How Do You Dance?

How Do You Dance?
Thyra Heder
Abrams Books for Young Readers

How Do You Dance? That question is posed on the title page followed by some responsive ‘like this’ moves, while there’s a little boy shown opposite sitting reading.

Turn over and some adults have joined the fun ‘like this’ they say, while the same boy, now standing digs his heels in: “I don’t”.

Out from behind him leaps a girl “I do” she counters indicating a cleaner …

Others take up the beat, the joy of each one being beautifully captured in Heder’s watercolour and pencil illustrations, as they beckon, bop, flit, scrunch, pull faces, swirl and twirl.

The same small girl then shows a series of moves

before leading readers to assorted locations wherein to continue the dance – the kitchen for shimmying on account of your delicious cooking;

or outdoors

and sometimes you just need to cheer yourself up with some floppy steps; there are just so many possibilities.
(A chart is provided should readers feel like experimenting).

This dance thing is just SO infectious that Dads and even animals kick up their heels and eventually they all (bar one) come together in a wonderful climactic celebration of dancing …

But what of our naysayer – does he ever dance? He insists he wants to be left alone …

If this utterly joyful book doesn’t get you on your feet and trying out some new moves, I’ll hang up my dancing shoes.

The Hideout

The Hideout
Susanna Mattiangeli and Felicita Sala
Abrams Books for Young Readers

This truly is a book of surprises.
It begins with a call, “Where are you? Hurry up, we have to go!” But Hannah is nowhere to be found and all we see is her bedroom …

We then see Hannah in a park and it seems she’s not leaving any time soon (she’s heard the voice, we learn).

In fact she’s made herself a feather cape, a bed of leaves, a bow and arrow and we see her accompanied by an ‘Odd Furry Creature’ for which she has fashioned another feather cape – a much larger one to accommodate its huge bulk – and a bed of leaves beside her own. Together they forage for food, which they share, but nobody else enters their secret hideout.

After some while Hannah hears a voice. “Where are you?” it asks and she decides it’s time to venture out and show the Odd Furry Creature things he’s never before seen out in the world beyond.

Pretending to hear an affirmative response, she takes off its cloak, placing it beside her own, extinguishes the fire and the two leave their secret hideaway and paw in hand, walk around the park.

“Hurry up!” comes the distant call, “We have to go!”

Then a page turn reveals the unexpected: Hannah sitting busy creating a scene: all the while she has been drawing the story …

From the outset (there’s the soft toy in her bedroom basket on the first spread), there have been allusions to Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are – a visit to a dreamlike wild place, safe yet without parental interference, from which she’s called back from her imaginary journey – the journey that she has all the while been drawing on her paper; even Sala’s colour palette is similar to Sendak’s.

Mattiangeli’s telling is enigmatic and powerful; I love her concluding lines: “From the outside, no-one would have imagined that deep within the drawing, at the end of a long road made of brown and green pencil marks, a little girl had lived for a very long time. “

How perfectly she shows the way in which children’s art can, if they’re left alone, take them completely out of themselves into flow mode where they do indeed become as one with their creations.

Sala’s largely muted illustrations are the perfect complement for the author’s words, richly detailed and having the power to pull the reader right in to every scene, so that they too feel almost a part of the story – a story in which imagination and creation are inseparable.

Small World

Small World
Ishta Mercurio and Jen Corace
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Quietly powerful is Ishta Mercurio’s lyrical story of Nanda.
Her life starts as a tiny baby, wrapped safely in the ‘circle of her mother’s arms.’

As she grows, so too does her world; it grows to encompass the ‘circle of her loving family’ and spreads outwards and outwards to become ‘a sway of branches …’

… ‘a sun-kissed maze of wheat … Pinecone-prickled mountains and the microscopic elegance of fractals in the snow.’

As a young woman her interest in flight takes her to the skies, piloting a plane and then as an astronaut, clad in a spacesuit far out into space, the culmination of her pushing out the edges of her world.

Standing among ‘A sea of stars’, gazing into ‘ink-black space’ viewing Earth from afar she realises that she’s come full circle;

for what she sees is a distant place ‘safe, and warm and small’, as it was when she was that tiny baby in her mother’s arms all ‘those years ago.

The author’s richly detailed narrative paints a gorgeously meditative picture of the girl’s life and this is beautifully visualised in Jen Corace’s gouache, ink, and acrylic, richly patterned spreads that have a quiet, graceful serenity.
The empowering message that emerges from both is that the combination of learning and of the imagination has the potential to open up the entire world.

All in all it’s an elegant celebration of dreaming big, working hard and the joys of discovery especially in things STEAM.
This is a book that should work with older readers/listeners rather than little ones.

How I Learned to Fall Out of Trees

How I Learned to Fall Out of Trees
Vincent X. Kirsch
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Saying goodbye to a close friend is always hard especially when they’re moving away as Adelia is in this story.

She however, has planned a special farewell gift for Roger, which she delivers before she departs. It’s a lesson in how to climb a tree and, since Roger is a worrier, how to fall out safely.

She starts by collecting all kinds of memorabilia: leaves, feathers, abandoned nests,

rugs and cushions, favourite toys,

boxes and clothing.

All these memory-laden articles are shown on the verso of the spreads while on each recto, we see the two sharing their remaining time together with Amelia instructing her friend and demonstrating how to get up into the tree’s branches: “Shimmy up the trunk and don’t turn back” … “Hang on tight with both hands” … “take it one branch at a time” and as we’d expect, finally, “Letting go will be the hardest part!’

When the time comes for Roger to make that solo climb just after his friend’s departure, he scales up easily

but then inevitably … falls.

Thanks to Amelia’s carefully and lovingly compiled construction though, he does so beaming from ear to ear.

Kirsh’s story is as carefully constructed as Amelia’s landing pile while the expressive illustrations are nicely detailed: and the girl’s instructions to her friend could equally well be what she needs to tell herself too.

Leyla

Leyla
Galia Bernstein
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Young hamadryas baboon Leyla finds her large family overwhelming with their constant noise, grooming and snuggling.

She just wants some peace so decides to run away in search of a quiet space of her own.

Having run sufficiently far, so she thinks, for there to be nothing around, she stubs her foot on a sharp rock

and then comes upon a lizard; a very still, quiet creature “very busy doing nothing” so he says.

At her request, the lizard teaches Layla to do the same: they sit peacefully in meditative mode feeling the warmth of the sun and listening to the rustling of the leaves, the buzzing of insects.

Some time later, Layla opens her eyes and realises that she now misses her family and is ready to go back to them. She does so however, safe in the knowledge that she can always return to doing nothing with her new friend for “I’m always around,” he assures her.
As a result she finds herself better able to cope with all the attention she receives from her welcoming family, partly because true to his word, that lizard was ‘always there.’ And she certainly enjoys talking about her adventure.

As someone who practises meditation (and yoga) daily, I can attest to the benefits of what that lizard offered Layla.

The author’s warm story, we learn was inspired by watching hamadryas baboons, in particular a very young one, in a Brooklyn zoo. Her expressive illustrations created digitally with the addition of hand-painted textures, say plenty about Layla’s feelings be they overwhelmed, angry, in pain, scared, peaceful, happy or excited.

In our ever busy, pressurised lives, we all, young and not so young, need to become more mindful; this book is a fun demonstration of the importance of mindfulness.

When Sue Found Sue

When Sue Found Sue
Toni Buzzeo and Diana Sudyka
Abrams Books for Young Readers

“Never lose your curiosity about everything in the universe – it can take you to places you never thought possible!” so said Sue Hendrickson the palaeontologist subject herein, her quote being the starting point for this fascinating book that tells the story of the discovery of the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever unearthed.

Living in Indiana, Sue was a shy child with a heuristic drive, particularly for anything in the natural world; she also had a passion for finding lost items, was often found with her head in a book

and loved to visit the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

Her interests led in her teens to her joining first a team of underwater treasure hunters looking for tropical fish, lost boats, planes and cars; and then teams searching mines for prehistoric butterflies, deserts for prehistoric whale fossils and finally, the hills of western South Dakota for dinosaur fossils.

In her fourth summer of digging Sue was drawn towards a sandstone cliff and after four hours of hiking in the heat,

looking up, she spied three enormous pieces of what look like back bones protruding from the cliff. Almost unbelievably Sue and her dog, Gypsy had come upon fossils of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Then began the arduous task of removing the 300 bones in the intense heat, a piece-by-piece task that took several days.

After an ownership dispute we see the dinosaur reconstruction duly named after Sue on permanent display at Chicago’s Field Museum.

Both Buzzeo’s narrative and Diana Sudyka’s detailed gouache and watercolour illustrations will surely inspire young readers to be mindful of the book’s opening words, to make sure they look closely at the world around them and to hold onto their own spirit of adventure and pursue their passion whatever that may be.

An author’s note about Sue Hendrickson’s contribution to the scientific community, and two resource lists end the book.

Dancing Through Fields of Colour

Dancing Through Fields of Colour
Elizabeth Brown and Aimée Sicuro
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Right from its opening page whereon we learn that the young Helen Frankenthaler was a rule breaker, I knew I was going to love this book.

Helen’s parents encouraged her divergence, especially her artistic tendency towards abstraction, while her school art class in contrast, laid down strict rules which had to be followed in order to pass.

After the death of her beloved father, Helen went through a dark period, unable to put anything on canvas until eventually her memories of the colours and warmth of her father’s hand on country walks had a healing effect and she begun painting once more.

Towing the professor’s line, she passed through college and returned to New York where she encountered the work of abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock,

Helen started to travel further afield and eventually, inspired by the shapes and colours of the countryside,

and led by emotions that fuelled her artistic decisions, she found her own path, – ‘Colors jetéd across the painting, merged and connected, like rivers into oceans’ – becoming with her soak-stain technique, a leading artist of the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1950s

and playing a vital role in the evolution of Colour Field Painting; (these details we learn in the detailed notes in the pages that follow the story).

Elizabeth Brown’s text describing the artist’s processes is itself poetic, while Aimée Sicuro’s watercolour, ink and charcoal pencil illustrations are absolutely gorgeous.

Through words and pictures, readers really share Helen’s emotions and creative journey and sharing the book in a classroom will surely inspire listeners to experiment with their own creativity be that with paint, dance or even perhaps another medium.