Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Everyone Needs A Chicken . . . Maybe

Not for the first time and hopefully not for the last time, during read aloud today several groups of students and I were laughing out loud . . . repeatedly.  Sometimes it was spontaneous but other times for a split second we would look at each other before bursting into gales of giggles.  These shared moments when the narrative reaches out and touches our collective and universal senses of humor are invaluable.

Even after the book cover is closed, the euphoria remains.  Everyone walks with a lighter step.  When debut author Julie Falatko and debut illustrator Tim Miller introduced readers to an agitated alligator and a bothersome bird in their first collaboration, Snappsy The Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!)(VikingPenguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House L. L.C., February 2, 2016), readers could literally not keep a straight face.  I think it's safe to say, this remains truer than true in the second book, Snappsy The Alligator And His Best Friend Forever! (Probably) (Viking, Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, October 3, 2017).

Snappsy the alligator was the most interesting reptile in the whole world.

As the narrator proceeds to praise all the attributes of Snappsy in his usual extravagant manner, Snappsy is a tad bit uncomfortable with this declaration of friendship.  As the narrator, the chicken, continues proclaiming their closeness, Snappsy turns to exist his own home to go into town.  He requests to go alone.

Before he can even get out the door, the chicken tries to stop him with alternate activities like a sleepover.  Ever the rational one, Snappsy does remind him it's still morning.  When Snappsy finally leaves and arrives at the library, the chicken follows him like a shadow, remarking that they need a book on sleepovers.  Snappsy is not happy.  He craves quiet.  He is a solo sort of soul.

With every one of Snappsy's voiced ideas the chicken counters with ridiculous replies.  Who wears pizza on their heads like hats?  As they leave the grocery store, Snappsy has a handful of vegetables in the cart.  The chicken creates an overflowing pyramid with his selections.  As they get closer and closer to Snappsy's house, Snappsy get more and more irritated.

With every fresh announcement of their BFF-ness by the chicken, Snappsy's exasperation elevates.  (He does learn vital information about the chicken.)  With every offered opinion of what they should be doing, Snappsy's negativeness accelerates.  He snaps.

Finally in the absence of this nuisance, Snappsy can engage in his most desired pursuits.  Or can he?  The great manipulator strikes again.  And the chicken has one final twist to add to this tale.

The fabulous gift of comedic timing we saw in the first book is prevalent in this companion title.  Julie Falatko supplies a contrast in the manner in which the story is told by having not only a dueling dialogue but a narrative text which provides additional contrasts.  You could say the opposites attract theory is full-blown in this book.  For every outrageous, quirky remark the chicken makes, Snappsy gives a decidedly common sense answer.  Here is a sample passage.

Narrator:  Snappsy the alligator, who only occasionally stayed at home by
himself, set off to plan for a night of fun with his very best friend.

Snappsy:  I want to check 
out the new smoothie place.

The chicken:  Smoothies are for a morning of
boring.  Let's stop for popcorn!
Scary movies!

The image on the front of the dust jacket is the relationship of Snappsy and the chicken in a nutshell; both are determined but one is more optimistic about their friendship than the other.  In case readers are wondering why the setting is during the evening, a revelation of the book case offers a possible explanation. To the left, on the back of the dust jacket, within a thin white frame is Snappsy walking to town.  On the winding path, down the hill from his house and behind him are a line of animals, presumably in a conga line.  Beneath this illustration on the same nighttime canvas are two mice.  It looks as though they have popped up from behind the ISBN.  One is holding a magnifying glass and looking at the other.

The book case is fantastic!  That's all I am going to say.  I want you to have the distinct pleasure of laughing loud and long when you see the front and the back.  SQUEAK!  SQUEAK!  SQUEAK!  

On the opening and closing endpapers seventeen items you might see at a sleepover (the chicken's kind of sleepover) have been placed in three rows on a bright, white background.  Readers are treated to a continuation of the visual story from the book case on the title page. Rendered in

brush and ink and computer hocus-pocus

the pictures range in size from two pages to single pages and to several images on a single page with thin black lines framing them.  In keeping with the pacing and to emphasize a point Tim Miller also extends an image to the page edge or creates an oval shape with no frame.  In keeping with design balance and interest, elements sometimes break an obvious frame. 

The expressions on the faces of Snappsy and the chicken as well as their body language are downright hilarious.  Remember the two mice above the ISBN?  Can you find them again? 

One of my many favorite illustrations is the first one.  It is spread across two pages.  We are shown an interior of Snappsy's bathroom. (How can he have a bathroom this big inside that tiny wooden home?)  Snappsy is standing in front of the sink brushing his teeth.  Over the sink is a mirror but he is looking behind himself at the chicken who happens to be standing on the toilet seat.  The chicken is talking and holding this very book.  On a rack next to the sink hangs a towel with an embroidered initial S.  Next to the toilet is a magazine titled Smoothies Monthly.  A vase of tulips is on a small table.

As soon as you look at the book's dust jacket and book case you know you are holding a laughter generator in your hands.  Snappsy The Alligator And His Best Friend Forever! (Probably) written by Julie Falatko with illustrations by Tim Miller is loaded with contrasts as a friendship unfolds.  The text and the images work in perfect harmony to convey to readers the uneven line these two individuals follow toward those results.  When it comes to this chicken, you can be assured of one surprise after another.  You'll certainly want this companion title on both your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Julie Falatko and Tim Miller and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access the websites.  Julie has two very funny videos on her site about this book.  One refers to the first look at the book case and the other introduces us to this story.  (I love the dogs, Julie.)  At the publisher's website you can see one portion of the endpapers.  Julie talks about this book at the Nerdy Book Club.  This book is one of several titles highlighted by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  You get a peek at more interior images.  Tim Miller is interviewed at Brightly.  At KidLit TV Tim show us how to draw characters from Snappsy The Alligator and Moo Moo in a Tutu.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Writing Your Own Magic

We see them walk in and out of our lives every single day of the school year.  If we are fortunate to be working in the place where we teach, we meet and greet them when we are out and about in our communities.  As educators we are a significant part of our students' lives.  We make a difference.

Regardless of our grade level or subject area, we are teaching people.  We are making sure, through them, hope is always present.  We need to ask ourselves constantly if what we are doing with and for them is going to make their world better.  When she was seventeen years old Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  In her debut picture book, Malala's Magic Pencil (Little, Brown And Company, October 3, 2017) with illustrations by Kerascoet, Malala tells her story for all audiences.  This woman believes in magic.  She believes in herself.

Do you believe in magic?

Malala and her brothers used to watch a television show about a boy who had a magic pencil.  He could draw whatever was necessary to alleviate his problems.  Malala wished for a pencil as magical as his pencil was.

She dreamed of those things she would immediately correct; most of them affecting her personally.  Then her focus shifted to her family; beautiful clothing for a beautiful mother, buildings to house the children her father was educating in their valley and a real ball for her brothers.  The stuffed sock was less than ideal for their games.

Each night she wished for that pencil.  Each day her cupboard was empty.  One day as she was taking garbage to the nearby dump, the sight of children working among the trash filled her head with questions.  After a conversation with her beloved father the value of education and the necessity for all to be educated equally without cost was weighing on her mind and heart.  Her use for the magic pencil changed again.

Trying harder than ever to excel in her studies Malala was disheartened by the order given by

powerful and dangerous men

forbidding girls to attend school.  Soon only a handful of girls were attending classes.  The world needed to know, so Malala used a pencil to journal what was happening in her valley.  She wrote.  She spoke.  She was a champion for girls.  Her popularity increased to the point those men knew she needed to be stopped.  She was not quieted.

Their unsuccessful attempt enlarged her influence.  Others joined Malala and they still are today.  This girl, this woman, used her pencil to form the best magic of all, hope for girls and young women around the globe.

With her initial question Malala Yousafzai opens the door of possibilities.  In her own voice she is inviting us to follow her on her journey of discovering magic.  Page by page she explains how her use of a wished-for magic pencil grows as her perspective shifts.  She expands her thinking from herself to the world as a whole. With her words we clearly sense her desire for such a pencil.  With her words, layer after layer is being added toward her ultimate realization.  Here are several passages.

That night I thought about families who didn't have enough
food.  And the girl who couldn't go to school.  And even about
how when I was older, I would be expected to cook and clean
for my brothers, because where I came from, many girls
weren't allowed to become what they dreamed of.

I knew then that if I had the magic pencil, I would use it
to draw a better world, a peaceful world.

The matching dust jacket and book case are stunning in the use of color and design.  The white background elevates the gold, blue and shades of pink.  The golden foil on the jacket is also used on the case.  The tiny elegant elements flowing from Malala's pencil are symbols of her accomplishments and the focus of her continued work.  To the left, on the back of the jacket and case, a younger Malala is walking home from school carrying a backpack.  With a notebook and pencil in her hands, she continues to write of the beauty she wishes in her world.  Gold flowers and a bird are etched over a gorgeous vision of her valley filled with homes and mountains in the background.  This landscape is done in blue, purple and yellow.

The opening and closing endpapers and first and last page initially appear as a pattern of white blossoms on gold.  Closer inspection discloses the blooms to consist of opened notebooks and pencils. Delicate details appear in the spaces.  A continuation of the image found on the back of the jacket and case spans across two pages for the first sentence in this story.  (I can already hear the gasps when I read this aloud with students.)


in ink and watercolor on cold-pressed paper by Kerascoet and separated by Naewe

the illustrations alter in their size based upon the narrative.  The choice of colors placed on the backgrounds draws our attention immediately to the people.  Throughout the title the use of gold foil supplies readers with a sure knowledge in the value of magic.  The watercolor washes and intricate lines convey gentleness filled with strength.  You can feel a power flourishing.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  On the left Malala is using a magic pencil to alter the landscape on one of the streets in her community.  Many of the buildings are ruined.  She is reaching up to reconstruct them to their original grandeur.  Her drawing goes across the gutter all the way to the right page edge.  Lush trees and bushes line a path in gold.  Children, girls and boys dressed in colorful clothing, are walking together freely and carrying backpacks.  They are sharing their experiences after a day of school.

If you are looking for a book to reflect the impact of a single individual, Malala's Magic Pen written by Malala Yousafzai with illustrations by Kerascoet is a powerful example to share with readers of all ages.  At the close of the book Malala writes a letter to readers offering further explanations.  There is also another page dedicated to her life accomplishments to date.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.  It needs to be shared with readers often.

To learn more about Malala Yousafzai and Kerascoet and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Kerascoet maintains an Instagram account.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., he interviews Malala Yousafzai.  The book trailer is there along with another video of Malala Yousafzai as a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Kerascoet is composed of the husband and wife team of Sebastien Cosset and Marie Pommepuy. They are interviewed at The Comic Journal.

Please be sure to visit Kit Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to discover the titles posted by other bloggers this week participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Nighttime Game

There's heightened excitement when familiar childhood games are played as dusk is spreading throughout a neighborhood.  You can hear it in the whoops and laughter of the children.  The new lighting changes everyday objects into otherworldly shapes.  It's much easier and a whole lot more fun to conceal yourself from others.

In the newest title featuring a loving mother bear and her lovable cub a setting sun signals the start of a new adventure.  First introduced to us in Baby Bear Sees Blue (Beach Lane Books, February 7, 2012) and returning in Baby Bear Counts One (Beach Lane Books, September 24, 2013), the duo have returned in WHERE, oh where, is baby bear? (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, October 17, 2017) written and illustrated by the talented author illustrator Ashley Wolff.  Playfulness and patience radiate from the pages.

One by one, bats fly out of the deep, dark den.
"Where are they going?" asks Baby Bear.
"They are going to look for food," says Mama Bear.

Baby Bear immediately requests to participate in a nighttime exploration to look for food, too.  Mama Bear agrees willingly.  As soon as she steps out of the den, Baby Bear is nowhere to be found.  She calls for him using the title words.  He joyfully replies:

"Here I am, Mama," says Baby Bear.
"Inside the mossy log." 

Soon Mama Bear finds tasty berries but when she pauses in her eating Baby Bear has vanished again.  When she shouts out the expected phrase, he replies from above her.  He has climbed a birch tree and is hanging from a branch.

Mama Bear finds a fresh trout, cool drinking water and delicious dandelion greens.  Baby Bear manages to hide in all those places.  He cleverly locates himself behind, between and on top of various natural formations. 

Finally full of fresh fare, the mother suggests they walk toward home.  Their path winds around all the areas they have visited.  Back at the den, in a gentle, soothing reversal, Baby Bear has a question.  Mama Bear replies with comforting words as old as time.

With every narrative sentence and conversation Ashley Wolff draws readers into the world of Baby Bear and Mama Bear.  If we close our eyes, we find each adjective and verb supplies us with a picture of their home and the surrounding landscape.  Her word combinations and repetitious phrases create a lullaby, a melody of calls and responses.  Along with being introduced to a variety of prepositions we come to understand the typical menu of a foraging adult bear and the places containing those particular items.   Here are three more sentences.

Mama Bear chews a mouthful of dandelions.
But when she looks around,
Baby Bear is nowhere in sight.
"Where, oh where, is Baby Bear?" calls Mama.

When looking at the open matching dust jacket and book case, it's easy to see the light-hearted spirit of Baby Bear shining nearly as bright as the full moon behind him.  To the left, on the back, Mama Bear, dandelion blossoms and leaves in her mouth, gazes up at Baby Bear with affection.  The deep blue sky with the sprinkling of stars makes for a splendid canvas on which to place the bears.  The chipmunk is the first of many woodland, pond, river and field creatures who share the night with Baby Bear and Mama Bear. This large image is similar to an interior picture with one discernible difference.

The opening and closing endpapers are a light, bright blue.  On the title page an owl flies near the opening of the den.  Beneath him a log is partially covered in mushrooms, moss and ferns.  A frog watches the bird cautiously. 

Rendered by

 printing linoleum blocks in black on Arches Cover paper and then hand-colored with watercolor

the illustrations, with the exception of the title and verso/dedication pages, span two pages. (The verso/dedication page is at the end and features the owl again.)  Each image reflects the time of day with the hues used in the sky.  Exquisite, fine lines supply readers with captivating scenes around the den.

In each picture Ashley Wolff has added flora and fauna appropriate to the habitat.  Readers will enjoy looking for the plants and animals as well as catching glimpses of Baby Bear as he hides.  A pleasing pacing is generated with changes in point of view.  When Mama Bear notices her cub is missing the scene is more panoramic.  When she finds him, we are closer to them.  In one lovely illustration we are able to see the entire expanse of where they roam during their evening journey.

One of my favorite of many pictures is when Baby Bear is found in the birch tree.  The stars are not quite out yet.  A hint of golden yellow can be seen along the bottom, left side of the page.  On the left Baby Bear is hanging upside down from a birch branch looking over his shoulders at Mama Bear.  On the right she is looking up at him.  Smaller branches covered with birch leaves frame the bears and balance the design on the top of the right side.

To have this book, WHERE, oh where, is baby bear?, written and illustrated by Ashley Wolff, released this fall is like getting an early Christmas present.  It was at the end of my post on the second title that I wished for another Baby Bear and Mama Bear adventure.  Each book is as endearing as its predecessor.  Each one reaches out to readers enveloping them in warmth and, without them knowing it, teaching them new concepts.  You need to have this title on both your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Ashley Wolff and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  You really need to visit her blog here to enjoy a full range of artwork.  At the publisher's website you can enjoy interior images.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Grow Into Your True Self

Sometimes it is very well hidden or it might be the first thing you notice about an individual.  It's a condition which can appear suddenly or it may have formed over a long period of time.  Whatever the circumstances, you want to do everything you can to reverse the course which this person seems to be following.  Their self-esteem is at rock bottom.

These children (and adults) need to realize there are choices.  Every person has the potential to be who they want to be.  The Bad Seed (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, August 29, 2017) written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald takes the definition of two words and turns it around for readers.  It shows those readers who feel their lives are locked in stone a way to break free.

I'm a bad seed.
A baaaaaaaaaaad seed.

As the seed walks by the other seeds they point and confirm what he believes, out loud and in whispers when they think he can't hear them.  He hears every word.  In case readers might not believe he is as truly bad as everyone thinks, he lists his dastardly deeds.

Of his ten stated offenses here are several:

I never wash my hands.   Or my feet.

I lie about pointless stuff.

I cut in line.  Every time.

Of course the entire list of his faults is considerably longer because he is the worst kind of character.  He freely admits he has absolutely no control over his actions.

At this point we are privy to his backstory.  He grows up happy among the numerous members of his family on a sunflower.  As the sunflower ages, disaster strikes in the form of sunflower seeds being harvested.  To the seed's horror he finds himself in a bag and barely escapes with his life because of a huge spit.

As his tale continues, from then on his attitude is NOT of gratitude.  His aimless drifting on the streets hardens his heart.  Surprisingly enough a huge decision is finally made by this bad seed.  He's tired of being a cranky creature.  Does he still do bad things?  Does he do good things?  Let's just say he likes what he's hearing now much better.

The play on the two words, bad seed, is brilliant on the part of Jory John.  By definition a bad seed has no hope of redemption; their condition is a part of their essential nature.  His repetition of key phrases emphasizes the deep-seated mood of this seed.  As John reveals the conditions placing this seed in the bad category and the reason for his attitude, our understanding is increased.  We realize, like the seed does eventually, hope is present.  After the seed's change of heart, John makes several profound statements. Here are a few more sentences which serve as examples of the rhythm created by Jory John's writing.

But I can hear them.  I have good hearing for a seed.

How bad am I?

You really want to know?

The unique illustrative technique, scanned watercolor textures and digital paint, used by Pete Oswald is evident on the matching dust jacket and book case.  The limited color palette of the faded background buildings, which is employed in many parts of the book, focuses our attention on the seeds.  Evidently the bad seed is wickedly happy about using the crayon in his hand to announce the condition of his character.  To the left, on the back, in a different view of the same spot, mother seeds are standing with their children.  They are declaring two different opinions about the bad seed.  One, in the first bit of comedy, is covering her baby's eyes.

On the rustic red endpapers thick white outlines of other seeds show every single one of the twenty-eight smiling.  The bad seed is frowning. (Careful readers will note a change in the closing endpapers.) The thicker, matte-finished paper superbly highlights the images made by Oswald.

With each page turn we are treated to different perspectives.  When the bad seed declares

A baaaaaaaaaaad seed.

all we see is his eyes, freckles and frown along with a portion of his body above these facial elements.  When the other seeds are talking it's a collage of moments spread over two pages.  Hilarity is part of the pictures in Oswald's interpretation of the words.  When we read

I cut in line.  Every time.

three unhappy seeds, two of which are voicing their disgust, are waiting in line to go to the bathroom.  The bad seed cuts ahead and opens the door to a porta-potty.  What makes readers pause, though, is the attention to details; the variety of expressions on the seeds' faces, their tiny arms and hands, the shifts in point-of-view and the use of color to denote mood.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the large sunflower taking up nearly a single page.  In the center of the blossom is a collection of seeds, the bad seed's family.  They are cheerfully engaged in a variety of activities; playing tambourines, maracas, a guitar and a horn, painting, writing in a journal, laughing, talking and singing.  This bright yellow flower at the edge of a leafy stem is like the sun itself in a pale blue sky.

As soon as you read The Bad Seed written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald you'll get the urge to share it with others as soon as possible.  The text and images work so splendidly together, it invites you to read it aloud.  I can't wait to see what students think of it this week.  I'm know there will be discussions.  Please make sure you have a copy on your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Jory John and Pete Oswald and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Pete Oswald maintains an Instagram account. Enjoy the book trailer.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

My True Love Gave To Me

Toward the end of November and early December many households traditionally begin to get out their Christmas decorations.  It's a time for family and friends to gather, opening up boxes and containers filled with all the trimmings commemorating the season.  Even if you are alone, the memories each represents surround you, keeping you company.

These items are symbols of specific Christmases, gifts given to remind us of particular individuals and events, portraits of our favorite things or depictions of a beloved Christmas carol.  For those who embrace this holiday and are true book nerds, it's also a time to revisit your collection of holiday titles.  Among my one hundred sixty-two volumes are a small group of books highlighting various versions of the carol The Twelve Day of Christmas.  No one is certain of the carol's origin; it is believed to have started as a game. What we can establish without a shadow of a doubt is the hilarity found in The Twelve Days Of Christmas (Disney Hyperion, September 12, 2017) written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli. 

On the FIRST day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me . . .

As an elephant wearing a Santa hat enters a room, another elephant is delighted with this first gift.  An older elephant, a parent, immediately has misgivings.  What are they going to do with a pear tree and a bird?

As each verse unfolds, the words convey the familiar presents are being delivered with joy by the giver to an equally delighted receiver.  By the third day the larger elephant is genuinely dismayed.  By day four this elephant is getting a bit grumpy as the other two are happier and happier. On day five when the gift-bearing, Santa-hat-wearing elephant appears outside their home, the parent elephant is mad.

Relief is evident when five golden rings are delivered.  This soothing feeling is short-lived though.  Days six and seven have more birds arriving in the room.  Each of the following days has a menagerie of creatures filling the space normally shared by the parent and child elephant.  The two younger elephants are oblivious of the other's discontent.

On the twelfth day, the older, larger elephant has reached a breaking point.  Before the final verse is uttered everyone stops.  They are stunned into silence.  The recipient of these twelve days of Christmas gifts makes a gesture which changes the entire atmosphere.  The final page, a wordless image, will assuredly have readers laughing knowingly.

In the making of picture books page turns and pacing are critical to the success of a title.  In this book Greg Pizzoli adheres to the most familiar words for this carol.  His placement of the text is superb.  This allows him to use his illustrations to create the humor generated by the contrast in reactions to the gifts. 

Upon opening the dust jacket readers can see by holding it to the light portions are varnished and foil has been used as an accent.  Some of the characters used by Greg Pizzoli in his version of this song are featured around the Christmas tree.  The background of garlands, Pizzoli red, stars and snow is continued to the left, on the back.  A replica of the tree is a space for every single gift given.  As a base for the tree five, bowed presents including the ISBN are underneath it.

The book case is a crisp white with two decorative borders along the top and bottom, one in tiny red checks and the other of green with a pattern of white Xs alternating with white flowers with red centers.  To left on the back is a Christmas tree, candy canes, hearts and yellow stars.  On the front, to the right, is the title with the two younger elephants, the house, stars and hearts.  The technique used to depict these elements mirrors embroidery but could also be digital as if written in code.  (I like that this is open to the interpretation of the reader.)

The opening and closing endpapers are green with a pattern of stars, circles and dots in white, smaller dark gold dots, and ornaments in pale green, white and red with different designs.  Turning to the first page we see the Santa-hat-wearing elephant reading a book.  (Perhaps it's this one.) Another page turn gives us the title page with a crackling fire burning in the fireplace.  Two stockings hang from the mantle.

Rendered in silkscreen with digital collage the illustrations each span two pages.  Most of them have a white background with the paler red carpet along the bottom.  When we get to the twelfth day, the background goes black including the three elephants, two happy and one furious.  Then Greg dedicates a single page to each of the twelve days except for the third and second day which share a page.  Then two double-page wordless pictures continue the story before the final verse is sung on the third large image.  This is followed by the single page surprise.

The color palette is limited but beautifully in keeping with the song and the holiday.  Greg Pizzoli conveys a full range of emotion with a few lines, looks in the characters' eyes and body posture.  The two elephants and all the gift critters (The maids are mice, the ladies are cats, the lords are frogs, the pipers are rabbits and the drummers are pigs.) are full of Christmas cheer and wearing appropriate attire. (Careful readers will see a familiar crocodile.) This is in direct contrast to the parent, larger, elephant who goes from dismayed to full-blown anger.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the fifth day of Christmas.  On the left the two true loves are holding the five rings between them.  The two turtle doves wearing tiny Santa hats are seated near them as are two of the four calling birds.  To the right the partridge is sitting in the pear tree, the three beret-wearing French hens are moving about and the two other calling birds are flying above the larger elephant.  This parent has just spoken PHEW!  The parent is holding a large bag labeled BULK BIRDSEED.  A nearby bowl is filled with seed.

This title, The Twelve Days of Christmas, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli is the kind of present sure to bring on merriment every time it is opened.  Laughter is meant to be shared.  Shared laughter creates unforgettable memories.  You'll want to add this book to both your personal and professional collections.  

To learn more about Greg Pizzoli and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Greg has a blog here.  You can follow Greg on Instagram.  Greg is interviewed at Blue Willow Bookshop, 88 Cups Of Tea (podcast)and Art Of The Picture Book.  

Mental Floss has an article you will want to read titled 12 Things You Might Not Know About "The Twelve Days of Christmas"

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #7

No two holiday celebrations are ever alike.  Despite all our planning, sometimes life has a way of taking control. Weather, health and just plain goofy happenings can change everything within hours, minutes or seconds.  

This year two entirely different books, with older release dates, were used as expressions of gratitude when reading aloud with students.  The six previous posts, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #2, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #3, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #4, Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #5, and Thanksgiving Treasures-Tradition #6, have served to ask us not only what this holiday means to us, but the value of each and every day.

It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish folk tale (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1976) retold and with pictures by Margot Zemach (a Caldecott Medalist for Duffy and the Devil: a Cornish tale and a Caldecott Honor winner for The Judge:  An Untrue Tale and for this title) examines the life of a man believing he has reached his limits.  To clarify, he lived in one room with his mother, wife and their six children.  The crowded conditions were very hard on everyone.  Quarreling and crying were daily occurrences.  It was even worse in the winter.

One day he sought the advice of the Rabbi.  The man was desperate for a solution, agreeing to do whatever the Rabbi suggested to lessen the noise.  The first thing the Rabbi did was to ask the man if he had any animals, any fowl. The man's reply prompted the Rabbi to tell him to bring the chickens, rooster and goose into his home.

As you can imagine now on top of the quarreling and crying there was honking, crowing and clucking.  Unable to bear the commotion any longer, the man visited the Rabbi again.  The wise man's next question, the man's reply and the Rabbi's recommendation were puzzling to the man but he did it.

The ruckus was much worse.  On his third visit to the Rabbi, the man was dumbfounded with his guidance but he reluctantly did it.  Now the poor man had crying, quarreling, honking, clucking, crowing, wild butting and massive trampling. Nearly out of his mind, he went to the Rabbi for his fourth visit.  Thrilled with the Rabbi's wonderful words, he ran home and did exactly as the Rabbi encouraged him to do.  Did the man go back to the Rabbi again?  He did.  The gift of family is a rare gift indeed.

In her retelling of this tale Margot Zemach creates a storytelling cadence with the repetition of key phrases as each episode is recounted.  She heightens the tension by altering the words to describe the man's reaction to the Rabbi's advice.  Each time he is more perplexed by the conversations he has with the Rabbi.  He actually wonders if the Rabbi is crazy.  This also contributes to the comedy in this story.  Here is a passage.

"Holy Rabbi," he cried, "see what a misfortune has befallen me.  Now with the crying and quarreling, with the honking, clucking, and crowing, there are feathers in the soup.  Rabbi, it couldn't be worse.  Help me, please."

The Rabbi listened and thought.  At last he said, "Tell me, do you happen to have a goat?"

"Oh, yes, I do have an old goat, but he's not worth much."

"Excellent," said the Rabbi.  "Now go home and take the old goat into your hut to live with you."

"Ah, no!  Do you really mean it, Rabbi?" cried the man.

"Come, come now, my good man, and do as I say at once,"  said the Rabbi.

Unfolding the dust jacket reveals a background which continues from the left (back) edge to the right (front) edge. In the scene on the back the poor unfortunate man is stepping outside his hut into a snowy evening.  A crescent moon is hanging in the sky.  Smoke is coming from his chimney and the small home near his hut.  On the front we can easily see the chaos from having nine people living in a single room.  The one older child sleeping seems like a miracle.  The book case is blue cloth.  The opening and closing endpapers are a shade of deep rose.

In the single-page picture opposite the title page, the man and his wife are walking down the village's road across a bridge as his mother and six children create a rumpus ahead and behind them.  Margot Zemach alternates between single-page pictures, images crossing the gutter and two-page illustrations.  Most of the single-page pictures are interior views of the home.  The larger pictures give readers a glimpse of life in this small community as well as the visits to the Rabbi.  Sometimes Margot Zemach blends the visits to the Rabbi with views of the wildness inside the man's home.

With her illustrations Margot Zemach elevates the narrative beautifully.  One of my many favorite illustrations is when the man has returned home after a visit to the Rabbi.  It spans two pages.  On the right another man is riding in a cart drawn by a single horse and crossing a small bridge to the poor unfortunate man's yard on the left.  Behind the man in the cart is a large home with turrets.  In the yard the poor unfortunate man is untying his goat.  Three of the younger children are playing outside in the yard.  Another child is running behind the hut.  The man's wife is standing outside the hut's door.  By her posture, the man has just informed her the goat is coming inside to live.  The sun is shining in a winter sky.

'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving (Orchard Books, September 1, 1990) with story and pictures by Dav Pilkey is a rewording of the famous Clement C. Moore Christmas poem.  It begins with a field trip on the day before Thanksgiving.  A fall breeze blows leaves around eight students boarding a school bus. 

The children sing as the bus bumps along down the road.  They do have visions in their minds...of drumsticks.  As their teacher drives the bus down the winding route, a chorus of noise has them lowering their windows.

They have arrived at Farmer Mack Nuggett's turkey farm.  Eight tiny turkeys can hardly wait for the man dressed in denim to open the gate.  He calls them by name.  It's love at first sight between the fowl and the children.  They play together with total bliss until one of the little girl's notices an ax by the door.

When the children hear what is going to happen to the turkeys that night, there is no consoling them.  As the sun disappears beneath the horizon and stars fill the sky, the teacher and Farmer Mack Nuggett run to the well to get the children a sip of water to soothe them.  The two adults return to find the children much calmer and fatter.  They struggle to board the bus but it soon takes off into the night.  The next day, Thanksgiving feasts in eight homes have an additional member in their family sitting at the table.  The meal in each is a delectable vegetarian delight.

Dav Pilkey has a gift for selecting the right words to convey the exact mood in the exact moment.  His verses are brimming with humor.  None of the rhymes are forced but flow easily.  The name of the farmer makes reference to a fast food chain.  The names of the turkeys, Ollie, Stanley, Larry, Moe, Wally, Beaver, Shemp and Groucho give a nod to famous comedians and the television show Leave It To Beaver featuring "Beaver" and Wally Cleaver which ran from 1957 to 1963.  Here are two verses.

The turkeys were chunky
With smiley, beaked faces,
And they greeted the children
With downy embraces.

So out through the barnyard
They ran and they flew,
And they gobbled and giggled
As friends sometimes do.

The swirling blue on blue background shown on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case is used to the left on the back.  The scene of the children running and laughing with the turkeys continues past the spine to the far left of the back.  This image is one of sheer happiness.  Bright yellow colors the opening and closing endpapers.  It's the same hue found on the turkeys' beaks.  On the title page beneath the text a turkey runs across the page with whorls of pale blue marking his path.

Autumn leaves tumble across the verso and dedication pages.  Under the dedication 

For Cyndi and Nate

Dav Pilkey has this quote:

". . .And what is done with love is well done."
---Vincent Van Gogh

Full color two-page pictures supply liveliness to the narrative lifting the level of emotional impact.  When the little girl inquires about the ax, Dav has the teacher and Farmer Mack Nuggett standing to the left in a pose reminiscent of the American Gothic by Grant Wood.  As night begins to descend and the children put their plan into place, readers come to understand why Dav includes the Vincent Van Gogh quote.  

His sky starts to have more texture as the stars appear.  As the children are climbing the steps on the bus, the sky looks like Van Gogh's Starry Night with a huge crescent moon rising and lighting the ride home.  In the subsequent pictures the sky is filled with large, dotted pale blue swirls on darker blue.  On Thanksgiving evening the crescent moon is accompanied by large yellow stars.  Love is in the air.

One of my many favorite pictures is similar to the one on the dust jacket and book case.  The children from all different ethnic backgrounds and wearing all types of bright-colored clothing are leaping and running across the barnyard from left to right.  Their arms are lifted in joy and their faces are filled with laughter.  Two of the turkeys are flying above them and the others are keeping pace with the girls and boys on the ground.  Fall leaves are blowing among them.

It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish folk tale written and illustrated by Margot Zemach and 'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving story and pictures by Dav Pilkey are two classic tales enjoyed by students.  Both exhibit gratitude for what we have and for kindness extended by others.  (Eight turkeys are completely relieved as are their young friends.)  I can't imagine a celebration of giving thanks without these books.

At the publisher's website for It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish folk tale you can view several interior images. To learn more about Dav Pilkey and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  I think you'll enjoy this interview of Dav at Scholastic BookClubs Kids.    

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Fire of Courage Burned Within

From the time they are a child their path is clear.  Each choice they make regardless of their circumstances is intended to keep them heading in the same direction.  For these people the journey is in service of others.  For these people help is given, without question, for the betterment of others; especially those lacking the same rights as others.

She lived for nearly a century.  Before She Was Harriet (Holiday House, November 7, 2017) written by Lesa Cline-Ransome with illustrations by James E. Ransome is a brilliant collaboration.  It is an eloquent portrait of a champion for American people. 

Here she sits
an old woman
tired and worn
her legs stiff
her back achy

In the years before this day when she is seated waiting, this woman, Harriet Tubman achieved remarkable triumphs for many people.  She changed lives, hundreds of lives.  As a suffragist she fought for the rights of women.  Her efforts were realized seven years after her death when women acquired the right to vote.

Prior to this time she led Union troops on a successful raid enabling more than seven hundred slaves to obtain their freedom.  On this night in June 1863 history was made on and along the Combahee River.  Her skill in navigating from the south to the north made her invaluable in obtaining information for the Union army as a spy during the Civil War.  Her knowledge of healing and natural remedies assisted her in her role as a nurse for soldiers.

In reading of Harriet bringing her own parents to freedom, escaping their master from the south into Canada, you know it was an event like no other.  The shared joy between the trio must have been immeasurable.  This is why they called her Moses.  She led one successful trip after another on the Underground Railroad.  

Known as Minty she worked as a slave in Maryland and also for other owners toiling in the fields.  She knew the sting of the lash.  As a child her given name was Araminta.  It was her father who taught her to survive in the woods and look to the constellations in the night sky for guidance. She was not born in freedom but every step she took was toward it.  

It is a poem.  It is a life story.  Milestones in this extraordinary woman's life are woven into a narrative of exquisite, descriptive respect by author Lesa Cline-Ransome.

As each layer builds backward from Harriet as an old woman we are acquainted with her many accomplishments beginning with her childhood.  Her strength and bravery inspire us all.  Lesa Cline-Ransome brings us full circle back to the elder Harriet.  The use of no punctuation means, to me, Harriet and the effects of her presence will always be with us.  Here is a passage.

Before she was an old woman
she was a suffragist
a voice for women
who had none
in marriages
in courts
in voting booths
before her voice became 
soft and raspy
it was loud
and angry
rising above injustice

Upon opening, unfolding, the matching dust jacket and book case first as a young girl on the right, looking to the stars, Araminta is learning.  These nocturnal pinpricks of light are a map in which she will be able to lead hundreds to new lives, free lives.  To the left, within a circle like the moon on the right, we see an older Harriet crossing a stream with slaves, leading them to safety.  Above the image are the words:

Suffragist * General * Union Spy
Nurse * Moses * Minty

Beneath the illustration is her name, Harriet Tubman.

The opening and closing endpapers are in the same shade of yellow as the title text and thin glowing line around the moon and the image on the back of the jacket and case.  James E. Ransome begins his visual storytelling with a train crossing a landscape and then with an image spanning two pages for the title.  Harriet Tubman is waiting on a bench outside a train depot.  Others are gathered either to board the train or bid travelers goodbye.

Each page turn is a two-page picture.  Regardless of the perspective our eyes are immediately drawn to Harriet.  James E. Ransome has masterfully captured her pure spirit of courage and compassion.  She was only five feet tall but her personality of perseverance is present in each of her capacities.  The facial expressions on Harriet are stunning.

One of my many favorite pictures is a night scene.  Harriet is kneeing on a hill overlooking a small community below her.  Trees and small buildings are visible.  Smoke rises from chimneys.  A few lights are glowing.  Her head is bowed in prayer beneath a full moon and a scattering of stars. Her body takes up nearly all of the left side.

The reverence author Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrator James E. Ransome feel for Harriet Tubman is clearly evident in the flawless blend of their beautiful words and art.  Every collection personal and professional needs a copy of Before She Was Harriet.  It is a moving read aloud.

To learn more about Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Lesa Cline-Ransome has written a blog post about this title.  You will want to read it.  At the publisher's website is a four page educator's guide.  At author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, you can view an interior image and read her post at Kirkus.

UPDATE:  Please follow this link to KidLit TV to hear Lesa Cline-Ransome read her book aloud while viewing her husband's remarkable illustrations.  This title is a 2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Christmas Truth

Christmas celebrations around the world are indeed a time to honor the holiday but they are also a reflection of the country in which they are observed.  They are steeped in traditions born from history going back hundreds of years. One constant in many of them is the Christmas Eve evening appearance of a generous being, an individual known by many names.

One of the names given to this visitor is Santa Claus.  He is said to fill stockings with gifts hung from fireplace mantels, door knobs, bedposts or other designated places.  He may leave presents under a Christmas tree.  In return a beverage and sweet treats, milk and cookies, are left for him.  Some people even leave bunches of carrots for the reindeer said to pull his sleigh around the world in a single night.  Children may write him letters sending them to the North Pole or left next to the milk, cookies and carrots.  As children our belief in Santa Claus is strong, so strong that as adults we do not relinquish the habit of hanging up stockings.  We know they are still filled on Christmas Eve but the gifts last a lifetime.  Love, Santa (Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., September 26, 2017) written by Martha Brockenbrough with illustrations by Lee White is a story to cherish, leaving a print on your heart to carry for the rest of your life.

When Lucy was five, she wrote Santa a letter.

In this letter to Santa, Lucy did not ask for any gift but she voiced her concern for Santa. She wondered how he was able to keep warm at the North Pole.  That year for Christmas she got a red coat from Santa.  It was the perfect present for a growing girl.  He also left her a letter enclosed in a red envelope with her name on the outside.  It answered her question.

The next year Lucy wrote Santa another letter.  As a six-year-old she was a bit braver.  This year she asked for an elf.  She also gave Santa two other options; one regarding her gift and the other with respect to his preference for cookies.  Wisely, Santa responded to the offered options.  She received another note tucked inside a red envelope.

By the time she was seven Lucy had a lot more questions for Santa.  She wrote two letters that year.  She only left the second one next to his plate of cookies.  She was not quite ready for the possible answers to her queries.

As an eight-year-old, Lucy wrote her final letter.  It had a single sentence, a question.  On Christmas Eve she placed it in a different spot.  Very early on Christmas morning Lucy found the familiar red envelope addressed to her, waiting to be opened.  The words penned to her changed Lucy and they will change you too.  They sing of the miracle of Christmas.

On the back of the book case Martha Brockenbrough writes a letter to readers.  She explains the personal experiences leading to this book.  The lens through which Martha views life is clearly present in all her books but never more sharply in focus than in this title.  Her gift is to find the essence of a situation (and of the people within it) portraying it (them) with beauty and truth. 

By first presenting the written correspondence between Lucy and Santa, we understand how the relationship unfolds and leads to the final two letters.  Lucy's letters to Santa are exactly as you would expect for a girl her age for each year.  Particularly heartwarming are the responses provided to Lucy in Santa's letters and the gifts left for her.  Lucy is well-known and deeply loved.

Upon opening the white book case you can see the faint green words spanning from the back to the front, left to right.  They are taken from the letters Lucy writes to Santa.  The wide green foil along the bottom is like the ribbon on a precious package.  The gold on the ornament, on the front, is also done in foil.  In the lower right-hand corner of the back, Lucy is shown reaching into the mailbox to place one of her letters to Santa.  The red flag is up, waiting for the mail person to send the letter to the North Pole.

The opening and closing endpapers are in the same hue as the ornament.  On the title page beneath the text, a pajama-attired Lucy with her cat is seated at her desk writing her first letter.  Rendered in watercolor and mixed media by Lee White the illustrations depict in single and double page visuals each year of the written conversation.

Delicate details and soft brush strokes portray an intent Lucy writing a letter and then move to a larger scene of a wintry landscape with Lucy mailing the letter.  Flawlessly Lee White moves from one perspective to another enhancing the words of the story.  He artfully places six actual envelopes within his images.

They can be opened and contain letters to be unfolded and read.  From Santa the envelopes are always red.  Lucy's letters are in envelopes with differing patterns over the course of the years.  For the final letter to Lucy it is slowly revealed over the course of five page turns.  Each of Lee's pictures supplies readers with a loving look at what the words are telling Lucy and us.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is one of the two-page images when Lucy is reading the final letter.  On the left Lucy holds the letter.  Above her on top of the red envelope is an enlarged portion of the letter.  Above this and extending over the gutter to the edge of the right page is a single evergreen bough.  Hanging from the branch is a sepia-toned ornament, filling up the entire right page.  A possible Christmas scene in Lucy's future is presented inside the ornament.

I can't imagine a personal collection not having a copy of Love, Santa written by Martha Brockenbrough with illustrations by Lee White.  I will be recommending it to every parent I can.  I read it over the phone last night to a colleague and good friend.  There was stunned silence when I finished it. We both might have been in tears.  Thank you Martha Brockenbrough.  Thank you Lee White.  This is a treasure to hold in a hug and in our hearts.

To learn more about Martha Brockenbrough and Lee White and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  On Lee White's blog you can view several of the interior images.  At the Vermont College of Fine Arts' website Martha talks about this title.

UPDATE:  Martha was a guest on NPR Weekend Edition Saturday talking about this title, December 23, 2017.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Conversation with Stacy McAnulty and a Cover Reveal

Happy Monday morning to you, Stacy.  On Saturday the wind was howling (again) and the rain was so heavy it left standing puddles around the neighborhood (again).  The wet, windy outside made the cozy warmth of inside even more comfortable and appealing.  I’m not taking any chances on the weather today.  While it would be great fun to talk with you as we walk our dogs, let’s settle in cushy chairs for a chat.

Your journey from having a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and working in the field for almost a decade to writing for children has been one of many years of hard work and eventual success in writing picture books and chapter books for younger readers.  On May 1, 2018 your debut middle grade book is set to be released by Random House.  I am curious about the switch from writing picture books and chapter books for younger readers to a middle grade novel.  What prompted this?

Ha, maybe I’m finally growing up. Actually, it’s probably because my kids are growing up. I originally tried to break into publishing by writing novels intended for adults. But every night, I was reading to my young children and loving it. I was the one asking, “Can we read one more? Please.” It slowly dawned on me that I wanted to write for kids. Now my daughters are long out of diapers and borrowing my clothes, my son--the baby of the family--is learning long division, and we’re all falling in love with new books. So the stories I want to write are changing too. Though I continue to read and write picture books.

According to data at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the chance of getting struck by lightning in a single year is 1/1,083,000 and if you live to be eighty years old the chance of being struck by lightning in your lifetime is 1/13,500.  Your main character in The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is struck by lightning.  How did you decide this would be the event to change her life?  Could you explain to us why this happened when she was eight years old? Do you know someone who has been struck by lightning?  

Thankfully, none of my family or friends has been struck by lightning. Me neither. (Knock on wood.) For the story, I needed a major event that was realistic and rare, and also something that the reader could imagine. We’ve all experienced thunderstorms. They occur across the globe. In the book, the main character is struck by lightning at the age of eight, which is four years before the story begins. She is changed by the zap within days and learns to live and thrive with her newfound abilities, basically for those four years. She’s homeschooled and happy, but then her grandmother sends her to middle school, and suddenly she doesn’t know anything.

This lightning strike changed Lucy Fanny Callahan.  Would you tell us about the changes?

The lightning strike rewires Lucy’s brain, and she becomes a mathematical genius. The medical term is acquired savant syndrome, and it’s a real thing. I’ve read cases about normal people after a head injury having sudden genius talents like the ability to do math as accurately as a calculator, or learn any language after hearing it a few times, or playing the piano without any lessons. Not only can Lucy add, subtract, multiply, and divide any numbers as fast as she hears them, she also memorizes numbers without effort and sees math in everything. For the four years before the story begins, she’s dedicated herself to learning higher-level mathematics. But the genius of savant syndrome always comes with a tradeoff. For Lucy, it’s OCD.  

I have to ask: What is your favorite element in the final art for the book’s cover?  

Tough question! There’s so much to love--the torn paper, the hand lettering, the lightning bolts, and the random math equations. I made a few small changes to the math for accuracy. And the cover has my name on it! I still can’t believe I’m going to be a novelist. Cue up Frank Sinatra, “Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you…”

Here’s the cover folks!

I hope you don’t mind answering a few more questions.  We are both fans of our furry friends, dogs.  In fact your picture book, Excellent Ed, is one of my favorite dog books.  I know readers will want to know if a dog plays a part in this middle grade debut novel.  What can you tell us?

Aw, thanks for being an Ed fan. Yes, there is a dog in the novel. Actually, there are several dogs, but one plays a starring role. Unlike you and me, Lucy has not been around pups. It’s a new and challenging experience for her. But dogs have a way of winning over even the weariest of humans.

Do you currently have a dog as a member of your family?  Breed?  Age? Name?

I have three dogs. They spend their days with me in my office while the rest of the family is off at school and work. I’m lucky. Every day is bring your dog to work day for me. There’s Pepper, a German Shepherd, who is almost nine. Jack is the big mutt (over seventy pounds) and he’s about seven. Our newest addition is a small, fluffy Chihuahua mix, who is about a year old. Her name is Munchkin. When we adopted her I had hopes that she’d snuggle on my lap as I write. Nope! She’d rather hang with the big dogs.

My students always want to know if an author has children, what their names are and their ages.  Would you share this with us, please?

I tell people I have those three furry kids and three non-furry kids. Cora is my oldest and she’s in tenth grade. Lily is the easy-going middle child, who is in eighth grade. And then there is Henry, a fourth grader. So three kids in three different schools with three different start and end times keep me hopping.

Thank you Stacy for chatting with me today about your middle grade novel debut, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl and for the honor of revealing the cover.  I promised myself I would read it closer to the release date but I’ve already read chapter one.  Readers are in for a treat.  I’ll have to shelf it or I’ll finish it in a single sitting.

If you are interested in learning even more about Stacy McAnulty (I was), please feel free to visit WeGrowMedia with Dan Blank, Mile High Reading with Dylan Teut, Literary Hoots with Emily, Picture Books Help Kids Soar with Vivian Kirkfield and Cracking The Cover.  Stacy’s website is here.

Here is the description for this title as seen in the Random House catalog.

Middle school is the one problem Lucy Callahan can’t solve in this middle-grade novel perfect for fans of The Fourteenth Goldfish, Rain Reign, and Counting by 7s.

Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school!

Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation?

A celebration of friendship, Stacy McAnulty’s smart and thoughtful middle-grade debut reminds us all to get out of our comfort zones and embrace what makes us different.