Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Constructing A Sanctuary

It began with a man who was first a carpenter.  He taught his daughter everything he knew about carpentry, materials, and tools.  She learned the proper way to hold a hammer so a nail would go in straight.  She learned the best time to use needle nose pliers, slip joint pliers and tongue and groove pliers.  She learned when to use certain kinds of screwdrivers and the appropriate kinds of screws for a variety of construction supplies.

This knowledge and the accompanying skills were invaluable when the daughter found herself helping to build her first home.  Regardless of her prior knowledge and experience in building that home, in reading the newest book written and illustrated by Maxwell Eaton III, Bear Builds A House (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, February 1, 2022), that daughter found herself comprehending the entire process on a deeper level.  This companion title to Bear Goes Sugaring is certain to be invaluable to most readers, whether they decide to build their own home or wish to have a greater understanding of what to seek in a well-built residence.

Spring has arrived, and Bear is on the move . . .

She's been caring for a friend's house, but now it's time
to build one of her own.  It will take thoughtful planning,
mountains of hard work, and a few good friends to get it
done before the snow falls again.  And it all starts now!

One of the first things Bear does is select the perfect site to satisfy her.  She needs to spend time there during all parts of the day and, if possible, during the seasons of a year.  After the place is selected, Bear designs a site plan, deciding the placement of all the parts of her home, and where new portions might be placed in the future.

Bear cleverly plans the inside and outside of her home, drawing blueprints complete with elevations.  Bear enlists the assistance of friends with specialized skills.  She knows when help is needed in getting lumber from logs, in digging holes (excavating), and in placing the plumbing and electrical lines.

Next, trees are chosen and harvested.  Boards are cut from the logs and then set aside to dry.  Bear and Woodchuck work on digging and setting the piers for her home's foundation.  (It is explained she could have a full foundation or a crawl space foundation instead.) Woodchuck and Bear continue to work in bringing water to the home from a nearby spring by digging and laying pipe.  They don't forget to plan for an outhouse.

Finally, the dried lumber is used to frame the house. Each step in the framing is explained until the 

''whetting bush'' 

is placed on the peak of the completed task.  Each layer on the sides and roof are carefully placed, including the windows and siding.  Thankfully they start on the interior as the weather is turning autumnal.  Plumbing and fuel lines are installed. Hooray for Bobcat's expertise!  

Raccoon has completed the necessary wiring for a 

photovoltaic system.

The sun is to be the source of electrical energy.  Inside, Bear places insulation between the studs, joists, and rafters.  She uses tongue-and-groove boards (instead of drywall) to finish the walls.  For the perfect look, trim board is placed along the bottom.  Cabinets are hung.  Appliances and the wood stove are delivered.  As the first snow falls, everyone enjoys the warmth they helped Bear to make.

Not only does the text display author Maxwell Eaton III's knowledge, but we are also aware of his keen sense of humor through his word choices and character commentary.  Bear's dog, a local squirrel, and a goose that elects to not fly south for the winter are hilarious.  In addition to the main narrative, there are carefully labeled elements during each portion of the building process.  Tools and supplies are presented and identified.  Here is a passage and some commentary.

On a double-page picture there are seven labeled characters who are important to the building of Bear's house.  Underneath their name it lists what they do.  This text refers to the three characters on the right side along with the narrative.

They are happy to help because Bear has helped
her friends many times in the past and will
continue to do so in the future.  That's the Better
Bear Bargain!  

Do they just
let anyone write
these books?    Bear's dog's comment

I'm a certified
tripping hazard.

Hey, what
do you mean?

Architect, Engineer,
Project Manager, Carpenter, Laborer

Are we
going to start building?
It's already
April!  Goose's comment

Bear's job will be to focus on planning, staying organized,
communicating, coordinating, scheduling, and working
alongside her friends.

In looking at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, we can see Bear is just about finished with the framing of her home.  Her comment is our first hint of the humor and wordplay used by Maxwell Eaton III.  The image on the front continues over the spine to the back and far-left edge.  The title text on the jacket is varnished.

On the back, to the left of the spine, Raccoon and Bobcat are carrying several pieces of lumber to the house.  Six geese are flying in front of a cloud, heading south for the winter.  On the far left a tall evergreen extends out of the frame.  A single crow rests on one of its branches.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a bright sky blue.  It is the same hue used in the banner holding Maxwell Eaton III's name on the jacket and case.  On the title page Bear is carrying lumber to the building site.  You can see stakes in the ground indicating where the house will be built.  An owl is perched on a tree branch nearby.  It's early spring with some snow still lingering on the ground.

The illustrations for this book were rendered

with watercolor and graphite pencil on 140lb. bright white cold press watercolor paper.

Each page turn reveals another double-page picture beginning with the verso and first page.  Maxwell Eaton III has placed the publication text and dedication initials within the boughs of a giant evergreen on the left.  On the right, Bear sits in her temporary housing as her dog sleeps on one of the cots.  The squirrel asks for another hour of sleep from its hammock on the outside.

The visuals in this book can be vast displays of the mountainous terrain with smaller images embedded in the larger illustration for clarity.  Or we might be close to the characters as they work on a special project.  Sometimes, we are looking straight at the scene and other times we are looking from above the action.  Maxwell Eaton III superbly uses panels for further explanation.  We are privy to the best kind of visual information through details.  The characters are highly animated.

One of my favorite illustrations is the final two-page picture, but I will let you enjoy every nuance yourselves.  I cannot look at it without laughing.  Another of my many favorite illustrations is when Bear is drawing up the site plan.  Along the bottom of the image, Bear, on the left, is seated outside at her table with her tools close at paw.  Her dog is standing next to her, head resting on her shoulder.  One paw is on her shoulder and the other paw is on her head.  On the right side of the table, the squirrel is asking about nut storage.  Goose still in the pond has wing tips resting on the table.  Goose thinks the plan looks good.  This is when the decision to not fly south is made.  The rest of the two-page picture is devoted to an enlargement of the site plan, providing a background for the characters.  I love this presentation and design!

This book, Bear Builds A House written and illustrated by Maxwell Eaton III, will find a wide audience of readers.  The blend of text and images coupled with the humor is marvelous.  You should plan on multiple copies as this is the kind of book that will be passed from reader to reader.  At the close of the book is an author's note giving a nod to responsible use of resources.  There is a list of three book titles for further reading.  I highly recommend this title for both your personal and professional collections.  I can already think of several people who will be receiving this title as a gift. 

To learn more about Maxwell Eaton III and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Maxwell Eaton III has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website are activity sheets you can download.  At the publisher's Instagram account, Maxwell Eaton III reads this book aloud.  At Penguin Random House, you can view the title page.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Repeat Repeat Repeat

It usually appears out of nowhere.  Perhaps, a specific smell signals it.  A word or phrase may awaken it.  A few notes from another melody can revive it.  However it arrives, it is here to stay, refusing to leave.  It soundlessly follows you everywhere, sometimes for hours (or more).

At first, you allow it to play in your mind.  You may even hum along with it.  And, as hard as it is to say, you soon find yourself dancing.  In Ear Worm! (Candlewick Press, January 25, 2022) written by Jo Knowles with illustrations by Galia Bernstein, a worm, a tiny youngster of a worm, has a song firmly fixed in his mind.  He is puzzled by its appearance.  How did it get there?

One summer day, Little Worm went out to play and
discovered he had a song stuck in his head.

"Shimmy shimmy, no-sashay,
shimmy shimmy, no-sashay!"

he sang as he wriggled along.

Meeting his first friend of the day, Little Worm was told by Owl the meaning of an ear worm.  Of course, Little Worm thought that name was hilarious.  When he asked Owl if he put the song in his head, Owl said no.  He had his own song which he proceeded to sing.  There might have been some wing waving involved.

These two demonstrating their ear worm antics next met Chipmunk.  Chipmunk did not give the ear worm to Little Worm.  Chipmunk performed an equally original song and dance.  As the trio sang and moved to their own music, Bunny gently inquired about their songs and dances.  Little Worm was seeking answers and Bunny had her own answer.  Little Worm was feeling a tad bit discouraged.

Fox strolled onto the scene, sharing another different song and dance.  Now, there were five songs and five dances.  It was as if the members of an orchestra decided to stand up and dance their parts!  It was a party of happy-go-lucky participants!

Soon, Little Worm's father called him home for his nap.  Papa Worm wrapped Little Worm in his bed. Then, Papa Worm said . . .

In a lively blend of narrative and dialogue, author Jo Knowles introduces us to Little Worm and his four forest friends.  Little Worm's question to each friend and their subsequent response supply us with a rousing cadence.  Jo Knowles's use of alliteration and rhyming are an open invitation for reader participation.  You can't read this story without humming or singing or dancing or all three!  Here is a passage.

"That's not it at all," said Little Worm.  "But I like your moves!"
"Thank you," said Chipmunk.  "Mind if I join your search?"
"Fine by me," said Little Worm.




"Shimmy shimmy, no-sashay!"

they went along.

Do you feel something happening to you when you look at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case?  That something is spreading from the tip of your toes to the top of your head and it is sheer happiness.  Look at Fox, Owl, Chipmunk, Little Worm and Bunny.  Every single one of them are grooving to their own music, their own special ear worm.  Their body postures and facial expressions here, and throughout the book, portray camaraderie and cheer.  The title text and musical notes are varnished on the dust jacket.

To the left of the spine on the jacket and case is a canvas of white.  (White is used wonderfully throughout the book to highlight and elevate the characters, their expressions, and movements.) The text reads:

Who put that song in
Little Worm's head?

Little Worm is singing his tune next to two yellow daisies. 

On the opening and closing endpapers in pink hues on pink is a pattern of Little Worm in all his various dance moves.  His wide eyes and smiling face are a superb hello and goodbye for this book.  Prior to the title page, Little Worm is alone on a background of pristine white.  On the title page in the lower, right-hand corner is a clump of blades of grass.  The title text is spelled by Little Worm.  He twists and turns his body for each letter and the exclamation point.  

With each page turn, the artwork of Galia Bernstein, digitally rendered, welcomes us into the world of Little Worm and his friends.  Each animal, by their stance, reflects their characteristics.  They are highly animated, especially when they start to dance to their original ear worm.  The animals are brought close to the reader.  There is little more than them on a white canvas except when Little Worm first meets them.  A pine bough is next to Owl, an acorn is near Chipmunk, Bunny stands by two yellow daisies, and Fox is near blades of grass like Little Worm.  Readers will delight in seeing what Papa Worm uses to clean their home.

One of my many favorite illustrations is actually three smaller ones on a single page.  It shows Owl doing three more dance steps after the first display of a leg lift and wing spreads.  In the first one, Owl extends both wings forward as one leg kicks back.  In the second one, Owl bends back with both wings and one leg extended back.  In the final move, Owl is slightly bowed with one wing extended up and the other bent to cover his face.  Little Worm watches from the lower, right-hand corner.  (I can guarantee story time listeners might stand up and start to dance at this point.)

You will never feel the same way again about getting an ear worm after reading this book, Ear Worm! written by Jo Knowles with illustrations by Galia Bernstein.  The upbeat words and illustrations are a boogie-woogie dance delight that will have listeners begging you to read it repeatedly.  This would make a wonderful reader's theater.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Jo Knowles and Galia Bernstein and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Jo Knowles has accounts on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.  Galia Bernstein has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Jo Knowles wrote a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club about this title for the cover reveal.  At the publisher's website you can download a teacher's guide.  At Penguin Random House you can view interior images.

(My curiosity got the better of me.  I found an article about ear worms, Your Brain on Music: Earworms, The Kennedy Center.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

In Their Footsteps

Without them, what would we have overlooked or not pursued?  Without them, what are we losing?  Without them, what kind of future is there?  Throughout history, there have been those who would discount, obstruct, and overlook their ideas, endeavors, and accomplishments.  They made choices no one else dared to make.  They continue, regardless of their age, to do what is best for the largest number of individuals and our planet.  We should never doubt the capacity of any committed woman.  They serve, protect, and seek.
There are creators, authors and illustrators, of children's nonfiction who are bringing the achievements of those committed women to readers.  In two weeks, Women's History Month 2022 begins at the national level and the international level in a few other countries.  It is hoped these three titles will motivate others to follow their own positive pursuits.  

In the summer of 1776 the United States Declaration of Independence was drafted and signed by fifty-six delegates.  After reading Her Name Was Mary Katharine: The Only Woman Whose Name Is On The Declaration Of Independence (Christy Ottaviano Books, Little, Brown And Company, January 25, 2022) written by Ella Schwartz with illustrations by Dow Phumiruk, you will marvel at the tenacity and courage of this woman.  Given the time and place in which she lived, her accomplishments are bold and brilliant.

Before America was even a country, a young girl lived in the colony of Connecticut in a busy port town with her parents and younger brother. 

Mary Katharine, her mother, and younger brother stayed in this community until the early death of her father.  The siblings were in their teens and both were being educated by their mother.  In Rhode Island where Mary Katharine and her mother relocated, William, having completed his apprenticeship as a printer, opened the first newspaper there. 

Eventually, William left Providence to start another paper in Philadelphia.  Mary Katharine continued to run the paper in Rhode Island until William decided to sell it and asked her and her mother to come to Philadelphia.  There she ran his paper, the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  It should be noted that in both papers, the Goddard family (Mary Katharine) had no issues with speaking their minds about the hardships of being under British rule.  When William opened a third newspaper, the Maryland Journal, and the Baltimore Advertiser, Mary Katharine moved to Baltimore.  

Regardless of her brother's activities, including time spent in jail, Mary Katharine ran the newspaper in Maryland.  When she was thirty-seven, she did a courageous thing adding her initials to the paper, M. K. Goddard, in reference to ownership.  After a postal system outside of the British system was devised, Mary Katharine was the first woman postmaster in the colonies in 1775.  When the first Declaration of Independence was printed, the signatures of only a few were shown.  What they declared was grounds for treason.  When the Continental Congress asked Mary Katharine to print a new version, the first version with all the signatures, she added her name at the bottom as the printer.  Her allegiance was aligned with delegates.  

The painstaking research by author Ella Schwartz is evident in the facts presented within the narrative of Mary Katharine Goddard's life and work.  Tying each portion together is the repetition of the main title phrase with additional words changing to reflect an important time in her life.  There are quotes attributed to her as seen in the newspaper on several pages within the text to reinforce her political stance. Here is a passage.

Mary Katharine had been handed a great honor and a big
responsibility.  Her printed version of the Declaration of 
Independence would announce the birth of a new nation and
was intended to be preserved forever for future generations.
The people named on the document pledged their honor,
fortunes, and lives in the formation of the United States of 
America.  If the war was lost, every person named on that
document would be sentenced to death.

Her name was Mary Katharine
and she had an important job to do. 

The image you see on the front of the dust jacket contines on the other side of the spine for about a fourth of the space.  The words of the hand-written Declaration of Independence and those same words on the printed document shine through the flag and blue background on the bottom of the front of the jacket and the entire back of the jacket.  Mary Katharine proudly stands holding the results of her work on the front.  On the back, in a small square-framed image, we see her at work.  She is setting the type for her initials and last name to appear on the next newspaper.  On the front of the dust jacket, Mary Katharine, the Declaration of Indepence, and the title text are varnished.

On the book case, on either side of the spine, are two different illustrations.  On the left, we see Mary Katharine standing in the doorway of the Providence Gazette as a group of men on the street comment on the newspaper.  In the background citizens are gathering and holding signs in protest.  On the right, Mary Katharine is close to us.  She is holding the printed Declaration of Independence as she stands outside the newspaper shop doorway.  Again in the background there are supporters of independence, moving to the right on a brick street with a building in the background.

On the opening endpapers are tiny elements representing the life and times of Mary Katharine Goddard.  On a pale blue background are single letters used in printing, her name printed twice with and without her full name, books, American flags of that time period, the Declaration of Independence, candles, quill pens, bundles of letters awaiting delivery and other printer tools.  On the closing endpapers are framed blocks holding letters ready to be set for printing.  The colors here are black, gray, and hues of gold.

On the title page we are inside the newspaper shop near the printing press shown on the left.  The dedication and publication information is placed with intention here.  On the right stands Mary Katharine, hands folded in front of her and wearing an apron.  A stack of paper is placed on the table to the right of her.

Artist Dow Phumiruk rendered these illustrations 

digitally in Adobe Photoshop with scans of watercolors and textures.

In each double-page picture several perspectives are shown as well as different times and places.  The blending of the times and places is superb.  The double-page picture of the delegates at work is shown as if we are looking down on them.  In another two-page visual, across the top the two armies are meeting at Lexington and Concord.  The main image shows the American troops gathering on the left and on the right Mary Katharine is working at her press to continue printing during the war.

One of my favorite illustrations is a blend of the inside of a building on the far left and far right with the outside of buildings in the middle.  On the left, the Continental Congress is in session.  In the middle people are reading Mary Katharine's newspaper.  On the right, she is standing inside her building looking outside.  Where there would normally be sky, we see in gray tones a collage of American soldiers during battle.

After reading Her Name Was Mary Katharine: The Only Woman Whose Name Is On The Declaration Of Indepence written by Ella Schwartz with illustrations by Dow Phumiruk, when you think of people representative of the word courage, Mary Katharine Goddard will come to your mind.  At the close of the book is a two-page author's note, a page of important terms, and selected sources.  You will want to place this book in the who-knew-but-grateful-to-know-now category of titles to be read and shared widely.  You will want to have a copy in both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Ella Schwartz and Dow Phumiruk and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Ella Schwartz has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Dow Phumiruk has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  The cover reveal for this book with conversations with the creators was hosted by librarian, lecturer, and writer John Schumacher on his site, Watch. Connect. Read.

There are those who relish fairytales.  There are those who are fans of animation.  There are those who will watch movies hour after hour.  For those who enjoy all three of these pastimes, they need to read Out Of The Shadows: How Lotte Reiniger Made the First Animated Fairytale Movie (Abrams Books For Young Readers, February 8, 2022) written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson.  When things we love become our life's work, the world reaps the benefits.

Once upon a time
in Berlin . . .

. . . there was a little girl who
loved fairytales.

Lotte Reiniger had grandparents and parents who supported her love of fairytales, reading to her for hours, day in and day out.  When she learned to read, she could finally enter the world of fairytales on her own.  Although Lotte liked nothing better than the books holding those stories, she was equally fascinated with a new technology, movies.

Her grandmother often took her to the movies, silent at the time with an orchestra creating music.  Once after Lotte received Chinese puppets as a gift, she began to perform her fairytales.  She also learned the fine art of Scherenschnitte, papercutting.  Lotte started to design her own characters for presentation based on the movable parts of the Chinese puppets and her papercut figures.  

Her interest in films and filmmaking grew.  Lotte studied at a school where she could observe the work of Paul Wegener.  One day he noticed all the papercuts she had made of him as she watched his troupe work.  Lotte was now working on his film crew!

In defining moments for her, Lotte used stop motion animation to make a memorable scene in the Paul Wegener movie, The Pied Piper of Hamelin.  Then, Wegener had her meet Hans Curliss and Carl Koch, directors at an animation studio.  Here Lotte thrived.  She and Carl worked together creating her short film, The Ornament of the Loving Heart.  Their relationship blossomed into love and marriage.  Lotte's making of short animations blossomed, too.

In 1923, Lotte was asked by a wealthy patron to make a full-length silhouette animated movie. She, Carl, and a team of animators moved to work in a space at the patron's home.  In order to get the effect she wanted, Lotte invented the 

first multiplane camera

consisting of a series of glass plates in a Tricktisch.  She wrote her own story weaving together components from other fairy tales.  Three long, work-filled years later The Adventures Of Prince Achmed premiered on May 2, 1926 in Berlin, Germany.  The details of this feat, including the 8,000 handwritten invitations, were wondrous.  So was the audience's response.  

The manner in which author Fiona Robinson reveals the facts of Lotte Reiniger's life is as if we have stepped into a fairytale.  Her word selections are rich in their descriptions of the people, places, and time periods.  The narrative is divided into three parts, each labeled with a span of dates.  Within those parts, we are awed by Lotte's choices, her work, and the insertion of process methods which are a part of her story.  Here are two passages.

One day, Lotte was given a gift that would transform her from a reader and
viewer of stories into a teller of stories.  Chinese puppets allowed Lotte to
physically perform her beloved fairytales.

Like a fairy casting a spell with her wand, Lotte flicked her wrist and brought
the sleeping puppets to life.  Swooping down low, stretching up high, she led
them in a dance around the room.

She created a plot.  She drew a storyboard showing sketches
of key moments in her five-minute-long animation.  She
cut and hinged characters.  And she sat at the Tricktisch
for hours on end, making incremental movements as Carl
shot each frame from above.  The film was then dyed with 
special ink to make the animation colorful.

When you open the book case, to the left, on the back, is information you might see on a dust jacket's flaps.  The canvas is black.  The only other colors are lavender and white.  On the outside of an intricately framed oval, in white letters, is information about Fiona Robinson and the book's publication.  Dancing on top of the ISBN are three tiny lavender creatures.  Inside the oval in black is Lotte Reiniger's name in a large font.  Under and to the right of her name is text about the book.  To the left, a hand holds a pair of scissors.  

On the right of the book case, the color palette used frequently throughout the book and exquisite elements are shown to readers.  Lotte is shown making one of her papercut figures.  This is bordered in frames of film.  Every detail is placed with a purpose.

On the opening endpapers we are inside a darkened theater.  Along the bottom of the page are papercut figures in black against a gray background.  They are waiting.  On the closing endpapers the background is glowing and golden.  The members of the audience are displaying jubilation.  The title page is a stunning depiction of cut-paper art.  Two peacocks on either side of a double-page picture hold film in their beaks.  Frames of the film hold the words of the secondary portion of the title.  This illustration is in golden yellow and black.

The images in this book were rendered by Fiona Robinson 

using scissor-cut silhouette, watercolors, and felt pen.

Each page turn will have you gasping in amazement at the layout, design, and artwork.  Each of the three parts begins as a frame in a silent movie with white on black.  Lotte steps into the pages of a fairytale story with a wolf peeking over the top corner.  She dances with her Chinese puppets.  When she is learning Scherenschnitte, a younger cutout of Lotte in white, scissors in one hand and a character in the other hand, dances as cut paper falls like snowflakes.  On the left side of this scene a large hand holding scissors cuts into the paper holding the text.  There are several single pages with enlarged frames of film holding the text.

Single pages hold the passage of time with a variety of smaller illustrations changing as your eyes move from left to right.  Perspectives change, drawing us deeper into the story.  We are given an overview and then brought directly into a particular moment.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture asking readers to view it vertically.  The text, in white, is placed outside the roof of the garage in a deep blue night sky.  Under the roof, Lotte, Carl, and other animators are working with the multiplane camera.  Lotte is in color but the others are shadows and a silhouette.  To the right of them are five frames portraying the results of their work.

As soon as you finish reading Out Of The Shadows: How Lotte Reiniger Made the First Animated Fairytale Movie written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson, you will immediately read it again.  You will study the narrative and the artwork, not wanting to miss a single feature.  At the close of the book are two pages containing an author's note, a note about The Adventures Of Prince Achmed, Lotte Reiniger Movies Suitable For Children, a bibliography, a recommended film about Lotte Reiniger, and institutions housing her work.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Fiona Robinson and her other work, please visit her accounts on Facebook and  Instagram.  At the publisher's website, you can scroll through pages showing the other acclaimed books by Fiona Robinson.  

When you've spent nearly your entire life living in a state that is the only place in the world where a certain stone is found, you find yourself in search of that stone whenever you can.  There is no better place to find that unique piece of rock than along the beaches of northern Michigan. The beauty of searching for one thing is that it leads you to other discoveries.  Dragon Bones: The Fantastic Fossil Discoveries of Mary Anning (Roaring Brook Press, February 15, 2022) written by Sarah Glenn Marsh with illustrations by Maris Wicks is about a family of seekers and a girl in that family who loved nothing more than roaming along the seacoast, especially after a storm.

Little Mary Anning loved to treasure hunt.

There were plenty of storms in her community of Lyme Regis, England.  After those storms, Mary, her father, and brother would grab their tools and dig in the newly washed sand and rocks.  Mary would venture inside caves hoping to find something special.  After their hunts, the family would sell the found fossils to help pay for food.  Mary would much rather study the fossils, but she understood.

She sold 

snakestones, devil's fingers, and verteberries.

The family was successful, working together, until one autumn, Mary's father died.  It was now up to Mary to lead the hunts regardless of the weather.  Each time she and her brother went on a hunt, she dreamed of finding something no one else had ever unearthed.  And one day, her brother did find something.

He found a fossil of a giant head with a long nose and rows of sharp teeth.  He gave up digging, but Mary wanted to find the entire body.  She did it!  A collector of fossils bought it and someone at the museum named it Ichthyosaur.  Mary did not believe it looked like a lizard.  To her it looked like a dragon!

Over the years, Mary found other Ichthyosaur fossils.  She studied the insides of fish to understand them better.  Mary continued hunting without her brother Joseph, but her canine Tray was good company.  Mary, one winter, unearthed another different and entire skeleton.  A man named it plesiosaur.  He wrote about it, never giving Mary any credit.  At twenty-seven years old, Mary opened the Anning's Fossil Depot displaying her discoveries.  Mary kept digging, especially after the wildest of storms, constantly seeking a new treasure.

When you read this book, author Sarah Glenn Marsh has written in clear, concise sentences as if we are sitting across from one another in conversation about this remarkable woman.  She reminds us, through the repetition of certain words, what guided Mary Anning throughout her life.  By mentioning Mary imagining her father with her, we understand her on a more intimate level.  The narrative reinforces Mary's consistent curiosity, her desire to study and expand on what she knew, and her documentation of her findings.  We are also well aware of the lack of credit given to Mary during her lifetime for her contributions to the field of paleontology.  Here is a passage.

Through wind and rain,
she carefully unearthed the
mysterious creature that would
become her next major discovery.

A man bought the skeleton and named
it "plesiosaur," which meant "near-lizard."
He wrote papers about it that lots of scientists
read with amazement.  He never mentioned Mary.

When looking at the matching and open dust jacket and book case, there are several things you immediately notice.  A single illustration spans left to right crossing the spine.  On the left is one of the cliffs along the seacoast in Mary Anning's community.  We are looking through the rock where an assortment of fossils are embedded.  To the right of the cliff, Mary is holding up a tooth.  Her stance and facial expression suggest her determination to keep searching for something new and different.  In a clever design technique fossils are used in the title text.  Mary and the text are varnished.

On the opening endpapers in two tones of brown we are shown an underwater scene from prehistory.  All the creatures, in various stages of movement, are frozen as fossils.  When we look at the closing endpapers, the scene has changed.  It is now in full color as it was when all those beings were alive and moving through the water.  Above them creatures fly between the water's surface and sky.  A double-page picture is used for the dedication, verso, and title pages.  It is a close-up of Mary working near the head of one of her dinosaurs.  In addition to the fossil, all we see are her hands and her pickaxe resting nearby.

Artist Maris Wicks made these illustrations 

with HB pencil on plain printer paper, scanned, and colored in Photoshop.

The size of the pictures vary to complement and enhance the text.  There are two-page pictures of seascapes and vast expanses.  We are brought closer when the sea starts to flood the Anning home and Mary and her brother are being placed in a boat outside the home's window.

When Mary is dreaming about the creatures associated with the fossils, they are drawn as if they are ghosts, dreamy imaginings.  Several times single-page visuals blend together as if they are one.  As a reader we are never in doubt as to Mary's devotion to her passion.  Her exuberance is apparent in every line and perspective.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  Mary and her father are seated and working together at a table exhibiting newly uncovered fossils.  Many are coated in dirt which they are working to wipe and brush clean.  Mary's father is on the left.  We see most of his body except for the top portion of his head.  Mary is on the right wiping a fossil.  Her tongue is partially out of her mouth as she concentrates.  To the right of her are "fossil ghosts" from her mind.

This book, Dragon Bones: The Fantastic Fossil Discoveries of Mary Anning written by Sarah Glenn Marsh with illustrations by Maris Wicks, is an admirable blend of writing and artwork showcasing the determination and dedication of one woman who faced poverty, danger, and bias against women her entire life.  Her successes have stood the test of time and are to be commended.  At the close of the book are four pages highlighting Mary, the creatures whose bones she unearthed, how to become a paleontologist and a selected bibliography.  This book is sure to inspire others who seek a similar vocation.  Your personal and professional collections won't be complete without a copy of this title.

To learn more about Sarah Glenn Marsh and Maris Wicks and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Sarah Glenn Marsh has accounts on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Maris Wicks has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images.  The Lyme Regis Museum has a page featuring Mary Anning with helpful resources.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022


Humans are not as quick to receive someone as their canine counterparts.  Dogs, regardless of your physical characteristics, readily give you their unconditional love.  Their loyalty is humbling in its purity.  Whether you are courageous or cautious, or aloof or friendly, or carefree or worried, their understanding of you, your flaws and strengths, is remarkable.  If you are fortunate enough to have a friend who views you in this manner, it is a cherished gift.

As someone who is shy, being among others, especially large groups, professionally or personally, is challenging.  It is not easy to join in small talk, offer comments in discussions, or provide answers to questions, even if you have correct responses.  You prefer to be an observer.  You prefer to blend rather than engage.  In Where Is Bina Bear? (GodwinBooks, Henry Holt and Company, January 11, 2022) written and illustrated by Mike Curato, readers are invited to a party.  One of the guests is most bashful, but has the best kind of friend, a cherished gift.

Tiny was having a big party.
But where was Bina Bear?

Bina Bear was hiding in the dark.  Bina Bear was trying to blend in with the wallpaper.  Bina Bear believed standing still with a lampshade on your head turned you into a lamp.  It was a good plan for concealment. 

When Tiny, a small rabbit and Bina's friend, asked if the object was Bina, a voice replied it was a lamp.  Bina next arranged to be a large table with a bowl of fruit resting on it.  The table graciously allowed Tiny to take a banana.

As Tiny moved outside and then back inside, each encounter with Bina Bear presented a new object which freely spoke with Tiny, but denied being Bina Bear.  Tiny voiced missing Bina Bear.  Wherever Bina Bear went and whatever she became, Tiny was there.

When Tiny asked if Bina Bear was all right, the bear said yes.  Bina Bear was not okay.  Through a compassionate conversation, Tiny realized what Bina Bear needed most.  Two hearts shined as one.

Spare, intentional text with specific word choices by author Mike Curato evoke an emotional response in readers.  Dialogue between Bina Bear and Tiny establishes their affectionate relationship.  The questions and answers further our comprehension of their bond. The decision to use fewer words leaves room for the artwork to elevate the story.  Here is a passage.

Excuse me, have you ---


Oh, okay.

Sigh . . . 

"nom nom nom" 

Do you want
some banana,


One of the first things you notice about the open dust jacket is the color palette.  The bright yellow as a background on the front and back sings out hello.  The complementary hues used with the yellow heighten the greeting.  The cones of light above and below Bina Bear draw our eyes to the title text and to Bina Bear and Tiny.  The text, Bina Bear, and Tiny are varnished on the front.

To the left of the spine are three of the forms Bina Bear assumes to hide.  She is a table in the living room, a tree in the yard, and a chair.  The accompanying text contrasts with what readers can see.  Bina Bear and Tiny in these three scenes are varnished.

On either side of a yellow spine, the book case is purple.  It is Bina Bear.  All we can see of her is her eyes and nose enlarged on the front of the case.

The opening and closing endpapers are the same bright yellow.  On the title page is a full-page picture.  It is a party setting.  Balloons from the refreshment table are used to spell out Bina Bear in the title.  Bina Bear is peeking from the outside through an open door in the background.  Tiny is chatting with a squirrel.  Careful readers will notice a familiar character, trunk raised, near a plate of cupcakes.  The dog, Spot, is under the table, tongue out waiting for crumbs.  

These illustrations were rendered using

ink, colored pencil, watercolor, and digital.

The size of the visuals vary in accordance with the narrative. There are single-page images, two-page illustrations, two horizontal panels, top and bottom, across two pages, and two, three, and four images on a single page.  There are several dramatic wordless double-page pictures.  All the artwork is loosely framed.  The perspectives vary with the image sizes.  What artist Mike Curato conveys with his eyes alone is marvelous.

One of my many favorite illustratons spans two pages and is wordless.  We are inside a formal library.  The walls are papered in a fern design.  Ornate white bookcases line the walls on the left.  Between two of those bookcases is a Bina Bear bookcase.  Her arms and legs are arranged like shelves to hold books.  To the right of the gutter, French doors, now closed, open into the party.  On the far right, a plant hangs from the ceiling near a pink and green chair.  On the wood floor, stained pale pink, sits Tiny on a green pillow.  She is reading a book as big as she is.  One of her eyes is watching Bina Bear watch her.

This book, Where Is Bina Bear? written and illustrated by Mike Curato is for all those shy people to know they are seen.  It will build empathy in all those people who are not shy.  Readers will find a special place in their hearts for this bear and her rabbit friend.  I know you will want a copy of this title for all your collections, personal and professional.

For those desiring to learn more about Mike Curato and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Mike Curato has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Mike Curato speaks further about his book on this additional site of his.  Mike Curato, this title and his artwork are featured by author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson on her site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  You can view interior images at the publisher's website.

Where Is Bina Bear? by Mike Curato from Let's Talk Picture Books on Vimeo.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Hot, Hotter, Hottest

With winter storms currently pounding the United States from Texas to the tip of Maine, it is hard to believe record high temperatures are being set each year.  This is not just happening here, but around the world.  When these heat waves are combined with the lack of normal rainfall, it invites another form of record-breaking natural disasters, wildfires.  Certain portions of countries around the world are known for their annual wildfires, but with increasing regularity the size of these wildfires are epic.

As of August 11, 2021 it was noted in The Washington Post article,

The fires raging in Siberia are bigger than fires in Greece, Turkey, Italy, the
United States and Canada combined, with analysts warning that this year
could surpass Russia's worst fire year, 2012, according to Yaroshenko.  (Alexei Yaroshenko is a forestry expert with Greenpeace Russia.)

The bushfires between 2019 and 2020 in Australia were some of the worst ever experienced.  Named the Black Summer fires, the loss of animal life is hard to imagine.  It is estimated that three billion animals were killed or displaced (ABC News, Australia) during those fires. Wombat Underground: A Wildfire Survival Story (Little, Brown and Company, January 11, 2022) written by Sarah L. Thomson with illustrations by Charles Santoso follows a wombat and other animals native to Australia as fire sweeps through their residential space.  It is a story filled with possibilities, hope, and compassion.  

Deep in the dirt
under the hill
roots grip tight
air is cool
water slips and drips


by drop

by drop

and Wombat digs.

Above Wombat, on the ground, Wallaby munches on leaves and Echidna listens.  Wombat keeps digging.  In the hot sun, Skink rests and soaks up the heat.  Slowly, that hot sun soaks up the little water in the earth.

Without Wombat knowing, it gets warmer and drier above ground.  Skink hides from the sun, Wallaby sips on remaining water, and Echidna wanders through brittle grasses.  Storm clouds gather.  A huge bolt of lightning strikes.

Sparks turn to flames.  The forest is on fire!  Sleeping Wombat is unaware.  Skink, Wallaby, and Echidna move as quickly as they can in front of the fire.  Slowly, Wombat comes awake.  As the threesome moves toward the hole in the hill, Wombat moves up toward the opening in the tunnel.

Wombat seeks to defend a home built by him and him alone.  The fire is taking a toll on Skink, Wallaby and Echidna.  What will Wombat do?  

Life, as it should be and as it changes for the animals, is described beautifully by author Sarah L. Thomson.  Repeatedly words and phrases supply a rhythm bringing us deeper into the setting.  The use of alliteration increases the poetic beat for readers.  We feel kinship with the animals and their surroundings due to naming them with a capital letter.  Their fear and desperation escalates through Sarah L. Thomson's words selected with intention.  These words, this narrative, draw us toward a hopeful conclusion, one believed to be true.  Here is a passage.

Flakes of fire
sail on the wind.
Ribbons of smoke
snake through the grass.
Fingers of flame claw up each tree.

When the open and matching dust jacket and book case are considered, you see four Australian animals caught in circumstances not of their making. (The scene from the front, right, crosses the spine to the left, including the arrival of Wallaby, Echidna, and Skink.  They look directly at Wombat.)  A range of emotions washes over you as you try to anticipate what the featured animals will do next.  The color palette chosen for this scene is used throughout the book to convey the habitat in its normal conditions and in its extreme situations.

A bright yellow is placed on the opening and closing endpapers signifying this is a story of survival and hope.  On the title page we see Wombat entering the hole in the hill.  Skink is resting on a rock near Wombat's entrance.  In this distance is Echidna.  Several native birds rest on tree branches framing the text.

Artist Charles Santoso rendered his illustrations digitally in Photoshop.  Most of them are double-page pictures, giving us views above and below ground.  These are particularly effective as the danger increases.  The native flora, the intricate details, ask us to pause.  Several times we are looking down on a specific scene, giving us a more panoramic view.  Once, when the storm approaches, we are looking up, as if we are the animals on the ground.  There is one wordless image except for a sound effect.

Through these images we are actively engaged with the animals.  We feel their calm as they go about their normal day, but also feel their panic as they try to outrun the flames.   It is never mentioned in the narrative, but Wallaby carries a baby in her pouch. 

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture.  The three animals, Skink, Echidna, and Wallaby with her baby, are in the foreground.  Their fear and misery are palpable.  Behind them, the fire has engulfed the area.  Flames are leaping from branch to branch, bush to bush, and along the grass.  Smoke fills the air.  On the left Skink tries to shield its eyes and Echidna lifts its burned feet as it looks backward.  Wallaby bows, her eyes closed and her fur singed. 

This work of fiction inspired by the bushfires of 2019-2020 in Australia, Wombat Underground: A Wildlife Survival Story written by Sarah L. Thomson with illustrations by Charles Santoso, reaches out and grabs you.  It won't let you go.  (It asks you to do further research and you do.  Here are two links, here and here, at the Climate Council (Australia) about wildfires.  Here are two recent articles in Time magazine about wildfires, here and here.  Here is an article about Wildfires and Climate Change found at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.  At NASA Global Climate Change, they talk about The Climate Connections of a Record Fire Year in the US West, dated February 22, 2021.)  At the close of the book in an author's note there are additional headings.  They are What starts fires?, If the fires happen every year, are they really so bad?, What made Australia's fires in 2019-2020 the worst in decades?, What happens to animals in a bushfire?, What's an echidna?  A wallaby? A skink?, and What about wombats?.  There are resources about wildfires and Australian animals listed on the final page.  I highly recommend this book for both your personal and professional collections. (This book is listed with others in a Booklist Booklinks article about wildfires and in the January 2022 issue of wildfire books published by the Wildland Fire Research Institute.)

To learn more about Sarah L. Thomson and Charles Santoso and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites. Charles Santoso has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Lift Your Arms

Nearly thirty-seven years ago, I read a book with a collection of stories, many remaining in the coveted places of my heart.  Some of those narratives became a part of storytelling in my school libraries at the high, middle, and elementary levels.  In the past few days I reread the entire collection of tales found in the book authored by Virginia Hamilton with illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon.  The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales is divided into four sections focusing on

animals, real, extravagnat, and fanciful, supernatural and other slave tales of freedom.

These stories are rich in tradition and cultural history, educating and entertaining us about a resilient, noble, determined, and hopeful people.  The last tale in the book takes the name of the title, The People Could Fly.  Without fail, each time I read this story tears well in my eyes.  These tears are jubilant for the people who could fly and heartbroken for those left behind.  

In her closing paragraph, Virginia Hamilton says:

"The People Could Fly" is a detailed fantasy tale of suffering, of magic power
exerted against the so-called Master and his underlings.  Finally, it is a powerful
testament to the millions of slaves who never had the opportunity to "fly"
away.  They remained slaves, as did their children.  "The People Could Fly" was
first told and retold by those who had only their imaginations to set them free. 

At the close of their newest collaboration, The Year We Learned To Fly (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, January 4, 2022) written by Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by Rafael Lopez, Jacqueline Woodson makes reference to the words of Virginia Hamilton and the artwork of Leo and Diane Dillon in their 1986 Coretta Scott King Award winning title. (It also received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award that year.) For all those who find themselves in a time and place they would rather not be, this book reveals a gift.  It shows us how to use this gift, a gift we all possess.

That was the year we learned to fly . . .

It began in the spring.  Storms raged nonstop.  A sister and her brother were confined to their home.  Their grandmother advised them to

use those beautiful and brilliant minds of yours.

She continued telling them exactly what they needed to do.  They did it, leaving their home and exploring their city, now blooming with a glorious array of flowers.  

Summer arrived.  The twosome could not agree on anything.  It seemed the only thing they were good at was arguing.  Their grandmother, in her wisdom, repeated her words.  Holding hands, sister and brother, forgot their anger.

As the shorter days and longer nights of autumn came, the girl and boy knew they could leave whenever they desired.  Their grandmother had taught them what had been passed from generation to generation, beginning with the people torn from their homes in Africa and brought across the water on ships.  Dreaming was believing.  You were (are) never alone in needing to fly.

The family moved in winter.  Everything and everyone was different.  The new neighborhood children were not friendly, but the sister and brother used remembered the words of their grandmother.  Their generosity was contagious.

Although author Jacqueline Woodson takes us through a year, season by season, of boredom, anger, loneliness, and newness, the awakening of the children's gift through the wisdom of their grandmother could aptly apply in any given situation at any given time.  In fact, as established through her poetic words used to design a cadence, the grandmother makes reference to others who might be in the same circumstances as the siblings.  These beautiful poetic instructions are enhanced by the repeated mention of another phrase.  Both combine to fashion a text that lifts readers as high as they desire to go.  Here is a passage.

That was the autumn our rooms felt too big and lonely
with only us in them and the darkness coming on so fast.
But while we hugged ourselves against the too-quiet of it all,
we remembered
that we didn't have to be stuck anywhere anymore.

When you look at the girl gazing upward on the right side of the matching and open dust jacket, you wonder what has her attention.  Are her feet on the ground or is she already flying?  What does the background indicate to you as a reader?  The wash of pastel colors seen here on the front extends over the spine to the left, back, of the jacket and case.  There, along the bottom, are three brilliant butterflies.  Above them are excerpts from starred reviews for the previous collaboration by these creators, The Day You Begin.  The text on the front is slightly raised and varnished.

Readers will be intrigued by the opening and closing endpapers.  They offer, prior to the reading of the book, an opportunity for discussion.  Both sets of endpapers show the same tree in the same setting.  The tree is placed on the right side.  On the lowest, right-hand branch a single cluster of leaves hangs down.  That is where the similarities end.  The background colors differ, as do the hues used in the ground.  There are additions in the closing endpapers.  What do they indicate?  Do these endpapers refer to other images within the book with leaves in them? (Personally, I love the leaves whenever they appear.  I have my theories.)

These illustrations by Rafael Lopez 

were created  with a combination of acrylic paint on wood, pen and ink, pencil, and watercolor, and put together digitally in Photoshop.

Each of them, double-page pictures, are full of color, emotion, and the frustration and exuberance of any given moment.  We understand how confined the children feel as the storm batters their apartment building and the other buildings in their community.  We feel deep respect for the depiction of their grandmother dressed in shades of orange, red, and purple wearing a regal and tradtionally-patterned dhuku,  And when the children fly we are there with them, uplifted and enjoying the vivid hues of the flowers and trees.

Careful readers will notice one particular bird and butterfly which seem near to the sister and brother in many of the pictures.  Rafael Lopez includes a bit of humor through the family dog.  When the children cannot seem to decide who should feed the dog, the dog, holding his dish in his mouth, patiently waits.  In two of the double-page illustrations, Rafael Lopez includes imagery from historical events woven into first, the girl's hair, and second, as portraits placed in large leaves clustered near the ground on the left of the following picture.

One of my many favorite two-page visuals is for the words referring to autumn. (It is the text above-noted.)  It is in the evening.  The background is a wash of purple hues with a bit of green and black.  The children on the right, appear to be reading in bed.  The quilt extending along the bottom of the left goes up and over the shoulders of the girl.  The orange red leaves on the quilt start to float off and around the two children.  This creates a cozy, tent-like image.  The girl is seated.  Her brother, under the covers, is in front of her.  She is holding the book she is reading aloud in front of him.  It is The Day You Begin.  There is a golden glow around and above the shoulders of the girl.  

This book, The Year We Learned To Fly written by Jacqueline Woodson with artwork by Rafael Lopez, is a marvelous tribute and an invitation to everyone.  We all have 

brilliant and beautiful minds.

With them we can accomplish as much as we can imagine and more.  What will we do with this ability?  I highly recommend you place a copy of this title in both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Jacqueline Woodson has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Rafael Lopez has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view the title page. and verso.