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This article popped up on the feed the other day, and I was reminded about the presence of and representation of witches throughout time, in a society that has pretty much commodified witchcraft into a visual and figurative only culture, i.e. Halloween, rather than a metaphoric one. The W.I.T.C.H. group was collective performance, an agitation and ripple to the world of conventionality. They aligned their ideals through direct actions, mailings, printed matter, and spoken activism. Like many other political aggregates of the time, we are fortunate to have propaganda ephemera validating action and disruption:
W.I.T.C.H. Women’s Liberation [Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell], c. 1969, mailing list card [#9011]
“We promise to love, cherish, and groove on each other and on all living things. We promise to smash the alienated family unit. We promise not to obey. We promise this through highs and bummers, in recognition that riches and objects are totally available through socialism or theft (but also that possessing is irrelevant to love)….We pronounce ourselves Free Human Beings.”
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With A Fire Truck Named Red, Randall de Sève and Bob Staake are perfectly paired for a superb picture book that easily could have been overly sentimental in less talented hands. A birthday present gone (almost) wrong becomes a journey and an adventure that connects a boy and his grandfather and opens up a whole new world of play.
With his birthday approaching, Rowan has his eyes on a shiny new ladder truck with all sorts of nifty features. This is not the fire truck he gets. Instead, he gets Red, his grandfather's well-loved toy truck. Papa tells Rowan all about Red, but Rowan is "busy trying not to cry." As Rowan and his Papa spend time in his garage fixing up Red, Papa tells him about all the adventures he and Red used to have. As Papa's stories get more and more spectacular, Rowan is more and more engrossed - and maybe even just a bit excited and happy.
Staake illustrates Papa's stories in sepia tones, and the glasses and round nose make Papa and his younger self immediately recognizable. As Papa's stories get bigger and bigger, the sepia toned illustrations of his memories take up more and more page space until finally, magically, wonderfully, Rowan is pulled into the memories. Where Papa and Red were a team, now Papa, Red and Rowan are a trio. A Fire Truck Named Red ends with Papa handing over a shiny, spiffed up Red to a smiling Rowan who thinks to himself, "We could be a great team." The final illustration shows that indeed, they are.
I am so absolutely in love with An After Bedtime Story, written by Shoham Smith and illustrated by Einat Tsarfatit, translated by Annette Appel. With illustrations that feel like an update on Hilary Knight's classic style (in fact, I think that Nina could very well be what Kay Thompson's Eloise was like as a toddler) and a story that I am sure was written just for me, although about 10 years too late, An After Bedtime Story is sure to become a classic among a certain set of (lovingly permissive) parents. I never did get the bedtime routine down, even with my third and lots of sleep-training books, and can totally relate to Nina's very tired parents. . .
Written in rhyming couplets, An After Bedtime Story opens with an adorable little girl, tucked into bed and sleeping, her parents on either side of her doorway, ready to sneak off. Nina calls them back for one more kiss, and they oblige, of course. But, instead of falling back to sleep, Nina is off and running down the hall, her parents sitting on her bed, bewildered, frustrated and clearly approaching exhausted. But how can Nina sleep? There are guest over and a party happening in the living room. And boy, does Nina know how to party. After hugs from all the aunties and uncles, she hits the dessert cart hard. From there, it's the drinks - fizzy pink lemonade, perfect for the pink and yellow palette that makes the black ink lines of the illustrations pop. Mom and dad try to reign her in. They count down, but before they can give Nina an ultimatum, her baby brother is standing in the hallway, blankie (and toy sword - after all, little brother is wearing a Viking helmet) in hand.
Einat Tsarfati's illustrations are brilliant! They are modern and humorous, but also feel like a timeless representation of life with toddlers. Every page is rich with details, and you will pore over An After Bedtime Story again and again taking them in, from the pet pug who is in a cone-collar for unknown reasons to Nina's bedroom, strewn with toys, including a cradle with a robot tucked in for the night and toy T-rex charging a Barbie-type doll. An After Bedtime Story is one that parents and kids will laugh at together every time they read it, and maybe it might even lead to some peaceful nighttime resolutions?
While This is not a picture book! is only the fourth book I have reviewed by Sergio Ruzzier, I have read many more, including his work with the wonderful Eve Bunting and Emily Jenkins, and I have to say, his newest is my favorite and closest to my heart. This is not a picture book! reads like a love letter to everyone who believes in the transformative power of reading, and it is one that I will read often, to myself and out loud to my students.
This is not a picture book! begins with Duck happily discovering a book, well before the title page. Elation turns to frustration when Duck realizes that there are ONLY WORDS in this book! Bug arrives and asks if Duck can read this offensive book with no pictures, to which Duck replies, "I'm not sure." Up until this page, Duck, the book and Bug are shown on a white background. When Duck answers, the two page illustration shows the white background on the left hand side, with a crevasse and colorful terrain on the verso. A log bridge connects the two, and as Duck walks across it, muttering, "Words are so difficult," and the journey of decoding and learning to read begins!
And what a journey it is! The landscape changes as Duck reads words that are funny, sad, wild and peaceful. While This is not a picture book! is about reading books without pictures, Ruzzier's illustrations are perfectly paired with the spare but powerful text and, as always, his world is one that I love to visit. Colorful curiosities abound as Duck and Bug walk and read, and visual clues that help emerging readers decode. In the final pages of This is not a picture book!, Ruzzier captures perfectly how I feel when I read a good book, "All these words carry you away and then they bring you home where they stay with you forever." And, in a brilliant design touch, the front endpapers of This is not a picture book! are a spread of text, mostly garbled, and, if you have pre, emerging or struggling readers at home, I strongly encourage you to skim it closely. Reading is like breathing for me - I rarely think about it. Skimming the front endpapers with decodable sight words sprinkled here and there helped me understand what so many of my students experience when they open a book. It is good to be reminded of the challenge. The endpapers of This is not a picture book! is worth reading as well! It is the story of Duck and Bug and the book that they find. It is yet another testament to Ruzzier's gift as a writer. He can craft a powerful picture book with less than 100 words and he can write a picture-less story that is equally engaging, using the words to paint the pictures in the head of the reader.
Living in a time of unprecedented information surveillance, also lends itself to an unbelievable amount of information privilege for much of the “democratized” world. We feign emotions with character smiley faces and iconography as our communications float rapidly over a network of intangible speeds, sometimes coated with an algorithm of encryption and sometimes, not. Identity is, at best, both catastrophic and creative. So as we celebrate and converse about National Privacy Week, it is sort of interesting to think about privacy, not only in the way we might shroud our communications, but also in terms of economics, commodity and modality.
In the early 19th century, the postal system was financially demanding for some people [not unnecessarily unlike today] *and* was the scarcity of paper. Tom Standage writes in the Victorian Internet : “In the nineteenth century, letter writing was the only way to communicate with those living at a distance. However, prior to 1840, the post was expensive. Postal charges grew high in England due to the inflationary pressure of the Napoleonic Wars. Different from the way mail operates today, the burden of payment fell to the receiver, not the sender; prepayment was a social slur on the recipient. One had to be financially solvent to receive a letter. If the recipient could not afford to pay for a letter, it was returned to sender. Any reader of Jane Austen’s Emma (1815) knows that to save costs, cross writing was common — a writer turned his or her letter horizontally and “crossed” (or wrote over) the original text at a right angle rather than use an additional sheet of paper. Folded letters with a wax seal may look quaint, but like cross writing, this was also a pre-1840s cost cutting measure since that same missive, posted in an envelope, would receive double charge.”
A cost-cutting measure indeed, however, and not insignificant it created a system of visual encryption one might employ for secrecy, but also as a device of post-modernity and compositional ingenuity. In 1819, John Keats constructed a crossed letter discussing both the merit of prescriptive living for labor workers, only to be written over at an angle by his poem, Lamia, about a man who falls in love with a snake disguised as a woman. “The non-linearity of meaning is generated as an excess against the unidirectional drive of information, like the snakes that weave around the staff of a caduceus or the turbulent wake of a forward-moving ship; meaning is the snake and the wake of information.”  Quite a metaphor to create, as a perception of romanticism, in era of rapid change. Sound familiar? When in doubt, think smart, choose privacy.
We have a suite of 19th century letters in our collection of cross-writing, or “cross-hatching,” check out the images:
 Livingston, Ira. Arrow of Chaos: Romanticism and Postmodernity.
I have read more books by the very talented Kenneth Oppel than I have reviewed here and I really need to do something about that. Oppel's superb Silverwing Saga was one of the first books I reviewed when I started in 2008. Oppel's intriguing Airborn Trilogy got my non-fiction loving son through some challenging middle school book reports and The Boundless is definitely one of the best stories on a train that I have ever read, especially because it begins with a sasquatch sighting as the construction of a railroad that stretches from one end of Canada to the other nears completion.
While Oppel is gifted at writing fantasies that are firmly set in reality, fueled by zeppelins bigger than the Titanic and a 987 car train that is almost seven miles long, his newest novel, The Nest, unfolds on a much smaller scale - at home - and is every bit as suspenseful - and thoughtful - as his grand scale fantasies. The first time Steven dreams of creatures with, "pale gossamer wings and music that came off them, and the light that haloed them," it is ten days after his brother is born. These creatures tell him that they have come to help the baby, who has been born with serious congenital health issues which narrator Steven details with the vague grasp of a child who has not been told everything.
Anxious and with OCD tendencies, an imaginary friend and a recurring nightmare in which a dark shape is standing at the foot of his bed, this overwhelming uncertainty in the form of the new baby intensifies for Steven when a strange type of white wasp builds a nest on the eaves near his bedroom window. The angels in the dream turn out to be the same white wasps that are building a nest on the side of Steven's house. And, in his dreams, the Queen speaks to Steven, telling him that her drones are building a nest where a new baby, a perfect baby will grow. When it is ready, if he agrees, Steven will help them replace the damaged baby with the new one and happiness will return to his family. The Nest unfolds at a cautious pace that matches Steven's anxieties. The Queen's assurances of good intentions and even better solutions seem reasonable, equaling Steven's desire for security at home. The Nest takes a dark turn when Steven comes to understand the true nature of the swap the Queen is proposing and the slow-simmering suspense of the story begins to boil. The climactic scene of The Nest is intense and very real, yet another testament to Oppel's ability to blend reality and fantasy in a meaningful way.
Half way through the novel as Steven nears an important turning point, his babysitter Vanessa, a college student, shares an insight into human existence. "Lots of people have broken bits," she says, sharing that she has a genetic kidney disease that will affect her later in life. "Sooner or later, we're all busted-up in some way." Holding his sleeping brother against his chest, Steven thinks, "Sometimes we really aren't supposed to be the way we are. It's not good for us. And people don't like it. You've got to change. You've got to try harder and do deep breathing and maybe one day take pills and learn tricks so you can pretend to be more like other people. Normal people. But maybe Vanessa was right, and all those other people were broken too in their own ways. Maybe we all spent too much time pretending we weren't." Fantasy or not, middle grade novel or not, this has to be one of the most profound thoughts I've read in a long time.
Several years ago, I tuned into the Tony awards telecast eager to find out whether Ragtime was going to beat The Lion King. (It didn't.) I made my new boyfriend watch the whole thing with me, even though he didn't care at all about the results. The next day at his work, his colleagues were talking at lunch about what they had watched on television the night before. "Anyone watch the World Cup?" someone asked. Several people had. "How about the NBA Playoffs?" Again, a lot of murmurs of agreement. My boyfriend said, "Hey, did anyone watch the Tonys?" Dead silence.
I've always loved that story because I think it's a fairly good representation of the Tonys in popular culture. They have a very limited audience- you have to physically go to New York and see the original productions. You really can't tell who is going to win Best Choreography if you listen to the cast album. This is completely different from the Oscars, because you can see the nominated movies anywhere.
Also, that boyfriend is now my husband, and I still make him watch the Tonys with me every year.
This year, I'm particularly excited to find out how Hamilton will do at the Tonys. Let's start with this question: How many Tonys can Hamiltonactually win?
It's eligible for the following 13 categories:
1. Best Musical
2. Best Book of a Musical
3. Best Original Score
4. Best Orchestrations
(These four categories can only be won by new musicals).
5. Best Direction of a Musical
6. Best Choreography
7. Best Scenic Design of a Musical
8. Best Costume Design of a Musical
9. Best Lighting Design of a Musical
10. Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
11. Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
12. Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
13. Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
(These nine categories can be won by either new musicals or revivals- which means the field is much larger for these awards.)
The current record is held by The Producers, which won 12 Tonys and was nominated for 15. The Producerswon every single category for which it was nominated, which is a rather incredible acheivement. The three nominations that The Producers didn't win were in the acting categories because multiple actors from the show were nominated for the same category. The one category it didn't win, is also the only one it wasn't nominated for: Leading Actress.
The Tony Administration committee has ruled on eligibility for certain parts in Hamilton, and whether they belong in the Lead or Featured Actor categories. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom, Jr. and Phillipa Soo will all be considered in the Lead categories.
If Hamilton gets nominated in all thirteen categories- then it is within striking distance to go for the record. The Producers only had three eligible performer categories, but with the decision to put Phillipa Soo as a Leading Actress, Hamilton now has all four performer categories available.
Also, don't be surprised if it receives more than thirteen nominations. Hamilton is likely going to have the same problem as The Producers. If multiple actors get nominated in the same category (which I would expect), it won't be possible for Hamilton to win all of its nominations.
How many possible Tonys could Lin-Manuel Miranda personally go home with? If he was nominated for every available category andhe won all of them, I see four Tonys on the list above that could wind up on his mantel. Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical and Best Orchestrations (which he collaborated on). The award for Best Musical is given to the producers- and he didn't produce the show. But the possibility of seeing the same person win both the composing and writing awards and an acting award and an arrangement award- that is a phenomenal and exciting possibility.
I have an image in my head from when Norah Jones won so many Grammys in the same night that she could barely hold them all. I keep thinking about this picture every time I think about what a photo of Lin at the end of the Tonys might look like.
In The Heights was nominated was for 13 Tonys and won 4. Lin-Manuel Miranda was personally nominated for two: Best Score (which he won) and Best Actor (which he lost). (As a footnote, I'll mention that In the Heights was also nominated for Best Sound Design, a category that no longer exists.) But Hamilton is a whole different ball game. It's a hit, it's a hit, it's a palpable hit. A crazy lottery, standing room only, sold out forever hit. A show doesn't have to be a monster hit like Hamilton to win Tonys, but it doesn't hurt.
For me, a lot of the drama is going to be in the Actor categories. Ignoring the other shows for a moment- if it was a match-up between just Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (Burr)- who would win? (Oh, the irony, given that the show itself is a matchup between Hamilton and Burr.) Common sense probably tells us Lin, but I have to say that Leslie was show-stoppingly phenomenal.
What about the Featured Actors? The ensemble work was all exceptional and it is difficult to rank one above another. If I absolutely had to, I would say Daveed Diggs (Lafayette/Jefferson) and Chris Jackson (Washington) were truly standouts. So was Jonathan Groff (King George III), even through he was only on stage for a few moments. Okieriete Onaodowan (Mulligan/Madison) was also terrific, but there may not be enough room in the nominations.
On the actress side, both Phillipa Soo (Eliza) and Renee Elise Goldsberry (Angelica) were outstanding, so I'm glad they won't have any other competition in their categories from within the show, unless Jasmine Cephas Jones (Peggy/Maria Reynolds) gets nominated as a Featured Actress.
We can't ignore those other shows forever. Here's a listof eligible new shows that will be vying very hard not to be shut out.
The Tony nominations will be announced on Tuesday, May 3 and the Tony Awards will be on Sunday, June 12.
The Best Days are Dog Days is the newest picture book from Aaron Meshon, author and illustrator of the fantastic TOOLS Rule!. Meshon's brightly detailed illustrations (which would be perfect hanging on the walls of any kid's room, or living room for that matter) are worth the price of the book alone, but he is a great writer as well and his stories always bring a new, creative perspective to the subject. With The Best Days Are Dog Days, Meshon parallels the busy day of a toddler and the family's French Bulldog. I think it's fair to call them siblings. . .
One thing that I noticed with my own children and interacting with babies while working as a bookseller is that babies love to see pictures of babies. And toddlers love to see images of their daily lives. While this can be a little dull to the person reading the book, Meshon finds the perfect way to make these mundane (but, fun) tasks humorously engaging for little and big readers alike. Pup and Sis do everything together. Their day begins, Sis on the right side of the page and Pup, the narrator, on the left, with a stretch. Meshon captures the dog stretch perfectly, and Sis's little puppy-themed pjs are very cute. Breakfast is followed by a trip to the parks, both kid and dog. They make friends, play in the water and, together at the same time, chase a squirrel. A potty break is another moment of subtle humor in this already very funny book. A tandem bike, with a toddler seat and a dog basket, make getting around this very cool city (Seattle? Vancouver? St. Paul?) entertaining. Back home again and exhausted, it's bath time then time to brush the teeth for yet another awesomely hilarious two-page spread.
Kids and dogs are a pretty common pairing in picture books, but Meshon brings a very fresh approach to it. Of course this is the perfect book for new parents who have been practicing on their dog for a few years, but really, any little one will love this book with its familiar themes and cheerful colors. Buy this book today! Buy two - one for your own family and one to give as a gift!
Both Madison (Mads) and Billy have their futures ahead of them - futures heavily shaped by their mothers. And, perhaps, by each other. But when the story starts, when their stories first intersect, only one of them is present: Mads, when her morning swim leads her straight into the path of a body, a woman who has taken her own life: Billy's mother.
Though the premise outlined above may sound grim, Essential Maps for the Lost by Deb Caletti is buoyed by hope: hope for better days, hope for positive change. The story is led by two characters who struggle to take control over their own lives while they search for reasons or answers related to recent events. Written in third person, the book flips back and forth between Billy and Mads, allowing the reader to see both perspectives - which is especially interesting when they are in the same scene, so the dual narrative allows us to be privy to both characters' thoughts. The third person style also permits a cool omniscient element, with occasional phrases directing the reader's attention to something - almost like a finger pointing, "Look there," "Remember this moment later" - that are more like gentle nudges than pushy wink-wink moments.
Billy and Mads, both post-high school and both innate caretakers, have found jobs they love: Billy works at a no-kill animal shelter and literally rescues dogs, while Mads babysits a baby girl that she wishes she could protect from the world. But neither of them are happy at home. Billy now lives with his grandmother, a woman full of cruel remarks and judgements about her late daughter, while Mads is staying with her aunt, uncle, and cousin for the summer while she takes real estate classes at Bellevue Community College - all part of her mother's plan for Mads to become her working partner the second she passes the licensing exam.
But once Mads and Billy meet, once their lives collide, their futures change. Or is it that their options change, and their true futures reveal themselves? It is not easy to alleviate the burdens of the abandoned or create a map for the lost. It takes courage to face the ogres of depression and loss. With strength of spirit combined with gut instincts and personal truths, Mads and Billy find their way out of the deep and onto their next journey.
Marion Deuchars is the force behind the Let's Make Some series of books that inspire creativity in kids and adults. Visit the site to give Deuchars's projects a try or read my reviews of her books Let's Make Some Great Fingerprint Art
I find Deuchars's illustrations crisply engaging and always charming. Her hand lettering adds to that charm, almost inviting readers to write their own story, which works wonderfully in Bob the Artist. Bob is a red-beaked-blackbird with skinny legs. Legs so skinny that the other birds laugh and laugh when they see Bob.
This brings Bob down so he tries to do something about his legs. Exercise, clothes as camouflage and some serious sausage eating to nothing for Bob's legs. Then, Bob happens to visit a gallery where he is INSPIRED!
Bob takes his inspiration from Henri Matisse and Jackson Pollock, decorates his beak and heads back out into the world. This time the other birds greet him with appreciation and awe and Bob feels good about himself again - good enough to even walk the world as himself sometimes!
Bob the Artist can be a book with a message and it can also be a book that is beautiful to look at, fun to read and a creative inspiration, which is how I like to read it, and how I hope you will, too!
A few years ago I gleefully discovered The 13 Story Treehouse written by Andy Griffithsand illustrated by Terry Denton. These two Australians are the geniuses who created the hands-down-best-ever (sorry Dr. Seuss) silly-rhyming primers, The Cat on the Mat is Flat and The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow. These two books are rarely on the shelves of my school library and I have three copies of each. They are perfect for new readers who want a chapter book but aren't quite ready for one and they are also perfect for older kids reading below grade level because they are eye-catching and don't look like baby books... With the creation of The Treehouse Seriesthese two really deserve some kind of medal for creating completely engaging books for that appeal to all readers, but especially reluctant readers, boys, and struggling readers. These books are an easy sell, but when called upon, I will tell kids they are like a cross between the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and the cartoon show Phineas and Ferb.
Three years and three books later, it is definitely worth revisiting this superb series and the silly main characters, Andy and Terry. Yes, the author and illustrator made themselves the stars of their own books, and rightly so. These books are still highly illustrated, happily, often veering into graphic novel territory. And what has been going on as the boys have been adding thirteen levels to their treehouse every year? Of course, as the treehouse grows the amazing accoutrements increase. A bowling alley, a see-through swimming pool and a marshmallow-shooting machine that follows you around and feed you when you are hungry are just a few of the fun features of the treehouse. Now, 39 stories later, the treehouse includes a chainsaw-juggling level, a rocket-powered-carrot launcher, a lifesized snakes and ladders game, a Ninja Snail training academy and a state of the art, high tech detective agency that hopefully will help them find their missing publisher, Mr. Big Nose.
Yes! Things do happen in the Treehouse Series! It's not all fun, game, gags and gadgets! First of all, Andy and Terry are always facing a deadline, with a new book due to their publisher - and yes, there is a 65 Story Treehouse on the horizon (and already available in Australia!) In the last book, Terry invented a "Once-upon-a-time" machine that will write and illustrate books for them but this time around they are back to doing it themselves, among other things, like celebrating Andy's birthday. If you have never cracked the spine of any of the Treehouse Books, I strongly suggest you do. It will brighten your day, and then someone else's, whether you share it, give it or just laugh together, these are the most fun a lot of kids will have with a book.
Fairy tales are a passion of mine and I am fortunate enough to have 30 students, a different grade every day, for ninety minutes each morning. Across all the grades, in one form or another, I spend a lot of time reading fairy tales out loud and I never fail to be surprised by the rapt attention that I get from every child. I think, in part, they love hearing the fairy tales because they are familiar with them. With this in mind, why not make children familiar with literary classics? Jack and Holman Wang are doing this with their charmingly clever Cozy Classics board books and now Scott Nash, author and illustrator of the superb The High Flying Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate, which has a very classic feel of its own, brings us Shrunken Treasures: Literary Classics, Short, Sweet and Silly. While it took me a while to find the value in introducing children to classic works of adult literature, seeing the endless interest my students have in fairy tales made me think these creative adapters are on to something!
Nash begins Shrunken Treasures with an introduction to in invention that he calls the "Versizer." A "marvel of squishy science," the Versizer can transform "lengthy novels, myths and epic poems into delightful nuggets of nonsense." Nash assures readers that the Versizer does no damage to the original text, as it can be un-shrunk at any time. Finally, he urges readers to "recite and sing" these shrunken treasures until they are "old enough to read the more weighty classics" themselves.
Short, sweet, and silly is exactly what these nine poems are. And Nash is very creative. Moby Dick is to be recited/sung to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," Jane Eyre to the tune of "Three Blind Mice." Nash begins his retelling of The Odyssey with, "No wussie was Ulysses," a refrain repeated throughout the poem. My favorite poem in the whole book, and the final, is Remembrance of Things Past, which reads as follows:
I dipped a sweet cake in my tea
And a whole world came back to me.
The accompanying illustrations is brilliant as well, showing M(arcel) with a world of things floating just above his head. Of course kids won't get this, but you will have fun explaining it to them!
Art thou pale for weariness Of climbing heaven, and gazing on the earth, Wandering companionless Among the stars that have a different birth,- And ever-changing, like a joyless eye That finds no object worth its constancy?
Part of the experience of a book fair, and not one overly discussed for a reason, are the partnerships and the collaborative aspects of the book trade. You don’t necessarily have to go at this alone. Your comrades have your back (or your spine, [excruciating pun intended] which plays out when scouting or acquiring other material to add to the overall inventory. How many times have you heard, “Oh, X, would love/need this!?” If you are willing and able, then serendipity has its moments, in addition to critical partnerships.
It was excellent for me to work along side Brian Cassidy, veteran bookseller and long-time Lux Mentis booth partner; Michael Laird, newly discovered witchcraft buddy; book goddess, Kara Accettola; the adorable and sharp, Jonathan Kearns; and equally as adorable and bright, Simon Beattie. I would also like to recognize, the entire Pirages team [good lord, ya’ll need a drink], Ed Sanders and Travis Low [horns up], Fuchsia Voremberg [hugs], Tom Congalton, and Ashley Wildes. I think Ashley encompasses the entire fair sentiment in one image:
Ashley diffuses the situation with mermaid-like qualities, as Kim wishes Ian to contract mind fleas. [Note: drinks handled with appropriate care]
It would be remiss to not recognize some of the book artists and book binders, very important, as representing strong work is a pleasure and a privilege. Both Colin Urbina and Erin Fletcher make overwhelmingly inspiring work, glad to have them in both physical form and function appearing in New York; Michael Kuch, again mind-blowing work; Peter Bogardus; Russell Maret, exceptional new work; Nancy Loeber, representing both fairs [shadow fair]; Christina Amato; Leslie Gerry; Mindy Belloff; María Verónica San Martín; Peter Koch; newly acquired book artist Alexandra Janezic; and of course, the dynamic duo of Marshall Weber and Felice Tebbe at Booklyn. [Do I sound like a broken record or an Oscar speech? geez.]
So, what’s next? Fortunately, we were able to jump over to the “shadow” shows both uptown and across the street to visit both book artists and snap up some “brutally cool” items for down the road to make appearances in iterations of catalog lists forthcoming. What did strike our fancy this year? A selection of things that caught our eye:
Last year I reviewed Epic Yarns, a trilogy of board books by brothers Jack and Holman Wang. Each book tells the story of the Star Wars saga using only twelve words and twelve adorably, masterfully felted scenes. Normally, this is the kind of board book I would pass on, but the Wang brothers are so creative with their vision and their felting and the miniature scenes are so intriguing that I couldn't resist. Now, Cozy Classics, the Wang's first series of board books is being reissued - three a year, along with two new board books a year - and they are just as good, if not better than the Epic Yarns.
The Wang brother, both dads, actually started this series as a way to teach words to their very young children. I bristled a little when I first heard about the Cozy Classics, but once I read them I fell in love. And, having spent the last two years working as an elementary school librarian and watching as fairy tales and Greek mythology grab the interest of my students over and over, I have come to believe that introducing kids to he classics - even if they are the adult classics - is actually a good thing. There is a reason that the classics are still read and loved, in part because, like fairy tales, their stories are timeless. And, if an author can pare down a classic and make it both palatable and comprehensible for kids while maintaining the universally appealing aspects of the story, why not?
I know it seems crazy to think that a classic work of literature can be distilled down to twelve words, but the Wang brothers really know their cannon. And, if you are intimately familiar with any of the classics they felt, I think you will agree with me.
Also, think of how fun it could be to read the Cozy Classics with your little ones and fill in bits of the stories that are appropriate and interesting to them? And, if you like this idea, be sure not to miss the fantastic Shrunken Treasures: Literary Classics, Short and Sweet by Scott Nash. Nash playfully illustrates nine classics from Western literature that have been sent through the "Versizer," a "marvel of squishy science" that transforms lengthy works into short, silly poems.
The book in its wonderful camel on wheels home #dada
In honor of the 100th birthday of the emergence of the Dada movement, we are sharing the unique artist book created by Rolf Lock embodying Hugo Ball’s Karawane. In full leather boards, the exquisite hand illustration and lettering was executed on sandpaper…because…it was. It is housed, as one would expect, in an olive wood camel, the book at rest forming its hump…because…it is.
The text of the Ball’s poem, written in 1916, is as follows:
One thing that still surprises me is how much little kids are fascinated by sharks. Shark books in my library are always checked out - even more so than dinosaur books. In light of this, I am truly surprised that Slickety Quick: Poems About Sharks written by Skila Brown and illustrated by Bob Kolar is the first book of its kind I have encountered. Happily, Slickety Quick: Poems About Sharks is a treat to read, both for Brown's playfully informative shape poems and for Kolar's colorful, watery illustrations that handsomely capture the (often beautiful) subjects. I don't usually include so many illustrations from a book in a review, but Brown's range of shark subjects and Kolar's illustrations are so fantastic, I wanted to give you a really good idea of all that Slickety Quick has to offer.
Wisely, and with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, Brown kicks off Slickety Quick with a poem about the great white shark - in the shape of that distinctive fin. Thirteen species and their poems, along with brief facts, follow and their variety might surprise you.
Brown's poems are as dramatic as her subjects and very fun to read out loud, especially the poem about the hammerhead shark for two voices, above. The pages of Slickety Quick are so fun to pore over and readers are sure to learn about sharks without even realizing it!
On his websiteKolar mentioned that he loves creating the end pages of his books and this is where I realized I had reviewed a book illustrated by Kolar back in 2011 and, tickled by the end pages, I included them in my review of Nothing Like a Puffin by Sue Soltis. And, I also realized that I had reviewed Skila Brown's unforgettable debut novel in 2014! A verse novel set in Guatemala in 1981, Caminar tells the story of a young boy caught between the military government and guerillas fighting against it.
Like my comrade, the illustrious scribe of Bibliodeviant, I will also traipse through a serial recount of *my* first New York ABAA Book Fair in a similar fashion and how the sideshow, that is Lux Mentis, embellishes the landscape of the book trade and book collecting like the carnival we seem to entertain. Inspired, though by the words of Mr. Kearns, I would like to address the idea of bookselling as identity and image briefly.
Girl, get a grip
After working over 20 years in library land and visual arts culture, I’ve worn several hats. However, not just one will underscore my identity, which to some I apparently wear openly and ripe for criticism. We can model ourselves in such a way that the world might fantasize about librarians in that perverse and/or cryptic and ‘monkish’ kind of way, or we can shine bright like a diamond* with a freak flag of superb owning up to our singular individuality, our own individual prowess to flourish and thrive in this profession.
Basically, the same perception applies to hungry, curious, and experienced visitors at your book fair booth, in your house, your library, your bookshops. You never know what they might bring to the table. Same goes for your fellow booksellers. So, regardless if you have marked skin, blue hair, fancy tweeds, tortoise shell glasses or honest awkwardness, we corral a fierce sense of advocacy for printed and written matter that gives these manifestations of glory multi-generational lives that are passed through a series of hands, hearts, and minds. We have the opportunity to support and create libraries, research, passions, and histories for people, otherwise drowning in the mediocrity in the world. We will find success in those connections, rather than in a litany of judgment based on gender, appearance, and other personal identities.
I could further throw a tirade of shade*, but rather, let’s tunnel into the rabbit hole of New York. As others have mentioned, New York is on fire with grit and action, unlike any other metropolitan in the US, however like I mentioned in a previous blog, the city is a hotbed for bibliophilic intellectualism and performative ingenuity. The New York Antiquarian Book Fair is a force and now I know compared to the somewhat laissez-faire attitude of California (as least Pasadena), I understand why it operates as such. The Park Armory building is a gorgeous architectural example of late 19th century Gothic revival design suitably fitting to encase a labyrinthine maze of booksellers. I felt sort of enveloped in a skeletal shell, ironically housing the biblio-madness for the next few days.
Before set-up started on Wednesday, I can’t slide by without saluting a few notable events and people. Through a blizzard (ha!), we made our way through the quiet snow of Massachusetts to the insanely talented home of Michael Kuch, artist, to pick up the latest iteration of work debuting at the fair [images to follow]. We also lavished in the presence of Marvin Taylor and Charlotte Priddle at the Fales Library & Special Collections, NYU where I pawed around the stacks a bit, as well. Lastly, I would be lying if I wasn’t fidgeting like a 3 year old needing to pee, because I was able to see the Mystery and Benevolence exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum. Get your secret handshake on.
To be continued…[Next up, witness me!*]
*If any of you get my pop culture references, you are Gucci. Yes, I am a metalhead who listens to Ri-Ri.
Every fair set-up and break down is a challenge, an adventure, and a chore. In the art world, “installation” is where the vision becomes cemented for the curator or artist. Without being to fussy, installation at a book fair is similar, in that, a bookseller has the option to design visual gestalt with a display, to tell a story, or even to offend, dazzle, and educate. With that, part of the concept is driving an aesthetic attachment for a potential person to immediately hone in on something they absolutely desire to acquire for personal or pragmatic reasons.
Again, the thematic diatribe of Lux Mentis to “mock conventionalism” emerges case by case with groupings of “sex, death, and devil,” artist’s books, fine press, esoterica, and other bits of seemingly harmless or seemingly objectionable material. The process can sort of look like this:
What is important to note is while we go gangbusters with stuff, selection is important, as well as time management, you can fiddle around with one shelf for hours, believe me. That being said, all in all, installation was smooth and considerate, every shelf both notes and confronts a narrative. See for yourself.
Next time: Gettin’ granular, or how to give good looks and books.
The Whale is the debut picture book from Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow, published by Big Picture Books, an imprint of two of my favorite picture book publishers, Templar Company Limited and Candlewick Press. As the name suggests, Big Picture Press is dedicated to publishing highly illustrated books with the belief that, "books should be visually intelligent, surprising and accessible to readers of all age, abilities and nationalities." I think they are doing a stellar job carrying out this mission, but you can judge for yourself by clicking here.
The first thing you notice about The Whale, besides the generous trim size and thick, luxurious pages, are the illustrations. They are immediately engrossing and completely compelling. The opening pages show two industrious kids, separately preparing to prove that the giant whale, spotted by two children fifty years ago, is not a hoax. A two page illustration of town's newspaper, the Cape Chronicle, tells some of the story.
Back on their boats, we see the boy and girl preparing their equipment and their boats to document the existence of the whale. There is almost a steampunk feel to these pages, with gadgets and gears everywhere. The two head out and, absorbed in their mission, crash into each other. Angry at first, they quickly team up to complete their mission when they spot the mysterious whale on the horizon. The final pages of The Whale are the Cape Chronicle again, telling the story of the two adventurers and revealing a surprising secret as well!
The Whale is amazing, an immersive experience that must be experienced. This is horrible reviewing, but you really have to see this book for yourself to appreciate just how magical and meaningful it is! I can't wait to see what Vita and Ethan Murrow do next, together or on their own!
A new book from Nikki McClure is always something to get very excited about, especially Waiting for High Tide. McClure's unique paper cut illustrations are always filled with astonishing detail and loving attention to the natural world. Waiting for High Tide feels like the ideal combination of the two, pair with generous text that tells the story of the rewards of patience and the rewards of the sea.
The narrator of Waiting for High Tide is frustrated. It's low tide, and a stretch of mud makes swimming impossible, especially because it could mean getting stuck and being rescued by Grandma. But, the day is not all bad. The narrator, Mama, Papa and Grandma are going to build a raft using a big log that drifted to shore after a storm. And, while the prospect of the raft is definitely exciting, the wait, both for the high tide to arrive and the raft to be completed, is filled with amazing, miraculous explorations of nature and what the sea has presented, like gifts on the shore.
In fact, Mama says to the narrator, "The sea provides," and the beach always provides. A pirate's treasure includes clam shells, crab parts, three dead jellyfish and a heron feather along with, "tiny bits of plastic rope, a soggy shoe that doesn't match any in my collection" and a "true score - sunglasses with one lens one and the other covered with barnacles. Now I have barnacle vision!" The pink sunglasses and barnacle vision add a nice touch to Waiting for High Tide. The splash of pink from the glasses and the intimate look at the barnacles adds a true naturalist's vision to the story. Simple sketches alongside the text help to bring to life McClure's colorful writing. The narrator begins this passage saying, "I walk along a ribbon of barnacles that stripes the upper beach. They cover the big rocks here that the waves can't tumble." Finishing the passage with, "But the best part about the barnacles is the noise they make. Miles and miles of tiny plates shifting about make a crackly , squizzling sound. Maybe they tell stories of all they saw with that one eye as the swam about the world? What will I see? What will I tell?," McClure beautifully ties together the life of the barnacles with the building and eventual launching of the raft.
When I worked for a literary agent a few years ago, I learned that the standard length of a picture book is 1,500 words, preferably less. It is such a treat to read a longer book like Waiting for High Tide! Even better, it is a true joy to read a picture book that incorporates an engaging story and facts about nature so seamlessly.