Picture books with really successful bah-dum-ching, final-page punchlines are hard to pull off, but here’s one that does it well.
Toni Buzzeo’s One Cool Friend, illustrated by Caldecott medalist David Small, was released by Dial in early January. I am loathe to ruin the ending for you before you read it yourself, so this post may seem kind of vague if you haven’t read it yet. But I enjoyed it and want to feature it, not to mention David is here to share some early sketches (and final images) from the book, and Toni is visiting as well. I’ve got my coffee cups all set out, don’t you know.
First things first, though: A brief summary. Meet Elliot, pictured left. Yes, he’s dapper, isn’t he? He is a “very proper young man.” One day, as you’ll see in a below spread, his father asks him if he’d like to attend Family Fun Day at the aquarium. Despite Elliot’s reservations (“Kids, masses of noisy kids”), he agrees to join his father.
The young boy falls for the penguins: “In their tidy black feather tuxedos with their proper posture, they reminded Elliot of himself.” His father, who appears to be clueless and altogether absent-minded, hands Elliot a twenty-dollar bill for a penguin, and Elliot picks out the smallest one he sees (an actual live, breathing one, not a plush one) and pops it inside his backpack. Magellan, the penguin, makes himself comfy at Elliot’s home, the boy doing all he can to conceal him from his father, who is a bit obsessed with a different creature, a ginormous sea tortoise from the Galápagos Islands. (Observant readers will notice that Elliot’s father is himself very tortoise-esque in appearance. Hint: Even looking at the shadows in this book is rewarding.)
And that’s all I will say — except that, in David’s words, this picture book is an exercise in “sharpening your perceptions,” discovering “what’s been right before your eyes all along.” And it’s fun. David also notes the “perfect comic timing” of Buzzeo’s text. Indeed. “Elegantly spare” is how the Kirkus review describes it.
And the way in which David plays off the text is also pleasing to see. I would describe the art for you, but I’ve got some spreads here, which can speak for themselves. (David used pen and ink, ink wash, watercolor, and colored pencil to render these seemingly breezy spreads. I say “seemingly breezy,” only because I’m sure that it takes a lot of work to make something look that good, that effortless.) As mentioned above, he’s also sharing early sketches to show what he calls “the most interesting part of the [book’s] development: how the Dad character morphed gradually, over the months, into a tortoise (and Elliot from a redhead to a raven-head).” Pictured right is an early sketch, in fact, of Elliot.
Toni, who is also a school library media specialist, shared with me some thoughts on the creation of this book, and I have to say, she gets extra points for doing so while “dashing off on an overnight lake excursion…in Ethiopia,” as she’s busy traveling right now on the other side of the world, doing international school visits:
I heard the story of the boy and the penguin in a school faculty room. It was presented as a true story, but you know that librarians are born skeptics. I zipped home and hopped on to the New England Aquarium website (where the event purportedly took place). I didn’t have to go any farther than the index page to encounter a large black framed box proclaiming, “URBAN LEGEND.” Oh, drat, I thought, it’s not true, quickly followed by the realization that this was all to my benefit. I write FICTION and was able to take enormous liberties with the story from there.
I was stunned and delighted with David’s approach to the story from the very first sketches. Black and white?! Brilliant?! And the first page — how could Elliot get any more proper? A tuxedo right from that opening page! The priceless ice skating scene! The turtle-obsessed dad (right down to his turtle PJs). I hadn’t ever pictured the story as he did, and his graphic style made me love my own story all the more.
I also asked Toni what she’s up to next. “Buzzeo books are popping like Maine black flies in spring this year,” she told me. “I have two more picture books publishing next month! Stay Close to Mama (Hyperion), illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, is the sweet story of a protective mama giraffe and her excessively curious baby, Twiga. It’s based on a story I heard on my first trip to Kenya, where I am returning this coming week — hoping, of course, to find a new story! Inside the Books: Readers and Libraries Around the World (Upstart) features gorgeous illustrations by South African illustrator Jude Daly and takes the reader to all seven continents, where libraries occur in a variety of shapes, sizes, and transport vehicles. My editor Kelly Loughman asked me to write ‘a lullaby to libraries.’ It was the perfect assignment for this library-obsessed author!”
I thank David and Toni for sharing today. Enjoy the sketches and final art. And, once you’ve seen the book for yourself, come back and take another look.
(Click second to enlarge)
“So on Saturday morning when his father said, ‘Family Fun Day at the aquarium.
Shall we go?’ Elliot thought, ‘Kids, masses of noisy kids.’
But he only said, ‘Of course. Thank you for inviting me.'”
(Click to enlarge)
(Click either image to see full spread in its entirety)
(Click to enlarge)
“Later, Elliot knocked on the door of his father’s office. ‘I have some research to do at the library about Magellan.’ ‘When I was in third grade, I got Captain Cook,’ his father said. ‘Where did you keep him?’ Elliot asked. But his father had already returned to charting the changing boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef.”
(Click to enlarge)
ONE COOL FRIEND. Copyright © 2012 by Toni Buzzeo. Illustrations © 2012 by David Small. Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, New York. Sketches reproduced here by permission of David Small. Final illustrations reproduced by permission of Dial Books.