Quote of the Month

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




Thursday, February 28, 2019

Seeking, Finding, And Protecting Life

Adults, family, friends, and educators, have a marvelous opportunity in the presence of children.  They have the choice, some would say responsibility, to advise, instruct and assist younger gals and guys in the care of our planet.  This nurturing of the natural world benefits all.

When our children see the results of their efforts, it inspires them to continue.  It inspires them to spread and share their excitement.  I Am Farmer: Growing An Environmental Movement In Cameroon (Millbrook Press, February 5, 2019) written by Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul with illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon informs readers about the life and work of Cameroonian, Dieudonne Tantoh Nforba.

THIS IS NORTHWESTERN CAMEROON.
Green.
Wet.
Alive.
The rainy season has begun. 

As a young boy, Tantoh enjoys walking among the plants and grabbing handfuls of dirt in his grandmother's garden.  He even tries to plant some "borrowed" onions which eventually die.  His grandmother explains these bulbs, plants, need the sun, dirt, and, most importantly, water to survive and grow.

As if a spark has ignited in the child, he asks more questions in school than his teachers believe one mind can create.  His classmates think all his inquiries foolish.  By the time he is a teen, Tantoh's father is ill but he still manages to gift his son with a shovel.  The boy uses the tool to further his knowledge of planting and growing.  He is nicknamed Farmer.  To be a farmer is not a compliment.

During high school Tantoh writes FARMER on his school uniform shirt and wears it until he graduates.  Encouraged by his older brother to ace his final exam in order to make a better living, Tantoh deliberately fails in order to farm.  After graduation he works in his village expanding his gardening skills until someone notices his outstanding work, offering to pay for Tantoh to attend college.

A debilitating illness strikes Tantoh and sets him back for seven years.  Drinking water is the cause.  Now Tantoh has another focus.  More education arms him with knowledge; knowledge he shares.  He gathers others to his purpose.  Together they grow like plants given sunshine, earth and water.


Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul bring us directly into the narrative with those first twelve words.  In fact, green, wet and alive, are words which could be used to describe the life work of Tantoh.  Children see the value of his pursuits through his expressed joy, constant questions, and the support of his grandmother and father.

Paragraph by paragraph words bring Tantoh's purpose more sharply in focus for readers with explicit details of his failing on his exam, his gardening in his village after graduation, and nothing stopping him from higher education.  Another thing which binds readers to Tantoh is his attitude and proverbs.  If you were not cheering for him in his youth, by the time you complete this book, you will be cheering for his continued contributions for the betterment of people in his country.  Another writing technique readers will notice is the use of growing, gardening, terms to depict circumstances.  Here is a passage.

Together they build botanical gardens and rain gardens that
will hold water in the soil.  These areas produce food or flowers
all year long and provide green spaces to reconnect people with
nature.  The mayor of his home village, Nkambe, is impressed.
Eventually, the mayor promises to make sure the garden stays
beautiful for years to come.  By now, everyone in Northwest
Cameroon is calling Tantoh "Farmer"---and they say it with pride!


Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case, readers are treated to two separate images which flow like Tantoh's water together. On the first Tantoh is looking directly at readers with villagers carrying water as they pass him at work.  To the left, on the back, we are given a countryside landscape view of green hills replete with paths and people carrying water.  The signature artwork of Elizabeth Zunon, like the words of the authors, invite us into the book.

On the opening and closing endpapers a created vision of green hills and blue sky supplies a canvas for photographs taken in Cameroon when the Pauls visited Tantoh and his country.

Using cut paper collage, watercolor, pen drawing, and pasted color pencil

Elizabeth Zunon fashions realistic displays of gardens, vast vistas, family moments of love and guidance, classroom settings and village gatherings.  To elevate the text her illustrations vary from double-page presentations to full-page depictions.

Sometimes we are given a bird's eye view and other times we are looking over the shoulder of Tantoh and important people in his life.  Readers never doubt the commitment and accomplishments of Tantoh.  It is evident in his every look, gesture and the way in which he holds his body.

One of my many favorite illustrations accompanies the above quoted text.  The text is placed higher on the page in a pale blue sky with soft clouds.  Beneath this is a line of trees and a village building.  On either side is a grove of trees.  Moving down the page is an area of green with swirls of variegated pink shades.  One is shaped like a heart.  People stand and look at these gardens.  The second half of the page, on the bottom, is a close-up of Tantoh and the mayor in another garden with large pink flowers.  They are engaged in conversation.  Two villagers are working near them.


We know one person can make a difference for the good of a great deal of people, but when you can hold their story in your hands, it's incredibly powerful.  I Am Farmer: Growing An Environmental Movement In Cameroon written by Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul with illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon will motivate and strengthen individuals in their resolve to achieve their dreams.  At the close of the book there is an Authors' Note, Linbum Glossary and Pronunciation Guide, Words for Water and a map of Cameroon and Africa.  I highly recommend this for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Baptiste Paul, Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Miranda Paul has a blog here. Paul, Miranda and Elizabeth have accounts on TwitterElizabeth Zunon has an account on Instagram.  You can view interior pictures at the publisher's website.  There is a post on the publisher's blog by Elizabeth Zunon about her artist process for this book.  It is utterly fascinating.  UPDATE:  Author Traci Sorell interviews both Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul at author Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, CynsationsThey talk about their collaboration on this title and their other work.  It is a wonderful, informative interview. 



To view the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

It's No Yolk, You're Nice!

There are people known for always taking the high road in any given situation.  Regardless of circumstances they look for the silver lining.  They are the individuals others look to for support and consistency.  They live to be of service to others.

There is nothing wrong with striving for excellence but the drive for accepting nothing but perfection can take a toll.  It's a burden not all can bear regardless of their desires.  The Good Egg (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPulishers, February 12, 2019), companion title to The Bad Seed, written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald is about one of a dozen who simply broke under the burden of being the best.

Oh, hello!
I was just rescuing this cat.
Know why?
Because I'm a good egg.

A verrrrrry good egg.


This egg's generosity knows no end.  Whatever you need done, from plant watering to house painting, this oval optimist is bursting with enthusiasm.  Good Egg has been this way as far back as he can remember, even though the other eleven companions in his residence exhibit far less than eggs-cellent behavior.

If these eleven find something to do wrong, they do it.  It is tiring to follow behind their antics making everything right, but Good Egg is a

verrrrrry good egg.

Do you think his housemates notice his worthy deeds?  They do not.  As to be expected our protagonist cracks.  There is no denying the tiny fissures along the top of his head.

A visit to his doctor confirms stress is the culprit.  He needs to stop trying to make the other eggs be as good as he is.  No one cares when he leaves.  After weeks of roaming without purpose Good Egg faces his aloneness and ponders his future.

He starts to focus on himself!  He does all those things he never had time to do previously.  The results are unexpected and life-changing.  Good Egg heads back to carton sweet carton and the surprises there are endless.


If the word play used in the title is not enough to signal to you the gift of humor employed by Jory John in his writing, by the third page when examples of the egg's goodness are being shared, you'll be laughing out loud.  It's not often you see an egg changing a tire on an automobile.  When we get to the naming of the companions in the carton and their daily devilry, readers will be giggling nonstop.

For added mirth Jory John repeats key phrases, uses terms usually reserved in reference to eggs and supplies conversations between the characters.  We can't help but feel a kinship with the Good Egg when he speaks to us in first person.  We shadow this being as he discovers the gift of balance in his life.  Here is a passage.

I told Meg and Peg and Greg and Clegg and Shel and
Shelly and Sheldon and Shelby and Egbert and Frank
and other Frank that I was leaving.

"I can't be the only good egg in a bad carton," I said.
"Blah blah blah," they replied.


Can you look at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case without smiling? I can't.  Those huge eyeglasses are the perfect added element to the wide-eyed happy egg's expression.  All the details in this picture, the text on the carton, the groceries surrounding Good Egg and the starry light radiating from the top invite us to read this book as soon as possible.  We can't wait to meet the Good Egg.  Some of the text and the main character are varnished on the jacket.

To the left, on the back, four egg cartons, stacked on top of each other, among other cartons in the background, provide a platform for Good Egg's home.  Underneath the lifted cover, the looks on the faces of the other eleven eggs are hilarious.  We know loads of laughter are in the offing.  The placement of the ISBN is eggs-actly where it should be.

The opening and closing endpapers in green with white feature fifteen other foods with the Good Egg framed by stars.  The title page image is a replica of the front of the jacket and case.  Pete Oswald

used scanned watercolor textures and digital paint to create the illustrations for this book.

Altering his perspective to complement the narrative and accentuate pacing, some of the pictures are full-page, small vignettes grouped on a single page or double-page visuals.  Every item contributes to a lively whole.  When Pete Oswald depicts the troublesome eggs and their actions, readers will be unable to contain their mirth.  When they go wild in the bathroom with toilet paper, toothpaste, the toilet and plunger, it's total chaos.  This supplies a wonderful contrast to the scenes which follow when Good Egg mends himself.  One of those small images shows him floating on the river in a flamingo tube sipping a lemonade drink.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is of Good Egg on a single page.  He is relaxing in a spa.  On the varied blue tiled floor are eight burning candles.  They surround a table.  On the table rests Good Egg in a white terry robe and wearing a towel turban.  He rests on a rolled-up towel.  A mask covers his face and cucumber slices are on his eyes.  The clock on the wall is pointing to ME time.


In this book, The Good Egg written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald, readers will be cheering for the egg always seeking to be as good as he can be.  They will empathize with his frustrations and enjoy his journey to finding a peaceful medium . . . for most of the time.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Jory John and Pete Oswald, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Jory John has an account on Twitter and Pete Oswald does, too.  Pete Oswald has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior portions of the book.  Jory John visits with teacher librarian and blogger, Travis Jonker, on his site, 100 Scope Notes, to chat about his work and this book.

Monday, February 25, 2019

An Act Of Charity

There truly is power in the written word.  There is our initial reaction upon first reading it or hearing it read.  It can be revisited again and again, giving us time to reflect on possible meanings, forming and revising thoughts and opinions.  No matter when written its purpose can extend far into the future, a future yet to be imagined.

On April 7, 2017 a master in the use of language passed away from our earthly realm.  There is no possible way to number the countless individuals who benefited from her written words.  What Is Given from the Heart (Schwartz & Wade, January 8, 2019) written by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by April Harrison is the last book by a beloved author and the debut picture book of a renowned artist.  The value of what these words and illustrations convey will not fade.

It was a rough few months for Mama and me.
We were already poor, but we got poorer last April, when Daddy went to sleep on the front porch and never woke up.

By the first of summer James Otis and his mama lose their farm and move to a tiny house, with rooms one behind the other in a row, in a low- lying area of land.  Their lives seem to go from worse to much worse.  One day their home is flooded, and the boy's dog runs away.  They survive through the holidays until February arrives.

In church on a Sunday near Valentine's Day, Reverend Dennis announces love boxes will be delivered to those in need.  People in the congregation are asked to give what they can.  One family in particular recently lost everything in a fire.

On the chilly walk home James Otis and Mama talk about what they can give.  The little girl, Sarah, is only seven, two years younger than James Otis.  He wonders what people with nothing can give to others with nothing.  That night in bed possibilities wander around in his mind but he dismisses all of them as he falls asleep.

In the morning James Otis is moved by his mother's act of love for the Temple family.  Every day he wonders what he can give.  Nothing seems exactly right until he remembers one of his cherished possessions.  Can he do the same for Sarah?  On the Sunday of the presentation to the Temple family a response warms all hearts.  A circle of charity (love) is completed when James Otis and Mama near their home.


Children, all readers, will wholly identify with the poignant voice of James Otis as his tale unfolds.  When Patricia McKissack writes this story allowing us to see the world through a child's eyes, it enters our hearts and stays there.  Specific sentences define the poverty with heart wrenching clarity. 

Mama cried and cried, 
'cause Daddy didn't have a suit to be buried in.

Strength of character is revealed in the words of Mama as she speaks with James Otis.  It's not just her words that move him, though, but her actions.  Patricia McKissack shows us how love evolves through the ponderings of James Otis as he struggles to find a gift for Sarah.  Here is a passage.

As time flew toward Valentine's Day, I fretted more and more.
I considered giving Sarah a puzzle.  It didn't bother me that two pieces
were missing but it might bother her.  Unh-unh, that wouldn't do, 
not even with a bow on it.  And neither would my capeless Superman
Halloween costume.


Looking at the open and matching dust jacket and book case readers are given views, two different views of expressed love.  Rendered

in mixed media, including acrylics, collage, art pens, and found objects

artist April Harrison through a blend of bold and delicate lines, various textures and muted, earth tones brings a natural warmth to her illustrations.  By featuring Mama and James Otis on the front, we can see how her strength literally and figuratively envelopes him.  To the left, on the back, a picture of Sarah allows us to see the gift James Otis gives her and her happy reaction.

The marbled background seen on the jacket and case is replicated on the opening and closing endpapers, verso (dedication) and title pages.  The images, full-page and double-page, bring a very real sense of place and time to the readers.  Details, a calendar and family photographs on the walls, artwork on the refrigerator and a blue ribbon hanging in James Otis's bedroom, further our connection to the characters.

The affection between a son and his mother is shown in their frequent embraces, facial expressions, and general physical closeness.  April Harrison brings us close to James Otis and Mama for some of the illustrations and moves us farther away in others.  This gives us an idea of the place where they reside. 

One of my many favorite illustrations is on the first evening when James Otis is awake in bed, thinking about what to give Sarah.  On the wall next to a tiny, narrow window hangs his blue ribbon and a family picture.  On his small dresser sits his shiny rock , whistle, and several books.  He is covered with a quilt made by his mama.  On a rug on the wooden floor is his puzzle, missing two pieces.  James Otis looks worried.  How many of us have spent hours in bed thinking and worrying and trying to figure out what is best?


When a book like What Is Given from the Heart written by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by April Harrison is read, it brings to each reader a message.  For some it will be the same and for others, it will be different.  What is certain is that this book will be remembered.  Love remains.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Patricia C. McKissack and April Harrison and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Patricia C. McKissack has several videos at her website you will enjoy watching.  April Harrison has an account on Instagram.  Here is the link to The New York Times obituary for Patricia C. McKissack.  The artwork for this book is highlighted at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  You can also view interior images at a publisher's website.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

You Are Never Alone

If we only teach one thing to our children, it's they are never alone.  There will always be someone to support them, guide them and love them.  In an ideal world parents will wish for every child born to them and they will dream of a full future with passions pursued for each child.  In life we learn other people can step into a child's life to be a parent, uncle or aunt, brother or sister or grandparent, whether they are related or not.  It truly takes a village to help a child grow into a successful adult; however success is measured.

We all reach a time in our lives when we look back seeing the significance of those who came before us and the promises they held for us.  We understand our purpose as children, parents and grandparents.  Above all things we foster a belief, something essential, in our hearts for children.  Hope (Disney Hyperion, February 5, 2019) written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell speaks to the importance of the connection between generations. It is a love letter from grandparents to a beloved grandchild. 

Dearest Grandchild,

You are here.

Like no one else,
now, before, or after.

You are here.

The grandparents allow their grandchild to see into their life experiences filled with moments good and bad but also how those events are weathered.  These triumphs and tragedies are exhausting.  As they look upon their grandchild, the grandparents feel a surge of energy and gratitude.  This new life offers them, offers everyone, hope.

These lion grandparents teach of the value of individuals.  Each of us are important regardless of the size of the world and the residents populating it.  There are those who share our traits and beliefs and those who do not but always look for commonalities.

This grandchild will go where others have gone.  This grandchild has a choice wherever they go despite what others have done.  This grandchild has the ability to rise like a star.  It won't always be easy to glimmer when darkness descends but the grandparents ask their grandchild to look for hope.

Change is life and life is change but the grandparents remind their lion cub memories are lasting.  In a reverse and response, the grandchild has words to say.  These words are a truth of visions and visions realized.  They are a gift to those grandparents; a gift of hope fulfilled.


As the final book in the trilogy (Wish, Disney Hyperion, March 3, 2015 and Dream, Disney Hyperion, May 2, 2017) readers of the two previous titles might have been expecting a different voice to tell the story.   Matthew Cordell, wisely gives the narrative to an older generation.  With age and decades of life experiences, elders' perspectives, unbidden, shift.  Their respect for those events grows as does the desire to share any lessons learned.

By beginning each portion of the story with a salutation we are privy to a personal communication.  Short sentences with meticulously chosen words supply this child, every child, with the innate knowledge of their worth.  Matthew repeats the words shine and hope to create links and a cadence.  At the end all three books are an unbroken chain.  Here are several more sentences.

Change will come.
And you must face it.

As one light dims,
another will brighten.

We will not always be here.
But we will never be gone.


The lavender surrounding the three lions, a family, on the front of the dust jacket frames the characters in a complementary color.  The confetti pieces lift upward toward the words

Out of love comes . . . 

The title text and the confetti here and to the left, on the back, are varnished and slightly raised.  On the back the trio rest on a rocky ledge overlooking the animal family homes below them.  This is a small portion of an interior image.

On the book case one of the pale orange colors in the lions is used as a canvas.  The only element is the cub on the front, nose raised upward.  The colorful confetti go upward off the top.  The opening and closing endpapers are patterned in the confetti.  On the title page the parents and their cub, seated on a rock, face readers. 

Rendered with bamboo pen and India ink and watercolor on paper the illustrations flawlessly flow from page to page full of life.  In the beginning the confetti call to the grandparents bringing them to their grandchild.  It then designates the presence of the newborn (and growing) lion.  White space supplies a canvas for single page visuals and small vignettes in loose circles.  To add strength to his words Matthew supplies readers with grand double-page pictures; the arrival of the grandparents, the parents and child overlooking the landscape, or the lion cub finding a mate. 

Matthew is able to get a very specific type of line with his use of the bamboo pen and India ink.  It is loose but can be detailed.  With seemingly simple strokes he conveys much emotion.  Careful readers will see nods to the two previous book in one illustration.

One of my many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  The grandparents are reminding their grandchild of how generations have looked at the same stars.  (I know this will engage all readers; for who among us has not looked to the stars and wondered about those who have and who will look at them?)  A large white border frames a loose square.  Within this square a rich blue sky is replete with yellow stars.  On a low rocky hill, the grandparents, with closed eyes, are lifting their noses upward.  This is what we do.  We look at stars and then close our eyes to wish and dream.


First, I read Hope written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell several times.  Then I read it after reading Wish and Dream.  Then I read it again.  It is assuredly wonderful alone conveying all the desires grandparents have for their grandchildren.  It cheers for grandchildren, all children.  With that being said Hope plus the two previous titles are a timeless trilogy.  You can't read them and not feel the overwhelming power of wishes, dreams and hopes.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Matthew Cordell and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Matthew Cordell has a blog here and accounts on Instagram and Twitter.   Matthew posts a lot of artwork on his Instagram account with updates to works in progresses and sketches from his daily walks.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Listen For Hope

Bells are used for signals, requests, music, warnings and demands.  Ringing wakes us as an alarm when it's time to get up each morning.  Bells begin and end the day at schools and factories. (Did you ever notice how the same sound changes in meaning at the start and end of the day?)  The sound of a bell can announce our presence as visitors.  It can indicate the need for  ourhelp as customers.  Bells come in all shapes and sizes and their purpose is as varied.

The ringing of a bell should never represent for any individual the beginning of another day as a slave. In The Bell Rang (A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, January 15, 2019) written and illustrated by James E. Ransome we follow a family of slaves for eight days.  In those eight days there is a tragic sameness, astonishing strength and the glow of hope.

Monday
The bell rings,
and no sun in the sky.
Daddy gathers wood.
Mama cooks.
We eat.

As the child narrator, a young girl, continues, her parents and older brother each envelope her with affection; a hug, a kiss and a touch. They and the other slaves leave and walk to work in the fields as the overseer, riding on his horse, leads them.  All the younger children spend the day with Miss Sarah Mae.

On Tuesday the familial love is the same.  The backbreaking work continues.  The younger children play in safety.  Wednesday is different.

When Wednesday comes her brother Ben does not touch her or wave to her.  He kisses her on her check, hands her a doll he made from small twigs and fine cloth.  He whispers words in her ear before he joins his two friends, Joe and Little Sam.  All day the child and the doll, Miz Ida, are inseparable.

Sadness and cruelty fill the day on Thursday.  There is pain and tears and a gun in the overseer's hands.  Ben has run away with his friends, Joe and Little Sam.  Another day passes in sameness and silence.  On Saturday a shift settles over Daddy, Mama and their daughter.  A sudden arrival generates fear and more pain but also hope for one family.

On Sunday there is no bell.  Slaves gather to hear preaching down by the creek.  There are words, songs and prayers for freedom.  On Monday . . .


To measure this narrative through the days of the week James E. Ransome easily engages readers.  Those seven twenty-four hours periods mark all kinds of events universally for most people.  Using the same four sentences for most of the days does supply readers with a rhythm but also fashions a high contrast for those days when those phrases are not used or changed.  It allows us to feel the pain of loss, the pain of being left behind and the intense hope of freedom realized. With the younger sister as narrator we are deeply connected to this story.  Here is a passage after Ben has left.

Ben gone.
Joe and Little Sam all ran.
Mama cries
all the way to the field.
Daddy's face
looks all wrong
as he walks
with the other slaves.
Many with mad looks,
some with tears.


When we think of freedom many visual depictions come to mind.  Upon opening the dust jacket the blue-hued sky extends over the spine as does the darker golden yellow and rosy pink.  As our eyes move to the left, on the back, the rosy pink area is enlarged.  Two cabins, smoke curling from chimneys are shown there on a bit of green.  Another girl is running behind the two children shown on the front.  Surely children running without fear is a sign of freedom or the promise of freedom.

On the book case covered in a rich blue with a cloth spine is a single element.  In the upper, right-hand corner an embossed, foil swallow is in flight.  It is copper in color.

On the opening endpapers from the perspective of looking up we see a scene of daybreak sky in yellow, gray-blue and sky blue.  Clouds spread across a portion.  The bell is ringing.  Four swallows fly past.  On the closing endpaper higher in the clouds a single swallow flies against a vivid blue sky.  This is also the canvas of the Author's Note.

Rendered in acrylics the eloquent paintings of James E. Ransome summon understanding in readers.  From the ringing of the bell by the overseer on the initial title page to wood being chopped near a cabin with an extensive landscape in the background on the formal title page to the first intimate portrait of the family sitting in front of the fire eating their breakfast, we are taken back in time to another place.  The flow of the brush strokes, the use of light and reflected light, the gaze of the girl, the gentle touch of a brother's hand or the details in their dwelling all contribute to a near sensory experience for readers.

When featuring the parents in the morning or when they say good-bye to their daughter, James E. Ransome blends their actions as a partial overlay.  For many of the pictures they extend, page edge to page edge, on full pages.  Other images span two pages for emphasis.  Readers should take notice of the birds in flight over the gathered slaves on Sunday.

One of my many favorite illustrations is on a single page with a crisp white background.  It begins with Daddy and his arms wrapped about his daughter in a hug.  They are both smiling at each other.  Beneath this Mama is bending down to give her daughter a good-bye kiss on her forehead.  The father's left arm blends in with the mother's head and back.  It is a scene of love and strength.


You cannot read The Bell Rang written and illustrated by James E. Ransome without being deeply moved.  With each page turn the words and paintings take you into these eight days.  We get a real sense of family, the desire for freedom, the despair, fear and pain of enslavement and ultimately hope.  This book is highly recommendation for all collections, personal and professional.

To learn more about James E. Ransome, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  James E. Ransome maintains accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Preserving A Life's Passion

There was once a girl who spent days in the out-of-doors with her father fishing or hunting.  He hunted with a bow and arrows he made himself.  She carried a camera.  Even after years of sitting for hours in the woods, they never saw a single deer.  Perhaps it was their quiet conversations to and from their positions which alerted the wildlife.  In those conversations the girl learned the names of plants and trees, birds and small animals and their value to humans and the world as a whole.

This father was also a photographer.  He turned his pictures into slides; some he made himself.  The girl still has hundreds of them.  This girl learned to develop and print her own black and white pictures in her own darkroom.  She taught middle and high school photography and yearbook classes; sometimes they made their own pinhole cameras.  She eventually taught elementary students to make sun prints using the same scientific principles behind cameras, film and photographs.  This allowed the children to better understand the work of Wilson Snowflake Bentley.

The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins And The First Book Of Photographs (Abrams Books for Young Readers, February 12, 2019) written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson is about another girl, her father, and their shared love and study of nature and photography.  Even though they were born more than one hundred fifty years apart, the more contemporary girl would have loved to have known about Anna Atkins.  This is the wondrous connection made through all kinds of books for all kinds of readers.

1807-The English Meadow
The sky is the bluest of blues.
Little Anna's arms are full of flowers: buttercups,
forget-me-nots, corncockles, love-in-a mist, feverfew, and marigolds.  The air is thick with butterflies and bees.

Nearby Anna is her father carrying a jar full of bugs and a heavy book.  Anna sees a bright red poppy.  In order to preserve it, she places it inside the book.  It will become dry and flat, pressed within the pages.

At home the duo work in the father's laboratory.  As a scientist he studies electricity, chemistry and entomology.  It is here Anna learns about scientific names given to plants and animals, Latin words known everywhere around the world.  John Children, Anna's dad, is her only parent.  Although it is not the practice to educate girls, this man makes sure Anna learns

chemistry, physics, zoology, botany and biology.

By the time Anna is twelve she and her father, partners in their studies, visit the seashore.  She makes meticulous drawings of what she finds.  At twenty-four Anna is living her dream as a botanist focusing on the flora found in her native land.  She continues documenting the specimens through her illustrations.  Her work and attention to detail is shown in one of her father's books, Lamarck's Genera of Shells.  Can you imagine making drawings for over 250 shells?

In 1825 Anna marries Pelly Atkins, a man of wealth and political prominence.  They live near her father, now a member of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge.  Women are not allowed to become members or be a part of important discourse within the society.  Anna continues to gather and protect plant specimens.  Her herbarium is enormous in content.  She wishes to share this with a larger audience.

Fourteen years after her marriage Anna is admitted as a member of the Royal Botanic Society in London.  A few years later Anna, Pelly and her father leave London for the countryside.  It is here Anna and her father explore photography and she uses one of the first cameras.  A visit with Sir John Herschel changes everything for Anna. 

Sir John Herschel's discovery of the cyanotype print leads Anna down the path she most wishes to travel.  On the sunniest days she, her father and sometimes her servants work.  Over the course of ten years, thousands of prints are made.  Together Father and daughter hold her efforts in their hands:  a book.


In reading this book the research employed by Fiona Robinson is indeed evident in the details she includes but also in the depiction of the passion Anna and her father have for their work.  Each important portion of Anna's life becomes a section of the book with a date and a place.  For several of these "chapters" Fiona repeats the phrase

the bluest of the blues

at the beginning.

The scenarios are personal in description using the present tense.  We stand next to Anna wherever she goes and whatever she does.  Fiona Robinson also closes the book in the same manner she begins it, in a field with bright red poppies.  This time there are two differences which further breathe life into Anna Atkins as she is presented to us.  Here is a passage.

1811-Beside the Sea
The sea is the bluest of blues.
Anna finds a long strip of squeaky, bubbly, brown seaweed.
"Fucus vesiculosus!" states Father.
"Fu-cus-ve-sic-u-lo-sus!" says Anna, repeating the Latin carefully.

She takes the seaweed by its roots and swings it high above her head.  Momentarily, she sees it silhouetted against the bluest of blues.


Fascinating is a word which comes to mind in looking at the front and back of the book case.  The texture of the paper is smooth with a cloth spine.  The colors used by Fiona Robinson here are used throughout the book with one exception.  The hues of blues do shift some to complement the text.  If you are wondering how the image was formed on the front, your curiosity is certain to increase when you look at the back. 

The back serves as a front and back jacket flap with a darker blue used.  The images are specimens of flora.  It looks as if they are sun prints or cyanotypes.  On the opening and closing endpapers, done entirely in shades of blue, Fiona Robinson features first a series of sea shells beautifully depicted and numbered.  On the later are thirty-two cyanotypes of seaweed.  The sea shells are continued on the page prior to the title page.  The title page is a silhouette of Father and a younger Anna walking in a field.

Almost all the illustrations span two pages.  When full-page pictures appear, it is for pacing.  Fiona Robinson describes her process in a note at the conclusion of the book.  She used many techniques to create this signature style.  She shifts her perspective from very close to Anna to showing a more cityscape view when appropriate.  The wide eyes, mouths, noses and cheeks on the people are distinctive.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the text previously quoted.  It is a double-page picture.  On the left Anna is standing and swinging the discovered seaweed over her head.  Behind her the sand, sea and sky stretch.  Sea birds swirl behind her.  On the right, a kneeling Father holds a crab in one hand.  (Fiona Robinson states in her note the sea is made from a

photograph of cling wrap.


For those who harbor a love of nature, photography and exploring both, The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins And The First Book Of Photographs written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson is pure perfection.  It is a tribute to the relationship of a parent and child and how they pursued that which they loved.  It is an inspiration to all who hold a dream in their hearts.  At the conclusion there is an Author's Note, How to Make Your Own Cyanotypes, Bibliography, Institutions Holding Anna's Cyanotypes, Acknowledgments, Illustration Credits, a dedication, publication information and the earlier mentioned Medium Note.   I highly recommend this picture book biography for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Fiona Robinson and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Fiona Robinson can be found on Instagram and TwitterAt the publisher's website you can view interior images. 


To discover more titles selected this week by those participating in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please visit Kid Lit Frenzy the site hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Can't Stop Talking

There are more than a few educators who believe it's true.  They know just before and after a full moon, their students will be a little "more" of everything.  On those days when a class comes to the library, it seems as if every single student is talking.  They all have thoughts to share . . . vocally and at the same time.

Usually there are only one or maybe two people a week who can't stop talking.  They are well-known by their classmates and for the most part fondly accepted.  Author Tammi Sauer and illustrator Dave Mottram introduced readers to such an individual in Wordy Birdy (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, February 8, 2018). Fortunately, this bird with a gift for gab has great friends.

Meet Wordy Birdy.
Wordy Birdy has lots to say.
It starts the moment she wakes up.
See?

Every tint of the sunrise sky is noted.  Wordy Birdy even stops to greet herself in a mirror.  She chats about her likes and dislikes.  The questions are non-stop.  Does she ever listen for the answers?  No. No. No.  Her forest friends, Rabbit, Raccoon, and Squirrel, realize this quirk in her behavior, continuously commenting.

One morning Wordy Birdy needs to listen. She does not.  She ignores warning signs.  Squirrel asks her to stop.  Rabbit tells her to turn around.  Wordy Birdy keeps walking and talking.  Raccoon begs her to

RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! 

This walking and talking non-listener finally notices a lot of darkness ahead.  She notices big white circles and large white triangles.  Several loud roars later, it dawns on her trouble is too close for comfort.

In her time of need her trio of companions courageously suggests a course of action.  Does she heed their words?  Will she live to talk another day? 



Apparently, she does because this month a companion title is released.  This bird is as chatty as ever.  Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, February 5, 2019) written by Tammi Sauer with illustrations by Dave Mottram will have talkers and non-talkers alike sharing loads of laughter.

In case you haven't heard, this is Wordy Birdy.

I LOVE my name.
Wordy Birdy. Wordy Birdy. Wordy Birdy.
Hey! That rhymes!

This bird is unable to breathe without speaking.  She is also always on the move.  One fine day she and her three trusty pals go camping.

After enjoying the hike, setting up their tents and snacking on s'mores by a comfy, crackling fire, Wordy Birdy is still offering non-stop observations and declarations of love about everything and everyone in sight.  As you can imagine, much later Squirrel, Raccoon and Rabbit are exhausted and ready for bed.  Wordy Birdy is not.

Wordy Birdy is excited to commence snacking on pickles, bean burritos and mashed potatoes.  With the mini-feast consumed Wordy Birdy should desire to shut her eyes along with her three companions.  She does not. 

Telescope to her eye, she spots the perfect stars, wishing stars.  In the middle of wishing for everything from a pony to a tuba, Wordy Birdy discovers a rather large, hungry cougar stalking into their camp.  Does Wordy Birdy finally choose to stop talking?  Before you answer that question readers, remember this is Wordy Birdy. 



Both titles are overflowing with comedy.  With the skill of a master wordsmith Tammi Sauer blends short narrative sentences with character dialogue.  There is an ongoing discourse between the two.  Repetitive questions are answered with repetitive replies; supplying readers with an engaging cadence.  We are a part of the story.  You might also encounter a pun.  Here are two passages from the first and recent book.

But she never stops talking long enough to get the answers.
Wordy Birdy is not the world's best listener.

Oh, puh-lease. (Rabbit)

Are we talking
about the same
bird here? (Raccoon)

Okay. Okay. Wordy Birdy is
terrible at listening.

That's more like it. (Squirrel)

She never listens to anybody.


Late that night, Squirrel rubs his eyes.

Time for bed, everybody. (Squirrel)

Squirrel goes to bed.
Rabbit goes to bed.
Raccoon goes to bed.
Does Wordy Birdy go to bed?


If you don't wonder what's going to happen next by looking at the front of the matching dust jackets and book cases, you'll might want to check for a pulse.  The expressions on Wordy Birdy's face and the look the cougar is giving readers are completely giggle-worthy.  Careful readers can see the outline of words lining the background canvas of both books.  The title text is varnished on the jackets as are the characters.  The title text is also raised. 

To place emphasis on the chattiness of Wordy Birdy, to the left, on the back conversations are replete.  On the first Wordy Birdy is standing with her three pals talking to readers.  Raccoon has a reply ready.  On the second book, Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants, five photographs placed on a yellow background with leaves, are labeled with more Wordy Birdy chatter.

On the opening and closing endpapers of the first book, the story starts and ends, verbally and visually.  The characters and their conversations in speech bubbles are shown on a white background.  On the new title a series of different photographs, without captions, cover the opening and closing endpapers.  They feature the friends and those things Wordy Birdy enjoys the most.

With a page turn illustrator Dave Mottram begins his pictorial enhancement of the text with a double-page image for the verso and title pages.  Wordy Birdy is displayed as her exuberant self exclusively on a white canvas.  In the second title Wordy Birdy, Rabbit, Squirrel and Raccoon are seated around a campfire with the forest and starry sky surrounding them.

Keeping in mind the narrative and pacing, Dave Mottram alternates between double-page pictures and a few full-page images.  Readers will pause with each page turn to notice the included small details; a paw print on a sign, a hidden sign slowly revealed, a shadow that moves from illustration to illustration and the zipper pull on Wordy Birdy's backpack.  Most hilarious are the facial expressions and body postures on the characters.  They are burst-out-laughing excellent.

Two of my many, many favorite illustrations, one from each book, are in the first Wordy Birdy is blissfully unaware of any danger despite Rabbit's warning.  In the second title it's when everyone notices the cougar at the campsite.  First trees frame the characters and line the forest path.  On the left Squirrel, clinging to a tree trunk, is speaking.  Wordy Birdy is pointing and talking about a pinecone, a sign (reading WRONG WAY), a rock and a leaf.  On the right Rabbit is frantically pointing for Wordy Birdy to turn around and retrace her steps.  I love the mop of hair on top of Rabbit's head.

In the second image on the right items from the campsite have flown in the air.  A mug, juice box, telescope. frying pan, Bag O' Burritos, lantern, cup, jar of pickles, camera and another cup border a huge speech bubble reading:

WHAT!?!

Portions of their tents are visible.  On the right a terrified, wide-eyed Rabbit and Raccoon are standing, frozen to the ground.  Equally frightened is Squirrel who jumped up and is being held in Raccoon's arms.  Behind this stars shine in the night sky.


You won't be able to read Wordy Birdy and Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants written by Tammi Sauer with illustrations by Dave Mottram just once.  You will read, or be requested to read, them repeatedly.  You won't be able to stop smiling or bursting out loud with laughter.  Not only are these two books hilarious but they show the value in knowing when to listen and when to speak out.  At the core of both is the power of friendship.  I highly recommend them for both your personal and professional collections. 

To learn more about Tammi Sauer and Dave Mottram, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  You can find Tammi and Dave on Instagram.  They also have accounts here and here on Twitter.  At Penguin Random House you can view interior images from Wordy Birdy and Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants.  For the release of the first book Tammi Sauer has a guest post on humor at Picture Book Builders.  Tammi Sauer was interviewed at Critter Lit on July 26, 2018.

Monday, February 18, 2019

A Part Of Our Planet

Quiet covers the out-of-doors like a blanket on most winter mornings.  Some days this silence is broken by the call of chickadees or stiff breezes blowing among the evergreens. Rabbit paths in and out of shelter and chewed shrubbery are a sure sign of their survival.  During storms high winds sculpt snow into wavy drifts.  As it passes and clouds leave, rings of light surround the moon.

 On those days when the sun shines, black shadows paint patterns of bare tree trunks and branches on the cold, white canvas.  When we notice these elements, in any season, we also realize the magnitude of the network of life of which we are a part.  The Whole Wide World and Me (Candlewick Press, February 19, 2019) written and illustrated by Toni Yuly follows a small girl who realizes her various connections to our natural world.

Like a flower . . .

This flower is not alone.  It is growing in a field.  Nearby a fish swims in a pond.  Above the field and the pond, a single cloud floats in a clear blue sky.

Noticing the flower in the field, the fish in the pond and the cloud in the sky is the curious child.  She grows, breathes and moves as they do. As she wanders through the grass to the edge of the water and looks up from a tree branch, she feels a part of her surroundings.

At the seashore a wave washes along the sand.  The girl uses her feet to make her own waves.  Wherever she goes she replicates the actions of those things she sees.

The world is large.  She is little.  They are a team.


Six sentences worded perfectly for the intended audience by Toni Yuly allow readers to shadow the explorations of a single child.  We feel close to her through her first-person point of view.  A gentle rhythm is supplied with rhyming words and alliteration.  By using the title as the closing sentence, we are brought full circle.


Vibrant, bold colors on the matching dust jacket and book case immediately draw readers' attention.  The green, yellow, red, purple and black on the front coupled with the tiny details of the ladybug and butterfly invite us to join the little girl in the field of flowers.  To the left, on the back, four layers of purple form a large frame around a square image of the child splashing in the sea.

The opening and closing endpapers are a pale robin's egg blue.  There is an initial title page with blades of grass along the bottom.  The ladybug rests on one of the blades.  On the formal title page, the grass continues.  A blue jay on the left is turned toward the title on the right.  Above the bird the butterfly flutters and a delicate blue dragonfly hovers above the grass on the right.

Throughout the entire book, Toni Yuly masterfully uses white space to accentuate the items on each page.  She shifts her perspective to coincide with the text.  For the first three words we are very close to the single yellow flower.  In the field with a larger point-of-view there is more grass and insects.  All we see of the girl is her green boots and a part of the bottom of her skirt.  For the third set of three words, she moves us close to the object again.

Rendered in

ink, charcoal pencil, torn tissue, cut paper, and digital collage

the illustrations spanning double pages are like individual visuals lining the walls of a gallery.  Each one is perfect alone but ties to the one before it and after it presenting a pleasing flow.  They radiate the delight of discovery.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of the child sitting on a tree branch.  The trunk of the tree rises on the left side with a tiny "v" at the top.  One of two blue jays is perched there.  The girl's back is to us as she watches the cloud.  On the back of her purple top is a lavender daisy.  At the end of the branch on the far right another blue jay is resting.  The butterfly is moving on the right side under the branch.  This is an ode to all the girls and guys who've climbed a tree and watched clouds pass by in the brilliant blue sky.


Our natural world is a beautiful place.  The earlier and more often we feel a part of it, the more we will protect and preserve it.  This is the value of The Whole Wide World and Me written and illustrated by Toni Yuly.  You can sense happiness with every page turn.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Toni Yuly and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Toni Yuly has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At Candlewick Press and at Penguin Random House, you can view interior images.  There is an older but wonderful interview at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast with Toni Yuly. Enjoy the video where Toni Yuly talks about her creative process.



Friday, February 15, 2019

A Jubilant Salute

It is our wish for every child to embrace exactly who they are with joy.  We want them to wake up every morning knowing they have the potential to do important things, big or small. We want them to drift off to sleep at night knowing everything about their day has value, even if mistakes happen. They do make a difference.  The world would be less than it should be without them.

Each child is an essential piece in the puzzle of life regardless of their shape or size. Remarkably YOU (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, February 5, 2019) written by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Patrice Barton is a lively look at what all children are and what they can be.  It's overflowing with exuberance and at its heart, full of love.

You might be bold.
You might be loud.
Leading parades.  Drawing a crowd.

If your traits are the opposite of bold and loud, think of yourself as a needed audience.  Even if you are young and alone, you can still learn.  You don't have to have the freedom of being older with friends.

Readers are reminded size and age are not factors in the capacity to achieve.  They are challenged to begin using their gifts, those things making them unique.  They are encouraged to join with other like-minded children.  They are asked to address problems, fix them and do it all again.

Perhaps you don't know what makes you the-one-and-only you.  Just do what you love to do.  Are you a reader, a racer, a number collector or an actor in fantastic realms?  You need to greet the world and show them who you are.

Readers are requested to use their skills, share their skills and spread the results of their efforts throughout their community.  It's all about increasing joy.  The more you do this, the happier everyone is.  They are assured their strength is in staying true to themselves and having the courage to be the change.


Through the words penned by Pat Zietlow Miller readers see their talents, known and as yet unknown disclosed in her narrative.  She entreats them to take their savvy and use it for the greater good. Her rhyming and inspirational sentences and phrases cheer for children regardless of who they are and what they can do.  Here is a passage.

So find what you're good at, what you have to give.
Then go share your sunshine wherever you live.


You can't look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case without smiling.  Those six children (plus one canine companion) are part of a playful parade.  Each one is happy to be there as evidenced by their gleeful expressions and highly animated motions.  I'll bet if you listen closely you can hear their laughter.  The full color palette and children from diverse backgrounds are an open invitation to join them and to read this book.

To the left, on the back, the scene continues with balloons crossing the spine.  Attached to the red-haired girl carrying balloons is a little red wagon with pennants strung along the side.  Two upright sticks, one in the front and one in the back, hold another string of pennants.  Beneath this a little boy is hugging a seated dog.  Behind them is another boy riding his bike and holding a flag.  Bringing up the end is a third girl holding a bunch of balloons. 

On the opening and closing endpapers done in hues of blue with a light pattern of character words such as

wise, bookish, fast, share, daring, swim, spell, dream or learn

as a background ten children are engaged in their favorite things.  They are so happy you want to laugh (and you do).  At the beginning this is followed by the red title words on a crisp white background.  On the more formal title, verso and dedication pages four of the children and the one dog are shown getting ready for the parade. 

Rendered by Patrice Barton with

pencil sketches and mixed media, assembled and painted digitally

the illustrations vary in size from double-page pictures, full-page images or a group of illustrations on a single page.  Delicate lines create small details welcoming us to linger at every page turn.  Careful readers will find the same characters in other images.  This allows them to see children discover their gifts.  A little boy who initially watches the parade likes to role play and beats on a drum by the end of the book.  Can you find the child who is experimenting with a sprinkler again in the book?  Another important element is the compassion shown by these children for others of all ages.

One of my many, many favorite pictures spans two pages.  A large tree trunk has been placed along and outside the gutter with the leafy top spreading out to the left and right.  On the left large daisies frame the bottom and left side.  Green grass and gardens filled with flowers provide a background.  Children are potting flowers, loading pots into a wheelbarrow, digging holes, planting seeds and watering flowers with a hose.  To the right, these same five children are now delivering the potted flowers to neighbors.  They walk down a sidewalk talking and laughing.  A woman and child, standing on a sidewalk to their home, receive a pot of flowers.


Without opening the cover or turning a single page you know this book, Remarkably YOU written by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Patrice Barton, is loaded with merriment.  Readers will feel this contentment spread throughout their minds and bodies as their souls soak up the enthusiasm for being themselves.  You could pair this with Penguin Flies Home,  Rock What Ya Got, Henny or Wild About Us!  I highly recommend this for your personal or professional collections.

To learn more about Pat Zietlow Miller and Patrice Barton and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Both Pat Zietlow Miller and Patrice Barton have accounts on Instagram.  They also both maintain accounts here and here on Twitter.  Pat Zietlow Miller has a post on Picture Book Builders about this title.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Love Letter Cover Reveal

 As I write this, we are in the middle of another howling winter storm.  It is a day for bundling up and venturing outside for short walks close to home.  It is a day for hot drinks and comfort food. It is a day for snuggling under a cozy blanket and for losing yourself in a book by stepping into a story.


In two days, it will be Valentine’s Day 2019.  On this day we give extra recognition to love, acts of love and those we love.  Secrets are revealed, as this day asks us to declare that which we value the most.  I can think of no better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day 2019 than chatting with two wonderful creators in the world of children’s literature. I am very happy and excited to welcome Anika Aldamuy Denise and Lucy Ruth Cummins to Librarian’s Quest for the cover reveal of their new book, The Love Letter.   

Thank you so much for having us, Margie. And for sharing the cover of our new book.

I want to know about the character on the cover. Who is it? Why this animal?
This is Hedgehog. He’s a bit prickly. Why a hedgehog? I suppose part of the credit goes to my friend Emily. She’s an artist and a proud hedgie mommy. She posts pictures of her sweet hedgies (Figgie and Doodle) on her Instagram feed all the time—curled up sleeping, nestled in her arm, taking a bath. I guess I had hedgies on the brain as I sat down to write. Our story begins with Hedgehog, and a mysterious letter.
.
What inspired Hedgehog’s story?

Well, it’s a shared story, of three friends, Hedgehog, Bunny, and Squirrel—and a small mouse. The idea began with something my daughter Sofia started years ago, where she’d write a poem and leave it for me to find. Her poems were short and lyrical. They always made me smile. And so, I started writing poems back to her. We've done this on and off through the years. No matter what our poems are about, finding them unexpectedly makes us both feel happy.

It got me thinking about how a simple unexpected expression of love, or joy, or gratitude… can be powerful. The story came from that basic idea: the effect of kind words.

Lucy, what was the first visual that popped into your head after you read the manuscript?

The first thing that popped into my head was a vision of the little mouse silhouetted against the moon. I knew I wanted it to be a quiet, private moment, and I knew I wanted the enormity of the moon to overtake the whole scene. I wanted readers to feel the emotional significance just from scale alone.  

I was so taken with Anika's words, and so excited at the prospect of setting a story in the woods, and in the snow. That was a thrill for me, having set most of the books I've worked on in cities and neighborhoods that look very much like where I live with my family in Brooklyn. I grew up in Central New York, though, where it always seemed like we spent 10 and a half months of the year freezing cold, buried under a foot of snow, and fully encased in snowsuits, and where there were giant, beautiful trees everywhere you looked. It was neat to be able to unload all my visual memories of those views into the pages of our book.

What medium did you use for the cover and the art in the book?

I used anything and everything, as is my habit! I seriously have a hard time limiting my materials. I paint with gouache, use pencil and charcoal to define shadows and contours, crayon for texture here and there, brush marker for details and patterns, and digital line work overall.

I also had a lot of fun incorporating real bits of typewriter text for the letter—I used my friend Navah's typewriter and the ribbon was SO dry I had to press and hold each key for 10 seconds, wiggling my fingertip and pushing with all my might!

Is there a character in the book who you most relate to?

I am such a Rabbit! And I love naps just as much as she does. I think she would enjoy a mountain of varied art materials just as much as I do—her frenetic energy and joie de vivre spoke to me! And I'm married to a Hedgehog—it's...an interesting balance!

And you, Anika?

I think I’m a little like Mouse. A bit of a dreamer, the unlikely optimist. Small, but opinionated. And if it means I get to spend my days in Lucy’s lovely winter woods, under the big beautiful moon, then yes, I definitely want to be Mouse.


Thank you both, Anika and Lucy, for taking a few moments to talk with me about your book. I can hardly wait to show the world the cover. When I look at it, I can't help smiling and wanting to twirl around and hug someone. So . . .

Happy Valentine's Day 2019 to Anika Aldamuy Denise,
Lucy Ruth Cummins and
The Love Letter


This title published by HarperCollins Children's Books will be released on October 8, 2019.


Other books featured here written by Anika Aldamuy Denise are Baking Day at Grandma's, Monster Trucks, Starring CARMEN!, and Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre. Books written and illustrated or illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins showcased here are A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals, This is NOt a Valentine, and Stumpkin.

To learn more about Anika Aldamuy Denise and Lucy Ruth Cummins and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. Both Anika and Lucy have accounts on Instagram. You can find both of them on Twitter, too, here and here.


Anika Aldamuy Denise is the author of many picture books including Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre, Starring Carmen!, Lights, Camera, Carmen!, and Monster Trucks. She grew up in Queens, New York, and spent summers in the Adirondacks where she had a series of jobs including: chamber maid, breakfast waitress, ice cream scooper, and t-shirt seller at Fort William Henry. She now lives with her family near the coast in Rhode Island where she happily works as a writer. She still enjoys ice cream. Her favorite flavor is coffee.


Lucy Ruth Cummins spends her days at Simon & Schuster, art directing everything from picture books on up to young adult novels, and her evenings at home, drawing everything from the very, very cute on up to the very, very weird. She made her picture book illustration debut with a parody of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree---The Taking Tree and is the creator of A Hungry Lion, Or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals as well as the Stumpkin. She is also the illustrator of This Is Not a Valentine by Carter Higgins, Truman by Jean Reidy, and the covers for author Stuart Gibbs. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and once worked at a Taco Bell restaurant.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Rock and Roll Persona

In 1983 a group of prominent names in the music industry formed the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame FoundationThe primary goal of this group after the establishment of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was to find a city in which to construct a building which would serve to honor the inductees and promote this genre of music.  It was September 2, 1995 when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame welcomed visitors for the first time.

Prior to that time in 1986 the first inductees were named.  Of those sixteen men, one of ten performers is Elvis Presley.  Elvis Is King! (Schwartz & Wade Books, January 8, 2019) written by Jonah Winter with illustrations by Red Nose Studio chronicles this signature musician's rise to fame.




Elvis Is Born!
But alas, he is born
in a humble shack
on the wrong side of the railroad tracks,
the side where the poorest of the poor people live,
down down down in the Deep South---Tupelo, Mississippi.

Twenty-eight subsequent short, concise chapters highlight significant contributory events. At an early age Elvis's father is sent to jail for fourteen months.  Before and at ten as a shy little boy Elvis sings solo in church and at a county fair talent show.

Knowing Elvis has a gift, his mother buys him a guitar for his eleventh birthday.  This took a lot of saving and sacrifice.  The boy cannot stop singing and playing his guitar, even when he should not.  A fortuitous moment outside an African American church with gospel music singing makes a memorable impression.

Leaving Tupelo, hoping for a better future, the family lands in Memphis.  It's a struggle for the trio to live in a one-room apartment sharing a bathroom with other residents.  Elvis, now a teen, is the breadwinner and a student.  He decides it's time for a change.

With hair dyed black and wearing stand-out-in-the-crowd second-hand store clothes, Elvis croons his way to a crowd-pleasing success at his high school talent show.  Dixie Locke becomes Elvis's one true forever love.

After graduation Elvis haunts clubs listening to blues.  Recording a song on a record on his own leads to an important phone call; Sun Records wants to record Elvis!  It takes several tries but it's an instant success.

When people see Elvis perform, they go crazy at his movements and the sound of his voice.  The number of his fans grows but heartbreak is in the offing.  There are costs for fame not measured by dollars and cents.  Elvis is a star.


The length of the chapters, the number of sentences or phrases in each one, is determined by the portion of Elvis's life author Jonah Winter wishes to disclose.  Each chapter is a relevant layer forming the whole individual the public sees.  Specific word choices supply an easy conversational narrative.  Here is another chapter.

County Fair Talent Show
Look at Little Elvis up onstage,
shy as he can be, ten years old,
so small he has to stand on a chair to reach the microphone,
but when he opens his mouth to sing---
a tearjerker song about a dog that dies---
everybody listens to every word.  When he is done:
Clappin' and hootin'!
ELVIS IS LOVED!
What a feeling that is.
(Fifth prize!)


One look at the open dust jacket and you know the artwork in this book is a showstopper much like Elvis.  The decision to have the text ELVIS like a neon sign and show only a portion of his face with that signature hair style is excellent.  To the left, on the back, Elvis with his eyes closed, is singing and playing his guitar as he vibrates before his audience on the stage.

On the underside of the dust jacket illustrator Red Nose Studio (Chris Sickels) displays elements from his pictures labeling them with how they were made.  They are shown in actual size.  He also asks readers to locate these objects in the story.

The book case is done in the blue seen on the jacket.  To the left, on the back, a microphone on a stand is placed on a stage.  On the front, the title is recreated with a star hanging from the top between "L" and "V".  Elvis's guitar is leaning against an empty folding chair.  Two different shades of blue, light and dark, cover the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page is an old radio with a single rose in a vase on top.  Above this is a family portrait.

All the illustrations

are hand-built three-dimensional sets shot with a Canon EOS 5D Markill Digital SLR camera.

Each scene is meticulously created replete with accurate details.  Some are full-page pictures and others span two pages.  Two accentuate the moment, the point of view shifts from bringing us close to the subject or giving us a larger view.  When the chapter reads

The First Cheeseburger Ever Eaten by Elvis

all we see is the table top of a booth with two beverage glasses and a single cheeseburger.  Elvis and his mother are seated opposite each other on benches.  We can only see their legs and feet.  His mother is barefoot.  It's as if we have stepped back in time with this individual.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  The background is in hues of sunset rose, orange and blue in the sky at day's end.  A large sign in neon letters spreads across most of the two pages.  It reads

RAINBOW
SKATE RINK.

Seated on top of the sign and looking over the city below is Elvis and Dixie Locke. Their backs are to us. Elvis has his guitar. 


Elvis Is King! written by Jonah Winter with illustrations by Red Nose Studio is a stellar picture book biography about this one-of-a-kind rock and roll musician.  It informs readers but also will inspire them to realize you can come from nothing and become exactly what you want to be.  The blend of words and art is fabulous.  Whether you are a fan or not, you will want this title in your professional and personal collections.  At the conclusion of the book there is a two-page author's note.

To learn more about Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studio, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Red Nose Studio has two other places to visit, here and here, for more about this title. Chris Sickels, Red Nose Studio, has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Jonah Winter is interviewed at Book Q&As With Deborah Kalb about this title.  At author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast this book is showcased.


Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other selections by participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.