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!

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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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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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!

 

A Very Special House

A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins, 1953)

School’s been back in the swing of things for a couple weeks, and it has been bananas. But I’ve got this beautiful new space and some read-in-me-for-hours lounge chairs and the kids named our bright new sitting area The Birdhouse. This week: shelves and books. The heart and soul.

The Birdhouse

That’s why I needed to visit a book that is about all of those things: comfort and wonder and imagination and a very special place.

CLICK TO READ MORE

Fox’s Garden

Fox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

by Princesse Camcam (Enchanted Lion, 2014)

It’s hot in Los Angeles. Like, super really really hot. That’s why this book is an especially welcome reprieve. A book with snow in it? Please. A book with cool blues and winter scenes? Yes.

This is Fox’s Garden.

It’s a lovely little book.

CLICK TO READ MORE

Flashlight and an interview with Lizi Boyd

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

by Lizi Boyd (Chronicle Books, 2014.)

I really love Lizi Boyd’s work. It’s this perfect mix of oh, of course and oh, I never. Once upon a time I wrote about Inside Outside over on Design Mom, and I’ve been looking forward to this new book for a good while. It’s a great thing to have room for more.

And can you stop looking at that cover? I can’t. It’s beckoning, it’s comforting, it’s hurry-up-and-get-adventuring.

So I was lucky enough to have a chat with Lizi Boyd about creating books, the sound of picture books, her process, and her dogs. Thanks for welcoming your book to the world with us this way, Lizi.

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Martin Pebble

Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble (Phaidon, 2006; first published in French, 1969)

by Jean-Jacques Sempé

I love this book.

I love the type on the cover.

I love the yellow.

I love the shape and the size and the story.

I love Martin Pebble.

He’s loveable.

(I picked this up on a recent trip to Once Upon a Time in Montrose, CA, which is exactly why shopping in stores is the greatest thing. I had to touch this thing to believe it, and I might not have seen this thing if it weren’t for the bookseller. Bookstores are like story petting zoos and museums that don’t give you the stinkeye if you get too close to the art.)

(Something like that.)

But poor Martin Pebble.

Martin Pebble could have been a happy little boy, like many other children. But, sad to say . . . he had something that was rather unusual the matter with him:

he kept blushing. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble blushes for all the usual reasons and for no reason at all. The brilliance of Sempé’s color here is hard to miss. Black and white line work contains the red of Martin’s face, and that red occasionally extends to the text as well.

Subtle. Striking. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé The contrast Sempé crafts between Martin’s red face and all that black and white makes that blushing even worse.

Martin is in a pickle. He’s tiny and nearly lost on the page save for his giveaway condition.

He dreamed of fitting in. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé But he always stood out. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Then comes a series of sneezes, some very loud A T I S H O O s, and there he is.

Roddy Rackett, the new neighbor. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé When the story changes, and the hardships knock at the door, Sempé doesn’t just use the suspense of a page turn. He stops the story cold. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Roddy Rackett’s family moves away.

When you are a boy, and when you are made normal in the quirks of another, you never really forget about it. You think about A T I S H O O s while you are doing grownup things like riding taxis and elevators. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Sometimes things get back to normal. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé I won’t spoil past that pink-lettered page.

But I love it. IMG_1250 copy

And!

Sempé himself sounds like a storybook character. He sold tooth powder door-to-door salesman! Delivered wine by bicycle! (More here.)

Click here for some of Sempé’s covers for The New Yorker. Lovely.

And this Pinterest board is a feast for the eyes, too. Enjoy!

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Collect Raindrops: The Seasons Gathered

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure

by Nikki McClure

published 2014 by Abrams Books (reissue)

Every soul who has seen Nikki McClure’s art has loved it. I’m sure there are studies and statistics on that, trust me. It looks as elegant on an iPhone case as it does on a gift tag or greeting card.

But then there are books, and thank goodness she makes them. Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure This edition of Collect Raindrops has been reissued in an expanded form and a new format. It’s based on her ongoing calendar series, and begs to take up permanent residence on your coffee or bedside table. Don’t just stick it on the shelf. You’ll want this one at easy reach. It’s gorgeous to touch, to see, and to behold.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure   Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure Here, her pictures are gathered by their season, each introduced with love letters to their very time and place.

“Some people just need help to see the obvious. And that’s what artists are for.”

That sentiment comes from this short film that demystifies her process but reveals a lot of magic. She calls it corny, but I call it lovely:

breaker She says her paper cuts are like lace, and everything is connected. Before it’s in a book, can’t you picture what that art looks like held up against a light? Physically, the paper that remains envelops the paper that is gone. Like knots, or filaments, or branches. How beautiful then, that her subject is often community. Shared memories and experiences.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure The contrast is what connects us. As much story lives in what’s been carved away as what sticks behind. But by simple definition, contrast means difference, and in design, your brain is searching for dominant elements. This art contrasts light and dark, filled and white space, and in those separations paints a portrait of community.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure And then there’s the case cover itself. A web, a symbol itself of creativity and connection, binds the pages together.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure Isn’t that remarkable?

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Who Needs Donuts?

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty By Mark Alan Stamaty

Published 1973 by Dial Press, reprinted 2003 by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.

At first glance, the answer to this book’s title is pretty clear. Because, everybody. Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty But do you know this book? When I mention it to someone, I either hear about their favorite jelly donut (the one with strawberry), or they lose their sprinkles over the magnificence of this screwy tale.

The simplicity of the setup:

Sam lived with his family in a nice house.

He had a big yard and lots of friends.

But he wanted donuts, not just a few but hundreds and thousands and millions — more donuts than his mother and father could ever buy him.

Finally one day he hopped on his tricycle and rode away to a big city to look for donuts.

The scattered spectacle of the scene, a commotion in black and white. On those initial pages alone:

A bird in swim trunks

A roof-mowing man

A chimney blowing ribbons

A man in the window reading a newspaper with the headline, Person Opens Picture Book Tries to Read the Fineprint

Two donuts

And a cinematic, get-ready-for-your-close-up page turn. (Be sure to look closely in the blades of grass.) Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty There’s almost a calm in the chaos. It’s regular and rhythmic and pandemonium and patterned all at once. Perfect for a story that’s a little bit bonkers and a whole lot of comfort.

So. Then what? Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty The relative calm of Sam’s neighborhood yields to an even madder and mayhem-ier sight.

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Then Mr. Bikferd and his wagon of donuts shows up.

And a Sad Old Woman. And Pretzel Annie.

Sam continues to collect donuts. Stocks and piles of donuts. Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty A wagon breaks. A repairman helps. A love story. Abandonment.

(A fried orange vendor. A bathing zebra. Rollerskates. A Sad Old Woman.)

Who needs donuts when you’ve got love? Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty When Sam rides home, the words that began his story are on the sidewalk. I get the shivers about that.

The starts of stories are carved in concrete.

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P.S. – These pictures remind me a little of what I’m seeing for Steve Light’s new book, Have You Seen My Dragon? Check out this review where Betsy Bird notices the same, and this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, because it’s always a treat. I also think of the hours I’d spend as a kid studying each square centimeter of The Ultimate Alphabet. Like Waldo, but weirder.