Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Learned Owl Book Shop

This Friday, November 26th from 3 to 4 p.m., I will read and sign copies of my books at the charming independent bookstore The Learned Owl Book Shop (204 N Main St. Hudson, Ohio).
If you are in the Cleveland or Akron area, and getting annoyed by your relatives, please come by!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Picture Book Is Worth One Thousand Words

An interesting conversation on picture books on North Carolina Public Radio, in which, among other things, they talk about the book Franklin's Big Dreams, illustrated by my friend Boris Kulikov.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jennifer Laughran's Picture Book List

Jennifer Laughran started her career in children's books with her first bookstore job, at age 12, and in later years went on to be a buyer and events coordinator for indie bookstores across the country. She is now an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, focusing on books for children and young adults. Her clients include Daniel Pinkwater, Calef Brown, Matt Faulkner and Kate Messner among others. 
You can follow Jennifer's thoughts on her blog and on Twitter (@literaticat).

Here's what she writes:

This list is only people who are NOT clients and whom I don't know personally, and in no particular order:

LILLY'S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE by Kevin Henkes:  I love all of Kevin Henkes' Mouse books a lot, but this one was the first one I read, and it never fails to make me feel a bit choked up. I love the teacher Mr. Slinger. And I LOVE LILLY and her red boots and movie star sunglasses!

SEVEN SILLY EATERS by Mary Ann Hoberman & Marla Frazee: This is a modern classic about a huge family in which every kid is ridiculously picky about what they will eat, and the frazzled mom who has to keep up with it all. The rhyme is catchy and just perfect - and Marla's illustrations are so, so gorgeous, always.

LITTLE FUR FAMILY by Margaret Wise Brown & Garth Williams: I thought Goodnight Moon was ok, but I LOVED Little Fur Family. "There was a little fur family. Warm as toast, smaller than most, in little fur coats, and they lived in a warm wooden tree." Could anything be cozier and more adorable? OH YES!  Because the little fur child finds "a little tiny tiny fur animal, the littlest fur animal in the world. It had warm silky fur and even a little fur nose."  AHHH SO CUTE!  You can get this in a fake-fur covered "deluxe" edition, which mimics the rabbit-fur bound first edition. Mine was just a falling-apart paperback.

PIERRE by Maurice Sendak: I love pretty much all Maurice Sendak books of course, but I always had a special fondness for Pierre. He is a wretched little misanthrope who doesn't care about anything, much to his parents dismay, and then he gets eaten by a lion. Ha!

MAX MAKES A MILLION / OOH LA LA MAX IN LOVE / MAX IN HOLLYWOOD, BABY / SWAMI ON RYE by Maira Kalman. Max is a poet. Max is a dreamer. Max is a dog. This is 4 books, but it really constitutes a saga: in the first book, New York dog Max sells some poems and gets rich. Then he goes to Paris to find the love of his life and be a real bohemian. Then he gets a film deal and goes out to LA, but with all the money and fame, he gets a big head, so in the final installment, he goes to India to find enlightenment with a guru, and becomes a father. Genius, and truly just as much for grownups as kids.

FABLES by Arthur Lobel.  I loved this book when I was a kid because the fables are quite weird and subversive. And there are a bunch of them, which each constitute their own complete story, so it is like having 20 oddball picture books in one. And there is a bear on the cover wearing a pan for a hat and brown paper bags for shoes.

EAST OF THE SUN, WEST OF THE MOON by Mercer Mayer: My father gave me this storybook when I was probably six or seven, and I found it completely mesmerizing. It is a long, complicated, sad and scary fairy tale, beautifully illustrated. Though the length of the text and painterly quality of the illustrations make this slightly old-fashioned for publishing tastes today, wow, do I wish this style of book would come back into fashion.

TIKKI TIKKI TEMBO by Arlene Mosel & Blair Lent: Apparently this book is considered not "politically correct" nowadays. I still think it is awesome. I remember it as being a favorite for librarian read-aloud time when I was a little one, and our entire classroom delighting in chanting (say it with me): TIKKI TIKKI TEMBO-NO SAH REMBO-CHARI BARI RUCHI-PIP PERI PEMBO (gasp) HAS FALLEN DOWN THE WELL!

MISS NELSON IS MISSING by Harry Allard & James Marshall:  The students in room 207 are terrible and their lovely young teacher can't get them to pay attention. When she vanishes and awful witch Viola Swamp comes in as a substitute, they wish Miss Nelson would come back... But Miss Nelson has a secret of her own (and a creepy black dress in her closet!). This book is so funny, I must have read it a thousand times as a kid.

OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA by Peggy Rathmann: Officer Buckle knows more about safety than anyone else in Napville, and he loves to give presentations about his safety tips to local schools. But nobody else loves his presentations... until his dog Gloria gets into the act, upstaging him in hilarious ways. A sweet story about friendship and sharing the spotlight, as well as totally off-the-wall funny, with hidden gems in every image. And (after learning it the hard way) I will never forget Safety Tip #77: NEVER stand on a swivel chair!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Another nice blogger's review of Broom, Zoom!

The former librarian Susan M.'s blog From Tots to Teens recently posted a wonderful review of Broom, Zoom! in which she points out, among other things, that while this book is about a witch and a monster and the moon, it is definitely not a Halloween book.  They do not reference the holiday at all, making it a wonderful book for sharing and reading at any time during the year.

Thank you!

P.S.: only one note: while it is true that the color was done digitally, the line was my usual good old pen & ink on paper!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Aaron Zenz's Picture Book List

Aaron Zenz has illustrated 12 books to date, two of which he also wrote: The Hiccupotamus and the forthcoming Chuckling Ducklings.  He runs a family book review blog with his kids called Bookie Woogie: his family has around 3000 children's titles in their personal collection. 
Take a look at his website.

These are ten of Aaron's favorite picture books:

A main character with great personality.  The use of space in the compositions is bold and brilliant.  Flawless story beats and perfectly placed page turns.

9.  THE SPOOKY OLD TREE by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Regardless of how a person feels about the direction the "Bears" books eventually took (whether good or bad), I dare you to revisit this title and evaluate it on its own merits.  It does indeed rock.

8.  THE THREE PIGS by David Wiesner
I love metafiction, and this book is perhaps - perhaps - the only example to surpass Grover's classic "Monster at the End of this Book."  Leave it to David Wiesner...

7.  WHO NEEDS DONUTS? by Mark Alan Stamaty
The art is a shock to the system.  Stunning.  Overwhelming.  Crazy.  You could spend a lifetime combing the pictures.  And the story is equally absurd and delightful with great themes and text-echoes.

So.  Much.  Fun.  This is how you tell a story.

My favorite illustrations in any book.  Crisp cools, rich warms.  Lush and lavish.

4.  THE ARRIVAL by Shaun Tan
No other book like it.  It's epic.  It doesn't just "tell" an immigrant's story, it magically (or I suppose, skillfully) brings us INTO the very experience.

3.   THE CINDER-EYED CATS by Eric Rohmann
The images are so powerful, it would have been a great wordless book.  It's the picture book that captured my heart, compelling me to create my own worlds.  For that I will always be thankful.

2.  SHADOW by Suzy Lee
This book JUST came out, but already it rocketed high up my list of favorite books of all time, and will stay there for all foreseeable future.  Wow, wow, wow.  Full of drama, beauty, emotion, enchantment, play...  How did she achieve all this in 32 pages???   It is so perfect, I've wanted to cry while reading it. 

1.  BLACK AND WHITE by David Macaulay
After the Bible, it's my favorite book of any kind.  Four stories?  One story?  Who knows.  The number of interconnecting details from story to story seems limitless.  I've discovered some new hidden surprise literally every time I've revisited the book.  The sheer number of playful components that tie this book together, then pull it apart, only to tie it back together, always keeps it at the top of my list.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Annie Beth Ericsson's Picture Book List

Annie Beth Ericsson is a design assistant at G.P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group), a recent graduate of Pratt Institute, and the illustrator of board books What's In My Garden? and What's In My Toybox?.  She chronicles her experiences in becoming a children's book illustrator and designer on her blog, Walking In Public.  Annie lives in Brooklyn, NY, where she spends a lot of time painting watercolors of sea turtles (and other creatures). You can view her illustration work on her website.
These are Annie Beth's top 10 favorite picture books:
RECHENKA'S EGGS by Patricia Polacco - This is my favorite picture book of all time.  While Polacco's more familiar Chicken Sunday never fails to make me sniffle, I prefer this equally heartwarming story of the old babushka finding an unlikely companion in a wounded goose and her miraculously-painted Ukranian eggs.

THE YEAR OF THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS TREE by Barbara Cooney - The one I have to read every Christmas Eve. I always insisted on finding a Balsam fir, just like Ruthie and her Mama brought to the village from high on the rocky crags.  I still cry every time Mama makes Ruthie an angel costume from her wedding dress "the color of cream, all trimmed with ribbons and lace", and again, when Ruthie's father comes home from the war just in time to see her in it.
ELOISE by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight - Of all classic children's books, to me, this is the best-best-best. Her language is uniquely hilarious, and Knight's illustrations literally scamper across the page with gusto. She's the ultimate exciting, mischevious bad-girl. Oooooo I absolutely love her!

MIRETTE ON THE HIGH WIRE by Emily Arnold McCully - I wrote my college admissions essay on how much this book inspired me to dream big.  Mirette's intrepid balancing act, her fear of falling, and her ultimate conquering of the tightrope and stepping into the sky? It's all a metaphor, baby.

THE PAPER BAG PRINCE by Colin Thompson - Nestled in an endless world of trash is the bittersweet story of recycling and rebirth for both discarded people and things. The illustrations are easily the most complex I've ever seen, and I always discover something new and beautiful in the piles of junk.

THE STORY OF MAY by Mordecai Gerstein - Forget Hop On Pop... this was the first book I read on my own. Something about the soothing, cyclical journey of little May traveling through her family of months was the perfect bedtime story.  I used to go through the year over and over again... 'til I actually started reading!

CHRYSANTHEMUM by Kevin Henkes - Of the many, many Henkes books that I adore, it was tough to choose between mice like Lilly and Owen. But something just kept saying in my head, "Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum!" What can I say... she's one of a kind.

ISH - by Peter H. Reynolds - Artists are often their own worst critics, and sometimes they need a little encouragement from others.  When I feel like my work isn't measuring up, all I have to do is take a look at Reynolds' whimsical illustrations and remember that it's okay to be "ish"!

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL KID IN THE WORLD by Jennifer A. Ericsson, illustrated by Susan Meddaugh - I'd be crazy if I didn't mention the picture book about me, written by my mother (a children's book author). As the story goes, I loved to dress up in weird outfits, and busted them out at some inopportune moments, like fancy dinner parties. I may have outgrown the tutu, but this book captured my individuality in print for the rest of my childhood!

MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS by Robert McCloskey - Since Boston is the closest city to my hometown, I not only grew up with this story, but I experienced it annually by making the trek during the city's Duckling Day Parade. McCloskey's sensitive sepia drawings are nothing short of perfect, and I'll be cheering on the little homeward-bound ducks for generations.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Library of the Early Mind

The other night I went to the New York Public Library for the screening of the interesting documentary Library of the Early Mind. a collection of interviews with children's book writers, illustrators, editors and historians.
Here's a brief note on the pleasant evening.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Stephen Savage's Picture Book List

Stephen Savage has illustrated 3 picture books so far: the bestselling Polar Bear Night (written by Lauren Thompson), The Fathers Are Coming Home (written by Margaret Wise Brown), and the forthcoming Where's Walrus (written by no one -- it's wordless!): here's a video preview.  

His editorial illustration has appeared in dozens of major newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly and The Wall Street Journal. In 2008, he was the recipient of a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and their daughter. 

Here are his top 10 picture books: 

1. THE WHALES GO BY - by Fred Phleger, pictures by Paul Galdone. 

This is the first picture book I ever fell in love with. It's very simple...  just a story of whales migrating to their winter home in Baja, California. In some ways, though, I feel like I look at the world through the lens of this book. I always wondered how/why the artist put my sister and I on the cover.

2. THE SNOWY DAY - by Ezra Jack Keats. 

Keats is just brilliant in this book (and in all of his books). He 
really knew how to make words and pictures dance together without 
making them step on each other's toes. From the text: "And he found something sticking out of the snow that made a new track."[next page]: "It was a stick".  Talk about activating the imagination. 

3. THE STORY OF BABAR - by Jean de Brunhoff. 

I am forever traumatized by some of the imagery in this book, namely the old king eating mushrooms and falling ill AND the brutal shooting of Babar's mother. And though you'd never get away with that sort of storytelling these days, those low moments help you experience (and buy into) Babar's transformation later on in the story. It's one of the seminal stories from childhood... almost like "The Wizard of Oz". 

4. ARROW TO THE SUN - by Gerald McDermott. 

I've always been interested in stylized and minimal forms and had a 
thing for Navajo Sand painting when my 3rd grade teacher showed us the animated film version of this Pueblo Indian tale. I'm still amazed that something so 'abstract' and stylized can tell a story. 

5. THE GIVING TREE - by Shel Silverstein. 

I first worked in children's books 20 years ago and illustrated my 
first picture book 6 years ago and only read this book for the first 
time last year (probably because my 15-month-old daughter handed it to me). I dunno... something about those bare line drawings never 
attracted me. By the end of the reading, my daughter was looking at me like, "daddy... why are you crying?". It's crazy how those line 
drawings bring the tears. 

6. GO DOG GO - by P.D. Eastman. 

My older brother told me recently, "You used to squeal with delight 
when the little poodle dog would ask, "do you like my hat? No, I do not!" This is a book that has so much happy energy. I still love the dog party at the end. What a blast. And Eastman's deceptively simple drawings move in space. 

7. THE ORANGE BOOK - by Richard McGuire. 

This book came out while I was a MFA Illustration student at the 
School of Visual Arts. I took one look at it and said, "I will also try to illustrate a kid's book when I get out of school." Nice that it's BARELY narrative. Richard told me later: "the book is really just a list of things".
8. EMILY'S BALLOON - by Komako Sakai. 

My daughter was obsessed with balloons earlier this year, so during 
one of her visits to her auntie's house, she received this book as a 
gift. "Oh no", we thought, "not another balloon book!". But as I got 
to the end as I was reading it the first time, my throat got tight and 
my eyes got watery. It's just beautiful. There's a sadness and a 
longing there, just like in Miyazaki's animated classic "Spirited Away". The Japanese storytellers really know how to do melancholy. 

9. LEAVES - by David Ezra Stein. 

My wife discovered this gem at a local bookstore and it's become our new fave. The text is perfect. Not a word out of place. I've been 
reading it a lot at bedtime lately and I can't believe how quickly the 
story goes by. You miss it when it ends. And Stein's drawings speak in the same voice as the words. A reviewer used the word "seamless". Amen. 

10. HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON - by Crockett Johnson. 

This book is totally / completely / absolutely original. I read 
recently that Spike Jonze had intended to film the story (before he 
started Where the Wild Things Are), but dropped his plans halfway into development when he discovered it was un-filmable. Uh... duh.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Erica Perl's Picture Book List

Erica S. Perl is the author, most recently, of Dotty, illustrated by the talented Julia Denos.  Her other picture books include Chicken Butt!, Ninety-Three in My Family and Chicken Bedtime Is Really Early. Look at her website for more.
In addition to writing for children, Erica works for the national non-profit organization First Book, which has provided over 70 million brand new books to programs and schools serving children in need.

Here she goes:

A List of Twelve of My Favorite Picture Books (Masquerading as a List of Ten):
My favorite picture book of all time is SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE by William Steig.  I love everything about this book:  the subtle humor, the matter-of-fact dictation of events, the rawness of the emotions, and the riskiness of the premise.  But I think Steig’s pacing and his creation of tension more than anything is what is astonishing.  When Father and Mother Donkey sit down to have their picnic, even if you know what’s coming next, you can’t help holding your breath.
Arnold Lobel was a genius, and I would certainly have mentioned OWL AT HOME or one of his Frog and Toad books, except I think of them as early readers.  GIANT JOHN is a picture book and it is a great one.  My favorite pages involve visual depictions of the Giant family’s suffering:  the two potato chips in their cupboard, and Ma Giant about to dine on her shoe as John bursts through the door with his bag of gold.
I’m also a huge Russell and Lillian Hoban fan, so I’m going with A BIRTHDAY FOR FRANCES, which introduces the excellent imaginary character “Alice” as well as Frances’ angry creative spelling and the wonderful “Chompo bar” episode.  
MAY I BRING A FRIEND by Beatrice Schenk des Regniers, illustrated by Beni Montresor.  Bliss.  I grew up thinking it was a book about a child’s friendship with animals (which I related to very strongly) and enjoying the unconventional yet beautifully structured meter of the verse (which is sort of like a mobile, with dangling parts that all balance each other).  Now, I see it as a book about grandparents and unconditional love.  Weird, huh?
Speaking of poems, some of the best picture books are, essentially, poems.  For example, Dr. Seuss’ THE SLEEP BOOK (which I think is his best work) and Amy Schwartz’s A TEENY TINY BABY.  These two are very different from each other (one lives in the land of fantasy, while the other is rooted in realism), but both treat their subjects with reverence and perfect attention to detail.
Next up:  FISH IS FISH by Leo Lionni.  I hate “message” books.  Good thing this isn’t one.  It’s just a great story about cross-cultural friendship, being comfortable with who you are, and cows with wings and feet.

I will always be in awe of ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY, though the Judith Viorst book that I perhaps love the most is THE TENTH GOOD THING ABOUT BARNEY.  I practically can’t say the title without starting to sob.
BABAR AND ZEPHIR by Jean de Brunhoff.  True story: we had this book on a phonograph record, which included songs.  If anyone finds it on eBay, let me know.  I love the monkey village and the secret mermaid promises and kidnapped monkey princess (Extra! Extra!  Monkey Princess Vanishes!) and the petulant monsters and the bizarre elaborate premise of this book.  Not much Babar here, but enough Zephir to make up for it!
THE STUPIDS DIE by Harry Allard, illustrated by James Marshall.  Extra points awarded for the title alone.  This book and others in the series broke new ground in terms of serious silliness.  For which all of us who write, read and appreciate humorous children’s books are extremely grateful.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Kate Coombs' Picture Book List

Kate Coombs writes, blogs about, and fervently collects children's books. Her first book, The Secret-Keeper, was an original folktale illustrated by Heather Solomon. She has since written two comic fantasies for middle grades, The Runaway Princess and The Runaway Dragon. Her next picture book, a retelling of the Grimms' tale Hans My Hedgehog, is being illustrated by John Nickle and will
come out next summer. (She has a third picture book, The Tooth Fairy Wars, awaiting an illustrator and a publication date.) You can learn more about her books on her website.
Kate grew up in Southern California, the second of seven adopted children of various ethnicities. She rather inexplicably speaks Spanish and has a day job teaching homebound children for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Her current crop of students are all teenage boys, which means her assignments include analyzing Nirvana lyrics and writing character descriptions of evil ex-girlfriends.
Kate also reviews children's books at Book Aunt, where her love of fairy tales and subversive picture books occasionally rears its gobliny little head. She actually has dozens of favorite picture books
(Classic Picture Books, Most Beautiful Illustrations, Best Read-alouds, etc.). 

The following, she writes, is a relatively idiosyncratic selection.

1. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak
Some books don't live up to their hype. This one does. Still the most perfect blend of art and story ever created, illuminating the inner world of the child without resorting to obnoxious pop psychology. At the same time, it manages to be a heroic quest tale.

2. THE ARRIVAL by Shaun Tan
It's hard to know where to shelve it, but who cares? This evocation of the immigrant experience is one of the most moving, lovingly crafted, creative books ever published. I suspect its poignancy and beauty will never be surpassed. Watch for the ocean voyage as depicted by a journal of cloudscapes and the way Tan depicts the fears that overtake the refugees' homelands.

A crazy-cool rendition of the classic children's song. My favorite part is seeing the animals appear in the old woman's stomach when you turn the die-cut pages over. Taback did his manic art in crayon brights on a stark-black background. (Check out the running commentary from some of the animals!)

4. FRIDA by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Ana Juan
Biography is not my favorite genre, but this book is just wonderful. Take a look at the stunning
illustrations, especially the one representing Frida's chronic pain after her accident as briars. I also like the way Mexican folk art characters and motifs enhance the strange beauty of the story.

5. THE WHOLE GREEN WORLD by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Elisa Kleven
One of the happiest picture books I've ever read, offering idyllic scenes of childhood with a refreshing lack of sentimentality. The writing is pitch-perfect, as well, and the result is a lively, rolling ode to joy.

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse may be better known, but I adore this picture book about a little mouse girl irked by the arrival of a new baby brother. Henkes captures Lilly's strong personality with just a few inked lines set off by his cheerful watercolor palette. Look for Lilly's "story" about her new brother, especially her youthfully ruthless metaphors.

It's a tie, okay? "Let's Get a Pup!" wins for humor, but How to Heal a Broken Wing is more tender and offers up some striking cityscapes. In both his language and his artwork, Graham is particularly good at evoking the extraordinary power of the ordinary love within a family.

8. MY LIGHT by Molly Bang
Science has always seemed so marvelous and magical to me, and this book captures that spirit richly as the Sun tells its own story of giving light and energy to the earth. My favorite illustrations have deep midnight blue backdrops with light/electricity gleaming yellow in the
foreground. In all of her spreads, Bang uses color with a strong, clean style that seems almost symbolic.

9. ELSIE PIDDOCK SKIPS IN HER SLEEPS by Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Charlotte Voake
Apparently a favorite of professional storytellers, this lengthy classic is about a girl who can jump rope better than anyone, including the fairies. Charlotte Voake's light lines are as graceful as jump ropes and fairies and Elsie Piddock herself.

10. MANY MOONS by James Thurber, illustrated by Marc Simont
Another long, whimsical read-aloud, this one about a princess who is ill and decides that being given the moon will make her feel much better. The king and his court go through contortions trying to fulfill her request. An earlier edition illustrated by Louis Slobodkin won the Caldecott Medal, but I really like this new version by Marc Simont, with its luminous fairy tale feel.