Quote of the Month

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

Friday, December 3, 2021

Better Together #5

When individuals are confronted with an unfavorable situation, they want to remedy the circumstances as soon as possible or at the very least, ensure the same incident is not repeated.  Moving forward on a new path is often challenging.  In fact, the first step is often the hardest.

To hear a voice offering encouragement gives you strength.  To find someone willing to shoulder the work with you is inspiring.  To know you are not alone adds a lightness to your soul.  Change Sings: A Children's Anthem (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, September 21, 2021) written by the youngest presidential inaugural poet in the United States of America, Amanda Gorman, with artwork by Loren Long is a beautiful portrait guaranteed to encourage, inspire and bring the lightness to every soul who savors the words and images.  Each reader, of all ages, will understand their destiny to make a difference for the good of all.  No action, however small, will fail to offer a positive impact. 

I can hear change humming
in its loudest, proudest song.

I don't fear change coming,
And so I sing along.

This song is not soft, but strong.  The narrator screams and dreams.  What is done, again and again, fuels hope.

They join voices across our planet, past and present.  They offer help to those who need it the most.   They are staunch in their support of others who seek change.

For those who do not understand, a compassionate person asks them to join in the song.  Being right is never wrong.  Working together constructs sturdy structures for all to enjoy.

Countries of origin are recognized.  Those things which seem to imply distinctions are doors into similarities.  Like poets and songwriters of the past, this narrator realizes real change begins in each individual.  When that thinking shifts inside us, we sow it.  We release it into the world and grow love.

When you read these words written by Amanda Gorman, you don't know if you should do so silently or break into song, so you do both, separately and then together.  Each rhyming sentence adds a layer, building from a single soul to many.  We know this because the sentence beginnings alter from "I" to "We" with the concluding pages.  Here is another couplet.

I hum with a hundred hearts,
Each of us lifting a hand.

I use my strengths and my smarts,
Take a knee to make a stand.  


by hand on illustration board, using acrylics and colored pencil

these pictures by Loren Long we first see on the open and matching dust jacket and book case radiate in a rich color palette. The image spans from the left edge on the back and continues to the right edge on the front.  The pieces of color on the wall behind the main character are like stained glass alluding to the sun, its rays and the symbolic rings of rainbow colors.  The girl's face shows an open expression.  In her hands, the guitar is offered to readers as an invitation. The text on the front and on the back is varnished.  The text on the back is the first two sentences of the anthem.

A sunshine yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, between the text, a tuba, tambourine and drum sticks rest in grass.  The first image spans two pages.  A crisp white background provides the perfect space for us to meet the girl again as she sits strumming her guitar.

With each page turn, Loren Long supplies readers with his pictorial interpretation of the words.  It is a journey, double-page illustration, by double-page illustration, from the girl to another child and then to another child.  With each meeting a new instrument is given to the new character.  We get a real sense of something growing.

We see the children cleaning up litter on a playground, feeding someone on the street, delivering groceries in a red wagon to those who cannot get their own, building a ramp for a child in a wheelchair, and cleaning up a storefront in their city.  The children represent a range of ethnicity with endearing expressions.  Their faces amid each setting glow with confidence and anticipation.  They believe they are making a difference.  They are.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a paved basketball court in the city.  We are looking down on the scene.  Basketball hoops are positioned on either side of the image.  Chalk hopscotch boards are below each of them.  Other chalk drawings are featured on the left and right.  Chalk is scattered on the left near a bucket of chalk.  In white a large outline of the continental United States spreads from basketball hoop to basketball hoop.  Inside this outline is the girl with the guitar.  She is handing a trombone to a boy who was playing basketball.  With her is the reluctant boy with his dog, now holding a trumpet, the boy wearing a religious hat with the tuba, and a girl in a wheelchair holding a drum and accompanying sticks.  This illustration is for a single sentence.

I talk not only of distances,
From where and how we came.

What a wonderful representation of those words and a beautiful lead to the next two sentences and a joyful visual.

No matter how many times you read, Change Sings: A Children's Anthem by Amanda Gorman with pictures by Loren Long, and believe me you will read it repeatedly, you will find a promise of great things in these pages. You will hum, sing and share this title.  Be sure to have a copy on your personal bookshelves and professional bookshelves.  Gift it to someone often.

To learn more about Amanda Gorman and Loren Long and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Amanda Gorman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Loren Long has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior pages and are offered a teacher's guide.

When something bad happens to us as individuals or to other individuals or groups, a range of emotions wash over us.  We are stunned.  We are deeply saddened.  We want to know what we can do.  Something Good (Little, Brown And Company, October 19, 2021) written by Marcy Campbell with artwork by Corinna Luyken addresses this kind of occurrence.  It follows the response of students and staff at a personal and group level.  It offers a positive answer for change.

The day the custodian found the bad-something
on the bathroom wall, all the girls from Mr. Gilbert's
class were called into the principal's office.

As Principal Martinez addresses the girls, there is a mixture of responses.  She states in no uncertain terms:

"This kind of thing won't be tolerated at our school."

Even though told not to enter the bathroom, four girls do, curious about the bad-something.  The four girls were overwhelmed by what they saw.  There was silence, anger, tears, and a flight.

The locked bathroom created a detour for the girls.  The bad-something had students looking at other students.  Who would do this?  In a short amount of time everyone knew what the bad-something was, including parents.  Their reactions, like the girls, were mixed.  In the following days, the bad-something changed everyone, not always for the good.

Principal Martinez called an all-school assembly speaking the same words as she did to the girls in Mr. Gilbert's class.  Students were given buttons with ribbons in their school colors to remind them of what their school represented.  Mr. Gilbert had a plan, too.

He spoke with his students as they all sat in a circle.  Paint, brushes, and freedom of expression were given to the students as they entered the bathroom where the bad-something was found.  Brush stroke by brush stroke the wall and the students were transformed, each contribution forming a wonderful whole.  It was so beautiful, they continued for days, until they were amazed at their achievement.  Painting, then poetry, healed a room full of students, a school full of individuals deciding to make a difference.

Through her words, Marcy Campbell presents an intimate view of an intolerable event.  Her first-person narrator brings us clearly and with intention into each moment of the evolving situation.  We experience it with all the girls, the four girls, the entire student body, and with Mr. Gilbert's students.  The thoughts and actions of the students are described with realism and a keen aptitude for the behavior of children in this position. Here is a passage.

We missed the days
before the bad-something
appeared, because everything
was different now.  Some of us
felt worried or confused or sad
or angry.  No one felt nothing.

With a limited color palette and her signature artwork, Corinna Luyken gives readers on the front of the dust jacket a foreshadowing of the good something the students and their teacher create together.  The predominant presence of yellow and the facial expressions on all the individuals suggest determination and a lightening of their spirits.  On the back, to the left of the spine, is a display of three paint cans, yellow, teal, and rose.  The colors in each rise like mist, erasing the bad-something.  In the upper, right-hand corner are the words

The bad-something
has no place here.

On the book case, on either side of the spine, is a two-page interior picture.  It shows in greater detail ten students painting an array of elements on the wall.  On the far right one student is on a ladder as the other one steadies it.  There are rosy flowers among dark teal leaves, dragons, a school, handprints, the sun and a row of people in pink along the bottom of the wall.

On the opening endpapers is the wall in the girl's bathroom.  The bad-something has been painted over by the custodian in a dull color.  On the closing endpapers we see how the students and their teacher remade the wall.  On the left-hand side is the dedication and publication information.  If you turn back a page, the title page is on the right and an author's note is on the left.  By placing this information at the back, the narrative is given greater importance.  The bad-something is never shown to readers.

The illustrations for this book were done in gouache, colored pencil, and ink on paper.  They are two-page visuals with shifting perspectives for dramatic emphasis.  While there is an overall feeling of softness when looking at these pictures, almost like chalk smudging, the linework is distinctive.  The faces on the children are highly revealing.  Each time you turn a page, it is like an emotional jolt, heartfelt and true.

One of my many favorite pictures is when Mr. Gilbert is seated in a circle with the students as he explains their art project.  These twenty-five children are actively engaged.  They know change is happening.  They know they are going to be a part of the change.  Most are leaning in with their heads raised.  Several have their eyes closed. We can see those without their backs to us wearing their ribbon pins.  The people are awash in pink, a bit of yellow and white.  Their hair and faces display a variety of ethnicity.  In front of Mr. Gilbert are paint brushes and rollers.

Sometimes when we seek a silver lining, we have to make it.  In Something Good written by Marcy Campbell with pictures by Corinna Luyken, that is exactly what Mr. Gilbert and his students do.  As Marcy Campbell states in her author's note, this book is the result of personal knowledge.  What happens in this school is only one solution.  This title is certain to promote discussions on an individual or group basis.  I highly recommend it for your personal and professional collections.

By accessing the websites of Marcy Campbell and Corinna Luyken by following the link attached to their names, you can learn more about them and their other work.  Marcy Campbell has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Corinna Luyken has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is a video chat with the illustrator about this book and a two-page Teaching Tips document. At Mel Schuit's Let's Talk Picture Books, there is a short video showing the book case.  At author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast this title is showcased.  There are many pieces of art, process and final to view.

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