Book Review Wednesday: Duck Sock Hop

There’s nothing I like better than getting a new book in the mail. Yesterday, I found this…

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Dial Books For Young Readers (2012)
By: Jane Kohuth
Illu: Jane Porter

I loved it so much I had to write about it right away.

Jane Kohuth engages readers and listeners alike on a variety of levels. First we get the  rhythmic text about ducks who like to wear socks and dance, with playful, spot-on, finger- snapping, toe-tapping rhyme. On second look, the parent reader can point out a variety of concepts: shapes, colors, opposites (right/left, high/low) numbers “three ducks boogie, one duck rocks. Two ducks stop and trade their socks.”

The wonderful thing about this book is that it is a perfect example of how a picture books can include a plot arc with a conflict. (This is something that I often have to mention in editorial situations.) After the ducks boogie and rock, they dance holes in their socks. Kohuth gives enough fun-loving time at the beginning of the story for the readers to fall in love with, and really care for the ducks, so we really feel sad when the dancing is interrupted. The change of mood also adds much needed change-up to the rhyme and rhythm. The adult-reader gets a chance to involve the child listener, “What are the ducks going to do?” The solution– Band-Aids and snacks, make ducks infinitely relatable to the toddler set.

Debut illustrator Jane Porter places the brightly colored ducks on fields of white. In the following video she describes her process. She draws using india ink and often uses a stick as her drawing tool.  Readers of DUCK SOCK HOP can feel the dance-y movement in the gestural quality of her drawing. Next, she layers on color and texture digital. In this book, the duck feathers and the sock details both have a wonderful print feel.

Jane Porter Interview

If your kiddo liked…

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They’ll love DUCK SOCK HOP!

Book Review Wednesday: At the bookfair.

Well friends, Creative Chaos finally broke the 100 views mark on Monday’s post, The Children’s Book Industry, a gendered affair.  Feel free to keep commenting there about your thoughts and ideas regarding the issue. It is obviously on the minds of many and also obvious that while valuing ourselves and our work is important, we can only go so far when limited by societal structures, budgetary constraints, and national policy that doesn’t support women, children, and families. Vote your interests.

TODAY… The Bookfair!

This week the Scholastic Bookfair visited my child’s elementary school and I volunteered. Yes, I know– therefore taking four hours away from my writing. However, I was able to watch kids and books and that is an eye-opening experience.

What they wanted:
It is true that many of them had five dollars or less and were gung ho to skip the books all together for a chance to purchase a pencil with the animal toppers that bug out their eyes when you squeeze. (huge hit) Diaries with locks for boys and girls also got a lot of touch time.

The money limit meant that they had to skip new releases. The big winners were mass market titles such as tie-in books Star Wars and anything lego was big with guys. Selina Gomez and iCarly, and Bad Kitty with girls. Ellen Miles has a series called Puppy Place that 2nd and 3rd grade girls tended to gravitate towards. The covers are super cute as was the book Little Pink Puppy about a piglet raised by a dachshund.

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The Titanic was represented at the Fair but I didn’t see a lot of kids gravitate towards it.

I did get asked for the Hunger Games more than a handful of times but since this was an elementary fair it wasn’t present. Sort of surprised since Allie Condie’s, Matched series, Legend, and the Patterson Witch & Wizard books were all on hand. 

Overall, the kids were asking for adventure, and animals. Can’t be more succinct than that.

My favorites from the fair:

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From Indiebound: Caroline lives on Meadowview Street. But where’s the meadow? Where’s the view? There’s nothing growing in her front yard except grass. Then she spots a flower and a butterfly and a bird and Caroline realizes that with her help, maybe Meadowview Street can have a meadow after all.

My take: On Meadowview Street, by Henry Cole, is a quiet picture book about the beauty around us when we appreciate nature and don’t try to control it. This PB was a bargain at $2.50 at the fair.

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From Indiebound: Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

My Take: The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate (yes the Animorphs author) is told from the point of view of Ivan, a silver back gorilla. This makes for a visually interesting book with short sentences and paragraphs. Readable and well-designed.

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From Indiebound: A reality-bending adventure from a Newbery Honor-winning author. Siblings India, Finn, and Mouse are stunned when their mom tells them they are flying that night–without her–to their Uncle Red’s home in Colorado. But things take an even more dramatic turn when their plane lands in a very unusual place. A mysterious driver meets them at the airport; when he drops them off at their “destination,” each kid suddenly has a clock with a different amount of time left. If the time runs out, they have to become permanent citizens in a place they don’t recognize or understand. Only if they work together can they call the driver back to help get them where they really belong. Suspenseful, funny, dramatic, and thought-provoking, this is a book that will stay with you long after you read the incredible ending.

My Take: Gennifer Choldenko brought us AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS and its sequel AL CAPONE SHINES MY SHOES. My boys and I were riveted by her storytelling in those books. NO PASSENGERS BEYOND THIS POINT was on the Spring 2011 Indiebound NEXT list.

Enjoy your reading!

Book Review Wednesday: Mooshka, A Quilt Story


Say it aloud. 


In that one word Julie Paschkis has captured a hug, and a kiss, and the comfort of a sibling’s love. Mooshka is the name of the unusual quilt who belongs to Karla, a young girl and the main character in the vibrant and cozy book, Mooshka, A Quilt Story. 

Mooshka is infused with the stories Karla’s grandmother told while she sewed the quilt from scraps of cloth called “schnitz.” Mooshka tells these loving family stories to Karla. 

Pachkis surrounds her gentle story with boarders of “schnitz.” Decorative, geometric and organic patterns in saturated, true, primary hues, hug the text of the story just as Mooshka hugs Karla. Each hue: yellow, blue, red… tells Karla the story of its origin on a spread in the book revealing a bit of Karla’s family’s history. 

Images © Julie Paschkis, Peachtree Publishers

The text of this picture book holds its cozy feel until about two-thirds of the way in when Paschkis introduces Hannah, Karla’s baby sister. The author does not elaborate on how long the new baby has been around, instead she gets right to the point.

“One day a little white crib was moved into Karla’s room. Hannah was in the crib.”

The new crib and the crying baby sister silence Mooshka. It is up to Karla to solve this problem on her own. Paschkis shows Karla’s resentment and growth in simple language and spare text. The illustrations mirror this as they loose their decoration and become flat fields of deep blue. 

Images © Julie Paschkis, Peachtree Publishers

Mooshka, A Quilt Story, is part quiet tale for young children, part family history, part color concept book, and part sibling story- but it is all beautifully crafted. Coming to a bed-time near you on March 1st from Peachtree Publishers. 

Book Review Wednesday: One Cool Friend- One Cool Contest

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One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, Illustrations by David Small

Last August, I was privileged to attend the LA SCBWI conference. Privileged because I was in the company of my idols: Judy Blume, Donna Jo Napoli, Bruce Colville, Laurie Halse-Anderson, Denise Fleming, Richard Jesse Watson, and David Small to name a few. 

David Small is, of course, the acclaimed author/illustrator of the graphic memoir Stitches, and he is also one part of the brilliant team (with his wife Sarah Stewart) who brought children The Money Tree, The Gardner and The Library. In his breakout workshop, David was in the front of the room telling us about this amazing manuscript that fell into his lap written by a Maine author (my ears perked up) Toni Buzzeo (I gave a little scream). All heads swiveled my way. “Sorry,” I said. “She’s a friend of mine.” 

She is. And I was thrilled that I got a sneak peak at her wonderful new picture book, One Cool Friend.

One Cool Friend is about a very proper boy named Elliot whose eccentric, academic father takes him to the aquarium one day. Elliot falls in love with the penguins and tells his father he’d like to take one home. The odd father agrees, assuming the penguin Elliot wants is plush and stuffed. But it isn’t. That is- as they say- when hilarity ensues. 

To read this quick description of the book one might say, “This seems like a slight story line for a picture book. Where is the hook, that repeat readability that I always hear editors talk about.” If I told you that, I’d spoil the book. Suffice it to say, David’s illustrations work so seamlessly with the text and add so much to the story that the book is not only a serious “read it again-Mommy” candidate but also packed with humor and mystery. 

So as not to spoil the book, but to give you more information, I’ve invited Toni to answer a few questions about writing this book and writing in general:

Welcome Toni! I loved seeing David’s retro, limited color, illustrations in August. Now that I’ve read your book I can’t imagine the illustrations being conceived any other way. He told us that he hates illustrator notes but in your book there’s quite a lot of visual storytelling and humor through the illustrations that adds to the narrative. How do you trust and leave space for the illustrator but still get your story across with so few words?

When I was an aspiring picture book author, I learned, as most of us do, that it’s best to keep illustrator notes to a minimum, and I’ve generally heeded that advice.  After all, a professional illustrator will be bringing his or her own vision to the project and needs to have free rein for his or her creativity. If you take a look at my 15 published picture books, you’ll see that this has worked well for me. I’ve been wonderfully blessed with amazing illustrators!

Regarding illustrator notes, One Cool Friend was a slightly different case, however. As you note, the text is enormously spare and the humor and much of the plot is delivered through illustration, so I needed to provide many more illustration notes than the three or four I might usually supply. I did so with two thoughts in mind: 1) the notes should only provide “set-up” or stage directions, such as location or action and 2) the notes could be disregarded if my illustrator had a better vision! My text includes thirteen illustration notes, all of which give the illustrator a clue as to the set-up.

For example:

  • [Illustration note: Poster on the wall with a very formal portrait of Ferdinand Magellan, discoverer of the Magellanic penguin, and information about the penguins.]
  • [Illustration note: Dad still sitting on the bench]
  • [Illustration note: Elliot’s father glances at the gift shop display]
  • [Illustration note: Icicles forming across the room]

David used some and provided his own vision in other cases (each time, in a much funnier manner than my idea).

When I saw the initial sketches, I expected to be delighted—and I was. In fact, I was astonished at the over-the-top humor David brought to my story with his graphic style and spare use of color. And those speech bubbles embedded in the text! A stroke of pure genious.

Many picture books use a pattern where the main character tries three times to achieve a goal and fails, then succeeds in the end. In your book, Elliot doesn’t really try to hide his penguin from his father. Elliot’s goal seems to be to make his penguin comfortable which he does in multiple ways. Still, the reader gets a sense of mystery through the vague and disjointed interactions between father and son. Can you tell us a little about the initial seed for this type of structure?

As a former writing teacher and elementary school librarian, I love to analyze structure and pattern in picture books and I DO think about structure choice as I write my own books. I keep a list of common patterns in mind, including:

  • Pattern of three (both try-fail, try-fail, try-succeed, and try-fail, try-fail, try-fail, succeed)
  • Circle story
  • Frame story
  • Cumulative story
  • Chronological (including day–>night, seasonal, etc) story
  • Concept (including alphabetical, counting, etc.) book
  • Flip book

But this story was different. It’s based on an urban legend about a boy stealing a penguin from the New England Aquarium in Boston. I heard the story first in a teacher’s room.

So I had the bones of the story right there. The challenge was to discover the way to make the surprise ending work (I’m being circumspect here so as not to spoil the book for those who haven’t read it). The story takes place over the course of 24 hours and as such, its structure is chronological, but rising tension is the driving force. The best method was to build suspense in the reader with an unanswered question—does Elliot’s dad know about Magellan all along? In fact, if you finish reading the book and still don’t know the answer to that question for certain, I’ve succeeded in my mission.

In the book, Elliot brings his penguin to the library. I loved how the librarian is unflinching as she faces the penguin and Elliot’s passion. As a librarian yourself, what was the oddest thing a child brought you? Or the most passionate researcher you’ve helped?

One of my teachers at Margaret Chase Smith School in Sanford, Maine set me up to be the unflinching recipient of an hysterical research question from one of her transitional-first grade students. The kids were doing rain forest research and one little girl, a real favorite of mine, came down to the library with this question. “Mrs. Buzzeo, you know that sloths live up in trees, right? And they stay up in trees all of the time, right? Well, my question is, do they even stay up there to poop?”

I had to keep an absolutely straight, unblinking face, and then set out to help her to answer the question. Because this was in the days before ready online connections in school libraries, we had to read every article about sloths in our reference collection. (Nowadays, it would be as simple as heading over to the San Diego Zoo website.). Once the student was on her way back to class, I was finally able to burst into laughter, and I was still laughing when Colleen, the teacher, stuck her head in the door to see my reaction. I can just imagine Ms. Stanbridge in my story doing the very same thing.

I’ve retyped your text so that I can see what your manuscript might have looked like. First it is short at less than 600 words. It has a lot of dialogue, no scene description, and no mention of how the characters look. You use time and place markers such as: “Saturday morning, at noontime, in his room, on the way home,” to keep the story moving forward. Is your first draft so lean? Tell us about your revision process. How was your editor involved in your revisions?

The first submitted draft of One Cool Friend was 792 words, so about 200 words longer. Here’s how it started:

On the tenth morning in his new town, Elliot stared up through the skylight at two bald eagles wheeling overhead.  They probably aren’t lonely, Elliot thought.

“How about a family trip to the aquarium?” his mom asked.

Elliot shrugged.  Fish, he thought, wet and boring.  Birds, on the other hand, feathery and exciting.  “How about a trip to Wings ‘N’ Things instead?”
“But Elliot,” his father said, “we were just there yesterday.”
“Besides,” said his mother.  “It’s Family Fun Day at the aquarium.”

Outside, tiny tree sparrows flitted into the feeders Elliot and his dad had mounted in the yard.  But when a Cooper’s hawk dove down, the sparrows scattered.

“I wish they’d all stick around,” Elliot said.  “I sure could use the company.”

“Well then,” his mom said.  “How about the aquarium?  Maybe you’ll make a new friend there.”

“I guess.”  Elliot thumped down the hall to fetch his backpack with his field guide and binoculars for the ride.

His dad patted him on the back.  “We can go to the bird shop another time.”  

Elliot climbed into the backseat of the car for the long, tiresome drive.  He pulled his binocs from his backpack and searched the sky for geese.  He searched the fields for crows. He searched the marsh for snowy egrets.  “What’s so FUN about Family Fun Day at an aquarium anyway?” he wondered.

During the long revision process (I worked on this ms. for 4 years, two rounds with my editor after which time she rejected it, and then with other astute readers until I had something so different that I felt confident in bringing it back to my editor and asking her to have another look), I deleted the mom, and I also eliminated the theme of loneliness (at my editor’s request). Now the text begins:

Elliot was a very proper young man. 
So on Saturday morning when his father said, "Family Fun Day at the aquarium.  Shall we go?” Elliot thought,
Kids, masses of noisy kids. But he only said, "Of course. Thank you for inviting me.”

Then we hop right over to the aquarium. No mom. No lonely boy. No transportation scene. It’s very streamlined.

We hear a lot about the lack of picture book interest from publishers, yet you seem to be doing well. What is your take on the market right now?

Actually, I do find the picture book market to still be sluggish. Everyone is being cautious in contracting new ones. In addition, while One Cool Friend is for a slightly older audience, as was my fall title, Lighthouse Christmas, now editors are looking for much younger picture books with strong and quirky main characters who can become the backbones of picture book series. I’ve got just such a character in development right now, but it hasn’t stopped me from wanting to write picture books for older readers. Selling them, though, is the tough part.

Toni, thank you for sharing with us today. In December, Lighthouse Christmas came out. How is it doing and what else is in the publishing pipeline for you?

A second printing of Lighthouse Christmas is about to pop, as the first one sold out very quickly this holiday season. With a starred review in School Library Journal and a glowing review in the New York Times Book Review , it got lots of attention.

Looking ahead, I have a new picture book due out in March from Hyperion titled Stay Close to Mama, the story of a curious little giraffe and his mama on the African savannah, charmingly illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, and one from Upstart Books in March as well titled Inside the Books: Readers and Libraries Around the World, with stunning illustrations of libraries on all seven continents by South African illustrator Jude Daly. It’ll be a banner season in picture book publishing for me!

A big cogratulations to Toni for her publishing success AND a contest. If you’d like to win a copy of One Cool Friend please post in the comments here or on Facebook. If you do, I’ll put your name in a hat and let my trusty assistants pick a name. Please comment by Sunday, January 15th at midnight. I’ll post the winner in my “Member Monday” post on the 16th. Good luck!

Book Review Wednesday: Soup!

Picture book month continues here at Book Review Wednesday, but first a word from our sponsors…

Now back to our regularly scheduled program. When the temperatures cool it is a good idea to pull out the ingredients for a little soup– the ultimate comfort food. In my husband's family, the joke is that a chef can't make truly good soup until they've reached 40. (We're there.) To pull together the right ingredients and spices, and end up with love in a pot, it takes creativity, know-how, and risk taking. 

Ruthie, in The Princess of Borscht, has all of these qualities. The Princess of Borscht, written by Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty member Leda Schubert, and illustrated by another VCFA faculty member, Bonnie Christensen comes out Tuesday, November 22rd. (Happy Book Birthday Leda and Bonnie!) 

From the publisher:
Ruthie's grandma is in the hospital, not surprisingly complaining about the food. All she wants is a nice bowl of borscht. Ruthie comes to the rescue, even though she hasn't the faintest idea of how to make it. With the help of a few well-meaning neighbors (including the Tsarina of Borscht and the Empress of Borscht and some ingenuity of her own), a soul-reviving brew is concocted…

The book has earned a star from Kirkus
"Of course, it’s not just about borscht or even about cooking, though there’s a great recipe included. Schubert has concocted a sweet mixture of traditions that bind and give comfort, along with love in many forms; intergenerational family, friends and neighbors all act with selflessness, kindness and compassion. Christensen’s heavily outlined, strongly colored illustrations emphasize equally strong personalities. The paintings are filled with details that add interest to the proceedings, from the array of get-well cards in the hospital room to the homey, old-fashioned décor of Grandma’s apartment."

The book also got some attention from the New York Times (that's nothing to sneeze at):
"Schubert (“Ballet of the Elephants”) turns the story of a sick relative, not a particularly cheery topic, into a sweet and salty tale, warmed by Christensen’s lively sketches, about bickering Jewish neighbors and intergenerational caregiving."

If you'd like to know more about Bonnie and her art work I can point you to not one, but two! lovely postings on Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast. 

Soups on, grab a book!

Book Review Wednesday: Picture Book Biographies 2

This is the second installment of a book review and discussion of picture book biographies. The first one is here, if you’d like to read it or I can just catch you up. Because PB biographies are so short, it is my opinion there needs to be a focus on language, and story over biographical information. Last week I talked about the hook and through line in the Joseph Albers book An Eye for Color, as well as the wonderful language in Susannah Reich’s José! Born to Dance. Today I’m going to discuss voice, and how illustrations can be used to create character.

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We start with Lita Judge’s, Yellowstone Moran: Painting the American West. In the interest of full disclosure, I need to say that Lita is a dear friend but don’t let your knowledge of that fact minimize the sincerity of my praise.

An author writing a picture book biography has to, as any picture book author, leave space for the illustrator to add to the story telling. Lita is an author/illustrator so the evolution of her pictures and text happen in a more streamlined and dynamic way. Throughout the revisions, new art might change the text, new text might change the art.

In this book, the art is a key part of the characterization of Tom “Yellowstone” Moran. Moran was an artist who set up his easel in the wilds of the American West. Lita is also a plein air painter. Plein air painters paint outside catching the light and colors of the landscape moment by moment. Lita brings this skill to the book. Sweeping canyon and mountain panoramas are interspersed with framed inset spot illustrations. What does this have to do with PB biographies?

Lita’s paintings create character. Not only by what they portray but also by how she portrays the landscape. The reader understands the humility, dedication, and sense of mission in Tom Moran by the way the natural world is depicted. The text confirms this. The reader learns how Tom took a chance by leaving Philadelphia and coming out to join a scientific party with only a letter of recommendation. How he presses on through the pain of riding a horse for the first time, camping in difficult conditions, and forging new trails. Each of the inset illustration is a window into a more intimate aspect of Moran’s character. They let the reader glimpse his sketchbook, as well as quiet or difficult moments for the title character.

At the end of the book, the reader gets to see the actual 1872, Thomas Moran oil painting of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  The grandeur of the landscape literally dwarfs humankind, as Moran has included tiny figures in the foreground.

Many author’s notes in PB biographies give more facts and dates that the author couldn’t fit into the text. Lita’s author/illustrator notes relay more of her research process and personal connection to the story.

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Jonah Winter is the author of many PB biographies and is so prolific that if you have an idea for a manuscript, you should check his list of titles first. His 2008 releases include books about Barack Obama, Roberto Clemente, and Muhammad Ali. In 2009, Sonia Sotomayor and the book I’m going to talk about today, You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!

The voice of Winter’s narrator for this book is chummy and knowledgeable. He quotes players and gives the reader a VIP view from the dugout. While the narrator is never identified, he seems like the crusty old guy you happen to sit next to in the cheap seats one day, the guy who keeps score of the hits, runs, and plays. Once you buy him a hot dog, he starts to tell you about how it was back in the day when he used to play as a Dodger.

The voice is so easy to listen to, the crusty old player is such a good storyteller, that the child listener/reader doesn’t even realize how long the guy has been talking. For those writers who obsess over word count, remember that first an foremost it is the author’s job to tell a good story. Winter packs the book with information from Koufax’s beginnings as an athletic teenager, to his Dodger debut, to how he sat out the World Series game that conflicted with Yom Kippur, to his surprise retirement. More information, in the form of baseball stats, peppers the pages of the book and give the info-loving kid plenty to read and memorize. A glossary of baseball terms finishes the book. The important thing here is that the voice Winter creates allows the reader to focus on story and take away those facts that seep in naturally.

If my voice sounds a little academic this week, it is because a lot of the text from the two blogs will be in my critical essay about Picture Book Biographies. Here’s a quick list of the books I’ve talked about and a few others that you may want to check out.

Bryant, Jennifer. A river of words : the story of William Carlos Williams. Grand Rapids  Mich.: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2008. Print.

Judge, Lita. Yellowstone Moran : painting the American West. New York  N.Y.: Viking, 2009. Print.

Reich, Susanna. Jose! Born to Dance: The Story of Jose Limon (Tomas Rivera Mexican-American Children’s Book Award. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2005. Print.

Wing, Natasha. An eye for color : the story of Josef Albers. 1st ed. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2009. Print.

Winter, Jonah. Barack. Katherine Tegen Books, 2008. Print.

—. Dizzy. 1st ed. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2006. Print.

—. Frida. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2002. Print.

—. Muhammad Ali: Champion of the World. Schwartz & Wade, 2008. Print.

—. Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Atheneum, 2008. Print.

—. Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La juez que crecio en el Bronx. Bilingual. Atheneum, 2009. Print.

—. You never heard of Sandy Koufax?! 1st ed. New York  N.Y.: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009. Print.

Book Review Wednesday: Picture Book Biographies Part 1

Thanks to those of you who have been nudging me to post on my blog again. Since there have been NO Book Review Wednesday’s for about a month, it is high time I get back to work. Get ready for a quick discussion of picture book biographies.

I’ve been immersed in PB biographies recently as I am working on one myself. I find that the most effective writing in this genre comes from authors who remember the importance of story and language without getting caught up in trying to relay too many facts. Thirty-two pages is not a lot of space. The author of a PB biography has to narrow her focus and find a logical and kid friendly entry point into the life she wishes to relate. In the two books below, the text is relatively simple but each book contains author’s notes or historical notes to tell the reader (or teacher or parent) more.


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First up is An Eye for Color: The story of Josef Albers. Josef Albers was an artist and designer who studied with the Bauhaus school in Germany until the Nazis closed it. Albers moved to the US and taught at Black Mountain College near Asheville, NC and then Yale. His study of color interaction using large squares of color is taught in every modern color theory class. As a child, the author, Natasha Wing, was Albers’ neighbor.  

The text for An Eye for Color gives the reader a theme for Albers life and the hook for every kid on the first page of the book, “Josef Albers saw art in the simplest things.” The rest of the book explores some these things: doors, collages made from junkyard finds, artistic accidents, and finally the squares of color that became his life’s work. The illustrator, Julia Breckenreid, takes on a large part of the storytelling responsibility by conveying the work of Albers through her illustrations. Her use of large fields of color in various geometric shapes effectively demonstrates Albers’ theories on the interaction of colors and mimics his paintings. 

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In José! Born to Dance, Susanna Reich uses lively, lyrical, rhythmic language that mimics Limon’s dance technique. Reich builds character by weaving Spanish phrases and words into the text. (A glossary appears in the front matter of the book but really the context of most phrases makes the Spanish understandable.)

Reich hooks the child reader by starting the story with 15 pages about Limon’s childhood. Instead of focusing on historic events that might seem dry to a child, Reich magnifies the feelings associated with the events: the happiness and energy of José’s dancing birth in Mexico, his quiet visits with his grandmother, experiencing new things such as theater, being scared during a bullfight, feeling left out as a new kid in America, and his feeling of inadequacy as an art student in Manhattan. Every child can relate to José’s feelings even if the events of his life are foreign. The event that changes José from an aspiring artist to an aspiring dancer takes place only four spreads from the end of the book.  Here, Reich still focuses on the emotion, José’s exuberance at finally finding the thing he was born to do.

I was wowed by the texture in the watercolor and color pencil drawings by illustrator Raul Colon. His color choices magnify the emotion in the Reich’s language.

I have a many other wonderful PB biography examples. Next week I’ll look at Yellowstone Moran: Painting the American West by Lita Judge and You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! by Jonah Winter and André Carrilho. If you can’t wait until then, check out this archived post about Caldecott Honor winning A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams.

Book Review Wednesday: Soap, Soap, Soap

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Dulemba, Elizabeth O. Soap, soap, soap = Jabón, jabón, jabón. McHenry, IL: Raven Tree Press, 2009.





Soap, Soap, Soap, tells the story of Hugo and his trip to fetch soap for his mother from the market. The only problem is that Hugo keeps forgetting what he is supposed to purchase. Soap, Soap, Soap (Jabon, Jabon, Jabon) is Elizabeth’s first picture book as both the author and the illustrator. Raven Tree Press publishes the book in an English only and a Bilingual English/Spanish edition.


I enjoyed the bilingual addition very much and was pleased with how seamlessly the Spanish vocabulary (printed in red) was included in the text. I was actually hoping for more Spanish, perhaps a side by side translation and wonder what the editorial decisions were surrounding this issue.


I had a great time following the main character as he tried to accomplish his mother’s task through Elizabeth’s wavy, whimsical town, but I had a hard time believing that the main character would loose his train of thought so quickly. How could someone be so forgetful? However, this past week I have misplaced my keys, and my cell phone, forgotten an oil delivery, and left my wash to mildew for three days. I also had to have my own kiddo repeat, “Get dressed, collect my laundry,” three times this morning. And he still needed to be sent back upstairs to get pants. Hugo’s journey seems more believable now.


Elizabeth Dulemba’s digital illustrations have appeared in trade and educational titles and the SCBWI national bulletin. In Soap, Soap, Soap, Elizabeth creates a wonderful array of diverse and true-to-life characters. Hugo and his friend, Jellybean Jones, are especially animated. I love their expressions as they navigate the mud puddle (charco de barro.) Elizabeth uses her character’s body positions (angle, arm position, and visual balance) to convey their inquisitive attitude wonderfully. Perhaps my favorite image is of Hugo on the back cover hanging on the clothesline after his bath. His body is delightfully relaxed and shows so much movement. Kudos to the designer, I love the details in this book: the text design, the endpapers, the soap bars on the pagination.


Elizabeth is well well known on the blog circuit. She has designed cyber-school "Virtual Visits" so that schools with smaller travel budgets can access guest speakers. Parents and teachers can take advantage of her extensive activities and coloring pages also available on her website and the Raven Tree site.


Whatever you do, make sure that Soap, Soap, Soap is on your holiday shopping list. Don’t forget!