From the category archives:

Picture Books

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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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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Book of the Week: The Umbrella

September 16, 2013

The Umbrella by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert

Images and text by Carter, The Blue Umbrella poster by Pixar.

Some of my favorite reads this year have been wordless picture books. There’s something so enchanting about reading a story with no words and solely reading its visual narrative. It’s how kids read before they can decode the words, right? Perhaps that’s why settling in with a wordless book is so comfortable. It’s a cross between a homecoming and a thrill.

The Umbrella walks that same tightrope of danger and wonder. A scrappy black dog finds a red umbrella at the start of a wild and windy storm, and gets whisked away across the world. An elephant rescues him from hovering alligators at attention. A swarming school of fish shoots him a curious eye. He swings from vines on that umbrella just like the monkeys – and thank goodness there’s a watchful pelican nearby to swoosh him smack out of the way of impending doom!

The Umbrella by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert

It’s a lovely story. A treat for the eyes, heart, and soul, truly. I’m reminded of another umbrella story with just as much joy and just as few words – Pixar’s short film, “The Blue Umbrella.” If you saw Monsters University in the theater this summer, you’ve seen it! I can’t wait until the release of the entire short, cause this teaser is breathtaking. Blue umbrella, meet red umbrella. You are joyfully different in a slick, wet, gray world. A minute from a short that is nothing short of spectacular is right here. Enjoy!

The Blue Umbrella

P.S. – The Umbrella is a few years old, but some of my favorites from this year are wordless! We talked about Bluebird here, but Flora and the Flamingo, The Boy and the Airplane, and Journey are all worth a billion looks.

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Red Knit Cap Girl by Naoko Stoop

Images and text by Carter.

In the forest, wrapped up in time, Red Knit Cap Girl wonders about the moon. She climbs on the highest branch that teeters, but it’s still too far. She tries its reflection on the water, but realizes that’s not the same one beaming down from the sky. With the guidance of Owl and some loyal friends, she prepares to talk to the Moon. What seems like a celebratory idea turns out to be hiding what they are seeking. After all, the Moon is always there.

The unbridled curiosity of Red Knit Cap Girl reminded me of a truth in my world. Wondering walks closely with waiting. Waiting for something — to grow, to arrive, for news, or for change — is excruciating. Right? Maybe that something is a someone and maybe the waiting is tinged with wild anticipation. Or maybe heartache. Waiting feels like wondering without an answer. But maybe what we’re waiting for is there all along, like Red Knit Cap Girl’s Moon. That found magic is an extraordinary reminder of that to me.

Red Knit Cap Girl by Naoko Stoop

Naoko Stoop’s inspiration for this story came after participating in Earth Hour, and the natural nightscape that was revealed once the lights were off. Maybe finding things when we aren’t necessarily looking is an accidental side effect of waiting. What do you think?

P.S. – Do you remember The Crows of Pearblossom? In both of these stories, our fearless protagonists seek the counsel of an Owl. How comforting, the links between stories and the sage, unwavering owl! I recently grabbed this owl print from the shop of a favorite illustrator, and he hangs over my workspace as a reminder of wondering and waiting and finding solace.

Red Knit Cap Girl by Naoko Stoop

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Harlem's Little Blackbird by Renee Watson and Christian Robinson

Images and text by Carter.

Have you heard of Florence Mills? I hadn’t, until the pages of this book introduced me to her. Harlem’s Little Blackbird, by Renée Watson and Christian Robinson, is a song with a sweet refrain. Florence lived in a teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy house in Washington, D.C., at the turn of the twentieth century. When it stormed, she sang the spirituals from her family’s slavery roots to calm the thunder and herself. That unwavering voice chased the storms away, and Florence fell in love with the music.

During the heartache of the civil rights movement, Florence sang for what was right. She sang for all people. The Harlem Renaissance provided the perfect place for her creative spirit to mesmerize crowds. And though Florence encountered anger and hate, she gave and danced and sang until the very end. Renée Watson’s prose is as lyrical as the blackbird’s tune, and Christian Robinson’s paper cut pictures give Florence’s story texture and depth. This book is a true joy.

Harlem's Little Blackbird by Renee Watson and Christian Robinson

P.S. — Christian Robinson is also an animator, and I think you will love his short film, What is Music? This is absolutely worth a watch, and a nice accompaniment to the musicality of Harlem’s Little Blackbird. And if you’re still smitten, this is a lovely interview with Christian about his process. I spy an adorable elephant!

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Little Tug by Stephen Savage

Images and text by Carter.

I read a lot of books. And when they are thirty-two pages, you can get through a bunch in one sitting. Old books, new books, sad books, funny books, some that sparkle, and some that are duds. Don’t you? I think it’s important to be a reader who can say ‘eh’ to something that doesn’t quite tickle your fancy. These little books are art after all, and your Van Gogh may be another person’s spilled scribble.

But this one. This one! Little Tug is an underdog story of the nautical type — but it’s a starry night and an enchanting iris to me. This teensy tug may look like scrappiest thing in the sea, but he’s got a huge job. He doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but all of the boats need him. He’s small, but he’s important. Those little readers on your laps might see themselves in that little guy. You might see their sleepy-headed nights in him, too! The ending is a sweet surprise, and the whole story is wrapped up in stunning art and gorgeous tones of a day slipping away.

Little Tug by Stephen Savage

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Book of the Week: Black Dog

August 19, 2013

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

Images and text by Carter.

Don’t you have that one big Thing that you can only see out of the corner of your eye? A fear that is equal parts thrilling and terrifying? Mine varies depending on the day — from the dentist, to meeting someone new, to the suspense of a good old ghost story. That’s the heart of this story, Black Dog, by Levi Pinfold. One by one, members of the Hope family wake up to a big black dog looming right outside. It’s as big as a tiger, an elephant, and even something called a Big Jeffy. (So says young Maurice Hope.)

But then there’s the fearless and feisty Small Hope, who marches right out to that big black dog. She’s teensier than his eyeball, but still calls him a guffin. Her family warns that she’ll be munched and crunched, but she’s not scared — that’s Small Hope.

The pictures are breathtaking, blurring the line between what’s fantastic and what’s true. And the details! Don’t miss those tiny nuggets of story only told in the pictures. While the Hopes gather by the fire with mugs of something hot, there’s an octopus having tea with a rat in a different corner of the room. Kids’ scribbled drawings of Daddy’s pajama-clad feet and that scary Big Jeffy are scattered in the kitchen, just out of the splash zone when dropped toast falls into the kitty’s milk bowl. But along with her yellow slicker and green wellies, Small Hope’s story is the one I will remember the next time I feel intimidated, unsure, or just plain small.

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

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The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

Images and text by Carter.

I think I’ve mentioned it once or twice or a million times, but we are in love with elephants around here. I probably haven’t told you about the stuffed elephant that sits in my closet, who once upon a time played ‘You Are My Sunshine‘ and now has a floppy neck, ears rubbed ragged, and decades of dust. And then there’s this elephant I love – Babar, the Elephant King. Jean de Brunhoff wrote a handful of stories about him, starting with this one, The Story of Babar.

French picture books from the early 1930s are wilder, perhaps even riskier, than some of our tamer fare today. The kid in me remembers Babar’s fancy trip to the city, recklessly riding the elevator, and his dashing green suit and derby hat. I had forgotten about the terribly brutal loss of his mother – which occurs close to the first page! But Babar the orphan was far from ordinary. And Babar the extraordinary gives hope to tough beginnings. What this story does with such grace and confidence is a gift to a young reader. It challenges them to look at sadness and trusts that they are courageous enough to celebrate the happily ever after. I love Babar for that just as much as I love his shoes with spats.

P.S. – On a lighter note, I think Celeste’s wedding gown should go down in fashion history with Kate Middleton’s! It is long and lovely and fit for a Queen!

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The Crows of Pearblossom

Images and text by Carter.

The legacy of story is something I ponder over quite a bit. It’s a reminder of connectedness to our roots and one another. And that’s why there’s something extra special about this one, The Crows of Pearblossom, by Aldous Huxley. Yes, Brave New World’s Aldous Huxley! It’s his only book for children, and he wrote it in 1944 for his niece, Olivia, as a Christmas gift.

This edition was illustrated by Sophie Blackall 67 years later, and her pictures offer sweeping panoramas of this trickster tale. The Crow family finds a sneaky snake has been gulping up all of Mrs. Crow’s eggs. She is devastated, and rightfully so, right? The debonair Mr. Crow enlists the help of Old Man Owl to outsmart that wily, wriggly beast. This combination of old, timeless story with modern details is just delightful. And speaking of delightful, Mrs. Crow shops for polenta and wears dainty pearls. Owl sports bunny slippers, and Mr. Crow’s pockets are lined with ballpoint pens. It’s almost too, too much!

P.S. – I remember one Saturday morning, arriving at the library before the doors opened. When the librarians unlocked them to let the milling crowd in, my dad nudged me and whispered, “Hurry up, before they get all the good books!” It’s one of my earliest (and most favorite!) memories as a reader. Do you have any stories like that to share?

The Crows of Pearblossom

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Book of the Week: Happy

July 22, 2013

Happy by Mies Van Hout

Images and text by Carter.

You’d think I’d know better by now, but it still puzzles me when a picture book so spare evokes such a strong reaction in me! Happy, by Mies Van Hout is evocative and simple and spectacular all at once. Each spread reveals an emotion – furious, proud, content – and a fish that illustrates it. The shocked fish is spiky and his one eyeball wide open. The sure fish points his snout towards the upper corner, like he’s ready to swim off the page.

Both the pictures and the text have a scribbled feel – it’s childlike and charming. The bold, graphic quality yields some surprisingly hilarious results. Perhaps I’m especially drawn to it because these emotions reach farther than standard concept book fare? I’m still not entirely sure what it is, but I am definitely dazzled by these pages!

Happy by Mies Van Hout Happy by Mies Van Hout

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On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein

Images and text by Carter.

Sometimes real life makes the best stories. On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky is a celebration of curiosity, imagination, and an insatiable desire to learn. This is a kid with a twinkle in his eye and the verve to figure things out. Things the rest of us ignore, like just how do lumps of sugar disappear into hot tea?

We learn that three-year-old Little Albert hasn’t said much, just looked around with wide eyes of wonder. His parents have changed as the years march on, but they are always standing by him. In one illustration, tiny speech bubbles with hand drawn type hover over their heads. The dad says, “So different,” and the mother says, “But so dear.” This moment in the pictures arrested me as I flipped the pages. That love is so dear.

Speaking of the pictures – wow. The illustrations are lively and restrained and so meaningful. The loose lines around characters still contain period style and timeless emotion. I love how he showed the spread of Albert proving that everything is made up of atoms – of course, individual specks of color, making up a whole. And a couple of barefoot, toe-curled feet are an unexpected, adorable detail.

Do you love picture book biographies as much as I do? Remember this one about William Carlos Williams? And this one about Noah Webster is perfect for anyone like me who is word-obsessed.

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The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

Images and text by Carter.

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton is one of those sigh-worthy books, right? It’s a classic that might be wedged into that little-house-shaped hole in your heart, too, just like it is in mine. (And Gabrielle’s — it’s a favorite at the Blair house!) I remember reading it as a little girl, and it seemed so fancy and old-fashioned at the time. And now, many years later, my view of fancy and old-fashioned has transformed into an awe of its timelessness.

This Little House is just a tiny thing, painted pink, and sheltering love. She sits on a hill in the countryside watching the seasons rise and set with the sun, watching the kids wander and wonder, and wondering herself what city life is like. Slowly but surely, the Little House watches surveyors with steam shovels and buildings rise to the sky, blocking her view of the stars. She hasn’t moved an inch, but the Little House is wholly homesick. But her legacy is of love, and when she’s plucked from the city and replanted in the countryside, I become a bit of a blubbering mess.

Her story reminds me of the things that make home warm despite the passage of time. It makes me think of the white paint chipping away at the columns of my grandparents’ porch, and how spinning around them made me forget about the biting mosquitoes out there. How about you?

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

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Lester's Dreadful Sweaters by K.G. Campbell

Images and text by Carter.

I am not the most fashionable of gals. My librarian roots show up in constant cardigans, glasses and flats. And when I’m inspired by this southern California vibe, my breezy and effortless just looks sloppy and lazy. But when I was looking for a dreadful sweater on which to photograph this book, I couldn’t find one! I’m going to consider that a fashion win.

Except — these sweaters are actually and truly atrocious. One of Lester’s chuckle-worthy knits has holes where it shouldn’t and none where it should. And despite feeling woe for poor Lester, I felt a little better about my closet. The inciting event of K.G. Campbell’s Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters is delightfully absurd and wonderful and terrifying: a crocodile chomped Cousin Clara’s house. So, naturally, Cousin Clara moves in with Lester’s family and clickety-click-knits him piles of hideous sweaters. Lester wrestles with his knitting nemesis with deadpan wit and charm. His world makes perfect nonsensical sense, and that’s why this story is such an un-dreadful one to devour.

P.S. – K.G. Campbell is one to watch if you are into kids’ book illustrations! Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters is his debut, but look for him soon on Kate DiCamillo’s upcoming Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures and Ame Dyckman’s Tea Party Rules. And another side note while we are speaking of fashion, I love this peek into Gabrielle’s suitcase!

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Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson

Images and text by Carter.

You know The Story of Ferdinand, right? That gentle, genteel bull just steals my heart with each read. This book, Wee Gillis, was published two years after The Story of Ferdinand by the same author/illustrator duo. That year was 1938, 75 years ago!

One thing I love about picture books is how triumphant characters squeeze their way into our collective history, and Wee Gillis is a charmer. He’s an orphan, but from quite a legacy. A detail that tickles me every time I read it is his full name: Alastair Roderic Craigallachie Dalhousie Gowan Donnybristle Mac Mac — welcome to Scotland, right?

And that’s where his story takes place — both in the Lowlands as a farmer with his mother’s family, and in the Highlands as a hunter with his father’s. But when Wee Gillis has to decide where to call home forever, he whips up a frenzy of creative fortitude and a whole new world opens up. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but let’s just say: bagpipes. It’s brilliant, sweet, inspiring, and timeless.

Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson

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