Posts tagged picture book review

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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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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If I Had a Dragon by Tom and Amanda Ellery: Who’s more fun, a baby brother or a dragon?

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Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By Tom Ellery

Illustrated by Amanda Ellery

40 pages

Simon & Schuster

2006

 

 

The opening page in If I Had a Dragon features a command:

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The urgency and exasperation in the voice of the speaker are palpable but the recipient of the command is unmoved.

“I don’t want to play with my brother. He’s too little.”

This common objection among children with younger siblings will be familiar to many parents and readers. Morton wishes his lump of a baby brother would change into something fun like a bulldozer or—even better—a dragon!

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Comic scenes play out between the hulking, bright green dragon and the small boy, whose shock of red hair is a wonderful complement to the emerald reptile. The massive creature is stretched over the spreads against a sparse, smoky background.

The boy imagines going for walks with his new giant friend.

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But a dragon would rather fly.

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Perhaps a game of hide and seek would be fun…

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But there are not many places such a humongous being could hide.

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Maybe the boy could teach his massive playmate to whistle?

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The succinct text is intermixed with wordless spreads and the simply drawn, cartoonish art is lively and expressive. The combination of the two makes for a hilarious picture book. As Morton imagines all the wonderful things he could do with a dragon, he quickly realizes how a dragon’s size and abilities could actually get in the way of all the fun.

Content in the knowledge that a dragon might not be the best playmate, the boy sends the imaginary beast home and happily joins his little brother for some fun in the sandbox.

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