Whatever Happened To My Sister?

IMG_1226 by Simona Ciraolo (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

Heads up, picture book people: I got to be a guest blogger for Picture Book Idea Month, hosted by Tara Lazar. Have you heard of it? Hope so. It gives all of us something to crowd around and celebrate while all those novelists are cranking out buckets of words. Check it out here.

I wrote about a question my agent asked me recently: what is this thing about about? Not a synopsis of plot points, but on a soul-level, what’s it about about?

That connected with me as a writer big time, but I think it also reveals what I find so compelling about books by other folks as well. This book, Whatever Happened To My Sister? is about about what you lose by growing up. In this case, it’s not that your clothes get smaller or you outgrow some toys. No. In this case, it’s that the very thing that defined your childhood is missing. And that is heartbreaking.

This opening spread.

IMG_1227

Here’s a small girl, cheeks all ruddy and knees all scraped up. She’s leaning over a scrapbook of sorts, proof that once upon a time, she had a sister. Not this someone who looks a lot like her, but isn’t.

Using snapshots here lets us into their world, those warm memories, that nostalgia. A smile that’s not quite there anymore.

Throughout, Ciraolo uses muted oranges and blues which is such a lovely combination, both for its complementary-ness and its emotion. Those blues and grays feel cool and sad, while the oranges feel like frustration. Like newness.

IMG_1228 IMG_1229

And here, the scenes are just different enough to cause a chasm, but so close at heart. The little’s pumpkin costume mirrors the poofy couch of the older. It’s beautiful and tender and heart-clutch-y all at once.

IMG_1230 IMG_1232

Same red cheeks, just older. But a slam that swooshes the little’s dress and hair.

And then time.

IMG_1233 IMG_1234

Time turned back.

A lovely, lovely book. The illustrations have so much charm and life in the lines, and this is a beautiful picture book for when you’ve grown out of the bringing-home-baby ones. Because those babies grow up, and childhood changes.

ch

PS: Another Simona Ciraolo favorite is Hug Me, and if you head over to This Picture Book Life, Danielle has an adorable cactus craft you could make!

Tough Guys + an interview with Keith Negley

10-07-15_ToughGuysHaveFeelingsToo_cover.indd

by Keith Negley (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

Heads up, email subscribers: my blog took a bit of a tumble so I’m reposting what was lost in the shuffle. Apologies, and thank you for reading!

The kind folks at Flying Eye sent over a preview of this book, thinking it was right up my alley.

It’s right up my alley.

The theme: yes. The design: yes. The snappy, bold, in-your-face look at tough guys plus the snappy, bold, in-your-face look at feelings: yes.

I chatted with Keith Negley, and learned a lot about this debut effort. I hope there’s more from him, and I hope you enjoy this peek into the brain of a picture book creator.

toughguys-4 toughguys-7

Hi Keith! Can you talk about where this story came from? And what the process was like for its creation?

It all started when my son Parker who was 6 at the time stole a soccer ball from a friend during soccer practice and his friend got upset and they fought over it. Parker was angry at first, but then felt embarrassed and ashamed because he knew he did something wrong. I could tell he was struggling with how to handle all these new emotions that were happening to him at the same time. He walked away from the group and sat down to be by himself because he didn’t want anyone to see him cry. Later that night, I explained to him that it was totally natural to cry and that everybody does it. I told him sometimes even I cried, and he looked up at me and asked, “grown ups cry too?

It blew his mind that even adults cried because he thought it was something only kids did. I wished I had a book I could read to him that let him know that frustration and crying is a natural thing not to be ashamed of. The next day the idea for the book popped into my head.

You’ve done a lot of editorial illustration, but this is your first children’s book. Can you tell us the how and why you got into books?

I always liked the idea of making picture books for children, but it wasn’t until I became a parent and started reading a ton of picture books to my son did I realize there was a lack of the kind of books we enjoyed. Honestly the books I’ve been working on were born out of necessity because I wanted to read them and no one else had made them yet.

Your tumblr tag line is spectacular: part man, part negative space. Can you explain where that came from and why it represents you so well?

Ha, I find tragedy to be the greatest muse. The subjects I enjoy working with the most are the ones that break my heart. It’s cathartic somehow, and I feel like I really get to put a piece of me into the work. What ends up happening is I have a portfolio of rather depressing subject matter. But I’m always striving to create beautiful images with it. That juxtaposition is challenging and rewarding for me.

Add to that I tend to utilize negative space as a compositional tool fairly often and so I thought it tied the content in with the image making nature of the blog.

toughguys-9 Who are some of your story heroes?

I’ve been a huge fan of Lane Smith for years and years. Jon Scieszka is another one. Ezra Jack Keats. Jack Kent’s Socks For Supper is one of my all time favorites as a kid and it still holds up today.

What do you remember about picture books from your childhood?

I remember my mom reading them to me and how she would make different voices for all the characters. I try to do that for Parker but he’s not into it at all unfortunately.

toughguys-12

What is your favorite piece of art hanging in your home or studio?

Not sure if this counts, but I like to make music in my spare time and I’m a huge nerd for vintage synthesizers. I currently have a 1979 Korg 770 sitting in my studio and just looking at it makes me very happy. I consider them works of art.

What’s next for you?

Trying to schedule some reading events for the fall/winter and I’m in the middle of working on my second book for Flying Eye which should be out in time for Father’s Day next year!

toughguys-14

Thank you, Keith! And vintage synthesizers totally count as works of art.

PS: Congratulations to the winner of the The Story of Diva and Flea giveaway, Ashley! And thanks to Flying Eye for the images used in this post.

ch

The Little Gardener + an interview with Emily Hughes (part ii)

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

I can’t stop thinking about the line Emily left us with yesterday, this one:

They are stories coming from a place of trying to understand, rather than a place where it is understood.

Right?

Welcome back, Emily! Hope you enjoy the rest of our conversation. (And a reminder, click to enlarge any images.)

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

Can you tell us about the design of the art and the text? I love that your pictures don’t have text on them anywhere, and the page turn with the flower is the only time there’s text away from the bottom. What went into those decisions?

There wasn’t much decision making- that was the problem! Often times I like to work with only a bit of text because type is a whole other ball-park in terms of aesthetics. I have a hard time compromising my space for words- text and fonts and size, all that jazz has to mesh in with the artwork, and it’s hard finding the right voice to match the looks.

My work gets pretty dense, so I find it a lot more difficult to find something that is legible, but still yields to the art. In university I preferred to keep my lines simple and punchy and give a whole page of text to one image- it makes you read everything slower, more thoughtfully. However in the world of big print-run publishing, it is a luxury to use up so much paper! I work on the pacing, but the designers at Flying Eye made a lot of the technical decisions and all the book designing- I think they’ve done beautifully.

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

What is your favorite piece of art hanging in your home or studio?

I work at home, and my favourite art piece is this ceramic self-portrait bust my Dad made when he was a kid in school. It’s got hair that looks like it was squeezed through a garlic presser- he forgot a bit of hair on the back though, and he made his nostrils with a pencil eraser. It’s a bit creepy, bit primitive cool. Very seventies. Still trying to find the best place to display it.

What are some of your favorite picture books? Both for writing and text and whatever inspires? What is your favorite picture book from childhood?

My favourite old school book is Munro Leaf’s Ferdinand. It is a beauty in text and image- what a fantastic story about the happily peaceful bull. Didn’t want to fight, didn’t want the fame, just wanted the simple pleasures of everyday life. You come across the message of being unique quite a bit in children’s books. Oftentimes it’s a feeling of ‘you’re different’ therefore special, therefore better. I don’t get that passive aggression or hypocrisy with Ferdinand.

For modern, I love Michael Rosen/Quentin Blake’s Sad Book. It isn’t sappy or over the top, it is perfect. No melodrama or silver-linings, just honest. The book feels like it is quietly listening to it’s readers own blues. It brought me real comfort. It is really a gem.

ferdinand-cover sadbook

In terms of illustration, I love everything that is Blair Lent. Dreamy.

What’s next for you?

Lots of good things in store at the moment! I have finished a bunch of projects recently, and am still catching my breath.

I just finished A Brave Bear with Walker Books, and Brilliant with Abrams, and I’m now moving on to a book series with Chronicle for easy readers called Charlie and Mouse which is written by Laurel Snyder.

Oh, and did I mention the ever lovely Everything you Need for a Treehouse by THE Carter Higgins? 
I am excited about it all, and slowly getting better at juggling everything- at the moment I am trying to doodle personal work (if you don’t maintain this, everything goes bad, you don’t evolve!), little brothers, and treehouses. For boys, I’ve been creeping around my high street and local parks to get inspiration, for tree houses I fondly think of the ones my neighbours and I repeatedly built unsuccessfully. Now I can build one without the necessary requirements of having lumber readily available, knowing how to saw wood, and basic physics!

Exciting, busy, new!

Thanks, Emily! It was such an honor to have you here, and I am so, so excited about our future!

Huge thanks to both Emily and Tucker Stone at Flying Eye Books for the images in this post!

ch

Danny

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.

Except:

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.

ch

 

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

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:

CLICK TO READ MORE

100 Bears

100Bears by Magoli Bardos by Magali Bardos

published 2014 by Flying Eye Books 100Bears by Magoli Bardos Let me introduce you to Flying Eye Books, if you aren’t already pals with them. Their books are fairly new to me, but are consistently striking and interesting and a different sort of fare than some more commercial offerings. 

Case in point: this post by Danielle Davis over at This Picture Book Life (you know her, right? Her posts are a work of art and always a celebration of the picture book form. I’m lucky to know her in real life, not just on the internet.) and this look at their current season (and an interview!) by Travis Jonker 100Bears by Magoli Bardos 100 Bears is a counting book with some actual narrative to it. The pace starts off sweetly but then 9 gunshots and an escape leads to a madhouse of 23 knocked over chairs and 37 or 38 bits of confetti. Such trouble a few bears can get into! Some teensy text flaws swim around in that lost-in-translation sea, but there is some real satisfaction in a circular counting story with 100 moving parts. The smile you’ll get from the first and last pages alone is one of the true joys of story. 100Bears by Magoli Bardos A design technique shown off so spectacularly here is spot color. That’s when a single color is printed at a time, and so the process gets layered (and tricky!) by rolling down the building blocks of a print on the same lithograph. You won’t see gradients or blended color, just blocks of hue. (Here’s a little more about the process, from author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli.)

And why does the cover catch your eye? It’s more than a circus style balancing act of big old bears and their blocky numbers. It’s that complementary color scheme. Blue and orange. With a splash of pink for some oh, yes.

And so what is this thing? I’m not too sure, and I don’t really care! It’s like a coffee table book for the sippy cup set. Enjoy it, for sure. 100Bears by Magoli Bardos P.S. – Crazy for spot color? Stay tuned and hear again from the master himself, Greg Pizzoli. Coming up soon on Design of the Picture Book!