Jul 27, 2014

FRANK: Sense and Nonsense

Running Press, 2014

Connah Brecon is the author/illustrator of FRANKa picture book scheduled for release September 30. 
This quirky, whimsical picture book features a cast of human and animal characters who all function as equals- going to school, playing instruments, conducting fund-raisers, etc. The seemingly simple illustrations are sprinkled with offbeat details and secondary characters which suggest stories of their own. 
This establishes a background for the paradoxical text. The stage is set for predictability with simple statements in typewriter font:
"Frank was late. Frank was always late."
Secondary text within speech bubbles in art-style font lead the story in less mundane directions- runaway trees and news headlines about rampaging reptiles are just the start.

Frank's chronic tardiness at school is caused by his good-hearted efforts to resolve these unconventional problems as they arise. Kids will enjoy the slightly off-center art, the blending of familiar (running late for what seem to be perfectly good reasons) with the bizarre (ogres and dragons). They'll also explore the visual details for hidden humor, including clever facial expressions, birds with earphones, and word play.

There are quite a few direct messages in this short story: help those in need, work together, and, of course, try to be on time. I doubt these will be the reason kids enjoy this book, or return to it, or share it with others. My guess is that the true appeal will be likable FRANK and his unique story-mates.

Take a look for yourself as soon as this becomes available and see what you think.

Jul 19, 2014

Summer Fun- with Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan is an illustrator/storyteller whose talent is widely acclaimed, but whose books are far from predictable or typical in the picture book market. In some ways his books have the same effect on the reading/teaching/publishing world that Maurice Sendak's had - undeniably original, powerful, colorful, and compelling, but also disconcerting, even confusing, dense with image and emotion. 
Author A. Levine Books, April, 2013

Tan's 2013 release, RULES OF SUMMER, fits the above description perfectly. The endpapers suggest that it's a story of two brothers exploring summer in a gritty urban setting. The first title page develops that premise with the vibrant, upbeat pair parading across a vast expanse of yellow intensity. The next page turn reveals the truth- it's a summer of big brother "rules" and little brother struggles- to understand, to withstand, to prove himself, to belong. In short- to keep up. The seemingly mundane left-page "rules" contrast dramatically (and wildly) with the right-page interpretations of the younger boy. 

This is a book that will be loved by various readers for entirely different reasons, will be re-examined repeatedly, and could be reviewed differently by each reader each time it's examined. Here are just a few examples:

Kirkus gave it a starred review that included this:
"Evocative, enthralling and with absolutely astounding artwork so good readers will wish that, like summer, it would last forever. (Picture book. 4 & up)"

School Library Journal review included this:
"I looked at the bookflap and there, lo and behold, the book started to make more sense. According to the flap the rules are those seemingly arbitrary ones that younger siblings have to face when older siblings come up with them. Slowly a book that before had seemed to have only the slightest semblance of a plot began to make a lot more sense. Had I not read the flap, maybe I would have come up with an entirely different interpretation of the pages. Not sure. Whatever the case, I like where the flap took me, even as I suspect that some kids will have entirely different takes."

Since you are making a place for picture books in your busy summer, (and I know you are), get your hands and heads wrapped around this book. Share it with someone, and then hurry back to your library to check out award-winning, best-selling Shaun Tan's other titles. Each one could fill a summer on its own. 

Rules of Summer released in paperback in April, 2014, so it's even easier to have your own copy to peruse over and over again.



Jul 8, 2014

More Multiple-Target Picture Books




I'll keep this short, but these are just a few titles that deserve a deeper look. I'll share my Goodreads notes on them and links so you can follow-up for yourselves.

Each of these titles is distinguished by its potential use with readers of various ages, depending on the intended purpose. The writing and illustration style of each is dramatically different from the others, as are their topics and stories. 

First up:  GASTON, written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Christian Robinson. 
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014
Goodreads synopsis:
"This is the story of four puppies: Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La, and Gaston. Gaston works the hardest at his lessons on how to be a proper pooch. He sips—never slobbers! He yips—never yaps! And he walks with grace—never races! Gaston fits right in with his poodle sisters.
But a chance encounter with a bulldog family in the park—Rocky, Ricky, Bruno, and Antoinette—reveals there’s been a mix-up, and so Gaston and Antoinette switch places. The new families look right…but they don’t feel right. Can these puppies follow their noses—and their hearts—to find where they belong?"
My review- with four stars:
"I added this recent title to categories for diversity and body image, because it not only works as a delightfully funny and heartwarming story for young readers/readaloud, it could also open discussions with older kids about family expectations, identity, and judging others based on physical traits/externals."

McSweeney's Mcullens, 2011


Next in line: SYMPHONY CITY, written and illustrated by Amy Martin.
Goodreads synopsis says:
"In Symphony City, a young girl, lost in a big city, makes her way home by following the rich and vibrant music of the streets. Bursting with bright colors and narrated in lively, staccato phrases, Amy Martin's debut children's book is at once a sweeping page-turner and a book that makes you want to stop and pore over every page.
Symphony City is an exciting adventure story for children and parents who love music, art, and big imagination. As a special bonus, the dust-jacket unfolds into a giant two-sided poster, suitable for extended gazing.
My review, with four stars:
I'm a fan of the illustration and the idea of this book rather than the text. It is a highly appealing concept, and the images offer ample opportunity for discussion and could even serve as prompts for personal writing. It offers an homage to the ubiquitous value of music in our lives, but I feel it might have been more effective if developed as a wordless book.


Roaring Book Press, 2014
A Neal Porter Book
Now for a non-fiction title, GRAVITY, written and illustrated by Jason Chin.

Goodreads synopsis has this to say:
"What keeps objects from floating out of your hand?
What if your feet drifted away from the ground?
What stops everything from floating into space?
Gravity.
As in his previous books, Redwoods, Coral Reefs, and Island, Jason Chin has taken a complex subject and made it brilliantly accessible to young readers in this unusual, innovative, and very beautiful book."

My review, with four stars:

"The spare text and vibrant, dynamic illustrations make this book a valuable resource to launch investigations about gravity and space. back matter leads readers through the basics and leads to further research and investigations. This is a gorgeous book in its own right, but also a valuable teaching tool."

Finally, Here's RED KITE, BLUE KITE, written by Ji-li Jiang, illustrated by Greg Ruth.

Goodreads synopsis says:
"
When Tai Shan and his father, Baba, fly kites from their roof and look down at the crowded city streets below, they feel free, like the kites. Baba loves telling Tai Shan stories while the kites--one red, and one blue--rise, dip, and soar together. Then, a bad time comes. People wearing red armbands shut down the schools, smash store signs, and search houses. Baba is sent away, and Tai Shan goes to live with Granny Wang. Though father and son are far apart, they have a secret way of staying close. Every day they greet each other by flying their kites-one red, and one blue-until Baba can be free again, like the kites. 

Inspired by the dark time of the Cultural Revolution in China, this is a soaring tale of hope that will resonate with anyone who has ever had to love from a distance."

My 
review, with five stars:
Disney-Hyperion, 2013


"The intensity and heart of this story are matched by the illustrations and language, which portray a harsh reality but also evoke a gentle and loving relationship. The shadowy/foggy background images reveal the terrain, both political and physical, while not distracting from the central story. This works well with very young readers as a family story of hope and happiness and also with older readers as a personal story from what is otherwise a remote and disconnected time and place in history."

I hope you'll take time to check these out, and share them with readers at every age.




Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.