The Bear and the Piano

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by David Litchfield (Clarion Books, 2016)

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I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but make sure you check the bottom of this post for the closing endpapers. A beautiful before and after of a beautiful story. And while we’re talking endpapers, check out this delightful new Instagram feed featuring notable endpapers.

Endies, right?

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So let me back up a bit. I suppose since it’s the middle-ish of July I can start boldly proclaiming what my favorites of 2016 are, right?

Well. This bear. This piano. His first fans. Paws down.

It’s a book that made me sigh and cry and open it again immediately after closing. It’s a book I photographed so I can swipe through it on my phone when I’m away from my bookshelf.

I’ve never done that before.

But I’ve never read a book like this before.

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There they are: bear and piano. A curious cub and a mysterious machine. Four seasons of growth, both in the bear’s size and his musical talent.

It’s pacing that is subtle and epic at once. One page turn and a lifetime of ambition.

And talent. And happiness.

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The piano made space for bigger dreams. The people made space in their boat. His bear friends in the forest watched him go. And the bear headed for the city, for fame and fortune, to applause and ovations.

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Except.

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Bears belong together. And friendship is more valuable than fame. It’s a homecoming with a jaw-dropper of a page turn. You’ll see.

And hear.

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This trailer features its UK cover at the end, and what a sweet look at the bear and his piano.

And for more on this stunning story, art from the book, and its inspiration from a song by The White Stripes, check out this post from Jules at Seven Impossible Things.

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A Morning With Grandpa

by Sylvia Liu and Christina Forshay (Lee & Low, 2016)

Here’s a book I have been looking forward to for a long time, thanks to the close knit and dear friendships the book community creates online. It has been such fun to sneak peeks behind the scenes of both Sylvia and Christina’s work, and I am so happy to have them both on the blog today.

Christina’s color palette of dreamy pastels in the ground and sky meets the brightly hued flowers in the same way that Sylvia’s calm and serene Grandpa meets the bouncy energy of Mei Mei herself. The text and the art is gently and joyously matched, and it’s a beautiful story that spans generations and their peaceful mornings.

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First up, some questions for Sylvia:

Tell us a little about the story behind A MORNING WITH GRANDPA. Where did the idea come from and how did it evolve?

I got the idea when I was in Vermont on a family vacation watching my dad do qi gong and tai chi and teaching my daughters breathing techniques.

In my first draft, Gong Gong taught Mei Mei qi gong and tai chi, and she taught him how to make lemonade. My critique group gave me some great suggestions. Elaine Kiely Kearns suggested that Mei Mei teach him yoga instead. Reneé LaTulippe encouraged me to develop the lyrical language. I also got a professional critique from an agent through a Writer’s Digest course, and she suggested omitting the qi gong part to streamline the story.

After the story was accepted by Lee & Low, my editor Jessica Echeverría and I polished the manuscript for several months. We swapped out different poses, word-smithed every line, and went through about eleven drafts.

How does it feel to see your words gain another life with pictures?

I am humbled that Christina spent so much time bringing the story to life so beautifully. Before I saw her illustrations, I imagined the story could be illustrated in any number of ways, from a soft watercolor look to a bright, lively style. I’m so glad Lee & Low picked Christina, who really captured the essence of the story. Now I can’t imagine the story any other way. I am thrilled and in love with the pictures.

Who are some of your story heroes?

Those who do that magical thing with words and images that transport me to a different place like Shaun Tan (THE LOST THING, RULES OF SUMMER, and THE ARRIVAL are favorites), Neil Gaiman (SANDMAN series), and Diana Wynne Jones (HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE). Those who teach me something I didn’t know in a surprising visual way like Gene Luen Yang (BOXERS & SAINTS) and Max Brooks/Canaan White (THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS).

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And next up, Christina:

One thing that’s so interesting about your illustrations is their dynamic compositions. Can you talk a little about that and if you have any influences in film or TV? 

Yes, film and tv have a huge influence on me and my work! I’ve always been interested in how lighting, camera angle and staging creates drama and intrigue in a composition. As I got into high school, I took a film class and learned about how the composition of a scene can be symbolic and help evoke emotion in the viewer. I actually wrote a super long 15 page paper on the symbolism and drama Steven Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski created in Schindler’s List. I was super into it!

Then in college while studying illustration, I took more film classes and a few storyboarding classes where I really learned about and practiced the art of composing dramatic scenes for television and film. I try to infuse what I learned in those classes in my illustrations as well.

What were your initial ideas for the art after you read the text, and how much did they evolve over the course of making the book?

When I read the manuscript for the first time, I remember being excited about Mei Mei’s spunky character. I knew she was going to be the driving force for keeping the compositions active. I had to figure out a way to balance her energetic spirit with Gong Gong’s calm and tranquil personality. I think one of the main themes of the story is how opposing energies can be symbiotic, so I knew I had to create scenes that showed the strengths of each of their personalities and how they mesh together.

When I was in the final stages of the art, I noticed most spreads actually stayed pretty similar to the initial sketches I turned in. There was a lot of refining of the look of characters over the course of the book, but in terms of staging and composition, the final art stayed very close to my original ideas. You can compare these images to see how the original small-scale thumbnail sketch evolved into the final art.

The very first thumbnail sketch (about 1″x 2″)  I turned in for one of the spreads along with the final image.

GG And here is one of the first thumbnail sketches I turned in for the cover. See above for the final cover image.

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Who are some of your story heroes?

My story heroes come from all forms of art: from music to art to writing. Bruce Springsteen is one of my favorite storytellers. All of his songs are stories and always contain a cast of characters. Also Brad Bird is an amazing storyteller. He wrote a short animation called “The Family Dog” which blew my mind when I was 10. It still blows my mind actually! From the kidlit world, there are so many storytellers whose work I admire: Jon Klassen, Adam Rex, Lizbeth Zwerger, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Jon Scieszka are a few from my long list of heroes. I am constantly looking for inspiration in new places!

A big thank you to Sylvia and Christina!

For more about this beautiful book and its creators, be sure to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour. You can find all of the celebration here. cs

Sylvia Liu is an environmental lawyer turned children’s author and illustrator. A MORNING WITH GRANDPA is her debut picture book as an author. She is inspired by oceans, aliens, cephalopods, and more. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband and their two daughters. Visit her online at enjoyingplanetearth.com.

Christina Forshay was born and raised in sunny California, where she lives with her amazing husband and the two cutest kids in the world! Of course, as a child she could be found drawing, coloring, and admiring her grand collection of crayons. Christina graduated from California State University Long Beach with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration in 2002. Since then, she has been proudly working as an illustrator for the children’s market. Seriously, what could be more fun?!?

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Louis I, King of the Sheep

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by Olivier Tallec (Enchanted Lion, 2015)

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Here’s a parable sort of story, one that reads like a cautionary tale but also has a richness to it that’s full of heart and angst and absurdity. 

Because here’s a sheep, just like the other sheep except for the windblown crown that lands at his feet. Once stuck atop his head though, he is unlike the others. He alone is Louis I, King of the sheep. That is what an unexpected crown means, right? 

A mark of a great picture book is its recognition of truth in the world, for all readers, from kids to grownups. And while grownups might see complex themes here, this is not unlike daily goings-on at recesses or on playgrounds all across everywhere. 

With his newfound leadership and gumption, Louis I makes all kinds of rules and procedures for himself and his subjects. There’s the one about carrying a scepter at all times, occupying a throne, and addressing his people.

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It doesn’t matter to Louis I that his scepter is a branch and his throne is a crook in a tree. By the time he addresses his people, he is fully engulfed in his daydream. The art has gone from fanciful to fantastic, and it is a funny stretch of pages.

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And then from fantastic to downright ridiculous. The reader can see so clearly through this poor sheep’s façade, and we are equal parts play-along and patronizing. 

But then Louis I goes a tad too far with his power, a power that has taken a turn to the oppressive. A blue crown whooshed in on a whim created this kind of leader.

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Where this book is a nod to playfulness, there’s some real hurt that can happen when we claim power that doesn’t belong to us. All of that, packed into a picture book about a sheep and a gust of wind. A gust of wind that ultimately blows that blue crown back out into the ether. A gust of wind that turned this despot back into plain old Louis the sheep.

Don’t miss the very last page here. A killer ending!

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Architecture According to Pigeons

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

by Stella Gurney and Natsko Seki (Phaidon, 2013)

Do kids’ books have room for one more smart pigeon? You’ll be glad you let this one in, because Speck Lee Tailfeather is another flier with a healthy confidence and a chatty nature.

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather

Speck’s mission is world travel, focusing on buildings from a bird’s point of view. He sees things differently.

His words are a travel journal of sorts to his pigeon friends. To his love, Elsie. And to us.

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There’s a lot to look at, from speech bubbles to side bars to fascinating tidbits. The layout and voice are both unusual in the very best way. And if you just shake off what you expect from picture books and settle in, your flight from city to sky and back will be worth it.

Your tour guide, after all, is an expert in the unusual.

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This one is for treasure hunters, trivia fanatics, architecture buffs, or anyone hungry for some off-the-wall-pigeon-fare. You never know.

Pair it with A Lion in Paris. Speck travels farther than France, but matching up the Parisian buildings (not to mention the books’ head-to-head size battle and their animal points of view) would be a fun thing for storytime.

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The Art of Making Gelato

The Art of Making Gelato by Morgan Morano by Morgan Morano (Race Point Publishing, 2015)

And now for a little something different. And delicious.

Last week we spent a bit of time in Paris, so won’t you join me in Italy? It’s only a hop, skip, and a spoon away.

I’m not the only author in this family. Our cousin Morgan is a superstar in the gelato world, and her debut book holds all of her sweet secrets. She’s a traditionalist. A purist. An artist.

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Forbes called her gelato the best in America, so you don’t just have to take my word for it.

Take a look.

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Morgan’s expertise and love of this art form are fingerprinted here. And for someone who just learned how to make pancakes (me!), she’s an encouraging teacher.

And it’s beautiful. Hard not to make such a confection look so lovely, but the attention to composition and warmth in these pictures is a real treat.

The Art of Making Gelato by Morgan Morano The Art of Making Gelato by Morgan Morano (click to enlarge)

We’ve been pushing the mid-90s here in southern California, but for those of you still under winter’s freeze, the thaw is coming. And it looks delicious.

You can pre-order The Art of Making Gelato here or here.

And why not pair it with Olivia Goes to Venice? Or grab one of M. Sasek’s sharp and simple classics This is Rome or This is Venice.

That’s some tasty reading!

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PS: Thanks for all of the Cat Says Meow support! Congrats to our giveaway winner, Clark Haaland!

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Firebird

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers (Penguin Young Readers Group, 2014)

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

When you open a book to sweeping, fiery endpapers, it’s almost as if you can hear the symphony begin. The author, Misty Copeland, is a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater. The illustrator, Christopher Myers, is a Caldecott Honoree for Harlem and the son of the legendary Walter Dean Myers.

We are in stellar storytelling hands.

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(image here // Copeland dancing the Firebird)

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(image here // Copeland dancing the Firebird)

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

Christopher Myers’s art captures the lines and shapes of a dancer’s movement. Intricate, suspended, and dizzying.

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Misty Copeland’s words are fire and poetry to a timid youngster’s soul.

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I adore the anticipation in this spread, the dancer waiting for the curtain to rise, and I imagine a lump in her throat and a belly full of as many swoops as the folds in the curtain.

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Each page turn reveals a composition that is even more striking than the last. This is a pairing of musicality, movement, and a jaw-dropping array of colors and feelings. The way her words and his pictures create an animated harmony is exactly how music and movement do the same in the ballerina’s world.

A perfect pas de deux.

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For more on Misty Copeland, take a look at this. She is a lovely storyteller, both in her books and with her body.

 

 

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

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Review copy provided by the publisher.

Behind the Scenes with Tom Lichtenheld

ThisIsAMooseRemember Moose and his motley crew? He’s hard to forget with that superhuman (supermoosian?) determination and antlers tuned toward mischief. Let me turn the reigns over to Tom Lichtenheld himself, so he can give you a look at his process, sketches, and creative problem solving. It’s a fascinating look at how an illustrator responds to an author’s manuscript, and a glimpse at the evolution of a picture book.

Welcome back, Tom! breaker This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldWhen I receive a manuscript and like it, the first thing I do is start doodling. That initial moment of inspiration only comes once, so I try to capture the first images that pop into my head. When I receive a manuscript and like it, the first thing I do is start doodling. That initial moment of inspiration only comes once, so I try to capture the first images that pop into my head. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThen I start refining and exploring options. Then I start refining and exploring options. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThe director was initially a raccoon, but a duck felt more manic. The director was initially a raccoon, but a duck felt more manic. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldI spent a lot of time on film sets during my career in advertising, so I know it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. I spent a lot of time on film sets during my career in advertising, so I know it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldNo, giraffe don’t live in the woods, but I like to draw them, so a giraffe it is. No, giraffe don’t live in the woods, but I like to draw them, so a giraffe it is. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldLots of gags get left on the cutting-room floor, but it’s all part of the process. Lots of gags get left on the cutting-room floor, but it’s all part of the process. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldBoom! Boom! This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldAn idea revealing that the movie was actually made, which makes no sense. An idea revealing that the movie was actually made, which makes no sense. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldFirst crack at a title page.  First crack at a title page.  This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld (click to enlarge)

First version of the opening scene. The narrator was a monkey, and part of the scene. We quickly realized that the director had to be “off-camera” until the end. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldFirst version of the spread where Director Duck realizes none of the animals are playing by the rules. I liked the simplicity of having only his eyes move, but it was a bit too subtle, so I changed it to his entire head looking from side to side. First version of the spread where Director Duck realizes none of the animals are playing by the rules. I liked the simplicity of having only his eyes move, but it was a bit too subtle, so I changed it to his entire head looking from side to side. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld (click to enlarge)

The Moosenest 

Turning this marvelously manic manuscript into a logical sequence of pictures required complete immersion, so I made a foamcore enclosure around my desk, with only Moose material within my sight lines, and dubbed it The Moosenest. It sounds like a joke, but there’s a point in sketching out a book where you need to have the entire book suspended in your mind at once, so you can mentally move the pieces around without losing sight of any elements. It’s challenging, but one of my favorite parts of the process and I don’t think I could have done it for This Is A Moose without The Moosenest.

breaker A marvelously manic manuscript with mayhem in the pictures. Thanks for letting us in to The Moosenest, Tom!

(I love that moose-like alien. I’m glad he got his day here.)

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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.

 

Chloe, Instead

When I saw this trailer for Chloe, Instead by Micah Player, forget about it. I had to have this book.

Adorable.

So when my friends Alethea and Aly held a massive and amazing story time event called Picture This!, AND Micah Player was there, well, then…duh. So what if I was a little taller than most of the participants?!

Micah hosted a table with a really fun and graphic craft. Think glue sticks, patterned papers in squares and triangles, construction paper, and Sharpies. I made this masterpiece while chatting with him about libraries and graphic design and trailers and his awesome kids:

(Yeah, I don’t know how those shapes exploded from a closed box, but just go with it.)

His two boys were the inspiration for this tale of adjusting to a new sibling. Molly likes crayons and books, but for coloring and reading. Her whirlwind of a sister Chloe on the other hand…how about for eating and ripping to shreds. Chloe is nothing like Molly expected, (or even wanted) but just  maybe that’s ok.

The cover itself is a striking use of line. I love those blocky bold stripes.

And, because we all know I love a good endpaper:

More lines, diagonal this time.

Micah’s use of color is so brilliant and fresh, and where one color meets another, a strong line emerges. These choices are visually interesting, sure, but they also serve to guide your eye through the illustrations.

Sometimes these lines represent physical objects, like this bookshelf:

(I would love to read The Daydream Sunbeam by the way. Good choice, Molly.)

And sometimes line divides moments in time and space, like two very different emotions on Molly on this spread:

Can’t you tell she is growing and changing, just in one spread, with one word?

Sometimes line is just a strong graphic element on the page, like the diagonal line of the background here:

I love how the same line marks shadow from light on Molly’s face. And notice how it’s not directly through the center of the page? That opens up the space in which Chloe can dance and just be Chloe. She’s not boxed in by such a strong, dynamic line.

And line to create a balanced layout:

I especially love the flapping arms on this page. If that’s not a static line to imply motion, I’m not sure what it is.

Chloe, Instead is sharp, sassy fun. It’s well designed, both in its clever words and pictures. If you have ever had a little brother or sister, you will surely identify with Molly and hold this book dear.