I try to go to the library or a local bookstore every few months to look at picture books. I prefer to go to a bookstore because I love seeing the latest books. Wellesley Booksmith in Wellesley, MA is usually where I go—they have a fairly large childrens book section, the books are well-organized and the staff is terrific (especially if you’re looking for recommendations). Also, they have a lot of author and illustrator events throughout the year with very well-known artists.
However today I went to the Concord Bookstore in Concord, because there’s a delicious ice cream store nearby, Bedford Farms, and I wanted my girls to come along. In the bookstore, I pretty much follow the same routine…go through all the shelves and pick out books that look interesting. Then I find a spot to sit and read through each one, page by page. I study the books as if it were a rare artifact. Endpapers are one of my favorite parts of a book and I love to read how the illustrations were created—it really bugs me when that information isn’t included in the copyright page.
Today, I probably read 15 picture books in all. I found 6 that I really liked, but for different reasons…sometimes it’s the art, sometimes it’s the story, sometimes, though rarely, it’s both.
My youngest daughter loves the chapter books by the Klise sisters so I was interested in reading their new picture book. The story of Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth by Kate and Sarah M. Klise is original and I particularly liked the Mother’s solution at the end. The illustrations are bright and busy.
Oliver Jeffers is one of my favorite illustrators. He has an amazing way of manipulating watercolor into very flat, contemporary shapes. His characters are unusual looking, very unique. I love their stick legs. He’s also amazing at mixed media (check out the The Incredible Book-Eating Boy). In this book, he incorporates scanned photographs of seascapes and then overlays original art on top. He does it on just three pages but it works so well. Be sure to take time with the “thought bubbles” — there’s so much going on each one. I find that every new book Jeffers does, offers something new and his storylines are original.
The latest one, The Heart and the Bottle, is a very sweet, poignant tale. Actually, it would be a nice gift for someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one. His “illustration note” (on copyright page) made me smile…”The art for this book was made from all sorts of stuff. Some watercolor, some bits from old books, some gouache, a little amount of technology, some acrylic and even a bit of house paint. I think here is some oil paint on one page. But that might have been an accident.” Oh, and don’t forget to take off the jacket and look at the book cover.
The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska is terrific—I love the concept of this very simple book. It perfectly highlights different moments of “quiet” – not just the quiet when there’s no sound. It really makes the reader think…”Top of the roller coaster quiet” and “First look at your new haircut quiet” and “Swimming underwater quiet” and my favorite, “Lollipop quiet”. The illustrations feature a cast of different animals. The book demonstrates the perfect balance between words and pictures, where both are equally telling the story. I wish I wrote this book.
I’m not a huge poetry fan, but I love the art in Douglas Florian’s, Poetrees. He rendered the spreads on primed brown paper-bags (with gouache, watercolor, colored pencil, rubber stamps, oil pastels, and collage). How cool is that? You can see the creases from the paper-bags in the pictures. The book is beautifully designed to reinforce the content of the book by having vertical double-page spreads, as opposed to the traditional horizontal spreads. I bought this for a friend of mine for her birthday.
The rhyming and terrific word play makes Big Chickens Go To Town by Leslie Helakoski and illustrated by Henry Cole for a terrifc read-a-loud. The chickens have so much personality.
And finally, I loved the artwork in Extraordinary Pets by Barroux. Stephane Barroux is an accomplished French illustrator. He’s only illustrated a handful of children’s book here in the states but hopefully that will change. I love the mix of media especially his use of linocuts.