Posts tagged picture book review

Who Is Melvin Bubble? by Nick Bruel: Fun with point of view.

Who Is Melvin Bubble? cover

Who is Melvin Bubble?

Picture Book

Ages 3-9

By Nick Bruel

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2006

 

 

Nick Bruel is the creator of the enormously popular Bad Kitty series, which features a feisty and mischievous cat. His writing is funny and clever, his exaggerated characters have vast appeal and his art is brightly colored and engaging.

 

Who Is Melvin Bubble? opens with a letter from a boy named Jimmy, imploring the author to write a book about his best friend Melvin Bubble. What follows is both an excellent lesson in perspective and a well-crafted picture book.

The author asks several people the same question, who is Melvin Bubble? Each response generates a different perspective on this young boy, and gives a bit of insight on the responder as well. The caricature-like characters are vibrantly colored and their responses are encapsulated in giant word bubbles and coupled with visualizations.

 

Melvin Bubble’s dad calls Melvin a chip off the old block; his mom says he may be the messiest boy in the world.

Who Is Melvin Bubble? interior

 

Melvin Bubble’s teddy bear tells readers how much Melvin likes hugs.

Who Is Melvin Bubble? interior

 

His best friend says “Melvin’s the coolest kid I know! He can whistle “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider through his nose!”

 

Santa Claus has only good things to say about the boy who always makes his nice list, but the Tooth Fairy had an unfortunate experience having to do with the boy’s very large head.

Who Is Melvin Bubble? interior

 

Taking some hilarious turns and building comic momentum, the author also solicits responses from a big, ugly monster with three eyes, a beautiful princess and a magic rock (a wonderful homage to Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig). The rock turns out not to magic after all so the author turns to a talking zebra instead. The zebra’s response, a nod to the humor of Looney Tunes, is my favorite.

Who Is Melvin Bubble? interior

 

Finally, the author asks Melvin Bubble himself to describe who he is, and all the pieces fall neatly into place.

Who Is Melvin Bubble? interior

 

Through its layered perspectives, Who is Melvin Bubble? offers children an opportunity to recognize alternate points of view. It may also prompt them to think more about the concept of identity and how one person can be different things to many people. This hilarious and energetic picture book is sure to be a read-aloud favorite.

 

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The Boy and the Airplane by Mark Pett: Love at first sight.

The Boy and the Airplane

boy and airplane

Picture Book

Ages 2-8

By Mark Pett

40 pages

Simon and Schuster

2013

 

 

 

I know the old adage “you should never judge a book by its cover” but sometimes I can see the cover of a book and just know I’m going to love what’s inside. Such was the case with The Boy and the Airplane, a beautifully designed book that quietly demands to be picked it up and enjoyed. Its unfussy composition outshined the loud, glittery jackets that surrounded it in the bookstore. It has a faded, brown paper cover with a crimson spine. Block letters, whitened with light scribbles, spell out the title next to a small, delicately drawn boy holding an airplane that shares its luscious crimson color with the book’s spine.

The art, which seems to be made primarily with watercolor and colored pencils, looks as though it’s been created on butcher paper of various hues—earthy, faded tones of blue, grey, brown and green. Mark Pett is the creator of two syndicated comic strips, Mr. Lowe and Lucky Cow, and this wordless picture book has the feel of a perfectly crafted comic strip extended over forty mesmerizing pages. There are no backgrounds and the action consists only of the boy and his activities.

The book opens with the boy—curly-haired, wide-eyed and with no mouth—holding a large, wrapped box that he has just received from an unseen man exiting off the left side of the book.

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In the next spread the boy unwraps the gift to find an airplane, deep red with a white propeller; a large smile appears on his face and he’s off and running.

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Over the following several pages the boy joyously entertains himself with the new toy while a small, subtly drawn bird, watches the action. Occasionally, Pett draws a faint, barely-there line to denote movement but the energy of the art conveys plenty of motion without additional indicators.

Before long, the airplane lands on the roof of the house; with the plane stuck, the boy’s smile (and mouth) disappears.

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He tries several methods of retrieving the plane, many of which are accompanied by adorable costumes, but he cannot free it from the high perch.

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Then the boy has an idea, an idea that will take years to execute. He plants a tree.

Over the next several pages, readers watch on as the seasons change and the boy and the tree grow.

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Before long the boy is an old man and the tree is broad and strong. The old man, bald, bearded and sporting overalls, climbs the tall tree. He reaches the roof and reclaims his plane at long last.

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Finally reunited with his toy, a wide smile emerges through the man’s fluffy beard. And just as he’s about to give the plane a vigorous toss into the air, he thinks the better of it.

The book closes with the still-smiling old man exiting on the right; on the left, a small, mouth-less girl holds a large, wrapped box.

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Buy the book!

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Old Thomas and the Little Fairy by By Dominique Demers and Stéphane Poulin: a beautifully haunting picture book.

Old Thomas and the Little Fairy DSC01816

Picture Book

Ages 5-9

By Dominique Demers

Illustrated by Stéphane Poulin

32 pages

Dominique and Friends

2000

Out of print

 

Dominique Demers is a best-selling French-Canadian author but, sadly, most of her books have not made it across the border. Old Thomas is the only book by her I’ve ever read, and I adore it. Demers’s writing is beautiful; she carefully chooses her words, imparting as much information as possible without weighing down the story. It’s like a fairy tale—not in the usual sense, though the story does involve a fairy—in that it follows that clear, quick style of writing. With just a few short sentences readers are drawn into Old Thomas’s world.

This is also the only book I’ve ever seen illustrated by Stéphane Poulin, whose somber art is the perfect complement to this odd and touching story. Somehow dim and radiant at the same time, his deeply rich,  stark oil paintings seem to fill more space than the pages that contain them. Each spread is its own masterpiece. Old Thomas bears a striking resemblance to Geri from the Pixar short Geri’s Game and looms large on the pages in which he appears, especially in contrast to the small, delicate fairy.

 

Old Thomas lives alone by the ocean. He no longer fishes and he’s sworn off humans. He’s very old, and very angry. At night he walks the beach and shouts insults at the moon and stars. But when he finds a tiny girl no bigger than a matchstick washed up on shore, he cannot leave her behind. She’s probably not human, she’s so small; might she be a fairy? Old Thomas takes the diminutive being home.

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He makes a small bed for her out of a shell; he drips rain water into her miniature mouth. Taking excellent care of his new charge, he brings her back to health. He starts walking the beach collecting sweet fruit for her and he begins fishing again. When he next goes out to shout insults at the sun, he discovers his anger has left him.

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One day Thomas is out in his boat catching fish for his wee friend when he is overcome by an ominous feeling; he rushes back to shore. Upon reaching his home he finds a large dog standing over the frightened girl. Thomas summons all his strength and courage and successfully fights off the beast. The girl, having fainted from the scare, awakens to a battered Thomas lying unconscious on the floor.

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Returning all the love and tenderness Old Thomas has shown her, she brings him sweet fruit and fish, but Thomas won’t have it. He knows his time has come and he’s ready to go.

“He no longer wanted to insult the moon or the sea, the sun or the wind. His little fairy was there at his side, safe and sound and wonderfully alive. Old Thomas was content.”

That night, Old Thomas surrendered himself to the sea.  As the waves washed him away there was a great chorus of birds singing, and the little girl disappeared. The beach was empty, save the “mulitcoloured pebbles, ribbons of seaweed and pearly nuggets” left behind.

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This is a beautiful and haunting story. Is the young girl a fairy? Has she appeared to prepare Old Thomas for his death? Why does she disappear after he dies? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps it only matters that Old Thomas did not leave this world angry; he was able to love and be loved, however briefly, before it was all gone forever.

 

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A Tree Is Nice, and this picture book is a perfect reminder.

A Tree Is NiceTreeCover

Picture Book

Ages 2-7

By Janice May Udry

Illustrated by Marc Simont

32 Pages

HarperCollins

1956

1957 Caldecott Medal Winner

 

 

Janice May Udry wrote seven picture books, including Let’s Be Enemies and Moon Jumpers, both illustrated by Maurice Sendak. A Tree is Nice was her first picture book, and it is divine. Her unpretentious text is direct and expressive.

Marc Simont has appeared on TurtleAndRobot before, see The Philharmonic Gets Dressed and My Brother Ant. In A Tree is Nice his drawing style is loose and unrestricted; he doesn’t squander lines. Giving just enough information and omitting fine details, he’s creating a feeling with each scene as much as a picture.

The spreads alternate between black and white and color. The luxuriant, saturated color art arouses warm, joyous feelings.

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In the black and white illustrations Simont uses a gray wash and thicker, more strategic strokes, generating a quiet, meditative feeling.

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And every spread evokes serenity and comfort.

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Trees are nice. They offer shade, they make the woods, they’re good for hanging swings on and they make sticks!

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This exquisitely simple picture book provides many reasons trees are nice, and some reasons just one tree is nice too.

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This book will make you want to plant a tree, or climb a tree, or lie down under a tree and take a nap. And really, don’t all of those things sound perfectly delightful?

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Buy the book!

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