Over the stream and across the field is the world of Brambly Hedge…
Are you a Brambly Hedge fan?
If so, then you probably know that Autumn 2020 marks 40 years since British author/illustrator Jill Barklem published the first four picture books in her charming series — Spring Story, Summer Story, Autumn Story, and Winter Story.
Released simultaneously by HarperCollins, they proved immensely popular among readers of all ages despite being written primarily for young children. To date they’ve been translated into 13 languages and have sold over 7 million copies.
I was drawn to Barklem’s incredibly detailed illustrations long before I actually read the stories. This is not surprising for a longtime Beatrix Potter fan who can’t resist anthropomorphized animals dressed in smart clothes. In fact, I probably first saw Barklem’s adorable mice on pieces of Royal Doulton china.
Once I familiarized myself with all the characters and spent ample time in their idyllic English countryside, I was totally hooked. Brambly Hedge continues to attract generations of new readers with its emphasis on traditional values and universal themes such as family, friendship, community, seasonal self-sufficiency, and sustainability.
A nature lover since childhood, Jill was inspired by the countryside where she grew up, especially the ancient woodland, Epping Forest. At age 13 she suffered a detached retina, which prevented her from participating in sports, so she spent her afternoons indoors, concentrating on art and botany. Her love of drawing flowers and twigs eventually prompted her to study illustration at St. Martin’s School of Art in London.
She did not look forward to the long commute from Epping to London on the underground every day — but eventually made good use of her time by escaping into her own richly imagined world of mice who lived in the trunks and roots of trees and hedgerows.
This is how Wilfred Toadflax, Primrose Woodmouse, Poppy Eyebright, Mr and Mrs Apple, and all the others were first conceived. After graduating from St. Martin’s, Jill briefly worked for Lion Publishing, penning a few picture books and illustrating Bibles, but she didn’t feel she was doing her best work.
“America is made of ordinary people capable of extraordinary things.” ~ Certified Bidenism 🙂
The very first picture book biography of 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden begins with his earnest appeal:
“Give me the ball!”
We soon see how this memorable refrain aptly characterizes his competitiveness and willingness to take the lead and carry the burden — whether playing a childhood game of pick-up football or diligently working on behalf of his constituents.
Reading this book is like sitting down with a good friend who’s sharing favorite family stories about someone she knows only too well. Kids have likely seen Joe Biden on TV; they know he’s running for President, and now, thanks to Jill, they have a chance to view this larger-than-life public figure in a more personal, relatable way.
We first meet Joey as an active 8-year-old, on the move and not the least bit intimidated by a group of older boys playing football. It didn’t matter that he was smaller than all of them, he taunted them anyway. When they couldn’t catch him, “they welcomed him into their game.”
Joey had such great adventures with his best buddies, Charlie, Larry, and Tommy. Typical boys, everything was a competition. They went to the movies and reenacted their favorite scenes, romped through the neighborhood with Joey’s dogs, and visited the monkey at the candy store. But Joey was also a peacemaker who looked out for others, a natural leader who drew people together by focusing on what they had in common.
Did you know Joey could never refuse a dare? Risk taker extraordinaire, he once “climbed atop a mountain of still-burning coal,” “raced along the pipes high above a river,” and even “grabbed a heavy rope and swung over a construction site, imitating Tarzan — without a net.”
Yep, this one’s got my name written all over it, and I simply had to share it with you today.
Safe to say, most, if not all of us — young, old, somewhere in-between — have a crazy-making case of the pandemic blues. It may come and go, but some dark shade of it always seems to linger in the back of our minds. Or maybe we just have the blahs, feel bored or uninspired (confinement can do that to you). No better time to banish the ho-hums and embrace the unique power, beauty, and wonder of blue. 🙂
InI’m Feeling Blue, Too!,a poetry picture book written by Marjorie Maddox and illustrated by Philip Huber (Resource Publications, 2020), a young boy celebrates the essence of blue, discovering its presence in the world around and within him.
A sequence of 13 poems drives the narrative, which takes place on a summer’s day from morning to night. The opening poem is a wake-up call for all:
got those summertime slumps, down-in-the-dumps, life-full-of-bumps, bad-news blues?
Time to get up and shake up the woulda-coulda-shoulda’s. Time to get the “can’t-do-nothin’” out of blue.
Time to zap the sad with some kaleidoscope clues. Come on, whistle for Blue and get moving!
Haven’t we all wanted to have the last word at one time or another? Of course, we have! 😊 But, if you’re like me, that golden last word—the game-changer, the elegant riposte, the witty put-down, the conversation-stopper—bursts into my brain about an hour after I could have used it. Naturally.
In my newest picture book, CALVIN GETS THE LAST WORD (Tilbury House, October 2020), Calvin is constantly searching for the perfect word to describe his rascally, annoying brother. Yes, that’s the same brother who waits to tell a joke at the dinner table till Calvin has his mouth full of broccoli. You guessed it—Calvin sprays broccoli all over the table!
Who wouldn’t want to find the right word for a bratty brother like that? When I first thought of writing this story, I was toying around with the idea of a kid who is enthralled by words and wants to use them perfectly in all kinds of situations. Naturally, as a lifelong reader, retired English teacher, and author, words have always been important for me. Well, *true confession, here*—when I was in junior high, however, I secretly wanted to be voted “Best Actress” of the ninth grade in the yearbook. Nope. I was voted “Walking Dictionary.” Sadly, there’s probably nothing more I need to explain to you. 😊
As I thought about Calvin, it came to me that if he was always looking for the right word, his dictionary would certainly become tattered and worn out. Then—it hit me. Calvin’s poor, beleaguered dictionary would be the narrator, and so that’s how he became to be exactly that. He helps Calvin out with all sorts of words, but it’s Calvin himself who discovers just the right word for his brother—and his dictionary is overjoyed. I hope young readers will be surprised and tickled, too.
Because we know kids are multi-dimensional, Calvin is not only a word nerd, but a kid who stands up to bullies, who passes notes in class, and who loves baseball. Being a huge baseball fan myself (go, Angels!), I was delighted to see how the talented illustrator Mike Deas wove the baseball thread throughout his whimsical illustrations, using a baseball, bat, and glove on Calvin’s bedroom floor from the beginning page all the way to the end of the book. I’m sure kids will have fun exploring all of Mike’s other humorous details in the pictures. Look for the baby’s and the cat’s and the ever-present dad’s expressions. My editors cooked up the clever idea for the end pages, which set the perfect tone for the book. It’s been a team effort. I hope you are always able to find just the right word whenever you need it!
In honor of the broccoli that hapless Calvin sprays on the dinner table, I thought it would be fun to share a recipe for a Broccoli-Cheese Casserole, so you can all make it for dinner.
Caveat: ask all your guests and family members promise NOT to tell a joke when anyone’s mouth is full. The clean-up won’t be fun!
Drain cooked broccoli. Combine soup, eggs, mayonnaise, onion, salt and pepper to taste. Add 1/2 cup grated cheese. Place in buttered 8″ x 8″ casserole. Leave at least 1 inch of room on top. Sprinkle 1 cup grated cheese on top. Melt butter and mix in dressing. Sprinkle on top. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees F.
~ from Margo Sorenson, author of Calvin Gets the Last Word (Tilbury House, 2020)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Author of thirty-one traditionally-published books for young readers, Margo Sorensonhas won recognition and awards for her books, including ALA nominations and finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in YA Fiction. To learn more about Margo’s kids’ books, visit Margo at www.margosorenson.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @ipapaverison, on Instagram: margosorensonwriter, or on Facebook: Italia Writes.
CALVIN GETS THE LAST WORD written by Margo Sorenson illustrated by Mike Deas published by Tilbury House, October 6, 2020 Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
Flap copy: Calvin’s dictionary is proud to go wherever Calvin goes—the breakfast table, school, baseball practice, and home again—helping Calvin search for the perfect word to describe his super-annoying older brother. After looking all day, Calvin finally finds the word he’s looking for at bedtime. And when he does, the dictionary is as surprised and delighted as you will be.
Miao! We are so pleased and honored to welcome award winning Vermont author, illustrator and teacher Ashley Wolff to Alphabet Soup today.
We’re big fans of her adorable Baby Bear books, classics such as Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for Earth (Mary McKenna Siddals), Baby Beluga (Raffi), and of course, the wildly popular Miss Bindergarten series, written by Joseph Slate.
In all, she’s published close to 70 titles (as either author/illustrator or illustrator), showcasing her lifelong love of nature and animals, and her mastery of a variety of styles and mediums, including acrylic gouache, linoleum block print + watercolor, and collage.
Her most recent self-illustrated picture book, Only the Cat Saw (Beach Lane Books, 2020), is a refreshed edition of a perennial favorite (first published by Dodd, Mead back in 1985) with all new art for a new generation. In this gentle, calming story, a multiracial family of four go about their daily routine from sunset to sunrise, while their marmalade tabby observes the wonders and beauty of the natural world.
As they’re busy with supper, only the cat notices the colorful sunset outside the window. During bath time, the cat has wandered out by the barn to play with fireflies, and while the older child, Tessa, reads with her flashlight under the covers, the cat witnesses the drama of an owl hunting a mouse. Oh, the wonderful things people miss when they’re preoccupied!
Spare text + single page spreads tracking the family’s indoor activities alternate with double page wordless spreads showing what the cat is up to. With each block of text, the repetitive tag line, “So only the cat saw . . . ” signals a suspenseful page turn that rewards the reader with beautiful scenes rendered in rich colors and lush textures, immersing him/her in the cat’s world of tall grasses, sleepy farm animals, lightning and rain, even a shooting star.
I love what Ashley has done with scale, perspective, and composition to play up the cat’s point of view, and her lighting effects, from gorgeous sunset and sunrise, to lamplight, flashlight, fireflies, moon and stars underscore the simple joys of life indoors and out. Such a lovely reminder to take time to appreciate what we too often take for granted.
In addition to being cozy and heartwarming, this story is reassuringly relatable with its depiction of breast feeding, sitting on the potty, and having both parents share equally in household tasks. Kudos to Ashley for initially including these somewhat unusual details in the earlier book from 35 years ago, clear evidence of her feminist, forward thinking! 🙂
We thank Ashley for dropping by to tell us what it was like to re-illustrate one of her earliest picture books, and for sharing a favorite recipe and so many cool photos. Enjoy!