Tomie dePaola Dead at 85

Sad news out of New Hampshire: on Monday, beloved children’s book author and illustrator Tomie dePaola died at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center due to complications following surgery for head injuries sustained from a fall in his barn last week.

Born in Meriden, Connecticut, dePaola delighted generations of children with his tales of kindly and cheerful characters such as the beloved titular witch in dePaola’s Caldecott Honor-winning Strega Nona: An Old Tale (Prentice-Hall, 1975). Over 15 million copies of dePaola’s 270 + books have been sold worldwide and translated into twenty languages. 

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In a statement, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu praised dePaola as “a man who brought a smile to thousands of Granite State children who read his books, cherishing them for their brilliant illustrations.” An outpouring of remembrances from authors and illustrators are popping up across social networks as well.

 

 

La Dolce Vita: Abby Reviews Paolo: Emperor of Rome

With Italy and its people in our hearts, Abby brings you Mac Barnett’s latest children’s book about a dog who yearns for freedom in the Eternal City. The book will be available March 31 in both Kindle and print format.

If you’ve never heard of Barnett, check out Barbara’s 2014 interview with him when the Caldecott winner spoke about what he called the literary bargain children happily make when choosing something to read.

 

Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos Debut TV Series on PBS That’s Anything But “Ordinary”

The men who brought you the Ordinary People Change the World book series have created a TV show! Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum premiered November 11, 2019. I spoke with author Brad Meltzer and illustrator Chris Eliopoulos about how they paired up, why they like writing and drawing, and what they hope kids will learn from the new series.

Chris and Brad share a love of comic books, and got closer with the power of Twitter. Brad proposed they write a series, and Chris was happy to help. They’ve written dozens of books in the Ordinary People series since 2014.

You might be a bit curious about the name of the new TV series: Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum isn’t something you hear too often. As a kid, Brad always liked names with the letter X in them. Xavier is one of these rare few. He also loved riddles. Puzzling things out was a favorite activity of his. Hence the name, Xavier Riddle.

Brad was inspired to become a writer thanks to his ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Spicer. She told him he could write. Brad was dubious — he didn’t expect to be a writer. However, when he wrote his first book, he visited his teacher’s classroom, thirty years later, and said to her, “My name is Brad Meltzer, and I wrote this book for you.” The teacher started crying. When he asked her why, she explained that she was planning on retiring that year, because she didn’t think she influenced anyone. Clearly, she was wrong.

I Am Marie Curie

Brad picks his subjects with a particular characteristic in mind: “I always chose a hero, not because they’re famous, but because their life provides a lesson that I can give my own kids, and, truthfully, that I need myself.” The hero’s childhood is what strikes Brad as the most interesting for young readers. When talking about his biography of Amelia Earhart, Brad said that, “I loved the idea that there was this little girl, and everyone said to her, ‘You’re never going to be successful. You’re never going to be able to do what you want to do.’ And she just didn’t care. She just kept plowing forward. She wouldn’t let anything stop her. That’s the lesson I want for my sons, it’s a lesson I want with my daughter.”

Now let’s talk about the illustrator. Chris always knew he was talented at art, especially as a kid. “If you’d asked me back then, ‘Would you rather go to Disneyland or would you rather sit and draw pictures?’ I’d rather draw,” he said. He grew up a shy child, and Chris drew pictures to tell other people what he was feeling. “I would give these drawings to my parents, and they would read these stories and go, ‘Oh, okay, now we know what’s going on in Chris’s life.’” As an adult, he decided that he wanted to be a children’s book illustrator.

Brad and Chris work closely when it comes to the book or television creating process, as Chris explained: “Brad writes a script, and then sends it to me, and we talk about it a little bit, and then I go off and I draw the whole book out in pencil, so that everybody can see it. We decide if something works or doesn’t work. He’ll suggest things, or I’ll throw things in. Once everybody’s in agreement, I go back and I fix the things that need fixing, and I ink it up in ink, and then I send it back again. And then they all decide what looks good, what looks bad, what needs to be fixed. And then I go back and fix it, and then I color the whole book and I send it back.”

I Am Walt Disney Cover

Sometimes, the people in the books have a say in how the book will look. During the creation of I Am Caring: A Little Book About Jane Goodall, for example, Jane read the book and made Chris go back and re-draw over ten pages because she was holding hands with wild animals in the pictures, and she didn’t find that appropriate for children. Chris told me that it was tiring to go back and redraw so many pages, but, in the end, the book did turn out to be better!

When I told Chris that his work seemed to resemble the Peanuts cartoons, he replied, “They’re my favorite thing in the whole wide world!” he explained why he adored them: “Peanuts was the biggest influence in my life. When I was a little kid, my uncle owned a remaindered book shop — basically where all the leftover books went. I used to take all of the Peanuts books–I still have them here in my studio–and I would just read them, cover to cover, all the time.” As he got older, Chris discovered Calvin and Hobbes, a popular cartoon by Bill Watterson about a boy and his tiger. Look at Chris’s drawings: big heads, tiny bodies, strange squished faces. The Peanuts cartoons look quite similar.

Xavier Riddle aims to teach kids the same message that the books do: that kids, no matter what, can be extraordinary. Brad said that making sure these stories are exciting is important to keep kids interested: “If you remind kids that these aren’t the stories of famous people, this is what we’re all capable of on our very best days, suddenly kids will look and go, ‘tell me more about that.’”

Abigail C. Richter is a fifth grader and lives with her parents and two basset hounds in New York. 

Maira Kalman Retrospective Opens This Month at High Museum

© MAIRA KALMAN, COURTESY OF JULIE SAUL GALLERY
Kalman’s illustration for Stay Up Late.

Author-illustrator Maira Kalman’s bibliography is an impressive one. In addition to creating whimsical covers for the New Yorker, Kalman claims dozens of books to her credit: she debuted in 1985 with the picture book debut, Stay Up Late, and since then titles have included instant classics like Last Stop, Grand Central (1999), Looking at Lincoln (2012), Fireboat (2002), and, even an illustrated picture book called Cake (2018). Each book explores complex topics while maintaining a certain lightheartedness that makes her work accessible to people of all ages, but especially children.  In fact, Kalman is adamant that children can handle any subject – slavery, love, even death – as long as it’s done the right way.  “There’s always a way to talk to children as long as you are candid and kind,“ Kalman said in an interview with us back in 2014. “You don’t have to scare them beyond their understanding or above their age level.”

Later this month, Atlanta’s High Museum will host an exhibition dedicated to exploring Kalman’s work in a show entitled The Pursuit of Everything: Maira Kalman’s Books for Children. This is the fourth collaboration between the High Museum and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, and will span nearly the entirety of Kalman’s career. On loan from various institutions, the 100-piece show features a mix of books, original drawings, manuscripts, and even illustrated correspondence between Kalman and her two-year-old granddaughter.“We are thrilled to partner again with the High to bring children’s picture book art to Atlanta,” said Ellen Keiter, chief curator at The Carle. “Kalman is an astute chronicler of our time as well as someone who makes history accessible.”

© MAIRA KALMAN, COURTESY OF JULIE SAUL GALLERY

Kalman’s illustration for Your Beloved Dog.

 

“Both captivating and moving, Kalman’s work challenges all of us to rediscover the childlike curiosity that lives deep down inside,” said High director of education Virginia Shearer.

Additionally, Atlanta’s Alliance Theater will present the world premiere of the play “Max Makes a Million,” from June 20-July 21, 2019. Adapted by and directed by Liz Diamond, the play incorporates jazz, poetry, and the visual arts in a tale starring Kalman’s beloved poet puppy character, Max Stravinsky.

The Pursuit of Everything is both a celebration of Kalman’s work and a reaffirmation of the artist’s belief that children deserve honesty in their literature. “It’s absolutely possible to talk about anything with children,” Kalman said. “Because they do understand contradictions, and they do understand sadness and they do understand kindness. There isn’t a child in the world who doesn’t.”

The Pursuit of Everything is on display at the High Museum from June 22 through September 15, 2019.

Cotsen Library Publishes Massive Dual-Volume Catalogue

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Turn to any page of the recently published, two-volume, folio-size Catalog of the Cotsen Children’s Library: The Nineteenth Century  — say, page 24 of volume II — and the bibliographical detail accompanying each entry and illustration are case studies in thoroughness. In my case, page 24 reveals a charming, full-page, illustration of Theodore Léfèvre’s Bébé saurait bientôt lire (approx. 1880), a hand-colored wood engraving frontispiece for an elementary reader.

 
This project didn’t come together overnight; for over twenty years, a team of dedicated librarians and staff at the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University have been fastidiously compiling a complete catalogue of that library’s research material. To put it mildly, this has been no small undertaking. Out of the nearly 100,000 items donated by Princeton alumnus (‘50) and Neutrogena executive Lloyd Cotsen, 23,000 non-circulating items spanning the 15th through the 20th century and written in thirty languages will ultimately be included in the multi-volume compendium.

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Included in the Nineteenth Century are descriptions of 6,370 children’s books in the library’s holdings and 270 full-color illustrations. Titles were selected for this publication based on their illustrations or their representation of a particular style or development. As the focus is on the 19th century, work by well-known illustrators like Charles Perrault and Kate Greenaway figure prominently, as do examples of then-revolutionary printing and illustrating techniques.

 
These lavender, gilt-stamped cloth volumes are arranged alphabetically, with each entry given meticulous bibliographic detail. The pair is being sold through Oak Knoll Press for $250. Nineteenth Century joins the Cotsen’s earlier two-volume catalogue, published in 2000 and 2003, chronicling the library’s 20th-century holdings. A final, two-volume project is in the works that will examine the Cotsen’s children’s books dating from the 1400s through 1801.

 
Among some of the treasures in the Cotsen’s holdings include picture letters by Beatrix Potter, incunables, drawings by Edward Lear, and even an early-Coptic schoolbook. Though the Cotsen collection is non-circulating, the library hosts an array of impressive virtual exhibitions using its holdings.

 

Images courtesy of Oak Knoll

The Holiday Round-Up: Books for All!

Yes, ’tis the season for frantic holiday shopping, unless you’re one of the rarefied people who check everyone off your list during those Christmas in July sales. If you’re more of a last-minute shopper, there’s still time to ace your gift-giving game this holiday season with a carefully selected title or two.  Below, our top picks for the bibliophile in your life. Get ’em while the gettin’s good!

The Folio Society Black Beauty cover shot

Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell, illustrations by Annette Hamley-Jenkins; Folio Society, $53.95, 224 pages.

Originally published in 1877, Sewell’s bestselling tale championing fair treatment for working horses in Victorian-era England gets the sumptuous Folio treatment with lush, full color illustrations by Annette Hamley-Jenkins and an introduction by War Horse author Sir Michael Morpurgo. This edition of Black Beauty comes in a handsome blue slipcase printed with horses galloping across in silhouette. This is the gift that keeps on giving: a timeless story, beautifully presented.

Please note: Folio Society’s order deadlines to make Christmas delivery are December 8 for standard shipping and December 14 for express.

(Images copyright 2018 Annette Hamley-Jenkins and reproduced with permission from Folio Society. )

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Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: The Classic Novel with Recipes for Your Holiday Menu by: Giada de Laurentis, Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, and Trisha Yearwood; Puffin Plated, $25.00, 168 pages.

Carol

Is there any better combination than a good book and a good meal? Perhaps a frothy brew, but I digress. Puffin Plated, a new endeavor launched this fall by Penguin Random House, recently released A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, unabridged and accompanied by mouth-watering photographs (by Tisha Cherry and Vega Hernando) of fruitcakes, gingerbread, and other holiday treats.  Delectable recipes come courtesy of culinary giants like Ina Garten and Martha Stewart. (Looking for a non-denominational gift? Pride and Prejudice also got the Puffin Plated treatment and is filled with sugary sweet confections.)

 

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(Images reproduced with permission from Penguin Random House.)

Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art, by Hudson Talbott; Nancy Paulsen Books, 32 pages, ages 4-7.

Picturing America cover

“The painter of American scenery has, indeed, privileges superior to any other. All nature here is new to art,” wrote Thomas Cole (1801-1848), the father of the Hudson River School of painting and the patriarch of the young country’s first art movement. Here, author-illustrator Hudson Talbott introduces readers to a man who was at once an immigrant, an artist, and an environmentalist by weaving elements from some of Cole’s most iconic paintings into the book. A perfect gift for budding naturalists with an artistic streak.

 

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(Images copyright 2018 Hudson Talbott and reproduced with permission from Penguin Random House.)

Hansel & Gretel, by Bethan Woolvin; Peachtree Publishers, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 4-8.

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Bethan Woollvin is back with another twisted fairy tale. Now, the author of Little Red and Rapunzel has concocted a revision of the Grimm brother’s classic story of two siblings forced to outsmart a cannibalistic old witch. As in her previous adaptations, Woollvin’s Hansel & Gretel takes a surprise turn, with Hansel and Gretel as sassy brats and the witch (named Willow) cast in a more benevolent role. To be enjoyed fireside with a heaping plateful of tasty gingerbread cookies.

 

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(Images copyright 2018 Bethan Woollvin. Reproduced with permission from Peachtree Publishers.)

All is Merry and Bright, by Jeffrey Burton, illustrated by Don Clark; Little Simon, $24.99, 26 pages, ages 0-4.

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Get the littlest revelers into the holiday spirit by offering them this oversize board book by Jeffrey Burton and Don Clark. The retro volume, complete with sparkly foil and embossing on every page is a joyous celebration of Christmas. Sensory overload in the best sense awaits the tiny tots who find this book tucked under their tree this year.

 

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(Text copyright 2018 Jeffrey Burton. Illustrations copyright 2018 Don Clark. Reproduced with permission from Simon & Schuster.)