Jun 9, 2013

Two Books About the Night

I had another post prepared for this week. 
Fate intervened. 
I arrived home yesterday after attending a full day workshop on picture book storyboarding and found these two titles in my mailbox. I'd been hearing and reading about each of them separately, only to have them sent to me by a friend who was unable to put them to use in his own blog. 

Like a deer in the headlights I was stopped in my tracks, compelled to read, examine, compare, and share these extraordinary recent releases.

Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic, 2013
The first is NIGHT LIGHT, created by illustrator, designer, and art director Nicholas Blechman. It works beautifully as a concept book that is anything but simple. Double page spreads alternate from full-bleed black to full-bleed vibrant colors. Black spreads present a simple left-page number riddle and a corresponding right-page cut-out revealing a punch (or punches) of pure color, progressing from one to ten. These black spreads turn the page to double page spreads revealing left-pages providing the correct word and a "re-application" of the punchout(s) suited to the response. Right-pages reveal visuals of the correct response within a double-page scene rendered in bold, crisp-edged abstract forms. 

This is a concept book that just keeps on giving, depicting many forms of transportation, offering opportunities to count not just lights and punchouts but other geometric forms and the figures they comprise, and inviting discussions using words related to color, position, size, and shape. Each response page suggests a story of its own, including the endpapers. 

As if that's not enough of a good thing, the font throughout is formed as if by the iconic Hasbro LITE-BRITE toys. The final pages switch back to one light, glowing through the night, with a page turn to a boy in bed reading this book, seated in a car-type bed, with toy-sized versions of each vehicle scattered around his room. In a very real sense this is a bedtime book, too.Constructed on very heavy stock with sewn binding it almost has a board book quality to it, including the flat full opening of each page.

Kids Can Press, 2013
Just so you know, I've never had a tree house. I've been wracking my brain to recall if I've ever even been in one. So far, I'm coming up empty. But I've always thought having a treehouse would be a dream come true. 
As a child, and in various homes since then, I lived in tall houses surrounded by trees, creating one or more rooms whose window views created the effect of being in a tree house. For just one year in college I rented a third floor apartment with a screened-in back porch totally surrounded by leafy green trees. Perhaps that's why  IN THE TREE HOUSE, written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Dusan Petricic holds such appeal for me.  Or perhaps having a tree house is a universal craving felt by anyone growing up in a wooded climate.
At any rate, author Larsen seems to agree, since the young boy character's dreamy designs trigger his older brother to join the planning until their dad chimes in that he's always wanted a tree house, too. Together they create that dream, which the text describes as ideal and the images reveal to be quite rudimentary, safe but fun.

That's not the end of the story, though, since it involves a time sequence quite unusual in picture books. It opens with the young boy perched in his treehouse on a stifling summer night, but immediately flashes back to tell how the treehouse came to be. Only then does "real" time return, more than a year later, when older brother seems to have outgrown the tree house, leaving younger brother even more deflated than the oppressive heat.

That's when the magic happens. In contrast to NIGHT LIGHT, these pages are primarily white space, with line-drawn figures and subdued colors. That is until the brutally hot night when there is a power failure. Then the full-bleed black double page spreads provide the drama and intensity of flashlights and starlight, which entice big brother back up that tree house ladder.

This is an unusual picture book on many counts- the time span portrayed, the generationally-shared dreams, the dual stories, and the visual mid-book shift. In very different but equally exciting ways, IN THE TREE HOUSE is as richly layered and appealing as NIGHT LIGHT. They appear to have different target age-ranges, yet both have a reach that extends far beyond a surface reading or a person's age.

And that's what I call the power of high quality picture books.


  1. Wonderful reviews!
    I can't wait to read these two!

    1. Thanks, Cathy. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.


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