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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!)
For those of us non-adopters who prefer our books the old fashioned way, the Italian design company Nobody&Co has made it so that we don’t even need to leave our comfy seat for our next read. This bibliochair chair holds nearly 16 1/2 linear feet of books, and comes in six different finishes and cushion covers so it’s basically a sit-alone library. My only concern? Where do you put your arms to rest?
Oh well, fashion hurts. Your reading corner never looked so mod.
Okay, I feel that I have been giving short shrift lately to picture books, which as a designer are one of my first loves. I am having book guilt. So, I have decided that this is Pixie Stix Picture Book Week, and I will post a new review of one of my spring favorites each day. Enjoy!
Polo: The Runaway Book by Regis Faller
Roaring Brook; January 2007; 80 pp; $16.95 HC
Core Audience: All ages; Lovers of great design; Aficionados of wordless picture books
Strengths: Lyrical story full of wonderful visual detail and charming plot twists
Those of you who have been faithful readers know how much I loved Faller’s previous book The Adventures of Polo. Published first in France, these books about a little dog with a great imagination and a bottomless backpack are among my favorite offerings of the last year.
There is so much to love about Polo, it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the design. Faller’s illustrations are crisp, engaging, and totally irresistible. He plays liberally with graphic formats, using frames, full-bleed, and white space in unexpected juxtapositions throughout the book. An unspooling ball of red yarn breaks the right hand margin, and on successive pages becomes a Family-Circle style loop-de-loop, the ground, a hill to slide down, and then the outline of two trees and a dog-eating castle. Line as path, line as ground, line as object. The book is full of these kinds of graphic transformations.
Before we even get to the title page, we have a whole wordless vignette with Rabbit buying and sending a book to Polo on his little island. Drawn only in black, white, and yellow on a tomato red background, this little prequel grabs the attention from the get go, and sucks the reader right into Polo’s world.
And what a world it is. Magical. Lyrical. Full of the most amazing things. I LOVE books that unfold in a way that takes me on an unexpected journey, and Faller has one of the most unfettered imaginations going. When Polo’s new book is stolen by a little yellow creature–(a star? an alien? a florescent dust bunny with arms?)–Polo immediately sets off from his island in hot pursuit. What follows is a delicious adventure where the chase is only half of the fun. Each development is less predictable than the last as Polo meets a cast of characters including a humongous penguin, a little pig princess, elephant belly dancers, cloud wrestlers and a genie complete with wishes. And them there are the conveyances… A rope to nowhere, a hot air balloon, a raft, a mechanical flying bird, a magic liquid mirror, a dandelion puff, and numerous ladders, holes, caves, nooks, and crannies. Really, I can’t do the book justice in words when it comes to how imaginative it is. You just have to check it out.
Although Polo’s books are officially labeled with a 4-8 age range, to dismiss them simply as picture books for the youngest readers does them a great disservice. At 80 pages, the visual complexity, unexpected plot twists, wordless storytelling, and multiple frames are quite sophisticated, and the lyricism of the story will capture the imagination of everyone who picks them up—even adults.
At this point I am going to give you my rating, and if you are just interested in the review, read no further. This book is FABULOUS, and if you like great design and visual storytelling, stop reading and go order it now.
However, if you are interested in a little more analysis on the publishing industry, read-on….
[Begin digression into TRENDWATCH industry-speak]
For my part, although the Polo books are certainly picture books in production format, I place them in the rapidly growing category of graphic novels for children, and I think they fall on one end of a spectrum that includes things like Emmanuel Guibert & Joann Sfar’s Sardine in Outer Space series and Jeff Smith’s Bone series, which is having an incredible resurgence among elementary readers. In fact, take a good look at the publishing news right now and it’s hard to miss the buzz in this area: in 2006 graphic novels hit $330 million in sales in North America, (surpassing the comic book format), with booksellers clamoring for more titles published for kids because of the demand they’re seeing at book fairs and in stores.
Why do I bring this up? Certainly wordless picture books are not new in and of themselves. (Think Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, Itstvan Banyai’s Zoom, or Patricia Lehman’s The Red Book and forthcoming Rainstorm.)
However, given the growth in the graphic novel category, and young readers’ increasingly sophisticated and technological world which predisposes them to a high level of visual comprehension, I think this is an exciting time to explore innovative formats and hybrids of traditional publishing forms. Polo is an excellent example of blending genres to great effect, and I expect we will see more and more of this in the kids’ market.
In fact, Roaring Brook’s children’s graphic novel imprint 01:FirstSecond, under the direction of the brilliant Mark Siegel, is on the cutting edge of producing great new graphic work for a whole range of young readers, from elementary school to the most sophisticated teens, and they are actively reaching out to educate the traditional children’s book market. Many other publishers have been launching their own graphic novel imprints for kids as well. (Do a search at Publisher’s Weekly Online for the term “Graphic Novels”, and you’ll get 58 story hits just since the first of this year.) And let’s not forget Manga, which has never been stronger in the US. In a few years we’ll be able to look back on this period as a new golden age of graphic novels, with a whole expansion of the market for kids.
So now what?
I would ask you where you fall? Do you get this genre? If you are a bookseller or a librarian, where do you shelve graphic novels for kids? Do you think it’s a real trend? Do you care?
I think it is a trend, but I also think that there is a pretty clear line between people who get this genre, and people who don’t. I’m not sure if it has to do with age or perception or relationship to technology or what.
However we can always return to the basics. A book like Polo, which straddles these worlds, is at the end of the day, a wonderful book … and comfortingly familiar for all its brilliant ambition.
Yay, Polo. Je t’aime.
For a compelling diversion, visit Polo’s magical world online at Chez Polo. It’s worth it just for the soundtrack.
365 Penguins, by Jean-Luc Fromental, illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet
Harry Abrams; November 2006; 48 pp; $17.95 HC
Core Audience: Children 4-8; Lovers of retro and modern design; Penguin huggers
Strengths: Beautiful bold artwork, great concept, hysterical writing, large trim size
Imagine one day that the mailman shows up and delivers to you a penguin with a note attached that says “I’m number 1”. It would beg the obvious question, “Number 1 of what?” The answer is 1 out of 365.
Penguins that is.
So begins the hysterical tale of one family who must figure out what to do when a penguin a day is delivered to their house for a whole year. The first one is cute, and then the next few are interesting, but it’s not long before the whole house descends into smelly chaos. Where to put them? What to feed them? How to keep track of them? It’s an organizational nightmare.
Combining bold illustration with counting, rhyming, and plenty of visual play, this book is a treat from start to finish. Joëlle Jolivet’s artwork makes good use of the penguins’ naturally graphic physique, and the restrained palette of black, orange, and white with punches of blue give the whole book an appealing retro flair. Kids will love the exuberance of the illustrations and the math puzzles among the silly slapstick. The over-sized trim size of the book (14.3 x 11.3) will prevent you from putting it in all but the biggest bookshelf, but that’s not such a hardship since it will look just as good on your coffee table.
Listen to Daniel Pinkwater’s review of this book on NPR from 12/16/06
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!
The Black Tattoo
by Sam Enthoven
Razorbill/Penguin; October 2006; 512 pp.; $18.99 HC
Core Audience: 14+; Teen lovers of Gothic drama, the Matrix, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Strengths: Plenty of dark humor, demons, and Matrix-like kung-fu
At 512 pages, this book is not for the faint of heart, but it serves up generous portions of all of the dark imagery that gothic adventure fans will love. Not being a fan of this genre generally, I was pleasantly surprised at this book’s ability to draw me in and keep me interested.
The story focuses on three main characters: Charlie, who is chosen and then possessed by a demon who has designs on taking over the underworld; Jack, Charlie’s best friend who follows Charlie into the underworld to save him; and Esme, a girl trained from childhood to fight the forces of evil, who joins the other two to fulfill her destiny. (Esme, I might add, has an amazing arsenal of special powers, and all of the best kung-fu sequences.) The book takes its name from a tattoo that grows on Charlie when he is possessed, and roils over his skin with sufficient creepiness to keep even the most jaded teens reading. Basically, the novel reads like a screenplay, with plenty of visuals, action, and a fast moving plot that doesn’t ask too many questions. It’s a classic good –vs– evil story, with hell the battleground, and plenty of gooey humor and irony. I especially liked the character of Jack, who has that lovely Jimmy Stewart air of being a normal guy caught up in events he can’t quite believe.
This story won’t change the world, but I thought it was pretty fun, if you can embrace all of the demonic imagery.
Far From Normal
Scholastic; October 2006; $16.99 HC
Core Audience: Boys and girls 9-12
Strengths: Topical story, pop-culture references
I really enjoyed this spirited story, not least because it was so contemporary in its “reality TV” scenario. A spirited follow up to Deliver Us from Normal, this book will be a great family read, and will give much food for though in discussions about what it means to be “famous”. The story moves right along, and is full of plenty of absurdity that will keep readers laughing. My only criticism of the story has to do with the lack of leadership on the part of Charles’s parents, who come off looking almost negligent at moments, but I suspect this will just make young readers get behind Charles even more. Call it sympathy or wish fulfillment, it’s not a deal breaker as far as the story is concerned. When she’s not writing books, Kate Klise is a writer for People magazine, which explains the smooth and candy-like pop-culture feel of her story, which young readers will love.