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Monday, September 18, 2017

Bob, Not Bob! Written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick with pictures by Matthew Cordell. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2017. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"Today, Little Louie's
nose was clogged.

His ears crackled
and his brain felt full.
(He didn't know of what.)

But mostly, his nose.
It was disgusting.

Little Louie didn't want to color."

I defy you to read this book aloud before you have done a lot of work on the voice needed to share it. In fact, the directions on the front cover are clear: 'to be read as though you have the worst cold ever'. I want to hear my friend Don read it!

It is funny, and very, very ingenious. And a test for your storytelling skills! Louie has a COLD. I mean, it is a cold of colossal proportions. He is disconsolate. The only 'thing' that brings comfort is his mom! Maybe hot chocolate? It not even a close second to the attention needed every three minutes from his mother. You know those days, don't you?

Hearing his cries for Mom which sound more like BOB than MOM, his Great Dane, ever responsive, slobbering dog Bob comes quickly to his rescue. Bob is ignored in a plea for BOB! To say Bob the dog is confused is an understatement. With each demand made of his mom, Bob comes running. So funny! Kids will be howling with excitement.

Matthew Cordell is the perfect artist for capturing the craziness of the situation. Bob drools endlessly and everywhere; Louie's head expands as his cold worsens; his mom's patience is in jeopardy; the ever expanding mess of an untended home is evident; until, one afternoon of total bed rest (with mom and Bob) brings lasting relief. Unfortunately, it is not the case for Mom.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

THE SECRET PROJECT, by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane Books, Simon and Schuster. 2017. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"Outside the laboratory, nobody knows they are there. Outside, there are just peaceful desert mountains and mesas, cacti, coyotes, prairie dogs. Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, artists are painting beautiful paintings. Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, Hopi Indians are carving beautiful dolls out of wood as they have done for centuries."

With all the rhetoric being reported between the United States and North Korea in the past month, I think this book is highly appropriate for sharing in homes and classrooms. Look for it at your library or in your favorite bookstore. It is sure to inspire conversation and connections to current world affairs.

Jonah Winter does a first-rate job of introducing readers to the development of the first nuclear bomb. It will cause readers to think and ask questions about the scientists who worked under mysterious circumstances to build that bomb.

"Night and day, the greatest scientists in the world
conduct experiments and research in the laboratory.
They are working on something they call the "Gadget."
What they are trying to invent is so secret,
they cannot even call it by its real name."

Jonah manages to capture the intensity of the work alongside the majesty of the desert environment. The color of the outside world shifts to the darkness and obscurity where those scientists work secretly, without rest. Readers are witness to the work, and the events that lead to the countdown to detonation.

"Crouching down in their bunker,
the scientists prepare themselves
for something so loud,
so earth-shattering,
so huge,
it is hardly even imaginable."

Jeanette Winter's artwork is exemplary, using black (and darkness) to great effect in creating a mood that is memorable and frightening. The utter blackness of the final spread, following the spectacular images of the bomb's power reflects the silence it inspires.

 It is an 'awesome' introduction to a very scary time in history, though none of that is mentioned until a very informative and frightening Author's Note. In it he includes this " ... as of 2016, there are 15,700 nuclear weapons still in existence throughout the world. Hopefully some day that number will be zero.” Or, perhaps that number is on the rise. The facts are in the text of the book. Mr. Winter's own comments are in the note he places in back matter. It is not written with a message for readers.

Jonah Winter believes:

"As a nonfiction author, my job is to tell the truth.   And my mission as an author is to introduce young children to chapters of history which have been systematically omitted from their education. For instance, the making of the atom bomb – the topic of my book, The Secret Project. It’s a picture book about how scientists and the American government created the first nuclear bomb.   Their collective motivation as a character, as they were creating their “gadget” (as they euphemistically referred to it), was to conceal. My motivation as a character, in this book and various books I’ve written for children, is to reveal."

He and his mother, a brilliant and gifted artist, ensure that all readers will know this part of history.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Tony, written by Ed Galing and illustrated by Erin E. Stead.A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017.$23.99 ages 3 and up

" ... and pulled a milk
truck for Tom, the young
Tom Jones,
in the early hours of the
pulling the wagon loaded
with milk, butter,
and eggs ... "

Tony and Tom are of a bygone age. Their love for each other and the work they do together is fully in view here, through words and pictures. I love this quietly beautiful homage to community and the past.

Before delivery trucks and big grocery stores, families bought butter, eggs and milk from delivery horses and their drivers. Ed Galing obviously had a love for one of those horses.

" ... but I was up, and would
go out and pat Tony with
my gentle arms, and
his head would bow down
and his eyes would glow ... "

He quietly describes the nightly visits in a gentle poem, inviting readers to share that earlier time. Erin E. Stead uses Gomuban monoprinting and pencil for her reminiscent images that show what each day was like for Tony and Tom as they provided a service remembered only by those who lived back then. The warm glow from the barn light is matched by streetlamps along the way, the porch lights that welcomed the two at houses on their route, and finally the joy of dawn. The pencil sketching in soft green and grey allows for a textural and detailed portrait of the horse, and his work.
Children with their natural affinity for animals will admire everything about Tony, a horse remembered and honored here with great affection.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Ring Bearer, written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Philomel, Penguin. 2017. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"The music starts and Sophie
takes off. Grandpop nudges
Jackson to get him going, too.
Jackson walks slow and steady
while Sophie skips ahead,
ignoring Grandpop's advice.

Mama's having a wedding,
and Jackson has
an important job to do,
no matter what ... "

No one is more fun to watch at weddings than the children in attendance, especially those who are part of the ceremony itself. You never know what might happen. You know, for sure, they are going to be precious to watch. It is, with great delight, guests gaze on in wonder as they make their way up the aisle. Later, they will join in the merriment with less pressure for performance, thank goodness.

Jackson is ring bearer for his mom's wedding. Sophie is the flower girl for her dad. The two youngsters, who will soon become a new family, have an important role to play. Jackson is a bundle of nerves, wondering how this new family will work, and worrying about the very important job he has during the ceremony.

"Jackson smiles on Bill's shoulders,
but inside he thinks, Mama's having a wedding
and I have to carry the rings,
but I don't want to trip in front of everyone
and mess it all up.
Maybe Bill should
carry the rings!"

Sophie has no such worry, hurrying off with her basket in hand and strewing flower petals at a furious clip as she goes. When he notices that Sophie is heading for disaster, Jackson quickly assumes the 'big brother' role and sets things right!

Perfection! This family story is shared with warmth and great affection. Simply told and easy to follow, it is also sharp and expressive in comparing Jackson's two roles ... at the wedding and in the new blended family. Reassuring and accompanied by Floyd Cooper's winning portraits of the day's stars and wedding scenes, it's the 'just right' gift for those who assume such important duties on a very memorable day.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White, written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $26.50 ages 8 and up

""It is unnerving to be told you're bad for children," Andy confessed. But he learned two things from writing Stuart Little: a writer's instinct is his best guide, and "children can sail easily over the fence that separates reality from make-believe. A fence that can throw a librarian is nothing to a child." Later in the same year that book came out ... "

Continuing on a writer's theme today, I want to share another superb picture book biography. In this celebration of beloved author E. B. White, Melissa Sweet does double duty.  She shares his life story with great success, while also creating remarkable artwork to accompany her luminous text. She is an admirer and does all she can to provide readers with an expert accounting for his life and work.

The three years she spent working on it were filled with many discoveries; first, through a relationship with Mr. White's granddaughter who provided access to primary sources that included photos, notes, drafts, letters, sketches; next, through keen attention to his many writings from childhood journals to his work at The New Yorker, to his much loved books for children; and finally, to his barn where she found inspiration for much of her artwork. This is a carefully and beautifully researched portrayal.

E.B. White had a lifelong career as a writer. He wrote as a child with the encouragement of his parents and family. He wrote for The New Yorker throughout his lifetime, while also penning the three children's classics that have so endeared him to children, their parents and their teachers - Stuart Little (1945), Charlotte's Web (1952), and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970). He was co-editor of The Elements of Style, a book used by many writers, some of whose quotes concerning its impact on their own writing are included here and much appreciated.

"The poet Joyce Sidman, a Newbery honoree, writes, "White's points in his "List of Reminders' are the fundamentals on which I have built my own writing style. 'Be clear' but 'Do not explain too much' and 'write with nouns and verbs' would be, indeed, the recipe for good poetry."

Gorgeous collages feature watercolor illustrations, homemade paper, wood scraps, and maps merged with cartoons, family photographs, handwritten rough drafts, and other archival material. It is an artistic wonder. An author’s note, an afterword by White’s granddaughter, source notes, a selected bibliography, and a chronological list of his books bring the book to its conclusion.

There is so much to see and savor in this original, stunning and innovative labor of love! I could go on and on. I am sure you have had enough - so, I will simply suggest that you find a copy, fall in love with its story and art, and place it tenderly on your 'keepers' shelf, as I have done. 

If you are interested in knowing more, please check out this link:

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Poem for Peter, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, with pictures by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson. Viking, Penguin. 2016. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"From the hand of a man
whose life and times,
and hardships,
and heritage,
and heroes,
and heart,
and soul
led him to you.

Yes, you, little boy ... "

As a long-time fan of Ezra Jack Keats and his work, I was delighted to learn that Andrea Davis Pinkney had written a picture book biography starring the man himself. I did not know Peter would play such a role in the telling. What a marvelous feat it is!

Using poetry to tell the story of  a child of Polish immigrants seeking refuge from the oppression of Jews, Ms. Pinkney delves deeply into his life, his love of art, his motivation to share Peter with the world in The Snowy Day. Life in America was not easy for the Keats family. 'Jacob Ezra Katz' felt the sting of discrimination in his own life.

Still, there was wonder in the world.

"But when it snowed,
oh, when it snowed!
Nature's glittery hand
painted the world's walls a brighter shade.

Snow made opportunity and equality
seem right around the corner.
Because, you see, Snow is nature's we-all blanket.
When Snow spreads her sheet, we all glisten.
When Snow paints the streets, we all see her beauty."

After stops and starts along his artistic path, and harboring his childhood dream of making art his life's work, Jack returned to a world where jobs were scarce for Jews ("No Jews Need Apply"). He changed his name to make life somewhat easier, and it did.

"Discrimination had formed Ezra's
understanding of what it meant to be
This also led to you, brown-sugar boy."

The photos of a cherubic, confident child - ones Ezra had cut from a Life magazine years before - and a chance in 1954 to illustrate a picture book someone else had written was just the beginning for this amazing artist.

"And then, Ezra's invitation came
to write and illustrate his own story.
And then - oh, then - you!
You popped up!
You! Ezra's true jubilation.
You had been waiting to be born.
And yet, you were there all along."

1962 - the first mainstream children's book to present a child of African-American heritage in a leading role. What a wonder! Peter was embraced by children and adults alike. He remains a favorite character for my grown kids. He will find his way into my granddaughters' hearts. Today, we continue to share Mr. Keats wonderful books in families and classrooms.

The writing is brilliant and memorable. I have returned to this book time and again to savor the telling. Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson bring their formidable talent to creating the collage images that pay respect to the man and the boy, their world and their stories. It is an impressive and unforgettable collaboration.

Back matter includes Ezra's Legacy, Keats, The Collage Poet, a bibliography and a list of sources.

"He dared to open a door.
He awakened a wonderland.
He brought a world of white
suddenly alive with color."

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Fog, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Kenard Pak. Tundra Books, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"Happy to see a human again,
Warble offered her insects to eat.

She liked them.

The human, in return, offered
Warble gifts and showed him
how to fold intricate paper

And there they stayed ... "

Warble is a small, and very observant, yellow warbler living on an icy island that affords him great joy in his life. He loves to watch the many different people who visit this special place. When a fog envelops it, he does his best to help it dissipate. When that doesn't work, he asks his avian neighbors what they think of it. They barely notice it, expressing little concern over the changes occurring.

Warble is concerned. With no visitors to watch, and without much to see beyond the mistiness of this new grey world, Warble adopts a sense of ennui himself. Then, one morning, he sees ' a colorful speck' approaching. (#673 RED-HOODED SPECTACLED FEMALE (JUVENILE)). The two find each other. Warble can't believe his good luck! They enjoy many of the same things.

After some time spent together, he mentions the fog. The human also sees it.

"Warble asked the human if she thought there
were others who saw the fog too. She was unsure.
How could they find out?"

Two heads are better than one. They do their research, and make the discovery that others have also noticed the fog. Perhaps, with help, they can make a difference to its hold on the island.

Kenard Pak 'used pencil, watercolor and digital work to make the illustrations for this book'. Brilliantly, I will add. The threat of the fog and the joy found in human interaction add just the right touch to this lovely story. There is humor, and poignancy as well. Be sure to spend time pouring over the endpapers front and back to meet just some of the human characters Warble has observed as they spend time on his beautiful iceland.