Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and an interview with Zack Rock

Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

by Zack Rock (Creative Editions, 2014)

Zack Rock and I haunt some of the same circles on the internet. I have a tshirt with his work on it thanks to Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves (how cool is that header?), and I have long admired his work thanks to some tea time at Seven Impossible Things here and here. And once upon a time in 2012, Zack wrote a hilarious joke for a Hallowtweet contest run by Adam Rex and Steven Malk.

I remember that well, cause in fun-facts-here-at-Design-of-the-Picture-Book both Julie Falatko and I were runners-up in that contest, and the real prize was getting her friendship. Start of an era, for sure. (Although Zack did get an original piece of Adam Rex art, and we’d both admit to coveting that a little. See below!)

So. I’ve had my eye out for this book for years. Years! And I was so happy that Zack spent some time chatting with me about this smorgasbord of stuff and story. He also said he “answered the living daylights” out of these questions, so I sure hope you enjoy the living daylights out of them like I did.

Welcome, Zack! (That jovial picture is from his blog, where he has killer posts like this one on bad drawings and perspective. Check it out!)

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One thing I know that’s true of kids is that they love a billion teensy and scrutinize-able details in books. Your book starts out with such cool stuff on the endpapers, that I almost (only almost) don’t want to keep going! Do you have any kind of catalog for these curiosities, or did you just create anything and everything that felt right? Is there a backstory for each of these elements?!

I drew whatever felt right, “right” being subject to how exhausted my imagination was at the time. And though I’d like to leave the history of the curios up to the readers’ interpretation, I carry a backstory for each in my mind—some more convoluted than others.

For instance, in the museum there’s an antique, penny arcade cabinet inspired by the Musée Mécanique, which houses scores of these old contraptions in San Francisco. So to honor them, I fitted my museum’s machine with a tiny, top-hatted automaton of one of SF’s most curious citizens: Norton I, self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States of America (a real guy). So plenty of thought went into that curio.

On the other hand, another curio is an apple with a faucet sticking out of it because I was thirsty when I drew it.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

(I love the way this whole book starts. I feel like I’m in really good hands.)

Thanks! I like to consider myself the Allstate of illustrators.

What’s your studio like? Do you have trinkets and tschotskes or a cool window view?

Believe it or not, I’m allergic to collecting stuff, so my studio is bare as a monk’s cell. My mother, however, has a fondness/compulsion for antiquing in bulk; almost none of her massive collection of furniture and doodads got past the door of my childhood home without having first seen several generations of use. It lent the crowded house an air of the same well-worn nostalgia that permeates the pages of my book.studio

Surely you’ve hidden some easter eggs in these pages. Any hints? Any behind-the-scenes stories?

Now I regret not hiding an actual Easter Egg in the museum. Honestly, nearly everything in the book is an Easter Egg, since there’s a secret story encased in each curio. But instead of cracking those open, I’ll share a behind-the-scenes tour of the book’s present day setting.

I created the book while living in Seattle, and Pacific Northwest references are littered throughout it. The license plate on the VW Bug in the first scene reads “FRMTTRL,” an allusion to the massive concrete Fremont Troll lurking beneath the Seattle’s Aurora Bridge. The museum exterior is based on the old town hall in Bellingham, WA, and the fictional island it crashed on is named for Washington State’s notorious children’s writer, Sherman Alexie. A Washington State ferry, the Olympic Mountains, a totem pole from Pike Place Market, and a handful of other Puget Sound souvenirs also make an appearance in the book.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

This book has a real undercurrent of ignored things being a treasure with a story. Are you a treasure hunter or a treasure-leaver-for-somebody-else? (I think that’s what making books is, so you are that one for sure. I guess what I’m asking is why do you think HHH was such a collector of stories, and do you see any parallels in your own life of creative curating?)

Ooo, books as treasures to be discovered, I like that! Makes me sound like a pirate.

Homer is an underdog; nobody would look at him and assume his adventures extend beyond an expedition to the local sushi restaurant. He identifies himself with the object’s he curates, so he surrounds himself with the lost and neglected, and by exhibiting their rich history to the world he literally shares his own biography.

And I’ll leave the parallels with my own life to the armchair psychoanalysts.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

What came first to you in this story: words or pictures? Can you talk to being a picture book creator who deals with both parts? (And in case anyone’s wondering, my favorite line is this one: My luggage may be dusty. But my hat still fits.)

Ha, that’s the one line written entirely by my editor Aaron! He suggested it while editing the book, and I thought it was great too, so we kept it in.

Being an author/illustrator isn’t terribly different than being solely a writer, the main distinction is that you have a visual language to express the story as well. So I can employ the duel butterfly nets of text and images to capture the picture book ideas that flutter into view, jotting notes alongside small thumbnail sketches as I try to pin down plot/character/theme details. It becomes a balancing act of seeing which of the two, words or images, best conveys what needs to be communicated.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockWhat’s your creative process like? Any weird routines? What’s your medium of choice?

My only real habit—creative or otherwise—are the nightly walks I take after work, allowing my legs and mind to wander. In fact, I got the original idea for Homer Henry Hudson during one of these constitutionals.

And for picture books I work almost exclusively in watercolor, though for other projects I work in pen and ink, digitally, or with accidental food stains.

Who are your literary and artistic heroes?

They’re all in the book! Along with Shaun Tan, Maurice Sendak and Lisbeth Zwerger—who I painted into a restaurant scene—there’s references to Søren Kierkegaard, Jorges Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Renee Magritte, Herman Melville, JD Salinger, George Orwell, Ingmar Bergman, Charles Schulz, and of course, Homer. Even my favorite comedian, Paul F Tompkins, whose podcasts kept me company during the long hours of illustrating the book, has a cameo as a pipe-smoking painting.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

Do you have a favorite piece of artwork hanging in your house? Or a favorite tune that feels like art?

A few years ago, Adam Rex held a contest to see who could fit the best Halloween haiku into the constraints of a tweet. To my surprise he picked mine, and to my utter flabbergastination he went on to illustrate it and sent me the original art! It’s incredible. I framed it above my art desk as a reminder that, with hard work and dedication to my craft, I may one day hope to be the poor man’s Adam Rex.

Why books for kids?

One of the most valuable skills to possess is the ability to approach the world and its inhabitants with wonder, curiosity and interest. What’s great about kids is that they do this naturally and without being self-conscious. My hope is that Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and future books will be something readers carry with them as they grow older and are tempted to lose that wonder, reminders there’s so much more to the world, the things in it, and yourself to discover if you approach life with an open heart.

Plus, I have nothing to say that couldn’t be said by a talking dog.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockWhat’s next for you?

Another book for Creative Editions about the power of stories, this time from the perspective of an acrobatic pig.

How can we buy your book?

Through your local struggling independent bookseller. Or Powells.com. Or, sigh, Amazon.com.

What did I miss?

There are humanoid pears hanging in the first illustration of the museum interior, bottom of the page. Look past the table leg and Grecian urn. See that? It’s a butt!Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockbreakerI’m pretty sure that’s the first butt mention on this blog. Have any treasure-hunters? Or fans of hidden picture art? Since we all love talking dogs, this book is a great choice for all readers everywhere.

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Who Needs Donuts?

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty By Mark Alan Stamaty

Published 1973 by Dial Press, reprinted 2003 by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.

At first glance, the answer to this book’s title is pretty clear. Because, everybody.Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty But do you know this book? When I mention it to someone, I either hear about their favorite jelly donut (the one with strawberry), or they lose their sprinkles over the magnificence of this screwy tale.

The simplicity of the setup:

Sam lived with his family in a nice house.

He had a big yard and lots of friends.

But he wanted donuts, not just a few but hundreds and thousands and millions — more donuts than his mother and father could ever buy him.

Finally one day he hopped on his tricycle and rode away to a big city to look for donuts.

The scattered spectacle of the scene, a commotion in black and white. On those initial pages alone:

A bird in swim trunks

A roof-mowing man

A chimney blowing ribbons

A man in the window reading a newspaper with the headline, Person Opens Picture Book Tries to Read the Fineprint

Two donuts

And a cinematic, get-ready-for-your-close-up page turn. (Be sure to look closely in the blades of grass.)Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty There’s almost a calm in the chaos. It’s regular and rhythmic and pandemonium and patterned all at once. Perfect for a story that’s a little bit bonkers and a whole lot of comfort.

So. Then what?Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty The relative calm of Sam’s neighborhood yields to an even madder and mayhem-ier sight.

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Then Mr. Bikferd and his wagon of donuts shows up.

And a Sad Old Woman. And Pretzel Annie.

Sam continues to collect donuts. Stocks and piles of donuts.Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty A wagon breaks. A repairman helps. A love story. Abandonment.

(A fried orange vendor. A bathing zebra. Rollerskates. A Sad Old Woman.)

Who needs donuts when you’ve got love?Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty When Sam rides home, the words that began his story are on the sidewalk. I get the shivers about that.

The starts of stories are carved in concrete.

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P.S. – These pictures remind me a little of what I’m seeing for Steve Light’s new book, Have You Seen My Dragon? Check out this review where Betsy Bird notices the same, and this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, because it’s always a treat. I also think of the hours I’d spend as a kid studying each square centimeter of The Ultimate Alphabet. Like Waldo, but weirder.

Sparkle and Spin

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By Ann and Paul Rand

{originally published 1957 by Harcourt, Brace, and World. Reprinted 2006 by Chronicle Books.}Sometimes pictures are just that: eye-catching and whimsical, without being packed with meaning or message. That spirit dances across the page in Sparkle and Spin, written by Ann Rand and illustrated by her husband Paul.

Paul Rand is an iconic American graphic designer. A problem solver. A storyteller. A communicator.

He said this about design:

“Good design adds value of some kind, gives meaning, and, not incidentally, can be sheer pleasure to behold.”breakerHis biographer, Steven Heller, said this:

“Paul Rand did not set out to create classic children’s books, he simply wanted to make pictures that were playful. Like the alchemist of old, he transformed unlikely abstract forms into icons that inspired children and adults and laid the foundation for two books that have indeed become children’s classics.”

Maybe he didn’t intend to be a creator of legendary books for kids, but his love for beautiful work shines in this one. That’s the magic of Sparkle and Spin: harmony, wit, and playfulness.And Ann’s words are a delightful match to Paul’s pictures. There’s a rhythm, song, and honor to these words that represent the joy of learning. Harmony, captured perfectly.

In graphic design, harmony is the magic that happens when all of the individual elements complement one another. It’s when small parts of pretty make up a more lovely whole.breakericeCreamHere’s a detail I really love. This bold, graphic ice cream cone comes at the beginning, and with the inscription: To all children who like ice cream. And at The End, that scoop’s been slurped, chomped, and devoured. That’s what the experience of this book is. Tasty.

The book sparkles and spins. You’ll see what I mean.

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Sweet and Shorts: Sassy Board Books {giveaway!}

Baby_Loves_Colors Baby_Sees Baby's_World Who_Says

illustrated by Dave Aikins

{published 2013, by Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Books for Young Readers}

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Here’s a fabulous Friday celebration! If you have little ones, you might be familiar with Sassy toys. They are designed to foster learning and engage the growing brain of our teensiest family members. And they are adorable!

So just look how spectacular their first leap into books is! This bundle of four is bright and begs to be touched (and gnawed on.) Beyond these eye-grabbing covers, the insides are a stunning display of rhythm, repetition, and pattern. Perfect for high-contrast-loving little brains!

This set debuts at the end of this month, but thanks to the kind tuxedoes at Penguin Young Readers Group, I have TWO sets of these board books for YOU! Sneak peek and nanny-nanny-boo-boo to the rest of the moms on the block. (Just kidding about that last part. But seriously, these are super books.)

To enter, just leave a comment on this post before midnight on Thursday, August 29th. Good luck!

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Color + Colors

I have no children. I have board books. Is this weird? Maybe. But these in particular are little graphic design studies. I will not literally try to chew them, but they are definitely droolworthy.

Do you know Alexander Girard? He was a midcentury designer, specializing in color and textiles. I’m crazy about the Nativity set at that link. And while most people have heard of Herman Miller, Girard was the designer that sizzled up their furniture line with his palettes. He said this, which made me fall in love a little: “People got fainting fits if they saw bright, pure color.” 

He did it anyway.

So this little book is a huge celebration of his style, color, and desire to make you faint and fall in it.


How about Charley Harper? He took a vibrant love of color from the natural world, and distilled that into his pictures. I adore that on first glance, whimsy and delight dances around, but a longer gaze reveals storytelling ingenuity. He said, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see feathers, fur, scapulars, or tail coverts—none of that. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior, and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures.”

And this tiny treasure explodes with his search for endless possibilities. And it’s lovely.


Was I right about that whole droolworthy thing? I know.

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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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Henri’s Walk To Paris

So Saul Bass {1920-1996} illustrated this. You know him, even if you think you don’t.

Recognize any of these?

Saul Bass undoubtedly has a powerful legacy of corporate logo design, but he is also considered the father of the title sequence. I can’t say that I was well aware of him before I was a motion graphics designer, but as an animator, I am very influenced by his strong use of line and his bold color palettes.

{You can see a roundup of his title sequences at Art of the Title.}

And that’s fancy and whatnot, but then he created this sparkling kids’ book.

Henri is just a little French garçon who dreams of Paris, but lives in Reboul. He packs up some cheese, a carrot, and a piece of bread and walks himself there. But {SPOILER ALERT!} he doesn’t make it. A little bird disrupts his navigation, and he ends up right back in Reboul. But Henri? Thinks he made it, and thinks Paris is quite like home. And we love him for that.

In graphic design, unity is the quality that ties individual elements into a beautiful whole. Me talking about Saul Bass is like a dirty sock puppet oozing with glue and googly eyes having an opinion on Jim Henson. He’s a master craftsman, and so let me just show you some moments I love.

Check out these consecutive spreads. The typographic element that reflects the title IS Henri. And from one page to another, there he goes, walking off to Paris. This graphic drives your eye forward and invites you to dive into this book. And of course it tiptoes left to right. It’s how we read, and it simply signifies forward motion. Smart is an understatement.

He doesn’t clutter this illustration with a window sill, curtains, or many details of the room inside. It doesn’t matter. The story is outside. This is a brilliant use of negative space.

Henri’s tiny house, contrasted with the vast world beyond. And color…green and red are direct opposites on the color wheel, so the tiny pop of red is a perfect choice to offset the mass of green.

Soothing pattern repeats in those thousands of trees and the zoo full of animals.

A reminder of the cover, a peek into Henri’s walk. And below, a shift in perspective and point of view.

So Henri leaves home and returns again. Likewise, Saul Bass’ pictures ramp up to the climax of the story, and repeat again as Henri heads home. That same window repeats, that same wide shot of the tiny white house sits still again, only with different text for a different time in the story. It’s a detail that’s hard to show in pictures, but on an overall visual read of the story…it’s magnificent.

Henri’s Walk To Paris in reprint is a gift I didn’t even know I was was on my wish list. It’s joining this monster on my coffee table-slash-corner of my desk.

Operation Alphabet

Operation Alphabet is the brainchild of art director Al MacCuish. It’s illustrated by Luciano Lozano and designed by Jim Bletsas. Their favorite words are diplodocus, shelter, and ‘toodle-oo, buckeroo‘ respectively, so, you know, they rule for having favorite words. Mine is eyeball. True story.

I can’t give away too much because the book warned me multiple times that its content is TOP SECRET. I’m certainly one to obey letters, so I will comply with that order. But what you can know is that Charlie Foxtrot is doing pretty terrible in school, and the Ministry of Letters concocts a plan of attack to help. And a Duchess rides a motorbike, so there’s that.

And while it’s certainly a departure from a typical picture book as it runs 64 pages and LOTS of words, it’s a fun novelty with stellar pictures.

…and dizzying endpapers!

I love how this title page feels like the first page of a super-secret-need-to-know-basis-very-important file.

Underneath this fun mylar (!) jacket is a poster of all the letters. I love this trend; it’s seen in another favorite alphabet book, Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet.

The color palette is restrained, yet rich and strikingly retro.

Because the letters have such life and function as characters in the book, perhaps typography is not the best choice for which design consideration to highlight. But! The seamless mixture of letter and form into a character study is surely part of the craft of composing type. And because truly, I think the typography graphic above matches the other colors in this post.

And it’s my blog, so I can do silly things like that and blame it on being crazed by the art.

{You can explore the Ministry of Letters yourself at this fun site.}

The illustrations have some really, really fun details. I love the balloon wielding cat above, presumably scribbled on the wall by Charlie Foxtrot.

What about this grumpy raincloud? Poor thing.

{ I’m slightly obsessed with Mrs. Foxtrot’s pink plaid coat. Do they make that for real life people?}

And that’s the Duchess. She wears orange goggles and green galoshes. Kate Middleton’s not the only stylish royal around!

Operation Alphabet is a winner. A kooky, unusual, breaks-all-the-rules, beautiful book.

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.