Illustration Matters: Grace for President
and Ruby for White House Gardener

h1 February 27th, 2008 by jules

So, I just made up that title for a new series of sorts, which I also just made up: Illu-
stration Matters
(as in, concerning illustration and as in illustration is ever-so important — ah, okay, you get it and I’ll shut up now). This is when I’ll share some illustration(s) from a new picture book I love (with permission from the illustrator and/or publisher, of course) instead of waiting ’til a Sunday feature (or perhaps because our Sunday features are already filled up for a while, but there are too many interesting illustrators whose work I want to show you). Think my Charlotte Voake post from last week. Yeah, that.

This week it’s LeUyen Pham and Valorie Fisher, who have some kickin’ new picture books out.

Anyone else remember when LeUyen stopped by in October and shared a whole slew of illustrations with us? Well, one of the illustrations she shared is from her brand-new picture book, written by Kelly DiPucchio, entitled Grace for President (Hyperion), so here’s that illustration again — since the book was released just yesterday, I believe, and since I’m lucky enough to have an ARC. This also happens to be the spread which Publishers Weekly praises specifically in their review of the book: “. . . {t}he don’t-miss-it picture is at the beginning, of kids looking at a poster containing the presidents’ portraits, all of them rendered to an almost photographic likeness by Pham.”

This title, which Publishers Weekly also called a “well-timed lesson on the electoral system,” is more than just well-timed. With the female African American candidate for school president that is our protagonist, Grace, it’s almost eerie (in a good way), what with Obama and Hillary going at it for their own chance at our country’s presidency. In our October feature, LeUyen told us, “when deciding on how Grace should look, I thought an African American girl sounded ideal, and gave her as much spunk as I could. This, of course, was before Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton decided to run for president — how timely that my candidate is both female and African American!”

This is the tale of what happens one Monday morning in September when Grace’s teacher, Mrs. Barrington, “rolled out a big poster with all of the presidents’ pictures on it. Grace Campbell could not believe her eyes.” And she exclaims, as you see up there in the spread, “Where are the GIRLS?” Though her teacher tells her it’s an excellent question, Grace heads to her desk to stew over the fact that there’s never been a female president. After her teacher is inspired to hold a mock election, Grace announces her bid for the presidency, thinking it’ll be a cinch since no one else decides to run. The next day, however, Mrs. Barrington announces another candidate, the most popular boy in school, Thomas Cobb, having invited him to run, all “in the name of democracy.” Teachers explain the electoral system, and both candidates campaign (“Vote for Thomas Cobb: The best man for the job!” and “Make history! Vote Grace Campbell for president!”), Thomas resting on his haunches, since he “had cleverly calculated that the BOYS held slightly more electoral votes than the GIRLS.” I won’t give away the satisfying ending, but suffice it to say this is a book with some serious spunk, y’all. It’s not just a lesson on the confusing electoral system (which is a good thing to have all wrapped up in an entertaining story, and — bonus! — an Author’s Note about the Electoral College is included), but with the not too heavy-handed message of gender restrictions — rather, the need to eradicate them — at its core, it’s a winning story in more ways than one.

Now, moving on . . . If Grace is gonna be president (which, okay, I’ll spill here: She grows up to do so, as we see in the book’s wordless, final illustration. Oh, and the end papers — both front and back — are to die for, too) . . . Now, what was I saying? Oh yes, I vote for Ruby as White House Gardener. Just look at this piece of art (used with permission from the publisher):

In their review of the book from which that sparkly-wonderful illustration comes — When Ruby Tried to Grow Candy by Valorie Fisher (Schwartz & Wade Books; January 2008) — Publishers Weekly wrote, “Fisher’s . . . mixed-media art belongs to the love-it-or-hate-it genus.” Well, boy howdy and howdy boy, you can put me in the former category: Love it, my friends. I could stare at these illustrations for hours. Look: Those are stand-up, cut-paper images all set up in a carefully-composed scene.

cropped image from book coverRuby Louise Hawthorn — who, we come to learn, is the recipient of some rather sheltered, no-candy, roller-skates-are-dangerous kind of parenting — lives in a “charming house on a quiet street where everything was perfectly perfect . . .” except for the fact that the lady next door scares her. “She’d heard the weird noises and crazy cackles. She was sure something monstrous and mean lurked behind that big fence.” One day, her bouncy, rubber ball is tossed a bit too high and ends up in said grouchy ‘ol neighbor’s yard. Leaving a dramatic letter tacked to the fence — addressed to her teacher and her friend, Fern — she heads over into the neighboring yard. There she meets Miss Wysterious, who is grumbly and doesn’t exactly mince words. To her astonished delight, Ruby then takes in the sight before her eyes: Miss Wysterious’ gardens. Oh yes! She grows teacups, candy, shoes (“remember, with shoes always plant a pair,” she eventually tells Ruby. “Heaven knows what I’ll do with all these left shoes!”), buttons, and eggbeaters (“Always pick eggbeaters before a storm. Otherwise, when the wind blows, the din is deafening”). Miss Wysterious, in her gruff way, encourages Ruby to try planting, and eventually some candy of her very own grows (peppermints for her and some gumdrops for Sergeant Wysterious). And you can tell by the above spread how very happy Ruby is about that. “‘Seems you have a sweet tooth and a green thumb,’ chuckled Miss Wysterious.” Taking what she’s learned from Wysterious, she plants her own candy — not to mention some yo-yos and finger paint.

Publishers Weekly also wrote, “What can readers take away? Gather ye peppermint rosebuds? Blossom wherever you’re planted? Or, as Miss Wysterious says, ‘If you’re in doubt, nothing will sprout’—in other words, believe and magical things will happen, a nebulous and familiar message that gets a literal interpretation here.” Sure, yeah. But I must say that the book’s greatest strength (must we always look for a message?) is the delight children will take in the very gardens themselves, yo. They are kickin’ fun, dear readers. Trees sprouting watering cans and playing cards! A tea pot bush! Sunflowers with sunglasses! Umbrellas sprouting from the ground! Toaster bushes! Shovels hanging from trees! Not to mention the personified sun, who is just as astonished as Ruby by the lollipops, licorice, and (what look like) chocolate-covered raisins that sprout from her garden. Yes, that’s a lot of irritating exclamation marks, but I find them warranted, and I can guarantee that so will young children who are lovers of diminutive toys, the setter-up’ers of elaborate, carefully-composed events with tiny objects, such as tea parties, doll houses, even a world of race car tracks and the wee vehicles that go on them.

But, best of all — and then I’ll wrap this up here — are the illustrations. Wow. Just wow.

Flat, cut-paper images—of the cartooned characters, highly patterned foliage, trees and more, all rendered in different styles—stand up within intricately composed sets, amid three-dimensional candies, miniature gardening tools and other props. The complexity of each assemblage commands admiration.

That’s Publishers Weekly again, who go on to say that some of this does not work for them, but I’ll skip that, ’cause I don’t agree — not to mention you can go read the review in its entirety if you want.

Really, the technique Fisher (the photographer for Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little, reviewed here at 7-Imp) used here is hard to describe, and PW put it well anyway. Just try and find yourself a copy and see with your own eyes. And then tell me it doesn’t awaken your inner child (in the way a two-year-old jumping on your bed at 5:30 a.m. might awaken you), the one that dreamt of alternate worlds like the one of Alice, all atop our blog, like the one of Miss Wysterious, and who possibly dreamt of growing gumdrops.

Highly recommended, especially for sweet tooths everywhere.

5 comments to “Illustration Matters: Grace for President
and Ruby for White House Gardener”

  1. Ohhh, how I love both these color suffused and wonderfully quirky picture books. I LOVE that the Grace for President book changed fonts for the word ‘GIRLS’ — that just cracks me up. I want to OWN that book, not share it with children. (Where ARE all the girls?!) And, since I tried planting candy — and then eating it out of the dirt when I was a kid — the other book was written for me, too.

    Love this.

  2. […] Illustration from Kelly Dipucchio’s Grace for President (Hyperion; February, 2008), illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Feature: February 27, 2008. […]

  3. Another title which sent me looking for WHAT ELSE she (V.F.) had done is Ellsworths Extraordinary Electric Ears which is pure genius and as you stated above, sooo wonderfully done. Its one of those books I bought for ME because I love the photography and the humor is delightful. I gave it to my grand-daughter Zoe for Christmas not just because its a wonderful book, but because it represents me as my ambassador to the wonder and joy of imagination.

  4. Thanks, Steven. I’ve put it on hold at my pubalic liberry.

  5. […] favorite child or perhaps the nearest child on the street, and pair it with Valorie Fisher’s When Ruby Tried to Grow Candy. Check out Travis’ review for more info on My […]

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