Perfection and loveliness

h1 January 8th, 2007 by jules

Don’t believe me? I’m that self-proclaimed Blogger Who Speaks in Hyperbole, so I don’t blame you. But, really and truly here are two picture books from ’06 that you don’t want to miss.

For the record, I promise I read things other than fiction picture book titles. But oh my, there are more from ’06 to keep talking about, so here we go with two stand-out titles that I’m just getting around to reviewing, one which was just released this past December.


Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
(published by HarperCollins Publishers, December 2006)

This is a perfectly uncluttered, perfectly simple, perfectly perfect little book that I wish I had made {slapping myself on forehead now}. Seriously, not that it’s so simple that a dolt like me could have created it, mind you. I don’t mean that. I mean that Portis makes it look effortless, though I’m sure it wasn’t. And oh is it clever, too. It is even designed to look like a box, what with its brown cover and back and end papers and its net weight printed on the front and a “this side up” on the back.

We all know that kids dig the box that the huge toy comes in, right? And they dig playing with cardboard boxes — the bigger, the better. And they let their wonderfully scheming, sly imaginations go in these things. That’s what this book is about (did I mention it’s perfect?).

Portis brings us a rabbit, outlined in black ink with heavy, bold lines. And so is his box, but everything this rabbit imagines the box to be is drawn over the box with a heavy, red line. An outsider speaks to the rabbit; on the pages of the left side of the book, this detached observer asks, “{w}hy are you sitting in a box?” and “{n}ow you’re wearing a box?” and “{a}re you still standing around in that box?” The clever rabbit responds, “{i}t’s not a box,” and we look to the right and see his race car outlined in red ink over the box. And that he’s a robot (actually, a “Rab-bot XL-3” — love it). And much more.

The rabbit remains steadfast and stubborn, as he should be. Can’t this dimwit adult see that it’s NOT NOT NOT NOT a box?! Having read so many good kidlitosphere blog reviews of this (there was some serious blog-love goin’ on for this title), I finally purchased it for my daughters, and it gets the “again! again!” seal of approval each and every time. See Kelly’s review at Big A little a, Fuse’s review, MotherReader’s review, and Anne’s review at Book Buds — to name just a few.

Jaded with loud, busy picture books glutting the bookstore shelves? Wanna get smack dab into the mind of a child? Here’s your book.


Adele & Simon by Barbara McClintock
(published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, September 2006)

Now let’s move from terrifically unadorned to terrifically adorned, shall we? Ooh la la! This is a 21st-century Where the hell is Waldo? for the sartorial-minded Francophiles of the world. It is sheer loveliness. Having already embraced the fact — with a bit of shame — that I use the world “lovely” entirely too much on our site, I’ll say it again: This book is sheer loveliness.

A little girl, Adele, picks up her younger brother, Simon, from school. He has in his possession his hat, gloves, scarf, sweater, coat, knapsack, books, crayons, and a drawing of a cat he made that morning at school. Adele — the take-charge, dutiful first-born — says, “Simon, please try not to lose anything today.” Simon says he’ll try. Oh sigh. The empty promises of the carefree, easily distracted baby of the family. On their way home, he loses each and every item in each and every lovely place they stop. What oh what, Adele wonders, will we tell Mama? But not to worry; there’s a surprise for them after they get home — the townsfolk they meet along the way show up at their doorstep to return the items.

But here’s where the loveliness comes in: This alluring book is set in Paris around the turn of the 20th century. Even the endpapers — taken from a 1907 Karl Baedeker map — show the path these two children take on their way home. So, yes, we’re treated to McClintock’s elegant pen-and-ink drawings of street life in Paris around 1900: an old Paris street market, The Jardin des Plantes, the gallery of paleontology in the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, the Metro station at St-Michel, The Jardin du Luxembourg, the Louvre, Notre-Dame, and much, much more. Now, I’ve been to Paris, but only briefly. But I can tell you all about what Adele and Simon see, because McClintock provides an afterword with miniature versions of the illustrations seen in the book, and she tells the reader what we’ve seen and gives us some information and history about these sights and famous landmarks as well. Oh, the loveliness overwhelms me.

Even art and art history lovers will be delighted — as, for instance, she tells us in the afterword that on the street market spread, “groupings of people based on famous pictures by the nineteenth-century artist Honore Daumier and the early-twentieth-century photographer Eugene Atget” are scattered throughout the picture.

And there’s even more beauty to speak of, I tell ya: This book will even delight those who revel in a beautifully-made book. The spacious borders around the illustrations on each spread, the aforesaid end papers, the ivory-colored paper, and the typeface make it look like a book published in days of yore, my friends.

And while the youngest child might not want to read a brief history of The Musique de la Garde Republicaine, he or she will have a great deal of fun trying to find Simon’s crayons in the Louvre and trying to find his coat amongst the harlequins, sword swallower, strong man, and acrobats in front of The Notre-Dame.

Oh and lift up the book’s paper cover to see the kitty cat Simon’s drawn on the book’s hard cover. Little delights everywhere in this book . . . And if you click on the above publisher link, you’ll see the veritable slew of awards ‘n honors this book has received.

Did I mention this one is lovely?

Until next time . . .

7 comments to “Perfection and loveliness”

  1. Hey Jules–I saw “This is Not a Box” in Davis-Kidd. Very cute! Our Dolly Parton books are in a bit of a losing streak, so we have a lot of very boring books lying around. And there are just so many times I can read “Are You My Mama?” and that damned one about the “Kitten who Thought he Was a Mouse.” So maybe this one is a good excuse to purge and binge…

  2. And that other one sounds good, too!

  3. I think the juxtaposition of the two artistic styles of the books was…lovely.

  4. *snort* – good one, MotherReader.

    It just so happens that my library finally got its copy of Not A Box today, and it is every bit as good as Jules (and all those other bloggers mentioned) says it is. Nice review, J-Dawg.

  5. Hi Jules,

    Not a Box sounds like my favorite kind of picture book. I haven’t seen it anywhere yet, but I’ll have to start looking harder.

    And I agree about Adele & Simon.

  6. […] Antoinette Portis, slaved over each simple line and every one-syllable word of her wonderful Not a Box. Believe me, I know that a simple-looking gem is not simply arrived at. I adore that book. But, […]

  7. […]   From the 2010 dummy(Click middle images to enlarge)   But Wait felt more like Not A Box — episodic, more like a straight line than an arc. They’re both about the perpetual back […]

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