Quote of the Month

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

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Where Do You Find It?

More than forty-eight hours ago, a blizzard warning went into effect.  It has been snowing nonstop with wild winds howling.  Any signs of wildlife are nonexistent.  Where are the deer, fox, squirrels, rabbits, and birds?  Hopefully, they have found spaces to keep them safe.

Where they and we humans reside can represent many things.  It can be a shelter from the elements over which we have no control.  It can be a sanctuary from those with harmful intentions.  Sometimes home is more about those with us, than the spaces we occupy.  In 2020 we were introduced to nine characters in Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story Of UsThis tale is one of wonderful parts becoming a marvelous whole.

These beloved characters, Hedgehog, Mutty, Mole, Owl, Beaver, Hen and Chicks (2), and Annika Mae Flores have returned in Our Friend Hedgehog: A Place To Call Home (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, October 18, 2022).  In this newest book of eleven chapters and a beautiful introduction, a discovery leads to a quest.  This quest reveals a truth to hold fast in all our hearts.

Families come in all shapes and sizes.

Autumn is nearly over for the friends in Hedge Hollow.  Hedgehog is dreaming of making a snowhog as soon as the snow falls.  She has gathered all the necessary supplies. 

Today, she and Mutty are on their way from their island to Owl's loft for a story time.  After reaching shore and walking in the woods, Hedgehog and Mutty are stunned by what they see.  It's someone who looks just like Hedgehog.  How is that possible?

At Owl's loft, Owl and Mole comfort Hedgehog and decide she has seen her doppelganger.  The quest begins.  Meanwhile Annika Mae is assisting Beaver as his works on the Friend Fort.  Their conversations revolve around building versus design and cold weather wear and who needs it the most.

Soon, Beaver is asked to help Hedgehog, Mutty, Mole and Owl.  Annika Mae, Hen and her Chicks stay behind at the Friend Fort.  The five friends make an unexpected discovery.  Hedgehog has a decision to make.  What will she decide?  And can she change a decision once it is made?  Overnight snow falls.  

At Friend Fort, there are more good surprises.  Friends embrace friends.  Friends embrace the winter season and its joys.  It is a time of firsts and forevers.

The five-sentence introduction spoken by Annika Mae is a warm welcome, an invitation readers know leads into the pages of a heart-print story.  Author Lauren Castillo, through her intentional descriptions of place and time, brings us back to Hedge Hollow.  Wherever we are we are surrounded by this magical world, as if we never left.  Each chapter heading offers a glimpse of what we can expect to be revealed.

Through the blend of narrative and dialogue by and between the characters, our knowledge of their individual personalities and quirks grows. (Readers will enjoy how Mole adds words from other languages to her commentary.)  They are beings we want to know.  We share their anxieties and triumphs.  We can't help but love them.  Here are several passages.

"What are we looking for again?" Beaver asked as he began paddling.
"Do you ever listen?" Owl hooted. "We are looking for Hedgehog's doppelganger. Her look-alike."
"Is that why you were too busy to help with the fort earlier?"  Beaver groused.  "And why did you need my safety goggles?"
"What are you talking about, Beaver?" Hedgehog looked puzzled.
"I saw you, Hedgehog.  You were headed around that bend."  Beaver pointed past his dam.
Beaver, compadre.  Hedgehog has been with us all morning.  It couldn't have been her, said Mole.
For a moment everyone just looked at each other in confusion.
The doppelganger! cried Owl.  It must have been the doppelganger.
Are you sure it went that direction?"  asked Mole.
Captain Beaver is always sure, Beaver boasted.
Owl rolled his eyes. Let's go!"  he urged.

They would miss snowball fights, snow tubing, and most important of all, snowhogs.  Hedgehog could not imagine sleeping through all of that! These hedgehogs might be made of the same spines and snouts, but their hearts spoke different languages.

In looking at the front, right side, of the dust jacket we are pleased to see Hedgehog and Mutty again.  Hedgehog looks curiously at the other hedgehog.  She has never seen anyone like her.  A first snow coats the landscape, remnants of autumn still visible.  The title text is varnished.  To the left of the bright blue spine is an endearing portrait of the friends seated on the ground covered in autumn leaves and huddled in a hug.  Leaves swirl upward on either side of the text.  It is the introduction.

The book case in the same blue is plain except for the front.  Here we see Hedgehog and Mutty in silhouette, facing each other.  On the opening and closing endpapers is a colorful map of Hedge Hollow.  The river winds past Hedgehog's Island, past Mole's Hole and Owl's Lookout.  Before it gets to Beaver's Dam, it meanders by Hen and Chicks' Marsh, the Friend Fort and Annika Mae's House on the hill.  In the upper, righthand corner is another new addition, Hedge Hideaway.

Artist Lauren Castillo's illustrations rendered

using pen, pencils, watercolor, and Photoshop

warm every page turn with their presence.  Hedgehog and Mutty are on both the initial and formal title pages.  A bundle of autumn leaves showcases the dedication page.  Floating leaves draw our focus to the Contents page.

Gorgeous double-page pictures enhance the text for each chapter heading.  We see Hedgehog's Island in the river bordered by trees dressed in the hues of fall.  We are brought close to Beaver working on the Friend Fort, materials and tools placed near the building.  A bird's eye view shows Beaver, Mutty, Hedgehog, Mole, and Owl traveling by raft down the river on their quest.  Even though snow is falling and covering the ground, you cannot look at the last chapter visual without being warmed at the sight of the endearing characters outside their Friend Fort. (And you will probably laugh out loud at the flag.)

These illustrations convey to readers a world as real as that in which any of us reside.  The intricate details in Lauren Castillo's signature style, her color selections, lines and brush strokes are brimming with emotion and motion.  We willingly pause to not miss a single element.  

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Hedgehog and Mutty.  The affection Hedgehog holds for Mutty is as strong as if Mutty were alive; perhaps more so.  In this two-page image it is snowing.  Snow covers the ground.  From the left side to the right side, we see footprints in the snow.  Hedgehog is walking to the right top part of the visual.  Her back is to us.  She carries Mutty on her shoulders.  This picture is layered with meaning.  Hedgehog's heart is taking her where she belongs.

This second book, Our Friend Hedgehog: A Place To Call Home written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo, in a timeless series is certain to be well-loved and read repeatedly.  Regardless of how many times this title is read, you know as soon as you finish the last sentence, you will read the story again.  The best stories endure.  I highly recommend you place this title in your professional and personal collections.  (I have personally gifted both books this year.)

To learn more about Lauren Castillo and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the page dedicated to this title, Lauren has resources for you to download.  Lauren has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  The cover reveal with a creator interview for this title was hosted by John Schu at Watch. Connect. Read.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images and listen to an audiobook preview.

Monday, December 19, 2022

In That Moment

Some people believe the words content, happy, and joy are interchangeable.  To me they represent different degrees of a similar feeling.  Content symbolizes a foundation, a steadfast state of calm and acceptance.  When happiness enters contentment, intermittent skipping is added to an abiding walk.  Joy is when the walking and skipping stop and twirling commences.  Joy is a surge of uncontrollable emotion.  It comes in a moment of awareness.

The intensity of joy can leave you gasping, laughing, and storing those seconds or minutes deep in your heart.  Joy does not fade but multiplies if freely given.  When you read This Joy! (Abrams Books For Young Readers, October 4, 2022) written and illustrated by Shelley Johannes, your soul will fill with the pure bliss found within its pages.  


The girl freely admits her arms aren't big enough to wrap them around the world.  She is grateful for all the green and blue she sees and experiences in our world.  She wants the world to know how very happy it makes her.

Even standing on her tiptoes, she can't reach to the top of trees or touch the clouds, but we know she wants to do this.  On the sandy shore she understands she can't walk on all the grains of sand or splash in every wave, but we know she wants to do this.  If she could, she would send her joy to all the people in the world even though she can't count all of them.

She tries to arrange letters into a word to express this intense affection and appreciation, but she can't find the right one.  She continues to search for the correct conveyance.  Is it a mark or melody to be made?

Should she look around her in the outdoors? Is it a dance?  What exactly defines how she feels?  She finally recognizes what we all should recognize each day.  And this understanding . . . is joy!

Whatever you may be feeling prior to reading the words of Shelley Johannes in this title, it is guaranteed you will be changed for the better when the final sentence and the last word are read.  Each carefully chosen word and the phrases made from those words ask us to look around and embrace what we see with positivity and thankfulness.  Through the cadence fashioned by this child and her declarations, we come to accept or remember what each day is.  Here is a passage.





How can you not smile, giggle, or maybe spin around when you look at the front, right side, of the open dust jacket?  Look at that child.  Look at her mouth open with laughter, her arms outstretched and ready to be received by the loving arms of her mother.  The rays radiating from her body signify the glow she emits with her enthusiasm.  The text, the child, and the waiting arms of her mother are varnished.

To the left of the spine, on the back, the little girl is doing a somersault down a grassy hill.  Her back is to us as she rolls.  Above her the words read:


On the book case, on either side of the spine, an interior image is enlarged.  The little girl is singing with four of her friends on a grassy knoll.  Their open mouths, arms and legs spread wide, and eyes closed all shout out loud their utter joy.  A dog is at the end of the row of them, head raised and howling.  

The opening and closing endpapers are bright red.  On the title, verso, and dedication pages is a double-page visual.  The child sits on her mother's shoulders on the right side of the picture.  A brisk breeze blows some of the mother's hair across the gutter.  Their backs are to us as they look at the grass and water spreading in front and on either side of them.  Water birds pepper the sky.

These illustrations rendered

with pencils, pastels, crayons, and markers---and a little bit of Photoshop

by Shelley Johannes are in full color and highly animated.  Often a crisp white background will highlight a close-up of the little girl.  There are double-page pictures, full-page pictures, and several smaller illustrations on a single page.  The perspectives will have you gasping at their perceptions of this child's exuberance.  We might see her swinging in a tire swing, at an angle, with clouds above her.  Or across two pages, we see just a small portion of her feet and toes resting on the sand as waves splash over them.

One of my many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  It is a close-up of the refrigerator (pale green) in their home.  On the bottom, the little girl's head is tilted as she arranges brightly-hued magnetic letters on the refrigerator door.  Both of her hands are visible.  Above her she has already spelled


as she tries to find the right word for how she feels.

As an educator, there are some days when you are bone-tired at the close of the day.  Regardless of this and regardless of how you may have felt at the beginning of the day, this educator (me) always left uplifted.  This is the gift of children.  The little girl in This Joy! written and illustrated by Shelley Johannes not only depicts this, but also portrays what each day truly is for everyone.  I highly recommend this title for all your collections.  You can never have too much joy or gratitude.

To learn more about Shelley Johannes and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Shelley Johannes has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  This title is highlighted at John Schu's Watch. Connect. Read. with an interview with Shelley Johannes.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Crucial Canines

If you look the word keystone up in a dictionary like Merriam-Webster, you will read it is

something on which associated things depend for support

A keystone species is essential for maintaining a balance in any given ecosystem.  Without them, the environment in which they reside becomes less than its best.  In fact, their absence can cause an ecosystem to collapse.  Two 2022 publications focus on wolves' crucial existence in two different national parks.

The first, The Wolves And Moose Of Isle Royale: Restoring an Island Ecosystem (Clarion Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, August 9, 2022) written by Nancy F. Castaldo with photographs by Morgan Heim, chronicles specific scientific research within the context of historical background and factual information on both wolves and moose.  Both populations of wolves and moose on this island need to maintain certain numbers.  Too much of one means too little of something else.


RISING OUT OF THE COLD, deep waters of Lake Superior are a group of islands, miles from any shoreline.  These isolated islands form Isle Royale National Park, the least visited of all the United States' sixty-three national parks, but one of the parks with the most returning visitors.

Within the twenty-seven chapters in this book, questions we didn't know we had are answered.  We become, through the informative, conversational text and stunning and supportive photographs, silent and observant partners with the collaborative team of Nancy F. Castaldo and Morgan Heim.  It is a one-of-a-kind adventure into the past, present, and possible future.

To begin we are given an overview of Isle Royale and its inhabitants, flora and fauna.  Its isolation is key to what does live there.  It is the scene for

creating the longest predator/prey study in history.

As the boat journeys to Isle Royale (You can only get there by boat or plane.), we are told about the island's creation and those who have lived and studied within its space.  We are introduced to influential humans who championed the island.  We are told when it is believed wolves and moose arrived.  At the time of this book, wolf numbers are drastically low.  Moose are over-eating themselves into starvation and unhealthy lives.

Upon their arrival, Nancy F. Castaldo and Morgan Heim immediately hike parts of the island, taking us along on their explorations.  We meet the research team members and are told about their tasks.  The wolf reintroduction project is one of the main focuses.  Then, a detailed explanation of the balance between wolves and moose follows.  It is aptly named 

An Island Out of Balance.

A subsequent discussion outlines the different choices of hunting moose or wolf reintroduction.  Once the decision is made, the wolves need to be found and transferred.  It is a time-consuming and lengthy process.  Collars are placed on the new wolves.  The population of wolves grew from two to nineteen by 2019.

We learn more about how technology enhances the study of all animal life.  Moose studies, their bones, and watching moose in real time are portrayed.  Other wildlife on the island is included in this conversation.  The two concluding chapters showcase possible futures for Isle Royale.  May it continue to thrive and survive.

One of the most captivating things about this book is the writing of Nancy F. Castaldo.  She tells the best kind of story weaving pertinent history, real-life day to day details, and fascinating facts into the narrative.  She explains and explores processes in every aspect of wolves and moose and Isle Royale.  Her research is personal and extensive.  

Within her chapters, words are bolded and included in a glossary at the closing of the book.  Many of them appear in sections aside from the main narrative.  These sections also refer to items needing further information, other than what is included in the main text. For example, there is a section on What Is An Ecosystem? and one on Collaring Wildlife.  Special areas are devoted to specifics about certain animals, stating basic characteristics, their status, and a fun fact.  Here are a few passages.

Boarding begins for the seventy-three-mile (117-km) boat journey, which will take between five and six hours.  A careful swipe of our shoe-bottoms over the cleaning brush before walking up the gangplank prevents any uninvited pests or seeds that would upset the balance of Isle Royale's natural ecosystem---especially during a time when researchers are working hard to restore it.

The whistle blows, and we're off, sailing past the lighthouse into open water.  Even in the summer, hypothermia is a real danger in the cold waters of this lake, so we need to take extra safety measures.  The crew teaches us about putting on a special protective flotation suit, called a Gumby, in case we find ourselves overboard.  This full-body suit will protect us better than a standard life jacket by helping us stay warm.  We look at each other.  This definitely highlights one of the risks of visiting the park.

When you look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, you are getting two different perspectives of Isle Royale.  On the front, the right side, is a close-up view of a moose with the eyes of the wolf shown above and peering intently at the reader.  To the left, on the back, is a panoramic view of the lake, sky and forest trees from the island.

The opening and closing endpapers are a steely blue-gray color.  For the initial title page, the photograph is a breathtaking view of the lake and islands from a rocky shore.  You can feel the calm in the two-page visual for the formal title page.  The water is like glass with trees close to the edge on the back and in the background.  You get a true sense of the peace on this island.  The only sounds there are island generated.

These photographs by Morgan Heim are magnificent portraits of the animals and the island itself.  They enhance the written words, bringing us into every noted aspect.  The varying points of view add to the inclusion facet as we read.  We see firsthand when the bark has been stripped from a tree.  We are there watching the first female wolf being released on Isle Royale.  Two common loons, next to each other, glide on nearby water.  In the distance, we see a moose and calf standing in an inland lake on the island.

When Morgan Heim photographs the team members, their personalities shine in their faces and body postures.  We watch as they work at their respective jobs.  We share in their day to day activities.  We sigh in appreciation at the work accomplished by Candy and Rolf Peterson as they sit in front of their cabin.

One of my many favorite photographs is the first full-page of a moose opposite the first part of the narrative.  The moose is very close to us.  Antlers, ears, and face show dripping water after dipping into the lake.  The water and water plants behind it fade away into the background.  This is spectacular.

Each time this title, The Wolves And Moose Of Isle Royale: Restoring an Island Ecosystem written by Nancy F. Castaldo with photographs by Morgan Heim, is read, you cannot help but marvel at the resilience of the animals and those working to protect them.  At the close of the book is a glossary.  There is a section titled For More Information including items to read, watch, explore, and do.  There are source notes and a bibliography.  There is a page of acknowledgements and an index.  There is also a table of contents at the book's beginning.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Nancy F. Castaldo and Morgan Heim and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Nancy F. Castaldo has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Morgan Heim has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  You can listen to an audio sample of this title on the publisher's website.  Nancy F. Castaldo is interviewed about this title at From The Mixed-Up Files . . .  

Between the years 1995 and 1997, forty-one wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park.  This reintroduction of the wolves changed everything, restoring Yellowstone National Park to its natural glory.  (The national park page linked in the previous sentence gives an in-depth overview of wolves in the park.)  Written by Mary Kay Carson with illustrations by David Hohn, The River That Wolves Moved: A True Tale from Yellowstone (Sleeping Bear Press, September 15, 2022) is a celebration of the success of this reintroduction.  

This is the river that wolves moved.

This is the pack, so furry and fast,
That hunts near the river that wolves moved.

Using "The House That Jack Built " as a template, readers can anticipate and participate in this observation of the impact of the wolves in Yellowstone National Park.  From the wolves we move to an elk herd.  The elk have changed their eating habits and movements because of the wolves, allowing the plant life to replenish.

With trees growing back in the park, birds are more plentiful.  Beavers find food and build dams, increasing the wildlife that resides in pools and ponds.  The banks along the river are more secure with tree roots holding them in place.  This slows the river's movement.

With less erosion, the water in the river becomes clearer.  This entices certain fish back to the river, fish that only breed in clear, cool water.  Can you imagine water so clear you can see the fish swimming in it?

Throughout this poetic ode, an elder and child have wandered in Yellowstone National Park.  It is now dusk, wolves are on the move, calling to each other with howls.  The duo move, hand and hand, toward their parked car.  This is indeed a river that wolves moved.

As each layer is presented by author Mary Kay Carsonhighly descriptive words amplify their meaning.  She uses alliteration and heightened physical characteristics to great effect.  In addition to the poetic lines, factual paragraphs include history of the park and the wolves, present-day statistics, and how the increased elk herds altered the landscape, river, and its inhabitants.  Here is one of those paragraphs.

A bank is where river meets land, where water touches dirt.
Plant and tree roots grasp the soil, holding riverbanks in place.
When the wolves were gone, the elk feasted on trees, leaving
the riverbanks bare and brown.  Rushing water ate at the
banks, creating swift rivers with sharp zigzag turns.

The eloquent artwork of David Hohn is first seen on the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  Here on the front, the right side, the wolves, now in a pack, are shown on a hilltop overlooking a river they did in fact cause to change its flow and direction.  David Hohn has featured cutthroat trout who need clear, cool water to survive.  In the background in the upper left-hand corner are a few elk.  

This scene moves across the spine to the far left side of the back.  The landscape is empty of fish, wolves, and elk.  The river gently flows along the bank with the trees and shrubs along its edges.  Centered in the sky is a circular image.  We see two wolves, heads raised, as they howl.  A crescent moon hangs in the dusky sky.

On the opening and closing endpapers is crisp white paper.  The title page, on a single-page picture, shows readers a close-up of the river water running along and through stones.  On one of the stones is a wolf print.  With a page turn we are presented with a double-page illustration.  It is a bird's eye view of a wolf pack running through the grasses along the river.  On the right side is a quotation from Albert Einstein.  (The man was a gift for his knowledge and insight.)

Each page turn features a double-page visual.  We begin with the elder and child leaving the parking space to walk in the park.  We next are drawn to the pack of wolves.  We are so close, we feel like a wolf.  David Hohn alters his perspectives in each image to elevate the text and pacing.  He includes tiny details like insects native to a given area.  His wildlife is animated.  In one picture, he uses a cut-away to show the value of plant and tree roots.

One of my many favorite illustrations shows the trout swimming in the river.  They move over the clean gravel bottom, brightly colored in golden hues with darker speckles in contrast to the blue of the water.  Above the fish, just to the right of the gutter, the girl's feet and legs dangle in the water.  

It is hard to believe that more than twenty-five years have passed since the wolves came back to Yellowstone National Park.  This book, The River That Wolves Moved: A True Tale from Yellowstone written by Mary Kay Carson with artwork by David Hohn, will captivate readers of all ages with its lively and informative writing and lovely images.  At the close of the book are two pages dedicated to Can Wolves REALLY Move Rivers? and two more pages about the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, the wolves and the rivers in the park.  There is a selected bibliography.  You will want to have a copy of this book in your professional and personal collections.

You can discover more about Mary Kay Carson and David Hohn and their other work by accessing their websites.  Follow the link attached to their names.  Mary Kay Carson has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  David Hohn has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At Cherry Lake Publishing Group, you can view interior pages. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Taking Wings With Story

On discovering the December 2022 issue of School Library Journal in my mailbox, I let out a whoop of joy at seeing the cover.  I hugged the magazine to my heart as I walked back from the road to the inside of my home.  For several days, it was on the kitchen counter so I could see it as I walked from room to room.  

The image on the front of the issue created by author illustrator Guojing is a marvelous representation of her 2022 book, The Flamingo (Random House Studio, September 07, 2022).  In this illustration of a pale blue sky sprinkled with a few stars, a glowing full moon is centered.  Flying in front of the moon and soaring upward is a flamingo, wings outstretched.  Upon the flamingo's back is the child protagonist from the story.  The beauty of this scene is layered in meaning as is The Flamingo.

part one
A Trip to Visit Lao Lao
All on My Own

Most of the 140 pages in this two chapter book hold wordless panels.  We see a plane, flamingo pink in color, flying from a city.  After it lands, the girl greets her grandmother, Lao Lao.  Lao Lao drives them to her home in a land of sunshine, palm trees, and a nearby beach.  In exploring her grandmother's home, the child finds a pink and white feather resting in a flamingo-shaped mug.

That night after a bath and dinner, Lao Lao, when asked, starts the story of the feather.  As a little girl she and her dog make an exciting discovery on the beach.  It is an egg.  She fills her bicycle basket with sand and carries the egg home.  She makes a nest for it in a container next to her bed.  Lao Lao stops the story for the night.

The next day, Lao Lao and her granddaughter walk on the beach and find a turtle hatching from its shell.  This prompts Lao Lao to continue the story of her egg found many years ago.  When Lao Lao's egg cracks open a bird emerges, a flamingo.  She cares for the bird and it goes everywhere with the girl and her dog.  On one of their first outings, the flamingo rests on the girl's head as she and her dog sit watching the sunset on the water.

Each day Lao Lao tells her granddaughter more about her flamingo.  As the bird grows, so does their affection for each other.  They are inseparable, until one day the bird flies up, up, and away, leaving behind a single feather.  Lao Lao as a child waits and watches for the flamingo, hoping for its return.  After that point in her story, to the surprise of Lao Lao and the girl, a stunning sight awaits them as they walk on the sandy shore.

part two
My Turn to Fly Home

When the girl has to return to the city, Lao Lao presents her with a prized possession.  Back in her apartment, the buildings, sights and sounds are in sharp contrast to the beach and Lao Lao's home.  One night, a full moon outside her window supplies the light, the necessary spark, the girl needs to make an extraordinary gift for Lao Lao.  The realm of imagination and reality merge and close a distance with love.

In reading the dedication, readers are privy to some of the inspiration behind this story conceived by Guojing.  It reads:

This book is dedicated to
my mother, who said I'm her flamingo,
my son, who arrived when I completed this book,
and my grandma in heaven, who gave me the happiest childhood.

Clearly, the affection between family members is the heart beating in the pages of this book.  This love bridges generations, space, and time.  It lives in story.

When you open the dust jacket, you see images from the two chapters of the book.  On the right side, the front, a flamingo visits the girl on the fire escape outside her bedroom window.  This illustration will have readers asking questions.  Why is the flamingo there?  How does it find this girl?  What does it want?  What does the girl want?  To the left, on the back, is a close-up of one of my many favorite pictures.  It is of Lao Lao as a child with her dog and the baby flamingo.

On the book case, Guojing has placed another interior picture.  It spans left to right, featuring Lao Lao as a little girl.  She is running across the beach with her dog on the left side.  Sky and beach appear nearly as one in shimmering shades of gold.  On the right, the flamingo glides past a glowing sun.  

On the opening endpapers, a pale blue sky is edged along the bottom and the right side in billowing clouds.  The closing endpapers appear as a continuation of that sky.  Two flamingos are shown on the left side, flying to the left.  On the two-page picture for the title page a plane in flamingo pink flies to the left from the right side.

These breathtaking illustrations 

rendered in Photoshop, watercolor, and colored pencil

are wordless panels in an array of arrangements to portray the passing of time, emotional moments, and place.  The varying perspectives bring us deeply into the story.  Sometimes we are only shown a portion of an element, like a set of airplane landing wheels squealing to a stop on the runway or feet in flamingo slippers after a bath or a beak pecking its way out of an egg.  Other times we look down on the flamingo flying over the beach along the water's edge with Lao Lao on her bike and her dog running ahead.

The color palette used in this story signifies the present in limited color with spots of pink in lighter and darker hues.  When Lao Lao's memory story and other "flights" of imagination are showcased brighter, full color is used.  The pacing, size of the panels, and their placement is exquisite.  These images speak volumes giving us a story of generational love, the magic of memory, and the power of sharing stories, real and imagined.

One of my many favorite images (It is nearly impossible to select only one.) is of Lao Lao as a little girl.  It is a double-page picture.  The sea is rippled by a gentle breeze.  A few clouds linger in the sky.  Both are colored in the warmth of a sun dipping close to the horizon.  On the left side is a large stone.  Seated on the stone facing the sea is Lao Lao, her dog, and the tiny flamingo.  Lao Lao's dog is to the left of her.  Her left arm is reaching behind the dog in a hug.  On her head is the baby flamingo.  This scene, like so many in this book, is tender and moving.

Even after having read The Flamingo by Guojing repeatedly, you will find yourself profoundly affected each time.  No one tells a story like Guojing.  Her artwork envelops you completely.  If you have not read her other two books, The Only Child and Stormy, please do.  I highly recommend this title for all your collections.  

To discover more about Guojing and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  Guojing has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Guojing and this title are highlighted at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production with an interview by Betsy Bird and at School Library Journal with an interview by Andrew Eliopulos regarding her cover art for the magazine.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images.

Friday, December 9, 2022

If You Seek It, You Will See It

Each of us needs to remind ourselves; there is beauty to be found everywhere if we seek it.  It can be found in a shape or an angle or a size or the meeting of shapes, angles and sizes.  Colors, dark or light, or in a blend of many hues can take our breath away when we least expect it.  Colors can have meanings, some the same or different, for each of us.  We associate color with events and places and individual beings.  We have favorite colors.

As a gardener, the various hues of brown seen in soil determine which plants will thrive in certain spaces.  The brown of soils, for this gardener, represents, too, support and learning from a father who enjoyed making things grow.  Every day in the presence of my chocolate Labrador retriever, Mulan, brown means warmth and unconditional love.   In Brown Is Beautiful (Farrar Straus Giroux, October 4, 2022) written by Supriya Kelkar with pictures by Noor Sofi, readers see how we are surrounded by brown and its varied representations.  A young girl, an Indian American, and her grandparents are off on a hike.  During their adventure, pictures preserve their discoveries of the many meanings and value of brown.

Brown is beautiful.

A wild mustang in a vast expanse
Shimmering mane calling for a second glance.

From this panoramic perspective, the child next bends low to the ground to watch a row of ants carry items far greater than they are in size.  During a sudden storm, taking shelter under a tree, it is understood how secure a tree is with all the roots extending underground.  The wood used in a small campfire signifies energy.

When a mother bear offers safety to her cubs, brown is courageous.  It is tall like a mountain and an eagle gliding high in the sky.  Brown is home for those creatures finding a residence in a hollow.

Did you know this color can be wise?  What examples of its knowledge do you think the little girl and her grandparents find?  All we have to do is examine a canyon or a cave to know brown is brimming with mystery.  What artist fashioned what a canyon or a cave reveals?

Paths taking us away and back home and sometimes to parts unknown are brown.  For those making nests for their young, 

brown is love.

Brown is a new baby brother.  This is beautiful.  We are beautiful.

When you think of all the walks we've taken alone or in the company of friends, furry or human, often we've seen all we hoped for and much more.  With her story, Supriya Kelkar celebrates the color brown whenever and wherever it is seen.  She begins each portion of her narrative with a defining word.  Following this is a rhyming couplet filled with descriptive words.  These definitions and couplets are as uplifting as the explorations and discoveries of the characters.  Here is a passage.

Brown is stable.
Twisted roots tunneling deep
Through wind and rain, the tree will keep

How can you not smile when first looking at the front of the open and matching dust jacket and book case?  The forest scene, soft and inviting in tones of brown and blue, accent the leaves, flowers and stems on the left and right of the foreground.  These all serve to showcase the girl holding the leaf.  The hint of a smile in her eyes and mouth ask us to join her.

To the left of the spine, on the back, starting at the top are layers of golden brown shifting to shades of blue along the bottom.  A circle framed in leaves, flowers, and stems is a placeholder for text.  It reads:

Brown is potential.
A new life crying out
A warm seed about to sprout

The opening and closing endpapers first hold the dedication, verso and title pages.  The last two pages are titled Method, supplying readers with options and instructions.  Each double-page picture throughout the body of the book and the two single-page visuals by artist Noor Sofi are rendered 

digitally using Procreate on the iPad Pro.

Her layers provide readers with different perspectives in the same image.  Bright colors, light and shadow animate each setting.  Love of each other and their surroundings is shown in each person's facial expressions.  Flora and fauna are depicted realistically.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture.  Here readers are brought very close to the highlighted subjects.  We can see some sunny background through the log's branches.  Moving across the log, right to left is a line of ants, each carrying a sizable load.  They have been magnified for us.  Underneath and along the log are several clumps of flowers.  Behind the log is the girl.  All we can see is the portion of her face with her eyes, framed by her hair.  Her camera is between her face and the ants with a finger poised to take a picture.  Her deep brown eyes are full of life and curiosity.

Written by Supriya Kelkar with pictures by Noor Sofi, Brown Is Beautiful is a lyrical love letter to the color brown; an appreciation for all it is and all it can be.  At the close of the book is an Author's Note about her growing up in a community where there were few brown-skinned people.  She speaks about how her mindset changed about the color brown.  At the close of the book are pages titled How to Make Your Own Scrapbook, Materials and the previously mentioned Method.  This is for readers to create what the child was doing for her new baby brother.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.  

To learn more about Supriya Kelkar and Noor Sofi and their other work, access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Supriya Kelkar has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Noor Sofi has accounts on Instagram and YouTube.  Both Supriya Kelkar and Noor Sofi are interviewed at John Schu's Watch. Connect. Read. about this title.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Of Ice And The Sea

From November 6, 2022 to November 18, 2022, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, more widely known as COP27, was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.  In a November 7, 2022 article, Reuters includes statements found in a report by 

the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative research network.

One of the report authors, Robbie Mallett, states with respect to Arctic sea ice 

We're starting to see something we cannot save.

In other words, within thirty years, there will be no more Arctic sea ice.  (The full report can be downloaded at the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research website.)  This is catastrophic for the land and its inhabitants.

Knowing this, prompted pauses several times during the reading of the newest collaboration by author Candace Fleming and artist Eric Rohmann titled Polar Bear (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, December 6, 2022).  (Their prior two books focusing on a specific creature are Giant Squid (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, September 27, 2016) and Honeybee: The Busy Life Of Apis Mellifera (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, February 4, 2020).  With utmost clarity in words and images, we become a part of the world of a mother polar bear and her two cubs.  We experience their struggles for survival and their triumphs at succeeding in a realm changing much too fast.

April in the Arctic.
Snow clouds still scuttle across the sky.
Temperatures barely nudge above freezing.
But every now and again,
the clouds part,
the sun shines,
and the frozen world stretches awake.

The black nose of a mother polar bear breaks through the snow.  She sees the outside world for the first time in five months.  During those five months she birthed the polar bear cubs and nursed and protected them, sustaining all three with her stored body fat.  The cubs now weigh more than twenty pounds and their mother is much thinner.  She needs to eat.  She needs to get to the sea ice.

The cubs, one male and one female, are not in favor of leaving the comfy den, but each day their mother makes them go outside.  On day seven, they start their journey.  With the cubs, the trek is slower.  There are starts, rests, and stops.  Wolves are quickly chased away when Mother polar bear stands to her full height.

It takes six days for the trio to reach home.  The mother is ready to hunt and the cubs watch her change in behavior as they walk on the frozen water.  Her first attempt at grabbing a seal is unsuccessful, but in the following days she and her cubs eat as much as possible.  By June, the family is living far from the shore on the sea ice.  The sea ice is melting faster this year.  Will the mother and cubs eat enough before they need to return to land for the summer months?

One last attempt at one last meal leads to disaster.  The trio are stranded on a patch of ice in open water.  They need to make it to shore, but the cubs cannot swim for sixty miles without stopping as their parent can.  (At this point in the reading, I stopped, recalling the story of a mother bear and her cubs swimming in Lake Michigan.  It is a pourquoi tale of the formation of the Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Manitou Islands.)  Hours go by with the cubs struggling to swim in the icy water of the Arctic.

On this day, for this mother and her cubs, it is a win for survival.  Between July and September, again the mother polar sustains life for all of them until they again move north.  When they reach the shore half way through October, other polar bears wait for the water to freeze.  All are gravely hungry.  The weeks stretch into December.  Hudson Bay is frozen at last.  

With those introductory seven lines, author Candace Fleming takes readers into the Arctic early spring.  Her specific descriptions of place and weather have you shivering.  Short, sometimes two word, phrases follow, supplying us with essential details about the mother polar bear and her cubs.  Another section leads us to the title page and the beginning of the main narrative.  We can sense the urgency of the Mother polar bear to eat and return to the sea ice.  

With each page turn, the research of Candace Fleming is apparent.  The actions and activities of the trio are fully and meticulously presented in day by day depictions.  We are not observers, we are there as they travel home, arrive, hunt, survive in the summer on land and return to the frozen sea again.  A gentle tension follows them; it is one of necessity.  Here is another passage.

But Mother takes no chances.  She keeps the babies moving.
Following her nose.
Following her instincts.
For forty miles.
And still she has not eaten.  . . .

The image shown on the front, right side, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case is an exact pictorial representation of what you believe Mother and her cubs are doing when they first step outside their winter den.  She is basking in a sun which she has not seen in five months.  Her cubs, never knowing any place but the den, stay as close to her as possible.  Behind them the Arctic sky proclaims a new day and a new stage in all their lives.  The sky and snowy landscape extend over the spine and to the far left edge on the back.  On the back are glowing words written by professional publications for the previous title, Honeybee.  There is also a list of awards for that book.  The title text on the front of the dust jacket is embossed in royal purple.

The opening and closing endpapers are a deep, almost black, navy blue.  It is how the winter must be in the Arctic, cold and relentless.  Before the formal title page, we see gorgeous portrayals of Arctic views, close-up portraits of the mother and cubs, and the mother standing tall and fierce as she scans the area outside the den.  On the title page, it is as if the trio we see on the jacket and case have stood up and decided to move.  They all face us, alert and waiting.


using oil paint on paper

these illustrations by Eric Rohmann are breathtaking.  The vastness of the region signifies the daunting task set before the bears in seeking the sea ice, finding enough food before the ice breaks up and freezes again the following winter.  As large as the bears are, you wonder if their surroundings will support them or crush them.

When appropriate, Eric Rohmann takes us close to the action.  Make no mistake, the wolves are no match for Mother polar bear with her open mouth full of teeth and her clawed paws raised in defense.  In the visual where the first hunt is a failure, we see a large paw breaking through the ice as seals swim away under water.  The perspective when the cubs and their mother are adrift on the open water is a bird's eye view.  We feel the desperation and uncertainty.  The following four-page gatefold is certain to deeply affect many readers.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the first interior image of the mother polar bear and her babies.  It is a close-up of the trio.  They are all still inside the den which the parent dug in the snow.  Snow is along the bottom of the page.  Most of the two pages in this picture are covered with the body of Mother polar bear.  On the right side her head is lifted as her nose pokes through a hole she made.  Outside we catch a glimpse of the sky in the right-hand corner.  Along the bottom of the right side, the twins are curled against each other and their mother as they sleep.  There is calm in this visual, but also a sense of change coming.

Every time you read Polar Bear written by Candace Fleming with artwork by Eric Rohmann, you will feel an intense connection with this trio and their efforts to survive in the Arctic and its changing climate.  At the close of the book are two pages dedicated to increasing our knowledge about the physical characteristics of a polar bear.  There are seven labeled paragraphs identifying those traits.  On the next two pages are two different sections, It's All About The Ice and A Few Cool Facts.  On the final page are online resources, a selected bibliography, and acknowledgements.  This title has my highest recommendation for placement in your personal and professional collections.  You could pair it with Lily Williams' If Polar Bears Disappeared

To learn more about Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Candace Fleming has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  The cover reveal with interviews for this title is found at A Fuse#8 Production hosted by Betsy Bird.  At the publisher's website is an educator's guide.  At Penguin Random House, you get a peek at some of the interior.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Seasonal Celebrations

In cultures and countries around the world, especially in the northern hemisphere, this time of year represents a pause.  Mother Nature is at rest, so perhaps it is a time for us to reflect on the past seasons and celebrate.  Possibly, there are small, everyday things to honor, elevating the ordinary to extraordinary.  There are centuries-old traditions to commemorate; many steeped in religious beliefs or holiday observances.  Cold, snow, and wind bring their own special events.  For many, a new year is welcomed.

Following are six titles (with one more to arrive soon), which you might consider for reading during these several months.  The first book, Season of Light (Farrar Straus Giroux, September 13, 2022) written by Jess Redman with illustrations by Ramona Kaulitzki, takes eight single words and wraps them in activities and elements, defining those words for those who participate and for those who wish to understand.  From beginning to end, this book is uplifting.

After red and green dreams,
We wake up before the sun.
We're counting down December days
But savoring each one.

Joy, wonder, together, giving, song, story, faith, and light are featured through observing three families residing in a community.  We see them making snowflakes, hanging ornaments and stockings.  Relatives are welcomed and visited.

Kindness is presented through the giving of gifts and food. Caroling sends music throughout the town, bringing happiness to families, businesses, and those now residing in communal spaces.  Stories of Christmases past and present are shared.  Together the children in the three families participate in a Christmas play before they and their parents step outside into the snowy night for a final gathering.

Author Jess Redman focuses on people preparing and participating with an emphasis on placing others first.  Her four-line rhyming text supplies a rhythm readers enjoy and anticipate as the pages are turned.  For each of the eight words, they are preceded by the same phrase---

This is a season of . . .

This technique binds all the portions of the narrative together and references the title of the book which is also the final thought.  Here is another passage.

Our voices ring out
Silver bells and midnights clear

First noels and glorious morns
Offerings of goodwill and cheer.

On the right side, front, of the dust jacket readers can see the three families circling the community tree.  Windows, tree lights, and handheld candles are alight amid the snow falling at night.  The title text is embossed in gold.  On the back, to the left of the spine, on a crisp white canvas are four of the children from the families.  Above them the words read:

This is a season of joy . . .
of faith . . .
of light.

On the book case the image from the back of the jacket is moved to the front beneath the title text.  The same words are used on the back of the case, but they are set in a bird's eye view of the city as snow falls on the hills, road, and homes.  A snowman is featured on the right side on the top of a hill.

The opening and closing endpapers in a muted red highlight a pattern of reindeer, a branch of berries, a pine bough, and snowflakes all done in muted brown and cream.  A double-page picture of a glowing sky, snowy landscape and bare trees provides a place for the title and verso pages.  

These illustrations by Ramona Kaulitzkidigitally rendered, are colorful and embrace the emotions of the holiday. They are full-page pictures, smaller visuals grouped together, and two-page images for the single sentence text announcing the next word. The use of light in each scene elevates the narrative.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture.  The sky, near the horizon, is glowing.  Buildings, windows lighted, line the background on the left, crossing the gutter.  Another building stands alone on the right.  In the distance is the church and another building.  In the town center is the Christmas tree.  Gathered around it are shoppers, dog walkers, children and families.  They are listening to the three musicians.  Snowflakes gently swirl in the air.

Warmth flows throughout Season of Light written by Jess Redman with artwork by Ramona Kaulitzki.  This title is both a reminder and a nod to tradition.  You will want to add this title to your personal and professional holiday collections.

To learn more about Jess Redman and Ramona Kaulitzki and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Jess Redman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Ramona Kaulitzki has accounts on Behance, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images.

Back in 2002, author illustrator Matt Tavares illustrated 'Twas the Night Before Christmas Or Account Of A Visit From St. Nicholas (Candlewick Press).  This volume measures seven and one-half inches by eight and three-quarters inches.  Along the spine is a deep cranberry cloth binding which sets off the sage green border around St. Nicholas as he visits a home.  There are delicate gold elements in that sage green border.  That same green shade is featured within the book, outlining text and pictures with a fine line frame.  The opening and closing endpapers are patterned in shades of red, somewhat like wallpaper in homes during the time period in which the poem was penned.  The exquisite and highly detailed artwork done in pencil elevates this pictorial interpretation of the poem to spectacular.  

This year 'Twas the Night Before Christmas Or Account Of A Visit From St. Nicholas (Candlewick Press, September 13, 2022) written by Clement C. Moore with illustrations by Matt Tavares has been recreated in a larger volume measuring just under ten by twelve inches.  On the front of the book's dust jacket and book case, we can see a close-up of St. Nicholas driving his reindeer-pulled sleigh off into the Christmas night as he calls out his famous exclamation.  The golden text is embossed.  On the back, to the left of a bright red spine, the same bright red color provides a border for an interior picture.  It is Papa looking out the bedroom window  

to see what was the matter.

The same A Note from the Illustrator appears prior to the beginning of the poem with a few alterations.  The dedication to his wife, Sarah, remains in this edition.  The title page is artwork depicting town buildings glowing from snow covered objects and a full moon just as in the prior edition.  We look between those buildings, their shadows stretching from one side of the street to the other side.

In this stunning book, the artwork extends to each page edge, whether it is a single-page picture or a dramatic double-page visual.  The illustrations are darker, still as detailed, but have a slight grainy effect.  In this book the text is framed on the top and bottom with an intricate leafy border in red and white.  If the picture is a two-page illustration the border is only along the bottom.  On some of the pages of text, just as in the original book, there are smaller images representing a moment in time, like a candle just blown out or a jack-in-the-box jumping up.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is if we are standing outside in the street at night.  Two different fence styles border the sidewalk, close to us as we look left to right down the street.  Behind the fences are trees and landscaping in front of magnificent homes.  When we can see the sky above those structures there are some clouds among the stars.  Santa and his sleigh are landing on one of the housetops on the right side.  It is the variety of perspectives which I find wonderful.

This volume of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas Or Account of A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement C. Moore with artwork by Matt Tavares is a title to have in every collection, personal and professional.  It is one to compare with other artwork by other artists.  Some versions change the text, but this book keeps the text the same as it was originally published 200 years ago in 1823.

To learn more about Matt Tavares and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  There is a page dedicated to this book where you can view interior illustrations.  Matt Tavares has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

For fans of the one-of-a-kind, buttered-toast loving pig, a new title takes readers to Deckawoo Drive for a Christmas journey.  One of the residents has a deep desire to go caroling, but not one other person wishes to join her.  They all have excuses, but our carol-loving child is not deterred.  A Very Mercy Christmas (Candlewick Press, September 27, 2022) written by Kate DiCamillo with artwork by Chris Van Dusen is a faith-restoring, miracle-believing, and soul-brightening tale which is utterly charming.

Stella Endicott felt joyful.  She felt like something
miraculous might happen.  She wanted to sing.

Frank, Stella's brother, was not ready to go caroling at the drop of a hat.  Mr. and Mrs. Watson were in the middle of a fruitcake disaster.  However, Mrs. Watson suggested Stella take Mercy with her.  Mercy was happy to accompany Stella.  They headed to the Lincoln sisters' house.  

There grumpy Eugenia Lincoln refused to go caroling with a pig and her happy sister, Baby, was told no one was at the door.  At this point, Stella is feeling a wee bit less happy.  General Washington, the Lincoln sisters' cat joins Stella and Mercy.

Horace Broom is too attached to celestial gazing to carol, so Stella, Mercy and General Washington decide to do it on their own.  The trio sing out Joy to the World, and are surprisingly joined by Maybelline, LeRoy Ninker's horse.  

As dusk descends, Stella, Mercy, General Washington, and Maybelline are greeted with new sounds, joyful sounds.  Each voice chimes in to affirm the personalities we know and love.  As they travel for a feast of buttered toast, a true miracle quietly surrounds each person.  

With her beloved skill of blending narrative and dialogue, Kate DiCamillo tells a tale of neighbors realizing the truest definition of the word, neighbor.  Each time Stella stops at a neighbor's home, another layer is built into the story.  Although Stella's original spirit is dampened, she believes that Mercy and General Washington are the best kind of pals to go caroling.  Adding in Maybelline is a stroke of genius.  In this story, Kate DiCamillo uses Stella, (and Mercy, General Washington, and Maybelline) to remind all of us miracles are possible when joy is involved. (It is guaranteed the final sentence will give you goosebumps of happiness.)  Here is a passage.

The pig looked over at Stella, and then she put her
snout up to the stars and let out a strange sound.
It wasn't an oink.  It wasn't a squeal.

It was a noise full of hope and wonder and longing.
It was---almost---melodious.

Words like bright, colorful, and bold come to mind when you look at the open dust jacket made by Chris Van Dusen.  The snow-covered landscape of Deckawoo Drive with lights and wreaths sends out a holiday hello to readers.  Mercy and Stella are looking their Christmas best.  The title text is embossed in silver.  To the left of the spine, framed in a star-studded scalloped sky, is an interior image.  It shows the neighborhood group gathered around a table as Mrs. Watson approaches with a huge stack of buttered toast.

The book case is done in a hue of blue with thin lines fashioning stripes.  Tiny diamonds make a pattern in these stripes.  A wide red cloth band covers the spine.  On the front of the case is Mercy Watson looking at an open box or ornaments.  The opening and closing endpapers are yellow and white check.  With a page turn, we see a snowpig, Mercy, alone in a white setting with a blue scalloped border.  It is the attention to details that sets the work of Chris Van Dusen apart.  Above the dedication is Mercy's Christmas stocking with a piece of buttered toast peeking out the top.

Single page images opposite text framed in the blue scalloped border followed by brilliant double-page visuals encourage readers to turn the pages as fast as they can.  What will happen to Stella, Mercy and General Washington next?  It is the final double-page picture with the final sentence that will have readers releasing a long and satisfied sigh.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page picture.  Here Stella, Mercy, General Washington, and Maybelline are standing and sitting together on the sidewalk.  Snow covers the nearby lawns.  Lights twinkle in outside trees.  Windows glow with lights inside the homes.  The sky is studded with stars as the horizon shows the sun recently set.  Stella, Mercy, General Washington, and Maybelline have their heads raised and are singing Deck the Halls.

Regardless of how you feel when you first start reading A Very Mercy Christmas written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen, you will feel much more joyful when you finish it.  In fact, you'll probably read it again right then and there.  Your personal and professional collections won't be complete without a copy of this title.

To discover more about Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Kate DiCamillo has another site linked here.  Kate DiCamillo has an account on Facebook.  Chris Van Dusen has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  Mercy Watson has a site linked here.  At Penguin Random House, you can view interior images.

One of the best parts of this season is discovering something new done by a person, a family or an entire country.  How wonderful it is to encounter an Icelandic tradition presented in The Christmas Book Flood (Farrar Straus Giroux, November 1, 2022) written by Emily Kilgore with pictures by Kitty Moss.  Once you've read this book, you'll agree this is a tradition to spread around the world.

Darkness blankets the land,
covering forests and homes,
mountains and bookshops.

Northern lights shine down on a village with people trying to stay warm inside and outside their homes.  Snow is coming.  So is the Book Flood.  Book Flood?

On December 24th, people give books to those they love.  

Reading is magic when you have the right book.

People shop in earnest for the perfect book for each person in their lives.  There are so many choices it is hard to select a title.  

Snow has started to fall as people hurry to make their purchases.  Each heart is happy as they move within the shops.  It is mere hours until the gift giving begins.  A final treasure is located!

Now wrapped, the waiting is nearly over. It's time!  Each present is opened.  Each book is a new beginning.  Hot chocolate is savored as are all the different books.  Reading throughout the night, stories travel throughout a community and beyond its borders.

With each sentence, author Emily Kilgore paints a picture as deftly as an artist.  She supplies us with a place and time rich in descriptive words.  We cannot help but join with the townspeople as they get ready for the Book Flood.  We feel the anticipation growing until we, like those in this town, can hardly wait.  Happiness flows from the pages as people seek the right book.  And then, satisfaction settles like a warm blanket as the reading commences.  Here is a passage.

There's laughter and hope
and holiday cheer:
bright twinkling lights,
hot cocoa, soft music,

Clouds of warm breath,
tight hugs of hello,
the soft crunch under boots
as they trudge through fresh snow.

When opening the dust jacket, the reader will first notice the city scene extends flap edge to flap edge.  The brightness of the setting sends out merriment along with the falling snowflakes and airborne books, moving like birds through the night.  The tree in the town center, made of books, draws our eyes to the main character, a child longing for the Book Flood and also seeking the right book to give.  Her furry friend is eager to start their next adventure.  The title text is embossed in gold.

On the book case, some of the shops are still the same.  The sky is darker with fewer snowflakes but books still fly.  The ground is covered in snow.  Our protagonist rides her bike down the street with her dog running alongside her.  The tree in the town center is now an evergreen trimmed in lights and ornaments.  There are so many small details on the book case and dust jacket, readers will spend hours looking at all of them.

The opening and closing endpapers feature the town before and after the Book Flood.  One shows the end of autumn with a crescent moon in the upper right-hand corner.  The other shows a snowy landscape with northern lights, flying books, and magic in the air.  The moon, still in the right-hand corner, is full.  The verso and title pages highlight a single image with the girl riding through town with her pup in the bike's basket.  It is as if they are riding inside a book.

Rendered by Kitty Moss, the illustrations appear to be alive.  The layers in each collage are intricate and well-defined covering single and double pages and once, a smaller one wrapped in white space.  They ask us to pause, and we do.  Her choice of colors mirror the time, place and mood of the narrative.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture.  The sky is now very dark with hints of snow and stars.  On the left side, buildings in the community are a backdrop for bustling people trying to make final selections.  A couple walks up a snowy hill outside of town on the left.  On the right side, our young girl rides her bike up a large snowy hill.  She appears as a silhouette with a long shadow.  The skeletons of several trees are visible.  An owl carrying a book in its beak flies over the town.

In case you've ever wondered why some people say books make the best gifts, this title makes it abundantly clear as to why this is a truth.  The Christmas Book Flood written by Emily Kilgore with artwork by Kitty Moss is a gift.  In an Author's Note more is explained about this tradition.  Be sure to place a copy of this title in your personal and professional collections.  Let the Book Flood begin!

To learn more about Emily Kilgore and Kitty Moss and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Emily Kilgore has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Kitty Moss has accounts on Instagram and Pinterest.  This title is highlighted by John Schu at Watch. Connect. Read.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images.

In my humble opinion, you will never forget the first time you see the northern lights.  For me it was very late one night, nearly very early in the morning.  I was traveling home after an event as my school's junior class advisor.  At the time, I was living in a community in northern Michigan, less than an hour away from the top of the Mitt.  As I turned off a major highway onto my road, I was stuck speechless by the sight before me.  The entire sky was pulsating in pinks and greens, in a wide arc from horizon to horizon.  It was incredible!

In his newest title, The Lights That Dance In The Night (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, November 1, 2022), author illustrator Yuval Zommer brings his considerable talents to bear in showcasing the natural spectacle known as the aurora borealis.  In this book, we follow the beginning and journey of these lights.  Through the words and artwork of Yuval Zommer, we experience this phenomenon as if we are standing beneath them.

We are the lights
that dance in the night.

We started our journey as specks
of dust blown to Earth
from the Sun.

The lights traveled to the far reaches of the north.  They cast a colorful, shimmering glow to animals below them.  Polar bears, Arctic hares, seals and puffins all noticed their presence.  They shone on boats traversing the seas and on whales beneath the water.  

Arctic foxes, musk oxen, wolves and wild cats played under and called out to the lights.  Birds flew and gathered.  Reindeer looked up at the skies.  Animals were not the only ones to marvel at this display of dancing lights.

People paused and stared.  Storytellers told tales.  All animals and all people regardless of their size or age wondered at this natural magic.  Piercing the darkness, this magic offered something for all.  

Whether you read the words penned by Yuval Zommer to yourself or aloud, they convey an extraordinary truth of the northern lights.  We know the science behind them, but they still reveal themselves as enchanting and otherworldly.  The rhythm supplied by the words mirrors the movement of the lights, rhyming beautifully like a melody.  Here are two separate passages.

Our dancing lights made whales sing 
and bells on boats began to ring.

We lit the skies for forest birds,
we sparkled over reindeer herds.

The signature artwork of Yuval Zommer begins to shimmer on the open dust jacket.  Here, on the front, animals and people are drawn to the lights in the night sky.  Different colored glitter covers most of the elements in this scene.  On the back, to the left of the spine, swirls of color cross the sky as white birds glide upward through the glow of the lights and stars.  Text describes the book above the snowy landscape.  

On the book case, a single polar bear stands amid hues of blue above the title text in white on the right side.  A few stars are positioned above the bear.  On the left side, we are brought close to puffins who fly and play and seals who clap beneath the lights that dance in the night.

A pale dusty lavender covers the opening and closing endpapers.  A trio of white stars and a single star with a tail above them makes a pattern across these pages.  Yuval Zommer's dedication reads:

Dedicated to all
light seekers.

A two-page picture covers the verso, dedication and title pages.  A boat, puffins, northern birds, reindeer, a polar bear and whales are together here.

Two-page visuals or a series of three panels fill the pages of this volume. The intricate elements in each illustration beckon us to look and wonder.  We feel as though we are in a northern forest or near the shores of an Arctic sea.  Which animal are we?  Or are we only observers?  As humans gather, will we listen to the tales told by tellers or stand outside and watch the lights?  Or perhaps, we will do both.  

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page image.  Across the blue-hued sky, the northern lights pulse in yellow, purple, and green.  Forest trees are shown in white, standing among a landscape in blue and snowy white.  A reindeer on the left and a reindeer on the right face each other.  They wear traditional domestic blankets and harnesses.  Birds fly above them and rest in their antlers.

No matter how many times you read The Lights That Dance In The Night written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer, you are mesmerized by the marriage of the words and illustrations each time.  You cannot help but yearn for your next sighting of the northern lights.  Maybe it will be this year.  I highly recommend you place this title in all your collections and gift it to those you love.

To learn more about Yuval Zommer and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name which takes you to his agency's website.  Yuval Zommer has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Yuval Zommer frequently posts pictures from his books on both platforms, as well as artwork done by readers of his books.

After the December rest amid the celebration of holidays, families, and friends, January heralds in a new year, the start of something unlike the past filled with potential and possibilities, but typing the final entry in this post, my eyes fill with tears.  Carols, now Silent Night, are playing on an Ambient Worlds music video.  When I enter in the title, and author and illustrator names, I find it hard to believe Patricia MacLachlan is no longer with us.  In this book, Snow Horses: A First Night Story (Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, November 8, 2022), she is collaborating again with artist Micha Archer.  Together they have created a vision of beauty, a story of tradition and hope.  This is both a memory and a captured moment.

all day---
all night.
Drifting over
and gardens
and roads. 

In a nearby barn, sheep, covered in snow, gather inside.  Patiently waiting in their stalls are two horses, Tim and Tom.  They long to pull the large sleigh outside.  Jenny, their driver, takes them from the barn, putting on their bell-decked bridles and turns on the lights on the sleigh.  Horses and driver leave the barn gleaming with tiny white lights.

Happily, the horses move toward town.  They love this time of year.  In the town's market, horns blare.  Children climb into the sleigh, their laughter and chatter filling the air.  A golden dog races alongside the sleigh.

Children, Jenny, Tim, Tom and the golden dog move through the streets with houses lit with white lights.  After the children go home to sleep, the sleigh again fills with riders.  These are the grandparents, uncles and aunts, and old friends who were once children riding in the sleigh on this last night of the old year.  They, too, fill the air with laughter and chatter and memories.  The golden dog runs with them, too.

Finally, Jenny, Tim and Tom go home. The sheep are fast asleep.  Soon the horses rest.  And the little golden dog . . .

Patricia MacLachlan was an author with the ability to bring readers into a specific time and space through her descriptive, lyrical language.  In this book, her characters, human and animal, are fully realized.  We want to be with them.  We want to know them. We understand what it is to be the sheep on a snowy winter night and the horses who can hardly wait to pull the sleigh.  Regardless of our ages, we experience the joy of both the children and the older adults.  This is the gift of Patricia MacLachlan's writing.  Here is a passage.

Tim and Tom pull the sleigh past the
library with a light in every window,
across the old stone bridge,
along the icy river,
up the hill,
and down the hill,
where in every window
of every house
there are little lights.
The town sparkles. 

Rendered in collage with homemade papers and ink by Micha Archer, the illustrations we first see on the dust jacket and book case are an introduction to the wonder waiting inside the pages of this book.  On the right side of the jacket, children in the town come to pet Tim and Tom, standing patiently amid the falling snow.  This visual continues over the spine and to the left edge of the back of the jacket.  The author, illustrator, and title text are varnished.  You can almost hear the jingle of the bells on the horses' harnesses.

On the book case is another two-page picture.  Here we are privy to a vast country landscape as the sun sets in the background behind a grove of trees and rolling, snowy hills.  In the foreground Jenny is in the sleigh with Tim and Tom pulling.  The little golden dog runs behind the wagon.

The opening endpapers are also the dedication and verso pages.  This showcases an even more vast pastoral panoramic view.  Lines of trees, etched in darker colors line rolling hills.  We see the barn on the far right side and in the distance is the town.  A full moon hangs in the sky with a frosty circle of light around it.  This is a bird's eye perspective.  On the closing endpapers, everything is colored in hues of blue now.  Snow is heavily falling.  Lights dot the path to the barn and light windows in the town.  Anticipation hangs in the air.

Readers will study each illustration, noting the details Micha Archer brings to each scene.  On the title page, a double-page picture brings us near to the barn amid lines of trees, groves of trees, rolling hills and a fenced area for the horses, now wearing blankets. (Be sure to study the branches of the trees and the materials used to form them.)  Each of the following two-page illustrations or one and one half page pictures with varying perspectives takes us on an exploration of this New Year's Eve festivity.  You will have to remind yourself to keep breathing after seeing the sheer loveliness before you.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the above-quoted text.  The sky and landscape are done in shades of turquoise.  The homes are varied in color with snow on their rooftops.  Some of the houses are in the foreground and others are on the other side of the river in the background.  The streetlights cast large glowing balls of light.  Each window is glowing with light.  Snowflakes fill the air and cover the tree branches.  The children ride in the sleigh driven by Jenny and pulled by Tim and Tom.  The little golden dog runs next to the sleigh.  (A portion of this image appears on the cover of the November/December issue of The Horn Book Magazine.) 

This work by Patricia MacLachlan and Micha Archer is certain to become a seasonal and holiday classic.  Readers of all ages will find themselves in the pages of Snow Horses: A First Night Story.  You cannot help longing for a sleigh ride on New Year's Eve.  Do yourself a favor and make sure a copy of this book is on your personal bookshelves in case the sleigh does not appear in your town.  Your learners will enjoy reading a copy hopefully found on your professional shelves, too.

Here is a link to the obituary for Patricia MacLachlan appearing in Publishers Weekly on April 5, 2022.  To learn more about Micha Archer and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Micha Archer has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images including the entire dust jacket and book case.