Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Field Trip Friendship

Wouldn't it be great to imagine every day as if it is a field trip? You wake up knowing something new and exciting is going to happen.  To explore a place you've never visited offers endless opportunities.  Experiencing this adventure with friends or even alone creates unforgettable moments.  Learning something unusual about our world increases our respect and admiration for those very things.

As a cherished class pet, the days during the school year are likely brimming with routine but also shrouded in an air of expectancy.  In the first book in her new early reader series, Fergus And Zeke (Candlewick Press, June 13, 2017) author Kate Messner acquaints us with a personable, lovable character (maybe two).  This mouse, Fergus, is no ordinary class pet.  His escapades are illustrated by artist Heather Ross.

FERGUS LOVED being the class pet in Miss Maxwell's room.  He loved everything about school, and he was good at following the class rules.

Whether it was storytime, a lesson in following directions or solving math problems, Fergus was a model student.  During music, the best part of the day as far as Fergus was concerned, he was so happy he danced his jazzy dance.  When Miss Maxwell told the students they would be going to the Museum of Natural History, he could hardly wait.  He wanted to see everything the students wanted to see.  The day was finally here.

To Fergus's disappointment he could not go to the museum.  Not to be deterred Fergus found a way to go on the field trip.  Emma's backpack was the ideal method of transportation.  The next problem our fearless mouse faced was he needed a buddy.  The one he discovered in Emma's backpack was not very mobile.  Suddenly a voice spoke in the cloakroom.

A friendly mouse named Zeke lived in the museum.  He would be Fergus's buddy and tour guide.  Pitted space rocks, the fluttering butterflies in their house, the massive blue whale and frightening reptile room were on the duo's agenda.  The exhibit filled with ferocious lions and large elephants was better than any other playground but the best part was the towering Tyrannosaurus rex.  From the height of its mouth Fergus could see everywhere and everyone.  Gasp!  Miss Maxwell's class was leaving...without him!

To say Fergus panicked was an understatement.  The twosome raced past all the visited rooms but a shortcut revealed the most spectacular sight of all.  There were questions. There were answers.  The biggest surprise of all was back at the classroom at the close of the day.  It was time for a jazzy dance.

Kate Messner is one of the most versatile writers in the world of children's literature.  Regardless of her intended audience, from picture books to middle grade novels, her dedication to meticulous research and reaching the hearts of her readers is obvious.  She speaks the language of relevance.

In this title her succinct sentences are a blend of narrative, thoughts and dialogue.  A technique of multiple perspectives draws us into the story.  Here is a sample passage.

Everyone was excited.  "I want to see the dinosaurs," said Emma.
"I want to see the butterfly garden," said Jake.
"I want to see the planetarium," said Lucy.  "I want to wish on a shooting star!"
Fergus wanted to see all those things, too.  What fun it would be to wish on a shooting star!  He couldn't wait for the big trip. 

Watching the two mice scamper across the matching dust jacket and book case front, wide-eyed and smiling, is sure to have readers doing the same thing.  Who wouldn't be happy walking among dinosaur bones?  To the left, on the back, the pals are seated looking in contentment at each other.  Their pink ears and purple and gray fur seems soft enough to touch.

On the opening and closing endpapers Heather Ross has placed a spring green background.  Upon this is a pattern of loose circles.  Within them are things to be seen at this museum.  Throughout the title Heather alternates between full page pictures, two page visuals, smaller pictures grouped together or images crossing the gutter beneath text.  To enhance the narrative she has added insets in different perspectives.  Under each of the chapter headings a single item represents events within those pages.

We get to see this visit through the eyes of the mice rather than the humans.  Adding to the sense of adventure are their expressions and body movements. The fun and the growing friendship are evident.

One of my favorite of several illustrations is of Fergus in the butterfly house.  A pale background mirroring a moist tropical atmosphere colors the canvas.  Bright green leaves reach in from the top and bottom framing Fergus.  Butterflies in beautiful hues fly above him.  His eyes are closed in pure bliss hoping one of them will land on him.  The entire scene is as if we are looking down on Fergus.

As soon as readers finish reading Fergus And Zeke written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Heather Ross, they will do one of two things.  They will immediately read it again and then they are sure to say, "When is the second book going to be available?"  The second book in the series, Fergus And Zeke At The Science Fair is being released sometime next year....I think.  Make sure you have multiple copies of this title available at home and at school.

To discover more about Kate Messner and Heather Ross and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  You will enjoy reading the story behind the story at Kate's website.  You can get a sneak peek at interior images and text at the publishers' websites here and here.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Of Capes And Courage

Some people carry an object with them believing it inspires them when they need it the most.  There is something intrinsically reassuring about reaching into your pocket to rub your fingers over a treasured memento; its value known only to you.  Others wear a specific article of clothing to ensure good luck is with them during a particular day or a specific event.  

Remembrances are attached to certain outfits hanging in our closets.  We recall some as gifts, or the place it was purchased or the spectacular circumstances we enjoyed while wearing it.  Super Manny Stands Up! (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, July 4, 2017) written by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Stephanie Graegin speaks to the superhero in all of us.

Every day Manny put on a different cape after school.  

Each colored cape represented his ability to conquer those beings who wished him or others harm.  They also made a very special trait within Manny rise to the surface.  Donning his blue cape made battling unsavory sea creatures easy.  Manny was fearless.

His red, yellow, purple, and green capes helped him defeat zombie bears or forest giants.  He could be brave or powerful depending on the foe and the cape he wore.  His most important cape was the one saved for school.  It was his

top secret undercover cape.

No one could see this cape but Manny knew it was there.

Mutant monkeys on the playground and giant squids in the cafeteria were no match for Super Manny.  One day at lunch a voice boomed above the general hum.  Tall One was teasing Small One.  Manny knew he should do something but his capes were at home.  Then he remembered his

top secret undercover cape.

Manny left his seat and spoke.  Tall One immediately turned his attention to Manny questioning his words.  Our invincible raccoon spoke louder.  Tall One was surprised and not pleased with what happened next.  A cape spread courage from one to many.

With her first sentence Kelly DiPucchio welcomes us into the story.  We are already asking questions.  Why does Manny put a cape on after school?  Why does he have different capes?  As each color is depicted a narrative rhythm is established with the introduction of the dangers and the corresponding trait in Manny.  The distinctive characteristics are shouted by Manny in speech bubbles.

During the disruption in the cafeteria all those imaginary evils Manny has fought and conquered are listed in his mind again along with a mantra of his attributes.  This technique asks readers to participate in the tale of Super Manny.  Here is a sample passage.

When legions of alien robots with laser-beam eyes invaded, Manny tirelessly fought them off in his purple cape.


Now I ask you, how can you resist the proud, happy raccoon standing on the front of the dust jacket? (I am working with an F & G.) His confidence radiates as strongly as the stars blasting forth behind him.  The title text, Manny, and the stars are varnished.  Each individual star is textured with raised glitter.  To the left, on the back, we see the same hill on the blue background.  This time Manny is facing away from us.

On the opening and closing endpapers illustrator Stephanie Graegin is giving us a hint of happenings to come in the book.  On the first set Manny is wearing different colored striped shirts with different colored capes.  All the poses (40) are altered.  The final set has an addition to the rowed pattern.  (My lips are sealed.)

Rendered in pencil and ink and then assembled and colored digitally the illustrations span two pages, single pages and smaller images on a single page.  For those smaller ones on single pages, Stephanie Graegin usually has a circular shape.  Sometimes the elements will extend outside this frame.

When Manny is facing each of the collective foes they appear in the color of his cape superimposed over the normal activities of the other characters.  When the angry army of zombie bears attack, it is in the middle of his sister's tea party.  Her disgust at his roaring is typical and funny.  Manny is beating the forest giants in a game of croquet as his mother and sister work in the garden.

The layout and design of these images is superb.  The details will have readers pausing to look; the title of Manny's sister's book, the kind of books Manny likes to read, and the cat holding chopsticks in the cafeteria.  Body postures and facial expressions are as exactly as you would expect and are sure to produce smiles in all readers.  Readers will want to join Manny in his exploits.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when the unsavory sea creatures appear.  On a crisp white background Manny is behind a fish bowl looking at the regular fish inside.  The outraged sea creatures are beginning to float from the top as water splashes.  This shift in perspective heightens the pacing.

Readers will count this title as one of their favorites on having the courage to speak up against those who are being unkind to others.  Super Manny Stands Up! written by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Stephanie Graegin is an inspiration to all readers.  One person can make a difference especially if they are wearing their invisible cape.  Make sure you have a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Kelly DiPucchio and Stephanie Graegin and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images. Kelly DiPucchio maintains a blog.  Dylan Teut, director of the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival in Seward, Nebraska, interviewed Kelly DiPucchio on his blog, Mile High Reading.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Conquest Of Words

During the 2015-2016 school year I was fortunate to work with a group of kindergarten students. Visiting them once a week, introducing them to authors, illustrators and the joy of appreciating not only the stories they told but how they accomplished their work was memorable.  As a thank you for our time together they wrote a book for me.  In it are letters of gratitude.

These letters are one of my greatest treasures because in my years of education I have had the opportunity to watch students learning to shape letters and string them together to make words.  When they are able to do this their happiness is huge.  Little Plane Learns to Write (A Neal Porter Books, Roaring Brook Press, June 6, 2017) written and illustrated by Stephen Savage takes readers on a journey of practice makes perfect.

It was time for class at flight school.

Little Plane could hardly wait to begin.  Their flight instructor told them about their new lesson.  They were going to learn to write.

Practicing arcs, dives and loopity-loops was important to their success.  Little Plane zoomed into the air.  Completing arcs was no problem.  The loopity-loops were not so easy.  They made him feel upside down and inside out.

He tried his best the next day but writing about clouds was minus an o.  Of course the flight instructor noticed the omission encouraging him to try again.  Little Plane gave it his best effort but again his next word lacked an o.

As the day darkened into night, Little Plane was deeply discouraged.  The night was partly cloudy.  As the clouds moved across the sky a glowing revelation gave Little Plane an idea.  With great care he flew.  His happiness was huge.

When Stephen Savage writes for our younger readers he speaks directly to their collective hearts and minds.  His sentences are simple and easily understood but still convey emotion.  His careful use of words allows us to connect to his characters.  This story becomes a bit more personal with the inserted dialogue by the flight instructor.  Every single one of us understands the struggle to learn to write and form words.  Every single one of us needed (needs) support.  And it's surprising, as Stephen demonstrates, when that support will appear.

Two dots and two curved lines give readers all they need to know about the mood of Little Plane as he flies over the countryside beneath him.  He has just completed writing the text for the title and could not more thrilled.  His red hue conveys warmth in beautiful contrast to the predominant use of primary colors throughout the book .  To the left, on the back, the canvas shifts to all sky blue.  Within a circle of yellow is a lighter blue.  Little Plane is flying out of the circle, a large grin on his face.

Readers are going to love the opening and closing endpapers.  Little Plane along with the other students have written the upper and lower case letters of the alphabet between the two images.  A through M is on the first and N through Z is on the second.  The background shifts in shades of blue to delineate the passage of time.

Digital techniques created the illustrations which all span two pages.  Stephen's use of line, shadows, light and shapes is ideal for the intended audience.  He alternates smoothly between panoramic and close-up views.  They contribute to the sensory impact.

One of my many favorite pictures is when Little Plane is trying a second time to get his loopity-loops to form.  The lower two-thirds of the page is a cityscape with a bridge in the background on the left.  Over the right side of the city is a large rainbow.  Above this the word is correctly spelled without an o.  Little Plane is flying away glad with what he has accomplished even without the o.  

Little Plane Learns to Write written and illustrated by Stephen Savage is an ode to learning and persistence.  It also shows how students learn differently and at varying rates.  I predict this book is going to be requested repeatedly by readers as a read aloud one-on-one or as a group.  You will want to add this title to your professional and personal collections of Stephen Savage books.  It's a definite winner.  (Can you guess which letter the students who wrote to me struggled with the most?)

To learn more about Stephen Savage and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  To view interior images of this book please view them at the publisher's website.  Stephen is interviewed at Where The Board Books Are and BKLYNER.  This book is one of those featured by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Stephen Savage had the distinct honor to be selected as the Irma Black and Cook Prize ceremony keynote speaker on May 18, 2017.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Shaping Laughter

There are days when you crave great gulps of it.  It's an elixir for your soul.  You need it like your body needs air. It can come over you spontaneously or build until it bursts out in the open.

Whether it's a snicker or a shriek, laughter is contagious.  It's a rare person who hears it and does not feel at the least, a hint of a smile forming.  Claymates (Little, Brown and Company, June 20, 2017) written by Dev Petty with illustrations by Lauren Eldridge is certain to send spirits soaring.  There will, without a doubt, be a great deal of roaring...with laughter.

So...are you new here?


Me too.

What do you think is going to happen?

Probably something WONDERFUL.

Two balls of clay, one gray and the other brown, are calmly chatting and getting to know one another when an artist approaches the studio table, forming them into a wolf and an owl.  The twosome is thrilled when they are left alone again.  Owl thinks they are perfect.  Wolf has other plans.

Faster than you can say ears, it stretches them to look like airplane wings.  Owl is flabbergasted predicting doom and gloom at Wolf's antics in altering its appearance.  Finally after persistent prodding, Owl tries it.  Yahoo! Where did Owl go?  And what is in its place?

Like caged creatures set free the duo are an explosion of creativity.  When one becomes something new, the other complements it.  They progress from imaginative creatures, to things out of this world, to bigger, smaller, flatter and sharper.

The artist's jar of tools is fair game for these companions as they merrily make and remake themselves until the inevitable happens.   They hope their fast thinking solves their current predicament but the outcome generates full-blown hilarity.  For a third time they find themselves alone.  And as it is said, the third time is the charm.

Told entirely through the conversations between the two balls of clay, this story instantly captures your undivided attention and keeps it until the final syllable is uttered.  Dev Petty's keen sense of humor resonates in each word.  It's delightful to see how she plays one personality against the other until doubt is dispelled, replaced with exuberant play and the roles come full circle.  Here is a sample conversation.

You definitely shouldn't do that.

Why not?
I can fix it.

Don't I look loooovely?

You look like 
you're going to get
us in trouble.

It's a given you will start to giggle as soon as you see the matching dust jacket and book case.  Lauren Eldridge in this title, her debut picture book, demonstrates her masterful use of clay, found objects and photography.  The color choices for the text and the white background assure your attention will be directed at the characters.  You know the wolf and owl are as happy as can be but you are not sure why until your eyes drift left at the back.  A gray elephant is now holding a giant brown peanut in its trunk.  Off to one side you can see a portion of the studio table with other balls of clay ready to be used.

On the opening endpapers we get a clear view of the entire studio, including the table and photography space. What an introduction to possibilities!  On the closing endpapers with the publication information, author's and illustrator's notes and dedications it's the same area with noticeable differences.  (I'm laughing again.)  On the title page we zoom in close to the characters and bowls holding balls of clay.  The title letters formed from clay are spread across the top of the two-page picture.

Rendered in

polymer clay, acrylic doll eyes, tinfoil, and wire to create the many shapes of the gray and brown claymates and using objects from around my (her) house

Lauren Eldridge fashions a series of images on white or framed in wide bands of white.  She might include two illustrations on a single page, a single picture on one page, a wordless collage of visuals or a close-up spread across two pages.  Her choice of size directs the pacing and heightens the narrative.

The conversations are shown on torn pieces of paper with text color to match the character's color. What Lauren does with their eyes is fabulous! You know exactly what they are thinking and feeling.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the first two-page spread.  The wolf has just pulled its ears out making them longer.  Its eyes and mouth are wide open with its tongue hanging out as it exclaims


Owl on the right is shocked with wings askew, one tip pointed toward its chin.  The eyes are as wide-open as Wolf's but not for the same reason.  Owl says


You can't read this title, Claymates written by Dev Petty with illustrations by Lauren Eldridge, only once.  You have to read it again and again.  And, this is the best part, even though you know what is going to happen you laugh louder and longer with every reading.  I love this book!  I already have more copies on the way.  I would plan on multiple copies for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Dev Petty and Lauren Eldridge and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  The exclusive cover reveal along with an interview is at teacher librarian Travis Jonker's blog at School Library Journal, 100 Scope Notes.  The book trailer was premiered at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  He chats with Lauren Eldridge.  Lauren is featured at Celebri-Dots.  Dev Petty talks about this book at Nerdy Book Club.  Enjoy the video.

Book Chat with the CLAYMATES Creators from LB School on Vimeo.

Admiration For Earth's Survivors

If you set the acquired fear aside, in its place is utter respect.  They have

survived five major extinction events, including one 65 million years ago that destroyed the dinosaurs.

Their skin is uniquely designed for speed.  Some of their species can swim up to sixty miles per hour.  Attempts have been made to duplicate their skin in swimwear for athletes.  As a top predator in the food chain their very existence is essential to maintaining a balance in our oceans.

One woman devoted her life to dispelling the fear, replacing it with verifiable facts.  Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist (Sourcebooks, Jabberwocky, June 6, 2017) written by Jess Keating with illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens presents to readers how one girl grew a dream from a passionately planted seed to a full-blown bloom of reality.  Readers can easily connect with Eugenie Clark and her sharks.

It was Saturday, and Eugenie wanted to stay at the aquarium forever.

While she was at the aquarium she would watch the sharks longer than the other animals even pretending to walk through the sea rather than the facility.  A big supporter of Eugenie's dream, her mom would take her to the shore so she could swim.  Can you believe this little girl stuck gum in her ears so she could dive?  Nothing was going to keep her from exploring her already beloved ocean.

Though she wished to swim with sharks, she first had to learn everything she could about them.  She read and wrote and read and wrote some more.  To her surprise her mom bought her a fifteen-gallon fish tank to bring a watery world into their small apartment.  For a girl with Eugenie's desires this was one step closer to making her greatest wish come true.

As she continued her studies, her dream was not easy to accomplish with current beliefs as to what a woman should or shouldn't do.  Studying sharks was clearly not what a woman should be doing but Eugenie did and she did it very well.  After college graduation Eugenie finally got to swim in the open ocean.  In the Red Sea she discovered three new species!

Can you imagine how thrilled she was when she swam near her first wild shark or found a cave of sleeping sharks?  As prejudice against sharks grew so did Eugenie's persistence in proving those thoughts wrong.  Her gift to the world is to never give up on your dream.  One person can make a difference for the good.

Eugenie was the first scientist in the world to train sharks and even learned they could remember their training for at least two months after.

What makes readers feel as though Eugenie Clark is a friend of theirs (or they wish she was a friend) is the style of writing used by Jess Keating.  Throughout this book she brings us into the exact moment Eugenie is experiencing.  She describes the setting in sensory terms.  She describes what Eugenie is feeling through explicit examples revealing her research into this remarkable woman.

She supplies us interesting facts as Eugenie moves closer and closer to making her dream a reality.  Keating does not shy away from the unfounded opinions of those against Eugenie's pursuits or sharks.  By referring to Eugenie diving figuratively and literally she fashions a rhythmic thread throughout the text.  She also uses the words smart and brave to reinforce important points more than once. Here are two sample passages.

So she dove...

...this time into books.  Whale sharks.  Nurse sharks.  Tiger sharks.  Lemon sharks.  Eugenie wanted to know about them all.  She also joined the Queens County Aquarium Society as its youngest member.

Eugenie's notebooks filled with sharks.  They swam in her daydreams and on the margins of her pages.

When readers first see the matching dust jacket and book case for this title, given any preconceptions they have about sharks, they are going to want to read this book.  Who is this woman swimming near a shark?  The design of the front with the plant life and small fishes providing a frame for Eugenie Clark and the shark is marvelous.  The complementary colors with the bold white textured main title along with the varnished portions give the impression of being under water.  To the left, on the back, a younger Eugenie is diving along the shore in a circular setting with fish and plant life breaking the border.  This is varnished also.

The opening and closing endpapers are a blue on blue display of a variety of sharks with their common and scientific names.  On the first they are swimming to the right and on the second they are swimming to the left.  Clever.  Beneath the text on the title page Eugenie has risen to the surface of the water with a small fish swimming in a jar she holds.

Rendered in Adobe Photoshop the full color artwork by Marta Alvarez Miguens spans single pages, double pages, pages crossing the gutter from one side to the other to form a column for text, a group of three on one page and is featured in a circle or an oval on a single page.  Each image size is carefully visualized to enhance the text.  The people and their personalities in these illustrations are a variety of ages, ethnicities and from all walks of life.  The settings in which they are placed and their clothing is appropriate for the time periods.  It's their facial expressions which will connect to readers the most.

The underwater images will take your breath away in their hues and representation of the plant and animal life.  By altering the perspectives in these, Miguens brings us into each depiction.  Another stunning portrayal is the picture with Eugenie looking through the glass of a shop highlighting shark fishing for sport, newspaper headlines about sharks, shark fin soup and a set of a shark's jaw and teeth.

One of my favorite of several pictures is when Eugenie starts to dive into books.   It spans two pages.  On the right Eugenie is seated at a table surrounded by books and there are more stacked on a chair next to her.  She is at the public library.  Swimming from the left amid the shelves are three sharks.  It's a blend of the natural world with a human-made environment.

One of the best things about nonfiction picture books is learning something new about a particular person, place or thing.  What makes Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist written by Jess Keating with illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens the finest example of this is how it enlarges our understanding of an incredible creature and the woman who loved them.  To finish this title two pages, Shark Bites, give us eight extended facts about sharks.  Following these are two pages dedicated to a timeline of Eugenie Clark's life and accomplishments.  Jess Keating concludes with an Author's Note and Bibliography.  

To discover more about Jess Keating and Marta Alvarez Miguens please visit their online presence by following the links attached to their names.  The cover reveal for this title along with an interview by teacher librarian Matthew Winner of both Keating and Miguens is found at All The Wonders.  Scholastic Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, features Jess Keating on his site here and premieres the book trailer here.  Jess Keating wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club about this title.  The publisher provides an activity kit for this book.  Enjoy this video Jess Keating made about Shark Lady.

Make sure you stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to read about the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Small But Mighty

You may not be able to see them all the time, but you can certainly hear them.  Their buzzing, chirping and whining announce their arrival and residence.  Others who live in relative silence leave behind their handiwork in the shape of silken webs or sandy hills.  It can be said that several of them are the ultimate survivors, their existence noted before the dinosaurs.

Some take wing and fly as soon as we approach.  Others, as still as stone, blend in with their surroundings. If we are fortunate enough to see them, it's like a gift.  Cricket in the Thicket: Poems about Bugs (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt And Company, May 9, 2017) written by Carol Murray with illustrations by Melissa Sweet is a lighthearted, informative approach to acquainting readers with members of the insect community; twenty-nine poems take us on a journey through their buggy realm.

Cricket's Alarm

Cricket in the thicket, cricket.
Cricket in the house, cricket.
Cricket in the bedroom, not as quiet as a mouse, cricket.
Cricket in the closet in a pocket or a shoe, cricket. ...

As the male cricket chirps we are reminded other cultures keep them in their homes as pets.  Can you guess which insects number the highest in the world?  Delicate to touch, as light as a feather, a cicada leaves behind a layer.  No weaver but a wanderer, the jumping spider uses silk to enhance travel toward prey.

The next time you see an inchworm carefully watch how they move before they become moths.  Bumblebees keep our flower population thriving sharing the task as pollinators with honey bees.  Dung beetles were sacred in ancient times?  Who knew? They have a secret which makes them able to swim underwater; water beetles do more than skate along the surface.  Is it a stick that looks like a bug or a bug that looks like a stick?

If you are a feathered friend, beware the milkweed muncher, they are poisonous and so are their majestic butterflies, monarchs.  Do you know the other name for harvestman?  Who has ears near their knees?  If their web is no longer useful, spiny-back spiders eat them.

When the dreaded mosquito is near, she had better look before she bites if an ebony jewelwing is close.  If we only saw life through a microscope (sometimes not always), these creepy crawlies, fruit fly, tick and mite, would be given more attention earlier.  In truth some bugs bug us but these poetic and visual tributes tell and show us, they are indeed mighty.

You will want to run outside as soon as possible after reading these lively verses penned by Carol Murray.  She has created an excitement for bugs!  Her focus is on the essential quality of each insect.  Her rhyming, rhythmic lines replicate those characteristics.  In small paragraphs at the bottom of the page she elaborates on something mentioned in the poem.  Here is one of her poems in its entirety.

Dragons Fly the Sky                         S
A lovely wisp,                                       R
awash in blue,                                  A
with light and lacy wings,          O
a mini-glider in the sky, who S
but never stings.

Woven in, around and under the title text Melissa Sweet places many of the bugs highlighted in the narrative.  She gives them personality with a plus!  The varnished red on cricket and green on thicket add to the pizzazz of her design.  To the left, on the back, the poem noted above is placed on a light background with a group of dragonflies flying around a naturalist's collection envelope.  The opening and closing endpapers are the same shade of red as the title text.

These illustrations rendered in watercolor and mixed media are as fascinating as the subjects they feature.  On the title page a grasshopper is leaping over an array of flowers beneath the text.  On the dedication page a close-up of a leaf shows a grasshopper munching out a large hole.  He is looking right at the reader through the gap in the leaf.

For each poem a distinctive, individualistic image has been created, many of them bringing the insect world closer to readers. Most of them are on single pages but for three Sweet spans two pages.  Her unique details will have you stopping at every page turn; a cricket poised on the edge of a red tennis shoe, ants crawling over a single stalk as a night scene unfolds, inchworms and measuring tape for a garden plot, the B in buzz becoming bumblebee wings, six circles showing a roly-poly rolling...up and unrolling and June bugs blasting against a light bulb.  Her style and color combinations take you into the moment.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the inchworms.  The background is a dark sage green.  A root vegetable (radish) is magnified.  On three sides a blue-green measuring tape frames it.  Pieces of tape are strategically placed off the top, bottom and left sides.  Inchworms are crawling along the top and left sides.

Cricket in the Thicket: Poems about Bugs written by Carol Murray with illustrations by Melissa Sweet is one of those wonderful books with multiple appeal.  You can use it in an insect unit or an exploration of poetry.  There is a contents section at the beginning and Cricket Notes at the end.  These provide even more information about each bug.  You really need a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Carol Murray and Melissa Sweet please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Carol Murray has a book trailer for this title on her site.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wherever We're Together

Defining home depends on the individual.  For some it's a permanent structure in the same place year after year.  A more temporary residence with a changing location is home to others.  Home may not even refer to a physical object.

Home may not be something you can see.  It might be anywhere as long as you are with a particular being, or where you feel loved.    For those in the animal world home can be these things along with other attributes.  The Road Home (Abrams Books For Young Readers, March 7, 2017) written by Katie Cotton with illustrations by Sarah Jacoby presents a breathtaking lyrical and visual representation of home through four animals.

Fly with me to far away,
where sun sill warms the ground.

An adult bird beckons to a baby, asking it to take flight.  The seasons are shifting and they need to do the same.  Winter can be harsh.

A tiny mouse, though its paws are sore, is encouraged to keep working.  A nest must be made from straw and leaves offering them protection.  To be hidden is to be safe.

Wolves race for food, hunger gnawing at their stomachs.  The younger of the two is learning to hunt. To take a life is to save their own lives.

Two rabbits, hearts pounding, run for shelter through brambles.  The chilling fingers of cold mingle in their fur.  They are pushed by the panic filling their bodies.  Their den offers sanctuary.

Each of these animals is moving during the day with different intentions but what they seek is the same...home.  Home is survival, the opportunity to live another day.  Do you think they see the world as a whole as home?

Though the narrative describes difficult living conditions it does so with grace and distinction through the words written by Katie Cotton. For the bird, the mouse, the wolf and the rabbit at least four sentences, two of them rhyming, depict survival essentials.  Warmth, safety and food are driving forces in their lives.  To have the same sentence at the close of each description ties all the animals together.  When Cotton alters it at the end, a truth is revealed.  Here are three more sentences.

Come with me through tangled trees
and thorns that grasp our coats.
The air is cold and sharp as ice.
It chills our trembling throats.

Rendered with watercolors and digital media the illustrations by Sarah Jacoby create an atmosphere complementing and heightening the text.  The intricate lines and exquisite details as well as the altered perspectives seen on the book case are continued throughout the book.  To the left of the adult and baby mouse, on the back, is a panoramic view of snow-capped mountains in the background with forest trees and rolling hills in the foreground.  Framing this along the bottom is the last of the flower blooms of the season.  The title text is embossed copper foil.

The opening and closing endpapers reflect in a wash a season or perhaps a time of day.  The first is in hues of blue and the second is in warm golden yellow and orange.  Beneath the text on the title page the two mice are shown in miniature.

Most of the images span two pages with the exception of several grouped together on one page with a single page picture opposite them.  Those smaller illustrations, three, in a group definitely ask us to slow our reading.  This allows us to feel the full emotional impact.

One of my favorite pictures of many is at night.  Snow covers the ground as a full moon glimmers through the tree branches on the right.  Beneath it are rows of evergreens behind a large open field.  A path cuts through the white.  On the left we can see inside a hill where the adult rabbit and baby rabbit are curled in sleep, safe for the night.

The majesty of animal life is conveyed beautifully in The Road Home written by Katie Cotton with illustrations by Sarah Jacoby.  The eloquence of the words and luminous illustrations fashion a volume which reads almost like a lullaby.  You will want a copy on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Sarah Jacoby and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  You can view interior images at the publisher's website.