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.)

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

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.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

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.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

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.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

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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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.

But I love it. IMG_1250 copy

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.

Ninja! and an interview with Arree Chung

Ninja! by Arree Chungby Arree Chung

published June 2014 by Henry Holt and Company, an imprint of Macmillan.

Friends, I’m so excited to have Arree Chung in this corner of the internet today. I met Arree last summer at SCBWI in Los Angeles, and am humbled every time I think about how we share an agent and a friendship. He’s an expert storyteller with a bright, animated style and a fresh perspective. Ninja! is his debut picture book, and it will be far from his last.

First, you should watch this short film. And here’s my confession. Arree sent this to me a number of weeks ago with the caveat that it was unreleased and not to share. Except: it was too awesome not to. So I showed it to my students, because single-digit-aged kids are pretty good at secrets and don’t have Twitter accounts anyway.

They loved it. And I mean L O V E D  I T. Each class, without fail, asked to watch it many, many times in a row. So we did.

Meet Maxwell, and then meet Arree.

breaker What has been the most surprising thing about this whole debut picture book thing?

The most surprising thing about the publishing process is how long it takes to actually bring a book to market (1.5 – 2 years).  My background is in games, where companies can publish with the click of a button and make updates via the internet.  The process gives me appreciation for the care that goes into the publishing process.  It also helps to have a great team of people to work with.  Everyone from your agent, publisher, editor and art director in making the book and then there’s publicity, marketing and sales folks that help in getting the book out. 1stCoverAn early cover design. An early cover design. Ninja_Revision_Notesrevision notes.

I’m fortunate to have a supportive publisher in Macmillan.  They have a great team of experts.  Each one helps you with a specific aspect of the publishing process.  I’ve learned so much.  I’m so grateful I’ve been in good hands.  I’ve worked hard to hold up my end of the deal and make something special.  With Ninja it was easy, because I loved it so much.

Who are your creative and/or literary heroes?

Oh, so many!

Authors:
Roald Dahl
E.B. White
Jack Gantos
Judy Blume
Jeff Kinney

Illustrators:
Russell Patterson
Chris Ware
Yuko Shimitzo

Author/Illustrators:
Shel Silverstien
Wolf Erlbruch
William Steig
Mo Willems
Peter Brown
Leo Lionni
Maurice Sendak
Ian Falconer
Jon Klassen
David Shannon
Bill Peet
Calef Brown

Comics:
Jim Lee
Scott McFarlane
Jeffrey Brown
Bill Watterson
Jim Davis
Charles Schulz

Animation/Film:
Brad Bird
John Lassetter
Guillermo Del Toro
Chris Sanders
Danny Boyle
Tim Burton
Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit)
Steven Spielberg
Hayao Miyazaki

Can you talk about the similarities and differences in animation and the picture book form?

I love both mediums for different reasons.  Both mediums can transport the reader into new worlds.  I love it when a book or movie captures my imagination and I am completely immersed in a world that has been built.  The world is invented but it feels familiar and the story resonates with honesty.  I hate it when a story is force feeding me a message and it feels like an infomercial or when a story rambles without a focus.  Storytelling is magical when it has both the imagination and heart and speaks to you directly and honestly.  A great story is so exhilarating.  There’s nothing in the world that feels like it.  I love both animation and picture books because they have the ability to create magic.

How they are different?  Well, I think the main difference is that film tends to be a passive experience.  The viewer is in a dream like state that watches the story unfold.  It’s like being suspended in a time capsule and you watch everything that happens.  You take the story in a more subliminal kind of way. NinjaCreepAway Spread14_15Books on the other hand I think are active experiences.  You as the reader actively interact with the words and pictures.  It’s like your brain is the film projector and is working to play the story.  Because of this, I think books are much more intimate experiences.  You go at your own pace.  You stop, question and wonder.  Sometimes you’re so engaged, you speed all the way through and sometimes you like to read slowly just because.  Readers engage books with their imaginations and a lot of the story is told in-between the words, the page turns and the illustrations whereas films are full experiences that use all the arts of composition, acting, music and visuals to put you in a state of suspension.

Both are magical and I love doing both so much.

Can you give us any behind-the-scenes information on how you created the short film? Did you get to know Maxwell differently in that format?

Yeah!  It was so thrilling to bring Maxwell to life.  I had a pretty good idea of who he is as a character after creating the book but actually seeing him move and casting Taylor Wong as Maxwell brought another whole dimension.

As for production, here’s a quick behind the scenes look of what it took to make the short film.  I plan on doing a much more in-depth look in a separate blog post.

We used 4 software tools: Photoshop, Flash, After Effects and Final Cut Pro.  The process was a highly collaborative effort between folks at MacMillan, myself and David Shovlin, the animator.  It was a ton of work to do but a ton of fun as well.ShortFilm_Process

In all, it took about 5 weeks of work.  David and I worked really hard on it and I’m really proud of what we created in a relatively short period of time.2013-09-09 23:23Where did Ninja! come from?

It’s been my dream to make my own picture books for a long time.  The first conception of Ninja came when I was in art school.  I jotted down “A boy goes creeping around the house dressed as a Ninja and causes trouble.”  That was probably in 2007 or so.

Maxwell_1st_CharacterSketchesNinja_Thumbnails        MaxwellScanNoPencil Ninja_Thumbnails        MaxwellScanNoPencil Ninja_earlySketches-1Early Ninja! thumbnails and character sketches.

In 2012, I decided to do the Illustrator Intensive at the SCBWI Summer Conference.  We were given an assignment to submit a story along with a manuscript, thumbnails, character sketches, and a finished illustration.  Up to that point, I had been writing stories for years but was stuck on many of them.  For the workshop we had to write down answers to the following questions:

WHO
WHAT is the dilemma?
WHERE does it take place?
HOW is the problem solved?

This really helped me a lot.  Previous to this, many of my stories didn’t have focus and wandered a lot.  Ninja was a big break through for me as a storyteller and I had lots of people who helped guide me through it.   I’m so thankful for Rubin, my agent, and Kate, my editor.  The more I worked on it, the more the world and character took shape and gained depth.  It was so much fun to make.

Do you remember any art you made as a kid? What was it?!

Yeah, I made a lot of ninja stars and origami.  I was also obsessed with Legos.  I loved to build cruiser space ships and large fortresses armed to the teeth.  Whenever my uncle bought us Legos, we would make the thing we were supposed to make and then tear it apart and then make what we wanted to make.  Making your own thing was much more fun.

I was a huge comic book reader and collector as well.  I bought all of the X-men, Spiderman, Spider-ham, Batman and Spawn comics.  I still buy comics.

I also really love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I used to record all of the episodes.  In fact, I used to press pause on the VCR and trace drawings of the Ninja Turtles by overlaying paper onto the TV.  At school, everyone thought I was the best drawer, but I never told anyone my technique til now!  Eventually I copied so many drawings I could draw it out of memory.  I tried to do the same technique with Transformers but that wasn’t nearly as successful because I didn’t understand perspective as at 12 year old.

And now what’s next for you?Ninja_GhostStoryI’ve got a lot of things I’m working on.  I have lots of Ninja stories to tell with Maxwell. (I’m so excited about all of them!)  One of them involves an old Chinese folktale involving ghosts!

I’m also illustrating two Potty Training books for kids that are hilarious.HowToPeeillustrations from How to Pee

I have lots of picture book stories I’m developing and I’m also writing a middle grade novel titled Ming Lee, All American.  Ming Lee chronicles my experiences growing up as an ABC (American Born Chinese).  It’s deeply personal and is funny in that Louis CK, embarrassing but honest kind of way.  I would describe it as Judy Blume meets Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Of course, it is its own thing that I am figuring out.  I have a sense of what I want it to be but you never know what it will be until you get there.

Ming_Lee_Cover MingLeeHairCut

breaker A huge thanks to Arree for this peek into the mind of a master craftsman. Be sure to get your hands on Ninja! this week!

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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.

 

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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The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes

by Gloria Fowler, illustrated by Sun Young Yoo

published 2008, by Ammo Books

The slightest clunk in some of the words is swept up in the utter beauty of the illustrations in The Red Shoes. It’s an interpretation of the classic Hans Christian Anderson story, and I love its elegant take on girl power.

Just look at that cover. It’s evocative and inviting and so lovely that I’m not quite sure where her locks and thread intertwine and end.

The illustrations are rendered in black and white throughout, and so the peek of red under the dust jacket is exquisite. And lift that dust jacket for a taste of those red shoes. The Red Shoes Speaking of the black and white, Sun Young Yoo says this: “A lot of people have asked me the reason why I don’t use any colors in my work. I do use colors sometimes, but I think there are a lot of colors out in the world. I don’t think I need too many colors to express my thoughts and stories. A piece of paper and a pen with black ink would be enough for me to create my own world. Instead of filling up the paper with colors, I’m inviting the viewers to my black and white world and asking them to fill up the blanks with their own colors and imagination.” The Red Shoes Endpaper junkies will adore them, and so will the shoe fiends among you. (I’m looking at you, Sallie.) The Red Shoes And the title, woven from needle and thread. Whoa. All of these details, and we are just now to the beginning of the words in the story. Thanks to its form, so much of the picture book experience is absorbed prior to reading a word. Its art, its heft, its detail: you’ve read so much of the story before you get to its true beginning. Then we meet Karen, the daughter of the town shoemaker. We see one illustration of their love for each other, an embrace that is so deftly drawn that it takes a long look to see where one begins and the other ends. So when Karen’s mother falls ill and passes away, the devastation is great. She’s alone in a vast empty space. And that tear. The Red Shoes The Red Shoes Enter a queen and a princess and a decree to hand over the red shoes or be cut at the ankle. Karen looks so alone in this forest of executioner boots. The Red Shoes Where white has washed the previous pages, now we only see dark. And man, I love this picture. Karen’s mother, reflected in a river and reaching out for Karen’s tears. Once again, the two wrapped around one another. The Red Shoes The Red Shoes And then, a spark. Stitches and beads and sequins and threads. A bit of bravery and a touch of trickery.

I love that a story about a special pair of red shoes was told with an economy of color. The expressive line of a careful pencil holds all the weight of this fairy tale.

Happily ever after.

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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.

 

 

Leonardo the Terrible Monster

Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Here’s something.

By Mo Willems. Published 2005, by Hyperion Books for Children. (Which I believe is now Disney-Hyperion.)

An old favorite, a forgotten gem. I was plotting a read-aloud for fourth graders, hunting for a picture book about meanness and bragging and being friends with someone different than you. In true Mo Willems style, this thing jumped right off the shelf when I ran my fingers across the spines. True story.

So I ignored my achy-creaky knees, and hovered over this on the floor of the library. It was one of the last purchases I made for the library before I left Virginia for California, but I haven’t given it two shakes of a nod since.

Not surprisingly, it’s brilliant.

It’s sheer size is in direct opposition to how terrible of a monster Leonardo is. I mean, he’s so big that he can’t even be contained to the cover. All we see is a peek of meek eyes and teensy-tiny horns. But we already know he’s pretty bad at being a monster. That juxtaposition is beyond hilarious, right? Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems So, he’s terrible. And terribly alone. Look at all of the white space on this spread, highlighting just how terrible and terribly alone Leonardo is. It makes his sad face even more pathetic. Awful. Awesome.Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Adults laugh at him. He doesn’t have Tony’s outrageous stack of teeth. And then there’s Eleanor, whose purple pedicure and anklet only hint at what kind of monstrous mug she may have. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems But Leonardo has an idea  – a fantastic, scare-the-tuna-salad-out-of-a-scaredy-cat-kid idea. His plot gives him some bounces of confidence. And there’s less white space. More text, more oomph, more pizzazz from his plan. He’s not so alone.

Enter: Sam. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems The reader knows right away that Sam and Leonardo are cut from the same cloth of lonely. Sam has even more nothing around him. Sam isn’t even facing forward. Sam has the saddest pit of despair behind those wire rims. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsSo when Leonardo blaggle-blaggles, grrrrs, and roooaarrrs, Sam cries.

But. It’s not because he’s scared. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Now. Here’s where I did a combo of a laugh/snort/cackle/snot/wimper thing. Sam’s white space is filled to the brim with all of the awful things that were bouncing around under his bowl cut. A mean big brother! A stubbed toe! On the same foot that he hurt last month! Bird poo! A hurt tummy!

All of Sam’s insides just tumble out and stun that gruff old Leonardo. Look at how he’s clutching his chest! Swoon.

That’s why. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems And then – an epic page turn. Leonardo’s smart, caring, friend-brain fills up all of that white space. It’s like the part where the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes. By seeing his whole face, his thought process, and those very un-monster eyes, we watch his heart change. Just like that. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems The way Mo Willems uses space and size in this book shows us so much about Leonardo, Sam, and ourselves.

Friends. Flipping you forward since about forever.

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P.S. – For those fourth graders? Ended up going with Each Kindness, which is lovely beyond measure, and the moment was just shy of heart stopping. It was a perfect picture book morning. 

Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 1.21.50 PM

Flora and the Flamingo

by Molly Idle

{published 2013 by Chronicle Books}

I think the first Molly Idle illustration I ever saw was something from her latest release, Tea Rex. She had me at the pale pink and yellow striped wallpaper. Done for.

But the pale pink and yellow in a freshly-cracked-open Flora and the Flamingo might have pushed me over the ooooooh-top.

That bright yellow is a perfect complement to the sweet shades of pink. And of course, it’s also the cheery color of dear Flora’s daisy-spotted swim cap. And note something about that deceptively simple tagline, Friendship is a beautiful dance.’ Besides being a lovely sentiment, it sets up the reader to really count the time, hear the music, and expect an overwhelming crescendo.

I was entirely swept away.

The book opens on a flamingo in a perfect passé. But then…

Here she comes. In floppy black flippers, and already in stark contrast to the flamingo’s lean grace. But Flora is unabashedly confident, and sidles right up to the flamingo, mirroring his move. And do you see the flaps? Molly Idle’s animation background breaks through the static page turn of the picture book, and requires the reader to be participatory, to be part of the dance. So much to love here. The once confident Flora is now coy and demure. If that’s not an eye for mischief, I’m not sure what is.

Also? Her roundness is part of her charm, right?! I take a beginning ballet class for adults, and this kinship to Flora makes me feel like I fit right in at the barre. Love her for that! And so they dance.

Have you noticed their spatial separation up until this point? Flora firmly planted on the right, the flamingo steady and stable on the left. Until this spread! Flora jetés straight across the gutter to her partner. That spread above stunned me, made me gasp, and then made me cheer.After some pages of very cute choreography, the flamingo forgets his manners (I assume he had them in the first place, as dapper flamingos usually do, right?) and teases the upside down and awkward moves of Flora. She stumbles and spills and is so very sad. And there she is, all alone, and back on the right hand side of the spreads.

Until… He dances to her. It’s his turn to cross the gutter, to patch things up with Flora, to offer up apologies and invite her to dance again.

From a design perspective, that movement is subtle, simple, and utterly brilliant. From a story-telling perspective, the exact same thing is true. For much of the book, Flora and her friend have been relatively small on the page, allowing for lots of white space. That space lets these characters live at the heart of the book, and leaves room for the dance of friendship to reverberate.

That’s why this near-final spread is so soaring. The steps have been small but meaningful, and the rhythm of their dance echoes their size on the page. But now, they launch out of frame together. The left side/right side split is irrelevant, and the crescendo of their dance matches their mended-up and larger than life friendship.

Now, I’m not much of a betting girl. (Except for those early 2000s when all I wanted to do was play poker. True story. And I was halfway decent, but my sister was always better.) But if I had to put all of my money on the top Caldecott contender for this year? This one, by leaps and bounds.

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