Ballet Cat + a giveaway!

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by Bob Shea (Disney-Hyperion, 2016)

This post is brought to you in partnership with Disney-Hyperion.

Can you look at these covers and not smile? Impossible. They w a m – p o w you with sparkles and awesome and confidence and an difficult-to-beat title like Dance! Dance! Underpants!

But beyond the glitter and brilliant character design, these are stories with a lot of heart. These are friendship stories that get right at the gut of telling the truth and not disappointing the people you love and the silly disaster of wearing goofy-looking underpants.

They are fun, they are fresh, and they are for young readers who deserve great books.

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I can’t read these without hearing Bob Shea’s voice, and you can too if you check this fun thing out:

And you’re in luck! The fine folks at Disney-Hyperion would like to give these two gems to you along with a plush Ballet Cat (who is so cute!) from MerryMakers, Inc.

All you have to do is comment here by midnight PST on Friday, February 12th.

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Bob Shea is the author of the first book about Ballet Cat: THE TOTALLY SECRET SECRET, the Dinosaur vs. series, and several other picture books, including DON’T PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD and UNICORN THINKS HE’S PRETTY GREAT. He and his wife have their own design studio in Madison, Connecticut.

The Totally Secret Secret

Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony are trying to decide what to play today. Nothing that Sparkles suggests–making crafts, playing checkers, and selling lemonade–goes well with the leaping, spinning, and twirling that Ballet Cat likes to do. When Sparkles’s leaps, spins, and twirls seem halfhearted, Ballet Cat asks him what’s wrong. Sparkles doesn’t want to say. He has a secret that Ballet Cat won’t want to hear. What Sparkles doesn’t know is that Ballet Cat has a secret of her own, a totally secret secret. Once their secrets are shared, will their friendship end, or be stronger than ever?

Dance! Dance! Underpants!

Ballet Cat is getting her friend Butter Bear ready for her big ballet debut. “Leap, Butter Bear, leap!” Ballet Cat prompts. But Butter Bear would prefer to just point her toe. When Ballet Cat keeps pushing, Butter Bear gets hungry, then thirsty, then sleepy . . . The bottom line is that Butter Bear would rather do almost anything to avoid making a big leap. Why? Because her bottom is covered in silly underpants! This second entry in the Ballet Cat series will have beginning readers rolling on the floor with laughter.

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Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.

Little Red Sled: by Emily Arrow and Zoey Abbott Wagner

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There’s this songwriter, Emily Arrow. And there’s this illustrator, Zoey Abbott Wagner. And then there’s the internet, where these two collaborators met. Art showed up first, and the story followed, and they made this thing, this beautiful thing.

Music. A song. A story. A friendship, really.

Here’s what Emily had to say about it:

This is my debut video that is an original song and story! After seeing an illustration posted by one of my favorite up-and-coming illustrators, Zoey Abbot Wagner, a story concept flooded over me. With my ukulele in hand, I started imagining myself going out in the snow like the character in her sketch….but only wanting to deal with winter if I could have lots of books around! I shared the song with Zoey and she made the most beautiful, creative illustrations for our video project. We’ve had so much fun, we’re going to create a series of videos called “the Arrow of Seasons.” The characters will have season-y names and the stories will celebrate my two favorite things: music and literature. 

We love those things, right?

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Sometimes in picture books, this kind of collaboration is unusual. An in picture books, stories take years from idea to the printed page. But still, here’s one artist crafting half of a perfect thing, leaving room for the other artist’s half of the perfect thing.

Together, it sings. (Here, literally, but you know what I mean.)

I hope you’ll enjoy this duo as much as I have. Books and pictures…plus songs? Okay, yes.

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Here’s Emily Arrow and Zoey Abbott Wagner’s Little Red Sled:

And if you are a Los Angeles local, don’t miss Emily Arrow’s debut album release party at Once Upon a Time, on February 20th at 10:30 am. I’ll be there!

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Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!)

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written by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Tim Miller (Viking, 2016)

Picture book making is sort of a solitary thing, except when it’s not. Along the way, you gather up people who are smarter and funnier, and your writing becomes more yours by surrounding yourself with others. It’s an odd phenomenon, closely cheering for your competition, and yet: that’s how this whole thing works.

The first time we emailed was because I wanted to feature her Little Free Library on Design Mom. 

The first time we ever spoke on the phone was when she called to say, “BOOK DEAL. Book deal!” And that’s about all we said.

The first time we ever hugged in real life was a few weeks ago in Boston.

The first manuscript I ever read of hers became this brilliant book.

A friendship is made up of a bunch of firsts, and this is a pretty spectacular celebration.

Now that it’s a finished thing, it’s hard to remember those first typed words that came through my email. But back then, it wasn’t complete. It was only this hilarious half, waiting for illustrations and design and the funniest case cover of them all.

Its meta-ness is hinted at there on the cover, with Snappsy himself holding a book featuring…himself. And if those eyes don’t scream anxious alligator-ing, I’m not sure what would. The invitation to this book already feels like barging in on something, and that is a remarkably tense place to start.

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Endpapers with Snappsy’s ho-hum daily activities, of course.

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Inside we have a narrator, unseen and incorrect. According to Snappsy, that is.

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Snappsy gets speech bubbles while the narrator’s voice captions illustrations in blocks. As a professional read-aloud-er, cues like this are key for voicing characters in a story.

And when Snappsy protests, the narrator amps up his game.

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Tim Miller is a natural at populating these environments with clever details. The one above, my favorite. What is that girl reading?!

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There’s an ever-increasing zoom on Snappsy’s splinter-laden shed here that reminds me a little of that viral video with the cat. You know the one. It’s an epic moment in three panels here.

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But then, our hero loses it. I’m pretty sure this is the best use of a feather duster in a picture book ever.

What happens then changes the design, changes the story. We see Snappsy, framed through the narrator’s eyes, and yet, he’s quiet. Just for a bit.

Of course I won’t spill the beans on this one for you, but don’t forget to study those back endpapers. And the case cover.

Because really, this is the story of the beginnings of friendship. A bunch of firsts between two friends who didn’t know they were looking for each other. That’s something familiar.

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Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

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by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall

I love this book for its words and its structure and its illustrations and its history, and I love that I got to stick a golden Caldecott Medal on its cover.

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From the Caldecott criteria:

The Medal shall be awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the picture book except that the illustrations be original work. Honor books may be named. These shall be books that are also truly distinguished.

Let’s look at this book’s distinguished pages. And a note: these are my opinions. It’s clear that the Calde-committee found many reasons to love this book, but there’s no way to know what the overlap is. That’s ok! But here’s what I find remarkable:

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A simple, striking case cover, reminiscent of Pooh-and-friends’ silhouettes in the A.A. Milne stories.

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An invitation to the (hundred acre?) wood on the endpapers. And see if you can spot the real-life owl and rabbit on the title page, a maybe-nod to the wise and spirited friends to Pooh himself.

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The way safe and tucked-in stories at night blur the line between awake and in dreams.

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The passage of time. (And an intriguing and evocative line of text by the author here does not hurt an ounce!)

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The way the real-life storytelling lives in black and white spot illustrations, juxtaposed with the full-bleed illustrations of the past.

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The emotion and pacing of decision-making, the kind that happens when your heart makes up your mind.

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This whole spread, which I loved for the daunting, fierce red of war, and then even more for the details of maritime flags which Sophie talks about here.

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Shifts in perspective that slip you into battle and hang on the edge of your seat.

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A second story, flawlessly entered. I love how this Bear and his boy are on the right-hand side of the spread too, and how it echoes a bear-to-boy lovelock from a few pages earlier.

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The return home, not as bustling as the crew that left for the war. An understated, powerful picture.

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This album, that’s been on the modern boy’s bedside table the whole time.

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The back cover, a mirror of the front. Bookends to the beginnings of a beloved story.

It is an exquisite book.

For more on Winnie, check out my post on All the Wonders. And don’t miss Sophie herself talking about the making of Winnie here, here, and here.

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Last Stop on Market Street

 

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A picture book won the Newbery.

A picture book won the Newbery.

A picture book won the Newbery.

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You must have heard. You must have seen. You must have read.

It wasn’t me that you heard, because the me in that room that morning was a silent bucket of tears. That room that morning was an electric place, full of hoots and hollers and hows and HOLY YOUKNOWWHATS.

It was so wonderful.

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When I chatted with Matthew Winner and Julie Falatko on the Let’s Get Busy podcast last April, here are some things I said about Last Stop on Market Street, (after I expressed some worry that books published post-holidays and pre-ALAYMA-time get lost in the shuffle. Ha.):

This book came out early in January and I have loved it since I set eyes on it. (We spoke in April!)

It’s one of those books that I knew before I even read it that I would love it.

There’s not a word that is out of place.

Every single syllable of this book is total perfection and Christian Robinson’s art is like a hug.

It is absolutely the definition of a perfect picture book.

Some stay with you.

You can listen to minutes 10 through 14 here for more of my audio take on this book’s brilliance.

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And the thing that’s so sock-knocking-off about this, is that picture books are rare beasts to the Newbery table. But they are deserving, they are eligible, they are thirty-two pages of plot and character and emotion that some books don’t quite capture in three hundred and thirty-two.

I still can’t quite find words to write about how it feels to be a part of this brave, new, picture book-honoring world, so these three tweets from fifteen minutes of that morning will have to do.

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And of course, of course, Christian Robinson’s pictures here are outstanding. Intimate but reaching, somehow both old-fashioned and brand-new-brilliant.

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If you haven’t read Last Stop on Market Street yet, you are in for a treat. And for more on this book and its picture-book-Newbery-ness, read this, watch this, listen to this, and soak this in.

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PS: That first picture is what it looked like as I stickered this sucker. First the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, then the Caldecott Honor, and then the Newbery Medal. That was fun.

 

 

Cloud Country + an interview with Noah Klocek

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by Noah Klocek and Bonny Becker (Disney Press, 2015)

It was hard to not to picture these sweet characters on my holiday flights recently, peeking out the window at clouds that were beautiful but not quite as vibrant as the ones in Cloud Country. I chatted with Noah Klocek about it, and welcome him here today!

Where did this story come from?

The original idea for Cloud Country came out of daydreams of my own. For a time, my day job was located right on the edge of the San Fransisco Bay. This unobstructed view allowed me to watch giant thunderheads forming on distant hillsides and I would often wonder what it would be like to be one of those clouds going through the process of formation. Eventually, I began to write and draw around the edges of Cloud Country, attempted to wrangle my loose concepts into a compelling story. While this lead to lots of great ideas, a few dummies and tons of learning, Bonny Becker’s ability to distill and write remarkably compelling characters allowed all these unresolved ideas to finally coalesce. With a bit of writing back and forth, all of this became the story that is Cloud Country.

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What are some of your picture book memories from childhood?

My childhood was all books. I was raised by parents who were teachers by day and artist all the rest of the time. This meant that there was no TV or video games in our house, but the shelves were packed with books of every kind. When other kids watched Gremlins, I was reading Where the Wild Things Are and when other children where watching Stars Wars, I was reading Saint George and the Dragon. A working knowledge of pop culture in the eighties was replaced with an unquenchable passion for picture books. Almost every story I remember as a child came in the form of a picture book. While I was not a great reader as a child (due to a good dose of Dyslexia) I would spend hours and hours looking at picture books. I must have spent a cumulative year looking at Barbara Cooney’s wonderful illustrations in Ox-Cart Man. All these years later I can still remember almost every page.

What surprised you about the picture book process as compared to making movies?

For me the difference between making movies and making books lies in the process of collaboration. Filmmaking is an aggressively collaborative creative process. There are directors who make filmmaking as personal as possible, but making animated films at Pixar is all about collaboration. Picture book making on the other hand, I find a very solitary, personal, creative process. The process is so solitary at times that I have found myself looking for ways to show my work to other people, just to have a conversation about it.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

I’m not a fan of putting people on pedestals, but I have always gravitated toward people who tell stories visually, even in writing alone. There is a saying that I’m fond of that is used an awful lot at Pixar, “Show Don’t Tell.” For me this means show your characters suffering or experiencing joy, don’t tell your reader that they are suffering or filled with joy. So I would have to say, I really respect the gifts and craft of these visual storytellers: Maura Stanton (Poetry), Garrison Keillor (Spoken Word), Hayao Miyazaki (film), David Wiesner (Picture books).

What is your favorite piece of art that lives in your home or studio?

I have a lot of great art, but honestly my favorite piece right now would have to be the painting my daughter did when she was 6, of our house on a rainy day. It’s really inspiring.

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How do you balance a creative professional life that exists in both the day job hours and the nighttime ones?

My Mom was a kindergarten teacher for twenty-five years and she always told me that “rhythm replaces strength for children,” and adults are just big kids. So I spend a lot of time trying to build a rhythm in my life that attempts to find a balance between my daytime work, my nighttime work and my family. Honestly, it comes down to a bunch of rules and structures. If I don’t do personal work at night, I’m not as effective or productive at my day job, but my day job allows me to work with and learn from some of the most talented creative people on earth, along with paying the bills. On top of that I have two kids and a wife who come before my nighttime picture book work, so I have a steadfast rule that I don’t work on picture books while my kids are awake, but I work almost every night after they go to sleep. All this rhythm and structure allows me to be very diligent. So I work from 8am to 6pm for Pixar, then five nights a week I work from 8 to midnight on picture books and the other two I spend with my wife. Now that I’m writing all this out, I feel like I’m going to come off like a bit of a crazy person, but I must say, I could’t be happier.

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What’s next for you?

I’m continuing to Art Direct for Pixar and I have a bunch of picture books in the pipeline. Some of them I will collaborate as an illustrator only and the others I’m writing and illustrating. Right now I’m focused on trying to grow as a writer and illustrator. I think I have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but hopefully, I will be able to make picture book that move and inspire kids the way picture books inspired me.

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Thank you, Noah! This is such a timely chat as we move into the new rhythms of 2016. And no, you don’t sound at all like a crazy person, or we are all in trouble.

You can find Noah around the internet here and here, and make sure to listen to Noah chat with Nick Patton on the Picturebooking podcast (now hosted at All the Wonders!)

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Lenny and Lucy

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by Philip C. Stead and Erin Stead (Roaring Brook Press, 2015)

I have favorite books and then I have favorite books. This is a favorite. This is a stick-to-your-ribs kind of book, one that you didn’t even know you were missing and there it is.

There it is.

The story begins on the cover. A car, stuffed to the brim and on the rooftops too. A dog, a man, and a boy inside, driving through the forest to somewhere probably new.

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But don’t go too quickly. Slow down here. (It’s scary out there anyway.) Bright endpapers, reddish orange for love and newness. A gold-embossed case cover showing hints of some friends. An owl, waiting in the treetops.

And then we’re back to the put-put-ing car, and the terrible idea.

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The new house wasn’t as good as the old one, but Harold was as good a dog as ever. Of course he was.

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When things are scary and you have your best friend by your side, you get really good ideas. And you make stuff. That kind of creating is problem-solving and comforting and navigating a world that is unfamiliar.

Peter (and Harold) made Lenny, the Guardian of the Bridge. Lenny, stitched-up safety.

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This is what’s always so remarkable to me about kids: their capacity for love, their endless empathy, and their foolhardy belief in things grownups are too big to understand. Even stitched-up-safety needs a friend.

A pile of leaves and some just-right blankets. A friend.

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All of them watch the woods and wonder about what’s out there, out past what they can’t see. And then there’s Millie, giving a voice to those wonders.

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The art in this book is mostly dark with flickers of bright. The story in this book is mostly dark with flickers of bright. That’s what life is sometimes, right?

Keep an eye out for that owl. Keep an eye out for your friends. Keep an eye on the last illustration of this book, where shiny spots from flashlights make a heart. The dark is still in there, but so are Lenny and Lucy.

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Thanks to Macmillan for the two illustrated spreads in this post!

 

12 Days of Picture Books with Penguin Young Readers

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Well, don’t ask me twice!

I’m excited to join forces with Penguin Young Readers to celebrate one of my favorite parts of the season: more time to read. Check out what they’ve come up with here, a site where you can create custom lists of favorites for all ages of readers. I’m a huge fan of this one, this one, and this one. And whoa, check the cover on this one!

And the good news for you is that Penguin is running a pretty spectacular series of giveaways over on Facebook. Go see!

Today’s feature (and Facebook giveaway!) is the wham-bam-what-just-happened Robo-Sauce, by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri.

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Now, I’ve seen lots of books. And lots of design elements in those lots of books. And I have never ever ever seen something like this.

Here’s a thing that’s true: robots are awesome. Kids love robots. Now, if only there was something that would allow said kid to turn anything they see or touch or smell or feel into a robot. Good thing there is that something, and it’s called Robo-Sauce. (Recipe included.)

B A N G !

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It works.

It works so well that everything our hero touches turns into a robot. Everything, including the very book that he’s a part of. Really.

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Crazy, chaotic, and the most wacky and original thing I’ve ever seen inside (and outside) a picture book.

Don’t miss it! (Or the 12 Days of Picture Books with Penguin Young Readers!)

And for more behind the scenes of Robo-Sauce, check out Matthew Winner’s interview with Adam Rubin on the Let’s Get Busy podcast.

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Waiting

waiting by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, 2015)

Usually towards the end of the year I have trouble picking a favorite picture book from that year. It’s this one! No, this one. Oh wait, that one too. That might sound familiar if you are a picture book person. It happens. But this year, without a twitch or a doubt or a no, but wait, it’s this one. It’s so perfect it hurts.

Waiting.

It’s one of those things that happens this time of year, which is why this book’s fall release feels like such a good decision. Tis the season, after all.

The cover, a window to the world beyond the sill where these five sit. It takes a real genius to smoosh so much emotion into one small dot of an eye and a pink dab for a cheek, but do you see that bunny? So much hope and wonder while he waits, right? Only Kevin Henkes.

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The colors here are beautiful. A muted pastel palette brought together by the richest brown endpapers, a brown that’s the color of his line throughout. It all feels both lush and spare and inviting.

Each one had their thing, and each one was happy.

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Their faces, looking on these gifts with such curiosity and tenderness. So much so that it feels like these figurines are entirely real. That’s what the lack of art in context does. The rest of the room falls away so that all of our eyes look out. Nothing else matters but the waiting and the friends.

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The pacing is swift but sweet, and this moment is the height of some hushed anticipation. The owl’s reverence, the rabbit’s concern.

They were happy while they waited. They saw the things they loved.

And then.

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This is the first time we’ve seen this rose dawn color through the window. A sign of something new.

And what was this dear cat waiting on? Something wonderful. Something surprising, spectacular, and incredible.

All of us are waiting on something. Here’s hoping you’ve got some room on your windowsill for friends.

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PS: If you have a few minutes to spare, listen to this NPR piece about Waiting. It’s so nicely done and such a treat.

Whatever Happened To My Sister?

IMG_1226 by Simona Ciraolo (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

Heads up, picture book people: I got to be a guest blogger for Picture Book Idea Month, hosted by Tara Lazar. Have you heard of it? Hope so. It gives all of us something to crowd around and celebrate while all those novelists are cranking out buckets of words. Check it out here.

I wrote about a question my agent asked me recently: what is this thing about about? Not a synopsis of plot points, but on a soul-level, what’s it about about?

That connected with me as a writer big time, but I think it also reveals what I find so compelling about books by other folks as well. This book, Whatever Happened To My Sister? is about about what you lose by growing up. In this case, it’s not that your clothes get smaller or you outgrow some toys. No. In this case, it’s that the very thing that defined your childhood is missing. And that is heartbreaking.

This opening spread.

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Here’s a small girl, cheeks all ruddy and knees all scraped up. She’s leaning over a scrapbook of sorts, proof that once upon a time, she had a sister. Not this someone who looks a lot like her, but isn’t.

Using snapshots here lets us into their world, those warm memories, that nostalgia. A smile that’s not quite there anymore.

Throughout, Ciraolo uses muted oranges and blues which is such a lovely combination, both for its complementary-ness and its emotion. Those blues and grays feel cool and sad, while the oranges feel like frustration. Like newness.

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And here, the scenes are just different enough to cause a chasm, but so close at heart. The little’s pumpkin costume mirrors the poofy couch of the older. It’s beautiful and tender and heart-clutch-y all at once.

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Same red cheeks, just older. But a slam that swooshes the little’s dress and hair.

And then time.

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Time turned back.

A lovely, lovely book. The illustrations have so much charm and life in the lines, and this is a beautiful picture book for when you’ve grown out of the bringing-home-baby ones. Because those babies grow up, and childhood changes.

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PS: Another Simona Ciraolo favorite is Hug Me, and if you head over to This Picture Book Life, Danielle has an adorable cactus craft you could make!