Alice B. McGinty | Authors, illustrators from Illinois shine

Alice B. McGinty | Authors, illustrators from Illinois shine

I am writing this from the Illinois Reading Council Conference in Peoria, where an exciting new program is being launched, called Read Local (illinois.scbwi.org/read-local/). It connects Illinois authors and illustrators with teachers and librarians to help promote the joy of reading. And joy abounds, with the many wonderful new books by Illinois authors and illustrators. Here are two of my favorites.

In "No Frogs in School" (2018, Sterling Books, written by A. LaFaye, illustrated by Eglantine Coulemans, ages 4-8), we find out that Bartholomew Botts loves pets — "Hoppy pets, hairy pets, and scaly pets" — so much that he can't go to school without one.

On Monday, he brings Ferdinand the frog to school. But, when "Spling!" Ferdinand landed on the teacher's head, "Mr. Patanoose shared a new rule. 'No frogs in school.'"

On Tuesday, Bartholomew doesn't bring a frog to school. He brings Sigfried the salamander. However, when Sigfried skittered up Sanford's sleeve and Sanford "sha-sha-shoomed" to get him out, another rule ensued. "No salamanders in school. No frogs, toads, or tadpoles. Nothing born in the water that grows up to live on land. Keep your amphibians at home!"

And so on Wednesday, it's Horace the hamster. On Thursday, Sylvia the snake comes to school with Bartholomew (after all, she is not a rodent), and more rules ensue.

Then, Mr. Patanoose says, "Tomorrow, we'll start the day with show and tell." They can bring anything, except, "No more of YOUR pets," he tells Bartholomew.

That night, Bartholomew holds Rivka the rabbit on his lap, and thinks, wanting to make sure to follow the rules. He comes up with a "hoppy, happy, can't-wait-for-it-to-happen idea."

The next morning, he introduces Rivka to the class. "And she's not MY pet. She's EVERYONE'S pet," he tells the class. So it was that their classroom got a new pet.

The bright, playful pen and watercolor illustrations are as alive with humor and energy as the text, bringing mixed-race Bartholomew and his classmates to life in this clever, engaging story.

In "Kitten and the Night Watchman" (2018, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, written by John Sullivan, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo, ages 3-7), the night watchman hugs his wife and children and drives to work. Sunset orange floods the block-printed illustrations, as we see the shadow of the night watchman making his rounds of a construction site, alone. On each spread, with the spare text, we see him checking doors, walking past vehicles in need of repair, and sitting while the stars twinkle and "The full moon shines like an old friend." Until he hears, "Meooowww."

"Back again?" he asks.

The tiny kitten follows him this time, as he makes his rounds, past an excavator bowing like a strange giraffe, and a jet glowing in the night sky. When all is quiet, he feeds the kitten and they make the rounds again.

Until he looks back and the kitten is gone. A dog barks. A car races down a street. "The night watchman sits at his desk. He is too worried to read."

Finally, the kitten comes back. "Bird songs sprinkle the air." And the night watchman drives home.

"But this time he is not alone." This sensitive, poetic story is beautifully rendered, in both art and text, sharing a tale of love and friendship.

Alice B. McGinty (alicebmcginty.com) is the award-winning author of over 40 books for children and the recipient of the 2017 Illinois Reading Council's Prairie State Award for Excellence in Writing for Children. Each summer, McGinty runs a writing camp for teens, Words on Fire.

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