The Green Umbrella


by Jackie Azúa Kramer and Maral Sassouni (NorthSouth, 2016)

Here’s a gorgeous book that’s got it all. Beautiful language, lovely pictures, and a story that is rich in both originality and familiarity. It’s out early next month, and I’m so excited to bring you this sneak peek today.

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An umbrella. An ordinary thing. But this particular umbrella has been around the block and had many adventures with other animals. It is, then, something that belongs to everyone. An ordinary thing with an extraordinary job.


Here’s a note from illustrator Maral Sassouni about her process for this book:

My work is mixed media, a hybrid of traditional and digital methods. Specifically, the images are a mélange of cut paper collage and painting, with oil paint, acrylics, and inks. The characters are generally created separately, like little paper puppets, which I then glue to the painted setting, along with any foreground elements. I use Photoshop (when necessary) to digitally assemble hand-made collage elements and occasionally add some sparkle and glow where needed.


Sparkle and glow! Isn’t it lovely?  1mice-cover3-h700 1sq-mouse3-hand-r-skb 1sq-elephant3-treetop 1sq-cat10-palette9-tilt-v2 1hedgi5-hand-vgd 1hedgeboat3-BEST-c


Big thanks to NorthSouth and Maral Sassouni for the images in this post.

Radiant Child


by Javaka Steptoe (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016)

Let’s start 2017 with one of the most exquisite books of 2016. If you don’t know it yet, I’d bet a Picasso that three Mondays from now you’ll be hearing more about it. Truly one for the year and one for our time.

Just look.


This is what a great book looks like when a spectacular artist creates art in honor of a spectacular artist. Javaka Steptoe writes about his process at the beginning of the book–that much like Basquiat, he used parts of New York City itself. Steptoe scavenged for discarded wood from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village to the Lower East Side. Basquiat’s art isn’t reproduced in this book about him, but the spirit of his work is alive in these found planks and paintings.

Notice too, how the wood on each page fits not-so-neatly together. It’s whole, but broken. Cuts and ridges and physical places for more art to live. Again, much like Basquiat.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in 1960 to a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican mother. At home, they spoke three languages–four, if you include the language of art itself. Basquiat’s mother encouraged him to make and create and visit museums. She drew with him. She taught him how to see. She helped him heal.

This relationship is at the heart of the book, and is one that young readers can imagine of their own. Basquiat’s life was complicated and messy and deeply tragic. His mother was mentally ill. And yet, the book shines a light on Basquiat’s raw talent, his brilliant mind, and his loving relationship with his dear mother.


When you consider that art and story became this creator’s voice, a clear thread of hope arises out of both the book and Basquiat’s life. We see it. We hear it. We are inspired to make and fight and do the same.


This is the final spread in the book, and despite an exhilarating crowd of faces eager for Basquiat’s work, the text says this, “. . . above all the critics, fans, and artists he admires, the place of honor is his mother’s, a queen on a throne.” We see them there in the background, under his signature crown, and we also see them on the right, the final image in our story. A famous artist, looking toward his mother for approval. She showed him it was possible.

See how a word is occasionally visualized differently on the page? The last four instances of this design choice make a lovely little poem that succinctly reflects the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat.





For more on Jean-Michel Basquiat, check out this film and a companion NPR piece with its director, a friend of Basquiat’s. And for more on Javaka Steptoe and his book, do give this episode of The Yarn a listen.

Update: here’s a video chat between Little, Brown and Javaka Steptoe. Wonderful stuff.


Thanks to Little, Brown for the images in this post.  

Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend

Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend written and illustrated by Karen Stanton

published 2014 by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan

When I first saw the art for this book, a teeny jolt of whoa hit me right in the heart. I mean, look at the endpapers! The calendars sprinkled throughout! The swirls of smells and thoughts and words! Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen Stanton Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonThen I read the story and the teeny turned into titanic. This is a tender tale of love and home and broken families.

Henry Cooper lives in two houses. So does Pomegranate, his dog. Mama and Papa are two and a half blocks and worlds away. At Mama’s they dance, and at Papa’s they sing. In both, there is love and warmth and safety. Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen Stanton Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonWhen Pomegranate goes missing, Henry Cooper knows exactly where he is – right at the big yellow house where the family once lived together. Home.

And then Henry becomes the hero, leading Pomegranate back to where the love lives. There’s a lovely ambiguity of which house it is. Because really, does it matter?Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonKaren Stanton’s art is layered, rich, and colorful. And is there a better art choice for brokenness than collage? I doubt it. Thank you, Karen, for sharing these spreads with us! Click any image to enlarge. Enjoy!


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!


Review copy provided by Candlewick Press.



Balloons Over Broadway

Housekeeping Alert!

I updated the look and layout of this little blog. New header! New Widget-y thingys!

If you are seeing this in a Reader or via email, click over and check it out! I also made updates to the About and Book Trailers pages, and added a link to Other Work. AND, the carousel of images at the top of the Home page holds 5 images, and will rotate through older posts. I love this, because it’s so hard to say goodbye to one favorite book when it’s time for another! Ahem….like this one:

by Melissa Sweet

I adore Melissa Sweet’s work. And now that I just lost myself in her website for a good while, I adore her even more! I imagine she’s just like her site: vibrant, colorful, and exciting.

And this book is PHENOMENAL. Really. I have always been a huge fan of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and even wrote it into one of my defunct picture book manuscripts. That parade as a setting was a million times better than anything else that was in that book. Truly.

So three whooping cheers for a REAL book about this parade…a fantastic, beautiful, stunning book!

Melissa Sweet brings alive the work of Tony Sarg, the marionette engineer and puppeteer whose legacy bobs high above the street in massive helium creatures. Never heard of him? Me neither. But now I’m so thankful to know his story. It’s wildly creative and inspiring.

This. A flat, shiny title page. But doesn’t it look like you could plunge your arms directly into that shoebox diorama? Even though I know better, I still found myself running my fingers over the page, expecting to feel knots and bumps and holes.

In design, texture is used to create the appearance of a tactile surface. In the real world, you can touch and feel surfaces, and in graphic design, your eye reads the texture. Melissa Sweet’s mixed-media collages illustrate this principle beautifully.

Right?  I hope I’m not the only one whose paws have tried to flick off that button or lift the kooky puppet.

I love this gorgeous combination of painted illustration, torn paper, and a true to scale map of Manhattan.

Same here! The graphic panels combined with hand drawn typography and more paper scraps. A lot of story information is handled in the pictures and the way these textured graphics serve as both extra illustrations and extra words.

And in case you needed any more proof that Balloons Over Broadway is visually stunning, the inside back cover reveals the original New York Times ad for the 1933 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Trust me when I tell you there is SO MUCH MORE within the pages of this book. I didn’t want to spoil all the surprises, but you are in for a real treat with this book.

RUN TO THE LIBRARY OR YOUR NEAREST BOOKSTORE! Seriously! I don’t like to yell unless it’s extremely important.

{Balloons Over Broadway received both the 2012 Robert F. Sibert Medal and the 2012 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award, which both recognize outstanding non-fiction for children.}

Want more? Read this interview with Melissa Sweet about her research for Balloons Over Broadway. And don’t forget her’s filled to the brim with treats!

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

It’s no secret how this story ends. You’ve heard it a million times. But have you ever seen look this remarkable?

Jeremy Holmes is the graphic designer behind this book, and it’s so much fun to hold.

It’s tall and thin, so even before you get to the story, you are already experiencing this book in such a fresh way. This book showcases many elements of design beautifully, but I would consider size one of the highlights because it is so immediately striking.

The middle third of the book contains the pages of the story, so the entire story is framed by the little old lady’s spindly stocking feet and all knowing eyes. And again, you know how her story ends, right? At the close of the last page, her eyes shut as well. Kinda ingenious.

Jeremy Holmes’ collages are both warm and kooky thanks to his textures and color palette. His imagination tells a familiar story in a fresh way. And it’s just plain fun to hold this book, turn the pages, and even laugh at her untimely end.

Love the shout out on the back cover to book design as well as illustration!

{This trailer is a tad slow and perhaps even creepy, but it’s a really lovely look at some of Holmes’ illustrations in There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.}

Actual Size

Steve Jenkins’ concept for Actual Size is simple. Showcase creatures at their actual size. Truly. Right there on the cover is a teeny pygmy mouse that fits just snug up against a gorilla thumb.Smaller animals fit nicely in the frame, but some are way too massive to fit in the confines of the book’s pages. And that is the spark and fun investigation of Actual Size.

Did you ever look a giant squid in the eye?

How many dwarf gobies do you think fit in that squid’s eyeball?

Even before I studied graphic design, I was drawn to the cut paper collages of these illustrations. Don’t you just want to hug on that ostrich’s neck? So tactile and inviting.

I just looked at size in my most recent post, LMNO Peas, and it’s another clear choice here. And, well…uh…the title is Actual SIZE. But in this book, the goal is for the reader to interact with the pages, to compare and contrast sizes among different animals. And just how big is your hand compared to that gorilla’s? The illustrations in LMNO Peas use size to guide layout and movement within one page, and Actual Size tackles size to guide contrast.

Ever wonder why there are only SEVEN elements of design and a million billion trillion pictures and images in the world? (No? Just me on a lazy Saturday night?) Well that’s why. Seven foundational elements that can combine and solve problems differently in those million billion trillion ways.

His teeth are so massive that it takes a three page foldout to show them all! Chomp.

The adorable little pygmy mouse lemur is the size of my keys. {Can you spot my Burbank Public Library key tag under there? I think I owe them $3.00.}

I love a good elephant. Always.

And just in case you needed any more convincing about how incredible this book is, how about a pictorial glossary of all the animals scaled to fit? Thank you, Steve Jenkins, for making a picture book that is just as informative as it is beautiful…even if it doesn’t fit on my bookshelf very well.

The Little Yellow Leaf

The Little Yellow Leaf by the amazing Carin Berger has been a favorite for a while. A few springs ago, I decided I was going to read through the EASY section of the Burbank Public Library. I think I got to C before I dumped that resolution. Good thing Carin Berger is a B.

It was autumn.

One solitary leaf clings to the edge of his dear and comfortable branch, afraid to let go and drift into the fall air. He’s just not ready. And so he stays, through the fall harvest and the bleak winter. Eventually, with the gentle nudge of a trusted friend, our steadfast little yellow leaf soars.


Texture is an absolute standout in this book. Carin Berger creates intricate art out of cut paper, cobbling and collaging rich, tactile, and inviting illustrations.

{Check out this interview with the artist. Fascinating!}

Ordinary items {ticket stubs, an ancient water bill, and graph paper} transform into something entirely different, and entirely stunning. This method of creating art is not unlike the journey on which this little yellow leaf embarks, right? Just a leaf. Just figuring out the world.

A goal of texture in graphic design is to create a mood and to enhance the depth and richness of a piece.

This book would look entirely different without such precise attention to creating texture, to setting a scene, and to evoking emotion.

So lovely, so quiet. {Who am I?!} Worth a million reads.