Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

From Tiny To Mighty, Above And Below, Watch Them Go

Without fail near Mother's Day every year, a deliberate, planned treasure hunt began.  Unlike many treasure hunts, there was no map with a large "X" marking a spot.  To be sure, there were areas to check, but much depended on the weather and the type of spring we were having.  As a child and then later as a teen, I am not sure which was more fun, watching my father seek and find the elusive morel mushroom or finding them myself.

How my dad acquired his skills as a morel mushroom hunter or, for that matter, skills at finding other edible mushrooms is a mystery, but our meals were better for his knowledge.  For him and every reader with a desire to learn about the fantastic abilities of living species to be found around us in the natural world, Fungi Grow (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, October 17, 2023) written with infinite care by Maria Gianferrari with exquisite artwork by Diana Sudyka is a title as precious and delicious as the morel mushroom.  A poetic, lively and informative narrative accompanied by detailed, colorful images highlights a realm deserving our attention.

Fungi grow.

Start with a spore---

     a sort of seed.

Readers journey from unusual places on fungi by unusual modes of transportation.  Self-generated breezes, rain, unsuspecting animals, slim, and malodorous smells help spores to move.  Once these spores have landed, they begin to fashion roots.

These rootlike formations, named hyphae, free enzymes which act as agents of change, breaking down and taking back.  The hyphae make threads, like cotton, which spread underground.  These mycelium are responsible for what we see above ground.

Some mushrooms rely on trees for their life.  Trees make what they cannot. They in turn provide trees with minerals.  They, mycorrhizal fungi, connect trees to one another so they can send messages which can warn other trees of danger.

Some edible fungi are found above and below ground.  Other mushrooms begin small, grow up and then spread out like dancers' dresses.  Fungi can be found on dead wood, looking like shelves, tiny umbrellas, or colorful, striped tutus.  

Fungi come in shapes and sizes and colors that defy imagination.  Large or small they make their presence known.  They can punch through cement or asphalt or thrive where everything else has died.  They can be deadly or can help.  They are an essential, magnificent piece of the puzzle we call life.

Much like the path a spore takes, Maria Gianferrari, through her extensive research and gifted writing, takes readers roaming with purpose through the world of fungi.  Repetition of the title phrase ties portions of the narrative together like mycorrhizal fungi.  Alliteration and rhyming invite us deeper into the text.  Explanatory paragraphs further inform us beneath lyrical statements.  Here are two connecting passages.

Spores catapult, sail, wander with wind.


Cottony rot fungus spurts
plumes of spores.  This action,
called "puffing," creates wind
for spores to sail on.

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, one of the first things you notice is the artwork by Diana Sudyka extends to the ends of the left and right jacket flaps.  The vibrant color palette surrounds you, giving energy to the living creatures and fungi featured.  We are taken into that moment depicted on the jacket and case.  We cannot wait to enter the pages within the body of the book after this gorgeous introduction.  The title text, fungi and creatures are varnished.

The opening and closing endpapers feature a rustic red covered in irregularly-shaped white elements.  These could be spores or perhaps we are very close to the mushrooms shown on the jacket and case with those same distinguishing marks.  The array of fungi on the title page extends across the gutter to the verso page.  The title text is above and the author and illustrator names are in the green expanse below.  In a frame with fungi growing from the edges, we find the dedication on the opposite page.

These images by this artist,

rendered in gouache watercolor and finished digitally,

are highly animated.  Spores fan out simulating their movement.  Tiny dotted lines show their paths.  Words like puff, plop, poof, and pee-ew are shown in realistic and exaggerated portrayals.  Fungi are all labeled in delicate handwriting.  When the narrative transitions, Diana Sudyka frames the initial illustration with an ornate oval border.

The pictures range in size from double-page illustrations to single-page visuals.  As the narrative grows more powerful, so do the images.  We are given huge panoramic scenes and breath-taking close-ups.  The attention to detail is superb.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  It is for the words:

Mushrooms SPROUT.

Parasols POP OUT.

Mushrooms fan,
spread their skirts.

A stump in ringed colors of gray and black supports rusty-gilled polypore, violet-toothed polypore and turkey tail shown in their rich hues.  Leaves and grass go along the bottom to the left.  There red and orange pinwheels open.  A frog takes cover under them.  Above them, on a large branch, are intricate pinwheel mushrooms that look like lace.

Whether you are hiker of forests or have never set foot in one, you will be enchanted by Fungi Grow written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Diana Sudyka.  Among radiant images and magical words brimming with information, you will stroll again and again, amazed by fungi and their traits. At the close of the book are several pages of back matter, including a warning about never eating mushrooms found outside unless they are approved by a professional, a glossary, how fungi heal and help, fun fungi facts, fungi life cycle, sources, further reading for kids, additional resources, and blogs and websites. I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Maria Gianferrari and Diana Sudyka and their other work, please access their respective websites by following the link attached to their names.  Maria Gianferrari has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Diana Sudyka has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website, you can view the open jacket and interior images. 

Maria Gianferrari's yard is full of fungi.  From branching corals and pointy stinkhorns to smoky puffballs and colorful jack-o'-lanterns, everything's coming up mushrooms!  Someday she hopes to find some morels---she'll even share them with a squirrel.  Maria's favorite edible mushroom is the hearty portobello.  She lives in Massachusetts.

Diana Sudyka grew up hearing stories of her grandfather, an ardent forager, bringing home chicken of the woods and maitake mushrooms for meals.  Her favorite edible mushroom is the delicious morel that popped up in her yard last spring.  Diana lives with her family in Evanston, Illinois.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Shout Out Loud To Save Yourself, To Save Others

 Very early this morning, before daylight, as thunder rumbled for hours, I finished Louder Than Hunger (Candlewick Press, March 4, 2024) written by John Schu.  Stretched beside me was my loving and loyal canine companion, Mulan.  I was grateful for her calming presence as my soul struggled with Jake’s (and John’s) story.  I wonder what she thought of my crying off and on for hours.

Honored to receive this galley, now filled
 with markers of powerful poetic words.

Before this novel-in-verse begins, a letter addressed to Dear Readers is written to us by Kate DiCamillo.  She speaks of thirteen-year-old Jake and his heart and his eating disorder.  She is right when she says reading this story will change you.  Jake’s story is John’s story.  John knows the power of story.  He opened his heart so others can live their best lives.  For this, we readers are grateful.

Jake is struggling with who he is and where he fits into his world and the world as a whole.  His middle school years have been horrible due to unrelenting bullying.  Now during his eighth grade year the VOICE that started in seventh grade reiterates the verbal abuse of those bullies.  It tells him one negative statement after another.  He wishes he could disappear, so the VOICE helps him to stop eating.  Then, he can fade away.

Spending the weekends with his Grandma is the thin thread which tethers Jake to this world.  They are soulmates, sharing a love of television shows, broadway musicals and driving in her red car. There are visits to the public library and the statue in the park Jake names Frieden, a welcoming woman with an outstretched hand, guarding four cherubs. Jakes’s grandmother does notice his thinness and reminds him to take care of her boy.

As part of a school community service project, Jake provides company and reads aloud to residents at a nursing home.  One of those residents, Ms. Burns, a blind woman and former teacher of thirty-five years, asks to hold Jake’s hand one day as he is reading.  She instinctively knows something is not right despite Jake’s denials.  A phone call changes everything.

For nearly a year Jake is in more than out of therapy at Whispering Pines where his eating disorder can be treated.  We are there with him every step of the way as John writes these poems with exquisite pacing and placement of words and letters.  We experience the struggles of Jake as he navigates relationships with other patients, dietitians, therapists and a strictly regimented lifestyle.  It is heart wrenching to witness and share this journey, but his courage to continue is a shared triumph.  

In Louder Than Hunger John Schu, through the character Jake, allows us to see how a teen can descend into a disorder due to bullying without the necessary parental support.  We are given an inside look at therapy.  This removes any perceived stigma attached to the word therapy.  I believe you will find yourselves deeply moved by John’s letter to readers at the close of the book.  Resources and acknowledgements follow that letter.