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.

Downpour

written by Emily Martin, illustrated by Mara Shaughnessy

{published 2013, by Sky Pony Press}

An enchanting premise, lyrical language, and dreamy-dainty pictures. Downpour is a love letter to the storm and the question of what happens to color as the rain drips down.The water falls first on bright red poppies, washing that hue over everything else in the world – from the birds’ pointed beaks to the black ram’s horns and ‘red, the mosses, lichen, and fern.’And so color here is as much a storyteller as the words and the forms. It’s not the rain that saturates as much as the red. There’s no room and no need on these pages for a fresh green or blue sky as the rain clears up. Would it be as lovely if more friends on the color wheel were tapped?

No. Because ‘red, the fish, their shiny scales. Red, the foam on the sandy shore.’ From red in the puddle and gravel to red in the hedgehog’s kettle corn snack, color matters. Contrast between the red of the poppies, shared through the pages, and that grayscale world is stark and fresh and really, really beautiful.And a trailer! I find this one especially remarkable because of the melancholy music which was a real surprise to me. That wasn’t a mood that I felt as a reader, but now that I’ve heard and felt that vibe, it feels right, too. Isn’t that a magical thing?

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Review copy provided by Sky Pony Press.

Round Trip

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by Ann Jonas

{published 1983, by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of Harper Collins}

I remember the cover, the texture, and the feeling of checking out a handful of books from Mrs. Marks at the Ridge Elementary School library. Not that I only checked out a handful, but some are so ingrained you could drop a penny in that wrinkle and it would come out flat.

The Story About Ping, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (with that cover!), My Brother Sam is Dead, Strega Nona, and something with two girls in a tree on the cover. A lemon tree? That’s a lttle fuzzier.

And this one. Round Trip by Ann Jonas. When my friend Darshana recommended it to me recently, I was floored. I had been trying to think of this book for ages, and she brought it all flooding back. Thank you, Darshana!!

Ok, yap yip shh. The book.

It’s lyrical and sort of quiet, a trip through the town before the day has really started. Past closed stores, a barely stirring farm, to the empty coast. to

After watching a movie and the sun set, it’s time to return home. But. There are no more pages. That’s when you flip the book UPSIDE DOWN and read it again. Back to front, and left to right.fromThe small farm’s rippled rows are now smoky factories. The trains exhaust poofs are now puddles under rain. And home is home again.

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I love the stark contrast of black and white. You know I do.

But the thing that is driving this story and these ingenious pictures is the existence of negative space. That’s where the space around an object forms something else. Maybe it’s amorphous and just beautiful fill, and maybe it’s an entire new world.

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Same spread, the top is going, and the bottom is returning. The marsh becomes fireworks as the day becomes night. (Images from Greenwillow’s blog.)

A while back, (a long while back, actually!) we looked at Caldecott-winning Black and White and those crazy images that are both vase and face. You know those. And these: a series of negative space animals, take a keen eye to these and enjoy. And you do know about the arrow in the FedEx logo, right? Right. You’ll never unsee it.

So enjoy Round Trip forward, and enjoy it backward. See the negative, feel the positive. Embrace the space.

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Take Me Out to the Yakyu

byAaron Meshon

{published 2013, by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, and imprint of Simon & Schuster}

When I first heard of this book at SCBWI LA last summer, it was some art on a slide at the front of the room. I was in the back row, and I was hooked. I’ve been waiting for it ever since, and I love that its release was in eager anticipation of baseball’s opening days.

{Sidenote: Cano + Jay-Z? Interesting collaboration. I’ll always be a Chipper Jones girl myself. Middle school scrapbooks and everything. Really.}

But this book. It’s a visual juxtaposition of baseball traditions in America and Japan. A global pastime.

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On the left, a kiddo goes to the park with his Pop Pop, and on the right, he hangs out with his ji ji.

{Sidenote again: I had the world’s greatest Pop Pop – no offense to our bright eyed young’n in this book. He always called that Chipper Jones fella Skipper.}

The sweet story arc socked me in the gut a little, because of my own fondness for family trips to the baseball stadium. Aaron Meshon’s saturated colors that are full of life vibrate with the energy of a game. The American blues and the Japanese reds contrast beautifully on each spread, too.

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One of the reasons I love baseball so much is its balance of sheer intensity and quiet, and the roar of a rallied-up crowd. The composition of the illustrations echo that rise and fall – some are fully rendered to the edge, color spilling off the page. Some are contained in a quieter space, bordered by white.

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And I love this – a subtle repetition of a circle, the stitched up sphere of a baseball. It even shows up on the back of the title page. I’m blanking on my librarian vocabulary – the verso, is it? That part where all the important cataloging information lives.

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It’s here, too. Those cheeks!

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And this – baseball is exhausting.

So get this book. It’s a home run. (And a slam dunk, too – even though that’s the wrong sport.)

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Fish On A Walk

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by Eva Muggenthaler

{published 2012, by Enchanted Lion Books}

I’ve mentioned my bookshelf issues before, right? As in not nearly enough space to put all the books? In my head, picture books are so skinny! They’ll take up no space at all, right? But rather than on shelves, I have stacks. Everywhere.

Well, this book bowled me over when I first laid eyes on it. You’ll see. But the stack it was in? Covered by a throw pillow on the couch. Not anymore, I promise. Please send shelves.

Anyway. Let’s talk about this book, because I think you will adore it.

An intriguing title that gives away the delightful dichotomies to come – unusual instances, and a billion bitty details to love.

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The cover hints at all of this, with its mossy greens and a muddy red – complementary colors on the good old color wheel. As far a part as they can get from one another, and a great use of contrast in design framing a book all about sometimes absurd differences.

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I adore the way the green line of the cover dangles down along the stark red endpapers! Love.

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Inside, each spread contains one glorious illustration holding all of those billion bitty details. And each spread holds only two contrasting words which can explain or guide or drive the pictures. You figure it out, you get into the story, you make sense of the contrasting duo.

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It’s like Eva Muggenthaler gave your imagination a diving board and didn’t tell you that the pool was so deep that you’ll shoot out of the other side of the globe. Extreme? I don’t think so.

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A hint! Such a tease.

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Wonder and ooh and ahh with this one. This is one of those books that needs to stay out all the time, not ever stuck on a bookshelf. And definitely never ever ever under a throw pillow.

PS – Valentine’s Day is charging forward. Do you need a good book for your sweetie? Check out my Top Ten over at Design Mom!

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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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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.

In My Tree

by Sara Gillingham and Lorena Siminovich

Board books always scream texture to me. I imagine that is because by their very nature they are tactile…grubby little hands paw all over them. And maybe chomp on, too – but isn’t that a whole different story?

And this one is darling.

A curvy, concentric die cut is one thing. (It’s awesome.) A curvy, concentric die cut hiding a goggly-eyed orange owl? (More awesome.)

Each page turn reveals a bright color palette, contrasted with the colors of the previous page. That’s what makes those concentric circles especially dynamic.

And the collage of textures…whoa. The pages feature cut paper or fabric-like overlays which frame that felted owl with a beautiful connection.

Lovely little book. Surely you know someone HOO needs it?! (Couldn’t resist. So sorry.)

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 Woods

I was unfamiliar with Paul Hoppe before I picked this up on a recent trip to Vroman’s. (Which, by the way, has the greatest kids’ department EVER. Forget Disneyland on your trip to Southern California, hit up Vroman’s!)

But back to Paul Hoppe. The Woods is a bedtime adventure with a delightful twist. The page turns add suspense, the art creates texture and warmth, and the end is wholly satisfying. A bit of Where The Wild Things Are hops around through the pages too, which is especially sweet now given Mr. Sendak’s recent passing.

What initially attracted me to this book was the striking cover and how it wraps around to the back as well. It’s almost cyclical, with the fearless boy charging to the right, and a hint of what’s to come reaching in from the left.

And because I’m a sucker for endpapers, this got me:

Black is such an unusual choice for a dominant color on a picture book cover, and what made it jump off the shelf to me at Vroman’s. But for a bedtime story, for a little boy who is fearful of the dark, this choice allows space for him to act, to tremble a little, and to ultimately be BRAVE! The contrast between the stark black and the bright lime green is gorgeous.

The same is true within the illustrations — not in two very different colors, but in the bigness of the characters he meets and his own small size.

When we first meet the big scary brown bear and the two scary giants, they are larger than life on the page. The composition is so striking here, and the texture of the watercolor paper softens their big scary blow, should you need a little comforting.

And as it turns out, those big scary nighttime creatures aren’t so big and scary at all. Contrast helps to exaggerate what he sees in his imagination, and contrast serves to wrap up the words and pictures in a very dear bedtime package.

Reading the pictures closely throughout the book makes this initial page especially exciting on a return trip to it. Lots of fantastic moments exist in this early illustration, foreshadowing all of the exciting events to come. Enjoy this one — put a trashcan on your head and embrace the darkness!