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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Beautiful Book Introduces ‘Charlotte’s Web’ Author to Kids


Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White
Written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, New York, 2016

“Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White” by Melissa Sweet is a beautiful picture book for middle grade readers. Children will enjoy the story and the photographs, colorful watercolor paintings, and collage images in this book about a favorite children’s author of the much-loved classics, “Charlotte’s Web,” “Stuart Little,” and “The Trumpet of the Swan.”

The many images give the reader a sense of White’s love of nature and animals, qualities that made him the writer he was. They also give a feel for the different time he lived in, with images of old fashioned manual typewriters, his handwritten and typed letters and notebook pages, and the author from childhood through old age.

Elwyn Brooks knew he was a writer when he was seven or eight years old. He looked at a sheet of paper and thought, “This is where I belong, this is it.” His brother Stan taught him to read when he was five. If he came upon a word he didn’t know, his father made him look it up in the dictionary. At dinner, his dad recited limericks, and the six children (Elwyn was the youngest) would try to finish the last line.

His sweet mother loved gardening and raising baby chicks in Mount Vernon, the New York City suburb where En (as he was called) grew up. En also enjoyed the chicks, as well as lizards, pigeons, and a dog Mac, who met him every day after school.

He was a shy child and remembered being mortified to read a poem out loud in class when he was in first grade. As an adult, he said he was a frightened but happy child. His large family was like a “small kingdom unto ourselves.” His father worked at a piano company, and their home was always well supplied with musical instruments.  “We were practically a ready-made band. All we lacked was talent,” he wrote.

Growing up, Elwyn spent his summers in Maine next to a lake, and he fell in love with the area. For the rest of his life, he would divide his time between New York City and Belgrade Lakes in Maine, where he drew inspiration for his children’s books.

He began writing poems and short stories as a child and published some of them in a children’s magazine. He won prizes for his stories about animals. Some of his childhood writings are included. In high school, he wrote for the school newspaper. Being skinny and small, he didn’t care much for athletics.

Elwyn enjoyed attending Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Friends gave him the nickname Andy, which stuck for the rest of his life. He became editor of the school newspaper, the “Cornell Sun,” and began to consider writing for a living.

Young people may be surprised to learn that as an adult, Andy primarily worked for the “New Yorker,” writing short pieces for adults. He wrote captions for cartoons, short articles on current events, and humorous column fillers that poked fun at errors and typos in other newspapers and magazines. He published many books for adults, including collections of his “New Yorker” pieces, poems, essays, letters, and “Elements of Style,” a grammar book with his former college professor William Strunk.

Andy met his wife Katherine Sergeant Angell at the “New Yorker,” where she worked as the fiction editor. They married in 1929 when he was 30 and remained married until she died in 1977 after a series of long illnesses. Together they had a son, Joel McCoun.

Andy published his first children’s book, “Stuart Little,’ in 1945, when he was 46. Interestingly, some children’s librarians criticized the book for blurring the line between fantasy and reality. In it, a human couple have a baby who turns out to be a mouse. Some libraries banned it, but children loved it and the book sold 100,000 copies in its first year.

He published “Charlotte’s Web” in 1952 and received a Newberry Honor for the book. Sweet tells about his writing process and includes images of handwritten early drafts and pictures of the illustrator’s early sketches of Charlotte, the spider.

In 1970, Andy published “The Trumpet of the Swan.” Later, the Philadelphia Orchestra set it to music delighting Andy. “What a life I lead!” he said. “How merry! How innocent! How nutty!”

He once said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth.... Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net.”

About the Author-Illustrator


Melissa Sweet has illustrated nearly 100 children’s books from board books to picture books and nonfiction titles. Her collages and paintings have appeared in the “New York Times” and Martha Stewart Living, on Madison Park Greetings and Smilebox cards, and on a line of eeBoo toys. She received a Caldecott Honor Medal for a “River of Words” by Jen Bryant and two “New York Times” Best Illustrated citations. She lives on the coast of Maine, not far from E.B. White’s home.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

‘Big Bear, Small Mouse’ Teaches Kids Comparisons


Big Bear, Small Mouse
Written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman
Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2016

              “Big Bear, Small Mouse,” the latest in Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman’s Bear series, is a warm, cheerful simple story of animal friends gathering in Bear’s lair to stay warm and enjoy time together.

              Told in an easy pattern, the story teaches children comparison words, such as big and small, slow and fast, and low and high.

              ‘Mouse hops onto Bear
              He is careful not to fall.
              Bear is big, big BIG!
              Mouse is small, small, small!

It is a cumulative narrative, beginning with bear and mouse, and growing as new pairs of animals join the group. Each pair is described using a pair of opposite adjectives.  

‘Bear and Mouse both wave
to their friends as they go past.  
Badger moseys slowly,
but Hare runs very fast!

Rhyme is used effectively in an A-B, C-B pattern with four-line, three-foot stanzas.

Each time a new pair of animals joins the group, they are added to the list. So, it begins,

Small Mouse
big Bear.’

The list grows.

Slow Badger, fast Hare.
Small Mouse, big Bear!’

And grows.

High Owl, low Wren.
Slow Badger, fast Hare.
Small Mouse, big Bear!’

Until finally, it is six lines long, with a rhyming pattern of A-A, B-B, C-C. 

‘All together, gathered there,
Cold night, warm lair.
Quiet woods, loud friends.
High Owl, low Wren.
Slow Badger, fast Hare.
Small Mouse, BIG BEAR!’

The growing list builds momentum, until the story ends with Bear smiling and clapping, surrounded by his friends in his lair that is decorated with strings of daisies.

The colorful, expressive pictures of the animals complement the story, and tell a few new details of their own. Mouse tickles Bear with a feather, Badger wears a necklace of daisies, a bird gives Badger another daisy, and Badger shares his necklace with Mole.

One small criticism is the overuse of exclamation marks, a lazy man’s way of expressing emotion. This story could have let the words and pictures do that without resorting to them.   


About the Author 


Karma Wilson is the bestselling author of several picture books for Simon @ Schuster, including the Bear series and “Where Is Home Little Pig? Karma lives in Montana.

About the Illustrator


Jane Chapman is a illustrator of over one hundred books for children, including “Dilly Duckling,” by Claire Freedman and “I Love My Mama” by Peter Kavanagh, as well as Karma Wilson’s “Bear Snores On,” “Bear Wants More,” “Bear Stays Up for Christmas,” and “Mortimer’s Christmas Manger.” She lives with her family in Dorset, England. Visit Jane at ChapmanandWarnes.com.  

Monday, November 6, 2017

Seuss-like Dinosaur Tale Entertains while Teaching



Welcome to Day #1 of the “Sticks ‘n’ Stones” Blog Tour

To celebrate the release of “Sticks ‘n’ Stones ‘n’ Dinosaur Bones,” written by Ted Enik and illustrated by G.F. Newland, blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content about this humorous tall tale and giving away chances to win a copy of “Sticks ‘n’ Stones ‘n’ Dinosaur Bones.” 

Sticks ‘n’ Stones ‘n’ Dinosaur Bones: Being a Whimsical ‘Take’ on a (pre)Historical Event
Written by Ted Enik and illustrated by G.F. Newland
Schiffer Publishing, Philadelphia, and Pixel Mouse House, New York, September 2017

“I’ll tell you a story – and some of It’s true – that explores and explains what the Bone Hunters do.” So begins this story about a feud between two paleontologists during America’s Gilded Age in the 1870s and ‘80s.

The story is told in a rollicking rhyme with lots of humor, and is reminiscent of Dr. Seuss in its writing style and sense of fun. It is about the frenzied competition to find dinosaur bones that grew between Edward Drinker Cope of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and O. Charles Marsh of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University, New Haven, CT.
  
“Each paleontologist used less-than-ethical methods to outdo the other – lying, stealing, blackmail, even destroying fossils,” writes Enik in a prologue. “Both obsessed and vengeful men attacked each other in professional journals as well as in newspapers targeted at the general public, in an all-out attempt to ruin his rival’s credibility and have his funding withdrawn.”

Enik is a master of rhyme and rhythm. A Goodreads reviewer said she found herself nearly singing when she read the book aloud to her daughter.

The story begins:

“Wrinkled professors from northeastern colleges/ saw there was room to expand certain knowledges.”
“Edward D. Cope was the man that School “A” / felt was perfectly suited for digging away!
“O. Charles Marsh represented School “B.” / Who could think of no Bone Hunter better than he!”
“If any bone promised a glimmer of glory, / a scout set about telegraphing the story
To big city newspapers – holding their deadlines -- /and poised to report it in EXTRA LARGE headlines.”

Before long, both paleontologists decide to stoop to less ethical means of winning the most accolades.

“To heck with science,” Marsh hissed to his shovel, / Outshining my rival’s the goal, far above all.
“It’s much more important to outdo my foe, / and if fibbing comes into it, who’s going to know?”

Both men spread rumors that they found something far greater than any bones so far discovered. Each gathers crowds and crows about their amazing discoveries.

“Behold!” bellowed Cope/ like a one-person chorus. / An animal never on Earth seen before!!!!
“My NeverTopThisOne-Ginormous-asaurus!”

His opponent Marsh tries to one-up him:

“Exclaiming, ‘Good People, look here! Feast your eyes! / What I’m holding before you – though tiny in size—
“Is by far-and-away, of the hundreds I’ve found, / quite the topmost dead treasure I took from the ground!”

Despite the scientists’ raving superlatives, their audiences see through their insincere claims.

“Like that! The Bone Hunters were fired, and broke. / Where once they were famous they now were a joke.
“And why not/ They were phonies/ and Bone Buccaneers
“Who swindled their sponsors and spoiled their careers.”

Regardless of their childish competition, these two scientists each discovered the bones of many dinosaurs and the two of them were responsible for the flowering of the science of paleontology, Enik writes.

Marsh discovered and named the Allosaurus, the Apatosaurus (originally named Bronotosaurus), the Diplodocus, the Stegosaurus, and the Triceratops. Cope discovered and named the Camarasaurus, the Coelophysis, and the Dimetrodon. He named the Elasmosaurus, which was discovered by another paleontologist, Dr. Theophilus Turner.

G.F. Newland’s illustrations are charming, stylistic, and colorful, and keep the story moving at a gingerly pace. Their old-fashioned look suits the historical subject.

This is the second time “Sticks ‘n’ Stones ‘n’ Dinosaur Bones” is being published, now by Schiffer Publishing, Philadelphia, with Pixel Mouse House, New York, and available in hardcover.  It was originally published in 2013 by Pixel Mouse House and was selected as a Finalist for American Book Fest’s 2014 Best Children’s Nonfiction and a Finalist for American Book Fest’s 2014 International Book Award for Best Children’s Nonfiction.  It is an Unhinged History Book, the first in a Seuss-inspired series about history and science that Ted is writing and Newland is illustrating for children.




About the Author

Ted Enik has worked as an illustrator for most of the well-known New York publishing houses, applying his versatility to both original art as well as classic and current children’s book characters, including the Magic School Bus, the Eloise books, and the popular “Fancy Nancy I Can Read” series. This is the first picture book Ted has authored. It was first published in 2013 by Pixel Mouse House, New York, and honored as a Finalist in the American Book Fest’s 2014 Best Children’s Nonfiction and a Finalist in American Book Fest’s 2014 International Book Award for Best Children’s Nonfiction. Learn more about his books at unhingedhistory.com and his illustration at tedenik.com.

About the Illustrator

G.F. Newland is a part-time illustrator and the systems administrator at the School of Visual Arts, New York, NY. His doodles have found their way onto buttons, bags, posters, and T-shirts, and have been published by Scholastic, Hachette, and Pixel Mouse House. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and a pet fish named Enki. Visit his website at gfnewland.com.

Schedule of Blog Tour


November 8: Books My Kids Read
November 10: Kid Lit 411
November 11: Shelf Employed
November 12: Frog on a Blog

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Friday, October 20, 2017

‘The Night Gardener’ Spins Gorgeous, Magical Tale


The Night Gardener
Written and illustrated by The Fan Brothers
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016

“The Night Gardener” is a gorgeously illustrated picture book that tells a magical tale of the transformative power of art and the kindness of an old man.

The story begins as the orphan William traces an owl into the dirt and a strange old man walks by carrying a ladder, a bag of tools, and a rolled-up rug over his shoulder.



During the blue-tinged night, the old man clips away at a tree in front of the dreary Grimloch Orphanage.

William wakes up and looks out his window to see a commotion on the street. He quickly dresses, runs downstairs, and races outside. As if by magic, the tree has been shaped into a wise old owl like the one he drew in the dirt. William spends the entire day staring at it in wonder.


As the days go by, every morning brings a new animal shape in a tree: a cat, a rabbit, a parrot, an elephant, and finally a dragon. William is very excited, and more and more people are coming out to see the artistry.


The pictures begin in black and white, but as the town’s excitement grows, more dabs of color appear in man’s blue suspenders, a boy’s red tricycle, and a man’s yellow tuba.

Finally, many townspeople gather and enjoy a day outdoors next to two trees that make a dragon.
As William begins to head home, he spots the night gardener. He turns to William and invites him to help him transform Grimloch Park.

They work together deep into the night until William falls asleep under a tree. In the morning, William awakens to the sound of happy families walking by and a gift of garden sheers from the night gardener.

The whole town comes out to admire the night gardener and William’s work. Every tree is a different animal: a giraffe, a dinosaur, a rhinoceros, a whale, and a bear. 



As the seasons change and time goes by, the trees lose their animal shapes. The night gardener never returns, but the townspeople are forever changed. Now instead of a dreary black and white, the town is full of color and life.




And William becomes an artist with his sheers. On the last page, he is cutting a squirrel from a shrub.

“The Night Gardener” won the 2016 Dily Evans Founder’s Award, which is given by the Society of Illustrators, New York, to the most promising new talent in children’s book illustration.
   
About the Author and Illustrator


Terry Fan received his formal art training at Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, Canada. His work is a blend of traditional and contemporary techniques, using ink or graphite mixed with digital. He spends his days (and nights) creating magical paintings, portraits, and prints. The Night Gardener is his first book. Born in Illinois, he now lives in Toronto. Visit him online at Krop, Society 6, and Facebook.

Eric Fan is an artist and writer who lives in Toronto, Canada. Born in Hawaii and raised in Toronto, he attended the Ontario College of Art and Design, where he studied illustration, sculpture, and film. He has a passion for vintage bikes, clockwork contraptions, and impossible dreams. “The Night Gardener is his first children’s book. See more of his work at his Society 6 shop and on Facebook.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

New Book Celebrates How Our Children Teach Us to See


Through Your Eyes: My Child’s Gift to Me
Written by Ainsley Earhardt and illustrated by Ji-Hyuk Kim
Aladdin, An Imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, October 17, 2017

“Through Your Eyes: My Child’s Gift to Me” is a sweet book told in rhyme about how a little girl teaches her mother to see, hear, and feel the everyday beauty and miracles in the world.

The mother and daughter spend the afternoon at Central Park, get caught in a brief rainstorm, watch the clouds in the sky, and then walk home as the sun sets.

Ji-Hyuk Kim’s soft, pretty illustrations complement the gentle story.



“Squealing with joy/When you spotted a dog/Eyes smiling with wonder/At the croak of a frog.
“You smelled every tulip/Gentle beauty so real/Who would have thought/You could teach me to feel.”



“You danced in the puddles/When the rain pattered down/First we waltzed, then we sang/What a heavenly sound.”



“You counted the clouds/My heart pressed to your ear/Who would have known/You could teach me to hear?”



“To slow down, take small steps/Make each moment last/The world is a blur/If you’re spinning too fast.”



Earhardt will donate a portion of her proceeds from “Through Your Eyes” to Folds of Honor, an organization that provides scholarships and assistance to the spouses and children of fallen soldiers in service to the United States.  
  
About the Author


Ainsley Earhardt is the cohost of Fox & Friends. This is her second picture book. Her first, “Take Heart, My Child,” 2016, cowritten with Kathryn Cristaldi and illustrated by Jaime Kim, was a New York Times bestseller. Ainsley lives in Manhattan with her husband and daughter, Hayden.

About the Illustrator


Ji-Hyuk Kim is a freelance illustrator who has clients in the United States, Europe, and Asia. He is known for his literary illustrations, which embrace the atmosphere and light. He has worked on numerous books and media both in print and online, including children’s book covers, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, and album covers. He lives with his family in Korea. This is his first picture book. Visit him at jihyukkim.com.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

French Illustrator Puts Eerie Spin on Traditional Tale


The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Adapted by Marine Tasso, illustrated by Thomas Baas. and translated from French by Noelia Hobeika
Little Gestalten, Berlin, 2016

“The Pied Piper of Hamelin” is a beautifully illustrated, deliciously eerie version of the traditional cautionary tale popularized by the Brothers Grimm.

French illustrator Thomas Baas uses bright reds and dark blues to create a sinister mood as a small German town is suddenly invaded by rats on Christmas Eve.



The story is set in 1283 though the characters are curiously clothed in 20th century fashions. The townspeople enjoy a carefree life of lavish parties, but they regard their children as bothersome.

A rat sneaks in through the town gates, followed by a second rat, and a third rat. After a few minutes, there are a few hundred rats, and after a few hours, a few thousand. It isn’t long before the town is overrun by rats.

Panicked townspeople go to the mayor, who orders the most powerful poison be used in mousetraps. But, alas, the rats are so clever and hearty they avoid the mousetraps and feast on the poison as if it were candy.



Desperately, the mayor announces he will give a thousand gold coins to anyone who can rid the town of its rats.

A stranger comes to town and says he knows how to free the town from its infestation. The mayor promises him the reward if he succeeds.

The Pied Piper plays a small pipe in the town square. The rats stop to listen. Then suddenly the square is full of entranced rats.

The rats follow as the stranger continues to play his pipe, walking toward the town gates. The Pied Piper stops on a bridge, but the rats keep moving and throw themselves into the river to drown.



The townspeople celebrate as the Pied Piper goes to the mayor to claim his reward. The mayor says all he will give him is one hundred gold coins. The Pied Piper tells him he will regret that decision.

The adults return to their lavish ways, and the mayor congratulates himself for tricking the stranger.

But one day, the Pied Piper returns playing his pipe. All the children of Hamelin come and follow him. Their parents try to hold them back, but to no avail. The children skip across the bridge, over the river, and disappear into the mountains, never to be seen again.



Ever since that day, the wind from the mountains brings the echo of happy children laughing.

The story is about fairness and the importance of keeping promises. This version of the traditional tale is less bleak than other accounts where the children are drowned or imprisoned in a cave.

Nevertheless, it would be disturbing for very young children. It is probably best for grammar school youngsters.

About the Illustrator



Thomas Baas is a French illustrator of many children’s books. He attended the School of Applied Arts in Strasbourg, France.  He describes his style as old school and in the tradition of Alsatian illustrators. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Two Goofy Board Books Will Amuse Young Children


When Your Lion Needs a Bath
Written by Susanna Leonard Hill and illustrated by Daniel Wiseman
Little Simon, 2017


When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles
Written by Susanna Leonard Hill and illustrated by Daniel Wiseman
Little Simon, 2017

Susanna Leonard Hill has published two silly board books about how to solve your unusual pets’ problems. Young children will enjoy the goofy stories and colorful cartoon pictures by Daniel Wiseman.

The stories are a little reminiscent of Laura Numeroff’s “If You Give ...” series, “If You Give a Moose a Muffin,” “If You Give a Pig a Pancake,” “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” etc. One silly suggestion leads to something else, which leads to another thing. Like Numeroff’s stories, Hills are told in second person, addressing the reader as “you.”

“When Your Lion Needs a Bath” begins with the problem that your pet lion is smelly and needs a bath. It is difficult because the lion is afraid of water like all cats, so you need to be sneaky. As the narrator tells you what to do, a boy main character prepares the bath and tries one thing after another to get the lion into the bathtub. Finally, he succeeds, but he leaves the door open. The lion runs out and gets muddy again, splashing him too. “Looks like your lion needs another bath ... and so do you.”

“When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles” starts with the problem that your pet elephant has the sniffles. The narrator says, “You must take good care of him.” The girl main character does one thing after another as the narrator says what you must do to take good care of your lion being careful to prevent a sneeze. Finally, she sings him a song but she isn’t careful about the props she uses, wearing a feathered boa. “Because after all your hard work, his nose might begin to itch ... and twitch ... and ah ... AH ... AAAHHHH ... CHOOOOOOOOOO!

“Oh dear.

"When your elephant has the sniffles, you just might end up with them too!”

About the Author


Susanna Leonard Hill is the award-winning author of nearly a dozen books for children, including Punxsutawney Phyllis (A Booklist Children’s Pick and Amelia Bloomer Project choice); No Sword Fighting in the House (a Junior Library Guild selection); Can’t Sleep Without Sheep (a Children’s Book of the Month); and Not Yet, Rose (a Gold Mom’s Choice Award winner). She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs. She loves chocolate, animals, and being outdoors. 

About the Illustrator



Daniel Wiseman likes to draw. A lot. He likes it so much, he’s made a career out of it. Usually he draws animals wearing clothes, or kids enjoying a good dance party. However, when prodded, he’s been known to draw pretty much anything else. Daniel lives in St. Louis, Mo., with his wife and son. When he isn’t drawing, he can usually be found perfecting his biscuit recipe, hiking up a mountain in some faraway location, singing loudly in his car, riding his bike, or napping.