The Lion and the Bird

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc The Lion and the Bird (Enchanted Lion, 2014)

by Marianne Dubuc

A lion and a bird are not the most obvious of friends. One big, shaggy, and growly, and one small, sleek, and flit-about-y.

But not these two. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc This lion has rosy cheeks which are insta-endearing and wanders out to his work. Just a lion, working in the garden. That’s when he spots an injured bird. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc Same insta-endearing rosy cheeks.

The lion springs to action. The bird smiles, but the flock has flown away. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc Marianne Dubuc varies the art on the page. Some spot illustrations, some full-bleed. This paces the small, quiet action of the story – the spots create sequential scenes on one spread, moving us forward in time, a full-bleed image slows us down into one moment on the same physical space. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc The Lion and the Bird by Marianne DubucThe two spend the winter together, ice-fishing and fire-watching. It’s cold. But:

Winter doesn’t feel all that cold with a friend. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

No more spots, no more full-bleed. Only white space.

We slow way down. We worry about what’s to come.

But Spring has to come. The flock has to return.

The page turn here is filled with emotion. We see the lion saying a bittersweet goodbye. (How he’s holding his hat in honor is just the most beautiful thing.) The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc And then, as if we are the flock, he gets smaller. Farther away. Lots of white space. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc Time goes on. (Sometimes the seasons are like that.)

But then. The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc A flock of birds. A single note in the white space.

Winter returns, and so does his friend.

In this book, white space moves the story and white space is the story. The moments that seem the most like nothing might actually be the moments that are the most something.

That bird’s solitary trill piercing the air reminds me a bit of this art installation. It’s a combination of movement, music, and art that leaves room for the story in the space left behind. This reminds me of the lion, waiting and listening and hoping.

ch

 

PS: I’m heading to Las Vegas this weekend for ALA. Will you be there? Would love to say hello!

 Review copy provided by the publisher. All thoughts my own.

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.

 

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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Extra Yarn

Saturday. Burbank. Unwind Yarn. A genius author/artist combo in my neighborhood? One that I have proclaimed love for on multiple occasions? It was perfect.

{Cake pops wrapped in yarn. Adorable!}

And the dynamic duo: illustrator Jon Klassen, and author Mac Barnett.

{I have been to Mac’s website plenty of times, and only now realize the dapper man holding up the piano is HIM. Click over, am I right??}

I even met my Twitter buddy, Alyson Beecher!

…And heard Mac read Extra Yarn to the crowd. I mean, wow…his own words in his own voice…magical, really.

So…what the heck is up with this awesome book?

On a cold afternoon, in a cold little town,

where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow

or the black soot from chimneys,

Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color.

And she goes knit-crazy, wrapping her town with the color and warmth of this magic yarn. Remember the knit covered house in the picture above? Yeah. That happens.

I tried SO HARD to keep my cool while talking to Jon Klassen about design, really I did. He explained to me his reasonings for using white space and the puzzle of leaving room for the reader to create their own stories in the space left behind by both the words AND the pictures. We talked about texture and trailers and the differences in animating for the screen and designing for the book page. I managed to not faint and fall in it, thank-you-very-much. It was unreal.

But a notable design consideration in Extra Yarn is of course, color. Annabelle’s creations bring life to a drab, cold town.

Jon told us that he bought a $5 sweater from Goodwill, photographed it over a light table, and digitally colored over the photo-real stitches to get the look of the knits in Extra Yarn. Straight from the illustrator’s mouth: “Everything else I tried just looked stupid.”

Recognize that bear?

The archduke: the bad guy, out to get Annabelle’s yarn. Hearing Mac’s voice for the archduke? Also amazing.

What a day, what an event, what a book. See that?

Want it? Your own author AND illustrator signed copy of Extra Yarn?

Duh.

Leave a comment here by Sunday, April 22 at midnight PST to win it! I’ll announce a winner on Monday, April 23rd. Good luck!

Owl Moon

{written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr}

I think it’s well documented in these parts that rowdy read alouds steal my heart the most when it comes to picture books, but this one… Jane Yolen has rare rivals when it comes to a mastery of language and creating rich imagery with words.

It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime,

when Pa and I went owling.

There was no wind.

The trees stood still as giant statues.

I remember this book from the Ridge Elementary School library. It was wrapped in ripped Mylar and had smudged pages, and I can imagine it accompanied many bedtime rituals around the neighborhood. While I so vividly remember the cover, the Caldecott Medal, and that ripped Mylar, the story was entirely unfamiliar to me when I read it again recently.

How fun to revisit childhood moments with some grown-up eyes. (Grown-up eyes that are wrinkly and saggy, but whatever.)

I love color in this book because it is simultaneously lush and stark. It’s late, late at night, and the colors are made up of shadowy tones.

John Schoenherr represents Jane Yolen’s words exceptionally well in the white sky and white snow. The colors are in the duo, the shadows, and the landscape, and the regal owl, and bright white leaves room for the text.

This book is a beautiful combination of words and pictures, and certainly worth revisiting. I’m very thankful for my brand-spanking-new-no-ripping-Mylar copy, and very thankful for that one a long time ago. It was just one of many that made me enjoy the glory of a picture book.

I Want My Hat Back

Image

This book. These tweets. That bear.

Irresistible. I Want My Hat Back swooped in fiercely this fall and won my heart big time.

My hat is gone. I want it back.

The cover and those first lines above say it all. That poor wide eyed bear just wants his hat. Have YOU seen it? One by one, the bear asks his forest buddies and while I will give no spoilers, the bear gets (and gives!) what is deserved. So well done.

Jon Klassen’s art and words complement each other so well. I’m not the only one who thinks so; he did win a Geisel award this year. And I have so much to say about both! Buckle in.

The story is carried entirely in dialog, yet he doesn’t use any quotation marks or dialog tags. By simply changing the color of the text, the reader knows that someone different is speaking. Although the bear repetitively asks, “Have you seen my hat?” and the reader quickly realizes that pattern,  changing the text color is still an effective and yet subtle design choice.

My favorite? The turtle. That slow little squirt just wants to sunbathe on top of the rock. And he says please.

Even the endpapers succinctly tell of the bear’s plight. Take my word for it, but the initial endpapers show a hatless bear, and by the end:

Ultimately, (bold statement) all of Jon Klassen’s successes can be wrapped up in his excellent use of space.

Despite its name, white space doesn’t have to be white.

Huh?

It refers to the empty space in a layout between various elements. White space can exist between images in an illustrated spread, words and pictures, lines of type or even between graphic elements and the gutter. And usually it makes non-designers antsy. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…white space is intentional and NOT empty.

Think about Where’s Waldo. Sure its entertaining and a good time killer, but so many images are stuffed on a page that you have no idea where to start. Your poor, tired eyeballs dart to and fro and never rest because the picture is so visually overwhelming. White space counters this. It allows for your eye to rest in an image and to know where to look. You can digest information with more comfort and ease. And really? It just looks better. Trust me.

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be white:

Jon Klassen could have smushed all the animals into this spread. Or trees, clouds, aliens, or umbrellas…anything. Instead, he brilliantly matches sparse text with a bold graphic. Why mess up the words with a cluttered picture? Why mess up the picture with too many words?

{Answer: don’t.}

Though stark, his characters are full of emotion and life. Though few, his words spare nothing. Jon Klassen is a stunning designer; both his words and his pictures prove it.

A Few Blocks

A Few Blocks by Cybele Young is my new favorite. Natalia Ortega-Brown of A Picture Book A Day recently recommended it to me, and she was SO RIGHT that I would love it.

Ferdie, in typical baby brother style, does not want to go to school today. Or maybe ever again. His big sister Viola sweetly encourages him to walk to school by creating a magical world along the way. They encounter speeding jets, pirate ships, knights in shining armor, dragons and princesses all before they reach school. I love the pictures, I love the words, I love that Viola and Ferdie love each other and work together. I love A Few Blocks.

ELEMENT OF DESIGN: COLOR

The illustrations in this book are just as magical as the story. Ferdie and Viola’s real world environment is sparsely drawn in inky black and white with shades of gray. Still full of life, but a just a bit plain.

To show their world of play and make-believe, Young creates colorful paper collages of cut out scenes from their real world. Each page is such a beautiful juxtaposition of both the real and the imagined.

Make sense? In this picture, there are angry rolling waves of brown, green, and blue, dolphins swimming, clouds, lightning, and birds. And of course, Ferdie and Viola sailing their ship across the water. But inside all of those imagined elements, you can clearly see the real scene through which they are walking on their way to school. See the neighborhood houses, the streetlight, the telephone pole? The sprinkler, bicycle and school bus?

It’s brilliant, right? What a wonderful way to visually represent both real and make-believe.

Young’s use of color is an additional punch to the design of the pictures. The real world is black and white, and the world Ferdie and Viola create is in many shades of colors. I doubt she is saying that their real life is dreary and bleak, but the saturation contrast is one more way to show the wonder of make-believe.

A lot can happen in just a few blocks. Here’s to colorful ones, and ones with just a touch of magic.

Little Blue and Little Yellow

Little Blue and Little Yellow, by Leo Lionni is one of those books that just feels good to hold and read and experience. It’s the story that launched his incredible career in childrens’ books, and remains today a masterpiece. Its birth was unusual and special. Leo Lionni was riding the train with his young grandchildren, and to entertain them, he tore colored pages from a LIFE magazine and created Little Blue and Little Yellow characters on the surface of his briefcase. Upon arriving home, he created a little physical book, and the very next night a friend, an editor, decided on the spot to publish it. Little Blue and Little Yellow launched Lionni’s career in picture books as well as his signature paper collage style.

I’m thankful for that train ride and restless grandchildren.

ELEMENT OF DESIGN: WHITE SPACE

Something you hear often as a designer is ‘fill that space up, it’s kinda empty’ or ‘just make the text bigger’ or ‘can’t you add more stuff to the frame?’ An untrained eye often sees white space as empty, while a designer’s intent may be just that: to preserve the space. White space functions as breathing room in an image, a resting place for the eyes, or to highlight the shape or form that is occupying the space. White space is deliberate as opposed to empty or ‘accidental leftovers.’

For white space to be especially beautiful and functional, it has to coexist in harmony with the other elements of composition. In Little Blue and Little Yellow, the little friends are highlighted as independent but loyal friends by their position on the page, their separation from the typography layout, and their home in the midst of white space. It is their story, and their home on the page draws your eye right into their world.

These pages are clearly not empty. They are full of wonder and delight and an engaging story told with simple but striking graphic elements.

Can you really look at that spread and not feel something? All of a sudden, the white space that was so comforting and warm highlights Little Blue and Little Yellow’s sadness and confusion.

But. SPOILER ALERT: There’s a happy ending.

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.