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<<August 2015>>
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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Picture Books, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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26. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #446: Featuring Marc Boutavant

“‘You must tell me honestly if you’re getting angry,’ he went on.
‘It would be too bad if you didn’t tell me, squirrel. It would be insulting.'”
– From
The Day No ONe Was Angry


Title page art from Edmond, the Moonlit Party


Want to join me this morning, dear Imps, in looking at some artwork from French illustrator Marc Boutavant? I’m looking at two new books, in particular, here — Astrid Desbordes’ Edmond, The Moonlit Party, which was originally published in France two years ago but came to American shelves in June, thanks to Enchanted Lion Books, as well as Toon Tellegen’s The Day No One Was Angry. I believe Toon’s stories originally published in 2002, and this is the First American Edition from Gecko Press (March 2015).

Edmond, the Moonlit Party, translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick, is the enchanting story of a squirrel who lives in a tree also populated by an owl and a bear (his neighbors, that is). Edmond is shy, so he spends time alone, making nut jam and being “an amazing pompom maker.” He makes things like pompom hats in “no more than a day or two.” It’s very fun to spot his pompom creations, and the character himself is quirky and funny in such a way that is never too precious or cloying. His neighbor, the owl, likes to dress in disguises and eventually invites him to the party bear throws — and Edmond comes out of his shell. The story is laugh-out-loud funny in spots, and Boutavant’s illustrations are a perfect fit here, Leonard Marcus describing them in the New York Times as “a stylish retro-Pop brew with winsome notes of Takashi Murakami and Richard Scarry.” Yes. That.

The Day No One Was Angry is quite unlike any other story collection you’ll read this year — and different from the way many American books would handle such a thing. Here, Tellegen explores anger in 12 stories featuring a variety of creatures. The stories are funny and bizarre and thought-provoking — sometimes all three at once. Think: An elephant who argues with himself for having climbed a tree (and fallen, as he suspected he might). Or think: A lobster who sells anger door-to-door from his suitcase. (“I’m the lobster. Can I interest you in some anger?”) It’s an intriguing collection of stories and worlds apart from your typical story set.

Here’s a bit of art from each book so that you can see for yourself. …

[Pictured above left is a spot illustration from “The Hedgehog” from Tellegen’s The Day No One Was Angry.]


From The Day No One Was Angry:



“The hedgehog was sitting under the rose bush, thinking of all the things he’d been. I’ve been joyful, he thought. On the squirrel’s birthday, for instance,
when I danced with the cricket. …”


“The shrew sat at the table and tasted the cake the squirrel put in front of him. ‘Squirrel,’ he said, after two bites, ‘I think this really will make you angry,
but I have to tell you: I don’t like this cake. …'”



From Edmond, the Moonlit Party:


(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)


(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)


(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)



THE DAY NO ONE WAS ANGRY. First American edition published in 2015 by Gecko Press, and all illustrations here used by their permission.

EDMOND, THE MOONLIT PARTY. First published in 2015 by Enchanted Lion Books, and all illustrations here used by their permission.

* * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) Well, this is so wonderful for obvious reasons.

2) I didn’t think it could be possible to like Lily Tomlin even more than I already did, but then I listened to her Fresh Air interview


3) I’m driving a bit more these days, and I’m getting caught up on podcasts, both long-time favorites and brand-new delights. I’m sorry to the environment, but my ears and brain are happy.

4) My girls and I are reading this below, and it is very funny. We are racing through it, because we can’t put it down.

5) Invitations.

6) My middle-schooler continues to like her new school — and especially that the library opened this week.

7) Re-discovering old CDs and songs, such as Crowded House’s “Nails in My Feet.” Those guys and their lyrics. So good.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

4 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #446: Featuring Marc Boutavant, last added: 8/23/2015
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27. Seuss on Saturday: #34

The Shape of Me And Other Stuff. Dr. Seuss. 1973. Random House. 36 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
You know...
It makes a fellow think.
The shape of you
the shape of me
the shape
of everything I see...

Premise/plot: The Shape of Me and Other Stuff is a "bright and early book" for "beginning beginners." It's a simple book about the shapes of...all sorts of stuff. Somewhat random, but, perfect rhythm and rhyme.

My thoughts: Not much of a story, but, pleasant enough overall. I like the illustration style. 

Have you read The Shape of Me and Other Stuff? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you thought of it!

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is There's A Wocket In My Pocket. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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28. Frog on a Log?

Frog on a Log? Kes Gray. Illustrated by Jim Field. 2015. [September] Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "Hey Frog! Sit on a log!" said the cat. "But I don't want to sit on a log,' said the frog. "Logs are all hard and uncomfortable. And they can give you splinters. Ouch!" "I don't care" said the cat. "You're a frog, so you must sit on a log."

Premise/plot: The cat is quite BOSSY, as this frog discovers in this rhyming book. Cat knows exactly where everyone is allowed to sit: frogs on logs, cats on mats, hares on chairs, mules on stools, gophers on sofas, etc. The frog keeps on asking question after question perhaps hoping to change the cat's mind, but, he asks one question too many…

My thoughts: The text was okay for me. I didn't love it. I didn't hate it. I think I might have liked this one a tiny bit more if I'd liked the illustrations.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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29. A Lucky Author Has A Dog

A Lucky Author Has A Dog. Mary Lyn Ray. Illustrated by Steven Henry. 2015. [August] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Early in the morning, people are waking and going to work. So a dog is, too. Because an author should also be waking. A lucky author has a dog to begin every day with a kiss--then some help getting dressed.

Premise/plot: Ever wondered what a day in the life of an author was like? A Lucky Author Has A Dog is a picture book about what it's like to be an author--an author with a dog! It talks about writing and publishing--being an author. But it is also very much a celebration of dogs and pets.

My thoughts: I liked this one very much. It was a great book. I loved how it discusses the writing process. I loved the point of view as well. For example, "Are stories waiting to be noticed? The dog will show the author how to look and listen the way a dog does. An author without a dog can learn. But having a dog is better. Because everything is better with a dog."

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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30. Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree by Kate Messner and Simona Mulazzani

The latest educational scuttlebutt when it comes to books and the Common Core State Standards is multi-subject non-fiction, or combining math facts with science and history in one book. Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree by the multitalented Kate Messner, with superb illustrations by Simona Mulizzani is a perfect example of this! Tree of Wonder: The Many

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31. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Don Brown,Emily Carroll, Zack Giallongo, and Ben Hatke

– From Ben Hatke’s Little Robot


– From Ian Lendler’s The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet, illustrated by Zack Giallongo


– From Marika McCoola’s Baba Yaga’s Assistant, illustrated by Emily Carroll


– From Don Brown’s Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans


This morning over at Kirkus, I’ve got three new picture books from debut author-illustrators. Good stuff, these books. That link will be here soon.

* * *

Last week, I had a graphic novel round-up, so I’m following up today here at 7-Imp with a bit of art from each book — Don Brown’s Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 2015); Marika McCoola’s Baba Yaga’s Assistance, illustrated by Emily Carroll (Candlewick, August 2015); Ben Hatke’s Little Robot (First Second, September 2015); and Ian Lendler’s The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet (First Second, September 2015), illustrated by Zack Giallongo. To boot, I’ve got a bit of art from last year’s The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth.



From Baba Yaga’s Assistant:


(Click each to enlarge)



From Little Robot:



From Drowned City:


(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)


(Click each to enlarge)



From The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents
Romeo and Juliet


(Click each to enlarge)



From The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents


(Click each to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

BABA YAGA’S ASSISTANT. Text copyright © 2015 by Marika McCoola. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Emily Carroll. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

DROWNED CITY: HURRICANE KATRINA & NEW ORLEANS. Copyright © 2015 by Don Brown. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston.

LITTLE ROBOT. Copyright © 2015 by Ben Hatke. Illustrations published by permission of the publisher, First Second Books, New York.

THE STRATFORD ZOO MIDNIGHT REVUE PRESENTS MACBETH. Text copyright © 2014 by Ian Lendler. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Zack Giallongo. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, First Second Books, New York.

THE STRATFORD ZOO MIDNIGHT REVUE PRESENTS ROMEO AND JULIET. Text copyright © 2015 by Ian Lendler. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Zack Giallongo. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, First Second Books, New York.

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32. The Tree House that Jack Built by Bonnie Verburg & Mark Teague

The Tree House that Jack Built by Bonnie Verburg, with fantastic illustrations by Mark Teague, takes the old nursery rhyme south of the equator for this very fun twist. The Tree House that Jack Built begins by following the pattern of the nursery rhyme ("Here is the lizard that snaps at the fly that buzzes by the tree house that Jack built) and escalates until a bell rings - it's

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33. Diversity Part 2

I originally posted this article on WritersRumpus.com. As one of my heroes, the Dalai Lama, once said…“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”  Let’s each one of us be the mosquito!   —Lin Oliver This week Lin Oliver, co-founder and Executive Director of the international Society of […]

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34. Audrey's Tree House by Jenny Hughes & Jonathan Bently

I love tree houses. Who doesn't? For me, tree houses, along with window seats, are those things from my childhood that seemed like magical places where a kid could go to get away from the world. They were magical to me because, growing up in a city and living in an apartment, they seemed largely unattainable. Yet, they posses the transformative power of an enchanted wardrobe or mirror.

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35. My Writing and Reading Life: Derek Taylor Kent

Latest published book … EL PERRO CON SOMBRERO You wrote it because … In doing my school visits to promote my book series Scary School, I visited many dual immersion and spanish-speaking schools and saw the need for bilingual picture books that could be used to teach either English or Spanish to early learners.

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36. Keeping the Fires Stoked with Antoinette Portis

Early sketch and final art: “Hurry!”
(Click to enlarge spread)


Author-illustrator Antoinette Portis joins me this morning for a lovely, long chat before breakfast. Last month over at BookPage, I reviewed Antoinette’s newest picture book, Wait (Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, July 2015). That review is here.

Today, Antoinette talks all about the book and its evolution; her experience as a Sendak Fellow; the fine art of being content with discontent; her upcoming picture books (with art from each to share!); and much more. I thank her for visiting, and let’s get right to it.

[Please note that the colors in the larger versions of each image, should you choose to click on them, are slightly brighter than they appear in the book.]



Jules: Hi, Antoinette! I’m not going to ask you about how the story of Wait came to you, since you covered that in the Horn Book Q&A and the Q&A at Publishers Weekly. I do want to ask about this, which you typed to me in an email when we were chatting earlier:

I don’t think of myself as an illustrator per se, but a visual communicator or a visual storyteller. I generally don’t use drawing as a way to come up with ideas. I get ideas, and then I sketch them out to communicate them. I think my idea machine is on the language side of my brain. Then the drawing side kicks in and fleshes things out. It’s taken me a while to figure out that this is my particular process.

Is this something you discovered during the Sendak Fellowship, by chance? Or earlier?


Final art: “Hurry!”
(Click to enlarge spread)


Antoinette: When I was in art school, my best friend always carried around a sketchbook and drew everywhere she went. In high school, I used to carry around a sketchbook everywhere I went, but I wrote in it. Anyway, my friend’s dedicated drawing practice was a rebuke to me. I wasn’t going to be a poet. I was heading toward being a visual artist, so why didn’t I draw all time? I started carrying a sketchbook and drawing regularly. But mostly, I drew to learn how to see. It was more often a turning outward, not inward.

At the Sendak Fellowship, it seemed like my friend Rowboat Watkins, like my college friend, also used drawing to bring forth ideas. His hand told him stuff about his interior life. It looked like drawing was his connection to inspiration, to his internal idea factory.


Final art: “Hurry!”
(Click to enlarge spread)


That has always seemed like the way artistic process is supposed to work. It’s taken me a while to accept that there are different ways of getting ideas out and onto paper. So, I have gradually come to make peace with, and maybe even relish, my own process. (Judging it and rebelling against it did not prove to be helpful.)

So, I mostly use writing to generate ideas. It doesn’t matter which comes first, words or image, because my books are going to have both. The two strands, at the finish, are going to synthesize into a whole.

Once I immerse myself in the drawing phase, the writing part of me shuts up and I get into that flow where visual ideas just seem to show up of their own accord. Working on Wait, the pictures start thickening up: visual motifs, subtext, foreshadowing, color all started to add little tiles of meaning, like building a mosaic.


Final art: “Wait.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


Each small detail serves the overarching theme, and the whole adds up, one hopes, to a piece of visual literature.

That’s what I’m striving for anyway. It’s a frigging thrilling goal. What picture books are capable of—the endless possibilities—lights my brain on fire.

Jules: Yes, it’s that “seamlessness” of text and art that Sendak once spoke of. Such a unique art form, these picture books.

I am not going to pry into your time with Sendak at the Fellowship, but may I ask about a piece of advice that he gave you that really sticks with you?


Final art: “Wait. Hurry!”
(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)


Antoinette: Maurice talked a lot about making books that had depth and meaning. He thought every book that gets published should matter, should say something children need to hear. He charged us with carrying on his mission — making books that authentically reflect the experience of being human.

So, no pressure. No pressure at all.

I guess what struck me the most about Maurice is that he was the living embodiment of what was great about his books. He was openhearted, deep, funny, honest, poetic, iconoclastic. When you met him in person, you saw that you had already met him in his books.

He wanted us, with him, to fan the flames of rebellion against blandness. He expressed his despair over the growing tendency among publishers—as more and more houses become divisions of giant, publicly traded media conglomerates—to regard books as mere consumer products that exist only to help the bottom line and increase shareholder value.


Final art: “Wait.”
(Click to enlarge)


I’m certainly glad this isn’t universally true. I’m glad there are true believers out there, passionate about making great books.

It was an amazing experience to have Maurice as a friend. He was someone you could laugh and cry with, usually both in the same conversation.

Another thing I learned, something that Maurice wasn’t consciously trying to teach us, was that all artists have to deal with their own sense of failing to meet their internal artistic standards. I may wish I could make a book as great as Where the Wild Things Are, but Maurice wished he could etch like Rembrandt, write a symphony like Mozart or a novel like Herman Melville. The man had seriously high standards. It made me realize that having goals far beyond what you can achieve is useful. Those goals lay out plenty of road ahead to travel.


Final art: “Hurry!”
(Click to enlarge)


With these thoughts on my mind, the day after I left the Fellowship I was in New York at the big Matisse retrospective at MoMA. There I saw a famous conceptual artist whose own retrospective I’d seen in L.A. before I left for the Fellowship. I went up to tell the artist how much I loved his work. He was standing in front of a quintessential Matisse etching—just a few casual, perfectly-placed black lines on cream paper—and there was a luscious plate of fruit. He tipped his head toward the etching and said, “Doesn’t it make you want to kill yourself?” I said, “I saw your show in L.A. and it made me want to kill myself!”

He laughed.


Final art: “Wait.”
(Click to enlarge)


So, there you go. What hope was there for me, lowly struggler, if my idols aren’t satisfied with their work?

We all think: If only I were Maurice Sendak or Mr. World Famous Conceptual Artist, then I’d be content.

But, no, you wouldn’t be.

You’d be wishing, always, to be more, to do more.

So, I am learning to be content with discontent. It keeps the fires stoked. There’s so much still to learn.


Final art: “Hurry!”
(Click to enlarge)


Jules: That makes a lot of sense to me. I feel like I push myself in that way—I often think in my head of the person I’d like most to impress when I’m working on a project—but I figured I was being too hard on myself with my high standards. This is a good way to look at it.

I always like to hear stories about how generous and open Sendak was, because I think right before he died he got a bad rap sometimes in the press. He was portrayed as a grouch. Now, I never met him, and he was sometimes publicly grumbly about publishing trends, but in his career, he helped open doors for so many young, up-and-coming artists. And he had so much respect for children and their emotional lives. I see these things as very generous.

Okay, to the book, specifically! Can you talk about the drafts you went through? We can see here in the images you’ve sent that the story began back in 2010 and was once called But …, right? Can you talk about the story’s evolution?


Final spread in book
(Click to enlarge)


Antoinette: Wait kind of wobbled into existence, as most of my books do. I’d seen this moment happen — a little boy pulling away from his rushing mom to look at something interesting and being kind of yanked back on course. And I knew it had the makings of a picture book.

But the idea didn’t come with a built-in ending. Some ideas come with an arc, like Froodle. I knew what the crisis point was, so I knew where the story was headed.


From the 2010 dummy
(Click middle images to enlarge)


But Wait felt more like Not A Box — episodic, more like a straight line than an arc. They’re both about the perpetual back and forth between adult and child.

So with Wait, the tricky part was coming up with an ending. I wanted to end on a moment of connection. I wanted to honor those moments as a parent when you slow down and let your child show you how to just be.

I first dummied it up as But…. Grammar provided a perfect analogy — a child’s agenda is a subordinate clause. I worked on various iterations in my writing group. The But… version showed the mom rushing, but only the boy spoke. Another version had the mom saying, “Let’s keep moving,” “Mommy’s in a hurry,” etc.

I played around with different variations until it was clear to me that the mom should say only “hurry” and the boy should say “wait.” The counterpoint of the two verbs emphasized the tug of war between them.


From the 2011 dummy
(Click all but first image to enlarge)


Back to the issue of the ending: The funny thing is, as a writer, I had thoroughly put myself inside the head of the child. Kids take it for granted that they are tugged around the world without rhyme or reason. That’s just the way life is. So, I had two versions of an ending, both from inside that context. In one, the mom, in her rushing, drops her watch and the boy is the one who notices it and saves the day. In the other, the boy picks a dandelion out of a sidewalk crack and gives it to his mom and she stops for a moment before rushing on. Neither of those versions got a go-ahead.

But I took good advice from smart people who spurred me to come up with a more dramatic ending. They asked questions that are important for a storyteller to ask: Where is the mom rushing off to? Why is she in such a hurry?

So, duh, I needed to show the immediate goal the mom was rushing toward, so that her stopping had more impact. When I knew where she was going, I could build clues into the illustrations that hint at what the “ticking clock” of the story is: catching the train. And then I knew that the last thing the boy notices had to be something worth missing a train for. A double rainbow, something rare and remarkable.


Early comp work
(Click first seven images to enlarge)


Figuring this all out was a lesson in story-building.

Maybe it will be easier next time.

p.s. I feel like I earned the right to use a double rainbow — after a storm, one arched over my house. Nature gave it to me. And a gift like that, you gotta use.

I just saw on Facebook that you teach a class on picture books. Can I ask where? It seems like one could learn a lot from teaching.


Part of dummy, as presented to Neal Porter in 2012
(Click to enlarge)


Jules: Oh, I teach one course for the The University of Tennessee’s Information Sciences program (library school), and it’s a grad course on picture books. My official title is Lecturer. I don’t have a doctorate (yet?), and I am not even a part-time teacher. I just teach this one course for now. Needless to say, I love it. It looks at picture books in a curricular light (meaning, one week we’ll talk about good poetry picture books; then, nonfiction; then, folktales; then, international books, etc.), and it’s not, say, all about the art of the picture book. But I do open the course by talking about how we define picture books and how they work. I enjoy it.

And, yes, I learn a lot from teaching.

Have you ever taught?

As for the shape your story ended up taking, all I can say is that it’s just right. Also, every time I hear picture book authors talk about their craft, it amazes me anyone can ever get a picture book written. That sounds so goofy and over-earnest, and I guess I’m being hyperbolic. But I had to write one for a grad course once (fiction), and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It’s such a difficult thing to shape a story right and then craft the words. (This makes it all the more frustrating when you hear the average person on the street talk about how easy it must be.) I doubt many picture books arrive fully-formed in any author’s mind. And I think it’s fascinating to see the path to how an author or author-illustrator got there (like you’re sharing here today), even if what matters in the end is the final product, of course.


Part of dummy, as presented to Neal Porter in 2012
(Click to enlarge)


Antoinette: Are you thinking of getting or in the process of getting a PhD? That sounds intense. A lot more intense than making a picture book.

I was just at the SCBWI conference, and there was a lot of talk about people who don’t write picture books thinking they’re simplistic and easy to write. It definitely takes more time to write a novel than a picture book, but it doesn’t mean picture books are a breeze. They can be as deep, complex, and nuanced as any form of art. Just in an extremely economical way. There’s a quote that seems apropos (it’s been attributed to many writers, but apparently originated with Blaise Pascal): “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

Picture book-making gets intense when a project isn’t working. Or when it was working and then one little revision makes the whole thing fall apart. I’ve come to recognize that as part of the creative process. I noticed this phenomenon when I worked at Disney as well. You hit a glitch and all the work you’ve done so far seems wasted, suddenly irrelevant. But you struggle through to a solution that brings the whole thing to fruition, usually in a different way than you anticipated. Like you might have to ditch something that seemed absolutely essential at the beginning of the process.


Part of dummy, as presented to Neal Porter in 2012
(Click to enlarge)


Then there are the ideas that just don’t take you all the way there. The problem is, midway through the tangle, you don’t know if the idea is inherently unsuitable, or you just haven’t yet figured out how to make it work. You don’t know whether to press on or push the eject button. That’s why a writer’s group is so great. When you feel discouraged, having someone say, “Keep going, you’ve almost got it” makes the difference between a stack of abandoned, dead-end versions and a book that works.

Some ideas I have had to chuck for now, hoping I’ll be better equipped to take them on someday. I heard Neil Gaiman speak once and he said he had the idea for The Graveyard Book years before he wrote it. He felt he wasn’t a good enough writer at the time to be able to do the idea justice. But he learned and grew as a writer, and one day he was ready. And how wonderful that book is!

I’ve never taught, though managing creative people for many years sometimes felt like teaching. Doing these interviews has been a learning experience. I’ve been driven to take vague feelings, musings, and half-formed intuitions and form then into cogent thoughts. Even if no one else learns anything from what I’ve said, I did! I imagine teaching is like that. You don’t even know what you know until you start articulating it as a lesson plan. We take our own life and work experience for granted. It’s just wallpaper. But when you start really looking at that wallpaper, it comes to life. You can pluck those roses right out of there and share them with someone else.


Part of dummy, as presented to Neal Porter in 2012
(Click to enlarge)


Jules: I used to think I’d want to teach full-time in some sort of postsecondary setting (college or university, etc.), but now I’m not sure I’d want to do that full-time. I still have to think about that. I think that would determine if I ever got a PhD (to answer your question).

Yes, teaching forces us to articulate these thoughts wandering around our heads, and that is always good.

Can you talk a bit more about working at Disney? If I knew that, I failed to remember. What did you do there?



Part of dummy, as presented to Neal Porter in 2012
(Click first image to enlarge)


Antoinette: I freelanced at Disney Consumer Products (DCP) for three days, working on an ad for the Pediatric Aids Foundation for which Disney was doing a charity event. There were so many acronyms, private lingo, and meetings; I kind of thought Disney was a cult.

I’d definitely seen the power Disney movies exert over little girls. My daughter was four when The Little Mermaid came out. If we were in Target, she could spot that teal and purple packaging from 200 yards away, and then … the whining! the begging!

I ended up working there full-time on the Disney licensing business. A business I’d never heard of — I thought Disney made everything they sold. I figured I’d be at Disney maybe a year, tops, but I stayed almost nine.

My boss hired me and other designers whose tastes she trusted with the goal of elevating the design standard of licensed products. And we did that. I was able to hire such talented people, and they astonished me every day. Some days my mouth hurt from smiling so much.


Playing with textures for Wait: Foggy city


It’s hard to explain what I did there, because like me when I started there, nobody knows what licensing is.

Skip this paragraph if you don’t care what licensing is (I don’t blame you): Certain product manufacturers pay a fee to intellectual property developers, like animation studios (or children’s book authors) to use that IP on their products. All the products you see outside the Disney parks and the Disney Store are designed, manufactured, and distributed by licensees, not by Disney itself. So, for every Disney movie for which there will be consumer products, Disney makes a source book, called a style guide, for all the licensees to use. The intention is that all the product out there will have a unified look and reflect the film faithfully. No more weird stuff out there like the Mickey Mouse dolls from the ’30s that looked like giant rats.


Early sketches for Wait


Disney provides character art, graphic design themes and elements, color palettes, etc., all approved by the filmmakers. It’s easy to understand that Disney would want the characters on tee shirts to be accurate renditions of the characters you see in the movie, but that same attention extended to graphic elements too. E.g., if Snow White was framed in flowers on a dress bodice, then the flowers had to be based on flowers from the film, drawn in the style of art in which the film was drawn. You couldn’t put Eyvind Earle’s Sleeping Beauty flowers with Snow White or vice versa. Verboten. (My boss was the first one to suggest that perhaps all the princesses could be grouped together, but that idea was vetoed. Disney wasn’t ready to loosen the reins that much. But it did happen eventually, as you can see.)


Playing with textures for Wait: Dry brush


I managed one of several teams of designers and illustrators, who made style guides for new films. We got to work with animation from the beginning of the film’s development. The illustrators, called character artists at Disney, learned from the animators how to draw the characters on model. They ended up knowing the characters’ personalities so well they could draw situations and interactions that weren’t in the movie, but felt true to the movie. The designers got to see all the development reference the animators and background artists were using: color stories, props, design elements, and the design influences of the film’s art direction.

Just to give you one small glimpse into our process of working with the animation studio, one task was to translate the character colors into PMS colors (a universal color system for printing and products) for the style guide. For example, for Hercules, the filmmakers chose a grayed mauve for Megara’s dress. We asked permission (this was like asking the Pope if you could get divorced) to brighten it up to a more kid-friendly shade, since the idea was for little girls around the world to be trotting off to bed in their irresistibly appealing mauve Megara nightgowns and mauve Megara slippers. We were granted this and other never-before-given dispensations, as it became more and more apparent that 1.) a Disney movie was not just a movie but a business franchise, and 2.) The Consumer Products team could be trusted to apply good sense and good taste.


Playing with textures for Wait: Pencil


So, we made style guides, these big thick binders full of art and design elements, and sent them to our licensees. They took the art, and to differentiate their products from the other licensees’, would rejigger it and get creative with it — sometimes in very scary ways that we would try to fix.

My first project there was The Lion King. The licensees were all worried about the movie, because there was no princess. Mattel fretted that they couldn’t make dolls with long flowing locks. It shocked everyone when the movie was the biggest success Disney had had to date. The people heading the studio trusted my boss, so we had more leeway to break out of the traditional way of doing things than anyone had before. For example, all character art previous to The Lion King was drawn in blue pencil and then inked with a thick and thin brush line, like old-school animations cells. When I proposed using different art styles for the character art, the old guard muttered under their breath that it could not be done. But when we showed the producer of The Lion King an illustration of Simba in a rough woodcut style, he was delighted. So that door opened. And we brought in African flag colors and African tribal design motifs from textiles and art, even though there were no humans or evidence of humans in the movie. But those design elements made the design richer and more interesting, and the Studio went with it.


Playing with textures for Wait: Rubbing mesh


There were thousands and thousands of products (stuffed animals, toys, clothing, bedding, games, sippy cups, etc. etc. hauled around in red wagons and deposited in our offices, and my team looked at every single one of them. The character artists and designers both gave notes in triplicate on the forms attached to each item. I had one designer, who’d worked on choosing the colors for the L.A. Olympics, just working on advising the licensees about their color choices. It was surreal. We all took it super seriously, but at the same time were aware of the absurdity of it all. It was an epic feat of micro-management. Needless to say, not all the licensees were fans of the process.

It was funny to work in a serious place of business, at a Fortune 100 company, where everyone had to think like a child. What would a child want? Would a child enjoy playing with this toy? We would be in a meeting with Mattel, at this huge imposing conference table, discussing with utmost seriousness the amount of glitter on Dancing Esmeralda’s skirt. (Glitter appeared to be an occupational hazard of working at Mattel. Executives in suits with glitter on their cheeks!) Or fifteen grownups would be sitting around shooting little arrows at each other from Hercules action figures.

The job was stressful and fun at the same time.


Playing with textures for Wait: Stamps for brownstone


Until it was stressful and not fun. I eventually became a VP. I was proud of achieving that, but then my job was all business. For some execs, business is their creative medium. Not me. I longed to be alone and make work with my own two hands. No meetings to go over sales reports or develop business strategies or to build consensus on those strategies. No group brainstorming sessions. No one was going to storm my brain but me.

I’m glad I stopped liking my job, because otherwise I would still be there. I wouldn’t have this new career that suits my nature so well. As an art student, the idea of a life spent alone in a studio agonizing over the left-hand corner of a painting filled me with despair. Now that’s my idea of heaven!

Jules: That’s intense. And the copious amounts of glitter! (I once heard glitter referred to as the herpes of library story times, and it always makes me laugh when I think of it. There’s a bit of off-color humor before breakfast.)

I could talk to you all day, but I should wrap this up, since you a have life – and a busy and art-filled one at that.

My last question: What are you working on now? Anything you’re allowed to talk about?

Antoinette: The Red Hat, a book written by David Teague that I illustrated, is coming out in December. It was surprisingly liberating to only have the pictures to worry about! It’s about a lonely boy, who struggles to connect with a girl who lives in the tower next door. The tone is kind of magic realism, set in a modern day city.


(Click all but cover to enlarge)


I’m excited about my next book with Neal Porter, Best Frints in the Whole Universe. Two best frints on an alien planet struggle to maintain their frintship through trials of their own making. (Just like friends on planet earth.)

When I was around 10 and had my first fight with a friend, I went home and announced to my dad that Debbie and I were done, finito. He told me that the mark of a real friendship is if you can have a fight and still be friends.


(Click each spread to enlarge)


The whole situation instantly turned around for me. I had no idea that friends fought. I knew siblings did (I had four of the beasts), but the idea that someone you weren’t related to could get mad at you but still love you seemed impossible. And then—Dad wisdom—it wasn’t impossible. I don’t remember how Debbie and I made up. Probably I just went over to her house and started playing with her like nothing happened. In any case, we were great friends and shared imaginary adventures for years. We built rafts that sailed across seas of cement, lived in bush caves, hunted wooly mammoths with pointy sticks, wove floor mats out of iris leaves, and dyed cloth with berries. We shoved gardenia petals behind our ears for perfume.


(Click each spread to enlarge)


My aliens, Omek and Yelfred, do not put gardenia petals behind their ears. They don’t have ears.

Frints is a real shift in tone from Wait. It’s funny. There’s an ironic narrator and two alien guys who behave like my brothers did — always competing, often fighting, and sometimes using their teeth (and not their words) to vent their anger. But there is a happy ending. Apparently, there is forgiveness on planet Boborp, just like here on planet Earth.


(Click first image to see spread in its entirety)


Jules: Thanks so much for visiting today, Antoinette!


* * * * * * *

WAIT. Copyright © 2015 by Antoinette Portis. Published by Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Antoinette Portis.

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37. Review of First Grade Dropout

vernick_first grade dropoutFirst Grade Dropout
by Audrey Vernick; 
illus. by Matthew Cordell
Primary   Clarion   32 pp.
7/15   978-0-544-12985-6   $16.99

“I can’t stop thinking about it. How everyone laughed and slapped their desks and stomped their feet. And pointed. At me.” The narrator’s social infraction? “I. Called. My. Teacher. MOMMY!!!” It’s a typical-enough blunder among kids new to school (“Don’t worry. It happens every year,” tosses off the boy’s teacher), but what kid in any new situation feels typical? Having suffered what he perceives as landmark mortification, the narrator concludes that dropping out of school is his only option. At soccer practice, where he assumes a calculatedly laid-back persona (“I put my hand on my hip, like someone who doesn’t care if other people laugh”), he tests the waters, telling his best friend, Tyler, that he’s quitting school. Tyler has no idea why — so minor was the narrator’s transgression in everyone else’s eyes. An even more teachable moment comes later, when Tyler laughs at his own derision-worthy slipup. Tyler’s grace is a revelation for the narrator, who leaves the story finally capable of the same. The book is a riot as well as an analgesic: Vernick’s tightly wound, age-appropriately self-absorbed narrator is hugely relatable, but young readers will also get that he’s overdoing it. Cordell’s frugally tinted pen-and-ink and watercolor drawings have a Jules Feiffer–like looseness that captures the narrator’s downward thought-spiral, epitomized by a spread of an imagined all-classmate marching band chanting “Ha! Ha!” and wearing hats that read “Mommy.”

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The post Review of First Grade Dropout appeared first on The Horn Book.

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38. Picture Book Monday with a review of Zen Socks

Jon Muth is an author and illustrator whose work is so beautiful and powerful that I feel very humbled every time I get to experience one of his creations. Today's picture book title is the third of his Zen books, and once again Stillwater the panda bear features in the narrative. 

Zen Socks
Zen SocksJon J. Muth
Picture Book
Ages 6 and up
Scholastic, 2015, 978-0-545-16669-0
Leo and Molly love living in their neighbourhood, and one of the reasons why they like living where they do is because Stillwater lives across the road. Stillwater is a panda bear and he is a gentle, kind, and wise friend.
   One day Molly invites Stillwater to come outside to dance with her, and soon she and the bear, both clad in tutus, are happily doing ballet on the front lawn. Molly plans on becoming a ballet dancer like her aunt, and she will get her dream by practicing all day. She tells Stillwater how she will become famous and will “get flowers and lots of blue ribbons and tiaras and my name will be on posters with lots of glitter!” Stillwater suggests that it might take some time to attain this dream, but Molly is in a hurry to get the skill and fame she seeks.
   Stillwater then tells Molly a story about a young fellow called Jiro who wants to become a great swordsman like his father; so Jiro goes to see Banzo, the master swordsman, to learn from him. Jiro is impatient and eager to learn as fast as he can but instead of teaching him swordsmanship, Banzo makes Jiro work all day doing chores. Only after three years have passed does Banzo start to teach Jiro the skills he needs to have to wield a sword.
   Molly understands what Stillwater’s story means. She needs to practice diligently for “as long as it takes.” She must not rush a process that requires both hard work and patience.
   This lesson in patience is only one of many things that Molly and Leo learn from Stillwater. Through his actions and his stories, Stillwater helps the children understand that the root to happiness is not about getting “all the best things for ourselves.” They also come to see that we must keep doing the right and kind thing, even when it looks as if our actions seem inadequate in a world full of problems.
   In this, his third, Zen book, Jon, J. Muth helps us see how little life experiences can help us learn about the world and each other. Wisdom is there for us to find if we just take the time to look around and open our eyes. 

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39. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #445: Featuring Matt Phelan

Matt: “[This is a] key moment from the book
that didn’t change much from the sketch dummy.”

(Click each image—dummy and final art—to enlarge)


Good morning, all. Matt Phelan is visiting 7-Imp today to share some sketches and art from Michelle Knudsen’s Marilyn’s Monster, which was published by Candlewick in March of this year. It’s the story of a young girl waiting patiently for her monster; some of her classmates have them, you see, but Marilyn knows that your monster is supposed to find you. So she “tried to be the kind of girl no monster could resist.” Things don’t go as Marilyn quite expects them to, but I’ll leave that for you to discover if you read this on your own.

It’s a story with a lot of heart, and as the Publishers Weekly review puts it, “it’s a warm, gently funny reminder to chase down one’s dreams, rather than waiting for them to appear on the doorstep.” I love to see Matt’s sketches and to hear him talk about the progression of the artwork for the book, and I thank him for visiting today. Let’s get right to it. …


Matt: “I signed on to illustrate Marilyn’s Monster in 2012 but still had to complete Bluffton, Miss Emily, and Druthers before officially working on the book. The lead time was spent filling this sketch book with random monsters. It served as both a warm-up exercise and casting call for possible monsters to use in the book.”


Matt: “These are all character studies and media tests. I also try to establish the tone for the illustrations in these early tests. When working with another author, establishing the correct tone or ‘key’ for the story is probably the most important early step.”
(Click last image to enlarge)


Matt: “It was somewhere during the sketch dummy phase that it was decided to re-design Marilyn’s Monster. I had been drawing him almost like a younger sibling,
but we decided that Marilyn’s friend should be closer to her age and size.”


Initial thumbnail sketches
(Click to enlarge)


Pages from the sketch dummy
(Click each to enlarge)


Final art: “‘Maybe I’m better off without a monster,’
she told her friend Deborah at school. ‘They seem like a lot of work.’
‘Hmm,’ said Deborah. She didn’t really seem to agree.”

(Click to enlarge)


Matt: “With Marilyn, I discovered that my studio is just long enough to be able to spread out the paintings on the floor for a final check. I did sweep first.”
(Click to enlarge)


Matt: “I’m a huge fan of Michelle’s Library Lion (who isn’t?) and Kevin Hawkes’ perfect drawings for that book. When the text for Marilyn’s Monster mentioned looking behind the stone lions at the library, I couldn’t resist this tip of the hat.”


Matt: “On tour with Michelle Knudsen! Although I’ve illustrated books for many authors, Marilyn’s Monster was the first time that I was actually friends with the author before the book. During the making of it, Michelle and I stuck to the traditional ‘separation of author and illustrator’ rule, for the most part. It did allow me to think of it
as ‘the book’ and not ‘my friend’s book.'”



MARILYN’S MONSTER. Text copyright © 2015 by Michelle Knudsen. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Matt Phelan. Published by Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. All images here reproduced by permission of Matt Phelan.

* * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

Sorry to skip my kicks, dear Imps, but I have an ill parent, and so I’ve been at my parents’ home for a couple of days. And right now I just need to catch up on sleep. In sort of a pressing way. It might even be a tiny miracle this post is up, but I’m glad it is — because I like Michelle’s writing in the book and like seeing Matt’s art.

Please do tell me, though, what YOUR kicks are this week.

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40. Seuss on Saturday #33

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? Dr. Seuss. 1973. Random House. 47 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:  When I was quite young and quite small for my size, I met an old man in the Desert of Drize. And he sang me a song I will never forget. At least, well, I haven't forgotten it yet.

Premise/plot: The narrator shares with readers what an old man shared with him when he was a boy feeling down. Essentially: no matter who you are, no matter what your problem, there is always, always someone who has it worse than you do. Someone can always be found who is  'unluckier' than you. This is of course written all in rhyme.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I've never read it before. But I definitely liked it. Here are a few of my favorite bits:
And poor Mr. Potter,
He has to cross t's
and he has to dot i's
in an I-and-T factory
out in Van Nuys!
And suppose that you lived in that forest in France,
where the average young person just hasn't a chance
to escape from the perilous pants-eating-plants!
But your pants are safe! You're a fortunate guy.
And you ought to be shouting," How lucky am I!"
Have you read Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you thought of it!

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is The Shape of Me and Other Stories

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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41. Elephant in the Dark

Elephant in the Dark. Mina Javaherbin. Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. 2015. [August] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Merchant Ahmad had brought a mysterious creature all the way from India! The news spread fast through the village. What could the huge beast be?

Premise/plot: A village determines to find out about the mysterious new beast--by feeling their way to the truth in a dark barn. Every single person gives a different description. After the first few people share with the others their descriptions and conclusions, much arguing follows. Especially as more and more people keep adding to the discussion with their insights.

My thoughts: A retellng of a familiar poem or story. One version of this folk tale was by Rumi, a 13th Century Persian poet. His was called "The Elephant in the Dark." Overall, I liked this story. I thought Eugene Yelchin did a great job with the illustrations, matching them with the story's origins and giving the book a very traditional feel.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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42. Where's Walrus? and Penguin?

Where's Walrus? and Penguin? Stephen Savage. 2015. [August] Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Premise/plot: Where's Walrus? and Penguin? is a sequel to Where's Walrus. Both are wordless picture books. In the first book, a Walrus escapes from the zoo and manages to cleverly escape capture or recapture. It's a hide-and-seek book. In this second book, Walrus and escapes with a friend, a Penguin. Once again readers are asked to play hide and seek. The illustrations reveal their whereabouts. Can readers spot Walrus and Penguin on every spread? Where will they go next? How will they be disguised?

My thoughts: I liked this one. I liked the first book too. I think it's a fun and engaging book to share with young children. It's actually one of the few wordless picture books I like. I probably liked the sequel more than the original because it is a true sequel. The ending is absolutely adorable.

Text: 0 out of 0
Illustrations 5 out of 5
Total: 5 out of 5

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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43. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week, Plus What I Did Last Week, Featuring Hanmin Kim & Genjirou Mita


“The leopard ran with loud, heavy steps.
– From Hanmin Kim’s
Tiptoe Tapirs


Cover art from Nankichi Niimi’s Gon, The Little Fox,
illustrated by Genjirou Mita

(Click to enlarge)


This morning over at Kirkus, I’ve got a graphic novel round-up. That link will be here soon.

* * *

Today I’ve got some art from the two Asian imports I wrote about here last week — Hanmin Kim’s Tiptoe Tapirs, originally published in Korea but coming to shelves in October from Holiday House, as well as Nankichi Niimi’s Gon, The Little Fox (Museyon, May 2015), illustrated by Genjirou Mita and originally published in 1969.



From Tiptoe Tapirs:


“The leopard ran with loud, heavy steps. THUD, THUD, THUD.
Tapir ran with soft, silent steps. Hush, hush, hush.”

(Click to enlarge spread)


(Click to enlarge spread)



From Gon, The Little Fox:



“This is a story I heard in my childhood.
It was told to me by an old man named Mohei who lived in my village …”


“… Then, he saw a human doing something in the middle of the stream.
Gon hid in the deep part of the grass
and quietly snuck up to look.”


“… The eel made a squeaking sound and coiled around Gon’s neck. …”


“About ten days went by. While Gon was passing behind the house of a farmer called Yasuke, he saw Yasuke’s wife blackening her teeth in the shadow of a fig tree.”


“…’Who in the world threw sardines into my house?’ he mumbled.”


“Gon hid and remained still by the side of the path.
The voices were coming closer to him. …”



* * * * * * *

GON, THE LITTLE FOX. Copyright © 1969 by Nankichi Niimi and Genjirou Mita. English edition published by Museyon, Inc., New York. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

TIPTOE TAPIRS. Copyright © 2013 by Hanmin Kim. English translation copyright © by Sera Lee. Illustrations used by permission of Holiday House.

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44. Fowl Play by Travis Nichols

I LOVE Fowl Play by Travis Nichols!!! A graphic novel-style picture book, Fowl Play is filled with a fantastic cast of animals, a crime and a great detective agency that goes by the name, "Gumshoe Zoo." And Fowl Play is packed with non-stop idioms. Idioms! In a picture book! And it totally works! I can't wait for school to start so I can read Fowl Play over and over to my students. I also

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45. The Great Outdoors are DINO-mite!

Camp Rex

By Molly Idle


Parents of campers are just about beginning to get the jump on camp preparations for their young ones this summer. Some may be headed for day camp, sleep away camp or just to the back yard for an overnight with their neighborhood best friend. All of this, of course, begins when schools close for the summer that in case you haven’t checked is almost upon us! And I’ve found a great book to ease into the change.

If you loved Ms. Idle’s tongue-in-dinosaur-cheek treatment called “Tea Rex”, you will enjoy this outing of dinosaurs and kids called “Camp Rex” and perhaps might want to tuck a copy of it into their duffle for reading by flashlight on a mosquito buzz filled night!

Get out your Wilderness Camp Guides and venture forth for this rollicking riff on fresh air, exercise, wildlife, campfire building; all of which, I might add should be proceeded by the Scout Motto – “BE PREPARED!! When dinosaurs are part of the outing of this young miss who tries not to miss much, but does, and a stalwart brother that together pitch tents, try to stick to the trail, all while not disturbing the natural landscape, it’s well, “what’s wrong with this picture funny”!

Take bees for example. These swarming biters did NOT get the non-disturbance memo and are MUCH disturbed by the young camping contingent. And it put me in mind of the time that an errant wasp decided to fly up the leg of my “pedal pushers” (they’re the same as Capri pants), and by the way, a great fashion word, for it defined WHAT you did when you wore them and that was fly like the wind on a bike! It wasn’t the wasp’s fault he didn’t know the way OUT was DOWN, so he kept stinging me till he expired. Luckily for Camp Rex campers, they know how to RUN!!!

The juxtaposition of Ms. Idle’s charming words and illustrations will rate many giggles from the young reader set as in “there’s nothing more refreshing than a dip in a mountain lake or a bit of canoeing” as the illustrations depict a sample of something akin to white water rafting, dinosaur style. Just hold on!

Molly Idle’s two “Rex books” have cornered the market on what it means when gentility and grace meet immovable objects called dinosaurs that are sweetly eager to learn the rules of the rituals. And whether it be a tea party or camping, there is sure to be a bit of a learning curve for BOTH that will have you and your young camper laughing by flashlight! Bring a BIG tent!


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46. Railroad Hank

Railroad Hank. Lisa Moser. Illustrated by Benji Davies. 2012. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence:  Railroad Hank and his fine little train rolled down the track. Chugga Chugga, Chugga Chugga, Woo Woo Woo!! Railroad Hank stopped at Happy Flap Farm to talk to Missy May. "I'm headed up the mountain to see Granny Bett," said Railroad Hank. "She's feeling kind of blue." 

Premise/Plot: Railroad Hank is on a mission to cheer up Granny Bett. But, he's a bit clueless how to go about it. He's more than willing to listen to some good advice from the people he meets as his train rolls along. But is he really understanding their advice?! Not really. For example, Missy May advises him to take some eggs to Granny Bets because "scrambley eggs" always makes her feel better. So Railroad Hank takes some of the CHICKENS from Happy Flap Farm. By the time he's made it to Granny Bett's place, well, it's been quite a TRIP.

My thoughts: This one was very funny in a cutesy, country way. It is a bit over-the-top, I admit. After the initial advice, readers--adults and children--can probably predict how the rest of the trip is going to go. Which is a good thing in many ways. By the end, it had charmed me more than I thought it would have. Still it's probably not for every reader. But no book is after all!

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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47. In the Canyon with Ashley Wolff


Author-illustrator Ashley Wolff is visiting today to share some sketches and art from Liz Garton Scanlon’s In the Canyon, published by Beach Lane this month. (Pictured above is an early sketch.) Liz and I talked about this book, as well as her new middle-grade novel, at Kirkus last week.

Ashley also shares here today some pictures of a hike she took. Here’s what she told me:

[It’s a] real-life hike from rim to river to rim my sister and I took in April of 2014. It’s a really long haul, and both rangers and signs like [the one below] discourage anyone from trying to do it in one day, but we are two, stubborn Wolff women. We started down the South Kaibab Trail before 7 a.m. and returned to the rim after 8 p.m. — 16 miles round trip and a mile’s elevation gain and loss. We didn’t take enough water or food, so at the little store at Phantom Ranch we begged a $10 off the nice attendant, a guy named Bob. We bought all the salty snacks he had, and then he handed us a SASE. Naturally, we mailed him back a $20!

The sketches [below] include a series from very roughest to finish, my main character before I found a model, and some sketches of the lovely Willa. She is also the niece of Daniel Handler and Lisa Brown.

I thank Ashley for sharing art today. Enjoy!


Early sketches
(Click each to enlarge)


The progression of a spread:
“Now here’s a tiny slice of shade, a yummy lunch, some lemonade,
and a lizard, still as sand, his head all speckled, body tan.”

(Click all but second image to enlarge)


“Here’s a little hidey-hole, home to sneaky squirrel or vole.”
Ashley: “[This is a scan] from before the final art revisions. This spread changed in one significant way: I removed the Gila Monster lurking in the upper left, as there was concern children might mistake that for a vole.
Other than that, it is much the same.”

(Click to enlarge)


Final art: “Here’s a footstep, dusty red,
another one, and more ahead …”

(Click to enlarge spread)


Final art: “Here’s the dark, and here’s the shine,
and here’s the moon—it’s like it’s mine!—
to tuck inside me, way down deep …”

(Click to enlarge spread)


(Click each to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

IN THE CANYON. Copyright © 2015 by Liz Garton Scanlon. Illustrations © 2015 by Ashley Wolff. Images here used by permission of Ashley Wolff. Final spreads used by permission of the publisher, Beach Lane Books, New York.

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48. Best Friends (2015)

(Peppa Pig) Best Friends. 2015. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Once upon a time, Peppa's best friend, Suzy Sheep, came to play. "I have something to show you," said Suzy. Suzy held up a photograph of a baby sheep. "Look! It's me," said Suzy. "You're not a baby, Suzy," said Peppa, shaking her head. "This is an old photo," Suzy explained. "It was taken when I was a baby." Peppa snorted. She didn't remember Suzy being a baby. That was just silly!

 Premise/plot: Peppa Pig is skeptical that Suzy Sheep and herself were ever, ever babies. The idea is beyond belief. But Suzy's photograph, and the photographs Mummy Pig show her prove her wrong. Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig tell Peppa all about "the olden days" when she was a baby: how she's always been friends with Suzy sheep, and how she's almost always loved jumping in muddy puddles.
"What did we do when we were babies?" asked Suzy. "You cried...you burped...and you laughed!" said Mummy Pig. Suzy and Peppa giggled. It must have been so silly being babies! 
My thoughts: Best Friends is an adaptation of an episode of the Peppa Pig television series. ("The Olden Days.") It is one of the last episodes of the show. And it is probably among my all-time favorite, favorite episodes. Adorable, sweet, precious, and FUNNY.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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49. Picture Book Spotlight: Four Recent Reads

I’m working on the big Huck-book companion to my Rillabooks post, but, well, you can fit a LOT of picture books on a shelf, see? So when I went around the house pulling things for Huck, I wound up with a mammoth amount of books. And of course we’re reading them faster than I can get them catalogued. That Rilla post took me an entire weekend and I expect this one will be no different. In the meantime, here’s a peek at things Huck has particularly enjoyed this week.


lifetime Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal.

This one landed on our doorstep recently from Chronicle for review. Huck claimed it right out of the package. The concept has fascinated both him and Rilla; it has been requested three times this week. “In one lifetime, this spider will spin 1 papery egg sac.” “In one lifetime, this caribou will grow and shed 10 sets of antlers.”—and on it goes, through many species and an ever-increasing, rather incredible range of numbers. (One seahorse! One THOUSAND babies! And here I thought I had a big family.)

I really love the art—bold yet simple colors against a black background. And you know we are suckers for good nature art around here.


dinosaur dinner with a slice of alligator pieDinosaur Dinner (With a Slice of Alligator Pie): Favorite Poems by Dennis Lee, illustrated by Debbie Tilley.

Looks like this one has gone out of print, more’s the pity. But there are used copies to be found, or maybe you’ll luck out and your library will have it. A giggle-inducing collection of nonsense poetry (arguably the best kind). I pulled this one out yesterday when a certain someone needed lifting out of a grumpy mood. I expected to read a sampling of the poems, but Huck begged for the whole book. No arm-twisting required.


madelineMadeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.

Sure, Rilla has heard this one so many times she knows it by heart. But somehow Huck had altogether missed it. This grievous oversight had to be rectified posthaste. He loved it, of course. Kept telling me to slow down so he could study the pictures. Especially “and frowned at the bad.” And that tiger in the zoo, of course. Now, I know no one on the planet needs my recommendation of a book so tried-and-true, but I include it here as a reminder (much-needed in this household) to make sure the smallest fry don’t miss out on all the gems you read one thousand times to older siblings. (Rilla very nearly missed Miss Rumphius this way!)


berenstain bears big book of science and nature The Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature. I thought for sure I’d written about this one at length before. Must have been on a message board, because all I found in the archives was this—from March, 2005! (Oh my heavens.)

Too chilly to stay long. Back inside, the 9yo copied out a passage from Mossflower (a la Bravewriter) while the 6yo practiced piano and I read to the 4yo. She is loving the Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Nature. Also the Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book (which we never read at bedtime.)

Oh, you guys. Ten years later, those little girls are now so OLD. And here I am still reading the same books to my younger set. Lion Storyteller is on Huck’s shelf this very minute and is slated for my big post. And the paragraph right above the one quoted here, I talk about “our current read-aloud, Ginger Pye.” When we conferred to select a new read-aloud today, that very book was Rilla’s first choice—until she realized I meant a book to read to both her and Huck. For some reason (this comes up now and then) she has zoomed in on Ginger Pye as a book she wants me all to herself for. I grok that impulse. One-on-one time is important when you’re one of six.

(Another tidbit from that old post: I’m giggling at the bit about Jane “settling in to watch a History Channel show about gasoline.” As one does.)

But back to the Berenstains. This Big Book of Science and Nature is tremendously appealing to the four-to-seven crowd (judging by my kids). It explores seasons and nature in an almanac style and is full of the interesting facts. I pulled it out for Huck this morning and he fell into it immediately. I thought I was going to be reading it to him—or with him, at least—but he was so instantly and deeply absorbed that I wound up doing something else. Glad this one is still intact (and a bit surprised, given all the attention it has received over the years).

All right. Back to Giant List-Making.

Related post:

books to read with my 9yo

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50. Illustration Inspiration: Carolyn Conahan, Illustrator of This Old Van

Carolyn Conahan is the author and illustrator of several picture books, including The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oregon (Sterling), and The Big Wish (Chronicle), which was awarded the 2011 Oregon Spirit Book Award for Picture Books by the Oregon Council of Teachers of English.

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