Quote of the Month

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

Friday, February 26, 2021

When Read It Is Everlasting

Seeing kindergarten students browsing in the library, selecting books of their choice, and checking them out for the first time never grows old.  Their pride and excitement in this accomplishment fills your soul with happiness.  When they gather to hear a story read from a book, they get as close to you as possible.  They (and many older students) lean in as if to absorb every line.  They relish the cadence of the words. After that story time, the book's popularity is assured.

Later, they will check out the book, to share it with others or retell the story in their own words.  Book to book, person to person, stories live.  Book's Big Adventure (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, February 9, 2021) written by Adam Lehrhaupt with illustrations by Rahele Jomepour Bell is a tribute to the lasting power of books and the story inside each one.

Book was new.

The cover bright and shiny.

Its home a prominent shelf.

This book did not stay on the shelf.  It left, riding in a car, going on a picnic, and being read aloud at bedtime.  Happiness filled Book.  

Unfortunately, Book lost its spot on the notable shelf.  It was less visible on a lower shelf.  Soon Book was not bright and shiny but dusty and dull.  Book's adventures were less frequent.

In time, Book was placed on another shelf.  It watched other titles come and go.  Book was worried. Would Book ever have another adventure?  Oh, how Book wanted to feel that joy again!  

One day, the worst thing happened.  Book fell and came to rest underneath the bookshelves.  Late one night, a beam of light warmed Book.  Book was held in loving hands and read.  Then, just when Book's hopes soared, Book was left in a scrambled mess with other books.  Fortunately, Book was not there long.  Fortunately, Book was about to discover how leaving reveals the greatest adventures of all.

Giving life to an inanimate object has been done well with simple, declarative sentences by author Adam Lehrhaupt.  We all understand the feeling of being in a new situation or having something new.  We can identify with experiences associated with newness.  We also know the sadness of loneliness and isolation.  By assigning these very real emotions to Book, we are attached to these events, these circumstances in this narrative.  The use of phrases and single words places greater emphasis on each situation.  Here is a passage.

So no one noticed it.
Book sat on its shelf.
Until . . .  

When you first look at the open dust jacket, the delight you feel when finding the perfect book is reflected on the facial features of Book.  The design of the block lettering for the words, THE BOOK, the red color for Book, and the bright yellow title text all say enter, hope is found here.  On the other side of the spine, on the back, to the left, we are looking slightly down on the scene.  Between a sleeping child and their sleeping dog, both nestled under the covers, is Book, smiling with closed eyes.  The mix of patterns on the wallpaper, the rug on the floor, and the comforter and pillows is cheerful.  A lamp on the nightstand casts a glow.  On the front, the title text, Book and the hands holding Book are varnished.  The title text is raised.

The book case is Book.  The opening and closing endpapers are orange.  The initial and formal title pages are yellow with red letters for the title text.

These illustrations by Rahele Jomepour Bell 

rendered using digital brushes and scanned, hand-printed textures

span single and double pages on matte-finished paper.  A variety of perspectives complement the pacing giving us sometimes an overview and other times, intimacy.  You will find the passage of time presented within a single image.  The facial looks on the people, from diverse backgrounds, mirror contentment.  Readers will have themselves pausing on page turns to notice included details.  What will they see when they look on the bookshelves in the final child's bedroom?

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Book is discovering the proverbial notation of what one finds unappealing, another finds something to love.  On the left, close to readers, a child is clasping Book in their hands.  Book nearly fills this entire page.  A portion of the child's shoulder and arm cross the gutter.  On the right side is a portion of a bookcase.  On top is a globe, a toy Ferris wheel, and a glimpse of a beautifully painted pony.  You can easily read the titles of the books on the shelf.  The designs in the wallpaper and the child's clothing make a wonderful combination.

From one who knows children respond to the idea of lonely books on the shelf waiting to be checked out, this book, Book's Big Adventure written by Adam Lehrhaupt with illustrations by Rahele Jomepour Bell, will resonate with readers and listeners alike.  At the close of the book in an Author's Note, we read about giving a second life to books through donations.  There is also a list titled Book Donation Ideas.  You'll want to have a copy of this book available on your personal and professional bookshelves.

To discover more about Adam Lehrhaupt and Rahele Jomepour Bell and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Adam Lehrhaupt has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, PinterestTwitter and YouTube.  Rahele Jomepour Bell has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

One In The Spirit

Building a collection of factual, appealing, and captivating titles regarding world religions and notable leaders and teachers within those religions is challenging.  For readers seeking more knowledge about their faith or curious about the practices of other faiths, selected books offer the best representation by own voices authors and illustrators.  When these authors and illustrators create nonfiction picture books, they do so with an informed perspective.  

Tuesdays are a highlight in the children's literature world with the release of new titles.  On the first Tuesday of this month, two beautiful books, certain to enhance collections in public school libraries and on the bookshelves in Jewish and Christian places of worship, were published.  Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World's First Female Rabbi (an Arthur A. Levine book, Levine Querido, February 2, 2021) written by Sigal Samuel with illustrations by Vali Mintzi chronicles the life and life's work of an inspirational, dedicated, and innovative woman.

Almost five hundred years ago,
when almost everyone believed in
miracles, a baby girl was born in
the Middle East. 

Her name was Osnat.  Her father, Rabbi Samuel Barzani constructed a yeshiva.  Here men were able to study the Torah as often and for as long as they desired.

The little girl was surrounded by books and found herself alone when her father traveled to build more yeshivas in other communities.  She longed to learn how to read but was told daughters were meant for chores.  Rabbi Samuel Barzani had no sons, so he agreed to teach Osnat.

The letters and the words they formed fascinated Osnat as she learned the Torah.  It is said during one of her father's many trips, Osnat befriended a white dove, reading to it.  When it came time for Osnat to marry, her father agreed with her.  Her husband would need to respect her need for study.  Jacob was that man.  After her father's death, Jacob was the head of the yeshiva.  Osnat became the teacher of the students there.  This was the arrangement until Jacob, too, passed away.

Unsure of what to do, Osnat had a dream that night which directed her destiny in assuming leadership of the yeshiva.  In the following years, Osnat revealed again and again her considerable knowledge of the Torah and gift of healing.  On more than one occasion people were witness to inexplicable events in her presence.  This revered and highly respected woman is still remembered.

Author Sigal Samuel skillfully delves into Jewish history for readers.  With careful pacing and presentation of facts gleaned from primary sources and amulets, Osnat Barzani comes alive.  Specific incidents from her youth into adulthood are depicted through text and dialogue.  Each one is a part of a whole culminating in the final sentence, an expression of her shining achievement.  Here is a passage.

At Osnat's yeshiva, the
men called her Tanna'it, a
title given only to the most 
respected teachers.  They 
said she knew the deepest
secrets of the Torah and
that's where her power
came from.

Rabbis from near and
far began sending her
letters.  One called her "my
mother, my rabbi."

On the open dust jacket two different scenes are presented to readers.  In the rich, warm red, orange, and yellow hues a pale blue shade supplies a pleasing contrast on the front, right side.  Osnat is shown with her closest friend, her dove, as she studies and writes.  The dove figures prominently in several occurrences.  The main title text is varnished.  To the left, on the back, on a canvas of muted orange is a circular image.  The setting shows the road to the village of Amadiya, with the village on a high plateau.  It is night with a canine in the foreground.  Blue is used extensively.  This illustration foreshadows a miraculous event.

On the book case and opening and closing endpapers is the pattern of a print in the clothing worn by Osnat throughout the book.  The technique for the visuals is described here.

Val Mintzi painted the artwork for this book with gouache colors in layers.  She started out with a rough pencil sketch of the composition, then moved to a transparent, monochrome layer (red for illustrations of daylight and mauve for those of night), after which she added layers of gouache color.  For the final layer, Vali inserted details with a thin paintbrush; faces, expressions, patterns of carpets and cloth, stars in the depths of night.

On the title page, Osnat as a little girl is carrying a heavy book with her beloved dove perched on the capital D.  Illustrations vary in size from double-page pictures to full-page pictures.  The palette of selected hues elevates the text to one of wonder.  The blend of those colors provides a striking tapestry of people, time, and place.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Moving from the bottom of the gutter to the top of both pages is a large tree trunk with spreading branches in a vibrant combination of green and turquoise.  The leaves appear like a vast collection of small hearts. Five different scenes show the window, the frame and panes painted in turquoise against the yellow color of the house, of Osnat's home, usually open.  In each one, two on the left and three on the right, we see her growing from a little girl into a young woman.  Her dove is always present from their initial meeting to an unbreakable bond.

When you reflect on this woman's accomplishments in their historical context, you can't help but find them amazing.  Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World's First Female Rabbi written by Sigal Samuel with illustrations by Vali Mintzi is a story of dreams realized, dreams in service of a faith and people.  There is an author's note at the end.  I highly recommend this book for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Sigal Samuel and Vali Mintzi, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Sigal Samuel has accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  Val Mintzi has an account on Instagram.  Articles about this book, some including interviews, appear in The Times of Israel, the Jewish Book Council, Kveller, and Forward.  Vali Mintzi is interviewed in 2019 at Jewish Books For Kids.  At the publisher's website is a book trailer with Sigal Samuel speaking about the book.  A lot of artwork is showcased.

Five years ago, on February 9, 2016, Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus was published. After reading this book, I stated:

The stories are familiar but the interpretation by John Hendrix in his text and illustrations is extraordinary.

This book

is a beautiful celebration, forged in faith.

In a companion title, Go And Do Likewise! The Parables and Wisdom of Jesus (Abrams Books for Young Readers, February 2, 2021) written and illustrated by John Hendrix, those same assessments are equally true.  Exquisite, highly detailed images pair with stories handed down through the ages.



Jesus's sandals
were always dusty.
Jesus didn't call any one place home.

But he was not alone.  Alongside Jesus were his
students, the twelve disciples.  These men were not
rich or powerful; they were ordinary people.

Jesus had no plan of a place to be and what to say on any given day.  People listened to him where he stood, outside among them and not inside a temple.  Words of wisdom and acts of healing increased his followers.  Those in power inside those temples grew angrier and more frightened.  

One day a rabbi posed question after question to Jesus.  He sought to trick him.  Instead, Jesus taught him the highest definition of neighbor through the story of the Samaritan.  From there Jesus traveled to a higher place, looking out at those gathered.  He spoke to those feeling empty, those showing mercy, those full of sadness, and those striving for peace.  Each of those were blessed.

It was Jesus's desire to continue to teach through story, his parables.  He spoke of using his words like a foundation for a home.  He asked people to not judge by comparing sawdust and a large branch.  He told a tale of a merchant desiring a magnificent pearl likening it to the Kingdom of God.  

One day children prompted him to speak of a shepherd's one hundred sheep and the loss of one.  This closely aligned with his tale of two sons, one loyal to his father, and another who strays but returns.  The anger of the leaders and the teachers from the temples increased listening to Jesus and his lessons.  Toward the end of the book, and the end of Jesus's life, he gathered his disciples to him.  When asked a question by Thomas, he answered with the only direction necessary to know.

What author John Hendrix has done with his retelling of some of the parables of Jesus is to use more contemporary language, connecting with a larger audience.  He also offers short explanations as in this sentence.

A short time later, a Levite, a person who also worked in the temple, came along the road. 

His words in no way diminish the power of these stories but allow that power to envelope readers in a profound sense of calm understanding.  John Hendrix, in his words, focuses on Jesus's mastery of storytelling; his storytelling which drew parallels to those things most easily understood by his listeners.  Here is another passage following one of the parables.

The people looked around in amazement, for
they had never heard something so clear and
sure.  This man taught differently than the chief
priests, who often relied on other's teachings
when they preached.

But Jesus spoke as one with true authority!

When you look at the images shown on the open dust jacket, you are immediately engaged by John Hendrix signature style.  The color palette reflects the setting but also the light found in the parables of Jesus.  Each item, the butterflies, the bird (sparrow or dove?), and the lily refer to stories and symbols found in in the words of Jesus or in Christian teachings.  Readers can see that Jesus is dressed in a similar fashion to those with whom he spoke.  To the left, on the back, an interior image is used.  It is a recreation of The Mount from where Jesus addressed and blessed the crowd.  Even though The Mount is shown as a building with people climbing stairs circling on the outside, Jesus stands in a field of flowers with a dove coming to rest on his outstretched palm.  Certain elements on the dust jacket are varnished on the matte-finished paper.

On the book case, the illustration from the back of the jacket appears on the front.  The entire scene spreads over the spine and to the far-left edge.  The Mount is in the middle of an empty desert, golden and peach clouds layered in the sky.

On the opening and closing endpapers a line of flowers, like those in the field on the top of The Mount, span from left to right.  They continue with a page turn moving toward, left to right across two pages, the title page.  One foot of Jesus is shown as he walks off the far-right side.  On the title page a symbolic image, with few colors, shows Jesus climbing a rocky mountain to a large tree at the top.  A bright golden-orange circular sun rises above other rocky formations.  Most of this is to the left of the gutter.  On the far-right edge is an intricate decorative design.

On the first interior image, on the left, Jesus is seated at the base of that tree.  The first text is placed within the tree.  Every page turn reveals another masterful image imbued with a mix of reality and symbolism.  The intricate hand-lettering often features a scene in the enlarged first letter.  

John Hendrix alternates between full-page pictures, framed panels, insets on a single page, and dramatic two-page illustrations.  Sometimes words in the first phrase or sentence will be amplified and placed on their own page.  The visuals for each parable are distinctive but work together wonderfully.  The final two-page artwork, vertical and requiring readers to turn the book, is stunning.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  The main canvas color is golden yellow.  Across the bottom left, and diminishing after crossing the gutter, is a landscape of fantastically colored flora.  Through this is a dot and dash pattern indicating the route of the shepherd.  Above the landscape on the left is a bright red, thorny bush.  Stuck there is sheep number 100.  On the right, the shepherd is briskly walking with his staff.  The sheep, number 100, is now across his back, carefully and tightly clasped in his hands.  That which was lost is now found.

This book, Go And Do Likewise! The Parables and Wisdom of Jesus written and illustrated by John Hendrix, is exemplary in every respect. His Author's Note, a section titled Retelling vs. Translating and Sources at the conclusion of the book are not to be missed.  On the final page John Hendrix talks about the art and the jacket.  I know you will want a copy of this book for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about John Hendrix and his other work, I invite you to access his website by following the link attached to his name.  John Hendrix has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  In a 2019 interview at Redeemed Reader, John Hendrix is interviewed.  At the publisher's website you can view interior pages.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

With The Eyes Of Your Mind

It is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.

This gift given to each of us is heartily embraced by children every single day.  In their minds, there is much more than meets the eye.  They see beyond what is and wonder about what can be.

Time and time again, their astounding ability to think beyond borders compels adults around them to realign their own reflections and directions.  Milo Imagines the World (Putnam, G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, February 2, 2021) written by Matt de la Pena with pictures by Christian Robinson is greater than a ride on a subway.  It's an exploration of first impressions and a reexamination of those very perceptions.

What begins as a slow, distant glow
grows and grows.
into a tired train that clatters down the tracks.

Once the subway train comes to a halt, Milo and his older sister board and find seats.  He first notices a man with whiskers, a businessman, and a woman wearing a wedding dress with a small dog.  When he takes this monthly Sunday trip, Milo finds himself a bundle of mixed emotions.  To settle himself, Milo draws about the people he sees.

After the man with whiskers exits, Milo sketches his evening spent with cats, escaping parakeets, and a supper of soup.  His sister is not impressed with his pictorial musings.  At the next stop a suit-wearing boy steps through the doors with his father.  His shoes, looking like they were just taken out of a box, are noticed by Milo.

Milo presents on paper a life of royalty for the boy.  For the woman in the wedding dress with her small dog, he imagines a high-flying departure for the newly wedded husband and wife.  Again, his sister ignores his artwork preferring to focus on a game on her phone.  A troupe of break dancers briefly capture everyone's attention.  What are their lives really like?  What do other travelers on the train think about Milo?

At their stop Milo and his sister leave the platform, making their way to an imposing building.  The suit-wearing boy with his father is there, too.  Together they all wait in a long line.  It is during this waiting; Milo comes to a profound understanding.  In that moment, Milo mentally redraws all his pictures.  Milo's bundle of mixed emotions settles on one, happiness, as he shows the best drawing to the person he and his sister came to see, his mom.

Each description of Milo's observations and his imagined scenarios for the people on the subway train written by Matt de la Pena are beautifully lyrical.  His selection of words, adjectives and verbs, and use of figures of speech are adept and full of sensory awareness.  We have no idea of the destination for Milo and his sister until near the end of the narrative.  This makes the realization moving, as readers recognize the veracity of Milo's life.  His mother is incarcerated.  Here is a passage.

The wedding-dressed woman near the far door
has a face made out of light,
while the dog peeking out of her handbag has no face at all,
just a long, lolling tongue.

For the front and back of the dust jacket, artist Christian Robinson fashions very real portraits of Milo on the front and his older sister on the back.  Milo looks toward the right and his sister looks toward the left.  The inclusion of childlike drawings in crayon and colored pencil informs us of Milo's skill and his imagination.  There is a blend of realism and joyful fantasy.  There is something completely endearing about Milo's knitted hat with the hand-lettering of his name in the title.  The title text is varnished on matte-finished paper.  

On the book case is a depiction of the subway train, extending on either side of the spine which is one of the steel pillars in the station.  Among the authentic depictions of the passengers are inventive drawings made by Milo's mind.  A deep-sea diver is exiting the train as fish swim around them.  Like the dust jacket, the canvas is white.  The opening and closing endpapers mirror the design and color of Milo's hat.  For the two-page image for the title page, we see on the left drawings by Milo as he and his sister go down the stairs to the train on the right.  

These illustrations rendered

with acrylic paint, collage, and a bit of digital manipulation

all span two pages with the exception of six single-page pictures providing a pause in the pacing and highlight a shift in the narrative. They are a mix of reality and the spiral-bound notebook pages belonging to Milo.  Readers feel as though they are participants in this story through the alternating points of view.  At times we are seated in the subway train looking across the aisle at Milo and the others on his side.  Other times we move in closer to Milo's side.  And sometimes we are shown a larger view of the station.

We are distinctly aware of the facial expressions and body postures of the characters.  There are people of varying ages, walks of life, and ethnicity.  When we are viewing the pages of Milo's notebook, we sometimes see his hand steadying a page or holding a pencil as he draws.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page image.  We are close to Milo, his sister, and a new passenger on the subway.  On the far left, seated, is an elderly, well-dressed gentleman carrying a cane for walking.  Between him and Milo is an empty seat with Milo's notebook and pencil placed there.  Milo has turned in his seat to look at his face in the window.  His expression is one of curiosity.  Turned away from him and studying her phone is his sister on the right.

We need this book, Milo Imagines the World words by Matt de la Pena and pictures by Christian Robinson, so readers can see their story here and other readers can comprehend their stories with compassion.  This collaboration between these two creators is exceptional.  You will want to have a copy (or more) of this title in both your personal and professional collections. 

To discover more about Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Christian Robinson has interior images at this website.  Matt de la Pena has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Christian Robinson has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is a teacher's guide and an audio sample.  You will enjoy interviews about this book at Publishers Weekly, AL DIA, and NPR Weekend Edition.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

When Human Eyes Are Absent

In winter, their presence is easily noticed.  New snow is patterned with paths made by their prints.  They burrow and scoop out shelter under and among landscaping to stay warm during the chilly nights.  They dine on any available edible.

For the most part, they move in silence in any season when humans are tucked inside their homes asleep.  What they do after their essential needs are met is not as easily identified.  The impressions left in the snow, mud or dirt, sometimes indicate playful antics.  The Midnight Fair (Candlewick Press, February 2, 2021) written (conceived) by Gideon Sterer with illustrations by Mariachiara Di Giorgio is a marvelous wordless story of an extraordinary nighttime adventures of forest animals.  

As clouds gather and sunset casts a golden glow, a caravan rolls into a large meadow bordered by woodlands.  Behind the trees and tall grass, animals gather and watch.  The rides and concession stands are quickly assembled.  In darkness lights, loud noises, and laughter fill the air.  From the shadows, the animals still watch.

After the attendees and caretaker leave, the only light is from the glowing eyes of animals cautiously walking from the forest and entering the fair.  Clever climbing raccoons pull the main electricity lever.  The fair comes alive . . . again.

Spinning, swinging, and bumping rides are ridden, confections and snacks are consumed, and games are played and won.  Music floats up, down, and around.  Not a word is spoken, but every creature is finding fun.

All too soon, the sky in the east lightens, proclaiming the upcoming sunrise.  At the fair, the excitement lessens, and clean-up begins.  At home, the caretaker gets ready for his day, arriving as others slip away.  In the softness of dawn, there are suspicious surprises for the caretaker, and rejoicing and much-needed rest for the animals of the forest.  This tale has one, wonderful final twist. 

As the narrative unfolds author Gideon Sterer takes readers slowly from curiosity to cunning, and then to sustained elation until the break of dawn.  In this story, we shed what we think we know about animals, replacing it with an enormous imaginative leap.  The manner in which Gideon Sterer presents the events during this midnight magic resonates universally.  It reaches all readers; for who among us has not been enchanted by the dream of one transformative night?

This book with these images created by Mariachiara Di Giorgio is to be savored over and over, pausing to study each one.  Look carefully at the front, right, of the matching dust jacket and book case.  The starry constellations, outlines of buildings, tents, and rides at the fair, in the background have formed an enchanting place.  The music from the carousel floats out into the night air as animals from the forest ride and watch.  Who wouldn't want to be there with them? (The outlines, title text and entire carousel display are varnished on the front.)

To the left, on the back, the pinpoint outlines continue as a full moon peeks out from behind a tree on the left.  Silhouettes of animals in a line stretch from the TICKETS booth, as a resident wild canine accepts payment.  The opening and closing endpapers figure prominently in the pictorial interpretation of this story.  On the first set the open meadow is filling with the caravan of trucks each carrying fair equipment.  Behind a row of trees and grass in the foreground animals watch.  The final set of endpapers has the same illustration except now the meadow is nearly empty and only a portion of one trailer is visible, vanishing on the left.

The artwork for this book was rendered

in watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil.

These mediums portray a realm in eloquent detail, textured and inviting.  The double page illustration for the verso and title pages continues the story with the setup of the fair as the animals gaze at the activity in secret.  Mariachiara Di Giorgio uses a series of panels framed in white lines to supply pacing.  Two square images might be paired with a horizontal picture on a single page or two horizontal images might be spread across two pages together, one on top of the other.  Double-page pictures provide readers with gasp-worthy scenes like when the fair, now back to life, is spread before the animals as they enter or when we look down on animals spinning in saucers.  Every element in these visuals is worthy of study, humor is highly evident.  You'll note the raccoons working to turn on the main switch, the method of payment used by the animals, the porcupine with sweet treats stuck to its quills, and the animals riding the roller coaster, arms in the air as it cascades down.

There is also a story within the story here.  Without disclosing too much, careful readers will watch as a wolf wins a particular prize at the ring toss.  We see him throughout the illustrations, still holding his reward.  Remember when it was mentioned we need to suspend what we think we know about animals?  

One of my many, many favorite pictures is when the animals are watching humans at the fair on this opening night.  In the bright, but muted, lights the midway spreads across two pages.  In much darker colors, shadows, leaves, berries and seeds border the top and the right side in the foreground.  On the right a raccoon is gathering branches and stems, pinecones, and mushrooms.  From the left side a bear is watching.  Next to the bear are two rabbits (hares) with only their ears visible from the bottom of the page.  They are all waiting.  These animals are very close to the reader.

In case you have ever wondered what wild animals do when humans are not present, this book, The Midnight Fair written (conceived) by Gideon Sterer with artwork by Mariachiara Di Giorgio, is a gorgeous window into possibility.  This story and every illustration ask readers to participate and enjoy each moment.  You will want to have this breathtaking, inventive book in your professional collections as well as on your personal bookshelves.  This title is one you will want to share often, gifting it so others can find joy in its magic.

To learn more about Gideon Sterer and Mariachiara Di Giorgio, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Gideon Sterer has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Mariachiara Di Giorgio has an account on Facebook.  This book is featured at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast by author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson.  Mariachiara Di Giorgio is highlighted at Let's Talk Picture Books in a 2017 interview by Mel Schuit.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Horror In Human History

As early as December 2020, the reviews were being published.  To date, there are six starred reviews.  Starred reviews from professional publications are an indicator of a book's value to the reading community and society as a whole.  While a few, or sometimes many, may not agree with those professional assessments, at the very least these reviews ask us to form our own opinions by personally reading the title.

What you can never know, until you hold this book in your hands and read it, is how stunning it is and how justified those starred reviews are.  When turning the pages of Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre (Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., February 2, 2021) written by Carole Boston Weatherford with artwork by Floyd Cooper, you truly have to remind yourself to breathe.  As the events are presented in eloquent words and illuminating images, you find yourself horrified at the suffering inflicted on an entire group of people

Once upon a time near Tulsa, Oklahoma,
prospectors struck it rich in the oil fields.

This richness invited people from many places to converge and begin their lives anew.  In Tulsa, a community named Greenwood became the home for 

Black Indians, . . . formerly enslaved people, and Exodusters.

In Greenwood, there was a total population of close to ten thousand individuals.  Unjust segregation laws were firmly established.  In spite of these laws, the Black citizens flourished.

Along Greenwood Avenue, a series of businesses grew.  It was known as Black Wall Street.  These business provided a vast array of services and essential needs like grocery stores and a shop for automobile repair.  Here they had their own modes of transportation, libraries, a hospital, and an outstanding school system.  Dr. A. C. Jackson, a nationally known Black surgeon resided in Greenwood. (He perished in the massacre.)  For guests to the Black community in Greenwood there was the grand Stradford Hotel.  One of two movie theaters seated eight hundred viewers.

This deserved prosperity was about to disappear.  On May 30, 1921, a Black teenager and a white elevator operator still in her teens were in an elevator together.  The girl accused the boy of assault.  Hundreds of whites gathered where he was being held intent on removing him from custody.  A much fewer number of Blacks, thirty, gathered in his defense.  They fought and twelve died initially.

Among the whites, a rumor of an impending Black attack incited the growing mob to move their focus from the courthouse to Greenwood.  Unprepared, the Greenwood population in their homes and businesses fled for their lives.  What followed was then, and is still today, the worst kind of nightmare.  Three hundred Black people lost their lives.  Three hundred.  More than eight thousand were homeless.  Eight thousand.  Heartbreak forced people to leave and resolve prompted others to stay and rebuild.  Today when visiting Tulsa, there is a place for remembrance, reflection, and commitment for truth and the hope it brings.

Using a recurring phrase,

Once upon a time

author Carole Boston Weatherford takes us deeper and deeper into the lives of the residents of Greenwood.  She moves from Tulsa as a whole, to Greenwood, to Black Wall Street, and then to Greenwood, giving us a picture of what this community represented for the people who lived and worked there.  Very specific facts bring Greenwood in its thriving glory alive for us. 

After the elevator incident, the focus of the narrative shifts to a depiction of mounting tension as the information compounds.  The four connecting words are used only once more to present the resulting devastation.  As with the best kind of writing, this ends with a single powerful and unifying word.  Here is a passage.

Once upon a time in Greenwood
there were barbershops and beauty salons.

Miss Mabel's Little Rose
Beauty Salon boomed

on Thursdays when maids
who worked for white families

got coiffed on their day off
and strutted in style

up and down 
Greenwood Avenue. . . .

Disbelief, fear, and agony are shown on the features of the collected faces of the victims of the massacre on the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  The image shown on the front, right, extends over the spine to the left, on the back.  In the background are destroyed buildings ravaged by fires.  The spreading darkness is smoke from those fires, but to this reader also embodies the darkness of racism.  The family we see on the front displays a mixture of various emotions along with the need for flight.  

On the back the seven people, from various walks of life, portray all ages, and are symbols of moments in the narrative.  For example, the man in military attire could serve as a reminder of the World War One veterans who offered assistance in defending the accused young man, homes and businesses until they were overwhelmed.  On the opening endpapers is a bird's eye view of Greenwood Avenue at its best.  The closing endpapers offer a photographic portrait of Greenwood after the massacre.  For the title page portions of the jacket and case fill in the letters.  This is a striking effect.

These illustrations rendered by Floyd Cooper 

using oil and erasure

elevate and intensify the words.  The landscapes in the scenes are realistic and historically informative.  Sometimes, Floyd Cooper brings us close to the individuals.  These people, these individuals, appear as alive as we are. 

For the pages describing the elevator ride there is complete darkness except for the light coming from the inside of the elevator.  We see the teenage boy with his hand on the up and down buttons and the teenage girl standing in the elevator.  This exemplifies a huge change, and it asks us to pause.  Another momentous picture is a close-up of three faces, one Black man and two white men, during the first clash at the courthouse.

One of my many, many favorite of these two-page paintings is for the words above noted.  It is on Greenwood Avenue with the buildings on the left and right and a car on the right fading to the back.  On the left a family of four, wearing beautiful period clothing, walks down the street.  The older of the daughters is carrying several books.  The mother is wearing a fur-collared coat.  A brooch on her coat and a necklace indicate their economic status.  The father wearing a tie and longer coat holds the youngest daughter's hand.  She wears a yellow coat and matching hat.  There is something about this family which is movingly normal.  On the right is a women with hair recently styled.  She carries a gift box tied in a bow.

This book, Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre written by Carole Boston Weatherford with art by Floyd Cooper, no matter how many times you read it, is excellent in supplying readers with an accurate explanation of what happened. In the words of Carole Boston Weatherford, it is exemplary in  

rescuing events and figures from obscurity by documenting American history.

The author's and illustrator's notes on the closing two pages further enlighten readers.  It is of the utmost importance to have this title in your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper and their other remarkable work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Carole Boston Weatherford has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Floyd Cooper has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  At The Lerner Blog are articles titled Unspeakable: A Visit to Tulsa's Black Wall Street and Q & A with Carole Boston Weatherford.  This book is featured at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production and Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast with extensive discussions and observations.  For further research you might want to read 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre at the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum website and this article dated June 19, 2020 at PBS News Hour titled What happened 99 years ago in The Tulsa Race Massacre.

UPDATE:  At School Library Journal The Classroom Bookshelf, there is a series of teaching ideas and resources for this title.

UPDATE:  At Lerner there are more resources, including a teaching guide for grades 3-8.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

It's Your Choice

Different cultures have different customs relative to personal space.  Greetings, goodbyes, and signs of affection vary from place to place and from person to person in those places.  Some individuals are comfortable with another reaching out to touch them as a sign of goodwill and others are not.  Sometimes the form of those contacts in greeting, in goodbyes, and with caring vary from a shoulder touch to a fist bump, pinkie shakes or an embrace.

Spending your days as an educator with children of all ages, you find creative ways to express welcome, compassion, praise and farewell, being respective of each individual's personal space.  (Mrs. Piggly-Wiggly, a pig puppet, often helped me read aloud and turn book pages with my kindergarten and first grade students.  Invariably as they were leaving, many of the students, knowing full well she was a puppet, gave her a hug as they went out the door.)  Don't Hug Doug (He Doesn't Like It) (Putnam, G.P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, January 26, 2021) written by Carrie Finison with illustrations by Daniel Wiseman focuses with honesty on those children, people, who simply don't want others to hug them. 

You can hug a pug.

You can hug a bug.
(Maybe . . .)

Or a slug.

But don't hug Doug.
He doesn't like it.  

With politeness, Doug asks not to be hugged.  He does not like to be hugged.  It's not that he doesn't like you, he does.  Hugs are too much of everything he avoids.

There are things Doug likes.  He has an assortment of collections he enjoys.  He is especially fond of playing a harmonica with other harmonica players. 

You might look at Doug and think this boy needs a hug.  Don't hug Doug.  It does not matter what the occasion is or the kind of hug it is.  Doug is not a hugger.

There is one, only one, kind of hug he likes from one special person.  Who gives this hug?  When does he get this hug?  If you are not this person and if it is not the right time of day, don't give Doug a hug.  There are other individuals, beings, you can hug, but you need to ask permission first.  This is a nod to their dignity.

What can you do if, like Doug, people don't want hugs?  Like Doug, they might like high fives.  Doug is a professional high fiver!  He has perfected all kinds of high fives like the 

elbow five, piggy five and spinny five.

How about you?

One of the first things you notice about the writing of this book is the upbeat narrative.  Carrie Finison exhibits great care in her word choices.  She supplies multiple examples in support of and to reinforce Doug's desires using rhyming and repetition.  In Doug's own words, after a series of statements, he jovially adds exactly what he means.  Here is a passage.

Can you hug Doug's
pet potbellied pig?


"Can we hug your pet potbellied pig?"

Yes, she loves hugs!
But be gentle.
She's a little scared
of strangers.

It's easy to see when looking at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, the drawings, artwork, of Daniel Wiseman highly complement the story.  The buoyant color palette, body postures, and facial expressions are welcoming and warm.  To the left, on the back, a page of interior illustrations is featured.  They show Doug in four different situations.  The narrator is asking if these four kinds of hugs are okay and Doug, with his usual happy disposition, replies.  The backgrounds for all four shift from golden yellow to vibrant grass green, forest green, and then purple.  

On the opening endpapers is a bold green with bright, dark yellow polka-dots.  The same color combination is used on the closing endpapers.  This time it is horizontal stripes.  The basic design shown on the front of the jacket and case is replicated on the title page.  This time the canvas is a crisp white and the title text is blue.  Doug has another statement to make.

These digital drawings vary in size.  Some span two pages, others are grouped in panels on a single page, and sometimes full pages, edge to edge.  With every page turn you feel your happiness growing as you experience the merriment shown on the characters' faces and how they react to Doug and other beings. (Well, there is the slug grimace, though.)  Don't you just love Doug's red glasses?

The other children and adults mirror a variety of races and ages.  Frankenstein even makes an appearance.  There are animals and robots, too.  The dialogue, other than the narrator, is shown in speech balloons.

One of my many favorite illustrations is on a full page.  Doug is shown kneeling as he makes a drawing of his pet potbellied pig using colors from his chalk collection.  He is wearing his green and yellow-striped shirt, green pants, and miss-matched socks from his sock collection hanging on the wall behind him.  On his purple carpet are scattered pieces of chalk, his harmonica, a game controller, and a book titled ROCKS OF THE WORLD.  To the left of his sock collection is shelving with cubbies for his rocks.

You know when you read a book and it just feels right?  This book, Don't Hug Doug (He Doesn't Like It) written by Carrie Finison with drawings by Daniel Wiseman, is one of those books.  This is a book to share with everyone, individuals like Doug and others who need to understand the wishes of others.  It will promote healthy discussions.  This is a book about compassion and individuality you'll want to have in your professional and personal collections.  

To learn more about Carrie Finison and Daniel Wiseman and their other work, please access their respective websites by following the link attached to their names.  At Carrie Finison's site is a list of stops on her virtual tour for this book.  A couple are storytimes in the future.  Carrie Finison has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Daniel Wiseman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

Sunday, February 14, 2021


For forty-seven years and counting, it has been a privilege to work within and enjoy a world centered in children's literature.  Book by book my already considerable respect for authors and illustrators has grown every year.  With each new title I hold in my hands and read, it still grows.

One of the greatest joys of being a teacher librarian, other than sharing books with all readers, is the honor of watching an author, illustrator, or author illustrator begin and master their art.  Underlying every word they write and every element in the images they make is a passion for bringing their absolute best to children, readers, of all ages.  In 2021 one of these creators has released two books within a week of each other.  To me, these titles demonstrate this individual's skill.  Bear Island (Feiwel And Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, January 26, 2021) written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell addresses the life-changing event of great loss. 

Goodbye, Charlie.

In a series of five wordless illustrations, with the exception of the words above on the final picture, prior to the title page, we learn of the value of Charlie, the family's canine member.  The family is Louise, Mom, Dad, and Charlie living in a home on a lake.  Near the home is an island.

One day, in a small rowboat, Louise goes to the island, thinking about Charlie.  Missing him, she wanders alone there.  She finally, after quite a while, decides to leave.  She grabs a stick and hits a nearby tree.  In a flash, butterflies surround Louise.  Several deer come from the woods near her.  Louise is starting to feel a shift in her soul, but suddenly that stops.

Large, loud noises send the butterflies and deer away.  A bear stands near Louise, roaring.  She is afraid and mad, mad about so many things.  She roars back, waving her stick.  The bear lies down.  As she goes to her boat to leave, Louise looks back at the bear.  In him, she senses herself.

Day after day, Louise returns to the island.  Some days for her, and for Bear, are better than others, but together they are making a difference.  Through the seasons, life on the island is shifting.  It is not the only place change is happening. Even though winter is coming, Louise continues to visit the island until one day, Bear is missing.  When she finally finds him, a hard truth envelopes her.  It is fortunately followed by other wonderful truths.

Each sentence by this author states succinctly what can be seen and thought.  Matthew Cordell leaves room in his narrative for readers to find connections to their own life experiences.  His word choices are sensory, welcoming us into this story.   He also employs repetition to reinforce and intensify a particular moment.  Here is a passage.

But then . . . came a noise.
A crunching of leaves noise . . .
A snapping of trees noise . . .
A chuffing of breath noise . . .


When you stare at the bear spread across the front, right, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case, what do you see? Do you see the use of light and shadow?  Do you see the texture and color of the bear's fur?  Do you see how the top of his head and the shape of the island are one?  Why is Louise standing on his head?  There is so much in this initial image for readers to notice and understand.  The title text is varnished.  To the left, on the back, on a canvas of white, is a loosely framed circular picture.  This picture features the island, shades of turquoise water lapping against its shores.  Butterflies hover over the treetops.

A bright spring green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the first page is a baseball nearly life-size on white.  It is followed by Louise throwing the ball to a running Charlie.  In the next three pages we know Charlie is gone.  The color palette is sepia for the grief Louise, Mom, and Dad are feeling.  The two-page picture for the verso, dedication and title pages is a close-up of the water around the island.  Fish swim in the upper corners.  On the right, on a small stone above the water rests a gorgeous butterfly, its color in contrast to the water.


in pen and ink with watercolor and sometimes gouache

the images mirror and elevate the story.  At first, they continue in the sepia tones (and again at the end) altering in size from two-page visuals, single-page pictures, to a circular image on a single page and at times multiple images are placed together to depict the passage of time.  The shapes of these multiple images vary.  They are loose circles, vertical panels, squares, or rectangles.  A crisp white background heightens the impact of many of these illustrations.

Matthew has a gift for using powerful wordless visuals.  He does so with great effect in this book.  Their emotional force will leave you breathless.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is one of ten spread across two pages.  It is a small rectangle.  It is framed in a loose black line.  Inside are Louise and Bear. They are in the water, looking out across it with their backs to us.  Louise is standing with her stick, using is like a staff.  Bear is seated in the water next to her.

This book, Bear Island written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, is one to heal the hole left by loss.  It speaks directly to how grief wraps around us, but how we can replace it with something else.  A closed door can also open.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Matthew Cordell, you can visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Matthew has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Matthew and this book are featured by Elizabeth Bird, Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system, at her space at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production and by author, reviewer, and blogger, Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Oh, there is nothing like holding a book in your hands with the return of a fiery, determined protagonist within its pages.  We first met her in a montage of modes of transportation as she, with the most heartfelt of reasons, desired to make a gift of an elephant to her Great-Aunt Josephine.  This is Special Delivery.  In The Only Fish In The Sea, she sets off on a stormy sea accompanied by a friend and a unruly crew to rescue a tiny pet, a gift, tossed away.  Sadie is back!  

This time, Sadie's Aunt Josephine takes center stage, regaling readers and Sadie with a particularly crazy feat from her youth.  Follow That Frog! (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, February 2, 2021) written by Philip C. Stead with illustrations by Matthew Cordell is an adventure loaded with non-stop action and laugh-out-loud hilarity.  You'll begin to understand why Sadie exhibits certain characteristics as she faces life's challenges.

Grrr . . .

Sadie has started her day, carrying a tray with a pot of tea and cups to her Aunt Josephine's bedroom.  She opens the curtains in her aunt's bedroom.  There is a steady and very loud knocking at the door to Aunt Josephine's home.  Aunt Josephine does not want to answer the door and wishes to do nothing more than sleep to noon.  

After all her around-the-world escapades, she deserves her rest.  Then she launches into a tale of 

cataloging amphibians for the scientific team of Admiral Rodriguez

in the wilds of Peru at the tender age of nine.  Admiral Rodriquez, we discover, has died in a weird event involving bananas. His son has a serious crush on Josephine.

While gazing at Josephine's beauty, this son is devoured by an enormous frog. (Are you laughing yet?)  Momentarily stunned, Josephine springs into action.  She has to catalog that frog!  Josephine and her loyal canine companion, Orion Francis Nelson, are in persistent pursuit, finding themselves in the hot regions of southern Argentina. 

The frog, tiring of riding a rhea, leaps north toward the Panama Canal.  Josephine and her dog manage to catch up as it heads west. To their dismay, the vessel they secure to follow the ravenous leaper helps them get totally lost.  Nevertheless, Josephine stays upbeat until a band of pirates near the Canary Islands take away her vessel.  They are left stranded.

As fate would have it, a whale provides much-needed assistance. Josephine, now touring around the globe searching for the frog via alternative forms of travel, tries to never gives up.  To this day she has never located that frog. This is her one regret.  Sadie, ever the optimist, offers wise words.  


With every reading, you will be laughing more and more as the sheer absurdity of this tale told in dialogue strikes every humorous chord in your body.  Philip C. Stead has taken his well-crafted characters and heightens their exploits to extraordinary.  Just when you believe it can't possibly get more outrageous, it does in the best possible manner.

Philip C. Stead's choice of verbs and adjectives has readers following every twist and turn.  Even though, we, like Sadie, are listening to this story, it is as if we are there in every single second.  This is this author's gift to us.  There is a part of us that knows this would never happen, but as we read this story, it is the truth.  Here is a passage.

I gave chase, northward, aboard a reluctant tortoise,
disembarking at the Panama Canal,
where the frog took a sharp left turn, heading west into the tempestuous waters. 

By opening the dust jacket, you get the full advantage of the design and artwork by Matthew Cordell.  To the left, on the back, Aunt Josephine is sitting up in bed under her colorful quilt.  Sadie is standing next to the bed, sipping a cup of tea.  Chickens are meandering in the room, some looking for food and others looking up with the dog toward the front of the dust jacket.  A rooster on one of the bedposts is crowing.  Speech clouds spread from Aunt Josephine, puffing toward the spine.  One of those clouds frames the ISBN.  On the right, front, a large cloud borders the scene of a young Aunt Josephine chasing the frog with her pal, Orion Francis Nelson.  Two methods of travel, the tortoise and rhea, are moving as fast as they can.  The giant frog and the title text are varnished.  

The book case cleverly presents JOSEPHINE'S FIELD GUIDE.  The canvas is lined pages.  The larger entries are taped to the pages.  On the front, right side, are drawings and a photograph of frogs.  Some are labeled.  There are smaller sketches and flora taped to the pages. On the back, the left, is a diagram of the inside of a frog, a drawing of the rhea and several other photographs.  Smaller elements hint at events to come.

The opening and closing endpapers are a bright green.  On the first single page and first double-page picture before the verso, dedication, and title pages, we see Sadie standing inside in front of the door, her back to us.  She then moves toward her Aunt Josephine's bedroom.  Oh, my goodness . . . the intricate numerous details will have you pausing.  On the walls you will see memorabilia from Josephine's travels and those of Sadie from the two previous books.  The expressions on the chickens' faces and the antics of the dog are fabulous and funny.

The chickens and dog continue to be aggravated by the knocking on the verso and dedication page.  On the title page, Sadie opens her aunt's bedroom curtains.  This is the placeholder for the title text.

White space is an important part in all these illustrations.  They highlight each line and supply a place for the present-day Josephine to tell her story to Sadie as larger images to the right and across several pages portray her past.  In fact, in the present day readers will delight in watching how the morning proceeds.  It is guaranteed you will see something new in the illustrations every time you read this book.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the text:

. . . run and run and run with no particular destination in mind.

It spreads across two pages.  The cloud's background signifies the desert.  On a path of her own making Josephine speeds across on her motorcycle, wearing proper attire and with her dog at her side.  A parrot flies along with the duo.  Weaving and looping around the sand is the rhea carrying this huge frog.  The facial looks on both the frog and rhea are humorous with a capital H.  For seven of the pictures of the frog and rhea, they are together.  In the eighth set, the frog jumps from the relieved and startled rhea's back. 

Whether you've read the first two books, you must have a copy of Follow That Frog! written by Philip C. Stead with illustrations by Matthew Cordell for your professional and personal collections.  Although to be honest, having all three books makes for richer reading.  In both words and images, this is storytelling at its finest.  

To learn more about Philip C. Stead and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At Penguin Random House, you can view a few images.  The book release party was at The Book StallYou can watch it now.  At Books of Wonder, you can register for a future event. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

From The Courage Of One . . .

Throughout human history, during the worst of times the best kind of individual will step forward to make every effort possible to fight against evil.  Sometimes this individual will shout from the rooftops rallying others to resist the attacks on fundamental human rights.  There are other people who work with more discretion.  While their efforts are not unknown by those they help, they accomplish great things in relative silence.  

One of these people was Nicholas Winton.  One of the people he helped was a child, Veruska Diamantova.  Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued (Norton Young Readers, an imprint of W. W. Norton & Company, January 26, 2021) written and illustrated by Peter Sis is their story.  It is a story of service and survival during the darkness of World War Two.

Nicky was born in 1909,
into a century full of promise. . . .

In 1938, Vera was ten years old.
She lived with her family in a small town near the big city of Prague.

Nineteen years separated the ages of these two people.  Nicky attended a school with students encouraged to pursue their wide range of interests.  As he grew up, Nicky was involved in banking.  He learned German and French and how to navigate multiple modes of transportation.  Nicky and his friends were concerned about the political climate in the late 1930s in Europe.  In December 1938, Nicky went to Prague to visit with a friend. 

Vera's family was Jewish, but in her small community all people were friends.  Her family spoke the Czech language.  In October 1938, the Nazis invaded Sudetenland, along the Czechoslovakian border.  Vera's parents heard of a man in Prague who was helping children escape from the Germans.  That man, an Englishman, was Nicky.

In England, children were welcome as refugees if they were under seventeen years old, had a family to care for them, and had transportation.  In Prague, from a hotel room, Nicky started his operation, taking pictures of children and keeping lists of their information.  He located trains.  Then he returned to London in January 1939.  He found families and prepared the necessary documentation.  In March 1939, the country of Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Germans.  It was time for Vera to leave.

It took three full days for the train to arrive in London carrying those seventy-six children.  Eight trains in total journeyed from Prague.  

Six hundred sixty-nine children of all ages reached London safely.

There was a ninth train set to leave Prague, but the Germans stormed into Poland.  That train with 250 children did not leave Prague.  Vera's cousins were on that train.  During the war Nicky was an ambulance driver.  Vera wrote in her diary.  After the war they both married and had families.  They both lived in England.  As Nicky aged, a discovery was made.  Fifty years had come and gone, but two separated by nineteen years in their ages were no longer apart on one important day.

As only a master wordsmith can, Peter Sis takes the two strands of the lives of Nicholas Winton and Veruska Diamantova and weaves them beautifully together.  Through meticulous research and superb pacing, we move from one to other as he recounts personal information about their lives.  Peter Sis makes a single statement reinforcing it with additional details.  Selected historical facts build toward the horrific situation in Czechoslovakia as the Germans advanced, adding urgency to Nicky's endeavors and the fate of Vera's life.  Here are two passages, one for Nicky and one for Vera.

Seventy-six children got on the train.
Vera tried not to cry.
She and the other children
did not know what lay ahead.
So they told stories
about the lives they left behind.

Nicky was out of time.
He put away his records.

Blue, a cool color, but also a color of calm creates an atmosphere on the front of the dust jacket.  Can you see Nicky framed by the trains and Big Ben?  Warmth is found in the outline of Vera and the pictures within that outline.  We see representations of her love of cats, her parents she never saw again, and the horse used in her parents work that she enjoyed feeding.  

To the left of the spine, on the back, is introductory text about the book.  In the middle, between the words, is the outline of a single face, Nicholas Winton's face.  Within that face are pictures of some of the children he saved.  On the cloth, textured book case in tan is a single element. A train locomotive is embossed in the lower, right-hand corner.  The opening and closing endpapers are a shade of tan.  On the title page is a map of Europe with a line drawn from London to Prague.

The exquisite, intricate images in each illustration by Peter Sis are remarkable.  Every one contributes to a stunning whole.  Each time you read this book you see something new, something valuable, something essential.  Each of these aspects widens the narrative.  There are pictures within pictures within pictures fashioning a sensory and private perspective.  On a single page, the illustration for the text noted above about Vera is set on a grid of six squares, fine blue lines on cream.  It is loosely circular.  Around the circle are tiny figures representing the children.  Inside the circle are five children.  On benches are four, seated two to a bench.  Vera, her back to us, is telling them a story.  On the top of her head are cat ears.  A cat tail extends from the back of her clothing. 

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is the second double-page picture in this book.  Across the top we see a building representing Nicky's school.  A large oval path across and around both pages shows various children walking with their pets.  Seven pigeons fly around a large depiction of Nicky in the center lawn area.  (He raised pigeons.)  Nicky is astride a large pigeon.  He is wearing clothing like a knight.  In his hand is a fencing sword.  He wears a helmet.  There are tiny portraits on his clothing.  He carries a shield with the words:


In the center of his body, a knight is fighting a fire-breathing dragon.

This recounting of two lives is a distinguished presentation in words and pictures.  You will find yourself reading Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued written and illustrated by Peter Sis repeatedly.  Each time you will be moved by this man's significant triumphs in the face of evil.  The three-page author's note at the end is a must read. A list of resources is included. I can't imagine a personal or professional collection without this title.  I can't imagine teaching a history class without this book.  

To learn more about Peter Sis and his other work, you can visit his accounts on Facebook or Instagram.  The cover was revealed at Publishers Weekly through a wonderful conversation.  At author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast this title is showcased.  At the publisher's website you can view interior pages.  At Matthew Winner's The Children's Book Podcast, Peter Sis speaks with him about this book.  For more information about Nicky, you can read Nicholas Winton, Rescuer of 669 Children From Holocaust Dies at 106 from The New York Times.  To discover more about Vera, you can read this interview found at The Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive, The University of Michigan-Dearborn.