I ask you, O Best Beloved 7-Imp Readers: Are you following the Top 20 Children’s Books of 2010 this week over at 100 Scope Notes, brought to us by two intrepid school librarians (with most excellent taste, I might add, not to mention a keen eye for kickin’ children’s lit), Travis Jonker and John Schumacher? It begins here, and you may have just heard me cheering loudly over today’s post, numbers 5 to 1. I can enthusiastically get behind the picture book titles on that short list.
Today I offer up no Best-Of list of my own. I figure lots of really smart bloggers, such as Travis, are out there with many of those lists in this twilight of 2010, but I do want to highlight a picture book title released by Candlewick in November that makes the Illustration Junkie in me happy. (Yes, I’m consumed by this addiction, though I don’t do things like pore over illustrations in lieu of feeding my children. Most of the time they get fed, though—after a while without a well-executed picture book—I do get a bit twitchy.)
Anyone remember this post from July of this year? That was illustrator Kevin Waldron (originally from Ireland, studied illustration in London, now living in New York, and very much likes tea and cake, as stated at his site), his picture book debut in a title he also penned. As I wrote in that post, Mr. Peek and the Misunderstanding at the Zoo (published by Templar, a Candlewick imprint) was released in May (the first U.S. edition) and it very much had a ’60s, sort of Inspector Clouseau vibe. Kirkus described Waldron’s digitally-created art as “a delightful cross between Calef Brown and J. Otto Seibold.”
(Click to enlarge spread.)
You really must hold this book in your hands. Waldron’s illustrations, rendered in pencil and painted in gouache (and digitally enhanced), are big and bold and will wake you right up. This is the jaunty, rhyming tale of Tiny Little Fly, who pesters a great big elephant, a great big hippo, and the great big tiger you see in the spread opening this post. Each creature does its best to shoo away the fly—with lots of invigorating snatching, swooping, tramping, crushing, squashing, and rolling—but each time the resourceful fly gets away. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Yes, the tinier listeners in your lap or listening at your story time will find this one super special empowering, the notion of the small guy outwitting the massive ones. As Mary Harris Russell points out in the Chicago Tribune, Rosen and Waldron reverse the more conventional association of size and power in the animal kingdom.
And, speaking of story times, Rosen’s text in this one is simply fun to read aloud, a text that almost sings and certainly invites younger readers to join in the repeated refrain of “My, oh my, Tiny Little Fly!” (and elsewhere). Waldron’s sprawling spreads are simply gorgeous, not to mention immediate and eye-opening, given how he places the reader inches away from these ginormous creatures and places us right smack dab in the middle of the action (even, at one point, right at the elephant’s feet). Waldron doesn’t even think for one second about holding back in terms of perspective. You want to reach out and touch these jungle creatures in these highly textured illustrations. And I find there’s a very subtle humor to his work. In this particular case, even the line he uses to depict the determined fly’s movement is funny to me. Eventually, the animals get so flustered by Tiny Little Fly that they require a bold fold-out spread, just to make room for their bumbling attempts to capture the insect. Often, in picture books, you see superfluous use of such a technique and are left yawning, unimpressed. But this fold-out moment is exactly what should happen at this point in the tale and will make you ooh and aah, indeed. (Currently, the home page of Kevin’s site features some art from the book, as well as this wonderful fold-out-spread moment.)
As my remarkably uncreative post title tells you, I love it when an illustrator surprises readers. This is one thing I love about the work of contemporary illustrator David Ezra Stein (who visited me with quiche in 2008): He switches up his style just enough with each new picture book to surprise you, yet you still know it’s the inimitable Stein. (I still think a Caldecott is in that man’s future. Think this could be his year? Who knows, but I digress.) So, yes, I did a double-take when I saw this new illustrated title from Waldron, given the very different vibe of Mr. Peek, but it’s a good kind of surprise. And I very much look forward to what Waldron brings us next.
TINY LITTLE FLY. Text copyright © 2010 Michael Rosen. Illustrations copyright © 2010 Kevin Waldron. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.
MR. PEEK AND THE MISUNDERSTANDING AT THE ZOO. Copyright © 2008 Kevin Waldron. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.