Over the Ocean

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by Taro Gomi (Chronicle Books, 2016)

There’s no better time to stand face to face with the ocean than summer, and I’ve spent a lot of time doing just that.

It asks you to feel small.

It asks you to watch with wide eyes.

It asks you to hope.

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And that’s what Taro Gomi does in this book. The original text is from Japan, from 1979, and yet it is timeless. Wishful. Dreamy.

Of course it is. Isn’t that what oceans are all about? And isn’t that what big questions are about too?

What is over the ocean?

She wonders. That small she. I imagine she’s watching with wide eyes. And we hope with her, right here at the edge of the sea.

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The passage of time over these pages is marked by the big ship, making its way from right to left on the horizon. It’s always in sight, bridging the physical and metaphysical worlds of this story. Interesting that it moves opposite the page turn, right? As a reader, this slowed me down. Swayed and bobbled my eye from left to right, balancing somewhere between the question and the answer.

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And visually, the lower third of each spread is anchored by that ship and the wide blue ocean, leaving more room for hope above. I like that.

A lot.

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And let’s talk about the trim size of this book–how it opens to a rectangle to represent the seas, but closes small enough to feel like something you can grasp and tuck tightly into your pocket. A perfect visual representation of the concept of the book itself. Perfect for the picture book’s form.

Perfect.

I love how this book ends without an answer. Our heroine doesn’t move from her spot by the shore. Her heart, though? Her imagination? Her questions? Big and beautiful and open.

Let’s all be like this girl. Windswept, but not weary.

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PS: The team at All The Wonders is proud to spearhead the #BooksForBetter initiative, whose goal is to give families and teachers a resource to find great read aloud books that celebrate diversity, compassion and inclusiveness. We envision a movement that will grow well beyond our efforts, but we’re getting it started with a monthly Twitter chat and Instagram campaign. 

Join us the first Monday of each month (beginning August 1, 2016) at 8pm EST for an #ATWchat about children’s books that showcase the human potential for goodness. Then post your favorite books on this topic on social media under the hashtag #booksforbetter. We’ll be compiling and sharing your ideas, making it simple for every family to find #booksforbetter.

More here.

I love Over the Ocean as a #booksforbetter selection. Let’s take a long look at what might be on the other side of the ocean. Or our neighborhood. Let’s wish them closer. Let’s hope for our world together. 

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Waiting

waiting by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, 2015)

Usually towards the end of the year I have trouble picking a favorite picture book from that year. It’s this one! No, this one. Oh wait, that one too. That might sound familiar if you are a picture book person. It happens. But this year, without a twitch or a doubt or a no, but wait, it’s this one. It’s so perfect it hurts.

Waiting.

It’s one of those things that happens this time of year, which is why this book’s fall release feels like such a good decision. Tis the season, after all.

The cover, a window to the world beyond the sill where these five sit. It takes a real genius to smoosh so much emotion into one small dot of an eye and a pink dab for a cheek, but do you see that bunny? So much hope and wonder while he waits, right? Only Kevin Henkes.

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The colors here are beautiful. A muted pastel palette brought together by the richest brown endpapers, a brown that’s the color of his line throughout. It all feels both lush and spare and inviting.

Each one had their thing, and each one was happy.

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Their faces, looking on these gifts with such curiosity and tenderness. So much so that it feels like these figurines are entirely real. That’s what the lack of art in context does. The rest of the room falls away so that all of our eyes look out. Nothing else matters but the waiting and the friends.

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The pacing is swift but sweet, and this moment is the height of some hushed anticipation. The owl’s reverence, the rabbit’s concern.

They were happy while they waited. They saw the things they loved.

And then.

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This is the first time we’ve seen this rose dawn color through the window. A sign of something new.

And what was this dear cat waiting on? Something wonderful. Something surprising, spectacular, and incredible.

All of us are waiting on something. Here’s hoping you’ve got some room on your windowsill for friends.

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PS: If you have a few minutes to spare, listen to this NPR piece about Waiting. It’s so nicely done and such a treat.

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.

Ellie by Mike Wu Ok.

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.

Ellie by Mike Wu Ellie by Mike Wu Ellie by Mike Wu Heartbroken.

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.

Architecture According to Pigeons

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

by Stella Gurney and Natsko Seki (Phaidon, 2013)

Do kids’ books have room for one more smart pigeon? You’ll be glad you let this one in, because Speck Lee Tailfeather is another flier with a healthy confidence and a chatty nature.

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

Speck’s mission is world travel, focusing on buildings from a bird’s point of view. He sees things differently.

His words are a travel journal of sorts to his pigeon friends. To his love, Elsie. And to us.

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

There’s a lot to look at, from speech bubbles to side bars to fascinating tidbits. The layout and voice are both unusual in the very best way. And if you just shake off what you expect from picture books and settle in, your flight from city to sky and back will be worth it.

Your tour guide, after all, is an expert in the unusual.

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

This one is for treasure hunters, trivia fanatics, architecture buffs, or anyone hungry for some off-the-wall-pigeon-fare. You never know.

Pair it with A Lion in Paris. Speck travels farther than France, but matching up the Parisian buildings (not to mention the books’ head-to-head size battle and their animal points of view) would be a fun thing for storytime.

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Everything Under a Mushroom

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes (Four Winds Press, 1973)

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

I’m not a real wild-and-crazy kind of person.

Last Saturday I took a Pilates class at 3:30, and the teacher said it’s always such a weird time because most people like to spend their afternoons at the beach or the ballpark. Or perhaps they have to get ready for their evening cocktail hour, and finishing close to 5:00 doesn’t work. But I told her that it’s my favorite time, because then I can be home in pajamas having sort-of-flat champagne before it’s even dark out.

She looked at me funny.

But on some of those pajamas and champagne Saturday nights, I go vintage book shopping online and find things like this.

I love this book.

I love Ruth Krauss.

I love the way her words describe the bizarre and complex world of kids’ heads. And their perfectly simple and sensible world. It’s kind of all wrapped up together for kids anyway, which is strange and endearing and other-worldly.

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

Each spread has one line, a bright orange to the illustrations’ muted browns. The only other color is the blue on the cover.

And the page turn acts as a sort of puzzle: the last bit from the page before starts the new thought.

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

Each thing is little. Each thing snuggles up right under the towering mushroom. Each thing is so firmly kid.

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

The tiny stories ramble on underneath, in those playful monologues that might seem like nonsense. This is where kids are experts.

Grownups, consider this. You might not understand. You might not have any use for a little potato. But, as the girl with the bow in her hair promises, “Little potatoes are especially nice.”

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It’s weird. It’s wonderful. And if it fits under a mushroom, it’s fair game.

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A Lion in Paris

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna by Beatrice Alemagna (Tate, 2014)

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

First of all. This book opens the wrong way. I mean, it’s completely right, but it is unusual in all of the most wonderful ways.

Also, it’s huge. It’s the size of a cookie sheet or a throw pillow, which is also unusual in all of the most wonderful ways.

After all, how else can you contain a lion?

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

He was a big lion. A young, curious and lonely lion. He was bored at home on the grasslands, and so one day he set off to find a job, love and a future.

This is such a perfect picture book setup. We meet our leading man and instantly understand what’s he like and what he wants. Succint, confident, and interesting in both visuals and voice.

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna Something about the massive white space for the text and the intricate illustrations on opposing sides of the gutter. It’s cinematic almost–reminiscient of that silent movie era where a title card precedes the action. The frame on each side of the gutter even approximates the golden rectangle of today’s high definition aspect ratio.

They are pleasing boundaries for storytelling. The pictures don’t need to leave physical layout space for the text, and the text gets a chance to stand alone and confident as well.

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

The people were hurrying around with a strange kind of sword under their arms, but nobody thought of attacking him. That surprised him.

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

When he went out into the street, it started to rain. That made him think of his lovely sunny grasslands and he felt sad. He turned all grey and shiny like the roofs around him.

So off course, things will get strange and sad for our gentle giant before his journey is through. But isn’t that true of many lionhearted luminaries?

This is a book for anyone who wrinkles a forehead and grins a little at smart design. It’s also a book for anyone who feels a little lost, a little rainy, a little roar-y.

It’s for anyone who is looking for that perfect place to be still and happy.

A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

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PS: Tate is a British publisher, not to be confused with the notorious scam-ish publisher in America of the same name.

Home Grown Books

Homegrown Books by Cecile Dyer and Kyla Ryman (Home Grown Books, 2014)

Homegrown Books Homegrown Books I’ve written before about how I’m a sucker for board books, but this new-to-me publisher has raised the board book bar. These books are both meaningful and beautiful, which is a touch balance to strike in a book so seemingly simple. This one, Dress Up, shows a series of cats with killer expressions donning all sorts of odds and ends. A fancy cat fastens a bow to one side, a dapper cat sports a vest. Mask! Scarf! Glasses! Cats with style, for sure.

Homegrown Books This board book is a second edition reprint, because it originally showed up in teensy paperback form as part of a 9-book Little Reader series, The Play Book Set.

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Homegrown Books See Dress Up up there with the orange cover? The insides are similar, but the pictures are bordered with white space holding the words.

Nothing in these books is too cutesy, too precious, or too simple. The art is sophisticated, accessible, and challenges a little brain’s wonderings.

Homegrown Books Homegrown Books Kids need good art, and Home Grown Books is doing a bang up job fitting that bill. (Plus, any sax-playing hen is fine by me.)

Clever packaging includes tips on how to read with the bittiest in your family. Talk about the pictures! Make connections! Everyday concepts meet rich art. It’s a lovely thing.

Homegrown Books Homegrown Books

Eco-friendly and recycled paper to boot! Lots to love about these new books on the block. Find a babe, stat.

Here’s illustrator Cecile Dyer talking about watching the world, interacting with young readers and artists, and of course, these these tiny, book-shaped treasures.

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How to Hide a Lion

How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens

How to Hide a Lion (Henry Holt, 2013. Originally published 2012 in the UK.)

by Helen Stephens Lion5

 

One hot day, a lion strolled into town to buy a hat.

Of course he did. That frilly blue thing in the window is pretty fancy after all. This beast only has eyes for that bonnet, and bypassed the bakery without even a side eye. But while the beast has eyes for the bonnet, the townspeople have eyes for safety and decorum. They chase him out. 

And like any smart wild animal, he finds refuge in a kid. A kid who was not scared of him in the least. A kid who saw a problem that needed solving. A kid who saw her world differently. She knows he needs hiding, and I think that’s such a beautiful example of what it must be like to be a kid. You have this vague awareness of things that are problems for grownups, and yet you attack them as if those grownups are absurd. 

That’s kid truth. That’s a great thing for this lion.

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The Queen of Colors

Queen of Colors by Jutta Bauer (NorthSouth, 2014; originally published in Germany, 1998, as Die Königen der Farben.)

I love the work NorthSouth is doing, and this book in particular has stuck with me for a while. Queen of Colors So it’s a funny little book, but it’s also literally little, and there’s a lot of mayhem happening in such a small package. I think that’s smart. Queen of Colors Color’s been on the brain a lot this week because I’m in the thick of teaching an Intro to Photoshop and Graphic Design class to kids. This has been a fun one to show them, because the colors in this book take on such a clear identity. Queen of Colors Blue is soft and gentle. I love how the Queen is giving it a hug and kiss. Queen of Colors Queen of Colors Queen of Colors Red barrels in and nearly knocks her over. It’s wild and dangerous. Queen of Colors And then there’s Yellow. Warm and bright and sunshiny on her toes.

These colors have purpose, but when Matilda can’t control them, the whole mess turns Gray. Queen of Colors Queen of Colors  It’s the same in art. Too many colors competing leaves you a whole lot of buzz and confusion. It doesn’t work.ThisDoesntWork(image source.)

This Gray sticks around for a while. It doesn’t work.  Queen of Colors Queen of Colors But it does make the Queen of Colors sad. Not gentle, not wild, not warm. Not colorful. 

So she cries. You’ll have to see for yourself what her tears do to the gray. Here’s a hint: it’s scribbles and stars and swirls. It’s a happy ending.

Color has a story, and it’s a story that matters.

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P.S.—Does Queen Matilda remind you a little bit of Queen Ursula from the Little Mermaid? I think it’s part her bossiness, and part her curves. I’m awful at remembering lines from films, but this is one that has stayed with me a long, long time. I think it’s thanks to the bubbles that shimmy out of her hind parts!

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100 Bears

100Bears by Magoli Bardos by Magali Bardos

published 2014 by Flying Eye Books 100Bears by Magoli Bardos Let me introduce you to Flying Eye Books, if you aren’t already pals with them. Their books are fairly new to me, but are consistently striking and interesting and a different sort of fare than some more commercial offerings. 

Case in point: this post by Danielle Davis over at This Picture Book Life (you know her, right? Her posts are a work of art and always a celebration of the picture book form. I’m lucky to know her in real life, not just on the internet.) and this look at their current season (and an interview!) by Travis Jonker 100Bears by Magoli Bardos 100 Bears is a counting book with some actual narrative to it. The pace starts off sweetly but then 9 gunshots and an escape leads to a madhouse of 23 knocked over chairs and 37 or 38 bits of confetti. Such trouble a few bears can get into! Some teensy text flaws swim around in that lost-in-translation sea, but there is some real satisfaction in a circular counting story with 100 moving parts. The smile you’ll get from the first and last pages alone is one of the true joys of story. 100Bears by Magoli Bardos A design technique shown off so spectacularly here is spot color. That’s when a single color is printed at a time, and so the process gets layered (and tricky!) by rolling down the building blocks of a print on the same lithograph. You won’t see gradients or blended color, just blocks of hue. (Here’s a little more about the process, from author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli.)

And why does the cover catch your eye? It’s more than a circus style balancing act of big old bears and their blocky numbers. It’s that complementary color scheme. Blue and orange. With a splash of pink for some oh, yes.

And so what is this thing? I’m not too sure, and I don’t really care! It’s like a coffee table book for the sippy cup set. Enjoy it, for sure. 100Bears by Magoli Bardos P.S. – Crazy for spot color? Stay tuned and hear again from the master himself, Greg Pizzoli. Coming up soon on Design of the Picture Book!