Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Seasonal Celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a season of . . .

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

Our voices ring out
Silver bells and midnights clear

First noels and glorious morns
Offerings of goodwill and cheer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to see what was the matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading is magic when you have the right book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are the lights
that dance in the night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dedicated to all
light seekers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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