Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Food For Body and Soul

Many believe cooking to be an art form as well as a labor of love.  Regardless of how simple or complex the dish being prepared is, the quality of the ingredients contributes to the sensory results; the way it looks, smells and tastes.  No two people, even when following the same recipe will achieve the same outcome.  Not everyone knows about the secret ingredient.

With the winds howling outside here in southern Michigan and the promise of rain and possibly snow in the air, there's no better time to create comfort food in the kitchen.  A little more than seven years ago, author illustrator Melissa Iwai gave us Soup Day (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, September 28, 2010).  In this title a little girl and her mother venture out from their apartment in the city into the snowy weather to visit the local market.  Once there they select the vegetables with the most vibrant colors and appropriate shapes, vividly described for readers.

Home again the vegetables are cleaned and chopped into particular shapes; squares, circles, and cubes are placed in the pot to saute.  Step by step a story of cooking and playful waiting unfolds.  Upon the arrival home of the father in the evening, the three sit down to a dinner of homemade soup topped with confetti made of parsley.  The title closes with the inclusion of the Snowy Day Vegetable Soup recipe.

Today, October 31, 2017, Halloween, readers receive another treat, the release of Pizza Day (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company) written and illustrated by Melissa Iwai.  Just the mention of the word pizza brings to mind memories of shared meals with friends and family as slices of this deliciousness are happily consumed.  In this companion title to Soup Day a boy and his father work and play together to prepare a pie uniquely their own.

Today is pizza day.

Excitement and summer sunshine are in abundance as a little boy and his father gather tools and a basket for a visit to the garden outside their home.  The family dog, Caesar, runs along beside them.  The results of their sowing seeds earlier in the spring are visible; plants filled with tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions and basil.  Specific amounts of each are collected, carried inside and cleaned.

Next the two work to make the dough for the crust.  After the ingredients are measured and mixed in a large bowl, the real fun begins.  The gooey concoction, placed on a hard surface, is punched and pulled by hand until it's smooth and shiny.  Back in the bowl and covered, it rests so it can rise.

Vegetables from the garden are mixed to make a sauce now simmering on the stove.  While the dough and sauce transform into delectable delights, the father and his son join Caesar outside for games real and imaginary.  Before they know it, it's time to complete the pizza.

The dough, puffy and full, is rolled into a round on the pan.  The sauce, rich and thick, is poured into a blender and then on top of the crust.  The next layer is other sliced vegetables and this is topped with grated cheese.  Into the oven this piece of scrumptious perfection is placed.  As the twosome pick up outside, mom arrives home.  It's pizza picnic time!

In this and the previous title, Melissa Iwai makes with her words the adventure mixed with a bit of magic cooking can and should be.  Her simple initial statement declares the beginning of a promise.  When the duo are in the garden the amount of vegetables picked are named along with descriptive adjectives and verbs;

Five juicy red tomatoes plucked from the vine.

Moving into the kitchen the listing of the ingredients as the dough and sauce are made generates anticipation.  The two, the dough and the sauce, are tied together with the comparison of sleeping and waking and the boy's whispered words.  Warmth and naturalness are added to the experience with the inclusion of playing outside, putting away the tools and toys and the cleaning of the dog.  What makes this story accessible to all ages is the first person, the boy's, point of view.  Here are several sample sentences.

I mix it all together with a wooden spoon.
It turns into a big, sticky, squishy lump. (page turn)

Daddy dumps 
the dough onto
the board.

When you look at the front of the dust jacket (I am working with an F & G.  My copy has not arrived yet.) you can almost smell the aroma of the pizza wafting into the air in the shown swirls.  The expression on the boy's face leaves no doubt as to his thoughts.  The details Melissa includes, the toppings on the pizza and the freckles across the boy's nose and cheeks, add to the realistic charm.  To the left, on the back, within an oblong frame like a recipe card is an introduction to the book.  A small watering can, rolling pin, tiny twig of basil, several tomatoes, a grater and cheese are pictured.

The opening and closing endpapers are patterned in scattered tomatoes, basil and mushrooms on first a cream and then a spring green background.  Across the verso and title pages on a canvas of crisp white are a sprinkling of gardening and cooking tools and ingredients.  Rendered in acrylics, collage, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator the illustrations may span two pages, edge to edge, single pages with loose frames surrounded by liberal white space or a series of smaller images to portray the passage of time.

The bright, full color images are bursting with energy.  Each scene supplied with elements full of the everyday radiate the affection shared by all the family members including Caesar. A towel hanging over the kitchen sink, a vase of sunflowers sitting on the window ledge, an open cupboard of kitchen tools and ingredients in view, Caesar jumping up and licking the boy, pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, rubber boots, one laying on its side, near a rug by the door and a calendar attached to the refrigerator are seen as the dad says goodbye to his wife leaving for work.  This first picture is followed by others of similar and varying perspectives.  We might be at the boy's level as he picks tomatoes within the garden or see the family gathered around the picnic table eating the pizza from a slightly above angle.  Singing off of every single page is the happiness of this entire day seen on the faces of the characters.

One of my many favorite pictures is when the boy is in the garden.  It is a two-page picture.  On the left he is kneeling in the dirt with the tomato vines replete with their fruit making a green wall around him.  He is wearing a blue and white striped shirt, blue overalls and red tennis shoes.  To the right crouched down on his front paws, tail wagging in the air, is Caesar.  He is sniffing the lettuce.  Identifying stakes are sticking up for tomatoes and peppers.

Pizza Day written and illustrated by Melissa Iwai is a scrumptious story with a tasty resolution.  Every reader will want to have a pizza day as soon as possible.  This title is sure to inspire and encourage gardening and cooking together.  The secret ingredient is love which radiates throughout this book.  At the end Melissa include a two page recipe for the dough and sauce as well as a step-by-step set of instructions complete with an Anatomy of Pizza.  You will want to make sure you have a copy on your professional bookshelves and in your personal collection.

To discover more about Melissa Iwai and her other work, please take a few moments to visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  On her blog she has a post talking about this title.  She maintains an account on Instagram which you will enjoy.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images including one of my favorites.  A teacher's guide and activity guide are also available there.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.he and Melissa chat about Pizza Day and libraries.  Just before I clicked Publish on this post, I checked the blogs I have listed that I check every single day.  I was delighted to see this title featured at Jama Rattigan's Jama's Alphabet Soup.  You must go there to read her review and interview with Melissa Iwai.  Melissa Iwai is also a guest on All The Wonders, Episode 399 chatting with teacher librarian Matthew Winner.  Be sure to watch the book trailer.

Monday, October 30, 2017

An Extraordinary Walk Through Ordinary

When a dog has chosen to make their home with you, it affords you marvelous opportunities.  You find yourself outside in the early hours of the morning and at the very late hours of night.  As you walk through your neighborhood at these times, when more people are inside rather than outside, sights otherwise concealed during daylight are revealed.

The windows of a home are much like the eyes of an individual, a way to see the everyday essence which makes it uniquely unlike any other space.   Windows (Candlewick Press, October 10, 2017) written by Julia Denos with illustrations by E. B. Goodale pays homage to the calm felt when strolling through a neighborhood as evening falls.  It's like walking through a library filled with stories.

At the end of the day, before the town goes to sleep, you can look out your window . . .

As the lights turn on inside the houses, they signal a familiar accepted pattern, like fireflies calling to other fireflies.  They convey a feeling of security.  Sometimes you will see other creatures, domestic and wild venturing out into the half-light turning into night.  Are they watching the lights in windows begin to glow, too?

The size of the windows, curtains open and curtains closed, are a reflection of the inhabitants.  You might be privy to conversations, parental affection and learning.  Some people may be sitting down to eat their supper.  Some people may be relaxing in their living rooms.

Not every house will have windows warm with light.  There is usually one residence completely dark.  No one lives there but you can pretend, letting your imagination create occupants.

Of all the windows you see as you wander along well-known paths, there is one which welcomes you with more warmth than the others.  You find comfort in the knowledge of who is inside.  You are home.

As one phrase connects to the next in this story it's like listening to melodic lines in a lullaby.  As soon as you read the first sentence written by Julia Denos you are aware of a certain peace of mind arriving, dictated by a particular sameness as darkness descends.  It's Julia's ability to take the ordinary, enhancing it to extraordinary, that gives this story its beauty.  She singles out specific moments, taking nothing for granted but exhibiting gratitude for all.  Here is another sentence.

You might pass a cat
or an early raccoon
taking a bath
in squares of yellow light.

As you look at the opened dust jacket, the multilayered, setting sun sky is in perfect harmony with the light glowing in the windows.  These windows are varnished on the street scene extending over the spine to the left edge, the back, of the jacket.  The tree branches are like black lace.  The darkened blue in varying shades of the buildings, sidewalk and street complement the natural and artifical light.  The spot of red on the boy's jacket and the white dog fur and white text of the title blend with the surrounding color but also announce the beginning of something wonderful.

On the book case from edge to edge is the multilayered, setting sun sky, singular in its beauty.  On the opening and closing endpapers it's as if we are standing on one of the rooftops looking across the landscape created by the other roofs.  The sun is low in the sky, barely above the treetops on the opening endpapers.  Men are working on one of the roofs.  There are a few lights on already.  A group of pigeons are flying in from the right.  On the closing endpapers night has fallen.  A full moon is in the sky.  The pigeons are roosting on one of the roofs.  Lights are glowing in all the buildings.

Rendered in ink, watercolor, letterpress, and digital collage by debut picture book illustrator E. B. Goodale all images except for those on four pages span from page edge to page edge across two pages.  All of the elements, the details, are intentional.  They tell stories; the Brazilian soccer ball in the boy's home, the heart-patterned blanket hanging on a clothes line, the raccoon snacking on an apple core, the air-conditioner running in a window, and the three bird cages seen in a single room.

As the boy walks the colors of the sky behind the buildings deepen indicating the passage of time.  E. B. Goodale shifts her perspective several times, bringing us closer to a particular scene before giving us a more expansive view again.  White space is used to great effect twice to emphasize the text and to ask us to pause.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  On the left and on the right are single family homes with fenced-in yards.  Their designs are very different; one is more traditional with flower-filled window boxes.  The other is more contemporary with a circular window and a flat roof.  In the center of the picture the boy and his dog have stopped at a stone-paved area, marked by several low pillars with chains between them.  Two trees have been planted behind them like an entrance.  A dog park shows dogs running with their humans nearby.  Behind this is a silhouette of homes and then the red, orange and yellow sky.

It would be easy to imagine this title, Windows written by Julia Denos with illustrations by E. B. Goodale, as one read every night to lull gals and guys to sleep.  It is a brilliant and stunning look at the close of day amid a single neighborhood.  There is a timeless quality to the words and illustrations.  It gives readers the marvelous sense of everything is right with the world.  We need this book.

By following the links attached to the names of Julia Denos and E. B. White you can learn more about them and their work.  At both Penguin Random House and Candlewick Press you can view interior illustrations.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., the cover is revealed.  You will enjoy the conversation there with both Julia and Emily.  Author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson, highlights this title at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  It is one of the titles being discussed at Calling Caldecott.  Windows is also featured at School Library Journal, The Classroom Bookshelf.  Enjoy the videos.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Gigantic Gift

The requests from students to read Christmas stories have already started; especially those tales containing favorite characters.  A thought fleetingly passes through my mind about Halloween not even being over yet, but retail stores have had shelves of December holiday decorations up for several weeks.  Perhaps these children's requests are built upon the belief and the hope this particular holiday season can and will bring out the best in individuals.

It is a time for friends and family, those we see frequently or those we only see once a year, to gather. Our thoughts turn to tradition and the art of giving.  Santa Rex (Viking, Penguin Young Readers,  an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, October 17, 2017) written and illustrated by Molly Idle is the fourth title in a series featuring prim and proper Cordelia, her younger brother with his constant teddy bear companion, and their four bigger than big best buddies, Rex, Alan, Rosemary and Clarence.  Each episode with these characters leaves a mark of laughter on your heart.  The one for this book will twinkle.

EXPECTING company for Christmas?

Don't look up unless you want to see two large eyes peering through the windows above the door.  Yes, readers, Rex and company have arrived to join in the night-before, merry making activities.  If you desire success, you need to have a lengthy to-do list. 

Without a minute to spare garlands of holly, chains of paper and strings of popcorn are hung.  The room is filled with inventiveness as paper snowflakes are cut and hung on the windows.  (You might want to pay close attention to your curtains when there's a dinosaur on the premises.)  With the decorations done, it's time to create and bake confections in the kitchen.  They're so yummy, it's nearly impossible to not gobble them in great gulps.

In anticipation of a visit from Santa, it's important to hang your stockings on the fireplace mantle.  If you don't have one or it has been accidentally destroyed, improvise. The final act of the evening is to embellish the evergreen.  There is an order to follow if it is to be done correctly.  If you aren't careful the finishing touch is the crashing final touch.

It's off to bed with visions of a special visit swirling in sleeping minds.  No one is prepared for the spectacle awaiting them downstairs in the morning.  No one could be merrier about this one very special Christmas.

Reading like the simple, but ultimate guide book on celebrating Christmas, our faithful unseen narrator leads us to believe nothing could be easier than following the suggestions.  With these spare statements Molly Idle leaves a wide window open for potential problems to appear for those prone to perfection like Cordelia.  As we read each one our expectations build toward what we surely know is going to be less than normal.  What Molly does, though, with great skill is to leave us with an undeniable truth about this holiday and most importantly, the value of two or more is superior to one.

Whether you have read the three previous titles or not, the front of the matching dust jacket and book case will have you more than a little curious about a Tyrannosaurus rex wearing a Santa hat in front of a pile of presents.  Clearly Cordelia and her younger brother are excited about the possibilities this holiday will bring.  The design and layout are as precise as you might expect if our young lady character is the artist.  This is perfection.  Molly Idle is already welcoming us into a situation which will be loaded with comedic contrasts.  To the left, on the back, are small versions of the three other title front covers with praise from professional reviewers.

The opening and closing endpapers are patterned in large red and white stripes like a close-up of a candy cane.  On the final set there is a very distinct difference. (I'm trying not to laugh as I already imagine the exclamations by the young listeners who will hear me read this story.)  On the title page we are privy to the exquisite care Molly gives to each element in her images.  The word Santa is strung with Christmas lights. The teddy bear is there holding scissors as Cordelia and her brother wrap a gift.  This gift is seen several times in the story but we do not know the contents until the very end.

Each illustration reveals the meticulous selection of color choices for the interior of the home with which we are familiar, the dinosaurs, the attire of the children and the wonderful atmosphere of the holiday.  Hilarity and contrast begin with the list.  The stegosaurus is munching on the end of it.  In fact, you need to watch him.  He eats a lot of things throughout this story.

Molly includes images ranging from glorious two-page pictures to framed single page visuals and also has more than one framed image on a single page.  Those that are framed are done in two thin red lines.  For some of the sentences there will be several pictures enhancing those words.  They usually reflect results guaranteed to generate giggles.  A vertical surprise will have you gasping and grinning.

It's nearly impossible to select a favorite illustration. These pictures are pure charm.  One I enjoy and I know readers will too takes place in the kitchen.  The background is shades of mint green and white appliances with mint green and pale yellow tile flooring.  This draws our attention to the characters.  On the left side of this double-page picture Cordelia in her red dress and red and white striped apron is holding a tray with cookies and a glass of milk for Santa.  She is looking aghast at the disappearance of the rest of the cookies from the table which stretches from left to right across the gutter.  On the right is Rex with a bulging cheek and evidence of the cookie in his tiny hand.  The stegosaurus is consuming the table cloth.  Cordelia's brother is hiding a cookie behind his back and also has a bulging cheek.  His teddy bear, next to him, is hoping some of the cookie crumbs will land close enough for him to grab.

No Christmas collection would be complete without the addition of Santa Rex written and illustrated by Molly Idle.  This beloved cast of characters shines as brightly in this title as they have in the previous titles.  As noted on the front flap

Here is a book that shares one of the happiest spirits of Christmas---laughter.

To learn more about Molly Idle and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  You can get a peek at the endpapers on the publisher's website.  Please take a few moments to enjoy this interview of Molly at Art of the Picture Book.  I have blog posts about Tea Rex, Camp Rex and Sea Rex, the other three delightful and hilarious titles.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dressed For The Occasion

All you have to do is mention one word in the presence of a group of less than quiet kindergarten students and total silence will descend.  This magical word is Halloween.  To be truthful this calm lasts only about five seconds before the room explodes in a chorus of "Guess what I'm going to be for Halloween?"  The air is so thick with excitement you can reach out, grab some and store it away for another day.

Some of the attire is designed to be scary.  Other articles of clothing reflect the world of superheroes.  You realize on this one night of the year, the forces for good and those characters with less than stellar characteristics all walk together in solidarity.  Every last individual wants treats.  Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treat (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, July 25, 2017) written by Sue Lowell Gallion with illustrations by Joyce Wan celebrates a holiday, individuality and the strength of friendship.

This is Pug and Pig's home.

These two four-legged friends, outside the home they share with their humans, have other notable objects on display.  To commemorate the season there is a scarecrow and pumpkins next to their outside residence.  As they scamper across the lawn they appear ready for Halloween.  They are wearing skeleton costumes.

Pig is thrilled with her outfit.  The fit, the glow-in-the-dark bones and the mask could not be more perfect.  Pug can't stand his garment.  It is much too tight.  The mask hides his identity.  He wants everyone to know who he is.

Lickety-split Pug has that suit of bones ripped to shreds and lying scattered on the grass.  Pug may be happy with his current costume status but Pig is wondering who will share the joy of Halloween with her now.  Wait!  Pug's on the move again.

Affection for a friend can inspire creativity.  Mud might be a factor.  There's more than one way to highlight a holiday so everyone wins.

With short declarative sentences author Sue Lowell Gallion requests our presence in this story.  Once she introduces us to the characters again (Pug Meets Pig, September 27, 2016), she begins to create a contrast; a difference of opinion between the friends.  What makes this story shine is the inventiveness of Pug.  His compassion builds a bridge strengthening a bond.  Here are some sample sentences.

And this is Pug not
in costume.
Pug does not care
about Halloween anymore.

(page turn)

But someone else does.

The first thing you notice when you run your hands over the dust jacket is the raised elements on the two characters and the title text.  Portions are varnished.  In addition to the round, roly-poly stature of Pug and Pig you are curious about their expressions.  Why is one smiling and the other grumpy?  These images generate interest and speculation about the narrative.  On the back in the same color canvas are two small pumpkin-shaped buckets which the duo uses for trick-or-treating.  The book case is a match but without the extra touches.

The opening and closing endpapers are a continuation of the color scheme; purple background with orange dots ringed in black.  On the title page the text switches to white, two shades of yellow and orange.  Most of the page turns reveal double-page pictures.

When Joyce Wan shifts this pattern it's to place emphasis on a section of the story; Pig enjoying her costume, Pug not liking his costume, Pig filled with dismay opposite a white page with black text and two single pages which increase the pace.  Rendered in pencil and then colored digitally the perspective of the images also contributes to the cadence.  You simply can't look at these pictures without finding the characters endearing and the settings charming.  The details such as the spider webs and spiders, the jack-o-lantern faces, the BOO wreath on the door, the face on the scarecrow in the shape of a sunflower and those skeleton costumes will have readers and listeners sighing with pleasure.

One of my many favorite pictures is the first two-page spread.  On the left and crossing the gutter is the two story home, with two porches, of Pug and Pig and their humans.  The decorations on the outside indicate a love of Halloween.  Warm light glows in the windows.  On the right, over a picket fence, a full moon hangs in the sky with a few stars.  Pug and Pig are racing to the outside.  All we can see is their costumes, black bodies with white bones.  Fall leaves are scattered in the yard.

Be prepared to read Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treat written by Sue Lowell Gallion with art by Joyce Wan over and over again.  Readers and listeners are going to want to jump into the pages of this book to be a part of this story.  They might also want to hug these lovable characters.  It's a must-have for your professional and personal Halloween collections. 

To learn more about Sue Lowell Gallion and Joyce Wan and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Sue Lowell Gallion is featured at PictureBookBuilders, Mid-Continent Public Library, Cynsations, and The Children's Book Review.  Joyce Wan maintains an Instagram account.  Joyce's most recent interviews of many are found at Scholastic's blog, On Our Minds, and The Little Crooked Cottage.    There is a Discussion and Activity Guide for grades PK-2 and a Halloween Party Kit!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Creature Comforts

Each evening of the week it's the same.  After play, treats, more play, more treats, and trips outside she makes her way to the quilt-covered couch.  Pillows are stacked on the back and sides giving her a somewhat elevated status behind me as I work, using the coffee table as a desk.  The sounds of her soft breathing as she sleeps surround me like a comfortable, cozy blanket.

The solace found in this dog's presence transcends any other experience.  Animals take their ability to live in the moment, using their senses and give humans unexpected but welcome peace.  It's a gift we rarely deserve but strive to repay.  A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt And Company, October 24, 2017) written by Barbara Herkert with illustrations by Lauren Castillo is indeed a story of a beloved author's life but it's also a reflection on the influence of animals in that life and in his work.

When young Elwyn White
lay sick in bed,
a bold house mouse
befriended him.

As you might suspect Elwyn had to keep this friend a guarded secret from his mother but the imaginary adventures and visits to the barn they shared were memorable.  With this companion the boy inhaled all the sights, sounds and smells found in the hay-filled haven.  Eventually Elwyn had to go to kindergarten.  He dreaded it with every fiber of his being.

Fears of one thing after another plagued him.  He could hardly wait to get home discarding everything school related as he headed to the barn.  As he got older at the close of the day (or when an opportunity presented itself) he would write about those sights, sounds and smells found in the outside world in his journal.  Writing felt as right as rain to Elwyn.

He continued to write, for a newspaper, when he attended college, and became editor-in-chief.  One night on the way home from work another mouse visited Elwyn in a dream.  He became the main character for a series of stories told to relatives at celebratory gatherings.  After college, writing gave him another job and writing lead him to his wife.  Yearning for life away from New York City, Elwyn, his wife and their three children settled on a farm in Maine along the coast.

It was here the mouse from his dream became a book.  It was here the tale of a pig and a spider, still read today with great affection, was penned.  It was here animals again were integral to the world of E. B. White.  Our lives are far richer for the boy who became a man finding comfort in creatures.

Eloquent language written by Barbara Heckert with wonderfully expressive verbs and adjectives implores readers to explore the world along with E. B. White.  She recreates scenarios allowing us to view them as this author did.  We become connected to those things which gave this man his inspiration.  Here is a portion of one of my favorite passages.

In the refuge of the stable,
Elwyn's senses sharpened
to the ripe scent of manure,
the creak of harness leather,
the perfect shape of eggs, . . .

There is not a single image in this title, beginning with the opened dust jacket, I would not be honored to hang on a wall in my home.  Luminosity exudes warmth from each illustration.  We literally become a part of the world inhabited by E. B. White.  When you look at the scene of the barn extending to the left, on the back, with the horse stalls and three horses, you feel the same calm felt by this boy.

On the book case covered in a textured, glowing golden yellow we see E. B. White seated on a stool just left of the center.  He is holding his mouse companion.  The mouse is looking at him but Elwyn is looking at a spider web masterfully stretched in the upper right hand corner with a spider dangling down.  Perhaps she has something to tell Elwyn.  These two visuals are embossed in barn red like the varnished letters of the title on the jacket.

A bright spring green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page and dedication page we are privy to small pictures of the boy in the company of animals.  Rendered in

brown ink, Adobe Photoshop, watercolor, and foam print texture

by Lauren Castillo, the illustrations vary in size from two pages, to a single page, to loose circular pictures on a single page or a group of smaller images on a single page.  These groupings indicate the passage of time and heighten the pacing, as do the different size pictures.  Lauren invites readers to pause prior to each page turn to enjoy all the elements of each image.  They reflect the boy and then the man and the time period in which he lived.

One of my many favorite pictures, actually two, is on a single page.  Elwyn, in the first, is seated on steps with his open journal, writing.  Next to him, looking in earnest, is his mouse.  In the second Elwyn is in the barn sitting and writing again in his journal.  A basket of eggs is next to him on the hay.  A mother duck and two of her chicks are moving toward him.

As soon as you look at this book, A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White written by Barbara Herkert with illustrations by Lauren Castillo, and then hold it in your hands, it's as if the wonder inside begins to seep out and envelope you.  Readers will come to know E. B. White in a singular way, as facts of his life are deftly woven into the narrative and artwork.  I highly recommend this title for your classroom, school library and personal bookshelves.  Be sure to read the Author's Note at the close of the book followed by a bibliography.

To discover more about author Barbara Herkert and author-artist Lauren Castillo and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Lauren Castillo maintains an Instagram account which contains process artwork for this and other titles.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, hosted the cover reveal on his site, Watch. Connect. Read.  I know you will enjoy his conversation with author Barbara Herkert.

UPDATE:  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson features Lauren Castillo, her art and process for this title on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, November 26, 2017.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy to see the other titles selected this week by those participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Conversation with Thyra Heder

Good morning, Thyra.  I am happy to welcome you to Librarian’s Quest and to express my thanks to you for spending time with me and my readers today.  It’s been absolutely gorgeous here in southern Michigan as autumn brings in the cooler temperatures at night, clear blue skies, brisk breezes and a blanket of color in our trees.

Since the focus of our conservation today revolves around an animal companion I thought you might like to take an imaginary hike with me and my one-year-old chocolate Labrador, Mulan.  We enjoy walking through the woods, taking in the sights, sounds and scents.  So put on your comfy shoes or boots, grab a jacket and let’s get started.

Sounds great! My lab/rott mix Toby would like to follow Mulan to the stinkiest spots to roll in.

Mulan would love that! I, of course, might not be too happy with a stinky dog in the house but that's why water hoses and shampoo were invented.

In your Author’s Note at the close of the book, Alfie (The turtle that disappeared), (Abrams Books for Young Readers, October 3, 2017) you inform readers about your Alfie, the length of time Alfie has been a part of your family, your niece’s fascination with this turtle and your friend Nia’s turtle Max that seems to have an affinity for escaping.  Every time I read this book, the brilliance of two perspectives brings the story together flawlessly.  Did you always know you wanted to tell this story from both Nia’s and Alfie’s point of view?

Originally I wrote this story from an omniscient narrator and it wasn’t really working, because neither Nini (Nia’s original name) nor Alfie had much of a personality. Also, in this first idea, the turtle was gone for 30 years which ended up feeling very sad rather than fun.  I went to mope to my agent, Stephen Barr, which is what I often do when I’m stuck, and the two of us spent an hour basically just making each other laugh until suddenly one of us shot the firework of the idea of the change of perspective.  I honestly am not sure I can take credit for it, because I don’t have the memory of how it happened, but the second it was said aloud I knew it was right. All of my favorite novels involve switching character perspectives, so it became my mission to make this work in a picture book.  (In case you are interested, two of my favorites are To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf and Another Country by James Baldwin)

I am curious about whether you did any extra research or if it was pure observation of Alfie and Max so you could channel your inner turtle to write his point of view?

I’ve actually never met Nia’s Max! She’s just told me about his various escapes. I have followed my real Alfie around my parent's house a lot over the years, so mostly this was from memory. (Btw he really does love to hide in my mom’s shoes, get stuck under the radiator, and swim in the backyard koi pond)

How did you arrive at the name Alfie for your turtle and for the title of this book?

When I was five years old, I was obsessed with the book Esio Trot by Roald Dahl, which is about a man in love with his downstairs neighbor who is devoted to her pet tortoise, Alfie.  So for my sixth birthday, I got Alfie!

Your artwork for this book is utterly charming, elevating the text beautifully.  Did you have the text completed prior to the watercolor painting and inking?  Did the illustrations come first?  Or is it a combination of both? I am wondering about your process for this book.  

First of all, thank you! My process for every book begins with an instinct for what I want to paint, and then the writing follows as a way to justify that instinct.  It often is a painfully long process of figuring out how to construct the story with a lot of sketching of different dummies and rewriting and tearing my hair out (any of my friends will tell you that a perennial part of my writing process is wanting to throw the whole thing out).  But yes, I had finalized the text before starting to paint my images.   
However, after painting the final art for Alfie over many months, I reread it with the text and hated it.  I had spent so long creating the world in the art that when I looked at the writing again, it seemed to have zero of the same care and personality.  My editor at Abrams, Erica Finkel, is a saint.  She patiently sat with me in an empty office at 8pm before my book was supposed to be sent to the printer, and worked with me to rewrite every line of Alfie’s perspective.  For that, I am forever grateful, because the book got so much better.

You have included many wonderful extra details in your artwork?  What is one thing you hope readers will notice? (I noticed something entirely new when reading Alfie (The turtle that disappeared) again today.)

That makes me so happy! My favorite thing as an illustrator is to try to build enough into the art that those new surprises can happen.  I hope readers will notice how the walrus wears his pants.

I have an idea of why the rug pattern was chosen for the endpapers but I would love to know your reason for placing it there and for adding a portion of Alfie on the closing endpapers.

Well if I can earnestly and politely answer, “I don’t know, what do you think?” I’d love to hear your idea! To be honest, I was very stumped about the endpapers and they were due the next day and as I was falling asleep I just started talking to myself, I thought “okay, you have the book in your hand, you are looking at the cover, you open the book...what do you want to see?” and the rug popped in my head and felt good, so I did it.  I have spent many hours watching my Alfie crawl across carpets so adding him in the back came naturally and seemed to continue the story in a nice way.

It crossed my mind that the rug was a focal point for the first time Alfie and Nia were together with him roaming free. Also my thoughts on him being on the closing endpapers suggest he might be going on another adventure.

The use of a white canvas with the ink drawings of Nia and Alfie within the book and on the book case (case cover) is marvelous.  Were they always wordless and why or why not? Also, is there a particular reason Alfie is slightly airborne on the front of the book case?

Haha, I can’t help but feel that some of these questions are revealing that I sometimes don’t know why I make my own choices!  Initially I wanted the break to be two blank white pages, but, thankfully, Erica really pushed me to come up with something intentional for that moment. I knew it had to sort of exist outside of the story while relating to it, and I came across an old page of ink doodles in my studio with a little girl's silhouette and felt it click.  Alfie is floating on the case cover because it made me laugh.

I think it's going to make everyone laugh, Thyra.

Is the setting, the home and backyard, from your imagination or is it an actual place?

The setting is a mashup of my apartment in Brooklyn and my childhood home in Cambridge.

I know readers will want to know more about your Alfie, Thyra.  What kind of turtle is Alfie?

Omg, Margie, I AM NOT SURE!  We were told he was a Chinese Pond Turtle at the pet store, but he doesn’t look much like the photos.  It is actually also debateable whether he is, in fact, male.  I figure it doesn’t matter at this point? Alfie is just Alfie.

How old (approximately) is he now?

33 years young!

What is Alfie’s favorite food?

Alfie actually seems to prefer turtle food to the lettuce/carrots/guppies/crickets/grubs/hamburgers I tried to feed him when we were younger.

Thank you for chatting with me today Thyra.  It’s been a pleasure to learn more about Alfie (The turtle that disappeared), your process and the real-life Alfie.  I, and other readers too, certainly hope you have another project in the works.

To learn more about Thyra Heder please take a moment to visit her website and her blog.  You can get a sneak peek at her work space on her blog.  If you want to learn more about Alfie (The turtle that disappeared), the book, please follow the link attached to the title to read my blog post.

Also you can follow me on Facebook.com/thyrahederbooks for behind the scenes process photos and events.

Thyra Heder is the author-illustrator of Fraidyzoo and The Bear Report. In a starred review, Kirkus praised her latest picture book, Alfie, saying, "Heder takes readers on a journey about what it means to be a child with a new pet who sometimes loses its luster but never its worthiness of love." She is also an illustrator and storyboard artist whose clients include Kenneth Cole, Vogue and Coca-Cola. She graduated from Brown University in 2006 with a degree in art semiotics. She lives in Brooklyn.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Quest For Truth

There is an essence, a spark, deep within every living being.  At its most basic level it's a need to find the means to survive. How, when and where it grows is left to each individual.  No being has absolute control over what may happen but their response shapes the size and durability of the flame burning within them.

For some existing in extreme dire circumstances keeping the fire aglow is a minute by minute struggle.  In her debut novel for children, The Wonderling (Candlewick Press, September 26, 2017), author and illustrator Mira Bartok weaves the fabric of a world unlike any place you have previously encountered.  It is, like our world, full of darkness and light, good and evil, kindness and cruelty.  Thrumming beneath it all is ancient magic.

In Part The First: On the Mysterious Origins of the Wonderling & His Arduous Life at Miss Carbunkle's Home for Wayward & Misbegotten Creatures we read:

Chapter 1
An Inauspicious Beginning

BEFORE HE WAS CALLED THE WONDERLING, he had many names:  Puddlehead, Plonker, Groundling, and Spike, among others.  He didn't mind these much, not even Groundling.  The name he truly disliked was the first he ever remembered being called:  Number Thirteen.

This being referenced is no more than three feet tall, probably remaining this height his entire life.  He looks somewhat like a fox but walks upright; a mix of animal and human known as a groundling.  Unfortunately he only has one ear, a right ear.  He has no recollection of his life other than living at the Home ruled by harsh, demanding and thoroughly evil, Miss Carbunkle.  About his neck hangs a cord holding a medallion stamped with the number thirteen.  He does as the rules dictate and is quiet, trying to be invisible.  His demeanor invites, through no fault of his own, the attention and bullying of a sly, wily rat named Wire and his two cronies, Mug and Orlick.

Number Thirteen hides and keeps with him at all times a scrap of blue blanket monogrammed with a letter he believes to be M.  Tucked inside it is a tiny gold key.  These two connections to his past are his only solace.  He is without friends until the fateful day, a Sunday, when the wards of the Home are outside in the yard.  Doing something brave and dangerous, something he has never done, earns this groundling a steadfast friend.  Her name is Trinket.  She is a brilliant inventor, small and shaped like a kiwi but lacking any sort of wings.  She gives Number Thirteen the name of Arthur.

Friends can change your perspective.  Friends can visit you in the infirmary where you learn shocking facts about Miss Carbunkle and meet her niece, compassionate Nurse Linette.  Friends can tell you about your beautiful voice singing as you sleep.  Friends can and do help you escape.  Oh, yes, friends change everything.

Both Arthur and Trinket have questions needing answers.  What neither of them can imagine are these leading them to meet a young child living inside a tree with his family, discover the disparity in the shining city of Lumentown, live and work for a kind-hearted, thieving scoundrel, encounter The Songcatcher, suffer and live in fear in Gloomintown, a subterranean world beneath Lumentown, become friends with a valiant mouse, uncover a diabolical plot and travel with lightning speed on the back of a night crow as big as a horse.  As threads from Arthur's previous life are woven into his current, constantly shifting status challenges mount creating numerous life and death situations, necessitating instant decisions.  Readers will come to understand in some souls the spark is but a single note waiting to release a powerful song.

When thinking of this title penned by Mira Bartok it's as intricate and singular as each individual.  Layer after layer reveals a little bit more of the entire story but an aura of mystery and magic still remains at the satisfying conclusion.  The past, primeval and more current, figures prominently in the paths chosen by characters within the narrative.

Mira Bartok excels at world building with highly exquisite descriptions of places, seasons and weather.  This enhances the moods and outlooks of the characters.  Her characters through their thoughts, conversations and the narration are living, breathing beings molded by choices and fate.  They embody charity and wickedness in varying degrees. Here are some sample passages.

Two dim-witted mastiffs the size of calves stood chained together in front of the gate, barking incessantly and salivating so much that small puddles of drool gathered at their feet.  At night, beneath the eerie glow of the gaslight, the guard dogs resembled a slobbery Cerberus, the three-headed guardian of hell---minus one head, of course.  The dogs responded to one voice only, that of the headmistress, Miss Carbunkle, who ruled over her dominion with a cold, impenetrable heart.

Arthur heard a haunting sound.  It was the hoot of an owl.  He and Trinket watched its silhouette flash by, wings spread across the indigo sky, then disappear.

"Miss Carbunkle gives them a bad name," said Trinket.  She motioned upward with her beak.  "Owls, hawks, falcons and such.  Even Merlyn the magician had an owl as a friend." 

A gust of wind shuddered through the trees, and the two friends, a bit fearful, burrowed closer together beneath the old gray blanket.  Comforted, they lay still, gazing up at the sparkling night wrapped around them.

All of a sudden Trinket hopped out from under the blanket.  "Arthur! Make a wish! Do it right now!" 


"Make a wish.  It's the perfect night for it.  Come on!"

"...And without our dreams, we are nothing."

Rendered in ink, gouache and graphite the images created by Mira Bartok heighten the atmosphere of this title.  Beginning with the dust jacket in cool tones with hints of luster on the varnished elements, we are transported to Arthur's world.  We immediately wonder about the mechanical beetles and their part in this story.  On the back, to the left, is a depiction of the pamphlet advertising the warmth and welcome given to the wards of Miss Carbunkle's Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures. It is, without a doubt, a complete fabrication.

After a full length picture of Arthur beneath the text on the title page, we are treated to a map of The World Of The Wonderling.  Elegant illustrations are placed on the table of contents and each of the three parts.  Each chapter begins with a small visual and within some chapters other pictures are placed to elevate a moment.  Spot color is carefully placed on the otherwise sepia-toned images.

One of my favorite pictures of several is a loose oval taking up nearly a page.  It features Arthur and Trinket seeking shelter near the huge tree.  They are nestled under the old blanket gazing up at the starry sky.  Trinket is reaching toward Arthur certainly imploring him to make a wish.

It's easy to imagine reading this aloud to a gathered group of gals and guys.  They will hang on every word, begging you to keep reading The Wonderling written and illustrated by Mira Bartok. Each reader will literally reach a point where they can't stop reading compelled by this world, its inhabitants, the intertwining of their lives and the heroes who emerge.  I highly recommend you place a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Mira Bartok and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At Penguin Random House you can view several interior pages, including the map.  Publisher Candlewick Press has developed discussion questions.  There is a website dedicated to The Wonderling.  Teacher librarian, former Caldecott Committee member and blogger, Laura Given chats with Mira Bartok on her blog, LibLaura5.  There is an article posted at Publishers Weekly about The Wonderling prior to its publication.  Mira Bartok chats with Corinna Allen, Live at ALA, Books Between, Episode 35.  Please take a few minutes to watch this video.  It will endear you to Mira Bartok and her book completely.

UPDATE:  Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, chats with Mira Bartok at Watch. Connect. Read. October 25, 2017

Friday, October 20, 2017

A Can-Do Attitude

Where there's a will, there's a way

This old English proverb has been uttered for centuries usually by parents, mentors or best friends.  It's a small bit of encouragement which rings true.  When will and way coincide great things are achieved; dreams come true.

There will be times when your desires, your passion for a particular outcome, will appear downright silly to anyone but you.  Hamsters DON'T Fight Fires! (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 12, 2017) debut book by author Andrew Root with illustrations by Jessica Olien tells the tale of a hamster with a big idea.  When you consider the size of an average hamster is about six inches long, this little guy's ambitions are off the charts.

Hugo was a hamster.

As a hamster Hugo had certain stellar attributes; some being generosity, quality cuisine creator, careful eater and a dancer ranking up there with Fred Astaire.  Hugo was wise enough to know there were certain things at which he did not excel.  In addition to being short and not exactly strong, he was not what you would consider a good candidate for a career as a firefighter.

He could not shake his deep desire to be a firefighter because there were some aspects of the job, he knew he could do.  Hugo's willingness to help others plus his love of the fire engines and the attire of the firefighters were certainly assets.  His best friend Scarlett, a snake, shared her unlikely dream, encouraging him to persevere.

(Let's pause here for a second, reader.  If a hamster and a snake can be friends, perhaps Hugo has a chance at being a firefighter.)

With hope in his heart, Hugo had a chat with the chief at the fire station.  Unfortunately there was one problem after the other with the suits being too large the least of his obstacles.  Hugo was suddenly jolted out of his dejected thinking when the fire station received a call for help.  A fire was raging in Great Woods.

Before he knew what was happening he was given a too-big suit and was riding on the back of the fire truck.  At the site of the fire Hugo felt more frustrated than ever at his inability to help but a frightened 


sent him into creative action.  The fate of the baby bird and Hugo's career is left for you to discover.  Let's just say there's a new 

four-alarm firehouse chili

being cooked down at the station.

When Andrew Root begins this narrative with a simple declarative sentence we can immediately conjure a vision of the physical characteristics for Hugo. When Andrew continues with a list of his personality traits and those things at which he struggles, this gives readers a bit of comedy.  It's not all hamsters who can win running races or should avoid bowling.  You have to admit, too, the words hamster and firefighting are rarely seen in the same sentence together.

This is when the soul of the story is presented through the remarks of Scarlett, bolstering Hugo and helping him to maintain hope.  Andrew allows us to see Hugo's passion become tangible in his actions.  Here is a sample passage.

Hugo was still nervous, but he decided that Scarlett was right.
Even though he was small, perhaps he should try to become a firefighter.
He gathered his courage, walked down to the station house, and convinced
the chief to give him a chance.

When readers get a first look at the opened matching dust jacket and book case, they will be amazed to see a hamster holding a fire hose.  It's a fabulous design technique to have the spray of water make a circular frame around Hugo.  The use of primary and secondary colors for most of the book along with the heavier black outlines has huge appeal for the intended audience.  

To the left, on the back, set within a red canvas is one of the interior images.  Within the oval, Hugo is having a hard time sliding down the fire pole. It is a tad bit too high.  Bright orange covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Another interior image is featured beneath the text on the title page.

Using Photoshop the illustrations were created digitally by Jessica OlienTo enhance pacing their size varies from double-page spans to groups of small vignettes and to single-page pictures.  The thoughts of Hugo and Scarlett, their dreams, are shown in large loose circles like balloons.  Jessica adds her own bits of humor and reinforces the notion of working with perseverance toward your goal by, for example, showing Scarlett with her tail through the handle on a cup of coffee labeled NASA. (You have to read the book.)  Her use of color and the facial expressions on the characters heighten the emotion in each given situation. 

One of my favorite of many pictures is when Hugo is first riding on the back of the fire truck.  This spreads across two pages.  In the far right corner is a section of grass along the roadway.  From there to the left page edge is the road.  A blue car is driving away at the top of the right side.  Most of the pages are filled with the back of the fire truck.  We can see the ladder on the top.  Hanging on to the back is the chief, a raccoon.  Next to him on the left is Hugo, gripping the edge for dear life.  His mouth is wide open.  (I wonder what he is saying.)

Younger readers will easily identify with Hugo in Hamsters DON'T Fight Fires! written by Andrew Root with illustrations by Jessica Olien.  They will comprehend size should not hamper your dreams while enjoying Hugo's journey.  I can't wait to share this title with readers.  You should share it with your readers too. They will find Hugo absolutely adorable.

To learn more about Andrew Root and Jessica Olien and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  The book trailer was premiered at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's website, Watch. Connect. Read.  I believe you are not only going to enjoy the fresh, snappy trailer but the manner in which Andrew completes John's sentences.