Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Lady Leads The Way

In 1865 she was only an idea; an idea born from a desire to commemorate a lasting institution and friendship.  She arrived in pieces by ship in New York City's harbor in 1885.  Months passed before her full 305-feet-tall height was established.  At the official unveiling and dedication on October 28, 1886 President Grover Cleveland in a speech voiced without the use of notes declared:

"we will not forget that liberty here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected."

Since that dedication day The Statue of Liberty residing on Liberty Island has welcomed all who visit, begin new lives or return home on the eastern shores of the United States of America.  Her Right Foot (Chronicle Books, September 19, 2017) written by Dave Eggers with art by Shawn Harris presents known and little known information about this great lady, a constant beacon of hope and freedom.  It also draws our attention to a particular aspect of the statue, encouraging us to think deeper about the symbolic implications behind her design.

You have likely heard of a place called France.  

The people who live there are called the French.  Our Statue of Liberty came from the country of France.  Two Frenchmen, one with an idea and one with a design, worked to build Lady Liberty.

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi oversaw the development of his design; piece by piece due to the size of the statute.  Over her frame a skin of copper was fashioned.  You know she was then delivered to the United States to stand in the New York City Harbor but what you might not know is what happened in Paris, France before she traveled across the Atlantic.

Unlike a chameleon the Lady did not shift colors after thirty-five years instinctively but did so because of her materials.  The book she is holding, the number of spikes on her crown, her torch, her interior framework and her construction all have unique meanings and stories attached to them.  One feature of Lady Liberty usually not discussed is the central focus of this book.  All of the information has been leading us to this point.

If you look at her feet, specifically the back of her right foot, it's not stationary.  Oh, no readers, she is not standing still.  Her back right foot is lifted, toe to the ground, heel raised.  For the remaining half of the book, points are offered for us to ponder, discuss, promote and champion.  This Statue of Liberty is meant to move our minds and hearts as surely as she greets all who come to our shores.

As soon as you begin to read this book, you know the writer, Dave Eggers, is passionate about his topic and is ready to chat with you about it, one-on-one.  That's the way his narrative reads.  He asks questions and follows them with his no-nonsense answers.

You find yourself informed but entertained through his sense of humor which is underlying in this book.  An excellent technique he employs is to maintain his lively commentary before taking a huge pause switching up his use of words from

And you may know


you might not know.

Here is a sample passage.

Bartholdi liked to see the sculpture rise above the harbor.
Sometimes he watched the construction from the water.
Sometimes he watched it from the land.  Usually he was
wearing a sturdy black hat, for he, like most European
men of the time, favored sturdy black hats.

Rendered in construction paper and India ink the illustrations, loose, stylized and somewhat geometric, beginning on the opened dust jacket, pair perfectly with the spirited, straightforward text.  The limited color palette, blue, green, yellow, white and black brings our eyes to the center.  To the left, on the back, we zoom in to the crown.  A park guide and visitors are standing in the eleven openings.  In this picture as in several others illustrator Shawn Harris includes a cat and a dog.

The book case, in the green shade of weathered copper, is a reflection of the book held in Lady Liberty's hand.  The opening and closing endpapers take us close to the exterior details on the torch when she arrived and as they appear today.  An airplane dots the sky on the final endpapers.

Many of the images span two pages but their perspectives are greatly varied; a street scene in Paris, France, the crew working on the statue's hand, a map of a portion of New York City and the harbor, the Statue of Liberty's face and crown and her right foot with a park ranger and young boy pointing.  With each visual Shawn Harris usually shifts his hues used but his choices are still limited.  His decision to include more details increases the animation but even without the added lines each illustration evokes emotion.  Little touches of humor can be seen, too; the dog eyeing a pastry, exhausted workers sleeping on the rays of the crown and a startled cat coming in through a special door.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Shawn Harris shows us the base of the statute.  We can see both of Lady Liberty's feet, the front of her feet, beneath her robe.  The broken chains are visible.  It is a large picture beginning on the edge at the left and covering two-thirds of the page on the right.  It gives you a sense of the grandeur of this work.

This book, Her Right Foot, written by Dave Eggers with art by Shawn Harris is a remarkable portrait of the Statue of Liberty.  More importantly it asks readers to think of the intent of the designer.  It asks us to remember what these United States of America has offered to all people during the course of its history.  Some of the lines written by Dave Eggers will leave you stunned by their truth.  Some of the illustrations by Shawn Harris will leave you equally mesmerized.  I highly recommend this book for professional libraries and personal libraries too.  It invites, no demands, we partake in discussions.

To learn more about Shawn Harris please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  This title is his first illustrated book.  At the publisher's website you have the opportunity to view and use a classroom guide.  Dave Eggers is interviewed in a broadcast about this title here.   The ins and outs of a children's illustrations project regarding Her Right Foot are found here.  Educator Alyson Beecher wrote about this book on her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy.  Shawn Harris visits author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to talk about his process.  Author illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka talks about this title on his podcast The Book Report.

To get a little bit of a better idea about Dave Eggers, this TED talk might help.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected by participants in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Finding Riches At Sea

You often hear people talking about when my ship comes in.  Good fortune will shine upon their destiny.  Monetary riches will suddenly appear.  This ship, figuratively speaking, when it arrives will change their lives for the better.

Some people spend every day wishing for this vessel to sail into the harbor of their hopes.  Other people work toward the very things this ship would offer.  Let's suppose there is a third group of individuals.  The Antlered Ship (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 12, 2017) written by Dashka Slater with illustrations by The Fan Brothers (Eric Fan and Terry Fan) presents readers with a crew of animals setting sail together for the first time; each searching for something they desire.  They aren't waiting for their ship to come in.  They're on it.

The day the antlered ship arrived,
Marco wondered about the wide world.

Marco was a fox, a fox with lots of questions.  His questions were full of curiosity about the deeper meanings and possibilities within the world as a whole.  When a fox had these types of questions, he had to look for answers.  He went to the ship.  As he crossed the dock, three deer left the deck, joining him.

Sylvia, the captain, was looking for a crew as she and her fellow deer were lost.  Marco agreed to go.  He had a need to know.  So did four pigeons with a leader named Victor.  They welcomed adventure.  The deer were hoping to locate Sweet Tree Island.

The weather and consequently the sea were not kind to the antlered ship or its occupants.  The pigeons preferred playing games.  The deer fretted about what could go wrong.  Marco continued to have questions.  They were shivery, soggy and a bit hungry with the limited provisions.  The fox decided a change in attitude was needed.

A recipe book and charts altered their outlook.  As if sensing their moods' shift, the seas calmed and the moon shown in a clearing night sky.  Oh, their troubles were not over because sailing the seas meant continued natural challenges and scuffles with nasty scoundrels but often it's those difficulties which bring us to the riches we sought.

Author Dashka Slater honors in this tale the right to examine one's world and life outside what is expected.  Each animal is seeking something beyond their distinctive and instinctive boundaries.  One would never expect three deer, four pigeons and a fox to set sail on a ship, an antlered ship.

Using an exemplary combination of narrative, conversation and Marco's thoughts we travel with the companions.  We experience their doubts during the storm.  We are uplifted with their renewed determination.  We cheer and smile at one of the best three word lines in the book.  We triumph alongside them in victories.  We take joy in their hillside reflections.  Here is a sample passage.

As they plotted their course, the wind picked up.
The storm clouds thinned into marvelous swirls.
"Raise the sails!" Sylvia cried. 

When you open the dust jacket, the first thing you might think (if you are me) is I wish I could frame this artwork.  The antlered ship sailing through the Maze of Sharp Rocks at sunrise spans flap edge to flap edge.  It is a stunning display of adventure at sea.  You can smell the salt-tinged air and hear the waves crash against the rocks and the cry of the seagulls.  You can feel the ship cut through the water.  And you wonder where this magnificent ship with two pigeons, a deer and a fox is going.  Another spectacular feature is the texture of the jacket.  It is rough to the touch; like feeling a piece of the side of a wooden ship.  The title text is raised.

Beneath the jacket the book case is a deep sea green with a wide red, cloth spine.  On the front, to the right, is the anchor for the antlered ship.  To the left the ship's helm is pictured.  Each of these is embossed in an even deeper shade of sea green.  On the opening and closing endpapers in shades of brown like an old sea map is the water and land through which the voyagers weave their way.  Readers will enjoy the tiny details and given names for geographic points.

The majority of the illustrations, with the exception of four, span two pages with shifts in perspective to enhance the narrative.  Using graphite and ballpoint pen with digital coloring The Fan Brothers, Eric Fan and Terry Fan, have created truly spectacular illustrations; Marco on a cliff watching the antlered ship enter the harbor, the storm at sea, the reviving stew scene, studying the charts, the terrifying pirate crew, and Marco's search for other foxes and answers.  The passage of time and changes in weather are displayed with beautiful shifts in sky shades.  Humor is found in the smallest elements (Victor the pigeon) and in the page with the pigeons shirking shipboard duties.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is at night.  On the right against a sky sprinkled with stars is the bow and antlers of the ship.  Sylvia is standing close to the front.  Sitting in the center of the large antlers is Marco gazing toward the left.  Pigeons sit on either side of him.  The other two pigeons are together on a lower, left antler.  To the left of the picture a full moon is rising over a small island.  The moon lights a path on the calm water.

This collaboration between Dashka Slater and The Fan Brothers, The Antlered Ship, is one adventure you want to have repeatedly.  Their journey of discovery, not only in finding what they initially seek, but in forming lasting friendships is a tale to hold in your heart.  And the illustrations will literally have you exclaiming out loud.  You will most definitely want to have a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Dashka Slater and The Fan Brothers and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior illustrations.  Eric and Terry Fan are interviewed at Words for Life and Read and Shine. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Always Together

Their song is unmistakable to even the most novice listener.  If they decide to make their home near your home, you will be awakened by their sweet melody.  Both the male and female trill the well-known cheery refrain.  It's a comfort to know they mate for life.  It's a comfort to know they have chosen to be near you.

Eleven days ago author illustrator Matt Tavares posted a photo and comment on Facebook about stepping into a hotel elevator with portraits of cardinals hanging on the wall.  It was his first event promoting his new book, Red & Lulu (Candlewick Press, September 19, 2017).  We had a short chat about "signs" but what I didn't tell Matt at the time was cardinals were my Mom's favorite bird.  Each year it became a tradition to buy her a new cardinal ornament for her Christmas tree.  My mother had red hair and all her friends including my father called her Red.  This enchanting title will resonate with readers for varied reasons but for all it lifts up the power of love and the hope of a miracle.

In the front yard of a little house, on the branches of a mighty evergreen, there lived a happy pair of cardinals.

This tree offered them all they needed during spring, summer, autumn and winter.  They preferred winter over the other seasons because the family living in the little house decorated the tree with colored lights.  They sat and listened to

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy leaves are so unchanging...

Do you think the carolers heard them joining their chorus?

On an early morning before autumn turned to winter Red left to find food for him and Lulu, who waited in the tree.  As he returned he was shocked by the sight before him.  The tree was on its side on a truck.  Lulu was softly singing inside the branches.

As the truck sped down the road, Red called to Lulu.  He would not leave her.  He tried to keep up but the truck was too fast.  He lost sight of the truck, tree and no longer heard Lulu's song as it headed toward a vast city.  Red was in a place in stark contrast to the yard of the little house where the tree had stood.

The noise and buildings nearly overwhelmed the exhausted cardinal as he searched for Lulu day after day.  When the snow started to fall, the ache of her absence grew stronger.  He felt so connected to her he thought he heard their winter song.  Joy flooded the brave bird's body.  He flew and flew and stopped, stunned.  Lights.  Love.  And ...

When an author begins a story prior to the title page they are inviting you into something extraordinary.  With a single sentence Matt Tavares gives us once upon a time.  He continues to explain the contentment Red and Lulu find living in that particular tree all year long.  In this way, he creates a bond between readers and the pair of birds.  We understand the value of home and lasting companionship.  In this respect we feel the same alarm as Red when the tree is moved with Lulu in its branches and when he can't keep up with the truck.  But...

Matt has also fashioned a cherished tradition the duo share during their cherished season of the year.  This is the kind of hope on which their relationship flourishes.  Here is a sample passage.

Red chirped frantically,
telling Lulu to stay 
right where she was,

telling her that he
would be right there.

When viewing the opened dust jacket (I have an F & G.) the front view is striking.  The panoramic view as seen by Red and Lulu transports us to New York City at Christmas.  We, like the two birds, are drawn to the tree.  To the left, on the back, the affection between Red and Lulu is presented by Matt Tavares by taking us inside the tree.  Red and Lulu are resting on branches as the Christmas lights twinkle.  It is a smaller, more intimate image in an oval surrounded by a pale green canvas.  The opening and closing endpapers are a muted cardinal red.

Prior to the title page we see one of the children, dressed in winter garb, filling a feeder hanging from the roof.  The large evergreen looms to the right.  Everything is frosted in a thick layer of snow.  The title page, like the front of the dust jacket, is a marvelous sweeping view but instead of the city, it's of the community where the little house is located.  The two birds fly near their names, the title, on the left.  The large tree rises between Matt's name and Candlewick Press on the right. 

Rendered in watercolor and gouache the illustrations have a limited but natural color palette.    They vary in size to provide perfect pacing. Some are framed in a generous amount of white and others flow edge to edge.  Many of them are wordless which allows for more active participation by the reader and assists in furthering our emotional attachment to the story and Red and Lulu.

With a pair of cardinals as the main characters readers are treated to numerous birds-eye-view pictures but we are also taken deep into the story with shifted perspectives.  Matt knows exactly when to make this change.  We move in close when Lulu is frightened by the tree's move, Red is flying along a city street between the legs of walkers, or when he hears a sound close to his heart.

Several other items of note are the luminosity present in each picture.  It's not just the lights but an overall glow suggestive of warmth.  Careful readers will recognize some of the skaters at the Rockefeller Center rink.  And as he did in the beginning, Matt closes the story with an extra page, the possibility of another tale.

One of my many, many favorite pictures is on a single page.  The point of view has changed to bring us close to Red.  He's flying in the city at night as snow falls.  Behind him buildings stretch on either side, windows glowing from the lights.  Street and vehicle lights shimmer.  He is not looking directly at the reader but off ahead.  His body is moving with intent.  His feathers are a vivid contrast to the night, lights and snow.

As soon as I finish reading the story, look at the final two pictures, read the author's note about The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and view the image on the publication page, I go back to the start of Red & Lulu written and illustrated by Matt Tavares and read it again.  You are completely captivated by it because it rests in truth.  The blend of Matt's words and artwork has a timeless quality.  You will want to have at least one copy on your professional bookshelves as well as your personal bookshelves. (It's all I can do to not read it aloud to all the classes this week but I will wait for the finished copy and a time nearer to November.)

To learn more about Matt Tavares and his other work please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and blog.  Matt has several interior illustrations you can view on his website.  Matt is interviewed on a Candlewick Press podcast.  The cover is revealed at Mile High Reading hosted by the director of the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival Dylan Teut.  The book trailer is revealed at Watch. Connect. Read. by Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.  At the cover reveal and the book trailer premiere there are interviews.        

Friday, September 15, 2017

No One Asked Me!

If there was ever a library so large people could literally get lost in there for hours or maybe even days, it would be wise to head to one section and one section only.  Hopeful of finding the nonfiction books and then carefully following the numerical order on the spines, you should seek the 398.2 titles.  Within folklore, fairy tales specifically, we can usually find our way home.  Those stories entertain and educate us, as well as guide us to where happily ever after is possible.

Each variant on those original narratives enlarges our thinking about alternate and creative paths leading to the same ending.  It's Not Jack And The Beanstalk (Two Lions, September 19, 2017) written by Josh Funk with illustrations by Edwardian Taylor takes an entirely new approach.  What if the characters rebel against the status quo?

Once upon a time, Jack lived in a tiny cottage in a dreary village.  He always dreamed that someday he would find his fortune.

Psst!  Jack!  Wake up!

I'm dreaming...

And put on some pants!

As the well-known events continue Jack needs to sell the cow, his only possession.  Since this is no ordinary fairy tale, Jack objects.  Bessie Cowpoke McPinwheel just happens to be Jack's BFF.  He's even more upset to find out she's only worth five beans.  Five beans!?

When their so-called magical qualities fail to function, he tosses them out the window after he's told he can't even eat one.  (The poor lad is operating on an empty stomach.)  Every time the unseen narrator moves forward in the action, Jack fails to comply without a grumble and a gripe.  The next morning he is elated he did not eat a bean considering what grew overnight.  He is also flabbergasted he has to climb it.  (Who wrote this story anyway?)

With every phrase uttered by the narrator, Jack is increasingly belligerent.  He's not tired from scaling the stalk plus he spies Cinderella's castle on his way up.  An invitation is issued but the now equally frustrated voice reading the story urges him in no uncertain terms to keep going.  Upon his arrival at the giant's home, an imminent clash ensues.

It's a blend of traditional and (cue Getting To Know You sung by Julie Andrews) exceedingly friendly conversation between a captured Jack and the giant.  A rip roaring argument escalates between Jack and the giant (Fred) and the reader.  If you can manage to stop laughing the conclusions, all of them, are exactly as they should be.  The End.  Maybe.

With every sentence read silently or aloud written by Josh Funk, you feel the urge to share this book.  The snappy asides by the reader/narrator as part of the story text and Jack's comments provide an abundance of humor.  As the story and alternate story unfold you can't help but wonder why more characters have not objected before Jack and Fred, the giant.

Another technique adding to the comedic effect is the use of modern phrases,

You're joking, right?
Spoiler alert.

The flow between the known narrative, the reader's statements, and Jack's and the giant's observations is seamless on the individual pages and as it resumes on the following pages.  There is not a skipped beat in the cadence.  Here is a sample passage.

Everything inside the house was tremendously large.

Spoiler alert:
A giant lives here. Can I go home now?

Suddenly, Jack heard a booming voice---


Umm, that 
doesn't even 
rhyme.  How about:
I can see the 
giant's bum?

Upon opening the exuberant, colorful dust jacket readers are treated to two views of the skyward climb up the beanstalk.  Although our focus is drawn to the main character in each image, the two blend together nicely across the spine.  The title text carved into a sign reflects the old world quality of the tale but the two painted words make it clear this will be no normal rendition of the story.  To the left, on the back, framed in stalks and leaves, the giant's harp is singing out a fun challenge for readers.  Two birds are watching her from above as ladybugs rest on a leaf.  Bean blossoms are seen throughout the illustrations. (I am working from an F & G so I don't know if the book case is the same.)

On the opening and closing endpapers is a pattern featuring leaves, beans, Jack's backpack, his rope and ax, the magic beans, the magic bean bag, a compass, tiny blue gloves, boots, a framed picture of Bessie, tortilla chips and Jack's hat.  These items are placed on a crisp white background.  Across the verso and title pages a night scene with Jack and Bessie out and about amid fireflies is full of cheer and friendship.

Rendered digitally by Edwardian Taylor the pictures vary in size from two page spans to single page illustrations and to smaller images set in larger ones.  His shifting perspectives enhance the hilarity of this variation.  His exaggerated facial expressions with the wide-eyed looks leave no doubt as to the current emotional state of the characters.

Careful readers will note familiar individuals even without reading the invitation on the back of the dust jacket.  This draws attention to the details Edwardian Taylor includes in each picture.  You pause to look because you don't want to miss any nuance he places in his pictures.

One of my many favorite illustrations is spread across two pages. The giant's face covers nearly every bit of space, edge to edge.  His nose is meticulously aligned in the gutter.  His mouth is open in anger.  His fingertips grip the table edge.  To the left of the picture a small human Jack, standing on the table with his arm, hand and finger raised to make a point, eyes closed, is stating a couple of facts, seemingly unconcerned with the trouble he is facing.

As soon as you begin It's Not Jack And The Beanstalk written by Josh Funk with illustrations by Edwardian Taylor you can already hear the laughter of readers and listeners.  The very idea of characters objecting to the story line is funny enough but the chosen words and energetic pictures created by these two collaborators elevate the hilarity.  You will most definitely want to place this title on your 398.2 professional shelves and add it to your personal fairy tale collections at home.

To discover more about Josh Funk and Edwardian Taylor and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Edwardian Taylor also has a Tumblr account.  The cover was revealed on Mile High Reading hosted by Dylan Teut, the director of Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival.  Today at the Nerdy Book Club Josh revealed the book trailer.  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

For Her Son

Many an educator stands in the hallways of schools around the world at the end of the day watching students pass, secretly sending blessings their way to keep them safe, healthy and happy.  Once they leave our classrooms and libraries, we have no way to offer them further education until they return to us the following morning or after a vacation.  If it should happen to be the final day of a school year, we hope with all our hearts we have provided them with the knowledge and skills to ensure they live the best life possible until we meet again.

For parents this desire is surely stronger.  In Your Hands (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September 12, 2017) written by Carole Boston Weatherford with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is a deeply moving request.  It is reverent.  It is full of faith.

When you are
I hold your hand and study your face.

I name you
firstborn son.

This mother, like so many mothers, holds dreams in her heart for this child.  She takes his hand to keep him safe as he learns at home and school.  And when he is sad, she comforts with affection.

A bedtime ritual of stories and reminders of living by the Golden Rule usher the child to sleep.  As the child grows, this mother realizes she cannot always be there to offer assistance.  This is when a prayer is made to God to hold this boy in His hands.

She asks for safety.  She asks for the child to walk with assurance.  She asks for guidance.  These things can be as everyday as navigating a street crossing or as challenging as becoming a teen.

When she says

I will pray that the world sees you as a 
child of God

she wants for this beautiful boy of hers as every parent wishes for their sons (and daughters).  This is a universal desire.  This is a universal connection between parents.

She continues to define what it is to be a child of God.  This child is seen for their inner character.  This child is given second chances so lessons can be learned.  This child is given bravery.  This child is able to stand strong.  She closes with asking for a long life for this beautiful boy of hers so he too can have sons and grandsons.  This mother's words on the first of the final two pages are being sung throughout the land.

The first several times I read this silently and then aloud, it was as if I was seated in a sanctuary of a church.  When I just stepped outside moments ago to the evening sound of katydids I knew this prayer would resonate wherever it is spoken.  Carole Boston Weatherford writes with a pure heart of truth.

She begins with the love song of a mother to a newborn.  She follows with the mother's thoughts as she imagines a future for her son until he, too, is a parent.  The voice of this woman, this mother, is sincere, founded in love and in the knowledge of the world as it is.  Here is a sample passage.

I will 
that you are
in neighborhoods beyond our own
and that you feel confident
when you face new challenges. 

Viewing the fluid lines of artist Brian Pinkney is the same as receiving an invitation.  They reach out, draw you into the text, embracing you even after the last word is read or spoken.  The illustration on the front of the dust jacket of the boy held in the hands of God is gorgeous.  The title text is raised and varnished.  To the left, on the back, the mother is cradling her newborn child in her arms.  The colors used for them are golden yellows and oranges.

Beneath the jacket on the book case covered in powder blue we see on the right the title text in white with the mother's hands reaching downward to help her son take his first steps.  The same illustration as on the back of the jacket is on the back of the case.  A pale mint green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  The front book case image is repeated prior to the title page.  To the left of the text on the formal title page, Brian Pinkney again has a picture of the child walking within the hands of God.

Rendered in watercolor, gouache, and India ink on Strathmore watercolor paper the pictures fill the pages opposite the narrative placed on varied pastel shades of yellow, blue, pink, purple, and a brighter burnt orange.  Warm shades whirl around loosely drawn elements in black.  Each visual is breathtakingly beautiful, certainly worthy of framing.

A favorite illustration of many is of the child sleeping.  Above his head are swirls of black, pink, blue and yellow and one brush stroke of pale purple.  As he rests his head on his pillow with closed eyes, his mother's hands reach to tuck the blankets around him.  In a truly tender moment the boy's hand is reaching to hold one of her hands.  On his bedspread vehicles race in a scattered pattern.  Brian Pinkney continues to place loose brush strokes of pink, blue and golden orange within the mother and child.

In Your Hands written by Carole Boston Weatherford with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is not only a prayer but a promise.  It is this mother's assurance to her boy child she will do everything to lift him up so his life can be fulfilling and lasting.  This is every mother's hope, but in this title it is the song sung for an African American child by his African American mother.  This title is highly recommended to be on all bookshelves, professional and personal.

To view the websites of Carole Boston Weatherford and Brian Pinkney to discover more about them and their work, please follow the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  

An Appetitie for Bravery

In August 1945 as World War II was ending Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into North Korea and South Korea.  The politics of the evolving rulers were distinctly different.  On June 25, 1950 the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel invading South Korea.  United States President Truman appealed to the United Nations.  They first asked for the invasion to cease.  On June 27, 1950 they asked for member states to provide military assistance to the South.  (Allan R. Millett, contributor, Korean War, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., July 17, 2017)

United States Marines were sent to fight in a war which lasted for three years.  During their service one group made the acquaintance of a red mare, smaller than most horses.  Sergeant Reckless: The True Story Of The Little Horse Who Became A Hero (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, September 12, 2017) written by Patricia McCormick with illustrations by Iacopo Bruno chronicles the remarkable service of this animal.

The small red mare whinnied for her supper.  

During combat the desires of a horse are hardly worth noting but the men led by Lieutenant Eric Pedersen were ready to drop.  They had been carrying ammunition, large shells, to a cannon at the top of a hill.  The cannon was called the "reckless" rifle.  Lieutenant Pedersen wondered if this horse was capable of carrying the ammunition.

Having no hay on hand, the horse was inclined to eat everything offered to her.  Like all new recruits she would go through training.  She was given the rank of Private Reckless.  She learned to avoid incoming fire by kneeling and retreating.  There wasn't anything she wouldn't do for food.  Her trainer Sergeant Latham found she loved chocolate bars.  Equipped with a special saddle for the shells (each weighing more than twenty pounds) she learned to carry them to the gun.

Her love of any kind of food earned her the same breakfast as the other Marines, eggs, toast and coffee.  She discovered the cook's tent and woke him up every morning.  Reckless was still untested in battle until one morning.

Like any normal living being the sound of the cannon firing scared her airborne several times but eventually that horse would carry her load up the hill again and again.  Reckless had proved her worth becoming one of the soldiers.  Later on March 26, 1953 the Battle of Outpost Vegas, a five-day battle began.  On this day the little red mare was a giant among the human members of her unit, distinguishing herself with honor.

With her opening sentences Patricia McCormick introduces readers to the stature of Reckless and her seemingly unimportant place in the scheme of the war.  This is a wonderful way to highlight the contrast of her eventual accomplishments and the faith of Lieutenant Pedersen in her capabilities.  Slowly she builds, incident by incident, the horse's growing presence with the Marines.

Her research is evident in the accounts of Reckless's training and the food used to reward her specifically an ice-cold Coca-Cola when she first carried shells in her saddle up a hill.  McCormick continues with Reckless's relationship with the cook, her behavior during a card game and a tension-filled account of the Battle of Outpost Vegas.  Here is a sample passage.

Without a word of urging, she broke into a trot and
then a gallop.  The heavy shells banged against her
sides as she hit the steep incline.  The first rays of
dawn were lighting the sky as she arrived at the top
of the trail, her flanks heaving.

When first looking at the front of the dust jacket one word comes to mind, respect.  The presence of Reckless looking out at readers, carry the ammunition shells with her much deserved honors stretched behind her demands we take notice.  The color palette evokes a sense of honor.  Spanning both pages the three golden yellow strips cross the spine to the left.  Above them on the same royal blue background are two photographs of Reckless with her handler and her Identification Card after she was given the rank of sergeant.

A different hue of the same blue covers the book case.  It is designed like a scrapbook cover with an intricate double border.  On the front beneath the title is a photograph of Reckless loaded with ammunition climbing up the hill.  To the left, on the back, patches, bars and medals awarded to her are shown as if in a display case.  The opening endpapers are a collage of newspaper headlines about the war in Korea.  On the closing endpapers another collage depicts official documents about Sergeant Reckless with a braid, medals and a patch.  Above the text on the title page is a picture of a statue dedicated to Sergeant Reckless.

Rendered in pencil and colored digitally the illustrations by Iacopo Bruno, all spanning two pages with the exception of two single-page pictures, create a genuine portrait of the horse's place with the Marines.  As the images cross the gutter they do so flawlessly.  The text is cleverly set in an element relative to the scene being depicted; a page in a manual, a sign outside the cook house, a playing card or the inside lid of a first aid kit.

The chosen color palette is suggestive of historical events but still uses full color.  The affection the troops felt for Reckless is evident and humor is part of several images as dictated by the text and what we know about Reckless.  In the closing illustration as she stands with two Marines in full dress uniforms on either side of her she is leaning to the right ready to nibble the soldier's hat.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  On the left Reckless is in her stall leaning her neck and head out to a Marine on the right.  In his right hand is her lead.  He stands in full combat gear wearing his helmet.  He is kissing Reckless' muzzle as she nuzzles him.  We are brought in close to this moment.  This illustration captures the extent of the Marines' love of this horse.

Sergeant Reckless: The True Story Of The Little Horse Who Became A Hero written by Patricia McCormick with illustrations by Iacopo Bruno is one of those nonfiction picture books which brings to readers a part of history which serves to illuminate the tie animals can have with humans.  This horse risked everything to provide assistance to those men.  I highly recommend you place this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.  It will promote further research and discussions about the value of animals in our lives.

To learn more about Patricia McCormick and Iacopo Bruno and their other work please follow the links to their websites attached to their names.  Iacopo Bruno has two other sites here and here.  The publishers have designed an educator's guide for your use.

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Ride and a Memory

This is me at two year's old in front of our house.
And there's that car, I think.  Or it might be my uncle's car.
Two things immediately sprang to mind when I first held this book in my hands.  (I had no preconceptions about the story.)  The car on the cover reminded me of the one my parents had when I was a little girl.  The car was with us for a very long time because my parents did not believe in loans or mortgages.  If you didn't have the money for something, you did not get it or you started saving until you could afford it.  If something went wrong on the car, my dad could make it right.  (I learned more than I ever wanted to know about what was under the hood of a car.)

When I read All The Way To Havana (Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company, August 29, 2017) written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Mike Curato, it resonated with me for the reasons above but especially for the portrait of life in Cuba.  Affection for this family filled my heart.  Their inventiveness is truly inspirational.

We have a gift, and we have a cake, and today we're going to drive all the way to the big city to see my new baby cousin on his zero-year birthday. 

The boy goes on to tell us about the old cars on the island comparing the purrs of some to the little chick sound their car makes.  He and his father need to work on the car if they are to arrive in Havana.  He can see once the hood is lifted how repair after repair has been made using

wire, tape, and mixed-up scraps of dented metal.

The two of them adjust and tinker and adjust some more trying to get Cara Cara (the name of the car) to sound differently.  Nothing they do seems to fix it until...the little chick sound grows up.  It's a hen and she's ready to travel.  Friends who need a lift to their destination fill the seats.  It's a bouncy ride but the car keeps making her mechanical music.

Soon the scenery changes into the buildings across the skyline.  There are old cars of every color running down the street.  Their condition and the sounds they make fill the child's eyes and ears.  The steady honking is a city symphony.

At his aunt's house the gift is opened and the cake is eaten.  After much laughter and fun, the boy takes a siesta.  When he wakes the sky is dark and they leave in Cara Cara for home.  The next morning the boy and his father talk and again tend to their car.  Its heritage is a testament to hope.

In choosing to write this narrative from the point of view of the boyYoung People's Poet Laureate Margarita Engle speaks directly to the heart of child readers but also through his voice all who read this book will have a greater understanding of the people of Cuba.  The insertion of sounds supplies a lyrical rhythm which invites listeners (and readers) into the story with the boy.  Her concise sentences followed by longer ones also contribute to the cadence.  They read like a child thinks and talks.  Here is a sample passage.

So we purr cara cara

and we glide taka taka

and we zoom zoom---



beside farms, forests, beaches, and forts.

When stopping and savoring the opened dust jacket for the second time, I marveled at the use of light and shadow, design and layout and the details on both the front and the back.  The lines on the elements draw our eyes to the boy leaning against Cara Cara on the front.  To the left on the back, the hue used to provide a background for Margarita's and Mike's names is the canvas.  Set in an oval of a cream color is the car with the boy looking out the back window.  Two hens and chicks are busily pecking and walking around the bottom of the oval.  (Cara Cara and the boy are varnished.)

I gasped when I took off the jacket to see the book case.  Nearly covering the entire area is Cara Cara front to back, right to left on the case.  We are looking at the car from above.  It crosses the spine perfectly.  And then I saw the endpapers.

On the opening and closing endpapers, Mike Curato, on a background of dark yellow-orange, has drawn in detail, in black, twenty-four cars, most dated in the 1950s. (He labels the make, model and year.)  A colorful wash is brushed over each one.  With a page turn we have the verso page on the left and the title page on the right.  The text is set in the front window of Cara Cara which spans both pages.  It's as if we are in the front seat.

used pencil acrylic, paper, photo overlay, digital color in Adobe Photoshop, and other mixed-media 

to create these stunning illustrations.  His perspectives from inside the car looking outside and panoramic views along with zooming in close bring us willingly into the story.  There is animation in every picture, even when the boy is sleeping in his mother's arms. 

The details of the countryside and then in the city are nearly photographic but there is a quality of softness to them which works well with the matte-finished paper.  A full color palette greets us throughout the title.  A genuineness and warmth fill each visual.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the boy is helping his dad repair the car before they leave for the city.  In the bottom corner sits the opened, heavy toolbox.  As our eyes travel upward we see a hen and two curious chicks.  They are moving to the right middle of the page.  Here the barefoot boy is standing on a wooden box on his tip-toes next to the car.  Another little chick is on the box.  All we can see is the child's feet, legs and the bottom portion of his shorts.  We can only see the lower half of Cara Cara.

With every reading of All The Way To Havana written by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Mike Curato my admiration and respect for this boy, his family and the people of Cuba grows.  The text and art blend but enhance one another elevating this book to something deeply meaningful; to something extraordinary.  I am grateful to Margarita Engle and Mike Curato for giving us All The Way To Havana.  An Author's Note and Illustrator's Note conclude the book.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional bookshelves. 

To learn more about Margarita Engle and Mike Curato and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Mike Curato also maintains a blog.  On his website you can view interior images from this book.  On his blog he talks about his process and the trip to Cuba.  The book trailer premiere can be seen at All The Wonders.  You will enjoy the short Q & A.  Author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson features artwork on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast after talking with Margarita and Mike the previous week at Kirkus.