Quote of the Month

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




Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Heart To Heart

When a dog and their human connect, it's indescribably beautiful.  If you are one of those humans, each day you look at your dog thinking how fortunate you are.  Surely this is a miracle this wild thing chooses to be with me.

It's as if two separate souls become inseparable.  As a human, whether you realize it or not, you have become a member of a pack.  Your dog's loyalty is one of the most humbling experiences you will ever have.  Hello Goodbye Dog (Roaring Brook Press, July 25, 2017) written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Patrice Barton is the story of two hearts full of love, the one for the other.

"Hello, Moose!" said Zara.
There was nothing Moose loved more
than hello.

Hello means many good things, like a ride in the car.  Goodbye is not such a good thing.  Goodbye means Moose and Zara cannot be together.  Goodbye means Zara has to go to school...without Moose.

In Moose's mind, this is unacceptable.  At the first opportunity Moose turns the goodbye into a hello.  An opened door has Moose zooming toward Zara's school.  Guess who's peeking in the window in Zara's classroom?

Zara's classmates are thrilled to have Moose with them.  Mrs. Perkins knows dogs are not allowed in school but Zara assures her Moose enjoys a good real aloud.  And he does.  Of course Moose has to say goodbye again.

Goodbye was being tied up in the backyard.

To a dog, a rope is an invitation to a good chew.

Moose manages to thwart every goodbye attempt replacing it with his own special brand of hello.  He demonstrates his ability to remain calm when being read a book with each subsequent visit until one goodbye too many has Moose creating mayhem as he plays catch-me-if-you-can.  Now Moose is stuck in a goodbye from which he cannot escape but Zara has a big idea.  When an idea comes from love, there are many winners.


When Maria Gianferrari writes about animals, especially dogs, her admiration and yes, love, of them shines in every written word.  The blend of narrative and conversation flows naturally.  One technique employed by Maria which encourages audience participation is each time Moose needs to say goodbye she uses the same phrase,

Moose put on her brakes.

This is followed by the names of the people who are assisting her to leave.  One extra person is added after Moose continues to appear at school.  This circles back to Moose at the story's conclusion.  In one particular part, Maria also increases the action with a series of rhyming words which are a read aloud joy.  Here is a sample passage.

Hello was a pat on the head.
"Dogs aren't allowed in school," 
said Mrs. Perkins.
"Moose will be quiet," said Zara.
"She loves story time."

Moose lay at Zara's feet as Mrs.
Perkins read a story.


The shared love between Moose and Zara glows on the front of the dust jacket (I am working with an F & G.)  Dogs like to place their paws on their humans to stay linked.  Zara is well aware of this.  If the locked glances do not signal their mutual affection, the wagging tail on Moose is a clear signal.  The stack of books between them is a clue of this dog's love of listening to books being read aloud.  The staggering and stacking of the title text along with the three color choices mirrors the stack of books.

To the left, on the back, with the same canvas Zara and Moose are pictured alone.  Zara is reading the book previously on her lap to Moose. Her tail is wagging in sheer happiness.  The opening and closing endpapers are dotted with a zigzag trail of paw prints.  It's a given you will break into a smile looking at the title page.  Moose is standing on her hind legs, tongue hanging out of a grinning mouth.  She is leaning on a tall pile of books with others scattered around her.

Each illustration is rendered in Patrice Barton's signature soft, delicate style.  She opens the story with a two page picture, alternating image sizes to correspond and elevate the text.  Her attention to details is exquisite; a boy draws Moose as Mrs. Perkins reads the story, the chewed rope remains attached to Moose's collar, Ms. Chen is shown eating her lunch with the students, and the trail of food to lure Moose out of the cafeteria is wonderfully typical.

You are going to want to hug all these characters; their animated faces and movements are simply charming. And Moose will have you laughing out loud.  Patrice portrays dogginess with a knowing skill.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture. It's when Moose first visits the school looking in the classroom window.  The children are seated in groups around round tables. The looks are their faces at the sight of Moose are full of delight. Moose with her paws on the window sill only has eyes for Zara and she is downright ecstatic. Zara is pointing and smiling.  Mrs. Perkins, holding a book, looks astonished.  Believe me, from personal experience, this moment is depicted with perfection.

As you read this story your heart fills with laughter and lightness. Hello Goodbye Dog written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Patrice Barton gives readers an up-close look at the desire of a dog to be with her human always and of her human's loving response.  Children and adults alike will enjoy seeing themselves in this story.  You will most definitely want a copy on your professional and personal bookshelves.

By following the links attached to Maria Gianferrari's and Patrice Barton's names you can access their websites to learn more about them and their other work.  You can view several interior illustrations at the publisher's website.  Maria Gianferrari has been interviewed at several sites during the past two years, KidLit 411, PictureBookBuilders, and Picture Books Help Kids Soar to name a few.



Maria was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

I know you are a huge lover of dogs, Maria.  I think readers would like to know a little bit about you and your dog Becca.  Would you tell us how Becca came into your family?

Indeed I am, Margie!! It’s a bit of a magical story. Our friend was about to have a baby girl and my then four-year old daughter, Anya, and I were discussing names. The name “Rebecca” popped into my head. Needless to say, the baby was not named Rebecca, but the very next day I went on Petfinder.com and found our Rebecca—it was meant to be! Here’s the photo that made me fall in love with her.



She was dumped near a highway in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a lovely couple who already had many pets took her in and brought her to a rescue organization. She was eventually transported to NH where we picked her up. Incidentally, my next fiction book, Operation Rescue Dog (coming from Little Bee in 2018) is about a girl named Alma who meets her rescue dog, Lulu.


As a little girl I was always stumbling, tripping and I did fall down a few stairs more than once.  I was given the nickname Moose because I was not known for my agility.  In this book the dog is named Moose.  Why did you give this dog that name?

I love all dogs, but I especially love big dogs, since they’re generally such gentle giants. I wanted the name to convey her size. One of Becca’s best neighborhood friends is a huge French Mastiff with a delicate name: Scarlett. I just love the irony!


Moose's connection to his girl, Zara, is understandable and completely endearing.  Is this bond between the two based on a personal real life experience or the experiences of someone you know?

Absolutely! It’s based on Anya and Becca. Anya’s an only child, and Becca is like her dog sister and playmate. As I mentioned above, we got Becca when Anya was 4, and Becca was approximately six months old. Now Anya’s 15 ½ and Becca’s 11 ½. This is my mouse pad and favorite photo of them. I’ve dubbed it “best friends.” My Penny & Jelly books are based on their bond too.


(If you want to read about the Penny & Jelly books I talk about them here.)


HELLO GOODBYE DOG BLOG TOUR!
GIVEAWAYS EVERY DAY!!

*Monday, July 24th:                                   Pragmatic Mom + THREE book giveaway!
*Two for Tuesday, July 25th:              Librarian’s Quest

*Wednesday, July 26th:                          Homemade City
*Thursday, July 27th:                                Kid Lit Frenzy
*Friday, July 28th:                                      Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
*Monday, July 31st:                                   Picture Books Help Kids Soar
*Tuesday, August 1st:                              Bildebok
*Wednesday, August 2nd:                      The Loud Library Lady
*Thursday, August 3rd:                           DEBtastic Reads!
*Friday, August 4th:                                  Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love
*Monday, August 7th:                               Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

EXTRA: August 25th:                                Kidlit411—Interview with Patrice Barton 



Monday, July 24, 2017

Views Of Hues

To receive a new coloring book as a gift as a child is marvelous.  If it comes with a new box of crayons or colored pencils it is the best of the best.  The possibilities the coloring book and box of crayons offer the recipient are endless.

The trend in adult coloring books beginning several years ago can be attributed to many things but two are the inner child in all of us wants to play and they remind us of childhood.  A sense of calm is supplied by coloring, like a form of mediation for those seeking calm in the face of a variety of situations.  I Don't Draw, I COLOR! (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, March 21, 2017) written by Adam Lehrhaupt with illustrations by Felicita Sala is for everyone who longs for the freedom to express their creativity however they choose.

Some people are really good at drawing.

Other people are not really good at drawing.  Our narrator tends to make puppies, cars and people using a collection of lines and curves vaguely resembling those subjects.  He realizes his drawing techniques are minimal but he makes up for it by coloring.

Starting with the primary shades he swirls them on his paper.  He varies the shapes and sizes of the lines in combination with the hues to convey his feelings.  Happy is yellow and orange fireworks.  Angry is dark red scribbles, over and over and over until it's solid.

He is ready with a reply when asked if he wants to draw.  He politely responds with

"...I don't draw.
I color."

In fact he knows anything can be colored whether it's concrete or abstract. 

Some students would be challenged by a class assignment but not this guy.  When he is asked to make a self-portrait, he has the perfect answer.  Not only is his response perceptive but he, more than any one else, can depict himself with confidence and competence.


With just the right amount of humor and insight Adam Lehrhaupt writes simple but profound sentences spinning a narrative in which many readers will identify with the character.  His point of view rings true.  With each page turn readers are being given permission to be themselves rather than act upon the expectations of others.  This is an empowering message.  Here is one of my favorite examples:

Or something full of
life.


The swirl of shades bursting from the yellow crayon on the front of the dust jacket as our young narrator colors loops over his head, across the spine and to the edge of the back, on the left.  Yellow blends into variations of green, then hues of blue and finally to purples and spots of pink and red.  The white title text pops superbly.  

On the book case, still on a background of crisp white, the sizes of lines and shapes convey several emotional moods.  On the opening endpapers is a sunny yellow.  Complementary purple is on the closing endpapers.  The same purple is used for the title text on the title page except for the word color.  Each letter is a different shade; red, blue, purple, yellow and orange.

Rendered in watercolors, drawing and colored pencils, and crayons by Felicita Sala the images vary in size to emphasize pacing.  Throughout the narrative until the conclusion the boy is portrayed in shades of black and gray, as are the other children.  This allows for the use of color, usually on a white canvas, to intensify the connection readers have with the story.  The children and adult hand are descriptively depicted.

One of several favorite pictures is for the words 

Or something full of
life.

Here readers can see the guy extending his emotional representations.  Large areas of green in assorted shades fan upward from the bottom of the page.  On the upper edges yellow appears.  Lines looking like stems shoot toward the top with small lines and dots on all the edges.  


In a word I Don't Draw, I COLOR! written by Adam Lehrhaupt with illustrations by Felicita Sala is inspirational.  This story is an invitation.  This story gives permission.  It makes you want to race to the store to get a new box of crayons. Educators will want to use it to begin the school year or a new unit.  Make sure you have a copy on your professional bookshelves and one for home too.  I believe it would pair wonderfully with SWATCH: The Girl Who Loved Color by Julie Denos. 

To discover more about Adam Lehrhaupt and Felicita Sala and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Felicita Sala has several interior images on her website and at her blog.  To view interior images you can also visit the publisher's website.  

Friday, July 21, 2017

There's No Time Like...

More than four hundred fifty years ago, a phrase was coined indicating you should do something immediately rather than wait for a more opportune time.  It was understood there was no purpose in planning and fretting about possibilities; it was believed the present was the optimum moment.  Today this definition still holds true.

Another perspective for there's no time like the present would be to ask ourselves to pause and rest our minds.  Are we constantly mulling over an incident from the past?  Are we thinking about something which may or may not happen in hours, days or weeks in the future?  What wonder would we enjoy if we focused on the present alone?  Now (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, July 11, 2017) written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis (Wait, Best Frints in the Whole Universethrough the mind and actions of a child depicts finding joy in the moment.

This is my favorite breeze.

A single leaf, this leaf, held like a fan is cherished by the child, the narrator.  She also relishes one particular hole in the ground.  It's the one she is sitting in.  It's the one she is digging.

As she stands in mud, holds a worm and gazes at clouds, she declares each one her favorite.  It's not because of a particular quality each one exhibits but because she is experiencing that puddle of mud, that wiggling worm and that gauzy cloud now.  This little girl is teaching us that nothing is better than reveling in this second.

No matter the weather or the loss, she looks for the bliss.  She uses her senses, encountering her world through sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing.  Her favorite song is not at the top of the charts, it's the one she happens to be singing now.

She prods the empty space in her mouth, missing a tooth.  Her cat is the not so thrilled recipient of a goodnight embrace.  But as this day of many days comes to a close she declares her final favorite.  It's a declaration of why Now is the very best now of all nows.

The simplicity of the statements written by Antoinette Portis allows readers to be lifted up and into the story.  Through the voice of the child we come to understand how delight can be found in everyday things; most of them free for all.  The grouping of the sentences establishes a rhythm; the naming of two favorites followed by a third because it is engaging the little girl at the present time.  Here is a sample group of three phrases.

This is my favorite rain.
That was my favorite boat.
This is my favorite tree because it's the one where I am swinging.


When you open the matching dust jacket and book case the attraction of the front of each is increased.  Now we can see the entire face of the girl continuing over the spine and to the left on the back.  It's not entirely symmetrical which is an excellent design choice.  There is more white space on the left.  On the left the girl's ear is covered with her hair.  The center of the leaf is tilted to the right.

The hue from the title text and the leaf covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Pale green clouds dot the title, verso and dedication pages.  A large sun holds the dedication name.

The illustrations, rendered using sumi ink, brush, and bamboo stick with color added digitally by Antoinette Portis, extend the openness of her text filling the pages with utter delight.  A limited color palette, leaning toward earth tones and perfect for the heavier matte-finished paper, adds a sense of realism.  We can easily imagine ourselves finding the same contentment as the little girl.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is the first one we see.  Spanning two pages, it portrays the girl standing on a grassy hill on the right.  Her eyes are closed.  Her hair is blowing behind her.  Her arms are lifted on either side of her toward the sky.  Large brush strokes of teal stretch from left to right blending into the girl's face, shirt and striped skirt.  She is feeling the breath of the breeze.


Now written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis is about standing still in the rush around us.  It's asking us to observe and extend gratitude for each given opportunity...now.  This perspective grants readers a feeling of peace.  It would be interesting to see how readers would extend this title relative to their surroundings at the moment.  I can't imagine a professional or personal bookshelf without this title.

To learn more about Antoinette Portis and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  You can view interior images at the publisher's website.  Antoinette Portis maintains an Instagram account.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson shares her review and interior images at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  There are several interviews and conversations with Antoinette Portis from two years ago at Number Five Bus Presents..., The Horn Book, Publishers Weekly and Kid Lit Frenzy.  While the title discussed the most in these is Wait, you can still learn about Antoinette Portis and her process.

Never Enough

Are there ever enough minutes in a day?  How often have you looked at a clock wondering how the hours vanished?  Morning blends into noon; evening seems to approach in a blink of an eye.

If you really want to make very moment meaningful shadow a dog.  They are always ready to play and they do so with extreme exuberance. Given the opportunity to be outside, they take it, savoring every smell, taste, sound and movement.  Nothing escapes their attention.  Every human they see is initially treated equally.  Every day is a new day; they are forgiving.  Stay A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List (Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, July 18, 2017) is the newest offering by collaborative sisters, Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise.  It honors the unbreakable bond between a dog and their human.  It honors the beauty of the canine condition.

When Astrid came home from the hospital, Eli was there waiting.  He was Astrid's first friend.

Being Astrid's friend lead to other enjoyable jobs for Eli, bodyguard, pillow and his large size offered her a good place to hide.  They shared everything; a home, a place to eat and a place to sleep.  This human and this dog were more alike than different except for one thing.

Eli and Astrid were growing and aging differently.  Astrid was getting taller than Eli.  Eli was getting older faster than Astrid.  Even at the early age of six Astrid noticed how quickly Eli was moving from puppy to older adult.

After one particularly pleasant day at the playground Astrid decided to make a list of everything she and Eli needed to do before he got too old; a bucket list on the side of their bucket now empty of popcorn.  No matter how tricky the activity was Astrid was going to make it happen; like rigging a platform so Eli could ride on the back of her bike.

Astrid discovered the joy of reading aloud to Eli and giving him a bubble bath.  Her last thing on the bucket list was a delectable delight to show her gratefulness for his loyalty.  Soon there were no more strolls to their favorite places.  During cuddle time Astrid asked if there was anything else to add to the list.  Eli's reply was exactly why dogs are surely heaven sent.


One of the first words a new puppy learns is stay.  It ensures first and foremost his or her safety in a human world.  What author Kate Klise has shown us is stay is an integral part of a canine's character.  Their loyalty to their "pack" is without question.  Not only do our dogs (Eli) stay but they do so out of a love more pure than we can fully understand.

Throughout this story we are shown in the things Astrid and Eli do together how their friendship is formed.  We are privy to the growth of a very special kind of affection.  By including Eli's thoughts in response to Astrid's comments we see inside both of their hearts.  There is also a gentle kind of humor in Eli's replies; their dogginess is genuine.  Here is a sample passage.

"Eli," Astrid said, "have you ever been down a slide?  You really should before you get too old."
So with Astrid's help, Eli slid down the sun-warmed slide.

That was fun, Eli thought.  Who knew?  


For those of us who have been honored with the love of a dog, the picture on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case is a dream comes true.  Who wouldn't want to be able to share a dinner with their canine companion at a fancy restaurant?  The glow of the candle light on the two happy faces says a lot about this story.  The word Stay is varnished.

To the left, on the back, Eli is curled in a living room chair leaning over the arm.  Astrid is seated next to the chair reading aloud dog books.  (I can't begin to tell you the number of times, one of my dogs has been on the furniture with me seated on the floor.  This scene is classic.)  A mint green covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Rendered in acrylic paint on bristol board the illustrations are filled with warmth.  Many of them are placed on a canvas of pale golden yellow; others the wallpaper in the home, a scene in the park, or the backyard at night.  M. Sarah Klise brings us into this relationship almost as if we are experiencing it ourselves.  There is no doubt; Eli is a member of this family.

The image sizes vary in keeping with the pace of the story; delicate details enhancing the mood and emotion in each one.  Careful readers will notice the content of the pictures on the living room wall, the marquee at the movie theater and the growth of the tree next to the driveway of Astrid's and Eli's home.  All of the illustrations build toward the final page guaranteeing a sigh of satisfaction from all readers.

One of my many favorite pictures spans two pages.  Astrid and Eli are at the playground.  On the left a group of children are climbing on a jungle gym.  A woman with a dog on a leash who is resting watches them.  In the background another woman is walking her dog.  To the right Astrid and Eli are swooping down the slide.  Eli is in front of Astrid, her arms around his body.  His four legs are spread in total contentment.  Beneath the slide is the empty popcorn bucket.


Stay A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List written by Kate Klise with illustrations by M. Sarah Klise will make a mark on every reader's heart.  It speaks of growing old and how to celebrate the time given to us.  No one knows better than a dog how to stay.  No one wants them to be here longer than their human friends.  You need to have a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.  It would pair perfectly with Elisha Cooper's Homer.

By following the links attached to Kate Klise's and M. Sarah Klise's names you can learn more about them and their work at their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.  At Publishers Weekly the sisters were interviewed five years ago about their work.  Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise were recently part of a Q & A at The Horn Book about this book.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Flash Of Red

In the past few years, more red fox crossed my path than all the previous years combined.  It would be nice to believe their population is increasing or perhaps my perception is more finely honed.  They seem to be on the move more during the day rather than strictly during the evening or night.

They are frequently seen vanishing into the undergrowth along a country road.  One in particular had a route which extended through my home property, even venturing close to me and my dog one night by the front door.  All thoughts of them being shy are gone.  With their repeated sightings, a curiosity is growing.  The Secret Life of the Red Fox (Boyd Mills Press, an imprint of Highlights, March 7, 2017) written by Laurence Pringle with illustrations by Kate Garchinsky is an outstanding exploration of the days in the life of a red fox through several seasons.

Vixen awakes from a nap.
She is surrounded by snow but feels cozy.

To hold in her body heat she is comfortable in a nook with her tail curled around her.  As she steps outside she lifts her nose into the air using her super sense of smell to look for a meal.  Moving through the snow her back feet are placed in the exact point her front feet land; one trail of tracks is visible.  Finally her extraordinary hearing tells her a meadow mouse is eating beneath a foot of snow.  She makes her jump and dive move, rewarded with a meal.

When she captures extra food, she puts it in a cache. Near daybreak she meets her mate greeting him by sniffing and touching.  At this point they don't necessarily spend all their time together.  Their territory is marked and messages are sent with urine.

Vixen's ability to elude dogs on her scent is an admirable feat.  Several days later she begins to scout out abandoned dens.  When she finds one with the options she desires, she digs to enlarge the area.

As winter blends into spring Vixen and her mate are together more often.  Eventually she does not leave the den.  He hunts and brings her food.  One day the red fox ventures out of the den.  Following her are four kits. Until the autumn when they strike out to create their own territories, both parents participate in the care of their babies.  Perhaps you will see a flash of red as one passes near you when you least expect it.  Enjoy the gift.


There is an undercurrent of respect for his subject in the narrative nonfiction penned by Laurence Pringle.  Woven into the story of this vixen's life is information about the physical characteristics and lifestyle of the red fox.  With each description you find your admiration for these beautiful animals growing in proportion to the increase in your knowledge.  It's as if you are shadowing her.  Here is a sample passage.

In the snow, her back feet usually land right in the marks made by her front feet, so she leaves a single line of footprints in the snow.  Fresh snowflakes dot her russet winter coat, and Vixen's white-tipped tail floats behind her like a banner.

Foxes are omnivores, which means they eat both animal and plant food.  But in winter Vixen finds no berries or other plant foods to eat.  Now she is mostly a predator, hunting animals.  She explores a thicket where rabbits often hide, but finds no prey.  She grows more and more hungry.


Opening the matching dust jacket and book case, you find yourself holding still barely able to breathe.  It's as if you are standing in the snow at the edge of a field watching Vixen move.  The illustration on the front moves over the spine to the left, covering the back with the light-dappled snowscape.  The blends of soft pastel colors depict the glory of the early morning sun.  Notice the title text for Red Fox.  It's tipped in white and textured to represent their tails.

The opening and closing endpapers are snow.  On the first is a line of red fox prints.  On the second another line stretches again from the lower left side to the upper right.  This time a fox is descending over a small hill with weeds framing it on the left and right.  Beneath the title text a red fox sits, leg lifted to scratch under its chin.  (Both of these snow scenes continue to first the title page and begin again at the close of the book after the dedication and publication information.)

Rendered in pastels and aqua crayons on sanded paper by Kate Garchinsky each illustration spans two pages.  They are as gorgeous as photographic images but far richer in their luminosity and texture.  Each one is worthy of framing, a study in intricate detail.

One of my many favorite pictures is of Vixen when she first steps out of her winter shelter.  It's a close-up of her upper body and head.  She is turned looking at a bird on a branch on the left as snow falls.  Her ears are alert.  Her breath clouds the air.  Her whiskers and eyebrow hairs are delicately displayed.  It's breathtaking.


The Secret Life of the Red Fox written by Laurence Pringle with illustrations by Kate Garchinsky is a stunning representation of this wondrous creature.  Each time you turn a page you will learn something new.  Each time you turn a page you will gasp at the loveliness of the pictures.  You will want to place this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Laurence Pringle and Kate Garchinsky and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Kate Garchinsky has an extensive Pinterest board studying the red fox.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Passion For Primates

When a subject reaches out and grabs us, we have a deep need to know...everything.  We want to immerse ourselves in information.  For some people this desire lasts a lifetime defining everything they do.  For others it can last days, weeks or months, until the next intriguing topic occupies their every waking moment.

This is one of the absolute joys of working with children as an educator.  Their thirst for knowledge about what they enjoy has no end.  Priscilla Gorilla (A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book, Atheneum Books for Younger Readers, March 7, 2017) written by Barbara Bottner with illustrations by Michael Emberley follows the daily adventures of a gal who loves gorillas.

When Priscilla turned six,
her dad gave her a book called
ALL ABOUT GORILLAS.
They read it a million skillion times! 

From that day forward nothing was done without focusing on gorillas.  No matter the type of special day at school, she managed to showcase gorillas.

On Events Day
she performed her own 
original gorilla dance.

As a final act at the end of each day, wearing her gorilla pajamas, she wrote in her special journal dedicated to gorillas, the GORILLA GAZETTE.

Priscilla's fascination with gorillas stemmed from her belief in them always getting their own way.  She, unlike them, did tend to spend time in the Thinking Corner in Mr. Todd's class.  He did not understand why Priscilla would be teaching Lily the gorilla dance during nap time.

On class photo day all the students came dressed in their favorite animal costumes, prepared to give a report. The problem for Priscilla was she did not want to remove her gorilla pajamas for the photograph.  (She kept on talking about gorillas even when her time was up.)  Priscilla was not in the picture but she occupied the Thinking Corner...again.)

To Mr. Todd's chagrin Lily showed up wearing her lion pajamas the next day.  Two people ended up in the Thinking Corner.  The next day the Thinking Corner was surprisingly filled to capacity.

At home that evening Priscilla, always truthful about her school day, prompted comments from her father about information in her ALL ABOUT GORILLAS book.  She pondered his points and looked over her considerable treasury of gorilla portraits.  At school the next day two major viewpoints shifted prior to and during a school outing.  Step lively, Mr. Todd!


By the second sentence of this story readers are well aware of Barbara Bottner's adept ability to depict the true heart of her characters, especially the younger gals and guys.  She understands how children can become addicted to learning about one or many things.  Another enjoyable aspect of this story is the portrayal of the adults.  Her parents are supportive but offer advice when necessary.  This advice allows Priscilla to make her own decisions.  This is true, too, of her teacher Mr. Todd; he expands on the potential of a teachable moment.  The blend of narrative and dialogue is perfection.  Here is a sample passage.

Lily's lion roared at Priscilla's gorilla.
AAAHHOO!
RAARRHH!
Lily was invited to join Priscilla in the Thinking Corner.
You are my VERY best friend.
Priscilla whispered.
Sam said:
"You're both troublemakers!"
"I was just being a gorilla.  
Nobody tells a gorilla
what to wear."
Priscilla told Sam.
"Gorillas don't wear anything," said Sam.


Rendered in pencil and watercolor the illustrations by Michael Emberley are brimming with exuberance.  The tilted display of Priscilla, wearing her gorilla pajamas, on the front of the dust jacket, is a hint of the liveliness found throughout the title.  The shades of primary colors invite reader participation.  To the left, on the back, Priscilla is striking an upstanding gorilla pose.  Behind her a huge gorilla mimics her stance.  This is shown on a canvas of white.

On the book case of white, the image from the back of the jacket is enlarged for the front.  On the left side, the back, Priscilla is swinging in the corner upside down.  Two of her classmates are standing on the ISBN looking upward.  The opening and closing endpapers are covered in a bright yellow (just like Priscilla's personality.)  Beneath the text on the title page, Priscilla is squatting on all fours on top of the kitchen counter.

White space is used superbly on every single page.  Michael Emberley shifts his illustration sizes in keeping with the pace of the narrative.  He begins with a marvelous two page picture of Priscilla and her father sitting together in an overstuffed armchair reading her book, ALL ABOUT GORILLAS.  He combines smaller images on one page and places a colorful background behind a special grouping of multiple pictures.  He breaks an understood frame with elements as when Priscilla is drawing gorilla pictures and they tumble from her workspace in the kitchen.

What readers will appreciate the most is the humor.  It is present in all the pictures in the details, facial expressions and body positions. (Notice the cat at home, the children's costumes, and how Priscilla draws.)  The looks on Mr. Todd's face will have children and adults alike roaring with laughter.  Believe me when I say you expect any illustration at any moment to come alive.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is when Priscilla is leaving her home on class photo day.  Out the open doorway and down the porch steps, the faint outline of a parked school bus is present.  Leaning against the door frame, her mother leans in to kiss Priscilla goodbye.  Priscilla is hanging from a ring over the door, wearing her gorilla pajamas and carrying her backpack.  To the right of the doorway are storage cubes, many filled with books.

Regardless of the time between readings of this book or the number of times you read it, I guarantee you will always laugh out loud.  Priscilla Gorilla written by Barbara Bottner with illustrations by Michael Emberley is a read aloud gem.  You might want to have animal hats ready for your listeners to wear.  It would be fun to have an animal report day as Mr. Todd does.  Make sure to have a copy of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Barbara Bottner and Michael Emberley and their other work, take a few moments to visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  If you wish to view interior images, stop by the publisher's website.  Michael Emberley is the featured illustrator at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on July 27, 2015. He talks extensively about the process for this particular book at Kathy Temean's Writing and Illustrating.

Outside, Inside, Upside And Downside

As soon as you leave the sanctuary of your home as a child (as an adult), you learn to make connections with other people.  Seeking those who enjoy the same activities, cherish the same values, and help you to be your best self but love you for exactly who you are, they are a rarity.  When you and another share a bond of mutual affection based upon unbreakable trust you are the best of friends.

As you grow up from a young age to adulthood, you begin to realize best friends may come and go, making for painful experiences.  Real Friends (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, May 2, 2017) written by Shannon Hale with artwork by LeUyen Pham and color by Jane Poole is a true recollection of finding positive people with whom to share your days.  It's full, like life, with heartbreak, healing and hope.

When I was little I didn't worry about friends.  

As Shannon navigates from kindergarten through fifth grade we are given windows into her school and home worlds.  Five sections labeled with names, Adrienne, Jen, Jenny, Zara and Veronica and Wendy, allow us to understand how these girls shaped her definition of friendship.  Some weaken the very nature of the meaning, others strengthen it.  Some are learning the importance of real friends.

As the middle child of five Shannon already feels a little left out at home.  Meeting Adrienne in kindergarten is a dream comes true for her.  They are inseparable until second grade, enjoying games of make-believe.  Then Adrienne moves.  All Shannon wishes for is the return of her best friend.  Wishes sometimes come true.

By third grade another student is rising in the popularity game, Jen.  All the girls want to be in The Group with Jen as leader.  Adrienne already knows Jen so she is automatically invited to be a member.  It is not so easy for Shannon.  From one minute to the next she never knows if she is in or out of the group.  A high point of the summer before fourth grade is spending time with Jen at her cabin.

Fourth grade brings more changes for Shannon...glasses.  One member of the group, Jenny, increases her bullying of Shannon.  She is so desperate to have Jen all to herself; she begins to spread lies about her.  Her cruelty heightens Shannon's anxiety; there are more stomach aches and counting.  At home the abuse from her older sister is worse.  Often Shannon hides in the bushes at school and at home to avoid the wrath of Jenny or her sister Wendy.

Only two of the group, Amy and Nicole, are in Shannon's class in fifth grade; a blend of fifth and sixth grade students.  In a moment of bravery after a particularly horrible moment with Jenny in The Group, Shannon leaves them for good.  Freedom does have costs but it opens new doors.  The generous spirit of two sixth grade students who admire the creativity and sense of humor exhibited by Shannon changes many things for her.  A shift at home broadens the hope now surging in her heart.


After repeated readings of nearly the entire book it's abundantly clear Shannon Hale is a writer of great courage and integrity.  Some of the scenes are painfully true but she tells this story in exquisite detail to let her readers know they are not alone with their experiences.  The line connecting us to friends is a fine line; easy to snap unless it's stood the test of time.  Nothing can break the line between real friends.

The dialogue is true-to-life to the point you feel as though you are watching a film.  The strength Shannon finds in her religion is noteworthy.  She shares her prayers.  In one particular moving scene, a low point for Shannon, in a day dream she feels as though no one would ever miss her if she vanished.  Jesus says He likes her.  Another important aspect is Shannon's imagination; her ability to fashion games and stories.  Pages are devoted to her tales of daring and heroes.  Here is a sample of dialogue.

Who was that?
The Group.
They were your friends?
Yeah...
But now they're not.
Nope.
Well.
They're a bunch of turdmongers, aren't they?
Yeah...clearly a bunch of turdmongers, all of them.
You know, I never realized before, but they are kinda turdmongery.
Do you want to hang out with us today?
On the outside, I was like...
Yeah.
Okay.
But on the inside
(blasting rainbows, stars and hearts)


When you first look at the front of the book case there is something about the look in young Shannon Hale's eyes and in her body stance, they let you know she is the kind of person you want to have as a friend.  Throughout the entire book the portrayal of Shannon, her family and all the students in her school years "click" in a universal manner with readers.  We can see ourselves and others, regardless of our current age, in these people.

All the people in each of the scenes are fully animated.  The panels alternate in size to supply pacing in keeping with the text.  When Shannon is creating a game or a story the panels vanish to expand our view along with her perspective.  We become emotionally linked as events unfold.

LeUyen Pham has done marvelous work in depicting the years between 1979 and 1984 with authentic clothing, hair styles, exterior and interior designs in architecture.   There are wall phones with cords attached to the hand sets.  The plaid fabric on the living sofa and its color are a flashback to that era.

One of my many favorite illustrations is during the summer before fourth grade.  With their backs to us Shannon and Jen are running through the woods from the lake shore at Jen's family cottage.  They are deep into a game as high school private detectives following clues to a kidnapped girl.  There is pure bliss in their moving arms and legs.  It's one of those moments as a child you never forget.


In this collaboration Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham have brought to readers a wonderfully, realistic depiction.  Real Friends will be read over and over and over.  Copies will have the well-loved look in short order.  I can imagine real friends reading portions out loud to each other.  Perhaps they will act out scenes.  Professional collections must have multiple copies.  I extend my deepest appreciation to Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham for this title.

To learn more about Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view interior pages.  There is a website dedicated to this title.  Shannon Hale is a guest at BookRiot talking about this title.  Shannon Hale is in a video interview with Rocco Staino for KidLit TV.  In The Book Report by Jarrett J. Krosocska he talks about this title and its importance.  Enjoy the book trailer.


Friday, July 14, 2017

In His Own Mind

Heroes walk among us every single day.  They come in all shapes, sizes and ages.  Some might not even be human.  Always ready for action they can transform from ordinary to extraordinary in a single second.  We may not even be aware of the shift in their identity.  It is hidden from us; only a vision in the mind of the courageous champion.

As adults we sometimes forget how brave children are to leave their homes, venturing out to learn in school classrooms.  For the little guys and gals attending school for the first time as kindergartners it can be daunting.  Super Saurus Saves Kindergarten (Disney Hyperion, June 27, 2017) written by Deborah Underwood with illustrations by Ned Young follows Arnold as he challenges a perceived formidable foe.

Kindergarten was starting in two days, 
and Arnold was busy making plans...

Arnold's plans did not include what students would normally take in their backpacks or what they would wear.  His plans were how to escape.  He would do anything not to attend the first day of school.

Arnold was convinced his teacher was

Zorgo the Evil Genius.

He was sure all the children would be snacks for Krok the pet T. rex of Zorgo.  As Arnold's conversation continued with Emily, he became super-charged with conviction.  He would not go or stay in his classroom because he was

SUPER SAURUS!

Over the course of the next two days, Arnold gathered his gear, gizmos and gadgets.  He was packed and ready for whatever happened beginning with a ride to school as a captive in a submarine.  (Mom and Dad drove him in the family car.)  He ran as soon as the vehicle stopped but did not get very far.  Plan B was to use his Sticky Shoes to scale the building.  Again his flight was thwarted.  He had no choice but to face Zorgo.  

Every activity designed, music, art, free and circle time, by Mr. Z was perceived as a confrontation with Zorgo.  Super Saurus was in full-blown hero mode.  At snack time the greatest challenge yet arrived uninvited.  Super Saurus put his super smarts into action.  Kindergartens never fear, when Super Saurus is here.


A fabulous blend of voice by the narrator, realistic conversations and Arnold's thoughts by Deborah Underwood has readers cheering for Arnold and Super Saurus.  His character traits of planning, determination and doing the right thing for others compel us to keep turning the pages. You have to admire the patience and good nature of Arnold's parents and his teacher.  Here is a sample passage.

His ship screeched to a halt.  He couldn't leave
all those innocent children in Zorgo's clutches!
There was only one thing to do.

Super Saurus narrowed his eyes. He
straightened his mask.  He marched up
to Zorgo.  "I challenge you to a duel!"

"We're singing right now," said Zorgo.  "How about after snack time?"


You can almost hear the blast of superhero music swelling in the background as you look at the matching dust jacket and book case.  Super Saurus charging through the lined school paper, arms raised and smiling, is ready for action.  We know for what he is prepared by his own drawings shown on the left and right of his body.  The bright bold colors seen here are used throughout the book.

To the left, on the back, Arnold aka Super Saurus has drawn a particularly hilarious scene between him and Zorgo.  The three speech balloons reveal the strength of his confidence in his abilities and his desire to avoid school.  On the opening and closing endpapers, on a white background, more childlike drawings reveal the abilities of Super Saurus.  We can see his Rescue Rocket, his Super Sticky Shoes and his Super Saurus Scuba Suit all in use.

On the title page the text is placed on paper on an easel.  Arnold is facing it, crayon raised and ready to make some art.  On the dedication page Super Saurus is chatting with his fellow classmates.  Rendered in acrylics on illustration board (and acrylics and colored pencils on watercolor board for Arnold's drawings) all the pictures are highly animated and cheerful.  Ned Young uses his space superbly to highlight the story.

His images span two pages, single pages or are grouped on a single page.  When the story focuses on Super Saurus the text is placed in a yellow box rimmed in red with black text.  Readers are going to love the Super Saurus and Zorgo clothing, special effects and alternate world.  There will be page turns with significant pauses.

One of my favorite pictures of many is on a single page.  Arnold dressed in his Super Saurus garb, a mask and cape, is packing his backpack.  He has it placed on the living room sofa as he stands on an arm.  A rope around the outside holds his Super Sticky Shoes, boots dripping in maple syrup and peanut butter.  He stuffs his Rescue Rocket constructed from cardboard boxes into the opening at the top of his backpack.  His flippers and a fishing pole, for deep sea rescues, are part of his first-day-of-school gear too.  The vivid hues and details (wrinkles in his denim shorts, texture in the colored rocket) contribute to the overall charm of this (and all the) illustration (s).

You will want to add Super Saurus Saves Kindergarten written by Deborah Underwood with illustrations by Ned Young to your books-about-school collections.  Readers will feel a connection to Arnold and applaud his endeavors.  There is nothing like imagination and creativity to save the day.

To learn more about Deborah Underwood and Ned Young and their other work please view their websites by following the links attached to their names.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Derriere Duds

There are some words, whether you shout them from the rooftop or whisper them so quietly only a dog could hear, which will trigger a supreme case of giggles if not outright guffaws.  These words do not need to be said in any formal setting such as storytime when the word is part of a title or used within the narrative.  You can walk by a group of younger guys and gals quietly working and say the word as you pass.  As soon as they hear it, they will stop and ask a question hardly able to contain their mirth.

One such word which comes to mind is underwear.  In Monster's New Undies (Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., June 27, 2017) written by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Tad Carpenter I do believe laughter will fill the air as soon as the cover is shown and won't stop until after the final word is read.  An entire book about underwear?!  Be still my storytime heart.

Of all days I dread, 
not one can compare
to the day that we shop
for NEW underwear.

This monster detests shopping for underwear to the degree he is willing to have small, old, and torn undies.  He is even fine with wearing nothing.  He has one pair left, his favorite pair.

Then the worst thing possible happens.  Using them like a sling shot, his final favorite pair falls into pieces.  At this point he realizes wearing nothing is a tad bit chilly and a wee bit embarrassing.

So without further ado, it's off to find another pair with mom at Undie World.  Yes, readers, there is an entire store dedicated to underwear.  There are pairs patterned in everything under the sun and under the sea.  There are more sizes than this monster thought possible but nothing, not a single one, is to his liking.  One monster, his mom and a store clerk are discouraged...totally.

Then his monster eyes spy what might be a miracle tucked nearly out of sight.  Could it be?  Monsters gather.  Monsters gasp.  Breaths are held as an inspection and a moment's reflection reveal a truth.


Humor fills Samantha Berger's heart.  As she writes it spills to the page, bringing merriment to this story.  Within every paragraph she supplies a final rhyming word in lines two and four.  The mix of rhythm and comedy elevates the reader's experience.

Each reader can identify with the monster as he anguishes over the loss of a favorite article of clothing.  Experience tells the monster (us) shopping to find something equally beloved is fruitless.  Here is another sample passage.

THESE are my undies!
A sweet work of art!
SNAP!
UH-OH!
My undies!
sniff
They just fell apart!


Readers will enjoy the dust jacket and book case created by Tad Carpenter.  Using a limited color palette throughout this title we are introduced to the colors on the dust jacket first; lime green, red, blue, black and white.  Plainly we can see Monster is happier than happy with the underwear he is wearing.  To the left, on the back, everything is identical except we are viewing it from the back of Monster.

The book case is done in the blue hue.  Monster is pictured identical to the dust jacket on both the front and back but he and his shadow are alone.  On the opening endpapers a red canvas features all kinds of underwear in blue and white.  There are white stars placed among the underwear.  The closing endpapers have the blue as a background shade.  Monster and company are showcased in red and white.  Without revealing more, you will understand the significance of the characters highlighted once the title is read.

On the verso and title pages Monster is wearing a bathrobe on the right carrying a blue ducky as drops of water fall from his body.  On the left is an old-fashioned bathtub with puddles of water on the floor.  Most of the illustrations rendered by Tad Carpenter span two pages followed by two (or four) single-page pictures.

Monster's expressions, large, wide eyes and two-tooth grins and grimaces are true crowd-pleasers.  Notice the details included by Tad Carpenter.  On his dresser Monster has a lamp with a skull for a base.  At Undie World there is a 50% sign next to the door.  The logo for Undie World looks surprisingly similar to Monster's favorite style.

One of my many favorite pictures spread across two pages.  The canvas is black, a textured black, based upon the illustrator's technique.  Across the top, on either side of the gutter, are four pairs of blue and white underwear.  Beneath them are another four pairs.  Monster's head is larger, closer to us.  It takes up a little more than a third of the bottom.  His huge eyes stare at us on either side of the gutter.  His horns are upright.  He is definitely frowning.


Expect laughter, lots of laughter, when you read Monster's New Undies written by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Tad Carpenter quietly to yourself, one-on-one or to a group.  It's packed with fun.  It would pair nicely with Ballet Cat Dance! Dance! Underpants! by Bob Shea.  

To learn more about Samantha Berger and Tad Carpenter and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Both have accounts on Instagram too.  Scholastic in Canada has two interior pages to read and view.  Teacher librarian Travis Jonker who blogs at School Library Journal, 100 Scope Notes, included this title in his 10 to Note: Summer Preview 2017.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Honoring Differences And Similarities

Even within the smaller social units like a family there are differences and similarities in the way each individual makes decisions about what they eat and wear, how they spend their free time or what work they are required to do on any given day.  As groups grow to include classroom, work places, local communities, states and countries the differences expand but commonalities remain.  We are one world family on this planet called Earth.

The more we understand about members of this one world family, the more our compassion will grow.  This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World (Chronicle Books, May 2, 2017) written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe presents a typical day for each of these children.  How do their days contrast with your day?  What things are alike?

My name is

This is how the book begins.  We are introduced to the seven children learning their formal names and nicknames.  They also tell us their ages; ranging from seven to eleven years old.  This information appears beneath the name of their countries, Italy, Japan, Uganda, Russia, Peru, India and Iran.

In discovering where they live three reside in apartment buildings and four others dwell in individual homes.  The child in Italy has a vineyard in his backyard.  The home in Peru was built by the child's father located in a village in the Amazon rainforest.  The children then acquaint us with the members of their respective families.

Some of them can decide what to wear to school each day, others wear uniforms.  Many readers would be more than willing to have their breakfasts for dinner.  Four of the children walk to school but the paths they follow vary; some pass through large cities, another a local community and one winds through eucalyptus and banana trees.  Of their seven teachers only one is a male.

The child in Japan wears white indoor slippers in her classroom.  The child in Peru shares his classroom with two grades and their day ends at one o'clock.  Each of them writes their names differently using a different alphabet except for three who use the Latin alphabet.

Their school lunches are displayed.  Whenever they get to play we see how much they enjoy the out-of-doors even though they are engaged in no two similar activities.  This holds true for how they contribute to the family chores.  What will readers take away about when and with whom the children eat?  As the evening progresses, bedtime follows.  The final line unites them and us.


The technique employed by Matt Lamothe for presenting this information generates a cadence and a thread tying each section together.  It creates equality as it supplies a means for discovery.  Many of them start with the same words.  Each paragraph is as if the child is speaking directly to the reader; a conversation across the miles.  Here are two sample paragraphs.

Italy
We do many activities 
outside the classroom,
like visit parks and
forests, go to museums
in other cities, and put
on a musical at the
end of the year.  We
have school from eight 
o'clock to four o'clock.

Uganda
My brother, mom, housemaid,
and I usually eat dinner
around ten o'clock at night at
our big wooden table.  We have 
matoke with g-nut sauce,
and milk to drink.


Rendered digitally the illustrations are fully animated and replete with details.  From the matching dust jacket and book case to each individual picture, readers will be fascinated with the design and layout.  The matte-finished paper showcases the full color visuals.  From the front where we see children and people who cross the journeys of their daily lives to the left, the back, where each country is named with the children's names, we find ourselves stopping to enjoy the elements in each image.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a map of the world using a limited color palette.  Portraits of the children's faces are within circles with lines drawn to their country on the map, including the author.  The names, city and country are shown.  The verso and title pages are a graphic mix of circles and blocks of four.

This theme of four is followed throughout the title.  Sometimes a page will be divided into four or into three with one of the children's examples occupying two of the places, either vertically or horizontally.  For variety and emphasis Matt expands his illustrations to include an entire page opposite two images on a single page.  The final picture spans two pages...as it should.

One of my many favorite illustrations from my favorite series, This is how I go to school, is for the country of Japan.  This little nine-year-old girl, Kei, walks down a street filled with homes, past city shops and apartment buildings to be assisted by a crossing guard.  The intricate details are fascinating revealing architecture, street and city planning and life styles.  Notice all the writing.


This book, This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World, written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe is a bridge to cultural understanding.  If you, like me, believe our future is in the hands of our children, make sure as many of them as possible read this book.  Use it repeatedly throughout the year for a variety of study.  It is an outstanding book in every respect.  At the close of the book, Matt Lamothe provides full color photographs of the real families who participated in the making of this book.  He also has a glossary and an author's note.

To learn more about Matt Lamothe please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Matt is one of three people at a design company ALSO.  The book is highlighted there with several interior illustrations.  There is a This Is How We Do It Instagram account. On the Chronicle Books Blog the book is featured.  Enjoy the book trailer.




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





Observations

Children learn at a very early age to watch, listen and learn.  Some do this in silence; others tend to display their new knowledge with flair, mimicking what they see or hear.   As an educator, an adult, you quickly realize everything you say and do is remembered...in vivid detail.  To be in the presence of children is a great honor and a huge responsibility.

If we are fortunate they will see value in what we say and do, taking the best part of each experience and fashioning it into an identity they will alter and wear for the rest of their lives.  Someone Like Me (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, July 3, 2017) written by Patricia MacLachlan with illustrations by Chris Sheban is a heartwarming journey through childhood.  It's about choosing what you do with your time.

If you were a little girl
who listened to stories 

These stories were not told once or twice or even three times but repeatedly during the course of this little girl's life.  They became a part of who she was.  These tales were from everyday life but elevated to familiar family legends.

Consuming books like air, fueling her heart and mind, even when her mom was walking home with her from the public library, was something this little girl did every single day.  She learned to be invisible hiding from her parents as they discussed things, hush-hush things.  Her imaginative mind longed for her animal friends to speak.

Like many children climbing to the tops of trees generated a feeling of freedom for her.  Above the regular world a new realm was revealed.  Have you ever wanted to run away?  Did you?  Was it because someone promised you something?  This little girl found people fascinating; what they did, said, and sang.

All these observations of the world around helped her become her true self.  They formed a focus for her life's work, woven into other familiar stories.  The daily directions she chose created pathways for others to follow for generations.

This narrative, a string of lyrical reflections, written by Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan, is a gentle moving piece.  It reminds us of the transformative power of experience and study.  Through her words Patricia MacLachlan supplies us with encouragement; no part of our lives is too small to make a big difference.   Here is a partial passage.

If you were a girl whose great-grandmother loved
the smell and feel of prairie earth,
and ran through the grasses
sending the geese on the slough to
fly up
around
and back again


Rendered in watercolor, colored pencil and graphite all of the illustrations by Chris Sheban, beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case, cast a spell over readers, taking us to a place and time when a little girl uses her senses to enjoy the fascination the world offers her.  A striking use of light and shadow in this first picture as the sun rises asks us to pause with her and her dog beneath the tree on a rise above a field.  You have to wonder what she has written in her journal.

To the left, on the back surrounded in white a loosely framed image shows the girl sitting on the tree branch now, her back to us.  The dog is also facing in the opposite direction watching a line of geese above the field.  Golden yellow, orange and purple color the sunset sky.  The journal leans against the base of the tree.  Golden yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Under the text on the title page a grandmother (great-grandmother) sits on a porch step telling the girl seated beneath her a story.  On the dedication and verso page and the first page, the duo is now walking down a lane as the storytelling continues.

Chris Sheban shifts his visual sizes to complement the narrative, full page, double page, and multiple pictures on a single page.  The colored pencil and graphite creates a textured look.  Chris chooses to use muted colors in large portions of some of the illustrations with other elements in full color for emphasis.  His use of white space is absolutely stunning on two of the pages.  The facial features on all the characters, especially on the little girl, have you wanting to be best friends with all of them.

It's hard to pick a single illustration as a favorite when they are all worthy of framing.  One particular picture I really like spans two pages.  It's a close-up of the girl under the dinner table.  We can see the underside of the table, the kind which pulls out to add leaves.  Her parent's legs and feet are visible.  Her dog, next to the father's chair, is watching her.  Lying on her stomach, head resting on her hands, elbows bent, the little girl, has one finger at her lips in a shush position.  Light from the room filters through the flowered table cloth and shines on the lower portion of her face.

Every single time I've read Someone Like Me written by Patricia MacLachlan with illustrations by Chris Sheban, I am moved by the simple but profound beauty on each page.  Patricia's words sing straight into your heart.  Chris's luminous illustrations envelope you.  I can't begin to tell you how much I love this book!  And I can't wait to share it with readers this coming school year.

To learn more about Chris Sheban and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the publisher's website you can view gorgeous interior images.  Chris Sheban is featured by teacher librarian Travis Jonker on his blog, 100 Scope Notes, Preview: The Crusty Nibs.  Chris is interviewed at LitPick and on author James Preller's Blog.  These videos are two of my favorite ones highlighting Patricia MacLachlan.



Monday, July 10, 2017

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Have you noticed once July 4th has come and gone, retailers start to mark down all their summer furniture and lawn and garden accessories?  Within days the shelves are nearly empty.  Then they start to fill those vacant spaces....with back-to-school items.  Oh my goodness!  Summer is only officially two weeks old.  We still have seventy-nine days before autumn.

For students, some who only recently finished the past year, this can be a little stressful to observe.  They have to face the challenge another grade level brings after recently and finally finding comfort with the previous teacher, classmates and subjects.  Second Grade Holdout (Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, July 4, 2017), a companion title to First Grade Dropout, written by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Matthew Cordell is guaranteed to have readers nodding knowingly as they laugh out loud.

I was a lot of things in first grade.

Our narrator recalls the high (and not so high) points of grade one but the best one of all was sharing the school year with his best friend, Tyler.  Second grade promises to not be as great. His parents are not helping either.

One points out there won't be as many fun tasks assigned to students.  Learning will be his main job.  (What?!)  Since Tyler is going to be in the other second grade classroom he wants to switch.  This request meets with huge resistance.  His second brainstorm has him staying in first grade.

With loads of determination and ingenuity the reluctant guy is quick to reiterate all the wonders of repeating first grade.   

And I'll definitely be the one who's lost the most teeth.

A visit to the zoo is much more to his liking than a trip to the police station.  As Tyler's two sisters start to vocalize all the trouble second grade is, especially with his teacher, Mr. Glazer, panic fills his soul.

He must look ready to pass out because one of the sisters, Sabrina, adds another thing for him to consider.  Before two seconds have passed Jacqueline, the second sister, starts to tell Tyler all the things wrong with Mrs. Herman's class.  Will second grade be a disaster for both boys?  Pfff!


When Audrey Vernick writes about school related issues, friends and brothers and sisters, she does so with keen insight into their respective mindsets.  She understands their emotional highs and lows.  Each sentence (and one particular word) in this narrative connects us to the characters because regardless of finding the remarks hilarious, we have experienced similar situations.  Here is a sample passage.

Tyler's sisters say second grade is really hard.
And Mr. Glazer's class is hardest of all.
You have to learn the presidents by heart.
Forward AND backward.


You know, without a doubt, at first glance this guy from the first book is having issues again.  He's not happy at all to be moving from first grade to second grade.  Look at his face and body posture.  (I can't keep from laughing.)  To the left, on the back, a bird, flies across a partly sunny sky.  He has a totally glass-half-full attitude.

Second grade rules!

The opening and closing endpapers are a bright cobalt blue.  This supplies a pleasing contrast to the background on the matching dust jacket and book case. 

On the title page the text is still placed on the lined writing paper.  Our hesitant hero is now lying on his back holding the sign upright.  The illustrations rendered by Matthew Cordell in pen and ink with watercolor throughout this title are pure Cordell.

Loose lines, exquisite details, spot-on facial expressions and body postures and loads of humor fill his images.  In one picture Tyler is whistling.  Above him a bird is whistling the same two notes.  Matthew's interpretation of single words and phrases will have you laughing out loud.  For 

Unable to sit still
(according to Ms. Morgan)

our protagonist within a loose frame of black is acting like a showman in a song-and-dance routine, his desk and chair tipped to the side.  He has a top hat and a cane.  A distinctive finger (Ms. Morgan's?) is pointing at him.

The picture sizes vary in keeping with the text and the pacing.  Larger sizes convey emphasis. Smaller sizes depict a train of thought.  Toward the conclusion we move closer to the characters' faces building to an unexpected but quintessential scenario.

One of my many favorite pictures is when the main character is recalling his trip to the zoo in first grade.  He knows as a repeat first grade student he will win the scavenger hunt.  Shown on a single page, he is writing down an answer as he stands in front of the cage with a monkey.  He and the monkey are exchanging "thumbs up" and grinning.


Second Grade Holdout written by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Matthew Cordell is a back-to-school story brimming with comedy from a collaborative team with a winning combination of text and images.  They write and illustrate in the spirit of kids-at-heart.  You will certainly want a copy of this to pair with the first book in your professional collections.  I already have one for my personal collection.

To learn more about Audrey Vernick and Matthew Cordell and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Both Audrey and Matthew were interviewed at author James Preller's blog.