Tag Archives: American Library Association

Terrific “Toons”

“Graphic novels” for little bitty kids?

Comics for children age four and up?

"Just Pretend"
"Just Pretend"

Not such a preposterous idea.  The intuitive narrative form of comics is a whole another kind of reading.

Searching words, pictures and panels for clues to events big and small in a story is a more active experience than watching video on a screen.

My “great books” education came from Classics Illustrated comics, which I loved.  Did they ruin my appetite for dinner?

Heck no, I read plenty of  real classics later. My readings of the actual Men Against the Sea, The Dark Frigate, King Solomon’s Mines, Frankenstein, David Copperfield, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and so many more  were only enhanced by my first reading their comic book counterparts.

(In many cases the comics reading was a richer experience than plowing through the actual classic texts. Maybe that says more about me than any literary works. However  that’s a story for another post.)

Thank you, Albert Kanter for the great contribution you made to kid culture with the Classic Illustrated series that ran for 30 years beginning in 1941.

On that note, Toon Books, produced by Raw Junior, LLC , endeavors to make comics readers of toddlers and tots.

"Just Pretend"
"Just Pretend"

And who better to tease little ones with artful pictures and graphics into an early habit of  reading  than, well, another comic book publisher.

And, in this case, someone who is also a New Yorker magazine art director.

Françoise Mouly is a veteran of more than 800 New Yorker covers, a mom, and the co-founder and co-editor, with her husband cartoonist Art Spiegelman, of the avant garde comics anthology Raw Graphics. That’s where Spiegelman’s family account of the Holocaust,  Maus, A Survivor’s Tale, that later won the Pulitzer Prize, first appeared. It was the first comic book to call itself a graphic novel .

Mouly also designed and edited books for Pantheon and Penguin in the late 1980’s and early 1990s. She was helping her first grade son with his reading.  she discovered — to her dismay — “beginner reader” texts.

She substituted for their home reading sessions her giant collection of French comic books, and that worked like a charm. It got her thinking, and in 2000 she launched the RAW Junior division to  publish “literary comics” for kids of all ages.

She enlisted star writers, artists and cartoonists such as Maurice Sendak, David Sedaris, Jules Feiffer and Gahan Wilson.

In 2008 she started the Toon Books imprint. These were 6″ by 9″ hard cover “comics” that very young children could read on their own.

“Comics have always had a unique ability to draw young readers into a story through the drawings,” Mouly told an interviewer. “Visual narrative helps kids crack the code that allows literacy to flourish, teaching them how to read from left to right, from top to bottom.”

“Comics use a broad range of sophisticated devices for communication,” the Toon Books website quotes Barbara Tversky, professor of Psychology at Stanford University and a Toon Books advisor.

“They are similar to face-to-face interactions, in which meaning is derived not solely from words, but also from gestures, intonation, facial expressions and props,” Tversky says. “Comics are more than just illustrated books, but rather make use of a multi-modal language that blends words, pictures, facial expressions, panel-to-panel progression, color, sound effects and more to engage readers in a compelling narrative.”

"The Big No-No"
"The Big No-No"

I like the Benny and Penny series by author illustrator Geoffrey Hayes, about sibling mice — a big brother and his little sister and do they ever ring true! In the latest title, The Big  No-No, released this Spring, Benny and Penny confront the “new kid” next door.

In Just Pretend, Penny threatens to disrupt Benny’s make believe pirate game (because she needs a hug).  But they somehow manage to play together. When Penny momentarily disappears in a game of hide and seek, Benny decides that pretending is better with his sister around than not.

Hayes has written and illustrated about 40 books, including early readers and a Margaret Wise Brown title, When the Wind Blew.

"The Big No-No!"
"The Big No-No!"

The Big No-No and  Just Pretend are gently rendered in colored pencil and beautifully orchestrated and paced. The pages are a joy to experience. The little dialogue balloons are so natural and unobtrusive. The books give you the feeling that you’re eavesdropping on the real conversations of real children.

You can read a fascinating interview with Hayes on the  Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog.

I haven’t yet  seen Stinky about a polka-dotted swamp monster whose turf gets invaded by a little boy. It’s creator is a 25 year old rising comics star Eleanor Davis,  a recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design. The American Library Association named Stinky its Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book for  this year.

"Stinky"
"Stinky"

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Mark Mitchell hosts “How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator.” To sample some free lessons from his online course on children’s book illustration, go here.

Covering the Caledcott Covers…

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No, I haven’t seen the books yet, but I wanted to get the covers in front of you so you can keep an eye out for them.

Always be prepared for the unexpected, and things never happen the way you expect them to (Pittsburgh Steelers aside.)
A lot of people kind of expected Mark Reibstein’s Wabi Sabi,  illustrated by Ed Young to get the Medal.

But last week the American Library Association announced that the committee had chosen a bedtime book with illustrations etched on scratchboard (with a few daubs of watercolor) by Beth Krommes — The House In the Night, written by Susan Marie Swanson and published Houghton Mifflin.

It’s said to be an absolute knockout of a picture book — 
a Goodnight Moon  sort of book that also packs some emotional wallop.

The art reminds me a bit of the slightly psychedelic, rolling black and white print style of Wanda Gag, that first “superstar” of American children’s books who gave us  Millions of Cats in 1928.

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You can see an inside illustration from The House In the Night on Ms. Krommes’ own website , as well as other scratchboard works.  

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Her technique involves making  photocopies of her black  and white scratchboard images on archival paper — then she paints on the copies, using watercolor. 

 

 
She’s also a wonderful painter as well as a scratchboard artist. You can see some meadow scenes done in sumptious casein on panel in her website gallery pages. 

Here’s a fine example.

Krommes has won several previous awards, including the Golden Kite Award presented by the National Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators.  That was for The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (Houghton, 2001.)

 

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Uri Shulevitz is no stranger to Caldecott Medals (and Honors.) He won the medal for the Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, written by Arthur Ransome.

He got into the Caldecott ranks again last week with How I Learned Geography, which he wrote himself and  the New York Times called “a masterpiece.” This Caldecott Honor book published by Macmillan, a division of  Farrar, Straus and Giroux is Shulevitz’s first autobiographical children’s story. It recounts his family’s (and his own, when he was four) bold escape in 1939 from Holocaust and war-ravaged Poland — to Turkestan, a very different land.

Shulevitz is also the author of Writing With Pictures (Watson Guptill  Publishing),  that classic textbook from the early 1980s on the process of  creating four-color children’s picture book illustrations —  and the peculiar storytelling “language” of the children’s picture book. 

He has two other Caldecott Honor Books to his credit, Snow and
The Treasure.

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 A wonderful smaller publisher, Eerdman’s produced the other Caldecott Honor Book,  A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams written by Jen Bryan and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

It’s “a picture book biography in which Jen Bryant’s engaging prose and Melissa Sweet’s stunning mixed-media illustrations celebrate the amazing man whose poems about ordinary, everyday things have inspired readers of all ages,” says Eerdman’s website.

An illustrator with an absolutely delightful style and design spirit, Melissa Sweet has more than 40 books to her credit. Her work has also appeared in magazines, on posters, children’s toys and food packaging.  She also has one of the coolest author-illustrator websites around that you have to see.

We’ll talk about other ALA award and honor winners in the coming days. But with so much excitement about the Caldecott illustrators going on, I think it’s a grand time to announce that my online course on how to illustrate children’s books has officially launched, after being (partially) trial-tested over the past five months by 130 survey respondents from around the world —  from England to South Africa, to Okinawa, Japan.

The name of the course is “Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks! A Power Course on Creating Great Drawings and Paintings for Children’s Media.”

The best way to learn more about the course is to go to this page and sign up to  my blog list.

I’ll send you the link to the course information/sales page, as well as 14 free little lessons on how to use color expertly in your painting  — material taken straight from the course.

What better way for you to check out the content and the instructional style, and see if there’s a fit there for you!

Caldecott Conversations: “Hugo” has the pictures…

Movie montage technique of “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznik

So much for the requirement that picture books have 32 pages. Brian Selznick told his children’s story The Invention of Hugo Cabret in 530 pages — and it won the 2008 Caldecott Medal.

You know? The Caldecott Medal !! The American Library Association (ALA) awards it each year to the artist of what the association decides is the most distinguished American picture book for children.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret has reviewers saying that Hugo has invented at least the new format of the 21st century picture book and maybe that of novels and books generally.

Have they never seen a graphic novel? Anyway the book started a conversation, which of course is the right thing for an intellectual property to do.

Selznick’s book also was named a finalist for the National Book Award and was included on the The New York Times list of the Ten Best Illustrated Books of the Year. It’s already been optioned for the movies. Martin Scorcese wants to direct.

I leafed through it the other day at a nearby Barnes and Noble.  I have not read the book. When I do, I’ll talk about it here.

I’ll give you my reaction anyway:
It’s a movie between hardcovers. A storyboard in a book. The pictures are rendered in pencil with beautifully orchestrated darks and lights, and they stream at us like the montages in an Eisenstein  filmexcept occasionally they’re interrupted by pages of text and some still photos from some very early silent movies.

Weighing as much as a hardcover edition of War and Peace, the book bustled with set pieces, props and gizmos. I thought, “This is all too gadgetty and complicated for a small child to understand, much less enjoy.

“Why, if I want a ‘storyboard for a child’, I’ll go for Peter Spier’s 1978 Caldecott Medal winner Noah’s Ark. Now there’s visual storytelling perfection. It is huge but simple and human-scale — and it busts the 32 page rule, too, I continued the conversation with myself as I stood in front of the store-shelves of Caldecott-winners.

Hugo Cabret, the protagonist of Brian Selznik’s Caldecott winner But even then as I thought of Noah’s Ark, the fascination of The Invention of Hugo Cabret was starting to settle in. By the next day it had taken hold — and I hadn’t even read the book.

How did this happen? Well it is hard to deny the assured draftsmanship, clarity and gray-scale splendor of Selznik’s illustrations. They use the kinesthetic kick of the movies and the black and white magic of the silent movies to tell a story.

A character in the story is one of the world’s earliest film-makers, so it’s quite appropriate.

There are poignant nonfiction truths behind this fiction of a boy who lives in a Paris train station at the turn of the century — and there meets a toymaker who
turns out to be a real life historical person, George Melies.

The moon from the 1902 film, “A Trip to the Moon” one of the hundreds of fantasy films made by George Melies Melies was a one-time stage magician, tinkerer and film-maker who made the movie, A Trip to the Moon that he based on two novels of the day (one by Jules Verne and the other by H.G. Wells.)

His little “science fiction” fantasy reel became a hit in 1902 — long before Charlie Chaplin or Abel Gance ever thought of making movies.

Hard times fell on the elderly Melies, who wound up working in a toy booth at a Paris train station to feed himself.  His collection of life-sized mechanical robot toys (which also figure into Selznick’s story) was given to a museum that neglected and finally trashed it. His films, which he had sold off many years before, were melted down to make a material for shoe and boot heels.

Talk about a commentary on the impermanence of art…

Will children find a rapport with such ideas? We’ll see.

In the meantime see a NY Times review by John Schwartz.

The ALA’s Award announcement page has more and covers the finalists, those Caldecott Honor books:
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad illustrated by Kadir Nelson, written by Ellen Levine (Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic.) First the Egg, written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook/Neal Porter.) The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, written and illustrated by Peter Sís (Farrar/Frances Foster) and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity, written and illustrated (with cartoon/photo collages)  by Mo Willems (Hyperion.)

The website for Selznik’s book is fun and full of links, including one that lets you see The Trip to the Moon and another that takes you to the Expanded Books website for a lovely short  video interview with Selznik.

“Reads Like a Book, Looks Like a Film” declares the headline in a New York Times piece on Selznik by Motoko Rich. The feature begins, “Brian Selznick, the author and illustrator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret uses the word ‘obsessed’ a lot.”

It goes on to report how Selznick, as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design once skipped a visiting lecture by Maurice Sendak — he was that ambivalent about a career as a ‘children’s book illustrator.’

A School Library Journal article by Joan Oleck surveys the (mostly enthusiastic) reactions of librarians to the award announcement, while Christine V. Baird of the Newhouse News Service profiles the creator .

In a Scripps Howard News Service story by Karen Mcpherson Selznick recalls how he “took out big chunks of text and replaced them with narrative [illustrated] sequences.”

Graphic novel, as I said.

Brian Selznik illustration from his “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”

So there you have it — a book report from someone who’s not read the book.  (Why do I feel like I’m back in school?)

Does The Invention of Hugo Cabret really change things on the kid lit scene? Who knows? In the meantime, let’s have fun talking about it — and looking at Selznik’s wonderfully realized pictures.

Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts this blog and offers an ongoing online course in drawing and painting for children’s book illustration, “Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks!”