Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Fifty Years Of Energy and Efforts For Mother Earth

For fifty years it's been the same date every year.  On April 22, 2020 around our planet Earth Day celebrations are going digital for the first time in its history.  A host of prominent people are participating.  The organizers promise to

flood the world with messages of hope, optimism and, above all---action.

Numerous recent publications shine a light on the means for all of us to make a difference in our natural world.  We need not do anything grand.  Even the smallest endeavor can bring about change.  We must engage with our world because it depends on us, all of us.

From a true story comes The Bear's Garden (Imprint, a part of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, March 24, 2020) written by Marcie Colleen with illustrations by Alison Oliver.  Through the imagination of a child a dream takes shape.  Through an accident and efforts of many, this dream becomes a reality.

IN THE BIG, BUSTLING CITY, all the people were busy.

They did not see the neglected buildings, but a little girl did.  To her they offered opportunity.  To her they were an invitation to grow, play and love.  This child made her own beauty.

Planting seeds in an old tomato can, she and her stuffed toy bear nourished tiny sprouts. The can placed on her windowsill, provided sun and fresh air to the plants.  One day, a bird flew by, knocking the can to the ground beneath her apartment window.  It rolled and rolled right across the street.

In the vacant lot where the can rested, those small plants grew.  The child cared for them with water and her affectionate heart.  She talked to them, giving them encouraging words.  Those busy people soon noticed the little girl and her plants.  

When the girl had to leave, she worried about what would happen to her garden. She left her bear, loaded with hugs, to act as guardian.  The single act of a generous spirit bloomed in her absence.  Upon her return, she and her bear were surrounded by beautiful bounty.

To begin author Marcie Colleen gives us a broad overview of the city and then leads us to a single child whose outlook is in contrast to many others.  Simple sentences build toward an astonishing conclusion.  We become more invested in the story with the use of dialogue when the little girl voices her thoughts.  Her faith in her stuffed toy bear (and life in general) as presented in the narrative is endearing and enduring.  Here is a passage.

One night, the girl's imagination
spilled onto the sidewalk, 
rolled across the street,
and sprouted.

The scene on the front of the dust jacket gives a close view of the child and her bear enjoying the beauty the garden is offering to them.  Their eyes closed in contentment present a calming representation.  The sky and clouds continue over the spine to the left, the back of the jacket.  There the garden continues with buildings in the background.  The title text on the front is embossed in foil.  The little girl, her stuffed toy bear and some of the leaves and blossoms are varnished.

On the book case, the position of the girl and her stuffed toy bear are the same but everything else is different.  Their eyes are wide open in cheer.  The garden is bursting with color and blooms spreading over the spine to the left at the back.  In a word, it's joy.

On the opening endpapers is an aerial view of this New York City area with a pin placed where the garden is.  The bear's face is on the pin.  On the closing endpapers the visual is enhanced and closer.  Multiple gardens are shown.  This closer view is also shown on the verso and title pages, but no gardens are visible yet.

These illustrations rendered by Alison Oliver using 

marker, pencil, brush pen, charcoal, cut paper, and Photoshop

depict varying perspectives, a bird's eye view, multiple moments grouped in a two-page picture or in four separate wordless frames.  They span two pages and single pages.  Black as a background is used to fabulous effect.

The personality of the little girl shines on every page through her facial expression and body postures. The portrayal of the bear is vivid to the extent you expect it to come to life.  The bond between the child and the toy is as real as any human relationship.  

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  The little girl is seated near the tiny plants, the can tipped to spill them and now planted in soil.  Near her is an empty cardboard box with a black kitten inside.  On top of the box is a teapot.  In front of her toy stuffed bear, a tiny mouse, a pigeon and the plants are teacups.  The girl, smiling, is holding a teacup, ready to sip.  It's a garden party.

This book, The Bear's Garden written by Marcie Colleen with illustrations by Alison Oliver, is brimming with hope.  It's certain to inspire others to begin community gardens.  At the close of the book an Author's Note explains the garden which sparked this story.  I highly recommend this title for both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Marcie Colleen and Alison Oliver and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  At Alison Oliver's website you can view the endpapers and interior images.  Marcie Colleen has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Alison Oliver has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Marcie Colleen is featured at The Children's Book Podcast with Matthew Winner.  She and this book are also highlighted by Debbie Ridpath Ohi at her website, Inkygirl.  Please enjoy this peek at the book case courtesy of Let's Talk Picture Books.
The Bear's Garden by Marcie Colleen and Alison Oliver from Let's Talk Picture Books on Vimeo.

Although in northern Michigan at the moment snow is swirling in high winds, for months collective minds here and in other parts of the world have been turning to gardening. Seeds and soil have been gathered.  On warmer days, walks have revealed shoots from bulbs pushing through the dirt and perennials are starting to turn green as buds get larger.  In My Garden (Neal Porter BooksHoliday House, March 24, 2020) written by the late Charlotte Zolotow (1915-2013) with illustrations by Philip Stead is a journey through the seasons.  It is a shared trip through time and the offerings Nature bestows on all of us if we choose to notice.

IN THE SPRING what I love best in my garden
are the birds building nests.

As the narrator chats with us, she quickly relates other things about the garden for which she has affection; things like tulips, violets and other seasonal blooms. There is also one thing, above all others, which is enjoyed the most.  This is kite flying.  It is not the only thing done, but it is the best.

Other flowers take the center stage in the summer.  Among the most prized are roses of all colors.  Lunching under the pear tree is one of the narrator's greatest pleasures in the summer.  Birdsong, gliding butterflies and dips in a stream provide other delights.

In autumn, leaves shifting from green to an array of colors and animals collecting food for winter are observations appreciated, but the chrysanthemums are the narrator's favorite part of this season in their garden.  There is also an assortment of activities to like in the fall but raking leaves is number one on the list.  JUMP!

When the garden is covered with snow, sculpting different shapes, this is the best part of the season.  Of all the outdoor pursuits during these blustery months, ice skating upon the frozen pond is simply the best.  Gliding on this watery world offers time for reflection and appreciation.

Each time the words written by Charlotte Zolotow for this book are read, their timeless quality envelopes you.  You are wrapped in the narrator's respect for each sensory impression.  You experience on a personal level each thing done.  A repetition of certain phrases creates a calmly cadence.  With her words, Charlotte Zolotow transports you to the garden.  Here is another passage.

In the spring what I love most to do is fly kites.
     Of course there are other things I
love to do---play dolls and roller skate
and skip rope.

What readers first notice about the open and matching dust jacket and book case, are the two figures under the pear tree in the garden.  This introduces us to the visual interpretation of Charlotte Zolotow's words by Philip Stead.  The bird resting on the E in the title is a nod to the first line in the story.  The red tulips refer to the next lines of the story.  This entire scene on the right, front, is one of participants standing in a sanctuary.

To the left, on the back, poetic words are framed in a circle of flowers, leaves and colors of the four seasons.  Two more birds are featured prominently in a blend of blue, yellow and purple.  On the opening and closing endpapers a soft shade of purple has been placed.

On the initial title page, a bird rests on the letter E.  For the formal title page and verso, a cat is perched on a stone wall stretching from left to right across both pages.  Bright yellow rays shine from the upper right-hand corner as green and purple shade the area on the right.

This artwork by Philip Stead is

handmade using oil-ink monotype techniques and carbon transfer printing.

Each illustration spanning two pages is a study in perspective, design and color.  We are given larger views and then brought closer to individual settings.  We look straight at a scene or peer down from above.  We are participants and observers.  One double-page picture during spring and winter are wordless but convey the essence of the narrator's words.

One of my many, many favorite images is the one for the first sentence of this story.  On the left, along the bottom a shade of pale green shifts to spring green before it crosses the gutter.  In the first green are three birds, gathering twigs for a nest.  One red tulip stands tall on the left side of the gutter.  To the right of the gutter two other red tulips behind a birdhouse on the ground frame it.  Two birds are in front of the birdhouse and a third is on the roof.  The spring green hue changes to yellow as it moves up the page.  On the far right a tree truck extends off the page.  Another bird is leaning out from the trunk, twigs in its beak.  The birdhouse is palest green with purple and yellow.

Regardless of your age or the time of day, In My Garden written by Charlotte Zolotow with illustrations by Philip Stead will supply your soul with much needed serenity.  Philip Stead's artwork elevates the stunning rhythm of Charlotte Zolotow's poetic perceptions.  This book has my highest recommendation for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Charlotte Zolotow and Philip Stead and their other work, please access their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Philip Stead has another site with information titled The Stead Collection.  An article at Publishers Weekly addresses the reissue of Charlotte Zolotow's book with Philip Stead's artwork.  At author and teacher librarian Travis Jonker's blog, 100 Scope Notes, at School Library Journal, a video highlights how Philip Stead made the artwork for this book.  At the publisher's website there is a link to an Educator's Guide for this title.

In his newest brilliant artistic entry in children literature, author illustrator Henry Cole does not disappoint.  The conception and illustration of One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey (Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., April 7, 2020) is a wordless display of transformation.  It is a loving tribute to people, their lives and their love of each other and our Earth.

Prior to the title page, Henry Cole in a series of framed single-page pictures, horizontal and vertical panels and two large double-page pictures, takes us through the process of making paper from logged timber to large rolls of paper to the delivery of boxes of paper bags and to the use of a single bag at a small community market. We follow one particular tree through the use of spot color as it makes its way from the forest, to a logging truck, to the paper mill, the processes at the mill, and the packing of one paper bag among hundreds in a box.  The final two-page image before the title page is an amazing display of the interior of a small grocery store highly stocked with all kinds of items.  People walk on wooden floors with carts laden with their groceries.  At the counter is a boy and his father and the brown-colored paper bag.

The father, having drawn a red heart on the bag, uses it as a lunch bag for his son's school meal.  After a nightmare, the bag is used to mute a flashlight as comfort next to the child's bed.  As the boy grows up the bag is always present, used for a variety of purposes.  When he leaves for college, the bag goes with him.

His musical gift for guitar playing attracts the attention of another guitar-playing individual, a young woman.  The bag holds rolled up music. As they study together during college and enjoy outings with each other the bag is nearby.  The young woman draws another heart on the bag prior to the young man's proposal of marriage.

As the two journey through their shared lives, the bag's presence is noted.  At the birth of their son, another heart appears on the bag attached to the baby's bed.  When the new boy's grandfather visits, readers will know it is the first boy.  Years pass, memories are made by the grandfather and his grandson and another heart is added.  The bag's final use after decades is poetic, purposeful and perfect.

In his dedication Henry Cole states:


Each carefully visualized image, rendered using

Micron ink pens on Strathmore Bristol paper

by Henry Cole is an ode to our forests, trees, paper, paper bags and recycling.  It also addresses the abiding love of family and the nearness of the bag in some of the simplest but most memorable moments of his characters' lives.  The black and white illustrations with only spot color of brown and red are exquisitely detailed and highly emotional in their portrayals.

On the open and matching dust jacket and book case, we are presented with two points of view.  On the front, the bag is introduced to us through the boy and his father as they shop in the local market.  To the left, on the back, a doe peers from behind the trunk of a large tree among a stand of large trees, their tops not visible to us.  The forest floor is carpeted with grass and wildflowers.  A single butterfly sips at one of the flowers.

On the opening and closing endpapers the view of the woodlands is expanded.  The doe is still present on the far left.  A flock of turkeys cautiously moves through the trees on the right.  The tree which becomes the bag is the only bit of color in this black and white artwork.

Each page turn is a revelation of the tree's and bag's journey.  To accentuate pacing the picture sizes vary as does their point of view.  We move from a single-page picture to a series of four smaller pictures on the opposite page as we step back farther and farther.  Henry Cole's placement of smaller pictures on one or two pages is intentional as is the placement of the bag in each image.

The characters' facial features and body postures supply readers with a range of emotions.  The settings in which they are shown contribute to the personal involvement of readers in this story.  We are there with the characters in each situation.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when the original boy, now a grandfather, is walking with his grandson.  It is a single-page picture, page edge to page edge.  They are walking on a path in the forest.  Their backs are to us.  They are holding hands.  The grandfather on the left is using a cane to aid his walking.  The family cat follows along on the boy's right.  He holds the bag, now bearing four hearts, in his right hand.  As we look ahead of the duo, through the trees, Henry Cole has placed a glow, a lightening.

This book, One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey conceived and illustrated by Henry Cole, is as they say in the children's literature community, a heartprint book.  It will leave a mark on your heart.  This story and the characters will remain in your mind long after the book is finished.  It will cause you to pause in the future, reflecting on its intelligent message so marvelously delivered.  At the close of the book in an Author's Note, Henry Cole speaks about his personal story and the premise for writing this story.  I can't imagine any collection of books without a copy of this title.

To learn more about Henry Cole and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his personal website.  Henry Cole has accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  The cover reveal for this book is at Nerdy Book Club.  Henry Cole is interviewed about this title at The Horn Book and Publishers Weekly.

Our rewards from Nature are proportionate to the attention we give it.  The more we look, the more we see.  Every detail is a delightful discovery.

In her newest release, A New Green Day (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, April 14, 2020), Antoinette Portis asks us to think about alternate descriptions for that which is familiar.  Through her words and illustrations, magic happens.

"Morning lays me on your pillow, an invitation, square and warm.
Come out and play!"

Who is speaking in these first two sentences?  With a page turn we realize we have been welcomed to participate in a guessing game with elements found in Nature.  Sunlight is talking first.

We are asked to follow a doodle on a path and a map within a home.  What we hold in our hand, can act as a measuring tape.  A newborn in a nearby stream is a form of punctuation, a pause before adulthood.

A pebble is a sweet delicacy if a river is the taster.  Is there a mountain that can move toward you?  This answer will surprise you.  It is usually a prelude to 

"I'm a chorus 
of a million tiny voices. . . ."

and several more wondrous riddles which follow.

Other apt descriptions have you searching your mind for answers as you put the clues together.  As the summer day comes to a close, a final voice calls to sleepers.  It's a reminder of what we have seen and what we have yet to see.

Using lyrical but carefully chosen words, author Antoinette Portis, presents two-sentence puzzles for readers to ponder.  She requests of readers to contemplate beyond our initial thoughts allowing us to witness beauty we might otherwise miss. Fourteen poems following a similar premise lead us to a new appreciation of our world.  

The amazing shades of green which light up trees, shrubs and plants as spring turns to summer move from the right, front, to the left, back, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  The garland of leaves extends from flap edge to flap edge on the jacket.  Placing them on a crisp white background gives them a special glow.  We are introduced to the character who proceeds through the summer day on the front of the jacket and case.  The title text on the jacket is varnished.

On the opening and closing endpapers and the first and last page turn are brush strokes, looking somewhat like marble.  They are in various shades of green. Prior to the title page, on white, is a single tiny cricket.  Across the two pages given for the title are five different leaves, all in green hues.

The initial two sentences of each poem are placed in a colorful but muted square on white.  For the answer to the poem, a full-page picture is offered.  These illustrations rendered by Antoinette Portis 

using brush and sumi ink, leaf prints, vine charcoal and hand-stamped lettering with color added digitally,

supply readers with different points of view.  We stand next to a sleeping child. We are at eye level with a snail.  We see an enlarged tadpole as if we are with it in a stream.  We watch from the safety of a neighborhood of homes as lightning slices into a tree.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the answer to the first riddle poem.  Below the words

says sunlight

the little girl, one pigtail spread across her pillow, sleeps with her face turned away from readers, to the left.  Her red top provides a contrast to the white pillow with shadows and the green of her blanket.  As sunlight comes in through the window, we see outlines of leaves on a tree outside her home on her blanket and top.  A new day is gently beginning.

Inspiring and hopeful, A New Green Day written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis is a book to read repeatedly.  It celebrates our planet and elements large and small found everywhere.  It requires us to think.  It encourages us to see the magic in the ordinary.  Perhaps we can write our own puzzle poems.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Antoinette Portis, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Antoinette Portis has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website there is a link to an Educator's Guide.

Never has it been more apparent than the beginning of 2020 how vital the outside world is to all living things.  We humans, if not previously so appreciative, are now.  We recognize the value of embracing what has been so freely present.  The urgency of preserving and protecting it is heightened.  

In their first collaboration author Deborah Underwood and illustrator Cindy Derby work to show readers the allure of what we find beyond the four walls of our homes.  Outside In (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 14, 2020) looks at the benefits of becoming one with the world around us.  It awakens memories of the past bringing it to the present.

we were part of Outside
and Outside was part of us.

There was nothing between us.

This has changed considerably.  Now, even when we venture to the Outside, we do so enclosed in another form of Inside.  Our recollections of 


are clouded.

The most important thing to remember is that Outside has not forgotten.  It tugs at those murky memories.  It does so with bursts of color and growth.  

The sunlight streaming through a window is a reminder.  Birdsong is a reminder.  Twigs brushing on rooftops are a reminder.  Outside is calling to us through our senses.

If we stop to think about it, Outside is responsible for our care.  It gives us food.  It gives us clothing.  It gives us shelter.  It brings itself to the Inside when we hug and cuddle our dogs and cats.

Outside is a clock.  We mark our days with light and darkness.  Sometimes Outside sneaks in through tiny creatures.  It might race through pipes only to return from where it came.  Outside implores us.  Will we respond?

A lilting rhythm in the words written by Deborah Underwood recalls a collective time in our consciousness.  A very personal connection is fashioned by having Outside become a character in the story.  The examples of Outside reminding us are always present for us to experience, but in Deborah Underwood's stellar use of language, they are enchanting.  They cast a spell and we willingly allow it to work.  Here are two sentences.

It beckons with smells:
and mysterious.

Outside cuddles us
in clothes,
once puffs of cotton.

The open dust jacket for this book is entirely varnished.  Small portions of the images on the left, back, and the right, front, bleed to the flaps.  The glorious display of Outside as presented on the front with the girl and her cat walking from Inside is uplifting and comforting.  You will find yourself pausing to look at all the details embedded in this illustration (and in all the illustrations throughout the book.)  The play of light and shadow is outstanding.  On the back the Outside opens from the bottom and slightly left like a beautiful blossom.  The blend of greens and blues is luminous.

On the book case moving from the deep blue hues on the left and over the spine to the right, we are drawn to a doorway.  Light streams in through the opening.  As we gaze through the doorway, we see, with anticipation, the Outside.

On the opening and closing endpapers in brush strokes of green on white, Outside calls to us.  Swirls of leaves, branches and tiny creatures greet our eyes.  A page turn at the beginning and end reveal green on green and a cluster of evergreens.  On the initial title page, the child, standing on a pathway, is looking back at the Outside.  On the double-page picture for the formal title page, she is now seated on a large tree branch enjoying the Outside spread before her.

Each image, rendered

with watercolor and powdered graphite on cold press paper

by artist Cindy Derbymirrors an affection for Outside and the words by Deborah Underwood. 

Some of the lines were created with dried flower stems and thread soaked in ink.

Although the colors are bright and bold, as are the pictures they disclose, there is a soft texture about each one.  All the visuals span two pages or single pages.  To accentuate the text, perspective is shifted, sometimes within a single image. 

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture.  The little girl's body is resting on the floor, her head on the left and the rest of her body is on the left, crossing the gutter and her feet are stretching nearly to the right edge. Her eyes are closed as her body curls around the sleeping and curled form of her dog.  Lying on top of her, eyes closed, is her black cat. The cat is on the right.  The girl's top, a mix of red, blue and orange highlights her form and the forms of her dog and cat.  This picture of the Outside is not only universal but happening more often in our current world circumstances.  

This book, Outside In written by Deborah Underwood with illustrations by Cindy Derby, is to be read and shared often.  I expect you will receive requests of read it again.  It restores our ties to the Outside.  It is a balm, a treasure, for a craving we sometimes can't identify.  You'll want to have a copy of this title for your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Deborah Underwood and Cindy Derby and their other work, links attached to their names allow you to access their respective websites.  Deborah Underwood has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Cindy Derby has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson showcases this book and the artwork of Cindy Derby on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Enjoy the recent video below made by Cindy Derby where she demonstrates how she made some of the art for this book.

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