Do you remember when the ability to read first happened to you? Have you seen that realization dawn on the face of a child? The feeling of knowing you can read is nearly indescribable. In that moment for you and others, the world shifts. It is brimming with endless possibilities and discoveries.
Some of the best books for early readers have engaging characters, characters who connect with us and charm their way into our collective hearts. Their everyday lives are akin to adventures. What they say and do is liberally enlivened with humor.
Author Jonathan Stutzman and artist Heather Fox have created an early reader series with sibling ghosts who are the best of friends. We were introduced to the duo in Fitz And Cleo (Henry Holt and Company, May 25, 2021) and earlier this year their second book, Fitz And Cleo Get Creative (Henry Holt and Company, March 8, 2022) was released. The exuberance of these characters will have you grinning from ear to ear and wishing to join them.
Was that you? No, I'm right next to you.
I don't know.
In this first of eleven delightful stories, Fitz and Cleo, finally explore the attic. They find a stray kitty. Cleo is thrilled and names the cat, Mister Boo. Fitz is not so thrilled, especially when Mister Boo's favorite place to sleep is on his head.
Mister Boo stars in the next three tales as Cleo proclaims the cat's virtues, Fitz babysits Mister Boo, and subsequently discloses the lack of Mister Boo's desirable characteristics. The trio next share a day at the beach and ice cream. Star wishing and brain freezing might be involved.
Fitz and Cleo try to beat the previous record of loop-de-loops via paper airplanes. Mister Boo is not happy with the results. Fitz questions the outcomes of a scientific theory and Mister Boo's baseball skills with conclusions not to his liking. Who knew how cat tails were so useful? Speaking of science, why can't Mister Boo be an astronaut and get shot to the moon on a rocket?
As the final hours at a day's end are presented, readers find Fitz and Cleo, brother and sister, peering through a telescope at the stars. After one of Fitz's remarks, Cleo declares this planet the best planet. Fitz does not understand how she could possibly know that. Cleo's replies are entirely heartwarming and true.
Don't you like the book?
In this next series of lively narratives, they begin with Cleo's dissatisfaction with her life compared to what she reads in books. Ever supportive, Fitz points out the wonderful imagination of Cleo per her love of the "cloud game." That evening during a roller-coaster kind of movie viewing, Cleo has her best idea yet. She and Fitz (and Mister Boo) are going to make a movie!
The successive episodes revolve around their creative endeavors. The value of getting an idea in writing before it vanishes will resonate with a lot of readers as will the practice of writing versus procrastination to accomplish your goals. Readers will find themselves laughing at an exercise in painting and the importance of winning rock-paper-scissors.
When Cleo and Fitz look for cast members for the movie, we meet their friends who closely resemble a vampire, a werewolf, and a creature from the Black Lagoon. The siblings shine in the next two stories, each doing what they do best. Colorful creativity bursts forth, but does not last due to another type of burst. If only powerful spells and Rube Goldberg Machines really worked as they desire.
In one of the two final stories, readers are treated to an extraordinary movie production. All the participants reveal their best talents. We learn the finest gift they have is the gift of friendship. Faithful to her sweet and wise nature, Cleo utters the final sentence. And, that's the truth.
Author Jonathan Stutzmanhas written dialogue between these ghostly siblings certain to echo in readers' minds and hearts. The personalities of both Fitz and Cleo are found in what they say and think. Their honesty with each other and their shared love stands out. Sometimes these disclosures will have you laughing out loud. Here are passages from the first story in each book.
Shhh . . .
We want the
Might be a monster,
might be some kooks.
What are you singing?
"The Spooky Attic Song"!
It's my favorite.
You just made
it up, didn't you?
Yes, I did.
Some terrible beast is up
here with us! It's coming
from over there---shine
your light at it!
You know that
game you like,
find shapes in
Yes! Because cumulus clouds
are not bunnies or dragons,
I mean . . .well . . .
do you maybe
want to play now?
You want to play
the cloud game?
*sigh* . . .Yes.
What do you see?
That one . . .
. . .looks like me!
Personally, I think it looks like someone
who has exciting adventures inside
her head every day. Someone who will be
more than ready when real adventures
come her way.
You cannot look at the front of the book cases of these books without smiling. What Heather Fox has done with her black lines is fashion two ghosts we want as our friends. The glasses and hat for Fitz and the big purple bow for Cleo are the finishing touches. On the back of both books is information you would normally find on the front and back flaps of a dust jacket. Fitz, Cleo and the title text are varnished.
The pattern on both the opening and closing endpapers in the books is a reflection of some of the stories. On the first set, white outlines on lavender feature ice cream cones, balls of string, rockets, and paper airplanes. On the second set, white outlines on turquoise spotlight paintbrushes, juice boxes, pencils, and microphones. With a page turn, in both books, a pictorial interpretation, wordless, starts with the siblings engaged in an activity.
A series of panels, bordered in fine black lines or wide white borders, full-page images, page edge to page edge and two double-page pictures, edge to edge, for dramatic effect created by Heather Fox invite readers to be participants in each narrative. We want to jump into the images with Fitz and Cleo and Mister Boo and the other characters.
Sometimes, you will stop to fully appreciate the extra details included in each image. Is that an octopus as the ice cream vendor? The similarity between Cleo's chalk art and Fitz's body as the Rube Goldberg Machine completes its task will not be lost on many readers.
One of my many favorite illustrations from Fitz And Cleo is three wordless vertical panels on a single page. They are close-ups of the eyes of Cleo, Fitz, and Mister Boo. It is after they have consumed too much ice cream too quickly. Brain Freeze has attacked them. We all know how that feels and their eyes replicate that feeling perfectly.
One of my many favorite illustrations from Fitz And Cleo Get Creative is a double-page picture. It is a stage setting with shades of purple for the background and speakers. The stage lights are turquoise. On a raised light blue platform is Mister Boo on red drums. On one of the drums is the group's name, Boo Fighters. To the left of the gutter is Cleo looking gothic but still wearing her big purple bow. On the right is Fitz wearing his glasses, playing an olive green guitar, sporting a chain around his neck, and instead of his hat, he has a yellow and orange spiked Mohawk.
These books, Fitz And Cleo and Fitz And Cleo Get Creative, written by Jonathan Stutzman with artwork by Heather Fox, are pure happiness. Readers will find themselves smiling, giggling, laughing, and sighing at the shared antics and inventiveness of these two ghosts and their Mister Boo. They are wonderful for silent reading or as read aloud titles. I highly recommend them for both your professional and personal collections.
To learn more about Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names. They have a joint website for these titles linked here. There are activities to download. At the publisher's website, you can view interior images for Fitz And Cleo and Fitz And Cleo Get Creative. Jonathan Stutzman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Heather Fox has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. To introduce their series, Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox wrote a post at librarian and writer John Schu's site, Watch. Connect. Read.
There are several explanatory tales in folklore about why dogs chase cats. You have to wonder if there is some veracity in these stories because it seems canines and felines struggle with compatibility even today. If one or the other of them has been the sole companion of humans, they are wary of the introduction of the other into the family dynamics. Frank and the Bad Surprise (an Arthur A. Levine Book, Levine Querido, April 5, 2022) written by Martha Brockenbrough with illustrations by Jon Lau is about a cat that fails to understand what his humans were thinking. Are they crazy?
The Bad Surprise
Frank the cat had it good.
He had a nice house, lots of toys,
all the Whiskies he could eat, and a
window that looked out at the world.
One beautiful morning Frank was looking out that window and saw his humans returning to the house. He was excited to see them carrying a box, but the box was not good. The box was bad. Inside that box was a puppy. Frank immediately went to the computer keyboard composing a letter to his humans. (Are you laughing yet?)
After mailing that letter, Frank fell asleep in the sun knowing his humans would comply. His nap was disturbed by that rambunctious puppy. This unruly canine did not understand basic rules. Frank retaliated. He found himself in his crate, but still able to type away on the computer keyboard writing a letter.
His humans forgot he was in "jail" until he meowed at the sight of the puppy eating his beloved Whiskies. He did not forgive his humans and wrote another letter. The next morning Frank did the only thing he could think to do, he ran away. He felt sorry for his humans, but what else could a cat do when a puppy enters their domain?
Frank thought he knew the world from his window watching. He did not. It was too much of everything that was not good, loud yappy dogs, mean people, rain, thunder and lightning, and smelly garbage. Soon he found himself sitting in the rain on the sidewalk outside his home. The storm woke up the puppy. It started barking. Frank imagined it was laughing. It was not. Frank wrote one new letter. (Yes, his humans noticed him and he was back inside.)
Using a blend of narrative, Frank's thoughts, his comedic letter writing and human commentary, Martha Brockenbrough, in seven short chapters, acquaints readers with Frank and the puppy, who he names at the book's end. The letters written by Frank are full of hilarity. You can tell his mood with each writing by his signature line.
As a human who shares her life with both cats and dogs, Martha Brockenbrough writes with the sure knowledge of their interactions. Through her words she deftly depicts the regality of this cat and joyful abandon of the puppy. Here is a passage.
The Rules of Naps
There is nothing bad about a nap.
A nap in a warm spot is cozy. A nap
feels the way warm bread and butter
Frank loved naps more than any
Frank's humans knew not to
wake him from a nap.
They knew that was against the
rules of naps.
The puppy did not care about
the rules of naps.
As soon as you look at the front cover of the book case, you can see the contrast between Frank and the puppy. Frank is moving with uncertainty, or perhaps total disbelief. The puppy could not be happier. This is grim versus grin. The sign hanging from the mailbox designating this as book one is a nice design touch. On the back of the case is text normally supplied on the front and back flaps of a dust jacket. There are two small pictures of Frank doing his favorite thing and discovering the "bad surprise."
On the opening and closing endpapers with dark turquoise on lighter turquoise are rows alternating between a dog bone and a cat ball with a bell. On the title page are Frank and his two humans sitting on the front porch of the house before the arrival of the "bad surprise." The puppy and Frank sit in opposite corners on the verso and dedication pages.
by painting the characters, objects, and backgrounds using poster color paints on sheets of BFK Rives printmaking paper. He then scanned the paintings and assembled the illustrations in Adobe Photoshop, much like a digital collage.
The size of the images vary in accordance with the pacing and presentation of the narrative. There are full-page pictures, edge to edge, and smaller pictures on a single page, sometimes several grouped together. There is one atmospheric scene on two pages when Frank learns a valuable life lesson. Toward the end of the book are more double-page visuals when the best lesson of all is understood. Readers will readily be able to discern the mood of Frank, the puppy, and the humans by their facial expressions.
One of my many favorite illustrations is when the puppy is breaking the rules of naps. Frank is still mostly asleep, curled in coziness. The puppy has leaped on top of him, paws on his chest. The puppy is licking Frank's nose. This is a smaller image on a single page with a light spring green background, focusing solely on the puppy and the cat.
That Frank and the Bad Surprise written by Martha Brockenbrough with artwork by Jon Lau is the first book in this series is a GOOD surprise for all readers. We can hardly wait to see what new adventures Frank and the puppy will celebrate together with their loving humans. Who knows what surprises await this twosome? You'll want to have a copy of this funny and fun title on your professional and personal bookshelves.
To discover more about Martha Brockenbrough and Jon Lau and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites. Martha Brockenbrough has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. Jon Lau has accounts on Instagram and Tumblr. At the publisher's website, you can view some interior pages with art and text.
Sometimes before you open a book, it is like looking at a gift-wrapped present. You know who the giver is, but you have no idea what is inside. You speculate as to the contents aloud and in your mind, knowing the truth will not be revealed until the paper is removed and the box is opened.
This is exactly how it was with Big And Small And In-Between (Chronicle Books, April 12, 2022). I knew of the considerable work of the creators Carter Higgins and Daniel Miyares. They are both authors and illustrators. In this collaboration, Carter Higgins is author and Daniel Miyares is illustrator. Having previously not read any reviews or revelatory chatter, after pausing at the opening and closing endpapers and the image before the verso and title pages, with a growing smile I turned to the first page. I gasped.
Those two words are only read after unfolding a cleverly made box topped with a bow and tag with the number one on it. With a page turn we discover twelve big things tangible, felt, and imagined. We realize the warmth of the sun and its power to begin a day, the feeling before jumping into a huge mound of autumn leaves, the courage of doing something for the first time, and how a day at the beach is big in more than one way.
A square becomes a rectangle with a dachshund to welcome us into the in-between portion of this narrative. Here thirteen thoughts disclose highly anticipatory instances. We recall (or wish we could recall) being on a teeter-totter when it is neither up or down but balanced in the center or the line when a boat is above water but also reflected in the water under it. How about the caterpillar that is no longer an egg, but is about to flutter wings as a butterfly? How about the moment just before you bite into a s'more when the marshmallow is the right kind of soft and the chocolate is melting to perfection?
A partial stem and partial leaf of a dandelion about ready for wishes holds the number 3. A teeny, tiny door opens with a single dandelion seed on it for our exploration of small things. If you listen you might hear the sound of a single raindrop falling in a puddle, a puddle providing water for a butterfly to quench its thirst. If you look carefully, you can see snails beneath the cover of leaves and grass. It is a small creature inside a small shell leaving an almost invisible trail. The final small thing of twelve takes us back to the ocean. We are there just as a hole is formed, a castle is built, and we stand gazing at the expanse of water. What does this tell us about big, in-between, and small things?
Surprisingly, there is a number four. Here we read and see the majesty of big, small, and in-between working together. We pause and ponder at what we have read and seen in each portion of this book. It is a proclamation from and of the heart.
When you read the words written by Carter Higgins, you are drawn into each moment with her sensory descriptions. Her lyrical phrases are like a lullaby, but also an awakening. She is asking us to realize and participate in each of the big, small, and in-between happenings. She takes the everyday and shows us how it is exceptional. Here is a passage from each portion. Can you guess which one is for big, small, and in-between?
a handful of NICKELS
that fell out of a pocket
and got smushed in the sofa
the SUN right before it slips away
when it is going
how QUIET it gets
when it's your turn onstage
and you're not sure
about your talent
The images by artist Daniel Miyares we first see on the book case give us an idea of the wealth we are to find within the pages. On the front, right side of the open case, is a balance of elements big and small and in-between. They depict a collection of possibilities.
To the left of the wide and bright yellow spine, on the back, is an oval-shaped illustration. It shows three of the children showcased in the book riding down a street on their bicycles. It is autumn. The sky is replete with the colors of a setting sun. They are riding toward it. Some autumn leaves break the frame to draw our eyes toward the text. This text invites us to be travelers in the big, small, and the in-between.
On the opening endpapers in warmer hues of sunrise and sunset, as a background wash, we see items one might have from being in the portrayed occasions. To name a few, there are odd checkers, jacks, a playing card, an acorn, a bottle cap, a wishbone, crayons, seashells, and leaves. On the closing endpapers, in cooler shades, more often found at dusk, we are shown a pocket watch, a jump rope, an origami crane, a pencil, pinecone and a baseball. These are some of the featured items.
When you turn the page, after the opening endpapers, we see a seated dog, with a tail extending over the gutter to the left, a wagging tail. We cannot see the entire face of the canine, but it is happy. A tennis ball rests between its paws. A tag hanging from its collar reads:
This book belongs to
rendered in graphite, gouache, and digital collage
are intricately detailed, textured, and expressive. They alternate in size from full-page images with wide white frames, to full-page pictures, edge to edge, double-page visuals, and small images together. There is a vertical delicious double-page picture, and a dramatic gatefold at the conclusion.
The same characters and their pet companions reappear throughout the book. Sometimes one image ties to the next one. Some of the perspectives and use of light and shadow will have you marveling at the skill of Daniel Miyares. One word (okay, two) comes to mind when you look at each illustration, alive and splendid.
One of my many favorite illustrations is for one of the above-noted quoted passages. It is a four square picture with wide frames on a single page. In the first scene, a child is reading a book in a swing on their porch as the sun sets. Their dog is standing and watching them holding its tennis ball in its mouth. Hopeful. In the next scene, it is barely light enough outside to read, but the child keeps reading. His socks and shoes are off and on the porch. They are lying down more than sitting up. The tennis ball is next to the dog, now resting. In the third image, the child is reading under a blanket with a flashlight, still in the porch swing. The dog is curled and sleeping. In the final illustration, an adult is carrying the child inside as the dog follows. In the final two pictures stars fashion pinpoints of light in the sky.
This book, Big And Small And In-Between written by Carter Higgins with artwork by Daniel Miyares, is a total sensory experience. You savor every example, thinking about if it is one you've shared, and if it is not, what you have done that might be similar, or completely different. You cannot stop thinking about this book, about how others will respond to it, and the wonderful conversations and activities it will promote. I highly recommend you place at least one copy or two in your professional collections and one in your personal collections.
To learn more about Carter Higgins and Daniel Miyares and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names. Carter Higgins has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. Her blog is linked here. Daniel Miyares has accounts on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. At the publisher's website, you can view interior images. On Saturday, April 23, 2022, there is an Instagram takeover hosted by Weller Book Works highlighting this book with Carter Higgins and Daniel Miyares.
Every single day when morning arrives and I wake up, the first thing I see is my dog, Mulan. She is either still sleeping next to me or giving me the where-is-my-breakfast stare. And every single day, I take a few minutes to be grateful to have her sharing life with me. She reminds me to focus on the now. She does not dwell on the past, which is not to say that she does not remember. She just chooses not to have it steal her current joy. She does not think about the future except to get excited about what we will see on our walks or when we go for a ride in the car. She, like the dogs before her who have been a part of my world, lives life as it should be, moment to moment.
For dogs everything is a sensory experience. Based upon what they see, hear, taste, touch, or smell, they react with what I have come to believe is perfection with the exception of skunks and porcupines, of course. Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, April 5, 2022) written by Maria Gianferrari with pictures by Pete Oswald is a book to savor every day, any day. It is a reminder of the purpose and value of how we spend our time.
Can you be like a dog?
Being like a dog
They tend to disregard what was and what will be in exchange for what is. They embrace the morning with stretches, wagging, doggie kisses, and a breakfast and beverage enjoyed. When they go outside, one of the first things they do is lift their noses to the air, gauging all the local happenings. They sniff every whiff.
Do they know how to play? They do with every muscle and movement in their bodies! And they don't care if it is sunny, rainy, windy, or snowy.
Whatever emotion comes their way during the day, they express it. We should, too. There is no better display of happiness than the happiness of a dog. Wherever they go, whatever they do, they do it completely.
They realize the need to rest during the day to recharge when necessary. We should realize this, too. Then, get back into the action in every season. At the end of the day do you have a ritual? Dogs do. They let nature tell them it's time for bed. Every muscle and movement in their bodies welcomes sleep and dreams.
Author Maria Gianferrari has been and loves to be in the company of dogs. She believes like Roger Caras that
dogs make our lives whole.
It is through her observations of her canine companions and research about them that gives this book its authenticity.
Her short sentences and phrases are as if a dog is speaking them. She takes us, word by word, through a dog's appreciation of finding joy and living fully throughout their day. Alliteration adds to the zest this dog, all dogs, bring to a day. As we follow this dog and his human, we are reminded to be like a dog. And we find ourselves agreeing with total abandon. Here is a passage.
Wade and watch in the water.
Tunnel and shovel in the sand.
Hide and leap from the leaves!
One of the first things you might think from looking at the right side, front, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case is this dog is wise in the ways of the world. This dog is ready to embrace the day. This dog loves to run, fetch, and return. Do you notice the smile? Do you notice the heart-shaped tag? The dog and text on the front of the dust jacket are varnished.
To the left, on the back, beneath the words
Let's BE like a dog---right now.
is an interior image. It shows this dog's human popping up from a pile of leaves as the dog jumps high in the air over those leaves. We all know they will then roll around in the leaves together. Both the child and dog have their mouths open in happiness.
The opening and closing endpapers are the bright turquoise color we see on the dog's collar. The title page is a mirror illustration of the jacket and case. With a page turn we see the dog chasing a seagull on the left and sitting and waiting next to the tennis ball on the right. These are the publication information and dedication pages.
used cut paper and scanned watercolor textures to create the digital illustrations for this book.
They are highly animated with spot-on dog expressions and body postures. Pete Oswald includes details in the images allowing us to see the bond between this dog and the child.
The pictures are single-page images with wide loose frames, smaller images grouped on a one or two pages, full-page pictures, edge to edge, and double-page visuals, edge to edge. Regardless of the activities, our eyes are drawn to the dog and the human's response to that dog. They are together, always.
One of my many favorite illustrations (I could literally frame a lot of them.) is the first double-page picture in the book. It is morning. On the right side of the image, through a window, we see tall buildings glowing in the morning light. Near the window on an oval rug is an easel. A picture of the dog has been painted by its human. The tennis ball is beneath the window. On the left side is the bed. Above it, on the wall, are pictures representing the friendship between the child and dog. (One of the pictures shows the child's hand reaching for one of the dog's paws, tip to tip.) The child, still under the covers, is stretching their arms upward. The dog is on top of the blankets and stretching. What a wonderful scene to begin a day!
Truthfully, I cannot imagine a personal or professional collection without a copy of Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness words by Maria Gianferrari and pictures by Pete Oswald. At the close of the book are several pages giving us examples of how to be like a dog in all four seasons. We are challenged and instructed to SNIFF like a DOG, HEAR like a DOG, SEE like a DOG, FEEL like a DOG and TASTE like a DOG. Along the bottom of these four pages are facts about dog characteristics. On the final page we are shown a Mindful Breathing Exercise. The illustrations on these five pages are fabulous!
To learn more about Maria Gianferrari and Pete Oswald and their other work, please follow the link attached to their name to access their website. Maria Gianferrari has accounts onFacebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Pete Oswald has accounts onFacebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Here is a link to a post on author Tara Lazar's Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) site including an interview with Maria Gianferrari. You can view some interior images from this title there, too. Here is a link to a virtual launch of this book at Books of Wonder with both Maria Gianferrari and Pete Oswald.
Maria Gianferrari is a community scientist, self-taught naturalist, and bird nerd who holds an M.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English. She is the author of narrative nonfiction picture books which celebrate urban ecosystems, the natural world and our wild neighbors. She also writes engaging expository nonfiction. And as a lover of dogs, Maria's fiction picture books star dogs as main characters and explore the human-canine bond. She writes from her light-filled, book-lined study in Massachusetts with rescue dog, Maple at her side.
When you have a canine companion who needs a minimum of four miles of walking or running every day, you find yourself exploring known and unknown pathways. You frequently find yourself having to traverse through unexpected brush, fallen trees, and flooded trails. Sometimes as you come around a bend or reach the top of a hill, you find yourself face to face with a creature who is just as surprised to see you. Every situation is different. Each one deserves your best and careful assessment.
In the newest release by brothers Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey, four residents of a southern watery realm find themselves in a dilemma. Somewhere in the Bayou (Norton Young Readers, an imprint of W. W. Norton and Company, March 1, 2022) brings readers directly into the animals' predicament. As we read this tale, we have to ask ourselves how we might react in a similar situation. Would we act like Opossum, Squirrel, Rabbit, or Mouse? Or would we fashion an entirely different response?
We need a place to cross.
All I see is plants.
My feet hurt.
The foursome finally find a place to cross. They discover the presence of a log. A log is a perfect bridge across water, but this log has a tail snuggly against it. Rabbit thinks it is
a sneaky tail.
After a brief discussion, Opossum decides the only way to trick a sneaky tail is to quietly walk along the log. Two loud sounds indicate his idea was not a success. Where is he?
Now there are three not-so brave animals wondering how to cross on that log with the tail. Rabbit changes the definition of that tail. Squirrel decides to show that tail a thing or two. A loud Squirrel screech echoes in the watery realm. It is followed by those same two loud sounds.
For the third time Rabbit gives an opinion on the type of tail they are facing. Rabbit decides to address the tail with a stick. You guessed it, readers. Two loud sounds pierce the air in that bayou.
Mouse asks a question but is met with silence. Mouse ventures onto the log trying to decide what kind of tail it is. Mouse makes a decision and acts. It is followed by those same two loud sounds, but are they for the same reason? The ensuing conversation will leave readers pondering and probably laughing. And Mouse . . . is shocked and completely relieved.
Authors Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphreycertainly can spin a story masterfully. Told entirely in dialogue, we easily come to understand the personalities of the characters. Each phrase they utter seems to finish the thoughts of the previous speaker.
After Opossum tries to cross the log and fails, a pattern is established. This pattern invites reader participation. The single word sounds will be shouted by readers and listeners as Squirrel and Rabbit try to cross on the log.
The established cadence shifts with Mouse. This creates anticipation and tension especially when the single word sounds are read. That anticipation and tension stays until the very end. The final sentence supplies us with a huge pause. Here is a passage.
THAT'S NOT SCARY.
I'LL SHOW YOU SCARY!
When you open the dust jacket, you can see the design extends flap edge to flap edge. To the left of the spine, on the back, the log reaches to the shore. A long plant sticks out of the water. On the far left, shrubs and trees frame the scene. The grass goes to the edge. On the front, the right side, the cattails, log and water go to the far right. The color palette of the bayou and each of the characters is introduced in this image. We are also privy to the expressive eyes of the characters. It is fabulous how much emotion Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey can show with a round white circle and a black dot.
On the book case, from edge to edge is the same scene from the right flap edge to the middle of the back of the jacket. It is the log, trees, and some plants. The tail and four creatures are absent. Is this before or after the story?
On the opening and closing endpapers is an alligator green hue. The splendid signature artwork of the brothers begins after the opening endpapers. So does the narrative. We briefly pause for the title and verso pages, but the back and tail of Mouse are shown on the far right.
The visuals alternate between double-page pictures, a series of vertical panels, a full-page picture, some horizontal panels and two full-page pictures. Sometimes elements from one panel are part of another panel. We are usually very close to the action. At times we might just see a face or the lower portion of an animal's body with their legs and feet. This technique of shifting the image sizes and perspectives further draws us into the tale.
One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture. It is after Opossum has failed in an attempt to cross on the log with the tail. On the right side we see the water, the log, a portion of the tail and two cattails. On the left side on the grassy bank, standing upright are the three remaining animals, Rabbit, Squirrel, and Mouse. There are bushes and trees behind them. They are all holding their front paws in front of them. But, their eyes are hilarious. Rabbit is looking down at Squirrel. Squirrel is looking up at Rabbit. Mouse is looking down at the grass. Their looks are most definitely wide-eyed as their minds wonder what just happened.
This book, Somewhere in the Bayou written and illustrated by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey, is engaging and thought-provoking. It is also laden with tension, possibilities, and humor. It will surely promote discussions and requests for it to be read again, repeatedly. You will want to have a copy for your personal and professional collections.
To learn more about the Pumphrey brothers and their other work, please access their website by following the link attached to their names. Jarrett Pumphrey has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. Jerome Pumphrey has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. At the publisher's website, you can view interior images.
On April 7, 2022 the nomination by President Joe Biden of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court was confirmed in the United States Senate. There is cause for jubilation as she is the first Black woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Out of 115 justices serving on the Supreme Court in history, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be the sixth woman (and 116th justice). Upon her swearing into office, another marker in history will be met. For the first time in the 233-year history of the Supreme Court, four women will serve together.
Women's History Month 2022 may have concluded one week ago, but April 7, 2022 and other accomplishments by women are to be celebrated as often as possible. Nellie Vs. Elizabeth: Two Daredevil Journalists' Breakneck Race around the World (Calkins Creek, an imprint of Astra Books For Young Readers, February 15, 2022) written by Kate Hannigan with illustrations by Rebecca Gibbon is an account of an incredible journey when you consider the historical period in which it took place and at that time women in the United States did not even have the right to vote!
"Here is a race around the globe
between two young women
who make no pretense to athletics,
but who have been blessed with
indomitable pluck and
high intellectual endowments."
-----Atchison Daily Globe (Atchison, Kansas) Saturday, November 23, 1889
When we are introduced to Nellie and Elizabeth in the first few sentences, we immediately see them as opposites. Nellie is a reporter known for doing almost anything to get a story. As a magazine writer, Elizabeth is much quieter, more solemn.
One night, Nellie gets an idea. Jules Verne's Around The World in Eighty Days is a huge hit with readers. Nellie will do the same thing in seventy-five days! At first those making decisions at the newspaper think the idea is ludicrous, but then they realize this story may bring in a lot of money. Nellie leaves on November 14, 1889 on a steamship and discovers she gets seasick.
Later that evening, Elizabeth's editor calls her with a proposal. He wants her to do the same thing in the opposite direction. She is flabbergasted! She has guests coming! Elizabeth boards a train for California that day.
We are told where each of the women are on days five and six and seven and eight. Now Elizabeth is seasick crossing the Pacific Ocean and Nellie takes a side trip to meet Jules Verne in France. We are updated on their status on days 32, 36, 39, and 55. Guess who buys a new dress and who buys a monkey?
By day 63, Nellie is crossing the Pacific Ocean amid storms. You will not believe who the sailors blame for this misfortune. Elizabeth is about to take a steamship from France to head to the United States. Both believe they will arrive in New York on January 26, 1890. One arrives earlier and the other is a week later. One is cheered by thousands and the other is not. Readers will realize the truth of these two voyages, this race, when the final sentence is read. Women are remarkable, especially when they face adversity.
From the beginning, author Kate Hannigan starts to build contrast which grows day by day into tension and heightened anticipation. Once both women have set about their travels, her technique of telling us where they are at intervals with numbered days is captivating. Her inclusion of specific details adds to the realism. Quotations from newspaper articles, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland add to the fascinating narrative of these two brave women. Here is a passage.
Nellie's newspaper started a contest to guess her finishing time, and
thousands of entries flooded the newsroom. The whole world seemed
to be following the breakneck race between the two journalists!
Except one person . . .
(The next few sentences might shock you as they did me.)
Look at the determination, courage, and speed at which both women address this race against time and each other as evidenced by their facial expressions and body postures on the right side of the open and matching dust jacket and book case. Placing them on the planet with a blue sky and wispy clouds as a background is an excellent design choice. The color for the spine and left side of the jacket and case is a golden yellow.
On that jacket and case is a spiral of squares looking somewhat like a board game. (There is a reason for this revealed later.) In the upper, right-hand corner stand Nellie and Elizabeth. The squares alternate between turquoise, pink, and red. Sometimes, there is simply a yellow space. In the squares are representations of modes of travel and places of interest the two visited. In the center it shows one arriving by train and the other arriving by steamship to New York City.
The opening endpapers are a bright blue. The closing endpapers are a magenta hue of pink. The title page shows the duo, one each running off the left and the right sides, respectively. All we can see is a portion of their body, skirts flying and their shoes lifted to race.
done with acrylic inks & colored pencil on acid-free cartridge paper.
Full-color images replete with fine lines and exquisite elements will have readers pausing at each page turn. Rebecca Gibbon makes sure we understand the personalities of each woman. Her pictures are single pages with an abundance of white space, single pages, edge to edge, and groups of smaller illustrations to indicate the passage of time. These make the two double-page pictures more dramatic.
One of my many favorite illustrations is when Nellie is in Japan. It is day 55 in her travels. The entire scene is in blue and white. It mirrors the Willow Pattern and the associated legend. It enhances the quote from Nellie Bly perfectly.
Readers will be actively engaged from beginning to end of Nellie Vs. Elizabeth: Two Daredevil Journalists' Breakneck Race around the World written by Kate Hannigan with illustrations by Rebecca Gibbon. When you think about the types of transportation they used, what they did is amazing. At the close of the book are a two pages author's note with photographs, a two-page Timeline Of Women Investigative Journalists, followed by an illustrator's note, bibliography of books, newspapers and magazines, and acknowledgements. I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.
To learn more about Kate Hannigan and Rebecca Gibbon and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites. Kate Hannigan has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. Rebecca Gibbon has an account on Instagram. Kate Hannigan speaks about this book in a post at the Nerdy Book Club. At Penguin Random House, you can view interior images.
In 2015 during Black History Month, President Barack Obama in a speech at the White House talked about a painting titled Resurrection placed in the Old Family Dining Room.It was painted by Alma Thomas. It is the first painting by an African American woman to be placed in the White House Collection. This book, Ablaze with Color: A Story Of Painter Alma Thomas (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, February 22, 2022)written by Jeanne Walker Harvey with illustrations by Loveis Wise, chronicles her life and her approach to life through art. This narrative and its resplendent artwork shine like the woman they showcase.
Through color, I have sought to concentrate
on beauty and happiness, rather than man's
inhumanity to man.---Alma Thomas (1970)
Alma loved being outside. She inhaled all the colors in her world like everyone else breathes air. She never liked to sit still, but preferred being a creator. Other women in her family made things, too, filling her home with happy hues.
Alma and her sisters' sadness came from being unable to attend the white school or visit the public library and museums. Her parents brought books and educators into their home to fill in those gaps. When Alma was fifteen her family left the south with its
and moved to Washington, DC to a home where Alma lived for many years.
After completion of studies in art, Alma wanted to bring what she had learned to the children of Washington DC. Schools there were still segregated, so she taught the children in her home. Also, most of her time was spent educating these children in her community through field trips, art clubs, and even installing an art gallery, the first of its kind, in a school.
After all her years in art education serving children, nearing seventy years old, Alma Thomas began to focus on her own art. Her new style of painting embraced bold, bright, beautiful color displayed through brushstrokes making lines, circles, and shapes mesmerizing in their intricate arrangements. What was in her mind and heart found its way into her artwork. Her artwork was featured as the
first solo show by a Black woman
at the Whitney in New York City. This was just the beginning for the work of this extraordinary woman, Alma Thomas.
Meticulously-researched word by meticulously-researched word, Jeanne Walker Harvey builds the life of Alma Thomas for readers. We understand the foundation upon which her life was built through discussions of her parents. Our admiration grows for her page by page as we are told of her dedication to the children in her community. Everything she does is framed by the historical period in which she lived and worked. We are told how barriers did not define her. (To think that only a little more than sixteen years of her life were for her art is astounding.) Here is a passage.
She fell back on the grass
beneath popular trees
and gazed at quivering yellow leaves
that whistled in the wind.
Alma waded in the blue hues of a brook
and basked in the warm glow of sunsets.
I don't know about you, but when I look at the front, right, and back, left, of the open dust jacket, I want to dance and laugh. How wonderful that Alma Thomas's style of painting frames her as she paints the title text. To the left of the spine, we are brought close to a portion of one of her paintings with lines on the right side. Both of these visuals vibrate with shades of expressed joy. Portions of both the front and the back are varnished.
You will be hard pressed not to gasp at the sight of the book case. Spanning both the left and right sides is a series of circles, centered at the spine, in hues of pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Each is made with Alma Thomas's signature brushstrokes.
The opening and closing endpapers are a dark bright pink. On the title page, the same text as shown on the dust jacket is framed by a series of circles on a crisp white background. Prior to the narrative beginning, Alma is shown painting a large canvas. This has a wide border around it in colorful shapes. She stands below the first above-noted quote.
used Adobe Photoshop to create the digital illustrations.
Each double-page picture, full-page image and full-page image framed in white reaches out and wraps around the reader. We become a part of the pictorial interpretation of the narrative. Every visual feels alive.
One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture. The background is dark, nearly black, but textured with other colors. Spanning nearly both pages, right crossing the gutter to the left, is one of Alma Thomas's paintings. It is bright yellow with circles and lines in reds, greens, blues, and white. On the far left, in the lower corner, stands Alma painting. She is wearing a brightly colored dress, glasses, and white shoes. She is smiling.
Her life choices as shown to us in Ablaze with Color: A Story Of Painter Alma Thomas written by Jeanne Walker Harvey with artwork by Loveis Wise was to teach joy and spread joy through art education and art. It was never her goal to be the first of anything, but she was, which is beautiful and most well-deserved. At the close of the book are an author's note, illustrator's note, a timeline comparing Alma's life with historical moments in the United States, and lists of sources, notes, and references. You most definitely will want a copy of this book in your professional and personal collections.
Their incredible eyes are huge. They have what is known as binocular vision. Although their eyes (tubes) are fixed in place, they can move their heads 270 degrees around and 90 degrees up or down. They do this firmly in place. They prefer the shadows of the night to the light of day, flying on silent wings. Most of them are known as nocturnal beings. Indeed, given these characteristics, owls would make excellent guardians from sunset to sunrise.
Humans who mirror some of these qualities are called "night owls." Knight Owl (Christy Ottaviano Books, Little, Brown And Company, March 15, 2022), the debut picture book from Christopher Denise as both author and illustrator, masterfully plays with words to bring readers a tale worth telling. It is about fulfilling a wish regardless of unfavorable odds. It is about courage and cleverness. It is about honoring what is held in your heart.
Since the day he hatched,
Owl had one wish.
To be a knight.
He dreamed of being a knight before falling asleep each morning. He would uphold all the fine attributes of being a knight. One day in that place between wondering whether you can make something happen and knowing it will never happen, events worked in Owl's favor. Knights were vanishing.
Owl applied to Knight School. Shockingly enough, he was allowed to attend. He embraced his studies. The equipment was a little tricky to manipulate, but he proudly finished all his courses to become a knight.
Owl was assigned the
Knight Night Watch.
As you can imagine, he excelled. He did not doze and enjoyed being alone. He was living his dream until one night an unusual noise broke the silence.
He heard the sound repeatedly and called out with a distinctive "who." After a brief conversation, Owl found himself staring into the face of an enormous and very hungry dragon. (This might explain all the vanishing knights.) Owl used his knightly bravery to confront the beast.
For every statement by the dragon, Owl astutely countered with his comments. Owl finally offered a delicious solution which will elicit a quiet and stunned pause in readers and listeners before they knowingly burst out laughing. Needless to say, the kingdom was never the same after Owl became a Knight on Night Watch.
As clever as his character, Christopher Denise blends truths about owls with a heroic quest. Owl's size and his attendance and graduation at Knight School supply opportunities for wordplay and humor which Christopher Denise uses skillfully. His excellent pacing adds the right amount of tension. The verbal exchanges between Owl and the dragon reveal the personalities of them both, two creatures of the night. Here is a passage.
The other knights usually fell asleep during the long
Knight Night Watch, but Owl didn't mind. All alone
on the castle wall, he finally felt like a real knight.
Until late one evening, it was very dark
and very, very quiet, when . . .
When you look at Owl's posture on the front, right side of the open dust jacket, it is as if all his desires and realities have enveloped him. He is ready and willing to be a knight. By placing him on the top of the rampart, we are able to understand his size in comparison to his undertaking. The full moon provides a wonderful background. The dragon in the corner of the moon gives readers a hint of what to expect. Owl and the title text are varnished.
To the left of the spine, on the back, is a collage of notices placed on a stone wall in this medieval kingdom. Even the ISBN is placed in a notice. There is a shadow over these notices on the wall. It is the face of the dragon, mouth open and showing rows of sharp teeth.
On the book case is an interior image. Left to right, it shows a group of graduating knights in full armor with spears. One is carrying their shield with a dragon on it. In the lower, right-hand corner stands Owl, resolute and holding a spear. He has a red feather sticking out of his helmet. He is tiny compared to the others.
On the opening and closing endpapers in muted red, green and golden yellow is a diamond pattern outlined in golden yellow. Within the diamonds are dragons and knight's helmets. There are signs of aging over the entire image.
On the title page is a glorious two-page picture. Here we see Owl in his room at home. It is filled with all things knight. There are toy dragons. There are knightly posters on the walls. Owl is reading a book about knights. The color palette here is rich with hues alluding to history. Here, too, we see the brilliant dance of light and shadow used by Christopher Denise throughout the book.
The illustrations for this book were done using Adobe Photoshop, a Wacom tablet, Procreate, and an iPad.
Their sizes are full-page with a wide white border, two-page, edge to edge, a dream feature looking like a tapestry from medieval times, and smaller visuals on a single page. The perspectives shift allowing us to see Owl in comparison to his surroundings and bring us in close for heightened drama. It is guaranteed you will laugh out loud at some of the thoughts of the characters reflected in their eyes. Smart readers will see hints of Owl's witty resolution early in the book as well as why he appears as he does in the image opposite the dedication and publication information.
One of my many favorite illustrations in addition to the illustration on the book case is a two-page picture when Owl hears the strange sounds again. The background is an inky sky with a few stars. Most of the right side is a rampart wall, crossing the gutter to the left and getting much smaller as it moves to the lower, left-hand corner. We are looking up at the stony wall. Owl is peeking over the edge at the top with only his eyes and helmet showing. Behind him is the glow from his fire. On the wall is a huge shadow only readers can see. It is a dragon in flight.
Be ready for readers to request this title, Knight Owl written and illustrated by Christopher Denise, repeatedly. It is brimming with adventure, fun, and new-found friendship. It is the best kind of "what if" story enhanced by marvelous works of art. You will want several copies in your professional collections and at least one on your personal bookshelves.
When you read the word, hear the word, or see the place in passing, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Is it the musical chatter of a collection of voices on a bouncing bus or filling a hallway? Is it the shouting laughter heard in a gymnasium or on a playground? Is it the voice of a calming adult in a tense situation or telling a story to a group of listeners leaning toward that person, hoping to become a part of the tale? Do you think of safe space, creative community, or excited exploration? Are the words mentor, best friend, or supportive stranger a part of that memory?
From the first time we walk through the door of our school, we are becoming. The people there, the places inside and outside those walls, and entire sensory experiences, individual and shared, shape and connect us. In This Is A School (Candlewick Press, March 29, 2022) words by John Schu and illustrations by Veronica Miller Jamison, we are able to see how our stories grow and intertwine with others. Within this book, rhythmic words and lively, vibrant images declare an invitation for infinite possibilities.
This is a kid.
This child is one of many in a class. Currently, the class is in the hall in this school. The atmosphere sings out a silent and vocal welcome.
In this school we are invited to see and hear. In our seeing and hearing, we seek answers. Each question is valuable to us and those around us. Sometimes, the replies are confusing, but that is okay. We are surrounded by those willing to assist us.
Each day, whatever we do, we do it individually and together. We promote each others' discoveries. We elevate our differences and similarities. If we cannot be together, we are still surrounded by those sending out their compassion to us any way they can.
It is here, in this school, we are building, layer by layer, our best selves. We play. We work. We have setbacks and victories. We are always seeing and hearing with everyone in this school. It is here that each child in each class knows they are significant, a piece in a beautiful whole.
With his first few sentences, John Schunot only takes a child (us) into a school, but warmly accepts us. We are told to look and listen. As each portion of his poem unfolds, we come to understand this is not any kid but every kid. In the initial scenario an encouraging, engaging cadence is established. After each scenario is disclosed, it is followed by four two-word affirmations.
is in each of those four-phrase declarations.
John Schu also uses another technique to supply us with a reading rhythm. After the first setting, the others begin with a repeating phrase followed by a defining word. School and community are synonymous and both are in constant transition. Happy positivity binds each part of the narrative together until the end. It is here we are asked to again look and listen. We are more than we were in the beginning. Here is a passage.
Sometimes something happens,
and we can't all be together.
Let take a moment to salute the choice of color palette we are introduced to on the open and matching dust jacket and book case. It resonates JOY! On the front, the right side, the teal and turquoise brick building with the splash of red orange around the windows is stunning. The hues in the pennants hanging across the doorway are reflected in the clothing worn by the characters. Do you notice how everyone is actively participating in this moment? Be sure to notice the details such as the butterfly, the objects held by several of the children and the pinwheel in the principal's hand. Here and throughout the book, children and adults from a variety of ethnicities are featured.
On the other side of a bright yellow spine, on the left, we are taken inside the school. Children sit on a circle rug in their library as their librarian reads aloud. Notebooks, paper, and writing utensils are near all the children on the rug. One child is walking toward the circle carrying a stack of books. The windows in the school are above the characters. Beneath them is a section of the brick wall.
When the jacket is removed from the case, the underside unfolds to become a poster. We are near the nine gathered children. There are books on shelves framing the image. There are books in stacks and scattered on the floor about them. They are reading and chatting with each other about what they are reading. This image brings to us the very real sense of togetherness found in the book. The children here reveal more about themselves as the pictorial enhancement is disclosed within the pages of the book.
The opening and closing endpapers are a layered pattern of pinwheels. They are all the same color, shades of orange and peach and turquoise and teal. The background is a very light teal and white.
are two-page pictures, full-page pictures and smaller images grouped on a single page. The children are highly animated with facial expressions, especially their eyes, portraying their emotions. Their clothing sometimes reveals their interests. Readers will want to observe all the extra elements. The bulletin board in the hallway foreshadows activities highlighted later in the story. Pinwheels appear again. And so do the adults we saw bringing their children to school in the morning and those adults greeting the kids. The size of the fonts and placement of text is perfection.
One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture. It is for the words
This is a community, celebrating.
In the gymnasium, along the back wall, are a series of alternating colorful banners. Snowflakes of varying sizes are suspended in front of those banners. Along the top, the custodian, wearing a Santa hat, is stringing white lights. The school librarian and principal are assisting the children. As the kids set up a refreshment table and recognize different holidays, all of them are participating. Items focusing on Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the Chinese New Year, and Diwali are shown. You can feel the happiness!
This book, This Is A School words by John Schu with artwork by Veronica Miller Jamison, is both timely and timeless. Regardless of your mood when you begin reading it, it will be much better, lighter, when you finish. This is a title to share anytime of the year. This is a title which will be requested to be read again repeatedly. This is wonderful because it is a read aloud gold. You will want to have multiple copies in your professional collection and at least one in your personal collection.