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!

ch

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.

ch

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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Round Trip

RoundTripcover

by Ann Jonas

{published 1983, by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of Harper Collins}

I remember the cover, the texture, and the feeling of checking out a handful of books from Mrs. Marks at the Ridge Elementary School library. Not that I only checked out a handful, but some are so ingrained you could drop a penny in that wrinkle and it would come out flat.

The Story About Ping, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (with that cover!), My Brother Sam is Dead, Strega Nona, and something with two girls in a tree on the cover. A lemon tree? That’s a lttle fuzzier.

And this one. Round Trip by Ann Jonas. When my friend Darshana recommended it to me recently, I was floored. I had been trying to think of this book for ages, and she brought it all flooding back. Thank you, Darshana!!

Ok, yap yip shh. The book.

It’s lyrical and sort of quiet, a trip through the town before the day has really started. Past closed stores, a barely stirring farm, to the empty coast. to

After watching a movie and the sun set, it’s time to return home. But. There are no more pages. That’s when you flip the book UPSIDE DOWN and read it again. Back to front, and left to right.fromThe small farm’s rippled rows are now smoky factories. The trains exhaust poofs are now puddles under rain. And home is home again.

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I love the stark contrast of black and white. You know I do.

But the thing that is driving this story and these ingenious pictures is the existence of negative space. That’s where the space around an object forms something else. Maybe it’s amorphous and just beautiful fill, and maybe it’s an entire new world.

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Same spread, the top is going, and the bottom is returning. The marsh becomes fireworks as the day becomes night. (Images from Greenwillow’s blog.)

A while back, (a long while back, actually!) we looked at Caldecott-winning Black and White and those crazy images that are both vase and face. You know those. And these: a series of negative space animals, take a keen eye to these and enjoy. And you do know about the arrow in the FedEx logo, right? Right. You’ll never unsee it.

So enjoy Round Trip forward, and enjoy it backward. See the negative, feel the positive. Embrace the space.

ch

Design is a Dandelion

by Janice Lovoos

{published 1966, by Golden Gate Junior Books}

I was in Seattle a few weeks ago. You remember the library, right?

I went to Pike Place Market, because of course, but also because flying fish and dudes in galoshes are a spectacle worth checking out. And I also wanted to get up close and personal with some bluefin tuna eyeballs.

There’s a real reason for that, trust me. But they didn’t have any tuna, so this happened:  Screen Shot 2013-05-17 at 11.51.46 AM

There’s not a real point to that story except that I adore that tweet (and those two Favoriters) and it’s what I did just before I wandered into Lamplight Books.

It’s like I stole something. Fifteen dollars? Sixty quarters? It still has that magical, musty smell of hidden secrets. And it was mine in a fraction of a split second. That fast.

Because…behold:

 I’m in love. From the texture of a porcupine, to the form of mountains and weeds, to the repetition inside a squash, design is everywhere.

Design is a Dandelion ends like this, with truth and a charge:

Design is everywhere. It is for everyone. All you have to do is to learn to see it. Open your eyes and take a big, long look.

ch

Take Me Out to the Yakyu

byAaron Meshon

{published 2013, by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, and imprint of Simon & Schuster}

When I first heard of this book at SCBWI LA last summer, it was some art on a slide at the front of the room. I was in the back row, and I was hooked. I’ve been waiting for it ever since, and I love that its release was in eager anticipation of baseball’s opening days.

{Sidenote: Cano + Jay-Z? Interesting collaboration. I’ll always be a Chipper Jones girl myself. Middle school scrapbooks and everything. Really.}

But this book. It’s a visual juxtaposition of baseball traditions in America and Japan. A global pastime.

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On the left, a kiddo goes to the park with his Pop Pop, and on the right, he hangs out with his ji ji.

{Sidenote again: I had the world’s greatest Pop Pop – no offense to our bright eyed young’n in this book. He always called that Chipper Jones fella Skipper.}

The sweet story arc socked me in the gut a little, because of my own fondness for family trips to the baseball stadium. Aaron Meshon’s saturated colors that are full of life vibrate with the energy of a game. The American blues and the Japanese reds contrast beautifully on each spread, too.

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One of the reasons I love baseball so much is its balance of sheer intensity and quiet, and the roar of a rallied-up crowd. The composition of the illustrations echo that rise and fall – some are fully rendered to the edge, color spilling off the page. Some are contained in a quieter space, bordered by white.

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And I love this – a subtle repetition of a circle, the stitched up sphere of a baseball. It even shows up on the back of the title page. I’m blanking on my librarian vocabulary – the verso, is it? That part where all the important cataloging information lives.

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It’s here, too. Those cheeks!

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And this – baseball is exhausting.

So get this book. It’s a home run. (And a slam dunk, too – even though that’s the wrong sport.)

ch

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.

ElementOfDesign.Color

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.

ch

Dangerously Ever After

DangerouslyEverAfter by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Valeria Docampo

{published 2012 by Dial Books for Young Readers}

I’m not usually too keen on princess books. I just…don’t get the appeal? And the pink? And the super sweetness?

Princess Amanita is my kind of girl, though. She’s prickly and fearless, and she has a killer hairdo. (I’ll overlook her love for cats. They still make me nervous.)

Remember Dashka Slater? She’s the brain behind a story full of words like stink lilies, heckle-berries, and sentences like ‘It sounded like a troop of monkeys playing tubas.’

Fun, lively, and funny, much as l imagine her to be.

And Valeria Docampo has a sweeping style that evokes a monster sense of wonder in me. This illustration that welcomes you to her website is breathtaking.

Her pictures are a perfect frame for Princess Amanita.

EOD_SHAPE

Shape is just any space that is enclosed by a line. They can be defined and pointy triangles, or round and comforting circles. Or perhaps just the space that’s left behind, in between two lines.

Princess Amanita is thorny on the outside, interested in danger and sharp things. So her hair resembles a scorpion tale, and her dress is outfitted in what looks like metal. Even her garden is prickly.

But she is sweet and friendly underneath it all, so the softness in the curves of her face and dress serve as a subtle reminder to us.

I love this spread. Gradually from left to right, the vines grow from pointy triangular thorns to the muted and organic lines of the Prince’s kingdom. Similar shapes tell a very different story.

And I adore these tiny frames that are dotted through the pages. The shape for these spot illustrations is bound by both curved and straight lines. She’s not all sweet, but she’s not all danger either.

Because really, aren’t we all a bit like that?

ch

Oh No, Little Dragon!

OhNoLittleDragon

by Jim Averbeck

Remember him? When I asked him what he would be if he wasn’t an author/illustrator, he said “extraordinarily irritable.” Ha.

Oh No, Little Dragon! is an endearing little book. Just look at his eyes! So sweet. That’s a little dragon with a spark in his heart, no question about it.

This is a story about fire, love, and kisses from a mama. And Jim Averbeck’s pictures capture the magnitude of this childlike search for sparkle.

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ElementOfDesign.Line

When I teach, one of my favorite things to show students is this little video. Not only does it visually define the fundamentals of design, but it is also a tiny piece of art itself. Pay close attention to the bit on line. (And also the adorable accent of the narrator!)

From the video: “Line has direction, weight, gesture, spirit, gestalt, life.”

And that’s what I think about when I look through the pages of Oh No, Little Dragon! — the life and spirit of the lines.

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See how the foreground and background lines are weighted the same? They are approximately the same width and texture, but the background lines recede because they are more transparent. Similar lines in different spirit create space in the illustration.

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The lines of phooooooshing on these pages have a clear direction and sense of animation across the spread. Love that. Can’t you just hear and feel Little Dragon sputtering through this book?

I won’t even tell you how much I love the soot-colored line drawings on the endpapers.

Nope.

ch

A Penguin Story

{by Antoinette Portis}

I heard Antoinette Portis speak this summer at SCBWI in LA and she was a sheer delight — funny, smart, and so willing to share her creative process. I missed an opportunity to pick up a signed copy of this book earlier this summer at Once Upon A Time in Montrose, and have been kicking myself ever since. I’d say soaking up her picture book brain in person was a worthy replacement.

Take note of these bright, beautiful endpapers. We’ll be back for these.

Edna, our penguin heroine, sees endless white, black, and blue. She doesn’t complain or act like a brat about it, but she is convinced there is something else. And off she goes in search of it.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this illustration. She’s been shimmying up and down icebergs and sliding long distances through the Antarctic snow, and she won’t give up. And here, you, the reader, can rally for her because SHE’S RIGHT! She doesn’t know it yet, but you do, and even though you loved her before, you love her a billion times more now.

Can we talk about color again? I know we just went all tetradic-fancy-color-scheme-boom last time, but I just can’t help myself.

Ok, so after Edna flies through the air with some fish bones, she lands face first in a snow drift. NEXT TO THE SOMETHING ELSE. (Sorry for yelling, it’s just so…something else!) The page turn here is out of control amazing, so I’m not gonna spoil it for you. But trust me, when she digs her little penguin head out of this bank and realizes where she is and what she sees? Exhilarating.

This something else is orange. ORANGE. Of course! Antoinette Portis could have made it red or yellow or green, but orange! The Antarctic scientists have orange gear, orange planes, and orange homes.

Colors in a complementary color scheme exist directly opposite one another on the color wheel. Here, blue and orange. Edna’s real world and her something else. Design schemes utilizing complementary colors are especially vibrant and strong, because when paired together, each makes its complement appear brighter. And isn’t this Edna’s realization? That her world is brighter because she knows of the something else? What Antoinette Portis did visually to carry this story is nothing short of dazzling.

But why is this endpaper green? No spoilers. Read this one, watch this one, experience this one.

Iggy Peck, Architect

Iggy Peck, Architect is my new favorite-must-be-on-top-of-the-book-pile picture book. I’m four years late to the Iggy Peck party, but better late than never, right? Maybe they saved me some leftovers. Written in lilting and whimsical rhyme by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by the quirky and grin-inducing David Roberts, Iggy Peck is now up there on my favorite character list. Ramona Quimby is at the top of that list, and I think she and Iggy would be mischievous rascally pals.

I discovered that the book designer is Chad Beckerman, the Art Director at Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books. He has an fascinating blog, Mishaps and Adventures, where he blogs about his book design process. There is a section devoted to the evolution of a book cover, where he takes you through the process from beginning to end, and it is so very interesting. I would like to have coffee with Chad Beckerman. I would ask him a million billion questions and be hopped up on the high test fuel. Or tea, and I would daintily hold out my pinky finger and try to be quieter. Maybe I would even listen to him instead of spewing out my own book design obsessions.

Maybe. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Young Iggy Peck is an architect and has been since he was two,

When he built a great tower – in only an hour-

With nothing but diapers and glue.

On the illustration to accompany this first page? Iggy’s round and rosy booty cheeks. Always good for a chuckle, even at 33 years old. Iggy’s poor parents have no idea how to contain his artistic expressions, and allow him to play and dream and construct all of the dreamlike things he can. When Iggy hits second grade and meets his nemesis teacher, Miss Lila Greer, she stifles his love for architecture. Why? Poor Miss Greer had a slightly unfortunate experience at a tall, tall building when she was younger. {Being stuck in an elevator with a French circus troupe did nothing to comfort her from this.} But on a class field trip to Blue River Pass, a footbridge collapses, and Iggy Peck and his architecture skills are needed (and wanted) to save the day.

     

Element of design: CONCEPT

Concept is a big and amorphous design notion to describe. It is the look and feel, the overall direction, and the abstract point hanging out behind the main point. Concept is related to unity. In visual arts, concept is conveyed to the viewer through mood and meaning. Every graphic element throughout a piece conveys SOMETHING. That something is the concept. In Iggy Peck, Architect, every small detail of the illustration and design presents just a little more of Iggy’s love for architecture and order.

The crane lifting the word Iggy right up over the word Peck.

Architecture tools as skyscrapers on the title page. Grid lines, reminiscent of blueprints.

Typography as structure on the title page.

Even Iggy’s parents are structural and statuesque.

And though shorter, so are his classmates. Note Iggy in the background, standing on his chair. (See…BFFs with Ramona. Easily.)

A dejected Iggy, surrounded by imposing white space, after he was told to squash his architecture dreams by Miss Greer.

The texture of the creek makes it feel rigid and strong, just how Iggy likes, while retaining its watery look.

The typography collapses on the page to reflect the action of the footbridge collapsing. Smart. Clever. Fun.

Spoiler Alert. Miss Greer walking to safety on Iggy’s bridge, reimagined as one of the greatest engineered bridges rather than the sticks and stones and underpants that they really used. Perhaps this is what Iggy sees in his architecture, perhaps it is what Miss Greer sees as her valiant rescue. I like to think they both see the same.

Dear Iggy Peck, surrounded by his heroes. And quite happy about it.