Quote of the Month

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




Tuesday, July 30, 2019

One Feathered Wing

Just shy of eight year ago I wrote this in a note on Facebook.

Stepping from my doorway this morning, my eyes were greeted with an avian invasion; hundreds and hundreds carpeted my neighbors' lawns.  With my nearing they lifted as one feathered wing, gliding, soaring, swooping to another yard, continually joined by ten, twenty or thirty more.  As closer I came, finally the multitude rose above the lofty treetops, their command of air masterful as they left my sight.  Silence and the promise of more heat and humidity fell like an unwelcome cloak about my shoulders as Xena and I walked past the now empty parched grasses of the vacant field.

As a librarian, I begin to research as soon as I arrived back home.  For the first time in six decades of living, I had been gifted with witnessing a starling murmuration.  It is forever etched in my memory as one of the most incredibly beautiful things I have ever seen.

To see these birds fly in flawless synchronization is a remarkable experience; one which reminds us of the fascinating, fearless and stunning power of nature.  One Dark Bird (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, July 16, 2019) written by Liz Garton Scanlon with illustrations by Frann Preston-Gannon presents an illuminating portrait for younger readers of this spellbinding phenomenon.  It begins, as so many wonderful things do, with a single individual.

1
dark bird
perched way up high
a view of town
a taste of sky

Presently, this one starling is joined by others.  They come together as two, three and four.  Now there are ten.  Quickly, as if receiving a cue from a conductor, five more make fifteen birds.

We keep counting as they keep coming.  The groups are getting larger.  The initial group of fifteen has more than doubled.  Now hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of birds fill the sky.

Suddenly their free flying is nearly frozen.  An enemy flies near them.  They join swirling and swerving as if one mind acts for all of them.  They flee to safety, looping and circling through the now starry sky. 

Then, an unspoken decision is made.  They break apart journeying to destinations as separate aerial acrobats.  Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds leave.  There are ten, nine, eight, and seven.   All too soon, we end, coming full circle, to one.


To combine counting with this breathtaking event fully engages readers by drawing them into the gathering of the flock.  The rhythmic and rhyming words of author Liz Garton Scanlon create a gentle but vibrant cadence.  It's an invitation to spread our arms and joyously glide with our avian companions.  The use of alliteration further heightens the melodious narrative.  Here is a passage.

flapping fervor
noisy clutch

they dance together
without touch


The image of the single starling flying over a community on the open and matching dust jacket and book case extends from flap edge to flap edge.  The blend of vivid blues, greens, and golden yellow and orange with splashes of white act to accentuate the iridescent colors of the bird.  The few birds seen on the front multiply to the left, on the back, and on the front flap.  The placement of the ISBN incorporates it into a rooftop.  On the dust jacket the title text is in gold foil along with some of the stars there and on the back.

On the opening and closing endpapers hundreds of birds, a murmuration, are shown.  On the first scene the sky is much lighter as opposed to the darkening sky in the second scene.  On the dedication, verso and title pages, the single starling is flying toward the right edge of the right side.  Beneath the bird on a pale green-washed sky is the town.  

Illustrator Frann Preston-Gannon rendered these illustrations using a mixture of both digital and hand-drawn techniques.  At times we will be brought close to the birds or are given a more panoramic view to emphasize the number.  The buildings and homes are shown both in full color and/or etched in the background.  Members of the town, from diverse races and ethnic backgrounds, are shown going about their daily business, whether it's work or play. We can see them in their windows and watch them following the flight of the birds.

As the numbers of birds increases, we are taken directly into the flock.  You can almost hear the beating of wings and the sound of feathered swoops, dipping up and down and around.  All the pictures span two pages.

One of my many, many favorite images is between sunset and the full moon rising in the dusk.  The homes and building are bathed in golden light accenting reddish tones with spots of green.  Over the buildings the starlings by the thousands move in a large wave with the majority in the center.  Their formation is highlighted with white.  Above them in the sky, a few stars wink around the shining celestial orb.


If you are seeking to enhance a theme on birds, spectacular natural occurrences, counting or to engage readers in sheer wonder, One Dark Bird written by Liz Garton Scanlon with illustrations by Frann Preston-Gannon is the ideal title.  A symphony of words and art recreate the beauty of murmuration.  On the title page an explanation of murmuration is given.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Liz Garton Scanlon and Frann Preston-Gannon and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Liz Garton Scanlon maintains accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  Frann Preston-Gannon maintains accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Liz Garton Scanlon is interviewed on Only Picture Books.  You can view interior images, including one of my favorite ones, at the publisher's website.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Facing Frightful

Whether you are gathered in a classroom, a library, around a campfire, or wrapped in sleeping bags or blankets for a sleepover, one of the most memorable and satisfying activities is storytelling.  Most will agree scary stories, those tales crammed with creepiness, the unexpected and bone-chilling probabilities, are the most requested.  Listeners (and tellers) can venture into circumstances too terrifying to experience themselves and are brought back to safety at the story's end.  With each scary story heard (or told), courage grows.

The most frightening stories are those steeped in reality.  Scary Stories for Young Foxes (Henry Holt and Company, July 30, 2019) written by Christian McKay Heidicker with art by Junyi Wu recounts the horrors of truth with stunning authenticity.  Readers will alternately be riveted or unnerved by the words they read.

THE HAUNTED SEASON had arrived in the Antler Wood.
The sky grayed, the leaves blushed red, and mist
coiled through the trees like something alive.  Even
the pumpkins began to rot and show their true
faces. 

Seven kits are begging their mother for a scary story.  Each of her suggestions is met with a groan.  Nothing is scary enough.  As she settles in for the night, she warns them not to go to Bog Cavern.  An old storyteller lives there.  The tales she tells are too grim to be repeated.

The seven, of course, leave the safety of their den after their mother falls asleep, making their way through the darkening woods to Bog Cavern.  At first the storyteller, an ancient fox, says they are too young for these tales. She warns them of scary stories having two sides, light and dark.  One can guide you and the other can consume you.  There are eight stories to tell.  How many of the kits will be brave enough to remain to hear the final tale?

The seven listening kits are first introduced to Mia, her mother, her four siblings and their teacher Miss Vix.  A fatal turn of events has Mia and her mother running for their lives out of Eavey Wood, pursued by those who wish to devour them.  In the pause before the next tale begins, questions are asked and the shadowy voice from the dark entrance cautions them to be patient.

Six listening young foxes meet Uly, a young male kit with a deformed front paw.  He lives in Boulder Fields with six cruel sisters and a caring mother.  Uly is unable to care for himself without his mother's assistance. An unexpected visitor named Mr. Scratch forces Uly to make choices he would rather not make.  There are now five kits, listening intently.

In the next tale Mia and her mother suffer hideous, skin-crawling, encounters with a human guaranteed to leave readers stunned and wondering if they will ever read certain classic books again.  We are not even sure Mia is alive before four kits are leaning in to hear about Uly, at the edge of a foreboding forest trying to find food.  In seeking something to eat, Uly comes upon something he has never seen.  Fortunately, he saves Mia from certain death.

In the final four stories Mia and Uly truly struggle to stay alive, suffering the stuff of nightmares for foxes (and humans).  At times the evil and forces of nature are truly overwhelming, but the needs of others are a powerful motivator.  Soon there are three little foxes, then two and finally as the night moves toward dawn, only the youngest remains listening to the storyteller.  She, like readers, is torn between abject, gasping fear and the absorbing need to know what happens to Mia and Uly.  We like the young foxes and finally, the youngest, are told not all kits survive.  Is the end of a tale really the end?


First you have to know, there is hardly a second for you to recover from one harrowing incident to the next.  Thankfully, author Christian McKay Heidicker has two to six pages between the tales for conversations between the listening kits and the storyteller.  These do serve to provide momentary relief but also heighten the anxiety before the next portion begins.  In these pauses the atmosphere, the setting at Bog Cavern, is continually enhanced for readers.

Without a doubt, readers will enter the world of Mia and Uly completely.  The settings and circumstances in which they find themselves are depicted vividly.  We are emotionally tied to every experience.  Here are some of the earlier passages I marked.  (After this, I could not stop reading for a single moment until I read the last word.)

Yes, it may have been wise for fox kits to stay close to the den once the leaves began to fall.  But the fog and the frost and the old crimson moon had stirred something in their whiskers.

"But," the storyteller said, "if you don't listen closely . . . if you turn tail from the horror and don't stay till the end, then the darkness of the story can swallow all hope.  It can frighten you so deeply you'll never want to leave your den again. . . ."

Her mom slipped through the wind-woven vines, and Mia followed, nosing through the tangle until the leaves came to an abrupt end and the world opened like a gasp.  The sky beamed upon an emerald meadow.  A soft wind blew pale stripes across the grass, sweeping as far as Mia's eyes could see.


Scary Stories for Young Foxes written by Christian McKay Heidicker with art by Junyi Wu elevates the meaning of scary story to a whole new level.  With a striking use of language complemented by black and white drawings, readers will be too spooked to stop reading.  At the beginning of each tale is a full-page image relative to the story and a single smaller illustration is placed within each tale.  One stunning design tecnique is when we are in the present rather than the tales, the pages turn black with white text and small sticks act as framing.  You'll want to have this title for your personal and professional collections but beware . . .truthfully, beware.  (This post is written using an advanced reader's edition.)

To discover more about Christian McKay Heidicker and Junyi Wu and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Christian McKay Heidicker maintains accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  I think you be appropriately chilled by the book trailer as seen at Romper.  You can read an excerpt from this title at the publisher's website.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Remembered Reunion

How we define the word family is highly personal.  It's as if there is a meaning found in dictionaries and an entirely different one with respect to our lives.  For some family does not always consist of those related to us biologically.  People whose love and support are unconditional can be thought of as family, whether there is a genetic connection or not.

For others, family is comprised of deep-seated traditions going back generations.  The voices of ancestors, their wisdom, still speaks with clarity in the collective hearts and minds of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, uncles and aunts and lots of cousins.  Going Down Home With Daddy (Peachtree Publishers, April 1, 2019) written by Kelly Starling Lyons with illustrations by Daniel Minter takes us to one family's special commemoration.  

On reunion morning, we rise before
the sun.  Daddy hums as he packs
our car with suitcases and a cooler full of snacks.  He says there's nothing like going down home. 

From city to open highway, Lil Alan, Sis, Momma and Daddy travel.  Sis quickly falls back asleep, but Lil Alan is too excited and too worried.  He longs to see Granny, his great-grandmother.  What can he do for the anniversary festivities? 

Both Sis and Lil Alan are wide awake when they spy Granny near her wood-frame house feeding her chickens.  Her open-arm welcoming hug is the beginning of a day filled with relatives' arrivals and good-natured fellowship.  The cousins gather and chat about what each one will do for the celebration.  Lil Alan is stumped.  What can he do?

Daddy drives cousins around the farm, pulling them in a wagon behind the tractor.  Lil Alan's soul is filled with pride at his family's accomplishments in owning their land.  At dinner, joining hands before the meal, members are brimming with gratitude.  The next day, Sunday, Daddy reminisces in church with Lil Alan.  The child is still concerned about his role in the gathering at dusk.

After the Sunday service, a comment by Momma sends jubilation through Lil Alan.  Moments and memories align in his mind.  When his turn in the evening comes, his hands hold objects representing dreams fulfilled and his words sing of familial achievements.  On Monday morning Lil Alan, Sis, Momma and Daddy leave Granny and her wood-frame house, but everyone's thinking of the past, present, future and family.


The words written by author Kelly Starling Lyons wrap around readers like a hug from Granny, inviting and bathed in warmth.  Her descriptions of place transform our surroundings and transport us to down home.  The affection depicted in the conversations between family members is soothing and born of mutual respect.  Here is another passage from this book.

I doze off in a cloud of worry and wake to
sunbeams tickling my face.  I squint and see a
familiar John Deere tractor store and a gray silo
standing at attention.  We're almost there.


One look, your initial glance, at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, leaves you wanting to know about these children.  Fully animated, they all seem to have something to say except for one.  Like the words in the narrative, the color palette, hues of blue, brown, red, orange, green and golden yellow, envelopes you in calm and comfort. 

To the left, on the back, a similar use of color fashions a canvas of swirls of orange and golden yellow and marbleized blue and white.  Stretching through this is the outline of a blue/green tree.  Two hens are placed in the lower, left-hand corner.  They are patterned in traditional prints.  These hens, the children and title text are varnished on the dust jacket.  

On the opening endpapers two shades of blue form enlarged brush strokes of a symbolic image.  This continues until the verso and title pages.  Here the illustration from the back of the jacket and case becomes the background for the text.  This is continued on the closing page and closing endpapers.

Rendered in acrylic wash the artwork of Daniel Minter is a lush blend of ancient African symbols and present-day realism.  Readers will pause to notice the exquisite details on the family's building, their clothing, on the chickens and clothing worn by the extended family members.  White etchings overlay some scenes with intentional purpose.  Each image is an eloquent double-page portrait of generations rooted in dreams and triumphs.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Lil Alan and Daddy are talking.  Daddy tells him to 

think with your heart.

The two of them are in that position which is between sitting and kneeling but still close to the earth.  The background is a larger version of the pattern seen on the closing endpapers.  We have stepped back and can see the symbolic shapes, fully formed, among the trees.  In the foreground on the left is Lil Alan and on the right is Daddy.  The boy, eyes closed, reaches for some gathered pecans.  His daddy looking at him is speaking.


Going Down Home With Daddy written by Kelly Starling Lyons with illustrations by Daniel Minter is a marvelous, heart-warming two-day ode to family.  Through expressive words and illuminating illustrations we can witness this reunion's power and value.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Kelly Starling Lyons and Daniel Minter and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Kelly Starling Lyons maintains accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  Daniel Minter has an account on Instagram.  There is a post at The Children's Book Council with Daniel Minter speaking about the symbolism in this book.  At author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast you can view interior illustrations. At the publisher's website there are links to multiple resources including an Author Q & A.  You can also view several of the initial images in the book.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

One Canny Canine

Their intelligence in assessing any given situation is remarkable.  Every sound and every scent are scrutinized. The most amazing thing is they enjoy bonding with humans.  They become our best friends; sometimes our only friends.  Their antics make us laugh.  Their loyalty makes us cry.

For these and multiple other reasons, dogs and their exploits are legendary.  Despite their instincts and knowledge, they take risks for the benefit of humans.  Not a day goes by without them inspiring and challenging us.  Sparky & Spike: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever (Cameron Kids, an imprint of Cameron + Company, April 23, 2019) written by Barbara Lowell with illustrations by Dan Andreasen introduces readers to a young Charles Schulz and his clever, crazy canine companion.


Sparky's dog, Spike, is a white dog with black spots.

We quickly learn exactly how wild and smart this dog is.  He rings the doorbell when he wants to come inside.  He comprehends at least fifty words.  If you say the word potato, he brings one to you.

Another truly baffling thing about this dog is his appetite for just about anything.  He eats sharp objects, metal objects, and never gets ill.  One day he swallows a whole, small red rubber ball.

With clockwork precision every Saturday evening around nine, Spike places his paw on Sparky's Dad's chair reminding him it is time to take a drive in the family car.  They go to the drugstore to pick up the comics in the Sunday paper.  (You have to wonder if the dog enjoyed seeing Sparky and his dad laughing so much, he wanted to take that trip each week.)

Sparky (Charles to his teachers) loves to draw and his talent is noticed by them and his classmates.  His real dream is cartooning.  It's tricky, though and after attending an exhibition of comic strips at the library, Sparky is discouraged.  It's Spike who gives him a brilliant idea.  This crazy pooch pal is surely worthy of a spot in the Ripley's Believe It or Not.

Sparky writes a letter with a small drawing of Spike and sends it to Mr. Ripley.  They wait and wait and wait some more to see if Sparky's drawing and information about Spike is printed.  Can you imagine this boy's joy when it's printed?  This is the first official appearance of Spike, the dog sparking the creation of one of the most famous beagles in the history of comics.


Regardless of your age, you'll be captivated by this endearing story written with meticulous care by author Barbara Lowell.  Her concise, straightforward sentences include astounding factual support for the two title words, wildest and smartest.  It's as if we are listening to her tell us face to face this true story a dog and his boy who grows up to write and draw beloved cartoon characters.  Here is a passage.

Every Saturday night at 9 o'clock, for two whole months, Spike signals to Sparky and his dad that it's time to drive down to the drugstore and pick up the Sunday comics.

And every Saturday night for two whole months, Sparky's picture of Spike is NOT in Ripley's Believe It or Not!

SIGH.

That's the way it goes.


Who can resist the front of the dust jacket?  Look at Sparky and Spike run.  Who knows what adventures await them or what the future will bring?  You know from looking at this image, they'll go together.  The style of artwork in this book, as first seen here, by Dan Andreasen is classic reminiscent of older cartoon or comic strip characters.  To the left, on the back, Sparky is writing his letter with the drawing of Spike to Mr. Ripley.  Spike's head rests next to Sparky's right hand as he draws.

An interior double-page picture is placed on the textured canvas of the book case.  From left to right, in four panels, it shows Sparky with a wooden paddle ball, the red, rubber ball bouncing furiously.  In the second panel it breaks loose, lobs into the air and is grabbed by Spike in the third panel.  In the final panel Spike swallows.  Above and below these images are sepia-toned comics from strips during Charles's childhood.  (This design is used again in another sequence to splendid effect.)

On the opening and closing endpapers, Dan Andreasen has drawn significant items from the book; a dog collar, a doghouse, a running faucet, a sack of potatoes, crayons, a dripping paint can, and a fountain pen, to name a few.  A double-page picture spans the title page.  Pawprints wind in loops from Spike's red house on a pale green background from left to right and beneath the text.   

With each page turn we experience double-page pictures, a collection of panels on a single page, or full-page pictures, framed or edge to edge.  There are several speech balloons to emphasize important moments.  Dan Andreasen alters his point of view to enhance the pacing.  One ingenious picture, to accentuate the time spent waiting, shows Sparky, Spike and Sparky's dad driving in the car on sheets of calendar paper being torn off from a small stand.  Clothing, interior and exterior designs of homes, and vehicles represent the historical period very well.  The actual Ripley's Believe It or Not! page is recreated as is Sparky's drawing.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a larger version of the scene on the front of the dust jacket.  Sparky and Spike are running over a grassy field covering two pages.  A few shrubs are behind them.  Above the horizon is a sunny summer blue sky with one billowing cloud.  From the left to the right where Spike is running are pawprints.  Sparky is placed on the left side.  The pure bliss exhibited by this boy and his dog in their body postures and facial expressions is something to hold in your heart.  In a word . . . this is freedom.


Sparky & Spike: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever written by Barbara Lowell with illustrations by Dan Andreasen is a nonfiction picture book which will resonate with readers of all ages.  For those who've loved the Peanuts comic strip and especially Snoopy, this book is one they will remember for the fascinating facts and the impeccable illustrations.  Readers must read the illustrator's and author's notes at the end.  Dan Andreasen, as a young man, wrote a letter to Charles Schulz and he replied.  Barbara Lowell has black and white photographs of Spike and Sparky.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections. 

To learn more about Barbara Lowell and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  Barbara has prepared a curriculum guide for this title.  Barbara Lowell has an account on Twitter.  Barbara chats about her work and this book at The Children's Book Council, Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, Maria Marshall The Picture Book Buzz and  Picture Book Builders.



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


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Good To Go

As educators we see them in the hallways, cafeteria, playground, arriving and leaving school, at assemblies, on field trips and in our classrooms.  These gals and guys prefer to be moving nearly constantly.  At times their pizzazz level can be hard to channel in the right direction, but repeatedly, my admiration for their ability to keep going grows.  Their let's-go attitude is contagious. 

When your activity switch is up and on, you can go farther and faster.  Unstoppable Me (Farrar Straus Giroux, July 23, 2019) written by Susan Verde with pictures by Andrew Joyner is an ode to super-charged children.  It highlights the positive potential of every single one.

I am movement

This little guy continues to state his other attributes; heat and static electricity.  These characteristics maintain their optimum operation through food and play.  When he is among other children, all the great rewards of companionship give him extra exuberance.

As if he is the quintessential dynamo, he points out his benefits.  No part of the natural world is harmed to maintain his movements.  He goes without needing batteries or coal or oil.  Water is his preferred propellant.

You name a type of motion; this little guy can do it with gusto.  He's like a rubber ball, a top, a weed that rolls with the wind and a backhoe.  He makes, takes apart and makes something new.  Nothing in his path stops him.  He is the ultimate artist of avoiding obstacles.

When asked by his father to lower his speed, he does, but not for long.  A little bit of rest goes a long way with this fellow.  Does he start to slow down as he gets ready for bed?  He does not.  He even dreams with the same amazing sense of stamina.  His final words are a gift to all of us.


As the mother of a child bustling with get-up-and-go and needing to move, author Susan Verde speaks from experience.  Her choice of words exemplifies the most wondrous things about children like this boy.  You can feel the force of liveliness on every page.  To have a first-person narrative, warmly welcomes all readers into this child's everyday life.  (It's interesting to note there is not punctuation at the end of every sentence, phrase or word.  This seems to signify the constant action without pause.)  Here is a passage.

I'm a supersonic dreamer!

I can leap, soar, and
reach for the stars


It's clear from the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, this boy embraces life with endless energy. His running stance, open arms and the wide, happy grin on his face speak volumes.  The children and adults around him and his furry friend seem to mirror his emotions and engagement with life.  The boy and the title text are varnished.

To the left, on the back, a bright yellow canvas showcases the words:

zip!
zap!
zoom!

in the same vibrant red as the title on the front.  Our protagonist is featured spinning, painting the exclamation point and racing away with his dog next to the respective words.  The opening and closing endpapers are a bold teal shade which continues on the first page, last page and the title page.  On the title page the boy is shown leaping up on the bed over his sleeping parents.  This begins the illustrator's, Andrew Joyner's, visual interpretation of the story.

Double-page pictures, full-page pictures and several images grouped on a single page place emphasis on pacing and the overall exhilaration of the narrative.  The expressions on all the characters' faces are of happiness with a heavy dose of an optimistic attitude.  The bold colors, lines and point of view in the illustrations are certain to lift readers into the boy's joy.  The heavier black font adds to the vigor depicted in the text.  The multitude of details will have readers pausing at page turns or re-reading the story.

One of my many favorite pictures is a double-page picture for the words:

Powered by PLAY!

In this scene the boy is running into a playground populated by more than thirty children all in motion and engaged in a variety of tasks.  They are from different racial and ethnic backgrounds as are the portrayed adults.  No matter what your age is, you'll want to jump into their midst.  You can play tag, blow bubbles, climb tires or crawl underneath them, have a pretend tea party, play a guitar and sing at the top of your voice, march, jump, or play in the sandbox. 


The importance of children seeing themselves in books cannot be stressed enough; not only for their sakes but for the sakes of others, too.  This book, Unstoppable Me written by Susan Verde with pictures by Andrew Joyner, in words and artwork, focuses on qualities as sources of pride.  This is a book to have in your personal and professional collections so all readers can receive and accept each individual as they are.  We need to raise each other higher with compassion.  This book does this with excellence.  Author Susan Verde talks about her own exuberant child in an author's note and her purpose for writing this book.

To learn more about Susan Verde and Andrew Joyner and their other work, please access their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Susan Verde has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Dylan Teut, Director of the Plum Creek Children's Literature Festival, chats with Susan Verde on his blog, Mile High Reading, about this title and her writer's life.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Monday, July 22, 2019

A Visit To Our Nearest Neighbor

It was still there, white against a blue sky, early on Sunday morning.  It didn't reappear again until seconds after midnight today.  It's received more attention than usual as people everywhere are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 first moon landing on July 20, 1969.

Wherever you are on Earth, looking at the moon fifty years later, it's still hard to comprehend traveling 238,900 miles through space to complete the journey there and repeat that distance to return home.  If you happen to be pondering a similar voyage, two best friends, Anna and Crocodile, who readers met in How to Find Gold, are happy to share their latest experiences.  How To Be On The Moon (Candlewick Press, June 4, 2019) written and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz will have you making your own plans for a lunar expedition.

"LET'S GO TO THE MOON!" said Anna.

Crocodile patiently points out the lack of light and people in space and the many, many miles from their home to the moon.  Effervescent Anna thinks all this sounds wonderful.  Then Crocodile reminds her of expertise needed to accomplish a trip to the moon.

Math is highly important; especially the ability to count backward.  Anna successfully demonstrates her stellar talent in this area. The length of time to arrive on the moon requires extreme patience.  Anna's questions and Crocodile's answers to this are not scientific but hilarious, nonetheless.

A formula for sandwiches and speed has Crocodile preparing one aspect and Anna working on the other requirement.  In a heartbeat the duo is ready. As the word one is uttered, they launch.  The first words out of Anna's mouth are:

"Are we there yet?"

An invented game helps pass the time as they float inside the rocket.  So does much needed sleep on Anna's part.  Touchdown completed and spacesuits in place, they take in the sights on and around the moon.  Conversations and contemplations concluded, Anna and Crocodile, inseparable as always, pursue all the world and their imaginations offer.


Told in an excellent blend of lively conversations and straightforward narrative by Viviane Schwarz this story actively engages readers from the first sentence to the final thought.  The personalities of Anna and Crocodile are revealed through their dialogue, indicating the balance between their characteristics.  The exuberance (and sometimes charming frankness) of Anna is met with the willing but reflective considerations of Crocodile.  Here is a passage.

"Hang on," said Crocodile.  "We will need special
skills to go to the moon."

"What skills?" asked Anna.

"Math.  Without math, it will go wrong."

"I can do math," said Anna.

"Can you count backward?" asked Crocodile.

"Five, four, three, two, one," Anna said.  "Zoom!"


The rich black background peppered with stars extends across the front and back of the matching and open dust jacket and book case.  As their conversations disclose their personalities, so, too, does the image on the front of the jacket and case.  We can see the love Crocodile has for the spirited Anna.  Their color of Anna's dress and Crocodile's green-hued skin against the moon accentuate those very elements which make them the perfect pair.  On the jacket the title text is embossed in foil.  Depending on the angle the light strikes it, it appears silver or gold.

To the left, on the back, the rocket ship is pictured on the moon.  Anna has already jumped out, ready to explore.  Crocodile is carefully climbing from the top door.  They are both wearing spacesuits.  The rocket ship is an array of collaged colors and textures.

On the opening and closing endpapers, in black and white, is a scene from outer space with stars and celestial bodies.  A small visual on the initial title page shows a teapot and some board game pieces.  On the formal title page, beneath the text, Anna and Crocodile are playing a board game.

Each illustration, rendered in pencil, crayon, and watercolor, fills a full page with text on the opposite page on a white canvas or for dramatic effect the picture crosses the gutter creating a column for text.  Several double-page pictures, one without words, are stunning in their depictions.  To show the movement of Anna and Crocodile on the moon, two pages are divided into five panels.  This is absolutely wonderful and one of my many, many favorite pictures.

In the first panel Crocodile and Anna are floating slighting above the surface of the moon.  In the second panel they are driving in a vehicle by a crater.  In the third panel they are sliding past that crater.  In another visual Anna is standing at the edge of a dark hole, pulling Crocodile to safety.  In the final and largest panel, they are lying on their backs, chatting and looking at Earth.

The color choices throughout the book mirror Anna's buoyancy and Crocodile's acceptance and affection.  The facial features on both characters along with their body postures are sheer delight.  All the details and design items will have you pausing at each page turn.


Readers of all ages are reminded of the power of imagination in How To Be On The Moon written and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz.  We can see, through this story, how adventures taken in our minds offer us the opportunity to address more important concepts.  I know you'll want to have a copy of this title in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Viviane Schwarz and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Viviane Schwarz has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  There is an interior image available at the publisher's website.  You can view other interior pictures at Penguin Random House and Walker.  I believe you will enjoy this video by the Arts Council England where we are introduced to Viviane Schwarz.

An introduction to the author and illustrator VIVIANE SCHWARZ from CLPE on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A Royal Outlook

There are books you read filled with so much joy it cloaks you in an invisible shield for days.  Wherever you go and whatever you do, the fire started inside you by that book's jubilation is with you.  You cannot help but glow on the inside and on the outside.  It gives you positive power.

When you have this kind of positive power born of pure bliss, it radiates from you to others.  It changes perspectives.  The King of Kindergarten (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, July 2, 2019) written by Derrick Barnes with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a book filled with this kind of joy.  You want to laugh and dance and sing.  You send a wish out into the universe for every child to know this happiness.

THE MORNING SUN blares through
your window like a million brass
trumpets.

It crowns you with its rays of warmth.  This is as it should be because your mother tells you, on this first day of school, you are certain to be

the King of Kindergarten!

Everything you do reminds you of your royalness; the color of your toothbrush, the symbol on your washcloth and the brand of your clothing.  Sharing breakfast with your parents, you gleefully devour a stack of pancakes.  When your height is measured by your father, you remind him you'll be taller than he is before he knows it.

Joining others on the grand yellow transport is the best way to arrive at the stronghold of wisdom.  Remembering your mother's words, this kindergarten student walks tall with a face wreathed in smiles for all your classmates.  Greeted by your teacher, you proudly state your name.

As the King of Kindergarten, you merrily greet all your fellow students and embrace all the new learning experiences during the morning.  During recess an opportunity for bravery is met with success.  An observation at lunchtime allows compassionate concern to provide for a friend.

No day in kindergarten is complete without a bit of a rest.  Then you are ready for a memorable musical afternoon.  At the close of the day, your teacher sends you back home with a hope.  It is there, in your room, you realize every day will be as wonderful as this first day because you are royalty.


Those first three sentences on the first page by author Derrick Barnes are an irresistible invitation to continue reading.  Word selections throughout the story refer to royalty; family crest, reign, fortress, majestic and round table, to name a few.  The inclusion of dialogue adds the perfect personal touch.  Readers can't help but feel as if they are royalty, too.  Here is a passage.

You'll dress yourself neatly in
handpicked garments from the
far-off villages of Osh and Kosh.
B-gosh! You'll be ready to reign!


How can you not smile at the grinning boy on the front (and the back) of the matching dust jacket and book case?  His air of confidence, his let's-go attitude, asks you to join him.  His hands grasping his backpack as he leans forward, looking right at readers, tells a marvelous story without a single word.  You want to know this child.  You want to know this King of Kindergarten.

The varied shades of green for the background on the front and back of the open jacket and case highlight the child and the other elements in the visuals.  Some of the letters and numbers within the frame on the front surround the boy resting his elbows on a stack of books on the back.  The opening and closing endpapers are covered in a "chalkboard" green.  Crowns in bright white are placed in loose rows over chalky, childlike drawings of letters, numbers, shapes and a stick-figure person wearing a crown.

On the title page the boy stands ready to greet the day holding a book in one hand and a ruler in the other.  The ruler is his scepter.  He is wearing the outline of a crown.  On the verso and dedication pages swirls of purple, the color of royalty, supply a canvas for the text.

The illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton,

hand drawn and then colored using Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter

are a beautiful blend of bright, cheerful and pleasant pastel colors.  Layers of details and patterns fill every page.  On the opening two-page picture trumpets are also rays of the sun.  A patchwork quilt on the boy's bed showcases a stuffed toy lion proudly seated. Scattered toys and books on the floor along with drawings on the wall indicate an active life.  There are crowns on the boy's purple pajamas. He has lion fuzzy slippers.

Each two-page image or single-page picture flows flawlessly accentuating the text.  When we read about the smile on the teacher's face and her lively greeting this is emphasized by her bright green shoes and her shirt patterned in leaves similar to the leaves on a bulletin board. The sun is incorporated into several other visuals throughout the book.

One of my many, many favorite pictures spans two pages.  A marbleized teal is the canvas.  On the floor on the left, the King of Kindergarten is seated with his classmates listening to their teacher.  She is seated in a chair on the right, her hands and arms open, one foot in the air, as she smiles and speaks.  On the floor near the children, above them and crossing the gutter are items discussed in the text; letters, numbers, shapes and trucks, trains and tractors.  Out of an open book next to the teacher a tractor pulling a wagon, swirls of numbers, letters, smiling faces, a large pencil and a train tracks are shown. (There might also be a small book with the picture of a royal being on the cover.)


I can't imagine a first day of school being started without reading The King of Kindergarten written by Derrick Barnes with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.  The marvelous mix of words and artwork are sure to inspire readers of all ages.  You have the power to uplift all those around you with your unbridled joy.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton and their other work, please access their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  You can also see more of Vanessa Brantley-Newton's work at Painted Words.  Derrick Barnes has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Vanessa Brantley-Newton has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  You can view an interior image from the book at the publisher's website.

UPDATE:  Thanks to a tweet sent out by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, on Sunday, July 21, 2019 here is a video you will enjoy.



Thursday, July 18, 2019

Prized Ocean Abodes

There was once a man, a great uncle, with a gift for working with wood.  Everything he made was refined, smooth as silk and any seams were nearly invisible.  He crafted a set of stackable tray display cases from rich, burnished wood.  They were for a little girl, a girl who loved seashells.

She lined those cases with black velvet to focus attention on the varied textures and colors of the seashells.  Each seashell was carefully labeled.  The girl, until she was in college, only visited the seashore once, but family and friends knew of her collection, bringing her treasures from their trips.  Seashells More Than a Home (Charlesbridge, April 2, 2019) written by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Sarah S. Brannen is the second collaboration by this outstanding duo.  (Their first, Feathers Not Just For Flying, is the recipient of multiple awards.) This book, like those seashells saved by that girl, is a compilation of wondrous information and watercolor paintings guaranteed to have all readers walking along the seashore with new eyes.

Every day, seashells wash up on beaches all over Earth, like treasures from a secret world beneath the waves.

Their shapes, sizes and colors are varied, a reflection of their functions for the beings dwelling inside them.  There is a shell so marvelously formed it can act like a submarine.  It holds gas in tiny compartments which helps it float.  Water, stored in front of those sections, assists it in sinking.  This is a Chambered Nautilus.

There are shells unlike the nautilus hugging the sand bottom for weeks.  Others act like carpenter tools pulling apart other shells for food like a crowbar or boring into the ocean floor to escape hungry enemies like a drill bit.  Did you know there are scallops that glide and dip like a butterfly?  When escaping predators its valves move it along the bottom or through the water.

There is a mollusk with a shell containing plates.  Just like the land animal, an armadillo, it can roll into a ball for safety.  Some seashells are nearly transparent to allow sunshine to grow algae inside it for food.  Others have only small holes acting like vents to rid the animal's waste. (Now you know why there are holes on an abalone.)

Do you need a disguise?  Do you need to know how to perfect the art of camouflage?  Observe the habits of a thorny oyster shell or a flat periwinkle.  Mussels open and close their shells with ease whether in safety or trouble.  If you happen to be the tasty treat a tulip snail favors seek shelter.  They crash and crack.  Regardless of all the other benefits of seashells, they are first and foremost prized ocean abodes.


Author scientist Melissa Stewart delivers a carefully researched narrative using alliteration, distinctive verbs and similes in her conversational writing.  Her curious mind anticipates our questions and she supplies us with answers.  Readers are fully engaged in the comparisons to objects, animals or people with which they are familiar.

Seven sentences reflect those contrasts between the seashells and those objects, animals or people they resemble.  They refer to movement, stability, protection and acquiring food.  Here is a passage.

Seashells can wear disguises like a spy . . .

The spines on a thorny oyster's shell are the
perfect home for sponges, algae, and other
small creatures.  As these hitchhikers grow on
the outer surface of the oyster, they hide its
shell from hungry hunters.


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, a row of shells extends from either side of the spine.  On each side they are placed in order, largest to smallest in size moving from the spine.  The turquoise of the water gently lapping the shore and the darker shade in the title text provides a pleasing balance with the sand.  The sand is a natural and excellent canvas to emphasize the seashells.  It's as if we've been transported to a beach and are ready to stroll among nature's riches.

In shades of brown and white with a title of

Mollusk habitats
and ranges . . . 

each featured seashell is placed in thirteen rectangles on the opening and closing endpapers; six on the first and seven on the second set.  The shell and its geographical location (map) are shown.  They are labeled with the common and scientific names and habitat descriptions.  Beneath the text on the title page an array of seashells is shown in sand.

Sarah S. Brannen created these illustrations using

watercolor on Arches 300 lb. bright white cold press paper. 

She begins with a two-page pictures of five children walking along the beach, sketch pads and pencils in hand.  Two are seated or kneeling busily drawing seashells.  (She also closes the book with these five children leaving the seashore, carrying their drawings.  Shells are scattered in the sand and a sandcastle stands as a testament to further creativity.)  The images for each shell may cover two pages or a single page.  Usually an open sketch pad showcases special points about a particular seashell.  These are set within a larger visual.

Each illustration incorporates the object, animal or person which is being compared to the seashell.  A submarine glides in the water as a chambered nautilus moves.  Through an open window a ship's smokestack releases smoke as an abalone expels waste in a smaller image.  The placement of every element in each picture is as if we are turning the pages in an explorer's journal; we move from panoramic scenes to photographs or to sketch pad pictures.  The details are exquisitely realistic.

One of my many favorite illustrations extends over two pages.  The background picture is a sandy shore with a home and dock in the distance.  Palm trees shade the property.  In the foreground a father and daughter are hard at work repairing and replacing the boards on a small, overturned wooden boat.  The father is using a crowbar to remove planks.  The girl is using a drill bit to make holes in the new wood.  On the left side a lightning whelk is prying open a shell to eat.  On the right side an angelwing clam is burrowing into the sand to stay safe.  On the sketch pad is an angelwing clam showcasing the ridges on its shell used for going deeper into the ocean floor.


This book, Seashells More Than a Home written by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Sarah S. Brannen, is like finding a gift left by the ocean on the sand.  It is brimming with fascinating information and elevated with illuminating paintings.  At the close of the book both Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen offer readers notes on their process.  There is also two pages dedicated to the kinds of seashells; bivalves, cephalopods, chitons, gastropods and scaphopods.  At the conclusion are sources to Continue Your Exploration, Selected Sources, Author and Selected Sources, Illustrator.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Melissa Stewart has accounts on Facebook, Pinterest and TwitterMelissa's blog is an amazing resource.  Sarah S. Brannen has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  The cover for this title is revealed at educator Alyson Beecher's Kid Lit Frenzy.  The book trailer is premiered at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read.  Both Melissa and Sarah are interviewed.  You can view interior images at Charlesbridge and Penguin Random House Canada.


Be sure to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to discover the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.



 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Courage In Motion

Love pushes aside fear and makes us brave.  We do and say things we would never do or say except when motivated by love.  If we feel the recipient of our affection is in a precarious situation, we race to the rescue.

Science is still trying to decipher the development of lasting bonds between animals and humans.  For animals and their humans, science is not needed.  The love is tangible.  Truman (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, July 9, 2019) written by Jean Reidy with illustrations by Lucy Ruth Cummins explores courage compelled by a connection between a pet and his human.

Truman was small,
the size of a donut---
a small donut---
and every bit as sweet.

His human, Sarah, lived in the city in an apartment above all the noisy vehicles and the bus labeled 11.  Truman, the tortoise, was the opposite of the noisy streets.  He was quiet and thoughtful.  His Sarah was quiet and thoughtful, too.  They were a perfect match.

One day, Sarah, did some out-of-the-ordinary things.  She ate a banana for breakfast, wore a new sweater and a blue bow in her hair, put on a large backpack and gave Truman extra green beans for his meal, two to be exact.  With her finger she reached out to his shell, leaving a kiss.  She quietly gave him a message and left.

Truman started thinking about all those out-of-the-ordinary things.  He was worried.  He was even more worried when he saw Sarah leave on the bus labeled 11.  He waited and waited and waited for Sarah to come home.  She did not.  He had to find her.  He had to ride the bus labeled 11.  There was one huge problem.  He was inside a glass tank.

Truman was determined though.  He observed what had always been there with fresh eyes. Everything was daunting and HUGE without Sarah but a discovery, and a sound helped Truman to not only remember whispered words but feel them.  A happy arrival and a story at the end of the day gave one small tortoise named Truman all the hope his heart could hold for a future of togetherness with his human, Sarah.


With the first sentence author Jean Reidy gives us a character, a creature, we instantly adore.  Our affection grows upon reading the words, his Sarah.  Despite all the hustle and bustle of the outside world he sees from his tank, Truman finds serenity in living his life with Sarah.  Even when circumstances challenge that serenity, we are enveloped in the story. 

Jean Reidy supplies us with a welcoming rhythm in repeating words.  Alliteration is used to excellent effect.  It's poetic.  She gives us a world seen through Truman's eyes using special descriptions.  We are told Sarah's backpack is big.  (There is room for thirty-two tortoises to fit inside it.)  Here is a passage.

That's when he noticed
the rocks---
three rocks---
that had always been there.

Ordinary
rocks
that now
seemed
EXTRAORDINARY!


What readers can't initially see is upon opening the dust jacket, Sarah's body extends over the spine. It covers nearly two-thirds of the back.  She is wearing a pink skirt, short, full and bouncy; almost like a tutu. Her knees are bent up and one stockinged foot crosses on top of the other.  It's a relaxed pose as she gazes lovingly at Truman.  The ISBN has been cleverly placed to appear as a fixture in the home.

On the book case readers can see and feel a wide, vivid yellow cloth spine.  The front and back look like pink frosting covered in sprinkles . . . like a donut.  It's exactly like a donut Truman is eating on the first page of the book.  On the opening and closing endpapers a two-tone, golden-green color is used to supply a pattern like Truman's shell.

Each illustration by Lucy Ruth Cummins was

rendered in gouache, brush marker, charcoal, and colored pencil, and were finished digitally.

On the heavier, matte-finished paper liberal, splendid use of white space, accentuates the details, lines and colors in these images.  Lucy Ruth Cummins includes everyday charm like Sarah and her mother eating breakfast barefoot with their shoes next to them on the floor.  When numbers are mentioned, the objects have black numbers next to them.  The color palette within Sarah's home is bright and the patterns are cheerful.

The facial features on Truman and Sarah are completely endearing.  Lucy Ruth Cummins has captured all his tortoise-ness eloquently.  Points-of-view shift from seeing a large portion of a city street with small Truman watching from his tank in the apartment window to a close-up of him eating one of his seven green beans.  For extra emotional emphasis and pacing, we are sometimes very close to Truman.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is a close-up of Sarah and Truman on a white canvas.  Across most of the space Sarah is lying on her stomach, knees bent up and leaning her chin on one hand.  With her other hand she is coloring.  An open box of crayons is next to her on the left.  Other crayons are scattered on the left and right.  She is wearing a blue skirt with straps (a jumper).  Her shirt is pink with white hearts.  A yellow flower is tucked in her hair.  (This is important for later in the story.)  Close to Sarah, nearly nose to nose, is Truman.  He is resting his head on one of his arms as he watches her. 


There is much to appreciate (love) about this book, Truman written by Jean Reidy with illustrations by Lucy Ruth Cummins.  It is a story of bravery born of love.  It is a story of a human and animal bond.  It is a story of the first day of school told from an entirely new perspective.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.  We should all be so fortunate to have a Truman or a Sarah in our lives.

To learn more about Jean Reidy and Lucy Ruth Cummins and their other work, please access their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Jean Reidy has accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  Lucy Ruth Cummins has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  You can enjoy viewing interior images at the publisher's website.

Monday, July 15, 2019

To Be Me

Each living breathing person has an opportunity to be uniquely wonderful.  It's not easy to discover your gifts.  Those things which set you apart from others come from listening to the voice of your heart.  There's a lot of noise in the world.  If you seek those who guide you and not define you, you will hear the truest of words.  These words will help your soul to write its own melody.

There will be times (regardless of your age) when you will be told you can't be true to yourself.  A BOY like YOU (Sleeping Bear Press, July 15, 2019) written by Frank Murphy with illustrations by Kayla Harren is a book which will challenge those who would prevent you from shining your brightest light in the world.  This book will inspire boys (and girls) so they are complete in every way.

There are billions and
billions
and billions
of people in the world.
But you are the only YOU there is!

And the world needs a boy like you.

To begin an unseen narrator tells the reader a boy needs to be kind, helpful, smart and strong.  Strong and smart are described in a sport setting as are other ways to participate appropriately. But . . . sports are only one area when a boy can be himself.

Boys are encouraged to be gardeners, bakers, musicians, writers, scientists and to keep making discoveries.  It's only when you ask questions, you'll have the necessary answers.  When speaking of having the courage to inquire, readers are told

fear and bravery are partners.  

Being smart is when you know to request help.  Being strong is being able to cry.  Everyone cries, young and old, boys and men.  It's good to understand dreams are meant to be followed, even if you reshape them as you work toward them.

Do you remember there are billions and billions and billions of people?  They all have stories just like you.  Their stories are as worthy as your stories. Listen and share.  Be gracious and grateful.  Be the person people will remember for caring for our planet and its people.  Each reader, each boy, is reminded to be totally themselves.  This is the joy this world needs.


The words spoken by the unseen narrator as written by Frank Murphy are full of promise.  They are hopeful and helpful.  The sentences fashion possible scenarios and offer the best choices; choices making boys (all readers) better people.  The repetition of the two words Oh boy followed by a request creates a connecting thread throughout the book.  Here is a passage.

Say, "Please."
Say "Thank you."
Say "I love you."
(And if that's not exactly right,
simply say "I like you.")

And, maybe most importantly, say
"How may I help?"

Helping each other is the best way
to make our world stronger.

Oh boy, be thoughtful.


Every boy, every girl and every adult who looks at the front of the open and matching dust jacket and book case will see themselves or someone they know.  The open, attentive and quietly happy expressions on all the boys' faces welcome you into their company.  You want to know all of them.  Their diverse racial, and ethnic backgrounds are a wondrous sight!  The setting of a grassy field with a golden light in the background is splendid.  To the left, on the back, praise for the book is shown on a darker golden yellow canvas with children running along the bottom.  Our main character, his sibling and dog are among them.

On the opening and closing endpapers on a purple background are items found throughout the book.  They reference all aspects of the multitude of opportunities offered to boys in this book.  They are placed in seven loose vertical rows.  On the title page our main character is walking with his dog beneath the text.  A hummingbird is hovering above them.

Throughout the title the background colors are continually shifting from white, to blue, to green and to yellow.  Sometimes the illustration spans across two pages, smaller images are grouped on a full page and other pictures are on a single page, edge to edge.  Each picture follows and highlights the narrative.  There is motion and emotion in each scene carefully depicted by artist Kayla Harren.

Readers will find the details fascinating.  The boy and his father are both licking spatulas during a baking session.  The text is cleverly placed on a bulletin board in the boy's classroom.  On two separate pages being smart and brave are tied together with a bicycle riding lesson.  Readers will appreciate the continuity of the boy and his pup pictured together as much as possible.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is set on a white canvas.  A loosely framed beach scene is the setting.  On the upper portion of the picture is the water, sand and people enjoying the sunny day on towels and under umbrellas.  In the lower portion of the image is a sand fence.  In front of that on a path the boy is pulling a wooden wagon.  His younger sibling and white dog are riding in the wagon.  He is tossing a used water bottle into a recycling bin.  A butterfly is poised over the dog's nose.  The sun on the boy's t-shirt is wearing sunglasses.  On the youngest child's shirt is a butterfly.  The text reads

Leave every place you visit  . . . better than you found it.


Every time you read this book, whether it's the first time or the tenth time, you will feel the positive energy from the words and pictures soak into your soul.  A BOY like YOU written by Frank Murphy with illustrations by Kayla Harren is a title to have in every professional collection.  You will certainly want a copy for your personal bookshelves.  This book celebrates being exactly who you are meant to be.  There are an Author's Note about Being Strong and From the Author sections at the end.

To learn more about Frank Murphy and Kayla Harren and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Frank Murphy has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Kayla Harren has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  This title is highlighted with an interview with Frank Murphy on Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read.  You can view the book trailer there. Frank Murphy and this book are featured on Writing and Illustrating, Kathleen Temean.  Author illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi showcases Frank Murphy on INKYGIRL.  Kayla Harren has an extensive post at Writing and Illustrating, Kathleen Temean with loads of process art, numerous images and an interview.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Too Much Or Not Enough

Using numbers for counting is a part of nearly everything we do daily.  We have ten minutes left before taking cookies out of the oven.  We are two miles away from the grocery store.  We pump five gallons of gas into our car's tank.  Let's plant those trees four feet apart.  We are consciously or unconsciously counting all the time.  

We probably don't take into consideration the impact of amounts and certain things, but it is an intriguing way to look at numbers.  Is 2 a Lot?: An Adventure with Numbers (Tilbury House Publishers, June 4, 2019) written by Annie Watson with illustrations by Rebecca Evans explores concepts of quantity.  Readers will discover perceptions or points of view do weigh heavily on what may or may not be a lot of something or anything.  You might want to buckle up and hang on tight.  This is no ordinary ride.

One day Joey had a very important question.

"Is 2 a lot?" he asked his mommy. 

Joey's mother's reply is very interesting.  Two pennies are not a lot, but two odoriferous skunks are a lot.  When Joey's mom swerves to avoid hitting the skunks, they end up on an unusual two-track road with warning signs. (The skunks hop inside their station wagon as they travel through a nearly abandoned library.  How did they get inside a library?  And why did the librarian jump into the back of the car with the skunks?)

Joey keeps asking his mother about numbers, increasing them by one until he jumps from five to ten.  They meet a battered knight in shining armor, a group of wayward dogs and cowboys on a city street.  With the appearance of dinosaurs, the traveling-through-time trip takes on a whole new dimension.  Joey's mother keeps on driving as more and more guests hop inside and on top of their car.

Joey's mind leaps from ten to fifty to one hundred and then to one thousand.  Comparisons are made to leaves and letters, and snowflakes and candles.  When the adventurers find themselves at a hot air balloon festival, Joey goes silent.

His mother, who has encouraged all his inquires, turns to him and asks a question of her own.  Thinking back to the contrasts supplied by Mommy, Joey reveals what he has learned.  He has learned, as have readers, a lot!


With every question and two-part answer given, readers learn about the concept of point of view and comparison.  This story, told through dialogue and some narrative, by debut picture book author, Annie Watson, is certain to have readers alternately laughing and thinking about the conversation between Joey and his mother.  Through choice of words author Annie Watson supplies opportunities for expanded thinking.  She also allows readers to see how asking questions of a caring adult is a wonderful way to get great answers.  Here is a passage.

"What about 4?" asked Joey.

"Is 4 a lot?"

His mommy smiled.
"FOUR is not a lot of children
in a school bus," she answered,
"but it is a lot of dogs to walk at once."


Looking at the front and back of the open and matching dust jacket and book case announces to readers this is an extraordinary book about numbers. How often are dinosaurs, running dogs, skunks. hot air balloons, cowboys, dinosaurs, a stuffed toy owl and a parent and child traveling in their station wagon shown together?  The bright color palette leaning toward primary colors welcomes readers.

To the left, on the back, the car driving toward readers is placed in the center of what appears to be a desert.  Two hungry, or at the very least, angry dinosaurs are chasing anything that moves.  Two royal soldiers, two cowboys on horses (one is a girl with braided pigtails flying behind her) two skunks, and two dogs are all running alongside the car.  Joey is one happy little boy.  Mommy is consulting a map.  (I don't think there's a map for where she is.)  A bumper sticker on the front of the car reads:

2 FAST . . .
2 CURIOUS!

The vivid sky blue from the jacket and case is used to cover the opening and closing endpapers.  Artist Rebecca Evans starts her pictorial interpretation on the title page showing Joey and his mother walking from their home to the station wagon.  On the verso and dedication pages we move closer to the car.  Mommy is buckling Joey into his car seat.  Joey is carrying a book which looks very familiar.  

With each page turn readers are given visual displays of two-page pictures, or two-page pictures with panel insets, some of them in a series.  Readers will want to stop and look carefully at each illustration especially after the warning signs when Mommy veers off the main road. Rebecca Evans infuses humor in each image.  Readers will be laughing out loud at the details in the settings, and facial expressions and actions of all the characters. 

The carry-over from one scene to the next is splendid.  It presents a continuous flow of motion.  The hilarity increases as the station wagon moves from one geographic location to the next while trekking through history.

One of my many favorite illustrations is at the beginning.  The daylight on the drive Joey and his mother are taking dims as the car avoids hitting the two skunks and takes a dirt road on their left.  This scene takes up all two pages with the car, road and skunks on the left and the darkening forest on the right.  Two warning signs are posted at the entrance to the dirt road.  A vertical inset shows the back of the car as it goes down the road.  The two skunks are scampering along behind it.  On the left is another warning sign.  Dinosaurs?  I can already hear the giggling and laughter of readers.


This book most certainly will engage readers in thoughtful thinking about numbers, counting, perspective and comparison.  Is 2 a Lot?: An Adventure with Numbers written by Annie Watson with illustrations by Rebecca Evans is brimming with action depicted in words and fantastical illustrations.  I know your personal and professional collections will be enhanced by having a copy of this title.

To learn more about Annie Watson and Rebecca Evans and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  There is a classroom connection guide at Annie Watson's website.   Annie Watson has an account on Facebook.  Rebecca Evans has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Listen For Their Music

They appear when you least expect them.  There is the long-ago memory of holding a bouquet of fresh-cut zinnias while standing in my garden.  One landed on a flower to sip the nectar.  I stood, holding my breath.  There is the most recent recollection of digging up a new garden in the first few days of hot summer sun. Wearing a hat with netting to protect myself from the hordes of black flies, a sudden humming near my face had me freezing.  A hummingbird was there before my eyes.  Was I like some giant flower?  Was it coming to say hello? Or perhaps, and thankfully, it was coming to consume some of those flies.

In northern Michigan they are only here during our short summer months, but their tiny presence is a reminder of how resilient even the smallest beings are.  Hummingbird (Candlewick Press, May 7, 2019) written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Jane Ray is a narrative piece of nonfiction.  It's a blend of the annual migration of hummingbirds and how they encounter humans during their trek.  It's a tribute to one of nature's jewels.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are tiny---they weigh less than a nickel---but every spring they fly up to 2000 miles from Mexico and Central America to spend the summer in the United States and Canada, where they build their nests and have their babies.

Let this bit of information sink into your mind.  Think about it the next time you have change in your hand.  That nickel you hold is more than the weight of a hummingbird.  Wow!

A grandmother and her granddaughter wait in a garden for their arrival.  Holding bowls of sugar water, the duo, hardly daring to breathe, watch as the hummingbirds hum to take sips.

Tz' unun! Tz'unun! 

The elder remarks to the child the birds will soon leave to go north, just like her granddaughter. 

A lone sailor at sea watches a plane pass as a hummingbird rests in the ship's rigging for the night.  These birds will lose a great deal of weight during their flight.  Farther along the route siblings wait for the visitors.  In addition to the feeders of sugar water, they have a bug dispenser to provide protein for the hummingbirds.

It takes hummingbirds until May to arrive in southern Canada.  Individuals and families watch them claim their share of nectar and sugar water placed by humans.  Their nests are as tiny as they are.  If you crack open a walnut, half the shell is the size of a hummingbird nest.

Do you remember the little girl with her grandmother?  One day in a park in New York City, she realizes the truth of something Granny told her.  Later, as the chill of autumn comes, so does a letter, a package and an annual guest.


In her writing Nicola Davies provides information which heightens our interest and need to preserve these precious birds and their habitats.  By including several stories of human interactions, she makes life on this planet an act of togetherness.  We humans are enriched by the existence and appearance of hummingbirds.  Here is passage with the accompanying fact.

Hummingbirds must fly south.  The trip is long and hard for such small bodies, and many of them won't reach their destination.

Roads, houses, and cities built by humans
mean that there are now fewer places for
hummingbirds to refuel on their trip.


Stunning illustrations rendered in watercolor and watercolor pencil with gold ink

begin on the matching dust jacket and book case.  Realistic, delicate and intricate elements bring readers closely into the realm of the ruby-throated hummingbird.  The male feeding and the female sitting on their nest gives us a unique perspective of the continuation of these birds' marvelous life cycles.  The breathtaking color of the flora and the birds is elevated by the cream canvas.

To the left of the spine in golden yellow, on the back, the floral scene continues.  It frames text inviting readers to follow a remarkable yearly journey.  On the opening and closing endpapers illustrator Jane Ray has placed a variety of hummingbirds among greenery and flowers.  Some are resting and others are in flight.  These elements appear varnished against the background.  This follows the text---

Their feathers flash in the slants of light.

(This technique is used throughout the book.)

An informative and beautiful map, prior to the title and verso pages highlights the residences of the ruby-throated hummingbird in the summer and winter.  A single setting stretches over two pages for the verso and title.  A tree, leafy branches and flowers border the text.  In the lower right-hand corner blossoms welcome a male hummingbird with their scent and nectar.

Each page turn reveals a double-page picture or several full-page pictures and even smaller images to accentuate the text and pacing.  Each visual is full of lush and luminous items contributing to elegant views of these birds and the humans along their path.  At times in a single illustration Jane Ray alters her perspective giving us a larger point of view on one side before bringing us close on the opposite page.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is a close-up view of Granny's garden.  Spread along the sides, top and bottom are a glorious array of flowers, and leaves.  Rays of pale, golden sunlight radiate in the center of the two pages.  Hummingbirds on both pages seek the flowers.  Along the bottom of the right side, the granddaughter's hand provides a resting place of a male hummingbird.  To her right, Granny holds a bowl of sugar water.  Several hummingbirds are gathered there.


Through carefully chosen words and striking artwork readers are transported into the world of hummingbirds on their travels each year and how they survive.  The humans, as shown here, welcome them and assist them . . . as we should.  Hummingbird written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Jane Ray is a title you will want in your personal and professional collections.  It, like its subject, is a gem.

To learn more about Nicola Davies and Jane Ray and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  At Penguin Random House and Candlewick Press, you can view interior images.  Nicola Davies has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Jane Ray has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. I hope you enjoy the video of Jane Ray speaking about her work.

 





Please take a few moments to view the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.