Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Halloween, Picture Books!

Andy Rash's Picture Book List

Andy Rash wrote and illustrated several picture books including Ten Little Zombies: A Love Story, Are You a Horse?, and Agent A to Agent Z. He has illustrated several more such as Superhero School, Fat Camp Commandos, and Sea Monster's First Day. His illustrations also appear in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Time Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Jennifer and son Joe. This is Andy's website.
And this is his picture book list:

DRUMMER HOFF by Barbara Emberly and Ed Emberly 
The gorgeous woodcuts in this book blow me away. The last image of the destroyed cannon is mysterious and poetic, and seemed that way to me even as a little kid.

OWL AT HOME by Arnold Lobel 
Don't get me wrong, I love Frog and Toad, but Owl is my favorite. He isn't very bright for an owl, but he's an extremely likable guy. Lobel was amazing.


BLUE MOOSE by Daniel Pinkwater 
This one isn't strictly a picture book. More of a chapter book but with enough illustrations that I thought I could get away with including it. It's because of this book that I got the crazy idea that you could center a children's book story around a human adult. Sooner or later I'll make that happen!
THE OBJECT-LESSON by Edward Gorey 
I must have watched the opening credits for the television show Mystery! hundreds of times yet never made it through the rest of the program. The reason was Edward Gorey's incredible animation. It wasn't until college that I found his books. I would like to quote the first line from this book: It was already Thursday, but his lordship's artificial limb could not be found; therefore, having directed the servants to fill the baths, he seized the tongs and set out at once for the edge of the lake, where the Throbblefoot Spectre still loitered in a distraught manner. 
Show me a better first sentence in all of literature! I dare you!
The spookiest Seuss I can think of. Our pale yellow, lamblike protagonist is terrorized by an empty pair of green pants!
GO DOG GO  by P. D. Eastman 
"Simple" doesn't mean the same thing going and coming in art. Go Dog Go is so simple only a genius could have created it.

Where's Goldbug? Somehow I never memorized everywhere that Goldbug was hiding. There's so much going on in this book, you barely even notice it's about a family of pigs.

THIS IS NEW YORK by Miroslav Sasek
I'll admit, I came to this one really late. Illustrator David Small told me he assumed I was a big fan of Sasek before I had even heard of him. I guess what actually happened was that I was a fan of everyone Sasek was a fan of and everyone who was a fan of Sasek. All of his This Is books are incredible, but I like New York the best because I like New York the best.
Not a picture book? There's pictures on every spread! I can't in good conscience make a list of favorites without including Shel Silverstein. My concept of what sort of content is acceptable to be included in children's books came from him.
In 1992, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, or rather how to do what I wanted to do with my life and whether I could. This book and a few others that came out around the same time (Tuesday by David Wiesner, for instance) showed me the path.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tanya Lee Stone's Picture Book List

Tanya Lee Stone is the author of many books for children and young adults, including the picture books Elizabeth Leads the Way, illustrated by Rebecca Gibson, and Sandy's Circus, illustrated by the great Boris Kulikov. A forthcoming picture book called Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? is being illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Just on the shelves now is her The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie. A Doll's History and her Impact on Us. 

Here's Tanya's list:

These are not ranked in any particular order and include favorites I have shared with my kids, as well as books I teach to writing students.

by Mo Willems. 
The single easiest way to show voice to students.

 -A HOUSE IS A HOUSE FOR ME by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Betty Fraser.
I keep buying copies of this, I probably have 11.

- KITTEN'S FIRST FULL MOON by Kevin Henkes. 
Just kind of perfect.

- BARK, GEORGE by Jules Feiffer. 
Laugh out loud every time.

- WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak. 
Given to me as a baby and cherished ever since.

Heavily influenced my childhood.

- CLICK, CLACK, MOO: COWS THAT TYPE by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. 
Hilarious and brilliant.

- HARRY THE DIRTY DOG by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Graham. 
Another childhood favorite, the pictures are burned in my memory.

Elegant, beautiful, poignant.

- MILLIONS OF CATS by Wanda Gág. 
The beginning of it all!

Pam Coughlan's Picture Book List

Pam Coughlan writes the blog MotherReader (where she recently posted a great answer to the infamous NYT article on picture books), administrates the website KidLitosphere Central, and contributes to the blogger book awards, the Cybils, as the Fiction Picture Book organizer.

Here's her entry:

When Fuse#8 was working to put together the incredible list of the Top 100 Picture Books, I submitted my contribution as books that came top-of-mind quickly. So I have my own favorites as a child, my first favorites to read to my kids, and my first favorites as a librarian. There are hundreds of
picture books I have loved and do love, but these are the ones that jumped out.

THE KING by Dick Bruna
The king was sad because all he wanted was a friend, not a crown. I drew teardrops all over this book, bless my heart.

Picky eaters unite! I loved all the Frances books and can only choose this as a favorite by a slight margin.

THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK by Jon Stone, illustrated Mike Smollin
Grover talking directly to the reader made this book absolute genius.

It's hard to pick one Eric Carle book, but I really like doing the grouchy voice while reading this aloud.

I never get through this book without tearing up. It's a great baby shower gift.

This book does a wonderful job of reflecting the love and relationship between
parent and child.

If you think this book is fun to read, watch the video or listen to the CD of
the music. Catchy.

Funny, clever, and the perfect read-aloud. Mo-tastic.

Again: funny, clever, and the perfect read-aloud, but with the bonus
of being feeling familiar to moms and dads.

I'll stand by the 2008 Cybils winner as being an outstanding book about courage,
kindness, and love.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Julian Hector's Picture Book List

Julian Hector was born in Los Angeles, and raised by two evil biologists outside of Austin, Tx.  For solace, Julian studied the fauna of Texas, and would often draw them wearing cloths, standing upright, and entertaining themselves with high-tea, and various candlelight suppers.  On the weekends, Julian was forced to go to Sunday school, where he would sculpt the Sea Quest DSV submarine out of clay, disregarding the "must be present in the bible" creativity rule.  When Julian was 11, he was kicked out of Sunday School for supporting abortion, and being Jewish, via his mother.  In high-school, he was berated for drawing in the margins of his homework assignments, so, to express himself, he auditioned and was accepted into a theatre class, using a monologue from Seinfeld.  Due to creative differences with several cast members, Julian's time in theatre was short, and to this day, he harbors an obstinate distrust of thespians.  In 2002, Julian entered the Parsons School of Design, with the intent of becoming an architect for Sir Norman Foster.  Julian wisely switched to illustration, when he discovered that chocolate and cotton candy were not sound construction materials. In Illustration, Julian recalled his days of animal drawing, and found a happy home in children's publishing.   

Julian's latest book The Gentleman Bug was published this spring by Atheneum.
Here's his list:

- THE ARRIVAL by Shaun Tan. My absolute favorite Book!  I don't know what else to say; the book is an experience.  

- THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf, Robert Lawson.  I love this book to the point that my first picture book was told from a Matador's point of view. 

- THE BUTTERFLY BALL AND THE GRASSHOPPER'S FEAST by Alan Aldridge and William Plomer. My first textbook in anthropomorphism. To this day, I imagine that wasps wear armor and sword-fight, and that old snails ride on butterfly drawn leafs.

- AMPHIGOREY by Edward Gorey. I like all of Gorey's compilations, but Amphigorey has the "The Gashlycrumb Tinies," "The Doubtful Guest," and "The Hapless Child."
- THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by E.H. Shepard. This is my second textbook in anthropomorphism.  

- MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS by Robert McCloskey. I like this book for a lot of reasons, but these days, I look at for its construction.  From its size, to the creamy paper, chocolaty ink, green jacket, and the fonts, I think that it's one of the best built picture books. 

- AND TANGO MAKES THREE by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole. My favorite family story. 

- MOMMY? by Maurice Sendak, Arthur Yorinks, and Matthew Reinhart. This is one of the most fun books to open. 

- BRUNDIBAR by Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner. I really like the backstory behind this book, and Tony Kushner's rhyme at the end is both haunting and honest.  This is a great book for dealing with bullies.    

- OLIVIA by Ian Falconer. This book was published during my sophomore year of high-school, and I'll always love it for bringing picture books back into my life.  It's surreal to me that I now share Ian Falconer's editor and art director. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Travis Jonker's Picture Book List

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian living a stone's throw from the banks of Lake Michigan. Since 2007 he has been writing about, promoting, and giving a hard time to children's literature at 100 Scope Notes. He is the founding member of the "No More Socks on Book Covers" support group and occasionally puts on a suit and combs his hair to review books for School Library Journal.

Here's Travis' list of ten of his favorite picture books: 

10. CURIOUS GEORGE by Margaret and H.A. Rey.

Originally published in 1941, it’s a testament to the enduring appeal of Curious George that this title, and its multitude of subsequent books are still widely circulated, and familiar to young readers. I can see why. Kids can relate to George’s innocently mischievous behavior and his relationship with “The Man With the Yellow Hat”, who acts as parental figure. In a format extended beyond the typical 32 page picture book standard, the simple text and humorous illustrations continue to draw readers in.

9. STREGA NONA by Tomie dePaola.

I must have a thing for bowls that duplicate stuff. Strega Nona in many ways mirrors the 4th title on this list, The Full Belly Bowl. But unlike Aylesworth’s book, Strega Nona focuses on humor to get its point across. dePaola’s 1979 classic takes an original tale and makes it feel timeless – no small feat.

8. ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT by Laurie Keller.

An absurdist masterpiece in both writing and illustration. Our hero goes through a lot in one day: being created, finding a home, avoiding consumption, and eventually welcoming his new role in life as a doughnut dog. Hilarious even after multiple readings with subtle themes of belonging, Arnie the Doughnut (published in 2003) has more personality in its publication page than some picture books have in total.

  7. JUMANJI by Chris Van Allsburg.

Look no further than the cover artwork to witness Van Allsburg’s eerie, draftsman-like precision on full display. Jumanji (published in 1981) takes a story that could have turned out silly and crafts a hauntingly beautiful title through illustrations that speak volumes.


Willems wasn’t the first picture book author to break down the “forth wall” and have his characters speak directly to the reader, he’s just proven to be the best at it. When Pigeon debuted in 2003 it became an immediate read aloud smash and reminded everyone that yes, books are entertainment – and that’s a good thing.


Never has there been a more universally loved picture book. While other titles on this list may split audiences, Eric Carle’s 1969 classic is bulletproof. Through its perfect story, wonderful pacing, and inventive illustration, this rep has been earned.

4. THE FULL BELLY BOWL by Jim Ayleswoth, Illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin.

Some stories are best read alone, others reach their full potential when shared. Aylesworth’s 1999 tale of an old man who receives a magical gift from a stranger falls squarely in the latter category. A read aloud champion that pulls readers into the story, making them wonder what they would do with a bowl that can duplicate whatever is put inside it – including money.

3. FLOTSAM by David Wiesner.

There is no finer example of unbridled imagination than Wiesner’s 2006 wordless story about a boy who finds amazing things inside old camera washed up on a beach. As the storyline unfolds, the reader discovers that undersea life may be much more sophisticated (and whimsical) than previously thought. A cyclical ending shows the camera washed up again, ready for the next passerby to continue the story.


Books set during Christmas are akin to songs on top 40 radio – tons of people enjoy them, but critics don’t give them much credit. Don’t get it twisted: Seuss’ 1957 Yule time tale deserves all the credit it can get, if for no other reason than the creation of The Grinch, one of the most indelible characters in picture book history.

1. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak.

The evolution of picture books can be broken down into two time periods: Pre-Wild Things and Post-Wild Things. Sendak’s 1963 book was that instrumental in ushering in the modern age of picture books. While tackling themes of anger and loneliness, Sendak created one of the few picture books that still seems fresh after decades in print.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Julie Danielson's Picture Book List

Julie Danielson (in her own words) has conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, also known as 7-Imp, a children's literature blog, focused primarily these days on illustration and picture books. When forced to count, she thinks it's more like between 250 and 300 features of book-creators over the past three years. Give or take a two. Having devoted the beginning of her professional life to Sign Language Interpreting, she then got her Master's degree in Information Sciences at The University of Tennessee, with a focus on children's librarianship. Her most recent librarian position involved putting the two degrees together and working at the Tennessee School for the Deaf. She now works from home, while raising two young imps of her own, and is writing this year with Elizabeth Bird and Peter D. Sieruta about the edgier side of children's literature and its untold stories in a book which will see the light-of-day in Fall 2012 from Candlewick. 

This was difficult. I'm a tremendous picture book nerd. In fact, in grad school, I had to narrow my favorite picture book titles down to my own personal "Best 100" after spending the semester reading a whole heapin' ton of picture book titles from past and present, and I found even 100 difficult. Needless to say, narrowing to ten was challenging.

I decided to choose older titles. The most recent one on this list is 2001. Including more contemporary picture books would have made it even crazier for me, so having this focus helped me a bit. I hope that works. Yes, I decided to make up my own rules here.

1. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak, 1963. But of course. I'll always remember Chris Raschka's comment about this book. He visited the blog in 2009 and recalls the first time he ever saw the book as a child, sitting on his friend's kitchen table. There was "something mysterious and nearly exotic about the book," he told me. Yeah. THAT. I had the same response as a child. I didn't own it, but my friend across the street did, and even just the cover captivated me, though I was too shy to pick it up and read it then. I didn't truly discover it till adulthood. It is a force of nature.

2.  GEORGE AND MARTHA by James Marshall, 1972. Best Picture Book Duo Ever. I almost don't care who comes along next. No one can top them. I do unsightly snort-laughs whenever I read Story Number Three, "The Tub": "George was fond of peeking in windows." Gets me every time.

3. IN THE FOREST by Marie Hall Ets, 1944. She was a master of books for early childhood, and she made it all look easy. A quiet hush falls when I read her books. I could pore over them for days.



4. MILLIONS OF CATS by Wanda Gág, 1928. Maybe not a surprising title for this list, given that it's the oldest American picture book in print and we talk and talk about it and study it and revere it for its wonderfulness and Gág brought us the double page spread and this story with such momentum and amazing line and shape and all this and all that. But my favorite thing about it? How funny it is. It really is a hoot in spots.

5. FLOSSIE AND THE FOX by Patricia C. McKissack and illustrated by Rachel Isadora, 1986. For its joy. For the way Isadora depicts sunlight in those woods. 

6. THE OTHER SIDE by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, 2001. A poem of a picture book.

7. MR. GUMPY'S OUTING by John Burningham, 1970. Burningham is a genius. This book is flawless. I'm VERY fond of hyperbole -- in fact, with the white-hot intensity of a skerjillion suns --  but it's all true. He's brilliant. And I love how there's a wordless feast in so many of his titles. Mmm.


8. THE GARDENER by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small, 1997. For the look on Uncle Jim's face when Lydia Grace gives him his cake, the look on his face when he hugs her, and the rays of sunlight on the final spread.

9. THE HAPPY DAY by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Marc Simont, 1949. For that one little flower growing in the snow. Oh, that yellow!

10. HENRY HIKES TO FITCHBURG by D.B. Johnson, 2000. Daniel Pinkwater visited the blog in 2009 and told it like it is: "D.B. Johnson is a genius."

Since I already made up my own rules for doing this, can I cheat and do 12 titles?

11. SAM, BANGS AND MOONSHINE by Evaline Ness, 1966. So much emotion. Giant tomes could be written about this book and what Ness does with line and shape and color and composition. Beautiful.

12. THE STINKY CHEESE MAN AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID TALES by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith, 1992. For the design (the great Molly Leach). For making me want to study children's lit. For the wicked humor of "The Really Ugly Duckling" and its last line.

Emily Jenkins' Picture Book List

Portrait by Heather Weston

Emily Jenkins is the author of Love You When You Whine, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier (me!), plus other picture books including Skunkdog, That New Animal, both illustrated by Pierre Pratt, What Happens on Wednesdays, illustrated by Lauren Castillo, and The Little Bit Scary People, with pictures by Alexandra Boiger. She won two Boston Globe/Horn Book honors for picture book writing and also wrote Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party, both for middle-grade readers, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. I do hope to work with Emily again soon.

Let's see what are ten of her favorite picture books:

Here is my own list, though it's a bit off-the-cuff.  I'm so glad you asked me, as it made me think about what I value in picture books.

1. A VERY SPECIAL HOUSE by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. This book has such amazing rhythms and it's like a window into the mind of a child. She was just a phenomenal writer.

2. A GLORIOUS DAY by Amy Schwartz. I think Schwartz is the best picture book writer working today. This is maybe my favorite, but I also love What James Liked Best and A Teeny Tiny Baby. I love them all, actually. A Glorious Day follows the kids in a single, small apartment building through their day. It is an ordinary day -- but glorious. She has such an ear for truth and humor in small things.

3. MEET WILD BOARS by Meg Rosoff, illustrated by Sophie Blackall. This just makes me laugh. Those boars are so wonderfully horrible. I would love to be able to think up something like this book.

4. TRACTION MAN IS HERE! By Mini Grey. She is operating at so many different levels here. And it just makes me happy. "Traction Man is guarding some toast." I love that he figures out how to deal with his horrid knitted green romper by unraveling it into a tight little bathing suit. Joy!

5. MR. GUMPY'S OUTING by John Burningham.  Mr. G invites all these creatures to ride on his boat if only they don't behave as their natures dictate they should. The children mustn't squabble, the pig mustn't muck about, etc. And in the end, they all collapse and do what they mustn't; they capsize the boat - and he invites everyone back for tea and says they should come again.  It's just true, about people and their foibles, and none of the foibles mattering in the end.

6. WE'RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT by Michael Rosen, illus. by Helen Oxenbury. It's an old finger-play game, masterfully retold. I see something new in Oxenbury's illustrations every time I've read it. The family is so connected, the bear so menacing yet so lonely, the dog so loyal and yet skeptical.

7. FIRST TOMATO by Rosemary Wells.  This one chokes me up every time, with so little ammunition.  A bunny has a bad day, and envisions an alternate reality where her mother sends her to to see if any tomatoes are ripe. There's only one ripe one, and she wants to eat it -- but abstains, and brings it home as she was asked to do. Later, her mother serves her "first tomato soup, because I love you so."

8. BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL by Robert McCloskey. This book makes you notice things. It makes you pay attention. To words, rhythms, sounds, life.

9.  THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats. It is just a perfect book.

10. SEVENTEEN THINGS I'M NOT ALLOWED TO DO ANYMORE, by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. This, like Meet Wild Boars, is a naughty book. Like A Very Special House and Traction Man, it is a look into the mind of a child that is not at all what other people wish the mind of a child to be.  I love it. And Nancy Carpenter pulls out all the stops here. The illustrations as hilarious and incredibly inventive.

Oh dear. I have left off so many, many books that I love.

Marc Tyler Nobleman's Picture Book List

Marc Tyler Nobleman is the author of more than seventy books for kids, including the picture book Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, illustrated by Ross MacDonald. He is also a cartoonist, even though he admits he doesn't know how to draw Sponge Bob. He has a blog where he writes the stories behind the stories he writes.

Here's Marc's entry:

I love lists and I love picture books (natch) but I know I'm leaving out many favorites with this list, plus ask me again next week and it may be different:

(in no order)

- WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak. Lyrical and almost hypnotic when read aloud.

- THE CAT IN THE HAT by Dr. Seuss. Another I love to read aloud, particularly the last few pages (starting with the clean-up session, which I can't help but read fast).

- THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson. I love the inviting illustrations.

- THE MILKMAN by Carol Foskett Cordsen and Douglas B. Jones. A contemporary (and low-key) book about a bygone era (rare in picture books, in my experience) with a sweet subplot.

- THREE LITTLE GHOSTIES by Pippa Googhart and Anna Laura Cantone. Another one that is very fun to read aloud. Great wordplay.

- THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS by Chris Barton and Tony Persiani. An adroit blend of sharp subject, strong prose, and original research.

- THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS by Mordicai Gernstein. A real-life adventure with a tragic overtone that will chill adults without upsetting kids. It somehow makesbreaking the law seem okay, if there is a higher (figuratively and literally) purpose.

- MADELINE by Ludwig Bemelmans. Yet another that is addictive to read aloud.

- ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz. Genuinely funny and heartfelt.

- MOOSE by Michael Foreman. A favorite from my own childhood and very hard to find these days. I used to pore over certain illustrations and imagine that I was in them.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Matthew Cordell's Picture Book List

Matthew Cordell seen by Matthew Cordell

Matthew Cordell is the children's book illustrator of such titles as Toby and the Snowflakes by Julie Halpern, Mighty Casey by James Preller, Toot Toot Zoom! by Phyllis Root, and Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail. Matthew is the author and illustrator of Trouble Gum.

He lives in the suburbs of Chicago with his wife, author Julie Halpern, their daughter Romy, and a very sturdy cat named Tobin. You can see his work on his website and his blog. He was the first one to send me his list with ten of his favorite picture books.

Take a look at his website and blog
Here's Matthew's list:

1. GORKY RISES by William Steig. This one is probably one of my three favorite Steig picture books, including SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE (of course) and AMOS AND BORIS. I choose GORKY for my top ten because I'm a sucker for a boy (frog) who can fly book.

2. GRANPA by John Burningham. John Burningham is so freaking good. I love his humor and his grace and his fearless, fearless art. GRANPA is so much of that.

3. MOUSE TALES by Arnold Lobel. I do love Arnold Lobel and this book is brilliant. But to be fair, I lift this favorite from my wife's list of favorite pic books. I wouldn't know a thing about picture books if it weren't for her. And I'm so glad she shared this one with me.

4. THE ENEMY by Davide Cali, illustrated by Serge Bloch. I only recently came upon this one. I suppose it's written for the older set because it's about war and peace. I love it. Serge Bloch is one of my big faves.

5. WHAT DO PEOPLE DO ALL DAY? by Richard Scarry. This is one I can remember digging as a kid. So much detail and so much animal craziness going on. What's not to love? I'm still in awe.

6. LEAVES by David Ezra Stein. I like D.E.S. I like how each of his books is different from the last. And he always keeps it loose and fresh, which I really admire. I really like this one. I like his line and washes and I like the innocence and sweetness and enthusiasm of that bear.

7. MOON MAN by Tomi Ungerer. This is another fairly recent find for me. Super stylish and cool groovy vibe. I especially like the soldiers, weird scientist, and all that black.

8. MARTIN PEBBLE by Jean-Jacques Sempé. J.J. Sempé is one of my all time favorites for pen/ink. I also love his sense of humor and storytelling. His art in this book is super loose and sparse and very limited in color. I love it all. Beautifully designed.

9. MADELINE by Ludwig Bemelmans. Very cool and romantic and timeless and actually kind of strange. LB's art is amazing, of course. I also like how it goes from full color to limited color illustrations. I assume this was done to save money in printing the original edition, but it works really well in design.

10. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak. I can't imagine leaving this off. I probably take it for granted a lot. Every now and again I like to pull it down and have another look. Never disappointed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Toad's List

I'm very glad to say that many people have already sent me their Picture Book Lists, which I will start posting in the next few days. Please keep sending!

But today I wanted to share with the world, or part of it, a recent acquisition: an Arnold Lobel's original and signed pencil drawing of Frog and Toad. It shows Toad loosing the list with the things he was supposed to do that day, from the "List" episode from Frog and Toad Together.
Arnold Lobel is one of my very favorite authors, and I still can't believe I was able to get this.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Picture Book Lists

I'd like to invite anyone who loves picture books to send me a list with ten of their favorite picture books, for kids or not. The books can be from any time and any country. I'd like to keep the definition of picture book as wide as possible. For example, one of my books will probably be William Steig's The Agony in the Kindergarten, which was a collection of one-liners illustrated in black&white, about but not exactly for kids.
You can be an author, an illustrator, an editor, an art director, a bookseller, a librarian, an agent, or anyone who has a passion for picture books.
Please send me your list with, if you want, a mini-bio, a picture of you, and a link that I can add to the post. And any comment on the books you choose. Send to sergio(at)ruzzier(dot)com

Thank you!

P.S.: this of course doesn't want to compete with Betsy Bird's amazing Top 100 Picture Book Poll.


Original Art Show

Tomorrow evening the Society of Illustrators in New York City will host the reception for the opening of the Original Art Show, with some of the best (according to this year's jury) picture book illustration of this past year.

Photograph from the Society's website.

I was one of the judges and, coincidentally, one of my books was selected. Ah-hem.

Here's the drawing I chose to be in the show, the cat spread from Hey, Rabbit!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A conversation with Caron Lee Cohen, author of Broom, Zoom!

Illustrators don’t necessarily get to know the authors of the books they work on. I consider myself very lucky, then, to have met or even befriend most of the writers I have collaborated with: Karla Kuskin, Emily Jenkins, Lore Segal...
A few months ago, after illustrating Caron Lee Cohen’s Broom, Zoom!, Caron kindly came to one of my Hey, Rabbit! signings in Brooklyn and we have become friends since. Caron is the author of a bunch of picture books and easy readers, including How Many Fish? and Three Yellow Dogs, this last one illustrated by the great Peter Sís.

Caron Lee Cohen

Recently, Caron and I have had an email exchange in which we shared thoughts about Broom, Zoom!, bare landscapes, and other things. I’m posting it here hoping that others will also find it interesting and entertaining. (To see more Broom, Zoom!-related posts, go here.)

Here it goes:

In one of our first email exchanges, you told me: "I was astonished that the characters live on a bare cliff, a perfect match for an interior landscape of my own!  I have a book where outlaw-dogs live on a bare cliff - in Death Valley."

Bare landscapes and cliffs (and empty interiors as well) are always been present in my drawings, since I was a kid. I guess that this fascination comes from different places, and I can name a few: 14th and 15th Century Italian paintings, like that beautiful Saint Anthony by the Maestro dell'Osservanza now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York;
old comic strips, especially George Herriman's Krazy Kat and Elzie C. Segar's Popeye; a movie by Pier Paolo Pasolini, "Uccellacci e Uccellini" ("The Hawks and the Sparrows"), which I saw when I was 7 or 8 years old. And also the neighborhood where I grew up, in Milan in the '60s and '70s, which at the time was at the edge of the city, with many empty lots, where herds of sheep would still walk by a couple of times a year. Or maybe it's just easier to draw empty landscapes, and not worry about buildings, forests, roads...

Maestro dell'Osservanza
George Herriman

Can you tell me more about that "interior landscape of your own"? What was the Death Valley book?

I'll get to those questions, but those rich influences that shaped your fascination with bare landscapes are worth a closer look.  So I was delighted to get your e-mail with a few images of what you'd mentioned.  They blew me away!

Pier Paolo Pasolini, Uccellacci e Uccellini

The image from The Hawks and the Sparrows - of a father and son conversing with a black crow while journeying on a road that goes endlessly into the distance - is potent and hypnotizing.  In the Saint Anthony painting, the richly robed saint and the spooky bare trees create a haunting scene. And the Krazy Kat comic image with spindly cliffs bursting out of a flat landscape and a two-tone moon, makes a zany picture.  A painting, a film and a cartoon, spanning 500 years, and so enormously different!  But after much looking, I was struck by similarities.  All three have roads that wind around from the foreground to the background.   And on these roads are characters who all happen to be directing their attention sideways!   That's gotta be a fluky resemblance.   But another resemblance isn't a fluke.  In each of these, I see unexpected, or out of the ordinary elements, fantasy elements - like the unreal trees along the road where Saint Anthony walks.  The trees gripped me while I wondered, pleasantly perplexed, what they were about.  The fantasy elements in all of these have a lot to do with the spell they cast on me.  The three images provoke thought and emotion - enough to make lasting impressions.

A couple of lasting impressions that found their way into a book of mine, are nowhere near as fascinating as Renaissance art.  My 50’s childhood--after the fairy tales--was loaded with cartoons (Popeye was my fave!) where characters routinely fall off cliffs and spring back alive, and Westerns where landscapes are bare and desert-like, with hills, canyons and rolling tumbleweed.  A few decades later I got going on the bare cliff book, Bronco Dogs, the story of cartoonish outlaw dogs in the old-time West.  They needed a hideout.   I looked on a map.  There was Death Valley!   And Comma-Ti-Yi-Yippi-Yippi-Yea Peak was born - a sizzling cliff in a terrain so perilous, no critter alive would chase them there.   It's the only home the dogs have, but the cliff is a seesaw - the downside, is falling off of it; the upside, is sleeping under the stars.  This landscape with its multitude of trials, fits them like a glove.  It fulfills their needs for better or for worse.   I always grow fond of my characters.  I adore them.  In this case the dogs and their landscape are inextricably linked: I adore the cliff too.  It has a place in my imagination.  In that e-mail, I called it an interior landscape of my own.   And what a surprise when I saw the cliff landscape in Broom, Zoom!

Broom, Zoom!

By the way, the broom in the book: I have the same one at home. I've had it for 35 years.  I've never checked to see if it flies.

Do you feel fondness, or maybe you'd use another word, for projects you work on?  You've said you enjoyed working on Broom, Zoom! very much.  Are there any particular reasons you can mention?

Well, the text was so perfect and minimal, that I felt absolutely free to give my own, personal interpretation. Even in the creation of the characters, I knew that I could do whatever I wanted, because there was no clear description of how they were supposed to look like. That’s always a blessing for an illustrator, or at least for me. I felt fondness for them right away, after reading your words, even before drawing the first sketches.

It's wonderful to hear you say that!  About feeling free because of the text.  That's absolutely how I felt when I saw the art. 
You sent me on a journey as a result of your questions; and in the process, I've given quite a bit of thought to the art in Broom, Zoom!  And now, another surprise!  I see substantial differences in our cliffs.  My story is a fantasy with talking dogs, cows and ghosts.  But Comma-Ti-Yi-Yippi-Yippi-Yea Peak is somewhere near Badwater in the sink of the Amargosa River, surrounded by volcanic craters, then hills and canyons, and finally salt flats on the fringe of Death Valley.  That's the real terrain.  That fantasy cliff seems pretty conventional at the moment, while the cliff in Broom, Zoom! is completely unconventional, creative and original. You've brought elements together in an unexpected way. And what would be expected, is omitted.  Little Witch and Little Monster live in a world with no grocery stores, no chairs, no table . . . no one else.  There's a broom, because they need it.  There's a sky, because they fly it.  There's no road, because they don't need one.  This art is not limited by any real-world givens.  Little Witch and Little Monster don't have the pressures of a technologically complex and hectic world.  They won't grow up too fast on this cliff.  As a writer I rejoiced at seeing this, because their world is pure.  You've made them sweet and lovable.  They are beautifully naive, free to develop from their own good natures.  I'd enjoy exploring how their sweet natures would play out.  Like the images you sent, where fantasy increased my interest - the world in Broom, Zoom! works magic, drawing me in and charming me. Unlike those images, where the fantasy can be jarring - in Broom, Zoom! the unexpected comes into the world seamlessly!   The result is whimsical and dear.

Your art for the book is almost exclusively bare.  So where it isn't bare, draws my attention and makes me wonder.  The house has striking features--a back porch, smoke from the chimney and more.  It hints at being alive! Can you tell me why you've developed the house in particular?

As I was reading your manuscript for the first time, I knew I wanted the house to be looking like a witch house, but small and gentle. It’s a childish haunted house, the same way the witch and the monster are little kids. Maybe when the three grow up they’ll be scary and threatening, who knows, but for now they’re just sweet and innocent.
I think it’s interesting to see how such a small house can have a potentially never-ending inside, with huge rooms and no ceilings in sight.
One of the good things of doing this kind of drawings is that you can take so many poetic licenses. You can create worlds with their own rules. It’s the same thing with writing, I guess.

How did you learn to write?

I learned to write, because I longed to write.  And it was quite a challenge.  As a child, I always created stories, but I struggled with reading and writing.  Spelling was my worst enemy.  In high school I was praised for my ideas, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't overcome the spelling and grammar obstacles.  At 35 I started a story, and when the first character needed to speak, I realized I didn't know where to put the quotation marks!   I got two used high school grammar books and read them all the way through, taking notes, writing examples, doing practice exercises.   After grammar, I read about story structure, character, suspense, and all the rest.   I read lots of fiction and scrutinized how stories worked.  I began to write.  Then I joined a workshop at The New School [in New York City] led by the legendary Bunny Gabel, whose exceptional guidance has resulted in many published children's books among devoted workshop members.  Of course, I learned to write by writing, and to write what matters by listening to my imagination.

Your writing has being rightly praised for its simplicity and minimalism, and everybody agrees that simple doesn't mean easy, but is it really true? Are we sure it's not just an excuse to be lazy? How long does it take you to write a book like Broom, Zoom!?


Simple isn't simply putting down a few words.  It's getting a real story into just a few words.  It's cutting back as far as possible to achieve a small text and vocabulary.  The value of each word needs to be weighed.  A small story feels like a puzzle.  I make up my own rules, and try many solutions.  I want the best sound combinations, repetition, rhythm and symmetry.  I keep working until the story falls into place with simplicity and grace.  That's elegance.  It isn't easy; it's challenging.  It isn't lazy; it's tireless.  Simple is no more lazy than bare landscapes are easy.  These choices are dictated by our imaginations.

As for the time it takes to write a book, it takes all the years of my life.  I have a book coming out next year, One Was Gone, with about 40 lines, that I began writing 25 years ago.  There was a lot of excess in the early manuscript; it had knots that I didn't know how to untie.  It was a story about a lamb at that time.  Now it's about a bird!   Editors had seen it and offered suggestions.  I became more proficient over the years: I learned how to untie some knots.  The shortest time it took me to write a book, was 15 minutes.  But those few minutes were the culmination of education and experience.  I was a doctoral student at Columbia TC, studying how children learn to read, and in the midst of poring over material for one of the courses--1000 pages of it--my patience gave way, and I stopped.  Instantly an idea rushed through my head.  I jotted it down; it was Three Yellow Dogs.  Another book took one day to write.  Another took a week.  Others have taken years.  Plenty are still in process after many years, and some will never be completed.  I have a lot more knots to untie.
There's a little more to say about simplicity.  With only 54 words in the text and a sixteen word vocabulary, Broom, Zoom! works for the newest readers, and charms toddlers as well.  But as slim as it is, it is not slight.  Reviewers have hailed its theme of conflict resolved by cooperation, but there's more.  The conflict is over sweeping the floor versus flying the sky.  At first, the floor sweeper doesn't even see what's enthralling outside the window.   But the sky flyer is able to put off her desire.  In just a few words there's a valuable message: work diligently, but don't lose sight of your dreams!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tweak Tweak

I am very happy to announce that next spring Clarion will publish my next book: Tweak Tweak, a picture book for little children written by Eve Bunting. For the few who don't know this, Eve Bunting is an extraordinary writer who has written more than 250 books so far. You can learn more about her in a lot of places, for example here. Reading Rockets has a charming video interview with Ms. Bunting.

Here's the cover!

Drawn in Brooklyn

Alaya, the beautiful and sweet daughter of John Rocco and Aileen Leijten, was kind enough to pose in front of my originals from The Room of Wonders, Amandina and Hey, Rabbit! in the Brooklyn Public Library's Grand Lobby.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Drawn in Brooklyn: Process Cases

Here are my three process cases, part of the Brooklyn children's book illustrators show at the Brooklyn Public Library.

First case: various sketches, a pen&ink and watercolor drawing of Rabbit and an introductory note written by John Marciano, curator of the show (I know, you can't really read it here, sorry!).

Second case: the evolution of the "rain forest" spread in Hey, Rabbit!, where the toucan finds his leaf. From the thumbnail sketch (top left), to the dummy (front center), to the preparatory pencil drawing (top right) the the printed page. The finished art is in the main exhibition in the Library's main hall.

Third case: one original finished drawing from Amandina and two from The Room of Wonders.