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. 

Enormous Smallness

 

Enormous Smallness

by Matthew Burgess and Kris Di Giacomo (Enchanted Lion, 2015)

This book is the author’s debut picture book, and as a poet and creative writing teacher he found a perfect venue for these words. And here’s a great look at the illustrator’s work over at This Picture Book Life. (If you haven’t seen Brief Thief, RUN to the library. Now.)

Then there’s Enchanted Lion. Smart, beautiful, well-crafted books. This small Brooklyn publisher is fresh off a huge and deserved recognition in Bologna.

So. Let’s take a look.

Enormous Smallness

Layers of letters and piles of words make up some of the best endpapers I’ve seen this year.

Before I flip another page, I’m keenly aware of this texture. What an exceptional way to visualize the poetry of E.E. Cummings. It makes perfect sense. A jumble of words and sounds and feelings are the foundation for E.E.’s work.

Words as art themselves.

Enormous Smallness Enormous Smallness

Here’s a simple sentence, spare but lovely, stating facts and straightening out his family tree. Understated, but lively is for sure in that ensemble. Can you see rambunctious Uncle George there, turning a cartwheel or just plain standing on his hands?

The handwritten labels, the cattywampus text layout, the warm texture. All so inviting.

Enormous Smallness

A happy home for spilling words.

Enormous Smallness

A poet, catching words like a bunny through a hoop.

An author, echoing exactly what young E.E. loved.

Estlin looked around

as if his eyes were on tiptoes

and when his heart jumped,

he said another poem.

Enormous Smallness Enormous Smallness

An illustrator, wrapping it all up in carefully crafted texture that smacks a bit of haphazard beauty.

It’s pretty. It’s intentional. It’s rich and wonder and a treat to take in.

Enormous Smallness Enormous Smallness

A remarkable slew of back matter includes a timeline, additional poetry, a fascinating author’s note, and another really great elephant illustration.

Magic.

Lots to see and learn and celebrate here.

Out today.

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I received a copy from the publisher, but opinions are my own.

In

In by Nikki McClure

by Nikki McClure (Abrams, 2015)

In by Nikki McClure

This is one of those books where the cover convinces you that you’ll love it. It’s both bright and cozy. Spare and warm.

A teensy giraffe peeks out of this boy’s hiding spot and you can see its smiling face, but only eager anticipation in this boy’s eyes.

Open.

In by Nikki McClure In by Nikki McClure

This is my kind of kid. It looks like a grownup is over his shoulder, offering an open door and a pair of shoes. But he’s got a tower of bricks, a colander kingdom, and the very best pair of pajamas.

In is best.

Until out is.

In by Nikki McClure In by Nikki McClure

In by Nikki McClure

And when out is cold and wet, in you go.

In by Nikki McClure

Nikki McClure’s paper cuts are intricate and exquisite, but they are also all-embracing. Not common artwork, but a reminder of the universal comforts of childhood and play and home.

A stark black and vibrant yellow are perfect patches of color to explore these opposing wishes. They balance, they tug, and they leave enough room for us to journey with him. By day and until nightfall.

In and out.

A perfect choice to celebrate curiosity, imagination, and the way we explore our world.

Another Nikki McClure favorite is here!

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There’s This Thing

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon

 

by Connah Brecon (Philomel, 2014)

I fell hard for this book. Heart-itching, squeal-worthy, big time bulging-eyeballs-love.

The title is perfect, right? An ode to the impossibility of putting all of the teensy intricacies of a crush into words.

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon

A girl. A hunt. But she doesn’t really know how to grasp this thing.

Because it’s all . . . 

and . . .

Picture sparkles streaming out of a bottle and a warm kitty snuggle. Impossible for words. Only colorful bursts of feeling.

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon (click to enlarge)

I love her green dress/red hair combo. Strong complementary colors for a stronger girl. She says she’s not brave, but she’s doing just the opposite.

She leaves a trail of crumbs. Sets a trap. And waits.

It doesn’t work.

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon (click to enlarge)

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon (click to enlarge)

Good question, little girl. (I love that her love parade is marching down Hope Street.)

So when the rain drips down the sign and the marching band has marched on, she is sad. So sad.

I really want to share my heart but I just can’t find the right way to open it.

The thing is, she had. She did. This whole time. And that’s worth a bang-up ending. You’ll see.

Here’s a fun look at Connah and his creative process, and if you haven’t given the Let’s Get Busy podcast yet, start here.

This is a perfect thing for any Valentine of your very own.

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Just One Apple

Just One Apple by Janosch

by Janosch (NorthSouth, 2014; originally published 1965 in Switzerland as Das Apfelmänchenn.)

I love a good pen name, and Janosch has one. His real name is Horst Eckert, and he is one of Germany’s most beloved children’s book authors and illustrators. He was new to me until NorthSouth revived this classic in late 2014. I’m so glad they did.

This is Walter’s story. He was the poorest man in the entire kingdom and he only had one single apple tree. A strong and beautiful tree, a nice home for a solitary cardinal. But no fruit. No blossoms. No bending branches.

Walter wishes for an apple. Just one. And when you wish with all your might, things change.

And his wishes came true, as wishes sometimes do.

Just One Apple by Janosch

(click to enlarge)

The art is loose and fiery. Full of motion and an eery calm.

But I love how this book breathes.

A page of art, a page of text. A page of text, a page of art. The contrast between Walter’s colorful (and worrisome) world and the spare white space of the words sets a comforting rhythm to a familiar story.

And the apple grows. So Walter goes to the market.

Just One Apple by Janosch

(click to enlarge)

The very worst feeling in the whole world is when other people don’t believe in your wishes.

Walter loses interest in his apple and in his wishes and in his life.

Until the dragon comes to town.

Just One Apple by Janosch

(click to enlarge)

Here’s where the breathing hitches and the white space/art space tempo gives way to one glorious spread of Walter’s wish saving the kingdom. It’s startling and ridiculous and wonderful.

And after that, Walter was careful what he wished for.

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Wonderment: The Lisbeth Zwerger Collection

Wonderment: The Lisbeth Zwerger Collection

by Lisbeth Zwerger (NorthSouth, 2014)

Happy New Year, book people! I went dark over the holidays to rewrite a draft of a novel, one I hope to be able to tell you about soon! I missed this little patch of space on the internet, and I’m excited about some new things for this blog in the coming year. But to start us off, here’s a look at a beautiful anthology published late in 2014 by one of my favorite small publishers, NorthSouth.

Truthfully, the first I heard of Lisbeth Zwerger was in this post from Brain Pickings earlier in the year. I’d barely scrolled down and was smitten with that White Rabbit’s cuffs and collar.

Wonderment: The Lisbeth Zwerger Collection

(from E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker; click to enlarge)

This bunch represents stories from around the world, from anywhere a story for kids is revered and beloved.

There’s also a foreword by Peter Sís. He says this, which is so true and so lovely:

Her shapes and her colors are magic and inspiring. And it is so fluid. Tells so much of a story which one can only imagine.

Though not a true picture book, those words are the heart and soul of the form. And here, in these illustrated stories, you’ve probably never seen them in your heart so beautiful. It’s a fresh breath into timeless text.

Wonderment: The Lisbeth Zwerger Collection

(from Edith Nesbit’s The Deliverer’s of Their Country; click to enlarge)

Some of my favorite moments in this collection are the spot illustrations that open and close each story, anchored not by text but by the hope of some unfolding situation. The endpapers are a rich red, and the page that acts as a boundary between where one story ends and another begins is just as luxurious and saturated. The physical book is a work of art.

Wonderment: The Lisbeth Zwerger Collection (from Rudyard Kipling’s How the Camel Got His Hump; click to enlarge)

Those pages from How the Camel Got His Hump are the only places where she breaks the frame of her pictures, where she uses extra space for small works of art. Tiny snippets of story.

This is one to savor, to celebrate, and to remember. I might be a bit late to suggest her rendition of The Gift of the Magi, but it’s spectacular. Take a look.

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I Know a Lot of Things

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

by Ann and Paul Rand (Chronicle Books, 2009; originially published in 1956.)

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

You might remember how much I love this pair’s Sparkle and Spin, and this one is just as playful and just as true. That case cover surprise is an a delight, and complementary-colored endpapers start this book with a bang.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

Paul Rand’s graphic genius is so well-matched by the simple and spare words of his wife, Ann. The text and the pictures both glide through that magical reality of childhood. Things that might seem daunting to someone bested by time are small and accessible. Things that may seem obvious or forgettable are ripe for play and adventure.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

It’s a reminder to slow down, listen, and watch. The world is built of wonderful things. The big picture is as beautiful as the details.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

Here, the sentiment is the whole of this person. I’m not sure there’s an ending more perfect, not for kids or their grownups. There’s so much more to know, but what you carry with you can stay.

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Snow

Snow by Isao Sasaki

by Isao Sasaki (Viking, 1982)

Snow by Isao Sasaki

I’m not too sure if this book is still in print or not, but I snagged it at a used bookstore in Seattle once upon a long time ago. It was the best six bucks I spent in the entire city. Maybe the best six bucks ever.

This book felt familiar, and I’m sure I’ve buried some memories of reading it as a kid somewhere deep inside my book-person-soul. Opening the pages again to a story both calm and busy was also the only way to experience any snow in these parts.

And so, Snow.

Snow by Isao Sasaki Snow by Isao Sasaki Snow by Isao Sasaki

The book itself is a square. It’s the soft gray of winter skies. Each illustration is framed within a border of a lighter shade of that barely gray. Maybe it’s its 1982-ness, but it also feels like looking at a slide. Remember those?

Because of this bit of framing, this story is told in snippets like snapshots—of a day, of a season, of a bustling platform, but it also feels like we’re watching from a distance, remembering something that was so simple and sweet. Snow by Isao Sasaki

And at the same time, Snow is intimate. All of the action happens in the foreground. That’s where the train rumbles and the station agent shovels.

Once upon another long time ago I wrote about the rule of thirds, and that’s beautifully at work here.

We’re looking in from the outside, thanks to the white space, but we’re right there with them, thanks to the foreground action. It’s a balance, a push and pull, and some inviting tension in the quietest of stories.

Snow by Isao Sasaki

Only one spread has an illustration that takes up the entire page. A wide rectangle becomes a perfect track for rolling in. (Or is it out? But does it matter?) A wide rectangle becomes the perfect break in the pace of this book.

Much like the snow, falling heavier at times, lighter at others. Much like the light of the day, changing from dawn to dark.

Snow by Isao Sasaki Snow by Isao Sasaki

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The Promise

The Promise

by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin (Candlewick, 2014)

The Promise is on this year’s New York Times Best Illustrated Books list and I’m so glad it captured a spot. I imagine weeping and gnashing of teeth to pare down a year into a handful of notables, but they got this one so right.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

Here you have bleakness. Bare and raw. And a girl who doesn’t have much but the desolate things. The words themselves pierce the brightness.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

The people, too, dry and dusty.

And then.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

Some seeds and a promise and a reluctant okay.

 I pushed aside the mean and hard and ugly, and I planted, planted, planted.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

Everything works in this book. The text is exquisite. The pictures haunting and heartbreaking and hopeful. The paper is luxurious. The case cover differs from the jacket itself. Dig in. Look around. Don’t miss the endpapers that start as stone and end as spring.

There’s a little Frog Belly Rat Bone here, in this fragile world in need of color and life.

(Also, there’s a lot of great stuff about this beautiful book here, and this post is so, so lovely as well.)

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And PS! Add a comment by Wednesday, December 3rd to this post for a chance at winning all ten of those books from Chronicle. Don’t forget your pledge to #GiveBooks this year!

 

The Young Man Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

by Eric von Schmidt (Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, 1964)

Okay. It’s time for a teensy bit of name dropping. I have this cousin who is a brilliant singer and songwriter and he’s racked up a few Grammys as well. (Do you say Grammies? I don’t think so.) If you are into good, old-fashioned bluegrass and Americana, check out Jim Lauderdale. Musicians are such great storytellers, don’t you think? Sometimes I wonder if I can pack the same amount of heart and soul into a 500-word picture book that he can in a 3-minute song.

That’s partly why I was so drawn to this book, The Young Man Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn. And that was even before I realized that there were all kinds of connections to song. That title begs to be picked and strummed, right?

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

I purchased this book a while back from Elwood and Eloise on Etsy. The owner, Mallory, also runs an excellent illustration blog, My Vintage Book Collection (in blog form), which is an incredible archive of gorgeous out of print materials. Thank goodness she sells some of her collection, cause I’ve added some sparkle to my own thanks to her shop. (Also, the images in this post are courtesy of her post here.)

This is the story of Jeremy Sneeze. Where he fails as a farmer he succeeds at making children laugh. (Which is to say by wiggling his ears.) He replaces fallen birds nests and makes pictures and poems. And so, of course, the elders of his town denounce his slack and shifless ways. A town meeting. A crow. A spell is cast. A sneeze. A surprise.

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

This book’s design is reminiscent of a song. Here’s what I mean. That color—washes of analogous color in oranges and yellows and greens, those are the harmonies to the stark black’s melody. It’s steady and rhythmic like the downbeats of an upright bass. Unless they are splashed and chaotic like a mandolin’s intricacies.

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

On top of stellar bookmaking, the story itself is a sweeping epic wrapped up in the short pages of a picture book. Listen to some of its lines:

Just about then he would get to puzzling about other things like “How high is up?” or “Who plants the dandelions?” or “Where do the stars go during the day?”

And every year all Jeremy had to offer was a big weedy field filled with assorted brambles and unchopped briars, bounded by dirty broken boulders.

Flap-flap, past bats that watched with eyes like razors, past lizards, toads, and laughing spiders, down past rats and rattlesnakes and monkeys dreaming evil dreams of moons.

We have specials today on stars that dance or boiling oceans, and a bargain rate for setting mountains into motion.

He hurled himself at the brambles and flung himself at the weeds with such speed you couldn’t tell which was hoe and which was crow.

True enough he is a sorry farmer. But in his head dwell pictures and in his heart are poems.

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

The listen-ability, the meter, the storytelling grumble. It’s all here. What a gem.

P.S.—A bit of poking around online still left me slightly confused about the history of this book and the similar-ly titled song. Did the book inspire the song? Did the song know about the book? I think the song inspired the nitty-gritty backstory of the young man who wouldn’t hoe corn. I can’t really tell, so I’ll just be sitting here enjoying both. Hope you are too.

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