Quote of the Month

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

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.

Colossal Quandaries

The year is 1973.  I am one of seven first year teachers sitting in a conference room ready to listen to a principal new to the district and our building housing grades seven, eight and nine. (In retrospect I can't help but think, how did he do it?)  The first thing he says (and the only thing I remember) is

without the children, you wouldn't be here.

While noting the obvious, to him this meant every decision we made in our classrooms needed to put the children, all the children, first.  That statement and my personal pledge to treat every child as if they were my own have guided my career.

As educators we are not privy to all the individual hopes and fears of our students at the beginning of the year but we can do our best to intentionally create an atmosphere where each one is equally honored, feels safe and knows we sincerely care.  One of the best ways to connect with students is to share laughter, lots of laughter.  Back To School With Bigfoot (Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., June 27 2017) written by Samantha Berger and Martha Brockenbrough with illustrations by Dave Pressler presents one hilarious situation after another.

If you think YOU'VE got BIG back-to-school problems, let me tell you, mine are BIGGER!

This begins the first person...er...cryptid narrative by the one and only Bigfoot.  Yes, he is real and living in a huge three story home in a local neighborhood.  Believe it or not he is going to be a student in an elementary classroom.

With the start of school only days away, the quest for new clothing begins.  Mom Sasquatch has to drag her son to the store where even the largest sizes are a tad bit too small.  Getting rid of those shaggy summer curls demands a trip to the barbershop.  Now that's a lot of hair!  The hunt for shoes is a first-rate disaster.

Now the real worries occupy Bigfoot's every waking moment.  He envisions the school bus driving past him, ruining the class picture and causing a huge ruckus in the cafeteria at lunch.  This guy, regardless of his size, is afraid.  There's too much pressure.  He's simply not going back to school.

In the middle of this panic-induced mind muddle other thoughts start to wiggle their way into his thinking.  This year Miss Sierra Nevada is his teacher.  This year a favorite subject will be studied.  Then the most important thing about school any year takes over his musings.  And the big guy does what he does best.  OOPS!

If you are readers of books written by Samantha Berger and Martha Brockenbrough you know you are in for a rare treat.  These two authors have the innate ability to portray the essence of whatever story they are telling.  First and foremost, they understand children.

Secondly, they find a way to present truth through humor.  The situations depicted in this title, school clothes, haircuts, missing the bus, school picture day and the lunchroom are all real to us but having those issues exaggerated with Bigfoot as a narrator allows us to see the lighter side of each one.  It is also an excellent technique in leading us to the flip side of the coin.  Here is another sample passage.

A back-to-school haircut takes
because I am 

Good golly!  How can you look at the front of the dust jacket without giggling? Look at the size of that guy.  Look at the expressions on those students' faces.  Look at the broken benches.  (The title text is raised.)  To the left, on the back, on a canvas of yellow taken from the same shade in the title, Bigfoot is leaning out from the spine, grinning and waving at readers.  This image is used again on the right side of the bright yellow book case.  Purple covers the opening endpapers and the closing endpapers are yellow, complementary colors.

Prior to the title page an image appears guaranteed to cause mass quantities of laughter.  Bigfoot is seated at a desk, a regular-sized desk.  On the double-page picture for the title page all we see are two big hairy feet stretching from edge to edge, ankles and the bottom of blue pant legs.  The comedy increases with the dedication and publication information pages.  It's a snapshot of a portion of the black-topped playground.  Three gigantic footprints are imprinted in the surface.  The other elements are sure to make you smile.

The artwork for the planning stages and final color art was created on a Wacom Cintiq using Adobe Photoshop CC 2017.  The finished line art was drawn exclusively with Staedtler Mars Lumograph 3B Pencils on Strathmore Bristol Paper by Dave Pressler.  The illustrations shift their size depending on the narrative from double-page pictures to single page visuals.  The color palette is bright and cheerful with details which heighten the comedy.

On the first page of the story, the snapshots of students in frightful moments are funny; a child is covered in paint in art class, some green goo food at lunch with the face of a monster has a student terrified and piles of books surround another student with titles like Confusing Continents and Grammar Ain't Easy.  At the barbershop two of the magazine titles are Zombie Bobs and Wolfman Hair Don'ts!  One of the patrons is drowning in Bigfoot's cut hair.  Ultimately, it's the comparisons between sizes which will have you grinning from beginning to end.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is the first one of him sitting at the desk.  The background is mostly white.  Bigfoot's body fills the entire page.  In fact his feet don't fit at the bottom and his head runs off the top of the page.  He literally dwarfs the desk with his knees raised and his elbows resting on those knees.  He looks so disappointed.  You have to wonder if he's wondering if the desk will hold his weight.

You will want to add this new title, Back To School With Bigfoot written by Samantha Berger and Martha Brockenbrough with illustrations by Dave Pressler, to your school-themed collections.  It's an ideal way to build community in your classrooms through common experiences.  There's nothing better than the laughter of children, when all are enjoying the same moment of comedy.  It's contagious.  It's uplifting.  It's perfection.

To visit the websites of Samantha Berger, Martha Brockenbrough and Dave Pressler and learn more about them and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names.  Dave Pressler also maintains a blog here.  You can view interior images at this publisher's website.  Back on October 23, 2016 the laughter began with the cover reveal and a conversation between Samantha Berger and Martha Brockenbrough at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  Samantha Berger, Martha Brockenbrough, and Dave Pressler stop by All The Wonders, Episode 376 to chat with teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

At The Top

There are hunters.  There are the hunted.  Sometimes the roles are reversed; the hunted becoming hunters.  It is about survival in the kingdom of animal.  With this being said, there are stories about predators not behaving instinctively.  They, for reasons we cannot completely understand, do not harm those they would normally consume.  They might even assume the role of nurturer.

There are also those hunters who are rarely, if ever, hunted.  In his newest title, Apex Predators: The World's Deadliest Hunters, Past And Present (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 6, 2017) Steve Jenkins presents portraits of some of the most fearsome creatures to have inhabited this planet.  They are, in a word, terrifying.

Predators are animals that kill and eat other animals.  The first predator lived in the sea about 600 million years ago.

Over time, from then until now, predators have adapted as prey adapted.  As protections for the hunted increased hunters honed their skills and physical characteristics shifted.  This is how apex predators in their respective habitats evolved.  We are introduced to twenty-four of those hunters.  We begin with the top members from today and yesterday, the Siberian tiger and the Tyrannosaurus rex.  Can you imagine a creature large and strong enough to

bite off 500 pounds (227 kilograms) of flesh with one snap of its jaws?

Six modern day predators begin the narrative, alternating with one on land and the other, on the opposite page, living in the sea.  The first is ten feet long, as the largest lizard and the second is twenty feet long with multiple rows of teeth numbering in the hundreds and thousands over a lifetime.  Living on the continent of Africa, these pack animals, although smaller than other predators, get their status as deadly killers from hunting in greater numbers.

In case you might be swimming in a river or stream in tropical South America someday, beware of a shocking resident.  The fossa only lives on the island of Madagascar.  Its climbing abilities give it a distinct advantage.  Prey are no match for the largest freshwater fish.  Can you name it?

The remaining sixteen animals are extinct.  They are listed in chronological order beginning with the most recent member that left this planet 11,000 years ago.  This giant short-faced bear stood at twelve feet tall.  Next in line is the terror bird rising up at ten feet tall.  It did not fly but

could run as fast as a horse.

Did you know there was a saber-tooth that had a pouch like other marsupials?  How about a bird with a wing span of twenty-three feet that gulped prey whole?  Can you fathom a snake that was forty-eight feet long and

weighed more than one ton?

As each extinct predator is named you can't help but wonder how anything else survived.  As we keep going back in time, the animals named end with an Anomalocaris

"strange shrimp".

At this time animals had not begun to live on land.  The text closes with suggestions of matches between present day predators and those from the past.  Who would win?  Jenkins does include a final paragraph at the end naming the deadliest apex predator to have ever lived.  He states his reasons for this statement.

As in his previous titles Steve Jenkins has a knack for including fascinating creatures and facts sure to intrigue readers.  When the first thing readers read about a past predator is that it was ten feet tall and as swift as a horse, Jenkins has your attention.  His choice to begin with the two greatest predators then and now, followed by those alive today and then taking those extinct and placing them in chronological order is an excellent technique for pacing his narrative.

For each creature we are given an overview as short as a single sentence or as long as four sentences.  At the bottom of each page in a smaller font, almost like a conversational aside, more facts are revealed.  Here is a sample passage.

Sea Monster
During the age of the dinosaurs, the seas were ruled by the Mosasaurs (moh-suh-sawrs) --- enormous predatory reptiles.  One of the largest was Tylosaurus (ty-lo-sahr-us).  Its formidable jaws were ten feet (3 meters) long, and it ate just about anything it wanted to, including other marine reptiles, fish, and dinosaurs that ventured into the water.

Two things flash through this reader's mind looking at the unfolded matching dust jacket and book case.  The first is I am so thankful this predator on the front, the right, is no longer living among us.  (Do you think its prey run as fast as it could to get away, froze in fear or died on the spot?) The second thing is, not for the first time, I wonder how Steve Jenkins can make his animals look as if they are ready to jump off the paper or pages. (On the dust jacket every element is raised.)

To the left, on the back, three other predators are featured.  Their heads and upper bodies are extending from the left edge and spine.  The text gives us a little bit of information about each of them.  The bold red canvas from the jacket and case is used for the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, on a yellow background, two predators, from the present and past, appear above and frame the text.

Throughout the body of the book a crisp white background provides the best way to showcase the torn-and-cut-paper collage used to make these pictures.  You can't look at these and not be amazed at the detail and animation present in them.  Each animal is a study in their stunning physical characteristics.  Jenkins may choose to show us only the head or the entire body.  In the bottom corner of each page a comparison is made with the size of the animal and the size of an average human being.  The animal's size is given in feet and meters.

One of the most frightening of the illustrations is the first picture included with the introduction.  It is a close-up of the terror bird (now extinct).  We are shown only the head and a portion of the neck.  The feathers look as though a wind recently ruffled them.  The eye is piercing with a spark-of-life light.  The beak is downright treacherous.  Jenkins does include the bird again so we can view the entire body, ten feet tall.

Readers who crave nonfiction will pass this book, person to person, never giving it a minute on bookshelves.  Apex Predators: The World's Deadliest Hunters, Past And Present written and illustrated by Steven Jenkins is captivating from beginning to end.  You will want to have it on your professional bookshelves.  I would be willing to predict readers who don't normally read nonfiction will have a hard time resisting this title.  If you are a fan of Steve Jenkins' work, you'll want a copy for home too.  At the close of the book a bibliography of books and websites is shown.

To learn more about Steve Jenkins and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  This page on his website is all about his bookmaking in general.  This link takes you to the process for creating this specific title.  This document is an educator's guide for nine of Steve Jenkins' books including this title.  Four years ago Steve was interviewed at MackinVIACommunity.

Make sure you take a few moments to stop by 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 15, 2017

To The Rescue

There are those individuals with hearts so full of compassion they will do anything at any time to come to the assistance of another.  They easily place themselves in the position of the being in dire straits.  All thoughts of their own welfare vanish.  They are the definition of a friend in need is a friend indeed.

If in the course of providing help an adventure should ensue, these individuals will greet every obstacle with unwavering confidence and courage.  In their collaboration Special Delivery (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, March 3, 2015) author Philip C. Stead and illustrator Matthew Cordell introduced us to such a person.  Her name is Sadie.

This gal, who will go the extra mile, literally miles and miles, returns in The Only Fish In The Sea (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, August 15, 2017).  Nothing will deter her from her goal.  Nothing.

"Hey, Sadie!  Did you hear about Little Amy Scott?"

Our story opens with Sadie's friend, Sherman, riding his bicycle as fast as his legs will work.  He yells out to her about Amy Scott's birthday present fiasco.  Amy Scott takes her gift of a goldfish, which she says is boring, still in the plastic bag and throws it off the end of the dock into the sea.

Sadie agrees with Sherman about this being a complete misfortune for the tiny creature.  In fact, she thinks it's terrible.  Why would anyone put a goldfish's life in jeopardy?  There is only one thing to do.  Rescue it.

With determination Sadie informs Sherman that Ellsworth (She names the goldfish because that's the kind of human being Sadie is.) will be saved.  There are items to be procured for this effort.  You won't believe why Sadie needs twenty-one pink balloons but as noted previously Sadie is a thoughtful, kind soul.  Although at one point a statement she makes has Sherman worried about the future of the goldfish after it's located.

Sadie and Sherman and six monkeys (Those monkeys from the first book have relocated to Sadie and Sherman's community.) set off across the sea with the monkeys rowing and the friends sipping tea.  It is, of course, raining.  As the wind picks up, sea creatures begin to circle the boat.

On the crest of a wild wave victory is in sight.  One of the passengers simultaneously notices another resident rise from the deep dark waters.  The fate of the rescue rests in the hands of this gallant gal, her friend and the boat's crew.  Back in the center of the village, townsfolk gather in a show of affection.  And what of Little Amy Scott you ask?  You'll have to read the book, dear reader.

To have Philip C. Stead bring back a protagonist and her cast of characters is cause for celebration.  As in the previous title dialogue opens before the title page in the form of Sherman trying to get Sadie's attention.  You can feel the gentle tension and excitement already starting to build with this technique.

Sadie, true to her personality as created by Stead, is ready to do whatever it takes to save that goldfish.  This time she carefully plans and stocks the proper gear for success, although the reader is constantly surprised by those items and their significance.  Told entirely in dialogue, the meticulous selection of text gives us the soul of the story; a life and death situation, others trying to avert disaster, urgency, comedy and ultimately profound kindness and justice.  Here is a sample passage.

"In the meantime, we'll have tea.  Patience, Sherman, is the most important part of fishing."

When you look at the opened dust jacket your eyes are first drawn to the right, the front.  Set in a scrolled, glided frame, this moment conveys the height of the adventure.  Sadie stands stalwart holding her cup of tea, Sherman has the net at the ready, the monkeys are in various stages of rowing.  Two are completely unaware of the danger wrapping itself around them.  One is totally frightened.  A fourth monkey has spied something in the distance. You can almost hear the scream of the wind and the crash of the waves and feel the rain on your face.

To the left, on the back, those crazy monkeys are painting the very picture we have just seen.  Two are at the easel, one is screaming aloud, another is taking a picture, one is stirring paint in a can and the final monkey is painting the hat of the stirring-paint monkey.  In other words, it's mayhem.  Sherman and Sadie stand back and watch.  This is on a white canvas.  In this image, as in all the illustrations in this book, Matthew Cordell is a master with details.  Sadie is carrying her helmet, sipping a cup of tea.

While I received an F & G at NerdCampMI, I wanted to wait to talk about this book until the release date today because I knew the book case would be amazing.  And it is.  The background is a map, one of the maps used to find the goldfish.  Pencils, rulers, compasses and protractors are placed amid snapshots taken before, during and after the adventure.  Almost all of them are a close perspective.  The opening and closing endpapers are different in color which is significant, a sage green and pink.

Having the dialogue and Cordell's illustrations bring the reader to the title page is superb.  It leads us into the reappearance of the monkeys, who are never actually mentioned in the text but play a huge role in the pictures.  When we see them on the title page, they are playing instruments in the town square on and near a fountain.  Bananas are everywhere, thrown to them for their music.  This is important because as Sadie and Sherman prepare for the trip, the monkeys make payments for everything in bananas in the visuals.

You will stop at every page to look at all the elements placed there by Cordell.  You want to see what the monkeys are doing. (You will be laughing nonstop.)  You want to notice the expressions on Sadie's and Sherman's faces.  You don't want to miss the items included from the previous title.  Most of Cordell's illustrations span two pages but he uses single pages to showcase the pacing.

It is nearly impossible to select a single favorite illustration from many but when they first start to save the goldfish is certainly one of them.  To the left one of the monkeys (They are all dressed in sailor outfits with the hats.) is running frantically across the sand, left behind.  He has dropped a paint can and a balloon is drifting away.  The rain is starting to fall harder.  To the right the boat is heading out to sea.  Sadie is talking to Sherman as she rows.  Two monkeys are shouting at the third running on shore.  Another monkey is rowing.  Another is using binoculars.  At the front of the boat a monkey searches the sea with a spyglass.  The crow watches.  The fishing poles are being used for one of several surprises.  Sherman's hat has blown off in a gust of wind.

No matter how many times you read this title you will begin and end it with a smile on your face.  You will burst out laughing more than once.  Like the companion book, The Only Fish In The Sea written by Philip C. Stead with illustrations by Matthew Cordell highlights a character you can't help but admire.  Her steadfast friend and the wild monkeys make this book one you will want to own for your professional and personal bookshelves.  We can never have too many characters who have kindness direct their lives and fuel their bravery.

To discover more about Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Here is another link to information about Philip C. Stead.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.  This book is mentioned in a post by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  The cover reveal was hosted by teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner at All The Wonders with a conversation.  Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell chat at Publishers Weekly KidsCast about this book.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Elephants Walk Together Conversation and Cover Reveal

On March 1, 2016 Dario and the Whale debut picture book by author Cheryl Lawton Malone with illustrations by Bistra Masseva was featured here.  At the close of a question and answer conversation with Cheryl it was revealed another book similar in theme to Dario and the Whale was being written.  I am honored and excited today to be revealing the cover for Elephants Walk Together created by the collaborative team of author Cheryl Lawton Malone and illustrator Bistra Masseva and published by Albert Whitman & Company.  Both Cheryl and Bistra have agreed to answers questions about this new title prior to and after the reveal.

It’s indeed a pleasure to have you both back at Librarian’s Quest.

Are the elephants in this book based on a true story?  If so, how did it come to your attention, Cheryl?

Cheryl: Yes, that’s the part I love the most. ELEPHANTS WALK TOGETHER is inspired by the amazing lives of two real Asian elephants named Wanda and Gypsy. Like the majority of elephants in captivity today, Wanda and Gypsy were captured in the wild. At some point they were sold to the same circus. Film clips show them performing together. Their story turns extraordinary, when, after decades of separation, they reconnect at the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s (PAWS) elephant refuge in San Andreas, California. In real life, as in my story, they spend their remaining days walking side by side. Wanda died in 2015 from complications related to chronic captivity. To date, Gypsy is still roaming the reserve with her other elephant friends. I first heard about Wanda and Gypsy when my agent, Clelia Gore at Martin Literary Agency, asked me to watch an HBO documentary titled An Apology To Elephants. Wanda and Gypsy are featured in the film. The elephants’ historical facts and video are also published on the PAWS website. Clelia believed the plight of captive elephants could be brought to children in a heartfelt and appropriate way. After I discovered Wanda and Gypsy, I agreed!

I know, Bistra, in your comments regarding your art for Dario and the Whale that as soon as you get a manuscript images start to form in your mind like frames of a film.  Was it the same for Elephants Walk Together? Did you imagine the elephants first or the scenes in which they are placed?

Bistra: That's right. I can't seem to read a text without my visual thinking being switched on. Sometimes, it's just a word that can kick things off. I often know exactly how I'd like an illustration to look, however sometimes I'll just go with the flow and let the work emerge from the sketches.

Getting the characters right is very important. They guide you through the story. In this book my challenge was to create two elephants of the same species that are distinguishable from one another. In the illustrations they differ slightly in colour and Precious has freckles on her trunk, whereas Baba has them only on her ears.

What is the medium you used for the artwork, Bistra?

Bistra:  I used acrylic paints as I do in most of my art.

Would you talk a little bit about your research process, Cheryl and Bistra, for Elephants Walk Together.  Were you able to conduct most of it online?  Did you speak or consult with elephant experts?  Were you able to see elephants in person?  

Cheryl: The HBO documentary highlights the poor treatment and difficult living conditions endured by captive elephants in North America. The material was so intense I spent months noodling over approaches and story lines before I realized the friendship of Precious and Baba offered the perfect vehicle for telling this story. After that, I began reading everything I could about the life and care of captive elephants, including psychological studies, the use of training devices like bullhooks, medical reports, and articles about poaching and conservation efforts. I relied heavily on the PAWS’s website and their suggested reading material, as well as information published online by metropolitan zoos and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an organization devoted to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education and recreation. I even traced the individual histories of Wanda and Gypsy in the Asian Elephant North American Region Studbook—an online publication that strives to provide complete and accurate origin and transfer data about all Asian elephants held in zoos and private collections. Unfortunately, I was not able to meet the elephants myself.

Bistra:  I actually first got acquainted with elephants as a little girl, during an extended stay in India.  I still remember being in awe of these funny-looking giants.  And then, years later, I went to the zoo to sketch elephants for a University assignment.  Observing a subject in real life and its natural habitat is the best visual research method.  That is not always an option obviously, but luckily there is a wealth of information online on elephants nowadays.  I looked through a large number of pictures and some videos to acquaint myself better with elephant appearance and personality.  And I made a lot of sketches.

With the reading of each new article or book, my fascination continues to grow regarding the emotions displayed by animals.  Their connections to each other and to humans in their lives are extraordinary.  Do you Cheryl or Bistra have another story about elephants which you find intriguing?  About any other animals?

Cheryl: Elephants are so intriguing, and so human-like in their family connections, interaction, grief, and care-giving that I find myself sharing videos of elephants on social media whenever possible. My current focus and writing efforts, however, have shifted to another fascinating, endangered species—wolves!

Bistra: I think stories like this one teach us to be more aware and accepting of others, be that people or animals. We share this earth with so many amazing creatures. We should learn to be more respectful of what we don't understand or know little of. How we treat one another is what distinguishes us.

Would you speak a little bit about the particular illustration on the cover, Bistra?  Why did you choose to show the elephants as older adults rather than as babies in the wild?  Did this cover go through many revisions?

Bistra: Baby elephants are adorable, but on the book cover I wanted to show the passage of time and also suggest that the elephants go through a lot of trials and tribulations. They are symbolically leaving hard times behind them and walking towards freedom and sunnier skies, together. This was my concept from the start and the final art matches my initial sketch.

I was wondering Cheryl about your impression when you saw the front cover illustration for the first time?

 Cheryl: Quite simply, I fell in love. With their pink and gray skin tones and trumpeting trunks, the elephants look ready to march off the page. In one illustration, Bistra captured the soul of an extraordinary story. The interior art amazes as well.  

Now we readers need to wait for the release date on October 5, 2017 to discover the story of two remarkable elephants, Precious and Baba, in Elephants Walk Together.

Cheryl Lawton Malone and Bistra Masseva have my sincerest thanks for creating this book which will certainly increase readers’ appreciation of the marvelous creatures we call elephants.

Started in 2012 for the past five years around the globe we have been celebrating World Elephant Day on August 12th. You can learn more about how PAWS views this event here and be sure to visit the PAWS's section dedicated to the elephants.

Friday, August 11, 2017

From The Deep

Individuals who are avid fishermen and fisherwomen for sport or livelihood all have an one-that-got-away tale.  They remember the exact date and time of day.  They can tell you if the water was like glass, rippling, choppy or rocky with waves.  They remember if the air felt cool or hot on their faces, or if they could smell smoke from burning campfires, rain on the way or salt, lots of salt.  If birds were calling, they can still hear that sound.  If the sky was awash in the colors of sunrise or sunset, crystal blue or gray with clouds, they can see it in every detail.  These people can bring you back into those experienced moments.

The voice of a fictional character Ishmael, a crew member aboard the ship, Pequod, led by Captain Ahab, in the book Moby-Dick by Herman Melville revolves around the pursuit of a huge white whale that cannot be caught and killed.  This is an epic one-that-got-away story of adventure.  Mighty Moby (Little, Brown And Company, August 1, 2017) presented to readers by author Barbara DaCosta and illustrator Ed Young is inspired by this classic piece of American literature.

"Three long years we've been at sea,
Homeward bound we want to be,
A-sailing, sailing, a-sailing-oh..."

Though home is where these whalers want to be, their captain seeks revenge.  He will not stop until they sight the monstrous whale.  The words ring out

"There she blows!"

The captain shouts out in determination at his enemy.  He urges his men to get in the boats.  They must rid the ocean of this menace.  They row quickly and quietly to position themselves near the beast.

A harpoon flies through the air.  Will the captain strike a deadly blow?  The harpoon holds with the whale dragging the boat, leaping up and then, down...down...down.  The men in the other boats wait in fear.

A mountain of water erupts as the gigantic whale rises from the deep.  WAIT!  The story has to continue!  Perhaps it will progress or start over again with a slight shift in the plot.  Nevertheless another captain has spoken and a crew member responds in agreement and with respect.

Taking actual words from Moby-Dick with the exception of one (We are challenged to guess that one word.), Barbara DaCosta wrote this text employing several writing techniques found in the original classic.  The phrases in italics at the beginning and end of the story can be sung like sea chanteys or ballads.  This gives the excursion, the mission of vengeance, authenticity.

Using a blend of dialogue and narrative the sentences string together elevating the tension.  We feel the whalers' worry, the captain's anger and the whale's determination to thwart its predator again.  This is a marvelous prelude to the surprising twist at the end.  Here is a sample passage.

"Shh! There he is," the captain whispered.
"Row quiet...
Row fast...
Hold steady now---"

You can feel your pulse quicken when you look at the unfolded dust jacket.  The color palette of black and hues of red continues to the edges of the flaps.  The print is in red.  The outrage of the whale is evident as it climbs to the surface of the ocean.  To the left, on the back, an outline of a ship in trouble is almost glowing among the flaming color.  The book case is awash in the same shades.  On the front the perspective of the whale is closer with the ship superimposed on the back portion near the tail.

The opening and closing endpapers in tones of cream and tan looks like swirls of water.  In the upper right-hand corner the ship hangs, almost in balance.  Stretching across the verso and title pages the body of the whale provides a background for the text.  With a page turn we see a black canvas with three sailors dancing and singing the three opening lines.

Ed Young's cut-paper collage is stunning.  Each image spans two pages.  When the whale is sighted and the peg-legged captain shouts out his warning, you can actually feel the movement of the ship on the waves.  With ease and great skill Ed Young moves from a close point-of-view of the whalers getting in the boats with harpoons and ropes to a majestic scene of the whale on the expanse of sea with moonlight glittering on the water.  The small boats and men are moving in close to it.

One of my favorite of several illustrations is when the whale dives into the ocean with the harpoon, rope and the captain trailing behind.  It is one of six vertical pictures.  In the upper left-hand corner the small captain (in comparison to the whale) is clinging to the rope.  Amid a blend of greens and blacks, water and kelp, the whale dives.  All we see is the enormous red tail and lower portion of the body.

With each page turn of this book, the art and words will have you either reading silently in awe or gasping aloud in appreciation.  The superb pacing employed by Barbara DaCosta and Ed Young in Mighty Moby is astounding making the conclusion simply the best.  I encourage you to get a copy for your professional bookshelves and one for your personal collections, too.

To discover more about both Barbara DaCosta and Ed Young and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  A website for this title can be found here.  It has information about the process, news and reviews, resources, FAQ section and contact information.  Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson highlights this title at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Ed Young visits All The Wonders, Episode 318 podcast with teacher librarian Matthew Winner.