The Mouse Mansion

TheMouseMansion_cover by Karina Schaapman (Dial, 2014; originally published in the Netherlands in 2011.)

This book.

This book is massive and mini all at once.

Its press release calls it Beatrix Potter meets I Spy. A fitting description, that one, but I might call it George and Martha meets The Ultimate Alphabet meets a craftier Cardboard Challenge.

This is the Mouse Mansion. The Mouse Mansion by Karina Schaapman Karina Schaapman spent years creating this architectural wonder, dreaming up more than 100 rooms and passageways and outdoor spots to explore.

She also dreamed up Sam and Julia, the teensy mice who live in its walls. Here they are. (Click to enlarge.) The Mouse Mansion by Karina Schaapman The Mouse Mansion is oversized and so is its book. It holds the best of treasures to look at and imagine. Sam and Julia have seventeen chapters of adventures together. They are small stories with big trouble, small creatures with big heart.

Sam and Julia don’t have enough pennies for the white chocolate with rice bubbles, so they buy broken cookies.

They smile about it.

Sam plays the violin and gives Julia the shivers.

But she’d never tell him how terrible he is.

They burn pancakes and make powdered sugared messes, but agree that pancake day is the very best day. The Mouse Mansion by Karina Schaapman That’s what best friends do.

My favorite of all of their escapades is their interaction with Sam’s grandpa, down at the fish market. Julia is shocked to see the pictures of an anchor on his arm and a pirate on his tummy.

Julia is very curious. “Why do you have all those drawings?” she asks. “What are they?”

Grandpa smiles. “They are not drawings,” he says. “They’re tattoos. And each one tells a story.”

Yes, you do. You need this treasure chest of a picture book. You need to see these two critters overload the washing machine and hoist barrels of lemonade up to the loft.

Just try not to squeal too loudly. The triplets are sleeping.

For more pictures of the Mouse Mansion’s bitty charm, check out this post by Julie Danielson at the smorgasbord that is Seven Imp.

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Thanks to Amanda and Caitlin at Penguin for the images and a review copy of the book. Thoughts my own.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press, 2014)

You know Mac and Jon. You love Mac and Jon. Now meet Sam and Dave. You’ll love Sam and Dave.

Don’t rush into the pages just yet. This is one of the best covers I’ve seen in a long while. If we weren’t so aware that Jon Klassen (that insta-recognizable style!) is a contemporary illustrator, I would wholeheartedly presume that it was some vintage thing in a used bookstore. A find to gloat about, a find that makes you wonder just how you got so lucky.

The hole. The space left over. The words, stacked deeper and deeper. The apple tree whose tippy top is hidden. Two chaps, two caps, two shovels. One understanding dog.

Speaking of two chaps, two caps, and two shovels, check out the trailer.

(I’ll wait if you need to watch that about five more times.)

The start of their hole is shallow, and they are proud. But they have only just started. Sam asks Dave when they should stop, and this is Dave’s reply:

“We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular.”

Dave’s voice of reason is so comforting to any young adventurer. It’s validating that your goal is something spectacular. (Do we forget this as grownups? To search for somthing spectacular? I think we do.)

Perhaps the pooch is the true voice of reason here, though he doesn’t ever let out a bark or a grumble. Those eyes, the scent, the hunt. He knows.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

(click to enlarge)

And this is where Sam and Dave Dig a Hole treads the waters of picture book perfection. The treasure, this spectacular something, is just beyond the Sam and Dave’s reality. The reader gets the treat where Sam and Dave are stumped. Do you want to sit back and sigh about their unfortunate luck? Do you want to holler at them to just go this way or that way or pay attention to your brilliant dog? Do you root for them? Do you keep your secret?

The text placement on each page is sublime. If Sam and Dave plant themselves at the bottom of the page, so does the text. If the hole is deep and skinny, the text block mirrors its length. This design choice is a spectacular something. It’s subtle. It’s meaningful. It’s thoughtful and inevitable all at once.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

(click to enlarge)

And then – then! Something spectacular. The text switches sides. The boys fall down. Through? Into? Under? Did the boys reach the other side? Are they where they started? Is this real life? Their homecoming is the same, but different. Where there was a this, now there is a that. Where there was a hmm, now there is an ahhh.

Spectacular indeed.

I like to think that the impossible journey here is a nod to Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak’s collaboration, A Hole is to Dig. That’s what holes are for. That’s what the dirt asks of you. It’s not something you do alone or without a plan or without hope. Sam and Dave operate in this truth. They need to dig. There’s not another choice.

AHoleIsToDig

(image here // a first edition, first printing!)

Sidenote: I’m pretty thrilled that these scribbles live in my ARC.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Look for this one on October 14th.

SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen.Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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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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Out the Window

Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young by Cybèle Young

published 2014 by Groundwood Books Out the Window by Cybele Young Don’t you hate throwing your ball out the window and being too short to see where it bounces? The worst. Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young But the worst gets better, because in its place a spectacular parade clash-crashes by. Except when you’re a frantic, too-short creature, it’s really hard to see over the windowsill. Good thing you’re a clever whippersnapper, and push that chair up to take a peek. Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young And just when you can finally see outside, the book tells you to turn around.

You’ll stumble smack dab into the spectacle.

Juggling shrimp on a unicycle! A bat on a hanging, clangy contraption! Pink swans pulling a turtle on a wagon! Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young Thanks to this parade, you might just get your ball back. It’s one fantastic game of catch.

And check out this trailer to see the book in its glorious action. Mesmerizing.

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P.S. – Remember the Twitter chat with Groundwood Books and Cybèle Young? The transcript is here, if you want to add to your art-to-study and books-to-love pile. It was such fun!

The Mischievians

TheMischieviansCoverby William Joyce

published 2013, by Simon and Schuster

(I love that upside down A. I suppose that sucker is called The Letter Flipper Upside Downer. The Fontfiender. Or something.)

Impeccably designed with nods at its book-ness, the cover is distressed and worn like it’s been studied and loved and needed. It’s a book that knows it’s a book, so it looks especially, book-y.* Right?

But let’s start with this. You might know some of these guys:

breaker This is the latest offering from William Joyce and Moonbot Studios, a dazzling storytelling team. (Remember that book-loving Morris Lessmore?) But this one is mayhem and wordplay and maddening and glorious. You wouldn’t expect anything less, right? Mischievians1 The story starts on the endpapers where some kids are at their wit’s end and a spindly green arm yanks away a vowel. Awful. Naturally, their parents are blaming them. Wouldn’t you? But no. The peculiar looking Dr. Zooper sucks them into his laboratory, and introduces them to the encyclopedia that explains everything. Darn those Funny Bones. Did you know they find your ow-ding-ow-oh-oh so hysterical that they hide out until the giggles subside? Thanks to this encyclopedia of mischief-makers, I know that’s why they only show up a few times a year. They’re out there somewhere, chortling and waiting, plotting and howling. Jerks. Mischievians2 The Mischievians. Mischievians3 When the kids are zooped back up the chute, they have a monumental task. Document! Top Secret! Report and resist!

I don’t think it will take them too long. breaker How about you?

Thanks to Simon and Schuster, I have two copies to zoop over to you! Just leave a comment here by midnight PST on December 31. Maybe even tell me which mischief-maker is driving you most nuts? Is it the Remotetoter? The Stinker? The Lintbellian? You have my sympathies and my snickering.

Sorry about it.

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*Other book-y looking books I love:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the original design!) by Newt Scamander (and J.K. Rowling)

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival 

The ridiculously brilliant Battle Bunny, by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett (That post from Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is a smorgasbord of awesome.)

And, of course, Greg Heffley’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. (With a huge nod to Jeff Kinney, obviously.)

Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue

RedKnitCapGirlToTheRescueby Naoko Stoop

published 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Naoko Stoop’s work has enchanted me for some time now. I’m thrilled she is in the picture book world because her voice is unique. It’s haunting and heartwarming at the same time. Terribly beautiful. I wrote about Red Knit Cap Girl over on Design Mom, and now she’s back in another lovely episode.

And how thrilled was I to connect directly to Naoko and find out some nitty gritty details of her process, inspiration, and drive to create story? Very. Hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have!

Be sure to visit Naoko’s etsy shop if you are still in the hunt for Christmas gifts. I’d take one of each, wouldn’t you?RKCG2-10(Click any image to enlarge. You have got to see the detail and texture in its full glory!)

When did you first know you were meant to be an artist? Was it a particular moment? A habit? An inspiration?

I have to say, I still hesitate to call myself an “artist”. Because, to me, “art” is about expression, and everyone has his/her own way to express themselves. I’ve been very, very lucky that I’ve made a career in what I love to do. I never considered that I would be in the art field when I was studying business at college, or working in marketing for a big corporation back in Tokyo. Back in those days, I felt something was missing in my life. I didn’t know what it was, but I remember that my grandmother used to tell me that when I was five, I never stopped drawing. Her words stayed with me for years. Several years ago, when I was feeling lost, I quit everything and started to paint. I was hoping to find new prospects in my life and nurture my inner child, and it opened me up to a new world of possibilities. Since then, I’ve been painting.

What are your creative influences – in books, or film, or art, or nature, or anywhere else?

I grew up mostly in Tokyo. I was a typical city kid, busy with studies and school activities—I didn’t spend much time outside. After college, I lived in Vancouver B.C. Canada for about a year, and it was the first time in my life that I was exposed to nature on such a large scale: huge mountains, endless rain forests, magnificent glaciers and lots of wild animals. Canada’s natural beauty amazed and inspired me. I felt so spiritual by just being in nature, it gave me a sense of security and stability which I never felt in Tokyo. My time in Canada has been a strong influence on my current artwork, considering that I didn’t yet know how to paint when I was there. Life is interesting; I would’ve been very happy living in Vancouver had I stayed there, but I’m not sure if I would’ve become an artist. It was living in Brooklyn that gave me creative inspiration—Brooklyn definitely has an artistic atmosphere, with a lot of support for young artists. People accept individual creativity and don’t negatively judge your work. When I was painting on used brown paper grocery bags, a gallery owner discovered me, and she gave me my first gallery show opportunity.

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And who are your creative heroes?

Hayao Miyazaki,
Hokusai Katsushika,
Maurice Sendak
Is there a book from your childhood that has stuck inside your soul?

It’s not a book, but an early Miyazaki movie, “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” It had a strong influence in my developing my own stories. I also love Totoro by Miyazaki. Totoro is my spiritual home :)

Which comes first – the story in words, or the story in pictures?

Definitely story in pictures first. I develop the stories in my head with sketches, visualizing the storyline. Later, I write a simple text to accompany the illustrations.

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Tell us a bit about your physical process of creating art? I see wood, paper, paint, and pencil? Your pictures are so tactile and lovely – the spread with the waves (where their eyes are squeezed closed tight!) grabbed me and plopped me right into that sailboat with them! What a rush!

First, I find a piece of wood which has the right grain for the scene, then I start with background. This is the most intriguing part of my painting process because wood grain gives me a spontaneous pattern, and I can never predict the exact result before I paint on it. (Sometimes, I get very a different painting idea by looking at the flow on the grain!) When the background is dry, I start drawing the outlines of the scene with inks, then color them with acrylic paint, gouache, pencil and pastels… whatever would suit best to give the appropriate texture for the scene. I try to use found materials as much as possible, since I believe that art is a form of expression and separated from materialism.

What parts of Naoko are in Red Knit Cap Girl?

I created Red Knit Cap Girl as my inner child. I drew her playing in nature with forest animals, which I never had in my real childhood. I came to realize that I wasn’t the only one—people started telling me that Red Knit Cap Girl reminded them of their childhoods. I guess Red Knit Cap Girl could be lots of people’s childhoods! When I realized she wasn’t me anymore, I think I grew up a little bit :)

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Will we see any more of her adventures?

Yes! I am currently working on the third Red Knit Cap Girl adventure, coming in Fall 2014.

What’s next for you?

As long as I’m able to, I’d like to keep creating. I’m grateful to the people I work with—those who read my books and talk about my work. Thank you so much for interviewing me.

No, thank you, Naoko for the glimpse into your studio and story-loving soul. We are thankful! Are you as inspired as I am?

Thanks to Little, Brown for the images in this post. (Don’t forget to click on them to see them larger! You won’t be disappointed.)

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A Very Fuddles Christmas and an interview with Frans Vischer

FuddlesCover by Frans Vischer

(published 2013, by Aladdin, an imprint of Simon and Schuster)I’ve said in public and in writing that I’m not a huge fan of cats. I’ve also admitted to not being a fan of Saturday morning cartoons as a kid.But then I met Fuddles. His misguided glory and chubby rump bowled me over. What a fabulous feline. Frans Vischer created this sly cat, inspired by his own ginormous kitty.

breakerHow loveable is that guy? This book is gorgeous. Its pages are sleek and the endpapers a lush, rich, wintry green. Such a warm contrast to the ivory cover and jacket!

My favorite page turn plays with the shape and direction of a chimney catastrophe. And thanks to the verso, I know that the typeface is Wade Sans Light. (You font-o-philes can purchase it here.) It’s a gentle and restrained choice, a fantastic foil to Fuddles’s antics.  I asked Frans a few questions about his art and inspiration. What an honor!

Your bio tells us that you arrived in America at the age of 11! How did you stumble on cartoons and can you tell us a little about their inspiration on your childhood?

In Holland there were only three TV channels at the time, and they rarely showed animation. Arriving in America, I was blown away by all the channels- cartoons were everywhere! I was introduced to Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tom & Jerry, Droopy, as well as all the Disney stuff. I didn’t speak English then, but the cartoons communicated visually, and I was instantly hooked!

What types of stories were you telling as an animation obsessed teenager?

I took a creative writing class in high school where I wrote very silly, Monty Python-inspired stories. Characters would make appearances without any intro or lead-in, and I would go off on tangents with entirely new story-threads, and just as abruptly drop them to return to my earlier story. I also did a number of school projects with my high school friend, Dave Waters, (also a Monty Python fan,) doing absurd story lines. We made 8 mm films together, poking fun at TV commercials, and shows like “The Waltons.”

Who are your artistic and literary heroes?

Growing up I always loved Disney. Michaelangelo’s sculptures had a great effect on me for their strength and subtlety. I read and drew from many European comics, such as Lucky Luke, Asterix and Obelix, Tin Tin. In high school I admired, (and still do,) the editorial cartoons of Pat Olyphant and Jeff MacNelley. When I attended Cal Arts I was introduced to Ronald Searle, Ralph Steadman, and A.B. Frost, among many others. Bill Peet’s transition from Disney story-artist to children’s book author/illustrator was a true inspiration, and Roald Dahl’s books and short stories made me want to write my own stories. Currently, I love David Small’s draftsmanship, David Catrow’s humorous drawings, and Holly Hobbie’s color. I could go on and on, but I won’t.

Are there any easter eggs or hidden trivia we should know about in your books?

There aren’t any hidden items, but I did include furniture from our home in Fuddles’ house. Being a big soccer fan, I had to have a soccer ball in both Fuddles books. And on the last page in A Very Fuddles Christmas, Fuddles sits by the fireplace on Christmas Eve beside a note from the kids to Santa. If you hold a magnifying glass over the note you can read it!

I see we are quasi-neighbors! Do you have a go-to takeout joint? (I could infuse some fresh tastebuds into my delivery rotation.)

We support our local places as much as we can. In Montrose, we love the Star Café and Zeke’s.

Thanks, Frans! There you go, friends. An irresistible addition to your Christmas canon.
Need more? I wrote this list last holiday season for Design Mom!
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Alphablock

Alphablock by Christopher Franceschelli, art by Peskimo

published 2013, by Abrams Appleseed

Alphablock Alphablock This book. Swoon city. Hefty chunk of graphic design. Just as fascinating and fantastic for adults as well as the stubby fingers of the littles. “You’re never too old for picture books” is my constant battle cry at school. Let’s amend that a bit to “you’re never too old for board books.”

Because wow. Alphablock Alphablock Can you see what’s happening here? Each letter of the alphabet is given two thick spreads for the hint and the reveal. It’s a visual puzzle, linked by a die-cut of the hero letter. For real. Alphablock Alphablock Figuring it out is a satisfying read, and physically flipping the letterform for the answer is brilliant. Alphablock Alphablock Not only does the design feel fresh, but the alphabet choices are newfangled, too. I love S is for SCISSORS and the cut-out arts and crafts that accompany it. P is for PENCILS gets the lined paper treatment, scattered with sharpened pencil shavings. And thank goodness F is for FISH gives us a glimpse into an aquarium with its kooky accoutrements, and not the obvious deep blue sea scene. Alphablock

Image courtesy of Abrams Appleseed

Image courtesy of Abrams Appleseed

Image courtesy of Abrams Appleseed

Image courtesy of Abrams Appleseed

(And any book that uses U is for UNDERWEAR is obviously a hands down favorite, too.)

Add this to your gift-list. Perfect for babes and art buffs alike. (And pretty much anyone who loves the alphabet.)

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Review copy provided by Abrams Appleseed.

Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife

by Paul Thurlby

{published 2013, by Templar}

You know you have a book problem when you forget what lives in your piles. I bought this book when it pubbed back in March, and that tiger’s binocular’d glare stared me down the other day. I snatched it from the pile with the furious preying eyes of the creatures bound in this book.

(Dramatic? Sorry. You must not have heard Carmina Burana playing in the background of my opening monologue. Do you hear it now?!) In the early days of this blog (almost two years ago!), I wrote about Paul Thurlby’s AlphabetI made lame jokes about Thanksgiving (‘if you’re stuffed, feast your eyes on this!’), so as you can see my wit and humor hasn’t improved much since.

Good thing Paul Thurlby has.  And that statement is a stretch as commentary on his genius, but I do think I might like this one even more than his last. This is a mashup of pictures and words in the most clever of ways. Each page shows us an animal bursting with personality. Look at that rat! (Reminds me of these rodents a little bit!) And each is captioned with a quirky fact which explains just what the heck is happening in the illustration. Here, it’s:

Keeping their skin moist by showering is important for elephants’ health.

and

Rats spend a third of their lives washing themselves.

Dolphins sleep with one eye open, while resting one half of their brain at a time.

Lions hunt at night, thanks to their ability to see well in the dark. Because the factoids lean toward kooky, the pictures’ silliness both shine and remain surprising. When I talked about Paul Thurlby before, I mentioned unity. Still holds. Still a package wrapped up in perfect pictures and words. But what I am most drawn to in his work are his textures.  The grid, the distressed edges, the scratches, tape, and imperfections – all of those design decisions add a layer of warmth and grit to a bunch of terrifying but desperately adorable creatures.

Watch out for giraffes if you’re on stilts and run across them in the wild. They have 21-inch tongues!

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Sparkle and Spin

sparkleandspin_cover

By Ann and Paul Rand

{originally published 1957 by Harcourt, Brace, and World. Reprinted 2006 by Chronicle Books.} Sometimes pictures are just that: eye-catching and whimsical, without being packed with meaning or message. That spirit dances across the page in Sparkle and Spin, written by Ann Rand and illustrated by her husband Paul.

Paul Rand is an iconic American graphic designer. A problem solver. A storyteller. A communicator.

He said this about design:

“Good design adds value of some kind, gives meaning, and, not incidentally, can be sheer pleasure to behold.” breaker His biographer, Steven Heller, said this:

“Paul Rand did not set out to create classic children’s books, he simply wanted to make pictures that were playful. Like the alchemist of old, he transformed unlikely abstract forms into icons that inspired children and adults and laid the foundation for two books that have indeed become children’s classics.”

Maybe he didn’t intend to be a creator of legendary books for kids, but his love for beautiful work shines in this one. That’s the magic of Sparkle and Spin: harmony, wit, and playfulness. And Ann’s words are a delightful match to Paul’s pictures. There’s a rhythm, song, and honor to these words that represent the joy of learning. Harmony, captured perfectly.

In graphic design, harmony is the magic that happens when all of the individual elements complement one another. It’s when small parts of pretty make up a more lovely whole. breaker iceCreamHere’s a detail I really love. This bold, graphic ice cream cone comes at the beginning, and with the inscription: To all children who like ice cream. And at The End, that scoop’s been slurped, chomped, and devoured. That’s what the experience of this book is. Tasty.

The book sparkles and spins. You’ll see what I mean.

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