Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Work With Nature

Driving through any neighborhood will easily disclose those homeowners employing the use of herbicides, pesticides and insecticides on their lawns and in their gardens.  Their grass is usually lush, thick, green and free of weeds.  Their fruits, vegetables, perennials and annuals are large and healthy.  What these homeowners might not realize is the potential for water contamination and harm to humans, pets and local wildlife lasts longer than the directions for use might indicate.

The same can be said for those gardeners and farmers growing plant and animal products for consumption.  Every year the sections for organic food is larger in grocery stores as the population becomes more educated.  Markets containing only whole foods are increasing.

Born in 1912 in Yunnan in the People's Republic of China, Pu Zhelong would become one of the foremost entomologists in his country. Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong's Work for Sustainable Farming (Tilbury House Publishers, February 6, 2018) written by Sigrid Schmalzer with illustrations by Melanie Linden Chan gives readers insights into the remarkable work of this man.  They will gain knowledge about the historical perspective in this country (and in other parts of the world) with respect to agriculture and concerns for our environment.

The first time I saw a scientist in my village was also the first time I saw a wasp hatch from a moth's egg.  In that moment I could not have said which was the more unexpected---or the more miraculous.

Through the visit of Pu Zhelong to his village, this boy relates to readers the valued accomplishments of this scientist.  When the boy was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in the province of Guangdong it was a farming community with rice as its principal crop along with lychee orchards.  The fate of the village was a series of highs and lows, years of good crops or bad crops, abundance with extra sent to the cities or very little to eat.  This fate was determined by the presence of stem borers, leafroller caterpillars and stinkbugs.

After being sent to the school in town to study science, this boy returned home with an idea of placing

wooden dishes of water with kerosene lights

out at night to lure the insects to their deaths.  After that chemical pesticides were the main practice used but it made the villagers sick.  Each year the amount and type of pesticide needed to be increased to be effective.  More people were sick.  Then Pu Zhelong arrived.

Pu Zhelong started to educate the villagers about the harm the pesticide were doing to the entire environment.  They were killing everything that would eat the bugs naturally like birds, frogs, wasps and spiders.  At first the farmers were not convinced and they complained further when he asked to have a laboratory built.  The children were more eager to help and they did.

Step-by-step a meticulous process was followed using moths and wasps.  The results were unlike anything seen previously by the villagers.  The leader of these people explained the belief of

"bringing together soil and ocean"

and Pu Zhelong's connection.  So inspired by Professor Pu, the narrator of his story was supported by his villagers years later to pursue a similar course of study.  One exemplary man continued to make a difference.

By telling us of the life and work of Pu Zhelong through the point of view of a village boy, author Sigrid Schmalzer provides added interest for the intended audience.  The sentences in each passage are written in an informal style; as if the boy is chatting with us about significant events in his past.  They are all connected in a flawless flow.  Within the narrative are actual quotes from Pu Zhelong increasing the authenticity of the boy's story.  Here are two passages.

Stinkbugs look like beetles and smell like farts.  I don't know what they taste like, because I never wanted to eat one.  A lychee that's been bitten by a stinkbug looks like a shriveled monkey head and smells bitter, and no one wants to eat those either.

With his big glasses and store-bought trousers, Professor Pu Zhelong looked very different from the farmers in our village, but he had a friendly face and a kind voice.  He said, "You are not alone."

Upon opening the dust jacket readers are treated to the illustrative styles of Melanie Linden Chan.  To the left, on the back, a slightly smaller version of an interior image is placed in the center of a pale green canvas.  It is a photographic representation of Professor Pu showing villagers of the wasp growing within a pest insect's egg.  This is placed on a panoramic view of farmers working in their fields with mountains in the background.  Above this are the first sentences in the book and a blurb by an expert in the field of history, Zuoyue Wang, a professor at California State Polytechnic University.

On the front another image of a field with the troublesome moth and wasp is framed with Chinese paper cutting.  The Chinese writing characters in each corner have separate meanings.  Can you make a guess as to what words they reference?  The use of the color red has significance also.  The book case is a deep green textured paper (like cloth) with the title embossed in gold foil on the front and spine.

The opening and closing endpapers are a shade of golden yellow.  A gorgeous initial title page reveals the meaning of the Chinese writing characters seen on the dust jacket.  The formal title page is framed in a darker green Chinese paper cutting border.  Careful readers will see moths, wasps, soil and ocean in this beautiful artwork.  On fourteen more pages Melanie Linden Chan has placed panels of Chinese paper cutting.  Some of them are only portions of a panel and others are full panels to the left or right of other illustrations and text.  Each depiction contains elements relative to the text.

Melanie Linden Chan alternates between two-page pictures, a trio of illustrations on a single page, and single page visuals.  The style of each shifts from realistic depictions of the boy (now an adult), watercolor paintings, photographic illustrations and pages torn from a notebook highlighting the science used by Professor Pu.  In the final picture, this book sits on a table as the narrator sips tea.  A series of painted panels hanging on his wall portray the changes to the valley of his youth.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the boy returns from studying science in the big school in town.  Nearly covering the left side, crossing the gutter and filling the right side is a picture of the

lights of ten thousand families.

Shades of purple for the sky, mountains and valley contrast with the golden yellow of all the glowing wooden dishes.  The boy is looking over this vast scene from the lower right-hand corner.  A panel of Chinese paper cutting is placed on the far left.  Above a Chinese writing character you can see moths and a lighted lamp.

This book, Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong's Work for Sustainable Farming written by Sigrid Schmalzer with illustrations by Melanie Linden Chan, is a fascinating picture book biography.  It has many uses with science, agriculture and history themes.  It serves to inspire those with similar passions, knowing their work, the work of a single person, has value beyond their lifetime.  At the close of the book is a Chinese Writing key, an extensive The History Behind the Story and further print resources.  I recommend this for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Sigrid Schmalzer and Melanie Linden Chan and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Melanie maintains a blog here.  Both Sigrid and Melanie speak about this book in individual articles here and here, respectively.  This book is discussed at author Beth Anderson's site with links to another discussion.  There are supporting activities at her site and at author Vivian Kirkfield's site.  I found this video on Chinese paper cutting which you might like to incorporate in a lesson.

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

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Speaking Her Truth

Every child has something to say.  When they give voice to their beliefs, opinions and ideas, they wish to be heard.  Not only do they hope to have others listen to them, but they need them to do this with sincerity and respect.  It's difficult when you struggle with the courage to speak and then others ridicule your beliefs, opinions or ideas.

If you and your family are living in a country other than the place of your origin, it is an extra challenge and source of concern.  Stella Diaz Has Something to Say (Roaring Brook Press, January 16, 2018) written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez follows a third-grade student with her own special brand of brilliance waiting to shine.  She discovers others can be marvelously supportive in contrast to the outright unkindness of a few.

Chapter One
The smell of albondigas fills the house
when my brother, Nick, and I come home.
"Time for our weekly appointment," says Nick, walking in the direction of the kitchen.
I nod.  My mouth starts to water as I follow him toward the sound of sizzling food.

Their weekly appointment is a Friday homemade dinner with their mother cooking; working during the week makes it impossible for her to do this other than on Fridays.  There is also board game playing and dancing past their bedtime.  It's easy to understand this is a loving Mexican American family trio based on their warm conversations and enjoyable evening.  Nick is in eighth grade this year and hopeful of making the basketball team.  Another family member is Pancho, Stella's beta fish, swimming alone in his bowl in her bedroom.

On the following Monday Stella can hardly wait to meet the new third grade student expected to arrive.  Her best friend, Jenny, born in Chicago but whose family is from Vietnam, is not in her classroom this year making it lonelier for Stella. The new student is not the girl Stella hoped for but a boy named Stanley from Texas.  To Stella's total embarrassment as she sits back down in her chair after introducing herself in Spanish first and then English, her chair tips over, leaving her on her back with her feet sticking straight up in the air.  This is not the first impression she wanted to make.

As the weeks pass readers become further acquainted with Stella, Nick, her mother, Jenny, Stanley and the class bully, Jessica. Stella struggles with her shyness and to separate speaking Spanish and English. (She has been taking speech for three years.) She is thrilled with their year-end, long-term research assignment.  She is choosing to focus on marine life but she's worried about the speaking part of the presentation.

Further incidents with Jessica, a holiday visit from family still living in Mexico, a New Year's celebration, a spelling bee and the big project have Stella anxious one minute and relieved the next minute.  Will the support of family, friends and teachers come in time for this star to cast her true light?  You can't help but cheer as the story soars toward summer vacation and the freedom it brings.

With each chapter our affection for Stella and her family grows.  Angela Dominguez paints a clear and loving picture with her use of language of the day-to-day activities inside their home, the family routines and rituals.  The dialogue between Stella, her mother and brother, and Stella's thoughts convey the personalities of the characters.  The support offered to Stella by her mother and brother in several scenarios is wonderfully touching.  We come to understand the reality of Stella's challenge in being a child from one world and living in another world with the use of Spanish words throughout the story.  Angela's skill as a writer leaves no doubt in readers' minds as to the meaning of the Spanish words, adeptly weaving them into the story.  We also can't help but crave all the delicious ethnic foods mentioned.

At school we are shown the dynamics of the classroom through the behaviors of certain students, the teachers and school librarian.  We are painfully aware of Stella's shyness, especially when we know, as she does, she possess intelligence and the determination to succeed.  The descriptions of specific events help us to feel as though we are there with Stella.  Here are some of my marked passages.

Nick is pretty stellar most of the time, but he can still be an annoying older brother sometimes.  Nick knows it especially bothers me that he laughs when I mess up my words.  I can't help it.  Sometimes I mix up the way words or letters sound, and when I do I turn roja like a tomato.  That's because the letters sound a little different in English and Spanish.  I'm taking a class to help me, but I don't like that I have to take it, and I definitely don't like people making fun of me.

Hearing that makes me feel happy.  Even though we can all read really well, Ms. Bell reads aloud to us a little bit every day during storytime.  It's just one chapter, but it's like watching a play.  I close my eyes, remembering how Ms. Bell does all these great voices for all the characters.

When it's my turn, I stand up.  I feel myself turning roja.  I freeze.  I just read that some octopuses can paralyze their prey.  Maybe Stanley is part octopus.  Probably not.  He looks like a normal boy with freckles, blue eyes, and a cool monkey shirt.  I catch myself staring at him for a second.

Mom stands up.  She pulls me to the floor to dance with her and twirls me until I start giggling.  She finally stops twirling me, and everything keeps spinning for a second.  When I finally see straight, I notice that my whole family is giggling with me, too, even Nick.  I'm really happy that giggling and smiling is something that doesn't have to be translated.  You just know it when you see it.

For one reason or another there will be times all of us feel as though we don't belong.  This is why we form an immediate kinship with Stella Diaz Has Something to Say written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez.  Through Stella and her experiences our empathy for immigrants is highly enhanced.  This title reinforces the fact that above all else we are all human and in need of each other's support.

Angela Dominguez fills the pages of this book with her drawings in black and white, some small and others spanning an entire page.  They serve to highlight specific portions of the text.  At the close of this title an Author's Note and Acknowledgments will further endear you to the author.  I highly recommend this book for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Angela Dominguez and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her Tumblr account.  She maintains a blog here and an Instagram account.  You can read an excerpt and view interior pages at the publisher's website.  Angela is interviewed about this book at Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb.

Monday, February 26, 2018

All The Colors In-Between

No matter the amount of planning given to a story time for the youngest of gals and guys, it is always infinitely better than imagined.  Their responses are genuine and straight from the heart using all their senses without reservation.  The spontaneity of these children is a never-ending source of delight.

For them the world, even on a cloudy day, is bright with possibilities.  Black Bird Yellow Sun (Candlewick Press, March 6, 2018) written and illustrated by Steve Light invites us to take an avian day trip.  We perch, glide and walk from one colorful experience to the next.

Basking in the golden glow of a sun, black bird contemplates his next stop.  Sharing the tree branch with him is a tiny orange worm.  An array of leaves, a lighter shade of the worm's color, provides a canopy from the heat of the day.

Plucking ripe fruit from hanging bunches supplies noontime nourishment.  A stroll through green grass gives Black Bird's wings a rest.  It's time for an afternoon snooze.  A fright causes him to take flight.

Large rounded gray rocks signal a pause.  On the next stop a hue envelopes this bird in calm.  His creeping companion finds solace on another bloom.  After the sun sets and night cloaks the world in darkness, a special moon casts a blue light.  Sweet dreams Black Bird and orange worm.

Throughout the day and into the night Steve Light moves this bird and this worm from one vibrant space to another.  At each place readers learn a color and an object; totaling eight colors and eight objects.  Both the primary and secondary colors are included.  The repetition of Black Bird prior to the color and named item gives readers and listeners a cadence which welcomes participation and without a doubt finger snapping, hand clapping and toe tapping.

This sturdy board book when opened reveals to the left, on the back, eight circles of color on white, four above and below these words:

From morning's yellow sun
to evening's blue moon,
Black Bird discovers 
the colors of the day.

The textures as shown on the front of the case cover are sure to have readers ready to reach out and touch the book.  Steve Light uses a technique not seen in his earlier books for these illustrations.

By employing collage and by printing cardboard shapes with ink he creates images ideal for younger readers.  With this simplicity in the color palette and design the little gals and guys are able to focus on the black bird, the worm, the colors and elements in each scene.  Steve Light alternates the side of the double-page pictures on which the bird and worm appear enhancing the pacing and guiding our eyes.

The shapes used for the black bird are graceful, particularly when the bird is flying.  The worm is always in motion, inching along branches, leaves, fruit, blades of grass, the ground, a rock or flower.  Readers will look to the bird's eyes to determine where its attention is directed at a particular place.

One of several favorite illustrations is when Black Bird is flying toward the cover of the orange leaves.  His body with wings outstretched is placed over the word bird on the left.  Large orange leaves, some with veins branching out from a center line, cover the top of the page on the left and nearly every space on the right.  This is a wonderful study in perspective.  Near the top-left of the right side, the worm crawls along the edge of a leaf.

Whether read one-on-one or shared with a group, Black Bird Yellow Sun written and illustrated by Steve Light is a gem to enjoy.  Certainly there will be multiple requests for read it again.  With each repeated reading the listeners' knowledge of the colors, named items, Black Bird and his worm buddy will grow. I believe this title will pair well with Lunch written and illustrated by Denise Fleming.

To discover more about Steve Light and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  At the publishers' websites here and here you can view interior images.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., Steve Light premiered the book trailer.  Besides introducing the book to us, he gives a wonderful account of how he made his art for this book.  In an earlier post Steve Light visits with John Schumacher about his other books and artwork on August 18, 2017.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

No Case Is Too Big

There are those individuals wired to analyze any given situation.  If presented with a problem, they seek a solution.  They are well-read in their particular field of interest.  They are not surprisingly exceptional in their endeavors.

A new character sure to be highly liked if not downright loved is to be introduced to readers on February 27, 2018.  He seeks.  He reads.  He is gifted.  Baby Monkey, Private Eye (Scholastic Press) story by Brian Selznick and David Serlin with pictures by Brian Selznick is a delightful blend of mystery, humor and the unexpected.


Obviously he's a baby and a monkey but what you don't know is this baby monkey has a job.  He's one of the most adorable private eyes in the business.  Presented with a series of cases, you will also come to realize his cleverness.

In the first scene Baby Monkey is cozily leaning against a cushion on the sofa in his office.  A typewriter is on the table in front of the sofa.  A variety of pictures on the visible walls and a bust of a famous person on his desk relate to the person about to open his door.  Baby Monkey is reading Famous Jewel Crimes.  

An opera star dressed in full costume bursts into Baby Monkey's office proclaiming the theft of her jewels.  Baby Monkey is confident in his ability.  He gathers and notes pertinent information.  He takes a moment to fuel his body with food (baby carrots).  He struggles to put on his pants.  After several attempts, he is ready to crack this case.  And he does!  His victory is complete when the case gets headlines in the Monkey Times.  

This first notable triumph is repeated in three more case.  Major components of Baby Monkey's investigative routine remain in place but the victims, the thefts and the criminals (plus Baby Monkey's snacks and office decor) are wildly and widely varied.  There's a huge difference between the stolen items of a chef, a clown and an astronaut. Readers can also see the toll these busy endeavors are taking on Baby Monkey. He's exhausted.

With the arrival of the next client, our precious primate can barely keep his eyes open.  His procedure is abandoned in favor of immediate knowledge of the superbly satisfying conclusion to this fifth case.

Hooray for Baby Monkey!

With a stroke of genius authors Brian Selznick and David Serlin start this book designed for early readers with a single, shouted word.  When we are told to wait, isn't our greatest desire to do the opposite?  Readers (of all ages) will be willing participants in this story as soon as they see the established pattern of the narrative.

Key phrases are constant in the cases until Baby Monkey's fatigue is evident.  His quiet exclamations as he consumes his munchies and when he tries to put his pants on shift somewhat to assist in pacing and elevate the comedy.  This anticipated tempo provides the perfect platform for the big reveal. Here is the continuation of the introduction before the first case.

He is
a baby.
He is
a monkey.
He has
a job . . .

To tell you the truth, I can hardly wait to hold a completed copy, other than an uncorrected proof shared by a colleague, this coming Tuesday. The entire book, more than 190 pages, is nearly all wordless black and white images created by Brian Selznick.  The red used in the title text on the front of the dust jacket is sparely used at the end of each chapter.  When the simple text is displayed, it is done so in a large font on pristine white.  To view the book case here is a link to a tweet by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.

The drawings, artwork, of Brian Selznick will literally take your breath away.  The details in Baby Monkey will have you reaching out to touch the page.  The perspectives used in portraying the youngster shift with excellence as the cases unfold.  The series of single page portraits for each case of him striving to put on a pair of pants are merry mirth inducing.

What all readers will find intriguing is the decor in Baby Monkey's office.  With each case it changes prompting us to do a bit of research prior to the door opening to disclose the next client.  If we simply can't take the time to do it then, we will be compelled to do so after the book is completed.

One of my favorite of nearly all of these illustrations is one of the single-page pictures when he is first trying to put on his pants.  We are given an indication of his size as he sits on a book on its side.  Baby Monkey is facing the gutter from an illustration on the right.  His left leg is in the right pant leg.  He is holding the left pant leg in his hands trying to figure out what to do next.  His face, wide-eyed as usual, is scrunched in perplexity.

One copy of Baby Monkey, Private Eye written by Brian Selznick and David Serlin with pictures by Brian Selznick for your professional and private collections will not be enough.  You are going to need multiple copies.  This book will be highly read repeatedly and shared extensively among the intended audience as well as anyone fortunate to read it.  At the close of the book are smaller illustrations of Baby Monkey's office with information about the decor.  There is also an index and a bibliography which you need to read with careful reflection and an urge to laugh.

If you wish to know about the creators of this book and the book, you can visit the publisher's website here or a special website for the book here.  Both places are loaded with images, information, activities and the book trailer.  Brian Selznick is featured in a Publishers Weekly article which concludes with a discussion about this book.  Brian Selznick and David Serlin are interviewed at Shelf Awareness about this title.  Just a few days ago Brian Selznick is showcased in an article in The New York Times.  There is a The New York Times  live video of his studio, his drawing and this book.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Finding A Way To Play

It was on the south end of the street on the east side across from the factory.  It may have looked like a vacant lot to everyone else but to the children living on that street, it was paradise.  In the spring and summer it was the site of epic baseball and softball games.  When the crisp air of autumn settled in the neighborhood the voice of a quarterback could be heard hut 1, hut 2, hut 3 as flag football battle strategies were put into play.  Hearts pounded until touchdown was yelled with triumph.

If there's an open space children will find a way to use it, imagining it into whatever they want and need.  The Field (North|South, March 6, 2018) written by Baptiste Paul with pictures by Jacqueline Alcantara takes readers to an island in the Caribbean.  There a child beckons and a community follows.

Vini! Come!
The field calls.

The child moves from home to home and chats with a man at his fruit stand.  Twins carry a goal made from bamboo.  Cows are chased from the pasture.  Teams form.  A game is about ready to begin.

Friends call out plays to one another as they race down the grass.  Neighbors cheer encouragement along the sidelines and behind a fence.  Arms and legs are moving in a rhythm, feet passing the ball, when suddenly the sky darkens and rain falls.

No storm is going to stop this soccer game!  The players move through the water and mud with total dedication and pure joy.  A temporary pause allows for participants to adjust to the conditions.

Clouds move away as swiftly as they arrived and the sun's rays shine on a victory.  Although mothers call to their children, the call of the game is stronger.  Finally mud-caked gals and guys run home.  Darkness descends and dreams begin, dreams of the field.

The spare text, a beautiful blend of Creole and English, penned by debut picture book author Baptiste Paul reads like a poetic tribute to futbol, soccer, and the children whose passion for playing is like breathing.  The short sentences and phrases provide the same cadence as the game; a series of pauses, passes, running and kicking.  Exhilaration and enthusiasm radiate from the pages.  Here is a passage.

Ou. Ou. Ou. You. You. You.
Friends versus friends.

Annou ale! Let's go!

One of the first things you notice upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case, in addition to the lush greens of the island flora, is the energy of the children. Their body postures are indicative of the game they are playing.  This energy of the children is in direct contrast to the calm of the cows chewing the grass.

To the left, on the back, in the lower right hand corner two cows on a background of green are standing, mouths full of grass.  A soccer ball flies over their heads.  If readers carefully watch the eyes of the cows throughout the book, they will notice a gentle kind of humor in their reluctant acceptance of relinquishing the field to the children.

Debut picture book illustrator Jacqueline Alcantara uses every bit of space to tell her visual story.  Beginning on the opening endpapers a scene spreads from the forest to the field.  The child is moving and running through the trees kicking the soccer ball until it soars through the air toward the grazing cows and a goat.  On the closing endpapers the field at night stretches down one page and over to the other with lighted homes on either side framing it.

A crisp white background allows our eyes to be drawn to a single palm tree branching across the right side and over the gutter to the left on the title page and verso.  Beneath the palm fronds the child and sibling race together, the soccer ball in front of them.  Jacqueline Alcantara alternates between several visuals gathered on a single page, framed in white, to a single-page picture framed in white and then a glorious two-page image.  Two of the double-page spreads are a series of moves on the field in the rain. Several of the illustrations are wordless, the strength of the elements giving readers words.

One of my many favorite illustrations is wordless.  On a single page the child wearing the soccer uniform with bright yellow shoes is in full stride watching over their shoulder.  In front is the brother all dressed in bright red wearing a red ball cap, barefoot and running like the wind.  You can't help but smile at the intensity of their focus.  You long to be on the field with them.

Depicted with the true spirit of the game in words and images, The Field written by Baptiste Paul with pictures by Jacqueline Alcantara will have readers, regardless of their age, wanting to run outside to the nearest field (or vacant lot).  With ease you are carried to that island and that field as a spectator (or perhaps as a participant).  This story wraps around you like a blanket, a blanket of the happiness of the children and their community.  An Author's Note and Creole Words and Phrases glossary appear on the closing endpapers.  I highly recommend placing this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Baptiste Paul and Jacqueline Alcantara and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Jacqueline Alcantara also maintains a blog here.  At a publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.  At the publisher's website a discussion guide and an activity sheet have been prepared.  Baptiste Paul is featured at The Brown BookshelfJacqueline Alcantara is highlighted at Latinxs in Kid Lit.  Both Baptiste and Jacqueline visit Watch. Connect. Read., the blog of Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, for a chat and the premiere of their book trailer. At This Picture Book Life Baptiste and Jacqueline are interviewed about this book.

UPDATE:  Jacqueline Alcantara is featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on March 4, 2018. She speaks about the creation process for the art for this title.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Remembering A Grandmother

With each decade your reading life flourishes, growing in depth and breadth.  Regardless of the number of titles you read, there will be those books finding a permanent place in your reader's heart; some of them read repeatedly.  You will remember the wonder felt with the first reading.  With each subsequent journey you take within the pages of the book, whether it's fiction or nonfiction, the wonder returns. 

The books by author Madeleine L'Engle written for middle grade and young adults take your mind into places stretching your imagination and piercing your soul.  Two titles leaving a lasting impression on me are Many Waters from her Time Quintet and A Ring of Endless Light from The Austin Family series.  Did I enjoy the other titles in these two groups? Yes, I did but these two, after decades, I can still remember reading them the first time.  Knowing more about the life of this remarkable woman through Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by her Granddaughters (Farrar Straus Giroux, February 6, 2018) written by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy will captivate and inspire readers. 

We were young when our grandmother, Madeleine L'Engle, started sharing with us the patchwork of events, relationships, and emotions that shaped her into the person she was always becoming.

This first sentence leads us into a three-page prologue.  The authors are relating a personal conversation had with their grandmother about her time at the boarding school in Switzerland.  This is our initial glimpse at the strength of character possessed by Madeleine L'Engle and her brilliant insights into authorship.

In the first chapter we are acquainted with Madeleine "Mado" Hall Barnett, Madeleine's mother, and Charles Wadsworth Camp, her father, their pursuits, life experiences and their marriage.  A beautiful letter from Mado to Charles, serving in World War I overseas, speaks of the birth of Madeleine.  This is the beginning of the use of letters, postcards and journal entries in support of the narrative.

Page by page we are transported back in time following Madeleine from childhood, through her years at school in New York until sixth grade, and her three years at the school in Switzerland (They move due to her father's health after exposure to gas during the war.)  As tensions escalate in Europe coupled with Madeleine's grandmother's illness, the family returns to Jacksonville, Florida to care for her Dearma.  Madeleine and her parents remain there, even after the death of her grandmother.

It's as if we are side by side Madeleine as she completes her high school years at Ashley Hall, attends college at Smith College and begins work in the theater.  In each of these portions of her life, her writing never stops.  It shapes everything she does.  Through marriage, forty years with the love of her life, and raising three children, she writes.  Our reading lives are far better thanks to Madeleine L'Engle and now we have knowledge of why this is true.

This is a biography, when once started, has to be completed as soon as possible.  The narrative penned by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy enhanced with letters, postcards and journal entries is as fascinating as the stories written by Madeleine L'Engle.  We are able to see how history, family and a desire to become a writer all contributed to this woman becoming unforgettable.

The personal relationship Charlotte and Lena had with their grandmother and extensive research through her papers give readers an intimate portrait of Madeleine through specific details of significant incidents and years.  We find ourselves inwardly cheering for Madeleine.  We find ourselves comprehending the love these two women had and continue to have for their grandmother.  My copy of this book is replete with marked passages.  Here are several.

His moodiness did not stop Madeleine from adoring her father, and being a little bit in awe of him.  He was a force in the world:  charismatic, confident, and charming.  She watched him writing, absorbed in his creation of stories---real and fictional---and saw that it gave him both pleasure and frustration.  He wrote a first draft in longhand and then typed it out on a typewriter.  As a war correspondent, he typed his dispatches directly.  When Madeleine was ten, he gave her his old typewriter, which she used into the 1950s.

I am afraid of ideas tonight.  Mother and father talked politics for a couple of minutes tonight, and politics always get me jumpy when the world is in a mess like it is now, and so tonight I am afraid of ideas---not actualities.
An idea has more power over human mind than anything else---actuality you can touch, but ideas are elusive---ununderstandable.  But these thoughts have the power to make you understand beauty, fear, rejoice---almost more than actualities. (This is a journal entry by Madeleine when she was still in high school.)

Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by her Granddaughters written by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy is a superb collaboration; a masterful blend of narrative and letters, postcards, journal entries and other papers.  There are captioned photographs throughout highlighting the text.  It is a love letter, a tribute, to a life dedicated to writing, family, friends, a husband and her children.  I highly recommend it for placement in your professional and personal collections.  

To learn more about Lena Roy and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At this publisher's website you can read an excerpt.  If you prefer to listen to an audio clip, the link is here.  Here is the link to Madeleine L'Engle's website.  This is the link at the site to a blog post about the writing of this book by Lena Roy.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's website, Watch. Connect. Read., he chats with authors Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy about this book.  At teacher librarian Travis Jonker's 100 Scope Notes hosted by School Library Journal, Lena Roy shares three things which surprised her about her grandmother.  At Publishers Weekly is a post about the creation of this book with quotes from the authors (including information about the upcoming film, A Wrinkle in Time).  Both authors are interviewed at Barnes & Noble, BN Kids Blog.  Charlotte Jones Voiklis is interviewed at The Amazon Book Review.  Lena Roy wrote a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club about this title.

On a personal note my mother was two years younger than Madeline L'Engle.  They grew up in separate worlds but were still impacted by history.  After my mother passed away, in her book collection I found an unread copy of Madeline L'Engle's book, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, autographed by the author.   I know there's a story connected to this book, but I'll never know it.

This title is considerable longer than a picture book but I feel compelled to include it as my entry in this week's 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator, Alyson Beecher, to view the other titles chosen by other participants this week.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Fearless Frightening Feline

Children like to play a game of sorts; a game based upon one's ability to sneak up and scare another individual.  It can last one day or months.  It's usually enjoyed with two individuals.  The scarer takes great delight in their skill of stealth and of instilling pure panic.

Usually, but not always, size is also a characteristic contributing to the fear factor.  In The Tiptoeing Tiger (Candlewick Press, February 6, 2018) written and illustrated by Philippa Leathers a cub is perfecting his techniques at being terrifying. The results are not exactly as he expects.

Everyone in the forest knew that tigers were sleek, silent, and totally terrifying.  

You knew when a tiger was coming even before you saw it, the forest went silent as the residents vanished from sight.  When Little Tiger walked in the forest it was business as usual.  He was after all, small.

To Little Tiger's dismay, his brother laughed at him.  In fact, he told Little Tiger there was no animal in their forest he could scare.  Little Tiger was not the kind of tiger to back down from a challenge.

The tiptoeing began in earnest.  Both Boar and Elephant had logical reasons for not being frightened.  The monkeys could not stop gleefully giggling.

Shaken out of his sadness by a jumping frog the cub believed he had another chance.  Ever so slowly he moved silently to the pond.  He gave a mighty roar.  His brother was entirely mistaken.

Philippa Leathers supplies readers and listeners with a storytelling rhythm using the sequence of three and repetition.  Three descriptive characteristics are used to define a tiger.  Little Tiger tries three times, with no success, to frighten animals.  When he tiptoes, we read

Tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe . . .

These techniques, working with the blend of narrative and dialogue, welcome reader participation.  Here is a passage.

"You don't scare me," yawned Boar.  "I could hear you coming a mile away."
"Bother!" said Little Tiger, and he set off again to find someone to scare.

Rendered in pencil and watercolor, combined digitally the illustrations beginning on the matching dust jacket and book case invite readers into the forest setting, following Little Tiger.  It's nearly impossible to resist smiling or curbing a desire to know what Little Tiger will do next.  To the left, on the back, the forest floor continues.  On the far left a group of rocks provide a perch for a small forest bird who watches Little Tiger with interest.

On the opening and closing endpapers a lovely array of forest ferns creates a green on green pattern.  This continues on the next page at the beginning and ending of the book.  Beneath the text on the title page, Little Tiger is about to wake his sleeping brother.

The majority of the pictures span two pages with appropriate flora and fauna in each scene.  When Philippa Leathers shifts the image size and perspective, it is to enhance the pacing in the story.  Children and (kids at heart) are going to want to reach out and touch the animal characters.  Their physical characteristics are realistic with a touch of adorable.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Little Tiger is tiptoeing toward Boar.  From left to right, from forest to mud patch in a field, the cub moves sneakily across two pages. First he peeks from behind a tree, then moves to another tree and then tiptoes ever so carefully toward the sleeping boar.  You can feel the tension as you grin.

Looking at and sharing the front of the dust jacket and book case is only the beginning of the laughter you will hear when reading The Tiptoeing Tiger written and illustrated by Philippa Leathers.  Everyone will be able to connect to the feeling of being smaller than you desire.  We've all been little.  It's the resilience of Little Tiger and his willingness to face the truth which will endear him to you.  Make sure you have a copy of this title for your professional and personal collections.  And be ready to roar with your readers and listeners.

To learn more about Philippa Leathers and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At the publisher's websites, here and here, you can view interior images.  The illustrations are a page turn apart.

Monday, February 19, 2018

A Child Of The Wild

Canines, as their human companions can affirm, have a super sense of smell.  Their noses tend to assist them in avoiding dilemmas but can, when combined with curiosity, get them in less than desirable situations.  Emergency trips to the veterinarian to remove porcupine quills and more than normal cans of tomato juice in home pantries to combat skunk odor are evidence of inquisitiveness gone wrong.

This desire to know beyond their normal day-to-day realm is not confined to dogs but is found in their relatives living in the wild.  A Pup Called Trouble (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, February 13, 2018), a new novel written by Bobbie Pyron, follows a coyote youngster that has an extra dose of curiosity coursing through his body.  He may have been the last of his siblings to be named but his antics and over-zealous desire for adventure spell trouble.

Eyes Wide Open
On an early spring day, in a den tucked beneath the roots of an old oak tree, four coyote pups were born.
During the first week, they nursed and slept just like all newborn puppies do.
All except one.

As the weeks passed this pup got himself into one difficulty after another but his interest in humans, called the Makers by the Singing Creek Pack of the Coyote Clan, proved to be a serious mistake. With the confidence of youth, Trouble figured watching the farm and home of the Makers and the Beast's (their truck) daily trips he knew everything he needed to know to put an idea into motion.  One morning before the rest of his family was awake; he left the den, traveled to the farm and hopped into the back of the Maker's Beast.  What Trouble did not know was the truck filled with produce and eggs was on its way to a farmers' market. . . in New York City.

His arrival and discovery at the farmers' market left him shaken to his core and running loose in a space more foreign than he ever imagined.  Every place he looked there were towers of stone and little sky.  He was hungry and frightened.  And he caught the attention of a crow known by the Furred and Feathered as Mischief.

In short order Mischief lived up to his name enjoying every wild moment Trouble caused among the Makers in a particular office building and a subway car. On the train a specific opossum named Rosebud was failing miserably at being brave.  How would she survive being trapped inside the rocking train with a coyote?  And what was a crow doing here, too?

Taking up residence in Central Park Trouble's life took on a routine of discovery, close encounters and nighttime conversations and play.  Mischief and Rosebud were his companions but others, a fox and an owl, soon joined the group.  A poodle named Minette and her poet human enlarged Trouble's circle as did one small human, a nature lover, named Amelia. 

While Trouble seemed to be unconcerned, his cityborn friends knew disaster was a dark cloud looming over the pup, ready to burst at any time.  Officer Vetch of the Greater Manhattan Animal Control and Care was determined to capture Trouble and Trouble's status in the man's mind had changed.  In what can only be described as an action-packed, life or death scenario, a foiled plan and convergence of characters take readers toward a true hold-your-breath conclusion.  Look toward the North Star.

From the beginning with each short, descriptive chapter Bobbie Pyron builds her narrative with wit, humor and mounting tension.  The premise of curiosity over caution is one in which readers can easily identify.  The commentary of the characters and the situations in which Trouble finds himself will have you smiling and laughing out loud but underlying both the curiosity and humor Trouble's inexperience places him in increasingly dangerous situations.

Each chapter end leads flawlessly to the next chapter with sentences which heighten our own curiosity as new elements in the plot and characters are introduced. Bobbie Pyron has a gift for enveloping readers in the surroundings of her stories with her choice of words.  Her knowledge of the animals is evident in the realistic situations portrayed.  Here are a few of the many passages I tagged.

He could just make out the sleeping forms of his mother and father lying close together beneath the wide branches of an evergreen tree.  And there, beneath a rock outcropping, slept Twist.  His chin rested on the strip of deer hide he and Trouble had played with the night before.
For one heartbeat Trouble questioned what he was about to do.  Oh, how he loved his family and the den and the ancient oak and the meadow and the creek.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't a member of the Coyote Clan," the crow said.  "This ought to be rich."
Mischief watched with delight as the humans shouted and waved their arms and ran about like panic-stricken pigeons as they were prone to do when faced with something unfamiliar.

Rosebud realized through her keen sense of smell that this was a human.  Her heart pounded.  Her blood froze.  She could feel a faint coming on.
Although Rosebud was not the bravest of creatures, she was practical.  She decided the best course of action was to assure this human that 1) she was not a threat, and 2) she was not a rat.
Rosebud stood on her hind legs, pulled back her lips in an enormous smile, revealing all fifty of her gloriously sharp teeth.
Without a sound, Verla Trumpowski fainted onto the floor.
Mischief croaked in disbelief.  "How did that beady-eyed little thing do that?"

"I think," he said carefully, "that sometimes you have to take risks to see something beautiful."
Finally, the moon rose.  Trouble watched it slowly climb, not above the jagged tops of trees like at home, but above the jagged New York City skyline in the distance.

Without a doubt A Pup Called Trouble written by Bobbie Pyron is going pass from reader to reader wearing a well-loved look in no time at all.  Readers can't help but be captivated by the adventuresome episodes of Trouble and the cast of characters.  The manner in which Bobbie Pyron weaves them all together is pure storytelling enchantment.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.  At the close of the book, Bobbie provides six pages of Critter Notes on coyotes, crows and opossums.

To learn more about Bobbie Pyron and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  (If you have not read her The Dogs of Winter or A Dog's Way Home, remedy that as soon as you can.)  At the publisher's website you can read a sample or listen to a sample of the audio.  At Coyote Yipps Bobbie Pyron talks about her inspiration for this title.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Choice To Make

Every day when we wake up is an opportunity; an opportunity to make a difference.  We make a difference with a goodbye hug for family members, a smile at a stranger, a wave to a neighbor and words of encouragement to those we teach.  A single act of kindness can change a day not just for one individual but for many.  That single act is like the proverbial pebble dropped in water; it ripples outward.

Cultivating a habit of being kind is one of the single best things we can do for others and for us.  Be Kind (Roaring Brook Press, February 6, 2018) written by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Jen Hill is a gentle story of a child discovering the many ways to express kindness.  It begins with an unfortunate incident.

Tanisha spilled grape juice yesterday.

It was splattered down the front of her new dress.  Her fellow classmates laughed except for one.  She remembered the words of her mother and tried to help.  It didn't work.

After snack time, during art, the girl painted violets.  As she made this picture she thought about what she could have done immediately for Tanisha.  She wondered how we define kindness.

It could be in the act of giving, helping or paying attention.  She remembered when she gave, helped and paid attention.  Her mom also told her to use people's first names when greeting them.  It's a way to show you care about them as individuals.

Being kind is not always easy but for those receiving your kindness, it's invaluable.  It can spread farther than you can imagine.  It can circle back to you.  It can change the world or, at the very least, it can help the memory of a ruined new dress to fade, replaced by gesture of kindness.

Readers are immediately drawn into the story with a problem.  They have either witnessed this identical incident or it's happened to them.   Pat Zietlow Miller cleverly uses this technique to create a connection and as a point to build her narrative.   Told in the first person point of view we are able to understand how the child, the girl, expands her knowledge of what it is to be kind.  Readers realize kindness can be quick and simple but lasting or take a bit more time.  Here is a passage from this narrative.

Maybe it's giving.
Making cookies for Mr. Rinaldi,
who lives alone.
Letting someone with smaller feet
have my too-tight shoes.
(He might win races in them, too.)

Opening the matching dust jacket and book case gives readers two separate views of kindness.  On the front the narrator of this story is holding an umbrella for Tanisha.  Perhaps the yellow color selected by artist Jen Hill reminds us kindness can be a bit of sunshine on a rainy kind of day.  The characters, the title text and raindrops are varnished.  The small brush of purple watercolor separating the author's and illustrator's names is significant also.

To the left, on the back, a background is supplied with vertical rows of interwoven threads in a cream hue.  I like to think this represents how we are all tied together.  Upon this an image within a loose circle shows a girl comforting another girl who has just broken her glasses.  A rich shade of purple covers the opening and closing endpapers. 

Each illustration flows into the next; the size shifting to create pacing.  Most of the pictures are placed on a single page.  In several of the scenes the focus is on the full color used for the people with the setting fading to a background of outlines and light colors.  The people, with an emphasis on children, in these images are from all walks of life and from varying races.  Fine lines delineate their facial features portraying appropriate emotions.

One of my several favorite illustrations is on a single page.  In the upper left-hand corner is the girl.  All we see is the bottom of her signature purple jersey, her black leggings and bare feet.  In front of her just slightly right of the center is a young boy on his hands and knees.  His hands are holding the tops of black high-top shoes.  He is looking at the girl with affection.

Yesterday was Random Act of Kindness Day; started in Denver, Colorado in 1995.  Can you imagine how wonderful the world would be if every day was Random Act of Kindness Day?  Be Kind written by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Jen Hill is an excellent title to use to promote discussions on kindness.  You will want to add this title to your professional and personal collections.  It can be paired with If You Plant a SeedSidewalk Flowers, or Mama Lion Wins The Race.

To learn more about Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Jen Hill has interior images from this title on her home page.  Jen Hill has numerous links to her other social media accounts as does Pat Zietlow Miller.  At the publisher's website you can view illustrations from this book.  At the Nerdy Book Club Pat features the book trailer for Be Kind.  She talks about other books showcasing kindness.  She provides a link to a Pinterest board of picture books about kindness.  At Picture Book Builders Pat talks about this book.  Jen Hill is highlighted at Brightly.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Perennial Protection

Warm temperatures and rain have hastened the departure of more than six inches of snow left by a series of daily snow showers and several storms.  Heated by sunlight bouncing off the siding on the house and the white fence outlining the yard, some of the grass is greener and growing.  If this trend continues tulip bulbs planted in the fall will start to push through the dirt in a few weeks.

Lots of tender loving care is necessary to shield them from the local deer that see them as delicacies.  Often new life needs more protection than is offered by Mother Nature.  The Digger And The Flower (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, January 23, 2018) written and illustrated by Joseph Kuefler tells the story of a machine that discovers a calling far more important than that for which he is designed.

It was morning and the big trucks were ready to work.

Each of them had an important job to do; hoisting, pushing and digging.  Crane, Dozer and Digger worked to make buildings, roads and bridges.  They did not stop until a whistle blew.  Crane and Dozer rested but something captured Digger's attention.

Amid the remains of their efforts was a bit of blue and green.  It was an exquisite little flower.  During the following days Crane and Dozer continued their construction projects but Digger went to the flower.  Whatever this tender tiny plant needed, Digger provided it; even bedtime lullabies.

Time passed.  Every space was filled with buildings, roads and bridges except where the now-grown flower resided.  One day Crane and Dozer arrived determined to move forward in their progress.  Before Digger knew what was happening Dozer revved his engine and moved.

After Crane and Dozer left, Digger, through his tears, saw something on the ground.  He carried them in his scoop traveling until as far as the eye could see were green hills and valleys.  Then Digger did what Digger did best.

The text is spare but powerful through the carefully chosen words of Joseph Kuefler.  A flawless blend of narrative and dialogue draws readers into the tale through combinations of three, a storytelling cadence.  There are three machines doing three separate tasks and creating three kinds of structures.  When Digger cares for the exquisite little bit of blue and green, he performs three acts of love.  Here are three sentences.

He had found something in the rubble.
"Hello there," he said.
The flower was tiny, but it was beautiful. 

Readers are introduced to the limited color palette used by Joseph Kuefler on the matching dust jacket and book case.  From the left, the back, and over the spine the background is the golden yellow used for Digger.  Angling from left to right are black tread marks.  The texture of the slight impression on the sides and down the middle of the marks is carried to the front as a canvas for the title text, Digger and the flower.

The opening and closing endpapers are displayed in golden yellow.  Opposite the verso and dedication page, still in the golden yellow, on a crisp white background beneath the title text is the tiny green and blue flower.  Each page turn reveals a double-page picture rendered in variations of black on white with the golden yellow of Digger, the red of Crane and the orange of Dozer.  Exceptions are several single-page illustrations and two visuals on a page to contribute to the pacing.  Once we are acquainted with the flower, blue and green become synonymous with a world not created by machines.

The balance in the use of these colors depicts emotional points in the story.  When Digger leaves the city, on the left of a two-page picture, amid the shades of black in the city structures is a yellow flag on the top of a domed roof, an orange door on one home and the small bit of red on a mailbox in front of another house.  There is a marvelous symmetry in the lines and shapes employed by Joseph Kuefler in his buildings, roads and bridges which allows readers to become as attached to the flower as Digger is.  We have compassion and an identical desire to preserve.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the three quoted sentences.  In this image we are brought close to Digger and the flower.  Digger occupies nearly the entire left side of the page with the arm of his scoop disappearing at the top left and reappearing on the top right.  It extends down to shelter the tiny plant on its right.  It's a defining moment in the story and this picture asks us to pause.

In a word The Digger And The Flower written and illustrated by Joseph Kuefler is about hope.  If each of us can commit to protecting a small portion of our world, what will happen if all those small portions are combined?  It's compassion turned into action.  Your professional and personal collections will be highly enhanced by including a copy of this title.

To discover more about Joseph Kuefler and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  He has a page dedicated to this title with narrative and additional illustrations.  Joseph also has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Here is a link to two activity pages.  Joseph was recently interviewed at Mile High Reading, blog of Dylan Teut, director for the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival in Seward, Nebraska and at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Please take a few moments to become better acquainted with Joseph and his work through these excellent chats.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

2018 Sibert Medal

On February 12, 2018 the American Library Association Youth Media Awards aired live from approximately 10:00 am to 11:00 am EST.  It doesn't get any better than watching this event with a friend and colleague and two classes of fifth grade students.  There were congratulatory yells, clapping, laughing, jumping up and down and verbal comments shared among those watching in that classroom.

When the 2018 Sibert Medal title was announced, one voice, mine, was a bit louder than the others.  Twice Twelve Days In May: Freedom Ride 1961 (Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights, October 24, 2017) written by Larry Dane Brimner was renewed from our public library.  I had it on the top of the stack next to my computer.  For some reason, I knew this book was special.  I was not ready to return it to the library.  Now I know why.  I read it cover to cover in a single sitting the next day.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy, a light-complexioned black man, deliberately sat in the white-only car of the East Louisiana Railroad.  He identified himself as Negro and was arrested for violating Louisiana's Separate Car Act, passed in 1890.

In describing this case, Morgan v Commonwealth of Virginia (1946), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Boynton v. Virginia (1960) and The Sit-Ins, we understand the historical significance of the decisions and civil rights actions leading to the Freedom Ride 1961.  From Tuesday, May 4, 1961 to Monday, May 15, 1961 we are privy to the scenes, the people and the events each day.  On May 4, 1961 two buses wait to leave Washington, D. C.; a Greyhound bus and a Continental Trailways bus will carry passengers initially numbering thirteen from state to state arriving in New Orleans by May 17, 1961.  This is to highlight the seventh anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

We are given the names, ages, race and occupations of the original thirteen riders.  These men and women ages sixty-one to eighteen volunteered for this ride; committed to non-violence regardless of how they were treated.  They rode to test the laws of this nation; the right to ride where they chose, the right to use the restroom of their choice and the right to eat where they wished.

On May 8, 1961 Joe Perkins a twenty-seven-year-old black man, a student at the University of Michigan, sat in a whites-only chair for a shoe shine.  He was arrested for trespassing.  His bail was fifty dollars.  The judge, Howard B. Arbuckle, dismissed all charges.  He followed the law not Jim Crow.

On May 9, 1961, John Lewis and Al Bigelow were beaten in Rock Hill, South Carolina.  The next day John Lewis left the Freedom Ride for a job interview promising to rejoin the group on May 15, 1961.  Tensions escalated in Winnsboro, South Carolina.  There were more arrests and a nighttime rescue.  On May 12, 1961 another member left and three more joined the group.  Now they were headed to Atlanta, Georgia.

The leader of the group James Farmer went home from Atlanta to Washington, D. C. suddenly on May 13, 1961 due to the death of his father.  As first the Greyhound bus entered the city of Anniston, Alabama, the Ku Klux Klan was highly charged with deadly intentions.  The local police did not arrest the Klansmen.  Two tires on the bus are slashed.  What followed as the bus traveled from Anniston toward Birmingham was horrific.  Equally atrocious were the incidents happening on the Continental Trailways bus.  Klansmen were passengers.  Klansmen awaited the arrival in Birmingham. 

The Freedom Riders wanted to continue but there were no buses to take them to New Orleans.  Even a decision to fly was filled with problems.  Intervention from the administration in Washington, D. C. helped the plane to take off and land in New Orleans.  Twelve days of incredible courage, determination in the face of grave bodily harm and the will to do so without violence on their part kept these Freedom Riders going toward their goal. 

We continue reading about the civil rights movement after the Freedom Ride 1961 and Birmingham.  Each of the thirteen riders is named again.  We learn how their lives continue.  They will be remembered.

Whether you read this once or multiple times, each time you are completely captivated by the bravery of these men and women.  Larry Dane Brimner writes masterfully beginning with background information and creating a feeling of great unease which grows day by day.  As the buses pass from state to state Larry Dane Brimner includes details which personally invest us in this journey. 

We continually refer to the page introducing us to the members of the Freedom Ride 1961.  Each time something happens to one of them our attachment grows.  Larry Dane Brimner is so skillful it's as if we are watching this on film.  In addition to the narrative, realistic photographs are included with every page turn.  They are all captioned; some of them are lengthier than others.  Here is one of the captions.  It is followed by a narrative passage.

Although Petersburg, Virginia, desegregated its bus terminals in 1960, this was the exception rather than the rule in the South.  When Freedom Ride 1961 ended in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 15, new waves of riders picked up the cause.  Here, unidentified Freedom Riders successfully integrate the bus terminal in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 28, 1961.

A few nearby residents offer to help the victims.  A twelve-year-old local white girl, Janie Miller, hauls five-gallon buckets of water to the riders and other passengers.  Most of the local residents, however, either look on in silence or urge the Klansmen to continue the assault, until ambulances arrive to carry the injured to the hospital.  At first, ambulance drivers refuse to carry any of the injured black riders.  Only when the white Freedom Riders begin to crawl out of the ambulances, unwilling to leave their black friends behind, do the drivers relent and agree to carry all the victims.

You will be stunned reading Twelve Days In May: Freedom Ride 1961 written by Larry Dane Brimner.  Once you read this you'll want everyone to read this title.  It is a very important book.  It is through reading history we have the ability to be better than we are.  At the conclusion of the book is a bibliography of sources consulted by the author, video, websites, and for younger readers.  There are places to visit and acknowledgments.  Source notes, an index and picture credits complete the title.

To learn more about Larry Dane Brimner and his other work, please follow the link to his website attached to his name.  I believe you will enjoy reading his other award winning books.  I was ten years old during these twelve days in May.  I thank Larry Dane Brimner for this book.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to read about the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Small Adventures Of Discovery

When you've been involved in the realm of children's literature for nearly forty-five years there are authors and illustrators whose contributions and creations have been partners with you.  You have had the distinct privilege to read almost every book they've brought into the world, marveling at their singular styles in writing and in their artwork.  Many of their books are your best friends.  You've witnessed how they've touched the hearts of readers.

There is one such author and illustrator whose bears, real and teddy, call out his name.  In his newest title, Baby Bear's Book of Tiny Tales (Little, Brown And Company, February 13, 2018), David McPhail further endears readers to his charming furry characters.  This little guy has a knack for finding what needs to be found.

Baby Bear Finds a Boot
Baby Bear was fishing.  He did not catch a fish.  Instead, he caught a boot.

In this first of four short stories Baby Bear's kindness in returning the boot to its proper owner introduces us to his forest friends.  Timmy Squirrel, Bobby Raccoon and Daisy Skunk all have perfectly good reasons the boot is not their boot.  With a bit of homonymic humor Ollie Owl cannot give Baby Bear a straight answer.  A sleepy Papa Bear finally provides a solution.

One day walking in the woods, Baby Bear finds a flower of exquisite beauty.  His first thought is to pick it for Mama Bear.  Daisy Skunk warns him to not pick the flower due to its rarity.  When Baby Bear learns the meaning of rare he has to agree with Daisy.  In a burst of ingenuity Daisy has a surprisingly excellent idea.

Leaning against a tree trunk in the third story, Baby Bear is startled by the presence of a baby bird that falls out of its nest.  First scaring away a hawk, Baby Bear decides to stay with the tiny creature until the mother returns.  Her plan to get the little bird back in its nest does not work but Baby Bear's method works wonderfully.

As Baby Bear goes from one friend's home to the next he finds himself in the forest alone. No one can play with him.  Suddenly hearing voices he decides to explore.  To his delight a little girl is picnicking with three of her toys, her best buddies.  After sharing sandwiches and tea together the little girl has a secret to share with Baby Bear.  Her revelation leads to four more surprises. 

In each of these four stories readers will be charmed by Baby Bear, his friends and parents.  David McPhail has a gift for knowing what will appeal to his younger readers (and those reading to them). The majority of each tale is told through conversations but when narrative is woven into those chats, it is done so with skill.  Here is a passage.

"What is rare?" asked Baby Bear.
"It means that this flower could be the only one left in the whole wide world," said Daisy.
"Oh dear," said Baby Bear.  "But I wanted to take it home to Mama Bear."
Baby Bear and Daisy Skunk sat down beside the flower.
They were quiet for a long time.

Upon opening the dust jacket, the golden yellow background patterned in tiny stems and leaves extends over the spine to the edge of the back on the left.  Each of the four tales is represented with the eight tiny images of Baby Bear on the circle of leaves surrounding the title text.  The circle of leaves is replicated on the back.  Within the circle we read about the book's contents.  Four new pictures of Baby Bear reflect the contents of each story.  (I am working with an F & G.  To see the book's case cover @LittleBrownYR tweeted out a picture today.)

On the opening and closing endpapers the same intricate pattern of stems and leaves is found in two shades of a sage green.  Beneath the text on the title page within a tiny border of leaves, Baby Bear is leaning over the edge of the stream watching his bobber float in the water.  A lovely frame of branches and leaves surrounds the verso information and the table of contents.  Cupped by branches are a tiny picture of Baby Bear, a red boot, a rare flower (lady's slipper), a baby bird (robin) and a waving little girl.  These branches, leaves and small illustrations head the beginning of each story.

Rendered in pen and ink and watercolor on Strathmore Drawing Paper the illustrations are softly framed in white on single pages.  They are loosely circular.  In each of the tales there is one picture which spans two pages.  The fine lines and delicate details are sure to prompt sighs and attract readers to each depiction.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is in the first story when Baby Bear is trying to find the owner of the red boot.  Tired from searching, Baby Bear is resting against a tree in the forest next to the stream.  His fishing pole with the bobber attached is leaning against the same tree.  What Baby Bear can't yet see but what readers can see is Papa Bear fast asleep sitting on the bank of the stream.  His feet are dangling in the water as he clasps his fishing pole.  One of his feet is decidedly different than the other.  (I can hear the gasps of readers already.)  The watercolor shading is gorgeous in this picture.  It's breathtaking in all of them.

For a title on friendship and items found, this collection of stories, Baby Bear's Book of Tiny Tales, written and illustrated by David McPhail is happiness you can hold in your hands.  Baby Bear has a huge heart and his ability to extend compassion in any given situation will appeal to all readers.  You will want to add this title to your collections to use during a story time featuring beloved bears.

To learn more about David McPhail and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access a website featuring him.  You will appreciate his handwritten note with a painting highlighted there.  This is an older but great post about David McPhail at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.