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.

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!

 

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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The Wonderful Egg and an interview with Flying Eye Books

The Wonderful Egg by Dahlov Ipcar (image here.)

by Dahlov Ipcar (Flying Eye Books, 2014; originally published 1958.)

The great folks at Flying Eye sent me this book a while back, and I’ve been staring at it for weeks. Months. It’s enchanting. And simple. And complex. And a huge restoration effort, which was a bit mind-blowing to understand. That’s why I consulted the experts.

But if you don’t know Dahlov Ipcar and her bright body of work, check this out first:

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by Germano Zullo and Albertine

{published 2013, by Chronicle Books}

I’m in that bleary-eyed, inspired, and terrified post-SCBWI haze. Are you?

That’s why this book is perfect for this time. And isn’t that always why picture books are perfect? There’s something magical about those moments that are captured, when the polaroid’s positive sheet has just pulled away from the negative. That moment, exposed. That’s the one I mean.

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