Apr 28, 2018

Finally SPRING! Time for Robins and Nests

I've been bemoaning our wintery weather throughout April, including in this recent post. So  this post is a combined celebration of sunshine, sixty-degree days, and two fantastic picture books about birds. 
Clarion Books, 2017
Resilient robins made their way north right on schedule, only to struggle-stagger under the prolonged snow, ice, wind, and winter. I almost felt guilty at my gratitude for their arrival, at my spirits rising when they trilled their morning songs. 
I've had to renew my library copy of ROBINS! How They Grow Up by Eileen Christelow because it felt unfair to write or share a post about them until the weather matched the calendar. Now that the sun is streaming through my open window and birdsong signals nesting season is well underway, I'm eager to recommend these amazing books, beginning with this full disclaimer: I'm a bird-lover, bird-caregiver, and robin-fan.
This oversized, richly illustrated picture book offers readers entertainment while providing excellent scientific information. Charming revelations of the hidden life of robins come across through the appealing first-person dialogue between a pair of juvenile robins, nest-mates who directly address readers from the corners of each spread. The life cycle of robins in general is explored through their specific family story, allowing readers to empathize with and admire the complexity of robins' survival and the adaptability of a species. 
As author and illustrator of this winning offering, Christelow has captured specific anatomical, developmental, habitat, and behavioral traits that I observed many times while working as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator some years ago. Her intense research and observation are evident in her depiction of the energetic nestlings, fledglings, and juveniles as well as pair and flock patterns and predatory threats. Even the onomatopoetic sounds are accurate. I urge you to get this book, explore (and enjoy) it thoroughly, including the accessible back matter, then head out into our overdue spring and see what I mean. Christelow nailed it, and I couldn't be more grateful to her for doing so.
Beach Lane Books, 2014

Experiencing this book will invite further reading of bird books. Before rushing to a field guide, though, check out MAMA BUILT A LITTLE NEST, written by Jennifer Ward and Illustrated by Steve JenkinsThis appealing picture book combines rhyming verses, parallel informative text, and "awww"-inspiring illustrations that convey specific details and reveal a broader concept about the what, how, and why of nests. Steve Jenkins has perfected the ability to illustrate nature/animals with scientific accuracy while capturing the remarkable individuality of a single creature. There are many ways in which this book serves as mentor text: conveying factual content in verse;  extending information in concise text; organizing of the overall content in relation to each component; and drawing satisfying conclusions within nonfiction text. 
As the school year winds down, books like these can be the salvation on a long, over-warm school day.
Head to a library or bookstore for these two picture books, share them with your kids at home or in classrooms, then move your new-found knowledge and interest outdoors for field observations, notes, and writing. 

Apr 21, 2018

Interview with Baptiste Paul, Author of THE FIELD

I've been working hard to resist depression imposed by the seemingly endless, record-breaking April snow in our part of the country. In my prior post, here, I escaped the relentless cold and wind by traveling, virtually, to the tropics with two delightful new picture books, THE FIELD and ISLANDBORN. If you missed that post, I urge you to check out my reviews and get your hands on both books, sooner rather than later.
NorthSouth Books, 2018
In this post, the author of THE FIELD, Baptiste Paul, found time in his jam-packed life to join me for this interview about his debut picture book. Read on to get some peeks at his other books coming soon! 

I've known Baptiste for several years now, and his current success is exciting to experience. Some of his previous interviews can be read here, and here, in which he shares "the story behind the story". That includes a book trailer you won't want to miss.

Congratulations on the success of your debut picture book, Baptiste. You’ve described your excitement about sharing your vibrant memories of daylong play on St. Lucia. I thoroughly enjoyed THE FIELD and I look forward to sharing it directly with kids and as gifts. You're a busy man, so let's get this interview started. (Questions in black, Baptiste's responses in BOLD/blue)
Baptiste Paul, author

Q: One look at the cover of THE FIELD will have kids clamoring for it in libraries, classrooms, and bookstores. Since you’ve been on the road and meeting kids you’ve been able to see their reactions to your book in person. Can you tell us a bit about that experience? What kids have said? What someone said that surprised you?  If it was all that you hoped it would be?

BP: I enjoy sharing this book with kids. I usually start every presentation with the question, “Do you like to play?” Most times, all the kids’ hands shoot up, eager to tell me about their favorite things to do. Early on in this process, I realized my goal is to take kids on a journey. So I decided that at school visits I would meet the kids at their level literally— which usually means the floor. The kids form a circle around me while I read the book, pass a ball, and and make one-on-one connections. In the last few months, I have received more high fives and fist bumps than ever before. In fact, in my most recent tour of school visits, some kids were so well prepared for me by reading the book and bombarding me with questions that I forgot to even read my book during the presentation! (They kindly reminded me.) This is all to say, yes—the experience so far has been all I hoped for and more.

Since you asked, it surprises me sometimes when adults seek me out after the presentation to thank me for taking them to a special place and time in their lives where ‘play’ made them happy, too.

Q: How has “becoming a published author” changed your life- and feel free to be as concrete or as spiritual about it as you’d like! 

BP: The ride, the journey had been super duper fun but busy at the same time. I juggle many schedules. With children, school visits, a full-time job and an author-wife, there are always so many things going on. To be honest, writing books has never been about me — it’s all about the kids, the story, and what I can share or give. I want each child to take my story and make it their own, create memories, and just play.

Q: You have co-authored with your author-wife, Miranda Paul, a nonfiction picture book that will be available soon, ADVENTURES TO SCHOOL.  How did writing non-fiction change your approach to writing?

BP: We both enjoy writing non-fiction. Writing a book like Adventures To School required a lot of assistance from a number of people. Writing non-fiction is not only about the facts but making sure each person and culture is represented with dignity and care. Small details matter. Little parts are not insignificant and we’re grateful for people who helped us look over things, since there were multiple sources and each had different experiences.

Farmer Tantoh Nforba, 2005
Miranda and I also recently finished up the text for a book called I AM FARMER (Millbrook/Lerner, February 2019), which is a nonfiction picture book biography of Tantoh Nforba, an environmentalist from Cameroon. Tantoh is cultivating an organic farming movement in addition to bringing clean, sustainable water to villages in need. The book will shine a spotlight on his good work and tour proceeds will benefit the Save Your Future AssociationThese are both books I feel very proud to have worked on, and they shed light on important global topics.

(Cover image is not yet available for I AM FARMER, but you can learn more about it here.) 

Thank you, Baptiste, for sharing your time with us here, and doing all the work necessary to produce these amazing books and others still to come. Your hard work made me reflect on this:
little bee books, May 1, 2018

Any stubborn season of lingering snow is a bit of an analogy for a writer's life. Even when things take longer than expected, that sense of a never-changing, lifeless landscape will eventually reveal new life. The delay can even result in a more robust and vigorous abundance of colorful sprouts and blossoms than a milder season might produce. At least our eyes and hearts will view it in that way. 
When a debut author has  three picture books coming on the scene in less than a full year it may seem like an overnight success. Instead, like the passage of seasons, Baptiste's inspirations, research, memories, drafts, revisions, and submissions (with inevitable rejections) were all unseen by the public. Now, sprouting before our very eyes, we witness the first blossoms of a long and successful career. 
I'll take encouragement from that analogy to value those daily efforts, knowing they are setting the stage for even better times ahead. And, while working away, we should all remind ourselves of Baptiste's tagline: MAKE PLAY PART OF EVERY DAY!

Apr 18, 2018

Time for a Trip to the TROPICS! (Snow, Snow, Go Away!)

If the view from your window is anything like mine, you're appalled by the incongruity of the date on the calendar and the snow covering your world. Today's forecast here calls for even more snow, possibly five more inches! 
Whew, I'm back in control. Yes, I'm an adult. I know that the snow will disappear fairly soon and when it does, spring will burst forth with a vengeance. I'll welcome that with open arms, as will the rest of the midwest and east coast residents who, like me, want to see the last of this frozen precipitation.

I regained my perspective because of a virtual tropical getaway. Two new picture books provided a perfect antidote to the remnants of winter that are plaguing much of the country. 

NORTHSOUTH Books, 2018

For a satisfying virtual visit to the Caribbean, open the covers of THE FIELD.
Author  Baptiste Paul  grew up in St. Lucia, speaking Creole and playing with his siblings and neighbors at every opportunity. The spontaneous, free-wheeling, all-out "living in the moment" captured in this simple circle story lands the reader smack-dab in the scene: rounding up playmates, shooing the side-eye-ing cattle, and empathizing with every step, slip, slush, and GOOOOOOAAAAL along the way to exhaustion. The immersive experience of image, language (both English and Creole), and action make it clear that the author and illustrator, Jacqueline Alcantara, drew on densely familiar and memorable island life in their own experience.

DIAL Books for Young Readers
Then read and compare that with ISLANDBORN, written by Junot Diaz and Illustrated by Leo Espinosa. Young Lola lives in a dense but diverse urban neighborhood, one teeming with former islanders, people like her who once lived on the unnamed island on which she was born. Lola's intensity and sincerity in trying to complete her assignment, to draw the place she's originally from- a place she was too young to remember. 

Between the covers of both books you'll find such vibrant and energizing island life that you'll want to recommend them to readers via a sunny, island postcard. Both merit the attention of a wide audience, and kids will respond to both with exuberance that matches the stories and images on the pages.

Apr 16, 2018

Happy InternationalHaiku Day!

April 17 is the annual INTERNATIONAL HAIKU DAY. 

Much like the concise, precise, and incisive form of HAIKU, I'll try to keep this post brief and send you on your way to celebrate and explore some amazing haiku collections in picture books. 

If you missed it, you might start with a post here on April 1: H IS FOR HAIKU.  Or spend some reflective moments with the HAIKU books I recommended last year, HERE.

My final suggested link is from a blog you may want to follow, WHAT WE DO ALL DAY. Check out the HAIKU suggested HERE.

As promised, this is a compact little post, but I hope it has the impact to send you in search of these and other HAIKU picture books.

Be inspired. Be brave. 
Be bold.Try to write HAIKU. 
Voice your inner life!

Apr 7, 2018

More Alike Than Different: Poems of Friendship

April is Poetry Month. I celebrated the launch of the 2018 Poetry Season with a post about H IS FOR HAIKU, HERE, which was a collaboration of sorts between mother (author) and daughter (advocate). 

It's fitting to follow that with a co-authored, co-illustrated collection of poems that I first read while evaluating books for the CYBILS awards for poetry. CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? POEMS OF RACE, MISTAKES, AND FRIENDSHIP was a hot contender, in my opinion. Authors Irene Latham and Charles Waters met "virtually" through their mutual love of poetry. Editor Carol Hinz of Carolrhoda Books proposed their collaboration on this project and it was an inspired choice. Illustrators Sean Qualls and Selina Alko completed this multi-racial, honest, and open exploration of the childhood perceptions, misconceptions and relationships.

I expected to enjoy this, but it far exceeded those expectations. The simplicity and directness from each of the two voices allowed me to slide right into their respective identities, into their school and home relationships, into the gradual shifts of their interactions from anxious concern to naturally developing mutual respect and friendship. 
The dialogic poems, simple but helpful illustrations, and discreet details from the two lives and points of view offer readers of any age an open door to reflect on privilege and unrecognized bias. 
The free verse poems and topics developed provide effective mentor text and present subtle character development from which young writers can learn to "show, don't tell" in their own writing.

Read the Kirkus starred review, HERE, to see why this is a book for today, for Poetry Month, for EVERY month, and for years to come.

Apr 1, 2018

Posthumous Poetry: H Is For Haiku

Ready for a tongue-twister loaded with truth?

A tiny, purpose-powered little publisher has packed a lot of punch 

since it was launched by a pair of poets in 2015. 

Any idea who that might be? 

It's PENNY CANDY BOOKS, founded by Alexis Orgera and Chad Reynolds. Their stated mission is "to publish children's literature that reflects the diverse realities of the world we live in, both at home and abroad. This means seeking out books by and about people and subjects that speak to a broad range of human experience." 

The most recent release in their blooming catalogue is H IS FOR HAIKU, by Sydell Rosenberg and illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi. Rosenberg, a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968, spent her professional life as a classroom teacher in New York City, frequently writing for and with her students. She was prolific and wrote in many forms, but her poetic form-of-choice was HAIKU.
The comments above are written in past tense because Syd, as the author was known to friends and family alike, died in 1996 nearing the age of sixty-seven. By that time she had written and published countless poems, many in haiku form. She had also written about the nature of haiku, sharing her passion and talent while inspiring others (young and old) to write their own small moments as haiku. 

Publication of this collection was championed by her daughter, Amy Losak, whose note precedes the collection  with a "Dear Reader" address. In it she highlights the observant and intuitive nature required to recognize potential poems in everyday objects and events. The next page presents thoughts about Haiku from Syd's own writings, including this:

"Haiku is that fledgling moment, when the wingstrokes become sure-- 
when the bird has staying power in the air."

These individual poems were selected and lightly edited by Losak from among her mother's lifetime of creativity. Rosenberg always dreamed of producing an alphabet-themed collection of haiku for young readers and Losak strove to make that vision a reality. The premise of arranging the poems by the alphabetical order of the first words provides a structure. On that scaffold, though, multiple patterns and relationships provide additional  conversations between and among the poems. There is an urban sensibility to some of them, as in these examples:

"Queuing for ice cream-
sweat-sprinkled office workers
on Queens Boulevard"


"Room of first-graders

practicing the recorder

through a thunderstorm"  

Several others reflect the author's intense and somewhat wry observations of nature's creatures and the amazing planet we share with them, often oblivious to their beauty and grace.  This pair share a double-page spread:

"Neon wings of moth
exploding into headlights
on a country road"


"On a ruby sun
two white swans cross their black beaks
as they meet, gliding"

Losak reveals even more of the back story about the book and about her mother, Syd, in a recent guest post on the POETRY FOR CHILDREN blog, HERE. 

Illustrator Sawsan Chalabi enhances the carefully curated poems and their engaging interactions by incorporating mutliple strategies to magnify meaning and to encourage reflection. The haiku FIRST LIBRARY CARD is posted on the spines of books. Each word of a poem about rain splatters the page inside a raindrop. 

Harking back to the premise on which I launched this blog many years ago, I believe picture books have important things to offer readers of any age. This format of books is ideal for learners at any stage because they are COMPACT, COMPLETE, and COMPELLING. This picture book exemplifies those qualities. Among the many forms of poetry, for any age, HAIKU can be said to offer readers the same benefits as picture books. Syd Rosenberg, somewhere in time and space, must be very proud of her daughter, of this book, and of the ways it will carry on her advocacy for reading and for writing HAIKU. 

April is National Poetry MonthH IS FOR HAIKU releases on April tenth but is available for pre-order at the publisher, PENNY CANDY BOOKS, HERE. That means you could receive your copy in time to share and enjoy it on INTERNATIONAL HAIKU POETRY DAY, April 17. 
Stay tuned for more April poetry posts here, including some on haiku collections and picture book stories told in haiku forms. Here's a prior post with other titles to keep you reading until your copy of H IS FOR HAIKU arrives.

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.