Quote of the Month

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

Saturday, December 28, 2019

A Recipe for Perfection

Food, like stories, connects us.  We need it to physically survive but it represents more.  Food preparation and delivery is an art form.  Culinary schools train the best chefs who work in a vast array of restaurants and private homes.  Numerous cookbooks published each year become bestsellers; some, decades old, are classic staples in any collection, public or private.  Food videos, shows and networks are highly popular.

For every professional chef, there are thousands more cooks who assemble ingredients and supply meals for their families, friends or community members every day.  Of these meals some are traditional, cultural or commemorative.  They evoke sensory memories and, yes, for some of these foods there are stories told about them year after year, generation after generation.  In Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao (Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, October 1, 2019) written by Kat Zhang with illustrations by Charlene Chua a little girl loves the taste of the bao made by her parents and grandmother. Her one wish is to make this savory delight as delectable as theirs is.

Amy can do a lot of things.

She brushes her teeth.  She ties her shoes.  She really wants to make the perfect bao, but she can't.  Every time her bao are flawed.  Their size is wrong.  The filling is the incorrect amount.  Unfortunately, her bao tend to fall apart, not always, but sometimes.

Today, Amy decides is the day her bao will be perfect.  Her father mixes the dough.  Together they knead it, punch it and leave it to rise.  Then her father punches it again, rolls it and cuts it into slices.

Amy's mother is in charge of combining delicious elements with the meat.  When Amy, her grandmother, mother and father sit around a table to make the bao, she is hopeful.  Her grandmother's bao is perfect.  Her mother's bao is perfect.  Her father's bao is perfect.  Amy's bao is not.  She is crestfallen.

Suddenly Amy looks at the dough and draws a wonderful conclusion.  She shares an idea with her grandmother.  Her grandmother's actions help to fulfill a heart's desire.  And Amy . . . discovers something else, something we all need to discover and remember.

With her first sentence, author Kat Zhang invites readers into this story.  We want to know what things she can do, and Kat Zhang tells us, inserting a bit of humor, too.  Then she tells us what Amy cannot do and the tale unfolds.

Reasons for her lack of perfection in making bao follow; along with those who can make perfect bao.  Already we are cheering for this girl.  Repetition of key words and phrases further bind us to the narrative.  Each short, descriptive sentence builds on the others fashioning a tender tension until we truly feel every emotion Amy Wu experiences.  This is why we all love the ending.  Here are two passages.

Amy's first bao turns out a little
funny.  So does the second.

It's hard to know how much filling to
add.  Too little and the bao is sad and
empty.  Too much and ---oops!

Look at the front of the open and matching dust jacket and book case!  The expression on Amy Wu's face and her kitten's face is enough to make anyone smile or laugh.  I love that they are waving on top of an enormous bao with light and clouds radiating from it as if they are heroes.  (Which they are!)  To the left, on the back, standing among clouds in the lower, left-hand corner, Amy's arms are extending as a bao slips from her grasp.  It arcs toward her sitting and kneeling grandmother and parents.  Here in a thought bubble Amy defines bao for readers.  On the dust jacket, the characters are varnished as are the yellow lines in the clouds.

A vibrant sea green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the initial title page, the title text appears in a large bao.  With a page turn a muted shade of the sea greens spans two pages.  These pages are peppered with a variety of bao.  In the lower, right-hand corner the kitten assists readers in the pronunciation of bao.  At the bottom is an author's note about the pronunciation.  Illustrator Charlene Chua on the next double-page image gives readers pure delight.  Beneath the publication information Amy Wu is peaking over a pale orchid-colored table.  All we see is her face, close to us.  Her eyes are on a perfect bao, larger than life, sitting on a plate on the right.  You feel a surge of happiness when looking at this visual.

The digital illustrations, in varying sizes of several smaller ones on a single page, to full page, edge to edge, and several double-page pictures are full color.  They are animated with lively depictions of the characters.  Readers will be fascinated and filled with joy at all the details.  Amy Wu's kitten reinforces emotions and adds touches of humor.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is one of several close-ups of Amy Wu's face.  On this single-page picture Amy is attempting to pinch the bao closed.  With the dining room wallpaper as a background on a small portion of the left, the remainder of the image is filled with Amy's face and hands.  Her intense expression of concentration is fabulously portrayed.  She is holding the bao in her left hand and trying oh so hard to pinch, pinch, pinch it closed perfectly.  (You have to love this little girl.)

As a read aloud, one-on-one or with a group, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao written by Kat Zhang with illustrations by Charlene Chua is a wonderful choice.  For those striving to perfect something of importance to them, they will find a clever champion in Amy Wu. At the close of the book Amy's Family Recipe is included on two pages.  I highly recommend this for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Kat Zhang and Charlene Chua and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites. At Kat Zhang's site there is a link to a coloring page.  At Charlene Chua's site there is an interior illustration not included in those shown at the publisher's website.  At the publisher's website you can also watch a video on how to make bao along with being able to print out the recipe.  Kat Zhang has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Charlene Chua has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TwitterI think you'll enjoy the cover reveal on Pragmatic Mom (Mia Wenjen).  At author Tara Lazar's site, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) she chats with Kat Zhang and Charlene Chua about this title.  Kat Zhang writes a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club about this book.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Winging It

To leave that which provides comfort requires a certain kind of bravery and, sometimes, an unintended impetus.  An unplanned incident might place us in a position not of our choosing.  We are faced with choices for which we have no experience.  We are completely unprepared.  This is a frightening feeling.

To alleviate this fear, our first thought is to return to comfort as soon as possible.  In fly! (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 17, 2019) conceived and illustrated by Mark Teague a fledgling is faced with an undesirable dilemma.  Its challenge appears insurmountable.

In this wordless tale a baby bird with a ceaseless need for worms finds itself in an unfortunate situation.  As the day begins, its parent serves up worm after worm.  Tiring of the child's demands the parent makes one of their own.  It wants the bird to come out of the nest, to the branch and be fed the next worm there.

In a fit of frustration and wanting only the next worm, the fledgling furiously leaps out of the nest and tumbles to the ground.  YIKES!  The parent flies down to asses any harm, and then tells the baby bird to fly back to the nest.

This is not at all what the child wants to do.  The baby bird suggests hopping on its parent's back for a ride back to the nest.  To the parent, this is ridiculous.  All kinds of birds fly.  The baby bird proposes a hot air balloon, a hand glider, itself as a superhero or an airplane pilot.  This infuriates the parent.

In an effort to reason with its baby, the parent mentions a journey to be taken toward a southern region in autumn.  The responses from the fledgling are numerous modes of transportation; none of which are flying with its wings.  The baby bird is now laughing uncontrollably.

As nightfall arrives, in a final tactic, the parent describes three more scenarios.  Then the parent does the unthinkable.  As you might expect, the baby bird acts accordingly.  The result is as surprising as it was in the morning.  Sweet dreams.

The baby bird balanced on the edge of the nest on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case has no intention of flying.  It's much too far from the nest to the ground for flying.  The only thing on its mind is worms.  To the left, on the back, on a canvas of white, the baby bird is explaining to its frustrated parent why flying is not an option. The text on the front is varnished.  The image on the back is varnished.

On a sky-blue background on the opening endpapers are five rows of nests.  The baby bird is in or on the nest in a variety of positions.  On the closing endpapers, a similar background is used.  The baby bird is blissfully happy in several different poses after resolving its problem.  On the title page the title is much larger than on the jacket and case.  Beneath it is Mark Teague's name above the nest.  In the nest, the egg has just opened.

Rendered in acrylics by Mark Teague, the illustrations in this title speak the proverbial thousand words every time.  To begin, two full-page pictures set the stage for the hunger of the baby bird and the constant presentation of a worm by the parent.  The first double-page picture introduces the use of speech bubbles, all pictorial.  These conversations begin the conflict between the parent and child and the ultimate quandary for the baby bird.

The use of single-page images, two-page visuals and two double-page vertical displays are brilliant in providing splendid pacing with every page turn.  Mark Teague also places a smaller image on a larger double-page picture.  Sometimes the borders of his pictorial speech bubbles go off a page.  The facial expression on the baby bird and parent elevate the hilarity to laugh-out-loud funny.  We are also privy to masterful use of perspective.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  On a crisp, white background a swirl of blue like a pathway begins in the upper, left-hand side and winds up and down to the upper, right hand side.  The baby bird is positioned on three points on this path.  In its pictorial balloons of speech, it is hurtling off a sky jump, flying like a super bird and piloting a single-seat airplane.  With each revelation it shouts and snickers harder.  In the lower, right-hand corner is the parent bird looking right at readers.  Its mouth is turned down.  Its wings are hugged to its sides.  Squiggles of steam rise from its head.  This contrast is the comedy.

Regardless of the number of times you read fly! written (conceived) and illustrated by Mark Teague, you'll find yourself laughing.  This book will appeal to readers of all ages because of the humor and how many can connect to the reality being depicted.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.

At the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature there is an entry for Mark Teague.  This is a video from NCCIL 2016.

There is a Q & A with Mark Teague at Publishers Weekly by Sara Grochowski dated July 13, 2017.  At the publisher's website you can view multiple interior images.  They have a link to a three-page guide about sharing wordless picture books with young readers.  They also have a video with instructions in making Your Own Fly! Bird.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Then. Now. Every Day.

Most nights near midnight when stepping outside for a final walk with my canine companion, the stillness is absolute.  There is not a breath of air stirring through the evergreen boughs or shaking now leafless branches in the trees. There is no birdsong and the owls are not yet hooting.  In this serenity with closed eyes, the only sound is the steady beating of my heart and the rhythm of my breath going in and out.

These moments are enchanting and filled with promise.  In her first picture book, Long Ago, on a Silent Night (Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., September 3, 2019) author Julie Berry tells the story of the birth of a baby thousands of years ago which is commemorated each year at Christmas.  She weaves into this the present-day birth and infancy of a mother's first child.  Powerful, gorgeous illustrations by Annie Won cast a celestial glow on every word.

Long ago, and far away,
A baby was born on Christmas Day.
Shepherds knelt and angels sang
Till the night sky with rejoicing rang.  . . .

A mother feels the same rejoicing as she looks at her firstborn.  She believes as the mother long ago, a new child is a precious gift.  All those tender moments shared thousands of years ago are shared now.  A soft song soothes. 

It is said at the birth all those years ago, the animals, out of love for the boy, began to speak.  Perhaps at midnight every year, they still do.  This new mother and her husband speak with love, too.  They learn to experience life through the expressions of their new baby.  Then, as others sought the birth of

A prince of peace, a chosen one,

so, too, do the elders of this new baby.

This new child takes the everyday and makes it extraordinary.  As the days passed then and as they pass now, they and the child living in them are cherished.  No act is too small.

On that night thousands of years ago, those in attendance knew themselves to be in the presence of one sent from heaven.  Our narrator, believes her child is from heaven, also.  (Do not all mothers know this to be true?)  As the final written words are read, a great happiness wraps around you.

Like a carol the words written by Julie Berry softly sing out and envelope your soul.  Her words paint pictures as surely as an artist does with a brush.  Her rhyming phrases deftly bring the past into the present with eloquence.  For each series of sentences describing the birth long ago, she follows these and pairs them with realizations of the mother in the present.  By repeating Long ago we not only are reminded of the past, but this leads us to the wonderful final six lines.  Here is a single passage.

Long ago, on a silent night,
Travelers followed a new star's light
Bearing gifts of love to welcome a child
Who would one day calm a tempest wild,
And teach mercy and gentleness as he grew.

My love, you're a gentle teacher, too.

Breathtaking is a word that comes to mind when you look at the open dust jacket.  On the front illustrator Annie Won places the present-day mother holding her new child, eyes closed in love, contentment and gratitude.  The window curtain billowing with a gentle breeze is like a shawl.  The royal blue sky perfectly highlights the stars, text, mother and her child. I love the child's gaze looking out at us.

On the other side of the spine, but still appearing as an extension of the front image, is Mary holding Jesus.  The architecture of the building behind them seems to be part of the curtain with its angle and curves.  The sky is lighter at the horizon, but a large star seems within the grasp of mother and child.  In the lower, left-hand corner there are slightly rolling hills and some grass.

On the book case there is another stunning display of the past and present mingling.  On the left an enormous star shines among others.  This depiction is presented as part of a star from long ago on the right.  Beneath this starry cluster on the left is a bridge and cityscape in the present.  On the right, high on a rocky cliff, is a tent with a fire blazing in front of it.  Three travelers and several camels are also present.  Underneath the ledge are three gifts.  This is the first of several illustrations with the Magi.

On the opening endpapers the three men are traveling across an ocean on the left at night toward the present-day cityscape on the right.  Their vessel is ancient.  One is holding a map.  The huge star sits over the city.  Clouds billow into the sky at the horizon.  On the verso an image of a snow globe with the Holy Family is placed between the present-day child's teddy bear, tiny shoes and Christmas ornaments.  Light from this moves across the gutter to the title text.  In not wanting to spoil the reading for others, I will say nothing of the closing endpapers except to say, I think they are brilliant.

Each illustration, a two-page masterpiece is a glorious presentation, an enhancement and expansion of the text.  Some of the images shift perspectives from one point to the next in the present and in the past.  Others focus close to the child now.  In all of them are exquisite details welcoming you to pause on every page turn.  In each picture there are stars.  The symbolism embedded in some of the visuals is stunning.  You could frame each and every one of these pictures for display in a gallery. 

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a crisp cold December day in the present.  On the left snow and frosty lace cover the page.  On a branch from the top left side to the right side, sit two rose-breasted grosbeaks.  They are looking to the right.  A third rose-breasted grosbeak, wings a flutter, looks to the right also.  The frosty lace frames a window on the right.  Through the window, we see the father holding his child and the kitten.  The mother is next to them. The child hugs his teddy bear.  These beings fill the frame.  Their facial expressions are full of love and joy.  A golden light shimmers in this scene, along with a scattering of stars. 

This book, Long Ago, on a Silent Night written by Julie Berry with illustrations by Annie Won is a lovely, luminous look at the love of a mother for her newborn child.  In an author's note and illustrator's note on the verso (dedication and publication information) page, we know the depth of these creators' commitment to bringing a title filled with joy to readers. In this, they have accomplished their desire.  This is a title for your personal and professional shelves to be read and shared for years to come.

To learn more about Julie Berry and Annie Won and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites. Julie Berry has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Annie Won has accounts on Facebook and Instagram

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

It's Time . . . Now

It's December 24, 2019.  This time of year, the air is dry and cold.  In northern Michigan tonight, it is unlikely the sky will be clear but if it's cloudless the sliver of moon will allow for lots of stars to be visible.  These pinpricks of light shimmer like jewels, some are so large it's as if you can pluck them from the dark.

In a recent holiday title, our eyes turn to the sky, a December sky.  The Bear And The Star (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 24, 2019) written by Lola M. Schaefer with illustrations by Bethanne Andersen centers on an extraordinary event.  It will change the world.

Early one December morning,
Bear woke
and turned toward the horizon,
to a star---
a new star,
barley visible,
yet larger than any before.

This star was a signal.  Bear knew it was time.  First, he needed to seek a special tree.  This tree would surpass all other trees in height, strength and in location.  He found an elegant evergreen standing alone on a hilltop.

Bear raised up and roared in the four directions.  His call resounded in places high and low, near and far.  Bear went back to his woods and gathered his forest friends.  They ran by his side to the tree on the hill.  Animals, all kinds of animals, from those four directions soon joined the others.

The brightness of the star grew.  Bear's voice again thundered and carried across great distances.  Humans, from all walks of life, heard.  They stopped, listened and knew it was time.

They sought the place from where Bear's words came.  They carried items they valued and brought others with them.  And the star rose higher and higher and became brighter and brighter.  You might be wondering why animals and humans from around the world came to this tree over which the star shined.  If you think about it and reach into your heart of hearts, you will know why it is time and why they arrived.

After reading the first sentence on the first page, Lola M. Schaefer has our undivided attention.  With every page turn, a layer is added to this tension, a tension revolving around a single question.  This question has an answer for which the animals and people are aware.  With lyrical descriptors for all these beings, we see their diversity and willingness to heed the Bear's call.  Here are two passages.

As the star shined brighter,
Bear roared louder than before,
his voice booming 
across mesa and meadow,
over sea and peak,
from cliff and bluff.

People put down
hammer and hoe,
grass and thatch,
knife and rice,
shield and sword.

As you hold the open and matching dust jacket and book case in your hands, it's hard not to marvel at the splendid snowy setting.  The sloping hill on the front continues downward on the other side of the spine.  Behind it, another hill, more in the distance, begins in the center on the left and meets the first hill to form a wide v.  Leafless trees seen on the front are also placed on the back.  A third red bird rests in one of the two trees there.  The radiating beams of light from the star appear on either side of the spine.  We are intrigued by the presence of the bear and his relationship to the star.

On the opening and closing endpapers are different scenes of swirling snowflakes against two skies.  On the first, a rosy morning light pours from the right lower corner upward and into the lightening blue sky.  On the second, a rich darker blue covers most of the two pages, getting slighter lighter in the lower half on the right side.  A slight bit of blush is seen at the bottom.

A double-page picture greets readers on the title page.  Set upon the canvas of the lightening sky filled with falling snowflakes is Bear.  Rays of the star extend down from the top on the left.  We are shown the upper portion of Bear's body as he looks directly at us. 

These full color illustrations rendered by Bethanne Andersen with

oil paints on gessoed Arches printmaking paper

all span two pages.  They are individually beautiful but combined they reveal a breathtaking story.  We are treated to a variety of perspectives, each designed to bring us into the moment.

It is a decidedly sensory experience.  We can feel the vibrations from the sound of Bear's roar.  We can hear the voices of all the animals moving from around the world toward the tree.  We can listen to the sounds of the people gathering and singing.  All are joining together for one purpose.

One of my many, many favorite images is of Bear with a cardinal, raccoon, squirrel and a salamander.  We are very close to them as they move from left to right.  The cardinal, wings spread wide, covers a large portion of the upper, left-hand corner.  It carries a small olive branch in its beak.  Beneath the bird is Bear extending across most of the left and past the center on the right.  Next to and under him is the raccoon carrying a sprig of holly in its mouth.  Squirrel scampers ahead of the raccoon with an acorn in its paws.  Along the bottom on the right a salamander maintains a fast pace.  They are placed on a canvas of blue with a heavy snowfall.

When you read a book like this one, the mounting suspense is replaced with a satisfied sigh and perhaps a tear at the conclusion.  The Bear And The Star written by Lola M. Schaefer with illustrations by Bethanne Andersen is an important title, relevant now and always.  It is one you will want to include in your personal and professional collections.  I am sure it will promote thoughtful discussions.

To learn more about Lola M. Schaefer and Bethanne Andersen and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Lola M. Schaefer maintains accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  Bethanne Andersen maintains an account on Instagram.  If you would like to see the first double-page picture, it can be found at Lola M. Schaefer's website, here.

Monday, December 23, 2019

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like . . . 2019 #7

The anticipation in the air at the beginning of December has increased daily as the hours seem to speed by faster and faster.  Some of the dates planned and longed for have arrived.  For those celebrating Christmas, there is less than forty-eight hours until it officially begins.  Social media is brimming with people sharing their cooking, decorating, gift wrapping, travels and fun with family and friends.

Three characters from the woodlands who have brought us thoughtful stories and loads of laughter are together again.  One Wild Christmas (Kids Can Press, September 3, 2019) written and illustrated by Nicholas Oldland features the bear, the moose and the beaver who previously appeared in Big Bear Hug, Making The Moose Out Of Life, The Busy Beaver, Up The Creek and Walk On The Wild Side.  As we have come to expect, there is a problem, a big problem.

There was once a bear, a moose and a beaver whose very favorite time of year was Christmas.

Together for their first Christmas Eve, they were busy, making the most of their time.  There was cooking, hanging of stockings, stringing lights and gift wrapping.  They wanted this to be a perfect celebration.

When it came time to decorate the tree, they discovered they had no tree!  The trio set off outside.  Each tree they found did not satisfy their expectations until alone in a clearing was a splendidly shaped pine tree.  Now the friends were faced with their second problem.  

The beaver and moose wanted to cut it down.  The bear was aghast.  How could they destroy a living thing?!  There was a fight, but it did not last long.  Bear was the biggest of the three.  The tree was spared but their perfect celebration was currently flawed.

An idea courtesy of a tiny red presence in these books had the bear swiftly returning home on his red sled.  It was a rather difficult journey there and back to the pine tree, but the bear was determined.  As soon as the moose and the beaver (tied to the pine tree) saw their friend, they knew this was going to be the best Christmas any of them had ever experienced.  And it was.

The straightforward, simple structure of the sentences in this narrative speak to a wide range of readers.  Nicholas Oldland leaves plenty of room for us to bring our own life events into this story.  It's a marvelous manner in which to connect with the characters.  This technique also allows for his images to expand the tale, for the inclusion of dialogue and for his humor to soar.  Here is a passage.

First they came across
a maple tree . . .

TOO SMALL (the moose)

Next they saw
a birch tree . . .

TOO WHITE (the beaver)

Then they bumped into a towering
cedar tree . . .

TOO BIG (the bear)

None were quite right.

Looking at the matching and open dust jacket and book case, readers first focus on the airborne red sled with our three characters holding on tight to each other and the sled rope.  It's amazing to see the range of emotions in their eyes.  Is that excitement, fear and determination?  This entire scene certainly adds emphasis to the word wild in the title.

To the left, on the back, the image from the front crosses over the spine and extends to the left edge.  The snowy hill begins in the upper, left-hand corner and is dotted with several clusters of evergreen trees.  When you see how steep it is, it's easy to understand how the trio is speeding down the slope.

A lovely spring green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the initial title page, the three friends, wearing their Santa hats, are engaged in a snowball fight.  On the verso and title pages, two snowy hills create a blue-sky valley for the text on the right.

Rendered in Photoshop the illustrations by Nicholas Oldland span two pages, are grouped together to show multiple tasks at the same time or are placed on single pages.  Both the double-page pictures and the full-page pictures are shown with altered perspectives to elevate the mood and the hilarity.  Careful readers will enjoy the details included in the images. Our favorite little red bird makes an appearance, too.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is the first one, a double-page picture.  It is an outdoor setting with snow on the bottom, blue sky on the top and a staggered row of evergreens between the two.  On the left, the beaver, the moose and the bear are standing together, wearing their Santa hats, and looking directly at the reader.  They have their arms around each other.  To the right are three snow personalities.  First is the bear, next the beaver and then the moose. The nose on the bear, the teeth on the beaver and the antlers on the moose are spot-on to their living counterparts.  You simply can't look at this without smiling or giggling.

Anytime a book makes you laugh, tells a good story and leaves you thinking about a profound truth, it's a book you'll read again.  One Wild Christmas written and illustrated by Nicholas Oldland is meant to be read aloud and shared as often as possible.  This is one title you'll want to add to your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Nicholas Oldland and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access the information provided by his publisher.  At the publisher's website you can view multiple interior pages.  Be prepared for Christmas cheer.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Cooking Up Memories

In twelve days on December 31, 2019 at midnight, this decade will come to a close. To say the world and its inhabitants have seen monumental changes in these ten years is truly an understatement. From the individual to the global level and everything in-between, there have been heartbreaking setbacks and soul-soaring achievements, great sadness and glorious happiness.

A new year is a time to remember, reflect and refine.  It is a time to honor the past and embrace the future.  Freedom Soup (Candlewick Press, December 10, 2019) written by Tami Charles with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcantara is certain to have readers recalling their family histories and favorite soup recipes and how the two mix to make memories passed from generation to generation.

Today is New Year's Day.  This year, I get to help make Freedom Soup.

The child's grandmother, Ti Gran, believes she has a gift for cooking.  Winter is wrapping the outside world in cold and snow.  Inside warmth spreads throughout Ti Gran's kitchen as music, Haitian kompa, fills the air with its rhythmic sounds.  The two dance in shared affection for each other and the meal they are making.

Belle and Ti Gran combine a mixture of herbs and marinate the meat.  Together they raise up the boiled pumpkin and remove the skin.  Vegetables are peeled and pared.  Belle adds them to the pot with the pumpkin and the now browned meat.  As the ingredients simmer and are stirred, Ti Gran begins a story, the story of Freedom Soup.

Her grandmother speaks of slavery in Haiti.  The Haitians labored in the relentless sun where sugarcane, coffee and vegetables grew.  They made soup for the masters but were not allowed to eat it.  It was only for the free to consume.

After years and years of slavery, the people fought for years to regain their freedom.  In celebration of their new independence, they made and ate Freedom Soup.  As the two start to dance reliving the freedom their ancestors won, Belle adds pasta to the soup.  Later, a host of relatives gather at Ti Gran's marveling at the soup and savoring the stories.

Author Tami Charles shares her special recipe for storytelling in this narrative.  Her ingredients, lush descriptions of setting and rich verbs, create a delectable and sensory experience for readers. The inclusion of dialogue elevates her first-person perspective as told by Belle.  Here is a passage.

Outside, snow is piling,
cottony-thick.  Inside, warm,
sweet air flows.

Haitian kompa pours
through the speakers.  The
shake-shake of maracas
vibrates down to my toes.

Ti Gran's feet tap-tap to
the rhythm.

When you first look at the open, matching dust jacket and book case, the front, on the right, is shouting out absolute bliss.  The bright, bold complementary colors heighten the movements of Ti Gran and Belle.  The swirl of their clothing, their upraised and bent arms and toe-tapping feet invite, no demand, you walk right into that scene and join them!

To the left, on the back, a circular image is placed on a golden brush-stroked canvas.  It is an image from Ti Gran's story of the revolt of the slaves for freedom.  This dust jacket and book case show us the celebration and the historical basis for it, generation after generation.

There is a tiny floral pattern in two-tone hues of pumpkin on the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, a kneeling Ti Gran is placing an apron over the head of Belle before they begin cooking in her kitchen. Rendered

in pencil, marker, and gouache
and assembled digitally

these illustrations by Jacqueline Alcantara are vibrant double-page pictures, page edge to page edge, insets placed between text on crisp white with a vivid sky-blue border, single-page images, page edge to page edge and single-page visuals framed in white space.

Each picture is brimming with cultural and historical details, movement, the aroma of the soup and the wondrous pleasure Belle and her Ti Gran feel when they are together.  When the story is being told, Jacqueline Alcantara places Ti Gran, Belle or the soup in part of the picture, a combination that brings the past into the present.  Readers will enjoy the shifts in perspective and how it contributes to the pacing and emphasizes specific moments.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the text above noted.  It is a double-page picture.  On the left in the background through the kitchen windows, we can see a city white with snow and chilly blue with cold.  A counter stretches beneath the windows to the refrigerator on the right. A radio on the counter is playing the Haitian kompa. Another counter moves from the left edge of the page, crosses the gutter and ends on the bottom of the right side.  This counter is filled with ingredients for the soup.  Ti Gran is holding a carrot in her left hand and stirring something in a bowl with her right hand.  On the right Belle is standing on a chair dancing and shaking a spice shaker.  Behind her is the refrigerator, magnets on the top portion, pictures, treasured items, a few pieces of art and a plant.  This scene reminds us of the importance of making our own happiness whenever we can.

This book, Freedom Soup written by Tami Charles with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcantara, is a story of tasting triumph each and every year.  It is about family, remembering from where we've come and as Ti Gran says:

"Oh, Belle.  Nothing in this world is free, not even freedom."

At the close of the book, the author includes a recipe for Freedom Soup and an author's note.  Both are wonderful and informative.  I can't imagine a professional or personal library without a copy of this title.

To learn more about Tami Charles and Jacqueline Alcantara and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Tami Charles has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Jacqueline Alcantara has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  The cover for this title was revealed at Latinxs in Kid LitYou can view interior images at the publisher's website, at Penguin Random House and at the publisher's Facebook account.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Rest . . . Assured

Sometimes it escapes us.  Other times it's all we want to do. Nevertheless, we wake each morning, grateful, but also wondering why the night, our time of rest, passes so quickly.  In those hours of slumber our brains are busy helping us.  During our sleep we dream; at times some fragments are remembered or perhaps whole stories unfold.  We humans need sleep, but we are not alone in this need.

Other residents of this planet, Earth, sleep.  A Songbird Dreams of Singing: Poems about Sleeping Animals (Running Press Kids, Hachette Book Group, November 5, 2019) written by Kate Hosford with illustrations by Jennifer M. Potter explores through poetry, informational text and eloquent images forms of sleep in eighteen animals living in water, on land and in the air. For them sleep is as distinctive as they are.

A Note from the Author
Did you know humans are able to survive longer without food than they can without sleep?

In this one-page informative note from the author, a discussion of sleep piques our interest with fascinating facts.  We find ourselves hardly able to wait to turn the page.  When we do, we are astounded.

Sperm whales we are told sleep vertically; sometimes tail up, sometimes tail down.  They do this, at most, sixty-five feet below the water's surface.  On land in the nearly treeless savannah, giraffes prefer to sleep standing up.  Their naps, no longer than eleven minutes, are key to surviving their predators.  And speaking of their predators, the sleeping habits of male, female and young lions are different.  They are dictated by bugs, buffalo and roles in their society.

Brave are the sea otters who sleep on the water, holding hands to stay together.  Did you know ocelots are crepuscular?  Do you know the definition of crepuscular?  It's safe to say spiny dogfish sharks sleep as they swim.  If they stop swimming, they are unable to breathe.  You won't believe how they navigate!

The next time you see mallard ducks resting in a row, notice the ones on either end.  Their outside eye performs a vital function, as does half of their brain.  Can you imagine sleeping on air, unable to rest on land or water?  What a marvelous wonder are the frigate birds!

There is an ode to a snail removed from a desert in Egypt in 1846.  It was thought the shell was empty until . . . four years later.  When next spring comes and the peepers sing, remember what courses through their blood to keep them alive as they hibernate. We know their societies are highly evolved.  We know they are far smaller than we are, but a sixty second snooze is much, much too short.  The function of sleep is amazing and so are the animals who rely on it to exist.

After her introduction author Kate Hosford pens poems which read like lullabies.  Each one addresses the habits of the animals while employing rhyming rhythms and repetition of phrases.  Alliteration elevates the cadence.

Opposite each poem, on the left, is at least one paragraph placed on the right describing the facts known about the creature.  Within these facts terms perhaps unknown are defined in the context of the explanations. Here is a partial poem and its accompanying partial factual account.

How the Sloth Sleeps

Green algae grows upon her back.
She eats a little for a snack
And sleeps all day above the ground
Upside down, just hanging around.

At night she'll climb with two-toed feet
While looking for some leaves to eat.
She hides and chews without a sound
Upside down, just hanging around.

Two-Toed Sloths
Found in the Amazon rainforest, nocturnal two-toed sloths can sleep up to sixteen hours a day, often while hanging upside down from a tree branch.  Sloths also like to sleep curled up in a ball in the fork of a tree.  At night, two-toed sloths wake and eat leaves.  Because the leaves give them very little energy or muscle tone, sloths must conserve energy by moving slowly and hardly ever leaving their trees.

Five of the featured animals are found nestled into the landscape of delicate flowers and leafy trees on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  The deep blue canvas used here frequently appears within the interior of the book.  The scrolled font on the title contributes to the feeling of peace present in the poems.  On the front of the dust jacket the leaves and stems are embossed in gold foil.  This depiction is lovely, simply lovely.

To the left, on the back, an interior image is used.  It's of the sleeping sperm whales; some with tails up, some with tails down.  A bit of light shines from above illuminating the swimming youngster on the surface and depicting a realm of shadowy contrasts.

On the opening and closing endpapers a soothing wide-angle panorama of the tops of forest evergreens spans from left to right.  Above it the Milky Way and a multitude of other stars carpet the night sky, a sky in hues of blue.  Illustrator Jennifer M. Potter continues to create lush, eloquent scenes for each animal throughout the book.

Her single-page pictures focus on the habitat and the animal in their most graceful poses of sleep.  If an animal is known to sleep in more than one posture, she does showcase it.  Some of her images are framed in a crisp, clean white and others fill the entire page.  These visuals are sensory, conveying a specific atmosphere.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the zebra finch.  We are brought close to the sleeping male bird.  He is resting on and among flowery branches with pale pink flowers.  These flowers provide a pleasing contrast to the night sky and his coloring.  He has distinctive feathers on his sides, a rusty shade with white spots.  His cheeks are orange and black stripes appear on his throat and on his creamy white breast. His beak is a brilliant orange.

Words and images, beautiful to behold harmonize wonderfully with the factual information in A Songbird Dreams of Singing: Poems about Sleeping Animals written by Kate Hosford with illustrations by Jennifer M. Potter.  As a read aloud with a group or one-on-one, this presents information while offering comforting scenes.  It opens the door to discussions and further research.  A two-page glossary is included at the end.  An extensive list of persons in the acknowledgements supplies us with the knowledge of author Kate Hosford's fact-checking.  This is a gentle gem you'll want to have in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Kate Hosford and Jennifer M. Potter and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Kate Hosford has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Jennifer M. Potter has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Kate Hosford is interviewed at author Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations about this book and at the Nerdy Book Club  she talks about this title. 

Be sure to visit the site, 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.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A Tale of Friendship And Food

When the word holiday is spoken many different things spring into many different people's minds.  One word which most will agree is associated with holidays is food.  Special foods are prepared according to cultural customs, family traditions and the desire to try something new.

With the dates of winter celebrations approaching fast, people are gathering recipes and ingredients for recreating or making memorable meals or delicious desserts.  For some the food prepared and served during these festivities are only eaten one or two days during an entire 365 days.  When you think and remember these foods, they bring to mind only this time of year.  Wintercake (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, October 15, 2019) written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins is a lost and found story.  It's about more than losing items.  It's about losing faith in individuals.

Where can it be? thought Thomas.
Maybe I left it outside.

Thomas looked and looked.  It was gone.  His friend Lucy, a cardinal, asked him what was missing.  His basket of dried fruits, apples, berries, plums, apricots, grapes and cherries is nowhere to be found.  It has vanished.  How is Thomas going to make his Winter's Eve treat, wintercake?  The celebration won't be the same without it.

As a snow squall begins Lucy leaves, hoping Thomas finds his basket.  He hopes Lucy stays safe.  The snow thickens until Lucy can't see anything.  She crashes and falls.  In the middle of a worrying thought, she smells something wondrous, something delicious and promising warmth.  Through the swirling snow, she spots the door to a tea room.

As Lucy sips tea, conversations drift around her.  Most are focused on the weather, except for one.  She hears the words, basket, dried-up fruits and wintercake.  Lucy feels anger rising in her.  She pays for her refreshments and follows the wily thief with Thomas's basket out the door.  Imagine her surprise when this figure arrives at Thomas's home and returns the basket still filled with the fruit.

Lucy quickly goes to Thomas's door and once inside, tells him the entire story.  She is ashamed.  They decide to make the stranger a wintercake.  It is magnificent but they have a dilemma.  Where does this good Samaritan live?  The trail, they discover, is filled with challenges.  As the sky darkens around them, they realize they are lost and far, far away from home.  In the next few moments several incidents forge a new friendship; a friendship with a foundation made of stories . . . and wintercake.

It begins with a mystery, a tantalizing invitation by Lynne Rae Perkins readers will be unable to resist.  With the appearance of Lucy, her chat with Thomas and the snowstorm, the tension increases.  Throughout these opening pages Lynne Rae Perkins uses dialogue with adept skill, giving readers a greater personal involvement.  We also see bits of humor in the words Thomas uses to describe his state of mind.

Along with the narrative and dialogue, from time to time, words, spoken or thought, are included in speech bubbles.  These heighten the strength of the story and the growing humor. We willingly find ourselves more and more a part of this tale.  Here are two passages.

Thomas drizzled the white icing over it, like snow on a lumpy hillside.  He lifted it onto a pretty plate and tied a ribbon around it.
"I've thought of something," said Lucy.
"What?" said Thomas.

"We don't know where this guy lives," said Lucy.  "We don't even know his name."
"Hmm," said Thomas.  "That's true."

The two friends looked at one another.  They looked at the wintercake, on its plate with its ribbon.  They looked down at their shadows, blue shapes on the snow.  A trail of crispy footprints led from where they stood, away through the forest.
"That's it! cried Lucy.  "We can follow his footprints!"
"Yes!" said Thomas.  "Off we go!"
And off they went.  At first, it was easy.

For those living in the northern hemisphere or for those experiencing a wild winter storm tonight, one of many this season, the scene on the front of the dust jacket addresses the weather with a sure knowledge, but notice the three friends skipping merrily through the wind and snow.  To place them on the top of the wintercake, baked, frosted and placed on a pretty plate, is saying with those for whom we hold affection, let us celebrate and enjoy this delectable dessert.  Let us banish the chill and warm our hearts with food and friends.  The contrast of color choices is marvelous.  The frosting and fruits are varnished.

To the left, on the back the canvas is a darker blue.  Framed by a multitude of tiny snowflakes, bare tree branches and small evergreens is a poem speaking about the essence of this story.  It talks of misunderstanding, loss, mistakes and finding a holiday home.

On the book case we are inside Thomas's home.  On the front is an oval window.  Outside we can see Thomas, Lucy and Tobin taking a toboggan ride.  The pretty blue and white plate is empty except for wintercake crumbs.  It is resting on a red and white checked tablecloth patterned in snowflakes.  On the wall of the house is a note numbered 10.  It reads:

Share with friends.

To the left, on the back of the case, are more notes (four) numbered one through nine, plus one extra.  They are placed among ingredients and utensils used for making wintercake.  For eager readers, these notes are the list of ingredients and steps for making wintercake.  These are all on the tablecloth in Thomas's home.

The opening and closing endpapers are a rich royal blue.  On the title page Lynne Rae Perkins begins the story with Thomas setting the basket down to taste the first snowflakes.  On the verso page the stranger (Tobin) is picking up the forgotten basket.  On the dedication page, Lucy is flying through falling leaves and snowflakes.

Lynne Rae Perkins shifts her illustration sizes to enhance and place emphasis on her narrative.  She begins with a series of smaller ones on white as Thomas looks for his basket of fruit.  She follows these with a full-page picture and two smaller horizontal illustrations on the next two pages.  Then readers are treated to a two-page image of the increasing storm, a sad Thomas and Lucy leaving.  Each visual heightens her words and their emotional impact, even her humor.

Lynne Rae Perkins uses white space with excellence to frame many of her illustrations and to increase the chill everyone feels during winter weather.  Also, shades of the royal blue shown on the endpapers finds its way into the interior illustrations, elevating each scene.  Readers will connect with the characters through their thoughts and their actions as displayed by their facial expressions and body postures.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a full page.  Lucy is perched on a bright green rolled blanket on Thomas's red-frame sofa with two-tone blue plaid cushions.  Thomas is seated at the other end.  He is softly smiling.  Lucy is completely upset and talking about her misjudgment of the stranger.  The basket of dried fruit is on a round coffee table.  This is on a round rag rug.  The colors of the fruit and the colors in the rug are nearly identical.  Next to the sofa is a small table.  On it a lamp painted with roses glows.  Thomas has wainscoting in this room and a small circular window.

This is a story to take away the chill on a wintry day, evening or at bedtime.  Wintercake written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins is a gentle tale of how misunderstandings can lead to the best life has to offer us if we reach out and right a wrong, even if the injured party is unaware.  Lynne Rae Perkins's blend of text, dialogue, thoughts and glorious illustrations will make this a much-requested title.  You'll need to have a copy in your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Lynne Rae Perkins and her other wonderful work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  She has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  This book is showcased at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, at Picture Book Builders in a post by author Pat Zietlow Miller and at Jama's Alphabet Soup by author and blogger, Jama Rattigan.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Holding Hope In Your Hands

It is said keeping a bit of seasonal cheer visible all year long brings you good luck.  For many years a tiny Christmas tree covered in miniature ornaments with a tiny train running around the bottom has held a position of honor on my desk.  Next year it will be joined by another item.

Some people collect these items to commemorate a visit or an event.  Our family collects them to celebrate Christmas.  A few are my mother's; a few are mine.  As if bound by an invisible chord memories are attached to each snow globe.  There is a special kind of magic in memories made of love.  Snow Globe Wishes (Sleeping Bear Press, September 15, 2019) written by Erin Dealey with illustrations by Claire Shorrock is about the serendipity of wishes coming true.  It's about the contagious character of spontaneous and shared joy.

Lights go out!
   Fierce clouds blow in.
      Garlands fly on frozen wind.

A wild wintry storm is brewing.  The power goes out.  As workers head for home, roadways become covered with snow.  Residents snuggle in for the night with warmth from fireplaces and light from candles.

Near the fire one family builds a cozy camp from blankets and a mattress on the floor.  After a bedtime story, everyone (the kitten and dog, too) sleeps, except for the oldest child.  Holding the family snow globe in her hands, she makes a wish. 

A new day dawns with sunshine and snow, lots of snow.  As the girl gazes out the window, words seem to call to her.  These unspoken words are calling to all the children.  Their parents join them.  Soon the neighborhood is filled with play and laughter.

Something wonderful is happening.  When it seems as if the day can't get any better, it does.  One at a time, person to person, a single thought and a single action is shared.  Anything can happen on a

snow globe day.

Those first three words

Lights go out!

are nearly as powerful as once upon a time.  They announce the beginning of a spell; the spell of possible stories in the making. Erin Dealey's vividly descriptive and flawless rhyming text take us into the center of this snowstorm, of the evening with one family and of the following day with an entire community.

Her words weave a wondrous world around us.  As the cadence carries us deeper into the narrative, we can literally feel marvelous magic growing.  It is an enchantment we all would gladly embrace as reality.  Here is a passage.

Blanket forts.

Crawl in.
Scoot over.

Kitten purrs.
Me, too! barks Rover. 

Looking at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, readers know there is a promise of happiness radiating from the images.  The girl who makes the snow globe wish is looking directly at us.  Her expression is saying to us, Trust me.  Have faith.  Her smile and the people merrily engaged in activities behind her all point to the benefits of believing.

To the left, on the back, on a background of cream, illustrator Claire Shorrock has taken a portion of one of the interior illustrations, enlarged it and framed it in a crisp white border.  Our protagonist and her family are enjoying the snowy morning.  Here and on the front, details are varnished in glittery white.

On the opening and closing endpapers, on a pale muted green canvas amid snowflakes, is a pattern of a sled, a pair of ice skates and a cup of a hot beverage.  Between the text on the title page, the little girl, her father, younger brother, seated on a sled, and her mother are holding hands in front of the row of houses on their street.  They are accompanied by a handsome, smiling snowman.  The mother is holding the stick hand of the snowman.

Readers will find themselves stopping at each page turn to enjoy each intricate line.  Within her illustrations Claire Shorrock combines perspectives and artistic styles.  Although she employs a full color palette, the hues are soft.  There is no doubt in your mind about the cold and wintry weather, but you also get a very real sense of a glow inside and outside the homes and on the inside and outside of the people.

Her picture sizes vary from double page to full page and sometimes on her page without words, several smaller images are grouped together. Different races are presented in the people, even in the girl's family.  Claire Shorrock is one of those artists who can convey a range of emotions with dots for eyes.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is on a full page and enhances the text above noted.  The two sides of the blanket fort fashion a large "v" opening.  On the left the light from a camp lamp shines on the red plaid blanket.  On the left the mother is holding the younger brother on her lap.  On the right, the father is reading a book aloud.  The little girl is in front of him.  She is holding a stuffed-toy rabbit.  Her bunny slippers are next to her on the floor.  The kitten is already asleep on a pillow.  The dog is barking.

This book, Snow Globe Wishes written by Erin Dealey with pictures by Claire Shorrock, is pure delight in every aspect.  This is a book to be read over and over and enjoyed every time as if it's the very first time.  You'll want to add this charming story with its beautiful words and images to your seasonal collections at home and at work.  I want to hug this book!

To discover more about Erin Dealey and Claire Shorrock and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Erin Dealey has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Claire Shorrock has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  This book is showcased at author Kathleen Temean's Writing and Illustrating.  At the publisher's website there is a link to an activity page.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Friday, December 13, 2019

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like . . . 2019 #6

It started as a memorial.  It was a single tree; a gift from two author friends to honor my sweet Xena after she passed.  For each year since her death, I added a tree.  On the hilltop, there are now five dwarf Alberta spruce.

The hill and surrounding land prior to the development was filled with trees.  It's now a mission to replace that which was removed.  This summer two redbud trees, a poplar, and twelve cedar trees, of varying varieties, were planted.

These trees will be nurtured but also allowed to grow and bloom as naturally as possible.  This means their perfection will be defined differently than the meaning found in a dictionary.  The Tree That's Meant To Be (Oxford University Press, October 3, 2019 and Doubleday Books for Young Readers, September 24, 2019) written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer honors the beauty and importance of all trees (all individuals).

the tree
that's meant to be.

Narrating this story, the tree laments its growth, or lack thereof, from the tiniest of seeds.  Its branches on either side are not symmetrically aligned.  Its height is diminished compared to the other surrounding trees.  

The seasons, spring, summer and autumn arrive and leave in their allotted time, until one night, everything is coated in 

snowy white.

People start to enter the forest.  They are carrying tools in order to complete their task.  It seems they are seeking their perfect Christmas tree.  Soon all that's there are clusters of stumps.  The little fir is alone.

In the cold silence of the woodland, the tiny tree cries out for company.  There is no reply.  A question of worth works its way into the little fir's soul. 

The next morning as daylight washes over the wintry scene, one by one, animals creep from the safety of the woods.  They bring decorations found on branches, boughs and blooms.  Carefully they are placed on the little fir.  That night as stars twinkle in the clear cold air, another gift descends, not from the animals, but from the wonder Christmas brings. 

The seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter, arrive and leave in their allotted time.  Years pass.  It ends as it began, only better. 

Read the words of this narrative aloud.  They, as written by Yuval Zommer, sing with a gentle cadence through the use of alliteration and rhyme. By giving voice to the fir in a first-person narrative, readers are drawn to the plight of the tree.  (There is always a time when we compare ourselves to others and feel less than we should.)  By including some conversation, the story becomes more personal.  Here is a passage.

But who would hear my cry?
Who could speak the language of tree?
And understand me?

The happiness known at the end of the book shines on the front of the dust jacket as readers note all the delicate details in Yuval Zommer's signature artwork.  The animals are gathering around the fir and some are bringing decorations.  Natural and seasonal colors blend beautifully.  Many of the elements are varnished and shine with embedded glitter. 

To the left, on the back, the fir, at the bottom, is framed by larger evergreens.  A flurry of forest animals is placed on the sides and birds fly at the top.  Clouds release rain and snow.  Several stars shine in clearing skies.  It's a scene paying tribute to the majesty found in our forests.

On the book case, on the right or front, a marbleized red is the canvas for the little fir tree, standing all alone.  Beneath it, in white, is the text.  On the back, to the left, is a lush forest setting replete with all kinds of trees.  Birds fly among the leafy branches.

On the opening and closing endpapers a diagonal pattern of white fir trees, this little fir tree, is placed on a darker spring green.  An initial title page highlights the text and the fir on a white background.  On the verso and formal title pages intricate items from the forest border the words.  The fir is the center of attention on the title page.

Each double-page picture portrays the splendor found in our forests.  These illustrations are a study in beauty, different kinds of beauty.  Twice, Yuval Zommer, uses those double pages by featuring three horizontal pictures first and then three vertical visuals, second.  His final single-page picture brings readers directly into the narrative.

Readers find themselves pausing at each page turn to seek out all the living things in each illustration.  The eyes on the animals draw our focus to what is happening in each image.  Each picture asks us to step into the scene.  Each picture asks us to respect and appreciate our forests and their inhabitants.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a bird's eye view.  The air is filled with falling snow.  Green and blue are prevalent in the color palette.  Clouds are layered above the trees.  Single leaves fall in the breeze.  A few night birds fly from tree to tree. Others huddle in tree foliage.  The tiny tree, the fir, stands alone in a small clearing near the center on the right side.  If you've ever walked at night when the snow is falling, this scene, as portrayed by Yuval Zommer, is perfection.

As a representation of the wonder of our forests, of the special magic found during this season and as a tribute to individuality, The Tree That's Meant To Be written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer is excellent.  These words in the dedication

Dedicated to the forest

are obvious in every syllable and line written and painted by Yuval Zommer.  I am happy to add this title to my personal collection and you'll want it on the shelves of your professional collection.

To learn more about Yuval Zommer and his other work, please visit the website found by following the link attached to his name.  Yuval Zommer has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the World Book Day site, you can download an associated activity.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Ferocious, Forceful, Fantastic Bugs

In nine days, the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, will be marked on calendars in the northern hemisphere.  We've had more than six inches of snow blanket the ground in the last 48 hours with more currently falling.  Below normal temperatures for several days this week and high winds formed sizable drifts.  At night animals are on the move as evidenced by their tracks and trails left in the snow, but there is a huge population of critters not visible this time of year.

Some of them are downright pesky and not missed at all, even though we know they are essential in the chain of life.  Others as evidenced by Insect Superpowers: 18 real bugs that smash, zap, hypnotize, sting, and devour! (Chronicle Books, November 5, 2019) written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Jillian Nickell are not only vital but display capabilities similar to champions of comics.  Their skills are astounding.

All living organisms are identified using a system called biological classification, where they're organized based on common characteristics.  This organization starts big---by asking questions like, "Is it a plant, animal, or something else?"---and it gets more specific as it goes along.

Each category,

domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species

are explained in their most basic form and one insect, the Monarch Butterfly is used as an example, citing all eight classifications.  After these four pages, the superpower descriptors are divided into chapter headings,

Fast & Fierce
Great Imposters
Big & Tough
Masters of Chemical Weaponry
Engineers & Architects and
Amazing Ants.

Within these chapters each featured insect is given a superpower name based upon their performances.

You would think with a name like robber fly this insect is some kind of super sleuth but it's a speed demon when in flight.  If you are its unfortunate prey, you are doomed to become a liquid form of food.  Did you know the six-spotted tiger beetle can move faster than five miles per hour?  There is a bug clever enough to mimic an orchid and lure in unsuspecting food.  Its powerful jaws allow it to feast on other insects three times its size.  If you think the only reason fireflies, especially the females, flash their light is to find a mate, you'll be shocked by the behavior of one species.  If you are a male Photinus ignitus, take flight and avoid the light.

There is a grasshopper, Little Barrier Island giant weta, residing in New Zealand.  As the

heaviest insect in the world 

it tips the scale at 35 grams or .077 pounds.  That's one big bug!  It scares rats away by lifting its wicked-looking hind legs.  The black and white shell of the Texas Ironclad beetle is so hard a drill is sometimes necessary to pierce its shell when scientists are studying a deceased bug.  And you won't believe what someone did to the shell of one of these living beetles.  Can you imagine a bug that can shoot a toxic mixture out its rear at five hundred to one thousand bursts per second?  Beware the African bombardier beetle.  If you were a specific termite living in Australia your face is your best weapon, shooting out a gooey glue to immobilize attacking ants.

There is a bug that builds holes in sand to trap food, one that farms fungus and another that confuses its predator by emitting its own sonar sound.  Many of us are aware ant bites can be itchy and achy but one ant, the Bullet ant, has an extremely painful sting.  The final noted insect, Siafu ant, has terrifying jaws.  They travel in troops of millions . . . yes, millions.  Nothing is safe in their path.  The talents of these insects are terrifying, especially to other insects and wild and domestic creatures, but you can't, nonetheless, resist being astonished and give them their due respect.

Through her careful research, author Kate Messner presents facts in multiple ways to appeal to a variety of readers.  For each insect we learn their:

common name,
super-scientific name,
trademark features,
size (metric),
secret hideout, 
favorite food,
allies and

By selecting these words, she is keeping to the superhero theme.  In other text boxes each insect's characteristics and defining actions are portrayed.  Sometimes a probable scenario is showcased with step-by-step action.  Captivating anecdotes provide unforgettable information.  Here are some passages.

A raiding gang
of Asian giant
hornets have been
known to wipe out
a nest of tens
of thousands of 
honeybees in a 
couple of hours. 

The hornets use their powerful mandibles to tear
the bees apart, often ripping off heads, legs, and 
wings.  Then the hornets carry the bees' larvae
back to the nest, chew them into balls, and feed
them to the hornet larvae.

The front and back of the open book case has huge reader appeal.  The layout and design are an introduction to the comic book, graphic novel, use of panels.  The image on the front is a display of six of the eighteen insects.  To the left, on the back, the Asian giant hornet is showcased within several text boxes along with striking images.  Information about Kate Messner and Jillian Nickell, which would normally appear on the back dust jacket flap, is shown here.

On the left front and back right of the end papers are superpower rays shooting out from the gutter in yellow and green hues.  The pages opposite these are first, the title page and second, at the end, the publication information.  These, in the front, are followed by two pages dedicated to the Contents.  

Rendered in ink and copic marker the full-color illustrations by Jillian Nickell are vibrant and bold.  Panels for text are placed within, above and below illustrative panels.  Geometrically shaped panels house insects which look as though they are going to burst off the pages.

We are brought close to the action.  Sound effect words are large and highly expressive.  Small ribbons further emphasize superpowers with appropriate visuals as well as the insect's archenemy.  So well-portrayed are these insects, it's hard to believe they are not real superheroes, but readers will find themselves grateful they are not the size of humans.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the first page for the Hercules beetle.  Its superhero name is THE WEIGHT LIFTER.  Two text boxes in yellow present seven short facts.  Between these the beetle rises looking like a giant.  Blue and white rays spread out from the center in the background.  The enlarged beetle, which can be seven inches long (180mm), is standing tall and holding a large barbell in its mandibles.

Whether a reader is a fan of bugs or not, this book, Insect Superpowers: 18 real bugs that smash, zap, hypnotize, sting, and devour! written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Jillian Nickell, will keep them reading, probably in a single sitting.  At the close of the book, a question,

Could super insects take over the world someday?

leads to a discussion by the author.  This is followed by a list of books and websites.  These bugs are a part of our world.  The more we know about them, the easier it is to understand their purpose.  This book is a wonderful resource for your personal and professional collections.  It's easy to see this book as a read aloud in a classroom setting or a book group or as a part of an insect unit.

To learn more about Kate Messner and Jillian Nickell and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Kate Messner has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Jillian Nickell has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

It Only Takes . . .

It only takes one.  One shy glance, one delectable taste, one resonating note, one gentle touch or one sweet smell to effect a change.  We never know how a simple act, freely given, can alter someone's life.

In those sensory moments, short or long, small or large, we are joined with another being.  It is a force for good.  One Hug (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, December 10, 2019) written by Katrina Moore with illustrations by Julia Woolf explores a memorable day in the life of a family.  All kinds of hugs convey a range of emotions centered in love.

One hug.

A boy's day begins with a hug from his mother as they watch a plane pass by his bedroom window.  The hugging continues with an embrace from his father.  The boy hugs his sister right out of her bed.  Special hugs are given to the boy from his canine companion.

Each member of the family is busy, moving items from their home to their back yard.  Is it a picnic?  Is it a sleepover?  The letters on a banner spell WELCOME.  Soon shouts of happiness announce a long-awaited arrival.

A grandmother hugs her daughter.  An uncle hugs and whirls his nephew around as three cousins laugh and jump for joy.  The boy's sister, hesitant, joins the hugging jamboree when given some extra tender care.

A shared meal, catching-up conversations and the gentle capture of fireflies spread warmth inside the family members' hearts and a gentle glow outside as dusk descends.  Pajama-clad children build blanket beds inside a tent.  A grandmother's song envelops the nestled gals and guys as they end their day looking at a star-studded sky.

In her debut picture book, author Katrina Moore meticulously builds a narrative featuring enthusiastic embraces within a family.  Her selection of words creates a symphony of rhyming sounds; read aloud it sounds like a song.  Repetition of a refrain is a connecting chorus.  Here are two sentences.

Chasing, racing, to and fro,
sometimes hugs are on the go!

Open arms that swoop around,
some hugs whoosh you off the ground.

When you look at the open dust jacket (I'm working with an F & G. My hard copy is arriving soon.), one word comes to mind, bliss.  It is a bliss born of the embrace between a grandmother and her grandson reunited at last.  It is a bliss born of running at night among fireflies.  Notice the use of circles and loops in the design.  That's what hugs do.  By placing the grandmother and her grandson on the "o" it's as if they are seated on a crescent moon.  It makes a reference to the expression "over the moon."  All the elements on the blue are varnished.

To the left, on the back, the boy and his sister are standing together.  The boy holds his dog in his arms.  His sister is reaching out to hug the dog.  On the title page an interior image of the boy and his sister laughing and hugging is enlarged and placed between the text.

Rendered using

ArtPrint printers ink by Seawhite of Brighton and Photoshop

these digital illustrations by Julia Woolf depict all the delight found in a family whose affection for each other is expressed by hugging.  The close-up portraits of the family's faces when they are hugging supply readers with the sure knowledge of the shared contentment.  Careful readers will also find humor shown on some of those same faces.

Full color pictures are layered with the people and specific elements slightly darker than the background.  Details in the visuals show the blend of two cultures.  Julia Woolf shifts the sizes of the illustrations from full-page pictures, double-page pictures and several grouped together on a single page to heighten the cadence created by the narrative.

One of my many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  It's nighttime.  From the left a trunk of a tree forms a triangle in the upper corner.  A full moon shimmers as fireflies flutter on either side of the open-door tent.  The five children, now wearing pajamas, are getting ready to sleep in the tent.  The two boys are playing with their pillows and laughing.  A girl is laughing and dancing on the grass.  Another girl is hanging a lantern inside the tent.  The littlest girl, the boy's sister, is seated and yawning.  This is a picture you'll want to hug.

You can't read One Hug written by Katrina Moore with illustrations by Julia Woolf without smiling.  The charm of the combination of rhythmic words and images full of merriment surrounds you from beginning to end and long after the story is finished.  For a story time full of mirth pair this with The Runaway Hug, Hug Machine or Hug It Out!  I can't imagine a professional or personal collection without a copy of this book.

To learn more about Katrina Moore and Julia Woolf and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Katrina Moore has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Julia Woolf has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At Harper Stacks Katrina Moore writes about one of her students and the beginning of this book.  Katrina Moore is featured at 12 x 12 Twelve Picture Books Twelve Months and KidLit411The cover reveal is hosted by teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner here.  At the publisher's website there are two pages of printable activities.