From the category archives:

Carter Higgins

You're a Rude Pig, Bertie by Claudia Boldt

Images and text by Carter.

[Note from Gabrielle: This is the last book review that Carter prepped for us last month. It's another good one! Future book posts will come from me.]

I love it when a character is so awful and his mischief so outrageous that all you want to do is reach through the pages and knock some sense into him. The redemption in a rapscallion like that brings hope to hooligans everywhere. Bertie is one of those. The entire title of his book is a slice of how awful he is – You’re a Rude Pig, Bertie, by Claudia Boldt. The first time we meet this pig, it’s only his reflection in a mirror. A mirror! Oh, the vanity. It’s delicious and disconcerting for the first page of a story, right? This is no Wilbur. He’s no Babe. And he’s definitely no Mercy Watson.

He’s the worst. His standard greetings are nasty and mean-hearted, and the other animals in town are quite adept at the stink eye. But then he meets Ruby and undergoes a stunning shift of heart, much to the surprise of the stink-eyed crew. Blinded by love and blushing cheeks, Bertie decides to throw a party. Of course! Hurt feelings linger, though, and it will take some real persistence and a splash of empathy for Bertie to right his wrongs. We’ve all been on both sides of words that sting, both collecting and speaking them, and that’s why his story is so wholly satisfying.

You're a Rude Pig, Bertie by Claudia Boldt

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The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer

Images and text by Carter.

[ Note from Design Mom: I have this post, and one more from Carter, that she kindly prepared last month. I'm going to share this one today — it's so good I don't want to to miss it! — and the other next week, before I return to my own book write-ups. ]

I tend to get a tad hyperbolic with enthusiasm about picture books. Even my youngest students have questioned the impossibility of each and every book being my favorite. Guilty. There are worse things, right? But when I say that Tomi Ungerer’s The Three Robbers is the best of the best, I hope you hear my urgency and adoration. Let me try.

It’s a cover that both intimidates and beckons. Caped in darkness, a hovering red axe, and three piercing pairs of eyes. It takes a spot of courage and trust to even open it, but the reward is great. These three robbers are no ragamuffin crew. With their blunderbuss, pepper-blower, and that red axe, they wreak havoc in the night. Ruthless. Relentless. But then one bitter night, an actual blunder. The carriage they stopped held no treasure, only an orphan named Tiffany. She wore a frilly little dress and a bow-tied bonnet, and like any good robbers would do, they took her home and put her to bed. The three baddies didn’t know this, but she was on her way to live with a wicked aunt anyway. Could they have, perhaps – saved her?

The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer

In the morning, Tiffany stumbles upon their embarrassment of riches and asks an accidentally poignant question: “What is all this for?” And the robbers’ response? They choked and sputtered. Choked and sputtered. I love those words, that sentiment, that moment when their guts are gobsmacked by this tiny blonde thing. So far, Ungerer has cloaked their world in rich blacks and blues. But when you turn the page from this revelation over the treasure chest, those dark colors yield to light and color. From then on, the robbers’ mission becomes one of rescuing other lost, unhappy, and abandoned children. Their odd crew grows into a family, a castle with three tall towers at its heart.

The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer

It’s a book to absorb and experience by letting Tomi Ungerer’s storytelling genius wash right over you. Sure, some parts are unsettling and on the verge of frightening. There’s beauty in recognizing that, and there’s hope that lives in the darkest of places. Maurice Sendak credits Ungerer for the sheer existence of Where the Wild Things Are, a celebration of the genuine, unbridled chaos of childhood. Sendak said, “I think it is unnatural to think that there is such a thing as a blue-sky, white-clouded happy childhood for anybody. Childhood is a very, very tricky business of surviving it. Because if one thing goes wrong or anything goes wrong, and usually something goes wrong, then you are compromised as a human being. You’re going to trip over that for a good part of your life.”

I find a great deal of freedom and wisdom in Sendak’s words and Ungerer’s redemption story. What do you think?

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Caterina and the Perfect Party by Erin Eitter Kono

Images and text by Carter.

Are you partied out yet? This holiday season has definitely been a colorful blur of glitter and gifts and sparkle and sugar. But there’s one more party. Here’s your invitation! Meet Caterina, the bitty brown bird with a flower in her hair and the sassiest blue spectacles you’ll ever see. She’s the star of Caterina and the Perfect Party, by Erin Eitter Kono. She loves lists, her friends, and throwing parties. But it has to be perfect. So Caterina spins into a party overdrive – planning, inviting, decorating, and baking.

Caterina and the Perfect Party by Erin Eitter Kono

I think Caterina’s attention to detail is her love signature. Sure, she’s particular and a bit fussy, but all of her work is driven by a deep need to care for her friends. It’s such a beautiful sentiment for budding friendships, but also reminded me of the purpose behind the revolving door of celebrations this time of year. But then the worst thing happens. Things go terribly wrong. Wind, mud, and rain have no regard for Caterina’s hard work. Thank goodness the best of friends have no regard for things going terribly wrong, right?

Caterina and the Perfect Party by Erin Eitter Kono

P.S. – Each time I read this book I swoon a bit more over this enchanting brown bird. Her story would be a sweet party favor or gift for any dear friend with a birthday. You can see more of Caterina and her friends here. Don’t miss the most darling book trailer you’ll ever see, and check out the cute crafts!

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Want to Be in a Band? by Suzzy Roche and Giselle Potter

Images and text by Carter.

Giselle Potter is one of my favorite illustrators, so when I spied this new-to-me book of hers, I jumped on it. And then I found even more reasons to fall in love with this book. Want to Be in a Band?, written by Suzzy Roche, celebrates sisters, music, and fierce determination. Is that name familiar? Do you know The Roches?

Want to Be in a Band? by Suzzy Roche and Giselle Potter

The sisters’ harmonies are understated and soothing, if a bit unusual. That’s exactly why Giselle Potter’s illustrations are perfect for Suzzy Roche’s words. They are colorful, quirky, and full of life, a visual representation of the music of The Roches. Even if that particular band isn’t a favorite, could you see yourself in a story about bickering siblings? Or one about the grit of practicing and the soul of music? Want to Be in a Band? hits all the right notes, adding up to a beautiful whole.

Want to Be in a Band? by Suzzy Roche and Giselle Potter

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The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

Images and text by Carter.

This book’s title alone is enough to send any kid into a duo of shock and understanding belief. Try it. Show them the cover! I bet you’ll see little brows furrow with wonder and maybe a bit of guilt. There’s something hilarious and universal about their favorite tools seizing some power back from them, and I think that’s part of this story’s appeal: the kid becomes the antagonist. Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers execute The Day the Crayons Quit with massive kid appeal and playful zeal.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

All Duncan wants to do is color. The problem is, his crayons are kaput. Red is overworked from all things fire engine, strawberries, and Santa Claus. Beige is jealous of Brown’s role in bears, ponies, and puppies. And poor Pink, who just for once would love to be used as a dinosaur, monster, or cowboy. Each crayon reveals their plight through punchy voice in honest letters, and like a true friend, Duncan only wants the crayons to be happy. Can the crayons convince him to color outside the lines of creativity? This one’s for all of the Black crayons who just want to be a rainbow, and all of the Blues who’d like to see a different shade of sky.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

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No Fits, Nilson by Zachariah Ohora

Images and text by Carter.

Meet Nilson and Amelia, stars of No Fits Nelson! They are inseparable. Ukelele-playing, block-stacking, and scooter-ing together until bathtime. Nilson can’t do baths because he’s afraid of the water. Sometimes, Nilson throws loud, wailing, house-shaking fits. Sound familiar? But sometimes Nilson can’t be entirely to blame.

No Fits, Nilson by Zachariah Ohora

Zachariah Ohora has captured the meltdowns of toddlerhood and the frustrating feelings of things gone wrong. Why does that other guy have a banana and I don’t? And who likes the line at the post office anyway? This book is perfect for the mama who needs to remember that Nilsons and Amelias all over the place throw fits and tantrums. It’s perfect for kids who just might see themselves in the mirror of these two. It’s charming, calming, and good for a fit of giggles, too.

Plus, all fits are forgotten when it’s time for banana pancakes. This feels like a good rule of thumb for life, wouldn’t you say?

No Fits, Nilson by Zachariah Ohora

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Aaron Becker

By Carter. JOURNEY. Copyright © 2013 by Aaron Becker. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

When I returned to the library this year, I did so in October – easily seven weeks into the school year. I had new-kid jitters, and felt the weight of welcoming students back to a library that had been dark for a bit. Of course, those kids changed all of that the second I met them, and we are in the process of building a vibrant community together. That notion that the space is ours, not just mine sent me searching for a keystone story for our new foundation. Aaron Becker’s Journey became that keystone, and I hope this glimpse into Journey and its brilliant creator is as thrilling for you as it has been for me and all of my new reader-friends.

1. What books grabbed you as a kid and never let you go?

All of Ed Emberley’s drawing books. They taught me that I could create the realms within my imagination with nothing but humble lines, squiggles, and circles.

2. Is there something about childhood that you try to capture in your work?

It may be a case of arrested development, but for me, it’s not a motivation to discover anything I might have once felt, but instead to express who I am now. The feelings of being a child are still very much alive and thriving inside me.

Just this morning, while playing Peter Pan to my daughter on our way to school, I heard the narrator say this: “It was then that Hook bit him. Not the pain of this but its unfairness was what dazed Peter. It made him quite helpless. He could only stare, horrified. Every child is affected thus the first time he is treated unfairly. All he thinks he has a right to when he comes to you to be yours is fairness. After you have been unfair to him he will love you again, but he will never afterwards be quite the same boy. No one ever gets over the first unfairness; no one except Peter.” As it is for Peter, this idea of always being surprised by unfairness is very much true for me. It’s what makes me an optimist and forever confused around jaded, cynical adults.

More Q&A, plus gorgeous glimpses of JOURNEY straight ahead!

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The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse by Helen Ward

Images and text by Carter.

Aesop’s ageless fable The Town Mouse and The Country Mouse is retold and illustrated in these pages by Helen Ward. Her rich watercolors are lush and light, and each mouse’s home teems with life and detail. And in an unexpected and wonderful twist, the city mouse’s home is bustling and busy with the bright lights of Christmas time.

When the city mouse visits the country, he tells his cousin of all the wonders of the city. But look closely! The amazing sights and sounds of the city cause our young country mouse to ignore the luminescent looming moon and the starlight in the fields. The city mouse tells of exotic foods and sumptuous surroundings – all while the two are dining on plump berries and shaded under the bark of a loving tree. As the reader, you’ll feel the hints of the tale and reminders of finding your own contentment and satisfaction. But truly, the city mouse’s home is sparkling and special, too, and just might rally up some holiday cheer in little mice everywhere.

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse by Helen Ward

P.S. – Be sure to flip all the way to the end. The ultimate illustration is a moldy wheel of cheese providing a roly-poly city mouse a place of refuge. Never in my life have I seen such a stunning rendering of smelly old cheese!

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The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers   The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers

By Carter.

Did you enjoy getting to know Françoise Mouly as much as I did? I’m still stuck on the assertion (and reminder!) that “a book can be read every night and it will always be the same and different. It will be what your Dad read when he was a kid, and what you’ll read to your children. It has some elements that don’t change yet it’s a new adventure every time you reread it, because reading is truly interactive and the reader is half the story.” I keep reading those words over and over, falling in love all over again with books.

The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers

One of the newest releases from Mouly’s imprint, Toon Books, is this endearing tale of sisters, patience, and hope. You’ll love The Big Wet Balloon, by Argentine cartoonist Liniers. The back of the title page tells us that Liniers’ art was created with ink, watercolor, and drops of rain. The charm of this book stretches through its entire design – how often do you look to the verso for moments of magic? So with that, I was smitten.

And then there’s the story. Big sister Matilda wakes up little Clemmie with the rules for waking up on Saturday. You ‘hooray!’ extra loud and you slurp your juice because everything is better on Saturday. Except this Saturday, it’s raining. Pouring. But Matilda teaches Clemmie all about rainboots and umbrellas and splashing in puddles. It’s a mostly perfect day, until an accidental gift to a rainbow changes Clemmie’s mood. Matilda and Clementine are the sweetest of sisters – adventurous, forgiving, and best of all, in love with each other.

The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers

Remember the beloved French film, The Red Balloon? Clementine’s fierce love for her red balloon is as tender as that boy’s. This pair of tales is enchanting and even tingly. Toon Books agrees, and are offering the duo as an art lover’s delight. What a gift! What a celebration! What stories.

The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers

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Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

Images and text by Carter.

It’s about that time of year, when our littles may be donning fancy clothes and perfect manners and expected to be oh-so-proper. If you know exactly what I’m talking about, you have to see Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Caldecott Honor winner Peter Brown. (Little ones, you say?! But what about the rest of us?! Read on, then, friends.)

  Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

So exists Mr. Tiger. Stuffed into a suit, with a perfect top hat perched above. When we meet him, we instantly know his pain. He’s miserable. He’s bored. He wants to be a wild animal. I think we’ve talked a little bit about page turns in picture books and their spectacular moments of suspense, right? When Mr. Tiger gets his wild idea, he bobs and repeats, lower on the page until – he’s on all fours. If you don’t let out a satisfied squeal at this page, you might need to check your heartbeat! It’s hilarious and clever, and you’ll find yourself rooting more than ever for Mr. Tiger. Even his eyes are wider, and a smile spreads across his striped face. This book is for anyone who feels better after a good ROAR!

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

P.S. – One of my unabashed obsessions about the form of the picture book is clever storytelling in its endpapers. Peter Brown’s art is brilliant here. The opening endpapers show layers of brick, the buildings of the city. At the end? Wide open green, the flora and fauna of freedom.

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Lifetime by Lola M. Schaefer and Christopher Silas Neal

Images and text by Carter.

You probably didn’t know you were yearning for a beautiful presentation of numbers and animals. But you are, trust me. And you can find that in this book, Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal LivesIn one lifetime, a caribou grows and sheds antlers – ten times. In one lifetime, a woodpecker pecks thirty holes from which to peek. And would you ever have guessed that a lady red kangaroo will give birth to fifty joeys?! Or how about the male seahorse, who carries and births one thousand itsy-bitsy babies?

The way that this picture book presents factual information is both engaging and lovely. What a combination! Back matter explores the animals (and the math!) even further. This bound bunch of facts and art is at home as easily in the classroom as it is on the bedside table. Whether you teach with it or curl up with it, you’ll be wondering and learning all at once.

Lifetime by Lola M. Schaefer and Christopher Silas Neal

P.S. – Christopher Silas Neal is also the illustrator of one of Gabrielle’s favorites, Over and Under the Snow, which is a gorgeous one to settle in with if you are already welcoming winter to your part of the world. His warm, inviting, and textured style is perfect for illustrating the natural world. I’d love to wrap myself up in one of his pictures – except maybe the rattlesnake one!

Lifetime by Lola M. Schaefer and Christopher Silas Neal

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Interview: Françoise Mouly

November 13, 2013

Françoise Mouly

By Carter. Image by Sarah Shatz.

[ Note from Design Mom: Friends, you may have noticed that I paused our series of Author Interviews for awhile. But our resident children's book expert, Carter Higgins, is bringing the series back today in a major way! And with a bit of twist, too — today, you get to meet a publisher/art director, and one of my personal design idols. You'll love this interview. ]

I am so excited to introduce you to Françoise Mouly today! You might know her work as the art director of The New Yorker, but she’s also the founder and publisher of TOON Books, a collection of comics and graphic novels for early readers. Her vision for kids having access to well-designed comics is innovative and inspiring. It’s magical! And radical! On top of that, she’s a mom doing a fantastic job of infusing her career with the needs of her kids. What an honor to bring her words to you today. Enjoy!

1. You’ve said, “comics are a gateway into literature.” I love this! What can comics do for kids that other books can’t? And could you speak to the complex relationship between pictures and words within those pages?

In many ways, I’m working off of what I saw when our two kids learned to read. They’re both bright kids who were surrounded by books, with the same parents who love to read, but each child went about it in his or her own way, within his or her own timeline. They both loved comics, but it was clear to me that comics were what got our son hooked on reading — that’s when the lightbulb went on. I realized you can’t force someone to enter into the world of literacy. It’s far too complex a set of skills — the child has to want to make the story happen in his or her head. With comics, you provide a clear path to get through that thicket. Comics have a unique ability to draw young readers in through their visual narrative flow. In comics, pictures are acting as words, and those ‘words’ are instantly understandable to kids. They’ll follow the flow of the images, wanting to know why this character is angry, and why this one is crying. They move on the page from left to right, from top to bottom. They effortlessly read many elements of comics storytelling: the size and shape of the panels shows what’s important, the sound effects provide a parallel track; with the speech balloons, they see written dialogue as a transcription of spoken language. Most of the issues that emerging readers struggle with are instantly clarified by comics’ simple and inviting format. You’ll forgive me if I get excited, but for beginning readers, comics are pretty close to a magic bullet!

Silly Lilly

2. Can you tell us a little bit about your mission and hopes for TOON Books?

We want to share our love of books with new generations as they come of age in an increasingly visual culture. The more there are digital assaults on our kids’ attention, the more they need books, good books. With comics, kids can take charge, can be at the wheel. Watching kids devour our TOON books should convince any skeptics left in the house of how entertaining reading can be. The TOON’s open a child’s eyes up not just to comics, but to any book’s pleasures, so it’s very important to publish books that will withstand repeated readings, books that are beautifully produced, and put them in young children’s hands. Years ago, I was passionately arguing that “COMICS — They’re not just for kids anymore!” But now that comics, in the guise of “Graphic Novels”, have acquired legitimacy — now that they are in libraries, museums, and bookstores — I’m just as passionately arguing that comics must not, in their bid for respectability, leave children behind. “COMICS — They’re not just for grown-ups anymore!” That’s my new slogan!

VIV.g.hires.spreads.cover_Page_02

3. Is there a cover of The New Yorker or a particular illustration that you would consider your favorite piece?

I take pride in the fact that the covers have not gotten predictable, that in the 20 years I have been in charge, it hasn’t settled into a “New Yorker” cover style. I’m proud of so many great covers, and of the range of artists we publish: David Hockney, Robert Crumb, Barry Blitt, Maira Kalman, Bruce McCall, so many geniuses. I get to work with the best artists of my time; it’s a real privilege. But still there’s one cover that’s more meaningful to me personally than most, and it’s the one I did right after September 11 with my husband, Art Spiegelman, the black on black silhouettes of the towers on a black field, a cover both simple and complex. It was a turning point for me because the stakes were so high. I felt I couldn’t possibly succeed, that no drawing could possibly capture what we were going through at the time. The image was born out of that negation. I accepted what I felt, my feeling of utter powerlessness and that’s what I sketched. The fact that my inability to come up with an image was the path to just the right image was a great lesson.

The New Yorker

Cover by Françoise Mouly & Art Spiegelman
First published in The New Yorker, September 24, 2001
© 2001 Françoise Mouly & Art Spiegelman, The New Yorker

4. What physical objects, places, or people inspire you to create art?

I treasure new ways to look at something I thought I knew. I love going to museums with Art, my husband; he’s such a good observer and explainer of what he sees. Looking at art makes me want to rush home to try something, anything with paints. Also sitting in nature, looking at trees, or at a brook. Anything can be a trigger, because when you do something you put all of yourself into it. You don’t partition and think: “This came from art school, this from this morning’s subway ride, and this from what my kid just did.” You simultaneously process everything you go through, so contemplative moments are good triggers. When I take in something in fully, I get so excited it makes me want to create something new. 

More questions ahead! And some especially inspiring words about parenting.

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Rico the Brave Sock Monkey

Images and text by Carter.

I have a feeling that Little Golden Books are a part of our collective reading history. Am I right? The Poky Little Puppy was worn out with love in my house, and I could always count on the stack in my Granny’s basement having Tommy Visits the Doctor at the tippy top. They were slim, sturdy, and that golden spine always held the best stories.

Do you know the history of Little Golden Books? During World War II, paper was expensive, and so were books for children. But Little Golden Books launched in 1942 and sold each of their stories for a quarter. Not only were they sold in bookstores, but grocery and department stores carried them, too. They were available, beautiful, and literacy gained momentum.

Rico the Brave Sock Monkey

Thank goodness Little Golden Books have never gone out of style! Rico the Brave Sock Monkey knocked my socks off and reminded me of their magic. Rico wears a plaid waistcoat with big black buttons, and he’s long, lanky, and perfect to hug. He’s not afraid of anything — not the loud factory where he was made, not the box or the truck or the tissue paper in which he was wrapped, and not being flung in the air by his boy. The scariest thing of all? The loneliness of being forgotten. And even though he waits and waits, he remains the bravest monkey in the whole world.

P.S. – Are you in the D.C. area? If you can make it to the American History Museum before early January, check out this Little Golden Books exhibit. I’m hoping to get there when I’m back east for the holidays! If you can’t make it, you might like this book about their grand legacy

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Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot and Edward Gorey

Images and text by Carter.

This wacky and whimsical collection of poems by T.S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, was originally published in 1939. This particular version was reillustrated in 1982 by Edward Gorey, and this duo is fantastic in all its feline glory. Did you know that the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Cats, is adapted from these poems?

I’m a sucker for playful words and nonsensical syllables, all strung together in kooky vignettes. Add in cats — those aloof and goofy creatures, and this batch of verses is irresistible. There’s the Rum Tum Tugger who doesn’t care about cuddles, the Jellicle Cats and their Jellicle Ball, and the acrobatic Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer. T.S. Eliot leaves you with this dogged reminder: A Cat is Not a Dog.

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot and Edward Gorey

P.S. — I am slightly terrified of cats. Something about those knowing eyes and the way they can scrunch all their bones up into no space at all just gives me chills! But if I ever soften up and let one in, I’ve already named him Tim Riggins. I might not be a cat lady, but I certainly have cat quirks!

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Jane Eyre

November 4, 2013

Jane Eyre, by Emily McDowell

By Carter.

I confess that it’s been a while since I read Jane Eyre, so the stories’ intricacies are a tad fuzzy. But the big picture, this battle cry of following your gut rather than the norm or expected — well, it makes me grin. Charlotte Brontë wrote this line straight from the heart of her heroine, Jane. Even hundreds of years later and far removed from Jane’s world, the pluck in these words move me. Jane’s independence is a gritty reminder to be unapologetic and satisfied by the pursuit of happiness.

Thinking about all of this reminded me of an old snapshot of my Granny, standing in a field of sunflowers and sticking her tongue out. I think Jane might get a kick out of that! How about you? Would you rather be happy than dignified? I also bet these sentiments can align without separation, and what a beautiful picture that is, too, right?!

P.S. – What a thrill to have Emily McDowell’s work back on Design Mom! You can find all of posts in our Book Quote Series here, and buy the prints here. I’m the proud owner of this one!

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Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd

Images and text by Carter.

I dive into some books like a crazed kid on Christmas morning. And then I accidentally rip a jacket or tear a page and I cry a little bit on the outside. Some, though, say slow down. Take a breath and a minute and savor me. Inside Outside is one of those. The cover shows both – a warm inside, with our new friend and his pal, and a vibrant outside, speckled with flowers and life. Once I finished, I went right back to that cover and started again. And then again. Truly.

Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd

It’s a saunter through the seasons, and a glimpse at the goings-on of both inside and outside. A day’s details are magnified through die-cut holes which don’t exist for trickery or flair, but as peeks to our friend’s meaningful play. Because there are no words, the illustrations do all of the storytelling. So peel your eyes for two tiny mice, a rescued turtle, a growing garden, and some tools for building. And notice the inside puppet-show curtains transforming into outside superhero capes. Or the art on the walls that highlight familiar scenes from pages past. Spend some time with this one. Enjoy the bits and pieces of ordinary that make up all lovely days.

Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd

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Warning: Do Not Open This Book by Adam Lehrhaupt and Matthew Forsythe

Images and text by Carter.

Go ahead. Judge this book by its cover. And you’ll probably ignore the signs, and the chains, and the warning tape. That’s okay, because you’ll have some opportunities to back out once you start reading. After all, you don’t want to let the monkeys out. That’s the invitation and promise of Warning: Do Not Open This Book!

How utterly irresistible that the mayhem caused by a troop of monkeys is on your hands! You can control the chaos, but I’ll bet your curiosity gets in the way. And how could it not? The monkeys paint their own mess, which makes for vivid and thrilling pictures. Turning those pages triggers the madness, and closing the book is the only way to contain the catastrophe.

This book is a ton of fun. It’s reminiscent of a huge favorite from my childhood — do you remember The Monster at the End of This Book? Good old Grover was adamant that you not turn the pages of that book, for fear of a furry monster at the end. Which, as we know, turns out to be Grover himself. But every single time, reading that book was an adventure and a thrill. This modern trend of metafiction has clearly been around since the classics. But still – it’s such smart storytelling, and honors the wit and sophistication of young readers. Books that have an awareness of their book-ish-ness inherently are clever in their execution and celebrate story in such a remarkable way.

P.S. — Do you have other metafiction favorites? I’m a huge fan of Chloe and the Lion, The Three Pigs, and Open This Little Book. And since I’m a massive Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett fan, I’m especially looking forward to their latest collaboration, Battle Bunny.

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The Story of Fish and Snail by Deborah Freedman

Images and text by Carter.

Koseli’s post last week on creating captivated me. The timing was a real love note, too, and it’s this line she wrote that stuck: It’s hard work to be brave. Such truth! I love what you all shared there about confidence, consistency, and the thrill of stepping out into unfamiliar territory. Those stories were such a salve to my bundle of nerves last week — I started a new job, and although it was a real return to my roots, the change was a tad intimidating!

What did I do? I went back to school, back to being an elementary school librarian! You know that tingle you get when something is so very perfect for you and you can’t quite believe that all the puzzle pieces snapped back together, just like that? The reminder to be brave trumped that nerve-bundle and some being-the-new-kid fears.

The Story of Fish and Snail by Deborah Freedman

And that’s why I couldn’t wait to share this book with you! It’s so sweet for little ones, but oh, how dear it was for me. Maybe you, too, if you need to carry that reminder close to your heart. This is The Story of Fish and Snail by Deborah Freedman. It’s a friendship story wrapped in dreams and bravery. It’s a book about books and a story about stories. Each day, steady Snail waits for Fish to return home with a new story. Today, Fish doesn’t just want to tell Snail about his new book — he wants to show Snail.

But Snail won’t budge. He’s a bunch of what-ifs and buts and just plain scared.

Until he’s not anymore. And that’s the story of Fish and Snail. It’s hard work to be brave, but the rewards are great. Aren’t they?

The Story of Fish and Snail by Deborah Freedman

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Book of the Week: Silence

September 30, 2013

Silence by Lemniscates

Images and text by Carter.

This book, Silence, was created by artists from the Barcelona-based illustration studio Lemniscates and published by the American Psychological Association. This struck me as such an unusual pairing, but then the story took over, and it just struck me as stunning. The words are gentle, lyrical, and full of wonder. We absorb the role of a black-haired and rosy-cheeked girl, mindful of the sounds that play in the silence. She represents a kid’s point of view, but I saw myself in her just the same. I can hear my heart when running and my breath when still. I’m curious about what the stars say at night and what the birds sing in the morning.

Silence by Lemniscates

Silence is profound in its stillness, but bold in its style, and that combination is so striking. I’ve grown so accustomed to living in a loud, bright, and bustling city. Sometimes I wander with a screen-lit face, turned away from noticing my true surroundings. Do you take time for quiet? Do you slow down to hear it? When I read Silence, I found myself in an elaborate daydream of wishing I were someplace else. But then I thought – Carter, you sure are missing the point of this story! So I stopped. I slowed down. I hoped for a more active practice of listening. And now I’m going to carry the charge from the final spread around in my pocket: Be still. Listen. How many things can you hear?

Silence by Lemniscates

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The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan and Sophie Blackall

Images and text by Carter.

Maybe Gabrielle can chime in and tell me how to say, “Holy cow, this is the most exquisite and weirdly charming story I have ever seen in my entire picture-book-loving life” in French. The best I can do? C’est beau. It’s The Mighty Lalouche, by Matthew Olshan and Sophie Blackall.

Lalouche is a scrawny monsieur with a curly mustache and a finch named Genevieve. He leads a simple life as a postman, and lives in a simple apartment with a view of a brick wall. And then a fleet of electric cars wrecks Lalouche’s love, so he answers an ad for the Bastille Boxing Club. A postman? A boxer? Turns out Lalouche is nimble, fast, and strong — and more than anything, he loves that finch named Genevieve. It’s a story about having passion and talent, and the spectacular magic that occurs when you find each.

The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan and Sophie Blackall

And the art — oh, the art. Each boxer, poster, and decorative frame is a separate piece, created with Chinese ink and watercolor. And then! Each was meticulously cut out, layered into place, and photographed. The result is a breathtaking blend of shadow and light, like watching a stop-motion piece that has been paused in the loveliest of poses. Every page. Each new spread. If you’re a Caldecott-watcher, I’d place some bets on this one in the ring.

The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan and Sophie Blackall

P.S. – We love Sophie Blackall! She illustrated Aldous Huxley’s The Crows of Pearblossom, and Koseli shared her Missed Connections series here. Her work is so enchanting.

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