The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes

by Gloria Fowler, illustrated by Sun Young Yoo

published 2008, by Ammo Books

The slightest clunk in some of the words is swept up in the utter beauty of the illustrations in The Red Shoes. It’s an interpretation of the classic Hans Christian Anderson story, and I love its elegant take on girl power.

Just look at that cover. It’s evocative and inviting and so lovely that I’m not quite sure where her locks and thread intertwine and end.

The illustrations are rendered in black and white throughout, and so the peek of red under the dust jacket is exquisite. And lift that dust jacket for a taste of those red shoes.The Red ShoesSpeaking of the black and white, Sun Young Yoo says this: “A lot of people have asked me the reason why I don’t use any colors in my work. I do use colors sometimes, but I think there are a lot of colors out in the world. I don’t think I need too many colors to express my thoughts and stories. A piece of paper and a pen with black ink would be enough for me to create my own world. Instead of filling up the paper with colors, I’m inviting the viewers to my black and white world and asking them to fill up the blanks with their own colors and imagination.”The Red ShoesEndpaper junkies will adore them, and so will the shoe fiends among you. (I’m looking at you, Sallie.)The Red ShoesAnd the title, woven from needle and thread. Whoa. All of these details, and we are just now to the beginning of the words in the story. Thanks to its form, so much of the picture book experience is absorbed prior to reading a word. Its art, its heft, its detail: you’ve read so much of the story before you get to its true beginning.Then we meet Karen, the daughter of the town shoemaker. We see one illustration of their love for each other, an embrace that is so deftly drawn that it takes a long look to see where one begins and the other ends.So when Karen’s mother falls ill and passes away, the devastation is great. She’s alone in a vast empty space. And that tear.The Red ShoesThe Red ShoesEnter a queen and a princess and a decree to hand over the red shoes or be cut at the ankle. Karen looks so alone in this forest of executioner boots.The Red ShoesWhere white has washed the previous pages, now we only see dark. And man, I love this picture. Karen’s mother, reflected in a river and reaching out for Karen’s tears. Once again, the two wrapped around one another.The Red ShoesThe Red ShoesAnd then, a spark. Stitches and beads and sequins and threads. A bit of bravery and a touch of trickery.

I love that a story about a special pair of red shoes was told with an economy of color. The expressive line of a careful pencil holds all the weight of this fairy tale.

Happily ever after.

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This Is Not My Hat

by Jon Klassen

So I love this book. Like, the “well, why don’t you marry it?!” kind of love.

I read it in June at the Candlewick Booth at ALA. The people were lining up to meet Gary Ross (Big! The Hunger Games! Seabiscuit, even!) and I was huddled over F and Gs of this book with my friend, Dianne de Las Casas. We giggled and poked and and pointed and just delighted over this thing.

And then in August at the SCBWI Illlustrator’s Intensive, Jon Klassen shared an earlier draft of this book. It had a different title, different characters, but the same charm and an even more wicked sense of humor.

It was like I had run away with the Hope Diamond and the Smithsonian security guards just nodded and let me escape. (Ask me about the time my dad chaperoned the 5th grade field trip and one of the boys smuggled a whoopee cushion into the Natural History museum.)

Anyway. Seeing his process was capital UNREAL.

A fish. A stolen hat. A sleeper. Awakes. A chase. A resolution?

Jon Klassen’s art is both dazzling and understated. This book, like I Want My Hat Back, has a desaturated and limited color palette. But here, the black and white helps tell this stark story.

The gutter separates the white space for the text from the black of the ocean depths. Or on a spread dominated by the deep, the text is bound to a crisp horizontal stripe at the top.

And the characters themselves are quite a different pair. The massive victim fish that quietly exacts revenge contrasts the tiny, hat-stealing, filmflammy fish.

Would the story be as fantastic if their size was more similar or if the colors were not so vastly different?

Knowing Jon Klassen, probably. But do those decisions perfect this book? Absolutely.

Check out this hysterical interview with Jon Klassen over at Travis Jonkers’ blog, 100 Scope Notes. And this post, from the Horn Book’s Calling Caldecott blog, written by Lolly Robinson. Both of these blogs should take up residence in your mess of bookmarks, by the way! Always smart, always impeccable taste.

And the trailer! Mesmerizing.

Black on White

Tana Hoban‘s board and concept books have been in the hands of bitty ones since 1970. This particular one, Black on White, is page after page of (duh) black and white images. Some are simpler than others, and most are basic objects already familiar to kids. Plus, can you ever go wrong with an elephant?

No. And I think he agrees.

An infant’s underdeveloped eyes and brain will respond to high contrast images prior to images with color, so despite its seeming restraint, this book is a visual wonderland for the very young.

ELEMENT OF DESIGN: CONTRAST

Two differing elements create contrast. We’ll go ahead and consider black and white to be colors, to avoid any color-theory-nitty-gritty arguing on a Sunday. That hurts the brain a little too much. And clearly, black is very dark, and white is very bright. When together, black and white represent the highest contrast. No shades of gray exist in between to ease the gradient and tone down the contrast. Black on White is created in high level, fundamental contrast. Your babes will go nuts.

M.C. Escher is a master of contrast.

So is Tana Hoban.