Quote of the Month

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




Friday, October 20, 2017

A Can-Do Attitude

Where there's a will, there's a way

This old English proverb has been uttered for centuries usually by parents, mentors or best friends.  It's a small bit of encouragement which rings true.  When will and way coincide great things are achieved; dreams come true.

There will be times when your desires, your passion for a particular outcome, will appear downright silly to anyone but you.  Hamsters DON'T Fight Fires! (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 12, 2017) debut book by author Andrew Root with illustrations by Jessica Olien tells the tale of a hamster with a big idea.  When you consider the size of an average hamster is about six inches long, this little guy's ambitions are off the charts.

Hugo was a hamster.

As a hamster Hugo had certain stellar attributes; some being generosity, quality cuisine creator, careful eater and a dancer ranking up there with Fred Astaire.  Hugo was wise enough to know there were certain things at which he did not excel.  In addition to being short and not exactly strong, he was not what you would consider a good candidate for a career as a firefighter.

He could not shake his deep desire to be a firefighter because there were some aspects of the job, he knew he could do.  Hugo's willingness to help others plus his love of the fire engines and the attire of the firefighters were certainly assets.  His best friend Scarlett, a snake, shared her unlikely dream, encouraging him to persevere.

(Let's pause here for a second, reader.  If a hamster and a snake can be friends, perhaps Hugo has a chance at being a firefighter.)

With hope in his heart, Hugo had a chat with the chief at the fire station.  Unfortunately there was one problem after the other with the suits being too large the least of his obstacles.  Hugo was suddenly jolted out of his dejected thinking when the fire station received a call for help.  A fire was raging in Great Woods.

Before he knew what was happening he was given a too-big suit and was riding on the back of the fire truck.  At the site of the fire Hugo felt more frustrated than ever at his inability to help but a frightened 

CHEEP! CHEEP! 

sent him into creative action.  The fate of the baby bird and Hugo's career is left for you to discover.  Let's just say there's a new 

four-alarm firehouse chili

being cooked down at the station.


When Andrew Root begins this narrative with a simple declarative sentence we can immediately conjure a vision of the physical characteristics for Hugo. When Andrew continues with a list of his personality traits and those things at which he struggles, this gives readers a bit of comedy.  It's not all hamsters who can win running races or should avoid bowling.  You have to admit, too, the words hamster and firefighting are rarely seen in the same sentence together.

This is when the soul of the story is presented through the remarks of Scarlett, bolstering Hugo and helping him to maintain hope.  Andrew allows us to see Hugo's passion become tangible in his actions.  Here is a sample passage.

Hugo was still nervous, but he decided that Scarlett was right.
Even though he was small, perhaps he should try to become a firefighter.
He gathered his courage, walked down to the station house, and convinced
the chief to give him a chance.


When readers get a first look at the opened matching dust jacket and book case, they will be amazed to see a hamster holding a fire hose.  It's a fabulous design technique to have the spray of water make a circular frame around Hugo.  The use of primary and secondary colors for most of the book along with the heavier black outlines has huge appeal for the intended audience.  

To the left, on the back, set within a red canvas is one of the interior images.  Within the oval, Hugo is having a hard time sliding down the fire pole. It is a tad bit too high.  Bright orange covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Another interior image is featured beneath the text on the title page.

Using Photoshop the illustrations were created digitally by Jessica OlienTo enhance pacing their size varies from double-page spans to groups of small vignettes and to single-page pictures.  The thoughts of Hugo and Scarlett, their dreams, are shown in large loose circles like balloons.  Jessica adds her own bits of humor and reinforces the notion of working with perseverance toward your goal by, for example, showing Scarlett with her tail through the handle on a cup of coffee labeled NASA. (You have to read the book.)  Her use of color and the facial expressions on the characters heighten the emotion in each given situation. 

One of my favorite of many pictures is when Hugo is first riding on the back of the fire truck.  This spreads across two pages.  In the far right corner is a section of grass along the roadway.  From there to the left page edge is the road.  A blue car is driving away at the top of the right side.  Most of the pages are filled with the back of the fire truck.  We can see the ladder on the top.  Hanging on to the back is the chief, a raccoon.  Next to him on the left is Hugo, gripping the edge for dear life.  His mouth is wide open.  (I wonder what he is saying.)


Younger readers will easily identify with Hugo in Hamsters DON'T Fight Fires! written by Andrew Root with illustrations by Jessica Olien.  They will comprehend size should not hamper your dreams while enjoying Hugo's journey.  I can't wait to share this title with readers.  You should share it with your readers too. They will find Hugo absolutely adorable.

To learn more about Andrew Root and Jessica Olien and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  The book trailer was premiered at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's website, Watch. Connect. Read.  I believe you are not only going to enjoy the fresh, snappy trailer but the manner in which Andrew completes John's sentences.
 

Rescued And Rescuer

You would think after spending more than one-third of my life in the company of dogs nothing they do would surprise me, but I am continually amazed by their capabilities.  They know to accomplish a particular task, working together is better.  They also have huge heroic hearts ready to act individually if the opportunity presents itself.  Humans should take lessons on their unwavering loyalty and unconditional love.

In their minds every single day is to be savored with excitement.  Each day is full of possibilities for learning.  Remembering Vera (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, October 3, 2017) is the newest offering from renowned author illustrator Patricia Polacco. No one, least of all the serviceman who rescued her, knew what kind of dog the pup would become.

"What will the Ol' Man say?" one of the guys piped up.
"Davie, if the Ol' Man catches her in here, he'll order her to be taken to the pound, and you know what will happen to her there!" another said.
"Well . . . I'm a-keepin' her!" Davie Bunch said definitely.  "We're just gonna have to hide her and keep her hidden from the commander!" he insisted. 

As good as his word Davie kept the dog naming her Vera.  Vera was one of his favorite aunts.  This dog never left the guys; wherever they went, she went too.  Davie taught her tricks.  She would go after and bring back whatever he threw.

On a particularly windy day, a call for help came to the Coast Guard company.  A ship was taking on water and sinking.  To make matters worse a squall was added to the already windy day.  As the men raced to help, you should know readers, Vera was on board.  And today, so was the commander, the Ol' Man.

The seas were so rough the Coast Guard cutter could not get near the other boat.  Each time they tried to shoot a line to the frantic people, it missed.  Then the Ol' Man noticed Vera and bellowed out his surprise.  Davie stepped up offering a solution.  Vest-wearing Vera could carry a line to the sinking boat.  It was a tense time for the men on that cutter watching Vera dive into the water.  Soon they lost sight of her in the wind and waves.  She made it!

On that day a canine hero was born, spending a great deal of time with the commander for the rest of her days.  It was the first of other rescues giving her star status.  After another spectacular deed nearly ending her life, Vera was given a medal for valor and made an honorary member of the United States Coast Guard.  It was at the close of her life, the immense love the men held for her was revealed.


In the hands of storytelling master Patricia Polacco two events in her life more than forty years ago, years apart, provide the impetus for this narrative.  Her gift for getting at the soul of a story forms the dialogue, the descriptions of the intense rescues, the bonds Vera forms with the men and their dedication to her.  Each sentence carefully builds our emotional attachment to the dog and her place in the United States Coast Guard.  Here is a sample passage.

Vera paddled with fierce determination toward the wrecked sailboat.  It was as if she knew that she was the last hope that those people had!  Everyone, including the Ol' Man, was cheering her on.  Time after time the waves would hide Vera in a trough.  She'd disappear only to surface again, paddling ever nearer the distressed boat.  Suddenly she vanished beneath the waves.  Everyone fell silent.  All that could be heard was the howling of the wind.


A single glance at a book illustrated by Patricia Polacco will tell you she is the artist.  The familiar loose lines, expressive facial features and the meticulous care given to detail are her signature attributes.  The emotion of a moment shines from her pages.

On the matching opened dust jacket and book case, the beaming face of the Ol' Man next to a happy Vera clearly defines their relationship and her eagerness to do her job.  To the left, on the back, an interior image from her first rescue is displayed.  You can see the shock and relief on the faces of those people in distress.  You can also see the intense pride on Vera's face at her achievement.

The red color used in the title text covers both the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page Vera is in the center, sitting in front of the United States Coast Guard symbol.  Rendered in

two and six B pencils and acetone markers

the pictures throughout this title span two pages with the exception of two single page images and a series of smaller visuals when Vera is a playful puppy.  Depending on the point in the story Patricia will alter her perspective, bringing us close to the characters or giving us a more panoramic view.

One of my many favorite pictures is on a single page.  Vera has successful taken a line to the stranded sailors.  She is now back on board the US Coast Guard cutter.  The Ol' Man is holding her in both his hands so she can face him.  A towel dripping with water is wrapped around Vera.  The emotion on both their faces is love at first sight and sheer happiness at Vera's success.


Remembering Vera written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco will have readers laughing and crying at the heroics of this determined dog.  Her willingness to serve is apparent on every page.  Based upon true facts, when this book is finished and your listeners ask if this really happened, you can say yes.  For those who have a special place in their hearts for animals and dogs, this book will resonate with them.  It is a great read aloud title from a storyteller extraordinaire.  Patricia Polacco has notes at the beginning and ending of this book relative to the circumstances inspiring this story.

To learn more about Patricia Polacco and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images. There is an interesting article about Patricia Polacco at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in the state of Virginia.  Please enjoy this video with Patricia talking about this book.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Moving To The Music Of The People's Hearts

No matter where you go in the world in any given point in history, people are dancing.  Some have to do it secretly but they dance.  Some movements and steps are particular to a specific region.  Other styles are more popular with individual age groups.  Certain dance forms can cross cultural boundaries, recognized and practiced throughout the world.

If people wish to express sorrow or loss, observe a holiday or celebrate an event in their family or community, they dance.  Some people dance for the sheer joy of living in the moment.  DANZA! Amalia Hernandez and El Folklorico de Mexico (Abrams Books For Young Readers, August 22, 2017) written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh is a tribute to a singular woman dedicated to creative declarations through the art of dance.

Amalia (ah-MAH-lee-ah) Hernandez was born in Mexico City in 1917, and everyone assumed she would grow up to be a schoolteacher like her mother and grandmother.  Even Ami (AH-me), as everyone called her, expected that.

This changed when she and her family were on a vacation.  A group of dancers performing in a town's square caught her attention.  That is what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.  Her mother was happy with Ami's choice but it took her military-minded father a little longer to help her with her dream.

A studio was built in their home and she had the best ballet instructors, performers themselves.  When she was twenty-two Ami watched some dancers from the United States who came to her city.  She was fascinated with their modern style of dance.  Now she was studying two forms of expression.

She was a dedicated student using her talents to their fullest.  Ami became a dance teacher and a choreographer.  When she was thirty-five audiences cheered for one of the dances she choreographed.  It was a reflection of her earliest memories of dancers.   This was the spark which ignited a fire in Ami which never died.

Again a student, she went out among the people in their villages throughout the regions, learning their dances and noting the traditional dress they wore.  With her imagination and knowledge of ballet, modern dance and her people Ami choreographed a remarkable style of dance, uniquely her own.  She and her company of seven other dancers became a sensation.

From eight they grew to fifty.  Their costumes and stage scenery were dazzling.  They danced in tribute to all people of Mexico, past and present.  By the time she was forty-four they were known internationally for their performances and awards.  At the age of eighty-three Amalia Hernandez passed away but her dance company, El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico dances on several times a week.  They have never stopped in more than fifty years.  Her gift is still giving.

As readers delve into the narrative penned by Duncan Tonatiuh they find themselves transported to the near past.  We get swept up in the dreams of a little girl watching them grow as Duncan includes pertinent milestones and accomplishments.  He also brings certain aspects of her parent's lives into his retelling by referring to the handling of the company as her father would do it and how she finishes her career by opening a dance school and teaching as her mother and grandmother did.  Here is a sample passage.

Audiences loved the folkloric ballets, and Amalia's dance company quickly became very famous.  In 1954, they performed on the Funcion de Gala television show.  They danced on the show every week for more than sixty weeks!


There is dignity radiating from the front of the dust jacket on this title.  Amalia Hernandez stands ready to perform, head held high as two other dancers holding instruments are captured mid-step.  The festive backdrop suggests the dance to be one of celebration.  Study their faces.  They are full of passion and determination.  To the left, on the back, is a list of other books by Duncan Tonatiuh with praise paragraphs from professional reviewers along with lists of awards.

The book case is a replication of an expansive, breathtaking interior image.  A line of dancers in a variety of costumes are dancing from right to left.  Their stage is a map of the world, rounded.  Along the arc at the top are notable monuments found in places around the world.  On the right in the sky is a crescent moon.  On the left in the sky is a brilliant sun.  The opening and closing endpapers are a pattern of a pair of shoes and a hat.

Each picture within the pages of this book hand-drawn, then collaged digitally not only shines the light on Amalia but on the beauty of the dances in Mexico.  They highlight the people and their clothing within the context of a special setting.  Some of the visuals span two pages, others on a single page.  The attention to detail is superb indicating a great deal of research on the part of Duncan Tonatiuh.  The facial expressions on the people and their body movements lead you to believe they could come fully alive and perform at any minute.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is for the performance of La Gran Tenochtitlan.  This is a dance based upon Mexico's pre-Columbian past.  On the top and bottom of the page Duncan has drawn an ancient pattern.  Beneath the top is a blue sky with wispy clouds.  Along the top of the stage surface, shown like wood flooring, are pyramids.  Two of the dancers are facing left and two are facing right.  Two are clothed in costumes representing birds and the others appear to be spotted like leopards.  All are caring instruments in both hands.  This must have been marvelous to watch.


Assuredly DANZA! Amalia Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh pays homage to a memorable woman and her culture but it also serves to inspire readers to use their gifts and to believe in the power of dreams.  This is one of those books which need to be in any classroom studying the people of Mexico or their language.  For not the first time and certainly not for the last time, I can't help but think Where were books like this when I was in school and college studying the Spanish language?  I highly recommend this title.

To learn more about Duncan Tonatiuh and his other work please visit his website and blog by following the links attached to his name.  Duncan was interviewed on the PBSNewshour on November 2, 2016.  The Google Doodle for September 19, 2017 celebrated Amalia Hernandez's 100th birthday.





Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected by other participants in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Conversation With Susan Verde

Good morning, Susan.  I am thrilled to be meeting you virtually with hopes of spending time, even a little, with you in real life sometime in the near future.  After lots of rain these past few days, we have blue sky dotted with big fluffy white clouds, warmth and gusty breezes.  Let’s imagine for a few moments, the two of us are sitting on my back deck, soaking up the fresh air and holding cooling cups of tea.


Hi Margie!
Thank you for this interview. I can feel the gentle breeze and taste the warm tea...is it chamomile? It’s lovely.


I’ve just finished rereading all six of your children’s picture books, The Museum, You and Me, I Am Yoga, The Water Princess, My Kicks: A Sneaker Story! and I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness.  Each of the beautiful stories in these books is told from the first person point of view.  Would you please explain why these stories are told from this perspective?

Often when I am writing I am calling forth many of my own experiences and emotions so there is definitely an element of “me” personally coming into play. However, I also feel that hearing the “I” gives the reader a chance to really embody the story and “become” the character. With “I” there is an instant connection. Even if it’s an experience the child has never had or someone who might look different from the reader, in the first person the story becomes an experience that is possible and a feeling or set of feelings to contemplate and explore and perhaps emphasizes the universal qualities of the character. Any good story will do that whether it’s in first person or not but it’s definitely the way I tend to write.


All of your books, even My Kicks: A Sneaker Story! with its exuberance, have an undercurrent of gentle serenity about them.  To what do you attribute this?  Is this a conscience effort on your part?

What a lovely thing to say Margie. I can’t really say that it is a conscious effort but my approach to the ups and downs of life is to try to handle them with care and calm. Maybe being a mom or a teacher or perhaps even having a mindfulness practice have influenced this approach. Each experience in life is an opportunity to notice and proceed with kindness and my hope is that kids should feel that no matter what they are going through it’s okay...they are okay.

I would like to shift our conversation to your most recent title, I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness.  What prompted you to write a companion title to I Am Yoga?



I Am Yoga was meant to capture the way yoga makes us feel and how it helps us manage our feelings. Mindfulness is a component of yoga but also a practice unto itself so it seemed like a natural follow up. Children have a lot of stress, just like adults and mindfulness is a way of helping children manage. I Am Peace is intended to give them yet another tool just like yoga and to show them that it’s the peace we feel inside that helps us show compassion and empathy to others.

The comparison of the character’s jumbled thoughts to swiftly moving water, then riding on those thoughts adrift in a boat and eventually finding an island beneath the narrator’s feet is truly inspired.  Was there a specific event or moment when this analogy came to you?

In one of my trainings we learned many ways to help children connect to their breath as it is the best way to formally practice mindfulness and bring attention away from distressing thoughts. Using the image of breath as an anchor when our “ship of thoughts” is being carried away was one technique. I loved it so much and found it really helpful when talking about our worries and emotions and how we can get swept away. I couldn’t wait to use the analogy. Kids get it when you can give them something relatable and visual to connect to their experience. They know just what it means to be carried away by moving water...by too many thoughts and worries and what it means to come ashore and feel land under their feet.   


This is the fifth collaboration with Peter H. Reynolds as the illustrator of your words.  Were you aware before seeing his art of the three images without words which join your text, I make a difference to I can hug a tree… ?

Working with Peter is pure joy. When I write I know he will make the words come to life in a beautiful way that captures my intentions but with his own style. He is a very mindful person and artist. Because of our partnership and the fact that we really work in a collaborative way I often get sneak peeks of what’s to come and we have some back and forth. I did get to see this part ahead of time but I certainly wasn’t expecting it and when I saw it I was blown away albeit not surprised. The whole spread was such a moment of mindfulness. Kids love to see the dropping seeds and make predictions and then consider how the spilling of seeds is an act of sharing with and connecting to nature.


What is your wish for this title and its readers?

My wish is that I Am Peace makes mindfulness accessible to teachers, parents and especially kids. It can feel like an esoteric term and we hear it all of the time these days but it is really simple to practice and has measurable physiological and emotional benefits. I hope this book inspires the practice of noticing without judgement and being kind to oneself. We all have stress and big emotions but there are ways to get through it and find more peace within. I hope they learn that even with these tools they will make mistakes but again with kindness and awareness they can learn from their mistakes and not hold onto them. I often ask the children I visit and work with to talk about their worries and stresses and then ask them if they find it easy to be kind to someone else when they are feeling upset within themselves. Of course the answer is no. But, if we can cultivate more peace inside then we can share peace with others. Just imagine what this could do to our world…. I just have to say that children are so smart. They are willing to go deep and look inside and have so much wisdom to share. It’s through them that we can really effect change.

I hope you have a few more moments for some other questions.  I shared this book with two kindergarten classes this past week.  I think they might like to know a little bit more about you and your family.


What made you decide to shift your life’s work from working in the classroom as an educator (with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s degree in Reading Remediation) to teaching yoga and mindfulness to children of all ages with a full-time writing career?

I loved being a classroom teacher! When I had my children I took some time away from teaching but continued to practice yoga to stay sane as a mom of 3 and as a person in the world! As my kids got a bit bigger I began to think about how I could continue my work with children but I felt like I wanted to have a different experience than being in a classroom full time. My own yoga practice was so beneficial for me that it made sense to share it with children especially in the school setting where they feel so much stress and need more support even at a young age. That’s when I decided to become a kid’s yoga and mindfulness teacher. Best decision ever! Writing is something that I have been doing for as long as I can remember and mindfulness and yoga support that creative process. It is sometimes hard to juggle all of these things but I am fortunate because as challenging as they can be (and they can be VERY challenging), teaching, writing and parenting are all things that fill my soul and I am grateful everyday.  


If you could describe the location of your home and your house using your senses how would that be?

Ooh I love this question! My house is at the end of a long winding road lined by strong tall trees and lots of green in the summer and brown in the fall and white in winter. The house is covered in brown shingles and natural wood and there are big windows all around. Our street has other houses painted white and yellow with quiet neighbors until it’s summer then voices are heard and dogs are being walked and kids are skateboarding on the road. The tops of the trees that fill our yard let in the sunlight in warm patches. The leaves rustle in the breeze and fall in crunchy piles in Autumn. You can smell the ocean and the fresh cut grass and whatever is cooking in the kitchen when you stand in the backyard. Inside, the house smells like lavender oil and sometimes the stinky feet of teenagers. You can feel the grass between your toes and the hard pavement of the driveway and the itchy bites of mosquitoes in summer and the refreshing cool water in our pool. If you catch us on the right day you can taste the vanilla cupcakes that my daughter will no doubt be famous for someday. There are always sounds outside and in.. deer eating plants, crickets used for feeding pets chirp and our pet frog croaks, squirrels dance on the roof, and sometimes woodpeckers make the sound of a mini drill on the side of the house. There are talking children and clanging pots and pans, my daughter playing her ukulele and singing and my sons rapping and all of us occasionally breaking into spontaneous dancing AND a barking dog. There is always something to hear even when it’s quiet.

How old are your three children?  Do they practice mindfulness?

My boys, Josh and Gabe are twins and are on the verge of being 14 and Sophia is 12. They do practice mindfulness meditation and have reached a point where they are pretty good at  connecting with their breath and being kind to themselves when they feel overwhelmed or caught up in a big emotion and as teenagers they have a lot of big emotions!  They are also pretty good at reminding me to take a breath when I get overwhelmed. I love to see them doing the things they are passionate about and being fully present and in the moment. Gabe is a surfer, Josh pays football and Sophia sings. When they are doing those activities it is amazing to see how connected they are to their own experience. It’s mindfulness in action!  


What kind of dog do you have?  How did he/she get their name?

Our dog is a Coton de Tulear. It’s a fancy name but he’s really just a scrappy little white fluffy doggie who barks too much but is very loving. We were reading a lot of Harry Potter when we got him and I wanted to call him Neville but that was quickly dismissed so we just started calling out names and someone said Gizmo (could have been me thinking of the movie Gremlins) and we all agreed on that! Not much of a story but it has turned out to be the perfect name. He is definitely a Gizmo.


I couldn’t be happier to have been able to spend this morning with you Susan.  Thank you for chatting with me and visiting Librarian’s Quest.  I am wishing you PEACE.  

Thank you Margie! I am grateful for the time together and have really enjoyed answering all of your thoughtful questions. It has been truly wonderful. I wish you PEACE as well.  

To learn more about Susan Verde and her books please take a few moments to visit her website. She has links at her site to articles she has written for other publications on yoga and mindfulness.  By following the links attached to five of her books listed above you can read my blog posts.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Gathering Remembrances

After the autumn rains tree leaves shimmer like they've been dusted with glitter, glistening as the gusty winds rustle their branches.  High above the treetops ravens glide on the speeding wind currents, clouds scurrying across the sometimes blue, sometimes gray sky.  Clinking and clunking sounds are evidence of the oak trees throwing their acorns on the back deck.  Squirrels scamper across lawns, pausing to dig feverishly burying food for another day.

As the sun signals the passing of a storm, the afternoon chorus of birdsong is strangely silent.  Many have left for their southern journey.  In the Middle of Fall (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 5, 2017) written by Kevin Henkes with illustrations by Laura Dronzek, companion title to When Spring Comes (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, February 9, 2016), these collaborators in children's literature and life address with poetic eloquence the beauty of one season moving into the next season.

In the middle of Fall,
when the leaves
have already turned

At this time of year in the northern hemisphere, the world is waiting in anticipation.  The skies are steely, shedding little light.  It's time to wear coats, hats and gloves to keep toasty warm.

Squirrels working alone or in groups are always on the move.  Gardens, long past their prime, are like grocery stores for smaller creatures.  Pumpkin patch business is booming.  Apple trees are laden with fruit.

When we observe all these things, it's time.  Everything is ready.  All it takes is one single event to alter what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch.  We need to save memories like squirrels are storing up nuts.  And then when the world is blanketed in stillness, another change comes, as delicate as downy dandelion seeds.


Using only two sentences, words strung together like pearls of wisdom, we become observers alongside author Kevin Henkes' narrator.  We are there as the little girl spends a day(s) with her dog, as squirrels gather, as fields fill with ripened pumpkins and apple orchards turn the colors of their fruit.  When Henkes writes we are in the moment with every page turn building toward the magnificence of an annual shift.  It's a sensory experience.  Here are two phrases.

and the pumpkins are ready
and the apples are like ornaments, 


For those of us living in a part of the world with four distinct seasons we recognize the blue used on the matching dust jacket and book case by artist Laura Dronzek.  It's a rare shade seen on those days when humidity is absent and the air is brisk.  It's an announcement of autumn's presence.  The squirrel resting and ready to stretch for an acorn, framed with vibrant oak leaves, is another sign of a seasonal shift.  To the left, on the back, within a loose circle three large pumpkins in a patch are grouped together.  The dog accompanying the girl in the story is sitting behind them, waiting or perhaps guarding them.

The opening endpapers and first page are a darker shade of blue; almost like a night sky.  A variety of tree leaves garbed in their fall colors pattern the pages with acorns.  The closing end papers and final page reveal the last word in this title.  Beneath the title text and above the author and illustrator names are three oak leaves and two acorns grouped together exactly as you might see them on the ground. A pumpkin with its vine sits above the dedication.

Except for the first and last images framed in circles and white space, all of the illustrations rendered in acrylic paint span page edge to page edge on single and double pages. Heavy dark lines provide accents and outlines of elements.  The foliage, creatures and clothing worn by the girl supply a contrast to the increasing presence of brown and a starker landscape.

One of my many favorite pictures spans two pages.  The sky is more gray than blue.  Colorful leaves are cascading down on both pages.  The girl wearing her red-hooded coat is leaning on a stone wall along a road.  Leaves are mounded against the wall and along the road.  Her pup has its head next to her left elbow, chin resting on the top rock.  Five small circular visuals are placed like the falling leaves against the sky and one resting on the road.  They are filled with memories previously mentioned in the story.


There is something supremely wonderful about In the Middle of Fall written by Kevin Henkes with illustrations by Laura Dronzek.  It's an ode to a season welcome after the summer heat drawing our attention to those singular instances we need to remember.  The words and illustrations enhance each other in harmonious perfection.  I can't wait to read this aloud to students.

To learn more about Kevin Henkes and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name.  A teaching guide is provided at Kevin Henkes' website.  If you would like a peek at the first four pages follow this link.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Driving Through Gray

It's been raining off and on for days over the past two weeks but yesterday and today it's been raining for almost twenty hours.  Our thirsty ground is sighing with pure happiness.  Vibrant green lawns now carpet the neighborhood.  The soothing, steady sound of the rain on the roof and windows is a reminder of the power of weather.

For those traveling under the gray skies, rain and evening fog, caution is taken on the highways, roads and streets.  Home in the Rain (Candlewick Press, June 13, 2017) written and illustrated by Australian Bob Graham is about a journey on such a night.  The ordinary is transformed into memorable moments.

"Goodbye, Grandma."
"Goodbye, Francie," said Grandma.  "You both take care.
It's wet out there and such a long way home."

Francie and her mom are driving through rain so heavy traffic slows.  Their windshield wipers are unable to keep up with the flow.  A huge truck and trailer sends up a blast of water as it passes moving them into a picnic area.

Animals in the field are finding shelter from the rain.  A bird of prey can't seem to find the meal it is seeking.  Fishermen are drenched but ducks happily swim in the canal.

Home is far away for Francie, her Mom and Baby Sister.  (Her Mom is pregnant.)  As their car's glass fogs, Francie writes three names on the windows.  Daddy, out working at sea, covers the entire front windshield.

As mother and daughter take a much needed rest and eat a lunch packed by Francie's grandmother, they chat about a possible name for the baby.  They wonder about her arrival and when Francie's dad will come home.  Miles and miles closer to home, Francie and her mom stop with other travelers.  No one else notices what happens there but Francie will carry it in her heart and mind always.


When Bob Graham frames this story, he does so within the larger setting in which it takes place.  By doing this we can understand and appreciate how life-changing events can take place surrounded by normalcy.  He explains the exact activities of wildlife, the fishermen at the canal and those people stopped at the service station. He gives us their names to bring us into the same scene as Francie and her mom.  These observations are maintained as the journey continues to indicate the passage of time. Here is a sample passage.

Young Marcus, water
running down his neck,
his fingers smelling of bait,
wished he were somewhere else . . .

while the water ran off the
backs of ducks.


Although the images featured on the front and the back of the matching, opened dust jacket and book case take place at different times, Bob Graham creates them as a single illustration.  He does this by extending the background of the countryside and the berry brambles, wildflowers and field animals in the front over the spine to the back.  The truck we see on the front is driving in from the left on the back.  Francie and her mom are in the little red car on the right of the jacket and case but they are also standing at a critical instance on the left, much closer to readers, as if we are being given a peek at the future within the current context of the rainy highway.

Rendered in watercolor and ink the pictures give readers a panoramic, birds-eye-view of some scenes across two pages, more intimate visuals grouped together on a single page, and single page pictures.  Some of the two-page images are close to a particular moment as when the large truck and trailer whooshes by Francie and her mom.  We are well aware of the constant rain and overcast sky but Bob Graham also includes spots of color in clothing and vehicles.

It is in the details we are further captivated by this story.  On the wall of Grandma's home hangs a painting of a kestrel, a bird mentioned within the narrative.  Each time we see the canal with the fishermen and little Marcus, the ducks have moved farther down the waterway.  On the overhead highway signage one of the signs reads:

A1 Francie's
House.

A tiny snail clings to a blade of grass overlooking the highway scene below the hill.  As Francie and her mom walk back to their car from inside the station we are given an overview of the area.  On one wall someone has written in large letters HOP.  A small e is tucked in the right-hard corner.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Francie and her mom stop at the picnic area.  The perspective is of them sitting inside the car.  Francie has moved up front with her mom.  They both have their shoes off and their lunch is finished.  Francie is lying down with her head on her mom's stomach, feeling her tiny sister moving inside.  On the back right window we can see where Francie has written her name.  This is a very personal moment; a snapshot of love.


In a word Home in the Rain written and illustrated by Bob Graham is beautiful.  In this story he reminds readers how in the most everyday circumstances brief minutes of sheer wonder exist.  I am looking forward to reading this aloud with students.  I highly recommend it for your professional shelves and personal collections.  The Children's Book Council of Australia gave it The Picture Book Of The Year award.

To take a peek at interior images visit the publisher's website (Penguin Random Househere and (Candlewick Presshere.  At Walker Books are printable Classroom Ideas pages. Enjoy this video by Candlewick Press of Bob Graham talking about picture books.


Author and illustrator Bob Graham discusses picture books from Candlewick Press on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Slow But Sure And Steady

When your younger sister is obsessed with turtles, they become a part of your life.  You begin to see turtles in every shape and size imaginable wherever you go; made from paper, stone, glass, wood, metal, gems, cloth, plants or a combination of materials.  No turtle is ever left by the side of the road to wander and possibly be hit by a car.  You stop and move it far away before proceeding to your destination.

You also find yourself, as an adult, turtle sitting a large box turtle when said sister goes on a trip.  Before you know it, you become attached to this guy as it follows you around the room.  And contrary to popular belief, they can move quickly when necessary.

Unlike my sister sometimes humans' interest in their turtle companions may not be as constant; having high points and low points in their friendship.  Alfie (The turtle that disappeared) (Abrams Books for Young Readers, October 3, 2017) written by Thyra Heder is a straight-to-your-heart charming story of giving and gifts.  Friendship can and does mean different things to each individual in the relationship.

On my sixth birthday, I got Alfie.

At the shop this little girl is told the turtle is about six years old, too.  They have something in common.  Alfie does not move much even when meeting all of his human's stuffed animal friends and toys or even when she teaches him her dance moves.  He is quiet when she leaves him little presents.  He seems to enjoy being inside his shell.

She continues to talk with him about her day to day activities and shares her most successful jokes with Alfie until she starts to forget about him for a little bit.  It's not until her seventh birthday she remembers him.  She is shocked to discover Alfie is missing.

Nia, as Alfie tells us, is a very special girl.  He feels calm in her home even though it

tickled my toes.

He is thrilled with all her friends and the presents she gives him.  He is determined to make Nia as happy as she makes him.  It's not until before her seventh birthday party when she is talking with him, a plan forms in his mind.  He has to find her the perfect present.

Alfie looks low and low but nothing is to be found.  It isn't until he chats with Toby, the family dog; he realizes he needs to go outside.  This is a whole new adventure filled with tricky feats, explorations and some shocking surprises.  The seasons shift.  Alfie is cold.  He still has not discovered what he needs for Nia.  A friendly snail offers advice as old as time.  It makes all the difference.


When you read the sentences written by Thyra Heder she takes you with intention into the character's point of view.  In the first part of her story the little girl is speaking.  Her observations are beautifully those of a child her age.  Her affection for Alfie is never in doubt regardless of his response.  Each part of her personality and daily activities is shared with him.

In a brilliant piece of storytelling Thyra Heder alters the point of view to Alfie.  All the things Nia talks about doing with him are seen through a turtle's perspective.  We are privy to his reasoning for the grand escape.  What he does in the outside world and the result are sheer wonder and perfectly, magically possible.  Here is a comparison of the two points of view.

I introduced him to everyone.

I taught him my wiggle dance and made him presents,
but he didn't seem to notice.


Nia taught me to dance!  I practiced wiggling inside my shell.
She gave me presents!  I had never been given presents.


Rendered in ink and watercolor all the illustrations are glorious.  On the opened dust jacket the home for Alfie stretches across the spine and to the edge of the back on the left.  There we see several stones, one partially submerged, another totally under water and one with a smiley face drawn on it.  A small seashell has been placed in his tank, too.  On the front the interpretation of Nia and Alfie looking out at readers, both through the glass but one on the outside and the other on the inside, is wonderful.  The homemade lettering made by Nia for his tank gently hangs for the title.

On the book case entirely in white we see a small Alfie in black on the right and the left.  On the first he is being held up by a balloon with the number six.  On the back he is resting on the ground.  Another balloon with a surprising number is tied to him.  The opening and closing endpapers are a close-up of the patterned rug in Nia's home.  The endpapers at the close include an additional element, hinting at Alfie's perspective.

On the title page we are brought near to Alfie as he sits on a rock.  His name hangs above him with the subtitle beneath it.  The images created by Thyra Heder for this title are brimming with delicate details.  Her pictures fill single pages, are grouped together on a single page, or span across two pages to accentuate a particular portion of the plot.  As she did on the book case, white space supplies a canvas for small black visuals at turning points.  Another important item is the heavy, matte-finished paper in this title.  This heightens the illustrative medium bringing softness to the pictures.

When the point of view in the narrative shifts so too does the illustrative perspective.  Readers will want to notice the significance of the balloons.  There is gentle humor and affection in other details; where Toby is looking in the snow and the snow sculpture Nia is making.

There are many, many wonderful images in this book.  One of my favorite pictures is when Alfie sees Nia for the first time.  She is looking through the glass with the label

FRESH WATER TURT

which is backwards to us.  Her beautiful face is framed on the right by a portion of the balloon with the number six.  Her eyes are wide and full of happiness.  Alfie has his back to us.  We only see about half of his shell.  His head is lifted and looking at this new girl.


There are those extraordinary books you love the very first time you read them.  Alfie (The turtle that disappeared) written and illustrated by Thyra Heder is one of them.  This is a book to be enjoyed for the wonderful story of affection seen from two perspectives.  It will fill your heart with total joy.  It will surely be requested as a read aloud again and again.  I highly recommend this for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Thyra Heder and her other work, please follow the links attached to her name.  She has a website and a Tumblr account.  At the publisher's website you can scroll through interior images including my favorite one.