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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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!

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.

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!

ch

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.

Leonardo the Terrible Monster

Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsHere’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 WillemsSo, 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 WillemsLeonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsLeonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsAdults 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 WillemsBut 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 WillemsThe 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 WillemsLeonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsLeonardo 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 WillemsNow. 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 WillemsAnd 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 WillemsLeonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsThe 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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Line 135

by Germano Zullo and Albertine

{published 2013, by Chronicle Books}I’m in that bleary-eyed, inspired, and terrified post-SCBWI haze. Are you?

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

The creators of Line 135 also collaborated on Little Bird, which has dinged around in my skull for a long time, but I still have no coherent thoughts on it. It’s that enchanting. And of course, my beloved Sky High, which, just – wow.

The line on which this whole story is hinged? My mother and my grandmother say that I am too small to know the entire world.

So how to fit the entire world in this book? It’s a long rectangle. Intentionally and beautifully so, because unfolding the pages reveals more and more train track. The sense of distance is heightened, much like in Sky High, but along the horizon line this time. We travel with this narrator.The endpapers are bright neon green to match the train, and a wordless spread before the journey shows our narrator with her mother. After the trip? a wordless spread with her grandmother. The journey is bound.Albertine’s line drawings include whimsical details like the poofs of exhaust plumes on a highway maze of cars, or weeds growing straight up through the hole in a discarded tire. Always, always speeding forward? That sleek and vibrant train, holding that also vibrant little girl and her wisdom. I love that her capsule is holding all of the color. The black and whites are striking, but her trip (and her truth) stands out.And as the train moves forward, as the narrator grows in confidence and gumption, the illustrations get more fantastic. Gone are the looming skyscrapers of the city, welcome are the sandcastles with turrets and spiral staircases. Isn’t that beautiful? As she becomes more dogged in her determination, her surroundings are less real, less sad, and less intimidating.

Go get this one. Ride a train. Read an adventure. Get swept up in the trip.

chMoreToReadI wrote a thing about my favorite middle grade novels over at Design Mom this week. Did I get your favorites?

LeoGeo

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

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

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

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

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by Jon Chad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So yeah. This book rocks.

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Sky High

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by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine

(Originally published as Les Gratte-Ciel in Switzerland in 2011.)

This book was just published in the US in late November, but I have had my claws on it since this summer. I know.

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But! It’s so fantastic that I didn’t think it was fair to show it until you had a chance to get your paws on it, too.

And I highly recommend snagging this one. It would make a perfect gift for anyone who veers into the land of quirky and oddball sensibilities. Or anyone who loves art and architecture. Or anyone who loves picture books. Or color. Or has tall bookshelves.

Pretty much anyone.

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This is a story of dueling home renovators. Neighbors. Just your average Joes with fancy names and fancier cars.

When Agenor-Agobar Poirer des Chappelles (!) adds a gold solid door, Willigis Kittycly Junior brings in a marble column inlaid with diamonds. The two pile on the one-ups – keeping up with the Monsieurs.

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White space on the tall pages gives the homes physical space to grow. Also? I felt my own brain stretching to new fantastical and imaginative heights. Just when I thought I loved this book as much as possible, a chihuahua celebrates his third birthday with 400 guests.

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A wardrobe with 6,000 suits! A stuffed Bengal tiger! A Venetian mirror!

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Sky High is a lovely cautionary tale, peppered with wacky surprises and perfect illustrations. And on top of all that, (HA – get it?) it’s just as beautiful on the outside. I almost love that it’s too tall to fit on my bookshelf. More time to gaze at the warm gray and yellow of the cover. Just another tiny, portable art gallery in picture book form.

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