Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

by Greg Pizzoli (Viking, 2015)

I’ve read lots and lots and lots of books for kids. I’ve read lots of questionable ones and I’ve read lots of spectacular ones. And then I’ve read a handful that are simultaneously spectacular and fresh and inventive and completely honor how smart kids are.

This is one of those.

You might know Greg from that burping crocodile or the hound with a need for speed, but did you know a book about an impossible con is exactly what the world of kids’ books needed? Meet this Greg.

Actually, meet Robert Miller.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

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A normal kid, one who leaves home to become an artist despite his parents’ best efforts. A normal kid with a penchant for billiards, poker, and gin.

A grifter known as Count Victor Lustig.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

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This liqour induced pow-wow below the Totally Legit delivery truck might be one of my favorite moments in this thing. It’s accompanied by a sidebar of Totally Legit information about the Prohibition. This blend of grit and truth and history hangs right in the suspense of Vic’s story. It feels like Saul Bass made one of those The More You Know PSAs right there on the page.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

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One of the greatest tricks in this whole book is how we see the silly, unsuspecting faces of Vic’s marks, but never his. Only a thumprint. Both the clearest and fuzziest identification.

Mixed-media collage always yields great texture, just by its very nature. But Greg adds custom-made rubber stamps, actual photo texture from the floor of the Eiffel Tower, and like we’ve already seen, his very own thumbprint. This approach is as layered and grungy as Vic himself. This book can’t be slick and clean and soft–it needs depth and dirt and intrigue. That’s what it’s got.

That’s no con.

Check out these endpapers. Brick wall, posted bills, danger, and suspense.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

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Why does that not look like the full width of the book, you ask?

Because then there’s this:

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli In the best of places, that sneaky space under the dust jacket, where unsuspecting grownups don’t dare peek. Kids do. They know where the good stuff is. And this is the good stuff: The Ten Commandments for Con Artists by our hero.

I think 8 is my favorite. Or 5. Or 10.

And now, don’t miss Greg and Julie’s chat about this book over at Seven Impossible Things. Lots to digest. Commandment 2 will be an impossibility.

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I received a copy of Tricky Vic from Viking, but the comments are all my own. And speaking of Viking, huge kudos to the publicity team that sent the book like so:

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

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.

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

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.

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

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!

 

Sebastian and the Balloon

Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

by Philip Stead (Roaring Book Press, 2014)

This boy. This book.

Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

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

Here’s what I love about this book.

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

Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

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

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

Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

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

Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

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

Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

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

Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

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

Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

These sisters. Because.

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

Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

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

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

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

The Promise

The Promise

by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin (Candlewick, 2014)

The Promise is on this year’s New York Times Best Illustrated Books list and I’m so glad it captured a spot. I imagine weeping and gnashing of teeth to pare down a year into a handful of notables, but they got this one so right.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

Here you have bleakness. Bare and raw. And a girl who doesn’t have much but the desolate things. The words themselves pierce the brightness.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

The people, too, dry and dusty.

And then.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

Some seeds and a promise and a reluctant okay.

 I pushed aside the mean and hard and ugly, and I planted, planted, planted.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

Everything works in this book. The text is exquisite. The pictures haunting and heartbreaking and hopeful. The paper is luxurious. The case cover differs from the jacket itself. Dig in. Look around. Don’t miss the endpapers that start as stone and end as spring.

There’s a little Frog Belly Rat Bone here, in this fragile world in need of color and life.

(Also, there’s a lot of great stuff about this beautiful book here, and this post is so, so lovely as well.)

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And PS! Add a comment by Wednesday, December 3rd to this post for a chance at winning all ten of those books from Chronicle. Don’t forget your pledge to #GiveBooks this year!

 

The Young Man Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

by Eric von Schmidt (Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, 1964)

Okay. It’s time for a teensy bit of name dropping. I have this cousin who is a brilliant singer and songwriter and he’s racked up a few Grammys as well. (Do you say Grammies? I don’t think so.) If you are into good, old-fashioned bluegrass and Americana, check out Jim Lauderdale. Musicians are such great storytellers, don’t you think? Sometimes I wonder if I can pack the same amount of heart and soul into a 500-word picture book that he can in a 3-minute song.

That’s partly why I was so drawn to this book, The Young Man Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn. And that was even before I realized that there were all kinds of connections to song. That title begs to be picked and strummed, right?

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

I purchased this book a while back from Elwood and Eloise on Etsy. The owner, Mallory, also runs an excellent illustration blog, My Vintage Book Collection (in blog form), which is an incredible archive of gorgeous out of print materials. Thank goodness she sells some of her collection, cause I’ve added some sparkle to my own thanks to her shop. (Also, the images in this post are courtesy of her post here.)

This is the story of Jeremy Sneeze. Where he fails as a farmer he succeeds at making children laugh. (Which is to say by wiggling his ears.) He replaces fallen birds nests and makes pictures and poems. And so, of course, the elders of his town denounce his slack and shifless ways. A town meeting. A crow. A spell is cast. A sneeze. A surprise.

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

This book’s design is reminiscent of a song. Here’s what I mean. That color—washes of analogous color in oranges and yellows and greens, those are the harmonies to the stark black’s melody. It’s steady and rhythmic like the downbeats of an upright bass. Unless they are splashed and chaotic like a mandolin’s intricacies.

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

On top of stellar bookmaking, the story itself is a sweeping epic wrapped up in the short pages of a picture book. Listen to some of its lines:

Just about then he would get to puzzling about other things like “How high is up?” or “Who plants the dandelions?” or “Where do the stars go during the day?”

And every year all Jeremy had to offer was a big weedy field filled with assorted brambles and unchopped briars, bounded by dirty broken boulders.

Flap-flap, past bats that watched with eyes like razors, past lizards, toads, and laughing spiders, down past rats and rattlesnakes and monkeys dreaming evil dreams of moons.

We have specials today on stars that dance or boiling oceans, and a bargain rate for setting mountains into motion.

He hurled himself at the brambles and flung himself at the weeds with such speed you couldn’t tell which was hoe and which was crow.

True enough he is a sorry farmer. But in his head dwell pictures and in his heart are poems.

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

The listen-ability, the meter, the storytelling grumble. It’s all here. What a gem.

P.S.—A bit of poking around online still left me slightly confused about the history of this book and the similar-ly titled song. Did the book inspire the song? Did the song know about the book? I think the song inspired the nitty-gritty backstory of the young man who wouldn’t hoe corn. I can’t really tell, so I’ll just be sitting here enjoying both. Hope you are too.

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A Very Special House

A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins, 1953)

School’s been back in the swing of things for a couple weeks, and it has been bananas. But I’ve got this beautiful new space and some read-in-me-for-hours lounge chairs and the kids named our bright new sitting area The Birdhouse. This week: shelves and books. The heart and soul.

The Birdhouse

That’s why I needed to visit a book that is about all of those things: comfort and wonder and imagination and a very special place.

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Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and and interview with Zack Rock

Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

by Zack Rock (Creative Editions, 2014)

Zack Rock and I haunt some of the same circles on the internet. I have a tshirt with his work on it thanks to Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves (how cool is that header?), and I have long admired his work thanks to some tea time at Seven Impossible Things here and here. And once upon a time in 2012, Zack wrote a hilarious joke for a Hallowtweet contest run by Adam Rex and Steven Malk.

I remember that well, cause in fun-facts-here-at-Design-of-the-Picture-Book both Julie Falatko and I were runners-up in that contest, and the real prize was getting her friendship. Start of an era, for sure. (Although Zack did get an original piece of Adam Rex art, and we’d both admit to coveting that a little. See below!)

So. I’ve had my eye out for this book for years. Years! And I was so happy that Zack spent some time chatting with me about this smorgasbord of stuff and story. He also said he “answered the living daylights” out of these questions, so I sure hope you enjoy the living daylights out of them like I did.

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The Wonderful Egg and an interview with Flying Eye Books

The Wonderful Egg by Dahlov Ipcar (image here.)

by Dahlov Ipcar (Flying Eye Books, 2014; originally published 1958.)

The great folks at Flying Eye sent me this book a while back, and I’ve been staring at it for weeks. Months. It’s enchanting. And simple. And complex. And a huge restoration effort, which was a bit mind-blowing to understand. That’s why I consulted the experts.

But if you don’t know Dahlov Ipcar and her bright body of work, check this out first:

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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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How to Hide a Lion

How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens

How to Hide a Lion (Henry Holt, 2013. Originally published 2012 in the UK.)

by Helen Stephens Lion5

 

One hot day, a lion strolled into town to buy a hat.

Of course he did. That frilly blue thing in the window is pretty fancy after all. This beast only has eyes for that bonnet, and bypassed the bakery without even a side eye. But while the beast has eyes for the bonnet, the townspeople have eyes for safety and decorum. They chase him out. 

And like any smart wild animal, he finds refuge in a kid. A kid who was not scared of him in the least. A kid who saw a problem that needed solving. A kid who saw her world differently. She knows he needs hiding, and I think that’s such a beautiful example of what it must be like to be a kid. You have this vague awareness of things that are problems for grownups, and yet you attack them as if those grownups are absurd. 

That’s kid truth. That’s a great thing for this lion.

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