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children's literature from a pineapple-lover's point of view…

In the spirit of Halloween I’m going to talk about monster picturebooks. My new favorites for this year are Zombie in Love and Mostly Monsterly, both tales of creatures who don’t quite fit in with their surroundings. Written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Scott Campbell, Zombie in Love features Mortimer, a zombie looking for love in all the wrong places. DiPucchio and Campbell work together beautifully to fill in the comical gaps in the text and together they create a fun story about holding out for true love. Tammi Sauer and Scott Magoon take a slightly different route to self-fulfillment in Mostly Monsterly, the tale of a girl who is the only monster at her school who has interests in things other growling and lurching (like petting kittens and picking flowers). She struggles to reconcile these two parts of herself in a way that is comical and relatable, teaching readers the ideas of compromises and group hugs.

As I mentioned in the last post I have an awesome Frankenstein pop-up book, as well as the Maurice Sendak pop-up, Mommy? Frankenstein is set up as a pop-up book meets graphic novel so if you’re a fan of graphic novels it’s definitely worth checking out. Sam Ita does an impressive job of mashing the two concepts, as well as a fine job of engineering the pop-ups. Sendak’s Mommy? Is about a lost boy who looks suspiciously similar to Max from Where the Wild Things Are. He loses track of his mother and searches in various rooms of castle for her, including the laboratory and Dracula’s room. Will Bizarro Max ever find his mother? And when he does, what kind of monster will she be? Sendak worked with Arthur Yorinks, who won a Caldecott in 1987, and master paper engineer Matthew Reinhart (swoon!) to bring you the answers to those questions

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey is an alphabetical list of ways to kill, be killed, die, etc. featuring zombie-esque children so I’m going to add it to the list of awesome monster picturebooks and if you’re a fan of Gorey you should definitely check out Ten Little Zombies: A Love Story by Andy Rash. Both Gorey and Rash find comical and unusual ways to kill their victims characters and the illustrations are always funny and straightforward. I’m also adding in the coolest/creepiest version of There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Jeremy Holmes because even though it’s not exactly “monster” it has a very monsterness about it. It’s by far one of the coolest looking books I’ve ever seen (http://www.amazon.com/There-Was-Old-Lady-Sallowed/dp/0811867935).

Spookily, Scarily yours,

Mel

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So I’ve been wracking my brain trying to decide which excuse works best for why I haven’t written in almost a month and here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. I could complain that the rest of August was filled with whirlwind family vacations that took me up and down the California coast and as far as Mexico so that left no time for writing, let along thinking, about books.
  2. I could mention that I flew to Boston with my eighteen-year-old cat on the 31st, moved into my new place on the 1st and the 2nd, and started classes only a few short days later and haven’t had time to do anything but read a list of scifi/fantasy books and essays due for class on Thursday.
  3. I could even blame the internet because I didn’t have wifi in my new house for almost two weeks and we all know that two weeks in blog time is, like, FOREVER and whatever I say now is probably archaic anyway.
  4. Or I could just suck it up and write a new post. Prepare yourselves.

So during the shame-on-me month I took off I got the chance to reorganize all of my books and rediscover my pop-up book collection which is something I’m excited to write about today. Pop-up books were actually my first introduction to the world of children’s literature almost four years ago and since then I have acquired seventeen by several different artists.

Like picturebooks, there is a ton of thought put into the text and the illustration but pop-up books take it one step further by incorporating engineering. True pop-up bookists know that illustrations are not enough and that the most memorable books are those that push the limits of paper engineering

It’s impossible to mention pop-up books without talking about the amazing Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. Innovators of the pop-up book industry, Sabuda and Reinhart have managed to stand out by engineering books that are engaging, colorful, and informative. Although they have released dozens of books between the two of them, (Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book, and The Wizard of Oz just to name a few), their most notable (and beautiful and amazing and incredible) pop-ups are those on which they collaborated. Encyclopedia Mythologica: Dragons & Monsters, Encyclopedia Mythologica: Fairies and Magical Creatures, and Encyclopedia Mythologica: Gods & Heroes are the most beautifully designed picturebooks I have ever seen. The engineering is almost flawless and every page is adorned not only with a central pop-up but multiple pop-ups in the corners of every page. The books are informative about different culture’s myths and the illustrations beautifully enhance the text and the fact that fairies’ wings flip and the dragon is made of streamers only serves to make the books even more wonderful.

Some other burgeoning pop-up book artists include David Pelham (Trail), Sam Ita (Frankenstein: A Pop-Up Book), and even Mo Willems who came out with Big Frog Can’t Fit In not too long ago. Again, they are not up to the paper engineering standards of Sabuda and Reinhart but they are also worth checking out, especially because each has a little surprise to offer the reader.

That’s all for now. I promise to write more promptly next time and hope everyone had a great month!

Pop-uppingly yours,

Mel

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So I’m about to set sail for Mexico but I found this great post that I think all pb writers can benefit from on preachy picturebooks–even kids know when someone is talking down to them and NO one likes it.
See you in 5 days! And hopefully I’ll be bringing back some Spanish books…

http://kidlit.com/2011/08/22/preaching-in-picture-books/

Con cariño,
Mel

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So I have officially packed up all my books into milk crates and no longer have access to them until I move into my new place in September, therefore making this post waaaay shorter than usual. But last night the phrase “tiny books for tiny hands” kept rolling around in my head. It’s a concept I learned in my picturebook class last year and (apparently) it really stuck with me. In case it isn’t glaringly obvious, “tiny books for tiny hands” is the notion that books should be small enough to fit in the hands of a young child so as to make them more accessible and engaging–the child becomes more important to the story because s/he is the one in charge of turning the page. Boardbooks tend to be much smaller because babies tend to have the tiniest hands and many books (Eric Carle’s come to mind) are often reproduced in smaller versions to appeal to younger audiences.

I think one of the most notable set of small-ified books, however, is Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library. Weighing in at 6.4 ounces and measuring a mere 3.9 x 3 x 1.8 inches, the Nutshell Library contains four classic  Sendak stories:  Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup with Rice, One Was Johnny, and Pierre. The books appeal so strongly to children because of size allows them to hold the books and turn the pages themselves without the aid of an adult. Beatrix Potter’s books have also been shrunken down: The Tale of Peter RabbitThe Tale of Mr. Jeremy FisherThe Tale of Tom Kitten and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck are available in a set that is only 4 inches tall and she has a Nursery Set available as well. These are, of course, good books to travel with not only because of their size but also because of the lessons within the books that children cannot seem to get enough of.

Anyone know of any other fun mini books?

Teeny-tiny-ingly yours,

Mel

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One of the series I grew up reading was Mike Venezia’s Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series. I only ended up owning two of them, Van Gogh and Monet, but they’ve stuck with me for almost twenty years now—that must mean something, right? So today I want to talk about nonfiction picturebooks because they are a great way to mix information and original artwork and (apparently) make a lasting impression.

I think one of my favorite non-fiction picturebooks is Hanoeh Piven’s What Cats Are Made Of. An informative book about different breeds of cats, Piven illustrates his cat facts with collages made of various household items that reflect the cat’s personality. For instance, the page that discusses the Scottish Fold cat contains an illustration made out of Origami paper, the Siamese cat is seen as made of different computer parts, and so on. With thirty-nine breeds discussed in all, I think it’s refreshing to see information on cats (which I have a lot of) in such a new way and I applaud Piven’s ability to put a brand new spin on such an old concept.

Jeannie Baker’s Mirror is also a phenomenal and educational picturebook. If you haven’t seen it you really ought to take a look at it: Baker follows a day in the lives of one Australian boy and one Moroccan boy, illustrating the cultural differences in their daily activities. Baker utilizes collage to tell the parallel narratives and, aside from the opening pages there is no text, only illustration. What drew me to the book initially was the setup: the book opens on both sides (the Australian side reads left to right, the Moroccan right to left) so readers can follow the boys’ days simultaneously. It’s an awesome book and I suggest you check it out if you ever get the chance, if not for the content than for the design of the book.

Other notable books are those by Steve Jenkins (What Do You Do With a Tail Like This, Bones, and Actual Size): his books are creative and informational, presenting the subject matter in an extremely accessible way for all audiences. Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom is an awesome example of an ideal balance between informational text and relevant photographs—Partridge tells a compeling story not just through her text but through her images as well. Walter Wick’s A Drop of Water presents a beautifully photographic and scientific way of learning about water, Ballet for Martha, a Siebert Honor Book, features a decent balance between Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan’s text and Brian Floca’s artwork, and Peter Sís’ The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain draws attention to communism in Czechoslovakia in a way that is easily understood by readers.

Non-fictionally yours,

Mel

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So I’m super excited about today’s topic because if I ever do a thesis it’s going to be on the ideas of breaking the fourth wall and existentialism in picturebooks.

First, there’s the concept of breaking the fourth wall. This happens a lot in plays, where the actors talk directly to the audience, but there are a lot of great picturebooks that do it too. There Are Cats in This Book by Viviane Schwarz is a great book where the characters address the reader and encourage them to turn the page, engaging the reader more full because s/he becomes a part of the experience of furthering the story. You’re Finally Here! by Mélanie Watt is another good example of a book that breaks the fourth wall, featuring a bunny who scolds the reader for having taken so long in reading the story, only to turn around and talk on his cell phone (there are also some examples of existentialism in it but I’ll get to that in a minute). Finally, Mo Willems’ Pigeon books also break the fourth wall, with the Pigeon asking if he can drive the bus, have a puppy, eat a hotdog. All three are examples of how effective engaging the reader can be and makes the book interactive for all audiences.

Now onto my favorite theory…(drool)…Existentialism.

You can Wikipedia the idea later, but basically existentialism is a complicated philosophy that deals with a heavy focus on the human condition, specifically the meaning of life and one’s purpose. I first became interested in it after reading Tom Stoppard’s tragicomedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a spinoff of Hamlet—I remember thinking how cool it was that Stoppard was able to contemplate the concept of existence in such a darkly funny way and I always kept it in the back of my mind.

Within the last few years, much to my delight, I started to notice existentialist themes in picturebooks. They all tackle the questions of, “Who am I within the context of this book?” and “What happens to me once the book is closed?” but, like Stoppard, present it in a funny and endearing way. Like I said before, there’s a little bit of existentialism in You’re Finally Here! in that the bunny acknowledges he is in a picturebook and Mo Willems addresses these life-altering questions in his Piggie and Elephant book We’re in a Book wherein Piggie and Elephant slowly come to realize that they, too, are characters in a picturebook. The same happens for Mordicai Gerstein’s little girl in A Book who questions not only what happens after the book is closed, but what kind of book she is even in and who she is within the context of her own world. All three have characters who ask the reader and themselves the tough questions of what happens when their world is closed because the reader has hit the last page—do they exist outside of the book? More importantly, what does it mean if they don’t exist beyond those 32 pages?

I could gush for hours of course but as this is a blog and not a novel, I’m trying to keep it short. Ok, go check Wikipedia now.

Existentially (assuming we exist at all) yours,

Mel

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existentialism

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Hi again!

So I’m leaving for the west coast in less than two weeks and I thought that good picturebooks for travel would make an interesting topic. I’ve never really seen myself as the kind of person to take along a stack of picturebooks on a long flight, but the last time I flew I decided to try it out. During a 6 hour-long trip across the continental United States I brought along two picturebooks (and, okay, one novel just in case it didn’t work out): Nick Bantock’s The Egyptian Jukebox: A Conundrum and The Clock Without a Face, written by Eli Horowitz and Mac Barnett and illustrated by Scott Teplin (and John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines which I unsuccessfully struggled to get through, yet, a second time).

Every other spread in The Egyptian Jukebox contains a picture of one of the drawers of Hamilton Hasp’s Egyptian Jukebox, while the remaining spreads contain text about the drawer’s contents. Hasp, an eccentric millionaire, has recently disappeared and readers are invited to sift amongst Hasp’s possessions in order to uncover his whereabouts (the answer is hidden in the illustrations). Bantock has a keen eye for detail which made reading the book super fun—no matter where you look on the page there’s always something to see and the fact that it all adds up to something bigger makes the experience impressionable, though sometimes frustrating. If I had to name something I didn’t enjoy it would be the strong urge to give up and throw the book at the seat in front of me. Readers are given no clues as to where they should even start looking to solve the mystery (athough Bantock provides readers with the answer at the end of the book).

The Clock Without a Face is also an awesome book. From Booklist:

“Gumshoe Roy Dodge and his “confidential assistant” Gus (presumably a kid, though neither of them are pictured) have been called to the top floor of an apartment building, where the owner has been robbed of a priceless clock. Well, not the clock, exactly, but the 12 emerald-studded numbers. Every other floor was robbed, too, as the thief made his (or her? or their?) way upward. So Roy and Gus interview each successive owner, from the mad scientist to the hoarder to the time traveler. The right-hand side of each spread offers a maddeningly detailed three-quarter overhead slice of each floor…Oh, and those 12 bejeweled numbers? They’re real and buried in 12 holes across the country. This is not a joke. The codes to unlock their locations are hidden within each drawing. So grab a shovel because the real mystery is just beginning.” (http://www.amazon.com/Clock-Without-Face-Eli-Horowitz/dp/1934781711/ref=pd_sxp_f_i)

The numbers, which are hidden around the United States, are designed by Anna Sheffield and although it says grades 4-8 I spent a good two hours on it and still never discovered a single location (though I like to think I’m getting closer). Again, the only draw back is the problem of short-attention spans—you have to be willing to put in the work for a reward that you then have to travel across the country to get.

Lastly, there are the staples like Martin Handford’s Where’s Waldo? (or Where’s Wally? in the UK), Jean Marzolo’s I Spy, and Magic Eye which don’t take nearly as long to solve but provide entertainment for at least the take-off and landing portions of the flight.

Happy travels!

Mel

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