Danny by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec

by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

I’m a big fan of Flying Eye Books. They put out a list that’s so unique and unusual and weird and beautiful. This guy comes out in April of this year, and I tend to not write about things before you can get them at your local bookstore or library, but I had to make an exception here. I’m eyeballing an upcoming dental appointment with cringing and gnashing of teeth. (Ha.)

But here’s a story that’s oddly comforting.

Danny by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec

Danny’s expression is so full of joy and naiveté and hope, which is hilarious. A two-toothed hippopotamus antsy for a good scrub? Even funnier. And a school of cleaner fish to get the job done? Of course!

The setup here is so weird and wonderful.

And then.

Danny overhears the cleaner fish worry he may have a lisp, on account of that massive gap in his teeth. He doesn’t, of course, but that darn dentist fish’s comment spirals him into self-doubt and worry. The snakes he turns to for comfort do agree that he speaks strangely, but Danny doesn’t know they were a terrible choice for speech comparison.

To the city.

Danny by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec

I love this spread. It reminds me of Richard Scarry or The Little House and this color palette is so perfect. The browns of the marsh yield to the yellows and oranges of the city. Danny looks comfortable up in that double decker bus but he’s obviously going to an unfamiliar place. Also, any book with a pink limousine can stick around for a while.

This lithe and lanky dentist gets right to work fitting Danny with some braces for that massive gap. (His office gear is so perfect here: funky wall art, oversized tooth models, and a bookshelf probably more for show than for reading.)

And then:



Danny by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec

Now here’s a huge shift in pacing, in main character, and in drama. And it works. Danny settles back into marsh life, the snakes assure him his speech is back to better, and the crocodile heads off to the city for his own newfangled tooth-contraption.


Danny by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec

Danny by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec

It’s a picture book about the horrors of dentistry. And not really, of course, but for a dent-o-phobe like me, this story about a tooth doctor and his comeuppance is absurdly satisfying.

Danny is not without its translation quirks, but because the French are so bizarre anyway a clunk here or there is pas trop grove. (And since I Google Translated that, mine might be a bit clunky too. No matter.)

Look for Danny. You’ll smile. But maybe try that without showing your teeth.



Available April 2015. I received a review copy from the publisher, but all thoughts are my own.

Waterloo & Trafalgar

Tonight was for writing this post and watching some football and thinking about orange and blue. And then this commercial comes on TV. (Well, this one is a few years old. Same flavor, though.)

Remember this. It means something in a bit. I promise I don’t care where you buy your life insurance. Waterloo and Trafalgar

by Olivier Tallec

{published 2012, by Enchanted Lion Books}

Waterloo & Trafalgar is at once spare and very much not. It’s a book about unnecessary fighting and the two stubborn sides who forget why they are even at odds. They are suspicious, bored, but always staid. Until. A snail, a bird, a different perspective. Different looks a little bit the same after all. Waterloo and Trafalgar Tallec’s goofy little men end up as a charming shout for peace. They are absurd. They are us.

Waterloo. Blue. Trafalgar. Orange. Opposites. Enemies. Waterloo and Trafalgar colorwheelThere they are, as far from one another on the color wheel as possible. Direct opposites. Complementary colors.

Orange and blue are a combination of dominance, because each is competing for the attention of your eye. One cool, one warm, constant attention-grabbers. Because of their stark contrast, each truly shouts. Waterloo and Trafalgar That’s why it’s a duo you see in a lot of advertising for banks, credit cards, and other Important Things. Would that Northwestern Mutual commercial be as strong if it were in a different color palette? Probably not. They want to imply strength, power, and – well, life.

And, ahem. I’m a fan of these two colors. Note my blog header and the rest of this thing’s design. Those design decisions were intentional, and since you are reading this and hanging out here with me, it might just be working.Waterloo and TrafalgarPerfect choices for Waterloo and Trafalgar, right? It wouldn’t make sense for those two ridiculous little men to be represented by closer together hues. Their orange and blues are a tenuous balance.

Besides a color scheme that works, that sings, and that smacks you in the gut, this is just a darn beautiful book. The paper is thick and rich to the touch, and some split pages inside extend the stories and heighten the division at hand. Waterloo and Trafalgar I love the die cuts on the cover – those clever windows reveal these two nuts and their telescopes at the ready. And the endpapers’ narrative is subtle as it holds the story in place. The carved out holes close up by the end, and the stream of blue and orange smash right up against each other. Waterloo and Trafalgar Still different, still far apart on that wheel. Transformed into something lovely together. ch MoreToRead

Ok, ok. One more orange and blue moment I love is the opening title sequence to the James Bond flick, Quantum of Solace.

breaker(These titles are created by a studio whose motion design work is just spectacular, MK12. They are the creative minds behind the visuals in Stranger Than Fiction and the gorgeous end titles of The Kite Runner. By the way, notice the colors in the first minute of that one!)

breakerAnd! A whole slew of orange and blue on movie posters. You won’t un-see this color palette once you start noticing it. That’s a promise prefaced with a slight apology! Here’s just one:Hugo_FilmPosters

The Watermelon Seed and an interview with Greg Pizzoli


by Greg Pizzoli

{published 2013, by Disney Hyperion}

I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time, mostly because that cover is SPECTAZZLING. But also cause I follow Greg Pizzoli on Twitter, where he is clever and quippy and shares things like THE ENDPAPERS. And then this is what the publisher teased us with, so I was pretty much in love with this book right away:

With perfect comic pacing, Greg Pizzoli introduces us to one funny crocodile who has one big fear: swallowing a watermelon seed. What will he do when his greatest fear is realized? Will vines sprout out his ears? Will his skin turn pink? This crocodile has a wild imagination that kids will love.

Yeah. SO INTO THAT. The Watermelon Seed hits stores TOMORROW, May 14th, so you might want to go ahead and get in line. After you meet Greg, of course.

So I’ve also been looking forward to this post for almost as long. I’m thrilled to have Greg Pizzoli in for a visit. Welcome, Greg!

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I call him “Kroc”. Sometimes my editor calls him “K-Roc” or “The Krocster”. Boy, does he hate that. Greg2 My background is in printmaking, and I built a silkscreen shop in my studio, which is how I generate a lot of my work. I think my preference towards limited and deliberate colors comes from the printmaking. It could be laziness, but I’m going to say printmaking.

Even the first sketches of this book were in just a few colors. It just made sense to make the whole book feel like a watermelon. Plus, he’s a crocodile, so the green is already there.
Everyone at Disney*Hyperion was very supportive of my trying out different inks and paper choices to get the feel just right. We did CMYK v. Spot color tests and there was just no comparison. I think it would be tough to get that pink, and that green with CMYK. At least for me. We tried a few different paper stocks, too. I’m super picky.

Greg3 Basically you make a drawing in black and use that to make a stencil on a screen. Doesn’t matter how you make that drawing – by hand on tracing paper, with construction paper, in Photoshop – whatever you can use to get a drawing in black. Your screen, which is a frame of aluminum with a fine mesh stretched across it, is covered in photographic emulsion, and you expose the screen to light. Wherever the light hits the emulsion, it hardens and becomes water resistant.

BUT if you put your black drawing between the screen and the light source, the emulsion that is blocked by your drawing (which remember, is black, thus very light blocking-y), that emulsion stays soft. And you can wash it out with water. So everything that wasn’t blocked by your drawing is water resistant, and your drawing washes out of the screen, making a water resistant stencil in the shape of your drawing. You make one of those for each layer, or usually, color. WATERMELON was offset printed obviously, but I did a lot of screenprinting textures, etc to make it feel very printy. The spot colors definitely help there, too.

I’ve been teaching screenprinting for about 4 years at The University of the Arts in Philly. It’s where I met Brian Biggs. He took a continuing ed class I was teaching in 2009. He introduced me to my agent. I dedicated a book to him, but it hasn’t come out yet. I still owe him big time. I still teach! I love it.

Carter_006 text006 Greg4

Humor usually keeps me interested in whatever I’m doing.

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I like to work with texture for sure, too. And shapes. Shapes, yeah, shapes are good. I know this is great interview material here. Breaking news, Greg Pizzoli “like shapes”. Today on Buzzfeed, 23 shapes Greg Pizzoli likes most.

Anyway . . . I was really into shapes and texture with THE WATERMELON SEED, and the next book I’m doing with Hyperion (NUMBER ONE SAM, Summer 2014) comes from a similar place. We’re doing spot colors for that one, too. But four this time, which opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of overlapping layers and colors.
Carter_008 text008 Greg5

Like most people, I like lots of stuff. I never get tired of looking at Eduardo Munoz Bachs posters. He obviously had a lot of fun making his work. A lot of people you’d suspect probably, Sendak, Ed Emberly, Tove Jansson, Charles Schultz, etc.

Carter_007 text007 I’m really lucky to have so many talented buddies in the Philly area, too. I host occasional drink ‘n’ draws at my studio and Zach Ohora, Matt Phelan, Bob Shea, Tim Gough, Amy Ignatow, Brian Biggs, Lee Harper, Gene Baretta, Eric Wight, and several others have come by. It’s a good time. Sometimes we do this thing where we each draw for five minutes and then pass the paper to the right and draw on top of that drawing for five minutes, until we get all the way around the circle or run out of beer. You can imagine just how bad these things look. Joe Strummer, Iggy Pop, David Bowie. They’re my heroes.


No way! I love coffee. I think I quit for a while last year and it just floated around my online profile for a bit. I did stop drinking as much. I am down to like 2-3 cups a day which feels great for me. I was drinking like 8-10. Oh yeah. I’m nicer now.


Greg Pizzoli, people. Is he awesome or what?


So yeah. That’s pretty much my favorite thing on the internet right now. Did you catch the part where the period at the end of the sentence becomes a spotlight for good old K-Roc?! I love that detail.

The Watermelon Seed! Greg Pizzoli! Thanks for hanging out here! We love your book. And you are top notch, too.


Penguin and Pinecone

by Salina Yoon

{published 2012, by Walker & Company, an imprint of Bloomsbury}

And! Penguin has a very cute blog!

I’ve been meaning to write about this book ever since I met Salina at an event in December. December!

2013 has been a time warp, but at least I’ve been surrounded by lots of great books.

I love that tiny Penguin and his dapper orange scarf Salina drew for me. (She’s just as adorable, too.) And this might be one of my favorite title pages of all time. The bed of pine needles, the heart…sweet, sweet foreshadowing.

Salina’s compositions are all striking, with a calming sense of space and subtle mood-building color palettes.


Remember the Rule of Thirds? Salina’s ground to sky ratio is a beautiful example of it. And I love that she chose the cool and crystal clear sky to be the dominant feature. It’s a wide open space, but Penguin still feels chilly and at home.

Every shivering pinecone needs an orange scarf right? Which is certainly a lovely thing to use as clothing for a penguin, but doesn’t it also magnify how freezing Penguin’s world is? It makes sense, but it also plunges the reader into that arctic blast. But since pinecones don’t live in the frigid air, Penguin sets off with his friend on a sled to return him home. And this spread. So pretty, and so sweet. There’s that bed of cozy needles from the title page, see? The contrast in worlds here is magnified by the color. Penguin’s home was cool and blue, and Pinecone’s neighborhood is warm with yellows, browns, and greens.  Later, Penguin returns in search of his friend, and this left hand side of the most perfect spread is a mashup of their two worlds’ color. And I can’t show you the right. Cause, spoiler alert! But it’s spectacular and you just have to see for yourself. Trust me.

It’s easy to fall in love with Penguin and Pinecone, and since you probably already have, be on the lookout for two more of their adventures! Penguin on Vacation is coming in April, and Penguin in Love is coming before the end of the year. So dear, so perfect, so chilly.


Color + Colors

I have no children. I have board books. Is this weird? Maybe. But these in particular are little graphic design studies. I will not literally try to chew them, but they are definitely droolworthy.

Do you know Alexander Girard? He was a midcentury designer, specializing in color and textiles. I’m crazy about the Nativity set at that link. And while most people have heard of Herman Miller, Girard was the designer that sizzled up their furniture line with his palettes. He said this, which made me fall in love a little: “People got fainting fits if they saw bright, pure color.” 

He did it anyway.

So this little book is a huge celebration of his style, color, and desire to make you faint and fall in it.

How about Charley Harper? He took a vibrant love of color from the natural world, and distilled that into his pictures. I adore that on first glance, whimsy and delight dances around, but a longer gaze reveals storytelling ingenuity. He said, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see feathers, fur, scapulars, or tail coverts—none of that. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior, and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures.”

And this tiny treasure explodes with his search for endless possibilities. And it’s lovely.

Was I right about that whole droolworthy thing? I know.


Pantone Colors

Ok. So for those of you that are wondering ‘what the heck is Pantone?’ Check out this post from Abrams, the publisher.

And for those of you that are geeking out about this book? You are my people.

The obvious design consideration most at play here is color…and what a celebration!

But back to ‘what the heck is Pantone?!!’ The Pantone Management System is used primarily in the print industry, (but also in paint and fabric) and this color space assures colors are standardized and matched. Even though I live in RGB color world (think computer screen, not print), I get a little giddy over names like French Roast, Pink Flambé, and the 2012 color of the year, Tangerine Tango. Truth.

So I’ve been eyeing this book for months and finally snatched it up at bbgb Tales For Kids in Richmond, VA.

This board book is a beautiful introduction into the subtleties of color, the shades and tints, and the rich, descriptive names. And it’s just plain fun.

Kudos to Abrams and Pantone! You’ve delighted this color fan.

A Home For Bird

By Philip C. Stead

{Philip and his wife, Erin, are the masterminds behind 2011 Caldecott-winning A Sick Day For Amos McGee. Erin also illustrated the gorgeous And Then Its Spring earlier this year.}

Fangirl alert. I like to think the ‘C. Stead’ part of his signature is reminiscent of my own jumbled ‘chiggins. Although I did mess that up on my driver’s license, so I really have no proof.

Vernon, a determined little toad, is a tiny collector of interesting things. On the day he finds Bird, Vernon decides to help Bird find his home.

Slow down when you read these small books…a bold but subtle clue reveals some details about Bird to the reader. Of course, dear Vernon doesn’t realize this, which just makes his journey even sweeter.

But. YOU MUST READ THIS POST. Philip reveals the history of this story and what he learned about his storytelling process with this one. He shares sketches and character studies, and the tender love he has for this book will smack you in the gut.

What more can I add to that? Not a lot.

A Home For Bird is just plain delightful. The crayon art is clearly a sophisticated execution of that medium, yet it retains an endearing childlike quality. The colors are bright but muted, the textures rough but warm. The word that comes to mind most is cozy. It’s a story that wraps around you.

I like to read it with a British accent. A terrible British accent, but I like to think that’s what Vernon sounds like. Maybe it’s a ride in the teacup? Crikey! Brilliant!

Here’s a closer look at that teacup spread. I love how the background is knocked slightly out of focus. Depth of field…with crayons. And gouache. And according to the Jules’ post above, these were unfamiliar materials to the artist. Gobsmacked.

Such a winner. Such a keeper. Grateful for this book in my library, and for this story in the world.

AND A PS…A HUGE humbled thank you to Betsy Bird and Mental Floss for including me in recent posts! Huge, really. And welcome if you have bounced over from those web gems. Hope you’ll stick around!

Oh No, George!

I love this book. I love lots and lots of books, but I really love this book.

Chris Haughton is the author/illustrator of Oh No, George! and he’s especially awesome because he tweeted me this link once:

You’re welcome.

Anyway. George is just as dear as Denver and Macy. He just loves cake so much! And dirt! And Cat! Despite George being a mischievous soul, Harry loves him unconditionally. Who doesn’t need assurance from the people we love every once in a while?

And the colors…oh, the colors.

Warm oranges, maroons, magentas, and purples dominate the color palette. So rich and gorgeous.

And check out this color wheel. See how those oranges, reds, and purples are next to each other? Those are called analogous colors, and so this color scheme is called an analogous color harmony. These colors work beautifully together because of their location on the color wheel.

And Harry is also created in an analogous color harmony, with greens, turquoise and navy. So is the cake-eating couple in the park. {I love her hat.}

Together, these harmonies create a soothing and very appealing palette. Whether color palette is the first thing that makes you pick up a book or not, the colors in Oh No, George! create a unique reading experience.

Of course, George does that, too. He’s so sweet.

AND! How fun are the endpapers? I love how they bookend the action in the pages.

And if you’re not entirely convinced to read this book, maybe this trailer will push you over the edge:

George. You rascal.


by French illustrator, Blexbolex.

I wonder if I could get away with going by one name. CARTER.

Ehh. Doesn’t quite sound as cool.

Seasons is a true treasure of a book. While it is a bit hefty for a traditional picture book, it is certainly more than the concept book it appears to be at first glance.

Four spreads representing the seasons open the book, and what follows is an investigation into objects, people, and feelings that occur in each.

This seed and small shoot in the spring becomes a full grown flower in summer. A plum later turns into a wrinkled prune. A house with a red roof makes multiple ‘Where’s Waldo‘ style appearances. These subtle nods to the continuity and circular notion of time are very satisfying to discover.

Unity in design occurs when individual parts of a design complement the whole. In Seasons, despite the season, each element is framed on the lower part of the page, and headed by a blocky pink font at the top. Regardless of season, the color palette has the same vibrant yet muted feel which looks extravagantly rich over the creamy matte page.

Texture as a design element aids in creating unity. The same rough and somewhat sullied texture exists on each illustration. Those textures are a great complement to the soft, almost worn-in-like-your-favorite-t-shirt pages.

Maybe it’s easier to spot unity in a book driven by the comfort and repetition of the seasons, but Blexoblex is NO DESIGN JOKER and achieves this to absolute perfection. This would be a fun addition to a classroom or a home library. Or of course, the ever popular coffee table. You won’t want to keep it on a shelf, that’s for sure.

Bruno Munari’s Zoo

{Bruno Munari’s Zoo, originally printed in 1963}

Every single day people find this blog by searching Bruno Munari. You people have stellar taste. How about a look at this one?

This book is interesting and mysterious before the words of the story even begin.

Flamingos know they are beautiful and strange, and play at symmetry.

Your little one will love the trip to the zoo, and you will be drawn into Munari’s concise and clever language. But don’t miss his other intricate details. Flamingos ‘play at symmetry’ in the picture as well; the spread is balanced symmetrically down the vertical axis.

Each animal has a role in the zoo community, and each one is unique. How about the protective elephant? The zebra in striped pajamas? Or the camel with an extra seat for you?

Bruno Munari’s excellent command of color punctuates his quirky descriptions. A desaturated, moody color palette would obviously not tell the animals’ stories as successfully as bold, bright, and splashy colors.

{The owls’ eyeballs are a HOOT, huh?}

A peek underneath the cover flap reveals surprise runaways. I like to think they are breaking in to the zoo to frolic with their animal buddies. Why? Flip through Zoo’s pages…you won’t find a spread not graced by their flutters. I promise…check back through the pictures on this very post!

Bruno Munari was original, refreshing, and engaging. He created stunning works of art for children and anyone else that enjoys pretty pictures.