beware of the bandits that prowl through the night.”
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I love the very premise of Johanna Wright’s new picture book, Bandits, to be released by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook in mid-August. The book features a family of raccoon bandits who prowl through the night. Well, here … Let me quote for you the official LOC book summary: “Raccoons wreak havoc on a town during the night, rummaging through garbage cans, stealing food, and then running off into the hills to enjoy their loot.”
Yup, that’s it. I love that. Wright brings us the naughtiest of all woodland creatures, appealing to the mischievous, playful, wayward side of children.
(And I must note, that in the spirit of Johanna’s new book, I am posting this not around breakfast, as I usually do, but just a bit after midnight. It is only fitting.)
I mean, really. Raccoons do have it good at night. “They sneak and they creep. Doing just what they please.” Snatching, stealing, baffling “the fuzz” (the family dog), and much more. They never have to confess, and they get to split up the loot. What could be more appealing to a child, having to follow the seemingly arbitrary rules of those tall grown-up people all day long?
Best of all, the raccoons are a loving family—looting ninjas have gotta stick together—and head back to their warm beds, only to rest up for the following night, when they start all over again.
7-Imp readers may remember Johanna’s 2009 debut, featured here at 7-Imp. (Boy howdy, do I love that book.) It’s good to see Johanna with a new picture book release, and I’m liking her ability to tell the furtive tales of children’s lit (what with this new story about the masked creepers of the night following her tale of a secret, under-the-radar circus.) For that debut, the New York Times Book Review wrote, “the book’s twilight colors perfectly evoke the magic hour when shadows deepen even as the lights become more luminous.” With Bandits, Wright takes that even one step further with a darker palette that still manages to shine with color and cheer.
Publishers Weekly writes,
Wright…gives readers their first laugh on the title page, as a family of sweetly dressed raccoons tiptoes past an overturned garbage can. They have fat raccoon bodies, but their arms and legs are black ink lines, the combination of spindly appendages and sly, squinty eyes proving especially hilarious….It’s clear that these raccoons are very family oriented and wholesome—except for that powerful compulsion to overturn garbage cans. Readers are meant to cheer for the raccoons against the humans, and they will.
(Yes, those squinty eyes and tiptoeing stick legs are a hoot. Truly. I mean, scroll back up to the image opening this post. Those shifty eyes are just funny.)
And what I love most about her paintings in this one? That her Johanna-ness shines through. And by that I mean her singular touch — in more ways than one. Sometimes, you can spot a fingerprint in the paint. You also occasionally see what look like bold, hurried, inspired strokes of paint and, in spots, you see the canvas peeking out. One gets every sense Wright intends this, that perhaps she actively avoids utter flawlessness in her art and that, quite possibly, she aims for The Wobbly. Aims for the squeaks and the rattles (as my favorite musician would say), as it’s those singular touches through which an artist speaks — and which make her art like no other’s. (This is something that has been on my mind lately and which I’ve been discussing with other picture-book-nerd friends; Wright’s book is a lovely example of this.)
Here are some more spreads. Enjoy.
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The above quotes from the picture book came from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change.
BANDITS. Copyright © 2011 by Johanna Wright. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, New York.