Quote of the Month

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




Friday, September 30, 2016

How Does The Garden Grow?

As any horticulturalist, farmer or gardener will tell you it's a combination of factors which contribute to the growth of plants.  Soil, moisture, nutrients, light and heat play critical parts in its health.   Depending on the hardiness of the plant even the slightest variance can cause a change.  The one constant is a specific seed will produce a particular plant.

Several hundred years ago a tale was told of a young man who traded the last item of wealth he and his widowed mother owned for a few beans.  In an extraordinary twist on the expected within the magic found in fairy tales, the beans when planted grew into a gigantic stalk twisting skyward to vanish in the clouds.  Depending on the selected version of Jack and the Beanstalk adventurous quests follow, eventually leading the lad back to his home.  Mighty Jack (First Second, September 6, 2016) written and illustrated by Ben Hatke is the first in a new series of graphic novels about a modern day Jack, his younger sister Maddy and their friend Lilly.  It's a heart pounding variation with page turns which will leave you gasping and then grinning.

Summer vacation has started but for Jack it won't be typical.  To begin he will be getting up early to take care of his non-speaking sister Maddy to help his mom who is now working two jobs to make ends meet. On their way to a flea market he notices a new girl in their neighborhood practicing with a sword and shield in her front yard.

Distracted at a booth selling books, Jack loses sight of Maddy only to find her at the stall of a clever, wily stranger.  He knows Jack's name, claiming Maddy told him. Several odd things happen here involving a less-than-ordinary gizmo, the man's female companion and the stranger's insistence Jack trade his mother's car keys for a box filled with seed packets.  Against all reason, Jack makes the trade.  After all...Maddy told him to do it.

Fortunately hours later the car is recovered far from the family's home.  In the morning Maddy insists they overturn dirt in the back yard and plant the seeds.  The next morning they continue work in the garden. The seeds have started to grow. The results are weird. An introductory visit from Lilly, the sword-wielding girl, does not end well when some of the plants start scooping up mud and throwing it.  Only Maddy witnesses this.

The next morning everything in Jack's and Maddy's world gets turned upside down and inside out.  The garden is enormous and it's growing things which move, fight and like to chew on humans; doll like onion people, giant melons with even larger mouths and jagged teeth, and pods with power...jumping power.  Just when you think it could not get more fantastic, it does.  Maddy walks into Jack's room late at night several days later with an announcement.

A midnight rendezvous provides answers and questions.  A misadventure the following day ends up with a visit to the hospital.  Lilly has a secret.  Maddy has a secret.  One will be needed to vanquish the other.  Everyone changes.  A hero is needed.  A hero needs a companion.  Mighty Jack is born.


When Ben Hatke begins this narrative with a nightmare, you can already feel the tension start to build.  As smooth as silk he introduces the acquisition of not a few beans but a box full of seed packets, one of the packets containing something dark and dangerous. Each incident and conversation between the characters is a series of pieces fitting into a larger puzzle. (You could, and probably will, read the conversations between the characters over and over again.  They are as real as the wind and rain outside my home for the past three days.)  This is done with the flair of a master storyteller; you sense something growing, something more than the plants in the garden.

Each of the primary characters, Jack, Maddy, Lilly, Jack's and Maddy's mom, are presented with their strengths and flaws.  We feel deeply connected to them.  There is great affection between Jack, Maddy and their mother.  The appearance of Lilly, skilled through her older brothers' love of Renaissance reenactments, is timely, making her a perfect partner.  We have questions about their neighbor Mr. Gooseworth and his talk of Confederate gold.  We have even larger questions about the stranger and his companion at the flea market.


According to the information provided the illustrations

were drawn on laser printer paper with Sakura Pigma Micron pens (sizes 005, 01, 05, and 08) over light colored pencil. Colors were accomplished digitally using Photoshop.

The image on the front cover crosses the spine to the left, the back, the growth of plants dividing the page in half diagonally with six other Hatke titles shown at the top. The introduction to the three main characters is an exciting glimpse into the story but is truly only a brief look at the marvelous adventures contained within this book.  The dedication and acknowledgements give us inside knowledge as to how this story will unfold. They let us see inside the heart of the book's creator.

The panels on each page vary in size supplying readers with pacing.  Each panel is usually framed with an equal amount of white space.  Hatke does include many panels without text.  For maximum impact he shifts perspective and uses light and shading to excellent effect.  His two page spreads and larger images with smaller ones placed on top of them generate a "wow' factor.

I have so many favorite illustrations it is impossible to select only one but the wordless two page picture after Jack, Maddy and Lilly have consumed the pods is magic with a capital M.  The expressions on their faces are sheer bliss.  The body postures allow their personalities to shine. I would be willing to bet lots of readers will want to join them.


Mighty Jack written and illustrated by Ben Hatke is a spectacular series opener.  It's loaded with great dialogue, the right amount of mystery, edge-of-your-seat action and page turns which will take your breath away.  You simply can't read it once. It demands you read it repeatedly. I would plan on multiple copies of this title.

To discover more about Ben Hatke and his other work please visit his website and Tumblr pages by following the links attached to his name.  To view some of the interior images please follow this link to the publisher's website.  I believe you'll enjoy reading this recent interview of Ben at mcnallyrobinson.com.



As part of this blog tour we were asked to name some of our favorite adaptations of fairy tales.  I created a blog post on February 23, 2016, Celebrate National Tell A Fairy Tale Day 2016. In it I name twenty-four of my favorite titles.  Fairy tales are those stories which have been a part of my reading life the longest.  You can always find me hanging out in the 398.2 section of any library.  Please take a few moments to visit the other sites on this tour.  

Miss Print, 9/26

Teen Lit Rocks, 9/27

Charlotte's Library, 9/28

Kid Lit Frenzy, 9/29

Librarian's Quest, 9/30

YA Bibliophine,10/3

Ex Libris Kate, 10/4

The Book Rat, 10/5

Love Is Not a Triangle, 10/6

The Reading Nook, 10/7

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Commanding Performance

It's no secret that communicating with canines can be challenging until several things start to happen.  Humans need to understand how dogs sense the world.  Dogs need to convey their comprehension of their observations.  We can watch their body language, listen to the volume and kind of bark and their response to our verbal language.  It's a balance forging a lasting bond.

Two years ago almost to a day readers met Bella, Ben and Bella's dog in This book just ate my dog! written and illustrated by Richard Byrne.  The book in question has a very distinct behavior problem not entirely solved by the final page.  A companion title, We're in the wrong book!, followed a year later.  Bella and Ben are enjoying jumping from one page to the next, when Bella's dog bumps them into another book.  The duo can't seem to find their way back to the correct title until an unusual encounter in a very, scary book.   This book is out of control! (Henry Holt and Company, October 4, 2016) is the final title in the trilogy.  Bella's dog is responding to commands out of his usual sensory expertise.

Bella was at home when 
someone on the other page
knocked at the door.
It was Ben.
He had a new toy to show Bella.

Ben's new toy fire truck was operated by remote control.  After Bella stepped outside closing the door, Ben pressed the UP button.  The ladder on the truck was supposed to go up.  It did not.  Nothing happened at all. Or did it?

On the opposite page inside the house, Bella's dog was rudely awakened when he and his dog dish were lifted into the air.  Ben decided to try another button, SPIN.  The results of this choice had Bella's dog looking like he was being tumbled in a dryer at an extreme speed.  To Ben and Bella it appeared the remote was still not working.

It wasn't until a fourth button was pushed the duo made the connection.  The remote was operating Bella's dog not the toy truck. You could say that Bella's dog was giving voice to the current predicament.  

Of the ten buttons on the remote Ben decided to try a fifth button as Bella's dog was stuck...on the ceiling.  YIKES!  That most definitely was not the answer to the current crisis.  Bella made an appeal.  Ben made an appeal.  Each attempt made the dilemma go from crazy to absolutely wacky.  It seemed the characters were doomed.  When out of the mess a voice of reason made a request.  If you want normalcy, it all depended on who held the remote.


Simple, straightforward sentences may seem to be stating the obvious but they are appropriately charged with possibilities.  This is how Richard Byrne builds anticipation.  It also allows for the contrast in the likely results and the actual outcomes to begin.  What you expect is not what you get!

The mix of narrative, dialogue and the visual of the remote control with the ten labeled buttons move the action along at a rapid pace.  Readers can't wait to see what will happen next. When they are invited to participate hilarity heightens.  


One of the first things readers are sure to notice on the opened dust jacket is that Bella on the left, the back, and Ben on the front are standing upside down at the top of the illustration.  The rather surprised expressions on their faces are a prelude to the events within the book.  On the back the text reads:

This book 
is having an
EMERGENCY!
It's UP to you to
calm things DOWN.

The book case is a duplicate of the jacket without any text.  A bright spring green and white are used on the opening and closing endpapers.  The illustration is designed to replicate a board game which will be easily recognized.  Each of the squares is numbered with Ben's home at one end and Bella's home at the other end. There is a noticeable difference in the two endpapers.  

Byrne begins to tell the story with his first illustration spanning the verso and title pages. Ben is walking down Bella's Street carrying the box with his new toy fire truck. Each image in the book spans page edge to page edge.  They are designed so the door to Bella's home falls in the gutter.  In this way the reader is looking inside her home and outside her home at the same time.

Splashes of red, the dog's collar and water dish, the top of Bella's hat and her shoes, the fire truck and remote control and the text, pop in contrast to Bella's dog inside her home and the street scene with Bella and Ben.  Careful readers will be rewarded by noticing tiny details; the leaking fire hydrant, the glass bottles outside Bella's home with a note tucked in one, and Bella's dog opening one eye after the door is slammed.  This is preparation for the comedy to come.

One of my favorite illustrations is when Bella and Ben discover her dog is talking after Ben pushes the VOICE button.  The dog, hanging from the ceiling, is opening the door with a free paw uttering the title text along with a cry of help.  In this particular picture Byrne has the speech bubble in red with white lettering.  The looks on Bella's and Ben's faces are of total disbelief.  The remote control, it should be noted, is the same size as the truck.  


This book is out of control! written and illustrated by Richard Byrne is as humorous as the two previous titles.  It surely will produce numerous laugh-out-loud moments as readers try to help the characters.  Not only does it invite participation during the reading of the book but it opens the door to other activities, creative drama and "what-if" writing related to the pushing of buttons on a remote control. 

To learn more about Richard Byrne and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  You can view four interior illustrations at the publisher's website.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mathematics And Imagination

When you first learn about a person, a place, an animal or anything, really, which you find astonishing, you want to learn as much as you can.  Now it's been brought to your attention you are more aware of information in a variety of sources.  It seems as though this person, place, animal or topic is everywhere.  How is it you never noticed it before now?

This is what participation in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge accomplishes each week.  It introduces us to, many times, new subjects in which we are unaware.  It allows us to develop a greater appreciation for our world and its inhabitants, then and now. Augusta Ada Byron who married William King and later became known as the Countess of Lovelace was a woman far in advance of her time, a visionary.  Ada's Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World's First Computer Programmer (Abrams Books for Young Readers, August 2, 2016) written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson is as fascinating as the person whose life and work is portrayed within its pages.

Once there was a girl named Ada who dreamed of making a steam-powered flying horse.

This was, of course, not what her mother desired for her.  A young woman growing up at this time in England would certainly need to be more level headed.  Anne Isabella Milbanke, Ada's mother, was a mathematician. Lord Byron, a renowned British poet, was her father.  When Ada was very young her mother fearing she would follow in her father's footsteps, took Ada and left the marriage.  Ada was never to see her father again.

Ada had a much regimented daily life as a child focusing on studies in music, French literature, mathematics and specific work. Poetry was never allowed.  Can you believe she was locked in a closet if she fell behind in her studies?

It was common for the wealthy to visit the newly formed factories which appeared during the Industrial Revolution.  As a result of these visits Ada's imagination begin to blend with her knowledge of mathematics.  Ada actually studied the wings of a dead crow in an attempt to make her dream of a flying mechanical horse come true.

After a debilitating bout with measles, taking her years to recover, Ada was introduced into society at the age of sixteen.  During one of these social functions she met her longtime mentor Charles Babbage.  His two inventions, The Difference Engine and The Analytical Engine, would be the source of inspiration for Ada's greatest work.  As a wife and mother of three Ada found the time to write an algorithm (what is now believed to be the first computer program) using Bernoulli numbers to be used in The Analytical Engine.  Ada died when she was thirty-six years old.  Don't you wish she could see what her mathematical skills and imagination created?


In the opening paragraph, five sentences, Fiona Robinson shares with readers a dream and a reality.  Through her narrative she takes us on the journey of Ada's life; carefully explaining those events which shaped her personality, that dream and her passion for mathematics.  Robinson includes specific details such as her mother's wealth which allowed them more freedom, covering her father's portrait with a cloth, the schedule of her day as an eight-year-old child, the name of her cat companion, her examination of the crow feathers and the specific people she met as a teen.  Her choice of words to describe those influences in Ada's life parallel how Ada's mind worked.  Here is a passage from the book.

Touring the factories became a popular day out for the wealthy. The machines were thrilling modern wonders. Ada was fascinated by them.  Her mother took her on trips to view these exciting new feats of engineering.  Her imagination whirred along with the powerful engines!  And her mind, so well trained by her many lessons, began to invent!


A first look at the opened dust jacket reveals the unique quality of the illustrations.  To the left, on the back, two punch cards are linked together on the light blue background, creating a space for text about Fiona Robinson's earlier work and the ISBN.  Upon the blue canvas mathematical diagrams have been drawn in white.  It seems fitting that Ada would be featured riding the horse of her dreams on the front.  The three dimensional quality of the images on the jacket and in the body of the book are explained in an Artist's Note.

The illustrations were created with Japanese watercolors on Arches paper.  The paintings were then cut out using more than five hundred X-ACTO blades, assembled, and glued to different depths to achieve a 3-D final artwork.  The images were then photographed.

The book case and opening and closing endpapers are a pattern of overlapping punched cards linked together with string.  Each picture spanning two pages, edge to edge, is a visual interpretation of factual events but also supplies emotional moods.  When depicting Ada visiting the factories five smaller versions of her are found among the moving parts of gears and machines, almost as if she were at a park.  When she is ill with the measles a background of black covers both pages.  On the left is only the text.  On the right is a single bed with Ada tucked under the blankets, Puff sleeping on the spread.  She is holding a quill pen and drawing mathematical shapes which cover the spread.  A limited color palette is used.

One of my favorite illustrations is when Ada was an infant.  The background looks like gray marble. A bright colorful mix of mathematical symbols swirl from left to right, above and around Ada.  Our eyes are drawn to her face, her arm and hand lifted to grasp one of those symbols.


Ada's Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World's First Computer Programmer written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson is an inspiration for the life it presents and for the words and images used to do so.  It's a lovely blend of research and art.  At the close of the book Fiona Robinson includes a note about Bernoulli numbers and a short bibliography.

To learn more about Fiona Robinson and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view some interior pages.  Be patient...the initial cover image will move to the left like a slide show.  You will want to view the book trailer, watch the Vine and look at the other images contained at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's website, Watch. Connect. Read.  I think you will enjoy her responses to his sentence starters.  Teacher librarian and author Carter Higgins chats with Fiona Robinson about this title on her blog, Design of the Picture Book.  You might like to pair this title with Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, October 13, 2015) written by Laurie Wallmark with illustrations by April Chu.


Remember to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the selections for the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge by other bloggers this week.



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Reading Without Walls Blog Tour


When you understand a pattern, method or equation, the mystery of numbers disappears.  In a world full of uncertainty, the realm of mathematics is reliable and steadfast.  It is the foundation of numerous technological advancements and creative wonders.

Computers function using a binary system; only the numbers 0 and 1 are used in a variety of combinations.  This is how code is written to give instructions.  On September 29, 2015 an engaging new graphic novel series was introduced to readers, Secret Coders (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press) written by Gene Luen Yang with illustrations by Mike Holmes.

Readers along with Hopper will wonder why the best school, Stately Academy, in town looks creepy enough to be a haunted house.  It's hard enough to be the new student but nothing about this place gives off good vibes beginning with a janitor looking like he's from the set of a horror film.  Three fellow male students making less than friendly remarks do nothing to make Hopper feel welcome.  In fact, she's mad as a hornet.

Each class and the instructor are worse than the previous class, especially the Mandarin teacher who seems to take delight in giving Hopper the stink eye.  A lunch hour conversation with one of the guys, Eni, makes Stately Academy weirder by the moment.  The birds on campus are not birds.  The birds on campus have four eyes.  The birds on campus are the first step to uncovering secrets with codes, computer codes.

A locked shed, a turtle robot, programs, steps, degrees, and numbers create a very suspenseful evening for Hopper and Eni.  (Think of an Alfred Hitchcock movie with a lot of flapping wings.)  A mishap at lunch lands Hopper in the office with Principal Dean and another conversation with Eni heightens the eeriness of this school.  A secret stairway leading underground, an encounter with Mr. Bee, the strange janitor, a mention of her vanished father and a challenge to Hopper, Eni and Josh (another of the guys who appears uninvited) conclude this first volume in what is surely a cliffhanger.


Beginning where we left our characters at the end of the first book, on August 30, 2016 Secret Coders Paths & Portals (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press) was released.  Readers will hardly be able to wait to open this second volume to see if their answers match those of Hopper, Eni and Josh.  No one will have been able to predict the outcome.


In a puzzling twist of events it is revealed that Stately Academy is built above another long abandoned school in which someone currently worked at the academy is not who they seem to be.  A host of robots of varying sizes (turtles to be exact) in combination with a set of basic Logo commands portray the beauty to be found in programming and the problems.  Another untimely visit to Principal Dean's office plus the appearance of the rugby team members puts Hopper on notice.  Something very strange is happening at Stately Academy beyond what she, Eni and Josh have already uncovered.

Punishment is turned into lessons.  Spies get tied up in knots until a bunch of bullies burst onto the scene.  A mentor is kidnapped.  Bad things are about to happen unless our trio of Coders can come to the rescue.  Can they (can you) figure out a solution? Stay tuned for volume three, Secrets & Sequences.


Gene Luen Yang is not only a highly respected author and illustrator but is currently serving as the National Ambassador of Young People's Literature.  His tenure is based on The Reading Without Walls Challenge.  In this series Yang is making coding accessible to a wide range of readers as he weaves it into a captivating mystery surrounding the school, the school employees and the reason Hopper's father may have disappeared.  Told through Hopper's thoughts and snappy dialogue between the characters we feel as though we are participants in their story.  This is further enhanced when we are asked to stop and think about answers. Here's a passage after a puzzle is solved.

All right!
No cardboard box for me!

Woo! Hoo!
We did it, Eni!

Yes, we did.

Come on, Mr. Bee!
Let's have a look at those secrets!

Not so fast, young lady!
Your first attempt was a failure.
According to our agreement---

According to your agreement, 
they succeeded!
You never said anything about the 
number of attempts they were allowed.

Very well.  Follow me.

Quick thinking, Josh.

Yeah.  Not bad.

Admit it.  Josh rules.


Eh. I wouldn't go that far.

Children, you must promise to keep secret what I am about to reveal to you!


The panels on each page rendered by Mike Holmes are a blend of squares and rectangles of varying sizes and perspectives according to the narrative and necessary pacing. The spare use of color, black, white, gray and green, is a reflection of the early computer screen colorization.  Each image, with or without text, heightens the current mood and strengthens the story.

The facial expressions on his characters are highly dramatic, adding to the tension.  These allow us to easily place ourselves in the same position as the characters.  Holmes' final page of panels, in both volumes, contributes to the cliffhanger quality.

Both of these books, Secret Coders and Secret Coders Paths & Portals written by Gene Luen Yang with illustrations by Mike Holmes will have high appeal to readers.  The clever insertion of coding into a realistic school story filled with intrigue will have you turning pages as fast as possible and reading them again to make sure you understand the coding. To learn more about Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes and their other work, follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  To see interior images from Secret Coders follow this link to the publisher's website.  Interior images from Secret Coders Paths & Portals can be viewed here.  You might be interested in reading this article, Reasons You Should Be Reading Secret Coders at Wired.


As part of this blog tour we were invited to select a title, a STEM publication, from a list of books.  I requested Gorillas Up Close (Henry Holt and Company, April 19, 2016) written by Christena Nippert-Eng with John Dominski, Frederick Grier, Jim Hornor, Eugene Limb, Sally Limb and Miguel Martinez.  Forty-one chapters including an introduction, acknowledgments, author's note, about the authors and an index (176 pages) give us an informative and intimate look at gorillas living in zoos.

Gorillas.  What's not to love?  They're smart, fun, busy, and hairy---from the incredibly cute to the seriously scary.  They're knuckle-walkers.  Vegetarian, too.  Who knew you could become that strong just by eating your veggies?

They have individual fingerprints as we do but they also have individual nose prints.  With each chapter we learn of the distinctive personality traits of specific gorillas beginning with Kwan, a male silverback living in the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.  Through him we learn of the similarities and differences between gorillas and humans.

We come to understand the roles assumed in troops, the importance of silverbacks, teenagers, young adults and younger group members.  We see the reason behind the creation of bachelor troops. The value of play is stressed. Birth mothers and surrogate mothers are discussed.  Every aspect of the life of gorillas in our zoos is part of careful plans based upon years of work and study.

We visit each area of the Lincoln Park Zoo gorilla habitat; the outside and inside areas of Kwan's troop and the bachelor troop. Gorillas go through daily training to stimulate their thinking and growth.  Every effort is made to duplicate life in the wild.  They are treated with respect and dignity.  There are even celebrations for special events in the lives of the gorillas.

Of special interest is the Gorilla Species Survival Plan.  It is a dedicated effort by many individuals and groups to see that gorillas survive in the wild and in zoos.  Several chapters are devoted to watching and photographing zoo gorillas and resources for gorilla research.

Whether you decide to read this book in a single sitting or a chapter at a time, your respect for these magnificent creatures will grow page by page. Christena Nippert-Eng, through meticulous research, presents us with meaningful facts.  Nippert-Eng speaks to us in a conversational manner but widens our knowledge by leaps and bounds.  Her passion for this subject is highly evident.  Here is a sample passage.

Kwan's full name is Kwanza (KWAHN-zuh).  It means "first" or "beginning" in Swahili.  He was given that name because he was the first gorilla born at North Carolina Zoo. He's grown now, and his desire to get up and go helps him stay remarkable fit.  He weighs a whopping 365 pounds and eats sixteen pounds of vegetables and leafy greens with a bit of fruit every day.  His favorite foods include tomatoes, red peppers, lettuce, kale, and any kind of fruit.  He enjoys snacking on crunchy low-sugar breakfast cereals, too, and can pick up a single Rice Krispie with those giant sausage fingers of his.

Gorgeous color photographs by John Dominski and Miguel Martinez are featured throughout this volume, some taking up entire pages.  The close-up shots of the gorilla faces are breathtaking. You can see the unique facial features and individual personalities in each of these portraits.  Great care was taken in the layout and design of all the elements, text, captions, and images.


I highly recommend Gorillas Up Close written by Christena Nippert-Eng with photographs by John Dominski and Miguel Martinez.  As a nonfiction read aloud it would be fantastic.  Older readers will enjoy learning about these marvelous creatures.  To explore some of the pages please follow this link to the publisher's website.

Be sure to enjoy some of the earlier blog posts and those following mine on this tour.

August 31: Colby at Sharp Read
September 1: Jess at Reading Nook Reviews
September 2: Samantha at Forest of Words and Pages
September 5Jennifer at YA Book Nerd
September 6Maria at Maria's Mélange
September 7Gigi at Late Bloomer's Book Blog
September 8Jen at Starry Eyed Revue
September 9Cheyenne at The Hollow Cupboards
September 12Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings
September 13April at Good Books and Good Wine
September 14Cindy at Charting by the Stars
September 15Erica at The Book Cellar
September 16Sandie at Teen Lit Rocks
September 19: Asheley at Into the Hall of Books
September 20: Daphne at Gone Pecan
September 21Mary Ann at Great Kids Books
September 22: Kathy at The Brain Lair
September 23: Michelle & Leslie at Undeniably (Book) Nerdy
September 26Laurie at Reader Girls
September 27: Margie at Librarian's Quest
September 28Victoria at Art, Books, & Coffee
September 29Cee at The Novel Hermit
September 30: Amanda at Forever Young Adult


Monday, September 26, 2016

A Girl And Her Dog/Una Nina Y Su Perro

Navigating through life, even if you tend to be an optimist, is much better when shared with a friend.  If this friend should happen to be a dog, you could not ask for a better companion and confidant.  A dog's affection never wavers plus they probably understand every single thing you say.  They are the best secret keepers.  They dispense advice with a look, a nudge or a tail wag.

If you happen to be beginning another year of school, a dog can get you through any difficulties you encounter.  Juana & Lucas (Candlewick Press, September 27, 2016) written and illustrated by Juana Medina provides readers with an up-close and personal view on growing up in Bogota, Colombia through the eyes of a lovable, lively little girl.  She gives new meaning to the word energetic.

My name is Juana.
It's spelled
J-u-a-n-a
and it is pronounced
WHO-AH-NAH. 

Right away Juana lists her favorite things: drawing, Astroman, Brussels sprouts and Bogota, Colombia.  As she chats a bit about each thing, we learn a little bit more about Juana. When she explains more about why she loves Bogota our understanding of this city and Juana grows.

When she continues her favorite things' discussion including reading, even when she should be sleeping, we learn of her most favorite thing of all, her dog Lucas.  Her seven reasons for loving Lucas are truthful and hilarious.

His vision and hearing are so good that when Mami is making her way toward my room, Lucas gives me a little push with his snout, which gives me time to turn off the light. That always saves me from a talk or two about still being awake past bedtime.

In several chapters we follow Juana from one disaster to the next; a bubble blowing blow-up on the school bus, a ruined lunch box and the contents inside, a math problem fiasco, a toe-stomping dance class, the perils of school uniforms, a futbol game at recess with teammate problems and the worst possible news of all.  Mr. Tompkins is going to be teaching his students the English.  When Juana gets home and her Mami thinks learning English is good thing, there is only one solution to this problem.  She hugs Lucas.

Juana feels like the odds are stacked against her when her neighbor Mr. Sheldon, the local grocers, the Herrera brothers, and even her Tia Cris think the English language offers opportunities.  As she continues to struggle with the new words, a fresh worry starts to bother her. Parent-teacher conferences are coming.  On the day of the meeting her grandparents, Abue and Abuelita, arrive after school to take her to their home. Juana is very grateful to notice they also bring Lucas.

During her visit with them, her grandpa, Dr. Rosas, a neurosurgeon, explains the importance of English to him.  Juana is amazed. Then he reveals a plan, an epic plan.  Juana knows she must devote all her efforts to learning English.  If she succeeds, Mr. Shelden, the Herrera brothers and Tia Cris will share in her accomplishments.  If she succeeds her Mami and Abue and Abuelita will share an out-of-this-world adventure with her.  Lucas already knows what will happen because best furry friends are special.


Within these short eleven chapters the zest in which Juana greets every situation is made abundantly clear to readers. Juana Medina brings us into the everyday events with truth and humor.  We are made aware of those things Juana really loves and those things she distinctly dislikes.  Throughout the narrative Medina asks us to pause when she writes variations of

I love___________ 
LOVE. IT. 
And here's why: 

Spanish words are sprinkled in sentences. Given the context we can figure out their meaning.  It's a wonderful way for English-speaking readers to learn and for Spanish-speaking readers to connect.  Here is a passage from the beginning of chapter four.

Back inside, in Mr. Tompkins's clase, it feels like a sauna, and after that intense futbol game, this classroom is seriously stinky. Even stinkier than after dance class, and that's a lot of stinky!
We might have fallen asleep at our desks in the stuffy room if Mr. Tompkins hadn't anunciado
"Ladies and gentlemen!
Are you ready for a ton of fun?"
When a grown-up says something is going to be a ton of fun, it means there will be NO FUN AT ALL.  Not even a single bit of fun. Nada de fun.


Rendered in ink and watercolor (I am working with an F & G.  All the illustrations are in black and white but the final copy will be in full color.) the illustrations are full of animation.  The smile on Juana's face on the front of the book case hints at the fun to follow.  Lucas is a patient pal in everything she does and almost wherever she goes. Every page turn has a picture.

Juana Medina alters the image sizes and perspective to enhance her text, supplying us with the true emotional moods Juana experiences.  She has the ability to convey much with small lines and dots.  Another important feature of this title is the shifting size and placement of the text for emphasis.

One of my many favorite illustrations is in the first chapter.  Taking up the bottom half of two pages spreading from edge to edge is a scene in Juana's bedroom. From the right and crossing the gutter is her window giving readers a view of the city of Bogota.  Juana is reading with a flashlight under her covers on the left.  Lucas is sleeping with his head next to her.  The word contentment comes to mind.


The first in a series Juana & Lucas written and illustrated by Juana Medina is a charming, insightful look at the world of a girl growing up in Bogota, Colombia.  The intended audience will easily relate to the ups and downs in Juana's life. The underlying current of humor in the text and pictures will touch all readers.  I highly recommend this title especially as a read aloud.

To discover more about Juana Medina and her work please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog at Tumblr.  You can view an inside spread at the publisher's website.  Here is a publisher generated A Q & A with author-illustrator Juana Medina about this title which is wonderful.  Here is a link to a series of flash cards in Spanish and English featuring Juana and Lucas on the Spanish cards.  Make sure to read the article, A Girl and Her Furry Amigo | Up Close with Juana Medina in School Library Journal.  Juana Medina is featured with two other Latina illustrators here.







Friday, September 23, 2016

Waiting And Wishing

One of the things I remember most about my classroom years, kindergarten through high school graduation, is knowing the answers over and over again but being too afraid to raise my hand.  I was painfully quiet except when with close friends.  My solace was in books; books allowed me the freedom to be everything I felt inside on the outside as long as I was reading.

Upon finding out a speech class was required for all incoming freshmen in college, I felt true fear.  What saved me were grim determination and a deep desire.  Teaching was my passion.  If I was going to teach and teach well, this shyness had to go.  In our speech class we were given the opportunity to give our speech the week before it would be graded.  Every single time I not only elected to do this but also volunteered to go first.  To fulfill a dream I forced the fear away.

Reading a book about a character who views their world in much the same way we do ours, encourages us.  Shy (Viking, September 27, 2016) written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman is a book which calls to readers as soon as they see the title.  Let's answer the invitation!

Shy was happiest between the pages of a book.

If a book offered possibilities in a place other than where Shy resided, it was wonderful.  Books about birds, all types of birds, were Shy's favorite kind of books.  Do you think it was because they could fly away?  Do you think it was because they had such a panoramic view of the world?

He knew birds were champion singers of songs, but Shy had never heard a bird sing.  Wait a minute.  That was a real bird singing.  That's a real bird singing near Shy.

Shy wanted to say something but what if he got tongue-tied or worse yet started talking a mile a minute without making a lick of sense.  While he was debating what to do, the bird flew away.  The bird and her song were so lovely, Shy finally made a decision.  He followed the bird.

The world, the vast wide world Shy walked through, was more beautiful than he had imagined.  He could hardly believe all the animals he was seeing.  Quite unexpectedly bird song filled the air; lots of birds' songs. Would Shy find his special golden yellow bird?  Then his heart filled with joy.  She was here.

He could hardly wait to speak with her.  Being in the presence of this bird opened a door long closed inside Shy.  Darkness came and all the birds left; Shy's happiness going with them.  He had waited too long. Returning home, Shy found comfort where he always had.  Would Shy hear the song he loved again?  And if he did, what would Shy do?


With nine carefully chosen words Deborah Freedman piques our curiosity. Who is Shy?  Why is he happiest between the pages of a book?  What do the words between the pages of a book mean in reference to this story?  With a page turn the following sentence completes the spell surrounding us with magic which never leaves, growing stronger sentence by sentence.  We care deeply for Shy whoever or whatever he is.

Two times we read Shy's thoughts as he gets close to speaking with the golden yellow bird.  We understand his desires and the dilemma he faces.  In a marvelous classic stroke of storytelling brilliance Freedman uses a third scenario to reveal Shy's identity and to unfold the results of a decision.  The song the bird sings

treep treep troo-lee

is true bliss to read aloud.  Here is a passage.

He made his way over acres and acres...
Shy felt like he was walking through one of his books,
though it was all far more wondrous
than it ever looked in pictures.


As soon as you open the dust jacket the natural color palette on the single image pulses with peace and quiet.  Nineteen animals of land and air are walking or flying toward and around the title text except for the ostrich with its head in the sand.  A tiny mole noses the ISBN.  (I am working with an F & G.)  Every delicate line and soft stroke of her brush works to create the essence of shyness.  On the title page using the same hues but slightly lighter,  Deborah Freedman has the golden yellow bird turning up the lower right-hand corner of the page as if to say...come, please read this story.  For the next three page turns various shades of the golden yellow are used as the narrator speaks about Shy.

On the third image the top book in the stack of volumes on birds is open to a scene of pale sky blue on white with the golden yellow bird flying from left to right.  When the bird becomes real in the next picture it's like we've zoomed in on the open book.  Freedman maintains variations on these golden yellow and blue colors until the animals and chorus of birds appear.  In a breathtaking change of background she adds rich, dusty reds and oranges as the sun sets. Her night skies are like a comfy blanket.

When the identity of Shy is shown to readers, they will gasp at his placement, color and what he says.  In fact, in every single visual, rendered with pencil, watercolor and bits of colored pencil assembled in Photoshop, all of the elements work to provide a sense of stepping into serenity as if it's a place instead of a state of being.  Details like the faint titles on the spines of the books, notes of songs shown as circular bubbles and the birds in full color with the other animals watching them in more muted tones work to give readers masterful illustrations.

One of my favorite images of many is when the focus of the picture is on seven birds.  It is when Shy discovers his golden yellow bird is present and singing.  Eight faint large circles are positioned around them.  Beneath them, much smaller in scale, readers will be able to find ten animals gazing upward, all of them happy to see and listen to the birds.  The background is pale blues, greens, yellow and brown in overlapping sloping hills.  You want to walk right into this picture joining the animals.


A timeless tale of being afraid but finally willing to follow what you want most, Shy written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman will resonate with readers of all ages.  It's the desire to express your love of something or someone which will give you the confidence you need.  You can't put a price on the reward which fills your heart. The pacing in the text and illustrations and the manner in which they enhance one another is stunning.

To learn more about Deborah Freedman and her other work please follow the links attached to her name to access her original and more recent websites.  You can view my favorite picture and another image at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  There's still time to visit this very special website dedicated to Shy.




UPDATE:  Deborah Freedman wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club on September 25, 2016 about this title.  She speaks about her idea of a book; every inch available to an author and an illustrator.

UPDATE:  Deborah Freedman is a guest on All The Wonders, Episode 291 hosted by teacher librarian Matthew Winner. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In The Darkness Dwells...

When you move into a new house, go to stay someplace else on vacation for a week or two or visit friends in their home for several days, it takes time to adjust to the room arrangements and where things are placed in those rooms.  If you are used to a light switch being on a certain side of a doorway when you enter a room and it's not there, it can be a little bewildering for a few seconds especially if it's dark.  It can be more disconcerting when you're in a strange room at night during a storm and the lights suddenly go out.

As you are trying to navigate in the total blackout your senses are heightened. You might see or hear something real or imagined.  I Will Not Eat You (A Paula Wiseman Book, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 6, 2016) written by Adam Lehrhaupt with illustrations by Scott Magoon is about a very specific dark place with a very particular inhabitant.  You are definitely going to be surprised several times.

Theodore lived in a cave.
It was a quiet cave,
and that's the way he liked it.

A chatty bird flapped its wings outside Theodore's cave one morning.  It made so much noise he wondered if the bird was offering to be his next meal.  There was not even the slightest inkling of emptiness in Theodore's stomach so he quietly told the noisy creature to leave.

"I will not eat you."

After the bird left a howling wolf approached the darkened entrance.  Again the thought popped into Theodore's head about consuming this beast.  A little more irritated this time, he told the annoying canine to move away from his cave.  He was not hungry.

A third animal, one of the largest of the big cats, strolled up to the cave growling.  Theodore was certainly not hungry and did not like the noise.  He told the uninvited guest to go.  By now afternoon had turned into evening.

To Theodore's amusement (insert eye roll) a boy rode his toy horse to the cave and gave a loud roar.  By this time the state of Theodore's belly was changing.  In a loud voice, far from welcoming, he told the irksome child to skedaddle or he would, without a doubt, gobble him up.  What did this boy do in the face of danger?

What he did was the proverbial last straw.  Theodore raced from the cave in hot pursuit.  The boy ran. Theodore ran.  This went on until something extraordinary happened not once but twice. The results are quite unbelievable.  And the last line...be prepared to laugh out loud.


When Adam Lehrhaupt spins a tale, you know nothing is going to unfold exactly as you might expect.  In this book he lures readers into the center of the story with the three animal visits to Theodore's cave.  The musings of Theodore form a repetitious pattern with the dragon's replies showing his increasing exasperation. The short spirited narrative and dialogue are utterly perfect leading us unknowingly toward the surprises after the fourth "guest" or "entree" appears.  Here is a sample passage.

But Theodore wasn't hungry.
"Go away, loud wolf," he grunted.
"I will not eat you."
The wolf jogged away.


It's the darkest part of dark on the dust jacket; the varnished, bright, golden text (hand-lettered) accentuating the cave entrance with the menacing eyes.  What could possibly be inside that cave? To the left, on the back, among the forest foliage we see three more pairs of eyes, alluding to the appearance of these creatures in the story.  On the book case all is revealed during the light of an early spring morning in the future. All four visitors happily surround the cave opening.  The two glowing eyes look directly at us.  (Readers will notice the change in elements of the boy's attire.)  The opening and closing endpapers are vastly different.  On the first the forest scene is bleak in shades of black and gray like late November.  On the second the sky is awash in the color of new day.  The trees are full of leaves.  There are flowers around the cave.

Scott Magoon's digitally rendered illustrations begin to put a singular enhancement on the story on the verso and title pages. The blush of early morning in autumn in the forest greets readers in a two-page image.  All of the pictures span both pages, edge to edge.  By the change in the color palette for the sky and flora we see the shift in time of day and the seasons.  The eye color of Theodore reflects these differences.

In the one visual where all we see is the darkened interior of the cave, the ground in front and the eyes, the entire tension of the story is intensified.  It makes the approach of the boy more startling.  Carrying his stick pony, a shining flashlight, a shield (a garbage can lid with a star painted on it) and his wooden sword and wearing a blanket cape and muddy boots, he is the classic figure of a knight of the royal boyhood realm.  In keeping with darker colors, a shadow of Theodore gives us our first hint of his identity.

One of my favorite illustrations is for the moments before the double surprises are revealed.  On the left is a close-up of the boy's face. He's covered in muddy streaks and flowers.  His mouth is wide open.  In the beam of his flashlight we see the grandeur of the dragon, wings outstretched, tail behind the boy and standing tall.  Whiskers shoot out from either side of his nose. His eyes are full of amazement or amusement.  Flowers surround his head and face.  His mouth is wide open too.  The colors of black, hues of blue, white, golden yellow, red and brown make for a striking image.


I Will Not Eat You written by Adam Lehrhaupt with illustrations by Scott Magoon is a delightfully dark story which will leave you guessing more than once.  It invites participation with the reoccurring phrases.  You'll want to get your props ready to use this book in a creative drama storytime.

To learn more about Adam Lehrhaupt and Scott Magoon please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Scott Magoon has numerous images on his site showing the illustrative process for this title.  At the publisher's website you can view six interior images.  Both Adam and Scott are interviewed by educator Dylan Teut about this book on his site Mile High Reading.  Scholastic News Kids has an interview with Scott Magoon.


UPDATE:  The book trailer premiere is up at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog Watch. Connect. Read. today, September 23, 2106.  It's perfect!