Quote of the Month

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

Friday, September 28, 2018

Together We Are Stronger

Everyone has a story to tell.  Everyone's story has value.  By hearing the stories of others we learn.  When we learn we grow toward being the best we can be.  We know all of this to be true.

We need to remember the person we pass walking down a street, pushing a grocery store cart, sitting at a table in a library, or sitting or standing with us, waiting in a line, has a story we might need or want to hear.  If we listen to their story or read their story, it further validates them and us as human beings of worth.  First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants And Refugees Who Make America Great (Little. Brown And Company, September 4, 2018) written by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace with illustrations by Agata Nowicka is captivating and illuminating at every page turn.

Introducing The Heroes Of
First Generation
The United States is a nation of diversity, from Native American peoples to immigrants and refugees.  Maybe you can trace your family back to the first colonists who came over from Europe, or to immigrants who arrived during the late 1800s.  But immigrants and refugees didn't just come to this country hundreds of years ago.  There are millions of new Americans making this country thrive right now.  

Following a stirring, informative and inviting introduction readers meet eighteen women and eighteen men whose lives have and continue to elevate this country's greatness.  Each of them found their gift, persisted through challenges and used those talents for the benefit of others.  Person by person you feel something wonderful growing inside you.  It's gratitude.

At six a little girl born in a refugee camp in Kenya relocates to St. Cloud, Minnesota.  One year ago in 2017, this little girl, Halima Aden, is showcased on the cover of a magazine in the United States as the first hijab-wearing model.  Google co-founder Sergey Brin fled the Soviet Union with his parents also at the age of six for religious reasons.  One of six children, Maria Contreras-Sweet worked odd jobs to help her single mother when they left Mexico to live in California.  Her mother supported this move knowing opportunities would be better for Maria in America. Maria was the first Latina to start a bank;

a bilingual bank for California's Latinx small-business community.

As a boy (born in 1883 in Syria) Kahlil Gibran came to America with his mother and three siblings seeking freedom from a troubled marriage.  This beloved poet lived in a single room apartment his entire adult life.  When you read The Prophet you will understand why its popularity grew.

A librarian who read her Mary Poppins inspired this first Asian American woman to serve in the United States Senate to learn English faster.  He and his brothers and sisters (ten) living on the continent of Africa ate dirt to curb their hunger.  Meb Keflezighi was the first American citizen to win the Boston Marathon in thirty years.  Did you know conservationist John Muir immigrated to the United States from Scotland?

An Ethiopian orphan and his sister are adopted by a Swedish couple.  Today he owns numerous restaurants throughout the United States.  A Polish immigrant as an infant was instrumental in the women's rights movement.  She suffered for seven months in jail but her notes smuggled out gained national attention in assisting the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.  The stories of these first generation women and men no matter how times you read them resonate long after the book is closed.  The America seen through the eyes, hearts and minds of these thirty-six people is an America to preserve and protect for future immigrants and refugees.

As you read the words penned by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace their thorough research is apparent in the collective biographical essays.  Individual quotations by each person top the entries and are included in the body of the narrative.  Dates and statistics are seamlessly woven into the conversations about each person.  Their use of language allows us to become personally aware of the world in which these people rose to their considerable accomplishments.  Each page also contains at least one but usually two or three separate but significant facts placed within a box in the lower right-hand corner.  Here are some examples from the essays.

Mazie Hirono
"I wanted to do something with my life
that would help people."

In 1955, seven-year-old Mazie Keiko Hirono stood
with her mom and brother on the deck of a ship sailing
out of Yokohama Harbor, knowing they needed 
to leave Japan in a hurry.  Her father's problems with
alcohol and gambling had made him abusive and had
left his family poor and hungry.  Mazie cried a lot
during the trip to Hawaii because she didn't know
what to expect, but she believed in her hardworking
mom.  "My mother was my whole world," she
remembered.  "I learned risk-taking from her."

*Mazie became a US citizen in 1959-the same
year Hawaii became a US state.

Carlos Santana
"I would never take anything
from America that I wouldn't want
to put back a hundred times."

When Carlos Santana was nine years old, his father
took out a violin and played softly.  A bird settled on
a branch and sang along with the instrument.  "It was
as if I suddenly found out my father was a great wizard,"
Carlos recalled, "only this wasn't magic---it was

*Carlos established the Milagro Foundation to
provide money to organizations that work with
children around the world in education, health,
and the arts.

Looking at the opened book case of this title, it's as if illustrator Agata Nowicka has presented readers with portraits revealing the passion at heart in the soul of each individual.  They all look ready to move into action or speak to us directly.  Her choice of color palette here and throughout the book is bold and vibrant.

A royal blue canvas covers both the opening and closing endpapers.  Small gold stars scatter and frame the text on the title and dedication pages.  For each image black acts as the defining hue bringing the elements in each illustration prominently forward.  In numerous visuals red, white and blue are used to excellent effect.

Readers need to pause at each depiction.  Look carefully at the details.  What is meaningful to the individuals and represents their talents, achievements and continued endeavors is present.  It's a gallery of greatness.

This book, First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants And Refugees Who Make America Great written by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace with illustrations by Agata Nowicka, is powerful and meaningful, relevant now and in the future.  Whether you read it as a whole in one sitting or read an entry a day, the impact will be as potent.  I can't imagine a personal or professional collection without this title.  These are stories we need to hear.  These are stories our children need to hear.  At the close of the book both Sandra Neil Wallace and Agata Nowicka acquaint readers with the inspiration and process of their work on this title.

To learn more about Sandra Neil Wallace, Rich Wallace and Agata Nowicka and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website you can listen to a podcast by the authors about this title.  At School Library Journal you can read a sponsored interview of the authors.  When the cover is revealed at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's site, Watch. Connect. Read., he engages them in conversation about this title and nonfiction in general.

Book Chat with the Editor - Deirdre Jones on FIRST GENERATION from LB School on Vimeo.

I hope you will take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the selections by other bloggers participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge this week.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Who's There?

A surefire technique to find the most popular books in a library is to locate those titles with the love-worn look.  The dust jackets and book cases are folded and creased.  Page corners are turned down multiple times.  There are numerous incidents of visual thumb and fingerprints smeared on pages.  One area of shelving containing these titles is the joke book section.

When children are on a joke-telling roll, there is no way to stop them.  And who would want to?  The sound of their laughter is contagious.  KNOCK KNOCK (Scholastic Press, July 31, 2018) written by Tammi Sauer with illustrations by Guy Francis is a total gigglefest.

Who's there?
Justin who?

A sleepy bear ready for hibernation is startled awake by words and a wood-carrying fox that enters his home.  He is Justin the neighborhood. (Insert a snicker and a happy groan here.) As the fox stacks the wood in the fireplace another double knock sounds at the door.

A trio of gabby blue jays arrives holding streamers.  The bear is less than thrilled with their wordplay and their presence.  Soon a raccoon stalks in through the open entrance looking like he's been working in his kitchen.  Bear finally closes the door and slouches against it only to have the now familiar words uttered once more.

To say he is frustrated is an understatement.  All the poor guy wants to do is go to sleep.  He craves sleep.  He needs it.  His annoyance is slowly starting to cross the line into anger.

When the next persistent tapping and rapping sounds on his door, Bear roars a reply.  Opening the door his next answer is gentler when he sees his visitor.  A super surprise is sprung on the unsuspecting bear.  What are friends for?  When the next season comes, the roles are reversed in a manner sure to have readers and listeners joining in the fun once more.

This is one of those books, when you know without a doubt; the author must have been laughing out loud at the possibilities for wordplay.  Tammi Sauer has a connection to her intended audience (and those who read this book aloud to others).  She knows which jokes invite the most participation.  You can easily anticipate the predictions shouted out by listeners at the pause before the final sentence in each exchange.  Here is another one.

Who's there?
Ima who?
Ima gonna huff and
puff and blow the
house down if you
don't open this door!

You know the feeling you get when something suddenly wakes you up in the middle of the night, the expression on the bear's face is exactly the way your face looks if you could see it.  His wild-eyed stare vividly displays his surprise coupled with a sense of dismay.  To the left, on the back of the dust jacket, Bear reluctantly makes his way to his door.  He is dragging his patchwork quilt on the floor and carries his pillow on one side and his toy teddy bear under the other arm.  His bunny slippers and striped sleeping cap complete the scene.  His ample stomach is visible between his pajama top and bottoms. 

On the book case a portion of an interior illustration hints at the book's outcome.  On the opening and closing endpapers a combination of the words KNOCK KNOCK in varying sizes is shown in a design of black outlines on dark purple.  Clearly sleep is not in Bear's near future.  Illustrator Guy Francis starts his visual interpretation on the verso and title pages with Bear turning off his light, ready to drift off into hibernation.  He is barely awake.

A rhythm is established by the depictions and size of the illustrations.  Initially two single-page pictures with the introductory words of the joke are followed by a double-page image with the punch line.  Guy Francis broadens the pacing by following with another two-page visual.  Two single page illustrations allow for commentary by Bear.  As the narrative progresses the combination of text and picture size increases the tension.  The full-color images are bolder with wider outlines around the words.  This is pure perfection leading to the final knock-knock visitor. 

One of my favorite illustrations is one of the final ones but to tell you about it would spoil the joy for you.  The details are charming with a capital C.  Another of my many favorite pictures is on a single page.  Bear is standing in front of the fireplace.  A happy-go-lucky fox in a flannel shirt is lighting the wood in the fireplace, flaming match in hand.  The three blue jays are merrily carrying streamers as they fly around Bear.  One of them grabs his teddy bear.  Nearly asleep on his feet Bear with a hilarious look on his face says

Oh, boy.

If you are seeking a title to talk about the shift of autumn into winter, a book about animals in winter, a tale about the power of friendship or a guaranteed funnier than funny story time winner, KNOCK KNOCK written by Tammi Sauer with illustrations by Guy Francis is the book for you.  Your readers will be talking about this for days.  They will be inventing their own knock-knock jokes which are a very good thing.  You will definitely want this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Tammi Sauer and Guy Francis and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Both Tammi and Guy have Twitter accounts. They both have accounts here and here on Instagram.  Tammi Sauer writes about this book on PictureBookBuilders in an interview with illustrator Guy Francis. You'll appreciate both her questions and his answers.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

It Houses Possibilities

As soon as you step through the doors there is a subtle shift in the atmosphere.  It's a sanctuary softly sizzling with a myriad of choices. It offers an alternative to reality as well as presenting further understanding of that reality.  It sparks fresh ideas by expanding our perceptions.  We never know what we will discover even if we enter with a plan.  It stays the same but is constantly changing.  Many feel like it's coming home.  I count myself among them.

Each day as the doors are unlocked and opened there are those who return and those who enter for the first time.  Dreamers (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, September 4, 2018) written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales recounts in a touching tribute, the first time she and her son Kelly enter a public library.   Her expressive words and illuminating illustrations serve to uplift all readers.

I dreamed of you,
then you appeared.

Speaking her truth Yuyi tells us of the birth of her son; their connection by life and love.  As a newborn she brings him from their town in Mexico to the United States.  She carries their gathered belongings in a backpack; each a symbol of what is valued most.  When the crossing is completed they become immigrants, migrantes.

Their language, Spanish, is not understood.  They do not yet understand English.  How can you not make mistakes?  They walk, exploring and learning, until one day they enter a place unlike any other.  As far as their eyes can see are books.

Here words are not necessary.  Here pictures speak volumes.  Here possibilities, real and imagined, fill every waking moment.  A gift, freely given, is accepted.

Through books a mother and son learn a new language, reading and writing unfamiliar sentences.  Now their stories are told to people in this new country.  Their hearts are strong knowing what can be.

The first person narrative of Yuyi Morales is written with passionate intention.  Straightforward, declarative sentences tell us her truth.  At times single powerful words define an emotional moment.  Spanish and English, a blending of two languages, represent the bridge being built between two worlds.  Here are several sentences and words.

You and I
became caminantes.

Thousands and thousands of steps
we took around this land,
until the day we found . . .  

a place we had
never seen before.



The opened dust jacket completes the stunning partial portrait viewed on the front of Yuyi Morales and her son, Kelly.  Each element in this illustration, actually throughout the book, is carefully chosen, representative of something other than a bird or a butterfly.  Notice the expressions on the face of the mother and that of her son.  What is on the mind of each of them?  The mix of mediums and vivid hues fashions a multi-layered texture.

On the book case the image is identical except for one item.  The eyes of the child and his mother are closed in contentment.  The opening and closing endpapers are a rough, marbleized pattern like sandstone.  A two-page picture is supplied for the title page.  A young girl (Yuyi) has fallen asleep among her drawings next to her mother's sewing machine.  Above the cloud-like title text are stars and clouds.  There are also a few along the bottom of the page.

Numerous forms of media and techniques, as described in How I Made this Book, create these breathtaking and signature illustrations.  The embroidered flowers and leaves and text are marvelous.  Readers will wonder at the significance of the skeleton individual, the guitar, cloth heart with an eye in the center, and dog (perro) in the backpack.  Two volcanoes appear in the background.  What do they represent?

Each of the two-page pictures and a few single page images depict the effervescent spirit of Yuyi Morales.  Readers will notice the appearance of the monarch butterfly frequently.  They will note, too, the swallows, and snakes.  I'm confident they will take equal delight in seeing many of their favorite titles displayed in the scenes in the library.  How many of them can they name by the artwork alone?  How many of them have they read?  The tiny skeleton individual and dog actively participate in the activities of the child and his mother.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Yuyi and Kelly are seated on the left in the center of an enlarged flower (It was originally tucked in her backpack.)  They are happily reading a book which is only outlined for us.  On her back is the pack with the skeleton and eye looking over her shoulder.  A monarch butterfly is perched on the right corner of the book.  A volcano explodes in-between shelving.  A baseball is soaring.  A fire truck is roaring into the scene.  Books are scattered around them.  Fish and a shark swim from left to right.  A star, a crescent moon and a rocket ship hang in the background.  Along a curve on the right bottom is a bookcase with titles we can read.  The dog, to the front and right, has lifted its head and is howling.  One word is on the page.

This is a book for everyone, immigrants and non-immigrants, readers and non-readers, library users and those who've never been in a library.  Dreamers written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales is an invitation to change your life by entering a library.  It is a beautiful and brilliant ode.  It exudes hope.

To learn more about Yuyi Morales and her other work, please visit her website and blog by following the links attached to her name.  At the publisher's website Holiday House, you can view interior images (Limited Edition First Look), an event kit, follow links to multiple interviews and watch a video, Dreamers Video.  In addition Yuyi Morales is featured at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast  (This post is priceless.), CBC Diversity and Shelf Awareness.  Yuyi Morales maintains an account on Twitter.  Enjoy this additional video.

UPDATE:  Please take a few moments to read this interview at Scholastic News Kids.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Galapagos Girl/Galapaguena Blog Tour

I couldn't be happier to welcome author Marsha Diane Arnold back to Librarian's Quest for a guest post.  Her latest title, Galapagos Girl/Galapaguena, explores the wonder one discovers when exploring in this special place on our planet.  This book is inspired by an individual Marsha met when visiting the islands.  I can hardly wait for people to enjoy the beautiful bilingual narrative and the artwork of Angela Dominguez.

Writing a book is a solitary endeavor, but getting a book published is a team effort. I always enjoy the team part – getting together with others, either online or in person, to discuss changes, visions, and possibilities. After weeks, months, or years of solitude in my writing room, I get to be with other people! Not that my book characters aren’t fascinating!

Of all my published books, Galápagos Girl/Galapagueña had the biggest team effort. I am forever grateful for every person who had a hand in getting this book, inspired by the life of Valentina Cruz, into the most important hands of all – our young readers.

First there was my steadfast agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary. Even members of my writers group sadly shook their heads and told me this manuscript would never be acquired. Yet Karen kept sending the story out until our perfect editor was found. That editor is Jessica Echeverria, wrangler extraordinaire for the Galápagos Girl team. At the end of our journey, I emailed Jessica a thank you. I mixed my metaphors (something I love to do) and wrote: “There were so many cooks in this kitchen, with you, our illustrator Angela, the copy editor, the Spanish translator, the Spanish copy editor, art directors, research experts, Valentina and me. I’m sure you felt as if you were herding cats much of the time.” It was indeed quite the team, quite the wonderful team.

The research for Galápagos Girl was challenging. I’d worked on the story in one way or another since 2007, the year I visited the Galápagos, a volcanic archipelago of thirteen major and hundreds of small islands. Things change quickly in the natural world. What was true or believed in 2007 might not be today. Also, scientists, like writers, have different opinions, different viewpoints. They don’t always agree and they don’t always have the same statistics. How was I to decide whose information to go with?

Some of the animals I researched for Galápagos Girl.

Galapagos marine iguanas enjoy sunning on lava rocks.

Sea lions are everywhere.

This blue-footed bobby seems surprised by his bright feet.

The colorful Sally Lightfoot crab can't be missed.

At one point, Jessica asked me to obtain the latest scientific count for the Galápagos penguins. The figures in my manuscript were from 2008. We were ten days away from the final editing deadline and I was worried. I considered grabbing my calculator, flying to Ecuador, and paddling around searching for those Galápagos penguins. Instead, I searched the internet. Luckily, I found a promising blog written a few months before by Daniel Francisco Unda García. I went to Facebook and looked up his name. There he was! Humbly, I private messaged him about my predicament and asked if he might help. Within seconds, he responded, “Let me ask Gustavo.” “What?! Who’s Gustavo?” Within minutes (truly), Daniel got back to me with a number, photos, and a video. Gustavo was Gustavo Jimenez-Uzcategui, the scientist in charge of the Galápagos penguin census! Daniel had taken the photos and video as he’d been on the boat with Gustavo counting those penguins just the month before! One can’t get more up-to-date than that, with people truly “outstanding (should we say ‘out sailing’?) in their field.”

I love swimming with the penguins.

This is only one example of people who helped me with research. They helped partly because they are generous, kind people, but also because they are passionate about the Galápagos and the unique animals that live there.

On the copyright page, I’ve acknowledged a few of the people who helped with scientific information. Birgit Fessl was my bird expert. She confirmed and shared things that simply weren’t stored in my brain, like Galápagos petrels nest on a volcano in the Floreana highlands and Galápagos flamingos are currently classified as an endemic sub-species, but further genetic studies may prove it to be a species. 

Galapagos flamingoes on Florence Island.

In Galápagos Girl Valentina’s father tells her “Giant tortoises still live on some Galápagos islands, but on Floreana, pirates and whalers took them all for food.” That’s why a friend had given him baby tortoises, called Carlitos and Isabela in my book, from other islands. (This was long ago. It is no longer legal to keep tortoises as pets.)

But nature is always surprising us! In 2015 over 100 tortoises were discovered near Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island that show partial ancestry from Floreana Island tortoise! Linda Cayot, Coordinator of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, helped me navigate the ongoing Galápagos tortoise puzzles and surprises.

Oh, what a journey this book has been. My hope for readers is that they will delight in the book journey Galápagos Girl gives them and that someday they may take a real journey to visit the animals of the enchanting islands called the Galápagos.

While my main website is being restored, you can find me at https://earthsvoices.wordpress.com or contact me through Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/MarshaDianeArnoldAuthor/ .

All photos were taken by me, except of course, the one of me with those wondrous penguins.

Thank you, Margie, for having me on your blog. You are a super star school librarian and supporter of books and authors!

You're welcome, Marsha.  It makes for a richer reading experience when people can learn about the process of creating a book.  Whether your book is read individually or aloud, now people will know the authenticity of your story.  I am looking forward to talking more about this book in the near future with a post of my own.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pachyderm Problems

Children's love of telling stories is a constant source of delight.  Realizing the power in setting their imaginations free, they see this as a source of shared joy.  Their ability to connect dots and design a plot outside the box is a unique and amazing gift.

Once they get started they cannot contain themselves.  One story leads to another story and to a third story.  One individual will hear a part of their story in another's story.  It's an endless, glorious chain of stories.  In 2011 a Caldecott Honor book, Interrupting Children (Candlewick Press, August 10, 2010) written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein acquainted readers with Papa and Chicken, a father and daughter, with a daily ritual of reading a bedtime story.  Actually they read more than one story leading readers from one hilarious incident to the next.  Interrupting Chicken And The Elephant Of Surprise (Candlewick Press, September 11, 2018) written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein is the phenomenal companion title.  Papa and Chicken are at their wonderful best.

It was after school for the little red chicken.

After Papa greets Chicken she begins to tell him about her day at school.  Her teacher taught them about the elephant of surprise in every story.  Papa patiently explains it is an element of surprise.  His definition of an element of surprise rather than clarifying Chicken's mistake reinforces her use of the word, elephant. She states this meets the Whoa factor criteria.

Papa is convinced there will be no elephant in the story Chicken chooses for them to read.  As Papa reads, suddenly an elephant does pop up in the story's dialogue, courtesy of the little red chicken.  In the ensuing conversation between father and daughter one is convinced The Ugly Duckling has an elephant of surprise in it because all good stories do.

At Chicken's suggestion another book is chosen.  No one is more stunned at the presence of an elephant in Rapunzel than the prince and Papa.  Chicken, on the other wing, is thrilled and happy for the discovery.

By this time Papa is frustrated with all this silliness but allows Chicken to choose the required third story to complete her homework assignment.  The appearance of a pachyderm in this tale is even more ridiculous.  In Papa's final attempt to demonstrate the lack of elephants in all stories, he makes up his own story.  A burst of boisterous laughter is guaranteed from all readers at the twist Papa's tale takes and in the final sentence of this book.

The first sentence in this book, as it the previous title, is an honest-to-goodness simple statement of fact.  This astutely leads us into the conversational narrative between Papa and his little red chicken.  David Ezra Stein's sense of humor shines in every exchange between the daughter and father.  No matter what Papa says, Chicken manages to support her theory (and love of elephants) and of course, Ms. Gizzard's lesson.

When the fairy tales are being read by Papa and inserted into this book, David masterfully selects the perfect spot for an elephant to enter the story.  This creates excellent comedic pacing with maximum marvelous results.  Here are two adjoining passages.

With all haste, the prince began to climb.  When he
reached Rapunzel, he gazed at his love, and she said, ---
Surprise! I'm an
You've done 
it again!
You're welcome!

Chicken, I know there is no elephant in Rapunzel.
That is just plain ludicrous."

"Don't you feel sorry for the elephant, Papa? . . ."

It's impossible to look at the opened, matching dust jacket and book case without at least cracking a smile.  This introductory verbal exchange between Chicken and Papa sets the stage for repeated hilarity.  The blue elephant peeling back the paper and laughing heightens the mirth readers are already feeling.  David Ezra Stein's color choices here and throughout the book grab our attention and keep it.

To the left, on the back, is another speech bubble placed on top of the rose-patterned upholstery of Papa's chair.  It reads:

WHoa!  I didn't
know That was
going to Happen!

The opening and closing endpapers are covered in a deep, rosy-coral shade found in the roses.  On the initial title page, Chicken is peering through the window of her school bus as rain falls.  The title text is on a full, two-page picture of the interior of the little red chicken's home.  Seen through the front room window, the school bus has stopped.  Hints of Chicken's love of elephants are tucked into the image several times.

Rendered in

watercolor, water-soluble crayon, china marker, pen, opaque white ink, and tea

the illustrations contain animated characters ready to walk out of the book into our lives . . . and they do!  Some of the visuals extend from left to right crossing the gutter, cover a single page or are smaller and surrounded by liberal amounts of white.  When David inserts the four pages of the fairy tale into the story, they are in a complete different style.

The color choices are few and muted with a traditional, older illustrative technique.  This allows the presence of the elephant along with Chicken to stand out.  The elephant is garbed in appropriate attire, wings and feathers of a swan, a dress and long braids of hair and a grass skirt and coconut top.  The facial expressions on the other individuals in those fairy tales at the sight of the elephant are funnier than funny.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Chicken is taking the third fairy tale book out of the bookcase.  This picture, loosely framed, extends from the left to the right over the gutter.  Chicken, on the left, is standing on the matching ottoman to Papa's chair and is holding the book.  Papa, on the right, has slipped down in his chair with legs extended and his glasses are clasped in one of his wings.  To the right on the floor next to Papa's chair is the box of cereal and carton of milk, still out after Chicken's snack.  Her bowl and his cup of coffee rest on a side table.  You get a real sense of Papa's patience, Chicken's determination and anticipation for the next round of laughter.

The stellar use of wordplay in Interrupting Chicken And The Elephant Of Surprise written and illustrated by David Ezra is excellent entertainment elevating it to be enjoyed by readers of all ages.  You can read this for fun, for a unit on fairy tales, for a study on the use of language or as a bedtime story.  I highly recommend you share this repeatedly and often as you can with as many as you can.  You'll want to have a copy in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about David Ezra Stein and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image. (I know you're going to laugh.)  For the cover reveal and an interesting discussion about the book, take a few minutes to read this post at Publishers Weekly.  David participated in The New York Times Books Live Art.  

Monday, September 17, 2018

Sixty-Five Days In 1968

Every single day with every breath they take people from all walks of life are striving to mend things which are broken.  These things cannot be fixed with super glue, a hammer and nails, or scissors and tape.  They are made whole with courage, persistence, intelligence, compassion and sacrifice.

Efforts by those trying to repair a breach in what should be and what is often work in anonymity. Other times we are aware of the struggles even if they are in another part of the world, country or area in which we live.  They are headlines on the evening news. They have a place in human history.  Memphis, Martin, And The Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike Of 1968 (Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights, August 28, 2018) written by Alice Faye Duncan with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie depicts an event with unforgettable results.

I remember Memphis.
I remember the stinking sanitation strike.
Alley cats, rats, and dogs rummaged through piles of trash.
Black men marched through Memphis with protest signs raised high.
I also marched in '68 with red ribbons in my hair.

Fifteen memories of moments are recalled through the first person voice of a little girl in poetry and prose.  Following an initial introduction, a parallel is made between two storms the day two sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, died.  The first is a rain storm and the second is a strike.

Less than two weeks after the workers' deaths and repeated failed negotiation attempts with Mayor Henry Loeb, workers numbering 1,300 left their jobs and marched from February 12, 1968 to April 16, 1968.  Money was tight beyond imagining; no lights and no telephone but help came. Organizations formed and organizations reached out in support.  Workers attended rallies and strategized.  At home wives asked and wondered how much longer will this last.

As Lorraine, the little girl, read the latest newspapers and magazines, given to her mother, a maid for a local family, her family learned of Dr. King's visit on March 18, 1968.  His speech bolstered the minds and hearts of all listeners especially when he set a date to return.  He did not come back, Mother Nature intervened.

On March 28, 1968 Dr. King and thousands of others gathered in Memphis to march.  It ended in violence on Beale Street.  Mayor Loeb called in the National Guard and a curfew was put in place.  Looking out your window and seeing tanks roll by was frightening.

On April 3, 2018 Dr. King returned speaking as a dreamer to all the dreamers in attendance at the church.  At the close of the next day at the Lorraine Motel Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., crusader for equal rights and the eradication of poverty for workers, was assassinated.  Sadness trickled down people's faces then and later when forty thousand strong still marched in silence to honor a promise and the strike ended shortly thereafter.  We still weep today.

There will be books you read once, twice, three time and more because the writing compels you to do so.  This book written by Alice Faye Duncan is one of those books.  By having the events recollected by a nine-year-old girl with working parents, her father a sanitation worker and her mother, a maid, we have a personal connection.  We are not just reading about facts; we see everything through the eyes of a child directly involved.

The technique of breaking the narrative into fifteen separate reflections is brilliant in creating understanding and pacing.  Specific details of the conditions of the sanitation workers, the marches, the meetings, the impact on families' lives, the setbacks, the victories and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. bring us into this history. Here are portions of two passages.

When they could take the abuse no more, 1,300 men deserted their
garbage barrels.  They organized a labor strike on February 12, 1968.
In the morning and afternoon, for sixty-five days, sanitation workers
marched fourteen blocks through the streets of downtown Memphis.
From Clayborn Temple to the steps of City Hall, they squared their
shoulders, raised their heads, and carried their picket signs.
My daddy marched in that number.  He marched for better pay.
He marched for decent treatment.  My daddy marched for me.

He said, "All labor has dignity."
Dr. King's voice was loud and stirring.
I listened with my parents from a crowded church pew as the
famous leader drafted a plan to march in Memphis with the
striking men.
Dr. King set a date for March 22.
Daddy leaned toward Mama's ear.  He said, "We need everybody
to march that day."
Mama did not waver.
She assured Daddy, "I'll take off work.  You can count on me."
Then Mama patted my hand and said, "We will take Lorraine. 
She can march with us.

When first looking at the front of the dusk jacket, you know this title is going to be intensely individualistic.  Placing Lorraine Jackson on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel draws up deeply into her story.  Children have the remarkable gift of getting to the soul of any situation.  They are unencumbered by past experiences. (I am working from a digital galley.)  On the title page striking sanitation workers, carrying blank and white picket signs, crowd beneath the title text.

All of the illustrations painted with Acryla Gouache by R. Gregory Christie span two pages.  Each is like a piece of art hanging in a gallery of pictorial history.  What readers will recognize initially are the facial features on the people portrayed.  They reflect an array of emotions.

In some of the scenes the elements are more abstractly depicted than being realistic representations.  At times the realism is so vivid you feel as though your five senses are awakened. When the sanitation worker is carrying a rusted barrel of garbage, it drips down on his clothes and person.  For the haiku Omen the snowy vista is stark, bitter cold and windy.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the piece titled Black Widow.  The background like many of the images is a golden swirl of color.  On the left and right marchers wearing their best clothing silently form behind the dignified, majestic figure of Coretta Scott King. In contrast to those behind her, her clothing and facial features are most prominent.  It's an impressive portrait.

When you read Memphis, Martin, And The Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike Of 1968 written by Alice Faye Duncan with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie you will be moved to tears more than once.  I expect as a read aloud the classroom will be as silent as the marchers through Memphis on April 8, 1968 before they burst with questions and comments.  At the conclusion of the title is an informative and detailed time line from January 1, 1968 to April 16, 1968.  A museum (National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel) to visit is listed as well as sources and source notes.  I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Alice Faye Duncan and R. Gregory Christie, please access their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Alice Faye Duncan maintains an account on Twitter.  At a publisher's website you can view interior images.  At A Fuse #8 Production by Elizabeth Bird Alice Faye Duncan is interviewed along with a cover reveal.  Alice is also showcased at KidLit411 and LILbooKlovers.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Each Day Start Anew

It does not matter how old you are.  It does not matter how many times you've done this in the past.  Each time, it's like starting over.  You step into an unfamiliar setting, glancing around only to discover your outward appearance is different.  Your brave, confident, inside-self grows a little bit smaller.

It should not be, but for children this is particularly challenging.  Children are courageous, compassionate and more willing to embrace change.  They are in the process of becoming their best selves and this is what makes them vulnerable.  The Day You Begin (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, August 28, 2018) written by the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by award-winning Rafael Lopez explores through beauty in words and images first time apprehensions.

There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.

One or more things about you set you apart from the other people.  The language you speak or the accents given to the words you use are unique.  Saying your name out loud makes laughter fill the room until your teacher repeats it.  Then it envelopes you in welcoming warmth.

What do you say when the other children speak of summer visits to other countries and states, proudly holding mementos in their hands?  Your summer was a comfort to your sister.  Days of shared joy and love, quiet naptimes and hours of reading filled your shimmering-hot weeks.

What do you do when your beloved ethnic food is looked upon as strange at lunchtime?  What if no one will play with you at recess because you don't share the same skills?  This is when you call out to your inside-self asking it to be bold.

You realize, as you tell the tale of your summer, the light of awareness sparks in the eyes of those listening.  You are still a wonderful individual, as are they, but little similarities reach out to join in friendship.  Be strong, little one, your confidence is contagious.

There is a question at Jacqueline Woodson's website,

Do you think you'll ever stop writing?

Her reply shines through each word she carefully places on the pages of her books.

When I stop breathing.

In this title, the unseen narrator softly chats with a child (all children) eloquently using language to fashion scenarios so real you can recall the familiar ache of being different.  The repetition of specific phrases supplies a gentle refrain. Each portion of this story is a layer building toward a marvelous result waiting to be found and released.  Here is a passage.

And in that room, where no one else is quite like you, you'll look down
at your own empty hands and wonder What good is this
when other students were flying
and sailing and
going somewhere. 

All of the poetic truth of Jacqueline Woodson's words is depicted by the vivid, lively and heartwarming images of Rafael Lopez.  The uncertainty the little girl senses is reflected in her body posture and face on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  The shifting shades in the varnished colors of the text hint at the color palette. The beauty coming from her book is symbolic of the power of shared stories.  The ruler placed on the door is used several other times within the interior of the book.  This is sure to promote discussions on its significance.

To the left, on the back, text is framed with leaves, trees and flowers from the children's native countries.  Shades of muted green paint a pastoral scene on the opening and closing endpapers.  A grasshopper perches on a stem and a bird rests on a flower stalk.  A single rose-colored blossom, petals closed, is the only other hue on the opening endpapers.  The conclusion of the story is mirrored in the closing endpapers as the grasshopper leaps into the air with two other insects.  Two other birds join the first in flight.  How many flowers do you think are in bloom now?


with a combination of acrylic paint on wood, pen and ink, pencil, and watercolors, and put together digitally in Photoshop

these illustrations begin their story on the verso and dedication pages as the child sits in her apartment window reading on a summer day.  All of the pictures extend from page edge to page edge across two pages with the exception of the final wordless single page, the perspective a birds-eye view of pure bliss found in contented children.  Rafael Lopez's rich visuals focus on the children striking a chord in our hearts.

At times we are drawn close to their faces to accentuate a moment.  Other times we step back as imagining and wonder resonate from his scenes. Birds and natural landscapes flow from page to page.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is of the boy dismissed from playing with the other children at recess.  He walks to the edge of the ground bordering a pool of water.  The sky glows with the heat of those first few days of school, a full-bright sun hanging in the sky on the left over a single home.  The boy also on the left, closed book in hand, looks into the water. The water does indeed reflect what is above with a brilliant alteration.  The boy is grinning holding a now-opened book.  There is a yellow glow around him.  From the book loveliness pours forth in vines, leaves and blossoms.

Surely this title has been used to start many classroom sessions.  The Day You Begin written by Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by Rafael Lopez transcends age inspiring all who read it to bring out our brave, willing to speak our truths with others.  How else are we to make our world better for everyone?  How else are we to discover our connections while preserving our singularities?  This book has my highest recommendation for your personal and professional collections.

To read and learn more about Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. Both Jacqueline and Rafael maintain Twitter accounts and Instagram accounts here and here.  At the publisher's website is a teacher's guide for Jacqueline Woodson books, including this title.

Friday, September 14, 2018

I Call Banker!

It lasts for hours; sometimes even days.  Many a summer afternoon is spent on a large blanket under a shade tree, on a deck beneath an umbrella, around a kitchen or dining room table or on a bedroom floor; a board centered among a gathered group.  The hours race by on snow days or wild winter evenings as minds strategize while others hope for sheer luck to alter their course. It stakes a claim in the memories of childhood and adulthood.  Around the world it's a staple in many homes. Monopoly is a game firmly cemented in human cultural history.

Monopoly has numerous editions and versions.  It can be played electronically and online.  What many of these players might not know is the origin of this famous pastime.  Pass Go And Collect $200: The Real Story Of How Monopoly Was Invented (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt And Company, July 17, 2018) written by Tanya Lee Stone with illustrations by Steven Salerno is an eye-opening look at exactly who is responsible.

What kind of Monopoly player are YOU? Do you save your money until you land on Park Place or Boardwalk?  Do you buy up all the properties you can?  Do you always want to be banker?

Regardless of the type of player you are or how long a typical game lasts for you and others, to find the beginnings of Monopoly we need to dial back the clock more than one hundred years.  Elizabeth, Lizzie, Magie was a woman with gifts, many gifts.  One of the things most upsetting to her, though, was the inequality between rich landlords and poverty-stricken tenants.  To demonstrate this gap in wealth, Lizzie used one of her gifts and designed a game.

Lizzie's game was meant for adults but she believed children were clever enough to benefit from playing it.  She filed and was granted a patent in 1904.  She was thorough in outlining both sets of rules, a picture of the game board and the pieces to be used.  You can't help but read her rules of play and see the direct parallel to the game you've played countless times.  Lizzie called her original The Landlord Game.

Before long people were making their own boards and adapting the game.  It began to be called Monopoly by students in a university business class.  Its popularity was growing. Twice, the first time in 1909, Lizzie took her game to the Parker Brothers company.  They turned her down.  With a renewed patent in 1924 she was still adapting her game's rules.  Other people continued to make variations, too.  One of the more lasting was in 1930 by a woman living in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

In 1930s the Great Depression left people wealthy and poor alike in dire conditions. Now there was a man named Charles Darrow, jobless, who played the 1930 version at a friends' home.  He liked it so much he began to make his own with new and improved changes. And, unlike others, he sold his version and took credit as its creator!  In four years, Charles was marketing his game.

He was turned down by other companies but department stores began to buy individual copies.  The success of these sales got the attention of the Parker Brothers company, who had turned him down too.  There was a huge problem with buying and selling Charles Darrow's game.  Lizzie Magie had a patent.  What happened next is still a subject for discussion.

This book is written in a style both captivating and informative by Tanya Lee Stone.  Her first three paragraphs make connections with each reader drawing us into her story.  She gives us personal and specific details about Elizabeth, Lizzie, Magie and her game as well as the historical setting prompting her to devise The Landlord Game.  Each step of the way she builds her story of Lizzie, growing our respect for this woman.

When Charles Darrow appears in the narrative, we can identify with his dilemma and his initiative. Tanya Lee Stone continues with her same use of language and overall tone but we know a conflict is coming.  The concluding two paragraphs are especially important.  They further engage readers in this story.  Here is a passage about Lizzie and one about Charles.

Elizabeth Magie---or Lizzie, as she was called---was a woman of many talents.  She was smart, made people laugh easily, wrote poetry and short stories, and enjoyed acting.  Sometimes Lizzie would dress in a costume, knock on her own door, and trick her husband into thinking she was someone else!  She wasn't afraid to speak her mind publicly, either, which was brave behavior for a woman at the time.

He made each one by hand, drawing the game board on a large piece of oilcloth with pen and ink and using oil paint for the colored bands.  He cut scraps of wood into houses and hotels and painted those too.  He also typed up the rules.  Each game took about eight hours to make. 

Even though the people around the table playing Monopoly on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case are from another era, there is something about the scene with the game pieces, houses, hotel, dice and money which transports readers to every game of Monopoly they have played.  Each portion of this image, including but not limited to the color choices and font style, is a reflection of the game.  To the left, on the back, an interior illustration shows both Lizzie and Charles, back to back, claiming to be the inventor.  A card placed along the lower portion of their bodies reads:

Invent Popular Game
Become Millionaire  

A familiar figure on the card sits in a chair with his feet propped on a desk.

The opening and closing endpapers are a pattern of alternating yellow and orange rectangles (cards) with a question mark on the yellow and a dollar sign on the orange.  Beneath the dedication on the verso is a light bulb.  Striding between the text on the title page, carrying a bundle of money on his cane is Rich Uncle Pennybags.

These illustrations were originally created with

crayon, ink, gouache, and pastel on paper.  After scanning the drawings, he (the artist) layered and arranged them into the final compositions using adobe Photoshop, with additional coloring applied.

With the exception of four single page pictures, all of the visuals extend across two pages.  Believe me when I say they are crackling with life and authenticity.  Steven Salerno's ability to shift perspectives within a single image or from picture to picture is excellent. His attention to details, the architecture, clothing, games, Lizzie's hair style and eyebrows, literally takes you back in time. For emphasis and pacing portions of his illustrations are larger than life.

One of my many favorite pictures is of Lizzie standing in front of The United States Patent Office in1904.  The office extends from the left side to the right side bleeding off the edges.  It provides an imposing background for Lizzie who is standing in front close to readers on the right side.  She is dressed in appropriate attire, smiling.  In both her hands she is holding her patent sheet for her game.  A larger circle with the patent number is framed in red with an arrow pointing to the number on the patent sheet.  This is an important visual.  It matches a final statement by Tanya Lee Stone in a series of paragraphs.

The patent was granted in January 1904, at a time when women received fewer than one percent of all US patents.

If you want to give the ultimate gift for a birthday, holiday or housewarming of the game Monopoly you have to include Pass Go And Collect $200: The Real Story Of How Monopoly Was Invented written by Tanya Lee Stone with illustrations by Steven Salerno.  It's a spirited and compelling account of the truth in both words and pictures.  It represents inspiration, innovation and determination.  At the close of the book are Tremendous Trivia!, Monopoly Math, A Note From The Author and Sources.  I highly recommend this title for both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Tanya Lee Stone and Steven Salerno and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Tanya Lee Stone maintains a Twitter account.  Steven Salerno maintains an account on Facebook as does Tanya.  To view interior images please take a few moments to stop at the publisher's website.

Be sure to check out the titles listed at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher by others participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Baking Light

As long as the moon glows among the stars in our night sky, people will gaze upward at its light.  Its rhythm from a new moon to a full moon and back gives watchers an overall feeling of tranquility.  It's a comforting constant.

In the French language the word for why is pourquoi.  It is often associated with origin stories under the umbrella of folktales.  A BIG Mooncake for Little Star (Little, Brown And Company, August 28, 2018) written and illustrated by Grace Lin is an original, tender, and exquisite explanation of the phases of the moon.

Little Star's mama laid the Big Mooncake onto the night sky to cool.

This celestial mother and her daughter had just finished baking.  Little Star's mama did not want her to touch this mooncake until she was given permission.  Little Star enthusiastically agreed with the request.  As each portion of her bedtime ritual was performed Little Star remembered her promise.

Suddenly in the middle of the night Little Star woke up.  The only thing she wanted to do was touch the Big Mooncake. She left her bed and quietly went to that tempting treat. Would her mother notice if she touched it?  Would her mother notice if she took a teeny, tiny bite?  It was scrumptious!  Wait!  Was that a noise?

Each night Little Star wondered if the Big Mooncake was still hanging in the sky.  It was.  Each night she took a bite.  She sighed with pleasure at the taste before scurrying back to bed.  When you add all those nights of nibbles together all you have left is nothing.

Little Star's mama discovered the Big Mooncake was missing.  When her mother came to her bed asking if she ate the Big Mooncake again, Little Star only had one answer.  Little Star had a suggestion and her mama, like Little Star, only had one answer.

Each time Grace Lin tells a story, we tuck it away in our hearts to remember forever.  In this tale of the bond between a loving parent and her child, a flawless blend of narrative and dialogue gives us an intimate portrait of their relationship.  The use of sound effects adds to the endearing quality of the story.  Readers are alerted to a possible outcome through the repetition of key phrases which also supplies a gentle cadence.  Here is a passage.

Pat pat pat.
Little Star's soft feet tiptoed to the Big Mooncake.

Would Mama notice if she took a tiny nibble?
Little Star didn't think so.
Mmmmm, yum!

The rich black background peppered with stars stretches across the opened dust jacket, left to right and over the spine.  Little Star holding a Big Mooncake is a depiction of delight as she enjoys the delicious pastry.  There is a bit of a mystery for readers looking at this jacket.  We are not sure yet what will unfold.  To the left on the back Little Star is seated, enjoying a little nibble from a crescent moon.  This image is captioned

Watch the phases of the moon transform as
Little Star takes a bite of the Big Mooncake!

Across the opened book case in a series of twelve small illustrations, left to right and top to bottom, Little Star is taking nibbles from the Big Mooncake changing it from a full moon to a sliver.  The matching opening and closing endpapers honor Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal.  Grace Lin has hidden many wonderful elements in these endpapers referencing that title and our night sky and its constellations.  Little Star intent on helping make the Big Mooncake is unaware of the look on her mother's face but we see the love.

Rendered in

Turner Design Gouache on Arches 100% Rag Watercolor Paper 140 lb. Hot Press Bright White

these illustrations convey the spirit of a shared and cherished endeavor done in relative quiet.  There is a hush radiating from these pages.  Yet, we know the conversations between mother and child are lively but soft, not loud.

The dark clothing covered in stars Little Star and her mother wear add to the overall atmosphere.  The facial expressions on both Little Star and her mother are a study in mood and emotion.  The black background becomes one of the elements in each picture; most of them spanning two pages.

Grace shifts the point of view in each visual to enhance her careful pacing.  When Little Star wakes up in the middle of the night the first time, we are close to the top portion of her face on the left.  On the right the Big Mooncake is waiting for her.  On another night Little Star is much smaller and seated next to the Big Mooncake nibbling.  Her toy rabbit is keeping her company. They are shown on the right side in a larger starry sky.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  In the upper, left-hand corner is a portion of the Big Mooncake.  We are close to Little Star as she races back to bed; her figure moving from the left, over the gutter and taking up most of the right side.  Mooncake crumbs are scattered on her face and streaming behind her.  Her face is smiling.  It looks as though she might be giggling.

This book, A BIG Mooncake for Little Star written and illustrated by Grace Lin, is one of the most enchanting explanation tales you will ever read.  It's about love and the lure of something delectable.  You can use it to focus on the moon phases, cultural folktales, artwork paying homage to another artist, or family.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Grace Lin and her other work, please follow the links attached to her name to access two different websites.  The cover for this title is revealed at All The Wonders.  On the book's birthday Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, highlighted a video on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  In this video Grace chats about this book, why she wrote it and speaks about the endpapers.

(I don't know about you but now I am craving authentic mooncakes.)

Monday, September 10, 2018

Unexpected Educator

One of the most classic cases of a substitute teacher's name striking fear in the hearts and minds of students in the classroom is found in children's literature.  In the case of this woman you can certainly judge her character by her appearance. Her frumpy black dress, striped stockings and black clunky shoes accentuate her exaggerated facial features and hair.  When you combine this with her unwavering sense of discipline students have no choice but to behave with robotic-like goodness.

Miss Viola Swamp first stepped from the pages of Miss Nelson Is Missing written by Harry Allard with illustrations by James Marshall in 1977.  To this day it would be hard to have an inclusive list of books about classroom teachers without mentioning her and this book.  A more recent title also broaches the subject of what happens when the regular teacher is absent.  Dear Substitute (Disney Hyperion, June 19, 2018) written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick with pictures by Chris Raschka has a distinctive presentation. 

Dear Substitute,
Wow. This is a surprise.
What are you doing here?
Where's Mrs. Giordano,
and why didn't she warn us?

As the morning begins each element of the usual routine and special activities enjoyed on a Tuesday are addressed by the little girl.  She writes to them as if they are recipients of a letter.  Regret and empathy are expressed for the mispronunciation of students' names during attendance.  Mrs. Giordano is missed.

It's discouraging to have sacrificed what you want to do in order to complete your homework only to discover it will not be collected on the due date.  A weekly trip to the library is not made.  The substitute has another plan. 

The classroom pet, a turtle, is not going to have his tank cleaned.  Our letter writer asks Elmo to be patient.  Classroom rules are not followed.  An earned turn at being line leader is ignored.  Lunch may be the only ordinary thing about this day until the eyes-in-back-of-her-head substitute catches the girl breaking a lunchroom rule.  How is this fair?

A change during story time further unsettles the girl.  This is when an extraordinary shift in the day happens.  This is when the student makes an unforgettable discovery about the day, herself and the substitute teacher.

Every reader, regardless of their age will identify with the apprehension voiced by the protagonist.  Authors Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick tap into the emotional state of the girl and her universal worries with keen insights.  They are well aware of the importance of stability during the day in a classroom but they are also savvy enough to realize the benefits of creative change. 

By having the girl write letters to each portion of her day, a deeply personal level is achieved in the story.  These letters build upon each other leading us to the surprise.  Here is another letter.

Dear Class Rules,
We have you for a reason.
And one of the rules should be:
the whole day can't be
changed around by a sub named Miss Pelly.
"Pelly like a pelican," she told us.
And then she laughed---again.
Miss Pelly doesn't take anything seriously.

Upon opening the dust jacket readers are treated to a view of the endearing student writing the letters.  The carefree swing of her pigtails invites us to know this girl and comprehend her disquiet in this situation.  The border of apples and pencils, well-known symbols of classrooms and teachers, supplies an additional sense of welcome.  The color choices by Chris Raschka are cheerful contributing to the spirited and heartfelt messages of the girl.  To the left, on the back, Elmo, the classroom turtle is showcased, enjoying a clean tank. 

On the book case in bright loose squares are thirty portraits of students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.  On the opening endpapers the lower portion of students' bodies are highlighted as they casually stand in a hallway.  On the closing endpapers is a view of items found on a teacher's desk.  The use of color is limited to those objects.

On the verso and dedication page Chris allows readers to see the reason for Mrs. Giordano's absence.  Tongue protruding from her mouth in concentration the girl is writing beneath the text on the title page.  Each page turn is a study in the signature style of Chris Raschka who rendered these illustrations in watercolor and gouache.

His loose lines and brush swirls of hues depict the emotions conveyed in the narrative.  His choice of colors enriches the moods as well as the time of day.  His shifts in point of view place emphasis on stronger feelings.  When the girl is near tears, all we see are her eyes, nose and some hair.  Some of his images are on single pages; others span two pages.

He frames the text in curtains, scenes from around the school or with elements in his pictures.  Humor is present in his clever details.  He gives Miss Pelly the shape of a pelican.  The girl is shown as a fish.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of the letter addressed to 

Dear Story Time.

In this picture spreading across two pages Miss Pelly is seated on a rosy red rug on the right-hand side.  Her red glasses, cheeks and lips are mirrored in the flooring.  She is seated, head bent and reading.  Clustered around her along the top, sides and bottom are the feet of the students on their rugs, seated and listening.  This is a turning point in the story.

The beautiful blend of words of Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick with the artwork of Chris Raschka gives readers a treasure to hold in their hands with this book, Dear Substitute.  We are privy to a transformation.  We realize people might not be what they appear to be at first glance (except for Miss Viola Swamp).  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Liz Garton Scanlon, Audrey Vernick and Chris Raschka, please follow the links attached to their names to access informative websites.  At the publisher's website there is an educator's guide to download.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read., the cover is revealed with a post by the authors.  At the blog, For the Love of KidLit, Liz and Audrey are interviewed.  This title is one of several new books focusing on school featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.