Quote of the Month

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




Wednesday, December 8, 2021

One Is Never Lonely

When you define one according to Merriam Websterit is being a single unit or thing.  So, this morning one school librarian walked her dog along one route in one town.  If you really think about it, is that the whole truth?

Is there more to the one school librarian, her one dog, their one route, and the one town in which they reside? Author Susan Hood and illustrator Linda Yan believe there is.  We Are One: How the World Adds Up (Candlewick Press, November 2, 2021) introduces a variety of mathematical concepts and expands our perspectives at the same time.  This is what makes our world so marvelous!

One can be one thing
all on its own---
one star,
one stream,
one stick,
one stone.

But those on their toes, those using their smarts,
know one can be more than the sum of its parts.

Our views are broadened one number at a time.  How many combinations of two can you imagine that equal one?  How many slices of bread make one sandwich?

Number by number, three, four, and five allow us to see how combinations of each can make one.  A haiku poem is formed with three lines.  How many points are there on a single compass?  Famous author Williams Shakespeare determined each of his plays would have five acts.

A way for the blind to see incorporates the number six.  The next time you look at a rainbow what number will come to mind?  What geometric shape has eight sides?

This numerical journey ends with nine and ten, but there is more to consider.  We know we are one individual human being, but are we not part of an ever expanding number beyond ten?  Numbers grow larger and larger when we go beyond our family, our workplace (school), our community, our country and our Earth.  And yet, that greatness, that vastness, comes back to the beginning.


We are joyfully welcomed into this counting realm with rhyming couplets meticulously penned by Susan Hood. We are skillfully presented with multiple parts that equal one.  On each page recounting these truths is more information.  Along the bottom like a conversational aside, Susan Hood supplies us with fascinating facts relative to the number being discussed. (These are in a golden yellow band.)  Here is a passage.

Three letters together spell out the word you!

Letters add up to words.  Words add up to sentences.  Many stories and poems follow the rule of
three, a writing principle that suggests characters and events are more satisfying when they come in
threes.  Just think of "The Three Little Pigs" and "Three Billy Goats Gruff."  From a three-ring circus to
the three primary colors, the rule of three (omne trium perfectum in Latin) says trios equal perfection. 


The digitally rendered illustrations by Linda Yan first seen on the matching dust jacket and book case elevate the happiness radiating from the text.  The image on the jacket and case stretches from the far left edge on the back to the far right edge on the front.  Multiple elements mentioned in the narrative and pictorially interpreted page by page spill from the top of the far-left corner in a trail of stardust behind our guide dressed in yellow.  Numbers tumble down from this pathway, falling to the rounded horizon.  Those elements and the main character are varnished on the jacket; making a stunning contrast to the dark atmosphere.

The opening and closing endpapers are covered in a bright sea green.  On the title page, the child wearing their yellow suit and pointed hat is standing on a stool on a rounded surface.  Colored building blocks are scattered about them.  A tripod holding a telescope is directly in front of them.  The dark sky holds tiny colored numbers like stars.

Two-page pictures and full-page visuals flawlessly flow from beginning to end.  Careful readers will see elements in one illustration appear in the next one or two or three or four.  The sandwich mentioned in the number two sequence is next to the child in the first image.  That sandwich is carried away by two mice into their hole.  It is the food for their wedding reception.

Linda Yan, complementing the text, brings us close to a particular scene when necessary or moves back to give us a larger view.  We see the mice carrying the sandwich to their hole from a distance, back with the child.  In the next image, she is peeking through the mouse hole.  We are brought close to the mice as they marry.

Readers will delight in seeking the child in each picture.  Sometimes she is larger than life, and other times you have to search for her.  Toward the end of the book, the child is joined by other children of diverse ethnicity and genders.  Total bliss resonates.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the number five and the reference to five moves central to ballet.  We are inside a dance studio.  Light beams in three arched windows along the upper portion of the picture.  In front of the windows are a bluebird (large), a giraffe, a fictional character, a red squid, and pig.  They are all wearing ballet slippers and tutus as they demonstrate the five poses.  Our guide, still wearing her signature yellow, also has a tutu.  A musical score with notes is behind her as she runs across the wooden floor.


As soon as you understand the rhythm of the words written by Susan Hood and the accompanying artwork by Linda Yan, you will find yourself wondering what will be revealed with the next page turn in We Are One: How the World Adds Up.  You won't be able to stop thinking of other numbers.  How much fun is that?!  At the close of the book are Source Notes, Sources and Resources, Especially for Kids (sections expanding on the facts given in most of the numerical discussions), and More About How the World Adds Up:  Here are some other things that come in groups of . . . Under each number beginning with ten are lists to get you thinking.  I know you'll want to have a copy of this book in both your personal and professional collections.

By accessing their respective websites, following the link attached to their names, you can discover more about Susan Hood and Linda Yan and their other work.  Susan Hood has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Linda Yan has an account on Twitter.  At Penguin Random House, you can view interior images.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Sweet Dreams

As the sun drops below the horizon and the light of day fades, darkness deepens.  For many, animals and humans, it signals a slowing and eventual rest.  This daily slowing and rest happen on a grander scale for much longer when autumn shifts to winter.  For months, the time of light is shorter and nights are longer.  It is nature asking the world to pause and replenish. 

Children are not always eager to rest, especially at bedtime.  They have their reasons, perfectly valid to them, for staying awake as long as possible.  Time For Bed, Old House (Candlewick Press, September 28, 2021) written by Janet Costa Bates with artwork by AG Ford presents a charming nightly routine.  

ISAAC LOVED THE NEW PAJAMAS he got for his first
sleepover at Grandpop's house.  He loved laughing and
playing with Grandpop.  But he didn't love the thought
of sleeping away from home. 

When Isaac said he wasn't sleepy, Grandpop was okay with him being awake.  They did need to put the house to bed, though.  This was something new for Isaac.

Grandpop said they needed to be quiet and move slowly.  They needed to turn off the lights to make it darker.  Isaac was a bit spooked by the sound of Snuffles' nails clicking on the floor.  

Then the trio, Grandpop, his dog, and Isaac, moved down the hallway.  Another sound startled Isaac, but after looking outside he was relieved.  They pulled down the shades at the windows.  (Of what does this remind you?)

Up the stairs they went as the house settled, creaking.  In the bedroom, Isaac's mother's old room, he picked out a story to read to the house.  Isaac could only read the pictures.  When he finished, nestled in Grandpop's lap, he realized Grandpop was sound asleep.  Each thing he did with his grandfather, Isaac now completed within the room until another sound could be heard.


Readers immediately warm to Grandpop because author Janet Costa Bates gives him a compassionate heart.  As he and his grandson move about the house performing tasks to put it to bed, the number of tasks mingles with the trio of sounds to make a soothing cadence.  The blend of narrative and conversation allows us to understand both the boy and his grandfather and their deeply affectionate relationship.  Here is a passage.

Creak. Creak. Creak.
"What's that noise?" asked Isaac. (page turn)

"This old house makes sleepy sounds, just like you," said
Grandpop.  "You yawn.  You stretch.  I bet you even snore." 

"I don't think I snore," said Isaac.

Grandpop shrugged.  "But if you're sleeping, how do you
know?"  He chuckled loudly, then caught himself and put
his hand over his mouth.  . . .


The serenity, security, and warmth shown on the front, right side, of the open and matching dust jacket and book case wraps around readers like a beloved blanket.  The shadows from the soft glow of the lamp further create a cozy atmospheric scene.  Grandpop, Isaac, Bear, and Snuffles are the very picture of nighttime peace.  Look how Isaac has his finger to his lips to quiet the clock's chiming.

To the left, on the back, a circular image is placed on a background of dusty blue.  It is Grandpop's house.  He and Isaac are standing on the front porch waving.  Behind the house the sky is awash in the colors of a setting sun.  This is a cropped version of the double-page picture for the title page.

That visual includes the surrounding lawn and forested countryside.  Isaac's parents are driving down the driveway, his Mom leaning out the window and waving.  Grandpop's blue truck sits next to the house.  The backyard has a high white-picket fence around it.

Snuffles makes an appearance on the opening and closing endpapers on a pale yellow canvas.  In the first, he is walking to the right edge.  In the second, he is curled and fast asleep in his bed on the left.

These heartwarming images by AG Ford rendered in 

watercolor

are two-page pictures, full-page visuals or two or three smaller illustrations grouped on a single page.  AG Ford takes us sometimes close to Isaac and Grandpop and other times gives us a larger view of the inside of a room.  The faces of Isaac and Grandpop sparkle with light and emotion in every scene.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Grandpop and Isaac first enter the bedroom.  We are given a complete picture of the room.  It has a dresser with a mirror and a lamp and a stack of books on it, an iron bed with a quilt near a window, a floor lamp positioned between the bed and an easy chair with an end table.  An oval rag rug is on the wooden floor.  Grandpop, seated in the easy chair, is holding out a book to Isaac who holds Bear in his hand.  Snuffles is dragging a blanket across the floor as he heads toward his bed.  

Once you've read Time For Bed, Old House written by Janet Costa Bates with illustrations by AG Ford, you'll want to take the same journey around your home each night.  It is a habit worth forming and you'll want to have this book as the last thing you read before drifting into the sweetest of dreams.  I highly recommend this title for both your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Janet Costa Bates and AG Ford and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Janet Costa Bates has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  AG Ford has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.   At Penguin Random House you can view interior images.  Janet Costa Bates visits with librarian, lecturer at Rutgers, and writer John Schumacher at his site, Watch. Connect. Read.  Both the author and illustrator are featured at Maria Marshall's site as they speak about this title.




It can never be stated enough.  Having a canine companion exposes you to wonders of the world you might otherwise miss.  You witness enormous rings around a full moon in winter on nights so crisp the air feels like glass.  You are privy to stunning sunrises with clouds catching an array of red, orange, and yellow hues.  Fortunately my furry friend is used to pausing on our walks, so her human can enjoy what the night or day offers.  

Sometimes when the sun is rising on one horizon, the moon is shimmering above another horizon.  The Children's Moon (Scholastic Press, October 19, 2021) written by Carmen Agra Deedy with artwork by Jim LaMarche is a lovely explanatory tale about this splendid event.  Compromise, kindness, and friendship work wonders. 

There once was a time
when the sun alone ruled the day,
the moon graced the night,
and little children were put firmly to bed before sunset.   

And once it happened as the sun was rushing the moon away, she heard a sound which caressed her heart.  It was the laughter of children.  The next time the moon and sun passed each other, she implored him to tell her about children. 

She longed to have them see her, but the sun was not about to relinquish a moment of his day.  He finally told her what the world was like under his brilliance; its places, people, and animals were a thing of beauty.  She in turn told him how the world was under her glow.

Her discourse did not impress the sun until she talked about stars.  He was astonished there were so many others like him that he had never seen.  Together they accomplished something never previously done.

The sun was filled with gratitude.  A request was renewed.   A phenomenon was born.


Carmen Agra Deedy's storytelling skills shine in this story of the sun and moon.  For anyone who has felt pure joy at the sound children's laughter brings, they know its power.  It is this power which forms the basis of this tale of a solar eclipse and the wonder observed before and after each full moon. 

The majority of the narrative is formed through spirited dialogue between the sun and the moon.  It reveals their personalities and how each sees the day and the night.  In this way, they form an eternal friendship.  The word choices in these conversations are lyrical.  Here is a passage.

"Thank you," the sun whispered.
"Now," sang the moon, "will you please-please-please-with a comet on top
let me see the children?"
The sun nodded his fiery head.  "Of course.  But it's a poor trade, my friend.
I've seen the stars."


The shades of blue shown on the matching dust jacket and book case coupled with the sheen of the moon's light depict a breathtaking vision of peace and longing.  It is a two-page image spanning from the left edge on the back to the right edge on the front.  On the back large bunk beds hold three sleeping children, one on top and two on the bottom.  Child-drawn pictures of the sun are attached to the wall.  Coats and hats hang on the bed posts.  A pair of binoculars dangles from a peg on the wall.  The breeze blowing in the open window moves the curtain over the spine and to one of the bed posts.

The dog, on the front, probably holding his cherished tennis ball, has dropped it to gaze at the moon. Animals have a keen sense of understanding that which we cannot.  The moon and the title text are varnished on the jacket.

A bright turquoise covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, the moon moves quickly across the sky, looking behind her.  She heard the laughter.  The roofs of homes are below her.

Jim LaMarche rendered these illustrations 

in acrylics and pencil on Arches watercolor paper.

Luminescent is a word which comes to mind when you look at each double-page picture in this book.  The use of light and shadow is superb.  The sun's brilliance casts warmth on each scene, whether it is a simple cottage in the country with a family welcoming the day, a meadow, a jungle, a grand city, or a field of sunflowers.  In contrast, the cool glimmer of the moon provides tranquility as the northern lights span from horizon to horizon, owls and bats fly in search of food, and fireflies and plankton give forth their own kind of light.

The intricate details will have readers pausing at each page turn.  They will enjoy the shift in perspectives, depending on the position of the sun or moon.  And they will delight in the facial expressions on both the moon and the sun. 

One of my many favorite illustrations is the two-page wordless picture.  Beginning in the upper, right-hand corner, a peak of a mountain invites our eyes to descend to another range in front of it.  Evergreen trees stand as tall as soldiers at attention.  In front of them are more huge boulders on the ground and a single evergreen tree.  A baby bear is climbing it.  The mother is seated on a nearby boulder.  On the other side of the gutter, to the left, another baby bear is climbing a rock.  They are looking to the left at a gorgeous expanse of sky.  The moon is passing in front of the sun.


As a bedtime story, as an introduction to a unit on folktales or a study of the sun and moon, this book, The Children's Moon written by Carmen Agra Deedy with illustrations by Jim LaMarche is excellent.  At the close of the book is more about "the children's moon" and how to see it, as well as phases of the moon.  There is also a page devoted to Strange & Wonderful Facts about the Moon.  Please make sure to have a copy on all your bookshelves.

To learn more about Carmen Agra Deedy and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  Carmen Agra Deedy has an account on Facebook.  Carmen Agra Deedy and this book are celebrated at librarian, lecturer, and writer John Schumacher's site, Watch. Connect. Read.





Northern Michigan was coated in at least five inches of snow Sunday and Sunday evening.  It is currently snowing in spurts between bursts of sunshine with another three to four inches expected by tomorrow morning.  It would seem that winter has finally arrived.  Our morning walks have been quieter except for the crows, chickadees, and cardinals.  Rabbits and the neighborhood fox leave tracks we can now see.

The changing of the seasons and the response of our animal residents is a constant source of fascination.  Winter Lullaby (Candlewick Press, December 7, 2021) written by Dianne White with artwork by Ramona Kaulitzki allows us to see how a variety of animals prepare for winter.  It follows one little bear who is not quite ready for slumber.  Let's join this youngster and his mother on a stroll through the forest.

Cool winds blow through graying skies.
Geese are honking long goodbyes.
Autumn clouds sweep overhead.
Let's go, Small Bear.  It's time for bed.

Small Bear sees a mouse and a chipmunk bounce in and out of view.  If they are awake, why must he sleep?  Mama replies each is hurrying toward their earned rest.  One buries nuts in a snug nook and the other will cuddle in a delicate nest.

As mother and child journey, Skunk and Hare race across a carpet of leaves.  If they are awake, why must Small Bear sleep?  They are playing until Skunk goes below the surface of the ground and Hare slumbers in an empty hollow.

Badger and Raccoon are observed.  Where will they go when it snows?  If they are awake, why must this child go to bed?  Mama patiently answers, naming the homes of each one.  

Small Bear does not want to go into the den.  Mama explains why they cannot remain in the winter weather.  She gives Small Bear promises of future fun.  Cub and mother curl as one.


When you read the words, silently or aloud, penned by Dianne White, you find yourself quietly humming.  Each rhyming couplet acts as a verse in a winter song, a song of silence, an interlude between seasons. An inviting rhythm is made by the back-and-forth conversation between Mama and Small Bear.  In the final pages, when it is simply the two of them, the trust and affection grow stronger as questions are asked and answered.  Dianne White uses the technique of storytelling three expertly when the cub notices two animals three times.  Here is a passage, one of Small Bear's questions and Mama's reply.

Badger pauses in the light.
Where will she spend this frosty night?  . . .

Badger will settle---soon, not yet---
tucked inside her chambered sett.  . . .


The ambience fashioned by illustrator Ramona Kaulitzki for the open and matching dust jacket and book case is one of a serene transformation between autumn and winter.  A single image covers both the left, back, and right, front, of the jacket and case.  A gray and golden yellow sky releases flakes of snow on layered rolling hills.  Snow-covered evergreens dot the hills.  In the foreground two trees, one on the far right and the other just left of the spine, are still holding their golden leaves.  On either side of the spine, a shrub has a few leaves left.  Mama and Small Bear walk through the gathering snow, already in conversation.  The title text and several of the large snowflakes are varnished on the front of the jacket.

On the opening and closing endpapers, a pattern is made with a radiate orange wash.  It is a blend of single snowflakes and leaves.  They both seem to be falling.  With a page turn, we see the title page.  Winter has arrived in the woods, indicated by the snowy view.  Large lacy snowflakes tumble on the already blanketed ground, trees branches, and evergreen boughs.

Rendered

digitally

the image sizes alternate between two-page pictures, edge to edge, single-page pictures, edge to edge, and several smaller images on crisp white backgrounds.  Most of those on the white canvases bring us close to Small Bear and Mama focusing on their affection and intimacy.  The next thing readers will notice is how Small Bear and Mama move through the story to their den.

As they come to a river, Mama secures a boat so she can row to the other shore.  A tiny red bird sits on the edge of the boat.  The animals asleep in their homes are close to the reader as the bears travel past them.  Mama carries Small Bear on her shoulders or under her arm.  They are often holding paws.  What careful readers will notice is that in nearly all of the illustrations elements curve or compose a circle to give a sense of comfort.  It is also interesting to note we see the shadows of geese flying on the opening picture and they are in full color between the text for the dedication and publication information on the final page.  Full circle.


Aptly named, this book, Winter Lullaby written by Dianne White with illustrations by Ramona Kaulitzki, is certain to hush the most restless reader into the precious dreams.  It is a prelude to hibernation for the bears and their forest friends.  It is a book you'll need on your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Dianne White and Ramona Kaulitzki and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Dianne White has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Ramona Kaulitzki has accounts on Facebook, Behance, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  At Penguin Random House, you can view interior illustrations.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

A World Imagined

We step into stories for all kinds of reasons.  Sometimes, we need answers.  Other times, we need to know we are not alone.  To see others like us experiencing similar situations, supplies us with strength. Often, stories allow us to leave our world.  We visit new and foreign people and places, real and imagined, past and present.

For others, writing stories the rest of us step into is their life's work.  With Great Power:  The Marvelous Stan Lee:  An Unauthorized Biography (Page Street Kids, October 19, 2021) written by Annie Hunter Eriksen with illustrations by Lee Gatlin gives readers a look at the man behind a universe first found in comics and later in film.  He wrote about heroes, but will be long remembered as a hero himself.

Stan Lee didn't have
hulking strength.
Or fantastic flexibility.
Or catlike reflexes.
His superpower was
creating heroes who did. 

As a child living in New York City, Stanley Lieber knew poverty.  His inside world was a tiny apartment shared with his parents and younger brother.  His realm beyond those walls was huge through stories.  At an early age, he knew he wanted to be a writer, but before his seventeenth birthday he was working to help support his family.

Stanley began as an errand boy for Timely Comics.  He did whatever needed doing.  One day, the firm was in dire straits.  They needed someone to write a filler piece.  Stanley Lieber became Stan Lee.  Stan Lee wrote as fast as he could, page after page.

When industry greats, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby left the firm, Timely Comics needed an editor.  Stan Lee was still a teenager, but he filled the position.  For twenty years Stan Lee wrote as fast as he could, page after page.  He wanted more.  He wanted to create a new kind of hero.  His wife Joanie offered advice which changed everything.

Together Stan Lee and Jack Kirby gave birth to the Fantastic Four!  These heroes were more well-rounded, like the rest of us, but with special gifts.  Next Stan partnered with Steve Diko to release Peter Parker and his wondrous web abilities into readers' minds.  

From then forward, Stan Lee took those tales from his youth, using them to fashion more fabulous characters whose stories people still love to step into each and every day.  As Stan Lee's universe of heroes expanded from the printed page to the silver screen, he realized he needed to do another kind of writing.  Each month "Stan's Soapbox" appeared in a Marvel comic.  Stan Lee believed everyone has a hero inside them.


Each time this book is read, the sentences and phrases penned by Annie Hunter Eriksen envelope you.  She selected particular facts in Stan Lee's life presenting them and him as much of a hero as those he brought to life through his writing.  Annie Hunter Eriksen's choice of words, her adjectives and verbs, often refer to actions and adventures like those experienced by Stan Lee's characters.  Woven into the narrative are speech balloons with dialogue supplying readers with authenticity.  Here is a passage.

. . .But for now, he would be Stanley Lieber:  Errand Boy!

CA-CLINK went the pens as Errand Boy    
filled them in the inkwells.

WEET-WOO!
rang the pencil as Errand Boy
erased lines for the artists.

THWAP!
Errand Boy slung notes
on writers' desks.

FOOM!
Errand Boy rushed by to
deliver everyone lunch!


When readers look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, they see a familiar Stan Lee hard at work writing.  Through the window are images of marvelous characters he made for us.  Once the book is read, readers will understand the significance of the window.  It no longer looks at a brick wall, but it is filled with his heroes.  

To the left of the spine, on the back, is a white canvas with partial city buildings on the right and bottom.  A line of web stretches from the upper, right-hand corner.  Spider-Man is flying over the bottom building with Stan Lee clasped in his right arm as his left hand grips the webbing.  The opening words to the narrative are there along with three sound effects.

A dark yellow-orange provides the background for the opening and closing endpapers.  In black and in a variety of fonts are sound effect words.  They cover the entire area and are certain to elicit a smile from Marvel and comic fans.  Between the text on the title page a young Stanley Lieber is positioned near a desk as Errand Boy!

These illustrations rendered by Lee Gatlin in 

mixed media

are highly animated and look as though they are ready to pop off the pages.  In the earlier visuals there is a predominant use of sepia tones.  Once Stan Lee is writing about his heroes full time, more color appears in the images.  The sizes of the illustrations vary to enhance the pacing and heighten the pictorial translation of the information.

One of my many favorite pictures is a single page divided into three geometrically-shaped horizontal panels.  These three panels are the images for the above-noted text.  In the first, Stanley fills inkwells with one hand and erases errors on an illustration with the other hand.  In the second, with an overhead flip of his wrist a note flies to a writer's desk.  Eager hands grab for lunch bags as Stan zooms past desks in the third panel.  In each picture, Stanley's eyes are closed as he imagines himself as Errand Boy.  His face reflects confidence.


This book, With Great Power:  The Marvelous Stan Lee:  An Unauthorized Biography written by Annie Hunter Eriksen with illustrations by Lee Gatlin, will be read repeatedly by Marvel universe fans and shared widely.  For those readers not familiar with Stan Lee, this book offers them a look at how stories are transformative for all of us.  At the close of the book are sections titled No Small Parts, Friendly Neighborhood Bullpen and Stan Takes A Stand.  The first speaks about Stan Lee's cameo appearances in the comics and on film.  The second talks about his collaboration with other creators.  The final section addresses Stan Lee's connection to his fans.  There is also a bibliography.  I know you'll want a copy of this title in your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Lee Gatlin and his other work, follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Annie Hunter Eriksen has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Lee Gatlin has accounts on Instagram and TwitterMaria Marshall interviews Annie Hunter Eriksen about this book and her work.  Lee Gatlin is highlighted at Kathy Temean's Writing and Illustrating here and here.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Better Together #5

When individuals are confronted with an unfavorable situation, they want to remedy the circumstances as soon as possible or at the very least, ensure the same incident is not repeated.  Moving forward on a new path is often challenging.  In fact, the first step is often the hardest.

To hear a voice offering encouragement gives you strength.  To find someone willing to shoulder the work with you is inspiring.  To know you are not alone adds a lightness to your soul.  Change Sings: A Children's Anthem (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, September 21, 2021) written by the youngest presidential inaugural poet in the United States of America, Amanda Gorman, with artwork by Loren Long is a beautiful portrait guaranteed to encourage, inspire and bring the lightness to every soul who savors the words and images.  Each reader, of all ages, will understand their destiny to make a difference for the good of all.  No action, however small, will fail to offer a positive impact. 

I can hear change humming
in its loudest, proudest song.

I don't fear change coming,
And so I sing along.

This song is not soft, but strong.  The narrator screams and dreams.  What is done, again and again, fuels hope.

They join voices across our planet, past and present.  They offer help to those who need it the most.   They are staunch in their support of others who seek change.

For those who do not understand, a compassionate person asks them to join in the song.  Being right is never wrong.  Working together constructs sturdy structures for all to enjoy.

Countries of origin are recognized.  Those things which seem to imply distinctions are doors into similarities.  Like poets and songwriters of the past, this narrator realizes real change begins in each individual.  When that thinking shifts inside us, we sow it.  We release it into the world and grow love.


When you read these words written by Amanda Gorman, you don't know if you should do so silently or break into song, so you do both, separately and then together.  Each rhyming sentence adds a layer, building from a single soul to many.  We know this because the sentence beginnings alter from "I" to "We" with the concluding pages.  Here is another couplet.

I hum with a hundred hearts,
Each of us lifting a hand.

I use my strengths and my smarts,
Take a knee to make a stand.  


Rendered 

by hand on illustration board, using acrylics and colored pencil

these pictures by Loren Long we first see on the open and matching dust jacket and book case radiate in a rich color palette. The image spans from the left edge on the back and continues to the right edge on the front.  The pieces of color on the wall behind the main character are like stained glass alluding to the sun, its rays and the symbolic rings of rainbow colors.  The girl's face shows an open expression.  In her hands, the guitar is offered to readers as an invitation. The text on the front and on the back is varnished.  The text on the back is the first two sentences of the anthem.

A sunshine yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, between the text, a tuba, tambourine and drum sticks rest in grass.  The first image spans two pages.  A crisp white background provides the perfect space for us to meet the girl again as she sits strumming her guitar.

With each page turn, Loren Long supplies readers with his pictorial interpretation of the words.  It is a journey, double-page illustration, by double-page illustration, from the girl to another child and then to another child.  With each meeting a new instrument is given to the new character.  We get a real sense of something growing.

We see the children cleaning up litter on a playground, feeding someone on the street, delivering groceries in a red wagon to those who cannot get their own, building a ramp for a child in a wheelchair, and cleaning up a storefront in their city.  The children represent a range of ethnicity with endearing expressions.  Their faces amid each setting glow with confidence and anticipation.  They believe they are making a difference.  They are.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a paved basketball court in the city.  We are looking down on the scene.  Basketball hoops are positioned on either side of the image.  Chalk hopscotch boards are below each of them.  Other chalk drawings are featured on the left and right.  Chalk is scattered on the left near a bucket of chalk.  In white a large outline of the continental United States spreads from basketball hoop to basketball hoop.  Inside this outline is the girl with the guitar.  She is handing a trombone to a boy who was playing basketball.  With her is the reluctant boy with his dog, now holding a trumpet, the boy wearing a religious hat with the tuba, and a girl in a wheelchair holding a drum and accompanying sticks.  This illustration is for a single sentence.

I talk not only of distances,
From where and how we came.

What a wonderful representation of those words and a beautiful lead to the next two sentences and a joyful visual.


No matter how many times you read, Change Sings: A Children's Anthem by Amanda Gorman with pictures by Loren Long, and believe me you will read it repeatedly, you will find a promise of great things in these pages. You will hum, sing and share this title.  Be sure to have a copy on your personal bookshelves and professional bookshelves.  Gift it to someone often.

To learn more about Amanda Gorman and Loren Long and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Amanda Gorman has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Loren Long has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior pages and are offered a teacher's guide.





When something bad happens to us as individuals or to other individuals or groups, a range of emotions wash over us.  We are stunned.  We are deeply saddened.  We want to know what we can do.  Something Good (Little, Brown And Company, October 19, 2021) written by Marcy Campbell with artwork by Corinna Luyken addresses this kind of occurrence.  It follows the response of students and staff at a personal and group level.  It offers a positive answer for change.

The day the custodian found the bad-something
on the bathroom wall, all the girls from Mr. Gilbert's
class were called into the principal's office.

As Principal Martinez addresses the girls, there is a mixture of responses.  She states in no uncertain terms:

"This kind of thing won't be tolerated at our school."

Even though told not to enter the bathroom, four girls do, curious about the bad-something.  The four girls were overwhelmed by what they saw.  There was silence, anger, tears, and a flight.

The locked bathroom created a detour for the girls.  The bad-something had students looking at other students.  Who would do this?  In a short amount of time everyone knew what the bad-something was, including parents.  Their reactions, like the girls, were mixed.  In the following days, the bad-something changed everyone, not always for the good.

Principal Martinez called an all-school assembly speaking the same words as she did to the girls in Mr. Gilbert's class.  Students were given buttons with ribbons in their school colors to remind them of what their school represented.  Mr. Gilbert had a plan, too.

He spoke with his students as they all sat in a circle.  Paint, brushes, and freedom of expression were given to the students as they entered the bathroom where the bad-something was found.  Brush stroke by brush stroke the wall and the students were transformed, each contribution forming a wonderful whole.  It was so beautiful, they continued for days, until they were amazed at their achievement.  Painting, then poetry, healed a room full of students, a school full of individuals deciding to make a difference.


Through her words, Marcy Campbell presents an intimate view of an intolerable event.  Her first-person narrator brings us clearly and with intention into each moment of the evolving situation.  We experience it with all the girls, the four girls, the entire student body, and with Mr. Gilbert's students.  The thoughts and actions of the students are described with realism and a keen aptitude for the behavior of children in this position. Here is a passage.

We missed the days
before the bad-something
appeared, because everything
was different now.  Some of us
felt worried or confused or sad
or angry.  No one felt nothing.


With a limited color palette and her signature artwork, Corinna Luyken gives readers on the front of the dust jacket a foreshadowing of the good something the students and their teacher create together.  The predominant presence of yellow and the facial expressions on all the individuals suggest determination and a lightening of their spirits.  On the back, to the left of the spine, is a display of three paint cans, yellow, teal, and rose.  The colors in each rise like mist, erasing the bad-something.  In the upper, right-hand corner are the words

The bad-something
has no place here.

On the book case, on either side of the spine, is a two-page interior picture.  It shows in greater detail ten students painting an array of elements on the wall.  On the far right one student is on a ladder as the other one steadies it.  There are rosy flowers among dark teal leaves, dragons, a school, handprints, the sun and a row of people in pink along the bottom of the wall.

On the opening endpapers is the wall in the girl's bathroom.  The bad-something has been painted over by the custodian in a dull color.  On the closing endpapers we see how the students and their teacher remade the wall.  On the left-hand side is the dedication and publication information.  If you turn back a page, the title page is on the right and an author's note is on the left.  By placing this information at the back, the narrative is given greater importance.  The bad-something is never shown to readers.

The illustrations for this book were done in gouache, colored pencil, and ink on paper.  They are two-page visuals with shifting perspectives for dramatic emphasis.  While there is an overall feeling of softness when looking at these pictures, almost like chalk smudging, the linework is distinctive.  The faces on the children are highly revealing.  Each time you turn a page, it is like an emotional jolt, heartfelt and true.

One of my many favorite pictures is when Mr. Gilbert is seated in a circle with the students as he explains their art project.  These twenty-five children are actively engaged.  They know change is happening.  They know they are going to be a part of the change.  Most are leaning in with their heads raised.  Several have their eyes closed. We can see those without their backs to us wearing their ribbon pins.  The people are awash in pink, a bit of yellow and white.  Their hair and faces display a variety of ethnicity.  In front of Mr. Gilbert are paint brushes and rollers.


Sometimes when we seek a silver lining, we have to make it.  In Something Good written by Marcy Campbell with pictures by Corinna Luyken, that is exactly what Mr. Gilbert and his students do.  As Marcy Campbell states in her author's note, this book is the result of personal knowledge.  What happens in this school is only one solution.  This title is certain to promote discussions on an individual or group basis.  I highly recommend it for your personal and professional collections.

By accessing the websites of Marcy Campbell and Corinna Luyken by following the link attached to their names, you can learn more about them and their other work.  Marcy Campbell has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Corinna Luyken has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is a video chat with the illustrator about this book and a two-page Teaching Tips document. At Mel Schuit's Let's Talk Picture Books, there is a short video showing the book case.  At author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast this title is showcased.  There are many pieces of art, process and final to view.



Friday, November 26, 2021

Grateful

Yesterday in the United States a national holiday was observed, Thanksgiving.  There are other countries who honor a similar day by the same name, but sometimes on different dates.  Many cultures commemorate gratitude for a fruitful harvest, a change in the seasons, or encountered annual blessings.  Most of these traditions are shared with families, friends, or community members.

It is said an attitude of gratitude cultivated every day of the year is highly beneficial for individuals and those in contact with those individuals.  Two publications released on the same day highlight the art of being grateful.  We Give Thanks (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 7, 2021) written by Cynthia Rylant with illustrations by Sergio Ruzzier follows two friends, a rabbit and a frog, and their friends as they find joy in their everyday worlds.

We give thanks for mittens
and for coats and boots and hats.

We give thanks for yellow dogs
and yellow kitty cats.


A frog and a rabbit are enjoying the clothing they find in a friend's home.  When the artistic talents of the first are presented on canvas, laughter ensues.  They venture into the garden and carry fruit to a feast.

As they travel throughout their day, they meet family.  They appreciate the efforts of those providing services in the tiny town.  Even when the weather shifts several times, they welcome those changes realizing the advantages of each one.  

The benefits of various modes of transportation are acknowledged.  They pause to watch the work of insects in a colorful space. Signs of affection shown by an avian mother to their child and a bear to a fish friend are noted.

Wherever this duo go, they notice the little things, taking nothing for granted.  They relish the ability to cook and eat.  Every minute of their days and nights is perceived as valuable, especially those moments shared with their friends.


What readers will first notice about the words penned by Cynthia Rylant is they address those things with which many can identify.  She lists items we need.  She includes people and their accomplishments.  She draws our attention to the natural world.  And she focuses on tender displays of affection.

She views the world through the eyes of children, the children residing in all of us.  She does this through couplets, two sentences, with rhyming words at the end.  The first sentence welcomes readers to wonder about the second sentence.  What word will she use?  Also, she uses the word "and" to join a group of words together rather than using commas.  Here is another passage.

We give thanks for sun and rain
and wind and sleet and snow.

We give thanks for bikes and skates
and . . .


The color palette on the open and matching dust jacket and book case is radiating warmth, like the apples in the basket.  That red in the title text, the apples and the hillside draws us into the happiness of the animals.  The wash of yellow and blue in the sky extends that warmth into a comforting calm.  It is here we meet the two main characters, the frog and the rabbit.  

To the left of the spine, the red covers the area except for a circular image.  It is an interior illustration.  Here the rabbit is looking through its kitchen window while cooking.  Friends are arriving to partake in a banquet.

A spring green, a shade of the green on the frog, covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the initial title page the frog and the rabbit, on a white background, are walking to the right.  On the double-page picture for the formal title page, we can now see them approaching a villa set in the mountains.  The hues of colors are variations on those we saw on the jacket and cover.  They are an open offer of participation to readers.

Rendered in

pen & ink and watercolors,

the visuals by Sergio Ruzzier present his signature style.  His endearing animals depict a range of body positions and facial expressions.  Highly detailed images ask us to step into each scene.  Often elements on one page will appear in the next page, fashioning a flow.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture (all are double-page images except for one, a dramatic pause).  A white sky highlights two low hills in rose and yellow.  The yellow is replete with large flowers and insects.  The bugs are given long noses and tiny eyes and mouths formed from a single line.  The rabbit and frog, on the right side, stand on the rose-colored hill talking about the display before them of insects and flowers. They are watching the bugs work.  The flowers are large enough to make us feel as though we are one of them.


This book, We Give Thanks written by Cynthia Rylant with artwork by Sergio Ruzzier, is one to be shared widely and read often.  It reminds us every single day there are things around us that need our appreciation.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Cynthia Rylant and Sergio Ruzzier, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  At Cynthia Rylant's site is a single page with a letter from her to readers.  Sergio Ruzzier has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  At the publisher's website, there are interior images, and views of the entire dust jacket and formal title page.




In a few short weeks, winter will officially begin.  All day yesterday the wind blew and snow fell.  Tonight the temperature will drop to its coldest since last winter.  The activities in the natural world have slowed.  Humans are finishing their outside preparations for the shift in seasons.  

Inside, humans are altering how they spend their time.  Thankful (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 7, 2021) written by Elaine Vickers with illustrations by Samantha Cotterill follows a family as they begin and complete an annual tradition.  It is a time to reflect and remember.  It is a time to make gratitude visible.

EVERY YEAR when the first snow
falls, we make thankful chains
to last us through December.

It is hard to think of all the things 
to be thankful for in a whole year,
so I start right in my own room.

The girl's parents, her father carrying a younger infant sibling, have come to wish her a good night.  As she lies in bed, she feels grateful for her home, parents, and a poem.  This poem, recited every night, helps her to recall those things for which she is thankful.  Some of those you hold in your heart; others you see every single day.

The little girl adores her dog, a wish come true.  She realizes the gift of life, a beating heart and breathing with ease.  Her school days supply her with people she cherishes.

She (like so many of us) is thankful for books and the places they lead us. The girl finds the beauty in opposites.  She identifies the silver linings in good things and in things not quite as good. 

She keeps writing, one thankful thing at a time, one chain at a time.  The girl's thoughts appear on paper until sleep is about to take her into her dreams. The story ends as it begins with her parents and a poem and her final words of thankfulness.


With each acknowledgement by the girl, readers start to relate to her and to examine their own surroundings for similar things.  We accept the goodness revealed in the opposites, soft and hard, and warm and cold, and safety and accidents.  This is a gift given to us by author Elaine Vickers.

The repetition of the words

I am thankful for

provides a connection, like the links in the paper chain, and a cadence.  With each thankful thing the narrator mentions, page by page, we understand it is not only a recounting but building toward an all-encompassing conclusion.  Here is a passage.

I am thankful for
things that are soft
and fresh, like
laundry,
bread,
moss on rocks.


In looking at the open dust jacket, readers can easily see this book is intricately designed.  We are fascinated by the intentional placement of elements on the front, the right side.  Here the girl is penning her thankful memories, link by link.  To the left, on the back, a colorful paper chain is photographed on white, portions of it faded and others clear.  Over this is a circular illustration of the girl holding and hugging her dog.  The dog looks at her with love.  Her eyes are closed in contentment.

On the book case the canvas is white.  Layered on both sides is one continuous, colorful paper chain.  The thankful memories are placed on the inside, but sometimes we are privy to one or two letters in a thought.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a green wall lined with six bookcases.  They are filled with books in an array of hues.  Paper chains in those same shades hang down either side and across each of those two sets of three bookcases.  Along the top of the bookcases is a schooner, a box with a bear on it, a guitar, a statue, a plant, a pennant with the words THANKFUL and a house.  On the title page, between the text is the girl's desk, a chair, and a waste basket.  Across the top of the desk are supplies for making the thankful chains.  A partially completed chain drops down from the desk and curls on the floor.

These artistically shaped illustrations by Samantha Cotterill 

are hand-built three dimensional sets photographed with a digital SLR camera.

The meticulous care given to each setting requires us to pause and savor the words and the images.  The people and the girl's dog are outlined in a black line and a small white border.  The sizes of the pictures switch from double-page pictures to a full-page visual, and then to a circular illustration on a colorful canvas.  Three times across a white background on two pages, we are shown only the girl working on her paper chain.  These are important pauses in the pacing.

One of my many favorite pictures is a two-page illustration.  It is in the evening inside the girl's home.  There is an "L" shaped sofa in the living room.  A single light shines on the left wall, but the entire scene glows as if there is a fireplace we can't see in front of the sofa.  On the left side of the sofa, the dad has fallen asleep holding the baby, a book next to them.  On the right side of the sofa is the girl in her pajamas, cuddled with a blanket wrapped around her.  Her dog is mostly seated next to her.  On the coffee table are dishes from a dinner of soup.  This image complements and elevates the text superbly.


You'll be gathering supplies to make your own paper chains after reading Thankful written by Elaine Vickers with illustrations by Samantha Cotterill.  It emphasizes the value all things have in our lives.  It prompts us in every respect to be grateful.  I can't imagine a personal or professional collection without a copy of this title.

By following the link attached to their names, you can discover more about Elaine Vickers and Samantha Cotterill and their other work at their respective websites.  Elaine Vickers has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Samantha Cotterill has an account on Instagram.  This book is showcased at Watch. Connect. Read. the site of John Schumacher, librarian, lecturer at Rutgers, and writer, at author, reviewer, and blogger, Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, at author Caroline Starr Rose's website, at Mel Schuit's Let's Talk Picture Books, and at The Children's Book Review.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images including the entire dust jacket.


Thankful by Elaine Vickers and Samantha Cotterill from Let's Talk Picture Books on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Treasures All Around Us

When you grow up in a family of collectors, you tend to become a collector.  When you grow up in a family embracing nature, you find yourself fairly at ease in the out-of-doors.  Combining these two attributes, your wanderings outside make use of all your senses especially when you are seeking a new item to cherish.  You find another heart-shaped rock, a large piece of sea glass, or a stone that fits perfectly in your palm.  You locate a new leaf to press or a hard-to-find protected flower to photograph or draw.  Perhaps you are gathering particular kinds of pine cones and acorns or small pieces of driftwood to fashion into a wreath. You hear the sound or song of a bird you are hoping to see for the first time. 

The possibilities are as varied as the people who collect and respect what our natural world has to offer.  What's in Your Pocket?: Collecting Nature's Treasures (Charlesbridge, September 14, 2021) written by Heather L. Montgomery with illustrations by Maribel Lechuga takes readers into ordinary moments leading to spectacular outcomes.  Through the lives of nine scientists as children, we understand and appreciate the value of seeking and needing to know.

When you explore the great outdoors
and find something strange and wonderful,
do you put it in your pocket? 

Following this introductory question to a young gatherer is a statement about scientists and why they collect.  Three major names in science are presented.  Who do you think put a seedpod in his pocket that exploded?  Who do you think put worms under her pillow for safekeeping?  One would find hundreds of uses for peanuts.  The other would have their name tied to chimpanzees forever,

Two more times the present-day explorer, the girl with her dog, is given questions to answer prior to reading about six additional naturalists in two groups of three.  Meg Lowman's multiple collections hidden under her bed provided a haven for a live critter unwelcome inside her home.  It's not every mother who would be fascinated by receiving a live lizard for a birthday present.  Adult Diego Cisneros-Heredia named a newly discovered frog after her.

There was a time when people did not understand the connection between caterpillars and butterflies.  This girl's collection eventually flew away, joining links in a chain. There was another girl who loved roaming along the shores of the Pacific Ocean.  How many teenagers do you know who collect sea slugs?  This young woman and these other eight people have made our planet better for their collecting, curiosity, and passionate love of our natural world.


Readers will enjoy the cadence created by author Heather L. Montgomery where questions are asked and responses about scientists are supplied prior to each trio of children who became extraordinary scientists.  Each time the questions are asked the first is repeated, as is the second for the third section.  These questions also suggest the type of collecting the children did.  After we are informed about the child's activities, an identical phrase shares the name of the scientist with readers before giving us a paragraph about them.  These narrative techniques are inviting and inventive.  Here is a passage.

Will found beautiful blue eggs high in a tree.
Needing his hands to climb back down,
he held the eggs in his mouth.

Oops! . . .


Looking at the open and matching dust jacket and book case readers are welcomed into nature.  On either side of the spine lush flora frames the text and our young explorer.  How many of those items spilling from her pockets have found a place in your pockets when you are outside walking and observing?  On the back, left, an emerald and blue hummingbird sips nectar from an open flower.  Beneath it, a caterpillar munches on a leaf.  A butterfly floats above the ISBN.  On the jacket, front, right, and back, left, the brightest elements are varnished.

A darker hue of the teal on the girl's overalls is used to cover the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, a cluster of found objects are placed between the text.  An initial two-page picture spans from the dedication and publication information page to the first page.  The girl on the front of the jacket and case is first shown in silhouette with her dog walking through the woods.  Just before the gutter, they are in full color and jumping over a log.  On the first page, the duo stop and crouch down to look at fossils.  The girl's left foot moves off the right side as her hand puts the fossil in her pocket.  Her dog, head raised, is smelling that fossil.  

These images, rendered digitally, by Maribel Lechuga flow beautifully, page turn by page turn.  We first see one of the children turned scientist enjoying one of their favorite pastimes.  Then two separate visuals are joined together by shared elements or by one element morphing into another element.  For the final three individuals, this style is reversed.

Readers will travel from the present to the past, from childhood to adulthood with ease and fascination.  Maribel Lechuga's vibrant pictures are full of details of flora and fauna.  Her historical accuracy of place and time through clothing, architecture, and technology is excellent.  Energized by her artwork, we want to be with these people and we are.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  We are at the same level as Will who has climbed up an oak tree.  A nest filled with five blue-speckled eggs is nestled between two branches.  His left arm is wrapped around the tree trunk for support.  His right arm and hand are extended toward the nest.  His face is filled with happy anticipation.  On the grassy meadow with low shrubs beneath him, his bike is laying on its side.


Whether you are already a collector and lover of the outdoors or not, this book, What's in Your Pocket?: Collecting Nature's Treasures written by Heather L. Montgomery with illustrations by Maribel Lechuga, is guaranteed to inspire you to increase your respect and interest in our natural world.  At the close of the book are four plus pages titled More About These (Grown-Up) Kids.  There is a recommended additional book title for more facts about each person after these short biographical paragraphs.  There is A Note from the Illustrator, A Note from the Author: My Collections, a list of Field Guides and a Selected Bibliography.  Your personal and professional collections won't be complete without a copy of this book.

To discover more about Heather L. Montgomery and Maribel Lechuga and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Heather L. Montgomery has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Maribel Lechuga has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website is an interior image and a fantastic nine-page activity kit.  At Penguin Random House are several of the initial interior illustrations.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Noticing Nature #2

Across the street is a large vacant lot.  On either side is a row of trees and shrubs.  To the west is an occupied home.  To the east are two unoccupied houses.  Behind them are rows of mature evergreens.  It is a forest in a neighborhood.  By chance, several days ago, I looked up from working at the kitchen sink out the windows at that vacant lot.  Gasping, I watched a fox in the middle of the day running from one side to the other.  Now, when out walking with my canine companion, she stops, sits and raises her nose sniffing as soon as we are near that wooded area.  She knows.

(And then just minutes ago, yes today, November 16, 2021, as we rounded that familiar corner close to our home on our walk, the crows were more vocal than normal.  Out of a row of trees on our left, the fox ran, stopped on a grassy area, crossed the road in front of us, and stopped on the lawn of a house on the right before disappearing into those woods. He was gorgeous, red and with lots of bright white on his tail.  I was trying to get my phone out of my pocket to get a picture, but also gaze at him at the same time.  Mulan, my dog, just stood silently and watched.)

Wild animals, regardless of where we live, are a part of our world.  Living with them is wondrous.  We never know when they will cross our paths or we will cross their paths.  We All Play kimetawanaw (Greystone Kids, Greystone Books Ltd, May 25, 2021) written and illustrated by Julie Flett explores the commonality and bond between animals and children.

Animals hide

and hop

and sniff

and sneak . . .

Rabbits, foxes, a turtle, and eight owls show a group of gals and guys how they play.  Next, we find ourselves in and near water.  Here whales, seals, and a mother Canada goose and her babies squirt, bend, and chase.  Nearby, children enjoy the same activities.

Back on land, snakes slither through grass.  Buffalos thunder across the plains.  Bears act like acrobats.  Snow has fallen.  Bundled in their winter wear, a hill provides the same possibilities for the girls and boys.

After a day of being constantly on the move, the animals start to slow.  They look for a space to be cozy and to cuddle.  Together, they rest.  Do the children snooze, too?


The words author Julie Flett has selected are like musical notes in a song.  Their alliteration envelopes readers, inviting us to participate.  With every page turn, the melody increases taking us through the seasons and days of play.  Three times with three different animals, we watch and listen as they play, then the same refrain, the title, ties the animals to the children.  It is here that the Cree language is used with the English.  Here is another portion of a passage.

Animals . . .

and wiggle

and wobble.

On either side of the spine, the grasses extend on the cream canvas.  As the children chase butterflies, the bobcat youngsters calmly watch on the front, right side.  You can, in your mind, hear the children laughing.  Their exuberance is contagious.  On the left, back of the dust jacket, two children are lying in the grass, feet to feet.  Their arms are raised.  A butterfly glides just out of reach.

An interior image of seals enjoying a swim is placed on the book case.  The background is the same rich cream color.  Bubbles rise from each of the three and along the bottom.

On the opening endpapers is the green used for the grasses.  On the closing endpapers is a rusty red of autumn leaves.  On the title page, the image from the front of the jacket is replicated.  Opposite this is the dedication page.  Here illustrator Julie Flett speaks of her father, Clarence Flett, Swampy Cree, Red River Metis (1936-2019).  

Rendered in pastel and pencil, composited digitally

these illustrations, each double-page image, depict joy in its purest form.  Animals appear and leave on page edges, left and right, top and bottom, breaking the frame.  Tiny details are tucked into visuals, Insects jump with the rabbits.  The geese walk among a patch of clover.  Beetles are busy as the buffalos rush past them.  Paw prints fashion a trail past the bobcats.

One of my many favorite illustrations accompanies the text above noted.  Here three bears enjoy an early snowfall.  Their warm brown bodies against the snow is a pleasing contrast.  On the left, one of the bears is on its back, feet curled up.  On the right, another bear is sliding down on its stomach toward the first bear.  A smaller bear is on the back of the sliding bear.  If they spoke our language, they might be saying
yippee!


Asking us to be aware, see, and respect what nature supplies us, We All Play written and illustrated by Julie Flett celebrates the antics in the animal world we mirror in the human world.  No matter how many times you read this book, the happiness will heighten your own happiness.  At the close of the book is a list of animals in English and in Cree.  This is followed by an explanation of the Cree 

used in this book.

There is also a Dear Reader note from Julie Flett.  I highly recommend this title for all your collections, personal and professional.

To learn more about Julie Flett and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Julie Flett has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. Julie Flett was highlighted this past May on two websites, Art Of The Picture Book and Let's Talk Picture Books.  At the publisher's website is a guide for educators and parents and an audio pronunciation of the Cree words.  At School Library Journal, The Classroom Bookshelf, this title is featured with multiple resources and educational ideas.


We All Play by Julie Flett from Let's Talk Picture Books on Vimeo.



Color conveys and connects to us, as do light and shadow within those colors.  In her two previous phenomenal books, Green (March 27, 2012) and Blue (September 25, 2018)Laura Vaccaro Seeger presented colors to readers with fresh eyes.  She elevated our awareness of colors' effects on us.  In her new book, Red (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, October 5, 2021), Laura Vaccaro Seeger tells of being lost and found, heartbreak and humanity.  It is about a fox.  It is about a girl.  It is about all of us.

dark red

light red

lost red

During a move at dusk, a young fox gets separated from its group.  It sleeps, awaking and realizing it is lost.  It safely crosses a road by a railroad tracks during the dark of night.

While roaming, the fox notices a girl in the yard of her home.  She watches the fox watching her.  Continuing its explorations, the fox finds other signs of humans, eventually injuring itself on a rusty nail.

It seeks food and discovers other obstacles, some high.  The fox moves through the woods and into a field.  Readers will recognize the vehicle and a box from a previous scene.  Hungry, the animal is unaware of the danger ahead.

Human and animal clash.  Compassion and confidence blend in another animal and human encounter.  Steps by steps, previous settings are revisited until there is a flash of . . .


Each word placed before the title word by Laura Vaccaro Seeger reflects a time of day, an emotional feeling, a description of place, a foreshadowing, a physical characteristic, or homecoming.  At times every other word will rhyme.  Sometimes for emphasis words in succession will rhyme.  And those words, in turn, rhyme with an earlier word.  There is a bit of alliteration to enhance the cadence.  It is an ingenious working with words by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. 


When you first look at the swirl of red shades on the open and matching dust jacket and book case, the image extending from flap edge to flap edge, what do you see?  If you look closely above the raised title text on the front, right side, there is the head of a fox.  When you look at the entire jacket and case, you can see the whole body of the fox running.  Above and below this fox are other foxes.  What would it be like to see a group of them running together?

On the opening endpapers, which is also the title page, we are deep in a forest.  Tall trees, undergrowth, and patches of grass span page edge to page edge.  Through the tops of trees is a brilliant blue sky.  Three foxes briskly walk toward the right side beneath the title text.  On the left, behind them, another fox strides toward them.  With another page turn, the woods are darker.  We see the first die-cut leading us to the next double-page picture.  On the closing endpapers are words from the author illustrator, a dedication and the publication information, all on the left.  On the right side are three vertical panels, one green, one blue, and the third, red.  (I got goosebumps reading the author's note.)

Using acrylic paint on canvas

Laura Vaccaro Seeger takes us on an intense journey.  Through her artwork and the placement of die-cuts, it is a sensory experience, abundant in detail.  We are walking through darkened woodlands.  We are waking on a cliff overlooking an expanse of forest as the sun is partially shown on the horizon.  We are curious.  We are hurt.  We need food.  We need help.  And most of all, we need to find our way home.  

Between the final two-word phrases, Laura Vaccaro Seeger breaks from her double-page pictures.  On these two wordless picture pages, first on the left, are three panels.  There are two squares over a rectangle.  On the right side is a full-page picture.  Then, it is guaranteed you will sigh at the sight of the final two-page image with the last two words.

One of my many favorite pictures is for the two words, rose red.  At the base of the two-page visual, among the grass and roses, the fox, on the right, looks forward.  In front of the fox is a sturdy white fence, made of posts and a single row of rails.  The setting is framed on the left by oak leaves and acorns, and on the right by a blooming red and pink bush.  In the upper portion of the picture on the left, the girl is picking up a ball.  She and the fox look at each other.


As soon as you finish reading Red written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, you'll read it again and again.  Then you'll go to your bookshelves, or the nearest library to read the two previous books in the trilogy.  You might read all of them together more than once.  You certainly need a copy of this book for your professional and personal collections.

To discover more about Laura Vaccaro Seeger and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. Laura Vaccaro Seeger has accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  At the publisher's website are an event kit with activities and an educator's guide with discussion questions.  At Penguin Random House you can view the first double-page picture, the title page.  This book and her other work is discussed with Laura Vaccaro Seeger at Publishers Weekly, Let's Talk Picture Books and Critter Lit.






As we get older, we see the world with a wider and deeper perspective.  For many adults, but not all adults, it is clouded by past events and life experiences.  What we need to retain is the constant curiosity and bliss we had as children in investigating the world outside our homes.  Dear Little One (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, November 2, 2021) written by Nina Laden with illustrations by Melissa Castrillon is a love letter to our natural surroundings and all the minute marvels they hold.

Dear Little One

Your time on
Earth has just
begun. 

A small child and their dog walk along the shoreline, peer into the water, and touch its surface.  The child is encouraged, as they walk into the woods, away from their home, to look, listen, and inhale.  They are asked to appreciate the flowers, bees, and trees.

Insects abound in sheltered nooks and crannies.  It only takes a minute to seek them out and observe their work.  Plants, from seeds to stalk, reveal secrets.

Speaking of secrets, what can you find by digging through the dirt?  There might be treasure, natural or human.  As the child and her canine companion walk through the woods, they need to remember their purpose in keeping our planet alive.  Each animal found along the way is part of a vital unseen web.

It is important to remember to venture farther than our home.  We must develop a respect for large bodies of water, sand, and tall mountains.  Wind, calm or wild, rain, snow, and the sun each are essential.  Be sure to gaze at the stars and have their endless expanse embrace you.  You are a caretaker of this Earth, now and always.  


You know from reading the first word Nina Laden is addressing someone with, at the very least, respect.  As the narrative continues, you realize, through her lyrical rhyming text, the speaker is building a loving relationship with the child.  They ask the child to be aware, to be grateful, and to be responsible.  Sentence by sentence we get a sense of building toward something extraordinary.  The final three words are our answer.  Here is a passage.

Hike in the forests.
They make the world green.
Their leaves act like lungs
to keep the air clean.


Two lavishly framed and illustrated scenes greet readers on the back, left, and front, right, of the open dust jacket.  The exotic plant life, flowers and leaves, twine around a three-lined gold foil border on the front and a golden yellow border on the back.  The child, on the front, is already heeding the advice of the speaker in looking at the beetle.  Other insects and small creatures are curious about her.  How many more can you see?

On the back, the child and their dog are perched on a branch.  It is placed near the top of the image.  They are looking at something to their right.  Beneath them are ferns, flowers, and a single bee.  

The book case is done in several hues of deep green.  There are less elements in the scenes on the back, left, and the front, right.  The child is only shown on the front.  There is more gold foil in addition to the borders.  Both the jacket and case are stunning.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a fan pattern with evergreen trees, tree branches, birds and leaves.  It is done in green and cream.  The child with a backpack is standing in a corner with their dog, ready to explore.  With a page turn, we see bees in cream on green on the left.  On the right, the child is smelling a flower as their dog runs behind them.  The child is wearing a red jacket and yellow pants.  The dedication, publication information and title pages are a two-page picture.  A close-up of leaves and flowers surround the text.  There are a few small critters.

Each of the two-page pictures, full-page pictures and smaller pictures grouped on a single page

were rendered in pencil and then colored digitally

by Melissa Castrillon.  The delicate lines and intricate details welcome closer inspection.  The invitations found in the text are enhanced by the artwork.  The breathtaking color choices amplify the enchanting images.  Shifting perspectives make us a part of the adventure.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture at night.  A portion of the moon hangs low in the sky in the upper left-hand corner.  Evergreens bend in from the left and right sides.  The sky is peppered with stars, some of them shooting comet-like tails.  On a small hill in the center is a tent.  Close, but not too close, a small fire burns.  Next to it is the child and their dog.  They have a new friend, either a coyote or fox, joining them.  All of them are looking to the stars.  An owl dozes in one of the trees.  The colors are cream, purple, and green, with the exception being the child's clothing and the orange red of the tent and fire.


In a word, this book, Dear Little One written by Nina Laden with illustrations by Melissa Castrillon, is splendid.  The heart-warming letter paired with the striking artwork makes this a book to treasure and share often.  Your personal and professional collections will not be complete without a copy of this title.

By following the link attached to their names, you can learn more about Nina Laden and Melissa Castrillon and their other work at their websites.  Nina Laden has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  Melissa Castrillon has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images including the open dust jacket and book case.