Apr 13, 2021

On a Lighter Note... THIS IS A DOG by Ross Collins

In case you missed it, I hope you'll click back to the previous post by author/illustrator Richard Jones. His April release of PERDU earned high praise from me, including this line I wrote:

 "Perdu is a very expressive pooch, but remains every inch a dog." 

In that case, little lost Perdu communicates the way dogs do- with heart and expressions and body posture. The fact that both the words and illustrations in this picture book were created by one person assured full communication of the story.

In THIS book, my words can also apply. This dog is a very expressive pooch, but remains every inch a dog. Except for one thing... mastery of a crayon and some impressive literacy skills.

The DOG, in THIS IS A DOG by Ross Collins has equal appeal to Perdu's, and will generate head nods of recognition by dog people, along with grins, chuckles, and outright guffaws. In this case, just a few words combine with remarkable lively and expressive illustrations to succeed in telling THIS DOG's story with drama and delight. The emotional engagement is quite different from PERDU, or from any lost dog story. In fact, This DOG shares some personality traits with MOOSE, in Z IS FOR MOOSE, written by Kelly Bingham and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. Dog is determined to hijack what sets out to be a simple book of animals, with an intended title, MY FIRST ANIMAL BOOK. 
Perhaps Collins invited such a sassy attitude from DOG when he opened the first full spread with THIS IS A DOG, starring the pooch on the cover. Dog should be forgiven for assuming that the book would be about him, right? From that page forward, Dog intrudes on each intended animal, with each showing it is  fully aware of DOG's presence. Kids AND adults will appreciate the range of communication through eye contact and body language between the intended animal and that interloping dog. 

Don't imagine that this is a one-joke book. The action, emotion, humor and heart throughout are irresistible and make each page turn more fun than the first. That doesn't mean that a single reading will suffice, either. The illustration details, nuance of expression, and personality of DOG combine to make a hug-worthy experience that is bound to be a read-it-again favorite.

I won't reveal specifics, and that includes the satisfying final page turn. I will share the delightful dedication, though: 
For my dog, HUGO,
who taught me the meaning of irony
by destroying sine if the artwork
from this book.

I leave a bit of a surprise for you on this part, too, since Hugo's is granted a little photo cameo with the dedication. I would have wagered money I don't have that Collins is a dog-person without that dedication, based on the extent to which he brought dog-ness to this art and story. The dedication was just the kind of unexpected detail and layer of laughter that this book promises on every page. 

Line up the dog-lovers, laughter-lovers, adventure-lovers, and irony-appreciators in your lives and make a list. This is a must have for one and all. 

Apr 12, 2021

PERDU: Cuteness Meets Heartache and Home (Including an interview with Richard Jones!)

Lost dog stories are certainly heart-tugging, heart-aching, and even heart breaking. In books and in real life. I lived in a rural area for more than decade, one in which homes were acres apart and traffic was light. In the time I lived there it was not unusual for stray dogs (and kittens) to be found roaming, often alongside or even in the middle of the road. My neighbors and I assumed that these were rarely lost or runaway animals, but had been abandoned intentionally with the false assumption that a domesticated pet could fend for itself and find its own home. Whoever among us found these confused and frightened pets circulated pictures, but those efforts rarely located owners. More often, these abandoned furry beings went to rescue organizations who would actively re-home them in safe and loving surroundings. I still wonder how many we missed.

I share my experience because poignant-eyed Perdu on the cover obviously has a back story and I NEEDED to know what that was. I found no clues in endpapers, or on the opening spreads/title page. The  clue I DID find is that little red scarf around his neck. Perdu, I imagined, has been left to his own devices, despite having once been someone's beloved pet. Perhaps abandoned. Perhaps a companion to someone no longer in his life, but not by choice. The scarf suggested to me that little Perdu understood  LOVE and HOME. Now he was in a confused but determined pursuit of a new home. One where he would be safe. Where he would be loved. Hope and instinct led the way, paw after paw.

With that premise in mind, I was ready to read. But I had burdened Perdu with a heavy load of metaphor for many in our world who also have face wearying journeys in our lives.


PERDU is written and illustrated by Richard Jones. Perdu is also the name of the little stray dog on the cover, the homeless, hopeful  little dog with a coat as black as night and a straggly red scarf around his neck. Perdu is also, as Jones's website reveals, the French word for LOST.
I shared the cover in extra large format because this seemingly simple book, about an apparently ordinary dog, deserves our full attention. As it turns out, my constructed back story was a good way to set the stage for reading, and for the universal story I found within its pages. 

Perdu does as dogs do, follows his nose and vision forward, step after step. When a leaf catches his attention, he follows its floating path, leaving the woods behind, leading him into a crowded urban setting where tender paws became sore and weary, where a forest of long-legged folks never even looked down. 

PERDU, interior, used with permission

Readers, especially small ones on laps, will begin feeling hopeful when they notice that another small being is much closer to Perdu's eye level. As Perdu's four tender paws move him from challenge to challenge, that other small being with her own spot of red is led by the hand through the same places and confusing spaces. When Perdu has his back to the wall (literally), he resorts to yips and snaps, but escapes to a quiet open space. Still alone, he assembles the comfort of a leaf nest. That resilient and resolute little traveler makes the best of a bad situation, but visual clues allow readers to predict a happier ending. That promise is fulfilled, but not until the pair of small ones negotiate a relationship of trust. 

Perdu, interior, used with permission

I appreciated the subtle visual foreshadowing in Perdu's journey, the signals of transitions, of escalating struggle and sustained hope. All of it made the final scene of encircling comfort and safety even more satisfying. The minimal text is gentle but powerful, and the illustrations enhance mood and emotional impact. Perdu is a very 
expressive pooch, but remains every inch a dog. 

Readers who explore the creator's website will be delighted by the various tabs that offer details about Jones's own journeys through life, as well as guidance for drawing Perdu! I reached out to ask Richard some questions and he was kind enough to respond, despite being on deadline.

SB: Thank you for spending this time with my readers, Richard. I found your website easily, but wondered about the name you chose, PaintedMouse.com.  A charming little mouse appears in several of your illustration examples, and just once within the pages of this book. (That's a direct challenge to readers to find it!). I wonder if you'd share any connections that led a painted mouse to become the namesake for your site?

Richard Jones (background),
Perdu (foreground)

RJ: When I registered the domain paintedmouse.com, I was doing a lot of freelance graphic design work alongside my other illustration projects. I wanted a name that might be memorable to graphic design clients but that might also appeal to the children's book world. The painted part was for the illustration and the mouse was for the graphic design!

SB:  Well, I wasn't on the right track at all, was I? But it's very whimsical and appeals to this picture book fan. And I do enjoy backstories! Your site is very user-friendly and appealing to readers of any age, with some lovely tidbits that introduce you and your characters into our lives. When you described childhood stories of life near The Brook, you included an incident involving a bite on the bum (by a dog). Was it your own dog? Did you have dogs as a kid? Did the bite cause you to be afraid of dogs? Curious readers will want to know!

RJ: It was a neighbor's dog called NuNu! I think it got over excited by our football game and for some reason went for me out of everyone there! I'm not sure if the incident made me warier of dogs, but I have always been careful around them. I did have a dog as a child. He was a sweet little black and tan terrier named Barney.

SB: Naughty NuNu! I sensed wariness and a cautious curiosity in Perdu, so perhaps that attitude made its way onto the page from your own past. Good to know that NuNu did no lasting damage to your connection with and affection for dogs. 
I felt that the many tall columns (tree trunks, infrastructure, etc.) are included (very effectively) as a visual device to emphasize Perdu's small size, to indicate moving from natural to urban setting. Several other illustrations and pages in your other books include this column-llike background, too. Just wondering if there is more to it than that?

Perdu, interior, used with permission

RJ: I love that you spotted that! Yes, those trees were there to indicate his relative size in the big world and describe the transition from one stage of life to the next. Towards the end of the story, when the little girl approaches Perdu, the electricity pylons in the background do the same job but are also intended to draw the reader's eye from one character to the other. 

I do seem to include a similar device in most of my books, don't !? I think it's useful and (hopefully) effective to include within the same drawing, opposing or contrasting shapes and forms. Having something tall and broad can emphasize another element's fragility or softness. 

SB:found it to be effective in both ways. Also, the horizontal expanse of each double page spread set Perdu into a wide world that held both promise and threat, but the vertical images advance the eye toward each page turn, creating a kind of rhythm to the journey. 

Curious readers (speaking for myself here) always love to know what to watch for next, so please share any news that you are free to announce (or hint at something, if you'd like.) For example, any more dog books coming?

RJ: I have just signed off the proofs for my follow up book called Little Bear. It's a story about a little boy who one day discovers a tiny bear in his back garden. It will be out in the UK in the autumn and hopefully the US a little later. 
SB: Congratulations! I'll certainly hope for that, and watch for the news about it's American release. It sounds like another heartfelt story with layers of relationships and surprises. 
Thank you again for spending time on these questions and for creating Perdu for us-  both the character AND his story!

Readers, you will want to launch your own journey to find, read, and share PERDU. And please, when you see animals in need of help, contact available services to keep them safe.

To find out more about Richard Jones, or get in touch with him:

Website: https://www.paintedmouse.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006730442927

Twitter: https://twitter.com/apaintedmouse

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/apaintedmouse/
Check out PERDU and other current releases from Peachtree publishing here;

Peachtree social handles:

Facebook: @PeachtreePub

Twitter: @PeachtreePub

Instagram: @peachtreepublishing

I received a  copy of PERDU from the publisher with no promise of a review of any kind.

This is the first of several posts in a blog tour starring PERDU:

Monday (4/12): Unpacking the Power of Picture Books

Tuesday (4/13): Mom Read It

Wednesday (4/14): Good Reads with Ronna

Thursday (4/15): Literacious

Apr 9, 2021

Nature Is Complex: But Take a Close Look at this Poetry Challenge

THIS POEM IS A NEST is written by Irene Latham and illustrated by Johanna WrightAs a fan of Irene Latham's poetry, I opened this new book eagerly. 

"This beautiful poetry collection introduces readers to the art of found poetry as the poet writes a 37-line poem, "Nest," then finds 160 smaller poems within it."

I was not disappointed.

Poetic forms can be challenging, but they can also provide a scaffold for writers (young OR old) to approach and attempt creating their own work.
In this case, the premise of a poem being a nest is described simply and clearly in the opening pages. Latham has written a lovely and comprehensive poem to launch the book, one that is worthy to read and appreciate on its own. Her guidance to readers indicates they are welcome to use her NEST poem, use other published poems, or swing for the bleachers and create an extensive poem of their own to become the nest for further work. 
She described the simple restrictions (I won't call them rules) that allow her to select words from that original NEST poem, so carefully constructed, to produce an impressive collection of other poems on a range of topics and themes. 
This is such a strong conceptual offering for poetry-writers, and the poems she has produced are organized in ways that might inspire additions in themselves. This book concludes with some added (brief) messages from the author, inviting readers to join in the fun and the challenge.

This is a season for keeping eyes (and ears) open to notice nests and nestlings. The more we pay attention to nature, the better we can appreciate what experts birds (and other nesters) are when it comes to  reuse/recycle. The sum, when assembled with care and intention,  is a fine work of art and the individual elements assume new purpose and beauty. Even so, just noticing the bits and scraps might inspire us to pay more attention to the hidden ingredients in all of the beauty that surrounds us. And make a stab at this form of poetry, too!

Overall, this is a wonderful addition to classrooms, libraries, and writing shelves.
So, Happy POETRY MONTH, and happy nesting!

Raise 'Em Up Loving (and Protecting) Their Planet: Nat Geo, GROW, and BLUE FLOATS AWAY

 Here are three quick takes at today's world as we approach EARTH DAY, 2021. The theme for this year is RESTORE OUR EARTH.  That important theme and the actions it should inspire rely on the promise of our own efforts, and that of coming generations.

Generations of picture book readers.

Take ONE, from a National Geographic UPDATE:

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.