Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Wishing You The Bear-y Best In Books

By their very presence, respect is given to them by other animals.  Their size is a definite factor as is their appetite for certain foods.  That smaller versions of them have been fashioned into beloved stuffed toys for humans elevates the admiration given to them.  This esteem which they've acquired helps to make them the perfect candidate for characters in stories.

Two recent publications feature bears as a central character.  Both protagonists supply a generous dose of humor.  In the first book, a debut picture book, Soaked! (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, July 14, 2020) written and illustrated by Abi Cushman readers along with Bear discover life can be better in the rain.

Look at this rain.
Everything is dreary.
Everything is drenched.
And no one is happy.

A badger, a bunny, a hula-hooping moose, and Bear are not happy, not happy at all.  Rain takes the delicious out of ice cream cones.  It takes the architecture out of sandcastles and the shape out of cashmere sweaters.  And Bear has great affection for ice cream cones, sandcastles, and cashmere sweaters.

Bear suggests Badger, Rabbit, and the hula-hooping moose gather in his cave.  It's much too cozy for comfort, especially with the moose's antics.  Bear's missing his blue umbrella with bumblebees on it, but strangely enough Badger found an identical umbrella she claims is her umbrella.  Bear decides to mope on a hollow log.  That's what he does until the moose flings a hula hoop into the top of a tree.

As a team they retrieve it, until with a big oops and a splash it lands around Bear's neck.  Bear is encouraged to use it.  He does but shows no enthusiasm.  He asks to be alone with the hula hoop.

Bear begins to act completely out of character.  The moose, Rabbit and Badger are inspired by his shenanigans.  It's remarkable what hula hoops, and rain can do to shift the ordinary into the extraordinary. 

Each word, each pause, each inflection spoken by Bear in this narrative has been carefully written by author Abi Cushman to generate comedy.  Bear's attitude is as blah (and sarcastic) as the wet woodlands which are assuredly in contrast to his companions who are trying to make the best of a less than perfect day. We readers know nothing is going to get Bear out of his grumpy, dumps until the perfect solution presents itself.  The twist comes at the end when Bear is Bear, through and through.  Sound effect words add to the drama and sheer fun of the story.  Here is a passage spoken with irony and sound effects from the hula-hooping Moose.

Oh yes.
Great idea. 


Doesn't feel
crowded at all
in here.


I dare you to not burst out laughing when you look at the front (right) of the open dust jacket.  The facial expression on Bear in comparison to the happy looks on Rabbit and Badger is hilarious.  He is miserable, disgusted, and grouchy.  This sets the tone of the narrative even before you open the book.  To the left (back), the moose with legs extended (balancing on one leg) is twirling three hula hoops.  Rabbit and Badger watch, standing in a puddle.  The text reads:

There is nothing funny
about this book.  Trust us.

Especially not the
Hula-Hooping moose.

On the book case, we are inside Bear's cave.  The story is completed.  These two images, on the left and right, present the back and front of Bear engaged in an activity.  On the left, with Bear's back to us, Badger and Rabbit watch and look at each other knowingly.  Sound effects are also written on the images.


On the opening endpapers on a pale blue canvas are blue umbrellas with bumblebees and a bear's head handle.  All ten are in different positions.  Perhaps this is a single umbrella tumbling in the wind of a rain shower.  In the lower left-hand corner, Badger is reaching for one of the umbrellas.  On the closing endpapers, a pale yellow provides the background.  Eighteen colorful hula hoops are shown in their entirety or in portions.  On the far-right Rabbit is hula hooping.

On the title page a big drop falls from the "k" in Soaked!  It lands right on top of Bear's head featured along the bottom of the page.  These illustrations

drawn in pencil and colored digitally

by Abi Cushman span two pages or are grouped together on two pages with loads of white space.  The perspectives bring readers close to the characters to heighten the emotional impact.  Sometimes only a portion of the character is depicted.  Their facial looks and body postures are priceless.  Several images have only a few words or none, but there is no doubt as to the exact mood being conveyed.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  The sky is gray.  The rain is pouring.  From left to right sits Bear, Rabbit and Badger on the hollow log.  On the right the moose is standing on his/her front legs.  The top two are spread open and a hula hoop has just swished off the upper right-hand corner.  Bear is looking dejected.  Rabbit is watching Bear.  Badger and the moose watch the hula hoop sail away.  Behind all the animals is the word, in yellow,

Blahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . .

Sometimes the worst situation can bring out the best in a crabby character.  Soaked! written and illustrated by Abi Cushman with much mirth proves to readers you can have loads of contagious fun when you least expect it.  This book is a stellar selection for a one-on-one or group read aloud or for use in a themed unit on humor, bears, rain, friendship, or attitude.  You'll want this title in your professional collections and on your personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Abi Cushman and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At her website you can download a series of ten activity sheets.  Abi Cushman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read. the cover is revealed along with a conversation.  Abi Cushman has a post at author Tara Lazar's Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).  She is interviewed at author Susan Leonard Hill's site, Celebrate Picture Books, Maria Marshall's site and KidLit411.  At the publisher's website you can view the opening endpapers.

The second title, Dozens Of Doughnuts (Putnam, G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, July 21, 2020) written by Carrie Finison with illustrations by Brianne Farley is about a doughnut-loving bear getting ready for hibernation.  Her kind heart, affection for cooking, and healthy taste for pastry become a huge problem.  Sometimes generosity has its limits, however temporary they may be.

Early one morning, as autumn leaves scatter,
LouAnn's busy stirring a big bowl of batter.

She'll eat some sweet treats, then, warm and well-fed,
she'll sleep away winter, tucked tight in her bed.

As LouAnn is about to begin consuming her freshly made dozen doughnuts, her doorbell rings.  It's Woodrow, the woodchuck.  Woodrow wants some doughnuts and LouAnn is willing to share.  Before they can begin eating, the doorbell rings again.  It's Clyde, a raccoon.  Now LouAnn has to make another dozen doughnuts.

As the trio start to chew this new dozen, the doorbell rings a third time.  It's Topsy, an opossum.  LouAnn invites her inside, but her cheerful nature is being strained as is her desire to make another dozen doughnuts.  The foursome is about to gobble down these delectable treats when . . .


Of course, LouAnn invites this latest neighbor into her home, but she's getting desperate.  She is using up the last of her doughnut-making ingredients to cook a new batch.  She still has not had a single doughnut.  As the very last dozen doughnuts come from the stove, the doorbell rings again.  LouAnn is at her wit's end . . . and her friends know it.  They hastily retreat. 

LouAnn is frazzled.  After a bit, she curls up on her floor, sad and very hungry.  Can you believe it?  The doorbell rings again. No one is more surprised than LouAnn at this story's tasty finish.

The joyful rhyming couplets invite readers into the story anticipating which words will complete the pairs.  Having the large pause before LouAnn starts to eat a doughnut, followed by the


welcomes us to participate in this tale.  A repeating phrase also works to encourage a partnership with readers.  Author Carrie Finison flawlessly blends text and dialogue designing a more personal story. Here is a passage.

One dozen doughnuts, hot from the pan.
A few for her friends, and the rest for---


"I smelled something good.  Can I hang for a while?"
LouAnn says, "Come in," but she's lost her big smile.

When you look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, you see a very happy LouAnn carrying a dozen doughnuts followed by her neighbors, a woodchuck, a raccoon, an opossum, a skunk, and a chipmunk.  The other half of the chipmunk pair is in front of LouAnn.  The raccoon's body continues on the other side of the spine.  By placing these fully animated creatures in full color on a white and pale yellow background, they and the doughnuts draw our attention.  On the back, left, of the jacket and case, ingredients and cooking utensils are drawn in black and placed on the floor.  The text here reads:

Doughnuts are better shared.

On the opening endpapers on a yellow canvas are twenty-four different doughnuts, numbered and labeled.  They are so realistic you'll find yourself reaching out to pick one up and eat it.  On the closing endpapers only pieces and crumbs remain except for one whole doughnut.  It's number twenty-three, Old-Fashioned.  A paw is reaching to grab it. 

These images by Brianne Farley were rendered

in gouache, colored pencil, and charcoal, with some help from Photoshop.

She begins her visual interpretation on the title page.  LouAnn is standing in front of her window, holding a bowl, and stirring.  This window figures importantly in the story, foreshadowing who will arrive next.  Their tail appears in this window before the doorbell rings.

In a colorful, delightful collection of illustrations spanning two pages, edge to edge, full pages, edge to edge, and with smaller images on a single page, Brianne Farley reveals the personalities of the characters, especially that of LouAnn.  You'll find joy and growing laughter in the facial features.  Sometimes only an outline will be present for added details like the stone walls in LouAnn's home, the ingredients, cooking utensils and glasses on the table.  In several pages white space is used to excellent effect.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  We are close to the characters.  From left to right they are seated on the same side of LouAnn's bright blue table.  First is Woodrow, then Clyde and then Topsy.  In front of these three are plates with three doughnuts and glasses of something to drink.  Clyde holds a chocolate chocolate doughnut in his paws.  They are all smiling.  On the right side of the gutter is LouAnn.  She also holds a doughnut in her paw.  The look on her face is oh-no-this-can't-be-happening as the doorbell rings.  In the window is a skunk's tail.

Generosity and best-laid-plans are challenged in this tale of friendship and sharing sweet treats.  Dozens Of Doughnuts written by Carrie Finison with illustrations by Brianne Farley will have you smiling, laughing out loud, sighing, and wishing you had the ingredients for making your own doughnuts.  This book is a wonderful choice for a storytime or themes on bears, companionship, cooking, doughnuts, or winter.  (I used to have a neighbor who would make doughnuts every time we had a snow day during school.)  This is a title you'll want to have in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Carrie Finison and Brianne Farley and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  At Brianne Farley's site you can view a few interior images.  Carrie Finison has accounts on Instagram, and Twitter.  Brianne Farley has accounts on Instagram, and Twitter.  Carrie Finison is featured on author Tara Lazar's Writing for Kids (While Raising Them). This book is showcased at Soaring '20s High Flying Picture Book Debuts.  This title is also highlighted at Kathy Temean's Writing and Illustrating, PictureBookBuilders, and Laura Sassi Tales.  At the publisher's website you can view the opening endpapers.

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