Jill & Dragon


by Lesley Barnes (Tate, 2015)

You’ve got to see this book. And you’ve got to stick around for some extras from Lesley Barnes, its author and illustrator.

It begins on the endpapers.

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Once upon a time there lived a terrible dragon.

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And then on the title page, we can guess that we’ve just seen a snippet of this girl’s book. You can tell she’s a book lover by that throne of books she’s sitting atop. (Keep an eye on Dog throughout the pages. He’s not too sure about all of this.)

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By the time the story starts, we’re already in the middle of it.

We’re already sympathetic to this big, pink, dragon who’s dripping with knights and the letters from his story. But Jill, sweet Jill, with patterned pants equally as eye-catching as Dragon’s, ropes him up and invites him out of his story and into hers.

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It’s the tea party that changes everything.


It’s that tea party that makes room for an exquisite gatefold and a happy ending.

It’s a meta tale that’s dazzling and dreamy and unexpected and just plain wonderful. What Lesley Barnes accomplishes with this color palette and style is nothing short of design time travel.

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(The previous three pictures provided by Lesley. Many thanks!)

I asked Lesley about her inspirations for this story, and she’s graciously given us this sneak peek behind the scenes.

As for what inspired her style for this book? These.

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Even better, these guys.


That’s Frank and Pumpkin, Lesley’s dogs. On the left is Frank, who inspired Dragon’s look, and Pumpkin, who inspired Dog’s. Jill & Dragon is even dedicated to this duo!

One of my favorite things about books is when other art is inspired by its own. Like this fabulous Dog brooch, exquisitely crafted by Lesley’s friend, Jennifer Loiselle. 


And how about this creation by the Felt Mistress herself, Louise Evans? Incredible.

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Untame your inspiration along with this trio. Use your talents wisely.


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.


Martin Pebble

Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble (Phaidon, 2006; first published in French, 1969)

by Jean-Jacques Sempé

I love this book.

I love the type on the cover.

I love the yellow.

I love the shape and the size and the story.

I love Martin Pebble.

He’s loveable.

(I picked this up on a recent trip to Once Upon a Time in Montrose, CA, which is exactly why shopping in stores is the greatest thing. I had to touch this thing to believe it, and I might not have seen this thing if it weren’t for the bookseller. Bookstores are like story petting zoos and museums that don’t give you the stinkeye if you get too close to the art.)

(Something like that.)

But poor Martin Pebble.

Martin Pebble could have been a happy little boy, like many other children. But, sad to say . . . he had something that was rather unusual the matter with him:

he kept blushing. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble blushes for all the usual reasons and for no reason at all. The brilliance of Sempé’s color here is hard to miss. Black and white line work contains the red of Martin’s face, and that red occasionally extends to the text as well.

Subtle. Striking. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé The contrast Sempé crafts between Martin’s red face and all that black and white makes that blushing even worse.

Martin is in a pickle. He’s tiny and nearly lost on the page save for his giveaway condition.

He dreamed of fitting in. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé But he always stood out. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Then comes a series of sneezes, some very loud A T I S H O O s, and there he is.

Roddy Rackett, the new neighbor. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé When the story changes, and the hardships knock at the door, Sempé doesn’t just use the suspense of a page turn. He stops the story cold. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Roddy Rackett’s family moves away.

When you are a boy, and when you are made normal in the quirks of another, you never really forget about it. You think about A T I S H O O s while you are doing grownup things like riding taxis and elevators. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Sometimes things get back to normal. Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé I won’t spoil past that pink-lettered page.

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Sempé himself sounds like a storybook character. He sold tooth powder door-to-door salesman! Delivered wine by bicycle! (More here.)

Click here for some of Sempé’s covers for The New Yorker. Lovely.

And this Pinterest board is a feast for the eyes, too. Enjoy!


Presto Change-o! A Book of Animal Magic

Presto Change-o!by Édouard Manceau

published March 2014 (tomorrow!) by Twirl Books, distributed in America by Chronicle Books

What a treat to give the new Twirl books a whirl! (They are doing something right when a thirtysomething-ed lady squeals over a box of board books, right?)

This one is perfect for grabby hands and curious minds. Check it out in action.

breaker Presto Change-o!This is a board book that’s been on a steady regimen of spinach and milk. It’s big and beefy. That’s a great thing, because there’s a lot to experience on these pages.

Here’s how it works. The left page shows two seemingly unrelated nouns, loosely connected by a narrative. Sometimes it’s lilting and sometimes a bit labored, but since it’s a translation, all text-clunk is forgiven. Besides, the real treat is in the visual and tactile experience. Presto Change-o!Swinging a shape or two or three around transforms one picture to another. It’s simultaneously simple and sophisticated. And just plain fun to see and do. Swinging a shape or two or three around transforms one picture to another. It’s simultaneously simple and sophisticated. And just plain fun to see and do. Presto Change-o! Presto Change-o!Some standard fare lives here: Rabbit, Teapot, Owl. And then there’s Bowl of Salad. Bowl of Salad! Thank goodness for the French. What a delight! Some standard fare lives here: Rabbit, Teapot, Owl. And then there’s Bowl of Salad. Bowl of Salad! Thank goodness for the French. What a delight! Presto Change-o! Presto Change-o!I’m teaching an introductory Photoshop and graphic design class this summer. To 3rd – 6th graders. My brain exploded with ideas for projects when I saw this book. You better believe we will be creating our own Presto Change-os! 

Stay tuned.Presto Change-o!Here’s a bit more about Twirl Books.



Review copy provided by the publisher.

Abe Lincoln’s Dream

abeLincolnsDream_coverby Lane Smith

published 2012, by Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan

Check out this trailer. It sets up the book’s mood and pace with flawless grace.

breaker Lane Smith has done something really special here. It’s an evocative look at a legacy. A look back and a look forward. Steps taken and hope to go.

I love that a curly haired girl with brown skin is his host. Perhaps that was an obvious choice, but I think she’s more than an art direction. Her today is because of his past.

She is his recurring dream that he just can’t shake.DPB_Stack_AbeLincolnsDream1This is history and beauty, wrapped up in the whimsy that only Lane Smith can do. His textures add life to an already rich history. They are layers, individual parts to a whole life and a whole story.

Roses and lightning and cherry blossom branches frame panels of their journey. Different type for her thoughts and his. Different times, balanced and bridged. Lane Smith’s art is restrained and curious and playful all at once.  DPB_Stack_AbeLincolnsDream2  I can’t think of another storyteller who could handle this story with greater elegance. Art that both delights and informs, and words that are both playful and serious in tone. A masterpiece!


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.



Leonardo the Terrible Monster

Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Here’s something.

By Mo Willems. Published 2005, by Hyperion Books for Children. (Which I believe is now Disney-Hyperion.)

An old favorite, a forgotten gem. I was plotting a read-aloud for fourth graders, hunting for a picture book about meanness and bragging and being friends with someone different than you. In true Mo Willems style, this thing jumped right off the shelf when I ran my fingers across the spines. True story.

So I ignored my achy-creaky knees, and hovered over this on the floor of the library. It was one of the last purchases I made for the library before I left Virginia for California, but I haven’t given it two shakes of a nod since.

Not surprisingly, it’s brilliant.

It’s sheer size is in direct opposition to how terrible of a monster Leonardo is. I mean, he’s so big that he can’t even be contained to the cover. All we see is a peek of meek eyes and teensy-tiny horns. But we already know he’s pretty bad at being a monster. That juxtaposition is beyond hilarious, right? Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems So, he’s terrible. And terribly alone. Look at all of the white space on this spread, highlighting just how terrible and terribly alone Leonardo is. It makes his sad face even more pathetic. Awful. Awesome.Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Adults laugh at him. He doesn’t have Tony’s outrageous stack of teeth. And then there’s Eleanor, whose purple pedicure and anklet only hint at what kind of monstrous mug she may have. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems But Leonardo has an idea  – a fantastic, scare-the-tuna-salad-out-of-a-scaredy-cat-kid idea. His plot gives him some bounces of confidence. And there’s less white space. More text, more oomph, more pizzazz from his plan. He’s not so alone.

Enter: Sam. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems The reader knows right away that Sam and Leonardo are cut from the same cloth of lonely. Sam has even more nothing around him. Sam isn’t even facing forward. Sam has the saddest pit of despair behind those wire rims. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsSo when Leonardo blaggle-blaggles, grrrrs, and roooaarrrs, Sam cries.

But. It’s not because he’s scared. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Now. Here’s where I did a combo of a laugh/snort/cackle/snot/wimper thing. Sam’s white space is filled to the brim with all of the awful things that were bouncing around under his bowl cut. A mean big brother! A stubbed toe! On the same foot that he hurt last month! Bird poo! A hurt tummy!

All of Sam’s insides just tumble out and stun that gruff old Leonardo. Look at how he’s clutching his chest! Swoon.

That’s why. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems And then – an epic page turn. Leonardo’s smart, caring, friend-brain fills up all of that white space. It’s like the part where the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes. By seeing his whole face, his thought process, and those very un-monster eyes, we watch his heart change. Just like that. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems The way Mo Willems uses space and size in this book shows us so much about Leonardo, Sam, and ourselves.

Friends. Flipping you forward since about forever.


P.S. – For those fourth graders? Ended up going with Each Kindness, which is lovely beyond measure, and the moment was just shy of heart stopping. It was a perfect picture book morning. 

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by Germano Zullo and Albertine

{published 2013, by Chronicle Books}

I’m in that bleary-eyed, inspired, and terrified post-SCBWI haze. Are you?

That’s why this book is perfect for this time. And isn’t that always why picture books are perfect? There’s something magical about those moments that are captured, when the polaroid’s positive sheet has just pulled away from the negative. That moment, exposed. That’s the one I mean.


Leo Geo And His Miraculous Journey Through The Center Of The Earth

Hello and happy 2013 and welcome back to this little corner of the internet!

And a huge hello to those of you who hopped on board over the last couple weeks! It’s nice to have you.

Here’s an awesome and odd little book to kick off the new year:


by Jon Chad


I promise not to use bad puns like, “This book rocks!” or “Perfect for kids who don’t take science for granite!”

Much like another favorite, Sky High, Leo Geo uses size and scale in such an unusual way. Telling a story about a journey through the center of the earth calls for a different visual method than the standards we are used to.


So flip it 90 degrees and read top to bottom. Of course! Its width (or lack thereof!) perfectly frames the skinny tunnels and canals through which our ‘surface man’ drills.

And just when you get to the center, flip it 180 degrees and read bottom to top as you emerge with him to the other side of the world.


Throughout the entire journey, Leo Geo narrates his trip with a good healthy dose of science. You’ll get reminders of the difference between stalactites and stalagmites, what  makes up the continental and oceanic crusts, and how many miles you would have to travel before reaching the core.

Even though his voice is conversational and funny, every once in a while you might run into a Quadclops or find a magic dagger. I love that this book becomes a spectacular combination of nonfiction and comic book.


By using only black and white, the reader gets to fill in the blanks and let their imagination run wild. The contrast between the whites of the tunnels and the black hash marks of piles and piles of fossils provide a very satisfying balance. The art is so intricate that I imagine a young reader (or an old one!) could pore over these pages for hours.


So yeah. This book rocks.


Boy + Bot

words by Ame Dyckman + pictures by Dan Yaccarino

{Why yes, they ARE a match made in heaven!}

Boy + Bot is an endearing tale of friendship between a charming and unlikely duo. Their generosities to one another when the other is broken will turn you into a puddle awwwww mush on the floor.

The #spotbot crew on Twitter is probably still mopping themselves up. We ADORE this book. And darn if Ame Dyckman isn’t the most likable gal at the party!

In design, size can be used to give extra weight or value to one element versus another. If shapes on a page are too uniform in size, they compete for your attention. Think of a checkerboard. Which square do you look at? But think of the American flag. The long stripes and the smaller stars differ in size and scale, and your eye can move around that icon a bit more freely and with less confusion.

So small Boy and his much larger Bot create a dynamic duo. Boy’s bitty-ness and Bot’s bigger-ness gives an interesting visual edge to their friendship. Sure, this is slightly different than a true graphic design principle at work, but the same idea feels really satisfying in their characterization. Even on the cover, the word Boy and the word Bot nod to their sizes by using different weights of the same typeface.

Their kooky friendship fits perfectly into this comic or storyboarded style of layout. Note even here, the different sizes of illustrations on one spread.

This might be one of my favorite back covers ever. I do love the reflection, {found on this cover as well,} but come on….the barcode on Bot’s behind? Impossible not to love. Enjoy this one with your BFF.

Will you love it? “AFFIRMATIVE!”