Quote of the Month

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

Friday, November 26, 2021


Yesterday in the United States a national holiday was observed, Thanksgiving.  There are other countries who honor a similar day by the same name, but sometimes on different dates.  Many cultures commemorate gratitude for a fruitful harvest, a change in the seasons, or encountered annual blessings.  Most of these traditions are shared with families, friends, or community members.

It is said an attitude of gratitude cultivated every day of the year is highly beneficial for individuals and those in contact with those individuals.  Two publications released on the same day highlight the art of being grateful.  We Give Thanks (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 7, 2021) written by Cynthia Rylant with illustrations by Sergio Ruzzier follows two friends, a rabbit and a frog, and their friends as they find joy in their everyday worlds.

We give thanks for mittens
and for coats and boots and hats.

We give thanks for yellow dogs
and yellow kitty cats.

A frog and a rabbit are enjoying the clothing they find in a friend's home.  When the artistic talents of the first are presented on canvas, laughter ensues.  They venture into the garden and carry fruit to a feast.

As they travel throughout their day, they meet family.  They appreciate the efforts of those providing services in the tiny town.  Even when the weather shifts several times, they welcome those changes realizing the advantages of each one.  

The benefits of various modes of transportation are acknowledged.  They pause to watch the work of insects in a colorful space. Signs of affection shown by an avian mother to their child and a bear to a fish friend are noted.

Wherever this duo go, they notice the little things, taking nothing for granted.  They relish the ability to cook and eat.  Every minute of their days and nights is perceived as valuable, especially those moments shared with their friends.

What readers will first notice about the words penned by Cynthia Rylant is they address those things with which many can identify.  She lists items we need.  She includes people and their accomplishments.  She draws our attention to the natural world.  And she focuses on tender displays of affection.

She views the world through the eyes of children, the children residing in all of us.  She does this through couplets, two sentences, with rhyming words at the end.  The first sentence welcomes readers to wonder about the second sentence.  What word will she use?  Also, she uses the word "and" to join a group of words together rather than using commas.  Here is another passage.

We give thanks for sun and rain
and wind and sleet and snow.

We give thanks for bikes and skates
and . . .

The color palette on the open and matching dust jacket and book case is radiating warmth, like the apples in the basket.  That red in the title text, the apples and the hillside draws us into the happiness of the animals.  The wash of yellow and blue in the sky extends that warmth into a comforting calm.  It is here we meet the two main characters, the frog and the rabbit.  

To the left of the spine, the red covers the area except for a circular image.  It is an interior illustration.  Here the rabbit is looking through its kitchen window while cooking.  Friends are arriving to partake in a banquet.

A spring green, a shade of the green on the frog, covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the initial title page the frog and the rabbit, on a white background, are walking to the right.  On the double-page picture for the formal title page, we can now see them approaching a villa set in the mountains.  The hues of colors are variations on those we saw on the jacket and cover.  They are an open offer of participation to readers.

Rendered in

pen & ink and watercolors,

the visuals by Sergio Ruzzier present his signature style.  His endearing animals depict a range of body positions and facial expressions.  Highly detailed images ask us to step into each scene.  Often elements on one page will appear in the next page, fashioning a flow.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture (all are double-page images except for one, a dramatic pause).  A white sky highlights two low hills in rose and yellow.  The yellow is replete with large flowers and insects.  The bugs are given long noses and tiny eyes and mouths formed from a single line.  The rabbit and frog, on the right side, stand on the rose-colored hill talking about the display before them of insects and flowers. They are watching the bugs work.  The flowers are large enough to make us feel as though we are one of them.

This book, We Give Thanks written by Cynthia Rylant with artwork by Sergio Ruzzier, is one to be shared widely and read often.  It reminds us every single day there are things around us that need our appreciation.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Cynthia Rylant and Sergio Ruzzier, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  At Cynthia Rylant's site is a single page with a letter from her to readers.  Sergio Ruzzier has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website, there are interior images, and views of the entire dust jacket and formal title page.

In a few short weeks, winter will officially begin.  All day yesterday the wind blew and snow fell.  Tonight the temperature will drop to its coldest since last winter.  The activities in the natural world have slowed.  Humans are finishing their outside preparations for the shift in seasons.  

Inside, humans are altering how they spend their time.  Thankful (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 7, 2021) written by Elaine Vickers with illustrations by Samantha Cotterill follows a family as they begin and complete an annual tradition.  It is a time to reflect and remember.  It is a time to make gratitude visible.

EVERY YEAR when the first snow
falls, we make thankful chains
to last us through December.

It is hard to think of all the things 
to be thankful for in a whole year,
so I start right in my own room.

The girl's parents, her father carrying a younger infant sibling, have come to wish her a good night.  As she lies in bed, she feels grateful for her home, parents, and a poem.  This poem, recited every night, helps her to recall those things for which she is thankful.  Some of those you hold in your heart; others you see every single day.

The little girl adores her dog, a wish come true.  She realizes the gift of life, a beating heart and breathing with ease.  Her school days supply her with people she cherishes.

She (like so many of us) is thankful for books and the places they lead us. The girl finds the beauty in opposites.  She identifies the silver linings in good things and in things not quite as good. 

She keeps writing, one thankful thing at a time, one chain at a time.  The girl's thoughts appear on paper until sleep is about to take her into her dreams. The story ends as it begins with her parents and a poem and her final words of thankfulness.

With each acknowledgement by the girl, readers start to relate to her and to examine their own surroundings for similar things.  We accept the goodness revealed in the opposites, soft and hard, and warm and cold, and safety and accidents.  This is a gift given to us by author Elaine Vickers.

The repetition of the words

I am thankful for

provides a connection, like the links in the paper chain, and a cadence.  With each thankful thing the narrator mentions, page by page, we understand it is not only a recounting but building toward an all-encompassing conclusion.  Here is a passage.

I am thankful for
things that are soft
and fresh, like
moss on rocks.

In looking at the open dust jacket, readers can easily see this book is intricately designed.  We are fascinated by the intentional placement of elements on the front, the right side.  Here the girl is penning her thankful memories, link by link.  To the left, on the back, a colorful paper chain is photographed on white, portions of it faded and others clear.  Over this is a circular illustration of the girl holding and hugging her dog.  The dog looks at her with love.  Her eyes are closed in contentment.

On the book case the canvas is white.  Layered on both sides is one continuous, colorful paper chain.  The thankful memories are placed on the inside, but sometimes we are privy to one or two letters in a thought.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a green wall lined with six bookcases.  They are filled with books in an array of hues.  Paper chains in those same shades hang down either side and across each of those two sets of three bookcases.  Along the top of the bookcases is a schooner, a box with a bear on it, a guitar, a statue, a plant, a pennant with the words THANKFUL and a house.  On the title page, between the text is the girl's desk, a chair, and a waste basket.  Across the top of the desk are supplies for making the thankful chains.  A partially completed chain drops down from the desk and curls on the floor.

These artistically shaped illustrations by Samantha Cotterill 

are hand-built three dimensional sets photographed with a digital SLR camera.

The meticulous care given to each setting requires us to pause and savor the words and the images.  The people and the girl's dog are outlined in a black line and a small white border.  The sizes of the pictures switch from double-page pictures to a full-page visual, and then to a circular illustration on a colorful canvas.  Three times across a white background on two pages, we are shown only the girl working on her paper chain.  These are important pauses in the pacing.

One of my many favorite pictures is a two-page illustration.  It is in the evening inside the girl's home.  There is an "L" shaped sofa in the living room.  A single light shines on the left wall, but the entire scene glows as if there is a fireplace we can't see in front of the sofa.  On the left side of the sofa, the dad has fallen asleep holding the baby, a book next to them.  On the right side of the sofa is the girl in her pajamas, cuddled with a blanket wrapped around her.  Her dog is mostly seated next to her.  On the coffee table are dishes from a dinner of soup.  This image complements and elevates the text superbly.

You'll be gathering supplies to make your own paper chains after reading Thankful written by Elaine Vickers with illustrations by Samantha Cotterill.  It emphasizes the value all things have in our lives.  It prompts us in every respect to be grateful.  I can't imagine a personal or professional collection without a copy of this title.

By following the link attached to their names, you can discover more about Elaine Vickers and Samantha Cotterill and their other work at their respective websites.  Elaine Vickers has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Samantha Cotterill has an account on Instagram.  This book is showcased at Watch. Connect. Read. the site of John Schumacher, librarian, lecturer at Rutgers, and writer, at author, reviewer, and blogger, Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, at author Caroline Starr Rose's website, at Mel Schuit's Let's Talk Picture Books, and at The Children's Book Review.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images including the entire dust jacket.

Thankful by Elaine Vickers and Samantha Cotterill from Let's Talk Picture Books on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Treasures All Around Us

When you grow up in a family of collectors, you tend to become a collector.  When you grow up in a family embracing nature, you find yourself fairly at ease in the out-of-doors.  Combining these two attributes, your wanderings outside make use of all your senses especially when you are seeking a new item to cherish.  You find another heart-shaped rock, a large piece of sea glass, or a stone that fits perfectly in your palm.  You locate a new leaf to press or a hard-to-find protected flower to photograph or draw.  Perhaps you are gathering particular kinds of pine cones and acorns or small pieces of driftwood to fashion into a wreath. You hear the sound or song of a bird you are hoping to see for the first time. 

The possibilities are as varied as the people who collect and respect what our natural world has to offer.  What's in Your Pocket?: Collecting Nature's Treasures (Charlesbridge, September 14, 2021) written by Heather L. Montgomery with illustrations by Maribel Lechuga takes readers into ordinary moments leading to spectacular outcomes.  Through the lives of nine scientists as children, we understand and appreciate the value of seeking and needing to know.

When you explore the great outdoors
and find something strange and wonderful,
do you put it in your pocket? 

Following this introductory question to a young gatherer is a statement about scientists and why they collect.  Three major names in science are presented.  Who do you think put a seedpod in his pocket that exploded?  Who do you think put worms under her pillow for safekeeping?  One would find hundreds of uses for peanuts.  The other would have their name tied to chimpanzees forever,

Two more times the present-day explorer, the girl with her dog, is given questions to answer prior to reading about six additional naturalists in two groups of three.  Meg Lowman's multiple collections hidden under her bed provided a haven for a live critter unwelcome inside her home.  It's not every mother who would be fascinated by receiving a live lizard for a birthday present.  Adult Diego Cisneros-Heredia named a newly discovered frog after her.

There was a time when people did not understand the connection between caterpillars and butterflies.  This girl's collection eventually flew away, joining links in a chain. There was another girl who loved roaming along the shores of the Pacific Ocean.  How many teenagers do you know who collect sea slugs?  This young woman and these other eight people have made our planet better for their collecting, curiosity, and passionate love of our natural world.

Readers will enjoy the cadence created by author Heather L. Montgomery where questions are asked and responses about scientists are supplied prior to each trio of children who became extraordinary scientists.  Each time the questions are asked the first is repeated, as is the second for the third section.  These questions also suggest the type of collecting the children did.  After we are informed about the child's activities, an identical phrase shares the name of the scientist with readers before giving us a paragraph about them.  These narrative techniques are inviting and inventive.  Here is a passage.

Will found beautiful blue eggs high in a tree.
Needing his hands to climb back down,
he held the eggs in his mouth.

Oops! . . .

Looking at the open and matching dust jacket and book case readers are welcomed into nature.  On either side of the spine lush flora frames the text and our young explorer.  How many of those items spilling from her pockets have found a place in your pockets when you are outside walking and observing?  On the back, left, an emerald and blue hummingbird sips nectar from an open flower.  Beneath it, a caterpillar munches on a leaf.  A butterfly floats above the ISBN.  On the jacket, front, right, and back, left, the brightest elements are varnished.

A darker hue of the teal on the girl's overalls is used to cover the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, a cluster of found objects are placed between the text.  An initial two-page picture spans from the dedication and publication information page to the first page.  The girl on the front of the jacket and case is first shown in silhouette with her dog walking through the woods.  Just before the gutter, they are in full color and jumping over a log.  On the first page, the duo stop and crouch down to look at fossils.  The girl's left foot moves off the right side as her hand puts the fossil in her pocket.  Her dog, head raised, is smelling that fossil.  

These images, rendered digitally, by Maribel Lechuga flow beautifully, page turn by page turn.  We first see one of the children turned scientist enjoying one of their favorite pastimes.  Then two separate visuals are joined together by shared elements or by one element morphing into another element.  For the final three individuals, this style is reversed.

Readers will travel from the present to the past, from childhood to adulthood with ease and fascination.  Maribel Lechuga's vibrant pictures are full of details of flora and fauna.  Her historical accuracy of place and time through clothing, architecture, and technology is excellent.  Energized by her artwork, we want to be with these people and we are.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  We are at the same level as Will who has climbed up an oak tree.  A nest filled with five blue-speckled eggs is nestled between two branches.  His left arm is wrapped around the tree trunk for support.  His right arm and hand are extended toward the nest.  His face is filled with happy anticipation.  On the grassy meadow with low shrubs beneath him, his bike is laying on its side.

Whether you are already a collector and lover of the outdoors or not, this book, What's in Your Pocket?: Collecting Nature's Treasures written by Heather L. Montgomery with illustrations by Maribel Lechuga, is guaranteed to inspire you to increase your respect and interest in our natural world.  At the close of the book are four plus pages titled More About These (Grown-Up) Kids.  There is a recommended additional book title for more facts about each person after these short biographical paragraphs.  There is A Note from the Illustrator, A Note from the Author: My Collections, a list of Field Guides and a Selected Bibliography.  Your personal and professional collections won't be complete without a copy of this book.

To discover more about Heather L. Montgomery and Maribel Lechuga and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Heather L. Montgomery has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Maribel Lechuga has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website is an interior image and a fantastic nine-page activity kit.  At Penguin Random House are several of the initial interior illustrations.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Noticing Nature #2

Across the street is a large vacant lot.  On either side is a row of trees and shrubs.  To the west is an occupied home.  To the east are two unoccupied houses.  Behind them are rows of mature evergreens.  It is a forest in a neighborhood.  By chance, several days ago, I looked up from working at the kitchen sink out the windows at that vacant lot.  Gasping, I watched a fox in the middle of the day running from one side to the other.  Now, when out walking with my canine companion, she stops, sits and raises her nose sniffing as soon as we are near that wooded area.  She knows.

(And then just minutes ago, yes today, November 16, 2021, as we rounded that familiar corner close to our home on our walk, the crows were more vocal than normal.  Out of a row of trees on our left, the fox ran, stopped on a grassy area, crossed the road in front of us, and stopped on the lawn of a house on the right before disappearing into those woods. He was gorgeous, red and with lots of bright white on his tail.  I was trying to get my phone out of my pocket to get a picture, but also gaze at him at the same time.  Mulan, my dog, just stood silently and watched.)

Wild animals, regardless of where we live, are a part of our world.  Living with them is wondrous.  We never know when they will cross our paths or we will cross their paths.  We All Play kimetawanaw (Greystone Kids, Greystone Books Ltd, May 25, 2021) written and illustrated by Julie Flett explores the commonality and bond between animals and children.

Animals hide

and hop

and sniff

and sneak . . .

Rabbits, foxes, a turtle, and eight owls show a group of gals and guys how they play.  Next, we find ourselves in and near water.  Here whales, seals, and a mother Canada goose and her babies squirt, bend, and chase.  Nearby, children enjoy the same activities.

Back on land, snakes slither through grass.  Buffalos thunder across the plains.  Bears act like acrobats.  Snow has fallen.  Bundled in their winter wear, a hill provides the same possibilities for the girls and boys.

After a day of being constantly on the move, the animals start to slow.  They look for a space to be cozy and to cuddle.  Together, they rest.  Do the children snooze, too?

The words author Julie Flett has selected are like musical notes in a song.  Their alliteration envelopes readers, inviting us to participate.  With every page turn, the melody increases taking us through the seasons and days of play.  Three times with three different animals, we watch and listen as they play, then the same refrain, the title, ties the animals to the children.  It is here that the Cree language is used with the English.  Here is another portion of a passage.

Animals . . .

and wiggle

and wobble.

On either side of the spine, the grasses extend on the cream canvas.  As the children chase butterflies, the bobcat youngsters calmly watch on the front, right side.  You can, in your mind, hear the children laughing.  Their exuberance is contagious.  On the left, back of the dust jacket, two children are lying in the grass, feet to feet.  Their arms are raised.  A butterfly glides just out of reach.

An interior image of seals enjoying a swim is placed on the book case.  The background is the same rich cream color.  Bubbles rise from each of the three and along the bottom.

On the opening endpapers is the green used for the grasses.  On the closing endpapers is a rusty red of autumn leaves.  On the title page, the image from the front of the jacket is replicated.  Opposite this is the dedication page.  Here illustrator Julie Flett speaks of her father, Clarence Flett, Swampy Cree, Red River Metis (1936-2019).  

Rendered in pastel and pencil, composited digitally

these illustrations, each double-page image, depict joy in its purest form.  Animals appear and leave on page edges, left and right, top and bottom, breaking the frame.  Tiny details are tucked into visuals, Insects jump with the rabbits.  The geese walk among a patch of clover.  Beetles are busy as the buffalos rush past them.  Paw prints fashion a trail past the bobcats.

One of my many favorite illustrations accompanies the text above noted.  Here three bears enjoy an early snowfall.  Their warm brown bodies against the snow is a pleasing contrast.  On the left, one of the bears is on its back, feet curled up.  On the right, another bear is sliding down on its stomach toward the first bear.  A smaller bear is on the back of the sliding bear.  If they spoke our language, they might be saying

Asking us to be aware, see, and respect what nature supplies us, We All Play written and illustrated by Julie Flett celebrates the antics in the animal world we mirror in the human world.  No matter how many times you read this book, the happiness will heighten your own happiness.  At the close of the book is a list of animals in English and in Cree.  This is followed by an explanation of the Cree 

used in this book.

There is also a Dear Reader note from Julie Flett.  I highly recommend this title for all your collections, personal and professional.

To learn more about Julie Flett and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Julie Flett has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. Julie Flett was highlighted this past May on two websites, Art Of The Picture Book and Let's Talk Picture Books.  At the publisher's website is a guide for educators and parents and an audio pronunciation of the Cree words.  At School Library Journal, The Classroom Bookshelf, this title is featured with multiple resources and educational ideas.

We All Play by Julie Flett from Let's Talk Picture Books on Vimeo.

Color conveys and connects to us, as do light and shadow within those colors.  In her two previous phenomenal books, Green (March 27, 2012) and Blue (September 25, 2018)Laura Vaccaro Seeger presented colors to readers with fresh eyes.  She elevated our awareness of colors' effects on us.  In her new book, Red (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, October 5, 2021), Laura Vaccaro Seeger tells of being lost and found, heartbreak and humanity.  It is about a fox.  It is about a girl.  It is about all of us.

dark red

light red

lost red

During a move at dusk, a young fox gets separated from its group.  It sleeps, awaking and realizing it is lost.  It safely crosses a road by a railroad tracks during the dark of night.

While roaming, the fox notices a girl in the yard of her home.  She watches the fox watching her.  Continuing its explorations, the fox finds other signs of humans, eventually injuring itself on a rusty nail.

It seeks food and discovers other obstacles, some high.  The fox moves through the woods and into a field.  Readers will recognize the vehicle and a box from a previous scene.  Hungry, the animal is unaware of the danger ahead.

Human and animal clash.  Compassion and confidence blend in another animal and human encounter.  Steps by steps, previous settings are revisited until there is a flash of . . .

Each word placed before the title word by Laura Vaccaro Seeger reflects a time of day, an emotional feeling, a description of place, a foreshadowing, a physical characteristic, or homecoming.  At times every other word will rhyme.  Sometimes for emphasis words in succession will rhyme.  And those words, in turn, rhyme with an earlier word.  There is a bit of alliteration to enhance the cadence.  It is an ingenious working with words by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. 

When you first look at the swirl of red shades on the open and matching dust jacket and book case, the image extending from flap edge to flap edge, what do you see?  If you look closely above the raised title text on the front, right side, there is the head of a fox.  When you look at the entire jacket and case, you can see the whole body of the fox running.  Above and below this fox are other foxes.  What would it be like to see a group of them running together?

On the opening endpapers, which is also the title page, we are deep in a forest.  Tall trees, undergrowth, and patches of grass span page edge to page edge.  Through the tops of trees is a brilliant blue sky.  Three foxes briskly walk toward the right side beneath the title text.  On the left, behind them, another fox strides toward them.  With another page turn, the woods are darker.  We see the first die-cut leading us to the next double-page picture.  On the closing endpapers are words from the author illustrator, a dedication and the publication information, all on the left.  On the right side are three vertical panels, one green, one blue, and the third, red.  (I got goosebumps reading the author's note.)

Using acrylic paint on canvas

Laura Vaccaro Seeger takes us on an intense journey.  Through her artwork and the placement of die-cuts, it is a sensory experience, abundant in detail.  We are walking through darkened woodlands.  We are waking on a cliff overlooking an expanse of forest as the sun is partially shown on the horizon.  We are curious.  We are hurt.  We need food.  We need help.  And most of all, we need to find our way home.  

Between the final two-word phrases, Laura Vaccaro Seeger breaks from her double-page pictures.  On these two wordless picture pages, first on the left, are three panels.  There are two squares over a rectangle.  On the right side is a full-page picture.  Then, it is guaranteed you will sigh at the sight of the final two-page image with the last two words.

One of my many favorite pictures is for the two words, rose red.  At the base of the two-page visual, among the grass and roses, the fox, on the right, looks forward.  In front of the fox is a sturdy white fence, made of posts and a single row of rails.  The setting is framed on the left by oak leaves and acorns, and on the right by a blooming red and pink bush.  In the upper portion of the picture on the left, the girl is picking up a ball.  She and the fox look at each other.

As soon as you finish reading Red written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, you'll read it again and again.  Then you'll go to your bookshelves, or the nearest library to read the two previous books in the trilogy.  You might read all of them together more than once.  You certainly need a copy of this book for your professional and personal collections.

To discover more about Laura Vaccaro Seeger and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. Laura Vaccaro Seeger has accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  At the publisher's website are an event kit with activities and an educator's guide with discussion questions.  At Penguin Random House you can view the first double-page picture, the title page.  This book and her other work is discussed with Laura Vaccaro Seeger at Publishers Weekly, Let's Talk Picture Books and Critter Lit.

As we get older, we see the world with a wider and deeper perspective.  For many adults, but not all adults, it is clouded by past events and life experiences.  What we need to retain is the constant curiosity and bliss we had as children in investigating the world outside our homes.  Dear Little One (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, November 2, 2021) written by Nina Laden with illustrations by Melissa Castrillon is a love letter to our natural surroundings and all the minute marvels they hold.

Dear Little One

Your time on
Earth has just

A small child and their dog walk along the shoreline, peer into the water, and touch its surface.  The child is encouraged, as they walk into the woods, away from their home, to look, listen, and inhale.  They are asked to appreciate the flowers, bees, and trees.

Insects abound in sheltered nooks and crannies.  It only takes a minute to seek them out and observe their work.  Plants, from seeds to stalk, reveal secrets.

Speaking of secrets, what can you find by digging through the dirt?  There might be treasure, natural or human.  As the child and her canine companion walk through the woods, they need to remember their purpose in keeping our planet alive.  Each animal found along the way is part of a vital unseen web.

It is important to remember to venture farther than our home.  We must develop a respect for large bodies of water, sand, and tall mountains.  Wind, calm or wild, rain, snow, and the sun each are essential.  Be sure to gaze at the stars and have their endless expanse embrace you.  You are a caretaker of this Earth, now and always.  

You know from reading the first word Nina Laden is addressing someone with, at the very least, respect.  As the narrative continues, you realize, through her lyrical rhyming text, the speaker is building a loving relationship with the child.  They ask the child to be aware, to be grateful, and to be responsible.  Sentence by sentence we get a sense of building toward something extraordinary.  The final three words are our answer.  Here is a passage.

Hike in the forests.
They make the world green.
Their leaves act like lungs
to keep the air clean.

Two lavishly framed and illustrated scenes greet readers on the back, left, and front, right, of the open dust jacket.  The exotic plant life, flowers and leaves, twine around a three-lined gold foil border on the front and a golden yellow border on the back.  The child, on the front, is already heeding the advice of the speaker in looking at the beetle.  Other insects and small creatures are curious about her.  How many more can you see?

On the back, the child and their dog are perched on a branch.  It is placed near the top of the image.  They are looking at something to their right.  Beneath them are ferns, flowers, and a single bee.  

The book case is done in several hues of deep green.  There are less elements in the scenes on the back, left, and the front, right.  The child is only shown on the front.  There is more gold foil in addition to the borders.  Both the jacket and case are stunning.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a fan pattern with evergreen trees, tree branches, birds and leaves.  It is done in green and cream.  The child with a backpack is standing in a corner with their dog, ready to explore.  With a page turn, we see bees in cream on green on the left.  On the right, the child is smelling a flower as their dog runs behind them.  The child is wearing a red jacket and yellow pants.  The dedication, publication information and title pages are a two-page picture.  A close-up of leaves and flowers surround the text.  There are a few small critters.

Each of the two-page pictures, full-page pictures and smaller pictures grouped on a single page

were rendered in pencil and then colored digitally

by Melissa Castrillon.  The delicate lines and intricate details welcome closer inspection.  The invitations found in the text are enhanced by the artwork.  The breathtaking color choices amplify the enchanting images.  Shifting perspectives make us a part of the adventure.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture at night.  A portion of the moon hangs low in the sky in the upper left-hand corner.  Evergreens bend in from the left and right sides.  The sky is peppered with stars, some of them shooting comet-like tails.  On a small hill in the center is a tent.  Close, but not too close, a small fire burns.  Next to it is the child and their dog.  They have a new friend, either a coyote or fox, joining them.  All of them are looking to the stars.  An owl dozes in one of the trees.  The colors are cream, purple, and green, with the exception being the child's clothing and the orange red of the tent and fire.

In a word, this book, Dear Little One written by Nina Laden with illustrations by Melissa Castrillon, is splendid.  The heart-warming letter paired with the striking artwork makes this a book to treasure and share often.  Your personal and professional collections will not be complete without a copy of this title.

By following the link attached to their names, you can learn more about Nina Laden and Melissa Castrillon and their other work at their websites.  Nina Laden has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  Melissa Castrillon has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images including the open dust jacket and book case.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

To Start Again

It seems as though autumn has stalled.  Mother Nature does not want to replace milder temperatures with bitter cold.  There have been the typical wild winds and torrents of rain, but the trees are clinging to their green and their leaves. The annual burst of oranges, reds, and yellows have only recently been on display.  In the last two days, finally, the leaves have blanketed yards, sidewalks, and streets.  The familiar swish and crunch now follow you when walking through neighborhoods.

The majestic trees lining roads and populating nearby forests are getting ready to rest.  It is in times like this gratitude for trees is, or should be, foremost in our minds.  With respect to those trees lost this year in wildfires, we must not forget the impact on us and the fauna and flora in those woodlands.  Hello, Tree (Little, Brown and Company, September 14, 2021) written by Ana Crespo with illustrations by Dow Phumiruk, inspired by the 2013 Black Forest fire, speaks through the voice of a tree about tragedy and hope.

I met the girl when
she was a baby . . .

and I was just a sapling.

As both grew, they shared moments together.  The child sought the tree for steadiness, play, comfort and companionship.  The tree did have other friends living in the forest.

One summer night, the lives of the tree and the girl were interrupted.  The animal alarm spread through the forest.  Fire!  Many animals, of all sizes and shapes, left along with the girl and her family.  The tree had no such choice.

Smoke like the blackest of clouds filled the sky.  Fortunately, for the tree, help came as firefighters fought back the flames on the land and in the air.  The battle against the blaze finally ended after many days and nights.

In the wake of the devastation was silence.  Gradually, the silence was filled with the return of people, the girl, clean-up crews, and some animals.  Seasons passed.  Renewal was slow in the forest, but the girl, becoming a young woman, went away.  The tree did have other friends living in the forest but . . .

Hello, tree.

With simple, truthful and eloquent sentences, author Ana Crespo tells a universal story of the relationship between humans and nature, and of hardship and healing.  Through the tree we sense the world in togetherness and aloneness and in sensory descriptions of color and sound.  There are only a few phrases of dialogue, but a recurring mention of wishes and stars ties portions of the narrative together beautifully.  Here is a passage.

Wait as roaring flames breathed smoke into the sky.

And left only a single star to wish upon.

The depiction shown on the front, right, of the open dust jacket continues on the other side of the spine.  The smoky orange of the sky suggests the recent fire.  The girl is as glad to see her tree as the tree is to see the girl.  The visible remnants of the flames are shown in the blackened tree trunks and the destroyed house with the chimney remaining.  On the back, left, two deer stand close to portions of the forest not in the path of the flames.  In front and around them are burned tree trunks.

On the book case, we are presented with an elevated view of the forest.  A spring green meadow is framed by trees in back and in front of it.  A stream winds along the back edge of the meadow.  Several trees stand apart and to the right of the meadow.  Deer graze on either side of the stream.  Two birds glide in the pale blue sky.  This forest is pristine.

On the opening endpapers, on a background of marbled tan, is a pattern composed of birds, butterflies, moths, pinecones, pine branches, flowers (wild and in garden containers), rabbits, squirrels, beetles, a bee, a feather, red ribbons, a mouse, a mailbox, a birdfeeder and three blue eggs in a nest.  Can you notice them inside the book?  On the closing endpapers among a tranquil forest setting is About This Book (publication information), References, and an Author's Note.

Artist Dow Phumiruk begins her pictorial interpretation on the dedication and title pages with a double-page picture.  It's a view of the girl's house in a grove surrounded by the forest.  Her illustrations, two-page images, smaller illustrations grouped on a single page, and single-page visuals were rendered

with Photoshop and include scanned watercolor and pencil textures.

They heighten the text through her adept use of light and shadow and shifting perspectives.  During the fire she carefully portrays the scenes of displaced people amid the scenes of the fire and the firefighters.  The bird's eye view, a two-page image, of the destruction after the fire is deeply moving.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a close-up view of the animals fleeing the fire.  In this two-page picture on the left, the tree with its signature red ribbon still tied from dress-up with the girl is seen.  A chick-a-dee flies overhead as a bear, rabbit, and mouse race rapidly to the right.  On the right side a buck and raccoon are nearly off the page.  Several tree trunks and piney branches are behind them as a larger bird soars in the distance.  You get a real sense of urgency.  You want to tell them to run, run, run.

Every year our knowledge of trees and their abilities increases.  To have this book, Hello, Tree written by Ana Crespo with illustrations by Dow Phumiruk, told through the tree's point of view brings us into the heart of this event.  Two pages at the close of the book provide additional information and smaller framed illustrations under the headings of Fire Begins, Firefighters To The Rescue, Shortly After The Fire, The First Spring And The Benefits Of Fire, Some Springs Later, and Many Springs Later.  Numerous themes are woven into this title making it an excellent addition to your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Ana Crespo and Dow Phumiruk and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Ana Crespo has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Dow Phumiruk has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Ana Crespo is interviewed at Cynsations, the site of Cynthia Leitich Smith.  On December 2, 2021 Ana Crespo and Dow Phumiruk will be in an event hosted by John Schumacher at the Bookelicious site.  It is a free, but you are requested to register.

Ana Crespo Presents HELLO, TREE from LB School on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Picturing Possibilities

Each individual expresses their sensory perceptions in a manner distinctive to them.  At times, their impressions will coincide with those of other beings.  Frequently, they stand alone with their ideas.  They understand how their impressions and ideas relate to others through looking, speaking, listening, and reading.

Most individuals are eager to develop the skills necessary to observe with their senses and to articulate and react to what they encounter.  This learning, though, can be a challenge.  Aaron Slater, Illustrator (Abrams Books for Young Readers, November 2, 2021) written by Andrea Beaty with illustrations by David Roberts is the newest title in The Questioneers series.  Readers will be charmed by Aaron Slater's view of the world, his love of stories, and how he shapes his own tales.

At the end of the garden, in the soft, fading light,
when the day turns to dusk and the dusk into night,
the sweet scent of jasmine floats into the air
to mix with the music of laughter, and there . . .
Aaron D. Slater soaks it all in
with his flowery blanket tucked under his chin.

For each of four summer Aaron and the flowers in the garden grow.  Aaron has a spot for his own planting and his own drawing with chalk on a pathway made of slate.  The best part of those summer days are the books being read aloud to Aaron.  With all his heart, he wants to be able to write stories.

Aaron knows he needs to read, but he simply can't make sense of the letters and words they spell, although he has loving help.  When his first day of school arrives, he knows he will be reading lickety-split.  He does not read, not even by the end of the year.

Aaron believes with a sinking sensation; he is not like his fellow classmates. All those things that make him Aaron D. Slater are set aside.  He decides to become invisible.  At the start of second grade, his new teacher, Miss Lila Greer is about to change Aaron's plan to not stand apart.  She wants them to author a true story, sharing it the next day.

Aaron does not get a wink of sleep all night.  He goes to school and stands in front of his classmates, all thirty-three, when his name is called.  His start is slow, but with his eyes closed a story unfolds as his words pour forth.  When he finishes, the gals and guys in his class are stunned.  Tears slide down Miss Greer's face.

And Aaron, embarrassed now, gives her a paper with no words and stands outside in the hallway.  The next exchange outside the classroom between this teacher and her student is a thing of beauty.  A smile and two words send hope surging into a soul.

Composed of rhyming couplets, this narrative by Andrea Beaty is like stepping into your special space.  It is that place where all things are possible, you feel serenity and security, and you can hear the music of your heartbeat.  Through Andrea Beaty's words we watch how Aaron grows within a home filled with warmth, and how it fosters his love of story.  Through her descriptions we feel his sadness, his frustration, and his glorious realization of his gift.  Here is a passage.

And so Aaron does what young Aaron must do.
He works on his story like the rest of Grade Two.
He writes through the evening.
He writes through the night.
He writes and he writes
till the dawn's early light.

Then he drags off to school with his shoes filled with lead
and his stomach in knots and a pain in his head,
and he waits for his turn with his heart filled with dread.

On a canvas of blue and white graph paper, flap edge to flap edge, the talent of Aaron D. Slater unfolds for readers on the back, left, and front, right, of the open dust jacket.  Look at the expression on Aaron's face on the front; his look of satisfied joy is heartwarming.  His artwork is a reflection of his summers in the garden and the stories he loved listening to as he and his siblings rocked in the porch swing.

On the back, Miss Lila Greer is riding a blue dragon next to a black swan wearing a crown.  They fly amid other airborne flowers, birds, and pencils.  Beneath them are several favorable quotations about The Questioneers series.

On a background of white, the book case is covered in flowers.  They are a variety of sizes, shapes, and an array of colors.  In the lower, right-hand corner Aaron stands, colored pencil in hand, drawing the petals on another flower.  You want to walk in this child's garden.  It is bursting with happiness.

The opening and closing endpapers are covered in blue-on-blue graph paper.  For the initial title page, stenciled, block letters in black are placed over Aaron's flowers.  On the verso and formal title page, on graph paper, Aaron, his back to us, draws.

These illustrations by David Robers on white are striking in their emotional portraits.  In the first, double-page picture we meet Aaron D. Slater, wrapped in a blanket and cuddled on the porch swing with his mothers and two siblings.  A third sibling, a sister, sits nearby in a rattan chair strumming a guitar.  Two cats are close to the group.  In a cozy spot above the branch holding the swing is a mother bird with three baby singing birds in a nest.

These pictures rendered 

with watercolors, pen, and ink on Arches paper

are two-page images or single-page visuals.  There is one wordless, double-page picture which is certain to have you cheering and laughing.  David Roberts uses white space superbly.  

The facial expressions displayed by Aaron will endear you to him immediately.  Careful readers will notice familiar faces in Aaron's classroom.  The clothing, physical characteristics, abilities and looks on the faces of all the other students in the building and in Aaron's classroom are fabulous.  Readers will see themselves in this school and in Aaron's family.  Also superb is the manner in which David Roberts depicts dyslexia.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page page which slightly crosses the gutter to the left.  Aaron is four years old.  He and his siblings are swinging in the porch swing hung from the tree.  Patterned pillows add to their comfort.  One of his brothers is reading aloud from a book titled Mythical Beasts.  Aaron's eyes are closed, and his imaginings are drawn in colored pencil over his head.  Next to him is his sister, listening and watching.  At the other end is an older brother with his eyes closed, too.

In this moving story about a boy who struggles with dyslexia and finding how to express his best self, readers, even those without dyslexia, will identify with the challenges we all face in following our dreams. At the close of Aaron Slater, Illustrator written by Andrea Beaty with illustrations by David Roberts are must-read author and illustrator notes.  I can't imagine a collection, personal or professional, without a copy of this title.  You might want to pair this title with A Walk in the Words written and illustrated by Hudson Talbot.

To discover more about Andrea Beaty and David Roberts and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Andrea Beaty has accounts on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. David Roberts has  an account on Instagram.  You can view interior images on the publisher's website as well as a video of the illustrator speaking about this book.  There is an event scheduled for November 17, 2021 (linked here) where both the author and illustrator will be present to speak about this book.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Leaving Legacies---One Woman At A Time #2

Some days it feels as though for every step forward, we are pushed two steps back.  We look at the past and marvel at the strides taken.  Then, a new incident will make the headlines and we ask ourselves if we have made any progress at all.  Perhaps we need to focus on and raise up those steps forward with larger and louder voices.  If we do this, the negative, the steps back, are diminished.

The first woman to serve in the United States Congress, Jeanette Pickering Rankin, was elected in 1916, four years prior to women being granted the right to vote.  Her words of 

"But I won't be the last."

ring with truth throughout our history.  Shirley Chisholm Dared: The Story Of The First Black Woman In Congress (Anne Schwartz Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, June 1, 2021) written by Alicia D. Williams with artwork by April Harrison speaks to this truth and her personal truth.

Meet three-year-old Shirley St. Hill, a busy little girl who asks way too many questions.

Shortly thereafter, Shirley, her two little sisters and her mother head to Barbados to spend time with her grandmother.  Her mother leaves to return to Brooklyn.  Although missing her mother and father, Shirley settles into her surroundings.  At four years old, she attends school, bravely sitting in the front row.

Back in Brooklyn her parents miss Shirley and her sisters.  Six years later, they return to the United States.  Sharper than her classmates, Shirley moves quickly from a third-grade classroom to an eighth-grade classroom once tutoring of American history is completed.

Fueled by her father's support and privy to listening as he and his friends discuss politics, Shirley gains in her knowledge.  Despite her mother's warnings as she begins high school, Shirley rebels following her instincts in the music she favors and her companionship with boys.

After completion of studies at Brooklyn College, Shirley, ever determined, finally gets a job as a teacher's aide.  At the close of the day as a teacher's aide, she continues to work on another degree and pursues her deep interest in politics and what is being done for people in her community.  She believes change is accomplished through questioning, education, and politics.  She inserts herself into those clubs most promising to the changes she hopes to make.

Despite a deck stacked against her, in 1964 Shirley Chisholm wins a seat in the New York Assembly.  The more people complain about Shirley's determination in making lives better for others, the harder she works.  Four years later, Shirley Chisholm becomes the first African American woman to serve in the United States Congress! 

Author Alicia D. Williams selected those incidents in the life of Shirley St. Hill Chisholm which clearly shaped her character and in turn shaped the character of life for her constituents. She uses these, piece by piece like an architect or engineer, page turn by page turn, to build the formidable person we see in this narrative.  It is poetic the way sentences describe a portion of this woman's life followed by the words:

That girl is ____,

That young lady is____, 

That woman is____, or

That Shirley is____!

You find yourself inwardly cheering for this girl, young lady, woman and Congresswoman each and every time you read the words.  Here is a passage.

She attends political meetings, too.
When she has a question, Shirley bravely
thrusts her hand in the air.  She asks:
Where's the money to make schools
better in her Bedford-Stuyvesant
Why isn't trash picked up regularly?
Why can't Bed-Stuy have as much
police protection as other districts?

That woman is too persistent!

In looking at Shirley St. Hill Chisholm on the front, right, and back, left, of the matching and open dust jacket and book case, one of the first things you notice regardless of her age is the set expression on her face.  This is a human filled with confidence and determination.  The portrait of her on the front is stunning in each and every detail.  It's as if we can hear the words from one of her speeches resonating from that image.

On the back, Shirley sits in the classroom on the island of Barbados at four years old.  She is much smaller than her other classmates but sits calmly with her legs crossed and hands resting on the table.  Her eyes are closed.  She looks the picture of peace, but we readers already know she is poised for action.

A marbled turquoise covers the opening and closing endpapers.  We see hints of this color reflected in Shirley's hair and clothing on the jacket and case.  On the title page is a political button in red, white, and blue with the word Shirley on it.

These pictures by April Harrison

rendered in acrylic and mixed media collage

spanning two pages, full pages, within circles on a single page, or in two-page horizontal panels are as vibrant as the woman and her world portrayed. The variety of paper and patterns fashion a sense of time, place, and the people.  Our focus is drawn to the people depicted in the images because they were Shirley's focus.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  On the right side stands Shirley, holding a paper and pencil close to her chest.  She has a look of peace and persistence on her face.  Off to the left three people, people from her community, question her running for office citing tasks traditionally done by women.  All these people are shown from the waist up and close to the reader.  In the background are buildings found in the area where they live.  Shirley is remembering the words of her father---

Make something of yourself.

It is one thing to admire someone's achievements from afar based upon news commentary, but it quite another to understand what shaped this person.  Shirley Chisholm Dared: The Story Of The First Black Woman In Congress by Alicia D. Williams with art by April Harrison does this for readers.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional bookshelves.

To discover more about Alicia D. Williams and April Harrison and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Alicia D. Williams has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  April Harrison has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At Penguin Random House, you can view interior images.

At the Library of Congress, I was able to watch a video of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm giving a speech announcing her intention to run for President of the United States.  You are not allowed to embed the video but the URL is here.  The speech is powerful.

Born sixteen years later, another woman rose through the political ranks in service of her country, her voters and those unable to vote yet.  Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi Calls The House To Order (Little Bee Books, September 7, 2021) written by Carole Boston Weatherford with illustrations by Chris Hsu recounts the life of a woman raised in a home where making a difference for the betterment of others was done through political office.  She was taught and believed like those other remarkable Congresswomen before her to take a stand for the common good and remain firm.  She still does.

Nancy D'Alesandro had a hand in politics from an early age,
stuffing envelopes, handing out leaflets,
and waving from a convertible as her father spoke
through a bullhorn during his political campaigns.
When he was sworn in as mayor, she held the Bible.

Her family was (are) devout Catholics, loyal to their country, and Democrats.  Nancy and her five brothers were taught to always lend a hand to those in need.  She attended an all-girls Catholic prep college school as a teenager.

As a political science student in college, can you imagine her joy in meeting first Senator and then President John F. Kennedy?  During her university studies she met Paul Pelosi and they were married a year after she graduated from Trinity College in Washington, D. C.  They were parents five times in six years.  Nancy has some interesting commentary on parenting and politics.

Nancy returned to politics first as a mayoral appointee in San Francisco.  She became the head of the California Democratic Party.  When the widow of a congressman became ill and unable to continue her tenure, she urged Nancy to run for the seat.  And she won! (She is still a representative from the state of California today.)

During her time in Congress, Nancy Pelosi has championed for gay rights, changes in health care and in 2018 she set a record for speaking in defense of "Dreamers" for over eight hours.  She has held the position of House Minority Leader twice and Speaker of the House twice.  She was the first woman to hold both of those positions.

When Carole Boston Weatherford writes, you savor her words.  In this narrative, she finds those facts which define the actions taken by Nancy Pelosi during her lifetime.  As mentioned previously, she includes Nancy's work with her father during his campaigns and after his election.  She follows this with noting his presence during her swearing-in ceremony as a new congresswoman from San Francisco.  Each event supplied by Carole Boston Weatherford is supported by an accompanying quotation from Nancy Pelosi.  This further grounds Carole Boston Weatherford's stated words and fuels a fire you can feel growing.  Here is a passage.

With her hands reaching across the political aisle,
Speaker Pelosi rallied her own party to serve all Americans,
and led the uphill charge to reform health care.
Naysayers doubted that she would succeed.
But Pelosi knew politics like the back of her hand.

"If the gate is locked, we push open the gate.
If we don't push open the gate, we'll pole vault over it.
If that doesn't work, we'll parachute in.
But we're not letting anything stand in the way . . ."

Artist Chris Hsu chooses to place Nancy Pelosi in her seat as she resides over the House of Representatives as the Speaker of the House on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  This setting makes a powerful and appropriate place and frame for the title text.  He deftly shows her demeanor as calm and confident, owing to her years of experience.

To the left of the spine, on the back, an interior image is used with her quotation above noted.  She is walking into the House of Representatives hand-in-hand with her granddaughter to be sworn in for her term as Madam Speaker.  They are standing in the doorway with the path spread before them, congresswomen and congressmen standing and applauding on either side of the aisle. (It should be noted that Nancy Pelosi took this oath with her grandchildren and other children surrounding her.)

The carpet in the House of Representatives is the canvas for the opening and closing endpapers.  Between the areas of text on the title page, Chris Hsu has placed Nancy Pelosi, hand over her heart, in front of a waving United States flag.  A gavel is shown on the verso and dedication page.

The illustrations in this book span double pages, edge to edge, and single pages, edge to edge.  They are in full color.  They are lively and indicate a stamina continually shown by this woman.  They complement and elevate the informative and inspiring text.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  It shows President John F. Kennedy giving his inaugural address.  He and those on the balcony with him are in the foreground in full color.  In front of him are a mass of people, women and men of all ages.  They are drawn in muted tones of gray.  Nancy Pelosi was there on this day, already involved in politics, more than sixty years ago.  

At eighty-one years old, this woman still presides over the House of Representatives with poise and purpose.  We know why after reading Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi Calls The House To Order written by Carole Boston Weatherford with illustrations by Chris Hsu.  At the close of the book is a biographical timeline and a bibliography.  You will want to have a copy of this title in your personal and professional collections to promote discussions and encourage others who seek a life in service through politics.

In accessing the websites of Carole Boston Weatherford and Chris Hsu by following the link attached to their names, you can learn more about them and their other work.  Carole Boston Weatherford has accounts on Facebook, InstagramTwitter and YouTube.  Chris Hsu has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website and at Simon & Schuster, you can view interior images.