They All Saw a Cat

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by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle Books, 2016)

You might have heard about this book.

You might have read the fascinating and buzz-inducing article on its acquisition.

You might have heard Matthew Winner and Brendan Wenzel in conversation here. (And do if you haven’t! It’s a treat.)

You might have seen Emily Arrow’s super sweet song and video. (Kid-tested and approved in my library!)

You might have seen many, many bloggers invite the Caldecott (and Geisel!) committee to the party on this one. (See here, here, here, and here.)

All of those people saw a cat. And I did too!

But somehow, Brendan Wenzel actually wrote a cat.

Let’s break it down.

The opening spread is an introduction to the character, his journey, and his senses. The art asks us to follow, but so do the words.

Read this out loud.

The cat walked through the world,

with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . .

You can hear the hiss of a cat in the final sound of the words in that second line. Its, whiskers, ears, and paws. The words are the cat. The cat is in the words.

Even better, look at those three words that begin with w. Walked, world, with, and whiskers. Not only is that a lovely example of alliteration, it’s also paced in such a way that each W sound becomes the quiet pitter-patter of our cat’s paws. Read it out loud again. Do you hear how with drops out a bit, but each of the other Ws are stressed beats?

And we know cats are observers and quiet hunters, so it’s a perfect starting sound that’s both nonchalant and predatory.

Once the reader has followed that cat into the book, we are treated to a true visual feast. It’s a remarkable look at perspective and interacting with the world. Our cat shifts from fearful to fierce over the pages. Isn’t that how we all see the world?

But let’s take a look at the creatures who see the cat. The book is paced in threes, a tried-and-true structure in many forms of storytelling.

Up first, the child, the dog, and the fox.

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Look at how those connect:

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And then Wenzel revisits the opening, reminding us of the cat’s mission, giving us a brief respite from the adventure and another opportunity to experience that rich language.

And then:

fish mouse Listen to those sounds: short i, the ow of mouse (a dipthong, /au/!), and a long e.

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It’s almost a meow. Can you hear it?

And then we’ve got a real romp.

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This time, a bird, a flea, a snake, a skunk, a worm, and a bat.

Bird follows bee.

Flea reminds of that bee too.

A snake, a skunk.

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A worm from down low, a bat from up high.

And a bat, our (almost) final watcher, perfectly rhymes with cat.

You’re going to hear a lot about the visual acuity of this book, and that is wholly deserved. But take note of the text. It’s also seeing things differently. And saying them, and hearing them, and experiencing them. This is the beauty of the picture book, and this is a spectacular one.

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Thank you to Chronicle Books for the interior images in this post.

Everyone + an interview with Christopher Silas Neal

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by Christopher Silas Neal (Candlewick, 2016)

I’m happy to introduce you today to Christopher Silas Neal, a picture book creator I am a big fan of. He’s got quite the illustration portfolio, but this spring’s Everyone was his debut as both picture book author and illustrator. Here’s hoping he makes many more. Enjoy!

How did you get into picture books?

Over and Under the Snow was my first experience making a picture book. I had been an illustrator for about seven years, making art for magazines, posters, and book covers before Chronicle Books called with Kate Messner’s manuscript. Kate’s approach to writing about nature was more lyrical and unexpected than a typical science based picture book and Chronicle was looking for a non-traditional artist. Even though many of my biggest influences were classic picture book makers, I hadn’t thought I would be one myself.

Narrative illustration felt overwhelming and daunting—character building wasn’t something I had ever tried and building scenes was certainly not my strong suit. I had previously worked as a graphic designer and my approach to image making is more flat and simple than what I thought readers expected from picture book art. The industry wasn’t as visually diverse as it is now and at the time, most books about nature would have featured fairly detailed and rendered paintings. I just didn’t see me having a place in that world. But, I loved Kate’s writing and the folks at Chronicle Books are so nice and very design oriented, so I thought if there was ever a chance, this is it.

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My pictures are often quiet and still with a lot of space—the fact that this book was set in wintery woods was reassuring.  A big challenge was figuring out how to add depth without using the things that traditional painters rely on like lighting and perspective—visual tools I typically don’t use. I like to think the personality in the art comes from me trying to fit a painterly peg into a graphically flat and naively drawn hole.

Where did the beginnings of Everyone originate?

When I first met my agent Stephen Barr at Writer’s House I had a few book ideas floating around, but Stephen was more interested in an animated gif I had made. It was based off a drawing I did for the New York Times about a boy whose parents were deported to Mexico. It’s a simple image of a boy crying and his tears turning into two birds. Stephen thought the idea had promise as a book and I spent the next year turning it into a manuscript and book dummy. In the end I think I had made fifty versions before sending it to publishers. Eventually, we sold the idea to Liz Bicknell at Candlewick.

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Can you tell us about your process?

The writing process happened organically. I started with that original New York Times image and tried to think of other visual metaphors that involved nature bending and morphing to reflect our emotions. After a bit of sketching, writing and playing with ideas, a theme developed—when we feel something, the world feels it too and reflects those feelings back at us—and I illustrated three emotional expressions: crying, laughter, singing.

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It took a lot of patience for the words to develop. I had one version where I spelled everything out in the text i.e.”…the boy’s tear turned into a bird and flew into the sky. The bird whispered to the clouds and soon the clouds were crying, too,” but my editor, my agent, and I all agreed that the story was better left simple and open ended. After many, many revisions I pared it down to the few words that appear in the book.

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I was listening to a lot of John Lennon—he uses these wonderfully simple, repetitive phrases—and I tried to put some of that influence to the words of this book. I can almost hear a John Lennon melody when I read from Everyone, “When you cry you are not alone. When you laugh happiness grows. When you sing everyone listens.”

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9780763676834.int.2 I wanted the art to match the simplicity of the text so the illustrations are made using just three colors. My process starts with pencil sketches and then digital mockups where I think about color and composition. The final art is created in layers or separations very similar to print making. Each color is drawn and/or painted separately and then scanned as a black and white image. Then I add color to each separation—one is colored black, one blue, one tan—and they are layered on top of each other to make a complete image.

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What does a picture book text need in order for you to feel excited about illustrating it?

The words should be poetic or simple or surprising and there needs to be room for me to add to the narrative. If the text is too descriptive, there isn’t really much for me to add.

Who are some of your story heroes?

One of my favorite books is Frederick by Leo Lionni. It’s a simple, emotional book about four field mice storing food for winter. Except one mouse who gathers sun rays, colors, and words. I love how you can see the process within the final images. The reader can mentally pick apart the textures and scraps of paper like a puzzle.

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What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?

Leanne Shapton paints wooden blocks to look like re-imagined book covers. The art is all typography and shapes. I have one of her blocks painted as Jaws by Peter Benchley.

What’s next for you?

I have a third book with Kate Messner coming out in Spring 2017 called Over and Under the Pond. In Fall 2017 I have another book with Candlewick about a hungry cat. In Spring 2018 I have a series of board books about shapes and colors and animals. Beyond that are books with authors Jennifer Adams and Barb Rosenstock.

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Thank you, Christopher! Your readers have lots to look forward to, and I am so very glad you are a part of the world of picture books.

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EVERYONE. Copyright © 2016 by Christopher Silas Neal. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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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Apples and Robins

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by Lucie Félix (Chronicle Books, 2016)

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Here’s a book that is also a puzzle, an optical illusion, and a little bit toy-like all at once. Here’s what I mean.

So, then, a birdhouse: one small circle, two parallelograms, and a die-cut triangle.

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Or walls and a roof and a string, of course. Isn’t that what shapes are? Real, living, breathing things?

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But then wind blows and the sky rumbles, and . . .

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This book isn’t only clever cuts and shapes transforming into magic. It’s also a gentle arc of a pulsing spring. An apple, a reach, a bite, a worm.

A robin, a song, a home, a storm.

A mess, a basket, a watch, a wait.

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A winter, a spring.

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Pool

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

by JiHyeon Lee  (Chronicle Books, 2015)

Hello to you! And you! And you!

Here I am, ready to flip my g o n e  f i s h i n g sign back around.

First, have you had a nice summer? I have been away from the grind, sitting on a deck, writing books and reading them, and it’s been so very nice to be off the grid for a while. But I do miss my books.

You might have seen today’s floating around this summer, and I can’t think of a better one to celebrate the season.

Pool. The word itself conjures up both serenity and splashing chaos, and both of those things exist inside this book.

At its heart, this is a tale of a friendship. Even as grownups there’s a dance to the early moments of togetherness, and this story is that thing in book form.

A boy at the edge of a pool, all the hope of his day before him. A crowd, scary with its wacky floats and almost-tentacles.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

(click to enlarge)

That’s when he dives, under it all and to the quiet, and that’s when he meets his friend. And that’s when things get weird. Isn’t that how it is with friendship? You see new things together, you name the new things together, you create a new kind of community together. The fish and plants and the world under the crazies is bizarre to us, but is it to them? Perhaps not.

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(click to enlarge)

That’s the beauty of finding a friend in the quiet places, whether or not you were looking.

And at the end, when the crowd is exiting to the left, the friends leave to the right. Those two, going forward. Together.

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This is one of those books that I fell in love with when I first saw the cover. And it’s worth wondering why.

I love that the face could belong to either the girl or the boy. I like to think it’s after the magic, both because of the sweet smile and the still-dreamy fish, reflected and real. And I love that by staring at us, it’s almost an invitation. To play, to swim, to step away from the crowd at the edge of the pool.

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Can’t get enough of this book? Me either! Here are some other places I loved reading about it. Danielle at This Picture Book Life paired it with the most adorable pool floats (ice cream sandwich!), and there’s still enough summer left to make that dream a reality! JiHyeon Lee is over at Picturebook Makers talking about the story behind the story and shares some process pictures, which I can’t ever get enough. And you can download some free Pool wallpapers at Chronicle’s happy home online. Enjoy the swim!

Thanks to Chronicle for the images in this post!

Blog Tour: The Water and the Wild

The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee

by K.E. Ormsbee, illustrated by Elsa Mora (Chronicle Books, 2015)

From the publisher:

A green apple tree grows in the heart of Thirsby Square, and tangled up in its magical roots is the story of Lottie Fiske. For as long as Lottie can remember, the only people who seem to care about her are her best friend, Eliot, and the mysterious letter writer who sends her birthday gifts. But now strange things are happening on the island Lottie calls home, and Eliot’s getting sicker, with a disease the doctors have given up trying to cure. Lottie is helpless, useless, powerless—until a door opens in the apple tree. Follow Lottie down through the roots to another world in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss.

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I’m so excited to be a stop on the blog tour celebrating the release of The Water and the Wild, which includes a chance for you to win a copy of this beautiful (literally and figuratively!) book.

First, let’s hear from K.E. herself. Welcome, K.E.!

K. E. Ormsbee

Visualizing Limn: The Real-World Inspirations Behind Lottie Fiske’s World.

In The Water and the Wild, twelve-year-old Lottie Fiske travels through the roots of an apple tree into the magic-soaked world of Limn—a land filled with bustling cities, dense woods, magical yew trees, and giant spider webs. World building Limn was one of the most fun and challenging aspects of writing The Water and the Wild, and my inspiration for the look and feel of the fantasy landscape came from very real places.

Today, I’d like to share some of those inspirations and take a moment to gush about just how perfectly artist Elsa Mora captured the magic of Limn in her cover art and illustrations.

New Kemble – York, England

I’m a huge anglophile, and one of my favorite places in all of England is York. The city is rich with layer upon layer of history, as evidenced in its walls, its giant cathedral, and its winding streets. I remember first setting foot in The Shambles and feeling certain that something ancient and magical was at work there.

When I first drafted The Water and the Wild, the story actually took place in York. Over time and a number of subsequent revisions, York became New Kemble, a fictional island town off the coast of Massachusetts. But the inspiration for New Kemble remained thoroughly English. I still envision The Barmy Badger—home of Lottie’s best friend Eliot—on a street similar to The Shambles. And Lottie’s home in the boardinghouse on Thirsby Square is based on the real St. Paul’s Square in York.

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Iris Gate – The Biltmore Estate

When Lottie first arrives in Limn, she stays at the home of the Wilfers—an old money family with royal connections and a fair share of secrets. The Wilfer family home is called Iris Gate, and Lottie is overwhelmed by the size and grandeur of the place. When describing Iris Gate, I tried to capture the intimidation I felt upon first walking into the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

The Biltmore is an imposing mansion even to full-grown adults, and I was ten when my family visited. I remember gaping at the soaring ceilings, ornate decorations, and sprawling gardens. Though Iris Gate is nowhere near as extensive as the Biltmore, its architecture and landscaping were written to resemble that of the Biltmore Estate.

Biltmore Estate - Taken From Biltmore Official Website

Wisp Territory – Springtime in my childhood neighborhood

I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. The city is surrounded by rolling green hills, black fences, and horse farms. It experiences four distinct seasons, and the springtimes there are lovely. In my neighborhood, there were many dogwoods, magnolias, and Bradford pear trees. When all of those trees were in bloom, white petals would blow loose into the wind, and everywhere I turned the world seemed awash in white. I called it my Warm Winter.

I never shook those springtime images, and when I was creating Wisp Territory—home to the mysterious will o’ the wisps—I wanted to convey a similar aesthetic. The world of the wisps is, by and large, colorless. The grass, the trees, and the leaves are all white. The royal home is made entirely of glass. This wintry appearance does not vary with the seasons, and it’s my homage to the Warm Winters I experienced as a kid.

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Clearly, I have some very distinct ideas about how the world of Limn looks. What I was most nervous and excited about during the publication process was seeing how an artist would render a world that had for so long existed only in my imagination. As it turns out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. When Melissa Manlove, my fabulous editor at Chronicle Books, first gave me Elsa Mora’s name, I of course went straight to Google to do some major image stalking. After only a minute, I knew I was in the best of hands.

Elsa’s papercuts are pure magic. There is so much detail, care, and whimsy in each of her creations. The cover of The Water and the Wild conveys not only the fantasticalness, but also the danger of Lottie’s journey. The way in which the characters and their natural surroundings blend so effortlessly captures my own attempt to make the world around Lottie as much a character as she is.

Inside the book, you’ll find a papercut plant accompanying each chapter heading. These illustrations reinforce the importance of the natural world throughout the book. And, you know, they just so happen to be GORGEOUS.

It’s been almost seven years since I first wrote down the image of a magical green apple tree. Now, as Lottie Fiske’s story officially hits bookshelves, I couldn’t be happier with the way that image and others came to be realized in the art and text of The Water and the Wild.

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If you’re anything like me, you’re dying to read more about Lottie and Limn. So! Tweet this post anyway you’d like on Twitter, and include the hashtag #dpb for a chance to win a copy! I’ll be in touch with a winner in a week.

Check out The Water and the Wild’s teacher guide here, and a sneak peek at its beginning here.

And be sure to check out tomorrow’s stop on the tour at Green Bean Teen Queen, where K.E. talks libraries!

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Cat Says Meow (and a giveaway!)

Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt by Michael Arndt (Chronicle Books, 2014)

This book won me over when I saw it last year, and it’s one that is fun to peek into again and again. And how is that the case with something so simple, but so sophisticated? So spare, but so complex? That’s the best truth of design.

Here’s what’s happening. Each spread shows an animal and its sound. And each animal is mostly made up of the letters of that sound.

It’s a fun puzzle to unlock. The portraits are bold and saturated in color, often different than we’d see them in the wild.

But here they are, wild anyway.

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I do love an animal book that goes beyond the usual suspects, don’t you? A mosquito! Not my favorite friend by any means, but he looks good and menacing here.

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This small volume is a perfect primer on both typography and onomatopoeia.

And it’s got killer endpapers.

Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt

A portion of  proceeds from Cat Says Meow goes to support animal rescue organizations, including the ones from where Michael’s dog (Clooney!) and cat (Aiden!) were rescued.

And for more type fun, play this kerning game and see how your eye stacks up to a designer’s. Or this one on letter forms, which is a bezier curve bonanza.

Would you like a signed copy? And these one of a kind bookmarks and vinyl stickers! You do, yes. Leave a comment here or share this post on Twitter before midnight on March 8st, PST. Good luck!

Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt Cat Says Meow by Michael P. Arndt

 

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All images are © 2014 Michael Arndt. Thanks to the artist for sharing them (and an awesome giveaway!) here. And be sure to check out his Instagram if you love all things type, animal, and lovely. It’s a great one!

 

Chronicle Books #GiveBooks 2014

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Adorable #GiveBooks illustration by the super talented Lisa Congdon.

I am super proud and excited to be a part of this campaign. What’s the deal, you ask? It’s as simple as that: #GiveBooks.

Pledge to promote literacy, support your local bookstore, and spread the joy of reading this holiday season. For each tweet, pin, pledge, and share, Chronicle Books will donate a book to a child in need through First Book. Can we help get them to a 10,000-book donation?! Take the pledge here.

I picked some favorites to kick off my own #GiveBooks season, and here’s the greatest thing: you can win this crazy beautiful stack. All of them. And even if you don’t, perhaps they will be a good start to your shopping list this year? Stay tuned to the end of this post for more details.

For now, the books:

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1 // I chatted here with Lizi Boyd and am just head over heels over the way she views the world as one sublime story.

2 // Flora and the Flamingo won Chronicle’s first Caldecott, and this book is a fragile dance of friendship. It soars. Plus, Molly Idle is perhaps the most adorable illustrator that exists in this world, right?

3 // Remember when I wrote for Design Mom? This was the book that I first wrote about for her, so it’s got a mini-grip on my soul for starting such a fun celebration of picture books. And, that cover. Laura Leuck and Marc Boutavant spin a lovely dance here.

Good News Bad News #givebooks Open This Little Book #givebooks

4 // Jeff Mack’s book lets even the littlest read along, both to its simple text and rich-in-story pictures. A favorite about friendship and looking on the bright side of things (even when you get chased out of a bear cave by a swarm of bees.)

5 // If you’ve not flipped through this one, you are missing not one great book, but a whole handful. Want to see the magic of books at work? Flip through this one. Jesse Klausmeier and Suzy Lee made a little masterpiece.

Ivy + Bean #givebooks The Meaning of Maggie #givebooks

6 // These two. (Ivy and Bean.) Those two. (Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall.) The perfection of this series is out of this world and the sweetest intimacy all at once. (Side note: When my editor at Chronicle first told me how much she loved my book, she said it felt like the type of book that Ivy and Bean would hold dear and spark one of their epic and messy adventures. There aren’t words for how much I love that thought.)

7 // Have you met Maggie yet? Megan Jean Sovern crafted one of the very best books of this year (or any of them, for that matter.) Just open this thing. Like yesterday. Honestly.

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8 // Suzy Lee showed up a bit earlier, and here she is again. Shadow is light and dark and adventure and imagination. For curious minds everywhere, any age.

9 // This is one of those oh yes and hmm and whoa kind of books, from the design to the story and the spare to the rich. Germano Zullo and Albertine are one genius duo, much like the dueling neighbors at the heart of this tale.

10 // Well, Josephine. What a way to wrap up this bunch, right? Patricia Hruby Powell is the rhythm and Christian Robinson is the tone and the whole thing is the loveliest book of 2014. Truly.

A good stack, right? And here’s how you can win them, thanks to the fine folks at Chronicle Books. In February, the sweetest little Valentine is arriving: I’m going to be an aunt! Tell me: what is your top pick for a baby’s first bookshelf? I’ll pick a random commenter a little bit into December, and this haul will be on its way to you.

Want even more great news? From now until the end of the year, Chronicle is offering you 30% off and free ground shipping (excluding personalized products) at chroniclebooks.com from now through the end of the year. Just use this offer code: GIVEBOOKS.

Get over there and #GiveBooks!

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P.S. – Check out these other bloggers for their #GiveBooks picks! Brooklyn Bride, City Sage, Design Milk, Everyone is Gay, Jason Good, Micah Player, SF Girl by Bay, The Sophisticated Gourmet, The House that Lars Built, and The Jealous Curator.

 

 

 

 

Mix It Up!

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(image via here.)

by Hervé Tullet (Chronicle Books, 2014)

First of all. Welcome to the new Design of the Picture Book! I’m super excited to feature this particular book as the first spot in my face-lifted blog–its heart and soul of art and play is exactly what I think these new digs represent.

Do you see? The logo! The colors! The Book Party? THE BOOK PARTY?!! (If you are in a reader, click over and see all the goodies. And for the love, please join the Book Party. I mean really.)

Super huge thanks to Sara Jensen for, well, everything. (#taken)

Mix It Up by Herve Tullet

It’s here. This highly anticipated follow up to the smash hit Press Here is muddled-up fun and completely magical.

Remember those rolls of endless butcher paper and squishing your fingers into as many paint puddles as possible? That’s what this book is. It’s a lesson in color mixing wrapped up in a hefty dose of play.

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Slam the book together so the yellow and blue make green. Shake it on its side and watch purple drips racing off the page. What happens when you add some white? Or black? Or stick your hand right in the middle of the mess?

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It’s a color theory primer and an invitation to get dirty. And isn’t that the best kind of creating?

Mix It Up by Herve Tullet

I’m a grownup. I get the gig here. And still I looked at my palm when I flipped the last page of this book, sure it would be dripping with paint.

Welcome back to childhood. It’s good here.

Want to win a children’s painting studio worth $500? Check out the details here, and tweet away using #MixItUpBook!

P.S – If you need more Hervé Tullet (and the answer is probably yes, yes you do) check out this other experiential art book for tiny, creative minds.

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I received this book from the publisher (right back atcha, #chroniclecrush!), but opinions are all mine.

 

Flashlight and an interview with Lizi Boyd

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

by Lizi Boyd (Chronicle Books, 2014.)

I really love Lizi Boyd’s work. It’s this perfect mix of oh, of course and oh, I never. Once upon a time I wrote about Inside Outside over on Design Mom, and I’ve been looking forward to this new book for a good while. It’s a great thing to have room for more.

And can you stop looking at that cover? I can’t. It’s beckoning, it’s comforting, it’s hurry-up-and-get-adventuring.

So I was lucky enough to have a chat with Lizi Boyd about creating books, the sound of picture books, her process, and her dogs. Thanks for welcoming your book to the world with us this way, Lizi.

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