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!

Oliver’s Tree

Olivers Tree by Kit Chasewritten and illustrated by Kit Chase

published 2014, by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of PenguinOliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI’ve always had a soft spot for elephants, ever since I had a sweet stuffed one as a kid. He played ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ so of course, Sunshine was his name. And I don’t know who I’m kidding with the kid thing, cause Sunshine still lives with me. He’s a dear.

And lately, I’ve had a tender thing towards trees and how much they give us. Some are big enough to hug, and some snap at the landing of a songbird. All are homes.Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseAdd a little Beatrix Potter-esque art, and a story that stays endearing without dipping into the saccharine side, and I’m completely charmed. The dust jacket says it best: ‘there’s a reason we don’t see elephants in trees.’

I love this elephant, Oliver. I love that when all he sees is despair, he takes a nap. Spectacular coping skill, Oliver! Thank goodness that his friends aren’t defeated, and they get to work searching and gathering.Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI’m adding the spread below to my inner rolodex of perfect picture book spreads. The words and the illustrations balance each other and don’t compete for attention. It slows down the action, builds suspense, and gives the reader a chance to predict what happens on the other side of the page turn. And the twig frames are just plain lovely. So: pretty perfect.Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI hope this isn’t the only story Kit Chase is brewing with Oliver, Charlie, and Lulu. I feel like they have a lot to say and share.

Want to see more of her art? A dash of dear and a pinch of perfect? All of the pieces below are in her Etsy shop, trafalgar’s square. Huge thanks to Kit for sharing these with us!https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare

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Review copy provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend

Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekendwritten and illustrated by Karen Stanton

published 2014 by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan

When I first saw the art for this book, a teeny jolt of whoa hit me right in the heart. I mean, look at the endpapers! The calendars sprinkled throughout! The swirls of smells and thoughts and words!Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonMonday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonThen I read the story and the teeny turned into titanic. This is a tender tale of love and home and broken families.

Henry Cooper lives in two houses. So does Pomegranate, his dog. Mama and Papa are two and a half blocks and worlds away. At Mama’s they dance, and at Papa’s they sing. In both, there is love and warmth and safety.Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonMonday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonWhen Pomegranate goes missing, Henry Cooper knows exactly where he is – right at the big yellow house where the family once lived together. Home.

And then Henry becomes the hero, leading Pomegranate back to where the love lives. There’s a lovely ambiguity of which house it is. Because really, does it matter?Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen StantonKaren Stanton’s art is layered, rich, and colorful. And is there a better art choice for brokenness than collage? I doubt it. Thank you, Karen, for sharing these spreads with us! Click any image to enlarge. Enjoy!

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Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (and an interview with illustrator Christian Robinson)

Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinsonwritten by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson

(Published 2014 by Chronicle Books.)

Have you seen the buzz flitting about this book yet? Allow me to flit a bit more. It’s a spectacular collaboration, a spotlight on an unforgettable lady. I have to believe that Patricia Hruby Powell’s dance background fueled the sparkle in her words, and Christian Robinson’s connection to Josephine is electric in his art.

Have you seen the trailer? (The music is by Patricia’s husband’s jazz band!)

breakerBefore you enjoy my chat with Christian Robinson, be sure to check out this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Initial cover and color sketches? Yes.Christian RobinsonAnd this interview at Seven-Imp from 2012 is where I first fell for Christian Robinson. Also, more swooning over at Design Mom, where I covered Harlem’s Little Blackbird.

Perhaps you saw his art at Google last week in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?Christian Robinson's MLK Google DoodleGorgeous.

Here he is. So happy to have him visit. (Click any image to enlarge.)breakerHi, Christian! Can you tell us a bit about your process, both the physicality of creating and it’s origins?

I like to do my research. I’d describe the start as cultivating curiosity for the characters and setting in the story. I go to the library and absorb all the visuals and facts that will influence and inspire the work.

Then I start sketching, sometimes rough concepts; other times, more polished work. I basically work on creating enough art to share my vision with the art director and editor.

Then layout sketches — I like to use Post-its. These are great, because I can easily switch out sketches that aren’t working.

Then, once approved by the editor and art director, I create images in Photoshop, tying down shapes and colors. Then, final art collage and acrylic.Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonHow would you describe your studio in three words?

Sunny, quiet, magical.

Now how about a little more. It seems like it would be a magical place to capture the spirit of your work. What do you think?

The creative process in general is pretty magical. I imagine that magic must rub off on any space ritually used to make stuff. Josephine was illustrated in my studio/bedroom. It’s a sunny, warm and small room in a big San Francisco Victorian home built in 1891. I like creating in bright spaces, with lots of natural light, I also like being able to look out a window and take in any inspiration the city has to offer in the moment. Now I work in a larger shared artist studio, which is also nice. Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonI am crazy about your short, What is Music? Can you tell us about the inspiration behind that? Could you ever have anticipated those golden kid-responses?

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it! Well, I was inspired by the work of John and Faith Hubley, who created animations to home audio recordings of their daughters playing together as children.

(Moonbird is one of the many award winning shorts they made together.)

I could only cross my fingers and hope the questions I asked would get such responses!

The story about Josephine Baker being in your early awareness of art is remarkable. What does the magnitude of that feel like?

It feels unbelievable, like I’m I might wake up at any moment. This was a dream project for me, but it also carried a lot of self-imposed pressure, this is Josephine Baker we’re talking about! I had to constantly remind myself to just trust the process, and not have a panic attack every time I couldn’t illustrate something as well I would have wanted.Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonWho are your creative heroes?

Honestly, Beyonce – ha! Kind of true though. Josephine Baker, Ezra Jack Keats, Hayao Miyazaki, Ray and Charles Eames, Sade, Yuri Norstein. Pretty eclectic list, but it’s what’s coming to mind at the moment.

What memories of picture books do you have from your much younger years?

As a child I struggled learning to read and write and needed a little extra help to keep up in class. I remember being intimidated by reading and not being very attached to books without pictures. My love for books came later. Although I totally remember feeling like a champ in elementary school if I was able to get to Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar first during reading time.

If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, and across form or genre, who would it be and why?

Picasso, because he’s Picasso! I’m sure I could learn some things from one of the world’s most celebrated and inspiring artist.Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian RobinsonWhat’s next for you?

Currently illustrating a picture book loosely based off my childhood experiences of riding the city bus with my grandma. Written by the amazing Matt de la Peña.

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Raise your hand if you’ll join me first in line for that collaboration? Seriously. And Beyonce! As if I needed one more reason to be crazy about this guy. Thank you, Christian! And thanks, too, to Patricia Hruby Powell for writing words that dazzle. This one is spectacular. Check it out!

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Thanks to Chronicle Books for the images in this post, and also for a review copy of Josephine. All thoughts (and gushing) my own.

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Abe Lincoln’s Dream

abeLincolnsDream_coverby Lane Smith

published 2012, by Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan

Check out this trailer. It sets up the book’s mood and pace with flawless grace.

breakerLane Smith has done something really special here. It’s an evocative look at a legacy. A look back and a look forward. Steps taken and hope to go.

I love that a curly haired girl with brown skin is his host. Perhaps that was an obvious choice, but I think she’s more than an art direction. Her today is because of his past.

She is his recurring dream that he just can’t shake.DPB_Stack_AbeLincolnsDream1This is history and beauty, wrapped up in the whimsy that only Lane Smith can do. His textures add life to an already rich history. They are layers, individual parts to a whole life and a whole story.

Roses and lightning and cherry blossom branches frame panels of their journey. Different type for her thoughts and his. Different times, balanced and bridged. Lane Smith’s art is restrained and curious and playful all at once. DPB_Stack_AbeLincolnsDream2 I can’t think of another storyteller who could handle this story with greater elegance. Art that both delights and informs, and words that are both playful and serious in tone. A masterpiece!

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The Mischievians

TheMischieviansCoverby William Joyce

published 2013, by Simon and Schuster

(I love that upside down A. I suppose that sucker is called The Letter Flipper Upside Downer. The Fontfiender. Or something.)

Impeccably designed with nods at its book-ness, the cover is distressed and worn like it’s been studied and loved and needed. It’s a book that knows it’s a book, so it looks especially, book-y.* Right?

But let’s start with this. You might know some of these guys:

breakerThis is the latest offering from William Joyce and Moonbot Studios, a dazzling storytelling team. (Remember that book-loving Morris Lessmore?) But this one is mayhem and wordplay and maddening and glorious. You wouldn’t expect anything less, right?Mischievians1The story starts on the endpapers where some kids are at their wit’s end and a spindly green arm yanks away a vowel. Awful. Naturally, their parents are blaming them. Wouldn’t you? But no. The peculiar looking Dr. Zooper sucks them into his laboratory, and introduces them to the encyclopedia that explains everything.Darn those Funny Bones. Did you know they find your ow-ding-ow-oh-oh so hysterical that they hide out until the giggles subside? Thanks to this encyclopedia of mischief-makers, I know that’s why they only show up a few times a year. They’re out there somewhere, chortling and waiting, plotting and howling. Jerks.Mischievians2The Mischievians.Mischievians3When the kids are zooped back up the chute, they have a monumental task. Document! Top Secret! Report and resist!

I don’t think it will take them too long.breakerHow about you?

Thanks to Simon and Schuster, I have two copies to zoop over to you! Just leave a comment here by midnight PST on December 31. Maybe even tell me which mischief-maker is driving you most nuts? Is it the Remotetoter? The Stinker? The Lintbellian? You have my sympathies and my snickering.

Sorry about it.

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*Other book-y looking books I love:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the original design!) by Newt Scamander (and J.K. Rowling)

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival 

The ridiculously brilliant Battle Bunny, by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett (That post from Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is a smorgasbord of awesome.)

And, of course, Greg Heffley’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. (With a huge nod to Jeff Kinney, obviously.)

Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue

RedKnitCapGirlToTheRescueby Naoko Stoop

published 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Naoko Stoop’s work has enchanted me for some time now. I’m thrilled she is in the picture book world because her voice is unique. It’s haunting and heartwarming at the same time. Terribly beautiful. I wrote about Red Knit Cap Girl over on Design Mom, and now she’s back in another lovely episode.

And how thrilled was I to connect directly to Naoko and find out some nitty gritty details of her process, inspiration, and drive to create story? Very. Hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have!

Be sure to visit Naoko’s etsy shop if you are still in the hunt for Christmas gifts. I’d take one of each, wouldn’t you?RKCG2-10(Click any image to enlarge. You have got to see the detail and texture in its full glory!)

When did you first know you were meant to be an artist? Was it a particular moment? A habit? An inspiration?

I have to say, I still hesitate to call myself an “artist”. Because, to me, “art” is about expression, and everyone has his/her own way to express themselves. I’ve been very, very lucky that I’ve made a career in what I love to do. I never considered that I would be in the art field when I was studying business at college, or working in marketing for a big corporation back in Tokyo. Back in those days, I felt something was missing in my life. I didn’t know what it was, but I remember that my grandmother used to tell me that when I was five, I never stopped drawing. Her words stayed with me for years. Several years ago, when I was feeling lost, I quit everything and started to paint. I was hoping to find new prospects in my life and nurture my inner child, and it opened me up to a new world of possibilities. Since then, I’ve been painting.

What are your creative influences – in books, or film, or art, or nature, or anywhere else?

I grew up mostly in Tokyo. I was a typical city kid, busy with studies and school activities—I didn’t spend much time outside. After college, I lived in Vancouver B.C. Canada for about a year, and it was the first time in my life that I was exposed to nature on such a large scale: huge mountains, endless rain forests, magnificent glaciers and lots of wild animals. Canada’s natural beauty amazed and inspired me. I felt so spiritual by just being in nature, it gave me a sense of security and stability which I never felt in Tokyo. My time in Canada has been a strong influence on my current artwork, considering that I didn’t yet know how to paint when I was there. Life is interesting; I would’ve been very happy living in Vancouver had I stayed there, but I’m not sure if I would’ve become an artist. It was living in Brooklyn that gave me creative inspiration—Brooklyn definitely has an artistic atmosphere, with a lot of support for young artists. People accept individual creativity and don’t negatively judge your work. When I was painting on used brown paper grocery bags, a gallery owner discovered me, and she gave me my first gallery show opportunity.

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And who are your creative heroes?

Hayao Miyazaki,
Hokusai Katsushika,
Maurice Sendak
Is there a book from your childhood that has stuck inside your soul?

It’s not a book, but an early Miyazaki movie, “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” It had a strong influence in my developing my own stories. I also love Totoro by Miyazaki. Totoro is my spiritual home :)

Which comes first – the story in words, or the story in pictures?

Definitely story in pictures first. I develop the stories in my head with sketches, visualizing the storyline. Later, I write a simple text to accompany the illustrations.

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Tell us a bit about your physical process of creating art? I see wood, paper, paint, and pencil? Your pictures are so tactile and lovely – the spread with the waves (where their eyes are squeezed closed tight!) grabbed me and plopped me right into that sailboat with them! What a rush!

First, I find a piece of wood which has the right grain for the scene, then I start with background. This is the most intriguing part of my painting process because wood grain gives me a spontaneous pattern, and I can never predict the exact result before I paint on it. (Sometimes, I get very a different painting idea by looking at the flow on the grain!) When the background is dry, I start drawing the outlines of the scene with inks, then color them with acrylic paint, gouache, pencil and pastels… whatever would suit best to give the appropriate texture for the scene. I try to use found materials as much as possible, since I believe that art is a form of expression and separated from materialism.

What parts of Naoko are in Red Knit Cap Girl?

I created Red Knit Cap Girl as my inner child. I drew her playing in nature with forest animals, which I never had in my real childhood. I came to realize that I wasn’t the only one—people started telling me that Red Knit Cap Girl reminded them of their childhoods. I guess Red Knit Cap Girl could be lots of people’s childhoods! When I realized she wasn’t me anymore, I think I grew up a little bit :)

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Will we see any more of her adventures?

Yes! I am currently working on the third Red Knit Cap Girl adventure, coming in Fall 2014.

What’s next for you?

As long as I’m able to, I’d like to keep creating. I’m grateful to the people I work with—those who read my books and talk about my work. Thank you so much for interviewing me.

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No, thank you, Naoko for the glimpse into your studio and story-loving soul. We are thankful! Are you as inspired as I am?

Thanks to Little, Brown for the images in this post. (Don’t forget to click on them to see them larger! You won’t be disappointed.)

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Big and Small // Fast and Slow

by Britta Teckentrup

{published 2013, by Barefoot Books}

I just lost myself on Britta Teckentrup’s portfolio. Entirely charmed and swept away by every single piece. She’s new to me, and I’m happy to have flailed around in her brain for a bit. And it looks like I have a lot to catch up on!

I have an unusual affinity for board books. Proof: here and here and here. And that’s just a select smattering! But everything that is perfect about a picture book is even more so in a board book.

Smushier, sweeter, chewier.

And these are especially delicious.Fast and Slow shows those opposites side by side. Directly in contrast, varying by speed. The comparison is limited to that spread only, which is a detail that I love. One of the later spreads shows a train and a bus, which of course is double decker and European and fancy. But isn’t a bus faster than even that motorbike up above? Sure, but one spread isn’t competing with others. Little brains noodling that out? Smart.

And speaking of the motorbike page – total favorite. That scarf!The colors are saturated and leap into your eyes.

The type! It’s that perfect teacher-handwritten-style.

But it’s the texture that I love the most. Clean shapes, easy lines, and the slightest bit of grit. Smooth, flat color might have been an easy choice to match those shapes and lines. But in a book about contrast, splashing in some texture is smart.

And it looks awesome.Big and Small’s pairs are tightly knitted. Inside a giant apple is an itty-bitty seed. On top of a vast mountain are individual snowflakes. Those connections are beautiful, and the cat-lion standoff might be my very favorite spread.A perfect addition to your baby-shower rotation, your art class, your tiny one’s library, or just the ever-growing stack surrounding you.

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Review copy provided by Barefoot Books.

Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife

by Paul Thurlby

{published 2013, by Templar}

You know you have a book problem when you forget what lives in your piles. I bought this book when it pubbed back in March, and that tiger’s binocular’d glare stared me down the other day. I snatched it from the pile with the furious preying eyes of the creatures bound in this book.

(Dramatic? Sorry. You must not have heard Carmina Burana playing in the background of my opening monologue. Do you hear it now?!)In the early days of this blog (almost two years ago!), I wrote about Paul Thurlby’s AlphabetI made lame jokes about Thanksgiving (‘if you’re stuffed, feast your eyes on this!’), so as you can see my wit and humor hasn’t improved much since.

Good thing Paul Thurlby has. And that statement is a stretch as commentary on his genius, but I do think I might like this one even more than his last. This is a mashup of pictures and words in the most clever of ways.Each page shows us an animal bursting with personality. Look at that rat! (Reminds me of these rodents a little bit!) And each is captioned with a quirky fact which explains just what the heck is happening in the illustration. Here, it’s:

Keeping their skin moist by showering is important for elephants’ health.

and

Rats spend a third of their lives washing themselves.

Dolphins sleep with one eye open, while resting one half of their brain at a time.

Lions hunt at night, thanks to their ability to see well in the dark.Because the factoids lean toward kooky, the pictures’ silliness both shine and remain surprising.When I talked about Paul Thurlby before, I mentioned unity. Still holds. Still a package wrapped up in perfect pictures and words. But what I am most drawn to in his work are his textures. The grid, the distressed edges, the scratches, tape, and imperfections – all of those design decisions add a layer of warmth and grit to a bunch of terrifying but desperately adorable creatures.

Watch out for giraffes if you’re on stilts and run across them in the wild. They have 21-inch tongues!

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Open This Little Book

OpenThisLittleBook_coverwritten by Jesse Klausmeier, illustrated by Suzy Lee

{published 2013, by Chronicle Books}Did you see that teensy update on my bio over there? I took out the former, cause I’m back to the library, y’all. It’s such a dream. My natural habitat. I see students for the first time next week, and have been anxious to share this with the littlest. I want it to be our signature story, the one that represents what we do together – opening book after book after book.

I’m also trying to figure out how to recreate this thing as a bulletin board. The engineering and the math and the genius and whoa. Stay tuned.

Check it out in action:

breakerJesse Klausmeier dedicated this to Levar Burton, which is especially sweet given that this little book is a real love letter to books everywhere. Color distinguishes each character’s little book. Distinct and vibrant, belonging to each reader.Shape and scale do, too, and not in the most obvious way. The first character we meet is Ladybug. She’s in a red book, reading a green book. And inside the green book is Frog, who opens an orange book.

So, the bigger the character, the smaller the book!And that’s what causes a bit of sticky situation when it’s time for a Giant to join the fun.Oh, and the texture! There’s a vintage and well-loved appearance to the pages. It feels like a book that’s already been well-loved and flipped through so many times. Such a small choice, such big heart behind it.

This book’s design is a frame that allows the connectedness of story and readers to shine. I bet you won’t be able to stop opening and closing this little book. It’s addicting.ch