Agate: What good is a moose? by Joy Morgan Dey, illustrated by Nikki Johnson
Lake Superior Port Cities; April 2007; 32 pp; $17.95 HC
Core Audience: Children 4-8; Anyone who has ever felt outshined
Strengths: Luminous artwork; great message
If you have been reading pixiestix for awhile you are probably aware of my feelings about marginal books that are either self-published, or that are produced by small presses that don’t quite get how to put the total package together. I receive hundreds of unsolicited pitches every year for these kinds of books, and when you combine that with the thousands of mainstream books that flow across my desk in a given year, it really takes something to make me sit up.
And this, my friends, is that something.
Meet Agate, the hero of this wonderful and unexpected picture book from a pair of artists and a small regional press from Duluth, MN. Agate is in a metaphysical quandary. “What good is a moose?” he asks when he compares himself to all of his other “birthstone” friends, like Garnet the Crocodile, Emerald the Lion, and Sapphire the Hippo.
He has a big case of the inferiors, and any child who has ever felt dull will recognize themselves here. At the back of the book, there is a nice appendix that talks about birthstone gems. The writing and rhymes here are very sweet, but what really makes this book is the incredible watercolor illustration presented on a sparkling white ground.
These are just quick scans. For the full effect, get a copy and check out how eye-popping they really are. I particularly like the way Nikki Johnson has let the natural flow of the paint create the rich texture of the animals in motion.
This book really has it all: clean uncluttered design, a nice story, a good message, a eye-catching cover, fresh art, and the element of surprise. This proves the point that a small press with no background in kid’s books really can do a great job. Amazing books can come from anywhere, which why it is SO important that people setting off to make a picture book (or indeed any book) for the first time really understand what it takes, and know the market.
Apparently the author and illustrator brought the project to the press. Bravo to Lake Superior Port Cities for recognizing that Agate really is a gem of the highest order.