The Skunk

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell

by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell (Roaring Brook Press, 2015)

The Skunk is a book I’ve been wanting for ages but I had no idea that I was.

I’m going to spoil this podcast interview for you, and you should still listen to it anyway, but when asked where he got the idea for this book, Mac said it was a writing prompt on an old poster in a school library:

A skunk won’t stop following you.

A fun thing is knowing Mac, and hearing his booming and contagious laugh, and picturing his long, lean self hunched over a desk with eight-year-olds hunched over their desks, writing about a skunk who won’t stop following you. I think Mac would love that too, because there’s a thing that resonates in all of his work for kids, which is a true and uncanny understanding of kid-ness, and a willingness to give them stories that grownups can’t observe in their own natural habitats.

(Sidenote: I wrote a whole thing about this recently, about honesty as a necessary thing in picture book writing and a necessary part of understanding the audience. Check it out here!)

I’m also going to spoil a big design piece of this book, so if you like to read things untainted, unspoiled, and fresh, bow out now. You’ve been warned!

But: the skunk and his man. A story you didn’t know you were dying for.

Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell didn’t collaborate on this book; rather, in publishing’s traditional sense, Mac did words and Patrick did pictures, and they didn’t speak of it until it was finished. In that same podcast, you’ll hear them speak of what an honor it was to work with lumps of clay the other had thrown down.

That, of course, is the very nature of a picture book. The text is incomplete without pictures; both parts are needed for the dance. 100

Here’s how I read a book.

First the endpapers.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell Then the case cover. (Have I told you how angry my students get when a book does not have a secret underneath?! Also, see Travis Jonker’s latest post on this for more. A treat for sure.)

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell And the title page.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell This is so interesting to me, this differently styled skunk here. His etched-ness gives me pause, and is a little bit dizzying. Because here’s the thing: this small moment gives the whole story true plausibility. This skunk, this real skunk, did all of the things in this book. But I’m seeing it through an artist’s lens who might have represented it in a way that I can understand, that I can see.

Curious.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell The color palette here is a smart choice. It maintains this noir experience, but also serves to connect the duo physically: the skunk’s red nose, the man’s red bowtie. The skunk’s black and white tail, the man’s tuxedo tails. (Both of those with a flip and a flourish.)

There is no other color, save for a muted peach, a brightness in the shadows.

Soon, the man understands what’s really happening. His eyes speak fear.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell This standoff is one of my favorite parts. The offerings here–an apple, a saucer of milk, a pocket watch–are of no interest to a skunk. But it’s a moment of connection, the first time the man has turned to face his follower. That’s some bravery.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell Then things get dire and the pace quickens, and if you haven’t felt it by now, we’re talking some serious Twilight Zone stuff.

This man moves to a different part of the city, buys new things, and perhaps breathes a bit easier.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell The man misses the skunk, because things like that worm and weasel and skunk their way into your routine, and all of a sudden, the missing it part is very real.

And here’s what else you probably noticed. The color!

Without the skunk, in a new house, with new things, the man is different. Transformed? Suddenly aware? What’s happening?

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell

As he searches for his skunk, the colors mute. The world returns to whatever that normal was before.

My skunk.

And the endpapers again. Bookends, that duo.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell

There’s a thing that happens with books when your eyebrow wrinkles and you’re not quite sure where you are anymore. Those are the best kinds of stories–the honest and the daring ones and the ones that make you look at your own world with a mix of wonder and skepticism.

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Thanks to Mary Van Akin at Macmillan for the images!

The Slant Book

The Slant Book by Peter Newell

by Peter Newell (Tuttle Publishing, 2001; originally published in 1910)

This book hopped back on my radar during my 2014 visit to the NYPL’s exhibit, The ABCs of it: Why Children’s Books Matter. (Check out the second to last picture in that post for cold, hard proof.)

It’s strange and silly and a playful use of the book’s form. Perfect, then, for a picture book.

It takes the shape of a rhomboid–not a rectangle, not a square. Because of that forty-five degree angle, the book itself drives the story.

The Slant Book by Peter Newell The Slant Book by Peter Newell

Where Bobby lives, there is a hill–

A hill so steep and high,

‘Twould fit the bill for Jack and Jill

Their famous act to try

Thanks to that almost-literal twist, Bobby flies away from his poor, unsuspecting Nurse, and their nice walk through the neighborhood turns disastrous in a flash.

The Slant Book by Peter Newell The Slant Book by Peter Newell

Page by page, to spot-on verse, Bobby leaves mayhem in his downhill wake. (And, of course, the story ends before his Nurse has to push him back uphill.)

Clever, unconventional, and a bit bizarre.

For form-lovers and geometry teachers and rhymers. For anyone who adores little weird picture books.

The Slant Book by Peter Newell The Slant Book by Peter Newell

Want to see it in action? The Slant Book is in the public domain, so you can hear it here and see it here.

And in case you are looking for other beautiful rhomboids, these are pretty special. Artist and blogger Joanne Mattera curated the best of the shape for a lovely post.

A few favorites from Joanne’s collection:

Gudrun Mertes Frady.Cool Blue

Gudrun Mertes Frady
Cool Blue, 2009, oil and metallic pigments on wood, 18 x 18 inches

holst10_l

Doug Holst
Untitled, 2009, acrylic on wood, 12 x 12 inches

Altoon SUltan

Altoon Sultan
#13, 2011, hand-dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 11.75 x 13.5 inches

Summer Reading 2015

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How about some summer reading lists? I made these for school, and the caveat is that books are for whoever wants to read them, so take the age ranges with a grain or two of salt.

These were books we’ve loved over the year, and ones I think they would like based on our billions of conversations about books.

Some sneak peeks. Some good reads!

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Lists Here1 2 3 4

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Rabbityness

Rabbityness by Jo Empson

by Jo Empson (Child’s Play, 2012)

Here’s a book that’s deceptively simple in text, in color, in motion.

An average rabbit, doing average rabbity things. White space, dark spot illustrations. Calm and steady.

Rabbityness by Jo Empson Rabbityness by Jo Empson

But then. The page turn is the miraculous pacing tool for the picture book, and this one is a masterpiece. Swiftly, from the expected to the unexpected, from straightforward rabbityness to the unusual.

And the beautiful. And the wild and the wonderful.

Rabbityness by Jo Empson Rabbityness by Jo Empson Rabbityness by Jo Empson

Jo Empson’s art is a storyteller to follow. It unfolds visually, deftly, magically.

Desperately.

Rabbityness by Jo Empson

Because one day, Rabbit is gone. So is the color and the movement and the life.

“All that Rabbit had left was a hole.”

But, much like the art, Rabbit was a storyteller to follow.

Rabbityness by Jo Empson Rabbityness by Jo Empson

And the color returns.

It’s a story about making a mark that leaves a legacy. It’s about telling a story and remembering one. It’s for anyone who is daring enough to leave drips of unrabbityness, and anyone brave enough to chase them.

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Architecture According to Pigeons

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

by Stella Gurney and Natsko Seki (Phaidon, 2013)

Do kids’ books have room for one more smart pigeon? You’ll be glad you let this one in, because Speck Lee Tailfeather is another flier with a healthy confidence and a chatty nature.

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

Speck’s mission is world travel, focusing on buildings from a bird’s point of view. He sees things differently.

His words are a travel journal of sorts to his pigeon friends. To his love, Elsie. And to us.

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

There’s a lot to look at, from speech bubbles to side bars to fascinating tidbits. The layout and voice are both unusual in the very best way. And if you just shake off what you expect from picture books and settle in, your flight from city to sky and back will be worth it.

Your tour guide, after all, is an expert in the unusual.

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

This one is for treasure hunters, trivia fanatics, architecture buffs, or anyone hungry for some off-the-wall-pigeon-fare. You never know.

Pair it with A Lion in Paris. Speck travels farther than France, but matching up the Parisian buildings (not to mention the books’ head-to-head size battle and their animal points of view) would be a fun thing for storytime.

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Everything Under a Mushroom

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes (Four Winds Press, 1973)

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

I’m not a real wild-and-crazy kind of person.

Last Saturday I took a Pilates class at 3:30, and the teacher said it’s always such a weird time because most people like to spend their afternoons at the beach or the ballpark. Or perhaps they have to get ready for their evening cocktail hour, and finishing close to 5:00 doesn’t work. But I told her that it’s my favorite time, because then I can be home in pajamas having sort-of-flat champagne before it’s even dark out.

She looked at me funny.

But on some of those pajamas and champagne Saturday nights, I go vintage book shopping online and find things like this.

I love this book.

I love Ruth Krauss.

I love the way her words describe the bizarre and complex world of kids’ heads. And their perfectly simple and sensible world. It’s kind of all wrapped up together for kids anyway, which is strange and endearing and other-worldly.

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

Each spread has one line, a bright orange to the illustrations’ muted browns. The only other color is the blue on the cover.

And the page turn acts as a sort of puzzle: the last bit from the page before starts the new thought.

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

Each thing is little. Each thing snuggles up right under the towering mushroom. Each thing is so firmly kid.

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

The tiny stories ramble on underneath, in those playful monologues that might seem like nonsense. This is where kids are experts.

Grownups, consider this. You might not understand. You might not have any use for a little potato. But, as the girl with the bow in her hair promises, “Little potatoes are especially nice.”

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

It’s weird. It’s wonderful. And if it fits under a mushroom, it’s fair game.

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A Lion in Paris

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna by Beatrice Alemagna (Tate, 2014)

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

First of all. This book opens the wrong way. I mean, it’s completely right, but it is unusual in all of the most wonderful ways.

Also, it’s huge. It’s the size of a cookie sheet or a throw pillow, which is also unusual in all of the most wonderful ways.

After all, how else can you contain a lion?

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

He was a big lion. A young, curious and lonely lion. He was bored at home on the grasslands, and so one day he set off to find a job, love and a future.

This is such a perfect picture book setup. We meet our leading man and instantly understand what’s he like and what he wants. Succint, confident, and interesting in both visuals and voice.

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna Something about the massive white space for the text and the intricate illustrations on opposing sides of the gutter. It’s cinematic almost–reminiscient of that silent movie era where a title card precedes the action. The frame on each side of the gutter even approximates the golden rectangle of today’s high definition aspect ratio.

They are pleasing boundaries for storytelling. The pictures don’t need to leave physical layout space for the text, and the text gets a chance to stand alone and confident as well.

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

The people were hurrying around with a strange kind of sword under their arms, but nobody thought of attacking him. That surprised him.

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

When he went out into the street, it started to rain. That made him think of his lovely sunny grasslands and he felt sad. He turned all grey and shiny like the roofs around him.

So off course, things will get strange and sad for our gentle giant before his journey is through. But isn’t that true of many lionhearted luminaries?

This is a book for anyone who wrinkles a forehead and grins a little at smart design. It’s also a book for anyone who feels a little lost, a little rainy, a little roar-y.

It’s for anyone who is looking for that perfect place to be still and happy.

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

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PS: Tate is a British publisher, not to be confused with the notorious scam-ish publisher in America of the same name.

Beastly Verse

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

by JooHee Yoon (Enchanted Lion, 2015)

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

(click to enlarge)

This book is something. A mashup of poetry and pictures, washes of color and words.

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

(click to enlarge; this is an example of a spread that folds out to reveal an entirely new and more expansive illustration.)

Some thoughts from JooHee on the art and creation of Beastly Verse:

I wanted to create a book that not only tells wonderful stories, but one that is beautiful to behold. For me, the design of the book is just as important as its content; they are inseparably linked. I believe all elements of a book–its paper, binding, size and weight–create an atmosphere that plays an important role in the experience of reading.

The printing process fascinates me. Not only traditional printmaking, but also industrial processes as well, since these are just a further development of the old printmaking techniques. I have always been drawn to printmaking, and rather than mixing colors on a palette and putting them on paper, I enjoy working with flat color layers overlapping one another to create the secondary colors. My experience with printmaking informs almost all of my artwork today. I wanted to take advantage of the industrial printing process so the printer is not just reproducing the image I make, but in a sense creating the image itself.

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

This book has been printed using just three colors. The areas where the main colors overlap create secondary colors, resulting in a book that seems very colorful even though only a limited palette was used. Seen alone, each layer is a meaningless collection of shapes, but when overlapped, these sets of shapes are magically transformed into the intended image. To me the process of creating these images is like doing a puzzle, figuring out what color goes where to make a readable image.

I am very inspired by books from the early 1900s – 1950, when artists were forced to work with spot colors since reproduction methods weren’t as developed as they are today. It is amazing what some artists could do with just two or three colors, and this is exactly the same process I am using, but one from choice rather than necessity. There is a luminous brilliant quality to the colors when images are reproduced this way that I love.

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

(click to enlarge; this is an example of a spread that folds out to reveal an entirely new and more expansive illustration.)

It’s fascinating to pull the curtains back on an illustrator’s process, and I’m thankful to JooHee for her words here. Her explanation of something so simple, so exquisite, and so complex is as brilliant as those colors she creates.

And the book itself is definitely a work of art. Uncoated, thick pages. Slightly oversized. There’s a non-uniform feeling to the ends that isn’t quite a deckled edge, but a bit more raw and tactile. Hand-crafted almost.

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

(click to enlarge)

Beastly Verse’s dedication reads simply, For the Reader.

Here, the reader is also the design enthusiast, the art collector, and the wordsmith. A book for book lovers.

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Huge thanks to Claudia Bedrick at Enchanted Lion for the images in this post. 

 

Once Upon a Cloud

Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane

by Claire Keane (Dial Books, 2015)

Here’s one to hand to any kid that still can’t get enough of Frozen. And when you do, give them a little wink-nudge that this book’s creator worked on what Elsa and Anna’s world looked like. And she worked on Tangled. And then they will see the lush purple cover anyway, and sometimes that’s all it takes.

Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane

(click to enlarge)

Meet Celeste. She wants the perfect gift for her mom. Big eyes. Big dreams. (Sweet bear expression. And do you see those little shoes she’s kicked off? Even sweeter.)

Celeste is stumped. When she’s about to fall asleep, the Wind carries her away.

She sparkles with the Stars and then meets the Moon and the Sun.

Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane (click to enlarge)

There’s something musical about the pace of the pictures here. Sweeping and epic and enchanting. The colors wash over Celeste’s celestial quest, slowly spinning one into another.

And then, she’s home again. But her heart is new and her eyes are fresh, and the same things that have always been there shine a bit more than they did before once upon a cloud.

Simple in story. Arresting in art.

Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane

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Review copy sent by the publisher. 

Blog Tour: The Water and the Wild

The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee

by K.E. Ormsbee, illustrated by Elsa Mora (Chronicle Books, 2015)

From the publisher:

A green apple tree grows in the heart of Thirsby Square, and tangled up in its magical roots is the story of Lottie Fiske. For as long as Lottie can remember, the only people who seem to care about her are her best friend, Eliot, and the mysterious letter writer who sends her birthday gifts. But now strange things are happening on the island Lottie calls home, and Eliot’s getting sicker, with a disease the doctors have given up trying to cure. Lottie is helpless, useless, powerless—until a door opens in the apple tree. Follow Lottie down through the roots to another world in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss.

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I’m so excited to be a stop on the blog tour celebrating the release of The Water and the Wild, which includes a chance for you to win a copy of this beautiful (literally and figuratively!) book.

First, let’s hear from K.E. herself. Welcome, K.E.!

K. E. Ormsbee

Visualizing Limn: The Real-World Inspirations Behind Lottie Fiske’s World.

In The Water and the Wild, twelve-year-old Lottie Fiske travels through the roots of an apple tree into the magic-soaked world of Limn—a land filled with bustling cities, dense woods, magical yew trees, and giant spider webs. World building Limn was one of the most fun and challenging aspects of writing The Water and the Wild, and my inspiration for the look and feel of the fantasy landscape came from very real places.

Today, I’d like to share some of those inspirations and take a moment to gush about just how perfectly artist Elsa Mora captured the magic of Limn in her cover art and illustrations.

New Kemble – York, England

I’m a huge anglophile, and one of my favorite places in all of England is York. The city is rich with layer upon layer of history, as evidenced in its walls, its giant cathedral, and its winding streets. I remember first setting foot in The Shambles and feeling certain that something ancient and magical was at work there.

When I first drafted The Water and the Wild, the story actually took place in York. Over time and a number of subsequent revisions, York became New Kemble, a fictional island town off the coast of Massachusetts. But the inspiration for New Kemble remained thoroughly English. I still envision The Barmy Badger—home of Lottie’s best friend Eliot—on a street similar to The Shambles. And Lottie’s home in the boardinghouse on Thirsby Square is based on the real St. Paul’s Square in York.

St Paul's Square - Personal Photo

Iris Gate – The Biltmore Estate

When Lottie first arrives in Limn, she stays at the home of the Wilfers—an old money family with royal connections and a fair share of secrets. The Wilfer family home is called Iris Gate, and Lottie is overwhelmed by the size and grandeur of the place. When describing Iris Gate, I tried to capture the intimidation I felt upon first walking into the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

The Biltmore is an imposing mansion even to full-grown adults, and I was ten when my family visited. I remember gaping at the soaring ceilings, ornate decorations, and sprawling gardens. Though Iris Gate is nowhere near as extensive as the Biltmore, its architecture and landscaping were written to resemble that of the Biltmore Estate.

Biltmore Estate - Taken From Biltmore Official Website

Wisp Territory – Springtime in my childhood neighborhood

I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. The city is surrounded by rolling green hills, black fences, and horse farms. It experiences four distinct seasons, and the springtimes there are lovely. In my neighborhood, there were many dogwoods, magnolias, and Bradford pear trees. When all of those trees were in bloom, white petals would blow loose into the wind, and everywhere I turned the world seemed awash in white. I called it my Warm Winter.

I never shook those springtime images, and when I was creating Wisp Territory—home to the mysterious will o’ the wisps—I wanted to convey a similar aesthetic. The world of the wisps is, by and large, colorless. The grass, the trees, and the leaves are all white. The royal home is made entirely of glass. This wintry appearance does not vary with the seasons, and it’s my homage to the Warm Winters I experienced as a kid.

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Clearly, I have some very distinct ideas about how the world of Limn looks. What I was most nervous and excited about during the publication process was seeing how an artist would render a world that had for so long existed only in my imagination. As it turns out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. When Melissa Manlove, my fabulous editor at Chronicle Books, first gave me Elsa Mora’s name, I of course went straight to Google to do some major image stalking. After only a minute, I knew I was in the best of hands.

Elsa’s papercuts are pure magic. There is so much detail, care, and whimsy in each of her creations. The cover of The Water and the Wild conveys not only the fantasticalness, but also the danger of Lottie’s journey. The way in which the characters and their natural surroundings blend so effortlessly captures my own attempt to make the world around Lottie as much a character as she is.

Inside the book, you’ll find a papercut plant accompanying each chapter heading. These illustrations reinforce the importance of the natural world throughout the book. And, you know, they just so happen to be GORGEOUS.

It’s been almost seven years since I first wrote down the image of a magical green apple tree. Now, as Lottie Fiske’s story officially hits bookshelves, I couldn’t be happier with the way that image and others came to be realized in the art and text of The Water and the Wild.

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If you’re anything like me, you’re dying to read more about Lottie and Limn. So! Tweet this post anyway you’d like on Twitter, and include the hashtag #dpb for a chance to win a copy! I’ll be in touch with a winner in a week.

Check out The Water and the Wild’s teacher guide here, and a sneak peek at its beginning here.

And be sure to check out tomorrow’s stop on the tour at Green Bean Teen Queen, where K.E. talks libraries!

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