Quote of the Month

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

Friday, December 29, 2017

Speak With Compassion

As 2017 comes to a close people tend to mull over the past year and look forward to the next.  It's a time to examine who we are, who we want to be and how we will be remembered.  The making of New Year's resolutions is traditionally observed around the world.  A very low percentage of those intentions are followed.  It has been suggested the reason for this low percentage is due to the complicated nature of the resolutions or the number made.

If each of us were to select a single pledge, a change for 2018, or a recommitment, what would it be?  Words and Your Heart (Feiwel And Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, December 26, 2017) written and illustrated by Kate Jane Neal invites us to consider the effect of what we say.  We need to decide if we will heal and give hope or hurt.

This little book is about your heart.

(The little bit inside of you that makes you, you!)

It is requested we be quiet.  We need to hear what this book has to say.  It is most likely to be paramount in helping with the happiness of others and of us.

We are told the words we hear impact our heart.  These words depict all kinds of fabulous things of every size imaginable.  These words can orchestrate supreme joy or unbearable sadness.  Or they can pierce our heart.

The potential for words to affect great change in someone's heart is noted.  They can alter a mood.  They can shift a mindset.  They can change a life.

A question is asked.  A declaration is shouted.  Another question implores us to work together for the common good.  Each one of us has the opportunity to make life on this planet finer every time we speak.

In a simple first person narrative Kate Jane Neal presents the value of words.  She takes readers on a gentle journey, exploring the human heart.  She gives examples of what words can do in a positive and a negative way.  Within parentheses she has conversational asides.  The progression of her story leaves readers empowered and inspired.  Here is a passage.

They can explain stuff,
so you understand that it goes

or spin, tinkle, PING!!!

The warm red spread across the dust jacket welcomes us to this book.  The limited color palette of red, black and white magnifies the significance of the words and images.  Three small varnished red hearts are placed above and below the white title text on the spine.  To the left, on the back, under a heart and framed in scrolled lines, are the words:

the little bit inside of you
that makes you, you!

On a crisp white canvas the book case introduces us to the other character in the book, a human child.  On the front the child is pointing to their heart.  The cat is holding out a large heart to the child.  Both of them, arms spread wide open, smiling and faces lifted upward are on the back.  On the opening and closing endpapers in three shades of red are rows of squares with hearts in the center.

In the body of the book with only two exceptions the background is white accentuating the fine, loose lines of the drawings.  If Kate Jane Neal wishes to emphasize a particular portion of text she will change the size and style like in a comic book.  Most of the images are placed on single pages but for pacing may expand into two pages.

One of my favorite of many illustrations spans two pages.  On the left the child is airborne in an unusual flying machine, wearing a red helmet.  On the right the cat is held aloft by a big red balloon.  Beneath them are puffy white clouds outlined with smudgy lines.  This is a lighter look at how words are uplifting.

In her debut picture book author illustrator Kate Jane Neal uses her carefully chosen words to create a powerful, lively volume.  Readers of all ages will find strength in the promise of her narrative.  This title could be paired with Be A Friend (Bloomsbury Children's Books, January 5, 2015) written and illustrated by Salina Yoon.  I highly recommend Words and Your Heart for use in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Kate Jane Neal, her other work and the process involved in bringing this book to readers, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images. Enjoy the videos.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Timed Treachery

The dust jacket, but not the flaps, and the book case are examined. Anticipation builds and questions gather as the volume is held in your hands.  The endpapers may increase the excitement, possibly offering more hints.  If page turns past the title, verso and dedication pages reveal a map, surely an adventure is in the offing.  To encourage reader participation if words invite you to scan QR codes strategically placed throughout the book, you know you are going to be experiencing something out of the ordinary.

On the dust jacket of The Van Gogh Deception (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 29, 2017) written by Deron Hicks, two tweens are running down the steps of the National Art Gallery in Washington, D. C.  Shadowy figures watch from the top of the steps.  Already we know trouble is surrounding these two children.  The opening and closing endpapers feature three paintings by Vincent van Gogh.  Interestingly enough those on the back, have been altered.  Specific places in a radius around the gallery have been named on a map.  Why?  With the added inclusion of the QR codes the stage is set for a true page-turner and thrilling present-day, high-stakes mystery.  Once you start this book, you, like the children on the run, won't be able to stop.

The boy appeared out of nowhere.

This boy sits in a room filled with people, paintings and sculptures.  Who is watching him?  How long has he been there?  Why is he there?  These unanswered queries lead us into the first part.

First we travel to France three years ago.  A highly-planned plot of trickery involving enormous sums of money is put into play.  This is followed by a terrifying scene in a parking garage late at night in present day Washington, D. C. It does not end well for the gentleman being pursued.

The boy from the prologue is the center from which all further action radiates.  There is also the spider.  At closing time a docent from the gallery comes up to the boy.  It is discovered he has no recollection of why he is there or who he is.  He has lost his most recent memories.  Examined by two different doctors and questioned by Detective Brooke Evans at the Metropolitan Police Department, he is eventually placed in the care of Mary Sullivan who fosters children temporarily.  She has a ten-year-old daughter named Camille.

After conversations that evening and in the following morning, the Sullivans and the twelve-year-old boy they are calling Art, decide to take the train back to the National Gallery of Art hoping it will help him to recall more memories.  At the same time a highly trained group of covert operators guided by a leader, Dorchek Palmer, a millionaire ten times over, twenty-eight years old and a computer genius, are in pursuit of the boy.  He needs to be taken by any means necessary.

Mounting tensions escalate in part two when Art and Camille and Mary Sullivan are getting a snack in the Garden Cafe in the gallery.  Dorchek Palmer is seated a few tables away.  A sudden recognition as to a clue in Art's pocket has the children quickly leaving.  Mary panics when she discovers the children are missing.  Palmer and his team give chase.

In less than an hour the children realize their very lives are in terrible danger.  High-speed action at every page turn tests the resourcefulness of Art, who still does not remember recent circumstances or his name, and Camille.  They are pitted against the best money can buy.  Time is running out for everyone.

Two final destinations will test the ingenuity of the children and the skill of the highly trained adults.  Their goals are at odds; one to reveal a forgery and the other to keep it concealed.  Survival is paramount.

The page and one-half page prologue will hook readers immediately.  When author Deron Hicks follows this with the multi-million dollar forgery scheme meeting and the parking garage confrontation, you know hours will be willingly spent following this story to the end.  By dividing the narrative into three separate parts Hicks intensifies the action.  (An appropriate Vincent van Gogh quote begins these parts.)  It is increased further with time of day, date and place notations at the beginning of almost all the chapters and even within the chapters.  The majority of this 306 page book takes place in a single day.

Descriptions of places, famous artists, their work and the criminal activity of forgery do not detract from the fast flowing tale.  The dialogue between the children and all the adult characters is realistic and true to the genre.  Deron Hicks also has an adept knack for ending his chapters with edge-of-your-seat comments. Here are a few of my marked passages.

The middle-aged man wanted to laugh.  There was no way he would ever be allowed to go free.  He'd be lucky to make it through the rest of the night alive.  But he didn't panic.  There was too much at stake.  He backed up against the trunk of his rental car and took a deep breath.  It was time.

Palmer pushed the button on the side of his watch to illuminate the time.  It was getting late, but he knew that there would not be any sleep tonight.  Events had taken an unexpected turn the night before, and the stakes had increased significantly---the spider was loose in the city.

The man paused.  Palmer could tell there was something else the man wanted---needed---to ask.
"And what happens to the boy when you find him?" the man finally asked in a low voice.
Palmer carefully folded up the newspaper and took a final sip of his americano.  Before he stood to depart, he reached down to pick up his messenger bag and looked the man directly in the eyes.  "There are questions, Dr. Belette, that you should not ask."

This book, The Van Gogh Deception written by Deron Hicks, is one you will need to add to your collections to broaden and deepen your mystery, adventure and thriller titles.  It's going to be eagerly passed from reader to reader.  I can't wait for the opportunity to chat with others about it.  (I read it once as fast as I could and more slowly today.)

To learn more about Deron Hicks and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the publisher's website is an excerpt.  Deron Hicks talks about this title at the HMH Young Readers blog and is the featured author at School Library Connection.  Deron Hicks maintains an account on InstagramTwitter and Facebook.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Deep Down Underground

Twice this winter we've had a good five-inch layer of snow covering our ground.  Despite the depth my canine companion leaps and dives, nose first, attempting to smell what is buried beneath all those snowflakes.  If a particular scent captures her interest her paws become eager diggers, like a four-footed, furry archeologist intent on a goal.  She is not alone in her endeavors to discover what can be found underground.

Shortly before our ground was frozen a series of raised loops and zig-zags covered my front yard.  It looks like a group of moles engaged in merry mayhem.  There are whole worlds waiting to be explored.  The Street Beneath My Feet (Quarto Knows, March 1, 2017) written by Charlotte Guillain with illustrations by Yuval Zommer is a unique, fascinating approach to earth science.

When you're walking along the city streets
there's always so much to see and hear.

Most of the time we are either so focused on our own destination or captivated by the buzz of activity around us, we fail to think about what is below the ground. (Also, if your mom was like mine, she was always saying, "Stand up straight with your shoulders back and hold your head high as you walk.") We don't have to go very deep to find an entire network of pipes, wires and cables.  Water is carried through a system of gutters and drains.

In each layer of dirt there is living breathing beings.  If we go farther we might find the community sewer.  As we keep traveling down there will be more signs of life, most of it from the past.  Underground tunnels with tracks provide transportation.  We go through bedrock into sedimentary rock.  Seemingly magical wonders await us here in caves.

The farther we go the rocks reveal more gifts, peat, coal and granite.  As we get to the crust the earth's plates shift.  If they clash, we may have an earthquake.  As we travel deeper and deeper toward the core, it gets hotter and hotter; it's like liquid fire.  In the very center it is solid with temperatures near 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Now it's time to go back up.

Each step of the journey, each section, presents new surprises; precious and semi-precious rock, minerals and gems.  We learn about metamorphic rock.  Fossils appear.  As we get closer to the surface roots branch into the dirt.  Animal burrows, setts and dens and insect nests come into view.  As we finish, standing on the ground again, a forested meadow replete with flora and fauna spreads before us.

From page to page Charlotte Guillain takes us on marvelous voyage through our earth with her words.  She enhances our knowledge about those things in which we might be familiar but shares details with us about those things we never thought about before but are glad we now know.  In the conversational tone of a learned tour guide, she invites us to looks closer, to notice the smallest items, and asks questions of us about those things we encounter.  Here are four passages which follow her description of sedimentary rock.

If you're lucky,
you might find
an underground
cave.  This 
one formed
when water 
wore away
the rock
and made
in it.

Watch you head!
There are stalactites
hanging down from
the roof of this

Psst!  Limestone 
is a type of
sedimentary rock
that formed 
in the

Spiky stalactites form when water moves
down through sedimentary rock.

I think it's safe to say this book has been designed in a remarkable manner completely in keeping with the subject matter.  When you open the book case on the right is what you might encounter beneath a city.  On the left the image depicts what you might find beneath a forested meadow.  Yuval Zommer cleverly takes the tree on the front extending it over the spine to the back.  You will be compelled to stop and look closely at every single element.  On the front many of the details are raised and varnished heightening the tactile experience.

When you open the front cover, the book needs to be turned to read the text and enjoy all the artwork.  This is a vertical accordion book with eleven pages fully illustrated on both sides on durable, heavier matte finished paper.  It is brilliant!

Yuval Zommer's images are spectacular in their intricate and delicate details done in full color.  It's as if he literally went beneath the surface to add as much as he could in each layer.  When he shows us the storm drain, not only is water running down but leaves are swirling in it.  His inclusion of a human skeleton is as if we have unearthed a grave.  Mementos of the person's life are included with the bones. In another illustration from right to left he shows the progression of the development of coal and how it is mined.  On the final page, on the inside of the back cover, a circular slice of our planet shows the Earth's layers.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when we are climbing back up to the surface. In two separate images which appear as one, Yuval Zommer shows us a fox family in their den, individual badgers in setts and rabbits running in tunnels and nestled in their burrows.  He includes possible flora used in their abodes.  Careful readers will see a tiny mouse curled in its own home.  Worms squirm in the dirt.

This book, whether you place it in your professional collections in your libraries or classrooms or in your personal collections at home, will be a huge hit with readers.  The Street Beneath My Feet written by Charlotte Guillain with illustrations by Yuval Zommer has been created to inform in a singular, outstanding style.  This title has been selected by the National Science Teachers Association as one of the Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12: 2018.

To learn more about Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.

I hope you will take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by others participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  This completes my fourth year participating in Alyson's challenge.  My life is far richer for being a participant, expanding my respect for this beautiful planet and those who have or are inhabiting it.  I thank you Alyson and other participants.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Single Extraterrestrial Sneeze

It all starts with a single sneeze.  This is usually followed with an increase in sneezes over the course of two or three days.  Despite your best defensive efforts, you find your ability to breathe hindered by a stuffy nose.  It hurts to swallow because of your sore throat.  When you speak, it's as if a frog has set up residence in your vocal chords. There's no doubt about it, you have acquired a cold.

The length of this misery is determined by numerous factors.  In your humble opinion, whatever it takes to speed your body to wellness is welcome.  Aliens Get The Sniffles Too! Ahhh-Choo! (Candlewick Press, November 7, 2017) written by Katy S. Duffield with illustrations by K. G. Campbell is a lighthearted look at the best remedy no matter where you live.

Little Alien was sick.

And sick is extra-terrestrial bad when you have two throats, five ears, and three noses.

When he sneezes it's not a simple ahhh-choo!  Each one holds words previously uttered by earthlings.  His parents listen sympathetically when he tells them his throats feel rough.

Daddy Alien whooshes off in his interstellar vehicle.  In no time at all he returns with a tasty treat for Little Alien to ease the pain in his throats.  He is not sure if it helped his throats because his five ears are aching.

Using an old family recipe Mama Alien mixes just the right amount of stardust to

a Little Dipperful of water.

Little Alien does not feel like he is on the road to recovery.  Instead he announces to his parents his noses are blocked.  How is he supposed to breathe?  Their final attempts at a cure have Mars Rover, Little Alien's canine companion, with eight legs and three eyes, deciding he needs to take matters into his own considerable paws.

Like a one-dog variety show Mars Rover begins his routines.  He is a nonstop bundle of energy.  Wait!  Was that a smile on Little Alien's face?  Saturn's rings become props in one of the acts.  In his last stunt Mars Rover heads into the starry expanse.  One look and one listen at Little Alien and the pooch knows best friends can work miracles.  Ahhh. . .!

Author Katy S. Duffield weaves extraterrestrial lingo with ease into a humorous tale destined to assist readers under the weather.  Each uncomfortable symptom is cleverly described and enhanced by the physical characteristics of Little Alien.  By blending dialogue with the narrative text readers can more readily identify with Little Alien's suffering and his parent's and Mars Rover's efforts to help him.  Katy S. Duffield clearly knows how dogs can sense better than any other individual how to best assist a buddy.  Here is a passage.

But just when it looked like Little Alien might doze off at last . . . (page turn)


"Which nose did that come from?" Mama Alien cried.

Careful readers will immediately note the physical characteristic of Little Alien and Mars Rover on the opened and matching dust jacket and book case.  They will be counting ears, noses, fingers, paws, eyes and tails.  The fact the duo seem to be floating among planets will be duly noted.  The starry scene extends over the spine (as does one of the rings) to reveal three other odd (by Earth standards) looking creatures.  Their green rectangular heads are peeking in from the left, top and bottom.  Each of them is holding a gizmo.  Could these be the

lunar decongestants?

A shade of blue akin to the coloring of Little Alien covers the opening and closing endpapers.  At the first page turn on a canvas of pristine white is Little Alien's stuffed toy.  In a small circle beneath the title text on the second page alien abodes with pink smoke coming from their chimneys are shown.

Rendered in pen, watercolor, and colored pencils the illustrations of K. G. Campbell using the pastel shades of pink, blue, green and purple in combination with the golden hue of Mars Rover create an other-worldly atmosphere.  The sizes of the visuals, two-page pictures, single page illustrations loosely framed in white or placed on a white canvas, or single page images, page edge to page edge convey the mood and pacing with excellence. The large expressive eyes on all the characters portray appropriate concern, misery, dismay and happiness.  They are guaranteed to have readers and listeners chuckling in agreement.

One of my several favorite pictures is when Mama Alien is mixing the ingredients for

Granny Alien's Famous Shooting-Star Ear Drops.

In this single page image, through the circular window, we can see Saturn hanging in the starry sky.  Daddy Alien sits in a floating chair on the right holding the ear drop dispenser.  Mars Rover floats next to him watching Mama Alien mix the stardust with the water.  Little Alien bends over with rapt attention.  The Little Dipper, held by Mama Alien, glows with individual stars.  It is a hopeful moment.

With the advent of the winter season most families are struggling to keep everyone healthy.  Aliens Get The Sniffles Too!  Ahhh! Choo! written by Katy S. Duffield with illustrations by K. G. Campbell is sure to lift the spirits of readers regardless of their current state of health.  Most of us know exactly how Little Alien is feeling.  And we know there is nothing like a forever friend making a less than ideal situation far better.  Your professional and personal bookshelves need the dose of laughter this title will bring.  It would be fun to pair this title with Bob, Not Bob! (To be read as though you have the worst cold ever:)(Disney Hyperion, February 14, 2017) written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Matthew Cordell.

To learn more about Katy S. Duffield and K. G. Campbell and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  At Katy S. Duffield's website there is an Activity Guide.  At Penguin Random House you can view interior images different than the one found at Candlewick Press.  You can discover more about K. G. Campbell and his art at Brightly and Painted Words.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Season's Readings

During the month of December holidays are observed around the world.  At National Geographic Kids they list and discuss the Winter Celebrations of Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year's Day, Three Kings Day, and the Chinese New Year. At Education World those festivities listed are a little more extensive.  Saint Nicholas Day, Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Lucia Day, Hanukkah, Christmas Day, Three Kings Day, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, Omisoka, Yule and Saturnalia are included.

Over the years I have honored some of these with the students in my school libraries.  In that time my own personal collection of books specifically for December festivities has grown.  It looks as though next year a new book case is necessary.

In this short video the shelves are scanned to give you an idea of the titles in the collection.  The Padlet is a gathering of all the blog posts on particular books.  It's my Christmas wish for you to find a new title to use next year or perhaps to remember a special book.

The link to the Tidings Of Great Joy Padlet is here.

If you prefer to access the Padlet using a QR Code, please use this.

You can also click on the tiny square with an arrow in the center in the upper right-hand corner to go straight to the site.

Made with Padlet

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Dream . . . A Gift Given

Christmas Eve is two days away.  Today after playing with my canine companion outside, I found thirty-six white bags and thirty-six white candles on my doorstep.  Our neighborhood is the only one in the area to line luminaries along the streets on Christmas Eve.  They have been doing it for fifty-three years.  My home sits on a corner lot, so I have the honor of placing the lights on two sides.  It is going to be a wonderful sight.

Each year this time brings to mind welcome memories of past celebrations and traditions.  In The Nutcracker in Harlem (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 26, 2018), debut picture book by author T. E. McMorrow with illustrations by James Ransome, a story set in the 1920s era gives readers a glimpse into a marvelous time in African American cultural history.  The art, music, dance, theater and literature in Harlem in New York City, New York, were spectacular, singular and made a lasting impact on world culture.

It was snowing in Harlem on Christmas Eve.

There is a party at a young girl's home.  A symphony of sound swirls around the room as Marie listens.  Her Uncle Cab, playing the piano, asks her to join the festivities.  Oh, how she wishes she could sing like her uncle or the melodious Miss Addie.

When it is time for the gift-giving Uncle Cab usually gives her brother Fritz toy soldiers and Marie a doll.  He claims the wood used for them is magic.  He says this every year.  On this Christmas Eve he gives Marie a nutcracker, a drummer boy.  The room again fills with music. Marie stands silently holding the drummer boy and shaking her head when Miss Addie requests she sing along with her.

After dinner Marie takes a piece of sweet potato pie and sits near the Christmas tree.  She falls asleep holding Uncle Cab's present.  In her dream she wakes up as her mother's favorite glass birds on the tree come to life and begin to sing.  Everything comes to life and grows larger and larger.  The drummer boy plays in a steady beat.

A sudden smash announces the presence of an enemy.  A battle starts, stops and starts again.  Marie knows she needs to help the nutcracker.  She searches and finds that which she never knew she possessed.  On Christmas Day the enchantment of a dream and a nutcracker continues.

Dum diddy dum dum, dum-dee-dum.

T. E. McMorrow through research and using a past experience takes us back in time to a remarkable era.  Music is the link between the E. T. A. Hoffman tale, the Harlem Renaissance setting and Marie's deep desire.  The blend of narrative and dialogue moves us from reality to the dream and back with ease.  In McMorrow's words a gentle story of finding one's gift through other gifts received is revealed.  Here is a passage.

Marie opened her eyes.  The
house had gone silent.
Outside, it had stopped snowing.
A full moon glowed in the sky, and
the living room was filled with a
ghostly white light. 

Opening the matching dust jacket and book case is the first of numerous moments when you feel like gasping at the beauty spread before you.  The artwork of James Ransome rendered in watercolor glows from the pages.  This glow spreads to you, warming your reader's heart and soul.  When you see Marie on the front holding her nutcracker drummer boy with the other figures come to life in front of Harlem's buildings, the essence of the story is there waiting for you.  It's inviting you to join in the magic.

To the left, on the back, an interior scene is framed in a deep blue hue.  It's the moment Uncle Cab gives Marie her gift.  The opening and closing endpapers are covered in a deeper, darker blue.

On the title page James Ransome begins his visual story.  Guests adorned in their best clothes are walking down the sidewalk to Marie's home.  Windows are golden with warm light.  A Christmas tree stands tall in one window.  Snow covers the ground and landscaping.  Flakes drift on the air.  Period cars line the street.  You can almost hear the excited chatter of the people, anticipation filling their minds and bodies.  It's Christmas Eve.

A page turn gives readers a stunning bird's eye view of Harlem on Christmas Eve in the 1920s.  A huge white moon hangs in the upper right-hand corner of the two-page picture.  The text for the verso and dedication pages is in small white print in the night sky. (I could stare at this painting for hours.)

Each illustration spans two pages or one and one half pages, creating a column for text and a place for a smaller picture.  Rich shades of blue are predominant in the full-color visuals.  The shift in perspectives are exquisite, taking us into the story.  It wraps us in its charm and warmth.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when the glass birds are coming to life.  We are brought close to the tree in a picture spanning one and one half pages.  On the left we are looking through the tree branches, close to the ornaments and lights.  One of the birds is in flight on the right barely beneath the huge moon shining through the window.  On thefar right in a column of rich red is the text.  Under it, in a smaller image, we can see the other birds coming to life and flying from the branches.

What readers will remember the most about The Nutcracker in Harlem written by T. E. McMorrow with illustrations by James Ransome is how this Christmas Eve changes one little girl.  The magic remains.  It makes us wonder if we too can find our heart's desire.  James Ransome's eloquent paintings send the narrative soaring.  You'll want this book in both your professional and personal collections.  I know I will be reading it every Christmas Eve.  In an Author's Note T. E. McMorrow further explains why he wrote this book.  I would pair it with  The Nutcracker Comes To America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created A Holiday Tradition (Millbrook Press, September 1, 2015) written by Chris Barton with illustrations by Cathy Gendron and Waltz Of The Snowflakes (Running Press Kids, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group. Inc., October 17, 2017, conceived and illustrated by Elly Mackay.

To learn more about James Ransome and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  T. E. McMorrow reads The Nutcracker in Harlem aloud at KidLit TV.   James Ransome hosts Young At Art on KidLit TV.  Both videos are lovely.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Epic Elf Ingenuity

Usually speculation increases around the date of the winter solstice.  In a few days a trip (defying most scientific evidence) around the world takes place in a single evening.  The speed at which the vehicle needs to move is said to be 5,083,000 mph.  Over decades individuals have compiled mind-boggling statistics on the number of cookies consumed, the glasses of milk drank, and the number of homes visited by Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.  For most children (and true believers), these theories are answered with a single word . . . magic.

It also seems Kris Kringle's driving record is flawless.  Surely we would know if there were ever any mishaps over the centuries.  Right?  Maybe the inhabitants of the North Pole have kept them a closely guarded secret.  The 12 Sleighs of Christmas (Chronicle Books, October 24, 2017) written by Sherri Duskey Rinker with illustrations by Jake Parker gives readers a look at a wonderfully funny and inventive scenario.  

Two weeks before Christmas,
and every elf
is building, rushing, racing, busy---
every elf is in a tizzy!

One major task is to inspect Santa's sleigh making sure everything is A-Okay.  When Tim, Crew Chief and Head Mechanic, with his group of elves see the sleigh, they discover it's in shambles.  It looks as if Santa raced around the world a bit recklessly.

As each elf voices an opinion on the necessary changes, it's decided, out of necessity and to keep the peace, a competition will determine the design of a new sleigh.  Santa will pick the winner.  Oh, the elves are busier than ever; hustling and bustling to build their idea of a marvelous vehicle.  The clamor they raise echoes across the North Pole.

The first team, on the first day, develops a dragster able to glide on the ground and zoom above the clouds.  No reindeer are necessary.  As each day comes and goes the modes of transportation shift from an enormous big rig, to a ship with fifty sails using air like water, to an unstable rocket and blimp combination, to a super-duper plow truck on tank treads, and to a motorcycle sleigh with a side car to hold the toys.

Days whiz by with travel by water, land, air and space all options for St. Nick.  On the twelfth day, Christmas Eve, the jolly man in red commends his elf teams.  Their astounding accomplishments are wonderful but he longs for what is familiar and comfortable and classic.  A voice from the smallest elf, working alone, shouts out what Santa has been waiting to hear.  It's the first of three revelations.

The true spirit of the workmanship, as readers imagine it, of the elves sounds off the pages with a joy from doing what is loved.  These lively individuals take a disaster and turn it into a spectacular display of creativity.  The rhymes written by Sherri Duskey Rinker roll off your tongue in a delightful cadence.  The blend of narrative and conversational comments provides upbeat pacing. Here is a passage.

Welders spark in the dark;
hammers bang, tools clang . . .
all night long,
going strong.
Grinding, buzzing, clanking,
whirling, twirling, cranking . . .
a squeal, a bonk,
A splat?  A quack?

Goodness gracious!
What was that?!

As soon as readers catch a glimpse of the opened, matching dust jacket and book case, they know this is no ordinary variant on the classic Christmas carol as Santa Claus roars above the evergreen tops through a snowy sky on the dragster sleigh.  To the left, on the back, he is followed by other sleighs built by the elves.  They are driving a locomotive, the rocket and blimp combination, a spaceship and the fifty-sail ship.  By the looks on all their faces, they are determined in their desire to be the best.  Can you imagine looking up and seeing this on Christmas Eve?  On the dust jacket the title text is in red foil.  Placing the letters in the folded ribbon gives this book timeless appeal.  

On the opening and closing endpapers in green and white are the blueprints for most of the sleighs.  They overlap each other as if spread on a work table.  On the title page, cans of magic fuel, a wheel, gears, hammers and wrenches are placed among holly, ribbons and a wreath.

The thicker, matte-finished paper is ideal for the color palette of mostly red, green, cream, yellow, blue, some white and a dash of pink and orange.  Jake Parker rendered these images in brush pen coloring them digitally.  He alternates between two-page pictures, single page illustrations and a collection of images on one page.  Once, two pictures appear vertically in panels like a comic.

His elves, with varied skin tones, are garbed in pointed hats, jackets with a big round button at the top, pants and mittens.  Their ears, noses and different colored tufts of hair help to distinguish one from the other.  They are so animated you would hardly be surprised to hear them talking.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the quoted text.  It's a panoramic view of the northern landscape spread across two pages.  On the left are billowy clouds along the horizon.  Evergreen trees frosted in snow dot the hilly vista.  A road curves from the bottom left into the village at the North Pole.  Smoke rises from chimneys.  A sign reading 


is in the snow on the right page.  Behind it their workshop, several stories high, is glowing with lights.  Stars, the result of their efforts, are shooting from the building's walls.  A crescent moon hangs in the sky.  This workshop is on the edge of a cliff. 

Reading this book, The 12 Sleighs of Christmas written by Sherri Duskey Rinker with illustrations by Jake Parker, silently to yourself is truly a pleasure but when you read it aloud, it's a whole fresh experience.  Through the words and art you become a part of the story.  Your readers who gravitate toward the vehicle sections of your libraries will love this book.  Others will enjoy it too for the cleverness of the elves.  You will want to make this a part of your collections.

To learn more about Sherri Duskey Rinker and Jake Parker and their other work, please follow the links embedded in their names to access their respective websites.  Sherri Duskey Rinker is featured at KidLit 411 and HenryHerz.com. Jake has accounts showing his art at InstagramTumblr and on YouTube.  Sherri and Jake are on Twitter.  Jake Parker is highlighted at Smash Pages and byutv. His process for the cover is discussed in a post on the publisher's blog.  There is loads of artwork.  Several activities can be found in links at the publisher's website to extend the experience of reading this title.  Enjoy the videos.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tidings Of Truth

Most people are filled with a need to know, an insatiable curiosity.  They thrive on facts.   Revived in 1984 the immensely popular Jeopardy! television game show has won more awards than any other game show in television history.  The board game Trivial Pursuit conceived by two Canadians, Chris Haney and Scott Abbott, in 1979 and released in 1981, has (by 2010) sold more than 100 million copies. The Guinness World Records books have been published for more than sixty years.  The only time they are on the shelves in school libraries is on the first and last day of school.

Another popular series with gals and guys is the Weird but true! titles published by National Geographic PartnersNational Geographic Kids Weird but true! Christmas: 300 festive facts to light up the holidays (September 12, 2017) is brimming with information.  Every page turn brings new truths, some downright astonishing.

On the title page we read

100 MILES (161km)

The polar bear, in a speech bubble, proclaims


Details about icicles being grown by a machine, Santa's wealth and an ornament of enormous size are spread across the first two pages.  Readers are warned about experimenting with their tongues and a piece of metal in freezing temperatures.

We learn about evergreen trees, Christmas lists, mistletoe plants, Christmas carols, reindeer names, Christmas day foods, toboggan material, snowflakes, poinsettias, Christmas cards, United States presidents and gingerbread houses.  Deep-fried caterpillars are considered a Christmas Day delicacy in parts of South Africa.  As a joke Apollo astronauts sent a message to NASA; they saw a pilot in a red suit flying an unidentified flying object.  President Franklin Pierce was the first president to have a Christmas tree in the White HousePresident Theodore Roosevelt forbade Christmas trees from being in the White House.

Our minds are stuffed like stockings hung for a midnight visitor with information about Christmas lights, the North Pole, The Nutcracker, items baked in Christmas desserts, tinsel, Santa Claus, indoor snowball fights, snowmen and snow mazes and Nativity scenes.  In Victorian England people would gather to tell ghost stories as a Christmas tradition.  America's favorite pastime, historically, baseball is known for the record of people wearing Santa hats.  Thirty-five thousand people wore them to a game.  An ice festival in Sapporo, Japan holds a special record too.  Can you name it?  Can you guess where in the world people roller-skate to church on Christmas day?

Like a gift that keeps on giving we are educated on elves, candy canes, animals with seasonal names, snow and snow sculptures, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, Advent calendars, strange seasonal laws and snow globes.  An Advent calendar costing close to 2.7 million dollars held

24 precious diamonds.

An annual custom is for the city of Oslo, Norway to give a Christmas tree to the city of London, England.  Did you know the staff at the White House once hung 8,000 paper snowflakes from the ceiling within the building? (In case you are wondering when this happened, here is an NPR article.)  I'll be staying up very late this year to see if a legend from Europe comes true.  It is said when the clock gets to midnight on Christmas Day, animals can talk.  One of the final fun facts comes from Canada.  They have a post office specifically for Santa letters.  The postal code is


A group of experts are named in the acknowledgements for working on the writing and gathering of facts.  The facts are noted in no particular order throughout the book, but seem to create a subtle tension getting better and better as we get to the conclusion of the book.  As I flipped from page to page I was exclaiming out loud more and more often.

Each fact is accompanied by photographs or realistic drawings.  Backgrounds and the color palette shift accordingly.  Sometimes a fact and the image will extend across two pages.  Usually there are no more than five facts to a two-page group.  To provide variety in the design, facts may appear along the bottom of two pages.

Humor is added in the form of comments by elements in the illustrations.  When citing the custom of a giant snowman that explodes with fireworks, he can be seen, ablaze, saying


A runner wearing a gingerbread man suit during a marathon is saying


You'll want multiple copies of National Geographic Kids Weird but true! Christmas: 300 festive facts to light up the holidays for all your collections.  It would make a perfect Christmas treat for under the tree or in a stocking.  (I have several copies for gifts.)  This title would be excellent for challenging students to use their research skills to verify the truth of these presented facts.  At the conclusion of the book is a six-page alphabetical fact finder listing all sorts of topics and their page numbers.  If the number is bolded there is an illustration.

At Penguin Random House you can view twenty pages in this title including the title pages.  At National Geographic Kids there are numerous links to more information fun.  National Geographic Kids has a YouTube channel.

Take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the other titles noted by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Once Upon A Christmas Eve

In 1816 E. T. A. Hoffmann published a book titled The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.  Since that time the story has been somewhat altered from the original version.  Now as a traditional and renowned ballet, on a magical Christmas Eve a child's favorite toy, a nutcracker in the form of a soldier comes to life.  He battles the rodent ruler and his army of mice.  After conquering the evil Mouse King, the girl is amazed to discover this victory releases a spell on her beloved Nutcracker.  Before her stands a prince.

As the curtain closes on the first act, the prince and girl find themselves in a snowy fairyland. Waltz Of The Snowflakes (Running Press Kids, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group. Inc., October 17, 2017, conceived and illustrated by Elly Mackay gets its title from this particular portion of the ballet.  In this wordless book, on this particular day, changes, many changes, are in the air.

A bleak and rainy night provides the atmosphere in which a granddaughter is taken to visit her grandmother.  After her arrival her grandmother surprises the child with theater tickets.  Not happy to be going outside in the weather or wearing an uncomfortable dress, the girl plods along umbrella in hand.

As they are making their way to their seats inside the theater, a boy teases the girl.  Imagine both their surprises when they are seated next to each other.  Neither is excited about being taken to a ballet, The Nutcracker.  As the music starts a hush falls over the crowded theater.  A change is happening.

As the tale in The Nutcracker unfolds the children and the adults with them react emotionally to the scenes on the stage. When the nutcracker soldier shifts into a prince and the snowflakes' waltz begins in the forest, the children are completely rethinking their perceptions of this ballet. There are two transformations taking place in the theater.

As the prince and girl reach their destination in another realm the boy and the girl are struck by the wonder being revealed.  Their spirits shift as one dance moves into another dance.  They can hardly contain their laughter when children come from the skirts of Mother Ginger.  As the final splendor and memorable music begins, a gift is offered and received.  The prince and the girl are not the only ones bound by a new friendship.

When the grandmother and her granddaughter exist the theater Mother Nature offers up the final fresh change.  A new dance begins.  And then a new day dawns on the playful celebration of an unexpected evening's events.

The effect of blending The Nutcracker ballet within an evening's adventure is enchanting, satisfying and beautiful.  Author illustrator Elly Mackay flawlessly takes readers from the reality of the girl, her grandmother and the boy seated next to her to the wonder of the theatrical production.  Page by page we view, like the audience watching The Nutcracker, the similarities between the prince and Clara (Marie or Maria) and the girl and the boy in the audience.  It's brilliant.

The invitation for us to be participants in the story begins on the matching, unfolded dust jacket and book case.  In the first image the granddaughter is reaching forward for a snowflake, her spirit lifted in dance after seeing The Nutcracker.  In this illustration we are also introduced to the singular artwork of Elly Mackay. Her pictures begin as sketches, are then colored and cut out and set in a paper theater.  Once the elements are placed as she desires, they are photographed.

To the left, on the back of the jacket and case, framed by red curtains, the prince is placing the crown on Clara's head as the snowflake fairies dance in the background.  The ethereal settings envelope us in the magic we are about to receive from reading this title.  Elly Mackay uses every bit of space to tell us this story.  On the opening endpapers, rain falls from dark clouds overhead.  A car climbs a hill from the city to a more rural setting, a small community.  The closing endpapers offer a continuation of the book's tale.

On the title page a circular image shows the girl waving as the car drives away.  She is climbing the steps to her grandmother's home. Elly Mackay continues this story in a series of illustrations framed in white with the exception of the double-page pictures.  These extend page edge to page edge.

As the tale is told at times one illustration covers two pages or a single page.  Elly includes pages with more than one picture on them to provide pacing.  The theater scenes are in color.  In contrast the images of the girl, her grandmother and the boy are in browns and blues with a little pale color.  On five occasions the boy and girl are shown together with faces mirroring a specific emotion.  These are circular insets within a large picture of moments during The Nutcracker.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when the very tall Mother Ginger is onstage.  Three of her eight children emerge from her tiered, multicolored skirt.  Each one is wearing a patterned costume, bright and cheerful, as they leap on the stage.  Above them in a circular picture are the boy and girl.  They are facing each other laughing.

In her Waltz Of The Snowflakes Elly Mackay captures the joy of experiencing The Nutcracker for the first time.  Not only does she portray this magical Christmas tradition with luminous illustrations but she allows us to see how a shared evening can change lives by fashioning friendships and strengthening family ties.  This title is a welcome perspective deserving a place on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Elly Mackay and her other work, please follow the links embedded in her name to access her two websites.  Interviews at Ruth Ellen Parlour The Water Dragons, Owl Kids, Canadian Children's Book Week, at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, and Happy Birthday Author tell us more about Elly Mackay and her work.  A detailed interview specifically about this title with Elly Mackay is at Let's Talk Picture Books.  You will enjoy the illustrations of the process.  Take a few moments to watch the two videos below, the first of Elly's Process in making a previous title and the other of the Waltz of the Snowflakes from The Nutcracker.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Waiting . ..

They stand in rows, silent and unmoving.  As far as the eye can see over acres and acres of land they wait.  Some have been there for only a year or two, others have been there longer.  Their height, at times towering, is evidence of their age.

Whether driving down a two-track dirt road or a little-used, rolling highway, the sight of them brings back years of memories.  There were times when no amount of sawing could straighten a crooked trunk.  A crash in the middle of the night, led, more than once, to a wire extending from the wall to steady a tipsy tree.  Pick a Pine Tree (Candlewick Press, September 19, 2017) written by Patricia Toht with illustrations by Jarvis holds within its pages the special joy of transformation.  It reflects the timeless tradition of finding and adorning an evergreen.

Pick a pine tree
from the lot---
slim and tall
or short and squat. 

Each year people roam through tree lots looking for the pine right in shape, size, length of branches and spacing between branches.  They imagine each one placed in their home.  In their mind's eye they see it sparkling with lights and ornaments.

Once chosen, it is transported to its next resting place.  A space is made for its display and it is firmly secured in a stand, with a few minor adjustments.  To keep it living for as long as possible, it needs a healthy dose of water daily.

Next a storage spot is visited to gather bins and boxes of decorations.  Perhaps others will be invited to help heighten the spirit of Christmas.  The choice of lights is as varied as the people stringing them on the tree.  One year they are multi-colored.  Another year they are all crystal white.  Or is it time for a mix?  Where are those lights that bubble?

Hanging the ornaments is like a visual representation of Christmases past.  They represent wonderful events and beloved people.  Some are homemade.  Some are store-bought, perhaps a collection added to each year.  Extra trimmings make the tree shimmer.  For the finishing touch on top and below something singular is added.  Hardly daring to breathe, one final act completes the Christmas change.

No matter when the tree finds a place in our homes, author Patricia Toht, has with poetic intention brought each portion of the tradition to these pages.  Brimming with bliss each rhyming line builds toward the wondrous result.  The precisely chosen words read like a Christmas carol, singing off the page.  Here is a passage.

But wait . . . (page turn)

don't decorate alone!
Call some people
on the phone.

Ask your friends
to come and stay---

host a 

One of the first things you notice is the red foil ribbon along either side of the spine on the opened dust jacket.  To the left, on the back, the bow is near the bottom for design balance.  The scene of the pine tree landscape extends from flap edge to flap edge. Text on each flap is placed within a scrolled frame fashioned from fine red lines. Children weave among the pines, making snowmen, sledding, ice skating, skiing and snowboarding.  Rabbits, deer, birds and foxes watch. Dogs run and cats ponder.  Careful readers will notice the deer looking quizzically at the Santa snowman.  The book case is identical except for the foil ribbon and text.  It is a bright, cheery red.

The opening and closing endpapers are a cool blue filled with snowflakes of varying sizes. These pages shine with a light all their own.  The verso and title pages bring us close to a deer and two rabbits within the pine forest.  Snow is falling in abundance.

Each page turn reveals a two-page portrait of the progression from the pine tree lot to the stunning vertical depiction of the decorated tree and the final magical Christmas Eve night when an anticipated visitor arrives.  Rendered in

pencil, chalk, and paint and colored digitally

by Jarvis the chill of the out-of-doors and the warmth of family and friends are presented with genuineness in texture and mood.  Readers will pause at each image noting the details.  Strings of lights run throughout the tree lot, families from multiple ethnic backgrounds are featured, tiny birds are perched on a sled (one has the sled rope in its beak), holly and berries already are displayed in the home, a cat pokes its head from the tree branches, an advent calendar in the form of stars loops from the ceiling, and the family dog helps even when not wearing reindeer antlers.  Depending on the narrative, Jarvis may give readers an expanded view or bring us close to the activities.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when friends arrive to help with the tree decorations.  Blue is used to great extent in the scene.  It's snowing and evening has descended.  Light glows from two windows and an open doorway.  Tiny twinkle lights are lit on the outside trees and around the door.  On the left an adult and three children move toward the opened doorway.  One has a sled with a bag on it.  The two family children are smiling and waving to the guests.  Their dog is next to them.  A snowman sits close to the front on the outside pathway.  A tiny bird is perched on a sign reading


The custom of selecting and decorating a pine tree is splendidly realized in this title.  Through the words of Patricia Toht and the art of Jarvis Pick a Pine Tree is sure to become a family and holiday reading tradition.  It will certainly bring to life cherished memories for all readers and listeners.  I can already imagine the stories which will be shared.  You will want to make sure this title finds a place in all your collections.  It's a lovely example of bookmaking and I'm grateful it is now on my personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Patricia Toht and Jarvis and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website (Candlewick Press) you can view an interior image.  At Penguin Random House you can see the endpapers, verso and title pages, the first full spread and a portion of the next one.  Here is a link to an educator's guide.  Jama Rattigan discusses this title and interviews Patricia Toht at Jama's Alphabet Soup.  Jarvis is interviewed at Medium.  Please enjoy the book trailer.

Friday, December 15, 2017

I Must Have My BFF

True friendships are a valued state of being, sometimes fragile but still with the strength of steel should circumstances present themselves.  At times we look at friendships, ours and others, wondering how the relationship endures. The individuals involved are totally opposite, two sides of the same coin.

These companionships are worth noting because they reveal the complexity of personality characteristics.  They also, if we are being truthful, supply us with endless happiness at the comedy the contrasts provide.  When we met a reluctant bear and an over-zealous duck in Goodnight Already! (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, December 2, 2014) we knew this was a duo destined to find a cherished place in our reader's heart held open for laughter.  In the following title, I Love You Already! (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, December 22, 2015) both members of this twosome freely admit, even momentarily, how important their affection is for each other.  Come Home Already! (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, December 5, 2017) written by Jory John with illustrations by Benji Davies will have you smiling as soon as you see the dust jacket and you'll be laughing out loud at the book case.  The story inside will have your sides aching from pure glee.

"Another glorious morning 
full of possibility!"

Duck, beverage in hand and munching on breakfast, can hardly wait to see what his best buddy, Bear, is doing.  Once at Bear's home knocking at the door and listening at the keyhole result in silence.  It's only when Duck looks up he finds an explanation for the quiet.  Bear has gone fishing . . . for a week.

Duck is aghast.  He can't believe he wasn't invited to go.  He wonders how he will survive an entire week without his friend.  Meanwhile . . .

Bear is traveling on a well-known path through the woods to his favorite camping spot next to a lake.  He is happier than happy to be alone.  He is soaking up all the peacefulness of his surroundings.

Back at inside Bear's home Duck is unsuccessfully trying to convince himself he will be perfectly okay.  He tries to occupy himself but nothing works.  He's bored.  He's alone.  He wants Bear to come home.  At the lake Bear is having another set of numerous problems.  To make it worse, it's raining.

True to his nature, Duck, efficient, organized and energized, has a plan.  Surprises are in store for both friends . . . and readers.  Duck's parting words on the last page bring on the Bear stare we know so well.  It's certain you will be closing the book laughing loud and long.

As in the previous two titles Jory John begins with Duck going next door to Bear's house, he uses the technique of grouping phrases to further define a situation, in these groups of phrases he will repeat one of them followed by

"Wait, I already
said that."


"You already said that"

and at some point there will be a loud exclamation.  In this story a switch is in play.  Duck and Bear are separated in the beginning.

We alternate between their two versions with a subtle tension developing until they are joined by a single soft word.  This is the point when you feel a change is coming.  There has already been humor galore in the two narratives but you know it's going to be heightened.  You know another truth about the relationship is going to be revealed.  Here are a few sentences when Duck discovers Bear is gone.

"Bear's gone fishing?
He's back next week?


He's gone fishing?
Without me?
But . . .
but . . .


The look on Bear's face on the front and back, right and left, of the unfolded dust jacket has him in a continuous daze whenever he thinks about Duck or is in the presence of Duck.  The feathered talk machine never gives him one peaceful moment.  The banana hanging on the end of his fishing pole is a bit of a hint at events to come.  On the back Bear and Duck are walking along carrying camping gear, the one in silence and the other chattering nonstop, a wing extended to make a point.

Across the book case, as a canvas, is a pattern of small orange and yellow diamonds.  In the center of the front and back are dark forest green larger diamonds.  On the right Bear,, wearing his red hat with flaps, is holding his pink bunny.  He is scared.  On the left we see the same picture but Bear's back is to us.  Behind him is Duck with a wing tip to his lips, forming Shhhh...  (I dare you to look at this and not laugh.)  The opening and closing endpapers are orange.

On the title page Bear is already walking, gear on his back and map in hand.  On the verso and dedication pages we see the sun rising over the evergreens behind the two neighbors' houses.  Benji Davies uses each page to begin his visual interpretation.

Depending on the setting the background colors from page to page vary between yellow, pale blue, orange, spring green, darker teal, forest green, rainy day blue, and night sky blue.  Benji Davies alternates his image sizes and perspectives to flow with the narrative pacing.  Readers will enjoy the added details; the duck springing out of Duck's cuckoo clock, the map Bear uses to get to his favorite camping place, the presence of Bear's little pink stuffed bunny, the titles on books, and the banana.

There are many, many funny and favorite pictures in this book.  Two of my favorite ones are of Duck climbing into Bear's house through the kitchen window over the sink.  He's so at ease with entering, one foot on the counter and one wing holding up the window.  The other picture is of Bear at the lake.  His back is to us next to the water on one side and a large evergreen on his other side.  A wire tent frame is zig-zagged across his back.  Tent stakes and a hammer are scattered on the ground. He is trying to stretch out the tent with his paws and one of his feet.  It is not going well.

It's like a breath of fresh air to have this duo back in another book.  Come Home Already! written by Jory John with illustrations by Benji Davies will have you smiling and laughing no matter how many times you read it.  And you will go back and revisit the other two books too.  Readers are going to thank you for reading it during story time and ask you to read it again.  You will certainly want a copy for your professional collection and your collection at home.

To learn more about Jory John and Benji Davies and their other work, please access their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Jory John has a Tumblr account.  Benji Davies also has a blog.  You can watch the child friendly book trailer at the publisher's website.  Jory John is featured at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. and at BrightlyMiss Marple's Musings showcases Benji Davies.  This past summer musical wizard Emily Arrow released a song about the second title.  Enjoy.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Creative Collaborative Comedy

Students and library users in general, regardless of their knowledge of the particular classification system being used, can, without hesitation, direct you to the section in their school and public library housing their favorite books.  If they have not been taught fiction is alphabetical, they still know where to look.  Without mastering the Dewey Decimal Classification they can find the shelves holding the animal books.

If their resident librarian is nearby, they will tell them they can find their favorite books in any library if they know a few simple facts.  Fiction books are generally alphabetical by the author's last name.  It really is as easy as ABC.  Nonfiction books are found in numerical order.  It's as simple as first counting by hundreds.  For most early library users the best practice is to memorize their favorite nonfiction number.  For those animal books it's 590.

Some books break the mold when determining where they are to be shelved.  It can be tricky to decide whether it's fiction or nonfiction.  It can be much harder to figure out if it's really about the subject noted in the title.  This Is Not a Normal Animal Book (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, November 7, 2017) written by Julie Segal-Walters with pictures by Brian Biggs is one of those books.  And it's rip-roaring hilarious!

Animals can be classified into groups by
their unique traits.

Here are some examples of
each category:

This is a straightforward introduction starting with a cat but when the narrator (author) adds

If the cat laid an egg . . .

everything begins to get a little crazy.  The other narrator (illustrator) has a completely different approach to the topic.

He first features the cat laying an egg because that's what the text said.  After the author shouts out the intended reply, the illustrator complies with a yellow note taped to the page showing a hen with an egg.  Each time the story continues in the voice of the author, the current animal switches activities changing it into another animal.

This, of course, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to the illustrator.  How can hopping on a lily pod make you a frog?  What do frogs and honey have in common?  The illustrator, in full mad-scientist mode, starts inventing creatures and names until the author puts a halt to it with a more detailed description of traits.

As the author continues with explicit characteristics, the illustrator voices his disapproval.  His artistic interpretation is being called into question.  The book comes to a screeching stop when the author names an animal the illustrator does not want to draw.  After failed attempts at how-about-this, a compromise seems to be reached.  No. Yes. What?!

This is one of those books when you read and read it again and read it still one more time, it becomes funnier and funnier.  You wonder how much laughter filled the room when debut author Julie Segal-Walters was writing this book.  The pacing is impeccable as the frustration on the part of the author and illustrator, within this narrative, heightens as they start to feel the process deteriorate.  The illustrator is struggling with the presentation of a mammal, bird, amphibian, insect and reptile.  As the author's final two choices are noted the illustrator's responses are guaranteed to have readers rolling on the floor with uncontrollable giggling.  Clearly this author and illustrator do not share the same vision.  Here is a passage.

If the bee slithered and hissed . . .
Oh, come on.
it would be a snake.
A plain green garter snake!
With a stripe down its back!
Look. You write the
words YOUR way.
I'll draw the pictures
MY way.

By all the extra elements on the front and back of the unfolded dust jacket you can't help but notice someone, the illustrator, is making adjustments.  The bright yellow background helps to draw the reader's attention to those changes.  On the back, to the left, on a white background a photograph of the selected amphibian is attached to a portion of the insect with scotch tape.  Crayon drawings visualize other attempts.  As on the front a crayon is shown along with an eraser.  The book case is bright yellow, front and back.  The title is Animal Book.  Beneath it is a hen.  This is utterly plain and simple.

On the opening and closing endpapers an assortment of orange wide-eyed animals are placed on the yellow background.  The animal shown at the end of the book is placed under the text on the initial title page, a foreshadowing of the last straw.  On the more formal title page the illustrator is back making humorous alterations.  A full color display of animals, several from each group, is shown on the first single page image.

In the following illustrations Brian Biggs moves from single page pictures, page edge to page edge, pages with notes taped to the page, crayons, photographs, paper cut-outs and jelly and other revisions to two pages of what can only be named as pure confusion or playful peevishness.  The font style changes between the voice of the author, normal typeface, and the illustrator, hand-written in crayon.  As the exasperation on the part of the illustrator grows so does the text and image sizes.  The author's annoyance escalates in the form of single words followed by periods and the use of exclamation points and capital letters.

One of my favorite, of numerous, illustrations is when the cat is bending over and looking at the egg.  The look of puzzlement on its face is enough to summon spontaneous grins, if not outright laughter.  This is one of the gifts Brian Biggs gives to readers; the comic expressions on the animals' faces when they notice the odd situations.

If you're looking for a book about the collaborative and creative process AND animals, This Is Not a Normal Animal Book written by Julie Segal-Walters with pictures by Brian Biggs is an excellent title.  It is read aloud gold which urges the use of voices for each character.  The Facts about Animals page at the end does give a fact about each animal but the illustrator has other thoughts which appear in orange crayon.

Insects have three-part bodies and outnumber all other animals.
They have VERY stinky feet. 

I can't imagine any collection, professional or personal, without a copy of this book.

Please visit the websites of Julie Segal-Walters and Brian Biggs to learn more about them and their other work by following the links attached to their names.  Teacher guides at Julie's site are here.  Julie is a featured guest writer at Picture Book Month's website in 2017.  At author Vivian Kirkfield's site, Picture Books Help Kids Soar, Julie Segal-Walters is interviewed.  At Brian's site there are several posts about this title.  You can view interior images at the publisher's website.

At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., the cover reveal for the dust jacket is featured with an interview with Brian Biggs.  On the same date, educator extraordinaire, Colby Sharp, chats with Julie Segal-Walters at SHARPREAD with her case cover reveal in one of his 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 interviews.  Both Julie Segal-Walters and Brian Biggs visit with teacher librarian Matthew Winner at All The Wonders, Episode 401.