Jan 21, 2018

Bedtime Book for Insomniacs: Wide-Awake Bear

I'm excited to share another new picture book written by the very talented Pat Zietlow Miller and charmingly illustrated by Jean Kim: WIDE-AWAKE BEAR.

Harper Collins Books, 2018

Skim through your friends' social media posts and, if your friends are anything like mine, you'll soon find one or many groaning comments about being unable to sleep. 
Not complaining about being too overworked or too busy to sleep.
Just laments about lying there in bed, tossing and turning, plumping pillows, shifting covers, maybe even hot-flashing. Nothing works. The posting friends are up and typing because they are 
Plenty of little ones have similar issues but lack the outlet to post about it. Instead they call for help.

Little bear cub Elliott understands completely. 

When leaves drop, snow dusts the hillside, and the last of the berries are gone, Mama Bear calls him into the den to "nap" until Spring. Elliott, with his teeny patchwork quilt, is one cooperative and self-sufficient bear. He snuggles, sleeps, and dreams- of SPRING! Then, when a tickled nose wakes him, he is THE BEST at problem solving- shifting positions, plumping his bedding, daydreaming about spring, but 
So far so good. Elliott's approach offers good examples for adults or wee ones for self-comfort and independence. 

But shadows on the walls and worries about spring require Mama's support. No spoilers here, except to say that the sweet factor ratchets up considerably from that point on, but there is nothing cloying in the way Elliott and Mama resolve his issues. 

This makes a wonderful bedtime book, or hold it in reserve until the next time your tot wakes you in the night. One reading should do it, but expect to have him or her asking for a reading every night after that. 
Miller's genuine emotion and patented lyrical voice are enhanced by Kim's gentle illustrations. The opening and closing end papers are a special treat. In every picture book it's all about the eyes, and in this case the TINY little black eyes and eyebrow dashes manage to convey more authentic emotion than more typical wide-eyed attempts. 

This book is a great gift for parents of struggling sleepers, or check it out at the library when a young one hits a bumpy stage. In fact, it could be just the right gift for an adult you know with chronic sleep issues. Add some chamomile tea, a jar of honey, and some berry jam to make a wonderful encouragement for a good night's sleep. 

Jan 15, 2018

Happy ACTUAL Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Scholasti reprint, 2006

Portions of this post are reprinted from a post three years ago, which in turn linked back to one of my first posts when this blog launched six years ago.

It's no wonder that few people realize that Washington's birthday is February 22, Lincoln's birthday is February 12, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday is actually today, January 15. Designating official MONDAY celebrations for his commemoration and also for President's Day next month may allow federal and some other employees/schools to enjoy three-day-weekends, but my hope is it will focus more attention on the accomplishments and integrity of these incomparable leaders than simply getting discounts on linens.

Monday is the routine day for garbage collection at my curb. I couldn't find the calendar indicating changes, so I called the service to ask if it would be moved to tomorrow. The young woman who answered had no idea why it would be, and when I cited this holiday, Martin Luther King's Birthday, she quickly said, no, that's not a real holiday. That statement is sad, even tragic, made more so because this is the fiftieth anniversary of the garbage collectors protest.  This is the very reason why MLK, Jr. was in Memphis when he was assassinated. If the history of that protest and the reasons for it are new to you, or forgotten, please take a moment to click HERE and learn more.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARTIN LUTHER KING, written by Jean Marzolla and illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney is one of the MANY books about MLK, Jr., one that focuses directly on his birthday. 

While reflecting on my six years of sharing reviews, interviews, and thoughts about the unlimited power of picture books for all ages, I reread my first-ever post on this holiday, written as an open letter to Martin. It included this: 

"Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr.
You’re a hero to so many, but I’d like to take a moment to tell you why you are mine.
When sharing your accomplishments with students, describing the doors you opened, opportunities you produced, changes resulting from your leadership in the USA and the world, my admiration is evident to them. 
Then I tell them about my experience in high school."

My post included links to a few outstanding titles, but there are numerous other titles released before and since that are being featured across the blogosphere. They can be found easily enough, and I urge readers to seek them out. Some places to start include Reading Rockets, this New York Times Review,  Colours of US, BookKidsBlog, and one of my earlier posts. 

I urge you to begin today to read and gather these and other books that are inspiring, informative, and entertaining. Share them, today and throughout the widely recognized Black History Month. But I beg you, PLEASE, to continue to display, circulate, reference, and read aloud these and other books throughout the year. It's not surprising that our compartmentalizing of the struggles of history and the inspiring lives of leaders has fostered generations of people who readily see powerful truths as slogans and symbols to be waved about on specific days, but not integrated into our lives.

The post I quoted above, my letter to Martin Luther King, concluded with this:
"Because, thanks to your leadership, risks, and sacrifices, along with those of so many others, now every one of those schools accepts women. That change took place too late for me.
So, Martin, not just on your birthday or during Black History Month, I thank you for your vision and accomplishments. You threw open the doors of opportunity for me and for everyone else to live in a country that guarantees equality, or recourse when that has been denied."

Those words are as true today as ever, but are also are greater risk than they have been since Martin walked among us. Recent events across the country (the world, in fact) make them even more true today. I chose to wrap my thoughts around a mix of previous readings and writings because they continue to shape every day of my life. I hope you'll take the time to read the rest of the that early post, here.
Then find ways to honor my hero in every day life.

Jan 13, 2018

Celebrating CYBILS: Poetry Titles You Won't Want to Miss

In case you missed it, my previous post was a celebratory thank you to readers marking the SIX YEAR BLOGIVERSARY of this site. One unexpected bonus from sustaining and developing this blog is that it led me to serve for the last three years on the CYBILS AWARDS round one panels: picture book fiction in 2015, picture book nonfiction in 2016, and poetry in 2017. My preference for working as a ROUND ONE panelist won't surprise readers here or others who know me: I dread the pressure of naming a single "Best" or "Favorite" or "Winner" of anything, but especially in the realm of books. Even narrowing the field can be stressful, and has been in each of these categories. 

This year I was faced with an even tricker issue: POETRY nominees spanned everything from preschool rhyming books to YA/teen novels in verse. 
The process made for some incredibly entertaining and inspiring reading, but decisions were nearly overwhelming. To see what I mean, check out the full list of poetry nominees, click here. Our finalists, now under consideration as the 2017 poetry winner, can be seen here, and I recommend ALL as wonderful reads. 

To make things a bit easier, though, I'll post here some brief notes about some of the picture books among the nominees that I particularly enjoyed, even if they didn't make the cut to be named as a finalist. I'm also sharing them here as an advance "I told you so" when upcoming awards are presented and some of these are among them. Trust me, they are REALLY good reads!
National Geographic

Up first, take a look at the gorgeously photographed and written ANIMAL ARK: Celebrating Our Wide World in Poetry and Pictures, by Kwame Alexander and Joel Sartore.
Breathtaking, truly stunning photography is no surprise when it is produced by National Geographic. The angles, perspectives, lighting, fold-outs, and EYES of these gorgeous creatures will make it a favorite across ages and interests. Kwame Alexander's use of free form Haiku works well to provide minimal but superbly selected words, as sharply hypnotic as the images.

Candlewick Press

Compare that with another amazing animal book, filled with images that will entrance and enchant readers of any age: SONG OF THE WILD:  A First Book of Animals, by Nicola Davies and Petr Horacek.
Without a doubt this is a gorgeous book of illustrations, sized to be a colorful tabletop book and to appeal to young eyes. Its bulk (and cursive text, complex organization) mean it will work best with support from adults. Even so, the various individual entries/descriptions will be favored or less favored throughout the book. At least that was my reaction. The organizing approach should make it well-suited to the youngest (Size/Color and Shape/Homes/Babies/Action) but it offers too little for older readers (no index, resources, or other back matter) and too much for the youngest to grasp the categorical approach due to lack of relative scale among the entries. 
Despite those concerns, this will hit a sweet spot for kids who are zoo fans, who can manage some independent reading, and who engage with the lush art and the lyrical lines that appear on various pages.

Both books are keepers, in the sense that young folks will want to explore them again and again, potentially wearing out the bindings, but treasuring them as books to share with their own children and grandchildren. Both, though, focus on full-scale animals with minimal attention to tiny creepy-crawlies. For that, turn to CRICKET IN THE THICKET: Poems About Bugs, written by Carol Murray and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. 
When it comes to content-specific picture books, this one has it all. The poetry is a delightful mix of rhymed and unrhymed verse utilizing varied forms. Melissa Sweet works her illustration magic on each double spread, shifting perspective, embedding numerous scientific elements within gorgeous and appealing images. The "Cricket Notes" in back matter elaborate (accessibly) on the brief info-box sidebars for each insect poem. Even cockroach and mosquito are equal parts intrigue and yuk-factor, with visual details that lend both accuracy and personality to these typically repulsive critters.This offers something for everyone- sparking curiosity, utilizing specific vocabulary, and charming readers on repeated readings and explorations.

Stay tuned for more suggestions in future posts, and I'll include several of those non-picture-book verse novels. For now, though, take a deep dive into any/all of these three books. Be prepared for an eye-popping, ear-pleasing, exhilarating feast of poetry.

Jan 9, 2018

Happy Blog-iversary To Me!

I'll keep this short and sweet. 

It was exactly SIX YEARS ago that I launched this picture book blog, feeling very much like I'd be writing-into-the-void, so to speak. Even so, I wanted, needed, to go on record, in a public space, about the importance of picture books in the lives of readers. I wanted to share some of the latest and greatest titles, as well as some older classics and hidden gems. 
In the process I've written many reviews, engaged in some remarkable author and illustrator interviews, and risked sharing some personal reflections with folks out in the vast web-o-sphere. 
That last process, personal reflection in a public space, is the most challenging for me. I'm a very private person. Surprisingly, those have been some of the most often viewed posts. 
Even more surprisingly, over the years this blog has published 275 posts and had nearly 150,000 discreet page views. If asked  how many views I expected when I began six years ago, I would have said, maybe, 150? Period.That's not modesty, simply the truth. There are plenty of blogs that get thousands of views per day, but I was never swimming in that cyber-pool. 
And yet some of you have found this blog, some subscribe to receive the posts as a blog-feed, and some have even shared my posts with friends. Many of you have commented on posts over the years.
Thank you all. 
Here's a virtual slice of cake to each of you!

My next post will be in a day or two, launching the start of another new blogging year. For now, though, I invite you to read my original post, here. You'll notice that I encouraged readers to engage in conversations through the comments, and that door is always open. If you are new to the blog, you may want to scroll through the archives or favorites and read some of the posts along the way. Your comments are welcome there, too. 

Finally, I urge everyone to ask yourselves what it is you want to share with the wider world. Then take a deep breath and give it a go. I was terrified to begin this blog, and knew very little about how to do it. I made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I have no regrets.  I'm convinced you'll feel stronger and braver and happier if you follow your inner voice, too. 

And years from now you'll look at the calendar and marvel, marking the date when your adventure began. Good luck, and happy new year!

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.