La Dolce Vita: Abby Reviews Paolo: Emperor of Rome

With Italy and its people in our hearts, Abby brings you Mac Barnett’s latest children’s book about a dog who yearns for freedom in the Eternal City. The book will be available March 31 in both Kindle and print format.

If you’ve never heard of Barnett, check out Barbara’s 2014 interview with him when the Caldecott winner spoke about what he called the literary bargain children happily make when choosing something to read.

 

Abby Launches Video Book Reviews for Kids

Ok, we’re all home, but we can keep boredom at bay with great books. Abby, our roving 5th grade reporter, has stepped up with video book reviews for kids of all ages. Accompanying each review will be pertinent data (publisher, price, etc.) and links to where books are available in both digital and print format.

Here is Abby’s welcome video for a series we’re calling, “Book Reviews from Inside the Hot Zone.” The Hot Zone refers to where we are currently located–that this, a stone’s throw from New Rochelle. Be safe everyone. We will get through this together.

 

 

Green Day

Mother Earth needs our help. Easier said than done, right? The challenges are enormous and it’s tempting to simply buy a reusable grocery bag and call it a day. But every little bit–including that reusable grocery bag–helps, and plenty of options exist to make the world a cleaner place. But where to start? According to Jen Gale in The Sustaninable(ish) Living Guide: Everything you need to know to make small changes that make a big difference (Green Tree, 296 $16), taking Draconian measures to “go green” aren’t necessary to make significant change. Gale knows, because she went to those extremes by undertaking an entire year without buying a single new item for her and her family, which she chronicled on her website. That experience, though difficult, revealed that she and her family (which included two young children) were capable of becoming more thoughtful consumers. But going whole hog isn’t for everyone, and this book grew out of a desire to permanently change her behavior without having to pull up stakes and move to Amish country.

Sustainable(ish) provides easy, achievable ideas on how to reduce consumption and help save the planet. Topics run to the usual suspects, like reducing food and plastic waste, as well as the more unexpected and thought-provoking, from an examination of the astounding amount of waste that goes into producing our clothes to how the most mundane of items, like markers and baby wipes, can be toxic for the planet.  Each chapter follows a similar pattern of laying out the statistics, providing Gale’s experience with the problem, and a series of suggestions for the reader to implement that become progressively more involved.

Engagingly optimistic, there is much here to help readers find their way to a cleaner, greener future, but financial stats provided in pounds and UK-based resources will leave many American readers wondering where to turn for further guidance, but that is easily remedied via a quick online search. Our choices matter, and Gale helps us take realistic action that will benefit the health of our planet and the next generation–in other words, this is the earth-friendly guidebook for all of us.

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Win the Holiday Gift-Giving Season with These Books from Folio Society

Know someone who loves great art and classic works of literature? Check out the Folio Society’s holiday offerings. Two in particular that we adore are the new editions of Alice in Wonderland and The Velveteen Rabbit. Be sure to check out Barbara’s interview with Alice illustrator Charles van Sandwyk over on the Fine Books Blog to get a sense of what it was like tackling a classic story like Alice. 

But if you are thinking of giving these as Christmas gifts, don’t wait: the ordering deadline for regular delivery is December 8th! (December 12th for expedited.)

Check out the great art for both books below!

Art Credits: Illustration © Charles van Sandwyk 2016 and 2019 from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, exclusively available from foliosociety.com

Illustration William Nicholson © Desmond Banks 1922, from Margery Williams’s The Velveteen Rabbit, exclusively available from foliosociety.com  

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Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos Debut TV Series on PBS That’s Anything But “Ordinary”

The men who brought you the Ordinary People Change the World book series have created a TV show! Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum premiered November 11, 2019. I spoke with author Brad Meltzer and illustrator Chris Eliopoulos about how they paired up, why they like writing and drawing, and what they hope kids will learn from the new series.

Chris and Brad share a love of comic books, and got closer with the power of Twitter. Brad proposed they write a series, and Chris was happy to help. They’ve written dozens of books in the Ordinary People series since 2014.

You might be a bit curious about the name of the new TV series: Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum isn’t something you hear too often. As a kid, Brad always liked names with the letter X in them. Xavier is one of these rare few. He also loved riddles. Puzzling things out was a favorite activity of his. Hence the name, Xavier Riddle.

Brad was inspired to become a writer thanks to his ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Spicer. She told him he could write. Brad was dubious — he didn’t expect to be a writer. However, when he wrote his first book, he visited his teacher’s classroom, thirty years later, and said to her, “My name is Brad Meltzer, and I wrote this book for you.” The teacher started crying. When he asked her why, she explained that she was planning on retiring that year, because she didn’t think she influenced anyone. Clearly, she was wrong.

I Am Marie Curie

Brad picks his subjects with a particular characteristic in mind: “I always chose a hero, not because they’re famous, but because their life provides a lesson that I can give my own kids, and, truthfully, that I need myself.” The hero’s childhood is what strikes Brad as the most interesting for young readers. When talking about his biography of Amelia Earhart, Brad said that, “I loved the idea that there was this little girl, and everyone said to her, ‘You’re never going to be successful. You’re never going to be able to do what you want to do.’ And she just didn’t care. She just kept plowing forward. She wouldn’t let anything stop her. That’s the lesson I want for my sons, it’s a lesson I want with my daughter.”

Now let’s talk about the illustrator. Chris always knew he was talented at art, especially as a kid. “If you’d asked me back then, ‘Would you rather go to Disneyland or would you rather sit and draw pictures?’ I’d rather draw,” he said. He grew up a shy child, and Chris drew pictures to tell other people what he was feeling. “I would give these drawings to my parents, and they would read these stories and go, ‘Oh, okay, now we know what’s going on in Chris’s life.’” As an adult, he decided that he wanted to be a children’s book illustrator.

Brad and Chris work closely when it comes to the book or television creating process, as Chris explained: “Brad writes a script, and then sends it to me, and we talk about it a little bit, and then I go off and I draw the whole book out in pencil, so that everybody can see it. We decide if something works or doesn’t work. He’ll suggest things, or I’ll throw things in. Once everybody’s in agreement, I go back and I fix the things that need fixing, and I ink it up in ink, and then I send it back again. And then they all decide what looks good, what looks bad, what needs to be fixed. And then I go back and fix it, and then I color the whole book and I send it back.”

I Am Walt Disney Cover

Sometimes, the people in the books have a say in how the book will look. During the creation of I Am Caring: A Little Book About Jane Goodall, for example, Jane read the book and made Chris go back and re-draw over ten pages because she was holding hands with wild animals in the pictures, and she didn’t find that appropriate for children. Chris told me that it was tiring to go back and redraw so many pages, but, in the end, the book did turn out to be better!

When I told Chris that his work seemed to resemble the Peanuts cartoons, he replied, “They’re my favorite thing in the whole wide world!” he explained why he adored them: “Peanuts was the biggest influence in my life. When I was a little kid, my uncle owned a remaindered book shop — basically where all the leftover books went. I used to take all of the Peanuts books–I still have them here in my studio–and I would just read them, cover to cover, all the time.” As he got older, Chris discovered Calvin and Hobbes, a popular cartoon by Bill Watterson about a boy and his tiger. Look at Chris’s drawings: big heads, tiny bodies, strange squished faces. The Peanuts cartoons look quite similar.

Xavier Riddle aims to teach kids the same message that the books do: that kids, no matter what, can be extraordinary. Brad said that making sure these stories are exciting is important to keep kids interested: “If you remind kids that these aren’t the stories of famous people, this is what we’re all capable of on our very best days, suddenly kids will look and go, ‘tell me more about that.’”

Abigail C. Richter is a fifth grader and lives with her parents and two basset hounds in New York. 

Jennifer Morla’s Career-Spanning, Kickstarter-funded Autobiography Makes a Splash

Entitled, fittingly, Morla: Design, this Kickstarter-funded memoir explores the career of Jennifer Morla her creative process, design philosophy, and provides behind-the-scenes stories about various high profile projects like her campaigns for Swatch, Levi’s, and Nordstrom.
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Reproduced with permission from Letterform Archives.
Though an autobiography, Morla is a designer, and so it makes sense that her story be draped in a style that speaks to her lively aesthetic. There’s neon bookmark ribbons, metallic inks, vacuum-formed, debossed white covers, and bold stripes that all manage to play well together.  In other words, the designer’s touch is visible on every inch of the book.
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Reproduced with permission from Letterform Archives.
Essays and insight fill the 400+ page volume, spanning Morla’s career and providing advice to design acolytes. Typohiles, meanwhile, have plenty to rejoice about: Morla explores twenty-six of her most beloved typefaces, from newer fonts to her “oldest typographic friends.” The designer waxes poetic over the sloping curves of the italic Garamond C to when she fell in love at first sight with Obsidian when it first appeared in 2015.
Earning over 300 accolades including the Cooper Hewitt award, the AIGA medal, and the Smithsonian Design Museum National Award, Morla’s work is found in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress and MOMA, and when not running her design firm, Morla teaches at the California College of the Arts. Her book is a vibrant reflection of a designer whose work combines type and image to express a range of concepts. “Design,” as Morla writes, “is understanding made visible.”
Morla: Design, by Jennifer Morla; Letterform Archive, $125, 432 pages. 

Counting Crows…and Robins, Jays, and Chickadees

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Copyright 2019 Susan Richmond and Stephanie Coleman. Reproduced with permission from Peachtree.

Bird Count, by Susan Edwards Richmond, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, Peachtree Publishers; $17.95, ages 4-8. October 2019.

Fall birdwatching is more challenging now that mating season is over–the bright plumage of some birds gives way to more muted tones–but scouting them out is excellent preparation for the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. In Susan Edward Richmond’s first children’s book, Bird Count, Ava, whose name is Latin for “like a bird,” is tasked with recording and identifying birds for the wintertime roundup.

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Copyright 2019 Susan Richmond and Stephanie Coleman. Reproduced with permission from Peachtree.

A bird can only be counted if at least two people confirm hearing or seeing it, so Ava must pay close attention with her eyes and ears. The singsongy text flies with ease from one page to the next, while young readers can keep abreast of Ava’s bird tally in the page margins. Stephanie Coleman’s deft illustrations of mallards, mergansers, and merlins prove the adage that practice makes perfect: last year she challenged herself to paint one bird a day for 100 days. (See the entire flock here.)

A joyous introduction to birdwatching while also fostering a love of the outdoors, Bird Count will delight fledgling ornithologists as well as wise old owls.

 

The Dog Who Lost His Bark

Rehabilitation and redemption are possible, and in the right homes, both animals and humans can forge lifelong bonds of love and friendship, as masterfully told in Artemis Fowl series author Eoin Colfer’s latest, The Dog Who Lost His Bark (Candlewick, $16.99, 144 pp, ages 7-10).

Here, we meet a young pup whose lot in life is filled with sadness; sold and boxed up as a surprise Christmas present, Dog is not an overnight success–he’s a puppy after all. Puppies need patience and love, both in short supply at his first home, and he is quickly cast aside, neglected and forgotten, until one day Dog is rolled into a sheet of flooring and tossed into the local trash heap. Dog is so traumatized that he loses his bark. But he winds up at a local shelter, where he’s discovered by a young boy named Patrick whose  father is a musician on tour in Australia, and the child hopes a dog will fill the ache in his heart. Patrick is drawn to Dog’s sadness and makes it is mission to rehabilitate Dog, rechristened Oz in an attempt to summon Patrick’s father.

After much trial and error and unrelenting patience, Oz becomes every child’s dream of a pet. Then Patrick’s life is thrown into disarray, and now it’s time for Oz to rescue his boy. This canine adventure saga is classic children’s book fodder–right up there with Lassie, Come Home and Where the Red Fern Grows. Readers of all ages will be reaching for the tissues while avidly turning each page to see what happens next. Kate Greenaway medal winning illustrator P.J. Lynch’s (The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower; Lincoln and His Boys) soft pencil illustrations are an expert match for a text that is sure to become a household favorite.

 

Charlotte Brontë Before Jane Eyre

The reading public has long been fascinated with anything having to do with Charlotte Brontë, the author of Jane Eyre and the source of untold spinoffs, movies, and commentary. In fact, Jane Eyre has never gone out of print and has been translated into nearly 60 languages.

Now from the Center for Cartoon Studies and Hyperion Books comes a book that explores the woman behind the classic in Charlotte Brontë before Jane Eyre (Hyperion, $17.99. September 24, 2019). Written and illustrated by cartoonist Glynnis Fawkes, the 112-page graphic novel takes middle-grade readers on a trip back to 1837, when young Charlotte faced unrelenting discouragement and setbacks on the path to literary success, all set to the brooding backdrop of the isolated parsonage the Brontë family called home.

Fawkes’ pen-and-ink illustrations are crisp and vivid, capturing in shades of black, white, and gray the oppressive and highly patriarchal world Brontë navigated. It’s a biography that examines Brontë’s formative years and the challenges she faced. Fawkes intersperses Brontë’s own words, where possible, to better express her personality.

Fellow cartoonist Alison Bechdel provides an introduction into why Jane Eyre remains as relevant today as it did when first published under the pen name “Currer Bell” in 1847. A postscript and panel discussions explaining Fawkes’ thought process behind certain illustrated panels rounds out the book.

Charlotte Brontë Before Jane Eyre is a fantastic introduction to one of Western literature’s most enduring authors. Tuck this one into your child’s backpack, there’s much here to inspire anyone apprehensive about heading back to school. And though most middle-grade readers may not be quite ready to pick up Jane Eyre, Fawkes’s biography will whet their appetite.

Brave Flies and Barking Spiders Featured in New Series by Kyle Sullivan

HOBGOBLIN AND THE SEVEN STINKERS OF RANCIDIA by Kyle Sullivan (Hazy Dell Press. 168 pp. $15.95). Ages 6-8.

 

         Are you somebody that likes fart jokes and happy endings? If so, then this is the book for you! Hobgoblin and the Seven Stinkers of Rancidia, the first book of the Hazy Fables series, is the hilarious second coming of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. (Do you see the resemblance?)

 

          In this funny tale, the last hobgoblin in the world sets out to stop the bad-tempered King Fiddlefart from cleansing his subjects and making them smell wonderful. On his heroic mission, Hobgoblin acquires some friends who want to help as well: a squirrel, a ball of dung, a mummy, a skeleton, a bug, a sloth, a furry thing with glasses, something named Grody that can’t be explained, six flies, and some spiders that bark like dogs.

 

          This story is like nothing you’ve ever read before. With gross heroes, a guide to the characters, and a map, it’s something you’ll instantly fart with glee about.