Peter Rabbit is one of the most recognizable children’s book characters created, and now the Morgan Library in Manhattan is hosting an exhibition of Beatrix Potter’s picture letters, which include numerous sketches of the curious bunny. Initially these letters served purely as entertainment for children of friends. Later they became an inspiration for Potter’s books throughout her career. (She borrowed them back from the original recipients in order to publish them.)
Also in the show are objects demonstrating the author’s relentless attention to her artistic creations, from documents showing she personally paid for the publication of her books, to overseeing the design of toys and games that were merchandised with her publications. This is a must-see exhibit if you’re in the area.
Beatrix Potter: The Picture Letters
November 2, 2012 through January 27, 2013
The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street
New York, NY 10016
“Boot and Shoe,” by Marla Frazee; Simon & Schuster, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-6.
Two-time Caldecott Honor medalist Marla Frazee introduces us to Boot and Shoe, an inseparable pair of pups who share everything – a bed, a food bowl, even a communal arboreal latrine. The majority of their time is spent on opposite ends of their ranch-style home. Boot is a back deck kind of dog and Shoe naturally resides on the front porch. A squirrel, bored and mischievous, confuses the canines to the point that they spend the rest of the book on opposite porches mournfully waiting for the other to return to his rightful spot. This adorable misadventure is rendered in black pencil and gouache, giving the dogs a soft and lighthearted feel while the hand-lettered text by Frazee adds more charm. Younger readers will delight in being in on the joke that the dogs need only bark to hear each other, while older children will appreciate learning about a true friendship that conquers loneliness and grief.
“underGROUND,” by Denise Fleming; Beach Lane Books, $17.99, 40 pages,
Two weeks into the first full month of fall we celebrate the harvests of the season and the changing multicolor landscape as the forests prepare for winter. Here, we peek at burrowing critters that call the forest home in this wonderfully earthy picture book by Denise Fleming. The boldly pigmented illustrations were created by a papermaking process known as pulp painting, where the artist pours colored cotton fibers through stencils, giving the turtles, squirrels, moles and salamanders an organic appearance. Close-up examination of these creatures (often hiding in plain sight) invites young readers to explore their backyards.
Slippery garter snakes, slow box turtles and wily foxes are all diggers of some sort, and the rhyming text flows with their tunnels that travel across the pages. The “creature identification” glossary details the animals’ burrowing habits in greater detail. (Many newly published non-fiction books for young readers have well-written glossaries geared to older readers and adults. This is fantastic for both parents and the eager budding scientist.) Twenty-one animals appear in this glossary and their digging habits documented concisely.
“A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse,” by Frank Viva; TOON Books; $12.95, 32 pages, ages 4-6.
Follow the seafaring adventure of a boy and his mouse in this second comic book by five-time New Yorker cover illustrator Frank Viva. Aboard their sturdy ship, the explorers brave bumpy waves and freezing temperatures en route to new friends and strange sights that await their arrival in the Antarctic. Mouse’s plaintive refrain of “Can we go home now?” meets the boy’s response of “Not yet, Mouse” eight times. This exchange might recall similar ones often played out on long car rides between a parent and an impatient child. This introduction to comic illustration and storytelling is filled with bold blocks of primary colors, punctuated with paler tones and lots of black. The minimalist art looks like cut paper, when in fact all the illustrations were created with Adobe Illustrator on smooth vellum paper. The inspiration for the story comes from Viva’s own adventure, when he hitched a ride to the bottom of the world on a Russian research vessel. Expect young readers to request this read aloud often.
“Nightsong,” by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long; Simon & Schuster, $17.99, 48 pages, ages 4-6.
Chiro the bat is about to fly outside the family cave for the first time, and he unsure whether he is ready to flap away without his mother. How will he find his way in the dark night? Mother bat offers Chiro sage advice before releasing him into the air. “Sense is the song you sing out into the world, and the world sings back to you. Sing, and the world will answer. That is how you’ll see.” These magical, slightly spooky worlds are familiar territory for Ari Berk, author of middle-years books “The Secret History of Hobgoblins” and “The Runes of Elfland”. A moody nocturnal landscape is punctuated by bursts of saturated color and light – a double-page spread of Chiro soaring over the ocean is especially lovely. These and the inky black backgrounds take shape under the steady hand of award-winning illustrator Loren Long. A quick explanation of the inspiration for the flying mammal’s name rounds out this tale.
“Kel Gilligan’s Daredevil Stunt Show,” by Michael Buckley, illustrated by Dan Santat; Abrams Books for Young Readers, $16.95, 40 pages, ages 4-6.
This totally awesome tale of daredevil Kel Gilligan will amaze and astound preschool readers. Follow Kel’s daring exploits as he attempts such feats as eating broccoli, facing “The Potty of Doom,” and not interrupting his mother’s telephone conversation. Each death-defying exploit is witnessed by an awestruck group of what appears to be Kel’s adult family members. Illustrator Dan Santat (“Tom’s Tweet;” see our review here) employs Adobe Photoshop with “100% fearlessness” to create a bold and eye-popping place. Kel’s red tricycle and white striped jumpsuit, complete with matching helmet, cape and gloves recall the glory days of real-life showman and motorcycle stuntman Evel Knevel. Readers will enjoy pointing out that these ‘extraordinary’ stunts are in fact quite similar to activities they do every day.