Life Without Nico

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by Andrea Maturana, illustrated by Francisco Javier Olea (Kids Can Press, 2016)

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If you’ve ever had a very best friend, this scene sums it all up. Looking away from each other, but always to one another. Navigating a trip to the stars.

Until a different trip steamrolls in.

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If a moment can be simultaneously sweet and bitter, this is the very time. These kids who want the whole world, now separated by it.

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And then what creeps in is the hole where Nico once was. It’s in the faraway sky that she can’t quite reach. It covers her heart even though all you see on her shirt is a star. And it’s in the way of making a new friend.

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Except, it’s not really. Because the hole someone leaves when they are left behind is sometimes space to let someone new in. And it doesn’t mean that the hole is gone. It just scoots over a chair.

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This tale is a look at love and loss and love again in a way that never lessens that hole. An important thing for both kids and those of us that are a little older.

A keeper. A whole world in a book.

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Thank you to Kids Can Press for the images in this post. Click them to enlarge, the tiny details are worth a closer look.

Little Red

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by Bethan Woollvin (Peachtree Publishers, 2016)

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Okay.

So this book. Have you seen it? There’s a familiar story at its heart, but this one takes that soul and stretches it into something so subverted, so surprising, and so darn wonderful.

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Let’s just start with a bang. Those undies! Fierce. Be careful with this one.

And then some story sneaks onto the endpapers: a vulnerable girl and a sly wolf. You think you know this one. You might be wrong.

This illustration on the title page is one of my favorites in the whole book. Look at her tongue! That determination. Those boots! An open door. Let’s go.

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Wolves, of course, are big and bad and scary.

“Which might have scared some little girls. But not this little girl.”

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Little Red isn’t like most little girls. Remember that tongue? She is fierce and unflappable and completely in charge.

And couldn’t we have guessed that from those eyes on the cover, cutting and cunning? Or maybe from the hot red that identifies her through the pages?

She is a heroine with some real bite.

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Well. I can’t turn the next page for you. Trust me, (she says, with wide-wolf-eyes) you’ll want to.

If my word for it isn’t enough, check out this post from my dear pal Danielle at This Picture Book Life. (Safety in numbers, you know. Especially if there’s a wolf and a Little Red on the prowl.)

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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!

Young Charlotte, Filmmaker by Frank Viiva

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.

Young Charlotte, Filmmaker by Frank Viiva

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.

Young Charlotte, Filmmaker by Frank Viiva

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!

In

In by Nikki McClure

by Nikki McClure (Abrams, 2015)

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This is one of those books where the cover convinces you that you’ll love it. It’s both bright and cozy. Spare and warm.

A teensy giraffe peeks out of this boy’s hiding spot and you can see its smiling face, but only eager anticipation in this boy’s eyes.

Open.

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This is my kind of kid. It looks like a grownup is over his shoulder, offering an open door and a pair of shoes. But he’s got a tower of bricks, a colander kingdom, and the very best pair of pajamas.

In is best.

Until out is.

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And when out is cold and wet, in you go.

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Nikki McClure’s paper cuts are intricate and exquisite, but they are also all-embracing. Not common artwork, but a reminder of the universal comforts of childhood and play and home.

A stark black and vibrant yellow are perfect patches of color to explore these opposing wishes. They balance, they tug, and they leave enough room for us to journey with him. By day and until nightfall.

In and out.

A perfect choice to celebrate curiosity, imagination, and the way we explore our world.

Another Nikki McClure favorite is here!

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Sebastian and the Balloon

Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

by Philip Stead (Roaring Book Press, 2014)

This boy. This book.

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We know Philip Stead can tell a story. Even his Number Five Bus interview series (with wife and creative partner Erin and ‘potentially interesting interactions with fellow book people’) is like a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a blanket.

Here’s what I love about this book.

That the copyright page tells us the art was made with pastels, oil paints, and pressed charcoal. Those things make your hands dirty and rub all the story off with it. There’s a feeling of grit there that I can’t quite figure out, but somehow these drawings feel loose and messy and full of both turbulence and elegance. The color is both rich and muted, deep and spare.

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This red bird, that shows up on every single page. A constant companion to Sebastian’s wandering. A comfort. Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

That Philip Stead varies his compositions throughout, so that sometimes you are intimate with this cast, and sometimes you are pulling back for a wide shot of their world. That sometimes you are bobbing along with them and that sometimes you are floating free. That you feel the magnitude of this balloon trip, that you go with the wind too.

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This leafless tree that gets the lumpiest-in-my-throat moment when it returns in glorious color. It was hard not to show you what I mean, but if you haven’t seen this part, then see this part. I won’t wreck the magic.

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That the closest Sebastian comes to a smile is in sharing pickle sandwiches with his friends.

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The way this milky gray fog is drawn. Moody and slightly scary and a barrier between the reader and the page. You can’t warn them about the pop because they couldn’t hear you through its thickness. They have to endure the danger.

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That each character’s face is solemn and expressionless, but full of understanding. For each other, for pressing on, for seeing something. The tension there is the curiosity and the hope that they are finding comfort in their journey.

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These sisters. Because.

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This ramshackle roller coaster. Both “the most perfect roller coaster they would ever see” and chipped and faded and bent and broken and overrun with pigeons. And the pigeons, for where they go next.

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That Sebastian thought to bring a boat and a ball of yarn.

And that I have a love/hate relationship with Caldecott speculation, but that big moon and patchwork balloon would look especially nice with a third round thing on the cover.

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P.S. – Did I tell you about my spin on the Let’s Get Busy podcast with Matthew Winner and Kelly Light? That’s here if you want a listen. This book love guilt thing is no joke, because I keep thinking of other 2014 favorites that didn’t make our list, like this one. Huge thanks to book people for making great things. Don’t slow down. Also, here’s a super conversation between Philip and Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. More art! Not to miss.

I Know a Lot of Things

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

by Ann and Paul Rand (Chronicle Books, 2009; originially published in 1956.)

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You might remember how much I love this pair’s Sparkle and Spin, and this one is just as playful and just as true. That case cover surprise is an a delight, and complementary-colored endpapers start this book with a bang.

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Paul Rand’s graphic genius is so well-matched by the simple and spare words of his wife, Ann. The text and the pictures both glide through that magical reality of childhood. Things that might seem daunting to someone bested by time are small and accessible. Things that may seem obvious or forgettable are ripe for play and adventure.

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It’s a reminder to slow down, listen, and watch. The world is built of wonderful things. The big picture is as beautiful as the details.

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Here, the sentiment is the whole of this person. I’m not sure there’s an ending more perfect, not for kids or their grownups. There’s so much more to know, but what you carry with you can stay.

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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.)

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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.

CLICK TO READ MORE

Martin Pebble

Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble (Phaidon, 2006; first published in French, 1969)

by Jean-Jacques Sempé

I love this book.

I love the type on the cover.

I love the yellow.

I love the shape and the size and the story.

I love Martin Pebble.

He’s loveable.

(I picked this up on a recent trip to Once Upon a Time in Montrose, CA, which is exactly why shopping in stores is the greatest thing. I had to touch this thing to believe it, and I might not have seen this thing if it weren’t for the bookseller. Bookstores are like story petting zoos and museums that don’t give you the stinkeye if you get too close to the art.)

(Something like that.)

But poor Martin Pebble.

Martin Pebble could have been a happy little boy, like many other children. But, sad to say . . . he had something that was rather unusual the matter with him:

he kept blushing. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble blushes for all the usual reasons and for no reason at all. The brilliance of Sempé’s color here is hard to miss. Black and white line work contains the red of Martin’s face, and that red occasionally extends to the text as well.

Subtle. Striking. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé The contrast Sempé crafts between Martin’s red face and all that black and white makes that blushing even worse.

Martin is in a pickle. He’s tiny and nearly lost on the page save for his giveaway condition.

He dreamed of fitting in. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé But he always stood out. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Then comes a series of sneezes, some very loud A T I S H O O s, and there he is.

Roddy Rackett, the new neighbor. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé When the story changes, and the hardships knock at the door, Sempé doesn’t just use the suspense of a page turn. He stops the story cold. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Roddy Rackett’s family moves away.

When you are a boy, and when you are made normal in the quirks of another, you never really forget about it. You think about A T I S H O O s while you are doing grownup things like riding taxis and elevators. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Sometimes things get back to normal. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé I won’t spoil past that pink-lettered page.

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And!

Sempé himself sounds like a storybook character. He sold tooth powder door-to-door salesman! Delivered wine by bicycle! (More here.)

Click here for some of Sempé’s covers for The New Yorker. Lovely.

And this Pinterest board is a feast for the eyes, too. Enjoy!

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The Lion and the Bird

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc The Lion and the Bird (Enchanted Lion, 2014)

by Marianne Dubuc

A lion and a bird are not the most obvious of friends. One big, shaggy, and growly, and one small, sleek, and flit-about-y.

But not these two. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc This lion has rosy cheeks which are insta-endearing and wanders out to his work. Just a lion, working in the garden. That’s when he spots an injured bird. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc Same insta-endearing rosy cheeks.

The lion springs to action. The bird smiles, but the flock has flown away. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc Marianne Dubuc varies the art on the page. Some spot illustrations, some full-bleed. This paces the small, quiet action of the story – the spots create sequential scenes on one spread, moving us forward in time, a full-bleed image slows us down into one moment on the same physical space. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc The Lion and the Bird by Marianne DubucThe two spend the winter together, ice-fishing and fire-watching. It’s cold. But:

Winter doesn’t feel all that cold with a friend. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

No more spots, no more full-bleed. Only white space.

We slow way down. We worry about what’s to come.

But Spring has to come. The flock has to return.

The page turn here is filled with emotion. We see the lion saying a bittersweet goodbye. (How he’s holding his hat in honor is just the most beautiful thing.) The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc And then, as if we are the flock, he gets smaller. Farther away. Lots of white space. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc Time goes on. (Sometimes the seasons are like that.)

But then. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc A flock of birds. A single note in the white space.

Winter returns, and so does his friend.

In this book, white space moves the story and white space is the story. The moments that seem the most like nothing might actually be the moments that are the most something.

That bird’s solitary trill piercing the air reminds me a bit of this art installation. It’s a combination of movement, music, and art that leaves room for the story in the space left behind. This reminds me of the lion, waiting and listening and hoping.

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PS: I’m heading to Las Vegas this weekend for ALA. Will you be there? Would love to say hello!

 Review copy provided by the publisher. All thoughts my own.

The Baby Tree

The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackallby Sophie Blackall

published 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books, at Penguin KidsThe Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallAbout a year ago, I heard Sophie Blackall give a keynote at SCBWI Western Washington. She wears great tights and shoes and is a total riot. She had this effervescent spirit that had the whole room in stitches. It felt like watching one of her illustrations bounce right off the page and into the room.

See, I’m a big fan. Ivy and Bean are soul sisters. I gushed about The Crows of Pearblossom and The Mighty Lalouche over at Design Mom, and still stand by this tweet from the end of 2013.

Her work has sprinkles of fairy dust or something in it – something enchanting and mysterious and compelling and darn beautiful.

And this, her latest offering, is both calming and humorous, sweet and sassy. It’s a bound and beautiful answer to the dreaded where do babies come from?

breaker She’s so in tune with the vast (and sometimes creepy!) imagination of a youngster, and look at how that plays out in this art. Real life is a spot illustration, surrounded by white space and unknowns. But the what if bleeds to the edge of the page, filling every millimeter with color and wonder and possibility. Not only is it stunning to see, it’s intentional storytelling. The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall The Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallHat tip, always, to Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for the interview that revealed that delicious tidbit. Check out her interview (and more art!) with Sophie here.

Sophie works in Brooklyn with other illustrators Brian Floca, Ed Hemingway, John Bemelmans Marciano, and Sergio Ruzzier. Can you even imagine spending an hour in that studio, soaking it all up and trying not to faint and fall in it? Dream field trip, for sure. Their kinship and support of one another has always been so apparent. Look here, and here, and here to see what I mean.

But also, look inside The Baby Tree for a glimpse at their love and support of one another. What’s our pajama-clad wonderer reading with Mom and Dad, all cozied up in bed? I won’t spoil it for you, cause it was a gasp-moment for me. If you’ll bust without knowing, check out Danielle’s post over at This Picture Book Life about allusions in picture books. (And stay there a while even once you see what I’m talking about, cause how brilliant is that?!)

You’d like a copy, right? Penguin has two to give away to you! (And you!) Just leave a comment on this post by Monday at noon PST, June 2nd. I’ll pick two, and have the stork deliver The Baby Tree right to your doorstep. Good luck!

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Review copy provided by the publisher, all thoughts and love my own.