Quote of the Month

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

Friday, December 9, 2022

If You Seek It, You Will See It

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

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

Brown is beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

brown is love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

digitally using Procreate on the iPad Pro.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Of Ice And The Sea

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

the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative research network.

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

We're starting to see something we cannot save.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


using oil paint on paper

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Seasonal Celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a season of . . .

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

Our voices ring out
Silver bells and midnights clear

First noels and glorious morns
Offerings of goodwill and cheer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to see what was the matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading is magic when you have the right book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are the lights
that dance in the night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dedicated to all
light seekers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This work by Patricia MacLachlan and Micha Archer is certain to become a seasonal and holiday classic.  Readers of all ages will find themselves in the pages of Snow Horses: A First Night Story.  You will find yourself 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.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Spellbinding . . .

When writing a blog post, I always go to the Library of Congress or the Michigan eLibrary to find the subject headings for a given title to add to my post.  Sometimes, I do not agree with the selections and I will add my own.  For this post, the subject headings made me smile.  They spoke to truths I hold deep in my heart.  Our minds' memories hold the stories of our lives, and all the stories we've heard and read.  This is powerful magic.

Each memory, ours and those of others, enrich our lives.  They enlarge our view of the world.  They transport us to other places and other times.  With each story, the magic around us and beyond the four directions gets stronger and stronger.   In Witch Hazel (Little, Brown And Company, October 11, 2021), author illustrator Molly Idle presents a visual and written masterpiece.  It is a tale to be savored by one generation and passed to another generation, over and over.  It will be remembered.

IN THE SPRING, Hilda helped Hazel sweep the front porch.

Hilda enjoys spending her days with Hazel.  They, like the season mentioned in the first sentence, are old and new, wise woman and youth. In sweeping the porch, Hazel recalls how she as a child would spend hours with her 

furry friend

reading stories together.  Hilda wants to hear one.  In telling of their adventures, Hazel leaves part of these stories with Hilda and her 

furry friend.  

When summer arrives, the duo move inside to the music room.  Here Hazel recalls, as a young woman, playing music for and with a songbird.  She then tells Hilda how she released the bird, giving it freedom.  Hilda becomes Hazel's songbird in the sultry summer.

Dusting in the parlor in the autumn, Hilda asks Hazel about a portrait over the mantelpiece.  It is Hazel as a grown woman.  She is gowned in all her glory at a ball.  She is wrapped in magic as much as Hilda is now wrapped in a scarf Hazel is knitting for her.

Hazel stays in bed during winter.  Hilda lovingly cleans her room and  keeps Hazel company.  This time it is Hilda who magics stories for Hazel, stories of Hazel's life she shared with Hilda.  Memories swirl around in the room.  In the spring, it is not the same for Hilda and

her furry friend.

There is sadness, but also joy in remembering.  Our stories never really end.

Great care by author Molly Idle is evident in her writing of this story.  The pauses in the narration are excellent.  The word choices reflect each of the seasons.  They also mirror the particular portion of Hazel's life being revealed.  The blend of narrative and dialogue welcomes us into the lives of Hazel and Hilda.  This, too, allows for the images to extend the story into elegance.  Here is a passage.

IN THE SUMMER, Hilda helped give the music room an airing.  The old piano bench creaked a bit as Hazel sat upon it.

Hazel creaked a bit, too.

She laid her hands, feather light, upon the keys.

If there were hues for memory, storytelling, and magic, then the color palette you see on the open dust jacket (and throughout the book) are those used by artist Molly Idle here.  The sepia tones, cream, and white are exquisitely rendered using

graphite and Prismacolor pencil on Stonehenge paper.

Each line, each use of light and shadow, and each detail brings us into the story.  We are already asking ourselves questions as we look at the image on the right.  What is now?  What is memory?  What is the story being told?  The floral fan element in the four corners on the right and left sides is a portion of the feather duster used by Hilda.  The leaves in the oval frame appear like hearts . . . or is it love surrounding these two wonderful beings?  On the back, the left side, another smaller oval fashions a border for Hazel's hat in white and clouds of sparkles.  The words above it read:

The stories passed down
from our loved ones
become a part of us. 

On the book case there is a shift in the images on both the front and back.  On the front, Hilda has the broom.  Its tip touches the broom held by Hazel, now appearing only in white.  The cat is real.  In the oval on the back, with leaves more realistic, is a stack of books.  Next to them is Hilda's feather duster.

The endpapers created by Molly Idle are a part of this story.  In the first set Hazel sits on the steps of her home.  She holds her broom with the feather duster on the bottom step.  A tree to the right of the house provides a branch for a swing to hang.  Younger Hilda with a kitten waves at Hazel on the far right side.  In the closing endpapers, Hilda now sits on the porch step, imaging the scene we saw on the opening endpapers.  Hilda now holds the broom as she looks at Hazel from the past.  Her cat, now larger, watches Hilda and her kitten of the past on the right side.  The bushes and vines on either side of the porch have grown and are blooming.

On the title page, Hazel, now standing with her broom, holds out the feather duster for Hilda who sits in the swing hanging from the tree.  Each subsequent page turn gives readers a single page image or a group of smaller pictures representing the passage of time or a large double-page illustration drawing us deeper into the story.  When Hazel's stories are told, they are wordless.  You cannot help but look at every single item in each scene.

What magic is the broom bringing into the setting?  Items from Hazel's stories are left behind.  Why do you think this is shown?  Hazel's hat is not always on her head.  Hilda is growing up as is her kitten.  At the same time, Hazel is showing signs of getting older between spurts of remembering her youth.  The three-page gatefold toward the end of the book is gasp-worthy, leading us to a poignant end and beginning.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page visual.  Here Hazel is seated on the piano bench with her hands on the left side of the keyboard.  Hilda is to her right with her hands on the keyboard.  Hazel's broom is propping up the piano's lid.  Her hat rests on the tip at the top of the lid.  Magic floats from the piano to the open window.  There stands a youthful Hazel watching her bird fly to freedom.  Hilda's cat holds the feather duster in its mouth.  The bird cage next to the piano is empty.

This book, Witch Hazel written and illustrated by Molly Idle, is an ode to the power of memories and  stories, and the connections forged between generations by those memories and stories.  Each sentence brings us into the life of Hazel, her past, and her present with Hilda.  The artwork transforms wherever we are into the magical realm where Hazel and Hilda are.  I highly recommend you place a copy in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Caldecott Honoree Molly Idle and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Molly Idle has an account on Instagram.  She chats about this book at A Fuse #Eight Production with Betsy Bird and at The Children's Book Review with Bianca Schulze.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Taking A Break

Dear Blog Followers and Readers,

First, I want to thank all of you, colleagues, authors, illustrators, editors, publishers and anyone who loves libraries, books, and reading, for supporting this blog for the past twelve plus years.  It has been a joy to talk about all things relating to school libraries, research, and reading.  My love for school libraries and their librarians and their impact on children of all ages is stronger than ever. 

Second, I want to sincerely apologize for not blogging on a regular basis lately.  My posts have been hit or miss or not at all for entire weeks.  This has never been my intention for Librarian's Quest.

Third, I am taking a break from blogging here for the rest of November.  Life has thrown me into some unexpected situations as it is apt to do.  I have needed and need to shift my focus for now.  I hope to be back blogging for the month of December with regular blog posts and some year-end lists of books that I have read and want to recommend.

Until then, I wish all of you days beginning with golden sunrises, blue skies, brilliant sunsets and nights filled with stars and the glow of an ever-present moon.

With love to all of you,

Thursday, October 27, 2022

They Were Designing Women

There are still two huge trunks filled with fabric.  This fabric is richly spun and colored in an array of breathtaking motifs.  Some have been used to fashion gifts for newborns or lifelong friends.  Others await to be paired with collected patterns for clothing, interior home decor, or quilts.  A few, a very few, are there simply because of their beauty.

Two recent publications feature extraordinary women; women who were drawn to fabric and what can be made from fabric.  Both harnessed their passion, their talent, for design to rise to the top of their respective artistic realms.  Written by Jeanne Walker Harvey with illustrations by Diana Toledano, Dressing Up The Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 20, 2022) is the story of a young girl, a behind-the-scenes person, who grew to transform settings and characters through her personal perspectives.

Edith was a shy, lonely girl who didn't feel she belonged where she lived.  She wanted to be in a place full of people and sounds and dazzling sights.

Edith's family lived in a small town near a mine due to her stepfather's employment.  As far as her eyes could see was stone and sand.  To keep her loneliness at bay, Edith held tea parties for her animal friends and dressed them in doll clothes, necklaces and huge ribbons.

Sometimes when her family traveled four miles to the nearby town of Searchlight, Nevada, Edith would go door to door asking for pieces of fabric to place in her treasured bag.  Back at home she would use these pieces to sew accessories for her pet horned toads.  Unafraid Edith roamed the desert alone, but when she made costumes for sisters in a play, she stayed behind the curtain.

Edith longed to leave the desert.  Finally, she and her mother moved to Los Angeles so she could attend a high school.  Here, she tried to figure out the path she would take, but it was at the local movie theater she felt a dream start to grow.

After college and several years of teaching, Edith got a job as a sketch artist in a costume department.  Her boss recognized her lack of skills, but instead of firing her, he taught her.  At first Edith's designs were far from good, but she practiced and practiced and practiced.  She was finally making costumes . . . for movie animals.

From there, Edith was asked to fit humans with costumes.  She was not an instant success, but years of work lead to her eventual prominence.  One special night, the first of eight such nights, Edith heard her name announced in a large venue filled with movie people.  The lonely little girl was now a star!

In her writing of this biography, Jeanne Walker Harvey allows readers, regardless of their age, to find portions of themselves in the life of this woman.  Readers can identify with her loneliness, shyness, trying to discover her life's work, and pursuit, however hard, of a creative style.  Jeanne Walker Harvey includes specific details such as the names of the burros Edith, as a little girl, embellished with ribbons, a personal quote by Edith and the disastrous particulars of candy costumes for characters attending a glamorous dance.  In the beginning of this narrative, an adjective is used to describe Edith's big wish.  It is used again as the last word in the last sentence.  This is a wonderful writing technique.  Here is a passage.

Instead, she dressed up animals.
They were not easy clients.

Camels spit on her.  Elephants yanked off their decorations.
Edith missed her desert toads and burros, who let her
adorn them without a fuss.

But Edith was confident.

When viewing the open and matching dust jacket and book case, the bright white background highlights the exquisitely rendered elements in Diana Toledano's signature illustrative interpretation.  To the right of the spine, on the front, we see Edith Head at the height of her career amid fabric and fashions designed by her.  To the left of the spine, on the back, Edith, as a little girl, is seated.  Here she is surrounded by pieces of fabric and sewing accessories like buttons, pins, needles and thread.  She is carefully stitching a hat for one of her horned toads.  On the front, the main title text is raised to the touch.  Here and on the back, the colorful elements are varnished.

On the opening and closing endpapers and on the first and last pages, on a white canvas, Diana Toledano has placed beautifully patterned, in two hues of muted blue, an array of clothing and accessories.  Each item is part of a pleasing whole.  On the title page, again in full color, we see Edith Head's hands as she works at her desk covered with drawings of possible designs. 

This artwork was created

by hand using many techniques:  gouache, collage, colored pencils, crayons, pastels, and more.  

It was digitally edited.  Most of the images are double-page pictures.  For those that are not, several smaller illustrations are grouped to show the passage of time or a series of similar events.

Intricately detailed visuals portray and enhance the text marvelously.  We feel the vastness of the barren landscape, home to Edith as a child.  We rejoice in her imaginative play and sewing endeavors.  We feel as though we are seated with her in the movie theater when she is a teen.  We struggle when she struggles and cheer when she is triumphant.  The patterns used in each of these images all allude to her lifetime accomplishments. 

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page nighttime scene.  Along the bottom of the pages are rolling sandy and rocky hills.  There are hints of desert flora on these hills.  On the left side, near a bush or perhaps a cactus, Edith sits, legs outstretched and leaning on her arms behind her.  Her head is tilted up.  The deep blue sky is filled with red, pink, blue, purple and white stars along with a crescent moon.  Etched in the stars, in white, are city buildings.  Edith wished to leave the desert and live in a big city. 

Readers will certainly be inspired when reading Dressing Up The Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head written by Jeanne Walker Harvey with illustrations by Diana Toledano.  From gathering scraps of fabric by going door to door in a tiny desert town to making costumes for famous actors and actresses in Hollywood, this woman rose to the top through perseverance.  There is a list of books and websites as resources at the end of this title.  You will want to place a copy of this fascinating biography in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Jeanne Walker Harvey and Diana Toledano and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Jeanne Walker Harvey has accounts on Pinterest and Twitter.  Diana Toledano has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website, you can download some activity sheets and view interior images as well as the dust jacket. The cover reveal with author and illustrator conversations is at John Schu's Watch. Connect. Read.  The book trailer premiered at KidLitTV.  This title with interviews is highlighted at author Erin Dealey's site, Geeks Out, Mutually Inclusive, and Alfred Hitchcock Master.

Sometimes, we become our best selves because we are enveloped by it for as long as we can remember.  It is a part of every moment of our lives.  It is fostered by those we love and who love us.  Only the Best: The Exceptional Life and Fashion of Ann Lowe (Chronicle Books, October 18, 2022) written by Kate Messner and Margaret E. Powell with illustrations by Erin K. Robinson chronicles the growth of Ann Lowe into a remarkable talent.  Her hard work, in the face of unjust odds, sets her apart and cements her place in history.

In a stately Alabama
mansion, women in bright dresses
twirl before a mirror.

Their gowns glow like moonlight---
glimmering fabrics and 
the soft sheen of pearls. 

In another part of town, a ball has begun.  It is here those gowns worn by those women swirl around the dance floor.  Away from the festivities, a young girl wanders in a garden marveling at the perfection of its flowers.  She dreams of forming this perfection from fabric.  

Inside, in a shop, Ann's grandmother and mother sew gowns from rolls of fabric.  She gathers the scraps, making blossoms from cloth.  Her mother teaches her to make dresses and gowns from brown paper patterns.  She learns how to finish each creation with flare and precision.

As New Year's Eve approaches one year, Ann's mother becomes ill and passes away.  Ann hides her sorrow and finishes all those gowns for all those ladies.  A year passes and Ann is on her way to Florida to sew for a wealthy family.  Soon, Tampa is talking about the one-of-a-kind dresses made by Ann.  Ann dreams of seeing her dresses in fashion magazines.  Knowing she needs to learn more, she heads to New York City.

Studying at the S. T. Taylor School in Manhattan is hard for a Black student.  Working alone in a separate room, Ann flourishes and completes the course with honors.  Returning to Florida, she works even more, saving for her own shop.  Still frustrated, Ann returns to New York City, asking for work in the most prestigious shop.  Ann simply won't take no for an answer.  She completes a dress, returns to the shop, and that same day her dress is sold.

Ann's work at the shop is impeccable and highly prized.  She is asked to make the wedding gown for Jacqueline Bouvier and the dresses for her party.  A week before the wedding, disaster strikes.  Ann is not deterred.  She is determined to deliver the gown and dresses herself.  Yet again, she finds herself relegated to second-class status.  This is simply not Ann.  This is simply not the best.  Did she prevail?

Through the writing of Kate Messner and Margaret E. Powell, the magic felt by those who wore Ann Lowe's designs and that magic she lovingly sewed into them is brought fully to life.  Lyrical text filled with highly descriptive places and times fashions an intimate portrait for readers.  Repetition of words and phrases draws us into the story with its cadence.  The knowledge these authors have garnered from their study and research is evident in the facts folded into the narrative.  Here is a passage.

Ann folds up her feelings and
tucks away her tears.  She works
day and night, the way her mother
taught her.  Only the best will do.
Measure, snip, pin up the hems.
Thread the needle.
Pull the stitch tight.
Embroider the last lovely bloom. 

In a word, the images by Erin K. Robinson are enchanting.  The pattern of a blue-hued background with shades of pink and purple flowers amid greenery extends from the front, across the spine, and to the far left edge.  The looping ribbon ties the two portions together.  Elegantly seated in a chair, Ann Lowe is beneath the three words which guided her work.  The three word main title text and three circular designs are varnished. 

The book case takes the pattern from the back of the dust jacket and uses it for the back of the case.  This pattern continues in a mirror image on the front of the case.  The ribbon shown on the jacket remains along the bottom on both sides of the case.  There is the addition of the larger circular element shown on the jacket to the curve made by the ribbon on both the front and back of the book case.  (If this is fabric designed by Ann Lowe, any person wearing it would feel heavenly.)

A pale cream infused with hints of pink covers the opening and closing endpapers.  There is a textured hint of flowers on a vine close to the bottom of the pages.  We see scissors, needle and thread and a dressmaker's form within this artwork along with leaves and those circular elements.  The verso and title pages are joined by two pink ribbons.  A floral arrangement frames the four corners of the text on the title page.


digitally in Procreate

each page turn reveals another double-page visual (or a few single-page pictures) certain to envelope readers.  We feel as though we are intertwined into the fabric of Ann Lowe's life.  We are there as she walks in the garden as a child.  We are there when she makes flowers from fabric scraps.  We are there, looking down on her and her mother, as she learns to make and use patterns.  We are there as she watches Jacqueline Kennedy's gown billow about her on her wedding day.  We are there when she sews wherever and whenever she can.  Erin K. Robinson uses texture, pattern, light and shadow to great effect.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  It is when Ann's mother is teaching her to cut patterns.  The color palette is a soothing selection of peach shades, pale blue, pale green, and a warm gray.  The fabric on the table before the mother and daughter is enlarged to fill the left side.  There they are placed as if we are looking down on them.  Their hands are on the table with the fabric and brown paper patterns.  A pair of scissors awaits use.  This is a tender moment of a mother's hand on her child's hand, guiding them.  An enlarged ribbon loops through the top and bottom of the visual.

Learning of this woman's life through reading Only the Best: The Exceptional Life and Fashion of Ann Lowe written by Kate Messner and Margaret E. Powell with illustrations by Erin K. Robinson will leave you in awe of her resolve.  At the close of the book is a two-page Author's Note.  This is followed by Quotations in Order of Events (two and one half pages) upon which portions of this book are based.  This is followed by a one and one-half page bibliography.  Your picture book biography collections, professional and personal, will be strengthened by containing a copy of this title.

To learn more about Kate Messner and Erin K. Robinson and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their current websites.  Sadly, Margaret E. Powell passed away in 2019.  Here is a link to a guest post she did on Kate's site in 2017.  Her Twitter account is still active.  Kate Messner has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Erin K. Robinson has an account on Instagram.