Pink is for Blobfish

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by Jess Keating, illustrated by David Degrand (Knopf, 2016)

I mean, just look at that guy. How could you not love him? I do. I do, I do.

Making picture books means collaborating with the whispers of someone else’s art. And now that this particular book is off the printer and into the hands of readers, I got to eavesdrop on this conversation between Blobfish’s author and illustrator.

To Jess! And David!

JK: Hey guys! Hey Carter!

I’ve been really blown away by all of the love for my new book, Pink is for Blobfish! Working on this book was an incredible experience, and it’s so wonderful to see it reach the hands of young readers—thank you so much!

Today, I wanted you to meet one of the shining stars behind Blobfish! When I was writing this book, I couldn’t stop picturing what sort of illustration would accompany my (often bizarre) text. When my editor sent me David DeGrand’s take on our creatures, I was so thrilled! His work is hilarious, quirky, and a perfect match for the series. I’m jealous of his talent!

To celebrate David and his awesome work on this book, we got together for a virtual chat! I hope you enjoy it, and check him out online too! Without any adieu whatsoever, here we go!

Starting with a trip down memory lane, what inspired you to get into art and illustration?

DD: I started drawing cartoony illustrations and comic strips after my fifth grade art teacher assigned us to write and draw our own comic strip. I instantly fell in love with the process and so I kept writing and drawing my own comic strip that I would show my family and friends. It became on obsession and eventually a career, which I’m very fortunate for!

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JK: As a writer who is completely jealous of illustrators, I’d love to know more about your process. Can you take me through it? What happens after a manuscript like Pink is for Blobfish is sent your way?

DD: All illustration projects are a little bit different, so the process varies according to what the project entails. When I got the manuscript for Pink is for Blobfish, the first thing I did was look up as many reference photos as I could find for the different animals. I then started sketching different designs for each animal to try and find the funniest and silliest way to represent that animal in the book. It was a ton of fun!

JK: You get to pick one artist in history (alive or dead!) and have coffee with them. Who would you choose?

DD: This is really tough, but if I had to pick just one artist I would love to sit down and talk with Ed Emberley. His simple art instruction books were a big part of my childhood, so his influence has been with me as long as I can remember. But more importantly, I really admire and respect his point of view that drawing and creating should be accessible to everyone and that it shouldn’t be intimidating. He made it easy and fun for anyone to pick up a pencil and create a picture, regardless of your artistic background, and that’s something I have always admired and learned from.

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JK: A must-ask for all the kidlit writers reading this: what was your favorite children’s book growing up?

DD: Hands down it was Where the Wild Things Are, I must have read it every night for years. It started my obsession with monsters and all things strange and bizarre!

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JK: Killer journalism time: do you have any favorite snacks to munch on while you’re working? (I’m partial to popcorn.)

DD: I almost always have a bag of either almonds or pistachios on my drawing desk to munch on. I like to try and snack guilt free!

JK: Okay, time to share some DeGrand wisdom. Say a budding illustrator is reading this. What are the one or two best pieces of illustration advice that you would give them?

DD: The best advice I can give to someone wanting to be an illustrator is to simply draw what makes you happy. Sometimes I think artists can get caught up in trying to keep up with a popular artistic trend thinking that will help them in the business, but that’s not really being true to yourself. I think all artists should simply have fun with the creative process and by doing that your unique voice will always come through. When you’re enjoying what you’re creating, that joy will shine through and your art will find an audience.

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JK: You’re stranded on a deserted island. Which three books do you bring with you?

DD: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey, and Robert Ebert’s Book of Film by Roger Ebert (I’m a huge movie geek!).

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JK: Lastly, when I was researching you online, I came across this photo. Readers need to know: what exactly is going on here and did you win the Showcase Showdown or what?

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DD: Oh yes, the moment I was almost famous! Here’s the story: I occasionally contribute cartoons and comics to the one and only MAD Magazine. One of the cartoons I did was a parody of The Price is Right. Drew Carey saw the cartoon and enjoyed it enough that he bought the original art from me! If that wasn’t enough, the producer for The Price is Right invited my wife and I out to LA and gave us a backstage tour and let us sit in the audience for a taping of the show. Right after the show I was able to meet Drew Carey very briefly and get the picture taken with him. It was all very surreal and amazing, to say the least!

Thank you so much, David! And a huge hug to you, Carter, for hosting us! We love ya!

(Anytime, pals. Blobfish friends are forever!)

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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!

 

Beyond the Pond + an interview with Joseph Kuefler

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by Joseph Kuefler (Balzer + Bray, 2015)

Settle in for snippets of story so goosebumpy you’ll think the pages just paper-sliced your soul in two. It is an honor to introduce you to Joseph Kuefler and his gorgeous debut, Beyond the Pond. I love every single word he’s spilled out to us here.

Enjoy!

Can you talk about where this book came from? 

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My dearest childhood friend lived across the street from a picturesque pond — one of those charming bodies of water with just the right mix of long grass, cattails and critters. Early mornings almost always found its surface blanketed in a magical fog. In winter months, we would skate on its surface. That pond filled me with such wonder as a boy.

So many years later, the wonder of ponds came back to me when I found myself telling my son, Jonah, stories each morning as I drove him to school. Our route took us past a smaller but no-less-magical pond, sandwiched between a row of houses, almost as if it was forced there, like it didn’t belong. We both imagined what fantastical creatures lived beneath its surface. And so, an idea for a picture book was born.

In hindsight, I absolutely see the connection between these moments of inspiration in my life.

And what was your process like for creating it? How did you turn an idea for a story into a completed picture book?

One advantage of being an author/illustrator is that my words and images can reveal themselves together. I begin with a loose story skeleton and single completed illustration that captures the atmosphere of the book. Small thumbnails get created as I’m improving and iterating on the story. Sometimes a posture or scene in my thumbnails will inspire a change to the text, sometimes it’s the other way around. Once the story is tight, I return to my thumbnails and create much tighter pencils, focusing more on composition and type placement.

Joseph-Kuefler-Cover-Sketch Joseph-Kuefler-Panel-Sketch Joseph-Kuefler-Thumbnails When it comes to final art, I work digitally, more out of necessity than choice. At the moment, picture books aren’t my day job, so I need to work from anywhere and everywhere. I was traveling a lot for work in the early stages of illustrating POND. Much of the book was illustrated from airplane seats and hotel rooms, cramped rides on bus benches and stolen moments in the office.

As someone formally trained at art school, I long for the day I can rely solely on traditional materials. In some ways I still feel like I need to apologize for using a computer, which is silly, I suppose, because digital doesn’t save me time and is no less difficult. The only thing it affords me is more mobility and greater access to my creative process.

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I read on your website all about Hum, and I’m so interested in that. Not so much as a musician myself, but because I think picture books function the same way a song does, as a complete and full narrative that can transcend that small space. What do you think?

I love this question because I absolutely agree. Prior to moving into my career as a creative director, I spent years working as a serious musician playing in an indie rock band. Songwriting and record producing is core to who I am and informs so much of all of my creative processes, both personal and professional.

Writing a great song begins with two questions: What do I want them to know? And how do I want them to feel? Nostalgia? Fear? Melancholy? Vulnerability? Defining the emotional arch predetermines so much about your palette—key, tuning, scale, effects, chord progressions, even mixing decisions. Once that’s defined, you need to reduce all of it, your whole vision, into between three and five minutes of music. It’s such a challenge.

This is true of great books. The books we love tell us a story, but they also tell us feeling. They teach us, adults and children alike, what it feels like to experience something, and they do it in 32 pages, give or take. A songwriter has chords. A picture book maker has paints and pencils. A songwriter has a small collection of seconds or minutes. A picture book maker has pages. Both artists curate their palettes to breathe the right mix of mood into whatever it is they are making.

More than any other mediums I’ve explored, children’s books and songs are the most related.

Like you suggest, great songs and picture books transcend their small spaces. They live on in your mind and heart and come to mean or represent so much more long after the final chord has rung and last page has turned.

Reviews have called this debut reminiscient of Maurice Sendak, Jon Klassen, and Wes Anderson, all huge story heroes. Who are your own story heroes?

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I know this is a picture book blog, but my greatest passion is cinema. I love movies and have my whole life. My dad encouraged me to explore the classics, with a particular emphasis on the defining films of the 60s and 70s. Many of my story heroes are filmmakers. I am a huge fan of Jean-Pierre Melville because he found a way to steal the best parts of Hitchcock and blend it with that kind cool only the French possess.

As a child, I loved Spielberg and the wonderful films Amblin would produce because they seemed to understand children in a way few other films did. I do love Wes Anderson for his vision and wit but also for the expert way he handles melancholy. When I begin a new picture book, I typically dive into the films that I feel share a similar atmosphere or message. It’s intentionally obvious I’ve included a few homages to Anderson’s films and style in POND—I wanted to thank him for inspiring me, and I wanted to give moms and dads something of their own to discover within the book.

Animation is also a huge source of inspiration for me. Words can’t describe how much Miyazaki inspires me. His films are somehow massive in scope and incredibly intimate and personal.

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I can’t say that I have any specific story heroes in the picture book space. I love the Steads and Klassen and Jeffers and all of the other usual suspects, but I don’t look to picture books to inform my own work as much as I do film or literature, even photography. I’m not trying to suggest that other picture books don’t influence my work—they most certainly do. They’re just not my primary source and I typically look to them much later in the process to help me work through a very specific problem.

I would, however, be remiss if I didn’t mention JK Rowling. Sometimes I close my eyes and hope that when I open them I will have somehow grown a scar on my forehead and transformed into Harry Potter. Rowling succeeded in revealing a hidden magic in our own world, something tucked away just around the bend, something you hadn’t realized was there all along. I love that so much about those books. Turning a pond into a portal seemed to transform the everyday and reveal a hidden magic in a similar way.

Can you tell us a little about the trailer for Beyond the Pond and how you created it? It’s such a perfect piece, and I always think trailers that feel like short films are some of the best!

Thank you for the compliments. I am a creative director who has spent many years in the branding and marketing industries working for clients we all know and love. Making films and telling their stories is a skill I’ve developed over time. When I began considering my own trailer, I knew it needed to feel a little more like a movie trailer than a “book” trailer. It was the only way I felt I could capture the spirit and scope of the book in such a short period of time.

Some are surprised to learn that the voice actor is me. The trailer simply HAD to be narrated by an old, English gentleman because, well, old, English gentlemen are the most magical of men. I didn’t have any on hand, so I put on my Dumbledore hat and effected one.

I love animating. It’s something I don’t get to do as often now, but I was thrilled to be able to dig back into After Effects for this little piece and am pretty happy with how it turned out, all things considered.

What do you remember about picture books from your childhood?

I remember my school library and, Ms. Geese, the world’s crabbiest librarian (if you’re reading this, Ms. Geese, I’m sorry, but you really were frightening). She demanded that we extract library books from the shelves with such expert precision you’d think they were Fabergé eggs. But since we were all so afraid of her, we would hide away in corners with our books. In some ways, her terror forced us to have a more intimate relationship with our books, and for that I am grateful.

I remember the pictures and wishing I could draw like those artists. Like all boys, I was so in love with WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. I would try to replicate the wild things over and over and wondered how in the world anyone could ever draw like that. All these years later, I am still left wondering.

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

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I have two favorite walls in my home. One is a quiet corner of my house filled with family photos and texture studies I made over this last year. The family photos feature some of our favorite memories and experiences. It’s something we will continue to grow and add on to over the years.

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The second is a Banksy print hanging in my dining room. It’s big and bold and probably doesn’t belong in a space where people are meant to enjoy meals, but I like that about it.

What’s next for you?

A nap. Honestly. Between my day job, working to support POND’s release, welcoming our third child, Augustine, into the world four months ago, and breathing life into a new picture book, this year has been full, so incredibly, exhaustingly full. But it’s been a good kind of full.

Alessandra Balzer and Balzer + Bray were kind enough to buy two more books from me immediately after we finished POND. By the time this feature runs on your blog, I will have just completed final art for my next book. Then, it will be onto the third. I’m also developing a middle grade book and young reader series.

Beyond that, what’s next is experiencing what it feels like to release my very own picture book into the world. This whole thing continues to be so surreal. One of my lifelong dreams is in a state of becoming, and I couldn’t be happier.

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That story about Ms. Geese is one of the greatest library stories I’ve ever heard! Joseph, thanks for the music and the glimpse at the pond and beyond it all.

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A big thank you to Joseph Kuefler for the images in this post.

Edmund Unravels

Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb

by Andrew Kolb (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin, 2015)

A book cover nodding to old travel postcards feels like a good place to end up, right? Also, study that thing closely as you read, because I’m pretty sure you’ll find each of those locations in the letters inside the book.

There’s a moment in this book where Edmund’s parents reel him in and roll him up, and I relate so much to this right now. I’m about to bounce over to the other coast, from vacation and back to school, and I feel like my tangles are going to take a lot of reeling and rolling.

But like this book says, the end is actually a beginning, and like Edmund, I’ll try my best to keep it together.

This little ball of joy, Edmund, is yarn. And when Edmund grow bigger, he can sally forth to farther spots.

(click any images in this post to see them larger.)

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This book’s shape is expertly constructed in order to explore what happens when the edge of Edmund is far from where his heart is, and a rectangle is perfect to fit so much of that journey. Note all the horizontal lines and the compositions that highlight that stretch.

And the shapes within that shape are simple, but tell such story. The cats are particular favorites of mine, how the slightest line adjustment for eyebrows soaks story into those black circles. Do you see?

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A tomato pincushion! A bust! An unfolded map and some modern art, all made up of shapes.

This book is bouncy and cheery and playful and brave, but it’s tender and bittersweet too. There are two sides to adventures: the one who leaves and the one who’s left behind.

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Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb And here, even the endpapers make us feel that. On my first read, I thought, “Oh, Edmund is heading into this book, into the pictures.” And at the end, he’s going back towards the book, back towards his travels. Perhaps this is what the team behind this story intended, but isn’t it also about going forward and returning home? There’s something especially beautiful here about the tug of home pulling you back.

Heading off to college soon? Get this for your parents. They might unravel a little at the sight of it.

This is Andrew Kolb’s first picture book. I hope he makes more.

PS: Speaking of yarn, have you heard about The Yarn, a new podcast from Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp? They are in the middle of an 8-episode season right now, investigating Sunny Side Up from the many hands who made it possible. Check it out!

And thanks to Penguin and Andrew Kolb for the images in this post!

Rabbityness

Rabbityness by Jo Empson

by Jo Empson (Child’s Play, 2012)

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

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

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

And the beautiful. And the wild and the wonderful.

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

Desperately.

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

“All that Rabbit had left was a hole.”

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

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And the color returns.

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

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Blog Tour: The Water and the Wild

The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee

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

From the publisher:

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

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

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

K. E. Ormsbee

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

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

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

New Kemble – York, England

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

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

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Iris Gate – The Biltmore Estate

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

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

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Wisp Territory – Springtime in my childhood neighborhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book-O-Beards: A Wearable Book

Book-O-Beards by Donald Lemke and Bob Lentz by Donald Lemke and Bob Lentz

Guys. So if book-gifting isn’t a thing for April Fool’s Day, then it totally should be. These books aren’t a joke, but they are a huge bunch of laughs.

Here they are in action:

How funny is that? Such clever design. A perfect accessory.

Book-O-Beards by Donald Lemke and Bob Lentz

Hipster popularity aside, these punchy beards provide a secret identity for the preschool set. It’s dress up meets poetry meets a barrel of laughs.

And these guys don’t stop there! Beards have some series teammates in Book-O-Hats, Book-O-Teeth, and Book-O-Masks. Book-O-Beards by Donald Lemke and Bob Lentz Book-O-Beards by Donald Lemke and Bob Lentz

 

Sure to spice up story time!

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The Art of Making Gelato

The Art of Making Gelato by Morgan Morano by Morgan Morano (Race Point Publishing, 2015)

And now for a little something different. And delicious.

Last week we spent a bit of time in Paris, so won’t you join me in Italy? It’s only a hop, skip, and a spoon away.

I’m not the only author in this family. Our cousin Morgan is a superstar in the gelato world, and her debut book holds all of her sweet secrets. She’s a traditionalist. A purist. An artist.

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Forbes called her gelato the best in America, so you don’t just have to take my word for it.

Take a look.

The Art of Making Gelato by Morgan Morano The Art of Making Gelato by Morgan Morano

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Morgan’s expertise and love of this art form are fingerprinted here. And for someone who just learned how to make pancakes (me!), she’s an encouraging teacher.

And it’s beautiful. Hard not to make such a confection look so lovely, but the attention to composition and warmth in these pictures is a real treat.

The Art of Making Gelato by Morgan Morano The Art of Making Gelato by Morgan Morano (click to enlarge)

We’ve been pushing the mid-90s here in southern California, but for those of you still under winter’s freeze, the thaw is coming. And it looks delicious.

You can pre-order The Art of Making Gelato here or here.

And why not pair it with Olivia Goes to Venice? Or grab one of M. Sasek’s sharp and simple classics This is Rome or This is Venice.

That’s some tasty reading!

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PS: Thanks for all of the Cat Says Meow support! Congrats to our giveaway winner, Clark Haaland!

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

by Greg Pizzoli (Viking, 2015)

I’ve read lots and lots and lots of books for kids. I’ve read lots of questionable ones and I’ve read lots of spectacular ones. And then I’ve read a handful that are simultaneously spectacular and fresh and inventive and completely honor how smart kids are.

This is one of those.

You might know Greg from that burping crocodile or the hound with a need for speed, but did you know a book about an impossible con is exactly what the world of kids’ books needed? Meet this Greg.

Actually, meet Robert Miller.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

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A normal kid, one who leaves home to become an artist despite his parents’ best efforts. A normal kid with a penchant for billiards, poker, and gin.

A grifter known as Count Victor Lustig.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

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This liqour induced pow-wow below the Totally Legit delivery truck might be one of my favorite moments in this thing. It’s accompanied by a sidebar of Totally Legit information about the Prohibition. This blend of grit and truth and history hangs right in the suspense of Vic’s story. It feels like Saul Bass made one of those The More You Know PSAs right there on the page.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

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One of the greatest tricks in this whole book is how we see the silly, unsuspecting faces of Vic’s marks, but never his. Only a thumprint. Both the clearest and fuzziest identification.

Mixed-media collage always yields great texture, just by its very nature. But Greg adds custom-made rubber stamps, actual photo texture from the floor of the Eiffel Tower, and like we’ve already seen, his very own thumbprint. This approach is as layered and grungy as Vic himself. This book can’t be slick and clean and soft–it needs depth and dirt and intrigue. That’s what it’s got.

That’s no con.

Check out these endpapers. Brick wall, posted bills, danger, and suspense.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

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Why does that not look like the full width of the book, you ask?

Because then there’s this:

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli In the best of places, that sneaky space under the dust jacket, where unsuspecting grownups don’t dare peek. Kids do. They know where the good stuff is. And this is the good stuff: The Ten Commandments for Con Artists by our hero.

I think 8 is my favorite. Or 5. Or 10.

And now, don’t miss Greg and Julie’s chat about this book over at Seven Impossible Things. Lots to digest. Commandment 2 will be an impossibility.

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I received a copy of Tricky Vic from Viking, but the comments are all my own. And speaking of Viking, huge kudos to the publicity team that sent the book like so:

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

Cat Says Meow (and a giveaway!)

Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt by Michael Arndt (Chronicle Books, 2014)

This book won me over when I saw it last year, and it’s one that is fun to peek into again and again. And how is that the case with something so simple, but so sophisticated? So spare, but so complex? That’s the best truth of design.

Here’s what’s happening. Each spread shows an animal and its sound. And each animal is mostly made up of the letters of that sound.

It’s a fun puzzle to unlock. The portraits are bold and saturated in color, often different than we’d see them in the wild.

But here they are, wild anyway.

Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt

I do love an animal book that goes beyond the usual suspects, don’t you? A mosquito! Not my favorite friend by any means, but he looks good and menacing here.

Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt

This small volume is a perfect primer on both typography and onomatopoeia.

And it’s got killer endpapers.

Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt

A portion of  proceeds from Cat Says Meow goes to support animal rescue organizations, including the ones from where Michael’s dog (Clooney!) and cat (Aiden!) were rescued.

And for more type fun, play this kerning game and see how your eye stacks up to a designer’s. Or this one on letter forms, which is a bezier curve bonanza.

Would you like a signed copy? And these one of a kind bookmarks and vinyl stickers! You do, yes. Leave a comment here or share this post on Twitter before midnight on March 8st, PST. Good luck!

Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt

 

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All images are © 2014 Michael Arndt. Thanks to the artist for sharing them (and an awesome giveaway!) here. And be sure to check out his Instagram if you love all things type, animal, and lovely. It’s a great one!