enormous SMALLNESS

A Story of E. E. Cummings

Enchanted Lion Books

(published 4.7.2015) 64 pages 

A True Tale with Cherry On Top 

A author: Matthew Burgess
      and Illustrator: Kris Di Giacomo 

C character: E. E. Cummings

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "'There once was a boy with a big imagination who loved to play tag, climb trees, and gaze out of his window. Inspired by the world around him, he expressed his excitement in pictures and poems. Before he could even write, he played with words and said poems aloud. And when he got older, he filled page after page with poems.

This sensitive and spirited glimpse into the life of E. E. Cummings ... is a lively story starring Edward Estlin, the playful child fascinated by words, who will grow up to become one of America's most beloved poets. Some of Cummings' most wonderful poems are integrated seamlessly into the story..."

T antalizing taste: 

"When Estlin was eleven,
his favorite teacher, Miss Maria Baldwin,
noticed his wonderful way with words
and encouraged him.
From her, Estlin learned that

anything is possible,
as long as you are true to yourself
and never give up, even when the world
seems to say, stop! 

... Using a style all his own,
e. e. put lowercase letters where capitals normally go,
and his playful punctuation grabbed reader attention.

His poems were alive
        with experimentation
                    and surprise!

And because of his love for lowercase letters,
his name began to appear with two little e's (& a little c, too)."

and something more: I'm always intrigued by the author's connection to a story, and Matthew Burgess shares a wonderful story in his "author's note" (note that it's all in lower case): "In June, 2007, I was invited to lead a 'literary walk' of Greenwich Village. I had never given a tour before, so I took photographs of the buildings on the route and wrote notes on the back for reference. A few days later, a I stood on the stoop of 4 Patching Place, anxiously trying to remember snippets of E E. Cummings' life story to share with the assembled group, the front door swung open. A woman and a boy emerged, and by a stroke of luck, the woman happened to be friends with someone in our group [and she invited them inside.] 

Suddenly, the twelve of us were filing up the tiled narrow staircase andante the room where Cummings had worked for almost forty years. The windows opened to trees and birdsong, and the summer light filtered in. The room showed all the telltale signs of a young boy's bedroom, but it wasn't difficult to imagine E. E. Cummings writing and painting there...

Three years later, when my publisher, Claudia Zoe Bedrick, asked me if I would be interested in writing picture book about E. E. Cummings, I remember that day at Patching Place, and I sensed another door opening. E. E. Cummings was one of the first poets to make a strong impression on me when I was a child, and the memory of visiting his home felt like an auspicious sign."

Serendipity indeed!


The House That Jane Built

A Story About Jane Addams

Christy Ottaviano Books
(Henry Holt)

(published 6.23.2015) 32 pages 

A True Tale with Cherry On Top 

A uthor: Tanya Lee Stone
      and Illustrator: Kathryn Brown 

C character: Jane Addams

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "'Ever since she was a little girl, Jane Addams hoped to help people in need. She wanted to create a place where people could find food, work, and community. In 1889, she chose a houseman run-down Chicago neighborhood and turned it into Hull House - a settlement home - soon adding a playground, kindergarten, and a public bath. By 1907, Hull House included thirteen buildings. Andy the early 1920s, more than nine thousand people visited Hull House each week.
      The dreams of a smart, caring girl had become a reality. And the lives of hundreds of thousands of people were transformed when they stepped into the house that Jane Addams built."

T antalizing taste: 

     "She told her friend... about her plan to build a settlement house in Chicago. It was 'as if a racehorse had burst out of the gate, free at last to pour every ounce of energy into running.'
      There was a glittery side to Chicago, with its mansions, fancy shops, and sparkling lakefront. But there was a gritty side, too. One million people lived in Chicago in 1889. Most were immigrants - people who came from other countries. They came for a better life... Many needed help."     

and something more: Tanya Lee Stone's Author's Note includes fascinating additional information about Jane Addams: "During World War I, she co-founded the Woman's Peace Party... she traveled the world and spoke out against war. Her opinions were not always popular. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) kept a file on her, and she was called 'the most dangerous woman in America.' But none of that stopped her. In 1931, she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize." 


The Nutcracker Comes to America

How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers
a Holiday Tradition

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Millbrook Press

(published 9.1.2015) 36 pages

A True Tale with  Cherry On Top 

A uthor: Chris Barton
      and Illustrator: Cathy Gendron 

C haracters: William, Harold, and Lew Christensen

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "'Every December, The Nutcracker comes to life in theaters all across the United States. But how did this nineteenth-century Russian ballet become such a big part of the holidays in twenty-first-century America?
     Meet Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen, three small-town Utah boys who caught the ballet bug from an uncle in the early 1900s. they performed alongside elephants and flows on vaudeville, immersed themselves in the New York City dance scene, and even put on a ballet featuring gangsters at a gas station. Russian immigrants shared the story of The Nutcracker with them, and during World War II - on a shoestring budget and in need of a hit - they staged their own Christmastime production in San Francisco. It was America's first full-length version and the beginning of a delightful holiday tradition."

antalizing taste: 

"When Willam was out and about, he noticed San Franciscans whistling the music of a popular composer - Tchaikovsky. That gave him an idea: Willam decided to have another go at The Nutcracker.

Not just bits and pieces of it, either. He and Harold were going to treat audiences to the whole shebang. So what if they hadn't actually seen the whole shebang themselves?

Willam and Harold huddled up with their friends George and Alexandra, who had danced in the whole show long ago in Russia.

Equipped with a better understanding of the story and the characters and what all the dancing meant, Willam built up the steps for a new production.

Harold built up the dancers so that they could do those steps. Patient, strict, and teasing all at once, and always standing so straight that his pants kept trying to slide down Harold took special care in teaching the many young dancers taking part."     

and something more:  I always like hearing authors give credit to their editors. I'll always be so indebted to the finesse, expertise, knowledge and gentle touch of my book editors (Margery Cuyler, Christy Ottaviano, Donna German and Katie Hall) in shaping my stories.
     In the "Author's Note" of The Nutcracker Comes To America, Chris Barton describes his extensive research for the book and concludes : "All the while, my efforts were guided by Millbrook Press's Carol Hinz, whose skill as an editor - paired with her own experience as a ballet dancer - deserves considerable credit for the book."   
     Also, I enjoyed learning that America's Nutcracker had its origins in San Francisco where I first saw the ballet (and have enjoyed seeing it many times thereafter)


Earmuffs for Everyone!

How Chester Greenwood
Became Known as
the Inventor of Earmuffs

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(published 1.6.2015) 48 pages

A True Tale with A Cherry On Top 

A uthor and Illustrator: Meghan McCarthy 

C haracter: Chester Greenwood

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "'Everyone loves earmuffs! But have you ever wondered who invented the earmuff?
      In Maine in the late 1800s there was a young boy named Chester Greenwood. His ears were always cold during the long winter, and he decided to do something about it. He made ear covers from wire and cloth and asked his granny to help him sew them. Chester later patented his earmuffs in 1877 when he was nineteen years old. And, as the story goes, earmuffs were born." 

antalizing taste:  

     "As the story goes, he had gigantic ears, and they were sensitive to the cold. He didn't like to wrap his head in scratchy scarves, so...
      Earmuffs were born.
      Obviously, the story isn't quite true, since earmuffs had already been born many years earlier...
      What do we think really happened?
      What we do know for sure is that after testing various versions of his earmuffs, when Chester was just nineteen, he got one of these from the US government ... a patent!"
and something more:  In the "A Note about This Book", Meghan McCarthy explains her process of finding an idea for a book: "I work on every book with a bit of free association. For EARMUFFS FOR EVERYONE I started doing searches on the Internet - 'unique inventors,' 'odd inventions'- until ultimately I put in the words 'kid inventors.' That's when I read about Chester Greenwood [and] knew that Chester was going to be the topic of my next book. What I didn't know was how hard it would be to extract the truth from the fiction."  She aptly discusses the nuances of ascertaining who is "the inventor" of something when ideas are built upon previous ideas. This section also has a good kid-friendly discussion of patents and the patent process.
     And I was intrigued to learn that there's even a parade celebrating Chester Greenwood Day that takes place every December in Farmington, Maine. Guess what everyone wears?


Trombone Shorty

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Abrams Books for Young Readers

(pub. 4.14.2015) 40 pages

A True Tale with A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews
           and Illustrator: Bryan Collier
C haracter: Trombone Shorty

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "'Who's that playing out there?,' Bo Diddley asked the New Orleans crowd. It was a small child who'd been nicknamed 'Trombone Shorty' because his trombone was twice as large as he was. Trombone Shorty was lifted in the air and carried through the audience until he reached the stage with Bo Diddley. He has been on stage ever since.
     Hailing from the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, where music always floated in the air. Troy 'Trombone Shorty' Andrews didn't always have the money to buy an instrument, but he did have the dream to play music. This is the story of how he made his dream take flight."

antalizing taste:  

     "All day long I could see brass bands parade by my house while my neighbors danced along. I loved these parades during Mardi Gras because they made everyone forget about their troubles for a little while. People didn't have a lot of money in Treme, but we always had a lot of music.
     I listened to all these sounds and mixed them together, just like how we make our food. We take one big pot and throw in sausage, crab, shrimp, chicken, vegetables, rice - whatever's in the kitchen - and stir it all together and let it cook. When it's done, it's the most delicious taste you've ever tried. We call it gumbo, and that's what I wanted my music to sound like - different styles combined to create my own musical gumbo!"

and something more:  Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I showed this picture book biography to my son who lived in New Orleans for a few years. And he responded, "Oh yeah! I've heard Trombone Shorty play. He's good!" 

     Of course, that inspired me to listen to Trombone Shorty's music again on his website, and my son's right. Trombone Shorty's good. Really good! And his music reminds me of the incredible vibe in New Orleans of amazing music heard everywhere from clubs to street corners to park benches. I actually first saw this book at a wonderful New Orleans' indie bookstore, Blue Cypress Books, down the street from a favorite restaurant and bar (where we met a fellow writer).

     I was interested to read about the Trombone Shorty Foundation, partnered with Tulane University, whose mission is "to preserve the rich musical history of New Orleans" by providing "music and business education, instruction and a mentorship experience to New Orleans high school students who are gifted in music. Experienced instructors help young underserved musicians express themselves and pursue their dreams while also supporting their community." Terrific!


Gordon Parks

How the Photographer Captured
Black and White America

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Albert Whitman & Company 

(pub. 2.1.2015) 32 pages

A True Tale with A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Carole Boston Weatherford
           and Illustrator: Jamey Christoph
C haracters: Gordon Parks

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "His white teacher tells her all-black class, You'll all wind up porters and waiters. What did she know?
     Gordon Parks is most famous for being the first black director in Hollywood. But before he made movies and wrote books, he was a poor African American looking for work. When he bought a camera, his life changed forever.
     He taught himself how to take pictures and before long, people noticed. His success as a fashion photographer landed him a job working for the government. In Washington DC, Gordon went looking for a subject. But what he found was segregation...
     With lyrical verse and atmospheric art, Gordon Parks tells the story of how, with a single photograph, a self-taught artist got America to take notice."

antalizing taste:  

"Twenty-five years old and all but broke
when a magazine spread
about migrant farm workers
inspires him to buy a used camera. That $7.50
is the best money he will ever spend.

... In the shadow of the Capitol, 
he sees black families living in alley dwellings.
He can see that blacks have it harder than whites.

...Boiling made, Parks vows to lay bare racism
with his lens."

and something more:  The "About Gordon Parks" section at the back of the book explains that Parks was "a humanitarian as well as an artist" and he was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1988 and held more than fifty honorary doctorate degrees. It's wonderful that this book has been written about him so that children can be inspired by his many endeavors.


Luna & Me

The True Story of a Girl
Who Lived in a Tree
to Save a Forest

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Christy Ottaviano Books 
(Henry Holt and Co.)

(pub.5.12.2015)  40 pages

A True Tale with A Cherry On Top

A uthor and Illustrator: Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

C haracter: Julia Butterfly Hill

O verview from the jacket flap: 

    "Once there was a redwood tree - one of the world's largest and tallest trees, and one of the oldest. And once, born nearly a thousand years after the tree first took root, there was a girl named Julia, who was called Butterfly.
     One day, exploring her beloved forest, Butterfly wandered into a grove of ancient trees. One tree had broken branches and a big blue X on the side. It was going to be cut down. Butterfly climbed up into the tree. Don't trees have a right to just be? she thought. And, she also thought, a tree wouldn't be cut down if it had a person living in it. A person who would go on to live in that tree for two years.
     Inspired by Julia Butterfly Hill's courageous fight to save an ancient redwood..."

antalizing taste:   
      "When she reached a comfortable perch, Butterfly introduced herself.
       'I am Butterfly. and YOU, Luna, are a ladder to the moon.'
       Luna smiled inside.
       Welcome, little Butterfly. You are brave to have ventured up so high!
       Butterfly marveled at Luna's view of the world.
       She spied a river twisting this way and that past Luna's countless brothers and sisters and cousins.
       But then she looked closer.
       Butterfly realized what the blue X meant on Luna's trunk.
       The tree would soon be chopped down and harvested."
and something more:  Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw explained in her Author's Note in Luna & Me that in "December 1999, the Pacific Lumber Company and Julia Butterfly Hill signed an agreement to protect Luna and the surrounding grove. Sanctuary Forest, a nonprofit organization who primary focus is land and water restoration and conservation, became entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring the Luna preserve in perpetuity. On December 18, 1999, after 738 days, Julia climbed down from Luna's arms. Since then, she has spent more than fifteen years as an inspirational speaker, teaching people about the environment and how to help preserve the earth for future generations."

    I've always had a soft spot for redwoods and I was very lucky to live for many years in a house with an enormous redwood towering outside my window. I thought it was quite wonderful to learn that Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw "spent an enchanting day at the base of Luna, listening to many stories from Luna's caretaker, Stuart Moskowitz." Jenny and her family "camped in the redwoods - breathing deeply, lying on the forest floor, painting, and playing with banana slugs. Luna and the Redwood Forest fueled [her] illustrations with detail and magic."  May everyone have a chance to be by a redwood!