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.”

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

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.

Homegrown Books

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!

Presto Change-o! A Book of Animal Magic

Presto Change-o!by Édouard Manceau

published March 2014 (tomorrow!) by Twirl Books, distributed in America by Chronicle Books

What a treat to give the new Twirl books a whirl! (They are doing something right when a thirtysomething-ed lady squeals over a box of board books, right?)

This one is perfect for grabby hands and curious minds. Check it out in action.

breaker Presto Change-o!This is a board book that’s been on a steady regimen of spinach and milk. It’s big and beefy. That’s a great thing, because there’s a lot to experience on these pages.

Here’s how it works. The left page shows two seemingly unrelated nouns, loosely connected by a narrative. Sometimes it’s lilting and sometimes a bit labored, but since it’s a translation, all text-clunk is forgiven. Besides, the real treat is in the visual and tactile experience. Presto Change-o!Swinging a shape or two or three around transforms one picture to another. It’s simultaneously simple and sophisticated. And just plain fun to see and do. Swinging a shape or two or three around transforms one picture to another. It’s simultaneously simple and sophisticated. And just plain fun to see and do. Presto Change-o! Presto Change-o!Some standard fare lives here: Rabbit, Teapot, Owl. And then there’s Bowl of Salad. Bowl of Salad! Thank goodness for the French. What a delight! Some standard fare lives here: Rabbit, Teapot, Owl. And then there’s Bowl of Salad. Bowl of Salad! Thank goodness for the French. What a delight! Presto Change-o! Presto Change-o!I’m teaching an introductory Photoshop and graphic design class this summer. To 3rd – 6th graders. My brain exploded with ideas for projects when I saw this book. You better believe we will be creating our own Presto Change-os! 

Stay tuned.Presto Change-o!Here’s a bit more about Twirl Books.

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Review copy provided by the publisher.

29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy

29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Lisa Brown

published 2014 by McSweeney’s/McMullens

29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown Do you know Because of Winn-Dixie? (Have I told you about the time I told Kate DiCamillo I wrote because of Winn-Dixie and obviously meant because of Because of Winn-Dixie but she cackled and my heart soared?)

Anyway. There’s a thing called a Littmus Lozenge. It’s a candy that makes you taste your sorrow and your sad and your sweet, all at once. Maybe it’s the thought of a lozenge sounding like something medicinal, or maybe it’s cause this pharmacy gave me both comfort and the heebie-jeebies, but reading this book felt a little like tasting a Littmus Lozenge. 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown Something unsettling hovers around this place, but it beckons me, too. And I’m not alone in that: those two myth-collectors/busters are at once intrigued and terrified.

It’s weird and charming and confusing and a head-scratcher all at once.

I think that’s exactly what makes it a successful story for kids. Everything doesn’t have to make sense. Offbeat is okay.

Because let’s face it: kid are weird and charming and confusing. They teeter in that fuzzy place between wonder and reality. This is a book that honors this and celebrates that.  29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown Is it suspicious, a lady going in and coming out in the same outfit? No. Not necessarily. But see: you are an adult. You are past your prime of delighting in the bizarre and making sense or screwballs out of it. When you read this, rest in it. Let it catapult you from being a grownup. It’s good for you. And then share it with a kid. They’ll get it. 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown Physically, I love the compact trim size because it feels like a manual, like a notebook, like some peculiar pamphlet to some oddball prescription in the pharmacy. It’s like a secret. A hush. 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa BrownThen! The cover unfolds to show the depths of the Swinster Pharmacy. When you flip it over, there’s a map of the town. Don’t ask me why I didn’t show you that. Just trust me. (If you dare.)29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brownch

P.S. – Another numbered book I loved recently is How to Bicycle to the Moon to Plant Sunflowers, by Mordecai Gerstein. A total must read if you love quirk and lists like me.

The publisher provided a review copy of 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy, but thoughts and love are my own.

The Tiny King

The Tiny King by Taro Muiraby Taro Miura

first U.S. edition published 2013, by Candlewick Press

Here’s a sweet and funny story. Candlewick sent me a review copy of The Tiny King in the waning weeks of 2013. My eye was already eager for it thanks to this Calling Caldecott post about international illustrators, so it was a bit of postal perfection. (Speaking of, are you counting down the days to January 27th?)

And then for Christmas, my mom sent me a spectacular selection of picture books – including The Tiny King! She always says I’m tough to buy books for, like “purchasing jewelry for a jeweler.” Maybe that’s true, but I think she did a pretty darn good job. (The others were a Poky Little Puppy Christmas edition and an autographed Jon Scieszka, so. And all came from bbgb in Richmond, VA. Shop indie!)

There’s no moral to this story. Just an extra copy of The Tiny King for you! Stay tuned for how to snag it.

So, this book. It’s this crazy mashup of charming fairy tale and quirky collage. The result is exquisite and mesmerizing, and you get a taste of that from the cover alone.

A sword-gripping hand is strong and fierce but nothing more than a circle. His distinguished white hairdo dripping out from under his crown – a small stack of white, curved lines. A leg made up of newsprint, which on careful inspection is a snippet of the tiny King’s wedding announcement. Foreshadowing. Spoiler. Clever and adorable.

Did you see the mini-note at the bottom of the cover, too? (This is the actual size of the Tiny King.) What a little delight! DPB_Stack_TheTinyKing Now that you’ve met him on the cover where you’ve seen him smash end to end, flip open to the first page and see that stature in context. This split in scale made me laugh out loud and drop my jaw. It’s so stunning, and so easy to fall in love with this little dude – small and alone and swimming in it.

He has a massive colorful castle, an army of tall soldiers with spears, and a feast fit for a bigger king. The spreads that introduce the reader to his lavish and lonely lifestyle are dark and looming, despite his kooky, whimsical posessions. DPB_Stack_TheTinyKing2 And then one day, a big princess shows up. The light! The expanse of bright space! The Q on her triangled gown! I went all out gaga and giddy for our tiny hero.

Everything changes in tone and in mood. The story takes place on washes of pink, blue, and yellow. The babies arrive, the soldiers are sent home to their families, and the empty castle is filled up with a bunch of love. DPB_Stack_TheTinyKing3 Happily and beautifully ever after.

I’d love to send a copy from my castle to yours. Just comment here by Thursday night at midnight PST. I’ll announce winners for this giveaway (and The Mischievians!) on Friday, and head to the royal post office this weekend.

Good luck!

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Review copy provided by Candlewick Press.