ALA Awards Weekend: revisiting Wolf in the Snow, Out of Wonder, La Princesa and the Pea, and Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

This upcoming weekend at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference, many of the greatest books of 2017 will receive recognition in special ceremonies. Here is another round of applause for a quartet of amazing books that will be receiving some top illustrator prizes. Congratulations again to the recipients, and thanks for your supermegaawesome books!

The 2018 Caldecott Winner (my review originally ran February 17, 2017):

Wolf in the Snow, illustrated and written by Matthew Cordell, Feiwel & Friends,  978-1250076366.  First of all let me say I love wolves.  So any book that gives me a great wolf story rises to the top of my “favorites” pile.  This poignant, near wordless tale depicts the bond that quickly develops between a brave young girl wearing a Little Red Riding Hood style jacket and a scared wolf cub separated from its pack on a cold, snowy day.  Cordell’s work is always a joy, but here he does something brand new with his pen and ink with watercolor art, and the result is a book that gives the reader goosebumps.  Cordell serves up two linked storylines that merge as we cut back and forth between the huffing, shivering girl walking home from school and the little wolf who falls increasingly behind its elders.  When the two characters meet on an unforgettable series of spreads, we see a bond form.  And yet, we don’t get a cutesy revelation that the wolf wants to hang with humans.  The reader knows, and the girl knows that she must reunite the frightened animal with its pack, and a real sense of urgency develops.  Cordell gives the work the feel of a timeless fable as the kid saves the creature from a variety of dangers, and is then rewarded later by the wolves who come to her aid.  His masterful use of double page spreads deepens the tension of the unfolding events.  And I love how he puts the girl (holding the cub) and an adult wolf parent in circular frames as they face each other–her eyes wide with terror as the baby wolf howls–they share a connection but nature separates them.  This keeps the book from becoming too saccharine; there’s a sense of danger here.  The humans in the story look stylized in their oversized coats, but Cordell renders the wolves more realistically, and the effect adds punch.  The book’s final third is emotionally satisfying as we see an appreciative lick from the saved wolf cub and howls from its elders that save her life.  Matthew Cordell’s Wolf in the Snow is simply one fantastic book, and will certainly make my list of the very best of 2017.

The 2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Winner (my review originally ran March 20, 2017):

Out of Wonder:  Poems Celebrating Poets, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, poems by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth, published by Candlewick, ISBN:  978-0-7636-8094-7.  Usually this blog looks at picture books for younger readers, but also I love giving shout outs to longer illustrated books that are truly special.  Out of Wonder:  Poems Celebrating Poets falls into that truly special category, a brilliant collection of poems by three poets at the top of their game paying tribute to (and writing in the style) of a wide variety of celebrated poets.  Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth write about a range of topics including “How to Write a Poem” (Alexander’s homage to Naomi Shihab Nye), the beauty of the Chilean forest (Wentworth’s celebration of Pablo Neruda), and the work of Sandra Cisneros (a lovely ode by Colderley).  If these wonderful creations weren’t enough, we have Ekua Holmes’ vibrant, brilliant collages giving the book a lush visual beauty, lifting the title to a whole new level of awesomeness.  Holmes, who received a 2016 Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for New Illustrator Award and a 2016 Caldecott Honor for the great Voice of Freedom:  Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement (written by the fabulous Carole Boston Weatherford)does a beautiful job capturing the essence of each work.  Just look at her rich, jazzy illustration accompanying Alexander’s poem “Hue and Cry” (a brilliant tip of the hat to Gwendolyn Brooks):  a woman sits at a piano, giant flower in her hair, colorful cascading dress,  surrounded by music notes on a page, a person playing a saxophone in the right hand of the side of the spread–an explosion of orange and reds.  It might be my favorite illustration of the year so far.  What Holmes shows here is versatility:  a snowy scene with children catching snowflakes on their tongues follows a serene scene of a pensive girl in pink pondering the creation of a haiku while rain pours outside her window (dig those pink flowers that almost match her shirt).  This emerges as one of those magical projects where all the pieces come together beautifully–lovely language and compelling art that make this a true feast of the senses, a work of joy and, yes, wonder.       

The 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Winner (my review originally ran November 2, 2017):

La Princesa and the Pea, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, written by Susan Middleton Elya, published by G.P. Putnam & Son’s, ISBN: 978-0399251566.

Sometimes an illustrator and author can take a classic tale and make it feel fresh and brand new. By taking The Princess and the Pea and giving it what the book jacket calls a “Latino twist,” the gifted artist Martinez-Neal and writer Elya (her words have a spring in their step) bring a sense of playful joy to the tale of a prince who wants to marry a young woman of whom his mother does not approve. Elya laces the bilingual text with Spanish words (a helpful glossary appears at the book’s start). The story zips from one plot point to the next, with Elya serving up some dramatic tension but also wrapping the reader with a warm but never cloying “it’ll be okay” sense of humor that comforts. Martinez-Neal’s delightful art, created with acrylics, colored pencils, and graphite on handmade textured paper, gives us a compelling cast of human (and in scene-stealing supporting roles, animal) characters who make us giggle with their expressions (the queen’s grumpiness is hilarious, especially when she has an equally grumpy cat sitting on her head). The scene with the princess lying on a pile of colorful mattresses is a sly wonder to behold. Many retellings of folk tales and fairy tales hit shelves every year; this is one of the very best.

And the book that received a 2018 Coretta Scott King Author Honor, Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, Caldecott Honor, and Newbery Honor (plus an Ezra Jack Keats Award)–my review originally ran October 2, 2017:

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, illustrated by Gordon C. James, written by Derrick Barnes, published by Bolden (A Denene Millner Book/An Agate Imprint), ISBN: 978-1572842243. Release date: October 10, 2017.

Some books feel like instant classics the moment you read them. Some books offer such joy they give you a lift. Some books feel thrilling, alive, and new. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut is that kind of book, a burst of energy that makes you so happy it exists. Author Derrick Barnes writes in an afterword that he wanted to capture the experience of black and brown boys visiting barber shops, receiving amazing haircuts, and leaving with heads held high and with elevated self-esteem. His witty, vibrant prose certainly excels at sharing what a trip to “the shop” feels like, with its second person narration and thrilling sense of urgency. Barnes writes that “you came in as a lump of clay/a blank canvas, a stab of marble” and that the barber is an artist who will treat you like royalty, draping you with a cape, turning you into a Dark Caesar. This is motivational and inspirational writing at its very best, designed to appeal to young guys by putting things in terms that they understand. Barnes avoids sappiness by throwing in funny lines about how you, after getting your fresh cut, become such a star people are “going to have to wear shades/when they look up to catch your shine.”

And I love Gordon C. James’ art in this book. It matches the exuberance, warmth and wit of Barnes’ text while (save one surreal moment of a boy’s head becoming the aforementioned cosmic star) keeping things real. The expression on the boy’s face on the very first page gets us ready for the title’s playfulness: a boy stands with his held up high, smile on his face, slyly giving the reader a sideways glance. This is followed by a more contemplative double spread as the kid walks to the barber chair where the genius barber waits with the royal cape. A flip of the page gives you two images of the boy achieving great things with his new cut, holding achievement ribbons on one side, and (mentioned before) literally becoming a superstar in the cosmos on the other. Then Barnes and James broaden the experience by giving us moments inside the shop, with other customers (grown men) getting cuts of their own. All the while, Barnes’ words compel, and James’ inventive art serves up memorable image after memorable image. The visit results in a fab fresh cut for the boy, with the shop’s other guests wanting to give his new look a standing o. At the very end, as the boy leaves the shop, more “magnificent” and “flawless” (“like royalty”) than before, we have to flip the book so it is vertical. This is extremely effective when delivering the book’s empowering message. The boy appears to be larger than life, brimming with confidence and life. “Hello, world…” Simply one of the year’s best, about a specific cultural experience, but universal to the max.

Advertisements

Picture book of the day: a sneak preview at Yuyi Morales’ extraordinary Dreamers

Dreamers, illustrated and written by Yuyi Morales, Holiday House/Neal Porter Books, ISBN: 978-0823440559, available September 4, 2018.

Soñadores (Spanish edition): 978-0823442584, also available September 4, 2018.

Recently I had the great opportunity to take a sneak peak of Dreamers, the latest picture book by five time Pura Belpré medalist and Caldcott Honor winner Yuyi Morales. I currently do not have the finished book in my hands (I went through the book twice before handing it back to the person letting me look at it), but I do have a sampler containing select breathtaking spreads reminding me of the beauty of this very moving book. I probably should have waited until I had more time with the completed book to write a more thorough review. I simply could not wait to share my enthusiasm over this vivid and personal look at this gifted artist’s immigration experience.

First of all, let me say: what a terrific cover. Hold the book open and there’s a panoramic view of mother and child surrounded by wondrous imagery.

Colorful and filled with warmly surrealistic images and flights of imagination (always a welcome part of Morales’ work), this will appeal and speak to all ages. Dreamers shows the courage it takes to travel to a place where you don’t speak the language. In the 1990s, Morales traveled from Mexico to San Francisco with her baby boy. Using language that manages to feel both spare and epic, Morales creates a work that can be used both in preschool and elementary school story times and with older students studying immigration.

In addition, Dreamers serves as a heartfelt love letter to libraries. The moment when Yuyi and her son enter the children’s section of a  library in San Francisco feels wildly cinematic, as if shot in CinemaScope. We are placed behind them, looking over their shoulders, and we see all those books, imposing at first, but also inviting. Another great spread conveys the wonder they experience as they look at books together–a shark, a rocket, a baseball, a fire truck, other images float across the pages.

In the extremely informative author’s note, Morales discusses how she learned English while reading many picture books to her son. She pays homage to some of their favorite books by drawing their recognizable covers (yay, Keiko Kasza shout out!). It’s a credit to the book’s design that the drawings feel packed without feeling overly cluttered.

I, like most librarians, love hearing how libraries changed peoples’ lives. Many authors and illustrators know this and when presenting to librarians, share great life-changing library anecdotes.  Dreamers is perhaps the most powerful “libraries changed my story” I have ever encountered. I’m not ashamed to say it made me tear up. Her story packs a wallop. This is perhaps her most emotionally direct piece of work.

As we get closer to the September 4, 2018 release of Dreamers (Sonadores in Spanish), I will hopefully have the completed book in my hands again. I will more than likely revisit this special book and write about it once again. Dreamers is, quite simply, a masterpiece.

Picture books of the day: embracing the humane world of Cori Doerrfeld in Good Dog and The Rabbit Listened

Good Dog, illustrated and written by Cori Doerrfeld, published by HarperCollins, ISBN: 978-0062662866, ARC reviewed, to be released: August 7, 2018.

The Rabbit Listened, illustrated and written by Cori Doerrfeld, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 978-0735229358, available now.

The stray dog at the heart of Good Dog and the frustrated child starring in The Rabbit Listened have some things in common. Both experience a wide range of emotions, mostly distress and sadness, over the course of 32 eventful pages. Both find comfort by the end of their respective stories. And most importantly, both are the tender creations of author/illustrator Cori Doerrfeld, who has a gift for telling heartfelt stories with grace and tenderness. Using digital ink (and “a whole lotta heart” according to The Rabbit Listened‘s CIP page–true, very true), Doerrfeld introduces readers to wildly expressive and instantly lovable protagonists for whom they will cheer. She has a knack of making complex emotions understandable for a young audience, and mixes in some comical elements so things don’t get too maudlin or overwhelming.

The Rabbit Listened shows a child named Taylor (I love that Taylor’s gender is never specified–Taylor could be a girl or a boy). building a supercool architectural wonder out of blocks. Just look at the expressions on Taylor’s face as the building comes together (tongue sticking out of Taylor’s mouth in concentration). Suddenly a flock of birds knock the structure over and Taylor responds with shock and then complete despair. Now every child can relate to this scenario. One by one a bunch of animals come to comfort the child and failing for various reasons. Although Doerrfeld respects Taylor’s sadness on the ensuing spreads, I love how she gives the visiting advice-spewing creatures some comical traits. The flapping chicken who thinks Taylor should “talk, talk, talk” about what happened, the grrring bear who urges Taylor to shout, the rather haughty elephant who advises the kid to remember how things once were, and so on, all amuse on some level, and this adds an engaging level of complexity to Taylor’s emotional journey. I especially love the laughing hyena, and the vengeful snake who hisses that Taylor will feel better if they go and knock down someone else’s building (bad karma there, snake!!). All the while, Doerrfeld’s quick, direct prose snaps; there isn’t a single wasted word. In a beautiful moment, one of the sweetest rabbits in all of children’s picture book history, comes to Taylor’s side and quietly cozies in, not pressuring Taylor to do anything at all. This is great advice when encountering someone who is sad: let the person have their emotions, feel their sadness, don’t tell them how to feel, just be there. It’s all handled so beautifully.

Good Dog, out in early August 2018, also travels the emotional landscape. Each illustration only has two words: the word “dog” plus a word that describes the canine in that particular instance. The title page zeroes in on the “Good dog” who sees a young child waving at them from the backseat of a bicycle. The dog instantly wants to befriend the child. Not one to waste any time with superfluous details, Doerrfeld does not hesitate to bring on the drama. The flip of the page has the words “Stray dog” as the animal tries to keep up with the bike. We see right away that the child carries a stuffed animal (a dog I believe) that will become a major part of the story later. And then another flip of the page, there is more turbulence as the now “Lost dog” screeches to a halt on a now busy street, startled by an oncoming moving truck. The child looks back with concern. In an artful touch, to emphasize this sadness of Good Dog’s plight, Doerrfeld fills the spread with happy dogs with their owners. This sounds cloying, but it isn’t; it increases the emotional impact of the story. Things look pretty dire for the “scared” “lonely” “hungry” pooch but then fate finally intervenes in a most satisfying way. Our titular hero ends up rescuing the aforementioned stuffed toy. Child (again, gender not specified, which I love) and dog are reunited, and peace and happiness prevail when readers turn the final page.

Phew!

Both The Rabbit Listened and Good Dog work so well because they show complete respect for the child reader. They also would work very well in storyhours. As I mentioned in several other blog entries recently, this has been an excellent year for books about empathy, respecting others and dealing with complicated emotions. Doerrfeld’s books can easily be added to the list of very best of 2018.

Picture book of the day: the warmth and reassurance of The Day You Begin

The Day You Begin, illustrated by Rafael López, written by Jacqueline Woodson, published by Nancy Paulsen Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House), ISBN: 978-0399246531, ARC reviewed, to be published: August 28, 2018.

Already there have been so many great 2018 picture books about empathy, showing kindness to others, and believing in yourself. The Day You Begin is easily one of the best of these titles, a beautiful and thought-provoking meditation on feeling different that also asks readers to accept others for their differences. We may have differences, but we can also find some common ground. What’s especially stirring about this book stems from the fact that the great Jacqueline Woodson doesn’t just give us one scenario but several. The book covers race, language, class, cultural differences (food), and gender. Her use of the “you” pronoun works especially well here, is very potent. The use of “you” speaks directly to the child who has actually experienced feeling different in the various situations introduced, but also puts readers in the shoes of those who are different from them. The reader can get inside the head of Rigoberto, a boy from Venezuela still learning English, laughed at by his classmates. And the girl whose family cannot afford expensive vacations and spends her summer days watching her baby sister. And the bookish boy not good at athletics but brave and bold inside, possessing a blossoming imagination. And the girl who brings food from home that is “too strange or too unfamiliar for others to love.”

This may sound heavy, but in Woodson’s hands, the book is anything but. She fills each word with hope and love for the people she introduces. In addition to being one of the best novelists and poets living today, Woodson also, as her many fans know, is one of the most gifted picture book writers ever (she received one of her Coretta Scott King Author honors for Each Kindness, and one of her Newbery honors is for the powerful picture book Show Way). In The Day You Begin, she presents the ideas in a way children will understand, making each scenario relatable. Children understand fairness, and when they see the kids in the book feeling sad and left out, they will care about them. Hopefully they will look around at their own peers and see what they can do to make everyone feel comfortable and accepted. And here’s hoping the adults reading the book will pick up on the message, too.

Another factor in this book’s success, of course, is Rafael López’s colorful, child-friendly art, done with a combination of acrylic paint on wood, pen and ink, pencil, and watercolors, and then digitally assembled in Photoshop. This gifted illustrator does an excellent job walking a tightrope of emotion: his expressive children look sad in many spreads, and he makes young readers want to comfort them, be their friends. The most beautiful moments use imagery to convey the emotions going on inside the children’s heads. Look at the 3 drawings of the aforementioned Rigoberto. In the first, we see him happily remembering Venezuela, his eyes closed, his body surrounded by trees, flowers and a charming purple bird. Then when his eyes opens, he snaps from his reverie, and suddenly he’s in the classroom with unseen kids laughing at him near a chalkboard. He looks dazed. But then a turn of the page shows the teacher comforting him as they say his name beautifully, like music; the two scenes merge together as he stands on an imagined hilltop with a musical scale spreading across the pages.

There are other surreal moments like this. The girl with the baby sister soaring through the sky when she tells her peers about her summer. The boy who doesn’t like sports looking into a pond and seeing his brave inner-self reflected back at him. The surrealism makes it all the more relatable.

The Day You Begin ends with two of the characters finding a connection that surprises them. The final moment shows them playing on the ground, joined by another new friend. The joy on their faces is contagious. The book radiates warmth and hope. And an instant classic is born.

 

Picture book of the day: a showdown between a giraffe and a balloon (I kid you not) in Neck & Neck

Neck & Neck, illustrated and written by Elise Parsley, published by Little, Brown and Company, ISBN: 978-0316466745.

When you look at a lot of picture books, you start to see familiar plots or situations resurface again and again and again. And you start getting a “been there, done that” feeling. Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of inventive picture book illustrators and writers working today. All you have to do is click on the “best of 2018” tag accompanying this humble blog post to see write-ups of some recent works that beat to the sound of their own drummer (and I’m just scratching the tip of the iceberg). However, these often feel like rarities. When an illustrator/author comes up with something really off-kilter and tells a story in a newfangled way, I feel it’s cause for celebration. Take Elise Parsley’s deranged Neck & Neck for example. This is about a giraffe who succumbs to a jealous rivalry with a giraffe-shaped balloon. Yes, that old plot again…NOT! A boy stands off to the side teasing the giraffe, boasting why his balloon bests the giraffe for various reasons. Yes, we have seen books about teasing before, and pride as well. Neck & Neck deftly uses goofy humor and broad comedy when presenting this weird showdown between beast and cackling antagonist with annoying balloon.

The book’s fun starts when you remove the cover and see a surprise Easter egg drawing of various giraffe balloons (love the silly grin) and a giraffe’s extremely long neck leading up to an unseen head. The title page introduces us to the proud Leopold the giraffe. Parsley does wonders with Leopold’s expressions–his neck a remarkable comical creation that stretches across the pages. Look at how happy he is, perhaps smug even, munching on leafy snacks as a crowd cheers. Leopold’s world comes crashing down when he turns and gasps at the sight of the aforementioned giraffe balloon. A child proclaims that the balloon is even better than “the real thing.” Always great at serving up caricatures (she excels at exaggeration), Parsley then shows the giraffe trying to out-grin the balloon while the gap-toothed lad keeps coming up with more reasons the balloon is the best. Upset, Leopold hides his head in a tree where a sharp stick pokes him in the neck. And that’s when a nasty idea enters Leopold’s mind. Ooh, to use that sharp stick for mayhem, for revenge, for popping that horrible balloon once and for all.

Neck & Neck continues a game of one-upsman(giraffe)ship that gets sillier and funnier. One of my favorite moments is when Leopold thinks he has won only to turn and see the boy return with MORE giraffe-shaped balloons. The giraffe’s “DAH!!!” and jaw-dropped expression is a goofy delight. Parsley then throws in a new twist that has Leopold deciding whether to be evil like the Grinch (there’s a delightfully twisted drawing of Leopold that calls to mind Seuss’ maniacally grinning character) or a true hero, using his long neck to save the day and bring about peace.

I have always enjoyed Parsley’s work, but Neck & Neck emerges as my new favorite by her. The characters’ expressions, her use of perspective and white space on some spreads, the narrative’s twists and turns, and a satisfying resolution all add up to a book that should become a staple in rollicking, humor-packed storytimes.

Picture book of the day: a classic folktale receives a spiffy remodel in The Little Red Fort

The Little Red Fort, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez, written by Brenda Maier, published by Scholastic, ISBN: 978-0545859196.

Serving up a fresh retelling of a classic folktale takes skill and talent. There have been many versions of The Little Red Hen for example. So how does one offer a new, unique take on the tale’s rather simple plot (hen asks for help when making bread, and everyone else says “not I,” causing the hen to do all the work on her own)? Luckily clever writer Brenda Maier has found a way to do exactly that with The Little Red Fort, a witty and vibrant new addition that would be perfect in storytimes not just about fractured fairy tales, but also about girl power, teamwork, resourcefulness, and siblings. Not to mention mothers and daughters bonding together to create something really really cool.

The book won me over right from the start when we find out that its young heroine possesses the name Ruby. She wears at least one red clothing item from page to page. And we learn that her mind always bubbles with ideas. With her exuberant and witty scritchy scratchy art, illustrator Sonia Sánchez packs the pages with humorous details that will make kids giggle. Look at the opening spread where she’s in the family bathroom thinking of her next plan. The scene is a lesson in presenting controlled chaos: bubbles in the tub along with an inflatable swimming tube, a trumpet, leaking toothpaste, a bucket; toilet paper unspooling onto the floor; all the while an “idea” lightbulb swirls off-kilter above her head. On the next page, Ruby finds some old boards (look at the dirt on her face and knees) and asks some unseen characters who would like to help her build something with them. We flip the page to discover three brothers chiding her saying that she doesn’t know how to build anything. Unfazed, she goes about her plan, occasionally asking the boys if they would like to help. Following the pattern of the classic story, each lad says “Not me,” “I don’t think so,” and “No way.” I love how Maier’s language is simple and yet rich and varied (example: “the boys clutched their sides and howled with laughter”). All the while, Sánchez does an excellent job with the characters’ body language. Her figures have a comical grace to them, whether showing Ruby, her mother, and her grandmother hard at work on the fort, or the boys lounging about with “yeah, whatever” looks on their faces.

Everything of course leads to the big moment when the boys see the completed fort and go gaga over it. I won’t reveal the ending, but all I can say is I love the way Maier resolves the issue. The final moments add yet another layer of freshness to an already skillful retelling. In revisiting something old, Maier and Sánchez create something new. And a story that will inspire and encourage outside play and collaboration regardless of size, age, and gender.

 

 

Picture book of the day: music is everywhere and life is a song in Rock ‘N’ Roll Soul

Rock ‘N’ Roll Soul, illustrated by Matthew Cordell, written by Susan Verde, published by Abrams, ISBN: 978-1419728495.

I can so relate to the girl at the center at Rock ‘N’ Roll Soul, a bopping and poppy tribute to the joys of music. Ever since I was a little tyke, I loved listening to all kinds of music: my grandparents’ big band music, my sister’s ’70s singer/songwriter albums, and my parents’ mix of rock and light AM crooners. I became a music geek, listening to the top 40, but then also tuning into what my friends were listening to, rebelling with punk and new wave but also making my peers’ eyebrows go up when I admitted I liked ABBA, Donna Summer, and ELO (I lived in a town that grooved on FM and arena rawk–and I like that, too).

The girl who stars in Rock ‘N’Roll Soul hears music everywhere and in everything. She has the music inside her. She loves to dance and sing in front of a crowd (okay, I’m shy about doing that, unless it’s during storytime). And not just rock ‘n’ roll. She loves hip-hop and classical, blues and jazz, she’s Bob Dylan before and after he goes electric, and she’s Jimi Hendrix, too. The book does have a story arc. We see her getting ready for a school talent show where she rocks out in front of an adoring crowd with only one instrument: herself. The enthusiasm in the book engages and is contagious. The ever-positive Susan Verde, who writes about the joys of museums in The Museum and the beauty of yoga and mindfulness in I Am Yoga and I Am Peace respectively, fills the book with lively language that gets the feet moving. The “I’ve Got a Rock ‘n’ Roll Soul” refrain throughout encourages kids to shout those words (this is a must for storytimes).

Meanwhile, 2018 Caldecott medalist Matthew Cordell (Wolf in the Snow) does a smashing job (as usual) with his glorious illustrations. His pen and ink and watercolor drawings capture a child in constant motion, but with great clarity and in a manner that pleases the eye. The girl dances and floats across the pages, striking seriously awesome poses that show she means business when it comes to loving music. I love the hand-drawn lettering on the “zoing oing toing” of her one string guitar and “tock pock tock” seen when she bangs a wooden spoon on a bowl. And some of the best moments show us her dreams (her face is in color while the rest of the daydream is in black and white) of playing being a DJ in front of huge speakers or being a conductor in front of an orchestra and choir.

When I met Susan Verde recently she said that she hadn’t met Matthew Cordell yet (this was a day before they were about to meet and go on a brief tour of schools together). That’s an interesting phenomenon in the kidlit world. Picture book authors often don’t meet their illustrators. But with Rock ‘N’ Roll Soul, the harmonious blending of text and art is so perfect, you would swear they were in the same room together collaborating. This is a must for storytimes, and a great book to hand off to people (and there are a lot of them) who want great picture books about the universal joys of loving music.