Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Prickly Plan

Being alone from time to time has merit but being lonely is like having a hole in your heart.  Making friends is a bit tricky for some individuals.  A variety of factors can figure into the difficulty in acquiring a circle of companions.

One problem usually not associated with forming relationships is having physical qualities which tend to keep others, for safety reasons, at a distance.  Elmore (Random House, January 30, 2018) written and illustrated by Holly Hobbie, renowned author illustrator of the Toot and Puddle series, presents readers with a member of the forest community who longs for friends.  When you're a porcupine, it's an unusual situation.

Elmore lived by himself in an ancient maple tree.  He loved it there.

Every so often he left the comfort of his home to enjoy a favorite meal in a nearby meadow.  No matter how long you have been alone being lonely is something you simply cannot overcome all the time.  Elmore was lonely.

He decided to be more open about wanting to have friends.  He posted a sign reading:


His heart sank when he heard animals saying he was too prickly.  They were right.  He couldn't help it.  If you got close, you might feel his spiny quills. 

Truthfully, Elmore knew he had a good life living in the homey hollow.  His quills kept him safe.  After a rainy day he met an elderly relative who offered him a compliment and a good piece of advice about his quills.  These two thoughts helped another thought form in Elmore's mind.  He had a plan.

Gathering up all the quills in his home, he tied them in small, separate bundles.  Then this optimistic porcupine hung up another sign.  Days went by with the forest animals coming to Elmore.  He had never been happier.  Wonderful words left by his new friends filled the hole in his lonely heart.

For many readers the idea of making friends is a daunting hurdle to face.  Holly Hobbie's depiction of a porcupine and his solution will resonate with many of them.  Through understanding his real worth from the conversation with his old uncle, Elmore is able to shift his point of view allowing him to address his dilemma with fresh eyes.  With a smooth blend of narrative and conversations, this story unfolds with a gentle truth.  Here is a passage.

The next day his old uncle happened to come shuffling along past Elmore's tree.
"Good morning, Elmore."  A moment later he said, "You don't seem your usual cheerful self.  Is something wrong?"
"I wish I didn't have all these quills," Elmore explained.  "I'm too hard to be around.  I have no friends."
"I'm your friend."  His uncle smiled.
"That's different," Elmore replied.

The image on the front of the opened dust jacket is guaranteed to lodge firmly in your heart.  Elmore and the branch upon which he sits are varnished.  Notice the prickly texture of his name.  To the left, on the back a spring green provides a canvas for a circular illustration framed in quills.  Elmore is reading a newly posted sign on the tree.  His clasped paws and smile are evidence of his total joy.  (I am working with an F & G.)

The endpapers (oh, the endpapers) are in robin's egg blue.  A single birch tree trunk stretches from the bottom of the center of the right side (left on the closing papers) upward.  The spreading branches with pale green leaves supply a cozy niche for the amiable porcupine.  On the title page he is sleeping stomach down on a branch, arms and legs dangling.

Each picture masterfully created by Holly Hobbie takes readers into the forest and into the soul of Elmore.  Image sizes vary from double-page pictures to single page visuals and for pacing small illustrations are grouped together.  Sometimes Holly she will put smaller pictures beneath the text for effect.  The larger images are framed in white.  White becomes a space for text on those illustrations smaller than two pages.

It's the intricate details (and the fine lines) readers will notice in each picture.  You'll want to count the steps up his tree leading to his hole.  A small woven basket rests next to him as he fills it with special food.  Elmore sometimes wears a little coat but his spines stick through the fabric.

One of my many favorite illustrations is at night on a single page.  Elmore stands in front of a large tree.  A lantern rests on the forest floor.  His back is to us as he hold a hammer.  We can read what the newly hung sign says.  Behind the tree and Elmore are trees and shrubs in shadows.  He is being watched, though.  Eyes glow in the darkness.

I have often thought of having a special list of books that when read not once but repeatedly, still make readers want to hug the book.  Elmore written and illustrated by Holly Hobbie is one of those books.  She tackles a timely topic with compassion.  Readers will love Elmore.  I know I do.  You will want to add this to your professional and personal collections.

I recommend you visit the publisher's website to view interior pages.  You'll get to see those delightful endpapers.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Hear Me Roar . . . Meow

Without a doubt I am a one hundred percent dog person.  That does not necessarily mean I am not a cat person.  To tell you the truth, I have never been sure exactly how cats relate to me.  They are a lot harder to read, for me, than dogs.

The most time I ever spent with a cat was in high school.  One of my good friends was allowed to share her life with one.  No matter where we all went or how many people spent the night in the presence of that cat, it always, without fail, ended up on my pillow the next morning.  Sometimes it was literally on my head.

We know cats come in all shapes and sizes from almost all corners of the world.  I Am A Cat (Abrams Books for Young Readers, February 6, 2018) written and illustrated by Galia Bernstein, her debut title as both author and illustrator, presents us with a discussion.  This discourse begins with several simple declarations.

"Hello, my name is Simon.
I am a cat.  Just like you!"

The small gray cat makes these statements standing in front of a panther, tiger, cheetah, puma and a lion.  Simon's assertions freeze them, wide-eyed, where they sit, like deer caught in the headlights.  Seconds later they are laughing like he told them the best joke they've ever heard.

The first to point out the error of his thinking is the lion.  Simon can't be a cat.  Where are his mane and the tuft at the end of his tail? And the sounds he makes can hardly be considered a roar.

Cheetah points out Simon's size and shape in contrast to his own physique.  Simon would be left in the dust if the two of them raced.  Mountain dweller Puma notes he knows

fuzzy little rabbits

with more stamina that Simon.  Panther mentions the lack of his living in a proper habitat similar to his own.  Looking down at Simon with more than a little disrespect, Tiger asserts he looks more like a particular rodent than a majestic big cat.

When Simon professes his bewilderment announcing their differences, he challenges how they can all be cats.  Lion's reply mentions all the traits they share together.  When he finishes, Simon makes the only conclusion he can.  Lion, Puma, Panther, Tiger and Cheetah with a lot of scrutiny and mumbling answer as only they can.  Cats will be cats.

Galia Bernstein's sense of humor bursts forth immediately and without warning when the big cats respond to Simon's first three sentences.  Our interest and participation in the story comes when we read (listen) to the big cats' refutations.  You can almost hear them speaking as each one enumerates their distinctive traits.  This technique increases the subtle tension, leading us to yet another surprise in the narrative.  With cleverness Galia Bernstein weaves truths about each cat and cats in general into the dialogue.  Here is a passage.

"A cat?" said Lion.  "Don't be silly, dear boy.  You can't be a cat because I am a cat, and you are nothing like me at all. . . ."

Rendered digitally with applied hand-painted textures the illustrations, beginning with the opened dust jacket, invite readers to reach out and touch them.  The lower portion of the seated big cats extends over the spine to the far left side and into a portion of the flap.  On the right, one of the tiger's feet, legs and his tail covers a section of the right flap.  The text there curves around the curve of the tail.  The look on Simon's face on the front leads readers to believe something is about to happen.

On the book case a white canvas provides a background for Simon on the front, licking a paw as he looks up.  To the left, on the back, the entire group of cats forms a sleeping mound with Tiger as the base.  The opening and closing endpapers are an orange-red.  Under the text on the title page, Simon rests on a branch as if it's a hammock.  With a page turn we see his paw prints move from the far left page to where he sits on the right page.

For all of the illustrations white space is used with excellence as a design element.  The heavier, matte-finished paper highlights all the cats.  With the exception of two, all of the images by Galia Bernstein span two pages.  What she does to supply further interest and engagement for readers is to shift the perspective.  We move from a wider view to a close-up, see Simon as if we are seated with the big cats, and we see the big cats around us as if we are Simon looking up at them.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the first one without words.  As soon as I saw it the first time and every subsequent time, laughter bubbles up inside me.  You know something is going to change within the next few moments.  You hold your breath.  From left to right across two pages we see the upper portion and heads of the big cats in a row, Panther, Tiger, Cheetah, Puma and Lion.  They are in different poses.  Their eyes are wide open and their facial features are frozen.  It's the perfect picture to preface what follows.

Written and illustrated by Galia Bernstein I Am A Cat answers the age old question of what makes cats (or us) the same while honoring our differences.  The blend of illustrations, dialogue and humor will make this a title frequently requested at story time.  It would be a fantastic book to include in a unit on cats, fiction or nonfiction.  You will need to have this as part of your professional and personal collections.

By following the link attached to Galia Bernstein's name, you can access her website to learn more about her and her other work. Although the posts on her blog are older they give insight into her art.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Grandmother Is Gone

That we continue to explore our own folklore and the folklore of other cultures is essential.  Not only is it the foundation from which many other forms of literature builds but if we are to understand one another, we need to read and listen to these stories.  In these narratives we discover the richness cultures different from our own offer us.  We discover those things we have in common; those values which transcend those differences.

Most folklore has stories of animals exhibiting particular characteristics.  These animals can deter, challenge, help or inspire the efforts of humans in these tales.  Debut picture book author Julie Kim offers readers a look at characters well-known in Koren literature.  Where's Halmoni? (Little Bigfoot, an imprint of Sasquatch Books, October 3, 2017) takes us on a quest to find a beloved family member.

We are here~

Sister and brother, Noona and Joon, have come to visit their grandmother. Noona is carrying a bag with groceries and Joon is wearing a backpack shaped like the head of a fox.  Halmoni, their grandmother, has disappeared.  So has her red bean soup.  All they can find are a trail of tracks.  When they look for her in her bedroom, Joon locates a slightly open door.

It leads to a vibrant landscape filled with mountains, tall trees, flowers and butterflies.  Readers see, before the siblings, an animal climbing down a rope ladder.  It's a rabbit with a red cloth bundle on its back.  Their inquiries about their grandmother are answered in Koren.  In exchange for some of the snacks Joon has in his backpack, the rabbit gives them a magical back scratcher.  They also believe they need to find a tiger.

When the duo rest in the forest, hungry and tired, they are startled by a group of dokkebi, friendly goblins.  More snacks and drinks are given in trade for an elaborate door handle with its own unique properties.  A glowing opening shows them another path.  Loud roaring has them rushing toward the sound.

A tiger and a nine-tailed white fox are arguing over an item the two identify as their grandmother's soup pot.  Joon runs to the rescue chewing on the tiger's tail.  Noona suggests a more peaceful method, a hearty game of rock-paper-scissors.  Of the four, two are quickly eliminated.  A triumphant winner is tricked but in a twist the trickster is tricked.  A tiger roars for more.  Will Noona and Joon ever get home?  And where is their grandmother?

Limited text in the form of dialogue between the characters written by Julie Kim sets this story in motion and introduces us to everyday customs and respect for family members.  When Noona and Joon encounter the rabbit, the goblins, the tiger and the fox we realize the cleverness of the siblings is no match for the animals.  Evidence of humor is provided in the items given to the children and in their comments to each other especially when they are with the goblins.  Here is a passage.

I think it's thirsty. (Noona)
Of course it is.  It ate ALL our cookies. (Joon)
I think it's REEAAALLY thirsty. (Noona)
And we ARE sitting on it.
Let's get OUT of here Noona, before we lose ALL our snacks!

Upon opening the sturdy paper cover (I am working with an F & G.) on the other side of the door, to the left on the back, Noona and Joon are peeking around the edge.  Their wide-eyed looks and open mouths tell a story as much as the sly look on the tiger's face on the front.  The firm, fluid lines and bright colors here are a wonderful indication of the images to follow.

On the title page the tiger is creeping through the opened doorway in Halmoni's bedroom.  On the verso page Julie Kim gives readers a glimpse of the fantastical realm in the form of light clouds and a bird in flight.  The design and format of the visual aspects of this title are in panels.

Their size alternates between full page pictures, half page illustrations, multiple images on a single page and double page pictures. Sometimes they are framed in thin black lines; other times they span page edge to page edge.  The text may be in speech balloons or for effect written on the illustration.  When a new character appears in the story it is given two pages with a symbolic element, Koren letters, the Koren name and the English name.

What readers will enjoy (what this reader enjoys) are the facial expressions and body language.  There is never a doubt as to the mood of the moment or the emotional status of any given situation.  These, plus the gorgeous settings, bring us all into the story.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  On the left the five colorful goblins with green, red, blue and golden skin wearing patterned and equally colorful clothing are gobbling the treats given to them and pointing for more. Noona is handing out a package of cookies and a juice box.  Joon is pulling out snack after snack from his back pack.  What is charmingly humorous is the stacks of snacks around him look as though they could fit in four back packs instead of just one.

If you have not read Where's Halmoni? written and illustrated by Julie Kim make sure you remedy this as soon as possible.  Then read it aloud to one or more people . . . repeatedly.  I can see this book, a true treasure, being a favorite of listeners.  I highly recommend this for all collections.  At the close of the book, Julie Kim supplies reads with translations of the Koren text and describes the folklore characters and their place in her life.

To discover more about Julie Kim and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At Sasquatch Books you can read small portions of the four starred reviews this title has received plus view the first of nineteen pages.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson reveals the cover on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfastwith some additional artwork.  Teacher librarian Cynthia Alaniz interviews Julie Kim on her blog, Librarian in Cute Shoes.  Julie Kim stops by teacher librarian Matthew Winner's All The Wonders, Episode 396 podcast.  She also visits Let's Talk Picture Books for an interview with lots of artwork.  At This Picture Book Life she appears to give us the red bean soup recipe.  Where's Halmoni? was among the winners of The 2017 Nerdies:  Fiction Picture Books introduced by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.

Friday, January 26, 2018

His Legacy Lives

It was April 4, 1968.  As a sixteen-year-old junior in high school my thoughts were turning to the end of the school year and a summer job at the local florist shop at the other end of the street.  In another state a Noble Peace Prize winner was thinking of music and words when standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  It was early evening.  An hour later, this man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was gone, killed by an assassin's bullet.  My memory of the news in our home is one of stunned silence.

Today, fifty years later, I watched the ABC News broadcast of the tragic events of that evening.  This video broadcast is followed by the ABC News coverage of the  Memphis March on April 8, 1968 honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  (You cannot experience these historical broadcasts without being emotionally moved.)  Martin Rising: Requiem For A King (Scholastic Press, January 2, 2018) written by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is as extraordinary as the man being honored within these pages.  Time stands still from the moment you begin reading.

Here she is!
Hind feathers

Her birdie eyes,
filled with foresight,
see far down the road.

Peck-peck prophecy.

This prelude is the first of forty docu-poems, each dated, centered on the three months prior to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  In the second poem dated with his birth, January 15, 1929, we read of a child growing into a man with purpose and a dream.  It follows in a third poem with words celebrating what would be his last birthday; the baking of the cake, the thirty-nine candles on that cake, a wish made, and a family singing and dancing to the music sounding forth from the piano with Coretta's playing.  Months pass taking readers to the strike of the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee on February 11, 1968.  A group led by Reverend James Lawson meets two weeks later in support of the workers.

March weather roars and strikers march through the city of Memphis.  Unlike the weather their efforts appear stalled.  A call is made from one friend to another.  Dr. King is to arrive in Memphis.  His speech to those gathered on March 18, 1868 buoys their spirits as does his promise of a return in four days.  March weather intervenes until Dr. King comes back and they walk again on March 28, 1968.  It does not go well.  It does not end peacefully.  Against the advice of friends, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knows he needs to return.  He knows he is needed in Memphis, Tennessee.

Arriving at the Lorraine Motel on April 3, 1968, Dr. King is bone-tired.  His fever-torn body has him asking a friend to speak in his place that evening at the Mason Temple.  Later that same friend begs him to come.  The people want him.  Peace.  Nonviolence.

"I may not get there with you.

But I want you to know tonight,
that we
as a people
will get to the promised land!"

It is April 4, 1968.  After the triumph of his speech last night, Dr. King sleeps until noon.  His friend, Ralph (Pastor Ralph D. Abernathy) is ready to discuss their next rally and the march scheduled for April 8, 1968 for the sanitation workers.  There is a surprise visit and an afternoon of fun.  In the evening friends at the Lorraine Motel in Room 306 ready themselves for a dinner and for a night of inspiration.  And then . . .

Henny Penny is correct; the sky does fall.  Hearts are broken and rage rains on Memphis.  And what of James Earl Ray?  There are so many questions with no answers.  On April 8, 1968 a wife stands tall with children near her; children now with no father.  Days pass moving toward another holiday full of promise, a promise seen in the joy of children.  For the rest of years as far as we can now see the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will still be a time for making wishes, dreaming dreams and going forth in love.

Having finished reading these forty poems for the second time, moments ago, a feeling of being in the presence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his family, his friends and those for whom he represented is unshakable.  Andrea Davis Pinkney gives us the truths of these events so beautifully it takes your breath away.  The weaving of the folktale character Henny Penny into the narrative is done flawlessly and adds a new dimension to the understanding of what transpired and what continues today.  It is a master stroke of poetic writing.

At the beginning of the book a table of contents lists the titles of each poem.  You can see Andrea Davis Pinkney has divided them into three sections; Daylight, Darkness and Dawn.  This is done with intention.  It serves to bind the reader personally to each poem.  With respect here is a portion of the poem

March 28, 1968

. . .

Eleven o'clock,
on the nose
of what they hope
will be
freedom's punctuality.

Garbagemen go all out.

All showing up,
so proud.

Boys and girls---twenty-two thousand of them!---

Playing hooky, skipping school,
so they, too,
can demonstrate.

Martin leads them all
through Memphis streets
toward city hall.

Arm in arm, 
he walks,
with his friend,
his ace,
his close-close confidant,
Reverend Ralph Abernathy.

Interlocked elbows, 
the city's many ministers
march with Martin, too.

We shall overcome!   . . .

The swirl of glowing golden hues blended with new sky blue calls to readers from the opened dust jacket.  The marchers holding signs beneath Dr. King cross the spine stretching until they fade to the left in the same swirl of glowing golden hues blended with new sky blue.  On the back we read:

Can a Dream ever die?

A burst of sun replies:

His life well lived for peace and good.

Martin's spirit---still alive!

And with love,

we all shall rise.

Removing the jacket reveals a splendid book case with a white canvas.  The title text with Andrea Davis Pinkney's and Brian Pinkney's names is golden yellow.  The subtitle is placed on the left in blue.  Beneath those words are three arches on each side, representing the three portions of this narrative.  Along the bottom only about an inch high are multitudes of marchers.

The blue from the dust jacket covers the opening and closing endpapers.  A page turn at the front shows a sun rising in a wash of yellows, blues and a bit of purple.  On the title pages the image from the book case is replicated.

Rendered in watercolor, gouache, and India ink on watercolor paper, the paintings of Brian Pinkney are in a word, exquisite.  Each page turn will have you gasping at his representations.  He shines a bright light on the text, shifting with the emotions, moods and the weather.  His lines and color choices reflect those very things.

One of my many favorite paintings is for the continuation of the poem, KINGS IN MEMPHIS March 18, 1968.  A deep, deep golden (almost pale orange) washes on the left providing a place for the text.  On the right is a loose arched window, as one would see in a church.  In a circle near the top (like a rose window) Dr. King is speaking.  Radiating from that and beneath it are sections filled with gathered people, intently listening.  In the far right, lower corner, more people are entering the church.  The warmth of this moment is captured in the colors used, oranges and yellows with hints of blue and green.

Reading Martin Rising: Requiem For A King written by Andrea David Pinkney with illustrations by Brian Pinkney silently to yourself is an experience to be remembered.  To read it aloud is powerful.  I high recommend this book for your professional and personal collections.  At the close of the book are Author's Reflections and Artist's Reflections and four pages dedicated to Now Is The Time with original photographs.  The final four sentences read:

When we vote, we rise.  When we march, we rise.  When we speak out, seek peace, teach the truth, we all rise to a better tomorrow.  And the time is now!

A time line and sources (books and web sources) with acknowledgments conclude this title.

To learn more about Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior poems and images.  Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, hosts the cover reveal and an interview with Andrea and Brian on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Andrea Davis Pinkney stops to chat with author, Deborah Kalb, in a Q & A.  Andrea Davis Pinkney talks with Roger Sutton about this title in a video at The Horn BookAuthor, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson talks about this book at Kirkus and gives us views of artwork on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Please visit a page on Scholastic's blog, On Our Minds, to celebrate this title.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

She Never Gives Up

There will be times when reading a picture book biography when you feel your admiration for the individual growing page by page.  You can't help but speculate on the strength of character necessary for this person to continue pursuing their life's goals.  In the face of continuous adversity, what inspires this person to endure and persevere?

As you read the final sentence on the final page, a hope grows inside you.  Unlike most of the biographies you read, this amazing person is still alive.  However remote the possibility, you long for the opportunity to meet them.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R. B. G. vs. Inequality (Abrams Books for Young Readers, August 8, 2017) written by Jonah Winter with illustrations by Stacy Innerst will embolden readers to pursue their life's ambitions with the same intention.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury:  During this trial, you will learn about a little girl who had no clue just how important she would become.

Step by step, incident by incident, beginning with her birth in 1933 Ruth Bader Ginsburg forged ahead against the status quo, what was expected and accepted.  Her parents, Jewish, came from families leaving Europe due to persecution for their religious beliefs.  Her father never finished high school.  Her mother graduated from high school by the time she was fifteen but went to work supporting a brother's college education.  She continued saving every single cent she made after marriage so her daughter could go to college.

Growing up in a home in Brooklyn, New York, with books and a mother who supported weekly trips to the public library, Ruth knew the opportunities the world offered.  She also knew its cruelty in the form of anti-Semitism.  In school Ruth pursued many interests but at an early age her interest in the laws governing our United States was apparent.  Sadness descended on Ruth though on her high school graduation day.  Her beloved mother passed away.

Having earned a scholarship, Ruth went to Cornell University.  In 1950 Ruth and other women were outnumbered by male students, four to one.  To be seen as knowledgeable was detrimental for young women.  She hid and studied.  She also met a young man who admired knowledgeable young women.  His name was Martin Ginsburg.

Despite discouragement, even from her father and against the existing norms of the time, Ruth went to law school (after marrying Martin).  Did you know that at Harvard Law School, at that time, Ruth was not allowed to use the periodical room because she was a woman?  Did you know that as the only woman in a lecture hall, Ruth endured ridicule by professors because she was a woman?  She (and other women) always answered the questions correctly;

. . . she had to, she was representing all women.

Time and time again, Ruth did the work of three people to accomplish her goals.  Time and time again Ruth met with extreme prejudice.  Did you know that she was turned down by law firms because she was a woman, she was Jewish and she was a mother?  With the 1970s came the age of women starting to have their say.  Not one to be openly protesting Ruth fought for the rights of women in her own style, through the law.

Decade after decade her voice was heard as the person in charge of the ACLU Women's Rights Project, as an appointed judge in the U. S. Court of Appeals (appointed by President Jimmy Carter) and as a member of the United States Supreme Court (appointed by President Bill Clinton).  She was sixty years old.  Her dissents in serving on the Supreme Court are legendary.  Today at the age of eighty-four Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still a member of the United States Supreme Court, a voice for those who need it the most.

The writing of Jonah Winter captivates readers immediately.  You can feel a tension (and suspense) building as Ruth Bader Ginsburg encounters obstacle after obstacle but does not halt her pursuits.  Each time you find yourself inwardly cheering for this woman, applauding her achievements and expressing gratitude for her sense of purpose.  The technique of presenting her life as a case is brilliant.

Jonah Winter chronicles Ruth's life prior to law school as absolute truths, supported by research.  He continues with specific acts of inequality as exhibits and concludes with her singular victories (even her dissents are victorious).  Here is one of the exhibits.

H.  Exhibit H:  Ruth would speak up at faculty meetings---and the male professors would totally ignore her.  A male professor would then say the very same thing that Ruth had said---and get acknowledged for being smart.  This kept happening even after Ruth became Columbia's first tenured female law professor.

The design of the waving United States flag seen on the opened dust jacket extends to both flap edges.  On the right flap a smaller interior image of Ruth and her mother appears at the bottom.  On the left flap Ruth is seen reading one of her dissents in the Supreme Court.  The back of the dust jacket contains a yellow, lined legal pad acting as a place holder for the opening statement of this "case".  Beneath it Ruth as a little girl stands with determination etched on her face.

Spanning the opened book case, on a background of parchment brown, are the scales of justice.  The center is placed along the spine.  On the left are eight justices, serious and frowning.  On the right Ruth Bader Ginsburg is stepping into the other scale which is filled with books.  One hand is holding a gavel and the other is grasping the line holding the scale.

On the opening and closing endpapers ten rows of shelves hold books from left to right.  Ruth is standing on a ladder, wearing her justice robes, reaching for a book.  These books extend to the following page at the beginning and at the close of the book.  On the title page, the waving flag provides a background for Ruth as a young girl, reading.

Rendered in gouache, ink and Photoshop illustrator Stacy Innerst provides readers with a detailed, poignant portrait of Ruth, during her entire life.  His opening two page picture of a little girl, holding a book in a court room and standing before a jury (us) is particularly powerful.  The essence of the text is distilled in each image.

To show how Ruth's mother worked but was well-read, we see her mopping floors with a mop and bucket and holding a book, reading, at the same time.  To depict anti-Semitism a dark vehicle spans from the entire right across the gutter to most of the left side.  Peering out the back window is Ruth.  She is looking at a sign on a resort fence which reads:


Stacy Innerst alters his picture sizes in keeping with the narrative and to punctuate pacing.  He provides appropriate details in keeping with Ruth's life and the historical setting of each visual.  For the exhibits, each portrait is placed on an opened, yellow and lined legal pad.  At each page turn you are drawn into his illustrations becoming a part of the scene.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Ruth hiding in the bathroom to study.  It gives specific force to just how much inequality was prevalent then (and sometimes still today).  Ruth is pictured wearing her Cornell sweater seated on the floor of the bathroom under the sink.  Books are spread across the black tile floor.  The background walls are pink tiles with a small border.

Even after several readings the importance of this book, its power, does not diminish.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R. B. G. vs. Inequality written by Jonah Winter with illustrations by Stacy Innerst is a picture book biography to be shared as often as possible.  I highly recommend it being placed on your professional and personal bookshelves.  At the conclusion of this book are a glossary and an author's note.

To discover more about Jonah Winter and Stacy Innerst, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Jonah Winter is interviewed at author Deborah Kalb's site about this title.  At Stacy Innerst's site you can view interior illustrations.  This title is one of the ten The New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children's Books Award winners.  It is also one of the 2018 Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable books.  NPR Morning Edition recently (January 22, 2018) chatted with Ruth Bader Ginsburg about the #MeToo Movement.

Please take a few minutes to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to note the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Messages From The Heart

It is a greeting given in friendship.  It is a written declaration of devotion.  It is a token of endearment.  On February 14th, collectively by more people than any other day of the year, love is celebrated.  Brave souls will reveal their sincere feelings for others.  If the fondness is known, shared and has stood the test of time, it is honored for the treasure it is.

You can be a Valentine, the cherished individual, or you can give someone a Valentine, a greeting, a declaration or a token.  This is NOT a Valentine (Chronicle Books, December 26, 2017) written by Carter Higgins with illustrations by Lucy Ruth Cummins offers readers less than traditional displays of tenderness.  They are nonetheless genuine and straight from the heart.

This is not a valentine,
since those come with buckets of roses
and bushels of tulips
that smell like grannies
fresh out of the garden.

On the bus ride to school on Valentine's Day a girl gives a classmate, a boy, a Valentine card.  In response he gives her a handful of dandelions, some blooming, others ready to make wishes come true and several bare.  As he hands her another token he is quick to remind her, this is not a valentine.

Each gesture of kindness and friendship by him to her during the day reveals how well he knows her.  He realizes what he gives her next is not the hues frequently found on Valentines nor is it any of her favorite colors, but it is a color worn by superheroes and she is a superhero to him.  When their teacher asks them to make portraits, his drawing of her is filled with imperfections but his attempt is pure perfection.

His answer to them being separated in the drinking fountain line is an expertly aimed paper airplane.  He has to get her attention as best as he can.  During science he imagines them being sick together from a lesson with negative results but he chooses to find the silver lining.  In the cafeteria at lunch and on the playground at recess, the boy finds readily available mementos to present to his friend.  His purpose for choosing each one is a reflection of his affection.

As the school day closes, the two walk to the bus chatting together.  Unlike the morning, they are riding home side by side.  The boy speaks one final line leaving readers with a profound thought to ponder.

The brilliant beauty of this book penned by Carter Higgins is its truth.  There are many ways to demonstrate friendship and love; sometimes denying either is a demonstration of the opposite.  With the openness and genuineness so easily found in children, this boy allows us to see the wonder in loving someone.  His reasons for selecting each item will stay with readers.  They disclose the depth of his character.  Here is a passage.

This is not a valentine,
since it's got sharper edges than
dainty old lace.
But if you play duck duck goose
with kids who run real fast,
you'll just get stuck in the stew pot.
So meet me at the hopscotch squares.
My lucky rock will help.

Although the title on the opened dust jacket claims this is not a Valentine, the looks on the boy's and girl's faces say otherwise.  The color choices and the size of the book give you the sense this is a Valentine.  To the left, on the back, the ribbon-wearing frog is leaping away to the left from the spine on the same cream canvas.

The book case is a scattering of Valentine envelopes each sealed with a small red heart.  They are placed on a white background on both sides of the case.  The title appears in the center on the far right.  A shade of lavender covers the opening and closing endpapers.  It is a slightly lighter hue than the color of the girl's dress.

Before the title page a single Valentine envelope bears the name Kevin. (At the close of the book there is a notable difference.) Illustrator Lucy Ruth Cummins begins her visual story on the following pages.  The verso shows the front of the school bus as it pulls up to the stop.  The boy and the girl are seated together on a bench waiting on the title page.  She is about to give the boy a Valentine.  The next wordless two-page picture shows his reaction.

Rendered in brush marker, gouache, graphite, colored pencil, crayon, ink and charcoal the images created by Lucy Ruth Cummins are brimming with texture and charm.  The children in their facial expressions and body postures exhibit happiness.  You can't look at them without smiling.  A full page is dedicated to each of the keepsakes given to the girl.  Lucy Ruth Cummins switches perspective to focus our attention on a particular moment in the story; when the ring color matches the color of the girl's shoelaces, when the children are drawing the portraits or eating their lunch.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the boy, seated at the back of the room, is passing a "gift" to the front of the class where the girl sits.  This image is on a cream background spanning two pages.  Our attention is drawn to the colorful clothing of the students.  Their desks, in a row, left to right, are pencil sketches.  On the side of each desk is a pink heart.

This is NOT a Valentine written by Carter Higgins with illustrations by Lucy Ruth Cummins is a Valentine to readers from these two talented women.  It is a touching testament to the variety of Valentines given and received.  Each one is as precious as the other.  You will want to add this delightful title to your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Carter Higgins and Lucy Ruth Cummins and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Both women visit All The Wonders for a book cover reveal with teacher librarian Matthew Winner.  At 12 x 12 and author Melissa Roske's siteCarter Higgins is showcased.  Lucy Ruth Cummins is interviewed at BOOKish.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Embracing Friendship And Holidays

In eleven days a special event dating back to 1887 is observed.  On February 2nd a groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, exits his home.  According to tradition if he steps out into the sun and sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of winter.  If the day is cloudy, spring is not far behind.  History tells us that similar celebrations were followed in ancient times in Europe.  They were in turn brought to America with immigrants.

Less than two weeks after Groundhog Day another popular annual holiday is welcomed by many.  It's a time to declare love, share love and remember love.  There is no better way to enjoy this day than in the company of friends.  Groundhug Day (Disney Hyperion, December 5, 2017) written by Anne Marie Pace with illustrations by Christopher Denise presents a problem unique to a charming group of forest friends.

Valentine's Day was only two weeks away,
and Moose was planning a grand party.

Squirrel, Bunny and Porcupine offer ideas for making the party extra special.  For Moose the best part of the party is extending an invitation to everyone.  Bunny is the first to point out a potential complication. 

If their friend Groundhog sees his shadow tomorrow, he will miss the Valentine's Day gala.  All four of them have plans to avoid this dilemma involving a calendar, a blindfold, a tent and Groundhog being stuck inside his home.  They spend entirely too much time arguing about the best strategy.  The sun rises.

When Groundhog sees his shadow, he turns around, scampering back inside and his friends are stunned.  Moose quickly asks Groundhog if he is afraid of shadows.  His reply has them brainstorming. 

Moose, Bunny, Squirrel and Porcupine speak of the beauty of shadows to Groundhog.  Intrigued he steps outside to enjoy the fun of their creations.  At the end of the day though he goes back inside.  There is indeed six weeks of winter remaining.  Groundhog loves his friends giving them a warm embrace before he leaves.  In six weeks when this fellow emerges from his home, a plot twist leaves him and readers surprised but smiling.

With her opening sentences author Anne Marie Pace issues an invitation to readers not for a single celebration but for the joy found in the friendship of these forest creatures.  She also establishes a storytelling rhythm which is repeated giving each of the four, Squirrel, Bunny, Porcupine and Moose, a voice.  They express their views on the necessary components of a great party, how to stop Groundhog from seeing his shadow, their friend's fear, using shadows inventively, and guessing at Porcupine's shadow puppets.  The blend of conversations and narrative is perfection.  Here is a passage.

"Hey, Groundhog," Moose finally said.
"What if we showed you just how awesome
shadows are?  I'll show you the ways leaves
blowing in the wind make shadows dance!"

"I'll show you how to draw silhouettes!" said Bunny.  

"I'll show you how clouds cast shadows on the hills," said Squirrel.

Just looking at the opened dust jacket created in warm, rosy hues welcomes readers to the party pictured and the story unfolding on the book's pages.  It's a cozy scene with the affection apparent in the gestures of the animals.  Squirrel is holding out a box of candy, Bunny is carrying Valentine balloons and Porcupine is giving Groundhog a hug.  Moose is in the background attending to the details of the party.  And speaking of details, readers will notice many in this first image and throughout the book.  To the left, on the back, a pale rose canvas holds a place for a circular illustration framed with a tiny yellow line.  In the picture Bunny is holding a Valentine card and Squirrel is holding a Valentine balloon. 

On the book case the same shade of pale rose covers the front and back.  A single Valentine balloon floats on the front.  The spine on the case and jacket is in yellow with three rose hearts above and below the title text.  On the opening and closing endpapers in various hues of pink, rose and red is a pattern of various Valentine cards and Valentine balloons.  Beneath the text on the title page Groundhog in his robe, holding a steaming beverage and the morning paper, is looking at his calendar.

A page turn gives us a panoramic view of a pastoral picture; a distant mountain, rolling fields, trees, and two small homes, one most certainly belonging to Groundhog.  This picture literally glows.  Rendered using Photoshop and a Wacom tablet by Christopher Denise each illustration, varying in size, brings us into this tale of friendship.  The body postures, facial expressions, and clothing radiate cozy comfort.  You'll want to stop at each image noticing each element.  You don't want to miss what Bunny, Squirrel, Porcupine, Moose or Groundhog is doing.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Moose, Bunny, Squirrel and Porcupine are working on the party planning.  They are gathered around the table in Moose's house.  Porcupine is painting a heart on a Valentine on the wood floor between the stove and a checkered, wing back chair.  Squirrel is balancing on the back of a dining room chair playing with a Valentine balloon.  Bunny is studying a calendar spread on the table.  Moose, glasses in his hand, is leaning over and listening to Bunny.  A string of cut-out hearts is on the wing-back chair.  A teapot and cup and saucer are on the table among books with ideas for planning the party.

The endearing forest characters and delightful luminous illustrations in Groundhug Day written by Anne Marie Pace with pictures by Christopher Denise make this book downright huggable.  This book can be used to focus on seasons, holidays, shadows and friendship.  It is sheer pleasure to read it aloud.  You'll want to make sure to have a copy in all your collections, professional and personal.  You might want to pair it with Groundhog's Day Off written by Robb Pearlman with illustrations by Brett Helquist.

To learn more about Anne Marie Pace and Christopher Denise and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Christopher Denise maintains a blog, an account on Instagram and Twitter.  Anne Marie Pace is found on Twitter.  She has designed a board on Pinterest for this title.  Anne Marie Pace is interviewed by author Caroline Starr Rose on her website about this title.  Anne Marie Pace also visits All The Wonders, Picturebooking, Episode 93 with Nick Patton.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

It Never Fails

She was in her twenties before she heard him say those three powerful words to her.  He was a believer in actions speaking louder than words.  There was no doubt of his love for her but to hear those words spoken to her with quiet purpose is a cherished memory.

Love manifests itself silently without fanfare in everyday moments, a smile or an extended hand.  It can roar so the whole world is aware of its presence.  Love (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, January 9, 2018) written by Matt de la Pena with illustrations by Loren Long lifts up love so readers can rejoice in its beauty as it radiates into our hearts and surrounds our souls.

In the beginning there is light
and two wide-eyed figures standing
near the foot of your bed,
and the sound of their voices is love.

If you listen and look you will hear it and see it in the city scene as you pass by in a taxi.  Love makes an appearance no matter where you live or the time of day.  You need to let it wash over you in the gifts given by Mother Nature and in the singular sounds of human progress.

Children of all ages in all seasons give love in their laughter.  Reach out, share it and join in their joy. In the midst of tragedy, heartache, or a nightmare, a voice can shelter us or a pet can comfort us and speak of love.  Love wraps around us every single day if we think about the people who are a part of our lives.  What they do is a love song just for us.

Have you ever studied the face of a grandparent, parent or beloved adult?  The wrinkles lining their faces represent paths traveled to give love.  Do you remember family stories?  Is there one member whose tales are taller than the others?  This is love.

Strangers send love into the world when they pursue their musical passion.  You have love too.  It's seen in your reflection.  So sweet children, wherever you go, there is love in you, in others, and in the world.

These twenty five sentences, these phrases, written by Matt de la Pena speak of seeking and finding love in ordinary places, in spaces we share with others.  He asks us to be aware and to understand the numerous forms of love.  Readers will be connected to other readers through Matt's depictions of love beginning with his first sentence.  This connection will broaden and grow deeper page by page.  Here are three sentences, one following the other.

And in time you learn to recognize
a love overlooked.
A love that wakes at dawn and
rides to work on the bus.
A slice of burned toast that tastes like love. 

When I first looked at the dust jacket with the shades of yellow and rich blues with a hint of purple, it wrapped around me like a hug. (When I left home for the first time going to college my mother made me a bedspread, pillow case and pillows in these colors.  She said it was to remind me of her and her favorite flowers, violets.)  Artists will tell you these hues are close to complementary.  The front of this dust jacket reminds us storms will pass and sunshine (sunrises and sunsets) will always follow, like love.  This image of the father and child with the yellow umbrella is precious.  To the left, on the back, the darker blue color provides a canvas for a puddle spreading from the top, left portion.  Reflected in the puddle is the child walking and carrying a closed umbrella.  The title text is varnished.

On the book case a thin layer of grass spans from left to right.  Along the top is a slightly larger layer of sky with wisps of clouds.  In the center is bright golden yellow.  This is deeply symbolic.  On the opening and closing endpapers is a deep, deep shade of blue.  On a background of pure white the initial title page shows the word love.  On the formal title page the design of the book case is repeated.

Rendered in

collaged monotype prints, acrylic paint and pencil

the illustrations created by Loren Long will literally take your breath away.   Some of them are loosely framed circles on a single page, others cross the gutter from left to right or right to left leaving a column for text and others span two pages framed in white.  There are single page pictures too.  Loren uses full color but his choices convey mood such as when the child is searching for love in a dream and can't find it.  His perspectives represent shifts in emotion and emphasize those emotions.

The words of Matt de la Pena are enhanced by Loren Long's images.  When Matt speaks of a ride in a cab through a city our eyes are immediately drawn first to the taxis lining the curb.  We are aware of the layers of buildings in the background and the framing of the trees.  We are transported to this park.  A red balloon drifts in the air.  We see the vendor's stand on the far left.  A woman holding a hot dog in one hand and a dog leash, attached to her pup, in the other hand is watching.  To the right a boy in a wheel chair is holding out a hot dog to a man resting on a bench.  A single crutch is leaning against that bench.  There are many stories in this scene.  Each illustration Loren has given us is replete with details inviting discussion and contemplation.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the one for the above-quoted text. It is on a single page.  Two children stand at a window.  The younger of the two is looking outside the window.  It's winter and a man carrying a lunch pail is trudging through the snow toward a bus.  An older sibling is facing the boy, handing him a glass of juice and carrying a plate with burned toast on it.  A large radiator is beneath the window.  (My dad worked in the same factory for forty-one years.  I still have the thermos he carried.  I can't remember him ever missing a day of work.  And I can't eat toast unless it's burned.  My mom always burned the toast.)

Love written by Matt de la Pena with illustrations by Loren Long is as the title states but make no mistake, this is a book conceived and created with love by these two men.  The words and images are about all of us.  We can see and sense ourselves on every single page.  You will want to have multiple copies of this title for your professional collections, at least one for your personal collections and this is one you will be gifting to others often.  Thank you Matt de la Pena and Loren Long.  Thank you with all of my heart.

To learn more about Matt de la Pena and Loren Long and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Both of them have pages on their sites dedicated to Love. (Matt and Loren)  Please visit those special pages for further understanding of their work on this title.  At the publisher's website you are given a peek inside the book.  Matt de la Pena and Loren Long are guests on NPR's All Things Considered.  You will certainly want to visit Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., to read the interview with Matt and Loren.  You can also view the marvelous book trailer too.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

All Is Not Lost

When your family unit is shaken to its core you enter a form of suspended reality.  As a child when the only parent who has cared for you is suddenly removed from your life, it is particularly devastating.  The only place you have ever called home now belongs to someone else.

To make an unbearable set of circumstances even worse, your beloved dog is gone.  Chasing Augustus (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, September 19, 2017) written by Kimberly Newton Fusco is the story of a girl weighed down by unbearable sadness but fueled with grim determination to find the other half of her soul.  Nothing is going to stop her.  Nothing.

My grandpa Harry says vinegar runs through my veins and I am too impatient for my own good.
He says I stomp around like a moose half the time and I am proud, prickly, and rude.
Also, I am thin as an eel and, come to think of it, not much better to look at, either.

This is how we meet Rosie.  She lives with her grandfather in a tiny apartment with windows that shake when the trains roar past. Her dad now resides at St. Camillus.  One day on his way home with Rosie from the donut shop he owns, he had a stroke.  Her mom, who left when Rosie was a baby and is now an attorney in California, sold their house and gave away Rosie's dog, Augustus.

It's the first day of summer vacation after a less than stellar year of fifth grade.  Rosie, on her dad's rickety boyhood bike she calls the Blackbird, is going to explore every nook and cranny of their community and follow every lead until she finds Augustus.  Riding out to the sand pits, a major source of income for their town and the grit which spreads everywhere but builds resolve in the people's characters, is not the best idea.  Caught in a terrible storm, barely escaping with her life, Rosie's grandfather calls a halt to her plans. 

Banned from riding Blackbird, forced to help Mrs. Salvatore, who lives in their building, and befriend one of her new foster children, Philippe, Rosie is at her wit's end.  Another chatty child two years younger living in an apartment, Cynthia, desperate for friendship and lacking any parental care, rounds out this unlikely trio.  As if her summer cannot get any worse, Harry discovers Rosie's report card.  After a visit to the school and a conversation with Mr. Peterson, the sixth grade teacher every student wants, Rosie has a notebook to fill with her story.

Rosie's sleuthing leads her to believe Augustus is being held captive by Swanson, an eccentric, silent woman who lives on the outskirts of town.  Now this intrepid gal needs a whole new set of plans; which she has to alter more than once.  Readers will learn along with Rosie things are not always as they appear, neither are people.

Looking for the other half of your soul takes help you have a hard time accepting.  Looking for the other half of your soul can lead you where you don't want to go.  Looking for the other half of your soul is not easy but the right thing rarely is.

After reading the first three pages written by Kimberly Newton Fusco you, regardless of your age, are connected to Rosie . . . and her no-nonsense, Marine-voiced grandfather Harry.  They both have been placed in circumstances not of their choosing but whether they admit it or not, you know they love each other.  Their pure willpower is constantly at odds as they both strive to survive the situation as best as they can.

Kimberly Newton Fusco's characters are as real as any collection of people shaped by life's twists and turns.  There is a balance between Mrs. Salvatore's cleanliness and caring and the physical environment in which they all live and from which they come.  There is a balance between the quiet of Swanson and the bullying noise of Avery Taylor, high school hockey player.  There is a balance between the pure crankiness of Rosie, the talkativeness and helpfulness of Cynthia and the skittishness of Philippe.  There is a balance between Rosie's dad now and his words ringing in her mind.

Rosie's thoughts and point of view are blended with the conversations of the other characters' voices in what can only be described as marvelous.  The depictions of events, past and present, the nature of the community, the time of day and the weather transport you into this story.  When you are reading this book, everything else fades out of focus as the clarity of the tale draws you to its center.

For readers with canine companions, for those who have loved dogs and for anyone else with hope and compassion in their hearts, the words used to portray Rosie's love of Augustus will have you nodding knowingly and at times on the verge of tears.  (And even for those with hardly a sliver of hope or compassion, these portions will reach out and envelope you.)  Kimberly Newton Fusco knows dogs and people and the bonds which are made between them.  Here are some passages from the book.

My grandpa forgets how much you can love a dog or he would never say that.  My dog slept on my bed and I fell asleep to his heart beating. . . . That's when I learned the real way of things:  When you lose your dog, there's a hole in your heart as big as the sun.  Your head aches all the time and you are so empty inside because you are half the girl you used to be.

I pull the Blackbird out of the toolshed behind our apartment building and lean it against the fence.  Already the wind from the storm coming bends the thin maples on Main Street until they are looking at their feet.  They could use a pep talk.

When I walked into my papa's room, the floor sagged under all the sadness.  My papa didn't hug me and he didn't read to me and he didn't whisper in my ear the way he did every single night of my whole life when he tucked me in:  I am right here and I will never leave you.
That was the day my heart jumped right out of my chest and whirling hornets took its place.  

He learned to be my mama/papa and bought me oodles of books and read them to me in my bedroom under the eaves.  We had reading celebrations with donuts and frappes when we finished a book and we baked a six-layer cake (with raspberry filling) when I read my first fat chapter book.
I was the youngest kid in the history of our town ever to get a library card---or so my papa bragged to everyone at the donut shop.  We kept pages and pages of lists of all the books we read, and when we discovered The World Book, we started making up cusswords.

Once you've started Chasing Augustus written by Kimberly Newton Fusco you have to finish it as quickly as you can.  You have to know what happens to Rosie and the other individuals who touch her life.  You have to know what happened to Augustus.  And once you've finished this book, this story and these characters will stay in your heart.  They are there forever.  I highly recommend placing a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Kimberly Newton Fusco and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Kimberly maintains a blog.  You will want to read her post about the inspiration for this book.  You can read several of the early chapters in part one at the publisher's website. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Flourishing Friendships Forever

Once you've shared your life with a dog, you can't imagine spending the rest of your days without canine companionship.  Their presence adds a sensory quality to every experience.  You find yourself looking at this world with a fresh and better perspective.  You learn to live in the moment.

This relationship, unlike any other you have, is never long enough.  Each dog in your life grows the capacity in your heart for love.  Made for Each Other: Why Dogs and People Are Perfect Partners (Crown Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, January 23, 2018) written by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent with photographs by William Munoz chronicles the beginning and evolution of this exceptional bond.

Dogs and people, people and dogs---we've been buddies for thousands and thousands of years. 

In the first of three parts scientific discoveries and studies reveal dogs and wolves might have gone their separate ways as many as 27,000 years past.  This association may have started because humans offered easier access to food through garbage or perhaps communities realized wolves howled warnings when predators were near.  It is believed wolves and people may have hunted together. 

Wolves, and ultimately dogs, needed to relinquish certain habits and characteristics to reside with humans but they also retained other instincts.  Today specific dogs have specific specialties.  They will safekeep their pack, herd, hunt and retrieve. 

In the second section the affection we hold for dogs and they for us is explored.  Working with dogs and MRI machines, a doctor was able to prove a particular portion of their minds and our minds respond with happiness and love when given certain stimuli. (For dogs it's food and human family members.)  Petting dogs benefits them and us in powerful ways.  Their interpretation of human faces and our interpretation of barks and tail wagging make communication possible. 

Our time spent with dogs is constantly changing as we learn more about them.  There are doggy day care centers and day spas.  Dogs provide therapy for special needs and humans assist dogs with impairments.  Dogs and people play together, work together and love together in greater numbers than ever before in history.

Meticulous research is evident in the information provided by award-winning author Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.  She places facts within the twenty separate but combined conversations in the three parts.  Each is linked to the other in a comprehensible flow.  Here is a passage.

The Loving Touch
Doesn't it feel good to pet a dog, especially one with soft, silky fur?
Well, you're not the only one who feels good---so does the dog!
Petting a dog increases helpful hormones in both your blood and the
dog's, including oxytocin, which helps you feel relaxed, lowers your
blood pressure, and slows your heart rate.  

The front and the back of the dust jacket (I'm working with an F & G) supply readers with two portraits of dogs and younger people captivated by the company of each other.  To the left, on the back a boy dressed in a super hero costume is hugging his pooch pal who happens to be wearing a red cape.  They're both grinning.

The opening and closing endpapers are an extreme close-up of a dog's nose, whiskers and closed mouth.  Out of focus but still visible on either side are the eyes.  This is a nod to the superior senses of our canine friends.

Throughout this title the photographs of William Munoz showcase the closeness between humans and dogs and the qualities of wolves and dogs.  The images are grouped in collages, on single pages, placed as insets on single pages or span two pages.  There are comparative charts with photographs.  These photographs are fully animated, full of realism, humor and affection thereby enhancing the text. 

One of my many favorite pictures is beneath the title page for Part Two: The Science of Love.  Light is shining behind a woman holding her dog as if it is sunrise or sunset.  They are facing each other.  Both of their heads are thrown back and they are laughing.  It's a memorable moment beautifully captured by William Munoz.

Consistently one of the most popular collections is the one filled with books about dogs.  Made for Each Other: Why Dogs and People Are Perfect Partners written by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent with photographs by William Munoz will be a welcome and well-read addition to this portion of professional libraries and for personal collections at home.  A contents page, source notes for each part, additional sources (books and interviews with scientists) and an index complete this sixty-one page volume.

To discover more about Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and her other considerable body of work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  William Munoz maintains a Facebook account highlighting his work.  At the publisher's website you can view the first twelve pages including the wonderful endpapers.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by other bloggers participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bot In A Box

There's something a little bit exciting about seeing the UPS, FedEx, or postal trucks pull up in front of your house even if you have an idea what they are delivering.  Unless it's something you've seen before, there's a slight air of anticipation and mystery.  You're never quite sure if it will be better or worse than expected.

Even more intriguing is when you look out the front door of your house and see a box sitting on the porch without the benefit of knowing how it arrived.  EngiNerds (Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 12, 2017) written by Jarrett Lerner (with jacket and interior spot illustrations by Serge Seidlitz) is about the appearance of such a box, a big, heavy box.   Getting the box into the house is only the beginning of numerous difficulties about to befall the recipient and narrator.


make one thing clear about the guys I hang out with.
I did not, do not, and will not ever endorse our 
"name" or "motto."
That's what we (excluding me) call ourselves.
And our motto?
"Because it's the nerds who are the engine of the 

After we are introduced to this bunch of brainy boys, particularly four, Dan, Jerry Lin, John Henry Knox and Kennedy, the narrator, we come to the box on the porch of Ken's house.  Finally able to persuade his best buddy, Dan, to help him, the duo gets the box into the living room.  Even after opening it, the only thing to do is put the parts together to see if it's a rocket or not. (Dan is really hoping for a rocket.)

After an hour of taxing their ingenuity and physical strength, the guys discover Kitty, Ken's less brilliant dog, has escaped the confines of the house.  After tracking Kitty down and applying the garden hose to her pizza covered fur, the three enter the house and stop cold.  The thing in the box has assembled itself.  It's a large robot named Greeeg and it's hungry, really really hungry.

Everything Dan and Ken give it, it eats, containers and all.  Soon nothing is left in the refrigerator or cupboards, except for a few radishes.  It won't eat those.  Dan leaves and Ken's parents come home from work.  Can you imagine what his mother says standing in front of the open and bare refrigerator and cupboards?  It gets worse, much worse, in the wee hours of the next day.

Finding that Greeeg has left his spot under Ken's bed, he discovers him in the kitchen looking for more food.  Believing in the theory of what goes in, must come out, Ken tells it to dispose.  Shockingly enough, a brown-black cube whizzes out of the machine's posterior section.  The next series of events can only be categorized as first, mind-boggling, and second, miraculous. 

At school the next day, after the final bell rings and on Saturday, a blend of excitement and strangeness starts to fill Ken's world.  Others, other EngiNerds, have received boxes.  The robots are evolving at a rapid rate.  By any means necessary they will complete their programmed goals.  Who sent the boxes and more importantly, why?  Can cleverness save the community from further chaos? In a tension-filled conclusion continuing the undercurrent of comedy, a cliff-hanger sentence leaves you hardly able to keep from laughing and exclaiming, "OH, NO!"

Even before finishing the four-page preface, sticky notes were marking places in my copy of this book.  Jarrett Lerner has a knack for writing short, action-packed chapters, leading you from one to the other as quickly as you can turn the pages.  Between Ken's narration of the circumstances, his thoughts and the conversations between the characters you're never sure but can hardly wait to see what will happen next. 

What are especially appealing are the thought processes of the boys.  It's not that they don't want to rush to solve a problem but their creativeness is impressive.  Readers will also enjoy the give and take in the relationships between the four main characters.  Here are some passages.

But the thing is heavy.
I'm talking crammed-full-of-lead-pipes heavy.  Heavy like the box has been packed up with the pieces of a taken apart truck.
I try and try to pick it up.  I try until my back starts screaming and my forehead fills with sweat.

expect it to be.
Every syllable is sounded out separately.
The emphasis is all off.
It's empty of any kind of emotion.
And before and after and between words, there's nothing.  Not the sound of breath moving in and out of nostrils or past lips---just cold, creepy silence.
Yet Dan's absolutely right when he says:
Because this is most definitely cool.
This is beyond cool.
It's probably the coolest thing that has ever happened to me in my entire, twelve-year, not-exactly-amazing-but-also-not-so-bad life.

And all of a sudden another thought worms its way into my brain.  I'm wondering again if Greeeg really is the world's greatest gift, the coolest toy imaginable, something worth bragging about to the rest of the EngiNerds.  Because right then he feels a lot more like a responsibility.  Like a maniac little cousin that I somehow got stuck babysitting, not a new friend.  Because a friend is someone who gets you out of trouble, not someone who gets you into trouble.

Completely captivating and highly entertaining, EngiNerds written by Jarrett Lerner is a surefire winner for the middle grade reader.  The chapter lengths, short snappy sentences and often hilarious conversations make this an excellent selection for a read aloud or book group.  I can't imagine a collection without a copy of this title.

To learn more about Jarrett Lerner and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Jarrett also maintains a blog you can visit from his main site.  For this title, Jarrett has a Classroom Guide.  At the publisher's website you can read an excerpt.  Jarrett is a guest at author Melissa Roske's website and at All The Wonders, Books Between, Episode 41.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Uncanny Express Blog Tour-A Conversation with Kara LaReau

Images copyright Jen Hill
Happy Monday morning, Kara.  It’s an honor to have you making a stop here at Librarian’s Quest on your blog tour for The Uncanny Express, the second title in your The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters series.  It’s been absolutely bitter cold here in Michigan but on the bright side it’s a wonderful opportunity to get cozy wrapped in a blanket, sipping hot cider and leave the confines of a comfy chair through the pages of a book.  It’s been a distinct and happy pleasure to travel with the Bland Sisters, Jaundice and Kale, first with a band of swashbuckling pirates on The Jolly Regina and second with a group of passengers concealing their true identities aboard The Uncanny Express.

I was wondering if you could tell readers who have not read these two books a little bit about the title of the series.  Why are the adventures unintentional?  Why are the Bland Sisters bland?

Images copyright Jen Hill

A lot of it is just their nature — the Bland Sisters inherently shy away from any kind of excitement or emotional upheaval, but they’ve become even more set in their uninteresting ways since their parents left to run an errand of an unspecified nature. (They’ve been gone for some time now, but Jaundice and Kale don’t tend to think about it too much. They’re sure their parents will return any day now.) It becomes clearer in The Uncanny Express that their strict adherence to routine is one of the ways they cope with their parents’ absence. It’s the only control they have over their situation.

Of course, Bland Sisters want to stay in their comfort zone. So an adventure on a pirate ship, or even — gasp! — on a speeding train, is the last thing they want to experience. Or so they think.

Images copyright Jen Hill
In the beginning of each book two pages are dedicated to the cast of characters in each adventure.  As a high school senior and college student in the seventies, I laughed out loud at the name of one of the pirates, Captain Ann Tennille. Would you tell us about the process of naming your characters?

I’m glad you appreciated that one! Of course, most of the humor in the series is for kids, but I try to include a laugh or two for the adults who might be reading along with them.
I’ve always had a thing for names, perhaps because my own first and last names have given me so much trouble, especially when I was growing up; no one seemed to be able to spell or pronounce them correctly, perhaps because of all the vowels. (FYI, it’s KARE-uh la-ROW.) As a result, I make an extra effort to remember people’s names and how to pronounce them, and this has led to a focus on names in general. I’m particularly interested in words that almost sound like they could be first names — whenever I hear a good one I try to write it down. Most of the names in the Unintentional Adventures come from that running list, though if nothing on that list seems to fit, I try to think about the character’s personality and do my best to find a name that complements it. For instance, there’s a tweedy, wan, put-upon maid on the Uncanny Express, so of course her name is Vera Dreary — and then there’s the brilliant, not-terribly-humble detective, Hugo Fromage (which, for the uninitiated, is French for “big cheese.”) I’m sure you can tell I’ve had a LOT of fun with this!
Images copyright Jen Hill
Each chapter in The Uncanny Express starts with one of Tillie’s Tips and second with a message from Professor Magic’s Rules of Illusion. The tips and rules are really quite good. I particularly like this one:
The closest thing to feeling real magic is performing for people and helping them to experience the impossible.

Why did you decide to employ this technique?  

Images copyright Jen Hill
In the first book, The Jolly Regina, Kale brings along the Bland Sisters’ favorite (and only) reading material, their illustrated children’s dictionary, so the chapter heads in the story all feature dictionary definitions. That dictionary falls by the wayside — quite literally! — in the first book, but I really loved the way it worked and wanted to do something similar in The Uncanny Express. I thought it would be a nice way to show the Bland Sisters’ character development to have them toting around a pretty mundane book of housekeeping tips at the outset of the story, but venturing a bit outside of their literary comfort zone by the end. Also, just as each word defined in the chapter heads is a word used in that chapter in The Jolly Regina, the housekeeping tips and magical advice in the chapter heads of The Uncanny Express are always relevant to the action in each chapter. It’s an extra bit of fun for my readers, and it was a fun sort of challenge for me to work it all out.

As a fan of mystery and detective stories I couldn’t help but make the connect between the Bland Sisters’ trials and tribulations aboard this train and those experienced by characters in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.  Are you an Agatha Christie fan?  Do you have favorite mystery and detective titles or authors?

Oh, yes, I am a huuuuuge Christie fan, and a mystery fan in general. I grew up watching Masterpiece Mystery and started reading Agatha Christie from an early age. Just as The Jolly Regina takes place on a ship, I knew I wanted the second book to take place on a train, and since I’d already had so much fun with the tropes of classic pirate stories, I was eager to try my hand at a Christie parody/homage. Many of the mysteries I read now are all pretty adult — I love Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson, Tana French, and Ruth Ware, for instance. (Interestingly, all women. Hmm…) But I also recently read (and loved) Kristen Kittscher’s The Wig in the Window and The Tiara on the Terrace, I just finished The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie, which was terrific, and I know Lauren Magaziner has a new choose-your-own-adventure-style mystery series called Case Closed launching this spring that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

Did you have to do any special research about magic and illusions prior to writing The Uncanny Express?  If so do you have a favorite resource?  (Students enjoy learning about magic and illusions.)

Images copyright Jen Hill

Yes, I always do tons of research. For The Uncanny Express, I read a great instructional book for kids called Big Magic for Little Hands by Joshua Jay. I also read a lot about the history of magic in books like Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer, and I did online research on Adelaide Herrmann, the real-life Queen of Magic, on whom Magique in The Uncanny Express is based. (There is now an excellent picture book biography about her called Anything But Ordinary Addie by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.)
Images copyright Jen Hill

And of course, I read and re-read Murder on the Orient Express and other Hercule Poirot mysteries. In addition, I watched every episode of the Poirot mystery series and took copious notes, and I read David Suchet’s memoir about playing the great detective, called Poirot and Me (Suchet was committed to playing Poirot exactly as Christie wrote him, so I appreciated his insights).

The portions of the plot when Kale and Jaundice are dreaming add tension and intrigue to the story.  When and why did you decide to include these in The Uncanny Express?

I tend to have very vivid dreams, so I’ve always been interested in dreaming and how our subconscious takes over while we’re sleeping. Jaundice and Kale are so reticent in their waking life, but there’s quite a bit bubbling beneath the surface. It seemed right that their dreams would be pretty telling. Also, dreams continue to play a part in the third book in the series, though I don’t want to give too much more away!

As a writer you have a gift in bringing the characters to life using somewhat quirky traits.  Are the characters fully developed before the plot begins or do their personalities grow as the story progresses when you are writing?

Images copyright Jen Hill
I create character profiles before I start writing, especially for this series, where there are so many characters in each story, and I really need to feel like I have some semblance of control. But they still end up surprising me! For instance, Countess Goudenoff didn’t have a dog at first, but the line “The tea spilled, all over my Chrysanthemum” came to me, and I realized, of course she would have a yappy little lap dog, and of course it would be named Chrysanthemum! Those moments when the story takes on a life of its own are so exciting.

As I was reading both The Jolly Regina and The Uncanny Express I found myself placing sticky notes at bits of life wisdom you weave into the stories.  The final sentence in the first book makes reference to a letter.  Is this why you have the sisters’ parents communicating with them through letters?

Well, given the distance between them, their parents can only communicate with them through letters (at this point, at least). Though all that might change, sooner rather than later!
Although these stories are totally absurd, it’s important that they also have some kind of emotional resonance so the reader can feel invested. Just as the Bland Sisters are learning (however slowly and obliviously!) from their experiences, I hope my audience might be taking something away from the stories, too.

Continuing with this train of thought I enjoyed what Magique says to the Bland Sisters:

I told you that the mind is our most powerful tool.  And that if we use it often and well, it will tell us many things and show us many secrets. . . .”

In addition to the adventure, action, magic and mystery what else do you hope readers will take away from reading about the Bland Sisters and The Uncanny Express?

Among other things, Magique and Hugo Fromage encourage the Bland Sisters to be present and observant, and how important it is to go through life with your eyes and ears open. That piece of advice is also extremely relevant to me as a writer. In that way, I’m a bit of a magician and detective, too!

I think I’ll end with twelve questions.  I know the Bland Sisters would appreciate the fact the number is divisible by three.  I wish you safe travels as you continue your journey on this tour.  I can hardly wait to step into another exciting episode in the lives of these two girls.

Thank you so much — your questions were so thoughtful, and so much fun to consider and answer!

Kara LaReau was born and raised in Connecticut. She received her Masters in Fine Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and later worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and at Scholastic Press. She is the author of picture books such as UGLY FISH, illustrated by Scott Magoon, and NO SLURPING, NO BURPING! A Tale of Table Manners, illustrated by Lorelay Bove; an award-winning chapter book series called The Infamous Ratsos, illustrated by Matt Myers; and a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, illustrated by Jen Hill. Kara lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband and son and their cat.


1/12 YAYOMG!
1/15 Librarian's Quest