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1. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #395: Featuring Bruce Eric Kaplan

Okay, you all. I just gotta write about another Bruce Eric Kaplan picture book, because whenever he writes and illustrates a new one, I’m reminded how wonderfully weird and refreshing they are. I see a lot of picture books on a regular basis, you see, and some of them start to blur together in my vision, but when one of his shows up, I know I’m likely in for a laugh.

Let me back up first. Kaplan is a cartoonist, whose work regularly appears in the The New Yorker, and since he’s known for his darker humor, his picture books have a touch of that as well (which means, of course, I’m going to be drawn to them). Dark humor in picture books is an easy thing to get wrong, though, yet Kaplan hasn’t made a misstep yet. At least, not in my book anyway. His debut picture book was 2010′s Monsters Eat Whiny Children, featured here at 7-Imp, and this was followed last year by Cousin Irv from Mars, which I wrote about here at Kirkus (and followed up here with art).

The new one, Meaniehead, came out in June (Simon & Schuster) and features more of his dark, hyperbolic humor and wry (and wise) observations on childhood. Henry and Eve are siblings who are experiencing an ugly new phase (as you can see above), involving lots of arguing. One day, an argument over an action figure (“There’s nothing sillier than fighting about what belongs to whom, but no kids and even fewer adults know that”) leads to a broken lamp, a wrecked bedroom, and the destruction of the house, the neighborhood, the local toy store, the library, the pizza place, the beauty parlor, the park, and all the town’s buildings, really. After a snack break, the intensive arguing continues until … well, I can’t give it all away, but some Texas football teams get involved …


… and in the end the world explodes.

That’s a Bruce Eric Kaplan book for you. Though you can never expect a moral with his books (thank goodness), there is some remorse, post-apocalypse. Best of all, he seems to really get those intense childhood fights. (My late brother and I grew up to be the best of friends, but boy howdy did we have some doozies when we were younger. I remember an argument over macaroni that is best not discussed.)

MEANIEHEAD. Copyright © 2014 by Bruce Eric Kaplan. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster, New York.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) I might have to listen to this great conversation with poet Marie Howe multiple times. This is excellent on so many levels.

2) I took my girls this weekend to this Coretta Scott King event at the Nashville Public Library, and they got to take writing and art workshops — and I finally got to meet in person R. Gregory Christie.

3) Reading about this smart idea (putting a social worker on staff at a D.C. library to work with homeless patrons) led me to this podcast. It’s from the Dallas Public Library; it’s about homelessness; and it’s hosted by a young man who is himself homeless. I’m on episode three at this point; so far, it’s interesting stuff.

4) It’s lovely to see Dolly Parton’s book program (which is FABULOUS) get some national love and attention.

5) I got a good stack of new novels at the bookstore today. On that note …

6) Bubble bath. Reading. Bye! (Sorry to kick #7.)

What are YOUR kicks this week?

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2. Television Animation vs. Picture-Book Illustration

In my opinion, neither animation nor illustration is better than the other, and as with all things, each has its own assets and liabilities.

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3. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Michael Emberley


” … which is exasperating boys like YOU.”
(Click to enlarge)


 

This morning over at Kirkus, I’m doing something entirely different. I’m chatting with author Kekla Magoon about her upcoming YA novel, How It Went Down. Why is someone who always writes about picture books and illustration doing that? Because the events in Ferguson have weighed heavy on my mind, as they have for many. More about this great novel and my chat with Kekla are here.

Last week I wrote about Barbara Bottner’s Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome!), published by Random House in August and illustrated by Michael Emberley. That link is here.

Today, I’m following up with some sketches from Emberley and art from the book. Michael tells me he typically does hundreds of sketches for each book. These below are just some. You can click on nearly every sketch below to see it larger and in more detail.

Michael has even more about the book, including more sketches, at this page of his site.

Until Sunday …



 

Sketches


 


















 

Some Final Illustrations


 



(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)


 



(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)


 



(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)


 

* * * * * * *

MISS BROOKS’ STORY NOOK (WHERE TALES ARE TOLD AND OGRES ARE WELCOME!). Text copyright © 2014 by Barbara Bottner. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Michael Emberley. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. All sketches and art here reproduced by permission of Michael Emberley.

3 Comments on What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Michael Emberley, last added: 8/29/2014
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4. Sharing a Read-Aloud Between Grandparents and Grandchildren

Do you have grandmother memories that you treasure? I have so many, and luckily for me, as I launch my new picture book, My Bibi Always Remembers, about a grandmother elephant and her little grandbaby, I have a reason to revisit them all!

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5. Dog Days of School by Kelly di Pucchio, illustrated by Brian Biggs

Dog Days of School is a very funny flip-flop-school-story written by Kelly DiPucchio and  illustrated by Brian Biggs. Charlie does not like going to school and is tired of everything about it. In fact, Charlie is "tired of being tired." Norman, Charlie's dog, seems like he has it all - a soft bed to sleep on and nothing to do. As he falls asleep in Sunday night, Charlie wishes he was a dog.

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6. #645 – Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

Flora and the Penguin                    2014

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Flora and the Penguin

Written and illustrated by Molly Idle
Published by Chronicle Books 2014
978-1-4521-2891-7
Age 4 to 8 (+) 32 pages
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“Flora is back and this time she partners with a penguin. Twirling, leaping, and gliding on skates and flippers, the duo mirror each other in an exuberant ice dance. But when Flora gives the penguin the cold shoulder, the pair must figure out a way to work together for uplifting results.”

Opening

As Flora ties her right skate, she notices something poke out of a hole in the ice. What could it be?

Review

Flora is back at the ice rink, getting ready to glide and twirl when she sees something odd in the hole across from where she sits lacing her skate. Flora extends her hand, offering it to Penguin. He accepts (I am assuming Penguin is a he, I really do not know). Flipper in hand, the pair glide in perfect harmony. Left foot glide to the right; turn and right foot glide to the left. In absolute harmony, Flora and Penguin take off and then LEAP into a perfect twirl.

sp1

Oh, NO! Penguin misses his landing, falling onto his rotund rear. Flora glides away . . . laughing. Penguin belly slides to her with a twinkle in his eye. This is not Flora and the Flamingo. The grace and style are present. The harmonious duet is there. The serious business of skating is not. Penguin brings the smiles and laughs out of Flora. He also spoils his partner, or, rather, he tries. Flora rejects Penguin’s gift. Sure, it is a small fish he has brought her; a snack Penguin chased below the ice—in synchronicity with Flora’s skating. Flora flips the fish over her head. Penguin looks mortified as his gift somehow lands into the hole in the ice and swims away.

The beautiful illustrations once again capture the elegant characters gliding, twirling, and leaping. At quick glance, one might believe this is the Caldecott Honor Book Flora and the Flamingo, only with a penguin. That person would be wrong, terribly wrong. In Flora and the Flamingo, Flora is the student learning from Flamingo, the teacher. In Flora and the Penguin, Flora is no longer the student, nor is she the teacher. She and Penguin are friends skating together and having fun. When Penguin misses his landing, no one turns away in admonition. No, Flora happily laughs and Penguin giggles as they join back together. These two are playmates.

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Playmates have fights, as you are sure to remember. Flora turns away in a pout, checking on Penguin when he looks away. Penguin is also pouting in anger and keeping an eye on Flora. These two friends need to find their way back and Ms. Idle does this in grand style. A four-page grand spread. Flora and the Penguin is a gorgeous, wordless picture book that will wow anyone lucky enough to turn the pages. Some pages contain flip-up, -down, or –sideways, always changing the scene and promoting a smile.

Flora and the Penguin is an easy choice for anyone who loves ballet. Yet this gorgeous, should-win-lots-of-awards picture book will attract a wider audience. Like her throngs of admirers, I cannot wait for her next release, though I am secretly hoping for new characters in a new story. Whatever direction she takes, parents and young children will love the finished product. Ms. Idle has perfected the art of wordless storytelling.

FLORA AND THE PENGUIN. Text and illustrations copyright © 2014 by Molly Idle. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA.

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Buy Flora and the Penguin at AmazoniTunesB&NBook DepositoryChronicle Booksyour favorite bookstore.

Learn more about Flora and the Penguin HERE

Meet the author/illustrator, Molly Idle, at her website:  http://idleillustration.com/

Find more picture books at the Chronicle Books’ website:   http://www.chroniclebooks.com/

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Also by Molly Idle

Camp Rex

Camp Rex

Tea Rex

Tea Rex

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flora and the penguin

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Copyright © 2014 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews


Filed under: 6 Stars TOP BOOK, Children's Books, Favorites, Library Donated Books, Picture Book, Series, Top 10 of 2014 Tagged: ballet, children's book reviews, Chronicle Books, Flora and the Penguin, gorgeous illustrations, ice skating, Molly Idle, penguins, picture books, wordless stories

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7. Chu's First Day of School by Neil Gaiman & Adam Rex

Earlier this year in a Literary Celebrity Guest Review, Elissa Brent Weissman reviewed the charming Chu's Day, written by Neil Gaiman and brilliantly illustrated by  Adam Rex. Now, just in time for fall, Chu is back and headed to school in Chu's First Day of School! Chu is nervous. School is starting and he worries whether the other students will like him and what will happen. His

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8. Review of Quest

becker quest Review of QuestQuest
by Aaron Becker; illus. by the author
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
8/14    978-0-7636-6595-1    $15.99

Journey (rev. 9/13) introduced a girl with a magic red crayon who could draw her way into an adventure and back home. At the end of the book she met a boy with his own purple crayon. Quest — the second in a planned wordless trilogy — opens where we last saw the friends, in a present-day city. While sheltering under a bridge during the rain, they are surprised by the arrival of an old man who gives them an orange crayon, a colorful map, and a holster with six small chambers. After the man is seized by soldiers, the children follow them into the same land we saw in Journey. Reading their map, the kids go on various quests (each lasting two or three spreads) to collect different-color crayons that fit neatly into the holster. Along the way they use their own purple and red crayons to draw objects that help them escape baddies in steampunk dirigibles. They make their way back to the Journey city and save the old man with their now-full holster, creating a magic rainbow. Becker’s illustrations are satisfyingly lush and full of subtle clues that will reward multiple readings. Compared to Journey’s simple yet mysterious story line, however, Quest seems overly complicated and, after the first reading, predictable — particularly for those familiar with the Myst computer games. Nevertheless, fans of the first book will probably be happy to explore this fantastical world in more depth.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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9. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Mike Curato



 

Debut author-illustrator Mike Curato is visiting for breakfast this morning to share lots of art and talk about his new book, Little Elliot, Big City (which I think actually comes out today — I swear I don’t plan these things, but I just get lucky with my timing sometimes). Clearly, based on the sketch of Elliot above, we must have cupcakes for breakfast. Actually, Mike agrees, when I ask him what he’d like on his plate. “If I could choose whatever I wanted without consequence,” he told me, “I’m sure I’d start off my morning with a cupcake. (Aren’t muffins just really boring cupcakes anyway?)” He went on to say that he usually starts his day with something a bit healthier, but I’m all for this cupcake plan (healthy schmealthy), so let’s just DO IT.

Little Elliot tells the story of a tiny (cupcake-loving) elephant, who heads intrepidly into the big city and eventually makes a new friend. Booklist praises Mike’s “almost cinematic artwork,” and the Kirkus review notes “the meticulous beauty” of the illustrations. Mike’s here today to show us some of that, as well as some other illustrations. I’ll get the cupcakes and coffee out, and I thank him for visiting.

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Mike: Both!

While thinking about this question, I started wondering if I should just go by “storyteller,” since I love to tell stories whether it’s visual, written, or spoken. But then people might roll their eyes if I say that, so let’s stick with Illustrator/Author.


An animated GIF showing Mike’s process;
this is a spread from
Little Elliot, Big City

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?

Mike: My very first book, Little Elliot, Big City, comes out August 26th. It’s the first in a three-book series with Henry Holt Books for Young Readers (Macmillan), starring my favorite polka-dotted elephant.



Books of Wonder’s storefront window
(Click to enlarge)


 

Also, before that I illustrated a self-published book called Mabel McNabb and the Most Boring Day Ever by Amy Jones [pictured below].

 




Jules: What is your usual medium?

Mike: Usually, I draw in graphite-on-paper, then scan and color in Photoshop. For a super detailed explanation, click here.

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Mike: I currently live in Brooklyn, NY. I actually grew up in the NYC suburbs, then went to college upstate at Syracuse, then lived in Seattle for ten years, and I just moved here last November. I think what I like most about Brooklyn is that you could throw a kneaded eraser and you’d hit two or three illustrators.


(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Can you tell me about your road to publication?

Mike: You mean aside from wanting to do this forever?

Well, in 2012 I attended my first SCBWI Winter Conference here in NYC. I entered the portfolio show and won. Everyone was smitten with Elliot, who appeared throughout my portfolio. The week after was filled with emails and calls from agents and publishers. I signed with Brenda Bowen, a literary agent at Greenburger (who is now officially my favorite strawberry blonde person). I worked on a manuscript for several months. We took it to several houses, and then it went to auction. I signed with Holt for a three-book deal and have been blessed to be able to work with my editor, Laura Godwin.


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Mike: You can see my portfolio at www.MikeCurato.com.
You can read my blog at mikecurato.wordpress.com/.

Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Mike: I just had my very first school visit this July at a preschool on the Lower East Side. In addition to reading Little Elliot, Big City, we wrote our own Elliot story: “Elliot woke up. Elliot ate breakfast. Elliot brushed his teeth. Elliot went to the beach. Elliot ate ice cream.” The kids told me what to draw in each scene, and some details were quite interesting. It was super fun, and I can’t wait to do it again!


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)



Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Mike: I just finished the second book in the Little Elliot series, Little Elliot, Big Family, which comes out Fall 2015. Soon I’ll start working on the third, and I honestly have no idea what it’s going to be about yet.

Meanwhile, there are two projects I just agreed to illustrate, but I can’t talk about them just yet. (Eep! I can’t wait to shout them from the rooftops!)

I have also been working on an idea for a YA graphic novel, but it will be some time before it’s ready to be shown to anybody.

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, I’ve got coffee and more cupcakes, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Mike again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Mike

: DANCE. My “process” isn’t sequential. I jump back and forth between writing and illustrating, almost like a dance. Doing one will inspire the other, or sometimes when I’m feeling stuck, I’ll switch to get back in the rhythm. So, I start with sketches, then do some writing, then back and forth.


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)

KEEP IT LOOSE. The initial dummy is very loose. The sketches just show enough to convey what is going on in the spread; that way I don’t get too hung up on the details. However, I did start out both Little Elliot, Big City and Little Elliot, Big Family with one finished piece of art that I made before the book deal.

RESEARCH. When you’re illustrating a non-abstract scene, you need reference materials. Little Elliot is set in the late 1930s/early ’40s, so I had to do my homework on the look and feel of the time period. One of my favorite parts of the research was going to the MTA archives to look at photos of the subway and then going to the MTA museum to see vintage subway cars. (High-fives to my fellow history nerds!)


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)

DRAW, DRAW, DRAW. Once my thumbnails are approved and I have all the reference materials I need, I create a detailed comp for each spread. Sometimes I’ll create a mock-up by stitching together all of my reference materials in Photoshop. I check in with the editor one more time with the comps before taking everything to finish, giving me a window to make adjustments to the drawings. Once all adjustments are made, based on feedback, I will finish the drawing.

COLOR. After I scan, I touch up anything that sticks out, then start coloring. Each color is a separate layer in Photoshop with different opacities, almost like a glazing technique one would use in painting.


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Mike

: I have a workroom in my apartment. It’s a pretty easy commute! It’s spacious (by New York standards) and gets good light. I love being there.


Mike: “Let there be light!”
(Click to enlarge)


Mike: “The wall to the right houses some illustrations by friends (and artists I WANT to be friends with). I made that picture of a cat when I was four. The image of Elliot above the desk appears in Little Elliot, Big Family.”


(Click to enlarge)


Mike: “Books and flatfiles of drawings and books and art supplies and books.”
(Click to enlarge)

3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Mike

: My Mom says that my favorite books when I was little were The Little Red Caboose and The Poky Little Puppy. She used to read to me all the time from a Golden Book compilation entitled Tibor Gergely’s Great Big Book of Bedtime Stories, which I still have and I still love. I think Gergely’s work still influences me today. I also loved Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?, Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, and Mabel Watt’s Hiram’s Red Shirt (illustrated by Aurelius Battaglia?).

4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Mike: Since moving to Brooklyn, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing illustrators, but I have yet to meet this handful of heroes. (Okay, okay. I know I’m only supposed to choose three, but who do you expect me to cut from this list?)

Chris Van Allsburg, Ian Falconer, Peter McCarty, and Renata Liwska.

5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Mike: I often listen to music while I’m illustrating (or I have a movie playing in the background). While working on the latest book, I listened to a lot of Fiona Apple (The Idler Wheel), Robyn (Bodyrock), Mark Ronson (Record Collection), Gossip (A Joyful Noise), MS MR (Secondhand Rapture), and everything/anything by Vampire Weekend and Rufus Wainwright. I’m also really into soundtracks such as Amélie, Chicago, Pride & Prejudice, Sleepless in Seattle, and Pina. And when I really want to burn the midnight oil, I usually default to either my ’80s pop or ’90s grunge playlists. Oh, and Weezer’s Blue Album is always playing at some point when I make art. It’s a tradition that my former college studio-mates and I share.

6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Mike: One thing I must confess is that I was not a voracious reader in my teens. I’m not sure what happened, but once I grew out of picture books, the idea of reading seemed like such a chore. It was cutting into my drawing and TV time! Thank goodness for comic books. They are pretty much all I read from the ages of 12 to 15. I was very passionate about my X-Men collection from then into my early 20s. I did dream about making my own picture books when I was very young, but for the duration of middle and high school, I aspired to be a comic book artist. Though my interest in classic superheroes has diminished, I am hoping to break into graphic novels one day.

7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free
to ask and respond here.

Mike: One question I’d like to hear is: “Aside from other children’s books, is there anything that influences your work?” And the answer would be: “YES!”

I am really inspired by film. Good cinematography, like picture books, can tell a story with very few words. My favorite movies (and picture books) have both amazing imagery and compelling narrative. Movies like Amélie, The Last Emperor, American Beauty, Inception, Marie Antoinette, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Lord of the Rings are not only riveting stories; everything is also visually stunning. There is attention to detail in every scene. Every object is carefully placed — and the color adjusted to convey the feeling in the atmosphere. The framing of each scene is dynamic and directs the eye. I could watch any of these on mute and just revel in their beauty. I try to take the visual lessons I learn from films like these and apply them to my work.



 

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Mike: “Cake.”

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Mike: “Literally.” When it’s misused.

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Mike: See: What is your favorite word?

Jules: What turns you off?

Mike: Celery.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Mike: I couldn’t possibly choose one.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Mike:

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Mike:

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Mike: Maybe acting. Or ice cream-taste-tester. (That’s a thing, right?)

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Mike: Anything involving customer service. Been there. Done that. Next.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Mike: “Don’t worry. You can still keep making books.”


All artwork and images are used with permission of Mike Curato.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan.

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10. Feathers, Scales, Fur or Skin: Tales of Friendship and Being Yourself

The Lucky Country. That’s Australia. We embrace difference. Celebrate diversity. Stand up for what we believe in. Be ourselves. Show compassion for those in need.   The following picture books, as chosen for the 2014 Speech Pathology Australia Books of the Year shortlist, all share common themes; diversity, friendship and uniqueness.   The Short Giraffe […]

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11. Monsters Love School by Mike Austin

Last year I reviewed Mike Austin's Monsters Love Colors. Austin took a pretty standard concept book and turned it into an energy-filled-outing with some scribbly-but-sweet monsters who are very fun to spend time with. In Monsters Love School, Austin and his monsters work their magic again, this time taking a pretty standard starting school story and making it special. Monsters Love

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12. The Star Giver, by Ginger Nielson | Dedicated Review

Ginger Nielson tells a soothing folktale set deep in the forest. When Little Bear asks, “Where did the stars come from?” Mother Bear leans in closely to share a Native American legend from “the far, far north.”

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13. Two Speckled Eggs by Jennifer Mann

Two Speckled EggsSometimes you think you know all about someone, but it turns out that people will sometimes surprise you in good ways and in bad. When Ginger plans her birthday party, her mother tells her that she must invite all of the girls in her class, including Lyla Browning. Lyla Browning is a little different; some might call her “weird”, especially if you never get to know her. She likes things like tarantulas and ladybugs and nature, and she carries a magnifying glass in her pocket.

When Ginger’s birthday finally arrives, her friends from her class all come, and so does Lyla. Much to her surprise, her friends aren’t exactly on their best behavior. They use the Pin the Tail on the Donkey on each other and don’t want to even try her coconut and pineapple birthday cake. Ginger is also surprised that she and Lyla have some things in common, like for instance ladybugs. Lyla brings her a beautiful homemade gift of a nest made from paper, tinsel, ribbon, and string, and in the center are two speckled malted milk eggs. This is Ginger’s favorite gift, and eventually Lyla becomes Ginger’s favorite friend. What a wonderful surprise!

Posted by: Mary


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14. Back to School Picks: Thank You, Mr. Falker

Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

Let me start by saying I am an unmitigated Polacco fan, and among the many books she has written, this may just be my favorite.

It packs a wallop if picture books can, amidst their recent much-heralded demise, continue to do such a thing. This one definitely does.

As a new school year is in the offing, most of us, if we search our memories, can recall with perfect clarity a teacher who had a life changing effect on our life, both academic and otherwise. These are often defining moments as we look back. Sometimes it was not that dramatic – perhaps a random word of encouragement, some extra time spent or an affirmation at a time when we needed it most.

I had two such remarkable people who stretched me and made me want to excel. One was my 6th grade teacher and the other taught English in my sophomore year in high school. They showed me the possibilities of what could be, not what was. They were most probably the reason I became a teacher. One of them is still in my life as a friend and mentor, meeting her again after many years. The other, I bumped into quite randomly in Sag Harbor as I was entering a restaurant several years ago. I got the chance to say “thank you” to my version of Mr. Falker and it felt great!

This is the true story of one of Ms. Polacco’s childhood school experiences, dense with the richness of the truth of so many things. It starts, as do most things, with a family, its traditions, and the importance it places on certain things and in that placement, the passing on of an inherent value to its children.

Readers will witness the ritual of the Polacco family and her grandfather, as he has done for generations, pouring honey on the cover of a small book and offering the youngest a taste of honey with the query, “What is that taste?” “Sweet” is the reply. Then the entire family joins in with one voice, “Yes, and so is knowledge, but knowledge is like the bee that made that sweet honey, you have to chase it through the pages of a book.” Trisha longs to pursue the tradition through learning to read.

Her story concretely and painfully details the power of words to hurt and to heal, the ability of a teacher to change one life at a time, simply by caring enough to probe deeper into the reason for a certain child’s struggles with academics, and the devastating effects of bullying.

For all that, it is a supremely uplifting and honest book, chronicling the difficulty faced by one child and her struggles in learning to read. The raw truth of this book as Ms. Polacco details her struggles with deciphering letters and their accompanying sounds, is juxtaposed against the caring Mr. Falker and his charismatic ability to change one child’s gradual mistaken belief that they are not smart because their learning curve is different. They have what is termed a learning disability – they process information differently.

Trisha’s drawing talent and ability become evident and are a soothing comfort in her struggle to adjust from a comforting farm life with which she is familiar, and her new life as the family moves to California. Her reading struggles intensify, accompanied by the unrelenting taunts of a classmate.

Soon, Trisha herself begins to believe the truth of the taunts – she is different, she believes and as she sees it, dumb. That difference, she mistakenly perceives is her fault and the reason for her inability to succeed and fit in. Enter Mr. Falker!

Fifth grade will be life changing. His elegant clothing and insistence on civility are  only his outward hallmarks.

He gradually sees through the loneliness and fear brought on by Trisha’s inability to make sense of the squiggles on the blackboard.  Promising her everything will change, he assures her that it has only been through her cunning, smartness and yes, bravery, that she has eluded and fooled many teachers in her ability to keep up.

Mr. Falker and a reading teacher meet with Trisha nearly every day and the world opens to her. It finally all begins to make sense!

She clutches a jar of honey and a book in triumph as she remembers the tradition of her family. Open sesame! The promise of the family tradition is met and kept.

Fast-forward thirty years and Trisha’s reconnection is tender as she meets again the life changing Mr. Falker or Felker, his real name. He asks her what she does for a living and thanking him, she brightly replies, “ I make books for children”.

You can’t write better than this, even in fiction.

Thanks to all the Mr. Falkers of this and every school year that have affected eternity in their ripple effect and sometimes never get to see the difference in the lives they’ve touched. This book is for you and those you’ve changed forever, whether you ever come face to face with it or not! You are the real heroes of this book, along with the students whose lives you’ve saved in the simple deciphering of the human heart.

 

 

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15. Picture Book Monday with a review of Flora and the Flamingo

They say that imitation in the sincerest form of flattery. This may be true sometimes, but being imitated can also be really, really annoying. In today's picture book you are going to meet a little girl who decides to imitate an elegant flamingo and who soon learns that her actions are not appreciated. At all.

Flora and the FlamingoFlora and the Flamingo
Molly Idle
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle Books, 2013, 978-1-4521-1006-6
Flora is a girl who is wearing a pink bathing suit, a yellow swimming cap, and black flippers. In the shallows of a pond there is a flamingo and Flora decides to copy it. When the flamingo stands on one leg so does Flora. When it makes several elegant ballet-like poses, Flora does her best to copy the bird’s moves. Though Flora tries not to be seen copying the flamingo, the wily bird soon sees what she is doing and with a firm squawk it puts a stop to Flora’s shenanigans. The startled girl ends up doing a forward roll and finds herself sitting on her bottom in the water with a flower on her head.
   This could very easily be the end of the story of Flora and the elegant flamingo, but the kind-hearted bird reaches out to the child and teaches her a little about dance and a lot about friendship.
   In this remarkable picture book the illustrator tells a riveting story without using any words or word sounds at all. The expression on the faces, and the body language, of the two characters is so expressive that no words are needed. Children will love seeing how Flora and the flamingo come to terms, and how something special grows out of their interaction.


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16. Book Review: Made by Raffi by Craig Pomernz and Illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain


Book received at no charge to facilitate review.

Raffi feels different from all of the other boys at school. While they like to play rough and make a lot of noise, Raffi preferred to sit quietly by himself. While looking for a quiet spot, he finds his teacher knitting and can't hide his fascination at her creation. He jumps at the chance to learn to knit and gathers yarn in every color of the rainbow for a scarf for his dad.

As his project grows, he tries to ignore the taunting of the other children on the school bus.  He receives unwavering support at home when he asks his parents if there is such thing as a "Tomgirl." Raffi expands his skills for the school play and gains the admiration of his classmates in the process.

Made by Raffi celebrates children's unique difference with pizzazz and color in a spirited story that will win the hearts of those who feel different as well as those who want to celebrate differences. Move over Calvin Klein, the young reader may want to take over the world of fashion design.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Publishing Details:
Publisher: Francis Lincoln Children's Books (July 29, 2014)
ISBN: 978-1-84780-433-4
40 pages
Ages: 5-9

Purchase from the following retailers:



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17. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #394: Featuring Julie Morstad


“When Julia was very little, she had a splendid meal of sole meunière. And that was that. Julia fell in love with French food. She loved to eat French food.
And she especially loved to cook it.”

(Click to enlarge)


 

I think this is the first time I’ve featured the illustrations of Julie Morstad here at 7-Imp (oh wait, I have some of her art here from back in 2012). I always like to see her artwork, and her latest illustrated picture book is Kyo Maclear’s Julia, Child, released by Tundra Books in July.

The book is pure fiction. As Maclear writes in an opening note:

While the story contains no true knowledge of (the real) Julia Child and should be taken with a grain of salt and perhaps even a generous pat of butter, we hope that you will find something here to savor.

It tells the story of Julia and her friend Simca. Simca would be French cookbook and author Simone Beck, who once worked and wrote with Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking).

This book imagines a childhood friendship and two girls who work to bring cheer and imagination into the lives of the adults around them with their cooking. Noting that “too many grown-ups … did not know how to have a marvelous time,” they set out to create recipes for them. It works for the poor, tired, harried adults — until they begin to argue. The girls then decide to make smaller portions for the grown-ups, “just enough to feed the sensible children from whom these senseless grown-ups grew.” The cookbook they create here? Mastering the Art of Childhood.

Morstad used gouache, ink, and Photoshop to create the illustrations. Oh! And don’t miss Jama Rattigan’s July chat with author Kyo Maclear here at her site, Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

Here’s a bit more art. Enjoy.


“On weekends, she and her friend Simca would shop at the market
and gather new ideas and recipes.”

(Click to enlarge)


 


“But together they took cooking and baking classes, and practiced and practiced.
And learned a few tricks.”

(Click to enlarge)


 


“…They cooked extra slowly to bring out the flavor of not hurrying. They used delicate spices so that worries would disappear and wonders would rise to the surface.”
(Click to enlarge)


 


“As the savory scent of cooking waited through the streets, a curious crowd began to gather. Soon, all sorts of big, busy people wanted a place at the table.”
(Click to enlarge)


 


(Click to enlarge)

JULIA, CHILD. Text copyright © 2014 by Kyo Maclear. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Julie Morstad. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher, Tundra Books, Toronto, Ontario.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) Julie Morstad illustrated one of my favorite CDs EVER.

2) My husband’s been working hard, doing some much-needed maintenance on 7-Imp. Whew. It’s still here, and thank goodness he knows his tech stuff.

3) As I’m typing, I’m listening to All Songs 24/7, and they are currently playing a wonderful Broken Bells song I’ve never heard.

4) Sam Phillips sent her fans a new song this week. Well, it was created last year, but anyway, it’s downloadable here now. Only Sam could make a song about a rock beautiful.

5) Visiting Little Willow’s site!

6) Getting to hear Jon Scieszka speak in Nashville this week. Also this this this this this this. Every word of this. YES. I wish every teacher and librarian in the country would read that.

7) This write-up about Sonya Hartnett, one of my favorite writers.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

9 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #394: Featuring Julie Morstad, last added: 8/24/2014
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18. Lee & Low Books Picture Books Contest

Lee & Low Books New Voices Award

Cash prize of $1,000 and a publishing contract.

— No Entry Fee
Prize: $1,000.00.
Entry fee: $0.00.

Deadline: 09-30-2014

WRITING CONTEST WEBSITE

To recognize the talents of children’s picture book authors, Lee & Low Books (est. 2000) is inviting U.S.-based authors of color to submit manuscripts (up to 1500 words) to its 15th Annual New Voices Award for a chance to win a cash prize of $1,000 and a publishing contract with the company.

A second-place winner will receive $500.

The judges accept unagented, original, unpublished children’s stories only. Categories include fiction, poetry, and non-fiction appropriate for kids, ages 5-12.

Submissions should focus on the necessities of children of color and engage young readers with relatable stories. You can submit up to two entries per application.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: children writing, Contest, picture books, Places to sumit, publishers Tagged: Lee and Low Books, New Voices Award, Picture book authors

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19. Why Plot Focus is Important in Picture Books and Short Stories

Writing Instruction Video

As I have worked with various beginning picture book authors, a common problem that a lot of them run into is difficulty in conveying what their story is really about or going off in to many directions. Creative writing instructors in school may run into a similar problem when they assign students to write short stories. This writing instruction video on picture book plot addresses this issue.

If you enjoyed or found this writing instruction video useful, please share it with others. Thanks.

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20. The Way to the Zoo by John Burningham

Once again, John Burningham gives us a brilliant picture book that perfectly captures the imagination and internal life of a child. The Way to the Zoo hits the shelves as the 50th anniversary of Chitty Chitty Ban Bang is being celebrated, marking an amazingly long and fruitful career that I hope will continue on. In The Way to the Zoo we meet Sylvie, who, just before she falls asleep,

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21. What I’m Doing at Kirkus and BookPage This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Gary Kelley


“Dismissed by much of white America as ‘darkies playing soldiers,’ porters, butlers, hotel doormen, elevator operators—2,000 strong—volunteered for the cause.”


 

Today over at Kirkus, I’m shining the spotlight on Barbara Bottner’s Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome!), illustrated by Michael Emberley. That link will be here soon.

Also, yesterday at BookPage my interview with author-illustrator Cece Bell went up, as well as my review of El Deafo, her graphic novel. That is all linked here. And remember: I featured art from El Deafo back in June. That’s here.

* * *

Last week, I wrote here about J. Patrick Lewis’ Harlem Hellfighters (Creative Editions, August 2014), illustrated by Gary Kelley. And guess what? I saw yesterday that it up and won an Original Art Award from the Society of Illustrators. See here for more information and the other winners.

I have some art from this book today. Enjoy.





 


“Somewhere in the mid-Atlantic fog of history, two dark ships passed in the night …”


 


“The Harlem Hellfighters defined courage, / none more than red cap Albany porter / Henry Johnson …”


 


“Relieved from trench duty, Jim Europe found a modest farmhouse
in a remote hamlet alive with birdsong. …”


 


“Three days later, / the first black man ever to be given / a public funeral in the city of New York / rolled through the streets of Harlem / past a delirium of mourners. /
In black armbands, the Hellfighters / marched last, their hushed instruments /
at their sides.”


 



 

* * * * * * *

HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS. Copyright © 2014 by J. Patrick Lewis. Illustrations © 2014 by Gary Kelley. Illustrations used by permission of the publisher, Creative Editions, Mankato, Minnesota.

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22. If I Had a Raptor by George O'Connor

There are a lot of great things about If I Had a Raptor by George O'Connor, creator of the Olympians series of graphic novels, but what I like most is the way that O'Connor subtly replaces the expected with the uncommon. A raptor stands in for a cat and, in this time when the conversation about the abundance of white boys in children's literature is starting to take precedence, a little girl

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23. Gigantosaurus by Jonny Duddle

While he definitely has a way with pirates, Jonny Duddle is such an amazing illustrator that I am always excited to see where he turns his focus when working on a new project (be sure to scroll to the bottom of the review to see Duddle's latest project - creating new 15th anniversary cover for UK editions of the Harry Potter books!) As his newest book Gigantosaurus proves, Jonny Duddle has a

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24. How Martha Saved Her Parents From Green Beans: A Video Read-Aloud

[There is a video that cannot be displayed in this feed. Visit the blog entry to see the video.]

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25. Writing a Cumulative Picture Book: The Lake Where Loon Lives by Brenda Reeves Sturgis (plus a giveaway!)

Before we talk cumulative tales with guest author Brenda Reeves Sturgis, it’s time for a little blog business. The winner of EXTRAORDINARY WARREN is: 

SUSAN CABAEL!

Congratulations…and be on the lookout for an email from me.

Now let’s get to a LOON-y interview with Brenda…

lakewhereloonlives

Your newest book, THE LAKE WHERE LOON LIVES, is a cumulative tale (like The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly), where each new scene builds upon the previous ones, all repeated in the text. What inspired you to write a cumulative picture book…and what special considerations does a writer have when writing such a story?

I didn’t set out to write a cumulative tale, but just set out to write what I heard in my head and in my heart.

I live on a lovely little lake in Maine and I am always elated when the loons come back to the lake in the spring. Their haunting hoots and wicked wails always leave me breathless wanting to hear more, and so when the story came to me as a gift in the middle of the night (which is my usual writing time). I just began writing, and writing and writing and what appeared was THE LAKE WHERE LOON LIVES.

In a cumulative story, each line builds and stacks on the previous sentence, and loon is written in rhyme so that made it even more challenging because every time I changed a word, the story would start to crumble and I would have to rewrite not only the sentence that I was revising but also all of the sentences before it, so that I would keep the right rhythm and meter.

I wanted to depict what a day in the life of a loon might be like, so I put in chicks, a fly, a fish that would snap at the fly, a boy on a dock that would give fishing a try, a cast, a struggle, and a splash and a swish, and then after a HUGE RUCKUS, the story starts to unwind where Mama Loon finds the SPOT on the lake that she loves best. She tucks her chicks in tight, and just like all loving Mama’s do, she reads her babies a goodnight story before she settles in with a nice cup of tea by her campfire.

LOON

Little did I know when I wrote it that the illustrator would illustrate LOON so totally different than I had pictured, and I am so very glad that she did. Because in this loon story mama loon LOVES to waterski, she is daubed white and black because her chicks used her as a canvas with Loon White waterproof paint. I think the illustrator, Brooke Carton did a fabulous job with her loose illustrations which compliment the tight text very nicely.

INNISFREE BOOK STORE, MEREDITH NEW HAMPSHIREI hope your readers will enjoy reading THE LAKE WHERE LOON LIVES as much as I enjoyed writing it. Islandport Press has been wonderful to work with, and they had a book launch for LOON at The Maine Audubon Society in May, and I’ve been busy with signings and events almost every weekend since.

Why are cumulative tales beneficial for young children?

Cumulative stories teach word repetition and children therefore know what to expect in the story, which then helps them learn languague and pick out familiar words. This enhances their reading abilities, making for a stronger student and a more confident learner. A cumulative story is a perfect tool to teach a reluctant reader.

Tell us about Islandport Press. How did you find them and why was this story such a good fit for their list?

I’d heard about Islandport for years, and when I started researching their books I saw that they were Maine-and-New-England-themed, so on a whim, I submitted to them on my own, then sent an e-mail to my agent Karen Grencik saying, “By the way, I submitted to Islandport!” She answered back, “GREAT, fingers crossed!”

I got the acceptance e-mail while sitting in the Biddeford Library. I went outside, sat on the curb and cried, because up until that point, I didn’t know if I got published on a fluke, or if I had any kind of talent or chance at another book at all. It was a wonderful process, and I am so grateful to Dean Lunt the publisher, and Melissa Kim my editor. They have an amazing marketing staff, they are kind and thoughtful and amazing to their authors!

Also, on the back of LOON, something I am most proud of is a nice blurb by author Chris VanDusen.

What’s next for you, Brenda?

TOUCHDOWN, after 7 years, after winning Smart Writers, after being rejected 50 times (not once because of the writing but because of the marketing “hook”) has become a finalist for the MeeGenius Author Challenge, and whoever wins will be awarded $1500.00.

Good luck, Brenda! And thanks for giving away a copy of LOON to our blog readers. 

Comment below by August 29th or a chance to win! And feel free to ask Brenda questions about cumulative stories or her work.


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