Quote of the Month

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

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.

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.

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


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:


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'!
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


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.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

A Seasonal Snooze And Merrymaking

Even for fans of winter, the combinations of snow, wind, freezing rain and the Polar Vortex of 2019 have been a challenge.  It takes a hardy soul to enjoy winter sports in wind chills at negative fifty or below.  Navigating through snow even with snowshoes or skis is tricky when there is an icy crust several inches thick on top.  The longer this lasts the more appealing is the desire to huddle under a pile of blankets. 

On October 10, 2017 a lovely, lyrical book exploring the idea of sleeping through the wintry months was released.  William's Winter Nap (Disney Hyperion) written by Linda Ashman with pictures by Chuck Groenink sets aside all the outdoor elements, replacing them with affection found inside a cozy cabin among friends.  You'll want to join them.

In a house on a hill
that's tall and steep,
there's a boy named William
who's ready to sleep.

After William goes through long-nap rituals with covers tucked under his chin, he hears a gentle knocking on his bedroom window.  A winter weary creature, a chipmunk, asks to share his bed.  After exchanging yawns and saying good night, they prepare to drift into dreamland.  Guess what?  There's more rapping, a bit louder.

A grateful porcupine meanders inside and crawls beneath the blankets until . . .


A badger at the door makes four.  There are again more yawns and well wishes for a good sleep.  Mere minutes pass before a slight sound at the window announces the presence of a raccoon.  Needless to say, it's getting a bit crowded in William's bed with the number totaling five.

Everyone is sleeping when a loud noise cannot be ignored.  A note appears under the door.  The occupants of William's bed don't want to make any more room.  William is more than willing but when he peeks outside, he has a huge surprise.  It's a bear.  Sadness is replaced with compassion and a feeling of more-the-merrier fills a room and a bed with warmth.

This month a wondering world gets to visit with William and his slumbering friends again.  William Wakes Up (Disney Hyperion, February 5, 2019) written by Linda Ashman with pictures by Chuck Groenink takes us back to the cabin months later.  The deep snows have vanished and preparations for a celebration begin. 

On a quiet morning,
sleepy and still,
William looks out on
a moss-covered hill.

A sound in the distance causes William to spring into action.  There is a cake to make.  William calls to his bedroom companions but the only one to heed his request is Chipmunk.  After the long nap Chipmunk works well but still feels sleepy.  They need more help.

Now William and Chipmunk try to wake the others.  Only Porcupine responds.  With the cake baking, Porcupine helps to spruce up the kitchen until the size of the job overwhelms this pal.

Badger and Bear hear and get out of bed one by one.  As fast as they are able the living room is cleaned and festooned.  The cake is frosted and prettily edged with icing.  The five companions are clearly tuckered out.  They all try to get Raccoon to help, but he still snoozes.

A cheery noise outside announces the arrival of the special guest, Bluebird.  The mention of a single word has Raccoon suddenly sitting up and taking notice.  The other animals who worked hard are not amused.  William makes a suggestion and Raccoon is more than willing to comply.  Spring has sprung!

Readers gravitate toward a book inviting their participation.  Author Linda Ashman uses repetitive incidents and phrasing to welcome us into both stories.  In the first each animal makes a sound declaring their presence and asking to come inside.  William's answer is the same, as is the subsequent yawns and two comforting good nights.  In the newest book William's refrain for help is repeated as is the numbering sequence before each animal replies.

In each book every two lines rhyme at the end.  This along with the other cadences built by words builds anticipation.  Readers wait for the second word.  Readers wait to say aloud the known phrases.  Linda Ashman also combines narrative with dialogue further inviting readers into her stories.  Here is a passage from each book.

It's quiet---just the clock's tick tock.
But, wait---what's that? A


"Oh, what a lovely cozy place!
Could you spare a smidge of space?"

Will says, "Yes, we'll scooch a bit.
There's room for three---I'm sure we'll fit."

Then Chipmunk conks out on the floor.
"There's WAY too much for us to do.
We'd better wake the others, too."

"Wake up! It's spring!
Today's the day---
a special guest is on the way.
Rise and shine! No time to lose!"

One rolls out.  Three others snooze.

All the illustrations, the first title rendered in pencils, charcoal, ink and Photoshop and the second in pencils and Photoshop, by Chuck Groenink create a particular emotion enveloping readers.  The color palette in each is reflective of the season, darkness and quiet and lightness and sounds of awakening.  On the front of the dust jacket for William's Winter Nap William is happily sharing his bed with the first four animal companions.  They are all blissfully unaware of Bear's arrival.  The scene on the front of the dust jacket for William Wakes Up shows the animals exactly as they were featured in the final image in the first book.  The light outside the window is significantly brighter.  On the back of each dust jacket an interior scene is highlighted in a framed circle.  On the front of both dust jackets the title text is varnished and raised.

Both book cases are different than the dust jackets.  On the first a portion of the quilt on William's spans both the front and the back crossing the spine.  On the companion title in pastel shades of green, yellow, blue and pink with white is a meadow filled with grass, ferns and flowers.  It covers both the front and the back.  The opening and closing endpapers are in purple with white snowflakes in this first book.  In spring green with white, a pattern of tiny ferns and flowers covers the opening and closing endpapers in William Wakes Up.

Beneath the title text William's home is shown in a soft geometric shape, one in winter and the other in spring. Beneath the dedication Chuck Groenink places a circular picture featuring an important character.  Illustration sizes vary between full-page pictures, double-page visuals in loose shapes, loose circle shapes on single pages, images placed on liberal amounts of white space and dramatic two-page pictures.  Chuck Groenink shifts the perspective for maximum emphasis. 

Readers will be keenly aware of the animals' and William's moods based upon their eyes and body postures.  There is humor in these same elements, too.  Readers will enjoy noticing all the extra details.

Two (one from each book) of my many, many favorite illustrations are when the Raccoon comes to the window in the winter and when Porcupine wakes up in the spring.  In the first one it's as if we are outside with Raccoon.  The night is painted in purples and blues. Large flakes of snow are falling on already snow-coated evergreens, the tree branches extending to William's window and the roofs of his home.  We can see the back of Raccoon, a tiny figure perched on the tree branch.  William is peeking out from the lighted window.  This is a single-page picture.

The second illustration spans two pages. On a white background with the floor running along the bottom, William's bed and a small chest next to it are placed.  William is on the left with his hands and arms up and open as he calls out for the animals to wake up.  Chipmunk is mirroring his motions and voice while standing on Bear's head.  The bed extends from the middle of the left side to the right, almost to the edge. Bear, Badger and Raccoon are sound asleep.  Porcupine climbs down one of Bear's arms hanging over the side of the bed.  Badger is on top of the quilt covering Bear with another quilt on top of him.  Raccoon is at the other end of the bed, snoring.

Story time, bedtime or anytime, these two books, William's Winter Nap and William Wakes Up written by Linda Ashman with pictures by Chuck Groenink, will have readers asking for you to read them again and again.  They will joyfully learn the refrains to read or chant them along with you.  Both books would make wonderful readers' theaters.  I highly recommend them both for your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Linda Ashman and Chuck Groenink and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Linda includes extra images from the first and second books.  Chuck includes illustrations from the first book on his site. The publisher supplies an educator's guide for William's Winter Nap and William Wakes Up.  Both Linda Ashman and Chuck Groenink have accounts on TwitterChuck Groenink has an account on Instagram.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson showcases the first book at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  There is an author's post about publishing and these books at Picture Book Builders by Linda Ashman.

Monday, February 11, 2019

A Universal Connection

Each month during the new moon going outside very late at night or very early in the morning, when the rest of the world is sleeping, the number of stars spread across the darkened, cloudless sky is spectacular.  It's a display only Mother Nature can produce.  If you are fortunate one of those stars will decide it's time for you to make a wish.  They will fall arching toward the horizon.

There are those who gaze at those stars and wonder what it would be like to walk among them, much as you would wander through a meadow of daisies.  Stardust (Nosy Crow, an imprint of Candlewick Press, February 12, 2019) written by Jeanne Willis with illustrations by Briony May Smith is a tale of a little girl who dreams of stars.  She is also searching for something everyone needs. 

When I was little,
I wanted to be a star.

The members of her family thought her older sister was a star.  When her sister found a precious lost item, made something and won a contest, she received top-notch praise.  The younger child could not seem to earn that kind of recognition. 

In fact, after her most recent loss, she burst into tears.  That night sitting outside and watching the stars, our protagonist wished out loud to be one of them.  Her grandfather heard her. 

He told her she was already a star.  In a story to her he offered an explanation as to this truth.  He took her back, back, back in time.  There was nothing.  Slowly he brought her forward describing how everything and everyone was and is connected by stardust. 

She asked him another question.  His answer warmed her on the inside, until she sparkled on the outside.  She never stopped. 

With her first sentence author Jeanne Willis invites readers to remember past wishes and hold fresh wishes in their hearts.  She continues by showing us several examples, three, where the little girl feels like her dream of being a star is never going to come true.  By having the grandfather offer support and a special story to his granddaughter, this narrative bridges generations.   Weaving dialogue into the first-person narrative makes it more personal for us.  Here is a passage.

When Nana showed us how to
knit, the scarf I made for Granddad
was full of holes.

But the scarf my sister made for Nana wasn't.
"It's perfect.  You little star!"
said Nana.

Rendered in mixed media by Briony May Smith, the illustrations, beginning with the open matching dust jacket and book case, radiate warmth and a golden light.  The scene on the front, right, extends over the spine with the trunk of the tree reaching into the lower left-hand corner.  Additional delicate flowers in shades of blue spring up near the trunk.  In the distance nearby homes dot the hillside, windows gleaming in the night.  The title text and a ribbon of stars on the front of the dust jacket are done in silver foil.

On the opening and closing endpapers the darker yellow-orange color becomes the canvas.  Prior to the verso and title pages, the little girl is place on a creamy white background, seated and reading an astronomy book.  She is wearing her star-shaped barrettes.   On the verso and title pages a pathway leads into the hillside community at night.  It's done in hues of blue, green, white and yellow.

Each of the images span double-pages, reaching out and wrapping around readers.  They are familial scenes with parents, grandparents and the two daughters.  In one we enjoy a backyard picnic with a swing hanging from the big tree.  Careful readers will see a black cat in several of the pictures.  Many of the illustrations have at least one book in them. 

When Granddad is telling his story, the settings in space, the sea and a jungle are breathtaking.  The featured children and their parents come from diverse backgrounds.  Another thing not mentioned in the text but added by Briony May Smith is the gift Granddad gives to his younger granddaughter.  This is a beautiful extension of the story.  We see him carrying something when he hears her making the wish.  It isn't until her final question and his answer we see it opened and laying on the nighttime meadow.  Readers will be fascinated with all the details found in every visual. 

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Granddad and the little girl are under the sea.  Across two pages Briony May Smith has placed sea creatures of all shapes and sizes in shimmering colors of yellow, green, blue and purple.  There are mammals, dolphins, with sea turtles and jellyfish.  A shaft of light shines on the single word of text.  Granddad is stretched out with his legs crossed and his arms behind his head.  A smile tugs on his mouth.  He is wearing the holey scarf.  The little girl is extending her nose to give a nuzzle to a dolphin.  I love how Granddad and his granddaughter are wearing their ordinary clothes in all these special settings.

Who has not felt less than they should in a family, classroom or community setting?  Stardust written by Jeanne Willis with illustrations by Briony May Smith allows readers to see we all have something special to offer this world.  We have the potential to make our dreams come true, even if we want to be a star.  This is a welcome addition to your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Jeanne Willis and Briony May Smith and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Briony May Smith maintains an account on Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter.  At Nosy Crow and Candlewick Press you can view interior images.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Of Pasta, Pachyderms and Power

Pasta is one of those wholly sensory words.  Whether you see the word or forms of pasta, hear it spoken, smell it cooking or served, taste it in its many shapes and sizes and in an array of combinations with other ingredients or touch it, cooked or uncooked, it generates an emotion.  It calls forth memories.  It transports us to other places and other times or inspires future culinary endeavors.

One thing pasta might have never done before is encourage resistance.  Noodlephant (Enchanted Lion Books, February 12, 2019) written by Jacob Kramer with illustrations by K-Fai Steele shows readers how a love of pasta provides a persistent elephant and her group of friends with necessary courage.  Their inventiveness triumphs!

Once there was an elephant who loved noodles.  She loved noodles so much that all her friends called her Noodlephant.

As you can imagine an elephant can consume quite a bit of noodles.  This elephant had all kinds of neighbors in the community where she lived.  One group, though, was unlike any of the others.  The kangaroos regulated relentlessly through their rules.  No one could enjoy the beach, Butterfly Garden or make laws, but kangaroos.

Noodlephant and her buddies knew this was not right, but they compensated with other activities.  They did not want to end up as residents of the Zoo.  The event they all enjoyed the most was Noodlephant's pasta parties.  Sometimes she even used her grandmother's secret sauce recipe made with mushrooms.

A pasta party was planned and Noodlephant was grocery shopping when a kangaroo stopped her.  She was breaking a new law.  Elephants could not eat noodles, only kangaroos could eat noodles.  The penalty was imprisonment in the Zoo.  At the party that evening the consuming of acacia branches was not delicious, it was a disaster.  Contemplating this state of affairs and her bellybutton, Noodlephant was struck with a brainstorm.

This pachyderm and her pals got right to work.  They conceived, they collected, and they constructed a marvelous machine.  No one, certainly not the kangaroos, was going to take away the joy they found in Noodlephant's pasta parties. Those wily kangaroos raided their party!

It did not go well for Noodlephant in the courtroom.  Worried for her well-being, her friends found a way to smuggle help into the Zoo.  The Town of Rooville had never seen before what happened next.  When many minds and hearts act as one, change will arrive.  The Town of Rooville was never the same.

Readers are initially engaged in the story with the three noticeable things the community is not allowed to do and the three things they do instead.  It's the strength of three in storytelling.   The word play, the use of alliteration and puns, by author Jacob Kramer additionally involve us in the rhythm they supply.  There is a pleasing and flawless blend of narrative and dialogue placing emphasis on important portions of the story.  We want to join in the community songs and speeches by Noodlephant, quatrains with rhyming couplets.  Here are two passages.

"Ummm," said Noodlephant, trying to stay calm, "I was thinking of a fresh batch of fettuccine?
Maybe curly cavatappi would be nice.  Or I could stretch a tangle of tagliatelle . . ."

As she was being led away, Noodlephant shouted,

Justice is for all of us,
Not just for the bossiest.
And though right now, it sounds absurd
One day, you'll want to eat your words!

If you love any kind of pasta you will immediately identify with the image of Noodlephant on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  Look at the happiness on her face! Look at the size of that bowl of noodles!  Do you notice the design on the bowl?

To the left on the back, with the same canvas shades in peach and pink, a stern kangaroo is searching in his rule book (or writing a ticket for infractions) and wearing a stick around his waist.  Framing him is a series of seven different pasta meals with noodles ribboned between most of them.  The serving dishes are varied, too.

On the opening and closing endpapers artist K-Fai Steele has painted in black and white (and hues of gray) a map of the Town of Rooville with a visible distinction on the closing endpapers.  Around a steaming plate of pasta labeled Exhibit B beneath the text on the title page are the same pasta dishes as seen on the back of the jacket and case.  Readers will smile to see the tip of an elephant trunk appearing on the right side.

Rendered in watercolor all the illustrations are fully animated and filled with details asking readers to pause.  The expressive eyes and body postures convey joy, rudeness, dismay, fear, sadness, resolve, anger, kindness and contentment.  The image sizes shift from full-page, to double-page to small vignettes on a single page; each contributing to pacing.  The alternating points-of-view assist in emphasis.

One of my many favorite pictures spans two pages.  It is a forest scene with a pathway winding through leafy branches, trees and tree trunks.  Another trunk extends from the left side as Noodlephant seeks and sniffs out a singular ingredient.  Mushrooms, looking like morels, are growing from the forest floor on the right.  There is something wonderful and funny about this pictorial moment.

This book, Noodlephant written by Jacob Kramer with illustrations by K-Fai Steele, is in a category all by itself.  It's about making necessary changes.  It's about speaking out against injustice.  It's about a love of pasta, too.  You could pair this with other pasta books like Strega Nona for a delicious story time and a comparison.  It would be a great companion for The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet if seeking to stress the value of making your voice heard.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

If you wish to discover more about Jacob Kramer and K-Fai Steele and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Both Jacob Kramer and K-Fai Steele have accounts on Twitter. K-Fai Steele has an account on Instagram.  The cover reveal with a Q & A is found on teacher librarian Travis Jonker's 100 Scope Notes, School Library Journal.  Jacob Kramer and K-Fai Steele visit with author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to discuss process and art.  You can view more interior illustrations at the publisher's website.

Noodlephant — Book Trailer from Enchanted Lion on Vimeo.