Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Purr-fectly Perfect

Our furry feline friends have personalities as distinctive as our own.  They can be unpredictable and creatures of habit at the same time. We find ourselves embracing them despite these contrasting characteristics.  Unlike most of their canine counterparts, sometimes it can take years before they allow themselves to be a part of a human family.

It takes a special kind of person to persist in loving a cat when they have not thought of loving anyone at all.  Negative Cat (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, August 31, 2021) written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall is about a persistent boy.  The cat he loves is also persistent, but not in the way the boy desires.  This is their story, a "tail" waiting to be told.

On Day 427 of asking for a cat . . .

a miracle happened.  The boy's parents said yes!  There were conditions attached to this affirmative response.  The least appealing was the necessity of reading for twenty minutes every day.  

Reading was not this child's favorite thing to do.  He read slowly.  He had to read aloud.

At the shelter, it was hard to select only one cat, but he did.  He named the cat Maxmilian Augustus Xavier, Max.  At home, the cat paid no attention to the comforts and treats, and toys supplied by the boy.  This cat stared at the wall.  This cat was negative in every respect.

In return for kindness by family members, the cat did undesirable things like putting its tail in the butter and eating flowers.  The parents and older sister were ready to return it to the shelter.  A call was placed.

In a last-ditch effort to keep this cat he loved, the boy scrambled to do some of the items on the conditions' list, most importantly, his least popular.  And another miracle happened.  In fact, the boy's classmates joined him at the shelter once a week, expanding on that unexpected revelation.

What readers might not grasp at the beginning, but is our first clue about this boy's nature, is the fact he asked for a cat for 427 days.  Sophie Blackall wants us to know the significance to this child of having a cat.  She wants us to understand his tenacity.  This builds page by page through first-person narrative and dialogue, past and present, until the joyful addition to their family.  When it looks as though the joy is fleeting, we are once again reminded of this boy's deepest desire to do anything to keep Max.  At this point you don't know whether to sigh or cheer, so you do a little bit of both.  Here is a passage.

The next day, I surprise Max with a toy mouse.
(He is not surprised.)

I tickle him with a feather.  (He is not ticklish.)

I tell him all my best jokes.  (He doesn't even smile.)

The wide band of blue on the spine complements the shades of orange (and tan) used in the canvas, wall, flooring and cat on the front, right, and back, left, of the open book case.  In looking at the front, you wonder what would prompt a cat to stare at a wall.  On the back, we are given a hint of things to come.  Text above and below a circular image is that usually found on the front and back flaps of a dust jacket.  It introduces us to the book and to author illustrator, Sophie Blackall.  In that illustration the boy is writing on his laptop as Max watches, seated in the boy's lap.

On the opening and closing endpapers in blue and white is an array of childlike drawings of cats of all shapes and sizes.  The cats and their features are outlines.  The canvas is polka dotted.    On the title page the tiny mouse toy is placed between the text.  The publication information and dedication page are opposite the first page.  In fact, the illustration on the first page is the right side of a double-page picture.  

The illustrations in this book were created digitally and superimposed on the reverse side of vintage wallpaper salvaged from a falling-down house.

Readers, with every page turn, will stop to notice the details. These details are full of humor.  It isn't that the boy simply begs for a cat with drawings, but he makes a cat-shaped snowman in winter.  He makes cat ears on his head from soap during his bath.  He has his mother read him Brendan Wenzel's They All Saw A Cat.  And . . . he reads Max one of the oldest picture books in the United States still in print, Wanda Gag's Newbery Honor book, Millions Of Cats.

The perspectives in the visuals and their sizes shift to convey emotions and enhance the pacing.  There are groups of small insets, double-page pictures, single-page images, horizontal panels, and diagonal panels.  The dialogue is shown in longer, loose speech balloons.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture of the boy celebrating the yes answer from his parents.  On the pale orange background is a green-striped oval rug.  He is kneeling on the rug on his knees supported by his hands.  His head is back, his eyes are closed, and he is laughing as he kicks up his heels.  He repeats three times:

I'm getting a cat!

Look no further than Negative Cat written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall for the ultimate silver-lining title.  With a marvelous blend of images and text, page turn by page turn, when hope is fading, it rises again through the magic of reading aloud.  I highly recommend this book for both your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Sophie Blackall and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  Sophie Blackall has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Sophie Blackall writes a guest post about this book at the Nerdy Book Club.  Sophie Blackall is interviewed about this book, others, and her work at The Children's Book Review.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

We know when we look at the world through the eyes of another, the world can become completely altered.  Two or more individuals can be looking at the same space and focus on entirely different elements.  This is how our perceptions of our immediate and extended surroundings increase and our imaginations are keener.  Inside Cat (Chronicle Books, October 12, 2021) written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel presents a cat's eye view as it moves throughout its building.  This cat believes what it sees, floor by floor, is a realistic representation of the outside.

Inside Cat knows many windows,
finds a view wherever it goes.

This Inside Cat sees portions of the outside.  It looks through windows of all shapes and sizes, geometric designs on walls, floors, and ceilings.  Some windows stand alone, and others share a space next to each other.

Each window is a chance to pause and ponder.  Each display a bit different, look by look.  The glass in these windows is clean, dirty, bubbled, and broken.  It is shuttered.  It is open.

Some things seen through the windows remain the same, frozen.  Other things are in motion.  Is it a group of on-your-mark-get-set-go birds or a swarm swooping through the city?  It that an enormous snack or the display on an ice cream truck?

As Inside Cat moves from floor to floor, there are small treats and short snoozes to take.  Now wide awake, Inside Cat maintains it knows people up and down and all around.  It maintains it knows what it sees, and smells is true.  Inside Cat is certain it knows everything, until . . .

The use of language in this book by Brendan Wenzel is superb.  It is written like a poem with the first sentence and another three sentences bookending the center portions.  There is beautiful alliteration and rhyming.  The last sentence at the beginning of a new portion, a group of words, leads to multiple examples of that statement.  With every reading, the text becomes more melodic.  Here is a passage.

Glass all dusty.
Glass so streaky.
Glass gone gloomy.
Glass way freaky.  . . .

View to view,
floor to floor.

Knows the windows,
walls, and more.

Upon opening the dust jacket, flap edge to flap edge, the entire body of Inside Cat is supplied to readers.  The body and tail extend to the left of the spine.  The large eyes on the front draw our focus to the central theme of the narrative.  What is this cat's point of view?  The white of the cat's eyes and the title text are varnished.

A rusty red is the canvas on the book case.  Large portions of the front, right, and back, left, are filled with the cat's home.  It appears to be a unique building in the shape of a cat.  Inside Cat is peering through one of the windows, a cat's eye.  This is wonderfully ingenious.

On the opening endpapers the background shifts to a midnight blue.  The house is now shown in blue and white soft, flowing lines giving us the inside view of all the rooms.  In this perspective wherever there is a window, we see the outside.  The cat is still looking out the same window, although its eyes have shifted to the side.

With a page turn, we are on the double-page image for the title page.  Inside Cat is looking outside at a sunny floral depiction.  (I will say nothing about the closing endpapers which hold the publication and dedication information.  Everyone needs to see that for the first time without explanation.)

These images by Brendan Wenzel 

were rendered in a variety of media, including cut paper, colored pencil, oil pastels, marker, and the computer.

Every picture invites you to stop and stare as does the cat.  The inside views are in blue and white, faint outlines like you would expect to see on an architect's drafting board.  The outside views are in full color.  In each setting, inside and outside, they are bursting with items revealing the lives of the human dwellers or the cat's imagination toward the conclusion.  Readers will be looking in each visual for the tiny creature which seems to follow Inside Cat, at a discreet distance, of course.  Inside Cat is drawn with loose lines indicative of a careful, curious explorer.  Though Inside Cat is indeed careful and curious, it is also highly animated.

One of my many favorite pictures, two-page as they all are, is for the text above-noted.  Inside Cat is portrayed in five different poses at four windows.  The first one is so dirty Inside Cat's paws are covered with dirt, leaving behind paw prints on the steps, ottoman, the next window and the wall.  The third window is covered in dark paper to fashion a Halloween scene, one corner turned down to show the world outside.  The final window is an abstract, stained-glass of the sun in pastel colors with bright orange.  In this visual, it is as if Inside Cat is strolling through an art gallery.

No matter how often you read Inside Cat written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel, you will find something new each time.  The words will sing to you and the illustrations are like a map leading you to an amazing discovery.  I can't imagine a personal or professional collection without this title.

By following the link attached to Brendan Wenzel's name you can access his website to learn more about him and his work.  Brendan Wenzel has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  At librarian, guest lecturer at Rutgers, and writer John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read., Brendan Wenzel talks about this book.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Leaving Legacies---One Woman At A Time

Women, like all people, need to find their own path.  Numerous times the course they select is one never previously traversed.  They outwit obstacles and break through barriers.  In this way, they form an easier access for those who decide to follow them in the future.  These women are worth remembering.

At times, these exceptional woman seem to exhibit behavior so far from the expected and accepted norm, they are labeled as outlandish.  What Isabella Wanted: Isabella Stewart Gardner Builds a Museum (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, September 7, 2021) written by Candace Fleming with illustrations by Matthew Cordell chronicles the life of one such woman.  This woman was the quintessential being listening to a different drummer.  

On a tree-lined street in Boston,
in an old mansion,

at the top of the stairs,

in a second-floor room,
empty frames hang,

waiting . . .

These introductory phrases prior to the title page pique readers' interest.  As the title suggests Isabella Stewart Gardner did whatever her heart desired.  Can you imagine walking zoo lions up a prominent street in Boston?  Life in this Boston was much too restrictive for Isabella, so she left.

She toured to grand cities in Europe and Asia.  There, in those cities, she found her personal form of adventure reflected in gorgeous and precious art and architecture.  Whatever medium an artist used, Isabella had a need to acquire it.  She now possessed paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer.

Buyers for Isabella continued to purchase items, at times using questionable methods, on the other side of the Atlantic to be displayed in her home on Beacon Street in Boston.  Isabella eventually decided to create a museum for the public to enjoy all the collectibles from her travels and the efforts of her agents abroad.

Did she fashion this museum in her home on Beacon Street?  No!  Isabella purchased land and had a four-story home built.  She oversaw every aspect of the venture.  She placed every single item for viewing in a perfect Isabella space.   In 1903, there was a Grand Opening.  Isabella made sure everything stayed in its perfect Isabella space.

For twenty days each year for decades, Isabella welcomed people to her museum.  When she died, she left the museum for the people of Boston to enjoy as long as everything stayed in its perfect Isabella space.  And it was so, until one of the greatest unsolved art heists was committed by a devious duo.  To this day . . . waiting.

With every reading of the words written by Candace Fleming in this title, the story of this woman's life is just as compelling as the first time you read it.  You find yourself drawn into the narrative by the keen sense of time and place and specific descriptive incidents.  The recurring phrase of 

exactly as Isabella wanted

acts as a rhythmic bond between portions of this woman's life.  In fact, as you read this narrative, it is like reading a poem.  There is a beautiful cadence created by the word choices and sentence structure.  Here is a passage.

Every decision---choosing the land, drawing up plans, hiring the workers---
                                                                                           was hers.
And every day at the worksite she clambered up ladders,
scurried across scaffolding, hacked at beams,
plastered walls, supervised, complained,
gave orders to . . .

do and redo, set and reset,
brick and rebrick, build and rebuild
an Italian palazzo that rose up
on that empty swampland---
the Fens---
with courtyard,
and cloisters,
and intimate rooms,

exactly as Isabella wanted.

The pastel palette selected by artist Matthew Cordell for the dust jacket conveys the vitality of this woman's spirit.  Her uplifted arms depict the grandness for which she viewed life and art.  Here, on the front, she is shown with some acquisitions of art.  Do you recognize the two large paintings?

To the left of the spine, on the back, Matthew Cordell features a close-up of Johannes Vermeer's The Concert as it was displayed in Isabella's museum.  Viewers could sit in a chair to further appreciate its beauty.  This was, of course, by design by the amazing Isabella Stewart Gardner.  

When you remove the dust jacket the background scenes remain the same.  But . . . now Isabella is gasping in horror, eyes wide and hands to either side of her face.  All the objects on the front are gone, leaving the walls, frames, and tables bare.  On back, the frame holding the Vermeer painting is empty.  (It was a decision of the museum to do this after the theft.)

The soft yellow of Isabella's gown is the canvas color for the opening and closing endpapers.  Prior to the title page, the first words, as shown above, are placed on a modern-day view of the museum, the glass-covered center courtyard, an outside seating area, and inside room view.  The information on the verso, dedication, page is put inside frames.  Another view of happy Isabella inside her museum is on the title page.  

These illustrations by Matthew Cordell were

created using pen and ink (Hero 9018 fountain pen with Noodler's Black) and watercolor on Canson cold press watercolor paper.

The fine lines, a signature technique of Matthew's work, depict historical elements and fabulous facial expressions.  Even though he is not mentioned in the text, Matthew includes Isabella's husband, John Lowell "Jack" Gardner in some of the images.  He accompanied her on their extensive travels until his sudden death at the age of sixty-one.  Readers will want to pause on other pages to notice included elements like the food and beverage served at the Grand Opening in 1903.

The image sizes vary from page turn to page turn.  Their size is indicative of the narrative, elevating the pacing.  Some of the pictures are framed with fine lines.  Others extend page edge to page edge.  They are highly animated, as was Isabella.  The final two-page illustration is

exactly as Isabella

would have wanted it.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the left portion of a double-page picture.  Here Isabella is standing outside in a Venice courtyard.  Large square tiles are beneath her feet.  Gardens and sculptures surround her.  Extending above her are several stories with arched windows and separate balconies.  Her head is lifted in joy, a smile on her face.  Her arms are raised and spread open.  Her enthusiasm is contagious.

When you read this book, What Isabella Wanted: Isabella Stewart Gardner Builds a Museum written by Candace Fleming with illustrations by Matthew Cordell, one word keeps floating in and out of your consciousness---fascinating.  This woman's life was completely fascinating.  And the mystery of what happened to the artwork is equally fascinating.  In an author's note, Candace Fleming describes more about Isabella, her art collecting, and the museum.  She does address the theft.  And she recommends visiting the museum in person or virtually.  A bibliography and source notes are included.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Candace Fleming and Matthew Cordell and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the link attached to their names.  Candace Fleming has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Matthew Cordell has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is an educator's guide.  In accordance with this book, Matthew Cordell appears on KidLit TV Ready Set Draw! Draw a Self Portrait.  Candace Fleming speaks about the book in a video on the Holiday House Instagram account.

We have to eat to live, but what we eat is vital.  We look for balance and freshness in the ingredients.  Food preparation is essential to capturing the necessary balance and freshness.  It is also an art.  Many believe, the most important aspect, ingredient, is love.  Niki Nakayama: A Chef's Tale in 13 Bites (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, September 14, 2021) written by Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence with illustrations by Yuko Jones tells us about a girl who believed in her dreams when others did not.  Her success supplies encouragement to all who know her story.

In a Los Angeles kitchen, a woman tells a story while cooking.  If you were to 
visit her restaurant, you'd be served thirteen dishes.

Each of the thirteen bites contributes to the whole that is her story.  Niki Nakayama was born in America to parents born in Japan.  Her home was the blend of two cultures, Japanese and American.  This was tasted in the food served.

Niki believed that food was only a part of the experience.  It was the group that sat at the table which completed the meal.  Niki loved to create her own recipes, but at the age of twelve she found herself working in the family business.  And it seemed as if her parents only supported her brother's successes, regardless of her hard work.

A trip to Japan after high school graduation changed the course of Niki's life and the promise of fulfilling her dreams.  She wanted to replicate what she discovered.  She needed to attend chef's school.  Despite her parents' objections, she did.  Hard work, study, and another trip served to expand her passion for cooking.

A request was granted, and a promise was made.  Niki Nakayama finally proved herself to her parents, but her deepest dreams were still not being met.  Courage fueled a decision.  Today Niki Nakayama has another restaurant, a restaurant where stories are told with her food.   

The technique used by authors Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence to present the life of Niki Nakayama in thirteen bites is as inventive and unique as the cooking of Niki Nakayama.  It supplies a gentle tension and sense of anticipation for readers with every page turn.  Often, they will use the same phrase 

"I'll show them."

to signify her determination, again and again.  Those words were an impetus for her.  Here is a portion of the passage for bite six.

Each dish was a work of art.  Each bite burst with flavor.
The tomato's scent brought back memories of a long-ago picnic.
The corn soup tasted of a warm, lazy day.  Together, the courses
told the story of summer.
Niki learned this storytelling feast had a name:  kaiseki.

We can see on the matching front, ride side, of the dust jacket and book case Niki's love of food and food preparation at an early age.  Her zest for exploring her own versions of foods is seen in the tray stacked with wonton pizzas.  Behind her are ingredients for both the sushi and the pizzas.  On the dust jacket, to the left of the spine, on the back, Niki is peering through the doors of her present-day restaurant from the kitchen into the main dining room.  Here we read a short blurb and remarks about this book by Newbery Medalist, Linda Sue Park.

On the back of the book case a depiction is placed on the white background.  Four courses of the many served to Niki Nakayama in Japan are visible.  Each is an exquisite design, a blend of food and a season.  They are a tribute to our natural world and the stories found there.

On the opening endpapers we see thirteen separate kinds of food on individual dishes or bowls on a warm muted golden canvas.  The title text is positioned on a Menu on the right side.  With a page turn, a double-page picture holds on the left the dedications and publication information.  On the right side, the narrative begins.  The illustration is of Niki Nakayama in her restaurant standing in the opening between her kitchen and the dining room preparing food, knife in hand.  To the left, on the ledge, a potted orchid grows.

Each illustration by Yuko Jones takes readers on a charming journey.  She moves from double-page images to pictures placed inside serving dishes, and then to a single-page visual.  When Niki travels to Japan each location she visits is delineated on a map with loops and black and white dashes.  Circular pictures offer readers a view of her savoring different delectable foods.

Yuko Jones shifts her perspectives for emphasis.  Sometimes two separate points of view are woven into the same illustration.  At one section of the tale, we are looking down at patrons in Niki's restaurant.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page visual.  Here Niki has decided what she will do after closing her successful sushi restaurant.  Spread across the two pages is a bright, sunlit sky with the sun and radiating rays on the left.  Beneath this is a sea of water, gentle waves rolling on a beach on the right.  On the left a high wave frames the back of Niki.  She, attired in her chef's hat, shirt, and apron, is stirring a bowl of pasta.  Three smaller circles holding images are tucked in the waves on the right.  They are portions of previous pictures, a reminder of the progress she has made.

This book, Niki Nakayama: A Chef's Tale in 13 Bites written by Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence with illustrations by Yuko Jones, is a testament to perseverance, following your heart, seeking love and laughter, and bursting through boundaries placed on women.  At the close of the book under Ingredients is a two-page timeline of significant moments in Niki Nakayama's life.  The closing endpapers are committed to descriptions of Kuyashii and Kaiseki and the Wonton Pizza Recipe.  Timely and impressive, this title will serve to enhance both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Jamie Michalak, Debbi Michiko Florence, and Yuko Jones and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Jamie Michalak has accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.  Debbi Michiko Florence has accounts on FacebookInstagram and TwitterYuko Jones has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  This title is highlighted at the Nerdy Book Club, PictureBookBuilders, School Library Journal A Fuse #8 Production, and Jama Rattigan's Jama's Alphabet Soup.  At Macmillan Publishers you can view interior images.  You might want to look through Niki Nakayama's Instagram feed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Seasonal Sensations

Books centering on pumpkins, jack-o'-lanterns, vampires, ghosts, witches, goblins, and things that go bump in the night can be read and enjoyed any month of the year but when the last stroke of midnight echoes on October first, something happens.  Readers' desire to enter and explore the season increases tenfold.  Whether it is fact or fiction, funny or frightening; they want it all.

By definition, vampires, alive or back from the dead, tend to be most active during darkness.  We never expect to see them during daylight hours.  This is why, before we have even opened the cover of Vampenguin (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, July 20, 2021) written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, we are already smiling.

On Saturday, the Dracula family woke up extra early
so they could beat the weekend crowds to the zoo.

Once at the zoo, they were inside quickly, or were they?  As per their custom, they went to the Penguin House first.  They were not the only people enjoying this area.  Before long, they had viewed the several different species living there.  As they left, it was time for the penguins' breakfast.

(Unbeknown to the Dracula family, their tiny tot traveling in the stroller had switched places with one of the penguins.  This was never part of the written narrative but fully disclosed in the pictorial story.  Their ignorance is bliss for readers.)

As the family moved to the enclosures of the tiger, elephants, monkeys, and the lion, something strange was happening.  At the bear exhibit they were completely unaware of the bear's hand signals.  A nearby vendor had his snow cones entirely consumed to their puzzlement.  The parents and older son, Junior, were oblivious to the birds' curious chorus in the aviary and the sea lions' splashing at the demonstration.

In the Penguin House, as you might imagine, normalcy was gone.  Disrespectful visitors got a fright.  So intent on finishing their stroll through the zoo, the Dracula family failed to see nonverbal communications of the animals, even when they paused for a picture and a balloon.  It is safe to say this trip to the zoo was a memorable one for all.

Every sentence written by author Lucy Ruth Cummins is a study in contrast.  What is distinctively said and what we observe in the pictures supply us with comedy at nearly every page turn.  These carefully chosen words are also leading us to a conclusion certain to promote outbursts of laughter more than once.  Here is a passage and image explanation.

Back outside, the entire Dracula family was absolutely delighted
by the sea lion behavior demonstration.

The parents and Junior, seated on the stands, were not happy with being splashed.  Their hands were up, and their eyes were closed at the sudden watery episode.  The penguin in the stroller was thrilled.

The washed-teal background is used on both the front, right, and back, left, of the open dust jacket.  On the back a penguin is standing on the ISBN.  On the front, we see what the Dracula family does not.  A penguin in the stroller is making the SHH sign with its flipper wing.  This is an indication to readers this book has the unexpected ready to envelope us.

On the book case a darker teal spreads to either side of the wide black spine.  In the far lower, left corner on the back is the toddler sucking on his yellow teething ring.  In the far lower, right corner on the front is the penguin.  We are only shown their upper bodies.

On the opening and closing endpapers a pattern of black and white stripes, like the mother's shirt, creates a visually alluring effect.  On the title page illustrator Lucy Ruth Cummins shows us the zoo entrance at dawn.  The clock there shows it is 6 am. 

On the heavier, matte-finished paper, these illustrations 

rendered in gouache and colored pencil, and finished with digital line

are full-page pictures, double-page visuals or smaller images grouped by two to a page.  The limited color palette adds to the comedic impressions.  We are supplied with varying perspectives; close to characters and fading in the distance, a birds-eye view, realistic overview of scenes, and close-ups.  The facial features and body postures extend the impact of each illustration.  The smallest of details elevate the humor such as the single penguin looking directly at readers after the toddler has contributed a new odor to the Penguin House. 

One of my many favorite pictures is a double-page image.  We are brought close to the Dracula family as they swiftly move through the aviary.  Here, on the left side and along the top half of the right side, a variety of birds among branches and vines are not at rest.  They are vocalizing the fact a penguin is riding in the stroller.  Father is pointing at some birds.  Mother has her head buried in a map.  And Junior is looking straight ahead.  The penguin shifts in the stroller to give the birds a soft SHH.  Here, as throughout the book, the colors of black, white, yellow, pale pink and teal (turquoise) expand the emotional and hilarious response in readers.

Although this title, Vampenguin written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, is certain to be a huge hit during the autumn season, it is guaranteed it will be a much requested read aloud all year.  The text and images work together with perfection welcoming readers from beginning to end.  I highly recommend this title for both your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Lucy Ruth Cummins and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Lucy Ruth Cummins has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Before October arrived this year, pumpkins were appearing at every grocery store, nursery, and farmer's market.  These squash are a symbol of the season.  They find their way into our food and drink, outdoor and indoor displays and decorations, and in our gardens, too.  There is something clearly satisfying about watching a pumpkin grow from blossom to something heavy we can hold in our hands.  How to Help a Pumpkin Grow (Beach Lane Books, July 20, 2021), one of the newest titles by author illustrator Ashley Wolff, joyously informs readers.

Dig it.
Spade it.
Seeds to sow.  

Sometimes when we plant early in the spring Mother Nature sends us a surprise snow.  We need to protect those seeds, so they will grow.  If we have hungry creatures near our gardens, we need to protect those seeds now forming tiny plants.  A good fence works.

Special care is given to those sprouting shoots.  Food, water, and weeding are on the agenda.  Crow helps.  Rabbit helps.  Duck is ready to lend a wing.

The vines are creeping and winding.  Let's wrap them around the sturdy posts.  The garden is flooded with green, yellow, and orange.  Goat wants to help, too.  The spring and summer seasons have shifted to harvest.

Pumpkins are gathered and taken to Dog's farmhouse.  Crow, Rabbit, Duck, and Goat are happy with their part in this success.  There is cooking and consuming of delectable delights.  And, yes, there is one more project.  Can you guess?

There is one word which comes to mind in reading the words here penned by Ashley Wolff.  That word is jubilation.  From beginning to end, her use of alliteration and rhyming is an open invitation to readers.  Two-word sentences fashion an introductory cadence.  The questions asked by Dog of Crow, Rabbit, Duck and Goat are a promising pause.  This whole narrative reads like a song.  Here are two passages.

Drench them.
Quench them.
Let it flow.
Watering up and down the row.

You want to help a pumpkin grow? (Dog bends down to Duck.)

The angle of the sun provides us with breathtaking views in the autumn.  At times, the light seems magical.  This is what we see first on the open and matching dust jacket and book case of this title.  There is a luminescence, a background glow in the front and back images.  This warmth, this golden sheen, is part of every picture throughout the book.  Cleverness in design is apparent in using the stacked pumpkins as placeholders for the title text.  Crow, the first animal, makes an appearance.  The tiny mouse, though never named, is present in all but one of the illustrations.  Readers will enjoy seeking out this tiny individual.

To the left of the spine, on the back, is a more panoramic view of Dog's farm.  Here Rabbit, Duck, and Goat are present.  Two are in the pumpkin patch, and one is under an apple tree.  Behind them is the farmhouse and silo with the barn.  We see the use of a darker blue with hints of purple as a complementary color.  Who wouldn't love to rock in the chair on the porch?  The ISBN is inside a pumpkin.

On the opening and closing endpapers colors mirror those of a pumpkin.  We are close to a pumpkin, blossoms, leaves, and vines on the title page.  Mouse is peeking from behind a leaf.

In this book, these illustrations were made using

acrylic gouache on Fabriano watercolor paper.

Each double-page picture is animated, filled with charming elements, and the rich hues of a pastoral setting.  We can see in the color choices how the days and seasons progress.  The animals, Dog, Crow, Rabbit, Duck, Goat and the mouse, are featured with facial expressions and body postures suggesting happiness and a willingness to help.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the words:

Twine them.
Vine them.
Watch them go,
filling up the garden---whoa!  

The exploding pumpkin patch is bursting with leaves, vines, blossoms, and pumpkins.  The fence is partially visible from left to right of this double-page picture.  On the left Dog stands, eyes closed, and arms outstretched in happiness.  Duck, with only its neck and head visible, looks at Dog.  Rabbit is holding a white pumpkin and watching Dog.  On the right, Crow is perched on the fence.  Goat's head is through the fence and chewing on a pumpkin vine.  The mouse is resting on the side of a pumpkin.  All their eyes are on Dog.  The sky is glowing.

Whether this book, How to Help a Pumpkin Grow written and illustrated by Ashley Wolff, is read silently or aloud, it is one to savor repeatedly.  For a thematic story time pair it with, to name a few, How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow?, Stumpkin or Pick A Pumpkin.  Be sure to have a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Ashley Wolff and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  She also has a blog.  Ashley Wolff has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  This title is featured at Jama Rattigan's Jama's Alphabet Soup.  You will love the interview and all the added images.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Forming Fast Friendships

Lasting friendships are built on rock-solid foundations with flexibility abilities, like buildings able to withstand hurricanes or earthquakes.  These relationships weather situations involving mistrust, betrayal, inattentiveness, lack of communication (unvoiced expectations), and lies.  By contrast certainty, loyalty, respect, an open exchange of ideas and information, and truth strengthen the bonds between individuals.  No amount of time seems to break the connections between these kindred spirits.

Sometimes one of most difficult things to do is mend a crack.  Taking responsibility for your mistake and correcting it is no easy task.  I'm Sorry (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, September 7, 2021) written by Michael Ian Black with illustrations by Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the fifth collaboration between these two talented individuals.  Sometimes when we've said or done something unkind, we want to rewind immediately.

are you okay?

Potato hurt my feelings.

A little girl, friend to truest friends, Flamingo and Potato, offers to chat with Potato.  She does not want the twosome to be apart.  Within seconds, Potato realizes saying mean things is not acceptable between best buddies.

When the girl says she knows what to do, Potato wonders if making a sandwich for Flamingo will help.  No, but an apology is probably the best idea.  Potato thinks running away to Antarctica would be better.  He has two other ideas that are not apologies.  

The girl insists Potato has to say 

I'm sorry

to Flamingo.  The girl continues to reason with Potato, finally leaving the spud alone to think.  Later when Potato finds the girl and Flamingo playing, his disguise does not fool Flamingo.  

Flamingo and the girl sit down to wait as Potato struggles to say what must be said.  A sudden outburst lets loose a flood of remorse.  Shared conversations between first Flamingo and Potato, then all three lead to a renewed sense of adventure among compassionate companions.

The sentences penned by Michael Ian Black are exactly as one would expect children to speak to each other.  They are simple and direct, getting to the heart of each character's emotional moods.  Suggestions by the girl, reasonable and rational, are offered in the spirit of someone who is observing two friends at odds.  Children, more times than not, offer the best kind of solutions.  A child's heart sees the world as it should be seen.  Michael Ian Black reveals this in the words in this story told through dialogue.  Here is a passage.

Hi, Potato.


Whose fault is it
when you say mean things?

Mine!  It's all my


Readers can readily see by the open and matching dust jacket and book case, beloved characters, the girl, the flamingo, and the potato, have returned.  One is clearly disgruntled, another is upset by their behavior, and the third is offering assistance.  Flamingo and Potato, pink and brown, remain the same.  The color scheme on the girl is basically the same, yellow, blue, and pink.  Her clothing styles shift as does her footwear in this title compared to the previous books.   The characters and title text are slightly raised and varnished.

On the back, to the left of the spine, the canvas remains as a lighter green.  There the author and illustrator names appear with words from Potato.  He is trying, initially unsuccessful, to say he is sorry.

On the opening and closing endpapers, in the same green, Potato appears.  First is the enlarged contraction next to him on the right side, 


At the end, in letters stretching from left to right and top to bottom, is the word


Potato is placed in the center of the O, yelling.

On the verso and dedication page, the text is designed to mirror the face of a sorry Potato.  Most of the words form Potato's eyes.  The dedications are Potato's anxious frown.  

These digitally rendered illustrations by Debbie Ridpath Ohi are lively, bright, and detailed.  Layers are used with excellent effect, adding brilliance to some shades with others more faded. (When Potato is wondering, Potato and the girl are bright, but the other items are lighter variations of the same shade.)  Black silhouettes are also employed superbly.

Images span two pages, edge to edge, single pages within loose geometric shapes, and single pages, edge to edge.  Debbie Ridpath Ohi varies the perspective for dramatic emphasis.  Her pictures are tender and charming, endearing readers to the girl, Potato, and Flamingo.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a smaller picture on a single page.  The girl is listening as Potato is telling her how hard it is to say

I'm sorry. 

On an area of grass Potato is speaking to the left of the girl.  She is kneeling on the grass with her soccer ball next to her.  On tall blades of grass is an insect as curious of the girl as she is of it.  She has an open insect book on her lap.  I love that she has had this book in her pocket throughout the story.  This is a little additional pictorial story.

All the books in this series are exemplary.  I'm Sorry written by Michael Ian Black with illustrations by Debbie Ridpath Ohi will resonate with readers of all ages.  (Although the older you get, the easier it is to say I'm sorry because you realize, day by day, how short life is.  Time is too precious to waste.)  This is a book to be read often and shared widely.  I can already hear the discussions it will raise.  Make sure to have at least one copy in your professional collections and one copy on your personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Debbie Ridpath Ohi and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Michael Ian Black has an account on Twitter.  Debbie Ridpath Ohi has accounts on Facebook, InstagramTwitter, and YouTubeAt the publisher's website you can view interior images and the dust jacket.  There is an interview with Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Math Is Everywhere about this title.

The day will always come when the thing a friend needs the most is your presence.  Your presence is a sign of unquestionable support.  Your presence, without you uttering a single syllable, says where you go, I go.  Two pals we met in Stick and Stone have returned in another heartwarming happening.  Stick and Stone Best Friends Forever (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 7, 2021) written by Beth Ferry with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld follows the duo as they embark on a special search of great importance.



A friendship full-grown.

They have no idea where their search will take them.  Stick seeks his family tree.  He is eager to find his residence of origin.  Where was his branch attached?  Stone is ready

Hills lead them into forests.  Valleys lead them over running water.  Both lead them to the highest mountains.  Unfortunately, Stick can't seem to locate the all-important tree.

When Stick tries to describe it to Stone, the portrait he paints with his words is like all trees.  Stone thinks this is funny.  Before long, the pair are lost in the darkest part of a woods.  Every sound and every shadow fill them will dread.

The last sound reveals a welcome surprise.  Two plus one equals a compass, a guide, to help them get home.  Stick is sad they were unable to find his family three, but Stone replies with the exact words Stick needs to hear.  That, after all, is what friends to the end truly are.

A delightful cadence created with rhyming words by Beth Ferry asks readers to join in Stick's and Stone's journey.  Sentence by sentence in a blend of narrative and dialogue, the quest continues.  As they search, but don't find the family tree subtle tension grows.  This makes the revelation even more desirable.  It also brings us to the beautiful moments Stick and Stone share on the final pages.  Here is a passage.

They hear something scurry.
"C'mon, Stick.  Let's hurry."
"Was that a bear?"
Was it a snake?"
"It might be a monster."

The scene on the front, ride side, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case, continues over the spine.  Not only can we tell Stick and Stone are out and about in the wilderness, but their facial expressions tell us of their combined joy.  Don't you just love how Stick is paddling the canoe!

To the left, on the back, the canvas switching to a lighter shade of stone surrounds Stick and Stone.  Stick holds a maple and oak leaf, speculating on a possible family tree.  Stone to the right looks affectionately at the broken branch.

On the opening and closing endpapers, teal is used as a background color.  A happy pattern is made with Stick and various leaves sprouting from Stick's upper portion.  More than thirty trees are featured.  Labels appear next to the leaves.

These illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld rendered

in pen, watercolor, colored pencil, PanPastels, and Neocolor oil pastels on Mi-Teintes paper with a bit of Photoshop to fix the mistakes

span two pages, edge to edge, and full pages, edge to edge.  The background colors shift to indicate the time of day, the place, and the emotional mood of the characters.  The use of hues of blue, golden yellow, and green fashion a lasting warmth.

We are keenly aware of every mood of the characters by their facial expression, their eyes, and their body postures.  The details Tom Lichtenheld includes are absolutely adorable.  For the words

A friendship full-grown,

Tom Lichtenheld has Stick measuring Stone's height on the door frame, pencil in hand.  Before the search begins, Stick is reading a tree identification book with Stone.  At the top of the mountain peak, capped with snow, Stone is wearing a knitted hat.  Readers will also enjoy seeing the other wildlife displayed in the images.

One of my many favorite illustrations is at the beginning of the expedition.  Stone and Stick are on the edge of a grassy cliff.  Stretching before them are hilly, tree-studded forests.  A golden and blue sky with a few clouds appears endless.  Stick is standing on top of Stone.  In Stick's hand is the eyepiece to a telescope.  The telescope is very, very long.  The last portion of it rests in the "v" formed by a tree branch jutting out from the cliff.

Readers will be ready to reread this book, Stick and Stone Best Friends Forever written by Beth Ferry with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld, as soon as it is finished.  Their friendship is the kind everyone needs.  Perhaps, readers and listeners will wander and find their very own stick and stone to hold in their hands as the story is read.  I know you will want this companion title on both your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Beth Ferry has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Tom Lichtenheld has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld are interviewed about this book at Maria Marshall's site.  Beth Ferry is interviewed at The Children's Book Review about this title.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Three Days Of Reading

On Friday, very early in the morning, life delivered an unexpected break in my daily routines.  It lasted for several days.  So, I read and read and read.  And I am still reading.

The first book I finished I started on Thursday night.  Your Heart My Sky: Love in a Time of Hunger (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, March 23, 2021) written by Margarita Engle is an exquisite portrait of living on the island of Cuba in the summer of 1991.  It is told in three voices of two teenagers, Liana and Amado, and a wise singing dog.  In this novel in verse, each poem, no more than three pages in length, is breathtaking.  You pause after reading each one.  I am still thinking about how Margarita Engle could embed such heartbreak, longing, and beauty into these poems.  Each poem is titled.

Although the government of Cuba is calling this el periodo especial en tiempos de paz, the special period in times of peace, for the majority of people it is a painful, frightening time of starvation.  Liana and Amando, have decided to forgo the government summer camp of farm labor.  It puts them both at a future disadvantage and on the radar of a government in total control of its people.

A chance encounter (or not if you believe the dog and I do) finds the duo working together in their desperate search for food for themselves and their families.  Their relationship gives them courage to do things like trading on the black market, helping those who shelter in caves before trying to make it off the island, and growing their own food in their family’s patios.  They do all this under the threat of discovery.

As their love grows, feeding their bravery, a tension enters their story.  Decisions need to be made.  Which comes first, hope or love?  Does one invite the other?  Or do they arrive together? 

Here is one of the poems.

Ode of Paz

Amado and Liana










and hunger’s


There is a two-page author’s note at the conclusion of the book.  At the publisher’s website is a curriculum guide.  There is a short conversation with Margarita Engle and additional poems at The Book Page for the cover reveal.

On September 28, 2021, The Beatryce Prophecy (Candlewick Press) written by Kate DiCamillo with artwork by Sophie Blackall was released.  One of several reasons I was eager to read this was after watching a video on Instagram posted by Sophie Blackall. (https://www.instagram.com/p/CUXUk2cAZxC/)  Sophie Blackall was right.  Once I started the book, I did nothing else until I finished it.  Hours passed as the stories of a goat, a monk, a girl, and a boy unfolded and intertwined.

The goat, Answelica, is believed to be a demon by the monks of the Chronicles of Sorrowing.  Brother Edik dreads being anywhere near the beast who thrives on butting and biting the monks.  One morning his fear spikes as he enters the barn.  He finds a feverish young girl sleeping next to the goat, holding one of the goat’s ears.

The girl cannot remember anything about herself except her name.  Her name is Beatryce.  There are others who know exactly how she came to be alone with bloody and muddy clothing.  It has to do with a prophecy.

There will one day come a girl child who will unseat a king and bring about a great change.

The boy, Jack Dory, lost his parents in the dark woods by the hand of a wicked robber.  He lived with an older woman, Granny Bibspeak, until she died when he was twelve.  He remains in her home in a village that admires and respects the boy.  Jack Dory has the gifts of speed, remembrance, and mimicry.

Kate DiCamillo with this tale of mystery, intrigue, betrayal, haunting pasts, revenge, love and stories casts a spell that lingers long after the last word is read.  She reminds us how profoundly some things have changed, and others have not.  Sophie Blackall with her luminous endpapers, gorgeous first letters of each chapter, and full- and partial-page images breathes life into the characters and their circumstances.  Here is a passage.  

They were three:  Jack Dory, Beatryce, and a goat.

Jack Dory did cartwheels as he walked down the road.

He followed the cartwheels with several handsprings.

“You cannot do this, can you?” he said, calling back to Beatryce.

“I cannot do it because I must walk along and pretend to be a monk,” said Beatryce.

The satchel was slung across her chest.  It bumped against her hip as she walked.  Her heart felt heavy.

But the goat did not seem worried.  Answelica ran to Jack Dory, kicking up her heels and shaking her head, and then she ran back again and walked at a sedate pace beside Beatryce.

Jack Dory started to whistle a jaunty song.

Beatryce looked down at the goat.  She said, “I think he pretends to be happy.  I think that deep inside he is sad.  Those he loves are dead.  He is alone in the world.”

Answelica looked up at her, listening.

“I am not afraid,” Beatryce said to the goat. “I will not be afraid.”

Answelica nodded.

She bumped her head against Beatryce’s leg.  Beatryce took hold of her ear.

“I am not afraid at all,” said Beatryce again.

At the publisher’s website you can download a teacher’s guide, a curriculum guide, and a sample chapter.  You can also view an interior illustration. The cover reveal and a conversation between Kate DiCamillo, Sophie Blackall, and John Schumacher, librarian, guest lecturer at Rutgers, and writer, on his site, Watch. Connect. Read., is enlightening.

A graphic novel, an ARC, kept me turning pages faster than the lightning flashing during a weekend afternoon storm.  City of Dragons #1: The Awakening Storm (Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic) written by Jaimal Yogis with illustrations by Vivian Truong follows Grace as she absorbs the death of her father, the move to Hong Kong with her mother and new stepfather, starting classes at a private school, meeting three new distinctive friends, and the hatching of a dragon egg in her bathroom.  It seems the tales of an emperor and nine dragons she remembers her father telling her are not myth but reality.

Ramesh, her first-day friend, and Grace, through Ramesh’s tech skills, sneak away from a class field trip.  An old woman in the market speaks one word repeatedly to Grace as she holds her hand.  Then she gives her an egg.  The hatched egg, now concealed in Grace’s backpack the next day at school, brings two more students, Jing and James, into the group.  

That evening as the foursome try to figure out what the creature (Nate, named after Grace’s father) is, their only conclusion is that it is a dragon, a water dragon.  Very quickly they are pursued by unsavory characters who are part of a cult seeking to bring an enemy of the ancient Yellow Emperor back to power.  Unable to find the original old woman, they ask an elderly fishman known as the Southern Prophet for help.

Non-stop action heightened by realistic and witty dialogue by Jaimal Yogis amid detailed, expressive, and highly animated panels by Vivian Truong are certain to keep readers on the edge of their seats.  Hank, Grace’s stepfather, is not as he appears.  His boss, Dr. Kim has secrets of her own.  The Southern Prophet mourns the loss of his one true love, Mazu, a woman of the sea.  A trip to an island, a kidnapping, a wicked storm, and a series of earthquakes that might not be earthquakes elevate the tension.

This title is the first in a series.  The final page builds anticipation for the next book.  At the publisher’s website you can view eight interior pages.  Jaimal Yogis and Vivian Truong are interviewed about this title at The Beat.