The Bear and the Piano

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by David Litchfield (Clarion Books, 2016)

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I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but make sure you check the bottom of this post for the closing endpapers. A beautiful before and after of a beautiful story. And while we’re talking endpapers, check out this delightful new Instagram feed featuring notable endpapers.

Endies, right?

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So let me back up a bit. I suppose since it’s the middle-ish of July I can start boldly proclaiming what my favorites of 2016 are, right?

Well. This bear. This piano. His first fans. Paws down.

It’s a book that made me sigh and cry and open it again immediately after closing. It’s a book I photographed so I can swipe through it on my phone when I’m away from my bookshelf.

I’ve never done that before.

But I’ve never read a book like this before.

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There they are: bear and piano. A curious cub and a mysterious machine. Four seasons of growth, both in the bear’s size and his musical talent.

It’s pacing that is subtle and epic at once. One page turn and a lifetime of ambition.

And talent. And happiness.

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The piano made space for bigger dreams. The people made space in their boat. His bear friends in the forest watched him go. And the bear headed for the city, for fame and fortune, to applause and ovations.

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Except.

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Bears belong together. And friendship is more valuable than fame. It’s a homecoming with a jaw-dropper of a page turn. You’ll see.

And hear.

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This trailer features its UK cover at the end, and what a sweet look at the bear and his piano.

And for more on this stunning story, art from the book, and its inspiration from a song by The White Stripes, check out this post from Jules at Seven Impossible Things.

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Ooko

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by Esmé Shapiro (Tundra Books, 2016 [out today!])

One of the best things about being in so many overlapping circles of the kids’ book community is that I often get a look at a book early. And this is one that has caused me to watch the calendar day after day after day after day to make sure I don’t miss telling the rest of the world when it’s ready. And people, it’s ready.

Meet Ooko.

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Oh, how his face changes from happy to hope. Hope mixed up with some sadness, that is. Look how he’s got a fierce grip on those things he loves–his stick, his leaf, his rock. But look at where his eyes land–on happy hedgehogs, two by two.

While that might be the look of despair, let’s not forget his fierce grip. Ooko goes friend-hunting.

There’s a hole, a tree, and a moose. But no friends.

Until:

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A page prior, Ooko spotted this Debbie playing with a funny-looking fox. The kind of fox you might have at home. The kind that starts as a puppy.

But then again, Ooko is the kind of fox that looked for a friend under a moose, and Ooko is stumped.

But then again again, Ooko is resolute. Adamant. Single-minded. Debbie-minded.

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Debbie-minded enough to stick cotton candy on her head. Easy-peasy.

And it’s dear and sweet and heartbreaking to watch Ooko try so hard. And then, thanks to some smeared or shattered glasses, Ooko turns into Ruthie. A funny-looking fox, fit for a Debbie.

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(Side note: best leg hair in a picture book this year? Or ever? Not to mention that sock bun.)

It doesn’t take Ooko long to get completely over this Debbie’s games.

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This picture–OOOF. Right? Prim and proper and blow-dried and dressed up and despite wanting to be loved, this was not the kind he was looking for. According to the hairy-legged-lady’s gallery wall, Ruthie was all of those things that a fox is not.

And isn’t that the best news?

Because maybe, maybe, when you hightail it from the house that fits you wrong, you run into someone on the outside. Someone who likes sticks. Someone who wants to play.

Oh my crickets, this book. Be a Debbie and track it down, will you?

For more Ooko fun, click here for an Ooko Storytime Kit.

And don’t miss the grunts and squeals of our hero in his very own book trailer.

For friends who took a while. For Debbies who turn out to not be.

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Thank you to Tundra Books for the images in this post. Be sure to click to enlarge!

Life Without Nico

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by Andrea Maturana, illustrated by Francisco Javier Olea (Kids Can Press, 2016)

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If you’ve ever had a very best friend, this scene sums it all up. Looking away from each other, but always to one another. Navigating a trip to the stars.

Until a different trip steamrolls in.

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If a moment can be simultaneously sweet and bitter, this is the very time. These kids who want the whole world, now separated by it.

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And then what creeps in is the hole where Nico once was. It’s in the faraway sky that she can’t quite reach. It covers her heart even though all you see on her shirt is a star. And it’s in the way of making a new friend.

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Except, it’s not really. Because the hole someone leaves when they are left behind is sometimes space to let someone new in. And it doesn’t mean that the hole is gone. It just scoots over a chair.

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This tale is a look at love and loss and love again in a way that never lessens that hole. An important thing for both kids and those of us that are a little older.

A keeper. A whole world in a book.

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Thank you to Kids Can Press for the images in this post. Click them to enlarge, the tiny details are worth a closer look.

Little Red

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by Bethan Woollvin (Peachtree Publishers, 2016)

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Okay.

So this book. Have you seen it? There’s a familiar story at its heart, but this one takes that soul and stretches it into something so subverted, so surprising, and so darn wonderful.

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Let’s just start with a bang. Those undies! Fierce. Be careful with this one.

And then some story sneaks onto the endpapers: a vulnerable girl and a sly wolf. You think you know this one. You might be wrong.

This illustration on the title page is one of my favorites in the whole book. Look at her tongue! That determination. Those boots! An open door. Let’s go.

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Wolves, of course, are big and bad and scary.

“Which might have scared some little girls. But not this little girl.”

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Little Red isn’t like most little girls. Remember that tongue? She is fierce and unflappable and completely in charge.

And couldn’t we have guessed that from those eyes on the cover, cutting and cunning? Or maybe from the hot red that identifies her through the pages?

She is a heroine with some real bite.

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Well. I can’t turn the next page for you. Trust me, (she says, with wide-wolf-eyes) you’ll want to.

If my word for it isn’t enough, check out this post from my dear pal Danielle at This Picture Book Life. (Safety in numbers, you know. Especially if there’s a wolf and a Little Red on the prowl.)

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Grandad’s Island

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by Benji Davies (first published in the US by Candlewick, 2016)

This is a book about a boy named Syd. And if you go through the backyard and past the knotty tree, this is a book about Syd’s Grandad.

He’s a Grandad who has a big metal door in the corner of his attic. A metal door that leads to the deck of a very tall ship. A ship that steers on choppy seas to an island. An island where Grandad leaves his walking stick behind.

That’s the thing with this book. We see the heartache coming. We feel the loss inevitable. And yet, even if you experience this story fresh in life, far from loss—it’s still a lovely sentiment about the way we carry people in our hearts.

It’s beautiful.

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These two—white hair under a smile, red hair curled on top—read like the bookends of a life well lived and well loved. I love this small but might design detail in these characters. Very subtly but with a sophisticated sleight of hand, Benji Davies gives us a life cycle.

A legacy.

A now and then and now again.

It’s sweeping in scope, and something Benji Davies does so well is frame his pictures to match. Full bleed illustrations are few and far between, but the scenes he chooses to extend to the pages’ edges are the ones that need the most room to hold their riches.

It’s their home, their shared backyard.

It’s the ship, docked and hopeful.

It’s the island, ready and waiting.

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It’s the wonders of it all.

It’s the goodbye.

It’s a hello.

Check it out. You’ll see what I mean.

And like any Candlewick book, it’s printed on gloriously heavy paper and pages that smell like the best kind of story. Always.

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GRANDAD’S ISLAND. Copyright (c) 2015 by Benji Davies. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Be Glad Your Dad…(Is Not an Octopus!) + An Interview with Sara Jensen

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by Matthew Logelin and Sara Jensen; illustrated by Jared Chapman (Little, Brown, 2016)

Once upon a time, I started this blog. It worked fine and looked nice until it didn’t anymore, and that’s when a superhero named Sara Jensen came to the rescue of this damsel in distress. She’s the genius behind the Book Party (seriously, click it), has the most heart-able Instagram feed out there, and is an extraordinary human with a huge, huge heart.

And then she told me she also wrote a book for kids.

I’ve been looking forward to it ever since.

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Dads. Endearing and embarrassing. Equal parts hilarious and heartfelt, which is exactly what this book is all about.

So while most of the time you’re glad your dad is your dad, let’s not forget there are times when he is a grouch and a grump and a total groaner. But even then, at least he’s not a dog who’d lick your face to say hello.

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The text is sharp and funny and allows for scene after outlandish scene to unfold. Each spread is an entire act by itself–vignettes set with understated props that balance the highly expressive characters. All of this action is wham-bammed in front of a brightly lit backdrop, perfectly setting the scene.

This kid’s hopes for a cool dad, melted away with the drips of that cone itself. Can’t you see it in both of their eyes?

Like we said. Dads.

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And at the end, a closer look at these oddball animals and the facts that make them everything you’re glad your dad is not. Pick up this one along with Pink is for Blobfish, and you’re set for a storytime celebrating all of your favorite wonderful, weirdo animals.

Fun, right?

I asked Sara a little more about this book, and I’m so happy to welcome her out from behind the scenes of this blog. Meet Sara Jensen, friends!

CH: How did this book happen?

SJ: It’s funny, I have never ever thought of myself as a writer and I am not sure I even do now. This book was written with my good friend Matt Logelin, who had previously published a memoir called Two Kisses For Maddy. From the moment Matt and I met, we realized that we for sure had the same style of parenting/talking to our children. We also for sure had some cocktails involved.

Late at night at a bar in my small island town we talked about how our kids didn’t think that we were very cool. I am the QUEEN of the “would you rather game”, where you force somebody to make a choice between two awful things. We started thinking about a G-rated version of it, where we’d ask our kids if they’d rather have us as parents or some kind of obnoxious animal. The ideas came fast and furious after that until we’d filled up dozens of notecards.

It helped that Matt had written a grownup book before too. We also had amazing editors at Little, Brown who helped us every step of the way.

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CH: Do you have plans to write more books for kids?

SJ: I’d love to write another children’s book with Matt. Matt and I have such an easy time bouncing ideas off of each other. We think in the same way enough to make it pleasurable but are also different enough to give each other a hard time. We both love our kids so much and are so inspired by them.

I’m just now realizing that all three of our kids have lived through very intense early lives: Maddy with the loss of her mother the day after she was born, Rose being adopted from foster care, and Henry with an early diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. Despite all of this they have tremendous hearts, are super sharp, and are so insanely hilarious. Way cooler than Matt and I will ever be and they are only 8 years old.

CH: What did you and Matthew think when you first saw Jared’s illustrations?

SJ: Oh, it took a while to find the right illustrator. We saw a lot of work by so many talented people. The moment we saw Jared’s work we both got so excited. I think that we tried to be kind of cool about it, but Im pretty sure my reply had several exclamation marks and that Matt’s voice cracked he was so happy. Jared is so funny and had a big beard, which Matt and I both value a lot. I’m working on my beard right now, I feel a little left out. Illustration is SO critical to making or breaking a book. We are so thankful for Jared. Jared has been sharing his concept sketches of BGYD on his Instagram, its so amazing to see the process.

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CH: What books are your kids loving right now? And related: what book do you remember the best from growing up? And is it still something you think about now?

SJ: Currently Henry is reading the Edible Selby, Serengeti (a book about Africa), some fish guide about reef fish that a professor of Marine Biology lent him when we went to their house for dinner. His favorite baby books were New Socks (he would CRY to make read that book over and over) and The Little Island.

Rose is currently reading Wonder, Sisters Grimm, and Harriet the Spy. Her favorite younger book (we met Rose when she was 3) is Rosie Revere, Engineer.

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CH: What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

SJ: We have a lot of old artwork in our house. Lots of photographs, old French cartoons that had been my grandfather’s. I also love American and Mexican retablos. I love buying weird little paintings off of people on the street. We have a tiny nude that is in our bathroom, I can’t really explain why I love it, I just do.

I also have this piece that Rosie made of Henry sitting on the toilet. She had worked on a “kindness quilt” at school, each child had to illustrate an act of kindness they had showed another person.

When I walked by it in the hallway at school I laughed so hard. It was her brother sitting on the toilet, and it said “I Pote trand my brother when i was littl.” I potty trained my brother when I was little. It’s so funny to me still, and totally true. They are two months apart and she got him out of diapers within a week of moving in with us. She is amazing.

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CH: What else should we know about you?

SJ: I am a very involved in the Type 1 diabetes community as a result of my son’s diagnosis at age 5. I am the creative director and a council member of Beyond Type 1, a nonprofit that works to raise awareness and fund an eventual cure.

I am also the creative director for interior designer and TV host Genevieve Gorder. She is so great to work with and so supportive of my outside interests, I’m so lucky to know her.

I am working on a side project in honor of Rose too, it will have to do with foster care and she and I are still working on the specifics.

CH: What sort of story influences do you have as a designer?

SJ: Even thought I insist I am not a writer I have always been a storyteller. Both of my parents were. I also love the idea of being able to tell a story with only pictures, letting the reader realize the words, and the idea of having a story just written and having the reader think of the imagery.

I have a major problem with seeing movies based on books. I’m always worried that they won’t honor the parts of the book that were so important to me.

Because my husband is a graphic novelist I have grown to really like some of them, I wouldn’t say that I am a fan but I loved the Buddha series by Osamu Tezuka and recently a heartbreaking book called Rosalie Lightning written by our friend Tom Hart about the loss of his child.

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Thank you, Sara! (She’s pretty great, right?)
Be sure to pick up Be Glad Your Dad…(Is Not an Octopus!) which is out today!
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A Morning With Grandpa

by Sylvia Liu and Christina Forshay (Lee & Low, 2016)

Here’s a book I have been looking forward to for a long time, thanks to the close knit and dear friendships the book community creates online. It has been such fun to sneak peeks behind the scenes of both Sylvia and Christina’s work, and I am so happy to have them both on the blog today.

Christina’s color palette of dreamy pastels in the ground and sky meets the brightly hued flowers in the same way that Sylvia’s calm and serene Grandpa meets the bouncy energy of Mei Mei herself. The text and the art is gently and joyously matched, and it’s a beautiful story that spans generations and their peaceful mornings.

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First up, some questions for Sylvia:

Tell us a little about the story behind A MORNING WITH GRANDPA. Where did the idea come from and how did it evolve?

I got the idea when I was in Vermont on a family vacation watching my dad do qi gong and tai chi and teaching my daughters breathing techniques.

In my first draft, Gong Gong taught Mei Mei qi gong and tai chi, and she taught him how to make lemonade. My critique group gave me some great suggestions. Elaine Kiely Kearns suggested that Mei Mei teach him yoga instead. Reneé LaTulippe encouraged me to develop the lyrical language. I also got a professional critique from an agent through a Writer’s Digest course, and she suggested omitting the qi gong part to streamline the story.

After the story was accepted by Lee & Low, my editor Jessica Echeverría and I polished the manuscript for several months. We swapped out different poses, word-smithed every line, and went through about eleven drafts.

How does it feel to see your words gain another life with pictures?

I am humbled that Christina spent so much time bringing the story to life so beautifully. Before I saw her illustrations, I imagined the story could be illustrated in any number of ways, from a soft watercolor look to a bright, lively style. I’m so glad Lee & Low picked Christina, who really captured the essence of the story. Now I can’t imagine the story any other way. I am thrilled and in love with the pictures.

Who are some of your story heroes?

Those who do that magical thing with words and images that transport me to a different place like Shaun Tan (THE LOST THING, RULES OF SUMMER, and THE ARRIVAL are favorites), Neil Gaiman (SANDMAN series), and Diana Wynne Jones (HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE). Those who teach me something I didn’t know in a surprising visual way like Gene Luen Yang (BOXERS & SAINTS) and Max Brooks/Canaan White (THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS).

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And next up, Christina:

One thing that’s so interesting about your illustrations is their dynamic compositions. Can you talk a little about that and if you have any influences in film or TV? 

Yes, film and tv have a huge influence on me and my work! I’ve always been interested in how lighting, camera angle and staging creates drama and intrigue in a composition. As I got into high school, I took a film class and learned about how the composition of a scene can be symbolic and help evoke emotion in the viewer. I actually wrote a super long 15 page paper on the symbolism and drama Steven Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski created in Schindler’s List. I was super into it!

Then in college while studying illustration, I took more film classes and a few storyboarding classes where I really learned about and practiced the art of composing dramatic scenes for television and film. I try to infuse what I learned in those classes in my illustrations as well.

What were your initial ideas for the art after you read the text, and how much did they evolve over the course of making the book?

When I read the manuscript for the first time, I remember being excited about Mei Mei’s spunky character. I knew she was going to be the driving force for keeping the compositions active. I had to figure out a way to balance her energetic spirit with Gong Gong’s calm and tranquil personality. I think one of the main themes of the story is how opposing energies can be symbiotic, so I knew I had to create scenes that showed the strengths of each of their personalities and how they mesh together.

When I was in the final stages of the art, I noticed most spreads actually stayed pretty similar to the initial sketches I turned in. There was a lot of refining of the look of characters over the course of the book, but in terms of staging and composition, the final art stayed very close to my original ideas. You can compare these images to see how the original small-scale thumbnail sketch evolved into the final art.

The very first thumbnail sketch (about 1″x 2″)  I turned in for one of the spreads along with the final image.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

My story heroes come from all forms of art: from music to art to writing. Bruce Springsteen is one of my favorite storytellers. All of his songs are stories and always contain a cast of characters. Also Brad Bird is an amazing storyteller. He wrote a short animation called “The Family Dog” which blew my mind when I was 10. It still blows my mind actually! From the kidlit world, there are so many storytellers whose work I admire: Jon Klassen, Adam Rex, Lizbeth Zwerger, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Jon Scieszka are a few from my long list of heroes. I am constantly looking for inspiration in new places!

A big thank you to Sylvia and Christina!

For more about this beautiful book and its creators, be sure to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour. You can find all of the celebration here. cs

Sylvia Liu is an environmental lawyer turned children’s author and illustrator. A MORNING WITH GRANDPA is her debut picture book as an author. She is inspired by oceans, aliens, cephalopods, and more. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband and their two daughters. Visit her online at enjoyingplanetearth.com.

Christina Forshay was born and raised in sunny California, where she lives with her amazing husband and the two cutest kids in the world! Of course, as a child she could be found drawing, coloring, and admiring her grand collection of crayons. Christina graduated from California State University Long Beach with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration in 2002. Since then, she has been proudly working as an illustrator for the children’s market. Seriously, what could be more fun?!?

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The Bus Ride

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by Marianne Dubuc (Kids Can Press, 2015)

This delightful, mind-stretchy book is by the creator of one of my 2014 favorites, The Lion and the Bird. Remember that one?

And this book has been out for over a year, but it’s taken a while to wrap my brain around its brilliance.

It’s a little bit sweet and a little bit surreal.

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There’s our girl, a little Red of sorts. Waiting at the bus stop with her basket, on her way to visit her grandmother. Of course. And the book itself, a trim size perfect for a bus ride. A long stage for the passengers to be the stars of this show.

And red endpapers, of course.

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What’s so interesting (and challenging!) about this book is that the scene never changes. The bus stops and starts and new characters come and go, but the bus itself is the same.

Well that, and this sloth.

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This cat lady knits a scarf, a red one, that gets a teensy bit longer as the journey continues. That turtle hangs his head in boredom and the sloth sleeps.

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And on the wheels go, through a forest seen right through the windows.

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The turtle gets spooked by the tiny mole baby, and the sloth still sleeps.

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And when the bus goes into a tunnel, there’s a rumble-jumble on the bus. (According to the paper’s headline, which is a treat for any reader’s eagle eyes.) It’s a rumble-jumble that invites a prowler inside and bumps the sloth to another shoulder to sleep on.

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After the darkness, a pickpocketer. A big box. A sloth hug. A stop.

A grandma’s house.

This is a story about courage, everyday kindnesses, and adventures that are as simple as sharing shortbread cookies. I could get on that bus, couldn’t you?

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A Tree is Nice

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by Janice May Udry and pictures by Marc Simont (HarperCollins, 1987, originally published in 1956)

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I’ve always loved this girl. Hand on her hop, watering her tree. She’s totally oblivious to the rapscallions behind her, that dog and that cat. And even that tall tree back there. Her eyes hope only for this one.

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Do you see him there? The kid in the tshirt, looking up? Surely this text matches his thoughts exactly.

And what HarperCollins did here with the height of this book will not be lost on its readers. Long and tall and high, plenty of room for looking up. Plenty of height from which to hang dreams. Staircases of branches for swinging.

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And the pages. A swishing kind of breeze between the black and white spreads and the ones painted in color. A sleight of hand out in the open that slows you down to think. To remember. To watch.

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Your tree might be different than my tree. You might need it for a nap and I might need it for a climb. But we probably have the same wishes.

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A while back I wrote a piece for Marcie Flinchum Atkins’s blog, and if I’d had infinite time and space, this book would have been there too. This book planted a story seed of the best kind.

Dig a big hole. Plant your tree. Don’t forget the watering can.

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Apples and Robins

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by Lucie Félix (Chronicle Books, 2016)

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Here’s a book that is also a puzzle, an optical illusion, and a little bit toy-like all at once. Here’s what I mean.

So, then, a birdhouse: one small circle, two parallelograms, and a die-cut triangle.

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Or walls and a roof and a string, of course. Isn’t that what shapes are? Real, living, breathing things?

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But then wind blows and the sky rumbles, and . . .

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This book isn’t only clever cuts and shapes transforming into magic. It’s also a gentle arc of a pulsing spring. An apple, a reach, a bite, a worm.

A robin, a song, a home, a storm.

A mess, a basket, a watch, a wait.

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A winter, a spring.

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