Picture Book Round-Up: Sidekicks, The Finale

h1 November 24th, 2007 by jules

I really wanted to wrap up this picture-book-round-up-of-sidekicks post earlier (here are parts one and two), but better late than never. Let’s get right to it . . .

Oh, but first: A reminder that the list of final nominations for the Fiction Picture Books category (for which I’m organizer) of the Cybils 2007 is posted at the Cybils blog. They are here — 117 titles total. Whoa. That’s a lot of reading for us nominating committee panelists, but we’re up to the task. And attached above is a new Cybils widget, courtesy of Tracy Grand at JacketFlap. If I can get my 7-Imp tech support husband to show me how to add this to our sidebar, which is really where that belongs, I’ll do so later. For now, notice that if you refresh the page, a new title shows up. Excellent.

Okay, back to sidekicks then:

Half a World Away
by Libby Gleeson
Illustrated by Freya Blackwood
Scholastic
March 2007
(library copy)

I really love this title, one of my favorites from this year. The publisher will tell you it’s “a story for true friends and wondrous dreamers,” and they’re right. Blast it, it even makes me tear up a bit in the end, wrapping the story up as it does on such an imaginative, hopeful note. Amy and Louie are best friends. And I mean, they’re tight, y’all; Gleeson knows how to capture the true intensity of childhood friendships. In fact, no one is really sidekick to the other; I suppose I’m stretching a bit by putting this in the sidekicks category, but oh well. Amy and Louie even have special calls for one another when they’re ready to play but not yet paired up for the day, ready to use their wild imaginations: “Coo-ee, Am-ee!” and “Coo-ee, Lou-ee!”. Aha, once they hear that, they climb through a hole in the fence between their yards and commence to build their tall block towers and enjoy the clouds in the sky, the shapes of seahorses, dragons, and much more. They are true-blue, tighter-than-tight best buds. But then Amy’s family moves half a world away (I’m having trouble getting the R.E.M. song out of my head as I type this) and into a distressingly different time zone: When Amy is awake, Louie is asleep. When Louie is awake, Amy is asleep. And they really miss each other. But then Louie still manages to send his special “Coo-ee, Am-ee!” out to his friend halfway across the world after getting some advice from his family (though only the boy’s grandmother is half-glass-full about his questions). And I really don’t even want to ruin the ending for you, so I won’t. I’ll just say: Go get this title, and enjoy it — particularly, Blackwood’s tender watercolor illustrations, which manage to communicate a great deal through color choice and perfectly capture the magical play of these young children. If you won’t take my word for it, take School Library Journal‘s: “Loss of a friend is a common childhood experience and is the subject of many picture-book stories. This one is unique in that a new friend doesn’t immediately come along and the two children must find a way to cope.” Or even a starred review from Booklist: “Subtle, direct, and profound, this quiet story communicates the deep joy and unbreakable bonds that true friends share, and it will reassure little ones who know firsthand the aching sadness that separation brings.”

Together
by Jane Simmons
Random House
May 2007
(review copy)

Speaking of the intensity of friendship, here’s another picture book author who has captured the ups and downs of childhood bud-ship quite well — this time the friendship of a pair of dogs named Nut and Mousse (again, neither is really more of a sidekick to the other; okay, so I should just re-name this entire post). “When Mousse met Nut, it was raining. ‘Hello,’ said Mousse. ‘Hello,’ said Nut.” Once they smile at each other, the rain stops and the sunshine breaks through the dark clouds (thus begins Simmons’ repeated use of meteorology to frame the friendship of these canines). And boy howdy, they play and play and play together some more, declaring that best friendship has occurred. “Everything was wonderful.” But then one day Nut jumps up on top of a wall, which Mousse, the larger of the two, can’t quite pull off. Next, Mousse plays in the water. “‘I can’t swim,’ frowned Nut. ‘Come out!’” They keep trying but suddenly can’t quite jibe on what to do and where to do it. Then . . .

Dark clouds gather outside.

“You’re not my best friend anymore,” said Mousse unhappily.

“You’re not mind, then,” said Nut.

Everything was horrible.”

Now, isn’t that just the way it goes with wee kids who have suddenly decided to break off a friendship? Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold. And so on. But, rounding out her very simple story arc, Simmons sends them home alone after having to play alone, and then they realize they miss each other too much to not be friends. Sun’s out again, and they begin to see “{e}ven though they did different things . . . they did them together.” Simmons knows well how young children play, and Mousse and Nut are quite endearing, their body language communicating so very much about their emotional, roller-coastrer-ride of a friendship. There’s humor, warmth, and lots of drama here, all wrapped up in a simple, irresistible story about friendship.

Bagel’s Lucky Hat
by Hector Mumbly
Chronicle Books
September 2007
(review copy)

This is graphic novelist Dave Cooper taking a break from his dark, erotic graphic novels (and, most recently, his very bizarre portraits of large, mostly-naked women with overbites) to write a children’s book under a pseudonym. Yes, if you can get the latter images out of your head and focus on the book, it’s not too bad. It’s a fine title for your favorite Ren and Stimpy fan, looking for a book for his son (or, to be fair, daughter-who-likes-hyperactive-plots). Or, Kirkus Reviews will tell you, “fans of Berke Breathed’s non-Bloom County work may be drawn in.” Bagel, a rather neurotic dog, is distraught over having lost his hat. Even-keeled, pragmatic Becky, the cat (a character who is much more of a sidekick than the ones in the above titles, I’m happy to say), tries to talk him through where he might have left the thing. Bagel’s story becomes an elaborate tale that starts out with a trip to the park and ends up on the planet Zorgonogon 14 (with lots of stops and absurdities in the middle, including laughing fishes, a flock of birds who carry Bagel through the sky, and an underground laboratory with a huge robot suit). As Becky scolds him for thinking he has to make up a story to hide his mistake, Gilletspo and Norb, two aliens from the far-away planet, show up to return his hat, while Becky stands in stunned silence. The pen-and-ink, digitally-colored illustrations are manic, to say the least — “done in a style best described as the comic-strip ‘Mutts’ on speed,” wrote Kirkus further. Certainly worth considering for addition to a library for those readers eager for wild, fantastic tales, such as Baloney (Henry P.), though the latter works on more levels than this one. It’ll be interesting to see what Mr. Cooper brings us next in the way of children’s lit.

Righty and Lefty:
A Tale of Two Feet

by Rachel Vail
Illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Scholastic
November 2007
(advance review copy from the illustrator at the 1st Annual Kidlitosphere Conference — Wahoo!)

Now, here’s the perfect sidekick title — in more ways than one. It’s all about your feet. Yes, your feet — Righty and Lefty, to be precise. This little tale is just flat-out weird, but consider it a compliment. Let’s say it’s delightfully bizarre. First, we meet Righty and Lefty, Cordell messing with readers by having Righty on the left, and Lefty on the right, the person attached to the feet having crossed his legs (we can assume, since we can only see ankles and feet in this first spread). They don’t always get along well, “but they are stuck with each other because they are two feet on one person.” Righty likes to be active; Lefty likes to sleep in. Righty loves shoes; Lefty dreams of always being clad in galoshes (in my favorite line of the book, Lefty says, “When I grow up, I’m wearing galoshes every day” to which Righty replies, “You only get one . . . You will have to wear a galosh”). Their relationship has many stumbles as well (bah-dum-ching), such as the time they tried their best trick of balancing a chair on its two back legs until “Lefty gets distracted and Righty gets clobbered”. Not to mention competition and jealousy (Lefty can be a sore loser when they race but he loses). Sometimes they even dream of getting away from one another, but in the end, it’s no fun to be one without the other. A tale of arguing feet. Who knew it could work? What better way to shine a light on the art of compromise and even friendship than with this unique tale? Can someone give me an “awwww!”? Seriously, it works. So do Cordell’s soft, unassuming watercolors, which are a perfect match for the restrained humor in this title.

So, the first two titles might have been a stretch for a sidekick classification, but Righty and Lefty bring us home, no? I mean, you can’t have Lefty without Righty, even if Lefty is neurotic and prefers only rain boots.

Ah well. Until next time . . .

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5 comments to “Picture Book Round-Up: Sidekicks, The Finale”

  1. Love that widget! Thanks for telling us. The books you listed are pretty cool too.


  2. I’m afraid I am something of a Ren and Stimpy fan, so Bagel’s Lucky Hat looks exciting. :) No one in our system has bought it yet, though, and I’m out of collection money for the year. Ah, well. Something to look forward to in January….


  3. Adrienne, you may like it. “Ren and Stimpy” was the first thing that came to my mind. I’m sorry again that you all ran out of money for the year, but it’s almost over.


  4. HALF A WORLD AWAY is so lovely! My son and I love it and it made me cry…


  5. Yes, Heidi, it’s a beautiful book — the writing and the illustrations.


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