Quote of the Month

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

Friday, March 20, 2020

Finding Solace In Nature

In times of great adversity, the people on this planet tend to seek calm in our natural world.  During the current crisis of a pandemic around the world, the arrival of spring in the northern hemisphere is a welcome declaration of hope.  Despite what is happening in the human world, nature stays the course.  The sighting of a first robin, a sliver of a rainbow or the tips of tulip leaves poking through the dirt send our spirits soaring.

Like spring itself, bursting forth with new life, many March releases in children's literature embrace the wonders of our outdoor environment.  Nesting (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, March 3, 2020 written and illustrated by Henry Cole focuses on the annual ritual of robins becoming a pair, building a nest and how the hatched eggs grow and prosper to become part of the flock.  A marvelous color palette will fully fascinate readers.

It is an early spring morning.
The ground is covered with frost.
From the branch of an apple tree, 
a robin starts to sing.

He sings a warning to other males and sings an invitation to a nearby female.  Together the new duo finds materials to fashion a nest in a discovered nook.  Completed it provides a place with purpose for the female.

She lays one, two, three, four eggs.  They are a brilliant blue against the nest.  Calmly she cares for those eggs, as the baby birds grow inside.  When they finally hatch, they rely completely on their parents.  They need to be fed and fed and fed some more.  Their parents are busy flying to and from the nest.

This nest shelters the tiny birds from a brief storm.  It harbors them when a sneaky snake wants them for food.  Like fierce warriors the male and female robins chase the intruder away.

Soon feathers form on the babies and they grow, crowding each other out of the nest.  As fledglings they learn to fly and find their own food.  When spring turns to summer and summer turns to autumn the robins prepare for winter and their long flight south.  Even as the snow falls, we know they will return in the spring to chase away males and call for a female to begin the cycle once more.

The beauty of these birds is presented in the simplicity of the language used by Henry Cole.  Each moment in this life cycle is described in careful detail to replicate the scene for readers.  Henry Cole also establishes a rhythm in the use of his words similar to the rhythm of robins in each season. We are very much a part of their lives.  Here is a passage.

The nest is finished.
It is perfect.
It is just the right size and shape.
The mother robin settles into it and sits quietly.

The most striking, visually arresting, aspect of the matching and open dust jacket and book case is between the three robin's eggs and the nest.  If you've ever seen robin's eggs in the wild, Henry Cole has depicted this in stunning reality.  The title text on the jacket is done in copper foil.

To the left, on the back, on a cream background, three baby robins, now with feathers, are struggling to find a spot in the nest.  They have outgrown their home.  On the opening and closing endpapers is a canvas of brilliant robin's egg blue.

The title page is a vast display of the bare branches of a single tree reaching out from left to right on a double-page picture.  The male robin is flying toward it from the lower, right-hand corner.  All the images by Henry Cole are rendered in

Micron pens and acrylic paints.  

For the most part they appear in black and white.  The illustration sizes range from double-page pictures to single-page visuals framed in fine lines, to groupings of smaller images on a single page, a series of vertical panels on two pages or clusters of rectangles on two pages and full-page pictures, edge to edge.  For the slightest bit of shading, the robin's egg blue is sometimes used as spot color.  The most impressive use of this blue is in the eggs.  The delicate lines used by this artist and his details are nearly photographic.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans nearly two pages.  It's as if we are looking from the bottom of a tree up to the bird's nest in the nook where is rests.  Leaves swirl in the wind as lightning cuts a jagged edge through the sky.  The nest is firmly in place with the female robin faithfully sitting on the babies to protect them.  This is in black and white.  A column is created on the left by the expanse of the image from left to right crossing the gutter.

As an introduction to spring as a season of rebirth, a study of birds or robins in particular, Nesting written and illustrated by Henry Cole is excellent.  One page at the end is devoted to five more facts about robins in an Author's Note.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Henry Cole and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Henry Cole has an account on Facebook.

There is no doubt about the value of bees as essential elements in world ecology.  Due to their drastic reduction in population, more people have entered the field as keepers of bees.  Kaia and the Bees (Candlewick Press, March 10, 2020) written by Maribeth Boelts with illustrations by Angela Dominguez explores life with a young girl whose father is a beekeeper.

I'm the brave type.
Like hottest-hot-pepper brave.
And furry-spider-in-the-basement brave.

Despite her bold claims, Kaia was not brave around bees.  Being stung once was enough to instill fear in her.  And to make matters worse, her dad, a beekeeper, had thousands of bees in hives on the roof of their building.

Her father, knowledgeable about bees, explained to her their value but she never went with him to the hives.  Did she tell her friends about her fear?  She did not.  They thought she was an expert like her dad until one day her dread was revealed.

Her friends' reaction to her fear made Kaia mad and determined to face her foe.  She donned protective gear and followed her dad, also in a suit, hood and gloves, to the roof.  As her father explained the bees and hives to Kaia her bravery increased.  Then she made the mistake of removing her glove.  Kaia was stung again!  She did not go back to the roof.

Soon it was time to get the honey from the hives.  Kaia, her mother and father worked all day in their kitchen, filling jars with honey.  A quiet conversation with her father, another insect incident and final understanding completes this story of bees and courage, and a parent and their child.

Written with the experience of being a keeper of bees, Maribeth Boelts uses a blend of first person narrative and dialogue to convey Kaia's story.  Each of the characters are realistic in their demeanor so as to connect with readers.  Maribeth Boelts' ability to weave information into the story of Kaia and her fear of bees is outstanding.  Here is a passage.

The honey flows, and I want to draw a picture.
But no crayon is that golden, and you can't draw the smell
of warm, sweet honey filling our apartment.

Kaia's face, deftly portrayed, front and center on the right of the open and matching dust jacket and book case, asks a question of readers.  We want to know why Kaia appears to fear the bees.  We want to know why Kaia is near bees.  The use of purple and golden yellow, complementary colors, is a pleasing design choice.

To the left, on the back, on a purple canvas, Kaia is standing to the left of her father as he lifts a frame of bees from the hive.  Both are wearing beekeeping apparel.  In the upper, left-hand corner is a large portion of honeycomb with two bees working on it.

The opening and closing endpapers are an enlarged honeycomb in rich golden-yellow shades with three bees hard at work.  These three are placed in the corners.  One is coming in from the bottom of the page.

These illustrations by Angela Dominguez rendered with

colored pencil on illustration board, with color added digitally

are as bright and bold as Kaia.  The full-color images on a crisp white background invite readers into the story.  A variety of perspectives and image sizes supplies readers with a captivating and pleasing visual glimpse into facing a fear.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a full-page picture, edge to edge.  On a very pale blue background we are close to Kaia.  With her gloved hands on either side of her face she is facing forward, gazing at a bee drinking water.  You can see she is becoming more relaxed around the bees.  She is excited to see the bee in its own setting.

Kaia and the Bees written by Maribeth Boelts with illustrations by Angela Dominguez is a book to be enjoyed for numerous reasons.  It's a story of bravery.  It's a story of beekeeping.  It's a story of how to care for those who can't care for themselves.  I highly recommend this book for both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Maribeth Boelts and Angela Dominguez and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Maribeth Boelts has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Angela Dominguez has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website and Penguin Random House you can view interior images.  At the publisher's website is an Author's Note you can download and print.  Maribeth Boelts is the guest blogger for March 2020 at The TeachingBooks Blog.  Illustrator Angela Dominguez talks to us about this book in a video.

As children, if we are fortunate, there will be someone young or old who will ignite a spark within us for the natural world.  They will teach us to notice and value every aspect of the landscape around us.  We will learn everything large and small, seen and unseen, has a place.  The Keeper of Wild Words (Chronicle Books, March 10, 2020) written by Brooke Smith with illustrations by Madeline Kloepper presents an affectionate relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter.  This relationship blooms into an appreciation for and preservation of words and what they represent.

At the end of a long cinder lane,
surrounded by meadows
and pine trees and sky
that wrapped around and back again,

Brook ran up to her grandmother's door,
swung it open,
and she belonged.

On this day she had a request for her grandmother.  Brook needed something for the first day of school, something special for show-and-tell.    Her grandmother had a request of her, too.  Her grandmother, Mimi, was an author.  Mimi had a list of words, words that were disappearing because they were not being used.  She asked Brook to protect these words by being The Keeper of Wild Words.

Mimi showed the list of words to Brook asking her to take a walk, from light until dark to discover the words.  As soon as they began, the first word, WREN, uttered a melody to capture their attention.  Flowers sprang from the ground, fruit grew on prickly vines and seeds from large trees were at her feet.

At a nearby pond tiny MINNOWS and a BEAVER swam.  Herbs around the pond offered a sharp, savory treat as a water bird took flight.  Bright-patterned insects and a bounty of wildflowers fluttered and blanketed her path.

A rare sight of STARLINGS flew in unison where Mimi and Brook rested.  From the meadow into the forest, they walked.  Quietly they moved to cherish the flora and fauna, not disturbing either.  A final sighting, a final word, not only brought the day full circle but gave Brook a loving look at the origin of her name.  That evening a grandmother and her granddaughter paused, remembered and celebrated wild words.

Like the world seen in this book, the words written by Brooke Smith are connected in a constant and enchanting chain.  Each one serves as a priceless piece in a larger whole.  Each time a word is disclosed, the scene is described with poetic joy.  There is a blend of narrative and dialogue making the shared day and evening personal, intimate.  Here is a passage.

POPPIES in the corner of the yard
suddenly popped open!
Paper petals reaching to the sun.

When you open the dust jacket the foreground of the flowers, close to the reader, extends over the spine to the far-left flap (and on the right).  The area on the other side of the path where Brook and Mimi walk also extends over the spine to the flap edges.  Portions of the dandelion floating in the air on the right, float on the left, too.  A tiny butterfly glides on the far left.  By the body language and facial expressions on Brook and Mimi we are aware of their close relationship.  The title text is varnished.

On the book case is a pattern of flowers, ferns, leaves, birds, feathers, animal prints, seeds, and a nest.  They are tiny.  They look as if they have been gathered by a naturalist for safekeeping.

On the opening endpapers Brook, wearing her bicycle helmet, rides past a group of flowers, ferns and shrubs to her grandmother's house.  The verso and title pages are a continuation of this floral design.  A wren is placed on the left.  On the right, the text is written on a piece of notebook paper tucked into the grass.

Each illustration created by Madeline Kloepper using

mixed media and Photoshop

spans two pages, except for two single-page pictures.  At times we are shown a larger, nearly panoramic view and then brought close to the characters in a natural setting for emphasis.  The colors and lines are soft.  The details are delicate.  Even inside Mimi's home we are a part of nature.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the twosome is first beginning their walk.  On the left, Mimi and Brook have stopped among bunches of violets.  In a closer perspective dozens and dozens of red poppies nod from the right across the gutter to the left.  In the center of this setting a full sun, rays extended, shines.

Not only is The Keeper of Wild Words written by Brooke Smith with illustrations by Madeline Kloepper a tribute to words and our natural world, it is a daily adventure between two like souls.  At the close of the book is a two-page Author's Note.  This is followed by an envelope adhered to the binding in which to store your own wild words.  The closing endpapers feature a notebook paper on the left and items of nature on the right.  This book is a wonderful choice for your personal and professional collections.  It inspires us to write down and seek our own wild words.

To learn more about Madeline Kloepper, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Madeline Kloepper has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  At this link you can listen to a portion of the audiobook on SoundCloud.  Courtesy of this video by Let's Talk Picture Books you can view the book case.

The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith and Madeline Kloepper from Let's Talk Picture Books on Vimeo.

With millions and millions of people around the world currently confined to their homes under a quarantine or because of isolation, the appeal of the outdoor world and being a part of it has more allure than ever.  Why is it we don't fully appreciate the value of something until it's no longer readily available?  During this time some will be able to go solo in parks or designated walkways or neighborhoods, some will dream of days when nature will envelope them again, others will recall countless adventures in the outdoors, and many can travel within the pages of a book.  HIKE (Candlewick Press, March 17, 2020) conceived and illustrated by Pete Oswald is a nearly wordless trek into the best nature has to offer.

We start as the sun starts to rise on a neighborhood in the suburbs.  A dad, still clad in his pajamas and holding a cup of coffee, gently wakes his child up.  Slow to wake, the child suddenly jumps from bed remembering what this day will bring.  The child and their father, dress and pack, and drive from their home, through the city and into the country.

The road takes them higher and higher until they reach a trail head.  Putting on their backpacks, they head up the path into the forest and into the mountains.  They observe birds and wildlife as they are observed in kind.  Pictures are taken, sketches are made and each turn on the trail reveals new fun like a thrown snowball and challenges like crossing a log over a swift river.

After resting and snacking, they continue to climb.  Now wearing helmets, they scale rocks to top a ledge with a spectacular view.  Later, on more level ground, readers will be intrigued to see them pause.  An item is removed from the child's backpack.  A picture as proof is taken.

As shadows lengthen and the sun starts to dip from the sky, the duo reaches their car.  A celebration of their accomplishments is enjoyed before the drive home begins.  The car moves down the mountain, into the city, the suburbs and into their driveway.  Nighttime rituals fill this home with warmth as one final deed of the day chronicles their HIKE.

Pete Oswald has conceived a story of companionship and exploration with memorable achievements in a single day.  He offers, through this book, a means for others to partake in comparable activities.  He shows us how to treat each other and our world with respect and love.

On the matching and open dust jacket and book case, readers gaze in complete admiration at the design of the title with the father and child climbing up the letters.  Small moments in their day are depicted in each letter.  By placing these elements on white our focus is directed at the characters and the title.

To the left, on the back, is a majestic forested mountain scene.  Bald eagles float in a sky wispy with clouds.  The text here reads:

A father and child head out on a hike,
keeping a cherished family tradition alive.

On the opening and closing endpapers in shades of brown is a map of the trip from their home to a star shown in the mountains.  From the opening endpapers a page turn shows the parent and child, dressed and carrying their backpacks, standing side by side with their walking sticks in hand.  The title page, a two-page picture is a bird's eye view of their home with the cityscape and mountains in the background as the sun rises.

Pete Oswald rendered these pictures digitally with the few words, sounds, lettered by hand.  Images are single page, double page, and groups of smaller illustrations to indicate the passage of moments.  Sometimes with a minimum of details a great deal of emotion is conveyed as when we are only shown one hand reaching for another hand after a frightening deed.  Like real life, these glimpses are powerful and meaningful.  We are aware continually of the mood of the child and father through their expressive faces.  In each scene Pete Oswald has captured the rich and rare experience of being a part of nature.  His images are sensory in every aspect.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  It is a bird's eye perspective of the father and child walking on the path in the forest.  Tall trees and grass stretch from either side of the path.  Flowers, like stars, are sprinkled throughout the setting.  In the upper left-hand portion of the visual a fox slowly moves.  On the other side of the path, on the left, a female bird perches on a nest with three eggs high in a treetop.  On the right, near the gutter, the male bird brings another twig to the nest.  The duo walks toward the upper, right-hand corner of the page.  You know they walk in silence except for the sounds of the forest.

This book, HIKE conceived and illustrated by Pete Oswald, is a glorious day spent with nature.  To hike in the woods in the mountains is a unique undertaking but to do so with someone you love, it's extraordinary.  This is cleverly and creatively presented by Pete Oswald.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Pete Oswald and his other work, access his website by following the link attached to his name.  Pete Oswald has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website and at Penguin Random House you can view interior images.  This title is featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and at Mel Schuit's Let's Talk Picture Books.

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