Quote of the Month

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

A Child Of The Wild

Canines, as their human companions can affirm, have a super sense of smell.  Their noses tend to assist them in avoiding dilemmas but can, when combined with curiosity, get them in less than desirable situations.  Emergency trips to the veterinarian to remove porcupine quills and more than normal cans of tomato juice in home pantries to combat skunk odor are evidence of inquisitiveness gone wrong.

This desire to know beyond their normal day-to-day realm is not confined to dogs but is found in their relatives living in the wild.  A Pup Called Trouble (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, February 13, 2018), a new novel written by Bobbie Pyron, follows a coyote youngster that has an extra dose of curiosity coursing through his body.  He may have been the last of his siblings to be named but his antics and over-zealous desire for adventure spell trouble.

Eyes Wide Open
On an early spring day, in a den tucked beneath the roots of an old oak tree, four coyote pups were born.
During the first week, they nursed and slept just like all newborn puppies do.
All except one.

As the weeks passed this pup got himself into one difficulty after another but his interest in humans, called the Makers by the Singing Creek Pack of the Coyote Clan, proved to be a serious mistake. With the confidence of youth, Trouble figured watching the farm and home of the Makers and the Beast's (their truck) daily trips he knew everything he needed to know to put an idea into motion.  One morning before the rest of his family was awake; he left the den, traveled to the farm and hopped into the back of the Maker's Beast.  What Trouble did not know was the truck filled with produce and eggs was on its way to a farmers' market. . . in New York City.

His arrival and discovery at the farmers' market left him shaken to his core and running loose in a space more foreign than he ever imagined.  Every place he looked there were towers of stone and little sky.  He was hungry and frightened.  And he caught the attention of a crow known by the Furred and Feathered as Mischief.

In short order Mischief lived up to his name enjoying every wild moment Trouble caused among the Makers in a particular office building and a subway car. On the train a specific opossum named Rosebud was failing miserably at being brave.  How would she survive being trapped inside the rocking train with a coyote?  And what was a crow doing here, too?

Taking up residence in Central Park Trouble's life took on a routine of discovery, close encounters and nighttime conversations and play.  Mischief and Rosebud were his companions but others, a fox and an owl, soon joined the group.  A poodle named Minette and her poet human enlarged Trouble's circle as did one small human, a nature lover, named Amelia. 

While Trouble seemed to be unconcerned, his cityborn friends knew disaster was a dark cloud looming over the pup, ready to burst at any time.  Officer Vetch of the Greater Manhattan Animal Control and Care was determined to capture Trouble and Trouble's status in the man's mind had changed.  In what can only be described as an action-packed, life or death scenario, a foiled plan and convergence of characters take readers toward a true hold-your-breath conclusion.  Look toward the North Star.

From the beginning with each short, descriptive chapter Bobbie Pyron builds her narrative with wit, humor and mounting tension.  The premise of curiosity over caution is one in which readers can easily identify.  The commentary of the characters and the situations in which Trouble finds himself will have you smiling and laughing out loud but underlying both the curiosity and humor Trouble's inexperience places him in increasingly dangerous situations.

Each chapter end leads flawlessly to the next chapter with sentences which heighten our own curiosity as new elements in the plot and characters are introduced. Bobbie Pyron has a gift for enveloping readers in the surroundings of her stories with her choice of words.  Her knowledge of the animals is evident in the realistic situations portrayed.  Here are a few of the many passages I tagged.

He could just make out the sleeping forms of his mother and father lying close together beneath the wide branches of an evergreen tree.  And there, beneath a rock outcropping, slept Twist.  His chin rested on the strip of deer hide he and Trouble had played with the night before.
For one heartbeat Trouble questioned what he was about to do.  Oh, how he loved his family and the den and the ancient oak and the meadow and the creek.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't a member of the Coyote Clan," the crow said.  "This ought to be rich."
Mischief watched with delight as the humans shouted and waved their arms and ran about like panic-stricken pigeons as they were prone to do when faced with something unfamiliar.

Rosebud realized through her keen sense of smell that this was a human.  Her heart pounded.  Her blood froze.  She could feel a faint coming on.
Although Rosebud was not the bravest of creatures, she was practical.  She decided the best course of action was to assure this human that 1) she was not a threat, and 2) she was not a rat.
Rosebud stood on her hind legs, pulled back her lips in an enormous smile, revealing all fifty of her gloriously sharp teeth.
Without a sound, Verla Trumpowski fainted onto the floor.
Mischief croaked in disbelief.  "How did that beady-eyed little thing do that?"

"I think," he said carefully, "that sometimes you have to take risks to see something beautiful."
Finally, the moon rose.  Trouble watched it slowly climb, not above the jagged tops of trees like at home, but above the jagged New York City skyline in the distance.

Without a doubt A Pup Called Trouble written by Bobbie Pyron is going pass from reader to reader wearing a well-loved look in no time at all.  Readers can't help but be captivated by the adventuresome episodes of Trouble and the cast of characters.  The manner in which Bobbie Pyron weaves them all together is pure storytelling enchantment.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.  At the close of the book, Bobbie provides six pages of Critter Notes on coyotes, crows and opossums.

To learn more about Bobbie Pyron and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  (If you have not read her The Dogs of Winter or A Dog's Way Home, remedy that as soon as you can.)  At the publisher's website you can read a sample or listen to a sample of the audio.  At Coyote Yipps Bobbie Pyron talks about her inspiration for this title.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Choice To Make

Every day when we wake up is an opportunity; an opportunity to make a difference.  We make a difference with a goodbye hug for family members, a smile at a stranger, a wave to a neighbor and words of encouragement to those we teach.  A single act of kindness can change a day not just for one individual but for many.  That single act is like the proverbial pebble dropped in water; it ripples outward.

Cultivating a habit of being kind is one of the single best things we can do for others and for us.  Be Kind (Roaring Brook Press, February 6, 2018) written by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Jen Hill is a gentle story of a child discovering the many ways to express kindness.  It begins with an unfortunate incident.

Tanisha spilled grape juice yesterday.

It was splattered down the front of her new dress.  Her fellow classmates laughed except for one.  She remembered the words of her mother and tried to help.  It didn't work.

After snack time, during art, the girl painted violets.  As she made this picture she thought about what she could have done immediately for Tanisha.  She wondered how we define kindness.

It could be in the act of giving, helping or paying attention.  She remembered when she gave, helped and paid attention.  Her mom also told her to use people's first names when greeting them.  It's a way to show you care about them as individuals.

Being kind is not always easy but for those receiving your kindness, it's invaluable.  It can spread farther than you can imagine.  It can circle back to you.  It can change the world or, at the very least, it can help the memory of a ruined new dress to fade, replaced by gesture of kindness.

Readers are immediately drawn into the story with a problem.  They have either witnessed this identical incident or it's happened to them.   Pat Zietlow Miller cleverly uses this technique to create a connection and as a point to build her narrative.   Told in the first person point of view we are able to understand how the child, the girl, expands her knowledge of what it is to be kind.  Readers realize kindness can be quick and simple but lasting or take a bit more time.  Here is a passage from this narrative.

Maybe it's giving.
Making cookies for Mr. Rinaldi,
who lives alone.
Letting someone with smaller feet
have my too-tight shoes.
(He might win races in them, too.)

Opening the matching dust jacket and book case gives readers two separate views of kindness.  On the front the narrator of this story is holding an umbrella for Tanisha.  Perhaps the yellow color selected by artist Jen Hill reminds us kindness can be a bit of sunshine on a rainy kind of day.  The characters, the title text and raindrops are varnished.  The small brush of purple watercolor separating the author's and illustrator's names is significant also.

To the left, on the back, a background is supplied with vertical rows of interwoven threads in a cream hue.  I like to think this represents how we are all tied together.  Upon this an image within a loose circle shows a girl comforting another girl who has just broken her glasses.  A rich shade of purple covers the opening and closing endpapers. 

Each illustration flows into the next; the size shifting to create pacing.  Most of the pictures are placed on a single page.  In several of the scenes the focus is on the full color used for the people with the setting fading to a background of outlines and light colors.  The people, with an emphasis on children, in these images are from all walks of life and from varying races.  Fine lines delineate their facial features portraying appropriate emotions.

One of my several favorite illustrations is on a single page.  In the upper left-hand corner is the girl.  All we see is the bottom of her signature purple jersey, her black leggings and bare feet.  In front of her just slightly right of the center is a young boy on his hands and knees.  His hands are holding the tops of black high-top shoes.  He is looking at the girl with affection.

Yesterday was Random Act of Kindness Day; started in Denver, Colorado in 1995.  Can you imagine how wonderful the world would be if every day was Random Act of Kindness Day?  Be Kind written by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Jen Hill is an excellent title to use to promote discussions on kindness.  You will want to add this title to your professional and personal collections.  It can be paired with If You Plant a SeedSidewalk Flowers, or Mama Lion Wins The Race.

To learn more about Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Jen Hill has interior images from this title on her home page.  Jen Hill has numerous links to her other social media accounts as does Pat Zietlow Miller.  At the publisher's website you can view illustrations from this book.  At the Nerdy Book Club Pat features the book trailer for Be Kind.  She talks about other books showcasing kindness.  She provides a link to a Pinterest board of picture books about kindness.  At Picture Book Builders Pat talks about this book.  Jen Hill is highlighted at Brightly.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Perennial Protection

Warm temperatures and rain have hastened the departure of more than six inches of snow left by a series of daily snow showers and several storms.  Heated by sunlight bouncing off the siding on the house and the white fence outlining the yard, some of the grass is greener and growing.  If this trend continues tulip bulbs planted in the fall will start to push through the dirt in a few weeks.

Lots of tender loving care is necessary to shield them from the local deer that see them as delicacies.  Often new life needs more protection than is offered by Mother Nature.  The Digger And The Flower (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, January 23, 2018) written and illustrated by Joseph Kuefler tells the story of a machine that discovers a calling far more important than that for which he is designed.

It was morning and the big trucks were ready to work.

Each of them had an important job to do; hoisting, pushing and digging.  Crane, Dozer and Digger worked to make buildings, roads and bridges.  They did not stop until a whistle blew.  Crane and Dozer rested but something captured Digger's attention.

Amid the remains of their efforts was a bit of blue and green.  It was an exquisite little flower.  During the following days Crane and Dozer continued their construction projects but Digger went to the flower.  Whatever this tender tiny plant needed, Digger provided it; even bedtime lullabies.

Time passed.  Every space was filled with buildings, roads and bridges except where the now-grown flower resided.  One day Crane and Dozer arrived determined to move forward in their progress.  Before Digger knew what was happening Dozer revved his engine and moved.

After Crane and Dozer left, Digger, through his tears, saw something on the ground.  He carried them in his scoop traveling until as far as the eye could see were green hills and valleys.  Then Digger did what Digger did best.

The text is spare but powerful through the carefully chosen words of Joseph Kuefler.  A flawless blend of narrative and dialogue draws readers into the tale through combinations of three, a storytelling cadence.  There are three machines doing three separate tasks and creating three kinds of structures.  When Digger cares for the exquisite little bit of blue and green, he performs three acts of love.  Here are three sentences.

He had found something in the rubble.
"Hello there," he said.
The flower was tiny, but it was beautiful. 

Readers are introduced to the limited color palette used by Joseph Kuefler on the matching dust jacket and book case.  From the left, the back, and over the spine the background is the golden yellow used for Digger.  Angling from left to right are black tread marks.  The texture of the slight impression on the sides and down the middle of the marks is carried to the front as a canvas for the title text, Digger and the flower.

The opening and closing endpapers are displayed in golden yellow.  Opposite the verso and dedication page, still in the golden yellow, on a crisp white background beneath the title text is the tiny green and blue flower.  Each page turn reveals a double-page picture rendered in variations of black on white with the golden yellow of Digger, the red of Crane and the orange of Dozer.  Exceptions are several single-page illustrations and two visuals on a page to contribute to the pacing.  Once we are acquainted with the flower, blue and green become synonymous with a world not created by machines.

The balance in the use of these colors depicts emotional points in the story.  When Digger leaves the city, on the left of a two-page picture, amid the shades of black in the city structures is a yellow flag on the top of a domed roof, an orange door on one home and the small bit of red on a mailbox in front of another house.  There is a marvelous symmetry in the lines and shapes employed by Joseph Kuefler in his buildings, roads and bridges which allows readers to become as attached to the flower as Digger is.  We have compassion and an identical desire to preserve.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the three quoted sentences.  In this image we are brought close to Digger and the flower.  Digger occupies nearly the entire left side of the page with the arm of his scoop disappearing at the top left and reappearing on the top right.  It extends down to shelter the tiny plant on its right.  It's a defining moment in the story and this picture asks us to pause.

In a word The Digger And The Flower written and illustrated by Joseph Kuefler is about hope.  If each of us can commit to protecting a small portion of our world, what will happen if all those small portions are combined?  It's compassion turned into action.  Your professional and personal collections will be highly enhanced by including a copy of this title.

To discover more about Joseph Kuefler and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  He has a page dedicated to this title with narrative and additional illustrations.  Joseph also has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Here is a link to two activity pages.  Joseph was recently interviewed at Mile High Reading, blog of Dylan Teut, director for the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival in Seward, Nebraska and at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Please take a few moments to become better acquainted with Joseph and his work through these excellent chats.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

2018 Sibert Medal

On February 12, 2018 the American Library Association Youth Media Awards aired live from approximately 10:00 am to 11:00 am EST.  It doesn't get any better than watching this event with a friend and colleague and two classes of fifth grade students.  There were congratulatory yells, clapping, laughing, jumping up and down and verbal comments shared among those watching in that classroom.

When the 2018 Sibert Medal title was announced, one voice, mine, was a bit louder than the others.  Twice Twelve Days In May: Freedom Ride 1961 (Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights, October 24, 2017) written by Larry Dane Brimner was renewed from our public library.  I had it on the top of the stack next to my computer.  For some reason, I knew this book was special.  I was not ready to return it to the library.  Now I know why.  I read it cover to cover in a single sitting the next day.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy, a light-complexioned black man, deliberately sat in the white-only car of the East Louisiana Railroad.  He identified himself as Negro and was arrested for violating Louisiana's Separate Car Act, passed in 1890.

In describing this case, Morgan v Commonwealth of Virginia (1946), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Boynton v. Virginia (1960) and The Sit-Ins, we understand the historical significance of the decisions and civil rights actions leading to the Freedom Ride 1961.  From Tuesday, May 4, 1961 to Monday, May 15, 1961 we are privy to the scenes, the people and the events each day.  On May 4, 1961 two buses wait to leave Washington, D. C.; a Greyhound bus and a Continental Trailways bus will carry passengers initially numbering thirteen from state to state arriving in New Orleans by May 17, 1961.  This is to highlight the seventh anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

We are given the names, ages, race and occupations of the original thirteen riders.  These men and women ages sixty-one to eighteen volunteered for this ride; committed to non-violence regardless of how they were treated.  They rode to test the laws of this nation; the right to ride where they chose, the right to use the restroom of their choice and the right to eat where they wished.

On May 8, 1961 Joe Perkins a twenty-seven-year-old black man, a student at the University of Michigan, sat in a whites-only chair for a shoe shine.  He was arrested for trespassing.  His bail was fifty dollars.  The judge, Howard B. Arbuckle, dismissed all charges.  He followed the law not Jim Crow.

On May 9, 1961, John Lewis and Al Bigelow were beaten in Rock Hill, South Carolina.  The next day John Lewis left the Freedom Ride for a job interview promising to rejoin the group on May 15, 1961.  Tensions escalated in Winnsboro, South Carolina.  There were more arrests and a nighttime rescue.  On May 12, 1961 another member left and three more joined the group.  Now they were headed to Atlanta, Georgia.

The leader of the group James Farmer went home from Atlanta to Washington, D. C. suddenly on May 13, 1961 due to the death of his father.  As first the Greyhound bus entered the city of Anniston, Alabama, the Ku Klux Klan was highly charged with deadly intentions.  The local police did not arrest the Klansmen.  Two tires on the bus are slashed.  What followed as the bus traveled from Anniston toward Birmingham was horrific.  Equally atrocious were the incidents happening on the Continental Trailways bus.  Klansmen were passengers.  Klansmen awaited the arrival in Birmingham. 

The Freedom Riders wanted to continue but there were no buses to take them to New Orleans.  Even a decision to fly was filled with problems.  Intervention from the administration in Washington, D. C. helped the plane to take off and land in New Orleans.  Twelve days of incredible courage, determination in the face of grave bodily harm and the will to do so without violence on their part kept these Freedom Riders going toward their goal. 

We continue reading about the civil rights movement after the Freedom Ride 1961 and Birmingham.  Each of the thirteen riders is named again.  We learn how their lives continue.  They will be remembered.

Whether you read this once or multiple times, each time you are completely captivated by the bravery of these men and women.  Larry Dane Brimner writes masterfully beginning with background information and creating a feeling of great unease which grows day by day.  As the buses pass from state to state Larry Dane Brimner includes details which personally invest us in this journey. 

We continually refer to the page introducing us to the members of the Freedom Ride 1961.  Each time something happens to one of them our attachment grows.  Larry Dane Brimner is so skillful it's as if we are watching this on film.  In addition to the narrative, realistic photographs are included with every page turn.  They are all captioned; some of them are lengthier than others.  Here is one of the captions.  It is followed by a narrative passage.

Although Petersburg, Virginia, desegregated its bus terminals in 1960, this was the exception rather than the rule in the South.  When Freedom Ride 1961 ended in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 15, new waves of riders picked up the cause.  Here, unidentified Freedom Riders successfully integrate the bus terminal in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 28, 1961.

A few nearby residents offer to help the victims.  A twelve-year-old local white girl, Janie Miller, hauls five-gallon buckets of water to the riders and other passengers.  Most of the local residents, however, either look on in silence or urge the Klansmen to continue the assault, until ambulances arrive to carry the injured to the hospital.  At first, ambulance drivers refuse to carry any of the injured black riders.  Only when the white Freedom Riders begin to crawl out of the ambulances, unwilling to leave their black friends behind, do the drivers relent and agree to carry all the victims.

You will be stunned reading Twelve Days In May: Freedom Ride 1961 written by Larry Dane Brimner.  Once you read this you'll want everyone to read this title.  It is a very important book.  It is through reading history we have the ability to be better than we are.  At the conclusion of the book is a bibliography of sources consulted by the author, video, websites, and for younger readers.  There are places to visit and acknowledgments.  Source notes, an index and picture credits complete the title.

To learn more about Larry Dane Brimner and his other work, please follow the link to his website attached to his name.  I believe you will enjoy reading his other award winning books.  I was ten years old during these twelve days in May.  I thank Larry Dane Brimner for this book.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to read about the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Small Adventures Of Discovery

When you've been involved in the realm of children's literature for nearly forty-five years there are authors and illustrators whose contributions and creations have been partners with you.  You have had the distinct privilege to read almost every book they've brought into the world, marveling at their singular styles in writing and in their artwork.  Many of their books are your best friends.  You've witnessed how they've touched the hearts of readers.

There is one such author and illustrator whose bears, real and teddy, call out his name.  In his newest title, Baby Bear's Book of Tiny Tales (Little, Brown And Company, February 13, 2018), David McPhail further endears readers to his charming furry characters.  This little guy has a knack for finding what needs to be found.

Baby Bear Finds a Boot
Baby Bear was fishing.  He did not catch a fish.  Instead, he caught a boot.

In this first of four short stories Baby Bear's kindness in returning the boot to its proper owner introduces us to his forest friends.  Timmy Squirrel, Bobby Raccoon and Daisy Skunk all have perfectly good reasons the boot is not their boot.  With a bit of homonymic humor Ollie Owl cannot give Baby Bear a straight answer.  A sleepy Papa Bear finally provides a solution.

One day walking in the woods, Baby Bear finds a flower of exquisite beauty.  His first thought is to pick it for Mama Bear.  Daisy Skunk warns him to not pick the flower due to its rarity.  When Baby Bear learns the meaning of rare he has to agree with Daisy.  In a burst of ingenuity Daisy has a surprisingly excellent idea.

Leaning against a tree trunk in the third story, Baby Bear is startled by the presence of a baby bird that falls out of its nest.  First scaring away a hawk, Baby Bear decides to stay with the tiny creature until the mother returns.  Her plan to get the little bird back in its nest does not work but Baby Bear's method works wonderfully.

As Baby Bear goes from one friend's home to the next he finds himself in the forest alone. No one can play with him.  Suddenly hearing voices he decides to explore.  To his delight a little girl is picnicking with three of her toys, her best buddies.  After sharing sandwiches and tea together the little girl has a secret to share with Baby Bear.  Her revelation leads to four more surprises. 

In each of these four stories readers will be charmed by Baby Bear, his friends and parents.  David McPhail has a gift for knowing what will appeal to his younger readers (and those reading to them). The majority of each tale is told through conversations but when narrative is woven into those chats, it is done so with skill.  Here is a passage.

"What is rare?" asked Baby Bear.
"It means that this flower could be the only one left in the whole wide world," said Daisy.
"Oh dear," said Baby Bear.  "But I wanted to take it home to Mama Bear."
Baby Bear and Daisy Skunk sat down beside the flower.
They were quiet for a long time.

Upon opening the dust jacket, the golden yellow background patterned in tiny stems and leaves extends over the spine to the edge of the back on the left.  Each of the four tales is represented with the eight tiny images of Baby Bear on the circle of leaves surrounding the title text.  The circle of leaves is replicated on the back.  Within the circle we read about the book's contents.  Four new pictures of Baby Bear reflect the contents of each story.  (I am working with an F & G.  To see the book's case cover @LittleBrownYR tweeted out a picture today.)

On the opening and closing endpapers the same intricate pattern of stems and leaves is found in two shades of a sage green.  Beneath the text on the title page within a tiny border of leaves, Baby Bear is leaning over the edge of the stream watching his bobber float in the water.  A lovely frame of branches and leaves surrounds the verso information and the table of contents.  Cupped by branches are a tiny picture of Baby Bear, a red boot, a rare flower (lady's slipper), a baby bird (robin) and a waving little girl.  These branches, leaves and small illustrations head the beginning of each story.

Rendered in pen and ink and watercolor on Strathmore Drawing Paper the illustrations are softly framed in white on single pages.  They are loosely circular.  In each of the tales there is one picture which spans two pages.  The fine lines and delicate details are sure to prompt sighs and attract readers to each depiction.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is in the first story when Baby Bear is trying to find the owner of the red boot.  Tired from searching, Baby Bear is resting against a tree in the forest next to the stream.  His fishing pole with the bobber attached is leaning against the same tree.  What Baby Bear can't yet see but what readers can see is Papa Bear fast asleep sitting on the bank of the stream.  His feet are dangling in the water as he clasps his fishing pole.  One of his feet is decidedly different than the other.  (I can hear the gasps of readers already.)  The watercolor shading is gorgeous in this picture.  It's breathtaking in all of them.

For a title on friendship and items found, this collection of stories, Baby Bear's Book of Tiny Tales, written and illustrated by David McPhail is happiness you can hold in your hands.  Baby Bear has a huge heart and his ability to extend compassion in any given situation will appeal to all readers.  You will want to add this title to your collections to use during a story time featuring beloved bears.

To learn more about David McPhail and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access a website featuring him.  You will appreciate his handwritten note with a painting highlighted there.  This is an older but great post about David McPhail at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.


The More The Merrier + A Guest Author Post

When you find yourself in a frightening situation, the presence of another being is certainly comforting.  The sound of their snoring or a satisfied sigh is more than a little soothing.  A reassuring hug anytime is beneficial but never more so than when we are anxious or alarmed or both.

To be alone when faced with scary circumstances heightens the fear factor.  May I Come In? (Sleeping Bear Press, February 15, 2018) written by Marsha Diane Arnold with illustrations by Jennie Poh follows a creature as he seeks sanctuary with other forest animals.  His bravery is to be commended but will it be rewarded?

Rain poured.
Raccoon shivered.
Thunder roared.
Raccoon quivered.

As the storm worsened Raccoon knew he would not be able to endure it alone any longer.  With only his trusty umbrella for protection, Raccoon left his home.  Sloshing through puddles in Thistle Hollow, Raccoon made his way first to Possum's abode.

When he asked if he could come inside with Possum, Possum said no.  His den was too small.  Quail had a similar reply to Raccoon's query.  Traveling even farther into the forest, Raccoon stood before Woodchuck's hole with hope in his heart.  Woodchuck's answer referred to Raccoon's less than stellar fortune. There was only enough space for one.

Discouraged by the results of his wet walk in the wild night, Raccoon stood wondering what to do.  Looking ahead through the rain, he saw a light.  It was Rabbit's house. As she stood in the doorway, ten bunnies

hopped and bopped to the raindrops.

Raccoon was sure there was no more room for him.  Rabbit had other ideas.  Raccoon was a welcome guest in her happy bungalow.  As the storm splashed, boomed and flashed the night delivered more surprises. When it comes to friends, there is no such thing as too crowded.

With her rhyming words Marsha Diane Arnold requests our presence in this narrative.  We easily connect to the predicament in which Raccoon finds himself.  As Raccoon makes his way from home to home, Marsha Diane Arnold uses repeating phrases to describe his progress.  The first three encounters have nearly identical questions and answers further enhancing a storytelling cadence.  This leads us gently into the warmth of Rabbit's welcoming reply and also provides space for the surprise.  Here is a passage.

Swish, plish.
Raccoon splashed on through Thistle Hollow,
all the way to Quail's brambles.

"Quail, old friend, may I come in?"
"What bad luck," Quail replied.
"My brambles are tight.  You're too wide." 

Spread across the back and front of the matching, opened dust jacket and book case and even the flaps is a forest scene on the stormy night.  To the left we can see two birds sheltered in a hole in a tree.  Rain drops slant from a darkened sky as Raccoon makes his way toward Rabbit's red door and the light glowing in the window.  His orange scarf and purple and pink polka-dotted umbrella add a bit of cheer to the gloomy night.

The opening and closing endpapers are a crisp, clean white.  Beneath the text on the title page is a closer picture of Rabbit's tree amid the rain, thunder and lightning.  For several of the illustrations Jennie Poh has loosely framed circular shapes on single pages.  She follows these with single-page pictures, edge to edge.  Sometimes elements in a visual extend past a border, a tree branch, a bit of weed, leaves, and portions of a character.

To further encourage reader participation in the story, Jennie Poh shifts perspective.  At times we feel as though we are side-by-side Raccoon as he struggles from place to place, braving the storm.  When he finally finds a friend willing to offer him a place in her home, we move in closer to the scene experiencing the joy and hospitality.

One of several of my favorite illustrations is of Rabbit.  Behind her are ten bouncing bunnies on a circular pale brown background.  They are a variety of browns, grays and white in color.  All of them, including Rabbit, are happy.  Rabbit is wearing a short red apron.  Even before we turn the page to read her answer, we know it will be yes.

For many nothing is scarier than a thunderstorm.  To have to survive one at night, alone, makes this fear worse.  May I Come In? written by Marsha Diane Arnold with illustrations by Jennie Poh is a heartwarming exploration of a friend in need.  The whimsical images enliven the journey.  For a story time I would pair this story with   TAP TAP BOOM BOOM (Candlewick Press, March 25, 2014) written by Elizabeth Bluemle with illustrations by G. Brian Karas and Blue on Blue (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, December 2014) written by debut author Dianne White and illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner (The House in the Night, 2009) Beth Krommes.  This book May I Come In? is the perfect kind of hug needed during a storm.

To learn more about Marsha Diane Arnold and Jennie Poh and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their website and blog, respectively.  Marsha Diane Arnold is interviewed at writer and illustrator Jena Benton's site about this title.  At KidLit 411 Jennie Poh is interviewed about this book.  You can view many interior pages at the publisher's website.

I am thrilled to welcome Marsha Diane Arnold today for a guest post about this title.  I know this will bring greater insight to readers about the spark for this story.  These connections really help to make children's literature creators more real to readers.  Thank you, Marsha.

May I Come In? by Marsha Diane Arnold, illustrated by Jennie Poh

Thank you, Margie Myers-Culver, the lovely librarian who is ever-questing for wondrous books for readers. It’s an honor to be here.

In May I Come In? Raccoon is afraid to spend the night alone during a thunderstorm, so he grabs his umbrella to search for company. He’s turned away by Quail, Possum, and Woodchuck. All explain that there’s just no room. When Raccoon arrives at Rabbit’s home, full of hopping, bopping bunnies, he’s sure there’s no room there either, but Rabbit surprises him.

May I Come In? will be available in bookstores on February 15th, but as I write this today, on February 1st, I’ve had the fun of already sharing the book with two elementary school classes, one in Connecticut and one in Hyderabad, India. Both classes relished saying the rhyming words, “Swish. Plish.” along with me, as Raccoon splashed through rain puddles. They related to the fear that comes when we’re alone during scary times. I shared about Hurricane Irma here in Florida and how many, including my husband and myself, opened our homes. We invited in friends, strangers…and their dogs. (I know you’ll approve, Margie, being a dog-lover.)

Family, friends, and strangers piled into our house during Hurricane Irma. So many people told others to “Come right in!”

Students’ observations often surprise and delight me. One kindergarten girl noted that Raccoon wore a scarf on the May I Come In? cover, the same way Bear wore a scarf on the cover of Lost. Found. I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t thought about this before! I explained that I’d written in my Lost. Found. art notes that Bear was wearing a red scarf, but in May I Come In? my illustrator, Jennie Poh, had decided to give Raccoon a scarf, this one bright orange.

Jennie’s art is so fitting for my story. One of my favorite spreads is Raccoon looking into the distance at a light, “glimmering and shimmering,” inviting him to journey on. This is also the cover of the book. Red seems the perfect color for the door beneath the light.  The color red is pleasing here and stands out, but a red front door also has a lot of meaning. The Chinese consider red to be a lucky color and it certainly was for Raccoon. The bright colors that Jennie uses are appealing – red door, orange scarf, purple umbrella. Even in the dark spreads, the colors help keep the story from being scary.

On the last page of the book, readers will find the copyright and dedications. My dedication reads, “Especially for my husband, Frederick Oak Arnold, who always makes room for friends.” I dedicated the book to him because he’s always opening the door to friends and strangers alike, sometimes too much for his introverted wife. He’s willing to come to the rescue of anyone who needs him. That might mean picking someone up at the airport (even if it’s three hours away), buying someone lunch, or calling a sick friend. He epitomizes the spirit of May I Come In? – friendship, inclusion, a helping hand. Finding someone he can help makes him happy.

My hope is that May I Come In? will help children understand that happiness truly does come from opening our hearts…and our doors…to others.

You are welcome to “come right in” to Marsha’s website to explore more about her books and school visits at www.marshadianearnold.com.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

With Affection

You know it's true.  Twinkling eyes glance in your direction.  A shy smile slowly blossoms on a face.  A tender touch brushes your hand. Wise words lift your spirit. 

These are signs of another heart holding you in affection.  You may encounter them every day from family or friends or when seemingly lost and alone, a stranger will send one of them to you.  I AM LOVED: a poetry collection (A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, January 9, 2018) with poems written by Nikki Giovanni and illustrations by Ashley Bryan are selections declaring an eternal truth.

I wrote a poem
for you because
you are
my little boy . . .

These eleven marvelous odes speak of love; a never ending love binding generations together.  This love supplies a safety net.  If there is a tumble, the beloved is caught. 

Encouragement is given to those living in this love.  Each day is to be honored with joy.  In the voice of a fashioned fabric days of service are remembered.  Those days are numbered but even in final moments soft soothing words can provide comfort.

We love in the present.  We mourn those loved from our past.  Songs and dances celebrate shared love.  Words speak of weaving a child into the beauty of lyrical phrases.

A prized pet with singular intelligence happily plans a future.  Another melody from a full heart sings of simple delights, free to those willing to see.  Everyone needs to know deep in their soul, they are loved.  They will always be loved. 

One dating back nearly fifty years, these poems by Nikki Giovanni literally sing off the pages.  It's as if we are members of an audience at an extraordinary musical event.  We are fortunate in being able to attend it repeatedly; every time we open this book.  Her words portray a world in which children, the child in all of us, can be secure in the knowledge of being loved.  Here is a portion of one of the poems.

No Heaven
How can there be
No heaven

When rain falls 
gently on the grass
When sunshine scampers
across my toes

When corn bakes
into bread
When wheat melts
into cake . . .

Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case the fluid lines and rainbow colors masterfully and lovingly painted by Ashley Bryan span from edge to edge, left to right.  On the back stars, a crescent moon and vibrant lines frame the closing lines of the first poem.  The picture on the front is an interior image for the poem Leaves.  One voice is telling another of their hope; a hope of love.

The opening and closing endpapers exude warmth.  The golden yellow, orange and red are patterned like striped fabric.  A page turn gives readers two pages framed in white with yellow backgrounds.  On the left is an opened book titled POEMS.  On the right are the words


The formal verso and title pages have yellow backgrounds containing Ashley Bryan's remarkable birds.  Along the bottom of the title page are a row of vibrantly hued homes.

For each of the eleven poems there is a breathtaking illustration opposite the words with the exception of one of the poems.  For Quilts, a longer series of verses, two pages frame the words, depicting the use and age of the fabric on wide borders.  The human faces are a reflection of the emotions found in each poem.

One of my favorite of many pictures is for A Song of a Blackbird.  Deep blues, black, and purple are prominent.  Woven into these hues are yellow, orange, red and muted greens and a gray.  Against a night sky a large blackbird is perched on top of a building.  Behind the lower portion of its body is a rainbow holding notes. Text flows beneath these notes.  The title of the poem is placed on the street.  This image looks like a treasured tapestry, rich and rare.

Whether read silently or aloud I AM LOVED: a poetry collection with poems written by Nikki Giovanni and illustrations by Ashley Bryan is a title for all of us.  The blend of words and illustrations are guaranteed to fill readers with a very real sense of peace.  I highly recommend it for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Nikki Giovanni and Ashley Bryan and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Nikki Giovanni and Ashley Bryan are interviewed at Mile High Reading by Dylan Teut, director of the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival.  Nikki Giovanni and Ashley Bryan also join Roger Sutton at The Horn Book for a chat.  I know you will enjoy viewing the interior images from this book at the publisher's website.