Quote of the Month

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

Friday, April 24, 2020

Days Dedicated In Pursuing A Passion Affecting Our Planet

Wednesday marked the fiftieth anniversary of Earth DayFor those of us alive on the first Earth Day, it's one of those historical moments when you pause to ponder where you were and what you were doing on that day.  How many were attending university classes and finishing their first year of college?  Regardless of where you were or what you were doing or if you were even "a twinkle in someone's eye" yet or perhaps you're days on our planet have come and gone, there are remarkable contributions to preserving and protecting our planet being accomplished 365 days a year.

For this reason, I wish to highlight three titles which may not initially appear to share a commonality with our planet, but I believe they do.  The first book, Winged Wonders: Solving The Monarch Migration Mystery (Sleeping Bear Press, March 15, 2020) written by Meeg Pincus with illustrations by Yas Imamura is a story supplying readers with an example of the power of working together to accomplish a single goal. It was a quest to seek understanding of a natural phenomenon.   

For centuries, up and down North America,
every year brought a mystery.

Monarch butterflies swooped in for a spell, like
clockwork, from somewhere beyond---then
disappeared as curiously as they came.

People from southern Canada to central Mexico watched this and wondered.  It was not until 1976 that an answer was provided.  Who was responsible for discovering the truth behind this migration?

Fred, a scientist residing in Canada, and his wife, Norah, devoted three decades of their lives to following the butterflies.  After several trials and errors, they found a way to follow these winged wonders.  They gently tied price tags to their wings.  Citizen scientists, numbering in the thousands, heeded the call of Norah's advertisements.  Norah noted each piece of information gathered.

One of Norah's ads was seen by an American living in Mexico City.  Ken contacted Norah and agreed to follow the monarchs with his wife, riding a motorcycle through the wilderness for two years.  Villagers helped and directed them toward the mountains.  There Catalina, who lived in Mexico her entire life, led the way to a singular revelation.

Most miraculous was a tag found by Fred in the Mexican oyamel grove.  It was placed there by an American science teacher and his students in Minnesota.  All these people, named and unnamed contributed to unraveling the riddle.  Now it's up to all of us to guarantee this journey continues for generation after generation.

In her writing of this story, author Meeg Pincus, uses a technique certain to intrigue readers, her presentation of this as a mystery.  She explains the puzzle and when it's completed, but then in a series of questions, the resolutions by people are shown as flashbacks. Through her meticulous research she connects these individuals to each other and ultimately to us in present day.  Again, at the close of the story, she presents a series of questions, but readers will know the answers to all of them.  Here is another partial passage from the book making a reference to the

villagers and farmers of central Mexico.

. . . who for generations welcomed the
monarchs as soaring spirits during
autumn Dia de los Muertos celebrations  . . .

When you look at the open dust jacket, the image extends flap edge to flap edge. incorporating the variety of people who participated in solving the mystery of the Monarch butterfly migration.  The flurry of Monarch butterflies weaves up and down across the top of the entire illustration.  The green canvas allows for the people and butterflies to be showcased.

On the book case with the same background, is a multitude of Monarch butterflies in all sizes, some with their distinguishing details and others in orange alone, as on the dust jacket.  On the far side of the opening and closing endpapers is a solid burnt orange color.  The opposite side is a continuation of the book case design.  The waves of butterflies are depicted on the title page, radiating from the left, moving across the gutter, and journeying off the top on the right side.

Illustrator, Yas Imamura, has fashioned lush landscapes, scenes in small communities, woodland corners and desert destinies.  In these settings her image sizes shift as a reflection of the narrative.  She gives us varying points of view, above and within a particular setting.  Her details mirror a range of ages and ethnic backgrounds in the people.  Her research is seen in her characterizations of the key players.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the portion of passage cited.  On the left we are in a cemetery during the Dia de los Muertos.  Arches at gravesites are decorated in blossoms.  Cut-paper artwork hangs across the middle of the visual.  It's a stunning portrait of this holiday in color, the people shown, and the decorated gravesites.  A wave of Monarch butterflies extends across the entire top.  To the right a large wavy column in a solid shade is formed for the text.

This book, Winged Wonders: Solving The Monarch Migration Mystery written by Meeg Pincus with illustrations by Yas Imamura, is a wonderful exploration of a scientific secret.  It sets forth the perseverance necessary as well as the work of many to find a solution.  At the close of the book are pages titled:  More About the Monarch Migration Discovery and How to Help the Monarch  This is an excellent nonfiction picture book to use for a STEM unit, to promote an appreciation of insects or our planet, and for the inspiration it furnishes readers.  This book should be in all personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Meeg Pincus and Yas Imamura and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Yas Imamura has interior images from this book on her Tumblr account.  Meeg Pincus has accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  Yas Imamura has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can access a teacher's guide/activities and read an excerpt.  Articles about this book and its creators are found at Celebrate Picture Books,  Kathleen Temean Writing and Illustrating, and Only Picture Books.

Sometimes what our planet needs most to survive is a healing of the human heart.  Sometimes a single person more than any other can affect change for generations.  One such person was Fred McFeely Rogers.

In his newest book as author and illustrator, Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell highlights with his astute words and remarkable images the life of an unforgettable human being in HELLO, NEIGHBOR!: The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, April 6, 2020).  Every element, written and drawn, is a loving tribute.

"It's our insides that make us who we are, that allow us to dream and wonder and feel for others. That's what's essential.  That's what will always make the biggest difference in our world."
                              ---Fred Rogers 

Welcome to Mister Roger's Neighborhood.

We begin the story of this man's life on the set of his television show which aired nationally in 1968.  It was no easy feat, but it was done by a man with a purpose.  And he did it every day.

As a child in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Fred enjoyed puppets and music and learning to play the piano at age five.  Did you know his grandmother bought him a piano when he was nine years old?  Fred, during his school years, was a bit of a loner.  He was serious and pondered what he saw in the world, especially on television.  This is what prompted him to enter that field.

Fred started at NBC in New York City, working his way up and learning everything he could about television and how to appeal to children as viewers.  Later Fred returned to Pittsburgh, still working in television, children's television, but not in front of the camera.  He began to study how children think and feel.  His desire to create a show just for them, with respect for them, became more than a dream.  Mister Rogers' Neighborhood went live across the nation on February 19, 1968.

Now we go to the show as it was seen daily.  It began and ended with music and a routine of changing a coat and sweater and shoes.  Each episode supplied viewers with something of value, often expanded with field trips and special guests, as well as familiar personalities who visited frequently.  The trolley took viewers into The Neighborhood of Make-Believe with its notable cast of characters.   No issue was too large or too small to be discussed by Mister Rogers.  No aspect of the show was not touched by his hand, but he was the first to acknowledge the work of many in making this beloved television show for children, their children, and their children's children.

Each aspect of this man and his television show is written with meticulous care and research by Matthew Cordell.  His arrangement of the facts flows from one portion to the next, beginning with the show, flashing back to Fred McFeely Rogers' life until the premiere of the show and then to the elements of the show.  The information is supplied to us as if we are in conversation with Matthew Cordell and he is lovingly revealing to us what he knows or has learned.  Captions on replicated photographs give us more insight.  Quotes by Fred McFeely Rogers add to the authenticity.  Here is a passage.

Then a new idea, person, or place
would be introduced.  Just like
in life, there were good times in
The Neighborhood, like visiting the 
circus or a neighborhood school.

But there were difficult times too,
like saying goodbye to a beloved
pet.  Fred understood that children
have many feelings and interests,
and all of them are worth
mentioning and exploring.

The image shown on the front of the dust jacket takes readers into the wonderful landscape fashioned by Fred McFeely Rogers.  It's a scene we want to willingly enter.  We feel as though we are about to hear the familiar voice of a beloved television personality and marvelous human being.  All the exquisite details shown in this first illustration are continued throughout the book.  Each line is placed with intention.

To the left, on the back of the dust jacket, on a canvas of pure white is a television set from the era the show first aired.  On the screen is a real picture of Mister Rogers.  Five smiling children are seated in a semi-circle in front of the television.

On the book case is one of Matthew Cordell's signature illustrations.  Fred McFeely Rogers is walking across a background of washed blue.  He is in the near center on the right side.  He is holding a puppet in his left hand.  In his right hand is a duffel bag with a puppet peering out.  Behind Mister Rogers, in an ever-enlarging wave is a vast assortment of people and objects representing a lifetime of work.  You could look at this for hours and not notice everything.

The opening and closing endpapers are in pale yellow.  With a page turn is a small portrait of Fred Rogers, wearing his red sweater and putting on his tennis shoes.  Another page turn is a close-up of a scene on the set.  Then a double-page picture, with the quote noted above, shows Fred seated at his piano.  Coming from the piano is a similar assortment of figures and items as shown on the book case.  With the next page turn the Trolley is winding back and forth on the verso opposite the title page featuring Mister Rogers, the Trolley and some of his puppets.

Each illustration is a survey of every facet of this man's life and his television show.  Matthew Cordell rendered the pictures:

with pen and ink with watercolor.

They are double-page pictures, pictures within pictures, recreations of photographs, single-page pictures, small groupings of visuals on a single or double page.  Your eyes move easily from text to images, each complementing and elevating the other.  Historical context is excellent; like the set of encyclopedias on the shelf in the living room of the family watching the first nationally aired Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.  Each time you read this book; you will observe some new element Matthew Cordell has included.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is the first one for the first line in the narrative.  It spans two pages.  It is a close-up view of The Neighborhood.  From the upper, left-hand corner a hand is reaching in and holding a car.  It will soon be placed in The Neighborhood.  

If you've been looking for a way to hug Fred McFeely Rogers, this book, HELLO, NEIGHBOR!: The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, is the way you can do it.  This book is definitely to be placed in the huggable category.  The words and artwork bring the man and his life's work to you, into your space.  At the close of the book two pages are dedicated to About Fred Rogers with more facts and photographs.  Matthew Cordell includes a Visual Glossary, Mister Rogers and Me, Acknowledgments, More About Fred Rogers and Where to Watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.  The final page has Fred Rogers carrying his duffel bag with items trailing behind as he walks away from us.  This stunning book belongs in every collection, professional and personal.

To learn more about Matthew Cordell and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  His blog is here.  Matthew Cordell has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  You can view interior images at Penguin Random House.  At the publisher's website is a printable sign.  This book is highlighted at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production by author, reviewer and extraordinary librarian, Betsy Bird.  Matthew Cordell is interviewed at Reading Rockets via video.
UPDATE:  Matthew Cordell wrote a post about this book at School Library Journal (May 8, 2020).  It is a wonderful, meaningful reflection. 
UPDATE:  Matthew Cordell chats with teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner at The Children's Book Podcast #594 about this book (May 8, 2020)
UPDATE:  This title is the subject of a reflective post on NPR. (May 30, 2020)

When you think of Earth Day you might not think of a mathematician, but their influence in the scientific community is without question.  Between the years of December 22, 1887 and April 26, 1920, there lived a man, who in only thirty-two years left a lasting legacy in the field of mathematics.  His perceptions of the world are still being explored today.

For many years, he felt detached from others his age.  He saw the world with questioning eyes and his mind functioned on a rare and rich level.  The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity: A Tale of the Genius Ramanujan (Candlewick Press, April 14, 2020) written by Amy Alznauer with illustrations by Daniel Miyares is certain to be treasured by those with a love of mathematics.  For all others, it is a trip through time worth taking repeatedly.

Today the world is small.  With a single click, you can see
anywhere or speak to anyone.
But one hundred years ago, the world was big.  It took weeks to send a letter by steamer from here all the way to there.

Into this world, some one hundred years ago, was born a son.  His mother, Amma, named him Ramanujan.  She told her son of a visit by a goddess, Namagiri, who whispered words in his grandmother's ears.  Those whispered words were like a prophecy of his life's pursuit.

Ramanujan never spoke for three years.  He exhibited behavior requiring a set routine.  As soon as he did speak, he wondered about the meaning of small and big.  At five he started to go to school, but his questions went unanswered.  Ramanujan was bored.

His fascination with what is small and how smaller and smaller can expand, but also pull together to make a single whole grew.  Numbers were his window into the world.  He was compelled to work with them every single day using his slate, erasing, and starting over.  Ramanujan disliked school.  He would run away.  Many schools were tried.  After class, the boy could be found sitting on the front pial of his home, working with numbers on his slate.

Everything, in Ramanujan's mind, was connected by numbers.  He was ten when he attended Kumbakonam Town High School.  He felt a kinship with a man who sat by the river claiming to see strange figures.  By the time he was fifteen, a college math book was no match for his amazingly curious mind.

At twenty Ramanujan failed at college.  He finally landed a job at

the Port Trust in Madras.

Here his skills were valued.  At the urging of those with whom he worked; he wrote letters to famous mathematicians in England at the Cambridge University.  Finally, one, G. H. Hardy, responded.  Ramanujan was off to England.  It was 1914.  The world was about to meet a master.  They are still meeting him today.

The immense dedication Ramanujan had for mathematics and how they could be applied to the world around him is felt in every sentence written by Amy Alznauer.  A historical context is generated with her opening sentences.  We are fully captivated.

Specific examples bring us into essential moments of Ramanujan's life.  The insertion of dialogue draws us into his story.  When we are privy to his thoughts and musings, we feel an intimate connection to his exceptional mind and soul.  Here are two passages.

He loved this idea, small and big, each inside the other.
If he could crack the number 1 open and find infinity, what
secrets would he discover inside other numbers? It felt like he
was setting out on a grand chase.

Numbers were everywhere.  In the squares of light pricking
his thatched roof.  In the gods dancing on the temple tower.  In
the clouds that formed and re-formed in the sky.  Every day he
wrote numbers in the sand, on his slate, on slips of paper, his
slender fingers flying, each number a new catch. 

When you first gaze at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, your eyes are drawn to the enchanting figure seated before you.  Who is this person?  What will this book reveal about him?  The hues of blue and purple contrasting with the yellow and shades of red are lustrous, almost other-worldly.  The title text and swirl from Ramanujan with numbers in it are embossed in silver foil.

To the left, on the back, an intricate Indian design in colors of magenta act as a frame for text in white which reads:

If Ramanujan could crack
the number 1 open and
find infinity, what
secrets would he discover
inside other numbers?

In shades of teal artist Daniel Miyares composes a collage of numbers and pages from a notebook on the opening and closing endpapers.  The initial title page has a small image of objects relative to Ramanujan's life as a child.  An elegant Indian design, now fully complete appears, opposite the title page in a rich orange color.

These illustrations are done in ink.  Daniel Miyares takes us with his illustrations to another time and into the unique world of Ramanujan and his way of thinking.  Their subtle and soft texture mirrors and heightens the spirit embedded in the text.  Daniel Miyares use of light and shadow is astonishing.  Swirls of color weave another world, drawing us within striking moments.  Fine delicate lines accentuate the people and settings.  Some of the pages are embellished with splendid designs, acting as framing or borders.

The size of the illustrations varies in accordance with the text.  Larger, dramatic, two-page pictures will have you gasping.  The smaller ones will have you stopping to look closer at them.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  A pale night sky replete with stars and a crescent moon with a few wisps of clouds acts as a background.  Large thin numbers stretch from the bottom of the page to nearly the top, page edge on the left to page edge on the right.  Four figures of Ramanujan asleep, waking and hanging onto the top of a seven, leaping between a two and a nine and then sliding down the nine illustrate how even his dreams were filled with numbers.

The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity: A Tale of the Genius Ramanujan written by Amy Alznauer with illustrations by Daniel Miyares is as incomparable as the boy, and then man, whose life is depicted in its pages.  At the close of the book is a two-page Author's Note.  It is followed by a one-page bibliography.  You'll want this breathtaking book in both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Amy Alznauer and Daniel Miyares and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Amy Alznauer has a special page for this title.  Amy Alznauer has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Daniel Miyares has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image.  At Penguin Random House you can see other interior illustrations.  Last year Daniel Miyares was showcased at Picture Book Spotlight.  At Cynsations Amy Alznauer writes a post about collaboration.

Be sure to visit educator Alyson Beecher's Kid Lit Frenzy to view the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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