Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and an interview with Zack Rock

Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

by Zack Rock (Creative Editions, 2014)

Zack Rock and I haunt some of the same circles on the internet. I have a tshirt with his work on it thanks to Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves (how cool is that header?), and I have long admired his work thanks to some tea time at Seven Impossible Things here and here. And once upon a time in 2012, Zack wrote a hilarious joke for a Hallowtweet contest run by Adam Rex and Steven Malk.

I remember that well, cause in fun-facts-here-at-Design-of-the-Picture-Book both Julie Falatko and I were runners-up in that contest, and the real prize was getting her friendship. Start of an era, for sure. (Although Zack did get an original piece of Adam Rex art, and we’d both admit to coveting that a little. See below!)

So. I’ve had my eye out for this book for years. Years! And I was so happy that Zack spent some time chatting with me about this smorgasbord of stuff and story. He also said he “answered the living daylights” out of these questions, so I sure hope you enjoy the living daylights out of them like I did.

Welcome, Zack! (That jovial picture is from his blog, where he has killer posts like this one on bad drawings and perspective. Check it out!)

IMG_9253breakerHomer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

One thing I know that’s true of kids is that they love a billion teensy and scrutinize-able details in books. Your book starts out with such cool stuff on the endpapers, that I almost (only almost) don’t want to keep going! Do you have any kind of catalog for these curiosities, or did you just create anything and everything that felt right? Is there a backstory for each of these elements?!

I drew whatever felt right, “right” being subject to how exhausted my imagination was at the time. And though I’d like to leave the history of the curios up to the readers’ interpretation, I carry a backstory for each in my mind—some more convoluted than others.

For instance, in the museum there’s an antique, penny arcade cabinet inspired by the Musée Mécanique, which houses scores of these old contraptions in San Francisco. So to honor them, I fitted my museum’s machine with a tiny, top-hatted automaton of one of SF’s most curious citizens: Norton I, self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States of America (a real guy). So plenty of thought went into that curio.

On the other hand, another curio is an apple with a faucet sticking out of it because I was thirsty when I drew it.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

(I love the way this whole book starts. I feel like I’m in really good hands.)

Thanks! I like to consider myself the Allstate of illustrators.

What’s your studio like? Do you have trinkets and tschotskes or a cool window view?

Believe it or not, I’m allergic to collecting stuff, so my studio is bare as a monk’s cell. My mother, however, has a fondness/compulsion for antiquing in bulk; almost none of her massive collection of furniture and doodads got past the door of my childhood home without having first seen several generations of use. It lent the crowded house an air of the same well-worn nostalgia that permeates the pages of my book.studio

Surely you’ve hidden some easter eggs in these pages. Any hints? Any behind-the-scenes stories?

Now I regret not hiding an actual Easter Egg in the museum. Honestly, nearly everything in the book is an Easter Egg, since there’s a secret story encased in each curio. But instead of cracking those open, I’ll share a behind-the-scenes tour of the book’s present day setting.

I created the book while living in Seattle, and Pacific Northwest references are littered throughout it. The license plate on the VW Bug in the first scene reads “FRMTTRL,” an allusion to the massive concrete Fremont Troll lurking beneath the Seattle’s Aurora Bridge. The museum exterior is based on the old town hall in Bellingham, WA, and the fictional island it crashed on is named for Washington State’s notorious children’s writer, Sherman Alexie. A Washington State ferry, the Olympic Mountains, a totem pole from Pike Place Market, and a handful of other Puget Sound souvenirs also make an appearance in the book.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

This book has a real undercurrent of ignored things being a treasure with a story. Are you a treasure hunter or a treasure-leaver-for-somebody-else? (I think that’s what making books is, so you are that one for sure. I guess what I’m asking is why do you think HHH was such a collector of stories, and do you see any parallels in your own life of creative curating?)

Ooo, books as treasures to be discovered, I like that! Makes me sound like a pirate.

Homer is an underdog; nobody would look at him and assume his adventures extend beyond an expedition to the local sushi restaurant. He identifies himself with the object’s he curates, so he surrounds himself with the lost and neglected, and by exhibiting their rich history to the world he literally shares his own biography.

And I’ll leave the parallels with my own life to the armchair psychoanalysts.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

What came first to you in this story: words or pictures? Can you talk to being a picture book creator who deals with both parts? (And in case anyone’s wondering, my favorite line is this one: My luggage may be dusty. But my hat still fits.)

Ha, that’s the one line written entirely by my editor Aaron! He suggested it while editing the book, and I thought it was great too, so we kept it in.

Being an author/illustrator isn’t terribly different than being solely a writer, the main distinction is that you have a visual language to express the story as well. So I can employ the duel butterfly nets of text and images to capture the picture book ideas that flutter into view, jotting notes alongside small thumbnail sketches as I try to pin down plot/character/theme details. It becomes a balancing act of seeing which of the two, words or images, best conveys what needs to be communicated.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockWhat’s your creative process like? Any weird routines? What’s your medium of choice?

My only real habit—creative or otherwise—are the nightly walks I take after work, allowing my legs and mind to wander. In fact, I got the original idea for Homer Henry Hudson during one of these constitutionals.

And for picture books I work almost exclusively in watercolor, though for other projects I work in pen and ink, digitally, or with accidental food stains.

Who are your literary and artistic heroes?

They’re all in the book! Along with Shaun Tan, Maurice Sendak and Lisbeth Zwerger—who I painted into a restaurant scene—there’s references to Søren Kierkegaard, Jorges Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Renee Magritte, Herman Melville, JD Salinger, George Orwell, Ingmar Bergman, Charles Schulz, and of course, Homer. Even my favorite comedian, Paul F Tompkins, whose podcasts kept me company during the long hours of illustrating the book, has a cameo as a pipe-smoking painting.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

Do you have a favorite piece of artwork hanging in your house? Or a favorite tune that feels like art?

A few years ago, Adam Rex held a contest to see who could fit the best Halloween haiku into the constraints of a tweet. To my surprise he picked mine, and to my utter flabbergastination he went on to illustrate it and sent me the original art! It’s incredible. I framed it above my art desk as a reminder that, with hard work and dedication to my craft, I may one day hope to be the poor man’s Adam Rex.

Why books for kids?

One of the most valuable skills to possess is the ability to approach the world and its inhabitants with wonder, curiosity and interest. What’s great about kids is that they do this naturally and without being self-conscious. My hope is that Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and future books will be something readers carry with them as they grow older and are tempted to lose that wonder, reminders there’s so much more to the world, the things in it, and yourself to discover if you approach life with an open heart.

Plus, I have nothing to say that couldn’t be said by a talking dog.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockWhat’s next for you?

Another book for Creative Editions about the power of stories, this time from the perspective of an acrobatic pig.

How can we buy your book?

Through your local struggling independent bookseller. Or Powells.com. Or, sigh, Amazon.com.

What did I miss?

There are humanoid pears hanging in the first illustration of the museum interior, bottom of the page. Look past the table leg and Grecian urn. See that? It’s a butt!Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockbreakerI’m pretty sure that’s the first butt mention on this blog. Have any treasure-hunters? Or fans of hidden picture art? Since we all love talking dogs, this book is a great choice for all readers everywhere.

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Flashlight and an interview with Lizi Boyd

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

by Lizi Boyd (Chronicle Books, 2014.)

I really love Lizi Boyd’s work. It’s this perfect mix of oh, of course and oh, I never. Once upon a time I wrote about Inside Outside over on Design Mom, and I’ve been looking forward to this new book for a good while. It’s a great thing to have room for more.

And can you stop looking at that cover? I can’t. It’s beckoning, it’s comforting, it’s hurry-up-and-get-adventuring.

So I was lucky enough to have a chat with Lizi Boyd about creating books, the sound of picture books, her process, and her dogs. Thanks for welcoming your book to the world with us this way, Lizi.

(Click any of the images to enlarge.)breakerCan you talk about where this book came from? Was it always in the pipeline along with Inside Outside, or did working in that form spark the idea for Flashlight?

One night when I was working on Inside Outside I realized the dogs had been out for a long time. It was very dark and I took a flashlight to look for them. I heard noises in the field and when I flashed the light suddenly there was color; their eyes, collars, the apples and grasses. It was so cool! And then I thought, oh, a book. I couldn’t wait to get inside and google around to see if it had been done. It seemed so utterly simple and wonderful. I began the sketches for it the next day. So, yes, Inside Outside influenced the idea because in working on that book it was utterly quiet and still in my studio and that encouraged the idea for Flashlight.Flashlight by Lizi BoydHow do you know when something is working, and how do you know when something is overworked?

When it’s a wordless book I need to just go along with a very quiet head and allow the idea to tell itself. I actually have to ‘see’, by making the drawings, where it’s going to take me. And I need a completely empty house because my studio is in our house.

Mostly I know when to pause and wait it out or take the dogs for a good long walk and think about what I’m working on. That being said I just filled up a box with sketches for other projects that are little beginnings and seem not to be ready to tell me what they’re about and where  they’d like to go.

Why do you think your stories are best suited to the form of the picture book? And specifically in Flashlight, I feel like a sensibility exists with the excitement and adventure of something so seemingly dangerous: the night, the dark, the strange creatures. Can you talk to that a bit?

It hadn’t occurred to me until I was making Inside Outside that a book and its story could belong to the readers ‘telling of the story’ not just the one the author is writing and illustrating. Picture books are all about this but I want to see how far I can stretch this idea. So I’ll surprise you by saying that the nighttime element; the dark, the strange creatures, a sense of danger was never part of my thinking. My sons weren’t afraid of the dark. The notebook I kept while working on Flashlight has these words; story + imagination + silence. Sound/elemental. A book one can ear if one really listens. (One does ‘hear’ books!)Flashlight by Lizi BoydCan you talk about the physical design of the book? The paper, the ink, how you got such lush blacks (which I think is difficult!) and how you engineered the peeks and surprises of the die cuts? Did the design of the book drive what had to happen in the story or vice versa?

I tried out several shades of gray / black papers and settled on the blackest one. I loved the way the beam of the light popped and the colors too, all of which needed to be painted over several times to get their finished strength. The die cuts were made with templates so on the finished illustrations there weren’t any holes just a tracing of where the cuts would be made. This part was difficult and there were quite a few changes done by Sarah Gillingham, art director, with her brilliant eye and computer skills! Many of the die cuts surprised us.

What are some of your favorite books and/or art from childhood? What is your favorite piece of art hanging in your home or studio?

I grew up in an artistic, visually inspired house. Our mother was a mid-century potter who moved her studio from NYC to VT. There were lots of books every kind; art, nature, children’s books and interesting objects of design all around us.

I love primitive masks and have a few real beauties. (A man recently came with his five-year-old son and said, “Do these masks frighten you?” – something that hadn’t occurred to me. His son was so busy with his iPad that I don’t think he noticed them. Maybe they could have frightened him away from his iPad for a moment?)Flashlight by Lizi BoydWhat modern picture books do you look to for inspiration and encouragement?

I have a stack of picture books in the studio. My friends, far and wide, send me books from everywhere; France, Italy, Germany. And I have some new ones from Chronicle, all exquisite; the printing, the paper and the design. Flashlight became the book it is because of Chronicle’s eye, care and hand in the myriad production details.breakerAnd take a look at this lovely trailer for more of a sense of Flashlight’s magic.

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To all of our boxes of little beginnings!

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Thanks to Chronicle Books for the images, a review copy of the book, and connecting me to Lizi Boyd. Thoughts and opinions my own. 

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.

ch

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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Behind the Scenes with Tom Lichtenheld

ThisIsAMooseRemember Moose and his motley crew? He’s hard to forget with that superhuman (supermoosian?) determination and antlers tuned toward mischief. Let me turn the reigns over to Tom Lichtenheld himself, so he can give you a look at his process, sketches, and creative problem solving. It’s a fascinating look at how an illustrator responds to an author’s manuscript, and a glimpse at the evolution of a picture book.

Welcome back, Tom!breakerThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldWhen I receive a manuscript and like it, the first thing I do is start doodling. That initial moment of inspiration only comes once, so I try to capture the first images that pop into my head.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThen I start refining and exploring options.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThe director was initially a raccoon, but a duck felt more manic.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldI spent a lot of time on film sets during my career in advertising, so I know it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldNo, giraffe don’t live in the woods, but I like to draw them, so a giraffe it is.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldLots of gags get left on the cutting-room floor, but it’s all part of the process.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldBoom!This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldAn idea revealing that the movie was actually made, which makes no sense.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldFirst crack at a title page. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld(click to enlarge)

First version of the opening scene. The narrator was a monkey, and part of the scene. We quickly realized that the director had to be “off-camera” until the end.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom LichtenheldFirst version of the spread where Director Duck realizes none of the animals are playing by the rules. I liked the simplicity of having only his eyes move, but it was a bit too subtle, so I changed it to his entire head looking from side to side.This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld(click to enlarge)

The Moosenest 

Turning this marvelously manic manuscript into a logical sequence of pictures required complete immersion, so I made a foamcore enclosure around my desk, with only Moose material within my sight lines, and dubbed it The Moosenest. It sounds like a joke, but there’s a point in sketching out a book where you need to have the entire book suspended in your mind at once, so you can mentally move the pieces around without losing sight of any elements. It’s challenging, but one of my favorite parts of the process and I don’t think I could have done it for This Is A Moose without The Moosenest.

breakerA marvelously manic manuscript with mayhem in the pictures. Thanks for letting us in to The Moosenest, Tom!

(I love that moose-like alien. I’m glad he got his day here.)

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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?

breakerShe’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 BlackallThe 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.

 

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.

breakerPresto 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.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!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.

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Review copy provided by the publisher.

Out the Window

Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele Youngby Cybèle Young

published 2014 by Groundwood BooksOut the Window by Cybele YoungDon’t you hate throwing your ball out the window and being too short to see where it bounces? The worst.Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungBut the worst gets better, because in its place a spectacular parade clash-crashes by. Except when you’re a frantic, too-short creature, it’s really hard to see over the windowsill. Good thing you’re a clever whippersnapper, and push that chair up to take a peek.Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungAnd just when you can finally see outside, the book tells you to turn around.

You’ll stumble smack dab into the spectacle.

Juggling shrimp on a unicycle! A bat on a hanging, clangy contraption! Pink swans pulling a turtle on a wagon!Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele YoungThanks to this parade, you might just get your ball back. It’s one fantastic game of catch.

And check out this trailer to see the book in its glorious action. Mesmerizing.

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P.S. – Remember the Twitter chat with Groundwood Books and Cybèle Young? The transcript is here, if you want to add to your art-to-study and books-to-love pile. It was such fun!

29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy

29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brownby Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Lisa Brown

published 2014 by McSweeney’s/McMullens

29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa BrownDo you know Because of Winn-Dixie? (Have I told you about the time I told Kate DiCamillo I wrote because of Winn-Dixie and obviously meant because of Because of Winn-Dixie but she cackled and my heart soared?)

Anyway. There’s a thing called a Littmus Lozenge. It’s a candy that makes you taste your sorrow and your sad and your sweet, all at once. Maybe it’s the thought of a lozenge sounding like something medicinal, or maybe it’s cause this pharmacy gave me both comfort and the heebie-jeebies, but reading this book felt a little like tasting a Littmus Lozenge.29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa BrownSomething unsettling hovers around this place, but it beckons me, too. And I’m not alone in that: those two myth-collectors/busters are at once intrigued and terrified.

It’s weird and charming and confusing and a head-scratcher all at once.

I think that’s exactly what makes it a successful story for kids. Everything doesn’t have to make sense. Offbeat is okay.

Because let’s face it: kid are weird and charming and confusing. They teeter in that fuzzy place between wonder and reality. This is a book that honors this and celebrates that. 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa BrownIs it suspicious, a lady going in and coming out in the same outfit? No. Not necessarily. But see: you are an adult. You are past your prime of delighting in the bizarre and making sense or screwballs out of it. When you read this, rest in it. Let it catapult you from being a grownup. It’s good for you. And then share it with a kid. They’ll get it.29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa BrownPhysically, I love the compact trim size because it feels like a manual, like a notebook, like some peculiar pamphlet to some oddball prescription in the pharmacy. It’s like a secret. A hush.29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa BrownThen! The cover unfolds to show the depths of the Swinster Pharmacy. When you flip it over, there’s a map of the town. Don’t ask me why I didn’t show you that. Just trust me. (If you dare.)29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brownch

P.S. – Another numbered book I loved recently is How to Bicycle to the Moon to Plant Sunflowers, by Mordecai Gerstein. A total must read if you love quirk and lists like me.

The publisher provided a review copy of 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy, but thoughts and love are 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_TheTinyKingNow 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_TheTinyKing2And 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_TheTinyKing3Happily 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!

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Review copy provided by Candlewick Press.

 

 

Alphablock

Alphablockby Christopher Franceschelli, art by Peskimo

published 2013, by Abrams Appleseed

AlphablockAlphablockThis book. Swoon city. Hefty chunk of graphic design. Just as fascinating and fantastic for adults as well as the stubby fingers of the littles. “You’re never too old for picture books” is my constant battle cry at school. Let’s amend that a bit to “you’re never too old for board books.”

Because wow.AlphablockAlphablockCan you see what’s happening here? Each letter of the alphabet is given two thick spreads for the hint and the reveal. It’s a visual puzzle, linked by a die-cut of the hero letter. For real.AlphablockAlphablockFiguring it out is a satisfying read, and physically flipping the letterform for the answer is brilliant.AlphablockAlphablockNot only does the design feel fresh, but the alphabet choices are newfangled, too. I love S is for SCISSORS and the cut-out arts and crafts that accompany it. P is for PENCILS gets the lined paper treatment, scattered with sharpened pencil shavings. And thank goodness F is for FISH gives us a glimpse into an aquarium with its kooky accoutrements, and not the obvious deep blue sea scene.Alphablock

Image courtesy of Abrams Appleseed

Image courtesy of Abrams Appleseed

Image courtesy of Abrams Appleseed

Image courtesy of Abrams Appleseed

(And any book that uses U is for UNDERWEAR is obviously a hands down favorite, too.)

Add this to your gift-list. Perfect for babes and art buffs alike. (And pretty much anyone who loves the alphabet.)

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Review copy provided by Abrams Appleseed.