Quote of the Month

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




Monday, April 24, 2017

Finding Extraordinary In Errors

There are those days when no matter what you do, little or big, it simply does not turn out correctly.  The harder you try, the worse it gets.  You start looking over your shoulder to see if an evil goblin is following you, sending a dark aura in your direction.  Sometimes when you think it couldn't get any worse, it does but sometimes when you think it couldn't get any worse, something wonderful happens.

A shift takes place.  You start to find the marvel in the middle of your muddles. The Book of Mistakes (Dial Books for Young Readers, April 18, 2017) debut book for author illustrator Corinna Luyken is an exploration of turning blunders into beauty.

It started
with one mistake.

An eye is a little bit bigger than the other eye on a face.  Trying to make them match does not work but adding glasses is exactly what this girl needs.  Oh, oh!  Now her arms and neck are too, too long.  The collar and elbows receive a bit of embellishment.

A big bush is brilliant at concealing the odd being.  What is that creature?  It has parts of three animals.

The girl returns but is floating as she runs.  Ah...the addition of roller skates closes the gap between the bottom of her feet and the ground.  What is hidden behind the newly drawn rock? 

A longer than normal leg is perfect for tree climbing.  Smudges become soaring leaves.  And the girl running with roller skates is on a mission to make a delivery heading toward other like-minded children.  A magnificent scene greets her but readers there is much more.

Stepping back reveals a larger than imagined wonder.  Stepping back more alters your point-of-view with expectations growing until you gasp in understanding.  The power of the mind is a creative force.  Use it.


Those first five words written by Corinna Luyken immediately click with all readers.  We have all made mistakes.  With spare text the narrator talks to us about the process of making art.  We gently swing between mistakes and transformations supplying the story with a cadence. We explore the possibilities offered to us by our errors.  It's an optimistic and inventive outlook.  Here is a sample sentence.

Even the ink smudges
scattered across the sky

look as if 
they could be leaves---

like they'd always wanted
to be lifted up

and carried.


The remarkable use of white space throughout this title begins on the dust jacket.  The soft pastel palette and intricate lines create an atmosphere filled with a little bit of magic.  Already we are wondering about the girl with the yellow balloons and the other children with her.  To the left, on the back, a small boy in the lower, left-hand corner gazes up at smudges turned into leaves.  The text here reads

Set your imagination free

On the opened book case, on the right side, the front image shows the girl and the children flying away from us, higher in the sky.  On the left the boy is now riding a unicycle lifted by a large green balloon.  Three small birds follow the children.  On the opening endpapers all we see are two black ink blots.  The closing endpapers could be a continuation of part of the artwork.  What will you think when you see them?

Rendered in black ink, colored pencils, and watercolor the pictures appearing on the white canvas vary in size and perspective as we journey, contrasting the mistakes and the inspired new illustrations from them.  With each page turn the details increase, allowing us to see how pictures develop when we look with new eyes.  As we move from one subject to another, the original girl, the bush, the rock and the girl in the tree we get the sense something larger is being shaped.  

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages, without words (in fact five page turns have no words).  The girl is running with her skates toward the right edge.  In her left hand she is carrying a single yellow balloon.  In her right hand is a huge bunch of yellow balloons billowing out behind her and filling the left page. 


I think it would be fantastic if every child could have a copy of this book, The Book of Mistakes written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, to remind them how we can turn the unexpected into a thing of wonder.  If we can't carry this book with us everywhere we should read it enough so the memory will help us to look at everything as a potential for goodness instead of a problem.  I highly recommend this title.

To learn more about Corinna Luyken and this book, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  There are little extras there for you.  Corinna maintains a blog here.  Be sure to read these interviews at author, teacher librarian and blogger Carter Higgins's Design Of The Picture Book and author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

By The Light Of The...

It happens again in seventeen days.  Every living thing around the world waits in anticipation.  Unlike so many variables in our day to day lives, it's dependable and predictable.  It wields an influence that is undeniable.

Classical music, song lyrics, artwork and photographs all pay tribute to Earth's satellite in its many phases but a full moon casts a spell over our planet.  If You Were the Moon (Millbrook Press, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., March 1, 2017) written by Laura Purdie Salas with illustrations by Jaime Kim presents fascinating features about this celestial body.  When it shines its brightest next, you will gaze upon it with increased understanding and respect.

Helloooooooooo up there, Moon!  I'm sooooooo tired.

A big, bright full moon shines in a little girl's window.  She believes the moon does nothing at all and that's exactly what she wants to do.  The Moon replies in fourteen melodic sentences when linked together make a beautiful ode.  Each line leads to an explanation of the importance of the moon and its role in her life.

The moon really is a chip off the old block having been formed when a large meteorite struck Earth billions of years ago.  Its presence keeps Earth steady enough so temperatures don't shift to the extreme.  We never see the dark side of the moon because spin speeds of the moon's axis and orbit are identical.

You'd be filled with craters too if space rocks were constantly hitting your surface.  We see different parts of the moon because of its position in relation to Earth and the sun.  Do you know why the moon casts light?

Our oceans rise and fall on tides dictated by the moon's gravity.  The moon signals a multitude of animals to begin their nocturnal activities.  The only two places in space humans have walked are planet Earth and the moon.  On May 10, 2017, our next full moon, remember to offer thanks for it doing much more than nothing.


Knitting poetic phrases together with facts Laura Purdie Salas has fashioned a nonfiction narrative which evokes the same sensory experience as the moon does upon the world.  It's as if a full moon is lighting the way as we read her words.  She brings the story full circle with the little girl wide awake and soothed to sleep at the end.  Here is one of the phrases with supporting information.

Light a pathway to the sea.

When sea turtle eggs hatch onshore, the hatchlings instinctively scurry toward the brightest light.  That is usually moonlight sparkling on the ocean, calling the tiny turtles to their home in the sea.


The scene depicted on the opened, matching dust jacket and book case is like stepping into the marvelous, magical quiet of a full moon night.  It flawlessly extends over the spine with more grass, shrubs, and tree trucks stretching into the inky blackness with a few stars.  You know the girl and Moon have a special connection.  It looks as though they are about to start a conversation.  The pair of owls completes an excellent design.

The opening and closing endpapers are the same shade of color as the author and illustrator text.  One of the charming interior images is used on the title page.  The illustrations throughout rendered in acrylic paint and digital techniques by Jaime Kim each span two pages; one for each poetic phrase.  The darkness is softened by the light of the moon.

Altered perspectives showcase the narrative and supply pacing.  The facial expression on the moon and Earth heighten the kinship between the two.  Kim's interpretation of the text is wonderful; the moon's orbit extending into hands holding Earth steady, a series of ballerinas spinning on an axis, and throwing sunlight on Earth.  The elements she includes and the emphasis she places on them is outstanding.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is the explanation of the moon's gravity.  Beneath the star studded sky is the vast ocean.  Eyes closed as if in concentration the smiling moon is placed on the right side, filling half of the page.  To the left a whale breaches.  It's easy to imagine the quiet of the night broken by the splash.


No matter how many times you read If You Were the Moon written by Laura Purdie Salas with illustrations by Jaime Kim you will feel like it's the first time.  The combination of the poetic phrases and pictures along with the informative text makes the experience of reading this book a sensation for your senses.  A short glossary and suggestions for further reading are included on the last page.  I believe this title should be placed on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Laura Purdie Salas and Jaime Kim and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  At Laura Purdie Salas's website there are resources for teachers for this title.  Laura is interviewed about this title here.  Jaime Kim has Tumblr pages.   You can learn more about Jaime at Painted Words.  Jaime Kim was a guest at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast in 2014.  You can view interior images at the publisher's website.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Holding Happiness In Your Arms

There is at least one; one always there every single day offering constant comfort.  When you wake up in the morning it's the first thing you see and as you drift off to sleep at night, it follows you into your dreams.    It listens to all your conversations without passing judgment; agreeable to a fault.  It accompanies you wherever you go.  Each gal and guy has a toy, a doll or a stuffed animal supporting them through childhood.

Regardless of the lifespan of this beloved object, the memory of its presence will endure forever.  In her authorial debut, illustrator Stephanie Graegin portrays the priceless partnership between a girl and her cherished toy.  Little Fox in the Forest (Schwartz & Wade Books, February 28, 2017) will make a forever mark on your heart; a breathtaking story without words.

A little girl snuggles in bed with her stuffed toy fox.  Leaving for school she places it on the shelf with her other stuffed animal toys and books.  During her day she thinks often of her fox.

Returning home the duo is inseparable.  Before taking it to show and tell she goes through a box of pictures; the fox is always with her.  After school she stops at the playground, leaving her fox safely tucked in her backpack.  As she swings she sees a real fox sneak away taking her precious pal.

She follows.  And her friend, a boy, gathers her backpack and goes after her.  They wander deep into the forest but can't find the fox carrying her fox.  Knocking on a tiny door at the base of a tree trunk a squirrel gives them directions.  Meanwhile, the fox dreaming of the wonders to be shared with this new friend has a bit of trouble too.

Stepping through the arch in a hedge the children enter another realm; a wondrous place populated by animals.  They seek the fox asking all for help.  A previous encounter by a particular bear aids in their efforts.  Kindred spirits display acts of generosity.


When you open the dust jacket a lush forest scene unfolds.  All the elements hint at events to come in the story, the fox running with the girl's toy fox, the door in the tree trunk and the weasel peeking from behind the tree.  To the left on the back the children are looking for the two foxes as other animals watch from behind trees.  A vest-wearing bear walks away from them in the opposite direction.  A rust-colored bird watches from within the tree branches.  This initial image is filled with delightful details.

On the book case covered in golden cloth, a portrait of the little fox from the forest is placed in an oval shape on the front.  The frame is formed of an array of leaves and flowers.  In shades of blue the opening and closing endpapers are a close-up of the shelf in the girl's bedroom.  Titles on the books hint of the adventure awaiting readers and the resolution.  They are identical except for one important object on the far right on the closing endpapers done in full color.

Rendered in pencil, watercolor, and ink and then assembled and colored digitally the illustrations by Stephanie Graegin appear as single pages, a series of square and rectangle panels on single pages, and for emphasis span two pages.  Until the little fox comes from the forest the color used is the same as the endpapers, hues of blue.  The little fox is in full color.  As the animals appear they are in full color also.  This contrast builds a gentle tension.  Readers know something wonderful is soon to be revealed.

Every time a page is turned you are invited by the exquisite parts of the whole to pause, forming the narrative in your mind.  You can envision the conversations through the facial expressions and body postures.  Your amazement grows until you gasp in surprise and then you finally release a soft sigh at the conclusion.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when the little fox is running through the woods carrying the girl's fox.  The sneaky weasel wearing a black hat and black jacket is looking at him from behind bushes.  The little fox is dreaming of what joy his new friend will bring as they share a book together, have a tea party and dance.  This is shown in a large thought bubble.  The little girl did some of these same things with the toy.


The telling of this story, the theft, the journey, the discovery, the shared loved for a single toy and the understanding actions of the two, the girl and the fox, is beautiful.  Little Fox in the Forest conceived and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin resonates with readers long after it has been read.  It's one of those books you want to carry with you everywhere, like a beloved stuffed animal.  You will be asked to share this often and you will do so with pleasure.

To discover more about Stephanie Graegin and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  You can get a peek inside this book by following this link to the publisher's website.  The Children's Book Review features Stephanie Graegin and the Little Fox in two separate posts.  Random House has a Teach-Alike post with this title.  Stephanie Graegin was showcased by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast in 2014.  Stephanie Graegin has an account on Instagram.  Here are two posts about this title here and here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

No More Waiting

Working within the laws as set forth in the United States Constitution, the President of the United States has the ability and responsibility to build lasting institutions, promote programs and introduce new legislation designed for the good of all people.  Our thirty-fifth president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, on March 1, 1961 signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps.  It evolved from a speech made on the University of Michigan campus on October 14, 1960 several hours after midnight.

Let me say in conclusion, this University is not maintained by its alumni, or by the state, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in the life struggle.  There is certainly a greater purpose, and I'm sure you recognize it.  Therefore, I do not apologize for asking for your support in this campaign.  I come here tonight asking your support for this country over the next decade.

It is still flourishing today.

JFK believed in winning the space race.  On May 5, 1961 Alan B. Shepard, Jr. was the first American in space.  Twenty days later Kennedy during a speech to Congress strongly encouraged the United States to be the first country to place a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  (On July 20, 1969 our astronauts, Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin, were the first men to walk on the moon.)  John Glenn, on February 20, 1962, was launched into space becoming the first American to orbit Earth.

A United States President can set things in motion to create great change.  On my twelfth birthday, June 11, 1963, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy delivered a speech.  A Time To Act: John F. Kennedy's Big Speech (NorthSouth Books, April 4, 2017) written by Shana Corey with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie chronicles the life of this man prior to and after he spoke.

John F. Kennedy loved to read about history.  But history isn't just in books---it's happening all around us.

We all are a part of history.  We have the power to sway the course of events.  In the Kennedy family of nine children, Joe Kennedy, the oldest, was the favorite.  John, Jack, was not quite sure of his place.  Not only did Jack like to read, he was a writer.  He wrote a book in college which was published with the help of his father.

During World War II, the boat Jack commanded was ravaged.  He made sure the survivors made it to shore alive.  He was named a hero.  Joe was not as fortunate as Jack.  He died in his plane over the English Channel.  The plans Jack's father had for Joe were now shifted to Jack.

From serving six years as a congressman, Jack went to work as a senator.  During his tenure he married Jackie.  By 1960 he declared his intentions to run for president of the United States.  As Jack campaigned, the civil rights movement sought and fought peacefully through protest for equality.  Jack supported their movement in speeches, even offering to assist when Dr. Martin Luther King was imprisoned.

After his election his inauguration speech was an invitation for everyone to participate in helping our country.  President Kennedy was firm and fast on some issues but not for civil rights.  He was repeatedly urged by African American leaders to take action; men, women and children were doing everything possible.  It was not easy but hard and dangerous.  President Kennedy's speech on June 11, 1963 called for freedom for all as promised by President Lincoln.  Those same people who asked for his intervention were pleased with the speech.

Dr. Martin Luther King gave his I Have a Dream speech several months later.  President John Fitzgerald Kennedy did not live to see Congress pass his request for a civil rights law but President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2.  How will we keep making history?


When you live through moments of historical significance as a child or read about them years later, you might not be as aware of all the intricate pieces which shape the whole.  Shana Corey presents readers with those pieces offering us the opportunity to understand the influences which shaped the man who became our thirty-fifth president of the United States.  We meet young Jack, second to his older brother, Joe, writer Jack, hero Jack, politician Jack and campaigning-for-president Jack.

To better comprehend the context of the times in which Jack was running for president and when he served as president, Shana Corey depicts a very real picture of the civil rights movement.  It's as if we are there.  We are asking in our minds for the president to make a move for what is right.  This sense of living back in history is made authentic with specific details and quotations expertly woven into the narrative.  Here is a sample passage.

But on important civil rights issues, Jack was slow to act.
He once declared that the president must be willing to
get in the "thick of the fight."  But now he seemed unwilling
to fight some battles.
"I would like to be patient...," the famous baseball player 
Jackie Robinson wrote to Jack, "but patience has [cost] us years
in our struggle for human dignity."
While Jack hesitated, others stepped forward and acted.
In 1961, young black and white people called Freedom Riders
tried to integrate buses in the south.
Angry crowds smashed their windows.
They slashed the tires.
They set fire to the buses.
But the young people didn't give up.


When President Kennedy spoke you listened; his words profound in his singular voice.  To have him speaking on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, as the children march beginning on the left side of the back to stand near him on the front, makes an impressive statement.  Above the three young men on the back is a quote from the June 11, 1963 speech.  The white background with blue and red for the text points to this as a segment from American history.

A light turquoise wash spans both the opening and closing endpapers.  In black and white, R. Gregory Christie has created a line of children carrying signs.  On the opening jacket flap a small African American child is carrying a sign.  On the title page a grown JFK is seated and reading a book.

The brush strokes, lines, light and shadows portray vivid emotional moments in images spanning two pages, single pages or small pictures on a single page.  R. Gregory Christie's work is distinctive and original; his people look literally ready to walk off the pages or turn their heads and start talking to us.  The faces of people from history are marvelous.

One of my favorite illustrations is the one appearing on the title page and again in the interior of the book.  Jack, wearing a lighter blue suit with a white shirt and a striped tie is seated in a red chair.  He is holding an open book in his hands.  He has stopped reading but seems to be looking inward.  The expression on his face is thoughtful but determined.


This book, A Time To Act: John F. Kennedy's Big Speech, written by Shana Corey with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie needs to be in your personal and professional collections.  It is one of the finest titles about Kennedy amid the civil rights movement and his life prior and shortly after the June 11, 1963 speech I have ever read for children (for everyone).  Great care has been taken by both the author and illustrator in their presentations.  A two page Author's Note is a must read at the end.  Eight portraits are offered of prominent people appearing in the narrative.  There is a further reading section, a selected bibliography, origins of quotations and acknowledgements.

To discover more about Shana Corey and R. Gregory Christie please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Shana Corey has an extras page with wonderful ideas.  Here is a discussion guide.  At a publisher's website you can view interior images.  At Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog of author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson you can see more images.  Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, hosts the book trailer premiere on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  He asks Shana Corey to complete sentences for him in an interview.


Make sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the titles selected by other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.





Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

No one knows where or when the first ones were used but it is believed games were played with marbles as long ago as 3000BC; some were found in an Egyptian tomb of a child.  They were originally made of polished stones, fruit pits or nuts or formed of clay long before they were created from glass.  Another game dating back to ancient times is jacks (knucklebones or fivestones).  Prior to the more recent six-pronged metal pieces, bones of goats or sheep were thrown and gathered.  If you were training to be a soldier in ancient Rome chances are you participated in a form of hopscotch according to some sources on the birth of the game.  The courses were said to be one hundred feet long and the men wore all their armor to perfect endurance and strength.

One game for which a variety of theories are proposed as to its origins has been used to make decisions for centuries.  Nothing is needed other than your hands and a keen sense of strategy.  The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, April 4, 2017) written by Drew Daywalt with illustrations by Adam Rex sets forth a story so uproarious it must be true.

Long ago,
in an ancient and distant realm called
the Kingdom of Backyard,
there lived a warrior named
ROCK.

There was no doubting the toughness of Rock; he could not be beaten in any contest. While most individuals would be pleased with this particular reputation, Rock was unhappy with the lack of respectable opponents.  He ventured to the far corners of the land seeking warriors.  Alas, neither pinching nor

tart and tangy sweetness

could beat the power of Rock.  Rock left the Kingdom of Backyard.

In another domain with a lofty peak a second warrior was facing similar issues.  He was called Paper.  His intellect was beyond question.  Threats of gobbling and spitting did nothing to foil this flat fighter.  Sheer numbers found in the Pit of Office Trash Bin were no match for his blocking abilities.  And so, he left the Empire of Mom's Home Office.

In a tiny place within a larger space a third warrior dwelled named Scissors.  Known for her speed, none could conquer her.  Even the multitude of

dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets

from the bitter cold hollow was no match for her blazing blades.  Like the two previous combatants she traveled away from her known home.

As the fates would have it, Rock and Scissors encountered each other in a large arena.  A challenge was issued and a battle unlike any other followed with a victor.  One was happy to be vanquished but the other was sadder than ever.  Behold!  Unaware of the impact of his choice of words, Paper entered the scene speaking.  Two more battles with surprising results yielded a trio of triumphant and happy warriors.  Tribute to them and their respectful friendship is paid with every game played.


You have to admire the mind of author Drew Daywalt who imagined this narrative, a story to be enjoyed by all ages in many areas of the world.  It would be safe to say most people have probably engaged in some form of the game.  To explain its creation with loads of laugh-out-loud humor and inventive perception connects all players.

Expanding on the theme of long ago by naming well-known areas inside and outside homes with royal titles is brilliant.  (I know someone is going to make a map of this as soon as they finish the book.) Combining the use of dialogue and unseen narrator makes us feel as though we are reading an epic tale of heroes and heroines, the likes never to be seen again.  Here is a sample passage.

Rock traveled to the mysterious Forest of Over by the Tire Swing, where he met a warrior who hung on a rope, holding a giant's underwear.
DROP THAT UNDERWEAR AND BATTLE ME, YOU RIDICULOUS WOODEN CLIP-MAN!
I WILL PINCH YOU AND MAKE YOU CRY, ROCK WARRIOR!


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case the first thing you notice is the distinguishing physical characteristics of Rock, Paper and Scissors.  Placing them in a setting as ancient champions on top of the columns with roses at the base heightens the reader's curiosity.  The rays of light seen behind them are used again to the left on the back.  A bright yellow canvas holds a place for a unique image.  Rays spread from a triangle holding the hand shapes for rock, paper and scissors.  Written in script are the words Ro, Sham and Bo.  (You'll have to do some research if you don't know what those mean.) A slightly darker yellow, similar to the color of title text Legend, covers the opening and closing endpapers.

On the title page the words are chiseled in stone with a leafy crown of laurel.  Beneath this are the numbers 1...2...3... and turning to the verso we see the word GO!  The size and placement of the illustrations add to the pacing of the text elevating spectacular moments.  Images may be smaller surrounded by lots of white space, single page, edge to edge or across two pages.

Most of the dialogue appears in speech bubbles.  When the characters speak the font changes to reflect their personalities; Rock is in bold blocky letter, Paper is in script and Scissors is decidedly geometric as if cut-out.  Their facial features are ingenious.  In fact everything (almost everything) has faces such as the gobs of gum stuck under the desk.  Readers will love noticing the tiny and not so tiny details; Henry written on the waist of the underwear, the moon in a battle scene, or the Abraham Lincoln stamps on the desk.  And the battle scenes...well, let's just say they are beyond comparison.

One of my many, many two favorite illustrations takes place after the first of three final battles.  Without giving away too much when Paper innocently walks in on the finished fight between Rock and Scissors and casually greets them, the eyes on Rock and Scissors are totally hilarious.  In the second picture again the look Scissors gives Rock, Rock's body posture and the startled features on Paper's face are over-the-top funny.  Adam Rex has done amazing work with this book!


This title, The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, written by Drew Daywalt with pictures by Adam Rex is read aloud treasure.  There have been several conversations on Twitter (look for Stacy Riedmiller @literacybigkids) about the shared laughter between children and teachers and parents.  I can't read it silently without assigning voices to the characters.  And I have startled my dog more than once reading it aloud.  Every bookshelf, professional and personal, needs to have a copy...maybe several.

If you follow the link attached to Adam Rex's name you can access his website.  He has a blog and Tumblr pages for his books.  You can read a sample of this title at the publisher's website.  There is a short activity kit.



Monday, April 17, 2017

Duly Noted-Posted Blog Tour


Surviving middle school is akin to surviving (and enjoying) life in general.  It's a testing ground for becoming who you want to be for the rest of your life.  Everything is under a microscope; magnified and scrutinized.  Cruelty walks the halls alongside compassion.  In surprising moments of utter clarity one will rise above the other. 

Eighth grade, the final year before moving to high school, is when those foggy things hovering in the background of our days move to the front and center, sharply in focus.  Posted (Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, May 2, 2017) by John David Anderson, author of Ms. Bixby's Last Day (Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, June 21, 2016) presents to readers two life-changing weeks for the members of the Branton Middle School community; specifically those of four plus one friends.  Those bonds, of the first four, forged over years are about to be measured.


I PUSH MY WAY THROUGH THE BUZZING MOB AND FREEZE, 
heart-struck, dizzy.  It takes me a minute to really get what I'm looking at.

When you read these first two sentences of the two page introduction narrated by Frost, Eric Voss so named for winning a poetry contest, there is no turning back.  You are entirely attracted and attached to the story.  Frost takes us on a journey through the previous two weeks blending past episodes with present events.

When Frost came to this school a little more than two years ago due to his parent's divorce, his mother reassured him by saying

"It will be awkward at first, but it gets better.  You find your people and you make a tribe and you protect each other.  From the wolves."

Four guys, highly intelligent but different, find each other.  Bench, Jeremiah Jones, plays football, basketball and baseball but usually sits on the sidelines until there is nothing he can do to alter the course of the game.  Advik Patel, DeeDee, is a Dungeons & Dragons fanatic and collector of polyhedral dice.  He is never without a ten-sided dice, carrying it for good luck and rolling it to make decisions.  Wolf, Morgan Thompson, is a piano prodigy.  His nickname is shortened from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Frost is certain the other three will someday be sitting in the audience at Carnegie Hall listening to Wolf.   

On a nothing-out-of-the-ordinary day in math class, Ruby Sandals (don't you dare call her Dorothy) is caught texting on her phone.  Of course, phones are not allowed in class but everyone uses them.  What makes this infraction grow from small to ginormous is what Ms. Sheers reads on the screen and the fact this is the final violation of many.  By the following Monday no phones are allowed in school...at all.  If there are special circumstances, they are to be turned in to the office where they will be held for the day. 

Into this scenario walks Rose Holland, a new student.  Now Rose is a big girl, tall and muscular.  She's not afraid to speak her mind.  She's not afraid to ask if she can sit at the table with Frost, Bench, DeeDee and Wolf who have been sitting at that same table for more than two years during every lunch period.  Her presence there not just for one day but for each day thereafter, alters the dynamics of the group significantly.  

With the absence of phones, middle-school student creativity grows to an all-time high.  No one can pinpoint how it starts exactly (it might have been DeeDee) but post-it notes, required school supplies, start to appear everywhere as a means of communication.  Unlike phones, the identity of the author is not always known.  The tone of the notes escalates from funny and friendly to vicious.  

A lunchtime origami session, the introduction of The Gauntlet and Hirohito Hill, Mr. Sword's aphorisms, a spectacular play during a football game, and a night of re-arranging rules contribute to huge shifts in loyalties.  Another school policy rule heightens the stakes.  Then two huge instances of deliberate harassment bookending a contest bring readers to a poignant point.  Utter clarity.


When John David Anderson writes about middle school students it is with a thread of universality running through it.  No matter your age you completely comprehend every aptly described moment and interaction with the characters.  The staff members, the principal and the parents are familiar, like people you know.

For each of the twenty chapters Anderson uses only two word titles beginning with the word the; The Catalyst, The Tribe, The Variable, The Catch, The Bet or The Confession.  It's an art form.  It's amazing to read how incidents, conversations, thoughts and people build layer upon layer from the singular word.  Please enjoy the selected passages below.

People talk about nightmares where they are falling or where they are trapped in a burning building or buried alive.  But ask any incoming sixth grader with at least two forehead zits and a Great Clips haircut and he will tell you the prevailing image from his nightmares is standing in the middle of a buzzing cafeteria, tray in hand, desperately looking for somewhere to sit.  That was what made me sweat through my sheets at night.
Forget the bogeyman; the lunch lady haunted my dreams.

We all need something that's ours.  A thing that we know absolutely about ourselves that others can only guess at.

We started walking toward the playground where our bikes were racked, the swings and slides full of carefree kids, little ones who didn't need a tribe yet because when you're five, everybody's a member.

What made it unique was the battleground.  Every skirmish took place on three square inches.  Sticky notes were the weapons and words were the ammunition.

"Turds," he said.
"Huh?"
"Cheetos.  The look like turds.  Little cheese turds.  Especially the stubby ones.  I never noticed that before."  He was sitting cross-legged on his bed with a copy of X-Men #25 spread out in front of him.  The one where Wolverine has his adamentium sucked out of his pores by Magneto.  Brutal stuff.  Good stuff.  I looked at the Cheeto like it was some divine artifact worthy of a museum.  He wasn't wrong.  They did sort of look like that.  I'd always imagined them more as tree roots.
"When I was little I thought they were supposed to look like toes.  Cheese-toes.  Except they left off the s," Wolf said.
"I'm pretty sure nobody's toes look like that," I said.
"I think my grandmother's toes probably look like this."
He popped the crunchy cheese turd in his mouth and started chewing.
"And I'm pretty sure you have now ruined Cheetos for me for life."
Wolf gave me a giant grin with bright orange mush smeared across his teeth.


Posted written by John David Anderson is an intimate and insightful look at middle school life.  He understands the middle school mind.  He understands people and their relationships.  I sincerely believe every middle school student should and will want to read this book.  You will need to have multiple copies on your shelves.  Please read the Acknowledgments.

To learn more about John David Anderson and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  You can enjoy the first five chapters here.  Click on Start Reading Now!


John David Anderson is the author of Ms. Bixby's Last Day, Sidekicked, Minion, and The Dungeoneers.  A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wife, two kids, and perpetually whiny cat in Indianapolis, Indiana.  This picture is of John David Anderson after he survived middle school. 


Blog Tour Participants

April 17          Librarian's Quest
April 18          Nerdy Book Club
April 19          For Those About to Mock
April 20          Teach Mentor Texts
April 21          Unleashing Readers
April 22          Next Best Book
                       Read, Write, Reflect
April 23          Bluestocking Thinking
April 24          Litcoach Lou
                        Book Monsters
April 25          Kirsti Call
April 26          Educate-Empower-Inspire-Teach
April 27          The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia                                                                                       
                        Ms Yingling Reads
April 28          Maria's Mélange                                                                                                                    
                        Novel Novice
April 29          The Hiding Spot

April 30          This Kid Reviews Books

Friday, April 14, 2017

Campaigning For...

Every single person knows what it's like to want something more than anything else in the whole wide world and having parents who completely disagree with this desire.  As far as said parents are concerned, as long as you are living under their roof, this is not going to happen.  Does that stop children from still believing this is a possibility?  It does not.  In fact, they will devote every waking (and sleeping) moment to figuring out how they can make this dream come true.

Most guy and gals, at one time or another have wanted a pet.  For many of them the only pet which will bring them total and complete joy is a dog.  In her debut novel, Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, March 7, 2017) Kristin L. Gray introduces us to a remarkable girl, not yet ten years old, who is determined to bring a dog into her family.

The day I was born I was four times smaller than the trophy largemouth bass hanging in my daddy's shop.  My entire hand fit on Dr. Lafferty's thumbnail.  Nobody, Mama included, had planned on me arriving three months early.

This is Vilonia Beebe.  She has a twelve-year-old brother named Leon who is more pest than human.  Her all-around great guy dad who can fry the tastiest catfish anyone has ever eaten is a fishing guide.  Her mama is the happy life force of the family but is currently suffering greatly having lost her own mother forty-three days ago.  She rarely leaves her bedroom.

Now, besides her family, Vilonia loves her next-door neighbor and forever friend Ava Claire, a girl with a dancer's heart, softball and Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.  India Opal's love of Winn-Dixie is the chief reason Vilonia has the Great Pet Campaign fully operational though for the time being not too successful.  This is all about to change because of Eleanor Roosevelt.

No, this is not the dearly departed first lady and wife of President Franklin Roosevelt.  Eleanor Roosevelt is a fine egg-laying chicken, the pride of the Willoughby family.  You should also know the Willoughby twins, Rory and Ransom, friends of Leon, are charming, handsome and pranksters of the highest order.  (The family also owns the local fireworks business.)

On the way to her opening softball game for her pitching debut, Vilonia rescues Eleanor from a hit-and-run accident.  After delivering her to the local vet, she notices a sign there proclaiming the benefits of owning a dog, especially for those people feeling blue.  Click.  Now Vilonia has even more reason to have a dog.  She needs to bring her loving mama out of her sadness.

Miss Bettina is the editor of the local newspaper and Vilonia's mama's boss.  Her mama writes the obituaries for the paper; well, she did until forty-three days ago.  Her mama thinks Miss Bettina has been writing them.  We readers discover who is really writing them.

Obituaries, puppies, stink bombs, Mr. Reyes, the school librarian, the library goldfish, Max, Ray Charles, spring break, sour cream pound cake, Viking funerals, Miss Hazel Sogbottom, the vet's assistant, and the Howard County's 47th Annual Catfish Festival are all ingredients in an amazing quest to demonstrate responsibility.  You will laugh out loud, cheer and fall in love with the characters in this book (even Miss Bettina) as they shape Vilonia's world in Howard County, Mississippi.  The conclusion will lift your soul like a balloon on a gentle breeze and fill your heart with happiness.

Kristin L. Gray writes with such clarity and description you will read this with a Southern accent in your mind.  (In fact, I am thinking with a Southern accent as I write this blog post.)  Told through Vilonia's point of view the story is intimately tied to readers.  We connect with Vilonia's thoughts.  We understand all the characters' personalities through the conversations.  We feel as though we are members of the community in which they all live.

The narrative flows flawlessly from one moment to the next with true-to-life emotions and events.  Gray ties all of the life threads from other characters' lives into a beautiful blend.  Here are some sample passages.

"It's a perfect day to play ball!" I held my arms out to the sun, and a cool breeze brushed my face.  It was the Thursday afternoon before spring break.  Nana loved spring.  "Nana would love today."

"She sure would, Tadpole.  She loved to watch you play." Daddy reached into the cab of his truck and tossed my lucky glove my way.  I snatched it midair and ran my fingers across its smooth leather.

"And what about Mama?" I asked, and stabbed the dirt with my toe.  "Think she'll feel like coming?"

Daddy's eyes changed from sunny to cloudy with a chance of rain.  "The forecast changes daily when it comes to Mama, Vi.  But I can ask.  You know she's your biggest fan."

"I know."  I tried to hide my disappointment.  I knew Daddy was doing his absolute best to take care of us, Mama included.  But I've learned grief has no rules.  She'll make herself at home, eat all your best snacks, sleep in your bed, and no matter what you do or say, sometimes nothing on earth can make her leave.


Ava Claire was all ruffles and tutus and sparkly dance shoes---everything I wasn't.  I'd played softball since I could swing a bat, but Ava Claire wasn't interested the minute she laid her brown eyes on those "ugly spiked shoes."  She's rather twirl onstage in scratchy sequins under one thousand-watt lights.  Yeah, we went together like toothpaste and orange juice, but if anyone tried picking on either one of us, we stuck together like gum to a shoe.


I looked to the back of the bus, hoping to catch Rory's eye, but Mr. Danny, our bus driver who's older than dirt but somehow still has his driver's license, came over the loud speaker.

"I need everyone to listen up and sit down.  I've survived two hurricanes, a wife, and a war.  I'm getting y'all to school safe and sound.  Ya' hear?


There is so much laughter, life and love in Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge written by Kristin L. Gray you will read it in one sitting and eagerly start it all over again.  After reading several pages aloud to a group of third grade students, hands went in the air to be the first to read it cover to cover.  This would make for a great read aloud.  Make sure you have a copy for your personal and professional bookshelves.

You are going to enjoy visiting Kristin L. Gray's website by following the link attached to her name.  The information she shares is like sitting down to chat with her one on one.  There is a special post at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.to celebrate the cover reveal.  Kristin is interviewed at author Wendy McLeod MacKnight's site, Tuesday Writers,  author Patricia Bailey's site, and author Melissa Roske's site.