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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!)
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.
I have found my candidate!
I have loved him from afar for years and years. I can’t believe that in this moment of national crisis I didn’t think of him sooner.
This arrived in my box today:
Undecided Voters Flock to New Candidate
Barn Party Announces Duck as Presidential Nominee
NEW YORK (January 30, 2008): In a mass migration from established party politics, undecided voters are flocking to a new political party that promises change—real change. The Barn Party offers Americans an agenda of domestic goals supported by children’s booksellers and librarians, first and second graders, and the cracked corn industry. Leading the party’s charge for more reading aloud, recess and protecting the family farm, is Duck, an Avian-American who is making a splash among independent voters across the country.
Duck, a farmyard hero, has declared his entry as the Barn Party’s presidential candidate for the election of 2008. Previously holding elected offices as Farmer and Governor, Duck is seeking the Presidency to present a new face of the United States to the global community. “This election will be a quack heard round the world,” said the Barn Party campaign chairman, Paul Crichton of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.
Duck’s authorized biographer, children’s author Doreen Cronin, says, “Duck’s time has come. He worked hard on the farm, and even harder as Governor. Hard work brings change, and Duck is a choice for change.”
It’s not as if we don’t have the lamest duck in the office now. And the barn is a fairly egalitarian place, as far as I can tell. Maybe we’d all be better off in the long run. I hope I get a pin or placard for BEA.
Cluck, cluck, cluck.
Find out more: www.duckforpresident.com
Pink by Nan Gregory, illustrated by Luc Melanson
Groundwood; July 2007; 32 pp; $17.95 HC
Core Audience: Girls ages 3-10; Anyone who hasn’t gotten the fabulous thing they most wanted but didn’t need
Strengths: Heartbreakingly honest writing; a fresh approach to the subject of PINK
Once in awhile a book comes along that just melts your heart—and not because it is full of puppies, or children in flower costumes, or rhymes about bellybuttons. Rather, it stops you in your tracks because it cuts right to the heart of childhood pain. This is one of those books, especially if you grew up in a family where resources were sometimes outpaced by desire.
Vivi loves pink. She wants nothing more than to own something perfectly, gloriously pink, just like the popular girls. It is all she can think about.
Vivi’s parents love her very much and try to pinkify her life any way they can, but theirs is a family with more creativity than money, and they can’t afford to indulge the material desire that “The Pinks” represent. They try to get Vivi to appreciate all the free pink in the world, but Vivi won’t be derailed. When Vivi tries to express her intense desire, her mother tells her that there is enough pink to go around, and her father praises the “pink in her cheeks.” Vivi feels they don’t understand her.
One day as she is passing the local toy store, she sees the most perfect expression of her desire: a pink bride doll. Vivi doesn’t have enough in her piggy bank to buy it, so she decides to work around the neighborhood for a few months to earn the money. She works hard, and is close to her goal, but when she brags about the doll to “The Pinks” in a fit of playground hubris, she finds her dream has slipped away.
The subtle messages about family love in this book are many. Readers will appreciate Vivi’s parent’s efforts on her behalf, and will prefer the magical creativity of her family even if Vivi doesn’t always. The lovely artwork perfectly depicts the melancholy longing of Vivi’s world, as well as the warmth of her family.
This story is a great jumping off point for discussions of peer pressure, the difference between “want” and “need”, and how difficult it is to envy others who may have more than you. In the end Vivi doesn’t get the object of her desire, but we see her family supporting her as she works through it.
There has been a spate of books for the pink hedonists lately, (Fancy Nancy, Pinkilicious), and as anyone who is living with a Disney-Princess loving two year-old will tell you, they have their place. But it is very nice (and much rarer) to see a book that holds the other side with such sensitivity and grace. This sleeper, which comes from a small Canadian Press, is one of my favorite books of the year.
I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry
Penguin/Dial; May 2007; 32 pp; $16.99 HC
Core Audience: Children 4-8; Braggarts everywhere
Strengths: Bold punchy artwork; Very funny
Let’s start with the basic premise of this story. Here we have a giant squid that just can’t get over himself. After all, he is bigger than most things in the ocean, and if you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s the BIGGEST thing in the ocean.
Jelly fish? Bigger.
Sea turtles? Yup. Bigger.
He even says he’s bigger than the shark, but he’s careful to say it quietly. In fact, he’s so busy proudly telling us how big he is that he doesn’t even notice the (very big) whale that’s behind him. But you know what they say…pride go-eth before a fall.
I really love this book both for the incredibly appealing artwork, and for the absolutely irrepressible squid. Anyone who has ever worked with children will recognize in this squid the child who has unshakable confidence about their own abilities, no matter what reality has to say about it. Preschoolers will adore everything about this book, and with successive readings they will join right in. (Fun bonus: Bathtub stickers are included so kids can play out the story in the tub.) Although our squishy hero does wind up on the inside of the whale at the end, he won’t be kept down, and he finds a way to see the bright side.
This is Kevin Sherry’s first book, and I hope it won’t be the last. It’s fun, charming, well executed, and a delight from start to finish.
Extra Bonus: Squids must be a thing for Kevin Sherry, because he also has a fun online venture called Squidfire, featuring very hip T-shirts printed with great designs including—you guessed it—squids!!
The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers
Penguin/Philomel; April 2007; 32 pp; $16.99 HC
Core Audience: Children 4-8; Ravenous readers of all ages
Strengths: Awesome artwork, fun play on words
I don’t know what it is about Irish humor that I love so much, but I can’t resist it when I come across it. Maybe it’s the storytelling tradition over there, but there is a wonderful drollness and a slight off-kilter quality to it that is distinctly zany, and it never fails to amuse me. This book is an excellent example.
It starts out innocently enough: it’s about a boy who loves books. Can’t get enough of them. He devours them, really.
He eats them up.
For the hero of Oliver Jeffers’ newest story, it starts out small. A distracted lick. Followed by a nibble. A page, or two. By Wednesday he had eaten a whole book. And come to find out, the best part is it makes him smarter. Pretty soon he’s smarter than his dad, and smarter than the teacher. He’s eating books left and right, and red ones are his favorite. He loves being smart. But like so many things that diminish when you over-indulge, our hero soon finds himself feeling a little ill. Then alot ill. Then he finds he can’t eat another book if he tries.
What will happen to our little book lover now?
Of course, this bibliographic parable has a happy ending when our hero finds that there’s more than one way to enjoy books. Kids will love the kookiness of the story from start to finish. Jeffers’ art style is full of funny details and punchy visual elements which will give young readers plenty to look at during multiple readings. I am particularly fond of the bite-shaped diecut in the back cover of the book, and the disclaimer that reads “Please do not try to eat this book at home.”
Jeffers has won critical acclaim in Europe, including a nomination for the Kate Greenaway Medal (the UK equivalent of the Caldecott) for his second book Lost and Found. With this third book, Jeffers has a nice body of work going, and I think he’s definitely an author to watch.
I’m looking forward to his next tasty treat, for sure. Yum, Yum.
Bonus: Check out Jeffers’ lovely little website
The Police Cloud by Christoph Neimann
Random House/Schwartz & Wade; March 2007; 40pp; $15.99 HC
Core Audience: Children 3-6; Lovers of wonderful illustration
Strengths: Nice blend of a soft story with the ever-popular police and fire genre
This is a wonderful story about a little cloud with big aspirations.
It seems that ever since he was a wee puff, he has dreamed of being a police officer. But who ever heard of a cloud in the police force? When the police decide to give him a chance, nothing goes right in spite of his great intentions. His fellow officers get caught in his fog when they go to chase a robber, and his vapor makes it hard to direct traffic too. It seems like he can’t even patrol the park without getting in the way of the sun. What’s a little civic-minded cloud to do? (Hint: Join the fire department.)
This is Neimann’s first picture book for kids, but his art is very well known from his grown-up work for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Time magazine. Here his pictures are bright, punchy, and engaging, with bold fields of color and elegant typography. What I most like about this book is how it combines a sensitive character arc with all the hard edged things typical boys love, like city streets, cars, policemen, and fire trucks. Imaginative and beautifully executed, it will have broad appeal for a wide range of readers. Best of all, it’s a great read-aloud.
You go, little cloud!
Bonus: Check out Christoph’s brand new (and charming) site for the book: www.policecloud.com
17 Things i’m not allowed to do anymore by Jenny Offill & Nancy Carpenter
Random House/Schwartz & Wade; December 2006; 32 pp; $15.99 HC
Core Audience: Children 5-8; Adults who remember being less-than-perfect
Strengths: Engaging art; Funny, funny, funny
This book is an ode to every sassy girl who has ever lived. (I am one of those sassy girls, and I bet many of you are as well.) It is a laugh-out-loud litany of one troublesome idea after another and the consequence is always the same… “I am not allowed to (insert idea here) anymore.”
From gluing her brother’s bunny slippers to the floor, to setting Joey Whipple’s shoes on fire with the sun and a magnifying glass, to a reoccurring obsession with beavers, to my favorite—giving her brother the “gift of cauliflower” [by flinging it off his forehead with a fork], the heroine of this picture book is irrepressible.
The artwork in the book is just as lively, with a wonderful combination of pen and ink illustration, collage, and mixed media. It spills across the page with great exuberance, and does an excellent job of working with the text to give you the full flavor of its spirited protagonist.
There are many books about behaving badly, but it is much rarer to find one that celebrates the individual with as much warmth and humor as this one.
Because of the weird 12/26/06 release date, I hope this book doesn’t fall through the cracks and get lost in the shuffle for awards and recognition.
It’s a gem.
Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman
Houghton Mifflin; April 2007; 32 pp; $16.00 HC
Core Audience: Young readers ages 3-7; Lovers of wordless picture books and mysterious keys
Strengths: Crisp illustration, magical and mysterious premise
COMING SOON TO A BOOKSTORE NEAR YOU
You remember those days.
Days when you were stuck inside—alone—on a rainy day with nothing to do and no one to play with. Everything seems to take on the same drab feeling, and nothing feels interesting.
So it is with the character in Barbara Lehman’s new book, Rainstorm. From the very start, on the cover of the book, we see our hero gazing forlornly out the window on a dark and blustery day. Although you can’t see it on the flat illustration above, colorless spot-varnish raindrops fall from the leaden sky. Clearly this is no day for playing outside. There seems like nothing to do but wander aimlessly around the big house, kicking a ball for lack of anything better to do.
BUT—and there is always a “but” in Barbara’s stories—things become a lot more interesting when or hero discovers a key under a chair, and in true Lehman style, the key unlocks an adventure bigger than any box, closet or trunk. This rainy day is about to get a whole lot more interesting.
For those of you familiar with Lehman’s previous books, Museum Trip, and The Red Book, (which won a Caldecott Honor), you will recognize her crisp artwork, appealing visual style, and engaging wordless storytelling. I particularly love the way these books manage to surprise us with plot twists and magical elements while keeping the visual story from becoming overly busy or complicated. They are a masterful study in simplicity and restraint, and because of that they appeal to a wide range of ages. Subtle details, like the oppressiveness of the big house, they boy’s tie, and his transformation once he finds the key are things to be discovered with each reading. For instance, why is there a blue sky in the INSIDE of the house on the cover?
As with all of her books, careful attention has been paid to the design and production of the book, so that it all works beautifully together. Details like the spot varnish raindrops on the cover, the larger vertical trim, and the thoughtful variation of frame and full-bleed illustration enhance the unexpectedness of the story. It is a pleasure to flip each page and see what happens next.
It is truly a wordless and wonderful adventure. I want to find one of those keys, too.