Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

An Enduring Testament

When tragedy strikes our home, community, state, or country, we mark it with a memory. We cannot forget what we were doing when it happened.  Some of the tragedies are profound enough the whole world remembers along with us.  The events in the United States on September 11, 2001, are unforgettable.

The news, as quietly as possible, flew from classroom to classroom at our elementary school.  Adult staff members tried to proceed through the day as normally as possible although our hearts were heavy.  After school we gathered with our principal, many of us tears streaming down our faces.  It seems impossible this was twenty years ago.  Survivor Tree (Little, Brown And Company, August 31, 2021) written by Marcie Colleen with illustrations by Aaron Becker notes those events with an extraordinary story.  Nature finds a way.

at the foot of the towers that filled the sky.

This Callery pear tree reflected the seasons.  From bare branches to blooming branches to boughs laden with green and then red, it shifted with the changing months.  For three decades it grew and lived, untouched.

In September, on a brilliant blue-sky day, normalcy for this tree, its surroundings, and the humans in its city was blasted aside.  Amid the destruction, the tree appeared to be a skeleton of its former self.  Then, hope spoke.  Those clearing the devastation found green sprouts on the branches of the tree.

In its broken, but hopeful state, the tree was placed in a new space.  Through winter and spring, it stayed the same, until new life unexpectedly appeared.  The tree again reflected the seasons for nearly ten years.

When the next winter came, the tree was taken to its original place.  The towers, two, were gone.  The tree was there, a visible, living testament to the tragedy and hopeful strength.  From old scarred, bark smooth growth extended.

The text written by Marcie Colleen reads like poetry.  A single sentence vividly describes the tree's presence in each season until that catastrophic September day.  The cadence stops as stunned as the world was.  Again single, carefully penned phrases (sometimes two) follow the tree's journey, until changes necessitate more words.  We feel the rhythm of the story through the use of repetition.  It brings us back to winter, spring, summer, and fall with a renewed perspective.  Here is a passage.

Two stone blocks were placed in its stunted shadow---
a memorial of makeshift towers in a makeshift home.
No longer stretching tall,
the tree reached deep in the warm earth,

and all was quiet.  

(Please note I am working with an F & G.  My copy has not arrived yet.)

When you open the dust jacket, the choice of hues blankets you in calm.  The illustration of the Survivor Tree as it stands today at the 9/11 Memorial continues across the spine and over the fold of the front flap.  Notice the trunks of the other trees and the similarly colored shapes representing the aluminum and steel lattice tridents on the towers.  As they move toward the sky their shades are muted.

To the left, on the back, an image of the memorial is presented.  It is as if we are standing there.  On the bottom we can see portions of names around a white rose.  Above this is one of the two pools.  The words,


are shown as our eyes move to the top.  Trees in autumn rise in front of buildings and a sky with some clouds.

(If you go to the illustrator's Instagram account you can see the stunning book case as he unboxes his copies from the publisher.)

The endpapers, quotation page, dedication and title pages, pages of notes, and publication information pages are awash in colors depicting the different times of day and seasons of the year.  Floating through them as if on a breeze are leaves.  They, too, mirror the times of day and seasons of the year in their hues.  The title page is a double-page illustration, a breathtaking view of New York City as if we are arriving by water with the Statue of Liberty on our left and the skyline spread before her.  The Survivor Tree glows in front of the Twin Towers.  

These images by artist Aaron Becker were rendered

in watercolor and colored pencil on 300 lb. hot press watercolor paper.

On heavier, matte-finished paper these double-page pictures convey a range of emotions.  Aaron Becker enhances the beautiful narrative by pictorially supplying another story, a human story, within the tale of the tree.  This story follows a family through photographs initially. 

Every time you read this book; you will see more included details in Aaron Becker's visuals.  He employs cutaways to show the roots of the tree.  Seasons blend from one side of the page to the other.  What will each reader see on the pages before the crashes?  For emphasis Aaron Becker alters his perspectives.  We are brought close to the hand caressing the green on the broken tree.  As the tree is brought to the memorial, it is a more panoramic view with lots of sky.  One wordless illustration is breathtaking.

One of my many favorite pictures is toward the closing of the book.  We are close to the tree, it's trunk on the left and multiple branches extending up and out to the right-page edge.  It is autumn.  We can see the leaves tinged with muted red, orange, yellow, and purple.  Their backs to us, a father and his daughter reach toward one of the branches.  The daughter's left hand and arm rests on her father's right shoulder.  Together they touch history and hope.

With every reading the richness of Survivor Tree written by Marcie Colleen with illustrations by Aaron Becker envelopes you.  Viewing this tree's story through the poetic words by the author and the striking artwork, with an added pictorial interpretation, by the illustration creates a promise.  It's a promise we can hold in our hands.  At the close of the book is more information about the Survivor Tree and an author's and an illustrator's notes.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Marcie Colleen and Aaron Becker and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the link attached to their names.  Marcie Colleen has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Aaron Becker has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website there is a video/podcast with Aaron Becker talking about his artwork for this title and a podcast with Marcie Colleen speaking about her writing for this book.  At author, reviewer, and blogger, Julie Danielson's website, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, this title is showcased.  At author and teacher librarian Travis Jonker's School Library Journal, 100 Scope Notes, website is the cover reveal and a question and answer with both the author and the illustrator.

UPDATE:  Please enjoy this Five questions for Marcie Colleen and Aaron Becker in The Horn Book on September 8, 2021.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Melodies With Meaning

When we reach out to the world, human and natural, music is everywhere.  Some of the tunes are without words, but still speak volumes to us.  For those seeking to communicate with language, it might not be one we comprehend.  We know understanding what is said can have a greater impact on some individuals more than on other people. 

In this newest offering, author Jamie A. Swenson and artist Scott Magoon in collaboration present an interesting dilemma.  Chirp! Chipmunk Sings For A Friend (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, July 13, 2021) follows this creature yearning for someone to sing with her.  This is a story of her search and the outstanding outcome.

Chipmunk lived on a rock.

From the first light of day until the stars scattered across the darkened sky, Chipmunk chirped.  Her songs mirrored a range of emotions.  Rock could listen, but Rock could not sing.  Chipmunk decided to find someone to accompany her.

Pinecone agreed to meet Rock.  Pinecone was a perfect match for Rock, but not for Chipmunk.  She left again.  

Log was willing to meet Rock and Pinecone, but Chipmunk could not move Log.  She started to sing out her feelings.  Raccoon heard Chipmunk and asked her to keep singing.  Together they attempted to move Log.  Nothing worked. 

The duo sang out their feelings and were heard.  Moose came to listen.  After they were done, Moose agreed to help them move Log.  It did not go as expected.  No, it did not.  There are listeners and there are singers.  Sometimes, they find each other.

In this gentle, musical tale penned by Jamie A. Swenson, readers encounter a willingness to step into Chipmunk's journey.  Jamie A. Swenson uses the technique of three to great advantage creating a pattern and rhythm, inviting reader participation.  It is used in reference to songs, listening friends, moving, and singing friends.  Her combination of narrative and dialogue elevates the pacing.  Here is a passage.

"That is a sad song," said Raccoon.
"It is the song of my heart," said Chipmunk.
"It is beautiful," said Raccoon.  "Keep singing."

Chipmunk smiled and sang a bit more.
Raccoon swayed and tapped her paw.

One of the first things you realize upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case is the flow of the images rendered by Scott Magoon.  The illustration on the front, right, moves over the spine on the left and over the crease of the flap on the front.  The picture on the back continues to the edge of the back flap.  Chipmunk on the front is hopeful, ready to find a companion to share in her singing.  Her gaze asks us to join her.  The main title is in green foil.  Chipmunk is varnished.

To the left, on the back, Chipmunk is upright on her back legs.  She is swaying to her song.  It moves in double loops above her.  Do you hear this song of longing?

A bright spring green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, Chipmunk is peeking from behind Rock.  What will she find?  These digital images by Scott Magoon are atmospheric.

They bring us close to Chipmunk and the other characters, but also give us expansive views of Chipmunk's world.  The facial traits on the characters are animated and textured.  Even Rock, Pinecone, and Log urge us to touch them.  The matte-finished paper adds to the softness of the narrative and the visuals.  Many of the pictures are placed on a crisp white background.  Most of them are single-page images except for several double-page illustrations to accentuate significant moments.  And sometimes the single page visuals cross the gutter just a bit.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page picture.  Chipmunk is speaking to Pinecone.  Pinecone agrees to meet Rock.  It is a close-up of the twosome.  Chipmunk is so hopeful with one paw holding Pinecone and the other raised for emphasis.  Pinecone is tilted with needles attached to the tiny tip.

Readers will identify with the characters in this charming story, Chirp! Chipmunk Sings For A Friend written by Jamie A. Swenson with art by Scott Magoon, of hope and joy fulfilled.  Who among us, at one time or another, have not wished for someone to share what makes us the happiest?  This is a book to keep close as the conclusion is worth singing about loud and clear.  You will want to have copies on both your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Jamie A. Swenson and Scott Magoon and their other work, please access their respective websites by following the link attached to their name.  Jamie A. Swenson has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Scott Magoon has accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations and the dust jacket.

Each week in our community, the area farmers come to market.  Their stalls and tents dot the space between the main street and the harbor on Round Lake.  The air is charged with people hoping to find fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, freshly cut flowers and other home-grown products.  Sellers are equally enthusiastic people will find their offerings enticing enough to select and buy.  A Song of Frutas (Atheneum Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, August 13, 2021) written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Sara Palacios is a generational tale of supreme happiness and memories to hold in your heart.  It is written in a blend of Spanish and English. 

When we visit Abuelo, I help him sell frutas.
We sing the names of each fruit
as we walk, out footsteps like drumbeats,
our hands like maracas, shaking
bright food shapes
while we chant
with a rhythm:

As granddaughter and grandfather stroll through a town in Cuba singing, people in their homes listen and buy the fruit.  On the streets, other pregoneros sing.  Grandfather sings even louder, his song rising above the rest.

It is the only way for him to compete with the man selling tamales or the woman holding up her fresh herbs.  There is also a woman with a heavenly song persuading people to purchase her delicious treats.  This child's best memories are of New Year's Eve.

On this day people gather to buy grapes from her grandfather.  Twelve grapes are needed per person.  Do you know why?  Think of wishes and a better future for everyone.

Soon the granddaughter leaves for home.  She no longer sings with her grandfather in his town.  The two have discovered another way to sing.  It is a different kind of music, a symphony of one soul embracing a beloved soul.

This book, this poem, by Margarita Engle is uplifting from the first words we read.  Her presentation of Spanish and English supplies its own special kind of song.  Her similes ring radiantly across the pages.  Her descriptive words, her adjectives, take us deeply into this narrative.  Here is a passage.

Best of all is la dulcera,
a woman with the voice
of an angel, who croons so sweetly
in praise of los caramelos---
chocolates and other delicious candies.

Looking at the front, right, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case, you can't help but feel your spirit soaring.  The beaming faces of el abuelo and his granddaughter, singing about his fruit, are the essence of happiness.  Artist Sara Palacios infuses her images with cheer through her bright color choices.  To the left, on the back, we are fortunate to view an interior visual.  Here a basket loaded with fruit is being pulled up to a balcony by a mother.  Her daughter watches.  Below grandfather and granddaughter lift and wave in gratitude at the exchange.  On the dust jacket front, the title text, grandfather, granddaughter and the dog are varnished.

Sunshine yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page the duo is putting fruit in containers.  The grandfather holds a bunch of grapes.  On the dedication page, they and their two dogs are making their way to the town, a cart loaded with their fruit.

Each digitally rendered illustration, two-page pictures, single-page images, and groups of smaller visuals, heightens the energy found in the text.  The blue of the sky shown in many of the pictures is like a reflection of the sea surrounding the island.  The buildings are as varied in their hues as the fruit.

The facial expressions on the granddaughter and her grandfather as well as most of the other people in the community are brimming with joy.  They have, through Sara Palacios, chosen to receive their days with hope.  (I am more than happy to see the two canine companions which add to that joy.)

One of my many favorite pictures is the second double-page image.  We move close to the grandfather and his granddaughter as they hold out their fruit singing.  They are near their cart with buildings and that brilliant blue sky behind them.  Their two dogs are close, contentedly listening to the singing.  The boxes of fruit are labeled with their names in Spanish.  A woman and another man curiously watch.  Will they buy these splendid fruits?

A Song of Frutas written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Sara Palacios will have you wishing you could join this girl and her grandfather.  This book honors the traditions of los pregoneros, the New Year's Eve wishes on each of twelve grapes, the music of the spoken and written word, and the love between a grandparent and child.  At the close of the book in an author's note, Margarita Engle addresses Spanglish, Travel Restrictions, Los Pregoneros, and New Year's Eve.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections. (Please note this title is also released in Spanish.)

To discover more about Margarita Engle and Sara Palacios, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Margarita Engle has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Sara Palacios has an account on Tumblr.  To showcase this title Margarita Engle is interviewed at A Fuse #8 Production, School Library Journal and We Need Diverse Books.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Here is a link to an activity page.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Handheld Hilarity 2

Undoubtedly, humans with canine or feline members in their families can agree on certain shared experiences.  The unconditional love of our furry friends, some shown more easily than others, is without question.  This love supplies us with an incomparable form of companionship.  Each dog or cat has their own unique personality regardless of their breed.  Their individual quirks generate an endless supply of joy and laughter.

Our social media accounts are filled with photographs of our dogs and cats in their most precious, to us and sometimes to others, moments.  In Bloop (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, July 6, 2021) written by Tara Lazar with illustrations by Mike Boldt, an extraterrestrial is sent to Earth to prove his worthiness.  Imagine his surprise at discovering the wonderful life enjoyed by its rulers.

Training to be the next ruler of Planet XYZ was hard work, Bloop tried to follow all the emperor's rules, regulations, and robots.
But . . .

Bloop made so many mistakes, he was issued an ultimatum. In one week, Bloop needed to become the supreme ruler of Earth.  It was his last hope.

Upon arrival, he quickly noticed fluff balls, dogs, were in charge.  Why else would the larger beings chase them, cuddle them, or scoop their poop?  He learned as much as possible about these creatures, but control of them seemed impossible.  An SOS to the Emperor on Planet XYZ gave him another option to pursue.

Bloop hid his floofers and engaged in doglike activities.  It was superb until he was snatched up by the royal guard (animal control).  At the facility he was attended by servants.  A small one decided she wanted Bloop to live with her.

If Bloop thought acting like a dog was superb, living in a home with these beings was superb plus.  His accomplishments did not go unnoticed by the emperor.  Bloop had decisions to make.  The most crucial one involved his new mission.  It was PURR-fect.

Author Tara Lazar is gifted in crafting clever comedy.  In this story, she takes what we accept as ordinary and gives it a twist.  The perspective of Bloop, a visitor from another planet, is hilarious with a capital H.  Dogs rule this world!  To him fire hydrants are identical to robots on his planet.  He delights as a dog in giving them their due.  Furthermore, Tara Lazar has him view Earth as a realm.  Squirrels are commoners, and his new family are loyal subjects, a lady-in-waiting, a footman, and a very small servant.  Text and dialogue are used to excellent effect.  Here are two passages.

Bloop had plenty of gourmet nourishment and squishy, squeaky gizmos.
He realized these were for calling the servants.
A small, sticky one approached.

"Oh, Mommy, him, him,

"Let's see . . . must be a rare breed," said
the lady-in-waiting.  "Yes, let's take him!"

The open and matching dust jacket and book case tell an interesting tale.  To the left, on the back, on a green background similar to the color of Bloop is a spacecraft.  It has crashed into the dirt, sideways.  The hatch is open.  Leading from the vehicle are paw prints.  When you pair this with the front, on the right, the floofers are the finishing-touch clue as to Bloop's origin.  Look at the faces on the dogs!  Bloop and the text are varnished on the jacket.

On the opening endpapers Bloop, inside his spacecraft, is zooming through space in various positions.  Moons, comets, planets, and stars in a dark sky are his only comfort.  On the closing endpapers, Bloop is enjoying the life of a dog.  Tucked in the upper, right-hand corner is the Animal Control truck.  These images are placed on a bright yellow canvas.

On the title page, looking like a conquering hero, Bloop is front and center.  He is standing tall on planet Earth, leaning forward.  In his right paw he holds a large light-colored flag.  There the title is placed.

These digital images by Mike Boldt were created using

Painter and Photoshop.

They are a vivid, full-color collection of double-page pictures, smaller vignettes, and single-page visuals.  They are as lively as the characters with expressive facial features and body postures.  You can't resist smiling or laughing out loud.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page image.  It is on an orange canvas with a splash of bright yellow in the center.  Bloop was hoping his gathered treasures (dog toys) would ease him into the spot of ruler of planet Earth.  Instead, three dogs race around him, charge and grab at the toys, covering him in dog slobber.  They are blissfully happy, he is not.

If you are looking for laughter and a fresh perspective on the way of dogs on planet Earth, Bloop written by Tara Lazar with artwork by Mike Boldt is the title for you.  Not only does the humor flow freely through the combination of words and illustrations, but it offers us a means to ponder how the same thing can be seen differently.  You'll want a copy of this book for your professional and personal collections to add loads of humor to a story time.

To learn more about Tara Lazar and Mike Boldt and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Tara Lazar has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Mike Boldt has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  The cover reveal and book trailer premiere were hosted by librarian, lecturer at Rutgers University, and writer John Schumacher on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Tara Lazar and this title are showcased at Rhys Keller's site, Jena Benton's site, and at Laura Roettiger Books.

If you are a dog person, your experience tends to be limited with cats.  You rely on your cat-person friends' stories to inform you about their behaviors. And then, there are all those sleepovers with girlfriends and waking up to find the one's cat always sleeping on your head.  That particular tactic was puzzling to everyone, except for the cat.  Cat Problems (Random House Studio, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, August 3, 2021) written by Jory John with illustrations by Lane Smith explores the mind and attitude of at least one cat.  Or is it all cats?

Where's that sunbeam going?



Unfortunately, the sunbeam continues to move, and nineteen hours of sleep have been interrupted.  From this moment, events get worse.  The food dish is empty.  And another cat cannot remove itself fast enough from not one, but three special spots this cat, our protagonist, claims.

Bath time is necessary . . . alone if at all possible.  A box provides a temporary distraction and possible napping place.  Suddenly, a loud sound roars through the house.  It is clearly upsetting.  Wow! It's time to skedaddle to safety!  Threats are made.

The cat with problems believes it needs to leave this disaster of an existence.  Its frustrations are escalating.  It roams from space to space not satisfied with anything. Soon it sits on the top of a chair wishing and watching a squirrel on the outside.  The squirrel proceeds to give the cat a very complete lecture on its backward thinking.  The cat in turn wishes the window screen was gone for just enough time to grab that squirrel.

Feeling bored out of its mind, the cat does what cats do best.  


is spoken over and over and over again.  Initial results are not as desired.  Again, the meowing is raised to a din.  A peak point in an otherwise dull day is reached.  And then . . .here we go again.

Telling this story through the first-person (cat) voice doubles the hilarity.  Every nuance of this cat's day is vocalized through the spot-on words selected and written by Jory John.  This cat finds fault with everything!  What pushes the humor over the top is the squirrel's speech and the cat's response.  Here is a passage.


Wait, why did I just sniff
that catnip toy?

Now I'll be awake all night!
Goodness gracious.

Why can't I stop smelling this shoe?
I have to stop.
Still . . . it's intriguing.

What is it about
this shoe?

Is this what the 
smells like?

The matching dust jacket and book case begin the mirth found throughout this book.  Even though this cat is pleased with the box, for a split second, it looks stunned by its ho-hum life.  Even relieving its stress by clawing several letters in the title text does not work.  To the left, on the back, the background is covered in rows of 


The narrator, only neck and head visible, is yowling from the bottom of the image.  Its displeasure is highly evident. 

The opening and closing endpapers mirror boards (or fabric) scratched with vertical lines spaced close together.  (You will see this pattern again.)  On the title page, the cat is snoozing in the sunbeam beneath the text. For most of the book, the color palette seen on the jacket, case, endpapers, and title page remains the same with pops of vibrant hues for the other cat, the vacuum incident, a portion of the living room, and the catnip toy.

These visuals by artist Lane Smith 

created in oil paint mixed with cold wax and digitally in Procreate

ask readers to reach out and touch them.  We believe we can feel the torn places in the title letters, the warmth of the sunbeam, the fur on the cats, the roughness of the cat's tongue, the surface of the box and foil ball, and cloth of the catnip toy.  We are offered various perspectives depending on the size of the illustration; these elevating the narrative.  

Full-page pictures, half-page pictures, horizontally and vertically, sometimes crossing the gutter to become larger, collected squares to portray panic, and a few double-page images give the story excellent continuity.  The eyes on the two cats and the squirrel send the humor soaring.  They reveal a range of emotions.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a half-page image.  The cat is on its back.  Its tail is curled and its back legs are straight up.  One arm, the left, is next to its side.  The other paw is holding a foil ball and resting it on its stomach.  Its eyes look a little crazed.  The words say:

I gotta get out
of this house.

Whether you are a cat lover or not, this book, Cat Problems written by Jory John with illustrations by Lane Smith, will have you howling with laughter due to the veracity on every page.  The words and art form a story time treasure.  No personal or professional bookshelves would be complete without a copy of the title.

To learn more about Jory John and Lane Smith and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the link attached to their name.  (I don't just say this as routine.  You will be pleasantly surprised by what authors and illustrators include on their websites.  You might want to start with Lane Smith.)  Jory John has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Oh, Those Amazing Animals

Each new fact we add to our understanding of an animal, the better we grasp their place in the network of life on our planet.  Each animal, like each human, has an effect.  Many of them have been impacting our lives before we were born.  And they continue to do so.  

At a winter camp one year shared with students, we were listening to a lecture about horses.  We were close to a horse, closer than many of the gals and guys (including me) had ever been.  One piece of information has stayed with me for decades.  It has to do with horses' ears.  When asked for volunteers to ride, no one responded, so I did.  When you see people getting on and off horses and riding them in movies and videos and on television, it appears effortless.  Truthfully, getting on and off was fairly easy, but no one told us how high you would be off the ground. The distance from the saddle to terra firma seemed huge.  Horse Power: How Horses Changed The World (Abrams Books for Young Readers, April 27, 2021) written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes will enthrall readers of all ages as we take a journey back in time to present day.  Along the way we learn about the power of horses and their impact.

About fifty-six million years ago, horses first appeared on earth.  The earliest-known ancestors
of the modern horse lived in North America.  The size of dogs, with toes on their feet, they 
nibbled tender leafy plants that grew from the warm, steamy earth.

Over long periods of time, the survivors evolved into larger animals with single hooves. Suddenly, eleven thousand years ago, they vanished.  Somehow, using a former land bridge that connected Asia to North America, they began to flourish once more.  How many thousands of years ago do you think it was when horses finally let humans ride them?  This was the beginning of immense transformation.

Horses provided a means to do everything faster and more efficiently.  Their physical characteristics, each one, are designed for the horse to survive in a variety of conditions.  Did you know a horse's height is measured four inches, a hand, at a time to their withers?  Around the globe different people from different cultures used different horses to suit their needs.  Unfortunately for horses, they were used in conquests and war.  Horses were returned to the lands of North and South America by the Spanish.

Did you know horses reside on every continent except for Antarctica?  As people moved, so did horses.  Horses across continents gave people the opportunity to continue communicating.  The Pony Express in the United States is only one example.  In time, even with advancing technologies, horses were still necessary.  Their necessity in turn created new jobs.

With the invention of the automobile, that necessity diminished.  Horses were replaced by cars and more cars and still more cars until now we humans have a global problem.  Horses shaped human history.  Today, there are herds roaming wild on six of the seven continents. 

When author Jennifer Thermes writes, readers take note.  Her meticulous research is found in each sentence we read.  She is building a world for us with her words.  In this book, she fuels, through facts, a story of horses which increases our admiration page turn by page turn.  Aside from the main narrative, she presents other information in her illustrations and in her sidebars.  Here is a passage and a sidebar.

City horses were trained to stay calm through the noise
and frenzy of a big metropolis.  Some wore blinders to shield
their eyes from sudden movements, since their natural instinct
is to run when frightened.  Without horses, human society
would have been brought to a halt.

Horses were the engines that powered everything.

One horse produces an
average of 35 pounds of
manure daily.  In 1900
more than 130,000 horses
lived in New York City,
which meant millions of 
pounds of fresh "road
apples" in the streets
every day!

A blue wash acts as a frame around a golden yellow wash on both the front and back of the open dust jacket.  The galloping horse on the front depicts horses' power when running free.  All the smaller vignettes around this creature represent how they made our lives better.  The tail on the horse on the front crosses over the spine to its completion on the back.  There praise for a previous book is placed over an image.  A farmer stands next to a large horse, resting one hand on its flank.  A cat looks up at the horse's face.

On the book case, a golden yellow canvas uplifts a spirit of freedom supplied with the image.  Left to right, back to front, a herd of horses races.  A range of color in their coats and breeds is shown to us.  Their beauty is staggering.

On the opening endpapers, on a white background, is a map of the world.  On the map are numbers corresponding to the thirty-three featured horse breeds.  Smaller images of the horses are placed around the map.  They are labeled with their name and country.  On the closing endpapers, hosting the publication information and the dedication, are horse portraits.  These portraits showcase how horses have been historically shown in artwork during ancient times. 

A double-page picture is presented on the title page.  On the left, so close you feel as though you could touch it, is a golden-brown horse.  Its gaze is toward rolling hills on the right.  A herd of horses runs upward as a parent and foal watch.  Is this the same herd running across the book case?  Perhaps. 

These illustrations by Jennifer Thermes were rendered

with pencil, watercolor, ink, and colored pencils on Saunders Waterford watercolor paper.

Their details are astounding.  Each is an exquisite portrayal and enhancement of the text.  There are many double-page pictures with smaller insets.  Some images are half-page and framed with fine black lines.  Other visuals span one and a half pages horizontally with fine black lines acting as borders.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page visual.  It is a swirl of three separate but blended images.  Crossing the gutter from the right and moving across the top and side on the left portion is a steam-powered locomotive.  It gets larger as it gets closer to us.  The smoke from the engine stack moves along the top of the picture, enlarging on the right to hold the text.  Under the smoke is a scene of horses and horse-drawn vehicles moving to and from the train station.  Underneath this is a close-up of one particular family.  A couple embraces each other before the woman boards the train.  To the right of them and extending one and a third pages is a large, gray-dappled horse.  The train moves through a star-studded blue.  Golden yellow frames the other two portions of this marvelous whole.

You will want to have more than one copy of Horse Power: How Horses Changed The World written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes in your professional collections.  People who already admire these majestic animals will read this over and over.  For others, this book will open their minds and supply them with a greater appreciation of horses.  At the close of the book is an extensive author's note, a list of select sources, and a two-page timeline.  This book is a treasure you will want to add to your personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Jennifer Thermes and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Jennifer Thermes has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is a video with Jennifer Thermes speaking about this book.

Living in the Midwest, the chance of seeing a parrot fly outside your window or through the woods on a walk are slim.  If one were to be seen, it would be downright strange.  These flying wonders, nevertheless, hold a fascination for many of us.  Their characteristics and behaviors as revealed in The Truth About Parrots (Seriously Funny Facts About Your Favorite Animals) (Roaring Brook Press, May 25, 2021) written and illustrated by Maxwell Eaton III are truly remarkable.

These are parrots.
There are about 350 different parrot
species across the world.

Despite the differences perceived in parrots, they share similarities.  Their heads, beaks, and tongues, yes tongues, set them apart.  They have distinguishing feet, zygodactyl feet, with two toes in front and two toes in back.  The plumage on parrots is vivid.  Did you know parrots can see ultra-violet light?  

Parrot couples, mates, are often partners for life.  They express their care for each in loving actions.  Parrots in captivity can live more than fifty years.  In the wild, we are not as sure about their life spans for several reasons, but we do know about the kakapo found in New Zealand.  Can you imagine living more than one hundred years?  They are unfortunately endangered.

As varied as their colorful feathers, so too is the diet of parrots.  Some like nuts, others like nectar and pollen, and one prefers a fruit.  On rare occasions, one parrot has been known to be carnivorous.

To say parrots have the gift of gab is an understatement.  They are well known to be particularly gifted mimics.  Their cleverness does not end there.  They can communicate an understanding of other things using our language.  Speaking of language, it is thought by specialists some parrots make up their own words and definitions.

As with many animals, we humans continue to be the cause of much harm in the world of parrots.  We destroy their living spaces and take them from their homes as pets.  The more we know, the more we can protect them.

This eighth and final book in this outstanding series written by Maxwell Eaton III is equally as memorable as its predecessors.  The mix of facts and humor is engaging from beginning to end.  It starts on the jacket and book case, continues on the title pages and throughout the book.  Facts are presented in the main body of the narrative and in smaller insets on each one or two pages. (All the parrots are labeled with their names and where they live.)  The humor is found in the commentary and conversations in the speech balloons.  It is made by other parrots, other animals (even prehistoric), and a human child.  It is guaranteed you will burst out laughing at the hilarity and cleverness.  Here is a passage with commentary.  

One thing all parrots share is a keen
mind with vocal learning abilities.  Many
can copy sounds.  Most famously, human

I've noticed. (child)
I've noticed. (Eclectus parrot, New Guinea)
I've noticed. (a second parrot)
I've no itch. (a third parrot)
That's a relief. (a fourth parrot)

On the matching dust jacket and book case, illustrator Maxwell Eaton III begins his pictorial interpretation.  The leaves framing the right and left of the front indicate the climate in which most parrots reside.  The green spine acts as a branch.  The comment by the larger of the three parrots is a fitting introduction.  

To the left of the spine, on the back, two slim leafy tree branches extend from the spine.  On them perch two rows of small yellow parrots.  One on the top says:

I'm hearing
voices again.

The opening and closing endpapers are covered in the same hue of red as on the parrot highlighted on the front of the jacket and case.  On the initial title page two more of those parrots offer their opinions on the title.  Across the formal title page, a flock of those same birds flies from left to right from leafy branches.  The one in the lead exclaims:

We're colorful

These visuals by Maxwell Eaton III are highly animated.  They are defined by black lines and a full color palette.  There are double-page pictures, single-page pictures, partial-page pictures, and double-page pictures with framed insets as places for more images, commentary, and information.  Several of the funniest images involve the play of keas.  A duo appears in a double-page picture, a single-page picture two page turns later and at the end.  (So very clever, Mr. Eaton III.)  

One of my favorite illustrations is the left side of a double-page picture.  There two Salmon-crested cockatoos found in Southeast Asia are resting on a branch among treetops.  They are close together, a parrot pair.  The one bird is grooming the other bird.  The one being groomed says:

I can never
reach that

The Truth About Parrots (Seriously Funny Facts About Your Favorite Animals) written and illustrated by Maxwell Eaton III is a book holding an array of fun-filled facts.  This author and illustrator has a knack for selecting the points most will find intriguing, and his commentary displays his ingenious wit.  At the close of the book, prior to the end page, are two pages of additional information.  Parrot nest sites are discussed, as is the eating of clay, eggs, and chicks.  Further research is suggested.  I highly recommend this title for both your professional and personal collections.  

To learn more about Maxwell Eaton III and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Maxwell Eaton III has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

There are places on this planet many of us will never visit or reside.  It is with gratitude we can thank those writers and illustrators of nonfiction for taking us to those spaces.  On the continent of South America in the country of Peru, there is a national park.  This park, Manu, is home to one of the most diverse populations of monkeys.  In Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing Division, July 6, 2021) written by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Steve Jenkins, we travel to the Manu National Park, learning of fourteen very different monkeys who reside in this shared community.

Fourteen monkeys share Manu,
a warm, lush forest in Peru.
Most tropical rain forests are home to just a few kinds of 
monkeys.  But 14 species live in Manu National Park, in
Peru.  How can they all survive together in one place?

They may shout out a good morning call from the tops of trees, but red howler monkeys are known for sometimes sleeping eighteen hours a day.  Spider monkeys in Peru use their physical traits, long legs and feet designed for securely grasping, to move quickly.  You won't believe what they play in their spare time.  Gray's bald-faced saki would give Olympians a contest when it comes to leaping.  The distance is impressive and mind-boggling.

Two kinds of capuchins share the distinguishing curled tail, but they hunt in particular parts of the rain forest for specific types of food.  Pygmy marmosets build relationships by grooming each other when they take a break from eating.  Amiable in nature, one specie moves carefully from place to place using their tails.  Their greetings are affectionate.

You will never guess what feast is the most pleasing to the Goeldi's monkeys after the rainy season.  Wow!  Black-capped squirrel monkeys have twenty-six unique calls to speak to each other.  Two tamarin types, like the capuchins, frequent different heights in the rain forest.  One acts as a sentry.

In the dark of night, one specie moves to feed.  When the moon is full, they race, hoot, and meet mates.  The dusky titis are known for literally sticking together, especially at night.  They twine their long, thick tails together.  From the top of the trees to the bottom of the rain forest floor, these fourteen monkeys show the world how differences can be an advantage.

Known for her painstaking research, author Melissa Stewart delivers her results in three distinct manners for readers.  Each of the fourteen monkeys are tied together with single sentence rhyming couplets.  These act as introductions and combined as an informative poem.  Coupled with each sentence are paragraphs offering further items of interest.  At the close of the book fourteen groups of facts are presented, one for each monkey.  These include the common name, the scientific name, group size, diet, predators, young, lifespan, and a field note.  Here is a passage.

Way up in the leafy crown,
woollys dangle upside down.

Grey woolly monkeys move through the treetops
at a slow, steady pace.  To cross gaps, they hang
by their tails and gently lower themselves to the
next branch.  They also swing by their tails to
reach tasty fruit.  . . .

Even without his name on the dust jacket and book case, the artwork of Steve Jenkins is evident.  His 

cut-and torn-paper collages

are extraordinary in their representations.  On the front of the jacket and case is a Goeldi monkey ready to consume fungi.  The crisp white canvas, used in most of his images, highlights the varied green hues of the rain forest, the fur on the monkey and the startling shade of the food.

To the left, on the back, of the jacket and case is a green silhouette of rain forest trees and shrubs.  Placed in the branches of the trees are the fourteen monkeys.  Fourteen circles, outlined in red, hold their portraits.

A rich spring green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  A single monkey crouches between the text on the title page.  With a page turn, deep green shades fill tree outlines on the left and white text offers a welcome on a dark green background on the right.

Each monkey is given a double-page picture with the exception of the capuchins and tamarins.  The monkeys are placed in their most-frequented settings.  They are shown in a mixture of perspectives.  For each one an iconic, smaller image of a rain forest in a darker color is placed within the larger visual.  A circle on this element shows the level of residence of that showcased monkey.  Some prefer the tops of the rain forest, others in the middle, and a few are closer to the ground.  For each of the monkeys, you will be astounded at the extent of the details.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the marmosets.  On the left amid greenery a sturdy tree trunk rises.  Clinging on the right side, ready to seek food, is a marmoset.  On the right, after hours of eating, two marmosets are cuddled together for a nap.  One already is sleeping.  The other looks at the reader.

Reading this book is like taking a trip to the Manu National Park in Peru.  Through the words of Melissa Stewart and the artwork of Steve Jenkins, Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme takes us on an adventure to remember.  At the close of the book is a two-page vertical picture of rain forest trees with the monkey silhouettes placed where they reside.  They are numbered and named as are the layers of the rain forest.  Then, there is an extra column of narrative preceding the factual entries for each monkey.  Along the bottom of pages two and three of these factual entries are the monkey sizes shown to scale compared to a human.  I highly recommend this title for both your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Melissa Stewart and Steve Jenkins and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the link attached to their names.  Melissa Stewart has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.  At Andrew Hacket's website and at Reading Rockets, Melissa Stewart speaks about this book.  Here is a link to an extensive study guide.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Handheld Hilarity

For those who read aloud, whether to a single soul or a group of listeners, when the story generates, first, giggles and then outbursts of laughter, the atmosphere in the setting changes.  It is charged with a special connection.  Uniting through happiness is lasting, sometimes for decades.  You don't forget it.

When it comes to wishing, you need to carefully weigh all the consequences attached to a wish.  Our favorite grumpy, not fun-loving bear is back (somewhat) in a new title, The Bruce Swap (Disney Hyperion, May 4, 2021) written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins.  His housemates, the mice, Rupert, Thistle, and Nibbs, and the geese, wish Bruce was less like himself and more like them.  Due to the paper-consuming geese, a comedy of errors unfolds on this day.

There was a letter in the mailbox
at 13 Go Away Lane.

No one would ever know except for a reader what the letter said because a goose ate it.  It announced a visit from Bruce's fun, fun, fun cousin, Kevin.  Bruce detested fun.  In fact, that night each of Bruce's housemates made wishes about Bruce because he lacked any inclination toward fun (or sandwiches).

The next morning Bruce left the house to go fishing.  He wrote a note explaining his absence.  Guess who ate it? Guess who showed up at the house looking like Bruce but acting like the housemates wishes came true?

Even when the bear said his name was Kevin, no one believed him.  They knew their wishes were granted.  The fun started in earnest.  Candy was bountiful.  Multiple pizzas were ordered.  Outdoor activities were celebrated inside the house.  And the noise was deafening.  Moving to the outdoors, downright dangerous stunts were performed.  

Kevin's fun, fun, fun friends arrived and added to the craziness.  Three mice and four geese looked around, saw a humongous mess and realized too much of a good thing is not a good thing.  Kevin did not like messes, so he drove away with his pals. 

Can you imagine what Bruce was going to say when he got home?  You'll be surprised more than once as this story concludes.  Three cheers for grumps!

With every sentence author Ryan T. Higgins pens in this title, you can feel the humor growing.  He uses the repetition of a single word or phrases for emphasis and to fashion a cadence.  One two-word combination he inserts into the story is guaranteed to have readers and listeners rolling on the floor laughing.  His blend of narrative and dialogue is flawless.  Here are two passages.

Early the next morning, before the first rays of sun crept
across Soggy Hollow, Bruce woke up to go on a fishing trip.


By himself.

He left a note, of course.

Gone fishing.
Don't make
a mess!

But nobody read that note either.


One look at the open dust jack, front and back, and you know something the exact opposite of ordinary is in the offing for Bruce and his housemates.  On a blue background on the back, to the left, is a photograph of Bruce and Kevin.  Their facial expressions could not be more different.  There is one grump and one goof featured.  This photograph is varnished.  On the front, to the right, Bruce on the left is totally unaware of Kevin.  His fun, fun, fun grin is shocking to Rupert.  On this image the title text is varnished.

The book case design mirrors that of a pizza box in red and white check.  In the center is a circle framed in green.  On the front and back a bear, wearing a chef's hat, is showcased in red on white within that circle.  One is Kevin and one is Bruce.  Let the hilarity commence.

On the opening endpapers Bruce has placed sixteen signs around his home, advising people what they can't do.  The final sign in his paws reads:


Behind the signs and Bruce are his home on the right and the lake across both sides.

Kevin has worked his fun on the closing endpapers.  The lake, trees, and Bruce's house are all the same.  The signs have all been changed by Kevin.  Each NO has been crossed out and GO is written in green next to the crossed-out NO.  Kevin stands at the NO PLAYING sign with a green marker in his paw.  He has already altered that sign.

These illustrations by Ryan T. Higgins 

created using scans of treated clayboard for textures, graphite, ink, and Photoshop

send the hoopla soaring (much like Rupert who finds himself attached to an airborne kite).  The facial expressions on all the characters depict every emotional moment from glee to despair and other moods between the two.  Readers will pause at every page turn to enjoy all the details.  Images span single pages but cross the gutter to join spot visuals on the previous page.  Other single-page pictures, panels and partial-page illustrations accentuate pacing and the story line.  For dramatic effect double-page pictures tell a story all their own.  Most of the conversation is found in speech balloons.

One of my many favorite pictures is a single-page image.  We are in the living room of Bruce's home.  It has been transformed into an indoor swimming pool.  Water is nearly up to the window casements.  Kevin wearing a red-and-white striped swimming suit, floaties on his arms, a bathing cap, and swim goggles is having fun.  The geese and mice are not so sure.  One is grasping the floating telephone.  Two others are using a door as a raft.  Rupert remarks:

This might be an 
electrical hazard.

Regardless of how many times The Bruce Swap written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins is read, laughter will resound each and every time.  The return of beloved characters coupled with the narrative, dialogue, and comical illustrations are an unbeatable combination.  You'll want to have a copy of this title for both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about other titles by Ryan T. Higgins go to his page at the publisher's website by following the link attached to his name.  Ryan T. Higgins has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is a link to a lengthy guide on the work of Ryan T. Higgins.  It would be great for an author study.

Several weeks ago, when I stepped out on the front porch with my canine companion to begin our last stroll for the day, panic and a stench overwhelmed me.  It was not quite pitch black outside yet.  Where was the skunk?  Was it on the lawn?  Was it under the porch?  Was every person's nightmare about to unfold?  We were lucky this time.  Something Stinks! (Penguin Workshop, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, June 15, 2021) written and illustrated by Jonathan Fenske is about a being with an experience similar to mine with one huge difference.  A skunk can't figure out where a horrible smell is emanating.  (I don't know about you, but I am laughing already.)

Something STINKS!

The narrator continues by telling us how fortunate we are not to smell what he is smelling.  We are then told exactly how stinky it is.  Comparisons are made to three kinds of stink.  How can it be stinkier

than a rotten tuna and onion sandwich?

Skunk then informs us he will track down the source of this odoriferous aroma.  No nook or cranny will be overlooked.  When he offers up the source as underpants, he is mistaken.  The scent is increasingly worse.

It seems to be following Skunk.  He then asks the reader to move in closer so he can make sure it is not they who stink.  Really?  

By now Skunk is getting nauseous.  He asks for readers' help.  When there is a response, he can't comprehend the words or gestures.  Skunk is at his wit's end.  Suddenly, a change clears the air.  What has happened?  We know, but Skunk is oblivious.

From the first words out of Skunk's mouth, written by Jonathan Fenske, the hilarity begins.  We are active participants in the story as Skunk speaks directly to us in short sentences.  Questions are asked and replies are given.  To elevate the humor, another character, a fly, adds commentary.  Here is a passage.


Now the smell is
getting WORSE.

Like someone or someTHING
has been dragging a great big
cloud of stink everywhere!

The two hues of green shown on the front and back of the open book case clearly indicate an odor capable of inducing illness.  By the placement of the darker of the two, readers realize the origin of the stink.  The presence of the fly, first smiling on the front, and then with eyes crossed in displeasure on the back, suggests the extent of the stench.  The text on the back is an introduction to the story with Skunk speaking to us.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a pattern of Skunk, much smaller, standing almost sheepishly amid the smell.  He has no idea he is the cause of the odor.  Zipping around him in loops and swirls is a dotted white line on the green canvas.  This is the flight pattern of the fly who makes an appearance on the closing endpapers.  On the title page, a perplexed Skunk stands trying to locate the source of the stink.

These illustrations by Jonathan Fenske range in size from double-page pictures to single-page images, and groups of smaller visuals to supply pacing.  Often, we are brought very close to Skunk, further inviting us into the story.  His expressive wide-eyed looks, exaggerated facial features, and gestures contribute to the laughter factor.

Background colors are either gruesome green or crisp white.  Every line is spotlighted.  This raises our awareness of the situation in which Skunk finds himself.  You can't help but laugh!

One of my many favorite pictures is on a half-page.  Skunk is trying unsuccessfully, to figure out what the reader is telling him.  In this image he is saying:

I see you pointing.

On the green background with the green odor gathering at the bottom is the upper part of Skunk's face with one arm.  His hand is placed on his forehead as he tries to see.  His eyes are wide open.  He is looking squarely at us.  He just doesn't get it.  Therein is increased comedy.

With a book like Something Stinks! written and illustrated by Jonathan Fenske, you know how readers will respond.  Even now I can hear peals of laughter.  And once this laughter starts it won't stop, even when the story ends.  This is going to be a much-requested story time favorite.  You'll need a copy in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Jonathan Fenske and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Jonathan Fenske has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you get a peak at the initial title page.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Schooled In Perception

These four words, first day of school, are replete with a range of emotions for people of all ages.  Whether it is your first day of school ever or the thirtieth year in a row, there is a strong blend of anticipation and anxiety, and knowing and not knowing.  If you are new to the community, your feelings are heightened.

When your attire, physical characteristics, and actions are different than those of your classmates, you draw attention to yourself.  Some of it is unkind.  The New Kid Has Fleas (Roaring Brook Press, June 15, 2021) written by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by Eda Kaban follows a unique new student and another who, through chance, befriends her.  It is a tale full of twists and truths.

I'm not sure about the New Kid.

The narrator, a fellow classmate, is trying to be his best, but it is hard when the new kid takes off her shoes so she can go barefoot, howls in music, and pursues a different kind of food for lunch.  Another student, Molly, tells the children the New Kid has fleas.  She quietly hears the revelation.  Does it bother her?

Stewart and our narrator want to be partners during the science project, but their teacher has other plans.  The students' names are put in a bowl and are paired through the luck of the draw.  Stewart and Molly are paired.  Our narrator is paired with the New Kid.

This is an after-school project.  The duo rides the bus to the New Kid's home.  When our narrator steps inside, he is terrified at the parents, and siblings of the New Kid.

In the first of several surprises, the siblings are fun. Snack time, while not our narrator's usual fare, is tasty.  The New Kid is brilliant in helping with the science project.  The next day at school, Molly is strangely absent.  When it is time to present their science project, it is a howling success.  Given a chance, we can discover rare gifts in others.

Simple declarative sentences, short phrases, and single words by author Ame Dyckman fashion a story replete with humor.  Word play adds to the laughter factor.  Through the first-person narrative we are able to witness a transformation from first impressions to lasting friendship.  Here is a passage.

Mom and Dad say don't stare.
That I should put myself in her shoes. 
But the New Kid doesn't wear shoes.
And it's hard not to stare . . .    

Painted digitally by illustrator Eda Kaban the images in this title, beginning with the matching front dust jacket and book case, are highly animated and brimming with visual interpretation.  We see a range of responses on the students' faces when the New Kid boards the school bus.  And we are curious to see the silhouette of a wolf as a place holder for the title text.  Without a doubt, we have to open this book!

On the back of the dust jacket a loosely formed rectangle, framed in lots of white space, holds an interior image of the students outside for lunch.  The New Kid is climbing out on a branch to grab a squirrel.  Beneath the illustration is a wolf cub.  On the back of the book case is another interior image surrounded by white space.  It shows the narrator playing with the New Kid's siblings.

The background on the opening and closing endpapers is first a light robin's-egg-blue morning sky and second the shadowy purple of dusk.  On the opening endpapers a tree top and branch extend from the left-hand side.  A squirrel leaps off the branch.  On the closing endpapers, from a bough crossing the gutter, left to right, a squirrel leaps.  In the upper, right-hand corner another branch is visible.  On its end is a nest.

Each illustration, double-page pictures, smaller images on a single page, and single-page pictures, done in full color asks readers to pause and notice the children.  Their facial expressions convey a lot.  The narrator's looks invite giggles and grins.  Page turn after page turn readers will notice an underlying current of warmth as understanding leads to friendship.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page image paired with the above-noted text.  We are brought close to seven of the students, most seated at their desks.  Sunlight from rows of square windows beams across the scene casting a glow on the large-checked floor tiles.  Our narrator, the boy, seated at his desk and paused in his work, is looking at the New Kid.  She is intently working, one leg outstretched and the other bent with her foot on the seat.  One of her shoes is on the desk and the other is on the floor, laces undone.

This book, The New Kid Has Fleas, written by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by Eda Kaban with compassion and comedy explores being new and how acceptance by one person can change everything.  This story is about looking at people with open eyes, minds, and hearts.  You'll want to share this widely and often.  Be sure to have a copy on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Ame Dyckman and Eda Kaban and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Ame Dyckman has an account on Twitter.  Eda Kaban has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At Macmillan you can view interior images.

When the first day of school is the first for the youngest students, each child brings something remarkable to the learning experience, to their classrooms.  For some, they are fully aware of their gift.  For others, it is yet to be revealed.  Becoming Vanessa (Alfred A. Knopf, June 15, 2021) written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton is about a little girl with a sparkling personality.  Her story is beautifully transformative.

Mom pulled at Vanessa's hair as she got it ready for the 
first day of school.  Mom was excited, and Vanessa 
could tell she wanted her to be excited, too.   

Vanessa was wondering if the other children would like her.  At breakfast, her father reassured her, telling her she is special.  She questioned how her classmates would know this about her.

At her mother's suggestion, Vanessa selected her own favorite items to wear.  These were certain to alert her classmates that she is someone they will enjoy.  Their reaction to her distinctive apparel was not exactly as she expected. Everyone was friendly, though.

During circle time, Vanessa wnet first explaining her love of drawing butterflies and the anticipated arrival of a sibling.  Their questions to her were direct.  For the rest of the day, Vanessa struggled to be comfortable with her classmates.  She was, in a word, miserable.

The next morning, Vanessa dressed to blend in.  She told her parents she wished her name were shorter and easier to write.  Then her mother told her the story of her name.  At school, on this day, circle time was special when Vanessa spoke.  Just as special as she is.

With her words, author Vanessa Brantley-Newton creates a character we love from the first page.  She is genuine in her thoughts, feelings, and conversations.  Through a mix of dialogue and narrative, we find ourselves identifying with her first day jitters and circumstances.  Her supportive parents, welcoming classroom, and resilient character allow her to soar.  Here is a passage.

After that, things only got worse.

"I can't see
past her hat!"

"Too many feathers!"

Even her shoes were pinching her feet.

When you look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, you are immediately drawn to the girl on the front looking out her window at the butterfly resting on a branch.  Her smile, her hair in the colorful, beaded ties, and wide eyes behind her round, blue glasses are utterly charming.  The delicate curtains framing the scene are like butterfly wings.  The heart inside the o is the finishing touch.  

To the left, on the back, Vanessa is standing in a flower garden placed on a golden background.  She is holding one of her butterfly pictures.  Two butterflies fly toward her.  On the front and back of the dust jacket Vanessa, her butterfly picture, the butterflies, and title text are varnished.  

On the opening endpapers is a scene as if we are looking through Vanessa's bedroom window, white sheer curtains on either side.  Against a blue sky are shrubs, treetops, and a large branch.  A caterpillar, a chrysalis, and two butterflies are featured.  On the closing endpapers dotted-line paths in a variety of hues loop as do the butterflies making those paths.  It's a splendid display bursting with color.

Illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton rendered these double-page and single-page visuals

using Posca pens, acrylic paint, Magic Markers, crayons, and watercolor paint on a Bristol board and collaged with hand-painted, printed, and found papers.

Although we notice the extra details in each setting, we linger on the people.  Their faces, body postures, and clothing tell us little stories about each one.  There is a special magic in every element fashioning a memorable whole.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  In this picture a parent and their child are walking left to right on the first day of school.  They are traveling down a city sidewalk.  Here we see a marvelous diversity of children.  Two mothers are walking with their sons and two fathers are walking with their daughters.  Vanessa and her dad are leading the group.  You can feel the hope.

Becoming Vanessa written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton could be about any one of us.  It is a story of finding and embracing your true self.  It asks us to spread our wings and fly.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.  

To learn more about Vanessa Brantley-Newton and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Vanessa Brantley-Newton has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At Penguin Random House you can view interior images.  Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a showcased artist on KidLit TV.  In this video she demonstrates how to make a collage.

There are those students whose excitement at attending school for the first time can hardly be contained.  They are super prepared. They have a vision of how their experiences at school will be.  Little Bat in Night School (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 29, 2021) written and illustrated by Brian Lies takes a character highlighted pictorially only in his four previous bat books and gives this creature his own voice.  Let's join him as darkness descends.

Little Bat was ready.  He had everything he needed.

He had all his supplies and a backpack to hold them.  He kept wondering if it was time to go.  He was thrilled to meet the other bats.

When he finally walked into his classroom, imagine his surprise at seeing all kinds of animals, owls, raccoons, a ferret, and only two bats.  They were already playing and not inclined to play with Little Bat.  Seeking a place to hide he found another classmate hiding.  It was Ophelia, an opossum.  

They decided to join the others in circle time.  They learned a song and the science behind stars and the moon.  When it came time for show-and-tell, Little Bat had something no one else did.  The students snuggled in pockets for nap time.  During art Little Bat learned a lesson worth remembering from another student.

A munch time accident led to laughter and kindness.  Recess was an opportunity to build literally and in their minds.  Just as story time was taking them on another amazing adventure, the first rays of dawn drifted into the classroom.  Guess who talked non-stop all the way home?

In a word, this story, authored by Brian Lies, is delight.  Little Bat's enthusiasm, revealed in dialogue, his thoughts and the narrative, is contagious.  The interactions between Little Bat and his mother and his classmates, especially Ophelia, are authentic.  Here is a passage.

Little Bat flew into a cubby to hide, but someone
else was already there.
"Hi---what are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm just . . . hanging out," she replied.
"Oh," Little Bat said.  "Is it okay if I hang out
here too?"
"I guess so," she said.  "But why aren't you out
there with them?" 

Opening the book case, readers notice on the left text usually found on the front and end flaps of the dust jacket.  There are also thumbnails of two of the bat books, Bats at the Beach and Bats at the Library.  On the front, right side, front and center is the lovable Little Bat.  Around him and in his hands are colored pencils, crayons, an alligator pencil sharpener, a glue stick, a water bottle, and his backpack.  The legs sticking out are a snack.  He is grinning in happiness for the night adventure to come.

The opening and closing endpapers are a midnight blue.  On the title page, Little Bat is holding a drawing he made of himself, hanging upside down.  His crayons are scattered at his feet.  On the verso above a small scene of Little Bat and his mother flying to the school are the words of the dedication,

To teachers, who bring light to the darkness.

These illustrations rendered

with acrylic and watercolor paints and colored pencil on Strathmore paper

make excellent use of white space.  It places emphasis on the full color, highly detailed images.  Many of these are single-page pictures or groups of smaller visuals to indicate activities and to highlight pacing.

Brian Lies brings us close to Little Bat and the other characters in his life and school.  We feel as though we are there with him.  The fact that the setting of night school is a classroom in an actual school adds to the enchantment of the tale.

One of my many favorite pictures in a single-page illustration, edge to edge.  We zoom to a deep blue alphabet wall hanging with pockets.  Letters, capital and lower case, c, d, e, f, j, k, l, m, q, r, s, t are on the pockets.  The students are nestled inside the pockets for nap time.  What a clever idea!

We all have expectations for the first day (night) of school.  Sometimes there are surprises as our favorite flyer discovers in Little Bat in Night School written and illustrated by Brian Lies.  An open mind and an open heart can lead to the best kind of learning.  I highly recommend this book for both your classrooms and your personal collection.

To learn more about Brian Lies and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Brian Lies has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  The cover reveal and interview for this title were hosted by Dr. Dylan Teut on his blog, Mile High Reading. At the publisher's website you can download an activity kit.

Stepping into a new school for the first time can be intimidating.  When you are not fluent in the language spoken there, it can add to your unease.  The rhythm of familiar words, the only ones you've known, comfort you as the unfamiliar words confuse you.  Isabel and Her Colores Go to School (Sleeping Bear Press, July 15, 2021) written by Alexandra Alessandri with illustrations by Courtney Dawson explores the glorious mind of a little girl who carries colors with her to view the world around her.  Told in Spanish and English with Spanish, this story is a heartwarming representation of finding your place and finding a friend.

The night before the first day of school,
Isabel sat cross-legged on her bed,
coloreando with her favorite crayons:
rojo, verde, azul, rosado, morado, violeta.  

La noche antes de su primer dia de escuela,
Isabel se sento en su cama con las piernas cruzadas,
coloreando con sus crayones favoritos:
rojo, verde, azul, rosado, morado, violeta.

She was worried about not speaking much English.  To her it was reflected in cool colors.  Spanish was warmth and joy.  The next morning, she begged her mother not to take her to school.  At school when she embraced her before leaving, her mother gave her words of encouragement.  Isabel was still on the verge of tears.

Stepping into the classroom, Isabel heard her teacher, Miss Page, call out a welcome.  All kinds of colors swirled around Isabel as other students entered the room.   When Miss Page called out different portions of the day, Isabel watched the other students to know what to do.  She did not understand her teacher.

Not seeing a place for her on the rug for story time, Isabel felt like she was shrinking into herself.  Then another little girl offered her a place to sit.  Isabel understood the word here.  They exchanged names.  All was well until Sarah asked Isabel a question.  Isabel did not understand.  Sarah did not understand Isabel's reply.  A cheerful start had turned to sadness.

After lunch, Miss Paige announced another task.  Isabel heard a word similar to one of her favorite things to do.  She worked using an array of colors.  She held her finished drawing out to Sarah.  The girls exchanged words with the same meaning, one in Spanish and the other in English.  One final moment of happiness led Isabel to believe another hue would portray school.

The cadence of the carefully chosen, poetic words in each sentence, in Spanish and English, penned by Alexandra Alessandri beckon to readers.  We stand side by side with Isabel as she struggles to understand and confronts her fears.  Her colors paint a picture of her emotions for us.  The literary techniques and figures of speech employed by Alexandra Alessandri are excellent.  Here is a passage.

It's okay to be scared." Mami's voice was
soft and amber like a ripened mango.
She gave Isabel a squishy, squashy hug.

"Al mal tiempo, buena cara," Mam said.
"To bad times, a good face."

---Es normal tener miedo---dijo mami,
con su voz dulce y dorada como el mango maduro.
Ella le dio a Isabel un abrazo do oso.
---Al mal tiempo, buena cara.

The pictorial presentation on the front, right, of the open dust jacket not only introduces us to Isabel but the flow of colors embedded with flowers and leaves from her backpack, grows as it crosses the spine to the left.  Across the back, left, of the dust jacket, it covers nearly all the space.  It continues to the back flap.  On the front flap with a white background is the book's description with Sarah and Isabel chatting beneath the text.

On the entire book case is the flow of colores with flowers and two purple birds, one on either side of the spine.  These waves of colors and flowers are found in varying patterns on both the opening and closing endpapers.  The text on the title page is a repeat of that found on the dust jacket.  Small flowers frame the words.

These vivid, lively illustrations by Courtney Dawson, single-page pictures and double-page visuals, are a pleasing combination of complementary colors on a variety of canvases.  Swirls accompany the colors as Isabel envisions them.  For most of the images we are close to Isabel and the other children, creating an intimacy with the story.

The wide-eyed expressions on the children (and adults) portray an openness.  There is a spirit of acceptance in the classroom atmosphere, in Sarah, and in Isabel.  This openness allows the courage of Isabel to shine.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page picture.  On a crisp white background, we move close to Sarah and Isabel.  They are seated on the floor and facing each other.  Their faces are full of happiness as they tell each other their names in their own languages.  This is a defining moment full of promise.

This bilingual, luminescent story, Isabel and Her Colores Go to School written by Alexandra Alessandri with illustrations by Courtney Dawson, will have you viewing your world with a different set of eyes.  Whether read during a story time or one-on-one, readers will be eager to seek a color for distinguishing exemplary moments in their lives.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Alexandra Alessandri and Courtney Dawson, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Alexandra Alessandri has additional resources for this book at her site.  Alexandra Alessandri has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Courtney Dawson has an account on Instagram.  The cover reveal was hosted by Las Musas.  Two sites of several highlighting this book are Latinxs in Kid Lit and at Jena Benton, Writer and Illustrator.