Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Will To Build

When you're short (five feet, one inch as an adult) you grow up hearing your dad say, "She's little but she's wiry."  Hearing the pride in his voice made me try harder at everything I did.  It wasn't until my late twenties (high school sports for girls consisted of the Girls Athletic Association and Title IX was not a reality until I had nearly finished college) when I started to pursue competitive running.  In high school I was a huge fan of the sport, attending the boys' track meets.  As a teacher librarian I've not only attended my schools' track meets, but volunteered to act as the official announcer and score keeper.

To be a runner height is not as critical as it is in other sports.  Running is something you can build upon every single day even if you start out walking, then fast walking, jogging and then running.  When you finally place in a race or beat your personal best time, the thrill is immeasurable.  Author illustrator Don Tate's newest title, Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth (Charlesbridge, August 22, 2017) chronicles the life of a remarkable man, who filled with determination, worked and trained and shared his passion and knowledge with others. He, like so many of us, started out small.

In his day, Eugen Sandow was known as "the Strongest Man on Earth."  He could break metal chains by expanding his broad chest.  

Each feat was more incredible than the previous undertaking.  If you start at the beginning though, this was not always true for Friedrich Wilhelm Muller, his birth name.  Friedrich was sick, thin and unable to participate in neighborhood games.

His love of sports pushed him to keep trying.  His successes, academically, earned him a trip to Italy.  It was there where he first saw statues of ancient athletes.  They became his inspiration to exercise more.  And he did but it did not work...at first.

It was when he left the university to join the circus as an acrobat that the exercise began to shape his muscles.  From the circus he found himself modeling for art students.  One of them arranged for Friedrich to meet

Professor Attila, a professional strongman.

This introduction changed Friedrich's life.

In 1889 Friedrich, now calling himself Eugen Sandow, answered a challenge, setting forth all he had learned about being a professional strongman, including showmanship.  The results of this challenge brought his name into the limelight.  From performances in the United Kingdom he crossed the Atlantic to make a name for himself in the United States.  Everywhere he went crowds were dazzled by his deeds.

His shows did take a toll on Eugen until he returned home to heal but that did not stop this man.  He continued to be an advocate for maintaining a healthy body through exercise and eating nutritious meals.  His crowning achievement in 1901, along with many of his ideas and practices on bodybuilding, are still used and respected today.

Even after reading this title penned by Don Tate several times readers will feel through his word choices and sentences a growing sense of excitement.  Don breaks Eugen Sandow's life into sections, like chapters, naming a geographical place with a date or span of dates.  It's as if we are charting this man's path to success.

Each of these sections focuses on one or more events contributing to Eugen's life choices.  They are like his exercises, building toward something better, something greater.  Here is a sample passage.

The Big Challenge
London, 1889
Sampson and Cyclops were the greatest professional strongmen
of their time.  They were brawny.  They were brutes.  They were
loudmouthed, muscle-bound lunks!  Sampson and Cyclops lifted
horses and elephants as though they were as light as feathers.

Each night after their act in London, they roared out a
challenge to the audience:  they dared anyone to try to defeat
them in a competition of strength.  But who would accept such a
foolish challenge?

Eugen Sandow, that's who.

On the opened dust jacket and book case Don Tate shows readers the great strides this extraordinary man made in his life.  Using red with radiating rays, light and shadow he draws our attention to the man Eugen Sandow became.  To the left, on the back, on a background of yellow with a spotlight effect on a circular image we see Friedrich as a youth struggling to lift barbells.

The opening and closing endpapers in shades of brown highlight the performance feats of Eugen Sandow.  There are nine altogether.  It's astonishing what he was able to do.  On the title page the highly prized Sandow statuette is showcased.

Rendered digitally using Manga Studio all of the illustrations except for six single page pictures extend across two pages.  In many of these visual displays the perspective shifts from one side to the other.  This serves to include readers as participants in the depiction.

The portrayal of the people shows them all fully animated with facial expressions conveying a variety of moods.  With each page turn you find yourself stopping and looking to see what details Don Tate includes to represent an accurate time and place; the hoop rolling of children, the playing of violins during a circus act, the hats worn by men and women and the attire of the strongmen.  The text for the beginning of each section is intricately framed.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for The Big Challenge.  In the foreground along the bottom are a row of spectators who have watched the show presented by Sampson and Cyclops.  On the far right with a shy grin on his face is Sandow, carefully raising a hand.  He is wearing a top hat and suit.  On the left, on a stage with a patterned curtain in a rose color behind them, stand Sampson and Cyclops.  There are weights lined up on either side of them.  They are both wearing scowls on their faces.  Their costumes and boots are indicative of the times.  The air crackles with anticipation, especially considering what follows over the next two pages.

We need picture book biographies like Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth written and illustrated by Don Tate.  They inform us about distinctive people who made a lasting contribution to human history.  They inspire us to never give up on our heart's desire.  In the Afterword we are provided with more information about Eugen Sandow.  It is followed by Life Is Movement, four exercises you can do at home.  In an Author's Note Don Tate addresses his own journey in bodybuilding and how he chose to write about Eugen Sandow.  A bibliography, acknowledgements and quotation sources are included.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Don Tate and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the publisher's website you can view the first two page illustration.  A website for this specific title has been created.  It is brimming with information about research and process.  Don Tate visits Watch. Connect. Read., the blog of Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher.  In addition to a Q & A and sentence completions, you have to watch the two videos.

You will enjoy visiting Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected by participants in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Home-Grown Wisdom

When you've grown up hearing anything worth doing is worth doing right it's hard not to strive toward perfection.  You complete tasks over and over and over again, working toward the best possible outcome.  There will come a time, hopefully sooner than later, when golden moments happen.  In these instances it will dawn on you, whether it was planned or not, that you are standing in the midst of perfection.

For some the aim for perfection in one or more aspects of their lives becomes all-consuming.  In her debut title, Grandmother Thorn (Ripple Grove Press, August 29, 2017), Katey Howes addresses this desire for flawlessness.  Her wise, warm, and original tale is enhanced through the art of Rebecca Hahn.

lived in the very first house
on the very straight road
to Shizuka Village.

Day after day this woman worked in her gardens creating a visual masterpiece.  Everything had a place and Grandmother Thorn made sure it remained.  She tirelessly raked her paths in swirls, imitating the flow of water in a silent stream.

Grandmother Thorn valued peace and quiet and a supreme sense of order in her garden.  If it was disturbed you could hear her voice rise in anger.  The only person never to receive rebuke from her was her elderly friend, Ojiisan.

Regardless of the fact his body caused him to carry one shoulder lower and drag one foot as he walked, she only had a smile for this kind man.  He often brought her sweet treats.  After they spent time in quiet contentment in her garden, she re-raked her paths as he left.

During a particularly hot summer day, a traveling seller paused in the village.  Ojiisan was thrilled with the taste of one particular item, insisting the last basket be taken to Grandmother Thorn.  He did issue a warning for the young man to stand at her gate and not enter the garden.

The warning was ignored with disastrous results. Grandmother Thorn raced one way and the vendor raced the other way leaving the fruit scattered.  This woman with meticulous intentions missed something.

Seasons passed and with them a struggle ensued between Grandmother Thorn and a strange prickly vine.  It diminished her spirit.  The return of spring revealed the work of a beloved friend and the marvelous resilience of a member of Mother Nature's family.

There are books you read when the connection is immediate.  You know an author has put their heart on the pages.  This is one of those books.

Katey Howes supplies us with intimate knowledge of Grandmother Thorn's personality.  This is a wonderful piece of storytelling leading us to the friendship with Ojiisan and to the assault on the seedling she did not plant.  In these contrasts Grandmother Thorn and readers can see the value in shifting perspective.

The dialogue woven into the narrative brings us deeper into its meaning.  We get a true sense of the bond growing between Grandmother Thorn and Ojiisan.  Here is a sample passage.

A week later, Ojiisan spotted his friend crouched in the same place.
"I must not have removed the entire root," she said, digging up the offending vine.
"I will certainly get it this time."

Each time Ojiisan visited, he found Grandmother Thorn more consumed by her battle
with the stubborn sprout.  He began to worry.

At first glance our eyes are quickly drawn to the face of Grandmother Thorn on the opened dust jacket.  We have questions about the expression on her face.  What is she seeing?  What is she hearing?  What kind of woman is this Grandmother Thorn?  A closer inspection reveals the array of patterned paper used and the tiny stitches on the branches.  To the left, on the back, the tree extends over the spine and toward the top.  Beneath the branches is the bench where she and Ojiisan sit and chat when he visits.

On the book case a third shade of teal, textured in appearance provides a canvas.  On the front a hair comb worn by Grandmother Thorn near the conclusion is entwined with blossoms important to the story.  The opening and closing endpapers are a series of rows of overlapping fan shapes.  These shapes are a design theme throughout the title.

With a page turn a stunning panoramic, bird's eye view of the village with Grandmother Thorn's home supplies a place for the title page.  Two cranes are flying from the left.  The intricate and delicate details invite readers to stop and gaze in wonder.

Usually each image, painted, sewn and crafted by hand by Rebecca Hahn, each piece of art, spans two pages.  Borders may frame one side in a scalloped edge or a series of panels to show the passage of time.  You will be continuously amazed at the care taken in the stitching of certain elements.  A muted, limited color palette is suggestive of gardens but also makes the use of red and some pink more effective.  At the close of the book, the same picture for the title page is used for the dedication and publication information.  Can you spot the difference?

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Grandmother Thorn needs to heal.  She is resting in the home of her eldest niece, wrapped in a blanket.  Her back is to us.  We are looking through several doors at a landscape with her home, mountains and cascading waterfalls in the near distance.  Ojiisan is in her garden.  Four small folded cranes (wishes for healing) move from the text.  One rests on top of Grandmother Thorn.  The sides and foreground of this picture are done in shades of teal.  The scene outside the home is done in the complete color used by Rebecca Hahn in this book.

This is a quiet but powerful look at how we should welcome another viewpoint of "perfection".  It also reminds us we should never stop learning, regardless of our age.  Grandmother Thorn written by Katey Howes with art by Rebecca Hahn is enchanting with a timeless quality to the story and in the exquisite pictures.  I highly recommend it for your personal and professional bookshelves.

To learn more about Katey Howes and Rebecca Hahn please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Katey Howes has links to educator's guides here.  You can view details from a few illustrations at the publisher's blog.  Katey Howes wrote a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club and at ReFoReMo.  She is interviewed on Karlin Gray's blog and at Writers' Rumpus.  Rebecca Hahn is highlighted by author and teacher librarian Carter Higgins at Design of the Picture Book.  Both Katey and Rebecca are interviewed at Let's Talk Picture Books.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Once A Year

It's one day out of three hundred sixty-five days when you (and family and friends, if you are fortunate) celebrate your presence on our planet.  Every year on the day you were born, depending on the customs of your country and traditions within your family or among your friends, it's a time usually filled with gifts, fabulous food and the merry-making of memories.  On this day, for children, their essence seems to glow.

For many gals and guys, they start the countdown to their next birthday on the morning after the previous birthday.  They leave hints about presents they would love to receive.  They repeatedly mention their favorite foods.  And they secretly begin a list of wishes if they know they will have a cake with birthday candles.  When's My Birthday? (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, September 5, 2017) written by Julie Fogliano with illustrations by Christian Robinson is a lively look at a child who can hardly wait for their birthday to arrive.

when's my birthday?
where's my birthday?
how many days until
my birthday?

The questions keep coming from the eager individual.  They want to know the day of the week for their birthday.  They want to know the season of the year when this event is honored.  They want to know exactly what everyone will be doing.

Three children ask for three different kinds of presents.  Another one declares the size, the flavor of frosting and the number of candles on his perfect birthday cake.  A fourth fancies special foods.

With anticipation building invitations are issued.  It seems as though anyone and everyone is coming to the party.  Any attire you choose to wear is welcome.

Sleep is the last thing you desire on your birthday eve but it succeeds in enveloping you.  It's time.  It's morning.  Today is the day.  It's always worth the wait.

Like the word wizard she is Julie Fogliano casts a spell over readers, bringing us into the joy associated with children awaiting their birthdays.  Each phrase builds toward the special day touching on all aspects which contribute to the best birthday ever; the one we all remember.  By repeating the first three questions within the lyrical narrative two more times a cheery rhythm is supplied.  Here is a sample passage.

will my birthday have some singing?
will we sing so happy happy?
will we dance around and round?
will we jump and jump and jump? 

Certain to create a smile in all who view it, the front of the opened dust jacket promises fun within the pages of the book.  The smile on the child's face represents barely concealed bliss.  To the left, on the back, four hands from four children of various ethnic backgrounds reach upward to grab sweet treats thrown in the air.  When you touch the jacket you can feel the raised white text.  Some of the dots and candy on the front and the back are varnished.

Upon removing the jacket, readers will see a book case covered in green paper.  Embossed on the front is a party hat over a bowl.  A fish in copper foil swims in the bowl.  On the opening and closing endpapers a single row of large birthday candles, flames flickering, are presented in an array of colors and patterns.

On the verso a giraffe and a dog, both wearing party hats frame the information.  On the title page the party hat and fish bowl appear again in color.  Rendered using acrylic paint and collage techniques each image spans two pages.

A superb use of white space is evident in many of the pictures drawing our attention to the animated elements. Christian Robinson uses pieces of print, colored and patterned papers, string, realistic pictures of food, and a paper doily with his paints to fashion marvelous illustrations; each providing a unique perspective.  In reference to winter a child, laughing and holding their arms open wide, wearing appropriate clothing and ice skates, is skating on top of a large birthday cake.  In another scene with a black background a little girl is reaching for the end of a string.  It is wrapped around and tied in a bow on a large gift with white paper and golden stars.

One of my many favorite visuals is when the child wonders if their birthday is in spring.  Three stems fan from the gutter; the middle one in the exact center.  On either side are two large jagged leaves.  Two of the blossoms are dandelions ready to fluff.  The third on the right is a fan of yellow, brush-stroked lines.  A butterfly, a grasshopper and a snail, all wearing party hats and smiles, balance out the design and heighten the happiness.

When you read When's My Birthday? written by Julie Fogliano with illustrations by Christian Robinson you'll wish your birthday is not days or weeks or months away.  You will want it to be tomorrow.  There is total elation emanating from these pages.  I highly recommend you have a copy on both your professional and personal bookshelves.  Make sure you have party hats handy when you read it aloud.

To learn more about Julie Fogliano and her other work please visit her Facebook page.  Christian Robinson's website can be accessed by following the link attached to his name.  To view interior images please stop by the publisher's website.  The publishers have also designed a website dedicated to this book.  It includes information and activities.  Both Julie Fogliano and Christian Robinson chat during a podcast at Publishers Weekly about this title.  Christian Robinson is interviewed at Art Of The Picture Book, PBS News Hour, and Brightly.  Author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson highlights this title on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

One Little Bit Of Green

In tales of fairy there is always magic.  It presents itself in varying degrees.  These signs of enchantment are woven so adeptly into the main narrative, captivating readers; we suspend belief and accept them as truth.  Anything seems possible.

In most of these stories royalty figures prominently.  The personalities of those in power can range from wise and knowing to downright evil.  La Princesa and the Pea (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, September 5, 2017) written by Susan Middleton Elya with illustrations by Juana Martinez-Neal presents us with a queen going to the extreme to make sure the quintessential bride is found for her son.  Shifting the setting to Peru opens a door into the beauty of another culture and the opportunity for a marvelous twist on the original Hans Christian Andersen story.

There once was a prince who wanted a wife.
But not any nina would do in his life.

His mother was making it difficult and he was lonely.  One day a young woman on her way to her castle asked if she could stay at the prince's palace.  It was love at first sight!  The prince knew he had found his lifelong companion.

The queen scurried to the garden, seeking a pea and scheming of a way to prove the young woman's worth.  She ordered twenty mattresses brought to the guest's bedroom.  They were all shapes and sizes.  The pea was placed on the bottom of the stack.  (While the workers labored this meddling monarch lounged and munched on candy.)

Soon the guest was left in her room.  The prince was all snug in his bed, too.  The queen was confident the girl would fail the test.  The prince was confident she would pass the test.

At breakfast the next morning the guest was not herself from lack of sleep.  (She must be a real princess to feel a pea through twenty mattresses deep.)  An overjoyed prince and his equally happy princess exchanged their wedding vows.  The queen reluctantly contributed to the merry marriage day, none the wiser.  Love finds a way to win.

Readers are attracted to a melody made by rhyming couplets.  When words in another language, Spanish, replace the English text it adds another layer to that melody increasing its richness.  Susan Middleton Elya elevates this classic tale using those two writing techniques.

We are transported to another world full of treasured tradition.  Small changes, and one big one, along with the conversations between the characters make this version one to remember.  Here is a sample passage.

The prince said "Come in," but his mother, la reina
decided to test her.  Would this girl be buena?

Mama sneakd away
to the royal jardin
and found a small pea
that was fit for a queen.

One of the first things readers notice when looking at the opened dust jacket (I am working with an F & G.) is the array of colors and patterns on the mattresses and the clothing worn by the princess on the front, to the right.  They will also wonder about the happy look on the face of the princess in contrast to the scowling cat.  To the left, on the back, on a warm brown background with woven patterns from featured textiles, we see a scene from the book when the princess first asks to stay the night at the castle.  As on the front we see a distinction between the expressions on the couple's faces and the grumpy gaze the queen is giving the girl.

Readers will begin to wonder about the presence of guinea pigs beginning on the title page.  Juana Martinez-Neal starts to leave clues relative to the large twist in this variation.  With a page turn a breathtaking double-page picture gives us a panoramic view of golden rolling hills with a river winding through a valley.  Sheep and goats are grazing.  A llama carrying a load of wool stands near the princess on her donkey as she looks into the distance.  The dedication and glossary of thirty-seven Spanish words are placed here.

All of the illustrations rendered with acrylic, colored pencils and graphite on handmade textured paper span across two pages.  The heavier, matte-finished paper for the pages is ideal for the soft shading, delicate lines and intricate details made by Juana Martinez-Neal.  Humor is replete in the looks on the guinea pigs' faces.  Actually you need to look at all the faces of the people.  They tell little stories of their own.  Evidence of the area, Peru, in which this story is set, is seen in the marvelous woven fabrics, the looms, balls of yarn, and wool hanging on lines.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when the queen realizes the princess has passed the test.  This takes place in the kitchen.  To the right three large pans are hanging on the wall.  To the left we zoom in on the queen, grouchy frown on her face.  Her long single eyebrow matches her expression.  Covering her folded arms and shoulders is a hand-woven cape.  The hat she always wears has become a resting place for her cat, who is also looking disgruntled.  Safety pins are attached to the hat in no particular order.  The queen and the cat fill the entire page with a portion bleeding over the gutter.  They look so cranky you can't help but smile and cheer for the lucky bride and groom.

This beautiful variation, La Princesa and the Pea written by Susan Middleton Elya with illustrations by Juana Martinez-Neal, is my favorite version of this story.  These two collaborators have turned this tale into one to be cherished.  You will want to make room on your professional and personal bookshelves for this title.

To learn more about Susan Middleton Elya and Juana Martinez-Neal and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Juana Martinez-Neal also maintains a blog linked to her name.  You can view more images from the title there.  At the publisher's website you can view the title page.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Costumed Curiosity

There is so much evidence of the upcoming holiday, Halloween, in every store now, you feel as though we might have skipped a month.  It might actually be October.  Truthfully, the child in you can literally start to feel the excitement building.

All the remembrances of past Halloween adventures, trick-or-treating up and down the neighborhood streets and hoping for your favorite candies or homemade sweet treats from trusted homes, come rushing back filling you with anticipation.  There are recollections of parents quietly chatting and waiting on the sidewalks while costumed children knock on doors.  Leaves rustle and laughter fills the air.  Two completely charming characters in children's literature return in their own Halloween happening, Duck & Goose Honk! Quack! BOO! (Schwartz & Wade, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, August 22, 2017) written and illustrated by Tad Hills. 

Duck and Goose sat watching as day slowly became evening.  "So, Goose, what are you going to be tomorrow?" Duck asked.

Not realizing tomorrow is Halloween, Goose puzzled by Duck's question, replies he will be as he always is.  As Duck clarifies his request their friend Thistle arrives.  She is being very secretive about her Halloween costume.  As she leaves she issues a warning.

Thistle's final words have Goose spooked.  While Duck dreams of gathered goodies the next night, Goose hardly sleeps a wink.  The following day Duck is dressed as a ghost and Goose dons super hero attire.  Away from her friends, Thistle gets ready too.

As Duck and Goose enter the woods filled with animals wearing alternate identities, Goose looks around anxiously.  His comfort at not seeing who he dreads is short-lived.  An owlet disguised as a flower says the thing they fear the most is looking for them. And it's coming toward them!

In the next several minutes two terrified feathered friends do a 180.  They are, as you will recall, a ghost and a super hero. As the fun-filled evening continues a trio collects treats and memories.

Within the first two pages Tad Hills presents to readers the precious personalities of these two pals as they chat.  By immediately introducing the problem they have to overcome in the form of Thistle's warning, we become further aware of the more cautious of the two companions.  Most of the story is told through conversation.  Here is a sample passage.

While Goose waited for Duck,
he spotted a scary ghost coming
toward him.

"Hello Goose!" the ghost
called.  "Are you ready to go

"Who are you?!" Goose honked.
"It's me...Duck."
"You look more like a ghost to me,"
Goose honked.  "How do I know you're 
not a ghost?

Upon unfolding the matching dust jacket and book case, readers can see Tad Hills has extended his evening sky over the spine to the left, on the back.  This becomes the background for quotations from professional reviewers about the previous Duck & Goose books.  Postage stamp size depictions of all the title are shown along the bottom.

On the front note the body postures of Duck and Goose.  Goose is tilting to the left wary of events to come.  Duck can hardly wait to start getting treats.  The opening and closing endpapers are brushed in Halloween-full-moon yellow.  Around the verso Tad Hills has placed autumn leaves like a frame.  The title page features the pumpkin from the front jacket and cover.

Rendered in oil paint, acrylic paint, and colored pencil the illustrations span two pages, edge to edge, single pages, edge to edge, and within loose ovals.  The images in those loose ovals ask us to pause and focus on the characters.  The details throughout the entire title endear us to the characters but when you see all the woodland creatures in their costumes and carrying their little bags, you can't help but gasp, sigh and grin.

One of my favorite of many, many pictures is the first one.  It spreads across two pages.  The sky is in various shades after sunset; pale blue, purple and peach blend together.  The sky touches the tops of the forest in front of our friends.  They sit on a grassy hill framed by three nearly leafless trees.  Their backs are to us.  We can see their feet on either side of their bodies.  Just a little bit of Goose's bill is showing.  The light in this image (all of them) is marvelous.

Professional and personal collections will most assuredly want to have a copy or two of Duck & Goose Honk! Quack! BOO! written and illustrated by Tad Hills.  These two children's literature personalities have found a place in all our collective hearts.  This newest story about facing fear and celebrating a holiday is delightful.

To learn more about Tad Hills and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  At the publisher's website you can view the beginning of this book.  Random House has a special website dedicated to Tad Hills' books.  At the Schwartz & Wade Flickr page you can view some interior images.  Enjoy the video.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Heal Your Heart With Song

A certain melody reminds us of people, places and events.  A single song takes us to a first dance, a shared memory as part of a band or choir, a remarkable concert or a musical production we will never forget.  Music can motivate us to be our best selves as the notes and rhythms help us to focus on our current endeavors.

Time and time again when struggling to find the silver lining in a moment or day, silence broken by music can magically change a mood.  Sing, Don't Cry (Henry Holt and Company, August 22, 2017) written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez chronicles the visits of a very special grandfather, un abuelo.  As a member of Los Aguiluchos Apolinar Navarrete Diaz is remembered with great affection by his granddaughter.

Once a year,
my abuelo would come
from Mexico to stay with us.

This grandfather arrived with his guitar, singing to his grandchildren every night.  As he sang, he talked to them about his life.  If for some reason either of them were sad, his mantra was

"Sing, don't cry."

This man believed that singing was the key to making a sad heart glad.

Song shrank the unknown; the grandfather and his grandchildren knew about moving from place to place. Song made it easier to accept those things unable to be fixed.  Song opened new doors.

As their grandfather talked and played his guitar the children realized song not only helped him become whole, it created connections to others.  It built relationships.  It made a family.  With every note he reminded them about the power of song.

This tribute to a remarkable grandfather, Apolinar Navarrete Diaz, told by Angela Dominguez is breathtakingly beautiful in its simplicity.  She begins with three sentences recalling his visits when she was a child.  The remainder of the story moves from his voice within quotation marks back to her voice as narrator and closes with his final promise.

This movement of the story between her recollections of his visits and his words could be set to music.  It reads like a song.  By repeating the words,

sing, don't cry

they become the chorus, the link of love.

When you first see the front of the opened dust jacket warmth and affection radiate between the three people.  Even though the grandchildren are embracing their abuelo, he is hugging them back with his music.  To the left, on the back, the two children are singing as they hold their grandfather's guitar upright.

On the book case front the image from the back of the jacket is enlarged and placed in the foreground of the illustration.  In the background their abuelo is seated on the porch of their home watching them.  To the left, on the back, their abuelo is standing with legs and arms apart.  In one hand he is holding his guitar.  His grandchildren are hugging him.  All three are exchanging glances of love.

The opening and closing endpapers are done in shades of a darker turquoise.  They feature five original photographs of Apolinar Navarrete Diaz and the author.  The illustrations throughout this title rendered

with pencil and tracing paper on Arches illustration board with digital color

are brimming with remembered joy.

Some of them are full page pictures, edge to edge.  Others span two pages with a heavy black line as a border.  Angela Dominguez also frames smaller visuals focusing on a particular element.  She has included recreations of original photographs.

A lighter background shade adds a glow around the people in some of her images.  Angela's muted colors and heavier lines combined with the matte finished paper add texture to the story.  I particularly like how she includes hurts and losses from all three lives showing how song helped and new opportunities appeared.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when the children's abuelo first arrives. It spans two pages.  He is leaning over his opened guitar case, lifting the instrument out.  Holding the top of the case is the boy, Angela's brother.  Angela is in front of her abuelo reaching to touch the guitar.  All three of them are smiling.  You can feel the excitement building.  You can almost hear the cheerful voices chattering.

This book, Sing, Don't Cry, written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez is a deeply personal biography of a man who altered his circumstances and the lives of others with song.  The text and illustrations are an invitation for all readers to sing, using the magic of music to inspire change. It also serves to show readers about the lasting relationships between generations.  Angela Dominguez does have an author's note on the final page.  You will want a copy of this for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Angela Dominguez and her other work please visit her website and blog by following the links attached to her name. At the publisher's website you can view several interior illustrations.  Most of them are different than those found at Angela's website.

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.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


In most locations around the country schools have either started several weeks ago or have their first day this week.  There are still some that adhere to the policy of classes resuming after Labor Day but it's happening already.  Amid all the back-to-school displays of necessary supplies (which commenced right after the 4th of July), the colors of orange, black and white are appearing, as early as two weeks ago.  Large grocery store chains are stacking bales of hay showcasing pumpkins, ghosts, black cats and mum plants at their outside entrances.  Inside large box stores Halloween decorations and costumes are filling up the shelves and aisles.  According to my calculations the first day of autumn is still thirty-one days away and sixty-nine days will come and go before we celebrate the holiday of Halloween.

In case you think I might be grumbling a bit about how retailers seem to be wishing our lives away, clearly forgetting to stop and smell the roses, this is simply not the case.  A quick glance at my storage bins will reveal I love autumn and Halloween.  Halloween is one of my favorite holidays of the year to celebrate reading by handing out books instead of sweet treats.  This year there will be a new title among the stacks.  The Scariest Book Ever (Disney Hyperion, July 18, 2017) written and illustrated by Bob Shea is fabulous fun.

I'm a spooky ghost!  Scary, right?

Our new supernatural friend is actually a bit spooked too.  It seems the dark woods we noticed a few pages earlier has him most definitely on edge, although he won't admit it.  His bravado is not quite sincere especially when orange juice is spilled on his white clothing.  It might not have been an accident but does provide an excuse to not visit the dark woods.

He is curious about what we found when we went there.  After our reply he declares dark holes usually yield nothing pleasant.  He invites us to stay with him and participate in his version of scary.  When he finds out what indeed came out of the dark hole, he believes it's a trick to get him to venture into the dark woods.

Each time we readers go back to the dark woods via page turns the ghost asks us what we saw, makes guesses and hardly believes what we say is true.  He then tries to lure us to stay with him offering things like

Spooooooooky doughnuts.

After five visits to the woods with the unseen participant (us) reporting the state of affairs in the dark woods, the ghost agrees to go...to protect us...supposedly.

What he and his black cat see elicits a shriek of horror.  If a ghost could die twice, this one would have been scared into a grave...another grave.  His feline friend comes close and whispers the truth to him.  Surprise! Surprise! Spooky surprise!

The specific word choices by Bob Shea used to create this first person narrative by the ghost will have you bursting out loud with laughter.  The back and forth banter between the ghost and those traveling to the dark woods supplies tension, contrast and loads of comedy.  The ghost's guesses at what is seen and his idea of scary will have readers of all ages delighting in the hilarity.  Here is a sample passage.

You can stay here and help me with the
haunted housework.  We'll tell spooky 
stories and clean the bathroom.

That's scary, right?

It's not very often readers see a ghost looking worried but our narrator shown on the front of the opened dust jacket is very concerned.  His constant cat companion is reserving judgment.  To the left, on the back, on a canvas of yellow are the dark woods.  Among the trees are the whites of eyes gazing right at the reader, as if the very trees are alive.  Next to the ISBN in the lower right-hand corner stand a very spooked ghost and his cat.  I love how this duo is positioned.

The book case is done entirely in an orange background.  On the front are miniature scenes using characters in the story.  They are participating in activities which are the farthest thing from scary.  On the back of the case the cat is sipping milk from a saucer.

On the opening endpapers Bob Shea starts his story with the ghost first peeking through an open doorway and then climbing a staircase.  With a page turn he is cautiously looking out an upstairs window on the left at the dark woods on the right, the title page.  The verso and dedication pages continue the pictorial story with the ghost leaving in fright and hiding behind a chair.

Bold bright backgrounds in pink, yellow, blue, and white work well with the black canvas which serves to highlight facial and body features and text.  This limited color palette showcases Bob Shea's fine lines and cheery details.  The use of varnish to draw attention to the naked ghost (remember he spilled orange juice on his white clothing) adds to the laughter factor.  Bob Shea uses large areas of color and double-page wordless images to excellent effect.

One of my many favorite illustrations is on a black canvas.  The ghost is hovering at the top.  His body is shown in black varnish.  We can see his eyes and mouth.  Extending from the sides of his body are yellow rubber gloves, worn when cleaning the bathroom.  He has just dropped a white scrub brush.  (I can't even write about this without laughing.)

Early this afternoon I had the pleasure of reading aloud The Scariest Book Ever written and illustrated by Bob Shea.  My friend and her two children ages, two and almost five, and I were seated on my quilt-covered sofa.  With every page turn we were howling with laughter.  Bob Shea has a gift for writing stories which generate laughter within all of us.  As I finished the girl jumped up and yelled out loud, "I love this book!"  There is no better recommendation than that.  Please make sure to have copies of this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Bob Shea and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson features Bob Shea, his art and this title on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Here's the almost five-year-old holding Bob Shea's The Scariest Book Ever. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Constructing A Tree-ific Collaboration

It was decades ago.  There were four of us working; three had their own chainsaws.  We cleared more than twenty-five mature trees in order to build a home in the middle of the woods.  The use of a chainsaw is no easy task.

The weight of the saw and speed of the chain can cause injury in a matter of seconds, but when handled with care and skill it is much faster and more efficient than an axe.  It's handy to have so additional wood can be cut to fuel a stove in the middle of a bitter cold winter.  There is a certain sense of confidence in being able to use a tool to help you build a home and then heat that home.  I know this to be true.

Recently I was reminded of the dexterity necessary to fell trees.  The purchase of a new house required the removal of sixteen, one nearly fifty feet tall.  Watching the lumberman climb and cut and climb and cut and lower limbs down by rope generates respect for these people and their accomplishments.  Mother Nature has her version of adept loggers, too.  In Fred & the Lumberjack (Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 12, 2017) written and illustrated by Steven Weinberg (Rex Finds an Egg! Egg! Egg! and You Must Be This Tall) we are introduced to a beaver who is assuredly the Frank Lloyd Wright of streams and forests.

Fred has built his perfect dream den.

It has two stories with a staircase leading to a loft, hand-crafted furniture, a stone fireplace and an indoor swimming pool.  Every square inch is built according to the blueprint he designed, but something is missing.  Fred goes through his den, checking and re-checking everything.


His musings are interrupted by a mighty loud noise in the woods.  Fred has to discover what is causing all this ruckus.  He finds multiple trees cut with smooth edges and stacked in piles.  There are even large carvings and sculptures.

Another resounding roar rips through the air.  Fred finds himself staring at a lumberjack dressed in plaid, carrying a chainsaw and building Sophia's Dream Den.  Yes, readers Fred is totally and overwhelmingly smitten with this gal and her notable abilities.

There is only one thing to do.  Fred has to get her attention using his equally excellent gifts.  OH! NO!  That's a major fail for Fred.  He runs in humiliation (and a little fear) back to his den knowing he literally made a mess of everything.  She is too furious to be his friend.

Now she's standing in his doorway.  She stops and stares.  Hope surges in an apologetic heart. It is a blueprint for dynamic duo dreams.

With his first sentence, a declaration, Steven Weinberg sets the stage for his exuberant tale with one word, perfect.  This opens the storytelling door for how things might not be quite perfect.  It's fascinating how Steven spins the narrative so in Fred's search for one thing he discovers what (who) he needs most.  The humorous touch with his play on words,

sink his teeth into,

the rhythm supplied with Fred's hunting at home, what he finds in the woods and what Sophie notices in his den along with the strategic use of the word roar all contribute to this spirited story.  Here is another sample passage.

What creature did this?
It's so precise,
so powerful
so talented!

As soon as readers see the opened dust jacket they have to grin.  The buck-toothed beaver looking with adoration at the lumberjack pausing in her daily efforts and both of them attired in traditional red and black plaid is classic.  Still looking at the front, on the right, it's in keeping with Fred's skills to have his name depicted in chewed logs.  To the left, on the back, the beautiful blue sky with clouds, the mountains, forest and birch trees continue.  One of the trees is close to the reader, making us feel as though we are stepping into the story.

On the opening endpapers are three map images on log walls.  One is from Fred's den to Sophie's den, the other is from New York City to The Catskills and the third invites readers to write down their name,

This Book is "Fir".
     (HA HA HA!)

The closing endpapers continue the tale of Fred and Sophie.  They give readers a peek at their future endeavors....blueprint style.

Rendered using a collage of watercolor, pencil, and digital elements most of the illustrations in this title span two pages.  This mixture of styles creates a pleasing texture and contrast between the background, other items on the pages and the characters and their clothing. Multiple smaller images are grouped together to designate pacing.  A shift in perspective and font size generates a dramatic effect several times.  Readers will find themselves smiling at the wide-eyed looks on the characters, their facial expressions (although please note the color of Sophie's plaid after Fred makes his mistake), the details in Fred's den's furnishings, and the items used by Sophie.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Fred first sees Sophie.  It spans two pages.  On the left Fred is standing with his legs spread.  Both his arms are raised as he lifts his hat off his head.  His eyes look like they are ready to pop out of his head.  His mouth is wide open.  On the right Sophie has one boot on a stump with the other behind her for support.  Her plaid coat is closed.  She is wearing her gloves, ear muffs and protective goggles.  Her pony-tail is waving behind her.  In her right hand she holds the chainsaw as the left hand grips and pulls the power chord.  There is a gigantic roar.  Sophie is grinning in total joy.

Fred & the Lumberjack written and illustrated by Steven Weinberg is pure fun from beginning to end.  When you think about it, a beaver and a lumberjack have quite a bit in common with their adept and creative use of wood.  In this title, their tools are different but their love of plaid, blueprints and dreams coming true is the perfect foundation on which to construct a lasting friendship.  You will want copies of this on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Steven Weinberg and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  To view interior illustrations please follow this link to the publisher's website.  I am absolutely thrilled that Steven agreed to answer some of my questions.  I know you will love his answers as much as I do.

Was there a single incident or a series of events which helped to form the story of Fred & the Lumberjack?  Are the characters based upon real life individuals?

A little over three years ago my wife Casey Scieszka and I moved from Brooklyn to the Catskills to open a boutique hotel and bar called the Spruceton Inn. So, I mean, that basically threw me deep into the woods, changed my life forever, and has delightfully inspired a whole new way of working. (The opening endpapers include a detailed map to my house.)

But specifically, the beaver in the story is my immediate neighbor across a field from my house. In the scope of time my wife and I have renovated our spot, this beaver has been just as busy. Den, pond, landscaping, etc. It’s really amazing living this close to nature. Keeping tabs on it reminded me of how much I loved to just build with blocks or legos as a kid. So I wanted to find a story about a beaver that BUILDS.

But that’s only half of it. The other half comes from our friends who have two little girls (now ages 4 and 3) who have been coming to visit since we moved. We’ve put them work! The elder Sophia especially. I’ve seen the girl play with a hammer nearly as much as her favorite stuffed owl. I mean here she is three years ago with her dad helping us with the early renovations:

Now I wish I could say one day I saw little Sophia pick up a chainsaw and was like EUREKA! But it’s probably more accurate to say she slowly built the character in my head in between grabbing piles of kindling and screaming in terror that she couldn’t have another s’more.

I read in another interview Steven you have been drawing, originally with crayons, for most of your life.  Do you have any formal art training?  If so, is there something special from one of your teachers (a favorite saying, technique or style) which still serves to inspire you?

I studied oil painting at Colby College in Maine under a professor who had me working harder (and taking art more seriously) than I had ever thought possible. She was a very intense disciple of the Josef Albers and Bauhaus color schools. Which, to maybe a non-art-nerd, means she had us painting color wheels, and color squares, and color fields, and NOTHING BUT COLOR!

It was infuriating at first, but now I realize it was an amazing education. Because everything starts with knowing how color works. So when I’m doing things like painting an insanely pink sunset I can still hear her whispering over my shoulder and asking questions like “have you really truly thought about that color choice?” And in my head I can tell her: “YES. The sunsets really are that crazy here!”

In this third title you have authored and illustrated you used a collage of watercolor, pencil and digital elements to create the images.  Is watercolor your favorite medium?  Why do you favor one medium (or not) over another?

I had been using watercolor for some elements in my work for years, but saw a show of John Singer Sargent’s watercolors at the Brooklyn Museum right before moving upstate. I’ve always been a huge fan of Sargent’s, but never got the time to really study those paintings. They’re so physical! So bold! So unpredictable! It made me take a fresh look at the medium. I haven’t really looked back since.

I’m basically painting watercolors landscapes constantly up here. This is a sunrise view of the mountains seen a lot in the book I painted thinking it could be an endpaper. But art’s funny. I love it, and it sits now above the bar at the Inn, but it seemed maybe too spooky for this story.

You, your wife and your dog Waldo live in the Catskills.  How is it you moved there from Brooklyn?  Did you always live in Brooklyn before moving upstate?  

I’ve been quite a vagabond. I grew up in Bethesda, MD and after college in Maine my wife Casey and I lived all over the world: Beijing, Morocco, Timbuktu, then San Francisco for awhile. Living abroad was amazing for a ton of reasons, but probably most because when I taught English in China and Mali, I realized I wanted to make books for kids. Because no one is a crazy as kids. Especially 1st graders. Here’s a blurry photo of me singing Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes with students in Beijing:

All that said, I’ve loved settling into the Catskills for LUMBERJACK. It’s where this book takes place and I can’t really describe how cool it is to see a sunset one night and paint it into your book the next morning.

I remembering reading your Mom is a youth librarian.  Do you have a favorite book she would read to you or another favorite childhood book?

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Because I’m the younger brother and was basically Alexander all of the time. It just perfectly encapsulates the complete lack of agency kids have. So I felt for Alexander. And maybe with each reading I hoped the book would change and he would get to move to Australia where apparently nothing bad ever happens.

Now that I know I’ll be a dad soon (my wife is due at the end of August!!) it dawns on me how much of a terror I was. So maybe my mom just loved shoving Alexander back in my face to say: get with it! I mean, why was I standing on this table? In bare feet?

You post wonderful paintings of Waldo (dogs) on your Instagram account.  My canine companion Mulan is wondering if there are any plans in your future to write and illustrate a book featuring a dog?

Waldo is named after one of my other favorite characters growing up, the Waldo in the red and white striped shirt. This seemed like a great idea and homage, until we discovered he loves to run away. Yep, just classic. Here’s him where he seems most calm, in my studio:

So I really want to make a book called... “Where’s Waldo?”

But instead of having to find a dog or tall dude in some incredibly complicated jampacked scene, you’d see my Waldo at first running away from me. Then he’s just out in nature doing his thing, heeding the call of the wild, and having a total ball. On every spread the only words would be WHERE’S WALDO? I’d like to think it’d irritate kids just the right amount because they’d be like HE’S RIGHT THERE! Again, and again and again. I also imagine this book would really irritate Martin Hanford. But considering Hanford is one of my favorite kids’ book people ever, I’d be pretty honored to just have him mad at me at all.

If there is anything else you would like readers to know Steven?

Here’s some more images from the book!

AND I’m really excited about the case. It’s just plaid. So fun and simple.

And last last - here’s a new author photo my friend a photographer just took.
In case it wasn’t clear I was living deep in the woods...

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Steven and for including the images.  I simply can't wait for readers to enjoy your newest book.  I think we will be hearing more laughter. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

A Courageous Climb--Mighty Jack And The Goblin King Blog Tour

We've all experienced those moments when the end result of a situation is in question.  A ball is pitched, the batter swings and hits.  The ball soars, seemingly suspended in the air.  Everyone in those few seconds wonders if it is a home run.  Dark clouds swiftly move across the sky, wind whips weeds, leaves and branches, thunder rumbles and there is a flash of lightning.  With a pounding heart you wonder if you will reach shelter in time.  These and numerous other circumstances happen every single day.  And usually we don't have to stand by for long to get an answer.

In works of fiction these cliffhanger scenarios can be particularly tense because readers may have to wait until a sequel or companion title is published.  You are so caught up in the action you don't realize you have come to the last page until astonished you stare at the final words.  You simply can't believe it!  This is exactly what happens in Mighty Jack (First Second, September 6, 2016) written and illustrated by Ben Hatke.  This wild variation on Jack and the Beanstalk leaves you wanting more as soon as possible.  Let me tell you, the second title, Mighty Jack And The Goblin King (First Second, September 5, 2017), is an equally rip-roaring ride in the unexpected.  It is worth every second of the wait.

I'm trying!
Use my shoulder
to--That's it, now--
I wonder-
I wonder where we are?
Let's find out. 

Jack and his friend Lilly are in pursuit of the ogre who captured Jack's little sister Maddy.  They have been climbing a beanstalk but where it goes is out of this world...literally.  This beanstalk acts as a bridge between worlds suspended in space.

Before they can even catch up with the ogre, a mischief of evil rats causes the separation of Lilly and Jack.  Against all instincts, Jack has to leave Lilly, injured and lying hundreds of feet beneath him.  Saved and healed by goblins ousted from their castle by giants and those rats, Lilly realizes the goblins expect her to marry their king.

Finding a way into the castle with assistance from ones he saves, Jack is horrified by the fate in store for his sister.  Her blood and bones will serve to help the giants maintain control of the castle, a nexus point between worlds.  If the device being heated is not feed a human when it is ready, it will explode.  Even Phelix, a dragon friend whose appearance is timely and uncanny, can't help Jack save Maddy.

Beneath the castle, in the sewers, a battle wages, with a spectacular and surprising result.  Laws governing goblins are strange and wonderful. Within the castle, Jack faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  A din grows and a machine growls.

There are battles, physical, mental and emotional, choices and sacrifices.  Nothing will ever be exactly normal for the trio again.  Adventure is there waiting...and needing their presence.

There is nary a doubt about the heart of Ben Hatke.  With each beat his gift as a storyteller is made visible through his words (and his art).  His characters reside in worlds conducive to the events in which they find themselves.  It is the very definition of high adventure.

In this volume we see Jack and Lilly as comrades with a common goal even though for a significant part of the narrative they are engaged in separate secondary tales.  These story lines allow them to mature emotionally as tough choices are presented to both of them.  When Hatke brings them together again, they are a stronger team.

What readers will appreciate is the sense of humor which surfaces throughout this story.  Not only are the conversations in which it appears funny but they contribute to the exquisite pacing.  As the story is told another treat for readers is the marvelous manner in which Hatke answers previous questions weaving every thread together to fashion a fantastical fabric.

 When you look at the front of the jacket and case of this title, you know Jack, his sister Maddy and Lilly will be in a fight for their lives.  You wonder about the glowing-eyed creatures and the rats.  Are they friend or foe?  What kind of place contains all those pipes?  A page turn reveals Jack and Lilly standing on the enormous beanstalk, now no longer going up but across.  A wordless, two page spread opens the story with a single, gloved hand reaching through vines and rocky cliffs.

The art for this book was drawn on laser printer paper with Sakura Pigma Micron pens (sizes 005, 01, 05, and 08) over lightly colored pencil.  Colors were accomplished digitally using Photoshop.

Most of the panels are framed in a wider white border but their sizes and shapes vary to keep our eyes moving at the same cadence as the story.  Sometimes Hatke has images with no words to emphasize a point.  He may place one or more smaller illustrations over a large two-page picture.

I have many favorite images but I can't tell you about some of them without spoiling the story, which I would never do.  In one of the scenes in which you find yourself cheering, we seen a group of goblins in a chamber with Lilly.  They are garbed in cloaks, tunics, helmets and armor and some have swords.  Lilly has just adjusted her wedding attire.  Her stance is determined as is her expression.  She says

Bring me a sword.

To date I have read Mighty Jack And The Goblin King written and illustrated by Ben Hatke twice.  There are specific sections which I have read over and over and over again.  Hatke never fails to entertain and surprise us.  His characters, with their strengths and weaknesses, are inspirational to the core.  This title as well as Mighty Jack is going to be very popular.  I would have multiple copies available.  I am already acquiring some for my Halloween giveaway.

If you desire to learn more about Ben Hatke and his other work please visit his website and Tumblr pages by following the links attached to his names.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior illustrations.  You will enjoy watching this video in which Ben Hatke talks about this work.

To visit other blogs participating in this tour follow this link to First Second to get a full list.