Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel

A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel

Roaring Brook Press

Rating: 5 stars

Last week I had the chance to chaperone a field trip with Lorelei and all of the second grade classes at her school. They were going to hear Nick Bruel, author of all the Bad Kitty books, speak at an independent bookstore (Politics & Prose) in Washington, DC. Did I want to come along? Um....twist my arm...YES!

So I rode on a big yellow bus alongside some happy kids who then sat criss-cross-apple-sauce in front of an author I honestly didn't know much about. Despite the fact that it's the second best selling series for Scholastic, Bad Kitty isn't a title that lures me. But my kids have read them at school and think they're a hoot. As Nick Bruel stood and read from his most recent Bad Kitty book (Bad Kitty Puppy's Big Day) I definitely saw and appreciated the humor in the series--I think the chapter books are on the pulse of what kids want (read: something slightly inappropriate and therefore wildly funny).

We took his magic rubies! His rubies! His rubies!
We took his magic rubies! And now we have to FLEEEEE!
But then Nick Bruel read from his other recent book, A Wonderful Year, and I was struck by how it could be silly and zany ("outright buffoonery" said one review) it was one moment, and then thoughtful and sweet the next instant.

It's a picture book about the seasons, divided into four parts, linked together by an unnamed girl.

Nick Bruel "had me at hello" in a way when, on the first double page spread, the girl is super excited that it's Winter and it's snowing. Her mother tells her to put on her boots. Her father tells her to put on her earmuffs. Her dog tells her to put on her snowpants. Her purple rhinoceros Louise tells her to put on her gloves. Her can of beans tells her to put on her coat. Her tree tells her to put on a sweater. And then she opens the door and sees...that it's Spring. It's taken her so long to get dressed that winter is now over.

Can't you hear the crowd of criss-cross-apple-sauce sitters roar their approval? My face broke out into a grin. I laughed loudly, too. It was great! Brilliant! Silly!

Spring involves a very catchy--it'll be in your head and on your lips for days--sing-songy poem about a "demented fairy" (that's the girl again) and her dog and the imaginary adventures they are having as a princess and a handsome dog. Then they run into their pal, a cat, who is sleeping, who would rather nap than play. His reluctant participation is pretty funny. Hearing Nick Bruel read it out loud was even funnier.

"Hurry, hurry, hurry!" says Louise.
Summer is perhaps the zaniest of all--the girl and her purple rhino Louise are walking down the sidewalk on a hot day when suddenly the girl melts. Louise slurps up the girl and spits her into a cup, which she puts in the freezer to cool off. While waiting, Louise is excited to watch what the kids know is the least exciting show on earth: the can of beans show. (Random!) The girl waits a little too long in the freezer...but does end up cooling off.

And then there's Fall. The girl sits and reads under a tree. And, while reading, has a conversation with the tree about the book she's reading which is, coincidentally, about a girl and a tree. The tree is alarmed to hear that the leaves on the tree in the book turn colors and eventually fall, leaving the tree completely bare. As the girl gets up to walk away, the tree calls out, "you should put on a sweater!"

So funny and random and silly and thought-provoking. That Nick Bruel writes some funny stuff, and it was great to hear him speak to this crowd of kids. A Wonderful Year is his first non-Bad Kitty book that he's written in five years--all four of us kidlit-book-lovers in this house hope there are more where this comes from!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Lee & Low Books

Rating: 5 stars

Author Katheryn Russell-Brown starts out with a big promise in this nonfiction picture book: "Spread the word! Melba Doretta Liston was something special!"

She is definitely right. Little Melba definitely was something special.

Melba loved music, lived for music, breathed music--even when she was asleep and dreaming. She watched her aunties dance, she cupped her ear to the Majestic, she daydreamed of notes and chords. She signed up for a music class at seven, but that wasn't enough. When she stepped into her first music store, she saw a long, funny-looking horn. A trombone. She didn't really know what it was or how to play it--she just thought it looked cool. It was enormous for the small girl, but she insisted. Her mother couldn't say no. So, Melba got her first trombone. And Melba started playing.

She tried to push out the slide, but her arm was too short.
She had to tilt her head sideways and stretch out her right arm.
She needed help playing it at first; Grandpa John had to help her hold it. Before long, though, she taught herself to play and was strong enough to hold the trombone and play it on her own. She was only eight when the local radio station invited her to play a solo on air. (How cool is that?!)

Hard times hit her family in 1937 and Melba and her mother moved from Kansas City to Los Angelos. She found a talented band of kids to join, but jealousy ran in some of the kids' veins and they said rude things. Yet Melba still played.

When she was seventeen, she was invited to tour the country with a new band led by trumpet player Gerald Wilson. She visited cities all over and received rave reviews. She was the only female in the band, and some of the men were often rude to her, pretending as if she wasn't there. She visited towns unfriendly to "people with dark skin" and Melba sometimes had to sleep on her tour bus. Yet Melba still played.

Finally, the world knew of her greatness--her "something special"--and she toured the world and dazzled audiences by herself.

The illustrations by Frank Morrison are really my favorite part of this book. They are gorgeous and convey such a sense of movement and richness...I'm not sure how he does it but he really did Melba a huge service by illustrating her with such charisma and cool.

It was fun to walk in Melba's shoes for a little while as my kids and I read this book together. I found some clips on youtube to play for my kids as they ate their breakfast on a dark winter morning before school. None of us could imagine making an instrument sing so well at such a young age--or any age, for that matter. "Wow," was just about all we could say as we listened quietly and respectfully to one woman who definitely was something special.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tough Chicks by Cece Meng

Tough Chicks by Cece Meng, illustrated by Melissa Suber
Clarion Books

Rating: 5 stars

I am thrilled that my youngest son adores a book about tough chicks. The fact that one of those tough chicks holds a cool tool on the cover helps a little, I admit. This is certainly a book about female empowerment. It's without a doubt a book encouraging girls to be girls. And before all that, it's simply a fun book to read with any child.

So. Mama Hen hatched three tough chicks. Penny, Polly, and Molly zip, zap, zoom, cheep around the farm looking for fun. They always find it, though fun is often sprinkled with a little bit of danger or trouble or both. All the animals tell Mama Hen: "Make them be good!" She patiently nods her head, insisting that they are good. And they are smart. Her tough chicks are...also a little mischievous.

Penny, Polly, and Molly can't seem to stay out from under the hood of Farmer Fred's tractor. With a stern look, he instructs them: "You are fuzzy-headed chicks. Be cute. Be quiet. Be good. And stay away from my tractor. I have hay to move before the rain comes."

But it turns out that the farmer and the tractor can't get along either, and the farmer gets to the top of a hill with his tractor, which soon sputters and dies on him. Frustrated, he gives it a kick...and sends it flying down the hill, straight towards all the animals! The tough chicks think fast. They use the cow's tail to swing on to the tractor and steer it away from the henhouse but into a puddle of mud. Mama Hen encourages them to use their tough, smart brains to get out.

They scratch a plan on the side of the tractor and enlist the animals' help in getting the tractor out. While their farmyard friends heave and ho, they get under the hood of the tractor once again. They get busy (and get dirty) tightening belts, checking fluids, and patching holes. They get the tractor out of the mud and working again.

In short, every animal--and Farmer Fred, too--realize how great it is to have tough and smart chicks around.

Do I really need to say how right a realization that is? This is a great new picture book to sprinkle in a little moxie over your kids...regardless of their gender.

Little Nelly's Big Book by Pippa Goodhart

Little Nelly's Big Book by Pippa Goodhart, illustrated by Andy Rowland

Rating: 5 stars

Little Nelly (the young elephant in this story) and I (the writer typing away at this review) share something: we both believe a lot of what we read. Luckily, I've not had a crisis like Little Nelly. Yet.

Little Nelly opens a book and reads that mice can be gray. Mice have big ears. Mice have skinny tails.

Little Nelly is gray. She has big ears. She has a skinny tail.

Ergo, Little Nelly must be...a mouse?!

After this terrific realization, she pushes through the wall in order to get to the mice den behind it and starts bunking with the mouse family. At first, they are startled. That's pretty reasonable, methinks. But kindly and generously, Granny Mouse leads the way in welcoming big Little Nelly to their small home. They pull the biggest blanket they have over her, comb her hair, give her cheese to eat, play with her.

So Little Nelly went home.
Still, Little Nelly "sometimes felt she was different."

After a while, wise Granny Mouse decides to take Little Nelly to the zoo, where she finds big mice, just like her. Everyone's happy...and a little relieved.

I love this sweet tale of friends being friends regardless of their size or shape or color. I love how the mice are so gentle with Little Nelly's false certainty that she's a mouse. I love how one little mouse picks up the same book Little Nelly did at the beginning and starts wondering if he is, in fact, an elephant. And I really love the last line in this picture book:

"Which just goes to show why books should always have pictures."

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ninja! by Arree Chung

Ninja! by Arree Chung
Henry Holt and Company

Rating: 4 stars

This is a sparsely-worded, richly-illustrated picture book by Arree Chung, and it is a really fun read. It's light, it's cool, it's a story about a stealthy ninja boy named Maxwell and his little sister Cassandra.

This ninja is super brave: he surprises his father awake from a nap on the couch. Few children would dare do that in our house! Luckily this dad wakes up with a pretty good sense of humor.

Maxwell's courage continues into the kitchen, when he swipes milk and cookies from his little sister. Cassandra doesn't see the humor in the swipe-ification, and screams to protest his action. The ninja is sent to his room.

But he makes amends...he invites his sister into his ninja den and offers to teach her the ninja ways. The last page is a picture of them, romping off together. "Sayonara!" she gleefully yells out from her brother's shoulders.

Sweet. Fun. Light. And good sibling stuff, too.

But you know what's almost more fun than the book? Arree Chung's website for coloring pages and back story on the characters and other fun stuff, where you can "ninjafy" yourself if you click HERE. Upload a picture and put a costume on yourself, add a ninja-y quote in a word bubble, and frame it up before you print it. Again: sweet, fun, light, and good parenting stuff, too, if you do all that and put it in your child's lunchbox one random school day.


The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

Beach Lane Books

Rating: 5 stars

It's Caldecott season, and this well-deserving book is being talked about a whole lot...will it win? We'll see...stay tuned on 2 February...

All will feel something when reading The Farmer and the Clown. It's the right balance of silly and somber, though maybe it's us adults who have felt loneliness and loss a whole lot more than kids (hopefully) who see the sobering side of the message...

A curmudgeon of a farmer toils alone in his field, pausing only to watch a train roll by. When something or someone falls out of the train, he's alarmed. He drops his pitchfork and runs right over. It's a boy-clown, with a big, painted-on grin. The surly man and the smiley boy size each other up, then walk hand-in-hand to his home to eat together. When washing up, the boy-clown washes his face, washes his face paint/brave face off to reveal a sad, scared little face.

The farmer tucks the boy in his own bed and sits with him all night so the boy isn't lonely, and then does his best to cheer him up. (There's nothing quite as charming as a grumpy man humbling himself for a child.) They work together at the farmer's farm all day long, playing as well as working, clearly enjoying each other's company. Clearly lighting up each other's life.

And then, suddenly, the train returns.

They bolt to it, wave like mad to get its attention, and the clown's family is ecstatic to see him and hug him and have him back.

And yet. Now the farmer, his curmudgeon face washed off to reveal a sweet man, is lonely again.

(And isn't that the worst kind of loneliness: when you've felt un-lonely and lit up and very loved and then suddenly BAM that other person is gone and you realize how quiet and sad your life is now? And the lonely cloud follows you, envelopes you like fog?)

Because the boy-clown does go. Of course he does. Only after a very sweet good-bye with our now-sweet farmer. They wave to each other as the train separates them.

Sweetly, the farmer is not left totally alone. A circus monkey hides behind his leg, ready to surprise him after we close the book. It's a good ending, and I the reader am left with a smile. At least a half-smile, but I'm relieved the farmer isn't totally alone.

I admit: the first time I paged through this book in the fall when it was released I teared a little. It is beautiful and, like I said, well-deserving of a Caldecott.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Once Upon A Memory by Nina Laden

Once Upon A Memory by Nina Laden, illustrated by Renata Liwska

Rating: 5 stars

There is so much to love about this beautiful, thoughtful book. Its question is simple: does an object remember what it once was?

I read about this book HERE, at the official SCBWI blog. Once Upon A Memory is a Crystal-Kite award winner from Washington state (where I went to college and where part of my heart will always remain). The author began writing the poem that is now a book while walking along a beach. She picked up a feather and asked herself: I wonder...does a feather remember that it was once a bird?

Laden worked with that idea until she had a string of wonderings, and she carefully (and with the help of a great editor, she admits) and beautifully strung those wonderings together to make a poem. And then the talented Renata Liwska (you might remember her from The Quiet Book) drew up some soft, whimsical, sweet illustrations and all of a sudden, we readers get the gift of this book.
Does a feather remember it once was...a bird?
Does a book remember it once was...a word?
Does a chair remember it once was...a tree?
Does a garden remember it once was...a pea?

Does work remember it was
This is a softer, more thoughtful version of the fun, retro picture book What Goes Around Comes Around by Richard McGuire. But both books offer kids the opportunity to see that everything comes from somewhere, and that growth and change are enormous and inevitable parts of life.

Let me say that again: this book gently reminds kids that growth and change are enormous and inevitable parts of life. That makes me breathe a little easier as I help myself and my trio adapt to new routines, new schools, growing bodies (mine included!), etc...

I love how this book makes me pause on my harried daily routine and makes me wonder. And isn't that the best gift we can give to our kids, and the best thing we can remember to do as adults: wonder? Because we all should certainly do our best to remember that once, long ago, we began as kids. Wonder-filled kids.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I Always, Always Get My Way by Thad Krasnesky

I Always, Always Get My Way by Thad Krasnesky, illustrated by David Parkins

Rating: 5 stars

This book is written for third kids everywhere. For those kids whose parents are wise enough to know that a little leniency isn't a bad thing (but tired enough to forget that too much leniency is a bad thing). For those kids who happily take just the teensiest advantage of their parents' doting and get away with a little too much. For three year olds who are young enough to make a few too many questionable choices and old enough to know how to get away with it.

For those kids like Kiefer, basically.

The little girl-narrator of this story makes some big mistakes: she accidentally dumps orange juice all of her father's work pants, she trips over the big roller coaster track her brother is building, and she swipes her big sister's things to make some unusual gluey model in her room. After all of these things, the little girl's mom rushes to her side and to her defense, and wags her finger at Dad, brother Tom, sister Suzie...NOT the little girl.

"After all...she's only three," rings the chorus.

And then the girl pushes it, like any three year old will. Through a hilarious string of very realistic kid  decisions, such as waking up early on Saturday morning and helping herself to ice cream, her whole family realizes that things have got to change.

After a particularly mischievous string of mishaps, her whole family, including her mom, is standing around looking at her.

My dad stood still. His shoes did not.
They squished and left a drippy spot.
He calmly said, "I'd like to know
who turned the tub on hours ago
and flooded out the upstairs hall,
and soaked my bedroom, rug and all." 
Dad noticed Suzie's dripping shoe-
Tom's dressed-up lizard--and he knew.Dad looked at Mom. Mom looked at Dad.
And that's when things got really bad.
Mom pointed to the stairs and said,
"That's it young lady! GO TO BED!" 
I sweetly answered, "Don't blame me.
Did you forget? I'm only three!"
When I saw Mom being to fume,
I trudged, forlorn, up to my room.

I can't spoil the ending--the last two lines of this perfectly written, oh-so-clever poem are so, so perfect. I just can't tell you. You'll have to check it out for yourself! Krasnesky has created a marvel of a book, with small vignettes that kept my kids riveted and chuckling and then asking for more. This book is going to be purchased and given to any third kid-three year old party for the rest of my life!

Sidenote: How interesting and cool that Thad Krasnesky is a distance-running Army major, teaching at West Point! I have to point that out because when I was three (okay, that'd be too neat a story--actually I was in first through third grade), my own father was a distance-running Army major, teaching at West Point! AND it was around that time that my dad wrote a beginner chapter book (still not published, but still loved by his two girls). He served three tours in Iraq as well, so I can't say enough how much I love the twist on a stereotype...hooray and hooah for this author and hero. Can't wait to check out his other books.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Blizzard by John Rocco

Blizzard by John Rocco

Rating: 5 stars

Today is the second day back at school after my kids' winter break. Winter break for us stay-at-home moms is...different: the house is full, not empty. The house is loud, not quiet. The house is messy from all that playing-inside time, not neat from all that being-in-school time. It's fun and good and full...but I like when they go back to school.

But now, on the second day back, it's supposed to snow. Just a little. But STILL. Did it snow one flake over winter break? Nope. But today. It's supposed to snow. Go figure! I just have to laugh.

Luckily, it's not supposed to snow as much as it does in John Rocco's brilliant new Blizzard. (He won the Caldecott a few years ago with the heart-warming story with amazing illustrations Blackout.) The story is based on his experience of living through a 53-inch blizzard in Rhode Island in 1978, and is told with fewer words than illustrations, but the illustrations are larger-than-life; they tell the story by'll be snow-blown away by it, just as I was when I first read it to my kids at the Boulder Bookstore around Thanksgiving.

Here's the story (and here's what my kids WISH they were waking up to):

"I wondered if we would ever see grass again."
A boy wakes up. He goes to school. The first snowflake falls down while school is in session, and his excitement goes up. As the day goes on and he walks home, the snow piles up and up around and on him, and the reader understands instantly that this is No Ordinary Snow. This is a whole lotta snow. The first day of the blizzard is wonderful and harmonious and fun, and the second and third days of being trapped inside and drinking hot chocolate (with milk, of course, which is better than water...I love this nod to the good-old-days, the made-from-scratch days) go by pretty well.

After a few days of being trapped inside by the snow, the family starts to go a little batty. I can relate--the house is way too full, way too loud, and messier than normal as they and their neighbors are completely snowed in. The boy watches as his family and others around him run out of the basic necessities. He decides to do something about it. He creatively puts together an outfit and equipment--including using tennis rackets for snow shoes--and rigs together a sled-grocery-cart thingamajig and pulls it from his house, through the neighborhood, to the town store.

The boy practices walking with his makeshift snowshoes...
(Rocco shows his path in a way most delightful to Kiefer these days: with a pull-out, triple-page illustration of the boy's tracks as he goes through the neighborhood. Kiefer likes to trace the path with his finger, and it's a long one that includes more than a few snowdrifts...)

The boy piles his sled high with groceries and, as he retraces his steps through the neighborhood back to his house, he gives his neighbors what they ordered. He arrives back to his own house, completely exhausted. His family celebrates his homecoming, praises his effort, and make him another mug of hot cocoa. With milk.

Even with all that snow, this is a heart-warming book, and a wonderful example of the good that can be done with resourcefulness, courage, a willing heart, and a pair of tennis rackets. This is THE BOOK you should give to kids this winter--for their birthdays or whatever reason you need to buy one extraordinary book.

Oh, and by the way, it's snowing outside of my cozy yellow house. My kids are going to be thrilled! Me? Well, I'll have an extra cup of coffee to keep up with their excitement...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Penguin Cha Cha by Kristi Valiant

Penguin Cha Cha by Kristi Valiant

Rating: 5 stars

Julia loves the zoo. She watches the daily performances from a tree branch--she has a good vantage point from which she can spot some black fins grabbing random items from performers on the stage. These black fins belong to a group of penguins that are obviously up to something.

Julia wants to know what they're up to.

She follows them back to their penguin cove, but they just stand around acting and looking like "penguin popsicles"--they aren't doing anything when they know she's around.

This is what Julia sees through her binoculars.
So she does what any kid would do: she spies on them. She goes up high and, with some good binoculars, she spots those penguins DANCING! With the stolen props from the performance, they dance around the cove like nobody's watching. Julia wants to not just watch, she wants to join in! But every time she tries, she gets the same: penguin popsicles.

So she does what any kid would do: she dresses up like them. Her costume is hilarious and spot-on, and she waddles in with her pillow-as-white-tummy doing its best to disguise her human-ness. It doesn't work. The penguins still stand around like big popsicles.

So she does what any kid would do: she puts on her fanciest outfit and aims to dazzle them with her cha cha. She juts out her chin and puts back her shoulders and reaches out her arms and cha cha chas with such enthusiasm and joy and grace that the penguins can't resist joining her. Finally, she gets what she wants: she gets to dance with the penguins!

The penguins can't resist: Tap, flap, cha cha cha!
My kids and I are blown away by this book. It is sweet, it is funny, it is cool. Valiant's illustrations are drop-dead gorgeous. I want to sit and study every single illustration because there are so many great details, so much joy sketched in young Julia's face and arms and movements!

But my kids and I also want to know: will there be another story, similar to this one, about monkeys doing magic in their monkey house?  We hope so, because we've enjoyed Penguin Cha Cha so much...we want more!

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall

The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall

Rating: 5 stars

It's an age-old question most parents dread: Where do babies come from?

Sophie Blackall takes a stab at answering this question, taking the load off our parental shoulders for a bit. This beautiful book is on many (most?) of the year-end "best book" lists, and there's a reason why: it's a sweet story with an important message, told with sweet words and incredible illustrations.

Here's the story (and a few illustrations to give you an idea of how great they are):

At breakfast, a little boy's parents break the news to him: there's a baby on the way! He's going to be a big brother. As he quietly eats his oatmeal while the hubbub of the morning swirls around him, he only has one thought: Where are we going to get the baby?

Teenage neighbor Olive answers his question as they walk to school: "You plant a seed, and it grows into a Baby Tree."

Hmm. He's not sure about that. He still wonders, so he takes his question to school.

Mrs. McClure the art teacher replies: "From the hospital."

Okay...he can picture a hospital, because his Grandpa had stuff removed (gall stones) there. But he's still unsure, so...

He asks Grandpa, who tells him: "A stork brings your baby in the night and leaves it in a bundle on your doorstep."

Everyone was right. Except for Grandpa.

Maybe the mailman can clear things up: "Babies come from eggs."

At the end of this long, confusing day, the boy asks his mom and dad where babies come from. The simple, succinct answer includes: "They begin with a seed from their dad...which gets planted in an egg inside their mom...the baby grows in there for nine months...until it runs out of room...and it's ready to be born."

So everyone was a little bit right. Except for Grandpa and that stork thing.

There's more information in the back about where babies come from, with recommendations on how to answer the question based on the age of your child. The information also includes twins and adoption and c-sections in very brief but still-honest ways.

This is a great book for many reasons: it's wonderful to look at, great to read aloud, and a fantastic teaching tool. What more can you expect from a book? (Please don't tell her, but we are giving this to Lorelei's teacher--she has a toddler at home and is expecting her second baby in January!)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Draw! by Raúl Colón

Draw! by Raúl Colón

Rating: 5 stars

Last month the New York Times published their annual list (and I'm a lover of all lists, especially when they are lists of books, not to-dos) of Best Illustrated Books for 2014. Click HERE to access this great list. But watch out! Raúl Colón's gorgeous book Draw! is the first one, and when I looked at the illustration from it I knew I needed to see all of it. So don't expect to just look. Expect to buy. At least one. (I already owned Shackleton's Journey, or else I would have purchased that, too.)


Raúl Colón suffered from severe asthma as a child. Frequently, he'd find himself locked up indoors--for days on end--in order to hide from the pollen that made breathing difficult. But he endured those many hours on those many days away from the world by escaping into books and his own drawing (and sometimes comic books he wrote and illustrated himself). This wordless picture book is inspired by the hours he spent as a child trapped in his room but free in his imagination...

In Draw!, a boy is sitting on his bed, absorbed in a book about Africa. He puts the book aside and grabs his sketchbook, and draws himself walking, walking, walking into the book. (This transporting-into-a-book is something my kids talk about all the time. Are they alone? Do your kids do this?) The boy walks and walks until he sees an elephant. Gladly, it is a friendly elephant that poses for him and then gives him a ride rather than charges him.

The elephant becomes his guide as he walks around the grasslands, meeting and drawing giraffes, lions, gorillas, water buffalo, and a rhino that is the least friendly of the bunch (check out the cover, above left). His eyes and heart soak up the experience and he draws and draws and draws all these animals...until suddenly he is transported back to his original world, where he is presenting his animal artwork to his class.

The wordless story is fine. But the illustrations! They are inspirational works of art, each one.

I loved reading more about Raúl Colón and his technique in an interview on the fabulous School Library Journal blog. Here's what he has to say about how he draws each and every illustration in this book, and his others:

Usually I use colored pencil over watercolor wash. In this case, with the African images, I bought Pantone color papers, and I went straight onto the paper with Prismacolor pencils. The paper has a nice grain to it. If you’re going to use color pencils, it’s good to use a grain paper. 
I found the etching instrument by accident—something [a former] boss purchased when I worked at a  TV station in Fort Lauderdale, FL. It’s like a giant flat coin with prongs sticking out. First I sketch onto the paper. The boy’s pants may look brown, but there are actually layers of greens, purples, and blues, which make the colors appear much more vivid. (I learned this from the Impressionists, who put colors next to each other to enhance images.) After I know where everything goes, I start etching with this instrument—wherever I think I need movement or volume.
We're fans of this author/illustrator for sure. I'm embarrassed that this is the first time I've mentioned him on this blog! If you're curious about his work, definitely check out more books by him. (Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates is my personal favorite.)

Dirty Rotten Pirates by Moira Butterfield

Dirty Rotten Pirates: A Revolting Guide to Pirates and Their World by Moira Butterfield, illustrated by Mauro Mazzara

Rating: 4 stars

This review was first published on the Washington FAMILY Magazine website:

Be forewarned: After reading this book, your kids might call each other “matey” and threaten to make you walk the plank if you feed them spinach and broccoli. Then again, you might cook them fish- and onion-filled salmagundi for dinner if they don’t mend the ship’s sails or ropes…

Dirty Rotten Pirates: A Truly Revolting Guide to Pirates and Their World is not for the faint of heart. The illustrations alone might give a child (or grown up!) the shivers. There are illustrations—and text to go along with—of a pirate looking up in fright at a “doctor” about to saw off his injured limb and another deceased pirate left to hang in the gallows for years after he took his last breath. Gruesome for sure, though what else would you expect from a book about pirates? These chaps were not known for their high-quality manners and impeccable oral hygiene! 

Therefore, it is appropriate that the target age range for this book is slightly older than the normal picture book range. The publisher recommends this book for 8 to 11 year olds. 

That said, Dirty Rotten Pirates delivers on its promise to teach your child about dirty, rotten pirates in a pretty revolting way. Each chapter showcases a different aspect of piracy, and each page is jam-packed with information about the history and life of pirates. I found myself spending the time to read all the facts, fascinated by the band of brothers that existed on each ship. This book, especially because of those gruesome illustrations mentioned above, is highly entertaining. 

To read the rest of the review, please click HERE.