Posts tagged Lane Smith

The Horn Book: Design Matters, by Jon Scieszka

For some time I had been working on a post about the importance of design in books, an element that is often overlooked but plays a decidedly essential role in the creation of a good book. Skillful design can make an otherwise deficient book seem superior; a poorly designed book, that is in all other respects a worthy book, may be quickly overlooked. But a masterfully designed book that contains a captivating story and engaging illustrations is a work of art. Ironically, exceptional design may go unnoticed, as all the reader remembers is having experienced a wonderful book.

Then I read the below article by Jon Scieszka from the March/April 1998 issue of The Horn Book in which he perfectly articulates why book design matters, with a much more funny and entertaining approach. 

Scieszka was the first National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature and is the creator of Guys Read, a web-based literacy program for boys. He has written many books for children including The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Cowboy and Octopus and Robot Zot.

The supremely talented Lane Smith illustrates many of Scieszka’s books. Smith, an author as well as an illustrator, has written many books, including It’s a Book, Grandpa Green and John, Paul, George and Ben.

The consummate designer Molly Leach, who is also Smith’s wife, designs all of his books. (Check out this great video of the two of them discussing the book making process.) Leach makes every book she puts her name to spring to life.

Together, Scieszka, Smith and Leach have created some of the most ground breaking and memorably funny best-selling picutre books of the last twenty-five years.

Read the article.

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The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, a cautionary tale about the value of community.

I originally posted this review on September 20, 2012. George Saunders’s latest book, Tenth of December, has been getting quite a lot of well deserved attention so I wanted to take this opportunity to remind readers of this lovely gem he wrote for children.



The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip 


Middle Reader

Ages 5-12

By George Saunders

Illustrated by Lane Smith

84 pages

Villard Books



Persistent: continuing firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition

Gappers: baseball sized, bright orange creatures with multiple eyes


Frip: a small, seaside town consisting of three leaning shacks


George Saunders received a MacArthur Fellowship (aka, a genius grant) in 2006 and is generally an adult writer by trade. His short stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, GQ, Harper’s and McSweeney’s, to name a few. I’ve not acquainted myself with his other works, but I adore this book. Saunders has a gift for weaving a tale while dropping in bits and pieces that all come together to form a delightful story. And an ideal story for the illustration style of Lane Smith.

If you know children’s books, you know Lane Smith. He is the illustrator of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, The Time Warp Trio Series, Grandpa Green, It’s a Book, and many, many others. His style is unmistakable, even with all the copycats out there; no one comes close to Lane. He combines a variety of media to create the most engaging, enticing, quirky, interesting and utterly perfect art. I adore his books. All of them.

If you don’t know Lane Smith’s books, a whole new world is about to open up for you.

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip is a cautionary tale; one which demonstrates that you should not take joy in another’s misfortune, for you may someday find yourself in a similar position.

Frip’s entire population is made up of three families—Capable, and her recently widowed father, the Romos and the Ronsens—and though they all live by the sea, their livelihood is reliant on their goats, since goats make milk that the families can sell.

Gappers, those meddlesome creatures, love goats more than anything else. They attach themselves to the goats, and then proceed to emit a high-pitched squeal of pleasure. This is troublesome to the goats; it causes them lose sleep, lose weight, and eventually, stop giving milk.


It is the job of the children to brush the gappers off their family’s goats, gather the gappers in sacks, and empty the sacks into the sea. It takes the gappers three hours to crawl out of the ocean, up the cliff and back onto the goats. Therefore, the children must perform this task eight times a day. Every day.


Capable’s house is closest to the sea so the gappers always reach her goats first. When one marginally smarter gapper realizes that they can get all the goats they need from this one family, things become unbalanced.

The Romos and Ronsens couldn’t be more pleased to be relieved of their brushing duties and are all too vocal about it. Now Capable is doing the work of three families all by herself and she cannot keep up. Despite her father’s wishes, Capable asks the neighbors for help. Not only are they not willing to help, but they also blame Capable for bringing this plague upon herself! In fact, they’ve moved their houses farther away from hers so as not to “catch” whatever it is she has that brought all the gappers to her yard, instead of spreading out over all three yards.

Capable can take no more. Though her neighbors tell her she should work harder, smarter and more efficiently than physically possible, she rounds up all her goats and sells them in a nearby town. Capable knows she tried her best and her best hadn’t worked. She decides to take up fishing; something that no one in Frip has done for quite a long time.

The gappers are forced to move onto the next family’s goats, those that belong to the Romos. Evidently, it had not occurred to the other families that the gappers would be back to taunt their goats once Capable’s goats were gone. With the tables turned, the Romos now look to the Ronsens for help. The Ronsens, clearly not anticipating what is to come, refuse to help. After a series of ridiculous (yet true to life) strategies to rid themselves of gappers, the Romos and the Ronsens find themselves in dire circumstances. Capable, initially pleased to see the families get their comeuppance, takes pity and invites them for dinner. 


Finally seeing the wisdom of Capable’s ways, the Romos and the Ronsens decide to sell their goats and take up fishing. And things in this small seaside town get a little better.


But what of the gappers? With the all the goats gone they need to find a new object of devotion to which they can attach themselves and emit their loving shrieks. They soon find something perfectly suitable to their needs, creating the scene of one of my favorite book endings ever.


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My top thirteen books for Halloween, from board to young adult.

Five Little Pumpkins


Ages birth to 3

By Dan Yaccarino

16 pages



Dan Yaccarino’s art is bright and bold and features expressive pumpkins, a ghost, a witch and a black cat. Based on the popular rhyme and finger play, this book offers a great opportunity to learn about colors, expressions and counting to five.


One, Two Boo

Board/ Lift-the-Flap

Ages 18 months to 3 years

by Kristen L. Depken

Illustrated by Claudine Gevry

12 pages

Golden Books


Meet a ghost, a cat and other traditional Halloween characters as you count your way through this lift-the-flap haunted house.


Spooky ABC

(Originally published as Halloween ABC in 1987)

Picture Book

Ages 3-6

By Eve Mirriam

Illustrated by Lane Smith

32 pages

Simon and Schuster


This Halloween themed alphabet book features a varied array of spooky items and creatures. F is for fiend, N is for nightmare, and X is for a xylophone made of bones. They’re all creepily and perfectly illustrated by the unmistakably talented Lane Smith.


Dem Bones

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By Bob Barner

32 pages

Chronicle Books


White skeletons, set against bright backgrounds, play instruments while teaching young listeners how all our bones connect. This picture book version of the Bones song features additional information about each of the bones as well.



Picture Book

Ages 2-7

By Robert Bright

48 pages

Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Originally published in 1944, Georgie is not strictly a Halloween book, but it is a great story about a ghost. Every house has a ghost. Georgie loves his house, all its squeaks and its owners. So when some of the squeaks and creaks get fixed, Georgie decides its time to find another house. After searching and searching, Georgie soon realizes he loves his house best.



Picture Book

Ages 3-7

By Dav Pilkey

32 pages



This is one of my favorite Halloween books. Dav Pilkey’s story is sweet and hilarious; his illustrations are colorful, and cartoon-y. The other dogs laugh at Oscar, a dachshund, because he’s so short and long. The teasing gets worse when Oscar’s mother dresses him as a hotdog for Halloween. But it’s Oscar that saves the night after the other dogs are chased into a lake by two mean cats.


The Halloween Play

(Originally published as The Halloween Performance in 1990)

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Felicia Bond

32 pages



Roger has a small and very important part in the school’s Halloween play. This adorable book follows all the pre-show jitters and anticipation through to the performance and post show excitement. Using warm colors to depict tiny Halloween characters, this book could easily become a year-round favorite.


The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything

Picture Book

Ages 4 to 8

By Linda Williams

Illustrated by Megan Lloyd

32 pages



When the little old lady is followed home by an empty pair of shoes, she tells them, “I’m not afraid of you!” Soon a pair of pants, then a shirt, and a pumpkin head joins them, and they’re all following her! The little old lady is still not afraid, and after rounding them all up, she has a lovely scarecrow for her garden. Lloyd’s bright, colorful folk art is a perfect complement to this spooky story with a funny ending.


Dragon’s Halloween

Early Reader

Ages 4-8

By Dav Pilkey

48 pages



This is another one of my favorite Halloween books. It contains three tales about Dragon and his Halloween adventures: “Six Small Pumpkins,” “The Costume Party” and “The Deep Dark Woods.” Dragon is one of my favorite early reader characters. He’s sweet, funny, adorable and endearing. The stories are wonderful and the art is irresistibly delightful.


Ed Emberly’s Drawing Book of Halloween

Activity Book

Ages 6 to 12

By Ed Emberly

32 pages

LB Kids


Ed Emberly leads young and aspiring artists, shape by shape, through the steps to drawing spooky characters and scenes. A great book for the family to share.


Little Monsters Cookbook

Activity Book

Ages 6-12

By Zac Williams

64 pages

Gibs Smith


Features thirty recipes for Halloween, or anytime kids want a spooky snack. Some of the recipes are simple and others more complicated to accommodate a range of ages. Large colorful photographs accompany all the recipes in this spiral-bound (genius!) cookbook.


The House with a Clock in its Walls

Middle Reader

Ages 8-13

By John Bellairs

179 pages



(Originally published in 1973)

John Bellairs (1938-1991) was an amazing storyteller who wrote adventurous tales of terror. This is the first book in the Lewis Barnavelt series. After Lewis’s parents die, he goes to live with his uncle in an old, large mansion full of secret passageways. The previous owner of the house was an evil wizard who planted a clock inside its walls, counting down to the end of the world. When Lewis accidentally awakens the dead on Halloween night, the clock begins ticking even faster.


Halloween Tree

Young Adult

Ages 10 to 16

By Ray Bradbury

160 pages



(Originally published in 1972)

In this eerie tale set on Halloween, eight costumed boys are lead through time and space by Mr. Moundshroud. While searching for their friend Pipkin, who was swept up by a dark something, the boys get a glimpse of how other, sometimes ancient, cultures celebrated this time of year.

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