Posts tagged Children’s books

If You Want to See a Whale: A quiet story in a perfect package.

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If You Want to See a Whale

Picture Book

Ages 2-7

By Julie Fogliano

Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

32 pages

Roaring Brook

2013

Book Trailer

 

 

If You Want to See a Whale is a flawlessly designed book. The diminutive trim size, approximately 9×7, begs to be held; the enticingly serene cover prompts readers to curl up and escape into its pages. Peeling away the deliciously smooth coated matte cover reveals a rich blue cloth with a humpback whale in relief. Complementing the deep blue background, the book’s title is stamped on the spine in a lavish copper foil which perfectly matches the endpapers. The interior paper has substantial weight and its milky white canvas spotlights the art.

 

Absent of punctuation and in a font reminiscent of a typewriter the exclusively lower-case text is judiciously set apart from the art, accentuating the story’s quiet, contemplative feel. This is not a story to be rushed through. This is a story about waiting, about being quiet, about being still. Readers, like the book’s main character, are rewarded for these virtues.

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Fogliano’s compact, lyrical prose is reminiscent of Ruth Krauss and Karla Kuskin but her style is decidedly her own. Her stories are thoughtful, poetic and sublimely profound. Like Fogliano and Stead’s other collaboration, And Then it’s Spring, If You Want to See a Whale offers tranquility—a welcome and necessary port in a sea of noise.

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Stead’s art— composed of whisper thin lines, fervently detailed and ever so delicate—invites the reader to study each spread. Color, at once saturated and transparent, is used sparingly. Stead’s incredibly involved process of creating the art can be viewed here.

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A young ginger haired boy and his loyal basset hound are determined to see a whale, but seeing a whale is no simple task. It requires an ocean, and a window for watching, and a chair for sitting, and patience, for it may take a very long time. A whale watcher cannot get too comfortable, for fear of falling asleep. A whale watcher cannot allow himself to be distracted by passing ships, or puffy clouds. A whale watcher must simply watch, and wait. And as with all important things in life, focus and determination pay off in the end.

 

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The Big Adventure of a Little Line by Serge Bloch

The Big Adventure of a Little LineIMG_1184

Picture Book

Ages 5 and up

By Serge Bloch

88 pages

Thames & Hudson

2016

 

 

 

 

 

Occasionally I’ll pick up a book from an author or illustrator I’m not familiar with and, after some research, will be stunned to discover that the person has published multiple books and is a sensation in another area of the world. French-born author and artist Serge Bloch is an example of one of these discoveries.

His animated SamSam series, based on his SamSam comic, is hugely popular in Europe. His series Max et Lili, (published in France since 1992) has sold millions of copies. He compiled and illustrated a book of Steve Martin’s tweets and he regularly draws editorial illustrations for publications including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, as well as Time and New York Magazine.

So, Serge Bloch’s extraordinary illustrations have finally etched their way into my consciousness, although I must have seen his work among the pages of some magazine or newspaper and filed it away in my brain because, as soon as I picked up The Big Adventure of a Little Line, the art was familiar. And probably not just because Bloch was clearly influenced by Tomi Ungerer, R.O. Blechman, Shel Silverstein, Quentin Blake and Charles Addams. Like these other masters of the line, Bloch is able to convey a considerable amount with minimal details. It is a true gift and I find this style immensely appealing.

I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing many artists as a result of my career in children’s books. The relationship between an artist and his art is complex and rife with struggles, but the artist’s art is essential to the artist’s well being. Creative compulsion can be exhilarating, comforting, and freeing. It can also be confusing, frightening, and debilitating. The combination of Bloch’s minimalist visual style and to-the-point story of living with and nurturing a creative drive lays bare the complicated relationship between an artist and his art starting at the most fundamental level.

Art as a profession is often the subject of parental fears. It can be incredibly difficult to develop and maintain an artistic career. But whether an artistic person decides to pursue a career in the arts is frequently irrelevant to the level of personal importance the art has in that person’s life. That creative impulse should be nurtured, loved, respected and supported. Should the person end up  in a job or career that is more financially practical, artistic expression  may prove to be an important outlet in maintaining a balanced life as well as the key to mental wellness. I highly recommend The Big Adventure of a Little Line for any person realizing an artistic inclination.

The book opens with a wistful looking boy out for a walk when he spots a small reddish-orange line lying by the side of the road. Intrigued, the boy takes the line home and rests it on a shelf alongside other cherished objects. The line sits mostly forgotten until the boy takes it down and lays it on an open page in his notebook. Thus begins the life of an artist.

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Like many lifelong relationships, this one  starts simply, though not necessarily easily, and develops over time into something integral. The boy and the line need to learn about each other, and find a way to co-exist. We follow the newly formed pair through airy, uncluttered spreads of discovery and understanding, interspersed with chaotic images of frustration and struggle.

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The line helps the boy grow into a man and becomes his complement. Traveling the world, delighting children, opening exhibits, stirring emotions and fraternizing with other artists, the creative relationship proves magical.

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The artist grows old, and eventually he and the line agree that it is time to use a bit of their magic to inspire others. As the book comes to a close, the contented elder artist snips off a small bit of his line and deposits it on a stretch of road. It is quickly spotted by a grinning girl who immediately tucks it into her pocket, an apt metaphor.

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An inherently beautiful effect of art is to bring about thoughts, feeling and emotions that one might not otherwise have had. Art does not simply exist as an expression of the artist, it also moves, inspires and stimulates. I like to imagine that many little pieces of the artist’s line were discovered, collected and carried by others throughout the career of the man and his craft, whether he meant to inspire or not.

 

 

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Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown: An instant classic.

Mr. Tiger Goes WildMr.TigerCover

Picture Book

Ages 2-8

By Peter Brown

44 pages

Little, Brown

2013

 

This is Peter Brown’s ninth picture book and I’ve grown to love him more and more with each one. With scenes that unfold in playfully designed locations, and supremely likeable, quirky characters, readers can’t help but be lured into the world of Mr. Tiger. Brown was awarded a 2013 Caldecott Honor for Creepy Carrots and, truth be told, I was a little disappointed that Mr. Tiger Goes Wild was not among this year’s Caldecott recipients.

 

Brown’s art is evocative of Ezra Jack Keats, Margaret Bloy Graham and Miroslav Sasek, yet despite displaying shades of all these masters, Brown’s pleasing and idiosyncratic artistic style stands out as uniquely his own. Certain spreads reminded me of the animated Disney film, The Jungle Book and I later read in an interview that Brown watched a lot of old animated Disney films, including The Jungle Book, while working on Mr. Tiger.

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The opening spreads of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild introduce Mr. Tiger’s world, replete with upright quadrupeds adorned in stiff Victorian attire. The perfectly ordered art is created with a muted palette of grays and browns.

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As the story progresses, the art grows more feral and verdant; the final spreads strike a satisfying balance between conformity and frenzy.

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The consistent palette of greens, grays and browns is broken only by Mr. Tiger’s delightful flare of orange.

 

Brown’s skillfully efficient story telling allows for sparse text; there are several spreads with no words at all. His cheeky narrative breathes humor and energy into the already astounding artwork.

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As the story opens, Mr. Tiger is a dapper, city-dwelling cat with an undeviating expression of displeasure. He lives among respectable animals in a proper society. Everyone around him seems perfectly content but Mr. Tiger is bored.

 

At this early stage of the story almost all of the characters are going about their lives with closed eyes. Mr. Tiger (who is on the verge of acting wild) and the children (who are being scolded for acting wild) are the only ones with open eyes. As soon as Mr. Tiger carries out his first wild idea, everyone’s eyes are open.

 

“And then one day Mr. Tiger had a very wild idea.”

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Mr. Tiger immediately felt better and grew a little bit wilder each day; before long, he’d pushed it too far.

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His friends, outraged, suggested that Mr. Tiger take his behaviors elsewhere, and into the wilderness he ran.

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“…where he went completely wild!”

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As time passed, Mr. Tiger grew lonely; he missed his home and his friends. He decided to return to the city.

Upon returning, Mr. Tiger found that a wonderful thing had happened. His friends and neighbors were no longer perfectly genteel—though still sporting Victorian attire, some had taken to all fours.

“Now Mr. Tiger felt free to be himself. And so did everyone else.”

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Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is all about balance—wild behavior can be beneficial, in appropriate contexts, civilized behavior is necessary if you want to exist in a society—and this book strikes a perfect balance on every level.

 

Certainly there are plenty of books that enjoy long lives as classics without any medals adorning their covers. Conversely, some medal-winning books fade into oblivion not long after their initial time in the spotlight. Though I believe this book deserved the recognition of the Caldecott committee, I also believe it will live a long life in print just like some other non-medal winning, perennially adored classics. Mr. Tiger Goes Wild will be in good company with Corduroy, Harry the Dirty Dog and Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel.

 

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