flow edge to edge.  Many of them are wordless which allows for more active participation by the reader and assists in furthering our emotional attachment to the story and Red and Lulu.

With a pair of cardinals as the main characters readers are treated to numerous birds-eye-view pictures but we are also taken deep into the story with shifted perspectives.  Matt knows exactly when to make this change.  We move in close when Lulu is frightened by the tree's move, Red is flying along a city street between the legs of walkers, or when he hears a sound close to his heart.

Several other items of note are the luminosity present in each picture.  It's not just the lights but an overall glow suggestive of warmth.  Careful readers will recognize some of the skaters at the Rockefeller Center rink.  And as he did in the beginning, Matt closes the story with an extra page, the possibility of another tale.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is on a single page.  The point of view has changed to bring us close to Red.  He's flying in the city at night as snow falls.  Behind him buildings stretch on either side, windows glowing from the lights.  Street and vehicle lights shimmer.  He is not looking directly at the reader but off ahead.  His body is moving with intent.  His feathers are a vivid contrast to the night, lights and snow.

As soon as I finish reading the story, look at the final two pictures, read the author's note about The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and view the image on the publication page, I go back to the start of Red & Lulu written and illustrated by Matt Tavares and read it again.  You are completely captivated by it because it rests in truth.  The blend of Matt's words and artwork has a timeless quality.  You will want to have at least one copy on your professional bookshelves as well as your personal bookshelves. (It's all I can do to not read it aloud to all the classes this week but I will wait for the finished copy and a time nearer to November.)

To learn more about Matt Tavares and his other work please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and blog.  Matt has several interior illustrations you can view on his website.  Matt is interviewed on a Candlewick Press podcast.  The cover is revealed at Mile High Reading hosted by the director of the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival Dylan Teut.  The book trailer is revealed at Watch. Connect. Read. by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.  At the cover reveal and the book trailer premiere there are interviews.  

UPDATE:  On October 4, 2017 and October 6, 2017 Matt Tavares added two posts to his blog about items he hopes we notice in his book and a last minute change he made. 

UPDATE:  On December 7, 2017 Matt Tavares chats with author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Kirkus. As a follow-up to that conversation Julie Danielson hosts Matt on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on December 14, 2017.

Friday, September 15, 2017

No One Asked Me!

If there was ever a library so large people could literally get lost in there for hours or maybe even days, it would be wise to head to one section and one section only.  Hopeful of finding the nonfiction books and then carefully following the numerical order on the spines, you should seek the 398.2 titles.  Within folklore, fairy tales specifically, we can usually find our way home.  Those stories entertain and educate us, as well as guide us to where happily ever after is possible.

Each variant on those original narratives enlarges our thinking about alternate and creative paths leading to the same ending.  It's Not Jack And The Beanstalk (Two Lions, September 19, 2017) written by Josh Funk with illustrations by Edwardian Taylor takes an entirely new approach.  What if the characters rebel against the status quo?

Once upon a time, Jack lived in a tiny cottage in a dreary village.  He always dreamed that someday he would find his fortune.

Psst!  Jack!  Wake up!

I'm dreaming...

And put on some pants!

As the well-known events continue Jack needs to sell the cow, his only possession.  Since this is no ordinary fairy tale, Jack objects.  Bessie Cowpoke McPinwheel just happens to be Jack's BFF.  He's even more upset to find out she's only worth five beans.  Five beans!?

When their so-called magical qualities fail to function, he tosses them out the window after he's told he can't even eat one.  (The poor lad is operating on an empty stomach.)  Every time the unseen narrator moves forward in the action, Jack fails to comply without a grumble and a gripe.  The next morning he is elated he did not eat a bean considering what grew overnight.  He is also flabbergasted he has to climb it.  (Who wrote this story anyway?)

With every phrase uttered by the narrator, Jack is increasingly belligerent.  He's not tired from scaling the stalk plus he spies Cinderella's castle on his way up.  An invitation is issued but the now equally frustrated voice reading the story urges him in no uncertain terms to keep going.  Upon his arrival at the giant's home, an imminent clash ensues.

It's a blend of traditional and (cue Getting To Know You sung by Julie Andrews) exceedingly friendly conversation between a captured Jack and the giant.  A rip roaring argument escalates between Jack and the giant (Fred) and the reader.  If you can manage to stop laughing the conclusions, all of them, are exactly as they should be.  The End.  Maybe.

With every sentence read silently or aloud written by Josh Funk, you feel the urge to share this book.  The snappy asides by the reader/narrator as part of the story text and Jack's comments provide an abundance of humor.  As the story and alternate story unfold you can't help but wonder why more characters have not objected before Jack and Fred, the giant.

Another technique adding to the comedic effect is the use of modern phrases,

You're joking, right?
Spoiler alert.

The flow between the known narrative, the reader's statements, and Jack's and the giant's observations is seamless on the individual pages and as it resumes on the following pages.  There is not a skipped beat in the cadence.  Here is a sample passage.

Everything inside the house was tremendously large.

Spoiler alert:
A giant lives here. Can I go home now?

Suddenly, Jack heard a booming voice---


Umm, that 
doesn't even 
rhyme.  How about:
I can see the 
giant's bum?

Upon opening the exuberant, colorful dust jacket readers are treated to two views of the skyward climb up the beanstalk.  Although our focus is drawn to the main character in each image, the two blend together nicely across the spine.  The title text carved into a sign reflects the old world quality of the tale but the two painted words make it clear this will be no normal rendition of the story.  To the left, on the back, framed in stalks and leaves, the giant's harp is singing out a fun challenge for readers.  Two birds are watching her from above as ladybugs rest on a leaf.  Bean blossoms are seen throughout the illustrations. (I am working from an F & G so I don't know if the book case is the same.)

On the opening and closing endpapers is a pattern featuring leaves, beans, Jack's backpack, his rope and ax, the magic beans, the magic bean bag, a compass, tiny blue gloves, boots, a framed picture of Bessie, tortilla chips and Jack's hat.  These items are placed on a crisp white background.  Across the verso and title pages a night scene with Jack and Bessie out and about amid fireflies is full of cheer and friendship.

Rendered digitally by Edwardian Taylor the pictures vary in size from two page spans to single page illustrations and to smaller images set in larger ones.  His shifting perspectives enhance the hilarity of this variation.  His exaggerated facial expressions with the wide-eyed looks leave no doubt as to the current emotional state of the characters.

Careful readers will note familiar individuals even without reading the invitation on the back of the dust jacket.  This draws attention to the details Edwardian Taylor includes in each picture.  You pause to look because you don't want to miss any nuance he places in his pictures.

One of my many favorite illustrations is spread across two pages. The giant's face covers nearly every bit of space, edge to edge.  His nose is meticulously aligned in the gutter.  His mouth is open in anger.  His fingertips grip the table edge.  To the left of the picture a small human Jack, standing on the table with his arm, hand and finger raised to make a point, eyes closed, is stating a couple of facts, seemingly unconcerned with the trouble he is facing.

As soon as you begin It's Not Jack And The Beanstalk written by Josh Funk with illustrations by Edwardian Taylor you can already hear the laughter of readers and listeners.  The very idea of characters objecting to the story line is funny enough but the chosen words and energetic pictures created by these two collaborators elevate the hilarity.  You will most definitely want to place this title on your 398.2 professional shelves and add it to your personal fairy tale collections at home.

To discover more about Josh Funk and Edwardian Taylor and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Edwardian Taylor also has a Tumblr account.  The cover was revealed on Mile High Reading hosted by Dylan Teut, the director of Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival.  Today at the Nerdy Book Club Josh revealed the book trailer.