7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #225: Featuring Michael Hall

h1 June 26th, 2011 by jules


“But on Monday, the square was cut into pieces and poked full of holes.
It wasn’t perfectly square anymore.”

It almost pains me to post anything over top of this post, since I really love the colors of Claudio Muñoz’s artwork, but onwards and upwards. At least it will always be here at 7-Imp for us to see.

I am, however, happy to share this picture book today. It’s called Perfect Square (Greenwillow, April 2011), and it’s from graphic designer and children’s book illustrator Michael Hall. Hadn’t even heard of this one till Betsy Bird mentioned it in her mid-year Caldecott and Newbery predictions post. So I grabbed a library copy, and voilà! Here I am to showcase it, ’cause me likey.

You see, there’s this square. Perfect square. (Hence, the title.) It was super happy to be a square, and that was that. You can see here in the cover art how content it was:

But then, as you can see at the top of this post, it got cut into pieces. (This would be one of those rule-breaking instances in which an author is encouraged to write in passive voice; the entire book avoids active voice. We don’t need to know who does what to this square. We just need to know how the square responds.) Where was I? Oh, right…


“So it made itself into a fountain that babbled and giggled and clapped.”

Attasquare. That’s the right attitude.

This goes on every day of the week:


“On Tuesday, the square was torn into scraps.”


“So it made itself into a garden.”

The square gets cut into strips; it becomes a park. It gets snipped into ribbons; it makes itself into a river. And so on. On Thursday, it’s shattered. (Yes, “the square was shattered.” Oh my. I find that kind of show-stoppingly dramatic, and I like it.) On Sunday, it waits but merely remains a square. Furthermore, it discovers at week’s end there that it doesn’t like it’s “confining” four sides anymore — too “rigid and cramped.” So…well, I can’t give away the entire book for you here, so I’ll stop there.

Using acrylic monotype ink prints here, Hall tells a story here that works on many levels: It’s pointing out the obvious to you smart 7-Imp readers that this is more than just a story about creativity. This is actually a pick-yourself-up-and-dust-yourself-off-and-make-the-most-of-it tale without being at all ham-handed about it (which could have been an easy thing in the hands of a clumsier author/illustrator). I like it. (Maybe folks can join me in a campaign to have this book bought and purchased for new graduates so that we can get a break from Oh, the Places You’ll Go! overkill at the end of every school year, with all respect to Theodor Geisel.)

Also, because I like to quote the professionals, The Washington Post wrote, “Michael Hall again engineers geometric shapes and bold colors into a simple but expressive story…a book that begs for reams of colored paper, rooms full of imaginative hands, and a whole lot of clapping and giggling.” Ooh! Yes. What they said. This could be used umpteen hundred ways in an elementary classroom, particularly art class. (And that reviewer writes “again,” because Hall brought us this in 2010, pictured here below.)

Perfect Square is simply a delight it what it is. Any day of the week.

PERFECT SQUARE. Copyright © 2011 by Michael Hall. Published by Greenwillow/HarperCollins, New York. Images reproduced with permission of publisher.

* * * * * * *

Note for any new readers: 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.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) This picture is proof that your seven-year-old had fun at art camp.

2) Neko Case and Nick Cave covering The Zombies.

3) “The Human Voice” from StoryCorps.

4) I get to speak at this event again this year. I get a chunk of time to talk about the best picture books thus far in 2011. Oh twist twist my arm! I’m having fun preparing.

5) I stumbled upon this news below about a new Laura Marling CD, and it made me happy. I am still wearing out her 2010 CD, I Speak Because I Can. She is only something like eleven years old. No, seriously. She is 22, I think. (But don’t quote me on that number.) She is exceedingly talented and but a spring chicken in this life. And this Fall CD seems promising, even if she looks mighty confused standing in the park in this video.

6) This poem by Marge Piercy.

7) I enjoyed writing this for Kirkus this week, especially since the moment I sat down to write it I wasn’t at all sure what I’d be writing about. I like how it came together, and I appreciate my friends and colleagues on Facebook and Twitter who helped me brainstorm a long list of folks who migrated from editorial to children’s book illustration (or did/do both simultaneously).

What are YOUR kicks this week?

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20 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #225: Featuring Michael Hall”

  1. I am really enjoying that festive little fountain up there! Makes me want to get out my hole punch and create one for my office (I think I will!) And I’m sure I won’t be the only one inspired by Mr. Hall’s book. Thanks for sharing it, jules, Michael.

    jules – The art camp photo is great. Knock ‘em dead at the U of T.
    And that poem captures June so well: “Season of joy for the bee.”

    I just got back from a late movie, BUCK, a documentary about the ‘horse whisper’ who inspired that phrase, book, movie. Decided to post on 7 Imp before I go to bed. Here are my kicks for the week:

    1. BUCK shows how respect, a kind word and a firm but gentle hand is the answer to both horses and people. A humble, inspiring guy.
    http://www.facebook.com/BUCKFilm

    2. Joining my agent, Jen, and other kidlit folk at Children’s Book World to support that wonderful shop on SAVE BOOKSTORES Sunday.

    3. My flower beds are BLOOMING all purple, pink and white. (But there aren’t many bees? Where, oh where, are my joyful honeybees?)

    4. Hummingbirds.

    5. SCRABBLE

    6. Finished listening to 13 CDs of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”. Took me forever! I’d listen to a chapter as a reader–anxious to hear what happened next. Then I’d rewind and listen to it as a writer, studying and thinking. Moving on now to “Girl/Hornet’s Nest.”

    7. Our water heater broke, kaput, nada. My hair was dirty. I forced myself to take a COLD shower. Brrr. Emerged kinda proud of myself.
    Have a bracing, brisk, refreshing, invigorating week everyone! (ha.)


  2. Denise, I saw a movie last night (as you know from Facebook), and I saw an ad for Buck. Looks so good.

    Your flower bed sounds lovely, but I hope you see those bees soon. Ever read Naomi Shihab’s Nye’s Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose, particularly the intro? You can read it here. You might find it interesting: http://www.harpercollins.com/browseinside/index.aspx?isbn13=9780060853907.

    Hope your son’s doing well with his stop-smoking efforts.


  3. Great post today! Love Michael Hall’s work.

    My kicks:
    1. ChLA at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA!
    2. Bruce Coville & co. reading stories live!
    3. Phil Nel & Julia Mickenberg on the radical!
    4. Tom Sniegoski & Jeff Smith’s new BONE book!
    5. Delia Sherman & Ellen Kushner on fantasy!
    6. David Saylor’s upcoming Fieldnote for 7-Imp!
    7. And a revision to this story-poem:

    Maximilian Manglepaw, or The Mouse-Hero’s Song
    By Steven Withrow

    Maximilian Manglepaw of Mercymartyr’s Bay
    Traversed the Cattish countryside
    In Queen Whitewhisker’s day.
    A noble mouse ignoble born,
    He searched the Scratchlands,
    Gaunt, forlorn,
    And met with many perils there,
    So far from ’Martyr’s Bay,
    For the treasure of his heart had gone
    And spirited away.

    Through squelchy season’s dewdrop fall,
    Through flooded field and mud,
    He wandered wary of the sound
    Of hunters hot for blood…
    Each cry of hawk, each hoot of owl,
    Each howling dog and tomcat yowl,
    And gabbling goblins worst of all
    Night creatures fierce and foul.

    Across the grass-bald Wasted Waste,
    No cover and no sleep,
    Beyond the Uninviting Place
    Did Maximilian creep.
    He tangled with a widow spider,
    Left his buckthorn blade inside her,
    Wore her web as traveling cloak,
    No smoke, no stoking fire.

    Maximilian Manglepaw of Mercymartyr’s Bay
    Traversed the Cattish countryside
    In Queen Whitewhisker’s day.
    A noble mouse ignoble born,
    He searched the Scratchlands,
    Gaunt, forlorn,
    And met with many perils there,
    So far from ’Martyr’s Bay,
    For the treasure of his heart had gone
    And spirited away.

    Copyright 2011 Steven Withrow, all rights reserved


  4. When I first saw the title of that book, and the first image, I thought that — somehow — it was going to involve what I think of as “scalloped squares” (there’s probably an official name for them)… filling a square with nothing but straight lines, in a way that makes them appear curved. Like this. (I went through an OCDish sort of phase with them when I was a kid, dividing whole pages into smaller squares and then “scalloping” (or whatever) them. The effect can be quite beautiful, or so I managed to convince myself.)

    (Also thought of Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece. Then decided it was high time to move on to considering the actual book you’ve actually posted about. :))

    ANYWAY, I love the concept and execution of Perfect Square, and that subtle subliminal “meaning” you mention, Jules. Thank you for introducing me to Michael Hall’s work! (The Heart/Zoo book looks like another killer.)

    Great art-camp photo. Makes me wonder about your girls going off to band camp, coming back covered with whole, half, and quarter notes, their ankles fringed with demi-semi-quavers.

    Laura Marling: her Wikipedia entry says, “She once chose to perform on the street after being denied entry to one of her own performances for being underage.” Yowza.

    (This really does seem to be some sort of golden age of music, doesn’t it? Those of us who have said things like, “The ‘[fill in decade]s were it, man. They don’t make music like that anymore”? We were so full of it. What actually happened was, “they” merely stopped making music LIKE THAT. They didn’t stop making astoundingly good music altogether. We just stopped listening. [/end rant])

    Denise: Love playing word games. But Scrabble, well, not so much. Playing it, I’m continually done in by my baroque machinations to blow away the other player(s) with a single score, while they are meanwhile nibbling away at me, non-stop, with all their prepositions and Anglo-Saxonisms. It makes me want to watch a movie or something.

    (Loved the dedication of that Nye book, Jules, including this line about — I think — her mother: In place of going to heaven at last, I’ve been going there all along. (And browsing further in the book, well, I just had to grab it for the Kindle. :)))

    Thanks as always for the poem, Stephen! “A noble mouse, ignoble born”: ye gods, I’d love to have pulled that phrase from my own pen! The whole thing succeeds wonderfully in evoking the best epic-fantasy classics.

    Recent kicks:

    * word counts;
    * the inexhaustible river of new music;
    * photos which say more than they show;
    * wheels;
    * boiling water, fresh tea;
    * conversations which sprawl; and
    * familiar and well-loved voices, picked out from the babble of a roomful of strangers.

    Have a great week, everybody!


  5. Jules — read Nye’s Honeybee intro. Wonderful; but now I’m missing fireflies too. (THX for link.)

    Son’s sticking to his guns. Seems the worst physical craving is over. But now he’s being haunted by Habit. He shared, “Everytime I come out of a builiding, I reach into my pocket for a cigarette.”

    Steve — your poem is just my cup of tea. I will be repeating MMM this morning.


  6. JES — buzzed by you in cyberspace. Plagued by similar machinations and a husband who refuses to play me anymore, I now square off against the Computer Maven and so scrabble sans ego.

    Loved: photos that say more than they show. (!)


  7. Hello all,

    I love the scraps made into a garden in Mr. Hall’s lovely book. What a wonderful way to express the perfection of imperfection.

    Jules, I am crazy about Case and Cave’s version of “She’s Not There”. I am embarrassed to admit that I was unaware until today that the Zombie’s wrote and recorded that song, instead of Santana. Someone should put together a list of popular songs covered by other musicians, although that would take years to compile.
    Denise, I am SO happy to hear that you are out supporting an independent book store today — is SAVE BOOKSTORES Sunday a local event? I would love to find out more about it and see if there is anything similar here in N. California. Wonderful!
    Steven, what a haunting yet lovely poem! Especially love “squelchy season’s dewdrop fall.”

    My kicks:
    1) My boyfriend’s adopted feral kittens, Ricky and Lucy. I have kicked about them before, but their capacity for love and loyalty to each other is a beautiful thing to see.
    2) Gentleness
    3) Spending a lovely sunny day with a good friend.
    4) Perseverance and baby steps (thanks, Jules!)
    5) Helping to raise $16K for adult literacy at our fundraiser on Monday night.
    6) Having authentic Neapolitan pizza at Tony’s, in the North Beach section of San Francisco. Delicious!
    7) I’ve been listening to a wonderful boxed set of Gene Krupa CD’s, and especially love this song with the Benny Goodman orchestra:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9J5Zt2Obko

    Happy week, everyone!


  8. JES, I also buzzed by you in cyberspace (Denise and I are California speed-demons, apparently). I loved your sixth kick: conversations which sprawl. Just had one of those yesterday with a good friend. As much as technology has given us, nothing can surpass a face-to-face conversation with someone we care about.


  9. Jill: on my smartphone right now and the keyboard is driving me too nuts to key in all the HTML :), but for a good database of song covers have a look at secondhandsongs.com (I think — might be .org, can’t remember).


  10. Although my childhood was the heyday of the cassette tape, my dad was (and is) an amateur disc-jockey, and he shared his love of spinning records with my sisters, brother, and me. Here’s a riff-in-progress about those lost LP’s of the late ’70s and early ’80s — The Cure, Big Country, Echo and the Bunnymen, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, A Flock of Seagulls, New Order, Depeche Mode, Style Council, Simple Minds, INXS, Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, the list goes on:

    alan freed coined rock and roll in my garage
    by steven withrow

    when i was nine
    in orwell’s year
    of doublespeak
    and mtv

    i learned to be
    a fan, a freak
    of sound design—
    my inner ear

    ajar, attuned
    to new-wave live
    and synthpop bass—
    my world began

    duran duran
    in outer space
    while blondie crooned
    on forty-five—

    one elvis dead—
    another dubbed
    costello pumped
    it up post-punk

    and vinyl junk—
    the needle jumped
    out of its tread
    as drum loops drubbed

    an auctioneer’s
    hypnotic line—
    the hiss, the creak
    of thirty-three

    revolving me—
    a cirque plastique—
    in orwell’s year
    when i was nine

    ©2011 Steven Withrow, all rights reserved


  11. I don’t know which I loved more the scraps of square torn into a garden or the Laura Manning song. Lovely.

    the teen left yesterday for two weeks of hiking and horseback riding in Montana. I am enjoying the spaciousness except for the emptiness that barges in every now and again. Oh and the worry. Out, damn worry.

    The heat finally broke in Texas. Imagine. 98 feeling cool. It’s a holy experience going on down here, i’m telling you.

    Kicks:
    Jessica Powers book: This Thing called the Future.
    Betsy Bird’s Video Sunday and Run Gutman’s the power of the smile
    Laughing with my dad on the phone
    Having one sister say she like the App of Snuggle Mountain
    Having another sister get out of the hospital.
    Having the third sister thank me for planning our dad’s 90th birthday party in three weeks

    Thanks all, for sharing your kicks. And jules, of course for kicking it off, so to speak.


  12. Oh, boxes. I like when they come in all shapes and sizes. How nice to think outside of the box. Hi, Michael Hall!

    …Not to be confused with Anthony Michael Hall, who actually IS Michael and had to invert the order of his names for SAG…

    Jules: Looks like she’s having fun, indeed! Love the shoes. Best of luck with your speaking engagement, and kudos on Kirkus!

    Denise: Cheering on those who save bookstores! Enjoy the flowers and the hummingbirds. Scrabble rules.

    Steven: Yay for events with exclamations!

    JES: Good for Laura. I know the feeling. Enjoy the voices and the stories.

    Jill: Please hug the kitties for me! Congratulations on the fundraiser. YAY for Gene Krupa. Drum Boogie, baby! (Have you seen the movie Ball of Fire?)

    Lindsey: Sending healing vibes to that particular sister, and greetings to all of them. Happy early birthday to your father!

    My kicks for the past week:
    1) Opening night
    2) Audition
    3) Yesterday, I was offered a callback for aforementioned audition. The callback will be Monday night. All good vibes will be felt and appreciated!
    4) Cat-sitting
    5) Attending a friend’s play
    6) Filming
    7) Planning ahead


  13. Steven, love Maximilian, too! You said it’s a revision: Have you shared a first version here before, I wonder? (I can’t search comments at 7-Imp. Boo!) And were you actually there to hear Phil and Julia speak? Hope so. I’d have loved to have heard that. AND THAT SECOND POEM? Wow.

    John, as always, I love how your mind wanders—and your web searches follow suit—when you are reading and learning about something. It’s all ’cause you read closely, it seems. I bet for that reason you don’t read a lot of blogs? Or am I wrong? (I mean, if you do…WOW. How do you get anything else done? You definitely win the award—if it, er, existed—for Most Detailed Blog-Reader.) And the Scrabble thing had me laughing outloud.

    So glad you’ll be reading Honeybee. I posted about it here and had secured her permission to share some of my favorite poems. … Your “boiling water, fresh tea” has me heading to the kitchen, too.

    Denise, continued luck to your son! I can only imagine how hard the Habit roadblock would be. I’ve never smoked, but I like to have a coffee cup in my hand. I think it’s a habit I’d have difficulty breaking, if for any reason I had to.

    Jill, I still want to cheer about that fundraiser. That’s a lot of money! And thanks for that song. Will go listen in a sec. Woo and hoo.

    Lindsey, oh whoa. To the worry, that is. Hugs. I can’t imagine. I mean, I can. I have children now, but when they’re teens…well, I already make worry some kind of art form, so when they’re teens, I bet it’ll be worse. Anyway, good luck during the two weeks. … Best of luck to your sister, newly-released from the hospital, in healing.


  14. Little Willow, spam tried to have your comments for breakfast. Just released the hounds, though, and here you are.

    SENDING GOOD VIBES. SENDING GOOD VIBES! (For callback, that is)….Always sending good vibes, actually.

    What was your friend’s play? Hope it rocked.


  15. Jill, embedded your video. Hope that’s okay.

    Wow, have never *seen* that performed. Only heard.


  16. JES, thanks for the link! I will check it out. I should have known that somewhere on the Infinite Internet would be a song covers website.

    LW, don’t know if you’re still around, but I am also sending good vibes to you — lots and lots of them! And I *love* Ball of Fire and basically anything that the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck ever did. She’s my favorite actress, followed closely by Helen Mirren. I love strong women in film.

    Jules, thanks for the embed (sounds kinky, but I don’t know what else to call it). I can’t seem to get that function to work on youtube.


  17. Jules: here’s an example of how to search for Steven’s poems here, whether in the comments or otherwise. The key is that special Google syntax, “site:blaine.org” (w/out the quotation marks).


  18. Best book ever to use during staff development with teachers who aren’t so sure about the changes you are introducing :)


  19. John: You. are. brilliant.

    Stacey, ooh. Great idea!


  20. [...] designer Hall brought us last year’s Perfect Square, featured here at 7-Imp in June, another clever book that looks simple and effortless on the surface but was [...]


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