Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Anything Is Possible

It's not that it hasn't arrived earlier than expected previously.  It has but disappeared within hours.  It will begin this morning and will most likely continue for the next four days.  It's not every year snowfall carpets the landscape on Halloween.  Trick or treaters will be trudging through the cold, gusty winds and white this year in northern Michigan.

Will anyone or anything else be brave enough to venture out in this storm?  We're never certain who or what roams around on Halloween night after we are tucked inside our homes.  Snowmen At Halloween (Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, August 20, 2019) written by Caralyn Buehner with pictures by Mark Buehner is the fifth book by this wife and husband team to follow the adventures of special snowmen.  The previous titles Snowmen At Night, Snowmen At Christmas, Snowmen All Year and Snowmen At Work are full of action, fun and hidden pictures.  This newest book continues with the beloved elements found in the first four and is sure to become a seasonal favorite.

One autumn day the air turned
cold and it began to snow.
We went outside and made some
snowmen standing in a row.

As the narrator, a brother tells us his sister had a box of dress-up items for Halloween.  They pulled out some of them and placed them on the newly formed snowmen.  Standing before them were now a ghost, a pirate, a witch, a vampire and a cowboy.  After trick-or-treating, when the siblings walked past the snowmen, the brother was sure one of the snowmen winked.  Winked?  Perhaps, the boy wondered snowmen do enjoy Halloween.  Perhaps . . .

Beneath a full moon all the snowmen dressed in costumes from all the homes in the village formed a parade.  They gathered in the center of town where the glow of Halloween lights and lanterns glimmered a welcome to one and all.  Like the best kind of party, this occasion began with pumpkin carving.

Carnival games challenged them to fish or toss a ring.  They relished the sweet stickiness of caramel treats and apples bobbed as they tried to grab one.  A crowd formed around a fortune teller.  Stacks of hay bales walled in a wondrous maze and spooky tales thrilled a crowd. (None of whom were too close to the crackling fire.)

After the joyful celebration, each snowman wandered home trick-or-treating along the way.  Of those, five, one a ghost, another a pirate, a witch, a vampire and a cowboy, could hardly contain their laughter.  In the morning, the day after Halloween, these speculations of the brother, were hard to confirm because a warming during the night had melted all the snow except for a few small patches.  And yet, the five had their say.

As the fourth line of the first two sentences is completed, you're aware of something a bit unusual.  Enough snow to make five snowmen in autumn is a departure from the status quo.  Caralyn Buehner maintains this atmosphere of the unexpected with her rhythm supplied by rhyming words at the end of each two sentences or lines.  Sometimes they are divided and grouped as four lines and other times simply as two sentences together or a single sentence with punctuation indicating a pause.  Activities associated with this celebratory holiday and its parties are described with words recreating the fun and appropriate mood.  Here is a single sentence.

It's a dark and spooky night, but the snowmen aren't afraid---
They'll follow one another in a Halloween parade,
Gliding down the moonlit streets into the village square,
Beckoned by the twinkling lights and lanterns hanging there.

I don't know about you but when I look at those snowmen on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, I want to join them in their laughter and Halloween fun.  All the details beneath the title text ask readers to pause.  This is the first of many times when you'll carefully look at a scene, noticing all the extra things Mark Buehner includes in his painting.  Above the title text is a more panoramic scene of the neighborhood.  The use of light and shadow here and throughout the book is wonderful.

To the left, on the back, small images of the four preceding titles are shown with their awards and quotes from professional journals.  A deep, rich royal blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the first flap readers are challenged to locate a rabbit, a cat and a T.rex cleverly hidden in each picture.

With a page turn we are greeted by a grinning snow-topped jack-o-lantern sitting on a porch railing.  Flakes and autumn leaves are falling around it.  The background is a pale blue, purple and pink blend.  On the title page the pictorial interpretation of the story starts with a bird's eye view of the brother and sister pushing snowballs through the snow, already making their snowmen.  Their snowballs are fashioning paths of green from the grass underneath.  Their footprints in the snow make other trails.

Each two-page image is painted with meticulous attention to the time of day and the movements of the characters in each setting.  The glow of the full moon casts an eerie light.  Is that a cloud or a ghost?  Why are there more bats than normal?

Readers will be enchanted by the array of costumes on all the snowmen.  (It might be fun to make a list.)  The expressions on the jack-o-lanterns are intriguing as well.  The use of color in each illustration heightens the excitement of the holiday, the season and the fascinating festivities.  Artist Mark Buehner shifts his perspectives to take us deeper into the story; close-up to the snowmen at the party playing games, even closer when they're gathered around looking into a snow globe for predicting their futures and a bird's eye view of participants in the maze.

One of my many, many favorite images is a double-page picture. (They're all double-page pictures.)  On a patch of grass beneath the roof of an orange tent is a kiddie pool etched with fish on the outside.  Gathered around it are three snowmen trying to catch fish with magnets. The fourth snowman dressed as Robin Hood is attempting to shoot one with his suction cup arrow.  Tiny ghosts hang from the metal supports underneath the tent roof. Throughout this setting are jack-o-lanterns glowing with grins. Orange lights are strung from booth to booth.  A ring toss game is off to the right.  Behind and next to it is the fortune teller's tent.  Moving to the left is face painting and then a BINGO booth.  The costumes are amazing!  You can almost hear the excitement and laughter.

Whether you are a fan of or familiar with the other Snowmen books, you'll rejoice at this new addition, Snowmen At Halloween written by Caralyn Buehner with pictures by Mark Buehner.  The words create a Halloween happening possibility and the illustrations bring it to life with marvelous merriment.  You'll want to add this to your professional and personal collections.  Good luck with finding all the extra goodies in the visuals.  If you have trouble, on the inside of the dust jacket is a key.

To discover more about Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner and their other work, please follow the link attached to Caralyn Buehner's name to access their shared websites.  They maintain accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  The book trailer for this new title on their Facebook page is delightfully spooky.  At the publisher's website you can view the first illustration in the book.  Here is a link to an interesting biographical account of Mark Buehner's artwork.  Enjoy the video with Mark Buehner speaking about his painting.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

A Destination As A Beginning

There comes a time when each person must make a decision. Will they follow the plan in their head, that which has been committed with pencil or pen to paper, or release the passion in their heart?  For it is when they have the courage to set the passion free, they realize they are not alone.  There are others who share the same beliefs.  There are others willing to work together to make change happen; a change ensuring a better world for everyone.

For one man, a man whose name is etched in history forever, the time for making a decision came often, but never was the choice more memorable than on August 28, 1963.  In A Place To Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, August 27, 2019) written by Barry Wittenstein with illustrations by Jerry Pinkney we are transported.  We are moved.  We are uplifted by the beauty expressed in words and art to never forget.

Martin Luther King Jr.
was once asked if the hardest part
of preaching was knowing where to begin.

You might be surprised by his reply.  He felt

"The hardest part is knowing where to end."

He likened it to being aloft and having no understanding of where to come down.  On the evening of August 27, 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. was meeting with his most trusted and wisest advisors in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington, D. C.  It was the night before the March on Washington.  He was seeking their input for the speech he was to give at the Lincoln Memorial.  They offered recommendations and he listened.  Then he left to pen the words in his hotel room.

Until 4 in the morning Martin Luther King Jr. wrote and rewrote on a lined, yellow legal-sized pad.  Andrew Young, a pastor, watched him work as he tried to make every word count, words intent on reaching into the souls of more than 250,000 people in attendance and thousands and thousands more listening and watching at home on radios and televisions.

Standing at the podium waiting to read words but knowing he needed more, Martin Luther King Jr. began to speak.  He reached deep into American history, weaving the words of democratic documents into those from the Bible and poetry of Langston Hughes.  Everything he knew up until this point became a part of this speech, but something was missing.

Mahalia Jackson, a gospel singer in the crowd near Martin Luther King Jr., called out a suggestion, once and twice.  It was exactly what this great man needed to hear.  The speaker became a preacher releasing his passion.


By 4 in the afternoon Dr. King was meeting with President John F. Kennedy.  At 8 in the evening, back at the hotel, Martin Luther King Jr. and those same men he met with the evening before were jubilant.  The road ahead would be fraught with obstacles but now his dream, their dream, had been heard around the world.

Every time I read this book, every single time, I feel as those I've stepped back into 1963 and am standing with Martin Luther King Jr.  Barry Wittenstein has penned history with a poetic perspective.  His research is evident in his ability to create a setting as real as if it's happening now.  These settings are emotionally charged. A subtle tension is supplied with the times of day written above a portion of the text.  Within his narrative he places actual words spoken by the participants fashioning a seamless flow.  Here is a passage.

Again, she shouted,
"Tell them about the dream,
Martin!  Tell them about the dream!"

The Baptist preacher,
son, grandson, and great-grandson of Baptist preachers,
carefully moved the script off to the side.

Martin was done circling.
The lecture was over.
He was going to church,
his place to land . . .

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case so you can view the back to the left and the front at the right, you are completely captivated by the peaceful power emanating from the portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. In the first we see him as a thoughtful thinker with a backdrop appearing like stained-glass windows.  In the second his mouth is open as he faces left to speak before the crowd that August day in 1963.  His hand is raised to articulate what he is saying.  He is wearing a button to commemorate the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom.  Surrounding him is a collage of signs held by marchers, the Capitol building, a portion of the American flag, a bird in flight and clippings of actual photographs from that day.  It is here that readers get their first glimpse of the glorious technique used by artist Jerry Pinkney throughout this book.  The title text is embossed in foil.

On the opening and closing endpapers a bright sky blue shown on the front of the jacket and case is used.  The first page turn shows Martin Luther King Jr., pencil in hand, thinking about what to write in his speech.  Around him are portions of buildings and a partial piece of lined paper from a yellow legal pad.  On the title page, on the left, is a large recreation of the Willard Hotel.  Jerry Pinkney has labeled it on the left side.  (He provides labels throughout the book for key peoples' names.)  On the right side of the title page is a bird's eye view of the Lincoln Memorial and nearby landscape; as if we are looking at a map.

Each double-page picture rendered

using graphite, color pencil, watercolor and collage on Arches watercolor paper 

is a masterpiece of layout, design and creativity.  Jerry Pinkney's people look as though they could walk right off the pages.  Their facial features, body positions and hand movements are astonishing.  In A Note from the Artist Jerry Pinkney says:

With exhaustive---oftentimes dizzying---research, I gathered materials, acquiring a Hip Pocket Guide of The United States Constitution: What It Says, What It Means, reading articles and personal accounts, and sifting through hundreds of images.  With so many sources, I knew early on that I would use collage as a way to reinforce place.

This was and is (in my humble opinion) a brilliant decision.

Readers will pause at each page turn to study the illustration.  They will look at all the elements wondering at their significance.  This promotes greater understanding of this historical era and its crucial significance.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for a four-hour stretch of time in which Martin Luther King Jr. is working in his hotel room on the speech.  The text is placed on the left side.  Tucked between the text and gutter is a drawing of the face of Langston Hughes whose poetry is said to have influenced Martin Luther King Jr. in this speech (and other speeches).  Beneath this is what appears to be pieces of wallpaper, a coffee pot, partially sketched and part of a real photograph, a glass for water, a coffee cup, a Holy Bible and a telephone.  To the right Martin Luther King Jr. is holding a pencil and a yellow legal pad with a corner crossing the gutter.  He is listening to Andrew Young who is reaching out to touch his shoulder.  It is a moment of friendship.  It is a moment of two men with shared dreams exchanging ideas.

Each library, professional and personal, will want to have a copy of A Place To Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation written by Barry Wittenstein with illustrations by Jerry Pinkney.  It is a marvelous collaboration between a gifted wordsmith and a beloved artist of distinction.  It captures the hours before the speech and the events after with excellence.  The final sentence and illustration will resonate.  At the close of the book both the author and illustrator include notes.  There are paragraphs on The Willard Hotel Advisors, Other Voices, and Who Spoke at the March on Washington.  Sources are given for the quotations and there is a bibliography.

To learn more about author Barry Wittenstein and illustrator Jerry Pinkney and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Barry Wittenstein has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Barry Wittenstein is interviewed at Author Q&As with Deborah KalbJerry Pinkney is interviewed at The Horn Book and at Publishers Weekly about this book.  At Penguin Random House you can view the first few images.  At the publisher's website is a link to a Limited Edition First Look with a letter from Neal Porter and notes from the author and illustrator.  Several double-page breathtaking pictures are shown.

UPDATE:  December 17, 2019 Art is shared by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast including a link to the discussion about this title at The Horn Book's Calling Caldecott.

UPDATE:  There are now available many resources such as author and illustrator interviews and an educator's guide at the publisher's website.

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Voice Demands From The Deep Dark Depths

If you want to discover treasures on any shoreline, the best time is after a raging storm.  The combination of wild wind gusts and crazy currents stirs up a blended brew of newly fallen objects and those buried for decades.  There will be discoveries you expect and others which will leave you baffled or even, a little bit afraid. 

More startling than any found item is an eerie sound echoing from the depths after such a weather event.  In a newer release, Give Me Back My Bones! (Candlewick Press, July 16, 2019) written by Kim Norman with illustrations by Bob Kolar, a voice is requesting the return of its most prized possessions---its bones!  Who or what could be creating such a commotion?

A stormy night has passed here
and toppled every mast here.
The ocean, flowing fast here,
has scattered all my bones!

The first thing needed is the skull, the protector of the deliverer of thoughts and actions.  Not much can be done without the jawbone attached to the skull.  It makes eating and speaking much more difficult without it.

In subsequent appeals the voice is working its way from one essential bone to the next essential bone, now that the skull and mandible are in place.  What might be a

handy parrot-hauler bone?

We are told it's a clavicle.

Where is the bone to which the ribs attach?  Where are the bones which lift to offer protection to the face in times of danger?  Where are the bones used to grasp, wave and dig?

Many more bones are desired to bring this being back to its former glory (as much as it can be as a skeleton). For mobility's sake, three particular parts must be in place.  Can you guess the reason only one set of phalanges are required?   For this individual now commanding critters of the sea, there is one more cherished fundamental item to be found.  Ahoy, Me Hearties!  All Hands Hoay!

With the boisterous beat of a rousing sea chantey, Kim Norman pens a tale of a pirate who has had the misfortune to be spread across the sandy bottom of his watery grave after a tumultuous storm.  Readers will delight in the four-line poetic phrases with the next to last word in the first three rhyming and the last word in those three a repetition of the same word.  The verb (action) in the final phrase refers to the first three.  What makes this even more wonderful is Kim Norman gives the proper name of the sought-after bone in that fourth line.  Readers will also note the use of alliteration which accentuates the cadence.  Here is a passage.

Help me find my head bone,
my pillowed-on-the-bed bone,
the pirate's flag-of-dread bone---
I'm scouting out my skull.

The view at the bottom of the sea seen on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case extends over the spine and to the flap edges of the jacket.  Illustrator Bob Kolar includes elements associated with a pirate or sailor, the spyglass, compass, cutlass and gold ring hanging on the letter S.  Readers will enjoy looking at the variety of fish, and the crab and jellyfish featured to the left, on the back.  The scattered bones will make an appearance later in the story.  The expressions on the fish are curious rather than afraid, making this skeletal tale fun.  The wide-eyed look on the skull is ever present, but by moving the black dots in the center the emotional state of mind of the pirate is known to readers.

On the opening endpapers the bones named in the poetic interludes are placed across both pages on a sandy background.  They are labeled with their correct anatomical term.  There is one addition to this image that is not a bone.  On the closing endpapers readers are treated to a vertical view of the assembled bones.  The tools of his trade have been added to the pirate; who is ready to sail the seas.

On the title page bony arms and hands reach from the bottom of the page toward the text as currents swirl above and below in the water.  Rendered digitally the illustrations mirror locations beneath the waves but are mindful of the intended audience.  (I can visualize readers pausing to name as many of the sea creatures as they can in each place.)

All the images are double-page pictures.  Bob Kolar adds clever details; a seahorse tail curled around a bit of bone, shoulder blades hidden inside a large clam, a squid carrying something other than bones to the pirate and a single boot ready to cover a foot.  He alters his perspective from page turn to page turn in keeping with the pacing, bringing us close to the skull or giving us a larger view.  Everything is always in motion.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the voice is asking for his

sturdy sternum.

Above the slightly rolling sandy bottom murky shades of blue gray provide a canvas.  On the left a sea anemone waves its tousled top as orange and white striped fish watch the skull, with its mandible and clavicle attached, as it moves quickly toward the right.  Pinkish seaweed floats around the sternum and ribs placed on a small mound.  The orange and white striped fish glide in and out of the bony cage.  A spyglass lays in the sand in front of the bones.

Comically chilling, informative and a read aloud treasure, Give Me Back My Bones! written by Kim Norman with illustrations by Bob Kolar is one readers will want to hear again and again.  It invites listener participation on the final word of the first three phrases.  Don't be surprised if your storytime crowd starts to move to the music of the words and images.  Wonderful for this spooky season or anytime you want to draw attention to our body's bones or focus on pirate stories.  You'll want to have a copy in your personal and professional collections, Mateys!

To discover more about Kim Norman and Bob Kolar and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Kim Norman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.  Bob Kolar maintains an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website and at Penguin Random House, you can view interior illustrations.  Kim Norman chats with author Tammi Sauer at Picture Book Builders about this book and her writing process.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Once A Year It Appears

Of some things in life, we can be certain of their veracity.  First, in the northern hemisphere winter will arrive toward the end of the calendar year.  Last year it snowed on November 10th and stayed for six months.  This year children trick or treating might be traipsing through it this week.  Second, no matter how many times gals and guys are told not to jump on their beds, they still do.  The thrill of bouncing and traveling through the air, even briefly, is too hard to resist.

Third, when author illustrator Grace Lin steps into the realm of folklore, penning an explanatory tale, we need to pause and take note.  Her picture book released in 2018, A BIG Mooncake for Little Star (Little, Brown And Company, August 28, 2018) was the recipient of a 2019 Caldecott Honor Medal.  This year a companion title, A BIG BED for Little Snow (Little, Brown And Company, October 15, 2019) is an eloquent gift to readers filled with the knowing compassion of a mother for her son and a story of snowfall.

WHEN WINTER BEGAN, Little Snow's mommy made a big new bed just for him.

The blue bed stuffed full of feathers, puffed large and fluffy.  Little Snow's mommy reminded him the bed was not for jumping but for sleeping.  The boy nodded in agreement, but he was smiling.

After his mother tucked him in tight and walked away, Little Snow's eyes popped open.  He got up and looked at his bed.  The urge to jump on it was so strong, Little Snow could not help himself.  With a big smile on his face, he jumped and jumped and jumped some more.  A few feathers fluttered down from a gap in the seam.

Little Snow stopped and listened.  It was Mommy!  When she asked him what he was doing, he gave the classic rely.


The next day Little Snow listened and then started jumping again until his mommy came.  Each time he jumped more feathers fluttered down, down, down.  This continued all during winter. In the quiet without Mommy, Little Snow jumped; sometimes he jumped a little bit and other times his jumps were gigantic.  At the end of winter, Mommy had a question for Little Snow, and he had the best kind of answer.

In the first sentence written by Grace Lin we are mindful of the affection between this little boy and his mother because of a single word, mommy.  (Lately I have heard this said with great tenderness by little ones to their mothers.  It speaks to the loving bond between a parent and their child.)  His grin tells readers something else.  This boy cannot wait to do the opposite of what his mother asked of him.

A subtle storytelling rhythm is supplied to readers through the repetition of specific words.  The sounds of Mommy walking away,


and the


of Little Snow are certain to have readers and listeners smiling.  Another key phrase is used when Little Snow thinks he hears Mommy coming to his bed.  Here is a passage.

In the morning, when Little Snow woke up, he listened for his mommy's
footsteps.  It was quiet.  Little Snow grinned and . . .

The crisp clean white canvas on the open dust jacket is akin to the coating of pristine snow covering the landscape after every snowfall.  The blue hues of Little Snow's bed, the snowflakes on his pajamas and the title text allude to the cooler weather in winter.  To the left, on the back, Little Snow is happily dancing with his stuffed toy dachshund.  There, as on the front, feathers float in the air.  There is no doubt about the happiness in Little Snow's heart.  He's always grinning.

On the book case, the lovely white canvas is used.  In four separate images, two on the left and two on the right, Little Snow is shown jumping on his bed.  The jumps are all types and different.  In each image the stuffed toy dachshund is present, bouncing along with the boy except for one illustration.  In this one, Little Snow is holding his friend.

Across the pale, cool blue on the opening and closing endpapers, flocks of geese fly from left to right.  The publication information appears on the right side of the closing endpapers, vertically.  You need to shift your hold on the book to read it.  On the dedication and title pages is a double-page picture of Mommy stuffing feathers into the bed as Little Snow watches faint geese flying away.  His toy companion lays at his feet.

The images rendered

in Turner Design Gouache on Arches 100% Rag Watercolor Paper 140-pound Hot Press Bright White

are double-page pictures, full-page pictures, pictures breaking the gutter, or a series of images gathered on two pages to indicate action and the passage of time.  The stuffed toy dachshund is always with Little Snow.  The facial expressions on Mommy and Little Snow are indicative of their personalities and how the story will unfold.

Grace Lin is careful and intentional with her perspectives.  She focuses on Little Snow and shows only Mommy's feet or another portion of her body when she checks on him.  When Little Snow is jumping a portion of the image might go off the page.  This accentuates his movements.

One of my many, many favorite pictures spans two pages.  It is a close-up of Little Snow lying in bed and listening for Mommy's footsteps.  His head, resting on his folded arm and on his toy dog, is tilted with his eyes looking to the side and back.  He is ready to get up or shut his eyes quickly, depending on where Mommy is.  The remainder of this body, just to his hips, stretches to the left edge.  We can see a small portion of the bed beneath him.  This image is charming with a capital C.

To pair with the companion title or as a stand-alone during a story time, as an example of an outstanding origin story, to use with a unit on seasons or cultural folktales, A BIG BED for Little Snow written and illustrated by Grace Lin is an excellent choice.  What readers and listeners alike will note is the love and playfulness radiating from the words and artwork of Grace Lin.  This book is highly recommended for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Grace Lin and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Grace Lin has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  On Grace Lin's blog she has multiple resources for storytime activities using this book.  Here is a link to an eight-page printable pdf with lots of ideas.  Grace Lin talks about this book at SAMPANAs I read through this book I started to wonder at the significance of certain elements in the images I was noticing.  You are going to love this video where Grace Lin speaks about the homage to a book and its author illustrator shown in A BIG BED for Little Snow.

Book Chat with the Illustrator: Grace Lin for A Big Bed for Little Snow from LB School on Vimeo.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Loud Drew A Crowd

Parents are not perfect.  They are as flawed as the rest of us humans.  They, for the most part, try their level best to raise an individual or individuals who will reflect the best parts of each of them.  Their aim is to nudge their youngsters to realize their full potential, and, hopefully, make the world better for themselves and everyone in it. 

What is probably most startling and wondrous to parents is when their objective is reached.  Even more surprising is when it happens in an unexpected way.  Pokko And The Drum (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, October 1, 2019) written and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe follows the rise to forest fame of a young frog. 
The biggest mistake Pokko's parents
ever made was giving her a drum.

What readers quickly realize is, this was not their first mistake in gift giving to Pokko.  It should have dawned on them that the jumbo slingshot and large balloon would have less than stellar results. Immediately the quiet cuisine-creator father and literary-lover mother knew the drum was too loud for them to think or have a conversation.  Pokko played . . .constantly.

Pokko's father gently suggested one morning that she play it outside being as quiet as possible because they were quiet frogs who preferred to remain living unnoticed.  Pokko thought this was a good idea.  She left their home inside a mushroom.

The forest was beautiful and a bit too silent.  Pokko started to lightly beat her drum to dispel the hush around her.  Before she knew what was happening a banjo-playing raccoon joined her.  A rabbit was next, tooting out tunes on a trumpet.

A wolf joined the line of musicians without an instrument and guess what happened to the rabbit?  This made Pokko stop playing her drum.  She warned the wolf who seemed repentant.  Before long the number of animals playing instruments grew as did the number of animals who simply enjoyed the music.  Pokko kept playing her drum leading the crowd.

Back at the mushroom abode of Pokko and her parents, a carefully prepared dinner was about to go uneaten.  Two unassuming adult frogs were about to have their lives changed.  Pokko kept playing her drum.

With his opening sentence Matthew Forsythe has our undivided attention.  With his second sentence, we are not leaving this book until every single syllable is read.  Matthew's pacing in the narrative is pure perfection.  He leaves space for readers' reactions and the humor to bubble to the surface.

The inclusion of dialogue between the parents and Pokko and the wolf enhances the comedy but also leaves room for speculation.  What is there about Pokko that fosters respect?  Here are three sentences on three separate pages.  Do you see what those words are doing?  Do you feel something shifting?

It had just rained, and the forest
was sparkling like an emerald.

And it was quiet.

Too quiet.

The front, the right side of the opened dust jacket and book case are identical.  It is here that Matthew Forsythe introduces the color palette used throughout his book.  The hues are soft and subtle, but their power lies in the patterns and textures.  We want to know who this Pokko is.  We want to know about the drum.

To the left, on the back of the dust jacket, is a series of six smaller images, three to a row.  Three feature flora from the forest.  Another one shows the frogs' mushroom home.  The final two are of Pokko's father and mother doing what they love best.  The caption reads:

A story about art.  And persistence.
And a family of frogs that lives in a mushroom.

On the back of the book case is an image from the interior of Pokko's father helping her get on her coat.  The drum and drumsticks are next to them.  One other item of note is the ISBN.  The barcode in black is the design for the side of a drum in white with yellow drumsticks.

The opening and closing endpapers are a pattern of mushrooms, leaves and berries, lichen, stems, leaves and flowers and tiny homes in mushrooms and one large tree branch.  It's a glimpse into the realm of possibilities.  These elements are placed on a white-cream colored paper, heavier and used throughout the book.

Matthew Forsythe uses full-page pictures, and double-page pictures to extend his narrative and increase its emotional impact.  Some of his visuals cross the gutter, creating a column for text.  Or the area for text crosses the gutter and leaves a column for an image.  As he does in his text, he leaves room for speculation and interpretation in his art.  These illustrations are

rendered in watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil.

His perspectives are altered for maximum effect.  His close-ups have a huge impact.  Readers will want to reread this book repeatedly looking for portions of the book leaning more heavily on yellows and reds.  What, if any, is the importance of this change?

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is when Pokko is first walking through the woods.  A long horizontal column at the bottom provides a space for text on the right.  There are several plants using the same white-cream color to balance the design.  The world of the woods surrounds Pokko but we must remember we are seeing it at a different level than we do as humans.  There is a hint of events to come hidden on the left behind a tree.  The look on Pokko's face reflects her emotional state at being in this forest, this very quiet forest.  She carries her drum with both hands in front of her.  Her drumsticks are tucked in a pocket at her back.

This is one of those books you'll always remember reading for the first time.  Pokko And The Drum written and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe leaves an impression on your mind and your heart.  I am looking forward to sharing it with readers.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections. Today Publishers Weekly announced their Best Books 2019.  This title is on the list.

Please access Matthew Forsythe's website by following the link attached to his name to learn more about his other work.  Matthew Forsythe maintains accounts on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter.  At author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, she highlights Matthew Forsythe and this book.  At the publisher's website you can view multiple interior images.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Piece By Piece

The views of the rolling hills this autumn having been breathtaking.  The brilliant reds, yellows and oranges are becoming more muted now, leaning toward shades enriched with brown.  It's easy to imagine a master placing each tree in a special place on each hill to supply us with this every-changing work of art.  Although we have the spectacular contrasts of white and black with the coming of winter, in the spring unimaginable shades of green will supply us with a similar motif as buds burst forth and turn into leaves.  And summer is a blast of panoramic color, a blend of trees, flowers, grasses, birds, butterflies, bees and other assorted flora and fauna.

These scenes offered to us are both lessons in artistic design and the use of materials.  Two nonfiction publications this year focus on the technique of collage and both rely on what is offered in the natural world.  The first release, Birds Of A Feather: Bowerbirds And Me (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, May 14, 2019) written and illustrated by Susan L. Roth compares two artists, one avian and one human who fashion masterpieces from found objects.

The differences between a bowerbird and me are fewer than you might expect.

Susan L. Roth, as narrator, begins to state the similarities.  As collectors of anything, often items completely unrelated, they take their gathered treasures and work these into very specific, small areas.  They are both aiming toward their objective of unsurpassed beauty but their reasons for doing this are not the same.  Susan L. Roth is telling a story.  A bowerbird is seeking a mate.

Believe it or not, both never make the same arrangement.  In a stunning observation their tools, though different, work in an identical manner.  A bowerbird's beak is like a human's pair of tweezers.

Both Susan L. Roth and the bowerbird look to their surroundings to gain ideas for their compositions as well as attaining inspiration from the space in which they are placing their work or the materials they are using.  Both of these creators combine the unlikeliest of found objects to fashion colorful splashes of originality.  They do not hesitate to use whatever they can find; natural or made by humans.

Like the true artists they both are, their light shines even brighter when others notice their work and comment.  If a story is told and a mate is found, they know each small piece contributed to a successful whole.  Piece by careful piece, perfection is achieved.

In exactly twelve sentences Susan L. Roth writes a convincing portrait of the parallels between her and bowerbirds.  Her choices of descriptive adjectives are done with the utmost care.  The most striking aspect of this narrative is the pacing derived from splitting the sentences from page to page.  The rhythm mimics how these two artists, human and bird, work.  Here is a passage.

We are both 
of unusual,
often unrelated

(page turn)

that we use
in unusual ways
to create different and unexpected compositions
in rather small, defined spaces.

The kaleidoscope of bits of color on the front of the dust jacket wholeheartedly asks you to pick up this book and read it.  The layout of the text, cut out and pieced together like collage, is highly reader friendly.  The bowerbird positioned near his name looks as though he's ready for flight, carrying his latest artistic treasure.

To the left, on the back, on a canvas of white, stands Susan L. Roth, created entirely with collage.  Bits and pieces of gathered colored paper cascade from her right hand.  In her left hand she is carrying more paper and a pair of scissors.  She stands in a layer of colored, cut paper.

On the book case covered in white, textured paper are eight loosely formed panels, framed by bits of grasses and twigs, which span from left to right.  In seven of them we see the bowerbird hard at work, carrying and placing other elements exactly where he wants them to be.  He has an air of energetic determination about him.

The opening and closing endpapers are the same color as the feather in the bowerbird's beak on the front of the dust jacket.  On the initial title page, Susan L. Roth defines bowerbird and Susan L. Roth, as if they are part of a dictionary.  On the two-page picture for the formal title page, amid collected items, we see one of Susan's hands and the bowerbird picking up another piece of paper.  On the verso and dedication pages Susan L. Roth begins her visual story.

Each subsequent page turn features the bowerbird and Susan L. Roth on a variety of backgrounds, white, green, yellow or multi-colored from collected items.  Most of the illustrations are single-page pictures, intricately created.  At times we are very close to the bowerbird and Susan L. Roth as they work.  Careful readers will notice that sometimes what Susan L. Roth is making mirrors what we see the bowerbird doing next.

One of my many favorite images is a single-page picture.  The background is muted green textured paper.  Along the bottom are pieces of grass and twigs.  Other grass and twigs rise on the left and right and bleed off the top of the page.  Between these two bunches, the head of the bowerbird is bowed to pick up a piece of purple paper.  His eye is looking directly at the reader.  Most of his body is off the page to the right.  His feathers are exquisite.

Birds Of A Feather: Bowerbirds And Me written and illustrated by Susan L. Roth is an imaginative masterpiece.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all could find our counterparts in nature?  At the close of the book are:

Facts About Bowerbirds
How They Work
How I Work
How We Are The Same and a

A photograph of a Male Satin Bowerbird is included.
I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Susan L. Roth and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At a publisher's website you can view the initial title page.  At author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast this title is featured.  You can see more interior illustrations.

The second release is written and illustrated by another renowned collage artist.  Her work has received recognition, nominations and awards in the United States and internationally.  Playing with collage (Candlewick Studio, an imprint of Candlewick Press, October 22, 2019) written and illustrated by Jeannie Baker is a journey in creativity for readers.

Ever since I made my first picture book, I've always worked in collage.  My original collages can look quite different from the photographs of them---though sometimes children will stroke the reproductions of the textures in my books or try to pick bits from the page, thinking they are real.

Jeannie Baker continues by stating, pieces for collage are literally everywhere waiting to be collected.  She uses them as they are or changes them until they fit into her working design.  Her ultimate goal in this book is as the title suggests; she waits people to believe in themselves and have fun.

The next several pages focus on tools with a reminder that adult supervision is required after carefully reading instructions.  Tips are offered for pressing flora, adding texture (like sand) to a surface, and collecting the finest types of materials that can either be straight or form a multitude of shapes.  Once you have an item don't be afraid to alter it by crumpling it or tearing an edge.  Look for unusual borders.

In the first section working with paper is highlighted.  It's amazing the variety of paper available of different thicknesses, colors, and with artwork already printed on them.  How many can you list at this moment?  What can you see around you now?

Next, we move outside.  What can nature offer to us?  There is bark, leaves, grasses, flowers, nuts, seeds, moss and types of dirt or sand.  You can group like pieces together or mix them up.

Walking along the seashore offers a whole new type of item to find.  Wind and water change this landscape daily.  There is driftwood, seaweed, tiny pebbles or shells.  If you're fortunate perhaps a piece of sea glass will be revealed.  (A suggestion is offered on the correct process for pressing seaweed.)  Remember you can work with these elements as they are naturally, or you might paint one of them for contrast.

Jeannie Baker takes us in her fourth section to the kitchen in our homes.  The spice cupboard is like a treasure chest for this collage artist.  There is an assortment of dried foods, pasta, rice, seeds and beans which are ideal for collages.  Advice is offered on how to color rice and pasta.

The title closes with using translucent materials for fashioning a unique effect.  Jeannie Baker then displays two egg cartons with each little nest filled with a different material.  She challenges readers to guess what the items are.   Her final sentence reads:

General Safety Advice:  Always close scissors after use and put lids on pens and paints.  Ask an adult before using superglue or a scalpel and before using the stove or oven.

Every portion of this title is written as if you, the reader, are having a one-on-one conversation with Jeannie Baker.  There is a wonderful balance between giving you exactly what you need to know to excite you to pursue collage rather than overloading you with too much information.  The introduction is like a pep talk and the following pages are laying a foundation before you begin.

By dividing the types of materials into four sections, readers are able to see they have access to at least one or maybe more sources.  Each section contains the means for gathering items and then playing with them.  Here is a passage.

Finding nature materials 
When I go for a walk in a forest or park, or even in my own garden, I collect interesting natural textures and treasures.  If you do this too, you'll find that preserving a little bit of the natural world is a great way to celebrate its beauty.  Gather more bits and pieces than you need so you have plenty to choose from!

In addition to the narrative captions give more information such as:

If you want to use a photo, it might be better to scan or photocopy it.  That way you can enlarge or reduce the image---and keep the original.

When you open the book case the stunning swirl of materials gathered from the kitchen continues to the left, on the back.  You can almost feel yourself stop breathing so you don't cause a single seed to move.  The hours of work this image represents is astonishing.  Even now, looking at the word collage in the title, I find myself trying to figure out what elements were used.  The natural browns, yellows, greens, oranges and a bit of purple supply us with a feeling of warmth or of being caught up in cozy comfort.

A light rusty color covers the opening and closing endpapers.  With every page turn in the four sections readers are furnished with examples of collected items to utilize in the design of a collage.  The examples of what can be made from these collected items are set forth in two steps; a collage of materials and the finished collage.  It's fabulous how Jeannie Baker teaches about collage with collages.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the artwork spanning nearly one and a half pages right to left for the introductory page for

On the

Above the title words is a small collections of found items but the larger array is a mix of bronze, gold, blue, purple, gray, pastels and white.  Jeannie Baker has used

rusty tin, driftwood, sand, shells, broken shells, coralline seaweed, and sponge.

The items are pleasingly arranged together, like pieces in a natural puzzle.

The possibilities afforded readers of Playing with collage written and illustrated by Jeannie Baker are only limited by their imaginations.  The suggestions and examples provided within these pages are truly inspiring.  This is a beautiful volume to add to your personal and professional bookshelves.  You can't read this without wanting to start collecting and making collages.

To learn more about Jeannie Baker and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image.  At Penguin Random House you can see the first six pages.  Jeannie Baker has made a video speaking about this book.

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Numbering Our Avian Neighbors

On September 19, 2019 headlines filled social media feeds with shocking information.  Since 1970 the bird population in Canada and the United States diminished by nearly three billion.  Yes! Three billion! (You can read about it at Science News, NPR Science, NBC News and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.)  The study did not indicate specifically what the cause might be, but other researchers believe degradation by humans and loss of habitat is a top contender especially for grassland birds whose numbers decreased the most.

One of the methods for determining this decline in the avian numbers is by comparing data collected for decades by the

North American Breeding Bird Survey, the National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count and the International Shorebird Survey

comprised of everyday dedicated people citizen scientists.  Bird Count (Peachtree Publishing, October 1, 2019) written by Susan Edwards Richmond with illustrations by Stephanie Fizer Coleman focuses on a mother and daughter participating with other community members in the National Audubon Society sponsored Christmas Bird Count.  It's a lively, informative story in both words and images certain to engage readers.

I shake Mom in the dark.  "Wake up, sleepy head! It's Bird Count Day."
One Sunday each winter we take part in a bird census called the Christmas Bird Count.  On this day, we go out and count every bird we see or hear.

As mother and daughter get dressed in their winter clothing, we are informed that people from Canada to Antarctica will be participating.  Soon a knock on the door announces the arrival of Big Al.  He's their team leader and driver for the day.  Throughout the day, they will visit the same places they do every year.

For the first time Ava is given the task of tally taker.  Initially the trio hears is the call of a great horned owl.  Hearing a bird is the same as seeing a bird.  A cheerful chickadee calls out next and is counted.  A large V of Canada geese pass over the car.  Five slash marks are added to the sheet.  At a field only Ava sees a mockingbird, so it is not included on the list.

Sometimes Ava, her mother and Big Al need to whisper to not frighten the birds.  Sometimes they must be very still so a bird reveals itself.  Sometimes a bird blends in with its surroundings and Ava, her mother or Big Al need to heighten their detecting eyes.  Whether they are standing or driving every single bird seen or heard is part of the count.

Coloration, activities and bird calls are used in the identification.  If Ava, her mother and Big Al don't agree on the tally for a large group of birds, they take an average.  Driving through residential areas, bird feeders are a hot spot for smaller birds and larger birds seeking to make a meal of the smaller birds.  Toward the end of their route, they pursue a lead to locate a special bird and Mother Nature gives them a surprise.  As the sun dips below the horizon, several long-awaited events make for a remarkable Christmas Bird Count.

Readers easily step into this story through Ava's narration and the dialogue between her, her mother and Big Al.  We become further engaged in what Ava reveals page turn by turn by the pacing.  Author Susan Edwards Richmond carefully weaves factual information into the text while maintaining the excitement of this annual excursion.

We are also learning about a variety of birds, twenty-four in total, as the tally increases with each stop and all the points in-between the beginning and end of their day. It's as if we are going on a scavenger hunt.  Here is a passage.

"Nothing flying right now," Big Al observes.
We scan the trees, looking for familiar shapes.
"Tallest oak," Mom whispers.  "Two o'clock."
Big Al and I read the tree like a big clock
face, with noon at the top and six at the bottom.

There it is, a big bird of prey with its feathers
fluffed up.  Its back is brown, its belly white.
One red-tailed hawk.
"Let's find its mate," Al says.  He and Mom
search the other trees.  But I stick with the same
tree, sure the other hawk is there.
I check the tree again. "Six o'clock," I say.
"Close to the trunk."
"Good eye, Ava," says Big Al. 

Everything about the matching dust jacket and book case, welcomes the reader to pick this book up and open it.  The pale wintry sky dotted with snowflakes spanning flap edge to flap edge and mirrored in the lens of Ava's binoculars is a wonderful technique.  The color of her hat and the title text is a lighter shade of the red shown on the cardinals on the right jacket flap and the heads of the eleven turkeys crossing the back of the jacket and case.  Ava's mittens, scarf and coat complement each other.  The chickadee on the T is the final perfect touch.

The same shade of the wintry sky is used as a canvas color for the opening and closing endpapers.  With a first page turn we see a single chickadee resting in a leafless bush as the snow falls.  Another page turn has a variety of birds in flight across the verso and title pages with one exception.  The chickadee has positioned itself on the T again.  The placement of a raven on the title page is of importance, too.

Each image rendered by Stephanie Fizer Coleman digitally is a full-page visual, partial-page picture with liberal use of white space, or nearly a double-page image with space left for the tally text.  The tally text is written in a ringed notebook on the right side of the illustration using what appears to be a font similar to the title text.  The perspective of the images varies in sync with the narrative.  We are sometimes near the characters, given a bird's eye view or a wider view of a particular setting.

Even though it's winter Stephanie Fizer Coleman adds bits of color in clothing, the color of Big Al's truck, the birds, signage on buildings, the buildings or a stunning sunset behind the school buses.  Careful readers will notice extra details.  Ava's pajamas are printed with birds.  Christmas evergreen wreaths are hanging in the windows of the Bagel Bin shop.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a bird's eye view of a bird's eye view.  It's as if we are looking down on the five Canada geese flying over the community.  It appears they are following the path the street is making through the neighborhood.  Homes in brown extend back from the road connected by their driveways.  A few carefully placed shrubs and trees are seen looking directly at their tops.  Almost to the far right of the street, the lights from Big Al's truck shine ahead.  The color palette is subdued by striking against the snowy ground.

It's guaranteed readers will be ready to join a local Christmas Bird Count after reading Bird Count written by Susan Edwards Richmond with illustrations by Stephanie Fizer Coleman.  (I know I am.) The enthusiasm Ava, her mother and Big Al have for this yearly adventure is contagious and heightened through the words and artwork of these two creators.  This title would be wonderful for a unit on birds, citizen scientists and their value, seasonal projects and for the pure happiness associated with enjoying Mother Nature.  At the close of the book are more facts about each of the birds named in the book, an author's note and additional resources.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

Be sure to visit the websites of Susan Edwards Richmond and Stephanie Fizer Coleman by following the links attached to their names to discover more about them and their other work.  Susan Edwards Richmond has accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  Stephanie Fizer Coleman has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  The book trailer is premiered at the Nerdy Book Club.  Author Susanna Leonard Hill interviews Susan Edwards Richmond on her site.  Susan Edwards Richmond and Stephanie Fizer Coleman are both interviewed at #ONTHESCENEIN19  At the publisher's website there are resources galore; an excerpt, a teacher's guide, a one-page bird survey, an author interview and an illustrator interview.  I know you will enjoy this video with Stephanie Fizer Coleman talking about her illustrative process for this book.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Correspondence Confusion

Bright and early yesterday morning after a rain shower, a discovery was made.  A soggy letter was found in the middle of the road.   It was returned to its rightful owner after a blurred address was deciphered.  What might have happened if it had not rained and it blew farther away?  Did the owner of the letter find it stashed on their porch?  Are the contents important?

Whether you find a soaked message in the middle of the road or a written note placed in an envelope and left inside your dry mailbox by the postman, there is still today, with all our advanced technology, a bit of magic attached to unexpected correspondence.  There is usually a bit of an internal conversation taking place before the envelope is opened.  Is this good news or not-so-good news?  Will this letter change my day?  The Love Letter (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, October 8, 2019) written by Anika Aldamuy Denise with illustrations by Lucy Ruth Cummins is a charming combination of hopefulness, misunderstanding and truth in words and art.

Hedgehog was late.
He did not like being late.

Hedgehog's mood was the opposite of cheerful at the point when he spied something out of the ordinary on the ground.

It was a letter.

Reading the words, Hedgehog realized it was a love letter.  He believed someone loved him because the salutation read Friend.  He took the letter with him, stashing it inside his backpack.

When Hedgehog arrived in the meadow, his mood was happier than normal.  Everything he did with his friends, Bunny and Squirrel, was downright enjoyable.  He was pleased to walk Bunny home.  After she hugged him in thanks, she found something on the ground.  It was that letter.

Bunny was jubilant.  Hedgehog loved her!  At home Bunny was more helpful than normal.  When her chores were completed before and after dinner, she decided to visit Squirrel, bringing him a bundle of acorns.  Guess what she dropped as she left?  It was that letter.

Squirrel believing Bunny loved him was more carefree than normal.  Nothing was going to change the way he was feeling.  He slept long and hard until he raced to the meadow in the morning.

Each one of them, Hedgehog, Bunny and Squirrel, believed someone loved them.  Two were certain they knew who it was.  There were more than a few surprises at the meadow that day.  Wise words act as a reminder and retie the threads of friendship.

You have to admit when Hedgehog first finds the letter and reads the words, you feel a bit excited for him.  A new normal has popped into Hedgehog's day.  This is how author Anika Aldamuy Denise immediately invites us into the story.  When he voices his thoughts out loud, our heartrate picks up a little bit, too.  This is why we understand the difference in how he relates to his friends during their daily meadow visit.

With the discovery of the letter by the other two characters, we fully comprehend their joy, but we also feel a tension growing.  Who wrote this letter and for whom did they write it? For each of the characters, Anika Aldamuy Denise simply doesn't state they are more cheerful, helpful or carefree.  She gives examples.  This assists in elevating the gentle tension.    An added bit of humor by Anika Aldamuy Denise is the exclamations made by Bunny and Squirrel when they believe they are loved.  Here is a passage.

Down in the rabbit hole, Mama put her straight to work.
Normally Bunny pretended to nap at chore time, but today
she had a love letter and was feeling oddly . . . helpful.

Readers will find the limited color palette, introduced on the open dust jacket, will wrap around them like their favorite cozy clothing.  Throughout the book black, white, brown, yellow, pink and hues of gray create pleasing portraits of the characters and their surroundings.  The design on the jacket and inside the book is stunning.  Careful readers will notice something very special about the framing of the woodland scene with Hedgehog on the front.

To the left, on the back, Bunny, Squirrel and Hedgehog have arrived at the meadow, all believing they are loved.  They are bundled in their winter apparel and boots.  None of them are making eye contact.  The setting is more open expressing the shyness and vulnerability they feel.

On the book case it's night.  The darker sky highlights the falling snow, a row of birch trees from the left edge to the right edge and the ground covered with snow.  A full moon fashions shadows of the trees on the snow as it shines in the upper, left-hand corner.  A trail of tiny footprints moves from the far left to the tiny creature making them on the right.  It is our first hint.

The yellow used on the varnished title text on the front of the jacket covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Before the title page, Lucy Ruth Cummins gives readers another clue on this first page.  A typewriter with paper and envelopes is placed in the lower, right-hand corner.  The size of the chair and a teeny teacup are another hint.  With another page turn, the darker night lit only by the moon and glowing windows in a nearby home provide a place for the verso and dedication and title pages. The trees stand like silent sentinels.  A third clue is seen in the other place with glowing light, the inside of a log. (This same log happens to appear in the first narrative page in the book.)

The images rendered using

Navah Wolfe's old-timey typewriter, gouache, brush marker, colored pencil, and ink wash before finishing the illustrations digitally for this book

by Lucy Ruth Cummins are double-page pictures, smaller illustrations placed on white space, full-page pictures and several smaller images grouped together on a single page.  Every time the letter is read it's a close-up.  Lucy Ruth Cummins's double-page picture of the three friends walking in the snow to the meadow is an outstanding layout.  Her fine lines and delicate details further draw the reader into the story.  The eyes on the characters leave no doubt as to their current mood.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a full-page picture.  Even without the text, you know something in the story is changing.  Several leafless trees stand near two large birches against a pale gray sky.  Brown grass covers the lower half of the page.  It is slighting rounded.  Hedgehog, with his back to readers, is walking away between the two birch trees. Bunny is in the foreground bending down to pick up the dropped letter.  (At this point in a read aloud, listeners will be gasping or crying out.) Her pint sweater, bluish gray backpack and shoes and yellow polka-dot skirt are a pleasing contrast to the meadow.

If there were a huggable category for books, The Love Letter written by Anika Aldamuy Denise with illustrations by Lucy Ruth Cummins, would find a place there.  To believe you are loved is wonderful, to know it, is even better.  This book inspires us to shine love whenever we can, wherever we go.  I highly recommend a copy for your personal and professional book collections.

To read more about Anika Aldamuy Denise and Lucy Ruth Cummins and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Anika Aldamuy Denise has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Lucy Ruth Cummins has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.  I was honored to host the cover reveal for this book and was able to ask questions of Anika Aldamuy Denise and Lucy Ruth Cummins.  You can read the full post here.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Keep Going By Keeping Together

It was a frequent topic of conversation.  When it was not being directly referenced, our way of life mirrored the past experience.  We used everything.  Very little was discarded.  Somethings were made from nothings. We had a huge vegetable garden.  Food was preserved.  If you left a room after dark, you turned off the light.  Water was never left running, ever.  Purchases were made with cash or not made at all.

The lessons learned during The Great Depression after the Stock Market Crash by my mother, then nine-years-old, and my father, at ten-years-old, carried forth into their adult lives. You don't forget those circumstances, but truthfully, I never heard either of them complain about those lean years.  In a tender tribute based upon the childhood of her grandmother, Home In The Woods (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, October 1, 2019) written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler allows readers to see the strength and worth of familial love and ingenuity.  Season by season the impossible becomes probable.

This is my family.
Marv (8)
Rich (10)
Ray (14)
Mum (34)
Bea (12)
Dal (2)
Eva (3 mo.)
Lowell (4)
This is me.
Marvel (6)

Marvel's family has lost a father and a husband and their home.  It's summer.  They find a dilapidated, one-room shack in the woods.  There is a nearby outhouse.  Their mother reasons they might find glad surprises inside this barely standing house.  Inside is a table, a couple of empty wooden crates, an oven, potbelly stove, and some box springs. Amazingly enough two of the siblings locate a trap door.  It leads to a cellar with shelves filled with glass jars, a pail, a stack of cloth rags and a hand pump that works, giving them fresh clean water.

As the children and their mother work to clean and ready the shack for living, two other siblings make another discovery.  The dirt on the forest floor after years of falling leaves is dark and fertile; perfect for gardening.  To the children the woods reveal animal pathways, a creek brimming with trout, and lush berry patches.

Autumn signals the need for other tasks.  Words are written on paper slips and siblings complete the assigned work stated on the slips they select randomly.  For money their mother walks into town to assist other families with their household jobs.  The root cellar shelves are slowly filled with the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors.  Only able to afford essentials during visits to town, the siblings, now home, invent their own game of buying whatever they want.

Like the woods outside their home, winter brings indoor activities except for Ray and Marv who daily hunt in the snow and cold.  Success makes for a lively celebratory feast.  A mother watches outside a window deep into the chilly night as her children lay nestled next to her.

The first fresh breaths of spring announce new hope.  Homemade goods are exchanged for milk and eggs at a nearby farm.  Wildflowers and returning birds decorate the woods with color and song.  As Marvel looks at the shack, she marvels at the changes the seasons can bring on the outside and on the inside of her.

The voice of six-year-old Marvel reveals truth in short, poignant thoughts and sentences.  Three different voices are heard when Eliza Wheeler includes dialogue four times.  It raises the authenticity of those moments.  During each of the seasons, we are aware of all the activities inside and outside the home through beautifully described events, simple but eloquent. It's as if we are members of this family.  Here is a passage.

Bea huddles in the lamp's glow.
Mum teaches her that scraps,
put together,
make colored patchwork.

I huddle by the warm stove.
Rich teaches me that letters,
put together, make words . . .
and words, put together, 
make stories.

As you look at the front of the dust jacket, you find yourself drawn into the scene by the delicate details and natural framing of the woods.  Although the family is engaged in chores, there is a sense of peace and accomplishment, too.  The tree trunk you see on the left, continues on the other side of the spine.  When you open the jacket, the continuation is flawless.  The foreground remains darker and brighter and the background fades to near white as your eyes move left.  This space provides an opportunity to talk about this book and Eliza Wheeler's Miss Maple's SeedsThe title text is slightly raised and varnished.

Beneath the jacket, the book case gives us another view of the shack.  It is winter.  Marv and Ray are walking away from their home to go hunting, their footprints leaving a path in the snow.  We are standing farther back from the clearing as a panoramic view spreads out across both the back and the front of the case.  You get a very real sense of the stillness, cold and probably the crunch of footsteps in the snow.

On the opening and closing endpapers, in soft shades of green, Eliza Wheeler, artist, has created a bird's eye view of the shack and surrounding woods.  Important places and points of interest are labeled.  Many of these spaces are visited by the children and their mother in Marvel's story.

Rendered in

dip pens, India ink, watercolor, acrylics, and pastel pencils

all the illustrations, in intricate, fine lines and superb use of light and shadow, portray people and places in which readers, regardless of the time period, can identify.  Many of the images are full-page pictures, double-page pictures, visuals crossing the gutter to fashion a column for text or another picture or small illustrations grouped on a single page.  In addition to the narrative text, Eliza Wheeler adds explanatory short captions.  The facial expressions viewed are those of people you wish to know.  In a word, every page turn discloses, exquisiteness.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is probably very late at night or early in the morning during a bitter winter.  On the left we are inside the shack.  The children are stretched out from their mother, Mum, who leans against the window holding the youngest child.  All eight are under a quilt.  We can see the faces of five children.  The other two have their heads at the other end of the bed.  All we see are their feet covered in socks.  Light from the stars and moon shine on the mother's upturned face. Eliza Wheeler cleverly takes the wall on the inside of the shack and turns it into the outside wall as it crosses the gutter.  Drifts of snow sparkle under the stars among the trees in the woods.  Here is the final sentence in the passage for this picture.

But Mum stays awake
into the night . . .

. . . whispering

This book is filled with hope and potential.  For all who read Home In The Woods written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler you can see how resilience leads to success, and how hope guided by love leads the way.  The potential found here is for a multitude of discussions with readers.  On the final page in an Author's Note Eliza Wheeler speaks about the inspiration for this book, her grandmother, Marvel.  Today four of the children are still alive including Marvel.  Eliza Wheeler also invites readers to talk about their family stories.  I highly recommend this book for your professional and personal book collections.

To learn more about Eliza Wheeler and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  There are multiple resources related to this book.  Eliza Wheeler has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view the title page.  I know you will love reading this article in the Southwest Journal about the journey to write this book.  I did.  I might have been a bit teary, too, at the end.

UPDATE:  On December 10, 2019 Eliza Wheeler visited PictureBookBuilders to chat about this book.  It's a wonderful post with loads of information.

UPDATE:  Eliza Wheeler uploaded two videos about this book.  I believe you will enjoy them.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


There comes a time when all living things need to seek stillness.  For many, daily rest is required.  For others, their slumber is on a seasonal cycle.  It seems we humans, whose lives seem increasingly at a frantic pace, would do well to take note of the natural world around us.  Our overall physical and mental health is directly related to how well we sleep when we sleep.

Two recent publications address regular repose, daily and seasonal.  In the first, Sleep: How Nature Gets Its Rest (Candlewick Press, September 10, 2019) written and illustrated by Kate Prendergast, readers visit a variety of animals in different habitats as they snooze.  These animals are both domestic and wild.

Cats and dogs sleep curled up . . .

when they aren't playing.

On the farm each animal can be found nestled and napping in their favorite sanctuary, a pond, a henhouse, a field or a barn.  As we move out into the wild, a harvest mouse is seen curled within a nest.  Snails seek shelter in their shells as do tortoises.

Did you know giraffes sleep while standing?  Can you name two animals that sleep upside down?  One of them is a winged mammal that sleeps during daylight and roams about at night.  Guess who never closes their eyes when they sleep?  There is a specific animal when in a group is called a mob and they

sleep in a heap.

One of the most fearsome animals sleeps as one.  Another animal prefers to snooze in the heat of the day.  Others have no choice but to pause in the bitter cold.  Did you know ants only sleep briefly?  After we see fourteen animals resting, a final question is asked.  Scientists have been searching for an answer for years.

With simple statements author Kate Prendergast brings us into the collected animals' worlds.  By stating where animals sleep, she invites readers near those habitats to look for those animals as they rest.  She reveals, as a result of her research, particulars readers will find fascinating. Her inclusion of animals from around the world is a huge plus enticing readers to do further exploration.

The illustrations in this book as first seen on the open and matching dust jacket and book case are rendered in mixed media.  The textured effect depicted on each image will have readers reaching to touch the pages.  The portrait of the sleeping tiger on the front is exquisite.  The word Sleep on the jacket is varnished.  To the left, on the back, on a rich midnight blue is a circle of pale yellow.  Within this circle on a colorful rag rug sleeps a dog and cat curled together. 

The opening and closing endpapers are a vivid orange, perhaps taken from some of the highlights in the tiger's fur.  Opposite the dedication and verso page, a mother bear and her cub form a circle as they hibernate in their cave.  This illustration is between the text on the title page. 

Throughout the book on white, heavy, matte-finished paper, the pictures supply a focus on the animals.  Other animals can be found in the illustrations; frogs at the pond with the geese, butterflies on flowers near the horses, a ladybug scaling a blade of grass near the harvest mouse and a beetle scampering away from the pile of meerkats.  The visuals may be on a single page or across two pages.  The attention to detail is marvelous.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is on a single page but the background colors of yellow-green and shades of purple cross the gutter to become part of the next image.  The picture of the giraffe is stunning.  What we see reaching from the top of the page is a portion of the neck and bowed head of the giraffe.  We also see four legs from above the knees, down to the hooves, near the head.  This is a wonderful perspective.

This book, Sleep: How Nature Gets Its Rest written and illustrated by Kate Prendergast, is ideal for promoting discussions on rest in the animal world, to inspire further research and to supply a sense of stillness.  At the close of the book are framed paragraphs with illustrations of more facts about each animal.  A list of resources is on the final page.  You'll want to include this title in your personal and professional collections.  I can't wait to use it in a storytime.

To discover more about Kate Prendergast and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Kate has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At Candlewick Press and Penguin Random House you can view interior images.

A pairing of stunning photographs with a rhythmic narrative gives readers an intimate look at the wonders of nature.  This second title, Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy In Nature written by Marcie Flinchum Atkins will have individual readers pausing at page turns and listeners gasping at what they see as they move closer to the reader.  After generations of adapting, plants and animals know how survive in the harshest of conditions as seasons and weather change.

If you were dormant, you would pause---

For a tree dormancy looks different from animals.  A sugary substance runs through its branches and truck.  This keeps it safe from the cold just as the tiniest of leaves wrap around buds. Spring releases the sugary substance and tiniest of leaves, so new life begins.

Ladybugs get plumper and gather together when they sleep during winter.  This is how they stave off the chilly temperatures.  At the arrival of spring, they spread out and feast.

An Arctic ground squirrel stays curled in a ball resting away from the ice and snow, but you won't believe what it does to warm up after several weeks.  When the temperature rises outside, the Arctic ground squirrel is ready to romp and eat.

Chickadees are a common sight in northern Michigan (and other areas) every month of the year, but they have their own survival tactics.  For hours at night they pause, slowing their heart rate.  As the sun rises the next morning, you can hear them singing again.

For alligators, mud is like a blanket when cold descends. When heat chases away the cold, they creep outside to look for a tasty treat.  You might be able to guess where earthworms go when there is a drought, but you might not know how they protect themselves.  In all these examples, the opposite of what causes plants and animals to become dormant delivers them to continue or start anew.

The use of language by Marcie Flinchum Atkins in this title is spectacular.  A series of verbs describe the pause of the tree and the other animals.  (The repetition of words provides a cadence for each dormancy.)  We are then informed how those descriptions are accomplished.  The pacing is perfection because we are nearly holding our breaths as the next page is turned.  You can actually feel the joy associated with the arrival of spring, warmth or rain.  She makes the reading experience more intimate for each of us by placing us in the position of whatever being she is featuring.  Here is a passage.

If you were a dormant ladybug,
you would . . .
       FATTEN UP,
            PILE UP,
                STIFFEN UP.
You would swarm into a ladybug pile,
sharing warmth together.

You would pause. 

On the final page of the book, Marcie Flinchum Atkins gives credit to the photographers/photographs selected for this title.  They are full-page pictures, full-page pictures crossing the gutter, smaller framed pictures and one glorious double-page image.  The borders and placement of the photographs supply space for the text.  At times the text is placed within an image.

We are shown close-ups as on the front and back of the matching dust jacket and book case.  Those ladybugs look as if they are coated in sugar.  To the left, on the back, a chickadee rests on a cattail stalk, head bowed and eyes closed.  Then, as on the title page, we are shown a vast view of trees in a field coated in snow like frosting.  A  lush dark blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Each illustration is a beautiful match for the narrative.

One of my many, many favorite photographs is a close-up of another chickadee.  A branch arcs in a soft curve from another branch on the far right.  In the center of that curve, sleeps a chickadee. Its tiny feet grasp the branch.  Its head is bowed low and toward its feet.  The background is blurred.  This is a single-page picture.

No matter how many times you read this book, you will be awed by the resiliency of plants and animals to endure the elements of nature.  Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy In Nature written by Marcie Flinchum Atkins is a meticulously researched volume but also a tribute to those sharing this planet with us.  At the close of the book Dormancy Differences defines six kinds.  There is a list of books for more reading and a list of websites.  No personal or professional collection is complete without this title.

By following the link attached to Marcie Flinchum Atkins's name you can access her website to learn more about her and her other work.  Marcie Flinchum Atkins has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  I believe you'll enjoy this interview with Marcie Flinchum Atkins at The Lerner Blog.  Marcie Flinchum Atkins is also interviewed at Notable 19s and KidLit411.

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