A Song About Myself, by John Keats, illustrated by Chris Raschka; Candlewick Press, $17.99, 40 pages, ages 7-9.
British poet John Keats (1795-1821) published fifty-four poems during his brief life, yet those pieces secured his place among the “second generation” of Romantic poets like Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe. Keats wrote the three-part A Song About Myself while traveling through Scotland and included it in a letter to his fifteen-year old younger sister, Fanny. The whimsical, cheeky verses about Keats as a naughty boy wandering the world are a departure from the poet’s better-known odes and sonnets. Keats describes the world outside of London and reveals that no matter where he is, some things remain the same.
So, how does an early nineteenth-century poem hold up in 2017? Not bad–the rhyming pattern is easy to follow (“There was a naughty Boy/ A naughty boy was he,/ He would not stop at home, / He could not quiet be –“), simple verses that quickly build into a playful ramble through the land to the north of London. Some words, like pother (a fuss) and rivetted (hold close) might trip up readers, but most of it is straightforward enough–this is a poem written by a feisty young man intent on making his reader laugh. Two-time Caldecott Medal winner Chris Raschka’s watercolors flow unencumbered through the pages, abstract yet thoroughly engaging, and expertly match this bizarre little road trip. (Don’t miss the end papers where a condensed map of New York and the British Isles begs close examination.)
A Song About Myself is a wonderful introduction to Keats and proving that some things just don’t go out of style.
BE QUIET! by Ryan T. Higgins; Disney-Hyperion; $17.99, 40 pages, ages 3-8.
Rupert the mouse has a dream: to craft a beautiful, wordless picture book. His ideas are grand, but when his friends hear about the project, they interject. A lot. And come up with all sorts of ideas. Unfortunately, brainstorming requires…talking, and poor Rupert quickly loses his cool, while his credibility as an artistic know-it-all slowly loses its veneer in perfectly paced slapstick. Clearly, this is not going to be a wordless picture book, but Rupert’s going to give it everything he’s got–even at the expense of his lofty sensibilities. The book is sure to be a hit with preschoolers, but offer BE QUIET! to a first- or second-grader to read aloud, and watch the hilarity ensue. The creator of Mother Bruce knocks it out of the park once again with another wacky menagerie of characters while also cleverly engaging adults with definitions of onomatopoeia, visual stimulation, and most importantly, irony.
@PeachtreePub The latest from @susan_stockdale cheerfully welcomes a new season.
Fantastic Flowers, by Susan Stockdale: Peachtree Publishers, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 2-5.
It’s beginning to feel a lot like spring, and a host of new non-fiction books are popping up like a field of crocuses and daffodils. Fantastic Flowers is a charmingly playful presentation of seventeen flowers found across the globe, and Stockdale’s bubbly illustrations are a lively match for the simple, lyrical descriptions–the Mediterranean bumblbee orchid that graces the front cover looks like a pair of magenta smiling honeybees, and other flowers resemble baboons, ballerinas, and pineapples. The book gently introduces young readers to the concept of object identification and encourages close observation skills, while back matter offers further scientific explanation about plants and pollinators.
Fantastic Flowers offers cheerful anticpiation for the forthcoming season.
The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan; Arthur A. Levine, $24.00, 192 pages, ages 14 and up.
Australian artist Shaun Tan has made his name creating surreal, slightly peculiar works of art with the ultimate goal of encouraging dialogue and social engagement–Tan worked on the science-fiction animated film WALL-E, for example–and in The Singing Bones he tackles the Grimm brothers’ literary canon with similar verve. Seventy-five pieces of original art are accompanied by a portion of text from obscure and beloved tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Inspired by Inuit and pre-Columbian stone carvings, Tan’s compositions are molded of earthy, unpretentious materials–papier-mâché and air-drying clay adorned with acrylic paint and shoe polish–resulting in art that looks like it has weathered the passage of time.
Many of the selections may not be well known to contemporary readers, at least not in the forms referenced here: in “Mother Trudy” an overly inquisitive young girl is turned into a block of wood and cast upon the hearth by a witch, and Tan’s sculpture depicts a demonic-looking old creature nestled comfortably in front of a recently lit blaze. A wicked stepmother decapitates her stepson in “The Juniper Tree” and the attending artwork is a disturbingly complex rendering of multiple moments that unfold in the narrative. Snow White and her long-forgotten sister Red Rose gleefully traipse on a magical bear in another excerpt. Though summarized in an annotated index, only the basic sketch of each story is provided, encouraging readers to explore the fairy tales separately.
Reigning master of macabre Neil Gaiman and renowned fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes provide thoughtful introductions and commentary on the enduring importance of the Grimm fairy tales for our generation.
The Singing Bones is a powerful examination of the range of human emotion, and how much greater that range can be for children, if adults will allow it.
Children’s picture-book creator Ashley Evanson talks with Literary Features Syndicate about her craft and the magic of childhood.
Hello, World! series author Ashley Evanson is back with This Book is Magic! (Grosset & Dunlap, $14.99 32 pages, ages 0-4) an interactive picture book-board book hybrid for emerging readers. Evanson’s clearly got a knack for getting kids interested in reading and she kindly answered a few of our questions about her craft and the magic of childhood.
Below is an edited transcript of our question and answer session from January 17, 2017.
- What was the inspiration for this book?
A couple of years ago my little brother called to ask a few questions about the first Harry Potter book, which I happily answered since I’m a huge fan of the series. The phone calls continued and I decided to read the books along with him so we could call each other every night to chat. Over the next year we read all seven Harry Potter books, Lord of the Rings, and the entire Sherlock Holmes series. I looked forward to our “book club” with great much excitement. These nightly discussions had me constantly thinking about magic, which is why I dedicated my book to my little brother.
- Why focus on magic? You have a whimsical, bright style that youngsters gravitate towards.
I think childhood is its own element of magic, and everything in this book is something I imagined as a child or see my own children imagining.
- Your Hello, World series is adorable–I have all 4 titles here–do you have plans to add to that series?
I would love to create more Hello, World books! But first I’m publishing a companion book for This Book Is Magic.
- What’s your medium?
Everything I do is on Adobe Illustrator.
- How do you approach a project? What’s your process?
My approach is pretty primitive. I mean, my rough drafts contain stick figures! The concept always comes first and the art follows, but I only include concepts of things I know I would love to draw. I have inspiration boards of my favorite artists, color palettes, and photographs of the images I’m drawing.
- Do you work solely in children’s picture-book illustration?
I feel like if I tried to illustrate anything else it would still end up looking like a children’s book illustration. It’s just who I am.
- Could you tell me how you think your work is helping shape and excite young minds.
I feel like the most unqualified person to be publishing books so I tell people if I can do it, seriously, anybody can do it!
- What are you working on now?
I’m in the brainstorming phase for the companion book to This Book Is Magic, but it feels a little more like the writer’s block phase! I’ll get there!
- What else should I have asked you that I didn’t but that you would like our readers to know about you?
My occupation may be an author-illustrator, but my number one job is being a mother. There is nothing more magical or important than childhood and raising your little ones.
A half-day at Harvard’s Houghton Library yielded great rewards. Read all about it: http://bit.ly/28RCoGi