Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Sustaining Sustenance

In the northern hemisphere winter is here.  Even though temperatures are chilly, snow blankets the ground, and winds whistle, those responsible for providing our food are hard at work.  They are maintaining, planning, and providing.  Given conditions across the globe during the continuing pandemic, their work has been multiplied more than we can fully comprehend.  We are grateful.

For many of us obtaining food provided by farms in 2020 and in the new year is a challenge.  Sometimes, there are shortages.  Sometimes, we lack sufficient funds.  Sometimes, we rely on others to shop for us.  Reading The Farm That Feeds Us: A year in the life of an organic farm (words & pictures, an imprint of The Quarto Group, July 21, 2020) written by Nancy Castaldo with illustrations by Ginnie Hsu brings new understanding to us about our food. 


Hurray for farms that supply us with the food we eat!
Some farmers grow crops like corn, tomatoes, and wheat.
Some farmers raise animals, like pigs,
chickens, and cows.  Some do both. 

So begins this book heralding the broad spectrum of activities and accomplishments on our farms.  The first two areas focus on farming and feeding and types of farms.  In the discussion of types of farms industrial versus free range and organic versus non-organic are explained.  The remainder of the book is divided into the four seasons beginning with spring.

We explore eggs and breeds of chickens, fruit orchards with a bit on beehives, preparing the soil for spring crops, machinery and tools used on farms, and picking those early spring crops.  Hens, depending on the kind, can lay between 150 and 300 eggs per year. Peas, lettuces, asparagus and radishes head to the farm markets. New lambs are born in the spring and the wool on adults is sheared.  Several types of sheep with exquisite wool are listed as threatened due to their diminishing numbers.

In summer spring blossoms turn to tiny fruit.  Photosynthesis is working in earnest.  People can come to farms to pick fruit crops.  Strawberries off the plant are the sweetest kind.  Corn is planted for harvesting.  Each variety has a purpose.  More time is spent on the beehives and gathering honey.  Did you know hay is cut three times per season?  Did you know by supporting smaller farms we help to increase food diversity?  Did you know a lot of chefs visit these smaller farms to offer farm to table meals on their menus?  When we buy local, we decrease the cost of transportation and help protect our planet.  While insects are vital to pollination, others need to be discouraged naturally from harming growth.

Apples and pumpkins are gathered in autumn.  Like corn, each variety is noted for taste and use.  Numerous households begin to cook the fruits and vegetables into items to be consumed later or to take to market.  Did you know cover crops are planted in the fall to help safeguard fields?  We learn about breeds of pigs, and the value of other animals like alpacas, cats, dogs, and goats on farms.

The arrival of winter brings a new kind of labor.  There is a lot of maintenance to barns, chicken coops, the beehives, and the machinery.  Wood is chopped to heat the house.  Orchard trees are trimmed.  On cold winter days and nights plans are made for spring by looking at seeds to be planted.  Bread is baked.  And all the animals are feed, watered, cleaned, and sheltered against the weather.  On the final two pages there is a discussion on how we can help small farms by the way we shop and eat.  We need to work together so good food is available to everyone.

Whether you were raised in a gardening family like I was, or have never been near a garden, this book written by Nancy Castaldo has much to offer.  The presentation of the facts is conversational and easily understood by younger readers.  It is as if we are there on the farm on a daily basis as participants.  Readers will appreciate the way two topics are flawlessly offered together.  For example, in the section on orchards, beehives are briefly showcased showing us how they are constructed.  Later in summer they are given their own two-page portion.

Each theme is given two pages.  More specific topics in that area add to our knowledge.  In the piece on milking cows, we are educated on milking machines and breeds of cows.  We are told about the milk each gives us, and other products made from their milk.  Here is a passage from that area and the opening for the chapters under the winter heading.

Brown Swiss
Considered the oldest breed, Brown 
Swiss cattle come from the Alpine
pastures of Switzerland.  Their milk
is excellent for cheese production.

Soft snow falls on the farm and all seems quiet.  The growing
season has ended, but the farm is still busy.  There is lots
to do during the winter, inside and outdoors, so that the
farm is ready for the next year.  It is time for the farmer
to catch up on repairs and plan for spring planting.

There is authenticity and a pastoral promise to the artwork we first see on the front and back of the case cover.  The full-color palette is warm and welcoming.  Tiny details ask us to pause and savor each scene.  On the back geometric shapes, like pieces in a quilt, frame these three questions:

Where does our food come from?
What role do farms play?
What's it like to be a farmer?

This is followed by two explanatory sentences.  

On the opening and closing endpapers is a rich, sunny yellow.  Between text on the title page is a resting sheep and a lamb. Chickens, apples, a beehive, and bees enrich the verso and contents pages.

Artist Ginnie Hsu complements and extends the text with her illustrations.  They range in size from double-page pictures to one page and a half, framed with smaller images and to groups of smaller visuals.  Elements are realistically rendered and express animation on the people and animals.  There is a collective camaraderie when people are together.  Even the single workers complete their work with an air of commitment and contentment.  Many of the pictures have small informative labels within them.  

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a partial page.  It shows a garden waiting for early spring crops to be harvested.  It features rows of a variety of radishes, red, yellow, and white.  A little girl, pleased with her efforts, has pulled two from the ground, one in each hand.  Running in front of her is a white bunny, scampering away from a meal for the moment.

Your appreciation for those who grow and raise food will greatly increase reading The Farm That Feeds Us: A year in the life of an organic farm written by Nancy Castaldo with illustrations by Ginnie Hsu.  This collaboration brings to readers an outstanding volume to include in your personal and professional collections.  At the close of the book is a glossary of thirty-four terms.

To discover more about Nancy Castaldo and Ginnie Hsu and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Ginnie Hsu's home page is a joyous gallery of art.  Nancy Castaldo has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.  Ginnie Hsu has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior images and download a teacher's guide.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


Two mornings ago, a new full-time neighbor called out to me asking how long everyone leaves up their holiday lights.  My reply was, "It varies."  Due to the unpredictability of the northern winters, some people leave their lights up all year, only lighting them in December.  For myself, I will leave all of them up and on for the twelve days of Christmas.  (On Christmas Eve, I spread luminaries across more than one hundred feet along the bottom of my hill.  Surprisingly enough, the candles stayed lit for six hours.)  The large pine on my hilltop will keep its lights lit for six hours during darkness until we have conquered COVID-19.  I also told this neighbor I ordered candles to put in all my windows all year long.  

Putting lights up around windows, draped on tree branches inside my home, and outside my home on bushes and trees reminds me to use my light and to be the light someone might need.  When people see the lights on display, I want them to believe in the hope the light represents.  I want them to believe people care about them.  Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, October 27, 2020) written and illustrated by Apryl Stott is an enchanting debut.  It is about being brave enough to be yourself.

Coco and Bear were friends from almost the first time they met.
They were very different:  Bear was big, Coco was small.
Bear was shy.  Coco was brave.

Despite these differences, the friends were exactly alike in one important characteristic.  They had compassionate hearts.  During a conversation, Bear expressed his wish for the other animals to see him as Coco did. 

His sadness brought to mind a saying Coco's grandmother always said.  There and then the duo decided it was time to let the animals know how kind Bear was.  It was important to 

bring some light.

Their dilemma was to how to do these two things.

Cookie baking and lantern making followed.  The companions set off to visit the other animals with hope in their hearts.  Badger, Rabbit, Hedgehog, and Skunk did not receive them well.  There were complaints.  There was grumbling.  The trek home was slow and cold.  

Suddenly, they heard a cry for help.  Coco nearly got stuck in waist deep snow, climbing on Bear's back to safety.  Another creature, nearly buried in snow, seeks security on Bear's back.  When Bear and his two passengers reach the other animals, animals looking for a lost child, Bear's true self shines like a lantern's glow except for one more thing.  Life, like Bear, is full of wonderful surprises if we trust Coco's grandmother's words of wisdom.

If you take two words from the title, kindness and light, readers will find they flow freely like a current through the narrative written by Apryl Stott. During the conversations between Coco and Bear their revealed personalities enrich our experience. We feel an immediate connection to them because of their shared understandings and affection.  This connection increases when they strive to make Coco's grandmother's saying a reality and bring about Bear's heart's deepest desire.  Through the word choices and use of language by Apryl Stott, we learn along with Coco, Bear, and the other animals of the forest.  Here is a passage.

"They say that I must be mean,
'cause I'm so big.  And some of
them are afraid of me."

"Noodle strudel," said Coco
in disbelief.
"Yeah," said Bear, sniffing.

Coco gave Bear a big, tight hug.  Because that's what made
her feel better whenever she was sad.

I don't know about you, but when I look at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case and see Coco and Bear walking in the woods together on a snowy evening, I want to be walking with them.  Who wouldn't want to be a part of this caring companionship?  The color palette here with the luminous overtones in pink and purple radiate kindness.  The title text is raised and embossed in foil.  Coco and Bear are varnished.

To the left, on the back, on the other side of the spine the scene continues.  The end of the log is jagged from its fall and open.  Pine trees coated in snow are mixed with deciduous trunks and branches bare of leaves.  Snow falls, blanketing the forest floor.

On the opening and closing endpapers readers are treated to exquisite, intricate line drawings.  On the left and right of each page, at the beginning and at the end, are large circular depictions in the center of each page.  Each one of these pictures are different.  They represent the efforts of Coco and Bear, before and after the rescue.  Around these four drawings the partial circles, and other decorative framings remain the same on the opening and closing endpapers.  Within these are forest creatures and other representative symbols.

With a page turn, a double-page picture of Bear and Coco walking in the forest greets readers.  Here the verso, dedication, and title pages are placed.  The snow is just starting to fall.  

These illustrations by Apryl Stott

were rendered in watercolor and digital ink.

She presents full-page images, edge to edge, circular illustrations, framed in twigs or leaves, and double-page visuals.  The type of flora framing the circular pictures changes each time.  It's as if we've stepped into the forest world, fascinated by what is unfolding.  There are two double-page wordless, wondrous illustrations.  The facial expressions on all the characters will endear them to you.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture.  It is as if we are a bird, hovering in place over Bear and Coco.  Along the bottom portion of the image, we see an array of snow-coated pine trees.  From above they look like opened flowers.  Winding above them in the snow is a path, prints showing where Bear and Coco have walked.  There are fewer pine trees above them.  The duo is now in the center on the right.  On the left side, they abandoned their sled laden with lanterns and wrapped plates of cookies. (Foreshadowing)

This book is beautiful to share any day, any time of year.  How wonderful though to begin the New Year by reading this delightful debut, Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light written and illustrated by Apryl Stott, with one or many readers.  It will promote the best kind of discussions.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.  (Sending a special message of gratitude to my friend John Schumacher for gifting me this book.)

To learn more about Apryl Stott and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Apryl has numerous suggestions for activities to use with this book.  Apryl Stott has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images and the full dust jacket.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Their Presence Is A Present

We are never sure what will grab our attention when we look outside our windows.  Will it be the sunrise glistening off ice crystals coating the branches and leaves on nearby trees and the weeds scattered in the fields?  Will it be a raptor soaring on wind currents?  Will it be white-tailed deer grazing on fresh green shoots in the spring?  Once we are out-of-doors our senses alert us to the trill of chickadees, the odor of rain on the rushing breeze, the blur of hummingbird wings as they feed on floral nectar, or rabbit tracks in newly fallen snow.  Each day is a surprise to be savored.

Once you have heard their call, it is unforgettable.  It is unique to them.  Secrets Of The Loon (Minnesota Historical Society Press, March 31, 2020) written by Laura Purdie Salas with photography by Chuck Dayton follows the growth of a newly hatched chick to her first migratory flight.  The blend of descriptive rhyming text with exquisite photographs transports you to the water and the daily journey these birds take.

Below white pines, at water's edge,
in guarded nest of mud and sedge,
squeezed inside an olive egg,
bill meets wing meets folded leg.

During the night under the light of the moon, a new loon is born.  She is frightened falling into the water from the egg, but she floats.  Her parents feed her tiny minnows and crayfish. 

She, along with her brother, avoids lurking predators in the water by riding on the back of her mother.  Soon the duo is too large to ride, so they hide under their father's wings.  When danger glides above the water, the new loon dives, her heavy bones carrying her swiftly where she needs to go.

Moon Loon can now capture her own food.  When two humans venture too close, father displays angry behavior, stirring the water and shouting out.  As summer turns to autumn, the loon child is encouraged to fly, again and again.

Sister and brother are left alone, their parents taking an annual journey.  Then, one day, wings stretch.  Feathers fluff in the wind.  Sister and brother soar.

The highly expressive words of Laura Purdie Salas fashion an intimate depiction of the early months of the life of a loon and of parental responsibilities.  The phrases rhyme with the last word in each.  It is a cadence as smooth as the ever-changing water upon which the loon family resides.  Laura Purdie Salas is not only detailing what can be observed but offering more information.  She gives us the "why."  Here is a passage.

Mother's wild call, its rise and its fall,
warns Moon of the eagle.
Can Moon Loon survive?

Her heavy bones whisper:

Moon Loon, you
can DIVE!

The family portrait shown to readers on the front of the case cover is our first glimpse of the majesty we will witness inside this title.  The silhouetting of the cattails and evergreens is done in some of the interior pictures, also.  The darkness of the evergreens crosses the spine continuing across the back.  This provides a place for text normally displayed on the front and back flaps of a dust jacket.  In the lower, left-hand corner is another image of the four loons.

A pale blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, Moon Loon, is swimming toward us.  Water and cattails surround her.  The photography of Chuck Dayton varies in perspective, giving us more panoramic scenes and then moving in close to Moon Loon and her family.  Some of his visuals span two pages and others are single page pictures.  Sometimes one photograph overlaps another, water or shoreline creating a division that blends beautifully.

One of my many favorite pictures is a single-plus page image.  On the right, the mother is carrying the two smaller loons on her back.  Her gorgeous coloring nearly camouflages the younger loons.  She is looking to the right, but they are looking at us readers.  The blue rippling water extends to the left, bottom, and right of them.  Above them the water becomes a silhouette in blue.  As it crosses the gutter, reed and cattails line the left edge.  White space becomes the place for the text on the left.

Written by Laura Purdie Salas with photography by Chuck Dayton, Secrets Of The Loon is a lovely adventure.  It makes the beauty of these birds a personal experience for all readers.  At the close of the book under the heading, More Loon Secrets, are three pages of more facts.  These are followed by Selected Resources.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.  

To learn more about Laura Purdie Salas and Chuck Dayton and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Laura Purdie Salas has numerous resources for this title on its special page at her website.  Laura Purdie Salas has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. Chuck Dayton has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images. There are interviews and articles about this books at KUMD radio, at author illustrator Jena Benton's site, at poet Matt Forrest Esenwine's site, and the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

It only makes an appearance when the right conditions align.  It creates a hush over the world, muffling sights and sounds.  To the touch it is heavy and damp.  Sometimes it is as if you've stepped into an alternate reality.  Feel the Fog (Beach Lane Books, September 15, 2020) written and illustrated by April Pulley Sayre is a poetic and photographic ode to fog, The words and pictures envelope you completely.

Fog rolls in,
damp and pale.

A cloud, ground level,
hugs stone,

and snail.

Depending on its thickness, fog can obscure everything except for that which is right in front of us.  Everything in the distance disappears.  Everything is colored differently; the radiance of the hues is muted.

Reach out with your bare hand.  Lift your face to the fog.  How does it feel?  How do you define its essence?  

Science tells us how fog is made.  Fog can develop when warm air cools.  It can happen on land.  It can happen over water.  It can happen during any season of the year.  You can see air and wind work when fog moves.  They are no longer invisible.

Our movements are different on a foggy day.  We get closer to see.  This is when treasures are revealed.  Sometimes the sun does not shine through the fog.  There are those who will rejoice.  Will you?

A stillness falls over readers when the words of April Pulley Sayre in this book are read.  We are present in the moments of fog.  Her lyrical, rhyming words create a sensory connection for us.  The use of the title twice within the narrative further ties us to the overall text.  Here is another passage, like the book in its entirety, that reads like words to a song.

Thicker than mist,
fog can drift,
fog can flow.

Fog forms above
fields of snow.

Opening the matching dust jacket and book case readers see two separate images on the right, front, and left, back.  On the front we are getting a bird's eye view of fog sweeping through treetops, drifting into valleys and over hilltops.  On the back we are walking through trees, trunks standing at attention, as fog washes their sharp angles and lines.

A dark charcoal gray covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page we are getting an animal's view of autumn weeds spread before us.  Behind the weeds fog nearly blocks out the forest.  Each page turn the photographs by April Pulley Sayre (two by other family members) pair beautifully with her concise, carefully chosen words.

We are treated to double-page naturescapes, single-page and partial-page close-up visuals.  The shift in perspectives allows us to see fog as others, besides humans, might view it.  The text is placed on the photographs.  This technique implies the words are a part of the fog, also.

One of my many favorite photographs is a double-page picture.  It is during winter.  A field, an opening with two evergreens on the right, and a larger row of trees and shrubs behind them make for a multi-dimensional view.  The snow on the ground and the fog appear nearly as one.  You can feel not only the fog, but the quiet.

We read and learn about this weather phenomenon through the words and pictures of April Pulley Sayre in Feel the Fog.  You'll hardly be able to wait for the next foggy day after reading this book.  At the close of the book under the heading of The Clouds That Come to Visit are more facts within nine other sections.  In her acknowledgements April Pulley Sayre thanks a senior meteorologist, Sam Lashley, at the National Weather Service for reviewing the text.  You will certainly want a copy of this book for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about April Pulley Sayre and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  April Pulley Sayre has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Short. Sweet. Silly. Series. Superb.

As this year of years winds down, there are stacks of books to still be highlighted and one very large stack to be read before the 2021 releases are embraced.  Books in a series are beloved by many a reader.  We crave a return to characters we love.  We desire to visit settings where we wish we could walk.  We laugh at the silliness, we thrill at the adventures, and we sigh at the touching sweetness.  

This year there was an abundance of series continuations and some promising new series beginnings (and one single title).  A favorite of numerous readers is the hilarity found in the friendship of a homebody tree dweller and a feathered adventurer.  The first book in this graphic novel series, Bird & Squirrel On The Run! hooked readers immediately.  Each of the following books, Bird & Squirrel On Ice, Bird & Squirrel On The Edge!, Bird & Squirrel On Fire, and Bird & Squirrel All Tangled Up deliver exactly what readers need: strong bonds of friendship from unlikely characters engaging in non-stop action adventures brimming with high-octane emotions and loads of laughter.  The sixth book, Bird & Squirrel All or Nothing (Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., April 21, 2020) written and illustrated by James Burks, takes the duo to the desert where they tackle the Horned Toad 500, a grueling race.  Bird is under pressure to uphold a family legacy.  Squirrel wants to be anywhere but in a desert, but, he loves his friend.





Bird has no desire to participate in this race.  All his father has ever cared about is winning rather than giving Bird support regardless of his endeavors.  Squirrel, not one for escapades of any sort, decides to surprise Bird, taking him to Cactus Creek.  The discussion with Bird's dad does not go well.  The twosome spends the night, deciding to watch the race begin and then leave.

As you might expect, Bird & Squirrel are bullied into participating.  The main goal is not to die during any one of the five challenges.  HA!  Like life, the other four participants present a variety of choices for the pals.  There are victories.  There are setbacks.  There is more to being a winner than winning a race.  Hold on, readers.  You don't want to miss being at this finish line.

Appealing to readers of all age, James Burks has a bounty of wisdom and wit in his narrative told entirely through dialogue.  The banter between all the contestants in the race is lively, revealing personalities of those involved.  He introduces unique characters including the frightening Two Claws and Lizzy who appears more dead than alive.  Here is an exchange between Bird and Squirrel in the first stage as dastardly contestants Garoo and Crow try to eliminate them on a narrow towering mountain path.




The matching dust jacket and book case are our first clue that this duo is in for some hair-raising exploits.  James Burks alternates his panel sizes, even including full-page pictures and double-page visuals, panels within panels and elements from one panel bleeding into another panel.  To designate past events grayscale images are depicted.  There are ample sound effects to elevate the ramifications of the rousing race.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a series of panels right after the dialogue above noted.  Garoo and Crow manage to force Bird and Squirrel off the edge of the cliff.  (In this stage of the race, one partner is pushing the other partner in a wheelbarrow.  Bird is pushing Squirrel.)  The expressions on the faces of Bird and Squirrel reflect their true horror.  When they hit another portion of the path, go down a series of ridges, race up a curved slope and leave this roller coaster of a ride, all the sound effects and their faces will have you grinning at the very least.

To learn more about James Burks and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  James Burks has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

When the children's literature world met brothers Ralphie and Louie, they knew this was going to be no ordinary sibling duo.  The first book, The Infamous Ratsos, garnered a coveted Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor Book Award in 2017.  Book two, The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid, and book three, The Infamous Ratsos Project Fluffy, continued to entertain and engage readers.  In the fourth book, The Infamous Ratsos Camp Out (Candlewick Press, May 12, 2020) written by Karen LaReau with illustrations by Matt Myers, readers will rejoice in all the perks and problems of being in the outdoors.   


The Infamous Ratsos were leaving
the Big City . . . temporarily.

"We're almost there, Big City Scouts!" says Big Lou.

Their dad, Big Lou, is taking Ralphie and Louie and the crew of scouts camping.  Each scout has an agenda and expectations.  And imagine everyone's surprise when they arrive at the campground to find Grandpa Ratso there.  What could go wrong?

Setting up tents, attempting to catch fish for dinner, and trying to start a fire have less than perfect results.  Then it starts to rain. There is a lot of grumbling, too much discussion, and not enough guidance.

The next day should be better, but hunger is making everyone a tad bit grumpy.  Although a spectacular view makes a too-long hike worthwhile, getting lost is not part of the plan.  Neither is poison ivy.  Thankfully, a former Big City Scout, arrives in the nick of time.  Perhaps the best lesson learned by all the scouts is everyone needs to recognize when they need help.

Author Kara LaReau knows her intended audience and her characters.  Her dialogue is a lively blend of characteristic exchanges between older and younger scouts, especially those who think they know what to do versus those who educate themselves on what to do.  There is also an older generational verbal debate at times between Big Lou and his father, Grandpa Ratso.  Here is a passage. 

"I don't want anyone's help!" cries Louie.  "Big City Scouts are supposed to do everything for themselves!"
"Duh, then come down," says Sid.
"Are you crazy?" says Louie.  "Have you seen how high up I am?"
"Well, you can't stay up there forever," says Millicent.
"Definitely not," says Velma, assessing the tree.  "I see a lot of mushrooms on this trunk, and a lot of dead branches on the ground.  From what I've read, those are signs that the tree is damaged or dying."
"When we need your help, we'll ask for it," says Sid.  "Which we never will."

With his adept skill in bringing these animals to life, illustrator Matt Myers' details will captivate readers.  The antics portrayed of the characters will have readers laughing with understanding.  Although there is no doubt as to the setting, it is the focus on the individuals in the story which readers appreciate the most.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a full-page picture.  It is of Louie clinging to the tree, afraid to climb down.  (For avid tree climbers, this is a well-known scenario.)  The tree is in the center with some evergreens in the background.  Two other campers, Ralphie and Tiny, have spotted Louie.  Louie is trying to retrieve a frisbee snared in the tree branches.

To learn more about Kara LaReau and Matt Myers and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Kara LaReau has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Matt Myers has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can read an excerpt and there is a discussion guide. 

In twenty-five books readers were entertained and educated about life with Piggie and Gerald.  The duo has decided, although, their adventures have ended, they want to endorse other fine titles for early readers.  Thus, the series Elephant & Piggie Like Reading was born in 2016.  The most recent title What About Worms!?(Hyperion Books for Children (Disney), May 19, 2020) written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins (and Mo Willems) is loaded with laughter, one frightened tiger and a bunch of worms. 

Yes, Piggie?

I have a new book,
but I cannot make heads or tails of it.
Why not?

Because it is about WORMS!

With an introduction by Piggie and Gerald readers are ready to read about one conflicted tiger.  This tiger struts and brags about his fearlessness except for worms.  His explanation of this fear is apt to be shared by others.  Each thing he enjoys, flowers, apples and books leads him, through his logic, to worms.

He finally runs away believing a book he finds is about worms.  Then, worms make an entrance.  They can't believe their good fortune.  This tiger has left them dirt, an apple, and a book.  They can hardly wait to give him multiple wormy hugs! (The tiger is still running.) Piggie and Gerald return to offer their commentary on this tail . . . er . . . tale.

Short concise declarative sentences by Ryan T. Higgins actively interest readers.  We are privy to the monologue of tiger as he relates his worm phobia in exact detail and false assumptions.  If we are not already laughing enough, when Ryan T. Higgins introduces the worms into the narrative, the giggles will begin in earnest.  Here is a passage.

What if it is
a book about . . .


Was that a tiger?
I am afraid of tigers.
Me too.

The front of the book case tells us a lot about the state of this tiger's mind.  The colors shown here are used throughout the story with varying backgrounds of white, yellow, and dark spring green.  Usually the images are single-page pictures, edge to edge.  For dramatic effect double-page pictures convey the mood of the tiger (and the worms).  Exaggerated facial features and body postures in Ryan T. Higgins' signature style heighten the laughter factor.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  Tiger is thinking about the connections between apples and worms.  He has just taken a huge bite of an apple.  Now he is wondering if there is a worm in the apple he just ate.  The background is yellow.  We are close to tiger's face.  He is looking a bit worried with concerned eyes and his mouth in a small circle.  He is uttering a single soft word

Oh . . .

If you desire to learn more about Ryan T. Higgins and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his page on his agent's website.  Ryan T. Higgins has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  You can find multiple videos on YouTube with Ryan T. Higgins chatting about his work, his studio and offering drawing lessons.

Books about books can be true crowd pleasers, but it takes the perfect pairing of text, images, and pacing for it to succeed.  When humor is a part of the mix, giggles will demand repeat readings.  Who Ate My Book? (Penguin Young Readers, June 9, 2020) written and illustrated by Tina Kugler begins with a question for which we have a rather good idea about the answer.  It's the getting there which generates the comedy.

My Goat
My pet is a goat.
Hello, goat.

My goat ate his oats.
My goat ate my boat.

My goat ate my coat.

Clearly the girl with the pet goat does not want the pet goat any longer.  In the blink of an eye, after telling us about all the attributes of the goat, it runs away.

We next meet a boy with a pet fish.  While the boy is enjoying all the joy of having a pet fish, a certain goat is entering the scene.  The goat's girl and the boy find themselves chasing the goat because it is consuming all the boy's items (but not the fish).

The goat tears off on a run to climb a nearby fence.  There a girl is playing with her canine companion.  She loves everything her dog does and is.  The goat jumps this fence.  Goat meet dog.  Dog meet goat.  Wait!  Goat!  Stop eating!

Short, unnumbered chapters introduce the three pets to readers using easily understandable sentences penned by Tina Kugler.  Each time a character has us meet their pet, when the goat is noticed, and when it eats something, the same words are used.  Rhyming words supply readers with a pleasing cadence.  When a sentence states what the goat is eating, the humor increases.  There is nothing this goat won't eat, including this book.  Here is an additional passage.

Look, I see a goat.
Hello, goat.
The goat ate my plate.
The goat ate my skate.

The wide-eyed looks on all the characters made with circles and dots convey a range of emotions when created by Tina Kugler.  Full color images in a variety of sizes complement the pacing.  The position of the goat in each scenario is hilarious, especially when the text is speaking about another pet with the goat in the background causing a new kind of chaos.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is when the girl says:

Do you want a pet goat?

This image is on a single page.  Within a square shape, with lots of white space around it, is the girl and her goat.  The goat has just eaten her coat.  Now it is chewing on one of her hair braids.  The goat looks pretty happy.  The girl is completely disgusted.

To learn more about Tina Kugler and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  Tina Kugler has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

As long as they are not feasting on my perennials or shrubs, nothing is cuter than the wild rabbits cavorting around my property and the nearby fields and woods.  There are babies in the spring so tiny you can hold them in the palm of your hand.  There are ones who have lived a long time.  They are huge!  One of the sweetest and most lovable bunnies to find a home in the children's literature world was welcomed late summer.  Bunbun & Bonbon Fancy Friends (Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, September 1, 2020) written and illustrated by Jess Keating is the first book in a charming new series.  What do a bunny and candy have in common?  Let's find out.


Bunbun had it all.
A delightful Bunbun nose,
a winning Bunbun smile,
a ridiculously cute
Bunbun tail . . . 

And not one,
but TWO adorable
Bunbun ears.

Readers, are you thinking what I am thinking?  What Bunbun needs is a friend.  It's not for lack of trying that Bunbun does not have a friend.  Everything in her woods is cheerfully greeted, even what she sees as a rock.  At least she thinks it is a rock, until it talks to her!

She is so excited she has found a talking rock, but it is not a rock.  It is a special candy, a bonbon.  And this candy, Bonbon, is fancy.  Bonbon has two bow ties.  They know they can do all kinds of fancy things and use fancy words like grandiose.  They can have a fancy garden party!  In the garden they find not only food, but a new friend with . . . you guessed it . . . fancy hats!  Their first day together gets better with more food and more fun.  Best friends forever.

Every word choice by Jess Keating is carefully selected to supply readers with an overall feeling from beginning to end of this story.  And that feeling, my friends, is pure joy. Nearly all the dialogue appears in speech bubbles except for dramatic flairs which are much larger and in all capital letters or to announce a new chapter.  That's another thing.  The chapters flow with ease from one to the next.  Here is a passage.

I have a purple candy
shell, a sugary candy body,
and not one but TWO
sparkling candy eyes!

Oh my carrots.
A talking candy! 

Jess Keating outlines each element in her images with a distinctive black line, even her smaller items.  Her full color illustrations employ the less is more philosophy masterfully.  Each panel is framed with the same line, but those frames are broken to fashion a fluidity.  Sometimes the panels in this graphic novel are abandoned to become full-page or double-page pictures.  The expressions on Bunbun and Bonbon and their body movements are fabulous.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Bunbun and Bonbon are talking about all the fancy words they can say, all the fancy things they can do, and all the fancy food to be eaten.  They have just said the words fancy sprinkles.  On a pale blue background replete with sprinkles and smiling tiny stars are Bunbun and Bonbon jumping for joy and upside down.  Their fancy bows have come off their heads from all the leaping.  Their eyes are closed in contentment as they exclaim the words.

If you wish to learn more about Jess Keating, be sure to access her website by following the link attached to her name.  She has multiple resources on her website to accompany this book.  Jess Keating has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  If you are registered, you can view a previous book shop event about this book here.  Jess Keating was featured on Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's Book Joy Live

Friendship depicted through improbable pairings makes for refreshing reading.  If this friendship is between beings residing under the sea, readers will enjoy the visit even more.  Squidding Around Fish Feud! (Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, September 1, 2020) written and illustrated by Kevin Sherry explores a watery world, its inhabitants, and the maintaining of a lasting friendship.


Good morning!

Hey! Wait up!

And I'm having too much fun
squidding around 
to go to school!

Get it?

But we're 
gonna be

Squizzard is on a roll, telling us about his distinguishing features.  He presents his best friend Toothy to us, also enumerating his finest features.  He elaborates on the attributes of their friendship.  This is our first inkling this relationship is unbalanced.  Squizzard always puts himself first, taking advantage of Toothy to his heart's content.  On their arrival at Seaweed Elementary when the students begin sharing their weekly oral reports, a fight between Toothy and Squizzard dissolves a life-long companionship.

Squizzard is despondent.  Another classmate, Shay, a seahorse, helps him understand his attitude through several trial-and-error situations.  It's not easy for this squid with a me-first outlook.  How is he going to win back Toothy's trust?

Told entirely through dialogue, using a blend of narrative and facts, Kevin Sherry has readers inwardly cheering for this twosome.  It's very clever how the information becomes a part of the story. Wordplay contributes to the overall cheerfulness.  Here is a passage. 

Benny Barracuda 
Bad attitude
Razor-sharp teeth
Torpedo-shaped body

It's a . . .
fifth grader!

Look what we have here!

Oh, sweet angelfish!

Two little seaweeds . . .
I smell calamari!

Maybe it's your breath.



Who do you think
you are? Gilliam
Stephen King Crab?

Full-color illustrations in an array of panel sizes fill each page beginning with three narrow vertical panels on page one to signify the depths we descend to follow this tale.  The sea creatures are highly animated with large eyes, conveying a range of emotions. The perspectives presented bring us close to each portion of this evolving friendship and with Squizzard's classmates.

One of my many, many favorite images is a two-third's page panel in the first chapter.  Squizzard exclaims:


And Toothy giggles and says:


Squizzard's eyes are enormous with concentration.  His mouth is a big toothy grin.  All his arms are gathered looking a bit like a skirt.  Ink squirts and clouds out of his bottom.  To his right Toothy, wearing a backpack, uses his front fins to cover his laughter.  His eyes are squinted closed with mirth.

To learn more about the work of Kevin Sherry and himself, follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Kevin Sherry has active accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

Nothing is funnier than a protagonist at constant odds with an unseen narrator, especially if it begins with the title of the book.  See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog (Candlewick Press, September 8, 2020) penned by David LaRochelle with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka is hilarious with a capital H.  This canine couldn't be more comedic as he presents not once, not twice, but three times his expectations of his world as it should be.

Story Number One
See the Cat

See the cat.
I am not a cat.
I am a dog.

With each page turn, the narrator (the book) says one thing on the right in direct conflict with the dog on the left.  There is no cat named Babycakes wearing a green dress riding a . . . Oh . . .  my mistake.  Can we go to the next story?

What? A snake?  The snake is mad?  Why are you doing this to me?  I need an eraser.  Thank goodness. That is much better.  At least in story three, the dog is recognized.  With recognition comes demands the dog is unwilling to satisfy.  Not even the presence of a giant animal is going to change this dog's mind.  At last, the dog gets its deepest wish granted.

Clearly, David LaRochelle has a keen sense of humor.  It is prevalent on each page we read.  His short sentences, the dialogue between Max and the unseen narrator, are cleverly placed to provide excellent pacing.  It is this pacing which gives us the growing frustration of Max.  We wonder, along with Max, if the book is ever going to get this right.  Here is another exchange between the two.

See the snake.
Here we go again.

The snake is under the dog.
(Max says nothing but his expression is of sheer terror.) 

Truthfully, can you look at the front book case cover and not laugh?  The dog, Max, obviously knows something is not quite proper.  How can a book be about a dog with that title?  The dog's body, paws on hips, his mouth, ears, and eyes convey his chagrin. Generous use of white space and the cream canvas are used throughout the book by Mike Wohnoutka.  I can't help but wonder if Mike Wohnoutka has a canine companion; his portrayals are that authentic.  If you want your soul to sing, turn a page.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is opposite a rare blank white page for the narrator.  Max is not speaking either.  Maybe he is out of breath after the rant on the previous two pages.  Max is standing on his favorite rug facing forward with his head turned to the right.  He is clearly startled, completely surprised.  Readers get a glimpse of the reason as small elements appear.  Pink legs, a pink head, and a very distinguishing characteristic identify the new arrival.  It is guaranteed readers will be rolling on the floor with laughter.

To learn more about David LaRochelle and Mike Wohnoutka and their other work, please follow the link attached to their name to access their respective websites.  David LaRochelle has an account on Facebook.  Mike Wohnoutka has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can download an activity kit and teacher's guide.  At Penguin Random House you can view interior images.  This book is highlighted at author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  

There is hardly anything more intrusive than the presence of a skunk.  We even get the whiff of one and we head for the hills in the opposite direction.  From experience, we know their smell lingers in the best of situations.  It is not really their fault; they are being themselves.  Skunk And Badger (Algonquin Young Readers, September 15, 2020) written by Amy Timberlake with pictures by Jon Klassen is an enchanting tale, a first book in a series, about an introvert partnered with an extrovert.  It is a humorous clash between someone set in their ways and another who embraces everything with exuberance.


and shut the front door.

It seems that Badger's negligence in reading the last few letters from Aunt Lula has placed him in the uncomfortable position of not knowing he would be acquiring a roommate in his aunt's home.  At first, he is less than welcoming, but a breakfast prepared by Skunk the next morning has him temporarily mollified. He is laughing at the Rocket Potato, until thoughts of cleaning up the kitchen stall his good nature in its proverbial tracks.

Skunk moves into Badger's Box Room removing boxes and renaming it his Moon Room.  Badger's Important Rock Work is constantly interrupted.  Chickens start showing up in the neighborhood.  Where are the chickens coming from?  When danger threatens the chickens, Badger realizes he is becoming attached to Skunk and remarkably to the one-hundred chickens now inside the brownstone.  This attachment lessens after an early-morning leap leaves Badger in bad shape. What happens next is to be expected but is it what Badger really wants or more importantly needs?

The personalities of these animals as defined and depicted by Amy Timberlake are endearing to a fault.  It is easy for readers to see bits and pieces of themselves in both Badger and Skunk.  The appearance of the chickens elevates the comedy, as well as reminding readers there will always be those who need our care.  The descriptive narrative, the thoughts of Badger and the conversations between Badger and Skunk are exemplary.  Here are several passages.

A thought followed:  What if he is Someone Important?
Badger raced through the front hallway, threw back the 
bolts, unlatched the chain, and opened the door.
Not one was there.
A bird sang.  A breeze twisted past. The air smelled of honey.
He stepped out onto the stoop.  The letter box and flowerpot
were empty.  He did not find anything tacked to the back of the
door.  Badger frowned.  Someone Important would have left a note.
On the sidewalk below, a gray-and-white-speckled chicken 
stopped. It eyed Badger---first with the left eye, then with the right.
A chicken?  In North Twist? Badger never saw chickens.

Skunk continued:  "Because breakfast is the nicest meal, you
should have candlelight at breakfast.  If at all possible.  Sometimes
it is not possible.  Sometimes you are eating where there is not a
candle.  Or sometimes there is a candle shortage, and no one has 
candles.  That is sad, particularly for breakfast."

When you open the dust jacket the scene on the front, right, continues over the spine to the far left.  We are given another look at the interior of the brownstone as Badger first sets his eyes on Skunk.  Beneath the dust jacket artist Jon Klassen elaborates on the interior of the home expanding his illustration up to the ceiling.  The intricate details, the wash of brown, and the play of shadow and light are signature strokes of Klassen genius.  The opening and closing endpapers are a pattern of different labeled rocks sketched in black on cream.  Throughout the book are full color pictures and sketches.

One of my many, many favorite images is during the first breakfast.  Badger and Skunk are seated at the table, a single candle lighting their meal.  The table appears to be tucked into a nook. Pots and pans hang overhead.  Shelves hold bowls and a pitcher.  You want to step into this setting and share the meal with them.

To learn more about Amy Timberlake and Jon Klassen and their other work, please follow the link attached to Amy's name to access her website or Jon's name to access his Tumblr account.  Amy Timberlake has an account on Twitter.  Jon Klassen has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can read an excerpt of the first chapter.  You can also see the full dust jacket.  Amy Timberlake is interviewed at MG Book Village about this book.  At School Library Journal A Fuse #8 Production written and hosted by Elizabeth Bird is the cover reveal and an interview with Amy Timberlake.  There is a Q & A with Amy Timberlake at Publishers Weekly.

When we know another title in a new series is coming in the same year, we find it hard not to count down the weeks until its arrival.  Thankfully, the second book following the Fox & Rabbit debut came a five short months later.  Fox & Rabbit Make Believe (Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams Books for Young Readers, September 15, 2020) written by Beth Ferry with illustrations by Gergely Dudas is full of as much fun, friendship and appearances of the letter F as the first book.



Hooray! Hooray!
We have all this money.

From what?

From our lemonade stand!
Don't you remember?

Of course I do!

They might not have enough money to buy an ice cream shop, but they have enough money for ice cream cones for themselves and a couple of their friends.  Before long Fox has none and notices another thing they can do with their money.  It's a bubble-blowing contest.  One exploded bubble and a bad haircut later, Fox has disappeared.  Fox found again; the friends wander over to the playground.

There they meet a new friend., Owl.  Owl's imagination is wild and a whole lot of wonderful.  In stories four and five the friends enjoy an autumn day at a farm picking out pumpkins, exploring a maze which in their minds is a very scary adventure, and finally experience the best time carving pumpkins ever.  (Turtle finally arrives at the perfect time.)

Told entirely in dialogue this graphic novel title penned by Beth Ferry is pure delight.  The conversations flow effortlessly, and we learn about the ebb and flow of old friends and new friends.  Fox and Rabbit are fast friends, but they manage to include Sparrow and Turtle and Owl in their adventures. Beth Ferry weaves the power of story through imagination into this narrative and inventively includes alliteration and word play.  Here is a passage.

There you are, Fox!

I'm only half here.
The other half is
on the floor of
Flamingo's shop.

Well, you do look a little different.

I know.

But I'm pretty sure you're
exactly the same Fox
on the inside that
you've always been.

Are you sure?

Sure as swings.   

If you are looking for fun, the front of the book case cover makes you wish for your own pile of leaves to jump into with total abandon.  The full color images of Gergely Dudas splash across the pages in marvelous merriment.  On the title page Fox is laughing at Sparrow who has put two leaves on her head in imitation of Rabbit.  It's this attention to detail which has readers pausing to look at his artwork.  A circular image is placed opposite, on the left, of each story title on the right.  The panels are altered in size to reflect the storyline and pacing.  Sometimes we are gifted with full-page or double-page pictures.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is the last double-page illustration, the final image in the story.  And that's all I'm going to say, except . . .  This visual conveys a lot about Fox, Rabbit, Sparrow, Turtle, and Owl and what they've shared.  Fred the stuffed toy lion is there too.

To learn more about Beth Ferry and Gergely Dudas, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Beth Ferry has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. Gergely Dudas has accounts on Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Twitter.  He also has a blog.  At the publisher's website you can view multiple interior pages.