May 30, 2015

Catching Up with Some Recent Reads

Random House Children's Books
Published 1990
Show of hands... how many of you know Dr. Seuss's annual bestseller, 
OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO? It is classic Seuss in every respect, and is a perennial NYT bestseller as a perfect book gift during the spring season of graduations, leaving-for-college (or camp), or even beginning a new job. It appeals to the youngest in rollicking verse and colorful images, but the undeniable truth is that the message it contains resonates as much or more with those transitioning and facing new challenges.
I've "gifted" it to more people than I can count. 

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, May, 2015

As soon as WHEREVER YOU GO released, my advance order copies showed up in my mailbox.
This brilliant new picture book release with words by Pat Zietlow Miller and art by Eliza Wheeler has nudged my old favorite aside. Miller's minimal but fluid text spins across the pages like the hum of bicycle wheels, rising and falling, twisting and turning the reader on a journey of  joyful possibilities. It glows, it gleams, it promises both unexpected surprises and familiar comforts. 
Wheeler's illustrations achieve the magic of scaffolding, elevating, and enhancing that text with similarly fluid grace. Her details carry countless "subplots" throughout while never distracting from the central character's magical experiences. 
It's already a favorite and a genuine "keeper", but I'll also be "gifting" it countless times.

In the coming days (weeks?) I'll catch up some other recent reads here. For now, spend a few minutes exploring what others have said about the wonders of WHEREVER YOU GO. Artist Eliza Wheeler describes the process she used to create her art in this post on Picture Book Builders blog, here.
Then read this Kirkus starred review, here, and Publishers' Weekly starred review here.
You'll be hopping on your own wheels to get to the library and check it out. 
Then buy a copy for yourself or for someone you love.

May 18, 2015


Beach Lane Books
In a prior post about unlikely friendships I wrote about author/illustrator Marla Frazee's 2014 picture book, THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN. This wordless wonder earned my praise and the accolades of many, including being named an ALA Notable Book. 

I felt compelled to return to it in this post as RED NOSE DAY approaches. This event/concept/cause originated in England with a goal of lifting children from poverty. It combined smile-inducing red-noses with a sincere fund-raising effort to fight hunger, homelessness, and other needs in the very young.

A couple of years ago the project crossed the Atlantic and took root in the USA. It's become a composite of commercial, entertainment, and individual efforts to support kids in need with the immediacy of smile-inducing red noses while making substantial contributions to established organizations with kids at their centers. In 2015 our official RED NOSE DAY is May 21.

Dad, as Raggedy Andy
The cause seems worthy enough, and I have my own red nose at the ready. But that date reminded me of something important about red noses, clowns, and good intentions.
May 21 happens to be my dad's birthday, and he just happened to be a clown. He volunteered for many years with a professionally trained clown unit dedicated to serving those in need. They visited adults and senior centers, but their most dedicated efforts were aimed at children, particularly in hospitals. 
When Dad was accepted in the unit he intentionally chose Raggedy Andy as his character, knowing that some kids (and adults) are actually afraid of clowns. His red nose was painted on and he carried a Raggedy Andy doll with him so that his face would be a familiar, friendly one. 
Frazee's story makes it heartbreakingly clear that painted faces and red noses can mask genuine emotions. At the risk of taking a worthy cause down a somber lane, let's not mask the truth that a red nose or a one day event will never be enough to do the heavy lifting needed to ensure that every child in this country has food security, a safe and loving home, and community stability. 

It takes consistent and repeated effort, return trips, and putting ourselves in the place of those in need to find smiles beneath the paint and red noses. The Farmer stretched himself far beyond his routines to lift the child from his sadness and in doing so raised his own spirits. Dad did the same, month after month, year after year. 
Let's resolve to make the effort, on this occasion and repeatedly, to bring smiles and support into the lives of those who are least able to help themselves.

May 16, 2015

Facing Our Fears: Daredevil Duck and Scaredy Squirrel

When it comes to animals routinely associated with fear and timidity, my thoughts tend toward rabbits, turtle doves, or even meerkats.

Two animals that would never occur to me are ducks, (often territorial, assertive, and downright aggressive) and squirrels (curious, bold, sassy, even daring, I dare say!).

Runninng Press Kids, May 12, 2015
Author/illustrator Charlie Adler envisioned ducks quite differently. Her wryly named DAREDEVIL DUCK is entirely credible as both daredevil and "chicken". I received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

I recognized DUCK's conflict between a nature fraught with anxiety (cautiousness? outright fear?) and his identity-of-choice, the confident and adventurous DAREDEVIL DUCK. Kids feel these conflicting drives, torn between adventure and safety. So do many adults, myself included. 
Adler's artistic portrayal of Duck's dilemma extends beyond body language and facial expressions to (literally) lift off the page in a series of fold-out interactive flaps. The impact of peer taunts and cheers on Duck's confidence open doors to valuable conversations, too. The humor and irony are as light and bright as the colorful images with major "read it again" appeal.

Creator Charlie Adler was gracious enough to respond to some questions:

Q: Several posts have noted the role of Duck's tricycle and its relation to real life events. Can you tell us a little more about your son’s squeaky-red-tricycle exploits and how they inspired this story?

Adler: Well, my little boy, William received his shiny red tricycle as a third birthday present. It was so lovely, just like Daredevil Duck’s, (but it didn’t squeak!). William loved it too, he loved looking at it, and sitting on it… and then getting off it again! He was a very reluctant cyclist at age three, and was always convinced that some speed-related disaster might happen if he peddled too fast! When Daredevil Duck started to become a real character in my mind, I realized he was very similar to my little boy and it seemed only natural that he should have a super speedy, (slightly squeaky) tricycle too!

Q: Have you worked with fold-outs and interactive pages in other books? How does that function change your approach to illustration/storytelling?

Adler: I’ve worked with pop-up books before, but this was my first experience with fold-outs. You do have to put your inventor cap on, because not only are you telling a story and encouraging the children to turn the page, you also have to give them an incentive to lift or open a flap. It forces you to almost think of your story in another dimension, you have to lay a little breadcrumb trail of fun images and interesting sentences on your page so the child instinctively turns the flap. A little treasure hunt of words and pictures! 

So, a huge thank you to Charlie Adler for sharing her insights.
For more opinions from others, check out these posts on the DAREDEVIL DUCK blog tour:

By Charlie Alder  
Blog Tour Schedule 

5/10 ReaderKidz

Now on to another improbably over-cautious character, SCAREDY SQUIRREL, written and illustrated by Melanie Watt. Since she first introduced SCAREDY SQUIRREL in 2006, Watt has featured Scaredy Squirrel in eight titles (and counting). Scaredy Squirrel has reached international-icon status in the kid lit world- he is a plush character! 
Scaredy has developed strategies for coping with what he considers basic safety concerns. Some might suggest that Scaredy's concerns tend toward outlandish phobias. Therein lies the humor and appeal. Even Scaredy's forced smile suggests that his confident preventive measures are less than reassuring, yet he never gives up.

DUCK and SQUIRREL offer readers (of any age) role models who mirror their own fears. They also open a window to view inner strengths. Both have satisfying resolutions based on their deep-seated humanity and caring for others more than themselves. That altruistic impulse ultimately empowers both Duck and Squirrel to overcome their fears.

May 12, 2015

A Picture Book Pause- to Giveaway ODIN'S PROMISE

Picture book posts are underway for the coming days, but I'll pause briefly here to share the news that my middle grade historical novel, ODIN'S PROMISE, is nearing the first anniversary of its launch. To celebrate, my editor has posted a book giveaway on GOODREADS. If you haven't read it yet, or if you'd like to win a copy and gift it to a reader you know, click on over and enter before the deadline, MAY 17. GOOD LUCK!

May 3, 2015

History Repeats; Picture Books Heal- SMOKY NIGHT

As events unfolded in Baltimore recently, I ached at the thought of history repeating itself in an endless loop. 
No, I don't mean a loop of other urban unrest in recent months.
I mean the loop of urban uprisings (and rural hate crimes, and generational injustices) dating back to the 1990's, and before that to the 1960's and 70's. And long before that.
Sadly, I've included these lyrics (from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, SOUTH PACIFIC, 1949) in prior posts and they remain painfully current and true:
April, 1999, Caldecott Medal
"You've got to be taught

To hate and FEAR

You've got to be taught from year to year

It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear

You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught

Of people whose eyes are oddly made

And people whose skin is a different shade

You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught

Before it's too late

Before you are 6 or 7 or 8 

To hate all the people 

your relatives hate

You've got to be carefully taught."

And yet children of any age, including those in wrinkled bodies, can learn positive lessons, as well. Picture books of the highest quality, like Caldecott Medal-winning SMOKY NIGHT, written by EVE BUNTING and illustrated by DAVID DIAZ, allow us to explore the most horrific and painful issues. 

The "one degree of separation" from an immediate experience offers an opportunity to consider every point-of-view, each terrifying detail, and several heartfelt reactions using a healthy blend of reason and emotion. 

 I urge you to take a moment, actually less than two minutes, to view this YouTube statement by the author regarding the use of this book with children. (Click Here for video)

For an extensive resource (teaching guides, audio clips, and other useful tools) check out this link to teaching 
Above all, read this amazing book, and share it with anyone, of any age, who is concerned about social upheaval, of any size.
When adults feel helpless and hopeless, what are we teaching the children? Sharing tragic truths can and should include sharing positive models for reshaping our personal spaces. And, ultimately, the world.

Please help spread the word  about this book.

For  a well-organized resource of high quality picture books that address and heal other painful situations, I recommend this  blog:

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.