From the category archives:

Picture Books

Four Books You’ll Love

March 9, 2015

March 2015 Books16

By Gabrielle With photo assistance by Rose Gluck.

Well, it’s been ages since I’ve done a book post, but I think today is the perfect day for some picture book recommendations! Here are four new titles that have been a hit at our house.

First up, Polar Bear’s Underwear. It was written and illustrated by Tupera Tupera, the Tokyo-based art and design firm of artists Tatsuya Kameyama and Atsuko Nakagawa. This book is perfect for the five and under set. Polar Bear can’t find his new underwear, so he starts hunting for them with the help of Mouse. Are they those pretty patterned ones? No. That tiny, colorful pair? I’m afraid not.

March 2015 Books17 March 2015 Books18

Your little readers will encounter all sorts of creatures on the underwear hunt, and will laugh at the twist at the end!

March 2015 Books13

Next up, is this beautiful book about a real life con man. It’s called Tricky Vic — The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower. I received this as an early review copy, but the book will be out tomorrow! This is a fun one for older kids — it has lots of history, new vocabulary, and factoids built in. If your family is a fan of heist stories, then this is sure to become a new favorite.

March 2015 Books14 March 2015 Books15

It was written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli — an author, illustrator and screen printer from Philadelphia. I don’t know Greg, but based on his clever mix-media illustrations in the book, thing he must have a great sense of humor.

Keep reading for two more books!


A Christmas Wish — plus 32 other Wonderful Holiday Books

Images and text by Gabrielle.

What are your favorite holiday books? We have a tradition of adding a new Christmas book to our collection each year. I love this tradition because it’s easy, it’s something the whole family can enjoy (and can continue to enjoy for many years), and it’s typically under $20 to get a new book, so it’s a tradition that doesn’t break the bank.

A Christmas Wish — plus 32 other Wonderful Holiday Books

Ben Blair found this year’s pick and it’s a good one! It’s called The Christmas Wish, and it had us reminiscing about our trips to Sweden and Norway. We’re not the only ones who like it, apparently it’s a New York Times Best Seller. And it’s no surprise. It just oozes Christmas and wintertime — her clothes, the polar bear and reindeer she meets — every little detail is delightful.

A Christmas Wish — plus 32 other Wonderful Holiday Books

Looking for more holiday books? I’ve shared tons of great picks over the years — click through for a full list. For those who don’t celebrate Christmas, my apologies in advance, because my list is very-much Christmas focused. But obviously, there are lots of other winter holidays, so if you have favorite non-Christmas holiday titles to share, please do!

Click through for 32 of my favorites!


Art Books1

Images and text by Gabrielle.

This is just a quick little post. I wanted to be sure I told you about this terrific series of books by Patricia Geis called Meet the Artist. There are 3 in the series so far: Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Alexander Calder.

I think these books are just right for kids. They’re short — only a few spreads in each one, so they’re not overwhelming. And they’re packed full of interactive details. Flaps to lift, pop up pieces, and 3-D surprises. They offer lots of good basic info about each artist and show enough of the artist’s work so that it feels familiar.

I’ve started to get questions from readers about good holiday gift options, and I think these books would be lovely for any budding artist out there! Here’s an interior shot from each book so you can get an idea of what they’re like:

Art Books2 Art Books3 Art Books4

Any other great art books for kids you’ve seen lately? Feel free to add the titles in the comments!



Book of the Week: The Memory of an Elephant — by a French author + illustrator team.

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Last month I wrote a post about four picture books we’ve added to our library, and this month I thought it would be fun to share another four. As you may remember, I’m trying to write less posts this year, but keep them packed with content, so sharing 4 books once each month, instead of one small book post each week could be a great solution!

1)  First up, The Memory of an Elephant: An Unforgettable Journey. Written by Sophie Strady, with illustration by Jean-Francois Martin.

Book of the Week: The Memory of an Elephant — by a French author + illustrator team. Book of the Week: The Memory of an Elephant — by a French author + illustrator team.

Such a cool book! And totally unusual. There’s a storyline you can follow about Marcel the Elephant as he writes and encyclopedia, but it’s also a book that packed with information — sidenotes and tidbits — so you can browse the pages without following the story at all.

And the images! So dang good.Both the author and illustrator live in Paris and the book definitely has a chic French feel. I feel like this book is a treasure.

Book of the Week: Little Pear Tree

2) The Little Pear Tree by Jenny Bowers.

Book of the Week: Little Pear Tree Book of the Week: Little Pear Tree

My friend, Annie, who owns Brimful Shop (and is a frequent commenter here — you may have seen her name), sent this book for June. It’s delightful! The book follows a pear tree over a full year, and readers watch at the tree transforms over the pages.

It’s interactive too. Each spread has lots of flaps to lift, hiding happy little discoveries. A perfect nature book for the littlest ones.

Click for two more titles! Jumping Jack and In This Book.


Featured Picture Book: Bonjour Camille   |   Design Mom

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. I haven’t written a post about children’s books in months — the last post was in March! So I thought it would be fun today to share four in one post. Let’s get to it!

1) Bonjour Camille by Felipe Cano. Illustrations by Laia Aguilar.

Featured Picture Book: Bonjour Camille   |   Design Mom Featured Picture Book: Bonjour Camille   |   Design Mom

Such a gorgeous book. You’ll meet Camille on a sunny Sunday morning. And get ready, because Camille has so many things to do! Eating cherries, jumping on the bed, talking to the wind, and on and on. The pages feel magical — like they’re lifted right out of child’s head.

Featured Picture Book:  Mix It Up!   |   Design Mom

2) Mix It Up by Hervé Tullet.

Featured Picture Book:  Mix It Up!   |   Design Mom Featured Picture Book:  Mix It Up!   |   Design Mom

Oh. This book is brilliant! It’s interactive and teaches kids about the basics of color theory. They shake the book, turn the page, and discover the colors have mixed together to make something new!

Click here for two more – Lately Lily and The Baby Tree!


Coloring Books 2.0

March 12, 2014

Design Mom's 9 Favorite Modern Coloring Books. They're all super cool.

By Gabrielle.

I was doing a bit of organizing in the studio/home office last weekend and noticed we have accumulated quite the collection of really good coloring books and doodle books. Have you noticed how many awesome options are out there these days? It’s like a coloring book renaissance!

These are not the commercial character driven coloring books of my childhood, they’re created by artists and graphic designers and some of the very best publishing houses. They are really good looking! Some focus on patterns, others include prompts to spur imaginative drawing. And many of these books are designed to appeal to both children and adults. In fact, I’ve heard some people are using the mandala coloring books as a sort of soothing therapy! Coloring in the spaces seems to hit a sweet spot between mindless busy work and intense creativity.

Lately, one of our favorite go-to gifts is a coloring book paired with a new set of markers. Easy, fun, and it doesn’t break the bank. We also like to pull them out on slow afternoons for a quiet, calming activity. Taking some time to sit with my kids and color is delightful, and it provides a great space for casual, non-lecture conversation.

In case you’d like to get in on the coloring action, I’ve collected our very favorites here. If you have a favorite that’s not on this list, please feel free to share! We’re always on the lookout for new ones. And I’d love to hear if you ever get to color with your kids. Do they like to color? Do you?

1) Doodles. This one is by Taro Gomi and he has a ton of other great options as well! I think of Taro Gomi as the grandfather of all the good coloring books.

2) Zolocolor. There are several of these, all good.

3)  The Usborne Book of Drawing, Doodling and Coloring.

4)  Dragon, Robot, Gatorbunny.

5) Photoplay.

6)  Outside the Lines.

7) Doodle Cook. By French artist, Hervé Tullet. And if you like it, you could also try The Coloring Book and The Scribble Book.

8)  Pattern + Design.

9)  Rosie Flo’s Coloring Book — there are at least 6 versions of these.

P.S. — We also like to use these on flights and at church, when the kids need something quiet but entertaining.


What Does It Mean Books1B

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello from Washington D.C.! I’m here at the Power Summit. I’ll be attending policy sessions about poverty and world aid throughout the day, and then receive training on how to lobby my congressmen later this afternoon. I’m very excited about it!

The group I’m here with is ONE Moms — which is the same group I traveled with to Ethiopia. It feels like a little reunion. And I’m happy as can be to get to spend time with these wonderful women. One of the women, Rana DiOrio, runs Little Pickle Press — a small publisher “dedicated to helping parents and educators cultivate conscious, responsible little people.” A wonderful goal! And I think it aligns so well with the work that ONE Moms engages in.

If  you’re someone who spends time thinking about how to raise kids that are globally minded — eager to learn about different cultures, curious about other countries, and respectful of all races and religions — there’s a set of 4 books from Little Pickle Press that are a great way to introduce these concepts to your children:

What Does It Mean To Be Global?
What Does It Mean To Be Green?
What Does It Mean to Be Safe?
What Does It Mean To Be Present?

They’re non-fiction picture books and they make excellent conversation starters between parents and kids — or in classrooms, too. They introduce important topics in an easy to understand, comfortable way, and the illustrations work hard to offer the reader a better understanding of what’s being discussed. One thing I especially appreciate about the books is that they cover some big topics without being self-righteous or judgmental. Hooray!

I’d love to hear if you’re already familiar with these books — or if you have related books you’d recommend. Feel free to add links or titles in the comments. And wish me luck on the lobbying!


6 Books for Valentine's Day   |   Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

One of my favorite things to give on Valentine’s Day is books. You can find dozens of sweet and beautiful choices under $15 (often under $10!). A book is a treasure, but doesn’t feel extravagant, which I think is perfect — I don’t like to go over-the-top on Valentine’s Day.

These picks would be especially sweet for February 14th. Order one today and it will arrive in time — or stop by your nearest local shop.

1) You Know What I Love
We have a copy of this and June has requested it every night since it arrived. She knows it so well now that she “reads” it to us! About a doll and her girl.

2) Monday Hearts for Madalene.
Every Monday, Madalene would wake to find a heart created just for her. The sweetest token of true love.

3) Love Letters
200 letters from over the centuries. Some historical and some fictional. Who doesn’t enjoy a good love letter? For years, Ben Blair and I exchanged a hand-written love letter on Valentine’s Day, but at some point we stopped. Will this be the year we start it up again? I hope so. (Which reminds me, did any of you see the movie Her?)

4) Counting Kisses
Get this one as a board book for your toddler or baby, then read it at bedtime. “How many kisses does a tired baby need?”

5) Hearts
An offering from Toon Books, this is a good pick for a girl or a boy — and this is what Betty will be receiving this year. What happens when Penelope the Fox drops her heart into the sea? A beautiful adventure.

6) I Like You
I know. I know. I recommend this every year. But it’s still so good! I’m quite sure everyone should own a copy. A sweet gift for a teenage crush. A sweet gift for a favorite teacher. A sweet gift for a husband or wife. A sweet gift from a parent to a child. A sweet gift for a dear friend. It’s perfect every time.

Will you be giving any books for Valentine’s Day? Feel free to share your picks in the comments.

P.S. — Ten more Valentine’s Day book picks.


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


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?


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!


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


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


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


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!


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!


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


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.


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


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!


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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