Quote of the Month

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

Monday, May 23, 2022

Finding Fearlessness

Fear always finds a way to wiggle into our lives.  Most of us have one thing that escapes our bravery.  Some fears seem as though they've been a part of us from the beginning.  Other worries are sneakier.  Seemingly, all of a sudden, what we once did without a thought, we now avoid.

Sometimes those things we dread, old and new, are vanquished.  The answer to dispelling them may be closer than we can know.  Courage Hats (Chronicle Books, March 22, 2022) written by Kate Hoefler with illustrations by Jessixa Bagley follows two individuals as they face fear in their own, but same, unique manner. 

Not everyone loves a train.
That's the world.

Even though trains are not a favorite mode of travel, sometimes you have to ride one to get where you are going.  Mae, a little girl, did not want to ride a train.  Bear, a younger bear, did not want to ride a train.  Mae did not want to go through forests where bears lived.  Bear did not want to go where people resided in the cities.

Mae and Bear decide to make their own courage.  They make hats to wear.  Mae's hat makes her look like a bear.  Bear's hat makes him look like a person.

Bear and Mae find each other on the train.  Bear looks like a grown-up human and Mae looks like a cub.  Each is comfortable with the other one.

They play with Mae's tea set.  They eat Bear's snacks.  Every moment they spend together sharing what they see from the train windows expands their view of the world in the forest and the city.  At their destination, several surprises are revealed.

The simple sentences penned by Kate Hoefler resonate with truth.  The use of identical words in different order supply readers with the similarity between the girl and the bear.  The repetition of phrases uttered by each with small word changes further binds the duo.  Each faces their fear by discovering togetherness eases that worry.  The cadence provided by Kate Hoefler's words is not unlike that of a train moving down the tracks.  Here is a passage.

No matter how you feel about a train,
someone else feels the same way.

You're lucky if that someone has a blanket and snack.

When you open the dust jacket, the design of the sides of the train extends flap edge to flap edge.  The train windows continue on the back, with the only break being the spine.  Bear is not the only animal riding the rails.  To the left of the spine, on the back, a wild boar is reading a book opposite a human male passenger.  A male deer with antlers is seated opposite the writer we see on the front, right side, of the jacket.  Truthfully, Bear and Mae wearing their hats and smiling as they watch the world pass outside the train is pure happiness.

On the book case, the train design is used again.  On the front, right side, we see Bear walking to the left as does Mae seen through another window.  On the back, three bunnies are looking outside as another person writes.  In the final portion of a window, on the left, a bear wearing a hat is resting.

The opening endpapers in purple with white polka-dots is the same pattern on Mae's headband.  On the closing endpapers, in lavender with white polka-dots, we see the same markings as on Bear's blanket.  On the verso and dedication page, we are looking at the top portion of Bear and Mae in their hats along the bottom of the page.

Illustrator Jessixa Bagley used

graphite and watercolor

to render these pictures.  Each page turn presents readers with a double-page or single-page image, edge to edge, or a single-page visual in a circular shape with elements outside the frame.  In several illustrations, Jessixa Bagley alters her perspective giving us a bird-eye view outside and inside the train.  There are also several wordless images, a group of four smaller pictures, a double-page image, and a single-page illustration.  These are wonderful dramatic pauses.

The textures in each illustration are soft and inviting.  The full-color pictures are full of fine lines and delicate details.  Readers are certain to enjoy the variety of expressions on the faces of Mae and Bear.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  In the foreground, close to us, are the backs of Bear's and Mae's heads, hands and paws resting on the window sills, as they watch the world outside the train. (They are still wearing their hats.) It is a pastoral landscape with rolling hills in shades of green, golden yellow, and brown.  Birds fly in both directions across a pale blue sky.

We are reminded in this book, Courage Hats written by Kate Hoefler with artwork by Jessixa Bagley, there is usually someone needing the same kind of bravery we are seeking.  The rhythmic words, at times lyrical observations, paired with the wonderful drawings and paintings will find a permanent place in many readers' hearts.  You will want to place a copy of this book in both your personal and professional collections.

Author Kate Hoefler has an account on Instagram.  To learn more about Jessixa Bagley and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Jessixa Bagley has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  This book is highlighted by librarian and writer John Sch on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  You will love his conversation with both Kate Hoefler and Jessixa Bagley.  Author, reviewer, and blogger, Julie Danielson features this book on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Kate Hoefler is interviewed about this book on Max's Boat.  At the publisher's website, you can see more interior images.

At times, overwhelmed, we decide to walk away from a challenge.  It is easier and more favorable than an uncertain outcome.  We believe we are not what is expected of us.  In their collaboration, Mac Barnett & Marla Frazee Present The Great Zapfino (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, April 5, 2022), this duo encourages us to take a leap (literally) of faith in our abilities.


A ringmaster announces the death-defying deed The Great Zapfino is about to perform.  Climbing a ladder to a platform ten stories in the air, this man will leap and land on a small trampoline.  The audience barely breathes watching Zapfino climb the ladder.

Zapfino, clad in striped clothing and wearing a cape, stands on the edge of the diving board.  He stands there and stands there.  He does not leap.  He climbs back down and runs far and fast from the circus.  He boards a plane and flies to a new seaside city.  There, he takes a job in a tall building as the elevator operator.

Zapfino is good at his job, chatting with people and making friends to and from each floor.  At night, he enjoys in his small room a meal of toast before looking out his window from the top floor.  Day in and day out, he finds himself loving his job and his simple afternoons and evenings.

One late afternoon, he falls asleep before taking the toast out of the toaster.  It catches on fire, filling his room with smoke.  He knows the only way to avoid disaster is through his window.  The fire department has arrived.  Below, the firepeople hold a small trampoline.  We have come full circle.


This narrative conceived by Mac Barnett is as stunning as the described and realized feat of Zapfino.  The majority of the text is found in the ringmaster's introduction of this circus performer prior to his 


This introduction allows us to see what potential is within Zapfino, waiting to be released.  Two other times the word Zapfino appears alone and then along with the single word which asks us to pause and observe.  Here is a single sentence from the ringmaster's opening.

Zapfino will dodge peril
and brave calamity in an impossible
feat of derring-do!

Beginning on the matching and open dust jacket and book case, the artwork

rendered in black Primacolor pencil on Dura-Lar matte film

for all the images in this title by Marla Frazee is a fantastic feast for our minds and hearts.  The billowing curtain proclaiming The Great Zapfino is pulled aside by a man who is unsure of his greatness.  On the front the text is raised to the touch.  On the back, on a soft white background, is Zapfino walking toward an as-yet-unknown destination.  He is carrying a box that appears to hold a toaster.  In the other hand, he holds a bag of bread.  His cape with the large "Z" floats behind him.

The opening and closing endpapers are a matte black finish.  On the title page, Zapfino stands before the circus tent opening.  Above the opening is the title text and the author and illustrator names.

With every page turn, we find scenes in various perspectives in the signature style of Marla Frazee.  A small Zapfino walks into the enormous tent.  As he climbs higher on the ladder, the trampoline, ringmaster and audience get smaller and smaller.   In the first depiction of him on the end of the diving board, the last sentence is read.  This is the moment of Zapfino's decision.  This is the moment the wordless images of Marla Frazee tell a impressive pictorial story.

For his thinking about whether to leap or not there is a series of six small pictures.  In the last one, the facial expression of Zapfino really does speak volumes.  In each subsequent scene, we seek the figure wearing the striped suit and cape.  When he gets the position at the seaside building, his garb during work hours changes.  

To show his success as an elevator operator, nine small illustrations on a single page portray the interior of the elevator and the array of people Zapfino services.  Exquisite details depict the inside of his room and how his afternoons and evenings unfold.  The next time his work is presented to us, it is a series of twenty interior views of the elevator.  (No wonder he falls asleep without taking the toast out of his toaster.)  The two-page picture of smoke swirling from the window of Zapfino's room as he stands on the ledge outside his top-floor residence with all the tiny people below will take your breath away.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page picture.  We are shown the top five floors of the building at night.  Stars cover the sky on the right.  The last window on the top floor has a light shining in it.  Zapfino, head up, leans out the window, enjoying the night.  He is a man at peace.

Readers of all ages, individuals and groups, will request to read Mac Barnett & Marla Frazee Present The Great Zapfino over and over again.  Each time you read it, the thrill of Zapfino's success will warm you from the top of your head to the tip of your toes.  Readers understand fear disappears when it needs to the most.  I highly recommend you place a copy of this title in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Mac Barnett and Marla Frazee and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Mac Barnett has an account on Instagram.  Marla Frazee has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Please enjoy this interview of Marla Frazee at KidLit411.  This title is showcased at author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  The interview with Marla Frazee is fabulous as are all the process pictures and artwork.  (WOW!)  This book in a conversation with Barnett and Frazee is featured on NPR Picture This.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior illustrations including the open dust jacket.

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