Picture Book Round-Up, Part One:
May 9th, 2007 by jules
Canine capers (but throw in a cat, a bear, and one elephant) from McCarty, Seeger, Magoon, and Ehlert
by Peter McCarty
Henry Holt and Co.
If I were a cheerleader (shudder), I’d be doing one of those thrust-my-arms-up-and-forward-and-wave-my-fingers-in-the-air thingies for the return of Hondo and Fabian. If you’re familiar with McCarty’s first book (from 2002) featuring this dear duo (and if you’re not, oheavensgoreaditrightnow!), you know that Hondo got to have the adventure. Well, now it’s Fabian’s turn. And it’s perfect and so spot-on funny, I tell ya, and with the same understated humor that graced Hondo and Fabian. Opening in the same way as the previous title (sweet, sweet words to read if you’re a Hondo and Fabian fan) — “Fabian on the windowsill, Hondo on the floor — two sleepy pets in their favorite places” — we see that Hondo gets to go out for his walk, but he immediately returns and “Fabian escapes out the window. Fabian will have an adventure.” Right on, Fabian! Way to make things happen. McCarty juxtaposes the two adventures (who says you can’t have some fun inside, too?): Fabian’s outside eating flowers, while Hondo’s in the kitchen eating a stick of butter; Fabian “meets the neighbors” (that aforementioned wonderfully understated humor, as Fabian’s staring at a row of dogs, we see in the illustration), while it’s Hondo’s turn to get mildly tortured by the baby! Poor Fabian; those friendly neighbors “are happy to play chase with their new friend.” And poor Hondo; the baby wants to play dress-up. When it’s all said and done, Fabian’s welcomed home, just as Hondo was in the last adventure. McCarty scores once again with his minimalist text; detailed, texturized pencil art and soft, muted colors in his sophisticated yet welcoming style; and his subtle humor. He’s a class act, once again showing us that when the pleasures are simple, life is good.
by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Roaring Brook Press
Laura Vaccaro Seeger is back, and this time with a simple narrative — well, three of them, actually. No terrifically clever visuals this time (as with 2003’s The Hidden Alphabet and 2004’s Lemons Are Not Red) — just three straight-up, gentle stories about friendship with two endearing characters, Dog and Bear, and with a good deal of humor. The stories — “Bear in a Chair”; “Play With Me! Play With Me!”; and “Dog Changes His Name” — address the broad, dramatic, foot-stompin’ issues of preschoolers: fear and how a friend can help you overcome it; the need for companionship (and the whining that can accompany it when the need’s not met); and even issues of emerging identity. The bah-dum-ching endings will generate a lot of laughs (in the final story, Dog — a gamesome dachsund — wants to change his name and tries on an amusing, though exhausting, handful of new appellations, yet when Bear suggests “MY BEST FRIEND DOG” for his new name, Dog agrees, adding “I like that! . . . or just DOG for short!”). Seeger outlines her brightly-hued illustrations in a heavy, black line; they are purposefully unadorned and delightfully unassuming. Even the text is a bold black, perhaps making this a good text for emerging readers as well. According to the Library of Congress, 2008 will bring us Dog and Bear: Two’s Company (again, Roaring Brook Press); I can’t find any other information about this online, and Roaring Brook does not currently have a web presence. But, here’s to Dog and Bear and, we can hope, more of their adventures.
(An Adventure in Paris)
by Scott Magoon
Now let’s go from dog and bear to dog and elephant, shall we? Elementary art teachers, take note! Here we have an entertaining picture book title about how artists — big and little — see the world, how just changing perspective can generate new ideas (for that matter, this title works for those who teach elementary-aged writing as well). Hugo, an elephant and a “very creative artist,” lives in the small city of Cornville. He frets when he realizes he’s painted everything and run out of ideas (“I painted this, and that, and those . . . and him, and her, here, there, and everywhere”). He runs to Miles, his canine friend, for some advice, and Miles, himself a creative inventor, talks Hugo into flying to Paris with him for a bit ‘o inspiration. They spend the day exploring the city, Magoon giving us glimpses of the dynamic duo enjoying the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and more. In Paris, Hugo is exposed to new angles on the world — from huge to solidly-colored and lots of stuff in between — and is inspired to paint in new ways (such as, with impressions of feelings à la Van Gogh and painting with light). Seeing Paris atop the Eiffel Tower cinches it for Hugo, and they race home: “See, I thought I painted everything, but I haven’t. My idea is that I can paint everything all over again, only differently,” he tells Miles. Magoon puns it up (Miles telling Hugo he’d be “Van Hugo” if he paints impressions of how he feels and “Hu-glow” if he paints with light), and there are also visual jokes via his pencil illustrations (colored digitally), especially in the art they see in France, all re-imagined with various animal subjects. And it’s fun to pore over Hugo’s canvases, strewn all over his floor (when the book opens, he’s completing his vision of an electrical outlet). Read this to your favorite young artists, whether or not they need the inspiration to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Either way, they’ll enjoy it.
by Lois Ehlert
Harcourt Children’s Books
This is a very simple story, and if you stop to pore over Ehlert’s eye-popping illustrations and pause to marvel over her art-making processes and choice of media and such, you will likely have to flip back a few pages and start over, as I did — that is, to appreciate how the text flows well in a rhythmic, finger-snappin’ manner (in the form of rhyming couplets). If read quickly enough, you’ll see this, but I kept stopping to marvel at her visuals and would lose my rhythm. Essentially, a variety of city-livin’ dogs and their owners all congregate at the Farmer’s Market. These canines are dignified graduates of the Bow Wow School and commend their own good behavior (“We are cool. We never drool. We’re graduates of the Bow Wow School . . . Sit. Stay. We obey”), though — at the same time — some endeavor a bit more to live up to the Bow Wow School’s good name with better behavior (“Big dog broke a rule. So sorry. Lost my cool”). Eventually, they all head out to Woof Park to play and show off their tricks. We are privy to their thoughts all throughout the story via their speech bubbles. The book’s endpapers feature the Bow Wow School graduates, complete with a profile for each one (name, family, and description). Ehlert’s collage art for this title, she explains in an Author’s Note, was created “like a quilt, using fabric scraps and bits and pieces of handmade papers” (and some of these papers were left over from illustrations from other books of hers), and she uses real hair, buttons, and colored thread. The artwork is simply dazzling in its seeming simplicity, imaginative design, and impeccable composition — three elements at which Ehlert, without a doubt, always excels.
I have a huge pile of great picture books here. I’ll have some birds and bears and EMILY GRAVETT (yes, I’m yelling that, ’cause I think she’s obscenely talented, and her books make me happy) coming your way next. Until then . . .