(Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, August 2012)
(More images below)
Author/illustrator Amy Schwartz visited 7-Imp for a breakfast chat in June 2010. It was there that I reiterated what I love most about her picture books: her attention to detail. The types of details, that is, upon which young children tend to focus. So, it’s with eagerness that I turn toward any of her new picture book releases.
And if you’re a fan of her books, it’s a good year to be one. (For all I know, she has even more 2012 releases; I failed to ask her this.) In February, Holiday House released Willie and Uncle Bill, and in August Neal Porter/Roaring Brook will release Lucy Can’t Sleep. I’ve seen a copy of both, including an F&G of the latter, and both are a delight. And today at 7-Imp Amy’s sharing a couple of early sketches from one of the books.
You’ll often read reviewers use the word “understated” for the humor in Amy’s books. It’s true. “Droll,” too — and, as I’ve said previously here at Camp 7-Imp, I love a Good Droll. You could easily use both descriptors for Willie and Uncle Bill, a series of three stories about a young boy, mostly silent, and his very outgoing, flamboyant uncle, mostly not-silent and full of good cheer and style.
When the doorbell rings three times, as it does at the start of each story, Willie and his mother know that Uncle Bill has arrived for babysitting. Uncle Bill has relatively big, dramatic hair. He loves to cook. He’s all about pink, polka-dotted (or otherwise exuberant and funky) shirts and wears a frilly apron when he is busy in the kitchen. He is who he is, wonderfully left-of-center, without ever trying too hard to be so. (“Some people,” wrote Walt Whitman, “are so much sunshine to the square inch.” Yeah. I can tell that’s Uncle Bill.)
Hilariously, Willie’s mother gives Bill some kind of gentle warning on her way out the door every time he comes to handle the childcare, one caveat for the beginning of each tale, knowing full well that Uncle Bill loves adventure and isn’t afraid to let his freak flag fly, as they say: “Make sure you keep a good eye on Willie today”; “[P]lease, just don’t do anything I wouldn’t do”; and “It would be good, Bill, if you two had a peaceful evening.”
But Uncle Bill’s benign disregard for this advice is where the adventure lies in these stories: When Willie’s mother returns home at the end of story one, Willie’s hair has been cropped nearly to his scalp, since Willie took the scissors to his own hair in the bathroom while Uncle Bill was knee-deep in cooking (and with thanks to Bill’s French hair stylist friend, Pierre, to whom Willie is then whisked by Uncle Bill and who saves the day and says things like “[your cut] is very . . . Now”). In the second story, they combine pepper, chocolate, tuna salad, Worcestershire sauce, liverwurst, mustard, pistachio ice cream, and even more into Icky Stew and walk it around their community to see who’d like a taste (Schwartz’s very funny attention-to-detail here being that Uncle Bill just leaves the house in the aforementioned apron, complete with his zipped-up jacket over it).
And in the third (and, arguably, most entertaining) story, they rock out with The Purple Tomatoes, the rock band with whom Uncle Bill is good friends. Even Willie gets a shot at the electric guitar. It’s very funny — especially when Mom comes home without a clue that they headed out for some rock and roll that evening. (It could have even been punk! Incidentally, “It Could Have Even Been Punk” will be the title of my first album, and I think I’ll name my band Icky Stew, too, but I digress.)
Below is another sketch from the book, courtesy of Ms. Schwartz … Now you see why Uncle Bill failed to notice that Willie had locked himself in the bathroom with the intent to cut his own hair. He’s too busy dancing while cooking, don’t you know.
Switching tones altogether, Lucy Can’t Sleep—which, again, will be released this August—is the gentle tale of one young girl’s attempts to fall asleep. She tries everything but eventually gets out of bed, wide-awake, searching throughout her house for her Dolly and her Bear. After finding them, she explores in the kitchen, retrieves a midnight snack, enjoys the quiet, and then heads outside onto the back porch to take in the silence. After she heads back upstairs, she’s not quite ready to give in and plays even more, then slipping into bed to sleep, only to awaken at dawn with a happy smile (looking a lot like her doll, all cuddled up with her).
Much like Jonathan Bean’s At Night (2007), which would be such a great companion to this title, this is the snug, warm story of a thoughtful yet curious child, who lets the night breathe around her, exploring the home with no parents in sight. (Of course, we assume one or both are snug in their own beds.) It’s reassuring and contemplative, a sweet, but not maudlin, tale of comfort. And there’s a clarity of line (I particularly love the illustration I chose to open this post) and gentle precision to Schwartz’s artwork here that truly delights.
Here are some spreads below. Enjoy.
(Click to enlarge spread)
(Click to enlarge spread)
WILLIE AND UNCLE BILL. Copyright © 2012 by Amy Schwartz. Published by Holiday House, New York. Illustration and sketches reproduced by permission of Amy Schwartz.
LUCY CAN’T SLEEP. Copyright © 2012 by Amy Schwartz. Published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, New York. Images reproduced by permission of the publisher.