Quote of the Month

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




Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Bound By The Beat

It is a mild evening in October of 2003.  Crowds of people, expectations elevated, are streaming from the parking lots to The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan.  It is their first major concert tour since 1983.  It is (it was) going to be a night of nights, a lasting memory.  Two old friends, two best friends, are reunited.

This friendship begins decades earlier in the Jewish suburbs of Queens.  When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon & Garfunkel (Candlewick Press, March 20, 2018) written by G. Neri with illustrations by David Litchfield chronicles the relationship of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel from the time of their first meeting until 1966 with a highlight in 1981.  It is a tribute to this musical duo; a duo who sang of what collective souls were feeling then and still feel now.

Old Friends September 19, 1981
At dawn,
people hit the streets
all over New York City,
making their way
into the heart
of the weary metropolis---
Central Park.
Despite the gray skies
and morning drizzle,
the city comes to life---
horns blaring,
drivers shouting,
subway trains rumbling
underfoot---
a symphony
of noise.

This is the introductory paragraph to the piece on the neighborhood concert in Central Park where more than 500,000 people were in attendance.  People came to hear the well-loved voices and the words they sang.  It had been far too long a wait.

The year is now 1951. Two boys who have never met live a few blocks from each other in Kew Garden Hills. They are nothing alike in stature.  They are nothing alike in their dreams of a future.  One prefers singing.  He is called The Voice by the neighborhood mothers.  His name is Artie.  The other has dreams of becoming a star on the baseball diamond.  His brother calls him Slugger.  His name is Paul.

A school talent show when they are in the fourth grade changes Paul's dreams.  When he listens to Artie sing, he wonders and he hopes he can capture an audience's attention like Artie does.  Two more years pass before Paul and Artie, both with parts in Alice in Wonderland, truly connect.

Listening to the radio and hearing Elvis and other rock and roll hit singers like the Everly Brothers inspires the duo.  The gift of a guitar on his thirteenth birthday is exactly what Paul and Artie need to further fuel the fire burning in their souls for rock and roll.  Bravely they debut at a school dance.  They try doo-wop writing and recording The Girl for Me.  Music is firmly running in their veins. 

At fifteen they are singing Hey Schoolgirl on American Bandstand.  Within three years, their dreams dwindle.  They go their separate ways, each pursuing a different career but neither can forget the music.  It's now the early sixties and folk songs speak of social injustice and civil rights issues.  While in Europe Paul writes He Was My Brother after learning of the death of a Freedom Rider.

A chance meeting reunites the two old friends, best friends, in 1963.  Another American tragedy prompts Paul to write a song which does not initially become a hit but fifteen months later, it's climbed to the top of the charts.  It's the beginning and a continuation of a historic musical partnership resulting in a Lifetime Achievement Award and the induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.


Each of the nineteen portions of this narrative is headed with a title song by Simon & Garfunkel.  Carefully chosen by G. Neri they are a reflection of the contents he discloses in his informative but poetic writing.  The meticulous research employed by G. Neri is evident in every single line.  His paragraphs have a cadence to them; each one linked to the other like verses in a song.  With each reading the words resonate in a richer and more meaningful manner.  Here are several passages from the beginning of The Only Living Boy in New York.

Paul has seen Artie
around the neighborhood,
wearing a red Phillies cap
or shaking boxes of Good & Plenty
in the candy store.
But until he sees Artie
standing nervously onstage
at the fourth-grade talent show,
Paul hasn't given him
a second thought.
But then again,
neither has anyone else
at school.

That is, until
Artie opens his mouth
and out pours
The Voice:
smooth,
hypnotic,
and sounding

just like the unforgettable
Nat King Cole himself.
Paul can't believe
what he's hearing.
He's spent plenty of time
down at the Roseland Ballroom,
listening to his dad,
a bass player and leader
of a big-time band,
so he knows talent
when he sees it.
This kid Artie is like
a human jukebox,
his voice casting a spell
over the entire school auditorium.
When he hits the final note,
it hangs in the air,
sucking the breath
out of everyone in attendance.
There is a moment of silence---
then the crowd of grade-schoolers
erupts with cheers. 


Readers will find themselves pausing as soon as they see the front of the dust jacket.  Notice the intricate details in the cityscape, the trees, and the blowing leaves of the background.  It is a wonderful backdrop for the older Simon and Garfunkel staring into their future and with them as teenagers in the foreground.  David Litchfield includes elements from their earlier musical endeavors on the wooden stage.  Each one has significance.

To the left, on the back, a rustic red supplies a canvas for oval portraits of the boys facing each other.  Between them are the words:

How two best friends
from Queens
became teen rock
sensations,
lost it all,
and grew up
to become
Voices of their generation.

The book case shows Artie on the left and Paul on the right.  They are placed in scenes during one of their separations.  These full page illustrations are larger enhancements of interior images for the portion titled Homeward Bound. Artie is strolling down a sidewalk in the city at night with a few stars sparkling in streams of light and Paul is walking through a village in Europe as the sun shines behind him in hues of pink and yellow.  This book case, like all the illustrations, in a word is gorgeous.

The blue used in the title text on the dust jacket covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page the recorder the boys used in Artie's basement is featured.  Rendered digitally each illustration looks like an exquisite painting.  The size and shapes of the pictures enhance the text superbly.

The single page for the concert in Central Park is an invitation for you to join the crowd.  As the boys are introduced a horizontal image, nearly half the height of the pages, stretching from page edge to page edge, gives readers an idea of their neighborhood and their place in it. David Litchfield extends his visuals across the gutter, many are on single pages, others have pictures within pictures, or panels like a graphic novel.  Great care is given to each element including the architecture and clothing for each of the time periods.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Artie and Paul bravely play at their last dance in junior high.  Behind them at the top of the page is the cityscape in black with a few lights.  A crowd of classmates in muted tones of black, white, gray and brown surround the duo.  A spotlight shines on them as Artie sings and Paul joins him.  Paul's guitar is their only accompaniment.  The wonder of this evening is perfectly captured.  You can feel the excitement.


Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were indeed the Voices of their generation but their music and their friendship has endured and will continue to endure.  This title, When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon & Garfunkel written by G. Neri with illustrations by David Litchfield, serves as an incentive for a new generation to raise your voice in song or to pursue another creative endeavor which serves the souls of many.  At the conclusion of the title is an afterword by the author, a discography, a bibliography and musical connections in chronological order for Simon's and Garfunkel's careers.  You will want to add this book to your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about G. Neri and David Litchfield and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  David Litchfield also has another site linked here.  At the publisher's website you can view the beautiful interior image for Bookends.  They also have an article where G. Neri chats about the inspiration behind this book.  Other interior illustrations are shown at Penguin Random House.  Author Cynthia Leitich Smith interviews G. Neri on her blog, Cynsations.  Author, illustrator, teacher and speaker Elizabeth Dulemba interviews David Litchfield on her site.  At The Children's Book Review we get a peek inside David Litchfield's studio.  If you go to Twitter and search using When Paul Met Artie you can see even more artwork.


Please be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected this week by those participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Bedtime Bedlam

One of life's annoying problems is attempting to fall asleep and failing.  You've tried every trick in the book; wearing your comfiest jammies, wrapping up in your favorite blanket, plumping your prized pillow, and drinking warm milk. Nothing works.

One of the most recommended methods of inducing sleep is to count sheep.  You imagine an endless line of sheep, all looking nearly alike, jumping over a fence.  You number them until you drift off into dreamland.  Sheep 101 (Little, Brown And Company, March 13, 2018) written by Richard T. Morris (This Is a Moose Little, Brown And Company with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld) with art by LeUyen Pham is about a little boy trying to sleep using this age-old method.

100.
101.
CRASH!
Oomph!

With Sheep 102 following close behind, it's evident Sheep 101 has taken a tumble leaping over the fence.  In the course of their conversation, Sheep 101 reveals being stuck on the fence.  An unseen narrator (the boy) interrupts.  Sheep 101 encourages the friendly flock member to continue.  The boy needs to sleep.

Bounding over the fence and counted, a cow now waltzes into the scene claiming to be Sheep 103.  There are no more sheep so the cow, usually jumping over the moon, is ready for this assignment.  You'll never guess (or maybe you can) who comes

Weee Weee Weee

from the edge of the page.

A cloud burst of tears ensues as one of the Three Blind Mice comes tapping along with his cane.  He's Sheep 105.  If you're not laughing yet you will be as the next "Sheep" saunters in after surviving a fall off a wall.

Before another leap, jump or bound happens, a loud voice issues a Code Red.  A famous man and his crew from a well-known land zoom overhead.  Their actions disclose a sought-after outcome.  Good night.  Sleep tight.


Your attention to the story is immediate when the narrative begins with two numbers and two sound effects.  When Richard T. Morris follows this with a conversation between two of the sheep and the unseen narrator, the hilarity level is heightened.  His word choices in the subsequent conversations communicate the attitude of the characters, serving to further increase the laughter factor.  Here is a passage.

You guys aren't supposed to talk to each other, you know.
Do you see we've got a sheep down?
Go on without me, 102!  We have to get him to sleep.
Ten-four, 101.
But I've got my eyes on you, sleepyhead.


Not having a finished copy in hand but working from an F & G graciously supplied by the publisher, I have seen two different jackets and book case covers.  In this one, the expressions on the faces of the sheep are guaranteed to have readers laughing before they even open the cover.  What LeUyen Pham is able to convey with eyes and noses is brilliant.  One thing certain to prompt a comment from readers is Sheep 101.  Sheep 101 is not like the other sheep.  Along the spine in purple tiny characters from the story are shown; the blind mouse, Humpty Dumpty, the cow, and one very vocal sheep.

To the left, on the back, among the backsides of the sheep shown on the front, characters from the book are facing the reader.  The looks on their faces will also cause many giggles and grins.  A decision to begin and conclude the book using the endpapers is sheer genius.

On the opening endpapers the boy is staring at the sheep clock on his dresser.  A stuffed sheep toy is on his bed.  An assortment of books, a copy of Mother Goose and Three Blind Mice among them, Lego type toys, a megaphone and a Humpty Dumpty lamp are placed on the dresser, too.  All these elements are contained in the closing endpapers but their positions have been altered.  On the verso and title pages Sheep 100 is trotting in from the left and Sheep 99 is gracefully leaping over the fence.  The fence is stretched across the quilt on the boy's bed.

With each page turn the illustrations rendered in crayon and pencil and completed in Adobe Photoshop span from page edge to page edge across two pages.  The color palette for the canvas is in hues of purple and blue with a sprinkling of stars, mirroring nighttime and bedtime.  The characters are in full vibrant color.  When the unseen narrator is speaking his words are in white.  The other dialogue is shown in speech bubbles.  The sound effects are bold and elevate the mood.

What readers will appreciate the most are the body positions and facial expressions on the characters.  They are humorous with a capital H!  Meticulous care has been given by LeUyen Pham to the details.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for a portion of the noted passage.  For this image LeUyen brings Sheep 102 close to the reader.  He fills most of the right side, crossing the gutter, and a large portion of the left side.  He is not happy and is staring directly at the reader (the boy).  His foot is raised to his eyes, conveying he will be watching the boy.  LeUyen has drawn dotted lines from his eyes to his foot.  In the background on the right, Sheep 101, stuck in the fence, is looking rather . . . well . . . sheepish.


If you are looking for a rollicking romp of a read for story time with a group or one-on-one at bedtime, Sheep 101 written by Richard T. Morris with art by LeUyen Pham is a first rate choice.  We all know there is nothing better than shared laughter with children.  They will be begging you to read it again.  You'll want to have a copy of this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about LeUyen Pham and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  LeUyen Pham is featured at The Author Village. Enjoy the video chat.
Book Chat with the Illustrator: LeUyen Pham from LB School on Vimeo.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Notions Of Nobility

Their willingness to tap into their creative resources is one of the most enchanting things about children.  You can give them the tiniest hint of possibility and they will fashion a whole new world view. They are continuously in pursuit of stories, real and imagined.  If anything is non-existent they can bring it to life.

One of the most talented fictional characters in this respect, a heroine to her readers, is Judy Moody.  This eight-year-old bundle of limitless energy is celebrating a new look for her first thirteen books.  Her signature tiger print surrounds her in a variety of poses.  These vibrant designs were released in paperback on April 10, 2018.

Becoming acquainted with Judy Moody is a rich and rare experience.  All her readers, new and old alike, will be thrilled to know book fourteen, Judy Moody And The Right Royal Tea Party (Candlewick Press, September 11, 2018) written by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds presents this charming personality in all her beloved glory.

Judy Moody had been Doctor Judy, M. D.  She had been Judy Monarch Moody and Madame M-for-Moody.  She had been a Girl Detective and a Mood Martian.  She had even gotten a picture of her famous elbow in the newspaper.
But she, Judy Moody, had never been a queen.

Not being a queen is about to change for this irrepressible girl.  Her Grandmother Lou impresses her with stories of  a relative who saved the lives of others aboard the Titanic before perishing and another relative who saved someone from the Tower of London during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  (The current project for Judy and her classmates is to create a family tree.)  With this latest information, before you can even think gobsmacked, Judy is certain she comes from royalty.  With hope in her heart, she writes a letter to the current Queen of England, including questions.

During one of the library times given to Class 3T to work on their projects, Judy fascinates her friends with her Queen of England connections but she's also a bit annoyed at Jessica Know-It-All Finch who seems to know a bit too much about British terms and royalty.  Grandma Lou stops in again giving Judy and her brother, Stink, a peacock pin now known as the Royal Moody Sapphire.  Is that Judy digging a moat around the infamous Toad Pee tent?  When her attempts at placing a royal fish in the puddle fail, a lure for swans results in an unexpected surprise.

A family field trip yields more than fascinating fun for the Moody family.  Judy is shocked by what her spying reveals.  If you think that's the end of shocks for our intrepid gal, you're wrong.  Family tree reports on the following Friday have her trembling with disbelief.  A pinky swear and a promise seal a new deal.

Party invitations in secret code translate into a new attitude for Judy Moody.  Responsibility comes with being a royal, placing friends first.  And one final arrival will have readers standing up and cheering for this gusty girl.


Grinning from ear to ear from page one to page one hundred forty-two is easy when you read Megan McDonald's latest installment in the escapades of Judy Moody.  Her ability to portray the heart of an eight-year-old, her classmates, and family is masterful.  Judy's point of view will have readers laughing out loud.  The conversations between all the characters are wonderfully realistic.  The inclusion of British sayings is the crowning touch.  Here are several passages.

"Queens got their heads chopped off.  No thanks."
"For your information, a queen gets to live in a castle and drink tea and play Monopoly all day and boss people and own as many dogs as she wants.  And she doesn't have to do homework.  Ever."
"Well if you're royal, then I am, too."
"Yeah, a royal pain."
"Hardee-har-har," said Stink.
"I wish I had a lucky sixpence for every time you said that, Stinkerbell."

"You better go to the loo and check," said Jessica.  "Just in case."
"The loo?" asked Rocky.
"The who?"asked Frank.
"The bathroom," Judy whispered.
Judy looked in the mirror, front and back.  Phew! No sign of undies.  She brushed eraser crumbs off of her KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON shirt.  Wait just a Big Ben minute.  How did Jessica A. Finch know so much British stuff?


Using an ARC generously supplied by the publisher much of the artwork of Peter H. Reynolds is softly sketched and placed among the narrative. There are plenty of full page pictures, small insets and one fabulous two-page image.  The details in each illustration will have readers pausing to enjoy the moments being depicted.  Light-hearted and true-to-life, the portrayals of the characters will further endear readers to these fictional people which seem as real as your next door neighbors.


Readers will be counting the days until the release of Judy Moody And The Right Royal Tea Party written by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds.  This courageous and confident girl will further secure a place in readers' hearts with this fourteenth title.  You will want to have multiple copies in your professional collections and a copy for your personal collections.

To learn more about Megan McDonald and Peter H. Reynolds, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Be sure to visit a special website dedicated to Judy Moody.  Here is a link to a behind-the-scenes look with the Judy Moody creators.  Here is a link to a Judy Moody Day activity kit.  Many of the thirteen titles have additional resources specifically for each title such as an activity kit and teacher's guide.  Here is the Publishers Weekly article, A Makeover for Judy MoodyShelf Awareness dedicates space to the relaunch.  The cover reveal for book fourteen was hosted by the Nerdy Book ClubReading Rockets conducted video interviews with Megan McDonald.  Megan McDonald chats with teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner on The Children's Book Podcast #432.  Peter H. Reynolds is a guest on KidLit TV StoryMakers.



Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Silent Watchers Of The Water

With the understanding there is no other state in the United States with as much freshwater shoreline as Michigan; it's no surprise there are at least one hundred twenty-four lighthouses positioned along the upper and lower peninsulas.   They are designed and constructed in a variety of shapes and sizes with different materials.  Some are tall, towering and highly visible.  Others are shorter and sturdier.  Still others appear as actual houses with a type of tower incorporated into the structure.

The oldest operating lighthouse in Michigan was built in 1825, rebuilt in 1829 and again in 1861.  It guards the entrance to the St. Clair River on Lake Huron.  Can you imagine the stories to be heard if the walls at the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse could speak?  Our lighthouses represent our best efforts to keep travelers and sailors safe regardless of the circumstances.  Hello Lighthouse (Little, Brown and Company, April 10, 2018) written and illustrated by Caldecott Medalist (Finding Winnie:  The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear Little, Brown and Company, October 20, 2015) Sophie Blackall chronicles the life of a lighthouse keeper in a lighthouse standing strong against time.

On the highest rock of a tiny island
at the edge of the world stands a lighthouse.

At the top of the lighthouse a beacon casts its light without ceasing hour after hour.  This story starts with the arrival of a new keeper.  It's his job to polish the lens, refill the oil and trim the wick.  He needs to make sure the clockwork is always wound so the light will keep moving.  Within the pages of a logbook he records his daily activities.

When not tending the light, he paints the walls of the lighthouse rooms, drinks tea, fishes and wishes for company.  He writes letters and waits.  When the next tender comes with food and oil, it also carries a longed-for companion.  Our keeper now has his wife.

Wild winds, crashing storms, thick fog and ice as far as the eye can see, do not deter the keeper.  He rescues sailors whose boat crashes on the rocks.  When he becomes ill, it's his wife who becomes caretaker and keeper.  Everything is noted in the logbook, most importantly the birth of their child.

Years later when the tender comes, it delivers food and oil and a letter.  The life of the keeper, his wife and child are about to change.  The coast guard brings a new lamp.  This new lamp does not need someone to polish the lens, refill the oil and trim a wick.  A machine keeps it moving.  When the ship leaves, so do the keeper, his wife and their child.

The rooms in the lighthouse are now empty.  The beacon casts a light continuously.  An answer shines back.


Like a song of the sea, the words of Sophie Blackall invite and lull readers into the rhythm of the seasons, weather and life of the lighthouse keeper.  Each plainly written sentence contributes to poetic paragraphs which bring us back to the lighthouse keeper writing in his logbook. The logbook is the constant refrain.  In between these paragraphs Sophie talks about what is going on outside the walls of the lighthouse describing the time of day, the weather and the season.  Each of these ends with

Hello!
  . . . Hello!
         . . . Hello!

Here is a passage.

The keeper looks through his telescope.
The tender arrives, bringing oil and flour
and pork and beans . . .
. . . and his wife.

He shows her around
the round rooms
of their house.
He tends the light
and writes in the logbook
and sets the table for two.


When you hold this book in your hands, the trim size, taller and less wide than most picture books, replicates the essence of a lighthouse.  Upon opening the dust jacket (I am working with an F & G generously supplied by the publisher.), the sea scene of water extending to the horizon is mirrored on either side of the spine.  The waves roll and wrap around the rocky base of the lighthouse on each side.  On the front the keeper stands stalwart as the light extends from either side.

To the left, on the back, we are brought a bit closer to the lighthouse.  A cut-away view shows us the storage tanks beneath the first floor, the entrance with the beginning of the spiral staircase, the storage room, the kitchen, the bedroom, a small study and the light at the top.  These seven views give us a greater perspective on how the keeper and his family lived.

The opening and closing endpapers resemble a logbook.  On the first is a photograph of the lighthouse keeper and his bride, a sketch of a ship, a whale tail stitched on fabric, a portion of a letter written to his wife, a spoil of thread and a fountain pen.  The closing endpapers feature a discussion by Sophie Blackall about lighthouses and this book.

Spanning two pages, the verso and title pages feature a view of the lighthouse from the point of view of a bird.  It sits in the upper, right-hand corner with the ship circling around it.  All the water appears to swirl around the lighthouse in a delicate pattern of water and waves.

Rendered in Chinese ink and watercolor on hot press paper each page turn reveals another breathtaking larger image or a combination of a single illustration with smaller pictures opposite it.  The smaller visuals are framed in lines (ropes) used on water vessels.  Sometimes these smaller pictures will be placed within a larger image.

When Sophie's narrative speaks of the lighthouse keeper smaller images within those circles are used.  When she talks about the exterior of the lighthouse and its surroundings, the picture extends page edge to page edge over two pages.  There are two worthy exceptions to this pictorial rhythm.  They are of the wife pacing in the lighthouse ready to give birth and a close-up of the wife, and husband holding his newborn child.  Both of these are double-page illustrations.

With that being said at the close of the title, Sophie gives readers another stunning gift in the form of a gatefold.  This leads us to her final image.  It is the quintessential close to an utterly breathtaking book.

The exquisite fine lines drawn and painted bring a delicate mastery to every single one of the illustrations.  Readers will pause and study the individual elements.  They will notice the handwritten letters rolled into bottles and tossed into the sea, the lighthouse calendar hanging on the wall, the patterns in the wife's dresses, the rug on the floor, and the quilt on the bed.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is the picture of the wife and her husband, the keeper, after the birth of their child.  Along the top half of the image the wife is lying beneath a quilt patterned in circles pieced together with twelve triangles of fabric.  Her head, resting on a pillow, is turned toward her husband seated next to the bed.  He holds their child in the crook of his left arm.  With his right hand he is noting the birth of their child in the logbook resting on his legs.  His feet are stretched out on the circular rug.  An oil lamp glows on the small table next to him.  The point of view is as if we are looking down on them.


No matter how many times you read this title, you will find the beauty of the words and illustrations lingering long after the book is closed.  Hello Lighthouse written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall is a wondrous work, a true masterpiece.  I highly recommend this title for both you professional and personal collections.  You might want to visit the United States Lighthouse Society Lighthouse Facts site.

To learn more about Sophie Blackall and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Sophie is interviewed at Kirkus about the writing and illustrating of this title.  I know you will enjoy this video chat and the array of interior images shown.
Book Chat with Illustrator: Sophie Blackall from LB School on Vimeo.

UPDATE:  Sophie visits author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on April 17, 2018 to talk about her illustrative process and decisions in creating this marvelous title. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Como se llama? What is your name?

For every name given to a child, there is a story behind the giving of that name.  It is the story attached to each name which children find most fascinating.  Once they understand the reasoning behind their name, they desire to know the name's meaning and origin.  Many names originate from a country other than the country in which the child lives.  In the native country of the word, it can have a completely different definition.

It's uncanny how aptly named most of us are.  We are constantly a reflection of our names.  Alma and How She Got Her Name (Candlewick Press, April 10, 2018) debut as both author and illustrator for Pura Belpre 2018 Illustrator Award Winner (La Princesa and the Pea G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, September 5, 2017) Juana Martinez-Neal follows a conversation with a child and her father.

Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela had a long name---too long, if you asked her.

She approaches her daddy one day wondering why her name is so long.  He suggests she listens to the story of her name.  Then she can decide if it is too long.

Sofia is the name of her daddy's mother.  There were several things this woman loved but books and reading were a part of her life.  They're a part of Alma's life too.

Next is the name of a great-grandmother who longed to travel but never ventured from home, but her son did.  Each name represents a member of Alma's extended family, her father's father, a great-aunt and her other grandmother.  These family members are remembered for special qualities; qualities which Alma already sees as important in her life.

When the story of her name is nearly finished, the daughter requests of her father the reason for her first name, Alma.  His reply is what everyone needs to hear.  His reply is a gift born of love.


For a child their name can be a puzzle, especially if the name is unique or longer than the names of other children.  The gentle beauty of this story is in the rhythm Juana Martinez-Neal supplies through the conversation between Daddy and Alma.  For each of the names he explains the heart's desire of those relatives.  When he finishes Alma responds by comparing her similar accomplishments.  After Daddy speaks about his father, Jose, an artist, Alma's reply further confirms the love shared by father and daughter.

"I wake up early every day, and I draw a lot, too!
This morning, I drew a kitty cat for you, Daddy!"


The limited color palette shown to readers on the front of the dust jacket is used throughout the remainder of the book.  The subtle, soft texture is evident in every line Juana Martinez-Neal makes.  To the left, on the back, Alma is cozily seated next to her daddy in a large comfy chair.  They are looking at a picture of Sofia.  Next to the chair is a potted tree which grows up and over the duo like a delicate frame of tiny leaves and flowers.  It is in this picture we are introduced to one further color, a bit of blue.

It is this special shade of blue which provides the canvas on the book case.  In the center of the front, within a frame like a photograph is Alma.  She is hugging a book with her name on it and holding a pencil.  Her eyes are shifted up to look at the tiny bird perched on her head.  Readers are going to love looking for the bird in each illustration.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a cream and pale red striped pattern like the clothing worn by Alma.  Rendered in graphite, colored pencils, and print transfers on handmade textured paper each image is worthy of framing.  Many of them span a single page except when Alma is talking in response to her father's story.  Then we are treated to double-page pictures.

What will have readers pausing at every page turn are the details. These elements are a mirror of a culture and a family.  The potted plant in Sofia's picture is still alive and next to Alma and her daddy.  In several of the illustrations Alma is interacting with the relatives.  It's as if she is stepping back into the past to meet them.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the wall in Alma's bedroom.  In the background is a gathering of her favorite animals covering two pages.  Each has the Spanish name on or near it.  On the far right is a drawing of Alma holding a balloon.  A line is strung across her room with pictures hanging from it, held in place by clothes pins.  On the left Alma is busy working.  A ladder leans against the wall next to her.  A bucket of her artist's brushes hangs from it.  The picture of the kitty she made for her daddy is clipped to a rung.  Alma's back is to us as she reaches with a paint brush to complete another element of her mural.


Surely Alma and How She Got Her Name written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal is one of the most delightful titles available addressing the story of names.  It reinforces the value of family history and tradition.  Once we know from where we come, it is easier to move forward making our own story. At the close of the book Juana Martinez-Neal writes a note to readers about her name and invites them to learn about their names.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Juana Martinez-Neal and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Juana also maintains a blog.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior illustration.  At Penguin Random House you can view other images.  The cover was revealed at All The Wonders along with a short interview.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Odd Couple Kalinka and Grakkle Blog Tour

Living beings act in surprising ways.  Time and again there will be stories of animals, sometimes enemies, who pair for survival.  People, total opposites, will spend lifetimes together.  Somehow they are able to overlook their differences and find small windows of togetherness. 

Sometimes those small windows of togetherness open when the two are experiencing their worst moments. Kalinka and Grakkle (Peachtree, April 1, 2018) written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems, Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales Henry Holt and Company, August 18, 2015) is about a decidedly odd couple.  They give new meaning to the word opposites.

Kalinka was a little yellow bird with a neat cap of red feathers.  
"I'm such a good bird", she said to herself.
"Good as gold, with a cherry on top."

Her neighbor, Grakkle, was big, green, hairy, cranky and an all-around messy kind of monster.  Kalinka took it upon herself, after flying in Grakkle's open window, to begin to put the chaos in his home in order.  All Grakkle said over and over was:

"Grakk!" 

Grakkle wanted no help at all.  He did want his Auntie Grumble's homemade ginger cookies.  He did want to rest his feet in a bucket of pickle juice.  He did want to snooze in his best chair, his only chair.
The problem was Kalinka.

Eating every single one of Grakkle's cookies except for crumbs was not a good idea.  She picked up his stuff but was clueless as to where it should go.  Putting pencils in a box of spaghetti and mail in a toaster was not wise at all.  You had better believe there was a whole bunch of

"Grakk!" 

being said by a very frustrated monster.

Finally Kalinka did the one thing which sent this monster into a frenzy.  He had a fit.  She ended up in a dire situation.  Her tidiness wouldn't save her now.

"Grakk!"


On the first page Julie Paschkis clearly defines the two characters in appearance and demeanor.  Before you even turn to the next page, you know there will be tension.  What you do not know is Kalinka will misunderstand every single one of Grakkle's Grakk! exclamations.  She thinks he's perfectly happy with everything she does. 

The narrative blends well with Kalinka's happy chatter and Grakkle's angry mumbles.  This supplies humor and leads us wonderfully to a startling twist.  Here is a passage.

Grakkle swatted at the bag.  He belched and scratched his head in confusion.  His hair stood out every which way.
"This beast's appearance is appalling," said Kalinka.
"Luckily for him, I do have a way with hair."
She perched on his head and got to work.
"Gr-r-r-r-rakk," grumbled Grakkle.
"You're welcome," said Kalinka, tying a bow in his matted hair.


It will be interesting to see what readers believe they are seeing on the opened, matching dust jacket and book case.  What is all that curly green?  Are those the outlines of hands on the right and the left on the spine?  Kalinka is already busy speaking.  To the left, on the back, within a white background (on the green) and gracefully framed in signature Julie Paschkis lines and flowers are words spoken right before Grakkle's temper explodes.

The opening and closing endpapers are a soft white with larger yellow dots. (Grakkle's wallpaper)  On the initial title page Julie includes a dedication and features Kalinka and the hands of Grakkle.  She continues with this design but uses Grakkle's tail as a perch for Kalinka on the formal title page.

Rendered in ink and gouache the illustrations, most of them on two pages, employ delicate lines but also manage to convey Grakkle in all his monster glory.  He is indeed a monster and his home is a mess. His expressions as Kalinka goes about her merry way are a huge signal of events to come.  Julie Paschkis uses lines and dots, flowers and leaves to separate text and wonderful patterns on items in Grakkle's house, even if they are patched.  The inclusion of the black pot-bellied stove with a tea kettle simmering adds a bit of old-world charm.

One of my many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  It shows the kitchen table covered in a beautiful patterned cloth.  Chairs are placed to the left and right.  In the upper right-hand corner a bit of curtain billows out.  Kalinka is perched in the center of the table.  She has nearly finished consuming all of the ginger cookies.  Grakkle wearing his vest and belt and with arms upraised is about to go crazy.  He's horrified and angry at the blissful unawareness of Kalinka.


Kalinka and Grakkle written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis will promote all kinds of discussions about what binds friends together.  Readers will see that sometimes the wrong kind of help can make matters worse.  They will also see that even the grumpiest grump has a soft spot.  This title would be an excellent addition with other odd couple books at story time and of course, books about friendship.  Julie's artwork will endear readers to the characters.

To learn more about Julie Paschkis and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  On the Peachtree blog, here and here, Julie talks about this book. Julie chats about the evolution of this title on the Books Around The Table site.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Mind Magic

Our minds are pulsing with power.  A multitude of ideas, potential in every single one, are waiting to be released.  Every minute of our lives our sensory perceptions are connecting to those possibilities.  From those links beauty emerges.

As soon as we take our first breath, our lives as makers begin.  If we choose to give our minds the freedom they need, our making of miracles will continue until our final breath.  What If . . . (Little, Brown and Company, April 10, 2018) written by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Mike Curato raises up and reveals the power found in the mind of a child.  The beauty will leave you breathless.

With pencil and paper, I write and draw art to create many stories that come from my heart.

If that pencil vanishes, does the making of stories stop?  Indeed it does not.  Tales are waiting to be told from the shapes formed from the paper.  What if the paper is no longer there?  Eyes and a heart full of art know what to do with a chair.

As each item is removed from this inventive girl's presence, she looks outward.  She observes her surroundings noting what can be used to begin or continue her creations.  With walls and floors gone, the land provides opportunities.  What can be made of leaves, snow or sand?  What can grow from the earth?

In the absence of land, there is light.  Like a true creator she knows what can be shaped in shadows.  Finally she, alone, without benefit of other elements becomes a vehicle for her stories.  She lifts her voice and moves her body. 

She knows she will continue to go.  She knows she will continue to grow.  She knows.


The enthusiasm exhibited by her protagonist, a whirlwind of discover, design, wonder making and shaping, bursts forth in the words penned by Samantha Berger.  The repetition of the two title words, what if, initially supplies a rhythm which is sustained through the use of similar phrases.  Readers will feel a joyous tension building until the final two proclamations which are like fireworks shooting forth from the child's soul and straight into your creative heart.  Here is a passage.

If there was no light,
I would still use my voice
to sing out my stories---
to chant and rejoice!


When you first glance at the opened dust jacket (I'm reading an F & G generously given by the publisher.) you feel something ignite inside you.  It's like the sound of a matching striking and new flame sending out light.  The girl's face, a warm soft brown with her purple hair like a halo, crosses over the spine with a marvelous symmetry.  The elements in the purple are later found within the pages of the book.  This dust jacket is also a hint of a breathtaking illustrative event inside the book.

On the opening and closing endpapers illustrator Mike Curato shows a row of windows with arches set in a brick wall.  In the first set it's daylight.  In the fourth of five windows the child is seated at the table working.  In the arch of her window a crescent moon is placed.  Nighttime has fallen in the second set.  Our view of the windows has shifted.  We see four and one half windows, all darkened.  In the second window, the child's window, story dust glows and sparkles from the place where she was sitting.  On the right side the publication information is included.

For the dedication and title pages we see the child working on her creation (on the left) as if we are watching above her.  Yellow lined paper contains the title text written in a variety of colored crayons.  What follows is an extravaganza of double-page illustrations done in

pencil, paper, collage, ink, acrylic, colored pencil, linocut, and digital techniques.

With each page turn we are privy to the playful, inspired talent of Mike Curato as he interprets the imaginative creations of the girl.  To name a few, there is origami, a paper airplane made of wood, a sunburst where there was wallpaper and a dragon made of colored leaves.  Some of the illustrations are reminiscent of colorful scratchboard art. These all lead us toward a stunning gatefold certain to leave all readers gasping and smiling.

One of my many favorite illustrations uses a black canvas.  On the left in thick purple outline is the side of the face of the girl, eyes closed and mouth open.  Lines indicating song in teal and then shifting to purple as they cross the gutter spread from her mouth.  These lines end in an opened birdcage set among the brilliant-hued image of a bird in flight which spans off the edges of the right side.  The mouth of the bird is open, too, in song.  Set among the wing span and body of the bird are elements of story in black.  There are other birds, musical notes, a piano keyboard, a sea shell, Saturn, a cloud with rain drops, a glowing light bulb and much more.  This makes you want to sing your own story.


We all have the ability to create; some of us being more compelled than others.  In What If . . . written by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Mike Curato the imagination of a child leading her to create her own kind of stories is celebrated with supreme eloquence.  You need to have multiple copies of this title available in your professional and personal collections.  At the close of the book Samantha and Mike talk about the process for bringing this book to readers.  I can't wait to hold a finished copy in my hands.  I can't wait to read this aloud to a group of children.  I know they will want to touch all the pages.

To learn more about Samantha Berger and Mike Curato and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Mike highlights interior images from the book.  Mike has a blog here with updates about this book.  Mike is featured at Andrea Skyberg's site and Samantha is featured at Inkygirl, the site of author illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi.  To showcase the publication of this title a book tour was held last week.  Be sure to visit the Nerdy Book Club, What If. . .We Told You The Story Behind The Story?, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, the blog of author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson to read What If. . .Mike Curato Used Mixed-Media to Make a Book?, What If. . .We Used Our Creativity To Overcome Obstacles? hosted at Mia Wenjen's Pragmatic Mom, Kid Lit Frenzy, the blog of educator Alyson Beecher to read What If. . .Two Best Friends Made a Book and for the book trailer premiere followed by his classic sentence starters visit Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  On March 30, 2018 teacher librarian Matthew Winner chatted with Samantha Berger and Mike Curato on The Children's Book Podcast #431.