Head of the Herd

“Gus, the Dinosaur Bus,” by Julia Liu, illustrated by Bei Lynn; Houghton Mifflin, $12.99, 32 pages, ages 4-6.

“Gus, The Dinosaur Bus” Reproduced with permission from HMH Books for Young Readers © 2013 Julia Liu and Bei Lynn

Gus is not your average bus; he looks like an Apatosaurus in a scaly shade of green. This scaly version of Clifford the Big Red Dog transports eager city children to school. No one skips class when Gus picks them up. Like his canine counterpart, children love Gus, but adults don’t always love him back. Here, school officials can’t keep up with the complaints of dino-size potholes, busted roofs, and monster traffic jams, so Gus is given his walking papers. He can’t be a bus anymore, but Gus manages to find a new job that makes the children even happier than before. Julia Liu writes in simple yet engaging text, creating a nice rhythm for the story. Bei Lynn’s wooly watercolor and acrylic illustrations recall a mid-century, classic esthetic.

Gus, The Dinosaur Bus Reproduced with permission from HMH Books for Young Readers © 2013 Julia Liu and Bei Lynn. 

A Very Gorey Halloween

Halloween is still two weeks away, yet goblins, witches and faux headstones already claim valuable lawn space across the country. While the kids celebrate with silly tricks and sticky treats, why not indulge grown-ups this season with work by the marvelously gloomy Edward Gorey.

Located in the Flatiron neighborhood in Manhattan, B&B Rare Books is featuring three Gorey first editions; The Doubtful Guest, ($275) The Blue Aspic ($150) and The Loathsome Couple($100).  All three are in fine to very good condition and none will break the bank. 

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Although these books aren’t for the faint of heart – unwelcome visitors, death and destruction feature prominently throughout – perhaps the most ghoulish tale is The Loathsome Couple.  It is considered a cult classic among Gorey collectors and tells such a shocking story that even the author acknowledged it as his most appalling. The murderous husband and wife couple is based on a real duo that perpetrated the chilling Moors Murders in England in the 1960’s.  Unlike in most Gorey tales, the characters in this book are caught and suitably punished. 

Another way to celebrate Halloween would be to visit the Gorey House in Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod. Since the author’s death in 2000, the home has been converted into a delightfully unique museum that chronicles the life, work and charitable endeavors of the master of macabre. 

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The Gorey House hasn’t planned anything special for Halloween this year. (The House co-hosted a Dracula Blood Drive with the Cape Cod Hospital in 2006, but hasn’t since then.) It is currently exhibiting original artwork from The Vinegar Works, Three Volumes of Moral Instruction.

Currently featured in the gift shop is a toy theater based on Gorey’s drawings and sets for his award-winning Broadway production of Dracula. It retails at a reasonable $25.00.

Sadly, Ombledroom, the twenty-eight pound white cat who ruled the House and delighted visitors for twelve years, passed away last summer at the age of twelve. Visitors can pay tribute at to the feline’s final resting place, which is situated under a Southern magnolia tree on a patch of lawn by the house.   Happy Haunting!

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Searching for Serendipity in Cyberspace

Recently I wrote about the Folio Society’s new edition of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant and Other Stories. (Check out some of the book’s illustrations here http://bit.ly/1fMGzm0 and the story here bit.ly/18H9MuZ.) Greenaway Medal winner Grahame Baker Smith created the illustrations.  

After my story went up,  I wandered the Twittersphere until I unintentionally stumbled upon the illustrator’s Twitter handle. In 140 characters I asked him if he would discuss perfecting his craft, inspiration, and future projects. He agreed, and below is our conversation, happily unrestricted by character limits.

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THE SELFISH GIANT Copyright © 2013 by Grahame Baker-Smith. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Folio Society, London. 

Could you tell me how you prepared for this commission?

A couple of coincidences actually prepared me for this commission, not the other way around. In early 2012 I was reading Richard Ellmann’s biography of Wilde, (a fabulous work of literature in its own right) which chronicles the extraordinary and poignant life story of Wilde.  At that time I also received a letter from a man named Nicholas Wilde inquiring about the illustrations I made for the 2011 Folio edition of PinocchioNicholas Wilde is a book collector and he particularly enjoys illustrated editions. We exchanged a few letters before I finally asked if he was by any chance related to Mr. Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. In fact, he is very distant cousin, and suggested that I ask Folio if they would like to do an edition of Oscar’s stories. Since the Folio Society is always open to suggestions they seized the opportunity.

What inspired your illustrations for this book?

The stories are what inspired me, it’s always the story and then – after lots of reading and making notes – I just start drawing and see what happens.

How long did it take to complete the images?

Each image took about a week to a week and a half, spread out over a period of about six months.

You are self taught. Can you describe how you became an artist?

I always loved art at school but didn’t get great marks for it (or anything else). I had a couple of jobs after leaving school but soon realised the ‘work’ thing wasn’t going to light me up! A period of unemployment became a time of complete obsession with drawing and painting. Sometimes it was very lonely, but my dream of doing this – and only this – became a powerful motivating force to practice, practice, practice and get good, something I’m still trying to do. So, I didn’t really become an artist – there just wasn’t an option to do anything else with my life! I still feel the same now, there is a cost in following your dreams but any other path seemed to me as a waste of life.

Do you have a favorite medium?

I have worked in most mediums at various times in my career – acrylic, watercolor, gouache, pastel, charcoal pen and ink. When I started using Photoshop five or six years ago I found it incredibly exciting to be able to mix virtually anything together. I still use a lot of drawing and other traditional methods, but usually it all gets filtered and composited through Photoshop.  For example, I used Photoshop techniques in the Wilde illustrations. It’s a part of the process now, just as drawing or painting is. 

What would you like to illustrate next?

I would love to illustrate some Edgar Allen Poe next, and do more fiction book covers, for some reason I don’t often get asked to do them. I’m also writing a novel for Templar (who published FArTHER) which will have black and white illustrations.

What are you working on now? 

I have formed a company called MisFits with my wife Linda, who is also an illustrator and designer. It’s a family affair; our 17 year old son is a brilliant coder for iOS and is helping us tremendously. We are using MisFits to develop story apps for iPad. We create apps from the idea phase to story, plot the flow-through and wireframe it, create the interface, artwork and animation and then code in the function and interactivity – all in-house! This is a really interesting challenge and it is amazing to weave animation and sound into a story. In terms of the artwork, we maintain the same standards as are applied to print books.  We are also actively finding other ways around the awful ‘page turn’ effect, a totally redundant feature in page-less applications.

I feel the creative possibilities are enormous but it seems a very natural progression to make. We want to make something beautiful and hopefully inspiring – that goal never changes.

I’m not turning my back on books though. I love books more and more as I get older and feel there is an awful lot more to do in print. I never want to give up illustrating books. To me, every day, it is a great joy and privilege to be involved in the world of story-telling.


 

Thanks to Cathleen Williamson and the Folio Society for sending these great images from Pinocchio. 

PINOCCHIO Copyright © 2013 by Grahame Baker-Smith. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Folio Society, London.

Jungle Fever

 A major fall trend in children’s picture books appears to be inspired by (mostly) wild animals .  Below are the leaders of the pack. Be sure to check out the accompanying image posts for great interior pictures! 

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The Pet Project Copyright © 2013 by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora. Reprinted by permission of Atheneum Books, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

            I asked my parents for a pet.

            My parents answered “Not quite yet.”

            They told me, “Formulate a query.

            Slowly plan your bestiary.”

This pair of clever couplets is a familiar refrain regarding pet ownership and young children. Lisa Wheeler’s scientific book of verse is a paean to every child who wishes for live pet to call her own. The plucky scientist heeds her parents’ requirements and sets out to tabulate, observe and report on all the different creatures she might like to call her own. She visits a farm, the woods, and the zoo, where the undeterred investigator notes her “field observations” in witty rhymes. (“No chocolate in a chocolate Lab? I think I’m gonna cry!”) Children will adore these funny and fast-paced vignettes, especially when the little scientist concludes which pet she would like best. Some poems will be too long for younger readers, but all ages will enjoy the observations in “Guinea Pig.” Zachariah Ohora (No Fits, Nelson!) renders myriad skunks, sheep and hippos in his inimitable style, with acrylic paint on Bristol board. 


“Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife,” by Paul Thurlby; Templar Books, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 4-7. 

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Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife Text copyright © 2013 by Paul Thurlby. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Paul Thurlby. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

In this latest offering from author-illustrator Paul Thurlby, readers learn all sorts of quirky animal trivia. Polar bears’ fur can turn green from overexposure to algae, a dog’s noseprint is as unique as a human fingerprint, and some monkeys suffer from male-pattern baldness.  As with his previous book Alphabet, Thurlby insures that this dust-jacket doesn’t suffer the rips and tears of careless children; unfold it to find a poster of an elephant taking a shower. The illustrations evoke a vintage, 1950’s vibe – many have an ‘accidentally on purpose’ beat-up look to them – yet all the images in this book are digital creations.  Despite a deceptively simple text to image ratio, adults as well as children will keep finding new elements in the images and the text to discover.  Wildlife would make the perfect housewarming gift to hip, sophisticated families.

 

“Jazzy in the Jungle,” by Lucy Cousins; Candlewick Press, $14.99, 32 pages, ages 2-5. 

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Jazzy in the Jungle Text copyright © 2013 by Lucy Cousins Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Lucy Cousins. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. 

Originally published in 2002, Jazzy in the Jungle was recently reissued by Candlewick Press to delight a new generation of Maisy lovers.  The adorable mouse at the head of the eponymous franchise does not appear in this book, which may be good news for parents whose children refuse to read anything other than books featuring Maisy. Instead, author Lucy Cousins introduces Mama JoJo and Baby Jazzy, two lemurs playing hide-and-seek in the jungle. New readers will enjoy participating in this lift-the-flap adventure, although the interactivity of this book is not as engaging as the Maisy First Science popup series. Still, the flaps are easy for very young children to manipulate, and Cousins’ vivid colors and trademark illustration will keep children happily entertained. 

 

 

“Mr. Tiger Goes Wild” by Peter Brown; Little, Brown and Company, $18.00, 48 pages, ages 4-6.

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Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown. Copyright © 2013 by Peter Brown. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Mr. Tiger dwells in a proper, sophisticated environment where his fellow urbanites are well-dressed and walk on two legs. One day, Mr. Tiger is seized by a primal urge to abandon his refined ways – as well as his clothes – and lets loose, much to the surprise and dismay of his friends. Mr. Tiger sets aside etiquette and reminds readers that there’s always time for fun in this fast paced romp from city to jungle. Caldecott Honor illustrator Peter Brown used India ink, watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper, then composited his work digitally. Cityscapes are rendered in tones of dull sepia, while the jungle, is lush and verdant. The quick pace of the text ensures that this will be a read-aloud favorite for a long time.