Posts tagged ‘Animals’

Bee Dance

Bee DanceTitle: Bee Dance
Author/Illustrator: Rick Chrustowski
ISBN: 9780805099195
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, c2015.

I’m all a buzz (pun intended) about the cut paper collage pictures, which are full of details enhanced with pastel pencils. Just think about the time it must have taken author/illustrator Rick Chrustowski to create all those bees out of tiny pieces of intricately cut paper and those multi-hued flowers, grass, and leaves. Especially pay attention to the different layouts, including one as if you were an ant on the prairie watching the swarm of bees approach the flowers towering over you like fighter pilots at Pearl Harbor. Although this is located in nonfiction, the information is succinct enough and short enough to share with the story time crowd, especially if you pair with action movements. Don’t be afraid to shake your booty just like a bee. An author’s note provides further detail about the documented bee dance, and thanks a Cornell University professor for vetting the text. Bee-autiful!

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

Gentleman Bat

We’re kicking off October with a Friday Feature! Friday Features are an irregular occurrence on my blog that include things other than book reviews, something a little extra. This might include author interviews (hint to any authors out there who want to get interviewed), bibliographies, book trailers and program ideas. While I’m not limiting myself to talk about these things just on Fridays, it will be something extra special to finish off the work week.

I’m so excited to bring you an interview I conducted a very long time ago with Piotr Parda, illustrator of The Gentleman Bat. I read it a while back and was so entranced by his artwork that I had to contact him, but I had always planned on kicking off the month of bats, costumes, and the unexplained with this Friday Feature. So thank you to Piotr Parda for answering my questions and for being so patient with the publication of his answers.

Gentleman BatTitle: The Gentleman Bat
Author: Abraham Schroeder
Illustrator: Piotr Parda
ISBN: 9780991386604
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Ripple Grove Press, c2014.

Victorian inspired costumes are donned by a bat and his beau in a nighttime stroll. Schroeder’s rhyming couplets are descriptive and set the scene and direction for Parda’s detailed illustrations. It tells the tale of a “gentleman bat” who meets his date, they dance the night away in the public square, and then return to their respective homes in the rain, under the cover of the gentleman’s umbrella. While the story is sweet, more mood then mayhem, the phenomenal pictures inevitably steal the show. After you pour over them on your own, you can glimpse at the process and find a list of Easter eggs to discover, prompting additional returns to the book. A coworker pointed out that the clothes even have slits to accommodate the bat’s long wings and their attachment to the shorter bat legs. In the final scene, where the bat is tucking himself in for the night, his nightcap has slits for his ears so it stay on his head even when he’s hanging upside down. A great book to share with a group, but also take the time to share one on one so everyone can get a close look at this detailed debut for both author and illustrator.

I had the opportunity to speak with illustrator Piotr Parda about his work and creative process:

  • First, did you do any research regarding bat anatomy before starting? How did building the model pictured on the book’s website aid in your illustration efforts?

It’s safe to say that the research was the larger (or longer) part of the work than completing the illustrations. It was mostly about finding some good solutions to the problems that come with drawing the  anthropomorphic (human shaped) bats: how to make them able to walk, dance and gesture despite of the wings being the most dominant part of their bodies but most of all what would be the best way to design some fancy clothes for them. As you know the wing membrane stretches right from the bat’s ankle all the way to the tip of its pinky. No way a bat could put on a pair of human pants! There is a huge amount of bat related material on the internet and we saw all of it. The wire toy I built for reference was supposed to help me with arranging the poses. It was like one of those little wooden dolls artists use for anatomy drawing, except bat shaped. Strangely enough, once my ‘action figure’ was ready, drawing poses came naturally and I rarely had to resort to looking at my doll-bat. It is also very helpful to me personally when I try to imagine that I myself am the creature I draw.  Since the skeleton of the bat is based on the same “template” as the human one, it wasn’t hard to imagine my fingers stretched far enough to support my weight in flight. Believe or not the wings of the bat bend the same way human fingers do. If you saw me working, you would notice that I’m looking at my fingers a lot.

  • Readers see a significant amount of everyday items created specifically for bat use, such as the scissors and the beetle pets. We also see the bats wearing glasses and monocles, a vendor selling ear plugs, and adapted clothing. What sort of collaboration was there between you and the author when designing these details?

Yes, all bats are sporting some eye-ware in our book. They are bats! Wearing earplugs might be a stretch because for a bat it would be an equivalent of a blindfold. But because the glasses help them see, maybe the earplugs would’t affect their orientation in space too much.

(EDIT from blogger: I guess it’s my mistake, as I thought the vendor was selling ear plugs. I’ll have to go back and take a third – or is it fourth – look at the book.)

Once we knew we are going to create a story about humanoid bats, the ideas and quirky jokes came down like an avalanche. Abraham would pitch some ideas to me and I would tell him if they are possible to draw – for me at least. I was sketching some of my own ideas and Abraham would tell me if it resonates with his vision or not. There is still a lot of details that could’t be drawn but we feel as if they are included in the story: there are coins with profiles of some prominent historical bats featured on them, there is a lot of different bat snacks with candied bugs and there is bat jewelry. I had to try very hard to avoid drawing bat gloves for obvious reasons. We were exchanging ideas via e-mail mostly. One time we’ve spent nearly an hour on Skype to figure out the umbrella scene. Waving umbrellas in front of the computer and taking screen shots was the best way.

  • Quite frequently books featuring smaller characters (like the Borrowers or the Littles) show every day items made from adapted materials (like a table from an empty spool). There is no such adaptation seen in your photos. The chaise lounge is a chaise lounge, and not a matchbox filled with tissue or cotton balls. Were you ever tempted to go that route, and what prompted you to make this world more “realistic”?

We eliminated this kind of depiction right from the start. Our bats, the inhabitants of the town called Batford, are the masters of their own world. Even though they might still be the size of an average vampire bat, their world matches their size, not the other way around. It’s an alternate universe in which the vampire bats evolved into talking, singing, dancing and clothes wearing individuals. There are no humans to speak of in Batford. We also decided to avoid carriages being pulled by bunnies or squirrels. Mini bat-horses would be simply too weird even in our scale of weirdness.

  • The methods and materials you use for this book are a sharp departure from the works found on your website. Was it a challenge to get the right “look”, and what impacted your final decision to use the methods you did?

When I show the books I illustrate to some of my old friends, they often exclaim: “So, this is the stuff you’re doing right now!”. Well, not exactly…

I’m used to this binary system in my work. When I feel like I’m getting tired of the disciplined and labor intensive illustration work,  I complete my deadlines and start working on my artwork ranging from building objects to creating moving images and abstract paintings. When in need of more focus, I come back to book illustration. For me there are no two projects that would require using the same medium. Why would there be? I like the idea of being “medium conscious”. For example if you were to print a book about saving trees, would you use paper or recycled plastic?

The technique for the bat book was inspired by the 1880 woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. The mood of this particular image was our basis for the technique from the beginning. Of course I haven’t had enough time or skills to work with traditional wood blocks but I used the next best thing: bamboo pen, ink and watercolor – tools often used for designing woodblock prints. There is no need to create woodblocks when faster and more accurate printing technologies are available, unless you are exploring the beauty of the old technique. I also found a lot of inspiration for my ink lines in some classic comic book titles such as “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” by Alan Moore, but also XIX century painting, victorian prints, some old illustrated stories such as “The Wind in The Willows” and Charles Dickens’ stories. Among the inspirations you can also find Peter Bruegel the Elder, architecture and street signs of Buenos Aires, architecture of Harvard Square and Beacon Hill,  architecture of London,  American cinema (“Singing in the Rain” and “Midnight”), British movies and TV shows. Even “Doctor Who”!

  • What does your workshop look like? Can you provide a picture?

I’m afraid a picture would be of no use right now. My desk at which I usually draw and do my computer work is quite messy at the moment, so is my work table. There is no way anyone could discern a pattern from this chaos. I guess I’m overdue for some discipline and focus. One thing is for sure: I did all my bat illustrations using a special pulley mechanism enabling me to hang up side down and of course it was all done in the light of a candle.

I may have made some of it up…

  • I read on your website that it took years to complete the book. Did you, the author, or the publisher ever get impatient with the process? How did you maintain your focus throughout? I understand you are friends with the author. Did your work on the book ever strain the friendship, or vice versa?

Talking for myself here, I never got impatient with the process as much as people around me did. (I’m laughing here a little) It took a lot of patience for them to put up with this little obsession.

Even though the author’s idea originated in 2006 (?) the work itself wasn’t continuous.  We were mostly fantasizing about the bat world, exchanging ideas and sketches. There were at least two versions of more or less finished Gentleman Bat before this one. What was different about this last version was that a brand new publishing house (Ripple Grove Press) bravely decided to make our story their first book to ever be published. What helps in regaining focus the most is a deadline. Since “The Gentleman Bat” was the very first product to launch a new company I knew that my work had to be as good as it can be. But no pressure… (there would be a wink and laughing here if I was talking)

In reality working on The Gentleman Bat was very pleasant and for the first time in my career I felt like I could take as much time as I needed to do my best. I welcomed all feedback from the author, the publishers and anybody else (even my parents) because it helped in creating even better work. I guess it’s what one would expect when a group of like-minded people works on something.

  • Are you planning on doing any other books in the future?

I would like to work on more books, yes, but I guess wanting to do something can’t really be called “planning”.  The Gentleman Bat was the first book created independently after abandoning the more stressful commission based work. Until then I wasn’t even sure if I would even get back to books.

If  I ever work on more books I will try to recapture the sense of creating something that doesn’t necessarily have to become the hit of the season but rather becomes one of those worn around the edges books that can be found on many bookshelves a hundred years from now. Something you could call “an old favorite”.


All pictures included in the interview are from the book’s website and I strongly encourage everyone to take a peak at large quantity of photos found there for a more in-depth behind the scenes experience. You can find out more about Piotr Parda and the other forms of artwork that he creates through his website.

Personally, I would suggest pairing Gentleman Bat with another old favorite, Stellaluna, for two very different looks at the bat world. For similar stories, readers might want to check out Lindbergh the Tale of the Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann which has equally detailed drawings of a small rodent trying to make a big impact, although his story is more traditionally set in the world of humans.

A Handful of Stars

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Handful of StarsTitle: A Handful of Stars
Author: Cynthia Lord
ISBN: 9780545700276
Pages: 184 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2015.

The only reason I ever spoke to Salma Santiago was because my dog ate her lunch. (1)

Lily’s runaway blind dog Lucky is stopped not by frantic pleas, but by migrant worker Salma’s peanut butter sandwich. Lily and Salma develop a fast friendship over their mutual love for dogs, with Salma even helping Lily fundraise to fix Lucky’s eyes. Lily can repay the favor by helping Salma prepare for the local Blueberry Queen pageant, and hopefully winning the scholarship prize. But no migrant workers have ever entered, and Lily isn’t blind to the fact that change is hard. Will either girl get what they want, or will they help each other (as the saying goes) “accept the things they cannot change”? Peppered with blueberry facts, Lord presents a story of a minor migrant worker. Didactic but not overly so due to an unexpected turn of events leading to the inevitable happy ending, it’s a simple friendship story that’s light on the details, making for a fast read.

Little Elliot Big City

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Little Elliot Big City CuratoTitle: Little Elliot Big City
Author/Illustrator: Mike Curato
ISBN: 9780805098259
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Henry Hold and Company, LLC, c2014.

Little Elliot is a little polka-dotted elephant in a world of big people. While understandable, it’s still sad when he wants a cupcake and is too short to be seen over the counter. On his way home, he makes friends with a mouse and realizes that they could help each other. The illustrations remind me of Norman Rockwell, with detailed décor, clothing, and surroundings harking back to the 1940s, including an old fridge, classic cars, and stylized dress. Debut author Curato really knows how to convey the sense of space and shading that distinguishes Elliot from the crowd. Beautiful skylines on one page give way to isolated white space on the next, varying and providing interest in the composition. Sparse word choice allows the pictures to tell this sweet story. A three book deal means more books featuring this newest elephant will soon be delighting elephant fans.

Squirrel Stories

After reading Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins, I found myself turning to picture books as well for some squirrel fun. Here’s some suggestions, both old favorites and some newer publications.
Nuts to You Ehlert

Nuts to You by Lois Ehlert

This story is the epitome of a squirrel behaving badly, digging up the flower bulbs, stealing the birdseed from the bird feeder, and ultimately getting in the house! What do you do to get him out!? Another favorite that I read regularly this time of year is The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri. The colorful, cheery illustrations show the industrious squirrel darting from here to there, focusing on the task at hand of getting ready for winter. This book explains the actions of Ehlert’s squirrel as just looking for more good food to stock away.




Those Darn Squirrels

Those Darn Squirrels by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

A more recent story about squirrels and their love for food. An old man loves to paint the birds and hangs feeders to encourage the birds to stay. The squirrels see the feeders as a buffet of food, and the man makes several attempts to thwart their thievery. But the squirrels have a plan of their own to gain access to the food, especially after the birds leave. There are several ways of making your own bird feeder out of any recycled plastic container, whether it’s a milk jug, peanut butter jar, or water or pop bottle. Another easy way is coating a pinecone with peanut butter and rolling it in seeds. There are two sequels, including Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door and Those Darn Squirrels Fly South.
Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next DoorThose Darn Squirrels Fly South











Leaf Trouble by Jonathan Emmett with pictures by Caroline Jayne Church

Instead of causing trouble, one squirrel has troubles of his own. The collages overlaid on ink drawings appear three dimensional, and you could almost reach out and touch the leaves as they cascade around Pip Squirrel. In a rendition of Chicken Little, Pip is distressed that the oak tree he lives in is losing his leaves and enlists another squirrel to help him put them back on the tree. Mama Squirrel comes along and explains what’s going on in simple language, making it clear that Pip has no need to fear. Bring some leaves in from outside and make your own leaf rubbings by placing a sheet of paper over a leaf and rubbing it with the side of a crayon.

Earl the Squirrel

Earl the Squirrel by Don Freeman

The author of Corduroy uses scratchboards to present black and white illustrations accented with a red scarf that Earl receives from a friend. Earl is tasked with finding his own nut, but will the scarf be a help or a hindrance with his search? Earl uses his scarf in several ways, and you can challenge your little one to find different ways to use a scarf.

Merle the High Flying Squirrel

Merle the High Flying Squirrel by William Peet,

For those children with longer attention spans, there’s Merle, a squirrel overwhelmed by the noise and afraid to leave his home. He heads out in search of tall trees and quiet forests instead of the bustling city he currently lives. After reading this story, either take the kids outside for a walk in the woods, make a kite of their own and see how high it can fly or talk about different things you can find in different parts of the world, like mountains, the ocean, deserts, and forests.

The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara

Although not primarily about squirrels, they are featured in a unique setting that’s perfect for rounding out a story time in this book that has received a fair amount of buzz.

Since once I started looking I seemed to find a fair number of squirrel book, I’ll end this post with a brief round-up of some other titles I found. Aw, Nuts! by Rob McClurkan is another brand new book that reminds me of the animation of Fairly Odd Parents portraying the misadventures of Scrat, the saber-tooth squirrel from the Ice Age movies. Just like Scrat, this squirrel is chasing the perfect nut, and nothing will prevent him from reaching his goal. Beatrix Potter didn’t just write about Peter Rabbit, but also Squirrel Nutkin in The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. Melanie Watts has created a whole series around Scaredy Squirrel who is too afraid to leave his tree. Two more recommendations include Delicious by Helen Cooper, showing that even picky eaters can be convinced to try something new, and Never Trust a Squirrel written Patrick Cooper and illustrated by Catherine Walters, with a guinea pig learning from a squirrel that you should probably know how to climb before entering fox territory.
Aw Nuts! Tale of Squirrel Nutkin Scaredy Squirrel

Never Trust a Squirrel












What am I missing? Leave your squirrely selections in the comments below.

Nuts to You

Nuts to YouTitle: Nuts to You
Author/Illustrator: Lynne Rae Perkins
ISBN: 9780060092757
Pages: 259 pages
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2014.

I was watching the carefree squirrels when, all at once, one of them jumped onto the end of the bench where I was sitting and looked with interest at me, and then, meaningfully, at my sandwich. Quite calmly, he stepped closer. That’s bold, I thought. A little too bold. I tore off a bit of my sandwich and was about to chuck it as far as I could, figuring he would take off after it, when he spoke.
“Please, don’t throw it,” he said. “would you mind just setting it on the bench? I’m not as spry as I once was.” (2-3)

Age isn’t the only thing that has changed the squirrel, as the human is about to find out. The squirrel’s story starts with Jed being picked up by a hawk and escaping it’s clutches. His whole family assumes his untimely end except TsTs, who sees him fall and is adamant that he is alive and needs her help to get home. With Chai following her across the buzzpaths, from huge frozen spiderweb to frozen spiderweb, they quickly realize they aren’t the only ones interested in the buzzpaths and spiderwebs. Humans are cutting trees down, and they are heading towards their home! Now it’s a race against time as Chai and TsTs not only fear for Jed’s survival but also the well-being of the families they left behind. Will they be able to alert them in time, and will they even listen to the unbelievable warnings?

The first thing I noticed about the narration is that Lynne Rae Perkins presents the squirrel’s world in squirrel language, and allows the pictures and contextual clues to let the reader know what is being described. For instance, the buzzpaths and frozen spiderwebs are utility lines and towers. The “great beak that sometimes sings but never opens” is a sailboat, and cars are really big beetles that humans crawl inside and come out of undigested but that move like boulders. She also recognizes regional and species differences, with some of the squirrels not recognizing pine cones and describing the trees as having different shaped leaves and smells. I admired her skill at doing all these things realistically, although she does implant a little magical realism since she’s having a squirrel share this story with a human. Her illustrations also aid in imagining the world from a squirrel’s perspective.

Jed, TsTs, and Chai seem to be more adventurous and smarter than the average squirrel in their group. They can figure things out and are willing to change their beliefs based on current events. Although their characters and personalities are almost indistinguishable from one another, their interactions move the story along at a steady pace. Quick comebacks, author asides, and silly puns leave readers smiling. A fun read overall, possibly a read-alike for Flora and Ulysses fans who are squirrely for more.

2 the Point Tuesday Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chicken

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Extraordinary WarrenTitle: Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chicken
Author/Illustrator: Sarah Dillard
ISBN: 9781442453401
Pages: 59 pages
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2014.
Publication Date: February 11, 2014

Warren is an ordinary chicken who is tired of pecking and peeping. So when he overhears Millard the rat wishing for a special chicken, a chicken supreme, Warren jumps at the chance to be something special. Millard is excited to hear there are more chickens, and invites everyone to a barbecue. But when Warren realizes that having “chickens for dinner” could mean two totally different things, he jumps into action. With graphic novel like panels interspersed with short chapters containing bright pictures, this eye-catching title defies expectations, just like Warren.


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