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 StephensLion5

 

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.

There’s smushing behind the shower curtain, there’s lounging on the limb of a tree, and there’s plenty of bed-jumping. And still, when he overhears Iris’s parents saying there’s no such thing as a kind lion, there’s sadness.

But.

Lion1

The way Helen Stephens is using color in this book is both sweet and striking to me. This lion, large and yellow, takes up a lot of space on pages of close ups. And his girl, Iris, matches him a bit with her yellow arms and brown mane. That’s sweet. That’s friends who can see themselves in each other.

But the blues. Loose complements to the wild yellow of the beast, the wild brown of Iris’s hair. Ever notice when a book is cracked open, the edges of the cover frame it a bit? This one is blue, a lovely turquoise. The endpapers are a shade of sky and a deep navy. Those pages and that cover peek around the story itself.

A little touch of blue, giving this lion a hug.

Just like Iris. Lion3Lion2

These vignettes! The gag is a an unhide-able lion, right? It’s an impossibility that’s highlighted with the use of these orange-yellows and blues. 

After the lion escapes his Iris-refuge, he blends in to his surroundings. A camouflaged cat, if you will. He holds his breath between two marble-sculpted friends. I don’t want to show you the spread, cause Big Things Happen, but take a look at the colors of that page. His hiding is a success. No need for blues to offset his presence. 

Also, I love how this book is pretty big. That’s obviously not a very technical or artistic term to to reference trim size, but it’s true. A lion is tricky to hide, and the physical space this book takes up is the gentlest nod to the absurdity of that task. Besides, a lion wouldn’t fit in a smaller book, right? 

He’d be much harder to hide that way.Lion4ch

PS: Be sure to visit this post from Danielle at This Picture Book Life. There’s some secret-spoiler-y-easter-egg things on the pages of this book, and her post is the coolest.

The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone

The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone

The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone (Candlewick, 2003)

by Timothy Basil Ering

I have a feeling this is one of those books that you either adore to hyperbolic proportions or is completely off your radar. 

I’m in the hyperbolic proportions camp, but it’s still a book I forget about. And then when I remember, I wonder how I forgot?!

So this is an origin story, one that starts in Cementland and ends in gritty beauty.The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone by Timothy Basil Ering

The first spread is so perfect. A wide shot of Cementland, described as a dull, gray, endless place. A boy, arms open and striped in red, stands at your attention in the midst of all that gray. All of the lines and the stress and the mess lead you right to him.

This red-striped fellow believes treasure hides among the heaps of junk in Cementland, and in a triumphant moment finds a box bursting with color. Bright colored packages, but filled only with tiny gray specks.The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone by Timothy Basil EringHundreds of them. Not wondrous riches.

He plants anyway. And after two or three minutes, nothing happens.

While he’s gone, thieves root and loot the plot. So this boy–this treasure hunter, gathers smelly socks, scraggly wires, and of course, a crown, and dubs his creation Frog Belly Rat Bone, the monster who will protect the specks. 

They are a duo with a mission and a patched together friendship that pays big rewards.The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone by Timothy Basil Ering 

That’s why Timothy Basil Ering’s use of texture is the only possibility for this type of storytelling. The art is the story. It’s stitched up. It’s not slick. It’s piled up and layered and cobbled together just like Frog Belly Rat Bone himself.The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone by Timothy Basil EringThere’s warmth in the mess and intention in the scatter. It’s as beautiful as that treasure that the red-striped boy finds. And creates.The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone by Timothy Basil Eringbreaker

“…[W]hen I first made the dummy book for Frog Belly Rat Bone, naturally, I beat up some wood and sewed it all together. It gave it that nostalgic, cobbled-together look that’s just plain interesting to me. I wanted it to look like it was made the same way the little boy in the story makes Frog Belly, with just raw hand-stitching and splashes of paint.”

(That’s from here, which is a great read!)

It’s definitely one I want to share early in the year with our fourth graders who are the school’s expert gardeners. It would pair well with The Curious Garden (for obvious reasons) but also classic unlikely friendship stories. Isn’t a trash-made monster-thing with picky underwear a pretty unlikely friend? I’m thinking about Amos and Boris and Leonardo the Terrible Monster.The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone by Timothy Basil Ering

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Giveaway Update: Thanks for playing! I’ve picked the winners, but I’m going to wait until my order comes in from the bookstore to share the spoils. We had to special order a few titles. Did you know your local indie will do that for you?! And then you get to go back. Stay tuned!

The Queen of Colors

Queen of Colorsby Jutta Bauer (NorthSouth, 2014; originally published in Germany, 1998, as Die Königen der Farben.)

I love the work NorthSouth is doing, and this book in particular has stuck with me for a while.Queen of ColorsSo it’s a funny little book, but it’s also literally little, and there’s a lot of mayhem happening in such a small package. I think that’s smart.Queen of ColorsColor’s been on the brain a lot this week because I’m in the thick of teaching an Intro to Photoshop and Graphic Design class to kids. This has been a fun one to show them, because the colors in this book take on such a clear identity.Queen of ColorsBlue is soft and gentle. I love how the Queen is giving it a hug and kiss.Queen of Colors Queen of Colors Queen of ColorsRed barrels in and nearly knocks her over. It’s wild and dangerous.Queen of ColorsAnd then there’s Yellow. Warm and bright and sunshiny on her toes.

These colors have purpose, but when Matilda can’t control them, the whole mess turns Gray.Queen of Colors Queen of Colors It’s the same in art. Too many colors competing leaves you a whole lot of buzz and confusion. It doesn’t work.ThisDoesntWork(image source.)

This Gray sticks around for a while. It doesn’t work. Queen of ColorsQueen of ColorsBut it does make the Queen of Colors sad. Not gentle, not wild, not warm. Not colorful. 

So she cries. You’ll have to see for yourself what her tears do to the gray. Here’s a hint: it’s scribbles and stars and swirls. It’s a happy ending.

Color has a story, and it’s a story that matters.

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P.S.—Does Queen Matilda remind you a little bit of Queen Ursula from the Little Mermaid? I think it’s part her bossiness, and part her curves. I’m awful at remembering lines from films, but this is one that has stayed with me a long, long time. I think it’s thanks to the bubbles that shimmy out of her hind parts!

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Martin Pebble

Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin 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 SempéMartin 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 SempéThe 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 SempéBut he always stood out.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéThen 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 SempéMartin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéWhen 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 SempéRoddy 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 SempéMartin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéSometimes things get back to normal.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéI won’t spoil past that pink-lettered page.

But I love it.IMG_1250 copy

And!

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!

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Number One Sam and an interview with Greg Pizzoli

Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoliby Greg Pizzoli

published 2014 by Disney-Hyperion

I’m honored and thrilled to have Greg Pizzoli back to the blog this week. About a year ago we talked about Kroc and The Watermelon Seed, and in the many weeks since, that thing (and Greg!) won the Geisel Award! My kindergarteners call him ‘the BURRRRPPP man’ which I’m pretty sure is the highest praise any mere mortal can achieve.

But today! Today is the birthday of Greg’s latest and greatest, Number One Sam. This is my favorite tweet about it:Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 3.47.57 PM(And side note, you should follow Matt Roeser at Candlewick cause he has impeccable taste and eyeballs.)

And this (!) is the trailer:

breakerGreg chatted with me about process and art and picture books, and I’ve read these answers about a billion times and am still learning. Enjoy!

Your spot color. Wow! Can you talk about why such a stripped-down design with a limited color palette is such a powerful visual device?

Great question!

To be honest, I’m not sure. But, I think it comes down
to working from an intention, and just having a plan, or restrictions
set in place from the beginning. You can’t just grab another color
from somewhere – when it comes time to make final art, we’ve done
rounds of pantone tests and paper tests, and the limitations and
possibilities are in place, so nothing is casual. Maybe it makes you
consider things in a way that is unique to working in that way?

I know for me, if I’m doing a book that is printed in a limited color
palette, it can feel restrictive in one sense, but there is a real
freedom within the limitations, if you know what I mean. There’s not
endless guessing the way there might be with a CMYK book. Obviously we
do lots of tests and make sure we get the base colors right for the
book, but once that is done, I can start carving out the drawings and
not worry too much about the colors, because we’ve done so much work
on the front end. It’s a challenge I enjoy.

Here’s a photo of a spot color test proof.Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

Why do you think your stories are best suited to the form of the picture
book. What can you do in this form that you might not be able to in another?

This is a tough one, Carter. Boy, I come to your blog looking to have
a good time, maybe show a video or something, and you slam me with
this “why picture books” stuff. Sheesh. “Gotcha blogging” right here.
But that’s fine, I’ll play along.

I’m kidding, of course. But, it is a tough one. I guess it’s not all
that complicated for me. I’ve always loved picture books and I think
it’s because there are so many possible ways to solve the problem of
telling a story with text and images. It’s a cliche I think, but you
really can do anything in a picture book. But here again, I like the
restrictions. As much as I might complain to my editor that I “just
need one more spread” to tell the story, it’s actually nice to have a
structure where you have to fit a complete world, with a character, a
problem, and (maybe?) a solution to that problem in only 40 (or so)
pages.

There’s something about how deliberate every decision has to be
that is super appealing to me. I’ve been working on writing a longer
thing recently, a series, and it’s not as though I’m not deliberate
when working on it, but I’ll admit that it feels as though not as much
is hinging on each line or picture in the same way. With picture
books, you don’t have room for anything to feel arbitrary. I like
that.

Also, I thought you might want to see these. Sam started out as a
print of a weird dog (top) and then I made a print of another
(cuter) dog, and he kept coming up in my sketchbooks until he became
Number One Sam (bottom).Number One Sam by Greg PizzoliNumber One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

What do you think are the most important considerations when creating a book trailer?
How do you think through compressing an already spare narrative into a short
animation? Are there aspects to animation you wish you had access to in
picture book art or vice versa? (I guess mostly I’m curious about how book
trailers share storytelling space with picture books and what they can do
differently. Does that make sense?!)

Ya know, it’s a complicated thing this book trailer business. I am
really happy with the two we’ve done so far, but I definitely can’t
take all the credit. Jimmy Simpson, directed and animated both the
trailer for The Watermelon Seed and for Number One Sam, and he is
pretty incredible to work with. Both times we started working, I had
already finished the book, and I had a very basic sense of what I
wanted the trailer to be, but he figures out all of the transitions
and added all of the touches that make them work as well as I think
they do. For example, the “wink” shot from the Number One Sam trailer –
that’s all Jimmy. And of course, he does all of the animation.

I draw the stuff, which is somewhat complicated because you have to
keep everything separated, meaning draw the arm on a different layer
from the body, and the hand on a different layer than the arm, and the
ear on it’s own layer, etc. Basically everything needs to move
independently of everything else, but my characters are pretty simple,
so it’s not too big a deal.

And the music is key. My buddy Christopher Sean Powell composed the
music special for both trailers. What a talent, right? He plays in the
band Man Man, and has his solo music project called Spaceship Aloha,
and was a part of a pretty seminal band from these parts called Need
New Body. I’m thrilled we get to work together on this stuff.

But, to your actual question, I see the trailer and the book as
completely separate things. They have their own pacing, and their own
objectives. With the book, you want everything to feel complete, and
have an emotional pay off of some kind. And you have the narrative arc
to keep things together. With the trailer, it’s more of a tease. You
don’t want to give it all away. And I guess our objective is to just
make them fun and unique.

Book trailers have become more popular, and there is a sort of
template for how they are done that we have tried to stay away from.
We just want them to feel different enough to maybe stand out. It’s a
super small community in some ways, and my book trailers certainly
aren’t racking up millions of views or anything, but we enjoy making
them for their own sake, partly I think because we all just like
working together. If other people dig them, and check out the book on
top of that, that’s icing.

What types of trophies do you have lining your shelves? What kind do you
wish you had? Side note: What would a book called Number One Greg be about?

Beyond my published books, which I kind of think of as trophies in a
way, there are a couple. Last year when I finished the art for Number
One Sam, my editor Rotem sent me a trophy that I keep on my bookcase.
And recently I was looking through some old family photos and found a
first place ribbon that I had won for a school wide art contest in
the 1st grade. My family moved around a ton when I was little, so the
actual winning piece was lost. I remember it though! It was a big
piece of yellow poster board with a marker drawing of outer space.

Maybe it’s time to do a space book?Number One Sam by Greg PizzoliNumber One Sam by Greg PizzolibreakerAnd now for some art from Number One Sam. Thank you, Greg! (Click to make any of them larger.)Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

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100 Bears

100Bears by Magoli Bardosby Magali Bardos

published 2014 by Flying Eye Books100Bears by Magoli BardosLet 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 Jonker100Bears by Magoli Bardos100 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 BardosA 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 BardosP.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!

Waterloo and Trafalgar

Waterloo & Trafalgar

Tonight was for writing this post and watching some football and thinking about orange and blue. And then this commercial comes on TV. (Well, this one is a few years old. Same flavor, though.)

breakerRemember this. It means something in a bit. I promise I don’t care where you buy your life insurance.breakerWaterloo and Trafalgar

by Olivier Tallec

{published 2012, by Enchanted Lion Books}

Waterloo & Trafalgar is at once spare and very much not. It’s a book about unnecessary fighting and the two stubborn sides who forget why they are even at odds. They are suspicious, bored, but always staid. Until. A snail, a bird, a different perspective. Different looks a little bit the same after all.Waterloo and TrafalgarTallec’s goofy little men end up as a charming shout for peace. They are absurd. They are us.

Waterloo. Blue. Trafalgar. Orange. Opposites. Enemies.Waterloo and TrafalgarcolorwheelThere they are, as far from one another on the color wheel as possible. Direct opposites. Complementary colors.

Orange and blue are a combination of dominance, because each is competing for the attention of your eye. One cool, one warm, constant attention-grabbers. Because of their stark contrast, each truly shouts.Waterloo and TrafalgarThat’s why it’s a duo you see in a lot of advertising for banks, credit cards, and other Important Things. Would that Northwestern Mutual commercial be as strong if it were in a different color palette? Probably not. They want to imply strength, power, and – well, life.

And, ahem. I’m a fan of these two colors. Note my blog header and the rest of this thing’s design. Those design decisions were intentional, and since you are reading this and hanging out here with me, it might just be working.Waterloo and TrafalgarPerfect choices for Waterloo and Trafalgar, right? It wouldn’t make sense for those two ridiculous little men to be represented by closer together hues. Their orange and blues are a tenuous balance.

Besides a color scheme that works, that sings, and that smacks you in the gut, this is just a darn beautiful book. The paper is thick and rich to the touch, and some split pages inside extend the stories and heighten the division at hand.Waterloo and TrafalgarI love the die cuts on the cover – those clever windows reveal these two nuts and their telescopes at the ready. And the endpapers’ narrative is subtle as it holds the story in place. The carved out holes close up by the end, and the stream of blue and orange smash right up against each other.Waterloo and TrafalgarStill different, still far apart on that wheel. Transformed into something lovely together.chMoreToRead

Ok, ok. One more orange and blue moment I love is the opening title sequence to the James Bond flick, Quantum of Solace.

breaker(These titles are created by a studio whose motion design work is just spectacular, MK12. They are the creative minds behind the visuals in Stranger Than Fiction and the gorgeous end titles of The Kite Runner. By the way, notice the colors in the first minute of that one!)

breakerAnd! A whole slew of orange and blue on movie posters. You won’t un-see this color palette once you start noticing it. That’s a promise prefaced with a slight apology! Here’s just one:Hugo_FilmPosters

Downpour

written by Emily Martin, illustrated by Mara Shaughnessy

{published 2013, by Sky Pony Press}

An enchanting premise, lyrical language, and dreamy-dainty pictures. Downpour is a love letter to the storm and the question of what happens to color as the rain drips down.The water falls first on bright red poppies, washing that hue over everything else in the world – from the birds’ pointed beaks to the black ram’s horns and ‘red, the mosses, lichen, and fern.’And so color here is as much a storyteller as the words and the forms. It’s not the rain that saturates as much as the red. There’s no room and no need on these pages for a fresh green or blue sky as the rain clears up. Would it be as lovely if more friends on the color wheel were tapped?

No. Because ‘red, the fish, their shiny scales. Red, the foam on the sandy shore.’ From red in the puddle and gravel to red in the hedgehog’s kettle corn snack, color matters. Contrast between the red of the poppies, shared through the pages, and that grayscale world is stark and fresh and really, really beautiful.And a trailer! I find this one especially remarkable because of the melancholy music which was a real surprise to me. That wasn’t a mood that I felt as a reader, but now that I’ve heard and felt that vibe, it feels right, too. Isn’t that a magical thing?

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Review copy provided by Sky Pony Press.

Color + Colors

I have no children. I have board books. Is this weird? Maybe. But these in particular are little graphic design studies. I will not literally try to chew them, but they are definitely droolworthy.

Do you know Alexander Girard? He was a midcentury designer, specializing in color and textiles. I’m crazy about the Nativity set at that link. And while most people have heard of Herman Miller, Girard was the designer that sizzled up their furniture line with his palettes. He said this, which made me fall in love a little: “People got fainting fits if they saw bright, pure color.” 

He did it anyway.

So this little book is a huge celebration of his style, color, and desire to make you faint and fall in it.


How about Charley Harper? He took a vibrant love of color from the natural world, and distilled that into his pictures. I adore that on first glance, whimsy and delight dances around, but a longer gaze reveals storytelling ingenuity. He said, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see feathers, fur, scapulars, or tail coverts—none of that. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior, and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures.”

And this tiny treasure explodes with his search for endless possibilities. And it’s lovely.


Was I right about that whole droolworthy thing? I know.

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Fish On A Walk

IMG_1951

by Eva Muggenthaler

{published 2012, by Enchanted Lion Books}

I’ve mentioned my bookshelf issues before, right? As in not nearly enough space to put all the books? In my head, picture books are so skinny! They’ll take up no space at all, right? But rather than on shelves, I have stacks. Everywhere.

Well, this book bowled me over when I first laid eyes on it. You’ll see. But the stack it was in? Covered by a throw pillow on the couch. Not anymore, I promise. Please send shelves.

Anyway. Let’s talk about this book, because I think you will adore it.

An intriguing title that gives away the delightful dichotomies to come – unusual instances, and a billion bitty details to love.

contrast

The cover hints at all of this, with its mossy greens and a muddy red – complementary colors on the good old color wheel. As far a part as they can get from one another, and a great use of contrast in design framing a book all about sometimes absurd differences.

IMG_1952

I adore the way the green line of the cover dangles down along the stark red endpapers! Love.

IMG_1953IMG_1954

Inside, each spread contains one glorious illustration holding all of those billion bitty details. And each spread holds only two contrasting words which can explain or guide or drive the pictures. You figure it out, you get into the story, you make sense of the contrasting duo.

IMG_1955

It’s like Eva Muggenthaler gave your imagination a diving board and didn’t tell you that the pool was so deep that you’ll shoot out of the other side of the globe. Extreme? I don’t think so.

IMG_1956

A hint! Such a tease.

IMG_1957

Wonder and ooh and ahh with this one. This is one of those books that needs to stay out all the time, not ever stuck on a bookshelf. And definitely never ever ever under a throw pillow.

PS – Valentine’s Day is charging forward. Do you need a good book for your sweetie? Check out my Top Ten over at Design Mom!

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