Search This Blog

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Lovely Book Captures Small Drama on Duck Pond

On Duck Pond
Written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall
The Cornell Lab Publishing Group, 2017

Jane Yolen and Bob Marstall have teamed up again for On Duck Pond, a sequel to On Bird Hill. Like its predecessor, it is a lovely, quiet book about the beauty and drama found in nature.

Again a boy and his dog take a walk, this time by a pond that is suddenly disturbed by the arrival of a noisy group of ducks.

Yolen uses rhyming couplets and a few triplets to tell her story in first-person narration. Though rhyming is difficult to do well, she does a masterful job of it, and the rhyme and alliteration enhance the story with fun word play.

“Down they splashed. The water splattered. /Then they chittered, whistled, chattered.”

The story is told in a symmetrical way beginning by telling who is disturbed by the ducks: trout and turtles, a frog, a heron, tadpoles, the water, and the boy narrator. Then the ducks move on and the pond grows still again. The wildlife returns, the heron, turtles, trout and fingerlings, tadpoles and the frog.

Finally, the boy senses this shared experience has bonded the wildlife and himself, and he walks home feeling “awfully fond of everyone on old Duck Pond.”

Marstall’s full-page pastel illustrations echo the quiet beauty and drama of the story. They include many kinds of ducks, birds and other wildlife that isn’t mentioned in the story.

At the end of the book, children can learn more about the different birds and animals. They are invited to go back and look for them in the story.

About the Author

Jane Yolen is the author of more than 350 books including the Caldecott-winning Owl Moon; You Nest Here with Me, co-authored with her daughter Heidi E. Y. Stemple; and the New York Times best-selling series How Do Dinosaurs ... Jane Yolen’s books have been translated into over 20 languages. She lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts. Visit her website at

About the Illustrator

Bob Marstall has illustrated nine nonfiction children’s books, including The Lady and the Spider which sold over a quarter million copies and was a Rainbow Room selection. He has also been honored with an ALA Notable award, an IRA Teachers’ Choice, a Smithsonian Magazine Notable Book for Children, and three John Burroughs selections. Two of his books were among the “1001 Best Books of the Twentieth Century” in the New York Times Parent’s Guide to the Best Books for Children, 3rd Edition. He lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts. Visit his website at

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Colorful Watercolor Illustrations Bring Magic to “Rain”

By Sam Usher
Templar, 2017

In “Rain,” the young boy narrator wakes up and can’t wait to go outside to play in the rain. He loves catching raindrops, splashing in puddles, and seeing everything upside down in reflections.

But Granddad says it is best to stay indoors, so the narrator reads and looks out the window watching the rain. It keeps raining and raining.

The boy tells Granddad he’d like to go on a voyage with sea monsters, but Granddad says, “Let’s just wait for the rain to stop.”

He keeps watching and waiting, but the rain doesn’t stop. Granddad is busy going through the mail, and writing. The boy reads books about adventure, and looks outside the window.

He tells Granddad he wants to visit the floating city with acrobats and carnivals and musical boatmen.

Finally, Granddad says, “Quick! Let’s go – I need to get this in the mail!” The boy looks out the window and the rain has stopped.

They go to the mailbox, but the boy imagines they’re on a boat and sees all the things he’s dreamed about in a wild, colorful adventure.

Back at home, they drink hot chocolate and warm up, and the boy hopes it rains again tomorrow.  

The story is simple, but the watercolor-washed ink drawings are magical. When the boy and his grandfather go outdoors, the wild, colorful spreads delightfully illustrate the narrator’s imagination. Young children will love it.

About the Author/Illustrator 

Sam Usher’s first book, Can You See Sassoon?, was long-listed for the Kate Greenaway Medal and short-listed for the Red House Children’s Book Award and the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize. Snow, the companion book to Rain, was long-listed for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Usher lives in London.  

Friday, January 20, 2017

Illustrator Publishes Delightful Book about Slinky

The Marvelous Thing that Came from a Spring
By Gilbert Ford
Athenium Books for Young Readers, 2016

The Marvelous Thing that Came from a Spring tells the story of how Richard James, an engineer and dreamer, came to invent the Slinky, a classic American toy.

It all happens by accident in 1943 when Richard is working for the United States Navy during wartime. His assignment is to invent a device to protect fragile ship equipment from vibrating in choppy seas.

A spring falls from a shelf onto his desk. Richard is fascinated by how the coils seems to take a walk. Maybe it won’t work for the Navy’s ships, but he knows he has stumbled upon something marvelous.

With the help of his family, Richard invents a new toy. The Slinky becomes one of the most popular toys in American history.

The delightful illustrations of old-fashioned drawings are sprinkled with photographs of vintage toys like marbles, game pieces and dollhouse furniture.

Children may be inspired by the story of an accidental invention. Undoubtedly, they will love looking for the many fun details in Ford’s illustrations.

About the Author/Illustrator

Gilbert Ford has illustrated many middle grade jackets, as well as the award-winning picture book Mr. Ferris and His Wheel. He holds a BFA in Illustration from Pratt Institute and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. This is his first nonfiction picture book.    

Monday, January 2, 2017

Beloved Author Publishes Two Beautiful Picture Books

Oskar Loves
By Britta Teckentrup
Prestel, 2016

Before I Wake Up
By Britta Teckentrup
Prestel, 2016

Britta Teckentrup, a popular German author-illustrator, has published two beautiful picture books, “Oscar Loves” and “Before I Wake Up.”

“Oskar Loves” tells the reader all the things that a happy, little black bird named Oskar loves. It begins, “This is Oskar./Oskar loves the deep blue ocean.../...and the soft green grass.”

The story continues with what Oskar loves about spring and autumn, cherries and pebbles, and other things in nature, but includes books and pictures.

The illustrations are simple but colorful, and attractive. Oskar himself is expressive though he is made up of only a few geometric shapes.

The story ends by inviting the reader to consider, “What do you love?” This would be fun for the reader and a parent or teacher.  

“Before I Wake Up” is the imaginative story of the girl narrator’s dreams. The rhyming text and detailed dark pictures take the reader on a journey with the girl and her stuffed lion friend who has become a real lion.

Together the girl and her lion fly on a bed that is being lifted like a hot air balloon by the moon. They fly over the seas and through storms, but she isn’t afraid because her lion protects her.

The girl swims with whales, rides on her lion’s back through a wood, and meets friendly wild creatures. She plays with her lion and feels brave with him near.

Finally, when night fades, the girl and her lion run out of the wood to a light meadow. The girl tells her lion friend goodbye and gets back on the hot air balloon bed to return home.

The illustrations are the strongest part of this story. They are beautiful and dreamlike, and full of small details to find.

The words sometimes sound a bit forced to make the rhymes. “In the blue meadow, I’m joined by my friend./We travel together in our world without end.” Or the rhymes are only near rhymes, such as “Together we fly/with arms stretched out wide/over the seas/and leave our worries behind.”

Once the A-B-C-B rhyme scheme is broken with an A-B-C-C pattern, “We feel the wind./We hear the sea./We sing our song./Together we’re strong.”

Nevertheless, I recommend the book for its beautiful, dreamlike pictures. Youngsters would enjoy following the characters through their adventure. It may also help them not to be afraid of their dreams.
About the Author/Illustrator

Britta Teckentrup is the author and illustrator of many beloved books for children, including The Memory Tree, The Odd One Out, and Grumpy Cat. Her artwork has been displayed in galleries around the world. She lives and works in Berlin, Germany, with her husband and young son.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Klassen’s Third, Final Hat Book Is Surprisingly Sweet

We Found a Hat
By Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press, 2016

Jon Klassen’s third in his hat trilogy, “We Found a Hat,” presents a simple problem. Two turtles find a hat in the desert. It looks good on both of them, but there are two turtles and only one hat.

In the beginning, the turtles agree it wouldn’t be right for only one of them to get the hat. The only right thing to do is to leave the hat where they found it and forget all about it.

But then one of the turtles can’t stop thinking about the hat. He considers going back and getting the hat when the other turtle is sleeping.

The turtle is about to secretly pick up the hat, but he asks the other turtle what he is dreaming about. His friend says he is dreaming that both of them have hats that look good on them.

The sleepless turtle looks at the hat and says, “We both have hats?” Then he goes back and falls asleep next to his friend. The last page shows both turtles wearing hats as they float off into the sky.

This book has Klassen’s minimalist style and deadpan humor with the pictures saying something beyond what the words are saying. But here the twist ending is tender and sweet, resolving the conflict through empathy and friendship instead of dark humor.

About the Author/Illustrator

Jon Klassen
is the author-illustrator of “I Want My Hat Back,” a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book, and “This Is Not My Hat,” winner of the Caldecott Medal. He is the illustrator of two Caldecott Honor books, “Sam and Dave Dig a Hole” and “Extra Yarn,” both written by Mac Barnett, as well as “House Held Up by Trees,” written by Ted Kooser. Originally from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Klassen now lives in Los Angeles.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Gandhi Story Helps Kids See How Their Actions Matter

Be the Change, A Grandfather Gandhi Story
Written by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus and Illustrated by Evan Turk
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016
Ages: 4-8

The author Arun Gandhi is a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi who fought for Indian independence from Great Britain and represented a philosophy of bringing about change through peaceful means. In “Be the Change,” Arun tells a story of when he was a boy and lived in his grandfather’s Sevagram ashram or service village.

At that time, 350 followers of his grandfather lived in the village. Their purpose was to live simply and nonviolently. Everyone awoke at sunrise and attended a morning prayer meeting. Then they worked all day in service for one another. They washed clothes, planted vegetables, picked fruit, spun yarn, and did any other tasks that needed to be done.

In this story, Arun learns why his grandfather taught his followers not to waste. After Arun throws away a stub of a pencil, Grandfather Bapuji makes him find it. He tells the boy that waste is a violent action because when resources are low, people hoard. Those who are forced to do without may eventually strike out. Then he has the child draw a tree of violence with physical and passive violence as the branches. “Before you act, think how it would affect others,” he says.

Under physical violence, Arun pastes cards saying, “pushing” and “kicking.” On the passive violence side, he puts “bullying,” “eating more than my share,” and “throwing away the pencil.” Arun realizes that his thoughts and actions are important, not just to himself but to the world. Grandfather Gandhi puts his arm around him and tells him, “Be the change you wish to see in the world, Arun.”

This story helps children to think about the importance of their own thoughts and actions in promoting peace. It is also written well with imagery and dialogue that move the story along. The beautiful, colorful illustrations create mood and help to make the story a powerful one.

About the Authors and Illustrator:

Arun Gandhi is the fifth grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi. A journalist for over 30 years for the “India Times,” he now writes a blog for the “Washington Post.” His first children’s book was “Grandfather Gandhi.” He serves as president of the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute and travels the world speaking to government leaders, as well as university, high school and younger students about the practices of peace and nonviolence. He lives in Rochester, NY. Visit him at

Bethany Hegedus is the author of “Between Us Baxters” and “Truth with a Capital T,” both Bank Street Best Books of the Year, and coauthor of “Grandfather Gandhi.” She owns and operates the Writing Barn, a popular writing workshop and retreat center in Austin, TX. She teaches widely and speaks across the country. Visit her at

Evan Turk is an Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor winner, the author/illustrator of “The Storyteller,” and the illustrator of “Grandfather Gandhi.” Evan is originally from Colorado and loves being in nature, traveling, and learning about other cultures through drawing. He is a graduate of Parsons and continues his studies as a member of Dalvero Academy. Visit him at  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Lift Your Light Tells Untold Story of Slave Cavern Guide

Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop Slave Explorer
Written by Heather Henson and Illustrated by Bryan Collier
Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, September 6, 2016
Ages 4 to 8

“The past is like a cave sometimes, dim and dusty, and full of twisting ways,” begins “Lift Your Light a Little Higher,” which tells the story of Stephen Bishop, a slave who served as a tour guide in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave from 1838 to 1857.

"I know a few things ‘bout leading folks around inside the dark, showing off sights that have never been seen,” the story continues in the voice of its main character.

As a cave guide, Bishop gained notoriety in his day, writes author Heather Henson in an author’s note. Writers who visited the cave said he was eloquent and intelligent in his deep knowledge of the cave, the longest cave system in the world with more than four hundred miles of mapped underground passageways.

Henson wanted to tell Bishop’s story because despite his being known when he was living, his story had been largely forgotten. She had to imagine what he might say because so little had been written about him.

Though it was against the law to teach slaves to read and write, Henson taught himself to write when he showed tourists how to make marks with candle flames on the cavern walls. They wrote their names and he learned his letters.

He was the first person to draw an extensive map of Mammoth Cave and the first to cross a previously impassable chasm called the “Bottomless Pit.” He also discovered a new species of eyeless fish and albino crawfish in the underground rivers of Mammoth Cave.

“Down here, I am Guide – a man able to walk before other men, not behind,” says the narrator, “a man able to school even the brightest scholar: a man able to bring a crowd of folks deep into the belly of the earth and back again, safe and sound. A man – down here, that’s what I am – a man, not just a slave.”

Bishop married and had a son. His master promised him that one day he would free him and his family. It turned out that Bishop wasn’t freed until one year before his death at 37 of unknown cause. He was buried near the entrance to Mammoth Cave.

The story is dramatically and lyrically told. The illustrations are even more beautiful and dramatic. All of the well-constructed images are two-page spreads. They boldly speak to the reader drawing him/her into the story of the slave cave explorer and guide. 
About the Author and Illustrator:

Heather Henson lives on a farm in Kentucky with her husband and three children, and is the author of several picture books and novels, including “That Book Woman” and “Dream of Night.”

Bryan Collier is a two-time Caldecott Honor winner for “Dave the Potter” and “Trombone Shorty.” He is also the author and illustrator of the Coretta Scott King Award–winning book “Uptown,” illustrator of “Martin’s Big Words,” which was also a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book; Rosa, which received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; and the #1 New York Times bestselling “Barack Obama.” Mr. Collier lives in New York.