Quote of the Month

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

Friday, February 28, 2020

A Transformation

With the arrival and departure of each month differences are noted.  Some are subtle, only evident by keen observers.  Others are more obvious.  With each seasonal shift the length of daylight and darkness lessens and grows in proportion.  More darkness signals rest and more light announces rebirth.  Wild creatures carefully watched declare changes with their presence or absence. 

The newest of three titles (Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn August 16, 2016, Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter September 5, 2017) celebrating seasons, Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring (GodwinBooks, Henry Holt and Company, February 18, 2020 written and illustrated by Kenard Pak, follows a boy and his dog as they walk and send out greetings.  They move and mark aspects of these two seasons.  They do not go alone.

Hello, winter night.

Hello, snow.

Hello. From high up in the sky.

Snow continues the conversation with the boy and his pooch pal, telling of its actions and where its flakes fall.  Strolling past a pond covered in ice, the child bids the fish hello.  And they reply. 

An empty greenhouse draws attention to its own discoveries.  A winter brook, footprints left in the snow, trees and a nest acknowledge the young explorer and his dog.  A wild winter storm voices its own opinion.  And then it stops.  Silence.

Looking out his window in the morning, those places visited the previous night glow in the dawn's light rising behind neighboring hills.  A new day means a new walk is in the offing.  The effects of the previous night's weather diminish in the warmth of the sunlight.

Multiple salutations address all the changes.  Heat helps to melt.  Heat helps buds to unfurl.  Heat calls to sleeping animals.  All the welcome words bring forth responses.  The joy of a new time reverberates across the landscape.  A boy and his dog run to meet spring.

The technique of using greetings and responsive greetings in the narrative by Kenard Pak creates a personal experience for the reader.  We travel in faith and appreciation with the child and his canine companion.  The replies from what most would consider unable to speak enrich the dialogue and elevate the magic to be found in our world.  Here is a passage. 

Hello, glass house.

Hello.  I'm cold inside.
The swaying trees through my glass panels are like tall, slender ghosts.
The last logs are draped with snow. 

When you open the dust jacket the image spans from the edge of the left flap to the edge of the right flap.  The illustration on the book case matches that of the jacket.  From left to right we move through a chilly wintry scene in the country toward a small community as the snow falls.  As the scene crosses the spine a few new leaves appear on a tree as the landscape warms with the changing season, sun and clear sky.  Shades of gray turn to hues of green.  Clearly the two walkers are enjoying their adventure. 

On the opening and closing endpapers a steely blue gray provides the background.  On the title page a single sapling on top of a hill catches falling snowflakes.  Kenard Pak

used watercolor and pencil, digitally enhanced, to create the illustrations for this book.

Each picture graces two pages with the exception of four full-page pictures.  There is a stunning wordless visual deep in the night before sunrise.

The narrative begins in the evening with winter colors darker than during daylight which supplies a better contrast to the lightness of the new day after the storm and the coming of spring.  Each image presents a different perspective depending on who is the observer.  We view scenes from the boy's and dog's viewpoints, from snow's point of view, or from the fishes' sight.  Sometimes all we see of the boy and his dog are their feet and paws.

Each page turn asks readers to pause.  We look at each setting carefully noting the layers and what Kenard Pak chooses to place with bolder colors and those he chooses to fade.  Each element is placed in each picture with intention.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a bird's eye perspective of the boy's home and surrounding area.  From here we can see his house, the pond, the greenhouse, the brook, and plentiful trees.  On the left snow still covers portions of the grass, trees, and roof of the house.  Our eyes move to notice the brook, greenhouse and pond before crossing the gutter.  A blue jay and blackbirds soar in the sky on the right.  Beneath them the boy and his white dog race through a clearing.  You can feel the surge of joy at all the new beginnings visible in the change of colors.  There are shades of green everywhere you look.

Reading Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring written and illustrated by Kenard Pak is a soothing journey from season to season.  It invites readers to take their own walks and greet what they see.  It welcomes them to imagine responses.  It enhances the value of observation and appreciation for our natural world and its cycles.  This could be used successfully to promote discussions and enhance specific themes of study or storytimes.  You'll want to place a copy of this in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Kenard Pak and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Kenard Pak has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Here is a link to an interview at Art Of The Picture Book.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

To Know Them

As an understanding of each living thing on our planet grows and is known, our perspective shifts.  We come to view these individuals as more than their name suggests.  They respond to each other and to us in distinct manners.

If the opportunity presents itself to study and interact with a specific individual, their essence is revealed.  If you have not been fortunate enough to experience this in your own life yet, the newest nonfiction picture book by masterful author and photographer April Pulley Sayre reveals this beautifully.  Being Frog (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, February 4, 2020) is about developing a relationship on a sensory and personal level with the world around you.

A frog 
is a being.
It is watching.
It is seeing. 

Just as the frog is watching and seeing, we, too, can watch and see them.  A frog can choose to sit on the same rock or log.  They favor one place over the other, day after day.

Food is hunted for survival.  Attempts are made until there is success.  In the heat of the day, a frog seeks relief from the warmth in shade or water.  Sometimes as the frog rests, is it thinking?

Perhaps it remembers its youth.  Perhaps it remembers the journey from egg, to tadpole and baby frog. During the day it moves up a rocky slop, stops and then, suddenly jumps skyward, only to sit again.

Time for humans is measured by clocks and calendars.  What is time like for a green frog?  How does it measure the days of its life?  A frog is.

Through weeks of watching frogs at a nearby pond April Pulley Sayre pens a poetic ode to their uniqueness.  Her simple but profound sentences describe the meaningful moments of their lives.  Her language vividly mirrors their movements.  A rhythm is supplied with rhyming words, phrase length and punctuation.  She repeats words from the beginning at the end to generate a circle, a powerful, meaningful circle.  Here is a passage.

This log.
Its daily job?
Support the frog. 

From your initial look at the front, right, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case, you find yourself fascinated by the sheer elegance of the colors and shapes on this frog.  There is a majesty in this captured minute.  The title text is raised.  To the left on the back are three rows of four photographs with narrow white lines in a grid defining them.  Frogs are shown in various positions and places on their pond.  Lovely presentation of flora is there also.

Additional pictures are shown on the end flaps as well.  The opening and closing endpapers are a shade of yellow as seen on the frog.  On the title page a front view of a frog's face peers through a spectrum of color.

The photographs throughout the book, taken by April Pulley Sayre, range in size from a single page picture crossing the gutter to create a large column for text, nearly full-page illustrations, several panels on a single page, and full-page images.  Their size and the white space for text shape the pacing and emotional effect.  The point of view in these photographs is outstanding.

One of my many, many favorite photographs is the first one.  It spans a single page on the right and crosses the gutter a bit to the left.  It is a close-up of a frog's face with the area surrounding it blurred.  Although the frog is still, you believe it could leap into action at any second.  It's a breathtaking portrait.

Readers of all ages will find the words and photographs in Being Frog written and illustrated by April Pulley Sayre either shifting or enhancing their belief in every living being having individual worth.  At the close of the book an Author's Note offers insights into the process, the difference between anecdotal evidence and scientific data, and April Pulley Sayre's observations and thoughts about those observations.  Resources for Further Exploration are offered.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about April Pulley Sayre, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  April Pulley Sayre has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Staging Success

Every time we tell a story to a friend, we are in the spotlight for those brief moments.  We are a presenter with an audience of one.  For many of those storytellers speaking to one, the thought of sharing themselves or their talents with a larger audience is simply not going to happen.  Their preference is for working behind the scenes and being an invisible supporter.

As life would have it, sometimes what is desired and what is needed are two entirely different scenarios.  The Bear Must Go On (Philomel Books, February 11, 2020) written by Dev Petty with illustrations by Brandon Todd focuses on a group of forest friends with a zest for jazzing up their current situation.  Their endeavors are filled with exuberance and loads of hilarity.

Four woodland animals could not decide how to spend their spring day.

Rabbit proposes they put on a show and it's enthusiastically endorsed by Squirrel and Other Squirrel.  As Rabbit, Squirrel and Other Squirrel shout out the details of said show, Bear volunteers to be the note taker.  When the truth dawns on Rabbit, Squirrel and Other Squirrel, they are aghast that Bear does not want to be in the show.  He tells them he is much too timid to perform.

As Bear takes notes of their loud demands, his humming to himself turns into a lilting tune he begins to whistle.  The trio voice their requirements for hats, tickets and a curtain exclaiming how every item needs to be perfect to keep the show from being ruined.  Bear happily writes; confident he is not going to be out front on the stage.

As you can imagine, nuts have to be offered to all attending the show.  They are the ideal refreshment.  Four working as a single unit begin to assemble all the elements for their splendid show.  Each time Rabbit, Squirrel or Other Squirrel mention something else, Bear notes it.  They work all day and into the early night.

As the population of the forest arrives to see the show, everything is as the friends planned.  The curtain opens and then everyone is stunned, especially Rabbit, Squirrel and Other Squirrel.  Bear scans his notes.  Bear makes a suggestion.  He is not overjoyed with his companions' response, but Bear is the best kind of friend.

Readers are quickly endeared to the characters, Rabbit, Squirrel, Other Squirrel and Bear, in this story because of their shared conversations in the narrative.  Based on their commentary by author Dev Petty, their highly animated personalities are guaranteed to have readers laughing out loud; in particular when Rabbit, Squirrel and Other Squirrel are compared to Bear.  (And if you aren't grinning at a character named Other Squirrel, then you need to check to see if you have any sense of humor.)  An additional technique author Dev Petty employs is to drop hints as to what Bear's notes reveal with respect to the conclusion.  She keeps adding and increasing one specific aspect.  Here is a passage.

"We also need tickets," said Rabbit.  "SHINY tickets."
"VERY SHINY," SAID Squirrel.
"Write SHINY in big letters, Bear!" said Other Squirrel.  "No one will come if the tickets are dull.  Everything will be ruined."

Bear surely didn't want anything to be ruined.  He wanted everyone to come to the show, especially since he wouldn't be in it.

When you initially look at the front, right side, of the matching and open dust jacket and book case, it's obvious Bear is less than eager to do what his friends, Rabbit, Squirrel and Other Squirrel are urging him to do.  The facial expressions on all the characters' faces is our first hint at the differing personalities.  Here, too, is our introduction to the full and vibrant color palette used throughout the book.

To the left, on the back, on the same light tan canvas is a bowler hat among flowers with a SHINY gold ticket stuck in the hat band. A speech bubble above the hat reads:


in bright green letters. On the opening and closing endpapers are a variety of hats, pencils, and flowers patterned on a pale blue background.  A double-page picture of the four forest friends chatting on a hilly meadow supplies a scene for the title page.  Digitally rendered by Brandon Todd the illustrations range in size from double-page pictures, to full-page images, and to a group of geometrically-shaped visuals on a single page.

In each of these images Brandon Todd includes a vast array of details and perspectives.  His speech bubbles become highly valuable features.  Comedy is frequently embedded in these pictures.  Readers will find themselves deciphering Bear's notes which appear above him and finally around all the characters.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is early evening with a full moon sitting on the horizon.  On the left side Rabbit is sewing the red and green striped curtain draped on the floor of the carefully built stage.  Squirrel and Other Squirrel are putting tiny hats with strings on the heads of birds and handing them the invitations.  The birds are delivering the invitations to the show.  On the right in a clearing among the trees is Bear.  He holds his pencil in one paw and polished, SHINY, tickets in the other paw.  Musical notes lift from his mouth.  The setting for the stage on the left is wooded with night hues in the trees, flowers and gently rolling hills. 

For anyone in need of courage and inspiration to give something out of their comfort zone a try, The Bear Must Go On written by Dev Petty with illustrations by Brandon Todd is an excellent choice.  For those who love a super story filled with humor, friendship and several shocking surprises, this is the book for you.  Truthfully, I can't look at the front of the jacket and case without smiling.  You'll definitely want a copy in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Dev Petty and Brandon Todd and their other work, please access their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Dev Petty has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Brandon Todd has accounts on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view the endpapers.  Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, hosted the book trailer and a chat with Dev Petty at his site, Watch. Connect. Read.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

A Floral Fantasy

In the spring, most of the summer and sometimes in the autumn, they are frequent visitors.  They reside in clusters or create a carpet.  Many believe there is magic attached to them.  They can be said to be predictors of wealth, grant wishes and bring joy.  It is a fact they are used as food and in beverages and for medicinal purposes.

The dandelion was named for its jagged-edge leaves; dent de lion translates to lion's tooth.  In her author illustrator debut, Dandelion's Dream (Candlewick Press, February 11, 2020), Yoko Tanaka broadens this word origin with her wondrous wordless story.  What if you, an individual dandelion in a field of dandelions, burst forth not as a blossom but a real lion?

Total disbelief fills your mind at this turn of natural events.  Then, as you gaze at your four paws and lion's body, you dash away to explore. With a leap of faith and fantasy, you ride on the lamp of a train engine.  The view is breathtaking.

Unfortunately, a gust of wind tumbles you from that perch, but fortunately you land on the back of a woolly sheep whose herd is headed toward the sea.  High in the rigging of a sailing ship, you lift your face and mane to the sun.  A kindly bird offers a wing as an umbrella when raindrops fall.

After docking at a large city, the hustle and bustle of the streets is daunting and frightening.  Gleaming lights lead to a delicious treat, and a cinematic idea fills your mind.  Your imagination takes flight until you find yourself coming full circle.  But, wait . . .

A full moon and aging companions offer one final episode in this adventure.  You join others.  You ascend to fulfill your dream.

This story by Yoko Tanaka is brilliant in conception and completion.  It's not only of the flower becoming a real lion but of the interconnectedness between each incident.  There is a flawless flow from one form of transportation to another.  There is also a beautiful blend of that which is made by human hands and that which is solely a part of the natural world.

Using a limited color palette Yoko Tanaka fashions a memorable story in her exquisite images.  On the open and matching dust jacket and book case, we first see, on the right (front), the dandelion gleefully happy at becoming a real lion.  To the left, on the back, the dandelion is in full bloom with a smaller bud extending from the left side.  This becomes the lion's tail.  Along the yellow spine are tiny dandelion seeds floating between the text.

The opening and closing endpapers are a bright yellow.  With a page turn the dark gray background is a canvas for the text of the verso and title pages and, on the right, the field of dandelions fades to the back with Dandelion about to bloom on the right.  This is the beginning of the story.

Using charcoal and coloring digitally Yoko Tanaka supplies readers with breathtaking scenes across double pages, a series of vertical panels spanning two pages, a group of square and rectangular images on a single page and full-page pictures.  Once two smaller visuals are placed over a larger picture.  These shifts in size contribute to the excellent pacing and foreshadowing.

When Yoko Tanaka wishes to express the utter bliss Dandelion is feeling, she brings us close to him but then she surprises us by giving us a panoramic view comparing his tiny size to the real world.  Every emotion experienced by Dandelion is shown on his face.  We feel a deep bond to this little flower turned king of beasts.  His openness to taking different pathways is invigorating and hopeful.

One of my many, many, favorite illustrations is a full-page picture.  It is a close-up view of the rigging on the sailing ship.  A portion of the mast and wrapped and stretched rope are shown.  On the mast sits Dandelion.  He is leaning back on his front paws.  His tail is up.  His face is upturned toward the sun.  Closed eyes and a smile on his face suggest contentment. In the background against a pale gray sky are two white birds.

Without the use of words, Yoko Tanaka in Dandelion's Dream, tells a tale readers will implore you to read to them repeatedly.  There will be moments eliciting sighs, gasps and grins.  And I expect there will be loud exclamations when the final illustration is revealed.  I can't imagine a personal or professional bookshelf without a copy of this book on it.

To learn more about Yoko Tanaka and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Yoko Tanaka has an account on Instagram. At the publisher's website you can view two stunning pages of artwork.  At Penguin Random House you can view the first five pages after the endpapers.  In 2015 Yoko Tanaka was the featured illustrator at Words & Pictures, the SCBWI British Isles Online Magazine.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Consider Their Presence

It is election year 2020.  Announcements of candidates running for office, candidate websites, rallies and advertisements and debates are filling the social media feeds and radio and television airwaves of concerned citizens.  How many people are delving deeper into those candidates, examining the roles taken by their spouses? Perhaps, they should.

In the best kind of relationship, their partners are their best friends and closest confidants.  Their influence is immeasurable.  In Leave It to Abigail!: The Revolutionary Life Of Abigail Adams (Little, Brown And Company, February 4, 2020) written by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, we follow a life from birth to old age of a woman who always fought back against the odds.  She was a woman of remarkable character, never afraid to speak her mind and pursue her passions.

IN A CLAPBOARD HOUSE in the colony of Massachusetts, a baby girl's weak cries drowned in the cold November wind.

The child was not expected to live, but she did.  The child, as a girl, was not given any formal education, but she did learn to read and write and perform mathematics.  The child did not conform to expectations but traveled down a childhood path of her own choosing.

As she grew into a young woman, she realized the benefit of learning all sorts of domestic skills.  She was a prolific writer of letters and loved a young country lawyer named John Adams.  Her marriage to John increased her duties as a wife and mother, managing a household and supplying support in the form of advice to her lawyer husband's work.

While living in Boston, near John's office, Abigail saw the revolution rising.  When he left to attend the Continental Congress in Pennsylvania, Abigail moved back to their farm with their four children.  She did the work of two, managing and performing tasks on the farm while offering assistance to those displaced by the revolution.  Abigail's letters flew across the miles to John, family and friends.  In one of those letters to John she strongly recommended he

Remember the Ladies.

When John left for France, Abigail managed all their affairs, and took care of the three children still with her.  (Their eldest son went with John.) She maintained all their political connections.  Finally traveling to France by ship, she shined there (and in England) alongside John, doing the undoable.  Several years later Abigail still voiced her opinions as the wife of the first Vice-President and wife of the second President of the United States of America.

Reporters nicknamed her "Mrs. President."

Her legacy, unique in every way, hopefully inspired other women to speak their minds and pursue their passions.  Twelve are named who have spoken their minds and pursued their passions.

In her biographical writing author Barb Rosenstock portrays her people as distinct individuals, presenting to readers those qualities which make them appealing on a personal level.  She finds those details which serve to encourage readers today and tomorrow.  The personalities of the people she writes about come alive.  They're in our presence through her words.

In this book she uses the phrase Leave It To Abigail several times to provide examples in support of Abigail's special qualities. These three examples are an introduction to more thorough discussions of all the accomplishments of Abigail.  Here is a passage.


She dug potatoes and hired farmhands to mend fences and harvest hay.
She preserved food and taught all four children.
She fed the militia and housed refugees fleeing Boston as the war for independence spread.

Across Massachusetts Bay, the British cannons roared.  Abigail turned worries into words. . . .

When you open the dust jacket you can see in the two separate images, on the front and back, the intricate cross-stitch embroidery completed by illustrator Elizabeth BaddeleyThe flurry of letters on the front continues on the other side of the spine, on the left.  The lines between the letters, indicating movement and the use of ink, is an exemplary design element.  The look on Abigail's face fits her personality perfectly.  The quill dripping ink is a wonderful touch.

To the left, on the back, Abigail is seated and writing by candlelight as one of her sons watches.  An overlay on the left of this illustration is done on cross-stitch fabric.  The intricate embroidery work is exquisite.

On the matching opening and closing endpapers, with needle and thread, Elizabeth Baddeley has sewn a series of fifteen panels depicting a horse, John Adams, the four children, spools of thread and a needle, a spinning wheel, a pot and tea cup, Abigail Adams (the words and person) with a letter, envelope and ink well with quill, an Americana design, a historical flag with four stars, two on either side, a ship, two other flags (one is British), the White House and four women with the words:  Remember the Ladies.  With a page turn there are more panels, fourteen, generating a double-page picture for the title page.  In the center, in a circle, on the right, is an image of Abigail's home at her birth.

In an illustrator's note we are told Elizabeth Baddeley works with pen, ink, watercolor, and colored pencil.  Her visuals in this book are, in size, one and a half pages with a column for text on embroidery canvas, a group of smaller images on a single page, full-page pictures, and double-page illustrations to show a passage of time and for emphasis.  The facial expressions and body postures of the people are spirited to the extent you expect them to begin coming to life.  Attention to detail and touches of humor are prevalent throughout the title.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a full-page image.  In the foreground on the right half of the picture is Abigail holding one of their laughing children on her hip.  In her other hand she is holding an article or a letter with the quill held in her mouth.  Her brows and eyes suggest deep concentration.  In the light from a window, to the left, and in the background is John Adams.  He is seated at a desk, reading an article or a letter with a quill held in his right hand. The period clothing and interior of the home are fascinating.

When readers are completed with Leave It to Abigail!: The Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams written by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, they will be inspired by her resolve and dedication to her family.  This is one of those people who lived and changed the world for the better.  At the close of the book is an author's note, an illustrator's note, and a list of selected sources.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Barb Rosenstock and Elizabeth Baddeley and their other work, please access their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Barb Rosenstock offers other resources at her website for this title.  Barb Rosenstock has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.  Elizabeth Baddeley has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. You might enjoy this Q & A with both the author and illustrator at Leslie Lindsay's website.

To view the other selections by participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, take a few moments to visit educator Alyson Beecher's website, Kid Lit Frenzy.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Fleeing To Freedom

When we leave our homes, permanently, we do so with mixed feelings.  We find ourselves experiencing a combination of excitement and anxiety.  We are starting over someplace new; even if it's in the same community or state.  If we have left one state or country, moving to another, everything is amplified.  To make the choice to relocate out of fear or to avoid further relentless persecution heightens every emotion.

For many the decision brings other hardships.  Even starting the journey is laden with peril.  Overground Railroad (Holiday House, January 7, 2020) written by Lesa Cline-Ransome with illustrations by James E. Ransome addresses these very real worries endured by those millions of people who were part of the Great Migration.  Left behind were their family, homes, and possessions too large to carry.  They ventured forth in hopes of a better life.

Some walked.
Some drove.
But we took the train north.
Me and Mama and Daddy got to the station
crack of dawn early
before anyone
could see us leave.
Daddy holding tight
to me with one hand
three tickets to New York in the other.

In this first passage urgency and determination envelope the narrator and her parents.  Bags and a shoebox packed with food accompany these three travelers.  They move to the rear of the train car for African American passengers bound for New York City.

Before arriving at the station their goodbyes are said in secret to an uncle and grandparents before the sun rises.  The child's parents are exhausted from picking cotton and working land they do not own.  As the girl, Ruth Ellen, looks out the train's windows, she can see others already picking cotton and working land they do not own.

At one stop so many others board the train with bags and boxes, the car is crowded to capacity.  People stand or sit on the floor.  Ruth Ellen and her father play games with cards.  Then she begins reading a book her teacher gave her on her last day of school, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass."  As the train travels through Virginia and toward Washington, D. C., the girl keeps reading.  She wonders about all the people squeezed into this car, believing they are going to a fresh start with more freedom.  

When the train crosses a borderthe WHITES ONLY sign is removed by porters.  People can sit in any car they desire and move about the train.  Ruth Ellen and her parents wander down the aisles; the distinctions in amenities are staggering.  Geographical landmarks trigger a comparison in the girl's mind between her trip and that taken by Frederick Douglass.  The city lights flickering in buildings against the dark on their arrival are a reminder of others who looked to the North for freedom.

When children tell a story, they share their experiences openly with truth.  Readers will readily identify with every thought shared by Ruth Ellen.  Her voice through the writing of Lesa Cline-Ransome is clear, moving and descriptive.  We are fully aware of the family's life in the South and their train trip to the North with each tiny personal detail given to us by Ruth Ellen.  The inclusion of the conductor calling out each station stop brings us further into the story.  Here is a passage.

In our straight-back seats
when we finish with cards
Mama fusses in her purse
Daddy stares ahead
I take out the book
Teacher gave me.
The cover's worn,
pages too.
"Read to me, Ruthie," Mama says
and I do.
First the title,
"Narrative of the Life of
Frederick Douglass."

The yellow sky, on the front of the dust jacket, as the sun rises at the station signals hope with the white birds flying to the right.  You can almost feel the hearts of Ruth Ellen and her parents swell with longing as the train curves around them and others waiting.  Ruth Ellen holds the shoebox packed with food by her grandmother and her father holds the three tickets which represent freedom.  To the left, on the back, on a light purple canvas is a portion and smaller version of an interior image.  The train is crossing the Delaware River surrounded by a pastoral countryside.  The text reads:

Making their way north aboard the Overground Railroad in
search of hope, freedom, and a better life.

On the book case artist, illustrator, James E. Ransome has placed an interior illustration signifying the end of one chapter in this family's life and the beginning of another.  On the opening and closing endpapers a large cotton plant with spread branches, ready for picking, is over four separate pictures depicting methods of travel taken by those migrating North.  These are powerful endpapers.

With a page turn the two-page picture for the title page gives us a view of a cotton field next to Ruth Ellen's home with the train moving across the horizon in the distance.  On the verso and dedication pages, James E. Ransome has placed in square frames on white, first, a visual of the railroad track and second, a single cotton boll on a stalk against brown earth and a blue sky.  Each image is rendered

with paper, graphite, paste pencils, and watercolors,

carefully placed for a realistic effect, historically and emotionally.  (One of the passengers on the train is reading a newspaper from Washington, D. C. dated May 15, 1939.)

Each two-page picture takes us back in time so we may comprehend.  In the faces of Ruth Ellen's parents, we see their quiet resolve.  On Ruth Ellen's face, we see a mixture of emotions as the trip progresses. 

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Ruth Ellen and her parents seated on the train.  They are occupying a single seat with Ruth Ellen next to the window, Mama in the middle and Daddy on the end of the seat closet to the aisle.  Mama is holding the shoebox on her lap.  Ruth Ellen and Daddy are playing the card game War using the top of the shoebox as a table.  In this scene we can see the beautiful blend of papers James E. Ransome uses throughout the book on their clothing and in the clothing of the other passengers seated behind them.

This exemplary tribute to those people part of the Great Migration is a book for all readers.  Overground Railroad written by Lesa Cline-Ransome with illustrations by James E. Ransome will supply understanding, generate discussions and create a thirst for more knowledge.  An Author's Note at the end provides further information.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Lesa Cline-Ransome has accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  James E. Ransome has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At Penguin Random House you can view the stunning endpapers.  Perhaps you will find this article at History.com helpful.  Lesa Cline-Ransome dedicates the book to Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

A New Definition

At every point in our lives the term old takes on a different meaning.  At twelve years, we are old to a newborn, but to our grandparents we are a youngster.  It seems for great periods of our lives we are not old enough. Then in what seems like seconds, we are too old.

Words synonymous with old can give it different meanings.  It can refer to age, antiquated or established, familiar and solid.  It is this last comparison which appears in the pages of The Old Truck (Norton Young Readers, an imprint of W. W. Norton and Company, January 7, 2020) written and illustrated by brothers Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey.  In this title readers discover old can mean home.

On a small farm, an old truck worked hard.

It worked for hours during the day and through the seasons of many years.  As time passed the truck struggled to keep working.  It needed to pause.  In that pause, there were dreams.

In those dreams the truck became a scientific ship exploring the seas, a plane seeking new heights and a vehicle traversing a unique celestial landscape.  The old truck got older and older.  Life very nearly enveloped it where it sat.

One day the hard work and long hours continued, but there was a new farmer.  This new farmer, like the old truck, struggled to keep working.  She did not pause, but she dreamed.  In those dreams, like the dreams that came before, old became new.  It was, after all, about tenacity and attitude.

There are books you read again and again and again for different reasons.  In the writing of Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey for this book, those multiple readings reveal numerous stories depending on the person holding the book.  Their text, beautiful in its simplicity, is an open invitation.  The repetition of key words is like a soothing refrain tying the generations together.  The following sentence opens numerous possibilities and brings the narrative full circle.

So the old truck rested (page turn)

and dreamed.  

The open dust jacket reveals an extension of the image from left to right.  The portion of the illustration on the left is a reverse of that on the right.  The truck is facing left and the girl on the tailgate has her back to us.  We can see a large full sun between two clouds on the left, also.  It is here on the jacket that the color palette is introduced to readers.  The use of these colors, lighter or darker, brings a calming continuity throughout the book.

On the book case Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey used a heavy paper in cream and golden celery green for the wide spine.  On the front the truck is embossed into the case. Children and children at heart love to run their fingers over texture.  It seems to create a stronger tie between reader and story.

A pale, pale hue of their chosen blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  The brothers designed more than 250 stamps to make the art for this book.  Each page turn discloses the genius of their design.

For example, on the first single-page picture after the opening endpapers we see a scene of a young corn field, sky with clouds, flowers along the bottom, a pathway and the back of the new barn being built.  On the next double-page image the barn continues, as does the pathway.  The wife, soon to be a mother, is picking flowers as her husband carries lumber toward the front of the barn.  The old truck is sitting in front of their home.  The tree next to the house is a sapling.  The next page turn is the verso and title pages.

As you study and enjoy each illustration you can see elements the brothers have added depending on the time of day, season of the year and age of the little girl.  In this book, the brothers have fashioned a beautiful story of family and a commitment to hard work and ingenuity in their artwork.  For each sentence of their text, their illustrations add layers to the words.  Their wordless visuals are powerful.  All their pictures apart from the first and last ones are double-page illustrations.

One of my many, many favorite images is when the girl, now a young woman, is working late inside the barn.  From left to right we are inside the barn except for the open doorway for about two-thirds of the right side.  The young woman, with her back to us, is wearing blue jeans and a white and red large, polka-dotted blouse.  Her long black hair is braided, tied with a red ribbon and lays along her back.  She is standing in front of a work bench, hard at work on something we cannot see.  Above her, hanging on the wall, are a pitchfork, a coil of rope and a wooden ladder.  A large overhead lamp casts a warm glow.  Outside the barn sits the old truck.  Above it is a dark sky replete with stars and a full moon.  The truck is very old, now, rusty brown with age.  The hood is up.

With every reading of The Old Truck written and illustrated by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey readers will be enthralled with the harmony found in the words and illustrations.  Underneath the pastoral scenes is a thread of perseverance, a sense of dedication to work and the accomplishments it brings.  And there is love, in its many forms.  You will want to have a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves. 

To learn more about Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their website.  At this website you can see how the work is progressing on the old truck purchased by Jarrett Pumphrey.  Jarrett Pumphrey has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Jerome Pumphrey has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Their visit to author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is a must read.  There is lots of process art presented.  The brothers are also interviewed at The Horn Book with Roger Sutton and at NPR Special Series Picture This as part of Weekend Edition Sunday.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

In Sixty Minutes

It began in the most populated city on the continent of Australia thirteen years ago.  It was a single event lasting sixty minutes.  It was an act of faith in people and hope for our planet by its organizers. One year later countries on all seven continents participated.  By 2009 it broke

all records of mass participation, becoming the world's largest grassroots movement for the environment.

This year, 2020, Earth Hour will be celebrated on March 28th, 8:30 PM local time, wherever you live.  Debut picture book author Nanette Heffernan and debut picture book illustrator Bao Luu collaborate to bring readers Earth Hour: A Lights-Out Event for Our Planet (Charlesbridge, January 21, 2020).  It reflects the use of energy in places around the world, the Earth Hour event and how each individual can contribute to the conservation of energy not only on this one day, but on every day of the year.

All over the world, millions of people use energy, every day, every night.

With energy we keep the temperature in our homes comfortable.  With energy we prepare meals.  With energy places of historical significance are illuminated for visitors to enjoy.

For those living in northernmost climates, light through energy cuts through the prolonged darkness providing solace.  Have you ever stopped to wonder about the energy necessary to clean our clothing, food and homes?  And, what does it takes for us to be able to shower or bathe?

Our energy comes from our planet.  Earth is our provider.  Earth Hour is a way to show our appreciation.  It's a unified thank you.

Around the world hour by hour, entire cities and their points of interest turn off their lights.  Is this one hour per year all we need to do?  We, every single individual, need to conserve our energy every hour of every day.  This is how we make a difference.

In sixteen sentences, carefully placed for pacing, author Nanette Heffernan connects participation in activities by people around the world.  She relates these moments specifically in order to engage more readers.  She uses literary devices to convey these personal portraits.  Her words connect us as does the event.  Here are two sentences.

It cooks the dumpling soup
we ladle into bowls.

Energy washes the fun and games from our clothes.

When you first gaze at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, you are immediately struck by the vivid contrast between the hues of blue and green and the glow of light from candles, lanterns and stars.  Readers will next notice people from diverse cultures, ethnic groups and families represented.  (Careful readers will notice many of them again within the pages of this book.)  The title text is raised to the touch.  One of the candles is also raised to stress the importance of each individual.

On the back another image of our planet is shown in a partial circle with a starry sky above it.  Words in the upper, left-hand corner read:

During Earth Hour, in every
time zone across the world,
lights fade to black.

A dark rich purple, like a velvet sky, covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page a smaller version of an interior image, a little boy turning off a wall switch, is shown.

Each illustration rendered

using Adobe Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq

by Bao Luu elevates the text supplying representative images.  For the first sentence noted above, we are shown a double-page picture with seven separate vignettes layered over portions of a starry sky and global networks of lights as seen from above.  With subsequent page turns single-page pictures take us to a family in Australia near the Sydney Opera House, a family having dinner with the Great Wall of China in the distance or a group of scientists at a station in one of the polar regions.  In most of these Bao Luu includes a distinctive icon of the area; the Great Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower or the Christ The Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.

Readers will notice that each of the scenes prior to the Earth Hour are revisited as the lights go off.  He shifts the viewpoints of the people in all of them.  This is a wonderful representation, a circle effect.  For the final two-page illustration all these people gather in the darkness with their candles and lanterns.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the words

Energy washes the fun and games from our clothes.

This double-page visual by Bao Luu shows a large patio area or perhaps a roof between two homes.  On either side are homes with windows glowing in lamp light, people leaning out those windows.  Children are playing a game of soccer on the large area as a dog watches and trots down some steps.  A white cat and a black cat watch the city and the people below them.  Laundry hangs from three different lines stretched from poles.  In the background city lights and lights from homes move up a mountainous landscape.  At the top is the Christ the Redeemer statue glowing white against the darkness.  The sky is blanketed with stars on a moonless night.

This timely title, Earth Hour: A Lights-Out Event for Our Planet written by Nanette Heffernan with illustrations by Bao Luu, is a valuable addition to both your personal and professional collections. The back matter includes information about Earth Hour, its importance and an author's note.  You'll want to read the dedications on the last page also.

To learn more about Nanette Heffernan and Bao Luu and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to take you to their respective websites.  Nanette Heffernan has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Bao Luu has an account on Instagram.  Nanette Heffernan has a guest post on Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's site, Watch. Connect. Read., to premiere her book trailer.  Nanette Heffernan is interviewed at Katelyn Aronson's site and KidLit 411.  At the publisher's website and Penguin Random House Canada, you can view interior images.  Be sure to visit the Earth Hour website linked above for more information.  On this page at their site, you can get reports of the events from 2014 through 2019.  The first video embedded here was uploaded by the City of Sydney in August of 2007 after Earth Hour.  The quality is a bit fuzzy, but the message is valuable.  The second video is the official one for 2020.  In 2014 Spider Man became the Superhero Ambassador for Earth Hour.  If you've seen this movie, you know it revolves around electricity.

Take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see what titles have been chose this week by others participating in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A Kindness Repaid

Each time assistance is supplied to those unable to help themselves, the soul of the world beats a bit stronger.  We do this when water is given to birds in winter when natural water is frozen or in the summer heat with weeks of no rain.  We do this when flowers and trees are planted which benefit insects and the planet.  We do this when someone short or older can't reach something in a store and we climb the shelves to get it for them.  We do this when we place books in Little Free Libraries.  We do this every day in ways we can't remember.  It's a state of mind.  It is no accident that many religions and cultures practice some form of The Golden Rule.

For those who extend kindness to animals, wild and domestic, as children, it is often reflected in their actions as adults. Honey: The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, January 14, 2020) written by Shari Swanson with illustrations by Chuck Groenink shares with readers a childhood event; an event which builds an unbreakable bond.  The love of a dog is a gift, a gift enjoyed every day of their lives.

Young Abraham Lincoln was kneeling deep in the woods when three shrill blasts of a whistle cut through the quiet.

These three whistles signaled his ground corn at the mill needed to be taken home.  Abraham had to hurry but he didn't regret saving a frog from the mouth of a snake.  Thanking Mr. John Hodgen, the miller, he started home hoping to arrive before dark.  Close to their log cabin along Knob Creek, Abe suddenly stopped.  What was that sound?

The boy discovered a dog with a broken front leg.  Relying on knowledge gained from working on his family's farm, Abe splinted the leg using materials from the woods and his clothing. His mother, Nancy, was worried sick when he got home but nevertheless, he was allowed to keep the dog.  Honey, the name Abe gave him, followed the boy everywhere.  They were inseparable.

It was known by the miller that Abe was usually late arriving and leaving the mill with his corn.  Abe was easily distracted by all there was to see.  One day waiting for the corn to be ground, Abraham and Honey wandered into one of the many caves found in Kentucky.  Abraham got stuck between two rocks.  It got darker and darker outside.  Honey knew he had to leave his boy.

A group had gathered at the mill to search for Abe.  His mother was the first to see and hear Honey.  Loyalty and love lead the group to rescue our future president.  Loyalty and love of a dog for their human never falters.

In her debut as a picture book author, Shari Swanson brings a story to readers about Abraham Lincoln sure to find a permanent place in their hearts.  His kinship with the natural world, his appreciation for all living things, is revealed in an expressive narrative woven with facts and through realistically depicted conversations with other people in his life.  Readers will understand the significance of Abe's perceptions in the wild.  What if he had not heard Honey?  Readers will also marvel at the astuteness of Abraham at only seven years old.  Shari Swanson ties the finding of the dog to his helping of Abraham with the slightly altered repetition of a phrase which will have readers nodding knowingly.  Here is a passage.

Abe's father was asleep by the fire when Abe got home, but his mother was waiting up. "Oh, Abraham, where have you been off to this time?"  Didn't you know I would be worried?"
"I found a real honey of a dog.  His leg is broken," Abe whispered.

"Please let me keep him."
Abe looked up at his mother.
"He'll do lots of good things for me," he told her.  "You just watch and see."

Beginning with the open and matching dust jacket and book case, the illustrations for this title were created by Chuck Groenink digitally in Photoshop.  Using a full color palette with attention to detail, readers can readily sense the warmth and affection between Abraham Lincoln and his dog, Honey.  Both the images, the one on the front, right, and the one on the back, left, on the jacket and case show Abe and Honey in one of Abraham's preferred settings, outdoors.  With Honey leaning into Abraham on the front, it's a dog's way of hugging.  By wrapping a single arm around Honey, Abraham is recognizing the dog's love.

On the back, a partial interior illustration is used.  It's the scene in the evening of Abraham walking home after finding Honey.  The dog with a splint on his leg is following along the path behind Abraham.  The boy is looking back at the dog. They are enveloped by the darkening of the grass, shrubs, and trees against a purple and pale peach sky.

In rustic golden-brown hues on the opening and closing endpapers is

A map of the area around
where Abe grew up
(Kentucky, Circa 1816).

Specific areas of importance are labeled, and some are highlighted in a much lighter color to draw our attention.  On the title page Abraham and Honey are moving toward readers through a field on a partly sunny day, looking ahead.  On the verso and dedication pages smaller images of Abe and Honey are placed on crisp white paper.

The illustrations by Chuck Groenink alternate in size between double-page pictures, smaller images and full-page pictures.  They complement the pacing of the narrative. The letter L has been placed on the bag of ground corn Abraham carries.  I wonder if the G on other bags refers to the illustrator's name.  In most of the images outside, creatures are inserted into an appropriate place.

I was curious about one image when Abraham arrives home after finding Honey.  I wanted to see if the interior of the cabin was historically accurate. It is from photographs I was able to find.  I was also curious about Nancy Lincoln looking back at her husband as she kneels in front of her son and his new dog.  This lead me, as I hope it does others, to do some research about Thomas Lincoln, Abe's father.

Several of my many, many favorite images are clustered on a single page.  In these pictures we see Abraham and Honey together.  The text reads:

Everywhere Abraham went, Honey went.

Three small pictures are placed on white.  The first is of Honey treeing a squirrel with Abraham close behind him.  In the second one, Abraham looks to be placing a smaller bird back on a branch with Honey watching.  In the third one Honey sits behind Abraham with porcupine quills in his nose.  Abraham kneels behind a trap.  He has released the porcupine, now walking away, from its confines.

When collaborators bring a story to light about a historical figure, it is a happy day for readers.  Honey: The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln written by Shari Swanson with illustrations by Chuck Groenink is a book, based on a true tale, readers will remember.  At the close of the book is a Timeline of Abraham Lincoln and His Animal Encounters.  Here readers will find other little-known facts about this amazing man.  A one page Author's Note concludes the book.  I highly recommend (as does Mulan) this title for your professional and personal book collections.

To learn more about Shari Swanson and Chuck Groenink and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Shari Swanson has additional resources for this book on her website.  Shari Swanson has accounts on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.  Chuck Groenink maintains accounts on Instagram and Twitter. You can view interior images at the publisher's website.

Monday, February 10, 2020

February Nonfiction Picture Book Ten For Ten---Bees. Beetles. Bugs.

This represents the eighth year of the February Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 #nf10for10.  This event continues through the efforts of Julie Balen (Twitter), an English teacher at Connecting to Learn, Cathy Mere (Twitter), a teacher leader, at Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community and Mandy Robek (Twitter), a second grade teacher, at Enjoy and Embrace Learning . I have previously participated featuring titles dinosaurs, individuals whose lives made a difference in human history, and birds.

On August 18, 2018 in the Picture Book August 10 for 10 #pb10for10 by subject was books featuring beesSince that date I have been looking for the best nonfiction titles about honeybees.  I have five here which I believe are excellent.  To round out the collection I chose five other notable insect books.

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees:  A Scientific Mystery (Millbrook Press, August 1, 2013) by Sandra Markle

During this past spring and summer plants never having flowered before were covered in blossoms. Swarms of honeybees busily flew back and forth gathering nectar and pollen.  Sounds of their humming drifted on the air like the best kind of symphony.

Each year concern for the well-being of honeybees worldwide is ever increasing.  The front cover of Time magazine on August 19, 2013 featured an article titled A World Without Bees.  Our survival is closely entwined with their survival. Like the best kind of detective, Sandra Markle gathers clues, presenting readers with pertinent facts.

On a warm day in October 2006, Dave Hackenberg went to check on his workers.
Hackenberg is a beekeeper, and his workers are millions of honeybees.

What Hackenberg discovered was shocking.  Thousands of his bees were missing.  They had disappeared without a trace.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is here.

Bee: A Peek-Through Picture Book (Doubleday Books For Young Readers, January 31, 2017) written and illustrated by Britta Teckentrup

Page turn by page turn, die-cuts reveal layers as we follow a honeybee during one day.

Dawn is breaking on a brand-new day,
And in the meadow, poppies sway.

A bee appears, striped black and gold.
A wonder of nature is about to unfold.

A  complete description of the book is at the publisher's website.

At Brightly you can read about this title and the other titles in the Peek-Through Picture Book series.

Bees: A Honeyed History (Abrams Books for Young Readers, March 28, 2017) text by Wojciech Grajkowski, translation by Agnes Mened-Gayraud and illustrations by Piotr Socha

A through exploration of bees in information and images is presented here.  There is an abundance of details and humor in many of the illustrations.  This title has a large format, 10.5 by 14.5 trim size.  Every page turn, two pages are dedicated to a new topic.

Honey bees have existed for at least a hundred million years!  In other words, bees were already around when dinosaurs roamed Earth.  How can we be so sure?  It's all thanks to the discovery of a few flying insects fossilized in amber.  Some scientists believe that bees appeared even earlier, some 120 million years ago.  This was when plants were just beginning to develop their cleverest invention---the flower.

At the publisher's website you can read a thorough description of the book.  At Thames & Hudson you can view interior images.

They are rarely an inch long but can fly fifteen miles per hour.  Their wings are known to beat more than 200 times per second.  This is why we can hear them buzzing as they move from place to place.

We don't see them in the winter months as snow covers the ground, icy winds blow, and temperatures are chilly.  In fact, as soon as the temperatures fall below fifty degrees, bees return to the hive surrounding the queen.  With the movement of their wings they can heat their home and keep the queen warm.  They get their energy from the honey they've stored.

In her newest release, Beehive (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, January 7, 2020), Jorey Hurley speaks to readers in the simplest of terms, single words, about the formation of a honeybee home and how its inhabitants flourish.


My full summary and recommendation for this title is here.

Sometimes the life of a single being is so glorious, it takes your breath away.  The more you know about the days of their life, the more your admiration and respect increases.  You realize every moment of the hours of their existence is orchestrated for a greater good.  It's about survival not only for them, but for every other living being.

As humans, the more we take notice of the value of these beings, the better able we are to protect and preserve their place in our natural world.  Upon the first reading (and every reading thereafter) of Honeybee: The Busy Life Of Apis Mellifera (Neal Porter BooksHoliday House, February 4, 2020) written by Candace Fleming with art by Eric Rohmann, readers find themselves immersed in the life of a valued member of the hive, a female worker bee.  We are there for every day of her life and we are humbled by her accomplishments.

One summer morning deep in the nest,

a brand-new honeybee
through the wax cap of her solitary cell and into . . .
a teeming, trembling flurry.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is here.

As I may have stated before, every single one of us who has found the right book for the right reader at the right time knows, without a doubt, that books change lives.  From our own personal experience we treasure those titles evoking a change in our perception, adjusting our levels of tolerance, and leading us to definitions of absolute truths.  Those books which offer us the chance to change are not always works of fiction.

When I hold a book written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins in my hands, I am certain of being enriched in ways I am not expecting.  That being said, nothing could have prepared me for the impact of reading his newest title, The Beetle Book (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, April 3, 2012).  Stunning visuals accentuated with astounding facts clearly place this volume in the category as one of the finest nonfiction books of 2012.

Line up every kind of plant and animal
on Earth . . .

. . . and one of every four will be a beetle.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is here.

Early this morning a flash of movement had me looking up and glancing out the picture window.  I saw her flying around as if trying to get my attention.  Was the lady trying to send me a message?  Light glowed through her tiny transparent wings. Before I could get close to her, she was gone.

The lilacs have blossomed and faded, the peonies are ready to burst forth in all their sweet-smelling glory and the lily shoots are about three inches tall.  Regardless of all this floral fanfare, she was the first ladybug of the spring to present herself to me.  In A Beetle Is Shy (Chronicle Books, April 5, 2016) the newest collaboration between author Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrator Sylvia Long, the Convergent Lady Beetle is one of twenty-eight featured insects.

A beetle is shy.
It begins its life inside an egg...
soft and wingless, tender,
protected by the roots of trees
and the undersides of leaves.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is here.

With the advent of lots of rain and the warm temperatures, summer is in full bloom in northern Michigan.  There is an abundance of critters of all shapes and sizes and flowers, shrubs and trees in the wild.  Gardeners are giddy with their flourishing vegetables, annuals and perennials.  The air is literally humming with the sounds of life, buzzing honeybees, chirping crickets, melodious birdsong and the unmistakable huffs of startled rabbits and deer.

The more we know about those creatures sharing this planet with us, the better we can protect and respect them.  Author illustrator Owen Davey released two new titles in his popular series about animals, Bonkers About Beetles (Flying Eye Books, May 1, 2018 UK and Nobrow, June 5, 2018 US) (National Science Teachers Association2019 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12) and Fanatical About Frogs (Flying Eye Books, March 1, 2019 UK and Nobrow, June 18, 2019 US).  Both books are entertaining and informative with stunning images.

Beetles are a group of insects.  They have six
legs, three body segments and two feelers sticking
out of their heads.  Beetles are different from
most other insects in that their forewings form
a hard or leathery protective case over their backs.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is here.

With the return of warmer weather joining the chorus of birdsong is the buzzing, humming and chirping of insects.  Creeping, crawling, jumping and flying through our world, integral to the completed whole, their place is assured whether deemed friend or foe.  Grateful we are then for the assistance provided by the small flash of red seen moving among our plants.

With more than 170 nonfiction books to her credit author/illustrator, Gail Gibbons, has most recently turned her attention to the world of Ladybugs (Holiday House, February 1, 2012).  Her never ending quest for answers to questions, her thirst for knowledge, educates readers about this popular bug.  No insect has claimed such appeal on clothing, jewelry, shoes, fabric, as a food decoration, costume design or even as fingernail decorations as have ladybugs.

A flower gently sways in the breeze.  A small bug is looking for food.  It's a ladybug.

My full summary and recommendation for this title is here.

The universe has a gift sometimes for bringing humor into a situation.  It's not every day you walk into your kitchen to run water into the sink and have the children's tune The Ants Go Marching One By One pop into your head.  This is exactly what happened yesterday and again this morning.  It seems lack of rain was bringing the wee critters into my home.  I politely asked them to leave.  Mother Nature replied to my request by providing a rain shower which ended the situation entirely.

Our planet is swarming with insects and invertebrates that make their homes inside and outside our residences.  For the most part sharing space with them is acceptable unless they create dangerous conditions for us.  The Big Book of Bugs (Thames & Hudson, April 18, 2016) written and illustrated by London-based author illustrator Yuval Zommer is brimming with facts and fun about insects and invertebrates.

Can you find...
...exactly the same fly 15 times in 
this book?  Watch out for imposters.

With these books my admiration grew for these smaller beings inhabiting our planet.  Their place is our world is vital.  It is my hope, you too, will see their worth.  I wish you all happy reading.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

An Eye For Adventure

Some say they were blacksmiths for the gods of Greeks.  Others say they were shepherds living with humans.  Those that lived among humans were less than cordial.  (Just ask Odysseus.)  As to their physical characteristics, there seems to be a consensus.  They were large, strong and had a single eye in the middle of their foreheads.

Apparently, they also had a dose of immortality pulsing through their veins.  As Cyclops of Central Park (G. P. Putnam's Sons, February 11, 2020) written by Madelyn Rosenberg with illustrations by Victoria Tentler-Krylov clearly discloses, one is alive and well, residing in New York City.  This particular Cyclops is rather apprehensive, a stay-at-home kind of guy who loves his sheep, all eighteen of them.

Late at night, just before he closed his eye and went to sleep in his Central Park cave, Cyclops counted his sheep.

When Cyclops awakened the next morning, one of his sheep was gone.  It was Eugene.  That sheep would not stay home.  Eugene loved the world.  Cyclops loved the cave.

Knowing he had to find Eugene and save him from all possible harm, Cyclops admonished the remaining sheep, seventeen, to stay at the cave.  Cyclops visited the Empire State Building and stopped at the Guggenheim, but Eugene was not there.  He made Lost Sheep posters to hang around Times Square.  No one seemed to notice when Cyclops searched for Eugene during a Yankees' game.  Where was Eugene?

Cyclops bravely went to a place he knew Eugene loved.  Unfortunately, he was not at the Statue of Liberty.  This one-eyed giant was heartsick, and he knew he needed help.  Back at the cave the flock was ready to assume their roles as super-finders.  Believe it or not, Cyclops and the sheep had an entire subway car to themselves.

At the correct station, the band of eighteen raced to an aptly named ride, the Cyclone, a loop-de-loop, high-in-the-sky roller coaster.  There was Eugene at the tip top, at the front of the first car, and happy as any sheep could be.  When the ride was completed Eugene wanted Cyclops and his seventeen pals to ride the Cyclone with him.  Cyclops had already pushed himself more than he thought possible.  His reply and the remainder of the day revealed the value in embracing more than one point of view, even though, initially, you simply couldn't comprehend it.

Readers will readily recognize and understand the contrast between Eugene and Cyclops as written by Madelyn Rosenberg.  There are those of us who welcome adventure and those of us who feel much braver inside the walls of our homes.  Within the narrative occasional dialogue, word play, and the inclusion of place names involves us more personally in the story.  We are out in the world with Cyclops, touring New York City, in search of a bold sheep.  At the close of the book, Madelyn Rosenberg cleverly brings us back to the beginning repeating phrases with a slight change.  Here is a passage.

Cyclops looked behind the ficus tree and under the bed.
He searched the meadow where the sheep often stood, taking
in the view.  The meadow was empty.
Cyclops bit his nails.  He had explained 1,022 times about
the dangers lurking nearby.  The grass was too sharp.
The carousel was too twirly.  The new restaurant on
Fifth Avenue did not serve spaghetti.

When you open the dust jacket, the scene on the front continues past the spine to the left edge.  The cityscape in hues of blue and the green of the meadow complement each other.  Even though the chances of us seeing Cyclops with his sheep in Central Park are unlikely, artist Victoria Tentler-Krylov takes the impossible and makes it real.  The postures of the sheep blend in perfectly with the dog walkers, bicycle riders and a jogger pushing a baby stroller seen on the left.  None of the beings seemed surprised in the slightest to see each other.  The expressions on the faces of the sheep and Cyclops here, and throughout the book, are fabulous. [I am working with an F & G.]

On the title page the use of green and blue for the text on a white background is engaging and supplies a wonderful space for many of the running sheep.  Rendered

in watercolor and gouache, and completed in Adobe Photoshop,

the illustrations are exquisitely detailed with fine lines and a wash of colors.  You'll find yourself pausing at each page turn to study all the elements.  On the first full-page picture when Cyclops counts the sheep, each one has a bed a bit different than the other sheep.  Their quilts are not identical either.

The next image, a double-page picture, gives us a hint of their living quarters complete with modern conveniences and a large round table.  You'll be fascinated by all the breakfast food and the kiddie swimming pool in their front yard.  In a word, these visuals are enchanting but also fun-loving.

Sometimes we are high above the action, looking at a panorama spread before us.  Other times we are in the thick of the moment with Cyclops.  The reactions of people around him range from treating him like every other person to panic at the sight of him. (Wait until you see the expression on the face of the Statue of Liberty.)  Each illustration, whether on a full page or two pages, is an amazing snapshot of New York City.  You will notice some new element each time you look at an image.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  We are inside the subway car.  The background is white but the items inside the car are vibrant.  The signage is placed in a row along the ceiling on either side.  A street name and map are visible.  The seats are an orange red shade.  The sheep are sitting in them, holding their walkie-talkies.  Curled up, bent over and between them is Cyclops.  He is barefoot, wearing his blue pants, blue and white striped shirt, his furry vest and aviator's hat with a single goggle.  He is carrying a satchel.  He is looking a bit worried and undoubtedly uncomfortable.

As a read aloud, Cyclops of Central Park written by Madelyn Rosenberg with illustrations by Victoria Tentler-Krylov is a first-class winner.  The blend of narrative, dialogue, inventive wordplay and imaginative, whimsical artwork will engage readers from beginning to end.  I know there will be requests of read it again.  This book will also promote discussions on Greek mythology and how different personalities can work to the benefit of each other.  You'll want to have a copy on your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Madelyn Rosenberg and Victoria Tentler-Krylov and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Here is a link to a post Madelyn Rosenberg wrote about her ideas and process for this book.  Madelyn Rosenberg has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Victoria Tentler-Krylov has an account on Instagram.  Madelyn Rosenberg and this book are featured at KidLit 411.  At Penguin Random House you can view the title page.

Here is a brief glimpse of the endpapers.