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Adventure of Meno by Tony & Angela DiTerlizzi
Book 1: Big Fun!
Book 2: Wet Friend!
Simon & Schuster; Oct. 09; 48pp; $9.99 HC
978-1416971481 / 978-1416971498
Core Audience: giggly children 2-6 and retro-loving adults
Strengths: Appealing square trim, poppy visual approach, silliness
It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to talk about books, partly because all of the industry upheaval this year has directed my attention to larger issues, and partly because I am in the middle of writing a book myself. So it was a real pleasure to tear open an envelope recently and have these two books tumble out.
Just the antidote to too much heavy thinking.
Meet Meno, the supercute space-elf hero of Tony & Angela Diterlizzi’s new series for the peepers. With his green beanie, irrepressible cowlick, and nifty sweater & tie set, Meno is the embodiment of My Three Sons meets Dennis the Menace with a pinch of Japanese-inspired Friends With You thrown in for good measure.
Tony and Angela have said they were inspired by lots of mid-century influences when creating these books. Things like “Little Golden Books, old Fisher-Price toys, and vintage cereal boxes” as well as funny words like pickle, weasel and spork. They must have had a lot of fun doing this project, and it shows. Populated with friends like Yamagoo, Wishi, and—my favorite—Zanzibar who lives in his HAPPY FUN BOWL, Meno’s world is full of interesting names to roll around on the tongue.
Presented in “Vibrant MENO-COLOR” the books’ clean layout, punchy full bleed art, and bouncy text add up to a high-style package that will be equally at home on a children’s bookshelf or a pop-culture lover’s coffee table.
Because of their strong aesthetic and minimal, playful text, it would be easy to dismiss these books as a design exercise, but that would be a big mistake. In our house we’ve tested these books on a range of ages from 2 to 8 (as well as 40) with great success. We’ve even adopted some “menoisms” into our daily routine. We sometimes drink “moo juice” and like Meno, we always want it to be “sunshine time” at our house.
This cheeky series may not appeal to all parents, especially those who are overly concerned with the occasional silly potty joke or creative play with language. Dick and Jane do not make an appearance in Meno’s world, but that’s part of the appeal. These books will entertain in direct proportion to an adult’s willingness to get goofy. They fall into the same category as tickle tag, making silly faces, and rolling around on the floor. Lots of fun, and a great opportunity to share some all-ages giggles.
Meno is BIG FUN for sure.
Tony & Angela discuss the project
Tony and Angela read Meno (I especially like their rendition of the diminutive farts at the end. So silly!)
One day recently I walked into my office and sitting on my bright red couch were copies of 365 Penguins and Cat and Fish Go to See. Two great books that looked great together. It made me wonder if I could come up with an Essential Dozen list of books that do awesome things with black and white illustration. The criteria for the list were pretty basic: 1) Great content; and 2) Great art. As a designer this was too good a challenge to pass up, so I spent some time thinking about it and perusing my bookshelf, and finally obsessively culling through the work of my favorite illustrators. And lo and behold, I had a FABULOUS list when I was finished! These books would ordinarily never wind up on a list together, so it was fun to pull them into a collection. Each and every one is a worthy addition to any book lover’s—or design lover’s—shelf.
365 PENGUINS by Jean-Luc Fromental, illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet
978-0810944602; Harry Abrams; November 2006; Ages 3-8; $17.95 HC
I wrote extensively about this wonderful book in a full review a few weeks ago, so let me just say that this is one of my favorite books of last year. It has the magic trio of great eye-popping art, fun concept, and hilarious writing.
A FARMER’S ALPHABET by Mary Azarian
978-0879233945; David R. Godine; October 2005; Ages 4-8; $19.95 HC
I could have chosen any of Mary Azarian’s work for this list, because her woodcuts embody the very definition of great use of positive and negative space in illustration. This book was commissioned by the Vermont Board of Education, and it depicts scenes from rural farm life in a series of 26 alphabet scenes. From Apple to Barn and Cow right through Zinnia, each illustration is a masterpiece of design and execution.
ALPHABET OF BOATS by James Dodds
978-0939510726; Mystic Seaport Museum; July 2002; Ages 3-7; $9.95 HC
This is probably the most obscure book on this list, but it is one of my treasured favorites. With a petite 5”x 5” trim, this book features lovely black and white woodcuts of 26 different kinds of boats from around the world, one for each letter of the alphabet. This little book feels like a prize left over from a salty old captain’s sea trunk.
CAT AND FISH GO TO SEE by Joan Grant, illustrated by Neil Curtis
978-1894965392; Simply Read Books; November 2006; Ages 4-8;$16.95 HC
This book is one of the most striking examples of black and white design that has crossed my desk in quite some time. Evocative of the illustrations of M.C. Escher and the batik designs of Southeast Asia, every illustration in this book pops off the page. The story is a lovely parable of friendship between two unlikely pals who are curious about where the waves go. Their journey of discovery is a wonderful tale of friendship, adventure, and the pleasures of being true to oneself.
FIVE FOR A LITTLE ONE by Chris Raschka
978-0689845994; Athaneum; June 2006; Ages 2-5; $16.95 HC
The “five” in the title refers to senses, and the “little one” is the very cute floppy eared bunny who is at the center of this sweet tale from Caldecott Award-winning illustrator Chris Raschka. With bouncy rhyming text, and good use of strong ink lines and cheery color accents, this book is a perfect introduction to the concept of senses for the youngest readers.
KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON by Kevin Henkes
978-0060588281; Greenwillow; March 2004; Ages 2-5; $15.99 HC
What to say about Kevin Henkes? Aside from being one of the most brilliant children’s book writers working today, he is also a genius when it comes to illustration. This gentle tale about a little kitten who mistakes the full moon for a bowl of milk won a Caldecott Medal, and deservedly so. The simplicity of the story is a part of its brilliance, as are the luminous black and white drawings with their effective use of line and shading.
LOOK, LOOK! by Peter Linethal
978-0525420286; Dutton; September 1998; Ages 1-3; $6.99 BB
The high-contrast papercut artwork in this bold board book, along with the striking use of red letters on a black and white ground make this title perfect for catching the attention of the very youngest readers. The images, like a cat stretching and flowers blooming are a surprise, and take this book out of the predictable run-of-the-mill offerings of board books for babies.
SCRIBBLES by Taro Gomi
978-0811855099; Chronicle; April 2006; All Ages; $18.95 PA
Taro Gomi is one of the most prolific illustrators on the international scene, known as much for his design of clothing and other consumer goods as for his more than 300 books for readers of all ages. This book is a magnificent 368 page invitation to creative exploration, with chunky lines and loose free flowing shapes. Part coloring book, part design study, and fun for children ages 2 to 102. Make sure you have some crayons handy.
THE RAVEN (Visions in Poetry Series) by Edgar Allen Poe, Illustrated by Ryan Price
978-1553374732; Kids Can Press; August 2006; Ages 12+; $16.95 HC
Part of the excellent Visions in Poetry Series, this handsome edition of Edgar Allen Poe’s brooding masterpiece is perfectly illustrated with Price’s shadowy dry point illustrations. The narrator’s decent into madness over the refrain “Nevermore” is a visceral, terrifying vision. I would also encourage you to check out the other titles in this series, including Jabberwocky, Casey at the Bat, The Highwayman, and the Lady of Shalott. Each poem has been given a striking illustrative reinterpretation that will appeal to YA readers.
THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson
978-0670674244; Viking; January 1936; Ages 4-8; $17.99 HC
One of the most beloved stories of all time. Ferdinand would rather smell the roses than fight, but when he is stung by a bee, his stomping and snorting convince everyone that he is the fiercest bull around. When he is carted off to Madrid for a bull fight, hilarity ensues. Robert Lawson’s classic black and white illustrations have been updated with some subtle watercolor washes, but they retain all the wonderful charm that have made them a favorite for countless readers since 1936.
WHAT IS BLACK AND WHITE? By Petr Horacek
978-0763614607; Candlewick Press; June 2001; Ages 2-5; $4.99 BB
With inventive pairings of opposites and bold expressive artwork, this book is a great introduction to the concept of color opposites for the very youngest readers. What I love about this book is the way that the black and white stripes at the edge of each spread get tighter and tighter until the last spread reveals what is black AND white—a zebra of course! Fun and playful.
WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by Shel Silverstein
978-0060572341; HarperCollins; January 2004; Ages 9-12; $17.99 HC
“If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer,
A wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er,
A magic bean buyer . . . Come in . . .”
More than any other title on this list, this book holds a special place in my heart. It was my first experience of falling in love with poetry as a child, and the writing and offbeat illustrations are just as fresh today as they where when this book was first published in 1963. No good children’s book collection is complete without this infectious and brilliant anthology.
I have already stared hearing from readers about additional B&W faves that belong on an essentials list so I will add them below. The truth is, I could probably come up with another dozen! (Feel free to e-mail me your sugestions.)
- Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
- Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
- The Spider and the Fly by Tony diTerlizzi
- Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McClosky
- Blueberries for Sal by Robert McClosky
- Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge by H. Swift, illustrated by Lynn Ward
- Biggest Bear by Lynn Ward
Very often I am asked (by people outside the book industry) what I consider to be the quintessential list of first board books for very young children. This is one of those questions that everyone in the book industry has a favorite answer for, and I guarantee you everyone’s answer will be different. There are many wonderful board books out there, and other lovely books like PAT THE BUNNY and HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON which do not come in board book format, and so are not on this list although I certainly recommend them.
My list is made up of some obvious classics that no child should be without, and some newer titles that I think will be beloved enough to become classics in their own right. I adore each and every one of these books, and have read them with many children.
So, that being said, here is what I would buy for baby’s first board book dozen:
BIG LITTLE by Leslie Patricelli
0763619515; Candlewick Press; September 2003; $6.95
One of the more recent books on this list, but an instant classic that takes the big little concept and turns it on its laugh-out-loud ear with unexpected pairings and bright expressive art. One of a series including QUIET LOUD and YUMMY YUCKY.
BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR WHAT DO YOU SEE? by Bill Martin, illustrated by Eric Carle
0805047905; Henry Holt; September 1996; $7.95
Originally published in 1983, this book’s beautiful bold animal illustrations and predictive structure are surefire hits with children of all ages, and the story closes with a wonderful twist that brings it all home for the young reader. Stands up to reading over and over and over.
DUCK IN A TRUCK by Jez Alborough
1929132832; Kane Miller; September 2005; $7.99
What to do when a duck in a truck gets stuck in the muck? This rollicking rhyming tale is a satisfying read full of delicious wordplay and silliness from start to finish. Children love the percussive sound of the language and duck’s sticky problem. Originally published in hardcover in 2002.
GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
0694003611; Harper; September 1991; $7.95
Written in 1947, this is one of the bestselling children’s books of all time, and with good reason. The most perfect bedtime story ever written, as little rabbit says goodnight to everything in sight in his warm and cozy bedroom. The poetry of the story is a magical call to sweet dreams and tender sleep.
GOOD NIGHT, GORILLA by Peggy Rathman
0399230033; Penguin; February 1996; $7.99
Wonderful and almost entirely wordless, children love this story about an exhausted zookeeper making his last round of the night to check on the animals. What he doesn’t know is that gorilla has taken his keys, and he and his wife are about to have some bedtime company. Young readers will enjoy telling this story back to you with each successive reading.
JAMBERRY by Bruce Degen
0694006513; HarperCollins; December 1994; $7.99
Starting with “One berry, Two berry, Pick me a blueberry,” and building to an absolute crescendo of rhyming brilliance, this book is an ode to anyone who has ever enjoyed a summer’s day, the company of a good friend, and a mouthful of fresh ripe berries. The delicious language in this book begs to be read aloud with enthusiasm, and I guarantee kids cannot resist dancing and singing along. Originally published in 1983.
PEEK-A-WHO? by Nina Laden
0811826023; Chronicle; February 2000; $6.95
A deceptively simple board book that makes playful use of a young child’s love of peek-a-boo. Each page has “Peek-a..” on the left, and a generous cutaway on the right that reveals only part of a hidden surprise, like the cow in “Peek a…Moo!”. Bright eye-catching illustrations and a mirror in the back (Peek-a…You!) make this one a keeper.
SO MANY BUNNIES by Rick Walton, illustrated by Paige Miglio
0688173640; HarperCollins; March 2000; $6.99
Although a lesser known title, this book is perhaps my favorite of the list. A twist on the old lady in the shoe, in this alphabet/counting book Mama Bunny has 26 children, which she tucks away for bed in every nook and cranny of her house. Starting with “1 was named Abel. He slept on the table” and continuing to “26 was named Zed. He slept on the shed”, this book’s lovely detailed illustrations and inventive rhymes make it a great bedtime read.
THE RUNAWAY BUNNY by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
0061074292; HarperCollins; February 1991; $6.99
Never out of print since its initial publication in 1942, this book is a reassuring testament to the power of a mother’s love. Little bunny decides to run away, but no matter what he says he will change into–a fish in a stream, a rock on a mountain, a bird in a tree–Mama rabbit knows how to find him. Perfect for very young children who are feeling separation anxiety.
THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats
0670867330; Penguin; January 1996; $6.99
The winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1963, this is one of the all-time great stories of a young boy’s adventure in the snowy city. The text is a wonderful example of writing the experience of a young child, without too much complication or explanation, and the artwork showcases Keats’ genius for design and color. This is a favorite no matter what the season or geographic location.
THE UP AND DOWN BOOK by Mary Blair
0375830057; Golden Books; August 2004; $5.99
Long out of print, with art by one of the great illustrators of the mid-20th century, the original artwork for this book was re-scanned from the Golden Books archives to produce this fun new edition. This book’s distinctive vertical shape is the perfect compliment to the exuberant illustrations, and the bouncy read-aloud text begs the reader’s voice to go up and down with each page. A great concept book.
THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR by Eric Carle
0399226907; Penguin; March 1994; $10.99
No board book collection would be complete without this story of an ambitious caterpillar who eats his way through a succession of items until his stomach aches and he can go no further. Young readers love the ingenious caterpillar holes on each page, the counting format, and the transformative payoff at the end. A masterpiece of great design and book engineering.
Urban Babies Wear Black
By Michelle Sinclair Colman, Illustrated by Nathalie Dion
Tricycle Press; June 2006; 20 pp.; $6.95 BB
Core Audience: The parents of upwardly mobile babies and toddlers
Strengths: Tongue is firmly in cheek; fun alternative to soft and fluffy board book fare; good shower gift for new moms who love lattes
Okay, let me just say that this book made me laugh my head off when I recently picked it up. It is aimed squarely at all the trendy, upwardly mobile families living in the trendy, upwardly mobile cities here in the US of A. It definitely reflects the lifestyle of those out there who are hip hot mamas and papas.
The artwork is great, and the activities portrayed, like going to the museum, going to the café, and taking baby yoga will be just the thing for urban babies of a certain class. I know of no other book for young readers that covers this kind of life style.
It must be mentioned, as one customer reviewer drolly pointed out, that many urban babies don’t wear black, they ARE black, and this book might seem a little obnoxious to anyone of any color barely getting by in the city.
However, it’s all in good fun, and this will make a terrific shower gift for new urban moms with a sense of humor. There is also a companion book Country Babies Wear Plaid, (1582461724) in which the urban babies enjoy a day in the country.
The World Snacks Series
by Amy Wilson Sanger
Tricycle Press; Various releases; 20pp.; $6.95 BB
Let’s Nosh – 1582460817
Yum Yum Dim Sum – 1582461082
First Book of Sushi – 1582460507
Hola Jalapeno – 1582460728
Mangia! Mangia! (not shown) – 1582461449
A Little Bit of Soul Food (not shown) – 1582461090
Core Audience: Children 0-3; Food lovers
Strengths: Dynamic artwork, bold design, unique subject matter
I was reminded recently of this fantastic board book series for very young children. Once upon a time, it was hard enough to find great new board book titles of any kind with original subject matter for the youngest readers, let alone a series that would appeal to the more design-minded among us.
But world cuisine?
And then along came the wonderful World Food series from Amy Wilson Sanger, and the foodie parents of the world rejoiced.
Not only do these books have bright artwork and witty writing that the youngest readers will love, but they look just as good on your coffee table as in your toy box.
Just the thing for adventurous readers AND adventurous eaters too!