I Am Amelia Earhart by Brad Meltzer

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I am Amelia Earhart, (Dial Books for Young Readers, $12.99, ages 5-8 ) by Brad Meltzer with illustrations by Christopher Eliopoulos, is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

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What makes a hero? Someone who accomplishes great things? A person who does what others say can’t be done? An individual who sets a positive example for those around them? In a time when there were distinct lines drawn between appropriate male and female behavior, Amelia Earhart pushed the boundaries and accomplished great things.

In I am Amelia Earhart, one of the first titles published in the new Ordinary People Change the World nonfiction series, Brad Meltzer introduces us to the young Amelia Earhart, a girl determined to soar above the limitations society placed upon her.

The book begins with a seven-year-old Amelia, shunning dolls and dresses for “flying” self-made roller coasters off of the tool shed in the backyard. Hardly lady-like for a girl from her time, but Amelia found it so thrilling (crash landing and all) that she developed a love for flying.

We learn that she took her very first flight at the age of 23, worked in various un-ladylike jobs to save up for her flying lessons and to ultimately buy her own plane, before breaking numerous flying records, which included being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

For parents who want to encourage their daughters to be strong, capable women, or show their sons that girls can do anything too, this book, with fun colorful illustrations by Christopher Eliopoulos, is the ticket. Let your children’s imagination fly with I am Amelia Earhart.

Click here for some hero-oriented activities.


Journey by Aaron Becker

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Cover image of Journey by Aaron Becker

Journey by Aaron Becker, Candlewick Press, 2013.

Pure imagination is Journey, a wordless picture book by Aaron Becker (Candlewick, $15.99, Ages 4-8). Today’s review is by Hilary Taber.

Journeying through the world of this stunning picture book, the audience follows the adventure of a little girl who uses a red marker to literally draw herself from one world into another. Lonely and bored in her own home, the little girl retreats to her room where she uses a red marker to draw a secret, red door. This new world beyond the red door is filled with breathtaking landscapes.

First, blue lanterns in green trees filled with lights lead to moats. The moats in turn lead our heroine to a complex, gray castle. Here she sails through Venetian canals, past golden domes that point to a vast sky. When one mode of transportation doesn’t work any longer, the girl simply uses the magical red marker to draw one that will. She travels by red boat, balloon, and finally a flying carpet. Journey upon journey seems possible. Then comes the moment that the girl sees an elegant purple bird in danger of being kidnapped and caged for life. Suddenly, this imaginative exploration turns into a daring adventure to help a new friend. Every page makes you want to turn to the next to know what happens. Can the little girl save her new friend?  Where will this journey take her next? Will she ever get home again? Page after gorgeously illustrated page beckons the reader on.

This wordless picture book has stolen my heart with its detailed watercolor world, and has captured my full attention with all its adventure. Wordless picture books have a magical quality about them in as much as they are able to unite those who cannot read with those who can. Here is an equal playing field where an adult and child can talk their way through the pictures, discussing each page as they go along. Aaron Becker leads us on an imaginative trip well worth taking, exploring the powerful results of creativity united with inspiration and friendship. Of course, the famous Harold and the Purple Crayon comes to mind when reading Journey, but all you really have to do is open the book to look at the fantastic illustrations to see that Becker has made Journey into something entirely his own. Journey has been given starred reviews by Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist! Will this be a Caldecott winner? I certainly hope so!

We hope that the book trailer below for Journey will help you to discover this imaginative picture book for yourself:

 


Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon

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Looking for Love in All The Ice Places

Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon

Penguin in Love, written and illustrated by Salina Yoon, Walker Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Penguin in Love, written and illustrated by Salina Yoon (Walker Books for Young Readers, $14.99; eBook $6.99, Ages 3-6), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

The adventures of penguins and puffins will warm your heart in this cozy, kooky story about a perfect pair of thoughtful friends. Fans of Yoon’s Penguin series (Penguin and Pinecone, Penguin on Vacation) will cheer with delight to read her newest yarn, spinning Penguin’s tale across oceans, ice floes and mountain tops.

When Penguin isn’t knitting, he is usually discovering curious objects and exploring faraway lands.  In this adventure, he finds a lost mitten on the ice, but cannot find its owner. He stitches up a new mate, but offers it to a chilled puffin. Then Penguin and his friend Bootsy begin giving away warm knitwear to various cold creatures until they run out of yarn. The puffins hatch a clever plan, leaving Penguin and Bootsy to follow a wooly trail of adventure.

Yoon’s simple text is perfect for the youngest listeners to follow. She blends short dialogue and humorous asides into the bright images. Parents could read these aloud as desired, thus breaking up the story narrative with a lighthearted tone.  

Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon interior image

Interior image from Penguin in Love, written and illustrated by Salina Yoon,
Walker Books for Young Readers, 2013.

The cuddly penguins and huggable arctic critters are thickly outlined in black with bold colored accents. The genius of Yoon’s illustration is the tiny clues and themes woven seamlessly throughout.  The penguins’ yarn swirls across the page in sweet heart-shaped loops: Bootsy in purple and green, Penguin in orange and yellow. They float out to sea, singing a silly shanty, atop a heart-shaped ice floe. Finally, a cover image reappears on the last page in a simple, satisfying argyle pattern that symbolically ties up every loose end.

If you have yet to discover the cozy charms of these friendship tales, I recommend that you scoop up the entire trio of Penguin and Pinecone, Penguin on Vacation (read Ronna’s review in the April 2013 issue of L.A. Parent here) and definitely this newest heart-warming delight, Penguin in Love.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.  Disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


The Deer Watch by Pat Lowery Collins

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The Deer Watch by Pat Lowery Collins

The Deer Watch by Pat Lowery Collins with illustrations by David Slonim,
Candlewick Press, 2013.

The Deer Watch by Pat Lowery Collins (Candlewick, $15.99, Ages 3-7) is a quiet book. While there was not a lot of action and adventure in its 32 pages, I found myself drawn in by the promise a father made to his little boy, that this would be the summer they saw a deer.

This beautifully illustrated book, with oil paintings by David Slonim, took me back in time to treasured memories of communing with nature. As our civilization takes over more and more land, our jobs (and electronics) take up more and more of our time, and our children are under so much pressure to succeed at such a young age, an outing in nature allows us to reconnect on a deeper level. There are so many lessons that can’t be learned in school.

Take a hike through The Deer Watch, with a boy and his father. Meet the construction crew who, with their noisy equipment scares, the deer away from the corn the hunters left as bait. Ironically, they are saving them while at the same time pushing them out of their natural habitat.

Interior illustration from The Deer Watch by Pat Lowery Collins with illustrations by David Slonim

Interior illustration from The Deer Watch by Pat Lowery Collins with illustrations by David Slonim, Candlewick Press, 2013.

We see all types of interesting wildlife as we turn the pages, but like the young boy in the book, our goal is to see a deer, and more importantly, to have a promise kept. And, just as the boy’s father doesn’t disappoint, neither shall the book.

I adored this moving story of anticipation and discovery, but would recommend it more for children 4-8 years old. Younger children might get a little squirmy as the boy in the story does when he has to wait quietly to spot a deer. However the reward of father and son sharing this special experience is well worth the wait.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher


An Interview With K. G. Campbell, Illustrator of Flora & Ulysses

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Illustrator and author, K. G. Campbell discusses Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures
and more with Ronna Mandel!

K. G. Campbell is the illustrator of Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures written by Kate DiCamillo.

Illustrator and author K. G. Campbell

I had the good fortune to sit down with K. G. (Keith) Campbell earlier this month when he joined Kate DiCamillo for a Flora & Ulysses book event at Vroman’s in Pasadena. He’s a charming L.A. local with an intoxicating accent who’s not only an extremely talented and versatile illustrator, but an author, too. This Q & A focuses mostly on his artwork.

WIN:

Click here now to enter our giveaway. Thanks to Candlewick, we’re giving away 3 copies of Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12). Please write FLORA in the subject line, include your address and enter by midnight on Sunday, November 10, 2013.

INTERVIEW: 

GRWR: A quote I read called you an “up and coming illustrator.” How do you know when you’re no longer up and coming, but have arrived? What’s changed?

K. G. CAMPBELL: Well I think that’s a description from Candlewick Press and at the time I’d had only published one book, Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters for which I won the (2013) SCBWI Golden Kite Award. But since then I won the Golden Kite and an Ezra Jack Keats (New Illustrator) Honor for Lester. Flora & Ulysses had just come out and also Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman had also just released. I think you know you’re no longer up and coming when you no longer have to search for work. Candlewick just came to me recently and offered me another project

GRWR: Did you take it?

K. G.: Yes, actually. And also I’ve turned down a few. I guess that’s when you know – when you don’t have to pound the pavement.

GRWR: Tea Party Rules is with which publishing house?

Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by K. G. Campbell

Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by K. G. Campbell, Viking Children’s Books.

K. G.: Tea Party Rules is with Viking. My second picture book with Kids Can Press, which is my manuscript, is due to come out next spring. It’s called The Mermaid and the Shoe.

GRWR: Can you please tell us the process when you try to develop the characters after after receiving Kate’s (DiCamillo) manuscript and how long it takes?

K. G.: So obviously the first thing that you do is read the manuscript. You try and get a feel for the characters which isn’t difficult for Kate because her characters are so three dimensional, quirky and hilarious. You look for visual clues you have to be really careful to see if there’s any physical descriptions in there. And you go from there.

Kate DiCamillo's Flora & Ulysses from Candlewick Press with illustrations by K. G. Campbell.

Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses from Candlewick Press with illustrations by K. G. Campbell.

Being an LA local, what I tend to do is a little casting. I go in search of the perfect Flora or the perfect Phyllis or whoever it is. But unlike a casting director, I can select from anyone who’s ever lived. They can be friends or family, they can be famous actors They can be TV actors. They can be film actors. They can be theatre actors. They can be fictional. I try to find a type that will fit that character. Then that sort of gives me a feeling how they’re going to react physically in any given situation they’re faced with, expressions and all that stuff. And then I do the sketches based on that. And then, in this case, but it’s not always the case .., well, they always go through the art director and the art director has some input as to whether they think that physical manifestation of the character is appropriate. In this case, because Kate is Kate, they (the sketches) also went to her. Often, usually in fact, they wouldn’t go to the author. The author has very little input in the illustrations. But Kate had something to say. Some characters were modified from my original sketches. Now they are what they are so that’s perfect.

GRWR: Who was the most difficult character to draw or create?

K. G.: I think the most difficult was probably Ulysses himself, because, and it’s actually technical reasons. It’s a middle grade novel so the format is quite small. All of the images are printed as 5×7. I drew them very slightly larger just so it would crisp up as it was reduced, but I didn’t want to draw so much larger that I didn’t know what was going to happen to them. Ulysses is a squirrel and everybody else is a human being and human beings are much larger than squirrels. And in fact, I made Ulysses slightly larger than real life so that he would be visible. So getting the amount of character that we wanted to into Ulysses when his scale was so small, that was the most difficult part.

Flora, Ulysses and neighbor Mrs. Tickham with the Ulysses Super Suction vacuum as illustrated by K. G. Campbell. Candlewick Press.

Flora, Ulysses and neighbor Mrs. Tickham with the Ulysses Super Suction vacuum as illustrated by K. G. Campbell. Candlewick Press.

GRWR:  Who was the easiest to draw?

K. G: Phyllis.

GRWR:  I love the look of Phyllis. I feel like I’ve met her before.

K. G.: I wanted someone with a crazy, curly hairstyle, girlie, melodramatic.  And I actually had a person in mind for Phyllis. She was inspired by a Broadway actress. Phyllis is like my original sketch. Some changed a bit, some changed a lot. But not Phyllis.

GRWR: What medium do you work in?

K. G.: I usually work in water color and colored pencils combined but Flora & Ulysses was executed entirely with colored pencils, no water colors.

GRWR: You’ve lived in Kenya, Scotland and California. Is one locale particularly more inspiring for you as an artist?

K. G.: Yeah, I would say Scotland, probably. The weather and the atmosphere make it a less attractive place to live, but it’s definitely a very romantic and gothic setting. And it makes for a good location for the kind of gothic stories that I like. Not that Scotland was the setting for either Lester or Ulyssses. It wasn’t. But in my future writing I think some of it will be set there.

GRWR: Since you do not consult with the author, is it scary interpreting their vision or is that a challenge you enjoy?

K. G.: It’s definitely more difficult illustrating for other people’s manuscripts than my own. Obviously not all illustrators are in my position. Not all illustrators write as well so they may not make that comparison. For me I do have that comparison and it’s definitely more difficult and more time consuming because you have more parties involved who make changes, so it becomes a bit more difficult. I wouldn’t say it’s more intimidating or daunting, but it’s more of a challenge.

GRWR: Do you prefer to illustrate others’ books or do the entire book yourself.

K. G.:  It’s easier to illustrate my own, but illustrating other people’s work does take me to places that I wouldn’t have gone. So in that sense the product that emerges at the end is perhaps more surprising and unexpected. It becomes something of a team effort almost like a play, I suppose, or when you have several screenwriters working together it becomes a collaborative process and the creation is the product of that.

GRWR: You studied art history, did interior design yet always felt the call to illustrate even as a child. What stopped you from pursuing that from the start?

K. G.: Well that’s quite a complicated answer. And to be honest I’m not 100% sure that I have an answer to that. I was flattered and encouraged to take an academic route as I graduated from high school. My academics were pretty strong and I wound up going to a fairly prestigious school which is Edinburgh University. And really at that point I made the decision not to go to art school and I put down the pencil and I didn’t pick it up again for decades. I got onto a different path.

Cover artwork from Lester's Dreadful Sweaters by K. G. Campbell.

Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters written and illustrated by K. G. Campbell, Kids Can Press.

GRWR: But it was always tugging at you to return to it?

K. G: Yeah. And the more I delved into exploring children’s literature and illustration, the more I felt compelled to do it, the more I felt very strongly that I had the talent and the skill to participate in that world. So I began to take it more and more seriously and so here I am.

GRWR: At that point, did you go back to school?

K.G.: No. As an artist I’m more or less self-taught. I’ve done some life drawing classes. Obviously I’ve done a bit of research on the materials and stuff online, but on the whole you would call me a self-taught artist. I did however go to UCLA and Art Center Pasadena for some night classes in creative writing, in children’s writing and specifically in illustrating. I did a class with Marla Frazee who’s a well-known children’s writer and illustrator who lives here in L.A. She teaches at Art Center. While it wasn’t an art class per se, it wasn’t teaching you to draw, it was teaching you how to use whatever skills you had and whatever style you had to illustrate and how images participate in a book and how they enhance a text. I did a great writing class with Barney Saltzberg who’s another local author/illustrator who has had a string of books published. He teaches a night class at UCLA in writing for kids basically.

GRWR: Did you find when you weren’t working in the field of children’s books that you were still drawn to it, that you still loved wandering around the children’s books department of a bookstore?  

K. G.: Oh all the time! In fact I never really stopped reading children’s literature which a lot of my adult peers find a little odd. But definitely my favorite books probably are children’s books or perhaps adult books that have a fairy tale quality to them to some degree. I love sort of sophisticated middle grade novels. Philip Pullman, who wrote The Golden Compass, is one of my favorites.

GRWR: Which illustrators have most influenced you?

K. G.: Edward Gorey, Tim Burton and Lisbeth Zwerger, an Austrian artist.

GRWR: How many hours per day do you devote to your projects?

K. G.: Well, I try to do a full workday. I am my own boss. I’m probably not working a full eight or nine hours, but maybe about six or seven hours a day. And depending on where I am in a project will dictate how much of that time is allocated to illustrating and how much is allocated to writing. An ideal scenario is kind of half and half – three and half hours writing and three and half hours illustrating. Something like that. But  in the real world, as deadlines loom for my illustrating projects, I find that the writing has to take a back seat to some extent because the illustrations have to get done and that’s what happens.

GRWR: Any advice for new illustrators?

K.G.: I would certainly say if you haven’t, then take a class, some classes, in illustrating specifically because it is a distinct branch of artistic output and it’s about bringing to a text something that perhaps the text doesn’t already contain. But it has to be complementary. And in many cases, especially in picture books, you’re telling a story along with the text. Sometimes you are a carrying a subplot as well, and you can throw in characters, usually a pet or something, that aren’t mentioned in the main text and you can have things going on, a whole storyline, that’s purely visual. So I think understanding what illustration is is very important. It’s more important than any level of artistic skill or style.

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A Very Witchy Spelling Bee by George Shannon – Reviews

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A Very Witchy Spelling Bee

A Very Witchy Spelling Bee written by George Shannon with illustrations by Mark Fearing from Harcourt Children's Books is perfect for Halloween!

A Very Witchy Spelling Bee written by George Shannon with illustrations by Mark Fearing from Harcourt Children’s Books is perfect for Halloween!

In A Very Witchy Spelling Bee, (Harcourt Children’s Books, $16.99, Ages 4-8) written by George Shannon and illustrated by Mark Fearing, reviewed today by Rita Zobayan, Cordelia is a young witch with aspirations. Not content with practicing spelling words (“Mama, please pass, P-A-S-S, the broccoli”) and magic spells at home, she has her sights set on winning the Witches’ Double Spelling Bee. “I’ve studied. I’ve practiced. I’m ready to win!” she declares to her mother. However, the current champion, a one very nasty Beulah Divine, is delighted to best Cordelia with whatever it takes!

This clever wordplay story—which can encourage interest in word spelling—unfolds as Cordelia and the other contestants compete in the Bee.  The contestants must pull a letter and using that letter, change an object into something new. Witch Opal changes ice into mice and mage Madge changes a lock into a clock. But how will Cordelia beat Beulah, who is not only much, much older but also much, much sneakier? Readers will love the twist at the end.

Mark Fearing’s illustrations are spot on. Filled with bright colors and vivid depictions (green witches with warts and moles, anyone?), the art work is fun and just scary enough for young readers. Spiders, cobwebs, and all manner of witchy accoutrements are scattered throughout the book, providing a howling good time in searching for them.

A Very Witchy Spelling Bee is an engaging story that demonstrates how aspiration and competition don’t have to include poor sportswitchship, S-P-O-R-T-W-I-T-CH-S-H-I-P.


Vampire Baby by Kelly Bennett & Giveaway

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VampireBabyCover

Vampire Baby by Kelly Bennett with illustrations by Paul Meisel from Candlewick Press.

 IF YOU THINK YOUR BABY SISTER’S A VAMPIRE BABY…

Don’t let her nuzzle your neck!!

The old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” came to mind when I first saw Vampire Baby (Candlewick Press, $15.99, ages 3-7) With Halloween right around the corner, it’s the perfect book for all of the little monsters in your life, yet it’s SO much more. Together author Kelly Bennett and illustrator Paul Meisel offer comic relief to the sometimes sensitive new-sibling-on-the-scene situation (in this case blood sucking’s the issue rather than rivalry), give it a new twist and take the bite out of a biting baby.

Tootie, like most newborns, is an adorable, chubby-cheeked baby. She coos and gurgles and captures her big brother’s heart. When Tootie gets her first teeth, (which happen to be upper canines), develops a widow’s peak, favors red foods, and bites everything in sight, her brother is convinced she is a vampire baby! He wastes no time trying to find Tootie a home with a vampire family. However Brother sees red when Tootie is yelled at by the new family’s vampire boy after she has bitten his nose. Only then does he realize that even if she is a vampire baby, she’s his vampire baby.

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Interior artwork by illustrator Paul Meisel
from Vampire Baby written by Kelly Bennett.

GIVEAWAY OPPORTUNITY!!
3 lucky winners could receive a free signed copy of Vampire Baby + swag. Just LIKE our Good Reads With Ronna Facebook page, then follow instructions below on how to enter.  This great giveaway from Kelly Bennett ends 10/31/13.

Just in time for Halloween … 

Prizes include an autographed copy of VAMPIRE BABY by Kelly Bennett for your little ghost or goblin – along with fun VAMPIRE BABY swag such as a bookmark, postcard, and fangs.

It’s easy to enter, here’s what you do:

1) Check out the book trailer for VAMPIRE BABY on YouTube between 10/15-10/31/13

2) Post a comment about the book trailer on that page (below the trailer)

3) You’re entered! It’s just that easy!!

All contest details are posted at Kelly’s Fishbowl blog: http://kellybennett.com/blog/2013/10/i-vant-my-vampire-baby-contest-details
MaryAnneLocherToday’s guest reviewer, MaryAnne Locher, majored in education and went on to teach pre-school before having children of her own. As a young child, she would create picture books to popular songs, then read them to her family. Now that her two daughters are grown, she has again pursued a career in writing. A New Jersey native, MaryAnne now calls Southern California home.