Quote of the Month

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Art Of Being Yourself

During the tenure of your career thousands of children will walk into your classroom, the school library.  If you are fortunate you will be able to offer opportunities to students in grades kindergarten through graduation from high school.  You will learn all their names.  You will learn to support all their learning needs with access to materials inside and outside the walls of your facility.  You will give the right book to the right reader at the right time. And just like snowflakes no two of them will be alike but you will be stunned by the beauty each one reveals to you.

This past week a boy, similar but not exactly like any previous students, walked into my life through the pages of a book.  As soon as I met him, he had my heart.  I cheered for him from page one until page one hundred, ninety-two.  A Boy Called Bat (Walden Pond Press, March 14, 2017) written by Elana K. Arnold with pictures by Charles Santoso will find a place in your heart too.

Bixby Alexander Tam stared into the refrigerator, trying to decide what to eat.  He knew that the longer he took, the more energy he was wasting, and Bixby Alexander Tam did not like to waste energy.  But he also didn't like to eat leftovers, or cheese that had to be sliced, or any of the yogurt flavors in the fridge.

Very early in this title we are aware of the characteristics making Bixby Alexander Tam (Bat) wonderfully unique.  Vanilla yogurt, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with no crusts, specifically organized dresser drawers and an animal encyclopedia are a few of his favorite things.  Trying not to panic when five o'clock comes and goes without his mother, a veterinarian, arriving home, Bat urges his older sister Janie to call the police.  In the next moment his mother comes home but she has no vanilla yogurt.  Bat can feel his anger rising but his mother calms him and reveals the reason for her tardiness.

His mother has a baby animal.  It's an orphaned baby skunk!  They will keep him for about four weeks.  The kit will be passed to the wild animal rescue center who will keep him for about five months until he can be released back into the natural world.  Bat can hardly contain his excitement.  When he first holds and feeds the baby, he knows with every fiber of his being the kit needs to stay with them.

Days at Saw Whet School, a private school, are full of support and challenges for Bat.  His teacher, Mr. Grayson understands Bat and the other students in his classroom, even providing a white angora bunny, Babycakes, for students to hold when they need her comfort.  Working in groups is difficult for Bat; he knows he can work faster and better alone but he's learning.

Balancing between what he feels and what he has to do is tricky for Bat at home with his sister and at his father's apartment every other Friday for the weekend.  It is obvious they all love each other but they are three different individuals.  It's Bat's mother who anchors his life.  They share a kinship in their care and understanding of animals.

A particular paragraph on skunks in his cherished book gives Bat an idea which he puts into action with the help of Mr. Grayson.  Time is running out for Bat and Thor (the name Janie give the skunk kit).  Will Bat lose this animal he has grown to love?  What will Bat gain as the final page is turned?

I do believe with the first sentence author Elana K. Arnold connects with many readers. As she continues her narrative sentence by sentence, conversation by conversation, we feel our compassion for Bat, his family, his educational mentors and his classmates growing.  Each individual is navigating their way through relationships.  Each one is trying to connect with the signature personality of the marvelous boy named Bixby Alexander Tam.  Through the use of very specific details in day to day situations we form a clear and genuine picture of who this child is.  Here are some sample passages.

The skunk's little pink tongue lapped at the formula.  Droplets gathered at the corners of his mouth, and some ran down his chin onto the towel, but most of it made it into the baby skunk.
"I'm doing it," Bat whispered.  "I'm feeding him." 
"You sure are," Mom said.
Bat knew he was doing a messier job of it than Mom had done, but the baby skunk didn't seem to mind.
"I love him," Bat said.  He hadn't meant to say it out loud.
Mom laughed.  "Careful, or you might make me jealous," she said.
"But it's true," Bat said.  "I love him."
Mom said they'd have to hand the kit over to the rescue center in a month.  But Bat, holding the tiny animal in his arms, made a silent promise that he'd figure out a way to keep him.

Bat loved braiding Janie's hair, even though he usually wasn't very good at hand things.  He liked the feeling of the damp, heavy hair; he liked organizing it into a series of smaller, neatly contained braids; he liked feeling close to Janie like this, by helping her and touching her, without having to have a big conversation that might turn into a fight.
Getting along with people was hard for Bat.  Figuring out what they meant when they said something, or when they made certain faces at him...People were complicated.  But braiding was easy.

The image on the front of the dust jacket of Bat and the skunk kit, Thor, accomplishes several things at first glance.  That frozen moment between a boy and a skunk is one of total trust.  We can already see the affection Bat has for Thor.  And we are wondering how this boy comes to be holding a skunk.

The black and white illustrations by Charles Santoso are like snapshots of intimate moments in the life of Bat, his family, teacher and classmates.  Most of them bring us close to the people.  Each one radiates warmth.

One of my many favorite pictures is of Janie standing on the corner waiting for Bat and his father to pick her up on one of the Every-Other Fridays weekends.  It's raining outside.  She is standing in a small puddle wearing a rain slicker and carrying her backpack on top of it.  This is the accompanying text:

She was standing near the corner, wearing her bright-yellow rain slicker.  Bat admired the way she looked, like a shiny yellow sun.

As I read through most of this story a second time, I kept thinking about using A Boy Called Bat written by Elana K. Arnold with pictures by Charles Santoso as a read aloud either as a parent with children or a teacher with students.  It's a charming story about all of us being our best selves and connecting with others by choosing kindness.  I recommend you place this on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Elana K. Arnold and Charles Santoso and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Elana K. Arnold has a blog here.  Charles Santoso maintains a Tumblr and Instagram account.  At the publisher's website you can read or listen to a sample of the book.  At the Nerdy Book Club the cover was revealed and Elana K. Arnold wrote another guest post about this title.  A Boy Called Bat Educator's Resource is located here.

A Boy Called Bat
by Elana K. Arnold
illustrated by Charles Santoso
On Sale: 03/14/2017
ISBN: 9780062445827
ISBN 10: 0062445820
From acclaimed author Elana K. Arnold and with illustrations by Charles Santoso, A Boy Called Bat is the first book in a funny, heartfelt, and irresistible young middle grade series starring an unforgettable young boy on the autism spectrum.
For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.
But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.
Critical Praise
“Delightful, endearing, and utterly relatable, Bat Tam is destined to be a dear and necessary friend for young readers. I adore him and his story.” — Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy
“Written in third person, this engaging and insightful story makes readers intimately aware of what Bat is thinking and how he perceives the events and people in his life. With empathy and humor, Arnold delves into Bat’s relationships with his divorced parents, older sister, teachers, and classmates.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Comfortably familiar and quietly groundbreaking, this introduction to Bat should charm readers, who will likely look forward to more opportunities to explore life from Bat’s particular point of view.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Brimming with quietly tender moments, subtle humor, and authentically rendered family dynamics, Arnold’s story, the first in a new series, offers a nonprescriptive and deeply heartfelt glimpse into the life of a boy on the autism spectrum.” — Booklist
About Elana K. Arnold

Elana K. Arnold grew up in Southern California, where she was lucky enough to have her own perfect pet—a gorgeous mare named Rainbow—and a family who let her read as many books as she wanted. She is the author of picture books, middle grade novels, and books for teens. She lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. You can find her online at www.elanakarnold.com.

March 9-Novel Novice
March 14-All The Wonders
March 19-Nerdy Book Club
March 20-LibLaura5

Saturday, March 25, 2017

To Life...Well Lived

During this school year, I have come to feel affection for a particular third grade classroom and their teacher.  From meeting with them each week we have reached a level of mutual trust.  We understand each other.

Earlier this week a recently acquired title left a lasting impression on me.  I read it aloud to this class of guys and gals and their mentor yesterday.  The reading was precipitated with a single sentence.  At the conclusion of the book a hush settled over the room.  A few of the listeners sighed.  The magic of this story left the pages of the book and wrapped itself around all of us.  Big Cat, little cat (Roaring Brook Press, March 14, 2017) written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper is the book.

There was a cat

who lived alone.

One day this oneness changed.  Another cat came into the home; a small cat.  It was a little black kitten.

The white cat took charge of this new resident.  The kitten learned about eating, drinking, using the litter box, resting and the art of being a cat.  They curled around one another to sleep.  They were entwined in mutual respect and admiration.

The kitten grew and grew until there was a big white cat and a larger black cat.  Their days were filled with cat tasks like snooping in the refrigerator when the door was open, exploring the furniture, watching the birds at the feeder, and thinking cat thoughts. You could watch them go crazy romping around the rooms for a frenzied few minutes.  Life was wonderful.

Years passed.  The two cats were inseparable.  More years passed.  The white cat grew so old, he drew his last breath.  A deep sorrow descended on everyone in the home but especially on the black cat.  But...

Simple, straightforward text gently (like cat paws walking across the floor) tells the tale of these two cats.  Elisha Cooper focuses our attention on essential cat activities.  During the first of these portions of the story when the big cat is showing the little cat how to be a cat in this home, each phrase in the explanatory sentence, separated by commas, is three words long.  In another section of the story again a single sentence is supported by a group of words separated by commas, in a second sentence.

The pacing throughout is slow and measured leading us into the lives of these two cats.  We understand how their days are spent.  We understand their togetherness.  We are connected to their bond.  Here are two sentences.  They also show how Elisha Cooper expands on the title text.

Days went by---and months, too---and the little cat grew

and grew

and grew.

Big cat, bigger cat.

When you open the dust jacket for this book, you are immediately entranced by the sheer power of the simplicity of the design.  On the far left flap at the bottom we see a black tail waving from part of the cat's back.  On the back of the jacket we are looking at two cats, a foreshadowing of the conclusion, side by side, facing away from us.  On the bottom of the right flap, all we see is a portion of a white cat's face, ears and eyes, looking right at us.  The tail on the white cat on the front of the jacket curls around the logo for the publisher.

The golden yellow wash on the jacket and book case is the only color in the book except for the title text, the endpapers and four important significant images. Etched in white on the case are a bigger cat on the front and a smaller cat on the back.  They are looking at each other across the spine. The endpapers are a blue wash patterned with little and big white and black dots which are washed in the blue.

Across the title page Elisha Cooper has placed important places and items in the home; the kitchen with cat bowls, a living room chair with a cozy blanket (dotted), the bird feeder outside the window and a ball of yarn.  These places are revisited during the story like a comfortable recurring theme.  White space is a strong element in every illustration.  As mentioned above, the use of another wash instead of the white creates a vivid emotion.

With a stroke of his brush, a few lines and dots Elisha Cooper depicts the true spirit of cats.  His simple outlines of other elements allow us to be full participants in his story.  Everything about this book invites and welcomes.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the little black kitten arrives.  It's at the end of the first day or many days.  The big white cat is sleeping with one front paw extended facing to the left.  The little black cat is facing to the right, body wrapped inside the curve of the larger cat.  This extends across two pages.  In fact a portion of the larger cat's tail and back bleeds off the pages.

With this book, Big Cat, little cat, Elisha Cooper uses the less is more concept with masterful excellence.  No matter how many times you read this book, the feeling you hold in your heart is the same.  This title leads you through life with all the joys and sadness that come but also leaves you with hope.  I highly recommend you read and acquire a copy of Big Cat, little cat.

To learn more about Elisha Cooper and his other work please visit his website by following the links attached to his name.  He includes pages from this book at his website.  At the publisher's website you can view other interior images.  At author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's website, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, we are given the opportunity to see process art from this book and read a few comments from Elisha.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Two Halves Of A Happy Whole

Children are attracted to puppies.  Puppies gravitate toward children.  You simply can't keep them apart.  Once they have been introduced to one another, they are inseparable.  After visiting an elementary school classroom several times, my sixth month old puppy instantly perks up at the sound of children's voices.  These younger humans and their canine counterparts share much in common.

Yesterday was National Puppy Daya celebration started in 2006 to recognize how human lives are changed when puppies enter them.  (It also helps to bring awareness to the many orphan puppies needing forever homes.)  One of the most delightful new titles to express this irrepressible joy is Puppy, Puppy, Puppy (Boyd Mills Press, an imprint of Highlights, April 4, 2017) written by Julie Sternberg with illustrations by Fred Koehler.

As the sun rises,
Baby enjoys breakfast,
and Puppy enjoys breakfast.
And Baby says,

As the morning progresses Baby and Puppy get dressed or is it make a mess?  Gardening takes on a whole new meaning.  Mom and Dad are carefully turning the soil among the flowering masses.  The youngest duo are enjoying the benefits of a hose, plucking a bunch of flowers and wearing dirt is the new attire of the day.

Bath time is a mix of suds and mud; footprints and pawprints patterned on the bathroom floor and wall.  Whew!  After all this morning excitement it is time for a snooze.  Baby is tucked away in one place and Puppy is gated in another space.  Two tuckered-out parents slump side by side in sleep.

Puppy spies Baby's toy.  No gate is going to stop this puppy from spending time with a pal.  No crib is going to stop this baby from being with a best buddy.  While parents rest and later as the afternoon passes, Baby and Puppy are stuck together by friendship glue.

As the night sky darkens Puppy and Baby prepare for bedtime.  They must be exhausted by now, but not too tired to raise a chorus at the moon.  How long will they slumber?  Only the sun knows.

Author Julie Sternberg starts with a trio of paragraphs sharing the same rhythmic sentences only altering the activity for each.  This firmly establishes the reader's presence within the story.  Bathtime and naptime break this pace but create new ones.  The original beat begins anew as Sternberg reinforces the bond formed between the baby and the puppy as the afternoon continues and the day closes.  Here is the naptime passage.

Baby wails,

Puppy cries.
Baby cries.

Mommy and Daddy say,
"Shh, Puppy.  Puppy, shh.
Shh, shh, shh."

I don't know how you can look at the matching dust jacket and book case without smiling or laughing out loud.  Those pawprints and handprints all over the title text and the puppy enjoying the baby's spilled food speak volumes.  The pale yellow background superbly accents the other elements on the front.  To the left, on the back, is a scene from nighttime slumber of Baby curled on the floor and Puppy using the child as a pillow.  The opening and closing endpapers are the same bright, sky blue as the title text.

Fred Koehler does not waste any space beginning the pictorial story on the title page.  Surprised parents are standing with gift-giving grandparents as Baby opens a box with Puppy leaning out.  The happiness on Puppy's and Baby's faces express an instant bond.  Opposite the verso page on the dedication page Baby and Puppy are eye-to-eye, each one clasping their treasured toys.

Rendered digitally Koehler extends the text with humor in his pictures which will have you giggling throughout the narrative.  It's the expressions on the parent's faces amid the chaos created by Puppy and Baby which tell another tale.  Most of the visuals extend page edge to page edge across two pages.

His backgrounds are usually the pale yellow, a pale blue or a dark purplish brown.  These backgrounds hold the setting done in line drawings and varied hues of the background color.  The main elements are done in full color.  It's a wonderful effect.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is the garden scene.  It is a pale yellow background with lighter yellow clouds.  Across a portion of the lower half is a garden full of red flowers.  On the left, at the top of the garden, Mommy and Daddy are working.  Mommy is bent over either digging or hoeing.  Daddy has stopped and is leaning with one hand on his shovel.  His other hand is pointed toward Mommy's shoulder.  You can almost hear him saying, "Ah dear, you might want to look at Baby and Puppy."  The toys, the bone and blue monster, are sticking out of the mud.  The puppy is spraying the hose at Baby.  Baby is pulling out flowers.  They are both literally coated in mud.

Puppy, Puppy, Puppy written by Julie Sternberg with illustrations by Fred Koehler is absolutely perfect for National Puppy Day or any day of the year when you want to share the delight of a baby and puppy together.  This blend of story and illustrations is guaranteed to generate laughter.  These two, an author and an illustrator, certainly know how to present the essence of puppies and babies within the pages of a book.

To learn more about Julie Sternberg and Fred Koehler and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Julie Sternberg is featured at HenryHerz.com, and All The Wonders, Let's Get Busy, Episode 198 with teacher librarian Matthew Winner.  Fred Koehler is showcased at The Writers' Loop, The Picturebooking Podcast, and All The Wonders, Let's Get Busy, Episode 240 with Matthew Winner.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

...Comes Bob-Bob Bobbin' Along

For as long as I can remember their presence is one of several signs spring will be here soon.  First you occasionally see one or two, then you might see an entire flock covering a lawn as they migrate to their home territories.  The once cold, silent sunrises are now filled with a new song.

There is an old practice for bringing good luck when you see the first one of a new season.  Upon sighting one, lick the thumb of your right hand and then place it in the palm of your left hand.  You next make a fist with your right hand and stamp it on top of the thumb print on your left palm.  When you make a wish as you do this, it will come true.

According to this old tradition American robins, the state bird of three states, Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin, are like winged, four-leaf clovers.  When visiting a book store recently I knew I had to have Robins! How They Grow Up (Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, February 7, 2017) written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow.  You may think you know everything there is to know about robins but this book offers you much more.

We're robins!
Our black and white speckles mean we're young---a few months old.
Robin teenagers!
Why are we living in your yard?
Well, here's the story.

With that short introduction our two robin narrators begin a tale of truth on how they came to be talking to us.  It all starts in the spring when millions of male robins come north first.  It's not an easy trip avoiding treacherous weather and predator birds.  These male robins look for a secure area with plenty of food and water.  Then they defend their space and wait.

After weeks the female robins travel to all the places selected by the males.  Amid all the singing partnerships are formed.  Females look for the safest sheltered place to build a nest.  Like a potter molding clay they use bits and pieces of grass, twigs, leaves and mud as glue.  You can find these natural bowls just about any place they believe is protected.

Once the eggs, three or four, are setting in the nest the female keeps them warm with her body.  Did you know she turns the eggs to regulate the temperature?  Have you ever heard of a brood patch?  When these two teenage robins' mom leaves one time, a sneaky squirrel gets one of the eggs.  It takes two weeks for the remaining eggs to reveal their contents.

At two day increments we learn how the babies eat, how their feathers grow and even how they deposit their waste.  When they first leave the nest at two weeks, it's seriously frightening.  At this point the learning of flying and eating needs to escalate.  The dad has now takes charge keeping the birds safe at night by joining other males and babies in a large tree for roosting.  As lessons progress another baby is lost to a hungry hawk.  It's not easy being a baby robin.

Bathing is a must for cleanliness, bug removal and oiling.  At two months the learning is still proceeding with listening to adults and practice, practice and more practice.  At three months old the night tree gets more crowded.  Mom has hatched another set of eggs.  Within five months large changes take place and another one is about to begin.

Throughout the title Eileen Christelow has her two "experts" speaking directly to readers.  Their informed revelations compel you to keep turning the pages.  The insertion of sound effects heightens the realism.   You want to know the outcome of all their challenges.

Along with the narrative text, Christelow has the two robins making side comments within speech bubbles on nearly every page.  These comments include extra details such as why males chase other males from their space, coloration, animals which eat the eggs, baby food, and the function of tail feathers.  They are slightly humorous too.  To give readers a sense of time, she places the number of weeks and months old of the babies above a shift in the text. Here is a sample of the narrative.

Dad starts dropping the worms,
and we have to find them.
We poke, peck, scratch...
Then we learn a trick.
If we tilt our heads, we can see and hear better!  With a little practice, we're finding moths, spiders, caterpillars...and worms!

Our eyes are on the side of our heads.

Yeah, I'm looking right at you!

Rendered digitally using various Photoshop brushes, an iMac, and a large Wacom Pro tablet all of the illustrations are bursting with life.  On the matching dust jacket and book case you can almost hear the peeping of the babies wanting to be fed immediately.  To the left, on the back, an adult has captured a worm and is stretching it out of the ground.  This is placed within a small square framed in red on a white background.  The opening and closing endpapers are robin's breast red.

Eileen Christelow spans her illustrations across a page and a half, in a series of vertical panels, a single page panel, a series of square and rectangle panels on a single page or a combination of a large panel sharing a page with two or three smaller ones.  Her picture sizes perfect the pacing.  The two narrating robins are always outside of any frame.

To add interest to the visuals she has elements extend outside of the frames.  The perspective in the illustrations varies but many times we are given a distinctive bird's eye view usually on the ground because this is about babies coming into adulthood.  Her attention to detail is either a result of intense and long observation or extensive research or a combination of both.

One of my favorite series of illustrations is when the last baby bird is poised on the rim of the nest.  To the left of the page is a long vertical view of the nest sitting on top of a hoe in a storage shed.  Then to the right are five separate smaller pictures.  It's almost like stop-action photography how she frames the flapping of wings, the leaning over the edge, the leap and the fall and some flying.

To enhance your collection's bird titles Robins! How They Grow written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow is one you will want to acquire.  For libraries in Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin it's a must have!  At the conclusion of the book is an Author's Note, Glossary, two pages of facts, More About Robins! and Sources, print and online.

To learn more about Eileen Christelow and her other considerable work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other titles listed by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  It's amazing how much we all learn each week from these nonfiction picture books.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

To Be Seen To Be Recognized

In the early hours of yesterday morning, after finishing up a writing project, my canine companion and I took a stroll around our backyard.  As we were approaching the house, she began to growl.  She became more and more agitated.  As a mere human, looking into the night and listening, I still had no clue as to the cause of her upset.  Nevertheless, we scampered up the deck steps and into the house.  After turning on the backyard lights I swirled around as her barking increased to look at one of the biggest opossums I have ever seen running across the patio tiles.

To state the obvious, if you don't see something, you really aren't aware of it sharing your living space.  What can be described as upbeat, informative and completely hilarious Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You've Never Heard Of (David Fickling Books, October 6, 2016, Scholastic, Inc., February 2017) written and illustrated by Martin Brown introduces us to twenty-three animals about which we rarely encounter in books.  Readers will finish this title after visiting small, almost hidden, sections of land and vast areas around the globe with a greater respect for these creatures and the need to preserve and protect their habitats and lives.

The five paragraph introduction begins:
FED UP WITH THE SAME OLD ANIMALS?  HAD ENOUGH of hippos?  Bored with bears?  Tired of tigers?  Do you want animals that are fresh, new and exciting?

A diet of nearly 20,000 termites a day is a staggering figure but to a Numbat, a marsupial residing in Australia, it is a culinary feast.  And here's another interesting little tidbit; it has no pouch for the baby numbats.  Crossing to an island in the Caribbean we find the Cuban Solenodon which is a rare, dangerous and remarkable nocturnal being.  It actually has a ball-and-socket joint in its nose.  Do not, if you should ever see one, let it bite you.

On the continent of Africa there are two animals making their home in the southern portion who are almost neighbors.  The Lesser Fairy Armadillo and Zorilla use armor and stink respectively to protect them.  To give you some perspective skunks smell like roses compared to a zorilla.

Java, Indonesia is the only place on earth where the Silvery Gibbon can be found.  They are endangered because they are struggling for a place to live sharing the island with a huge human population.  As beneficial as bees the Dagger-Toothed Flower Bat flies throughout the islands of Southeast Asia and even into northern Australia.

A mouse that's not a mouse, a insectivore with a nose having four distinct uses, a rock-dweller with a name that should be on a Hollywood screen, a wild ass which runs at an astonishing speed and a critter so sneaky it can make its cat-like shape appear to be a snake are given places in these pages.  Kangaroos are mentioned more frequently than wallabies but the Yellow-Footed Rock Wallaby is in a class all by itself for beauty and leaping from dizzying heights in its rocky abode.

You would think you would have heard of a cow more than six feet tall, nine feet long and weighing up to 2,200 pounds but have you ever read about a Gaur?  Sand-hiding cats, bottom-of-the-world dwelling dolphins living in groups of a thousand, red, gray and golden descriptors for three endangered primates, critically endangered grassland antelopes of Kenya, the most massive population of large seals, a rabbit relative with exceptional grass-gathering skills for surviving winters, disappearing duikers and the comeback-kid Black-Footed Ferret are presented.

The manner in which Martin Brown weaves facts into easy conversation brimming with humor captivates and fascinates on the first page.  For each of the showcased animals he provides their name with a clever remark underneath referencing a distinctive quality.  There is a half to whole page discussion revealing their most intriguing aspects.  He includes in a sidebar their size, what they eat, where they live, their status on the threatened list and an extra fact.  At times Martin will include an additional sidebar with other items of interest.  Here are some sample passages.

...And although skunks might be able to pack a punch with their powerful fumes, it's a relatively local stink.  The stench delivered by the zorilla is even more potent and can be smelled nearly a mile away.  Imagine what it must be like up close!

Next time your dog lets out a mutt-fart just be thankful you don't have this two-tone African stinker for a pet.

of an Indonesian jungle at night.  The air is heavy and alive with clicks and hoots and howls.  Everything smells musty and damp.  You are standing in a small open patch of rain forest, halfway up a remote ridge on the island of Sumatra, and you're waiting for a banded linsang to come along.  It might be a long wait.

From the expressions on the animals' faces (wide-eyed looks) and comments on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, it's a given this book is anything but ordinary.  When readers' eyes move to the left of the opened jacket and case a wary Speke's Pectinator whispers EEP!  Above him are postage stamp comical portraits of five of the featured creatures.

Delicate details and fine lines are filled with realistic but somewhat muted hues.  Each animal is given an entire page with elements sometimes extending over the gutter. (or half a body as in the case of the gaur)  Contributing to the humor Martin may have his animals making remarks.  These usually refer to something mentioned in the longer narrative.  As on the back of the jacket and case smaller framed-drawings are used to prove a point and extend comic comments for almost all the creatures.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the Dagger-Toothed Flower Bat.  The background color is a chocolate brown.  Along the top of the page four bats with wings wrapped around them like blankets are hanging upside down.  All of them with the exception of the one on the far right has bowed heads and closed eyes.  The one on the right is looking down with a question mark within a thought bubble.  It is looking at the bottom of the page.  Along the bottom is the tail of the Long-Tailed Dunnart extending from the next page.

The copy being used for this blog post was found at the public library but after reading Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You've Never Heard Of written and illustrated by Martin Brown, this reader will be acquiring several copies; one for my personal collection and more to hand out to eager readers.  One of many very important aspects of this title is found in the final paragraph:

So maybe the black-footed ferret shouldn't be in this book at all.  It's not so lesser spotted anymore.  But, perhaps, it shows that being better known helps you have a future---and that is what this book is about.  1,000 black-footed ferrets isn't many---but it's better than 18.

Martin Brown dedicates two pages to a glossary at the end.  He also explains the eight terms assigned to threatened species.

Martin Brown does not have a website but he is the illustrator for the hugely popular series, Horrible Histories.  You can find a little bit about him there.  Martin talks about his work and this book in a guest post for The Federation of Children's Book Groups.  He also talks about this book at London Mums.  Martin is interviewed at Paper Nations on March 6, 2017.  For a look at the jacket/case of the UK edition follow this link.  The Classroom Bookshelf at School Library Journal features this title.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Friendship Finds A Way

The existence of cities and civilizations beyond our knowledge is intriguing.  They may have flourished centuries ago leaving behind only fragments of their presence yet to be discovered.  To believe there is a corner on our planet with people, animals and plants thriving today untouched by anyone other than themselves is thrilling.  Hopefully in the future there will be societies more wonderful than we can imagine not only here but on other planets in other solar systems in other galaxies.

To allow our minds to wonder about these possibilities creates stories which fascinate us with every word we hear or read.  Last year graphic novelist Faith Erin Hicks released such a tale into the children's literature realm.  The Nameless City (First Second, April 5, 2016) is a remarkable place filled with The Named.  These people, the city's people, remain neutral as it is conquered over and over throughout generations.

Strategically located at the base of a mountain range, it contains a passage carved through the mountains so the River of Lives can flow into the sea.  For thirty years the Dao have held the city but the Yisun and the Liao are waiting for an opportunity to take it back.  As this book begins a group of Dao children have been sent to the city from their homeland to begin training as soldiers.

Twenty-five year old Erzi, the first Dao born in the city, is the son of the current ruler, The General Of All Blades.  He and his highly skilled body guard, a woman of The Nameless City, called Mura are instructing the group.  In the midst of this one of the main protagonists, Kaidu, meets his father, Andren, for the first time. As their relationship develops we come to understand why they are meeting after so many years and the role of Andren in the city's politics.

On his first adventure into the city alone, against palace policy, Kaidu meets one of The Named who calls herself Rat.  She is understandably not happy with a Dao.  He simply wants to find his way back to the palace.  After a theft and an impromptu race, a bargain is made; food in exchange for learning how to navigate the city on the rooftops.

Over the course of more than thirty days as their mutual respect and trust grows, so too does our knowledge of the monks home called The Stone Heart, a place of refuge and keeping of the city's history, the power struggle at the palace between the ruler, his son and Kaidu's father and of the Northern People, original occupants and builders of the city.  A secret meeting observed and a gift (two seemingly unrelated incidents) result in heart pounding life or death actions bringing readers breathlessly to the conclusion of this first title.

The Stone Heart (The Nameless City 2) (First Second, April 4, 2017) written and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks with color again by Jordie Bellaire begins three months after the electrifying conclusion of The Nameless City.  Rat has been spending time at the palace healing.  Tension between Erzi and his father, The General Of All Blades is intensifying.  Andren's plan for a council of all those concerned with the city is accepted by The General Of All Blades but not his son.

We understand something is amiss between Mura and Jonah, a former soldier now turned monk at The Stone Heart.  Rat reveals to Kaidu the monks harbor secrets forgetting he is Dao.  Two of Rat's friends are introduced to Kaidu, one grudgingly accepting his presence.  Two more key pieces in the ever-growing puzzle are supplied to readers; the death of Rat's parents and the saving of Mura by Erzi.  Every page turn sizzles with revelations as the pressure mounts.

A shocking betrayal will leave you stunned.  The status quo no longer exists.  New enemies and unexpected allies emerge.  Decisions with horrifying results are made to lessen the loss of life.

Adversaries within the city and outside the city are devising strategies.  That which has been stolen must be stolen again.  An escape under the cover of darkness holds promise but...what does the final panel mean?  Is a dark, bitter soul about to radiate pure evil?  (Talk about a cliffhanger...)

It is abundantly clear the heart of this trilogy as seen in the first two titles is the growing (unlikely) friendship and affection between Kaidu, a son of a Dao general and diplomat, and one of The Named, Rat.  As an author Faith Erin Hicks fashions this relationship in light of other bonds, Jonah and Rat, Kaidu and Andren, his father, The General Of All Blades and Erzi, and Erzi and Mura.  Expertly woven into the narrative, especially in the second book, are explanatory portions of the past.  The world Faith has built inspired by thirteenth-century China asks readers to think deeply about the conquered and their conquerors.

Told entirely through a skillful blend of dialogue and wordless images, the story captivates you through the universality of young people trying to make sense of the past, striving toward a better future while realizing their full potential.  The playful humor, the harbored feelings of wrongs committed, the emotional turmoil between parents and children and the strain of a city and country unraveling are displayed in Faith's use of words and language.  Here are some sample passages from book one and book two.

I guessed you'd go back there, and I was lucky: you did.
That's not fair! You can't beat me with luck!
Yeah, well, it happened.  Goodbye.
Race me again.
What? NO.
You have to!  No one is faster than me.
You're just going to have to live with one person being faster.
I'll take you back to the Dao palace.
Fine.  You take me home and I'll race you again.
C'mon, let's race.
Nope, done enough for today.  Race later.  Tomorrow, I guess.
Ugh, fine!  Tomorrow we race.
Just so you know, the palace is this way.
What's your name?
HaHa, I thought you said your name was Rat---
I did.
Do you want to know my name?
Why not?
I don't want to know any Dao's name. (Kaidu and Rat)

The city is a part of me, in a way that it isn't a part of you.
I was born here!  I grew up here!  I am the city's rightful heir.
You can't take that away from me because...because you feel sorry for a child!
A child who saved your life.
I will fight this plan for a council of nations.  I have supporters within the military.
I will not stand aside while you throw the empire away.
Then I will send you back to the Dao homelands.
I am the General Of All Blades.  I have decided on a path for the Dao in The Nameless City.  You will stand with me, or I will send you back to the homelands.
I've never even seen the Dao homelands.
You would send me away from everything I've ever known? (Erzi and his father)

The magnificent front of the book cases, on the hardcover and paperback copies, has raised portions of text and line work.  Each of the images is full of action nearly ready to leap from paper to reality.  From Rat and Kaidu running along the tiled roofs to Mura's warrior stance within Erzi's silhouette readers know they are in for nonstop adventure in this fantastic world.  On the opening and closing endpapers Faith Erin Hicks has drawn a map of The Nameless City and the outlying areas.

The intricate details in every single panel will have you pausing and going back to look at each one again.  The panoramic views are breathtaking and the close-ups bring you intimately into the moment.  The action sequences, of which there are many, are elaborately executed.  There will be times when you no longer feel like you are holding a book.  Instead you will believe you are watching a movie.

Some of my favorite illustrations are when Rat and Kaidu are running along the rooftops in the city.  Their feats display amazing agility.  When they leap across the river, rooftop to rooftop, you have to remind yourself to breathe.

If you have not read The Nameless City written by Faith Erin Hicks with color by Jordie Bellaire, remedy that immediately.  Then on April 4, 2017 run, don't walk, to your nearest independent bookstore to get a copy of The Stone Heart.  If they don't have it, stop by your public library to put in a request for them to purchase it or place a hold on a copy.  I read both these books twice yesterday.  You better believe when the final book in the trilogy, The Divided Earth, is released, I will get it as soon as possible.

To learn more about Faith Erin Hicks and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Faith also maintains a Tumblr account.  To view panels from book one and book two please visit the publisher's website.  The publishers have created a guide, Understanding and Exploring the Middle-Grade Graphic Novel.  Faith Erin Hicks is interviewed at Geek Mom, Comic Book Resources,  Chicago Review of Books and the Los Angeles Times.  Faith Erin Hicks is a guest on All The Wonders, Let's Get Busy: Episode 246 with teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Comical Companions Continue

Can you hear that sound?  It's the music of shared laughter.  This happens when readers get to enjoy the company of their favorite characters over and over.  When those characters maintain the personalities we've previously appreciated, it makes the hilarity far richer.

Another marvelous transformation takes place with the readers and listeners.  When they leave the story walking out into the real world, a bear is no longer just a bear.  It may be Winnie the Pooh.  A spider is simply not a spider, it could be Charlotte.  Our view of the world is changed forever.

Last year readers met two creeping, crawling companions whose brand of comedy will always have us giggling repeatedly.  Snail & Worm: Three Stories About Two Friends won the Cybil Award for best Easy Reader.  This lovable duo is back in Snail & Worm Again: Three Stories About Two Friends (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 28, 2017) written and illustrated by Tina Kugler.  Neither will a snail nor a worm ever be anything but Snail and Worm.  If you see one, you will be looking for the other.  And you will be listening very carefully for their next outrageous and heartwarming chat.

Hey! Wow!
What's going on?
LOOK---I grew wings!

A sleeping Snail wakes when a feather falls on Snail's shell.  When Snail tells Worm the wings will be used to fly away, Worm is understandably sad.  At first Snail thinks Worm doesn't like the wings but Worm explains.

A silent sorrow descends on the two pals.  Then a stiff breeze blows the wings (feather) away.  Wise words are uttered by both Snail and Worm.

During their next conversation Snail finds a penny thinking it is a mirror.  The penny is facing out showing the portrait of President Abraham Lincoln.  In kindly but truthful queries and observations, Worm points out the differences between Snail's actual physical traits and those of the former president.  Readers will be shocked not once but twice as the ending depicts silliness and sensitivity at the same time.

In their third meeting Snail is suffering from an identity crisis.  Comparisons with a beetle, rock and flower leave Snail feeling dissatisfied.  As a true friend Worm steps in voicing a glass-half-full attitude.  While Worm and readers feel the relief of a personal disaster being averted, Snail's final remark is sure to trigger guffaws and groans.

The three stories are told entirely in dialogue using short, lively sentences uttered by Snail and Worm. What Tina Kugler does with her words is to leave pauses for her characters' and readers' thoughts and for her images to broaden and deepen the amiable discussions.  It's the final line in each story which reveals the extent of her skill when we are unexpectedly touched by tenderness or absolute folly.  Here is a sample passage.

Are you sure that is a mirror?
Yes, of course.
I am so handsome.
I did not know I was so handsome.
Are you sure that it your reflection?
Why, yes.
Look at my 
handsome chin.

If we were to look at the world from the perspective of a worm or of a snail, the plants, the flowers and leaves, would appear as Tina Kugler has placed them on the large illustration covering the matching dust jacket and book case.  Her blend of full color and line drawings creates a whimsical atmosphere perfect for her two characters.  The smiling faces on Snail and Worm welcome readers and advise us of the joy to follow.  Having Snail hanging upside down is superb.

A warm, golden orange-yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Etched on these in white are ferns, leaves and stems.  A nearly identical picture of the duo as seen on the front of the jacket and case appears on the title page with wildflowers in the two lower corners.  Flowers, leaves, ferns and stems are placed on all the pages reminding us of the habitat of these two buddies.

Snail's eyes on the antenna with his curved mouth and Worm's longish nose and quirky mouth portray a full range of emotions.  It's amazing how much can be done with the placement of a dot in an eye.  Tina alters her picture's sizes depending on the point in the narrative.  Most of them are loosely framed or extend page edge to page edge.  She sometimes places Snail and Worm in their own small portrait-like shapes.  In this title her two-page wordless visual is very profound.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is a close-up of Snail and the "mirror".  The Lincoln penny is resting against a leafy stem as Snail's antenna arch up and gaze at it.  Snail is ridiculously happy.  Tina has placed a single leaf in the lower, right-hand corner as if to hold the picture in place.

The intended audience, actually anyone who wants to add joy into their day, will take great pleasure in Snail & Worm Again: Three Stories About Two Friends written and illustrated by Tina Kugler.  These short but sometimes tender and other times deliriously funny tales are worthy of repeated readings.  In fact when read aloud today as soon as the book was finished a voice rang out, "Will you read it again?"  "Right now?" I asked.  "Yes, right now."

To discover more about Tina Kugler and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Snail and Worm have their own website.  Tina is interviewed at KidLit Artists on June 20, 2016.  Enjoy some of the tweets about this book.