Feb 19, 2020

BIRDSONG: Connections Across Age and Space and Time

GREYSTONE KIDS- Canada, 2020
Some picture books transcend time and space and age with a feeling that they have existed for all time, and yet are ever-fresh. BIRDSONG is such a book, written and illustrated by award-winning Cree-Metis artist-author-creator-maker Julie Flett.
A seemingly simple story is launched when an artistic young girl and her mother move away from their urban home by the sea, away from their loved ones, away from the tree outside her window, to live in the country in a house with creaky stairs. 
The story is structured around the seasons, using minimalist sweeping scenes and the young girl's art impressions of surrounding nature to adjust and settle into her new home--frog, pond, snowdrop flowers, and birds. 
So many birds. 
The author/artist uses a subdued and limited palette for this mother-daughter pair, suggesting their Native identity in word and image.  The passing seasons tint those subtle color tones her so slightly with hints of green, coffee, salmon, and yellow. 
Even stronger revelations of cultural patterns and values occur in the pacing of their adjustments, the gradually developing trust and concern for older neighbor Agnes, their appreciation for nature and neighbor, and their gentle engagement with wildlife. 
I agree with the Kirkus review, which calls it "Emotionally stunning", here.
Then, rather than read more about the book, go READ THE BOOK.
If you enjoy it even half as much as I do, you'll want to check out some of her other books, here.
I'd love to read what you think of it in the comments. 

Feb 13, 2020

Shining a Light on Global Connections

Millbrook Press/Lerner 2020

FLASH AND GLEAM: LIGHT IN OUR WORLD is a picture book/poem written by Sue Fliess and brilliantly illustrated by Khoa Le. Fliess is a prolific and masterful writer-in-rhyme whose extended poem incorporates light-inspired vocabulary in lines and phrases that feel as if they were born to land exactly where they are in the text. Le is the Vietnamese artist who seems to have discovered light-transferring tools while creating the glowing and sweeping art in these pages. 
The subtitle encompasses the important role and magic of light within our physical and social world within a global perspective. Four diverse families from four cultures and distant corners of the world experience light from sunrise to bedtime in ways that celebrate distinctions and the universality of family life. 
This is an exemplary case in which the art and book design effectively reveal and pace  many patterns and themes (daily routines, holidays, mundane and special family time) with color tones, moods, perspectives, and expressions portrayed in parallel narrow panels, powerful double-page spreads, facing images, and sequential revelations that draw audiences into each scene and relationship. 
The back matter offers a double-page spread with basic science information about light (incorporating key vocabulary and concepts) and information about the central role of light within various cultural celebrations. "Fun fact" bubbles are splashed across those two pages. Each fact featured could spark (see what I did there?) further investigation. 
This book is a fine example of one rich with language, images, and concepts that subtlety offers an appreciation of our universal human connections, for young people and for those who read to them.

Opinion is based on eBook edition viewed via publisher with no promise of a review.

Feb 12, 2020


little bee books, 2020
Countless lessons can be learned from stories shared during BLACK HISTORY MONTH.  MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroewith words by Vivian Kirkfield and art by Alleanna Harris, reveals a story I had never about an important connection between two iconic women who are widely (and rightly) admired. 
Count me among those admirers. 
After exploring the book, including the informative author notes at the back, I admire both women even more. 
I'm equally impressed by the storyteller. Within the limited word counts and pages of a picture book, Kirkfield has provided a parallel-then-intersecting story that reads with all the drama and excitement of a fictional plot. Its power is magnified by some lesser-known details about these two talented and courageous lives. 
Within the limited format of a picture book, Kirkfield has presented each of their early struggles and the circumstances that led to their "discovery" and eventual fame. Each experienced injustice and prejudice, for different reasons. In each case, those unfair treatments limited opportunities and outlets for their talents. 
The fact that they were fans of each other, from a distance, was an appealing detail that led to their eventual friendship. Marilyn's effort to learn from Ella's singing opened doors for her professional movie career. 
Ending the story there would have been interesting, but that would have ignored the more important story of two iconic allies.
I was impressed that Monroe took intentional steps to convey her gratitude, to use her position of privilege to support Ella's crossing of color barriers and career advancement. Harris's approach to illustration offers nuances of intense color tones, soft edges, theatrical lighting, and glossy pages that suit the story perfectly. Kirkfield has used the back pages to enhance the main text with rich and deeply researched details as well as providing resources that work for young readers and adults to learn more. 
There are plenty of reasons to share this during theme months of February (Black History) and March (Women's History). This nonfiction book traces a path from fandom, to ally-ship, to lifetime friendship. Its value serves readers well throughout the year to inspire us all to follow a similar path. 
Not likely to fame and stardom.
This revelation of the mutual support between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe offers a guide for present day, everyday decisions. It can inspire us by increasing awareness of ways to serve as allies. 
Certainly, its natural to do so in the lives of those we know and care about. Our challenge should be to do so across the margins of our usual contacts, to those who cross our path but to whom we owe nothing. Who knows what might develop?
At the very least we can extended a hand of support to someone else. 

This is not a new video, but it is one worth sharing. 
(Scroll down to the active clip. It only takes a few minutes, and is worth it.)

For more details and praise from others, check reviews from KIRKUS (here), and Darlene Beck-Jacobson's blog (here)
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.