Quote of the Month

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

Monday, September 30, 2019

Weaving Hope

When war, a world war, strikes, the lives of families are paused.  A new normal begins.  Days and nights become all about waiting and hoping.  As a child I knew the impact on my father and on my mother of him serving in World War II.  I heard his stories.  Pictures are adhered in a bulging scrapbook.  Other items he wore on his uniform along with his dog tags are as treasured as the memories they represent.  Serving in the military leaves a mark on everyone involved, away from home and at home.

Letters are exchanged when possible.  You wonder every single day about the safety of those on duty.  The biggest question is:  When will they be home?  At The Mountain's Base (Kokila, September 17, 2019) written by Traci Sorell ( We Are Grateful Otsaliheliga     Charlesbridge, September 4, 2018) with illustrations by Weshoyot Alvitre is a thoughtful and eloquent expression in poetic words and beautiful images of a Cherokee family longing and anticipating the return of a member in the military.  

At the mountain's base
grows a hickory tree.

Under this hickory tree is a cabin with a wood-burning stove warming the kitchen.  A favorite meal cooks on the stove in pans that have stood the test of time.  Near those pans on that stove in that kitchen is a grandmother.

As she weaves, she thinks of the one who is missing as other family members gather around her.  They work together and begin to sing.  Their song reaches out across many miles to a battle being waged.

A plane files through the battle.  Its pilot does her best to safeguard others. The plane swerves and moves up and down in a rhythm.  In this rhythm the pilot sends out a prayer.

As the narrative continues and concludes, we discover the plea within the prayer.  Filled with compassion we understand the reason for the plea as we are brought back to the beginning.  There is a mountain and at its base . . .

As the words written by Traci Sorell are read silently or aloud, a feeling of reverence increases page turn by page turn.  Layers of family life and tradition build until we find ourselves moving from one place to another before we return.  We, like the pilot, are woven into a fabric strengthened by each generation.  The use of verbs ending in "ing" to further describe the grandmother, the family, the battle, the plane and the pilot creates a gentle cadence.  Here is a single sentence.  Notice the use of alliteration by author Traci Sorell.

On that stove
simmers savory goodness
in well-worn pans. 

When you open the dust jacket the image of the woman weaving colorful yarns over the mountain extends to each flap edge.  Her hair flows to the far left and far right corners of those flap edges.  Beneath her hair are faint clouds, sky and the pattern formed by her weaving.  The landscape of trees and lower hills also extends to each flap edge.  Bordering the edges is a single strand in red.  This representation is truly stunning.

Under the dust jacket, on the book case, is the gorgeous woven pattern in green, red, golden yellow and cream.  The details will have readers reaching to feel the implied texture.   The pattern radiates from the spine.

On the opening and closing endpapers, on a cream canvas, are strands of yarn on the left in blue, golden yellow, red and green.  They hang knotted and ready to be used.  On the right, from the center of the edge and billowing out in the right corner is a portion of a completed weaving.  The dedication and publication information and title pages are a lush two-page picture of the mountain, forest and cabin.

The art rendered in gouache, watercolor, and ink on illustration board by Weshoyot Alvitre works in perfection with the text to supply a wonderful pacing.  Panels, two illustrations to a page, or a single picture on a page are framed in yarn with loops connecting them.  The yarn is always present (except for three illustrations) representing an unbroken foundation.

The details in these illustrations, especially on the family's facial features, are exquisite.  Several double-page pictures will have you gasping when you turn the page.  A final single-page wordless picture is sure to bring forth a sigh.

One of my many, many favorite pictures spans two pages.  The canvas is a crisp white.  The perspective is as if we are looking down on the grandmother.  Along the bottom on the right and across the gutter for a portion on the left are the grandmother's arms and hands, part of the top of her head and her face, eyes closed, in concentration.  Her hands are weaving eleven strands of yarn.  These strands spread out to her left, center and right, leaving the top of both pages.  On the left in a space fashioned by the elements of this image are the words:

And worrying.

This book, At The Mountain's Base written by Traci Sorell with illustrations by Weshoyot Alvitre, is one to read repeatedly.  It supplies calm, inspires courage and is a tribute to the power of family and heritage of the Cherokee.  At the close of the book in an Author's Note we read about the Native women who have served in the military and continue to serve on active duty today.  We are told about one Native woman, Ola Mildred "Millie" Rexroat, an Oglala Lakota pilot with a highly distinguished career and how she was and is honored.  You will want to place a copy of this title in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Traci Sorell and Weshoyot Alvitre and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Traci Sorell has accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.  Weshoyot Alvitre has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. At Penguin Random House you can see one of the endpapers.  Traci Sorell visits and is introduced at author Jarrett Lerner's website.  At author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's website, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, the artwork of Weshoyot Alvitre for this book is featured along with a discussion on her medium, process and other work.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Science Behind The Splendor

It's as if there is a contest unknown to humans.  It happens annually.  This year the champion resides in my neighborhood.  More than a month ago, it burst into brilliance, nearly overnight.  You could almost hear it shouting---"I won! I won!" Even today it stands out in a sea of green here and in contrast to the rolling hills behind it.

Predictions are in place for when the rest of the trees will be releasing their vivid colors.  Time will tell if they will ring true.

 Summer Green To Autumn Gold: Uncovering Leaves' Hidden Colors (Millbrook Press, August 8, 2019) written and illustrated by Mia Posada explains with careful clarity the science behind the shift of hues in our trees from season to season.

What kinds of leaves do you see in the summer?

In summer the leaves on trees are variations on an array of green.  These tints are formed in the cells of leaves.  We are told chloroplasts inside cells hold chlorophyll, a green color.   Chlorophyll not only colors the leaves but contributes to the creation of food by helping to blend gas from the air, water and energy from the sun.

Did you know there is something hiding behind the chlorophyll?  It's other pigments.  These pigments remain concealed until summer slowly switches to autumn.  The cooler temperatures halt the production of food.  For now, chlorophyll's task is complete.  It vanishes.  Now the unseen hues appear.

We will see yellows, oranges, reds, browns and mixes of these colors.  The type of tree, the rainfall, temperature and sunlight can cause changes from year to year.  As the season progresses, the stems of the leaves begin to break away from the branches, fashioning a bright blanket on the ground.  Smaller creatures that live on and under the ground use the fallen leaves for their meals and homes.

By the first snowfall most of the trees will have lost their fall foliage.  Like the rest of the world, winter is a pause, a period of little or no activity.  Buds await the first signs of spring to bring back the green.  Chlorophyll is ready to work.

By beginning this book with a question, Mia Posada as author invites readers to participate in her exploration of leaves and their colors.  Concise, explicit sentences provide information.  Within these sentences certain words are enlarged, made bold or colored differently than the other words.  In this manner readers are better able to recognize words they know or enlarge their vocabulary with richer descriptive words.  Here is a passage.

Slowly, summer creeps toward fall.
The air cools, and the nights grow longer.
These changes tell trees it is time to get ready for winter.

As you look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, starting with the front, it's as if you are peering through a bunch of scooped-up leaves to read the title, some from summer and others from autumn.  It's a nice design technique to have the title font vary in color to match the leaves using purple (a complementary color to yellow) in the sub-title letters.  To the left, on the back, still on a crisp white canvas, we are given a panoramic view.  In the distance on the left are three trees colored in orange, red and yellow.  Much closer on the right is a single trees with leaves in oranges.  Falling leaves are very close to us.  The front and back flaps on the jacket contain a portion of an interior image.

A deep green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the initial title page, a similar gathering of leaves frames the text.  On the verso (dedication and publication information) page a landscape scene on the bottom right and a tree branch with a couple of lady bugs on the upper right direct our attention to the text.  Opposite, on the formal title page, less leaves in greens and reds, yellows and oranges border the words.

Each page turn supplies us with a double-page picture with the illustration rendered

using cut-paper collage with watercolor.

On the first image we see all kinds of green leaves, sixteen in number, spread from page edge to page edge and labeled.  On subsequent pages Mia Posada as illustrator presents pictorial scenes or moves us close to the leaves or branches. Twice she magnifies a spot on a leaf to supply a more precise explanation.  As she takes us through the seasons, we return to a dock on a shore for continuity.  Other animal life is included in many of the images.

One of my many favorite illustrations is in the fall.  Close to readers on the right is the dock with the red canoe tied to it.  Several trees on the right and one to the left of the gutter in yellows, reds and oranges are close to us.  Spread in a curve around the shoreline is a collection of breathtaking colors courtesy of the trees.  Five birds fly in the curve of water and sky.  This is a beautiful presentation.

For curious readers, budding biologists, a unit on seasons, autumn, leaves or plants, Summer Green To Autumn Gold: Uncovering Leaves' Hidden Colors written and illustrated by Mia Posada is an excellent choice.  The gorgeous illustrations ask us to stop and appreciate the beauty nature offers us but they also furnish us with a pleasing background for learning the given information.  At the close of the book Mia Posada includes paragraphs titled Different Kinds Of Leaves, Pigments In Nature, Fall Colors Around The World and From Fall To Fall, Colors Can Change.  There is also a glossary and Hands-on Experiments with Leaves and Pigments.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional libraries.  I am grateful to author and scientist Melissa Stewart for recommending this book.

To learn more about Mia Posada and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images at the opening page and by clicking on Read Excerpt.  On the publisher's blog Mia Posada answers questions about this book.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected on Wednesday, September 25, 2019 by other participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Following Toward Forever

Late Thursday night in the eastern daylight time zone and in the early hours of Friday morning, you could see a movement swell. It traveled across our planet from place to place as the day September 20, 2019 dawned.  This outpouring of support for the Global Climate Strike clearly demonstrates the power of a single soul to rally people around a worldwide crisis.

While the efforts of this sixteen-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, have rightfully drawn international attention, there are other champions, single souls, who without any notice, change a life (or lives) for the better every day.  These unsung heroes walk among us, displaying compassion for those who do not have the ability to care for themselves.  They see what is needed and respond accordingly.  Stormy (Schwartz & Wade, September 17, 2019) conceived and illustrated by Guojing (The Only Child, Schwartz & Wade, December 15, 2015) is a striking depiction of kindness steadfastly delivered and eventually received.  It is about being lost and found.  It is about having a place to call home.

Without words this story begins and ends on the opening and closing endpapers.  On the first is a heap beneath a bench beneath a tree in a park.  Following this is a double-page picture for the title, verso and dedication pages, moving us closer to the bench.  A small curly-haired dog is sleeping in a ball shape for warmth.

 In a series of horizontal panels, a woman comes to the bench to read a newspaper.  The pup, afraid, runs away and watches her from a distance until she leaves.  As night falls, the homeless dog is again under the bench.  As the tale continues in a collection of horizontal panels, some nearly perfect squares, the woman returns the next day with a ball for the dog.  She carefully tries to get it to play.  The dog runs away.  The woman leaves but does not take the ball.

 On the third day a cautious game of throw and fetch takes place between the woman and the hesitant stray.  As the sun starts to set, there is still a distance between them.  The woman leaves to head back to her home in the city.  She does not know the dog, ball in its mouth, is following her at a safe space.

After the woman walks through her door, the dog sits outside, as if willing her to look out her window and discover it there.  It gets darker and darker and begins to rain.  The shower turns into a full-blown storm with flashes of lightning and thunder.  Drenched and shaking, the pup seeks shelter in a soggy cardboard box by the doorway, leaving the ball on the sidewalk.

Within the final seven page turns, readers will feel their hearts racing.  They will want to call out to the dog and the woman.  You can't help but sense the deep desperation filling both these beings.  You wonder and wish.  And then . . .

Without words we still comprehend everything through the striking visuals created by Guojing.  Each moment is portrayed exquisitely and explicitly to the point the words appear spontaneously in our minds and are engraved on our hearts.  This connection through art begins on the front of the dust jacket.  The pup's stance is assured but seeking.  The ball is a symbol of patience, kindness and acceptance.  The luminosity seen in the clouds is a technique used throughout the book to supply warmth or the hope of warmth.

To the left, on the back of the dust jacket it's night in the park.  The dog is sitting in front of the bench with the ball on the ground in front of it.  Fireflies sparkle among the grass as a few stars twinkle in the partly cloudy sky.  A crescent moon glows on the right.  The dust jacket is covered in a deep midnight blue.  The only element other than the author's name, the title and publisher's logo on the spine is a silver dog tag on the front.  It reads STORMY above an etched dog bone.

As stated earlier the opening endpapers start this story and the closing endpapers end the story at the same place with noticeable differences. 

The illustrations were rendered in pencil and watercolor and compiled digitally.

Each panel in a group of panels on a single page directs our attention to a specific moment.  The panel sizes vary to place emphasis on those moments.  Our eyes move from each one to the next, forming an emotional connection between us and the woman and the dog.  For dramatic effect Guojing has full-page and double-page pictures.  They wrap around us, making us a part of the narrative. 

Each of these panels are also a layer to the story.  We can perceive something growing.  The skies behind the woman,  the dog and each setting are also indicative of changes.  The use of light and shadow is masterful by Guojing.  As the rain begin in earnest a streetlight shines on the dog waiting outside the woman's home.  The only other light is from her window.  All other windows are dark.  As the storm intensifies the darkness with little light formulates one vivid scene after the other.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  The tree near the park bench extends up the left side with one branch moving along the top and across the gutter almost to the bench.  Two birds fly in a glowing sky.  Next to the tree the small dog sits with the ball between its paws.  Almost next to the bench the woman sits, knees drawn up and held by her arms.  The two watch each other carefully.  You know they both desire to be closer.  The one has survived by being cautious but needs love and the other has a great deal of love to give but doesn't want to frighten the other.  You have to remind yourself to breathe looking at this picture.

If reading the dedication

For my lost dog, Dou Dou.
I miss you. 

does not bring tears to your eyes, there will be other moments when you will burst into sobs.  But . . . in this book, Stormy conceived and illustrated by Guojing, despite every circumstance, we find ourselves believing in miracles.   We find our tears turning to joy and true contentment born of love.  I recommend this book with all the stars for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Guojing and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Guojing has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Here is the publisher's website highlighting Stormy.  Enjoy the artwork here and on Guojing's Instagram account.  Author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson, talks about this book on her site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and she also includes artwork.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Food For Thought---Frank And Bean Blog Tour

Two words with similar sounds have completely different meanings.  Being alone is empowering, reminding us to seek and experience our best qualities in silence, contemplation and creativeness.  It's energizing.  In some respects, lonely is the opposite of alone.  It's a feeling of being lost, unsure and out of balance.  It's an unwelcome weight.

When people see someone alone, they might believe they are lonely but a verbal exchange, a short conversation, can reveal the truth.  Sometimes in this conversation the two individuals discover wonderful attributes about each other.  Two perfect personalities exhibiting this possibility are being introduced to the children's literature realm soon.

Frank And Bean (Candlewick Press, October 8, 2019) written by Jamie Michalak with illustrations by Bob Kolar will have readers nodding their heads in agreement between bouts of laughter.  Humans generally consume these two items of food together, finding them to complement each other.  Frank and Bean, as fictional characters in this early reader, are complete opposites.  In four concise charming chapters, we meet this duo and join them as a friendship forms.

Chapter 1
This is Frank.
This is Frank's tent.
This is Frank's pencil.
This is Frank's spork.
This is Frank's secret notebook.
Everything here is Frank's.

Being alone is exactly what Franks wants so he can write his private thoughts in his notebook.  He moves from the croaking frog and the hooting owl and even startles himself when he wanders into a pond.  Seeking solitude and quiet is not as easy as he thought.  None of the night creatures respond to his wishes for a good night, so lying in his tent he tells himself good night.

The next morning quietly eating his breakfast Frank is surprised by a loud honking.  It's a bus, Bean's bus.  It's loaded with all sorts of things to generate noises, loud noises.  Bean has a trumpet, a drum, a triangle, a motorbike and a gong.  He plays more than one of those instruments.  He rides his motorbike.  Frank is frustrated and keeps trying to get Bean to stop.  Bean is so loud he misunderstands Frank's requests, substituting words.  Before Frank's knows what's happening, Bean is at his tent expecting pie.  (Frank said goodbye.)

As the two chat Bean discloses the nature of his quest to Frank.  Frank, in turn, explains to Bean, the shortest and easiest way to complete his search.  Of course, Bean being Bean, interrupts repeatedly with noise, antics and his own request of Frank.  Frank must eat a jelly doughnut hole.


As the final chapter begins Frank is snuggled in his tent attempting to sleep when Ben's trumpet echoes through the campsite.  Frank, going to Bean's bus, implores him to be quiet.  After a second endeavor for silence, Bean shows up at Frank's tent.  Remember the word lonely.  This is Bean on this night.  A frank discussion takes the best of both these beings and supplies readers with a perfect complementary resolution.

As you read through the narrative and the dialogue, you can't help but wonder how much fun Jamie Michalak had writing this book.  She gives us very clear descriptions of the personalities of both Frank and Bean through examples.  The contrast in their traits is a source of comedy.  Repetition of sentence structure provides a cadence for readers.  It is in the fourth chapter, Jamie Michalak gets to more profound statements, statements ringing true for readers of all ages.  Here is a passage.

"I am Frank," says Frank.  "What are you doing here?"
"I did not say cheer," says Frank.
"Turn off your bike so I can talk with you."
"MOO?" Bean shouts.  "DO I HEAR A COW?"

I don't know about you, but when I look at Frank and Bean on the matching and open dust jacket and book case, I can't help but grin. Their facial expressions here (and throughout the book) reflect their true natures.  Frank looks quiet and studious.  Bean looks boisterous and ready to romp.

The sky filled with a few clouds, the evergreens and forest trees continue on the other side of the spine.  The frog mentioned in the story is sitting on a rock in the lower left-hand corner of the back.  The text framed by the clouds reads:

Some friendships are
just meant to be.

The opening and closing endpapers are striped in two hues of golden yellow.  The stripes are similar in size to the stripes on Frank's tent.  On the title page Frank's secret notebook and Bean's hat are featured between the text.  Under the Contents text Frank is pulling a tiny wagon loaded with his goodies.  It is labeled Frank Furter.  This is one of the many humorous details illustrator Bob Kolar includes in his images for this title.

Frank's tent is a mini version of a circus tent with an initial "F" on the roof with a red circle, knob, on the tip of the top.  Bean's bus has large windows on all its sides.  The lettering reads Bean The Musical Fruit.  There is a "B" on the front of it.

The illustration sizes vary according to the text, pacing and emphasis on the activities of the characters.  They alternate between full-page pictures, insets on crisp white backgrounds, and double-page pictures.  It's guaranteed readers will be giggling and guffawing.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is a double-page picture.  It's Frank's first night in the forest.  A few clouds remain in the darker sky, but stars frame the top and curve down the sides.  There are several evergreen trees, one large tree for the owl and a pink tree in full bloom.  The frog is sitting on his rock.  A few crickets surround the area.  Frank's hat with the head lamp, his secret notebook, pencil and spork are laying on the ground right outside the tent.  Frank, due to his height, is mostly outside the tent.  He is wearing a striped nightcap and his glasses.

Excellent for the intended audience but certain to be enjoyed by readers of all ages, Frank And Bean written by Jamie Michalak with illustrations by Bob Kolar is a topnotch early reader.  The use of language and the lively, joyous images work a special kind of spell.  You'll want a copy of this for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Jamie Michalak and Bob Kolar and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Jamie Michalak has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  The link to her blog is here.  Bob Kolar has an account on Instagram.  At Candlewick Press and at Penguin Random House you can view interior images.  I was honored to host the cover reveal for Frank And Bean.  Both Jamie Michalak and Bob Kolar discuss their work and this book.

Here are two interior images provided by author Jamie Michalak done with skill and hilarity by Bob Kolar.

Jamie Michalak has a guest post on author Jarrett Lerner's site as part of this blog tour.

Thursday, September 19, 2019


Even the most easygoing individual cannot maintain such a demeanor consistently and constantly.  For there resides in each being a wildness.  Although it usually waits to be called, sometimes it bursts forth unbidden.  It has a craving; a craving needing to be satisfied.

At the appearance of this ferocity, there are usually two choices.  You can either succumb or decide to fight back the urge.  Hungry Jim (Chronicle Books, September 3, 2019) written by Laurel Snyder with illustrations by Chuck Groenink portrays a young boy whose morning begins not exactly as planned.

When Jim woke up on Tuesday,
his tail had fallen asleep.

What Jim finds strange about this circumstance is he has no recollection of having a tail.  When his mother announces pancakes for breakfast from the kitchen, Jim's stomach responds with a distinct grumble.  It's not for the promised pancakes, but for his mother.

In their conversational exchange from upstairs to the kitchen, Jim declares he is not yearning for pancakes.  Looking in the mirror, Jim sees a beast, a king of beasts.  As he approaches the kitchen, Jim is decidedly conflicted.  He does not want to consume his mother, but that's all he intensely covets.  So, he swallows her, all of her.

This does not leave him feeling quite right, but his appetite is far from satisfied. Leaving his home and running down the street, he munches and swallows a variety of bystanders and shop owners.  He feels remorse but the wild hunger inside him will not calm.  His frustration at his behavior and his stomach's desire for whatever it wants grows. 

He races from his community and roams in a nearby forest until he comes to the edge of a cliff overlooking a stormy sea.  As Jim is thinking about this dilemma, he hears another growl.  This time it is not his stomach but something as big, beastly and hungry as he is.  It appears that the consumer is about to be consumed.  Given the activities of Jim's morning, several events follow.  Perhaps you believe you know what will happen, but with this author's and this illustrator's combined skills, it's doubtful.  Be prepared to be delightfully dazzled.

After reading the first three sentences written by Laurel Snyder, readers know this is a book full of surprises.  They also quickly realize a truth is being presented.  Through the narrative, Jim's thoughts, and conversations with his stomach, as well as other characters, all liberally seasoned with humor, we find ourselves completely captivated by Jim's predicament.  This is masterful storytelling because there is never a moment when we are not present in this tale, invited by every word.  Here is a passage.

"I don't feel much like a pancake today," called Jim.

"Well, what do you feel like?" asked his mother.

Jim stared into the mirror.

He felt beastly.

Little do readers know when looking at the front of the dust jacket, the Jim referred to in the title is not a lion but a little boy.  By the look in his eyes, he's about ready to spring into action.  The title text is raised and varnished.  To the left, on the back, readers are given a view of the dark, forbidding forest where Jim makes several decisions. 

When removing the jacket, the book case is an extension of the back scene on the jacket.  More gnarled trees fill the right side and stretch off the top of the case.  In two trunk hollows, one on the left and one on the right, tiny glowing eyes watch readers.  (This image is shown on Chuck Groenink's website.)

On the opening and closing endpapers the canvas presents as lion's fur.  With a page turn, we are standing outside Jim's bedroom door in the hallway.  The title is posted as a sign on his door.

Chuck Groenink rendered these remarkable illustrations, on heavier, matte-finished paper, throughout the book

in pencil and Photoshop.

He complements and elevates the story with every picture.  The text never mentions the word lion.  It does not mention the details seen in every scene; pictures on walls, the kitchen appliances, shelving and contents, the architecture of the buildings in the town, or the names of the businesses.  (Humans with canine companions will understand the elements in one particular picture.) It does not mention exactly what happens after Jim makes decisions in the forest.  The pictures tell us more.

These illustrations vary in size to accentuate the pacing.  Several are wordless but nonetheless very powerful.  Sometimes we are given a larger view, or we may be closer to Jim.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  On the far left is the stairway with Jim as a lion ready to pounce as he peers around the edge.  Completely unaware is his mother standing in the kitchen at the stove, making pancakes.  The kitchen area covers a full page on the right, crosses the gutter and continues to a fourth of the left page.  The colors in the kitchen are subdued in creams, a shade of green and hues of blue and rust.  The table is set for two.  A cat is curled on a chair seat, sleeping.  The kitchen window is wide open.  This image is loaded with anticipation.

This book, Hungry Jim written by Laurel Snyder with illustrations by Chuck Groenink, is sumptuous when read silently but as a read aloud, with an individual or with a group, it is an exquisite feast for readers' minds and hearts.  At the close of the book, opposite the publication information, is the dedication.  If readers have not already seen this title as a tribute to the one and only Maurice Sendak, Laurel Snyder and Chuck Groenink make this clear with their words. I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Laurel Snyder and Chuck Groenink, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Laurel Snyder has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Chuck Groenink has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson highlights this title on her site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, with loads of artwork.  Laurel Snyder is interviewed about her work at Publishers Weekly on August 15, 2019.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Sound The Horns! Drum Roll, Please! It's A Cover Reveal!

Just when you think nothing can top your reading of Pie in the Sky written and illustrated by Remy Lai, an invitation appears in your email.  You have been asked and are thrilled to except a request to participate in a blogger blitz for the cover reveal of her new book.  Fly On The Wall is set to be released this coming spring, 2020.  For more information, please follow this link.





Be sure to send some book love for this cover to Remy Lai on her accounts at Instagram and Twitter.

In Their Thundering Footsteps Our Future Lies

There will be times when the title of a book alone brings you to tears.  The thought of the words becoming a reality is too painful to envision.  As a child you believed you might never see certain animals because they lived on continents or habitats far removed from yours.  As a much older adult you know you might never see them because they have gone extinct . . . because of humans, their greatest threat.

This coming Friday, September 20, 2019 and next Friday, September 27, 2019 mark the Global Climate Strike where young people are inviting everyone to participate.  Our planet and all its inhabitants are in trouble.  In the third book in her series (If Sharks Disappeared Roaring Brook Press, May 23, 2017 and If Polar Bears Disappeared Roaring Brook Press, August 28, 2018) author illustrator Lily Williams shifts her focus to one of the largest land mammals. If Elephants Disappeared (Roaring Brook Press, August 17, 2019) addresses in a frank, easy-to-understand narrative how vital these creatures are to one essential environment, the tropical rain forest.

complex ecosystem filled with many different
types of landscapes, plants, and animals.

A variety of animals live here but one of the smallest of the largest land animals is the African forest elephant.  As the smallest it still can rise to ten feet tall and weigh a staggering 11,000 pounds.  They are known as a keystone species.  Every single thing they do affects their habitat.  If they're gone, the tropical rain forests in Africa would be altered into something entirely different.

Did you know these elephants eat hundreds of pounds of food every day?  Did you know they can walk thousands of miles each year to find food and water?  Their poop, dung, holds a multitude of seeds which repopulates the flora of tropical rain forests in Africa increasing the biodiversity as they move from place to place.

It's shocking to note that from 2001 to 2018 sixty-two percent (62%) of their population has diminished mainly due to poaching. 

In a carefully explained chain of events, we read if they disappeared, their dung which fertilizes the seeds it carries would disappear.  Without the array of plants certain animals wouldn't have food to eat or homes.  Without these over 40 species of plants, big trees would rule the landscape, changing the entire habitat.  Now the tropical rain forest is truly in jeopardy.  With no plant diversity or animals, what do you think happens next?

When one ecosystem fails, it spreads to others.  Our entire planet would feel the absence.  In closing we are reminded elephants are still found in the African tropical rain forests, but we need to raise our voices to protect and preserve them.  We are all connected.

The technique used by Lily Williams to provide facts is meticulously clear.  She begins with an overview of elephants, even briefly describing their evolution, and then proceeds with their place as a keystone specie, how they eat and the value of their dung.  After speaking about their shrinking population, she starts a series of paragraphs paced as page turns and ending with the words if _____ disappeared.  This adds an engaging rhythm while informing readers, leading us to the startling but truthful premise based on scientific evidence.  Her concluding pages supply readers with hope and encouragement.  Here is a passage.

If plant biodiversity disappeared . . .  (page turn)

the large trees would take over the forest.  Though large trees reduce harmful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by capturing carbon in the air and storing it, they also depend on fast-growing smaller plants to create biodiversity in the forest.  Larger trees would dominate the forest, crowding out space for themselves and other species.  The change in plant life would affect the forest soil, causing erosion, flooding, and even differences in the amount of rainfall the area gets.

Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case the rain forest location moves first to the right flap edge and then over the spine and to the left flap edge.  This expanse draws us into the experience with the featured children, not only here but on other pages within the book.  Lily Williams has etched an outline around the elephant to indicate its possible disappearance.  Here shades of green in the variety of plants and trees and brightly hued small insects create a credible atmosphere.

To the left, on the back two smaller elephants, also outlined in white, follow the adult.  A snake hangs from a tree branch.  On the left end flap a group of elephants walks in the distance.

On the opening and closing endpapers a spectacular view is shown.  Everything is in black except for the water and sky.  Shades of pink, orange, yellow and a bit of white color those spaces.  Edging the water are hills and the rain forest.  On the left a tree and plants provide framing.  In the water the adult elephant leads the two smaller ones, trunks to tails, connected in security.

Each page turn reveals a two-page picture with shifts in perspective.  We are dazzled by a birds-eye view of elephants making their way through the forest and a close-up of an elephant's head.  Readers will find themselves looking at additional details and smaller elements in the images.  They will enjoy the tiny bit of humor, too.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the text quoted previously.  In a series of panels of the same area, which looks like a continuous picture, the changes by the lack of plant biodiversity are obvious.  As your eyes move from left to right, animals and plants except for the large trees vanish.  Little if any light gets through the treetops.  You can almost hear the lack of life, a stifling silence.

Essential for all personal and professional collections, If Elephants Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams will linger in all readers' minds long after the book is read.  Lily Williams includes a Glossary, All Elephants Are In Trouble, Tropical Forests, How You Can Help Save Elephants, Author's Note, Acknowledgements, Bibliography and Additional Sources on four final pages.  They are wonderfully conversational.  You could pair this title with How To Be An Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild (David Macaulay Studio, Roaring Brook Press, September 19, 2017) written and illustrated by Katherine Roy or The Elephant (Enchanted Lion Books, September 25, 2018) written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond.

To learn more about Lily Williams and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Lily Williams has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At her site and the publisher's website you can view interior images.  You might like this article in Publishers Weekly titled Lily Williams Continues Her Environmental Mission.

For more nonfiction titles, be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see what other participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge have chosen this week.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Bending A Purpose

They stand alone day in and day out for months and even years.  They never utter a single word.  Creatures of the field and forest give them a wide berth.  They are made to spread fear, especially in birds.  Birds that would eat a farmer's freshly seeded fields or crops waiting to be harvested are not welcome.

Perhaps this is why these creations are given the name scarecrow.  This is a lonely, dismal task even for a being with seemingly no feelings.  The Scarecrow (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 3, 2019) written by Beth Ferry with illustrations by The Fan Brothers (Eric Fan and Terry Fan) focuses on one scarecrow.  This scarecrow decides to alter its purpose.

Autumn sunshine.
Haystacks rolled.
Scarecrow guards the fields of gold.

As expected, the fox, deer, mice and crows stay a safe distance from this man of straw standing near a tree in the field.   The fall season passes, and winter settles her cloak of snow on the surrounding fields.  The scarecrow does not have a single soul to keep him company.  He longs for spring.

Upon its arrival spring brings a surprise to the scarecrow.  A small crow drops at his feet.  Then Scarecrow, like spring, does something surprising.  He breaks his pole, bends down and scoops up the fallen baby.  He fashions a cozy nest from his hay and clothing.  He croons sweet songs to the feathered child.  Wounds heal and two hearts become one in friendship.

When the tiny bird learns to fly, Scarecrow understands the bird will leave and he cannot follow, but he nevertheless encourages the fledgling.  Summer and autumn come and go.  Winter brings cold and snow.  Scarecrow is alone, now leaning forward on his broken pole.  Sadness settles like a weight in the straw man's heart.

Moving through an early spring rain something, a bigger something, drops near the scarecrow.  Unbidden Scarecrow opens his weary arms.  Wounds are healed and two hearts rekindle a lasting friendship which as seasons and time dictate multiplies one heart at a time.

Like a melody you want to hum all day long, the words penned by Beth Ferry in this narrative implore you to read them over and over, savoring every beautifully written thought and emotion.  Her rhyming flows flawlessly.  The placement of her words from page to page supplies us with pacing that is perfection.  She alternates between short two-word punctuated phrases and longer sentences.  Repetition of key words ties portions together neater than a bow.  Here is a passage.

He tucks him near his heart of hay.
He lets him sleep.
He lets him stay.
He doesn't stop to wonder why.
He sings the sweetest lullaby.

When you run your fingers over the open dust jacket, the texture feels like the cloth on the scarecrow's shirt or denim overalls.  The scene drawn by artists Eric Fan and Terry Fan, The Fan Brothers, evokes the feel of fabric, hay, burlap and the sounds of rustling grasses in an open field.  We are left wondering why the scarecrow is smiling at the tiny black crow.

This initial picture on the front of the dust jacket continues over the spine and to the back, on the left.  Scarecrow's hand points to another field and a line of trees.  In the near distance is a barn and windmill.  Clouds softly billow in this sky, too.  The crow in different sizes is shown on the front and back flaps.  The details here, on the dust jacket, and throughout the book are marvelous.

The same surface feel on the dust jacket is used on the book case.  This is a portion of the overalls, all denim on the front and back with two exceptions.  On the left is a green plaid patch.  On the right is a rusty red-orange plaid patch.  These match the patches on Scarecrow's legs.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a canvas of olive green.  On the initial title page, a full-grown crow is perched on a post with barbed wire stretched on either side.  On the formal title page, a luminous landscape greets readers.  Sun-kissed clouds, some pinkish-purple and other golden brown, span above a field across a double-page picture.  The sun low to the horizon radiates from the gutter on either side.  On the right, Scarecrow stands tall near the single tree.

Rendered in

pencil, ballpoint, and Photoshop

these illustrations, double-page pictures and full-page pictures (five), are in a word, breathtaking.  With authenticity they portray the seasons and emotional moments experienced by the scarecrow and the crow.  They give us vast pastoral panoramas, move in closer as in the fireflies fluttering around the field on a full moon night as the crow sits on Scarecrow's arm or zoom in on Scarecrow's face after the crow leaves.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is for the words quoted earlier.  The canvas is white on matte-finished, heavier paper, edge to edge on two pages.  Seeds spin and parachute from the left and right of Scarecrow on the left side, cross the gutter and sail along the right above the text.  Scarecrow has his head bowed, a contented smile on his face and his arms are crossed in front of his heart.  Nestled in hay and tucked in the bib of his overalls is the tiny black crow.

This book, The Scarecrow written by Beth Ferry with illustrations by The Fan Brothers, is one to read when discussing friendship and the lengths a friend will go for another, talking about seasons, or addressing how sometimes it's necessary to break away from what is expected to follow what is right and in our hearts.  I know this will be a book cherished by readers and listeners alike; a true storytime favorite.  I highly recommend this for your personal and professional collections.  You might want to pair this with Otis and the Scarecrow written and illustrated by Loren Long.

To discover more about Beth Ferry and The Fan Brothers, please access their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  The Fan Brothers have interior images from this book at their website.  Beth Ferry has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Eric Fan has an account on Twitter.  Terry Fan has an account on Instagram. At the publisher's website are printable activities.  Beth Ferry writes a guest post at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., to reveal the cover.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Seeking Calm And Connections

Sunday morning, standing outside on the hill, clouds were at the beck and call of the wind.  Wispy smoky clouds, barely above the horizon, were moving to the west and larger fuller clouds, higher and above them, were moving to the east.  Birds were enjoying the benefits of a heavy earlier rainfall.  After an overcast day, as dusk settled crickets chirped their evening chorus.  Large wild rabbits, fur darkening, froze like statues, nearly blending in the tall weeds dying as autumn approaches.

Two recently released books ask readers to enjoy each and every moment pausing to consider our place in an infinite whole.  Here and Now (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 3, 2019) written by Julia Denos with illustrations by E. B. Goodale (Windows Candlewick Press, October 10, 2017) explores finding the marvelous in minutes.  It asks us to think of what others are doing in those same minutes.

Right here,
right now,
you are reading this book.

Where exactly is this book you are reading?  You might be holding it.  Another person might be holding it.  You might be sitting, standing or snuggled into a cozy spot.  If you are seated, what is under you or what is above you?  Go all the way down and go all the way up.

You and everyone on this Earth are moving through the stars and among other planets, and orbiting the sun in a vast universe.  As you are reading this book, what else can you see?  (I see fog blanketing grass, leaves, tree branches and rolling hills.)

Somewhere, a telephone is ringing.

Extend your vision.  Extend your thinking.  There is more to be seen.  There is a future to be dreamed and lived.  There are creatures, wild and domestic, everywhere.  All kinds of things are growing and mending.  Can you name things growing?  (I have a big bruise and a bump that doesn't hurt as much.)  There is much we cannot see, but that doesn't mean it isn't expanding, improving and evolving to be its best.  Extraordinary.

There are many things we fail to think about, important things, but author Julia Denos reminds us of those items, circumstances and possibilities and invites us through her words to participate.  Beginning with this very book, she asks us to center ourselves and then reach out to other surroundings and people.  This is how she connects us to each other.  In her sentences, this is how we find the marvelous in the everyday items, circumstances and possibilities.  Here is a sentence.

A friend you haven't met yet is sitting down to dinner.

Rendered in

ink, watercolor, monoprinting, and digital collage

the artwork by E. B. Goodale begins on the open dust jacket stretching from left to right, back to front.  The golden grass and flowers start in the upper left-hand corner extending over the spine to make a gentle curve on the front.  The sky on the back is darker and scattered with stars unlike the front.  Beneath the grass on the back is a cross-section of what is underground.  We see a chipmunk's home, bones, rocks and a box marked secret.  This ground stops at the spine to become the pond on the front.  The use of white on the front of the jacket is brilliant.  The child seeing her reflection is also noticing how ripples spread like we do when we walk through life.  Everyone has an impact.

Lifting the dust jacket to the book case, we are shown a hand on the far left and a hand on the far right, holding the book.  The canvas is in hues of blue, brushed in parallel and even strokes like floorboards.  On the opening and closing endpapers the fabric from a quilt on an interior image is used to cover them both.  Characters from the illustrations are shown gathered beneath the text on the title page.  One of them is holding this book.  Ants and an airplane figure in the picture.

Each illustration, spanning two pages or a single page with text on an opposite page or woven into the picture, is a poetic presentation of the text.  Children from different racial backgrounds explore and appreciate what is offered to them.  Readers will see themselves in their activities and the expressions shown on their faces.  A sense of calm permeates with every page turn.  Easter eggs are there to be found by careful readers.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  A walkers' bridge crosses over a small river from left to right.  A cityscape can be seen shadowed in the distance behind it.  A flock of birds flies over the bridge on the right.  The four characters featured are shown on the left; two are standing on the bridge.  The oldest is seated on the ground with the youngest near a tree.  A butterfly is landing on their dog's nose.  Another two people are relaxing on a blanket near the riverbank, their dog curled up and sleeping.  This element begins on the left, moves over the gutter and completes on the right.  Ducks, Canadian geese, squirrels, pigeons, rabbits, more butterflies, a bee, a mouse, ants and a spider web are depicted among the humans.

Peace, mindfulness and respect for each other and those things around us are guaranteed when reading Here and Now written by Julia Denos with illustrations by E. B. Goodall.  Julia Denos includes an author's note at the end.  One of her sentences reads:

Meditation is just another way of noticing, and noticing is a little bit like magic.

I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Julia Denos and E. B. Goodale and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Julia Denos has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  E. B. Goodale has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Author, reviewer, and blogger, Julie Danielson hosts several illustrators including E. B. Goodale on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  You will enjoy the showcased illustrations.  In this video Julia Denos and E. B. Goodale speak about the process for creating this book.

Author Holly M. McGhee and illustrator Pascal Lemaitre who earlier collaborated in Come with me (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, September 5, 2017) work together again.  Listen (Roaring Brook Press, September 3, 2019) welcomes us into the art of finding connections.  Each one of us is a vital link in the chain of life.


to the sound of your feet---
the sound of
all of us
and the sound of me.

We should next pause and take a peek at the sun which shines all around the world on all of us.  When the sun sets, stars sparkle all around the world above all of us.  Inhale the air which is necessary for all of us.  Savor your food.  When was the last time, you put your hands into the dirt, feeling its richness and how it gives life to many?

As we use our senses for these experiences, we are asked to do so through the filter of our hearts . . . our wonderful hearts.  Our hearts are powerful, performing feats for us.  They are our guardians and our storytellers.  They allow us to see what is alike between everything rather than focusing on the differences. They take us back to the beginning.

Repetition throughout the narrative by author Holly M. McGhee supplies a beckoning cadence.  We find ourselves immediately engaged in the sensory suggestions.  Each time we are prompted to focus on others and on all of us.  In a wonderful technique, we close the narrative with the same words but with an altered rhythm.  Here is a passage.


in the earth.
Your roots are mine,
my roots are yours,
the roots of all of us
are the same.

Yet you are you and I am me and we are we.
Us . . .

On the open and matching dust jacket and book case a small child quietly observes a tiny red bird among the flowers and overhanging branches. (This tiny red bird is shown throughout the book.)  The rising sun shines on them both.  To the left, on the back, on a canvas of white, the same child is leaning their head against the trunk of a tree, arms to either side of the smooth bark.  Their eyes are closed.  A washed, loose, blue circle frames most of this picture with the sun low in the sky.  Each scene is as if a collective breath is being held.

A washed spring green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Loose, fine lines by artist Pascal Lemaitre present pastoral scenes during daylight and nighttime.  Changing background colors reflect these varitions.  We feel the gentle breeze blowing leaves as a deer leaps away.  We feel the warmth of the sun.  We see stars reflected in the water as we float on a pond.

Each image requests readers to stop.  We need to notice the tiny details.  Can you see the ants, snail and rabbit?  Do you see all the bees buzzing over the sunflowers?  (Are the sunflowers there because of the Van Gogh quote at the book's beginning?)  What word is fashioned from the tree roots underground?

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages. (They are all double-page pictures.)  It is night and purple shades are used to color everything starting with a lighter color at the top and darkening near the horizon and into the water.  Stars shine in the sky and in the water as reflections.  The landscape, flowers, grass and trees, the dock and boat are etched in black.  A lily pad and shadows of fish are shown.  The child is leaning over the edge of the boat looking in the water.  The tiny red bird is singing, perched on the tip of the bow of the boat.  The child and bird have a glow about them as does one of the stars.

Peace and admiration for yourself and all others envelops you when reading Listen written by Holly M. McGhee with illustrations by Pascal Lemaitre.  Each page turn is like walking into open arms and being embraced by all that is good.  Wonderful as a read aloud or read silently to yourself, this book is highly recommended for your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Holly M. McGhee and Pascal Lemaitre and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Holly M. McGhee has accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.  Pascal Lemaitre has accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.  The publishers have created a special site for Listen which includes an activity kit and interior images.  John Schumacher, Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, hosts the book trailer premiere on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  It includes a chat with both the author and the illustrator.  At Kathy Temean's site, Writing and Illustrating, Holly M. McGhee talks about this book, her career and her friendship with Pascal Lemaitre.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Something Is Brewing

We have had stormy weather headed our way for the past several evenings.  Even before the sky sent us gray-cloud messages, the signs were there.  Parents, educators and humans with canine companions are keenly aware of the advance notice children and dogs give us. Their behavior is downright squirrely.  When you combine this with the full moon tonight, any semblance of normal is blown away. 

Trying to navigate through tempestuous personalities indoors and rain, thunder, lightning and gusts of wind outdoors is like walking through a briar patch.  What makes this situation bearable are children's books elevating the mood.  None do this better than Mother Goose BruceHotel BruceBruce's Big MoveSanta Claus Bruce and now Bruce's Big Storm (Disney Hyperion, September 3, 2019) written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins.  Trust me when I say, you'll be chuckling as soon as you see the dust jacket.

Bruce was a bear who did not like neighbors.

This bear's personality could not handle noise, being bothered a little bit or a lot or having his neighborhood populated.  Usually Bruce's neighbors did not hang around more than he could tolerate . . . barely.  This all changed on one eventful day.  A humdinger of a storm was approaching.  The first neighbors to arrive and ask for shelter were the deer.

Bruce wanted to be alone, but his mice housemates were more than happy to have company.  When the storm struck in earnest, animals of all kinds (stinky skunks and prickly porcupines) blew inside his home.  Before long, all the residents of Soggy Hollow were sequestered in Bruce's house.  He sat grumpily reading in his favorite chair.

Stop!  Someone was still outside in the wind and rain. Nibbs, one of the mice, headed toward the open door with an umbrella to save the tiny white rabbit.  Unfortunately, the wind opened the umbrella and he parachuted up, up and up until the umbrella landed point down in front of the rabbit.  Within moments one mouse and one tiny white rabbit were soaring upward.

Fortunately, Bruce hurried outside.  Nibbs thinks Bruce was saving them.  Bruce just wanted his best umbrella back but unfortunately (again), the wind was stronger than one mouse, one tiny white rabbit and one big cranky bear.  Will this trio be rescued?  Will the storm drop one final blow on the gathered group?  Will Bruce ever have peace and quiet?  Stay tuned readers and be ready for the last laugh.

Only someone with an inherently great sense of humor can write with meticulous pacing, precise word choices and the delivery of dialogue which further exaggerates the hilarity.  Ryan T. Higgins is one of those people.  With the turn of each page we find one comical moment after the other.  The contrast in attitude and outlook between Bruce and every other resident in Soggy Hollow is like morning and night.  Ryan T. Higgins portrays Bruce with precise authenticity which in turn invites us into the pure mirth of Bruce and company.  Here is a passage.

Finally, the whole 
neighborhood was there.

"Wait!" said Rupert.
"Someone is still outside!"

Everyone went to
the window to look.

A speech bubble over Bruce's head, as he sits in his chair and tries to read, is filled with grumble lines.

Well, almost everyone.

When you look at the front of the dust jacket, one of several things draws your attention.  The look on Bruce's face is one of shock, as is Rupert's expression but the tiny white rabbit is looking calmer and more determined.  You are also aware of the strength of the storm from the bending trees and mailbox post, swirl of leaves and slanting rain.  It's mighty.  The title text and Ryan T. Higgins' name are varnished.

To the left, on the back, you're likely to have one of many outbursts of laughter.  In a loose white oval is the plaid sofa in Bruce's house.  All the neighbors are curled up around each other on the sofa, along the bottom of the sofa, and on top of the sofa.  Bruce, squeezed into the right corner, facing us, is grumpier than ever.  He is the only one not sound asleep.  This image is varnished.

There is a treat for readers on the book case.  Opening it up reveals a map of Soggy Hollow.  Residents' abodes on land, near and on ponds and in trees are carefully drawn and labeled.  Some of the names are charming alliterations.

On the opening and closing endpapers, more hilarity ensues.  It is a display of the Soggy Hollow Community Board.  An assortment of announcement and advertisements cover the board from end to end.  While most of the postings like the 5K Turtle Run and Leech Pond Swim Lessons remain the same on both sets of endpapers, careful readers will notice a change on the second set.


illustrations were created using scans of treated clayboard for textures, graphite, ink, and 

Ryan T. Higgins begins the pictorial extension of his text with cheerful neighbors on the verso and first page greeting a scowling Bruce as he walks toward his home carrying a newspaper and a cup of coffee.  Each full color picture within this book are grouped as small vignettes, featured as a full-page image, edge to edge, placed on a white background leaving space for text, or spanned across two pages for dramatic effect.  The faces and body postures are expertly depicted.  

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a smaller one with two others in the group.  The storm is blowing neighbors into Bruce's house.  Along the bottom of the page with a white canvas on matte-finished paper, Bruce's door has blown open.  Leaves are blowing inside the open door.  Another being blew in also--a porcupine which is sticking to Bruce's fur.  Next to them is a skunk, fumes rising in the air and startled by the newest neighbor's appearance.

There are books like Bruce's Big Storm written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins which create shared experiences based on laughter.  These are the moments we need in our lives; these moments of fun and funniness which strengthen our endearment for beloved characters and for each other.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Ryan T. Higgins and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Ryan T. Higgins has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can download activity sheets.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

From One Small Object A Large Idea Grew

Throughout our lives people and their actions influence our mindset and, consequently, our actions.  These people's connections to us may last for decades or less than a day.  They are family members, friends, teachers or mentors or complete strangers.  Most of them we welcome into our world.  When a few leave, we breathe a sigh of relief, but make no mistake, they leave a mark.

For many, our parents or one of our parents offer love and support lasting beyond their lifetimes.  Our memories of their words and deeds guide us when we least expect it or when we need it the most.  Little Libraries, Big Heroes (Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 3, 2019) written by Miranda Paul with illustrations by John Parra is about a special man who took his grief and started a movement which has spread throughout the world.

people have loved stories about heroes.

Mythical heroes, historical heroes, and even . . .

Some heroes are ordinary people, like you and me, who become extraordinary.  Todd (Bol) was one of them.  He struggled with reading in school but his mother, a teacher, was in disagreement with his teachers at school.  She told him he

was gifted.

She believed he would accomplish great things.

After graduating from school, Todd found work and the pleasure that comes with lending a helping hand.  Then his mother died.  He was overcome with a deep sorrow.  He remembered how his mother taught children in the neighborhood to read.  Holding this thought in his mind and heart, Todd got busy.

From pieces of old wood, he constructed a one-room schoolhouse with a door on the front.  Inside this schoolhouse, he placed books.  Anyone could take one for free.  It was not successful at first but one day a rummage sale nearby drew the attention of neighbors.  They loved Todd's little library, taking and giving books.

With the help of his friend, Rick, and members of their families, they built other little libraries, hoping to sell them.  No one came, so Todd and Rick decided to reverse the process.  They took these first thirty-two libraries from one state to another.  This was a success!  Word spread from person to person and place to place.  The little free libraries were featured on radio and television.

Do you know how many libraries were established in the first year?  Four hundred!  People who cared for them were (are) called stewards.  Some of these stewards, in turn, have become heroes.  They rise in the face of natural disasters.  They place Little Free Libraries where there is no access to books due to funding.  Did you know there is a Little Free Library on a hiking trail in Canada?  Wherever people are, Little Free Libraries are placed by heroes, people like you and me.

One of the first things you realize when reading this book researched and written by Miranda Paul is the value of building on someone's belief in you.  We should never dismiss what other people see in us.  This is how an average person makes the biggest impact on the greatest number of individuals.

With each paragraph Miranda Paul shapes and reinforces the idea of all of us having the capacity to achieve our ideas by portraying how Todd Bol persevered with the help of friends and family.  She includes specific examples, highs and lows in the endeavor and small moments of conversation to further engage readers in this marvelous story about this remarkable man.  Here is a passage.

Todd told them about his mom.  People
loved his story.  It reminded them of 
ordinary heroes they knew.

Soon, neighbors who had never met
before were gathered around, chatting like
old friends.  They grabbed books.  They gave
books.  The little library became the center
of their neighborhood. 

On the open and matching dust jacket and book case, first, on the front, readers need to pause and look at all the intricate details, artist, John Parra has included.  It's interesting to think about their significance.  He has featured people of all ages and occupations.  Todd Bol and his friend Rick are a part of the group, enjoying the success of their Little Free Library.

To the left, on the back, the pale blue background continues.  Pink and blue clouds hover over a row of books along the bottom of the page.  A blue bird soars near the top.  This is also where the ISBN has been placed; in the upper right-hand corner.  On the dust jacket many of the items are varnished on both the front and back.

On the opening and closing endpapers, the pale blue background provides a canvas for a row of colored book spines like those seen on the back of the jacket and case.  With a page turn, on the right, is the title text and the original Little Free Library with a blue bird perched on top.  The images throughout the book are either double-page pictures or full-page visuals.  The shift from one to the other is for pacing and effect.

Rendered in acrylic paint on illustration board the images enhance the text beautifully.  They bring in elements important to Todd's life such as actual family photographs and Little Free Library designs.  Careful readers will notice the license plate on Todd's truck as they travel and set Little Free Libraries throughout various states.  By observing the details placed by John Parra readers can speculate where in the world Little Free Libraries are.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  On the left is Todd standing on the back of his pickup truck.  The truck bed is filled with Little Free Libraries and posts.  On top of one of the libraries is a blue bird.  (Another is flying from the right.) Todd has his right arm lifted in greeting as he faces readers.  Three people, friends and family, are carrying Little Free Libraries from just left of the gutter to almost the right side.  The fourth, a little girl, is standing near a library already on its post as another man shovels dirt.

There is something powerful when we look at the life of another person, someone like you or me, who was able to begin something still flourishing today.  Little Libraries, Big Heroes written by Miranda Paul with illustrations by John Parra is a tribute to a marvelous man but also a promise to all readers.  At the close of the book is an author's note, more about Little Free Libraries, more about the people and events in this book, a short list of resources, and a dedication page with special words in memory of Todd H. Bol.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Miranda Paul and John Parra and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the link attached to their names. Miranda Paul has a blog here.  John Parra has interior images from this book at his website.  Miranda Paul has accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  John Parra has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.   The cover reveal is here.  The book trailer is premiered at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production by Elizabeth Bird, Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to participate in a question and answer conversation with both Miranda Paul and John Parra.  Their answers will endear you even more to this fabulous title.  You will also by privy to the depth of commitment and work both have done with this book (with all their books).

For Miranda:

In your author’s note, you mention first seeing a Little Free Library in 2011.  Where is that library located?  Did you get the idea to write this book then, or did something else prompt you to tell this man’s story?

The first Little Free Library I saw was somewhere in Wisconsin, though I don’t remember exactly where as we were traveling in another part of the state from where we lived at the time. (I doubt I even had a smartphone yet to snap a quick picture…) I didn’t have the idea to write the book immediately. I simply wanted to find out more about it—and possibly join the movement or figure out how to spread these to places I’d been that could benefit greatly from such an idea. It was about two years later that I ran into one of Todd’s family members, and then Todd himself, quite serendipitously. And by then I already had been collecting research on the organization and decided this would make a great book.

When researching for your nonfiction books like this one, what do you do first?  Do you seek an overview? Do you have a list of questions you want to answer?

I often start simply by reading as much as I can about a subject, and recording interviews if there are experts or witnesses. Often, something I read will lead me to something else, and so on. Once I have a lot of the big idea swirling in my head, that’s when a common thread or a certain angle begins to form, and I do another round of research that’s more targeted toward the specific tack I’m taking or the new questions I have. 

As a side note, I sold Little Libraries, Big Heroes to the publisher way back in 2015. Because the publisher was doing restructuring, and a host of other reasons, the book got delayed—and the LFL organization grew by leaps and bounds during those years. Therefore, I had to re-research and update some numbers at least twice—I think there were only about 30,000 LFLs when I first wrote it. And I made some changes to the text when the brilliant editor Lynne Polvino stepped in and helped me reshape it. Of course, when Todd passed away rather suddenly last fall, we added the memoriam which appears at the end of the book as well.

How did you choose what specifics to include to signify Todd as an ordinary, often struggling in school, child?  I am referring to this paragraph.

In school, he didn’t feel heroic.  Even though his mother had been a teacher who loved books, reading was difficult for him.  He was often scolded for asking too many questions, and was told that he wasn’t a good student.

One of my children took much longer to learn to read than the other, and he’s a question-asker. He’s on the spectrum, and generally thinks differently than many of his peers. In that and other ways, I made a connection to Todd’s story that I could appreciate in an intimate way. A personal way into a subject is important whenever I am working on a book, no matter if it’s about science or nature or a person’s life. In talking to Todd and Rick, and other Stewards, I was continuously struck by how humble they were and how they viewed themselves as ordinary. The impact of some of these libraries, and the program in general, is quite far-reaching—yet if you passed some of these individuals on the street, you might not even look twice. In a world where there’s plenty of bad news, it’s an encouraging feeling to know we’re walking among ordinary heroes pretty much everyday, everywhere.

You follow this paragraph with something his mother said to him in second grade which he carried in his heart always.  What words would you offer to young readers to carry in their hearts?

I want children to know, “This book is for you.” No matter how old or young you are, where you live, or what your skills may be, you have something to offer the world. You may feel that it’s something small, almost nothing at all, and that’s ok, because a lot of little drops make an ocean. A hero is not a one-size-fits-all term. Your story matters. Don’t be afraid to share your story, and enjoy listening to others’ stories.

For John:

After reading Miranda’s manuscript, what did you do first in your artistic process?  Did you start sketching out pictures her words presented in your mind? Did you do research on Todd Bol first?  (I know readers are curious about your process before completing the paintings in acrylic on illustration board.)

For Little Libraries, Big Heroes, like many of my other picture books based on biographies, the first official step is the research. In this case I reached out to Todd Bol, founder of Free Little Libraries, to see if he was willing to speak to me and provide possible reference material that I could use for creating the work. Todd was extremely helpful and wonderful in this regard. I think my first phone call with him went so well that we spoke well over an hour. He talked of his childhood, focus, motivation, and how his whole adventure in Little Free Libraries started. We stayed in touch throughout the project. I also researched online and obtained reference material for additional info and inspiration. The follow up steps was to sketch all the characters. Todd of course is there, as are many other real people mentioned in the book. Soon settings and backgrounds were established and a few Easter eggs thrown in for good measure. All sketches are usually scanned so I can manipulate composition and size. Once the drawings were approved by the publisher the final process was to paint. I still work mostly traditionally using acrylic on board.

In several of your books, including this one, you employ a technique in framing your images which adds a texture to them.  How do you do this? Why do you do this?

The texture is greatly inspired from my love of American Folk Art and Mexican Ex-Voto / Retablo style paintings. Many people think I paint on wood because of the scratched textured background in my work but I am actually using illustration board. There is a process where I add three to four different background layers of various colored acrylic paints, after which is sandpapered into to give it that worn and old fashion look. This provides my foundation. Once complete, I transfer the sketch to the board through masking out shapes and painting various elements. As characters and scenes take shape, the final steps are to add details and shading. The completed image with its worn look, gives the viewer the idea that the paintings are old, yet familiar, as if you could have found them in your grandmother’s attic.

I noticed there are pictures on the wall of Todd’s home as a little boy.  Are those replicas of actual photographs you discovered in your research?

Yes, they are based on actual photos Todd emailed me showing his family and childhood including his mom. I like that the art personalizes the book and connects it back to him as well as some of the other contributors and Stewarts in the Little Free Libraries organization. One of my favorite spreads in the book shows the first appearance of Todd standing in front of some kitschy and fun wallpaper that is actually based on wallpaper from his home growing up.

A blue bird, or perhaps a swallow, is seen in many of the illustrations in this book (and in your other books).  What is the significance of including this bird in your artwork?

I enjoy using birds, insects, animals, and nature in general throughout my books. As a child I loved the outdoors as well as going to the Natural History Museum and seeing the dioramas teeming with life. I sort of think that my painting are like those dioramas with life going on all around us even if we are not always aware it’s there. Birds especially have a special meaning of freedom with their flight. In a metaphorical way they can also represent a person’s idea(s), that is received or being sent.

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.