I’ve said this before here at 7-Imp, and I’ll say it again today: I’m a big fan of Amy Schwartz’s picture books and the understated charm and humor of her stories and illustrations. I’ve occasionally told myself, Self: Why don’t you write a sort of Amy Schwartz Appreciation at the blog? But I guess I have discussed a few of her titles before here at 7-Imp, so we can consider my Ode to Amy a perpetual work-in-progress. I’ve also said before that I love the seeming simplicity of both her writing and illustrations, but there’s really a lot going on, including an undeniably strong child-centeredness that, in my experience, makes her books bonafide Kid Magnets. Amy can perfectly capture the details of a child’s world, what they truly care to pay attention to. (The book best exemplifying this would be the wonderful What James Likes Best from 2003.)
Lots of picture book authors try to create that one new book about Oscar-and-Felix-esque best buds, usually anthropomorphized animals, that will stick and perhaps become a series. Take David McPhail. In 2007, he brought us Sylvie & True (a giant water snake and a rabbit) and, just last year, Budgie & Boo (a bear and a bunny). I don’t know if he wanted them to be so huge that we’d see a sequel to either one. They were good books, but further stories about those characters didn’t happen. And WHAT I WOULDN’T GIVE to see another Cowboy & Octopus book. So. devastatingly. funny. Anyway, Amy’s new book, Tiny & Hercules, is all about two best buds whom I truly hope we will see again. Fingers crossed.
There are five stories here. In the opening one, “Ice Skating,” from which the illustration opening this post comes, Tiny (yes, the elephant) gets a hand …er, rather a lift from Hercules, his wee mouse friend, during a humiliating moment.
‘Don’t worry,’ Hercules said. ‘I have an idea.’”
In “Art,” Tiny and Hercules take an art class and learn that art is BIG, Tiny helping out Hercules when he frets over needing something STUPENDOUS and huge to paint.
In “Lemonade,” they decide to open their own business of sorts…
…and Hercules shows Tiny straight-up what it means to stand up, in more ways than one, for a friend in the face of arrogance and incivility.
In “Birthday Party,” Tiny gives a hand—or maybe a trunk—in a time of need (this spread is for Jama!)…
And, in the final story, “Knitting,” things don’t go as planned when the duo tries to do something together, yet observant Tiny’s kindness turns what could be an ugly smack-down between two not-so-laid-back friends into something good…
The next time someone picks up one of those overly-didactic books touted as good stories about morality for children (”honesty,” “integrity,” “empathy,” etc.), you can recommend this one by Amy. With books like this, who needs those preachy volumes? Each one of these tales is about friendship and/or kindness, one friend helping another in a time of need. Yet, Amy does it without sermonizing and without … well, without any sticky sweet syrup at all.
Thus ends my ongoing Amy Schwartz Appreciation. For now.
TINY & HERCULES. Copyright © 2009 by Amy Schwartz. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Roaring Brook Press, New York, NY.
As a reminder, 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New folks are always welcome.
2). Look, Little Willow: It’s another brown-haired Alice for you!
Book Kick: Sterling recently released a new edition of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with art work from Australian graphic designer, author, and illustrator Robert Ingpen. Lovely stuff. I tried to secure the mad-tea party image for one of the headers of the blog, and I don’t think it’s gonna happen. But, hey, I tried.
Ingpen has a gracious Illustrator’s Note at the book’s close, dedicated to John Tenniel (”dedicated in awe to…Tenniel, whose skill and imagination made his work shine out at a time when black and white engravings from drawings was the only practical means of print reproduction for the illustrator”). And Russell Ash, an author specializing in literary history, contributes an essay to this volume. These are beautiful illustrations, and I’ve had fun poring over them in the past few weeks.
3). Okay, wait! Also: The Rest is Up to You! I flippin’ love this book, sub-titled A Boy Named Cohen Morano, 118 Artists, and a Watercolor Revolution (released by Chronicle). Take one third-grade boy, his artist father (who evidently wrote The Punk Rock Fun Time Activity Book, The Heavy Metal Fun Time Activity Book, and The Gangsta Rap Coloring Book), and the father’s friends and fellow artists, and you have a book that truly celebrates the rampant creativity of childhood. Aye Jay Morano took his eight-year-old son’s watercolor paintings and asked all kinds of contemporary artists to add to the paintings in their own way. It’s trippy is what it is. One artist (Don Pendleton) at one point writes, “I remember being young, and the first box of crayons I had, and the first time I started to sketch and color. . . . It was undoubtedly the most freedom I ever felt.”
4) and 5). So, now I’m on a book-kick roll, and I have to mention at least two more:
Not Last Night But the Night Before—written by Colin McNaughton and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark—is a British import that Candlewick published in October. The text is nearly flawless, written in energetic rhyme, and will make Mother-Goose fans quite happy. (It’s also the perfect birthday book.) But what I particularly love are the illustrations. I tried to get some to show you, but I didn’t have any luck with that. But just look at that cover. That’s pencil and acrylic. I want to see just about everything else Clark has done. She’s new to me. (But not the rest of the world; as you can see here, I’m just dreadfully behind.)
When I wrote this post, I hadn’t yet seen Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion & the Mouse (Little, Brown). Now I have. I think I’ve said before that Pinkney’s beautiful illustrations alone have moved me to tears. (I am pretty sure it was this book that did it.) The Lion & the Mouse is big and bold (I LOVE that wordless cover!) and lush. The kick here was not only finally seeing it — but also enjoing it with my girls and then pulling out every adaptation of this story that we have to compare and contrast illustrations.
6). After reading Paste Magazine’s “Top 10 Best Debut Novels of the Decade,” I up and checked out Hillary Jordan’s Mudbound (2008), ’cause it sounded intriguing. I had to stop in the middle of composing this post to pick it back up and read more, ’cause it’s that good. I’ve been so hard on novels lately, giving up mid-way (my apologies to this novel), that it’s nice to find one I don’t want to put down.
Right. So, I didn’t set out for most of my kicks to be about books, but I guess it’s not the end of the world.
7). I got one of Farida’s wonderful Blue Rose Root Children to send to my friend as a surprise for her birthday. (Yes, we’re geeky Tennessee Williams fans.) She loved it. BUT OF COURSE. Just look at her:
It was very kicky-fun to mail that to her. It’s also awfully fun to browse at Farida’s Etsy site, isn’t it? I wish I had a Farida’s Dolls Fund.
BONUS: There was a tribute CD to composer Cy Coleman that came out in September, and my good friend (and regular kicker), Jill, sent me the tune-age this week. (Thanks, Jill!) I can go without some of the covers, but Sam P. (notice how I put “Sam P.” and not her full name, in case you’re tired of me talking about her?) does a sublime cover of “You Fascinate Me So” on there. Fiona Apple covers “Why Try to Change Me Now” (slowing it down considerably), which she also nails. It’s beautiful. That song was new to me, and I really love the music and lyrics. I found online Cy singing it at one of Art Ford’s swanky late-’50s Greenwich Village Parties, so I’ll close with that this morning:
What are YOUR kicks this week?