Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

A Foursome Of Seasonal Treats (Seasonal Treats #2)

 As mentioned in the first post, in times of darkness, especially on a global level, people will seek and embrace the joy of celebrations.  These observances remind us of family, unity, and connectivity.  They remind us of past, present, and future miracles.  

Four September publications draw our attention to three holidays.  They present the best each event offers. They individually and collectively are a form of light. The first of the four, Binny's Diwali (Scholastic Press, September 1, 2020) written by Thrity Umrigar with illustrations by Nidhi Chanani, follows a little girl anxious to acquaint her classmates with her favorite holiday.

Binny woke up happy but nervous.  It was her
day to share about Diwali, the Festival of Lights!

Each month her teacher, Mr. Boomer, asks a classmate to speak about a holiday they enjoy.  Eagerly Binny dresses in the clothes her parents placed for her to wear.  Her mother is wearing a sari her father bought her for Diwali.  People shop for gifts for each other during Diwali.

Wearing her new clothes, Binny eats special treats with her parents for breakfast.  She will take additional jalebis and pedas with her to school.  Her father encourages her with words as comforting as the food.  At school, her mother gives her a gentle reminder about the oil lamps used in the celebration.  

When Mr. Boomer calls Binny's name, something happens.  Shyness makes her nearly speechless.  She closes her eyes remembering her mother's words about the diyas, the oil lamps.  This is all this little girl needs for her excitement to be released. She explains Diwali's name, length, and what it represents. 

Each wonderful custom associated with this holiday is shared; the fireworks, the sparklers, the streamers, and the diyas.  She demonstrates the use of the colored powders, and she shares the delicious food she brought.  Best of all is the image she creates in the minds of her fellow students.  It is the image of a traveler on an airplane looking down at a city during The Festival of Lights.

Author Thrity Umrigar invites us to experience the joy Binny has for this special holiday with her combination of text and conversation.  She gives us insights into the specifics of this five-day celebration by weaving information into Binny's thoughts and in her actual presentation to her classmates.  With each added layer of description to her friends and teacher, readers will find themselves wishing they were in Binny's classroom.  Here is a passage.

Binny did want to share her favorite holiday with her friends.
But she couldn't find the words.

Mr. Boomer put a kindly hand on her shoulder.  "Take a
deep breath," he whispered.  "I know you can do this."

[Please note I am working with an F & G.]

When you open the dust jacket, the glorious complementary blend of hues of purple and golden yellow continues over the spine to the far-left edge.  The cut-out paper streamer Binny brings to her classroom supplies a wonderful decorative top border on the front and the back.  The expression on Binny's face is one of contented happiness as the glow of the diya is reflected in her eyes and the light wraps around her face.  The design on the front and back of the jacket extends to the edges of the flaps.

Thanks to John Schumacher, here is a look at the book case, case cover.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a pattern of diyas in shades of intricately decorated green, red, and blue on the palest of green backgrounds. Readers will notice the difference between the left side and the rights side.  Perhaps this represents before and after and during the celebration.  On the title page with a canvas of rich purple is a delicate design from left to right along the bottom lighted by diyas.  Binny is standing on the far right in her new clothes and her special blue suede shoes, holding a lighted diya.

These illustrations by Nidhi Chanani were rendered

digitally with handmade texture brushes.

They span page edge to page edge across two pages or single pages.  They supply an atmosphere of happiness and tradition.  Readers will be fascinated by the motifs in Binny's home, clothing, her community, and in the depictions of Diwali with all the lights spread before the homes. 

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  It is the pause taken by Binny when she can't think of what to say in front of her classmates.  On the left is a close-up of Binny.  We see her upper body and face with her eyes closed to concentrate.  Behind her on the right, crossing the gutter and going to the far-right edge is a scene of a community enjoying Diwali.  In front of the brightly colored homes, with all kinds of families standing in the doorways, are patterns of light made by the diyas.  This is an uplifting vision of goodness, of hope. 

Even now, after multiple readings of Binny's Diwali written by Thrity Umrigar with illustrations by Nidhi Chanani, a feeling of quiet joy wraps around this reader.  Readers will find a kinship with this girl and how Diwali is a welcome part of her life, and the lives of many others.  At the close of the book is a page titled The Diwali Story.  This is one of several legends about why Diwali is observed.  It is followed by The Five Days Of Diwali.  To close the author and illustrator have written notes about the meaning of this holiday to them.  This title is meant to be shared.  It is meant to be a part of your personal and professional collections. 

To learn more about Thrity Umrigar and Nidhi Chanani and their other work, please follow the link attached to their name to access their websites.  Thrity Umrigar has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Nidhi Chanani has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Here is a link to a Book Joy Live event hosted by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher featuring conversations with both the creators.  Enjoy this video with artist Nidhi Chanani chatting about this book.

This year Hanukkah begins on the evening of December 10, 2020 and finishes on the evening of December 18, 2020.  It commemorates a miracle, a miracle centered in light.  The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol (Candlewick Press, September 8, 2020) written by Arthur A. Levine with illustrations by Kevin Hawkes is a beautiful offering by two gifted collaborators.  It is one story inviting more, as he states at the end of his Author's Note:

I have often wished that we could build up a bit more mythology too.  In the same way that new recipes for matzah brei or a beautiful new piece of music can enhance our experience without changing the religious observances and meaning of Jewish holidays, I wanted to do that with a story.  I hope you enjoy!

Nate Gadol was a great spirit who had eyes as shiny as golden coins and a smile that was lantern-bright. In answer to people's prayers, he made things last as long as they needed to.

Nate Gadol has always been available for large requests such as making oil last for eight days thousands of years ago, or for the tiniest but most important task to bring happiness to someone sick.  If you needed Nate Gadol, regardless of the issue, he was there.  Many years ago, when a particular family left Europe to journey to America, they had nothing left to celebrate Purim, except for a small bit of chocolate held by Mrs. Glasser.   When she looked inside her handkerchief the chocolate had multiplied. To the delight of her husband and children, it kept multiplying!

Nate Gadol held a special place in his heart for this good-natured family.  He noted their kindness and generosity toward their neighbors when they reached their destination.  The winter of 1881 brought added hardship to the Glasser family and their neighbors, the O'Malleys.  To help the sick O'Malley child, Mr. Glasser sold a handmade piece of furniture to pay for medicine.  It left them with nothing.

Now, readers, what you need to know is this night was also Christmas Eve.  Nate Gadol, pondering the problem of the Glasser family heard a noise.  It seemed his friend Nick (wearing a red suit and sitting in a broken-looking sleigh) was in trouble.  The two chatted a bit about the smaller amounts of seasonal magic in the air this year.  Then Nate had an idea.  A trade was made.

Nate Gadol, maker of magic, visited the O'Malley and Glasser homes on this evening.  Traditions past were honored.  And new ones, began.

Woven into the words written by Arthur A. Levine is a bit of Nate Gadol's magic.  Sentence by sentence as if he is telling a story to us, face to face, he spins this enchanting tale with descriptive imagery.  He provides examples to support the wondrous accomplishments of Nate Gadol and the pure hearts of the Glasser family.  Even though we are holding a book in our hands, we lean in, captivated by every moment leading us to what was a miracle for two families.  Here is a passage.

That night happened to be Christmas Eve.  The wind howled through the cracks like an angry cat, and snow began to settle on the rooftops, where Nate Gadol stood looking out over the street.  Suddenly, Nate heard a rumble of something like hooves on tar, and a voice shouting "Whoooaaaa!" behind him.

In a stunning display of artistry, Kevin Hawkes creates a memorable person as evidenced by his depiction of Nate Gadol on the front of the open dust jacket.  Here is a being able to move with grace wherever he is needed.  We can see by the windows in the building two families are observing two holidays.  How glorious that the children look up and see Nate Gadol.  What you cannot see is all the gold foil on this jacket.  It brightens the text, Nate's hair, vest, boots, and bag.  It flows from his hands.  This golden magic continues throughout the book on Nate Gadol and when he works his miracles.  To the left, on the back of the dust jacket, on top of another building is Santa Claus, seated in his sleigh with his reindeer spread before him.  He is waving toward his friend.

On the book case readers will see a replication of the buildings on the dust jacket.  All the windows are darkened, and Nate and Nick are gone.  On the front of the case these words are written:

Nate Gadol is never far away.

The opening and closing endpapers are a pale, pale blue.  On the verso and dedication page a single piece of chocolate rests in a handkerchief.  On the title page Nate Gadol's bag sits between the text.

These illustrations by Kevin Hawkes were rendered

in acrylic

Each image is a double-page picture.  The text is placed within a separate element with a thin, red-ribboned border. The tiny gold foil details elevate the extraordinary events portrayed in each visual.  Nate Gadol is larger than life as we see how he views our world, above us, in front of us, next to us, and sometimes hidden. 

The details in each picture take us into the moment, initially drawing our attention to Nate Gadol and then bringing our eyes outward to the entire scene.  Within these illustrations Kevin Hawkes skillfully creates more than one perspective.  It's as if we are present in each setting. 

One of my many, many favorite paintings is for the text above noted.  The majority of the page is filled with a swirling of white and gray sky, snowflakes peppering every space.  In the lower portion of the illustration are red-brick buildings with rows of windows.  The most prominent building begins on the right-half of the left, crosses the gutter and extends to the right-page edge.  Of the six windows, two have lights.  The first has a single candle and the fourth from the left has a lighted menorah.  Standing on the roof, to the left of the gutter, is Nate Gadol, wind blowing through his hair and coat.  His body is twisted back to the right after hearing the noise.

This book, The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol written by Arthur A. Levine with illustrations by Kevin Hawkes, is certain to become a seasonal favorite among all readers.  It centers on the miracles of believing in that which we cannot see.  It holds light up to hope.  I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.  Please take a few moments to read the entire author's note at the end of the book or here at the publisher's website

To learn more about Arthur A. Levine and Kevin Hawkes and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names.  Arthur A. Levine and/or his publishing house have accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Kevin Hawkes has an account on Instagram.  Arthur A. Levine is interviewed by author Cynthia Leitich Smith on her site, Cynsations.  You are able to view interior images at Penguin Random House.

UPDATE:  Arthur Levine speaks about this book on NPR 

I'll bet you did not know one of the most bustling places on Earth is in the far, far north.  Here at the North Pole is the hub of all the mail written to Santa Claus.  In charge of this particular post office, Peppermint Post, is Postmaster Buck Growlersson.  As Christmas Eve gets closer and closer, the work becomes more frenzied.  Peppermint Post (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 15, 2020) written by Bruce Hale with illustrations by Stephanie Laberis is a story filled with a whole lot of hilarity and equal amounts of determination and a bit of Christmas luck.

You won't find the world's busiest post office in Mumbai, Manila, or even New York.  But head due north and there it is:  Peppermint Post.  

Shouting out orders to his postal workers, penguins, Postmaster Buck Growlersson makes sure the last wish is sent to Santa's Workshop.  Here the presents are made and loaded onto Santa's sleigh.  Buck finally allows himself to relax as he watches the sleigh carrying all the gifts, lifting into the sky.

As everyone is sipping on a well-deserved cup of hot cocoa, Buck makes a startling discovery.  It's a lost piece of mail!  Together with Fred, his head penguin, they rush to the Workshop.  The elf in chief says it's too late.  Buck begs, saying he will take the gift to Santa.

This is a challenge Buck and crew are not expecting.  The only available mode of transportation is a miserable-looking, back-up sleigh.  Fred volunteers all the workers to pull the sleigh.  How is that supposed to work?  Penguins can't fly.  They are not even supposed to be at the North Pole.

In what can only be described as a miracle, not without considerable trouble, Buck and the penguins guided by Fred start to travel skyward.  Their trip is fraught with danger and mishaps, and Santa seems to be always one house ahead.  Finally, Buck, Fred and the penguins arrive at one very special little girl's house at the same time as Santa.  Even now all does not go according to plan but remember Christmas can weave its own spell.  

As you read the words penned by Bruce Hale, you find yourself smiling, his carefree, conversational sentences inviting giggles and grins.  Lots of sound effect words invite reader participation.  Alliteration, rhyming, dialogue, and text supply a cheerful flow.  The repetition of a single phrase also welcomes readers to join in the telling.  Here is a passage.

Flying a sleigh wasn't nearly as easy as running a post office.
Buck and his team hit a few rough spots . . .

with a BISH

and a BASH,


Readers get their first glimpse of the comedy replete in every image on the front and back of the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  The expressions on Postmaster Buck's face and the crew of penguins vary between happiness, dismay and determined struggle.  You will notice the poor shape of the sleigh.  How is it even staying together?  The peppermint as the dot on the I and the single peppermint button on Buck's bag are a pleasing design touch.  Buck and his crew and the title text are varnished.

To the left, on the back, is a close up of a cup of hot cocoa in a Peppermint Post mug with the motto, Persistent, Punctual, Persevering.  Chunky marshmallows float on top of the cocoa.  Steam reaches to the gingerbread boy cookie and a letter to the left, written by Buck to Santa.  The letter is certain to have you laughing.

The opening and closing endpapers are red.  On the initial title page, a penguin is pushing a Peppermint Post cart loaded with letters.  On the formal title page Buck and Fred are at the window looking at Santa taking off from the North Pole with his sleigh loaded with presents.

The illustrations by Stephanie Laberis vary in size in support of the text and its pacing.  Her details ask you to stop at every page.  It is in the details that the narrative is enhanced by her work.  The postal clock face is a peppermint candy.  Before the penguins attempt to fly, Fred is reading a Flying for Dummies book with a red Christmas bulb attached to his beak.  Each image is highly animated.  Many of the facial expressions are exaggerated to elevate the humor.  I guarantee readers will laugh out loud more than once.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is on a single page.  Postmaster Buck is seated in his light blue chair with his back to us. (His name is on his chair.)  There is a note on his desk from Mrs. C.  You can see the peppermint candy attached to his hat resting on his desk.  His In box is empty.  His OUT box is stacked high.  Buck is lifting his hot cocoa for a taste, holding the missed letter in his paw.  In the window we can see the reflection of his front.  His face looks like that of a deer caught in the headlights.  It's a total YIKES moment.

Readers are going to love laughing at the trouble encountered by Buck and his crew and how it concludes through the merry text and visuals in Peppermint Post written by Bruce Hale with illustrations by Stephanie Laberis.  This takes the motto of our very own USPS to its maximum meaning.  This book is about the true meaning of the season, putting others before yourself.  Teamwork plays a hand in the outcome, also.  Your readers will certainly enjoy having a copy in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Bruce Hale and Stephanie Laberis, and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Bruce Hale has accounts on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.  Stephanie Laberis has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is an Activity Guide.

The best part of the shift in any season is to be able to share it with a best friend.  The joys of the Christmas holiday and its traditions are amplified when you enjoy making it special for someone else.  This spirit of giving is richly portrayed in a new book by author illustrator Tad Hills.  Mistletoe: A Christmas Story (Schwartz & Wade Books, September 29, 2020) is as charming as the two characters we meet.

Mistletoe greets the chilly morning.  Snow is falling.
What a beautiful day! Finally, it feels like Christmas, she thinks.

When Mistletoe arrives at her friend, Norwell's home, the snow is deeper.  She excitedly calls for him to join her.  Norwell has no desire to go outside in the cold.  He invites her inside for some tea and to sit by the warm fire.

Norwell keeps mentioning how nice it is inside.  They even decorate his Christmas tree.  Mistletoe keeps mentioning how wonderful it would be to go out in the snow together.  It's much too cold for Norwell.  He is staying inside.  On her way home, Mistletoe is inspired.

Rushing around her house, Mistletoe gathers every ball of yarn she can find, and she starts to knit.  She knits all the time, everywhere she is.  Christmas is getting closer, day by day.  Mistletoe runs out of yarn and hurries to purchase more, bringing as much as she can home.  She knits and knits and knits some more.

On Christmas Eve she is finished, falling happily asleep.  The task of delivering her gift on Christmas morning is not easy.  It is rather huge.  At Norwell's home cheerful Christmas greetings are exchanged as well as gifts which mirror the affection Norwell holds for Mistletoe and she holds for him.  Nothing will prepare you for the image of Mistletoe and Norwell finally out in the snow together.  

Each portion of this story flows gently with purpose to the next.  Tad Hills has a gift for writing simple but meaningful sentences designed to reach his intended audience.  The blend of text, conversation, and the characters' thoughts make for a more intimate story, connecting to readers' own experiences.  Here are two adjoining passages.

"Hmmm, I don't know." Norwell
walks to the window.  He watches the
snow fall. "Brrrr," he says.  "It looks
even colder out there now, Mistletoe.
I think I'll stay home, where it's cozy."

So Mistletoe puts on her hat, coat, scarf,
and mittens and sets out on her walk home.
She soon finds herself in a field of snow.  As
evening approaches, the world turns blue.  She
stops.  She is as quiet and still as she has ever been.

Mistletoe seated in the wreath on the front of the open dust jacket is downright adorable in her seasonal, colorful winter clothing.  Her sincere nature is mirrored on her quiet face.  Mistletoe and the wreath are varnished.  The text and snow are raised and textured to the touch in glittery white.

To the left, on the back, is a serene scene from the interior of the book, enlarged.  On a canvas of pale purple Norwell is lifting Mistletoe in his trunk so she can place the star on the top of his Christmas tree.  Here the text reads:

Celebrate friendship
and the gift of giving with
this cozy holiday story.

On the opened book case, case cover, is a wonderful depiction of Mistletoe running home across the snow after she has her great idea for a gift for Norwell.  A large portion of the top is a night sky brimming with snowflakes.  On the snowy white you can see footprints from left to right.  Racing toward the right edge is Mistletoe, bright red with a little green and gray on the stunning landscape.

On the opening endpapers is a lighter replication of the book case without Mistletoe present.  The closing endpapers are similar with one notable difference.  It is, after all, Christmas Day.

These illustrations by Tad Hills 

were created digitally in the Procreate app.

Tad Hills alters his image sizes from double-page pictures to a large loose circle on a single page, to full-page pictures, and smaller geometric shapes together on one page.  These accentuate the pacing of his story.  His double-page pictures are utterly delightful.  Sometimes he brings us close to his characters placing an emphasis on a moment, and other times we find ourselves stepping back to get a larger view.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the second passage above noted.  The world is colored in hues of blue, even the snow at the bottom of the double-page picture.  Snowflakes gently fall from top to bottom.  Tracks made by Mistletoe stretch from left to past the center on the right, curving a little bit when she stops.  Mistletoe stands with her face pointed upward.  There is a slight smile on her face and her eyes are closed. Her feet are nearly covered by the snow.

I always enjoy reading the dedications in books.  This dedication speaks directly to the words and art created by Tad Hills for Mistletoe: A Christmas Story.  It reads:

In memory of my grandmother Florence Bullard,
who taught me that the best gift comes from the heart and hand.

And to Annie and Eliza, nimble-fingered knitters extraordinaire.

This is a story to read when the snow is falling outside, and you are gathered with one or more children, friends, students, or family.  It is cozy and comforting.  We can never have too much of either.  I am happy to add this title to my personal collection.  I believe you'll want to have a copy, too.

To learn more about Tad Hills, and his considerable body of work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Tad Hills has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

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