Jill & Dragon

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by Lesley Barnes (Tate, 2015)

You’ve got to see this book. And you’ve got to stick around for some extras from Lesley Barnes, its author and illustrator.

It begins on the endpapers.

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Once upon a time there lived a terrible dragon.

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And then on the title page, we can guess that we’ve just seen a snippet of this girl’s book. You can tell she’s a book lover by that throne of books she’s sitting atop. (Keep an eye on Dog throughout the pages. He’s not too sure about all of this.)

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By the time the story starts, we’re already in the middle of it.

We’re already sympathetic to this big, pink, dragon who’s dripping with knights and the letters from his story. But Jill, sweet Jill, with patterned pants equally as eye-catching as Dragon’s, ropes him up and invites him out of his story and into hers.

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It’s the tea party that changes everything.

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It’s that tea party that makes room for an exquisite gatefold and a happy ending.

It’s a meta tale that’s dazzling and dreamy and unexpected and just plain wonderful. What Lesley Barnes accomplishes with this color palette and style is nothing short of design time travel.

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(The previous three pictures provided by Lesley. Many thanks!)

I asked Lesley about her inspirations for this story, and she’s graciously given us this sneak peek behind the scenes.

As for what inspired her style for this book? These.

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Even better, these guys.

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That’s Frank and Pumpkin, Lesley’s dogs. On the left is Frank, who inspired Dragon’s look, and Pumpkin, who inspired Dog’s. Jill & Dragon is even dedicated to this duo!

One of my favorite things about books is when other art is inspired by its own. Like this fabulous Dog brooch, exquisitely crafted by Lesley’s friend, Jennifer Loiselle. 

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And how about this creation by the Felt Mistress herself, Louise Evans? Incredible.

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Untame your inspiration along with this trio. Use your talents wisely.

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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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Young Charlotte, Filmmaker

Young Charlotte, Filmmaker by Frank Viiva

by Frank Viva (MoMA Publications, 2015)

So this is a super cool book. It’s part MoMA history, part this funky young visionary’s story. Look at her camera perched by her side! Her confident gaze directly into the reader’s eye! A nearly animated cover where the bittiest blocks of color almost blink!

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One of the things that I always look for in books for kids are stories that honor their realness. Their hopes and dreams and fears and feelings that sometimes grownups have forgotten all about. Charlotte always carries that slim smile, even when the nun tells her none of that. I’d imagine this isn’t the only place she’s heard that she might be a bit unusual.

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That’s because Charlotte prefers black and white to color, and when kids have a preference, it’s usually a pretty strong one. Kids don’t generally go around only sort of caring about something.

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And here’s a beautiful example of that. Charlotte’s safe world is black and white, a stark contrast to that of her parents. To the left of the gutter, a home, and to the right, something unfamiliar and loud.

But her parents know this and they understand.

On Friday nights they take her to see black and white movies. And Charlotte is happy.

And on Sundays, they go to the Museum of Modern Art. And Charlotte is happy.

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That’s where Charlotte meets Scarlett, an aficionado of black and white too, and how it clears away the clutter. And that’s where Charlotte’s smile returns.

Here’s a kid, wholly in love with something that might seem unconventional. But she has parents who get it, a trip to an art museum that seals it, and a cat who is always willing to play a part.

So that’s what Charlotte does: makes a film in black and white. Scarlet calls it dazzling and genius, but the colorful people?

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Only that was their reaction at the beginning, before Young Charlotte, Filmmaker had finished telling her story.

Be sure to check out Young Frank, Architect as well. These two are a perfect pair.

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PS: Over on Instagram, a bunch of us teamed up to share one book on a particular theme each month. This was Michelle‘s brilliant idea, and we’d love it if you followed along. Check out #littlelitbookseries! Janssen of Everyday Reading shared another favorite Frank Viva book as part of that series, which is the same one that I wrote about once upon a time for Design Mom!

And thanks to Frank Viva 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!

Ellie

Ellie by Mike Wu by Mike Wu (Disney Hyperion, 2015)

Before anything else, this (full screen!):

Ellie’s endpapers start us off like this: long and lonely and barren.

Ellie by Mike Wu Ellie by Mike Wu There she is, a little hint of her. And if you want another one, take the dust jacket off to reveal the case cover.

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We learn quickly why the zoo was so sullen and gray. Because the story happened visually, to start, we don’t need to linger in introductions and routines and the way of this world.

We know.

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Home.

Hope.

Ellie by Mike Wu Ellie, and a hint again, carrying something with her trunk, wishing and wanting to help.

But a small elephant isn’t a tall giraffe or a burly gorilla.

She’s just Ellie.

Ellie by Mike Wu But in that curlicue grip, that same hope.

Does she see it? Do you?

Linked by color and purpose and quite possibly definition, this happens next:

Ellie by Mike Wu Does she notice? I don’t know. I’d like to think she did.

Watching and waiting, a wise little elephant.

Ellie by Mike Wu This is the first spread without Ellie in it, without her sweet, sad eyes.

But now we get to see through them, and I’d bet a reader’s eyes do the same awe-pop that hers must be doing right now. That’s something I’m sure is true.

Ellie by Mike Wu Ellie by Mike Wu Turns out, Ellie found her thing.

And here’s where I’d recommend finding a copy of this yourself, because the final spreads are something you should see and feel through your own eyes. But be sure to notice the back endpapers and their stark difference to the front. The progress is literally told in colors.

This book is rectangular, and so open, it’s an expanse. That trim size gives the zoo a little room to breathe, to extend, to become the physicality of Ellie’s journey. There’s space in that shape, space in the story.

Mike Wu’s film background (did you notice the zookeeper’s name?) may have influenced that trim size. What we call trim size they call aspect ratio, and aspect ratios in film are far from the standard definition of once upon a time.

Maybe? I don’t know. But I’d guarantee a visual storyteller thinks of those things, and it’s for us to appreciate, to wonder about, and to call beautiful.

Ellie by Mike Wu Ok.

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I received a review copy of Ellie directly from the author, but all opinions are my own.

The Slant Book

The Slant Book by Peter Newell

by Peter Newell (Tuttle Publishing, 2001; originally published in 1910)

This book hopped back on my radar during my 2014 visit to the NYPL’s exhibit, The ABCs of it: Why Children’s Books Matter. (Check out the second to last picture in that post for cold, hard proof.)

It’s strange and silly and a playful use of the book’s form. Perfect, then, for a picture book.

It takes the shape of a rhomboid–not a rectangle, not a square. Because of that forty-five degree angle, the book itself drives the story.

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Where Bobby lives, there is a hill–

A hill so steep and high,

‘Twould fit the bill for Jack and Jill

Their famous act to try

Thanks to that almost-literal twist, Bobby flies away from his poor, unsuspecting Nurse, and their nice walk through the neighborhood turns disastrous in a flash.

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Page by page, to spot-on verse, Bobby leaves mayhem in his downhill wake. (And, of course, the story ends before his Nurse has to push him back uphill.)

Clever, unconventional, and a bit bizarre.

For form-lovers and geometry teachers and rhymers. For anyone who adores little weird picture books.

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Want to see it in action? The Slant Book is in the public domain, so you can hear it here and see it here.

And in case you are looking for other beautiful rhomboids, these are pretty special. Artist and blogger Joanne Mattera curated the best of the shape for a lovely post.

A few favorites from Joanne’s collection:

Gudrun Mertes Frady.Cool Blue

Gudrun Mertes Frady
Cool Blue, 2009, oil and metallic pigments on wood, 18 x 18 inches

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Doug Holst
Untitled, 2009, acrylic on wood, 12 x 12 inches

Altoon SUltan

Altoon Sultan
#13, 2011, hand-dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 11.75 x 13.5 inches

Beastly Verse

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

by JooHee Yoon (Enchanted Lion, 2015)

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This book is something. A mashup of poetry and pictures, washes of color and words.

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(click to enlarge; this is an example of a spread that folds out to reveal an entirely new and more expansive illustration.)

Some thoughts from JooHee on the art and creation of Beastly Verse:

I wanted to create a book that not only tells wonderful stories, but one that is beautiful to behold. For me, the design of the book is just as important as its content; they are inseparably linked. I believe all elements of a book–its paper, binding, size and weight–create an atmosphere that plays an important role in the experience of reading.

The printing process fascinates me. Not only traditional printmaking, but also industrial processes as well, since these are just a further development of the old printmaking techniques. I have always been drawn to printmaking, and rather than mixing colors on a palette and putting them on paper, I enjoy working with flat color layers overlapping one another to create the secondary colors. My experience with printmaking informs almost all of my artwork today. I wanted to take advantage of the industrial printing process so the printer is not just reproducing the image I make, but in a sense creating the image itself.

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This book has been printed using just three colors. The areas where the main colors overlap create secondary colors, resulting in a book that seems very colorful even though only a limited palette was used. Seen alone, each layer is a meaningless collection of shapes, but when overlapped, these sets of shapes are magically transformed into the intended image. To me the process of creating these images is like doing a puzzle, figuring out what color goes where to make a readable image.

I am very inspired by books from the early 1900s – 1950, when artists were forced to work with spot colors since reproduction methods weren’t as developed as they are today. It is amazing what some artists could do with just two or three colors, and this is exactly the same process I am using, but one from choice rather than necessity. There is a luminous brilliant quality to the colors when images are reproduced this way that I love.

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(click to enlarge; this is an example of a spread that folds out to reveal an entirely new and more expansive illustration.)

It’s fascinating to pull the curtains back on an illustrator’s process, and I’m thankful to JooHee for her words here. Her explanation of something so simple, so exquisite, and so complex is as brilliant as those colors she creates.

And the book itself is definitely a work of art. Uncoated, thick pages. Slightly oversized. There’s a non-uniform feeling to the ends that isn’t quite a deckled edge, but a bit more raw and tactile. Hand-crafted almost.

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

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Beastly Verse’s dedication reads simply, For the Reader.

Here, the reader is also the design enthusiast, the art collector, and the wordsmith. A book for book lovers.

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Huge thanks to Claudia Bedrick at Enchanted Lion for the images in this post. 

 

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.

Biltmore Estate - Taken From Biltmore Official Website

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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