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.

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