Some More Cartoons For You

h1 June 4th, 2009 by jules

In yesterday’s post, or my attempt to spread some laughs this week via cartoon art, I intended to include a few more titles, but I talked long enough for two of them. So, here’s my Part Two to that post, celebrating the cartoon-style of illustrating in picture books currently on shelves.

The art opening this post is from Jean Van Leeuwen’s Chicken Soup, illustrated by David Gavril (Abrams, May 2009), which Publishers Weekly described as a “marvel of suspense and silliness” and a “kid-pleasing read-aloud.” All the chickens are on the run, because the farm-yard rumor mill is that Mrs. Farmer has pulled her big cooking pot off the shelves and is about to make some chicken soup. All the chickens, that is, except for Little Chickie, who has the sniffles, and you know how that goes: One doesn’t much feel like skedaddling out of a henhouse and all across the farm when one has a cold in her beak. “Run anyway!” advises Red Hen. And so Little Chickie runs. Lots of sneezing is involved, since—every time the animals think they’ve got themselves well-hidden—Little Chickie lets loose with a raucous “AAH-CHOO!”

I won’t give away the ending, except to say it’s a clever and sweet surprise for preschoolers. And the entire book is a preschooler treat — from Van Leeuwen’s broadly-humored text, rife with repetition and the types of loud sounds preschoolers enjoy (a “CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP” here to a “SNIFF” and “BAA” there) to Gavril’s pen, pencil, and watercolor illustrations, which are sunny and bright and oh-so accessible to the wee ones.

{Note: You can click on each of those spreads above to enlarge them. Also: I might have some art later today from some of the titles below. If so, I’ll just do another post, featuring just the art. How ’bout that?}

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Boy howdy do I wish I had some spreads from this one to show you. Alas, I do not. But more on that in a sec…

Remember how yesterday we looked at a new title from someone who crossed over to picture books from the world of animation? Well, here’s another: Tony Fucile’s Let’s Do Nothing!, released by Candlewick in May. Does Fucile’s background in animation (more than twenty years designing and animating characters for cartoon features films, such as Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and The Lion King) aid him any in his picture book debut? If you’re Kirkus Reviews, you think so: “His background in animation makes itself felt in the dialogue-based text and exquisite sense of pacing and visual humor.” “Exquisite?” Them’s some strong words, coming from Kirkus.

Have you noticed how a handful of books lately are being marketed as the types of books our children need in our contemporary American world of overscheduling our children? Well, I say: More power to ’em. Overscheduling children, not leaving them enough time to get bored and use their actual imaginations, makes me crazy. Downright batty, I tell ya. I know, I know: We hear a lot of groaning about it anymore, but that’s because it still happens. A LOT. The poor teachers of America, getting hordes of children in Kindergarten who expect to be entertained at every moment…Yes, this is brought to you as Number Eleventy Hundred in the Grumpy Old Man Series.

Fucile is here to address this. (“I vividly remember those childhood moments of excruciating boredom,” he has said. “We tend to remember the interesting and exciting parts of youth, but what about those times when you feel like you are stuck in a vat of molasses? A kid experiences that with such conviction. It was horrible! That said, I think those moments can be hugely catalytic. Great ideas come out of a bored mind. Or quiet mind.”) And he entertains us greatly in the process. We meet Frankie and Sal, two young friends who have done. it. all. Before we even get to the title page, they’re passed out on the floor from playing, not sure what they’re going to do next, since they’ve “played every sport ever invented, painted more pictures in a day than van Gogh did in a lifetime, baked enough cookies to feed a small country, played every board game…read every comic book…” When Sal has his epiphany, we meet our title page: Hey, Frankie, “Let’s Do Nothing!” Thus begins their adventures in nothing-ness: They place two chairs in the center of one very messy room and pretend to be statues, a quiet grove in the middle of an old forest, the Empire State Building, and the Kings of Nothing Doers. After each attempt, poor Frankie spoils the moment with…well, a bit of something, thus bringing them to the understanding that it perhaps is not possible to do nothing. (“THAT’S IT!!” yells Sal. “We figured it out! People have had it wrong for hundreds and thousands of years! There is NO WAY to do nothing! You, me, your eyes . . . We can never do nothing!”)

There is a lot of humor here — in facial expressions, Frankie’s burning eyes (from trying not to blink), the boys’ animated imaginations, and their apparent relationship to one another (Sal is the one in charge, without question). Fucile’s comic timing is spot-on, and the book is briskly-paced, despite being a book about Doing Nothing. And remember how I said I have no spreads for you? Well, you can see one here (my favorite — this is what happens when the bespectacled Frankie tries to be the Empire State Building). Here. And here. (That’s what can happen when you pretend to be a tree. Harsh.) Oh — and their big moment of discovery.

It’s a winner. I hope we see Frankie and Sal again.

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Okay, a couple more. Quickly, as this post is long enough.

Another picture book trend, in the words of Kirkus? The “willfully amoral ending.” We’ve got one in Being a Pig is Nice: A Child’s-Eye View of Manners (Random House, May 2009), brought to us from Sally Lloyd-Jones with illustrations by Dan Krall. Another animation cross-over: Krall spent years at Cartoon Network, where he worked on such shows as Chowder and Powerpuff Girls. In this title, a young girl, tired of being told by her mother to be polite, imagines trading places with sloppy, muddy pigs; dawdling snails; splashing elephants; monkeys, who get to eat with their fingers (score); and owls, who are allowed to be loud at—and stay up all—night. The young girls finds a drawback to each adventure. (Snails are slimy, and elephants have flies…and “that’s not nice.”) In the “willfully amoral ending,” she simply decides to be a monster and forgo all manners at the dinner table, much to her parents’ chagrin. (But, you see, “it’s only polite” for a monster to be manner-less.) Krall uses bold colors (lots of deep purples and slime-greens) and no-holds-barred absurdity to bring Lloyd-Jones’ tale to life. Every character is wide-eyed, and every situation is extreme. It’s another goof-ball, slapstick tale, and Cartoon Network fans will likely be immediately drawn to Krall’s lively, stylized illustrations.

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Ah. Judy Sierra. She doesn’t let you down with her consistently good rhymed tales. And in this one, The Sleepy Little Alphabet: A Bedtime Story from Alphabet Town (Random House, June 2009), illustrated by Melissa Sweet, we see a hyper alphabet, not quite ready for bed. “M is mopey, N is naughty,” and “R” and “S” are too busy reading something funny. All the letters have excuses, even if some aren’t being so naughty. (“Q is quiet as a bunny,” don’t you know.) There are all kinds of alphabet books in this world, but—again—Sierra’s books are not-to-be-missed, and Melissa Sweet has an offbeat style of illustration that I love. I’d invite her over to 7-Imp, but hey, Jama Rattigan already had a fabulous, all-you’ll-ever-need chat with her recently. There are lots of details to pore over before bed-time in Sweet’s fun and goofy cartoon-esque watercolors. “The illustrator’s blocky letters sport pop-eyes and toothy grins,” writes Kirkus. “She intersperses plenty of additional objects beginning with the letters featured on each pastel spread, providing parents and kids with opportunities to linger and learn. By letters v and w, the transition from pre-bedtime chaos to irrefutable tiredness is complete, and the final spread depicts a veritable dormitory of typographic drowsing. Capital!” (Bah-dum-ching.)

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If you aren’t hip to Jan Thomas’ titles, particularly if you have preschoolers or work with them…oh my. Hop to it. ‘Cause there could be way more humor in your life, once you acclimate yourself to her tales — and more humor is always a good thing, yes? I have begged her for an interview. Think it’ll work? I dunno. In the meantime, read Adrienne’s ode to Jan Thomas’ books, as well as Fuse’s review from yesterday of Rhyming Dust Bunnies, her very latest (January 2009 from Simon & Schuster), which cracks. me. up. (Fuse’s reviews opens thusly, to which I say AMEN: “All right. That’s it. I can’t take it anymore. Could we please please PLEASE just get it over with and declare Jan Thomas some kind of national treasure / picture book genius? No, seriously people. I am not even kidding about this. I’m tired of the excuses…”)

Will you cross fingers with me for a Jan interview? It’s worth a shot.

Until later…

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CHICKEN SOUP © 2009 by Jean Van Leeuwen. Illustrations © 2009 by David Gavril. Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. New York, NY. Posted with permission of publisher. All rights reserved.

4 comments to “Some More Cartoons For You”

  1. Squee! You had me at Chicken Soup! 🙂
    I hope to review The Sleepy Alphabet sometime soon. Love the premise. And the piggy manners looks like a lot of fun. Thanks for the MS link. *fingers crossed for Jan interview*

  2. More books for the library’s collection–and good timing, as I am working on an order to stock up for summer. School lets out in 18 more days!

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