Picture book of the day: the joys of playing futbol in the mud in The Field

The Field, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, written by Baptiste Paul, published by North South, ISBN: 978-0735843127.

I wish The Field had a subtitle. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a solid title. However, it only slightly hints at the messy muddy gooey action found in this book about a group of kids enjoying a futbol (soccer) match in the Saint Lucia rain. I wish the subtitle could be something like Epic Muddy Futbol Match. Or Squish Squish Kick Kick. But then again, as a title, The Field is quick, to the point, and has a nostalgic feel, nicely conveying that it’s about author Paul remembering glorious childhood days of playing outdoor futbol with siblings and friends.  On the book’s cover, Alcántara’s vibrant, colorful, playful art captures the eye: a soccer ball flying over the title, kids running with excitement, and a cow munching on grass with a “don’t mind me” kind of expression on its face. The panoramic endpapers transport the reader to a farm community in Saint Lucia. Greens pop off the page as a child kicks in a ball onto the field with its cows and a goat. At times, the artist uses graphic novel spreads showing the kids (always in kinetic motion) gather for the latest game. Baptiste mixes in Creole words and the story has a bouncy beat to it that makes it perfect for a readaloud (“Vini! Come!/The field calls./Bol.Ball./Soulye. Shoes./Goal. Goal.”). Alcántara’s figures delight (I love the cow’s expressions as a child attempts to shoo them to a different part of the field). The excitement of the game is palpable. Then when the rains come the book soars to another level of coolness, visually and as a story. The players decide to not let some raindrops get in the way of their fun, and soon they are dashing, splashing, slip-sliding, and belly flopping in the mud (the illustrations have an almost abstract look during these passages). You can feel the mud in your hair, on your clothes, in between your toes. The Field excels at creating a real sensory experience for the reader, a genuine sense of place. It’s a terrific sports book that celebrates the joy of a community coming together. And yes, it also works as a bathtime book, too.

Storytime Success Story: the joys of acting out The Tiptoeing Tiger

The Tiptoeing Tiger, illustrated and written by Philippa Leathers, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-0763688431.

What is is about tigers that make supermegaawesome storytime books? It’s a Tiger!, with its interactive text by David LaRochelle and vivid art from Jeremy Tankard, remains one of my favorite read-a-louds for preschoolers and early elementary kids. Kids simply love roaring and grring and pouncing, and they also love acting freaked out by the very notion of being chased by one of these giant beasts.

The little tiger at the heart of The Tiptoeing Tiger, written with delightful energy and illustrated with comical flair by Philippa Leathers, is hardly a giant and fails miserably at being a scary beast. And yet his attempts to scare a bunch of animals recently made the children in my various storytimes extremely raucous, loud, and happy. This is one of those books that  is so incredibly well-done children instantly start wanting to act it out, to take part in its gleeful plot mechanics. The tale revolves around a pint-sized predator bragging to his older brother that he can be sleek, silent, and totally terrifying. His elder sibling scoffs and says that there is not a single animal in the forest little bro can scare. It is absolutely fun to read this quick exchange, giving the older brother a deeper growl of a voice, and the little one a higher tough guy one. And it’s a fun to shake the book and add a quiver to your voice when you say “totally terrifying.” Of course the tiger’s attempts to frighten the animals (everyone from a yawning boar to an amused elephant to a giggling bunch of monkeys) don’t work. However, what does work is getting the kids to tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe and then yell ROAR!!! at various points in the story. Oh my word, how the children love that part. They naturally fall into the rhythms of the story, and tiptoe and roar with extreme jubilation.

The story all leads to a surprising ending that I won’t spoil here. All I can is it’s a joy to hear both the children and adults in the room laugh in unison when the tiptoeing tiger feels satisfaction with the silly surprise that has just happened. A joy.

Picture book of the day: pondering the mysteries of A House That Once Was

A House That Once Was, illustrated by Lane Smith, written by Julie Fogliano, published by Roaring Brook, ISBN: 978-1626723145, ARC reviewed, to be released: May 1, 2018.

Two kids (a boy and a girl) stumble on a deserted house with boarded up and smashed windows. They climb in, carefully avoiding the jagged glass. Once inside they explore the rooms and wonder about the home’s departed occupants. Why did they leave these many objects (books, bottles of olive oil, even a set of house keys, others) behind, the children wonder? Thanks to Julie Fogliano’s vivid poetic language, A House That Was Once Was is a story that begs to be read aloud…but in a whispering voice. The children silently creep through the house, afraid perhaps of the unlikely chance that the homeowners will walk through the door or pop in from another room. Fogliano writes: “We’re whispering mostly/but not really speaking./We whisper though no one would mind if we didn’t./The someone who once was/is someone who isn’t./The someone who once was is gone.” Whoa! Wow! Mind blown. As I have said in previous blog entries, I look at a ginormous amount of picture books. This book feels like none other I have experienced. It has a haunting quality that gives me goosebumps.

Lane Smith’s inventive illustrations add to the mysterious atmosphere. Smith has these amazing ability to create works with cool-looking textures. The spreads with the children walking around the house have an almost washed-out look to them. You feel as if you are breathing in the dust. Always playful, Smith includes images that make you quietly chuckle (a mouse emerging through a ripped up photograph of a man, peeking through a hole where the man’s face would be). When the kids dream up scenarios for the people who used to live in house, the story takes on a more whimsical tone, and Smith changes up the color palette and gives us brighter, more stylized spreads. This whimsy nicely counterbalances the story’s sadder, more melancholy undercurrents. The best shot shows the kids imagining the former residents walking through Lane Smithesque trees searching for a pair of house keys while Fogliano writes “Or what if they’re lost and wandering lonely?”/”Maybe they can’t find their set of house keys?” I cannot think of an image that is both so somberly funny and quietly devastating in a recent picture book. It does remind me of the final scenes in the great Akiko Miyakoshi’s 2017  The Way Home in the Night, in which a child rabbit thinks about another character’s possible nocturnal loneliness.

A House That Once Was had me thinking deep thoughts by its end. I started wondering about the people who used to live in the house in which I now live. I also wondered if in my old childhood home if there is someone wondering about me and the others who lived there over the years. It’s that kind of book. I cannot stop thinking about it.


Picture book of the day: the picture book as dream in Ocean Meets Sky

Ocean Meets Sky, created by The Fan Brothers, published by Simon & Schuster, ISBN: 978-1481470377, ARC copy reviewed (note on cover says Color and Text not final), publishing date: May 15, 2018.

Brothers Terry and Eric Fan (known for their much loved The Night Gardener) create magical moments that feel both epic and intimate, universal and personal. Born in the States (so yes, they are Caldecott eligible) but residing in Canada, they have a distinct style that quietly dazzles the eye. In the recent The Antlered Ship (written by Dashka Slater), the Fans took a curious fox and an animal crew on a perilous nautical journey. The fox wanted answers to life’s big questions, and the book swept us along, making us sigh with wonder and worry about their safety. Ocean Meets Sky, which they wrote and illustrated, also takes the reader to the high seas, and the journey is also laced with philosophical longing, but this time the trek has a more tranquil, spiritual side to it. A child named Finn remembers his now deceased Grandfather once telling him about a place where the ocean meets sky. On what would have been his elder’s 90th birthday, the resourceful boy builds a boat and searches for this cherished place. I love his facial expressions as he builds, dreams, and then awakens (or has he?) and discovers that his little sailboat is cruising along the waves. Ah, how I adore those clouds shaped like an anchor, elephant, a whale, a pipe, others.

The surreal double page spreads that follow could be framed in a museum. The boy, suddenly feeling lonely, meets a great golden fish (that has a mustache similar to his grandfather’s) who comforts him by offering to guide him to his destiny. And wow, what sights we see along the way (observant readers will note that objects in these spreads appeared in grandfather’s study earlier–an owl, shells, books, so on). Library Islands with giant piles of adventure sea-related books, islands of giant shells, and other wonders. I love the wow-inducing overhead image of the boat gliding across the water with translucent moon jellies and the ginormous fish under the surface. In fact, one could say that each flip of the page introduces another wow-inducing moment. I don’t want to spoil where the journey takes the reader, but let me just say, the book has a real emotional impact. The spare yet poignant language and the graphite illustrations (colored digitally) work together to make Ocean Meets Sky one of the most loving, memorable dedications to a loved one I have ever seen. Although I probably should have waited to review the final product, I simply couldn’t wait to share my thoughts about how gorgeous this book is.