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.

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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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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

I Am the King

i am the king copyby Leo Timmers

{published 2008, by Gecko Press}

Boom. Instant color story. I bought this book for its cover. Except – it’s pink. Really. Here’s the back cover of my copy to assure you I am not crazybonkers.breakerThe one up above is from Gecko Press’ website, and it’s blue! And gold! And I don’t know why, but I love that. Color is the standout of this book anyway, so even though I’m sure there’s a very official reason for the difference, it gives me another layer of grin-wrinkles. (Grinkles.)

Want more grinkles? Title page. Don’t skip over it, and don’t assume it’s just where all the boring stuff for librarians goes, because look:breakerThis moment, unknown to both a snoozing lion and a speedy turtle, drives the entire book. The story begins before the story starts. (And might now be my second favorite title page ever. Behind this one, of course.)breakerOne by one, wide-eyed and wishful animal friends fight for the right to that spectacular crown. The elephant’s anklet is my favorite. And so it’s never quite right until the true king regains his crown, but the mayhem along the way is as wild as the creatures themselves.breakerColor is a star. Mr. Timmers refrains from detailed backgrounds in favor of a solid, brightly colored backdrop. All of your attention is on the animal and his crazy claim. Where they live doesn’t matter, but they do. A tricky ape, a resolute croc, an elegant flamingo – all individuals, all with a hope and a story.breakerThe best way to distinguish these distinguished dudes? Color. A hue splash for each that matches their quirk and colors their dream to be king.

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P.S. – Did you see? A chance to win a set of four Sassy board books!

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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Over and Under the Snow

OverAndUnderTheSnow

by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal

Settle in for a bit. This book will warm your soul.

Absolutely zero snow falls in southern California this time of year, or any time of year really, but this book makes me feel like I am deep in the middle of a winter wonderland.

Kate Messner’s words are hushed and poetic; she is such a beautiful writer. And we tweeted each other once about Ramona Quimby, so I’m an extra huge fan. I love this post by her editor on her words’ rhythms. And Christopher Silas Neal’s art is stunning. The tiny animals are vibrant against the stark snow, and page by page, this quiet walk bursts with life. This post by both Kate and Christopher is a great glimpse into the process of making this book. Go ahead.

You certainly don’t have to be a writer or artist to appreciate this book, but those bits in me make me crazy for this one.

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I especially love the use of color in the illustrations. The cool grays and blues are balanced by our girl’s red knits, a pouncing fox, and a roaring bonfire back home.

White snowflakes scatter over the shadows.

And the sky — I love the sky — it changes from a warm blue, to a cloudy purple, to a deep midnight navy over the course of the book. A gorgeous transformation over the course of this jaunt through the snow.

Add this one to your winter collection! And this little blog wishes you a lovely holiday season. See you back here in 2013?

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Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth

written by Emily Haynes, pictures by Sanjay Patel

{Please, please, please…if you live in San Francisco, GO SEE THEM at the Cartoon Art Musuem on October 4th. Please! For me.}

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth is based on a legend in Hindu mythology, but this version has jawbreakers! And a mouse pal! And SPECTACULAR illustrations!

Spectacular is really an understatement. I don’t think I know a word that can contain how spectacfantasterrificawesome these pictures are.

Endpapers that look like blueprints and sketches set the tone for a fresh story, enhanced so beautifully by shape and line.

From the title page on, this book will knock you out graphically. You will see stars (shape!) and vibrating birdies (movement!) flitting around your brain.

Ok. Let me back up a minute. Do you know Darshana Khiani? You should. She reviews books on her blog and always shares gems. And SHE is a gem. We met at the LA SCBWI conference in 2011, but what we didn’t know is that we would bump into each other over and over again online this year and become fast friends. So cool. Darshana emailed me a couple of weeks ago and told me I had to stop, drop, and roll myself to this book ASAP.

I love that she thought I would love it. I love that she was right. And I love that she suggested doing a joint review on it today.

That’s right! More book bang for your buck! So be sure to head over to her place for more of Ganesha and Mr. Mouse.

So much hops off the pages of Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth that my brain hurts to know where to begin. From the title page up a few pictures, to the repeated circles on the illustration above, shape dominates the pages. It’s a smorgasbord of circles, squares, and triangles.

Oh, this page. After every handful of illustrations, your eyes land on a picture like this one. The bright colors quiet for a moment, and these particular pages are striking in their stark contrast. White text, white graphic elements, and one bold, rich color. There’s something about pacing here, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that happens, but aesthetically, the balance is just outstanding.

A story about a sweet tooth begs for a decadent color palette, and these hues are just plain tasty and delightful.

Get this book. (Listen to Darshana, even if you think I am bonkers. She has good taste.)

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told In Haiku

Written by Lee Wardlaw {winner of the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for California/Hawaii!} and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin {winner of a 2012 Newbery Honor Award for Breaking Stalin’s Nose}

In other words, the people who created this book are no joke.

Lee Wardlaw tells a full and sweet tale of an adopted cat entirely in haiku. The language is sparse, yet rich. Each word of each haiku is perfectly placed which yields an expertly paced read, despite its unconventional storytelling.

In design, contrast highlights the differences in two items. Varying color, shape, or size, can call your attention to any one visual element due to its difference from another.

In Won-Ton: A Cat Tale Told In Haiku, most of the illustrated spreads contrast colors on either side of the gutter.

With so few words peppering each page, it would be easy to breeze through each page, not giving the words the attention they deserve. {Although this may not be true for every reader, but I confess this is a huge flaw in my reading: too fast, too furious.}

However, the contrasting colors cause your eye to slow down a bit, to hop from one side of the gutter to the other, and to really savor the book slowly. Contrast here helps to create a very strong and symmetrical sense of balance to each illustrated spread.

And of course, it just looks so much prettier that way. {That’s some serious art criticism right there, I know.} Haikus have so few words, but because each one packs such a tight little punch, it only makes sense that the illustrations carry on the same sense of oomph. {Again with the fancy art critic words…}

Read this haiku out loud. Seriously. Lee Wardlaw really knows how to whip her words into shape! Just as she says ‘mice snap‘ I love the way the sounds snap, the and the syllables sing. {And I seriously love the bright yellow cover that wraps around just a bit to abruptly meet the red dust jacket. Contrast. So cool.}

The King’s 6th Finger

How about that cover? How about that King? How in the world did that SIXTH finger sprout on his hand? Why is he so distressed? His eyes are full of shock and despair! His tiny crown covers 5 lonely strands of hair! He has a 5 o’clock shadow! Squiggles! Hand drawn typography! Rich color! It’s a perfect square!

Yes, I judge a book by its cover.

And its endpapers. A repeating pattern of 5s, subtly indicating our green king’s obsession with the number 5.

An extra endpaper! His kingdom, his castle: FIVE turrets.

The King’s 6th Finger is written by Jolby and Rachel Roethke Coddington. Jolby is the collaboration of illustrators Josh Kenyon and Colby Nichols. Clearly, they are the Brangelina of illustration. Seriously, if you google eye candy, the interwebz will magically take you to their website. Their work is clean, clever, and strong, and I dare you not to get lost in their archives. And just like I said with Amy Martin’s Symphony City, a The King’s 6th Finger print might be in my future.

There once was a simple king named Mortimer

Who had an obsessive compulsive disorder-er

I’ve already mentioned their gorgeous use of color and strong typography, but the layouts of these pages are remarkable. Line can be used to create shapes, but in these spreads, line is used to separate art from text, and to separate scenes from one another. The content and story in each spread is beautifully balanced, led by the lines created by the various blocks.

Can you see the Rule of Thirds at play here? The blue space on the right hand side occupies the bottom two-thirds of the page. Even though the upper third is split evenly in half, your eye is still appropriately directed around the page. The left hand page is also a perfect example of the Rule of Thirds as an appealing layout. The top third holds the text, and the bottom two thirds holds the picture. Our surprisingly short King, cradled in the hand of the beast, is perfectly placed at a dynamic crash point, where two imaginary horizontal and vertical lines intersect. Bold graphics placed intentionally, this is a great example of a layout that just plain works.

Lines create space for text, and space for pictures. The square shape of the book makes the rectangles inside have even more oomph and strength and appeal. And blue and orange on opposite pages? Perfect, as they are complementary colors on the color wheel, and instantly pack a strong visual punch.

Again, the lines on this page are implied by the separation of art from text. The 8 perfect squares remaining mimic the square shape of the book, which creates a really nice feeling of balance. This design choice is also a nice nod to the King himself as his greatest quirk (and problem) is his need for evenness and balance. {See, I wasn’t lying about Jolby being the Brangelina of Illustration…their design choices are top notch and definitely not accidental!}

By the end of the story, our King has changed his tune on the number 5. The endpapers at the back of the book are similar to the ones at the front, although this time, they don’t reflect an endless sea of 5s…

Curious how that happens? Check it out.

I Want My Hat Back

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This book. These tweets. That bear.

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

My hat is gone. I want it back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh?

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

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

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be white:

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

{Answer: don’t.}

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

Pomelo Begins To Grow

December is pulling a disappearing act. Please slow down, December. I haven’t had enough eggnog yet.

Still looking for a few books to slide under the tree? This one, illustrated by Benjamin Chaud and written by Ramona Badescu, is so pretty that you won’t even need wrapping paper.

As Pomelo went on his way one morning, he passed an ant, some potatoes, a pebble, a bunch of strawberries and his favorite dandelion.

Curiously enough, his dandelion seemed surprisingly small.

If the name Pomelo isn’t enough to instantly entice you to read, how about his elephant-ness? Yes? With a long, skinny, tape-measure trunk? He’s adorable. And growing.

Pomelo is quite worried about whether he will grow evenly all over. Or if he will turn big and gray and wrinkly.

And whether or not he will still just be a plain old kid.

The illustrations float a delicate line between restrained and fantastical, but each spread is equally inviting. Perhaps they even forgive an egregious grammar error? {Because Pomelo Begins To Grow was originally written in French, some of the wording may have been lost in translation. Hopefully this gets fixed on the next edition? It’s so lovely, that it would be a shame to not perfect it.}

ELEMENT OF DESIGN: SIZE

Size refers to the bigness and smallness of various objects. {Duh.} But in design, elements of equal size create confusion on a page, because your eye jumps around awkwardly and is not not sure where to land. Pairing items of different sizes within a composition yields a more dynamic piece. The pages of Pomelo Begins To Grow play with size differences in a quirky manner, a design choice that makes sense due to the growth and the quest of our hero.

But.

The greatest moment for size doesn’t even happen in the story. Behold: the endpapers.

{Insert sweet Pomelo’s story here.}

Very clever and very much why I love how design frames picture books. These endpapers summarize an already snappy story visually and quickly. A one-two punch of pretty.

Boom.