Quote of the Month

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

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.

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