Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Year of the Christmas Picture Book

People often ask me if I collect specific kinds of books.

Not really. The only books I really “collect” are Christmas books.

So, you can imagine how excited I was to see the amount of Christmas picture books coming out in 2016!

Here are a few I’ve come across…

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And one chapter book, too!

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Lita Judge Stops by for an Interview

Today I am thrilled and honored that Lita Judge has stopped by my blog! My questions are in bold, and Lita’s answers are in blue.

Hello, Lita, thank you for joining me for an interview to talk about your latest works, and what’s ahead for you!

Tell us a little bit about Hoot and Peep.

Hoot and Peep is about brother and sister owlets who live on the rooftops of Paris. The older brother, Hoot, is eager to bestow his owly wisdom to his little sister, Peep. Peep though is a dreamer and is less interested into listening to her big brother’s wisdom than she is in singing about the beauty she finds around her. After many disagreements that parallel many younger/older sibling dynamics, Hoot finds his little sister has some owly wisdom of her own and learns to appreciate how she sees the world. The story is both a celebration of family and how, even though we often have very different personalities than our family members, the love that unites us is far more important than what divides us.

 

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The scenery of the book plays a key role to the story and was inspired by a painting trip I took to Paris a couple of years ago. Paris has always been a wellspring of my art. I traveled there several times to paint, long before I wrote my first children’s book. On those trips I pored through museums, soaking up art and painted on location under bridges and busy street corners, out of windows, in gardens, and in museum halls. But I never quite felt those paintings captured my love affair with the place. On the last trip, I decided to sketch and draw aspects of Paris that excited my imagination. Instead of painting street scenes, I let my mind soar above the rooftops and churches. Instead of recording whatever light was available, I imagined Paris by moonlight or lamppost. The paintings that came from that trip were much more personal and I knew I wanted to acknowledge the gifts Paris has given me by setting a book there. The story of Hoot and Peep is a love song to a place that has taught and inspired me, as well as to my husband, Dave, who has always accompanied me and cheerfully carried my paints and canvases in one very loaded-down backpack, waiting patiently for hours as I try to capture the beauty of Paris.  Dave is a little bit Hoot, and I am a little bit Peep, and together we live a wonderful life.

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You had to do a little bit of traveling to get a sense of the setting for Hoot and Peep. Have you done that for any other books?

Yes, I often fall in love with story ideas that I know will take me to interesting places. I travelled extensively by foot, car and horseback through Yellowstone National Park for my book, Yellowstone Moran.  Thomas Moran was a painter and explorer who played a key role in preserving many of our National parks. I carried his journals and followed in his footsteps, often painting in the exact spot he must have stood while painting his own paintings to create the illustrations for the book.

I am currently working on a picture book that is again set in France, this time in the countryside. It will be out next year, and it captures many of the paintings I did on a more recent trip to France. I’m also creating work inspired by painting trips to England and Italy for an illustrated novel I’m working on now.

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Tell us a little bit about the illustrations you did for Quick, Little Monkey!

That was a delightful book, written by Sarah Thomson which I knew I wanted to illustrate the moment I read the manuscript. One of the things I look forward to most in illustrating a story is having lots of opportunity to use gesture and expression to bring out the emotional story of a character. The little monkey in this story has such a beautiful range of emotions she experiences, and marmosets have wonderful, almost human like faces. I really enjoyed bringing this little monkey to life through a broad sweep of facial expressions and body positions. I feel a little bit like a director when I create drawings like this for a character, physically pushing pencil lines around to make my actor look scared, or sad, or lonely or happy. It was fun challenge to explore the emotions this little monkey went through on the journey of this story.

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I understand there’s special meaning for you behind Flight School. Is that your favorite book that you’ve done?

All of my books are very special is some way, but yes, this story is particularly close to my heart. In it, a little penguin has an over sized dream of learning how to fly and leaves his home and family to find a way to make that dream happen. It’s kind of autobiographical really. I was born on a tiny island in Alaska, and for much of my childhood, my family lived in remote places far out in the wilderness. Becoming an artist seemed like a pretty far-fetched dream because I was never exposed to art in school nor had I met an artist who was making a living by painting. Somehow though this big dream came true and my family’s livelihood comes from me drawing characters and writing stories. When the book was adapted into an off-Broadway musical, it just confirmed that dream even more because I got to watch the character born from my imagination suddenly singing and dancing on stage. I feel like that little penguin everyday I walk into my studio and sit down to create another story.

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What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

I have two things I’d love to share:

  1. I met my (now) husband/ (then) strange guy in the back of lab class, in college just before the end of my sophomore year and on the night we met we decided to ride our bicycles across America. We barely knew each other, but we made a pact that night so when classes ended a couple of weeks later, we hopped on our bikes and peddled 3300 miles, from the Pacific Coast to NY in 35 days. We knew we’d spend the rest of our lives together by the time we crossed the Idaho border.

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  1. The characters in Hoot and Peep were inspired by an owl I grew up with. My grandparents were ornithologists, and as part of their research on birds, they had many hawks, owls and eagles in their home.

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If you weren’t writing and illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?

I’d be a paleontologist. My degree is in geology and I worked on dinosaur digs for a few years. I loved it, but ultimately my love of art won out and I’m writing and illustrating. Part of me misses working on digs, discovering awesome fossils and piecing together clues of the past. But I kind of feel like I have the best of both worlds now because I can write about science and dinosaurs and all the things I found interesting in that life.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I’m very excited about the projects coming up. First I have another story for my characters, Hoot and Peep. And I’m creating another nonfiction book about animals that will be a companion to my book, Born in the Wild. And then I have my first YA novel coming out! I’m so very excited about this one, it is an illustrated novel in verse and I am currently working on the final art pieces for that. It is such an exciting departure for me and I’m thrilled to be working on a novel during a time in publishing when there is so much exciting innovation going on in this genre. It has been a very long adventure for me to bring this big scale project to life, and it is nearly done. Stay tuned, I’ll be giving sneak peaks soon.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

I’m incredibly grateful that I get to write and paint and share stories, and that readers have embraced them over the years and allowed me to do this! I wanted to share a little of the behind the scenes aspects to how I created my newest book, Hoot and Peep so my husband and I made a short video of my time in Paris when I painted on location and conceived this book.

(Link to video here  http://www.litajudge.net/2016/01/11/hoot-and-peep-2/ )

My website: http://www.litajudge.net/

Thank you, Lita, for joining me here!

Stay tuned for more interviews!

Brian Lies Interview and a Look at GATOR DAD

Today, Brian Lies, author of the Bats (in the Band, at the Beach, etc.) series and author of the new upcoming title, Gator Dad, has dropped by my blog today to talk about his new book and other interesting aspects of his work!

Hello, Brian, thank you for joining me for an interview today, and for a look at your 2016 title, Gator Dad.

Tell us a little bit about Gator Dad.

Gator Dad is a celebration of dads who are involved in their kids’ lives.  I started thinking about writing a “dad” book when my daughter went off to college a few years ago.  Having a child leave home leads to contemplation, and I grew wistful remembering all of the time she and I spent together, going back to when I was a stay-at-home dad in the late 1990s.  

My wife was a vice-president at a PR agency in Boston, and we agreed it made sense for me to care for our daughter after my wife’s maternity leave ended, as I already worked from home.  We had wonderful days, and we had hard days, just as every stay-at-home parent experiences.  Back then, stay-at-home dads were relatively rare, and there were some differences between moms and dads.  Dads didn’t get invited to play groups.  A man standing at the edge of the playground raised suspicion.  At the store, there was the frequent comment about being “Mr. Mom,” or compliments on “babysitting,” and that stuff bothered me—I was parenting, and didn’t feel it was a lesser thing.

As well, I didn’t see my experience echoed in tv shows or ads.  I was trying hard to give my daughter a rich and interesting life, but in media, Dad was always shown as an idiot who loved his kids, but was completely incompetent when it came to parenting or household tasks.   Dad is cooking tonight?  Call the fire department.  Dad has to diaper the baby?  The diaper’s going to end up on the baby’s head.  

Things have changed quite a bit since then.  There are a lot more stay-at-home dads now, and there are a lot more positive depictions of dads on tv.  My thoughts about being a dad—then and now—coalesced in a book in which a loving father gets through a day with his kids . . . in ways that are sometimes unorthodox.

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Is there a message you hope people will take away from Gator Dad?  

I try not to write a story that’s “message forward.”  It seems to me that as soon as you begin a story with the goal of advancing a moral or a message, you’re beating a drum, and people can hear that lesson coming.  I can’t imagine any child begging a parent to read a book called Let’s All Be More Polite! or Mr. Fuddy Learns Not to Throw Things at the Zoo Animals.  Certainly not more than once.

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To me, Gator Dad is simply a slice of life with a dad and his kids.  But at times, it’s an odd slice—for instance, when something goes bad in the fridge, Gator Dad will “let you smell it, too.”  You might be able to convince Gator Dad to do something that maybe you shouldn’t have done (here, using a fallen tree as a bridge over a pond and ending up in the pond).  It’s a celebration of what my wife calls “boy noises” —braking sounds as you stop a grocery cart, airplane sounds as a forkful of food heads toward a mouth.  It’s “robot rides” on Dad’s shoulders at bedtime.

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That said, many dads show their love through doing, rather than saying.  I’d like to think that kids who have undemonstrative dads might read this book with their parents and make a connection: “Hey—my dad does this stuff, too.  He must love me!”  And for kids whose dads who do tell them that they love them, I hope this book will simply echo the positive parts of the relationship they have.

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Are any of the scenarios in Gator Dad based on things you’ve done with your own children?  

Absolutely!  When I took my daughter out for a stroller ride, I was looking for ways to turn it into an adventure—perhaps making her laugh by speeding up and slowing down abruptly.  When we went for walks in the woods, I was hoping to find salamanders under the rocks to show her, or turn going up a hill into a mountain climbing expedition.  I tried to teach my daughter how to make those “boy noises.”  

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But some of Gator Dad comes from times I remember with my Dad— playing until he collapsed on the floor, though my sister and I would beg for more.  Climbing onto him as though he were a raft, keeping us from the savage sea of the living room carpet.  Giving my sister and me robot rides at bedtime—tug on one ear to turn left, the other to turn right—and we’d eventually end up in our bedrooms.  There were certain kinds of experiences we got with him that we didn’t get from any other grownup.  For instance, he was the one you could count on to buy wax teeth or “Nik-l-Nip”(little wax bottles with a small bit of sweet liquid inside) at the crumbling, ramshackle shop where he bought newspapers or pipe tobacco.  These are things I’ll carry with me forever.

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What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?  

How about two things?

1)  When I was in high school, I was a pole-vaulter on the track and field team.  I had lousy technique, but we hadn’t had many (or any?) pole-vaulters before, so I held the school record for three or four years.

2)  One of my favorite candies is Bottle Caps, though they used to be bigger (by the way, did you know you can make “Bottle Cap flavored soda” by mixing all of the different soft drinks at a fast food restaurant?!?).

If you weren’t writing and illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?  

I headed to college convinced that I was going to become a clinical psychologist, because I’ve always been interested in how we think, how our thoughts can turn against us in an unhelpful way, and how we can try to bring them back around again.  But I could also see myself as a paleontologist, an architect, or trying to be a “fine art” painter.

What can readers expect from you in the future?  

I hope they can expect the unexpected in future books.  I’ve got lots of stories lining up to be told. I’ve got a book set in a blizzard, coming in 2018, and a book dealing with the angry part of grief (and renewal).  I’m interested in expanding how I show a story, trying lots of new techniques and materials not only in 2D, but also in 3D media.  There are lots of exciting ways you can tell a story.  And I feel we’re in a new Golden Age of children’s literature, in which publishers and readers are more open than ever to exploring unusual ways to tell a story.

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Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

One of my first pets was a white rabbit named Maximus Leppus (Latin for “the biggest rabbit”).  He was a “rescue rabbit.”  And I’m afraid he was never very friendly or cuddly.
Thank you, Brian, for joining me here! Looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Gator Dad!

Kim Norman Showcase, Interview, and Cover Reveal

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This old van,
she passed one,
shining in the rising sun.

With a click clack rattle rack,
ready for some fun,
This old van says,
“Goodbye, one!”

I remember fondly the song, “This Old Man” from my childhood. We had a small white children’s cassette tape player that included a red topped microphone. Mom bought us tapes from Wee Sing (anyone remember those?), and on one of the tapes was “This Old Man.” I remember that cheesy red topped microphone, and blaring out the lyrics to the songs we knew and loved. When my sister and I had a hold of the mic, our voices inevitably overpowered the jolly woman on the Wee Sing tapes. 156078128_1993-playskool-cassette-tape-player-recorder-with-.jpg

So you can imagine my joy when this past week, I picked up Kim Norman’s  This Old Van, a spin off of that song we so loved as a child. I’ve been singing it ever since. After some investigation, I entered the world of Kim Norman and have made a connection to several spin off songs she’s done, as well as many other marvelous books.

Kim took some time to stop by my blog today to answer a few questions and to reveal the cover of one of her 2016 titles, The Bot That Scott Built. 

My questions are in black and Kim’s answers are in blue.

Hello, Kim, thank you for joining me for an interview and to show readers everywhere an exclusive look at one of your many upcoming books, The Bot that Scott Built, from Sterling!

Thanks, Dylan. It’s great to be here!

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Tell us a little bit about The Bot that Scott Built.

I have always adored cumulative rhyme, and “The House that Jack Built” was one of my favorite stories as a kid. Since someone else had already written the exquisite Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, I decided the next best thing I could do would be to incorporate my elder son’s passion, robots, with the Jack story I loved so much. It was a blast, thinking up all the mishaps that could happen at a science fair. I mean, seriously, how often do you get to mention a Tesla coil in a picture book? (I’m a closet science geek.) In fact, I have to credit Janee Trasler, a member of my “PB Jeebies” critique group for suggesting I move the setting from a mundane classroom to a science fair, which offered so much more scope for hilarious actions. Illustrator Agnese Baruzzi had quite a task on her hands, squeezing all that mayhem onto the page!

(The cover reveal is at the end of this post! Keep reading!) 

Check out Kim’s “PB Jeebies Group” here!  

You have done quite a number of children’s books that are spin offs of folk songs. Does that come naturally for you?

I’m also a theater geek, and one of my favorite hobbies over the years has been writing a song parody  for the closing cast party of many of our musicals. So it’s cool, now, to actually get paid to do essentially the same thing. My dad was a wicked punster, and often my song spin-offs start as puns based on song titles. Or, at least, tweaked versions of song titles that spark ideas. That’s how This Old Van came about. “This Old Man” was a popular song in our house when my boys were little, so one day, when “van” popped into my head, I knew instantly the book would have to be about a happy hippie van. It took longer to realize the counted items in the story would be vehicles, and even more revisions to lock in a rhyme scheme where I set myself the task of rhyming each number TWICE. (Why do I DO these things to myself!?) I was thrilled this year, as the book was coming out, to discover hippie-inspired fashions were everywhere. Thank you, Mad Men! Carolyn Conahan did a far-out job, filling the hippie characters with groovy joy.

Tell us a little about the trio of books you have done with Liza Woodruff, and notably the title that’s coming this fall from Sterling, She’ll be Coming Up the Mountain.

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Love to! That was a moment of inspiration (replacing “bed” with “sled” in the song “Ten in the bed”) that has led to a wonderful series of collaborations. And I also credit another illustrator, Joe Kulka, with making the suggestion, years ago, that I turn the falling-off actions into a sled race. In the first draft of Ten on the Sled, I was a little too tied to the original. Sure, it was fun to substitute the bed occupants with arctic animals on a sled, but it was really Joe’s suggestion, that the whole thing become a race, which turned the manuscript from a series of aimless happenings into a real story. And then, of course, Liza imbued each animal with a specific personality while adding humor and many delightful story-within-a-story moments in every spread. I just love what illustrators do to bring a book to life!

The first book did well, so our editor, Meredith Mundy, suggested we try a second. Often, the hardest part is finding just the right song. It needs to fit certain criteria: It must be instantly recognizable, even though the original title has changed, because we have never added anything like “To the tune of…” as a subtitle to any of the books. Preferably, it’s a public domain song. (Not strictly essential, since – as I said – we don’t explicitly name the song on which the book is based. But it does keep things simpler if the song is public domain.) It has to be a song with enough complexity and syllables per line that I have room to write action into each line, so there’s something for Liza to show. And, of course, it needs to be about those same ten animals. For the second book, once I had settled on turning “If you’re happy and you know it” into If It’s Snowy and You Know It, this southern girl enjoyed the fantasy of thinking up with wintery activities for the animals.

I sing in a women’s harmony group, (yes, I realize that makes me a THIRD type of geek), so to publicize the book, I recorded myself doing 4-part harmony on a little book trailer. The video shows the origin of the idea, which goes back to when my son, then under two, spent a very hot, smelly summer in a body cast. Hey, with a book to show for it, that’s a happy ending, right?

Here’s a link to the video:

Harvesting another song for the “three-quel” (third book in the series) was even harder, since it still needed to fit the above criteria. I spent hours trying this idea and that and finally decided to “sacrifice” another manuscript based on “She’ll be comin’ round the mountain.” I had told a different story in that manuscript – nothing related to the sled books – but it never sold, so I decided to retool the song yet again. I think this third book, She’ll be coming up the mountain, is Liza’s best work yet! Even as we speak, she’s hard at work on the final art, but watching her tell the story through her early sketches has been a joy. In this installment, Bear is absent from the group and the others are making festive, frosty plans for her return. When she finally comes up the mountain, she dazzles her old pals with a surprise of her own.

Have you always been into writing?

If you look at my report cards, my teachers always commented on my writing, so I’m not sure how I ended up being a graphic artist for several decades before I tried my hand at writing. As I mentioned, I enjoyed writing those Broadway song parodies, and then segued into writing light verse… even tried my hand at a romance novel, but it just wasn’t my thing. By then, I had two young children, and I loved reading to them, so one day, after a meeting of romance writers at a local library, I headed to the children’s section and checked out a mountainous selection of books. I had found where I truly belonged.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

My family and friends know about this recent development, but readers may be surprised to learn I’ve returned to my artistic roots, and am re-honing my art skills to attempt illustrating. Funny thing is, as a newbie writer, I assumed I’d illustrate my own books. So many newbies make that mistaken assumption. Then, the more I watched illustrators in my critique group, the more intimidated I became by the magic they perform. A good illustrator doesn’t just duplicate what’s in the words of a story. A good one does what all the illustrators of my books have done: they ADD to the story, perhaps with little visual jokes, even taking over and directly telling the story in their pictures. I discovered illustrating was way harder than I ever realized, so I backed away and decided to concentrate on writing for a while. But I’d hate to reach end of my career and know I had never really tried. So I’m back at my drafting table several times a week now, if only painting collage papers I’ll use later. Here’s some of my recent output. Not bad for a few weeks work!

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If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

Gosh, I can’t think of a single activity that more perfectly blends all of the talents God gave me. Aside from writing and art, being a children’s book author allows me, when visiting schools, to employ the skills I learned on the stage, and even ham it up now and then with a big assembly closing number, my Storytime Boogie. (I still think it’s a good song, if you overlook my lame video-making skills.)

 

Tell us more about Still a Gorilla!

I find just being in the presence of children’s books sparks my imagination, so I think I recall that phrase, “Still a Gorilla,” popping into my head one day, on a break during a school visit, when I was wandering around the school library. I scribbled the words on a scrap of paper, stuffed it into my wallet and forgot about it for weeks. Found it during another school visit, and thought about it during the drive home. By the time I got home, four hours later, I had fleshed out in my head the story of a gorilla who keeps trying out the habits of other animals, (“Will Willy be a billy goat? Will he?”) always discovering he’s “still a gorilla!” It’s a fun, “shouty,” phrase I enjoyed hearing students repeat last week during a Skype visit to a Hong Kong school. Chad Geran has brought Willy to life in the most adorable way. His images surprised me, because I originally pictured Willy as a grownup, but now I’m in love with that sweet little gorilla. That’s the power of collaboration.

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What can readers expect from you in the future?

I’m proud to say that last year I sold a book to Candlewick called Give Me Back My Bones. It’s a rhyming pirate tale that incorporates the scientific names of the human bones. (Also kind of proud to produce a rhyming manuscript that uses words like scapula and mandible!) Candlewick has just started querying illustrators for the book. Can’t wait to see who takes it on! Even more recently, my agent struck a deal with another prestigious publisher I’m tickled to be working with for the first time, but that’s not officially announced yet, so I’ll keep the details under my hat.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

Just that I’m happy for the wonders of Facebook, where I have had the pleasure of getting to know you, Dylan. Thanks for all you do. Oh! And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I maintain a blog called COOL SCHOOL VISITS, where I post articles to help authors learn more about doing author visits. http://www.coolschoolvisits.com

Lastly, I’d like to say to your readers that if they have a dream of doing something, to keep at it, perhaps trying it in different forms, until they find a way to make it happen!

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And now… an exclusive look at the cover for The Bot that Scott Built! 

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Visit Kim’s website here!

Growing and Going: A Review of LEAPS AND BOUNCE by Susan Hood, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

I’d be lying if I said that spring was my favorite season. Fall is definitely my favorite.

However, spring comes in a close second. There is something about the blossoming flowers, the return of birds chirping, and the “newness” of the season that is so refreshing.

During spring, frogs emerge from hibernation and begin to lay eggs. In her second book with Matthew Cordell, Susan Hood celebrates the excitement and possibilities of growth through the hatching of frog eggs and metamorphosis of tadpoles into frogs in Leaps and Bounce. 

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“…just as sure as rivers flow, changes come to all who grow.”

The theme of embracing and celebrating change was prevalent through the text and art of this book. Children face many changes and challenges as they grow up, and we can either teach them to embrace it, or run away from it. This book encourages readers to fully embrace and jubilate in changes that take place.

As the tadpoles grow, their tales emerge, and soon, so do arms and legs, and many other changes. Are they changing or are they growing? The answer is: BOTH.

And not only are they changing, and growing, they are GOING. And soon, GONE. Brand new frogs off to begin lives of their own.

Matthew Cordell’s signature styles fully reflect the notion of embracing change that Susan Hood is trying to convey. Through lively and excited facial expressions, we clearly see this is something the frogs are excited about.

The bouncy, rhythmic text is sure to be an encourager of change as well.

And as the frogs change, the colors and tone of the book change as well. From bright, sunny beginnings, to calm, subdued colors as the sun sets, there is comfort in knowing that as we change, there is also eventually a calmness in our lives.

The various fold-outs scattered through the book are a joy to pull back and reveal changes and new things.

A child is bound to leap and bounce and be encouraged that changes help them grow after reading this new title.

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Coming Soon: 2016 Picture Books PART FIVE

Ah, the final piece of the (what ended up being) 5 part series of 2016 picture books.
(PS- In this post you’ll find a few very early 2017 titles scattered about).
It was fun compiling these lists, and I hope that they introduced you to some new up and coming titles throughout 2016. I hope to do this again starting next fall for 2017!

(PPS- Some Fall 2016 books coming are still coverless. Sorry I missed you!)

And, in case you missed previous posts, PART ONE , PART TWO , PART THREE, PART FOUR.

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