Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, October 29, 2020

An Apparition In Need

Caregivers and educators tell you, regardless of the time of year, when given the choice most children overwhelming request scary stories.  Of scary stories, stories about ghosts are in high demand.  In fact, children are eager to share their own ghost stories based on personal experiences or family legends.

By definition, ghosts are the souls or spirits of departed beings.  Their ability to be seen or unseen varies.  Gustavo: The Shy Ghost (Candlewick Press, July 14, 2020) written and illustrated by Flavia Z. Drago and the Spanish edition Gustavo: El Fantasmita Timido released on the same date is the story of a ghost who wants and needs the other monsters to see him.

Gustavo era
un fantasmita.

Como a cualquier otro ser paranormal, le gustaba
hacer las cosas que le eran normales: atravesar
paredes, hacer volar objetos o brillar en la oscuridad.

Gustavo was a ghost
He enjoyed doing the normal things that
paranormal beings do---passing through walls,
making objects fly, and glowing in the dark.  

Of all the things in Gustavo's world, he loved playing the violin the most.  He had a secret. He loved Alma, another monster in town, but he never declared his affections to her.  

Gustavo was much too bashful.  He wanted to join the other youngsters in their activities, but it frightened him.  Yes, it did.  He disguised himself as other objects to get near them, but they did not notice him.  This saddened him.

The little ghost knew he had to be proactive if he wanted friends.  He wrote a letter to all the other monster children, inviting them to a violin concert in the cemetery during the Day of the Dead. A full moon was expected.

When the date arrived, Gustavo went to the cemetery. No one came.  Gustavo decided to do what he loved most, he played and played and played his violin.  He gleamed with happiness.  Imagine Gustavo's surprise at hearing sounds he longed to hear.  His life was never the same after that Day of the Dead night under a full moon.  Neither were the lives of anyone else.

Gustavo may be a ghost, but author Flavia Z. Drago's depiction of him and his problem creates an instant connection with readers.  She describes something and someone he loves, just like us.  She explains his fear with examples and his attempts to overcome it.  When he chooses to be brave, we find ourselves cheering for him, especially when he decides to perform his concert for an empty cemetery. Flavia Z. Drago, through Gustavo, shows us how to make a dream come true.  Here is a passage from the book.

As the days went by, Gustavo
couldn't stop thinking . . .
What if no one shows up?
What if they don't
like my music?
What if they don't like me?

Except tonight was The Night
And this time, he couldn't hide.

Conforme el tiempo pasaba,
Gustavo no podia dejar de
pensar . . .
?Y si no llega nadie?
?Y si no les gusta mi musica?
?Y si no les gusto yo?

Pero esta noche era La Noche.
Esta vez no podria esconderse.

The color palette is dazzling in the contrast between brilliant pink and orange.  On the front of the dust jacket, the framing around Gustavo, in his home, features papel picado, a form of art known in Mexico.  Delicate, elaborate patterns are cut into tissue paper.  This framing around Gustavo is varnished.  When you run your fingers over the items in this part of the image, they are raised.

On the back, the theme of papel picado is used to fashion the entire illustration.  The colors are reversed with orange being the prominent color.  Pink is the cut-out places.  The main part of the picture shows Gustavo and Alma in the cemetery together, both smiling. The skeletons, musical notes, lacey edging, and the same border at the top as the front are part of the back illustration.

The book case is white on the front and back.  On the back in pink are the same words shown on the back of the dust jacket.  They are:


On the front big and bold are the eyebrows, eyes, smile, and rosy cheeks of Gustavo.

In two hues of gray, rows, vertical and horizontal, of symbolic skeletons pattern the opening endpapers.  Along the right side is a set of photo booth pictures, four portraits of Gustavo with different facial expressions, curious, smiling, startled, and sad.  For the closing endpapers, the color of the design is two shades of rosy red.  The photographs, numbering six, capture the changes in Gustavo's life.  

These illustrations,

done in mixed media

are enchanting, shifting in size to place emphasis on the story and its pacing.  The intricate details invite readers to pause at every page turn.  They are a reflection of a ghost's life within the Mexican culture.  Gustavo's father is a ghost, and his mother is a skeleton.

The fish in the fishbowl in their living room is a skeleton, but there are bubbles to indicate it is breathing.  A floating teapot is pouring tea into a floating cup for Gustavo's mother.  In the Spanish edition the word NEWS on the mother's newspaper reads NOTICIAS.  EYE-SCREAM on the dessert truck in town is changed to HELADOS YETI.  Little skulls with wings and antennae fly around Gustavo and the other monster children.  Every time you read this book; you will discover more wonderful elements.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  It's when Gustavo is trying to get close to the other children by disguising himself as something else other than himself.  On a white background are a group of monsters, five altogether.  There is a skeleton girl wearing a frilly pink hat.  She is waving her arm where bubbles flow from a circle-shaped wire.  She is behind a Frankenstein character.  In front of him is a werewolf in a dress with a bow in her hair.  She is carrying a soccer ball.  Next to her with a hula hoop around its waist is a creature from the Black Lagoon.  Alma is on the far right, carrying a handful of colorful balloons on strings.  Gustavo's face is one of the balloons.  I love this scene.

Gustavo: The Shy Ghost and Gustavo: El Fantasmita Timido written and illustrated by Flavia Z. Drago is in a word, delightful.  Readers of all ages will be fascinated by the artwork and captivated by the story whether it is read in English or Spanish.  The Spanish when read aloud is musical.  For its portrayal of a ghost, a culture, and overcoming shyness, this book needs a place on both your personal and professional bookshelves in both languages.

To learn more about Flavia Z. Drago and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At her website you can view interior images from this book, not shown in the illustrations at the publisher's website or at Penguin Random House.  Also at the publisher's website are an activity kit and author's note you can download.  Flavia Z. Drago has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  This book and Flavia Z. Drago are showcased by librarian Matthew C. Winner at The Children's Book Podcast.  Please enjoy the video below.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Built To Restore

Repeatedly we humans go about our business, small and large, without regard for the effects on others around us.  We rarely tend to give thought to how our changes to the environment will impact those living in the wild.  Our alterations to their areas have a ripple response, upsetting long standing homes on the ground and in trees, feeding practices, and sleeping habits.  

One crucial element of their lives is how and where they move on a daily, seasonal, or yearly basis.  In our efforts to make our travel more advantageous, we have hindered their travel.  Crossings: Extraordinary Structures For Extraordinary Animals (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, October 13, 2020) written by Katy S. Duffield and illustrated by Mike Orodan is an extraordinary exploration of humans' efforts to make movement safer for the animals who reside with us on this planet.

Over, under, across, through.
Around the world, construction crews build
overpasses, underpasses, bridges, and tunnels---
ways for people to get from one place to another.

These overpasses, underpasses, bridges, and tunnels have greatly hindered the lives of animals.  Innovative thinkers across our globe have imagined, designed, and continue to build solutions.  In the north, along the Trans-Canada Highway, there are forty plus overpasses and underpasses which a variety of animals use.  Some of these animal pathways are fenced to safely direct those that use them.

Did you know that across the ocean in Africa, Kenya to be specific, an underpass now allows two separated groups of elephants to mingle?  Much like a giant spider web, rope bridges across a highway in Australia allow squirrel gliders to skillfully cross, protected from harm.  Have you heard of the red crabs who live on Christmas Island?  In numbers too high to count they leave the interior of the island making for the Indian Ocean to lay eggs once a year.  Bridges have been built for them.

Experts have conceived special little alleys for spotted salamanders, beneath human roadways, for them to use in the spring in the state of Massachusetts.  In Arizona coyotes and a host of other animals wander safely over a highway.  In case you might be wondering how they know where to build these special routes for animals, studies are conducted following prints and the scat left by local critters.

In order for pangolins to be able to get proper food, shelter, and find mates, a shapely bridge over the Bukit Timah Expressway allows them to maintain their lives in Singapore.  Through this book, we visit twelve spaces in twelve places around the world, fascinated by the strides made for our fellow animal companions.  It's an inspirational and hopeful look at what we can do if we make the right choices.

After the introductory sentences, questions and answers, for each entry Katy S. Duffield has a single bold statement on each two-page presentation.  Opposite or under each of these, she adds, in smaller print, a short paragraph offering more details.  Each of these sections are connected by repeating one (or more) of four important words which supplies a nice rhythm to Katy S. Duffield's informative narrative.  Here is one of those bold statements, followed by a partial paragraph.

Titi monkeys tightrope ACROSS blue rope bridges
that keep them safe above a Costa Rican road.

Costa Rica's smallest species of monkey, the
titi, is endangered.  A group of young people,
Kids Saving the Rainforest, found a solution to
help save them . . .

The dramatic open and matching dust jacket and book case quickly capture readers' attention.  The darkness of the overpass extends over the spine to the far, left side.  The setting sun highlights the movement of the adult cat over the road.  Lights from the fast-moving vehicles stream beneath it.  On the left section of the overpass on the back, two younger cats saunter behind their parent.  The color palette here is a prelude to the stunning artwork in the entire book.  The white title text is raised and varnished.

On the opening and closing endpapers, illustrator Mike Orodan features a single titi monkey sitting on a loop of blue rope, its long tail hanging toward the bottom of the page.  It is looking toward the sky in the background.  On the first set of pages the sky is streaked with dawn colors.  On the second set of pages, the sky has deepened in richer hues as the first stars twinkle above the single titi monkey with a child now clinging to its back.

On the title page with a white background, four animals highlighted in this book use the letters in the title text to move.  The majority of the images 

rendered by hand with graphite pencils and Adobe Photoshop

span two pages in breathtaking displays of animals around the globe, the dangers they face, and the structures made to assist them.  For these illustrations we are alternately brought close to the animals or move back for a more panoramic perspective.  

The details in the animals' characteristics are marvelous.  For many of them Mike Orodan uses a fine line of light to outline their forms.  His application of color fashions fabulous scenes.  Shadow and light are used masterfully.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture showcasing the blue penguins found in Oamaru, New Zealand.  A lighted tunnel was built so they could feed at the sea during the day and travel back to their young in the evening without crossing a dangerous highway.  On the left side is a close-up view of one of the penguins now in the tunnel.  On the right side three more penguins are entering the tunnel at different points, their size appropriately shown.  Beyond the opening of the tunnel is an exquisite scene of cliffs, the beach, the turquoise sea and the sky glowing from the setting sun.  That fading sunlight circles inside the beginning of the tunnel and bathes the penguins in gorgeous colors.

You will be educated.  You will be entertained.  This book, Crossings: Extraordinary Structures For Extraordinary Animals written by Katy S. Duffield with illustrations by Mike Orodan, is one to encourage others to take similar steps when presented with these situations.  It will promote discussions and further investigation.  At the close of the book are two more pages with additional information about each of the animals.  There is a selected bibliography and further reading section.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

By accessing the website of Katy S. Duffield by following the link attached to her name, you can discover more about her and her work.  Katy S. Duffield has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Mike Orodan has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images, including the one I mention here as a favorite of mine.

This title and illustrator are featured at author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  November 22, 2020

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Two Times The Glee

Laughter is a gift.  Life gives it to us in the form of unexpected incidents or antics, spoken and written words, facial expressions or visual representations.  We connect to these incidents, antics, words, expressions and representations because we have been in similar positions or because they are the exact opposite of what we anticipate.  Our sense of humor is enlarged. Our memories have an additional laughter factor to enhance our levels of happiness. Our view of the world is altered in the best possible manner.

There is no denying the place our stuffed animal toys have as companions in our lives, providing us with comfort and the most loyal of confidants.  Louis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 6, 2020) written by Tom Lichtenheld with illustrations by Julie Rowan-Zoch takes us into the inner sanctum of teddy bear musings. Louis is ready for change.

From day one . . .

things have gone downhill. 

Louis is a cushion for his boy's head.  When the child's nose needs wiping, Louis's arm is downright handy.  The teddy bear is used as an entree in prehistoric feasts.  Louis is perturbed.

Louis finds himself deep in sand, swirling in water, as the house canine's bed, and the victim of a needle and thread.  Wherever the boy goes, so does Louis.  He is forgotten on public transportation.  How is this possible?  Louis is ready for drastic action.

He has plans to leave.  At first the rain foils his efforts.  Then the younger sibling needs him for her tea party.  There is also the visit to school which is unavoidable.  Louis can hardly wait until that is over, so he is closer to bolting.

Finally, this longest of all days is nearing an end.  As soon as the boy is in bed, with the lights off, Louis is making his getaway.  Or is he?

It's not often we are inside the mind of a cherished teddy bear.  This much loved but also sometimes neglected, at least in the mind of the bear, toy gives voice to its frustrations through the words of Tom Lichtenheld.  Sentence by sentence this bear lists its grievances, building toward its plan (much like a disgruntled child) for an escape.  Then, with the gift of a skilled storyteller, Tom Lichtenheld shifts the narrative just enough to have readers wondering if the bear is as dissatisfied as it says.  It is here the humor heightens.  Here are two sentences, one following the other.

I can bear it no longer.

The next time this kid
squeezes me, I'm outta here.

In her debut as an illustrator, Julie Rowan-Zoch demonstrates her ability to enhance the words of a narrative through her playful, comic images.  On the white canvas of the open dust jacket her full-color illustrations engage our attention immediately.  Louis with his textured fur, peeking from the gift box with a wink and a smile, looks adorable.  The title text and the wrapped package are varnished.  To the left, on the back, after a bit of time with his boy, his expression has changed.  He is downright grumpy as the boy, oblivious to his disdain, gives him a hug.  The words here read:

A boy and his bear . . .

a love story? 

The book case is designed as the wrapped package.  The background is blue tied in a large red bow on the front.  The red ribbon crosses the spine perfectly, extending to the left as the crossed ribbon on the underside of the box.  

The opening and closing endpapers have a charcoal canvas.  In white is a pattern of the boy's toys, the household canine, and other items you see in the story such as the toy dinosaur, a pin cushion with pins, an umbrella, and a bowl of cereal.  On the title page, between the text is the wrapped gift box, unopened.

These illustrations rendered

in Procreate on an iPad.

(It is interesting to note

the text type was set in a font based on Julie Rowan-Zoch's handwriting.)

The sizes of the pictures vary from double-page pictures, some showing two different incidents in one image, to single-page pictures or to several smaller visuals on a single page.  The perspective changes for dramatic effect and increased humor.  The expressions on Louis's face and the boy's face convey a range of emotions.  Careful readers will notice the extra special details Julie Rowan-Zoch includes such as the toy pig being packed in a bindle by Louis when he is ready to run away.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page illustration.  Streaks of blue hues on the background indicate a rainy day.  To the left of the gutter we move close to the boy in a yellow, hooded raincoat.  His eyes are closed with a slight smile on his face.  In his right arm, tucked inside his raincoat is Louis.  The boy holds a large red umbrella over them in his left hand.  The umbrella fills the upper left top and more than half of the right side of the image. 

Through the voice of this teddy bear in words and illustrations readers come to understand no decision is every set in stone.  Each choice, however dissatisfied we might be, needs to be carefully weighed.  Louis written by Tom Lichtenheld with illustrations by Julie Rowan-Zoch is a delightful story of the ups and downs of forever friends.  I highly recommend this title for storytime themes of bears, toys, humor, or friendship.

To learn more about Tom Lichtenheld and Julie Rowan-Zoch and their other work, please follow the link attached to their name to access their websites.  Tom Lichtenheld has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Julie Rowan-Zoch has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  In her Instagram feed Julie has a lot of different costumes for Louis children will enjoy viewing.  As a debut illustrator Julie Rowan-Zoch is featured on Maria Marshall's site, KidLit411, Beth Anderson's site, the Soaring '20s, Jena Benton's site, Susanna Leonard Hill's site, and Critter Lit.

It is usually forbidden in most schools due to the fact its appearance, when not in use, can cause an assortment of problems, especially for the school custodians.  This rule, however, never matters to a select few students.  They can be caught smacking and chewing with abandon and are reminded to dispose of their gooey treat.  On those special days when the rule is temporarily lifted, in short order all are reminded of the detriments of gum.  

When it gets stuck where it is not wanted, it is disastrous.  On Account Of The Gum (Chronicle Books, October 6, 2020) written and illustrated by Adam Rex is a journal, in a day, of gum being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  As if having gum in your hair is not bad enough, be afraid.  It can get worse.

That's the gum.

Right there.

That you got in your hair.

Your dad has an answer to this problem . . . scissors.  Well, that does not work.  Now the scissors and the gum are stuck in your hair.  On the Internet, two sticks of butter are said to release the gum and the scissors.  Four items are now adhered to your hair.  Things are looking grim.

Auntie's antidote is wrong.  Grandpa's noodles and bacon sure don't assist in this issue at all.  Perhaps a rabbit to eat Auntie's grass will help.  Nope. 

Another animal is added to scare the rabbit.  A noisy household appliance does absolutely nothing about either of the critters now seated on the head of hair.  Somehow a cake enters the scene and becomes a mess on the floor.  Auntie is shown the door.

In what seems mere minutes, everything but the kitchen sink and everyone else (A guy with bees?) arrives to do their best to get the mess out of your hair.  You shout in our loudest voice.  You are heard and surprisingly enough, appropriate actions result.  In fact, something miraculous happens.  Who knew?  This is a day to remember.  It will be properly recorded, too.  HA!  

The words in this story roll out in conversational, rhyming word play.  Adam Rex has an unseen narrator talking with the child about the gum in their hair. This voice speaks as if they are right in the room with the child.  This elevates the comedy with every page turn until you are laughing out loud, unable to contain your mirth.  And some of the remarks made as an aside will have you rolling on the floor with exuberant elation.  Here is a passage.

       I know what to do:

It's a little bit mean,
but the cat always gets
really scared when I clean.

Just watch---she'll run off
and hide under the bed
if the vacuum comes anywhere
close to your head.

The marbled pink canvas on the open and matching dust jacket and book case looks suspiciously like pink bubble gum.  It's a perfect choice for drawing our attention to all the items and critters in the child's hair.  At this point the gum is the least of their worries.  As if all the action in their hair is not funny enough, the expression on their face is sure to promote giggles and grins.  

To the left, on the back, is a Johnny Bubble and his Pals cartoon.  It refers to the child's current problem and one of the animals. This illustration looks like those comics you find inside bubble gum wrappers.

On the opening and closing endpapers a collage of all types of gum wrappers and gum is muted in hues of pink.  On the closing endpapers is the addition of five images.  These are in reference to the second to last sentence in the book.  This day is one for the history books, or at the very least, the family photo album.

The visual interpretation of this story starts on the inside of the opening endpapers with the child in bed blowing a bubble.  On the back of the title page, they are sleeping, mouth open and gum falling out.  By the time they wake up, get dressed and head for the kitchen on the title page, the gum in their hair is discovered.  

On the dedication and publication information page at the back we are told:

the art in this book was painted in Photoshop.

We also see that another member of the family is in a bit of a sticky situation, now.

Adam Rex alternates his image sizes between single-page pictures with text on the opposite side on a white canvas or two-page images with the text carefully placed within the illustration.  The wide-eyed looks on the child are comedy personified.  The family members' expressions on their faces and body postures are exaggerated to magnify the marvelous fun you are having reading this book.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single page picture.  At this point there is gum, scissors, grass, noodles, bacon, a rabbit, a cat, and a vacuum cleaner in the child's hair.  The child is seated at the kitchen table, still wearing the cape thrown over them prior to the cut-the-gum-out-of-the-hair failure.  This bib thing is resting on the table.  The child, shoulders hunched, and lips in a grimace, has rolled their eyes upward.  You can almost hear them thinking---"Why has this happened to me?"

If you want to have a storytime, one on one or with a large group, laughing themselves silly, read On Account Of The Gum written and illustrated by Adam Rex.  The rollicking rhythm of his words with his funny illustrations are sure to prompt requests of "read it again."  I would pair this with Lisa Wheeler's Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum.  No collection will be complete without a copy of this book.

To discover more about Adam Rex and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Adam Rex has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  On September 3, 2020 Deadpan, Page Turns, Storytelling & Digestion: An Interview with Adam Rex is hosted at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production by Elizabeth Bird, the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system.  I know you will enjoy this video posted by Chronicle Books.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Furry Friends Find Fun And Family

They are the ultimate companions.  Their distinctive personalities provide us with constant comfort and laughter.  Truthfully, without them our worlds would be incomplete.  They make us wholly human.

For this reason, let us look at three publications in the last five months with feline or canine characters.  In the first title, Joy (Candlewick Press, June 6, 2020) written by Yasmeen Ismail with illustrations by Jenni Desmond, a kitten shows us how to release merriment with total abandon.  You'll be ready to join this frisky feline in mere seconds.

Oh, boy! Oh, boy!
My favorite toy.
I feel joy!

A red ball of yarn caught in the paws of this mischief maker fashions a red tangled trail, until another object gets the scamp's attention.  A blue ball bounces across a room, over its other animal occupants, with the kitten close to it.  Momentarily pausing for an affectionate cuddle with a cat parent, the kitten, along with the ball, is off and running into a nearby lamp.

Kitten and ball go, go, go, until stopped by colliding into the large resident dog.  Several unplanned moves later, some due to the rambunctious dog, finds the youngster outside.  Down, down, down the steps of the porch, the little furry one boings and bounces.

This does not feel good.  This hurts.  The kitten wants its mom or dad.  In a quick minute, a parent is there, offering the necessary care.  Back inside they go, to curl up together in their bed.  Wait!  Oh, no . . . off the kitten goes.

Whether read silently or aloud the words by author Yasmeen Ismail will send your soul dancing with their rhyming, alliteration, and onomatopoeia.  Each carefully chosen word mirrors the antics of the kitten and her current favorite toy.  In addition to the tale of happiness the sentences tell, readers will be reassured by the gestures and care given by the parent to the kitten.  Here is a passage.



this happy soul! 

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, you are introduced to the story's characters, and the use of full color on white which is prevalent throughout the book.  The kitten, beginning her dance of glee on the front is varnished along with the yarn and title text.  To the left, on the back, the adult cat holds the kitten close in their red, green, and blue plaid bed.  A single curled string of red yarn is on the floor to the left of and behind the bed. 

On the opening and closing endpapers done in the bright red shown on the jacket and case is a tangle of white yarn strung across both pages and coming to rest as a white ball of yarn in the lower, right-hand corner.  On the dedication, verso, and title pages we see a sleeping adult in the bed on the left.  Bouncing dashes indicate the jumping of the kitten that has left the bed to begin the chase with the red ball of yarn.

Illustrator Jenni Desmond using

mixed media

depicts all the elation this kitten feels and displays.  Her images span two pages, portions of single pages, or are grouped together on a single page to portray movement and passage of time.  Cleverly placed dashes indicate the movement of the kitten and its current favorite toy.  At times, the words follow the same path as the dashes.  The facial expressions on the animal characters, especially the kitten, convey their every mood.  The perspective is usually one of observer in the room, but several times to place dramatic emphasis on a point in the narrative, we move close to the kitten.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  Across the bottom on a canvas of crisp white the lamp has fallen and is bent from left to right with the shade resting in the lower, right-hand corner.  Above the lamp in a series of loop-de-loops made by the dashes, the words on top, the kitten and blue ball travel.  Above the lamp and shade on the right, the kitten mid flip, is grinning in absolute satisfaction.

If you want to make your heart happy, experiencing the energy of that happiness, then this book is for you.  Joy by Yasmeen Ismail with illustrations by Jenni Desmond is a read aloud delight on every page.  I highly recommend this title for a storytime focusing on pets, playfulness, and to present how word play can create a mood or a moment.  You'll want to add this book to your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Yasmeen Ismail and Jenni Desmond and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Yasmeen Ismail has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Jenni Desmond has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image.  At Penguin Random House you can view other portions of the book.

It's not often a dog is categorized as a foodie.  Oh, we know how amazing it is that they can distinguish between the fruit, vegetable, and cheese drawer in the refrigerator.  When the cheese drawer is opened, they appear next to you, seated and ready for a treat, with the speed of light.  Their ability to distinguish one from the other is the stuff of legend.  They do love certain foods over other delicious delights.

In her debut picture book as author and illustrator Alexandra Thompson explores food, and the delectable life of a French Bulldog.  In A Family For Louie (Putnam, G. P. Putnam's Sons, June 6, 2020), we follow this canine foodie whose life is almost perfect, except for one thing.  He knows magical moments are better when shared.

Louie considered himself a
dog of very fine tastes.

He knew every chef in town.

He enjoyed the best restaurants and their finest fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  He never missed dessert.  In a park fountain he bathed before retiring in the evening with a book and a cup of hot cocoa.  As far as Louie was concerned this life of his was as heavenly as a gourmet meal.

Louie did notice other dogs sharing their days with humans.  Louie decided it might be nice to have a family.  What he did not expect was how hard it was to find a family.  One had terrible food choices, and another one had . . . horror of horrors . . . a cat!

As the sun dropped beneath the horizon, Louie's spirits dropped too.  Maybe there was no family for him.  Louie wandered from the park to the town.  What was this?  A new bakery?

Outside the bakery was a little girl Louie did not recognize.  She was friendly.  Louie was uncharacteristically shy.  It seemed that a cupcake could win the heart of a very particular French Bulldog.

When the story begins author Alexandra Thompson paints an endearing picture of Louie with her words.  We immediately identify with the life he has made for himself.  This seemly perfect life is an ideal segue into what Louie needs most.  Humor plays an important part in his attempts to find a family leading us into a gentle, welcome resolution.  Here is a passage.

The next day, Louie saw
a family having a picnic
at the beach.

He thought he might ask to join them,
but when Louie approached . . .

they were eating Jell-O salad
and sardine sandwiches!

These digitally designed illustrations by illustrator Alexandra Thompson convey with detailed charm Louie, his love of food, and his search for a fuller life.  In looking at the open dust jacket readers get a glimpse on the front, right, and back, left, of what that life can be for Louie.  On the front he is looking into the new bakery window with the little girl and her mother as silhouettes.  The title appears as though it is the name of the bakery.  The framing on the window is framing his new beginning.  

To the left, on the back, is a circular, decorative frame around a picture of Louie and the little girl.  They are both holding cupcakes with the cherry on top already consumed.  There is sheer contentment on their faces.  The words above them read:

Life is sweeter
when shared with friends.

The book case is a double page image of a country scene.  The background is a pale blue sky with pink light and clouds.  To the right of the spine on a hillside with meadow flowers, Louie, the little girl, and her mother are seated beneath a tree having a picnic. 

The opening and closing endpapers tell a tale too.  They represent Louie's life before and after he meets his new family.  It's a scene in the city featuring a single arched window in a wall with lanterns on either side.  

Each visual is either a double-page picture, a group of smaller images, or a single-page illustration.  Due to the technique employed by Alexandra Thompson, your eyes are immediately drawn to Louie in each one.  His distinctive facial expressions and body postures depict his every mood.  You'll find yourself falling in love with this little dog.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a full-page picture.  It's nighttime in the town.  In the background stars glow in the sky as lights shine in building windows.  Two trees on the left side of the park stand in dark dusky purple silhouette.  On the right side is a large tree with roots extending across the entire page.  Beneath those roots Louie has carved out a space for himself.  We see it in a cutaway.  The sight of him reading, snuggled in a blanket with his cup of hot cocoa, is precious.

Readers will become attached to the character in this story who is looking for a family.  A Family For Louie written and illustrated by Alexandra Thompson is about finding the most valuable piece missing from the puzzle that is your life.  I know this book will be a favorite for storytimes.  Give your listeners their favorite stuffed toy dog to hold when you share this book with them.  You'll want to add this to your professional and personal collections and gift it to dog lovers you know.

To learn more about Alexandra Thompson and her other work, follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  She has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Alexandra Thompson is a guest at author Katelyn Aronson's site.  At the publisher's website you can view the opening endpapers.  I believe you'll enjoy the reading of this book by its creator.

Sometimes our furry friends' personalities take zeal to an over-the-top level.  They see the world around them in an entirely different light than those with whom they share it.  It is this contrast which generates roll-on-the-floor hilarity.

There is a new cat in town who fits this description with excellence.  No Fuzzball! (Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., August 4, 2020) written and illustrated by Isabella Kung is a debut release certain to leave a lasting impression long after the final word is read.  Get ready readers for a riotous read on the wild side.

Hello, I am


Perhaps you have never heard a name like this before,
but that is because you have not met
a queen like me.

This cat believes she is a queen because her humans, her subjects, scream at her, calling her name throughout the house.  She is certain they honor her every request when they are really going about their day. When she sees a packed suitcase, she is certain it is a present for her.

Her family is not happy she decides it is a new bed.  Tending to her ruffled fur after being lifted out of the suitcase, she is unaware they have left the house.  She is shocked at this discovery.  How could this happen?!

She muses about their possible reasons for leaving.  She is thrilled they took the dog, 

that disgusting slobbering mess.

Now she can nap in peace.

She is surprised to find them still absent after her nap, so she starts to roam around the house, worrying about possible scenarios in which they are hurt or kidnapped. In order to dispel these fears, she is determined to be a different kind of ruler.  She does her queenliest best as a cat of cats to spruce up the house.  Will they love what she has done to the place (palace)?  What do you think?

Told in the words of her queenship, humor is replete on every page. The authenticity of No Fuzzball's remarks, her point of view, is purr-fect.  As you read this story, it is hard not to think of author Isabella Kung as a cat whisperer.  Here is a passage.

A queen cannot tolerate such disrespect!
I demand a formal apology . . .

Wait, they left?

How dare they
forget their place?!

What has gotten into them?

There is no doubt in your mind when looking at the open book case, this cat is a bundle of energy, somewhat out of control to her humans, but having the time of her life.  She is a maker of messes.  A destroyer of calm.  And she will always cause you to giggle and grin.  The yellow ribbons on the right, front, cross over the spine to wind around, framing a collection of cat toys on the left, back.  In the center are sentences from the start of the narrative.  In a stroke of genius, a smaller No Fuzzball is casually leaning on the ISBN.

On the opening and closing endpapers readers are treated to the many moods of No Fuzzball.  The 15 images on the first set of endpapers are placed on a white canvas with red as an accent color.  The second set of 15 visuals with blue as the extra hue are also on a white background.  Here is also information about Isabella Kung.

On the verso and title pages it appears as though torn lavender paper reveals orange paper under it.  On the title page No Fuzzball is ripping the paper to reveal the No in the title.  She is at her catastrophic best.

These illustrations by illustrator Isabella Kung span two pages, single pages, or several smaller visuals are grouped on a single page.  No Fuzzball's fur is textured to the point you feel as though you might want to touch it, but you won't because this is No Fuzzball.  Shades of purple and red lend themselves to special marked moments.  It's the looks on the face of No Fuzzball and her subjects which will have you bursting into laughter.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  It's when No Fuzzball is taking a nap.  Four lighted shapes of the sun shining through a window move from left to right, two on either side of the gutter.  These shapes are outlined in a golden orange color.  They are placed on a wooden floor in a muted purple.  No Fuzzball moves around in different positions which are typical but also comedic.

If you are looking for loads of fun and funny, No Fuzzball written and illustrated by Isabella Kung, her debut release, is a claw-some selection.  The constant comparison between the cat's beliefs and reality provide readers with a true page-turner.  You'll be asked to read it repeatedly.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Isabella Kung, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Isabella Kung has accounts on Instagram and TwitterIsabella Kung is a guest on Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, The Soaring '20s and at Jena Benton Writer & Illustrator.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Isabella Kung was part of a Scholastic Book Fair Book Joy Live event hosted by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.  Please take a few moments to enjoy these two videos.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

To Sit For Change

As a child, depending on your family and when you are born, you are somewhat shielded from events in human history unless they affect you, your family, or friends, personally.  For those growing up in the 1950s, based on the household income, the main form of information was print and radio with television starting to become more popular.  It was not until the 1960s when many homes could afford to own a television.  News was not reported as quickly as it is today, especially given the predominance of social media sites. 

Through the collaboration of esteemed authors and illustrators, nonfiction picture books thankfully disclose and showcase people, events, and the world around us which has not received the attention they deserve.  Above The Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball (Abrams Books for Young Readers, October 6, 2020) written by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Frank Morrison is a fascinating account of a basketball legend who played with a signature new style.  At twenty-five years old he also took a stand against racial discrimination when few had the courage to do so.  His story is one you will long remember.

On a steamy summer day in 1945,
a boy and his brothers
played stickball in the street.

There were other parks hosting a variety of sports, but they were for whites only.  This little boy was black.  His given name, Elgin, represented his father's favorite watch.  At an early age he knew the value of time.  Time and change could work together for good.

At the age of fourteen Elgin and the neighborhood boys finally had a hoop they could use for a game of basketball.  Elgin was not much of a talker; he simply played his best game.  His technique was startlingly unique.  Everyone stopped and stared at Elgin.  He was a natural.  His jumping and leaping earned him the nickname of Rabbit.

Springarn High, an all-black school, was where Elgin starred in organized, indoor sports.  He could do anything from anywhere on the court.  Unable to attend a university in his hometown due to whites only, he headed to the College of Idaho.  People in Idaho were amazed at Elgin's display of basketball skills.  His first winter with the team brought them victories.  Another victory happened at the same time; Rose Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus.

Transferred to Seattle, Elgin continued to make the news with his playing.  So did black students in Arkansas who attended classes in an all-white school.  In 1958 Elgin started playing professional basketball.  It was a hard life with not the same perks or popularity it garners today.  Travel and sleeping accommodations were rarely the best.  While these players struggled, so did a group of young black women and men who chose to sit at a lunch counter in Wichita, Kansas for whites only.

In 1959 Elgin and his team arrived in West Virginia.  They walked away from all the whites only hotels.  Elgin ended up eating a cold meal alone in the guest house they found would house everyone.  When it came time to play the game that night, Elgin refused to dress in his uniform and play.  He sat on the bench during the game.  This action by Elgin Baylor changed the rules of the NBA.  No team would any longer frequent a hotel or restaurant that practiced racial discrimination.  During his career, Elgin Baylor made history with his singular moves on the court.  His move behind the court sidelines in 1959 created a lasting change, a win against practiced prejudices.

Research is evident in the intimate portrait painted by the words written by author Jen Bryant.  Descriptive adjectives and verbs recreate vivid moments in the life of this accomplished sport and activist figure.  At several crucial points in the narrative Jen Bryant repeats key phrases for emphasis.  Small bits of conversational remarks add to the authenticity.  Another superb technique is the parallel of Elgin's achievements with those of other civil rights figures and events.  Here is a passage.

He'd HANG there, suspended, floating like a bird or a cloud,
changing direction, shifting the ball to the other side,
twisting in midair, slashing, crashing,
gliding past the defense, up---up---above the rim.

And with a flick of his wrist,
or a roll off the fingertips,
he put the ball IN.

The way he played was so
different that people
stopped what they were doing
and watched.

Looking at the open dust jacket on the right, front, artist Frank Morrison gives Elgin Baylor a long body to place importance on his abilities on the basketball court.  He was a giant in his maneuvers and overall performance.  Elgin Baylor's body is varnished to shine.  To the left, on the back, an interior image is used.  It's a close-up of Elgin Baylor holding his NBA Rookie of the Year trophy with a sea of spectator faded faces to the left and right of him.

On the book case, a darkened canvas shows a younger Elgin Baylor playing on the basketball court alone at night.  On the left the hoop extends from the upper, left-hand corner with a basketball moving to go through it.  Along the bottom is the presence of a home and city lights in the distance.  On the right Elgin is leaping up and leaning back after the ball releases from his hands.  You can almost hear the air moving with the precision of the throw.

The opening and closing endpapers are a muted, dusty shade of blue mirroring the color of Elgin's uniform with the Lakers.  On the title page, the visual of his uniform number and name provides a background for this player leaping for a shot with one hand on the basketball.  It is a smaller version of the front of the dust jacket.  The verso and dedication pages use the illustration from the book case.

These striking images by Frank Morrison are rendered 

using oil on illustration board.

They are atmospheric, dramatic, poignant, and highly animated.  Their size enhances the narrative and its pacing.  They are single page, edge to edge, and double-page, edge to edge.  Their perspective shifts with the story.  (You will literally get goosebumps and gasp at some of the scenes.)

One of my many, many favorite illustrations, okay two of my many, many favorite illustrations are when Elgin Baylor is younger and first demonstrates his skills, and the day after he sits out the game in protest at West Virginia.  In the first against a pale blue sky with peach and pink clouds Elgin Baylor soars legs spread wide as he leaps, one arm down at his side and the other reaching up as the basketball leaves his fingertips.  Behind and around him is a starburst when the sun catches something shiny.  This is a single-page painting.  In the second scene, across two pages, a group of four black youth are gathered and reading an open newspaper sports pages.  Two are positioned on either side of the gutter.  The intensity in their faces is wonderful.  Behind them are city buildings and a fence indicating their court.  On a pole with a backboard is a wooden bucket held together with metal hoops.

Even after several readings I am astounded at the history taking place in this book when I was only a little girl. (Elgin Baylor retired from the NBA a year before I graduated from high school.)  This title, Above The Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball written by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Frank Morrison is an exquisite nonfiction picture book biography.  The words can be read repeatedly, and the artwork invites scrutiny.  As a read aloud it will not only inform but promote discussions and research.  At the close of the book are an author's note, further book reading, websites, and audio recordings, special sources for young readers, notes, and a detailed timeline.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Jen Bryant and Frank Morrison, please visit their respective websites by following the link attached to their name.  At Jen's site there is a link to preview pages from the book.  Jen Bryant has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  Frank Morrison has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website is a video with Frank Morrison speaking about the art for this title.  At A Fuse #8 Production, School Library Journal, Elizabeth Bird, the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system, interviews both the creators of this book. 

UPDATE:  The Horn Book, Five questions for Frank Morrison, February 10, 2021.  It is an informative interview about this title.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Walks On The Wild Side

They walk among us, sometimes seen, and other times unseen.  Purpose is in every step they take.  A future destination guides their direction.  Perhaps they follow a well-worn path or a completely new route.  For some it takes only a day to reach their intended place and for others it is considerably longer. 

One creature known for its unhurried and steady pace is a turtle.  Turtle Walk (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, October 6, 2020) written and illustrated by Matt Phelan is a family's exceptional trek through what is expected toward something extraordinary.  This journey will be long remembered by readers for its priceless and precious delight.

Turtle walk. Nice and slow.

Here we go.

Four turtles leave their home on a green spring day.  They pass by other wildlife enjoying the season.  Voices, the two youngsters, ask if they have arrived yet.  The answer is no.

Time passes, summer sun, is warming blooming blossoms, active insects, and happy children swinging on swings on a playground.  Fireflies light the family huddled together at night.  They have not reached their goal.

Leaves are turning autumn shades of orange, red, and yellow.  People and animals are gathering apples and nuts.  A jack-o-lantern glows.  The family rests but have not come to the right spot.

Snow blankets the ground, making the traveling much slower.  The turtles still go.  When the now familiar question is asked, the answer is in the affirmative.  Another question is asked, and a surprising answer is given.  No one is anticipating the pure bliss which follows as a circle is closed.

Carefully selected words by author Matt Phelan guide readers into the story.  Their repetition elevates the narrative and encourages participation.  This repetition is also a wonderful literary technique to lead us into the contrasting conclusion.  The spare text allows for the illustrations to further enhance the story.

When you open the dust jacket the white canvas on the front, right, and back, left, accentuates the vivid green turtles and the title text representative of the four seasons, spring, summer, autumn, and winter featured in the interior.  This text is varnished.  On the back one of the smaller turtles in on the back of an adult (mother).  Beneath them in purple are the words:


On the book case the two younger turtles, left of the spine, are moving to catch up with their parents.  The adults are moving toward the right edge of the front.  On the opening and closing endpapers, the cool purple of winter provides color.  Prior to the title page an adult (father) comes out of their home in a mudbank by the pond.  Two butterflies glide by and above him.  On the double-page picture for the title page, the father beckons to the mother on the left as the two little ones yawn and stretch as they wake up, on the right.  All the letters in the title text are shades of green.

Watercolor and pencils were used to prepare the full-color art

by artist Matt Phelan.  The illustrations extend across full pages, double pages, or are clustered in loose shapes on a single page.  Black text is on white and white text is used on most of the colors in the scenes.

Each image is replete with delicate details and charming depictions of animals and some humans.  The turtles can be seen in more panoramic views like when they walk beneath black-eyed Susans or brought close to readers when they are asleep among a pile of autumn leaves.  These varying views complement the pacing and lead us, along with the younger turtles, to the marvelous moment and the expansive winterscape view.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is during a summer evening.  The turtle family is huddled together, the two adults encircling the youngsters.  They are cozy in a circle of green.  About them are swirls of twilight blues.  Above them in golden circles, bodies glowing are five fireflies.  The perspective places us closer to the fireflies looking somewhat down on the turtles.  All the turtles are smiling at this wondrous sight.

When you read Turtle Walk written and illustrated by Matt Phelan for the first time, you do so knowing you will be reading it again and again.  The exquisite images implore you to join them on their walk as the words provide a rhythm for their journey.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.  

To learn more about Matt Phelan, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Matt Phelan has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Matt Phelan was the featured creator on Author Spotlight Friday at Annie's Bookstop WorcesterHe visits author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast today to talk about this book.  At the publisher's website is a two-page activity guide.

Up in the far northern realm of the Arctic there lives an animal who touches noses with the same kind of animal to ask for food.  Can you imagine swimming as fast as six miles per hour?  These animals can do this because of their specially designed paws and legs.  They have black skin, but appear white because their fur is translucent, reflecting light.

It is a survival characteristic to have white fur when living in the Arctic.  Polar bears sometimes blend in with their surroundings.  A Polar Bear in the Snow (Candlewick Press, October 13, 2020) written by Mac Barnett with art by Shawn Harris follows a polar bear on a trip through the snow.  This bear moves with purpose.

There is a polar bear in the snow.

We cannot see this polar bear in the snow until it raises its nose to test the air.  Then the bear wakes up and begins to move. We have no idea where he is going or why he is intently going in one direction.

There are lots of seals in the snow, but the polar bear passes them.  He does not wish to eat.  He also does not wish to seek the sanctuary of a cave in the blowing snow.  

When the unseen narrator questions whether this polar bear is seeking a man, the answer is a resounding


This polar bear keeps on going through the snow until he can see his reflection in the water of the sea.  Now we know where the polar bear is going, but we still don't know why.  

When the reason is revealed readers will smile, wishing they have white fur so they can join this polar bear.  Once again on the snow, the polar bear is ready to go.  Where?

Individually the sentences are simple, but when they are connected, they form a captivating story, a story which will have you smiling from the beginning to the last two words.  You are not sure where the narrative or the bear is leading you, compelling you forward, page turn by page turn.  Mac Barnett cleverly asks questions and supplies answers while repeating one key sentence. 

You can already tell from looking at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, the artwork by Shawn Harris is going to be as brilliant as sun on a landscape newly coated with fresh snow.  Using 

cut paper and ink

he, through light and shadow, creates luminous images, realistically textured.  On the front, right, the polar bear looks right at the reader.  What does that look tell us?  The title text is varnished and raised.  To the left, on the back, all we see are the indentations of paw prints in snow, moving away from us.  

The opening and closing endpapers are a turquoise blue.  The verso and title pages have a snowy look to them.  The letters on the title page, due to shadowing, appear as if they are floating.  The same snowy look continues on the first two pages with the single sentence on the left.  Each change in the first three visuals are subtle, then the cut paper artistry begins in earnest.  These illustrations span two pages.

Shawn Harris brings us close to the polar bear, then we see him in an enormous vista of snowy mounds and hills. After encountering the seals, as they vanish, we see only his back half rambling off the right side.  Our point of view of him walking through the snowy wind is as if we are one of the Arctic foxes looking out from a cave.

When the polar bear in the snow reaches the sea, the hues of blue are crisp and cool.  The next three illustrations are breathtaking in their perspectives and depictions.  The third one is wordless, but most readers will gasp in admiration.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations (I can't select a sea scene without spoiling it for readers.) is when the polar bear walks past the cave with the Arctic fox family watching him.  Most of the polar bear is to the right of the gutter.  His head is bent as he leans into the snowy breeze.  The opening of the cave does cross to the left of the gutter.  To give readers a perception of how deep the foxes are in the cave, Shawn Harris has layered torn white paper with each circle a little bit larger than the one underneath it.  The foxes are placed in the far left, bottom corner.  There is an adult, and three young foxes.  Their body postures indicate curiosity.

When you think of the Arctic, snow, and polar bears you would never imagine the clever use of language and art found in A Polar Bear in the Snow written by Mac Barnett with art by Shawn Harris.  You can easily use this book in a study of bears, the Arctic, snow, or for the sheer pleasure of a superb story.  You will definitely be reading it more than once at a single sitting.  Readers will want to listen to it repeatedly.  Your personal and professional collections will not be complete without a copy of this book.

To learn more about Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Mac Barnett has another site here. He has an account on Instagram.  Shawn Harris has an account on Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube. At Penguin Random House you can view interior images.  I hope you will enjoy these two videos.