Hello, it’s eisha and Jules again. Part 2 of our fabulous 2006 picture book round-up includes new titles from some of the best-known kid lit creators: Peter Sis, Peter McCarty, Mo Willems, Walter Dean Myers & Christopher Myers, and Lane Smith. Enjoy…
Peter Sis is back with another visually gorgeous picture book biography, this time highlighting Mozart’s childhood, in Play, Mozart, Play! . . . And just look at that cover — Mozart doing a handstand on the piano keys! This bold illustration (Mozart stands out on every page with his bright red vest and hair) gives you a sense of what you’ll find in the pages of this wonderfully accessible book that serves as an excellent introduction for children to classical music (and even opera and the stories behind it in the form of a short biography provided at the end of the book) as well an homage to the vivid imagination of children and the significance of their play . . . Mozart’s father, who appears only in black silhouette, might restrict the young musical prodigy’s free time by ordering him to practice, but the young musician makes the most of it, finding both freedom and adventure in the daydreams he has as he practices. He can play his music, as instructed, but he also manages to play in his music (his musical musings, if you will). Sis uses black line and watercolors and delivers his trademark sophisticated yet playful style. You don’t want to miss the fanciful double page spreads that bring musical terminology to life and that depict the dancing instruments, animals, and even furniture in the genius boy’s head. “Wolfgang, are you playing?” his father asks from the next room. “Yes!” he responds, and we know from Sis’ elaborate and engaging illustrations that he is — in more ways that one.
If you’ve seen Peter McCarty’s work in Hondo & Fabian (see the bed-time list for a review) and Little Bunny On the Move (eisha loves!), then you know what to expect with his latest, Moon Plane: a sweet, simple story, beautifully told and elegantly illustrated. A boy sees an airplane flying overhead, and imagines himself aboard, watching the world passing below, and eventually landing on the moon before flying back home to mama. McCarty doesn’t waste a single word – most pages don’t even contain an entire sentence, just a prepositional phrase or so. And the illustrations… colored pencils in muted tones, with just enough detail and a soft, dreamy quality that perfectly suits the quiet tone of the text. This is a perfect bedtime book. And I will be very surprised if this one doesn’t pick up an award or two.
Woo-hoo! A new book by Mo Willems (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Knuffle Bunny) is always a reason to celebrate. The title character of Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct is everyone’s friend, and is especially loved for her tendency to distribute chocolate-chip cookies. However, one kid in town does NOT love Edwina: a little know-it-all named Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie (I know, I know, I love the name too). He keeps trying to convince everyone that Edwina’s existence is just wrong because dinosaurs are supposed to be extinct, and keeps getting more and more frustrated that no one will listen. Finally he finds a sympathetic ear, and an unexpected new friend, in Edwina herself. Since most of us know a Reginald or two, this story will have plenty of appeal for pre-K through early elementary kids. Oh, plus, it’s got a DINOSAUR – even if it is a girly, straw-hat-and-pocket-book type dinosaur. Willems keeps the illustrations light and fresh in the retro-pastel palette he favored in Leonardo the Terrible Monster, and a cartoonish style that recalls his animation for Sesame Street. This is a great one for read-alouds, and observant kids will enjoy playing spot-the-Pigeon on a couple of spreads.
A while back when Julie blogged about Chris Raschka’s Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, we started riffing on music-related picture books. At that point neither of us had seen Jazz by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers, but were eagerly anticipating a new book by the super-talented father-and-son team who created Blues Journey.
Well. I have seen it. And I have one word for you: sexy.
I know, I know – kinda un-p.c. for a review of what purports to be a kids’ book. But it is. Really. And I don’t mean sexual, in an adult-content way. I mean this book is vibrantly, vividly alive – it practically dances in your hands. While Blues Journey was cool, Jazz is HOT! W.D. lays down line after line of brilliant poetry, and Christopher’s lush, saturated black-ink-and-acrylic dancers and musicians bleed right off the edges of the page. This is truly one of those crossover books that has at least as much appeal for adults as for children. I can’t do this book justice in a review, I can only quote one of its poems, Twenty-Finger Jack: after reading this book, “If you ain’t moving, there must be something wrong with you.”
You can always count on Lane Smith for snarky, irreverent humor (The Happy Hocky Family, all those collaborations with Jon Scieszka, etc). And that’s exactly what you get (plus a little history, sorta) in his latest, John, Paul, George & Ben. It’s a brief introduction to the founding fathers: John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, and Ben Franklin (plus Thomas Jefferson, who is described as independent and “always off doing his OWN thing” – I guess he’s the Stu Sutcliff figure if you want to extend the Beatles metaphor). Smith describes a prominent character trait of each figure, illuminated by a humorous (and not necessarily true) anecdote from his childhood (his take on the G.W. cherry tree story is hilarious), and then caps it off with a summary of how each contributed in his own way to the creation of the U.S.A. There’s a nice “ye olde True or False section” at the end to clarify some of the alterna-history. Best of all are Smith’s brilliantly-detailed illustrations, rendered in a combination of pen-and-ink drawings, crackle-textured oil paint, and various collage elements. I’m not sure how much history a young child would actually glean from this, or whether kids would get the Beatles references (it opens with a picture of the four “lads” walking single-file across the page, a la Abbey Road – Paul even has his shoes off!), but it would make a fun Presidents Day readaloud for elementary-age kids who are already a little familiar with the subject, especially paired with George Washington’s Teeth by Deborah Chandra, Madeleine Comora and Brock Cole.
That does it for this installment of the 2006 Picture Book Round-up. Still to come: new stuff from Phyllis Root, David Wiesner and Kate & Jim McMullan! Stay tuned!