Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The Best Gift Ever

More than twenty-three years ago, a chocolate Labrador puppy was born.  As the smallest dog in her litter, a powerful name was given to her by her human.  She was called Xena.  For fifteen years, she was a constant companion to a woman who had endured pain and was starting a new normal.  The duo wandered, walked and ran in all kinds of weather.  They shared adventures firmly stored in the human's mind and heart.  

After Xena's death, fifteen blog posts beginning on December 2, 2015 and ending on December 21, 2015 were written.  In those posts conversations about our shared experiences lead to honoring a specific book focusing on a dog or dogs.  Today I have the distinct pleasure of again paying tribute to the enrichment dogs bring to our lives.  

Every action they take is based on the use of their enhanced senses, any training they may have, and a deep desire to give unconditional love.  The collaboration of author Maria Gianferrari and illustrator Ishaa Lobo gives readers a title filled with the return of that love.  To Dogs, with Love: A Love Letter to the Dogs Who Help Us (Roaring Brook Press, December 5, 2023) speaks truth in lyrical words and in lovingly-fashioned and researched artwork.

Dear Dogs,
Thank you for your tails
that whip and thump and pump,
Even when they're stubby---
They bring joy.

Each of eight passages begins with thanking dogs for one of their notable characteristics.  Their ears never miss a sound.  It's as if they understand every word we utter.  With their eyes, they see us and what we cannot see.

As our hands stroke their fur, regardless of its length or texture, peace wraps around us. Their paws provide perspective in every step and stance.  When we least expect it, dogs' tongues are the best kind of kisses.  Kisses we need.

The phrase "the nose knows" is an authentic description of dogs' ability to sniff out anything good or bad in our surroundings, even our emotions.  When a dog's head finds its way next to your head as you sleep, it is the best gift ever.  An unbreakable bond, a lasting connection, is formed.

As the letter comes to a close, we thank them for all the actions they take every day to join us in our lives.  They know when to give joy or soak up sadness.  They bring calm as we drift off to sleep in their presence.  We are filled with gratitude.

With every word author Maria Gianferrari writes we are aware of her gift as a wordsmith and of her fondness for all things dog.  As she describes each physical attribute, we know she has witnessed and enjoyed the benefits of every aspect of a dog.  Her use of rhyme and alliteration create a musical flow throughout this entire ode to our canine companions.  Here is another passage.

Thank you for your fur,
Or short,
Or curly---
Fuzzy for nuzzling,
Gifting comfort.

On either side of the spine on the dust jacket, illustrator Ishaa Lobo has drawn a cozy setting within the same room as indicated by the walls.  She features a child nestled within the curve of a dog's body, each canine offering exactly what the child needs.  Shown in the eyes of the children and dogs in each image, you know they have formed an attachment.  On the book case (the surprise as some of my younger students call it), a different illustration is shown.  It is a stunning interior picture spanning from the left edge to the right edge.

On the opening and closing endpapers, ten dogs are displayed in a variety of poses.  We can see that some of them are wearing their therapy vests.  On the title page and verso, dogs are cuddling with their dedicated humans and with a child reader resting on the floor.  

These illustrations, rendered digitally with a tablet pencil, evoke a genuine warmth in the color palette, perspective, settings, and realistic details.  For each physical attribute Ishaa Lobo decides which picture size best conveys a pictorial message.  She varies the sizes between two-page illustrations, full-page visuals, and smaller vignettes.  She sometimes chooses to bring us very close to a dog's paws, their head, or their connection to a human.

As you turn the pages of this book, you are aware of every line, every texture, and every setting.  They work to create a window into the humans' lives changed by the presence of a dog.  Outside a small cottage in a meadow is a table holding a vase, several journals and a pencil.  Next to the table is a child in a wheelchair.  A dog wearing a wheeled-harness rests its paws on their lap.  Both move with wheels.  There is an instant understanding between them and between us as readers.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the one featured on the book case.  It is a wordless double-page interior picture.  From left to right, we see five dogs and the tail of a sixth.  They are all walking on leashes with their humans heading to the right.  They are eager and focused.  All we see of the humans are portions of their legs and feet.

I can already hear the gasps and sighs of readers, when they view To Dogs, with Love: A Love Letter to the Dogs Who Help Us written by Maria Gianferrari with artwork by Ishaa Lobo.  At the close of the book two pages are devoted to A Note on Therapy Dogs.  This is followed by two more pages informing us about the variety of therapy dogs and available resources.  I already know I will need multiple copies of this inspiring title.

To learn more about Maria Gianferrari and Ishaa Lobo and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Maria Gianferrari has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Ishaa Lobo has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.   There is an interview at Maria Marshall's website of these creators relative to their work and this book.  At the publisher's website, you can view several pages of interior illustrations.

For Maria Gianferrari, dog love is the most pawsitive medicine of all!  To Dogs, with Love is Maria's seventh book featuring beloved canine characters, following Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness, Operation Rescue Dog, Hello Goodbye Dog, Officer Katz and Houndini, and the Penny & Jelly series.

Ishaa Lobo is (a) Children's Book Illustrator living in London.  She is the illustrator of The Mystery of the Love List by Sarah Glenn Marsh; To Dogs, with Love by Maria Gianferrari; and There Always Room for One More by Robyn McGrath.  Her next book, Bigfoot's Big Heart, written by Sarah Glenn Marsh, will be released next year.  In her spare time she likes to visit galleries, go to the cinema, and go on walks.  See her work at ishaalobo.com

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.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Where There's Wool . . . There's A Way

Not a day goes by without my furry friend, Mulan, stopping multiple times to wait for another walker, runner, or biker to catch up to us on our daily treks throughout the neighborhood.  She pauses and sits several times along the sidewalks surrounding the elementary school where I work. It does not matter whether school is in session or not.  She is listening for the sound of children.

She has been this way since she was a puppy.  Assessing her surroundings and looking for people to greet or welcome into our "pack" is a huge part of her personality.  She is one of the most caring dogs to be a part of my life.  It is not that my three other Labradors were not people-loving, but Mulan will not budge until she is certain all is well.

It seems that Mulan is not alone in her desire to care for others.  In Lita Judge's newest title, Don't Worry, Wuddles (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, September 26, 2023), an exuberant duckling is determined to provide for the other creatures on the farm.  The yellow bundle of fluff takes one look at the wooly, wooly sheep, Wuddles, and offers the perfect proposal for an impending problem.

Wuddles, are you asleep?

Wuddles, eyelids barely open, is not asleep, but trying to nap. The duckling is concerned because snow is coming.  Would Wuddles share a bit of wool so the duckling can have a scarf?

The now scarf-wearing duckling notices Rooster is not protected from the approaching winter weather.  Oh!  Rooster needs a hat!  The appropriate amount of wool is taken from Wuddles as the title phrase is uttered.  Wuddles has so much wool, surely the amount needed for a scarf and hat will not be missed.

Eyes moving around the inside of the barn, the duckling comments about the lack of fur on Rabbit's ears.  Earmuffs are the best garb Rabbit can use.  Duckling assures Wuddles everything is under control and each creature will be ready for the upcoming chilly temperatures.

Let's see there's Goat, Goose, Dog, Cow . . . Cow!?  No, Cow is huge and hairy.  There is a passel of Piggies, though.  Running around like an spirited, single-minded knitter, Duckling fashions an array of winter attire.  Looking out the window, a satisfied duckling sees the snow.  In the next second an utter disaster is discovered.  Again, the clever clothier has a solution.  Two universal words are uttered.  

When you read this story penned by Lita Judge, you can feel your mood lightening.  The first person narrative of Duckling is like that of a small child discovering something wonderful in abundance.  They are so excited their mind is operating like the balls in a pinball machine.

Duckling's ability to connect the right attire to each animal via Wuddles's wool is witty.  As each animal is clothed, the banter will likely lead to gales of laughter from readers.  Here is a passage.

Wuddles, did we forget anyone?

Oh yes, there is Dog.
He's fine. Furry head,
furry tail.
ACK! Bare feet! Wuddles, 
this will never do!

Somehow when you look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case and witness the wooly Wuddles resting comfortably with the fuzzy, yellow duckling already on the run, you get the distinct feeling Wuddles is probably going to be worried sooner rather than later.  The duckling is also shown running on the jacket flaps and across the left side (back) of the jacket and book case.  It is here readers are introduced to the soft realistic color palette used throughout the book.

On the endpapers is a solid sunny yellow.  On the initial title page, Duckling is standing on a wooden box looking up at Wuddles.  By the formal title and verso pages, this little being brimming with get-up-and-go is leaping toward Wuddles' head.

This artwork by Lita Judge rendered in watercolor and colored pencil radiates warmth as image sizes shift from double-page pictures to single-page illustrations crossing the gutter and at times pairing with circular designs.  Time in quick succession is displayed with visuals on white near full-color illustrations.  Lita Judge masterfully manages to separate individual moments while making them a part of a whole.

Readers will appreciate the humor present on every page.  The highly animated animals' exact moods and reactions to the duckling clothing them are depicted with wide-eyed looks and exaggerated body postures.  It is the growing concern in Wuddles' expressions as the wool is being used that will have readers laughing out loud.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture.  Wuddles fills most of the lower half of the pages.  To the left, Rabbit, now wearing earmuffs, watches Goose, whose neck is stretched out tall.   Duckling is seated on Wuddles' right ear, wings to its head in puzzlement.  On top of Wuddles are Rooster and Goat, wearing their winter wear.  Goat is being especially goat-ish and reaching to nibble on some nearby straw.  Wuddles staring at readers is looking slightly aghast.  You cannot look at this scene without smiling or giggling.

Written and illustrated by Lita Judge, Don't Worry, Wuddles is sure to have readers begging for it to be read repeatedly.  They will fall in love with all the members of the barnyard crew as the passionate little duckling wraps wooly creations around each of them.  I have an idea how readers might react to the two-word wisdom of Duckling at the story's conclusion.  Be ready.  I cannot imagine a personal or professional collection without a copy of this book.

To learn more about Lita Judge and her other work, you can visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Lita Judge has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images as well as the open dust jacket.  It was with honor that I was able to pose questions to Lita Judge about this title.  I know you will be delighted with her answers.

Lita, I have long been an admirer of your creative endeavors.  There is a rare blend of warmth, richness, and sincere love of life in your characters and their stories.  After having met you briefly last autumn, I have come to believe that there is a little bit of you in each of your characters.  Everything they do, their stories, make readers better than they were before they read about them in your books.

Thank you! My husband teases me that my characters are all a little autobiographical.  On the outside I can seem a little quiet and shy, but inside, I'm a kid bubbling over with excitement.

With this being said, do you see yourself in either the duckling or Wuddles?  Or is there a little bit of you in each of them?

I'm definitely more duckling!  Eager to do something and ready to jump in.  But I hope my friends also see I have some Wuddles in me.  I try to be a safe harbor and a good listener, which is a way of caring for others given I don't have a wooly fleece I can share.

How did you arrive at the name Wuddles?

I was trying to think of a name one day while walking with a close friend.  Her cat is named Wuggies, and I've always loved that name.  But then I remembered that's a character from a Daniel Pinkwater book.  So then I just started playing a word game to think of something that fit my own dear, sweet, over plumped-up sheep and the name Wuddles came to mind.  I find names are often really fun to come up with!

Are there real-life animals on which the characters are based?

Duckling was originally a mouse in need of a tail scarf, inspired by my own pet mouse, Pantalaimon.  At first I wanted so badly to keep him a mouse (I had all the drawings originally done with him).  But Pan has already appeared in a LOT of my books.  Then one day I was holding and sketching a baby duck at a farm I often visit and thought how perfect.  He had just the right energy.  Wuddles is inspired by a big mama sheep that lives on the farm.  I have visited her often and sketched during lambing season and always wanted to put her in a story.

Did a weather event inspire this story?  We readers are curious as to how this tale started?

This story actually started during a blackout in the first week of Covid lockdown.  We had a terrible wind storm which blew hundreds of trees down and left us without power for several days.  With that and the beginning of covid, I felt a little bit like duckling in this story.  Writing and drawing Wuddles, by headlamp one evening, made me feel like eventually, all would be ok.

Did the list of winter attire come first or did the animals which are finally clothed in the warmth?

Hmmm, neither really.  I drew all the animals first without clothes and thought about what they might need and want if they were cold.  It took a lot of drawing and experimenting to find the right clothes for each critter.  Someone else would have probably just written a list, which would be much more efficient!  But I always start stories with pictures before words.  They just come to me that way.

For those that follow you on Instagram or Facebook, you are always generous with sharing your artistic processes.  Did the animals come first as sketches?  Did they ask you to tell a story about them or did the story come first?  Would you briefly tell us the order in making the artwork for this book?  Colored pencil first, then watercolor?  Or perhaps, sketches and then watercolor and colored pencil?  We would be grateful to know this.

Stories almost always begin with random sketches for me.  I used to try to write first and then draw, but it never worked out.  I draw in sketchbooks all the time, producing hundreds and hundreds of sketches.  I try to draw nearly every day.  Then every once in a while an animal becomes a character that feels like it has a story within.  At that point, I rarely have a plot in mind, but I have a character and I can start drawing various things that could happen to that character, and then, little by little a plot develops.  My nonfiction books begin with sketches as well, though I'm doing a lot of research to learn about the topic while drawing so that eventually I can organize the material into a book.

The art starts with graphite pencil.  I do endless sketches to get the characters just the way I want them.  Once they are developed, I paint in watercolor and then I layer colored pencils on top of that to bring out the line work and build in richer colors.

I thank you, dear Lita, for answering these questions.  I know readers will love Wuddles, the duckling and other creatures and their story as much as I do.

Thank you so much!  I'm so eager to share this with young readers, and older readers who are young at heart!

Monday, July 31, 2023

Oh Happy Day!

To begin, I wish to apologize for the long lapse in blogging here.  After my May 9, 2023 post about the delightful One Small Thing (Beaming Books, May 9, 2023) written by Marsha Diane Arnold with artwork by Laura Watkins, my writing mojo took a long vacation.  Major blogger block has been haunting me.  I have a thematic post partially completed honoring five titles.  My stacks of books, especially picture books, are growing.  I have many titles to share with you before the upcoming school year.

Speaking of the upcoming school year, I am thrilled and honored to announce I applied for, was interviewed, and offered the position of Library Specialist at Charlevoix Elementary School. (I was previously their certified school librarian for thirteen years.)  The current posting description allows for structured and unstructured student, classroom, and staff use.  I will be serving the Charlevoix Elementary School students and staff, K-6, for the entire school day, five days a week.  

It is my hope to assist and continue to create a vibrant reading community within the school through their library whether patrons are seeking fiction or nonfiction materials in a variety of formats.  It is exciting to be able to work with students and their educators once more.  In accordance with my final words to my students on many of their visits in the past, amid laughter, Read until your eyeballs fall out, I am currently reading all six of the hilarious Pizza and Taco books by Stephen Shaskan, award-winning Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega with art by Rose Bousamra and I think it's time I started the City Spies series by James Ponti

I just completed A River of Dust: The Life-Giving Link Between North Africa and the Amazon by Jilanne Hoffmann with art by Eugenia Mello.  You will be amazed at what you learn about our planet.

I am still reading Nancy Castaldo's When The World Runs Dry: Earth's Water Crisis.  I have always been careful about how I use water, but now my caution is upgraded.  Personally, I believe this is a must read title. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Every Little Bit . . .

Each morning Mulan, my canine companion, and I take the same route on our morning walk.  More than half of the route is without sidewalks and when there are sidewalks, we tend to stick to the edge of the roadway due to other walkers, runners, and dogs.  Without fail, there is one driver each day who not only ignores the posted speed limit, but comes so close to us that we have to move off the road or jump aside.  They drive as if their hair is on fire and they are the only person on the planet.

Despite this one soul without regard for other living things, there are multiple drivers who slow down and nod, wave or smile.  Those small acts of kindness when added together have a huge effect on our morning walks.  Those people are used to seeing us and respond accordingly.  I have no idea who they are, but I consider them friends.  The mutual respect we have for each other has established a community of sorts. Today is the book birthday for a title, One Small Thing (Beaming Books, May 9, 2023) written by Marsha Diane Arnold with artwork by Laura Watkins, which presents the practice of rising above ourselves to assist others.  Every little bit helps and does not go unappreciated.  

All the animals in Brightly Wood were talking about what happened.

During a storm the previous night, lightning struck Raccoon's home.  All that remains are ashes.  Squirrel, Badger, Beaver, Mouse, and Rabbit are recreating the event in their conversation. In addition to the loss of his home, Raccoon has suffered burns on his feet and his cricket companion is missing.  In the concerned comments made by Raccoon's friends, readers get a hint at their personalities.  

Beaver wonders where Raccoon will live now.  Rabbit hardly knows Raccoon. Mouse is so little and this problem is huge.  Badger, seemingly a curmudgeon, wonders where the 

silly cricket

is.  Squirrel is overwhelmed by the sadness of this event.  They all leave for their respective homes except for Badger.  Badger heads to the darkest part of the forest.

Squirrel, Mouse, and Rabbit start on tasks exemplifying their talents.  Beaver knows she excels at home construction, so she works all day to build another home for Raccoon.  As Squirrel sips her tea, she begins to think.  As Mouse hangs herbs from his rafters, he begins to think.  As Rabbit nibbles on honey bread with honey,  a single thought pops into Rabbit's mind.  The four friends find Raccoon and snuggle inside the new house drinking tea and eating honey bread with honey.  Mouse rubs a balm made from his herbs on Raccoon's feet.

Where is Badger you ask?  Is Badger lost among the shadows of Brightly Wood?  That thunderstorm created a major loss, but much was found the next day because Beaver, Squirrel, Mouse, Rabbit and Badger decide to do . . .

A bit of a mystery introduces us to this narrative with the first sentence.  Author Marsha Diane Arnold has piqued our interest.  She leads us, as she does so often, to examine our hearts as each of her characters do the same.  By having each of the animals offer an opinion several times, she establishes a rhythm to her story.

As we follow their actions and thoughts, we see how each personality works through a tragic event and responds as they are able.  Readers will see themselves in one or more of these characters' reactions.  The title of the book is beautifully woven into Squirrel's, Mouse's and Rabbit's ultimate decision. Here is a passage.

Beaver stepped back and looked at her work, then hurried off to find Raccoon.
All the other animals hurried off to find Raccoon too.
Except Badger.  He kept wandering through Brightly Wood, muttering,
"Where is that silly cricket?"

A single, full-color image extends from the left edge of the book case to the right edge.  It is the dawn of a new day in Brightly Wood.  Mouse, Squirrel, Rabbit, Badger, and Beaver, eyes closed in affection, offer a group hug to their friend, Raccoon.  We can see by Raccoon's eyes, this hug is needed.  Everything about this scene, the brightening sky, soaring birds, glowing sunlight reflected on the grass and calm breezes, suggests warmth and connection.

A pale lemon yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page is a close-up of Raccoon's mailbox secured to a tree.  Careful readers will see with the opening single-page picture, artist Laura Watkins uses the background sky to indicate weather and time of day.  She continues this throughout the book.  The colors in her outdoor scenes tend to not only reflect the time of day and weather, but the mood of the characters.

The facial features and body postures on each of the animals reveal their emotional status and personality traits.  While their physical characteristics are realistically portrayed, there is also a quality about the animals that depicts them charmingly enough that you might want to hug them. Two of them are more motivated to immediate action, while the other three tend to mull over circumstances.  This is mirrored in Laura Watkins's art.

As the pages are turned, Laura Watkins moves from single-page pictures to groups of vignettes, and to large double-page images, one, a bird's eye view of Brightly Wood.  She also shifts perspectives to enhance the text.  Within Squirrel's, Mouse's, and Rabbit's homes, readers will be fascinated by the attention to detail.  They will also come to understand how a certain moody friend can walk unafraid into the less inviting portions of Brightly Wood.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture.  Beaver has found Raccoon seated on a log near the river, soaking his burned feet in the water.  The river mirrors the sky as the day comes to a close.  There are hues of orange, golden yellow, and purple in the sky, silhouettes of trees and trees near the river.  Beaver is seated next to Raccoon on the fallen tree, embracing her downcast friend.  

This book, One Small Thing written by Marsha Diane Arnold with illustrations by Laura Watkins, is a quiet but compelling tale reminding us that we are never too small to effect change or an action we take for good is never too small to make a difference.  It demonstrates how like single snowflakes can combine to make a blizzard that many small things can create a huge shift in someone's life.  It might be fun to do this as a reader's theater.  You will want to have a copy of this on your personal bookshelves and in your professional collections.

To learn more about Marsha Diane Arnold and Laura Watkins and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Marsha Diane Arnold has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Laura Watkins has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  There is a wonderful thirteen-page activity guide at the publisher's website for you to download.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

For the Elders . . .,

At the beginning of this year in an effort to highlight as many wonderful books as possible in posts before the ALA Youth Media Awards, I included seven titles under the word Elder in the second of three posts for fiction picture books These books focus on relationships between the generations, mainly between grandparents and their grandchildren. They revolve around a generational tradition, the passing of seasons and those with whom we share them, customs and food in different countries, how finding the perfect gift reveals more about the giver than the recipient, activities shared with all kinds of grandparents, the wisdom of grandparents and how it seems magical, and returning joy to a grandparent who needs to remember.

In March and April of this year, two more outstanding books showcasing grandmothers and their grandchildren speak to our collective minds and hearts.  Despite the recent return of winter in the upper Midwest, daffodils, tulips, delphiniums, and peonies are poking through the soil, eager to add color to our landscape.  Parsley, dill, thyme, sage, and chives are thriving in the vegetable and herb gardens.  Author Jordan Scott and artist Sydney Smith have collaborated again to bring us My Baba's Garden (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, March 7, 2023).  Memories of Jordan Scott's grandmother grace the pages of this book, lovingly lifted in tribute by the luminescent images by Sydney Smith.

My Baba lives in a chicken coop beside a highway.

Her home is near a sulfur mill, a pile of yellow as a testament.  Every morning his father drives the child to Baba's home.  She does not greet him, but each morning there she is in her kitchen.  She cooks, moving with her own rhythm within the small space.

Every place around the kitchen table is filled with preserved food from her garden.  When Baba brings him breakfast, it is the same each morning.  She does not eat, but if the child should happen to drop any food, she picks it up, kisses it and puts it back in his bowl.  They speak through gestures, a few words, and a shared affection.  

If it's raining when Baba walks with her grandson to school, she moves slowly watching for worms.  She picks them all up and places them in a jar with dirt.  They will find a new home in her garden.  After school, her grandson watches her place them in the dirt of her garden, explaining their purpose to him.

This goes on for years until Baba leaves her chicken coop to live with her grandson and his parents.  A building replaces the chicken coop, but the garden remains, now overgrown without Baba's care.  Before school, her grandson feeds Baba the same thing each morning.  He has planted some seeds in a pot on her windowsill.  One day when it's raining, she clasps his hand and draws a familiar line on his palm.  Remembering other rainy days, he runs outside.

Lovely similes are woven into vivid descriptive text by Jordan Scott taking readers into his warm remembrances.  Each place the child is with his grandmother, her kitchen, walking with her to and from school, sometimes in the rain, her garden, and in his home, are replete with intimate details. We become that child, experiencing their love built on those shared activities.  Here are several sentences from different portions of the narrative.

My Baba hums like
a night full of bugs
when she cooks.

We don't talk very much. She points and I nod;
she squeezes my cheeks and I laugh.

Using watercolor and gouache, artist Sydney Smith brings us deeply into this story.  On the front of the open dust jacket Baba and her grandson are shown walking into Baba's garden.  Do you notice how the characters and the larger flowers are outlined in white?  It's as if we are walking with them.  This image crosses the spine, extending to the left edge of the back flap. (The front also extends to the edge of the right flap.)  Two birds are flying over the garden.  The sulfur hill juts up in the far left, upper corner.  Text on the back showcases praise for I Talk Like A River

On the book case, on either side of the spine are two framed portraits.  On the left, seated at his Baba's kitchen table is the boy.  Hands resting in his lap he looks at us.  An apple from his grandmother's garden sits on the table.  Garlic bulbs woven together hang from the ceiling over a basket of fruit.  The play of sun and shadow is stunning.  On the right side is Baba.  She, too, is seated in her home.  To her right are shelves of dishes.  To her left is a table holding a jug with flowers. Bright sunlight glows all around her.  She sits straight in the chair, her hands resting in her lap.  Her face reflects her survival of World War II and living a simple, hard life in Canada where she and her husband emigrated from Poland.

The opening and closing endpapers are a golden, orange yellow.  Sydney Smith begins his pictorial story on the title page, displaying the grandson and his father getting into the car in the dark hours of morning before the sun rises.  He then, with a double-page picture, continues as they drive along the sea on a highway.  This provides a place for the publication information and the author's note titled, My Baba.

The next two-page picture is a drawing the grandson has made of him and his Baba in front of her house.  Two-page images, full-page visuals, edge to edge and some with wide white borders bring readers into the shared days of Baba and her grandson.  Sometimes to show the passage of time and to enhance the pacing, smaller illustrations will be grouped on a single page.  These represent cherished personal moments.  Sometimes, they only show eyes, hands or a portion of a body.

There are seven wordless pictures of varying sizes on four pages near the end of the book.  They represent the grandson taking and sharing breakfast with Baba.  They are tender and extremely touching.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page image.  It is a wide-angle view of Baba's kitchen as sunlight streams in the window over her sink.  She stands on the right side working at the counter, dishes displayed in open cupboards above her.  Kettles steam on the stove to her right.  On the left, we see her refrigerator, more cupboards, and shelves filled with preserved food.  Warmth radiates from this scene.

This is a book for all ages.  With each reading, My Baba's Garden written by Jordan Scott with illustrations by Sydney Smith will be more endeared to each reader.  It will help us to recall our own memories of our grandmothers or if we have none, how wonderful to be able to share those found in this book.  You will want to have at least one copy of this title on your professional bookshelves and one in your personal collection.

To learn more about Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Sydney Smith has artwork from this title on his website.  Jordan Scott has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Sydney Smith has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is an educator's guide.  At Penguin Random House, you can view the title and verso pages.  At Mel Schuit's Let's Talk Picture Books, she has a short video of the book case reveal. 

Have you ever searched for buried treasure?  Did you ever find something unexpected and wonderful when you were turning over dirt for a vegetable or flower garden or planting a tree?  Have you ever buried something, hoping to dig it up years later?  If you did bury something, what did you or would you put inside the container?  In The Red Tin Box (Chronicle Books, April 4, 2023) written by Matthew Burgess with artwork by Evan Turk, a young girl buries a red tin box early one morning just before sunrise.  This is a secret she will hold in her heart for decades.

On her eighth birthday, when the sun
was peeking over the treetops

    and everyone in the house
    was still asleep,

Maude stepped outside
and across the wet grass
to the edge of the woods.

There was a special spot at the base of the tree where she buried that red tin box.  No one else but Maude knew what was inside the box.  No one else heard Maude speak a promise to herself.

Maude grew up.  Soon she had a daughter of her own.  Maude always remembered the red tin box, even if her memories of the items inside faded.

Now a grandmother, Maude felt something stir inside her one autumn afternoon.  She picked her granddaughter up from school the next day.  In Maude's red pickup truck, they traveled several towns away.  Maude told her Eve about the red tin box and the promise she made as a little girl.  When they arrived at Maude's old home, the dogwood tree was still there.

Would they find the red tin box?  Both were eager to discover it and see what was inside.  Maude walked until she was sure she was standing on the special spot.  The duo dug and dug and dug until they heard a 


For each of the seven items inside, there were stories.  Eve listened and questioned as Maude talked all the way home. Do you know what Maude did when they arrived home?  Eve knew what to do and she did it under the starry sky.

Each word written by Matthew Burgess fashions an eloquent atmosphere of a special place and time.  There is a bit of mystery and magic in finding the spot for burying the red tin box and the whispered words by Maude.  It returns when Maude is a grandmother, and she knows she needs to take Eve to the red tin box's site.  This shared event is beautifully represented with reminiscent phrases as the pair travel to the dogwood tree.  Matthew Burgess uses repetition to elevate the feeling of an unbreakable bond between grandmother and granddaughter.  Here is a passage.

One November afternoon,
Maude was seized with a feeling---

a feeling like a bright spring sunrise.

Rendered in gouache, these breathtaking visuals by Evan Turk are first shown to readers with a single illustration on the dust jacket spanning from left to right, across the spine.  There we see how night is turning into day, as the sun pushes back the darkness with pinks and oranges and reds.  Little eight-year-old Maude has dug the hole near the dogwood tree and is gently placing the red tin box inside.  I don't know about you, but the mystery and magic in this illustration envelope me.  

On the book case, Evan Turk takes us into the branches of the dogwood tree.  Their blossoms and boughs are highlighted by the blushing sunrise sky behind them.  The opening and closing endpapers are a deep red with darker hints . . . like a red tin box.  On the initial title page, the light text is placed in a starry sky with clouds.  On the formal title page, it is still dark outside.  The blossoms on the dogwood tree are depicted in hues of purple, blue, pink, and red.

The color palette by Evan Turk emanates warmth with every page turn.  His use of light and shadow is marvelous in each of the lush settings.  He shifts his perspectives to intensify the text.  Sometimes we are shown a dramatic panoramic view, other times it is as if we are in the hole looking up at whoever is there, and sometimes we are given a bird's eye view.

Most of the illustrations span two pages.  When Maude and Eve are riding in the truck, walking on the property near the dogwood tree, digging, and speaking we are close to them.  We can see their eyes.  Their facial expressions invite us into this story.  There are two wordless images near the end which are superb.

One of my many favorite illustrations accompanies the above-noted passage.  Maude, on the left, her gray hair ringing her face like a halo is lifting her head up as if listening.  She is dressed in warmer clothing in shades of green and red as she works in her garden.  The garden foliage and surrounding trees are in rich autumn browns and golds and cream.  The sky is golden with a much lighter color of turquoise.  Over Maude's left shoulder is an outline of her home.  She is wearing her signature red glasses.

Whether you read this book, The Red Tin Box written by Matthew Burgess with illustrations by Evan Turk, to yourself, one on one with a single listener or as a group read aloud, you might want to have a supply of red tin boxes handy.  This supremely gentle generational story on time and memory is certain to promote discussions as readers are wrapped in the love exuding from the pages.  You will want to have multiple copies of this title in your professional collection and one in your personal collection.

To discover more about Matthew Burgess and Evan Turk and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Both Matthew and Evan have interior images from this title displayed on their websites.  Matthew Burgess has an account on Instagram.  Evan Turk has accounts on Instagram and Twitter