Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

New Spring, New Life

You usually hear them before you see them. As one of the oldest living bird species, the call seems nearly out of place and time.  As you lift your head and scan the skies, you seek a unique silhouette.  There is apt to be a wing span of six to seven feet, graceful long legs trail behind the body.

If you are fortunate, they can be seen forging in fields or gliding across a watery expanse.  Hello, I'm Here (Candlewick Press, March 20, 2019) written by Helen Frost with photography by Rick Lieder is the most recent collaboration by these outstanding artists.  It's a poetic and visual portrait of a sandhill crane's entry into the world.

It's getting crowded 
inside this egg.

The voice of an unborn sandhill crane chick speaks directly with fervent truth.  It's hard to move any body parts when you've grown too large for your current residence.  There are so many questions in this young mind needing answers, so a tiny beak starts to peck.

Out of the shell, the newborn cries for company.  Where are its parents?  Next to a parent the tiny bundle of fluff wonders if its legs will allow it to stand.  Are they sturdy?  Walking around taking tentative steps, the bird notices another youngster, a sibling.

The newborn follows the older baby, the duo wanders around the shore, exploring the area and the use of their legs and wings.  Mama advises them of dangers.  She shows the baby the best things to eat.  A flock of cranes glide by overhead and wishes of flight fill a young heart.  All this activity means it's time for a nap.

With insight perfected from her keen and practiced observation skills Helen Frost brings us along to appreciate the first days in the life of a sandhill crane.  Told through the voice of the chick, eleven four-line verses present an intimate impression.  The final word in the second and fourth lines rhyme with a gentle and joyful cadence.  Here are four lines.

We flap our wings.
We try to dance.
Let's go swimming---
here's our chance.

The photography of Rick Lieder on the front and back of the dust jacket is the initial wondrous glimpse of what the interior pictures will depict.  You have to wonder how many hours were spent and how many photographs were taken to get the perfect presentation of the chick with the open beak, nestled in the mother's feathers.  To the left, on the back, a tiny chick is cautiously walking in grass.  Its head is turned as something has captured its attention.

On the book case, in spring green, the sandhill crane chicks, walking side-by-side are embossed and raised on the front. On the opening endpapers in a field the baby is walking from the left to the parent on the right.  Of the parent we see legs and a head and neck bent and ready to receive the child.  In shades of purple and blue, dusk is falling, and clouds move across a moonrise on the closing endpapers.  Framed between darkened evergreens, four cranes fly to the right.

Most of the eloquent images span two pages.  The single-page pictures flow together seamlessly as if they were taken mere seconds apart.  Most of the photographs are close-ups which give readers a more personal experience.  The color, definition of details and lighting are breathtakingly exquisite.  The layout and design with respect to the picture sizes and placement of the text is superb.

One of my many, many favorite photographs spans two pages.  Most of the background is a blurred dark green due to focus and perspective.  Walking along a line of a lighter color on the bottom are the two chicks and a parent.  We are very close to the chicks.  On each one of them a leg is raised, poised for the next step.  To their right are the tall legs of an adult, also in mid-step.

There is no better way to welcome this wonderful season of spring than with new life after the long, cold and snowy winter.  Hello, I'm Here! written by Helen Frost with photographs by Rick Lieder is certain to be a favorite story time book whether read one-on-one or to a group.  I know there will be requests for it to be read again.  It will promote further investigations into the study of young animal babies, birds and sandhill cranes.  At the close of the book is a page devoted to more information about these distinctive birds.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Helen Frost and Rick Lieder and their other work, please explore their websites by following the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image.  It is an incredible captured moment.  Please enjoy the book trailer.  I have included further websites and a video to be used along with this book.  You can get more information at All About Birds, Songbird Protection Coalition (This article addresses the discussion surrounding making them a game bird in the state of Michigan.), Michigan Audubon and International Crane Foundation.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Always The Light

Sometimes it feels more like home than home.  It's as if all the stories, real and imagined, are cloaking you in complete comfort.  For centuries this space has been a sanctuary; a sanctuary always worth saving.

Our libraries, public, academic, school and personal, whether housing 168 million items like the largest library in the world, The Library of Congress or a shelf in a home holding a few treasured volumes, represent our ability to rise to new heights.  The Library of Ever (Imprint, Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, April 30, 2019) written by Zeno Alexander takes us on a search for something we are unaware we need.  It asks and answers questions.  It leaves us with thoughts to ponder.  Nothing in eleven-year- old Lenora's life will ever be the same again.  Do you dare to have your life change, too?

Lenora was wretchedly unhappy.

Her parents on a global tour have left her with an inattentive nanny intent on turning every day into a shopping spree.  Naturally, Lenora is dragged along in her wealthy parents' limousine, but she would much rather be in any other place offering her mental stimulation.  When they make an unexpected stop at the library, it's a golden opportunity for Lenora.

Having slipped away from her absentminded au pair, Lenora first comes to the assistance of another child being bullied by a strange man wearing unusual attire and claiming to be a librarian.   She then suddenly finds herself standing in front of an enormous stone entry where there was previously a blank wall.  Above the archway the words read


A tall, tall woman, obviously someone in charge, comes up to Lenora as she is trying to take in the sight around her.  In this place there are bookshelves lining the walls beyond visibility above and below her as she stands on a bridge spanning a tower.  After answering four crucial questions from the woman with the emphatic words, I do, Lenora finds herself hired as a Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian.

Well, readers, hang on to your proverbial hats.  In each room, of this collection of all knowledge in the universe, in which Lenora finds herself, those four crucial questions she answered assist her as she travels through space and time, battles the worst kind of enemy imaginable repeatedly, sails seas in a row boat on a gigantic globe, shrinks and unshrinks herself (How else can she help ants and tardigrades?), assumes the shape of an animal to find that which is lost and suffers the fate of falling into an frightening trap.

From one breathtaking adventure into the next, continually followed by malevolent forces, Lenora, using what she knows and what she learns, barely survives.  A lost soul adds frightening information to the girl's daring assignments.  With an astonishing blend of action, the final chapter reveals a mind-blowing cliffhanger loaded with anticipation.

The mysterious author Zeno Alexander, traveler of history and world libraries and provider of exquisite dinner parties and caretaker of extinct plants writes with sure knowledge based upon his friendship with Lenora.  With adept descriptions this entire narrative plays like a movie in your mind.  We are keenly aware of every moment through the mix of Lenora's thoughts and the characters' conversations.  We experience amazement, increasing confidence, unbelievable circumstances and chilling adversaries.  No one will look at librarians in quite the same way again; unless, of course, you are a librarian.  Here are some passages.

"But wouldn't it make more sense for me to 
work on things I already know about?" Lenora
"Not at all!" Malachi arched one eyebrow.
"Whyever would you want to do THAT? You'd
learn absolutely nothing!"

She looked up at the skylight.  She thought the
sun would keep the room comfortable.  But the sun,
didn't seem to be shining anymore. In fact, out of
nowhere, dark clouds had gathered high in the sky.

That still didn't explain the cold, which was
getting worse by the second.  Patrons were beginning
to look around with concern, muttering about
the temperature.

Lenora thought perhaps she could find a thermostat 
somewhere and turn up the heat.  She peered
beneath the desk.

And then she heard something.
A muffled crash, far away among the stacks.
And she thought:
Something fell.
Other than that crash, everything was quiet.
The usual busy library sounds had gone dead silent.

. . ."I thought you were wise enough to
understand that children must be discouraged
from asking questions that will make them curious
and fretful.  Perhaps I overestimated you.  After all,
you're just a child yourself."
"Maybe," said Lenora, with equal frost.  "But
I'm also a librarian.  And I'm not going to hide the
truth from anyone."

Are there action-packed feats? Indeed, there are.  Is there a cast of out-of-this world characters?  Without a doubt there are.  Are there profound truths woven into this tale of Lenora about light versus dark, the power of knowledge and the utmost need to protect it? Yes! Yes! Yes!  These things in this book, The Library Of Ever written by Zeno Alexander, the first title in a new series will appeal to a wide range of readers of many ages.  I highly recommend this book for your professional and personal collections. 

To learn more about Zeno Alexander please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  He maintains accounts of Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can read an excerpt. There is an activity guide here.  This interview of Zeno Alexander at The Winged Pen gives you insight into his personality.  We're in for quite a ride, readers.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A Parental Pause

As an educator in an elementary school you are privy to all sorts of student announcements.  As soon as they enter your classroom, if they have news, it will eagerly burst forth from their lips.  One of their favorite declarations is the birth of a new member in their family.

Most of them wear the cloak of mentorship with pride. They are happy to be the newly christened older sister or brother.  They acknowledge the changes already happening in their home.  Babymoon (Candlewick Press, April 2, 2019) written by Hayley Barrett with illustrations by Juana Martinez-Neal (Alma and How She Got Her Name) is dedicated to the precious time when parents and their new child are becoming acquainted and building a relationship.

The house is hushed.  The lights are low.
We're basking in a newborn glow.

The note we post says SEE YOU SOON.

Baby, mother and father are on their babymoon.  They ease into the morning, snoozing when they can.  Time is taken to read stories and play games.  Every little baby moment and movement is a cherished delight.

Before a snuggling noon nap, the trio share a special sweet treat.  Upon waking, it's warm water, soap and suds, it's bath time for baby.  Putting on the diaper is tricky for unpracticed parental hands.

Every gesture by mother and father is cozy and comforting, done with care.  The trio is pleasantly surprised at all the newness.  Hours pass until the day is coming to a close.  Night nestles around the home.  A lullaby is softly sung.

When the next day dawns, the joy begins anew.  There will be stories, naps, games, naps, baths, naps, diaper changes and lullabies to greet another night.  For mother, father and baby it's the bliss of their babymoon.

The gentle, soothing words penned by Hayley Barrett envelope readers with the first alliterative sentence.  This sense of serenity is continued with each rhyming embrace.  Every two lines, on each page turn, creates a calming cadence.  To complete this feeling of freshly acquired harmony Hayley Barrett closes using the same two rhyming words as she did in the beginning; we are part of a loving circle.  Here are two more sentences.

Our long-awaited dream---is you.
Amazed at all we thought we knew.

The words of this beautiful ode are elevated on the front of the dust jacket.  It's circles within circles; the mother cradling the child and the father wrapping his arms around them both.  Small circles, moons, are carefully placed around the trio.  The color palette, medium choices, line work and brush strokes combine to supply us with tranquility.  To the left, on the back, the family dog is curled around the family cat as the duo peacefully sleep.

On a lighter canvas large circles in varying shades of soft yellow pattern the back and front of the book case.  In the center of the front, tucked in a tiny yellow and white-striped blanket is the baby.  Eyes closed and hands clasped the baby sleeps among the moons.

A light hue of golden yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Rendered in acrylic, colored pencil, and graphite on handmade textured paper the illustrations by Juana Martinez-Neal are a delicate portrait encompassing affection.  In the first of her double-page images we see the family's home.  A clothesline stretches from the house to a tree.  Hanging from the tree is a tire swing.  The sign reading SEE YOU SOON is three boards attached together by string.  A bird's nest is on the porch roof.  Vines grow around the doorway.  Everything about this picture says this is a happy homes full of hospitality.

Throughout the book, the double-page pictures on heavier, matte-finished paper are filled with exquisite details (and hints of Juana Martinez-Neal's birth country).  The facial features as each person gazes at the other are brimming with love.  Each visual has curves of compassion in them.  The line of the cat's tail follows the shape of the father's head.  The curve of the dog's body follows the curve of the rug and curve of the father's arms around the baby.  The presence of the cat and dog in the home and their place around the baby indicate the thoughtful and tender nature of the parents.

One of my many, many favorite pictures takes place in the kitchen in front of a big window and a row of lower cupboards.  In the corner of the window on the sill is a short, round vase full of flowers.  On the counter are two cups of tea.  Perched on the corner is the cat, watching. The mother has the sleeping baby cupped in her arms.  The father is holding a piece of birth day cake on a plate in one hand and feeding the mother a piece with the other hand.  The dog is intently staring hoping a crumb will drop.

Everything about this book, Babymoon written by Hayley Barrett with illustrations by Juana Martinez-Neal, makes it one to cherish.  It welcomes with infinite kindness and wonder the arrival of a baby.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional book shelves.  This title is certain to become a family treasure.

To learn more Hayley Barrett and Juana Martinez-Neal and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Hayley Barrett has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Juana Martinez-Neal has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image.  At Penguin Random House you are given a peek of the first few page turns.  Hayley Barrett and Juana Martinez-Neal are guests on The Children's Book Podcast with Matthew Winner.  Hayley Barrett is interviewed about her work and this book at Picture Book Builders.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson features the book at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

UPDATE:  Juana Martinez-Neal is featured at author and school librarian Carter Higgins' site, Design Of The Picture Book, on May 7, 2019.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Woof-Tastic Treats For National Poetry Month

All you have to do is gaze upon the face of a dog and know there is much more to them than meets the eye.  Science tells us of their extra special sensory skills.  Increasingly we are learning more about how their minds work.  History tells us of their amazing feats.  But the looks they give us, their body language and even the way they sigh, tell us how their souls transcend known facts.

In 2019 two books focusing on dogs and poetry were released.  The first Bark in the Park!: Poems for Dog Lovers (Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., March 26, 2019) written by Avery Corman with pictures by Hyewon Yum takes us on a stroll through a variety of breeds.  Their characteristics are praised in lyrical phrases and animated images.

Afghan Hound
Although he's noble and aloof,
He's still a dog, so he still says, "Woof!"

In the initial poem of thirty-eight, even if we've never seen an Afghan Hound, we know this is a regal dog in their demeanor.  For the next few poems dogs are presented in alphabetical order, most with four-line poems.  Then among the presentation of Boxer and Bulldog, a poem about a Pug appears.  This is exactly what you can expect from dogs.  They don't care about alphabetical order.

Next the size of a Great Dane is compared to that of a Chihuahua. A Cocker Spaniel with ears flapping like wings runs near a Bedlington Terrier.  Did you know they look like a sheep?  Several other terriers, Bull, Smooth Fox and Jack Russell, strut their stuff, muscle, moxie and a whiz.

Lovable but nevertheless canines with strong dispositions, the German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher and Rottweiler are skillfully described.  We walk by dogs who love the water, those who bring back items and people. like the Labrador Retriever and Newfoundland.  Dogs who cuddle, race and rescue lead us home.  Then and there, we get to enjoy our own special furry friends, of all shapes, sizes and ages.

As a debut picture book author Avery Corman, better known for his adult titles, is first in show with his two and four-line poems.  Clearly, he has studied each breed he presents portraying their distinguishing personalities with keen insight.  All his two-line poems rhyme or use repetition.  Of his four-line poems you are never sure what kind of rhyming scheme will be used or if repetition will be part of the form his poems take.  Here are two more poems.

Jack Russell Terrier
She's going to catch any ball you toss her.
The Russell fetches like a whiz.
She doesn't like any dog to boss her.
She thinks she's bigger than she is.

Saint Bernard
The Saint Bernard is helpful.
She'll help you in a snap.
But if she wants to take a nap,
She won't fit in your lap.

The image spanning from left to right, on the open and matching dust jacket and book case, shows a gathering of many different breeds of dogs focused on the little girl, looking at each other or at readers.  This moment is magical for it's highly unlikely all those dogs would ever sit there quietly unless it's someone whose heart matches their own.  This scene is an invitation to join the dogs and this girl on their daily adventures.  The child and her guardian/parent are in every illustration throughout the book.

On the opening and closing endpapers all thirty-eight dogs, nineteen on the front and nineteen on the back, are depicted in their very best stance.  Each one is labeled.  On the title page a portion of an interior image is used.  It's a boy taking a yellow ball from the mouth of his Labrador Retriever.

Artist Hyewon Yum, like the author, has surely studied each of these breeds.  She has rendered them is all their perfection.  It's wonderful how the humans and their dogs match.  Children are everywhere in the illustrations being their charming selves.  We begin the visuals with homes along a street.  The little girl and her guardian/parent are walking down their steps as the Afghan Hound walks by with two humans, the younger one is much more interested in two squirrels. At the end of the book we are back at the home but Hyewon Yum brings us close to the open doorway and porch steps.

Each page turn reveals a double-page picture from a variety of perspectives.  Each is like a map of the walk taken by the little girl as we travel through the community and the park.  Individuals and their dogs in one picture will appear in the next picture.  It's great fun to notice all the details.

One of my many favorite illustrations shows students boarding a school bus.  A Border Collie is trying to keep the little gals and guys in line.  One student hanging on to the hand of the teacher is pointing to a squirrel. (Squirrels are in a lot of pictures.)  The squirrel is standing up with arms and paws folded in front of him.  Across the street the little girl is walking with her guardian/parent in one direction.  In the other direction a lady with her Collie is waiting to cross.  They appear in the next picture.  This image, like all of them, are in full, bright colors with delicate line work.

On April 2, 2019 Thinker My Puppy Poet And Me (Sourcebooks, Jabberwocky) written by Eloise Greenfield with pictures by Ehsan Abdollahi was released. As previously stated, there is more to dogs, especially this dog, than science can tell us.  There is a secret this dog and his owner share.

Naming Me
They brought me from the neighbor's house
and put me on the floor,
they talked about their love for me,
and I thought, "More! More! More!

I kept my eyes from opening,
I kept my voice on mute,
until I heard somebody say,
"Let's name him something cute."

That's all this puppy needs to hear before he starts to talk.  His boy named Jace hears him and knows him to be a poet.  That's why he is named Thinker.  In fifteen more poems Thinker and Jace poetically reveal their lives in this new family situation.

After his welcome party, Thinker and Jace, have a serious conversation about their ability to communicate with poems.  For Thinker without speaking in poems, everything else is a series of barks and woofs.  The twosome tackle life's mysteries together but Thinker simply does not understand why he has to stay home when Jace goes to school.  (He does enjoy Kimmy, Jace's little sister.)

Wherever they go, Thinker must remember to not recite poems.  One day, Thinker is told tomorrow is Pets' Day at school.  He gets to go with Jace, but he must promise not to talk.  Do you think he can keep that promise?  What do you think will happen if the promise is broken?

These poems written by Eloise Greenfield can be read repeatedly and the spirited wonder of each one never fades.  Each one has a special cadence through word choices, rhyming, and poetic styles like free verse, haiku and a rousing rap.  Some are in the voice of Thinker and others have Jace speaking.  Readers will leave each reading believing in the truth of Thinker and his best friend, Jace, and wanting to meet them both.  Here is a poem by Thinker.

Birds Fly
Birds fly,
flap their wings,
and touch the sky.
Why can't I just
wag my tail
and sail?

Rendered using handmade and hand-colored paper. . .to create the collage art all the images, beginning on the open and matching dust jacket and book case, convey the warm and happy affection between this boy and his dog and his family.  This display of bright colors with the white title text on the blue background greets readers and asks us to open this book.  To the left, on the back, Jace and Thinker are looking at us from behind a wall.  Their expressions convey they have a secret and we are about to be a party to it.

A gorgeous illustration is spread across the opening and closing endpapers.  On a pale blue sky canvas along the bottom are varying shades of pink blossoms with spots of yellow. Thinker on the left is running through them. Blossoms billow into the air as a lovely, vividly-hued swallow takes flight on the right.

Each visual spans a full-page or double-page.  We are usually close to the characters in the poems.  This gives a more intimate feel to each image.  The eyes on the people are beautiful, large and expressive.  The collage work of Ehsan Abdollahi is so exquisite we feel as though each scene will burst into life at any moment.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the poem titled Two Poets Talking.  It is set in the neighborhood.  Three little girls are playing outside in the grass in front of shrubs and a large tree.  One of them is Kimmy.  On the right, closer to readers, Jace is seated on porch steps.  Thinker is nestled between his legs with his front paws on Jace's chest.  The boy has his hands gently cupping Thinker's head.

Bark in the Park!: Poems for Dog Lovers written by Avery Corman with picture by Hyewon Yum and Thinker: My Puppy Poet And Me written by Eloise Greenfield with pictures by Ehsan Abdollahi are books that must be shared with readers one-on-one or aloud with a group.  They will appeal to a wide range of ages.  I highly recommend them for your professional and personal collections especially for National Poetry Month and Pet Month.  They are a splendid display of poetry, pets and pictorial portraits.  At the close of Thinker: My Puppy Poet And Me Eloise Greenfield has written a letter to readers.

To learn more about Hyewon Yum, Eloise Greenfield and Ehsan Abdollahi and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access personal or professional websites highlighting them.  Hyewon Yum has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Eloise Greenfield has an account on Twitter.  Ehsan Abdollahi has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Eloise Greenfield is interviewed at The Horn Book, CSK Blog and the Center for the Collaborative Classroom.  Enjoy the videos.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Searching For Sound

There are those clever and inventive few who can take apart any kind of gadget and put it back together with no extra parts.  They are also able to take bits and pieces from a collection of devices no longer working and make something else entirely new.  The most wondrous thing of all is this innovative contraption works like a dream; doing exactly what they designed it to do.

When individuals like this have the added gift for making melodious sounds, something special is added to the world.  Guitar Genius: How Les Paul Engineered The Solid-Body Electric Guitar And Rocked The World (Chronicle Books, April 9, 2019) written by Kim Tomsic with illustrations by Brett Helquist recounts the life of a man who genuinely enhanced the field of music, specifically guitar music.  At an early age his talent for making something out of nothing was apparent.

In a three-story schoolhouse near the Fox River in Waukesha, Wisconsin, children scrambled into the music room.

One student in particular, Les, loved making sounds on all the instruments even though he couldn't read a line of music.  One day after school, his music teacher, pinned a note for his mother on his shirt.  His mother ripped it up, telling Lester he could do anything he believed he could do.  (The teacher said he would never be musical.)

First Lester built his own crystal set when he saw the one built by a neighborhood friend.  Then he saved money from his paper route and bought his first guitar.  He learned to play through practicing and practicing and practicing.  He was so good; he was invited to play on a radio show.  His next invention was to build a recording lathe.  By listening to his recordings, he could make necessary improvements.

Every time Lester wanted his music to be better, he built something to make this happen.  Using a hanger he crafted a gizmo so he could play both sides of his harmonica while playing his guitar.  He figured out how to make sure those in the back of a crowd could hear him as well as those in the front.  His next innovation would be one of his best.

At seventeen he started road travel as Rhubarb Red.  By the time he was in his early twenties he formed a band called the Les Paul Trio.  By twenty-four he performed at the White House for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  It was now time to put into action an idea he's tossed and turned around in his mind for a lot of years.

With the help of a night watchman at the Epiphone guitar factory Les Paul built his dream.  He had to make modifications, but it was the sound he wanted.  So did his audiences.  This man never stopped crafting those things which made music better.  (Even in the year of his death (2009) at the age of ninety-four, he still received an honor; one of many during his lifetime.)

The meticulous research this author, Kim Tomsic, did is evident in the personal elements included in the narrative.  Her word choices are a reflection of sounds and rhythms.  Dialogue is placed within the body of the book; making us feel as though we are walking side-by-side with Les Paul.  Kim Tomsic also uses terms common to the historic period by having Les Paul say hot dog when he is thrilled with an accomplishment.  Here are two passages.

He scrutinized the family's newfangled gizmos, tinkering in his mother's living room and his father's garage.  And then he took everything apart---things like the phonograph, the player piano, the telephone, and the radio.
"Ma," his big brother hollered.  "The kid's at it again!"
"Leave him alone, Ralph," his mother said.  "He's just trying to learn." 

It worked!  Harmonica sounds floated from one radio speaker---bazzooie-buzzlebahhh.  Guitar strumming amplified from the other radio speaker---strum-twang, strum twaaaaang. EVERYONE could hear.  It was a smashing success!  Almost.  The problem was it wasn't just strings vibrating---the hollow space in the middle of the guitar vibrated, too, making the speaker echo and screeeeeeeeeech.

One of the first things you notice about the open and matching dust jacket and book case is the color palette.  It has a kind of retro aspect to it.  Every element complements another element.  I like the word stereo along the top framed by arrows as if this is a record album.  Arrows frame the word Guitar Genius on the spine, too.  Notice on the front how the pieces of the guitar are separated.  Artist Brett Helquist does this frequently within the book, clearly showing us how Les Paul put his inventions together.  (Sometimes the parts are labeled.)

To the left, on the back, the same teal covers the canvas.  Within yellow circles we see Les Paul at work on one of his creations.  Certain items in the images break the borders.  The yellow on the jacket and case is used for the opening and closing endpapers.

Rendered in oil paint on watercolor paper the illustrations span full pages, double pages and sometimes are smaller and circular on white space.  The technique Brett Helquist uses for the guitar sounds is a series of circles set in other colored circles.  For the music from Les Paul's harmonica lovely-hued waves are presented.

The facial features on the people are signature Brett Helquist work with distinguishing eyes, noses and mouths.  They are lively.  Readers will enjoy observing the clothing, architecture, inside and outside, in keeping with the historic settings.

One of my many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  Les Paul has just figured out how he can play both sides of his harmonica and his guitar at the same time.  He is wearing the device for his harmonica.  The harmonica rests in his mouth.  He is strumming his guitar with one hand as he moves the other on the frets.  His eyes are closed in concentration and pure bliss.  Beautiful circles and waves of color burst forth from the guitar and harmonica.

Guitar Genius: How Les Paul Engineered The Solid-Body Electric Guitar And Rocked The World written by Kim Tomsic with illustrations by Brett Helquist is informative, entertaining and will have you wishing you played guitar.  This man's achievements truly did rock the world of music.  Kim Tomsic has a three-page author's note at the end along with a list of works cited.  You will want to have this in your professional and personal collections especially for those with an appreciation for music and who love all aspects of music. 

To learn more about Kim Tomsic and Brett Helquist and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Kim Tomsic has accounts on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Brett Helquist has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Here is a link to The Les Paul Foundation and their take on this title.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the titles selected this week by others participating in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Harnessing A Power

Despite the order in which they are placed, forward, backward or all jumbled up, this team of twenty-six is unbeatable.  When they go against any adversary, they will emerge victorious.  They can harbor mysteries.  They can comfort, heal and save.  They can move quickly and quietly or if necessary, they can roar like a lion.  They remain steadfast but are fluid enough to function for the well-being of multitudes.  This team of twenty-six are the letters of our alphabet.

They can work individually but function superbly in certain combinations.  Anyone can weld their power.  The Magic of Letters (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, April 23, 2019) written by Tony Johnston with art by Wendell Minor is abracadabra!




When you
they open

We learn at an early age to form the sound for each letter.  We say them over and over, chanting their names.  Soon we arrange them to make our name.  We say this over and over, chanting it like a miracle.

Letters can be used to represent strength.  A single word can stand for a foundation on which great things are made.  These foundations are timeless and true.

Other words made with the magic of letters describe a specific movement, a noise or the way something feels when we touch it.  Still more words make us laugh, hungry or take us into another world.  It's delightful to say them out loud.  What can we create if we connect them together?

As we use letters to build words, and then more words, and then, even more words, we can make creative and crazy and compassionate connections.  We can read creative, crazy and compassionate connections written by others.  In this the magic of letters is revealed.

There is something about the word magic which causes us to pause. Sometimes without even knowing we are doing it, we hold our breaths in anticipation.  With her first three words author Tony Johnston takes us into that pause.  Unlike many magicians, she discloses the secrets of the magic of letters. 

She walks readers through learning each letter, then using those letters to make a series of single words describing anything you can imagine but she doesn't stop there.  Her narrative continues by taking those words to complete thoughts.  She shows us how the magic works with examples.  Here is a passage.

Letters hold
If you swinkle
them sweetly,
new words
like swinkle.

If you are familiar with the artwork of Wendell Minor (Daylight Starlight Wildlife, Wild Orca: The oldest, wisest whale in the world, or Night Train, Night Train) you realize looking at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, the illustrations for this book are stunningly different.  Yet on close examination, the line work we've come to appreciate is present.  Rendered with graphite on paper and digital tools these images take readers on a journey between imagination and reality.

To begin, a rabbit and a black top hat are synonymous with magic.  In this instance the rabbit is the magician as letters spill from the black hat and scatter.  For most of the illustrations throughout the book, the crisp white canvas used on the jacket and case is continued.  It showcases the other elements with excellence.  To the left, on the back, the spectacle-clad rabbit is taking a bow as two words form from inside the hat.  Can you guess what they are?

On the opening and closing endpapers, the vivid hue in the title text is used as the color.  On the initial title page, the rabbit, in front of the hat, is looking up and holding the letter "g".  Other letters spill off the right edge and continue to scatter, left to right, across the formal title page.  With a page turn the first two sentences are placed between the ears of the rabbit as he looks eagerly and straight at the reader.  All we see is his front paws, head and ears.  (This effect is used again beautifully.)

The picture sizes vary in tandem with the pacing and narrative; spreading across two pages, full pages or partial pages.  They are whimsical, lively and as unpredictable as magic.  The rabbit drives a huge dump trunk with words spilling out the back; words like trees, heart, art, libraries, time and diversity.  Words the author calls mighty words.  For the word quesadilla, a row of smiling vegetables and fruits, bookend a portion of this delectable food which stands in place for the letter "a" in quesadilla.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It's for the phrase


Along the bottom of the page is a grassy expanse.  Brightly-colored tulips begin on the left, cross the gutter and grow to the right edge.  Among these on the right is a jack-in-the-box with a rising sun on the front.  A happy-go-lucky clown with arms and hands extended is smiling.  His suit and hat are red-and-white polka dotted.  The word flibbertigibbet is in shades of pink, orange and red and is written across both pages.

The Magic of Letters written by Tony Johnston with art by Wendell Minor is a celebration of letters, words they make and how we say, write and read them.  It is packed with power and energy.  This book can be used in a theme on alphabets, writing, reading or creativity.  You will certainly want a copy on your professional and personal book shelves.

To learn more about Wendell Minor and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  He devotes a page to this title showing several interior images.  Wendell Minor maintains an account on Twitter.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Giving Wings To Hope

From beginning to end every moment is captivating.  The characters, compelling in every respect, embody all that is right and good and true and shades of the opposite, too.  There are many places in our world literally mirroring the book's setting of mountains and mining, dense forests and valleys with rivers. At the same time these places and scores of other locations are figuratively identical in having the Dust, yellow-eyed monsters, and feeling the absence and silence of riders and weavers of light.  When you complete a captivating title with compelling characters in a scene similar to your own, or one you can easily visualize, heightened with elements of possibility, you can't turn the pages fast enough.  When you are done, the sense of triumph is so complete and sincere, you have no choice.  You must read it again. . .immediately.  And you do.

Upon the second reading, you pause and place small markers at sentences and paragraphs, profound and timeless.  Even though you know the characters, setting and plot, your sensory experience is still exquisite.  At the end, you have tears in your eyes, again.  This is the experience readers will have when reading the latest title, Over the Moon (Scholastic Press, March 26, 2019) written by Natalie Lloyd.

Once there was a girl brave enough
to draw a question mark in the
dust that covered her heart.

Mallie Ramble

Dustflights are trained to sense explosions in the Down 
Honeysuckle is my papa's Dustflight, a tiny yellow bird they give every miner in Coal Top.  When I was a little girl, Honeysuckle brought me heaps of comfort as I watched Papa walk to the mines.  I couldn't go with him to the Down Below.  But our brave yellow bird could.  She perched like a speck of plump sunshine on his shoulder.

For people living in Coal Top, on the tip of Forgotten Mountain, life is a daily drudgery of survival either working in the gold mines for boys and men or for girls and women, toiling as servants for the rich people in Windy Valley.  Twelve-year-old Mallie Ramble has completed her week's work only to be paid for two days, two Feathersworth. (Mrs. Tumbrel can do whatever she desires.)  Her oldest son, Honor Tumbrel, an entitled bully, has left more work for Mallie but also given her, and us, a hint of things to come.

Before Mallie hurries to the train platform for the ride back home, a little bit of miracle floats through an open window at the Tumbrel house.  It's a flat piece of something special, vibrant with tiny rays of color, a Starpatch.  Before the Dust settled and covered the sky, mountain people wove starlight like threads on a loom into cloth which they fashioned into all sorts of things.  This cloth gave people a sense of strength, calm and above all, hope.  There are no more weavers because there are no more stars.

Denver Ramble, Mallie's seven-year-old brother has ridden the train down to meet her.  On the hour ride back to the top, she tells him the story of the Starbirds, large wild horses with enormous wings, that used to carry weavers to the stars every night.  This was before the Dust.  This was before Dustblobs hung in trees and fell on people sucking out everything good in their hearts until they healed.  This was when Forgotten Mountain was called Bright Mountain.  This was when people were still allowed to sing.  This was before monsters with yellow eyes and shaped like nightmares roamed and slithered through the woods at night.

That evening, a terrified Mallie and Denver hide in the loft as Guardians storm into their home.  They are demanding Denver work in the mines unless the family can pay four thousand Feathersworth they owe in debt.  They have only seven days to pay it in full.  (Mallie's father is blind from an accident and he also lost his voice in the mines.)

The next morning, a flyer Honor Tumbrel left in his clothing for Mallie to wash, gives her an idea which could save her family.  She meets a childhood friend of her age, Adam Peyton, with the same flyer and idea.  Together they gather with other boys (boys only and orphans preferred) in the West Woods.  Initially the head Guardian, Mortimer Good, tells them they are to gather gold from the tops of mountains in the surrounding ranges.  These mountains are impossible to climb.  Initially he hands them only a rope and tells them to go into the woods, the woods full of monsters.  Mallie has to do this.  Each completed mission equals one thousand Feathersworth.

What the brave boys and Mallie discover in the woods is the key to the-better-than-best thing.  Mallie's new companion, and the other boys who stay with their companions, face danger beyond anything they can have imagined.  There is treachery among them.  The bond Mallie forges with her companion and her increasing skill regardless of her handicap (She's missing her right arm and hand below her elbow.) spread confidence in her mind and hope in her heart until . . . a sinister evil is revealed.  Chapter by chapter danger, hope and malevolent deeds clash until a breathtaking conclusion leaves you feeling like you are sitting beneath a cascade of fireworks.  Sometimes the hero you and everyone else needs is you.  Who will tell the tale you live?

When Natalie Lloyd writes, you want to step into her worlds.  Even when aspects of fantasy enter the story, you find yourself accepting it as real.  You expect to look up and see a Starpatch floating on the wind.  You expect to hear a noise outside your window because a Starbird wants to go for a midnight ride.  Improbable is not a word ever to be associated with a Natalie Lloyd book.

The dialogue between the characters paints pictures of their personalities.  Her mountain people have fierce loyalties and form friendships for life.  Their love places others first.

Each moment is descriptively described in distinct details.  We are there with the characters.  Here are some passages.

As the night, and the cold, presses in around us, the train circles slowly toward the town on the tip of Forgotten Mountain:  Coal Top.  I always imagine this train looking like a big steel snake.
Hissing as it climbs.
Bright eyes beaming into the darkness.
And we're all here stuck in the belly of the beast . . .
The night wind howls as it blows against the steel.  A lantern swings from the ceiling at the front of our train car, sending firelight flickers across our faces with every jolt.

And then I see it! Close to the ground, I see yellow eyes . . .two beady, bright yellow eyes with black slits in the center.  The eyes are fixed on me.  And they tilt, just slightly, as if the face belonging to those eyes is smiling. 
I back against the tree and slink to the ground.  Cold sweat trickles down my face.  My whole body shakes, fiercely.
I will never make it out of here.  I'll never get out of the West Woods.  I'll never get to tell Mama, Papa, and Denver how much I love them.  Not to their faces, anyway.
" I love you Denver," I whisper.  Fear has flattened most of my voice, but I had to get those words out.  And I hope they float to him like a dream, like a Starpatch, one he can keep forever to think about me.
Suddenly, the air above me is shattered by wild flapping, a sound like quilts snapping against the wind.
Huge quilts.
Something lands on the ground, shaking the earth all around me.

"I'm not finished!" Iggy jabs her finger at her chest, like she's pointing to her heart.  "The name my papa gave me was Iggy Thump.  He also called me brave and smart and wonderful.  So, Iggy means all that to me.  So you can call me crabby if you want, Mallie-girl.  You might be crabby, too, if you were missing somebody like I am.  I don't care what you call me.  Because love told me who I am.  That's all I have to say to you."

Over the Moon written by Natalie Lloyd addresses the need for all of us to not stop questioning; to believe there is something more than---We can only live the stories we're given.  It's about courage, hope and love in all its many forms.  It's about the strength of belief and making magic whenever we can, as often as we can.  The dust jacket illustration by artist Gilbert Ford extends from the front back over the spine to the left, showing the expanse of the mountain range, the monsters, woods and homes.  Careful readers will notice the addition of a roaring fire in the lower, left-hand corner.  On the book case Mallie and the winged horse are embossed on the front in the lower, right-hand corner of a lavender color.  The spine is yellow with the text in blue.  On the opening and closing endpapers readers see words, wish, shine, love, dream, gallop, sparkle, soar, and hope, in white and light blue on blue.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional book collections.

To learn more about Natalie Lloyd and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Natalie has an older blog here.  It's full of her earlier writing and musings.  Natalie Lloyd has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  The cover reveal by teacher librarian Matthew Winner is here.  At the publisher's website you can read an excerpt and listen to about six minutes of the audio book.  Enjoy the preview.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Certain Truth

First thing in the morning and the last thing at night and many times in-between, seven white wooden letters spell a word hanging vertically on my bedroom wall. This word reminds me in the vast expanse of our natural and cosmic world, each and every one of us has a place and a purpose.  It reinforces accepted truths upon which each year of my life has been lived.  It challenges me to be my best self.  It comforts me in times of uncertainty.  It is a source of strength.

Distinguished illustrator and master paper-engineer Robert Sabuda (Ten Horse Farm) uses this word as the title for his newest book.  Believe: A Pop-Up Book Of Possibilities (Candlewick Press, April 9, 2019) presents to readers six opportunities.  They are seeds, beginnings and youthful endeavors laden with promise.

When I grow up

An unseen narrator invites participation as each of the six statements begins.  These sentences start small but reveal a larger outcome.  They allow readers to see how size does not determine majesty, splendor or great accomplishments.

When we see pine cones on the ground, is our first thought of the mighty tree from which they fell?  Pine cones house multiple seeds on each of the woody scales.  How many trees reaching to high heights will come from a single pine cone?

It has become increasing clear another small being determines bounty.  The honeybee, struggling to maintain its population in many places, spreads pollen to pollinate flowers, vegetables and fruits.  Like them, readers are asked to savor the benefits of their labors.

Three items, one cracked, yield a flurry of feathers.  From play in the bathtub, one can ride the waves on oceans reflecting the sky.  You can grow from a beach architect to building spires stretching into the clouds.  No beginning is too small, if you believe.

With the same two words, When I, starting each sentence, except for the final statement, Robert Sabuda supplies readers with a gentle cadence.  It also presents a questioning pause before the page turn.  It is after the page turn readers are given a declarative answer along with the marvelous illustrative pop-up.  We are, without being aware, being led to the final soaring possibility.

On the front of the book case we are given a soothing scene of rolling hills meeting the sea with a ship calmly sailing past us.  Readers will discover four of the possible outcomes are included in this setting.  To the left, on the back, a sneak peek of the first pop-up, a gigantic evergreen tree among other small trees unfolds in the center.

No space is wasted by Robert Sabuda.  As we open the book case two shades of forest green, one on the left and the other on the right, cover the two pages.  In white the pine cone is placed in the lower right-hand corner.  These two greens are used again in the pop-up, done in crisp white.

For each of the six displays the two initial colors are found in the pop-up, either covering the two pages or as one of many elements.  This heightens the expectation as each revelation is made.  The concluding pop-up spans the final two pages.  Each pop-up is fashioned in heavier white paper, giving us a breathtaking contrast to the colors on which it is placed.

All six representations are exceptional but one of my favorites is for the words, When I strive for my goals  I will savor the outcome.  A dotted white line loops through the gutter on two hues of blue paper.  The line ends with a honey bee in flight on the right.  At the page turn the pop-up is gasp-worthy.  Five three-dimensional sunflowers among seven rise and curve to the right.  Three clouds on the far right add perspective.  The details in these flowers are exquisite; layers of petals circle out from larger centers with multiple dot cut-outs.

It is guaranteed this title will inspire readers of all ages.  The word choices, when and will, leave no doubt as to the outcome.  Believe: A Pop-Up Book Of Possibilities written and illustrated by Robert Sabuda is one you must have on your personal and professional book shelves.  This is a book you will want to gift to many other people.

To learn more about Robert Sabuda and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  With a link, he gives viewers many how-to instructions for engineering pop-ups.  At the publisher's website you can see an interior image.  The publisher also provides us with an informative Q & A with author/artist Robert Sabuda about this book.  Please enjoy this lovely book trailer.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Letter Tells A Tale

Children enjoy playing with the sounds made by letters and words.  The rhythms made by combinations of the two are like a symphony to them.  If what they are hearing has a melody, they are more likely to remember it. 

When you simply start humming the alphabet song (copyright 1834 by Charles Bradlee), most children with an English language background will easily start to sing the song.  You can see they have a sense of pride in remembering the order of the letters in this alphabet.  Another use of language in which they have fun is alliteration.  B Is for Baby (Candlewick Press, March 12, 2019) written by Atinuke with illustrations by Angela Brooksbank uses a single letter, words beginning with that letter and brings a bonanza of bliss to book lovers.

B is for 

This baby is eager to have her mother weave beads into her hair.  A large basket filled with bananas captures her attention.  She crawls inside and eats one for her breakfast.

Her older brother, dancing to tunes heard through his headset attached to a music player, puts the lid on the basket and loads it on the back of his bicycle.  Does he see the baby?  He does not.  He pedals his bike, riding down the less than smooth road.

As they travel toward Baba's home, the baby in the basket with the bananas sees many things along the road starting with the letter "b".  The lid is lost when a curious baboon steals it.  Groups of people on foot and riding in a vehicle wait to cross the bridge over a stream.

Baba's home and the flowers around it use the letter "b" to name them.  Who do you think is more surprised to see the baby inside the basket of bananas?  Baba?  Brother? After a snack, brother and baby sister return home through a bounty of words beginning with the letter "b".

As you read each sentence, B is for  ____, you do so with appreciation for the manner in which author and storyteller Atinuke connects them together.  She takes us through an entire day using only words beginning with a single letter.  We begin at one home, travel down a road, arrive at another home and circle back to the beginning.  It's a brilliant use of a figure of speech.  Supplying punctuation, periods, exclamation points and a question mark, adds to the cadence of the narrative.

How can you look at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case without smiling?  I'm positive I can hear the giggles of a baby.  This adorable child, in her colorful clothes, is downright huggable.  To the left, on the back, her older brother, listening to his music, has grasped her hands and is dancing with her.  The creme canvas showcases the bright, lively hues in the children's clothing.

Shades of red and creme are used in a vibrant pattern on the opening and closing endpapers.  It's an enlarged version of the cloth used in the mother's dress.  With a page turn a double-page illustration spreads across the verso and title pages.  It shows the family's house with the mother holding her baby in the foreground on the right.  The scene, especially with all the people on the porch of the house, reflects a happy home.

Using mixed media on a white background, artist Angela Brooksbank supplies readers with lush images, some double-page pictures and others full-page images.  To supply readers with pacing, several smaller illustrations are also grouped together on a single page.  To give readers a sense of the objects noted, our point of view is close.  For us to appreciate the flora and fauna, Angela Brooksbank gives us a larger perspective, at times at bird's eye view. 

Every picture is fully animated (except for one).  We feel as though we've been invited to join the story.  Readers will pause on many of the pages to further savor the wonderful elements.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for B is for Baboon.  It is a double-page picture.  A single tree trunk extends from the grass on the left with branches arching along the top of both pages.  A troop of baboons are sitting on or hanging from the limbs.  Up close on the left, one baboon is holding the lid for the basket it grabbed as the bicycle passed.  On the right the brother is riding along, listening to his music and smiling, oblivious to his surroundings.  On the back of the bicycle, the baby is looking rather surprised, nestled as she is among the bananas.

B Is for Baby written by Atinuke with illustrations by Angela Brooksbank is a treasure of an alphabet book for its word play and for the revealed story.  For those not familiar with the setting or some of the words, it's a fabulous title to use for expanding vocabulary and knowledge of places unlike your own.  This book is highly recommended for your personal and professional book collections.

To learn more about Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Atinuke has an account on Facebook.  Angela Brooksbank has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image.  At Penguin Random House you can view the endpapers, verso and title pages and the first double-page picture.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson features this book on her site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Seventy-One Percent

Close to two-thirds of our planet is covered in water.  Of that water, ninety-six point five percent is contained in our oceans.  Depending on your geographic location you can dig through the ground and reach a point that is completely saturated with water.  You have found the water table.  There is a certain amount of water in the air we breathe measured by our humidity (currently ninety-seven percent in my community).  You would be astonished to realize how much of our blood contains water.   Liquid life is literally everywhere, whether we can see it or not. 

Being one of those fortunate people, within five minutes the expanse of Lake Michigan is available for me to see, spread out until it touches the far horizon. It is both a humbling and joyful moment.  Hey, Water! (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, March 26, 2019) written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis (Wait, Best Frints in the Whole Universe and Now) explores all the marvelous manners in which water touches our everyday existence.

Hey, water! I know you!
You're all around.


Unless you've experienced the lack of it firsthand, the act of turning on a faucet with clean, clear water running out is nothing short of a miracle.  (It should never, ever be taken for granted.)  How fortunate are we to be able to run through a sprinkler in the hot weather as our lawns or gardens are watered.  To stand in a shower and feel it cleanse our bodies is a little bit like heaven.

Have you ever noticed how the water coming out of the end of a hose replicates this same action on a grander scale?  Watch a stream as it winds through a forest or field.  Watch a river racing toward a larger body of water.  

These larger bodies of water are as majestic as an ocean or as peaceful as a lake or as geometrically-shaped as a manmade swimming pool.  Who among us has not laughed and jumped in the smallest area of water?  Once warmer weather descends, do you see the drops of dew sparkling like diamonds in the early hours of the day?

The shapes of water are found near us and around us.  They are found inside our homes and high above our heads in the outdoors. They can be solid and bitter cold but feel as light as a breath of a breeze.  Water is recognizable everywhere.  Let's look!

The exuberant voice of our youthful girl guide, as penned by Antoinette Portis, has our immediate attention.  In her conversation to water, she shifts her focus in a relatable, flawless flow.  Water comes from things humans have made, then it moves naturally until it comes back to where we start.  Along with the narrative, single words are attached to the descriptive action. A hose trickles water.  A stream gurgles with water. Rain roars and pours. Here is a passage.

Water, even when you try to fool me, I know you.

You blast and huff.

You whistle and puff.


From left edge to right edge, back to front, on the open and matching dust jacket and book case, ripples of water, in varying hues of blue form a pleasing welcome pattern.  As if block-printed the text appears like another form of water, clouds.  The girl, the first-person voice in the narrative, smiles in open invitation.  The mask on her face is varnished on the jacket.

On the opening and closing endpapers lighter blue waves wash over the pages and follow on the first and last page turn.  On the title page, the girl, seated, grins at us from a bathtub.  On the towel rack, a brick-red striped towel hangs.  It is matched by a solid-colored rug on the floor.  In a puddle next to the tub sits a toy whale. 

Rendered with brush and sumi ink with color added digitally, the illustrations brilliantly move from one form of water to the next mirroring shapes.  The spray from the faucet (down) is the same as the spray from the sprinkler (up) and from the shower head (down).  The s-shape in the trickle attaches to the s-shape in the stream which attaches to the back and forth motion of the river.  This is replicated when other groups are gathered and introduced.  

A limited color palette elevates each image as does the matte-finished paper.  Both enrich the tactile experience for the reader.  Antoinette Portis varies the perspective in her pictures bringing us close to the actions or giving us a more panoramic view depending on the action or object.   We see the ends of the girl's feet and the tips of her toes next to the light blue trickle of water coming from a bright emerald green hose on the grassy green grass.  Huge, no-two-snowflakes-alike visions fall from the sky as we look down on a tiny version of the girl wearing winter clothes and rolling another snowball toward a standing snowman wearing a top hat.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the word puddle and the narrative:

I stomp in you and
scatter droplets everywhere.

The text is placed on the left.  On the right a blue puddle is brushed into place.  The girl, wearing a red and white checked skirt or coat (We can only see the bottom portion.) is stomping with her yellow boots in the puddle.  Drops of water cross the gutter to the left on a background of white on both sides of the double-page picture.

You will read Hey, Water! written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis repeatedly for the share joy and information found in its pages.  The use of words, color, design and layout are fabulous in this ode with gratitude to water.  At the close of the book Antoinette Portis includes a one-page discussion on the forms, liquid, solid and gas, of water and another page dedicated to the water cycle.  This is followed by a conversation on conserving water and five print resources.  This title is highly recommended for your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Antoinette Portis and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Antoinette has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is an essay on the making of this book.  Antoinette Portis has a recent interview at Only Picture Books

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher where titles are featured by those participating in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

In Good Company

Every day whether we step outside or open a window or a door, as soon as the fresh air hits our faces we are the recipients of an offering, freely given.  This soft gentle breeze, the trees, evergreen and deciduous, the plants and flowers of the forests and fields and all the animal dwelling therein are a part of the richness our planet provides for us.  With every breath we take, we are at the center of an astounding swirl of inter-connected activity.

In 2012 author Elin Kelsey collaborated with artist Soyeon Kim in their first title, You Are Stardust, exploring our deep connections with nature. Their second title, Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking (Owlkids Books, April 14, 2015), asks readers to look to nature for the best kind of problem solving by freeing our imaginations.  You Are Never Alone (Owlkids Books, April 15, 2019) by Elin Kelsey with artwork by Soyeon Kim is a hopeful and appreciative tribute to our Earth.

Every moment
this beautiful planet
showers you with gifts.

Above ground rain falls from clouds and plants produce oxygen.  Below ground creepers and crawlers break the dirt apart so everything grows better.  Bees during the day and bats during the night, pollinate plants supplying us with food.  From the oceans, elements enhance things we eat; algae are used in ice cream.

When wild weather descends our planet protects.  Mangrove trees assist in the prevention of mud slides.  Kelp in underwater forests ease the effects of huge waves.  Every tree contributes to guarding us and this planet by offering shelter and shade.

Teeny, tiny living things, on the inside and outside of our bodies ensure our safety and health.  What is broken in nature can be repaired.  There is a resilience like that of our bodies.  There are items in nature which can heal.  For those loving to play or work in the dirt, it yields components which helps our brains work better.

Did you know there is a chain between whales, salmon, bears, and trees?  These largest creatures on our planet are essential to many forms of life, including humans.  Let us not forget how our lives benefit from our dogs and cats.  We need the solace they bring.  We are always in the embrace of our Earth.

Beginning with the first sentence written by Elin Kelseywe are assured line by line of the care furnished to us by every living breathing thing regardless of its size, shape or place of residence.  Elin Kelsey explores many places; above and below the ground, oceans, seas and rivers and even our bodies to acquaint us with wondrous happenings every single day.  Her word choices read like poetry but are based in scientific fact.  Here is a passage.

You always have company.

Armies of microorganisms
snuggle against your skin,
keeping germs at bay.

Your face is home
to wee little cleaning mites
who evolved from mites that lived
on the faces of your relatives.

It's hard not to gasp when you look at the front and the back of the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  Each image is created by Soyeon Kim from three-dimensional dioramas which are photographed.  These exquisite works of art blend realism and fantasy.  We think nothing of seeing a child climbing a tree to ride a huge bird or kelp and a fish sharing the same setting.

To the left, on the back, an entire diorama is shown.  It's a view of a forest blending into a neighborhood.  If you flip over the open dust jacket, seven dioramas are on display for readers.  We are asked how the dioramas are connected.  We are challenged to find them in the body of the book.

The opening and closing endpapers are a dark teal.  On the initial title page, we see a whale diving into a hillside near two houses.  In the foreground a child and a bear peek around bushes.  On the verso and formal title pages, a whale breaches from left to right with another child riding on the tip.

Joyous children are embedded in every two-page illustration, walking on tree branches as an enlarged elk (caribou) watches them from the tree top.  A fox joins them on another branch.  A little girl rides a ground beetle underground as another little girl rides a bat at twilight. Girls and a boy, wearing their clothes wander among sea creatures, kelp and a whale.  You are compelled to pause at every page turn to notice each intricate item.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is an underwater scene.  A deep blue canvas showcases the brilliant gathering of vivid plants and animals.  It's like looking at a brand-new box of crayons.  A child moves into three different positions.  You know she could stay there all day and not see the same thing twice.  Will readers notice the change in her body?

You can't help but feel a sense of calm move from your head to your toes when reading You Are Never Alone written by Elin Kelsey with illustrations by Soyeon Kim.  This title comforts readers as well as inspiring them to cheer for our environment and its inhabitants.  It is a timely title for Earth Day celebrated this year on April 22nd.  Perhaps it will also promote a discussion of The Nature Conservancy's plan to plant one billion trees.  I highly recommend this title and the two previous titles by this collaborative team for your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Elin Kelsey has an account on Twitter.  Soyeon Kim has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you have access to interior images, a teacher's guide and two videos by the illustrator and author talking about this book.  Soyeon Kim explains in detail about her illustrative process.  It is time-consuming but fascinating.  Elin Kelsey teaches us about the science behind her words.  At Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson highlights this title.  Soyeon Kim shares a lot about her process.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Among The Leaves

There are companions, steadfast companions, who never speak a word to us.  However, we rely on them to anchor us.  They are the best listeners on this planet.  We speak to the wind, to celestial beings like the moon and stars, to wildlife, birds and to trees.

For many of us, during our lives, there are trees with memorable significance.  They are located on our property, planted for a purpose, in a park we regularly frequent or a special space we visit only when we are able.  Poetree (Dial Books for Young Readers), March 19, 2019) written by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds with illustrations by Shahrzad Maydani is about one of those extraordinary trees.

The snow had melted, the buttercups were blooming, and Sylvia celebrated winter's end by writing a poem about spring.

Sylvia, carrying her poem, and her pup, Shel, stroll to their park.  Once there it is recited to a friendly squirrel.  Before they go, Sylvia ties it to a large birch tree hoping someone else will enjoy her poem.

Walking by the tree on her way to school the next day, Sylvia is surprised to see her poem is gone and replaced with a new poem.  The tree wrote her a poem!  She can hardly focus in her classroom.  When her teacher speaks to her, another boy, Walt, sitting behind her, teases her.

When Ms. Oliver teaches them to write haiku in the afternoon, Sylvia writes about her tree, the poet.  She makes an origami shape from her poem, leaving it at the tree on her way home.  Day and night, thoughts of the tree and their poems consume her.  A spoken poem, signed with an air signature, and a surprise await Sylvia the next morning.

In her joy at the surprise, Sylvia responds but her happiness is short-lived when Shel begins to bark.  Several more unexpected happenings leave Sylvia changed.  Poetry at the Poetree is a rare and wondrous experience for everyone.

Readers will feel connected to the words written by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds.  We are uplifted by the celebration of spring, poetry, compassion and friendship.  The story offers a balanced blend of narrative, poems and dialogue.  Each sentence reflects warmth and gratitude through descriptive words, sometimes employing alliteration.  Here is a passage and a poem.

Sylvia looked up and saw fragments of sky
peeking through the treetop.  She spoke the
words as they blossomed into her mind:

Sky so blue, grass so green.
Tree so tall in between.
Favorite friend in morning light.
And under moon glow late at night.

When readers gaze at the matching and open dust jacket and book case, the splendor of the tree and the surprise found there are revealed.  The tree's truck extends along the spine with a big "y" at the top as branches spreading to the left, back, and the right, front provide a leafy umbrella.  On the front we are introduced to Sylvia and Shel and the charming birds who enjoy the shelter of the tree.

To the left, on the back, the friendly squirrel peers out of a hollow in the tree's trunk.  He watches several birds, one of which is perched on a decorative ISBN.  It is here on the front and back of the jacket and case, we are invited into the story through the soft color palette and delicate details.

On the opening and closing endpapers, in golden yellow, flying birds and leaves are etched in white.  Rendered using graphite pencil and watercolor, Shahrzad Maydani uses double-page pictures and full-page images to enhance the narrative.  The liberal use of white becomes an element in all the illustrations.

Readers will pause fascinated by the fine lines and intricate elements.  The pattern of leaves on Sylvia's leggings are found in the tree.  These leaf shapes are also found in notebook paper, fluttering on more than one page.  The facial features on all the characters are absolutely charming.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  On the left, on the small hill, Sylvia, eyes closed, is hugging the tree.  Along the lower-left hand corner is a portion of the poem she has written in chalk on the sidewalk.  Shel is barking next to her.  On the right a flock of pastel-colored birds rise from leaves along the bottom.  A couple of them cross the gutter to the left.  Something is about to change.

In reading Poetree written by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds with illustrations by Shahrzad Maydani we are reminded of the simple but profound beauty of this form of the written word.  It connects us to nature and the most unexpected of friendships.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Shauna LaVoy Reynolds and Shahrzad Maydani, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Shauna LaVoy Reynolds has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Shahrzad Maydani has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view the title page.  Author Shauna LaVoy Reynolds is showcased at KidLit411.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson, highlights artwork by Shahrzad Maydani from this book on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before BreakfastShe also has an interview at Chapter 16 with author Shauna LaVoy Reynolds.