Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Kirkus Star!

Kirkus will run this marvelous, starred review of Rabbit (in possibly their last issue).

The twin powers of friendship and imagination are stunningly portrayed with utter simplicity. Rabbit, with big blue eyes and a suitcase to match, meets his friends one by one, and they ask, “Hey, Rabbit! Is there anything for me in your suitcase?” Toucan asks if there’s a leaf to remind him of home, Crab wonders if there is a shell with the sound of the sea, Cat wants a ball of twine to play with. As Rabbit opens the suitcase, a full two-page spread appears with what each friend was dreaming of, floating and expanding to fill the page. Cat sees a roomful of twine, Toucan a whole jungle paradise. The all-encompassing visions embody the joy of finding exactly what one’s heart desires. [...]
The colors are soft and clear; the line is vivacious and the little anthropomorphized animals are sweet. Their satisfied imaginations fill whole pages, and friendship emanates from every wriggle.

Friday, December 4, 2009

BookCourt Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY

BookCourt, a great independent bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, will host my  first reading and signing of Hey, Rabbit! at the end of February (details later). As a client, I really love this bookstore, which after the recent expansion it's even more pleasant to visit.
They have a large and nice children's book department. Evelyn Pollins, who manages the kids' events there, was kind enough to answer a few questions for my blog.

Can you tell me a little bit about BookCourt? 

BookCourt was founded by Mary Gannett and Henry Zook in 1981. It started with just the front room at 163 Court Street. In 1990 they opened up the basement, and then 6 years later they moved into the space next door at 161 Court Street to make the double storefront most Cobble Hill residents are most familiar with. Just last year they opened the back room that we call "The Greenhouse," in reference to the flower shop greenhouse that had been out back until the room was built. The store is still run by Mary and Henry, now with the help of their son Zack. On any given day in the store you'll usually see at least one of the Gannett/Zook clan around, especially since Mary and Zack both still live above the store.

There is a big Barnes & Noble just a block away. Does that influence your business in any way?

BookCourt fills a niche in the Cobble Hill community that Barnes & Noble hasn't really encroached on that much, thankfully. Our customers are people who love Brooklyn and love supporting local businesses in general, and they come here to get a sense a community that you can't get when you walk into a national chain store. I spend a good chunk of my day just talking to customers and recommending books. People come here because they need to find a gift for an 8-year-old who's already read everything, or they want to know what to read on a long plane ride. We're here when you have an idea of what you want, but haven't decided yet. Everyone who works here reads constantly and loves talking about books. I'm sure many Barnes & Noble employees are the same (I was once one of them), but that's not why you go there. In fact, when I worked there I almost never got asked for my opinion on books, much to my frustration. People come to BookCourt for the experience.

What about you? How did you end up working with books and kids?

I was a voracious reader as a child, like many kids. As I grew up, though, the books I'd read in elementary school remained my favorites. I had a hard time finding books for teenagers and adults that captivated me the way children's books did. Madeline L'Engle once said "If I have something that is too difficult for adults to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children," and I think she's right. The most universal and complicated topics are tackled in kids books because kids have a mind open enough to really grapple with them. So I kept coming back to my favorite middle-reader novels for escape in high school and college. I then went on to become a teacher so I could have an excuse to read kids books more often. I got my Master's in Education from the University of Chicago and taught 4th grade on the south side of Chicago for 3 years, so I got to learn all about all the wonderful new books that have come out since I was a kid, and I learned a lot about pairing kids with books. A year and a half ago I left teaching and came to New York in search of a job in museum education and thought I could work in a bookstore in the meantime. That meantime turned into this, which I can't complain about one bit. One of the other great things about independent bookstores (and independent businesses in general) is they are so open to suggestions and willing to try new things, so when I said I
wanted to have a story time, the owners were happy to oblige. Then when I wanted to get back to working with middle-grade kids and start our Young Reader Book Club: "Go to it!" And from there it just seemed natural for me to dive in a little deeper and start helping Zack, who books our general store events, by bringing in more kids' authors.

Let's talk then about the kids' events at Book Court. 

Kids' events at BookCourt are a relatively new thing. There were always kids' events here and there at the store, maybe one every couple of months, but until recently it hasn't been something we actively sought out. When we opened the "greenhouse" room a year ago we moved the children's books out of
their tiny room in the back of the store out into the wide-open storefront part of the 161 half of the building, and with the help of the wonderful ever-expanding families of Cobble Hill, kids' books have become a huge part of the store, so we've made children's events a bigger part of the store, too.
Because the children's event series is kind of in its infancy, we're letting our local authors really shape it. Events happen nearly every Sunday at 11 and sometimes more events will be sprinkled in on weekday evenings, in addition to our StoryTime with Jon Samson and CoCreative Music every Tuesday at 11 am. Sunday events are all about the authors and celebrating their new titles. They usually read their book and take questions from the audience, and some illustrators even do demonstrations. The events are relatively informal, and families pile in on rugs, our couch, and chairs around the author to share the stories. Our aim is to both introduce some families to new authors and bring the author's current fans together. We have some great local authors coming in January: Cathleen Davitt Bell will be sharing her middle-reader novel, Slipping with our Young Reader Book Club on January 20th and Kirsten and Carin Bramsen will be here on January 24th with their book The Yellow Tutu. Our Winter events schedule is coming together now and events will be going up on our website, BookCourt.org, as they are confirmed.

Can you mention your favorite picture books, old and new?

Oh goodness, there are too many. As a kid my favorite books were probably Leo Lionni's.  
Let's Make Rabbits and Tico and the Golden Wings stand out especially. There's a complexity to his stories that don't exist in a lot of picture books (Vivian Paley's book The Girl with the Brown Crayon does such an amazing job of talking about how kids respond to his work). As a teacher I loved reading Patricia Polacco with my students. There is just so much to explore and talk about in her work, it's incredible. She sits in a weird spot in the picture book world, where her stories really need to be read to older kids, kids who have moved away from picture books for the most part. I like that she bridges that gap.

As a bookseller I am always recommending Oliver Jeffers, Iggy Peck Architect, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace's books Little Hoot, Little Pea, and Little Oink. All these books have adorable, gorgeous illustrations and funny, quirky stories that I think adults have as much fun reading as the kids do.

And lastly, I love collecting vintage picture books, mostly from the 60s and 70s. Chronicle has reprinted many of Ann and Paul Rand's gorgeous books Sparkle and Spin and I Know a Lot of Things, among others. Most of my other favorites are still out of print though.

Most people don't know that the
Newberry Award-Winning author Ellen Raskin (best known for The Westing Game) was a book designer and illustrator before she wrote children's novels. Her work has a lot of thick lines and bright colors, but also a ton of detail. Spectacles plays with illustration by showing what a little girl sees without her glasses, and then what's really there. The hippo riding a giraffe on the cover of Silly Songs and Sad will just blow your mind. And lately I've been trying to get my hands on everything John Alcorn has ever illustrated. Books! and Writing!, both illustrated by him and written by Murray McCain, are perfect examples classic 60s design but made for kids. So much fun to look at.

Anything else you want to add?

Thanks for supporting BookCourt! We're still here and thriving because of this community that has embraced us so fully.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Adorable little bellies

Abby Nolan wrote this very nice review of Hey, Rabbit! for the December issue of Booklist. Thank you!

Instead of a magician pulling a rabbit out a hat, here we have a rabbit magically producing all sorts of things from a suitcase. An ode to gift giving, Ruzzier’s latest picture book showcases his charming illustrations without letting a complicated plot get in the way. One by one, the rabbit’s friends ask, “Hey, Rabbit! Is there anything for me in your suitcase?” and each subsequent spread features the suitcase pouring forth an extreme version of whatever humble object that friend was wishing for. So the dog, who requests a birthday bone, ends up with a gigantic, two-tiered cake made up of blue and white bones. The toucan, who wants a leaf to remind him of home, is presented with a veritable jungle. Ruzzier’s animals are a very appealing group, sweet and expressive with adorable little bellies, and each wish leads to a colorful and lively scene. [...]
— Abby Nolan

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The idea

When I was done with the drawings for my picture book Amandina, my wonderful editor Neal Porter was wondering (being wonderful) if I had any idea for the next story. I did have a few, but at a very rough stage.
In Amandina, Neal especially liked this drawing:

So he told me: why don't you think of a story about a magical suitcase? I thought about it for a couple of weeks and then I went back to him with a manuscript and some quick sketches.

Neal liked what he saw and helped me shape it (here's one of his sophisticated visual suggestions).

After everything was set, I began working on the final drawings.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


These are the first few spreads in my thumbnail storyboard. The thumbnails are the very first thing I usually put down on paper, after I get an idea for a picture book. They are extremely useful to understand if an idea really has the potential to become a story and then a book. As you can see, the drawings are very small (each thumbnail is about too inches high) and really rough, to say the least. They're actually plain crappy. But they're good enough for me to have, for the first time, the whole story under my eyes. I usually don't show the storyboard to anybody.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Some rabbits I like

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, by Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney.

A rabbit (and his dogfriend) in a carving in the Romanesque church of Saint Mary and Saint David in Kilpeck, Herefordshire, England, 12th century.
Photo by Simon Garbutt (thanks).

The one-eared rabbit Bongo from Life in Hell, by Matt Groening, one of my favorite artists.

A rabbit (or is it a hare?) by Albrecht Dürer. It’s a watercolor and gouache drawing on paper dated 1502, conserved at the Albertina collection in Vienna, Austria.

A revengeful one from Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann.

From the picture book Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. First published by Harper&Row in 1962, I think.

My Rabbit.

Roasted rabbit. Feel free to email me for a translation of the recipe.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The jaguar

The jaguar was my favorite animal when I was a kid. At the Natural History Museum in Milan, Italy, where I grew up, there was a wonderful display with a jaguar fighting with an anteater. I was fascinated by it. Anyway, when I began planning the toucan spread for the book, with a scene from an Amazon-like forest, I decided to draw the picture of a jaguar in it. As reference, I don't usually look at photographs as I prefer to use old paintings and prints. I like to see how other artists have interpreted the same things I am about to draw. So, here are a couple of pictures I found, the preparatory sketch, and the final drawing as it appears in the book.

Thursday, October 15, 2009